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Antonina by Wilkie Collins

Part 7 out of 9

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But, though to speculate upon the future conduct of others under
impending circumstances be but too often to expose the fallacy of our
wisest anticipations, to contemplate the nature of that conduct after it
has been displayed is a useful subject of curiosity, and may perhaps be
made a fruitful source of instruction. Similar events which succeed
each other at different periods are relieved from monotony, and derive
new importance from the ever-varying effects which they produce on the
human character. Thus, in the great occurrence which forms the
foundation of our narrative, we may find little in the siege of Rome,
looking at it as a mere event, to distinguish it remarkably from any
former siege of the city--the same desire for glory and vengeance,
wealth and dominion, which brought Alaric to her walls, brought other
invaders before him. But if we observed the effect of the Gothic
descent upon Italy on the inhabitants of her capital, we shall find
ample matter for novel contemplation and unbounded surprise.

We shall perceive, as an astonishing instance of the inconsistencies of
the human character, the spectacle of a whole people resolutely defying
an overwhelming foreign invasion at their very doors, just at the period
when they had fallen most irremediably from the highest position of
national glory to the lowest depths of national degradation; resisting
an all-powerful enemy with inflexible obstinacy, for the honour of the
Roman name, which they had basely dishonoured or carelessly forgotten
for ages past. We shall behold men who have hitherto laughed at the
very name of patriotism, now starving resolutely in their country's
cause; who stopped at no villainy to obtain wealth, now hesitating to
employ their ill-gotten gains in the purchase of the most important of
all gratifications--their own security and peace. Instances of the
unimaginable effect produced by the event of the siege of Rome on the
characters of her inhabitants might be drawn from all classes, from the
lowest to the highest, from patrician to plebeian; but to produce them
here would be to admit too long an interruption in the progress of the
present narrative. If we are to enter at all into detail on such a
subject, it must be only in a case clearly connected with the actual
requirements of our story; and such a case may be found, at this
juncture, in the conduct of the senator Vetranio, under the influence of
the worst calamities attending the blockade of Rome by the Goths.

Who, it may be asked, knowing the previous character of this man, his
frivolity of disposition, his voluptuous anxiety for unremitting
enjoyment and ease, his horror of the slightest approaches of affliction
or pain, would have imagined him capable of rejecting in disdain all the
minor chances of present security and future prosperity which his
unbounded power and wealth might have procured for him, even in a
famine-stricken city, and rising suddenly to the sublime of criminal
desperation, in the resolution to abandon life as worthless the moment
it had ceased to run in the easy current of all former years? Yet to
this determination had he now arrived; and, still more extraordinary, in
this determination had he found others, of his own patrician order, to
join him.

The reader will remember his wild announcement of his intended orgie to
the Prefect Pompeianus during the earlier periods of the siege; that
announcement was now to be fulfilled. Vetranio had bidden his guests to
the Banquet of Famine. A chosen number of the senators of the great
city were to vindicate their daring by dying the revellers that they had
lived; by resigning in contempt all prospect of starving, like the
common herd, on a lessening daily pittance of loathsome food; by making
their triumphant exit from a fettered and ungrateful life, drowned in
floods of wine, and lighted by the fires of the wealthiest palace of
Rome!

It had been intended to keep this frantic determination a profound
secret, to let the mighty catastrophe burst upon the remaining
inhabitants of the city like a prodigy from heaven; but the slaves
intrusted with the organisation of the suicide banquet had been bribed
to their tasks with wine, and in the carelessness of intoxication had
revealed to others whatever they heard within the palace walls. The
news passed from mouth to mouth. There was enough in the prospect of
beholding the burning palace and the drunken suicide of its desperate
guests to animate even the stagnant curiosity of a famishing mob.

On the appointed evening the people dragged their weary limbs from all
quarters of the city towards the Pincian Hill. Many of them died on the
way; many lost their resolution to proceed to the end of their journey,
and took shelter sullenly in the empty houses on the road; many found
opportunities for plunder and crime as they proceeded, which tempted
them from their destination; but many persevered in their purpose--the
living dragging the dying along with them, the desperate driving the
cowardly before them in malignant sport, until they gained the palace
gates. It was by their voices, as they reached her ear from the street,
that the fast-sinking faculties of Antonina had been startled, though
not revived; and there, on the broad pavement, lay these citizens of a
fallen city--a congregation of pestilence and crime--a starving and an
awful band!

The moon, brightened by the increasing darkness, now clearly illuminated
the street, and revealed, in a narrow space, a various and impressive
scene.

One side of the roadway in which stood Vetranio's palace was occupied,
along each extremity, as far as the eye could reach at night, by the
groves and outbuildings attached to the senator's mansion. The palace
grounds, at the higher and farther end of the street--looking from the
Pincian Gate--crossed it by a wide archway, and then stretched backward,
until they joined the trees of the little garden of Numerian's abode.
In a line with this house, but separated from it by a short space, stood
a long row of buildings, let out floor by floor to separate occupants,
and towering to an unwieldy altitude; for in ancient Rome, as in modern
London, in consequence of the high price of land in an over-populated
city, builders could only secure space in a dwelling by adding
inconveniently to its height. Beyond these habitations rose the trees
surrounding another patrician abode; and beyond that the houses took a
sudden turn, and nothing more was visible in a straight line but the
dusky, indefinite objects of the distant view.

The whole appearance of the street before Vetranio's mansion, had it
been unoccupied by the repulsive groups now formed in it, would have
been eminently beautiful at the hours of which we now write. The nobly
symmetrical frontage of the palace itself, with its graceful succession
of long porticoes and colossal statues, contrasted by the picturesquely
irregular appearance of the opposite dwelling of Numerian and the lofty
houses by its side; the soft, indistinct masses of foliage running
parallel along the upper ends of the street, terminated and connected by
the archway garden across the road, on which was planted a group of tall
pine-trees, rising in gigantic relief against the transparent sky; the
brilliant light streaming across the pavement from Vetranio's gaily-
curtained windows, immediately opposed by the tranquil moonlight which
lit the more distant view--formed altogether a prospect in which the
natural and the artificial were mingled together in the most exquisite
proportions--a prospect whose ineffable poetry and beauty might, on any
other night, have charmed the most careless eye and exalted the most
frivolous mind. But now, overspread as it was by groups of people gaunt
with famine and hideous with disease; startled as it was, at gloomy
intervals, by contending cries of supplication, defiance, and despair--
its brightest beauties of Nature and Art appeared but to shine with an
aspect of bitter mockery around the human misery which their splendour
disclosed.

Upwards of a hundred people--mostly of the lowest orders--were
congregated before the senator's devoted dwelling. Some few among them
passed slowly to and fro in the street, their figures gliding shadowy
and solemn through the light around them; but the greater number lay on
the pavement before the wall of Numerian's dwelling and the doorways of
the lofty houses by its side. Illuminated by the full glare of the
light from the palace windows, these groups, huddled together in the
distorted attitudes of suffering and despair, assumed a fearful and
unearthly appearance. Their shrivelled faces, their tattered clothing,
their wan forms, here prostrate, there half-raised, were bathed in a
steady red glow. High above them, at the windows of the tall houses,
now tenanted in every floor by the dead, appeared a few figures (the
mercenary guardians of the dying within) bending forward to look out
upon the palace opposite--their haggard faces showing pale in the clear
moonlight. Sometimes their voices were heard calling in mockery to the
mass of people below to break down the strong steel gates of the palace,
and tear the full wine-cup from its master's lips. Sometimes those
beneath replied with execrations, which rose wildly mingled with the
wailing of women and children, the moans of the plague-stricken, and the
supplications of the famished to the slaves passing backwards and
forwards behind the palace railings for charity and help.

In the intervals, when the tumult of weak voices was partially lulled,
there was heard a dull, regular, beating sound, produced by those who
had found dry bones on their road to the palace, and were pounding them
on the pavement, in sheltered places, for food. The wind, which had
been refreshing during the day, had changed at sunset, and now swept up
slowly over the street in hot, faint gusts, plague-laden, from the East.
Particles of the ragged clothing on some prostrate forms lying most
exposed in its course waved slowly to and fro, as it passed, like
banners planted by Death on the yielding defences of the citadel of
Life. It wound through the open windows of the palace, hot and
mephitic, as if tainted with the breath of the foul and furious words
which it bore onward into the banqueting-hall of the senator's reckless
guests. Driven over such scenes as now spread beneath it, it derived
from them a portentous significance; it seemed to blow like an
atmosphere exuded from the furnace-depths of centre earth, breathing
sinister warnings of some deadly convulsion in the whole fabric of
Nature over the thronged and dismal street.

Such was the prospect before the palace, and such the spectators
assembled in ferocious anxiety to behold the destruction of the
senator's abode. Meanwhile, within the walls of the building, the
beginning of the fatal orgie was at hand.

It had been covenanted by the slaves (who, during the calamities in the
besieged city, had relaxed in their accustomed implicit obedience to
their master with perfect impunity), that, as soon as the last labours
of preparation were completed, they should be free to consult their own
safety by quitting the devoted palace. Already some of the weakest and
most timid of their numbers might be seen passing out hastily into the
gardens by the back gates, like engineers who had fired a train, and
were escaping ere the explosion burst forth. Those among the menials
who still remained in the palace were for the greater part occupied in
drinking from the vases of wine which had been placed before them, to
preserved to the last moment their failing strength.

The mockery of festivity had been extended even to their dresses--green
liveries girt with cherry-coloured girdles arrayed their wasted forms.
They drank in utter silence. Not the slightest appearance of revelry or
intoxication prevailed among their ranks. Confusedly huddled together,
as if for mutual protection, they ever and anon cast quick glances of
suspicion and apprehension upon some six or eight of the superior
attendants of the palace, who walked backwards and forwards at the outer
extremity of the hall occupied by their comrades, and occasionally
advancing along the straight passages before them to the front gates of
the building, appeared to be exchanging furtive signals with some of the
people in the street. Reports had been vaguely spread of a secret
conspiracy between some of the principal of the slaves and certain
chosen ruffians of the populace, to murder all the inmates of the
palace, seize on its treasures, and, opening the city gates to the
Goths, escape with their booty during the confusion of the pillage of
Rome. Nothing had as yet been positively discovered; but the few
attendants who kept ominously apart from the rest were unanimously
suspected by their fellows, who now watched them over their wine-cups
with anxious eyes. Different as was the scene among the slaves still
left in the palace from the scene among the people dispersed in the
street, the one was nevertheless in its own degree as gloomily
suggestive of some great impending calamity as the other.

The grand banqueting-hall of the palace, prepared though it now was for
festivity, wore a changed and melancholy aspect.

The massive tables still ran down the whole length of the noble room,
surrounded by luxurious couches, as in former days, but not a vestige of
food appeared upon their glittering surfaces. Rich vases, flasks, and
drinking-cups, all filled with wine, alone occupied the festal board.
Above, hanging low from the ceiling, burnt ten large lamps,
corresponding to the number of guests assembled, as the only procurable
representatives of the hundreds of revellers who had feasted at
Vetranio's expense during the brilliant nights that were now passed for
ever. At the lower end of the room, beyond the grand door of entrance,
hung a thick black curtain, apparently intended to conceal mysteriously
some object behind it. Before the curtain burnt a small lamp of yellow
glass, raised upon a high gilt pole, and around and beneath it, heaped
against the side walls, and over part of the table, lay a various and
confused mass of rich objects, all of a nature more or less inflammable,
and all besprinkled with scented oils. Hundreds of yards of gorgeously
variegated hangings, rolls upon rolls of manuscripts, gaudy dresses of
all colours, toys, utensils, innumerable articles of furniture formed in
rare and beautifully inlaid woods, were carelessly flung together
against the walls of the apartment, and rose high towards its ceiling.

On every part of the tables not occupied by the vases of wine were laid
gold and jewelled ornaments which dazzled the eye by their brilliancy;
while, in extraordinary contrast to the magnificence thus profusely
displayed, there appeared in one of the upper corners of the hall an old
wooden stand covered by a coarse cloth, on which were placed one or two
common earthenware bowls, containing what my be termed a 'mash' of
boiled bran and salted horseflesh. Any repulsive odour which might have
arisen from this strange compound was overpowered by the various
perfumes sprinkled about the room, which, mingling with the hot breezes
wafted through the windows from the street, produced an atmosphere as
oppressive and debilitating, in spite of its artificial allurements to
the sense of smell, as the air of a dungeon or the vapours of a marsh.

