Antonina by Wilkie CollinsOr, The Fall of Rome

projects, the gestures and tones of a man who formed one of a little group collected in a remote part of the portico he was about to quit attracted his attention. Curiosity formed as conspicuous an ingredient in this man’s character as cruelty. He stole behind the base of a neighbouring pillar; and, as the
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projects, the gestures and tones of a man who formed one of a little group collected in a remote part of the portico he was about to quit attracted his attention. Curiosity formed as conspicuous an ingredient in this man’s character as cruelty. He stole behind the base of a neighbouring pillar; and, as the frequent repetition of the word ‘Goths’ struck his ear (the report of that nation’s impending invasion having by this time reached Rome), he carefully disposed himself to listen with the most implicit attention to the speaker’s voice.

‘Goths!’ cried the man, in the stern, concentrated accents of despair. ‘Is there one among us to whom this report of their advance upon Rome does not speak of hope rather than of dread? Have we a chance of rising from the degradation forced on us by our superiors until this den of heartless triflers and shameless cowards is swept from the very earth that it pollutes!’

‘Your sentiments on the evils of our condition are undoubtedly most just,’ observed a fat, pompous man, to whom the preceding remarks had been addressed, ‘but I cannot desire the reform you so ardently hope for. Think of the degradation of being conquered by barbarians!’

‘I am the exile of my country’s privileges. What interest have I in upholding her honour–if honour she really has!’ replied the first speaker.

‘Nay! Your expressions are too severe. You are too discontented to be just.’

‘Am I! Hear me for a moment, and you will change your opinion. You see me now by my bearing and appearance superior to yonder plebeian herd. You doubtless think that I live at my ease in the world, that I can feel no anxiety for the future about my bodily necessities. What would you say were I to tell you that if I want another meal, a lodging for to- night, a fresh robe for tomorrow, I must rob or flatter some great man to gain them? Yet so it is. I am hopeless, friendless, destitute. In the whole of the Empire there is not an honest calling in which I can take refuge. I must become a pander or a parasite–a hired tyrant over slaves, or a chartered groveller beneath nobles–if I would not starve miserably in the streets, or rob openly in the woods! This is what I am. Now listen to what I was. I was born free. I inherited from my father a farm which he had successfully defended from the encroachments of the rich, at the expense of his comfort, his health, and his life. When I succeeded to his lands, I determined to protect them in my time as studiously as he had defended them in his. I worked unintermittingly: I enlarged my house, I improved my fields, I increased my flocks. One after another I despised the threats and defeated the wiles of my noble neighbours, who desired possession of my estate to swell their own territorial grandeur. In process of time I married and had a child. I believed that I was picked out from my race as a fortunate man–when one night I was attacked by robbers: slaves made desperate by the cruelty of their wealthy masters. They ravaged my cornfields, they deprived me of my flocks. When I demanded redress, I was told to sell my lands to those who could defend them–to those rich nobles whose tyranny had organised the band of wretches who had spoiled me of my possessions, and to whose fraud-gotten treasures the government were well pleased to grant that protection which they had denied to my honest hoards. In my pride I determined that I would still be independent. I planted new crops. With the little remnant of my money I hired fresh servants and bought more flocks. I had just recovered from my first disaster when I became the victim of a second. I was again attacked. This time we had arms, and we attempted to defend ourselves. My wife was slain before my eyes; my house was burnt to the ground; I myself only escaped, mutilated with wounds; my child soon afterwards pined and died. I had no wife, no offspring, no house, no money. My fields still stretched round me, but I had none to cultivate them. My walls still tottered at my feet, but I had none to rear them again, none to inhabit them if they were reared. My father’s lands were now become a wilderness to me. I was too proud to sell them to my rich neighbour; I preferred to leave them before I saw them the prey of a tyrant, whose rank had triumphed over my industry, and who is now able to boast that he can travel over ten leagues of senatorial property untainted by the propinquity of a husbandman’s farm. Houseless, homeless, friendless, I have come to Rome alone in my affliction, helpless in my degradation! Do you wonder now that I am careless about the honour of my country? I would have served her with my life and my possessions when she was worthy of my service; but she has cast me off, and I care not who conquers her. I say to the Goths–with thousands who suffer the same tribulation that I now undergo–“Enter our gates! Level our palaces to the ground! Confound, if you will, in one common slaughter, we that are victims with those that are tyrants! Your invasion will bring new lords to the land. They cannot crush it more–they may oppress it less. Our posterity may gain their rights by the sacrifice of lives that our country has made worthless. Romans though we are, we are ready to suffer and submit!”‘

He stopped; for by this time he had lashed himself into fury. His eyes glared, his cheeks flushed, his voice rose. Could he then have seen the faintest vision of the destiny that future ages had in store for the posterity of the race that now suffered throughout civilised Europe, like him–could he have imagined how, in after years, the ‘middle class’, despised in his day, was to rise to privilege and power; to hold in its just hands the balance of the prosperity of nations; to crush oppression and regulate rule; to soar in its mighty flight above thrones and principalities, and rank and riches, apparently obedient, but really commanding;–could he but have foreboded this, what a light must have burst upon his gloom, what a hope must have soothed him in his despair!

To what further extremities his anger might have carried him, to what proceedings the indignant Gordian, who still listened from his concealment, might have had recourse, it is difficult to say; for the complaints of the ill-fated landholder and the cogitations of the authoritative bailiff were alike suddenly suspended by an uproar raging at this moment round a carriage which had just emerged from the palace we have elsewhere described.

This vehicle looked one mass of silver. Embroidered silk curtains fluttered all around it, gold ornaments studded its polished sides, and it held no less a person than the nobleman who had feasted the people with baskets of meat. This fact had become known to the rabble before the palace gates. Such an opportunity of showing their exultation in their bondage, their real servility in their imaginary independence, was not to be lost; and accordingly they let loose such a torrent of clamorous gratitude on their entertainer’s appearance, that a stranger in Rome would have thought the city in revolt. They leapt, they ran, they danced round the prancing horses, they flung their empty baskets into the air, and patted approvingly their ‘fair round bellies’. From every side, as the carriage moved on, they gained fresh recruits and acquired new importance. The timid fled before them, the noisy shouted with them, the bold plunged into their ranks; and the constant burden of their rejoicing chorus was–‘Health to the noble Pomponius! Prosperity to the senators of Rome, who feast us with their food and give us the freedom of their theatres! Glory to Pomponius! Glory to the senators!’

Fate seemed on this day to take pleasure in pampering the insatiable curiosity of Gordian, the bailiff. The cries of the multitude had scarcely died away in the distance, as they followed the departing carriage, when the voices of two men, pitched to a low, confidential tone, reached his ear from the opposite side of the pillar. He peeped cautiously round, and saw that they were priests.

‘What an eternal jester is that Pomponius!’ said one voice. ‘He is going to receive absolution, and he journeys in his chariot of state, as if he were preparing to celebrate his triumph, instead of to confess his sins!’

‘Has he committed, then, a fresh imprudence?’

‘Alas, yes! For a senator he is dreadfully wanting in caution! A few days since, in a fit of passion, he flung a drinking-cup at one of his female slaves. The girl died on the spot, and her brother, who is also in his service, threatened immediate vengeance. To prevent disagreeable consequences to his body, Pomponius has sent the fellow to his estates in Egypt; and now, from the same precaution for the welfare of his soul, he goes to demand absolution from our holy and beneficent Church.’

‘I am afraid these incessant absolutions, granted to men who are too careless even to make a show of repentance for their crimes, will prejudice us with the people at large.’

