The Missing Jewelry by Theresa Welsh


Chapter Three: The Party

The party was only days away. Valerianus had sent a slave to the bakery to tell Lido his troupe had been selected to perform. They had been rehearsing the acts and had said nothing to the rest of the actors about what Cornelia had seen. There seemed to be little to do about it but hope the robbery didn’t happen. Cornelia couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why did something like this have to ruin her first chance at performing in front of important people?

[Image]She heard a familiar call as she cleaned the shelves in the shop. Turning around, she saw Marcellus.

"Hi, Thespia", he called to her, using a Latin word for actress.

"Marcellus" she exclaimed, happy to see him. She was eager to hear if his father had talked to Julia, or if he had seen Crispus again at the house.

"Come on, let’s walk", he said, leading her outside. It had rained during the night and the chariot ruts in the street were running with water. They nimbly jumped over the ruts and crossed the Via Di Nola on large square stones in the street intended for crossing in rain. Chariot and cart wheels went between the stones.

But there was no encouraging word from Marcellus. His father had insisted he could not speak to Julia. He was just a poor freedman who worked in the kitchen and he could not approach the mistress and accuse her most powerful employee, the very person on whom his job depended.

‘What about going to the police?" Cornelia asked. The police were part of the government bureaucracy in Pompeii.

"The police will just see two kids and do nothing, and if word gets back to Valerianus and Crispus, our fathers will lose their jobs,"

"Are you saying we should just do nothing while these two thieves steal Julia’s jewelry?" yelled Cornelia, stopping in her tracks. She had learned a bit about Etruscan jewelry in school. The Etruscans had a way of working the gold into tiny bubbles clustered together. This made a granular effect used as a background or border for pictures engraved onto the gold pieces. As works of art, no one had equaled their techniques. Roman artisans did not know how to create this type of jewelry, so the existing Etruscan pieces were extremely valuable. Having these works of local art carried off to Carthage across the Mediterranean Sea would be terrible.

Marcellus’ face fell. He looked dismayed. He couldn’t bear the thought that Cornelia found him cowardly.

A thought came into his head, a bold thought. "We can stop the robbery," he said triumphantly."

Cornelia stopped walking and stared at him. They were in front of the shop of Marcus Lucius, a tile maker. Colorful tiles, some with pictures of grapes or geometric designs, were stacked on a table in front of the shop. Clattering sounds came from within and a slave hurried out of the doorway with a load of tiles in a basket, for delivery to a customer. Comelia moved out of the way, leaning against the wall as Marcellus moved closer, his face full of eagerness.

"l know where the jewelry is kept" he said. "It’s in a small dressing room off her sleeping room, in a cabinet. I’m not supposed to be in that part of the house, but I can sneak in there and watch.

"What if you’re caught?" asked Cornelia in alarm. Another slave bearing a basket of tiles hurried past her.

"l won’t get caught," he said boldly.

"Well, what good will watching the jewelry do?" she asked. "What will you do if you see Valerianus taking them?"

"I’ll follow him and grab the jewels" cried Marcellus triumphantly.

Cornelia looked dubious, but the idea that she and Marcellus could do something to stop it seemed like a good one. If the adults wouldn’t do anything, she and Marcellus should at least try.

"All right," she said, putting her hand on Marcellus’ arm. "let’s come up with a workable plan."

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The day of the party arrived. Cornelia stood in the doorway to the courtyard watching Lido and his three actor friends having bread and wine in the courtyard with Dimetri, who was wishing them well. Pompeiian wines were world-famous and the grapes that grew in such abundance around the foothills of Vesuvius made house wine plentiful. Even a family of modest means like the Ladonicas could afford wine. Everyone talked excitedly. Cornelia had said nothing about the plans she and Marcellus had made. She gave her Mom a big hug before they set out for Julia’s house. The weather was warm and sunny and Vesuvius was a clear outline in the distance. Birds chattered on top of the roof of her house. Cornelia wore her best white tunic, with her hair tied with ribbons.

This time there was no crowd outside the service entrance and they went right in. A young man met them and led them through the entranceway, into the peristyle, an outdoor courtyard, where the air smelled of flowers and the walls were decorated with realistic murals of bowls of fruit and pitchers and goblets. They walked through this into a small atrium. Julia’s house had two atriums and this one was the smaller and had an entrance into the garden. Cornelia already knew this was where they were to wait until it was their turn to perform. Marcellus had learned everything that was to happen and reported it back to her. Through the doorway to the garden, they could hear the noise from the party. Cornelia knew that Julia’s dressing room was close by and that Marcellus would be concealed among the clothes. The jewelry was in a cabinet in the same room. You had to enter the room through the small sleeping room which you entered through a hallway that continued on down the length of the house along the garden. Further down, it was open to the garden; it became a roofed area with columns separating it from the garden. Cornelia knew Valerianus would have to come down this hallway from the garden to enter the sleeping room, then the dressing room. Marcellus and Cornelia had met last night in the forum and agreed on a plan.

Slaves and servants carrying trays and pitchers passed through the atrium to the garden. Other entertainers also milled about, many commenting on the beauty of the murals decorating the walls. Pompeiian artists had steady work painting murals for prosperous residents.

