Vesuvius by Night by Lindsey Davis

Vesuvius by Night by Lindsey Davis

Author:Lindsey Davis [Davis, Lindsey]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 2017-03-09T07:00:00+00:00

Chapter 6

People begin to make their escape if they can.

The painters Hylus and Pyris, accompanied by Three Coats the plasterer, reached the harbour outside the Marine Gate. In a tight group, with plenty of attitude, they were able to push their way through the other fugitives. In the terrible gloom, people were losing each other. Friends and family called out in panic.



‘Bloody Greeks,’ muttered Hylus as he tripped over a young girl who seemed to be blind; grasping her by the shoulders, he set her facing the right way but then left her.

At the shore, ships owned by wealthy men had been laden, ready to transport them and their possessions to safety; they might take others on board if their crews were decent and had room. However, these vessels were all trapped, prevented from launching by a strong onshore wind. The sea was whipped up unusually. Further out, the painters could see a small number of boats heading into the coast in a rescue attempt, including one large military trireme that must have been sent from the naval base at Misenum. These were held up for another reason: when pumice from the eruption landed in the sea, it floated. Pieces started small. However, they cooled rapidly once they hit water, then welded together into large solid plates of debris. Awkward bobbing barriers crowded the shallows. Chunks of this crud blocked inbound shipping. While the men watched, even the oared trireme gave up and veered away, heading instead for Stabiae. For the crowds who had hurried to the shore in hope, escape by sea looked impossible.

Hylus and Pyris glanced at each other. After summing up the chaotic harbour scene, they did not hesitate. Others were milling about the moorings indecisively, but the painters set off on foot at once, turning south towards the River Sarno which they would cross, away from the town and its turbulent mountain. The constantly increasing layer of ash was making it difficult to walk. They were already wading through it, hot between the open toes of their work boots. The coating of fine cinders on buildings and roads was rising steadily so the two painters, with their professional knowledge of physical materials, understood their situation was highly dangerous. They needed to travel fast.

Three Coats, who like so many old workers was very severely crippled, had told them to go on ahead and leave him. If and when Larius came by in transport, the plasterer could rely on being picked up. Hylus and Pyris felt some uncertainty, but let themselves be persuaded. That was how it was that day: no time for debate. Every man for himself. In their hearts they knew that if Three Coats had been a painter they would probably have carried him, but all the prejudices of their trade worked against him now.

He had been the butt of secret jokes for a long time. Like many, years of heavy work had brought arthritis on him; his was much worse than normal wear and tear.


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