‘Of what consequence are the sentiments of the people while we have their rulers on our side! Absolution is the sorcery that binds these libertines of Rome to our will. We know what converted Constantine– politic flattery and ready absolution; the people will tell you it was the sign of the Cross.’

‘It is true this Pomponius is rich, and may increase our revenues, but still I fear the indignation of the people.’

‘Fear nothing: think how long their old institutions imposed on them, and then doubt, if you can, that we may shape them to our wishes as we will. Any deceptions will be successful with a mob, if the instrument employed to forward them be a religion.’

The voices ceased. Gordian, who still cherished a vague intention of denouncing the fugitive landholder to the senatorial authorities, employed the liberty afforded to his attention by the silence of the priests in turning to look after his intended victim. To his surprise he saw that the man had left the auditors to whom he had before addressed himself, and was engaged in earnest conversation in another part of the portico, with an individual who seemed to have recently joined him, and whose appearance was so remarkable that the bailiff had moved a few steps forwards to gain a nearer view of him, when he was once more arrested by the voices of the priests.

Irresolute for an instant to which party to devote his unscrupulous attention, he returned mechanically to his old position. Ere long, however, his anxiety to hear the mysterious communications proceeding between the landholder and his friend overbalanced his delight in penetrating the theological secrets of the priests. He turned once more, but to his astonishment the objects of his curiosity had disappeared. He stepped to the outside of the portico and looked for them in every direction, but they were nowhere to be seen. Peevish and disappointed, he returned as a last resource to the pillar where he had left the priests, but the time consumed in his investigations after one party had been fatal to his reunion with the other. The churchmen were gone.

Sufficiently punished for his curiosity by his disappointment, the bailiff walked doggedly off towards the Pincian Hill. Had he turned in the contrary direction, towards the Basilica of St. Peter, he would have found himself once more in the neighbourhood of the landholder and his remarkable friend, and would have gained that acquaintance with the subjects of their conversation, which we intend that the reader shall acquire in the course of the next chapter.

CHAPTER 4. THE CHURCH.

In the year 324, on the locality assigned by rumour to the martyrdom of St. Peter, and over the ruins of the Circus of Nero, Constantine erected the church called the Basilica of St. Peter.

For twelve centuries, this building, raised by a man infamous for his murders and his tyrannies, stood uninjured amid the shocks which during that long period devastated the rest of the city. After that time it was removed, tottering to its base from its own reverend and illustrious age, by Pope Julius II, to make way for the foundations of the modern church.

It is towards this structure of twelve hundred years’ duration, erected by hands stained with blood, and yet preserved as a star of peace in the midst of stormy centuries of war, that we would direct the reader’s attention. What art has done for the modern church, time has effected for the ancient. If the one is majestic to the eye by its grandeur, the other is hallowed to the memory by its age.

As this church by its rise commemorated the triumphant establishment of Christianity as the religion of Rome, so in its progress it reflected every change wrought in the spirit of the new worship by the ambition, the prodigality, or the frivolity of the priests. At first it stood awful and imposing, beautiful in all its parts as the religion for whose glory it was built. Vast porphyry colonnades decorated its approaches, and surrounded a fountain whose waters issued from the representation of a gigantic pine-tree in bronze. Its double rows of aisles were each supported by forty-eight columns of precious marble. Its flat ceiling was adorned with beams of gilt metal, rescued from the pollution of heathen temples. Its walls were decorated with large paintings of religious subjects, and its tribunal was studded with elegant mosaics. Thus it rose, simple and yet sublime, awful and yet alluring; in this its beginning, a type of the dawn of the worship which it was elevated to represent. But when, flushed with success, the priests seized on Christianity as their path to politics and their introduction to power, the aspect of the church gradually began to change. As, slowly and insensibly, ambitious man heaped the garbage of his mysteries, his doctrines, and his disputes, about the pristine purity of the structure given him by God, so, one by one, gaudy adornments and meretricious alterations arose to sully the once majestic basilica, until the threatening and reproving apparition of the pagan Julian, when both Church and churchmen received in their corrupt progress a sudden and impressive check.

The short period of the revival of idolatry once passed over, the priests, unmoved by the warning they had received, returned with renewed vigour to confuse that which both in their Gospel and their Church had been once simple. Day by day they put forth fresh treatises, aroused fierce controversies, subsided into new sects; and day by day they altered more and more the once noble aspect of the ancient basilica. They hung their nauseous relics on its mighty walls, they stuck their tiny tapers about its glorious pillars, they wreathed their tawdry fringes around its massive altars. Here they polished, there they embroidered. Wherever there was a window, they curtained it with gaudy cloths; wherever there was a statue, they bedizened it with artificial flowers; wherever there was a solemn recess, they outraged its religious gloom with intruding light; until (arriving at the period we write of) they succeeded so completely in changing the aspect of the building, that it looked, within, more like a vast pagan toyshop than a Christian church. Here and there, it is true, a pillar or an altar rose unencumbered as of old, appearing as much at variance with the frippery that surrounded it as a text of Scripture quoted in a sermon of the time. But as regarded the general aspect of the basilica, the decent glories of its earlier days seemed irrevocably departed and destroyed.

After what has been said of the edifice, the reader will have little difficulty in imagining that the square in which it stood lost whatever elevation of character it might once have possessed, with even greater rapidity than the church itself. If the cathedral now looked like an immense toyshop, assuredly its attendant colonnades had the appearance of the booths of an enormous fair.

The day, whose decline we have hinted at in the preceding chapter, was fast verging towards its close, as the inhabitants of the streets on the western bank of the Tiber prepared to join the crowds that they beheld passing by their windows in the direction of the Basilica of St. Peter. The cause of this sudden confluence of the popular current in once common direction was made sufficiently apparent to all inquirers who happened to be near a church or a public building, by the appearance in such situations of a large sheet of vellum elaborately illuminated, raised on a high pole, and guarded from contact with the inquisitive rabble by two armed soldiers. The announcements set forth in these strange placards were all of the same nature and directed to the same end. In each of them the Bishop of Rome informed his ‘pious and honourable brethren’, the inhabitants of the city, that, as the next days was the anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. Luke, the vigil would necessarily be held on that evening in the Basilica of St. Peter; and that, in consideration of the importance of the occasion, there would be exhibited, before the commencement of the ceremony, those precious relics connected with the death of the saint, which had become the inestimable inheritance of the Church; and which consisted of a branch of the olive-tree to which St. Luke was hung, a piece of the noose– including the knot–which had been passed round his neck, and a picture of the Apotheosis of the Virgin painted by his own hand. After some sentences expressive of lamentation for the sufferings of the saint, which nobody read, and which it is unnecessary to reproduce here, the proclamation went on to state that a sermon would be preached in the course of the vigil, and that at a later hour the great chandelier, containing two thousand four hundred lamps, would be lit to illuminate the church. Finally, the worthy bishop called upon all members of his flock, in consideration of the solemnity of the day, to abstain from sensual pleasures, in order that they might the more piously and worthily contemplate the sacred objects submitted to their view, and digest the spiritual nourishment to be offered to their understandings.

From the specimen we have already given of the character of the populace of Rome, it will perhaps be unnecessary to say that the great attractions presented by this theological bill of fare were the relics and the chandelier. Pulpit eloquence and vigil solemnities alone must have long exhibited their more sober allurements, before they could have drawn into the streets a fiftieth part of the immense crowd that now hurried towards the desecrated basilica. Indeed, so vast was the assemblage soon congregated, that the advanced ranks of sightseers had already filled the church to overflowing, before those in the rear had come within view of the colonnades.