Remarkable as was the change in the present appearance of the
banqueting-hall, it was but the feeble reflection of the alteration for
the worse in the aspect of the host and his guests. Vetranio reclined
at the head of the table, dressed in a scarlet mantle. An embroidered
towel with purple tassels and fringes, connected with rings of gold,
fell over his breast, and silver and ivory bracelets were clasped round
his arms. But of the former man the habiliments were all that remained.
His head was bent forward, as if with the weakness of age; his emaciated
arms seemed barely able to support the weight of the ornaments which
glittered on them; his eyes had contracted a wild, unsettled expression;
and a deadly paleness overspread the once plump and jovial cheeks which
so many mistresses had kissed in mercenary rapture in other days. Both
in countenance and manner the elegant voluptuary of our former
acquaintance at the Court of Ravenna was entirely and fatally changed.
Of the other eight patricians who lay on the couches around their
altered host--some wild and reckless, some gloomy and imbecile--all had
suffered in the ordeal of the siege, the famine, and the pestilence,
like him.

Such were the member of the assemblage, represented from the ceiling by
nine of the burning lamps. The tenth and last lamp indicated the
presence of one more guest who reclined a little apart from the rest.

This man was hump-backed; his gaunt, bony features were repulsively
disproportioned to his puny frame, which looked doubly contemptible,
enveloped as it was in an ample tawdry robe. Sprung from the lowest
ranks of the populace, he had gradually forced himself into the favour
of his superiors by his skill in coarse mimicry, and his readiness in
ministering to the worst vices of all who would employ him. Having lost
the greater part of his patrons during the siege, finding himself
abandoned to starvation on all sides, he had now, as a last resource,
obtained permission to participate in the Banquet of Famine, to enliven
it by a final exhibition of his buffoonery, and to die with his masters,
as he had lived with them--the slave, the parasite, and the imitator of
the lowest of their vices and the worst of their crimes.

At the commencement of the orgie, little was audible beyond the clash of
the wine-cups, the low occasional whispering of the revellers, and the
confused voices of the people without, floating through the window from
the street. The desperate compact of the guests, now that its execution
had actually begun, awed them at first in spite of themselves. At
length, when there was a lull of all sounds--when a temporary calm
prevailed over the noises outside--when the wine-cups were emptied, and
left for a moment ere they were filled again--Vetranio feebly rose, and,
announcing with a mocking smile that he was about to speak a funeral
oration over his friends and himself, pointed to the wall immediately
behind him as to an object fitted to awaken the astonishment or the
hilarity of his moody guests.

Against the upper part of the wall were fixed various small statues in
bronze and marble, all representing the owner of the palace, and all
hung with golden plates. Beneath these appeared the rent-roll of his
estates, written in various colours on white vellum, and beneath that,
scratched on the marble in faint irregular characters, was no less an
object than his own epitaph, composed by himself. It may be translated
thus:--

Stop, Spectator!

If thou has reverently cultivated the pleasures of the taste, pause amid
these illustrious ruins of what was once a palace, and peruse with
respect on this stone the epitaph of VETRANIO, a senator. He was the
first man who invented a successful nightingale sauce; his bold and
creative genius added much, and would have added more, to THE ART OF
COOKERY--but, alas for the interests of science! he lived in the days
when the Gothic barbarians besieged THE IMPERIAL CITY; famine left him
no matter for gustatory experiment; and pestilence deprived him of cooks
to enlighten! Opposed at all points by the force of adverse
circumstances, finding his life of no further use to the culinary
interests of Rome, he called his chosen friends together to assist him,
conscientiously drank up every drop of wine remaining in his cellars,
lit the funeral pile of himself and his guests, in the banqueting-hall
of his own palace, and died, as he had lived, the patriotic CATO of his
country's gastronomy!

'Behold!' cried Vetranio, pointing triumphantly to the epitaph--'behold
in every line of those eloquent letters at once the seal of my resolute
adherence to the engagement that unites us here, and the foundation of
my just claim to the reverence of posterity on the most useful of the
arts which I exercised for the benefit of my species! Read, friends,
brethren, fellow-martyrs of glory, and, as you read, rejoice with me
over the hour of our departure from the desecrated arena, no longer
worthy the celebration of the Games of Life! Yet, ere the feast
proceeds, hear me while I speak--I make my last oration as the arbiter
of our funeral sports, as the host of the Banquet of Famine!

'Who would sink ignobly beneath the slow superiority of starvation, or
perish under the quickly glancing steel of the barbarian conqueror's
sword, when such a death as ours is offered to the choice?--when wine
flows bright, to drown sensation in oblivion, and a palace and its
treasures furnish alike the scene of the revel and the radiant funeral
pile? The mighty philosophers of India--the inspired Gymnosophists--
died as we shall die! Calanus before Alexander, Zamarus in the presence
of Augustus, lit the fires that consumed them! Let us follow their
glorious example! No worms will prey upon our bodies, no hired mourners
will howl discordant at our funerals! Purified in the radiance of
primeval fire, we shall vanish triumphant from enemies and friends--a
marvel to the earth, a vision of glory to the gods themselves!

'Is it a day more or a day less of life that is now of importance to us?
No; it is only towards the easiest and the noblest death that our
aspirations can turn! Among our number there is now not one whom the
care of existence can further occupy!

'Here, at my right hand, reclines my estimable comrade of a thousand
former feasts, Furius Balburius Placidus, who, when we sailed on the
Lucrine Lake, was wont to complain of intolerable hardship if a fly
settled on the gilded folds of his umbrella; who languished for a land
of Cimmerian darkness if a sunbeam penetrated the silken awnings of his
garden-terrace; and who now wrangles for a mouthful of horseflesh with
the meanest of his slaves, and would exchange the richest of his country
villas for a basket of dirty bread! O Furius Balburius Placidus, of
what further use is life to thee?

'There, at my left, I discern the changed though still expressive
countenance of the resolute Thascius, he who chastised a slave with a
hundred lashes if his warm water was not brought immediately at his
command; he whose serene contempt for every member of the human species
by himself once ranked him among the greatest of human philosophers;
even he now wanders through his palace unserved, and fawns upon the
plebeian who will sell him a measure of wretched bran! Oh, admired
friend, oh, rightly reasoning Thascius, say, is there anything in Rome
which should delay thee on thy journey to the Elysian Fields?

'Farther onward at the table, drinking largely while I speak, I behold,
O Marcus Moecius Moemmius, thy once plump and jovial form!--thou, in
former days accustomed to rejoice in the length of thy name, because it
enabled thy friends to drink the more in drinking a cup to each letter
of it, tell me what banqueting-hall is now open to thee but this?--and
thus desolate in the city of thy social triumphs, what should disincline
thee to make of our festal solemnity thy last revel on earth?

'Thou, too, facetious hunchback, prince of parasites, unscrupulous
Reburrus, where, but at this banquet of famine, will thy buffoonery now
procure for thee a draught of reviving wine? Thy masters have abandoned
thee to thy native dunghill! No more shalt thou wheedle for them when
they borrow, or bully for them when they pay! No more charges of
poisoning or magic shalt thou forge to imprison their troublesome
creditors! Oh, officious sycophant, thy occupations are no more! Drink
while thou canst, and then resign thy carcass to congenial mire!

'And you, my five remaining friends, whom--little desirous of further
delay--I will collectively address, think on the days when the suspicion
of an infectious malady in any one of your companions was sufficient to
separate you from the dearest of them; when the slaves who came to you
from their palaces underwent long ceremonies of ablution before they
approached your presence; and remembering this, reflect that most,
perhaps all of us, now meet here plague-tainted already; and then say,
of what advantage is it to languish for a life which is yours no longer?

'No, my friends, my brethren of the banquet; feeling that when life is
worthless it is folly to live, you cannot shrink from the lofty
resolution by which we are bound, you cannot pause on our joyful journey
of departure from the scenes of earth--I wrong you even by a doubt! Let
me now, rather, ask your attention for a worthier subject--the
enumeration of the festal ceremonies by which the progress of the
banquet will be marked. That task concluded, that last ceremony of my
last welcome to you these halls duly performed, I join you once more in
your final homage to the deity of our social lives--the God of Wine!

'It is not unknown to you--learned as you are in the jovial antiquities
of the table--that it was, among some of the ancients, a custom for a
master-spirit of philosophy to preside--the teacher as well as the
guest--at their feasts. This usage it has been my care to revive, and,
as this four meeting is unparalleled in its heroic design, so it was my
ambition to bid to it one unparalleled, either as a teacher or a guest.
Fired by an original idea, unobserved of my slaves, aided only by my
singing-boy, the faithful Glyco, I have succeeded in placing behind that
black curtain such an associate of our revels as you have never feasted
with before, whose appearance at the fitting moment must strike you
irresistibly with astonishment, and whose discourse--not of human wisdom
only--will be inspired by the midnight secrets of the tomb. By my side,
on this parchment, lies the formulary of questions to be addressed by
Reburrus, when the curtain is withdrawn, to the Oracle of the Mysteries
of other Spheres.

'Before you, behold in those vases all that remains of my once well-
stocked cellars, and all that is provided for the palates of my guests!
We sit at the Banquet of Famine, and no coarser sustenance than
inspiring wine finds admittance at the Bacchanalian board. Yet, should
any among us, in his last moments, be feeble enough to pollute his lips
with nourishment alone worthy of the vermin of the earth, let him seek
the wretched and scanty table, type of the wretched and scanty food that
covers it, placed yonder in obscurity behind me. There will he find (in
all barely sufficient for one man's poorest meal) the last morsels of
the vilest nourishment left in the palace. For me, my resolution is
fixed--it is only the generous wine-cup that shall now approach my lips!

'Above me are the ten lamps, answering to the number of my friends here
assembled. One after another, as the wine overpowers us, those burning
images of life will be extinguished in succession by the guests who
remain proof against our draughts; and the last of these, lighting this
torch at the last lamp, will consummate the banquet, and celebrate its
glorious close, by firing the funeral pile of my treasures heaped yonder
against my palace walls! If my powers fail me before yours, swear to me
that whoever among you is able to lift the cup to his lips after it has
dropped from the hands of the rest, will fire the pile! Swear it by
your lost mistresses, your lost friends, your lost treasures!--by your
own lives, devoted to the pleasures of wine and the purification of
fire!'

As, with flashing eyes and flushed countenance, Vetranio sank back on
his couch, his companions, inflamed with the wine they had already
drunk, arose cup in hand, and turned towards him. Their voices,
discordantly mingled, pronounced the oath together; then, as they
resumed their former positions, their eyes all turned towards the black
curtain in ardent expectation.

They had observed the sinister and sarcastic expression of Vetranio's
eye as he spoke of his concealed guest; they knew that the hunchback
Reburrus possessed, among his other powers of buffoonery, the art of
ventriloquism; and they suspected the presence of some hideous or
grotesque image of a heathen god or demon in the hidden recess, which
the jugglery of the parasite was to gift with the capacity of speech.
Blasphemous comments upon life, death, and immortality were eagerly
awaited. The general impatience for the withdrawal of the curtain was
perceived by Vetranio, who, waving his hand for silence, authoritatively
exclaimed--

'The hour has not yet arrived. More draughts must be drunk, more
libations poured out, ere the mystery of the curtain is revealed! Ho,
Glyco!' he continued, turning towards the singing-boy, who had silently
entered the room, 'the moment is yours! Tune your lyre, and recite my
last ode, which I have addressed to you! Let the charms of Poetry
preside over the feast of Death!'

The boy advanced, trembling; his once ruddy face was colourless and
haggard; his eyes were fixed with a look of rigid terror on the black
curtain; his features palpably expressed the presence within him of some
secret and overwhelming recollection which had crushed all his other
faculties and perceptions. Steadily, almost guiltily, averting his face
from his master's countenance, he stood by Vetranio's couch, a frail and
fallen being, a mournful spectacle of perverted docility and degraded
youth.

