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Antonina by Wilkie Collins

Part 2 out of 9

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projects, the gestures and tones of a man who formed one of a little
group collected in a remote part of the portico he was about to quit
attracted his attention. Curiosity formed as conspicuous an ingredient
in this man's character as cruelty. He stole behind the base of a
neighbouring pillar; and, as the frequent repetition of the word 'Goths'
struck his ear (the report of that nation's impending invasion having by
this time reached Rome), he carefully disposed himself to listen with
the most implicit attention to the speaker's voice.

'Goths!' cried the man, in the stern, concentrated accents of despair.
'Is there one among us to whom this report of their advance upon Rome
does not speak of hope rather than of dread? Have we a chance of rising
from the degradation forced on us by our superiors until this den of
heartless triflers and shameless cowards is swept from the very earth
that it pollutes!'

'Your sentiments on the evils of our condition are undoubtedly most
just,' observed a fat, pompous man, to whom the preceding remarks had
been addressed, 'but I cannot desire the reform you so ardently hope
for. Think of the degradation of being conquered by barbarians!'

'I am the exile of my country's privileges. What interest have I in
upholding her honour--if honour she really has!' replied the first
speaker.

'Nay! Your expressions are too severe. You are too discontented to be
just.'

'Am I! Hear me for a moment, and you will change your opinion. You see
me now by my bearing and appearance superior to yonder plebeian herd.
You doubtless think that I live at my ease in the world, that I can feel
no anxiety for the future about my bodily necessities. What would you
say were I to tell you that if I want another meal, a lodging for to-
night, a fresh robe for tomorrow, I must rob or flatter some great man
to gain them? Yet so it is. I am hopeless, friendless, destitute. In
the whole of the Empire there is not an honest calling in which I can
take refuge. I must become a pander or a parasite--a hired tyrant over
slaves, or a chartered groveller beneath nobles--if I would not starve
miserably in the streets, or rob openly in the woods! This is what I
am. Now listen to what I was. I was born free. I inherited from my
father a farm which he had successfully defended from the encroachments
of the rich, at the expense of his comfort, his health, and his life.
When I succeeded to his lands, I determined to protect them in my time
as studiously as he had defended them in his. I worked
unintermittingly: I enlarged my house, I improved my fields, I
increased my flocks. One after another I despised the threats and
defeated the wiles of my noble neighbours, who desired possession of my
estate to swell their own territorial grandeur. In process of time I
married and had a child. I believed that I was picked out from my race
as a fortunate man--when one night I was attacked by robbers: slaves
made desperate by the cruelty of their wealthy masters. They ravaged my
cornfields, they deprived me of my flocks. When I demanded redress, I
was told to sell my lands to those who could defend them--to those rich
nobles whose tyranny had organised the band of wretches who had spoiled
me of my possessions, and to whose fraud-gotten treasures the government
were well pleased to grant that protection which they had denied to my
honest hoards. In my pride I determined that I would still be
independent. I planted new crops. With the little remnant of my money
I hired fresh servants and bought more flocks. I had just recovered
from my first disaster when I became the victim of a second. I was again
attacked. This time we had arms, and we attempted to defend ourselves.
My wife was slain before my eyes; my house was burnt to the ground; I
myself only escaped, mutilated with wounds; my child soon afterwards
pined and died. I had no wife, no offspring, no house, no money. My
fields still stretched round me, but I had none to cultivate them. My
walls still tottered at my feet, but I had none to rear them again, none
to inhabit them if they were reared. My father's lands were now become
a wilderness to me. I was too proud to sell them to my rich neighbour;
I preferred to leave them before I saw them the prey of a tyrant, whose
rank had triumphed over my industry, and who is now able to boast that
he can travel over ten leagues of senatorial property untainted by the
propinquity of a husbandman's farm. Houseless, homeless, friendless, I
have come to Rome alone in my affliction, helpless in my degradation!
Do you wonder now that I am careless about the honour of my country? I
would have served her with my life and my possessions when she was
worthy of my service; but she has cast me off, and I care not who
conquers her. I say to the Goths--with thousands who suffer the same
tribulation that I now undergo--"Enter our gates! Level our palaces to
the ground! Confound, if you will, in one common slaughter, we that are
victims with those that are tyrants! Your invasion will bring new lords
to the land. They cannot crush it more--they may oppress it less. Our
posterity may gain their rights by the sacrifice of lives that our
country has made worthless. Romans though we are, we are ready to
suffer and submit!"'

He stopped; for by this time he had lashed himself into fury. His eyes
glared, his cheeks flushed, his voice rose. Could he then have seen the
faintest vision of the destiny that future ages had in store for the
posterity of the race that now suffered throughout civilised Europe,
like him--could he have imagined how, in after years, the 'middle
class', despised in his day, was to rise to privilege and power; to hold
in its just hands the balance of the prosperity of nations; to crush
oppression and regulate rule; to soar in its mighty flight above thrones
and principalities, and rank and riches, apparently obedient, but really
commanding;--could he but have foreboded this, what a light must have
burst upon his gloom, what a hope must have soothed him in his despair!

To what further extremities his anger might have carried him, to what
proceedings the indignant Gordian, who still listened from his
concealment, might have had recourse, it is difficult to say; for the
complaints of the ill-fated landholder and the cogitations of the
authoritative bailiff were alike suddenly suspended by an uproar raging
at this moment round a carriage which had just emerged from the palace
we have elsewhere described.

This vehicle looked one mass of silver. Embroidered silk curtains
fluttered all around it, gold ornaments studded its polished sides, and
it held no less a person than the nobleman who had feasted the people
with baskets of meat. This fact had become known to the rabble before
the palace gates. Such an opportunity of showing their exultation in
their bondage, their real servility in their imaginary independence, was
not to be lost; and accordingly they let loose such a torrent of
clamorous gratitude on their entertainer's appearance, that a stranger
in Rome would have thought the city in revolt. They leapt, they ran,
they danced round the prancing horses, they flung their empty baskets
into the air, and patted approvingly their 'fair round bellies'. From
every side, as the carriage moved on, they gained fresh recruits and
acquired new importance. The timid fled before them, the noisy shouted
with them, the bold plunged into their ranks; and the constant burden of
their rejoicing chorus was--'Health to the noble Pomponius! Prosperity
to the senators of Rome, who feast us with their food and give us the
freedom of their theatres! Glory to Pomponius! Glory to the senators!'

Fate seemed on this day to take pleasure in pampering the insatiable
curiosity of Gordian, the bailiff. The cries of the multitude had
scarcely died away in the distance, as they followed the departing
carriage, when the voices of two men, pitched to a low, confidential
tone, reached his ear from the opposite side of the pillar. He peeped
cautiously round, and saw that they were priests.

'What an eternal jester is that Pomponius!' said one voice. 'He is
going to receive absolution, and he journeys in his chariot of state, as
if he were preparing to celebrate his triumph, instead of to confess his
sins!'

'Has he committed, then, a fresh imprudence?'

'Alas, yes! For a senator he is dreadfully wanting in caution! A few
days since, in a fit of passion, he flung a drinking-cup at one of his
female slaves. The girl died on the spot, and her brother, who is also
in his service, threatened immediate vengeance. To prevent disagreeable
consequences to his body, Pomponius has sent the fellow to his estates
in Egypt; and now, from the same precaution for the welfare of his soul,
he goes to demand absolution from our holy and beneficent Church.'

'I am afraid these incessant absolutions, granted to men who are too
careless even to make a show of repentance for their crimes, will
prejudice us with the people at large.'

'Of what consequence are the sentiments of the people while we have
their rulers on our side! Absolution is the sorcery that binds these
libertines of Rome to our will. We know what converted Constantine--
politic flattery and ready absolution; the people will tell you it was
the sign of the Cross.'

'It is true this Pomponius is rich, and may increase our revenues, but
still I fear the indignation of the people.'

'Fear nothing: think how long their old institutions imposed on them,
and then doubt, if you can, that we may shape them to our wishes as we
will. Any deceptions will be successful with a mob, if the instrument
employed to forward them be a religion.'

The voices ceased. Gordian, who still cherished a vague intention of
denouncing the fugitive landholder to the senatorial authorities,
employed the liberty afforded to his attention by the silence of the
priests in turning to look after his intended victim. To his surprise
he saw that the man had left the auditors to whom he had before
addressed himself, and was engaged in earnest conversation in another
part of the portico, with an individual who seemed to have recently
joined him, and whose appearance was so remarkable that the bailiff had
moved a few steps forwards to gain a nearer view of him, when he was
once more arrested by the voices of the priests.

Irresolute for an instant to which party to devote his unscrupulous
attention, he returned mechanically to his old position. Ere long,
however, his anxiety to hear the mysterious communications proceeding
between the landholder and his friend overbalanced his delight in
penetrating the theological secrets of the priests. He turned once
more, but to his astonishment the objects of his curiosity had
disappeared. He stepped to the outside of the portico and looked for
them in every direction, but they were nowhere to be seen. Peevish and
disappointed, he returned as a last resource to the pillar where he had
left the priests, but the time consumed in his investigations after one
party had been fatal to his reunion with the other. The churchmen were
gone.

Sufficiently punished for his curiosity by his disappointment, the
bailiff walked doggedly off towards the Pincian Hill. Had he turned in
the contrary direction, towards the Basilica of St. Peter, he would have
found himself once more in the neighbourhood of the landholder and his
remarkable friend, and would have gained that acquaintance with the
subjects of their conversation, which we intend that the reader shall
acquire in the course of the next chapter.

CHAPTER 4. THE CHURCH.

In the year 324, on the locality assigned by rumour to the martyrdom of
St. Peter, and over the ruins of the Circus of Nero, Constantine erected
the church called the Basilica of St. Peter.

For twelve centuries, this building, raised by a man infamous for his
murders and his tyrannies, stood uninjured amid the shocks which during
that long period devastated the rest of the city. After that time it was
removed, tottering to its base from its own reverend and illustrious
age, by Pope Julius II, to make way for the foundations of the modern
church.

It is towards this structure of twelve hundred years' duration, erected
by hands stained with blood, and yet preserved as a star of peace in the
midst of stormy centuries of war, that we would direct the reader's
attention. What art has done for the modern church, time has effected
for the ancient. If the one is majestic to the eye by its grandeur, the
other is hallowed to the memory by its age.

As this church by its rise commemorated the triumphant establishment of
Christianity as the religion of Rome, so in its progress it reflected
every change wrought in the spirit of the new worship by the ambition,
the prodigality, or the frivolity of the priests. At first it stood
awful and imposing, beautiful in all its parts as the religion for whose
glory it was built. Vast porphyry colonnades decorated its approaches,
and surrounded a fountain whose waters issued from the representation of
a gigantic pine-tree in bronze. Its double rows of aisles were each
supported by forty-eight columns of precious marble. Its flat ceiling
was adorned with beams of gilt metal, rescued from the pollution of
heathen temples. Its walls were decorated with large paintings of
religious subjects, and its tribunal was studded with elegant mosaics.
Thus it rose, simple and yet sublime, awful and yet alluring; in this
its beginning, a type of the dawn of the worship which it was elevated
to represent. But when, flushed with success, the priests seized on
Christianity as their path to politics and their introduction to power,
the aspect of the church gradually began to change. As, slowly and
insensibly, ambitious man heaped the garbage of his mysteries, his
doctrines, and his disputes, about the pristine purity of the structure
given him by God, so, one by one, gaudy adornments and meretricious
alterations arose to sully the once majestic basilica, until the
threatening and reproving apparition of the pagan Julian, when both
Church and churchmen received in their corrupt progress a sudden and
impressive check.

