Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Antonina by Wilkie Collins

Part 4 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

To the simple perceptions of the Goth, the discovery of so much
intelligence united to such extreme youth, of so much beauty doomed to
such utter loneliness, was the discovery of an apparition that dazzled,
and not of a woman who charmed him. He could not even have touched the
hand of the helpless creature, who now reposed under his tent, unless
she had extended it to him of her own accord. He could only think--with
a delight whose excess he was far from estimating himself--on this
solitary mysterious being who had come to him for shelter and for aid;
who had awakened in him already new sources of sensation; and who seemed
to his startled imagination to have suddenly twined herself for ever
about the destinies of his future life.

He was still deep in meditation, when he was startled by a hand suddenly
laid on his arm. He looked up and saw that Antonina, whom he had
imagined to be slumbering on her couch, was standing by his side.

'I cannot sleep,' said the girl in a low, awe-struck voice, 'until I
have asked you to spare my father when you enter Rome. I know that you
are here to ravage the city; and, for aught I can tell, you may assault
and destroy it to-night. Will you promise to warn me before the walls
are assailed? I will then tell you my father's name and abode, and you
will spare him as you have mercifully spared me? He has denied me his
protection, but he is my father still; and I remember that I disobeyed
him once, when I possessed myself of a lute! Will you promise me to
spare him? My mother, whom I have never seen and who must therefore be
dead, may love me in another world for pleading for my father's life!'

In a few words, Hermanric quieted her agitation by explaining to her the
nature and intention of the Gothic blockade, and she silently returned
to the couch. After a short interval, her slow, regular breathing
announced to the young warrior, as he watched by the side of the fire,
that she had at length forgotten the day's heritage of misfortune in the
welcome oblivion of sleep.

CHAPTER 9. THE TWO INTERVIEWS.

The time, is the evening of the first day of the Gothic blockade; the
place, is Vetranio's palace at Rome. In one of the private apartments
of his mansion is seated its all-accomplished owner, released at length
from the long sitting convened by the Senate on the occasion of the
unexpected siege of the city. Although the same complete discipline,
the same elegant regularity, and the same luxurious pomp, which
distinguished the senator's abode in times of security, still prevail
over it in the time of imminent danger which now threatens rich and poor
alike in Rome, Vetranio himself appears far from partaking the
tranquility of his patrician household. His manner displays an unusual
sternness, and his face an unwonted displeasure, as he sits, occupied by
his silent reflections and thoroughly unregardful of whatever occurs
around him. Two ladies who are his companions in the apartment, exert
all their blandishments to win him back to hilarity, but in vain. The
services of his expectant musicians are not put into requisition, the
delicacies on his table remain untouched, and even 'the inestimable
kitten of the breed most worshipped by the ancient Egyptians' gambols
unnoticed and unapplauded at his feet. All its wonted philosophical
equanimity has evidently departed, for the time at least, from the
senator's mind.

Silence--hitherto a stranger to the palace apartments--had reigned
uninterruptedly over them for some time, when the freedman Carrio
dissipated Vetranio's meditations, and put the ladies who were with him
to flight, by announcing in an important voice, that the Prefect
Pompeianus desired a private interview with the Senator Vetranio.

The next instant the chief magistrate of Rome entered the apartment. He
was a short, fat, undignified man. Indolence and vacillation were
legibly impressed on his appearance and expression. You saw, in a
moment, that his mind, like a shuttlecock, might be urged in any
direction by the efforts of others, but was utterly incapable of
volition by itself. But once in his life had the Prefect Pompeianus
been known to arrive unaided at a positive determination, and that was
in deciding a fierce argument between a bishop and a general, regarding
the relative merits of two rival rope-dancers of equal renown.

'I have come, my beloved friend,' said the Prefect in agitated tones,
'to ask your opinion, at this period of awful responsibility for us all,
on the plan of operations proposed by the Senate at the sitting of to-
day! But first,' he hastily continued, perceiving with the unerring
instinct of an old gastronome, that the inviting refreshments on
Vetranio's table had remained untouched, 'permit me to fortify my
exhausted energies by a visit to your ever-luxurious board. Alas, my
friend, when I consider the present fearful scarcity of our provision
stores in the city, and the length of time that this accursed blockade
may be expected to last, I am inclined to think that the gods alone know
(I mean St. Peter) how much longer we may be enabled to give occupation
to our digestions and employment to our cooks.

'I have observed,' pursued the Prefect, after an interval, speaking with
his mouth full of stewed peacock; 'I have observed, oh esteemed
colleague! the melancholy of your manner and your absolute silence
during your attendance to-day at our deliberations. Have we, in your
opinion, decided erroneously? It is not impossible! Our confusion at
this unexpected appearance of the barbarians may have blinded our usual
penetration! If by any chance you dissent from our plans, I beseech you
communicate your objections to me without reserve!'

'I dissent from nothing, because I have heard nothing,' replied Vetranio
sullenly. 'I was so occupied by a private matter of importance during
my attendance at the sitting of the Senate, that I was deaf to their
deliberations. I know that we are besieged by the Goths--why are they
not driven from before the walls?'

'Deaf to our deliberations! Drive the Goths from the walls!' repeated
the Prefect faintly. 'Can you think of any private matter at such a
moment as this? Do you know our danger? Do you know that our friends
are so astonished at this frightful calamity, that they move about like
men half awakened from a dream? Have you not seen the streets filled
with terrified and indignant crowds? Have you not mounted the ramparts
and beheld the innumerable multitudes of pitiless Goths surrounding us
on all sides, intercepting our supplies of provisions from the country,
and menacing us with a speedy famine, unless our hoped-for auxiliaries
arrive from Ravenna?'

'I have neither mounted the ramparts, nor viewed with any attention the
crowds in the streets,' replied Vetranio, carelessly.

'But if you have seen nothing yourself, you must have heard what others
saw,' persisted the Prefect; 'you must know at least that the legions we
have in the city are not sufficient to guard more than half the circuit
of the walls. Has no one informed you that if it should please the
leader of the barbarians to change his blockade into an assault, it is
more than probable that we should be unable to repulse him successfully?
Are you still deaf to our deliberations, when your palace may to-morrow
be burnt over your head, when we may be staved to death, when we may be
doomed to eternal dishonour by being driven to conclude a peace? Deaf
to our deliberations, when such an unimaginable calamity as this
invasion has fallen like a thunderbolt under our very walls! You amaze
me! You overwhelm me! You horrify me!'

And in the excess of his astonishment the bewildered Prefect actually
abandoned his stewed peacock, and advanced, wine-cup in hand, to obtain
a nearer view of the features of his imperturbable host.

'If we are not strong enough to drive the Goths out of Italy,' rejoined
Vetranio coolly, 'you and the Senate know that we are rich enough to
bribe them to depart to the remotest confines of the empire. If we have
not swords enough to fight, we have gold and silver enough to pay.'

'You are jesting! Remember our honour and the auxiliaries we still hope
for from Ravenna,' said the Prefect reprovingly.

'Honour has lost the signification now, that it had in the time of the
Caesars,' retorted the Senator. 'Our fighting days are over. We have
had heroes enough for our reputation. As for the auxiliaries you still
hope for, you will have none! While the Emperor is safe in Ravenna, he
will care nothing for the worst extremities that can be suffered by the
people of Rome.'

'But you forget your duties,' urged the astonished Pompeianus, turning
from rebuke to expostulation. 'You forget that it is a time when all
private interests must be abandoned! You forget that I have come here
to ask your advice, that I am bewildered by a thousand projects, forced
on me from all sides, for ruling the city successfully during the
blockade; that I look to you, as a friend and a man of reputation, to
aid me in deciding on a choice out of the varied counsels submitted to
me in the Senate to-day.'

'Write down the advice of each senator on a separate strip of vellum;
shake all the strips together in an urn; and then, let the first you
take out by chance, be your guide to govern by in the present condition
of the city!' said Vetranio with a sneer.

'Oh friend, friend! it is cruel to jest with me thus!' cried the
Prefect, in tones of lament; 'Would you really persuade me that you are
ignorant that what sentinels we have, are doubled already on the walls?
Would you attempt to declare seriously to me, that you never heard the
project of Saturninus for reducing imperceptibly the diurnal allowance
of provisions? Or the recommendation of Emilianus, that the people
should be kept from thinking on the dangers and extremities which now
threaten them, by being provided incessantly with public amusements at
the theatres and hippodromes? Do you really mean that you are
indifferent to the horrors of our present situation? By the souls of
the Apostles, Vetranio, I begin to think that you do not believe in the
Goths!'

'I have already told you that private affairs occupy me at present, to
the exclusion of public,' said Vetranio impatiently. 'Debate as you
choose--approve what projects you will--I withdraw myself from
interference in your deliberations!'

'This,' murmured the repulsed Prefect in soliloquy, as he mechanically
resumed his place at the refreshment table, 'this is the very end and
climax of all calamities! Now, when advice and assistance are more
precious than jewels in my estimation, I receive neither! I gain from
none, the wise and saving counsels which, as chief magistrate of this
Imperial City, it is my right to demand from all; and the man on whom I
most depended is the man who fails me most! Yet hear me, oh Vetranio,
once again,' he continued, addressing the Senator, 'if our perils beyond
the walls affect you not, there is a weighty matter that has been
settled within them, which must move you. After you had quitted the
Senate, Serena, the widow of Stilicho, was accused, as her husband was
accused before her, of secret and treasonable correspondence with the
Goths; and has been condemned, as her husband was condemned, to suffer
the penalty of death. I myself discerned no evidence to convict her;
but the populace cried out, in universal frenzy, that she was guilty,
that she should die; and that the barbarians, when they heard of the
punishment inflicted on their secret adherent, would retire in dismay
from Rome. This also was a moot point of argument, on which I vainly
endeavoured to decide; but the Senate and the people were wiser than I;
and Serena was condemned to be strangled to-morrow by the public
executioner. She was a woman of good report before this time, and is
the adopted mother of the Emperor. It is now doubted by many whether
Stilicho, her husband, was ever guilty of the correspondence with the
Goths, of which he was accused; and I, on my part, doubt much that
Serena has deserved the punishment of death at our hands. I beseech
you, Vetranio, let me be enlightened by your opinion on this one point
at least!'

The Prefect waited anxiously for an answer, but Vetranio neither looked
at him nor replied. It was evident that the Senator had not listened to
a word that he had said!

This reception of his final appeal for assistance, produced the effect
on the petitioner, which it was perhaps designed to convey--the Prefect
Pompeianus quitted the room in despair.

He had not long departed, when Carrio again entered the apartment, and
addressed his master thus:

'It is grievous for me, revered patron, to disclose it to you, but your
slaves have returned unsuccessful from the search!'

'Give the description of the girl to a fresh division of them, and let
them continue their efforts throughout the night, not only in the
streets, but in all the houses of public entertainment in the city. She
must be in Rome, and she must be found!' said the senator gloomily.

Carrio bowed profoundly, and was about to depart, when he was arrested
at the door by his master's voice.

'If an old man, calling himself Numerian, should desire to see me,' said
Vetranio, 'admit him instantly.'

'She had quitted the room but a short time when I attempted to reclaim
her,' pursued the senator, speaking to himself; 'and yet when I gained
the open air, she was nowhere to be seen! She must have mingled
unintentionally with the crowds whom the Goths drove into the city, and
thus have eluded my observation! So young and so innocent! She must be
found! She must be found!'

He paused, once more engrossed in deep and melancholy thought. After a
long interval, he was roused form his abstraction by the sound of
footsteps on the marble floor. He looked up. The door had been opened
without his perceiving it, and an old man was advancing with slow and
trembling steps towards his silken couch. It was the bereaved and
broken-hearted Numerian.

'Where is she? Is she found?' asked the father, gazing anxiously round
the room, as if he had expected to see his daughter there.

'My slaves still search for her,' said Vetranio, mournfully.

'Ah, woe--woe--woe! How I wronged her! How I wronged her!' cried the
old man, turning to depart.