Still true, however, to the duties of his vocation, he ran his thin,
trembling fingers over the lyre, and mechanically preluded the
commencement of the ode. But during the silence of attention which now
prevailed, the confused noises from the people in the street penetrated
more distinctly into the banqueting-room; and at this moment, high above
them all--hoarse, raving, terrible, rose the voice of one man.

'Tell me not,' it cried, 'of perfumes wafted from the palace!--foul
vapours flow from it!--see, they sink, suffocating over me!--they bathe
sky and earth, and men who move around us, in fierce, green light!'

Then other voices of men and women, shrill and savage, broke forth in
interruption together:--'Peace, Davus! you awake the dead about you!'
'Hide in the darkness; you are plague-struck; your skin is shrivelled;
your gums are toothless!' 'When the palace is fired you shall be flung
into the flames to purify your rotten carcass!'

'Sing!' cried Vetranio furiously, observing the shudders that ran over
the boy's frame and held him speechless. 'Strike the lyre, as Timotheus
struck it before Alexander! Drown in melody the barking of the curs who
wait for our offal in the street!'

Feebly and interruptedly the terrified boy began; the wild continuous
noises of the moaning voices from without sounding their awful
accompaniment to the infidel philosophy of his song as he breathed it
forth in faint and faltering accents. It ran thus:--

TO GLYCO

Ah, Glyco! why in flow'rs array'd? Those festive wreaths less quickly
fade Than briefly-blooming joy! Those high-prized friends who share your
mirth Are counterfeits of brittle earth, False coin'd in Death's alloy!

The bliss your notes could once inspire, When lightly o'er the god-like
lyre Your nimble fingers pass'd, Shall spring the same from others'
skill--When you're forgot, the music still The player shall outlast!

The sun-touch'd cloud that mounts the sky, That brightly glows to warm
the eye, Then fades we know not where, Is image of the little breath Of
life--and then, the doom of Death That you and I must share!

Helpless to make or mar our birth, We blindly grope the ways of earth,
And live our paltry hour; Sure, that when life has ceased to please, To
die at will, in Stoic ease, Is yielded to our pow'r!

Who, timely wise, would meanly wait The dull delay of tardy Fate, When
Life's delights are shorn? No! When its outer gloss has flown, Let's
fling the tarnish'd bauble down As lightly as 'twas worn.

'A health to Glyco! A deep draught to a singer from heaven come down
upon earth!' cried the guests, seizing their wine-cups, as the ode was
concluded, and draining them to the last drop. But their drunken
applause fell noiseless upon the ear to which it was addressed. The
boy's voice, as he sang the final stanza of the ode, had suddenly
changed to a shrill, almost an unearthly tone, then suddenly sank again
as he breathed forth the last few notes; and now as his dissolute
audience turned towards him with approving glances, they saw him
standing before them cold, rigid, and voiceless. The next instant his
fixed features were suddenly distorted, his whole frame collapsed as if
torn by an internal spasm--he fell back heavily to the floor. Those
around approached him with unsteady feet, and raised him in their arms.
His soul had burst the bonds of vice in which others had entangled it;
the voice of Death had whispered to the slave of the great despot,
Crime--'Be free!'

'We have heard the note of the swan singing its own funeral hymn!' said
the patrician Placidus, looking in maudlin pity from the corpse of the
boy to the face of Vetranio, which presented for the moment an
involuntary expression of grief and remorse.

'Our miracle of beauty and boy-god of melody has departed before us to
the Elysian fields!' muttered the hunchback Reburrus, in harsh,
sarcastic accents.

Then, during the short silence that ensued, the voices from the street,
joined on this occasion to a noise of approaching footsteps on the
pavement, became again distinctly audible in the banqueting-hall.
'News! news!' cried these fresh auxiliaries of the horde already
assembled before the palace. 'Keep together, you who still care for your
lives! Solitary citizens have been lured by strange men into desolate
streets, and never seen again! Jars of newly salted flesh, which there
were no beasts left in the city to supply, have been found in a
butcher's shop! Keep together! Keep together!'

'No cannibals among the mob shall pollute the body of my poor boy!'
cried Vetranio, rousing himself from his short lethargy of grief. 'Ho!
Thascius! Marcus! you who can yet stand! let us bear him to the funeral
pile! He has died first--his ashes shall be first consumed!'

The two patricians arose as the senator spoke, and aided him in carrying
the body to the lower end of the room, where it was laid across the
table, beneath the black curtain, and between the heaps of drapery and
furniture piled up against each of the walls. Then, as his guests
reeled back to their places, Vetranio, remaining by the side of the
corpse, and seizing in his unsteady hands a small vase of wine,
exclaimed in tones of fierce exultation: 'The hour has come--the
Banquet of Famine has ended--the Banquet of Death has begun! A health
to the guest behind the curtain! Fill--drink--behold!'

He drank deeply from the vase as he ceased, and drew aside the black
drapery above him. A cry of terror and astonishment burst from the
intoxicated guests as they beheld in the recess now disclosed to view
the corpse of an aged woman, clothed in white, and propped up on a high,
black throne, with the face turned towards them, and the arms
(artificially supported) stretched out as if in denunciation over the
banqueting-table. The lamp of yellow glass, which burnt high above the
body, threw over it a lurid and flickering light; the eyes were open,
the jaw had fallen, the long grey tresses drooped heavily on either side
of the white hollow cheeks.

'Behold!' cried Vetranio, pointing to the corpse--'Behold my secret
guest! Who so fit as the dead to preside at the Banquet of Death?
Compelling the aid of Glyco, shrouded by congenial night, seizing on the
first corpse exposed before me in the street, I have set up there,
unsuspected by all, the proper idol of our worship, and philosopher at
our feast! Another health to the queen of the fatal revels--to the
teacher of the mysteries of worlds unseen--rescued from rotting
unburied, to perish in the consecrated flames with the senators of Rome!
A health!--a health to the mighty mother, ere she begin the mystic
revelations! Fill--drink!'

Fired by their host's example, recovered from their momentary awe,
already inflamed by the mad recklessness of debauchery, the guests
started from their couches, and with Bacchanalian shouts answered
Vetranio's challenge. The scene at this moment approached the
supernatural. The wild disorder of the richly laden tables; the wine
flowing over the floor from overthrown vases; the great lamps burning
bright and steady over the confusion beneath; the fierce gestures, the
disordered countenances of the revellers, as they waved their jewelled
cups over their heads in frantic triumph; and then the gloomy and
terrific prospect at the lower end of the hall--the black curtain, the
light burning solitary on its high pole, the dead boy lying across the
festal table, the living master standing by his side, and, like an evil
spirit, pointing upward in mockery to the white-robed corpse of the
woman, as it towered above all in its unnatural position, with its
skinny arms stretched forth, with its ghastly features appearing to move
as the faint and flickering light played over them,--produced together
such a combination of scarce-earthly objects as might be painted, but
cannot be described. It was an embodiment of a sorcerer's vision--an
apocalypse of sin triumphing over the world's last relics of mortality
in the vaults of death.

'To your task, Reburrus!' cried Vetranio, when the tumult was lulled;
'to your questions without delay! Behold the teacher with whom you are
to hold commune! Peruse carefully the parchment in your hand; question,
and question loudly--you speak to the apathetic dead!'

For some time before the disclosure of the corpse, the hunchback had
been seated apart at the end of the banqueting-hall opposite the black-
curtained recess, conning over the manuscript containing the list of
questions and answers which formed the impious dialogue he was to hold,
by the aid of his powers of ventriloquism, with the violated dead. When
the curtain was withdrawn he had looked up for a moment, and had greeted
the appearance of the sight behind it with a laugh of brutal derision,
returning immediately to the study of his blasphemous formulary which
had been confided to his care. At the moment when Vetranio's commands
were addressed to him he arose, reeled down the apartment towards the
corpse, and, opening the dialogue as he approached it, began in loud
jeering tones: 'Speak, miserable relict of decrepit mortality!'

He paused as he uttered the last word, and gaining a point of view from
which the light of the lamp fell full upon the solemn and stony features
of the corpse, looked up defiantly at it. In an instant a frightful
change passed over him, the manuscript dropped from his hand, his
deformed frame shrank and tottered, a shrill cry of recognition burst
from his lips, more like the yell of a wild beast than the voice of a
man.

The next moment, when the guests started up to question or deride him,
he turned slowly and faced them. Desperate and drunken as they were,
his look awed them into utter silence. His face was deathlike in hue,
as the face of the corpse above him--thick drops of perspiration
trickled down it like rain--his dry glaring eyes wandered fiercely over
the startled countenances before him, and, as he extended towards them
his clenched hands, he muttered in a deep gasping whisper: 'Who has
done this? MY MOTHER! MY MOTHER!'

As these few words--of awful import though of simple form--fell upon the
ears of those whom he addressed, such of them as were not already sunk
in insensibility looked round on each other almost sobered for the
moment, and all speechless alike. Not even the clash of the wine-cups
was now heard at the banqueting-table--nothing was audible but the
sound, still fitfully rising and falling, of the voices of terror,
ribaldry, and anguish from the street; and the hoarse convulsive accents
of the hunchback, still uttering at intervals his fearful identification
of the dead body above him: 'MY MOTHER! MY MOTHER!'

At length Vetranio, who was the first to recover himself, addressed the
terrified and degraded wretch before him, in tones which, in spite of
himself, betrayed, as he began, an unwonted tremulousness and restraint.
'What, Reburrus!' he cried, 'are you already drunken to insanity, that
you call the first dead body which by chance I encountered in the
street, and by chance brought hither, your mother?
Was it to talk of your mother, whom dead or alive we neither know nor
care for, that you were admitted here? Son of obscurity and inheritor
of rags, what are your plebeian parents to us!' he continued, refilling
his cup, and lashing himself into assumed anger as he spoke. 'To your
dialogue without delay, or you shall be flung from the windows to mingle
with your rabble-equals in the street!'

Neither by word nor look did the hunchback answer the senator's menaces.
For him, the voice of the living was stifled in the presence of the
dead. The retribution that had gone forth against him had struck his
moral, as a thunderbolt might have stricken his physical being. His
soul strove in agony within him, as he thought on the awful fatality
which had set the dead mother in judgment on the degraded son--which had
directed the hand of the senator unwittingly to select the corpse of the
outraged parent as the object for the infidel buffoonery of the reckless
child, at the very close of his impious career. His past life rose
before him, for the first time, like a foul vision, like a nightmare of
horror, impurity, and crime. He staggered up the room, groping his way
along the wall, as if the darkness of midnight had closed round his
eyes, and crouched down by the open window. Beneath him rose the evil
and ominous voices from the street; around him spread the pitiless array
of his masters; before him appeared the denouncing vision of the corpse.

He would have remained but a short time unmolested in his place of
refuge, but for an event which now diverted from him the attention of
Vetranio and his guests. Drinking furiously to drown all recollection
of the catastrophe they had just witnessed, three of the revellers had
already suffered the worst consequences of an excess, which their
weakened frames were ill-fitted to bear. One after another, at short
intervals, they fell back senseless on their couches; and one after
another, as they succumbed, the three lamps burning nearest to them were
extinguished. The same speedy termination to the debauch seemed to be
in reserve for the rest of their companions, with the exception of
Vetranio and the two patricians who reclined at his right hand and his
left. These three still preserved the appearance of self-possession,
but an ominous change had already overspread their countenances. The
expression of wild joviality, of fierce recklessness, had departed from
their wild features; they silently watched each other with vigilant and
suspicious eyes; each in turn, as he filled his wine-cup, significantly
handled the torch with which the last drinker was to fire the funeral
pile. As the numbers of their rivals decreased, and the flame of lamp
after lamp was extinguished, the fatal contest for a suicide supremacy
assumed a present and powerful interest, in which all other purposes and
objects were forgotten. The corpse at the foot of the banqueting-table,
and the wretch cowering in his misery at the window, were now alike
unheeded. In the bewildered and brutalised minds of the guests, one
sensation alone remained--the intensity of expectation which precedes
the result of a deadly strife.

