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Antonina by Wilkie Collins

Part 8 out of 9

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her. The women and children in the throng, as, preoccupied by their own
feeling, they unheedfully passed her by, saw not the eager, ferocious
attention in her eyes, as she watched them steadily till they were out
of sight. Within their gates the stranger and the enemy waited for the
treacherous darkness of night, and waited unobserved. Where she had
first stood when the thick crowd hemmed her in, there she still
continued to stand after they slowly moved past her and space grew free.

Yet beneath this outward calm and silence lurked the wildest passions
that ever raged against the weak restraint of human will; even the firm
self-possession of Goisvintha was shaken when she found herself within
the walls of Rome.

No glance of suspicion had been cast upon her; not one of the crowd had
approached to thrust her back when she passed through the gates with the
heedless citizens around her. Shielded from detection, as much by the
careless security of her enemies as by the stratagem of her disguise,
she stood on the pavement of Rome, as she had vowed to stand, afar from
the armies of her people--alone as an avenger of blood!

It was no dream; no fleeting, deceitful vision. The knife was under her
hand; the streets stretched before her; the living beings who thronged
them were Romans; the hours of the day were already on the wane; the
approach of her vengeance was as sure as the approach of darkness that
was to let it loose. A wild exultation quickened in her the pulses of
life, while she thought on the dread projects of secret assassination
and revenge which now opposed her, a solitary woman, in deadly enmity
against the defenceless population of a whole city.

As her eyes travelled slowly from side to side over the moving throng;
as she thought on the time that might still elapse ere the discovery and
death--the martyrdom in the cause of blood--which she expected and
defied, would overtake her, her hands trembled beneath her robe, and she
reiterated in whispers to herself: 'Husband, children, brother--there
are five deaths to avenge! Remember Aquileia! Remember Aquileia!'

Suddenly, as she looked from group to group among the departing people,
her eyes became arrested by one object; she instantly stepped forwards,
then abruptly restrained herself and moved back where the crowd was
still thick, gazing fixedly ever in the same direction. She saw the
victim twice snatched from her hands--at the camp and in the farm-
house--a third time offered to her grasp in the streets of Rome.

The chance of vengeance last expected was the chance that had first
arrived. A vague, oppressing sensation of awe mingled with the triumph
at her heart--a supernatural guidance seemed to be directing her with
fell rapidity, through every mortal obstacle, to the climax of her
revenge!

She screened herself behind the people; she watched the girl from the
most distant point; but concealment was now vain--their eyes had met.
The robe had slipped aside when she suddenly stepped forward, and in
that moment Antonina had seen her.

Numerian, moving slowly with his daughter through the crowd, felt her
hand tighten round his, and saw her features stiffen into sudden
rigidity; but the change was only for an instant. Ere he could speak,
she caught him by the arm, and drew him forward with convulsive energy.
Then, in accents hardly articulate, low, breathless, unlike her wonted
voice, he heard he exclaim, as she struggled on with him, 'She is
there--there behind us! to kill me, as she killed him! Home! home!'

Exhausted already, through long weakness and natural infirmity, by the
rough contact of the crowd, bewildered by Antonina's looks and actions,
and by the startling intimation of unknown peril, conveyed to him in her
broken exclamations of affright, Numerian's first impulse, as he hurried
onward by her side, led him to entreat protection and help from the
surrounding populace. But even could he have pointed out to them the
object of his dread amid that motley throng of all nations, the appeal
he now made would have remained unanswered.

Of all the results of the frightful severity of privation suffered by
the besieged, none were more common than those mental aberrations which
produced visions of danger, enemies, and death, so palpable as to make
the persons beholding them implore assistance against the hideous
creation of their own delirium. Accordingly, most of those to whom the
entreaties of Numerian were addressed passed without noticing them.
Some few carelessly bid him remember that there were no enemies now;
that the days of peace were approaching; and that a meal of good food,
which he might soon expect to enjoy, was the only help for a famished
man. No one, in that period of horror and suffering, which was now
drawing to a close, saw anything extraordinary in the confusion of the
father and the terror of the child. So they pursued their feeble flight
unprotected, and the footsteps of Goisvintha followed them as they went.

They had already commenced the ascent of the Pincian Hill, when Antonina
stopped abruptly, and turned to look behind her. Many people yet
thronged the street below; but her eyes penetrated among them, sharpened
by peril, and instantly discerned the ample robe and the tall form,
still at the same distance from them, and pausing as they had paused.
For one moment, the girl's eyes fixed in the wild, helpless stare of
terror on her father's face; but the next, that mysterious instinct of
preservation, which is co-existent with the instinct of fear--which
gifts the weakest animal with cunning to improve its flight, and takes
the place of reason, reflection, and resolve, when all are banished from
the mind--warned her against the fatal error of permitting the pursuer
to track her to her home.

'Not there! not there!' she gasped faintly as Numerian endeavoured to
lead her up the ascent. 'She will see us as we enter the doors!--
through the streets! Oh, father, if you would save me! we may lose her
in the streets!--the guards, the people are there! Back! back!'

Numerian trembled as he marked the terror in her looks and gestures; but
it was vain to question or oppose her. Nothing short of force could
restrain her,--no commands or entreaties could draw from her more than
the same breathless exclamation: 'Onward, father; onward, if you would
save me!' She was insensible to every sensation but fear, incapable of
any other exertion than flight.

Turning and winding, hurrying forward ever at the same rapid pace, they
passed unconsciously along the intricate streets that led to the river
side; and still the avenger tracked the victim, constant as the shadow
to the substance; steady, vigilant, unwearied, as a bloodhound on a hot
scent.

And now, even the sound of the father's voice ceased to be audible in
the daughter's ears; she no longer felt the pressure of his hand, no
longer perceived his very presence at her side. At length, frail and
shrinking, she again paused, and looked back. The street they had
reached was very tranquil and desolate: two slaves were walking at its
further extremity. While they were in sight, no living creature
appeared in the roadway behind; but as soon as they had passed away, a
shadow stole slowly forward over the pavement of a portico in the
distance, and the next moment Goisvintha appeared in the street.

The sun glared down fiercely over her dark figure as she stopped and for
an instant looked stealthily around her. She moved to advance, and
Antonina saw no more. Again she turned to renew her hopeless flight;
and again her father--perceiving only as the mysterious cause of her
dread a solitary woman, who, though she followed, attempted not to
arrest, or even to address them--prepared to accompany her to the last,
in despair of all other chances of securing her safety.

More and more completely did her terror now enchain her faculties, as
she still unconsciously traced her rapid way through the streets that
led to the Tiber. It was not Numerian, not Rome, not daylight in a
great city, that was before her eyes: it was the storm, the
assassination, the night at the farm-house, that she now lived through
over again.

Still the quick flight and the ceaseless pursuit were continued, as if
neither were ever to have an end; but the close of the scene was,
nevertheless, already at hand. During the interval of the passage
through the streets, Numerian's mind had gradually recovered from its
first astonishment and alarm; at length he perceived the necessity of
instant and decisive action, while there was yet time to save Antonina
from sinking under the excess of her own fears. Though a vague, awful
foreboding of disaster and death filled his heart, his resolution to
penetrate at once, at all hazards, the dark mystery of impending danger
indicated by his daughter's words and actions, did not fail him; for it
was aroused by the only motive powerful enough to revive all that
suffering and infirmity had not yet destroyed of the energy of his
former days--the preservation of his child. There was something of the
old firmness and vigour of the intrepid reformer of the Church, in his
dim eyes, as he now stopped, and enclosing Antonina in his arms,
arrested her instantly in her flight.

She struggled to escape; but it was faintly, and only for a moment. Her
strength and consciousness were beginning to abandon her. She never
attempted to look back; she felt in her heart that Goisvintha was still
behind, and dared not to verify the frightful conviction with her eyes.
Her lips moved; but they expressed an altered and a vain petition:
'Hermanric! O Hermanric!' was all they murmured now.

They had arrived at the long street that ran by the banks of the Tiber.
The people had either retired to their homes or repaired to the Forum to
be informed of the period when the ransom would be paid. No one but
Goisvintha was in sight as Numerian looked around him; and she, after
having carefully viewed the empty street, was advancing towards them at
a quickened pace.

For an instant the father looked on her steadily as she approached, and
in that instant his determination was formed. A flight of steps at his
feet led to the narrow doorway of a small temple, the nearest building
to him.

Ignorant whether Goisvintha might not be secretly supported by
companions in her ceaseless pursuit, he resolved to secure this place
for Antonina, as a temporary refuge at least; while standing before it,
he should oblige the woman to declare her purpose, if she followed them
even there. In a moment he had begun the ascent of the steps, with the
exhausted girl by his side. Arrived at the summit, he guided her before
him into the doorway, and stopped on the threshold to look round again.
Goisvintha was nowhere to be seen.

Not duped by the woman's sudden disappearance into the belief that she
had departed from the street--persisting in his resolution to lead his
daughter to a place of repose, where she might most immediately feel
herself secure, and might therefore most readily recover her self-
possession, Numerian drew Antonina with him into the temple. He
lingered there for a moment, ere he departed to watch the street from
the portico outside.

The light in the building was dim,--it was admitted only from a small
aperture in the roof, and through the narrow doorway, where it was
intercepted by the overhanging bulk of the outer portico. A crooked pile
of dark heavy-looking substances on the floor, rose high towards the
ceiling in the obscure interior. Irregular in form, flung together one
over the other in strange disorder, for the most part dusky in hue, yet
here and there gleaming at points with a metallic brightness, these
objects presented a mysterious, indefinite, and startling appearance.
It was impossible, on a first view of their confused arrangement, to
discover what they were, or to guess for what purpose they could have
been pile together on the floor of a deserted temple. From the moment
when they had first attracted Numerian's observation, his attention was
fixed on them, and as he looked a faint thrill of suspicion--vague,
inexplicable, without apparent cause or object--struck chill to his
heart.

He had moved a step forward to examine the hidden space at the back of
the pile, when his further advance was instantly stopped by the
appearance of a man who walked forth from it dressed in the floating,
purple-edged robe and white fillet of the Pagan priests. Before either
father or daughter could speak, even before they could move to depart,
he stepped up to them, and, placing his hand on the shoulder of each,
confronted them in silence.

At the moment when the stranger approached, Numerian raised his hand to
thrust him back, and, in so doing, fixed his eyes on the man's
countenance, as a ray of light from the doorway floated over it.
Instantly his arm remained outstretched and rigid, then it dropped to
his side, and the expression of horror on the face of the child became
reflected, as it were, on the face of the parent. Neither moved under
the hand of the dweller in the temple when he laid it heavily on each,
and both stood before him speechless as himself.

CHAPTER 25. THE TEMPLE AND THE CHURCH.

It was Ulpius. The Pagan was changed in bearing and countenance as well
as in apparel. He stood more firm and upright; a dull, tawny hue
overspread his face; his eyes, so sunken and lustreless in other days,
were now distended and bright with the glare of insanity. It seemed as
if his bodily powers had renewed their vigour, while his mental
faculties had declined towards their ruin.

No human eye had ever beheld by what foul and secret means he had
survived through the famine, on what unnatural sustenance he had
satisfied the cravings of inexorable hunger; but there, in his gloomy
shelter, the madman and the outcast had lived and moved, and suddenly
and strangely strengthened, after the people of the city had exhausted
all their united responses, lavished in vain all their united wealth,
and drooped and died by thousands around him!

His grasp still lay heavy on the father and daughter, and still both
confronted him--silent, as if death-struck by his gaze; motionless, as
if frozen at his touch. His presence was exerting over them a fatal
fascination. The power of action, suspended in Antonina as she entered
their ill-chosen refuge, was now arrested in Numerian also; but with him
no thought of the enemy in the street had any part, at this moment, in
the resistless influence which held him helpless before the enemy in the
temple.

