Authors: Barbara Cartland
As they descended Larina could see below them a small rocky bay with an artificial breakwater and a jetty.
Tied up beside it was the motor-boat!
It was smaller than she had expected, feeling that anything to do with a motor must be large, and when they reached it Wynstan looked at it appreciatively.
It had a long, pointed bow she noticed, which she felt must contain the engine.
She could see the place where the driver stood in the centre of the boat and behind it was a small cabin which
Wynstan showed her contained a table with two cushioned benches on either side of it which were large enough, if necessary, to turn into sleeping-bunks.
“This is a ‘Napier Minor’, if you are interested,” he said, “and the firm which makes them confidently believes that it will win the first cross-channel race which will take place this year.”
“It looks almost too small to cross the Channel.”
“It is easy to handle.”
“Will you drive it yourself?” she asked in surprise.
“I have every intention of doing so,” he replied. “I like to ride my own race-horses, drive my own motor-cars and be the engine-driver of my own train!”
“I believe every small boy wants to be a train-driver!” She did not realise that the Vanderfelds did in fact own a private train and that Wynstan often drove it.
Because he realised that once again he had made a slip of the tongue, he drew her attention to the boat, showing her it was made of seasoned cypress on white oak timbers.
“And it has a paraffin engine?” she asked hoping she was saying the right thing.
“Just like the one that crossed the Atlantic.”
“Can we go to sea in it?”
“That is exactly what I was going to suggest,” Wynstan replied. “Where would you like to go? Pompeii?”
The colour rose in her cheeks with excitement.
“Could we really do that?”
“There is no reason why not,” he answered, “and it would be far quicker than making the journey by road.”
He smiled as he added:
“I have a feeling that like all tourists you are determined to see Pompeii before you leave Italy, and so we might as well combine business with pleasure.”
Then they had climbed up the cliff and taken an open carriage to Pompeii.
“I should have thought that driving the boat and seeing Pompeii were both pleasure!” Larina replied.
“I have to try her out before I pay the bill.”
“Papa always said it was stupid to pay for anything unless
one had made absolutely certain it was exactly what one had ordered.”
“Your father was obviously very sensible,” Wynstan approved.
He had taken his place at the wheel of the boat having started up the engine and cast off the ropes which tied it to the jetty.
Larina stood beside him as slowly he began to ease the vessel into the centre of the small bay and through the opening in the breakwater.
“This is exciting—very exciting!” Larina cried. “I never thought I would travel in a motor-boat! How fast can we go?”
She thought as she spoke that this was another thing of which her father would have disapproved because it meant speed.
She was sure he would have been quite content to row a lit
e way from the cliffs and row back again, but instead they were out in the open sea and Larina could see the Gulf of Naples from a new angle.
The white houses, the cliff hamlets, the towers of the Churches, the vine-covered hills were an enchantment it was impossible to put into words.
Then there was Mt. Vesuvius dominating the horizon, somehow sinister even though it was bathed in sunshine.
There was a small plume of smoke rising from its cone and as she looked at it apprehensively Wynstan, as if he read her thoughts, asked:
“Are you nervous of encountering the same fearful catastrophe that took place in 79
“I have read about it,” Larina said, “but that is very different from seeing the place where it actually happened.”
She was to think this again when an hour later they had entered the Port of Torre Annunziata and moored the motorboat.
Then they had climbed up the cliff and taken an open carriage to Pompeii.
As they reached the entrance Wynstan waved away the guides who surged eagerly towards them.
“I came here so often when I was a boy,” he said. “I want
to see if I can remember everything about it. Enough at any rate, to keep you interested!”
“I do not want to miss anything!” Larina answered and Wynstan laughed.
They moved into the Forum where among the broken pillars he told her how Pompeii had been a prosperous industrial and trading centre.
It had sided with the Italic towns against the Romans and withstood a siege of nine years. But after the Pompeians had opened their gates because they could no longer go on fighting, a colony of Roman veterans had arrived in the town and it had become increasingly Romanized.
“You said it was industrial,” Larina said. “What did they make?”
“It sounds amusing today,” Wynstan replied, “but one particular export of the Pompeians was a popular brand of fish-sauce. Their wine trade was very important, and later of course like Herculaneum it became a resort for rich Romans.”
