Three young fellows, three friends who had gone to Italy together, were last
year visiting the Studj Museum at Naples, where have been collected various
antiquities from the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
wandered through the rooms as their fancy led them, and examined the mosaics,
bronzes, and frescoes detached from the walls of the dead city. When one of them
came upon something interesting, he would call to his companions with a joyous
shout, to the great disgust of the taciturn English and the stolid tourists busy
turning over their guide-books.
youngest of the trio, who had stopped by a glass case, appeared not to hear the
exclamations of the others, for he was absorbed in deep contemplation. He was
examining most attentively a heap of black coagulated ashes, with a hollow
imprint. It looked like a fragment of a statue mould, broken in the casting. An
artist's practiced eye would have easily recognized in it the outline of a
beautiful bosom, and of a hip as pure in style as that of a Greek statue. Every
one knows, for every guide-book mentions the fact, that this lava ash, which
cooled round a woman's body, preserved the exquisite contours of her frame.
Thanks to the caprice of the eruption which destroyed four cities, this noble
form, that turned to dust some two thousand years ago, has come down to us. The
rounded bosom has traversed the ages; while on the other hand, many vanished
empires have left no trace behind them. This mark of beauty, stamped by chance
upon the scoriae of a volcano, has not been effaced.
that he could not drag himself away, Octavian's two friends returned to him, and
Max, touching him on the shoulder, made him start like a man whose secret has
been surprised. Plainly Octavian had not heard Max and Fabio approach.
Octavian," said Max, "don't stop for hours at a time by each case, or
we shall miss the train, and be unable to see Pompeii today."
is our friend looking at?" added Fabio, who had drawn near. "Ah, I
see! The imprint found in the house of Arrius Diomedes."
cast a quick, strange look at Octavian, who blushed slightly as he took Max's
arm, and the visit ended without further incident.
leaving the Museum, the three friends got into a corricolo, and were driven to
the station. The corricolo, with its great red wheels, its seat studded with
brass nails, its thin and spirited horse, harnessed like a Spanish mule,
galloping along the broad lava
flags, is too well known to need describing here. Besides, I am not writing
impressions of travel in Naples, but the simple account of a strange and rather
incredible adventure, which is nevertheless true.
railway to Pompeii runs almost the whole way along the seashore. The waves break
in foam upon a black sand that looks like sifted charcoal, for the beach is
formed of molten lava and volcanic ashes. Its dark tone contrasts with the blue
of the sky and
the blue of the water. The earth alone seems to be in shadow in the midst of all
villages which the railway traverses, or skirts — Portici, made famous by
Auber's opera, Resina, Torre del Greco, Torre dell' Annunziata, the arcaded
houses and terraced roofs of which are seen on the way — have, in spite of the
intensity of the sunshine and the southern whitewash, a Plutonian and
ferruginous character, like Manchester and Birmingham. The dust is black ;
impalpable soot clings to everything;
one feels that the great forge of Vesuvius is puffing and smoking close by.
three friends alighted at the Pompeii Station, amused by the mixture of
antiquity and modern times naturally suggested to the mind by the title "
Pompeii Station; " a Greco-Roman city, and a railway terminus!
traversed the cotton field — over which fluttered some white flakes — which
lies between the railway and the unburied city, and took a guide at the osteria
built outside the old ramparts — or, more correctly speaking, a guide took
them, a calamity which it
is difficult to avoid in Italy.
was one of those lovely days so frequent in Naples, when, owing to the
brilliancy of the sunshine and the purity of the air, objects assume a coloring
which appears fabulous in the North, and seem to belong rather to a dream world
than to reality. Who ever has once seen that light of mingled gold and azure
remains homesick for it when back amid his native fogs.
innumerable details of the unburied city, which had thrown off a. corner of its
ashen shroud, stood out in the blinding light. In the background showed the cone
of Vesuvius, rayed with blue, rose, and violet lava, gilded by the sun. A faint
mist, almost invisible in the light, capped the mountain's broken crest. At the
first glance it might have been mistaken for one of those cloudlets that often
on the clearest day rest on the summit of high peaks, but when observed more
closely, it was seen to contain slender whisps of white vapor, issuing from the
upper part of the mount as from the holes of a perfume-burner, to meet in the
form of a light vapor. The volcano, good-tempered that day,
was quietly smoking its pipe, and but for the fact that Pompeii lay buried at
its feet, it might well have been supposed as gentle-tempered as Montmartre. On
the other side lovely hills, with undulating and voluptuous lines, like those of
a woman's hips, bounded the horizon; and still farther away, the calm azure line
of the sea, that formerly brought biremes and triremes up to the ramparts of the
indeed is the aspect of Pompeii. Even the most prosaic and least intelligent
natures are amazed by the sudden retrogression of nineteen centuries. In two
steps one passes from modern to antique life, from Christianity to Paganism.
When the three friends saw the streets in which the forms of a vanished
existence have been preserved intact, though they were prepared by the books
they had read and the drawings they had seen, they experienced a deep and
strange impression. Octavian in particular seemed stupefied, and mechanically
followed the guide like a somnambulist, without listening to the monotonous
nomenclature, committed to memory, which the fellow
was reciting like a lesson.
looked with amazed glance at the ruts worn in the cyclopean pavements of the
streets, seemingly no older than yesterday, so sharp are the lines; the
inscriptions, written in red letters with a free hand upon the walls, the playbills, notices
of houses to let, votive formulae, signs, advertisements of all kinds, as
interesting as, two thousand years hence, will be to the yet unknown nations of
the future a wall of Paris found with all its notices and posters. The houses with their broken-in roofs, that
allowed the glance to penetrate the mysteries of the interior, the many domestic
details which historians neglect, and the secret of which civilizations carry
away with them, the scarce dry fountains, the Forum, caught by the catastrophe
while being repaired, the clean outlines of the columns and architraves cut and
carved, waiting to be put in their proper places; the temples, consecrated to gods now become mythological, but
which then had not a single atheist; the shops, in which nothing was lacking but
the shopkeeper; the taverns, where might yet be seen on the marble tops of the
tables the circular stain left by the topers' cups; the barracks with the
pillars painted yellow and red, on which the soldiers had drawn caricatures of
combatants; and the two theatres, of the drama and of song, side by side, which
might reopen their doors but that the troupes which played there, now reduced to
dust, were, perhaps, stopping a bung-hole or a crack in a wall, like the noble dust of Alexander and Caesar, as Hamlet in
melancholy mood remarked.
ascended the stage of the Tragic Theatre, while Octavian and Max climbed to the
top of the benches, and there he began to recite, with abundant pantomime, the
passages of verse which occurred to him, to the great terror of the lizards,
which fled with quivering tails and concealed themselves in the cracks of the
ruinous courses of stone. Although the brass and earthen vessels intended to act
no longer existed, his voice nevertheless was heard sonorous and vibrant.
