Part 5 out of 9
task, and willingly obeyed his commands for suspending the pillage of
the suburbs, disdaining the comparatively worthless treasures around
them, attainable at any time, when they felt that the rich coffers of
Rome herself were now fast opening to their eager hands. Voiceless and
noiseless, unpeopled and unravaged, lay the far-famed suburbs of the
greatest city of the universe, sunk alike in the night of Nature, the
night of Fortune, and the night of Glory!
Saddening and impressive as was the prospect thus presented to the eyes
of the young Goth, it failed to weaken the powerful influence that his
evening's meditations yet held over his mind. As, during the hours that
were passed, the image of the forsaken girl had dissipated the
remembrance of the duties he had performed, and opposed the
contemplation of the commands he was yet to fulfil, so it now denied to
his faculties any impressions from the lonely scene, beheld, yet
unnoticed, which spread around him. Still, as he passed through the
gloomy streets, his vain regrets and self-accusations, his natural
predilections and acquired attachments, ruled over him and contended
within him, as sternly and as unceasingly as in the first moments when
they had arisen with the evening, during his sojourn in the terrace of
the deserted house.
He had now arrived at the extremest boundary of the buildings in the
suburbs. Before him lay an uninterrupted prospect of smooth, shining
fields, and soft, hazy, indefinable woods. At one side of him were some
vineyards and cottage gardens; at the other was a solitary house, the
outermost of all the abodes in his immediate vicinity. Dark and
cheerless as it was, he regarded it for some time with the mechanical
attention of a man more occupied in thought than observation,--gradually
advancing towards it in the moody abstraction of his reflections, until
he unconsciously paused before the low range of irregular steps which
led to its entrance door.
Startled from its meditations by his sudden propinquity to the object
that he had unwittingly approached, he now, for the first time, examined
the lonely abode before him with real attention.
There was nothing remarkable about the house, save the extreme
desolateness of its appearance, which seemed to arise partly from its
isolated position, and partly from the unusual absence of all decoration
on its external front. It was too extensive to have been the dwelling
of a poor man, too void of pomp and ornament to have been a mansion of
the rich. It might, perhaps, have belonged to some citizen, or
foreigner, or the middle class--some moody Northman, some solitary
Egyptian, some scheming Jew. Yet, though it was not possessed, in
itself, of any remarkable or decided character, the Goth experienced a
mysterious, almost an eager curiosity to examine its interior. He could
assign no cause, discover no excuse for the act, as he slowly mounted
the steps before him. Some invisible and incomprehensible magnet
attracted him to the dwelling. If his return had been suddenly
commanded by Alaric himself; if evidences of indubitable treachery had
lurked about the solitary place, at the moment when he thrust open its
unbarred door, he felt that he must still have proceeded upon his onward
course. The next instant he entered the house. The light streamed
through the open entrance into the gloomy hall; the night-wind, rushing
upon its track, blew shrill and dreary among the stone pillars, and in
the hidden crevices and untenanted chambers above. Not a sign of life
appeared, not a sound of a footstep was audible, not even an article of
household use was to be seen. The deserted suburbs rose without, like a
wilderness; and this empty house looked within, like a sepulchre--void
of corpses, and yet eloquent of death!
There was an inexplicable fascination to the eyes of the Goth about this
vault-like, solitary hall. He stood motionless at its entrance, gazing
dreamily at the gloomy prospect before him, until a strong gust of wind
suddenly forced the outer door further backwards, and at the same moment
admitted a larger stream of light.
The place was not empty. In a corner of the hall, hitherto sunk in
darkness, crouched a shadowy form. It was enveloped in a dark garment,
and huddled up into an indefinable and unfamiliar shape. Nothing
appeared on it, as a denoting sign of humanity, but one pale hand,
holding the black drapery together, and relieved against it in almost
ghastly contrast under the cold light of the moon.
Vague remembrances of the awful superstitions of his nation's ancient
worship, hurried over the memory of the young Goth, at the first moment
of his discovery of the ghost-like occupant of the hall. As he stood in
fixed attention before the motionless figure, it soon began to be
endowed with the same strange influence over his will, that the lonely
house had already exerted. He advanced slowly towards the crouching
It never stirred at the noise of his approach. The pale hand still held
the mantle over the compressed figure, with the same rigid immobility of
grasp. Brave as he was, Hermanric shuddered as he bent down and touched
the bloodless, icy fingers. At that action, as if endowed with instant
vitality from contact with a living being, the figure suddenly started
Then, the folds of the dark mantle fell back, disclosing a face as pale
in hue as the stone pillars around it; and the voice of the solitary
being became audible, uttering in faint, monotonous accents, these
'He has forgotten and abandoned me!--slay me if you will!--I am ready to
Broken, untuned as it was, there yet lurked in that voice a tone of its
old music, there beamed in that vacant and heavy eye a ray of its native
gentleness. With a sudden exclamation of compassion and surprise, the
Goth stepped forward, raised the trembling outcast in his arms; and, in
the impulse of the moment quitting the solitary house, stood the next
instant on the firm earth, and under the starry sky, once more united to
the charge that he had abandoned--to Antonina whom he had lost.
He spoke to her, caressed her, entreated her pardon, assured her of his
future care; but she neither answered nor recognised him. She never
looked in his face, never moved in his arms, never petitioned for mercy.
She gave no sign of life or being, saving that she moaned at regular
intervals in piteous accents:--'He has forgotten and abandoned me!' as
if that one simple expression comprised in itself, her acknowledgment of
the uselessness of her life, and her dirge for her expected death.
The Goth's countenance whitened to his very lips. He began to fear that
her faculties had sunk under her trials. He hurried on with her with
trembling steps towards the open country, for he nourished a dreamy,
intuitive hope, that the sight of those woods and fields and mountains
which she had extolled to him, in her morning's entreaty for protection,
might aid in restoring her suspended consciousness, if she now looked on
He ran forward, until he had left the suburbs at least half a mile
behind him, and had reached an eminence, bounded on each side by high
grass banks and clustering woods, and commanding a narrow, yet various
prospect, of the valley ground beneath, and the fertile plains that
Here the warrior paused with his burden; and, seating himself on the
bank, once more attempted to calm the girl's continued bewilderment and
terror. He thought not on his sentinels, whom he had abandoned--on his
absence from the suburbs, which might be perceived and punished by an
unexpected visit, at his deserted quarters, from his superiors in the
camp. The social influence that sways the world; the fragile idol at
whose shrine pride learns to bow, and insensibility to feel; the soft,
grateful influence of yielding nature yet eternal rule--the influence of
woman, source alike of virtues and crimes, of earthly glories and
earthly disasters--had, in this moment of anguish and expectation,
silenced in him every appeal of duty, and overthrown every obstacle of
selfish doubt. He now spoke to Antonina as alluringly as a woman, as
gently as a child. He caressed her as warmly as a lover, as cheerfully
as a brother, as kindly as a father. He--the rough, northern warrior,
whose education had been of arms, and whose youthful aspirations had
been taught to point towards strife and bloodshed and glory--even he was
now endowed with the tender eloquence of pity and love--with untiring,
skilful care--with calm, enduring patience.
Gently and unceasingly he plied his soothing task; and soon, to his joy
and triumph, he beheld the approaching reward of his efforts, in the
slow changes that became gradually perceptible in the girl's face and
manner. She raised herself in his arms, looked up fixedly and vacantly
into his face, then round upon the bright, quiet landscape, then back
again more stedfastly upon her companion; and at length, trembling
violently, she whispered softly and several times the young Goth's name,
glancing at him anxiously and apprehensively, as if she feared and
doubted while she recognised him.
'You are bearing me to my death,'--said she suddenly. 'You, who once
protected me--you, who forsook me!--You are luring me into the power of
the woman who thirsts for my blood!--Oh, it is horrible--horrible!'
She paused, averted her face, and shuddering violently, disengaged
herself from his arms. After an interval, she continued:--
'Through the long day, and in the beginning of the cold night, I have
waited in one solitary place for the death that is in store for me! I
have suffered all the loneliness of my hours of expectation, without
complaint; I have listened with little dread, and no grief, for the
approach of my enemy who has sworn that she will shed my blood! Having
none to love me, and being a stranger in the land of my own nation, I
have nothing to live for! But it is a bitter misery to me to behold in
you the fulfiller of my doom; to be snatched by the hand of Hermanric
from the heritage of life that I have so long struggled to preserve!'
Her voice had altered, as she pronounced these words, to an impressive
lowness and mournfulness of tone. Its quiet, saddened accents were
expressive of an almost divine resignation and sorrow; they seemed to be
attuned to a mysterious and untraceable harmony with the melancholy
stillness of the night-landscape. As she now stood looking up with
pale, calm countenance, and gentle, tearless eyes, into the sky whose
moonlight brightness shone softly over her form, the Virgin watching the
approach of her angel messenger could hardly have been adorned with a
more pure and simple loveliness, than now dwelt over the features of
Numerian's forsaken child.
No longer master of his agitation; filled with awe, grief, and despair,
as he looked on the victim of his heartless impatience; Hermanric bowed
himself at the girl's feet, and, in the passionate utterance of real
remorse, offered up his supplications for pardon and his assurances of
protection and love. All that the reader has already learned--the
bitter self-upbraidings of his evening, the sorrowful wanderings of his
night, the mysterious attraction that led him to the solitary house, his
joy at once more discovering his lost charge--all these confessions he
now poured forth in the simple yet powerful eloquence of strong emotion
and true regret.
Gradually and amazedly, as she listened to his words, Antonina awoke
from her abstraction. Even the expression of his countenance and the
earnestness of his manner, viewed by the intuitive penetration of her
sex, wrought with kind and healing influence on her mind. She started
suddenly, a bright flush flew over her colourless cheeks; she bent down,
and looked earnestly and wistfully into the Goth's face. Her lips
moved, but her quick convulsive breathing stifled the words that she
vainly endeavoured to form.
'Yes,' continued Hermanric, rising and drawing her towards him again,
'you shall never mourn, never fear, never weep more! Though you have
lost your father, and the people of your nation are as strangers to you,
though you have been threatened and forsaken, you shall still be
beautiful--still be happy; for I will watch you, and you shall never be
harmed; I will labour for you, and you shall never want! People and
kindred--fame and duty, I will abandon them all to make atonement to
Its youthful freshness and hope returned to the girl's heart, as water
to the long-parched spring, when the young warrior ceased. The tears
stood in her eyes, but she neither sighed nor spoke. Her frame trembled
all over with the excess of her astonishment and delight, as she still
steadfastly looked on him and still listened intently as he proceeded:--
'Fear, then, no longer for your safety--Goisvintha, whom you dread, is
far from us; she knows not that we are here; she cannot track our
footsteps now, to threaten or to harm you! Remember no more how you
have suffered and I have sinned! Think only how bitterly I have
repented our morning's separation, and how gladly I welcome our meeting
of to-night! Oh, Antonina! you are beautiful with a wondrous
loveliness, you are young with a perfected and unchildlike youth, your
words fall upon my ear with the music of a song of the olden time; it is
like a dream of the spirits that my fathers worshipped, when I look up
and behold you at my side!'
An expression of mingled confusion, pleasure, and surprise, flushed the
girl's half-averted countenance as she listened to the Goth. She rose
with a smile of ineffable gratitude and delight, and pointed to the
prospect beyond, as she softly rejoined:--
'Let us go a little further onward, where the moonlight shines over the
meadow below. My heart is bursting in this shadowy place! Let us seek
the light that is yonder; it seems happy like me!'