But ere long--awakening the attention which might otherwise never have
been aroused--the voice of the hunchback was heard, as the spirit of
repentance now moved within him, uttering, in wild, moaning tones, a
strange confession of degradation and sin--addressed to none;
proceeding, independent of consciousness or will, from the depths of his
stricken soul. He half raised himself, and fixed his sunken eyes upon
the dead body, as these words dropped from his lips: 'It was the last
time that I beheld her alive, when she approached me--lonely, and
feeble, and poor--in the street, beseeching me to return to her in the
days of her old age and her solitude, and to remember how she had loved
me in my childhood for my very deformity, how she had watched me
throughout the highways of Rome, that none should oppress or deride me!
The tears ran down her cheeks, she knelt to me on the hard pavement, and
I, who had deserted her for her poverty, to make myself a slave in
palaces among the accursed rich, flung down money to her as to a beggar
who wearied me, and passed on! She died desolate; her body lay
unburied, and I knew it not! The son who had abandoned the mother never
saw her more, until she rose before him there--avenging, horrible,
lifeless--a sight of death never to leave him! Woe, woe to the accursed
in his deformity, and the accursed of his mother's corpse!'

He paused, and fell back again to the ground, grovelling and speechless.
The tyrannic Thascius, regarding him with a scowl of drunken wrath,
seized an empty vase, and poising it in his unsteady hand, prepared to
hurl it at the hunchback's prostrate form, when again a single cry--a
woman's--rising above the increasing uproar in the street, rang shrill
and startling through the banqueting-hall. The patrician suspended his
purpose as he heard it, mechanically listening with the half-stupid,
half-cunning attention of intoxication. 'Help! help!' shrieked the
voice beneath the palace windows--'he follows me still--he attacked my
dead child in my arms! As I flung myself down upon it on the ground, I
saw him watching his opportunity to drag it by the limbs from under me--
famine and madness were in his eyes--I drove him back--I fled--he
follows me still!--save us, save us!'

At this instant her voice was suddenly stifled in the sound of fierce
cries and rushing footsteps, followed by an appalling noise of heavy
blows, directed at several points, against the steel railings before the
palace doors. Between the blows, which fell slowly and together at
regular intervals, the infuriated wretches, whose last exertions of
strength were strained to the utmost to deal them, could be heard
shouting breathlessly to each other: 'Strike harder, strike harder! the
back gates are guarded against us by our comrades admitted to the
pillage of the palace instead of us. You who would share the booty,
strike firm! the stones are at your feet, the gates of entrance yield
before you.'

Meanwhile a confused sound of trampling footsteps and contending voices
became audible from the lower apartments of the palace. Doors were
violently shut and opened--shouts and execrations echoed and re-echoed
along the lofty stone passages leading from the slaves' waiting-rooms to
the grand staircase; treachery betrayed itself as openly within the
building as violence still proclaimed itself in the assault on the gates
outside. The chief slaves had not been suspected by their fellows
without a cause; the bands of pillage and murder had been organised in
the house of debauchery and death; the chosen adherents from the street
had been secretly admitted through the garden gates, and had barred and
guarded them against further intrusion--another doom than the doom they
had impiously prepared for themselves was approaching the devoted
senators, at the hands of the slaves whom they had oppressed, and the
plebeians whom they had despised.

At the first sound of the assault without and the first intimation of
the treachery within, Vetranio, Thascius, and Marcus started from their
couches; the remainder of the guests, incapable either of thought or
action, lay, in stupid insensibility, awaiting their fate. These three
men alone comprehended the peril that threatened them, and, maddened
with drink, defied, in their ferocious desperation, the death that was
in store for them. 'Hark! they approach, the rabble revolted from our
rule,' cried Vetranio scornfully, 'to take the lives that we despise and
the treasures that we have resigned! The hour has come; I go to fire
the pile that involves in one common destruction our assassins and
ourselves!'

'Hold!' exclaimed Thascius, snatching the torch from his hand; 'the
entrance must first be defended, or, ere the flames are kindled, the
slaves will be here! Whatever is movable--couches, tables, corpses--let
us hurl them all against the door!'

As he spoke he rushed towards the black-curtained recess, to set the
example to his companions by seizing the corpse of the woman; but he had
not passed more than half the length of the apartment, when the
hunchback, who had followed him unheeded, sprang upon him from behind,
and, with a shrill cry, fastening his fingers on his throat, hurled him
torn and senseless to the floor. 'Who touches the body that is mine?'
shrieked the deformed wretch, rising from his victim, and threatening
with his blood-stained hands Vetranio and Marcus, as they stood
bewildered, and uncertain for the moment whether first to avenge their
comrade or to barricade the door--'The son shall rescue the mother! I
go to bury her! Atonement! Atonement!'

He leaped upon the table as he spoke, tore asunder with resistless
strength the cords which fastened the corpse to the throne, seized it in
his arms, and the next instant gained the door. Uttering fierce,
inarticulate cries, partly of anguish and partly of defiance, he threw
it open, and stepped forward to descend, when he was met at the head of
the stairs by the band of assassins hurrying up, with drawn swords and
blazing torches, to their work of pillage and death. He stood before
them--his deformed limbs set as firmly on the ground as if he were
preparing to descend the stairs at one leap--with the corpse raised high
on his breast; its unearthly features were turned towards them, its bare
arms were still stretched forth as they had been extended over the
banqueting-table, its grey hair streamed back and mingled with his own:
under the fitful illumination of the torches, which played red and wild
over him and his fearful burden, the dead and the living looked joined
to each other in one monstrous form.

Huddled together, motionless, on the stairs, their shouts of vengeance
and fury frozen on their lips, the assassins stood for one moment,
staring mechanically, with fixed, spell-bound eyes, upon the hideous
bulwark opposing their advance on the victims whom they had expected so
easily to surprise. The next instant a superstitious panic seized them;
as the hunchback suddenly moved towards them to descend, the corpse
seemed to their terror-stricken eyes to be on the eve of bursting its
way through their ranks. Ignorant of its introduction into the palace,
imagining it, in the revival of their slavish fears, to be the spectral
offspring of the magic incantations of the senators above, they turned
with one accord and fled down the stairs. The sound of their cries of
fear grew fainter and fainter in the direction of the garden as they
hurried through the secret gates at the back of the building. Then the
heavy, regular tamp of the hunchback's footsteps, as he paced the
solitary corridors after them, bearing his burden of death, became
audible in awful distinctness; then that sound also died away and was
lost, and nothing more was heard in the banqueting-room save the sharp
clang of the blows still dealt against the steel railings from the
street.

But now these grew rare and more rare in their recurrence; the strong
metal resisted triumphantly the utmost efforts of the exhausted rabble
who assailed it. As the minutes moved on, the blows grew rapidly
fainter and fewer; soon they diminished to three, struck at long
intervals; soon to one, followed by deep execrations of despair; and,
after that, a great silence sank down over the palace and the street,
where such strife and confusion had startled the night-echoes but a few
moments before.

In the banqueting-hall this rapid succession of events--the marvels of a
few minutes--passed before Vetranio and Marcus as visions beheld by
their eyes, but neither contained nor comprehended by their minds.
Stolid in their obstinate recklessness, stupefied by the spectacle of
the startling perils--menacing yet harmless, terrifying though
transitory--which surrounded them, neither of the senators moved a
muscle or uttered a word, from the period when Thascius had fallen
beneath the hunchback's attack, to the period when the last blow against
the palace railings, and the last sound of voices from the street, had
ceased in silence. Then the wild current of drunken exultation,
suspended within them during this brief interval, flowed once more,
doubly fierce, in its old course. Insensible, the moment after they had
passed away, to the warning and terrific scenes they had beheld, each
now looked round on the other with a glance of triumphant levity.
'Hark!' cried Vetranio, 'the mob without, feeble and cowardly to the
last, abandon their puny efforts to force my palace gates! Behold our
banqueting-tables still sacred from the intrusion of the revolted
menials, driven before my guest from the dead, like a flock of sheep
before a single dog! Say, O Marcus! did I not well to set the corpse at
the foot of our banqueting-table? What marvels has it not effected,
borne before us by the frantic Reburrus, as a banner of the hosts of
death, against the cowardly slaves whose fit inheritance is oppression,
and whose sole sensation is fear! See, we are free to continue and
conclude the banquet as we had designed! The gods themselves have
interfered to raise us in security above our fellow-mortals, whom we
despise! Another health, in gratitude to our departed guest, the
instrument of our deliverance, under the auspices of omnipotent Jove!'

As Vetranio spoke, Marcus alone, out of all the revellers, answered his
challenge. These two--the last-remaining combatants of the strife--
having drained their cups to the health proposed, passed slowly down
each side of the room, looking contemptuously on their prostrate
companions, and extinguishing every lamp but the two which burnt over
their own couches. Then returning to the upper end of the tables, they
resumed their places, not to leave them again until the fatal rivalry
was finally decided, and the moment of firing the pile had actually
arrived.

The torch lay between them; the last vases of wine stood at their sides.
Not a word escaped the lips of either, to break the deep stillness
prevailing over the palace. Each fixed his eyes on the other, in stern
and searching scrutiny, and cup for cup, drank in slow and regular
alternation. The debauch, which had hitherto presented a spectacle of
brutal degradation and violence, now that it was restricted to two men
only--each equally unimpressed by the scenes of horror he had beheld,
each vying with the other for the attainment of the supreme of
depravity--assumed an appearance of hardly human iniquity; it became a
contest for a satanic superiority of sin.

For some time little alteration appeared in the countenances of either
of the suicide-rivals; but they had now drunk to that final point of
excess at which wine either acts as its own antidote, or overwhelms in
fatal suffocation the pulses of life. The crisis in the strife was
approaching for both, and the first to experience it was Marcus.
Vetranio, as he watched him, observed a dark purple flush overspreading
his face, hitherto pale, almost colourless. His eyes suddenly dilated;
he panted for breath. The vase of wine, when he strove with a last
effort to fill his cup from it, rolled from his hand to the floor. The
stare of death was in his face as he half-raised himself and for one
instant looked steadily on his companion; the moment after, without word
or groan, he dropped backward over his couch.

The contest of the night was decided! The host of the banquet and the
master of the palace had been reserved to end the one and to fire the
other!

A smile of malignant triumph parted Vetranio's lips as he now arose and
extinguished the last lamp burning besides his own. That done, he
grasped the torch. His eyes, as he raised it, wandered dreamily over
the array of his treasures, and the forms of his dead or insensible
fellow-patricians around him, to be consumed by his act in annihilating
fire. The sensation of his solemn night-solitude in his fated palace
began to work in vivid and varying impressions on his mind, which was
partially recovering some portion of its wonted acuteness, under the
bodily reaction now produced in him by the very extravagance of the
night's excess. His memory began to retrace confusedly the scenes with
which the dwelling that he was about to destroy had been connected at
distant or at recent periods. At one moment the pomp of former
banquets, the jovial congregation of guests since departed or dead,
revived before him; at another, he seemed to be acting over again his
secret departure from his dwelling on the night before his last feast,
his stealthy return with the corpse that he had dragged from the street,
his toil in setting it up in mockery behind the black curtain, and
inventing the dialogue to be spoken before it by the hunchback. Now his
thoughts reverted to the minutest circumstances of the confusion and
dismay among the members of his household when the first extremities of
the famine began to be felt in the city; and now, without visible
connection or cause, they turned suddenly to the morning when he had
hurried through the most solitary paths in his grounds to meet the
betrayer Ulpius at Numerian's garden gate. Once more the image of
Antonina--so often present to his imagination since the original was
lost to his eyes--grew palpable before him. He thought of her, as
listening at his knees to the sound of his lute; as awakening,
bewildered and terrified, in his arms; as flying distractedly before her
father's wrath; as now too surely lying dead, in her beauty and her
innocence, amid the thousand victims of the famine and the plague.

These and other reflections, while they crowded in whirlwind rapidity on
his mind, wrought no alteration in the deadly purpose which they
suspended. His delay in lighting the torch was the unconscious delay of
the suicide, secure in his resolution ere he lifts the poison to his
lips--when life rises before him as a thing that is past, and he stands
for one tremendous moment in the dark gap between the present and the
future--no more the pilgrim of Time--not yet the inheritor of Eternity!