The guide next led them, through the cultivated ground which covers the yet buried
portions of Pompeii, to the amphitheatre at the other extremity of the city.
They walked under trees the roots of which plunged into the roofs of the buried
houses, tearing away the tiles, cracking the ceilings, dislocating the pillars; they passed through
fields in which vulgar vegetables ripened over marvels of art, material images
of that forgetfulness which time casts over the finest things.
The amphitheatre did not impress them much. They had already seen that at Verona,
which is larger and fully as well preserved; they were as well acquainted with
the arrangement of these arenas of antiquity as with that of the bull-fight
arenas in Spain, which resemble them closely, save that they are not as solidly
constructed nor of as fine materials.
they retraced their steps, reached by a cross way the Street of Fortune,
listening indifferently to the guide, who, as he passed before each house,
called it by the name bestowed upon it when it was discovered, and which was
derived from some characteristic peculiarity : the House of the Bronze Bull, the
House of the Faun, the House of the Ship, the Temple of Fortune, the House of
Meleager, the Tavern of For tune at the corner of the Consular Street, the
Academy of Music, the Public Bakehouse, the Pharmacy, the Surgeon's Shop, the
Custom House, the Vestals' Dwelling, the Inn of Albinus, the Thermopoli, and so
on till they reached the gate leading to the Way of the Tombs.
the interior arch of this brick gate, covered with statues, and the ornaments of
which have disappeared, there are two deep grooves intended for a portcullis,
just as in a mediaeval donjon, which might have been supposed to possess the
monopoly of this
particular kind of defence.
would have suspected," said Max to his friends, "that Pompeii, the
Greco-Latin city, possessed a gate so romantically Gothic ? Can you imagine a
belated Roman knight sounding his horn in front of this gate, like a page of the
fifteenth century, in order to have the portcullis raised ?"
nothing new under the sun," answered Fabio, "and even that remark is
not new, since Solomon made it."
there may be something new under the moon, "put in Octavian, with a smile
of melancholy irony.
"My dear Octavian," said Max, who had meanwhile stopped before an inscription
traced in red on the outer wall, "would you like to be present at a combat
of gladiators? Here are the advertisements: Battle and hunt on the fifth of the
nones of April ; the masts will be raised; twenty pairs of gladiators will fight
on the nones; and if you should happen to fear for your complexion, you may be reassured, the awnings will be stretched,
— unless you prefer coming to the amphitheatre early, for these fellows are to
cut each other's throats in the morning — matutini erunt. Most kind indeed!
they chatted thus, the three friends walked down the Way, bordered by sepulchres,
which to our modern feelings would be a sombre entrance to a city, but which had
not the same meaning for the ancients, whose tombs, instead of a hideous body,
merely a handful of ashes — the abstract idea of death. Art embellished these
final dwellings, and as Goethe says, the Pagan decorated the sarcophagi and urns
with the images of life.
was indeed the reason why Max and Fabio were visiting, with bright curiosity and
an enjoyment of life which they would certainly not have felt in a Christian
cemetery, these funereal monuments so richly gilded by the sun, and which,
placed as they were on either side of the road, seemed still to belong to life,
suggesting nothing of that cold repulsion or of that fantastic terror which is
due to our lugubrious mode of burial. They stopped before the tomb of Mamia, the
public priestess, near which has grown a tree, a
cypress or a poplar. They sat down in the hemicycle of the triclinium of the
funereal repasts, laughing as if they had just come into an inheritance. They
cracked no end of jokes upon the epitaphs of Naevoleia, Labeon, and the Arria
family, save Octavian, who
seemed to feel more deeply than his careless companions the fate of the dead of
two thousand years ago.
thus came to the villa of Arrius Diomedes, one of the largest dwellings in
Pompeii. It is reached by brick steps, and after passing through the door,
flanked by two small columns, one enters a courtyard, like the patio in the
centre of Spanish and Moorish houses, and to which the ancients gave the name of
impluvium or cavtedium. Fourteen brick columns covered with stucco formed on its
four faces a portico, or covered peristyle, like a convent cloister, in which the inhabi tants could walk,
sheltered from the rain. The court is paved with a mosaic of bricks and white
marble, the effect of which is very soft and pleasant to the eye. In the centre,
a still existing square marble basin received the rain water which fell from the
roof of the portico. It produces a strange impression to penetrate thus into the
life of antiquity, and to walk in patent-leather boots upon the marble pavement
worn by the sandals and cothurns of the contemporaries of
Augustus and Tiberius.
guide then took them into the hexedra or summer drawing-room, opening towards
the sea, for the sake of the cool breeze. This was the place where visitors were
received and a siesta was indulged in during the hot hours of the day, when the
mighty African zephyrs laden with languor and storms were blowing. He showed them into
the basilica, a long open gallery lighting the apartments, in which visitors and
clients waited until called by the usher. He next led them to the terrace of
white marble, whence the view extends over the green gardens and the blue sea. Then he showed them the
nymphaeum, or bathroom, with walls painted yellow, stucco columns and mosaic
pavement, and the marble bath which received so many lovely bodies now vanished
like shadows; the cubicalum, in which floated so many dreams that had entered
through the ivory door; the alcoves in the wall, closed by a conopeum or
curtain, the bronze rings of which are still lying on the ground ; the
tetrastyle or recreation-room; the chapel of the household gods, the cabinet of
archives, the library, the museum of paintings, the gynasceum, or women's
apartments, composed of small chambers partly in ruins, on the walls of which
they observed some traces of paintings and arabesques, like cheeks from which
the rouge has been unskilfully wiped.
finished this part of the visit, they went down to the lower story, for the
ground is much lower on the garden side than on the side of the Street of Tombs.