They walked forward; and as they went, she told him again of the sorrows
of her past day; of her lonely and despairing progress from his tent to
the solitary house where he had found her in the night, and where she
had resigned herself from the first to meet a death that had little
horror for her then. There was no thought of reproach, no utterance of
complaint, in this renewal of her melancholy narration. It was solely
that she might luxuriate afresh in those delighting expressions of
repentance and devotion, which she knew that it would call forth from
the lips of Hermanric, that she now thought of addressing him once more
with the tale of her grief.
As they still went onward; as she listened to the rude fervent eloquence
of the language of the Goth; as she looked on the deep repose of the
landscape, and the soft transparency of the night sky; her mind, ever
elastic under the shock of the most violent emotions, ever ready to
regain its wonted healthfulness and hope--now recovered its old tone,
and re-assumed its accustomed balance. Again her memory began to store
itself with its beloved remembrances, and her heart to rejoice in its
artless longings and visionary thoughts. In spite of all her fears and
all her sufferings, she now walked on blest in a disposition that woe
had no shadow to darken long, and neglect no influence to warp; still as
happy in herself; even yet as forgetful of her past, as hopeful for her
future, as on that first evening when we beheld her in her father's
garden, singing to the music of her lute.
Insensibly as they proceeded, they had diverged from the road, had
entered a bye-path, and now stood before a gate which led to a small
farm house, surrounded by its gardens and vineyards, and, like the
suburbs that they had quitted, deserted by its inhabitants on the
approach of the Goths. They passed through the gate, and arriving at
the plot of ground in front of the house, paused for a moment to look
The meadows had been already stripped of their grass, and the young
trees of their branches by the foragers of the invading army, but here
the destruction of the little property had been stayed. The house with
its neat thatched roof and shutters of variegated wood, the garden with
its small stock of fruit and its carefully tended beds of rare flowers,
designed probably to grace the feast of a nobleman or the statue of a
martyr, had presented no allurements to the rough tastes of Alaric's
soldiery. Not a mark of a footstep appeared on the turf before the
house door; the ivy crept in its wonted luxuriance about the pillars of
the lowly porch; and as Hermanric and Antonina walked towards the fish-
pond at the extremity of the garden, the few water-fowl placed there by
the owners of the cottage, came swimming towards the bank, as if to
welcome in their solitude the appearance of a human form.
Far from being melancholy, there was something soothing and attractive
about the loneliness of the deserted farm. Its ravaged outhouses and
plundered meadows, which might have appeared desolate by day, were so
distanced, softened, and obscured, by the atmosphere of night, that they
presented no harsh contrast to the prevailing smoothness and luxuriance
of the landscape around. As Antonina beheld the brightened fields and
the shadowed woods, here mingled, there succeeding each other, stretched
far onward and onward until they joined the distant mountains, that
eloquent voice of nature, whose audience is the human heart, and whose
theme is eternal love, spoke inspiringly to her attentive senses. She
stretched out her arms as she looked with steady and enraptured gaze
upon the bright view before her, as if she longed to see its beauties
resolved into a single and living form--into a spirit human enough to be
addressed, and visible enough to be adored.
'Beautiful earth!' she murmured softly to herself, 'Thy mountains are
the watch-towers of angels, thy moonlight is the shadow of God!'
Her eyes filled with bright, happy tears; she turned to Hermanric, who
stood watching her, and continued:--
'Have you never thought that light, and air, and the perfume of flowers,
might contain some relics of the beauties of Eden that escaped with Eve,
when she wandered into the lonely world? They glowed and breathed for
her, and she lived and was beautiful in them! They were united to one
another, as the sunbeam is united to the earth that it warms; and could
the sword of the cherubim have sundered them at once? When Eve went
forth, did the closed gates shut back in the empty Paradise, all the
beauty that had clung, and grown, and shone round her? Did no ray of
her native light steal forth after her into the desolateness of the
world? Did no print of her lost flowers remain on the bosom they must
once have pressed? It cannot be! A part of her possessions of Eden
must have been spared to her with a part of her life. She must have
refined the void air of the earth when she entered it, with a breath of
the fragrant breezes, and gleam of the truant sunshine of her lost
Paradise! They must have strengthened and brightened, and must now be
strengthening and brightening with the slow lapse of mortal years,
until, in the time when earth itself will be an Eden, they shall be made
one again with the hidden world of perfection, from which they are yet
separated. So that, even now, as I look forth over the landscape, the
light that I behold has in it a glow of Paradise, and this flower that I
gather a breath of the fragrance that once stole over the senses of my
first mother, Eve!'
Though she paused here, as if in expectation of an answer, the Goth
preserved an unbroken silence. Neither by nature nor position was he
capable of partaking the wild fancies and aspiring thoughts, drawn by
the influences of the external world from their concealment in
The mystery of his present situation; his vague remembrance of the
duties he had abandoned; the uncertainty of his future fortunes and
future fate; the presence of the lonely being so inseparably connected
with his past emotions and his existence to come, so strangely
attractive by her sex, her age, her person, her misfortunes, and her
endowments; all contributed to bewilder his faculties. Goisvintha, the
army, the besieged city, the abandoned suburbs, seemed to hem him in
like a circle of shadowy and threatening judgments; and in the midst of
them stood the young denizen of Rome, with her eloquent countenance and
her inspiring words, ready to hurry him, he knew not whither, and able
to influence him, he felt not how.
Unconsciously interpreting her companion's silence into a wish to change
the scene and the discourse, Antonina, after lingering over the view
from the garden for a moment longer, led the way back towards the
untenanted house. They removed the wooden padlock from the door of the
dwelling, and guided by the brilliant moonlight, entered its principal
The homely adornments of the little room had remained undisturbed, and
dimly distinguishable though they now were, gave it to the eyes of the
two strangers, the same aspect of humble comfort which had probably once
endeared it to its exiled occupants. As Hermanric seated himself by
Antonina's side on the simple couch which made the principal piece of
furniture in the place, and looked forth from the window over the same
view that they had beheld in the garden, the magic stillness and novelty
of the scene now began to affect his slow perceptions, as they had
already influenced the finer and more sensitive faculties of the
thoughtful girl. New hopes and tranquil ideas arose in his young mind,
and communicated an unusual gentleness to his expression, an unusual
softness to his voice, as he thus addressed his silent companion:--
'With such a home as this, with this garden, with that country beyond,
with no warfare, no stern teachers, no enemy to threaten you; with
companions and occupations that you loved--tell me, Antonina, would not
your happiness be complete?'
As he looked round at the girl to listen to her reply, he saw that her
countenance had changed. Their past expression of deep grief had again
returned to her features. Her eyes were fixed on the short dagger that
hung over the Goth's breast, which seemed to have suddenly aroused in
her a train of melancholy and unwelcome thoughts. When she at length
spoke, it was in a mournful and altered voice, and with a mingled
expression of resignation and despair.
'You must leave me--we must be parted again,' said she; 'the sight of
your weapons has reminded me of all that until now I had forgotten, of
all that I have left in Rome, of all that you have abandoned before the
city walls. Once I thought we might have escaped together from the
turmoil and the danger around us, but now I know that it is better that
you should depart! Alas! for my hopes and my happiness, I must be left
alone once more!'
She paused for an instant, struggling to retain her self-possession, and
'Yes, you must quit me, and return to your post before the city; for in
the day of assault there will be none to care for my father but you!
Until I know that he is safe, until I can see him once more, and ask him
for pardon, and entreat him for love, I dare not remove from the
perilous precincts of Rome! Return, then, to your duties, and your
companions, and your occupations of martial renown; and do not forget
Numerian when the city is assailed, nor Antonina, who is left to think
on you in the solitary plains!'
She rose from her place, as if to set the example of departing; but her
strength and resolution both failed her, and she sank down again on the
couch, incapable of making another movement, or uttering another word.
Strong and conflicting emotions passed over the heart of the Goth. The
language of the girl had quickened the remembrance of his half-forgotten
duties, and strengthened the failing influence of his old predilections
of education and race. Both conscience and inclination now opposed his
disputing her urgent and unselfish request. For a few minutes he
remained in deep reflection; then he rose and looked earnestly from the
window; then back again upon Antonina and the room they occupied. At
length, as if animated by a sudden determination, he again approached
his companion, and thus addressed her:--
'It is right that I should return. I will do your bidding, and depart
for the camp (but not till the break of day), while you, Antonina,
remain in concealment and in safety here. None can come hither to
disturb you. The Goths will not revisit the fields they have already
stripped; the husbandman who owns this dwelling is imprisoned in the
beleaguered city; the peasants from the country beyond dare not approach
so near to the invading hosts; and Goisvintha, whom you dread, knows not
even of the existence of such a refuge as this. Here, though lonely,
you will be secure; here you can await my return, when each succeeding
night gives me the opportunity of departing from the camp; and here I
will warn you beforehand, if the city is devoted to an assault. Though
solitary, you will not be abandoned--we shall not be parted one from the
other. Often and often I shall return to look on you, and to listen to
you, and to love you! You will be happier here, even in this lonely
place, than in the former home that you have lost through your father's
'Oh! I will willingly remain--I will joyfully await you!' cried the
girl, raising her beaming eyes to Hermanric's face. 'I will never speak
mournfully to you again; I will never remind you more of all that I have
suffered, and all that I have lost! How merciful you were to me, when I
first saw you in your tent--how doubly merciful you are to me here! I
am proud when I look on your stature, and your strength, and your heavy
weapons, and know that you are happy in remaining with me; that you will
succour my father; that you will return from your glittering encampments
to this farm-house, where I am left to await you! Already I have
forgotten all that has happened to me of woe; already I am more joyful
than ever I was in my life before! See, I am no longer weeping in
sorrow! If there are any tears still on my cheeks, they are the tears
of gladness that every one welcomes--tears to sing and rejoice in!'
She ceased abruptly, as if words failed to give expression to her new
delight. All the gloomy emotions that had oppressed her but a short
time before had now completely vanished; and the young, fresh heart,
superior still to despair and woe, basked as happily again in its native
atmosphere of joy as a bird in the sunlight of morning and spring.
Then, when after an interval of delay their former tranquility had
returned to them, how softly and lightly the quiet hours of the
remaining night flowed onward to the two watchers in the lonely house!
How gladly the delighted girl disclosed her hidden thoughts, and poured
forth her innocent confessions, to the dweller among other nations and
the child of other impressions than her own! All the various reflections
aroused in her mind by the natural objects she had secretly studied, by
the mighty imagery of her Bible lore, by the gloomy histories of saints'
visions and martyrs' sufferings, which she had learnt and pondered over
by her father's side, were now drawn from their treasured places in her
memory, and addressed to the ear of the Goth. As the child flies to the
nurse with the story of its first toy; as the girl resorts to the sister
with the confession of her first love; as the poet hurries to the friend
with the plan of his first composition; so did Antonina seek the
attention of Hermanric with the first outward revealings enjoyed by her
faculties and the first acknowledgment of her emotions liberated from
The longer the Goth listened to her, the more perfect became the
enchantment of her words, half struggling into poetry, and her voice
half gliding into music. As her low, still, varying tones wound
smoothly into his ear, his thoughts suddenly and intuitively reverted to
her formerly expressed remembrances of her lost lute, inciting him to
ask her, with new interest and animation, of the manner of her
acquisition of that knowledge of song, which she had already assured him
that she possessed.