'Listen to me ere you go,' said Vetranio, gently detaining him. 'I have
done you a great wrong, but I will yet atone for it by finding for you
your child! While there were women who would have triumphed in my
admiration, I should not have attempted to deprive you of your daughter!
Remember when you recover her--and you shall recover her--that from the
time when I first decoyed her into listening to my lute, to the night
when your traitorous servant led me to her bed-chamber, she has been
innocent in this ill-considered matter. I alone have been guilty! She
was scarcely awakened when you discovered her in my arms, and my entry
into her chamber, was as little expected by her, as it was by you. I
was bewildered by the fumes of wine and the astonishment of your sudden
appearance, or I should have rescued her from your anger, ere it was too
late! The events which have passed this morning, confused though they
were, have yet convinced me that I had mistaken you both. I now know
that your child was too pure to be an object fitted for my pursuit; and
I believe that in secluding her as you did, however ill-advised you
might appear, you were honest in your design! Never in my pursuit of
pleasure did I commit so fatal an error, as when I entered the doors of
your house!'

In pronouncing these words, Vetranio but gave expression to the
sentiments by which they were really inspired. As we have before
observed, profligate as he was by thoughtlessness of character and
license of social position, he was neither heartless nor criminal by
nature. Fathers had stormed, but his generosity had hitherto invariably
pacified them. Daughters had wept, but had found consolation on all
previous occasions in the splendour of his palace and the amiability of
his disposition. In attempting, therefore, the abduction of Antonina,
though he had prepared for unusual obstacles, he had expected no worse
results of his new conquest, than those that had followed, as yet, his
gallantries that were past. But, when--in the solitude of his own home,
and in the complete possession of his faculties--he recalled all the
circumstances of his attempt, from the time when he had stolen on the
girl's slumbers, to the moment when she had fled from the house; when he
remembered the stern concentrated anger of Numerian, and the agony and
despair of Antonina; when he thought on the spirit-broken repentance of
the deceived father, and the fatal departure of the injured daughter, he
felt as a man who had not merely committed an indiscretion, but had been
guilty of a crime; he became convinced that he had incurred the fearful
responsibility of destroying the happiness of a parent who was really
virtuous, and a child who was truly innocent. To a man, the business of
whose whole life was to procure for himself a heritage of unalloyed
pleasure, whose sole occupation was to pamper that refined sensuality
which the habits of a life had made the very material of his heart, by
diffusing luxury and awakening smiles wherever he turned his steps, the
mere mental disquietude attending the ill-success of his intrusion into
Numerian's dwelling, was as painful in its influence, as the bitterest
remorse that could have afflicted a more highly-principled mind. He
now, therefore, instituted the search after Antonina, and expressed his
contrition to her father, from a genuine persuasion that nothing but the
completest atonement for the error he had committed, could restore to
him that luxurious tranquility, the loss of which had, as he had himself
expressed it, rendered him deaf to the deliberations of the Senate, and
regardless of the invasion of the Goths.

'Tell me,' he continued, after a pause, 'whither has Ulpius betaken
himself? It is necessary that he should be discovered. He may
enlighten us upon the place of Antonina's retreat. He shall be secured
and questioned.'

'He left me suddenly; I saw him as I stood at the window, mix with the
multitude in the street, but I know not whither he is gone,' replied
Numerian; and a tremor passed over his whole frame as he spoke of the
remorseless Pagan.

Again there was a short silence. The grief of the broken-spirited
father, possessed in its humility and despair, a voice of rebuke, before
which the senator, careless and profligate as he was, instinctively
quailed. For some time he endeavoured in vain to combat the silencing
and reproving influence, exerted over him by the very presence of the
sorrowing man whom he had so fatally wronged. At length, after an
interval, he recovered self-possession enough to address to Numerian
some further expressions of consolation and hope; but he spoke to ears
that listened not. The father had relapsed into his mournful
abstraction; and when the senator paused, he merely muttered to
himself--'She is lost! Alas, she is lost for ever!'

'No, she is not lost for ever,' cried Vetranio, warmly. 'I have wealth
and power enough to cause her to be sought for to the ends of the earth!
Ulpius shall be secured and questioned--imprisoned, tortured, if it is
necessary. Your daughter shall be recovered. Nothing is impossible to
a senator of Rome!'

'I knew not that I loved her, until the morning when I wronged and
banished her!' continued the old man, still speaking to himself. 'I
have lost all traces of my parents and my brother--my wife is parted
from me for ever--I have nothing left but Antonina; and now too she is
gone! Even my ambition, that I once thought my all in all, is no
comfort to my soul; for I loved it--alas! unconsciously loved it--
through the being of my child! I destroyed her lute--I thought her
shameless--I drove her from my doors! Oh, how I wronged her!--how I
wronged her!'

'Remain here, and repose yourself in one of the sleeping apartments,
until my slaves return in the morning. You will then hear without delay
of the result of their search to-night,' said Vetranio, in kindly and
compassionate tones.

'It grows dark--dark!' groaned the father, tottering towards the door;
'but that is nothing; daylight itself now looks darkness to me! I must
go: I have duties at the chapel to perform. Night is repose for you--
for me, it is tribulation and prayer!'

He departed as he spoke. Slowly he paced along the streets that led to
his chapel, glancing with penetrating eye at each inhabitant of the
besieged city who passed him on his way. With some difficulty he
arrived at his destination; for Rome was still thronged with armed men
hurrying backwards and forwards, and with crowds of disorderly citizens
pouring forth, wherever there was space enough for them to assemble.
The report of the affliction that had befallen him had already gone
abroad among his hearers, and they whispered anxiously to each other as
he entered the plain, dimly-lighted chapel, and slowly mounted the
pulpit to open the service, by reading the chapter in the Bible which
had been appointed for perusal that night, and which happened to be the
fifth of the Gospel of St. Mark. His voice trembled, his face was
ghastly pale, and his hands shook perceptibly as he began; but he read
on, in low, broken tones, and with evident pain and difficulty, until he
came to the verse containing these words: 'My little daughter lieth at
the point of death.' Here he stopped suddenly, endeavoured vainly for a
few minutes to proceed, and then, covering his face with his hands, sank
down in the pulpit and sobbed aloud. His sorrowing and startled audience
immediately gathered round him, raised him in their arms, and prepared
to conduct him to his own abode. When, however, they had gained the
door of the chapel, he desired them gently, to leave him and return to
the performance of the service among themselves. Ever implicitly
obedient to his slightest wishes, the persons of his little assembly,
moved to tears by the sight of their teacher's suffering, obeyed him, by
retiring silently to their former places. As soon as he found that he
was alone, he passed the door; and whispering to himself, 'I must join
those who seek her! I must aid them myself in the search!'--he mingled
once more with the disorderly citizens who thronged the darkened
streets.

CHAPTER 10. THE RIFT IN THE WALL.

When Ulpius suddenly departed from Numerian's house on the morning of
the siege, it was with no distinct intention of betaking himself to any
particular place, or devoting himself to any immediate employment. It
was to give vent to his joy--to the ecstacy that now filled his heart to
bursting--that he sought the open streets. His whole moral being was
exalted by that overwhelming sense of triumph, which urges the physical
nature into action. He hurried into the free air, as a child runs on a
bright day in the wide fields; his delight was too wild to expand under
a roof; his excess of bliss swelled irrepressibly beyond all artificial
limits of space.

The Goths were in sight! A few hours more, and their scaling ladders
would be planted against the walls. On a city so weakly guarded as
Rome, their assault must be almost instantaneously successful.
Thirsting for plunder, they would descend in infuriated multitudes on
the defenceless streets. Christians though they were, the restraints of
religion would, in that moment of fierce triumph, be powerless with such
a nation of marauders against the temptations to pillage. Churches
would be ravaged and destroyed; priests would be murdered in attempting
the defence of their ecclesiastical treasures; fire and sword would
waste to its remotest confines the stronghold of Christianity, and
overwhelm in death and oblivion the boldest of Christianity's devotees!
Then, when the hurricane of ruin and crime had passed over the city,
when a new people were ripe for another government and another
religion--then would be the time to invest the banished gods of old Rome
with their former rule; to bid the survivors of the stricken multitude
remember the judgment that their apostacy to their ancient faith had
demanded and incurred; to strike the very remembrance of the Cross out
of the memory of man; and to reinstate Paganism on her throne of
sacrifices, and under her roof of gold, more powerful from her past
persecutions; more universal in her sudden restoration, than in all the
glories of her ancient rule!

Such thoughts as these passed through the Pagan's toiling mind as,
unobservant of all outward events, he paced through the streets of the
beleaguered city. Already he beheld the array of the Goths preparing
the way, as the unconscious pioneers of the returning gods, for the
march of that mighty revolution which he was determined to lead. The
warmth of his past eloquence, the glow of his old courage, thrilled
through his heart, as he figured to himself the prospect that would soon
stretch before him--a city laid waste, a people terrified, a government
distracted, a religion destroyed. Then, arising amid this darkness and
ruin; amid this solitude, desolation, and decay, it would be his
glorious privilege to summon an unfaithful people to return to the
mistress of their ancient love; to rise from prostration beneath a
dismantled Church; and to seek prosperity in temples repeopled and at
shrines restored!

All remembrance of late events now entirely vanished from his mind.
Numerian, Vetranio, Antonina, they were all forgotten in this memorable
advent of the Goths! His slavery in the mines, his last visit to
Alexandria, his earlier wanderings--even these, so present to his memory
until the morning of the siege, were swept from its very surface now.
Age, solitude, infirmity--hitherto the mournful sensations which were
proofs to him that he still continued to exist--suddenly vanished from
his perceptions, as things that were not; and now at length he forgot
that he was an outcast, and remembered triumphantly that he was still a
priest. He felt animated by the same hopes, elevated by the same
aspirations, as in those early days when he had harangued the wavering
Pagans in the Temple, and first plotted the overthrow of the Christian
Church.

It was a terrible and warning proof of the omnipotent influence that a
single idea may exercise over a whole life, to see that old man
wandering among the crowds around him, still enslaved, after years of
suffering and solitude, degradation, and crime, by the same ruling
ambition, which had crushed the promise of his early youth! It was an
awful testimony to the eternal and mysterious nature of thought, to
behold that wasted and weakened frame; and then to observe how the
unassailable mind within still swayed the wreck of body yet left to it--
how faithfully the last exhausted resources of failing vigour rallied
into action at its fierce command--how quickly, at its mocking voice,
the sunken eye lightened again with a gleam of hope, and the pale, thin
lips parted mechanically with an exulting smile!

The hours passed, but he still walked on--whither or among whom he
neither knew nor cared. No remorse touched his heart for the
destruction that he had wreaked on the Christian who had sheltered him;
no terror appalled his soul at the contemplation of the miseries that he
believed to be in preparation for the city from the enemy at its gates.
The end that had hallowed to him the long series of his former offences
and former sufferings, now obliterated iniquities just passed, and
stripped of all their horrors, atrocities immediately to come.

The Goths might be destroyers to others, but they were benefactors to
him; for they were harbingers of the ruin which would be the material of
his reform, and the source of his triumph. It never entered his
imagination that, as an inhabitant of Rome, he shared the approaching
perils of the citizens, and in the moment of the assault might share
their doom. He beheld only the new and gorgeous prospect that war and
rapine were opening before him. He thought only of the time that must
elapse ere his new efforts could be commenced--of the orders of the
people among whom he should successively make his voice heard--of the
temples which he should select for restoration--of the quarter of Rome
which should first be chosen for the reception of his daring reform.