It was a feeling of deeper awe and darker horror. For now, as he looked
upon the hideous features of Ulpius, as he saw the forbidden robe of
priesthood in which the Pagan was arrayed, he beheld not only the
traitor who had successfully plotted against the prosperity of his
household, but the madman as well,--the moral leper of the whole human
family--the living Body and the dead Soul--the disinherited of that
Divine Light of Life which it is the awful privilege of mortal man to
share with the angels of God.

He still clasped Antonina to his side, but it was unconsciously. To all
outward appearance he was helpless as his helpless child, when Ulpius
slowly removed his grasp from their shoulders, separated them, and
locking the hand of each in his cold, bony fingers, began to speak.

His voice was deep and solemn, but his accents, in their hard, unvarying
tone, seemed to express no human emotion. His eyes, far from
brightening as he spoke, relapsed into a dull, vacant insensibility. The
connection between the action of speech and the accompanying and
explaining action of look which is observable in all men, seemed lost in
him. It was fearful to behold the death-like face, and to listen at the
same moment to the living voice.

'Lo! the votaries come to the temple!' murmured the Pagan. 'The good
servants of the mighty worship gather at the voice of the priest! In
the far provinces, where the enemies of the gods approach to profane the
sacred groves, behold the scattered people congregating by night to
journey to the shrine of Serapis! Adoring thousands kneel beneath the
lofty porticoes, while within, in the secret hall where the light is
dim, where the air quivers round the breathing deities on their
pedestals of gold, the high priest Ulpius reads the destinies of the
future, that are unrolled before his eyes like a book!'

As he ceased, and, still holding the hands of his captives, looked on
them fixedly as ever, his eyes brightened and dilated again; but they
expressed not the slightest recognition either of father or daughter.
The delirium of his imagination had transported him to the temple at
Alexandria; the days were revived when his glory had risen to its
culminating point, when the Christians trembled before him as their
fiercest enemy, and the Pagans surrounded him as their last hope. The
victims of his former and forgotten treachery were but as two among the
throng of votaries allured by the fame of his eloquence, by the
triumphant notoriety of his power to protect the adherents of the
ancient creed.

But it was not always thus that his madness declared itself: there were
moments when it rose to appalling frenzy. Then he imagined himself to
be again hurling the Christian assailants from the topmost walls of the
besieged temple, in that past time when the image of Serapis was doomed
by the Bishop of Alexandria to be destroyed. His yells of fury, his
frantic execrations of defiance were heard afar, in the solemn silence
of pestilence-stricken Rome. Those who, during the most fatal days of
the Gothic blockade, dropped famished on the pavement before the little
temple, as they endeavoured to pass it on their onward way, presented a
dread reality of death, to embody the madman's visions of battle and
slaughter. As these victims of famine lay expiring in the street, they
heard above them his raving voice cursing them for Christians,
triumphing over them as defeated enemies destroyed by his hand,
exhorting his imaginary adherents to fling the slain above on the dead
below, until the bodies of the besiegers of the temple were piled, as
barriers against their living comrades, round its walls. Sometimes his
frenzy gloried in the fancied revival of the foul and sanguinary
ceremonies of Pagan superstition. Then he bared his arms, and shouted
aloud for the sacrifice; he committed dark and nameless atrocities--for
now again the dead and the dying lay before him, to give substance to
the shadow of his evil thoughts; and Plague and Hunger were as creatures
of his will, and slew the victim for the altar ready to his hands.

At other times, when the raving fit had passed away, and he lay panting
in the darkest corner of the interior of the temple, his insanity
assumed another and a mournful form. His voice grew low and moaning;
the wreck of his memory--wandering and uncontrollable--floated back, far
back, on the dark waters of the past; and his tongue uttered fragments
of words and phrases that he had murmured at his father's knees--
farewell, childish wishes that he had breathed in his mother's ear--
innocent, anxious questions which he had addressed to Macrinus, the high
priest, when he first entered the service of the gods at Alexandria.
His boyish reveries--the gentleness of speech and poetry of thought of
his first youthful days, were now, by the unsearchable and arbitrary
influences of his disease, revived in his broken words, renewed in his
desolate old age of madness and crime, breathed out in unconscious
mockery by his lips, while the foam still gathered about them, and the
last flashes of frenzy yet lightened in his eyes.

This unnatural calmness of language and vividness of memory, this
treacherous appearance of thoughtful, melancholy self-possession, would
often continue through long periods, uninterrupted; but, sooner or
later, the sudden change came; the deceitful chain of thought snapped
asunder in an instant; the word was left half uttered; the wearied limbs
started convulsively into renewed action; and as the dream of violence
returned and the dream of peace vanished, the madman rioted afresh in
his fury; and journeyed as his visions led him, round and round his
temple sanctuary, and hither and thither, when the night was dark and
death was busiest in Rome, among the expiring in deserted houses, and
the lifeless in the silent streets.

But there were other later events in his existence that never revived
within him. The old familiar image of the idol Serapis, which had drawn
him into the temple when he re-entered Rome, absorbed in itself and in
its associated remembrances all that remained active of his paralysed
faculties. His betrayal of his trust in the house of Numerian, his
passage through the rifted wall, his crushing repulse in the tent of
Alaric, never for a moment occupied his wandering thoughts. The clouds
that hung over his mind might open to him parting glimpses of the toils
and triumphs of his early career; but they descended in impenetrable
darkness on all the after-days of his dreary life.

Such was the being to whose will, by a mysterious fatality, the father
and child were now submitted; such the existence--solitary, hopeless,
loathsome--of their stern and wily betrayer of other days!

Since he had ceased speaking, the cold, death-like grasp of his hand had
gradually strengthened, and he had begun to look slowly and inquiringly
round him from side to side. Had this change marked the approaching
return of his raving paroxysm, the lives of Numerian and Antonina would
have been sacrificed the next moment; but all that it now denoted was
the quickening of the lofty and obscure ideas of celebrity and success,
of priestly honour and influence, of the splendour and glory of the
gods, which had prompted his last words.

He moved suddenly, and drew the victims of his dangerous caprice a few
steps farther into the interior of the temple; then led them close up to
the lofty pile of objects which had first attracted Numerian's eyes on
entering the building. 'Kneel and adore!' cried the madman fiercely,
replacing his hands on their shoulders and pressing them to the
ground--'You stand before the gods, in the presence of their high
priest!'

The girl's head sank forward, and she hid her face in her hands; but her
father looked up tremblingly at the pile. His eyes had insensibly
become more accustomed to the dim light of the temple, and he now saw
more distinctly the objects composing the mass that rose above him.

Hundreds of images of the gods, in gold, silver, and wood--many in the
latter material being larger than life; canopies, vestments, furniture,
utensils, all of ancient Pagan form, were heaped together, without order
or arrangement, on the floor, to a height of full fifteen feet.

There was something at once hideous and grotesque in the appearance of
the pile. The monstrous figures of the idols, with their rude carved
draperies and symbolic weapons, lay in every wild variety of position,
and presented every startling eccentricity of line, more especially
towards the higher portions of the mass, where they had evidently been
flung up from the ground by the hand that had raised the structure.

The draperies mixed among the images and the furniture were here coiled
serpent-like around them, and there hung down towards the ground, waving
slow and solemn in the breezes that wound through the temple doorway.
The smaller objects of gold and silver, scattered irregularly over the
mass, shone out from it like gleaming eyes; while the pile itself, seen
in such a place under a dusky light, looked like some vast, misshapen
monster--the gloomy embodiment of the bloodiest superstitions of
Paganism, the growth of damp airs and teeming ruin, of shadow and
darkness, of accursed and infected solitude!

Even in its position, as well as in the objects of which it was
composed, the pile wore an ominous and startling aspect; its crooked
outline, expanding towards the top, was bent over fearfully in the
direction of the doorway; it seemed as if a single hand might sway it in
its uncertain balance, and hurl it instantly in one solid mass to the
floor.

Many toilsome hours had passed away, long secret labour had been
expended in the erection of this weird and tottering structure; but it
was all the work of one hand. Night after night had the Pagan entered
the deserted temples in the surrounding streets, and pillaged them of
their contents to enrich his favoured shrine: the removal of the idols
from their appointed places, which would have been sacrilege in any
meaner man, was in his eyes the dread privilege of the high priest
alone.

He had borne heavy burdens, and torn asunder strong fastenings, and
journeyed and journeyed again for hours together over the same gloomy
streets, without loitering in his task; he had raised treasures and
images one above another; he had strengthened the base and heightened
the summit of this precious and sacred heap; he had repaired and
rebuilt, whenever it crumbled and fell, this new Babel that he longed to
rear to the Olympus of the temple roof, with a resolute patience and
perseverance that no failure or fatigue could overcome.

It was the dearest purpose of his dreamy superstition to surround
himself with innumerable deities, as well as to assemble innumerable
worshippers; to make the sacred place of his habitation a mighty
Pantheon, as well as a point of juncture for the scattered congregations
of the Pagan world. This was the ambition in which his madness expanded
to the fiercest fanaticism; and as he now stood erect with his captives
beneath him, his glaring eyes looked awe-struck when he fixed them on
his idols; he uplifted his arms in solemn, ecstatic triumph, and in low
tones poured forth his invocations, wild, intermingled, and fragmentary,
as the barbarous altar which his solitary exertions had reared.

Whatever was the effect on Numerian of his savage and confused
ejaculations, they were unnoticed, even unheard, by Antonina; for now,
while the madman's voice softened to an undertone, and while she hid all
surrounding objects from her eyes, her senses were awakened to sounds in
the temple which she had never remarked before.

The rapid current of the Tiber washed the foundation walls of one side
of the building, within which the clear, lulling bubble of the water was
audible with singular distinctness. But besides this another and a
shriller sound caught the ear. On the summit of the temple roof still
remained several rows of little gilt bells, originally placed there,
partly with the intention of ornamenting this portion of the outer
structure, partly in order that the noise they produced, when agitated
by the wind, might scare birds from settling in their flight on the
consecrated edifice. The sounds produced by these bells were silvery
and high pitched; now, when the breeze was strong, they rang together
merrily and continuously; now, when it fell, their notes were faint,
separate, and irregular, almost plaintive in their pure metallic
softness. But, however their tone might vary under the capricious
influences of the wind, it seemed always wonderfully mingled within the
temple with the low, eternal bubbling of the river, which filled up the
slightest pauses in the pleasant chiming of the bells, and ever
preserved its gentle and monotonous harmony just audible beneath them.

There was something in this quaint, unwonted combination of sounds, as
they were heard in the vaulted interior of the little building,
strangely simple, attractive, and spiritual; the longer they were
listened to, the more completely did the mind lose the recollection of
their real origin, and gradually shape out of them wilder and wilder
fancies, until the bells as they rang their small peal seemed like happy
voices of a heavenly stream, borne lightly onward on its airy bubbles,
and ever rejoicing over the gliding current that murmured to them as it
ran.

Spite of the peril of her position, and of the terror which still fixed
her speechless and crouching on the ground, the effect on Antonina of
the strange mingled music of the running water and the bells was
powerful enough, when she first heard it, to suspend all her other
emotions in a momentary wonder and doubt. She withdrew her hands from
her face, and glanced round mechanically to the doorway, as if she
imagined that the sounds proceeded from the street.

When she looked, the declining sun, gliding between two of the outer
pillars which surrounded the temple, covered with a bright glow the
smooth pavement before the entrance. A swarm of insects flew drowsily
round and round in the warm mellow light; their faint monotonous humming
deepened, rather than interrupted, the perfect silence prevailing over
all things without.

