The Missing Jewelry by Theresa Welsh


Chapter Five: The Villa

The cart clattered through the forum and along the Via Marina to the gate. Pompeii was surrounded by a thick wall, built hundreds of years ago for protection. There were eight gates that let you enter or leave the city. The cart slowed down as it approached the Marina Gate. There was the sound of other carts and the pungent smell of horses. Once out of the city, they moved more quickly along the road. Cornelia, peeking out from the blanket, could see the pleasant countryside, green and sweet-smelling. In the distance was the clear blue water of the bay. The horse moved swiftly past fruit trees and sheep grazing on the hillsides. The road twisted down toward the bay. The horse clopped along at a steady gait, passing small homes and cottages and more orchards.

The horse suddenly picked up its pace, like he knew he was almost home. "Steady, there, Brutus," said Crispus to the horse. "You’ll be home soon." Cornelia and Marcellus looked at each other and each suppressed a giggle at the thought of a horse named ‘Brutus.’"

As the cart came to a wall that surrounded the villa, Crispus got down and opened the gate. He got back up on the cart and the horse trotted into the yard. Cornelia, peeking out from her blanket, looked for a place to hide. There was a stable around the side of the house, which was a long two-story rectangular building. There were flowering bushes near the stable and Marcellus pointed to them, as he and Cornelia carefully moved to the edge of the cart and jumped off before the horse was in the stable. Both moved quickly behind the bushes. Crispus was talking to the horse and didn’t hear. "Good job, Brutus," he said.

Cornelia and Marcellus had moved stealthily around to another side of the house. They heard the sounds of Crispus going through the door. "We’ve got to get in there," whispered Cornelia. Marcellus was looking around for a way too, then he grabbed a branch from a magnolia tree that grew near the house. He pulled himself up onto a higher branch, putting his hand down for Cornelia to grab. Soon both were high in the tree and climbing out a branch to the roof. The roof was made of orange tiles, so they had to move carefully so the tiles didn’t make a noise. They crawled to the opening over the peristyle (the outdoor courtyard). Graceful vines extended up to the roof from the courtyard below. They grew up the white marble columns that supported the roof as it extended over the courtyard.

"We can climb down these vines," said an eager Cornelia.

"It doesn’t look easy," said Marcellus. "There’s not much to hold on to."

[Image]But Cornelia was already lowering herself, hanging onto the vines and wrapping her legs around the column. As she neared the bottom, Marcellus grabbed hold too and started down. As Cornelia’s sandals hit the tiled floor, she hurried behind a large mosaic pot that sat by the column. Soon she as Marcellus were crouching and listening. The peristyle was small compared to Julia’s house, but it had a lovely fountain in the center and many pots of flowers and benches arranged around the fountain. Across the courtyard they saw a figure come from a doorway and go into another room. It was Crispus!

Cornelia and Marcellus made their way from one flowerpot to another, all the way around to where they’d seen Crispus. Through a window that looked out to the courtyard, they could see Crispus in a room that had storage cabinets and shelves. There was a table at one end that had a lot of small objects on it. They watched as Crispus went through an interior door to another room. Cornelia moved closer to the window to try to see where he was going when she slipped on a loose tile and fell against Marcellus who knocked into a small flower pot that fell over with a loud sound.

"Who goes?" yelled Crispus. Cornelia and Marcellus scrambled up from the ground and hurried into an open doorway. They were in a dark room that seemed to be for food storage. Crispus emerged into the courtyard, then they saw a smile cross his face as he bent down. Soon he was holding a black and white cat who meowed softly.

"So, Caesar, you knocked over a flower pot, did you? You’re a clumsy little fellow," he said, putting the cat down and setting the flower pot back where it was.

Marcellus looked at Cornelia with relief. "Saved by a cat," he whispered to her. She was trying hard not to giggle. His horse is named Brutus and his cat is named Caesar! She thought what fun she would have telling Lido about that! Lido! Mom and Dad! What would they think if they knew where she was? Mom must be so worried by now.

The two conspirators stayed in the storage room for what seemed like a long time, but finally they saw Crispus walk across the courtyard and head for the entrance to the stable. They could hear the sounds of the horse being harnessed and finally they heard the clopping sound of Brutus leaving the stable.

"Finally!" said Marcellus. "I thought he’d never leave." Cornelia was already on her way to the room where they’d seen him earlier. Inside, they could see the table held jewelry of various kinds, pearl pins, gold earrings, necklaces of bright colored stones. But these were not Julia’s jewelry. Marcellus was opening drawers and looking on the shelves. The drawers had mostly woolen items, rugs and blankets of the type they’d been hiding under in the cart.

"Do you think anyone else is here?" asked Cornelia. "We’ll have to search the rest of the house."