They traversed eight halls, painted in rosso antico, in one of which are niches
like those in the
vestibule of the Hall of Ambassadors in the Alhambra, and they at last reached a
sort of cellar, the use of which was plainly indicated by eight clay amphorae
standing against the wall, and which had no doubt been perfumed like Horace's
odes with Cretan, Falernian, and Massican wine. A bright beam of light entered
through a narrow opening obstructed by nettles, the leaves of which the light
transformed into emeralds and topazes, this bright touch of nature smiling very
seasonably upon the gloom of the place.
is the spot," said the guide in his drawling voice, the tone of which
scarcely harmonized with the meaning of the words, "where was found, among
seventeen skeletons, that of the lady the imprint of which is in the Naples
Museum. She had on gold rings, and the remains of a fine tunic still adhered to
the ash cast that had preserved her shape."
guide's commonplace statements moved Octavian deeply. He desired to be shown the
exact spot where the precious remains had been discovered, and had he not been
restrained by the presence of his friends he would have indulged in some
extravagant lyrical outburst. His breast heaved, his eyes were moist; the catastrophe
effaced by twenty centuries of forgetfulness impressed him like a quite recent
misfortune; the death of his mistress or of a friend would not have moved him
more, and a tear, two thousand years late, fell, while Max's and Fabio's backs were turned, upon the spot where
had perished, stifled by the hot ashes of the volcano, the woman for whom he
felt himself filled with retrospective love.
have had enough archaeology," cried Fabio ; "for we do not propose to
write a dissertation upon a pitcher or a tile of the days of Julius Caesar, in
order to be elected to some provincial academy. These classical remembrances
make me hungry. Let us go
and dine, if the thing is possible, at that picturesque osteria ; though I am
afraid they will serve us with fossil beef-steaks and fresh eggs laid before
shall not quote Boileau, and say, 'A fool occasionally gives good advice,'
" said Max laughing; "it would not be polite. Your idea is a good one,
though it would have been pleasanter to have our meal here on a triclinium,
lying down after the antique fashion, and waited on by slaves, after the manner
of Lucullus and Trimalcion. It is true that I don't see many oysters from the
Lucrine Lake; the turbots and mullets of the Adriatic are wanting; the Apulian
boar is not to be found in the market; the loaves and honey-cakes are in the
Naples Museum, hard as stones by the side of their verdigrised moulds; raw
macaroni, dusted with caccia-cavallo, detestable though it is, is better than
nothing. What is dear Octavian's opinion?"
who greatly regretted not having been in Pompeii on the day of the eruption of
Vesuvius, so that he might have saved the lady with the gold rings and thus
deserved her love, had not heard a single word of this gastronomical
conversation. Only the
last two words uttered by Max struck his ear, and as he had no desire to begin a
discussion, he nodded affirmatively at a venture, and the three friends started
back to the inn, following the line of the ramparts.
table was set in a sort of open porch which forms a vestibule to the osteria,
and the whitewashed walls of which were decorated with daubs claimed by the host
to be the work of Salvator Rosa, Spagnoletto, Massimo, and other celebrated
painters of the Neapolitan school, which he felt it to be his duty to praise.
host," said Fabio, "do not waste your eloquence. We are not English,
and we prefer girls to old paintings. Rather send us your wine list by that
handsome brunette with velvet eyes whom I caught sight of on the stairs."
palforio, perceiving that his guests did not belong to the easily taken-in class
of Philistines and tradespeople, stopped praising his gallery in order to praise
his cellar. To begin with, he had every wine of the best brands: Chateau-Margaax,
which had been to India and back, Moet, Sillery, Hochmeyer, port and porter, ale
and ginger beer, white and red Lacryma Christi, Capri and Falernian.
! You have Falernian, you wretch, and put it at the bottom of your list ! You
compel us to listen to a prosy oenological litany," said Max, springing to
the inn-keeper's throat with a gesture of comic fury. "You are utterly
lacking in feeling for local color; you are unworthy of living in this antique
neighborhood. But, is your Falernian good ? Was
it put into amphorae under the consulship of Plancus — Consult Planco?"
do not know who Consul Plancus is, and my wine is not in amphorae; but it is old
and costs ten carlini a bottle."
had fallen and night had come on, — a serene, transparent night, brighter
unquestionably than noonday in London. Wonderfully soft were the azure tones of
earth and the silvery reflections in the sky; the air was so still that the
flame of the tapers placed on the table did not even quiver.
young lad playing a flute drew near the table and remained standing, in the
attitude of a bas-relief, gazing at the three guests and blowing into his soft,
melodious instrument some of the popular cantilenas in a minor key, the charm of
which is so penetrating.
Perhaps the lad was a direct descendant of the flute-player who walked before
meal is assuming quite an antique look. All we lack are Gaditanian dancers, and
wreaths of ivy," said Fabio, as he poured himself out a bumper of Falernian.
feel like quoting Latin, as they do in newspapers. Stanzas keep recurring to my
memory," added Max.
them to yourself," cried Octavian and Fabio, justly alarmed. "There is
nothing so indigestible as Latin at table."
between young fellows who, with cigars in their mouths, their elbows on the
table, contemplate a number of empty bottles, especially if the wine is heady,
generally turns pretty quickly to the subject of women. Each of the three stated
views, which are here briefly summarized.
cared for beauty and youth only. Voluptuous and practical, he had no illusions
or prejudices in matters of love. A peasant girl was just as good as a duchess,
provided she was beautiful. He cared more for the beauty than for the dress. He
made much fun
of some of his friends who were captivated by a few yards of lace and silk, and
said it would be more reasonable to be in love with a dressmaker's show window.
These opinions, very sound at bottom, and which he did not conceal, caused him
to pass for an eccentric individual.
less artistic than Fabio, cared only for difficult undertakings and complicated
intrigues. He wanted to overcome resistance and seduce the virtuous; love to him
was like a game of chess, with moves long meditated, effects suspended,
surprises and stratagems worthy of Polybius. When he went into a drawing-room,
the woman he chose to attack was the one who seemed least sympathetic to him. It
was a delightful pleasure for him to make her pass from aversion to love by skilful gradations;
to impose himself on those who repelled him, and to break down the wills that
rebelled against his ascendency seemed to him the sweetest of triumphs. Like
those sportsmen who traverse fields, woods, and plains in rain, snow, and sun, unmindful of fatigue,
and with an ardor that nothing checks, for the sake of some wretched game, which
they generally refuse to eat, Max, once he had secured his prey, ceased to care
for it, and immediately started out in quest of another.
confessed that reality had no great attraction for him. Not that he indulged in
school-boy dreams full of lilies and roses, but every woman was surrounded by
too many prosaic and repellent facts, too many prosy fathers, coquettish mothers
wearing real flowers in false hair, bright-faced cousins turning over
declarations of love in their minds, ridiculous aunts fond of little dogs. An
engraving after a painting by Horace Vernet or Delaroche hanging in a woman's
room, sufficed to kill in his breast a rising passion. More poetical than
amorous, he wanted a terrace on Isola Bella, on Lago Maggiore, with a fine
moonlight, by way of setting for a rendezvous. He would have
liked to remove his love from common life and to transport it to the stars.