But a change was soon destined to appear in the repose of the quiet,
vacant scene; hardly a minute had elapsed while Antonina still looked on
it before she saw stealing over the sunny pavement a dark shadow, the
same shadow that she had last beheld when she stopped in her flight to
look behind her in the empty street. At first it slowly grew and
lengthened, then it remained stationary, then it receded and vanished as
gradually as it had advanced, and then the girl heard, or fancied that
she heard, a faint sound of footsteps, retiring along the lateral
colonnades towards the river side of the building.

A low cry of horror burst from her lips as she sank back towards her
father; but it was unheeded. The voice of Ulpius had resumed in the
interval its hollow loudness of tone; he had raised Numerian from the
ground; his strong, cold grasp, which seemed to penetrate to the old
man's heart, which held him motionless and helpless as if by a fatal
spell, was on his arm.

'Hear it! hear it!' cried the Pagan, waving his disengaged hand as if he
were addressing a vast concourse of people--'I advance this man to be
one of the servants of the high priest! He has travelled from a far
country to the sacred shrine; he is docile and obedient before the altar
of the gods; the lost is cast for his future life; his dwelling shall be
in the temple to the day of his death! He shall minister before me in
white robes, and swing the smoking censer, and slay the sacrifice at my
feet!'

He stopped. A dark and sinister expression appeared in his eyes as the
word 'sacrifice' passed his lips; he muttered doubtingly to
himself--'The sacrifice!--is it yet the hour of the sacrifice?'--and
looked round towards the doorway.

The sun still shone gaily on the outer pavement; the insects still
circled slowly in the mellow light; no shadow was now visible; no
distant footsteps were heard; there was nothing audible but the happy
music of the bubbling water, and the chiming, silvery bells.

For a few moments the madman looked out anxiously towards the street,
without uttering a word or moving a muscle. The raving fit was nearly
possessing him again, as the thought of the sacrifice flashed over his
darkened mind; but once more its approach was delayed.

He slowly turned his head in the direction of the interior of the
temple. 'The sun is still bright in the outer courts,' he murmured in
an undertone, 'the hour of the sacrifice is not yet! Come!' he
continued in a louder voice, shaking Numerian by the arm. 'It is time
that the servant of the temple should behold the place of the sacrifice,
and sharpen the knife for the victim before sunset! Arouse thee,
bondman, and follow me!'

As yet, Numerian had neither spoken, nor attempted to escape. The
preceding events, though some space has been occupied in describing
them, passed in so short a period of time, that he had not hitherto
recovered from the first overwhelming shock of the meeting with Ulpius.
But now, awed though he still was, he felt that the moment of the
struggle for freedom had arrived.

'Leave me, and let us depart!--there can be no fellowship between us
again!' he exclaimed with the reckless courage of despair, taking the
hand of Antonina, and striving to free himself from the madman's grasp.
But the effort was vain; Ulpius tightened his hold and laughed in
triumph. 'What! the servant of the temple is in terror of the high
priest, and shrinks from walking in the place of the sacrifice!' he
cried. 'Fear not, bondman! The mighty one, who rules over life and
death, and time and futurity, deals kindly with the servant of his
choice! Onward! onward! to the place of darkness and doom, where I
alone am omnipotent, and all others are creatures who tremble and obey!
To thy lesson, learner! by sunset the victim must be crowned!'

He looked round on Numerian for an instant, as he prepared to drag him
forward, and their eyes met. In the fierce command of his action, and
the savage exultation of his glance, the father saw repeated in a wilder
form the very attitude and expression which he had beheld in the Pagan
on the morning of the loss of his child. All the circumstances of that
miserable hour--the vacant bed-chamber--the banished daughter--the
triumph of the betrayer--the anguish of the betrayed--rushed over his
mind, and rose up before it vivid as a pictured scene before his eyes.

He struggled no more; the powers of resistance in mind and body were
crushed alike. He made an effort to remove Antonina from his side, as
if, in forgetfulness of the hidden enemy without, he designed to urge
her flight through the open door, while the madman's attention was yet
distracted from her. But, beyond this last exertion of the strong
instinct of paternal love, every other active emotion seemed dead within
him.

Vainly had he striven to disentangle the child from the fate that might
be in store for the parent. To her the dread of the dark shadow on the
pavement was superior to all other apprehensions. She now clung more
closely to her father, and tightened her clasp round his hand. So, when
the Pagan advanced into the interior of the temple, it was not Numerian
alone who followed him to the place of sacrifice, but Antonina as well.

They moved to the back of the pile of idols. Behind it appeared a high
partition of gilt and inlaid wood reaching to the ceiling, and
separating the outer from the inner part of the temple. A low archway
passage, protected by carved gates similar to those at the front of the
building, had been formed in the partition, and through this Ulpius and
his prisoners now passed into the recess beyond.

This apartment was considerably smaller than the first hall of the
temple which they had just left. The ceiling and the floor both sloped
downwards together, and here the rippling of the waters of the Tiber was
more distinctly audible to them than in the outer division of the
building. At the moment when they entered it the place was very dark;
the pile of idols intercepted even the little light that could have been
admitted through its narrow entrance; but the dense obscurity was soon
dissipated. Dragging Numerian after him to the left side of the recess,
Ulpius drew back a sort of wooden shutter, and a vivid ray of sunlight
immediately streamed in through a small circular opening pierced in this
part of the temple.

Then there became apparent, at the lower end of the apartment, a vast
yawning cavity in the wall, high enough to admit a man without stooping,
but running downwards almost perpendicularly to some lower region which
it was impossible to see, for no light shot upwards from this
precipitous artificial abyss, in the darkness of which the eye was lost
after it had penetrated to the distance of a few feet only from the
opening. At the base of the confined space thus visible appeared the
commencement of a flight of steps, evidently leading far downwards into
the cavity. On the abruptly sloping walls, which bounded it on all
sides, were painted, in the brilliant hues of ancient fresco,
representations of the deities of the mythology--all in the attitude of
descending into the vault, and all followed by figures of nymphs bearing
wreaths of flowers, beautiful birds, and other similar adjuncts of the
votive ceremonies of Paganism. The repulsive contrast between the
bright colours and graceful forms presented by the frescoes, and the
perilous and gloomy appearance of the cavity which they decorated,
increased remarkably the startling significance in the character of the
whole structure. Its past evil uses seemed ineradicably written over
every part of it, as past crime and torment remain ineradicably written
on the human face; the mind imbibed from it terrifying ideas of deadly
treachery, of secret atrocities, of frightful refinements of torture,
which no uninitiated eye had ever beheld, and no human resolution had
ever been powerful enough to resist.

But the impressions thus received were not produced only by what was
seen in and around this strange vault, but by what was heard there
besides. The wind penetrated the cavity at some distance, and through
some opening that could not be beheld, and was apparently intercepted in
its passage, for it whistled upwards towards the entrance in shrill,
winding notes, sometimes producing another and nearer sound, resembling
the clashing of many small metallic substances violently shaken
together. The noise of the wind, as well as the bubbling of the current
of the Tiber, seemed to proceed from a greater distance than appeared
compatible with the narrow extent of the back part of the temple, and
the proximity of the river to its low foundation walls.

It was evident that the vault only reached its outlet after it had wound
backwards, underneath the building, in some strange complication of
passages or labyrinth of artificial caverns, which might have been built
long since as dungeons for the living, or as sepulchres for the dead.

'The place of the sacrifice--aha! the place of the sacrifice!' cried the
Pagan exultingly, as he drew Numerian to the entrance of the cavity, and
solemnly pointed into the darkness beneath.

The father gazed steadily into the chasm, never turning now to look on
Antonina, never moving to renew the struggle for freedom. Earthly loves
and earthly hopes began to fade away from his heart--he was praying.
The solemn words of Christian supplication fell in low, murmuring sounds
from his lips, in the place of idolatry and bloodshed, and mingled with
the incoherent ejaculations of the madman who kept him captive, and who
now bent his glaring eyes on the darkness of the vault, half forgetful,
in the gloomy fascination which it exercised even over him, of the
prisoners whom he held at its mouth.

The single ray of light, admitted from the circular aperture of the
wall, fell wild and fantastic over the widely-differing figures of the
three, as they stood so strangely united together before the abyss that
opened beneath them. The shadows were above and the shadows were
around; there was no light in the ill-omened place but the one vivid ray
that streamed over the gaunt figure of Ulpius, as he still pointed into
the darkness; over the rigid features of Numerian, praying in the
bitterness of expected death; and over the frail youthful form of
Antonina as she nestled trembling at her father's side. It was an
unearthly and a solemn scene!

Meanwhile the shadow which the girl had observed on the pavement before
the doorway of the temple now appeared there again, but not to retire as
before; for, the instant after, Goisvintha stealthily entered the outer
apartment of the building left vacant by its first occupants. She
passed softly around the pile of idols, looked into the inner recess of
the temple, and saw the three figures standing together in the ray of
light, gloomy and motionless, before the mouth of the cavity. Her first
glance fixed on the Pagan, whom she instinctively doubted and dreaded,
whose purpose in keeping captive the father and daughter she could not
divine; her next was directed on Antonina.

The girl's position was a guarded one; still holding her father's hand,
she was partly protected by his body; and stood unconsciously beneath
the arm of Ulpius, as it was raised while he grasped Numerian's
shoulder. Marking this, and remembering that Antonina had twice escaped
her already, Goisvintha hesitated for a moment, and then, with cautious
step and lowering brow, began to retire again towards the doorway of the
building. 'Not yet--not yet the time!' she muttered, as she resumed her
former lurking-place; 'they stand where the light is over them--the girl
is watched and shielded--the two men are still on either side of her!
Not yet the moment of the blow; the stroke of the knife must be sure and
safe! Sure, for this time she must die by my hand! Safe, for I have
other vengeance to wreak besides the vengeance on her! I, who have been
patient and cunning since the night when I escaped from Aquileia, will
be patient and cunning still! If she passes the door, I slay her as she
goes out; if she remains in the temple--'

At the last word, Goisvintha paused and gazed upward; the setting sun
threw its fiery glow over her haggard face; her eye brightened fiercely
in the full light as she looked. 'The darkness is at hand!' she
continued; 'the night will be thick and black in the dim halls of the
temple; I shall see her when she shall not see me!--the darkness is
coming; the vengeance is sure!'

She closed her lips, and with fatal perseverance continued to watch and
wait, as she had resolutely watched and waited already. The Roman and
the Goth; the opposite in sex, nation, and fate; the madman who dreamed
of the sanguinary superstitions of Paganism before the temple altar, and
the assassin who brooded over the chances of bloodshed beneath the
temple portico, were now united in a mysterious identity of expectation,
uncommunicated and unsuspected by either--the hour when the sun vanished
from the heaven was the hour of the sacrifice for both!

****

There is now a momentary pause in the progress of events. Occurrences
to be hereafter related render it necessary to take advantage of this
interval to inform the reader of the real nature and use of the vault in
the temple wall, the external appearance of which we have already
described.

The marking peculiarity in the construction of the Pagan religion may be
most aptly compared to the marking peculiarity in the construction of
the pagan temples. Both were designed to attract the general eye by the
outward effect only, which was in both the false delusive reflection of
the inward substance.

In the temple, the people, as they worshipped beneath the long
colonnades, or beheld the lofty porticoes from the street, were left to
imagine the corresponding majesty and symmetry of the interior of the
structure, and were not admitted to discover how grievously it
disappointed the brilliant expectations which the exterior was so well
calculated to inspire; how little the dark, narrow halls of the idols,
the secret vaults and gloomy recesses within, fulfilled the promise of
the long flights of steps, the broad extent of pavement, the massive
sun-brightened pillars without. So in the religion, the votary was
allured by the splendour of processions; by the pomp of auguries; by the
poetry of the superstition which peopled his native woods with the
sportive Dryads, and the fountains from which he drank with their
guardian Naiads; which gave to mountain and lake, to sun and moon and
stars, to all things around and above him, their fantastic allegory, or
their gracious legend of beauty and love: but beyond this, his first
acquaintance with his worship was not permitted to extend, here his
initiation concluded. He was kept in ignorance of the dark and
dangerous depths which lurked beneath this smooth and attractive
surface; he was left to imagine that what was displayed was but the
prelude to the future discovery of what was hidden of beauty in the
rites of Paganism; he was not admitted to behold the wretched
impostures, the loathsome orgies, the hideous incantations, the bloody
human sacrifices perpetrated in secret, which made the foul, real
substance of the fair exterior form. His first sight of the temple was
not less successful in deceiving his eye than his first impression of
the religion in deluding his mind.

