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Antonina by Wilkie Collins

Part 3 out of 9

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again the ruler, the teacher, and the priest. The time of restitution
was come; though his understanding supplied him with no distinct
projects, his heart urged him to rush blindly on the execution of his
reform. The moment had arrived--Macrinus should yet be avenged; the
temple should at last be restored.

He descended into the city; he hurried--neither welcomed nor
recognised--through the crowded streets; he entered the house of a man
who had once been his friend and colleague in the days that were past,
and poured forth to him his wild determinations and disjointed plans,
entreating his assistance, and promising him a glorious success. But
his old companion had become, by a timely conversion to Christianity, a
man of property and reputation in Alexandria, and he turned from the
friendless enthusiast with indignation and contempt. Repulsed, but not
disheartened, Ulpius sought others who he had known in his prosperity
and renown. They had all renounced their ancient worship--they all
received him with studied coldness or careless disdain; but he still
persisted in his useless efforts. He blinded his eyes to their
contemptuous looks; he shut his ears to their derisive words.
Persevering in his self-delusion, he appointed them messengers to their
brethren in other countries, captains of the conspiracy that was to
commence in Alexandria, orators before the people when the memorable
revolution had once begun. It was in vain that they refused all
participation in his designs; he left them as the expressions of refusal
rose to their lips, and hurried elsewhere, as industrious in his
efforts, as devoted to his unwelcome mission, as if half the population
of the city had vowed themselves joyfully to aid him in his frantic
attempt.

Thus during the whole day he continued his labour of useless persuasion
among those in the city who had once been his friends. When the evening
came, he repaired, weary but not despondent, to the earthly paradise
that he was determined to regain--to the temple where he had once
taught, and where he still imagined that he was again destined to
preside. Here he proceeded, ignorant of the new laws, careless of
discovery and danger, to ascertain by divination, as in the days of old,
whether failure or success awaited him ultimately in his great design.

Meanwhile the friends whose assistance Ulpius had determined to extort
were far from remaining inactive on their parts after the departure of
the aspiring priest. They remembered with terror that the laws affected
as severely those concealing their knowledge of a Pagan intrigue as
those actually engaged in directing a Pagan conspiracy; and their
anxiety for their personal safety overcoming every consideration of the
dues of honour or the claims of ancient friendship, they repaired in a
body to the Prefect of the city, and informed him, with all the
eagerness of apprehension, of the presence of Ulpius in Alexandria, and
of the culpability of the schemes that he had proposed.

A search after the devoted Pagan was immediately commenced. He was
found the same night before a ruined altar, brooding over the entrails
of an animal that he had just sacrificed. Further proof of his guilt
could not be required. He was taken prisoner; led forth the next
morning to be judged, amid the execrations of the very people who had
almost adored him once; and condemned the following day to suffer the
penalty of death.

At the appointed hour the populace assembled to behold the execution.
To their indignation and disappointment, however, when the officers of
the city appeared before the prison, it was only to inform the
spectators that the performance of the fatal ceremony had been
adjourned. After a mysterious delay of some weeks, they were again
convened, not to witness the execution, but the receive the
extraordinary announcement that the culprit's life had been spared, and
that his amended sentence now condemned him to labour as a slave for
life in the copper-mines of Spain.

What powerful influence induced the Prefect to risk the odium of
reprieving a prisoner whose guilt was so satisfactorily ascertained as
that of Ulpius never was disclosed. Some declared that the city
magistrate was still at heart a Pagan, and that he consequently shrunk
from authorising the death of a man who had once been the most
illustrious among the professors of the ancient creed. Others reported
that Ulpius had secured the leniency of his judges by acquainting them
with the position of one of those secret repositories of enormous
treasure supposed to exist beneath the foundations of the dismantled
Temple of Serapis. But the truth of either of these rumours could never
be satisfactorily proved. Nothing more was accurately discovered than
that Ulpius was removed from Alexandria to the place of earthly torment
set apart for him by the zealous authorities, at the dead of night; and
that the sentry at the gate through which he departed heard him mutter
to himself, as he was hurried onward, that his divinations had prepared
him for defeat, but that the great day of Pagan restoration would yet
arrive.

In the year 407, twelve years after the events above narrated, Ulpius
entered the city of Rome.

He had not advanced far, before the gaiety and confusion in the streets
appeared completely to bewilder him. He hastened to the nearest public
garden that he could perceive, and avoiding the frequented paths, flung
himself down, apparently fainting with exhaustion, at the foot of a
tree.

For some time he lay on the shady resting-place which he had chosen,
gasping painfully for breath, his frame ever and anon shaken to its
centre by sudden spasms, and his lips quivering with an agitation which
he vainly endeavoured to suppress. So changed was his aspect, that the
guards who had removed him from Alexandria, wretched as was his
appearance even then, would have found it impossible to recognise him
now as the same man whom they had formerly abandoned to slavery in the
mines of Spain. The effluvia exhaled from the copper ore in which he
had been buried for twelve years had not only withered the flesh upon
his bones, but had imparted to its surface a livid hue, almost death-
like in its dulness. His limbs, wasted by age and distorted by
suffering, bent and trembled beneath him; and his form, once so majestic
in its noble proportions, was now so crooked and misshapen, that whoever
beheld him could only have imagined that he must have been deformed from
his birth. Of the former man no characteristic remained but the
expression of the stern, mournful eyes; and these, the truthful
interpreters of the indomitable mind whose emotions they seemed created
to express, preserved, unaltered by suffering and unimpaired by time,
the same look, partly of reflection, partly of defiance, and partly of
despair, which had marked them in those past days when the temple was
destroyed and the congregations of the Pagans dispersed.

But the repose at this moment demanded by his worn-out body was even yet
denied to it by his untamed, unwearied mind, and, as the voice of his
old delusion spoke within him again, the devoted priest rose from his
solitary resting-place, and looked forth upon the great city, whose new
worship he was vowed to overthrow.

'By years of patient watchfulness,' he whispered to himself, 'have I
succeeded in escaping successfully from my dungeon among the mines. Yet
a little more cunning, a little more endurance, a little more vigilance,
and I shall still live to people, by my own exertions, the deserted
temples of Rome.'

As he spoke he emerged from the grove into the street. The joyous
sunlight--a stranger to him for years--shone warmly down upon his face,
as if to welcome him to liberty and the world. The sounds of gay
laughter rang in his ears, as if to woo him back to the blest enjoyments
and amenities of life; but Nature's influence and man's example were now
silent alike to his lonely heart. Over its dreary wastes still reigned
the ruthless ambition which had exiled love from his youth, and
friendship from his manhood, and which was destined to end its mission
of destruction by banishing tranquility from his age. Scowling fiercely
at all around and above him, he sought the loneliest and shadiest
streets. Solitude had now become a necessity to his heart. The 'great
gulph' of his unshared aspirations had long since socially separated him
for ever from his fellow-men. He thought, laboured, and suffered for
himself alone.

To describe the years of unrewarded labour and unalleviated hardship
endured by Ulpius in the place of his punishment; to dwell on the day
that brought with it--whatever the season in the world above--the same
unwearying inheritance of exertion and fatigue; to chronicle the history
of night after night of broken slumber one hour, of wearying thought the
next, would be to produce a picture from the mournful monotony of which
the attention of the reader would recoil with disgust. It will be here
sufficient to observe, that the influence of the same infatuation which
had nerved him to the defence of the assaulted temple, and encouraged
him to attempt his ill-planned restoration of Paganism, had preserved
him through sufferings under which stronger and younger men would have
sunk for ever; had prompted his determination to escape from his
slavery, and had now brought him to Rome--old, forsaken, and feeble as
he was--to risk new perils and suffer new afflictions for the cause to
which, body and soul, he had ruthlessly devoted himself for ever.

Urged, therefore, by his miserable delusion, he had now entered a city
where even his name was unknown, faithful to his frantic project of
opposing himself, as a helpless, solitary man, against the people and
government of an Empire. During his term of slavery, regardless of his
advanced years, he had arranged a series of projects, the gradual
execution of which would have demanded the advantages of a long and
vigorous life. He no more desired, as in his former attempt at
Alexandria, to precipitate at all hazards the success of his designs.
He was now prepared to watch, wait, plot, and contrive for years on
years; he was resigned to be contented with the poorest and slowest
advancement--to be encouraged by the smallest prospect of ultimate
triumph. Acting under this determination, he started his project by
devoting all that remained of his enfeebled energies to cautiously
informing himself, by every means in his power, of the private,
political, and religious sentiments of all men of influence in Rome.
Wherever there was a popular assemblage, he attended it to gather the
scandalous gossip of the day; wherever there was a chance of overhearing
a private conversation, he contrived to listen to it unobserved. About
the doors of taverns and the haunts of discharged servants he lurked
noiseless as a shadow, attentive alike to the careless revelations of
intoxication or the scurrility of malignant slaves. Day after day
passed on, and still saw him devoted to his occupation (which, servile
as it was in itself, was to his eyes ennobled by its lofty end), until
at the expiration of some months he found himself in possession of a
vague and inaccurate fund of information, which he stored up as a
priceless treasure in his mind. He next discovered the name and abode
of every nobleman in Rome suspected even of the most careless attachment
to the ancient form of worship. He attended Christian churches,
mastered the intricacies of different sects, and estimated the
importance of contending schisms; gaining this collection of
heterogeneous facts under the combined disadvantages of poverty,
solitude, and age; dependent for support on the poorest public
charities, and for shelter on the meanest public asylums. Every
conclusion that he drew from all he learned partook of the sanguine
character of the fatal self-deception which had embittered his whole
life. He believed that the dissensions which he saw raging in the
Church would speedily effect the destruction of Christianity itself;
that, when such a period should arrive, the public mind would require
but the guidance of some superior intellect to return to its old
religious predilections; and that to lay the foundation for effecting in
such a manner the desired revolution, it was necessary for him--
impossible though it might seem in his present degraded condition--to
gain access to the disaffected nobles of Rome, and discover the secret
of acquiring such an influence over them as would enable him to infect
them with his enthusiasm, and fire them with his determination. Greater
difficulties even than these had been overcome by other men. Solitary
individuals had, ere this, originated revolutions. The gods would
favour him; his own cunning would protect him. Yet a little more
patience, a little more determination, and he might still, after all his
misfortunes, be assured of success.

It was about this period that he first heard, while pursuing his
investigations, of an obscure man who had suddenly arisen to undertake a
reformation in the Christian Church, whose declared aim was to rescue
the new worship from that very degeneracy on the fatal progress of which
rested all his hopes of triumph. It was reported that this man had been
for some time devoted to his reforming labours, but that the
difficulties attendant on the task that he had appointed for himself had
hitherto prevented him from attaining all the notoriety essential to the
satisfactory prosecution of his plans. On hearing this rumour, Ulpius
immediately joined the few who attended the new orator's discourses, and
there heard enough to convince him that he listened to the most
determined zealot for Christianity in the city of Rome. To gain this
man's confidence, to frustrate every effort that he might make in his
new vocation, to ruin his credit with his hearers, and to threaten his
personal safety by betraying his inmost secrets to his powerful enemies
in the Church, were determinations instantly adopted by the Pagan as
duties demanded by the exigencies of his creed. From that moment he
seized every opportunity of favourably attracting the new reformer's
attention to himself, and, as the reader already knows, he was at length
rewarded for his cunning and perseverance by being received into the
household of the charitable and unsuspicious Numerian as a pious convert
to the Christianity of the early Church.