'I have learned many odes of many poets,' said she, quickly and
confusedly avoiding the mention of Vetranio, which a direct answer to
Hermanric's question must have produced, 'but I remember none perfectly,
save those whose theme is of spirits and of other worlds, and of the
invisible beauty that we think of but cannot see. Of the few that I
know of these, there is one that I first learned and loved most. I will
sing it, that you may be assured I will not fail to you in my promised
She hesitated for a moment. Sorrowful remembrances of the events that
had followed the utterance of the last notes she sang in her father's
garden, swelled within her, and held her speechless. Soon, however,
after a short interval of silence, she recovered her self-possession,
and began to sing, in low tremulous tones, that harmonised well with the
character of the words and the strain of the melody which she had
THE MISSION OF THE TEAR
The skies were its birth-place--the TEAR was the child Of the dark
maiden SORROW, by young JOY beguil'd; It was born in convulsion; 'twas
nurtur'd in woe; And the world was yet young when it wander'd below.
No angel-bright guardians watch'd over its birth, Ere yet it was
suffer'd to roam upon earth; No spirits of gladness its soft form
caress'd; SIGHS mourned round its cradle, and hush'd it to rest.
Though JOY might endeavour, with kisses and wiles, To lure it away to
his household of smiles: From the daylight he lived in it turn'd in
affright, To nestle with SORROW in climates of night.
When it came upon earth, 'twas to choose a career, The brightest and
best that is left to a TEAR; To hallow delight, and bestow the relief
Denied by despair to the fulness of grief.
Few repell'd it--some bless'd it--wherever it came; Whether soft'ning
their sorrow, or soothing their shame; And the joyful themselves, though
its name they might fear, Oft welcom'd the calming approach of the TEAR!
Years on years have worn onward, as--watch'd from above--Speeds that
meek spirit yet on its labour of love; Still the exile of Heav'n, it
ne'er shall away, Every heart has a home for it, roam where it may!
For the first few minutes after she had concluded the ode, Hermanric was
hardly conscious that she had ceased; and when at length she looked up
at him, her mute petition for approval had an eloquence which would have
been marred to the Goth at that moment, by the utterance of single word.
A rapture, an inspiration, a new life moved within him. The hour and
the scene completed what the magic of the song had begun. His
expression now glowed with a southern warmth; his words assumed a Roman
fervour. Gradually, as they discoursed, the voice of the girl was less
frequently audible. A change was passing over her spirit; from the
teacher, she was now becoming the pupil.
As she still listened to the Goth, as she felt the birth of new feelings
within her while he spoke, her cheeks glowed, her features lightened up,
her very form seemed to freshen and expand. No intruding thought or
awakening remembrance disturbed her rapt attention. No cold doubt, no
gloomy hesitation, appeared in her companion's words. The one listened,
the other spoke, with the whole heart, the undivided soul. While a
world-wide revolution was concentrating its hurricane forces around
them; while the city of an Empire tottered already to its tremendous
fall; while Goisvintha plotted new revenge; while Ulpius toiled for his
revolution of bloodshed and ruin; while all these dark materials of
public misery and private strife seethed and strengthened around them,
they could as completely forget the stormy outward world, in themselves;
they could think as serenely of tranquil love; the kiss could be given
as passionately and returned as tenderly, as if the lot of their
existence had been cast in the pastoral days of the shepherd poets, and
the future of their duties and enjoyments was securely awaiting them in
a land of eternal peace!
CHAPTER 14. THE FAMINE.
The end of November is approaching. Nearly a month has elapsed since
the occurrence of the events mentioned in the last chapter, yet still
the Gothic lines stretch round the city walls. Rome, that we left
haughty and luxurious even while ruin threatened her at her gates, has
now suffered a terrible and warning change. As we approach her again,
woe, horror, and desolation have already gone forth to shadow her lofty
palaces and to darken her brilliant streets.
Over Pomp that spurned it, over Pleasure that defied it, over Plenty
that scared it in its secret rounds, the spectre Hunger has now risen
triumphant at last. Day by day has the city's insufficient allowance of
food been more and more sparingly doled out; higher and higher has risen
the value of the coarsest and simplest provision; the hoarded supplies
that pity and charity have already bestowed to cheer the sinking people
have reached their utmost limits. For the rich, there is still corn in
the city--treasure of food to be bartered for treasure of gold. For the
poor, man's natural nourishment exists no more; the season of famine's
loathsome feasts, the first days of the sacrifice of choice to necessity
have darkly and irretrievably begun.
It is morning. A sad and noiseless throng is advancing over the cold
flagstones of the great square before the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
The members of the assembly speak in whispers. The weak are tearful--the
strong are gloomy--they all move with slow and languid gait, and hold in
their arms their dogs or other domestic animals. On the outskirts of
the crowd march the enfeebled guards of the city, grasping in their
rough hands rare favourite birds of gaudy plumage and melodious note,
and followed by children and young girls vainly and piteously entreating
that their favourites may be restored.
This strange procession pauses, at length, before a mighty caldron slung
over a great fire in the middle of the square, round which stand the
city butchers with bare knives, and the trustiest men of the Roman
legions with threatening weapons. A proclamation is then repeated,
commanding the populace who have no money left to purchase food, to
bring up their domestic animals to be boiled together over the public
furnace, for the sake of contributing to the public support.
The next minute, in pursuance of this edict, the dumb favourites of the
crowd passed from the owner's caressing hand into the butcher's ready
grasp. The faint cries of the animals, starved like their masters,
mingled for a few moments with the sobs and lamentations of the women
and children, to whom the greater part of them belonged. For, in this
the first stage of their calamities, that severity of hunger which
extinguishes pity and estranges grief was unknown to the populace; and
though fast losing spirit, they had not yet sunk to the depths of
ferocious despair which even now were invisibly opening between them. A
thousand pangs were felt, a thousand humble tragedies were acted, in the
brief moments of separation between guardian and charge. The child
snatched its last kiss of the bird that had sung over its bed; the dog
looked its last entreaty for protection from the mistress who had once
never met it without a caress. Then came the short interval of agony
and death, then the steam rose fiercely from the greedy caldron, and
then the people for a time dispersed; the sorrowful to linger near the
confines of the fire, and the hungry to calm their impatience by a visit
to the neighbouring church.
The marble aisles of the noble basilica held a gloomy congregation.
Three small candles were alone lighted on the high altar. No sweet
voices sang melodious anthems or exulting hymns. The monks, in hoarse
tones and monotonous harmonics, chanted the penitential psalms. Here
and there knelt a figure clothed in mourning robes, and absorbed in
secret prayer; but over the majority of the assembly either blank
despondency or sullen inattention universally prevailed.
As the last dull notes of the last psalm died away among the lofty
recesses of the church, a procession of pious Christians appeared at the
door and advanced slowly to the altar. It was composed both of men and
women barefooted, clothed in black garments, and with ashes scattered
over their dishevelled hair. Tears flowed from their eyes, and they
beat their breasts as they bowed their foreheads on the marble pavement
of the altar steps.
This humble public expression of penitence under the calamity that had
now fallen on the city was, however, confined only to its few really
religious inhabitants, and commanded neither sympathy nor attention from
the heartless and obstinate population of Rome. Some still cherished
the delusive hope of assistance from the court at Ravenna; others
believed that the Goths would ere long impatiently abandon their
protracted blockade, to stretch their ravages over the rich and
unprotected fields of Southern Italy. But the same blind confidence in
the lost terrors of the Roman name, the same fierce and reckless
determination to defy the Goths to the very last, sustained the sinking
courage and suppressed the despondent emotions of the great mass of the
suffering people, from the beggar who prowled for garbage, to the
patrician who sighed over his new and unwelcome nourishment of simple
While the penitents who formed the procession above described were yet
engaged in the performance of their unnoticed and unshared duties of
penance and prayer, a priest ascended the great pulpit of the basilica,
to attempt the ungrateful task of preaching patience and piety to the
hungry multitude at his feet.
He began his sermon by retracing the principal occurrences in Rome since
the beginning of the Gothic blockade. He touched cautiously upon the
first event that stained the annals of the besieged city--the execution
of the widow of the Roman general Stilicho, on the unauthorised
suspicion that she had held treasonable communication with Alaric and
the invading army; he noticed lengthily the promises of assistance
transmitted from Ravenna, after the perpetration of that ill-omened act.
He spoke admiringly of the skill displayed by the government in making
the necessary and immediate reductions in the daily supplies of food; he
lamented the terrible scarcity which followed, too inevitably, those
seasonable reductions. He pronounced an eloquent eulogium on the noble
charity of Laeta, the widow of the Emperor Gratian, who, with her
mother, devoted the store of provisions obtained by their imperial
revenues to succouring, at that important juncture, the starving and
desponding poor: he admitted the new scarcity, consequent on the
dissipation of Laeta's stores; deplored the present necessity of
sacrificing the domestic animals of the citizens; condemned the enormous
prices now demanded for the last remnants of wholesome food that were
garnered up; announced it as the firm persuasion of every one that a few
days more would bring help from Ravenna; and ended his address by
informing his auditory that, as they had suffered so much already, they
could patiently suffer a little more, and that if, after this, they were
so ill-fated as to sink under their calamities, they would feel it a
noble consolation to die in the cause of Catholic and Apostolic Rome,
and would assuredly be canonised as saints and martyrs by the next
generation of the pious in the first interval of fertile and restoring
Flowing as was the eloquence of this oration, it yet possessed not the
power of inducing one among those whom it addressed to forget the
sensation of his present suffering, and to fix his attention on the
vision of future advantage, spread before all listeners by the fluent
priest. With the same murmurs of querulous complaint, and the same
expressions of impotent hatred and and defiance of the Goths which had
fallen from them as they entered the church, the populace now departed
from it, to receive from the city officers the stinted allowance of
repugnant food, prepared for their hunger from the caldron in the public
And see, already from other haunts in the neighbouring quarter of Rome
their fellow-citizens press onward at the given signal, to meet them
round the caldron's sides! The languid sentinel, released from duty,
turns his gaze from the sickening prospect of the Gothic camp, and
hastens to share the public meal; the baker starts from sleeping on his
empty counter, the beggar rises from his kennel in the butcher's vacant
out-house, the slave deserts his place by the smouldering kitchen-fire--
all hurry to swell the numbers of the guests that are bidden to the
wretched feast. Rapidly and confusedly, the congregation in the basilica
pours through its lofty gates; the priests and penitents retire from the
altar's foot, and in the great church, so crowded by a few moments
before, there now only remains the figure of a solitary man.
Since the commencement of the service, neither addressed nor observed,
this lonely being has faltered round the circle of the congregation,
gazing long and wistfully over the faces that met his view. Now that
the sermon is ended, and the last lingerer has quitted the church, he
turns from the spot whence he has anxiously watched the different
members of the departing throng, and feebly crouches down on his knees
at the base of a pillar that is near him. His eyes are hollow, and his
cheeks are wan; his thin grey hairs are few and fading on his aged head.
He makes no effort to follow the crowd and partake their sustenance; no
one is left behind to urge, no one returns to lead him to the public
meal. Though weak and old, he is perfectly forsaken in his loneliness,
perfectly unsolaced in his grief; his friends have lost all trace of
him; his enemies have ceased to fear or to hate him now. As he crouches
by the pillar alone, he covers his forehead with his pale, palsied
hands, his dim eyes fill with bitter tears, and such expressions as
these are ever and anon faintly audible in the intervals of his heavy
sighs: 'Day after day! Day after day! And my lost one is not found!
my loved and wronged one is not restored! Antonina! Antonina!'
Some days after the public distribution of food in the square of St.
John Lateran, Vetranio's favourite freedman might have been observed
pursuing his way homeward, sadly and slowly, to his master's palace.
