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Antonina by Wilkie Collins

Part 9 out of 9

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opened, markets for food are established in the suburbs, boats appear on
the river and waggons on the highroads, laden with provisions, and
proceeding towards Rome. All the hidden treasure kept back by the
citizens is now bartered for food; the merchants who hold the market
reap a rich harvest of spoil, but the hungry are filled, the weak are
revived, every one is content.

It is the end of the second day since the free sale of provisions and
the liberty of egress from the city have been permitted by the Goths.
The gates are closed for the night, and the people are quietly
returning, laden with their supplies of food, to their homes. Their
eyes no longer encounter the terrible traces of the march of pestilence
and famine through every street; the corpses have been removed, and the
sick are watched and sheltered. Rome is cleansed from her pollutions,
and the virtues of household life begin to revive wherever they once
existed. Death has thinned every family, but the survivors again
assemble together in the social hall. Even the veriest criminals, the
lowest outcasts of the population, are united harmlessly for a while in
the general participation of the first benefits of peace.

To follow the citizens to their homes; to trace in their thoughts,
words, and action the effect on them of their deliverance from the
horrors of the blockade; to contemplate in the people of a whole city,
now recovering as it were from a deep swoon, the varying forms of the
first reviving symptoms in all classes, in good and bad, rich and poor--
would afford matter enough in itself for a romance of searching human
interest, for a drama of the passions, moving absorbingly through
strange, intricate, and contrasted scenes. But another employment than
this now claims our care. It is to an individual, and not to a divided
source of interest, that our attention turns; we relinquish all
observations on the general mass of the populace to revert to Numerian
and Antonina alone--to penetrate once more into the little dwelling on
the Pincian Hill.

The apartment where the father and daughter had suffered the pangs of
famine together during the period of the blockade, presented an
appearance far different from that which it had displayed on the
occasion when they had last occupied it. The formerly bare walls were
now covered with rich, thick hangings; and the simple couch and scanty
table of other days had been exchanged for whatever was most luxurious
and complete in the household furniture of the age. At one end of the
room three women, attended by a little girl, were engaged in preparing
some dishes of fruit and vegetables; at the other, two men were occupied
in low, earnest conversation, occasionally looking round anxiously to a
couch placed against the third side of the apartment, on which Antonina
lay extended, while Numerian watched by her in silence. The point of
Goisvintha's knife had struck deep, but, as yet, the fatal purpose of
the assassination had failed.

The girl's eyes were closed; her lips were parted in the languor of
suffering; one of her hands lay listless on her father's knee. A slight
expression of pain, melancholy in its very slightness, appeared on her
pale face, and occasionally a long-drawn, quivering breath escaped her--
nature's last touching utterance of its own feebleness! The old man, as
he sat by her side, fixed on her a wistful, inquiring glance. Sometimes
he raised his hand, and gently and mechanically moved to and fro the
long locks of her hair, as they spread over the head of the couch; but
he never turned to communicate with the other persons in the room--he
sat as if he saw nothing save his daughter's figure stretched before
him, and heard nothing save the faint, fluttering sound of her
breathing, close at his ear.

It was now dark, and one lamp hanging from the ceiling threw a soft
equal light over the room. The different persons occupying it presented
but little evidence of health and strength in their countenances, to
contrast them in appearance with the wounded girl; all had undergone the
wasting visitation of the famine, and all were pale and languid, like
her. A strange, indescribable harmony prevailed over the scene. Even
the calmness of absorbing expectation and trembling hope, expressed in
the demeanour of Numerian, seemed reflected in the actions of those
around him, in the quietness with which the women pursued their
employment, in the lower and lower whispers in which the men continued
their conversation. There was something pervading the air of the whole
apartment that conveyed a sense of the solemn, unworldly stillness which
we attach to the abstract idea of religion.

Of the two men cautiously talking together, one was the patrician,
Vetranio; the other, a celebrated physician of Rome.