So, in the dimly lighted hall, surrounded by the victims whom he had
hurried before him to their doom, stood the lonely master of the great
palace; and so spoke within him the mysterious voices of his last
earthly thoughts. Gradually they sank and ceased, and stillness and
vacancy closed like dark veils over his mind. Starting like one
awakened from a trance he once more felt the torch in his hand, and once
more the expression of fierce desperation appeared in his eyes as he lit
it steadily at the lamp above him.

The dew was falling pure to the polluted earth; the light breezes sang
their low daybreak anthem among the leaves to the Power that bade them
forth; night had expired, and morning was already born of it, as
Vetranio, with the burning torch in his hand, advanced towards the
funeral pile.

He had already passed the greater part of the length of the room, when a
faint sound of footsteps ascending a private staircase which led to the
palace gardens, and communicated with the lower end of the banqueting-
hall by a small door of inlaid ivory, suddenly attracted his attention.
He hesitated in his deadly purpose, listening to the slow, regular
approaching sound, which, feeble though it was, struck mysteriously
impressive upon his ear in the dreary silence of all things around him.
Holding the torch high above his head, as the footsteps came nearer, he
fixed his eyes in intense expectation upon the door. It opened, and the
figure of a young girl clothed in white stood before him. One moment he
looked upon her with startled eyes; the next the torch dropped from his
hand, and smouldered unheeded on the marble floor. It was Antonina!

Her face was overspread with a strange transparent paleness; her once
soft, round cheeks had lost their girlish beauty of form; her
expression, ineffably mournful, hopeless, and subdued, threw a simple,
spiritual solemnity over her whole aspect. She was changed, awfully
changed to the profligate senator from the being of his former
admiration; but still there remained in her despairing eyes enough of
the old look of gentleness and patience, surviving through all anguish
and dread, to connect her, even as she was now, with what she had been.
She stood in the chamber of debauchery and suicide between the funeral
pile and the desperate man who was vowed to fire it, a feeble, helpless
creature, yet powerful in the influence of her presence, at such a
moment and in such a form, as a saving and reproving spirit, armed with
the omnipotence of Heaven to mould the purposes of man.

Awed and astounded, as if he beheld an apparition from the tomb,
Vetranio looked upon this young girl--whom he had loved with the least
selfish passion that ever inspired him; whom he had lamented as long
since lost and dead with the sincerest grief he had ever felt; whom he
now saw standing before him at the very moment ere he doomed himself to
death, altered, desolate, supplicating--with emotions which held him
speechless in wonder, and even in dread. While he still gazed upon her
in silence, he heard her speaking to him in low, melancholy, imploring
accents, which fell upon his ear, after the voices of terror and
desperation that had risen around him throughout the night, like tones
never addressed to it before.

'Numerian, my father, is sinking under the famine,' she began; 'if no
help is given to him, he may die even before sunrise! You are rich and
powerful; I have come to you, having nothing now but his life to live
for, to beg sustenance for him!' She paused, overpowered for the
moment, and bent her eyes wistfully on the senator's face. Then seeing
that he vainly endeavoured to answer her, her head drooped upon her
breast, and her voice sank lower as she continued:--

'I have striven for patience under much sorrow and pain through the long
night that is past; my eyes were heavy and my spirit was faint; I could
have rendered up my soul willingly in my loneliness and feebleness to
God who gave it, but that it was my duty to struggle for my life and my
father's, now that I was restored to him after I had lost all beside! I
could not think, or move, or weep, as, looking forth upon your palace, I
watched and waited through the hours of darkness. But, as morning
dawned, the heaviness at my heart was lightened; I remembered that the
palace I saw before me was yours; and, though the gates were closed, I
knew that I could reach it through your garden that joins to my father's
land. I had none in Rome to ask mercy of but you; so I set forth
hastily, ere my weakness should overpower me, remembering that I had
inherited much misery at your hands, but hoping that you might pity me
for what I had suffered when you saw me again. I came wearily through
the garden; it was long before I found my way hither; will you send me
back as helpless as I came? You first taught me to disobey my father in
giving me the lute; will you refuse to aid me in succouring him now? He
is all that I have left in the world! Have mercy upon him!--have mercy
upon me!'

Again she looked up in Vetranio's face. His trembling lips moved, but
still no sound came from them. The expression of confusion and awe yet
prevailed over his features as he pointed slowly towards the upper end
of the banqueting-table. To her this simple action was eloquent beyond
all power of speech; she turned her feeble steps instantly in the
direction he had indicated.

He watched her, by the light of the single lamp that still burnt,
passing--strong in the shielding inspiration of her good purpose--amid
the bodies of his suicide companions without pausing on her way. Having
gained the upper end of the room, she took from the table a flask of
wine, and from the wooden stand behind it the bowl of offal disdained by
the guests at the fatal banquet, returning immediately to the spot where
Vetranio still stood. Here she stopped for a moment, as if about to
speak once more; but her emotions overpowered her. From the sources
which despair and suffering had dried up, the long-prisoned tears once
more flowed forth at the bidding of gratitude and hope. She looked upon
the senator, silent as himself, and her expression at that instant was
destined to remain on his memory while memory survived. Then, with
faltering and hasty steps, she departed by the way she had come; and in
the great palace, which his evil supremacy over the wills of others had
made a hideous charnel-house, he was once more left alone.

He made no effort to follow or detain her as she left him. The torch
still smouldered beside him on the floor, but he never stooped to take
it up; he dropped down on a vacant couch, stupefied by what he had
beheld. That which no entreaties, no threats, no fierce violence of
opposition could have effected in him, the appearance of Antonina had
produced--it had forced him to pause at the very moment of the execution
of his deadly design.

He remembered how, from the very first day when he had seen her, she had
mysteriously influenced the whole progress of his life; how his ardour
to possess her had altered his occupations, and even interrupted his
amusements; how all his energy and all his wealth had been baffled in
the attempt to discover her when she fled from her father's house; how
the first feeling of remorse that he had ever known had been awakened
within him by his knowledge of the share he had had in producing her
unhappy fate. Recalling all this; reflecting that, had she approached
him at an earlier period, she would have been driven back affrighted by
the drunken clamour of his companions; and had she arrived at a later,
would have found his palace in flames; thinking at the same time of her
sudden presence in the banqueting-hall when he had believed her to be
dead, when her appearance at the moment before he fired the pile was
most irresistible in its supernatural influence over his actions--that
vague feeling of superstitious dread which exists intuitively in all
men's minds, which had never before been aroused in his, thrilled
through him. His eyes were fixed on the door by which she had departed,
as if he expected her to return. Her destiny seemed to be portentously
mingled with his own; his life seemed to move, his death to wait at her
bidding. There was no repentance, no moral purification in the emotions
which now suspended his bodily faculties in inaction; he was struck for
the time with a mental paralysis.

The restless moments moved onward and onward, and still he delayed the
consummation of the ruin which the night's debauch had begun. Slowly
the tender daylight grew and brightened in its beauty, warmed the cold
prostrate bodies in the silent hall, and dimmed the faint glow of the
wasting lamp; no black mist of smoke, no red glare of devouring fire
arose to quench its fair lustre; no roar of flames interrupted the
murmuring morning tranquillity of nature, or startled from their heavy
repose the exhausted outcasts stretched upon the pavement of the street.
Still the noble palace stood unshaken on its firm foundations; still the
adornments of its porticoes and its statues glittered as of old in the
rays of the rising sun; and still the hand of the master who had sworn
to destroy it, as he had sworn to destroy himself, hung idly near the
torch which lay already extinguished in harmless ashes at his feet.

CHAPTER 23. THE LAST EFFORTS OF THE BESIEGED.

We return to the street before the palace. The calamities of the siege
had fallen fiercely on those who lay there during the night. From the
turbulent and ferocious mob of a few hours since, not even the sound of
a voice was now heard. Some, surprised in a paroxysm of hunger by
exhaustion and insensibility, lay with their hands half forced into
their mouths, as if in their ravenous madness they had endeavoured to
prey upon their own flesh. Others now and then wearily opened their
languid eyes upon the street, no longer regardful, in the present
extremity of their sufferings, of the building whose destruction they
had assembled to behold, but watching for a fancied realisation of the
visions of richly spread tables and speedy relief called up before them,
as if in mockery, by the delirium of starvation and disease.

The sun had as yet but slightly risen above the horizon, when the
attention of the few among the populace who still preserved some
perception of outward events was suddenly attracted by the appearance of
an irregular procession--composed partly of citizens and partly of
officers of the Senate, and headed by two men--which slowly approached
from the end of the street leading into the interior of the city. This
assembly of persons stopped opposite Vetranio's palace; and then such
members of the mob who watched them as were not yet entirely abandoned
by hope, heard the inspiring news that the procession they beheld was a
procession of peace, and that the two men who headed it were the
Spaniard, Basilius, a governor of a province, and Johannes, the chief of
the Imperial notaries--appointed ambassadors to conclude a treaty with
the Goths.

As this intelligence reached them, men who had before appeared incapable
of the slightest movement now rose painfully, yet resolutely, to their
feet, and crowded round the two ambassadors as round two angels
descended to deliver them from bondage and death. Meanwhile, some
officers of the Senate, finding the front gates of the palace closed
against them, proceeded to the garden entrance at the back of the
building, to obtain admission to its owner. The absence of Vetranio and
his friends from the deliberations of the government had been attributed
to their disgust at the obstinate and unavailing resistance offered to
the Goths. Now, therefore, when submission had been resolved upon, it
had been thought both expedient and easy to recall them peremptorily to
their duties. In addition to this motive for seeking the interior of
the palace, the servants of the Senate had another errand to perform
there. The widely rumoured determination of Vetranio and his associates
to destroy themselves by fire, in the frenzy of a last debauch--
disbelieved or disregarded while the more imminent perils of the city
were under consideration--became a source of some apprehension and
anxiety to the acting members of the Roman council, now that their minds
were freed from part of the responsibility which had weighed on them, by
their resolution to treat for peace.

Accordingly, the persons now sent into the palace were charged with the
duty of frustrating its destruction, if such an act had been really
contemplated, as well as the duty of recalling its inmates to their
appointed places in the Senate-house. How far they were enabled, at the
time of their entrance into the banqueting-hall, to accomplish their
double mission, the reader is well able to calculate. They found
Vetranio still in the place which he had occupied since Antonina had
quitted him. Startled by their approach from the stupor which had
hitherto weighed on his faculties, the desperation of his purpose
returned; he made an effort to tear from its place the lamp which still
feebly burned, and to fire the pile in defiance of all opposition. But
his strength, already taxed to the utmost, failed him. Uttering
impotent threats of resistance and revenge, he fell, swooning and
helpless, into the arms of the officers of the Senate who held him back.
One of them was immediately dismissed, while his companions remained in
the palace, to communicate with the leaders of the assembly outside.
His report concluded, the two ambassadors moved slowly onward,
separating themselves from the procession which had accompanied them,
and followed only by a few chosen attendants--a mournful and a degraded
embassy, sent forth by the people who had once imposed their dominion,
their customs, and even their language, on the Eastern and Western
worlds, to bargain with the barbarians whom their fathers had enslaved
for the purchase of a disgraceful peace.

On the departure of the ambassadors, all the spectators still capable of
the effort repaired to the Forum to await their return, and were joined
there by members of the populace from other parts of the city. It was
known that the first intimation of the result of the embassy would be
given from this place; and in the eagerness of their anxiety to hear it,
in the painful intensity of their final hopes of deliverance, even death
itself seemed for a while to be arrested in its fatal progress through
the ranks of the besieged.

In silence and apprehension they counted the tardy moments of delay, and
watched with sickening gaze the shadows lessening and lessening, as the
sun gradually rose in the heavens to the meridian point.

At length, after an absence that appeared of endless duration, the two
ambassadors re-entered Rome. Neither of them spoke as they hurriedly
passed through the ranks of the people; but their looks of terror and
despair were all-eloquent to every beholder--their mission had failed.