It was not without cause that the pace of the intelligent Carrio was
funereal and his expression disconsolate. Even during the short period
that had elapsed since the scene in the basilica already described, the
condition of the city had altered fearfully for the worse. The famine
advanced with giant strides; every succeeding hour endued it with new
vigour, every effort to repel it served but to increase its spreading
and overwhelming influence. One after another the pleasures and
pursuits of the city declined beneath the dismal oppression of the
universal ill, until the public spirit in Rome became moved alike in all
classes by one gloomy inspiration--a despairing defiance of the famine
and the Goths.
The freedman entered his master's palace neither saluted nor welcomed by
the once obsequious slaves in the outer lodge. Neither harps nor
singing-boys, neither woman's ringing laughter nor man's bacchanalian
glee, now woke the echoes in the lonely halls. The pulse of pleasure
seemed to have throbbed its last in the joyless being of Vetranio's
Hastening his steps as he entered the mansion, Carrio passed into the
chamber where the senator awaited him.
On two couches, separated by a small table, reclined the lord of the
palace and his pupil and companion at Ravenna, the once sprightly
Camilla. Vetranio's open brow had contracted a clouded and severe
expression, and he neither regarded nor addressed his visitor, who, on
her part, remained as silent and as melancholy as himself. Every trace
of the former characteristics of the gay, elegant voluptuary and the
lively, prattling girl seemed to have completely vanished. On the table
between them stood a large bottle containing Falernian wine, and a vase
filled with a little watery soup, in the middle of which floated a small
dough cake, sparingly sprinkled with common herbs. As for the usual
accompaniments of Vetranio's luxurious privacy, they were nowhere to be
seen. Poems, pictures, trinkets, lutes, all were absent. Even the
'inestimable kitten of the breed most worshipped by the ancient
Egyptians' appeared no more. It had been stolen, cooked, and eaten by a
runaway slave, who had already bartered its ruby collar for a lean
parrot and the unroasted half of the carcase of a dog.
'I lament to confess it, O estimable patron, but my mission has failed,'
observed Carrio, producing from his cloak several bags of money and
boxes of jewels, which he carefully deposited on the table. 'The
Prefect has himself assisted in searching the public and private
granaries, and has arrived at the conclusion that not a handful of corn
is left in the city. I offered publicly in the market-place five
thousand sestertii for a living cock and hen, but was told that the race
had long since been exterminated, and that, as money would no longer buy
food, money was no longer desired by the poorest beggar in Rome. There
is no more even of the hay I yesterday purchased to be obtained for the
most extravagant bribes. Those still possessing the smallest supplies
of provision guard and hide them with the most jealous care. I have
done nothing but obtain for the consumption of the few slaves who yet
remain faithful in the house this small store of dogs' hides, reserved
from the public distribution of some days since in the square of the
Basilica of St. John.'
And the freedman, with an air of mingled triumph and disgust, produced
as he spoke his provision of dirty skins.
'What supplies have we still left in our possession?' demanded Vetranio,
after drinking a deep draught of the Falernian, and motioning his
servant to place his treasured burden out of sight.
'I have hidden in a secure receptacle, for I know not how soon hunger
may drive the slaves to disobedience,' rejoined Carrio, 'seven bags of
hay, three baskets stocked with salted horse-flesh, a sweetmeat-box
filled with oats, and another with dried parsley; the rare Indian
singing birds are still preserved inviolate in their aviary; there is a
great store of spices, and some bottles of the Nightingale Sauce yet
'What is the present aspect of the city?' interrupted Vetranio
'Rome is as gloomy as a subterranean sepulchre,' replied Carrio, with a
shudder. 'The people congregate in speechless and hungry mobs at the
doors of their houses and the corners of the streets, the sentinels at
the ramparts totter on their posts, women and children are sleeping
exhausted on the very pavements of the churches, the theatres are
emptied of actors and audience alike, the baths resound with cries for
food and curses on the Goths, thefts are already committed in the open
and unguarded shops, and the barbarians remain fixed in their
encampments, unapproached by our promised legions from Ravenna, neither
assaulting us in our weakness, nor preparing to raise the blockade! Our
situation grows more and more perilous. I have great hopes in our store
of provisions; but--'
'Cast your hopes to the court at Ravenna, and your beasts' provender to
the howling mob!' cried Vetranio with sudden energy. 'It is now too
late to yield; if the next few days bring us no assistance, the city
will be a human shambles! And think you that I, who have already lost
in this public suspension of social joys my pleasures, my employments,
and my companions, will wait serenely for the lingering and ignoble
death that must then threaten us all? No, it shall never be said that I
died starving with the herd, like a slave that his master deserts!
Though the plates in my banqueting hall must now be empty, my vases and
wine-cups shall yet sparkle for my guests! There is still wine in the
cellar, and spices and perfumes remain in the larder stores! I will
invite my friends to a last feast; a saturnalia in a city of famine; a
banquet of death, spread by the jovial labours of Silenus and his fauns!
Though the Parcae have woven for me the destiny of a dog, it is the hand
of Bacchus that shall sever the fatal thread!'
His cheeks were flushed, his eyes sparkled; all the mad energy of his
determination appeared in his face as he spoke. He was no longer the
light, amiable, smooth-tongued trifler, but a moody, reckless, desperate
man, careless of every obligation and pursuit which had hitherto
influenced the easy surface of his patrician life. The startled
Camilla, who had as yet preserved a melancholy silence, ran towards him
with affrighted looks and undissembled tears. Carrio stared in vacant
astonishment on his master's disordered countenance; and, forgetting his
bundle of dogskins, suffered them to drop unheeded on the floor. A
momentary silence followed, which was suddenly interrupted by the abrupt
entrance of a fourth person, pale, trembling and breathless, who was no
other than Vetranio's former visitor, the Prefect Pompeianus.
'I bid you welcome to my approaching feast of brimming wine-cups and
empty dishes!' cried Vetranio, pouring the sparkling Falernian into his
empty glass. 'The last banquet given in Rome, ere the city is
annihilated, will be mine! The Goths and the famine shall have no part
in my death! Pleasure shall preside at my last moments, as it has
presided at my whole life! I will die like Sardanapalus, with my loves
and my treasures around me, and the last of my guests who remains proof
against our festivity shall set fire to my palace, as the kingly
Assyrian set fire to his!'
'This is no season for jesting,' exclaimed the Prefect, staring round
him with bewildered eyes and colourless cheeks. 'Our miseries are but
dawning as yet! In the next street lies the corpse of a woman, and--
horrible omen!--a coil of serpents is wreathed about her neck! We have
no burial-place to receive her, and the thousands who may die like her,
ere assistance arrives. The city sepulchres outside the walls are in
the hands of the Goths. The people stand round the body in a trance of
horror, for they have now discovered a fatal truth we would fain have
concealed from them;' here the Prefect paused, looked round affrightedly
on his listeners, and then added in low trembling tones--
'The citizens are lying dead from famine in the streets of Rome!'
CHAPTER 15. THE CITY AND THE GODS.
We return once more to the Gothic encampment in the suburbs eastward of
the Pincian Gate, and to Hermanric and the warriors under his command,
who are still posted at that particular position on the great circle of
The movements of the young chieftain from place to place expressed, in
their variety and rapidity, the restlessness that was agitating his
mind. He glanced back frequently from the warriors around him to the
remote and opposite quarter of the suburbs, occasionally directing his
eyes towards the western horizon, as if anxiously awaiting the approach
of some particular hour of the coming night. Weary at length of pursuing
occupations which evidently irritated rather than soothed his
impatience, he turned abruptly from his companions, and advancing
towards the city, paced slowly backwards and forwards over the waste
ground between the suburbs and the walls of Rome.
At intervals he still continued to examine the scene around him. A more
dreary prospect than now met his view, whether in earth or sky, can
hardly be conceived.
The dull sunless day was fast closing, and the portentous heaven gave
promise of a stormy night. Thick, black layers of shapeless cloud hung
over the whole firmament, save at the western point; and here lay a
streak of pale, yellow light, enclosed on all sides by the firm,
ungraduated, irregular edges of the masses of gloomy vapour around it.
A deep silence hung over the whole atmosphere. The wind was voiceless
among the steady trees. The stir and action in the being of nature and
the life of man seemed enthralled, suspended, stifled. The air was
laden with a burdensome heat; and all things on earth, animate and
inanimate, felt the oppression that weighed on them from the higher
elements. The people who lay gasping for breath in the famine-stricken
city, and the blades of grass that drooped languidly on the dry sward
beyond the walls, owned the enfeebling influence alike.
As the hours wore on and night stealthily and gradually advanced, a
monotonous darkness overspread, one after another, the objects
discernible to Hermanric from the solitary ground he still occupied.
Soon the great city faded into one vast, impenetrable shadow, while the
suburbs and the low country around them vanished in the thick darkness
that gathered almost perceptibly over the earth. And now the sole
object distinctly visible was the figure of a weary sentinel, who stood
on the frowning rampart immediately above the rifted wall, and whose
drooping figure, propped upon his weapon, was indicated in hard relief
against the thin, solitary streak of light still shining in the cold and
cloudy wastes of the western sky.
But as the night still deepened, this one space of light faded,
contracted, vanished, and with it disappeared the sentinel and the line
of rampart on which he was posted. The rule of the darkness now became
universal. Densely and rapidly it overspread the whole city with
startling suddenness; as if the fearful destiny now working its
fulfilment in Rome had forced the external appearances of the night into
harmony with its own woe-boding nature.
Then, as the young Goth still lingered at his post of observation, the
long, low, tremulous, absorbing roll of thunder afar off became grandly
audible. It seemed to proceed from a distance almost incalculable; to
be sounding from its cradle in the frozen north; to be journeying about
its ice-girdled chambers in the lonely poles. It deepened rather than
interrupted the dreary, mysterious stillness of the atmosphere. The
lightning, too, had a summer softness in its noiseless and frequent
gleam. It was not the fierce lightning of winter, but a warm, fitful
brightness, almost fascinating in its light, rapid recurrence, tinged
with the glow of heaven, and not with the glare of hell.
There was no wind--no rain; and the air was as hushed as if it slept
over chaos in the infancy of a new creation.
Among the various objects displayed, instant by instant, by the rapid
lightning to the eyes of Hermanric, the most easily and most distinctly
visible was the broad surface of the rifted wall. The large, loose
stones, scattered here and there at its base, and the overhanging lid of
its broad rampart, became plainly though fitfully apparent in the brief
moments of their illumination. The lightning had played for some time
over that structure of the fortifications, and the bare ground that
stretched immediately beyond them, when the smooth prospect which it
thus gave by glimpses to view, was suddenly chequered by a flight of
birds appearing from one of the lower divisions of the wall, and
flitting uneasily to and fro at one spot before its surface.
As moment after moment the lightning continued to gleam, so the black
forms of the birds were visible to the practised eye of the Goth--
perceptible, yet evanescent, as sparks of fire or flakes of snow--
whirling confusedly and continually about the spot whence they had
evidently been startled by some unimaginable interruption. At length,
after a lapse of some time, they vanished as suddenly as they had
appeared, with shrill notes of affright which were audible even above
the continuous rolling of the thunder; and immediately afterwards, when
the lightning alternated with the darkness, there appeared to Hermanric,
in the part of the wall where the birds had been first disturbed, a
small red gleam, like a spark of fire lodged in the surface of the
structure. Then this was lost; a longer obscurity than usual prevailed
in the atmosphere, and when the Goth gazed eagerly through the next
succession of flashes, they showed him the momentary and doubtful
semblance of a human figure, standing erect on the stones at the base of
Hermanric started with astonishment. Again the lightning ceased. In
the ardour of his anxiety to behold more, he strained his eyes with the
vain hope of penetrating the obscurity around him. The darkness seemed
interminable. Once again the lightning flashed brilliantly out. He
looked eagerly towards the wall--the figure was still there.
