The Missing Jewelry by Theresa Welsh


Chapter Two: The Try-Out

Cornelia and Lido walked briskly through the streets, moving among the groups of women on their way to the baths and slaves carrying baskets of goods purchased at shops that were just closing for the night. The sun was low in a sky tinged with red and the night breeze was just beginning. But neither Cornelia nor her brother were looking at the sunset. They were too excited about trying out for Julia’s party, too engrossed in remembering their lines and thinking about the perfect way to deliver them. Cornelia wore her best tunic, which was white with blue ribbon trim. She wore a matching ribbon in her hair. Lido had arranged to meet three other actors who would appear with them outside Julia’s house.

[Image]"There’s her house, right up ahead" said an excited Cornelia, pointing at a long wall painted in pale pink and white. There were windows up above with statues. Julia’s house was near the Sarnian Gate off the busy Via dell Abbandanza. Just south of her house was the huge ampitheatre, where gladiators fought each other for the entertainment of Pompeii’s residents.

Cornelia pulled on her brother’s hand, wanting to run, to get there faster.

Whoa", said Lido, letting himself get pulled. "We’ll have to find the service entrance." As they walked past the house’s walls, they stopped to look at the political messages written on the side: Julia Felix advises you to vote for Publianus Scipio for the Aedileship The words were elegantly lettered onto the wall for all to see.

"Marcellus says the service entrance is just under the statue of Venus," said Cornelia, looking up at the second floor. "It’s around the corner, I’m sure," she said, still pulling her brother. As they turned the corner, they saw a small crowd of men, many in costumes or holding masks, milling around in front of an entranceway. The door was large enough to accommodate a chariot, and led into the stables and the inner courtyard.

"This must be the place," said Lido, scanning the crowd for his partners. "I don’t see anyone yet."

"Look", called Cornelia excitedly, "it’s Marcellus."

Marcellus, in a neat white tunic with a red sash, was waving at Cornelia from the kitchen doorway. He ran to greet her. Cornelia noticed he looked very nice. He wore his hair in the close cropped Roman style and had nice brown eyes in a pleasant face. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Marcellus did think of her in a special way, thought Cornelia.

"Cornelia, you look great!" said Marcellus. "I’m so glad you’re here! I want to show you Julia’s fabulous house!"

"You look pretty good too, Marcellus" said Cornelia. Then she quickly wondered why she’d said it. Marcellus looked embarrassed, but pleased. "Well," he began "I don’t have my work clothes on. This is a special evening because I get to watch the rehearsals. I might have to serve some drinks later. Come, your turn won’t come up for quite a while. There’s a lot of people going to try out."

"What are our chances of being chosen?" asked Lido.

I don’t know, really," said Marcellus. "It depends on Valerianus. I know he has a sense of humor and would like something different. He likes Greek acts. I suppose your chances are pretty good. Can Cornelia come with me? I’ll bring her right back, " he said.

Oh, sure"’ said Lido: "I’d like to see Julia’s fabulous house too, but I don’t suppose you can sneak us both in?"

"No way," said Marcellus, taking Cornelia’s hand in his and pulling her toward the entranceway.

The two young people ducked between the milling would-be performers, zipped through the big entranceway and into the kitchen. The kitchen was full of people and good smells. Vegetables and fruit and chunks of meat were laid out on a counter top and a fat man in an ill-fitting brown tunic was directing three women who were chopping meat and onions. He looked up as Marcellus and Cornelia came in the room.

"Marcellus," he called "Who’s your friend?" He smiled at Cornelia and she noticed he had the same brown eyes as Marcellus.

"Dad," replied Marcellus. "This is Cornelia, come to try out for the party!" He turned to Cornelia. "This is my dad, Antonius"

Antonius seemed pleased. "I have heard much about you from my son. Welcome to my kitchen. We cook for the best people of Pompeii." He waved his hand at the bustle of activity in the room.

"I want to show Cornelia the gardens," said Marcellus, taking Cornelia’s hand again and leading her to a door that led outside. Cornelia looked back at Antonius who was still smiling.

"Don’t disrupt anything," Antonius called after them. "Valerianus is meeting with some men; stay out of their way."

Cornelia ran breathless after Marcellus into a gorgeous garden that was at the center of Julia’s house. The house was built around the garden, with rooms entering onto it. The garden was so big, it was like coming into a park, with green trees and walkways lined with blooms. At the center was a cleared area with a large fountain in the middle of a wide walkway. At each end was a large arch, with statues under each. Marcellus led Cornelia down a path toward one of the archways.