Both the countenance and manner of the senator gave melancholy proof
that the orgie at his palace had altered him for the rest of his life.
He looked what he was, a man changed for ever in constitution and
character. A fixed expression of anxiety and gloom appeared in his
eyes; his emaciated face was occasionally distorted by a nervous,
involuntary contraction of the muscles; it was evident that the
paralysing effect of the debauch which had destroyed his companions
would remain with him to the end of his existence. No remnant of his
careless self-possession, his easy, patrician affability, appeared in
his manner, as he now listened to his companion's conversation; years
seemed to have been added to his life since he had headed the table at
'The Banquet of Famine'.

'Yes,' said the physician, a cold, calm man, who spoke much, but
pronounced all his words with emphatic deliberation,--'Yes, as I have
already told you, the wound in itself was not mortal. If the blade of
the knife had entered near the centre of the neck, she must have died
when she was struck. But it passed outwards and backwards; the large
vessels escaped, and no vital part has been touched.'

'And yet you persist in declaring that you doubt her recovery!'
exclaimed Vetranio, in low, mournful tones.

'I do,' pursued the physician. 'She must have been exhausted in mind
and body when she received the blow--I have watched her carefully; I
know it! There is nothing of the natural health and strength of youth
to oppose the effects of the wound. I have seen the old die from
injuries that the young recover, because life in them was losing its
powers of resistance; she is in the position of the old!'

'They have died before me, and she will die before me! I shall lose
all--all!' sighed Vetranio bitterly to himself.

'The resources of our art are exhausted,' continued the other; 'nothing
remains but to watch carefully and wait patiently. The chances of life
or death will be decided in a few hours; they are equally balanced now.'

'I shall lose all!--all!' repeated the senator mournfully, as if he
heeded not the last words.

'If she dies,' said the physician, speaking in warmer tones, for he was
struck with pity, in spite of himself, at the spectacle of Vetranio's
utter dejection, 'if she dies, you can at least remember that all that
could be done to secure her life has been done by you. Her father,
helpless in his lethargy and his age, was fitted only to sit and watch
her, as he has sat and watched her day after day; but you have spared
nothing, forgotten nothing. Whatever I have asked for, that you have
provided; the hangings round the room, and the couch that she lies on,
are yours; the first fresh supplies of nourishment from the newly-opened
markets were brought here from you; I told you that she was thinking
incessantly of what she had suffered, that it was necessary to preserve
her against her own recollections, that the presence of women about her
might do good, that a child appearing sometimes in the room might soothe
her fancy, might make her look at what was passing, instead of thinking
of what had passed--you found them, and sent them! I have seen parents
less anxious for their children, lovers for their mistresses, than you
for this girl.'

'My destiny is with her,' interrupted Vetranio, looking round
superstitiously to the frail form on the couch. 'I know nothing of the
mysteries that the Christians call their "Faith", but I believe now in
the soul; I believe that one soul contains the fate of another, and that
her soul contains the fate of mine!'

The physician shook his head derisively. His calling had determined his
philosophy--he was as ardent a materialist as Epicurus himself.

'Listen,' said Vetranio; 'since I first saw her, a change came over my
whole being; it was as if her life was mingled with mine! I had no
influence over her, save an influence for ill: I loved her, and she was
driven defenceless from her home! I sent my slaves to search Rome night
and day; I exerted all my power, I lavished my wealth to discover her;
and, for the first time in this one effort, I failed in what I had
undertaken. I felt that through me she was lost--dead! Days passed on;
life weighed weary on me; the famine came. You know in what way I
determined that my career should close; the rumour of the Banquet of
Famine reached you as it reached others!'

'It did,' replied the physician. 'And I see before me in your face,' he
added, after a momentary pause, 'the havoc which that ill-omened banquet
has worked. My friend, be advised!--abandon for ever the turmoil of
your Roman palace, and breathe in tranquillity the air of a country
home. The strength you once had is gone never to return--if you would
yet live, husband what is still left.'

'Hear me,' pursued Vetranio, in low, gloomy tones. 'I stood alone in my
doomed palace; the friends whom I had tempted to their destruction lay
lifeless around me; the torch was in my hand that was to light our
funeral pile, to set us free from the loathsome world! I approached
triumphantly to kindle the annihilating flames, when she stood before
me--she, whom I had sought as lost and mourned as dead! A strong hand
seemed to wrench the torch from me; it dropped to the ground! She
departed again; but I was powerless to take it up; her look was still
before me; her face, her figure, she herself, appeared ever watching
between the torch and me!'