At length he paused; his exhausted energies yielded under the exertions
imposed on them, and obliged him to bethink himself of refreshment and
repose. It was now noon. The course of his wanderings had insensibly
conducted him again to the precincts of his old, familiar dwelling-
place; he found himself at the back of the Pincian Mount, and only
separated by a strip of uneven woody ground, from the base of the city
wall. The place was very solitary. It was divided from the streets and
mansions above by thick groves and extensive gardens, which stretched
along the undulating descent of the hill. A short distance to the
westward lay the Pincian Gate, but an abrupt turn in the wall and some
olive trees which grew near it, shut out all view of objects in that
direction. On the other side, towards the eastward, the ramparts were
discernible, running in a straight line of some length, until they
suddenly turned inwards at a right angle and were concealed from further
observation by the walls of a distant palace and the pine trees of a
public garden. The only living figure discernible near this lonely
spot, was that of a sentinel, who occasionally passed over the ramparts
above, which--situated as they were between two stations of soldiery,
one at the Pincian Gate and the other where the wall made the angle
already described--were untenanted, save by the guard within the limits
of whose watch they happened to be placed. Here, for a short space of
time, the Pagan rested his weary frame, and aroused himself insensibly
from the enthralling meditations which had hitherto blinded him to the
troubled aspect of the world around him.

He now for the first time heard on all sides distinctly, the confused
noises which still rose from every quarter of Rome. The same incessant
strife of struggling voices and hurrying footsteps, which had caught his
ear in the early morning, attracted his attention now; but no shrieks of
distress, no clash of weapons, no shouts of fury and defiance, were
mingled with them; although, as he perceived by the position of the sun,
the day had sufficiently advanced to have brought the Gothic army long
since to the foot of the walls. What could be the cause of this delay
in the assault; of this ominous tranquillity on the ramparts above him?
Had the impetuosity of the Goths suddenly vanished at the sight of Rome?
Had negotiations for peace been organised with the first appearance of
the invaders? He listened again. No sounds caught his ear differing in
character from those he had just heard. Though besieged, the city was
evidently--from some mysterious cause--not even threatened by an
assault.

Suddenly there appeared from a little pathway near him, which led round
the base of the wall, a woman preceded by a child, who called to her
impatiently, as he ran on, 'Hasten, mother, hasten! There is no crowd
here. Yonder is the Gate. We shall have a noble view of the Goths!'

There was something in the address of the child to the woman that gave
Ulpius a suspicion, even then, of the discovery that flushed upon him
soon after. He rose and followed them. They passed onward by the wall,
through the olive trees beyond, and then gained the open space before
the Pincian Gate. Here a great concourse of people had assembled, and
were suffered, in their proper turn, to ascend the ramparts in
divisions, by some soldiers who guarded the steps by which they were
approached. After a short delay, Ulpius and those around him were
permitted to gratify their curiosity, as others had done before them.
They mounted the walls, and beheld, stretched over the ground within and
beyond the suburbs, the vast circumference of the Gothic lines.

Terrible and almost sublime as was the prospect of that immense
multitude, seen under the brilliant illumination of the noontide sun, it
was not impressive enough to silence the turbulent loquacity rooted in
the dispositions of the people of Rome. Men, women, and children, all
made their noisy and conflicting observations on the sight before them,
in every variety of tone, from the tremulous accents of terror, to the
loud vociferations of bravado.

Some spoke boastfully of the achievements that would be performed by the
Romans, when their expected auxiliaries arrived from Ravenna. Others
foreboded, in undissembled terror, an assault under cover of the night.
Here, a group abused, in low confidential tones, the policy of the
government in its relations with the Goths. There, a company of ragged
vagabonds amused themselves by pompously confiding to each other their
positive conviction, that at that very moment the barbarians must be
trembling in their camp, at the mere sight of the all-powerful Capital
of the World. In one direction, people were heard noisily speculating
whether the Goths would be driven from the walls by the soldiers of
Rome, or be honoured by an invitation to conclude a peace with the
august Empire, which they had so treasonably ventured to invade. In
another, the more sober and reputable among the spectators audibly
expressed their apprehensions of starvation, dishonour, and defeat,
should the authorities of the city be foolhardy enough to venture a
resistance to Alaric and his barbarian hosts. But wide as was the
difference of the particular opinions hazarded among the citizens, they
all agreed in one unavoidable conviction, that Rome had escaped the
immediate horrors of an assault, to be threatened--if unaided by the
legions at Ravenna--by the prospective miseries of a blockade.

Amid the confusion of voices around him, that word 'blockade' alone
reached the Pagan's ear. It brought with it a flood of emotions that
overwhelmed him. All that he saw, all that he heard, connected itself
imperceptibly with that expression. a sudden darkness, neither to be
dissipated nor escaped, seemed to obscure his faculties in an instant.
He struggled mechanically through the crowd, descended the steps of the
ramparts, and returned to the solitary spot where he had first beheld
the woman and the child.

The city was blockaded! The Goths were bent then, on obtaining a peace
and not on achieving a conquest! The city was blockaded! It was no
error of the ignorant multitude--he had seen with his own eyes the tents
and positions of the enemy, he had heard the soldiers on the wall
discoursing on the admirable disposition of Alaric's forces, on the
impossibility of obtaining the smallest communication with the
surrounding country, on the vigilant watch that had been set over the
navigation of the Tiber. There was no doubt on the matter--the
barbarians had determined on a blockade!

There was even less uncertainty upon the results which would be produced
by this unimaginable policy of the Goths--the city would be saved! Rome
had not scrupled in former years to purchase the withdrawal of all
enemies from her distant provinces; and now that the very centre of her
glory, the very pinnacle of her declining power, was threatened with
sudden and unexpected ruin, she would lavish on the Goths the treasures
of the whole empire, to bribe them to peace and to tempt them to
retreat. The Senate might possibly delay the necessary concessions,
from hopes of assistance that would never be realised; but sooner or
later the hour of negotiation would arrive; northern rapacity would be
satisfied with southern wealth; and in the very moment when it seemed
inevitable, the ruin from which the Pagan revolution was to derive its
vigorous source, would be diverted from the churches of Rome.

Could the old renown of the Roman name have retained so much of its
ancient influence as to daunt the hardy Goths, after they had so
successfully penetrated the empire as to have reached the walls of its
vaunted capital? Could Alaric have conceived so exaggerated an idea of
the strength of the forces in the city as to despair, with all his
multitudes, of storming it with success? It could not be otherwise! No
other consideration could have induced the barbarian general to abandon
such an achievement as the destruction of Rome. With the chance of an
assault the prospects of Paganism had brightened--with the certainty of
a blockade, they sunk immediately into disheartening gloom!

Filled with these thoughts, Ulpius paced backwards and forwards in his
solitary retreat, utterly abandoned by the exaltation of feeling which
had restored to his faculties in the morning, the long-lost vigour of
their former youth. Once more, he experienced the infirmities of his
age; once more he remembered the miseries that had made his existence
one unending martyrdom; once more he felt the presence of his ambition
within him, like a judgment that he was doomed to welcome, like a curse
that he was created to cherish. To say that his sensations at this
moment were those of the culprit who hears the order for his execution
when he had been assured of a reprieve, is to convey but a faint idea of
the fierce emotions of rage, grief, and despair, that now united to rend
the Pagan's heart.

Overpowered with weariness both of body and mind, he flung himself down
under the shade of some bushes that clothed the base of the wall above
him. As he lay there--so still in his heavy lassitude that life itself
seemed to have left him--one of the long green lizards, common to Italy,
crawled over his shoulder. He seized the animal--doubtful for the
moment whether it might not be of the poisonous species--and examined
it. At the first glance he discovered that it was of the harmless order
of its race, and would have flung it carelessly from him, but for
something in its appearance which, in the wayward irritability of his
present mood, he felt a strange and sudden pleasure in contemplating.

Through its exquisitely marked and transparent skin he could perceive
the action of the creature's heart, and saw that it was beating
violently, in the agony of fear caused to the animal by its imprisonment
in his hand. As he looked on it, and thought how continually a being so
timid must be thwarted in its humble anxieties, in its small efforts, in
its little journeys from one patch of grass to another, by a hundred
obstacles, which, trifles though they might be to animals of a higher
species, were yet of fatal importance to creatures constituted like
itself, he began to find an imperfect, yet remarkable analogy between
his own destiny and that of this small unit of creation. He felt that,
in its petty sphere, the short life of the humble animal before him must
have been the prey of crosses and disappointments, as serious to it, as
the more severed and destructive afflictions of which he, in his
existence, had been the victim; and, as he watched the shadow-like
movement of the little fluttering heart of the lizard, he experienced a
cruel pleasure in perceiving that there were other beings in the
creation, even down to the most insignificant, who inherited a part of
his misery, and suffered a portion of his despair.

Ere long, however, his emotions took a sterner and a darker hue. The
sight of the animal wearied him, and he flung it contemptuously aside.
It disappeared in the direction of the ramparts; and almost at the same
moment he heard a slight sound, resembling the falling of several minute
particles of brick or light stone, which seemed to come from the wall
behind him.

That such a noise should proceed from so massive a structure appeared
unaccountable. He rose, and, parting the bushes before him, advanced
close to the surface of the lofty wall. To his astonishment, he found
that the brickwork had in many places so completely mouldered away, that
he could move it easily with his fingers. The cause of the trifling
noise that he had heard was now fully explained: hundreds of lizards
had made their homes between the fissures of the bricks; the animal that
he had permitted to escape had taken refuge in one of these cavities,
and in the hurry of its flight had detached several of the loose
crumbling fragments that surrounded its hiding-place.

No content, however, with the discovery he had already made, he retired
a little, and, looking stedfastly up through some trees which in this
particular place grew at the foot of the wall, he saw that its surface
was pierced in many places by great irregular rifts, some of which
extended nearly to its whole height. In addition to this, he perceived
that the mass of the structure at one particular point, leaned
considerably out of the perpendicular. Astounded at what he beheld, he
took a stick from the ground, and inserting it in one of the lowest and
smallest of the cracks, easily succeeded in forcing it entirely into the
wall, part of which seemed to be hollow, and part composed of the same
rotten brickwork which had at first attracted his attention.

It was now evident that the whole structure, over a breadth of several
yards, had been either weakly and carelessly built, or had at some
former period suffered a sudden and violent shock. He left the stick in
the wall to mark the place; and was about to retire, when he heard the
footstep of the sentinel on the rampart immediately above. Suddenly
cautious, though from what motive he would have been at that moment
hardly able to explain, he remained in the concealment of the trees and
bushes, until the guard had passed onward; then he cautiously emerged
from the place; and, retiring to some distance, fell into a train of
earnest and absorbing thought.

To account to the reader for the phenomenon which now engrossed the
Pagan's attention, it will be necessary to make a brief digression to
the history of the walls of Rome.

The circumference of the first fortifications of the city, built by
Romulus, was thirteen miles. The greater part, however, of this large
area was occupied by fields and gardens, which it was the object of the
founder of the empire to preserve for arable purposes, from the
incursions of the different enemies by whom he was threatened from
without. As Rome gradually increased in size, its walls were
progressively enlarged and altered by subsequent rulers. But it was not
until the reign of the Emperor Aurelian (A.D. 270), that any
extraordinary or important change was effected in the defences of the
city. That potentate commenced the erection of walls, twenty-one miles
in circumference, which were finally completed in the reign of Probus
(A.D. 276), were restored by Belisarius (A.D. 537), and are to be seen
in detached portions, in the fortifications of the modern city, to the
present day.

At the date of our story, then (A.D. 408), the walls remained precisely
as they had been constructed in the reigns of Aurelian and Probus. They
were for the most part made of brick; and in a few places, probably, a
sort of soft sandstone might have been added to the pervading material.
At several points in their circumference, and particularly in the part
behind the Pincian Hill, these walls were built in arches, forming deep
recesses, and occasionally disposed in double rows. The method of
building employed in their erection, was generally that mentioned by
Vitruvius, in whose time it originated, as 'opus reticulatum'.

The 'opus reticulatum' was composed of small bricks (or stones) set
together on their angles, instead of horizontally, and giving the
surface of a wall the appearance of a sort of solid network. This was
considered by some architects of antiquity a perishable mode of
construction; and Vitruvius asserts that some buildings where he had
seen it used, had fallen down. From the imperfect specimens of it which
remain in modern times, it would be difficult to decide upon its merits.
That it was assuredly insufficient to support the weight of the bank of
the Pincian Mount, which rose immediately behind it, in the solitary
spot described some pages back, is still made evident by the appearance
of the wall at that part of the city, which remains in modern times bent
out of the perpendicular, and cracked in some places almost from top to
bottom. This ruin is now known to the present race of Italians, under
the expressive title of 'Il Muro Torto' or, The Crooked Wall.