Once installed under Numerian's roof, the treacherous Pagan saw in the
Christian's daughter an instrument admirably adapted, in his
unscrupulous hands, for forwarding his wild project of obtaining the ear
of a Roman of power and station who was disaffected to the established
worship. Among the patricians of whose anti-Christian predilections
report had informed him, was Numerian's neighbour, Vetranio the senator.
To such a man, renowned for his life of luxury, a girl so beautiful as
Antonina would be a bribe rich enough to enable him to extort any
promise required as a reward for betraying her while under the
protection of her father's house. In addition to this advantage to be
drawn from her ruin, was the certainty that her loss would so affect
Numerian as to render him, for a time at least, incapable of pursuing
his labours in the cause of Christianity. Fixed then in his detestable
purpose, the ruthless priest patiently awaited the opportunity of
commencing his machinations. Nor did he watch in vain. The victim
innocently fell into the very trap that he had prepared for her when she
first listened to the music of Vetranio's lute, and permitted her
treacherous guardian to become the friend who concealed her disobedience
from her father's ear. After that first fatal step every day brought
the projects of Ulpius nearer to success. The long-sought interview
with the senator was at length obtained; the engagement imperatively
demanded on the one side was, as we have already related, carelessly
accepted on the other; the day that was to bring success to the schemes
of the betrayer, and degradation to the honour of the betrayed, was
appointed; and once more the cold heart of the fanatic warmed to the
touch of joy. No doubts upon the validity of his engagement with
Vetranio ever entered his mind. He never imagined that powerful senator
could with perfect impunity deny him the impracticable assistance he had
demanded as his reward, and thrust him as an ignorant madman from his
palace gates. Firmly and sincerely he believed that Vetranio was so
satisfied with his readiness in pandering to his profligate designs, and
so dazzled by the prospect of the glory which would attend success in
the great enterprise, that he would gladly hold to the performance of
his promise whenever it should be required of him. In the meantime the
work was begun. Numerian was already, through his agency, watched by
the spies of a jealous and unscrupulous Church. Feuds, schisms,
treacheries, and dissensions marched bravely onward through the
Christian ranks. All things combined to make it certain that the time
was near at hand when, through his exertions and the friendly senator's
help, the restoration of Paganism might be assured.

With the widest diversity of pursuit and difference of design, there was
still a strange and mysterious analogy between the temporary positions
of Ulpius and Numerian. One was prepared to be a martyr for the temple;
the other to be a martyr for the Church. Both were enthusiasts in an
unwelcome cause; both had suffered more than a life's wonted share of
affliction; and both were old, passing irretrievably from their fading
present on earth to the eternal future awaiting them in the unknown
spheres beyond.

But here--with their position--the comparison between them ends. The
Christian's principle of action, drawn from the Divinity he served, was
love; the Pagan's, born of the superstition that was destroying him, was
hate. The one laboured for mankind; the other for himself. And thus
the aspirations of Numerian, founded on the general good, nourished by
offices of kindness, and nobly directed to a generous end, might lead
him into indiscretion, but could never degrade him into crime--might
trouble the serenity of his life, but could never deprive him of the
consolation of hope. While, on the contrary, the ambition of Ulpius,
originating in revenge and directed to destruction, exacted cruelty from
his heart and duplicity from his mind; and, as the reward for his
service, mocked him alternately throughout his whole life with delusion
and despair.

CHAPTER 7. THE BED-CHAMBER.

It is now time to resume our chronicle of the eventful night which
marked the destruction of Antonina's lute and the conspiracy against
Antonina's honour.

The gates of Vetranio's palace were closed, and the noises in it were
all hushed; the banquet was over, the triumph of the Nightingale Sauce
had been achieved, and the daybreak was already glimmering in the
eastern sky, when the senator's favoured servant, the freedman Carrio,
drew back the shutter of the porter's lodge, where he had been dozing
since the conclusion of the feast, and looked out lazily into the
street. The dull, faint light of dawn was now strengthening slowly over
the lonely roadway and on the walls of the lofty houses. Of the groups
of idlers of the lowest class who had assembled during the evening in
the street to snuff the fragrant odours which steamed afar from
Vetranio's kitchens, not one remained; men, women, and children had long
since departed to seek shelter wherever they could find it, and to
fatten their lean bodies on what had been charitable bestowed on them of
the coarser relics of the banquet. The mysterious solitude and
tranquility of daybreak in a great city prevailed over all things.
Nothing impressed, however, by the peculiar and solemn attraction of the
scene at this moment, the freedman apostrophised the fresh morning air,
as it blew over him, in strong terms of disgust, and even ventured in
lowered tones to rail against his master's uncomfortable fancy for being
awakened after a feast at the approach of dawn. Far too well aware,
nevertheless, of the necessity of yielding the most implicit obedience
to the commands he had received to resign himself any longer to the
pleasant temptations of repose, Carrio, after yawning, rubbing his eyes,
and indulging for a few moments more in the luxury of complaint, set
forth in earnest to follow the corridors leading to the interior of the
palace, and to awaken Vetranio without further delay.

He had not advanced more than a few steps when a proclamation, written
in letters of gold on a blue-coloured board, and hung against the wall
at his side, attracted his attention. This public notice, which delayed
his progress at the very outset, and which was intended for the special
edification of all the inhabitants of Rome, was thus expressed:--

'ON THIS DAY, AND FOR TEN DAYS FOLLOWING, THE AFFAIRS OF OUR PATRON
OBLIGE HIM TO BE ABSENT FROM ROME.'

Here the proclamation ended, without descending to particulars. It had
been put forth, in accordance with the easy fashion of the age, to
answer at once all applications at Vetranio's palace during the
senator's absence. Although the colouring of the board, the writing of
the letters, and the composition of the sentence were the work of his
own ingenuity, the worthy Carrio could not prevail upon himself to pass
the proclamation without contemplating is magnificence anew. For some
time he stood regarding it with the same expression of lofty and
complacent approbation which we see in these modern days illuminating
the countenance of a connoisseur before one of his own old pictures
which he has bought as a great bargain, or dawning over the bland
features of a linen-draper as he surveys from the pavement his morning's
arrangement of the window of the shop. All things, however, have their
limits, even a man's approval of an effort of his own skill.
Accordingly, after a prolonged review of the proclamation, some faint
ideas of the necessity of immediately obeying his master's commands
revived in the mind of the judicious Carrio, and counselled him to turn
his steps at once in the direction of the palace sleeping apartments.

Greatly wondering what new caprice had induced the senator to
contemplate leaving Rome at the dawn of day--for Vetranio had divulged
to no one the object of his departure--the freedman cautiously entered
his master's bed-chamber. He drew aside the ample silken curtains
suspended around and over the sleeping couch, from the hands of Graces
and Cupids sculptured in marble; but the statues surrounded an empty
bed. Vetranio was not there. Carrio next entered the bathroom; the
perfumed water was steaming in its long marble basin, and the soft
wrapping-cloths lay ready for use; the attendant slave, with his
instruments of ablution, waited, half asleep, in his accustomed place;
but here also no signs of the master's presence appeared. Somewhat
perplexed, the freedman examined several other apartments. He found
guests, dancing girls, parasites, poets, painters--a motley crew--
occupying every kind of dormitory, and all peacefully engaged in
sleeping off the effects of the wine they had drunk at the banquet; but
the great object of his search still eluded him as before. At last it
occurred to him that the senator, in an excess of convivial enthusiasm
and jovial hospitality, might yet be detaining some favoured guest at
the table of the feast.

Pausing, therefore, at some carved doors which stood ajar at one
extremity of a spacious hall, he pushed them open, and hurriedly entered
the banqueting-room beyond.

A soft, dim, luxurious light reigned over this apartment, which now
presented, as far as the eye could discern, an aspect of confusion that
was at once graceful and picturesque. Of the various lamps, of every
variety of pattern, hanging from the ceiling, but few remained alight.
From those, however, which were still unextinguished there shone a mild
brightness, admirably adapted to display the objects immediately around
them. The golden garlands and the alabaster pots of sweet ointment
which had been suspended before the guests during the banquet, still
hung from the painted ceiling. On the massive table, composed partly of
ebony and partly of silver, yet lay, in the wildest confusion, fragments
of gastronomic delicacies, grotesque dinner services, vases of flowers,
musical instruments, and crystal dice; while towering over all rose the
glittering dish which had contained the nightingales consumed by the
feasters, with the four golden Cupids which had spouted over them that
illustrious invention--the Nightingale Sauce. Around the couches, of
violet and rose colour, ranged along the table, the perfumed and gaily-
tinted powders that had been strewn in patterns over the marble floor
were perceptible for a few yards; but beyond this point nothing more was
plainly distinguishable. The eye roved down the sides of the glorious
chamber, catching dim glimpses of gorgeous draperies, crowded statues,
and marble columns, but discerning nothing accurately, until it reached
the half-opened windows, and rested upon the fresh dewy verdure now
faintly visible in the shady gardens without. There--waving in the
morning breezes, charged on every leaf with their burden of pure and
welcome moisture--rose the lofty pine-trees, basking in the recurrence
of the new day's beautiful and undying youth, and rising in reproving
contrast before the exhausted allurements of luxury and the perverted
creations of art which burdened the tables of the hall within.

After a hasty survey of the apartment, the freedman appeared to be on
the point of quitting it in despair, when the noise of a falling dish,
followed by several partly suppressed and wholly confused exclamations
of affright, caught his ear. He once more approached the banqueting-
table, retrimmed a lamp that hung near him, and taking it in his hand,
passed to the side of the room whence the disturbance proceeded. A
hideous little negro, staring in ludicrous terror at a silver oven, half
filled with bread, which had just fallen beside him, was the first
object he discovered. A few paces beyond the negro reposed a beautiful
boy, crowned with vine leaves and ivy, still sleeping by the side of his
lyre; and farther yet, stretched in an uneasy slumber on a silken couch,
lay the identical object of the freedman's search--the illustrious
author of the Nightingale Sauce.

Immediately above the sleeping senator hung his portrait, in which he
was modestly represented as rising by the assistance of Minerva to the
top of Parnassus, the nine Muses standing round him rejoicing. At his
feet reposed a magnificent white cat, whose head rested in all the
luxurious laziness of satiety on the edge of a golden saucer half filled
with dormice stewed in milk. The most indubitable evidences of the
night's debauch appeared in Vetranio's disordered dress and flushed
countenance as the freedman regarded him. For some minutes the worthy
Carrio stood uncertain whether to awaken his master or not, deciding
finally, however, on obeying the commands he had received, and
disturbing the slumbers of the wearied voluptuary before him. To effect
this purpose, it was necessary to call in the aid of the singing-boy;
for, by a refinement of luxury, Vetranio had forbidden his attendants to
awaken him by any other method than the agency of musical sounds.

With some difficulty the boy was sufficiently aroused to comprehend the
service that was required of him. For a short time the notes of the
lyre sounded in vain. At last, when the melody took a louder and more
martial character, the sleeping patrician slowly opened his eyes and
stared vacantly around him.

'My respected patron,' said the polite Carrio in apologetic tones,
'commanded that I should awaken him with the dawn; the daybreak has
already appeared.'

When the freedman had ceased speaking, Vetranio sat up on the couch,
called for a basin of water, dipped his fingers in the refreshing
liquid, dried them abstractedly on the long silky curls of the singing-
boy who stood beside him, gazed about him once more, repeated
interrogatively the word 'daybreak', and sunk gently back upon his
couch. We are grieved to confess it--but the author of the Nightingale
Sauce was moderately inebriated.

A short pause followed, during which the freedman and the singing-boy
stared upon each other in mutual perplexity. At length the one resumed
his address of apology, and the other resumed his efforts on the lyre.
Once more, after an interval, the eyes of Vetranio lazily unclosed, and
this time he began to speak; but his thoughts--if thoughts they could be
called--were as yet wholly occupied by the 'table-talk' at the past
night's banquet.

'The ancient Egyptians--oh, sprightly and enchanting Camilla--were a
wise nation!' murmured the senator drowsily. 'I am myself descended
from the ancient Egyptians; and, therefore, I hold in high veneration
that cat in your lap, and all cats besides. Herodotus--an historian
whose works I feel a certain gratification in publicly mentioning as
good--informs us, that when a cat died in the dwelling of an ancient
Egyptian, the owner shaved his eyebrows as a mark of grief, embalmed the
defunct animal in a consecrated house, and carried it to be interred in
a considerable city of Lower Egypt, called 'Bubastis'--an Egyptian word
which I have discovered to mean The Sepulchre of all the Cats; whence it
is scarcely erroneous to infer--'

At this point the speaker's power of recollection and articulation
suddenly failed him, and Carrio--who had listened with perfect gravity
to his master's oration upon cats--took immediate advantage of the
opportunity now afforded him to speak again.

'The equipage which my patron was pleased to command to carry him to
Aricia,' said he, with a strong emphasis on the last word, 'now stands
in readiness at the private gate of the palace gardens.'