'Lower!--speak lower!' interrupted the physician, looking on the
senator's agitated features with unconcealed astonishment and pity.
'You retard your own recovery,--you disturb the girl's repose by
discourse such as this.'

'The officers of the senate,' continued Vetranio, sadly resuming his
gentler tones, 'when they entered the palace, found me still standing on
the place where we had met! Days passed on again; I stood looking out
upon the street, and thought of my companions whom I had lured to their
death, and of my oath to partake their fate, which I had never
fulfilled. I would have driven my dagger to my heart; but her face was
yet before me, my hands were bound! In that hour I saw her for the
second time; saw her carried past me--wounded, assassinated! She had
saved me once; she had saved me twice! I knew that now the chance was
offered me, after having wrought her ill, to work her good; after
failing to discover her when she was lost, to succeed in saving her when
she was dying; after having survived the deaths of my friends at my own
table, to survive to see life restored under my influence, as well as
destroyed! These were my thoughts; these are my thoughts still--
thoughts felt only since I saw her! Do you know now why I believe that
her soul contains the fate of mine? Do you see me, weakened, shattered,
old before my time; my friends lost, my fresh feelings of youth gone for
ever; and can you not now comprehend that her life is my life?--that if
she dies, the one good purpose of my existence is blighted?--that I lose
all I have henceforth to live for?--all, all!'

As he pronounced the concluding words, the girl's eyes half unclosed,
and turned languidly towards her father. She made an effort to lift her
hand caressingly from his knee to his neck; but her strength was unequal
even to this slight action. The hand was raised only a few inches ere
it sank back again to its old position; a tear rolled slowly over her
cheek as she closed her eyes again, but she never spoke.

'See,' said the physician, pointing to her, 'the current of life is at
its lowest ebb! If it flows again, it must flow to-night.'

Vetranio made no answer; he dropped down on the seat near him, and
covered his face with his robe.

The physician, beholding the senator's situation, and reflecting on the
strange hurriedly-uttered confession which had just been addressed to
him, began to doubt whether the scenes through which his patron had
lately passed had not affected his brain. Philosopher though he was,
the man of science had never observed the outward symptoms of the first
working of good and pure influences in elevating a degraded mind; he had
never watched the denoting signs of speech and action which mark the
progress of mental revolution while the old nature is changing for the
new; such objects of contemplation existed not for him. He gently
touched Vetranio on the shoulder. 'Rise,' said he, 'and let us depart.
Those are around her who can watch her best. Nothing remains for us but
to wait and hope. With the earliest morning we will return.'

He delivered a few farewell directions to one of the women in
attendance, and then, accompanied by the senator, who, without speaking
again, mechanically rose to follow him, quitted the room. After this,
the silence was only interrupted by the sound of an occasional whisper,
and of quick, light footsteps passing backwards and forwards. Then the
cooling, reviving draughts which had been prepared for the night were
poured ready into the cups; and the women approached Numerian, as if to
address him, but he waved his hand impatiently when he saw them; and
then they too, in their turn, departed, to wait in an adjoining
apartment until they should be summoned again.

Nothing changed in the manner of the father when he was left alone in
the chamber of sickness, which the lapse of a few hours might convert
into the chamber of death. He sat watching Antonina, and touching the
outspread locks of her hair from time to time, as had been his wont. It
was a fair, starry night; the fresh air of the soft winter climate of
the South blew gently over the earth, the great city was sinking fast
into tranquillity, calling voices were sometimes heard faintly from the
principal streets, and the distant noises of martial music sounded
cheerily from the Gothic camp as the sentinels were posted along the
line of watch; but soon these noises ceased, and the stillness of Rome
was as the stillness round the couch of the wounded girl.

Day after day, and night after night, since the assassination in the
temple, Numerian had kept the same place by his daughter's side. Each
hour as it passed found him still absorbed in his long vigil of hope;
his life seemed suspended in its onward course by the one influence that
now enthralled it. At the brief intervals when his bodily weariness
overpowered him on his melancholy watch, it was observed by those around
him that, even in his short dreaming clumbers, his face remained ever
turned in the same direction, towards the head of the couch, as if drawn
thither by some irresistible attraction, by some powerful ascendancy,
felt even amid the deepest repose of sensation, the heaviest fatigue of
the overlaboured mind, and worn, sinking heart. He held no
communication, save by signs, with the friends about him; he seemed
neither to hope, to doubt, nor to despair with them; all his faculties
were strung up to vibrate at one point only, and were dull and
unimpressible in every other direction.