They walked on, looking at the Temples near the Forum, at the
Building of Eumachia
who had been a priestess, and came to the Gladiators’ Barracks.
“In these barracks,” Wynstan said, “they found evidence of sixty-three people who had lost their lives there. One was a woman whose rich jewellery suggested that she was there on a visit to her Gladiator lover!”
“It must have been very frightening!” Larina said in a low voice.
“The earth tremors had been taking place for some time,” Wynstan went on, “then on August 22nd they ceased. The sky was blue and cloudless but the air had a strange foreboding silence.”
There was something eerie in thinking of the people going about their ordinary business and not realising what was going to happen to them.
“The morning of the 24th was very hot,” Wynstan continued, “the sky was clear and everyone’s fears had subsided.”
He looked round the Amphitheatre, which could hold twenty thousand spectators, to which they had walked while he was talking.
“Everyone was preparing for luncheon when a severe earth-tremor was followed by what seemed like a terrific clap of thunder.”
He looked up.
“Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to look at Vesuvius. The top of the mountain had literally burst open and was pouring forth a glowing fire.”
Larina looked apprehensively at the thin column of smoke rising against the sky.
Wynstan’s story was so dramatic that she almost felt it might change into fire at any moment.
“A huge mushroom-shaped cloud formed,” he went on. “Then there was a series of explosions which hurled huge boulders high into the sky.”
He paused before he continued:
“Suddenly it began to rain and mixed with the rain were cinders, pumice
stones, lumps of large rock and dust which quickly turned to mud. The birds fell to the earth. In a matter of minutes the sun was obscured and the bright day had turned into the blackest night.”
He looked out onto the Gulf.
“The sea was in a turmoil alternately retreating then flooding in with huge waves which pounded against the coast.”
“What did the people do?” Larina enquired.
“I imagine they must have begun to run screaming from the town. There were twenty thousand of them, but more than two thousand are known to have lost their lives, under the hail of pumice
stone, mud, cinders and ashes, which buried the town with such astounding rapidity.”
“I cannot bear to think the people had no time to escape,” Larina cried.
“I imagine that a great many more died than the archaeologists actually found inside Pompeii,” Wynstan replied.
“Perhaps it was a quick way to
die,” she said in a low voice. “After the first moments of terror they could have known
nothing about it.”
“I think it is a horrible way to die!” Wynstan said firmly.
“When my time comes I want, like the Greeks, to die in the sun.”
“That is what I want too.”
There was something almost violent in her tone of voice which made him look at her sharply.
“You funny little thing! It has really upset you,” he said in a kind voice. “I thought you liked excavating the past.”
different when it concerns buildings, Temples, the statues of gods who are
immortal.” Larina answered. “But these were ordinary people and they were not expecting death. So it seems somehow horribly intrusive to stare with curiosity at where they died.
“When one dies, can it matter where or how?” Wynstan asked.
“I do not
know,” Larina replied. “But it is
frightening to think of them
screaming and fighting to
live!” There was such genuine horror in her voice and in the expression in her eyes, that Wynstan put his arm through hers and said:
“Let us be more cheerful. It all happened a long time ago and neither you nor I are going to die for a very long time. Come and look at the Temple of Jupiter, and tell me if you can imagine it filled with spectators for the shows which were held there before the Amphitheatre was built.”
He knew she made an effort to answer him as she replied:
“From what I have read about the Roman shows I should not have thought they were very suitable for a Temple!”
“You are right! But the Romans were a very practical people with little imagination and they developed a religion which corresponded with their needs.”
when I was journeying here,” Larina said, “to think about the Romans. Instead I found myself so much more concerned with the Greeks.”
‘And one in particular,’ she added secretly to herself, ‘called Apollo.’
“I always find myself doing the same thing,” Wynstan agreed. “The Romans felt no mystic necessity to love and worship the superhuman powers of the gods as they co
ceived them. At the same time Jupiter did have a certain majesty about him.”
“I think he was cruel!” Larina argued. “His function was to warn men, to punish them, and for this purpose he possessed three thunder-bolts!”
“The Romans were a hard-fighting, cruel people,” Wynstan replied. “Jupiter was a warrior-god and he expected to be obeyed.”
Larina did not answer him. They moved away from the Temple of Jupiter and wandered down the narrow streets, which had once teemed with people but now contained only the empty shells of their houses.
