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adapted by Robert I. Fulton from "Last Days of Pompeii"
"It is my poor, blind Thessalian," said Glaucus, stopping; "I have not seen her since my return to Pompeii. Hush! let us listen to her song."
THE BLIND FLOWER GIRL'S SONG
Buy my flowers, O buy, I pray!
The blind girl started forward as she heard the Athenian's voice; then as suddenly paused, while a blush of timidity flushed over neck, cheeks, and temples.
"So you are returned!" she said in a low voice.
"Yes, child, I have not been at Pompeii above a few days. My garden wants your care, you will visit it, I trust, to-morrow, and mind, no garlands at my house shall be woven by any hands but those of the pretty Nydia."
Nydia smiled joyously but did not answer; and Glaucus, placing in his breast the violets he had selected, turned gaily and carelessly from the crowd.
Though of gentle birth, for her cradle was rocked at the foot of Olympus, Nydia had been sold when quite young to Burbo, a gladiator of the amphitheater. She was cruelly treated by the wife of Burbo.
Glaucus bought her, took her to his home, and her sweetest joy was to minister to the comfort and entertainment of her deliverer. The vines that grew upon the walls of the peristyle were not more graceful, their tendrils not more trusting and tender, nor the flowers woven into wreaths and garlands by her skillful fingers more beautiful than the blind flower-girl of the house of Glaucus.
As the months went on what wonder that the kind words and sympathetic voice which had been the first that had sounded musically to her ear should awaken in the breast of Nydia a deeper love than that which springs from gratitude alone! What wonder that in her innocence and blindness she knew no reason why the most brilliant and the most graceful of the young nobles of Pompeii should entertain none other than feelings of friendship for her! When the Athenian drew her unconsciously to his breast, deeming her still a child — when he kissed her cheek and wound his arm around her trembling form, Nydia felt that those feelings she had innocently cherished were of love.
What wonder then that into her wild and passionate soul should creep the pangs of jealousy when another claimed the homage of him who was all to her!
Glaucus loved Ione, a beautiful young Neapolitan of Greek parentage who had lately come to Pompeii. She was one of those brilliant characters which seldom flash across our career. She united in the highest perfection the rarest of earthly gifts, — Genius and Beauty. No one ever possessed superior intellectual qualities without knowing them. In the person of Ione, Glaucus found the long-sought idol of his dreams; and so infatuated was he, that he could talk of no one else. No song was sweet but that which breathed of love, and to him love was but a synonym of Ione.
"Play to us, dear Nydia, — play, and give us one of thy songs; whether it be of magic or not as thou wilt — let it at least be of love."
"Of love! wish you that I should sing of love?"
She moved a little way from Ione, who had learned to love her more as a sister than a slave, and placing her light, graceful instrument on her knee, after a short prelude, she sang the following strain, in which with touching pathos, her own sighs were represented by the Wind, the brightness of the beautiful Ione by the Sun-beam, and the personality of Glaucus by his favorite flower, the Rose.
The scene changes; where only the brightness of uninterrupted love had hitherto fallen, now creep the black shadows of tragic sorrow.
Ione falls into the clutches of Arbaces, a subtle, crafty Egyptian, who attempted by the magic of his dark sorcery, to win her away from Glaucus. In pursuit of his base designs, Arbaces murders Apæcides, the brother of Ione, imprisons
the priest Calenus, the only witness of the deed, and with great cunning weaves a convicting web of circumstantial evidence around Glaucus, his hated rival. Glaucus is tried, convicted, and doomed to be thrown to the lion. Ione and Nydia
are also prisoners in the house of Arbaces. Glaucus has been placed in that gloomy and narrow cell in which the criminals of the arena awaited their last and fearful struggle.
Where were the gay loiterers who once lingered at the feasts and drank the rich wines of the house of Glaucus?
Only Sallust shed a tear, but he was powerless against Arbaces who was backed by the corrupt priesthood of Isis.
What ministering angel should now come forth as a light out of darkness bearing, even in her blindness, the conditions of deliverance, but Nydia. From the slaves of Arbaces she learned the approaching fate of Glaucus. Working upon the superstition of her special guard Sosia, she manages to escape his vigilance for a time, and creeping along a dark passage she overhears the cries of the priest Calenus lately incarcerated in an adjoining dungeon cell.
From him she learns the circumstances of the crime of Arbaces for which the innocent Glaucus was doomed to die. A few hours later she was captured by Sosia and replaced in her cell.
Yet knowing that the sole chance for the life of Glaucus rested on her, this young girl, frail, passionate, and acutely susceptible as she was — resolved not to give way to despair. Glaucus was in deadly peril, but she should save him! Sosia was her only hope, the only instrument with which she could tamper.
As if afraid he would be again outwitted, Sosia refrained from visiting her until a late hour of the following day.
"Kind Sosia, chide me not," said Nydia, "I cannot endure to be so long alone, the solitude appalls me. Sit with me, I pray, a little while. Nay, fear not that I should attempt to escape; place thy seat before the door. Sosia, how much dost thou require to make up thy freedom?"