As he heard the word 'Aricia', the senator's powers of recollection and
perception seemed suddenly to return to him. Among that high order of
drinkers who can imbibe to the point of perfect enjoyment, and stop
short scientifically before the point of perfect oblivion, Vetranio
occupied an exalted rank. The wine he had swallowed during the night
had disordered his memory and slightly troubled his self-possession, but
had not deprived him of his understanding. There was nothing plebeian
even in his debauchery; there was an art and a refinement in his very
excesses.

'Aricia--Aricia!' he repeated to himself, 'ah! the villa that Julia lent
to me at Ravenna! The pleasures of the table must have obscured for a
moment the image of my beautiful pupil of other days, which now revives
before me again as Love resumes the dominion that Bacchus usurped! My
excellent Carrio,' he continued, speaking to the freedman, 'you have
done perfectly right in awakening me; delay not a moment more in
ordering my bath to be prepared, or my man-monster Ulpius, the king of
conspirators and high priest of all that is mysterious, will wait for me
in vain! And you, Glyco,' he pursued, when Carrio had departed,
addressing the singing-boy, 'array yourself for a journey, and wait with
my equipage at the garden-gate. I shall require you to accompany me in
my expedition to Aricia. But first, oh! gifted and valued songster, let
me reward you for the harmonious symphony that has just awakened me. Of
what rank of my musicians are you at present, Glyco?'

'Of the fifth,' replied the boy.

'Were you bought, or born in my house?' asked Vetranio.

'Neither; but bequeathed to you by Geta's testament,' rejoined the
gratified Glyco.

'I advance you,' continued Vetranio, 'to the privileges and the pay of
the first rank of my musicians; and I give you, as a proof of my
continued favour, this ring. In return for these obligations, I desire
to keep secret whatever concerns my approaching expedition; to employ
your softest music in soothing the ear of a young girl who will
accompany us--in calming her terrors if she is afraid, in drying her
tears if she weeps; and finally, to exercise your voice and your lute
incessantly in uniting the name 'Antonina' to the sweetest harmonies of
sound that your imagination can suggest.'

Pronouncing these words with an easy and benevolent smile, and looking
round complacently on the display of luxurious confusion about him,
Vetranio retired to the bath that was to prepare him for his approaching
triumph.

Meanwhile a scene of a very different nature was proceeding without, at
Numerian's garden-gate. Here were no singing-boys, no freedmen, no
profusion of rich treasures--here appeared only the solitary and
deformed figure of Ulpius, half hidden among surrounding trees, while he
waited at his appointed post. As time wore on, and still Vetranio did
not appear, the Pagan's self-possession began to desert him. He moved
restlessly backwards and forwards over the soft dewy grass, sometimes in
low tones calling upon his gods to hasten the tardy footsteps of the
libertine patrician, who was to be made the instrument of restoring to
the temples the worship of other days--sometimes cursing the reckless
delay of the senator, or exulting in the treachery by which he madly
believed his ambition was at last to be fulfilled; but still, whatever
his words or thoughts, wrought up to the same pitch of fierce, fanatic
enthusiasm which had strengthened him for the defence of his idols at
Alexandria, and had nerved him against the torment and misery of years
in his slavery in the copper mines of Spain.

The precious moments were speeding irrevocably onwards. His impatience
was rapidly changing to rage and despair as he strained his eyes for the
last time in the direction of the palace gardens, and now at length
discerned a white robe among the distant trees. Vetranio was rapidly
approaching him.

Restored by his bath, no effect of the night's festivity but its
exhilaration remained in the senator's brain. But for a slight
uncertainty in his gait, and an unusual vacancy in his smile, the
elegant gastronome might now have appeared to the closest observer
guiltless of the influence of intoxicating drinks. He advanced, radiant
with exultation, prepared for conquest, to the place where Ulpius
awaited him, and was about to address the Pagan with that satirical
familiarity so fashionable among the nobles of Rome in their
communications with the people, when the object of his intended
pleasantries sternly interrupted him, saying, in tones more of command
than of advice, 'Be silent! If you would succeed in your purpose,
follow me without uttering a word!'

There was something so fierce and determined in the tones of the old
man's voice--low, tremulous, and husky though they were--as he uttered
those words, that the bold, confident senator instinctively held his
peace as he followed his stern guide into Numerian's house. Avoiding the
regular entrance, which at that early hour of the morning was
necessarily closed, Ulpius conducted the patrician through a small
wicket into the subterranean apartment, or rather outhouse, which was
his customary, though comfortless, retreat in his leisure hours, and
which was hardly ever entered by the other members of the Christian's
household.

From the low, arched brick ceiling of this place hung an earthenware
lamp, whose light, small and tremulous, left all the corners of the
apartment in perfect obscurity. The thick buttresses that projected
inwards from the walls, made visible by their prominence, displayed on
their surfaces rude representations of idols and temples drawn in chalk,
and covered with strange, mysterious hieroglyphics. On a block of stone
which served as a table lay some fragments of small statues, which
Vetranio recognised as having belonged to the old, accredited
representations of Pagan idols. Over the sides of the table itself were
scrawled in Latin characters these two words, 'Serapis', 'Macrinus'; and
about its base lay some pieces of torn, soiled linen, which still
retained enough of their former character, both in shape, size, and
colour, to convince Vetranio that they had once served as the vestments
of a Pagan priest. Further than this the senator's observation did not
carry him, for the close, almost mephitic atmosphere of the place
already began to affect him unfavourably. He felt a suffocating
sensation in his throat and a dizziness in his head. The restorative
influence of his recent bath declined rapidly. The fumes of the wine he
had drunk in the night, far from having been, as he imagined,
permanently dispersed, again mounted to his head. He was obliged to
lean against the stone table to preserved his equilibrium as he faintly
desired the Pagan to shorten their sojourn in his miserable retreat.

Without even noticing the request, Ulpius hurriedly proceeded to erase
the drawings on the buttresses and the inscriptions on the table. Then
collecting the fragments of statues and the pieces of linen, he
deposited them in a hiding-place in the corner of the apartment. This
done, he returned to the stone against which Vetranio supported himself,
and for a few minutes silently regarded the senator with a firm,
earnest, and penetrating gaze.

A dark suspicion that he had betrayed himself into the hands of a
villain, who was then plotting some atrocious project connected with his
safety or honour, began to rise on the senator's bewildered brain as he
unwillingly submitted to the penetrating examination of the Pagan's
glance. At that moment, however, the withered lips of the old man slowly
parted, and he began to speak. Whether as he looked on Vetranio's
disturbed countenance, and marked his unsteady gait, the heart of
Ulpius, for the first time since his introduction to the senator,
misgave him when he thought of their monstrous engagement; or whether
the near approach of the moment that was henceforth, as he wildly
imagined, to fix Vetranio as his assistant and ally, so powerfully
affected his mind that it instinctively sought to vent its agitation
through the natural medium of words, it is useless to inquire. Whatever
his motives for speech, the impressive earnestness of his manner gave
evidence of the depth and intensity of his emotions as he addressed the
senator thus:--

'I have submitted to servitude in a Christian's house, I have suffered
the contamination of a Christian's prayers, to gain the use of your
power and station when the time to employ them should arrive. The hour
has now come when my part of the conditions of our engagement is to be
performed; the hour will yet come when your part shall be exacted from
you in turn! Do you wonder at what I have done and what I will do? Do
you marvel that a household drudge should speak thus to a nobleman of
Rome? Are you astonished that I risk so much as to venture on enlisting
you--by the sacrifice of the girl who now slumbers above--in the cause
whose end is the restoration of our fathers' gods, and in whose service
I have suffered and grown old? Listen, and you shall hear from what I
have fallen--you shall know what I once was!' 'I adjure you by all the
gods and goddesses of our ancient worship, let me hear you where I can
breathe--in the garden, on the housetop, anywhere but in this dungeon!'
murmured the senator in entreating accents.

'My birth, my parents, my education, my ancient abode--these I will not
disclose,' interrupted the Pagan, raising one arm authoritatively, as if
to obstruct Vetranio from approaching the door. 'I have sworn by my
gods, that until the day of restitution these secrets of my past life
shall remain unrevealed to strangers' ears. Unknown I entered Rome, and
unknown I will labour in Rome until the projects I have lived for are
crowned with success! It is enough that I confess to you that with
those sacred images whose fragments you have just beheld, I was once
lodged; that those sacred vestments whose remains you discerned at your
feet, I once wore. To attain the glories of the priesthood there was
nothing that I did not resign, to preserve them there was nothing I did
not perform, to recover them there is nothing that I will not attempt!
I was once illustrious, prosperous, beloved; of my glory, my happiness,
my popularity, the Christians have robbed me, and I will yet live to
requite it heavily at their hands! I had a guardian who loved me in my
youth; the Christians murdered him! A temple was under the rule of my
manhood; the Christians destroyed it! The people of a whole nation once
listened to my voice; the Christians have dispersed them! The wise, the
great, the beautiful, the good, were once devoted to me; the Christians
have made me a stranger at their doors, and outcast of their affections
and thoughts! For all this shall I take no vengeance? Shall I not plot
to rebuild my ruined temple, and win back, in my age, the honours that
adorned me in my youth?'

'Assuredly!--at once--without delay!' stammered Vetranio, returning the
stern and inquiring gaze of the Pagan with a bewildered, uneasy stare.

'To mount over the bodies of the Christian slain,' continued the old
man, his sinister eyes dilating in anticipated triumph as he whispered
close at the senator's ear, 'to rebuild the altars that the Christians
have overthrown, is the ambition that has made light to me the
sufferings of my whole life. I have battled, and it has sustained me in
the midst of carnage; I have wandered, and it has been my home in the
desert; I have failed, and it has supported me; I have been threatened
with death, and it has preserved me from fear; I have been cast into
slavery, and it has made my fetters light. You see me now, old,
degraded, lonely--believe that I long neither for wife, children,
tranquility, nor possessions; that I desire no companion but my
cherished and exalted purpose! Remember, then, in the hour of
performance the promise you have now made to aid me in the achievement
of that purpose! Remember that you are a Pagan yourself! Feast, laugh,
carouse with your compeers; be still the airy jester, the gay companion;
but never forget the end to which you are vowed--the destiny of glory
that the restoration of our deities has in store for us both!'

He ceased. Though his voice, while he spoke, never rose beyond a
hoarse, monotonous, half-whispering tone, all the ferocity of his abused
and degraded nature was for the instant thoroughly aroused by his
recapitulation of his wrongs. Had Vetranio at this moment shown any
symptoms of indecision, or spoken any words of discouragement, he would
have murdered him on the spot where they stood. Every feature in the
Pagan's seared and livid countenance expressed the stormy emotions that
were rushing over his heart as he now confronted his bewildered yet
attentive listener. His firm, menacing position; his poor and scanty
garments; his wild, shaggy hair; his crooked, distorted form; his stern,
solemn, unwavering gaze--opposed as they were (under the fitful
illumination of the expiring lamp and the advancing daylight) to the
unsteady gait, the vacant countenance, the rich robes, the youthful
grace of form and delicacy of feature of the object of his steady
contemplation, made so wild and strange a contrast between his patrician
ally and himself that they scarcely looked like beings of the same race.
Nothing could be more immense than the difference, more wild than the
incongruity between them. It was sickness hand-in-hand with health;
pain marshalled face to face with enjoyment; darkness ranged in
monstrous discordance by the very side of light.

The next instant--just as the astonished senator was endeavouring to
frame a suitable answer to the solemn adjuration that had been addressed
to him--Ulpius seized his arm, and opening a door at the inner extremity
of the apartment, led him up some stairs that conducted to the interior
of the house.

They passed the hall, on the floor of which still lay the fragments of
the broken lute, dimly distinguishable in the soft light of daybreak;
and ascending another staircase, paused at a little door at the top,
which Ulpius cautiously opened, and in a moment afterwards Vetranio was
admitted into Antonina's bed-chamber.