Consequently he had felt a mighty, impossible love for all the great feminine
characters preserved by art or history ; like Faust, he had loved Helen, and had
wished that the undulations of centuries had brought to him one of those sublime incarnations of the desires
and dreams of mankind, the form of which, invisible to vulgar eyes, ever
subsists through time and space. He had formed an ideal seraglio with Semiramis,
Aspasia, Cleopatra, Diana of Poitiers, Joan of Aragon. Sometimes, too, he fell
in love with statues, and one day, as he passed before the Venus of Milo in the
Louvre, he had called out, " Oh, who will give you back your arms, so that you may press me to your marble
breasts." At Rome, the sight of a thick tress of hair, exhumed from an
antique tomb, had inspired him with a curious fancy. He had endeavored, by means
of two or three threads of the hair, purchased at the price of gold from the keeper and handed to a very
powerful somnambulist, to call up the shadow and shape of this dead woman; but
the conductive fluid had evaporated during the lapse of so many years, and the
apparition had been unable to emerge from eternal night.
Fabio had guessed when he saw his friend standing before the glass case in the
Studj, the imprint found in the cellar of the house of Arrius Diomedes had
excited in Octavian an insensate desire for a retrospective ideal. He was
endeavoring to leave time and life behind and to transport his soul to the age
and Fabio withdrew to their rooms, and, their heads somewhat heavy, thanks to
the classic vapors of the Falernian, they speedily fell asleep. Octavian, who
had repeatedly left his glass untouched before him, — not caring to trouble by
material intoxication the poetic fervour that seethed in his brain, — felt by
the restlessness of his nerves that sleep would not come to him. He left the
osteria slowly, to cool his brow and to quiet his thoughts in the air of night.
his feet took him to the dead city. He removed the wooden bar that closed it and
ventured into the ruins. The white moonbeams illumined the wan houses, and
divided the streets into two parts of silvery light and bluish shadow. This
nocturnal light concealed with its delicate tints the ruinous state of the
buildings. The broken columns, the cracked facades, the roofs broken down by the
eruption, were not noticed as in the crude glare of noon. The parts that were
lacking were filled in by half-tints, and an unexpected beam, like a touch of
feeling in a sketch for a painting, suggested a whole fallen ensemble. The
mighty genii of night seemed to have restored the
fossil city for the performance of a strange life.
even, Octavian fancied he saw faint human shapes moving in the darkness, but
they vanished as soon as they reached the lighted part. Soft
whisperings, vague rumors, floated through the silence. He attributed these at
first to the winking of his eyes and the buzzing of his ears; he thought they
must be due to optical illusions, the plaint of the sea breeze, or the hurried
flight of a lizard or of an adder through the nettles; for everything lives in
nature, even death; everything sounds, even silence. Nevertheless, he could not
help a certain feeling of anxiety, a slight
shudder, due perhaps to the chilly air of night. Twice or thrice he looked
round. He did not feel alone in the deserted town as he had done a moment since.
Could his comrades have done the same thing as he, and were they looking for him
among the ruins? Were the shapes he had caught glimpses of Max and Fabio? Were
the indistinct sounds of steps produced by them as they walked and chatted and
disappeared round the corner of a square? Although this was a natural
explanation, Octavian felt that it was not the correct one, and he failed to
convince himself by any reasoning. The solitude and the shadow were peopled by
invisible beings whom he had disturbed. He had come
plump into the middle of a mystery, and it seemed as though his departure were
awaited before anything could begin. Such were the absurd ideas which came into
his mind, and which assumed much likelihood, owing to the time, the place, and
the numerous causes of terror that will easily recur to those who have been in
some great ruin at night.
he passed before a house which he had noticed during the day, and on which the
moon was shining brightly, he saw, in a state of complete restoration, a portico
which he had endeavored to reconstruct in his mind. Four Doric columns fluted
half-way up, the
shaft covered with a coat of red like a purple drapery, supported a cyma covered
with polychrome ornaments, which seemed to have been finished but the day
before. On the side wall of the door a Laconian mastiff in encaustic,
accompanied by the usual legend, Cave canem, was baying at the moon and at
visitors with painted fury. Above the mosaic threshold the word Have in Oscan
and Latin characters welcomed the guests
with its friendly syllables. The outer walls, painted red and yellow, showed not
a single crevice. The house was higher by one story, and the tile roof, topped
by a bronze acroter, exhibited a perfect profile against the pale-blue sky, in
which glimmered a few
strange restoration, carried out between afternoon and night by some unknown
architect, greatly bothered Octavian, who was quite certain that during the day
he had seen that same house in a very ruinous condition. The mysterious restorer
had worked very fast, for the neighbouring dwellings had a similar recent and
new look. All the pillars were topped by capitals; not a stone, not a brick, not
a pellicle of stucco, not a morsel of paint was lacking on the brilliant walls
of the facades, and through the peristyles he could see, round the marble basin
in the cavaedium, white and rose laurels, myrtles, and pomegranate trees.
History was at fault; there had been no eruption, or the hand of time had gone
back twenty centuries upon the dial of eternity.
filled with deepest surprise, asked himself whether he was sleeping standing or
whether he was walking in a dream. He examined himself seriously to ascertain
whether delirium were evoking hallucinations in his mind; but he was compelled
to recognize that he was neither sleeping nor mad. A singular change had taken
place in the atmosphere. Faint rosy tints mingled their violet gradations with
the azure beams of the moon. The heavens were growing lighter on the horizon. It
seemed as if day were
about to dawn. Octavian looked at his watch -, it pointed to midnight. Fancying
it might have stopped, he touched the repeater spring. The repeater sounded
twelve times. It was midnight unquestionably, and yet the light kept on
brightening, the moon was disappearing in the azure, which was becoming more and
more luminous; the sun was rising.
Then Octavian, in whose mind the notion of time was becoming confused, was fain to
admit that he was walking, not in dead Pompeii, — the cold corpse of a city
half drawn from its shroud,—but in a living, young, intact Pompeii, on which
the burning mud
torrents of Vesuvius had not yet flowed. An inexplicable miracle had just
carried him back, a Frenchman of the nineteenth century, to the days of Titus,
not in spirit but in reality; or else it was bringing back to him from the
depths of the past a destroyed
city, with its vanished inhabitants; for at that moment a man wearing an antique
costume emerged from a neighboring house.
man wore his hair short and was smooth shaven. He had on a brown tunic and a
grayish cloak, the ends of which were turned up so as not to impede his steps.