For some time no member of the government appeared to have resolution
enough to come forward and harangue the people on the subject of the
unsuccessful embassy. After a long interval, however, the Prefect
Pompeianus himself, urged partly by the selfish entreaties of his
friends, and partly by the childish love of display which still adhered
to him through all his present anxieties and apprehensions, stepped into
one of the lower balconies of the Senate-house to address the citizens
beneath him.

The chief magistrate of Rome was no longer the pompous and portly
personage whose intrusion on Vetranio's privacy during the commencement
of the siege has been described previously. The little superfluous
flesh still remaining on his face hung about it like an ill-fitting
garment; his tones had become lachrymose; the oratorical gestures, with
which he was wont to embellish profusely his former speeches, were all
abandoned; nothing remained of the original man but the bombast of his
language and the impudent complacency of his self-applause, which now
appeared in contemptible contrast to his crestfallen demeanour and his
disheartening narrative of degradation and defeat.

'Men of Rome, let each of you exercise in his own person the heroic
virtues of a Regulus or a Cato!' the prefect began. 'A treaty with the
barbarians is out of our power. It is the scourge of the empire, Alaric
himself, who commands the invading forces! Vain were the dignified
remonstrances of the grave Basilius, futile was the persuasive rhetoric
of the astute Johannes, addressed to the slaughtering and vainglorious
Goth! On their admission to his presence, the ambassadors, anxious to
awe him into a capitulation, enlarged, with sagacious and commendable
patriotism, on the expertness of the Romans in the use of arms, their
readiness for war, and their vast numbers within the city walls. I
blush to repeat the barbarian's reply. Laughing immoderately, he
answered, "The thicker the grass, the easier it is to cut!"

'Still undismayed, the ambassadors, changing their tactics, talked
indulgently of their willingness to purchase a peace. At this proposal,
his insolence burst beyond all bounds of barbarous arrogance. "I will
not relinquish the siege," he cried, "until I have delivered to me all
the gold and silver in the city, all the household goods in it, and all
the slaves from the northern countries." "What then, O King, will you
leave us?" asked our amazed ambassadors. "YOUR LIVES!" answered the
implacable Goth. Hearing this, even the resolute Basilius and the wise
Johannes despaired. They asked time to communicate with the Senate, and
left the camp of the enemy without further delay. Such was the end of
the embassy; such the arrogant ferocity of the barbarian foe!'

Here the Prefect paused, from sheer weakness and want of breath. His
oration, however, was not concluded. He had disheartened the people by
his narrative of what had occurred to the ambassadors; he now proceeded
to console them by his relation of what had occurred to himself, when,
after an interval, he thus resumed:--

'But even yet, O citizens of Rome, it is not time to despair! There is
another chance of deliverance still left to us, and that chance has been
discovered by me. It was my lot, during the absence of the ambassadors,
to meet with certain men of Tuscany, who had entered Rome a few days
before the beginning of the siege, and who spoke of a project for
relieving the city which they would communicate to the Prefect alone.
Ever anxious for the public welfare, daring all treachery from strangers
for advantage of my office, I accorded to these men a secret interview.
They told me of a startling and miraculous event. The town of Neveia,
lying, as you well know, in the direct road of the barbarians when they
marched upon Rome, was protected from their pillaging bands by a tempest
of thunder and lightning terrible to behold. This tempest arose not, as
you may suppose, from an accidental convulsion of the elements, but was
launched over the heads of the invaders by the express interference of
the tutelary deities of the town, invocated by the inhabitants, who
returned in their danger to the practice of their ancient manner of
worship. So said the men of Tuscany; and such pious resources as those
employed by the people of Neveia did they recommend to the people of
Rome! For my part, I acknowledge to you that I have faith in their
project. The antiquity of our former worship is still venerable in my
eyes. The prayers of the priests of our new religion have wrought no
miraculous interference in our behalf: let us therefore imitate the
example of the inhabitants of Neveia, and by the force of our
invocations hurl the thunders of Jupiter on the barbarian camp! Let us
trust for deliverance to the potent interposition of the gods whom our
fathers worshipped--those gods who now, perhaps, avenge themselves for
our desertion of their temples by our present calamities. I go without
delay to propose to the Bishop Innocentius and to the Senate, the public
performance of solemn ceremonies of sacrifice at the Capitol! I leave
you in the joyful assurance that the gods, appeased by our returning
fidelity to our altars, will not refuse the supernatural protection
which they accorded to the people of a provincial town to the citizens
of Rome!'

No sounds either of applause or disapprobation followed the Prefect's
notable proposal for delivering the city from the besiegers by the
public apostasy of the besieged. As he disappeared from their eyes, the
audience turned away speechless. An universal despair now overpowered
in them even the last energies of discord and crime; they resigned
themselves to their doom with the gloomy indifference of beings in whom
all mortal sensations, all human passions, good or evil, were
extinguished. The Prefect departed on his ill-omened expedition to
propose the practice of Paganism to the bishop of a Christian church;
but no profitable effort for relief was even suggested, either by the
government or the people.

And so this day drew in its turn towards a close--more mournful and more
disastrous, more fraught with peril, misery, and gloom, than the days
that had preceded it.

The next morning dawned, but no preparations for the ceremonies of the
ancient worship appeared at the Capitol. The Senate and the bishop
hesitated to incur the responsibility of authorising a public
restoration of Paganism; the citizens, hopeless of succour, heavenly or
earthly, remained unheedful as the dead of all that passed around them.

There was one man in Rome who might have succeeded in rousing their
languid energies to apostasy; but where and how employed was he?

Now, when the opportunity for which he had laboured resolutely, though
in vain, through a long existence of suffering, degradation, and crime,
had gratuitously presented itself more tempting and more favourable than
even he in his wildest visions of success had ever dared to hope--where
was Ulpius? Hidden from men's eyes, like a foul reptile, in his
lurking-place in the deserted temple--now raving round his idols in the
fury of madness, now prostrate before them in idiot adoration--weaker
for the interests of his worship, at the crisis of its fate, than the
weakest child crawling famished through the streets--the victim of his
own evil machinations at the very moment when they might have led him to
triumph--the object of that worst earthly retribution, by which the
wicked are at once thwarted, doomed, and punished, here as hereafter,
through the agency of their own sins.

Three more days passed. The Senate, their numbers fast diminishing in
the pestilence, occupied the time in vain deliberations or in moody
silence. Each morning the weary guards looked forth from the ramparts,
with the fruitless hope of discerning the long-promised legions from
Ravenna on their way to Rome; and each morning devastation and death
gained ground afresh among the hapless besieged.

At length, on the fourth day, the Senate abandoned all hope of further
resistance and determined on submission, whatever might be the result.
It was resolved that another embassy, composed of the whole acting
Senate, and followed by a considerable train, should proceed to Alaric;
that one more effort should be made to induce him to abate his ruinous
demands on the conquered; and that if this failed, the gates should be
thrown open, and the city and the people abandoned to his mercy in
despair.

As soon as the procession of this last Roman embassy was formed in the
Forum, its numbers were almost immediately swelled, in spite of
opposition, by those among the mass of the people who were still able to
move their languid and diseased bodies, and who, in the extremity of
their misery, had determined at all hazards to take advantage of the
opening of the gates, and fly from the city of pestilence in which they
were immured, careless whether they perished on the swords of the Goths
or languished unaided on the open plains. All power of enforcing order
had long since been lost; the few soldiers gathered about the senators
made one abortive effort to drive the people back, and then resigned any
further resistance to their will.

Feebly and silently the spirit-broken assembly now moved along the great
highways, so often trodden, to the roar of martial music and the shouts
of applauding multitudes, by the triumphal processions of victorious
Rome; and from every street, as it passed on, the wasted forms of the
people stole out like spectres to join it.

Among these, as the embassy approached the Pincian Gate, were two,
hurrying forth to herd with their fellow-sufferers, on whose fortunes in
the fallen city our more particular attention has been fixed. To
explain their presence on the scene (if such an explanation be required)
it is necessary to digress for a moment from the progress of events
during the last days of the siege to the morning when Antonina departed
from Vetranio's palace to return with her succour of food and wine to
her father's house.

The reader is already acquainted, from her own short and simple
narrative, with the history of the closing hours of her mournful night
vigil by the side of her sinking parent, and with the motives which
prompted her to seek the palace of the senator, and entreat assistance
in despair from one whom she only remembered as the profligate destroyer
of her tranquility under her father's roof. It is now, therefore, most
fitting to follow her on her way back through the palace gardens. No
living creature but herself trod the grassy paths, along which she
hastened with faltering steps--those paths which she dimly remembered to
have first explored when in former days she ventured forth to follow the
distant sounds of Vetranio's lute.

In spite of her vague, heavy sensations of solitude and grief, this
recollection remained painfully present to her mind, unaccountably
mingled with the dark and dreary apprehension which filled her heart as
she hurried onward, until she once more entered her father's dwelling;
and then, as she again approached his couch, every other feeling became
absorbed in a faint, overpowering fear, lest, after all her perseverance
and success in her errand of filial devotion, she might have returned
too late.

The old man still lived--his weary eyes opened gladly on her, when she
aroused him to partake of the treasured gifts from the senator's
banqueting table. The wretched food which the suicide-guests had
disdained, and the simple flask of wine which they would have carelessly
quaffed at one draught, were viewed both by parent and child as the
saving and invigorating sustenance of many days. After having consumed
as much as they dared of their precarious supply, the remainder was
carefully husbanded. It was the last sign and promise of life to which
they looked--the humble yet precious store in which alone they beheld
the earnest of their security, for a few days longer, from the pangs of
famine and the separation of death.

And now, with their small provision of food and wine set like a beacon
of safety before their sight, a deep, dream-like serenity--the sleep of
the oppressed and wearied faculties--arose over their minds. Under its
mysterious and tranquilising influence, all impressions of the gloom and
misery in the city, of the fatal evidences around them of the duration
of the siege, faded away before their perceptions as dim retiring
objects, which the eye loses in vacancy.

Gradually, as the day of the first unsuccessful embassy declined, their
thoughts began to flow back gently to the world of bygone events which
had crumbled into oblivion beneath the march of time. Her first
recollections of her earliest childhood revived in Antonina's memory,
and then mingled strangely with tearful remembrances of the last words
and looks of the young warrior who had expired by her side, and with
calm, solemn thoughts that the beloved spirit, emancipated from the
sphere of shadows, might now be hovering near the quiet garden-grave
where her bitterest tears of loneliness and affliction had been shed, or
moving around her--an invisible and blessed presence--as she sat at her
father's feet and mourned their earthly separation!

In the emotions thus awakened, there was nothing of bitterness or
agony--they calmed and purified the heart through which they moved. She
could now speak to the old man, for the first time, of her days of
absence from him, of the brief joys and long sorrows of her hours of
exile, without failing in her melancholy tale. Sometimes her father
listened to her in sorrowful and speechless attention; or spoke, when
she paused, of consolation and hope, as she had heard him speak among
his congregation while he was yet strong in his resolution to sacrifice
all things for the reformation of the Church. Sometimes resigning
himself to the influence of his thoughts, as they glided back to the
times that were gone, he again revealed to her the changing events of
his past life--not as before, with unsteady accents and wandering eyes;
but now with a calmness of voice and a coherence of language which
forbade her to doubt the strange and startling narrative that she heard.

Once more he spoke of the image of his lost brother (as he had parted
from him in his boyhood) still present to his mind; of the country that
he had quitted in after years; of the name that he had changed--from
Cleander to Numerian--to foil his former associates, if they still
pursued him; and of the ardent desire to behold again the companion of
his first home, which now, when his daughter was restored to him, when
no other earthly aspiration but this was unsatisfied, remained at the
close of his life, the last longing wish of his heart.

Such was the communion in which father and daughter passed the hours of
their short reprieve from the judgment of famine pronounced against the
city of their sojourn; so did they live, as it were, in a quiet interval
of existence, in a tranquil pause between the toil that is over and the
toil that is to come in the hard labour of life.

But the term to these short days of repose after long suffering and
grief was fast approaching. The little hoard of provision diminished as
rapidly as the stores that had been anxiously collected before it; and,
on the morning of the second embassy to Alaric, the flask of wine and
the bowl of food were both emptied. The brief dream of security was
over and gone; the terrible realities of the struggle for life had begun
again!