The room was of no great extent; its scanty furniture was of the most
ordinary description; no ornaments glittered on its walls; no frescoes
adorned its ceiling; and yet there was a simple elegance in its
appearance, an unobtrusive propriety in its minutest details, which made
it at once interesting and attractive to the eye. From the white
curtains at the window to the vase of flowers standing by the bedside,
the same natural refinement of taste appeared in the arrangement of all
that the apartment contained. No sound broke the deep silence of the
place, save the low, soft breathing, occasionally interrupted by a long,
trembling sigh, of its sleeping occupant. The sole light in the room
consisted of a little lamp, so placed in the middle of the flowers round
the sides of the vase that no extended or steady illumination was cast
upon any object. There was something in the decent propriety of all
that was visible in the bed-chamber; in the soft obscurity of its
atmosphere; in the gentle and musical sound that alone interrupted its
magical stillness, impressive enough, it might have been imagined, to
have awakened some hesitation in the bosom of the boldest libertine ere
he deliberately proceeded to intrude on the unprotected slumbers of its
occupant. No such feeling of indecision, however, troubled the thoughts
of Vetranio as he cast a rapid glance round the apartment which he had
venture so treacherously to invade. The fumes of the wine he had
imbibed at the banquet had been so thoroughly resuscitated by the
oppressive atmosphere of the subterranean retreat he had just quitted,
as to have left him nothing of his more refined nature. All that was
honourable or intellectual in his character had now completely ceded to
all that was base and animal. He looked round, and perceiving that
Ulpius had silently quitted him, softly closed the door. Then advancing
to the bedside with the utmost caution compatible with the involuntary
unsteadiness of an intoxicated man, he took the lamp from the vase in
which it was half concealed, and earnestly surveyed by its light the
figure of the sleeping girl.

The head of Antonina was thrown back and rested rather over than on her
pillow. Her light linen dress had become so disordered during the night
that it displayed her throat and part of her bosom, in all the dawning
beauties of their youthful formation, to the gaze of the licentious
Roman. One hand half supported her head, and was almost entirely hidden
in the locks of her long black hair, which had escaped from the white
cincture intended to confine it, and now streamed over the pillow in
dazzling contrast to the light bed-furniture around it. The other hand
held tightly clasped to her bosom the precious fragment of her broken
lute. The deep repose expressed in her position had not thoroughly
communicated itself to her face. Now and then her slightly parted lips
moved and trembled, and ever and anon a change, so faint and fugitive
that it was hardly perceptible, appeared in her complexion, breathing on
the soft olive that was its natural hue, the light rosy flush which the
emotions of the past night had impressed on it ere she slept. Her
position, in its voluptuous negligence, seemed the very type of Oriental
loveliness; while her face, calm and sorrowful in its expression,
displayed the more refined and sober graces of the European model. And
thus these two characteristics of two different orders of beauty,
appearing conjointly under one form, produced a whole so various and yet
so harmonious, so impressive and yet so attractive, that the senator, as
he bent over the couch, though the warm, soft breath of the young girl
played on his cheeks and waved the tips of his perfumed locks, could
hardly imagine that the scene before him was more than a bright,
delusive dream.

While Vetranio was yet absorbed in admiration of her charms, Antonina's
form slightly moved, as if agitated by the influence of a passing dream.
The change thus accomplished in her position broke the spell that its
former stillness and beauty had unconsciously wrought to restrain the
unhallowed ardour of the profligate Roman. He now passed his arm round
her warm, slender figure, and gently raising her till her head rested on
his shoulder as he sat by the bed, imprinted kiss after kiss on the pure
lips that sleep had innocently abandoned to him.

As he had foreseen, Antonina instantly awoke, but, to his unmeasured
astonishment, neither started nor shrieked. The moment she had opened
her eyes she had recognised the person of Vetranio; and that
overwhelming terror which suspends in its victims the use of every
faculty, whether of the body or the mind, had immediately possessed
itself of her heart. Too innocent to imagine the real motive that
prompted the senator's intrusion on her slumbers, where others of her
sex would have foreboded dishonour, she feared death. All her father's
vague denunciations against the enormities of the nobles of Rome rushed
in an instant over her mind, and her childish imagination pictured
Vetranio as armed with some terrible and mysterious vengeance to be
wreaked on her for having avoided all communication with him as soon as
she had gained possession of her lute. Prostrate beneath the petrifying
influence of her fears, motionless and powerless before him as its prey
before the serpent, she made no effort to move or speak; but looked up
steadfastly into the senator's face, her large eyes fixed and dilated in
a gaze of overpowering terror.

Intoxicated though he was, the affrighted expression of the poor girl's
pale, rigid countenance did not escape Vetranio's notice; and he taxed
his bewildered brain for such soothing and reassuring expressions as
would enable him to introduce his profligate proposals with some chance
that they would be listened to and understood.

'Dearest pupil! Most beautiful of Roman maidens,' he began in the
husky, monotonous tones of inebriety, 'abandon your fears! I come
hither, wafted by the breath of love, to restore the worship of the--I
would say to bear you on my bosom to a villa--the name of which has for
the moment escaped my remembrance. You cannot have forgotten that it
was I who taught you to compose the Nightingale Sauce--or, no--let me
rather say to play upon the lute. Love, music, pleasure, all await you
in the arms of your attached Vetranio. Your eloquent silence speaks
encouragement to my heart. Beloved Anto--'

Here the senator suddenly paused; for the eyes of the girl, which had
hitherto been fixed on him with the same expression of blank dismay that
had characterised them from the first, slowly moved in the direction of
the door. The instant afterwards a slight noise caught Vetranio's ear,
and Antonina shuddered so violently as he pressed her to his side that
he felt it through his whole frame. Slowly and unwillingly he withdrew
his gaze from the pale yet lovely countenance on which it had been
fixed, and looked up.

At the open door, pale, silent, motionless, stood the master of the
house.

Incapable, from the confusion of his ideas, of any other feeling than
the animal instinct of self-defence, Vetranio no sooner beheld
Numerian's figure than he rose, and drawing a small dagger from his
bosom, attempted to advance on the intruder. He found himself, however,
restrained by Antonina, who had fallen on her knees before him, and
grasped his robe with a strength which seemed utterly incompatible with
the slenderness of her form and the feebleness of her sex and age.

The first voice that broke the silence which ensued was Numerian's. He
advanced, his face ghastly with anguish, his lip quivering with
suppressed emotions, to the senator's side, and addressed him thus:--

'Put up your weapon; I come but to ask a favour at your hands.'

Vetranio mechanically obeyed him. There was something in the stern
calmness, frightful at such a moment, of the Christian's manner that
awed him in spite of himself.

'The favour I would petition for,' continued Numerian, in low, steady,
bitter tones, 'is that you would remove your harlot there, to your own
abode. Here are no singing-boys, no banqueting-halls, no perfumed
couches. The retreat of a solitary old man is no place for such an one
as she. I beseech you, remove her to a more congenial home. She is
well fitted for her trade; her mother was a harlot before her!'

He laughed scornfully, and pointed, as he spoke, to the figure of the
unhappy girl kneeling with outstretched arms at his feet.

'Father, father!' she cried, in accents bereft of their native softness
and melody, 'have you forgotten me?'

'I know you not!' he replied, thrusting her from him. 'Return to his
bosom; you shall never more be pressed to mine. Go to his palace; my
house is yours no longer! You are his harlot, not my daughter! I
command you--go!'

As he advanced towards her with fierce glance and threatening demeanour,
she suddenly rose up. Her reason seemed crushed within her as she looked
with frantic earnestness from Vetranio to her father, and then back
again from her father to Vetranio. On one side she saw an enemy who had
ruined her she knew not how, and who threatened her with she knew not
what; on the other, a parent who had cast her off. For one instant she
directed a final look on the room, that, sad and lonely though it was,
had still been a home to her; and then, without a word or a sigh, she
turned, and crouching like a beaten dog, fled from the house.

During the whole of the scene Vetranio had stood so fixed in the
helpless astonishment of intoxication as to be incapable of moving or
uttering a word. All that took place during the short and terrible
interview between father and child utterly perplexed him. He heard no
loud, violent anger on one side, no clamorous petitioning for
forgiveness on the other. The stern old man whom Antonina had called
father, and who had been pointed out to him as the most austere
Christian in Rome, far from avenging his intrusion on Antonina's
slumber, had voluntarily abandoned his daughter to his licentious will.
That the anger or irony of so severe a man should inspire such an action
as this, or that Numerian, like his servant, was plotting to obtain some
strange mysterious favour from him by using Antonina as a bribe, seemed
perfectly impossible. all that passed before the senator was, to his
bewildered imagination, thoroughly incomprehensible. Frivolous,
thoughtless, profligate as he might be, his nature was not radically
base, and when the scene of which he had been the astounded witness was
abruptly terminated by the flight of Antonina, the look of frantic
misery fixed on him by the unfortunate girl at the moment of her
departure, almost sobered him for the instant, as he stood before the
now solitary father gazing vacantly around him with emotions of
uncontrollable confusion and dismay.

Meanwhile a third person was now approaching to join the two occupants
of the bedchamber abandoned by its ill-fated mistress. Although in the
subterranean retreat to which he had retired on leaving Vetranio, Ulpius
had not noticed the silent entrance of the master of the house, he had
heard through the open doors the sound, low though it was, of the
Christian's voice. As he rose, suspecting all things and prepared for
every emergency, to ascend to the bedchamber, he saw, while he mounted
the lowest range of stairs, a figure in white pass rapidly through the
hall and disappear by the principal entrance of the house. He hesitated
for an instant and looked after it, but the fugitive figure had passed
so swiftly in the uncertain light of early morning that he was unable to
identify it, and he determined to ascertain the progress of events, now
that Numerian must have discovered a portion at least of the plot
against his daughter and himself, by ascending immediately to Antonina's
apartment, whatever might be the consequences of his intrusion at such
an hour on her father's wrath.

As soon as the Pagan appeared before him, a sensible change took place
in Vetranio. The presence of Ulpius in the chamber was a positive
relief to the senator's perturbed faculties, after the mysterious,
overpowering influence that the moral command expressed in the mere
presence of the father and the master of the house, at such an hour, had
exercised over them. Over Ulpius he had an absolute right, Ulpius was
his dependant; and he determined, therefore, to extort from the servant
whom he despised an explanation of the mysteries in the conduct of the
master whom he feared, and the daughter whom he began to doubt.

'Where is Antonina?' he cried, starting as if from a trance, and
advancing fiercely towards the treacherous Pagan. 'She has left the
room--she must have taken refuge with you.'

With a slow and penetrating gaze Ulpius looked round the apartment. A
faint agitation was perceptible in his livid countenance, but he uttered
not a word.

The senator's face became pale and red with alternate emotions of
apprehension and rage. He seized the Pagan by the throat, his eyes
sparkled, his blood boiled, he began to suspect even then that Antonina
was lost to him for ever.

'I ask you again where is she?' he shouted in a voice of fury. 'If
through this night's work she is lost or harmed, I will revenge it on
you. Is this the performance of your promise? Do you think that I will
direct your desired restoration of the gods of old for this? If evil
comes to Antonina through your treachery, sooner than assist in your
secret projects, I would see you and your accursed deities all burning
together in the Christians' hell! Where is the girl, you slave?
Villain, where was your vigilance, when you let that man surprise us at
our first interview?'

He turned towards Numerian as he spoke. Trouble and emergency gift the
faculties with a more than mortal penetration. Every word that he had
uttered had eaten its burning way into the father's heart. Hours of
narrative could not have convinced him how fatally he had been deceived,
more thoroughly than the few hasty expressions he had just heard. No
word passed his lips--no action betrayed his misery. He stood before
the spoilers of his home, changed in an instant from the courageous
enthusiast to the feeble, helpless, heart-broken man.

Though all the ferocity of his old Roman blood had been roused in
Vetranio, as he threatened Ulpius, the father's look of cold, silent,
frightful despair froze it in his young veins in an instant. His heart
was still the impressible heart of youth; and, struck for the first time
in his life with emotions of horror and remorse, he advanced a step to
offer such explanation and atonement as he best might, when the voice of
Ulpius suspended his intentions, and made him pause to listen.

'She passed me in the hall,' muttered the Pagan, doggedly. 'I did my
part in betraying her into your power--it was for you to hinder her in
her flight. Why did you not strike him to the earth,' he continued,
pointing with a mocking smile to Numerian, 'when he surprised you? You
are wealthy and a noble of Rome; murder would have been no crime in
you!'

'Stand back!' cried the senator, thrusting him from the position he had
hitherto occupied in the door-way. 'She may be recovered even yet! All
Rome shall be searched for her!'

The next instant he disappeared from the room, and the master and
servant were left together alone.