The short period of the revival of idolatry once passed over, the
priests, unmoved by the warning they had received, returned with renewed
vigour to confuse that which both in their Gospel and their Church had
been once simple. Day by day they put forth fresh treatises, aroused
fierce controversies, subsided into new sects; and day by day they
altered more and more the once noble aspect of the ancient basilica.
They hung their nauseous relics on its mighty walls, they stuck their
tiny tapers about its glorious pillars, they wreathed their tawdry
fringes around its massive altars. Here they polished, there they
embroidered. Wherever there was a window, they curtained it with gaudy
cloths; wherever there was a statue, they bedizened it with artificial
flowers; wherever there was a solemn recess, they outraged its religious
gloom with intruding light; until (arriving at the period we write of)
they succeeded so completely in changing the aspect of the building,
that it looked, within, more like a vast pagan toyshop than a Christian
church. Here and there, it is true, a pillar or an altar rose
unencumbered as of old, appearing as much at variance with the frippery
that surrounded it as a text of Scripture quoted in a sermon of the
time. But as regarded the general aspect of the basilica, the decent
glories of its earlier days seemed irrevocably departed and destroyed.

After what has been said of the edifice, the reader will have little
difficulty in imagining that the square in which it stood lost whatever
elevation of character it might once have possessed, with even greater
rapidity than the church itself. If the cathedral now looked like an
immense toyshop, assuredly its attendant colonnades had the appearance
of the booths of an enormous fair.

The day, whose decline we have hinted at in the preceding chapter, was
fast verging towards its close, as the inhabitants of the streets on the
western bank of the Tiber prepared to join the crowds that they beheld
passing by their windows in the direction of the Basilica of St. Peter.
The cause of this sudden confluence of the popular current in once
common direction was made sufficiently apparent to all inquirers who
happened to be near a church or a public building, by the appearance in
such situations of a large sheet of vellum elaborately illuminated,
raised on a high pole, and guarded from contact with the inquisitive
rabble by two armed soldiers. The announcements set forth in these
strange placards were all of the same nature and directed to the same
end. In each of them the Bishop of Rome informed his 'pious and
honourable brethren', the inhabitants of the city, that, as the next
days was the anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. Luke, the vigil would
necessarily be held on that evening in the Basilica of St. Peter; and
that, in consideration of the importance of the occasion, there would be
exhibited, before the commencement of the ceremony, those precious
relics connected with the death of the saint, which had become the
inestimable inheritance of the Church; and which consisted of a branch
of the olive-tree to which St. Luke was hung, a piece of the noose--
including the knot--which had been passed round his neck, and a picture
of the Apotheosis of the Virgin painted by his own hand. After some
sentences expressive of lamentation for the sufferings of the saint,
which nobody read, and which it is unnecessary to reproduce here, the
proclamation went on to state that a sermon would be preached in the
course of the vigil, and that at a later hour the great chandelier,
containing two thousand four hundred lamps, would be lit to illuminate
the church. Finally, the worthy bishop called upon all members of his
flock, in consideration of the solemnity of the day, to abstain from
sensual pleasures, in order that they might the more piously and
worthily contemplate the sacred objects submitted to their view, and
digest the spiritual nourishment to be offered to their understandings.

From the specimen we have already given of the character of the populace
of Rome, it will perhaps be unnecessary to say that the great
attractions presented by this theological bill of fare were the relics
and the chandelier. Pulpit eloquence and vigil solemnities alone must
have long exhibited their more sober allurements, before they could have
drawn into the streets a fiftieth part of the immense crowd that now
hurried towards the desecrated basilica. Indeed, so vast was the
assemblage soon congregated, that the advanced ranks of sightseers had
already filled the church to overflowing, before those in the rear had
come within view of the colonnades.

However dissatisfied the unsuccessful portion of the citizens might feel
at their exclusion from the church, they found a powerful counter-
attraction in the amusements going forward in the Place, the occupants
of which seemed thoroughly regardless of the bishop's admonitions upon
the sobriety of behaviour due to the solemnity of the day. As if in
utter defiance of the decency and order recommended by the clergy,
popular exhibitions of all sorts were set up on the broad flagstones of
the great space before the church. Street dancing-girls exercised at
every available spot those 'gliding gyrations' so eloquently condemned
by the worthy Ammianus Marcellinus of orderly and historical memory.
Booths crammed with relics of doubtful authenticity, baskets filled with
neat manuscript abstracts of furiously controversial pamphlets, pagan
images regenerated into portraits of saints, pictorial representations
of Arians writhing in damnation, and martyrs basking in haloes of
celestial light, tempted, in every direction, the more pious among the
spectators. Cooks perambulated with their shops on their backs; rival
slave-merchants shouted petitions for patronage; wine-sellers taught
Bacchanalian philosophy from the tops of their casks; poets recited
compositions for sale; sophisters held arguments destined to convert
the wavering and perplex the ignorant.

Incessant motion and incessant noise seemed to be the sole compensations
sought by the multitude for the disappointment of exclusion from the
church. If a stranger, after reading the proclamation of the day, had
proceeded to the basilica, to feast his eyes on the contemplation of the
illustrious aggregate of humanity, entitled by the bishop 'his pious and
honourable brethren,' he must, on mixing at this moment with the
assemblage, have either doubted the truth of the episcopal appellation,
or have given the citizens credit for that refinement of intrinsic worth
which is of too elevated a nature to influence the character of the
outward man.

At the time when the sun set, nothing could be more picturesque than the
distant view of this joyous scene. The deep red rays of the departing
luminary cast their radiance, partly from behind the church, over the
vast multitude in the Place. Brightly and rapidly the rich light roved
over the waters that leaped towards it from the fountain in all the
loveliness of natural and evanescent form. Bathed in that brilliant
glow, the smooth porphyry colonnades reflected, chameleon like, ethereal
and varying hues; the white marble statues became suffused in a delicate
rose-colour, and the sober-tinted trees gleamed in the innermost of
their leafy depths as if steeped in the exhalations of a golden mist.
While, contrasting strangely with the wondrous radiance around them, the
huge bronze pine-tree in the middle of the Place, and the wide front of
the basilica, rose up in gloomy shadow, indefinite and exaggerated,
lowering like evil spirits over the joyous beauty of the rest of the
scene, and casting their great depths of shade into the midst of the
light whose dominion they despised. Beheld from a distance, this wild
combination of vivid brightness and solemn gloom; these buildings, at
one place darkened till they looked gigantic, at another lightened till
they appeared ethereal; these crowded groups, seeming one great moving
mass gleaming at this point in radiant light, obscured at that in thick
shadow, made up a whole so incongruous and yet so beautiful, so
grotesque and yet so sublime, that the scene looked, for the moment,
more like some inhabited meteor, half eclipsed by its propinquity to
earth, than a mortal and material prospect.

The beauties of this atmospheric effect were of far too serious and
sublime a nature to interest the multitude in the Place. Out of the
whole assemblage, but two men watched that glorious sunset with even an
appearance of the admiration and attention which it deserved. One was
the landholder whose wrongs were related in the preceding chapter--the
other his remarkable friend.

These two men formed a singular contrast to each other, both in
demeanour and appearance, as they gazed forth upon the crimson heaven.
The landholder was an under-sized, restless-looking man, whose features,
naturally sharp, were now distorted by a fixed expression of misery and
discontent. His quick, penetrating glance wandered incessantly from
place to place, perceiving all things, but resting on none. In his
attention to the scene before him, he appeared to have been led more by
the influence of example than by his own spontaneous feelings; for ever
and anon he looked impatiently round upon his friend as if expecting him
to speak--but no word or movement escaped his thoughtful companion.
Occupied exclusively in his own contemplations, he appeared wholly
insensible to any ordinary outward appeal.

In age and appearance this individual was in the decline of life; for he
had numbered sixty years, his hair was completely grey, and his face was
covered with deep wrinkles. Yet, in spite of these disadvantages, he
was in the highest sense of the word a handsome man. Though worn and
thin, his features were still bold and regular; and there was an
elevation about the habitual mournfulness of his expression, and an
intelligence about his somewhat severe and earnest eyes, that bore
eloquent testimony to the superiority of his intellectual powers. As he
now stood gazing fixedly out into the glowing sky, his tall, meagre
figure half supported upon his staff, his lips firmly compressed, his
brow slightly frowning, and his attitude firm and motionless, the most
superficial observer must have felt immediately that he looked on no
ordinary being. The history of a life of deep thought--perhaps of long
sorrow--seemed written in every lineament of his meditative countenance;
and there was a natural dignity in his manner, which evidently
restrained his restless companion from offering any determined
interruption to the course of his reflections.

Slowly and gorgeously the sun had continued to wane in the horizon until
he was now lost to view. As his last rays sunk behind the distant
hills, the stranger started from his reverie and approached the
landholder, pointing with his staff towards the fast-fading brightness
of the western sky.

'Probus,' said he, in a low, melancholy voice, 'as I looked on that
sunset I thought on the condition of the Church.'

'I see little in the Church to think of, or in the sunset to observe,'
replied his companion.

'How pure, how vivid,' murmured the other, scarcely heeding the
landholder's remark,' was the light which that sun cast upon this earth
at our feet! How nobly for a time its brightness triumphed over the
shadows around; and yet, in spite of the promise of that radiance, how
swiftly did it fade ere long in its conflict with the gloom--how
thoroughly, even now, has it departed from the earth, and withdrawn the
beauty of its glory from the heavens! Already the shadows are
lengthening around us, and shrouding in their darkness every object in
the Place. But a short hour hence, and--should no moon arise--the gloom
of night will stretch unresisted over Rome!'

'To what purpose do you tell me this?'

'Are you not reminded, by what we have observed, of the course of the
worship which it is our privilege to profess? Does not that first
beautiful light denote its pure and perfect rise; that short conflict
between the radiance and the gloom, its successful preservation, by the
Apostles and the Fathers; that rapid fading of the radiance, its
desecration in later times; and the gloom which now surrounds us, the
destruction which has encompassed it in this age we live in?--a
destruction which nothing can avert but a return to that pure first
faith that should now be the hope of our religion, as the moon is the
hope of night!'

'How should we reform? Do people who have no liberties care about a
religion? Who is to teach them?'

'I have--I will. It is the purpose of my life to restore to them the
holiness of the ancient Church; to rescue them from the snare of
traitors to the faith, whom men call priests. They shall learn through
me that the Church knew no adornment once, but the presence of the pure;
that the priest craved no finer vestment than his holiness; that the
Gospel, which once taught humility and now raises dispute, was in former
days the rule of faith--sufficient for all wants, powerful over all
difficulties. Through me they shall know that in times past it was the
guardian of the heart; through me they shall see that in times present
it is the plaything of the proud; through me they shall fear that in
times future it may become the exile of the Church! To this task I have
vowed myself; to overthrow this idolatry--which, like another paganism,
rises among us with its images, its relics, its jewels, and its gold--I
will devote my child, my life, my energies, and my possessions. From
this attempt I will never turn aside--from this determination I will
never flinch. While I have a breath of life in me, I will persevere in
restoring to this abandoned city the true worship of the Most High!'

He ceased abruptly. The intensity of his agitation seemed suddenly to
deny to him the faculty of speech. Every muscle in the frame of that
stern, melancholy man quivered at the immortal promptings of the soul
within him. There was something almost feminine in his universal
susceptibility to the influence of one solitary emotion. Even the
rough, desperate landholder felt awed by the enthusiasm of the being
before him, and forgot his wrongs, terrible as they were--and his
misery, poignant as it was--as he gazed upon his companion's face.

For some minutes neither of the men said more. Soon, however, the last
speaker calmed his agitation with the facility of a man accustomed to
stifle the emotions that he cannot crush, and advancing to the
landholder, took him sorrowfully by the hand.

'I see, Probus, that I have amazed you,' said he; 'but the Church is the
only subject on which I have no discretion. In all other matters I have
conquered the rashness of my early manhood; in this I have to wrestle
with my hastier nature still. When I look on the mockeries that are
acting around us; when I behold a priesthood deceivers, a people
deluded, a religion defiled, then, I confess it, my indignation
overpowers my patience, and I burn to destroy, where I ought only to
hope to reform.'