However dissatisfied the unsuccessful portion of the citizens might feel at their exclusion from the church, they found a powerful counter- attraction in the amusements going forward in the Place, the occupants of which seemed thoroughly regardless of the bishop’s admonitions upon the sobriety of behaviour due to the solemnity of the day. As if in utter defiance of the decency and order recommended by the clergy, popular exhibitions of all sorts were set up on the broad flagstones of the great space before the church. Street dancing-girls exercised at every available spot those ‘gliding gyrations’ so eloquently condemned by the worthy Ammianus Marcellinus of orderly and historical memory. Booths crammed with relics of doubtful authenticity, baskets filled with neat manuscript abstracts of furiously controversial pamphlets, pagan images regenerated into portraits of saints, pictorial representations of Arians writhing in damnation, and martyrs basking in haloes of celestial light, tempted, in every direction, the more pious among the spectators. Cooks perambulated with their shops on their backs; rival slave-merchants shouted petitions for patronage; wine-sellers taught Bacchanalian philosophy from the tops of their casks; poets recited compositions for sale; sophisters held arguments destined to convert the wavering and perplex the ignorant.

Incessant motion and incessant noise seemed to be the sole compensations sought by the multitude for the disappointment of exclusion from the church. If a stranger, after reading the proclamation of the day, had proceeded to the basilica, to feast his eyes on the contemplation of the illustrious aggregate of humanity, entitled by the bishop ‘his pious and honourable brethren,’ he must, on mixing at this moment with the assemblage, have either doubted the truth of the episcopal appellation, or have given the citizens credit for that refinement of intrinsic worth which is of too elevated a nature to influence the character of the outward man.

At the time when the sun set, nothing could be more picturesque than the distant view of this joyous scene. The deep red rays of the departing luminary cast their radiance, partly from behind the church, over the vast multitude in the Place. Brightly and rapidly the rich light roved over the waters that leaped towards it from the fountain in all the loveliness of natural and evanescent form. Bathed in that brilliant glow, the smooth porphyry colonnades reflected, chameleon like, ethereal and varying hues; the white marble statues became suffused in a delicate rose-colour, and the sober-tinted trees gleamed in the innermost of their leafy depths as if steeped in the exhalations of a golden mist. While, contrasting strangely with the wondrous radiance around them, the huge bronze pine-tree in the middle of the Place, and the wide front of the basilica, rose up in gloomy shadow, indefinite and exaggerated, lowering like evil spirits over the joyous beauty of the rest of the scene, and casting their great depths of shade into the midst of the light whose dominion they despised. Beheld from a distance, this wild combination of vivid brightness and solemn gloom; these buildings, at one place darkened till they looked gigantic, at another lightened till they appeared ethereal; these crowded groups, seeming one great moving mass gleaming at this point in radiant light, obscured at that in thick shadow, made up a whole so incongruous and yet so beautiful, so grotesque and yet so sublime, that the scene looked, for the moment, more like some inhabited meteor, half eclipsed by its propinquity to earth, than a mortal and material prospect.

The beauties of this atmospheric effect were of far too serious and sublime a nature to interest the multitude in the Place. Out of the whole assemblage, but two men watched that glorious sunset with even an appearance of the admiration and attention which it deserved. One was the landholder whose wrongs were related in the preceding chapter–the other his remarkable friend.

These two men formed a singular contrast to each other, both in demeanour and appearance, as they gazed forth upon the crimson heaven. The landholder was an under-sized, restless-looking man, whose features, naturally sharp, were now distorted by a fixed expression of misery and discontent. His quick, penetrating glance wandered incessantly from place to place, perceiving all things, but resting on none. In his attention to the scene before him, he appeared to have been led more by the influence of example than by his own spontaneous feelings; for ever and anon he looked impatiently round upon his friend as if expecting him to speak–but no word or movement escaped his thoughtful companion. Occupied exclusively in his own contemplations, he appeared wholly insensible to any ordinary outward appeal.

In age and appearance this individual was in the decline of life; for he had numbered sixty years, his hair was completely grey, and his face was covered with deep wrinkles. Yet, in spite of these disadvantages, he was in the highest sense of the word a handsome man. Though worn and thin, his features were still bold and regular; and there was an elevation about the habitual mournfulness of his expression, and an intelligence about his somewhat severe and earnest eyes, that bore eloquent testimony to the superiority of his intellectual powers. As he now stood gazing fixedly out into the glowing sky, his tall, meagre figure half supported upon his staff, his lips firmly compressed, his brow slightly frowning, and his attitude firm and motionless, the most superficial observer must have felt immediately that he looked on no ordinary being. The history of a life of deep thought–perhaps of long sorrow–seemed written in every lineament of his meditative countenance; and there was a natural dignity in his manner, which evidently restrained his restless companion from offering any determined interruption to the course of his reflections.

Slowly and gorgeously the sun had continued to wane in the horizon until he was now lost to view. As his last rays sunk behind the distant hills, the stranger started from his reverie and approached the landholder, pointing with his staff towards the fast-fading brightness of the western sky.

‘Probus,’ said he, in a low, melancholy voice, ‘as I looked on that sunset I thought on the condition of the Church.’

‘I see little in the Church to think of, or in the sunset to observe,’ replied his companion.

‘How pure, how vivid,’ murmured the other, scarcely heeding the landholder’s remark,’ was the light which that sun cast upon this earth at our feet! How nobly for a time its brightness triumphed over the shadows around; and yet, in spite of the promise of that radiance, how swiftly did it fade ere long in its conflict with the gloom–how thoroughly, even now, has it departed from the earth, and withdrawn the beauty of its glory from the heavens! Already the shadows are lengthening around us, and shrouding in their darkness every object in the Place. But a short hour hence, and–should no moon arise–the gloom of night will stretch unresisted over Rome!’

‘To what purpose do you tell me this?’

‘Are you not reminded, by what we have observed, of the course of the worship which it is our privilege to profess? Does not that first beautiful light denote its pure and perfect rise; that short conflict between the radiance and the gloom, its successful preservation, by the Apostles and the Fathers; that rapid fading of the radiance, its desecration in later times; and the gloom which now surrounds us, the destruction which has encompassed it in this age we live in?–a destruction which nothing can avert but a return to that pure first faith that should now be the hope of our religion, as the moon is the hope of night!’

‘How should we reform? Do people who have no liberties care about a religion? Who is to teach them?’

‘I have–I will. It is the purpose of my life to restore to them the holiness of the ancient Church; to rescue them from the snare of traitors to the faith, whom men call priests. They shall learn through me that the Church knew no adornment once, but the presence of the pure; that the priest craved no finer vestment than his holiness; that the Gospel, which once taught humility and now raises dispute, was in former days the rule of faith–sufficient for all wants, powerful over all difficulties. Through me they shall know that in times past it was the guardian of the heart; through me they shall see that in times present it is the plaything of the proud; through me they shall fear that in times future it may become the exile of the Church! To this task I have vowed myself; to overthrow this idolatry–which, like another paganism, rises among us with its images, its relics, its jewels, and its gold–I will devote my child, my life, my energies, and my possessions. From this attempt I will never turn aside–from this determination I will never flinch. While I have a breath of life in me, I will persevere in restoring to this abandoned city the true worship of the Most High!’

He ceased abruptly. The intensity of his agitation seemed suddenly to deny to him the faculty of speech. Every muscle in the frame of that stern, melancholy man quivered at the immortal promptings of the soul within him. There was something almost feminine in his universal susceptibility to the influence of one solitary emotion. Even the rough, desperate landholder felt awed by the enthusiasm of the being before him, and forgot his wrongs, terrible as they were–and his misery, poignant as it was–as he gazed upon his companion’s face.