But twice had he been heard to speak more than the fewest, simplest
words. The first time, when Antonina uttered the name of Goisvintha, on
the recovery of her senses after her wound, he answered eagerly by
reiterated declarations that there was nothing henceforth to fear; for
he had seen the assassin dead under the Pagan's foot on leaving the
temple. The second time, when mention was incautiously made before him
of rumours circulated through Rome of the burning of an unknown Pagan
priest, hidden in the temple of Serapis, with vast treasures around him,
the old man was seen to start and shudder, and heard to pray for the
soul that was now waiting before the dread judgment-seat; to murmur
about a vain restoration and a discovery made too late; to mourn over
horror that thickened round him, over hope fruitlessly awakened, and
bereavement more terrible than mortal had ever suffered before; to
entreat that the child, the last left of all, might be spared--with many
words more, which ran on themes like these, and which were counted by
all who listened to them but as the wanderings of a mind whose higher
powers were fatally prostrated by feebleness and grief.

One long hour of the night had already passed away since parent and
child had been left together, and neither word nor movement had been
audible in the melancholy room. But, as the second hour began, the
girl's eyes unclosed again, and she moved painfully on the couch.
Accustomed to interpret the significance of her slightest actions,
Numerian rose and brought her one of the reviving draughts that had been
left ready for use. After she had drunk, when her eyes met her father's
fixed on her in mute and mournful inquiry, her lips closed, and formed
themselves into an expression which he remembered they had always
assumed when, as a little child, she used silently to hold up her face
to him to be kissed. The miserable contrast between what she was now
and what she had been them, was beyond the passive endurance, the
patient resignation of the spirit-broken old man; the empty cup dropped
from his hands, he knelt down by the side of the couch and groaned
aloud.

'O father! father!' cried the weak, plaintive voice above him. 'I am
dying! Let us remember that our time to be together here grows shorter
and shorter, and let us pass it as happily as we can!'

He raised his head, and looked up at her, vacant and wistful, forlorn
already, as if the death-parting was over.

'I have tried to live humbly and gratefully,' she sighed faintly. 'I
have longed to do more good on the earth than I have done! Yet you will
forgive me now, father, as you have always forgiven me! You have been
patient with me all my life; more patient than I have ever deserved!
But I had no mother to teach me to love you as I ought, to teach me what
I know now, when my death is near, and time and opportunity are mine no
longer!'

'Hush! hush!' whispered the old man affrightedly; 'you will live! God
is good, and knows that we have suffered enough. The curse of the last
separation is not pronounced against us! Live, live!'

'Father,' said the girl tenderly, 'we have that within us which not
death itself can separate. In another world I shall still think of you
when you think of me! I shall see you even when I am no more here, when
you long to see me! When you got out alone, and sit under the trees on
the garden bank where I used to sit; when you look forth on the far
plains and mountains that I used to look on; when you read at night in
the Bible that we have read in together, and remember Antonina as you
lie down sorrowful to rest; then I shall see you! then you will feel
that I am looking on you! You will be calm and consoled, even by the
side of my grave; for you will think, not of the body that is beneath,
but of the spirit that is waiting for you, as I have often waited for
you here when you were away, and I knew that the approach of the evening
would bring you home again!'

'Hush! you will live!--you will live!' repeated Numerian in the same
low, vacant tones. The strength that still upheld him was in those few
simple words; they were the food of a hope that was born in agony and
cradled in despair.

'Oh, if I might live!' said the girl softly, 'if I might live but for a
few days yet, how much I have to live for!' She endeavoured to bend her
head towards her father as she spoke; for the words were beginning to
fall faintly and more faintly from her lips--exhaustion was mastering
her once again. She dwelt for a moment now on the name of Hermanric, on
the grave in the farm-house garden; then reverted again to her father.
The last feeble sounds she uttered were addressed to him; and their
burden was still of consolation and of love.