He walked rapidly, almost ran, and passed Octavian without seeing him. On his
arm he carried an esparto basket and he was going towards the Forum. There was
no doubt about it, he was a slave, a Davus going to market.
sound of wheels was heard. An antique cart, drawn by white oxen and laden with
vegetables, entered the street. By the oxen walked a driver with bare legs
tanned by the sun, sandals on his feet, and wearing a sort of linen shirt puffed
out at the waist. A
pointed straw hat thrown behind his back and fastened round his neck by a strap,
showed his head, of a type unknown at the present day; a low brow with hard
bumps, black, crinkly hair, a straight nose, eyes as soft as those of the oxen,
and a neck like that of a country Hercules. He gravely touched his animals with
the goad, assuming a statuesque pose that would have made Ingres go into
ecstasies. He noticed Octavian
and seemed surprised, but went on his way. He did turn round once, no doubt
unable to understand the presence of that personage, strange to him, but with
his placid rustic stupidity leaving cleverer men than he to read the riddle.
peasants also came, driving before them asses bearing skins of wine and tinkling
their brazen bells. Their faces were as different from those of our modern
peasants as medals differ from pennies.
town was gradually filling up with people, like one of those panorama pictures
that show deserted at first and which a change in the light fills with people
feelings had now changed. A moment ago, in the deceitful darkness of night, he
had been a prey to that uneasiness which the bravest cannot avoid when reason
fails to explain troubling, fantastic circumstances. His vague terror was
replaced by deep stupefaction. He could not understand the evidence of his
senses, in view of the clearness of his perceptions, and yet what he beheld was
absolutely incredible. Still not
quite convinced, he sought by noting small realistic details to assure himself
that he was not the plaything of a hallucination. It could not be phantoms that
filed past him, for the brilliant light of the sun illumined them with
unmistakable reality, and their shadows,
lengthened in the morning light, were cast on the pavements and the walls.
to understand what was happening to him, Octavian, at bottom delighted at seeing
one of his dearest dreams realized, let himself go and simply watched all these
marvels without attempting to understand them. He said to himself that since in
virtue of some mysterious power he was enabled to live for a few hours in a
vanished age, he was not going to lose his time in the solution of an
incomprehensible problem; and he continued bravely on his way, looking right and
left at a prospect which was to him at once so new and so old.
what was the particular period in the life of Pompeii into which he had been
transported? The names of the public personages in an aedile's inscription
engraved on the wall enabled him to ascertain that he was at the beginning of
the reign of Titus, — that is, in the year 79 of the Christian era. A sudden
thought flashed into Octavian's mind. The woman whose imprint he had admired in
the Naples Museum must be alive, since the eruption of Vesuvius, in which she
had perished, had taken place on August 24 in that year; so it was possible for
him to find her, to see her, to speak to her. The great desire which he had
experienced at the sight of those ashes molded upon divine contours, was perhaps
to be satisfied ; for nothing could be impossible to a love that could compel
time to go backwards, and the same hour to pass twice through the
hour-glass of eternity.
Octavian indulged in these reflections, hand some young maids were going to the
fountains, supporting with the tips of their white ringers the jars they
balanced on their heads. Patricians in white togae bordered with purple bands,
and followed by their train
of clients, were proceeding to the Forum. Purchasers crowded round the shops;
each of which was distinguished by a carved and painted sign, and recalled by
its small size and its shape the Moorish shops in Algiers. Above most of the
stalls a splendid phallus
in colored terra cotta, bearing the words hie habitat felicitas, gave proof of
superstitious precautions against the evil eye. Octavian noticed even an amulet
shop, the show-case of which was filled with horns, branches of coral, and small
golden Priapae, 'such as are still to be found in Naples, as defences against
jettatura, whereupon he remarked to himself that superstition was more durable
than religion even.
the pavement, which borders every street in Pompeii, — the English being thus
deprived of the honor of having invented that comfort, — Octavian came face to
face with a handsome young fellow of about his own age, wearing a
saffron-colored tunic, and draped in a mantle of fine white wool as soft as
cashmere. The sight of Octavian, wearing the hideous modern hat, an ugly black
frock-coat, his legs pinioned in trousers, his feet fastened in by shining
boots, appeared to surprise the young Pompeian as much as the sight of a Redskin
or a Botocudo with his feathers, his necklace of grizzly-bear claws and his
queer tattooing would surprise us on the Boulevard. However, as he was a
well-bred young man, he did not burst out laughing in Octavian's face, and
taking pity on the poor barbarian lost in the Greco-Roman city,
he said to him in a gently modulated voice: —
was quite natural that an inhabitant of Pompeii in the reign of the divine
Emperor Titus, Most Powerful and Most August, should speak Latin ; yet Octavian
started on hearing that dead language spoken by a living mouth. Then he
congratulated himself on having been one of the best Latin students and carried
off prizes in the competitions. The Latin taught in the University served him
for once, and recalling his classroom
experience, he replied to the Pompeian's welcome in the style of De viribus
illustribus and of Selectee e profanis, in a fairly intelligible manner, but
with a Parisian accent which compelled the young man to smile.
it is easier for you to speak Greek," said the Pompeian." I know that
language too, for I studied at Athens."
know even less Greek than Latin," replied Octavian. "I am from Gaul,
from Paris, from Lutetia."
know that country. My ancestor made war in Gaul under the great Julius Caesar.
But what a curious dress you wear! The Gauls I saw at Rome were not dressed like
attempted to make the young Pompeian understand that twenty centuries had passed
since the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, and that fashions had possibly
changed in the meantime. But his Latin was not sufficient for the purpose; and
indeed, it did not amount to much.
am called Rufus Holconius, and my house is yours," said the young man;
"unless you prefer the freedom of the tavern. You can be quite comfortable
at the inn of Albinus, near the gate of the Augustus Felix suburb, and in the
hostelry of Sarinus, the son of Publius, near the second tower; but if you have no objection, I should be glad
to show you through the city, which is strange to you. I like you, you young
barbarian, although you did try to play on my credulity by pretending that
Emperor Titus, who is reigning at this moment, died two thousand years ago, and that the Nazarene, whose
abominable followers, covered with pitch, lighted up the gardens of Nero, alone
reigns as master in the deserted heavens whence the great gods have fallen. By
Pollux," he added, glancing at a red inscription on a corner of a street,
"you have come at the right moment. They are playing Plautus' Casino,
recently put again on the stage. It is a curious and comical play, which will
amuse you, even if you can make out no more than the gestures. Follow me, for it will soon begin. I will have you placed in
the seats for guests and strangers."
Rufus Holconius walked off toward the small comic theatre which the three
friends had visited during the course of the day.