Where or to whom could they now turn for help? The siege still
continued; the food just exhausted was the last food that had been left
on the senator's table; to seek the palace again would be to risk
refusal, perhaps insult, as the result of a second entreaty for aid,
where all power of conferring it might now but too surely be lost. Such
were the thoughts of Antonina as she returned the empty bowl to its
former place; but she gave them no expression in words.

She saw, with horror, that the same expression of despair, almost of
frenzy, which had distorted her father's features on the day of her
restoration to him, now marked them again. Once more he tottered
towards the window, murmuring in his bitter despondency against the
delusive security and hope which had held him idle for the interests of
his child during the few days that were past. But, as he now looked out
on the beleaguered city, he saw the populace hastening along the gloomy
street beneath, as rapidly as their wearied limbs would carry them, to
join the embassy. He heard them encouraging each other to proceed, to
seize the last chance of escaping through the open gates from the
horrors of famine and plague; and caught the infection of the
recklessness and despair which had seized his fellow-sufferers from one
end of Rome to the other.

Turning instantly, he grasped his daughter's hand and drew her from the
room, commanding her to come forth with him and join the citizens in
their flight, ere it was too late. Startled by his words and actions,
she vainly endeavoured, as she obeyed, to impress her father with the
dread of the Goths which her own bitter experience taught her to feel,
now that her only protector among them lay cold in the grave. With
Numerian, as with the rest of the people, all apprehension, all doubt,
all exercise of reason, was overpowered by the one eager idea of
escaping from the fatal precincts of Rome.

So they mingled with the throng, herding affrightedly together in the
rear of the embassy, and followed in their ranks as best they might.

The sun shone down brightly from the pure blue sky; the wind bore into
the city the sharp threatening notes of the trumpets from the Gothic
camp, as the Pincian Gate was opened to the ambassadors and their train.
With one accord the crowd instantly endeavoured to force their way out
after them in a mass; but they now moved in a narrow space, and were
opposed by a large reinforcement of the city guard. After a short
struggle they were overpowered, and the gates were closed. Some few of
the strongest and the foremost of their numbers succeeded in following
the ambassadors; the greater part, however, remained on the inner side
of the gate, pressing closely up to it in their impatience and despair,
like prisoners awaiting their deliverance, or preparing to force their
escape.

Among these, feeblest amid the most feeble, were Numerian and Antonina,
hemmed in by the surrounding crowd, and shut out either from flight from
the city or a return to home.

CHAPTER 24. THE GRAVE AND THE CAMP.

While the second and last embassy from the Senate proceeds towards the
tent of the Gothic king, while the streets of Rome are deserted by all
but the dead, and the living populace crowd together in speechless
expectation behind the barrier of the Pincian Gate, an opportunity is at
length afforded of turning our attention towards a scene from which it
has been long removed. Let us now revisit the farm-house in the
suburbs, and look once more on the quiet garden and on Hermanric's
grave.

The tranquility of the bright warm day is purest around the retired path
leading to the little dwelling. Here the fragrance of wild flowers rises
pleasantly from the waving grass; the lulling, monotonous hum of insect
life pervades the light, steady air; the sunbeams, intercepted here and
there by the clustering trees, fall in irregular patches of brightness
on the shady ground; and, saving the birds which occasionally pass
overhead, singing in their flight, no living creature appears on the
quiet scene, until, gaining the wicket-gate which leads into the farm-
house garden, we look forth upon the prospect within.

There, following the small circular footpath which her own persevering
steps have day by day already traced, appears the form of a solitary
woman, pacing slowly about the mound of grassy earth which marks the
grave of the young Goth.

For some time she proceeds on her circumscribed round with as much
undeviating, mechanical regularity, as if beyond that narrow space rose
a barrier which caged her from ever setting foot on the earth beyond.
At length she pauses in her course when it brings her nearest to the
wicket, advances a few steps towards it, then recedes, and recommences
her monotonous progress, and then again breaking off on her round,
finally succeeds in withdrawing herself from the confines of the grave,
passes through the gate, and following the path to the high-road, slowly
proceeds towards the eastern limits of the Gothic camp. The fixed,
ghastly, unfeminine expression on her features marks her as the same
woman whom we last beheld as the assassin at the farm-house, but beyond
this she is hardly recognisable again. Her formerly powerful and
upright frame is bent and lean; her hair waves in wild, white locks
about her shrivelled face; all the rude majesty of her form has
departed; there is nothing to show that it is still Goisvintha haunting
the scene of her crime but the savage expression debasing her
countenance and betraying the evil heart within, unsubdued as ever in
its yearning for destruction and revenge.

Since the period when we last beheld her, removed in the custody of the
Huns from the dead body of her kinsman, the farm-house had been the
constant scene of her pilgrimage from the camp, the chosen refuge where
she brooded in solitude over her fierce desires. Scorning to punish a
woman whom he regarded as insane for an absence from the tents of the
Goths which was of no moment wither to the army or to himself, Alaric
had impatiently dismissed her from his presence when she was brought
before him. The soldiers who had returned to bury the body of their
chieftain in the garden of the farm-house, found means to inform her
secretly of the charitable act which they had performed at their own
peril, but beyond this no further intercourse was held with her by any
of her former associates.

All her actions favoured their hasty belief that her faculties were
disordered, and others shunned her as she shunned them. Her daily
allowance of food was left for her to seek at a certain place in the
camp, as it might have been left for an animal too savage to be
cherished by the hand of man. At certain periods she returned secretly
from her wanderings to take it. Her shelter for the night was not the
shelter of her people before the walls of Rome; her thoughts were not
their thoughts. Widowed, childless, friendless, the assassin of her
last kinsman, she moved apart in her own secret world of bereavement,
desolation, and crime.

Yet there was no madness, no remorse for her share in accomplishing the
fate of Hermanric, in the dark and solitary existence which she now led.
From the moment when the young warrior had expiated with his death his
disregard of the enmities of his nation and the wrongs of his kindred,
she thought of him only as of one more victim whose dishonour and ruin
she must live to requite on the Romans with Roman blood, and matured her
schemes of revenge with a stern resolution which time, and solitude, and
bodily infirmity were all powerless to disturb.

She would pace for hours and hours together, in the still night and in
the broad noonday, round and round the warrior's grave, nursing her
vengeful thoughts within her, until a ferocious anticipation of triumph
quickened her steps and brightened her watchful eyes. Then she would
enter the farm-house, and, drawing the knife from its place of
concealment in her garments, would pass its point slowly backwards and
forwards over the hearth on which she had mutilated Hermanric with her
own hand, and from which he had advanced, without a tremor, to meet the
sword-points of the Huns. Sometimes, when darkness had gathered over the
earth, she would stand--a boding and menacing apparition--upon the grave
itself, and chaunt, moaning to the moaning wind, fragments of obscure
Northern legends, whose hideous burden was ever of anguish and crime, of
torture in prison vaults, and death by the annihilating sword--mingling
with them the gloomy story of the massacre at Aquileia, and her fierce
vows of vengeance against the households of Rome. The forager, on his
late return past the farm-house to the camp, heard the harsh, droning
accents of her voice, and quickened his onward step. The venturesome
peasant from the country beyond, approaching under cover of the night to
look from afar on the Gothic camp, beheld her form, shadowy and
threatening, as he neared the garden, and fled affrighted from the
place. Neither stranger nor friend intruded on her dread solitude. The
foul presence of cruelty and crime violated undisturbed the scenes once
sacred to the interests of tenderness and love, once hallowed by the
sojourn of youth and beauty!

But now the farm-house garden is left solitary, the haunting spirit of
evil has departed from the grave, the footsteps of Goisvintha have
traced to their close the same paths from the suburbs over which the
young Goth once eagerly hastened on his night journey of love; and
already the walls of Rome rise--dark, near, and hateful--before her
eyes. Along these now useless bulwarks of the fallen city she wanders,
as she has often wandered before, watching anxiously for the first
opening of the long-closed gates. Let us follow her on her way.

Her attention was now fixed only on the broad ramparts, while she passed
slowly along the Gothic tents towards the encampment at the Pincian
Gate. Arrived there, she was aroused for the first time from her apathy
by an unwonted stir and confusion prevailing around her. She looked
towards the tent of Alaric, and beheld before it the wasted and
crouching forms of the followers of the embassy awaiting their sentence
from the captain of the Northern hosts. In a few moments she gathered
enough from the words of the Goths congregated about this part of the
camp to assure her that it was the Pincian Gate which had given egress
to the Roman suppliants, and which would therefore, in all probability,
be the entrance again thrown open to admit their return to the city.
Remembering this, she began to calculate the numbers of the conquered
enemy grouped together before the king's tent, and then mentally added
to them those who might be present at the interview proceeding within--
mechanically withdrawing herself, while thus occupied, nearer and nearer
to the waste ground before the city walls.

Gradually she turned her face towards Rome: she was realising a daring
purpose, a fatal resolution, long cherished during the days and nights
of her solitary wanderings. 'The ranks of the embassy,' she muttered,
in a deep, thoughtful tone, 'are thickly filled. Where there are many
there must be confusion and haste; they march together, and know not
their own numbers; they mark not one more or one less among them.'

She stopped. Strange and dark changes of colour and expression passed
over her ghastly features. She drew from her bosom the bloody helmet-
crest of her husband, which had never quitted her since the day of his
death; her face grew livid under an awful expression of rage, ferocity,
and despair, as she gazed on it. Suddenly she looked up at the city--
fierce and defiant, as if the great walls before her were mortal enemies
against whom she stood at bay in the death-struggle.

'The widowed and the childless shall drink of thy blood!' she cried,
stretching out her skinny hand towards Rome, 'though the armies of her
nation barter their wrongs with thy people for bags of silver and gold!
I have pondered on it in my solitude, and dreamed of it in my dreams! I
have sworn that I would enter Rome, and avenge my slaughtered kindred,
alone among thousands! Now, now, I will hold to my oath! Thou blood-
stained city of the coward and the traitor, the enemy of the
defenceless, and the murderer of the weak! thou who didst send forth to
Aquileia the slayers of my husband and the assassins of my children, I
wait no longer before thy walls! This day will I mingle, daring all
things, with thy returning citizens and penetrate, amid Romans, the
gates of Rome! Through the day will I lurk, cunning and watchful, in
thy solitary haunts, to steal forth on thee at nights, a secret minister
of death! I will watch for thy young and thy weak once in unguarded
places; I will prey, alone in the thick darkness, upon thy unprotected
lives; I will destroy thy children, as their fathers destroyed at
Aquileia the children of the Goths! Thy rabble will discover me and
arise against me; they will tear me in pieces and trample my mangled
body on the pavement of the streets; but it will be after I have seen
the blood that I have sworn to shed flowing under my knife! My
vengeance will be complete, and torments and death will be to me as
guests that I welcome, and as deliverers whom I await!'

Again she paused--the wild triumph of the fanatic on the burning pile
was flashing in her face--suddenly her eyes fell once more upon the
stained helmet-crest; then her expression changed again to despair, and
her voice grew low and moaning, when she thus resumed:--

'I am weary of my life; when the vengeance is done I shall be delivered
from this prison of the earth--in the world of shadows I shall see my
husband, and my little ones will gather round my knees again. The living
have no part in me; I yearn towards the spirits who wander in the halls
of the dead.'

For a few minutes more she continued to fix her tearless eyes on the
helmet-crest. But soon the influence of the evil spirit revived in all
its strength; she raised her head suddenly, remained for an instant
absorbed in deep thought, then began to retrace her steps rapidly in the
direction by which she had come.

Sometimes she whispered softly, 'I must be doing ere the time fail me:
my face must be hidden and my garments changed. Yonder, among the
houses, I must search, and search quickly!' Sometimes she reiterated
her denunciations of vengeance, her ejaculations of triumph in her
frantic project. At the recapitulation of these the remembrance of
Antonina was aroused; and then a bloodthirsty superstition darkened her
thoughts, and threw a vague and dreamy character over her speech.

When she spoke now, it was to murmur to herself that the victim who had
twice escaped her might yet be alive; that the supernatural influences
which had often guided the old Goths, on the day of retribution, might
still guide her; might still direct the stroke of her destroying
weapon--the last stroke ere she was discovered and slain--straight to
the girl's heart.

