‘Be quiet, wife,’ said he, in a tone half-sullen, half-timid; ’you want new girdles and fine clothes, do you? Well then, take care of your slave, or you may want them long. Voe capiti tuo—vengeance on thy head, wretched one!’
‘What is this?’ said the hag, looking from one to the other.
Nydia started as by a sudden impulse from the wall against which she had leaned: she threw herself at the feet of Stratonice; she embraced her knees, and looking up at her with those sightless but touching eyes:
‘O my mistress!’ sobbed she, ’you are a woman—you have had sisters—you have been young like me, feel for me—save me! I will go to those horrible feasts no more!’
‘Stuff!’ said the hag, dragging her up rudely by one of those delicate hands, fit for no harsher labor than that of weaving the flowers which made her pleasure or her trade; ’stuff! these fine scruples are not for slaves.’
‘Hark ye,’ said Burbo, drawing forth his purse, and chinking its contents: ’you hear this music, wife; by Pollux! if you do not break in yon colt with a tight rein, you will hear it no more.’
‘The girl is tired,’ said Stratonice, nodding to Calenus; ’she will be more docile when you next want her.’
‘You! you! who is here?’ cried Nydia, casting her eyes round the apartment with so fearful and straining a survey, that Calenus rose in alarm from his seat.
‘She must see with those eyes!’ muttered he.
’Who is here! Speak, in heaven’s name! Ah, if you were blind like me, you would be less cruel,’ said she; and she again burst into tears.
‘Take her away,’ said Burbo, impatiently; ‘I hate these whimperings.’
‘Come!’ said Stratonice, pushing the poor child by the shoulders. Nydia drew herself aside, with an air to which resolution gave dignity.
‘Hear me,’ she said; ’I have served you faithfully—I who was brought up—Ah! my mother, my poor mother! didst thou dream I should come to this?’ She dashed the tear from her eyes, and proceeded: ’Command me in aught else, and I will obey; but I tell you now, hard, stern, inexorable as you are—I tell you that I will go there no more; or, if I am forced there, that I will implore the mercy of the praetor himself—I have said it. Hear me, ye gods, I swear!’
The hag’s eyes glowed with fire; she seized the child by the hair with one hand, and raised on high the other—that formidable right hand, the least blow of which seemed capable to crush the frail and delicate form that trembled in her grasp. That thought itself appeared to strike her, for she suspended the blow, changed her purpose, and dragging Nydia to the wall, seized from a hook a rope, often, alas! applied to a similar purpose, and the next moment the shrill, the agonized shrieks of the blind girl, rang piercingly through the house.