Frenchman and the Pompeian walked through the Street of the Fountain of
Abundance, the Street of Theatres, passed by the College and the Temple of Isis,
the Sculptor's Studio, and entered the Odeon, or comic theatre, by a side
entrance. Thanks to the recommendation of Holconius, Octavian was placed near
the proscenium. Every glance was immediately turned upon him with kindly
curiosity, and light whisperings
ran all about the amphitheatre.
play had not yet begun. Octavian turned the time to account by examining the
hall. The semicircular benches, ending at each extremity in a magnificent lion's
paw, carved out of Vesuvian lava, rose and broadened from an empty space
answering to our orchestra stalls, but much smaller and paved with a mosaic of
Greek marbles; a broader bench formed every here and there a distinctive zone,
and four staircases corresponding to the entrances, and ascending from the base
to the summit of the amphitheatre, divided it into four wedges, wider at the top
than at the bottom. The spectators, provided with tickets consisting of small
ivory counters on which were marked the compartment, the wedge, and the bench, with the title of the play to
be performed and the name of the author, found their places without difficulty.
The magistrates and nobles, the married men, the young men, the soldiers with
their gleaming bronze helmets, had separate seats. The beautiful togas and the
full white mantles, well-draped, spreading over the lower steps and contrasting
with the varied dresses of the women, who were seated above, and the gray capes
of the common people, relegated to the upper benches near the pillars supporting
the roof, between which one could see a sky as intensely blue as the azure field
of a panathena, formed a wonderful spectacle. A fine spray of water, scented
with saffron, fell in imperceptible drops from the friezes, and perfumed the air while cooling it. Octavian recalled
the fetid emanations that poison the atmosphere of our theatres, so incommodious
that they may be considered places of torture, and came to the conclusion that
civilization had not
curtain, supported by a transverse beam, fell below the orchestra. The musicians
seated themselves in their tribune, and Prologue appeared, dressed grotesquely,
his head covered with an ugly mask, put on like a helmet.
after having bowed to the audience and called for applause, began to make an
argument. "Old plays," he said, "were like wine, which improves
with use; and Casino, dear to the elders, should surely not be less dear to the
young. All could enjoy
it, the former because they were acquainted with it, the latter because they did
not yet know it. For the rest, the play had been carefully restored, and the
spectators ought to listen to it free from care, without thinking of their debts
or their creditors, for no arrests
could be made at a theatre. It was a lucky day, the weather was fine, and the
halcyons were soaring over the Forum." Then he gave a summary of the comedy
which the actors were about to perform, at such length that it is clear surprise
had little to do with the pleasure the ancients took in dramatic performances.
He stated that the old man Stalino, in love with his beautiful slave Casina,
proposed to marry her to his farmer Olympio, a complaisant husband, whose place
he was to occupy on the wedding night and that Lycostrata, Stalino's wife, to
checkmate her vicious husband's lust, proposed to marry Casina to the equerry
Chalinus, with the intention of favoring her son's amours; finally, how Stalino,
completely taken in, mistook a disguised slave youth for Casina, who, on its
being found that she was free and of ingenuous birth, wedded the young master,
whom she loved and by whom she was beloved.
young Frenchman paid little attention to the actors with their bronze-mouthed
masks as they performed on the stage. The slaves ran hither and thither to
simulate haste; the old man wagged his head and held out his trembling hands ;
loud-voiced, with sour and disdainful look, asserted her importance and scolded
her husband, to the great delight of the spectators, The actors entered and went
out by three doors, cut in the wall at the back, and leading to the actors'
foyer. Stalino's house was at one corner of the stage, and opposite was that of
his old friend Alcesimus. The setting, though very well painted, rather gave an
idea of the place than represented
it, like the non-characteristic stage-setting of the classic tragedy.
the nuptial procession escorting the sham Casina entered on the stage, a great
burst of laughter, such as Homer describes the laughter of the gods to be, ran
along every bench in the amphitheatre, and thunders of applause awoke the echoes
of the place. But Octavian no longer listened or looked, for in the compartment
occupied by the women he had just caught sight of a wonderful beauty. From that
minute the lovely faces which had attracted him were eclipsed, as the stars are
eclipsed by Phoebe. Everything vanished, and disappeared as in a dream. A mist
seemed to cover the benches that swarmed with people, and the shrill voices of
the actors seemed lost in infinite distance. He felt at his heart a sort of
electric shock, and when that woman's glance was turned upon him, he felt that
sparks flashed from his breast.
was dark and pale; her wavy, curly hair, black as night, was slightly drawn back
on the temples in the Greek fashion, and in her white face shone somber, soft
eyes, full of an indefinable expression of voluptuous sadness and weariness of
passion. Her mouth,
disdainfully curved at the corners, protested by the ardent brilliancy of its
flaming purple against the placid whiteness of the face. Her neck had those
lovely, pure lines which nowadays are to be seen on statues only. Her arms were
bare to the shoulder, and from
the tips of her proud breasts, that lifted her rose mauve-colored tunic, fell
two folds that might have been carved in marble by Phidias or Cleomenes.
sight of those breasts, so perfect in contour, so pure in outline, filled
Octavian with emotion. It seemed to him that they exactly fitted the hollow
imprints in the Museum of Naples, which had cast him into such an ardent
reverie, and a voice called out from
within his heart that that was the woman who had been stifled by the ashes of
Vesuvius in the villa of Arrius Diomedes. By what miracle did he now behold her
alive, present at the performance of Plautus' Casina? He did not attempt to
understand it. For the matter of that, how did he happen to be there himself? He
accepted her presence as in dreams we accept the intervention of people who have
long since died and who nevertheless act as if they were still living. Besides,
his emotion checked his reasoning powers. As far as he was concerned, the wheel
of time was thrown out of its rut, and his victorious desire had chosen its own
place amid the vanished centuries. He found himself face to face with his dream,
one of the least realizable, a retrospective chimera. All at once his life was
he gazed upon that face, so calm and yet so full of passion, he understood that
he beheld his first and last love, that he had before him his cup of supreme
intoxication. He felt the remembrances of all the women he thought he had loved
vanishing like faint
shadows, and his soul became virgin of any anterior emotion. The past
the beautiful Pompeian girl, resting her chin upon the palm of her hand, cast
upon Octavian, while appearing to watch the stage, the velvety glance of her
darksome eyes, a glance that fell upon him heavy and burning, like a jet of
molten lead. Then she leaned and whispered to a girl seated by her side.
performance was over. The crowd passed out of the exits. Octavian, refusing the
proffered service of his guide Holconius, sprang out of the first exit which he
came upon. He had scarcely reached the door, when he felt a hand on his arm, and
a feminine voice whispered to him, low, but so distinctly that he lost not a
am Tyche Nevoleia, and I minister to the pleasures of Arria Marcella, daughter
of Arrius Diomedes. My mistress loves you; follow me."