"How much?" said he, "why, about 2000 sesterces."
"The Gods be praised! not more? Seest thou these bracelets and this chain? They are worth double that sum. I will give them thee if thou wilt let me out, only for one little hour! Let me out at midnight — I will return ere to-morrow's dawn; nay, thou canst go with me."
"No," said Sosia, sturdily, "a slave once disobeying Arbaces is never heard of more."
"Well, then, thou wilt not, at least, refuse to take a letter for me; thy master cannot kill thee for that."
"To Sallust, the gay Sallust. Glaucus was my master, he purchased me from a cruel lord. He alone has been kind to me. He is to die to-morrow. I shall never live happily if I cannot, in this hour of trial and doom, let him know that one heart is grateful to him. Sallust is his friend; he will convey my message."
"Well, give me the trinkets, and I will take the letter."
Nydia carefully prepared the epistle, but ere she placed it in the hands of Sosia she thus addressed him:
"Sosia, I am blind and in prison. Thou mayst think to deceive me — thou mayst pretend only to take the letter to Sallust — thou mayst not fulfill thy charge; but here I solemnly dedicate thy head to vengeance, thy soul to the infernal powers, if thou wrongest thy trust; and I call upon thee to place thy right hand of faith in mine, and repeat after me these words;
— 'By the ground on which we stand — by the elements which contain life and which can curse life — by Orcus, the all-avenging — by the Olympian Jupiter, the all-seeing — I swear that I will honestly discharge my trust, and faithfully deliver this letter into the hands of Sallust.'
Enough! I trust thee — take thy reward. It is already dark — depart at once."
Sosia was true to his trust — Sallust read the letter, she wrote,
— "I am a prisoner in the house of Arbaces. Hasten to the Prætor! Procure my release, and we yet shall save Glaucus from the lion. There is another prisoner within these walls, whose witness can exonerate the Athenian from the charge against him; — one who saw the crime — who can prove the criminal to be a villain hitherto unsuspected. Fly! Hasten! Quick! Quick! Bring with you armed men, lest resistance be made, — and a cunning and dexterous smith; for the dungeon of my fellow-prisoner is thick and strong. Oh! By thy right hand, and thy father's ashes, lose not a moment!"
The day for the sports in the amphitheater had come and all the seats were filled with eager and expectant people. The gladiatorial fights and other games of the arena were completed.
"Bring forth the lion and Glaucus the Athenian," said the editor.
Just then a loud cry was heard at one of the entrances of the arena; the crowd gave way and suddenly Sallust appeared on the senatorial benches, his hair disheveled; breathless; half exhausted — he cast his eyes hastily around the ring.
"Remove the Athenian," he cried, "Haste, — he is innocent. Arrest Arbaces the Egyptian. He is the murderer of Apæcides."
"Art thou mad, O Sallust?" said the prætor, "what means this raving?"
"Remove the Athenian — quick, or his blood be on your head. I bring with me the eye-witness to the death of Apæcides. Room there — stand back — give way. People of Pompeii, fix every eye on Arbaces — there he sits — room there for the priest Calenus."
"Enough at present," said the prætor. "The details must be reserved for a more suiting time and place. Ho! Guards! remove the accused Glaucus, arrest Arbaces, guard Calenus! Sallust, we hold you responsible for your accusation. Let the sports be resumed."
As the prætor gave the word of release, there was a cry of joy — a female voice — a child voice — and it was of joy! It rang through the heart of the assembly with electric force — it was touching, it was holy, that child's voice!
"Silence!" said the grave prætor — "who is there?"
"The blind girl — Nydia," answered Sallust; "it is her hand that raised Calenus from the grave and delivered Glaucus from the lion."
Stunned by his reprieve, doubting that he was awake, Glaucus had been led by the officers of the arena into a small cell within the walls of the theater. They threw a loose robe over his form and crowded around in congratulation and wonder. There was an impatient and fretful cry without the cell; the throng gave way, and the blind girl flung herself at the feet of Glaucus.
"It is I who saved thee," she sobbed, "now let me die!"
"Nydia, my child! — my preserver!"
"Oh, let me feel thy touch — thy breath! Yes, yes, thou livest! We are not too late! That dread door methought would never yield! But thou livest! Thou livest yet! — and I — I have saved thee!"
The Last Days of Pompeii written by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1834, describes the destruction of the city of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. One theme the book explores is unrequited love. Nydia, a blind slave girl, falls in love with a handsome Athenian, Glaucus. He is imprisoned by an evil Egyptian priest because he is in love with the beautiful Ione, whom the priest wants for himself. Just as Glaucus is about to be thrown to the lions, Mount Vesuvius erupts destroying Pompeii. Nydia rescues both Ione and Glaucus, and, since she was able to find her way through the blackened streets, leads them to the safety of the boats in the harbour. Once on board Nydia realizes Glaucus will always be in love with Ione, and she throws herself overboard in despair to her death.
NYDIA, THE BLIND GIRL OF POMPEII