The Missing Jewelry by Theresa Welsh


Chapter One: The Bakery

Julia Felix was having a party. Cornelia knew because Marcellus had come to the bakery to tell her. He had skipped into the doorway of the little shop with its simple sign "Cakes" and looked eagerly across the counter at Cornelia.

"Get ready for the biggest party of the Summer," he declared. Marcellus liked to exaggerate, so Cornelia continued putting decorations on the small cakes on the counter. "It's for Scipio, to help him get elected, " he said breathlessly. "Everyone who's anyone important will be there."

Now Cornelia had looked up, pushing her dark curly hair away from her face. It was a hot day in Pompeii; there wasn't much of a breeze through the narrow street of the Via DiNola. But if Julia Felix was giving a party for Scipio, that was indeed news. Julia was about the wealthiest lady in town, with a house as large as one of the big estates outside the city walls. Her house was huge and full of fabulous murals and marble columns. She had gardens that included fountains with graceful statues and beauti-fully landscaped flowers tended by a team of gardeners. Cornelia had heard all about Julia's fabulous house from Marcel-lus, whose father was chief steward of Julia's kitchen.

Cornelia sold Marcellus a supply of spice cakes, his reason for coming to the shop, then ran in the courtyard to tell her mother. Petra Ladonica was at the oval oven in the airy courtyard. She was checking on some round cakes, peering through the oven door.

"Mom," called Cornelia. "Guess What, Julia Felix is having a party for Scipio."

Petra was an attractive woman with a quick smile and dark hair, not as curly as Cornelia's. She wore it pulled back and tied with a colorful scarf. She closed the oven door and looked at her daughter. Cornelia was her joy. Each time she looked at the 13-year old, she could hardly believe how pretty her little girl had become. Of course, a lot of her beauty came from her father, whose Greek ancestry gave Cornelia her olive skin and dark hair.

"So, Marcellus has been here, has he?" said Petra, grabbing her daughter's outstretched hands. "He really has his eyes on you." She smiled impishly.

"Oh, Mom," said Cornelia, hugging her mother. "He’s just a kid, you know." She knew Marcellus would soon be 14, the age of adulthood in Roman society.

"A kid who's growing up fast", answered her mother. "Anyhow, he brings us the best gossip from Julia's kitchen."

"Yes, a chance to sell lots of cakes, and I see an opportunity for Lido in this...and," she added, "for me. Julia will be hiring entertainers, so why not my brother and me? I can ask Marcellus to ask his dad to put in a word for us."

Petra looked at her daughter and sighed. "Still want to perform, do you? It's bad enough your brother has got the bug so badly. But he could use a good booking like Julia's party."

Just then an older lady popped her head out of the pastry shop. "Anyone here?" she called.

Petra rushed into the shop. On the counter were the cakes Corne-lia had been decorating. Other finished spice cakes were in baskets ready for customers to take home. Petra sold her cakes to households as well as to larger bakeries. Her specialty was the spice cakes she had learned to make from her mother, who had come to Pompeii as a slave from the Persian kingdom to the East.

She warmly greeted the customer, a slave for Tullus who ran a wool dying establishment a few streets over.

"May Isis bless you," she said, invoking her favorite goddess. "What does master Tullus desire today? Some of these sweet honey cakes, or some of my special spicy one?"

[Image]Cornelia had gone back to the courtyard. She sat under an olive tree with silvery leaves. The children from the next apartment played noisily. Several apartments opened into the courtyard, including the one shared by Cornelia and her Mom and Dad. They were fortunate to have an airy apartment on the ground floor next to their small shop. They had use of the courtyard and a bathroom with running water. The family who lived upstairs had to use the public toilets and a nearby fountain for water.

Cornelia’s father, Dimitri Ladonica, worked for a ship owner who had a warehouse near the market. Her father’s job was supervising the storage and distribution of the goods that came on the ships.

Dimitri had met Crispus, the ship owner, when he lived on the island of Rhodes, where he grew up. His own father had been an artist who created props and costumes for the local Odeon Theater. Dimitri had developed a love of the theater which he passed on to his children. Since Cornelia and Lido were small, they had spent happy hours listening to their father read in Greek from their precious copy of Homer’s Illiad. They had clowned around in their atrium acting out scenes from the comedies of Menander, a popular playwright whose plays were often performed at the theater in Pompeii.

Cornelia returned to the shop to see her father coming through the door. Dimitri was a handsome man, tall and well-muscled from years of lifting crates. His hair was dark and curly like hers, but with just a little grey on each side. He liked to relax in the courtyard when he got home and tell stories he’d heard from the sailors. He always was eager to hear news from the Greek isles, or gossip from Rome, and his family was just as eager to hear it too.