Marcella had just entered her litter, borne by four strong Syrian slaves, nude
to the belt, their bronze torsos shining in the sun. The curtains of the litter
were drawn apart, and a white hand, covered with rings, was waving in friendly
fashion to Octavian, as
if to confirm the message borne by the servant. The purple curtain closed, and
the litter went off, to the cadenced step of the slaves.
led Octavian through side streets, crossing from one to another by stepping
lightly upon stones which connected the pavements, and between which passed the
car wheels, making her way through the labyrinth with the readiness that comes
of familiarity with a city. Octavian observed that he was traversing portions of
Pompeii which had not yet been excavated, and which consequently were wholly
unknown to him. This curious circumstance, amid so many other curious
circumstances, did not surprise him. He had made up his mind to be astonished at
nothing. In all this archaic phantasmagoria, which would have driven an
archaeologist crazy with delight, he saw but the dark, deep glance of Arria
Marcella, and her splendid bosom, triumphant over the ages, which destruction
itself sought to preserve.
reached a concealed door, that opened and immediately closed, and Octavian found
himself in a court surrounded by Ionic columns of Greek marble, painted half-way
up a bright yellow, the capitals picked out with red and blue ornaments. A plant
of aristolochia hung its broad, heart-shaped leaves from the corners of the
building, like a natural arabesque, and near a basin bordered with plants, a
rose flamingo stood on
one leg, like a feather flower among the vegetable flowers. Frescoed panels,
representing fanciful buildings or landscapes, adorned the walls. Octavian noted
these details with a rapid glance, for Tyche handed him over to the slaves who
attended the baths, and who, in spite of his impatience, compelled him to
undergo all the refinements of the baths of antiquity. After having passed
through the different degrees of vaporized heat, borne with the scraper of the
rubber, and had poured over him perfumes, cosmetics, and oil, he was clothed in
a white tunic, and at the farther door
found Tyche, who took his hand and led him into another richly ornamented room.
the ceiling were painted, with a purity of drawing, a brilliancy of color, and a
freedom of touch that marked a great master and nor a mere decorator, Mars,
Venus, and Cupid; a frieze composed of stags, hares, and birds, playing amid
foliage, ran around the room above a wainscotting of Cipoline marble; the mosaic
of the flooring, a wonderful piece of work, which was perhaps done by Sosimus of
Pergamus, represented banqueting meats admirably executed.
the back of the room, on a biclinium, or bed for two persons, leaned Arria
Marcella, in a voluptuous, serene pose that recalled the resting woman carved by
Phidias on the front of the Parthenon. Her pearl-embroidered shoes lay at the
foot of the bed, and her lovely bare feet, purer than white marble, showed from
under a light linen coverlet.
urns shaped like balances, with a pearl in each scale, shimmered in the light by
her pale cheeks; a necklace of golden balls, from which hung pear-shaped drops,
gleamed upon the bosom half revealed by the careless opening of a straw-colored
peplum, bordered with a black fret; a gold and black band shone in her auburn
hair ; for she had changed her dress on returning from the theatre, and round
her arm, like the asp
round Cleopatra's arm, was a golden serpent, with eyes formed of precious
stones, trying to bite its tail.
small table supported on griffins' feet, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl,
silver, and ivory, stood by the bed, laden with various dishes served in gold
and silver plate, or on china enameled with precious paintings. There was a
pheasant with its feathers on, and various fruits that ripen at different
was every indication that a guest was expected. Fresh-cut flowers were strewn on
the ground, and the amphorae of wine were plunged in urns full of snow.
Marcella signed to Octavian to lie down by her on the biclinium and to share the
meal. The young man, half crazed with surprise and love, ate a few mouthfuls
from the dishes held out to him by little Asiatic slaves with curly hair and
short tunics. Arria did not eat, but she often bore to her lips an opalescent
Myrrhine cup filled with a dark purple wine, like coagulated blood. As she
drank, from her heart, which had not beat for so many years, a faint rosy flush
rose to her pale cheeks, but her bare arm, which Octavian touched as he raised
his cup, was cold as a serpent's skin or a marble tombstone.
when you stopped at the Studj to look at the piece of hardened clay which has
preserved my shape," said Arria Marcella, as she cast a deep moist glance
upon Octavian, " and when your thought rushed ardently to me, my soul felt
it in the world in which I float, invisible to material eyes. Belief makes a
god, and love makes woman. One really dies only when no longer loved. Your
desire has restored me to life; the mighty evocation of your heart has
suppressed the distance which separated us."
view of amorous evocation, expressed by the young woman, coincided with the
philosophical belief of Octavian, — a belief which I am much inclined to
share. For, in truth, nothing dies; everything goes on existing. No power can
annihilate whatever has once been created. Every act, every word, every shape,
every thought which has fallen into the universal ocean of things makes circles
which go on broadening to the far confines of eternity. Material configurations
disappear only to the common glance; their specters people the infinite. Paris
still carries away Helen to some unknown region of bliss ; the silken sails of
Cleopatra's galley still swell on some blue ideal Cydnus. Some
passionate minds, endowed with a powerful will, have succeeded in recalling to
themselves ages apparently vanished, and have revived people dead to others.
Faust had the daughter of Tyndarus for a mistress, and took her to his Gothic
castle from the mysterious depths of Hades. Octavian had just lived one day in
the reign of Titus, and had made himself beloved of Arria Marcella, who was
lying at this moment by him on an antique bed, in a city that for every one else
the disgust other women inspire me with," said Octavian, "by the
irresistible thought which drew me to its own radiant types in the depths of the
ages, as towards stars calling to me, I understood that I should never love save
outside all time and space. You are the one I waited for, and the faint trace
preserved by man's curiosity placed me in relation with your soul through secret
magnetism. I know not whether you are a dream or a reality, a phantom or a
woman; whether, like Ixion, I am clasping a cloud to my
breast, or whether I am the plaything of a sorcerer's foul charm ; but what I do
know is that you shall be my first and my last love."
Eros, son of Aphrodite, hear your vow," said Arria Marcella, resting her
head upon her lover's shoulder, as he drew her to him in a passionate embrace.
"Oh, press me to your young breast, envelop me with your warm breath; I am
cold from having remained so long without love."