"There’s some neat flowers among these bushes," he said suddenly and led her into a clump of flowering bushes. The bushes had big white flowers and smelled wonderful. Among them were little blue flowers growing on vines. Cornelia was delighted. She hardly noticed Marcellus had slipped his arm around her waist. She turned to find his face next to hers. She suddenly realized he wanted to kiss her. She pulled back a little, startled. Then they both froze as they heard voices. "It’s Valerianus" whispered Marcellus, as he dropped down to his knees. Cornelia bent down next to him in the bushes.

She saw a tall man with dark hair and a stern face walking down the path. Next to him was another man who looked familiar. The tall man wore aristocratic clothes - a white tunic with gold border and a leather belt. The other man was dressed like a seaman. That’s it! she thought. I know him from the sea. It was Crispus, who her father worked for at the warehouse.

"You’ll have to do better than that" Valerianus was saying. "I’m taking a big risk and I know the value of this merchandise."

"Yes," said Crispus. "But you need me. You can never find a buyer in Pompeii. Anyone who would have the money to buy it would know where it came from. Only Julia Felix owns this kind of antique Etruscan gold jewelry. My contact at Carthage is very interested. Etruscan gold pieces are his favorite. I’m giving you a generous portion of what he’ll pay."

"I want money up front" said Valerianus. "That’s the only way I’ll do it"

The two had stopped right near where Cornelia and Marcellus were crouched. Cornelia had never liked Crispus. He was gruff and nasty and yelled at her dad all the time. Her brother didn’t like him either, but needed the money until he could find enough work as an actor. Her dad said Crispus was dishonest and tried to cheat workers out of their wages whenever he could. But he stayed because Crispus was gone most of the time anyhow on trips and he paid Dimitri pretty well to manage the wareouse. Cornelia looked wide-eyed at Marcellus who sat silently next to her.

"You know I can’t pay you until I sell the jewelry. I don’t have that much money. Besides, I’m taking a chance too...are you sure you can get the goods without anyone seeing?"

"I’m telling you everyone will be distracted by the party; it’s the perfect time...."

Now they were walking away and Marcellus slowly got up and peered through the flowers after them. "Holy Jupiter!" he said softly. "Valerianus is going to steal Julia’s Etruscan gold jewelry!" The jewelry, a necklace and earrings, were 500 years old, crafted by the Etruscans who lived in Pompeii before Rome came to power. They had metal-working techniques the Romans had never mastered and their jewelry was very beautiful and valuable.

"I can believe that if he’s dealing with Crispus", said Cornelia. "But what should we do?"

"You know that other guy?" asked Marcellus, looking at her anxiously.

"Yes, my father works for him. He’s a real rat. He owns several ships and sails all over the Mediterranean. He buys and sells stuff. I didn’t know he dealt in jewelry. Mostly, he hauls food items. My mother gets her spices from his ships."

They watched as Valerianus and Crispus disappeared through a doorway into the house. Meanwhile, there was a lot of commotion at one end of the garden. The first act was getting started on a patio area by the fountain. Three men and a woman had musical instruments they were tuning.

Marcellus still held Cornelia’s hand. He looked shaken. "I should tell my father," he said. "But my father works for Valerianus. He won’t be able to do anything about this."

"Can’t your father tell Julia?" asked Cornelia.

Marcellus considered it. "Well, maybe..." They were walking now on the same path they took into the garden. Marcellus took another pathway that went past three identical arbors of wooden lattice, with vines and small fountains. Beautiful birds with long blue feathers flew about, some sitting on the fountains. Ahead was a marble doorway into the house’s main Atrium. The wall was painted with a garden scene of green vines and colorful birds that made the garden look even bigger.

Cornelia was agog at the sights of this luxurious home, but Marcellus had lost interest in being a tour guide. They walked through a hallway, then came into the atrium. It was bigger than Cornelia’s whole apartment. At the center was a beautiful pool, just under an opening in the roof. A long table in one part of the room looked like it could seat 20 people. Around the table were the couches that Romans reclined on while eating. The Atrium walls, like the outer garden walls, were painted with outdoor scenes in shades of green and gold.

Marcellus pulled on Cornelia’s hand to hurry as they made their way back to the kitchen. His father was directing two other people who were putting vegetables into a large pot.

His father looked up. "So, you like the garden? He asked. Then he noticed Marcellus seemed somber. "What’s wrong?" he asked.