With these hidden and guilty mysteries of the Pagan worship, the vault
before which Ulpius now stood with his captives was intimately
connected.

The human sacrifices offered among the Romans were of two kinds; those
publicly and those privately performed. The first were of annual
recurrence in the early years of the Republic; were prohibited at a
later date; were revived by Augustus, who sacrificed his prisoners of
war at the altar of Julius Caesar; and were afterwards--though
occasionally renewed for particular purposes under some subsequent
reigns--wholly abandoned as part of the ceremonies of Paganism during
the later periods of the empire.

The sacrifices perpetrated in private were much longer practised. They
were connected with the most secret mysteries of the mythology; were
concealed from the supervision of government; and lasted probably until
the general extinction of heathen superstition in Italy and the
provinces.

Many and various were the receptacles constructed for the private
immolation of human victims in different parts of the empire--in its
crowded cities as well as in its solitary woods--and among all, one of
the most remarkable and the longest preserved was the great cavity
pierced in the wall of the temple which Ulpius had chosen for his
solitary lurking-place in Rome.

It was not merely as a place of concealment for the act of immolation,
and for the corpse of the victim, that the vault had been built. A
sanguinary artifice had complicated the manner of its construction, by
placing in the cavity itself the instrument of the sacrifice; by making
it, as it were, not merely the receptacle, but the devourer also of its
human prey. At the bottom of the flight of steps leading down into it
(the top of which, as we have already observed, was alone visible from
the entrance in the temple recess) was fixed the image of a dragon
formed in brass.

The body of the monster, protruding opposite the steps almost at a right
angle from the wall, was moved in all directions by steel springs, which
communicated with one of the lower stairs, and also with a sword placed
in the throat of the image to represent the dragon's tongue. The walls
around the steps narrowed so as barely to admit the passage of the human
body when they approached the dragon. At the slightest pressure on the
stair with which the spring communicated, the body of the monster bent
forward, and the sword instantly protruded from its throat, at such a
height from the steps as ensure that it should transfix in a vital part
the person who descended. The corpse, then dropping by its own weight
off the sword, fell through a tunnelled opening beneath the dragon,
running downward in an opposite direction to that taken by the steps
above, and was deposited on an iron grating washed by the waters of the
Tiber, which ran under the arched foundations of the temple. The
grating was approached by a secret subterranean passage leading from the
front of the building, by which the sacrificing priests were enabled to
reach the dead body, to fasten weights to it, and opening the grating,
to drop it into the river, never to be beheld again by mortal eyes.

In the days when this engine of destruction was permitted to serve the
purpose for which the horrible ingenuity of its inventors had
constructed it, its principal victims were young girls. Crowned with
flowers, and clad in white garments, they were lured into immolating
themselves by being furnished with rich offerings, and told that the
sole object of their fatal expedition down the steps of the vault was to
realise the pictures adorning its walls (which we have described a few
pages back), by presenting their gifts at the shrine of the idol below.

At the period of which we write, the dragon had for many years--since
the first prohibitions of Paganism--ceased to be fed with its wonted
prey. The scales forming its body grew gradually corroded and loosened
by the damp; and when moved by the wind which penetrated to them from
beneath, whistling up in its tortuous course through the tunnel that ran
in one direction below, and the vault of the steps that ascended in
another above, produced the clashing sound which has been mentioned as
audible at intervals from the mouth of the cavity. But the springs
which moved the deadly apparatus of the whole machine being placed
within it, under cover, continued to resist the slow progress of time
and of neglect, and still remained as completely fitted as ever to
execute the fatal purpose for which they had been designed.

The ultimate destiny of the dragon of brass was the destiny of the
religion whose bloodiest superstitions it embodied: it fell beneath the
resistless advance of Christianity. Shortly after the date of our
narrative, the interior of the building beneath which it was placed
having suffered from an accident, which will be related farther on, the
exterior was dismantled, in order that its pillars might furnish
materials for a church. The vault in the wall was explored by a monk
who had been present at the destruction of other Pagan temples, and who
volunteered to discover its contents. With a torch in one hand, and an
iron bar in the other, he descended into the cavity, sounding the walls
and the steps before him as he proceeded. For the first and the last
time the sword protruded harmless from the monster's throat when the
monk pressed the fatal stair, before stepping on it, with his iron bar.
The same day the machine was destroyed and cast into the Tiber, where
its victims had been thrown before it in former years.

*****

Some minutes have elapsed since we left the father and daughter standing
by the Pagan's side before the mouth of the vault; and as yet there
appears no change in the several positions of the three. But already,
while Ulpius still looks down steadfastly into the cavity at his feet,
his voice, as he continues to speak, grows louder, and his words become
more distinct. Fearful recollections associated with the place are
beginning to stir his weary memory, to lift the darkness of oblivion
from his idle thoughts.

'They go down, far down there!' he abruptly exclaimed, pointing into the
black depths of the vault, 'and never arise again to the light of the
upper earth! The great Destroyer is watchful in his solitude beneath,
and looks through the darkness for their approach! Hark! the hissing of
his breath is like to the clash of weapons in a deadly strife!'

At this moment the wind moved the loose scales of the dragon. During an
instant Ulpius remained silent, listening to the noise they produced.
For the first time an expression of dread appeared on his face. His
memory was obscurely reviving the incidents of his discovery of the
deadly machinery in the vault when he first made his sojourn in the
temple, when--filled with the confused remembrance of the mysterious
rites and incantations, the secret sacrifices which he had witnessed and
performed at Alexandria--he had found and followed the subterranean
passage which led to the iron grating beneath the dragon. As the wind
lulled again, and the clashing of the metal ceased with it, he began to
give these recollections expression in words, uttering them in slow,
solemn accents to himself.

'I have seen the Destroyer; the Invisible has revealed himself to me!'
he murmured. 'I stood on the iron bars; the restless waters toiled and
struggled beneath my feet as I looked up into the place of darkness. A
voice called to me, "Get light, and behold me from above! Get light!
get light!" Sun, and moon, and stars gave no light there! but lamps
burnt in the city, in the houses of the dead, when I walked by them in
the night-time; and the lamp gave light when sun, and moon, and stars
gave none! From the top steps I looked down, and saw the Powerful One in
his golden brightness; and approached not, but watched and listened in
fear. The voice again!--the voice was heard again!--"Sacrifice to me in
secret, as thy brethren sacrifice! Give me the living where the living
are, and the dead where the dead!" The air came up cold, and the voice
ceased, and the lamp was like sun, and moon, and stars--it gave no light
in the place of darkness!'

While he spoke, the loose metal again clashed in the vault, for the wind
was strengthening as the evening advanced. 'Hark! the signal to prepare
the sacrifice!' cried the Pagan, turning abruptly to Numerian. 'Listen,
bondman! the living and the dead are within our reach. The breath of
the Invisible strikes them in the street and in the house; they stagger
in the highways, and drop at the temple steps. When the hour comes we
shall go forth and find them. Under my hand they go down into the
cavern beneath. Whether they are hurled dead, or whether they go down
living, they fall through to the iron bars, where the water leaps and
rejoices to receive them! It is mine to sacrifice them above, and thine
to wait for them below, to lift the bars and give them to the river to
be swallowed up! The dead drop down first, the living that are slain by
the Destroyer follow after!'

Here he paused suddenly. Now, for the first time, his eye rested on
Antonina, whose very existence he seemed hitherto to have forgotten. A
revolting smile of mingled cunning and satisfaction instantly changed
the whole character of his countenance as he gazed on her and then
looked round significantly to the vault. 'Here is one,' he whispered to
Numerian, taking her by the arm. 'Keep her captive--the hour is near!'

Numerian had hitherto stood unheedful while he spoke; but when he
touched Antonina the bare action was enough to arouse the father to
resistance--hopeless though it was--once more. He shook off the grasp
of Ulpius from the girl's arm, and drew back with her--breathless,
vigilant, desperate--to the side-wall behind him.

The madman laughed in proud approval. 'My bondman obeys me and seizes
the captive!' he cried. 'He remembers that the hour is near and loosens
not his hold! Come,' he continued, 'come out into the hall beyond!--it
is time that we watch for more victims for the sacrifice till the sun
goes down. The Destroyer is mighty and must be obeyed!'

He walked to the entrance leading into the first apartment of the
temple, and then waited to be followed by Numerian, who, now for the
first time separated from Ulpius, remained stationary in the position he
had last occupied, and looked eagerly around him. No chance of escape
presented itself; the mouth of the vault on one side, and the passage
through the partition on the other, were the only outlets to the place.
There was no hope but to follow the Pagan into the great hall of the
temple, to keep carefully at a distance from him, and to watch the
opportunity of flight through the doorway. The street, so desolate when
last beheld, might now afford more evidence that it was inhabited.
Citizens, guards might be passing by, and might be summoned into the
temple--help might be at hand.

As he moved forward with Antonina, such thoughts passed rapidly through
the father's mind, unaccompanied at the moment by the recollection of
the stranger who had followed them from the Pincian Gate, or of the
apathy of the famished populace in aiding each other in any emergency.
Seeing that he was followed as he had commanded, Ulpius passed on before
them to the pile of idols; but a strange and sudden alteration appeared
in his gait. He had hitherto walked with the step of a man--young,
strong, and resolute of purpose; now he dragged one limb after the other
as slowly and painfully as if he had received a mortal hurt. He
tottered with more than the infirmity of his age, his head dropped upon
his breast, and he moaned and murmured inarticulately in low, long-drawn
cries.

He had advanced to the side of the pile, half-way towards the doorway of
the temple, when Numerian, who had watched with searching eyes the
abrupt change in his demeanour, forgetting the dissimulation which might
still be all-important, abandoned himself to his first impulse, and
hurriedly pressing forward with Antonina, attempted to pass the Pagan
and escape. But at the moment Ulpius stopped in his slow progress,
reeled, threw out his hands convulsively, and seizing Numerian by the
arm, staggered back with him against the side-wall of the temple. The
fingers of the tortured wretch closed as if they were never to be
unlocked again--closed as if with the clutch of death, with the last
frantic grasp of a drowning man.

For days and nights past he had toiled incessantly under the relentless
tyranny of his frenzy, building up higher and higher his altar of idols,
and pouring forth his invocations before his gods in the place of the
sacrifice; and now, at the moment when he was most triumphant in his
ferocious activity of purpose, when his fancied bondman and his fancied
victim were most helpless at his command--now, when his strained
faculties were strung to their highest pitch, the long-deferred paroxysm
had seized him, which was the precursor of his repose, of the only
repose granted by his awful fate--a change (the mournful change already
described) in the form of his insanity. For at those rare periods when
he slept, his sleep was not unconsciousness, not rest: it was a trance
of hideous dreams--his tongue spoke, his limbs moved, when he slumbered
as when he woke. It was only when his visions of the pride, the power,
the fierce conflicts, and daring resolutions of his maturer years gave
place to his dim, quiet, waking dreams of his boyish days, that his
wasted faculties reposed, and his body rested with them in the
motionless languor of perfect fatigue. Then, if words were still
uttered by his lips, they were as murmurs of an infant--happy sleep; for
the innocent phrases of his childhood which they then revived, seemed
for a time to bring with them the innocent tranquillity of his childhood
as well.