'I knew you always violent of imagination; but when I last saw you your
enthusiasm was love. Your wife--'

'Peace! She deceived me!'

'Your child--'

'Lives with me at Rome.'

'I remember her an infant, when, fourteen years since, I was your
neighbour in Gaul. On my departure from the province, you had just
returned from a journey into Italy, unsuccessful in your attempts to
discover there a trace either of your parents, or of that elder brother
whose absence you were wont so continually to lament. Tell me, have
you, since that period, discovered the members of your ancient
household? Hitherto you have been so occupied in listening to the
history of my wrongs that you have scarcely spoken of the changes in
your life since we last met.'

'If, Probus, I have been silent to you concerning myself, it is because
for me retrospection has little that attracts. While yet it was in my
power to return to those parents whom I deserted in my boyhood, I
thought not of repentance; and now that they must be but too surely lost
to me, my yearning towards them is of no avail. Of my brother, from
whom I parted in a moment of childish jealousy and anger, and whose
pardon and love I would give up even my ambition to acquire, I have
never yet discovered a trace. Atonement to those whom I injured in
early life is a privilege denied to the prayers of my age. From my
parents and my brother I departed unblest, and unforgiven by them I feel
that I am doomed to die! My life has been careless, useless, godless,
passing from rapine and violence to luxury and indolence, and leading me
to the marriage which I exulted in when I last saw you, but which I now
feel was unworthy alike in its motives and its results. But blessed and
thrice blessed by that last calamity of my wicked existence, for it
opened my eyes to the truth--it made a Christian of me while I was yet
alive!'

'Is it thus that the Christian can view his afflictions? I would, then,
that I were a Christian like you!' murmured the landholder, in low,
earnest tones.

'It was in those first days, Probus,' continued the other, 'when I found
myself deserted and dishonoured, left alone to be the guardian of my
helpless child, exiled for ever from a home that I had myself forsaken,
that I repented me in earnest of my misdeeds, that I sought wisdom from
the book of salvation, and the conduct of life from the Fathers of the
Church. It was at that time that I determined to devote my child, like
Samuel of old, to the service of heaven, and myself to the reformation
of our degraded worship. As I have already told you, I forsook my abode
and changed my name (remember it is as 'Numerian' that you must
henceforth address me), that of my former self no remains might be left,
that of my former companions not one might ever discover and tempt me
again. With incessant care have I shielded my daughter from the
contamination of the world. As a precious jewel in a miser's hands she
has been watched and guarded in her father's house. Her destiny is to
soothe the afflicted, to watch the sick, to succour the forlorn, when I,
her teacher, have restored to the land the dominion of its ancient faith
and the guidance of its faultless Gospel. We have neither of us an
affection or a hope that can bind us to the things of earth. Our hearts
look both towards heaven; our expectations are only from on high!'

'Do not set your hopes too firmly on your child. Remember how the
nobles of Rome have destroyed the household I once had, and tremble for
your own.'

'I have no fear for my daughter; she is cared for in my absence by one
who is vowed to aid me in my labours for the Church. It is now nearly a
year since I first met Ulpius, and from that time forth he has devoted
himself to my service and watched over my child.'

'Who is this Ulpius, that you should put such faith in him?'

'He is a man of age like mine. I found him, like me, worn down by the
calamities of his early life, and abandoned, as I had once been, to the
delusions of the pagan gods. He was desolate, suffering, forlorn, and I
had pity on him in his misery. I proved to him that the worship he
still professed was banished for its iniquities from the land; that the
religion which had succeeded it had become defiled by man, and that
there remained but one faith for him to choose, if he would be saved--
the faith of the early Church. He heard me and was converted. From
that moment he has served my patiently and helped me willingly. Under
the roof where I assemble the few who as yet are true believers, he is
always the first to come and the last to remain. No word of anger has
ever crossed his lips--no look of impatience has ever appeared in his
eyes. Though sorrowful, he is gentle; though suffering, he is
industrious. I have trusted him with all I possess, and I glory in my
credulity! Ulpius is incorruptible!'

'And your daughter?--is Ulpius reverenced by her as he is respected by
you?'

'She knows that her duty is to love whom I love, and to avoid whom I
avoid. Can you imagine that a Christian virgin has any feelings
disobedient to her father's wishes? Come to my house; judge with your
own eyes of my daughter and my companion. You, whose misfortunes have
left you no home, shall find one, if you will, with me. Come then and
labour with me in my great undertaking! You will withdraw your mind
from the contemplation of your woes, and merit by your devotion the
favour of the Most High.'

'No, Numerian, I will still be independent, even of my friends! Nor
Rome nor Italy are abiding-places for me. I go to another land to abide
among another people, until the arms of a conqueror shall have restored
freedom to the brave and protection to the honest throughout the
countries of the Empire.'

'Probus, I implore you stay!'

'Never! My determination is taken, Numerian--farewell!'

For a few minutes Numerian stood motionless, gazing wistfully in the
direction taken by his companion on his departure. At first an
expression of grief and pity softened the austerity which seemed the
habitual characteristic of his countenance when in repose, but soon
these milder and tenderer feelings appeared to vanish from his heart as
suddenly as they had arisen; his features reassumed their customary
sternness, and he muttered to himself as he mixed with the crowd
struggling onwards in the direction of the basilica: 'Let him depart
unregretted; he has denied himself to the service of his Maker. He
should no longer be my friend.'

In this sentence lay the index to the character of the man. His
existence was one vast sacrifice, one scene of intrepid self-immolation.
Although, in the brief hints at the events of his life which he had
communicated to his friend, he had exaggerated the extent of his errors,
he had by no means done justice to the fervour of his penitence--a
penitence which outstripped the usual boundaries of repentance, and only
began in despair to terminate in fanaticism. His desertion of his
father's house (into the motives of which it is not our present
intention to enter), and his long subsequent existence of violence and
excess, indisposed his naturally strong passions to submit to the
slightest restraint. In obedience to their first impulses, he
contracted, at a mature age, a marriage with a woman thoroughly unworthy
of the ardent admiration that she had inspired. When he found himself
deceived and dishonoured by her, the shock of such an affliction
thrilled through his whole being--crushed all his energies--struck him
prostrate, heart and mind, at one blow. The errors of his youth,
committed in his prosperity with moral impunity, reacted upon him in his
adversity with an influence fatal to his future peace. His repentance
was darkened by despondency; his resolutions were unbrightened by hope.
He flew to religion as the suicide flies to the knife--in despair.

Leaving all remaining peculiarities in Numerian's character to be
discussed at a future opportunity, we will now follow him in his passage
through the crowd, to the entrance of the basilica--continuing to
designate him, here and elsewhere, by the name which he had assumed on
his conversion, and by which he had insisted on being addressed during
his interview with the fugitive landholder.

Although at the commencement of his progress towards the church, our
enthusiast found himself placed among the hindermost of the members of
the advancing throng, he soon contrived so thoroughly to outstrip his
dilatory and discursive neighbours as to gain, with little delay, the
steps of the sacred building. Here, in common with many others, he was
compelled to stop, while those nearest the basilica squeezed their way
through its stately doors. In such a situation his remarkable figure
could not fail to be noticed, and he was silently recognised by many of
the bystanders, some of whom looked on him with wonder, and some with
aversion. Nobody, however, approached or spoke to him. Every one felt
the necessity of shunning a man whose bold and daily exposures of the
abuses of the Church placed in incessant peril his liberty, and even his
life.

Among the bystanders who surrounded Numerian, there were nevertheless
two who did not remain content with carelessly avoiding any
communication with the intrepid and suspected reformer. These two men
belonged to the lowest order of the clergy, and appeared to be occupied
in cautiously watching the actions and listening to the conversation of
the individuals immediately around them. The instant they beheld
Numerian they moved so as to elude his observation, taking care at the
same time to occupy such a position as enabled them to keep in view the
object of their evident distrust.

'Look, Osius,' said one, 'that man is here again!'

'And doubtless with the same motives which brought him here yesterday,'
replied the other. 'You will see that he will again enter the church,
listen to the service, retire to his little chapel near the Pincian
Mount, and there, before his ragged mob of adherents, attack the
doctrines which our brethren have preached, as we know he did last
night, and as we suspect he will continue to do until the authorities
think proper to give the signal for his imprisonment.'

'I marvel that he should have been permitted to persist so long a time
as he has in his course of contumacy towards the Church. Have we not
evidence enough in his writings alone to convict him of heresy? The
carelessness of the bishop upon such a matter as this is quite
inexplicable!'

'You should consider, Numerian not being a priest, that the carelessness
about our interests lies more with the senate than the bishop. What
time our nobles can spare from their debaucheries has been lately given
to discussions on the conduct of the Emperor in retiring to Ravenna, and
will now be dedicated to penetrating the basis of this rumour about the
Goths. Besides, even were they at liberty, what care the senate about
theological disputes? They only know this Numerian as a citizen of Rome,
a man of some influence and possessions, and, consequently, a person of
political importance as a member of the population. In addition to
which, it would be no easy task for us at the present moment to impugn
the doctrines broached by our assailant; for the fellow has a
troublesome facility of supporting what he says by the Bible. Believe
me, in this matter, our only way of righting ourselves will be to
convict him of scandal against the highest dignitaries of the Church.'

'The order that we have lately received to track his movements and
listen to his discourses, leads me to believe that our superiors are of
your opinion.'

'Whether my convictions are correct or not, of this I feel assured--that
his days of liberty are numbered. It was but a few hours ago that I saw
the bishop's chamberlain's head-assistant, and he told me that he had
heard, through the crevice of a door--'

'Hush! he moves; he is pressing forward to enter the church. You can
tell me what you were about to say as we follow him. Quick! let us mix
with the crowd.'

Ever enthusiastic in the performance of their loathsome duties, these
two discreet pastors of a Christian flock followed Numerian with the
most elaborate caution into the interior of the sacred building.

Although the sun still left a faint streak of red in the western sky,
and the moon had as yet scarcely risen, the great chandelier of two
thousand four hundred lamps, mentioned by the bishop in his address to
the people, was already alight. In the days of its severe and sacred
beauty, the appearance of the church would have suffered fatally by this
blaze of artificial brilliancy; but now that the ancient character of
the basilica was completely changed, now that from a solemn temple it
had been altered to the semblance of a luxurious palace, it gained
immensely by its gaudy illumination. Not an ornament along the vast
extent of its glorious nave but glittered in vivid distinctness in the
dazzling light that poured downwards from the roof. The gilded rafters,
the smooth inlaid marble pillars, the rich hangings of the windows, the
jewelled candlesticks on the altars, the pictures, the statues, the
bronzes, the mosaics, each and all glowed with a steady and luxurious
transparency absolutely intoxicating to the eye. Not a trace of wear,
not a vestige of tarnish now appeared on any object. Each portion of
the nave to which the attention was directed appeared too finely,
spotlessly radiant, ever to have been touched by mortal hands.
Entranced and bewildered, the observation roamed over the surface of the
brilliant scene, until, wearied by the unbroken embellishment of the
prospect, it wandered for repose upon the dimly lighted aisles, and
dwelt with delight upon the soft shadows that hovered about their
distant pillars, and the gliding forms that peopled their dusky
recesses, or loitered past their lofty walls.

At the moment when Numerian entered the basilica, a part of the service
had just concluded. The last faint echo from the voices of the choir
still hung upon the incense-laden air, and the vast masses of the
spectators were still grouped in their listening and various attitudes,
as the devoted reformer looked forth upon the church. Even he, stern as
he was, seemed for a moment subdued by the ineffable enchantment of the
scene; but ere long, as if displeased with his own involuntary emotions
of admiration, his brow contracted, and he sighed heavily, as (still
followed by the attentive spies) he sought the comparative seclusion of
the aisles.