We may here observe that it is extremely improbable that the existence
of this natural breach in the fortifications of Rome was noticed, or if
noticed, regarded with the slightest anxiety or attention by the
majority of the careless and indolent inhabitants, at the period of the
present romance. It is supposed to have been visible as early as the
time of Aurelian, but is only particularly mentioned by Procopius, an
historian of the sixth century, who relates that Belisarius, in
strengthening the city against a siege of the Goths, attempted to repair
this weak point in the wall, but was hindered in his intended labour by
the devout populace, who declared that it was under the peculiar
protection of St. Peter, and that it would be consequently impious to
meddle with it. The general submitted without remonstrance to the
decision of the inhabitants, and found no cause afterwards to repent of
his facility of compliance; for, to use the translated words of the
writer above-mentioned, 'During the siege neither the enemy nor the
Romans regarded this place.' It is to be supposed that so extraordinary
an event as this, gave the wall that sacred character, which deterred
subsequent rulers from attempting its repair; which permitted it to
remain crooked and rent through the convulsions of the middle ages; and
which still preserves it, to attest the veracity of historians, by
appealing to the antiquarian curiosity of the traveller of modern times.

We now return to Ulpius. It is a peculiarity observable in the
characters of men living under the ascendancy of one ruling idea, that
they intuitively distort whatever attracts their attention in the outer
world, into a connection more or less intimate with the single object of
their mental contemplation. since the time when he had been exiled from
the Temple, the Pagan's faculties had, unconsciously to himself, acted
solely in reference to the daring design which it was the business of
his whole existence to entertain. Influenced, therefore, by this
obliquity of moral feeling, he had scarcely reflected on the discovery
that he had just made at the base of the city wall, ere his mind
instantly reverted to the ambitious meditations which had occupied it in
the morning; and the next moment, the first dawning conception of a bold
and perilous project began to absorb his restless thoughts.

He reflected on the peculiarities and position of the wall before him.
Although the widest and most important of the rents which he had
observed in it, existed too near the rampart to be reached without the
assistance of a ladder, there were others as low as the ground, which he
knew, by the result of the trial he had already made, might be
successfully and immensely widened by the most ordinary exertion and
perseverance. The interior of the wall, if judged by the condition of
the surface, could offer no insuperable obstacles to an attempt at
penetration so partial as to be limited to a height and width of a few
feet. The ramparts, from their position between two guard-houses, would
be unencumbered by an inquisitive populace. The sentinel, within the
limits of whose allotted watch it happened to fall, would, when night
came on, be the only human being likely to pass the spot; and at such an
hour his attention must necessarily be fixed--in the circumstances under
which the city was now placed--on the prospect beyond, rather than on
the ground below and behind him. It seemed, therefore, almost a matter
of certainty, that a cautious man, labouring under cover of the night,
might pursue whatever investigations he pleased at the base of the wall.

He examined the ground where he now stood. Nothing could be more lonely
than its present appearance. The private gardens on the hill above it
shut out all communication from that quarter. It could only be
approached by the foot-path that ran round the Pincian Mount, and along
the base of the walls. In the state of affairs now existing in the
city, it was not probable that any one would seek this solitary place,
whence nothing could be seen, and where little could be heard, in
preference to mixing with the spirit-stirring confusion in the streets,
or observing the Gothic encampment from such positions on the ramparts
as were easily attainable to all. In addition to the secresy offered by
the loneliness of this patch of ground to whatever employments were
undertaken on it, was the further advantage afforded by the trees and
thickets which covered its lower end, and which would effectually screen
an intruder, during the darkness of night, from the most penetrating
observation directed from the wall above.

Reflecting thus, he doubted not that a cunning and determined man might
with impunity so far widen any one of the inferior breaches in the lower
part of the wall as to make a cavity (large enough to admit a human
figure) that should pierce to its outer surface, and afford that liberty
of departing from the city and penetrating the Gothic camp which the
closed gates now denied to all the inhabitants alike. To discover the
practicability of such an attempt as this was, to a mind filled with
such aspirations as the Pagan's, to determine irrevocably on its
immediate execution. He resolved as soon as night approached to begin
his labours on the wall; to seek--if the breach were made good, and the
darkness favoured him--the tent of Alaric; and once arrived there, to
acquaint the Gothic King with the weakness of the materials for defence
within the city, and dilapidated condition of the fortifications below
the Pincian Mount, insisting, as the condition of his treachery, on an
assurance from the barbarian leader (which he doubted not would be
gladly and instantly accorded) of the destruction of the Christian
churches, the pillage of the Christian possessions, and the massacre of
the Christian priests.

He retired cautiously from the lonely place that had now become the
centre of his new hopes; and entering the streets of the city, proceeded
to provide himself with an instrument that would facilitate his
approaching labours, and food that would give him strength to prosecute
his intended efforts, unthreatened by the hindrance of fatigue. As he
thought on the daring treachery of his project, his morning's exultation
began to return to him again. All his previous attempts to organise the
restoration of Paganism sunk into sudden insignificance before his
present design. His defence of the Temple of Serapis, his conspiracy at
Alexandria, his intrigue with Vetranio, were the efforts of a man; but
this projected destruction of the priests, the churches, and the
treasures of a whole city, through the agency of a mighty army, moved by
the unaided machinations of a single individual, would be the dazzling
achievement of a god!

The hours loitered slowly onward. The sun waned in the gorgeous heaven,
and set, surrounded by red and murky clouds. Then came silence and
darkness. The Gothic watch-fires flamed one by one into the dusky air.
The guards were doubled at the different posts. The populace were
driven from the ramparts, and the fortifications of the great city
echoed to no sound now but the tramp of the restless sentinel, or the
clash of arms from the distant guard-houses that dotted the long line of
the lofty walls.

It was then that Ulpius, passing cautiously along the least-frequented
streets, gained unnoticed the place of his destination. A thick vapour
lay over the lonely and marshy spot. Nothing was now visible from it
but the dim, uncertain outline of the palaces above, and the mass, so
sunk in obscurity that it looked like a dark layer of mist itself, of
the rifted fortifications. A smile of exultation passed over the
Pagan's countenance, as he perceived the shrouding and welcome thickness
of the atmosphere. Groping his way softly through the thickets, he
arrived at the base of the wall. For some time he passed slowly along
it, feeling the width of the different rents wherever he could stretch
his hand. At length he paused at one more extensive than the rest, drew
from its concealment in his garments a thick bar of iron sharpened at
one end, and began to labour at the breach.

Chance had led him to the place best adapted to his purpose. The ground
he stood on was only encumbered close to the wall by rank weeds and low
thickets, and was principally composed of damp, soft turf. The bricks,
therefore, as he carefully detached them, made no greater noise in
falling than the slight rustling caused by their sudden contact with the
boughs through which they descended. Insignificant as this sound was,
it aroused the apprehension of the wary Pagan. He laid down his iron
bar, and removed the thickets by dragging them up, or breaking them at
the roots, until he had cleared a space of some feet in extent before
the base of the wall. He then returned to his toilsome task, and with
hands bleeding from the wounds inflicted by the thorns he had grasped in
removing the thickets continued his labour at the brick-work. He
pursued his employment with perfect impunity; the darkness covered him
from observation; no one disturbed him by approaching the solitary scene
of his operations; and of the two sentinels who were placed near the
part of the wall which was the centre of all his exertions, one remained
motionless at the most distant extremity of his post, and the other
paced restlessly backwards and forwards on the rampart, singing a wild,
rambling son about war, and women, and wine, which, whatever liberty it
might allow to his organs of perception, effectually hindered the
vigilant exercise of his faculties of hearing.

Brick after brick yielded to the vigorous and well-timed efforts of
Ulpius. He had already made a cavity, in an oblique direction, large
enough to creep through, and was preparing to penetrate still further,
when a portion of the rotten material of the interior of the wall
suddenly yielded in a mass to a chance pressure of his iron bar, and
slowly sunk down inwards into a bed which, judging by such faint sounds
as were audible at the moment, must have been partly water, and partly
marshy earth and rotten brick-work. After having first listened, to be
sure that the slight noise caused by this event had not reached the ears
or excited the suspicions of the careless sentinels, Ulpius crept into
the cavity he had made, groping his way with his bar, until he reached
the brink of a chasm, the depth of which he could not probe, and the
breadth of which he could not ascertain.

He lingered irresolute; the darkness around him was impenetrable; he
could feel toads and noisome animals crawling over his limbs. The damp
atmosphere of the place began to thrill through him to his very bones;
his whole frame trembled under the excess of his past exertions. Without
light, he could neither attempt to proceed, nor hope to discover the
size and extent of the chasm which he had partially laid open. The mist
was fast vanishing as the night advanced: it was necessary to arrive at
a resolution ere it would be too late.

He crept out of the cavity. Just as he had gained the open air, the
sentinel halted over the very spot where the Pagan stood, and paused
suddenly in his song. There was an instant's interval of silence,
during which the inmost soul of Ulpius quailed beneath an apprehension
as vivid, as that which had throbbed in the heart of the despised
lizard, whose flight had guided him to his discovery at the wall. Soon,
however, he heard the voice of the soldier calling cheerfully to his
fellow sentinel, 'Comrade, do you see the moon? She is rising to cheer
our watch!'

Nothing had been discovered!--he was still safe! But if he stayed at
the cavity till the mists faded before the moonlight, could he be
certain of preserving his security? He felt that he could not!

What mattered a night more or a night less, to such a project as his?
Months might elapse before the Goths retired from the walls. It was
better to suffer delay than to risk discovery. He determined to leave
the place, and to return on the following night provided with a lantern,
the light of which he would conceal until he entered the cavity. Once
there, it could not be perceived by the sentinels above--it would guide
him through all obstacles, preserve him through all dangers. Massive as
it was, he felt convinced that the interior of the wall was in as
ruinous a condition as the outside. Caution and perseverance were
sufficient of themselves to insure to his efforts the speediest and
completest success.

He waited until the sentinel had again betaken himself to the furthest
limits of his watch, and then softly gathering up the brushwood that lay
round him, he concealed with it the mouth of the cavity in the outer
wall, and the fragments of brick-work that had fallen on the turf
beneath. This done, he again listened, to assure himself that he had
been unobserved; then, stepping with the utmost caution, he departed by
the path that led round the slope of the Pincian Hill.

'Strength--patience--and to-morrow night!' muttered the Pagan to
himself, as he entered the streets, and congregated once more with the
citizens of Rome.

CHAPTER 11. GOISVINTHA'S RETURN.

It was morning. The sun had risen, but his beams were partially
obscured by thick heavy clouds, which scowled already over the
struggling brightness of the eastern horizon. The bustle and animation
of the new day gradually overspread the Gothic encampment in all
directions. The only tent whose curtain remained still closed, and
round which no busy crowds congregated in discussion or mingled in
labour, was that of Hermanric. By the dying embers of his watchfire
stood the young chieftain, with two warriors, to whom he appeared to be
giving some hurried directions. His countenance expressed emotions of
anxiety and discontent, which, though partially repressed while he was
in the presence of his companions, became thoroughly visible, not only
in his features, but in his manner, when they left him to watch alone
before his tent.

For some time he walked regularly backwards and forwards, looking
anxiously down the westward lines of the encampment, and occasionally
whispering to himself a hasty exclamation of doubt and impatience. With
the first breath of the new morning, the delighting meditations which
had occupied him by his watchfire during the darkness of the night had
begun to subside. And now, as the hour of her expected return gradually
approached, the image of Goisvintha banished from his mind whatever
remained of those peaceful and happy contemplation in which he had
hitherto been absorbed. The more he thought on his fatal promise--on
the nation of Antonina--on his duties to the army and the people to whom
he belonged, the more doubtful appeared to him his chance of permanently
protecting the young Roman without risking his degradation as a Goth,
and his ruin as a warrior; and the more sternly and ominously ran in his
ears the unassailable truth of Goisvintha's parting taunt--'You must
remember your promise, you cannot save her if you would!'