'Go! go!--fly while you are yet free!' cried Numerian, dropping the hand
of Antonina, and pointing to the door. But for the second time the girl
refused to move forward a step. No horror, no peril in the temple could
banish for an instant her remembrance of the night at the farm-house in
the suburbs. She kept her head turned towards the vacant entrance, fixed
her eyes on it in the unintermitting watchfulness of terror, and
whispered affrightedly, 'Goisvintha! Goisvintha!' when her father
spoke.

The clasp of the Pagan's fingers remained fixed and deathlike as at
first; he leaned back against the wall, as still as if life and action
had for ever departed from him. The paroxysm had passed away; his face,
distorted but the moment before, was now in repose, but it was a repose
that was awful to look on. Tears rolled slowly from his half-closed
eyes over his seamed and wrinkled cheeks--tears which were not the
impressive expression of mental anguish (for a vacant and unchanging
smile was on his lips), but the mere mechanical outburst of the physical
weakness that the past crisis of agony had left behind it. Not the
slightest appearance of thought or observation was perceptible in his
features: his face was the face of an idiot.

Numerian, who had looked on him for an instant, shuddered and averted
his eyes, recoiling from the sight before him. But a more overpowering
trial of his resolution was approaching, which he could not avoid. Ere
long the voice of Ulpius grew audible once more; but now its tones were
weak, piteous, almost childish, and the words they uttered were quiet
words of love and gentleness, which dropping from such lips, and
pronounced in such a place, were fearful to hear. The temple and all
that was in it vanished from his sight as from his memory. Swayed by
the dread and supernatural influences of his disease, the madman passed
back in an instant over the dark valley of life's evil pilgrimage to the
long-quitted precincts of his boyish home. While in bodily presence he
stood in the place of his last crimes, the outcast of reason and
humanity, in mental consciousness he lay in his mother's arms, as he had
lain there ere yet he had departed to the temple at Alexandria; and his
heart communed with her heart, and his eyes looked on her as they had
looked before his father's fatal ambition had separated for ever parent
and child!

'Mother!--come back, mother!' he whispered. 'I was not asleep: I saw
you when you came in, and sat by my bedside, and wept over me when you
kissed me! Come back, and sit by me still! I am going away, far away,
and may never hear your voice again! How happy we should be, mother, if
I stayed with you always! But it is my father's will that I should go
to the temple in another country, and live there to be a priest; and his
will must be obeyed. I may never return; but we shall not forget one
another! I shall remember your words when we used to talk together
happily, and you shall still remember mine!'

Hardly had the first sentence been uttered by Ulpius when Antonina felt
her father's whole frame suddenly tremble at her side. She turned her
eyes from the doorway, on which they had hitherto been fixed, and looked
on him. The Pagan's hand had fallen from his arm: he was free to
depart, to fly as he had longed to fly but a few minutes before, and yet
he never stirred. His daughter touched him, spoke to him, but he
neither moved nor answered. It was not merely the shock of the abrupt
transition in the language of Ulpius from the ravings of crime to the
murmurs of love--it was not merely astonishment at hearing from him, in
his madness, revelations of his early life which had never passed his
lips during his days of treacherous servitude in the house on the
Pincian Hill, that thus filled Numerian's inmost soul with awe, and
struck his limbs motionless. There was more in all that he heard than
this. The words seemed as words that had doomed him at once and for
ever. His eyes, directed full on the face of the madman, were dilated
with horror, and his deep, gasping, convulsive breathings mingled
heavily, during the moment of silence that ensued, with the chiming of
the bells above and the bubbling of the water below--the lulling music
of the temple, playing its happy evening hymn at the pleasant close of
day.

'We shall remember, mother!--we shall remember!' continued the Pagan
softly, 'and be happy in our remembrances! My brother, who loves me
not, will love you when I am gone! You will walk in my little garden,
and think on me as you look at the flowers that we have planted and
watered together in the evening hours, when the sky was glorious to
behold, and the earth was all quiet around us! Listen, mother, and kiss
me! When I go to the far country, I will make a garden there like my
garden here, and plant the same flowers that we have planted here, and
in the evening I will go out and give them water at the hour when you go
out to give my flowers water at home; and so, though we see each other
no more, it will yet be as if we laboured together in the garden as we
labour now!'

The girl still fixed her eager gaze on her father. His eyes presented
the same rigid expression of horror; but he was now wiping off with his
own hand, mechanically, as if he knew it not, the foam which the
paroxysms had left round the madman's lips, and, amid the groans that
burst from him, she could hear such words as, 'Lord God!--mercy, Lord
God! Thou, who hast thus restored him to me--thus, worse than dead!--
mercy! mercy!'

The light on the pavement beneath the portico of the temple was fading
visibly--the sun had gone down.

For the third time the madman spoke, but his tones were losing their
softness; they were complaining, plaintive, unutterably mournful; his
dreams of the past were already changing. 'Farewell, brother--farewell
for years and years!' he cried. 'You have not given me the love that I
gave you. The fault was not mine that our father loved me the best, and
chose me to be sent to the temple to be a priest at the altar of the
gods! The fault was not mine that I partook not in your favoured
sports, and joined not the companions whom you sought; it was our
father's will that I should not live as you lived, and I obeyed it! You
have spoken to me in anger, and turned from me in disdain; but farewell
again, Cleander--farewell in forgiveness and in love!'

He might have spoken more, but his voice was drowned in one long shriek
of agony which burst from Numerian's lips, and echoed discordantly
through the hall of the temple, and he sank down with his face to the
ground at the Pagan's feet. The dark and terrible destiny was
fulfilled. The enthusiast for the right and the fanatic for the wrong;
the man who had toiled to reform the Church, and the man who had toiled
to restore the Temple; the master who had received and trusted the
servant in his home, and the servant who in that home had betrayed the
master's trust--the two characters, separated hitherto in the sublime
disunion of good and bad, now struck together in tremendous contact, as
brethren who had drawn their life from one source, who as children had
been sheltered under the same roof!

Not in the hours when the good Christian succoured the then forsaken
Pagan, wandering homeless in Rome, was the secret disclosed; no chance
word of it was uttered when the deceiver told the feigned relation of
his life to the benefactor whom he was plotting to deceive, or when, on
the first morning of the siege, the machinations of the servant
triumphed over the confidence of the master: it was reserved to be
revealed in the words of delirium, at the closing years of madness, when
he who discovered it was unconscious of all that he spoke, and his eyes
were blinded to the true nature of all that he saw; when earthly voices
that might once have called him back to repentance, to recognition, and
to love, were become to him as sounds that have no meaning; when, by a
ruthless and startling fatality, it was on the brother who had wrought
for the true faith that the whole crushing weight of the terrible
disclosure fell, unpartaken by the brother who had wrought for the
false! But the judgments pronounced in Time go forth from the tribunal
of that Eternity to which the mysteries of life tend, and in which they
shall be revealed--neither waiting on human seasons nor abiding by human
justice, but speaking to the soul in the language of immortality, which
is heard in the world that is now, and interpreted in the world that is
to come.

Lost, for an instant, even the recollection that Goisvintha might still
be watching her opportunity from without, calling despairingly on her
father, and vainly striving to raise him from the ground, Antonina
remembered not, in the overwhelming trial of the moment, the revelations
of Numerian's past life that had been disclosed to her in the days when
the famine was at its worst in Rome. The name of 'Cleander', which she
had then heard her father pronounce, as the name that he had abandoned
when he separated himself from the companions of his sinful choice,
passed unheeded by her when the Pagan unconsciously uttered it. She saw
the whole scene but as a fresh menace of danger, as a new vision of
terror, more ominous of ill than all that had preceded it.

Thick as was the darkness in which the lulling and involuntary memories
of the past had enveloped the perceptions of Ulpius, the father's
piercing cry of anguish seemed to have penetrated it with a sudden ray
of light. The madman's half-closed eyes opened instantly and fixed,
dreamily at first, on the altar of idols. He waved his hands to and fro
before him, as if her were parting back the folds of a heavy veil that
obscured his sight; but his wayward thoughts did not resume as yet their
old bias towards ferocity and crime. When he spoke again, his speech
was still inspired by the visions of his early life--but now of his
early life in the temple at Alexandria. His expressions were more
abrupt, more disjointed than before; yet they continued to display the
same evidence of the mysterious, instinctive vividness of recollection,
which was the result of the sudden change in the nature of his insanity.
His language wandered (still as if the words came from him undesignedly
and unconsciously) over the events of his boyish introduction to the
service of the gods, and, though confusing them in order, still
preserved them in substance, as they have been already related in the
history of his 'apprenticeship to the temple'.

Now he was in imagination looking down once more from the summit of the
Temple of Serapis on the glittering expanse of the Nile and the wide
country around it; and now he was walking proudly through the streets of
Alexandria by the side of his uncle, Macrinus, the high priest. Now he
was wandering at night, in curiosity and awe, through the gloomy vaults
and subterranean corridors of the sacred place; and now he was
listening, well pleased, to the kindly greeting, the inspiring praises
of Macrinus during their first interview. But at this point, and while
dwelling on this occasion, his memory became darkened again; it vainly
endeavoured to retrace the circumstances attending the crowning evidence
of the high priest's interest in his pupil, and anxiety to identify him
completely with his new protector and his new duties, which had been
displayed when he conferred on the trembling boy the future distinction
of one of his own names.

And here, let it be remembered, as a chief link in the mysterious chain
of fatalities which had united to keep the brothers apart as brethren
after they had met as men, that both had, from widely different causes,
abandoned in after-life the names which they bore in their father's
house; that while one, by his own act and for his own purpose,
transformed himself from Cleander, the associate of the careless and the
criminal, to Numerian, the preacher of the Gospel and reformer of the
Church, the other had (to quote the words of the fourth chapter),
'become from the boy Emilius the student Ulpius,' by the express and
encouraging command of his master, Macrinus, the high priest.

While the Pagan still fruitlessly endeavoured to revive the events
connected with the change in his designation on his arrival in
Alexandria, and, chafing under the burden of oblivion that weighed upon
his thoughts, attempted for the first time to move from the wall against
which he had hitherto leaned; while Antonina still strove in vain to
recall her father to the recollection of the terrible exigencies of the
moment as he crouched prostrate at the madman's feet--the doorway of the
temple was darkened once more by the figure of Goisvintha. She stood on
the threshold, a gloomy and indistinct form in the fading light, looking
intently into the deeply shadowed interior of the building. As she
marked the altered positions of the father and daughter, she uttered a
suppressed ejaculation of triumph; but, while the sound passed her lips,
she heard, or thought she heard, a noise in the street behind. Even now
her vigilance and cunning, her deadly, calculating resolution to await
in immovable patience the fitting time for striking the blow
deliberately and with impunity, did not fail her. Turning instantly,
she walked to the top step of the temple, and stood there for a few
moments, watchfully surveying the open space before her.

But in those few moments the scene in the building changed once more.
The madman, while he still wavered between relapsing into the raving fit
and continuing under the influence of the tranquil mood in which he had
been prematurely disturbed, caught sight of Goisvintha when her approach
suddenly shadowed the entrance to the temple. Her presence, momentary
though it was, was for him the presence of a figure that had not
appeared before; that had stood in a strange position between the shade
within and the faint light without; it was a new object, presented to
his eyes while they were straining to recover such imperfect faculties
of observation as had been their wont, and it ascendancy over him was
instantaneous and all-powerful.