During the interval between the divisions of the service, the
congregation occupied themselves in staring at the relics, which were
enclosed in a silver cabinet with crystal doors, and placed on the top
of the high altar. Although it was impossible to obtain a satisfactory
view of these ecclesiastical treasures, they nevertheless employed the
attention of every one until the appearance of a priest in the pulpit
gave signal of the commencement of the sermon, and admonished all those
who had seats to secure them without delay.

Passing through the ranks of the auditors of the sermon--some of whom
were engaged in counting the lights in the chandelier, to be certain
that the bishop had not defrauded them of one out of the two thousand
four hundred lamps; others in holding whispered conversations, and
opening small boxes of sweetmeats--we again conduct the reader to the
outside of the church.

The assemblage here had by this time much diminished; the shadows flung
over the ground by the lofty colonnades had deepened and increased; and
in many of the more remote recesses of the Place hardly a human being
was to be observed. At one of these extremities, where the pillars
terminated in the street and the obscurity was most intense, stood a
solitary old man keeping himself cautiously concealed in the darkness,
and looking out anxiously upon the public way immediately before him.

He had waited but a short time when a handsome chariot, preceded by a
body-guard of gaily-attired slaves, stopped within a few paces of his
lurking-place, and the voice of the person it contained pronounced
audibly the following words:--

'No! no! Drive on--we are later than I thought. If I stay to see this
illumination of the basilica, I shall not be in time to receive my
guests for to-night's banquet. Besides, this inestimable kitten of the
breed most worshipped by the ancient Egyptians has already taken cold,
and I would not for the world expose the susceptible animal any longer
than is necessary to the dampness of the night-air. Drive on, good
Carrio, drive on!'

The old man scarcely waited for the conclusion of this speech before he
ran up to the chariot, where he was immediately confronted by two
heads--one that of Vetranio the senator, the other that of a glossy
black kitten adorned with a collar of rubies, and half enveloped in its
master's ample robes. Before the astonished noble could articulate a
word, the man whispered in hoarse, hurried accents, 'I am Ulpius--
dismiss your servants--I have something important to say!'

'Ha! my worthy Ulpius! You have a most unhappy faculty of delivering a
message with the manner of an assassin! But I must pardon your
unpleasant abruptness in consideration of your diligence. My excellent
Carrio, If you value my approbation, remove your companions and yourself
out of hearing!'

The freedman yielded instant obedience to his master's mandate. The
following conversation then took place, the strange man opening it
thus:--

'You remember your promise?'

'I do.'

'Upon your honour, as a nobleman and a senator, you are prepared to
abide by it whenever it is necessary?'

'I am.'

'Then at the dawn of morning meet me at the private gate of your palace
garden, and I will conduct you to Antonina's bedchamber.'

'The time will suit me. But why at the dawn of morning?'

'Because the Christian dotard will keep a vigil until midnight, which
the girl will most probably attend. I wished to tell you this at your
palace, but I heard there that you had gone to Aricia, and would return
by way of the basilica; so I posted myself to intercept you thus.'

'Industrious Ulpius!'

'Remember your promise!'

Vetranio leaned forward to reply, but Ulpius was gone.

As the senator again commanded his equipage to move on, he looked
anxiously around him, as if once more expecting to see his strange
adherent still lurking near the chariot. He only perceived, however, a
man whom he did not know, followed by two other, walking rapidly past
him. They were Numerian and the spies.

'At last, my projects are approaching consummation,' exclaimed Vetranio
to himself, as he and his kitten rolled off in the chariot. 'It is well
that I thought of securing possession of Julia's villa to-day, for I
shall now, assuredly, want to use it to-morrow. Jupiter! What a mass
of dangers, contradictions, and mysteries encompass this affair! When I
think that I, who pride myself on my philosophy, have quitted Ravenna,
borrowed a private villa, leagued myself with an uncultivated plebeian,
and all for the sake of a girl who has already deceived my expectations
by gaining me as a music-master without admitting me as a lover, I am
positively astonished at my own weakness! Still it must be owned that
the complexion my adventure has lately assumed renders it of some
interest in itself. The mere pleasure of penetrating the secrets of
this Numerian's household is by no means the least among the numerous
attraction of my design. How has he gained his influence over the girl?
Why does he keep her in such strict seclusion? Who is this old half-
frantic, unceremonious man-monster calling himself Ulpius; refusing all
reward for his villainy; raving about a return to the old religion of
the gods; and exulting in the promise he has extorted from me, as a good
pagan, to support the first restoration of the ancient worship that may
be attempted in Rome? Where does he come from? Why does he outwardly
profess himself a Christian? What sent him into Numerian's service? By
the girdle of Venus! everything connected with the girl is as
incomprehensible as herself! But patience--patience! A few hours more,
and these mysteries will be revealed. In the meantime, let me think of
my banquet, and of its presiding deity, the Nightingale Sauce!'

CHAPTER 5. ANTONINA.

Who that has been at Rome does not remember with delight the attractions
of the Pincian Hill? Who, after toiling through the wonders of the
dark, melancholy city, has not been revived by a visit to its shady
walks, and by breathing its fragrant breezes? Amid the solemn
mournfulness that reigns over declining Rome, this delightful elevation
rises light, airy, and inviting, at once a refreshment to the body and a
solace to the spirit. From its smooth summit the city is seen in its
utmost majesty, and the surrounding country in its brightest aspect.
The crimes and miseries of Rome seem deterred from approaching its
favoured soil; it impresses the mind as a place set apart by common
consent for the presence of the innocent and the joyful--as a scene that
rest and recreation keep sacred from the intrusion of tumult and toil.

Its appearance in modern days is the picture of its character for ages
past. Successive wars might dull its beauties for a time, but peace
invariably restored them in all their pristine loveliness. The old
Romans called it 'The Mount of Gardens'. Throughout the disasters of
the Empire and the convulsions of the Middle Ages, it continued to merit
its ancient appellation, and a 'Mount of Gardens' it still triumphantly
remains to the present day.

At the commencement of the fifth century the magnificence of the Pincian
Hill was at its zenith. Were it consistent with the conduct of our story
to dwell upon the glories of its palaces and its groves, its temples and
its theatres, such a glowing prospect of artificial splendour, aided by
natural beauty, might be spread before the reader as would tax his
credulity, while it excited his astonishment. This task, however, it is
here unnecessary to attempt. It is not for the wonders of ancient
luxury and taste, but for the abode of the zealous and religious
Numerian, that we find it now requisite to arouse interest and engage
attention.

At the back of the Flaminian extremity of the Pincian Hill, and
immediately overlooking the city wall, stood, at the period of which we
write, a small but elegantly built house, surrounded by a little garden
of its own, and protected at the back by the lofty groves and
outbuildings of the palace of Vetranio the senator. This abode had been
at one time a sort of summer-house belonging to the former proprietor of
a neighbouring mansion.

Profligate necessities, however, had obliged the owner to part with this
portion of his possessions, which was purchased by a merchant well known
to Numerian, who received it as a legacy at his friend's death.
Disgusted, as soon as his reforming projects took possession of his
mind, at the bare idea of propinquity to the ennobled libertines of
Rome, the austere Christian determined to abandon his inheritance, and
to sell it to another; but, at the repeated entreaties of his daughter,
he at length consented to change his purpose, and sacrifice his
antipathy to his luxurious neighbours to his child's youthful attachment
to the beauties of Nature as displayed in his legacy on the Pincian
Mount. In this instance only did the natural affection of the father
prevail over the acquired severity of the reformer. Here he
condescended, for the first and the last time, to the sweet trivialities
of youth. Here, indulgent in spite of himself, he fixed his little
household, and permitted to his daughter her sole recreations of tending
the flowers in the garden and luxuriating in the loveliness of the
distant view.

******

The night has advanced an hour since the occurrence mentioned in the
preceding chapter. The clear and brilliant moonlight of Italy now
pervades every district of the glorious city, and bathes in its pure
effulgence the groves and palaces on the Pincian Mount. From the garden
of Numerian the irregular buildings of the great suburbs of Rome, the
rich undulating country beyond, and the long ranges of mountains in the
distance, are now all visible in the soft and luxurious light. Near the
spot which commands this view, not a living creature is to be seen on a
first examination; but on a more industrious and patient observation,
you are subsequently able to detect at one of the windows of Numerian's
house, half hidden by a curtain, the figure of a young girl.

Soon this solitary form approaches nearer to the eye. The moonbeams,
that have hitherto shone only upon the window, now illuminate other
objects. First they display a small, white arm; then a light, simple
robe; then a fair, graceful neck; and finally a bright, youthful,
innocent face, directed steadfastly towards the wide moon-brightened
prospect of the distant mountains.

For some time the girl remains in contemplation at her window. Then she
leaves her post, and almost immediately reappears at a door leading into
the garden. Her figure, as she advances towards the lawn before her, is
light and small--a natural grace and propriety appear in her movements--
she holds pressed to her bosom and half concealed by her robe, a gilt
lute. When she reaches a turf bank commanding the same view as the
window, she arranges her instrument upon her knees, and with something
of restraint in her manner gently touches the chords. Then, as if
alarmed at the sound she has produced, she glances anxiously around her,
apparently fearful of being overheard. Her large, dark, lustrous eyes
have in them an expression of apprehension; her delicate lips are half
parted; a sudden flush rises in her soft, olive complexion as she
examines every corner of the garden. Having completed her survey
without discovering any cause for the suspicions she seems to entertain,
she again employs herself over her instrument. Once more she strikes
the chords, and now with a bolder hand. The notes she produces resolve
themselves into a wild, plaintive, irregular melody, alternately rising
and sinking, as if swayed by the fickle influence of a summer wind.
These sounds are soon harmoniously augmented by the young minstrel's
voice, which is calm, still, and mellow, and adapts itself with
exquisite ingenuity to every arbitrary variation in the tone of the
accompaniment. The song that she has chosen is one of the fanciful odes
of the day. Its chief merit to her lies in its alliance to the strange
Eastern air which she heard at her first interview with the senator who
presented her with the lute. Paraphrased in English, the words of the
composition would run thus:--

THE ORIGIN OF MUSIC

I. Spirit, whose dominion reigns Over Music's thrilling strains, Whence
may be thy distant birth? Say what tempted thee to earth?

Mortal, listen: I was born In Creation's early years, Singing, 'mid the
stars of morn, `To the music of the spheres.

Once as, within the realms of space, I view'd this mortal planet roll, A
yearning towards they hapless race, Unbidden, filled my seraph soul!

Angels, who had watched my birth, Heard me sigh to sing to earth; 'Twas
transgression ne'er forgiv'n To forget my native heav'n; So they sternly
bade me go--Banish'd to the world below.

II. Exil'd here, I knew no fears; For, though darkness round me clung,
Though none heard me in the spheres, Earth had listeners while I sung.

Young spirits of the Spring sweet breeze Came thronging round me, soft
and coy, Light wood-nymphs sported in the trees, And laughing Echo leapt
for joy!

Brooding Woe and writhing Pain Soften'd at my gentle strain; Bounding
Joy, with footstep fleet, Ran to nestle at my feet; While, arous'd,
delighted Love Softly kiss'd me from above!

III. Since those years of early time, Faithful still to earth I've
sung; Flying through each distant clime, Ever welcome, ever young!

Still pleas'd, my solace I impart Where brightest hopes are scattered
dead; 'Tis mine--sweet gift!--to charm the heart, Though all its other
joys have fled!

Time, that withers all beside, Harmless past me loves to glide; Change,
that mortals must obey, Ne'er shall shake my gentle sway; Still 'tis
mine all hearts to move In eternity of love.