"He must have some slaves, so we’d best be quiet," said Marcellus. "But they may all be out in the fields. I haven’t heard anyone." Quietly, they went through the inner door to another room that had two small sleeping chambers opening from it. Romans used a "bedroom" just for sleeping and made the rooms big enough to hold a bed and that was about all. The outer room contained a dressing table and a large cabinet for clothes. Next to the cabinet, on the floor, was a beautifully decorated trunk. It was a shiny green color with leaping satyrs painted on it. Cornelia knelt down and opened the lid. She gasped, then put her hand inside and brought out a sparkling necklace, a thick gold chain with a large oval pendant. Granulated gold surrounded a standing unicorn with a star above his head. She looked up at Marcellus whose mouth dropped open. Julia’s jewelry! They’d found it!

Cornelia stared at the pendant and earrings with delight, running her fingers over the grainy gold, then placed the jewelry into her own large purse and fastened it securely to her belt. She felt strange, realizing she had enough wealth on her person to buy her parents a lovely house like the pretty villa she stood in now. But she also knew the jewelry belonged to Julia and she intended to get it back to her.

"Wow, we did it, we really did it," said Marcellus. "But for some reason, all I can think of right now is that I’m hungry. Why don’t we get some food from that storage room?"

"Good idea," agreed Cornelia. "I’m hungry too and let’s get some bread to take along. We’ll have to walk back to town."

"Walk back?" exclaimed Marcellus as they headed for the storage room. "Can’t we steal a horse or something? It’s a long way back to Pompeii."

They found a bin full of round bread, some olives, and dried fish. They made a cloth sack from a scarf , filled it, and Marcellus attached it to his belt. They sat on the floor and ate some of the round bread. Cornelia was startled to feel something soft brush against her. It was the cat, Caesar. "Nice kitty," she said, picking him up. "Do you like cats, Marcellus?"

"We have four of them in Julia’s kitchen," said Marcellus. "They like the leftovers and they get rid of mice."

"Well Caesar deserves a reward for helping us out like that." She gave him some of the dried fish, which he chewed on, purring happily.

"We’ll need water too," said Cornelia. "The water in the fountain should be ok." She found a jar with a lid and went out to the courtyard and filled it. "Let’s see if we can leave through the stable," she said.

She opened the door cautiously. Inside the stable were two carts and one horse. The horse was contentedly eating hay. They walked by him and out into the sunshine. The villa had a wall around the grounds. Now Cornelia could see a man working in the flower garden at the far end of the yard. She pointed to him and Marcellus nodded. She pointed to the nearest wall and he nodded again. Off they went to the wall and each pulled themselves up and over and out onto the road.

Marcellus looked down the long long road that seemed to stretch on forever toward the towering mound of Vesuvius. Cornelia looked longingly in the other direction, toward the bay. She could smell the fresh water and see birds circling, and watched as one made a landing on the water. She thought of the outings she’d taken with her family to the beach, and the rides she’d had in her father’s friend’s boat, lazy days sailing down the Sarnus River to the bay. But that was another time. For now, she had to get back home with the jewelry. She turned toward Pompeii.

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"I am so tired! I can’t go on without a rest." complained Marcellus. He went to a tree and collapsed against its sturdy trunk onto the grass. They’d been walking for several hours now.

"I’ve got to get back to Mom and Dad," said Cornelia, joining him on the grass. "They will think something terrible happened to me. I wish I’d had a chance to tell Lido we were going to the villa. He could have let Mom know."

But she was tired too. A number of carts had passed them on the road, and they’d considered asking for a ride, but were afraid if they encountered someone dishonest, the jewelry could be stolen again. It seemed safer to walk.

Getting up, they continued until they were both hungry. Under a spreading tree by the side of the road, they sat and got the bread that was wrapped in the scarf Marcellus carried. The olives were a bit mashed, but edible. The dried fish was tough and salty. "I wish I was back in my father’s kitchen where we have REAL food," complained Marcellus between bites.

"Me too," said Cornelia. But soon she was urging him back on his feet to keep going. "Marcellus, look at the sun so low in the sky. We may not get back before dark. What will be do?"

As they kept walking, they could see the buildings of Pompeii in the distance, but it was clear they would not get there before dark. The gates to the city might be closed and if they tried to get in, Marcellus might be taken into custody. What if guards searched them and found the jewelry? They discussed what to do and decided they would have to spend the night in the country and go through the gate the next morning.

There were many more cottages and farm houses near the city. The road was now fairly full of people walking, people on horse back, and carts full of produce. Fruit trees – pears, plums, olives – grew in groves all along the road. Marcellus stopped and pointed to a shed up ahead. It was a small structure next to a grove of plum trees. "Let’s check it out," he said to Cornelia. "It might be a place to spend the night." They hurried across the grass to the shed. Inside was a bench with pots and tools and in one corner a pile of hay. Several huge jars held dried food for domestic animals. There was also a large jar of drinking water. Cornelia and Marcellus helped themselves to the water. Both were thirsty from being in the hot sun all day.

