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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 439 pages of information about Last Days of Pompeii.

‘Lodges she near this?’

’No—­in the upper apartments.  But I must not stay prating here longer.  Vale!’

Chapter XII

A Wasp ventures into the spider’s web.

The second night of the trial had set in; and it was nearly the time in which Sosia was to brave the dread Unknown, when there entered, at that very garden-gate which the slave had left ajar—­not, indeed, one of the mysterious spirits of earth or air, but the heavy and most human form of Calenus, the priest of Isis.  He scarcely noted the humble offerings of indifferent fruit, and still more indifferent wine, which the pious Sosia had deemed good enough for the invisible stranger they were intended to allure.  ‘Some tribute,’ thought he, ’to the garden god.  By my father’s head! if his deityship were never better served, he would do well to give up the godly profession.  Ah! were it not for us priests, the gods would have a sad time of it.  And now for Arbaces—­I am treading a quicksand, but it ought to cover a mine.  I have the Egyptian’s life in my power—­what will he value it at?’

As he thus soliloquised, he crossed through the open court into the peristyle, where a few lamps here and there broke upon the empire of the starlit night; and issuing from one of the chambers that bordered the colonnade, suddenly encountered Arbaces.

‘Ho!  Calenus—­seekest thou me?’ said the Egyptian; and there was a little embarrassment in his voice.

‘Yes, wise Arbaces—­I trust my visit is not unseasonable?’

’Nay—­it was but this instant that my freedman Callias sneezed thrice at my right hand; I knew, therefore, some good fortune was in store for me—­and, lo! the gods have sent me Calenus.’

‘Shall we within to your chamber, Arbaces?’

’As you will; but the night is clear and balmy—­I have some remains of languor yet lingering on me from my recent illness—­the air refreshes me—­let us walk in the garden—­we are equally alone there.’

‘With all my heart,’ answered the priest; and the two friends passed slowly to one of the many terraces which, bordered by marble vases and sleeping flowers, intersected the garden.

‘It is a lovely night,’ said Arbaces—­’blue and beautiful as that on which, twenty years ago, the shores of Italy first broke upon my view.  My Calenus, age creeps upon us—­let us, at least, feel that we have lived.’

‘Thou, at least, mayst arrogate that boast,’ said Calenus, beating about, as it were, for an opportunity to communicate the secret which weighed upon him, and feeling his usual awe of Arbaces still more impressively that night, from the quiet and friendly tone of dignified condescension which the Egyptian assumed—­’Thou, at least, mayst arrogate that boast.  Thou hast had countless wealth—­a frame on whose close-woven fibres disease can find no space to enter—­prosperous love—­inexhaustible pleasure—­and, even at this hour, triumphant revenge.’

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