For some minutes neither of the men said more. Soon, however, the last speaker calmed his agitation with the facility of a man accustomed to stifle the emotions that he cannot crush, and advancing to the landholder, took him sorrowfully by the hand.

‘I see, Probus, that I have amazed you,’ said he; ‘but the Church is the only subject on which I have no discretion. In all other matters I have conquered the rashness of my early manhood; in this I have to wrestle with my hastier nature still. When I look on the mockeries that are acting around us; when I behold a priesthood deceivers, a people deluded, a religion defiled, then, I confess it, my indignation overpowers my patience, and I burn to destroy, where I ought only to hope to reform.’

‘I knew you always violent of imagination; but when I last saw you your enthusiasm was love. Your wife–‘

‘Peace! She deceived me!’

‘Your child–‘

‘Lives with me at Rome.’

‘I remember her an infant, when, fourteen years since, I was your neighbour in Gaul. On my departure from the province, you had just returned from a journey into Italy, unsuccessful in your attempts to discover there a trace either of your parents, or of that elder brother whose absence you were wont so continually to lament. Tell me, have you, since that period, discovered the members of your ancient household? Hitherto you have been so occupied in listening to the history of my wrongs that you have scarcely spoken of the changes in your life since we last met.’

‘If, Probus, I have been silent to you concerning myself, it is because for me retrospection has little that attracts. While yet it was in my power to return to those parents whom I deserted in my boyhood, I thought not of repentance; and now that they must be but too surely lost to me, my yearning towards them is of no avail. Of my brother, from whom I parted in a moment of childish jealousy and anger, and whose pardon and love I would give up even my ambition to acquire, I have never yet discovered a trace. Atonement to those whom I injured in early life is a privilege denied to the prayers of my age. From my parents and my brother I departed unblest, and unforgiven by them I feel that I am doomed to die! My life has been careless, useless, godless, passing from rapine and violence to luxury and indolence, and leading me to the marriage which I exulted in when I last saw you, but which I now feel was unworthy alike in its motives and its results. But blessed and thrice blessed by that last calamity of my wicked existence, for it opened my eyes to the truth–it made a Christian of me while I was yet alive!’

‘Is it thus that the Christian can view his afflictions? I would, then, that I were a Christian like you!’ murmured the landholder, in low, earnest tones.

‘It was in those first days, Probus,’ continued the other, ‘when I found myself deserted and dishonoured, left alone to be the guardian of my helpless child, exiled for ever from a home that I had myself forsaken, that I repented me in earnest of my misdeeds, that I sought wisdom from the book of salvation, and the conduct of life from the Fathers of the Church. It was at that time that I determined to devote my child, like Samuel of old, to the service of heaven, and myself to the reformation of our degraded worship. As I have already told you, I forsook my abode and changed my name (remember it is as ‘Numerian’ that you must henceforth address me), that of my former self no remains might be left, that of my former companions not one might ever discover and tempt me again. With incessant care have I shielded my daughter from the contamination of the world. As a precious jewel in a miser’s hands she has been watched and guarded in her father’s house. Her destiny is to soothe the afflicted, to watch the sick, to succour the forlorn, when I, her teacher, have restored to the land the dominion of its ancient faith and the guidance of its faultless Gospel. We have neither of us an affection or a hope that can bind us to the things of earth. Our hearts look both towards heaven; our expectations are only from on high!’

‘Do not set your hopes too firmly on your child. Remember how the nobles of Rome have destroyed the household I once had, and tremble for your own.’

‘I have no fear for my daughter; she is cared for in my absence by one who is vowed to aid me in my labours for the Church. It is now nearly a year since I first met Ulpius, and from that time forth he has devoted himself to my service and watched over my child.’

‘Who is this Ulpius, that you should put such faith in him?’

‘He is a man of age like mine. I found him, like me, worn down by the calamities of his early life, and abandoned, as I had once been, to the delusions of the pagan gods. He was desolate, suffering, forlorn, and I had pity on him in his misery. I proved to him that the worship he still professed was banished for its iniquities from the land; that the religion which had succeeded it had become defiled by man, and that there remained but one faith for him to choose, if he would be saved– the faith of the early Church. He heard me and was converted. From that moment he has served my patiently and helped me willingly. Under the roof where I assemble the few who as yet are true believers, he is always the first to come and the last to remain. No word of anger has ever crossed his lips–no look of impatience has ever appeared in his eyes. Though sorrowful, he is gentle; though suffering, he is industrious. I have trusted him with all I possess, and I glory in my credulity! Ulpius is incorruptible!’

‘And your daughter?–is Ulpius reverenced by her as he is respected by you?’

‘She knows that her duty is to love whom I love, and to avoid whom I avoid. Can you imagine that a Christian virgin has any feelings disobedient to her father’s wishes? Come to my house; judge with your own eyes of my daughter and my companion. You, whose misfortunes have left you no home, shall find one, if you will, with me. Come then and labour with me in my great undertaking! You will withdraw your mind from the contemplation of your woes, and merit by your devotion the favour of the Most High.’

‘No, Numerian, I will still be independent, even of my friends! Nor Rome nor Italy are abiding-places for me. I go to another land to abide among another people, until the arms of a conqueror shall have restored freedom to the brave and protection to the honest throughout the countries of the Empire.’

‘Probus, I implore you stay!’

‘Never! My determination is taken, Numerian–farewell!’

For a few minutes Numerian stood motionless, gazing wistfully in the direction taken by his companion on his departure. At first an expression of grief and pity softened the austerity which seemed the habitual characteristic of his countenance when in repose, but soon these milder and tenderer feelings appeared to vanish from his heart as suddenly as they had arisen; his features reassumed their customary sternness, and he muttered to himself as he mixed with the crowd struggling onwards in the direction of the basilica: ‘Let him depart unregretted; he has denied himself to the service of his Maker. He should no longer be my friend.’

In this sentence lay the index to the character of the man. His existence was one vast sacrifice, one scene of intrepid self-immolation. Although, in the brief hints at the events of his life which he had communicated to his friend, he had exaggerated the extent of his errors, he had by no means done justice to the fervour of his penitence–a penitence which outstripped the usual boundaries of repentance, and only began in despair to terminate in fanaticism. His desertion of his father’s house (into the motives of which it is not our present intention to enter), and his long subsequent existence of violence and excess, indisposed his naturally strong passions to submit to the slightest restraint. In obedience to their first impulses, he contracted, at a mature age, a marriage with a woman thoroughly unworthy of the ardent admiration that she had inspired. When he found himself deceived and dishonoured by her, the shock of such an affliction thrilled through his whole being–crushed all his energies–struck him prostrate, heart and mind, at one blow. The errors of his youth, committed in his prosperity with moral impunity, reacted upon him in his adversity with an influence fatal to his future peace. His repentance was darkened by despondency; his resolutions were unbrightened by hope. He flew to religion as the suicide flies to the knife–in despair.

Leaving all remaining peculiarities in Numerian’s character to be discussed at a future opportunity, we will now follow him in his passage through the crowd, to the entrance of the basilica–continuing to designate him, here and elsewhere, by the name which he had assumed on his conversion, and by which he had insisted on being addressed during his interview with the fugitive landholder.

Although at the commencement of his progress towards the church, our enthusiast found himself placed among the hindermost of the members of the advancing throng, he soon contrived so thoroughly to outstrip his dilatory and discursive neighbours as to gain, with little delay, the steps of the sacred building. Here, in common with many others, he was compelled to stop, while those nearest the basilica squeezed their way through its stately doors. In such a situation his remarkable figure could not fail to be noticed, and he was silently recognised by many of the bystanders, some of whom looked on him with wonder, and some with aversion. Nobody, however, approached or spoke to him. Every one felt the necessity of shunning a man whose bold and daily exposures of the abuses of the Church placed in incessant peril his liberty, and even his life.