As the last sounds of her voice and her lute died softly away upon the
still night air, an indescribable elevation appeared in the girl's
countenance. She looked up rapturously into the far, star-bright sky;
her lip quivered, her dark eyes filled with tears, and her bosom heaved
with the excess of the emotions that the music and the scene inspired.
Then she gazed slowly around her, dwelling tenderly upon the fragrant
flower-beds that were the work of her own hands, and looking forth with
an expression half reverential, half ecstatic over the long, smooth,
shining plains, and the still, glorious mountains, that had so long been
the inspiration of her most cherished thoughts, and that now glowed
before her eyes, soft and beautiful as her dreams on her virgin couch.
Then, overpowered by the artless thoughts and innocent recollections
which on the magic wings of Nature and Night came wafted over her mind,
she bent down her head upon her lute, pressed her round, dimpled cheek
against its smooth frame, and drawing her fingers mechanically over its
strings, abandoned herself unreservedly to the reveries of maidenhood
and youth.

Such was the being devoted by her father's fatal ambition to a lifelong
banishment from all that is attractive in human art and beautiful in
human intellect! Such was the daughter whose existence was to be one
long acquaintance with mortal woe, one unvaried refusal of mortal
pleasure, whose thoughts were to be only of sermons and fasts, whose
action were to be confined to the binding up of strangers' wounds and
the drying of strangers' tears; whose life, in brief, was doomed to be
the embodiment of her father's austere ideal of the austere virgins of
the ancient Church!

Deprived of her mother, exiled from the companionship of others of her
age, permitted no familiarity with any living being, no sympathies with
any other heart, commanded but never indulged, rebuked but never
applauded, she must have sunk beneath the severities imposed on her by
her father, but for the venial disobedience committed in the pursuit of
the solitary pleasure procured for her by her lute. Vainly, in her
hours of study, did she read the fierce anathemas against love, liberty,
and pleasure, poetry, painting, and music, gold, silver, and precious
stones, which the ancient fathers had composed for the benefit of the
submissive congregations of former days; vainly did she imagine, during
those long hours of theological instruction, that her heart's forbidden
longings were banished and destroyed--that her patient and childlike
disposition was bowed in complete subserviency to the most rigorous of
her father's commands. No sooner were her interviews with Numerian
concluded than the promptings of that nature within us, which artifice
may warp but can never destroy, lured her into a forgetfulness of all
that she had heard and a longing for much that was forbidden. We live,
in this existence, but by the companionship of some sympathy,
aspiration, or pursuit, which serves us as our habitual refuge from the
tribulations we inherit from the outer world. The same feeling which led
Antonina in her childhood to beg for a flower-garden, in her girlhood
induced her to gain possession of a lute.

The passion for music which prompted her visit to Vetranio, which alone
saved her affections from pining in the solitude imposed on them, and
which occupied her leisure hours in the manner we have already
described, was an inheritance of her birth.

Her Spanish mother had sung to her, hour after hour, in her cradle, for
the short time during which she was permitted to watch over her child.
The impression thus made on the dawning faculties of the infant, nothing
ever effaced. Though her earliest perception were greeted only by the
sight of her father's misery; though the form which his despairing
penitence soon assumed doomed her to a life of seclusion and an
education of admonition, the passionate attachment to the melody of
sound, inspired by her mother's voice--almost imbibed at her mother's
breast--lived through all neglect, and survived all opposition. It
found its nourishment in childish recollections, in snatches of street
minstrelsy heard through her window, in the passage of the night winds
of winter through the groves on the Pincian Mount, and received its
rapturous gratification in the first audible sounds from the Roman
senator's lute. How her possession of an instrument, and her skill in
playing, were subsequently gained, the reader already knows from
Vetranio's narrative at Ravenna. Could the frivolous senator have
discovered the real intensity of the emotions his art was raising in his
pupil's bosom while he taught her; could he have imagined how
incessantly, during their lessons, her sense of duty struggled with her
love for music--how completely she was absorbed, one moment by an agony
of doubt and fear, another by an ecstasy of enjoyment and hope--he would
have felt little of that astonishment at her coldness towards himself
which he so warmly expressed at his interview with Julia in the gardens
of the Court. In truth, nothing could be more complete than Antonina's
childish unconsciousness of the feelings with which Vetranio regarded
her. In entering his presence, whatever remnant of her affections
remained unwithered by her fears was solely attracted and engrossed by
the beloved and beautiful lute. In receiving the instrument, she almost
forgot the giver in the triumph of possession; or, if she thought of him
at all, it was to be grateful for having escaped uninjured from a member
of that class, for whom her father's reiterated admonitions had inspired
her with a vague feeling of dread and distrust, and to determine that,
now she had acknowledged his kindness and departed from his domains,
nothing should ever induce her to risk discovery by her father and peril
to herself by ever entering them again.

Innocent in her isolation, almost infantine in her natural simplicity, a
single enjoyment was sufficient to satisfy all the passions of her age.
Father, mother, lover, and companion; liberties, amusements, and
adornments--they were all summed up for her in that simple lute. The
archness, the liveliness, and the gentleness of her disposition; the
poetry of her nature, and the affection of her heart; the happy bloom of
youth, which seclusion could not all wither nor distorted precept taint,
were now entirely nourished, expanded, and freshened--such is the
creative power of human emotion--by that inestimable possession. She
could speak to it, smile on it, caress it, and believe, in the ecstasy
of her delight, in the carelessness of her self-delusion, that it
sympathised with her joy. During her long solitudes, when she was
silently watched in her father's absence by the brooding, melancholy
stranger whom he had set over her, it became a companion dearer than the
flower-garden, dearer even that the plains and mountains which formed
her favourite view. When her father returned, and she was led forth to
sit in a dark place among strange, silent people, and to listen to
interminable declamations, it was a solace to think of the instrument as
it lay hidden securely in her chamber, and to ponder delightedly on what
new music of her own she could play upon it next. And then, when
evening arrived, and she was left alone in her garden--then came the
hour of moonlight and song; the moment of rapture and melody that drew
her out of herself, elevated her she felt not how, and transported her
she knew not whither.

But, while we thus linger over reflection on motives and examinations
into character, we are called back to the outer world of passing
interests and events by the appearances of another figure on the scene.
We left Antonina in the garden thinking over her lute. She still
remains in her meditative position, but she is now no longer alone.

From the same steps by which she had descended, a man now advances into
the garden, and walks towards the place she occupies. His gait is
limping, his stature crooked, his proportions distorted. His large,
angular features stand out in gaunt contrast to his shrivelled cheeks.
His dry, matted hair has been burnt by the sun into a strange tawny
brown. His expression is one of fixed, stern, mournful thought. As he
steps stealthily along, advancing towards Antonina, he mutters to
himself, and clutches mechanically at his garments with his lank,
shapeless fingers. The radiant moonlight, falling fully upon his
countenance, invests it with a livid, mysterious, spectral appearance:
seen by a stranger at the present moment, he would have been almost
awful to look upon.

This was the man who had intercepted Vetranio on his journey home, and
who had now hurried back so as to regain his accustomed post before his
master's return, for he was the same individual mentioned by Numerian as
his aged convert, Ulpius, in his interview with the landholder at the
Basilica of St. Peter.

When Ulpius had arrived within a few paces of the girl he stopped,
saying in a hoarse, thick voice--

'Hide your toy--Numerian is at the gates!'

Antonina started violently as she listened to those repulsive accents.
The blood rushed into her cheeks; she hastily covered the lute with her
robe; paused an instant, as if intending to speak to the man, then
shuddered violently, and hurried towards the house.

As she mounted the steps Numerian met her in the hall. There was now no
chance of hiding the lute in its accustomed place.

'You stay too late in the garden,' said the father, looking proudly, in
spite of all his austerity, upon his beautiful daughter as she stood by
his side. 'But what affects you?' he added, noticing her confusion.
'You tremble; your colour comes and goes; your lips quiver. Give me
your hand!'

As Antonina obeyed him, a fold of the treacherous robe slipped aside,
and discovered a part of the frame of the lute. Numerian's quick eye
discovered it immediately. He snatched the instrument from her feeble
grasp. His astonishment on beholding it was too great for words, and
for an instant he confronted the poor girl, whose pale face looked rigid
with terror, in ominous and expressive silence.

'This thing,' said he at length, 'this invention of libertines in my
house--in my daughter's possession!' and he dashed the lute into
fragments on the floor.

For one moment Antonina looked incredulously on the ruins of the beloved
companion, which was the centre of all her happiest expectations for
future days. Then, as she began to estimate the reality of her
deprivation, her eyes lost all their heaven-born brightness, and filled
to overflowing with the tears of earth.

'To your chamber!' thundered Numerian, as she knelt, sobbing
convulsively, over those hapless fragments. 'To your chamber! Tomorrow
shall bring this mystery of iniquity to light!'

She rose humbly to obey him, for indignation had no part in the emotions
that shook her gentle and affectionate nature. As she moved towards the
room that no lute was henceforth to occupy, as she thought on the morrow
that no lute was henceforth to enliven, her grief almost overpowered
her. She turned back and looked imploringly at her father, as if
entreating permission to pick up even the smallest of the fragments at
his feet.

'To your chamber!' he reiterated sternly. 'Am I to be disobeyed to my
face?'

Without any repetition of her silent remonstrance, she instantly
retired. As soon as she was out of sight, Ulpius ascended the steps and
stood before the angered father.

'Look, Ulpius,' cried Numerian, 'my daughter, whom I have so carefully
cherished, whom I intended for an example to the world, has deceived me,
even thus!'

He pointed, as he spoke, to the ruins of the unfortunate lute; but
Ulpius did not address to him a word in reply, and he hastily
continued:--

'I will not sully the solemn offices of tonight by interrupting them
with my worldly affairs. To-morrow I will interrogate my disobedient
child. In the meantime, do not imagine, Ulpius, that I connect you in
any way with this wicked and unworthy deception! In you I have every
confidence, in your faithfulness I have every hope.'

Again he paused, and again Ulpius kept silence. Any one less agitated,
less confiding, than his unsuspicious master, would have remarked that a
faint sinister smile was breaking forth upon his haggard countenance.
But Numerian's indignation was still too violent to permit him to
observed, and, spite of his efforts to control himself, he again broke
forth in complaint.

'On this night too, of all others,' cried he, 'when I had hoped to lead
her among my little assembly of the faithful, to join in their prayers,
and to listen to my exhortations--on this night I am doomed to find her
a player on a pagan lute, a possessor of the most wanton of the world's
vanities! God give me patience to worship this night with unwandering
thoughts, for my heart is vexed at the transgression of my child, as the
heart of Eli of old at the iniquities of his sons!'

He was moving rapidly away, when, as if struck with a sudden
recollection, he stopped abruptly, and again addressed his gloomy
companion.

'I will go by myself to the chapel to-night,' said he. 'You, Ulpius,
will stay to keep watch over my disobedient child. Be vigilant, good
friend, over my house; for even now, on my return, I thought that two
strangers were following my steps, and I forebode some evil in store for
me as the chastisement for my sins, even greater than this misery of my
daughter's transgression. Be watchful, good Ulpius--be watchful!'

And, as he hurried away, the stern, serious man felt as overwhelmed at
the outrage that had been offered to his gloomy fanaticism, as the weak,
timid girl at the destruction that had been wreaked upon her harmless
lute.

After Numerian had departed, the sinister smile again appeared on the
countenance of Ulpius. He stood for a short time fixed in thought, and
then began slowly to descend a staircase near him which led to some
subterranean apartments. He had not gone far when a slight noise became
audible at an extremity of the corridor above. As he listened for a
repetition of the sound, he heard a sob, and looking cautiously up,
discovered, by the moonlight, Antonina stepping cautiously along the
marble pavement of the hall.

She held in her hand a little lamp; her small, rosy feet were uncovered;
the tears still streamed over her cheeks. She advanced with the
greatest caution (as if fearful of being overheard) until she gained the
part of the floor still strewn with the ruins of the broken lute. Here
she knelt down, and pressed each fragment that lay before her separately
to her lips. Then hurriedly concealing a single piece in her bosom, she
arose and stole quickly away in the direction by which she had come.