His heart throbbed quickly within him, as he stood irresolute on the
spot he had occupied since the first peal of thunder had struck upon his
ear. Were the light and the man--one seen but for an instant, the other
still perceptible--mere phantoms of his erring sight, dazzled by the
quick recurrence of atmospheric changes through which it had acted? Or
did he indubitably behold a human form, and had he really observed a
material light? Some strange treachery, some dangerous mystery might be
engendering in the besieged city, which it would be his duty to observe
and unmask. He drew his sword, and, at the risk of being observed
through the lightning, and heard during the pauses in the thunder, by
the sentinel on the wall, resolutely advanced to the very foot of the
fortifications of hostile Rome.
He heard no sound, perceived no light, observed no figure, as, after
several unsuccessful attempts to reach the place where they stood, he at
length paused at the loose stones which he knew were heaped at the base
of the wall. The next moment he was so close to it, that he could pass
his sword-point over parts of its rugged surface. He had scarcely
examined thus a space of more than ten yards, before his weapon
encountered a sharp, jagged edge; and a sudden presentiment assured him
instantly that he had found the spot where he had beheld the momentary
light, and that he stood on the same stone which had been occupied by
the figure of the man.
After an instant's hesitation, he was about to mount higher on the loose
stones, and examine more closely the irregularity he had just discovered
in the wall, when a vivid flash of lightning, unusually prolonged,
showed him, obstructing at scarcely a yard's distance his onward path,
the figure he had already distantly beheld from the plain behind.
There was something inexpressibly fearful in his viewless vicinity,
during the next moment of darkness, to this silent, mysterious form, so
imperfectly shown by the lightning that quivered over its half-revealed
proportions. Every pulse in the body of the Goth seemed to pause as he
stood, with ready weapon, looking into the gloomy darkness, and wafting
for the next flash. It came, and displayed to him the man's fierce eyes
glaring steadily down upon his face; another gleam, and he beheld his
haggard finger placed upon his lip in token of silence; a third, and he
saw the arm of the figure pointing towards the plain behind him; and
then in the darkness that followed, a hot breath played upon his ear,
and a voice whispered to him, through a pause in the rolling of the
The next instant Hermanric felt the momentary contact of the man's body,
as with noiseless steps he passed him on the stones. It was no time to
deliberate or to doubt. He followed close upon the stranger's
footsteps, gaining glimpses of his dark form moving onward before,
whenever the lightning briefly illuminated the scene, until they arrived
at a clump of trees, not far distant from the houses in the suburbs that
were occupied by the Goths under his own command.
Here the stranger paused before the trunk of a tree which stood between
the city wall and himself, and drew from beneath his ragged cloak a
small lantern, carefully covered with a piece of cloth, which he now
removed, and holding the light high above his head, regarded the Goth
with a steady and anxious scrutiny.
Hermanric attempted to address him first, but the appearance of the man,
barely visible though it was by the feeble light of his lantern, was so
startling and repulsive, that the half-formed words died away on his
lips. The face of the stranger was of a ghastly paleness; his hollow
cheeks were seamed with deep wrinkles; and his eyes glared with an
expression of ferocious suspicion. One of his arms was covered with old
bandages, stiff with coagulated blood, and hung paralysed at his side.
The hand that held the light trembled, so that the lantern containing it
vibrated continuously in his unsteady grasp. His limbs were lank and
shrivelled almost to deformity, and it was with evident difficulty that
he stood upright on his feet. Every member of his body seemed to be
wasting with a gradual death, while his expression, ardent and
forbidding, was stamped with all the energy of manhood, and all the
daring of youth.
It was Ulpius! The wall was passed! The breach was made good!
After a protracted examination of Hermanric's countenance and attire,
the man, with an imperious expression, strangely at variance with his
faltering voice, thus addressed him:--
'You are a Goth?'
'I am,' rejoined the young chief; 'and you are--'
'A friend of the Goths,' was the quick answer.
An instant of silence followed. The dialogue was then again begun by
'What brought you alone to the base of the ramparts?' he demanded, and
an expression of ungovernable apprehension shot from his eyes as he
'I saw the appearance of a man in the gleam of the lightning,' answered
Hermanric. 'I approached it, to assure myself that my eyes had not
deluded me, to discover--'
'There is but one man of your nation who shall discover whence I came
and what I would obtain,' interrupted the stranger fiercely; 'that man
is Alaric, your king.'
Surprise, indignation, and contempt appeared in the features of the
Goth, as he listened to such a declaration from the helpless outcast
before him. The man perceived it, and motioning him to be silent, again
'Listen!' cried he. 'I have that to reveal to the leader of your forces
which will stir the heart of every man in your encampment, if you are
trusted with the secret after your king has heard it from my lips! Do
you still refuse to guide me to his tent?'
Hermanric laughed scornfully.
'Look on me,' pursued the man, bending forward, and fixing his eyes with
savage earnestness upon his listener's face. 'I am alone, old, wounded,
weak,--a stranger to your nation,--a famished and a helpless man!
Should I venture into your camp--should I risk being slain for a Roman
by your comrades--should I dare the wrath of your imperious ruler
without a cause?'
He paused; and then, still keeping his eyes on the Goth, continued in
lower and more agitated tones--
'Deny me your help, I will wander through your camp till I find your
king? Imprison me, your violence will not open my lips! Slay me, you
will gain nothing by my death! But aid me, and to the latest moment of
your life you will rejoice in the deed! I have words of terrible import
for Alaric's ear,--a secret in the gaining of which I have paid the
He pointed to his wounded arm. The solemnity of his voice, the rough
energy of his words, the stern determination of his aspect, the darkness
of the night that was round them, the rolling thunder that seemed to
join itself to their discourse, the impressive mystery of their meeting
under the city walls, all began to exert their powerful and different
influences over the mind of the Goth, changing insensibly the sentiments
at first inspired in him by the man's communications. He hesitated, and
looked round doubtfully towards the lines of the camp.
There was a long silence, which was again interrupted by the stranger.
'Guard me, chain me, mock at me if you will,' he cried, with raised
voice and flashing eyes, 'but lead me to Alaric's tent! I swear to you
by the thunder pealing over our heads, that the words I would speak to
him will be more precious in his eyes than the brightest jewel he could
ravish from the coffers of Rome.'
Though visibly troubled and impressed, Hermanric still hesitated.
'Do you yet delay?' exclaimed the man, with contemptuous impatience.
'Stand back! I will pass on by myself into the very heart of your camp!
I entered on my project alone--I will work its fulfilment without help!
And he moved past Hermanric in the direction of the suburbs, with the
same look of fierce energy on his withered features which had marked
them so strikingly at the outset of his extraordinary interview with the
The daring devotion to his purpose, the reckless toiling after a
dangerous and doubtful success, manifested in the words and actions of
one so feeble and unaided as the stranger, aroused in the Goth that
sentiment of irrepressible admiration which the union of moral and
physical courage inevitably awakens. In addition to the incentive to
aid the man thus created, an ardent curiosity to discover his secret
filled the mind of Hermanric, and further powerfully inclined him to
conduct his determined companion into Alaric's presence--for by such
proceeding only could he hope, after the man's firm declaration that he
would communicate in the first instance to no one but the king, to
penetrate ultimately the object of his mysterious errand. Animated,
therefore, by such motives as these, he called to the stranger to stop,
and briefly communicated to him his willingness to conduct him instantly
to the presence of the leader of the Goths.
The man intimated by a sign his readiness to accept the offer. His
physical powers were now evidently fast failing, but he still tottered
painfully onward as they moved to the headquarters of the camp,
muttering and gesticulating to himself almost incessantly. Once only
did he address his conductor during their progress; and then with a
startling abruptness of manner, and in tones of vehement anxiety and
suspicion, he demanded of the young Goth if he had ever examined the
surface of the city wall before that night. Hermanric replied in the
negative; and they then proceeded in perfect silence.
Their way lay through the line of encampment to the westward, and was
imperfectly lighted by the flame of an occasional torch or the glow of a
distant watch-fire. The thunder had diminished in frequency, but had
increased in volume; faint breaths of wind soared up fitfully from the
west, and already a few raindrops fell slowly to the thirsty earth. The
warriors not actually on duty at the different posts of observation had
retired to the shelter of their tents; none of the thousand idlers and
attendants attached to the great army appeared at their usual haunts;
even the few voices that were audible sounded distant and low. The
night-scene here, among the ranks of the invaders of Italy, was as
gloomy and repelling as on the solitary plains before the walls of Rome.
Ere long the stranger perceived that they had reached a part of the camp
more thickly peopled, more carefully illuminated, more strongly
fortified, than that through which they had already passed; and the
liquid, rushing sound of the waters of the rapid Tiber now caught his
suspicious and attentive ear. They still moved onward a few yards; and
then paused suddenly before a tent, immediately surrounded by many
others, and occupied at all its approaches by groups of richly-armed
warriors. Here Hermanric stopped an instant to parley with the sentinel,
who, after a short delay, raised the outer covering of the entrance to
the tent, and the moment after the Roman adventurer beheld himself
standing by his conductor's side in the presence of the Gothic king.
The interior of Alaric's tent was lined with skins, and illuminated by
one small lamp, fastened to the centre pole that supported its roof.
The only articles of furniture in the place were some bundles of furs
flung down loosely on the ground, and a large, rudely-carved wooden
chest, on which stood a polished human skull, hollowed into a sort of
clumsy wine-cup. A thoroughly Gothic ruggedness of aspect, a stately
Northern simplicity prevailed over the spacious tent, and was indicated
not merely in its thick shadows, its calm lights, and its freedom from
pomp and glitter, but even in the appearance and employment of its
Alaric was seated alone on the wooden chest already described,
contemplating with bent brow and abstracted gaze some old Runic
characters, traced upon the carved surface of a brass and silver shield,
full five feet high, which rested against the side of the tent. The
light of the lamp falling upon the polished surface of the weapon--
rendered doubly bright by the dark skins behind it--was reflected back
upon the figure of the Goth chief. It glowed upon his ample cuirass; it
revealed his firm lips, slightly curled by an expression of scornful
triumph; it displayed the grand, muscular formation of his arm, which
rested--clothed in tightly-fitting leather--upon his knee; it partly
brightened over his short, light hair, and glittered steadily in his
fixed, thoughtful, manly eyes, which were just perceptible beneath the
partial shadow of his contracted brow; while it left the lower part of
his body and his right hand, which was supported on the head of a huge,
shaggy dog couching at his side, shadowed almost completely by the thick
skins heaped confusedly against the sides of the wooden chest. He was
so completely absorbed in the contemplation of the Runic characters,
traced among the carved figures on his immense shield, that he did not
notice the entry of Hermanric and the stranger until the growl of the
watchful dog suddenly disturbed him in his occupation. He looked up
instantly, his quick, penetrating glance dwelling for a moment on the
young chieftain, and then resting steadily and inquiringly on his
companion's feeble and mutilated form.
Accustomed to the military brevity and promptitude exacted by his
commander in all communications addressed to him by his inferiors,
Hermanric, without waiting to be interrogated or attempting to preface
or excuse his narrative, shortly related the conversation that had taken
place between the stranger and himself on the plain near the Pincian
Gate; and then waited respectfully to receive the commendation or incur
the rebuke of the king, as the chance of the moment might happen to
After again fixing his eyes in severe scrutiny on the person of the
Roman, Alaric spoke to the young warrior in the Gothic language thus:--
'Leave the man with me--return to your post, and there await whatever
commands it may be necessary that I should despatch to you to-night.'