Among the bystanders who surrounded Numerian, there were nevertheless two who did not remain content with carelessly avoiding any communication with the intrepid and suspected reformer. These two men belonged to the lowest order of the clergy, and appeared to be occupied in cautiously watching the actions and listening to the conversation of the individuals immediately around them. The instant they beheld Numerian they moved so as to elude his observation, taking care at the same time to occupy such a position as enabled them to keep in view the object of their evident distrust.

‘Look, Osius,’ said one, ‘that man is here again!’

‘And doubtless with the same motives which brought him here yesterday,’ replied the other. ‘You will see that he will again enter the church, listen to the service, retire to his little chapel near the Pincian Mount, and there, before his ragged mob of adherents, attack the doctrines which our brethren have preached, as we know he did last night, and as we suspect he will continue to do until the authorities think proper to give the signal for his imprisonment.’

‘I marvel that he should have been permitted to persist so long a time as he has in his course of contumacy towards the Church. Have we not evidence enough in his writings alone to convict him of heresy? The carelessness of the bishop upon such a matter as this is quite inexplicable!’

‘You should consider, Numerian not being a priest, that the carelessness about our interests lies more with the senate than the bishop. What time our nobles can spare from their debaucheries has been lately given to discussions on the conduct of the Emperor in retiring to Ravenna, and will now be dedicated to penetrating the basis of this rumour about the Goths. Besides, even were they at liberty, what care the senate about theological disputes? They only know this Numerian as a citizen of Rome, a man of some influence and possessions, and, consequently, a person of political importance as a member of the population. In addition to which, it would be no easy task for us at the present moment to impugn the doctrines broached by our assailant; for the fellow has a troublesome facility of supporting what he says by the Bible. Believe me, in this matter, our only way of righting ourselves will be to convict him of scandal against the highest dignitaries of the Church.’

‘The order that we have lately received to track his movements and listen to his discourses, leads me to believe that our superiors are of your opinion.’

‘Whether my convictions are correct or not, of this I feel assured–that his days of liberty are numbered. It was but a few hours ago that I saw the bishop’s chamberlain’s head-assistant, and he told me that he had heard, through the crevice of a door–‘

‘Hush! he moves; he is pressing forward to enter the church. You can tell me what you were about to say as we follow him. Quick! let us mix with the crowd.’

Ever enthusiastic in the performance of their loathsome duties, these two discreet pastors of a Christian flock followed Numerian with the most elaborate caution into the interior of the sacred building.

Although the sun still left a faint streak of red in the western sky, and the moon had as yet scarcely risen, the great chandelier of two thousand four hundred lamps, mentioned by the bishop in his address to the people, was already alight. In the days of its severe and sacred beauty, the appearance of the church would have suffered fatally by this blaze of artificial brilliancy; but now that the ancient character of the basilica was completely changed, now that from a solemn temple it had been altered to the semblance of a luxurious palace, it gained immensely by its gaudy illumination. Not an ornament along the vast extent of its glorious nave but glittered in vivid distinctness in the dazzling light that poured downwards from the roof. The gilded rafters, the smooth inlaid marble pillars, the rich hangings of the windows, the jewelled candlesticks on the altars, the pictures, the statues, the bronzes, the mosaics, each and all glowed with a steady and luxurious transparency absolutely intoxicating to the eye. Not a trace of wear, not a vestige of tarnish now appeared on any object. Each portion of the nave to which the attention was directed appeared too finely, spotlessly radiant, ever to have been touched by mortal hands. Entranced and bewildered, the observation roamed over the surface of the brilliant scene, until, wearied by the unbroken embellishment of the prospect, it wandered for repose upon the dimly lighted aisles, and dwelt with delight upon the soft shadows that hovered about their distant pillars, and the gliding forms that peopled their dusky recesses, or loitered past their lofty walls.

At the moment when Numerian entered the basilica, a part of the service had just concluded. The last faint echo from the voices of the choir still hung upon the incense-laden air, and the vast masses of the spectators were still grouped in their listening and various attitudes, as the devoted reformer looked forth upon the church. Even he, stern as he was, seemed for a moment subdued by the ineffable enchantment of the scene; but ere long, as if displeased with his own involuntary emotions of admiration, his brow contracted, and he sighed heavily, as (still followed by the attentive spies) he sought the comparative seclusion of the aisles.

During the interval between the divisions of the service, the congregation occupied themselves in staring at the relics, which were enclosed in a silver cabinet with crystal doors, and placed on the top of the high altar. Although it was impossible to obtain a satisfactory view of these ecclesiastical treasures, they nevertheless employed the attention of every one until the appearance of a priest in the pulpit gave signal of the commencement of the sermon, and admonished all those who had seats to secure them without delay.

Passing through the ranks of the auditors of the sermon–some of whom were engaged in counting the lights in the chandelier, to be certain that the bishop had not defrauded them of one out of the two thousand four hundred lamps; others in holding whispered conversations, and opening small boxes of sweetmeats–we again conduct the reader to the outside of the church.

The assemblage here had by this time much diminished; the shadows flung over the ground by the lofty colonnades had deepened and increased; and in many of the more remote recesses of the Place hardly a human being was to be observed. At one of these extremities, where the pillars terminated in the street and the obscurity was most intense, stood a solitary old man keeping himself cautiously concealed in the darkness, and looking out anxiously upon the public way immediately before him.

He had waited but a short time when a handsome chariot, preceded by a body-guard of gaily-attired slaves, stopped within a few paces of his lurking-place, and the voice of the person it contained pronounced audibly the following words:–

‘No! no! Drive on–we are later than I thought. If I stay to see this illumination of the basilica, I shall not be in time to receive my guests for to-night’s banquet. Besides, this inestimable kitten of the breed most worshipped by the ancient Egyptians has already taken cold, and I would not for the world expose the susceptible animal any longer than is necessary to the dampness of the night-air. Drive on, good Carrio, drive on!’

The old man scarcely waited for the conclusion of this speech before he ran up to the chariot, where he was immediately confronted by two heads–one that of Vetranio the senator, the other that of a glossy black kitten adorned with a collar of rubies, and half enveloped in its master’s ample robes. Before the astonished noble could articulate a word, the man whispered in hoarse, hurried accents, ‘I am Ulpius– dismiss your servants–I have something important to say!’

‘Ha! my worthy Ulpius! You have a most unhappy faculty of delivering a message with the manner of an assassin! But I must pardon your unpleasant abruptness in consideration of your diligence. My excellent Carrio, If you value my approbation, remove your companions and yourself out of hearing!’

The freedman yielded instant obedience to his master’s mandate. The following conversation then took place, the strange man opening it thus:–

‘You remember your promise?’

‘I do.’

‘Upon your honour, as a nobleman and a senator, you are prepared to abide by it whenever it is necessary?’

‘I am.’

‘Then at the dawn of morning meet me at the private gate of your palace garden, and I will conduct you to Antonina’s bedchamber.’

‘The time will suit me. But why at the dawn of morning?’

‘Because the Christian dotard will keep a vigil until midnight, which the girl will most probably attend. I wished to tell you this at your palace, but I heard there that you had gone to Aricia, and would return by way of the basilica; so I posted myself to intercept you thus.’

‘Industrious Ulpius!’

‘Remember your promise!’

Vetranio leaned forward to reply, but Ulpius was gone.