'Be patient till the dawn,' muttered her faithless guardian, gazing
after her from his concealment as she disappeared; 'it will bring to thy
lute a restorer, and to Ulpius an ally!'

CHAPTER 6. AN APPRENTICESHIP TO THE TEMPLE.

The action of our characters during the night included in the last two
chapters has now come to a pause. Vetranio is awaiting his guests for
the banquet; Numerian is in the chapel, preparing for the discourse that
he is to deliver to his friends; Ulpius is meditating in his master's
house; Antonina is stretched upon her couch, caressing the precious
fragment that she had saved from the ruins of her lute. All the
immediate agents of our story are, for the present, in repose.

It is our purpose to take advantage of this interval of inaction, and
direct the reader's attention to a different country from that selected
as the scene of our romance, and to such historical events of past years
as connect themselves remarkably with the early life of Numerian's
perfidious convert. This man will be found a person of great importance
in the future conduct of our story. It is necessary to the
comprehension of his character, and the penetration of such of his
purposes as have been already hinted at, and may subsequently appear,
that the long course of his existence should be traced upwards to its
source.

It was in the reign of Julian, when the gods of the Pagan achieved their
last victory over the Gospel of the Christian, that a decently attired
man, leading by the hand a handsome boy of fifteen years of age, entered
the gates of Alexandria, and proceeded hastily towards the high priest's
dwelling in the Temple of Serapis.

After a stay of some hours at his destination, the man left the city
alone as hastily as he entered it, and was never after seen at
Alexandria. The boy remained in the abode of the high priest until the
next day, when he was solemnly devoted to the service of the temple.

The boy was the young Emilius, afterwards called Ulpius. He was nephew
to the high priest, to whom he had been confided by his father, a
merchant of Rome.

Ambition was the ruling passion of the father of Emilius. It had
prompted him to aspire to every distinction granted to the successful by
the state, but it had not gifted him with the powers requisite to turn
his aspirations in any instance into acquisitions. He passed through
existence a disappointed man, planning but never performing, seeing his
more fortunate brother rising to the highest distinction in the
priesthood, and finding himself irretrievably condemned to exist in the
affluent obscurity ensured to him by his mercantile pursuits.

When his brother Macrinus, on Julian's accession to the imperial throne,
arrived at the pinnacle of power and celebrity as high priest of the
Temple of Serapis, the unsuccessful merchant lost all hope of rivalling
his relative in the pursuit of distinction. His insatiable ambition,
discarded from himself, now settled on one of his infant sons. He
determined that his child should be successful where he had failed. Now
that his brother had secured the highest elevation in the temple, no
calling could offer more direct advantages to a member of his household
that the priesthood. His family had been from their earliest origin
rigid Pagans. One of them had already attained to the most
distinguished honours of his gorgeous worship. He determined that
another should rival his kinsman, and that that other should be his
eldest son.

Firm in this resolution, he at once devoted his child to the great
design which he now held continually in view. He knew well that
Paganism, revived though it was, was not the universal worship that it
had been; that it was now secretly resisted, and might soon be openly
opposed, by the persecuted Christians throughout the Empire; and that if
the young generation were to guard it successfully from all future
encroachments, and to rise securely to its highest honours, more must be
exacted from them than the easy attachment to the ancient religion
require from the votaries of former days. Then, the performance of the
most important offices in the priesthood was compatible with the
possession of military or political rank. Now, it was to the temple,
and to the temple only, that the future servant of the gods should be
devoted. Resolving thus, the father took care that all the son's
occupations and rewards should, from his earliest years, be in some way
connected with the career for which he was intended. His childish
pleasures were to be conducted to sacrifices and auguries; his childish
playthings and prizes were images of the deities. No opposition was
offered on the boy's part to this plan of education. Far different from
his younger brother, whose turbulent disposition defied all authority,
he was naturally docile; and his imagination, vivid beyond his years,
was easily led captive by any remarkable object presented to it. With
such encouragement, his father became thoroughly engrossed by the
occupation of forming him for his future existence. His mother's
influence over him was jealously watched; the secret expression of her
love, of her sorrow, at the prospect of parting with him, was ruthlessly
suppressed whenever it was discovered; and his younger brother was
neglected, almost forgotten, in order that the parental watchfulness
might be entirely and invariably devoted to the eldest son.

When Emilius had numbered fifteen years, his father saw with delight
that the time had come when he could witness the commencement of the
realisation of all his projects. The boy was removed from home, taken
to Alexandria, and gladly left, by his proud and triumphant father,
under the especial guardianship of Macrinus, the high priest.

The chief of the temple full sympathised in his brother's designs for
the young Emilius. As soon as the boy had entered on his new
occupations, he was told that he must forget all that he had left behind
him at Rome; that he must look upon the high priest as his father, and
upon the temple, henceforth, as his home; and that the sole object of
his present labours and future ambition must be to rise in the service
of the gods. Nor did Macrinus stop here. So thoroughly anxious was he
to stand to his pupil in the place of a parent, and to secure his
allegiance by withdrawing him in every way from the world in which he
had hitherto lived, that he even changed his name, giving to him one of
his own appellations, and describing it as a privilege to stimulate him
to future exertions. From the boy Emilius, he was now permanently
transformed to the student Ulpius.

With such a natural disposition as we have already described, and under
such guardianship as that of the high priest, there was little danger
that Ulpius would disappoint the unusual expectations which had been
formed of him. His attention to his new duties never relaxed; his
obedience to his new masters never wavered. Whatever Macrinus demanded
of him he was sure to perform. Whatever longings he might feel to
return to home, he never discovered them; he never sought to gratify the
tastes naturally peculiar to his age. The high priest and his
colleagues were astonished at the extraordinary readiness with which the
boy himself forwarded their intentions for him. Had they known how
elaborately he had been prepared for his future employments at his
father's house, they would have been less astonished at their pupil's
unusual docility. Trained as he had been, he must have shown a more
than human perversity had he displayed any opposition to his uncle's
wishes. He had been permitted no childhood either of thought or action.
His natural precocity had been seized as the engine to force his
faculties into a perilous and unwholesome maturity; and when his new
duties demanded his attention, he entered on them with the same
sincerity of enthusiasm which his boyish coevals would have exhibited
towards a new sport. His gradual initiation into the mysteries of his
religion created a strange, voluptuous sensation of fear and interest in
his mind. He heard the oracles, and he trembled; he attended the
sacrifices and the auguries, and he wondered. All the poetry of the
bold and beautiful superstition to which he was devoted flowed
overwhelmingly into his young heart, absorbing the service of his fresh
imagination, and transporting him incessantly from the vital realities
of the outer world to the shadowy regions of aspiration and thought.

But his duties did not entirely occupy the attention of Ulpius. The boy
had his peculiar pleasures as well as his peculiar occupations. When
his employments were over for the day, it was a strange, unearthly,
vital enjoyment to him to wander softly in the shade of the temple
porticoes, looking down from his great mysterious eminence upon the
populous and sun-brightened city at his feet; watching the brilliant
expanse of the waters of the Nile glittering joyfully in the dazzling
and pervading light; raising his eyes from the fields and woods, the
palaces and garden, that stretched out before him below, to the lovely
and cloudless sky that watched round him afar and above, and that awoke
all that his new duties had left of the joyfulness, the affectionate
sensibility, which his rare intervals of uninterrupted intercourse with
his mother had implanted in his heart. Then, when the daylight began to
wane, and the moon and stars already grew beautiful in their places in
the firmament, he would pass into the subterranean vaults of the
edifice, trembling as his little taper scarcely dispelled the dull,
solemn gloom, and listening with breathless attention for the voices of
those guardian spirits whose fabled habitation was made in the
apartments of the sacred place. Or, when the multitude had departed for
their amusements and their homes, he would steal into the lofty halls
and wander round the pedestals of the mighty statues, breathing
fearfully the still atmosphere of the temple, and watching the passage
of the cold, melancholy moonbeams through the openings in the roof, and
over the colossal limbs and features of the images of the pagan gods.
Sometimes, when the services of Serapis and the cares attendant on his
communications with the Emperor were concluded, Macrinus would lead his
pupil into the garden of the priests, and praise him for his docility
till his heart throbbed with gratitude and pride. Sometimes he would
convey him cautiously outside the precincts of the sacred place, and
show him, in the suburbs of the city, silent, pale, melancholy men,
gliding suspiciously through the gay, crowded streets. Those fugitive
figures, he would declare, were the enemies of the temple and all that
it contained; conspirators against the Emperor and the gods; wretches
who were to be driven forth as outcasts from humanity; whose appellation
was 'Christian'; and whose impious worship, if tolerated, would deprive
him of the uncle whom he loved, of the temple that he reverenced, and of
the priestly dignity and renown which it should be his life's ambition
to acquire.

Thus tutored in his duties by his guardian, and in his recreations by
himself, as time wore on, the boy gradually lost every remaining
characteristic of his age. Even the remembrance of his mother and his
mother's love grew faint on his memory. Serious, solitary, thoughtful,
he lived but to succeed in the temple; he laboured but to emulate the
high priest. All his feelings and faculties were now enslaved by an
ambition, at once unnatural at his present age, and ominous of
affliction for his future life. The design that Macrinus had
contemplated as the work of years was perfected in a few months. The
hope that his father had scarce dared to entertain for his manhood was
already accomplished in his youth.

In these preparations for future success passed three years of the life
of Ulpius. At the expiration of that period the death of Julian
darkened the brilliant prospects of the Pagan world. Scarcely had the
priests of Serapis recovered the first shock of astonishment and grief
consequent upon the fatal news of the vacancy in the imperial throne,
when the edict of toleration issued by Jovian, the new Emperor, reached
the city of Alexandria, and was elevated on the walls of the temple.

The first sight of this proclamation (permitting freedom of worship to
the Christians) aroused in the highly wrought disposition of Ulpius the
most violent emotions of anger and contempt. The enthusiasm of his
character and age, guided invariably in the one direction of his
worship, took the character of the wildest fanaticism when he discovered
the Emperor's careless infringement of the supremacy of the temple. He
volunteered in the first moments of his fury to tear down the edict from
the walls, to lead an attack on the meetings of the triumphant
Christians, or to travel to the imperial abode and exhort Jovian to
withdraw his act of perilous leniency ere it was too late. With
difficulty did his more cautious confederates restrain him from the
execution of his impetuous designs. For two days he withdrew himself
from his companions, and brooded in solitude over the injury offered to
his beloved superstition, and the prospective augmentation of the
influence of the Christian sect.

But the despair of the young enthusiast was destined to be further
augmented by a private calamity, at once mysterious in its cause and
overwhelming in its effect. Two days after the publication of the edict
the high priest Macrinus, in the prime of vigour and manhood, suddenly
died.

To narrate the confusion and horror within and without the temple on the
discovery of this fatal even; to describe the execrations and tumults of
the priests and the populace, who at once suspected the favoured and
ambitious Christians of causing, by poison, the death of their spiritual
ruler, might be interesting as a history of the manners of the times,
but is immaterial to the object of this chapter. We prefer rather to
trace the effect on the mind of Ulpius of his personal and private
bereavement; of this loss--irretrievable to him--of the master whom he
loved and the guardian whom it was his privilege to revere.