The silence that now reigned in the apartment was broken by distant
sounds of uproar and confusion in the streets of the city beneath.
These ominous noises had arisen with the dawn of day, but the different
emotions of the occupants of Numerian's abode had so engrossed them,
that the turmoil in the outer world had passed unheeded by all. No
sooner, however, had Vetranio departed than it caught the attention of
Ulpius, and he advanced to the window. What he there saw and heard was
of no ordinary importance, for it at once fixed him to the spot where he
stood in mute and ungovernable surprise.

While Ulpius was occupied at the window, Numerian had staggered to the
side of the bed which his ill-timed severity had made vacant, perhaps
for ever. The power of action, the capacity to go forth and seek his
child himself, was entirely suspended in the agony of her loss, as the
miserable man fell on his knees, and in the anguish of his heart
endeavoured to find solace in prayer. In the positions they severally
occupied the servant and the master long remained--the betrayer watching
at the window, the betrayed mourning at his lost daughter's bed--both
alike silent, both alike unconscious of the lapse of time.

At length, apparently unaware at first that he was not alone in the
room, Numerian spoke. In his low, broken, tremulous accents, none of
his adherents would have recognised the voice of the eloquent preacher--
the bold chastiser of the vices of the Church. The whole nature of the
man--moral, intellectual, physical--seemed fatally and completely
changed.

'She was innocent, she was innocent!' he whispered to himself. 'And
even had she been guilty, was it for me to drive her from my doors! My
part, like my Redeemer's, was to teach repentance, and to show mercy!
Accursed be the pride and anger that drove justice and patience from my
heart, when I beheld her, as I thought, submitting herself without a
struggle or a cry, to my dishonour, and hers! Could I not have imagined
her terror, could I not have remembered her purity? Alas, my beloved,
if I myself have been the dupe of the wicked, what marvel is it that you
should have been betrayed as well! And I have driven you from me, you,
from whose mouth no word of anger ever dropped! I have thrust you from
my bosom, you, who were the adornment of my age! My death approaches,
and you will not be by to pardon my heavy offence, to close my weary
eyes, to mourn by my solitary tomb! God--oh God! If I am left thus
lonely on the earth, thou hast punished me beyond what I can bear!'

He paused--his emotions for the instant bereft him of speech. After an
interval, he muttered to himself in a low, moaning voice--'I called her
harlot! My pure, innocent child! I called her harlot--I called her
harlot!'

In a paroxysm of despair, he started up and looked distractedly around
him. Ulpius still stood motionless at the window. At the sight of the
ruthless Pagan he trembled in every limb. All those infirmities of age
that had been hitherto spared him, seemed to overwhelm him in an
instant. He feebly advanced to his betrayer's side, and addressed him
thus:--

'I have lodged you, taught you, cared for you; I have never intruded on
your secrets, never doubted your word, and for all this, you have repaid
me by plotting against my daughter and deceiving me! If your end was to
harm me by assailing my child's happiness and honour you have succeeded!
If you would banish me from Rome, if you would plunge me into obscurity,
to serve some mysterious ambition of your own, you may dispose of me as
you will! I bow before the terrible power of your treachery! I will
renounce whatever you command, if you will restore me to my child! I am
helpless and miserable; I have neither heart nor strength to seek her
myself! You, who know all things and can dare all dangers, may restore
her to pardon and bless me, if you will! Remember, whoever you really
are, that you were once helpless and alone, and that you are still old,
like me! Remember that I have promised to abandon to you whatever you
desire! Remember that no woman's voice can cheer me, no woman's heart
feel for me, now that I am old and lonely, but my daughter's! I have
guessed from the words of the nobleman whom you serve, what are the
designs you cherish and the faith you profess; I will neither betray the
one nor assault the other! I thought that my labours for the Church
were more to me than anything on earth, but now, that through my fault,
my daughter is driven from her father's roof, I know that she is dearer
to me than the greatest of my designs; I must gain her pardon; I must
win back her affection before I die! You are powerful and can recover
her! Ulpius! Ulpius!'

As he spoke, the Christian knelt at the Pagan's feet. It was terrible
to see the man of affection and integrity thus humbled before the man of
heartlessness and crime.

Ulpius turned to behold him, then without a word he raised him from the
ground, and thrusting him to the window, pointed with flashing eyes to
the wide view without.

The sun had arisen high in the heaven and beamed in dazzling brilliancy
over Rome and the suburbs. A vague, fearful, mysterious desolation
seemed to have suddenly overwhelmed the whole range of dwellings beyond
the walls. No sounds rose from the gardens, no population idled in the
streets. The ramparts on the other hand were crowded at every visible
point with people of all ranks, and the distant squares and
amphitheatres of the city itself, swarmed like ant-hills to the eye with
the crowds that struggled within them. Confused cries and strange wild
noises rose at all points from these masses of human beings. The whole
of Rome seemed the prey of a vast and universal revolt.

Extraordinary and affrighting as was the scene at the moment when he
beheld it, it passed unheeded before the eyes of the scarce conscious
father. He was blind to all sights but his daughter's form, deaf to all
sounds but her voice; and he murmured as he looked vacantly forth upon
the wild view before him, 'Where is my child!--where is my child!'

'What is your child to me? What are the fortunes of affections of man
or woman, at such an hour as this?' cried the Pagan, as he stood by
Numerian, with features horribly animated by the emotions of fierce
delight and triumph that were raging within him at the prospect he
beheld. 'Dotard, look from this window! Listen to those voices! The
gods whom I serve, the god whom you and your worship would fain have
destroyed, have risen to avenge themselves at last! Behold those
suburbs, they are left desolate! Hear those cries--they are from Roman
lips! While your household's puny troubles have run their course, this
city of apostates has been doomed! In the world's annals this morning
will never be forgotten! THE GOTHS ARE AT THE GATES OF ROME!'

CHAPTER 8. THE GOTHS.

It was no false rumour that had driven the populace of the suburbs to
fly to the security of the city walls. It was no ill-founded cry of
terror that struck the ear of Ulpius, as he stood at Numerian's window.
The name of Rome had really lost its pristine terrors; the walls of
Rome, those walls which had morally guarded the Empire by their renown,
as they had actually guarded its capital by their strength, were
deprived at length of their ancient inviolability. An army of
barbarians had indeed penetrated for conquest and for vengeance to the
City of the World! The achievement which the invasions of six hundred
years had hitherto attempted in vain, was now accomplished, and
accomplished by the men whose forefathers had once fled like hunted
beasts to their native fastnesses, before the legions of the
Caesars--'The Goths were at the gates of Rome!'

And now, as his warriors encamped around him, as he saw the arrayed
hosts whom his summons had gathered together, and his energy led on,
threatening at their doors the corrupt senate who had deceived, and the
boastful populace who had despised him, what emotions stirred within the
heart of Alaric! As the words of martial command fell from his lips,
and his eyes watched the movements of the multitudes around him, what
exalted aspirations, what daring resolves, grew and strengthened in the
mind of the man who was the pioneer of that mighty revolution, which
swept from one quarter of the world the sway, the civilisation, the very
life and spirit of centuries of ancient rule! High thoughts gathered
fast in his mind; a daring ambition expanded within him--the ambition,
not of the barbarian plunderer, but of the avenger who had come to
punish; not of the warrior who combated for combat's sake, but of the
hero who was vowed to conquer and to sway. From the far-distant days
when Odin was driven from his territories by the romans, to the night
polluted by the massacre of the hostages in Aquileia, the hour of just
and terrible retribution for Gothic wrongs had been delayed through the
weary lapse of years, and the warning convulsion of bitter strifes, to
approach at last under him. He looked on the towering walls before him,
the only invader since Hannibal by whom they had been beheld; and he
felt as he looked, that his new aspirations did not deceive him, that
his dreams of dominion were brightening into proud reality, that his
destiny was gloriously linked with the overthrow of Imperial Rome!

But even in the moment of approaching triumph, the leader of the Goths
was still wily in purpose and moderate in action. His impatient
warriors waited but the word to commence the assault, to pillage the
city, and to slaughter the inhabitants; but he withheld it. Scarcely
had the army halted before the gates of Rome, when the news was
promulgated among their ranks, that Alaric, for purposes of his own, had
determined to reduce the city by a blockade.

The numbers of his forces, increased during his march by the accession
of thirty thousand auxiliaries, were now divided into battalions,
varying in strength according to the service that was required of them.
These divisions stretched round the city walls, and though occupying
separate posts, and devoted to separate duties, were so arranged as to
be capable of uniting at a signal in any numbers, on any given point.
Each body of men was commanded by a tried and veteran warrior, in whose
fidelity Alaric could place the most implicit trust, and to whom he
committed the duty of enforcing the strictest military discipline that
had ever prevailed among the Gothic ranks. Before each of the twelve
principal gates a separate encampment was raised. Multitudes watched the
navigation of the Tiber in every possible direction, with untiring
vigilance; and not one of the ordinary inlets to Rome, however
apparently unimportant, was overlooked. By these means, every mode of
communication between the beleaguered city and the wide and fertile
tracts of land around it, was effectually prevented. When it is
remembered that this elaborate plan of blockade was enforced against a
place containing, at the lowest possible computation, twelve hundred
thousand inhabitants, destitute of magazines for food within its walls,
dependent for supplies on its regular contributions from the country
without, governed by an irresolute senate, and defended by an enervated
army, the horrors that now impended over the besieged Romans are as
easily imagined as described.

Among the ranks of the army that now surrounded the doomed city, the
division appointed to guard the Pincian Gate will be found, at this
juncture, most worthy of the reader's attention: for one of the
warriors appointed to its subordinate command was the young chieftain
Hermanric, who had been accompanied by Goisvintha through all the toils
and dangers of the march, since the time when we left him at the Italian
Alps.

The watch had been set, the tents had been pitched, the defences had
been raised on the portion of ground selected to occupy every possible
approach to the Pincian Gate, as Hermanric retired to await by
Goisvintha's side, whatever further commands he might yet be entrusted
with, by his superiors in the Gothic camp. The spot occupied by the
young warrior's simple tent was on a slight eminence, apart from the
positions chosen by his comrades, eastward of the city gate, and
overlooking at some distance the deserted gardens of the suburbs, and
the stately palaces of the Pincian Hill. Behind his temporary dwelling
was the open country, reduced to a fertile solitude by the flight of its
terrified inhabitants; and at each side lay one unvarying prospect of
military strength and preparation, stretching out its animated confusion
of soldiers, tents, and engines of warfare, as far as the sight could
reach. It was now evening. The walls of Rome, enshrouded in a rising
mist, showed dim and majestic to the eyes of the Goths. The noises in
the beleaguered city softened and deepened, seeming to be muffled in the
growing darkness of the autumn night, and becoming less and less audible
as the vigilant besiegers listened to them from their respective posts.
One by one, lights broke wildly forth at irregular distances, in the
Gothic camp. Harshly and fitfully the shrill call of the signal
trumpets rang from rank to rank; and through the dim thick air rose, in
the intervals of the more important noises, the clash of heavy hammers
and the shout of martial command. Wherever the preparations for the
blockade were still incomplete, neither the approach of night nor the
pretext of weariness were suffered for an instant to hinder their
continued progress. Alaric's indomitable will conquered every obstacle
of nature, and every deficiency of man. Darkness had no obscurity that
forced him to repose, and lassitude no eloquence that lured him to
delay.

In no part of the army had the commands of the Gothic king been so
quickly and intelligently executed, as in that appointed to watch the
Pincian Gate. The interview of Hermanric and Goisvintha in the young
chieftain's tent, was, consequently, uninterrupted for a considerable
space of time by any fresh mandate from the head-quarters of the camp.