Hermanric immediately departed. Then, addressing the stranger for the
first time, and speaking in the Latin language, the Gothic leader
briefly and significantly intimated to his unknown visitant that they
were now alone.
The man's parched lips moved, opened, quivered; his wild, hollow eyes
brightened till they absolutely gleamed, but he seemed incapable of
uttering a word; his features became horribly convulsed, the foam
gathered about his lips, he staggered forward and would have fallen to
the ground, had not the king instantly caught him in his strong grasp,
and placed him on the wooden chest that he had hitherto occupied
'Can a starving Roman have escaped from the beleaguered city?' muttered
Alaric, as he took the skull cup, and poured some of the wine it
contained down the stranger's throat.
The liquor was immediately successful in restoring composure to the
man's features and consciousness to his mind. He raised himself from
the seat, dashed off the cold perspiration that overspread his forehead,
and stood upright before the king--the solitary, powerless old man
before the vigorous lord of thousands, in the midst of his warriors--
without a tremor in his steady eye or a prayer for protection on his
'I, a Roman,' he began, 'come from Rome, against which the invader wars
with the weapon of famine, to deliver the city, her people, her palaces,
and her treasures into the hands of Alaric the Goth.'
The king started, looked on the speaker for a moment, and then turned
from him in impatience and contempt.
'I lie not,' pursued the enthusiast, with a calm dignity that affected
even the hardy sensibilities of the Gothic hero. 'Eye me again! Could
I come starved, shrivelled, withered thus from any place but Rome?
Since I quitted the city an hour has hardly passed, and by the way that
I left it the forces of the Goths may enter it to-night.'
'The proof of the harvest is in the quantity of the grain, not in the
tongue of the husbandman. Show me your open gates, and I will believe
that you have spoken truth,' retorted the king, with a rough laugh.
'I betray the city,' resumed the man sternly, 'but on one condition;
grant it me, and--'
'I will grant you your life,' interrupted Alaric haughtily.
'My life!' cried the Roman, and his shrunken form seemed to expand, and
his tremulous voice to grow firm and steady in the very bitterness of
his contempt, as he spoke. 'My life! I ask it not of your power! The
wreck of my body is scarce strong enough to preserve it to me a single
day! I have no home, no loves, no friends, no possessions! I live in
Rome a solitary in the midst of the multitude, a pagan in a city of
apostates! What is my life to me? I cherish it but for the service of
the gods, whose instruments of vengeance against the nation that has
denied them I would make you and your hosts! If you slay me, it is a
sign to me from them that I am worthless in their cause. I shall die
He ceased. The king's manner, as he listened to him, gradually lost the
bluntness and carelessness that had hitherto characterised it, and
assumed an attention and a seriousness more in accordance with his high
station and important responsibilities. He began to regard the stranger
as no common renegade, no ordinary spy, no shallow impostor, who might
be driven from his tent with disdain; but as a man important enough to
be heard, and ambitious enough to be distrusted. Accordingly, he
resumed the seat from which he had risen during the interview, and
calmly desired his new ally to explain the condition, on the granting of
which depended the promised betrayal of the city of Rome.
The pain-worn and despondent features of Ulpius became animated by a
glow of triumph as he heard the sudden mildness and moderation of the
king's demand; he raised his head proudly, and advanced a few steps, as
he thus loudly and abruptly resumed:--
'Assure to me the overthrow of the Christian churches, the extermination
of the Christian priests, and the universal revival of the worship of
the gods, and this night shall make you master of the chief city of the
empire you are labouring to subvert!'
The boldness, the comprehensiveness, the insanity of wickedness
displayed in such a proposition, and emanating from such a source, so
astounded the mind of Alaric, as to deprive him for the moment of
speech. The stranger, perceiving his temporary inability to answer him,
broke the silence which ensued and continued--
'Is my condition a hard one? A conqueror is all-powerful; he can
overthrow the worship, as he can overthrow the government of a nation.
What matters it to you, while empire, renown, and treasure are yours,
what deities the people adore? Is it a great price to pay for an easy
conquest, to make a change which threatens neither your power, your
fame, nor your wealth? Do you marvel that I desire from you such a
revolution as this? I was born for the gods, in their service I
inherited rank and renown, for their cause I have suffered degradation
and woe, for their restoration I will plot, combat, die! Assure me then
by oath, that with a new rule you will erect our ancient worship, and
through my secret inlet to the city I will introduce men enough of the
Goths to murder with security the sentinels at the guard-houses, and
open the gates of Rome to the numbers of your whole invading forces.
Think not to despise the aid of a man unprotected and unknown! The
citizens will never yield to your blockade; you shrink from risking the
dangers of an assault; the legions of Ravenna are reported on their way
hitherward. Outcast as I am, I tell it to you here, in the midst of
your camp--your speediest assurance of success rests on my discovery and
The king started suddenly from his seat. 'What fool or madman!' he
cried, fixing his eyes in furious scorn and indignation on the
stranger's face, 'prates to me about the legions of Ravenna and the
dangers of an assault! Think you, renegade, that your city could have
resisted me had I chosen to storm it on the first day when I encamped
before its walls? Know you that your effeminate soldiery have laid
aside the armour of their ancestors, because their puny bodies are too
feeble to bear its weight, and that the half of my army here trebles the
whole number of the guards of Rome? Now, while you stand before me, I
have but to command, and the city shall be annihilated with fire and
sword, without the aid of one of the herd of traitors cowering beneath
the shelter of its ill-defended walls!'
As Alaric spoke thus, some invisible agency seemed to crush, body and
mind, the lost wretch whom he addressed. The shock of such an answer as
he now heard seemed to strike him idiotic, as a flash of lightning
strikes with blindness. He regarded the king with a bewildered stare,
waving his hand tremulously backwards and forwards before his face, as
if to clear some imaginary darkness off his eyes; then his arm fell
helpless by his side, his head drooped upon his breast, and he moaned
out in low, vacant tones, 'The restoration of the gods--that is the
condition of conquest--the restoration of the gods!'
'I come not hither to be the tool of a frantic and forgotten
priesthood,' cried Alaric disdainfully. 'Wherever I meet with your
accursed idols I will melt them down into armour for my warriors and
shoes for my horses; I will turn your temples into granaries and cut
your images of wood into billets for the watchfires of my hosts!'
'Slay me and be silent!' groaned the man, staggering back against the
side of the tent, and shrinking under the merciless words of the Goth
like a slave under the lash.
'I leave the shedding of such blood as yours to your fellow Romans,'
answered the king; 'they alone are worthy of the deed.'
No syllable of reply now escaped the stranger's lips, and after an
interval of silence Alaric resumed, in tones divested of their former
fiery irritation, and marked by a solemn earnestness that conferred
irresistible dignity and force on every word that he uttered.
'Behold the characters engraven there!' said he, pointing to the shield;
'they trace the curse denounced by Odin against the great oppressor,
Rome! Once these words made part of the worship of our fathers; the
worship has long since vanished, but the words remain; they seal the
eternal hatred of the people of the North to the people of the South;
they contain the spirit of the great destiny that has brought me to the
walls of Rome. Citizen of a fallen empire, the measure of your crimes
is full! The voice of a new nation calls through me for the freedom of
the earth, which was made for man, and not for Romans! The rule that
your ancestors won by strength their posterity shall no longer keep by
fraud. For two hundred years, hollow and unlasting truces have
alternated with long and bloody wars between your people and mine.
Remembering this, remembering the wrongs of the Goths in their
settlements in Thrace, the murder of the Gothic youths in the towns of
Asia, the massacre of the Gothic hostages in Aquileia, I come--chosen by
the supernatural decrees of Heaven--to assure the freedom and satisfy
the wrath of my nation, by humbling at its feet the power of tyrannic
Rome! It is not for battle and bloodshed that I am encamped before
yonder walls. It is to crush to the earth, by famine and woe, the pride
of your people and the spirit of your rulers; to tear from you your
hidden wealth, and to strip you of your boasted honour; to overthrow by
oppression the oppressors of the world; to deny you the glories of a
resistance, and to impose on you the shame of a submission. It is for
this that I now abstain from storming your city, to encircle it with an
As the declaration of his great mission burst thus from the lips of the
Gothic king, the spirit of his lofty ambition seemed to diffuse itself
over his outward form. His noble stature, his fine proportions, his
commanding features, became invested with a simple, primeval grandeur.
Contrasted as he now was with the shrunken figure of the spirit-broken
stranger, he looked almost sublime.
A succession of protracted shuddering ran through the Pagan's frame, but
he neither wept nor spoke. The unavailing defence of the Temple of
Serapis, the defeated revolution at Alexandria, and the abortive
intrigue with Vetranio, were now rising on his memory, to heighten the
horror of his present and worst overthrow. Every circumstance connected
with his desperate passage through the rifted wall revived, fearfully
vivid, on his mind. He remembered all the emotions of his first night's
labour in the darkness, all the miseries of his second night's torture
under the fallen brickwork, all the woe, danger, and despondency that
accompanied his subsequent toil--persevered in under the obstructions of
a famine-weakened body and a helpless arm--until he passed, in delusive
triumph, the last of the hindrances in the long-laboured breach. One
after another these banished recollections returned to his memory as he
listened to Alaric's rebuking words--reviving past infirmities, opening
old wounds, inflicting new lacerations. But, saving the shudderings
that still shook his body, no outward witness betrayed the inward
torment that assailed him. It was too strong for human words, too
terrible for human sympathy;--he suffered it in brute silence.
Monstrous as was his plot, the moral punishment of its attempted
consummation was severe enough to be worthy of the projected crime.
After watching the man for a few minutes more, with a glance of pitiless
disdain, Alaric summoned one of the warriors in attendance; and, having
previously commanded him to pass the word to the sentinels, authorising
the stranger's free passage through the encampment, he then turned, and,
for the last time, addressed him as follows:--
'Return to Rome, through the hole whence, reptile-like, you emerged!--
and feed your starving citizens with the words you have heard in the
The guard approached, led him from the presence of the king, issued the
necessary directions to the sentinels, and left him to himself. Once he
raised his eyes in despairing appeal to the heaven that frowned over his
head; but still, no word, or tear, or groan, escaped him. He moved
slowly on through the thick darkness; and turning his back on the city,
passed, careless whither he strayed, into the streets of the desolate
and dispeopled suburbs.
CHAPTER 16. LOVE MEETINGS.
Who that has looked on a threatening and tempestuous sky, has not felt
the pleasure of discovering unexpectedly a small spot of serene blue,
still shining among the stormy clouds? The more unwillingly the eye has
wandered over the gloomy expanse of the rest of the firmament, the more
gladly does it finally rest on the little oasis of light which meets at
length its weary gaze, and which, when it was dispersed over the whole
heaven, was perhaps only briefly regarded with a careless glance.
Contrasted with the dark and mournful hues around it, even that small
spot of blue gradually acquires the power of investing the wider and
sadder prospect with a certain interest and animation that it did not
before possess--until the mind recognises in the surrounding atmosphere
of storm an object adding variety to the view--a spectacle whose
mournfulness may interest as well as repel.