Soon the old man, as he stooped over her, saw her eyes close again--
those innocent, gentle eyes which even yet preserved their old
expression while the face grew wan and pale around them--and darkness
and night sank down over his soul while he looked. 'She sleeps,' he
murmured in a voice of awe, as he resumed his watching position by the
side of the couch. 'They call death a sleep; but on her face there is
no death!'

The night grew on. The women who were in attendance entered the room
about midnight, wondering that their assistance had not yet been
required. They beheld the solemn, unruffled composure on the girl's
wasted face; the rapt attention of Numerian, as he ever preserved the
same attitude by her side; and went out again softly without uttering a
word, even in a whisper. There was something dread and impressive in
the very appearance of this room, where Death, that destroys, was in
mortal conflict with Youth and Beauty, that adorn, while the eyes of one
old man watched in loneliness the awful progress of the strife.

Morning came, and still there was no change. Once, when the lamp that
lit the room was fading out as the dawn appeared, Numerian had risen and
looked close on his daughter's face--he thought at that moment that her
features moved; but he saw that the flickering of the dying light on
them had deceived him; the same stillness was over her. He placed his
ear close to her lips for an instant, and then resumed his place, not
stirring from it again. The slow current of his blood seemed to have
come to a pause--he was waiting as a man waits with his head on the
block ere the axe descends--as a mother waits to hear that the breath of
life has entered her new-born child.

The sun rose bright in a cloudless sky. As the fresh, sharp air of the
early dawn warmed under its spreading rays, the women entered the
apartment again, and partly drew aside the curtain and shutter from the
window. The beams of the new light fell fair and glorifying on the
girl's face; the faint, calm breezed ruffled the lighter locks of her
hair. Once this would have awakened her; but it did not disturb her
now.

Soon after the voice of the child who sojourned with the women in the
house was heard beneath, in the hall, through the half-opened door of
the room. The little creature was slowly ascending the stairs, singing
her faltering morning song to herself. She was preceded on her approach
by a tame dove, bought at the provision market outside the walls, but
preserved for the child as a pet and plaything by its mother. The bird
fluttered, cooing, into the room, perched upon the head of the couch,
and began dressing its feathers there. The women had caught the
infection of the old man's enthralling suspense; and moved not to bid
the child retire, or to take away the dove from its place--they watched
like him. But the soft, lulling notes of the bird were powerless over
the girl's ear, as the light sunbeam over her face--still she never
woke.

The child entered, and pausing in her song, climbed on to the side of
the couch. She held out one little hand for the dove to perch upon,
placed the other lightly on Antonina's shoulder, and pressed her fresh,
rosy lips to girl's faded cheek. 'I and my bird have come to make
Antonina well this morning,' she said gravely.

The still, heavily-closed eyelids moved!--they quivered, opened, closed,
then opened again. The eyes had a faint, dreaming, unconscious look;
but Antonina lived! Antonina was awakened at last to another day on
earth!

Her father's rigid, straining gaze still remained fixed upon her as at
first, but on his countenance there was a blank, an absence of all
appearance of sensation and life. The women, as they looked on Antonina
and looked on him, began to weep; the child resumed very softly its
morning song, now addressing it to the wounded girl and now to the dove.

At this moment Vetranio and the physician appeared on the scene. The
latter advanced to the couch, removed the child from it, and examined
Antonina intently. At length, partly addressing Numerian, partly
speaking to himself, he said: 'She has slept long, deeply, without
moving, almost without breathing--a sleep like death to all who looked
on it.'

The old man spoke not in reply, but the women answered eagerly in the
affirmative.

'She is saved,' pursued the physician, leisurely quitting the side of
the couch and smiling on Vetranio; 'be careful of her for days and days
to come.'

'Saved! saved!' echoed the child joyfully, setting the dove free in the
room, and running to Numerian to climb on his knees. The father glanced
down when the clear young voice sounded in his ear. The springs of joy,
so long dried up in his heart, welled forth again as he saw the little
hands raised towards him entreatingly; his grey head drooped--he wept.