He started, bewildered like a deep sleeper suddenly awoke; violent
shudderings ran for a moment over his frame; then it strengthened again
with its former unnatural strength; the demon raged within him in
renewed fury as he tore his robe which Numerian held as he lay at his
feet from the feeble grasp that confined it, and, striding up to the
pile of idols, stretched out his hands in solemn deprecation. 'The high
priest has slept before the altar of the gods!' he cried loudly, 'but
they have been patient with their well-beloved; their thunder has not
struck him for his crime! Now the servant returns to his service--the
rites of Serapis begin!'

Numerian still remained prostrate, spirit-broken; he slowly clasped his
hands together on the floor, and his voice was now to be heard, still
supplicating in low and stifled accents, as if in unceasing prayer lay
his last hope of preserving his own reason. 'God! Thou art the God of
Mercy; be merciful to him!' he murmured. 'Thou acceptest of repentance;
grant repentance to him! If at any time I have served Thee without
blame, let the service be counted to him; let the vials of Thy wrath be
poured out on me!'

'Hark! the trumpet blows for the sacrifice!' interrupted the raving
voice of the Pagan, as he turned from the altar, and extended his arms
in frenzied inspiration. 'The roar of music and the voice of exultation
soar upward from the highest mountain-tops! The incense smokes, and in
and out, and round and round, the dancers whirl about the pillars of the
temple! The ox for the sacrifice is without spot; his horns are gilt;
the crown and fillet adorn his head. The priest stands before him naked
from the waist upwards; he heaves the libation out of the cup; the blood
flows over the altar! Up! up! tear forth with reeking hands the heart
while it is yet warm, futurity is before you in the quivering entrails,
look on them and read! read!'

While he spoke, Goisvintha had entered the temple. The street was still
desolate; no help was at hand.

Not advancing at once, she concealed herself near the door behind a
projection in the pile of idols, watching from it until Ulpius, in the
progress of his frenzy, should turn away from Antonina, whom he stood
fronting at this instant. But she had not entered unperceived; Antonina
had seen her again. And now the bitterness of death, when the young die
unprotected in their youth, came over the girl, and she cried in a low
wailing voice, as she knelt by Numerian's side: 'I must die, father, I
must die, as Hermanric died! Look up at me, and speak to me before I
die!'

Her father was still praying; he heard nothing, for his heart was
bleeding in atonement at the shrine of his boyish home, and his soul
still communed with its Maker. The voice that followed hers was the
voice of Ulpius.

'Oh, beautiful are the gardens round the sacred altars, and lofty the
trees that embower the glittering shrines!' he exclaimed, rapt and
ecstatic in his new visions. 'Lo, the morning breaks, and the spirits
of light are welcomed by a sacrifice! The sun goes down behind the
mountain, and the beams of evening tremble on the victim beneath the
knife of the adoring priest! The moon and stars shine high in the
firmament, and the Genii of Nights are saluted in the still hours with
blood!'

As he paused, the lament of Antonina was continued in lower and lower
tones: 'I must die, father, I must die!' And with it murmured the
supplicating accents of Numerian: 'God of Mercy! deliver the helpless
and forgive the afflicted! Lord of Judgment! deal gently with Thy
servants who have sinned!' While, mingling with both in discordant
combination, the strange music of the temple still poured on its lulling
sound--the rippling of the running waters and the airy chiming of the
bells!

'Worship!--emperors, armies, nations, glorify and worship me!' shouted
the madman, in thunder-tones of triumph and command, as his eye for the
first time encountered the figure of Numerian prostrate at his feet.
'Worship the demi-god who moves with the deities through spheres unknown
to man! I have heard the moans of the unburied who wander on the shores
of the Lake of the Dead--worship! I have looked on the river whose
black current roars and howls in its course through the caves of
everlasting night--worship! I have seen the furies lashed by serpents
on their wrinkled necks, and followed them as they hurled their torches
over the pining ghosts! I have stood unmoved in the hurricane-tumult of
hell--worship! worship! worship!'

He turned round again towards the altar of idols, calling upon his gods
to proclaim his deification, and at the moment when he moved, Goisvintha
sprang forward. Antonina was kneeling with her face turned from the
door, as the assassin seized her by her long hair and drove the knife
into her neck. The moaning accents of the girl, bewailing her
approaching fate, closed in one faint groan; she stretched out her arms,
and fell forward over her father's body.

In the ferocious triumph of the moment, Goisvintha raised her arm to
repeat the stroke; but at that instant the madman looked round. 'The
sacrifice--the sacrifice!' he shouted, leaping at one spring like a wild
beast at her throat. She struck ineffectually at him with the knife, as
he fastened his long nails in her flesh and hurled her backwards to the
floor. Then he yelled and gibbered in frantic exultation, set his foot
on her breast, and spat on her as she lay beneath him.

The contact of the girl's body when she fell--the short but terrible
tumult of the attack that passed almost over him--the shrill, deafening
cries of the madman, awoke Numerian from his trance of despairing
remembrance, aroused him in his agony of supplicating prayer. He looked
up.

The scene that met his eyes was one of those scenes which crush every
faculty but the faculty of mechanical action--before which, thought
vanishes from men's minds, utterance is suspended on their lips,
expression is paralysed on their faces. The coldness of the tomb seemed
breathed over Numerian's aspect by the contemplation of the terrible
catastrophe: his eyes were glassy and vacant, his lips parted and
rigid; even the remembrance of the discovery of his brother seemed lost
to him as he stooped over his daughter and bound a fragment of her robe
round her neck. The mute, soulless, ghastly stillness of death looked
settled on his features, as, unconscious now of weakness or age, he rose
with her in his arms, stood motionless for one moment before the
doorway, and looked slowly round on Ulpius; then he moved forward with
heavy regular steps. The Pagan's foot was still on Goisvintha's breast
as the father passed him; his gaze was still fixed on her; but his cries
of triumph were calmed; he laughed and muttered incoherently to himself.

The moon was rising, soft, faint, and tranquil, over the quiet street as
Numerian descended the temple steps with his daughter in his arms, and,
after an instant's pause of bewilderment and doubt, instinctively
pursued his slow, funereal course along the deserted roadway in the
direction of home. Soon, as he advanced, he beheld in the moonlight,
down the long vista of the street at its termination, a little
assemblage of people walking towards him with calm and regular progress.
As they came nearer, he saw that one of them held an open book, that
another carried a crucifix, and that others followed these two with
clasped hands and drooping heads. And then, after an interval, the
fresh breezes that blew towards him bore onward these words, slowly and
reverently pronounced:--

'Know, therefore, that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity
deserveth.

'Canst thou, by searching, find out God? Canst thou find out the
Almighty to perfection?'

Then the breeze fell, the words grew indistinct, but the procession
still moved forward. As it came nearer and nearer, the voice of the
reader was again plainly heard:--

'If iniquity be in thy hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness
dwell in thy tabernacles.

'For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be
steadfast, and shalt not fear;

'Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that
pass away:

And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth,
thou shalt be as the morning.'

The reader stopped and closed the book; for now Numerian had met the
members of the little procession, and they looked on him standing
voiceless before them in the clear moonlight, with his daughter's head
drooping over his shoulder as he carried her in his arms.

There were some among those who gathered round him whose features he
would have recognised at another time as the features of the surviving
adherents of his former congregation. The assembly he had met was
composed of the few sincere Christians in Rome, who had collected, on
the promulgation of the news that Alaric had ratified terms of peace, to
make a pilgrimage through the city, in the hopeless endeavour, by
reading from the Bible and passing exhortation, to awaken the reckless
populace to a feeling of contrition for their sins, and of devout
gratitude for their approaching deliverance from the horrors of the
siege.

But now, when Numerian confronted them, neither by word nor look did he
express the slightest recognition of any who surrounded him. To all the
questions addressed to him, he replied by hurried gestures that none
could comprehend. To all the promises of help and protection heaped
upon him in the first outbreak of the grief and pity of his adherents of
other days, he answered but by the same dull, vacant glance. It was
only when they relieved him of his burden, and gently prepared to carry
the senseless girl among them back to her father's house, that he spoke;
and then, in faint entreating tones, he besought them to let him hold
her hand as they went, so that he might be the first to feel her pulse
beat--if it yet moved.

They turned back by the way they had come--a sorrowful and slow-moving
procession! As they passed on, the reader again opened the Sacred Book;
and then these words rose through the soothing and heavenly tranquillity
of the first hours of night:--

'Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not
thou the chastening of the Almighty:

'For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make
whole.'

CHAPTER 26. RETRIBUTION.

As, in the progress of Life, each man pursues his course with the
passions, good and evil, set, as it were, on either side of him; and
viewing their results in the actions of his fellow-men, finds his
attention, while still attracted by the spectacle of what is noble and
virtuous, suddenly challenged by the opposite display of what is mean
and criminal--so, in the progress of this narrative, which aims to be
the reflection of Life, the reader who has journeyed with us thus far,
and who may now be inclined to follow the little procession of Christian
devotees, to walk by the side of the afflicted father, and to hold with
him the hand of his ill-fated child, is yet, in obedience to the
conditions of the story, required to turn back for awhile to the
contemplation of its darker passages of guilt and terror--he must enter
the temple again; but he will enter it for the last time.

The scene before the altar of idols was fast proceeding to its fatal
climax.

The Pagan's frenzy had exhausted itself in its own fury--his insanity
was assuming a quieter and a more dangerous form; his eye grew cunning
and suspicious; a stealthy deliberation and watchfulness appeared in all
his actions. He now slowly lifted his foot from Goisvintha's breast,
and raised his hands at the same time to strike her back if she should
attempt to escape. Seeing that she lay senseless from her fall, he left
her; retired to one of the corners of the temple, took from it a rope
that lay there, and returning, bound her arms behind her at the hands
and wrists. The rope cut deep through the skin--the pain restored her
to her senses; she suffered the sharp agony in her own body, in the same
place where she had inflicted it on the young chieftain at the farm-
house beyond the suburbs.

The minute after, she felt herself dragged along the ground, farther
into the interior of the building. The madman drew her up to the iron
gates of the passage through the partition, and fastening the end of the
rope to them, left her there. This part of the temple was enveloped in
total darkness--her assailant addressed not a word to her--she could not
obtain even a glimpse of his form, but she could hear him still laughing
to himself in hoarse, monotonous tones, that sounded now near, and now
distant again.

She abandoned herself as lost--prematurely devoted to the torment and
death that she had anticipated; but, as yet, her masculine resolution
and energy did not decline. The very intensity of the anguish she
suffered from the bindings at her wrists, producing a fierce bodily
effort to resist it, strengthened her iron-strung nerves. She neither
cried for help nor appealed to the Pagan for pity. The gloomy fatalism
which she had inherited from her savage ancestors sustained her in a
suicide-pride.

Ere long the laughter of Ulpius, while he moved slowly hither and
thither in the darkness of the temple, was overpowered by the sound of
her voice--deep, groaning, but yet steady--as she uttered her last
words--words poured forth like the wild dirges, the fierce death-songs
of the old Goths when they died deserted on the bloody battle-field, or
were cast bound into deep dungeons, a prey to the viper and the asp.
Thus she spoke:-- 'I swore to be avenged! while I went forth from
Aquileia with the child that was killed and the child that was wounded;
while I climbed the high wall in the night-time, and heard the tumult of
the beating waves near the bank where I buried the dead; while I
wandered in the darkness over the naked heath and through the lonely
forest; while I climbed the pathless sides of the mountains, and made my
refuge in the cavern by the waters of the dark lake.

'I swore to be avenged! while the warriors approached me on their march,
and the roaring of the trumpets and the clash of the armour sounded in
my ears; while I greeted my kinsman, Hermanric, a mighty chieftain, at
the king's side, among the invading hosts; while I looked on my last
child, dead like the rest, and knew that he was buried afar from the
land of his people, and from the others that the Romans had slain before
him.