Cornelia peeked out into the garden and saw men in long togas and women in elegant tunics and fancy hairstyles walking about the pathways. The sounds of flute and tambourine drifted over the trees and flowers. Then she saw an especially lovely lady in a long gold-trimmed flowing tunic, with gold ribbons braided into her dark hair. She was laughing and talking to a young man who stood beside her. Cornelia recognized Julia Felix. To her surprise, Julia walked toward her and entered the atrium. She stopped in front of Cornelia.

"My dear, you must be Cornelia Ladonica!" she said. Valerianus told me about your act. How nice to see a young lady perform; I’m in favor of giving woman a chance to show their talent along with the men." She turned to Lido, who stood eagerly behind his sister. "I look forward to seeing your performance," she said. "And so does Scipio, our guest of honor." Then she was gone, back to the garden and her guests.

[Image]Soon after that, a slave came to lead them into the garden. They were up next, after the flute player. Comelia looked around for Marcellus. They didn’t know when the robbery might happen. They were standing behind the patio where the performances were happening. A group of elegantly-dressed people were standing and watching the flute player. As he finished playing a rollicking tune, they all clapped and cheered. Cornelia was scanning the garden for Marcellus. Her eyes went to the colonnaded hallway that led to Julia’s sleeping room. Her eyes got bigger as she saw Valerianus coming down the hallway. She noticed immediately that he had a bulging leather purse hanging from his belt. The jewelry! She was even more sure when she saw a shadowy figure pop out from behind a column and follow Valerianus at a distance. Marcellus!

The flute player was playing an encore to the applause of the crowd, while Cornelia moved away from her brother so she could watch where Valerianus was going. He came down a path toward the patio and joined the crowd watching the flute player. Perhaps he was here to introduce the next act. The next act was Cornelia’s! She now saw Marcellus carrying a tray of wine goblets full of wine, weaving through the party-goers toward Valerianus. His plan was to spill wine on Valerianus, then grab the purse with the jewelry.

She stood at the end of the patio watching as Marcellus went up to Valerianus and offered him a drink, then tipped the tray so it fell, purple wine splattering onto Valerianus’ white tunic. The clatter of the tray made everyone look in that direction. Even the flute player quit playing. While everyone watched, Marcellus’ right hand shot out to grab the purse, but Valerianus grabbed his hand before he could get the purse loose from the belt. "I’ve caught a thief!" yelled Valerianus loudly. Julia had come to Valerianus and put her arm on his shoulder as she stared at Marcellus.

"Does the performance start early?" asked Valerianus, his hand still on Marcellus’ hand which was still on the purse. "We didn’t rehearse this act."

Marcellus looked terrified, but said in a quavering voice, "I know what’s in the purse…"

Julia looked confused as she stared into Valerianus’ face. Then she smiled. "This is a delightful surprise act you’ve prepared. Are we to guess what’s in the purse?"

"Madam, the purse has only some coins. This little thief has made a clumsy attempt to get attention" Valerianus now had the purse firmly in his right hand. Antonius had now come rushing up and looked imploringly at Julia, "My son is a good boy. I don’t know what got into him. Please let me punish him. It won’t happen again."

Valerianus, his clean tunic splatted with purple wine, shouted at a big man who was nearby to come and detain Marcellus, as Antonius held his son’s arm. "Where is the next act" Valerianus asked loudly, looking toward Lido and Cornelia who were nearby. "I have to change clothes," he said, hurrying off through the crowd.

Cornelia started to rush up to Marcellus, but heard her act announced. Lido grabbed Cornelia. "Don’t make it worse – we have to perform," he said trying to move her toward the stage.

Staring after poor Marcellus who was being taken through a doorway, Cornelia went with her brother and the other actors to the stage. Lido bounded up the steps and began with an enthusiastic introduction of his players, including Cornelia. The crowd murmured with surprise at the sight of the young woman. A few jokes about politicians followed, then the first skit. To Cornelia’s surprise, Lido began with the skit about the slave stealing a purse. It wasn’t in the plot, but as Lido grabbed the arm of the "slave" who had taken the purse, Cornelia rushed in and said in a squeaky voice "I know what’s in the purse…"

Lido, surprised, replied "There’s only coins in the purse." The audience began to laugh, realizing the act was mirroring what had just happened. Cornelia spotted Valerianus standing in the back of the garden, wearing a clean tunic. A smile crossed his lips.

"No, there’s jewels in the purse," shouted Cornelia, grabbing it from Lido. She emptied it quickly onto the stage. Out fell a few stones. People were laughing loudly.

"Oh, Jupiter, I guess I’m wrong," said Cornelia. The other actor resumed his role and no one knew they had just ad libbed that part.

The rest of the skits went very well. The crowd especially liked the skits making fun of politicians… they were all dishonest; they all liked to collect taxes; they all talked too much. There was no end to the ways to make politicians look silly. Cornelia put her worry about Marcellus in the back of her mind; she knew the show must go on.

When they were done, they received loud applause and whistles. They walked off the stage and down the path to the small atrium. Cornelia felt a rush of pleasure at the audience’s appreciation. She felt a bit giddy as she squeezed her brother’s hand and whispered "we were good."

‘Yes," he said to her, "we were. But what got into you to alter that skit about the thief? Do you think you got Marcellus out of trouble?"

The other actors were talking and slapping each other with congratulations.

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