At a sign from the physician the child was led from the room. The
silence of deep and solemn emotion was preserved by all who remained;
nothing was heard but the suppressed sobs of the old man, and the faint,
retiring notes of the infant voice still singing its morning song. And
now one word, joyfully reiterated again and again, made all the burden
of the music--

'SAVED! SAVED!'

THE CONCLUSION. 'UBI THESAURUS IBI COR.'

Shortly after the opening of the provision markets outside the gates of
Rome, the Goths broke up their camp before the city and retired to
winter quarters in Tuscany. The negotiations which ensued between
Alaric and the Court and Government at Ravenna, were conducted with
cunning moderation by the conqueror, and with infatuated audacity by the
conquered, and ultimately terminated in a resumption of hostilities.
Rome was besiege and second and a third time by 'the barbarians'. On
the latter occasion the city was sacked, its palaces were burnt, its
treasures were seized; the monuments of the Christian religion were
alone respected.

But it is no longer with the Goths that our narrative is concerned; the
connection with them which it has hitherto maintained closes with the
end of the first siege of Rome. We can claim the reader's attention for
historical events no more--the march of our little pageant, arrayed for
his pleasure, is over. If, however, he has felt, and still retains,
some interest in Antonina, he will not refuse to follow us, and look on
her again ere we part.

More than a month had passed since the besieging army had retired to
their winter quarters, when several of the citizens of Rome assembled
themselves on the plains beyond the walls, to enjoy one of those rustic
festivals of ancient times, which are still celebrated, under different
usages, but with the same spirit, by the Italians of modern days.

The place was a level plot of ground beyond the Pincian Gate, backed by
a thick grove of pine trees, and looking towards the north over the
smooth extent of the country round Rome. The persons congregated were
mostly of the lower class. Their amusements were dancing, music, games
of strength and games of chance; and, above all, to people who had
lately suffered the extremities of famine, abundant eating and
drinking--long, serious, ecstatic enjoyment of the powers of mastication
and the faculties of taste.

Among the assembly were some individuals whose dress and manner raised
them, outwardly at least, above the general mass. These persons walked
backwards and forwards together on different parts of the ground as
observers, not as partakers in the sports. One of their number,
however, in whatever direction he turned, preserved an isolated
position. He held an open letter in his hand, which he looked at from
time to time, and appeared to be wholly absorbed in his own thoughts.
This man we may advantageously particularise on his own account, as well
as on account of the peculiarity of his accidental situation; for he was
the favoured minister of Vetranio's former pleasures--'the industrious
Carrio'.

The freedman (who was last introduced to the reader in Chapter XIV., as
exhibiting to Vetranio the store of offal which he had collected during
the famine for the consumption of the palace) had contrived of late
greatly to increase his master's confidence in him. On the organisation
of the Banquet of Famine, he had discreetly refrained from testifying
the smallest desire to save himself from the catastrophe in which the
senator and his friends had determined to involve themselves. Securing
himself in a place of safety, he awaited the end of the orgie; and when
he found that its unexpected termination left his master still living to
employ him, appeared again as a faithful servant, ready to resume his
customary occupation with undiminished zeal.

After the dispersion of his household during the famine, and amid the
general confusion of the social system in Rome, on the raising of the
blockade, Vetranio found no one near him that he could trust but
Carrio--and he trusted him. Nor was the confidence misplaced: the man
was selfish and sordid enough; but these very qualities ensured his
fidelity to his master as long as that master retained the power to
punish and the capacity to reward.

The letter which Carrio held in his hand was addressed to him at a
villa--from which he had just returned--belonging to Vetranio, on the
shores of the Bay of Naples, and was written by the senator from Rome.
The introductory portions of this communication seemed to interest the
freedman but little: they contained praised of his diligence in
preparing the country-house for the immediate habitation of its owner,
and expressed his master's anxiety to quit Rome as speedily as possible,
for the sake of living in perfect tranquillity, and breathing the
reviving air of the sea, as the physicians had counselled. It was the
latter part of the letter that Carrio perused and re-perused, and then
meditated over with unwonted attention and labour of mind. It ran
thus:--