Wearied of persisting in deliberations which only deepened his
melancholy and increased his doubts; bent on sinking in a temporary and
delusive oblivion the boding reflections that overcame him in spite of
himself, by seeking--while its enjoyment was yet left to him--the
society of his ill-fated charge, he turned towards his tent, drew aside
the thick, heavy curtains of skins which closed its opening, and
approached the rude couch on which Antonina was still sleeping.

A ray of sunlight, fitful and struggling, burst at this moment through
the heavy clouds, and stole into the opening of the tent as he
contemplated the slumbering girl. It ran its flowing course up her
uncovered hand and arm, flew over her bosom and neck, and bathed in a
bright fresh glow, her still and reposing features. Gradually her limbs
began to move, her lips parted gently and half smiled, as if in welcome
to the greeting of the light; her eyes slightly opened, then dazzled by
the brightness that flowed through their raised lids, tremblingly closed
again. At length thoroughly awakened, she shaded her face with her
hands, and sitting up on the couch, met the gaze of Hermanric fixed on
her in sorrowful examination.

'Your bright armour, and your glorious name, and your merciful words,
have remained with me even in my sleep,' said she, wonderingly; 'and
now, when I awake, I see you before me again! It is a happiness to be
aroused by the sun which has gladdened me all my life, to look upon you
who have given me shelter in my distress! But why,' she continued, in
altered and enquiring tones, 'why do you gaze upon me with doubting and
mournful eyes?'

'You have slept well and safely,' said Hermanric, evasively, 'I closed
the opening of the tent to preserve you from the night-damps, but I have
raised it now, for the air is warming under the rising sun--'

'Are you wearied with watching?' she interrupted, rising to her feet,
and looking anxiously into his face. But he spoke not in reply. His
head was turned towards the door of the tent. He seemed to be listening
for some expected sound. It was evident that he had not heard her
question. She followed the direction of his eyes. The sight of the
great city, half brightened, half darkened, as its myriad buildings
reflected the light of the sun, or retained the shadows of the clouds,
brought back to her remembrance her last night's petition for her
father's safety. She laid her hand upon her companion's arm to awaken
his attention, and hastily resumed:--

'You have not forgotten what I said to you last night? My father's name
is Numerian. He lives on the Pincian Mount. You will save him,
Hermanric--you will save him! You will remember your promise!'

The young warrior's eyes fell as she spoke, and an irrepressible shudder
shook his whole frame. The last part of Antonina's address to him, was
expressed in the same terms as a past appeal from other lips, and in
other accents, which still clung to his memory. The same demand,
'Remember your promise,' which had been advanced to urge him to
bloodshed, by Goisvintha, was now proffered by Antonina, to lure him to
pity. The petition of affection was concluded in the same terms as the
petition of revenge. As he thought on both, the human pity of the one,
and the fiend-like cruelty of the other, rose in sinister and
significant contrast on the mind of the Goth, realising in all its
perils the struggle that was to come when Goisvintha returned, and
dispelling instantaneously the last hopes that he had yet ventured to
cherish for the fugitive at his side.

'No assault of the city is commanded--no assault is intended. Your
father's life is safe from the swords of the Goths,' he gloomily
replied, in answer to Antonina's last words.

The girl moved back from him a few steps as he spoke, and looked
thoughtfully round the tent. The battle-axe that Hermanric had secured
during the scene of the past evening, still lay on the ground, in a
corner. The sight of it brought back a flood of terrible recollections
to her mind. She started violently; a sudden change overspread her
features, and when she again addressed Hermanric, it was with quivering
lips and in almost inarticulate words.

'I know now why you look on me so gloomily,' said she; 'that woman is
coming back! I was so occupied by my dreams and my thoughts of my
father and of you, and my hopes for days to come, that I had forgotten
her when I awoke! But I remember all now! She is coming back--I see
it in your sorrowful eyes--she is coming back to murder me! I shall die
at the moment when I had such hope in my life! There is no happiness
for me! None!--none!'

The Goth's countenance began to darken. He whispered to himself several
times, 'How can I save her?' For a few minutes there was a deep
silence, broken only by the sobs of Antonina. He looked round at her
after an interval. She held her hands clasped over her eyes. The tears
were streaming through her parted fingers; her bosom heaved as if her
emotions would burst their way through it in some palpable form; and her
limbs trembled so, that she could scarcely support herself.
Unconsciously, as he looked on her, he passed his arm round her slender
form, drew her hands gently from her face, and said to her, though his
heart belied his words as he spoke, 'Do not be afraid--trust in me!'

'How can I be calm?' she cried, looking up at him entreatingly; 'I was
so happy last night, so sure that you could preserve me, so hopeful
about to-morrow--and now I see by your mournful looks, I know by your
doubting voice, that to soothe my anguish you have promised me more than
you can perform! The woman who is your companion, has a power over us
both, that it is terrible even to think of! She will return, she will
withdraw all mercy from your heart, she will glare upon me with her
fearful eyes, she will kill me at your feet! I shall die after all I
have suffered and all I have hoped! Oh, Hermanric, while there is yet
time let us escape! You were not made to shed blood--you are too
merciful! God never made you to destroy! You cannot yearn towards
cruelty and woe, for you have aided and protected me! Let us escape! I
will follow you wherever you wish! I will do whatever you ask! I will
go with you beyond those far, bright mountains behind us, to any strange
and distant land; for there is beauty everywhere; there are woods that
may be dwelt in, and valleys that may be loved, on all the surface of
this wide great earth!'

The Goth looked sadly on her as she paused; but he gave her no answer--
the gloom was deepening over his heart--the false words of consolation
were silenced on his lips.

'Think how many pleasures we should enjoy, how much we might see!'
continued the girl, in soft, appealing tones. 'We should be free to
wander wherever we pleased; we should never be lonely; never be
mournful; never be wearied! I could listen to you day after day, while
you told me of the country where your people were born! I could sing
you sweet songs that I have learned upon the lute! Oh, how I have wept
in my loneliness to lead such a life as this! How I have longed that
such freedom and joy might be mine! How I have thought of the distant
lands that I would visit, of the happy nations that I would discover, of
the mountain breezes that I would breathe, of the shady places that I
would repose in, of the rivers that I would follow in their course, of
the flowers I would plant, and the fruits I would gather! How I have
hoped for such an existence as this! How I have longed for a companion
who might enjoy it as I should! Have you never felt this joy that I
have imagined to myself, you who have been free to wander wherever you
pleased? Let us leave this place, and I will teach it to you if you
have not. I will be so patient, so obedient, so happy! I will never be
sorrowful; never repining--but let us escape--Oh, Hermanric, let us
escape while there is yet time! Will you keep me here to be slain? Can
you drive me forth into the world alone? Remember that the gates of the
city and the doors of my home are now closed to me! Remember that I have
no mother, and that my father has forsaken me! Remember that I am a
stranger on the earth which was made for me to be joyful in! Think how
soon the woman who has vowed that she will murder me will return; think
how terrible it is to be in the fear of death; and while there is time
let us depart--Hermanric, Hermanric, if you have pity for me, let us
depart!'

She clasped her hands, and looked up in his face imploringly. The
manner of Hermanric had expressed more to her senses, sharpened as they
were by peril, than his words could have conveyed, even had he confessed
to her the cause of the emotions of doubt and apprehension that
oppressed his mind. Nothing could more strikingly testify to the
innocence of her character and the seclusion of her life, than her
attempt to combine with her escape from Goisvintha's fury, the
acquisition of such a companion as the Goth. But to the forlorn and
affectionate girl who saw herself--a stranger to the laws of the social
existence of her fellow creatures--suddenly thrust forth friendless into
the unfriendly world, could the heart have naturally prompted any other
desire, than anxiety to secure the companion after having discovered the
protector? In the guilelessness of her character, in her absolute
ignorance of humanity, of the influence of custom, of the adaptation of
difference of feeling to difference of sex, she vainly imagined that the
tranquil existence she had urged on Hermanric, would suffice for the
attainment of her end, by presenting the same allurements to him, a
warrior and a Goth, that it contained for her--a lonely, thoughtful,
visionary girl! And yet, so wonderful was the ascendancy that she had
acquired by the magic of her presence, the freshness of her beauty, and
the novelty of her manner, over the heart of the young chieftain, that
he, who would have spurned from him with contempt any other woman who
might have addressed to him such a petition as Antonina's, looked down
sorrowfully at the girl as she ceased speaking, and for an instant
hesitated in his choice.

At that moment, when the attention of each was fixed on the other, a
third person stealthily approached the opening of the tent, and
beholding them together thus, burst into a bitter, taunting laugh.
Hermanric raised his eyes instantly; but the sound of that harsh
unwomanly voice was all-eloquent to Antonina's senses. She hid her face
against the Goth's breast, and murmured breathlessly--'She has returned!
I must die! I must die!'

She had returned! She perceived Hermanric and Antonina in a position,
which left no doubt that a stronger feeling than the mere wish to
protect the victim of her intended revenge, had arisen, during her
absence, in the heart of her kinsman. Hour after hour, while she had
fulfilled her duties by the beds of Alaric's invalided soldiery, had she
brooded over her projects of vengeance and blood. Neither the sickness
nor the death which she had beheld around her, had possessed an
influence powerful enough over the stubborn ferocity which now alone
animated her nature, to lure it to mercy or awe it to repentance.
Invigorated by delay, and enlarged by disappointment, the evil passion
that consumed her had strengthened its power, and aroused the most
latent of its energies, during the silent vigil that she had just held.
She had detested the girl on the evening before, for her nation; she now
hated her for herself.

'What have you to do with the trappings of a Gothic warrior?' she cried,
in mocking accents, pointing at Hermanric with a long hunting-knife
which she held in her hand. 'Why are you here in a Gothic encampment?
Go, knock at the gates of Rome, implore her guards on your knees to
admit you among the citizens, and when they ask you why--show them the
girl there! Tell them that you love her, that you would wed her, that
it is nothing to you that her people have murdered your brother and his
children! And then, when you yourself have begotten sons, Gothic
bastards infected with Roman blood, be a Roman at heart yourself, send
your children forth to complete what your wife's people left undone at
Aquileia--by murdering me!'

She paused and laughed scornfully. Then her humour suddenly changed,
she advanced a few steps, and continued in a louder and sterner tone:--

'You have broken your faith; you have lied to me; you have forgotten
your wrongs and mine; but you have not yet forgotten my parting words
when I left you last night! I told you that she should be slain, and
now that you have refused to avenge me, I will make good my words by
killing her with my own hand! If you would defend her, you must murder
me. You must shed her blood or mine!'

She stepped forward, her towering form was stretched to its highest
stature, the muscles started into action on her bare arms as she raised
them above her head. For one instant, she fixed her glaring eyes
steadily on the girl's shrinking form--the next, she rushed up and
struck furiously with the knife at her bare neck. As the weapon
descended, Hermanric caught her wrist. She struggled violently to
disengage herself from his grasp, but in vain.

The countenance of the young warrior grew deadly pale, as he held her.
For a few minutes he glanced eagerly round the tent, in an agony of
bewilderment and despair. The conflicting interests of his duty towards
his sister, and his anxiety for Antonina's preservation, filled his
heart to distraction. A moment more he hesitated, and during that short
delay, the despotism of custom had yet power enough to prevail over the
promptings of pity. He called to the girl--withdrawing his arm which
had hitherto been her support,--'Go, have mercy on me, go!'

But she neither heeded nor heard him. She fell on her knees at the
woman's feet, and in a low moaning voice faltered out:--

'What have I done that I deserve to be slain? I never murdered your
children; I never yet saw a child but I loved it; if I had seen your
children, I should have loved them!'

'If I had preserved to this time the child that I saved from the
massacre, and you had approached him,' returned the woman fiercely, 'I
would have taught him to strike at you with his little hands! When you
spoke to him, he should have spat upon you for answer--even thus!'