But Cornelia and Lido especially loved to hear him talk of how he had performed comedy at the little theater on Rhodes. As a child, he had spent time at the theater with his father, and was sometimes given small parts or appeared in the chorus (a group of narrators who talked in unison). He always said that great though the Roman empire was, the real glory was across the Adriatic Sea. His own ancestors had invented thea-ter. He liked to tell how Solon, one of the founders of the great Greek empire, had struggled to understand the difference between acting and lying. When you pretended to be someone else, acting out a made-up story, weren’t you lying? But the people had understood that an actor made them look at themselves. The stories were the stories of people who saw themselves in the situations presented on stage. Acting was not lying but a new way to show people truths. The Greek people had embraced this new art form and spread it throughout the Roman world. Every Roman city now had theaters and most performed Greek plays.

But Dimitri had mixed feelings about his son wanting to be a full time actor. Dimitri had taken the opportunity to see the world when Crispus had offered him a job. He had left behind his own aspirations to act and had worked on shipboard, finding excitement in the many ports-of-call he visited. He had traveled for a few years, visiting every important city in the Mediterranean: Carthage, Alexandria, Syracuse, Athens, Genoa and imperial Rome. He had mingled with Roman soldiers and people speaking strange languages in the forums and streets of these great cities, and in all of these places there had been the theater.

When his ship had docked at Pompeii on the Sarnus River, he had found something as valuable as the wonderful stories Homer told of the heroic Achilles and the adventurous Odysseus. He had found love. There at the dock he had found a young woman selling cakes with her mother. She had a basket full of spicy little cakes to sell to the men coming off the ships who were eager for food that wasn’t dried and stale. Petra sold him a cake, but also stole his heart. Dimitri’s wandering ways had ended, except for occasional buying and selling trips to Rome. He had settled into the life of a householder, raising two children and running a busy warehouse. He had recently gotten Lido work at the warehouse too, but Lido spent all his free time with his would-be actor friends.

Lido had achieved some success. He had appeared in minor roles at several productions at the theater in Pompeii. Five thousand spectators would fill the seats during popular performances, and spill out into the lovely adjacent garden during intermission. Pompeiians loved to be entertained, and actors were celebrities, admired by the people. Dimitri could understand how all that would appeal to Lido, but only a few actors could get the good parts, and he hated to see his son suffer failure.

Lido had earned some money per-forming comedy skits at private parties given by the many wealthy residents of Pompeii, though he had never performed for so important a person as Julia Felix. Cornelia had appeared with him and a few of his friends at the last party. Lido had been reluctant to even suggest Cornelia perform professionally, but it was the only way to stop her incessant begging. Her father had urged him to let her try. Cornelia was the "baby" in the family and everyone indulged her, even her big brother, Lido.

"Dimitri, how did your day go?" asked Petra, looking up at her husband. Dimitri embraced her.

"Not so good," he said, grabbing a spice cake from the counter and taking a bite. "Crispus gets crankier all the time. But," he added, "I managed to find some of the cardamom you wanted." He pulled a small leather bag from his tunic.

Petra quickly grabbed it. "Oh, I'm so glad. I cannot make my best-selling cakes without this spice. Thank goodness today's ship had it. And I'll be needing this. Marcellus told Cornelia that Julia is having a big party for Scipio."

"Yes, and Lido and I are going to entertain!" called Cornelia.

A hint of a smile came over Dimitri’s fine features. "That would surely be great" he said. "You could do the comedy routine that makes fun of politicians. They should enjoy that. Of course you’ll have to make fun of Titus and Scipio both." Titus was the wealthy vinyard owner running against Scipio, who was a function-ary in the government. He had a big office in the forum and owned a fancy house on the Via Delle Terme. "But", he added, "I'm sure you are jesting."

Petra smiled. "Well, at least we can sell them lots of cakes. Julia is one of my best customers."

Cornelia grabbed her dad's hand. "We WILL perform for Julia's guests," she insisted. "I will talk to Marcellus tomorrow. He can talk to his dad who can talk to Valerianus, who controls every-thing in Julia's household. He will probably book all the enter-tainment."

"Sounds like it's in the bag," laughed Dimitri, not taking the conversation too seriously.

But Cornelia was serious about it and wasted no time telling her brother when he came bounding through the door of the bakery, with that special spring in his step, humming a tune. Lido was 17, and full of energy. He made other people laugh and easily slipped into laughter himself whenever things struck him as funny. And lots of things were funny to Lido. His sister’s hairdos were funny; his mother’s baking pans, which became tambourines in the courtyard; his father’s toga, which became a lady’s flowing palla (stole) as he acted the part of a wealthy lady being duped by a tradesman.

Lido listened eagerly to Cornelia’s plans for the party and got even more excited than his sister, if that was possible.