They saw the House of the Lyre Player, then began to wend their way gradually towards the exit.
“I am thinking of what you said about the Romans being cruel,” Larina said. “I think the reason was that they did not worship beauty and their goddesses were not like those of Greece.”
“That is true!” Wynstan agreed. “And they were cruel even to their Vestal Virgins. They took vows of absolute chastity but those who broke them were punished by being whipped to death.”
“Oh, no!” Larina exclaimed involuntarily.
“Later this was modified,” he went on. “They were whipped and then walled-up alive in a tomb which was sealed off with a few provisions deposited in it.”
“No wonder people were afraid of the Romans.”
“You need not worry about the Vestal Virgins too much,” Wynstan smiled. “During the course of eleven centuries only twenty broke their vows and suffered such punishment. But if a Vestal let the sacred fire go out she was whipped!”
“Let us talk instead about beautiful gods of the Greeks,” Larina begged, “who Homer said ‘tasted a happiness which lasted as long as their eternal lives’.”
“One day you must obviously visit Greece.”
Wynstan saw a strange expression come over Larina’s face as he spoke and did not understand it.
He was wondering if she was thinking that she could not afford the journey, but somehow he sensed it was something more than that.
She did not answer and he did not want to question her.
They drove back to Torre Annunziata, but instead of getting into the boat Wynstan led Larina to a small restaurant at the side of the Quay.
There were tables outside in the sunshine and waiters hurried to attend to them as soon as they sat down.
“What would you like to eat?” he asked.
“Please order for me,” Larina begged.
of smoked ham with fresh figs to start with. After that they had
the famous fish-soup of Southern Italy which he told Larina was a kind of
with differing ingredients from season to season.
Afterwards there was
Abbacchio al tomo
—a typical Roman dish of suckling lamb seasoned with rosemary and garlic and roasted in the oven.
“I cannot eat any more!” Larina protested when she was begged to try other special Neapolitan delicacies.
But the waiter insisted that she finish her meal with a peeled peach in a glass of white wine, and she was not allowed to refuse the coffee because Wynstan told her that the coffee of Naples was the best in the world!
They drank a local wine, but Larina was disappointed to hear it was not
which was grown on the slopes of Vesuvius.
“I am afraid that has deteriorated with time,” Wynstan explained, “like
which is still produced in the Phlegragan Fields. It was much praised in antiquity but I have come to believe that the classic taste was different from mine!”
He filled her glass as he said:
which comes from the Isle of Ischia.”
It was, Larina thought, delicious. Bright yellow in colour, it seemed to have captured some of the sunshine all around them.
They sat talking for a long time after their luncheon was finished until they finally got back into the motor-boat and started for home.
“Tomorrow I will take you to Ischia,” Wynstan said. “It is one of my favourite islands, and of course another day we must visit Capri.”
“That would be lovely!” Larina answered.
At the same time she wondered if she would ever see Capri.
She had the feeling that she was on an express train and it was going faster and faster but there was nothing she could do to stop it.
“I must not think of what lies ahead,” she told herself. “I must live every moment, every second. I must cram everything into what time is left to me.”
She knew she was growing more and more afraid and when she returned to the Villa and found that Elvin had not arrived she felt a moment of panic and had to fight for self
Because Wynstan had been so kind to her Larina considered the idea of telling him the truth. Then she knew it was impossible to speak of her death to anyone except Elvin.
No-one else would understand. Wynstan would commiserate with her. He might also say it was impossible and try to give her false hope, and that would be even worse.
She would rather face the truth and be prepared.
When she had gone to bed last night she had prayed for a long time, not that she might live, but that she might be brave.
“No-one who is a Christian should be afraid of dying,” she told herself severely.
But it was hard to practise what she knew was logical when death was coming nearer and nearer.
Everything that had ever frightened her about death, like the head of a skeleton, the trappings of a funeral, the dark veils and crepe bands with which mourners paraded their grief seemed to flutter beside her as if they were birds of ill-omen.
Then she told herself there would be no-one to mourn her and no-one to assume black in her memory.
Perhaps she would die in the sun as Wynstan wished to do, and she knew that would be the perfect way for her ‘spirit to take wings’.
And if Elvin was beside her, holding her hand, she would not be afraid.