Trembling, exhausted, terrified as she was, the girl's Roman blood
rushed over her pale cheeks as she felt the insult. She turned towards
Hermanric, looked up at him appealingly, attempted to speak, and then
sinking lower upon the ground, wept bitterly.

'Why do you weep and pray and mouth it at him?' shrieked Goisvintha,
pointing to Hermanric with her disengaged hand. 'He has neither courage
to protect you, nor honour to aid me. Do you think that I am to be
moved by your tears and entreaties? I tell you that your people have
slain my husband and my children, and that I hate you for that. I tell
you that you have lured Hermanric into love for a Roman and
unfaithfulness to me, and I will slay you for doing it! I tell you that
there is not a living thing of the blood of your country, or the name of
your nation, throughout the length and breadth of this empire, that I
would not destroy if I had the power! If the very trees on the road
hither could have had feeling, I would have torn the bark from their
stems with my own hands! If a bird, native of your skies, had flown
into my bosom from very tameness and sport, I would have crushed it dead
at my feet! And do you think that you shall escape? Do you think that
I will not avenge the deaths of my husband and my children upon you,
after this?'

As she spoke, she mechanically unclenched her hands. The knife dropped
to the ground. Hermanric instantly stooped and secured it. For a
moment she stood before him released from his grasp, motionless and
speechless. Then, starting as if struck by a sudden idea, she moved
towards the opening of the tent, and, in tones of malignant triumph,
addressed him thus:--

'You shall not save her yet! You are unworthy of your nation and your
name! I will betray your cowardice and treachery to your brethren in
the camp!' And she ran to the outside of the tent, calling in a loud
voice to a group of young warriors who happened to be passing at a short
distance. 'Stay, stay! Fritigern--Athanaric--Colias--Suerid--
Witheric--Fravitta! Hasten hitherward! Hermanric has a captive in his
tent--a prisoner whom it will rejoice to see! Hitherward! hitherward!'

The group she addressed contained some of the most turbulent and
careless spirits of the whole Gothic army. They had just been released
from their duties of the past night, and were at leisure to comply with
Goisvintha's request. She had scarcely concluded her address before
they turned and hurried eagerly up to the tent, shouting to Hermanric,
as they advanced, to make his prisoner visible to them in the open air.

They had probably expected to be regaled by the ludicrous terror of some
Roman slave whom their comrade had discovered lurking in the empty
suburbs; for when they entered the tent, and saw nothing but the
shrinking figure of the unhappy girl, as she crouched on the earth at
Hermanric's feet, they all paused with one accord, and looked round on
each other in speechless astonishment.

'Behold her!' cried Goisvintha, breaking the momentary silence. 'She is
the Roman prisoner that your man of valour there has secured for
himself! For that trembling child he has forgotten the enmities of his
people! She is more to him already than army, general, or companions.
You have watched before the city during the night; but he has stood
sentinel by the maiden of Rome! Hope not that he will share in your
toils, or mix in your pleasures more. Alaric and the warriors have lost
his services--his future king cringes there at his feet!'

She had expected to arouse the anger and excite the jealousy of the
rough audience she addressed; but the result of her envenomed jeers
disappointed her hopes. The humour of the moment prompted the Goths to
ridicule, a course infinitely more inimical to Antonina's interests with
Hermanric than menaces or recrimination. Recovered from their first
astonishment, they burst into a loud and universal laugh.

'Mars and Venus caught together! But, by St. Peter, I see not Vulcan
and the net!' cried Fravitta, who having served in the armies of Rome,
and acquired a vague knowledge there of the ancient mythology, and the
modern politics of the Empire, was considered by his companions as the
wit of the battalion to which he was attached.

'I like her figure,' growled Fritigern, a heavy, phlegmatic giant,
renowned for his imperturbable good humour and his prowess in drinking.
'What little there is of it looks so limp that Hermanric might pack her
into his light baggage and carry her about with him on his shoulders
wherever he goes!'

'By which process you would say, old sucker of wine-skins, that he will
attain the double advantage of always keeping her to himself, and always
keeping her warm,' interrupted Colias, a ruddy, reckless boy of sixteen,
privileged to be impertinent in consideration of his years.

'Is she Orthodox or Arian?' gravely demanded Athanaric, who piqued
himself on his theological accomplishments and his extraordinary piety.

'What hair she has!' exclaimed Suerid, sarcastically. 'It is as black
as the horse-hides of a squadron of Huns!'

'Show us her face! Whose tent will she visit next?' cried Witheric,
with an insolent laugh.

'Mine!' replied Fritigern, complacently. 'What says the chorus of the
song?

'Money and wine Make beauty mine!

I have more of both than any of you. She will come to my tent!'

During the delivery of these clumsy jests, which followed one upon
another with instantaneous rapidity, the scorn at first expressed in
Hermanric's countenance became gradually replaced by a look of
irrepressible anger. As Fritigern spoke, he lost all command over
himself, and seizing his sword, advanced threateningly towards the easy-
tempered giant, who made no attempt to recede or defend himself, but
called out soothingly, 'Patience, man! patience! Would you kill an old
comrade for jesting? I envy you your good luck as a friend, not as an
enemy!'

Yielding to the necessity of lowering his sword before a defenceless
man, Hermanric was about to reply angrily to Fritigern, when his voice
was drowned in the blast of a trumpet, sounding close by the tent. The
signal that it gave was understood at once by the group of jesters still
surrounding the young Goth. They turned, and retired without an
instant's delay. The last of their number had scarcely disappeared,
when the same veteran who had spoken with Hermanric, on the departure of
Goisvintha the evening before, entered and thus addressed him:--

'You are commanded to post yourself with the division that now awaits
you, at a place eastward of your present position, which will be shown
you by a guide. Make ready at once--you have not an instant to delay.'

As the words passed the old man's lips, Hermanric turned and looked on
Goisvintha. During the presence of the Goths in the tent, she had sat
listening to their rough jeers in suppressed wrath and speechless
disdain; now she rose and advanced a few steps. But there suddenly
appeared an unwonted hesitation in her gait; her face was pale; she
breathed fast and heavily. 'Where will you shelter her now?' she cried,
addressing Hermanric, and threatening the girl with her outstretched
hands. 'Abandon her to your companions, or leave her to me; she is lost
either way! I shall triumph--triumph!'--

At this moment her voice sank to an unintelligible murmur; she tottered
where she stood. It was evident that the long strife of passions during
her past night of watching, and the fierce and varying emotions of the
morning, suddenly brought to a crisis, as they had been, by her
exultation when she heard the old warrior's fatal message, had at length
overtasked the energies even of her powerful frame. Yet one moment more
she endeavoured to advance, to speak, to snatch the hunting knife from
Hermanric's hand; the next she fell insensible at his feet.

Goaded almost to madness by the successive trials that he had undergone;
Goisvintha's furious determination to thwart him, still present to his
mind; the scornful words of his companions yet ringing in his ears; his
inexorable duties demanding his attention without reserve or delay;
Hermanric succumbed at last under the difficulties of his position, and
despairingly abandoned all further hope of effecting the girl's
preservation. Pointing to some food that lay in a corner of the tent,
and to the country behind, he said to her, in broken and gloomy accents,
'Furnish yourself with those provisions, and fly, while Goisvintha is
yet unable to pursue you. I can protect you no longer!'

Until this moment, Antonina had kept her face hidden, and had remained
still crouching on the ground; motionless, save when a shudder ran
through her frame as she listened to the loud, coarse jesting of the
Goths; and speechless, except that when Goisvintha sank senseless to the
earth, she uttered an exclamation of terror. But now, when she heard
the sentence of her banishment proclaimed by the very lips which but the
evening before had assured her of shelter and protection, she rose up
instantly, cast on the young Goth a glance of such speechless misery and
despair, that he involuntarily quailed before it; and then, without a
tear or a sigh, without a look of reproach, or a word of entreaty,
petrified and bowed down beneath a perfect trance of terror and grief,
she left the tent.

Hurrying his actions with the reckless energy of a man determined on
banishing his thoughts by his employments, Hermanric placed himself at
the head of his troop, and marched quickly onwards in an eastward
direction past the Pincian Gate. Two of his attendants who happened to
enter the tent after his departure, observing Goisvintha still extended
on the earth, proceeded to transport her to part of the camp occupied by
the women who were attached to the army; and then, the little sheltering
canopy which made the abode of the Goth, and which had witnessed so
large a share of human misery and so fierce a war of human contention in
so few hours, was left as silent and lonely as the deserted country in
which Antonina was now fated to seek a refuge and a home.

CHAPTER 12. THE PASSAGE OF THE WALL.

'A fair night this, Balbus! All moonlight and no mist! I was posted
last evening at the Ostian Gate, and was half choked by the fog.'

'If you were posted last night at the Ostian Gate, you were better
placed than you are now. The ramparts here are as lonely as a ruin in
the provinces. Nothing behind us but the back of the Pincian Mount;
nothing before us but the empty suburbs; nothing at each side of us but
brick and stone; nothing at our posts but ourselves. May I be crucified
like St. Peter, if I believe that there is another place on the whole
round of the walls possessed of such solitary dulness as this!'

'You are a man to find something to complain of, if you were lodged in
one of the palaces yonder. The place is solitary enough, it is true;
but whether it is dull or not depends on ourselves, its most honourable
occupants. I, for one, am determined to promote its joviality by the
very praiseworthy exertion of obliging you, my discontented friend, with
an inexhaustible series of those stories for which, I may say, without
arrogance, I am celebrated throughout the length and breadth of all the
barracks of Rome.'

'You may tell as many stories as you please, but do not imagine that I
will make one of your audience.'

'You are welcome to attend to me or not, as you choose. Though you do
not listen, I shall still relate my stories by way of practice. I will
address them to the walls, or to the air, or to the defunct gods and
goddesses of antiquity, should they happen at this moment to be hovering
over the city in a rage, as some of the unconverted would have us
believe; or to our neighbours the Goths, if they are seized with a
sudden desire to quite their encampments, and obtain a near view of the
fortifications that they are so discreetly unwilling to assault. Or,
these materials for a fit and decent auditory failing me, I will tell my
stories to the most attentive of all listeners--myself.'

And the sentinel, without further delay, opened his budget of anecdotes,
with the easy fluency of of a man who possessed a well-placed confidence
in the perfection of his capacities for narration. Determined that his
saturnine colleague should hear him, though he would not give him his
attention, he talked in a raised voice, pacing briskly backwards and
forwards over the space of his allotted limits, and laughing with
ludicrous regularity and complacency at every jest that he happened to
make in the course of his ill-rewarded narrative. He little thought, as
he continued to proceed in his tale that its commencement had been
welcomed by an unseen hearer, with emotions widely different from those
which had dictated the observations of the unfriendly companion of his
watch.

True to his determination, Ulpius, with part of the wages which he had
hoarded in Numerian's service, had procured a small lantern from a shop
in one of the distant quarters of Rome; and veiling its light in a piece
of coarse, thick cloth, had proceeded by the solitary pathway to his
second night's labour at the wall. He arrived at the breach, at the
commencement of the dialogue above related, and heard with delight the
sentinel's noisy resolution to amuse his companion in spite of himself.
The louder and the longer the man talked, the less probable was the
chance that the Pagan's labours in the interior of the wall would be
suspected or overheard.

Softly clearing away the brushwood at the entrance of the hole that he
had made the night before, Ulpius crept in as far as he had penetrated
on that occasion; and then, with mingled emotions of expectation and
apprehension which affected him so powerfully, that he was for the
moment hardly master of his actions, he slowly and cautiously uncovered
his light.