"By Jupiter, we’ll be great," he said, as they talked together under the olive tree. "Lucky for us Marcellus is sweet on you. He’ll get us an audition to impress you. Finally, having you act with me will pay off."

Cornelia gave him a disgusted look. "Having me will pay off because I’m good," she said. "but I think I can get what I want from Marcellus."

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That night Cornelia sat with her parents and her brother at the wooden table in the courtyard listening to birds sing and enjoying the breeze. Petra was clearing the table from dinner, which she had prepared at their outdoor grill. Pompeii enjoyed a pleasant climate year-round, but temperatures got hotter in the summer. Houses were built around courtyards and residents liked to cook outside on big brick grills or clay ovens.

"Lido," Cornelia said, looking at her brother across the table, "Let’s practice our mime some more"

Lido grinned. He'd been teaching Cornelia some new mime routines and she seemed to have a natural talent. She moved gracefully and put a lot of emotion into this form of acting that used exaggerated gestures instead of words. Mime was invented by the Romans and was a favorite acting method for short performances.

Lido jumped up from his chair and hunched his body like a crip-pled old man. He slowly held out a hand as if begging. Cornelia got up and swaggered past him, a swinging gate in her walk. She then turned and saw the beggar. A new look came over her face. She carefully approached him. He grew even more hunched and pathetic and again held out his hand for a coin. Cornelia reached into her tunic and took out an imaginary coin for the beggar. The beggar's expression changed. He straightened up, then he ran away. Cornelia ran after him.

Petra laughed, as did their neighbors who were watching from their own table across the courtyard.

Cornelia and Lido returned. "Well, we got a laugh," said Lido. "But of course making fun of beggars always gets laughs. Making fun of the aediles will be a bit trickier."

The aediles were the magistrates who ran the affairs of the city. The absolute power in the city rested with two douvirs, elected officials who made the laws and administered the courts. Under this was the municipal council, or Decuriones, made up of 100 of the town's leading citizens.

The douvirs were powerful, but they had to stand for election. The aediles also were elected, and were easier targets for satire because they had to provide city services. The election was coming up in four more weeks, with a hot race between Scipio Publianus and Titus Flaccus. Election signs were posted all over the neighborhood, usually painted over whitewashed outer walls facing the street. These endorsements were important because politicians did not campaign for votes. That was considered gross. They had to get other prominent people, like Julia, to endorse them.

"Marcellus says Scipio will win." said Cornelia. "Will you vote for him, Dad?"

"I haven't decided yet," said Dimitri.

"I wish I could vote," sighed Cornelia. "I don't think it's fair. Why can't women vote?"

"Now, Cornelia," began her mother. "Women vote by controlling the men. We tell them how to vote."

"Yea," said Lido. "Women don’t need to vote on important things. If we voted on how to wear your hair, that’d be different. That’s what girls know about." Lido jumped up and ruffled up his hair and started walking like a girl.

Cornelia gave him a disgusted look. "Girls know about a lot of stuff," she said. "Telling men how to vote is not the same as being able to vote yourself. It seems strange that Julia can be so rich and can tell everyone else to vote for Scipio, but she still can't vote."

"Well, what about the slaves?" asked Petra. "They can't vote either and they are very important to Pompeii. The city couldn't get along without them."

"Well, children of freedmen, like Marcellus, can vote," said Cornelia. "He’ll soon be old enough. I don’t think it’s fair that he can vote and I can’t."

Cornelia knew her mother had been a slave as a child. Petra’s mother had been freed by her owner, so her child, Petra, had been freed as well. Romans often freed slaves when they developed an affection for them, or as part of their will, so their slaves would be free upon death of the owner. Petra was free, but still could not vote because she was a woman.

"You’re probably just wishing we had a slave," said Dimitri. "Anyhow, women's job is to please men." He glanced apprecia-tively at Petra.

"And to endlessly bake cakes," laughed Petra. "Come on, everyone. It's time to go in for the night."

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Cornelia was hurrying down the cobbled street with a basket of small honey cakes for Jucundus the banker, stepping carefully over the chariot ruts weathered so deeply into the Via DiNola, when she spotted a familiar face through the passers-by. It was Marcellus, who quickly spotted her.

A big smile came over his face as he waved wildly, nearly whop-ping an elderly lady in the face. "Cornelia! Wait for me!"

Cornelia stopped and smiled coyly at Marcellus. Cornelia had a red ribbon through her hair, tied into a bow at the top of the curly dark mass on her head. She wore a loose-fitting pale blue tunic, tied at the waist. The basket hung from her right arm.

"It's nice to see you, Marcellus," she said, trying to think of a way to approach the subject of the entertainment for Julia's party.