'I swore to be avenged! while the army encamped before Rome, and I stood
with Hermanric, looking on the great walls in the misty evening; while
the daughter of the Roman was a prisoner in our tent, and I eyed her as
she lay on my knees; while for her sake my kinsman turned traitor, and
withheld my hand from the blow; while I passed unseen into the lonely
farm-house to deal judgment on him with my knife; while I saw him die
the death of a deserter at my feet, and knew that it was a Roman who had
lured him from his people, and blinded him to the righteousness of
revenge.

'I swore to be avenged! while I walked round the grave of the chieftain
who was the last of my race; while I stood alone out of the army of my
people in the city of the slayers of my babes; while I tracked the
footsteps of the Roman who had twice escaped me, as she fled through the
street; while I watched and was patient among the pillars of the temple,
and waited till the sun went down, and the victim was unshielded for the
moment to strike.

'I swore to be avenged! and my oath has been fulfilled--the knife that
still bleeds drops with her blood; the chief vengeance has been wreaked!
The rest that were to be slain remain for others, and not for me! For
now I go to my husband and my children; now the hour is near at hand
when I shall herd with their spirits in the Twilight World of Shadows,
and make my long-abiding place with them in the Valley of Eternal
Repose! The Destinies have willed it--it is enough!'

Her voice trembled and grew faint as she pronounced the last words. The
anguish of the fastenings at her wrists was at last overpowering her
senses--conquering, in spite of all resistance, her stubborn endurance.
For a little while yet she spoke at intervals, but her speech was
fragmentary and incoherent. At one moment she still gloried in her
revenge, at another she exulted in the fancied contemplation of the
girl's body still lying before her, and her hands writhed beneath their
bonds in the effort to repossess themselves of the knife and strike
again. But soon all sounds ceased to proceed from her lips, save the
loud, thick, irregular breathings, which showed that she was yet
conscious and yet lived.

Meanwhile the madman had passed into the inner recess of the temple, and
had drawn the shutter over the opening in the wall, through which light
had been admitted into the place when Numerian and Antonina first
entered it. Even the black chasm formed by the mouth of the vault of
the dragon now disappeared, with all other objects, in the thick
darkness. But no obscurity could confuse the senses of Ulpius in the
temple, whose every corner he visited in his restless wanderings by
night and by day alike. Led as if by a mysterious penetration of sight,
he traced his way unerringly to the entrance of the vault, knelt down
before it, and placing his hands on the first of the steps by which it
was descended, listened, breathless and attentive, to the sounds that
rose from the abyss--listened, rapt and unmoving, a formidable and
unearthly figure--like a magician waiting for a voice from the oracles
of Hell--like a spirit of Night looking down into the mid-caverns of the
earth, and watching the mysteries of subterranean creation, the giant
pulses of Action and Heat, which are the life-springs of the rolling
world.

The fitful wind whistled up, wild and plaintive; the river chafed and
bubbled through the iron grating below; the loose scales of the dragon
clashed as the night breezes reached them: and these sounds were still
to him as the language of his gods, which filled him with a fearful
rapture, and inspired him, in the terrible degradation of his being, as
with a new soul. He listened and listened yet. Fragments of wild
fancies--the vain yearnings of the disinherited mind to recover its
divine birthright of boundless thought--now thrilled through him, and
held him still and speechless where he knelt.

But at length, through the gloomy silence of the recess, he heard the
voice of Goisvintha raised once more, and in hoarse, wild tones calling
aloud for light and help. The agony of pain and suspense, the awful
sense of darkness and stillness, of solitary bondage and slow torment,
had at last effected that which no open peril, no common menace of
violent death could have produced. She yielded to fear and despair--
sank prostrate under a paralysing, superstitious dread. The misery that
she had inflicted on others recoiled in retribution on herself, as she
now shuddered under the consciousness of the first emotions of helpless
terror that she had ever felt.

Ulpius instantly rose from the vault, and advanced straight through the
darkness to the gates of the partition; but he passed his prisoner
without stopping for an instant, and hastening into the outer apartment
of the temple, began to grope over the floor for the knife which the
woman had dropped when he bound her. He was laughing to himself once
more, for the evil spirit was prompting him to a new project, tempting
him to a pitiless refinement of cruelty and deceit.

He found the knife, and returning with it to Goisvintha, cut the rope
that confined her wrists. Then she became silent when the first
sharpness of her suffering was assuaged; he whispered softly in her ear,
'Follow me, and escape!'

Bewildered and daunted by the darkness and mystery around her, she
vainly strained her eyes to look through the obscurity as Ulpius drew
her on into the recess. He placed her at the mouth of the vault, and
here she strove to speak; but low, inarticulate sounds alone proceeded
from her powerless utterance. Still there was no light; still the
burning, gnawing agony at her wrists (relieved but for an instant when
the rope was cut) continued and increased; and still she felt the
presence of the unseen being at her side, whom no darkness could blind,
and who bound and loosed at his arbitrary will.

By nature fierce, resolute, and vindictive under injury, she was a
terrible evidence of the debasing power of crime, as she now stood,
enfeebled by the weight of her own avenging guilt, upraised to crush her
in the hour of her pride; by the agency of Darkness, whose perils the
innocent and the weak have been known to brave; by Suspense, whose agony
they have resisted; by Pain, whose infliction they have endured in
patience.

'Go down, far down the steep steps, and escape!' whispered the madman,
in soft, beguiling tones. 'The darkness above leads to the light below!
Go down, far down!'

He quitted his hold of her as he spoke. She hesitated, shuddered, and
drew back; but again she was urged forward, and again she heard the
whisper, 'The darkness above leads to the light below! Go down, far
down!'

Despair gave the firmness to proceed, and dread the hope to escape. Her
wounded arms trembled as she now stretched them out and felt for the
walls of the vault on either side of her. The horror of death in utter
darkness, from unseen hands, and the last longing aspiration to behold
the light of heaven once more, were at their strongest within her as she
began slowly and cautiously to tread the fatal stairs.

While she descended, the Pagan dropped into his former attitude at the
month of the vault, and listened breathlessly. Minutes seemed to elapse
between each step as she went lower and lower down. Suddenly he heard
her pause, as if panic-stricken in the darkness, and her voice ascended
to him, groaning, 'Light! light! oh, where is the light!' He rose up,
and stretched out his hands to hurl her back if she should attempt to
return; but she descended again. Twice he heard her heavy footfall on
the steps--then there was an interval of deep silence--then a sharp,
grinding clash of metal echoed piercingly through the vault, followed by
the noise of a dull, heavy fall, faintly audible far beneath--and then
the old familiar sounds of the place were heard again, and were not
interrupted more. The sacrifice to the Dragon was achieved!

*****

The madman stood on the steps of the sacred building, and looked out on
the street shining before him in the bright Italian moonlight. No
remembrance of Numerian and Antonina, and of the earlier events in the
temple, remained within him. He was pondering imperfectly, in vague
pride and triumph, over the sacrifice that he had offered up at the
shrine of the Dragon of brass. Thus secretly exulting, he now remained
inactive. Absorbed in his wandering meditations, he delayed to trace
the subterranean passages leading to the iron grating where the corpse
of Goisvintha lay washed by the waters, as they struggled onward through
the bars, and waiting but his hand to be cast into the river, where all
past sacrifices had been engulphed before it.

His tall solitary figure was lit by the moonlight streaming through the
pillars of the portico; his loose robes waved slowly about him in the
wind, as he stood firm and erect before the door of the temple: he
looked more like the spectral genius of departed Paganism than a living
man. But, lifeless though he seemed, his quick eye was still on the
watch, still directed by the restless suspicion of insanity. Minute
after minute quietly elapsed, and as yet nothing was presented to his
rapid observation but the desolate roadway, and the high, gloomy houses
that bounded it on either side. It was soon, however, destined to be
attracted by objects which startled the repose of the tranquil street
with the tumult of action and life.

He was still gazing earnestly on the narrow view before him, vaguely
imagining to himself, the while, Goisvintha's fatal descent into the
vault, and thinking triumphantly of her dead body that now lay on the
grating beneath it, when a red glare of torchlight, thrown wildly on the
moon-brightened pavement, whose purity it seemed to stain, caught his
eye.

The light appeared at the end of the street leading from the more
central portion of the city, and ere long displayed clearly a body of
forty or fifty people advancing towards the temple. The Pagan looked
eagerly on them as they came nearer and nearer. The assembly was
composed of priests, soldiers, and citizens--the priests bearing
torches, the soldiers carrying hammers, crowbars, and other similar
tools, or bending under the weight of large chests secured with iron
fastenings, close to which the populace walked, as if guarding them with
jealous care. This strange procession was preceded by two men, who were
considerably in advance of it--a priest and soldier. An expression of
impatience and exultation appeared on their pale, famine-wasted
countenances, as they approached the temple with rapid steps.

Ulpius never moved from his position, but fixed his piercing eyes on
them as they advanced. Not vainly did he now stand, watchful and
menacing, before the entrance of his gloomy shrine. He had seen the
first degradations heaped on fallen Paganism, and he was now to see the
last. He had immolated all his affections and all his hopes, all his
faculties of body and mind, his happiness in boyhood, his enthusiasm in
youth, his courage in manhood, his reason in old age, at the altar of
his gods; and now they were to exact from him, in their defence, lonely
criminal, maddened, as he already was in their cause, more than all
this! The decree had gone forth from the Senate which devoted to
legalised pillage the treasures in the temples of Rome.

Rulers of a people impoverished by former exactions, and comptrollers
only of an exhausted treasury, the government of the city had searched
vainly among all ordinary resources for the means of paying the heavy
ransom exacted by Alaric as the price of peace. The one chance of
meeting the emergency that remained was to strip the Pagan temples of
the mass of jewelled ornaments and utensils, the costly robes, the idols
of gold and silver which they were known to contain, and which, under
that mysterious hereditary influence of superstition, whose power it is
the longest labour of truth to destroy, had remained untouched and
respected, alike by the people and the senate, after the worship that
they represented had been interdicted by the laws, and abandoned by the
nation.

This last expedient for freeing Rome from the blockade was adopted
almost as soon as imagined. The impatience of the starved populace for
the immediate collection of the ransom allowed the government little
time for the tedious preliminaries of deliberation. The soldiers were
provided at once with the necessary implements for the task imposed on
them; certain chosen members of the senate and the people followed them,
to see that they honestly gathered in the public spoil; and the priests
of the Christian churches volunteered to hallow the expedition by their
presence, and led the way with their torches into every secret apartment
of the temples where treasure might be contained. At the close of the
day, immediately after it had been authorised, this strange search for
the ransom was hurriedly commenced. Already much had been collected;
votive offerings of price had been snatched from the altars, where they
had so long hung undisturbed; hidden treasure-chests of sacred utensils
had been discovered and broken open; idols had been stripped of their
precious ornaments and torn from their massive pedestals; and now the
procession of gold-seekers, proceeding along the banks of the Tiber, had
come in sight of the little temple of Serapis, and were hastening
forward to empty it, in its turn, of every valuable that it contained.

The priest and the soldier, calling to their companions behind to hurry
on, had now arrived opposite the temple steps, and saw confronting them
in the pale moonlight, from the eminence on which he stood, the weird
and solitary figure of Ulpius--the apparition of a Pagan in the gorgeous
robes of his priesthood, bidden back from the tombs to stay the hand of
the spoiler before the shrine of his gods.

The soldier dropped his weapon to the ground, and, trembling in every
limb, refused to proceed. But the priest, a tall, stern, emaciated man,
went on defenceless and undaunted. He signed himself solemnly with the
cross as he slowly ascended the steps; fixed his unflinching eyes on the
madman, who glared back on him in return; and called aloud in a harsh,
steady voice: 'Man or demon! in the name of Christ, whom thou deniest,
stand back!'