His first glance was intuitively directed to the cavity that opened
beneath him. He saw immediately that it was less important, both in
size and depth, than he had imagined it to be. The earth at this
particular place had given way beneath the foundations of the wall,
which had sunk down, deepening the chasm by their weight, into the
yielding ground beneath them. A small spring of water (probably the
first cause of the sinking in the earth) had bubbled up into the space
in the brick-work, which bit by bit, and year by year, it had gradually
undermined. Nor did it remain stagnant at this place. It trickled
merrily and quietly onward--a tiny rivulet, emancipated from one prison
in the ground only to enter another in the wall, bounded by no grassy
banks, brightened by no cheerful light, admired by no human eye,
followed in its small course through the inner fissures in the brick by
no living thing but a bloated toad, or a solitary lizard: yet wending
as happily on its way through darkness and ruin, as its sisters who were
basking in the sunlight of the meadows, or leaping in the fresh breezes
of the open mountain side.

Raising his eyes from the little spring, Ulpius next directed his
attention to the prospect above him.

Immediately over his head, the material of the interior of the wall
presented a smooth, flat, hard surface, which seemed capable of
resisting the most vigorous attempts at its destruction; but on looking
round, he perceived at one side of him and further inwards, an
appearance of dark, dimly-defined irregularity, which promised
encouragingly for his intended efforts. He descended into the chasm of
the rivulet, crawled up on a heap of crumbling brick-work, and gained a
hole above it, which he immediately began to widen, to admit of his
passage through. Inch by inch, he enlarged the rift, crept into it, and
found himself on a fragment of the bow of one of the foundation arches,
which, though partly destroyed, still supported itself, isolated from
all connection with the part of the upper wall which it had once
sustained, and which had gradually crumbled away into the cavities
below.

He looked up. An immense rift soared above him, stretching its tortuous
ramifications, at different points, into every part of the wall that was
immediately visible. The whole structure seemed, at this place, to have
received a sudden and tremendous wrench. But for the support of the
sounder fortifications at each side of it, it could not have sustained
itself after the shock. The Pagan gazed aloft, into the fearful breaches
which yawned above him, with ungovernable awe. His small, fitful light
was not sufficient to show him any of their terminations. They looked,
as he beheld them in dark relief against the rest of the hollow part of
the wall, like mighty serpents twining their desolating path right
upward to the ramparts above; and he, himself, as he crouched on his
pinnacle with his little light by his side, was reduced by the wild
grandeur, the vast, solemn gloom of the obscure, dusky, and fantastic
objects around him, to the stature of a pigmy. Could he have been seen
from the ramparts high overhead, as he now peered down behind his
lantern into the cavities and irregularities below him, he would have
looked, with his flickering light, like a mole led by a glow-worm.

He paused to consider his next movements. In a stationary position, the
damp coldness of the atmosphere was almost insupportable, but he
attained a great advantage by his present stillness: he could listen
undisturbed by the noises made by the bricks which crumbled from under
him, if he advanced.

Ere long, he heard a thin, winding, long-drawn sound, now louder, now
softer; now approaching, now retreating; now verging towards shrillness,
now quickly returning to a faint, gentle swell. Suddenly this strange
unearthly music was interrupted by a succession of long, deep, rolling
sounds, which travelled grandly about the fissures above, like prisoned
thunderbolts striving to escape. Utterly ignorant that the first of
these noises was occasioned by the night wind winding through the rents
in the brick of the outer wall beyond him; and the second, by the echoes
produced in the irregular cavities above, by the footfall of the
sentries overhead--roused by the influence of the place, and the mystery
of his employment, to a pitch of fanatic exaltation, which for the
moment absolutely unsteadied his reason--filled with the frantic
enthusiasm of his designs, and the fearful legends of invisible beings
and worlds which made the foundation of his worship, Ulpius conceived,
as he listened to the sounds around and above, that the gods of
antiquity were now in viewless congregation hovering about him, and
calling to him in unearthly voices and in an unknown tongue, to proceed
upon his daring enterprise, in the full assurance of its near and
glorious success.

'Roar and mutter, and make your hurricane music in my ears!' exclaimed
the Pagan, raising his withered hands, and addressing in a savage
ecstacy his imagined deities. 'Your servant Ulpius stops not on the
journey that leads him to your repeopled shrines! Blood, crime, danger,
pain--pride and honour, joy and rest, have I strewn like sacrifices at
your altars' feet! Time has whirled past me; youth and manhood have
lain long since buried in the hidden Lethe which is the portion of life;
age has wreathed his coils over my body's strength, but still I watch by
your temples and serve your mighty cause! Your vengeance is near!
Monarchs of the world, your triumph is at hand!'

He remained for some time in the same position, looking fixedly up into
the trackless darkness above him, drinking in the sounds which--
alternately rising and sinking--still floated round him. The trembling
gleam of his lantern fell red and wild upon his livid countenance. His
shaggy hair floated in the cold breezes that blew by him. At this
moment he would have appeared from a distance, like a phantom of fire
perishing in a mist of darkness; like a Gnome in adoration in the bowels
of the earth; like a forsaken spirit in a solitary purgatory, watching
for the advent of a glimpse of beauty, or a breath of air.

At length he aroused himself from his trance, trimmed with careful hand
his guiding lantern, and set forward to penetrate the breadth of the
great rift he had just entered.

He moved on in an oblique direction several feet, now creeping over the
tops of the foundation arches, now skirting the extremities of
protrusions in the ruined brick-work, now descending into dark slimy
rubbish-choked chasms, until the rift suddenly diminished in all
directions.

The atmosphere was warmer in the place he now occupied; he could faintly
distinguish patches of dark moss, dotted here and there over the uneven
surface of the wall; and once or twice, some blades of long flat grass,
that grew from a prominence immediately above his head, were waved in
his face by the wind, which he could now feel blowing through the narrow
fissure that he was preparing to enlarge. It was evident that he had by
this time advanced to within a few feet of the outer extremity of the
wall.

'Numerian wanders after his child through the streets,' muttered the
Pagan, as he deposited his lantern by his side, bared his trembling
arms, and raised his iron bar, 'the slaves of his neighbour the senator
are forth to pursue me. On all sides my enemies are out after me; but,
posted here, I mock their strictest search! If they would track me to
my hiding-place, they must penetrate the walls of Rome! If they would
hunt me down in my lair, they must assail me to-night in the camp of the
Goths! Fools! let them look to themselves! I seal the doom of their
city, with the last brick that I tear from their defenceless walls!'

He laughed to himself as he thrust his bar boldly into the crevice
before him. In some places the bricks yielded easily to his efforts; in
others, their resistance was only to be overcome by the exertion of his
utmost strength. Resolutely and unceasingly he continued his labours;
now wounding his hands against the jagged surfaces presented by the
widening fissure; now involuntarily dropping his instrument from
ungovernable exhaustion; but, still working bravely on, in defiance of
every hindrance that opposed him, until he gained the interior of the
new rift.

As he drew his lantern after him into the cavity that he had made, he
perceived that, unless it was heightened immediately over him, he could
proceed no further, even in a creeping position. Irritated at this
unexpected necessity for more violent exertion, desperate in his
determination to get through the wall at all hazards on that very night,
he recklessly struck his bar upwards with all his strength, instead of
gradually and softly loosening the material of the surface that opposed
him, as he had done before.

A few moments of this labour had scarcely elapsed, when a considerable
portion of the brick-work, consolidated into one firm mass, fell with
lightning suddenness from above. It hurled him under it, prostrate on
the foundation arch which had been his support; crushed and dislocated
his right shoulder; and shivered his lantern into fragments. A groan of
irrepressible anguish burst from his lips. He was left in impenetrable
darkness.

The mass of brick-work, after it had struck him, rolled a little to one
side. By a desperate exertion he extricated himself from under it--only
to swoon from the fresh anguish caused to him by the effort.

For a short time he lay insensible in his cold dark solitude. Then,
reviving after this first shock, he began to experience in all their
severity, the fierce spasms, the dull gnawings, the throbbing torments,
that were the miserable consequences of the injury he received. His arm
lay motionless by his side--he had neither strength nor resolution to
move any one of the other sound limbs in his body. At one moment his
deep, sobbing, stifled respirations, syllabled horrible and half-formed
curses--at another, his panting breaths suddenly died away within him;
and then he could hear the blood dripping slowly from his shoulder, with
dismal regularity, into a little pool that it had formed already by his
side.

The shrill breezes which wound through the crevices in the wall before
him, were now felt only on his wounded limb. They touched its surface
like innumerable splinters of thin, sharp ice; they penetrated his flesh
like rushing sparks struck out of a sea of molten lead. There were
moments, during the first pangs of this agony, when if he had been
possessed of a weapon and of the strength to use it, he would have
sacrificed his ambition for ever by depriving himself of life.

But this desire to end his torments with his existence lasted not long.
Gradually, the anguish in his body awakened a wilder and stronger
distemper in his mind, and then the two agonies, physical and mental,
rioted over him together in fierce rivalry, divesting him of all
thoughts but such as were by their own agency created or aroused.

For some time he lay helpless in his misery, alternately venting by
stifled groans the unalleviated torment of his wounds, and lamenting
with curses the failure of his enterprise, at the very moment of its
apparent success. At length, the pangs that struck through him seemed
to grow gradually less frequent; he hardly knew now from what part of
his frame they more immediately proceeded. Insensibly, his faculties of
thinking and feeling grew blunted; then he remained a little while in a
mysterious unrefreshing repose of body and mind; and then his disordered
senses, left unguided and unrestrained, became the victims of a sudden
and terrible delusion.

The blank darkness around him appeared, after an interval, to be
gradually dawning into a dull light, thick and misty, like the
reflections on clouds which threaten a thunderstorm at the close of
evening. Soon, this atmosphere seemed to be crossed and streaked with a
fantastic trellis-work of white, seething vapour. Then the mass of
brick-work which had struck him down, grew visible at his side, enlarged
to an enormous bulk, and endued with a power of self-motion, by which it
mysteriously swelled and shrank, and raised and depressed itself,
without quitting for a moment its position near him. And then, from its
dark and toiling surface there rose a long stream of dusky shapes, which
twined themselves about the misty trellis-work above, and took the
prominent and palpable form of human countenances, marked by every
difference of age and distorted by every variety of suffering.

There were infantine faces, wreathed about with grave-worms that hung
round them like locks of filthy hair; aged faces, dabbled with gore and
slashed with wounds; youthful faces, seamed with livid channels, along
which ran unceasing tears; lovely faces, distorted into fixed
expressions of raging pain, wild malignity, and despairing gloom. Not
one of these countenances exactly resembled the other. Each was
distinguished by a revolting character of its own. Yet, however
deformed might be their other features, the eyes of all were preserved
unimpaired. Speechless and bodiless, they floated in unceasing myriads
up to the fantastic trellis-work, which seemed to swell its wild
proportions to receive them. There they clustered, in their goblin
amphitheatre, and fixed and silently they all glared down, without one
exception, on the Pagan's face!

Meanwhile, the walls at the side began to gleam out with a light of
their own, making jagged boundaries to the midway scene of phantom
faces. Then the rifts in their surfaces widened, and disgorged
misshapen figures of priests and idols of the old time, which came forth
in every hideous deformity of aspect, mocking at the faces on the
trellis-work; while behind and over the whole, soared shapes of gigantic
darkness, robed in grim cloudy resemblances of skins such as were worn
by the Goths, and wielding through the quivering vapour, mighty and
shadow-like weapons of war. From the whole of this ghastly assemblage
there rose not the slightest sound. A stillness, as of a dead and ruined
world, possessed in all its quarters the appalling scene. The deep
echoes of the sentries' footsteps and the faint dirging of the
melancholy winds were no more. The blood that had as yet dripped from
his wound, made no sound now in the Pagan's ear; even his own agony of
terror was as silent as were the visionary demons who had aroused it.
Days, years, centuries, seemed to pass, as he lay gazing up, in a trance
of horror, into his realm of peopled and ghostly darkness. At last
nature yielded under the trial; the phantom prospect suddenly whirled
round him with fearful velocity, and his senses sought refuge from the
thraldom of their own creation in a deep and welcome swoon.

