She replaced the stone, and continued her path onward for some paces, when she stopped before a deep irregular fissure in the earth. Here, as she bent—strange, rumbling, hoarse, and distant sounds might be heard, while ever and anon, with a loud and grating noise which, to use a homely but faithful simile, seemed to resemble the grinding of steel upon wheels, volumes of streaming and dark smoke issued forth, and rushed spirally along the cavern.
‘The Shades are noisier than their wont,’ said the hag, shaking her grey locks; and, looking into the cavity, she beheld, far down, glimpses of a long streak of light, intensely but darkly red. ‘Strange!’ she said, shrinking back; ’it is only within the last two days that dull, deep light hath been visible—what can it portend?’
The fox, who had attended the steps of his fell mistress, uttered a dismal howl, and ran cowering back to the inner cave; a cold shuddering seized the hag herself at the cry of the animal, which, causeless as it seemed, the superstitions of the time considered deeply ominous. She muttered her placatory charm, and tottered back into her cavern, where, amidst her herbs and incantations, she prepared to execute the orders of the Egyptian.
‘He called me dotard,’ said she, as the smoke curled from the hissing cauldron: ’when the jaws drop, and the grinders fall, and the heart scarce beats, it is a pitiable thing to dote; but when,’ she added, with a savage and exulting grin, ’the young, and the beautiful, and the strong, are suddenly smitten into idiocy—ah, that is terrible! Burn, flame—simmer herb—swelter toad—I cursed him, and he shall be cursed!’
On that night, and at the same hour which witnessed the dark and unholy interview between Arbaces and the Saga, Apaecides was baptized.
Progress of events. The plot thickens. The web is woven, but the net changes hands.
’And you have the courage then, Julia, to seek the Witch of Vesuvius this evening; in company, too, with that fearful man?’
‘Why, Nydia?’ replied Julia, timidly; ’dost thou really think there is anything to dread? These old hags, with their enchanted mirrors, their trembling sieves, and their moon-gathered herbs, are, I imagine, but crafty impostors, who have learned, perhaps, nothing but the very charm for which I apply to their skill, and which is drawn but from the knowledge of the field’s herbs and simples. Wherefore should I dread?’
‘Dost thou not fear thy companion?’
’What, Arbaces? By Dian, I never saw lover more courteous than that same magician! And were he not so dark, he would be even handsome.’
Blind as she was, Nydia had the penetration to perceive that Julia’s mind was not one that the gallantries of Arbaces were likely to terrify. She therefore dissuaded her no more: but nursed in her excited heart the wild and increasing desire to know if sorcery had indeed a spell to fascinate love to love.