"Where are you going?" asked Marcellus. He wore a loose brown tunic of course material, work clothes for the kitchen and yard cleaning work he did at Julia’s estate.

"Lena, a slave for Jucundus, came this morning to order these honey cakes. They're fresh from the oven and I'm delivering them," said Cornelia.

"I know where that old money-lender lives," said Marcellus excit-edly. 'Let me walk with you."

"Ok," answered Cornelia, starting again down the narrow street. Both of them jumped out of the way of a chariot. Across the streets was the Central bath house, where Cornelia and Petra often came to enjoy the warm bath wa-ters. A visit to the baths cleaned the body and relaxed the mind. There was the hot bath, a large pool that accommodated many people at once, the steam room for relaxing, and the cold bath, to invigorate the senses. There were separate baths for men and women, so the baths became a perfect place for gossip about who was romancing who. Cornelia often wondered if the men talked about the women in their baths. She imagined that they did. She looked at Marcellus and wondered if he talked about her at the baths. But she didn't want to ask him that now. Something much more important was on her mind.

"Marcellus," she began, "about Julia's party..."

"You're not going to believe how big this party is going to be," he said full of enthusiasm. "Fabius Quintillus will be there to show his support for Scipio." Quintillus was one of the two douvirs, the top ruling men in Pompeii.

But Cornelia wasn't thinking about politics. She and Marcellus turned onto the Via Stabiana, passing brightly colored walls. Most houses fronted directly on the street. Their yards were courtyards inside.

"Marcellus, could you put in a word with your father about hiring my brother for entertainment. He and a few friends have performed at some very good homes, and besides..." she hesitated, "I perform with them."

Marcellus stopped. He stared at Cornelia. "You want to perform at Julia's party?" he asked, looking surprised

Cornelia held her head high. "Don't you laugh at me, Marcellus. I'm very good. Everyone says so."

Marcellus rushed to cover his error. "I'm sure you are," he said "and nice to look at too," he added with a grin.

They were in front of Jucundus' house now and Cornelia looked for the service entrance. Jucundus had a large house with colonnades in front and statues in niches at the roof. Cornelia knew he had many slaves and they would have a service entrance. She found the entrance at the side of the house and knocked.

Marcellus was at her side, looking uneasy, obviously surprised at her request. It would never occur to him that a girl could be a performer. This was a new side of Cornelia.

The door opened and a pleasant-looking lady in a white tunic answered. "Oh, it's the honey-cakes!" she exclaimed. She took the basket and gave Cornelia some coins in payment.

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The next day Cornelia waited all day for Marcellus to come with some word about the party. She helped her mother clean the shelves where she kept her spices and flour, she took cakes out of the oven, she decorated a large party cake for Pomponia, who lived a few blocks away, and she went to the market to buy meat and vegetables for dinner. Her mother was just getting ready to close her shop when Marcellus ran through the door.

"Cornelia," he called. "I've got some news that may help. Vale-rianus is holding auditions two days from now for entertainers. They’re going to hire the Grecian Minstrals to play music, but they’re looking for some new faces for comedy or short skits. Come to the service gate at this hour and I'll get you in and make sure you're seen."

That night, Cornelia and Lido talked well into the night in their atrium, or main room. It was small, compared to the huge rooms in the fine homes in Pompeii, but it had a comfortable couch and several chairs. The room was lit by two gas lamps on the walls. Lido planned to contact three other actors tomorrow and hold a practice session in the courtyard tomorrow evening. Greek acting troupes were by tradition all male. In olden times, men acted the women's parts by painting their faces or holding masks over their faces to look like women. Lido had accepted Cornelia because he saw her eagerness to act and because she was his sister and though he might not always say so, he loved her.

"Time for bed, princess, " said Dimitri, joining them. "Let me tuck you in."

"Dad, I don't need to be tucked in. I'm going to stay up and read Homer," she declared.

Dimitri had a small number of books, all of them Greek. He could read Greek and so could Cornelia. He had taught her, and she had studied playwrights and poets in the school she had attended until she was 11. It was the mark of an educated person to be able to read Greek.

There were no state-run schools in Roman cities. All schools were private, so the number of years of schooling depended on the parents. Dimitri and Petra had encouraged Cornelia and had sent her to a small school near the forum that emphasized literature and the arts. Lido had attended the same school, then went on to a secondary school, open only to boys.

"You'll do no such thing," said her father. "Burning these lamps costs money. I'm going to blow them out."

"Yes," said Petra. "We're nearly out of oil for the lamps."

"Well, the noise from the chariots keeps me awake," complained Cornelia. Chariots and carts were banned from parts of the city during the day, so there were always more in the streets at night.

"Oh, Cornelia," sighed her mother. "The chariots aren't any more noisy tonight than any other night. Now GO TO BED!"

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