In outward appearance, both the brother and sister had undergone a
change remarkable enough to be visible, even by the uncertain light of
the torch which now shone on them as they stood together at the door of
the tent. The features of Goisvintha--which at the period when we first
beheld her on the shores of the mountain lake, retained, in spite of her
poignant sufferings, much of the lofty and imposing beauty that had been
their natural characteristic in her happier days--now preserved not the
slightest traces of their former attractions. Its freshness had
withered from her complexion, its fulness had departed from her form.
Her eyes had contracted an unvarying sinister expression of malignant
despair, and her manner had become sullen, repulsive, and distrustful.
This alteration in her outward aspect, was but the result of a more
perilous change in the disposition of her heart. The death of her last
child at the very moment when her flight had successfully directed her
to the protection of her people, had affected her more fatally than all
the losses she had previously sustained. The difficulties and dangers
that she had encountered in saving her offspring from the massacre; the
dismal certainty that the child was the only one, out of all the former
objects of her affection, left to her to love; the wild sense of triumph
that she experienced in remembering, that in this single instance her
solitary efforts had thwarted the savage treachery of the Court of Rome,
had inspired her with feelings of devotion towards the last of her
household which almost bordered on insanity. And, now that her beloved
charge, her innocent victim, her future warrior, had, after all her
struggles for his preservation, pined and died; now that she was
childless indeed; now that Roman cruelty had won its end in spite of all
her patience, all her courage, all her endurance; every noble feeling
within her sunk, annihilated at the shock. Her sorrow took the fatal
form which irretrievable destroys, in women, all the softer and better
emotions;--it changed to the despair that asks no sympathy, to the grief
that holds no communion with tears.

Less elevated in intellect and less susceptible in disposition, the
change to sullenness of expression and abruptness of manner now visible
in Hermanric, resulted rather from his constant contemplation of
Goisvintha's gloomy despair, tan from any actual revolution in his own
character. In truth, however many might be the points of outward
resemblance now discernible between the brother and sister, the
difference in degree of their moral positions, implied of itself the
difference in degree of the inward sorrow of each. Whatever the trials
and afflictions that might assail him, Hermanric possessed the healthful
elasticity of youth and the martial occupations of manhood to support
them. Goisvintha could repose on neither. With no employment but
bitter remembrance to engage her thoughts, with no kindly aspiration,
no soothing hope to fill her heart, she was abandoned irrevocably to the
influence of unpartaken sorrow and vindictive despair.

Both the woman and the warrior stood together in silence for some time.
At length, without taking his eyes from the dusky, irregular mass before
him, which was all that night now left visible of the ill-fated city,
Hermanric addressed Goisvintha thus:--

'Have you no words of triumph, as you look on the ramparts that your
people have fought for generations to behold at their mercy, as we now
behold them? Can a woman of the Goths be silent when she stands before
the city of Rome?'

'I came hither to behold Rome pillaged, and Romans slaughtered; what is
Rome blockaded to me?' replied Goisvintha fiercely. 'The treasures
within that city will buy its safety from our King, as soon as the
tremblers on the ramparts gain heart enough to penetrate a Gothic camp.
Where is the vengeance that you promised me among those distant palaces?
Do I behold you carrying that destruction through the dwellings of Rome,
which the soldiers of yonder city carried through the dwellings of the
Goths? Is it for plunder or for glory that the army is here? I
thought, in my woman's delusion, that it was for revenge!'

'Dishonour will avenge you--Famine will avenge you--Pestilence will
avenge you!'

'They will avenge my nation; they will not avenge me. I have seen the
blood of Gothic women spilt around me--I have looked on my children's
corpses bleeding at my feet! Will a famine that I cannot see, and a
pestilence that I cannot watch, give me vengeance for this? Look! Here
is the helmet-crest of my husband and your brother--the helmet-crest
that was flung to me as a witness that the Romans had slain him! Since
the massacre of Aquileia it has never quitted my bosom. I have sworn
that the blood which stains and darkens it, shall be washed off in the
blood of the people of Rome. Though I should perish under those
accursed walls; though you in your soulless patience should refuse me
protection and aid; I, widowed, weakened, forsaken as I am, will hold to
the fulfilment of my oath!'

As she ceased she folded the crest in her mantle, and turned abruptly
from Hermanric in bitter and undissembled scorn. All the attributes of
her sex, in thought, expression, and manner, seemed to have deserted
her. The very tones she spoke in were harsh and unwomanly.

Every word she had uttered, every action she had displayed, had sunk
into the inmost heart, had stirred the fiercest passions of the young
warrior whom she addressed. The first national sentiment discoverable
in the day-spring of the ages of Gothic history, is the love of war; but
the second is the reverence of woman. This latter feeling--especially
remarkable among so fierce and unsusceptible a people as the ancient
Scandinavians--was entirely unconnected with those strong attaching
ties, which are the natural consequence of the warm temperaments of more
southern nations; for love was numbered with the base inferior passions,
in the frigid and hardy composition of the warrior of the north. It was
the offspring of reasoning and observation, not of instinctive sentiment
and momentary impulse. In the wild, poetical code of the old Gothic
superstition was one axiom, closely and strangely approximating to an
important theory in the Christian scheme--the watchfulness of an
omnipotent Creator over a finite creature. Every action of the body,
every impulse of the mind, was the immediate result, in the system of
worship among the Goths of the direct, though invisible interference of
the divinities they adored. When, therefore, they observed that women
were more submitted in body to the mysterious laws of nature and
temperament, and more swayed in mind by the native and universal
instincts of humanity than themselves, they inferred as an inevitable
conclusion, that the female sex was more incessantly regarded, and more
constantly and remarkably influenced by the gods of their worship, than
the male. Acting under this persuasion, they committed the study of
medicine, the interpretation of dreams, and in many instances, the
mysteries of communication with the invisible world, to the care of
their women. The gentler sex became their counsellors in difficulty,
and their physicians in sickness--their companions rather than their
mistresses,--the objects of their veneration rather than the purveyors
of their pleasures. Although in after years, the national migrations of
the Goths changed the national temperament, although their ancient
mythology was exchanged for the worship of Christ, this prevailing
sentiment of their earliest existence as a people never entirely
deserted them; but, with different modifications and in different forms,
maintained much of its old supremacy through all changes of manners and
varieties of customs, descending finally to their posterity among the
present nations of Europe, in the shape of that established code of
universal courtesy to women, which is admitted to be one great
distinguishing mark between the social systems of the inhabitants of
civilised and uncivilised lands.

This powerful and remarkable ascendancy of the woman over the man, among
the Goths, could hardly be more strikingly displayed than in the
instance of Hermanric. It appeared, not only in the deteriorating
effect of the constant companionship of Goisvintha on his naturally
manly character, but also in the strong influence over his mind of the
last words of fury and disdain that she had spoken. His eyes gleamed
with anger, his cheeks flushed with shame, as he listened to those
passages in her wrathful remonstrance which reflected most bitterly on
himself. She had scarcely ceased, and turned to retire into the tent,
when he arrested her progress, and replied, in heightened and accusing
tones:--

'You wrong me by your words! When I saw you among the Alps, did I
refuse you protection? When the child was wounded, did I leave him to
suffer unaided? When he died, did I forsake him to rot upon the earth,
or abandon to his mother the digging of his grave? When we approached
Aquileia, and marched past Ravenna, did I forget that the sword hung at
my shoulder? Was it at my will that it remained sheathed, or that I
entered not the gates of the Roman towns, but passed by them in haste?
Was it not the command of the king that withheld me? and could I, his
warrior, disobey? I swear it to you, the vengeance that I promised, I
yearn to perform,--but is it for me to alter the counsels of Alaric?
Can I alone assault the city which it is his command that we should
blockade? What would you have of me?'

'I would have you remember,' retorted Goisvintha, indignantly, 'that
Romans slew your brother, and made me childless! I would have you
remember that a public warfare of years on years, is powerless to stay
one hour's craving of private vengeance! I would have you less
submitted to your general's wisdom, and more devoted to your own wrongs!
I would have you--like me--thirst for the blood of the first inhabitant
of yonder den of traitors, who--whether for peace or for war--passes the
precincts of its sheltering walls!'

She paused abruptly for an answer, but Hermanric uttered not a word.
The courageous heart of the young chieftain recoiled at the deliberate
act of assassination, pressed upon him in

Goisvintha's veiled yet expressive speech. To act with his comrades in
taking the city by assault, to outdo in the heat of battle the worst
horrors of the massacre of Aquileia, would have been achievements in
harmony with his wild disposition and warlike education; but, to submit
himself to Goisvintha's projects, was a sacrifice, that the very
peculiarities of his martial character made repugnant to his thoughts.
Emotions such as these he would have communicated to his companion, as
they passed through his mind; but there was something in the fearful and
ominous change that had occurred in her disposition since he had met her
among the Alps,--in her frantic, unnatural craving for bloodshed and
revenge, that gave her a mysterious and powerful influence over his
thoughts, his words, and even his actions. He hesitated and was silent.

'Have I not been patient?' continued Goisvintha, lowering her voice to
tones of earnest, agitated entreaty, which jarred upon Hermanric's ear,
as he thought who was the petitioner, and what would be the object of
the petition,--' Have I not been patient throughout the weary journey
from the Alps? Have I not waited for the hour of retribution, even
before the defenceless cities that we passed on the march? Have I not
at you instigation governed my yearning for vengeance, until the day
that should see you mounting those walls with the warriors of the Goths,
to scourge with fire and sword the haughty traitors of Rome? Has that
day come? Is it by this blockade that the requital you promised me over
the corpse of my murdered child, is to be performed? Remember the
perils I dared, to preserved the life of that last one of my
household,--and will you risk nothing to avenge his death? His
sepulchre is untended and solitary. Far from the dwellings of his
people, lost in the dawn of his beauty, slaughtered in the beginning of
his strength, lies the offspring of your brother's blood. And the
rest--the two children, who were yet infants; the father, who was brave
in battle and wise in council--where are they? Their bones whiten on
the shelterless plain, or rot unburied by the ocean shore! Think--had
they lived--how happily your days would have passed with them in the
time of peace! how gladly your brother would have gone forth with you to
the chase! how joyfully his boys would have nestled at your knees, to
gather from your lips the first lessons that should form them for the
warrior's life! Think of such enjoyments as these, and then think that
Roman swords have deprived you of them all!'

Her voice trembled, she ceased for a moment, and looked mournfully up
into Hermanric's averted face. Every feature in the young chieftain's
countenance expressed the tumult that her words had aroused within him.
He attempted to reply, but his voice was powerless in that trying
moment. His head drooped upon his heaving breast, and he sighed heavily
as, without speaking, he grasped Goisvintha by the hand. The object she
had pleaded for was nearly attained;--he was fast sinking beneath the
tempter's well-spread toils!

'Are you silent still?' she gloomily resumed. 'Do you wonder at this
longing for vengeance, at this craving for Roman blood? I tell you that
my desire has arisen within me, at promptings from the voices of an
unknown world. They urge me to seek requital on the nation who have
widowed and bereaved me--yonder, in their vaunted city, from their
pampered citizens, among their cherished homes--in the spot where their
shameful counsels take root, and whence their ruthless treacheries
derive their bloody source! In the book that our teachers worship, I
have heard it read, that "the voice of blood crieth from the ground!"
This is the voice--Hermanric, this is the voice that I have heard! I
have dreamed that I walked on a shore of corpses, by a sea of blood--I
have seen, arising from that sea, my husband's and my children's bodies,
gashed throughout with Roman wounds! They have called to me through the
vapour of carnage that was around them;--'Are we yet unavenged? Is the
sword of Hermanric yet sheathed?' Night after night have I seen this
vision and heard those voice, and hoped for no respite until the day
that saw the army encamped beneath the walls of Rome, and raising the
scaling ladders for the assault! And now, after all my endurance, how
has that day arrived? Accursed be the lust of treasure! It is more to
the warriors, and to you, than the justice of revenge!'

'Listen! listen!' cried Hermanric entreatingly.

'I listen no longer!' interrupted Goisvintha. 'The tongue of my people
is as a strange language in my ears; for it talks but of plunder and of
peace, of obedience, of patience, and of hope! I listen no longer; for
the kindred are gone that I loved to listen to--they are all slain by
the Romans but you--and you I renounce!'

Deprived of all power of consideration by the violence of the emotions
awakened in his heart by Goisvintha's wild revelations of the evil
passion that consumed her, the young Goth, shuddering throughout his
whole frame, and still averting his face, murmured in hoarse, unsteady
accents: 'Ask of me what you will. I have no words to deny, no power to
rebuke you--ask of me what you will!'

'Promise me,' cried Goisvintha, seizing the hand of Hermanric, and
gazing with a look of fierce triumph on his disordered countenance,
'that this blockade of the city shall not hinder my vengeance! Promise
me that the first victim of our righteous revenge, shall be the first
one that appears before you--whether in war or peace--of the inhabitants
of Rome!'

'I promise,' cried the Goth. And those two words sealed the destiny of
his future life.