An illness of some months, during the latter part of which his
attendants trembled for his life and reason, sufficiently attested the
sincerity of the grief of Ulpius for the loss of his protector. During
his paroxysms of delirium the priests who watched round his bed drew
from his ravings many wise conclusions as to the effects that his
seizure and its causes were likely to produce on his future character;
but, in spite of all their penetration, they were still far from
appreciating to a tithe of its extent the revolution that his
bereavement had wrought in his disposition. The boy himself, until the
moment of the high priest's death, had never been aware of the depth of
his devotion to his second father. Warped as they had been by his
natural parent, the affectionate qualities that were the mainspring of
his nature had never been entirely destroyed; and they seized on every
kind word and gentle action of Macrinus as food which had been grudged
them since their birth. Morally and intellectually, Macrinus had been
to him the beacon that pointed the direction of his course, the judge
that regulated his conduct, the Muse that he looked to for inspiration.
And now, when this link which had connected every ramification of his
most cherished and governing ideas was suddenly snapped asunder, a
desolation sunk down upon his mind which at once paralysed its
elasticity and withered its freshness. He glanced back, and saw nothing
but a home from whose pleasures and affections his father's ambition had
exiled him for ever. He looked forward, and as he thought of his
unfitness, both from character and education, to mix in the world as
others mixed in it, he saw no guiding star of social happiness for the
conduct of his existence to come. There was now no resource left for
him but entirely to deliver himself up to those pursuits which had made
his home as a strange place to him, which were hallowed by their
connection with the lost object of his attachment, and which would
confer the sole happiness and distinction that he could hope for in the
wide world on his future life.

In addition to this motive for labour in his vocation, there existed in
the mind of Ulpius a deep and settled feeling that animated him with
unceasing ardour for the prosecution of his cherished occupations. This
governing principle was detestation of the Christian sect. The
suspicion that others had entertained regarding the death of the high
priest was to his mind a certainty. He rejected every idea which
opposed his determined persuasion that the jealousy of the Christians
had prompted them to the murder, by poison, of the most powerful and
zealous of the Pagan priests. To labour incessantly until he attained
the influence and position formerly enjoyed by his relative, and to use
that influence and position, when once acquired, as the means of
avenging Macrinus, by sweeping every vestige of the Christian faith from
the face of the earth, were now the settled purposes of his heart.
Inspired by his determination with the deliberate wisdom which is in
most men the result only of the experience of years, he employed the
first days of his convalescence in cautiously maturing his future plans,
and impartially calculating his chances of success. This self-
examination completed, he devoted himself at once and for ever to his
life's great design. Nothing wearied, nothing discouraged, nothing
impeded him. Outward events passed by him unnoticed; the city's
afflictions and the city's triumphs spoke no longer to his heart. Year
succeeded to year, but Time had no tongue for him. Paganism gradually
sank, and Christianity imperceptibly rose, but change spread no picture
before his eyes. The whole outward world was a void to him, until the
moment arrived that beheld him successful in his designs. His
preparations for the future absorbed every faculty of his nature, and
left him, as to the present, a mere automaton, reflecting no principle,
and animated by no event--a machine that moved, but did not perceive--a
body that acted, without a mind that thought.

Returning for a moment to the outward world, we find that on the death
of Jovian, in 364, Valentinian, the new Emperor, continued the system of
toleration adopted by his predecessor. On his death, in 375, Gratian,
the successor to the imperial throne, so far improved on the example of
the two former potentates as to range himself boldly on the side of the
partisans of the new faith. Not content with merely encouraging, both
by precept and by example, the growth of Christianity, the Emperor
further testified to his zeal for the rising religion by inflicting
incessant persecutions upon the rapidly decreasing advocates of the
ancient worship; serving, by these acts of his reign, as pioneer to his
successor, Theodosius the Great, in the religious revolution which that
illustrious opponent of Paganism was destined to effect.

The death of Gratian, in 383, saw Ulpius enrolled among the chief
priests of the temple, and pointed out as the next inheritor of the
important office once held by the powerful and active Macrinus.
Beholding himself thus secure of the distinction for which he had
laboured, the aspiring priest found leisure, at length, to look forth
upon the affairs of the passing day. From every side desolation
darkened the prospect that he beheld. Already, throughout many
provinces of the Empire, the temples of the gods had been overthrown by
the destructive zeal of the triumphant Christians. Already hosts of the
terrified people, fearing that the fate of their idols might ultimately
be their own, finding themselves deserted by their disbanded priests,
and surrounded by the implacable enemies of the ancient faith, had
renounced their worship for the sake of saving their lives and securing
their property. On the wide field of Pagan ruin there now rose but one
structure entirely unimpaired. The Temple of Serapis still reared its
head--unshaken, unbending, unpolluted. Here the sacrifice still
prospered and the people still bowed in worship. Before this monument of
the religious glories of ages, even the rising power of Christian
supremacy quailed in dismay. Though the ranks of its once multitudinous
congregations were now perceptibly thinned, though the new churches
swarmed with converts, though the edicts from Rome denounced it as a
blot on the face of the earth, its gloomy and solitary grandeur was
still preserved. No unhallowed foot trod its secret recesses; no
destroying hand was raised as yet against its ancient and glorious
walls.

Indignation, but not despondency, filled the heart of Ulpius as he
surveyed the situation of the Pagan world. A determination nourished as
his had been by the reflections of years, and matured by incessant
industry of deliberation, is above all those shocks which affect a hasty
decision or destroy a wavering intention. Impervious to failure,
disasters urge it into action, but never depress it to repose. Its
existence is the air that preserves the vitality of the mind--the spring
that moves the action of the thoughts. Never for a moment did Ulpius
waver in his devotion to his great design, or despair of its ultimate
execution and success. Though every succeeding day brought the news of
fresh misfortunes for the Pagans and fresh triumphs for the Christians,
still, with a few of his more zealous comrades, he persisted in
expecting the advent of another Julian, and a day of restoration for the
dismantled shrines of the deities that he served. While the Temple of
Serapis stood uninjured, to give encouragement to his labours and refuge
to his persecuted brethren, there existed for him such an earnest of
success as would spur him to any exertion, and nerve him against any
peril.

And now, to the astonishment of priests and congregations, the silent,
thoughtful, solitary Ulpius suddenly started from his long repose, and
stood forth the fiery advocate of the rights of his invaded worship. In
a few days the fame of his addresses to the Pagans who still attended
the rites of Serapis spread throughout the whole city. The boldest
among the Christians, as they passed the temple walls, involuntarily
trembled when they heard the vehemence of the applause which arose from
the audience of the inspired priest. Addressed to all varieties of age
and character, these harangues woke an echo in every breast they
reached. To the young they were clothed in all the poetry of the
worship for which they pleaded. They dwelt on the altars of Venus that
the Christians would lay waste; on the woodlands that the Christians
would disenchant of their Dryads; on the hallowed Arts that the
Christians would arise and destroy. To the aged they called up
remembrances of the glories of the past achieved through the favour of
the gods; of ancestors who had died in their service; of old forgotten
loves, and joys, and successes that had grown and prospered under the
gentle guardianship of the deities of old--while the unvarying burden of
their conclusion to all was the reiterated assertion that the
illustrious Macrinus had died a victim to the toleration of the
Christian sect.

But the efforts of Ulpius were not confined to the delivery of orations.
Every moment of his leisure time was dedicated to secret pilgrimages
into Alexandria. Careless of peril, regardless of threats, the
undaunted enthusiast penetrated into the most private meeting-places of
the Christians; reclaiming on every side apostates to the Pagan creed,
and defying the hostility of half the city from the stronghold of the
temple walls. Day after day fresh recruits arrived to swell the ranks
of the worshippers of Serapis. The few members of the scattered
congregations of the provinces who still remained faithful to the
ancient worship were gathered together in Alexandria by the private
messengers of the unwearied Ulpius. Already tumults began to take place
between the Pagans and the Christians; and even now the priest of
Serapis prepared to address a protest to the new Emperor in behalf of
the ancient religion of the land. At this moment it seemed probable
that the heroic attempts of one man to prop the structure of
superstition, whose foundations were undermined throughout, and whose
walls were attacked by brigands, might actually be crowned with success.

But Time rolled on; and with him came inexorable change, trampling over
the little barriers set up against it by human opposition, and erecting
its strange and transitory fabrics triumphantly in their stead. In vain
did the devoted priest exert all his powers to augment and combine his
scattered band; in vain did the mighty temple display its ancient
majesty, its gorgeous sacrifices, its mysterious auguries. The spirit
of Christianity was forth for triumph on the earth--the last destinies
of Paganism were fast accomplishing. Yet a few seasons more of
unavailing resistance passed by, and then the Archbishop of Alexandria
issued his decree that the Temple of Serapis should be destroyed.

At the rumour of their Primate's determination, the Christian fanatics
rose by swarms from every corner of Egypt, and hurried into Alexandria
to be present at the work of demolition. From the arid solitudes of the
desert, from their convents on rocks and their caverns in the earth,
hosts of rejoicing monks flew to the city gates, and ranged themselves
with the soldiery and the citizens, impatient for the assault. At the
dawn of morning this assembly of destroyers was convened, and as the sun
rose over Alexandria they arrived before the temple walls.

The gates of the glorious structure were barred; the walls were crowded
with their Pagan defenders. A still, dead, mysterious silence reigned
over the whole edifice; and, of all the men who thronged it, one only
moved from his appointed place--one only wandered incessantly from point
to point, wherever the building was open to assault. Those among the
besiegers who were nearest the temple saw in this presiding genius of
the preparations for defence the object at once of their most malignant
hatred and their most ungovernable dread--Ulpius the priest.

As soon as the Archbishop gave the signal for the assault, a band of
monks--their harsh, discordant voices screaming fragments of psalms,
their tattered garments waving in the air, their cadaverous faces
gleaming with ferocious joy--led the way, placed the first ladders
against the walls, and began the attack. From all sides the temple was
assailed by the infuriated besiegers, and on all sides it was
successfully defended by the resolute besieged. Shock after shock fell
upon the massive gates without forcing them to recede; missile after
missile was hurled at the building, but no breach was made in its solid
surface. Multitudes scaled the walls, gained the outer porticoes, and
slaughtered their Pagan defenders, but were incessantly repulsed in
their turn ere they could make their advantage good. Over and over
again did the assailants seem on the point of storming the temple
successfully, but the figure of Ulpius, invariably appearing at the
critical moment among his disheartened followers, acted like a fatality
in destroying the effect of the most daring exertions and the most
important triumphs. Wherever there was danger, wherever there was
carnage, wherever there was despair, thither strode the undaunted
priest, inspiring the bold, succouring the wounded, reanimating the
feeble. Blinded by no stratagem, wearied by no fatigue, there was
something almost demoniac in his activity for destruction, in his
determination under defeat. The besiegers marked his course round the
temple by the calamities that befell them at his every step. If the
bodies of slaughtered Christians were flung down upon them from the
walls, they felt that Ulpius was there. If the bravest of the soldiery
hesitated at mounting the ladders, it was known that Ulpius was
directing the defeat of their comrades above. If a sally from the
temple drove back the advanced guard upon the reserves in the rear, it
was pleaded as their excuse that Ulpius was fighting at the head of his
Pagan bands. Crowd on crowd of Christian warriors still pressed forward
to the attack; but though the ranks of the unbelievers were perceptibly
thinned, though the gates that defended them at last began to quiver
before the reiterated blows by which they were assailed, every court of
the sacred edifice yet remained in the possession of the besieged, and
was at the disposal of the unconquered captain who organised the
defence.

Depressed by the failure of his efforts, and horrified at the carnage
already perpetrated among his adherents, the Archbishop suddenly
commanded a cessation of hostilities, and proposed to the defenders of
the temple a short and favourable truce. After some delay, and
apparently at the expense of some discord among their ranks, the Pagans
sent to the Primate an assurance of their acceptance of his terms, which
were that both parties should abstain from any further struggle for the
ascendancy until an edict from Theodosius determining the ultimate fate
of the temple should be applied for and obtained.