For an instant, as the priest approached him, the Pagan averted his eyes
and looked on the concourse of people and the armed soldiers rapidly
advancing. His fingers closed round the hilt of Goisvintha's knife,
which he had hitherto held loosely in his hand, as he exclaimed in low,
concentrated tones, 'Aha! the siege--the siege of Serapis!' The priest,
now standing on the same step with him, stretched out his arm to thrust
him back, and at that moment received the stroke of the knife. He
staggered, lifted his hand again to sign his forehead with the cross,
and, as he raised it, rolled back dead on the pavement of the street.

The soldier, standing motionless with superstitious terror a few feet
from the corpse, called to his companions for help. Hurling his bloody
weapon at them in defiance, as they ran in confusion to the base of the
temple steps, Ulpius entered the building, and locked and chained the
gates.

Then the assembled people thronging round the corpse of the priest,
heard the madman shouting in his frenzy, as if to a great body of
adherents round him, to pour down the molten lead and the scorching
sand; to hurl back every scaling ladder planted against the walls; to
massacre each prisoner who was seized mounting the ramparts to the
assault; and as they looked up to the building from the street, they saw
at intervals, through the bars of the closed gates, the figure of Ulpius
passing swift and shadowy, his arms extended, his long grey hair and
white robes streaming behind him, as he rushed round and round the
temple reiterating his wild Pagan war-cries as he went. The enfeebled,
superstitious populace trembled while they gazed--a spectre driven on a
whirlwind would not have been more terrible to their eyes.

But the priest among the crowd, roused to fury by the murder of one of
their own body, revived the courage of those around them. Even the
shouts of Ulpius were now overpowered by the sound of their voices,
raised to the highest pitch, promising heavenly and earthly rewards--
salvation, money, absolution, promotion--to all who would follow them up
the steps and burst their way into the temple. Animated by the words of
the priests, and growing gradually confident in their own numbers, the
boldest in the throng seized a piece of timber lying by the river side,
and using it as a battering-ram, assailed the gate. But they were
weakened with famine; they could gain little impetus, from the necessity
of ascending the temple steps to the attack; the iron quivered as they
struck it, but hinge and lock remained firm alike. They were preparing
to renew the attempt, when a tremendous shock--a crash as if the whole
heavy roof of the building had fallen in--drove them back in terror to
the street.

Recalled by the sight of the armed men, the priests and the attendant
crowd of people who were advancing to invade his sanctuary, to the days
when he had defended the great Temple of Serapis at Alexandria, against
enemies similar in appearance, though far superior in numbers; persuaded
in the revival of these, the most sanguinary visions of his insanity,
that he was still resisting the Christian fanatics, supported by his
adherents in his sacred fortress of former years, the Pagan displayed
none of his accustomed cunning and care in moving through the darkness
around him. He hurried hither and thither, encouraging his imaginary
followers, and glorying in his dreams of slaughter and success,
forgetful in his frenzy of all that the temple contained.

As he pursued his wild course round and round the altar of idols, his
robe became entangled, and was torn by the projecting substances at one
corner of it. The whole overhanging mass tottered at the moment, but
did not yet fall. A few of the smaller idols, however, at the outside
dropped to the ground, and with them an image of Serapis, which they
happened partially to support--a heavy monstrous figure, carved life-
size in wood, and studded with gold, silver, and precious stones--fell
at the Pagan's feet. But this was all--the outer materials of the
perilous structure had been detached only at one point; the pile itself
still remained in its place.

The madman seized the image of Serapis in his arms, and passed blindly
onward with it through the passage in the partition into the recess
beyond. At that instant the shock of the first attack on the gates
resounded through the building. Shouting, as he heard it, 'A sally! a
sally! men of the Temple, the gods and the high priest lead you on!' and
still holding the idol before him, he rushed straight forward to the
entrance, and struck in violent collision against the backward part of
the pile.

The ill-balanced, top-heavy mass of images and furniture of many temples
swayed, parted, and fell over against the gates and the wall on either
side of them. Maimed and bleeding, struck down by the lower part of the
pile, as it was forced back against the partition when the upper part
fell, the fury of Ulpius was but increased by the crashing ruin around
him. He struggled up again into an erect position; mounted on the top
of the fallen mass--now spread out at the sides over the floor of the
building, but confined at one end by the partition, and at the other by
the opposite wall and the gates--and still clasping the image of Serapis
in his arms, called louder and louder to 'the men of the Temple' to
mount with him the highest ramparts and pour down on the besiegers the
molten lead!

The priests were again the first men to approach the gates of the
building after the shock that had been heard within it. The struggle
for the possession of the temple had assumed to them the character of a
holy warfare against heathenism and magic--a sacred conflict to be
sustained by the Church, for the sake of her servant who had fallen a
martyr at the outset of the strife. Strong in their fanatical boldness,
they advanced with one accord close to the gates. Some of the smaller
images of the fallen pile had been forced through the bars, behind which
appeared the great idols, the broken masses of furniture, the long robes
and costly hangings, all locked together in every wild variety of
position--a chaos of distorted objects heaped up by an earthquake!
Above and further inward, the lower part of the Pagan's robe was faintly
discernible through the upper interstices in the gate, as he stood,
commanding, on the summit of his prostrate altar, with his idol in his
arms.

The priests felt an instant conviction of certain triumph when they
discerned the cause of the shock that had been heard within the temple.
One of their number snatched up a small image that had fallen through to
the pavement where he stood, and holding it before the people below,
exclaimed exultingly--

'Children of the Church! the mystery is revealed! Idols more precious
than this lie by hundreds on the floor of the temple! It is no demon,
but a man, one man, who still defies us within!--a robber who would
defraud the Romans of the ransom of their lives!--the pillage of many
temples is around him. Remember now, that the nearer we came to this
place the fewer were the spoils of idolatry that we gathered in; the
treasure which is yours, the treasure which is to free you from the
famine, has been seized by the assassin of our holy brother; it is there
scattered at his feet! To the gates! To the gates again! Absolution
for all their sins to the men who burst in the gates!'

Again the mass of timber was taken up; again the gates were assailed;
and again they stood firm--they were now strengthened, barricaded by the
fallen pile. It seemed hopeless to attempt to break them down without a
reinforcement of men, without employing against them the heaviest
missiles, the strongest engines of war.

The people gave vent to a cry of fury as they heard from the temple the
hollow laughter of the madman triumphing in their defeat. The words of
the priest, in allaying their superstitious fears, had aroused the
deadly passions that superstition brings forth. A few among the throng
hurried to the nearest guard-house for assistance, but the greater part
pressed closely round the temple--some pouring forth impotent
execrations against the robber of the public spoil, some joining the
priests in calling on him to yield. But the clamour lasted not long; it
was suddenly and strangely stilled by the voice of one man in the crowd,
calling loudly to the rest to fire the temple!

The words were hardly spoken ere they were repeated triumphantly on all
sides. 'Fire the temple!' cried the people ferociously. 'Burn it over
the robber's head! A furnace--a furnace! to melt down the gold and
silver ready to our hands! Fire the temple! Fire the temple!'

Those who were most active among the crowd (which was now greatly
increased by stragglers from all parts of the city) entered the houses
behind them, and returned in a few minutes with every inflammable
substance that they could collect in their hands. A heap of fuel, two
or three feet in height, was raised against the gates immediately, and
soldiers and people pressed forward with torches to light it. But the
priest who had before spoken waved them back. 'Wait!' he cried; 'the
fate of his body is with the people, but the fate of his soul is with
the Church!'

Then, turning to the temple, he called solemnly and sternly to the
madman, 'Thy hour is come! repent, confess, and save thy soul!'

'Slay on! slay on!' answered the raving voice from within. 'Slay, till
not a Christian is left! Victory! Serapis! See, they drop from our
walls!--they writhe bleeding on the earth beneath us! There is no
worship but the worship of the gods! Slay! Slay on!'

'Light!' cried the priest. 'His damnation be on his own head!
Anathema! Maranatha! Let him die accursed!'

The dry fuel was fired at once at all points--it was an anticipation of
an 'Auto da Fe', a burning of a heretic, in the fifth century! As the
flames rose, the people fell back and watched their rapid progress. The
priests, standing before them in a line, stretched out their hands in
denunciation against the temple, and repeated together the awful
excommunication service of the Roman Church.

*****

The fire at the gates had communicated with the idols inside. It was no
longer on his prostrate altar, but on his funeral pile that Ulpius now
stood; and the image that he clasped was the stake to which he was
bound. A red glare, dull at first, was now brightening and brightening
below him; flames, quick and noiseless, rose and fell, and rose again,
at different points, illuminating the interior of the temple with fitful
and changing light. The grim, swarthy forms of the idols seemed to sway
and writhe like living things in torment, as fire and smoke alternately
displayed and concealed them. A deadly stillness now overspread the
face and form of the Pagan, as he looked down steadfastly on the deities
of his worship engendering his destruction beneath him. His cheek--the
cheek which had rested in boyhood on his mother's bosom--was pressed
against the gilded breast of the god Serapis, his taskmaster in life--
his pillow in death!

'I rise! I rise to the world of light, with my deities whom I have
served!' he murmured; 'the brightness of their presence is like a
flaming fire; the smoke of their breath pours forth around me like the
smoke of incense! I minister in the Temples of the Clouds; and the
glory of eternal sunlight shines round me while I adore! I rise! I
rise!'

The smoke whirled in black volumes over his head; the fierce voice of
the fast-spreading fire roared on him; the flames leapt up at his feet--
his robes kindled, burst into radiant light, as the pile yawned and
opened under him.

*****

Time had passed. The strife between the Temple and the Church was
ended. The priests and the people had formed a wider circle round the
devoted building; all that was inflammable in it had been burnt; smoke
and flame now burst only at intervals through the gates, and gradually
both ceased to appear. Then the crowd approached nearer to the temple,
and felt the heat of the furnace they had kindled, as they looked in.

The iron gates were red hot--from the great mass behind (still glowing
bright in some places, and heaving and quivering with its own heat) a
thin, transparent vapour rose slowly to the stone roof of the building,
now blackened with smoke. The priests looked eagerly for the corpse of
the Pagan; they saw two dark, charred objects closely united together,
lying in a chasm of ashes near the gate, at a spot where the fire had
already exhausted itself, but it was impossible to discern which was the
man and which was the idol.

The necessity of providing means for entering the temple had not been
forgotten while the flames were raging. Proper implements for forcing
open the gates were now at hand, and already the mob began to dip their
buckets in the Tiber, and pour water wherever any traces of the fire
remained. Soon all obstacles were removed; the soldiers crowded into the
building with spades in their hands, trampled on the black, watery mire
of cinders which covered what had once been the altar of idols, and
throwing out into the street the refuse ashes and the stone images which
had remained unconsumed, dug in what was left, as in a new mine, for the
gold and silver which the fire could not destroy.

The Pagan had lived with his idols, had perished with his idols!--and
now where they were cast away, there he was cast away with them. The
soldiers, as they dug into fragments the black ruins of his altar,
mingled him in fragments with it! The people, as they cast the refuse
thrown out to them into the river, cast what remained of him with what
remained of his gods! And when the temple was deserted, when the
citizens had borne off all the treasure they could collect, when nothing
but a few heaps of dust was left of all that had been burnt, the night-
wind blew away before it the ashes of Ulpius with the ashes of the
deities that Ulpius had served!

CHAPTER 27. THE VIGIL OF HOPE.

A new prospect now opens before us. The rough paths through which we
have hitherto threaded our way grow smoother as we approach their close.
Rome, so long dark and gloomy to our view, brightens at length like a
landscape when the rain is past and the first rays of returning sunlight
stream through the parting clouds. Some days have elapsed, and in those
days the temples have yielded all their wealth; the conquered Romans
have bribed the triumphant barbarians to mercy; the ransom of the fallen
city has been paid.

The Gothic army is still encamped round the walls, but the gates are

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