As the senator again commanded his equipage to move on, he looked anxiously around him, as if once more expecting to see his strange adherent still lurking near the chariot. He only perceived, however, a man whom he did not know, followed by two other, walking rapidly past him. They were Numerian and the spies.

‘At last, my projects are approaching consummation,’ exclaimed Vetranio to himself, as he and his kitten rolled off in the chariot. ‘It is well that I thought of securing possession of Julia’s villa to-day, for I shall now, assuredly, want to use it to-morrow. Jupiter! What a mass of dangers, contradictions, and mysteries encompass this affair! When I think that I, who pride myself on my philosophy, have quitted Ravenna, borrowed a private villa, leagued myself with an uncultivated plebeian, and all for the sake of a girl who has already deceived my expectations by gaining me as a music-master without admitting me as a lover, I am positively astonished at my own weakness! Still it must be owned that the complexion my adventure has lately assumed renders it of some interest in itself. The mere pleasure of penetrating the secrets of this Numerian’s household is by no means the least among the numerous attraction of my design. How has he gained his influence over the girl? Why does he keep her in such strict seclusion? Who is this old half- frantic, unceremonious man-monster calling himself Ulpius; refusing all reward for his villainy; raving about a return to the old religion of the gods; and exulting in the promise he has extorted from me, as a good pagan, to support the first restoration of the ancient worship that may be attempted in Rome? Where does he come from? Why does he outwardly profess himself a Christian? What sent him into Numerian’s service? By the girdle of Venus! everything connected with the girl is as incomprehensible as herself! But patience–patience! A few hours more, and these mysteries will be revealed. In the meantime, let me think of my banquet, and of its presiding deity, the Nightingale Sauce!’

CHAPTER 5. ANTONINA.

Who that has been at Rome does not remember with delight the attractions of the Pincian Hill? Who, after toiling through the wonders of the dark, melancholy city, has not been revived by a visit to its shady walks, and by breathing its fragrant breezes? Amid the solemn mournfulness that reigns over declining Rome, this delightful elevation rises light, airy, and inviting, at once a refreshment to the body and a solace to the spirit. From its smooth summit the city is seen in its utmost majesty, and the surrounding country in its brightest aspect. The crimes and miseries of Rome seem deterred from approaching its favoured soil; it impresses the mind as a place set apart by common consent for the presence of the innocent and the joyful–as a scene that rest and recreation keep sacred from the intrusion of tumult and toil.

Its appearance in modern days is the picture of its character for ages past. Successive wars might dull its beauties for a time, but peace invariably restored them in all their pristine loveliness. The old Romans called it ‘The Mount of Gardens’. Throughout the disasters of the Empire and the convulsions of the Middle Ages, it continued to merit its ancient appellation, and a ‘Mount of Gardens’ it still triumphantly remains to the present day.

At the commencement of the fifth century the magnificence of the Pincian Hill was at its zenith. Were it consistent with the conduct of our story to dwell upon the glories of its palaces and its groves, its temples and its theatres, such a glowing prospect of artificial splendour, aided by natural beauty, might be spread before the reader as would tax his credulity, while it excited his astonishment. This task, however, it is here unnecessary to attempt. It is not for the wonders of ancient luxury and taste, but for the abode of the zealous and religious Numerian, that we find it now requisite to arouse interest and engage attention.

At the back of the Flaminian extremity of the Pincian Hill, and immediately overlooking the city wall, stood, at the period of which we write, a small but elegantly built house, surrounded by a little garden of its own, and protected at the back by the lofty groves and outbuildings of the palace of Vetranio the senator. This abode had been at one time a sort of summer-house belonging to the former proprietor of a neighbouring mansion.

Profligate necessities, however, had obliged the owner to part with this portion of his possessions, which was purchased by a merchant well known to Numerian, who received it as a legacy at his friend’s death. Disgusted, as soon as his reforming projects took possession of his mind, at the bare idea of propinquity to the ennobled libertines of Rome, the austere Christian determined to abandon his inheritance, and to sell it to another; but, at the repeated entreaties of his daughter, he at length consented to change his purpose, and sacrifice his antipathy to his luxurious neighbours to his child’s youthful attachment to the beauties of Nature as displayed in his legacy on the Pincian Mount. In this instance only did the natural affection of the father prevail over the acquired severity of the reformer. Here he condescended, for the first and the last time, to the sweet trivialities of youth. Here, indulgent in spite of himself, he fixed his little household, and permitted to his daughter her sole recreations of tending the flowers in the garden and luxuriating in the loveliness of the distant view.

******

The night has advanced an hour since the occurrence mentioned in the preceding chapter. The clear and brilliant moonlight of Italy now pervades every district of the glorious city, and bathes in its pure effulgence the groves and palaces on the Pincian Mount. From the garden of Numerian the irregular buildings of the great suburbs of Rome, the rich undulating country beyond, and the long ranges of mountains in the distance, are now all visible in the soft and luxurious light. Near the spot which commands this view, not a living creature is to be seen on a first examination; but on a more industrious and patient observation, you are subsequently able to detect at one of the windows of Numerian’s house, half hidden by a curtain, the figure of a young girl.

Soon this solitary form approaches nearer to the eye. The moonbeams, that have hitherto shone only upon the window, now illuminate other objects. First they display a small, white arm; then a light, simple robe; then a fair, graceful neck; and finally a bright, youthful, innocent face, directed steadfastly towards the wide moon-brightened prospect of the distant mountains.

For some time the girl remains in contemplation at her window. Then she leaves her post, and almost immediately reappears at a door leading into the garden. Her figure, as she advances towards the lawn before her, is light and small–a natural grace and propriety appear in her movements– she holds pressed to her bosom and half concealed by her robe, a gilt lute. When she reaches a turf bank commanding the same view as the window, she arranges her instrument upon her knees, and with something of restraint in her manner gently touches the chords. Then, as if alarmed at the sound she has produced, she glances anxiously around her, apparently fearful of being overheard. Her large, dark, lustrous eyes have in them an expression of apprehension; her delicate lips are half parted; a sudden flush rises in her soft, olive complexion as she examines every corner of the garden. Having completed her survey without discovering any cause for the suspicions she seems to entertain, she again employs herself over her instrument. Once more she strikes the chords, and now with a bolder hand. The notes she produces resolve themselves into a wild, plaintive, irregular melody, alternately rising and sinking, as if swayed by the fickle influence of a summer wind. These sounds are soon harmoniously augmented by the young minstrel’s voice, which is calm, still, and mellow, and adapts itself with exquisite ingenuity to every arbitrary variation in the tone of the accompaniment. The song that she has chosen is one of the fanciful odes of the day. Its chief merit to her lies in its alliance to the strange Eastern air which she heard at her first interview with the senator who presented her with the lute. Paraphrased in English, the words of the composition would run thus:–

THE ORIGIN OF MUSIC

I. Spirit, whose dominion reigns Over Music’s thrilling strains, Whence may be thy distant birth? Say what tempted thee to earth?

Mortal, listen: I was born In Creation’s early years, Singing, ‘mid the stars of morn, `To the music of the spheres.

Once as, within the realms of space, I view’d this mortal planet roll, A yearning towards they hapless race, Unbidden, filled my seraph soul!

Angels, who had watched my birth, Heard me sigh to sing to earth; ‘Twas transgression ne’er forgiv’n To forget my native heav’n; So they sternly bade me go–Banish’d to the world below.

II. Exil’d here, I knew no fears; For, though darkness round me clung, Though none heard me in the spheres, Earth had listeners while I sung.