During the silence that now ensued between Goisvintha and Hermanric, and
while each stood absorbed in deep meditation, the dark prospect spread
around them began to brighten slowly under a soft, clear light. The
moon, whose dull broad disk had risen among the evening mists arrayed in
gloomy red, had now topped the highest of the exhalations of earth, and
beamed in the wide heaven, adorned once more in her pale, accustomed
hue. Gradually, yet perceptibly, the vapour rolled,--layer by layer,--
from the lofty summits of the palaces of Rome, and the high places of
the mighty city began to dawn, as it were, in the soft, peaceful,
mysterious light; while the lower divisions of the walls, the desolate
suburbs, and parts of the Gothic camp, lay still plunged in the dusky
obscurity of the mist, in grand and gloomy contrast to the prospect of
glowing brightness, that almost appeared to hover about them from above
and around. Patches of ground behind the tent of Hermanric, began to
grow partially visible in raised and open positions; and the song of the
nightingale was now faintly audible at intervals, among the solitary and
distant trees. In whatever direction it was observed, the aspect of
nature gave promise of the cloudless, tranquil night, of the autumnal
climate of ancient Italy.

Hermanric was the first to return to the contemplation of the outward
world. Perceiving that the torch which still burnt by the side of his
tent, had become useless, now that the moon had arisen and dispelled the
mists, he advance and extinguished it; pausing afterwards to look forth
over the plains, as they brightened slowly before him. He had been thus
occupied but a short time, when he thought he discerned a human figure
moving slowly over a spot of partially lightened and hilly ground, at a
short distance from him. It was impossible that this wandering form
could be one of his own people;--they were all collected at their
respective posts, and his tent he knew was on the outermost boundary of
the encampment before the Pincian Gate.

He looked again. The figure still advanced, but at too great a distance
to allow him a chance of discovering, in the uncertain light around him,
either its nation, its sex, or its age. His heart misgave him as he
remembered his promise to Goisvintha, and contemplated the possibility
that it was some miserable slave, abandoned by the fugitives who had
quitted the suburbs in the morning, who now approached as a last
resource, to ask mercy and protection from his enemies in the camp. He
turned towards Goisvintha as the idea crossed his mind, and observed
that she was still occupied in meditation. Assured by the sight, that
she had not yet observed the fugitive figure, he again directed his
attention--with an excess of anxiety which he could hardly account for--
in the direction where he had first beheld it, but it was no more to be
seen. It had either retired to concealment, or was now still advancing
towards his tent through a clump of trees that clothed the descent of
the hill.

Silently and patiently he continued to look forth over the landscape;
and still no living thing was to be seen. At length, just as he began
to doubt whether his senses had not deceived him, the fugitive figure
suddenly appeared from the trees, hurried with wavering gait over the
patch of low, damp ground that still separated it from the young Goth,
gained his tent, and then with a feeble cry fell helplessly upon the
earth at his feet.

That cry, faint as it was, attracted Goisvintha's attention. She turned
in an instant, thrust Hermanric aside, and raised the stranger in her
arms. The light, slender form, the fair hand and arm hanging motionless
towards the ground, the long locks of deep black hair, heavy with the
moisture of the night atmosphere, betrayed the wanderer's sex and age in
an instant. The solitary fugitive was a young girl.

Signing to Hermanric to kindle the extinguished torch at a neighbouring
watch-fire, Goisvintha carried the still insensible girl into the tent.
As the Goth silently proceeded to obey her, a vague, horrid suspicion,
that he shrunk from embodying, passed across his mind. His hand shook
so that he could hardly light the torch, and bold and vigorous as he
was, his limbs trembled beneath him as he slowly returned to the tent.

When he had gained the interior of his temporary abode, the light of his
torch illuminated a strange and impressive scene.

Goisvintha was seated on a rude oaken chest, supporting on her knees the
form of the young girl, and gazing with an expression of the most
intense and enthralling interest upon her pale, wasted countenance. The
tattered robe that had hitherto enveloped the fugitive had fallen back,
and disclosed the white dress, which was the only other garment she
wore. Her face, throat, and arms, had been turned, by exposure to the
cold, to the pure whiteness of marble. Her eyes were closed, and her
small, delicate features were locked in a rigid repose. But for her
deep black hair, which heightened the ghastly aspect of her face, she
might have been mistaken, as she lay in the woman's arms, for an
exquisitely chiseled statue of youth in death!

When the figure of the young warrior, arrayed in his martial
habiliments, and standing near the insensible girl with evident emotions
of wonder and anxiety, was added to the group thus produced,--when
Goisvintha's tall, powerful frame, clothed in dark garments, and bent
over the fragile form and white dress of the fugitive, was illuminated
by the wild, fitful glare of the torch,--when the heightened colour,
worn features, and eager expression of the woman were beheld, here
shadowed, there brightened, in close opposition to the pale, youthful,
reposing countenance of the girl, such an assemblage of violent lights
and deep shades was produced, as gave the whole scene a character at
once mysterious and sublime. It presented an harmonious variety of
solemn colours, united by the exquisite artifice of Nature to a grand,
yet simple disposition of form. It was a picture executed by the hand
of Rembrandt, and imagined by the mind of Raphael.

Starting abruptly from her long, earnest examination of the fugitive,
Goisvintha proceeded to employ herself in restoring animation to her
insensible charge. While thus occupied, she preserved unbroken silence.
A breathless expectation, that absorbed all her senses in one direction,
seemed to have possessed itself of her heart. She laboured at her task
with the mechanical, unwavering energy of those, whose attention is
occupied by their thoughts rather than their actions. Slowly and
unwillingly the first faint flush of returning animation dawned, in the
tenderest delicacy of hue, upon the girl's colourless cheek. Gradually
and softly, her quickening respiration fluttered a thin lock of hair
that had fallen over her face. A little interval more, and then the
closed, peaceful eyes suddenly opened, and glance quickly round the tent
with a wild expression of bewilderment and terror. Then, as Goisvintha
rose, and attempted to place her on a seat, she tore herself from her
grasp, looked on her for a moment with fearful intentness, and then
falling on her knees, murmured, in a plaintive voice,--

'Have mercy upon me. I am forsaken by my father,--I know not why. The
gates of the city are shut against me. My habitation in Rome is closed
to me for ever!'

She had scarcely spoken these few words, before an ominous change
appeared in Goisvintha's countenance. Its former expression of ardent
curiosity changed to a look of malignant triumph. Her eyes fixed
themselves on the girl's upturned face, in glaring, steady, spell-bound
contemplation. She gloated over the helpless creature before her, as
the wild beast gloats over the prey that it has secured. Her form
dilated, a scornful smile appeared on her lips, a hot flush rose on her
cheeks, and ever and anon she whispered softly to herself, 'I knew she
was Roman! Aha! I knew she was Roman!'

During this space of time Hermanric was silent. His breath came short
and thick, his face grew pale, and his glance, after resting for an
instant on the woman and the girl, travelled slowly and anxiously round
the tent. In one corner of it lay a heavy battle-axe. He looked for a
moment from the weapon to Goisvintha, with a vivid expression of horror,
and then moving slowly across the tent, with a firm, yet trembling
grasp, he possessed himself of the arm.

As he looked up, Goisvintha approached him. In one hand she held the
bloody helmet-crest, while she pointed with the other to the crouching
form of the girl. Her lips were still parted with their unnatural
smile, and she whispered softly to the Goth--'Remember your promise!--
remember your kindred!--remember the massacre of Aquileia!'

The young warrior made no answer. He moved rapidly forward a few steps,
and signed hurriedly to the young girl to fly by the door; but her
terror had by this time divested her of all her ordinary powers of
perception and comprehension. She looked up vacantly at Hermanric, and
then shuddering violently, crept into a corner of the tent. During the
short silence that now ensued, the Goth could hear her shiver and sigh,
as he stood watching, with all the anxiety of apprehension, Goisvintha's
darkening brow.

'She is Roman--she is the first dweller in the city who has appeared
before you!--remember your promise!--remember your kindred!--remember
the massacre of Aquileia!' said the woman in fierce, quick, concentrated
tones.

'I remember that I am a warrior and a Goth,' replied Hermanric,
disdainfully. 'I have promised to avenge you, but it must be on a man
that my promise must be fulfilled--an armed man, who can come forth with
weapons in his hand--a strong man of courage whom I will slay in single
combat before your eyes! The girl is too young to die, too weak to be
assailed!'

Not a syllable that he had spoken had passed unheeded by the fugitive,
every word seemed to revive her torpid faculties. As he ceased she
arose, and with the quick instinct of terror, ran up to the side of the
young Goth. Then seizing his hand--the hand that still grasped the
battle-axe--she knelt down and kissed it, uttering hurried broken
ejaculations, as she clasped it to her bosom, which the tremulousness of
her voice rendered completely unintelligible.

'Did the Romans think my children too young to die, or too weak to be
assailed?' cried Goisvintha. 'By the Lord God of Heaven, they murdered
them the more willingly because they were young, and wounded them the
more fiercely because they were weak! My heart leaps within me as I
look on the girl! I am doubly avenged, if I am avenged on the innocent
and the youthful! Her bones shall rot on the plains of Rome, as the
bones of my offspring rot on the plains of Aquileia! Shed me her
blood!--Remember your promise!--Shed me her blood!'

She advanced with extended arms and gleaming eyes towards the fugitive.
She gasped for breath, her face turned suddenly to a livid paleness, the
torchlight fell upon her distorted features, she looked unearthly at
that fearful moment; but the divinity of mercy had now braced the
determination of the young Goth to meet all emergencies. His bright
steady eye quailed not for an instant, as he encountered the frantic
glance of the fury before him. With one hand he barred Goisvintha from
advancing another step; the other, he could not disengage from the girl,
who now clasped and kissed it more eagerly than before.

'You do this but to tempt me to anger,' said Goisvintha, altering her
manner with sudden and palpable cunning, more ominous of peril to the
fugitive than the fury she had hitherto displayed. 'You jest at me,
because I have failed in patience, like a child! But you will shed her
blood--you are honourable and will hold to your promise--you will shed
her blood! And I,' she continued, exultingly, seating herself on the
oaken chest that she had previously occupied, and resting her clenched
hands on her knees; 'I will wait to see it!'

At this moment voices and steps were heard outside the tent. Hermanric
instantly raised the trembling girl from the ground, and supporting her
by his arm, advanced to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. He was
confronted the next instant by an old warrior of superior rank, attached
to the person of Alaric, who was followed by a small party of the
ordinary soldiery of the camp.

'Among the women appointed by the king to the office of tending, for
this night, those sick and wounded on the march, is Goisvintha, sister
of Hermanric. If she is here, let her approach and follow me;' said the
chief of the party in authoritative tones, pausing at the door of the
tent.

Goisvintha rose. For an instant she stood irresolute. To quit
Hermanric at such a time as this, was a sacrifice that wrung her savage
heart;--but she remembered the severity of Alaric's discipline, she saw
the armed men awaiting her, and yielded after a struggle to the
imperious necessity of obedience to the king's commands. Trembling with
suppressed anger and bitter disappointment, she whispered to Hermanric
as she passed him:--

'You cannot save her if you would! You dare not commit her to the
charge of your companions, she is too young and too fair to be abandoned
to their doubtful protection. You cannot escape with her, for you must
remain here on the watch at your post. You will not let her depart by
herself, for you know that she would perish with cold and privation
before the morning rises. When I return on the morrow I shall see her in
the tent. You cannot escape from your promise;--you cannot forget it,--
you must shed her blood!'

'The commands of the king,' said the old warrior, signing to his party
to depart with Goisvintha, who now stood with forced calmness awaiting
their guidance: 'will be communicated to the chieftain Hermanric on the
morrow. Remember,' he continued in a lower tone, pointing
contemptuously to the trembling girl; 'that the vigilance you have shown
in setting the watch before yonder gate, will not excuse any negligence
your prize there may now cause you to commit! Consult your youthful
pleasures as you please, but remember your duties! Farewell!'

Uttering these words in a stern, serious tone, the veteran departed.
Soon the last sound of the footsteps of his escort died away, and
Hermanric and the fugitive were left alone in the tent.