'I have now to repose in you a trust, which you will execute with
perfect fidelity as you value my favour or respect the wealth from which
you may obtain your reward. When you left Rome you left the daughter of
Numerian lying in danger of death: she has since revived. Questions
that I have addressed to her during her recovery have informed me of
much in her history that I knew not before; and have induced me to
purchase, for reasons of my own, a farm-house and its lands, beyond the
suburbs. (The extent of the place and its situation are written on the
vellum that is within this.) The husbandman who cultivated the property
had survived the famine, and will continue to cultivate it for me. But
it is my desire that the garden, and all that it contains, shall remain
entirely at the disposal of Numerian and his daughter, who may often
repair to it; and who must henceforth be regarded there as occupying my
place and having my authority. You will divide your time between
overlooking the few slaves whom I leave at the palace in my absence, and
the husbandman and his labourers whom I have installed at the farm; and
you will answer to me for the due performance of your own duties and the
duties of those under you--being assured that by well filling this
office you will serve your own interests in these, and in all things
besides.'

The letter concluded by directing the freedman to return to Rome on a
certain day, and to go to the farm-house at an appointed hour, there to
meet his master, who had further directions to give him, and who would
visit the newly acquired property before he proceeded on his journey to
Naples.

Nothing could exceed the perplexity of Carrio as he read the passage in
his patron's letter which we have quoted above. Remembering the
incidents attending Vetranio's early connection with Antonina and her
father, the mere circumstances of a farm having been purchased to
flatter what was doubtless some accidental caprice on the part of the
girl, would have little perplexed him. But that this act should be
followed by the senator's immediate separation of himself from the
society of Numerian's daughter; that she was to gain nothing after all
from these lands which had evidently been bought at her instigation, but
the authority over a little strip of garden; and yet, the inviolability
of this valueless privilege should be insisted on in such serious terms,
and with such an imperative tone of command as the senator had never
been known to use before--these were inconsistencies which all Carrio's
ingenuity failed to reconcile. The man had been born and reared in
vice; vice had fed him, clothed him, freed him, given him character,
reputation, power in his own small way--he lived in it as in the
atmosphere that he breathed; to show him an action, referable only to a
principle of pure integrity, was to set him a problem which it was
hopeless to solve. And yet it is impossible, in one point of view, to
pronounce him utterly worthless. Ignorant of all distinctions between
good and bad, he thought wrong from sheer inability to see right.

However his instructions might perplex him, he followed them now--and
continued in after days to follow them--to the letter. If to serve
one's own interests be an art, of that art Carrio deserved to be head
professor. He arrived at the farm-house, not only punctually, but
before the appointed time, and calling the honest husbandman and the
labourers about him, explained to them every particular of the authority
that his patron had vested in him, with a flowing and peremptory
solemnity of speech which equally puzzled and impressed his simple
audience. He found Numerian and Antonina in the garden when he entered
it. The girl had been carried there daily in a litter since her
recovery, and her father had followed. They were never separated now;
the old man, when his first absorbing anxiety for her was calmed,
remembered again more distinctly the terrible disclosure in the temple,
and the yet more terrible catastrophe that followed it, and he sought
constant refuge from the horror of the recollection in the presence of
his child.

The freedman, during his interview with the father and daughter,
observed, for once, an involuntary and unfeigned respect; but he spoke
briefly, and left them together again almost immediately. Humble and
helpless as they were, they awed him; they looked, thought, and spoke
like beings of another nature than his; they were connected, he knew not
how, with the mystery of the grave in the garden. He would have been
self-possessed in the presence of the Emperor himself, but he was uneasy
in theirs. So he retired to the more congenial scene of the public
festival which was in the immediate neighbourhood of the farm-house, to
await the hour of his patron's arrival, and to perplex himself afresh by
a re-perusal of Vetranio's letter.

The time was now near at hand when it was necessary for the freedman to
return to his appointed post. He carefully rolled up his note of
instructions, stood for a few minutes vacantly regarding the amusements
which had hitherto engaged so little of his attention, and then,
turning, he proceeded through the pine-grove on his way back. We will
follow him.

On leaving the grove, a footpath conducted over some fields to the farm-
house. Arrived here, Carrio hesitated for a moment; then moved slowly
onward to await his master's approach in the lane that led to the
highroad. At this point we will part company with him, to enter the
garden by the wicket-gate.