"Look," said Marcellus. "Food!" He lifted a basket of fresh fruit and bread. It may have been intended for the slaves who tended the orchard and animals. They sat down in the hay and started eating. Cornelia’s pear was ripe and juicy, probably just picked that day. Marcellus was pulling a piece off a round of bread. Pompeiians baked their bread into a round shape, then divided it into eight pieces. Most households bought their bread from a small bread bakery each day. Some farms had their own outdoor bread oven. "The bread is delicious," said Marcellus. "They must bake it here." He handed a piece to Cornelia, who ate it eagerly.

Out the window above the hay, they could see the red glow of a setting sun. It would soon be dark. The air was still warm and Cornelia and Marcellus felt no chill as they lay back on the hay.

[Image]
A pair of Etruscan earrings from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto

Cornelia took the purse from her belt and opened it. She emptied the necklace and earrings onto the hay. The earrings were embossed with a delicate design and had the intricate filigree work the Etruscans were famous for. Cornelia clipped them to her ears, while Marcellus stared.

"Don’t I look elegant?" asked Cornelia dancing about in the dim light.

"Yes, fair lady, you do look elegant," said Marcellus. "I can’t imagine those earrings look better on Julia than they do on you."

"Oh!, " said Cornelia, taking them off, "Julia is such a beautiful lady. Her hair is so gorgeous. She must have a bunch of slave girls work on it every day."

"She does," grinned Marcellus. "She has a lot of help looking beautiful. But I’ve also heard that she’s not as rich as she used to be. Her house was badly damaged in the earthquake, and ever since then, she’s been renting out the whole back part of the house, the part near the amphitheater. A new business just moved to one of the rooms there."

"I hardly remember the earthquake," said Cornelia, "I was only five when it happened, but Dad says it created a lot of work doing repairs, and that’s meant a lot of goods coming in by ship."

Cornelia picked up the necklace from where it lay. She put it around her neck and twirled around. Then she took it off, put the jewelry in the purse and placed it under the hay. "Well, " she sighed, "it’s fun to pretend. But this jewelry is going back to Julia."

She looked out the window and didn’t see anyone. Just the silhouette of the plum trees against the twilight sky. It looked like they’d picked a safe place for the night. She turned back to look at Marcellus. His face wore a worried expression.

"Are you thinking about soldiers grabbing you?" she asked.

"No," he said. "I’m thinking about my father. He looked so distressed. You know I’m all he’s got. My mother died when I was little and Dad and I have always been together. I know he’ll be really worried about me."

"Don’t worry," Cornelia said soothingly. "We will clear you of the charge. We’ve got the jewelry, remember. We just have to tell everyone what really happened."

For a moment, she almost forgot her own worry about what her parents would say when she finally got home. She had never stayed out all night before. Her parents would be frantic. Images of them out looking for her came into her head as the light in the room faded.

"Cornelia," began Marcellus, "I was really surprised that you would want to perform in front of people. What makes you want to do that?"

She could barely see his face any more, but Cornelia smiled in his direction. "I just do!" she said. "It is a great Greek tradition. Theater is a way to teach and explain, as well as make people laugh. When I get on stage, I just feel great. I know it’s unusual for a girl, but my Dad thinks it’s ok for me to act. He says I have talent."

Marcellus reached over for her hand. "I KNOW you have talent," he said softly. "You are the most fascinating girl I’ve ever met."

Cornelia could feel his breath near her face. She felt a surge of affection for him, thinking about all they’d been through together. He didn’t seem like such a kid any more. "You know," she said softly, "the world will never make any progress if we don’t try new things. Why shouldn’t women be performers too? I bet some day there will be lots of women performing on stage. The Greeks wrote great plays, but then they let men perform the female roles. Yuch!"

Marcellus had never thought of it that way. He’d always seen men play the parts of women. They held masks in front of their faces to indicate a female character. Why not just let females play those parts? He looked at Cornelia with new respect. She was pretty, but she was also smart. He decided he liked that.

Cornelia was tired. She looked at Marcellus and remembered how he’d tried to kiss her in Julia’s garden. Was he thinking about it again? She couldn’t see his expression in the dark..

"Marcellus, we’ve got to get some sleep, "she said finally, settling herself into the hay. Marcellus laid down beside her, put an arm around her, gave her a short kiss on the cheek and closed his eyes. They were both exhausted and quickly fell asleep.

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Cornelia was awake first, feeling the warmth of sunshine coming through the window. She heard a rooster crow while she looked in the food basket for some bread. There were two pieces left. "Wake up!" she called to Marcellus, giving him a poke. "Have some bread."

Soon they were back on the road, with the big wall and Marine Gate up ahead. The gate was open and lots of people were coming and going. Cornelia wished she was at the Forum Baths, washing off the dust and sweat from yesterday. She and Marcellus would look like two slaves from the field, coming to town to buy kitchen wares.

When they got to the gate, they walked through it with no one taking notice.

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