Was it with sensations resembling these (applied, however, rather to the
mind than to the eye) that the reader perused those pages devoted to
Hermanric and Antonina? Does the happiness there described now appear
to him to beam through the stormy progress of the narrative as the spot
of blue beams through the gathering clouds? Did that small prospect of
brightness present itself, at the time, like a garden of repose amid the
waste of fierce emotions which encompassed it? Did it encourage him,
when contrasted with what had gone before, to enter on the field of
gloomier interest which was to follow? If, indeed, it has thus affected
him, if he can still remember the scene at the farm-house beyond the
suburbs with emotions such as these, he will not now be unwilling to
turn again for a moment from the gathering clouds to the spot of blue,--
he will not deny us an instant's digression from Ulpius and the city of
famine to Antonina and the lonely plains.
During the period that has elapsed since we left her, Antonina has
remained secure in her solitude, happy in her well-chosen concealment.
The few straggling Goths who at rare intervals appeared in the
neighbourhood of her sanctuary never intruded on its peaceful limits.
The sight of the ravaged fields and emptied granaries of the deserted
little property sufficed invariably to turn their marauding steps in
other directions. Day by day ran smoothly and swiftly onwards for the
gentle usurper of the abandoned farm-house. In the narrow round of its
gardens and protecting woods was comprised for her the whole circle of
the pleasures and occupations of her new life.
The simple stores left in the house, the fruits and vegetables to be
gathered in the garden, sufficed amply for her support. The pastoral
solitude of the place had in it a quiet, dreamy fascination, a novelty,
an unwearying charm, after the austere loneliness to which her former
existence had been subjected in Rome. And when evening came, and the
sun began to burnish the tops of the western tress, then, after the calm
emotions of the solitary day, came the hour of absorbing cares and happy
expectations--ever the same, yet ever delighting and ever new. Then the
rude shutters were carefully closed; the open door was shut and barred;
the small light--now invisible to the world without--was joyfully
kindled; and then, the mistress and author of these preparations
resigned herself to await, with pleased anxiety, the approach of the
guest for whose welcome they were designed.
And never did she expect the arrival of that treasured companion in
vain. Hermanric remembered his promise to repair constantly to the
farm-house, and performed it with all the constancy of love and all the
enthusiasm of youth. When the sentinels under his command were arranged
in their order of watching for the night, and the trust reposed in him
by his superiors exempted his actions from superintendence during the
hours of darkness that followed, he left the camp, passed through the
desolate suburbs, and gained the dwelling where the young Roman awaited
him--returning before daybreak to receive the communication s regularly
addressed to him, at that hour, by his inferior in the command.
Thus, false to his nation, yet true to the new Egeria of his thoughts
and actions--traitor to the requirements of vengeance and war, yet
faithful to the interests of tranquility and love--did he seek, night
after night, Antonina's presence. His passion, though it denied him to
his warrior duties, wrought not deteriorating change in his disposition.
All that it altered in him it altered nobly. It varied and exalted his
rude emotions, for it was inspired, not alone by the beauty and youth
that he saw, but by the pure thoughts, the artless eloquence that he
heard. And she--the forsaken daughter, the source whence the Northern
warrior derived those new and higher sensations that had never animated
him until now--regarded her protector, her first friend and companion,
as her first love, with a devotion which, in its mingled and exalted
nature, may be imagined by the mind, but can be but imperfectly depicted
by the pen. It was a devotion created of innocence and gratitude, of
joy and sorrow, of apprehension and hope. It was too fresh, too
unworldly to own any upbraidings of artificial shame, any self-
reproaches of artificial propriety. It resembled in its essence, though
not in its application, the devotion of the first daughters of the Fall
to their brother-lords.
But it is now time that we return to the course of our narrative;
although, ere we again enter on the stirring and rapid present, it will
be necessary for a moment more to look back in another direction to the
But it is not on peace, beauty, and pleasure that our observation now
fixes itself. It is to anger, disease, and crime--to the unappeasable
and unwomanly Goisvintha, that we now revert.
Since the day when the violence of her conflicting emotions had deprived
her of consciousness, at the moment of her decisive triumph over the
scruples of Hermanric and the destiny of Antonina, a raging fever had
visited on her some part of those bitter sufferings that she would fain
have inflicted on others. Part of the time she lay in a raving
delirium; part of the time in helpless exhaustion; but she never forgot,
whatever the form assumed by her disease, the desperate purpose in the
pursuit of which she had first incurred it. Slowly and doubtfully her
vigour at length returned to her, and with it strengthened and increased
the fierce ambition of vengeance that absorbed her lightest thoughts and
governed her most careless actions.
Report informed her of the new position, on the line of blockade, on
which Hermanric was posted, and only enumerated as the companions of his
sojourn the warriors sent thither under his command. But, though thus
persuaded of the separation of Antonina and the Goth, her ignorance of
the girl's fate rankled unintermittingly in her savage heart. Doubtful
whether she had permanently reclaimed Hermanric to the interests of
vengeance and bloodshed; vaguely suspecting that he might have informed
himself in her absence of Antonina's place of refuge or direction of
flight; still resolutely bent on securing the death of her victim,
wherever she might have strayed, she awaited with trembling eagerness
that day of restoration to available activity and strength which would
enable her to resume her influence over the Goth, and her machinations
against the safety of the fugitive girl. The time of her final and long-
expected recovery, was the very day preceding the stormy night we have
already described, and her first employment of her renewed energy was to
send word to the young Goth of her intention of seeking him at his
encampment ere the evening closed.
It was this intimation which caused the inquietude mentioned as
characteristic of the manner of Hermanric at the commencement of the
preceding chapter. The evening there described was the first that saw
him deprived, through the threatened visit of Goisvintha, of the
anticipation of repairing to Antonina, as had been his wont, under cover
of the night; for to slight his kinswoman's ominous message was to risk
the most fatal of discoveries. Trusting to the delusive security of her
sickness, he had hitherto banished the unwelcome remembrance of her
existence from his thoughts. But, now that she was once more capable of
exertion and of crime, he felt that if he would preserve the secret of
Antonina's hiding-place and the security of Antonina's life, he must
remain to oppose force to force and stratagem to stratagem, when
Goisvintha sought him at his post, even at the risk of inflicting, by
his absence from the farm-house, all the pangs of anxiety and
apprehension on the lonely girl.
Absorbed in such reflections as these, longing to depart, yet determined
to remain, he impatiently awaited Goisvintha's approach, until the
rising of the storm with its mysterious and all-engrossing train of
events forced his thoughts and actions into a new channel. When,
however, his interviews with the stranger and the Gothic king were past,
and he had returned as he had been bidden to his appointed sojourn in
the camp, his old anxieties, displaced but not destroyed, resumed their
influence over him. He demanded eagerly of his comrades if Goisvintha
had arrived in his absence, and received the same answer in the negative
As he now listened to the melancholy rising of the wind and the
increasing loudness of the thunder, to the shrill cries of the distant
night-birds hurrying to shelter, emotions of mournfulness and awe
possessed themselves of his heart. He now wondered that any events,
however startling, however appalling, should have had the power to turn
his mind for a moment from the dreary contemplations that had engaged it
at the close of day. He thought of Antonina, solitary and helpless,
listening to the tempest in affright, and watching vainly for his long-
delayed approach. His fancy arrayed before him dangers, plots, and
crimes, robed in all the horrible exaggerations of a dream. Even the
quick, monotonous dripping of the rain-drops outside aroused within him
dark and indefinable forebodings of ill. The passion that had hitherto
created for him new pleasures was now fulfilling the other half of its
earthly mission, and causing him new pains.
As the storm strengthened, as the darkness lowered deeper and deeper, so
did his inquietude increase, until at length it mastered the last feeble
resistance of his wavering firmness. Persuading himself that, after
having delayed so long, Goisvintha would now refrain from seeking him
until the morrow, and that all communications from Alaric, had they been
despatched, would have reached him ere this; unable any longer to combat
his anxiety for the safety of Antonina; determined to risk the worst
possibilities rather than be absent at such a time of tempest and peril
from the farm-house, he made a last visit to the stations of the
watchful sentinels, and quitted the camp for the night.
CHAPTER 17. THE HUNS.
More than an hour after Hermanric had left the encampment, a man
hurriedly entered the house set apart for the young chieftain's
occupation. He made no attempt to kindle either light or fire, but sat
down in the principal apartment, occasionally whispering to himself in a
strange and barbarous tongue.
He had remained but a short time in possession of his comfortless
solitude, when he was intruded on by a camp-follower, bearing a small
lamp, and followed closely by a woman, who, as he started up and
confronted her, announced herself as Hermanric's kinswoman, and eagerly
demanded an interview with the Goth.
Haggard and ghastly though it was from recent suffering and long
agitation, the countenance of Goisvintha (for it was she) appeared
absolutely attractive as it was now opposed by the lamp-light to the
face and figure of the individual she addressed. A flat nose, a swarthy
complexion, long, coarse, tangled locks of deep black hair, a beardless,
retreating chin, and small, savage, sunken eyes, gave a character almost
bestial to this man's physiognomy. His broad, brawny shoulders overhung
a form that was as low in stature as it was athletic in build; you
looked on him and saw the sinews of a giant strung in the body of a
dwarf. And yet this deformed Hercules was no solitary error of Nature--
no extraordinary exception to his fellow-beings, but the actual type of
a whole race, stunted and repulsive as himself. He was a Hun.
This savage people, the terror even of their barbarous neighbours,
living without government, laws, or religion, possessed but one feeling
in common with the human race--the instinct of war. Their historical
career may be said to have begun with their early conquests in China,
and to have proceeded in their first victories over the Goths, who
regarded them as demons, and fled at their approach. The hostilities
thus commenced between the two nations were at length suspended by the
temporary alliance of the conquered people with the empire, and
subsequently ceased in the gradual fusion of the interests of each in
one animating spirit--detestation of Rome.
By this bond of brotherhood, the Goths and the Huns became publicly
united, though still privately at enmity--for the one nation remembered
its former defeats as vividly as the other remembered its former
victories. With various disasters, dissensions, and successes, they ran
their career of battle and rapine, sometimes separate, sometimes
together, until the period of our romance, when Alaric's besieging
forces numbered among the ranks of their barbarian auxiliaries a body of
Huns, who, unwillingly admitted to the title of Gothic allies, were
dispersed about the army in subordinate stations, and of whom the
individual above described was one of those contemptuously favoured by
promotion to an inferior command, under Hermanric, as a Gothic chief.
An expression of aversion, but not of terror, passed over Goisvintha's
worn features as she approached the barbarian, and repeated her desire
to be conducted to Hermanric's presence. For the second time, however,
the man gave her no answer. He burst into a shrill, short laugh, and
shook his huge shoulders in clumsy derision.
The woman's cheek reddened for an instant, and then turned again to
livid paleness as she thus resumed--
'I came not hither to be mocked by a barbarian, but to be welcomed by a
Goth! Again I ask you, where is my kinsman, Hermanric?'
'Gone!' cried the Hun. And his laughter grew more wild and discordant
as he spoke.
A sudden tremor ran through Goisvintha's frame as she marked the manner
of the barbarian and heard his reply. Repressing with difficulty her
anger and agitation, she continued, with apprehension in her eyes and
entreaty in her tones--
'Whither has he gone? Wherefore has he departed? I know that the hour
I appointed for our meeting here has long passed; but I have suffered a
sickness of many weeks, and when, at evening, I prepared to set forth,
my banished infirmities seemed suddenly to return to me again. I was
borne to my bed. But, though the woman who succoured me bid me remain
and repose, I found strength in the night to escape them, and through
storm and darkness to come hither alone--for I was determined, though I
should perish for it, to seek the presence of Hermanric, as I had
promised by my messengers. You, that are the companion of his watch,
must know whither he is gone. Go to him, and tell him what I have
spoken. I will await his return!'
'His business is secret,' sneered the Hun. 'He has departed, but
without telling me whither. How should I, that am a barbarian, know the
whereabouts of an illustrious Goth? It is not for me to know his
actions, but to obey his words!'
'Jeer not about your obedience,' returned Goisvintha with breathless
eagerness. 'I say to you again, you know whither he is gone, and you
must tell me for what he has departed. You obey him--there is money to
make you obey me!'
'When I said his business was secret, I lied not,' said the Hun, picking
up with avidity the coins she flung to him--'but he has not kept it
secret from me! The Huns are cunning! Aha, ugly and cunning!'
Suspicion, the only refined emotion in a criminal heart, half discovered
to Goisvintha, at this moment, the intelligence that was yet to be
communicated. No word, however, escaped her, while she signed the
barbarian to proceed.
'He has gone to a farm-house on the plains beyond the suburbs behind us.
He will not return till daybreak,' continued the Hun, tossing his money
carelessly in his great, horny hands.
'Did you see him go?' gasped the woman.
'I tracked him to the house,' returned the barbarian. 'For many nights
I watched and suspected him--to-night I saw him depart. It is but a
short time since I returned from following him. The darkness did not
delude me; the place is on the high-road from the suburbs--the first by-
path to the westward leads to its garden gate. I know it! I have
discovered his secret! I am more cunning than he!'
'For what did he seek the farm-house at night?' demanded Goisvintha
after an interval, during which she appeared to be silently fixing the
man's last speech in her memory; 'are you cunning enough to tell me
'For what do men venture their safety and their lives, their money and
their renown?' laughed the barbarian. 'They venture them for women!
There is a girl at the farm-house; I saw her at the door when the chief
He paused; but Goisvintha made no answer. Remembering that she was
descended from a race of women who slew their wounded husbands,
brothers, and sons with their own hands when they sought them after
battle dishonoured by a defeat; remembering that the fire of the old
ferocity of such ancestors as these still burnt at her heart;
remembering all that she had hoped from Hermanric, and had plotted
against Antonina; estimating in all its importance the shock of the
intelligence she now received, we are alike unwilling and unable to
describe her emotions at this moment. For some time the stillness in
the room was interrupted by no sounds but the rolling of the thunder
without, the quick, convulsive respiration of Goisvintha, and the
clinking of the money which the Hun still continued to toss mechanically
from hand to hand.
'I shall reap good harvest of gold and silver after to-night's work,'
pursued the barbarian, suddenly breaking the silence. 'You have given
me money to speak--when the chief returns and hears that I have
discovered him, he will give me money to be silent. I shall drink to-
morrow with the best men in the army, Hun though I am!'
He returned to his seat as he ceased, and began beating in monotonous
measure, with one of his pieces of money on the blade of his sword, some
chorus of a favourite drinking song; while Goisvintha, standing pale and
breathless near the door of the chamber, looked down on him with fixed,
vacant eyes. At length a deep sigh broke from her; her hands
involuntarily clenched themselves at her side; her lips moved with a
bitter smile; then, without addressing another word to the Hun, she
turned, and softly and stealthily quitted the room.
The instant she was gone, a sudden change arose in the barbarian's
manner. He started from his seat, a scowl of savage hatred and triumph
appeared on his shaggy brows, and he paced to and fro through the
chamber like a wild beast in his cage. 'I shall tear him from the
pinnacle of his power at last!' he whispered fiercely to himself. 'For
what I have told her this night, his kinswoman will hate him--I knew it
while she spoke! For his desertion of his post, Alaric may dishonour
him, may banish him, may hang him! His fate is at my mercy; I shall rid
myself nobly of him and his command! More than all the rest of his
nation I loathe this Goth! I will be by when they drag him to the tree,
and taunt him with his shame, as he has taunted me with my deformity.'
Here he paused to laugh in complacent approval of his project,
quickening his steps and hugging himself joyfully in the barbarous
exhilaration of his triumph.
His secret meditations had thus occupied him for some time longer, when
the sound of a footstep was audible outside the door. He recognised it
instantly, and called softly to the person without to approach. At the
signal of his voice a man entered--less athletic in build, but in
deformity the very counterpart of himself. The following discourse was
then immediately held between the two Huns, the new-comer beginning it
'Have you tracked him to the door?'
'To the very threshold.'
'Then his downfall is assured! I have seen Alaric.'
'We shall trample him under our feet!--this boy, who has been set over
us that are his elders, because he is a Goth and we are Huns! But what
of Alaric? How did you gain his ear?'
'The Goths round his tent scoffed at me as a savage, and swore that I
was begotten between a demon and a witch. But I remembered the time
when these boasters fled from their settlements; when our tribes mounted
their black steeds and hunted them like beasts! Aha, their very lips
were pale with fear in those days.'
'Speak of Alaric--our time is short,' interrupted the other fiercely.
'I answered not a word to their taunts,' resumed his companion, 'but I
called out loudly that I was a Gothic ally, that I brought messages to
Alaric, and that I had the privilege of audience like the rest. My voice
reached the ears of the king: he looked forth from his tent, and
beckoned me in. I saw his hatred of my nation lowering in his eye as we
looked on one another, but I spoke with submission and in a soft voice.
I told him how his chieftain whom he had set over us secretly deserted
his post; I told him how we had seen his favoured warrior for many
nights journeying towards the suburbs; how on this night, as on others
before, he had stolen from the encampment, and how you had gone forth to
track him to his lurking-place.'
'Was the tyrant angered?'
'His cheeks reddened, and his eyes flashed, and his fingers trembled
round the hilt of his sword while I spoke! When I ceased he answered me
that I lied. He cursed me for an infidel Hun who had slandered a
Christian chieftain. He threatened me with hanging! I cried to him to
send messengers to our quarters to prove the truth ere he slew me. He
commanded a warrior to return hither with me. When we arrived, the most
Christian chieftain was nowhere to be beheld--none knew whither he had
gone! We turned back again to the tent of the king; his warrior, whom
he honoured, spoke the same words to him as the Hun whom he despised.
Then the wrath of Alaric rose. "This very night," he cried, "did I with
my own lips direct him to await my commands with vigilance at his
appointed post! I would visit such disobedience with punishment on my
own son! Go, take with you others of your troop--your comrade who has
tracked him will guide you to his hiding-place--bring him prisoner into
my tent!" Such were his words! Our companions wait us without--lest he
should escape let us depart without delay.'
'And if he should resist us,' cried the other, leading the way eagerly
towards the door; 'what said the king if he should resist us?'
'Slay him with your own hands.'
CHAPTER 18. THE FARM-HOUSE.
As the night still advanced, so did the storm increase. On the plains
in the open country its violence was most apparent. Here no living
voices jarred with the dreary music of the elements; no flaming torches
opposed the murky darkness or imitated the glaring lightning. The
thunder pursued uninterruptedly its tempest symphony, and the fierce
wind joined it, swelling into wild harmony when it rushed through the
trees, as if in their waving branches it struck the chords of a mighty
In the small chamber of the farm-house sat together Hermanric and
Antonina, listening in speechless attention to the increasing tumult of
The room and its occupants were imperfectly illuminated by the flame of
a smouldering wood fire. The little earthenware lamp hung from its usual
place in the ceiling, but its oil was exhausted and its light was
extinct. An alabaster vase of fruit lay broken by the side of the
table, from which it had fallen unnoticed to the floor. No other
articles of ornament appeared in the apartment. Hermanric's downcast
eyes and melancholy, unchanging expressions betrayed the gloomy
abstraction in which he was absorbed. With one hand clasped in his, and
the other resting with her head on his shoulder, Antonina listened
attentively to the alternate rising and falling of the wind. Her beauty
had grown fresher and more woman-like during her sojourn at the farm-
house. Cheerfulness and hope seemed to have gained at length all the
share in her being assigned to them by nature at her birth. Even at
this moment of tempest and darkness there was more of wonder and awe
than of agitation and affright in her expression, as she sat hearkening,
with flushed cheek and brightened eye, to the progress of the nocturnal
Thus engrossed by their thoughts, Hermanric and Antonina remained silent
in their little retreat, until the reveries of both were suddenly
interrupted by the snapping asunder of the bar of wood which secured the
door of the room, the stress of which, as it bent under the repeated
shocks of the wind, the rotten spar was too weak to sustain any longer.
There was something inexpressibly desolate in the flood of rain, wind,
and darkness that seemed instantly to pour into the chamber through the
open door, as it flew back violently on its frail hinges. Antonina
changed colour, and shuddered involuntarily, as Hermanric hastily rose
and closed the door again, by detaching its rude latch from the sling
which held it when not wanted for use. He looked round the room as he
did so for some substitute for the broken bar, but nothing that was fit
for the purpose immediately met his eye, and he muttered to himself as
he returned impatiently to his seat: 'While we are here to watch it the
latch is enough; it is new and strong.'
He seemed on the point of again relapsing into his former gloom, when
the voice of Antonina arrested his attention, and aroused him for the
moment from his thoughts.
'Is it in the power of the tempest to make you, a warrior of a race of
heroes, thus sorrowful and sad?' she asked, in accents of gentle
reproach. 'Even I, as I look on these walls that are so eloquent of my
happiness, and sit by you whose presence makes that happiness, can
listen to the raging storm, and feel no heaviness over my heart! What
is there to either of us in the tempest that should oppress us with
gloom? Does not the thunder come from the same heaven as the sunshine
of the summer day? You are so young, so generous, so brave,--you have
loved, and pitied, and succoured me,--why should the night language of
the sky cast such sorrow and such silence over you?'
'It is not from sorrow that I am silent,' replied Hermanric, with a
constrained smile, 'but from weariness with much toil in the camp.'
He stifled a sigh as he spoke. His head returned to its old downcast
position. The struggle between his assumed carelessness and his real
inquietude was evidently unequal. As she looked fixedly on him, with
the vigilant eye of affection, the girl's countenance saddened with his.
She nestled closer to his side and resumed the discourse in anxious and
'It is haply the strife between our two nations which has separated us
already, and may separate us again, that thus oppresses you,' said she;
'but think, as I do, of the peace that must come, and not of the warfare
that now is. Think of the pleasures of our past days, and of the
happiness of our present moments,--thus united, thus living, loving,
hoping for each other; and, like me, you will doubt not of the future
that is in preparation for us both! The season of tranquillity may
return with the season of spring. The serene heaven will then be
reflected on a serene country and a happy people; and in those days of
sunshine and peace, will any hearts among all the glad population be
more joyful than ours?'
She paused a moment. Some sudden thought or recollection heightened her
colour and caused her to hesitate ere she proceeded. She was about at
length to continue, when a peal of thunder, louder than any which had
preceded it, burst threateningly over the house and drowned the first
accents of her voice. The wind moaned loudly, the rain splashed against
the door, the latch rattled long and sharply in its socket. Once more
Hermanric rose from his seat, and approaching the fire, placed a fresh
log of wood upon the dying embers. His dejection seemed now to
communicate itself to Antonina, and as he reseated himself by her side,
she did not address him again.
Thoughts, dreary and appalling beyond any that had occupied it before,
were rising in the mind of the Goth. His inquietude at the encampment
in the suburbs was tranquillity itself compared to the gloom which now
oppressed him. All the evaded dues of his nation, his family, and his
calling; all the suppressed recollections of the martial occupation he
had slighted, and the martial enmities he had disowned, now revived
avengingly in his memory. Yet, vivid as these remembrances were, they
weakened none of those feelings of passionate devotion to Antonina by
which their influence within him had hitherto been overcome. They