Thoughts such as these--wandering and obscure--arose in close, quick
succession within her; but whether she gave them expression in word and
action, or whether she suppressed them in silence, she never wavered or
halted in her rapid progress. Her energies were braced to all
emergencies, and her strong will suffered them not for an instant to
relax.

She gained a retired street in the deserted suburbs, and looking round
to see that she was unobserved, entered on of the houses abandoned by
its inhabitants on the approach of the besiegers. Passing quickly
through the outer halls, she stopped at length in one of the sleeping
apartments; and here she found, among other possessions left behind in
the flight, the store of wearing apparel belonging to the owner of the
room.

From this she selected a Roman robe, upper mantle, and sandals--the most
common in colour and texture that she could find--and folding them up
into the smallest compass, hid them under her own garments. Then,
avoiding all those whom she met on her way, she returned in the
direction of the king's tent; but when she approached it, branched off
stealthily towards Rome, until she reached a ruined building half-way
between the city and the camp. In this concealment she clothed herself
in her disguise, drawing the mantle closely round her head and face; and
from this point--calm, vigilant, determined, her hand on the knife
beneath her robe, her lips muttering the names of her murdered husband
and children--she watched the high-road to the Pincian Gate.

There for a short time let us leave her, and enter the tent of Alaric,
while the Senate yet plead before the Arbiter of the Empire for mercy
and peace.

At the moment of which we write, the embassy had already exhausted its
powers of intercession, apparently without moving the leader of the
Goths from his first pitiless resolution of fixing the ransom of Rome at
the price of every possession of value which the city contained. There
was a momentary silence now in the great tent. At one extremity of it,
congregated in a close and irregular group, stood the wearied and
broken-spirited members of the Senate, supported by such of their
attendants as had been permitted to follow them; at the other appeared
the stately forms of Alaric and the warriors who surrounded him as his
council of war. The vacant space in the middle of the tent was strewn
with martial weapons, separating the representatives of the two nations
one from the other; and thus accidentally, yet palpably, typifying the
fierce hostility which had sundered in years past, and was still to
sunder for years to come, the people of the North and the people of the
South.

The Gothic king stood a little in advance of his warriors, leaning on
his huge, heavy sword. His steady eye wandered from man to man among
the broken-spirited senators, contemplating, with cold and cruel
penetration, all that suffering and despair had altered for the worse in
their outward appearance. Their soiled robes, their wan cheeks, their
trembling limbs were each marked in turn by the cool, sarcastic
examination of the conqueror's gaze. Debased and humiliated as they
were, there were some among the ambassadors who felt the insult thus
silently and deliberately inflicted on them the more keenly for their
very helplessness. They moved uneasily in their places, and whispered
among each other in low and bitter accents.

At length one of their number raised his downcast eyes and broke the
silence. The old Roman spirit, which long years of voluntary frivolity
and degradation had not yet entirely depraved, flushed his pale, wasted
face as he spoke thus:--

'We have entreated, we have offered, we have promised--men can do no
more! Deserted by our Emperor and crushed by pestilence and famine,
nothing is now left to us but to perish in unavailing resistance beneath
the walls of Rome! It was in the power of Alaric to win everlasting
renown by moderation to the unfortunate of an illustrious nation; but he
has preferred to attempt the spoiling of a glorious city and the
subjugation of a suffering people! Yet let him remember, though
destruction may sate his vengeance, and pillage enrich his hoards, the
day of retribution will yet come. There are still soldiers in the
empire, and heroes who will lead them confidently to battle, though the
bodies of their countrymen lie slaughtered around them in the streets of
pillaged Rome!'

A momentary expression of wrath and indignation appeared on Alaric's
features as he listened to this bold speech; but it was almost
immediately replaced by a scornful smile of derision.

'What! ye have still soldiers before whom the barbarian must tremble for
his conquests!' he cried. 'Where are they? Are they on their march, or
in ambush, or hiding behind strong walls, or have they lost their way on
the road to the Gothic camp? Ha! here is one of them!' he exclaimed,
advancing towards an enfeebled and disarmed guard of the Senate, who
quailed beneath his fierce glance. 'Fight, man!' he loudly continued;
'fight while there is yet time, for imperial Rome! Thy sword is gone--
take mine, and be a hero again!'

With a rough laugh, echoed by the warriors behind him, he flung his
ponderous weapon as he spoke towards the wretched object of his sarcasm.
The hilt struck heavily against the man's breast; he staggered and fell
helpless to the ground. The laugh was redoubled among the Goths; but
now their leader did not join in it. His eye glowed in triumphant scorn
as he pointed to the prostrate Roman, exclaiming--

'So does the South fall beneath the sword of the North! So shall the
empire bow before the rule of the Goth! Say, as ye look on these Romans
before us, are we not avenged of our wrongs? They die not fighting on
our swords; they live to entreat our pity, as children that are in
terror of the whip!'

He paused. His massive and noble countenance gradually assumed a
thoughtful expression. The ambassadors moved forward a few steps--
perhaps to make a final entreaty, perhaps to depart in despair; but he
signed with his hand in command to them to be silent and remain where
they stood. The marauder's thirst for present plunder, and the
conqueror's lofty ambition of future glory, now stirred in strong
conflict within him. He walked to the opening of the tent, and
thrusting aside its curtain of skins, looked out upon Rome in silence.
The dazzling majesty of the temples and palaces of the mighty city, as
they towered before him, gleaming in the rays of the unclouded sunlight,
fixed him long in contemplation. Gradually, dreams of a future dominion
amid those unrivalled structures, which now waited but his word to be
pillaged and destroyed, filled his aspiring soul, and saved the city
from his wrath. He turned again toward the shrinking ambassadors--in a
voice and look superior to them as a being of a higher sphere--and spoke
thus:--

'When the Gothic conqueror reigns in Italy, the palaces of her rulers
shall be found standing for the places of his sojourn. I will ordain a
lower ransom; I will spare Rome.'

A murmur arose among the warriors behind him. The rapine and
destruction which they had eagerly anticipated was denied them for the
first time by their chief. As their muttered remonstrances caught his
ear, Alaric instantly and sternly fixed his eyes upon them; and,
repeating in accents of deliberate command, 'I will ordain a lower
ransom; I will spare Rome,' steadily scanned the countenances of his
ferocious followers.

Not a word of dissent fell from their lips; not a gesture of impatience
appeared in their ranks; they preserved perfect silence as the king
again advanced towards the ambassadors and continued--

'I fix the ransom of the city at five thousand pounds of gold; at thirty
thousand pounds of silver.'

Here he suddenly ceased, as if pondering further on the terms he should
exact. The hearts of the Senate, lightened for a moment by Alaric's
unexpected announcement that he would moderate his demands, sank within
them again as they thought on the tribute required of them, and
remembered their exhausted treasury. But it was no time now to
remonstrate or to delay; and they answered with one accord, ignorant
though they were of the means of performing their promise, 'The ransom
shall be paid.'

The king looked at them when they spoke, as if in astonishment that men
whom he had deprived of all freedom of choice ventured still to assert
it by intimating their acceptance of terms which they dared not decline.
The mocking spirit revived within him while he thus gazed on the
helpless and humiliated embassy; and he laughed once more as he resumed,
partly addressing himself to the silent array of the warriors behind
him--

'The gold and silver are but the first dues of the tribute; my army
shall be rewarded with more than the wealth of the enemy. You men of
Rome have laughed at our rough bearskins and our heavy armour, you shall
clothe us with your robes of festivity! I will add to the gold and
silver of your ransom, four thousand garments of silk, and three
thousand pieces of scarlet cloth. My barbarians shall be barbarians no
longer! I will make patricians, epicures, Romans of them!'

The members of the ill-fated embassy looked up as he paused, in mute
appeal to the mercy of the triumphant conqueror; but they were not yet
to be released from the crushing infliction of his rapacity and scorn.

'Hold!' he cried, 'I will have more--more still! You are a nation of
feasters;--we will rival you in your banquets when we have stripped you
of your banqueting robes! To the gold, the silver, the silk, and the
cloth, I will add yet more--three thousand pounds weight of pepper, your
precious merchandise, bought from far countries with your lavish
wealth!--see that you bring it hither, with the rest of the ransom, to
the last grain! The flesh of our beasts shall be seasoned for us like
the flesh of yours!'

He turned abruptly from the senators as he pronounced the last words,
and began to speak in jesting tones and in the Gothic language to the
council of warriors around him. Some of the ambassadors bowed their
heads in silent resignation; others, with the utter thoughtlessness of
men bewildered by all that they had seen and heard during the interview
that was now close, unhappily revived the recollection of the broken
treaties of former days, by mechanically inquiring, in the terms of past
formularies, what security the besiegers would require for the payment
of their demands.

'Security!' cried Alaric fiercely, instantly relapsing as they spoke
into his sterner mood. 'Behold yonder the future security of the Goths
for the faith of Rome!' and flinging aside the curtain of the tent, he
pointed proudly to the long lines of his camp, stretching round all that
was visible of the walls of the fallen city.

The ambassadors remembered the massacre of the hostages of Aquileia, and
the evasion of the payment of tribute-money promised in former days, and
were silent as they looked through the opening of the tent.

'Remember the conditions of the ransom,' pursued Alaric in warning
tones, 'remember my security that the ransom shall be quickly paid! So
shall you live for a brief space in security, and feast and be merry
again while your territories yet remain to you. Go! I have spoken--it
is enough!'

He withdrew abruptly from the senators, and the curtain of the tent fell
behind them as they passed out. The ordeal of the judgment was over;
the final sentence had been pronounced; the time had already arrived to
go forth and obey it.

The news that terms of peace had been at last settled filled the Romans
who were waiting before the tent with emotions of delight, equally
unalloyed by reflections on the past or forebodings for the future.
Barred from their reckless project of flying to the open country by the
Goths surrounding them in the camp, shut out from retreating to Rome by
the gates through which they had rashly forced their way, exposed in
their helplessness to the brutal jeers of the enemy while they waited in
a long agony of suspense for the close of the perilous interview between
Alaric and the Senate, they had undergone every extremity of suffering,
and had yielded unanimously to despair when the intelligence of the
concluded treaty sounded like a promise of salvation in their ears.

None of the apprehensions aroused in the minds of their superiors by the
vastness of the exacted tribute now mingled with the unreflecting
ecstasy of their joy at the prospect of the removal of the blockade.
They arose to return to the city from which they had fled in dismay,
with cries of impatience and delight. They fawned like dogs upon the
ambassadors, and even upon the ferocious Goths. On their departure from
Rome they had mechanically preserved some regularity in their progress,
but now they hurried onward without distinction of place or discipline
of march--senators, guards, plebeians, all were huddled together in the
disorderly equality of a mob.

Not one of them, in their new-born security, marked the ruined building
on the high-road; not one of them observed the closely-robed figure that
stole out from it to join them in their rear; and then, with stealthy
footstep and shrouded face, soon mingled in the thickest of their ranks.
The attention of the ambassadors was still engrossed by their
forebodings of failure in collecting the ransom; the eyes of the people
were fixed only on the Pincian Gate; their ears were open to no sounds
but their own ejaculations of delight. Not one disguised stranger only,
but many, might now have joined them in their tumultuous progress, alike
unquestioned and unobserved.

So they hastily re-entered the city, where thousands of heavy eyes were
strained to look on them, and thousands of attentive ears drank in their
joyful news from the Gothic camp. Then were heard in all directions the
sounds of hysterical weeping and idiotic laughter, the low groans of the
weak who died victims of their sudden transport, and the confused
outbursts of the strong who had survived all extremities, and at last
beheld their deliverance in view.

Still silent and serious, the ambassadors now slowly penetrated the
throng on their way back to the Forum; and as they proceeded the crowd
gradually dispersed on either side of them. Enemies, friends, and
strangers, all whom the ruthless famine had hitherto separated in
interests and sympathies, were now united together as one family, by the
expectation of speedy relief.

But there was one among the assembly that was now separating who stood
alone in her unrevealed emotions, amid the rejoicing thousands around

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