The truce once agreed on, the wide space before the respited edifice was
gradually cleared of its occupants. Slowly and sadly the Archbishop and
his followers departed from the ancient walls whose summits they had
assaulted in vain; and when the sun went down, of the great multitude
congregated in the morning a few corpses were all that remained. Within
the sacred building, Death and Repose ruled with the night, where
morning had brightly glittered on Life and Action. The wounded, the
wearied, and the cold, all now lay hushed alike, fanned by the night
breezes that wandered through the lofty porticoes, or soothed by the
obscurity that reigned over the silent halls. Among the ranks of the
Pagan devotees but one man still toiled and thought. Round and round
the temple, restless as a wild beast that is threatened in his lair,
watchful as a lonely spirit in a city of strange tombs, wandered the
solitary and brooding Ulpius. For him there was no rest of body--no
tranquility of mind. On the events of the next few days hovered the
fearful chance that was soon, either for misery or happiness, to
influence irretrievably the years of his future life. Round and round
the mighty walls he watched with mechanical and useless anxiety. Every
stone in the building was eloquent to his lonely heart--beautiful to his
wild imagination. On those barren structures stretched for him the loved
and fertile home; there was the shrine for whose glory his intellect had
been enslaved, for whose honour his youth had been sacrificed! Round and
round the secret recesses and sacred courts he paced with hurried
footstep, cleansing with gentle and industrious hand the stains of blood
and the defilements of warfare from the statues at his side. Sad,
solitary, thoughtful, as in the first days of his apprenticeship to the
gods, he now roved in the same moonlit recesses where Macrinus had
taught him in his youth. As the menacing tumults of the day had aroused
his fierceness, so the stillness of the quiet night awakened his
gentleness. He had combated for the temple in the morning as a son for
a parent, and he now watched over it at night as a miser over his
treasure, as a lover over his mistress, as a mother over her child!

The days passed on; and at length the memorable morning arrived which
was to determine the fate of the last temple that Christian fanaticism
had spared to the admiration of the world. At an early hour of the
morning the diminished numbers of the Pagan zealots met their reinforced
and determined opponents--both sides being alike unarmed--in the great
square of Alexandria. The imperial prescript was then publicly read.
It began by assuring the Pagans that their priest's plea for protection
for the temple had received the same consideration which had been
bestowed on the petition against the gods presented by the Christian
Archbishop, and ended by proclaiming the commands of the Emperor that
Serapis and all other idols in Alexandria should immediately be
destroyed.

The shout of triumph which followed the conclusion of the imperial edict
still rose from the Christian ranks when the advanced guard of the
soldiers appointed to ensure the execution of the Emperor's designs
appeared in the square. For a few minutes the forsaken Pagans stood
rooted to the spot where they had assembled, gazing at the warlike
preparations around them in a stupor of bewilderment and despair. Then
as they recollected how diminished were their numbers, how arduous had
been their first defence against a few, and how impossible would be a
second defence against many--from the boldest to the feeblest, a panic
seized on them; and, regardless of Ulpius, regardless of honour,
regardless of the gods, they turned with one accord and fled from the
place.

With the flight of the Pagans the work of demolition began. Even women
and children hurried to join in the welcome task of indiscriminate
destruction. No defenders on this occasion barred the gates of the
temple to the Christian hosts. The sublime solitude of the tenantless
building was outraged and invaded in an instant. Statues were broken,
gold was carried off, doors were splintered into fragments; but here for
a while the progress of demolition was delayed. Those to whom the
labour of ruining the outward structure had been confided were less
successful than their neighbours who had pillaged its contents. The
ponderous stones of the pillars, the massive surfaces of the walls,
resisted the most vigorous of their puny efforts, and forced them to
remain contented with mutilating that which they could not destroy--with
tearing off roofs, defacing marbles, and demolishing capitals. The rest
of the buildings remained uninjured, and grander even now in the
wildness of ruin than ever it had been in the stateliness of perfection
and strength.

But the most important achievement still remained, the death-wound of
Paganism was yet to be struck--the idol Serapis, which had ruled the
hearts of millions, and was renowned in the remotest corners of the
Empire, was to be destroyed! A breathless silence pervaded the
Christian ranks as they filled the hall of the god. A superstitious
dread, to which they had hitherto thought themselves superior, overcame
their hearts, as a single soldier, bolder than his fellows, mounted by a
ladder to the head of the colossal statue, and struck at its cheek with
an axe. The blow had scarcely been dealt when a deep groan was heard
from the opposite wall of the apartment, succeeded by a noise of
retreating footsteps, and then all was silent again. For a few minutes
this incident stayed the feet of those who were about to join their
companion in the mutilation of the idol; but after an interval their
hesitation vanished, they dealt blow after blow at the statue, and no
more groans followed--no more sounds were heard, save the wild echoes of
the stroke of hammer, crowbar, and club, resounding through the lofty
hall. In an incredibly short space of time the image of Serapis lay in
great fragments on the marble floor. The multitude seized on the limbs
of the idol and ran forth to drag them in triumph through the streets.
Yet a few minutes more, and the ruins were untenanted, the temple was
silent--Paganism was destroyed!

Throughout the ravaging course of the Christians over the temple, they
had been followed with dogged perseverance, and at the same time with
the most perfect impunity, by the only Pagan of all his brethren who had
not sought safety by flight. This man, being acquainted with every
private passage and staircase in the sacred building, was enabled to be
secretly present at each fresh act of demolition, in whatever part of
the edifice it might be perpetrated. From hall to hall, and from room
to room, he tracked with noiseless step and glaring eye the movements of
the Christian mob--now hiding himself behind a pillar, now passing into
concealed cavities in the walls, now looking down from imperceptible
fissures in the roof; but, whatever his situation, invariably watching
from it, with the same industry of attention and the same silence of
emotion, the minutest acts of spoliation committed by the most humble
follower of the Christian ranks. It was only when he entered with the
victorious ravagers into the vast apartment occupied by the idol Serapis
that the man's countenance began to give evidence of the agony under
which his heart was writhing within him. He mounted a private staircase
cut in the hollow of the massive wall of the room, and gaining a passage
that ran round the extremities of the ceiling, looked through a sort of
lattice concealed in the ornaments of the cornice. As he gazed down and
saw the soldier mounting, axe in hand, to the idol's head, great drops
of perspiration trickled from his forehead. His hot, thick breath
hissed through his closed teeth, and his hands strained at the strong
metal supports of the lattice until they bent beneath his grasp. When
the stroke descended on the image, he closed his eyes. When the
fragment detached by the blow fell on the floor, a groan burst from his
quivering lips. For one moment more he glared down with a gaze of
horror upon the multitude at his feet, and then with frantic speed he
descended the steep stairs by which he had mounted to the roof, and fled
from the temple.

The same night this man was again seen by some shepherds whom curiosity
led to visit the desecrated building, weeping bitterly in its ruined and
deserted porticoes. As they approached to address him, he raised his
head, and with a supplicating action signed to them to leave the place.
For the few moments during which he confronted them, the moonlight shone
full upon his countenance, and the shepherds, who had in former days
attended the ceremonies of the temple, saw with astonishment that the
solitary mourner whose meditations they had disturbed was no other than
Ulpius the priest.

At the dawn of day these shepherds had again occasion to pass the walls
of the pillaged temple. Throughout the hours of the night the
remembrance of the scene of unsolaced, unpartaken grief that they had
beheld--of the awful loneliness of misery in which they had seen the
heart-broken and forsaken man, whose lightest words they had once
delighted to revere--inspired them with a feeling of pity for the
deserted Pagan, widely at variance with the spirit of persecution which
the spurious Christianity of their day would fain have instilled in the
bosoms of its humblest votaries. Bent on consolation, anxious to afford
help, these men, like the Samaritan of old, went up at their own peril
to succour a brother in affliction. They searched every portion of the
empty building, but the object of their sympathy was nowhere to be seen.
They called, but heard no answering sound, save the dirging of the winds
of early morning through the ruined halls, which but a short time since
had resounded with the eloquence of the once illustrious priest. Except
a few night-birds, already sheltered by the deserted edifice, not a
living being moved in what was once the temple of the Eastern world.
Ulpius was gone.

These events took place in the year 389. In 390, Pagan ceremonies were
made treason by the laws throughout the whole Roman Empire.

From that period the scattered few who still adhered to the ancient
faith became divided into three parties; each alike insignificant,
whether considered as openly or secretly inimical to the new religion of
the State at large.

The first party unsuccessfully endeavoured to elude the laws prohibitory
of sacrifices and divinations by concealing their religious ceremonies
under the form of convivial meetings.

The second preserved their ancient respect for the theory of Paganism,
but abandoned all hope and intention of ever again accomplishing its
practice. By such timely concessions many were enabled to preserve--and
some even to attain--high and lucrative employments as officers of the
State.

The third retired to their homes, the voluntary exiles of every
religion; resigning the practice of their old worship as a necessity,
and shunning the communion of Christians as a matter of choice.

Such were the unimportant divisions into which the last remnants of the
once powerful Pagan community now subsided; but to none of them was the
ruined and degraded Ulpius ever attached.

For five weary years--dating from the epoch of the prohibition of
Paganism--he wandered through the Empire, visiting in every country the
ruined shrines of his deserted worship--a friendless, hopeless, solitary
man!

Throughout the whole of Europe, and all of Asia and the East that still
belonged to Rome, he bent his slow and toilsome course. In the fertile
valleys of Gaul, over the burning sands of Africa, through the sun-
bright cities of Spain, he travelled--unfriended as a man under a curse,
lonely as a second Cain. Never for an instant did the remembrance of
his ruined projects desert his memory, or his mad determination to
revive his worship abandon his mind. At every relic of Paganism,
however slight, that he encountered on his way, he found a nourishment
for his fierce anguish, and employment for his vengeful thoughts.
Often, in the little villages, children were frightened from their
sports in a deserted temple by the apparition of his gaunt, rigid figure
among the tottering pillars, or the sound of his hollow voice as he
muttered to himself among the ruins of the Pagan tombs. Often, in
crowded cities, groups of men, congregated to talk over the fall of
Paganism, found him listening at their sides, and comforting them, when
they carelessly regretted their ancient faith, with a smiling and
whispered assurance that a time of restitution would yet come. By all
opinions and in all places he was regarded as a harmless madman, whose
strange delusions and predilections were not to be combated, but to be
indulged. Thus he wandered through the Christian world; regardless
alike of lapse of time and change of climate; living within himself;
mourning, as a luxury, over the fall of his worship; patient of wrongs,
insults, and disappointments; watching for the opportunity that he still
persisted in believing was yet to arrive; holding by his fatal
determination with all the recklessness of ambition and all the
perseverance of revenge.

The five years passed away unheeded, uncalculated, unregretted by
Ulpius. For him, living but in the past, hoping but for the future,
space held no obstacles--time was an oblivion. Years pass as days,
hours as moments, when the varying emotions which mark their existence
on the memory, and distinguish their succession on the dial of the
heart, exist no longer either for happiness or woe. Dead to all
freshness of feeling, the mind of Ulpius, during the whole term of his
wanderings, lay numbed beneath the one idea that possessed it. It was
only at the expiration of those unheeded years, when the chances of
travel turned his footsteps towards Alexandria, that his faculties burst
from the long bondage which had oppressed them. Then--when he passed
through those gates which he had entered in former years a proud,
ambitious boy, when he walked ungreeted through the ruined temple where
he had once lived illustrious and revered--his dull, cold thoughts arose
strong and vital within him. The spectacle of the scene of his former
glories, which might have awakened despair in others, aroused the
dormant passions, emancipated the stifled energies in him. The projects
of vengeance and the visions of restoration which he had brooded over
for five long years, now rose before him as realised already under the
vivid influence of the desecrated scenes around. As he stood beneath
the shattered porticoes of the sacred place, not a stone crumbling at
his feet but rebuked him for his past inaction, and strengthened him for
daring, for conspiracy, for revenge, in the service of the outrage gods.
The ruined temples he had visited in his gloomy pilgrimages now became
revived by his fancy, as one by one they rose on his toiling memory.
Broken pillars soared from the ground; desecrated idols reoccupied their
vacant pedestals; and he, the exile and the mourner, stood forth once

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