Young spirits of the Spring sweet breeze Came thronging round me, soft and coy, Light wood-nymphs sported in the trees, And laughing Echo leapt for joy!

Brooding Woe and writhing Pain Soften’d at my gentle strain; Bounding Joy, with footstep fleet, Ran to nestle at my feet; While, arous’d, delighted Love Softly kiss’d me from above!

III. Since those years of early time, Faithful still to earth I’ve sung; Flying through each distant clime, Ever welcome, ever young!

Still pleas’d, my solace I impart Where brightest hopes are scattered dead; ‘Tis mine–sweet gift!–to charm the heart, Though all its other joys have fled!

Time, that withers all beside, Harmless past me loves to glide; Change, that mortals must obey, Ne’er shall shake my gentle sway; Still ’tis mine all hearts to move In eternity of love.

As the last sounds of her voice and her lute died softly away upon the still night air, an indescribable elevation appeared in the girl’s countenance. She looked up rapturously into the far, star-bright sky; her lip quivered, her dark eyes filled with tears, and her bosom heaved with the excess of the emotions that the music and the scene inspired. Then she gazed slowly around her, dwelling tenderly upon the fragrant flower-beds that were the work of her own hands, and looking forth with an expression half reverential, half ecstatic over the long, smooth, shining plains, and the still, glorious mountains, that had so long been the inspiration of her most cherished thoughts, and that now glowed before her eyes, soft and beautiful as her dreams on her virgin couch. Then, overpowered by the artless thoughts and innocent recollections which on the magic wings of Nature and Night came wafted over her mind, she bent down her head upon her lute, pressed her round, dimpled cheek against its smooth frame, and drawing her fingers mechanically over its strings, abandoned herself unreservedly to the reveries of maidenhood and youth.

Such was the being devoted by her father’s fatal ambition to a lifelong banishment from all that is attractive in human art and beautiful in human intellect! Such was the daughter whose existence was to be one long acquaintance with mortal woe, one unvaried refusal of mortal pleasure, whose thoughts were to be only of sermons and fasts, whose action were to be confined to the binding up of strangers’ wounds and the drying of strangers’ tears; whose life, in brief, was doomed to be the embodiment of her father’s austere ideal of the austere virgins of the ancient Church!

Deprived of her mother, exiled from the companionship of others of her age, permitted no familiarity with any living being, no sympathies with any other heart, commanded but never indulged, rebuked but never applauded, she must have sunk beneath the severities imposed on her by her father, but for the venial disobedience committed in the pursuit of the solitary pleasure procured for her by her lute. Vainly, in her hours of study, did she read the fierce anathemas against love, liberty, and pleasure, poetry, painting, and music, gold, silver, and precious stones, which the ancient fathers had composed for the benefit of the submissive congregations of former days; vainly did she imagine, during those long hours of theological instruction, that her heart’s forbidden longings were banished and destroyed–that her patient and childlike disposition was bowed in complete subserviency to the most rigorous of her father’s commands. No sooner were her interviews with Numerian concluded than the promptings of that nature within us, which artifice may warp but can never destroy, lured her into a forgetfulness of all that she had heard and a longing for much that was forbidden. We live, in this existence, but by the companionship of some sympathy, aspiration, or pursuit, which serves us as our habitual refuge from the tribulations we inherit from the outer world. The same feeling which led Antonina in her childhood to beg for a flower-garden, in her girlhood induced her to gain possession of a lute.

The passion for music which prompted her visit to Vetranio, which alone saved her affections from pining in the solitude imposed on them, and which occupied her leisure hours in the manner we have already described, was an inheritance of her birth.

Her Spanish mother had sung to her, hour after hour, in her cradle, for the short time during which she was permitted to watch over her child. The impression thus made on the dawning faculties of the infant, nothing ever effaced. Though her earliest perception were greeted only by the sight of her father’s misery; though the form which his despairing penitence soon assumed doomed her to a life of seclusion and an education of admonition, the passionate attachment to the melody of sound, inspired by her mother’s voice–almost imbibed at her mother’s breast–lived through all neglect, and survived all opposition. It found its nourishment in childish recollections, in snatches of street minstrelsy heard through her window, in the passage of the night winds of winter through the groves on the Pincian Mount, and received its rapturous gratification in the first audible sounds from the Roman senator’s lute. How her possession of an instrument, and her skill in playing, were subsequently gained, the reader already knows from Vetranio’s narrative at Ravenna. Could the frivolous senator have discovered the real intensity of the emotions his art was raising in his pupil’s bosom while he taught her; could he have imagined how incessantly, during their lessons, her sense of duty struggled with her love for music–how completely she was absorbed, one moment by an agony of doubt and fear, another by an ecstasy of enjoyment and hope–he would have felt little of that astonishment at her coldness towards himself which he so warmly expressed at his interview with Julia in the gardens of the Court. In truth, nothing could be more complete than Antonina’s childish unconsciousness of the feelings with which Vetranio regarded her. In entering his presence, whatever remnant of her affections remained unwithered by her fears was solely attracted and engrossed by the beloved and beautiful lute. In receiving the instrument, she almost forgot the giver in the triumph of possession; or, if she thought of him at all, it was to be grateful for having escaped uninjured from a member of that class, for whom her father’s reiterated admonitions had inspired her with a vague feeling of dread and distrust, and to determine that, now she had acknowledged his kindness and departed from his domains, nothing should ever induce her to risk discovery by her father and peril to herself by ever entering them again.

Innocent in her isolation, almost infantine in her natural simplicity, a single enjoyment was sufficient to satisfy all the passions of her age. Father, mother, lover, and companion; liberties, amusements, and adornments–they were all summed up for her in that simple lute. The archness, the liveliness, and the gentleness of her disposition; the poetry of her nature, and the affection of her heart; the happy bloom of youth, which seclusion could not all wither nor distorted precept taint, were now entirely nourished, expanded, and freshened–such is the creative power of human emotion–by that inestimable possession. She could speak to it, smile on it, caress it, and believe, in the ecstasy of her delight, in the carelessness of her self-delusion, that it sympathised with her joy. During her long solitudes, when she was silently watched in her father’s absence by the brooding, melancholy stranger whom he had set over her, it became a companion dearer than the flower-garden, dearer even that the plains and mountains which formed her favourite view. When her father returned, and she was led forth to sit in a dark place among strange, silent people, and to listen to interminable declamations, it was a solace to think of the instrument as it lay hidden securely in her chamber, and to ponder delightedly on what new music of her own she could play upon it next. And then, when evening arrived, and she was left alone in her garden–then came the hour of moonlight and song; the moment of rapture and melody that drew her out of herself, elevated her she felt not how, and transported her she knew not whither.

But, while we thus linger over reflection on motives and examinations into character, we are called back to the outer world of passing interests and events by the appearances of another figure on the scene. We left Antonina in the garden thinking over her lute. She still remains in her meditative position, but she is now no longer alone.

From the same steps by which she had descended, a man now advances into the garden, and walks towards the place she occupies. His gait is limping, his stature crooked, his proportions distorted. His large, angular features stand out in gaunt contrast to his shrivelled cheeks. His dry, matted hair has been burnt by the sun into a strange tawny brown. His expression is one of fixed, stern, mournful thought. As he steps stealthily along, advancing towards Antonina, he mutters to himself, and clutches mechanically at his garments with his lank, shapeless fingers. The radiant moonlight, falling fully upon his countenance, invests it with a livid, mysterious, spectral appearance: seen by a stranger at the present moment, he would have been almost awful to look upon.

