‘It is, indeed, a great contrast,’ said Clodius, ironically at heart, though not in appearance, ’to the old-fashioned and tame simplicity of that ode of Horace which we heard before. The air is beautifully Ionic: the word puts me in mind of a toast—Companions, I give you the beautiful Ione.’
‘Ione!—the name is Greek,’ said Glaucus, in a soft voice. ’I drink the health with delight. But who is Ione?’
’Ah! you have but just come to Pompeii, or you would deserve ostracism for your ignorance,’ said Lepidus, conceitedly; ’not to know Ione, is not to know the chief charm of our city.’
‘She is of the most rare beauty,’ said Pansa; ‘and what a voice!’
‘She can feed only on nightingales’ tongues,’ said Clodius.
‘Nightingales’ tongues!—beautiful thought!’ sighed the umbra.
‘Enlighten me, I beseech you,’ said Glaucus.
‘Know then...’ began Lepidus.
‘Let me speak,’ cried Clodius; ’you drawl out your words as if you spoke tortoises.’
‘And you speak stones,’ muttered the coxcomb to himself, as he fell back disdainfully on his couch.
‘Know then, my Glaucus,’ said Clodius, ’that Ione is a stranger who has but lately come to Pompeii. She sings like Sappho, and her songs are her own composing; and as for the tibia, and the cithara, and the lyre, I know not in which she most outdoes the Muses. Her beauty is most dazzling. Her house is perfect; such taste—such gems—such bronzes! She is rich, and generous as she is rich.’
‘Her lovers, of course,’ said Glaucus, ’take care that she does not starve; and money lightly won is always lavishly spent.’
’Her lovers—ah, there is the enigma!—Ione has but one vice—she is chaste. She has all Pompeii at her feet, and she has no lovers: she will not even marry.’
‘No lovers!’ echoed Glaucus.
‘No; she has the soul of Vestal with the girdle of Venus.’
‘What refined expressions!’ said the umbra.
‘A miracle!’ cried Glaucus. ‘Can we not see her?’
’I will take you there this evening, said Clodius; ‘meanwhile...’ added he, once more rattling the dice.
‘I am yours!’ said the complaisant Glaucus. ‘Pansa, turn your face!’
Lepidus and Sallust played at odd and even, and the umbra looked on, while Glaucus and Clodius became gradually absorbed in the chances of the dice.
‘By Pollux!’ cried Glaucus, ’this is the second time I have thrown the caniculae’ (the lowest throw).
‘Now Venus befriend me!’ said Clodius, rattling the box for several moments. ‘O Alma Venus—it is Venus herself!’ as he threw the highest cast, named from that goddess—whom he who wins money, indeed, usually propitiates!
‘Venus is ungrateful to me,’ said Glaucus, gaily; ’I have always sacrificed on her altar.’
‘He who plays with Clodius,’ whispered Lepidus, ’will soon, like Plautus’s Curculio, put his pallium for the stakes.’