Time had moved wearily onward, the chiding winds had many times waved
the dry locks of his hair to and fro about his brow, as if to bid him
awaken and arise, ere he again recovered his consciousness. Once more
aroused to the knowledge of his position and the sensation of his wound,
he slowly raised himself upon his uninjured arm, and looked wildly
around for the faintest appearance of a gleam of light. But the winding
and uneven nature of the track which he had formed to lead him through
the wall, effectually prevented the moonbeams, then floating into the
outermost of the cavities that he had made, from reaching the place
where he now lay. Not a single object was even faintly distinguishable
around him. Darkness hemmed him in, in rayless and triumphant
obscurity, on every side.

The first agonies of the injury he had received had resolved themselves
into one dull, heavy, unchanging sensation of pain. The vision that had
overwhelmed his senses was now, in a vast and shadowy form, present only
to his memory, filling the darkness with fearful recollections, and not
with dismal forms; and urging on him a restless, headlong yearning to
effect his escape from the lonely and unhallowed sepulchre, the prison
of solitude and death, that his own fatal exertions threatened him with,
should he linger much longer in the caverns of the wall.

'I must pass from this darkness into light--I must breathe the air of
the sky, or I shall perish in the damps of this vault,' he exclaimed in
a hoarse, moaning voice, as he raised himself gradually and painfully
into a creeping position; and turning round slowly, commenced his
meditated retreat.

His brain still whirled with the emotions that had so lately overwhelmed
his mind; his right hand hung helplessly by his side, dragged after him
like a prisoner's chain, and lacerated by the uneven surface of the
ground over which it was slowly drawn, as--supporting himself on his
left arm, and creeping forward a few inches at a time--he set forth on
his toilsome journey.

Here, he paused bewildered in the darkness; there, he either checked
himself by a convulsive effort from falling headlong into the unknown
deeps beneath him, or lost the little ground he had gained in labour and
agony, by retracing his way at the bidding of some unexpected obstacle.
Now he gnashed his teeth in anguish, now he cursed in despair, now he
was breathless with exhaustion; but still, with an obstinacy that had in
it something of the heroic, he never failed in his fierce resolution to
effect his escape.

Slowly and painfully, moving with the pace and the perseverance of the
tortoise, hopeless yet determined as a navigator in a strange sea, he
writhed onward and onward upon his unguided course, until he reaped at
length the reward of his long suffering, by the sudden discovery of a
thin ray of moonlight toiling through a crevice in the murky brickwork
before him. Hardly did the hearts of the Magi when the vision of 'the
star in the East' first dawned on their eyes, leap within them with a
more vivid transport, than that which animated the heart of Ulpius at
the moment when he beheld the inspiring and guiding light.

Yet a little more exertion, a little more patience, a little more
anguish; and he stood once again, a ghastly and crippled figure, before
the outer cavity in the wall.

It was near daybreak; the moon shone faintly in the dull, grey heaven; a
small, vaporous rain was sinking from the shapeless clouds; the waning
night showed bleak and cheerless to the earth, but cast no mournful or
reproving influence over the Pagan's mind. He looked round on his
solitary lurking place, and beheld no human figure in its lonely
recesses. He looked up at the ramparts, and saw that the sentinels
stood silent and apart, wrapped in their heavy watch-cloaks, and
supported on their trusty weapons. It was perfectly apparent that the
events of his night of suffering and despair had passed unheeded by the
outer world.

He glanced back with a shudder upon his wounded and helpless limb; then
his eyes fixed themselves upon the wall. After surveying it with an
earnest and defiant gaze, he slowly moved the brushwood with his foot,
against the small cavity in its outer surface.

'Days pass, wounds heal, chances change,' muttered the old man,
departing from his haunt with slow and uncertain steps. 'In the mines I
have borne lashes without a murmur--I have felt my chains widening, with
each succeeding day, the ulcers that their teeth of iron first gnawed in
my flesh, and have yet lived to loosen my fetters, and to close my
sores! Shall this new agony have a power to conquer me greater than the
others that are past? I will even yet return in time to overcome the
resistance of the wall! My arm is crushed, but my purpose is whole!'

CHAPTER 13. THE HOUSE IN THE SUBURBS.

Retracing some hours, we turn from the rifted wall to the suburbs and
the country which its ramparts overlook; abandoning the footsteps of the
maimed and darkly-plotting Ulpius, our attention now fixes itself on the
fortunes of Hermanric, and the fate of Antonina.

Although the evening had as yet scarcely closed, the Goth had allotted
to the warriors under his command their different stations for the night
in the lonely suburbs of the city. This duty performed, he was left to
the unbroken solitude of the deserted tenement which now served him as a
temporary abode.

The house he occupied was the last of the wide and irregular street in
which it stood; it looked towards the wall beneath the Pincian Mount,
from which it was separated by a public garden about half a mile in
extent. This once well-thronged place of recreation was now totally
unoccupied. Its dull groves were brightened by no human forms; the
chambers of its gay summer houses were dark and desolate; the booths of
its fruit and flower-sellers stood vacant on its untrodden lawns.
Melancholy and forsaken, it stretched forth as a fertile solitude under
the very walls of a crowded city.

And yet there was a charm inexpressibly solemn and soothing in the
prospect of loneliness that it presented, as its flower-beds and trees
were now gradually obscured to the eye in the shadows of the advancing
night. It gained in its present refinement as much as it had lost of
its former gaiety; it had its own simple attraction still, though it
failed to sparkle to the eye with its accustomed illuminations, or to
please the ear by the music and laughter, which rose from it in times of
peace. As he looked forth over the view from the terrace of his new
abode, the remembrance of the employments of his past and busy hours
deserted the memory of the young Goth, leaving his faculties free to
welcome the reflections which night began insensibly to awaken and
create.

Employed under such auspices, whither would the thoughts of Hermanric
naturally stray?

From the moonlight that already began to ripple over the topmost
trembling leaves of the trees beyond him, to the delicate and shadowy
flowers that twined up the pillars of the deserted terrace where he now
stood, every object he beheld connected itself, to his vivid and
uncultured imagination, with the one being of whom all that was
beautiful in nature, seemed to him the eloquent and befitting type. He
thought of Antonina whom he had once protected; of Antonina whom he had
afterwards abandoned; of Antonina whom he had now lost!

Strong in the imaginative and weak in the reasoning faculties; gifted
with large moral perception and little moral firmness; too easy to be
influenced and too difficult to be resolved, Hermanric had deserted the
girl's interests from an infirmity of disposition, rather than from a
determination of will. Now, therefore, when the employments of the day
had ceased to absorb his attention; now when silence and solitude led
his memory back to his morning's abandonment of his helpless charge,
that act of fatal impatience and irresolution inspired him with the
strongest emotions of sorrow and remorse. If during her sojourn under
his care, Antonina had insensibly influenced his heart, her image, now
that he reflected on his guilty share in their parting scene, filled all
his thoughts, at once saddening and shaming him, as he remembered her
banishment from the shelter of his tent.

Every feeling which had animated his reflections on Antonina on the
previous night, was doubled in intensity as he thought on her now.
Again he recalled her eloquent words, and remembered the charm of her
gentle and innocent manner; again he dwelt on the beauties of her
outward form. Each warm expression; each varying intonation of voice
that had accompanied her petition to him for safety and companionship;
every persuasion that she had used to melt him, now revived in his
memory and moved in his heart with steady influence and increasing
power. All the hurried and imperfect pictures of happiness which she
had drawn to allure him, now expanded and brightened, until his mind
began to figure to him visions that had been hitherto unknown to
faculties occupied by no other images than those of rivalry, turbulence,
and strife. Scenes called into being by Antonina's lightest and
hastiest expressions, now rose vague and shadowy before his brooding
spirit. Lovely places of earth that he had visited and forgotten now
returned to his recollection, idealised and refined as he thought of
her. She appeared to his mind in every allurement of action, fulfilling
all the duties and enjoying all the pleasures that she had proposed to
him. He imagined her happy and healthful, journeying gaily by his side
in the fresh morning, with rosy cheek and elastic step; he imagined her
delighting him by her promised songs, enlivening him by her eloquent
words, in the mellow stillness of evening; he imagined her sleeping,
soft and warm and still, in his protecting arms--ever happy and ever
gentle; girl in years, and woman in capacities; at once lover and
companion, teacher and pupil, follower and guide!

Such she might have been once! What was she now?

Was she sinking under her loneliness, perishing from exposure and
fatigue, repulsed by the cruel, or mocked by the unthinking? To all
these perils and miseries had he exposed her; and to what end? To
maintain the uncertain favour, to preserve the unwelcome friendship, of
a woman abandoned even by the most common and intuitive virtues of her
sex; whose frantic craving for revenge, confounded justice with
treachery, innocence with guilt, helplessness with tyranny; whose claims
of nation and relationship should have been forfeited in his estimation,
by the openly-confessed malignity of her designs, at the fatal moment
when she had communicated them to him in all their atrocity, before the
walls of Rome. He groaned in despair, as he thought on this, the most
unworthy of the necessities, to which the forsaken girl had been
sacrificed.

Soon, however, his mind reverted from such reflections as these, to his
own duties and his own renown; and here his remorse became partially
lightened, though his sorrow remained unchanged.

Wonderful as had been the influence of Antonina's presence and
Antonina's words over the Goth, they had not yet acquired power enough
to smother in him entirely the warlike instincts of his sex and nation,
or to vanquish the strong and hostile promptings of education and
custom. She had gifted him with new emotions, and awakened him to new
thought; she had aroused all the dormant gentleness of his disposition
to war against the rugged indifference, the reckless energy, that
teaching and example had hitherto made a second nature to his heart.
She had wound her way into his mind, brightening its dark places,
enlarging its narrow recesses, beautifying its unpolished treasures.
She had created, she had refined, during her short hours of
communication with him, but she had not lured his disposition entirely
from its old habits and its old attachments; she had not yet stripped
off the false glitter from barbarian strife, or the pomp from martial
renown; she had not elevated the inferior intellectual, to the height of
the superior moral faculties, in his inward composition. Submitted
almost impartially to the alternate and conflicting dominion of the two
masters, Love and Duty, he at once regretted Antonina, and yet clung
mechanically to his old obedience to those tyrannic requirements of
nation and name, which had occasioned her loss.

Oppressed by his varying emotions, destitute alike of consolation and
advice, the very inaction of his present position sensibly depressed
him. He rose impatiently, and buckling on his weapons, sought to escape
from his thoughts, by abandoning the scene under the influence of which
they had been first aroused. Turning his back upon the city, he
directed his steps at random, through the complicated labyrinth of
streets, composing the extent of the deserted suburbs.

After he had passed through the dwellings comprised in the occupation of
the Gothic lines, and had gained those situated nearer to the desolate
country beyond, the scene around him became impressive enough to have
absorbed the attention of any man not wholly occupied by other and more
important objects of contemplation.

The loneliness he now beheld on all sides, was not the loneliness of
ruin--the buildings near him were in perfect repair; it was not the
loneliness of pestilence--there were no corpses strewn over the
untrodden pavements of the streets; it was not the loneliness of
seclusion--there were no barred windows, and few closed doors; it was a
solitude of human annihilation. The open halls were unapproached; the
benches before the wine-shops were unoccupied; remains of gaudy
household wares still stood on the counters of the street booths,
watched by none, bought by none; particles of bread and meat (treasures,
fated to become soon of greater value than silver and gold, to
beleaguered Rome) rotted here in the open air, like garbage upon
dunghills; children's toys, women's ornaments, purses, money, love-
tokens, precious manuscripts, lay scattered hither and thither in the
public ways, dropped and abandoned by their different owners, in the
hurry of their sudden and universal flight. Every deserted street was
eloquent of darling projects desperately resigned, of valued labours
miserably deserted, of delighting enjoyments irretrievably lost. The
place was forsaken even by those household gods of rich and poor, its
domestic animals. They had either followed their owners into the city,
or strayed, unhindered and unwatched, into the country beyond. Mansion,
bath, and circus, displayed their gaudy pomp and luxurious comfort in
vain; not even a wandering Goth was to be seen near their empty halls.
For, with such a prospect before them as the subjugation of Rome, the
army had caught the infection of its leader's enthusiasm for his exalted

Book of the day: