Part 6 out of 9
existed with them--the old recollections with the new emotions--the
stern rebukings of the warrior's nature with the anxious forebodings of
the lover's heart. And now, his mysterious meeting with Ulpius;
Goisvintha's unexpected return to health; the dreary rising and furious
progress of the night tempest, began to impress his superstitious mind
as a train of unwonted and meaning incidents, destined to mark the fatal
return of his kinswoman's influence over his own actions and Antonina's
One by one, his memory revived with laborious minuteness every incident
that had attended his different interviews with the Roman girl, from the
first night when she had strayed into his tent to the last happy evening
that he had spent with her at the deserted farm-house. Then tracing
further backwards the course of his existence, he figured to himself his
meeting with Goisvintha among the Italian Alps; his presence at the
death of her last child, and his solemn engagement, on hearing her
recital of the massacre at Aquileia, to avenge her on the Romans with
his own hands. Roused by these opposite pictures of the past, his
imagination peopled the future with images of Antonina again endangered,
afflicted, and forsaken; with visions of the impatient army, spurred at
length into ferocious action, making universal havoc among the people of
Rome, and forcing him back for ever into their avenging ranks. No
decision for resistance or resignation to flight presented itself to his
judgment. Doubt, despair, and apprehension held unimpeded sway over his
impressible but inactive faculties. The night itself, as he looked
forth on it, was not more dark; the wild thunder, as he listened to it,
not more gloomy; the name of Goisvintha, as he thought on it, not more
ominous of evil, than the sinister visions that now startled his
imagination and oppressed his weary mind.
There was something indescribably simple, touching, and eloquent in the
very positions of Hermanric and Antonina as they now sat together--the
only members of their respective nations who were united in affection
and peace--in the lonely farm-house. Both the girl's hands were clasped
over Hermanric's shoulder, and her head rested on them, turned from the
door towards the interior of the room, and so displaying her rich, black
hair in all its luxuriance. The head of the Goth was still sunk on his
breast, as though he were wrapped in a deep sleep, and his hands hung
listlessly side by side over the scabbard of his sheathed sword, which
lay across his knees. The fire flamed only at intervals, the fresh log
that had been placed on it not having been thoroughly kindled as yet.
Sometimes the light played on the white folds of Antonina's dress;
sometimes over the bright surface of Hermanric's cuirass, which he had
removed and laid by his side on the ground; sometimes over his sword,
and his hands, as they rested on it; but it was not sufficiently
powerful or lasting to illuminate the room, the walls and corners of
which it left in almost complete darkness.
The thunder still pealed from without, but the rain and wind had
partially lulled. The night hours had moved on more swiftly than our
narrative of the events that marked them. It was now midnight.
No sound within the room reached Antonina's ear but the quick rattling
of the door-latch, shaken in its socket by the wind. As one by one the
moments journeyed slowly onward, it made its harsh music with as
monotonous a regularity as though it were moved by their progress, and
kept pace with their eternal march. Gradually the girl found herself
listening to this sharp, discordant sound, with all the attention she
could have bestowed at other times on the ripple of a distant rivulet or
the soothing harmony of a lute, when, just as it seemed adapting itself
most easily to her senses, it suddenly ceased, and the next instant a
gust of wind, like that which had rushed through the open door on the
breaking of the rotten bar, waved her hair about her face and fluttered
the folds of her light, loose dress. She raised her head and whispered
tremulously to Hermanric--
'The door is open again--the latch has given way!'
The Goth started from his reverie and looked up hastily. At that
instant the rattling of the latch recommenced as suddenly as it had
ceased, and the air of the room recovered its former tranquillity.
'Calm yourself, beloved one,' said Hermanric gently; 'your fancy has
misled you--the door is safe.'
He parted back her dishevelled hair caressingly as he spoke. Incapable
of doubting the lightest word that fell from his lips, and hearing no
suspicious or unwonted sound in the room, she never attempted to justify
her suspicions. As she again rested her head on his shoulder, a vague
misgiving oppressed her heart, and drew from her an irrepressible sigh;
but she gave her apprehensions no expression in words. After listening
for a moment more to assure himself of the security of the latch, the
Goth resumed insensibly the contemplations from which he had been
disturbed; once more his head drooped, and again his hands returned
mechanically to their old listless position, side by side, on the
scabbard of his sword.
The faint, fickle flames still rose and fell, gleaming here and sinking
there, the latch sounded sharply in its socket, the thunder yet uttered
its surly peal, but the wind was now subsiding into fainter moans, and
the rain began to splash faintly and more faintly against the shutters
without. To the watchers in the farm-house nothing was altered to the
eye, and little to the ear. Fatal security! The last few minutes had
darkly determined their future destinies--in the loved and cherished
retreat they were now no longer alone.
They heard no stealthy footsteps pacing round their dwelling, they saw
no fierce eyes peering into the interior of the farm-house through a
chink in the shutters, they marked no dusky figure passing through the
softly and quickly opened door, and gliding into the darkest corner of
the room. Yet, now as they sat together, communing in silence with
their young, sad hearts, the threatening figure of Goisvintha stood,
shrouded in congenial darkness, under their protecting roof and in their
beloved chamber, rising still and silent almost at their very sides.
Though the fire of her past fever had raged again through her veins, and
though startling visions of the murders at Aquileia had flashed before
her mind as the wild lightning before her eyes, she had traced her way
through the suburbs and along the high-road, and down the little path to
the farm-house gate, without straying, without hesitating. Regardless
of the darkness and the storm, she had prowled about the house, had
raised the latch, had waited for a loud peal of thunder ere she passed
the door, and had stolen shadow-like into the darkest corner of the
room, with a patience and a determination that nothing could disturb.
And now, when she stood at the goal of her worst wishes, even now, when
she looked down upon the two beings by whom she had been thwarted and
deceived, her fierce self-possession did not desert her; her lips
quivered over her locked teeth, her bosom heaved beneath her drenched
garments, but neither sighs nor curses, not even a smile of triumph or a
movement of anger escaped her.
She never looked at Antonina; her eyes wandered not for a moment from
Hermanric's form. The quickest, faintest gleam of firelight that
gleamed over it was followed through its fitful course by her eager
glance, rapid and momentary as itself. Soon her attention was fixed
wholly upon his hands, as they lay over the scabbard of his sword; and
then, slowly and obscurely, a new and fatal resolution sprung up within
her. The various emotions pictured in her face became resolved into one
sinister expression, and, without removing her eyes from the Goth, she
slowly drew from the bosom-folds of her garment a long sharp knife.
The flames alternately trembled into light and subsided into darkness as
at first; Hermanric and Antonina yet continued in their old positions,
absorbed in their thoughts and in themselves; and still Goisvintha
remained unmoved as ever, knife in hand, watchful, steady, silent as
But beneath the concealment of her outward tranquillity raged a
contention under which her mind darkened and her heart writhed. Twice
she returned the knife to its former hiding-place, and twice she drew it
forth again; her cheeks grew paler and paler, she pressed her clenched
hand convulsively over her bosom, and leant back languidly against the
wall behind her. No thought of Antonina had part in this great strife
of secret emotions; her wrath had too much of anguish in it to be spent
against a stranger and an enemy.
After the lapse of a few moments more, her strength returned--her
firmness was aroused. The last traces of grief and despair that had
hitherto appeared in her eyes vanished from them in an instant. Rage,
vengeance, ferocity, lowered over them as she crept stealthily forward
to the very side of the Goth, and, when the next gleam of the fire
played upon him, drew the knife fiercely across the back of his hands.
The cut was true, strong, and rapid--it divided the tendons from first
to last--he was crippled for life.
At that instant the fire touched the very heart of the log that had been
laid on it. It crackled gaily; it blazed out brilliantly. The whole
room was as brightly illuminated as if a Christmas festival of ancient
England had been preparing within its walls!
The warm, cheerful light showed the Goth the figure of his assassin, ere
the first cry of anguish had died away on his lips, or the first start
of irrepressible horror ceased to vibrate through his frame. The cries
of his hapless companion, as the whole scene of vengeance, treachery,
and mutilation flashed in one terrible instant before her eyes, seemed
not even to reach his ears. Once he looked down upon his helpless
hands, when the sword rolled heavily from them to the floor. Then his
gaze directed itself immovably upon Goisvintha, as she stood at a little
distance from him, with her blood-stained knife, silent as himself.
There was no fury--no defiance--not even the passing distortion of
physical suffering in his features, as he now looked on her. Blank,
rigid horror--tearless, voiceless, helpless despair, seemed to have
petrified the expression of his face into an everlasting form,
unyouthful and unhopeful--as if he had been imprisoned from his
childhood, and a voice was now taunting him with the pleasures of
liberty, from a grating in his dungeon walls. Not even when Antonina,
recovering from her first agony of terror, pressed her convulsive kisses
on his cold cheek, entreating him to look on her, did he turn his head,
or remove his eyes from Goisvintha's form.
At length the deep steady accents of the woman's voice were heard
through the desolate silence.
'Traitor in word and thought you may be yet, but traitor in deed you
never more shall be!' she began, pointing to his hands with her knife.
'Those hands, that have protected a Roman life, shall never grasp a
Roman sword, shall never pollute again by their touch a Gothic weapon!
I remembered, as I watched you in the darkness, how the women of my race
once punished their recreant warriors when they fled to them from a
defeat. So have I punished you! The arm that served not the cause of
sister and sister's children--of king and king's nation--shall serve no
other! I am half avenged of the murders at Aquileia, now that I am
avenged on you! Go, fly with the Roman you have chosen to the city of
her people! Your life as a warrior is at an end!'
He made her no answer. There are emotions, the last of a life, which
tear back from nature the strongest barriers that custom raises to
repress her, which betray the lurking existence of the first rude social
feeling of the primeval days of a great nation, in the breasts of their
most distant descendants, however widely their acquirements, their
prosperities, or their changes may seem to have morally separated them
from their ancestors of old. Such were the emotions now awakened in the
heart of the Goth. His Christianity, his love, his knowledge of high
aims, and his experience of new ideas, sank and deserted him, as though
he had never known them. He thought on his mutilated hands, and no
other spirit moved within him, but the ancient Gothic spirit of
centuries back; the inspiration of his nation's early Northern songs and
early Northern achievements--the renown of courage and the supremacy of
Vainly did Antonina, in the midst of the despair that still possessed
her, yearn for a word from his lips or a glance from his eyes; vainly
did her trembling fingers, tearing the bandages from her robe, stanch
the blood on his wounded hands; vainly did her voice call on him to fly
and summon help from his companions in the camp! His mind was far away,
brooding over the legends of the battle-fields of his ancestors,
remembering how, even in the day of victory, they slew themselves if
they were crippled in the fray, how they scorned to exist for other
interests than the interests of strife, how they mutilated traitors as
Goisvintha had mutilated him! Such were the objects that enchained his
inward faculties, while his outward senses were still enthralled by the
horrible fascination that existed for him in the presence of the
assassin by his side. His very consciousness of his existence, though
he moved and breathed, seemed to have ceased.
'You thought to deceive me in my sickness, you hoped to profit by my
death,' resumed Goisvintha, returning contemptuously her victim's
glance. 'You trusted in the night, and the darkness, and the storm; you
were secure in your boldness, in your strength, in the secrecy of this
lurking-place that you have chosen for your treachery, but your
stratagems and your expectations have failed you! At Aquileia I learnt
to be wily and watchful as you! I discovered your desertion of the
warriors and the camp; I penetrated the paths to your hiding-place; I
entered it as softly as I once departed from the dwelling where my
children were slain! In my just vengeance I have treated you as
treacherously as you would have treated me! Remember your murdered
brother; remember the child I put into your arms wounded and received
from them dead; remember your broken oaths and forgotten promises, and
make to your nation, to your duties, and to me, the atonement--the last
and the only one--that in my mercy I have left in your power--the
atonement of death.'
Again she paused, and again no reply awaited her. Still the Goth
neither moved nor spoke, and still Antonina--kneeling unconsciously upon
the sword, now useless to him for ever--continued to stanch the blood on
his hands with a mechanical earnestness that seemed to shut out the
contemplation of every other object from her eyes. The tears streamed
incessantly down her cheeks, but she never turned towards Goisvintha,
never suspended her occupation.
Meanwhile, the fire still blazed noisily on the cheerful hearth; but the
storm, as if disdaining the office of heightening the human horror of
the farm-house scene, was rapidly subsiding. The thunder pealed less
frequently and less loudly, the wind fell into intervals of noiseless
calm, and occasionally the moonlight streamed, in momentary brightness,
through the ragged edges of the fast breaking clouds. The breath of the
still morning was already moving upon the firmament of the stormy night.
'Has life its old magic for you yet?' continued Goisvintha, in tones of
pitiless reproach. 'Have you forgotten, with the spirit of your people,
the end for which your ancestors lived? Is not your sword at your feet?
Is not the knife in my hand? Do not the waters of the Tiber, rolling
yonder to the sea, offer to you the grave of oblivion that all may seek?
Die then! In your last hour be a Goth; even to the Romans you are
worthless now! Already your comrades have discovered your desertion;
will you wait till you are hung for a rebel? Will you live to implore
the mercy of your enemies, or, dishonoured and defenceless, will you
endeavour to escape? You are of the blood of my family, but again I say
it to you--die!'
His pale lips trembled; he looked round for the first time at Antonina,
but his utterance struggled ineffectually, even yet, against unyielding
despair. He was still silent.
Goisvintha turned from him disdainfully, and approaching the fire sat
down before it, bending her haggard features over the brilliant flames.
For a few minutes she remained absorbed in her evil thoughts, but no
articulate word escaped her; and when at length she again abruptly broke
the silence, it was not to address the Goth or to fix her eyes on him as
Still cowering over the fire, apparently as regardless of the presence
of the two beings whose happiness she had just crushed for ever as if
they had never existed, she began to recite, in solemn, measured,
chanting tones, a legend of the darkest and earliest age of Gothic
history, keeping time to herself with the knife that she still held in
her hand. The malignity in her expression, as she pursued her
employment, betrayed the heartless motive that animated it, almost as
palpably as the words of the composition she was repeating: thus she
'The tempest-god's pinions o'ershadow the sky, The waves leap to welcome
the storm that is nigh, Through the hall of old Odin re-echo the shocks
That the fierce ocean hurls at his rampart of rocks, As, alone on the
crags that soar up from the sands, With his virgin SIONA the young AGNAR
stands; Tears sprinkle their dew on the sad maiden's cheeks, And the
voice of the chieftain sinks low while he speaks:--
"Crippled in the fight for ever, Number'd with the worse than slain;
Weak, deform'd, disabled!--never Can I join the hosts again!--With the
battle that is won AGNAR'S earthly course is run!
"When thy shatter'd frame must yield, If thou seek'st a future field;
When thy arm, that sway'd the strife, Fails to shield thy worthless
life; When thy hands no more afford Full employment to the sword; Then,
preserve--respect thy name; Meet thy death--to live is shame! Such is
Odin's mighty will; Such commands I now fulfil!"'
At this point in the legend, she paused and turned suddenly to observe
its effect on Hermanric. All its horrible application to himself
thrilled through his heart. His head drooped, and a low groan burst
from his lips. But even this evidence of the suffering she was
inflicting failed to melt the iron malignity of Goisvintha's
'Do you remember the death of Agnar?' she cried. 'When you were a
child, I sung it to you ere you slept, and you vowed as you heard it,
that when you were a man, if you suffered his wounds you would die his
death! He was crippled in a victory, yet he slew himself on the day of
his triumph; you are crippled in your treachery, and have forgotten your
boy's honour, and will live in the darkness of your shame! Have you
lost remembrance of that ancient song? You heard it from me in the
morning of your years; listen, and you shall hear it to the end; it is
the dirge for your approaching death!'
"SIONA, mourn not!--where I go The warriors feel nor pain nor woe; They
raise aloft the gleaming steel, Their wounds, though warm, untended
heal; Their arrows bellow through the air In showers, as they battle
there; In mighty cups their wine is pour'd, Bright virgins throng their
"Yet think not that I die unmov'd; I mourn the doom that sets me free,
As I think, betroth'd--belov'd, On all the joys I lose in thee! To form
my boys to meet the fray, Where'er the Gothic banner streams; To guard
thy night, to glad thy day, Made all the bliss of AGNAR'S dreams--Dreams
that must now be all forgot, Earth's joys have passed from AGNAR'S lot!
"See, athwart the face of light Float the clouds of sullen Night! Odin's
warriors watch for me By the earth-encircling sea! The water's dirges
howl my knell; 'Tis time I die--Farewell-Farewell!"
'He rose with a smile to prepare for the spring, He flew from the rock
like a bird on the wing; The sea met her prey with a leap and a roar,
And the maid stood alone by the wave-riven shore! The winds mutter'd
deep, with a woe-boding sound, As she wept o'er the footsteps he'd left
on the ground; And the wild vultures shriek'd, for the chieftain who
spread Their battle-field banquets was laid with the dead!'
As, with a slow and measured emphasis, Goisvintha pronounced the last
lines of the poem she again approached Hermanric. But the eyes of the
Goth sought her no longer. She had calmed the emotions that she had
hoped to irritate. Of the latter divisions of her legend, those only
which were pathetic had arrested the lost chieftain's attention, and the
blunted faculties of his heart recovered their old refinement as he
listened to them. A solemn composure of love, grief, and pity appeared
in the glance of affection that he now directed on the girl's despairing
countenance. Years of good thoughts, an existence of tender cares, an
eternity of youthful devotion spoke in that rapt, momentary, eloquent
gaze, and imprinted on his expression a character ineffably beautiful
and calm--a nobleness above the human, and approaching the angelic and
Intuitively Goisvintha followed the direction of his eyes, and looked,
like him, on the Roman girl's face. A lowering expression of hatred
replaced the scorn that had hitherto distorted her passionate features.
Mechanically her hand again half raised the knife, and the accents of
her wrathful voice once more disturbed the sacred silence of affection
'Is it for the girl there that you would still live?' she cried sternly.
'I foreboded it, coward, when I first looked on you! I prepared for it
when I wounded you! I made sure that when my anger again threatened
this new ruler of your thoughts and mover of your actions, you should
have lost the power to divert it from her again! Think you that,
because my disdain has delayed it, my vengeance on her is abandoned?
Long since I swore to you that she should die, and I will hold to my
purpose! I have punished you; I will slay her! Can you shield her from
the blow to-night, as you shielded her in your tent? You are weaker
before me than a child!'
She ceased abruptly, for at this moment a noise of hurrying footsteps
and contending voices became suddenly audible from without. As she
heard it, a ghastly paleness chased the flush of anger from her cheeks.
With the promptitude of apprehension she snatched the sword of Hermanric
from under Antonina, and ran it through the staples intended to hold the
rude bar of the door. The next instant the footsteps sounded on the
garden path, and the next the door was assailed.
The good sword held firm, but the frail barrier that it sustained
yielded at the second shock and fell inwards, shattered, to the floor.
Instantly the gap was darkened by human forms, and the firelight glowed
over the repulsive countenances of two Huns who headed the intruders,
habited in complete armour and furnished with naked swords.
'Yield yourself prisoner by Alaric's command,' cried one of the
barbarians, 'or you shall be slain as a deserter where you now stand!'
The Goth had risen to his feet as the door was burst in. The arrival of
his pursuers seemed to restore his lost energies, to deliver him at once
from an all-powerful thraldom. An expression of triumph and defiance
shone over his steady features when he heard the summons of the Hun.
For a moment he stooped towards Antonina, as she clung fainting round
him. His mouth quivered and his eye glistened as he kissed her cold
cheek. In that moment all the hopelessness of his position, all the
worthlessness of his marred existence, all the ignominy preparing for
him when he returned to the camp, rushed over his mind. In that moment
the worst horrors of departure and death, the fiercest rackings of love
and despair, assailed but did not overcome him. In that moment he paid
his final tribute to the dues of affection, and braced for the last time
the fibres of manly dauntlessness and Spartan resolve!
The next instant he tore himself from the girl's arms, the old hero-
spirit of his conquering nation possessed every nerve in his frame, his
eye brightened again gloriously with its lost warrior-light, his limbs
grew firm, his face was calm, he confronted the Huns with a mien of
authority and a smile of disdain, and, as he presented to them his
defenceless breast, not the faintest tremor was audible in his voice,
while he cried in accents of steady command--
'Strike! I yield not!'
The Huns rushed forward with fierce cries, and buried their swords in
his body. His warm young blood gushed out upon the floor of the
dwelling which had been the love-shrine of the heart that shed it.
Without a sigh from his lips or a convulsion on his features, he fell
dead at the feet of his enemies; all the valour of his disposition, all
the gentleness of his heart, all the vigour of his form, resolved in one
humble instant into a senseless and burdensome mass!
Antonina beheld the assassination, but was spared the sight of the death
that followed it. She fell insensible by the side of her young
warrior--her dress was spotted with his blood, her form was motionless
as his own.
'Leave him there to rot! His pride in his superiority will not serve
him now--even to a grave!' cried the Hun leader to his companions, as he
dried on the garments of the corpse his reeking sword.
'And this woman,' demanded one of his comrades, 'is she to be liberated
He pointed as he spoke to Goisvintha. During the brief scene of the
assassination, the very exercise of her faculties seemed to have been
suspended. She had never stirred a limb or uttered a word.
The Hun recognised her as the woman who had questioned and bribed him at
the camp. 'She is the traitor's kinswoman and is absent from the tents
without leave,' he answered. 'Take her prisoner to Alaric; she will
bear us witness that we have done as he commanded us. As for the girl,'
he continued, glancing at the blood on Antonina's dress, and stirring
her figure carelessly with his foot, 'she may be dead too, for she
neither moves nor speaks, and may be left like her protector to lie
graveless where she is. For us, it is time that we depart--the king is
impatient of delay.'
As they led her roughly from the house, Goisvintha shuddered, and
attempted to pause for a moment when she passed the corpse of the Goth.
Death, that can extinguish enmities as well as sunder loves, rose awful
and appealing as she looked her last at her murdered brother, and
remembered her murdered husband. No tears flowed from her eyes, no
groans broke from her bosom; but there was a pang, a last momentary pang
of grief and pity at her heart as she murmured while they forced her
away--'Aquileia! Aquileia! have I outlived thee for this!'
The troops retired. For a few minutes silence ruled uninterruptedly
over the room where the senseless girl still lay by the side of all that
was left to her of the object of her first youthful love. But ere long
footsteps again house door, and two Goths, who had formed part of the
escort allotted to the Hun, approached the young chieftain's corpse.
Quickly and silently they raised it in their arms and bore it into the
garden. There they scooped a shallow hole with their swords in the
fresh, flower-laden turf, and having laid the body there, they hastily
covered it, and rapidly departed without returning to the house.
These men had served among the warriors committed to Hermanric's
command. By many acts of frank generosity and encouragement, the young
chieftain had won their rough attachment. They mourned his fate, but
dared not obstruct the sentence, or oppose the act that determined it.
At their own risk they had secretly quitted the advancing ranks of their
comrades, to use the last privilege and obey the last dictate of human
kindness; and they thought not of the lonely girl as they now left her
desolate, and hurried away to reassume their appointed stations ere it
was too late.
The turf lay caressingly round the young warrior's form; its crushed
flowers pressed softly against his cold cheek; the fragrance of the new
morning wafted its pure incense gently about his simple grave! Around
him flowered the delicate plants that the hand of Antonina had raised to
please his eye. Near him stood the dwelling, sacred to the first and
last kiss that he had impressed upon her lips; and about him, on all
sides, rose the plains and woodlands that had engrossed, with her image,
the devotion of all her dearest thoughts. He lay, in his death, in the
midst of the magic circle of the best joys of his life! It was a fitter
burial-place for the earthly relics of that bright and generous spirit
than the pit in the carnage-laden battle-field, or the desolate
sepulchres of a northern land!
CHAPTER 19. THE GUARDIAN RESTORED.
Not long is the new-made grave left unwatched to the solemn guardianship
of Solitude and Night. More than a few minutes have scarcely elapsed
since it was dug, yet already human footsteps press its yielding
surface, and a human glance scans attentively its small and homely
But it is not Antonina, whom he loved; it is not Goisvintha, through
whose vengeance he was lost, who now looks upon the earth above the
young warrior's corpse. It is a stranger, an outcast; a man lost,
dishonoured, abandoned--it is the solitary and ruined Ulpius who now
gazes with indifferent eyes upon the peaceful garden and the eloquent
In the destinies of woe committed to the keeping of the night, the pagan
had been fatally included. The destruction that had gone forth against
the body of the young man who lay beneath the earth had overtaken the
mind of the old man who stood over his simple grave. The frame of
Ulpius, with all its infirmities, was still there, but the soul of
ferocious patience and unconquerable daring that had lighted it grandly
in its ruin was gone. Over the long anguish of that woeful life the
veil of self-oblivion had closed for ever!
He had been dismissed by Alaric, but he had not returned to the city
whither he was bidden. Throughout the night he had wandered about the
lonely suburbs, striving in secret and horrible suffering for the
mastery of his mind. There did the overthrow of all his hopes from the
Goths expand rapidly into the overthrow of the whole intellect that had
created his aspirations. There had reason burst the bonds that had so
long chained, perverted, degraded it! At length, wandering hither and
thither, he had dragged the helpless body, possessed no longer by the
perilous mind, to the farm-house garden in which he now stood, gazing
alternately at the upturned sods of the chieftain's grave and the red
gleam of the fire as it glowed from the dreary room through the gap of
the shattered door.
His faculties were fatally disordered rather than utterly destroyed.
His penetration, his firmness, and his cunning were gone; but a wreck of
memory, useless and unmanageable--a certain capacity for momentary
observation still remained to him. The shameful miscarriage in the tent
of Alaric, which had overthrown his faculties, had passed from him as an
event that never happened, but he remembered fragments of his past
existence--he still retained a vague consciousness of the ruling purpose
of his whole life.
These embryo reflections, disconnected and unsustained, flitted to and
fro over his dark mind as luminous exhalations over a marsh--rising and
sinking, harmless and delusive, fitful and irregular. What he remembered
of the past he remembered carelessly, viewing it with as vacant a
curiosity as if it were the visionary spectacle of another man's
struggles and misfortunes and hopes, acting under it as under a
mysterious influence, neither the end nor the reason of which he cared
to discover. For the future, it was to his thoughts a perfect blank;
for the present, it was a jarring combination of bodily weariness and
He shuddered as he stood shelterless under the open heaven. The cold,
that he had defied in the vaults of the rifted wall, pierced in the
farm-house garden; his limbs, which had resisted repose on the hard
journey from Rome to the camp of the Goths, now trembled so that he was
fain to rest them on the ground. For a short time he sat glaring with
vacant and affrighted eyes upon the open dwelling before him, as though
he longed to enter it but dare not. At length the temptation of the
ruddy firelight seemed to vanquish his irresolution; he rose with
difficulty, and slowly and hesitatingly entered the house.
He had advanced, thief-like, but a few steps, he had felt but for a
moment the welcome warmth of the fire, when the figure of Antonina,
still extended insensible upon the floor, caught his eye; he approached
it with eager curiosity, and, raising the girl on his arm, looked at her
with a long and rigid scrutiny.
For some moments no expression of recognition passed his lips or
appeared on his countenance, as, with a mechanical, doting gesture of
fondness, he smoothed her dishevelled hair over her forehead. While he
was thus engaged, while the remains of the gentleness of his childhood
were thus awfully revived in the insanity of his age, a musical string
wound round a small piece of gilt wood fell from its concealment in her
bosom; he snatched it from the ground--it was the fragment of her broken
lute, which had never quitted her since the night when, in her innocent
grief, she had wept over it in her maiden bed-chamber.
Small, obscure, insignificant as it was, this little token touched the
fibre in the Pagan's shattered mind which the all-eloquent form and
presence of its hapless mistress had failed to reach; his memory flew
back instantly to the garden on the Pincian Mount, and to his past
duties in Numerian's household, but spoke not to him of the calamities
he had wreaked since that period on his confiding master. His
imagination presented to him at this moment but one image--his servitude
in the Christian's abode; and as he now looked on the girl he could
regard himself but in one light--as 'the guardian restored'.
'What does she with her music here?' he whispered apprehensively. 'This
is not her father's house, and the garden yonder looks not from the
summit of the hill!'
As he curiously examined the room, the red spots on the floor suddenly
attracted his attention. A panic, a frantic terror seemed instantly to
overwhelm him. He rose with a cry of horror, and, still holding the
girl on his arm, hurried out into the garden trembling and breathless,
as if the weapon of an assassin had scared him from the house.
The shock of her rough removal, the sudden influence of the fresh, cold
air, restored Antonina to the consciousness of life at the moment when
Ulpius, unable to support her longer, laid her against the little heap
of turf which marked the position of the young chieftain's grave. Her
eyes opened wildly; their first glance fixed upon the shattered door and
the empty room. She rose from the ground, advanced a few steps towards
the house, then paused, rigid, breathless, silent, and, turning slowly,
faced the upturned turf.
The grave was all-eloquent of its tenant. His cuirass, which the
soldiers had thought to bury with the body that it had defended in
former days, had been overlooked in the haste of the secret interment,
and lay partly imbedded in the broken earth, partly exposed to view--a
simple monument over a simple grave! Her tearless, dilated eyes looked
down on it as though they would number each blade of grass, each morsel
of earth by which it was surrounded! Her hair waved idly about her
cheeks, as the light wind fluttered it; but no expression passed over
her face, no gestures escaped her limbs. Her mind toiled and quivered,
as if crushed by a fiery burden; but her heart was voiceless, and her
body was still.
Ulpius had stood unnoticed by her side. At this moment he moved so as
to confront her, and she suddenly looked up at him. A momentary
expression of bewilderment and suspicion lightened the heavy vacancy of
despair which had chased their natural and feminine tenderness from her
eyes, but it disappeared rapidly. She turned from the Pagan, knelt down
by the grave, and pressed her face and bosom against the little mound of
turf beneath her.
No voice comforted her, no arm caressed her, as her mind now began to
penetrate the mysteries, to probe the darkest depths of the long night's
calamities! Unaided and unsolaced, while the few and waning stars
glimmered from their places in the sky, while the sublime stillness of
tranquillised Nature stretched around her, she knelt at the altar of
death, and raised her soul upward to the great heaven above her, charged
with its sacred offering of human grief!
Long did she thus remain; and when at length she arose from the ground,
when, approaching the Pagan, she fixed on him her tearless, dreary eyes,
he quailed before her glance, as his dull faculties struggled vainly to
resume the old, informing power that they had now for ever lost.
Nothing but the remembrance aroused by his first sight of the fragment
of the lute lived within even yet, as he whispered to her in low,
'Come home--come home! Your father may return before us--come home!'
As the words 'home' and 'father'--those household gods of the heart's
earliest existence--struck upon her ears, a change flashed with electric
suddenness over the girl's whole aspect. She raised her wan hands to
the sky; all her woman's tenderness repossessed itself of her heart; and
as she again knelt down over the grave, her sobs rose audibly through
the calmed and fragrant air.
With Hermanric's corpse beneath her, with the blood-sprinkled room
behind her, with a hostile army and a famine-wasted city beyond her, it
was only through that flood of tears, that healing passion of gentle
emotions, that she rose superior to the multiplied horrors of her
situation at the very moment when her faculties and her life seemed
sinking under them alike. Fully, freely, bitterly she wept, on the
kindly and parent earth--the patient, friendly ground that once bore the
light footsteps of the first of a race not created for death; that now
holds in its sheltering arms the loved ones, whom, in mourning, we lay
there to sleep; that shall yet be bound to the farthermost of its
depths, when the sun-bright presence of returning spirits shines over
its renovated frame, and love is resumed in angel perfection at the
point where death suspended it in mortal frailness!
'Come home--your father is awaiting you--come home!' repeated the Pagan
vacantly, moving slowly away as he spoke.
At the sound of his voice she started up, and clasping his arm with her
trembling fingers, to arrest his progress, looked affrightedly into his
seared and listless countenance. As she thus gazed on him she appeared
for the first time to recognise him. Fear and astonishment mingled in
her expression with grief and despair as she sunk at his feet, moaning
in tones of piercing entreaty--
'O Ulpius!--if Ulpius you are--have pity on me and take me to my father!
My father! my father! In all the lonely world there is nothing left to
me but my father!'
'Why do you weep to me about your broken lute?' answered Ulpius, with a
dull, unmeaning smile; 'it was not I that destroyed it!'
'They have slain him!' she shrieked distractedly, heedless of the
Pagan's reply. 'I saw them draw their swords on him! See, his blood is
on me--me!--Antonina, whom he protected and loved! Look there; that is
a grave--his grave--I know it! I have never seen him since; he is
down--down there! under the flowers I grew to gather for him! They slew
him; and when I knew it not, they have buried him!--or you--you have
buried him! You have hidden him under the cold garden earth! He is
gone!--Ah, gone, gone--for ever gone!'
And she flung herself again with reckless violence on the grave. After
looking steadfastly on her for a moment, Ulpius approached and raised
her from the earth.
'Come!' he cried angrily, 'the night grows on--your father waits!'
'The walls of Rome shut me from my father! I shall never see my father
nor Hermanric again!' she cried, in tones of bitter anguish, remembering
more perfectly all the miseries of her position, and struggling to
release herself from the Pagan's grasp.
The walls of Rome! At those words the mind of Ulpius opened to a flow
of dark remembrances, and lost the visions that had occupied it until
that moment. He laughed triumphantly.
'The walls of Rome bow to my arm!' he cried, in exulting tones; 'I
pierced them with my good bar of iron! I wound through them with my
bright lantern! Spirits roared on me, and struck me down, and grinned
upon me in the thick darkness, but I passed the wall! The thunder
pealed around me as I crawled along the winding rifts; but I won my way
through them! I came out conquering on the other side! Come, come,
come, come! We will return! I know the track, even in the darkness! I
can outwatch the sentinels! You shall walk in the pathway that I have
broken through the bricks!
The girl's features lost for a moment their expression of grief, and
grew rigid with horror, as she glanced at his fiery eyes, and felt the
fearful suspicion of his insanity darkening over her mind. She stood
powerless, trembling, unresisting, in his grasp, without attempting to
delude him into departure or to appease him into delay.
'Why did I make my passage through the wall?' muttered the Pagan in a
low, awe-struck voice, suddenly checking himself, as he was about to
step forward. 'Why did I tear down the strong brick-work and go forth
into the dark suburbs?'
He paused, and for a few moments struggled with his purposeless and
disconnected thoughts; but a blank, a darkness, an annihilation
overwhelmed Alaric and the Gothic camp, which he vainly endeavoured to
disperse. He sighed bitterly to himself--'It is gone!' and still
grasping Antonina by the hand, drew her after him to the garden gate.
'Leave me!' she shrieked, as he passed onward into the pathway that led
to the high-road. 'Oh, be merciful, and leave me to die where he has
'Peace! or I will rend you limb by limb, as I rent the stones from the
wall when I passed through it!' he whispered to her in fierce accents,
as she struggled to escape him. 'You shall return with me to Rome! You
shall walk in the track that I have made in the rifted brick-work!'
Terror, anguish, exhaustion, overpowered her weak efforts. Her lips
moved, partly in prayer and partly in ejaculation; but she spoke in
murmurs only, as she mechanically suffered the Pagan to lead her onward
by the hand.
They paced on under the waning starlight, over the cold, lonely road,
and through the dreary and deserted suburbs,--a fearful and discordant
pair! Coldly, obediently, impassively, as if she were walking in a
dream, the spirit-broken girl moved by the side of her scarce-human
leader. Disjointed exclamation, alternating horribly between infantine
simplicity and fierce wickedness, poured incessantly from the Pagan's
lips, but he never addressed himself further to his terror-stricken
companion. So, wending rapidly onward, they gained the Gothic lines;
and here the madman slackened his pace, and paused, beast-like, to glare
around him, as he approached the habitations of men.
Still not opposed by Antonina, whose faculties of observation were
petrified by her terror into perfect inaction, even here, within reach
of the doubtful aid of the enemies of her people, the Pagan crept
forward through the loneliest places of the encampment, and, guided by
the mysterious cunning of his miserable race, eluded successfully the
observation of the drowsy sentinels. Never bewildered by the darkness--
for the moon had gone down--always led by the animal instinct co-
existent with his disease, he passed over the waste ground between the
hostile encampment and the city, and arrived triumphant at the heap of
stones that marked his entrance to the rifted wall.
For one moment he stopped, and turning towards the girl, pointed proudly
to the dark, low breach he was about to penetrate. Then, drawing her
half-fainting form closer to his side, looking up attentively to the
ramparts, and stepping as noiselessly as though turf were beneath his
feet, he entered the dusky rift with his helpless charge.
As they disappeared in the recesses of the wall, Night--the stormy, the
eventful, the fatal!--reached its last limit; and the famished sentinel
on the fortifications of the besieged city roused himself from his
dreary and absorbing thoughts, for he saw that the new day was dawning
in the east.
CHAPTER 20. THE BREACH REPASSED.
Slowly and mournfully the sentinel at the rifted wall raised his eyes
towards the eastern clouds as they brightened before the advancing dawn.
Desolate as was the appearance of the dull, misty daybreak, it was yet
the most welcome of all the objects surrounding the starving soldier on
which he could fix his languid gaze. To look back on the city behind
him was to look back on the dreary charnel-house of famine and death; to
look down on the waste ground without the walls was to look down on the
dead body of the comrade of his watch, who, maddened by the pangs of
hunger which he had suffered during the night, had cast himself from the
rampart to meet a welcome death on the earth beneath. Famished and
despairing, the sentinel crouched on the fortifications which he had now
neither strength to pace nor care to defend, yearning for the food that
he had no hope to obtain, as he watched the grey daybreak from his
While he was thus occupied, the gloomy silence of the scene was suddenly
broken by the sound of falling brick-work at the inner base of the wall,
followed by faint entreaties for mercy and deliverance, which rose on
his ear, strangely mingled with disjointed expression of defiance and
exultation from a second voice. He slowly turned his head, and, looking
down, saw on the ground beneath a young girl struggling in the grasp of
an old man, who was hurrying her onward in the direction of the Pincian
For one moment the girl's eye met the sentinel's vacant glance, and she
renewed, with a last effort of strength, and a greater vehemence of
supplication, her cries for help; but the soldier neither moved nor
answered. Exhausted as he was, no sight could affect him now but the
sight of food. Like the rest of the citizens, he was sunk in a heavy
stupor of starvation--selfish, reckless, brutalised. No disasters could
depress, no atrocities rouse him. Famine had torn asunder every social
tie, had withered every human sympathy among his besieged fellow-
citizens, and he was famishing like them.
At the moment when the dawn had first appeared, could he have looked
down by some mysterious agency to the interior foundations of the wall,
from the rampart on which he kept his weary watch, such a sight must
then have presented itself as would have aroused even his sluggish
observation to rigid attention and involuntary surprise.
Winding upward and downward among jagged masses of ruined brick-work,
now lost amid the shadows of dreary chasms, now prominent over the
elevations of rising arches, the dark irregular passages broken by
Ulpius in the rotten wall would then have presented themselves to his
eyes; not stretching forth in dismal solitude, not peopled only by the
reptiles native to the place, but traced in all their mazes by human
forms. Then he would have perceived the fierce, resolute Pagan, moving
through darkness and obstacles with a sure, solemn progress, drawing
after him, like a dog devoted to his will, the young girl whose hapless
fate had doomed her to fall into his power. Her half-fainting figure
might have been seen, sometimes prostrate on the higher places of the
breach, while her fearful guide descended before her into a chasm
beyond, and then turned to drag her after him to a darker and a lower
depth yet; sometimes bent in supplication, when her lips moved once more
with a last despairing entreaty, and her limbs trembled with a final
effort to escape from her captor's relentless grasp. While still,
through all that opposed him, the same fierce tenacity of purpose would
have been invariably visible in every action of Ulpius, constantly
confirming him in his mad resolution to make his victim the follower of
his progress through the wall, ever guiding him with a strange instinct
through every hindrance, and preserving him from every danger in his
path, until it brought him forth triumphant, with his prisoner still in
his power, again free to tread the desolate streets and mingle with the
famine-stricken citizens of Rome.
And now when, after peril and anguish, she once more stood within the
city of her home, what hope remained to Antonina of obtaining her last
refuge under her father's roof, and deriving her solitary consolation
from the effort to regain her father's love? With the termination of
his passage through the breach in the wall had ended ever recollection
associated with it in the Pagan's shattered memory. A new blank now
pervaded his lost faculties, desolate as that which had overwhelmed them
in the night when he first stood in the farm-house garden by the young
chieftain's grave. He moved onward, unobservant, unthinking, without
aim or hope, driven by a mysterious restlessness, forgetting the very
presence of Antonina as she followed him, but still mechanically
grasping her hand, and dragging her after him he knew not whither.
And she, on her part, made no effort more for deliverance. She had seen
the sentinel unmoved by her entreaties, she had seen the walls of her
father's house receding from her longing eyes, as Ulpius pitilessly
hurried her father and farther from its distant door; and she lost the
last faint hope of restoration, the last lingering desire of life, as
the sense of her helplessness now weighed heaviest on her mind. Her
heart was full of her young warrior, who had been slain, and of her
father, from whom she had parted in the hour of his wrath, as she now
feebly followed the Pagan's steps, and resigned herself to a speedy
exhaustion and death in her utter despair.
They turned from the Pincian Gate and gained the Campus Martius; and
here the aspect of the besieged city and the condition of its doomed
inhabitants were fully and fearfully disclosed to view. On the surface
of the noble area, once thronged with bustling crowds passing to and fro
in every direction as their various destinations or caprices might lead
them, not twenty moving figures were now discernible. These few, who
still retained their strength or the resolution to pace the greatest
thoroughfare of Rome, stalked backwards and forwards incessantly, their
hollow eyes fixed on vacancy, their wan hands pressed over their mouths;
each separate, distrustful, and silent; fierce as imprisoned madmen;
restless as spectres disturbed in a place of tombs.
Such were the citizens who still moved over the Campus Martius; and,
besetting their path wherever they turned, lay the gloomy numbers of the
dying and the dead--the victims already stricken by the pestilence which
had now arisen in the infected city, and joined the famine in its work
of desolation and death. Around the public fountains, where the water
still bubbled up as freshly as in the summer-time of prosperity and
peace, the poorer population of beleaguered Rome had chiefly congregated
to expire. Some still retained strength enough to drink greedily at the
margin of the stone basins, across which others lay dead--their heads
and shoulders immersed in the water--drowned from lack of strength to
draw back after their first draught. Children mounted over the dead
bodies of their parents to raise themselves to the fountain's brim;
parents stared vacantly at the corpses of their children alternately
floating and sinking in the water, into which they had fallen
unsuccoured and unmourned.
In other parts of the place, at the open gates of the theatres and
hippodromes, in the unguarded porticoes of the palaces and the baths lay
the discoloured bodies of those who had died ere they could reach the
fountains--of women and children especially--surrounded in frightful
contrast by the abandoned furniture of luxury and the discarded
inventions of vice--by gilded couches--by inlaid tables--by jewelled
cornices--by obscene picture and statues--by brilliantly framed, gaudily
tinted manuscripts of licentious songs, still hanging at their
accustomed places on the lofty marble walls. Farther on, in the by-
streets and the retired courts, where the corpse of the tradesman was
stretched on his empty counter; where the soldier of the city guard
dropped down overpowered were he reached the limit of his rounds; where
the wealthy merchant lay pestilence-stricken upon the last hoards of
repulsive food which his gold had procured; the assassin and the robber
might be seen--now greedily devouring the offal that lay around them,
now falling dead upon the bodies which they had rifled but the moment
Over the whole prospect, far and near, wherever it might extend,
whatever the horrors by which it might be occupied, was spread a blank,
supernatural stillness. Not a sound arose; the living were as silent as
the dead; crime, suffering, despair, were all voiceless alike; the
trumpet was unheard in the guard-house; the bell never rang from the
church; even the thick, misty rain, that now descended from the black
and unmoving clouds, and obscured in cold shadows the outlines of
distant buildings and the pinnacle tops of mighty palaces, fell
noiseless to the ground. The sky had no wind; the earth no echoes--the
pervading desolation appalled the eye; the vast stillness weighed dull
on the ear--it was a scene as of the last-left city of an exhausted
world, decaying noiselessly into primeval chaos.
Through this atmosphere of darkness and death, along these paths of
pestilence and famine; unregarding and unregarded, the Pagan and his
prisoner passed slowly onward towards the quarter of the city opposite
the Pincian Mount. No ray of thought, even yet, brightened the dull
faculties of Ulpius; still he walked forward vacantly, and still he was
followed wearily by the fast-failing girl.
Sunk in her mingled stupor of bodily weakness and mental despair, she
never spoke, never raised her head, never looked forth on the one side
or the other. She had now ceased even to feel the strong, cold grasp of
the Pagan's hand. Shadowy visions of spheres beyond the world, arrayed
in enchanting beauty, and people with happy spirits in their old earthly
forms, where a long deathless existence moved smoothly and dreamily
onward, without mark of time or taint of woe, were opening before her
mind. She lost all memory of afflictions and wrongs, all apprehension
of danger from the madman at whose mercy she remained. And thus she
still moved feebly onward as the will of Ulpius guided her, with no
observation of her present peril, and no anxiety for her impending fate.
They passed the grand circular structure of the Pantheon, entered the
long narrow streets leading to the banks of the river, and finally
gained the margin of the Tiber--hard by the little island that still
rises in the midst of its waters. Here, for the first time, the Pagan
paused mechanically in his course, and vacantly directed his dull,
dreamy eyes on the prospect before him, where the walls, stretching
abruptly outward from their ordinary direction, enclosed the Janiculum
Hill, as it rose with its irregular mass of buildings on the opposite
bank of the river.
At this sudden change from action to repose, the overtasked energies
which had hitherto gifted the limbs of Antonina with an unnatural power
of endurance, abruptly relaxed. She sank down helpless and silent; her
head drooped towards the hard ground, as towards a welcome pillow, but
found no support, for the Pagan's iron grasp of her hand remained
unyielding as ever. Infirm though he was, he appeared at this moment to
be unconscious that his prisoner was now hanging at his side. Every
association connected with her, every recollection of his position with
her in her father's house, had vanished from his memory. A darker
blindness seemed to have sunk over his bodily perceptions; his eyes
rolled slowly to and fro over the prospect before him, but regarded
nothing; his panting breaths came thick and fast; his shrunk chest
heaved as if some deep, dread agony were pent within it--it was evident
that a new crisis in his insanity was at hand.
At this moment one of the bands of marauders--the desperate criminals of
famine and plague--who still prowled through the city, appeared in the
street. Their trembling hands sought their weapons, and their haggard
faces brightened, when they first discerned the Pagan and the girl; but
as they approached nearer they saw enough in the figures of the two, at
a glance, to destroy their hopes of seizing on them either plunder or
food. For an instant they stood by their intended victims, as if
debating whether to murder them only for murder's sake, when the
appearance of two women, stealthily quitting a house farther on in the
street, carrying a basket covered by some tattered garments, attracted
their attention. They turned instantly to follow the bearers of the
basket, and again Ulpius and Antonina were left alone on the river's
The appearance of the assassins had been powerless, as every other sight
or event in the city, in arousing the faculties of Ulpius. He had
neither looked on them nor fled from them when they surrounded him; but
now when they were gone he slowly turned his head in the direction by
which they had departed. His gaze wandered over the wet flagstones of
the street, over two corpses stretched on them at a little distance,
over the figure of a female slave who lay forsaken near the wall of one
of the houses, exerting her last energies to drink from the turbid rain-
water which ran down the kennel by her side; and still his eyes remained
unregardful of all that they encountered. The next object which by
chance attracted his vacant attention was a deserted temple. This
solitary building fixed him immediately in contemplation--it was
destined to open a new and a warning scene in the dark tragedy of his
In his course through the city he had passed unheeded many temples far
more prominent in situation, far more imposing in structure, than this.
It was a building of no remarkable extent or extraordinary beauty. Its
narrow porticoes and dark doorway were more fitted to repel than to
invite the eye; but it had one attraction, powerful above all glories of
architecture and all grandeur of situation to arrest in him those
wandering faculties whose sterner and loftier aims were now suspended
for ever; it was dedicated to Serapis--to the idol which had been the
deity of his first worship, and the inspiration of his last struggled
for the restoration of his faith. The image of the god, with the three-
headed monster encircled by a serpent, obedient beneath his hand, was
carved over the portico.
What flood of emotions rushed into the vacant mind of Ulpius at the
instant when he discerned the long-loved, well-known image of the
Egyptian god, there was nothing for some moments outwardly visible in
him to betray. His moral insensibility appeared but to be deepened as
his gaze was now fixed with rigid intensity on the temple portico. Thus
he continued to remain motionless, as if what he saw had petrified him
where he stood, when the clouds, which had been closing in deeper and
deeper blackness as the morning advanced, and which, still charged with
electricity, were gathering to revive the storm of the past night, burst
abruptly into a loud peal of thunder over his head.
At that warning sound, as if it had been the supernatural signal awaited
to arouse him, as if in one brief moment it awakened every recollection
of all that he had resolutely attempted during the night of thunder that
was past, he started into instant animation. His countenance
brightened, his form expanded, he dropped the hand of Antonina, raised
his arm aloft towards the wrathful heaven in frantic triumph, then
staggering forwards, fell on his knees at the base of the temple steps.
Whatever the remembrances of his passage through the wall at the Pincian
Hill, and of the toil and peril succeeding it, which had revived when
the thunder first sounded in his ear, they now vanished as rapidly as
they had arisen, and left his wandering memory free to revert to the
scenes which the image of Serapis was most fitted to recall.
Recollections of his boyish enjoyments in the temple at Alexandria, of
his youth's enthusiasm, of the triumphs of his early manhood--all
disjointed and wayward, yet all bright, glorious, intoxicating--flashed
before his shattered mind. Tears, the first that he had shed since his
happy youth, flowed quickly down his withered cheeks. He pressed his
hot forehead, he beat his parched hand in ecstasy on the cold, wet steps
beneath him. He muttered breathless ejaculations, he breathed strange
murmurs of endearment, he humbled himself in his rapturous delight
beneath the walls of the temple like a dog that has discovered his lost
master and fawns affectionately at his feet. Criminal as he was, his
joy in his abasement, his glory in his miserable isolation from
humanity, was a doom of degradation pitiable to behold.
After an interval his mood changed. He rose to his feet, his trembling
limbs strengthened with a youthful vigour as he ascended the temple
steps and gained its doorway. He turned for a moment, and looked forth
over the street, ere he entered the hallowed domain of his distempered
imagination. To him the cloudy sky above was now shining with the
radiance of the sun-bright East. The death-laden highways of Rome, as
they stretched before him, were beautiful with lofty trees, and populous
with happy figures; and along the dark flagstones beneath, where still
lay the corpses which he had no eye to see, he beheld already the
priests of Serapis with his revered guardian, his beloved Macrinus of
former days, at their head, advancing to meet and welcome him in the
hall of the Egyptian god. Visions such as these passed gloriously
before the Pagan's eyes as he stood triumphant on the steps of the
temple, and brightened to him with a noonday light its dusky recesses
when, after his brief delay, he turned from the street and disappeared
through the doorway of the sacred place.
The rain poured down more thickly than before; the thunder, once
aroused, now sounded in deep and frequent peals as Antonina raised
herself from the ground and looked around her, in momentary expectation
that the dreaded form of Ulpius must meet her eyes. No living creature
was visible in the street. The forsaken slave still reclined near the
wall of the house where she had first appeared when the Pagan gained the
approaches to the temple; but she now lay there dead. No fresh bands of
robbers appeared in sight. An uninterrupted solitude prevailed in all
directions as far as the eye could reach.
At the moment when Ulpius had relinquished his grasp of her hand,
Antonina had sunk to the ground, helpless and resigned, but not
exhausted beyond all power of sensation or all capacity for thought.
While she lay on the cold pavement of the street, her mind still pursued
its visions of a speedy death, and a tranquil life-in-death to succeed
it in a future state. But, as minute after minute elapsed, and no harsh
voice sounded in her ear, no pitiless hand dragged her from the ground,
no ominous footsteps were audible around her, a change passed gradually
over her thoughts; the instinct of self-preservation slowly revived
within her, and, as she raised herself to look forth on the gloomy
prospect, the chances of uninterrupted flight and present safety
presented by the solitude of the street, aroused her like a voice of
encouragement, like an unexpected promise of help.
Her perception of outer influences returned; she felt the rain that
drenched her garments; she shuddered at the thunder sounding over her
head; she marked with horror the dead bodies lying before her on the
stones. An overpowering desire animated her to fly from the place, to
escape from the desolate scene around, even though she should sink
exhausted by the effort in the next street. Slowly she arose--her limbs
trembled with a premature infirmity; but she gained her feet. She
tottered onward, turning her back on the river, passed bewildered
between long rows of deserted houses, and arrived opposite a public
garden surrounding a little summer-house, whose deserted portico offered
both concealment and shelter. Here, therefore, she took refuge,
crouching in the darkest corner of the building, and hiding her face in
her hands, as if to shut out all view of the dreary though altered
scenes which spread before her eyes.
Woeful thoughts and recollections now moved within her in bewildering
confusion. All that she had suffered since Ulpius had dragged her from
the farm-house in the suburbs--the night pilgrimage over the plain--the
fearful passage through the wall--revived in her memory, mingled with
vague ideas, now for the first time aroused, of the plague and famine
that were desolating the city; and, with sudden apprehensions that
Goisvintha might still be following her, knife in hand, through the
lonely streets; while passively prominent over all these varying sources
of anguish and dread, the scene of the young chieftain's death lay like
a cold weight on her heavy heart. The damp turf of his grave seemed
still to press against her breast; his last kiss yet trembled on her
lips; she knew, though she dared not look down on them, that the spots
of his blood yet stained her garments.
Whether she strove to rise and continue her flight; whether she crouched
down again under the portico, resigned for one bitter moment to perish
by the knife of Goisvintha--if Goisvintha were near; to fall once more
into the hands of Ulpius--if Ulpius were tracking her to her retreat,--
the crushing sense that she was utterly bereaved of her beloved
protector--that the friend of her brief days of happiness was lost to
her for ever--that Hermanric, who had preserved her from death, had been
murdered in his youth and his strength by her side, never deserted her.
Since the assassination in the farm-house, she was now for the first
time alone; and now for the first time she felt the full severity of her
affliction, and knew how dark was the blank which was spread before
every aspiration of her future life.
Enduring, almost eternal, as the burden of her desolation seemed now to
have become, it was yet to be removed, ere long, by feelings of a
tenderer mournfulness and a more resigned woe. The innate and innocent
fortitude of disposition, which had made her patient under the rigour of
her youthful education, and hopeful under the trials that assailed her
on her banishment from her father's house; which had never deserted her
until the awful scenes of the past night of assassination and death rose
in triumphant horror before her eyes; and which, even then, had been
suspended but not destroyed--was now destined to regain its healing
influence over her heart. As she still cowered in her lonely refuge,
the final hope, the yearning dependence on a restoration to her father's
presence and her father's love, that had moved her over the young
chieftain's grave, and had prompted her last effort for freedom when
Ulpius had dragged her through the passage in the rifted wall, suddenly
Once more she arose, and looked forth on the desolate city and the
stormy sky, but now with mild and unshrinking eyes. Her recollections
of the past grew tender in their youthful grief; her thoughts for the
future became patient, solemn, and serene. Images of her first and her
last-left protector, of her old familiar home, of her garden solitude on
the Pincian Mount, spread beautiful before her imagination as resting-
places to her weary heart. She descended the steps of the summer-house
with no apprehension of her enemies, no doubt of her resolution; for she
knew the beacon that was now to direct her onward course. The tears
gathered full in her eyes as she passed into the garden; but her step
never faltered, her features never lost their combined expression of
tranquil sorrow and subdued hope. So she once more entered the perilous
streets, and murmuring to herself, 'My father! my father!' as if in
those simple words lay the hand that was to guide, and the providence
that was to preserved her, she began to trace her solitary way in the
direction of the Pincian Mount.
It was a spectacle--touching, beautiful, even sublime--to see this young
girl, but a few hours freed, by perilous paths and by criminal hands,
from scenes which had begun in treachery, only to end in death, now
passing, resolute and alone, through the streets of a mighty city,
overwhelmed by all that is poignant in human anguish and hideous in
human crime. It was a noble evidence of the strong power over the world
and the world's perils, with which the simplest affection may arm the
frailest being--to behold her thus pursuing her way, superior to every
horror of desolation and death that clogged her path, unconsciously
discovering in the softly murmured name of 'father', which still fell at
intervals from her lips, the pure purpose that sustained her--the steady
heroism that ever held her in her doubtful course. The storms of heaven
poured over her head--the crimes and sufferings of Rome darkened the
paths of her pilgrimage; but she passed firmly onward through all, like
a ministering spirit, journeying along earthly shores in the bright
inviolability of its merciful mission and its holy thoughts--like a ray
of light living in the strength of its own beauty, amid the tempest and
obscurity of a stranger sphere.
Once more she entered the Campus Martius. Again she passed the public
fountains, still unnaturally devoted to serve as beds for the dying and
as sepulchres for the dead; again she trod the dreary highways, where
the stronger among the famished populace yet paced hither and thither in
ferocious silence and unsocial separation. No word was addressed,
hardly a look was directed to her, as she pursued her solitary course.
She was desolate among the desolate; forsaken among others abandoned
The robber, when he passed her by, saw that she was worthless for the
interests of plunder as the poorest of the dying citizens around him.
The patrician, loitering feebly onward to the shelter of his palace
halls, avoided her as a new suppliant among the people for the charity
which he had not to bestow, and quickened his pace as she approached him
in the street. Unprotected, yet unmolested, hurrying from her
loneliness and her bitter recollections to the refuge of her father's
love, as she would have hurried when a child from her first apprehension
of ill to the refuge of her father's arms, she gained at length the foot
of the Pincian Hill--at length ascended the streets so often trodden in
the tranquil days of old!
The portals and outer buildings of Vetranio's palace, as she passed
them, presented a striking and ominous spectacle. Within the lofty
steel railings, which protected the building, the famine-wasted slaves
of the senator appeared reeling and tottering beneath full vases of wine
which they were feebly endeavouring to carry into the interior
apartments. Gaudy hangings drooped from the balconies, garlands of ivy
were wreathed round the statues of the marble front. In the midst of
the besieged city, and in impious mockery of the famine and pestilence
which were wasting it, hut and palace, to its remotest confines, were
proceeding in this devoted dwelling the preparations for a triumphant
Unheedful of the startling prospect presented by Vetranio's abode, her
eyes bent but in one absorbing direction, her steps hurrying faster and
faster with each succeeding instant, Antonina approached the home from
which she had been exiled in fear, and to which she was returning in
woe. Yet a moment more of strong exertion, of overpowering
anticipation, and she reached the garden gate!
She dashed back the heavy hair matted over her brows by the rain; she
glanced rapidly around her; she beheld the window of her bed-chamber
with the old simple curtain still hanging at its accustomed place; she
saw the well-remembered trees, the carefully tended flower-beds, now
drooping mournfully beneath the gloomy sky. Her heart swelled within
her, her breath seemed suddenly arrested in her bosom, as she trod the
garden path and ascended the steps beyond. The door at the top was
ajar. With a last effort she thrust it open, and stood once more--
unaided and unwelcomed, yet hopeful of consolation, of pardon, of love--
within her first and last sanctuary, the walls of her home!
CHAPTER 21. FATHER AND CHILD.
Forsaken as it appears on an outward view, during the morning of which
we now write, the house of Numerian is yet not tenantless. In one of
the sleeping apartments, stretched on his couch, with none to watch by
its side, lies the master of the little dwelling. We last beheld him on
the scene mingled with the famishing congregation in the Basilica of St.
John Lateran, still searching for his child amid the confusion of the
public distribution of food during the earlier stages of the misfortunes
of besieged Rome. Since that time he has toiled and suffered much; and
now the day of exhaustion, long deferred, the hours of helpless
solitude, constantly dreaded, have at length arrived.
From the first periods of the siege, while all around him in the city
moved gloomily onward through darker and darker changes, while famine
rapidly merged into pestilence and death, while human hopes and purposes
gradually diminished and declined with each succeeding day, he alone
remained ever devoted to the same labour, ever animated by the same
object--the only one among all his fellow-citizens whom no outward event
could influence for good or evil, for hope or fear.
In every street of Rome, at all hours, among all ranks of people, he was
still to be seen constantly pursuing the same hopeless search. When the
mob burst furiously into the public granaries to seize the last supplies
of corn hoarded for the rich, he was ready at the doors watching them as
they came out. When rows of houses were deserted by all but the dead,
he was beheld within, passing from window to window, as he sought
through each room for the treasure that he had lost. When some few
among the populace, in the first days of the pestilence, united in the
vain attempt to cast over the lofty walls the corpses that strewed the
street, he mingled with them to look on the rigid faces of the dead. In
solitary places, where the parent, not yet lost to affection, strove to
carry his dying child from the desert roadway to the shelter of a roof;
where the wife, still faithful to her duties, received her husband's
last breath in silent despair--he was seen gliding by their sides, and
for one brief instant looking on them with attentive and mournful eyes.
Wherever he went, whatever he beheld, he asked no sympathy and sought no
aid. He went his way, a pilgrim on a solitary path, an unregarded
expectant for a boon that no others would care to partake.
When the famine first began to be felt in the city, he seemed
unconscious of its approach--he made no effort to procure beforehand the
provision of a few days' sustenance; if he attended the first public
distributions of food, it was only to prosecute his search for his child
amid the throng around him. He must have perished with the first feeble
victims of starvation, had he not been met, during his solitary
wanderings, by some of the members of the congregation whom his piety
and eloquence had collected in former days.
By these persons, who entreaties that he would suspend his hopeless
search he always answered with the same firm and patient denial, his
course was carefully watched and his wants anxiously provided for. Out
of every supply of food which they were enabled to collect, his share
was invariably carried to his abode. They remembered their teacher in
the hour of his dejection, as they had formerly reverenced him in the
day of his vigour; they toiled to preserve his life as anxiously as they
had laboured to profit by his instructions; they listened as his
disciples once, they served him as his children now.
But over these, as over all other offices of human kindness, the famine
was destined gradually and surely to prevail. The provision of food
garnered up by the congregation ominously lessened with each succeeding
day. When the pestilence began darkly to appear, the numbers of those
who sought their afflicted teacher at his abode, or followed him through
the dreary streets, fatally decreased.
Then, as the nourishment which had supported, and the vigilance which
had watched him, thus diminished, so did the hard-tasked energies of the
unhappy father fail him faster and faster. Each morning as he arose,
his steps were more feeble, his heart grew heavier within him, his
wanderings through the city were less and less resolute and prolonged.
At length his powers totally deserted him; the last-left members of his
congregation, as they approached his abode with the last-left provision
of food which they possessed, found him prostrate with exhaustion at his
garden gate. They bore him to his couch, placed their charitable
offering by his side, and leaving one of their number to protect him
from the robber and the assassin, they quitted the house in despair.
For some days the guardian remained faithful to his post, until his
sufferings from lack of food overpowered his vigilance. Dreading that,
in his extremity, he might be tempted to take from the old man's small
store of provision what little remained, he fled from the house, to seek
sustenance, however loathsome, in the public streets; and thenceforth
Numerian was left defenceless in his solitary abode.
He was first beheld on the scenes which these pages present, a man of
austere purpose, of unwearied energy; a valiant reformer, who defied all
difficulties that beset him in his progress; a triumphant teacher,
leading at his will whoever listened to his words; a father, proudly
contemplating the future position which he destined for his child. Far
different did he now appear. Lost to his ambition, broken in spirit,
helpless in body, separated from his daughter by his own act, he lay on
his untended couch in a death-like lethargy. The cold wind blowing
through his opened window awakened no sensations in his torpid frame;
the cup of water and the small relics of coarse food stood near his
hand, but he had no vigilance to discern them. His open eyes looked
steadfastly upward, and yet he reposed as one in a deep sleep, or as one
already devoted to the tomb; save when, at intervals, his lips moved
slowly with a long and painfully drawn breath, or a fever flush tinged
his hollow cheek with changing and momentary hues.
While thus in outward aspect appearing to linger between life and death,
his faculties yet remained feebly vital within him. Aroused by no
external influence, and governed by no mental restraint, they now
created before him a strange waking vision, palpable as an actual event.
It seemed to him that he was reposing, not in his own chamber, but in
some mysterious world, filled with a twilight atmosphere, inexpressibly
soothing and gentle to his aching sight. Through this mild radiance he
could trace, at long intervals, shadowy representations of the scenes
through which he had passed in search of his lost child. The gloomy
streets, the lonely houses abandoned to the unburied dead, which he had
explored, alternately appeared and vanished before him in solemn
succession; and ever and anon, as one vision disappeared ere another
rose, he heard afar off a sound as of gentle, womanly voices, murmuring
in solemn accents, 'The search has been made in penitence, in patience,
in prayer, and has not been pursued in vain. The lost shall return--the
beloved shall yet be restored!'
Thus, as it had begun, the vision long continued. Now the scenes
through which he had wandered passed slowly before his eyes, now the
soft voices murmured pityingly in his ear. At length the first
disappeared, and the last became silent; then ensued a long vacant
interval, and then the grey, tranquil light brightened slowly at one
spot, out of which he beheld advancing towards him the form of his lost
She came to his side, she bent lovingly over him; he saw her eyes, with
their old patient, childlike expression, looking sorrowfully down upon
him. His heart revived to a sense of unspeakable awe and contrition, to
emotions of yearning love and mournful hope; his speech returned; he
whispered tremulously, 'Child! child! I repented in bitter woe the wrong
that I did to thee; I sought thee, in my loneliness on earth, through
the long day and the gloomy night! And now the merciful God has sent
thee to pardon me! I loved thee; I wept for thee.'
His voice died within him, for now his outward sensations quickened. He
felt warm tears falling on his cheeks; he felt embracing arms clasped
round him; he heard tenderly repeated, 'Father! speak to me as you were
wont; love me, father, and forgive me, as you loved and forgave me when
I was a little child!'
The sound of that well-remembered voice--which had ever spoken kindly
and reverently to him; which had last addressed him in tones of
despairing supplication; which he had hardly hoped to hear again on
earth--penetrated his whole being, like awakening music in the dead
silence of night. His eyes lost their vacant expression; he raised
himself suddenly on the couch; he saw that what had begun as a vision
had ended as a reality; that his dream had proved the immediate fore-
runner of its own fulfilment; that his daughter in her bodily presence
was indeed restored; and his head drooped forward, and he trembled and
wept upon her bosom, in the overpowering fulness of his gratitude and
For some moments Antonina, calming with the resolute heroism of
affection her own thronging emotions of awe and affright, endeavoured to
soothe and support her fast-failing parent. Her horror almost
overwhelmed her, as she thought that now, when, through grief and peril,
she was at last restored to him, he might expire in her arms; but even
yet her resolution did not fail her. The last hope of her brief and
bitter life was now the hope of reviving her father, and she clung to it
with the tenacity of despair.
She calmed her voice while she spoke to him; she entreated him to
remember that his daughter had returned to watch over him, to be his
obedient pupil as in days of old. Vain effort! Even while the words
passed her lips, his arms, which had been pressed over her, relaxed; his
head grew heavier on her bosom. In the despair of the moment, she tore
herself from him, and looked round to seek the help that none were near
to afford. The cup of water, the last provision of food, attracted her
eye. With quick instinct she caught them up. Hope, success, salvation,
lay in those miserable relics. She pressed the food into his mouth; she
moistened his parched lips, his dry brow, with the water. During one
moment of horrible suspense she saw him still insensible; then the vital
functions revived; his eyes opened again and fixed famine-struck on the
wretched nourishment before him. He devoured it ravenously; he drained
the cup of water to its last drop; he sank back again on the couch. But
now the torpid blood moved once more in his veins; his heart beat less
and less feebly: he was saved. She saw it as she bent over him--saved
by the lost child in the hour of her return! It was a sensation of
ecstatic triumph and gratitude which no woeful remembrances had power to
embitter in its bright, sudden birth. She knelt down by the side of the
couch, almost crushed by her own emotions. Over the grave of the young
warrior she had raised her heart to Heaven in agony and grief, and now
by her father's side she poured forth her whole soul to her Creator in
trembling ejaculations of thankfulness and hope.
Thus--the one slowly recovering whatever of life and vigour yet
continued in his weakened frame, the other still filled with her all-
absorbing emotions of gratitude--the father and daughter long remained.
And now, as morning waned towards noon, the storm began to subside.
Gradually and solemnly the vast thunder-clouds rolled asunder, and the
bright blue heaven beyond appeared through their fantastic rifts. The
lessening rain-drops fell light and silvery to the earth, and breeze and
sunshine were wafted at fitful intervals over the plague-tainted
atmosphere of Rome. As yet, subdued by the shadows of the floating
clouds, the dawning sunbeams glittered softly through the windows of
Numerian's chamber. They played, warm and reviving, over his worn
features, like messengers of resurrection and hope from their native
heaven. Life seemed to expand within him under their fresh and gentle
ministering. Once more he raised himself, and turned towards his child;
and now his heart throbbed with a healthful joy, and his arms closed
round her, not in the helplessness of infirmity, but in the welcome of
His words, when he spoke to her, fell at first almost inarticulately
from his lips--they were mingled together in confused phrases of
tenderness, contrition, thanksgiving. All the native enthusiasm of his
disposition, all the latent love for his child, which had for years been
suppressed by his austerity, or diverted by his ambition, now at last
Trembling and silent in his arms, Antonina vainly endeavoured to return
his caresses and to answer his words of welcome. Now for the first time
she knew how deep was her father's affection for her; she felt how
foreign to his real nature had been his assumed severity in their
intercourse of former days; and in the quick flow of new feelings and
old recollections produced by the delighting surprise of the discovery,
she found herself speechless. She could only listen eagerly,
breathlessly, while he spoke. His words, faltering and confused though
they were, were words of endearment which she had never heard from him
before; they were words which no mother had ever pronounced beside her
infant bed, and they sank divinely consoling over her heart, as messages
of pardon from an angel's lips.
Gradually Numerian's voice grew calmer. He raised his daughter in his
arms, and bent wistfully on her face his attentive and pitying eyes.
'Returned, returned!' he murmured, while he gazed on her, 'never again
to depart! Returned, beautiful and patient, kinder and more tender than
ever! Love me and pardon me, Antonina. I sought for you in bitter
loneliness and despair. Think not of me as what I was, but as what I
am! There were days when you were an infant, when I had no thought but
how to cherish and delight you, and now those days have come again. You
shall read no gloomy task-books; you shall never be separated from me
more; you shall play sweet music on the lute; you shall be all garlanded
with flowers which I will provide for you! We will find friends and
glad companions; we will bring happiness with us wherever we are seen.
God's blessing goes forth from children like you--it has fallen upon
me--it has raised me from the dead! My Antonina shall teach me to
worship, as I once taught her. She shall pray for me in the morning,
and pray for me at night; and when she thinks not of it, when she
sleeps, I shall come softly to her bedside, and wait and watch over her,
so that when she opens her eyes they shall open on me--they are the eyes
of my child who has been restored to me--there is nothing on earth that
can speak to me like them of happiness and peace!'
He paused for a moment, and looked rapturously on her face as it was
turned towards him. His features partially saddened while he gazed, and
taking her long hair, still wet and dishevelled from the rain, in his
hands, he pressed it over his lips, over his face, over his neck. Then,
when he saw that she was endeavouring to speak, when he beheld the tears
that were now filling her eyes, he drew her closer to him, and hurriedly
continued in lower tones--
'Hush! hush! No more grief, no more tears! Tell me not whither you
have wandered--speak not of what you have suffered; for would not every
word be a reproach to me? And you have come to pardon and not to
reproach! Let not the recollection that it was I who cast you off be
forced on me from your lips; let us remember only that we are restored
to each other; let us think that God has accepted my penitence and
forgiven me my sin, in suffering my child to return! Or, if we must
speak of the days of separation that are past, speak to me of the days
that found you tranquil and secure; rejoice me by telling me that it was
not all danger and woe in the bitter destiny which my guilty anger
prepared for my own child! Say to me that you met protectors as well as
enemies in the hour of your flight--that all were not harsh to you as I
was--that those of whom you asked shelter and safety looked on your face
as on a petition for charity and kindness from friends whom they loved!
Tell me only of your protectors, Antonina, for in that there will be
consolation; and you have come to console!'
As he waited for her reply he felt her tremble on his bosom, he saw the
shudder that ran over her frame. The despair in her voice, thought she
only pronounced in answer to him the simple words, 'There was one'--and
then ceased, unable to proceed--penetrated coldly to his heart.
'Is he not at hand?' he hurriedly resumed. 'Why is he not here? Let us
seek him without delay. I must humble myself before him in my
gratitude. I must show him that I was worthy that my Antonina should be
'He is dead!' she gasped, sinking down in the arms that embraced her, as
the recollections of the past night again crowded in all their horror on
her memory. 'They murdered him by my side. O father! father! he loved
me; he would have reverenced and protected you!'
'May the merciful God receive him among the blessed angels, and honour
him among the holy martyrs!' cried the father, raising his tearful eyes
in supplication. 'May his spirit, if it can still be observant of the
things of earth, know that his name shall be written on my heart with
the name of my child; that I will think on him as on a beloved
companion, and mourn for him as a son that has been taken from me!'
He ceased, and looked down on Antonina, whose features were still hidden
from him. Each felt that a new bond of mutual affection had been
created between them by what each had spoken; but both now remained
During this interval the thoughts of Numerian wandered from the
reflections which had hitherto occupied him. The few mournful words
which his daughter had spoken had been sufficient to banish its fulness
of joy from his heart, and to turn him from the happy contemplation of
the present to the dark recollections of the past. Vague doubts and
fears now mingled with his gratitude and hope, and involuntarily his
thoughts reverted to what he would fain have forgotten for ever--to the
morning when he had driven Antonina from her home.
Baseless apprehensions of the return of the treacherous Pagan and his
profligate employer, with the return of their victim--despairing
convictions of his own helplessness and infirmity rose startlingly in
his mind. His eyes wandered vacantly round the room, his hands closed
trembling over his daughter's form; then, suddenly releasing her, he
arose as one panic-stricken, and exclaiming, 'The doors must be
secured--Ulpius may be near--the senator may return!' endeavoured to
cross the room. But his strength was unequal to the effort; he leaned
back for support against the wall, and breathlessly repeating, 'Secure
the doors--Ulpius, Ulpius!' he motioned to Antonina to descend.
She trembled as she obeyed him. Remembering her passage through the
breach in the wall, and her fearful journey through the streets of Rome,
she more than shared her father's apprehensions as she descended the
The door remained half open, as she had left it when she entered the
house. Ere she hurriedly closed and barred it, she cast a momentary
glance on the street beyond. The gaunt figures of the slaves still
moved wearily to and fro, amid the mockery of festal preparation in
Vetranio's palace; and here and there a few ghastly figures lay on the
ground contemplating them in languid amazement. Over all other parts of
the street the deadly tranquillity of plague and famine still prevailed.
Hurriedly ascending the steps, Antonina hastened to assure her father
that she had obeyed his commands, and that they were now secure from all
intrusion from without. But, during her brief absence, a new and more
ominous prospect of calamity had presented itself before the old man's
As she entered the room, she saw that he had returned to his couch, and
that he was holding before him the little wooden bowl which had
contained his last supply of food, and which was now empty. He addressed
not a word to her when he heard her enter; his features were rigid with
horror and despair as he looked down on the empty bowl; he muttered
vacantly, 'It was the last provision that remained, and it was I that
exhausted it! The beasts of the forest carry food to their young, and I
have taken the last morsel from my child!'
In an instant the utter desolateness of their situation--forgotten in
the first joy of their meeting--forced itself with appalling vividness
upon Antonina's mind. She endeavoured to speak of comfort and hope to
her father; but the fearful realities of the famine in the city now rose
palpably before her, and suspended the vain words of solace on her lips.
In the midst of still populous Rome, within sight of those surrounding
plains where the creative sun ripened hour by hour the vegetation of the
teeming earth, where field and granary displayed profusely their
abundant stores, the father and daughter now looked on each other, as
helpless to replace their exhausted provision of food as if they had
been abandoned on the raft of the shipwrecked in an unexplored sea, or
banished to a lonely island whose inland products were withered by
infected winds, and around whose arid shores ran such destroying waters
as seethe over the 'Cities of the Plain'.
The silence which had long prevailed in the room, the bitter reflections
which still held the despairing father and the patient daughter
speechless alike, were at length interrupted by a hollow and melancholy
voice from the street, pronouncing, in the form of a public notice,
'I, Publius Dalmatius, messenger of the Roman Senate, proclaim, that in
order to clear the streets from the dead, three thousand sestertii will
be given by the Prefect for every ten bodies that are cast over the
walls. This is the true decree of the Senate.'
The voice ceased; but no sound of applause, no murmur of popular tumult
was heard in answer. Then, after an interval, it was once more faintly
audible as the messenger passed on and repeated the decree in another
street; and then the silence again sank down over all things more
awfully pervading than before.
Every word of the proclamation, when repeated in the distance as when
spoken under his window, had clearly reached Numerian's ears. His mind,
already sinking in despair, was riveted on what he had heard from the
woe-boding voice of the herald, with a fascination as absorbing as that
which rivets the eye of the traveller, already giddy on the summit of a
precipice, upon the spectacle of the yawning gulfs beneath. When all
sound of the proclamation had finally died away, the unhappy father
dropped the empty bowl which he had hitherto mechanically continued to
hold before him, and glancing affrightedly at his daughter, groaned to
himself: 'The corpses are to be cast over the walls--the dead are to be
flung forth to the winds of heaven--there is no help for us in the city.
O God, God!--she may die!--her body may be cast away like the rest, and
I may live to see it!'
He rose suddenly from the couch; his reason seemed for a moment to be
shaken as he tottered to the window, crying, 'Food! food!--I will give
my house and all it contains for a morsel of food. I have nothing to
support my own child--she will starve before me by tomorrow if I have no
food! I am a citizen of Rome--I demand help from the Senate! Food!
In tones declining lower and lower he continued to cry thus from the
window, but no voice answered him either in sympathy or derision. Of
all the people--now increased in numbers--collected in the street before
Vetranio's palace, no one turned even to look on him. For days and days
past, such fruitless appeals as his had been heard, and heard
unconcernedly, at every hour and in every street of Rome--now ringing
through the heavy air in the shrieks of delirium; now faintly audible in
the last faltering murmurs of exhaustion and despair.
Thus vainly entreating help and pity from a populace who had ceased to
give the one or to feel the other, Numerian might long have remained;
but now his daughter approached his side, and drawing him gently towards
his couch, said in tender and solemn accents: 'Remember, father, that
God sent the ravens to feed Elijah, and replenished the widow's cruse!
He will not desert us, for He has restored us to each other, and has
sent me hither not to perish in the famine, but to watch over you!'
'God has deserted the city and all that it contains!' he answered
distractedly. 'The angel of destruction has gone forth into our
streets, and death walks in his shadow! On this day, when hope and
happiness seemed opening before us both; our little household has been
doomed! The young and the old, the weary and the watchful, they strew
the streets alike--the famine has mastered them all--the famine will
master us--there is no help, no escape! I, who would have died
patiently for my daughter's safety, must now die despairing, leaving her
friendless in the wide, dreary, perilous world; in the dismal city of
anguish, of horror, of death--where the enemy threatens without, and
hunger and pestilence waste within! O Antonina! you have returned to me
but for a little time; the day of our second separation draws near!'
For a few moments his head drooped, and his sobs choked his utterance;
then he once more rose painfully to his feet. Heedless of Antonina's
entreaties, he again endeavoured to cross the room, only again to find
his feeble powers unequal to sustain him. As he fell back panting upon
a seat, his eyes assumed a wild, unnatural expression--despair of mind
and weakness of body had together partially unhinged his faculties.
When his daughter affrightedly approached to soothe and succour him, he
impatiently waved her back; and began to speak in a dull, hoarse,
monotonous voice, pressing his hand firmly over his brow, and directing
his eyes backwards and forwards incessantly, on object after object, in
every part of the room.
'Listen, child, listen!' he hastily began. 'I tell you there is no food
in the house, and no food in Rome!--we are besieged--they have taken
from us our granaries in the suburbs, and our fields on the plains--
there is a great famine in the city--those who still eat, eat strange
food which men sicken at when it is named. I would seek even this, but
I have no strength to go forth into the byways and force it from others
at the point of the sword! I am old and feeble, and heart-broken--I
shall die first, and leave fatherless my good, kind daughter, whom I
sought for so long, and whom I loved as my only child!'
He paused for an instant, not to listen to the words of encouragement
and hope which Antonina mechanically addressed to him while he spoke,
but to collect his wandering thoughts, to rally his failing strength.
His voice acquired a quicker tone, and his features presented a sudden
energy and earnestness of expression, as if some new project had flashed
across his mind, when, after an interval, he continued thus:--
'But though my child shall be bereaved of me, though I shall die in the
hour when I most longed to live for her, I must not leave her helpless;
I will send her among my congregation who have deserted me, but who will
repent when they hear that I am dead, and will receive Antonina among
them for my sake! Listen to this--listen, listen! You must tell them
to remember all that I once revealed to them of my brother, from whom I
parted in my boyhood--my brother, whom I have never seen since. He may
yet be alive, he may be found--they must search for him; for to you he
would be father to the fatherless, and guardian to the unguarded--he may
now be in Rome, he may be rich and powerful--he may have food to spare,
and shelter that is good against all enemies and strangers! Attend,
child, to my words: in these latter days I have thought of him much; I
have seen him in dreams as I saw him for the last time in my father's
house; he was happier and more beloved than I was, and in envy and
hatred I quitted my parents and parted from him. You have heard nothing
of this; but you must hear it now, that when I am dead you may know you
have a protector to seek! So I received in anger my brother's farewell,
and fled from my home--(those days were well remembered by me once, but
all things grow dull on my memory now). Long years of turmoil and
change passed on, and I never met him; and men of many nations were my
companions, but he was not among them; then much affliction fell upon
me, and I repented and learnt the fear of God, and went back to my
father's house. Since that, years have passed--I know not how many. I
could have told them when I spoke of my former life to him--to my
friend, when we stood near St. Peter's, ere the city was besieged,
looking on the sunset, and speaking of the early days of our
companionship; but now my very remembrance fails me; the famine that
threatens us with separation and death casts darkness over my thoughts;
yet hear me, hear me patiently--for your sake I must continue!'
'Not now, father--not now! At another time, on a happier day!' murmured
Antonina, in tremulous, entreating tones.
'My home, when I arrived to look on it, was gone,' pursued the old man
sadly, neither heeding nor hearing her. 'Other houses were built where
my father's house had stood; no man could tell me of my parents and my
brother; then I returned, and my former companions grew hateful in my
eyes; I left them, and they followed me with persecution and scorn.--
Listen, listen!--I set forth secretly in the night, with you, to escape
them, and to make perfect my reformation where they should not be near
to hinder it; and we travelled onward many days until we came to Rome,
and I made my abode there. But I feared that my companions whom I
abhorred might discover and persecute me again, and in the new city of
my dwelling I called myself by another name than the name that I bore;
thus I knew that all trace of me would be lost, and that I should be
kept secure from men whom I thought on only as enemies now. Go, child!
go quickly!--bring your tablets and write down the names that I shall
tell you; for so you will discover your protector when I am gone! Say
not to him that you are the child of Numerian--he knows not the name;
say that you are the daughter of Cleander, his brother, who died longing
to be restored to him. Write--write carefully, Cleander!--that was the
name my father gave to me; that was the name I bore until I fled from my
evil companions and changed it, dreading their pursuit! Cleander! write
and remember, Cleander! I have seen in visions that my brother shall be
discovered: he will not be discovered to me, but he will be discovered
to you! Your tablets--your tablets!--write his name with mine--it is--'
He stopped abruptly. His mental powers, fluctuating between torpor and
animation--shaken, but not overpowered by the trials which had assailed
them--suddenly rallied, and resuming somewhat of their accustomed
balance, became awakened to a sense of their own aberration. His vague
revelations of his past life (which the reader will recognise as
resembling his communications on the same subject to the fugitive land-
owner, previously related) now appeared before him in all their
incongruity and uselessness. His countenance fell--he sighed bitterly
to himself: 'My reason begins to desert me!--my judgment, which should
guide my child--my resolution, which should uphold her, both fail me!
How should my brother, since childhood lost to me, be found by her?
Against the famine that threatens us I offer but vain words! Already
her strength declines; her face, that I loved to look on grows wan
before my eyes! God have mercy upon us!--God have mercy upon us!'
He returned feebly to his couch; his head declined on his bosom;
sometimes a low groan burst from his lips, but he spoke no more.
Deep as was the prostration under which he had now fallen, it was yet
less painful to Antonina to behold it than to listen to the incoherent
revelations which had fallen from his lips but the moment before, and
which, in her astonishment and affright, she had dreaded might be the
awful indications of the overthrow of her father's reason. As she again
placed herself by his side, she trembled to feel that her own weariness
was fast overpowering her; but she still struggled with her rising
despair--still strove to think only of capacity for endurance and
chances of relief.
The silence in the room was deep and dismal while they now sat together.
The faint breezes, at long intervals, drowsily rose and fell as they
floated through the open window; the fitful sunbeams alternately
appeared and vanished as the clouds rolled upward in airy succession
over the face of heaven. Time moved sternly in its destined progress,
and Nature varied tranquilly through its appointed limits of change, and
still no hopes, no saving projects, nothing but dark recollections and
woeful anticipations occupied Antonina's mind; when, just as her weary
head was drooping towards the ground, just as sensation and fortitude
and grief itself seemed declining into a dreamless and deadly sleep, a
last thought, void of discernible connection or cause, rose suddenly
within her--animating, awakening, inspiring. She started up. 'The
garden, father--the garden!' she cried breathlessly. 'Remember the food
that grows in our garden below! Be comforted, we have provision left
yet--God has not deserted us!'
He raised his face while she spoke; his features assumed a deeper
mournfulness and hopelessness of expression; he looked upon her in
ominous silence, and laid his trembling fingers on her arm to detain
her, when she hurriedly attempted to quit the room.
'Do not forbid me to depart,' she anxiously pleaded. 'To me every
corner in the garden is known; for it was my possession in our happier
days--our last hopes rest in the garden, and I must search through it
without delay! Bear with me,' she added, in low and melancholy
tones--'bear with m e, dear father, in all that I would now do! I have
suffered, since we parted, a bitter affliction, which clings dark and
heavy to all my thoughts--there is no consolation for me but the
privilege of caring for your welfare--my only hope of comfort is in the
employment of aiding you!'
The old man's hand had pressed heavier on her arm while she addressed
him; but when she ceased it dropped from her, and he bent his head in
speechless submission to her entreaty.
For one moment she lingered, looking on him silent as himself; the next,
she left the apartment with hasty and uncertain steps.
On reaching the garden, she unconsciously took the path leading to the
bank where she had once loved to play secretly upon her lute and to look
on the distant mountains reposing in the warm atmosphere which summer
evenings shed over their blue expanse. How eloquent was this little
plot of ground of the quiet events now for ever gone by!--of the joys,
the hopes, the happy occupations, which rise with the day that
chronicles them, and pass like that day, never to return the same!--
which the memory alone can preserve as they were, and the heart can
never resume but in a changed form, divested of the presence of the
companion of the incident of the departed moment, which formed the charm
of the past and makes the imperfection of the present.
Tender and thronging were the remembrances which the surrounding
prospect called up, as the sad mistress of the garden looked again on
her little domain! She saw the bank where she could never more sit to
sing with a renewal of the same feelings which had once inspired her
music; she saw the drooping flowers that she could never restore with
the same childlike enjoyment of the task which had animated her in
former hours! Young though she still was, the emotions of the youthful
days that were gone could never be revived as they had once existed! As
waters they had welled up, and as waters they had flowed forth, never to
return to their source! Thoughts of these former years--of the young
warrior who lay cold beneath the heavy earth--of the desponding father
who mourned hopeless in the room above--gathered thick at her heart as
she turned from her flower-beds--not, as in other days, to pour forth
her happiness to the music of her lute, but to search laboriously for
the sustenance of life.
At first, as she stooped over those places in the garden where she knew
that fruits and vegetables had been planted by her own hand, her tears
blinded her. She hastily dashed them away, and looked eagerly around.
Alas! others had reaped the field from which she had hoped abundance!
In the early days of the famine Numerian's congregation had entered the
garden, and gathered for him whatever it contained; its choicest and its
homeliest products were alike exhausted; withered leaves lay on the
barren earth, and naked branches waved over them in the air. She
wandered from path to path, searching amid the briars and thistles,
which already cast an aspect of ruin over the deserted place; she
explored its most hidden corners with the painful perseverance of
despair; but the same barrenness spread around her wherever she turned.
On this once fertile spot, which she had entered with such joyful faith
in its resources, there remained but a few poor decayed roots, dropped
and forgotten amid tangled weeds and faded flowers.
She saw that they were barely sufficient for one scanty meal as she
collected them and returned slowly to the house. No words escaped her,
no tears flowed over her cheeks when she reascended the steps--hope,
fear, thought, sensation itself had been stunned within her from the
first moment when she had discovered that, in the garden as in the
house, the inexorable famine had anticipated the last chances of relief.
She entered the room, and, still holding the withered roots, advanced
mechanically to her father's side. During her absence his mental and
bodily faculties had both yielded to wearied nature--he lay in a deep,
Her mind experienced a faint relief when she saw that the fatal
necessity of confessing the futility of the hopes she had herself
awakened was spared her for a while. She knelt down by Numerian, and
gently smoothed the hair over his brow; then she drew the curtain across
the window, for she feared even that the breeze blowing through it might
A strange, secret satisfaction at the idea of devoting to her father
every moment of the time and every particle of the strength that might
yet be reserved for her; a ready resignation to death in dying for him--
overspread her heart, and took the place of all other aspirations and
all other thoughts.
She now moved to and fro through the room with a cautious tranquillity
which nothing could startle; she prepared her decayed roots for food
with a patient attention which nothing could divert. Lost, through the
aggravated miseries of her position, to recent grief and present
apprehension, she could still instinctively perform the simple offices
of the woman and the daughter, as she might have performed them amid a
peaceful nation and a prosperous home. Thus do the first-born
affections outlast the exhaustion of all the stormy emotions, all the
aspiring thoughts of after years, which may occupy, but which cannot
absorb, the spirit within us; thus does their friendly and familiar
voice, when the clamour of contending passions has died away in its own
fury, speak again, serene and sustaining as in the early time, when the
mind moved secure within the limits of its native simplicity, and the
heart yet lay happy in the pure tranquillity of its first repose!
The last scanty measure of food was soon prepared; it was bitter and
unpalatable when she tasted it--life could barely be preserved, even in
the most vigorous, by provision so wretched; but she set it aside as
carefully as if it had been the most precious luxury of the most
Nothing had changed during the interval of her solitary employment--her
father yet slept; the gloomy silence yet prevailed in the street. She
placed herself at the window, and partially drew aside the curtain to
let the warm breezes from without blow over her cold brow. The same
ineffable resignation, the same unnatural quietude, which had sunk down
over her faculties since she had entered the room, overspread them
still. Surrounding objects failed to impress her attention;
recollections and forebodings stagnated in her mind. A marble composure
prevailed over her features. Sometimes her eyes wandered mechanically
from the morsels of food by her side to her sleeping father, as her one
vacant idea of watching for his service, till the feeble pulses of life
had throbbed their last, alternately revived and declined; but no other
evidences of bodily existence or mental activity appeared in her. As
she now sat in the half-darkened room, by the couch on which her father
reposed--her features pale, calm, and rigid, her form enveloped in cold
white drapery--there were moments when she looked like one of the
penitential devotees of the primitive Church, appointed to watch in the
house of mourning, and surprised in her saintly vigil by the advent of
Time flowed on--the monotonous hours of the day waned again towards
night; and plague and famine told their lapse in the fated highways of
Rome. For father and child the sand in the glass was fast running out,
and neither marked it as it diminished. The sleeper still reposed, and
the guardian by his side still watched; but now her weary gaze was
directed on the street, unconsciously attracted by the sound of voices
which at length rose from it at intervals, and by the light of the
torches and lamps which appeared in the great palace of the senator
Vetranio, as the sun gradually declined in the horizon, and the fiery
clouds around were quenched in the vapours of the advancing night.
Steadily she looked upon the sight beneath and before her; but even yet
her limbs never moved; no expression relieved the blank, solemn
peacefulness of her features.
Meanwhile, the soft, brief twilight glimmered over the earth, and showed
the cold moon, poised solitary in the starless heaven; then, the
stealthy darkness arose at her pale signal, and closed slowly round the
City of Death!
CHAPTER 22. THE BANQUET OF FAMINE.
Of all prophecies, none are, perhaps, so frequently erroneous as those
on which we are most apt to venture in endeavouring to foretell the
effect of outward events on the characters of men. In no form of our
anticipations are we more frequently baffled than in such attempts to
estimate beforehand the influence of circumstance over conduct, not only
in others, but also even in ourselves. Let the event but happen, and
men, whom we view by the light of our previous observation of them, act
under it as the living contradictions of their own characters. The
friend of our daily social intercourse, in the progress of life, and the
favourite hero of our historic studies, in the progress of the page,
astonish, exceed, or disappoint our expectations alike. We find it as
vain to foresee a cause as to fix a limit for the arbitrary
inconsistencies in the dispositions of mankind.