During the address of the old warrior to the chieftain, the girl had
silently detached herself from her protector's support, and retired
hastily to the interior of the tent. When she saw that they were left
together again, she advanced hesitatingly towards the young Goth, and
looked up with an expression of mute inquiry into his face.

'I am very miserable,' said she, after an interval of silence, in soft,
clear, melancholy accents. 'If you forsake me now, I must die--and I
have lived so short a time on the earth, I have known so little
happiness and so little love, that I am not fit to die! But you will
protect me! You are good and brave, strong with weapons in your hands,
and full of pity. You have defended me, and spoken kindly of me--I love
you for the compassion you have shown me.'

Her language and actions, simple as they were, were yet so new to
Hermanric, whose experience of her sex had been almost entirely limited
to the women of his own stern impassive nation, that he could only reply
by a brief assurance of protection, when the suppliant awaited his
answer. A new page in the history of humanity was opening before his
eyes, and he scanned it in wondering silence.

'If that woman should return,' pursued the girl, fixing her dark,
eloquent eyes intently upon the Goth's countenance, 'take me quickly
where she cannot come. My heart grows cold as I look on her! She will
kill me if she can approach me again! My father's anger is very
fearful, but hers is horrible--horrible--horrible! Hush! already I hear
her coming back--let us go--I will follow you wherever you please--but
let us not delay while there is time to depart! She will destroy me if
she sees me now, and I cannot die yet! Oh my preserver, my
compassionate defender, I cannot die yet!'

'No one shall harm you--no on shall approach you to-night--you are
secure from all dangers in this tent,' said the Goth, gazing on her with
undissembled astonishment and admiration.

'I will tell you why death is so dreadful to me,' she continued, and her
voice deepened as she spoke, to tones of mournful solemnity, strangely
impressive in a creature so young. 'I have lived much alone, and have
had no companions but my thoughts, and the sky that I could look up to,
and the things on the earth that I could watch. As I have seen the
clear heaven and the soft fields, and smelt the perfume of flowers, and
heard the voices of singing-birds afar off, I have wondered why the same
God who made all this, and made me, should have made grief and pain and
hell--the dread eternal hell that my father speaks of in his church. I
never looked at the sun-light, or woke from my sleep to look on and to
think of the distant stars, but I longed to love something that might
listen to my joy. But my father forbade me to be happy! He frowned
even when he gave me my flower-garden--though God made flowers. He
destroyed my lute--though God made music. My life has been a longing in
loneliness for the voices of friends! My heart has swelled and trembled
within my, because when I walked in the garden and looked on the plains
and woods and high, bright mountains that were round me, I knew that I
loved them alone! Do you know now why I dare not die? It is because I
must find first the happiness which I feel God has made for me. It is
because I must live to praise this wonderful, beautiful world with
others who enjoy it as I could! It is because my home has been among
those who sigh, and never among those who smile! It is for this that I
fear to die! I must find companions whose prayers are in singing and in
happiness, before I go to the terrible hereafter that all dread. I dare
not die! I dare not die!'

As she uttered these last words she began to weep bitterly. Between
amazement and compassion the young Goth was speechless. He looked down
upon the small, soft hand that she had placed on his arm while she
spoke, and saw that it trembled; he pressed it, and felt that it was
cold; and in the first impulse of pity produced by the action, he found
the readiness of speech which he had hitherto striven for in vain.

'You shiver and look pale,' said he; 'a fire shall be kindled at the
door of the tent. I will bring you garments that will warm you, and
food that will give you strength; you shall sleep, and I will watch that
no one harms you.'

The girl hastily looked up. An expression of ineffable gratitude
overspread her sorrowful countenance. She murmured in a broken voice,
'Oh, how merciful, how merciful you are!' And then, after an evident
struggle with herself, she covered her face with her hands, and again
burst into tears.

More and more embarrassed, Hermanric mechanically busied himself in
procuring from such of his attendants as the necessities of the blockade
left free, the supplies of fire, food and raiment, which he had
promised. She received the coverings, approached the blazing fuel, and
partook of the simple refreshment, which the young warrior offered her,
with eagerness. After that she sat for some time silent, absorbed in
deep meditation, and cowering over the fire, apparently unconscious of
the curiosity with which she was still regarded by the Goth. At length
she suddenly looked up, and observing his eyes fixed on her, arose and
beckoned him to the seat that she occupied.

'Did you know how utterly forsaken I am,' said she, 'you would not
wonder as you do, that I, a stranger and a Roman, have sought you thus.
I have told you how lonely was my home; but yet that home was a refuge
and a protection to me until the morning of this long day that is past,
when I was expelled from it for ever! I was suddenly awakened in my bed
by--my father entered in anger--he called me--'

She hesitated, blushed, and then paused at the very outset of her
narrative. Innocent as she was, the natural instincts of her sex spoke,
though in a mysterious yet in a warning tone, within her heart, abruptly
imposing on her motives for silence that she could neither penetrate nor
explain. She clasped her trembling hands over her bosom as if to repress
its heaving, and casting down her eyes, continued in a lower tone:--

I cannot tell you why my father drove me from his doors. He has always
been silent and sorrowful to me; setting me long tasks in mournful
books; commanding that I should not quit the precincts of his abode, and
forbidding me to speak to him when I have sometimes asked him to tell me
of my mother whom I have lost. Yet he never threatened me or drove me
from his side, until the morning of which I have told you. Then his
wrath was terrible; his eyes were fierce; his voice was threatening! He
bade me begone, and I obeyed him in affright, for I thought he would
have slain me if I stayed! I fled from the house, knowing not where I
went, and ran through yonder gate, which is hard by our abode. As I
entered the suburbs, I met great crowds, all hurrying into Rome. I was
bewildered by my fears and the confusion all around, yet I remember that
they called loudly to me to fly to the city, ere the gates were closed
against the assault of the Goths. And others jostled and scoffed at me,
as they passed by and saw me in the thin night garments in which I was
banished from my home!'

Here she paused and listened intently for a few moments. Every
accidental noise that she heard still awakened in her the apprehension
of Goisvintha's return. Reassured by Hermanric and by her own
observation of all that was passing outside the tent, she resumed her
narrative after an interval, speaking now in a steadier voice.

'I thought my heart would burst within me,' she continued, 'as I tried
to escape them. All things whirled before my eyes. I could not speak--
I could not stop--I could not weep. I fled and fled I knew not whither,
until I sank down exhausted at the door of a small house on the
outskirts of the suburbs. Then I called for aid, but no one was by to
hear me. I crept--for I could stand no longer--into the house. It was
empty. I looked from the windows: no human figure passed through the
silent streets. The roar of a mighty confusion still rose from the
walls of the city, but I was left to listen to it alone. In the house I
saw scattered on the floor some fragments of bread and an old garment.
I took them both, and then rose and departed; for the silence of the
place was horrible to me, and I remembered the fields and the plains
that I had once loved to look on, and I thought that I might find there
the refuge that had been denied to me at Rome! So I set forth once more;
and when I gained the soft grass, and sat down beside the shady trees,
and saw the sunlight brightening over the earth, my heart grew sad, and
I wept as I thought on my loneliness and remembered my father's anger.

'I had not long remained in my resting-place, when I heard a sound of
trumpets in the distance, and looking forth, I saw far off, advancing
over the plains, a mighty multitude with arms that glittered in the sun.
I strove, as I beheld them, to arise and return even to those suburbs
whose solitude had affrighted me. But my limbs failed me. I saw a
little hollow hidden among the trees around. I entered it, and there
throughout the lonely day I lay concealed. I heard the long tramp of
footsteps, as your army passed me on the roads beneath; and then, after
those hours of fear came the weary hours of solitude!

'Oh, those--lonely--lonely--lonely hours! I have lived without
companions, but those hours were more terrible to me than all the years
of my former life! I dared not venture to leave my hiding-place--I
dared not call! Alone in the world, I crouched in my refuge till the
sun went down! Then came the mist, and the darkness, and the cold. The
bitter winds of night thrilled through and through me! The lonely
obscurity around me seemed filled with phantoms whom I could not behold,
who touched me and rustled over the surface of my skin! They half
maddened me! I rose to depart; to meet my wrathful father, or the army
that had passed me, or solitude in the cold, bright meadows--I cared not
which!--when I discerned the light of your torch, the moment ere it was
extinguished. Dark though it then was, I found your tent. And now I
know that I have found yet more--a companion and a friend!'

She looked up at the young Goth as she pronounced these words with the
same grateful expression that had appeared on her countenance before;
but this time her eyes were not by tears. Already her disposition--poor
as was the prospect of happiness which now lay before it--had begun to
return, with an almost infantine facility of change, to the restoring
influences of the brighter emotions. Already the short tranquilities of
the present began to exert for her their effacing charm over the long
agitations of the past. Despair was unnumbered among the emotions that
grew round that child-like heart; shame, fear, and grief, however they
might overshadow it for a time, left no taint of their presence on its
bright, fine surface. Tender, perilously alive to sensation, strangely
retentive of kindness as she was by nature, the very solitude to which
she had been condemned had gifted her, young as she was, with a martyr's
endurance of ill, and with a stoic's patience under pain.

'Do not mourn for me now,' she pursued, gently interrupting some broken
expressions of compassion which fell from the lips of the young Goth.
'If you are merciful to me, I shall forget all that I have suffered!
Though your nation is at enmity with mine, while you remain my friend, I
fear nothing! I can look on your great stature, and heavy sword, and
bright armour now without trembling! You are not like to the soldiers
of Rome;--you are taller, stronger, more gloriously arrayed! You are
like a statue I once saw by chance of a warrior of the Greeks! You have
a look of conquest and a presence of command!'

She gazed on the manly and powerful frame of the young warrior, clothed
as it was in the accoutrements of his warlike nation, with an expression
of childish interest and astonishment, asking him the appellation and
use of each part of his equipment, as it attracted her attention, and
ending her inquiries by eagerly demanding his name.

'Hermanric,' she repeated, as he answered her, pronouncing with some
difficulty the harsh Gothic syllables--'Hermanric!--that is a stern,
solemn name--a name fit for a warrior and a man! Mine sounds worthless,
after such a name as that! It is only Antonina!'

Deeply as he was interested in every word uttered by the girl, Hermanric
could no longer fail to perceive the evident traces of exhaustion that
now appeared in the slightest of her actions. Producing some furs from
a corner of the tent, he made a sort of rude couch by the side of the
fire, heaped fresh fuel on the flames, and then gently counselled her to
recruit her wasted energies by repose. There was something so candid in
his manner, so sincere in the tones of his voice, as he made his simple
offer of hospitality to the stranger who had taken refuge with him, that
the most distrustful woman would have accepted with as little hesitation
as Antonina; who, gratefully and unhesitatingly, laid down on the bed
that he had been spreading for her at her feet.

As soon as he had carefully covered her with a cloak, and rearranged her
couch in the position best calculated to insure her all the warmth of
the burning fuel, Hermanric retired to the other side of the fire; and,
leaning on his sword, abandoned himself to the new and absorbing
reflections which the presence of the girl naturally aroused.

He thought not one the duties demanded of him by the blockade; he
remembered neither the scene of rage and ferocity that had followed his
evasion of his reckless promise; nor the fierce determination that
Goisvintha had expressed as she quitted him for the night. The cares
and toils to come with the new morning, which would oblige him to expose
the fugitive to the malignity of her revengeful enemy; the thousand
contingencies that the difference of their sexes, their nations, and
their lives, might create to oppose the continuance of the permanent
protection that he had promised to her, caused him no forebodings.
Antonina, and Antonina alone, occupied every faculty of his mind, and
every feeling of his heart. There was a softness and a melody to his
ear in her very name!

His early life had made him well acquainted with the Latin tongue, but
he had never discovered all its native smoothness of sound, and elegance
of structure, until he had heard it spoken by Antonina. Word by word,
he passed over in his mind her varied, natural, and happy turns of
expression; recalling, as he was thus employed, the eloquent looks, the
rapid gesticulations, the changing tones which had accompanied those
words, and thinking how wide was the difference between this young
daughter of Rome, and the cold and taciturn women of his own nation.
The very mystery enveloping her story, which would have excited the
suspicion or contempt of more civilised men, aroused in him no other
emotions than those of wonder and compassion. No feelings of a lower
nature than these entered his heart towards the girl. She was safe
under the protection of the enemy and the barbarian, after having been
lost through the interference of the Roman and the senator.

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