The trees, the flower-beds, and the patches of grass, all remained in
their former positions--nothing had been added or taken away since the
melancholy days that were past; but a change was visible in Hermanric's
grave. The turf above it had been renewed, and a border of small
evergreen shrubs was planted over the track which Goisvintha's footsteps
had traced. A white marble cross was raised at one end of the mound;
the short Latin inscription on it signified--'PRAY FOR THE DEAD'.

The sunlight was shining calmly over the grave, and over Numerian and
Antonina as they sat by it. Sometimes when the mirth grew louder at the
rustic festival, it reached them in faint, subdued notes; sometimes they
heard the voices of the labourers in the neighbouring fields talking to
each other at their work; but, besides these, no other sounds were loud
enough to be distinguished. There was still and expression of the
melancholy and feebleness that grief and suffering leave behind them on
the countenances of the father and daughter; but resignation and peace
appeared there as well--resignation that was perfected by the hard
teaching of woe, and peach that was purer for being imparted from the
one to the other, like the strong and deathless love from which it grew.

There was something now in the look and attitude of the girl, as she sat
thinking of the young warrior who had died in her defence and for her
love, and training the shrubs to grow closer round the grave, which,
changed though she was, recalled in a different form the old poetry and
tranquillity of her existence when we first saw her singing to the music
of her lute in the garden on the Pincian Hill. No thoughts of horror and
despair were suggested to her as she now looked on the farm-house scene.
Hers was not the grief which shrinks selfishly from all that revives the
remembrance of the dead: to her, their influence over the memory was a
grateful and a guardian influence that gave a better purpose to the
holiest life, and a nobler nature to the purest thoughts.

Thus they were sitting by the grave, sad yet content; footsore already
on the pilgrimage of life, yet patient to journey farther if they
might--when an unusual tumult, a noise of rolling wheels, mingled with a
confused sound of voices, was heard in the lane behind them. They
looked round, and saw that Vetranio was approaching them alone through
the wicket-gate.

He came forward slowly; the stealthy poison instilled by the Banquet of
Famine palpably displayed its presence within him as the clear sunlight
fell on his pale, wasted face. He smiled kindly as he addressed
Antonina; but the bodily pain and mental agitation which that smile was
intended to conceal, betrayed themselves in his troubled voice as he
spoke.

'This is our last meeting for years--it may be our last meeting for
life,' he said; 'I linger at the outset of my journey, but to behold you
as guardian of the one spot of ground that is most precious to you on
earth--as mistress, indeed, of the little that I give you here!' He
paused a moment and pointed to the grave, then continued: 'All the
atonement that I owe to you, you can never know--I can never tell!--
think only that I bear away with me a companion in the solitude to which
I go in the remembrance of you. Be calm, good, happy still, for my
sake, and while you forgive the senator of former days, forget not the
friend who now parts from you in some sickness and sorrow, but also in
much patience and hope! Farewell!'

His hand trembled as he held it out; a flush overspread the girl's cheek
while she murmured a few inarticulate words of gratitude, and, bending
over it, pressed it to her lips. Vetranio's heart beat quick; the
action revived an emotion that he dared not cherish; but he looked at
the wan, downcast face before him, at the grave that rose mournful by
his side, and quelled it again. Yet an instant he lingered to exchange
a farewell with the old man, then turned quickly, passed through the
gate, and they saw him no more.

Antonina's tears fell fast on the grass beneath as she resumed her
place. When she raised her head again, and saw that her father was
looking at her, she nestled close to him and laid one of her arms round
his neck: the other gradually dropped to her side, until her hand
reached the topmost leaves of the shrubs that grew round the grave.

*****

Shall we longer delay in the farm-house garden? No! For us, as for
Vetranio, it is now time to depart! While peace still watches round the
walls of Rome; while the hearts of the father and daughter still repose
together in security, after the trials that have wrung them, let us quit
the scene! Here, at last, the narrative that we have followed over a
dark and stormy track reposes on a tranquil field; and here let us cease
to pursue it!

So the traveller who traces the course of a river wanders through the
day among the rocks and precipices that lead onward from its troubled
source; and, when the evening is at hand, pauses and rests where the
banks are grassy and the stream is smooth.

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