Octavian felt that beautiful bosom, the mould of which he had that very morning
admired through the glass of a case in the Museum, rising and falling against
his breast. He felt the coolness of the lovely flesh through his tunic. It
burned him. The black and gold band had fallen from Arria's head, which was
thrown back in a passion of love, and her hair was spread like a black river
upon the blue pillow.
slaves had removed the table. Naught was heard but a confused sound of kisses
and sighs. The tame quails, heedless of this amorous scene, were chirping and
picking upon the mosaic floor the remains of the feast.
the brazen rings of the portiere that closed the room slid along the pole, and
an old man of severe appearance, robed in a great brown mantle, appeared on the
threshold. He wore his gray beard in two points, like the Nazarenes. His face
appeared wrinkled by fatigue and maceration; a small cross of black wood hung
round his neck, leaving no doubt as to his belief: he belonged to the sect, then
of the disciples of Christ.
sight of him Arria Marcella, overwhelmed with confusion, concealed her face in a
fold of her mantle, like a bird that conceals its head under its wing in the
presence of a foe it cannot avoid, so as to escape at least the horror of seeing
it, while Octavian, leaning
on his elbow, looked fixedly at the troublesome individual who had thus abruptly
broken in upon his enjoyment.
Arria," said the austere individual, in a tone of reproach, "was not
your lifetime sufficient for your dissipation, and must your infamous loves
trespass upon the ages which do not belong to you? Can you not leave the living
within their sphere? Have your ashes not cooled since the day you died
unrepentant under the volcano's rain of fire? Have two thousand years of death
not quieted you, and do your greedy arms still draw to your heartless marble
bosom the poor mad men intoxicated by your spells?"
mercy on me, father Arrius; do not overwhelm me in the name of that morose
religion which never was mine. I believe in our old gods, who loved life, youth,
beauty, and pleasure. Do not plunge me back into wan nothingness; let me enjoy
the life which love has restored to me."
impious one; speak not of your gods that are but fiends. Let go that man,
enchained by your impure seductions; cease attracting him outside the circle of
his life measured out by God; return into the limbo of paganism with your
Asiatic, Roman, and Greek lovers. Young Christian, do thou abandon that larva,
which would seem to thee more hideous than the Empusae and Phorcydes, if thou
couldst see her such as she is."
pale and frozen with horror, strove to speak, but his tongue clove to the roof
of his mouth.
you obey, Arria ?" cried the tall old man, imperiously.
replied Arria, her eyes flashing, her nostrils dilated, her lips quivering, as
she clasped Octavian in her lovely statue-like arms, cold, hard, and rigid like
marble. Her proud beauty, exasperated by the struggle, shone with supernal
brilliancy at this supreme moment, as if to leave to her young lover an
then, evil one," replied the old man, " I shall have to use serious
measures and make your nothingness palpable and visible to that fascinated
he uttered in a voice of command a formula of exorcism that drove from Arria's
cheeks the rosy tints they owed to the black wine in the Myrrhine cup.
that moment the distant bell of one of the villages on the seashore, or of one
of the hamlets nestling in the folds of the mountain, sounded the angelic
she heard it, an agonizing sigh broke from the young woman. Octavian felt the
arms that clasped him grow limp. The draperies that covered her fell back of
themselves as if the contours that supported them had disappeared, and the
unfortunate nocturnal wanderer saw by his side on the festal bed nothing but a
handful of ashes and shapeless remains mingled with calcined bones, among which
gleamed bracelets and
golden jewels, such as must have been discovered when the house of Arrius
Diomedes was excavated. — He uttered a terrible cry and swooned away. The old
man had disappeared, the sun was rising, and the hall, so brilliantly adorned
but a moment before, was now only a dismal ruin.
a heavy sleep caused by the libations of the evening before, Max and Fabio awoke
with a start, and their first thought was to summon their companion, whose room
was near theirs, by one of those burlesque rallying-cries which young fellows
sometimes agree upon when travelling. Octavian did not reply, for excellent
reasons. Fabio and Max, receiving no reply, entered their friend's room, and
perceived that he had not slept in his bed at all. "He must have been
unable to get back to his bed, and have gone to sleep in a chair," said
Fabio, "for he has not a very strong head, and then probably went out early
to work off the fumes of the wine in the morning air."
had not drunk very much," added Max, reflectively. "This seems rather
strange to me. Let's go and find him."
two friends, accompanied by the cicerone, searched every street, every lane,
every crossroads, every square in Pompeii, entered every quaint and curious
house where they suspected Octavian might be copying a painting or noting an
inscription, and at last found him lying in a swoon upon the mosaic of a small
room that was partially collapsed in ruin. They had difficulty bring him to his
senses; when he finally regained consciousness, he gave no explanation other
than he had been taken by a whim to visit Pompeii by moonlight and he had
fainted which was not likely to have any serious consequences.
party returned to Naples by train, as they had come, and that evening, in their
box at San Carlo, Max and Fabio watched through their opera glasses a swarm of
ballet nymphs skipping after Amelia Farraris, the dancer then in vogue, all of
them wearing beneath their gauze skirts hideous drawers of a monstrous green
that made them look like frogs stung by a tarantula. Octavian, pale and weary
with misty eyes, barely seemed to notice what was happening on the stage, so
difficult was it after his extraordinary nocturnal adventure to enter once again
into the sensation of real life.
that day on, Octavian was consumed by a black melancholy, which the joking good
humor of his old friends did more to aggravate than to relieve. The image of
Arria Marcella haunted him constantly, and the unhappy ending of his fantastical
love affair did not detract from its memory.
unable to resist the desire, he secretly returned to Pompeii and wandered among
the ruins by moonlight as he had that first time, his heart throbbing with a
wild, absurd hope; but the hallucination did not reoccur. He saw only the
lizards scurrying over the stones and heard only the calls of frightened night
birds. His friend Rufus Holonicus was not to be seen; Tyche did not come to pose
her slender hand upon his arm; Arria Marcella, implacable, remained dust.
a last resort, Octavian married a lovely young English girl who is madly in love
with him. He is a perfect husband, yet a secret, unerring instinct of her heart,
tells Ellen that he is in love with another. But with whom? The most meticulous
sleuthing has failed to provide any indication. Octavian does not keep a
ballerina; in social encounters he honors women with the merest platitudes; he
even gave a notably cool reception to the advances of a Russian princess known
for her beauty and coquetry. A secret drawer, opened in her husband’s absence,
provided Ellen with not the slightest proof of infidelity. But how would it ever
occur to her to be jealous of Arria Marcella, daughter of Arrius Diomedes, a
freedman of Tiberius?