Cornelia felt uncomfortable. "I should go. My brother’s waiting," she said and dashed outside where the crowd had gotten larger. She looked and soon spotted Lido. He was deep in conversation with Philo, one of his partners. He looked up to see Cornelia anxiously approaching him. "What’s up, sister?" he asked.

Just then, they heard a loud voice announce "Lido Ladonica’s Act".

"It’s our turn", exclaimed Lido, grabbing Cornelia’s hand. "Good thing you got back. We didn’t expect to be called so soon." His excited companions followed as he pushed his way up front to the man who was calling his name. "I’m Lido" he said.

Inside the garden again, Cornelia took her place at the rear of the patio while her brother and his actors took places to begin the first skit. She just watched and found herself laughing as she saw Lido walk like a drunken slave trying to avoid his master. Then she saw Valerianus watching from a bench nearby. He was laughing too and she thought how pleased she would have been if she had not seen him plotting with Crispus.

Cornelia was part of the next skit - she played a girl trying to attract the attention of some guys hanging around the street. She walked seductively, swinging her hips and waving at them. She loved acting and soon was involved in her part and not thinking about Valerianus. The troop completed two more skits before a voice boomed out "That will be all." It was the voice of Valerianus. Cornelia saw Valerianus walk up to her brother and smile. They began talking. As Cornelia approached, Lido waved to her to come closer and said "This is my sister Cornelia," presenting her to Valerianus.

Valerianus smiled at her and looked for a moment like a perfectly nice person. ‘This lovely lady is your sister?" He said. "She is as beautiful as she is talented. It’s interesting to see a girl perform with a Greek troupe. Our guests might like the novelty of that" Cornelia felt a blush come over her face at this. She usually had something to say to everyone, but suddenly couldn’t think of a reply. But it was too late to reply. Valerianus had moved away to the next act coming onto the patio.

"I think we got the job" exclaimed Lido.

Cornelia said nothing as the troup of actors walked home, the rest talking excitedly about their success in the tryout. She was quiet as Lido told Petra about it. They were in the courtyard, sitting on the bench near the red roses that grew by the wall. Petra was keeping an eye on some bread baking in the outdoor oven and birds were noisily singing in the cool olive tree.

Lido turned to Cornelia finally and asked "What’s the matter with you? The girl who talks too much has nothing to say."

Cornelia couldn’t stop thinking about the scene in the garden at Julia’s house. It seemed clear to her that Crispus and Valerianus were plotting to steal from Julia, but was this possible? Had she misunderstood? Should she tell her parents what she saw? She had always shared her thoughts with her parents, and she felt certain now that they would know what to do, but she wasn’t sure how to go about telling them.

Petra got up and went to the oven to take out the bread, which would be their dinner, along with some greens from their small garden plot. Everyone in Pompeii had a garden, even if their courtyard was small. If they had no courtyard, they grew plants in pots on the window sill.

Lido was still looking at Cornelia with concern when Dimitri came into the courtyard. "Well?" Lido asked, wondering if she was having second thoughts about appearing on stage after all.

"What’s the trouble?" asked Dimitri.

"Dad," Cornelia began, "When Marcellus and I were in the garden, we overheard something we weren’t supposed to hear. We saw Crispus and Valerianus talking..."

"Crispus!" said Dimitri excitedly, "What was he doing there?"

Cornelia explained everything she had seen. "Dad," what can we do?" asked Cornelia, when she finished telling her story.

Dimitri was usually confident and happy, but he looked doubtful now as he faced his daughter. "I don’t know," he said sadly. "I work for Crispus. It would do no good to face him about it and I can’t talk to Julia because I don’t know her. I could go to the police, but we have no proof but what two young people think they heard. Valerianus is an important person and we cannot just accuse him...."

Lido was pacing around. "I KNEW that crumby Crispus was a crook!" he said excitedly. "We should have a way to stop this."

Dimitri looked at his children with a troubled expression. His wife stood by him in slience. Petra didn’t have an answer for them either.

Cornelia had never seen her parents this unsure of themselves. Her father had always had answers for her.

"But the jewelry is so valuable and stealing is wrong!" said Cornelia excitedly.

"I think Marcellus’s dad will have to do something," said Dimitri, getting up from his seat. "He is in the house every day and must have a better idea what to do than I have."

But Marcellus’ dad works for Valerianus," said Cornelia.

"And I work for Crispus," her father reminded her.

Return to Table of Contents