This was the man who had intercepted Vetranio on his journey home, and who had now hurried back so as to regain his accustomed post before his master’s return, for he was the same individual mentioned by Numerian as his aged convert, Ulpius, in his interview with the landholder at the Basilica of St. Peter.

When Ulpius had arrived within a few paces of the girl he stopped, saying in a hoarse, thick voice–

‘Hide your toy–Numerian is at the gates!’

Antonina started violently as she listened to those repulsive accents. The blood rushed into her cheeks; she hastily covered the lute with her robe; paused an instant, as if intending to speak to the man, then shuddered violently, and hurried towards the house.

As she mounted the steps Numerian met her in the hall. There was now no chance of hiding the lute in its accustomed place.

‘You stay too late in the garden,’ said the father, looking proudly, in spite of all his austerity, upon his beautiful daughter as she stood by his side. ‘But what affects you?’ he added, noticing her confusion. ‘You tremble; your colour comes and goes; your lips quiver. Give me your hand!’

As Antonina obeyed him, a fold of the treacherous robe slipped aside, and discovered a part of the frame of the lute. Numerian’s quick eye discovered it immediately. He snatched the instrument from her feeble grasp. His astonishment on beholding it was too great for words, and for an instant he confronted the poor girl, whose pale face looked rigid with terror, in ominous and expressive silence.

‘This thing,’ said he at length, ‘this invention of libertines in my house–in my daughter’s possession!’ and he dashed the lute into fragments on the floor.

For one moment Antonina looked incredulously on the ruins of the beloved companion, which was the centre of all her happiest expectations for future days. Then, as she began to estimate the reality of her deprivation, her eyes lost all their heaven-born brightness, and filled to overflowing with the tears of earth.

‘To your chamber!’ thundered Numerian, as she knelt, sobbing convulsively, over those hapless fragments. ‘To your chamber! Tomorrow shall bring this mystery of iniquity to light!’

She rose humbly to obey him, for indignation had no part in the emotions that shook her gentle and affectionate nature. As she moved towards the room that no lute was henceforth to occupy, as she thought on the morrow that no lute was henceforth to enliven, her grief almost overpowered her. She turned back and looked imploringly at her father, as if entreating permission to pick up even the smallest of the fragments at his feet.

‘To your chamber!’ he reiterated sternly. ‘Am I to be disobeyed to my face?’

Without any repetition of her silent remonstrance, she instantly retired. As soon as she was out of sight, Ulpius ascended the steps and stood before the angered father.

‘Look, Ulpius,’ cried Numerian, ‘my daughter, whom I have so carefully cherished, whom I intended for an example to the world, has deceived me, even thus!’

He pointed, as he spoke, to the ruins of the unfortunate lute; but Ulpius did not address to him a word in reply, and he hastily continued:–

‘I will not sully the solemn offices of tonight by interrupting them with my worldly affairs. To-morrow I will interrogate my disobedient child. In the meantime, do not imagine, Ulpius, that I connect you in any way with this wicked and unworthy deception! In you I have every confidence, in your faithfulness I have every hope.’

Again he paused, and again Ulpius kept silence. Any one less agitated, less confiding, than his unsuspicious master, would have remarked that a faint sinister smile was breaking forth upon his haggard countenance. But Numerian’s indignation was still too violent to permit him to observed, and, spite of his efforts to control himself, he again broke forth in complaint.

‘On this night too, of all others,’ cried he, ‘when I had hoped to lead her among my little assembly of the faithful, to join in their prayers, and to listen to my exhortations–on this night I am doomed to find her a player on a pagan lute, a possessor of the most wanton of the world’s vanities! God give me patience to worship this night with unwandering thoughts, for my heart is vexed at the transgression of my child, as the heart of Eli of old at the iniquities of his sons!’

He was moving rapidly away, when, as if struck with a sudden recollection, he stopped abruptly, and again addressed his gloomy companion.

‘I will go by myself to the chapel to-night,’ said he. ‘You, Ulpius, will stay to keep watch over my disobedient child. Be vigilant, good friend, over my house; for even now, on my return, I thought that two strangers were following my steps, and I forebode some evil in store for me as the chastisement for my sins, even greater than this misery of my daughter’s transgression. Be watchful, good Ulpius–be watchful!’

And, as he hurried away, the stern, serious man felt as overwhelmed at the outrage that had been offered to his gloomy fanaticism, as the weak, timid girl at the destruction that had been wreaked upon her harmless lute.

After Numerian had departed, the sinister smile again appeared on the countenance of Ulpius. He stood for a short time fixed in thought, and then began slowly to descend a staircase near him which led to some subterranean apartments. He had not gone far when a slight noise became audible at an extremity of the corridor above. As he listened for a repetition of the sound, he heard a sob, and looking cautiously up, discovered, by the moonlight, Antonina stepping cautiously along the marble pavement of the hall.

She held in her hand a little lamp; her small, rosy feet were uncovered; the tears still streamed over her cheeks. She advanced with the greatest caution (as if fearful of being overheard) until she gained the part of the floor still strewn with the ruins of the broken lute. Here she knelt down, and pressed each fragment that lay before her separately to her lips. Then hurriedly concealing a single piece in her bosom, she arose and stole quickly away in the direction by which she had come.

‘Be patient till the dawn,’ muttered her faithless guardian, gazing after her from his concealment as she disappeared; ‘it will bring to thy lute a restorer, and to Ulpius an ally!’

CHAPTER 6. AN APPRENTICESHIP TO THE TEMPLE.

The action of our characters during the night included in the last two chapters has now come to a pause. Vetranio is awaiting his guests for the banquet; Numerian is in the chapel, preparing for the discourse that he is to deliver to his friends; Ulpius is meditating in his master’s house; Antonina is stretched upon her couch, caressing the precious fragment that she had saved from the ruins of her lute. All the immediate agents of our story are, for the present, in repose.

It is our purpose to take advantage of this interval of inaction, and direct the reader’s attention to a different country from that selected as the scene of our romance, and to such historical events of past years as connect themselves remarkably with the early life of Numerian’s perfidious convert. This man will be found a person of great importance in the future conduct of our story. It is necessary to the comprehension of his character, and the penetration of such of his purposes as have been already hinted at, and may subsequently appear, that the long course of his existence should be traced upwards to its source.

It was in the reign of Julian, when the gods of the Pagan achieved their last victory over the Gospel of the Christian, that a decently attired man, leading by the hand a handsome boy of fifteen years of age, entered the gates of Alexandria, and proceeded hastily towards the high priest’s dwelling in the Temple of Serapis.

After a stay of some hours at his destination, the man left the city alone as hastily as he entered it, and was never after seen at Alexandria. The boy remained in the abode of the high priest until the next day, when he was solemnly devoted to the service of the temple.

The boy was the young Emilius, afterwards called Ulpius. He was nephew to the high priest, to whom he had been confided by his father, a merchant of Rome.

Ambition was the ruling passion of the father of Emilius. It had prompted him to aspire to every distinction granted to the successful by the state, but it had not gifted him with the powers requisite to turn his aspirations in any instance into acquisitions. He passed through existence a disappointed man, planning but never performing, seeing his more fortunate brother rising to the highest distinction in the priesthood, and finding himself irretrievably condemned to exist in the affluent obscurity ensured to him by his mercantile pursuits.

When his brother Macrinus, on Julian’s accession to the imperial throne, arrived at the pinnacle of power and celebrity as high priest of the Temple of Serapis, the unsuccessful merchant lost all hope of rivalling his relative in the pursuit of distinction. His insatiable ambition, discarded from himself, now settled on one of his infant sons. He determined that his child should be successful where he had failed. Now that his brother had secured the highest elevation in the temple, no calling could offer more direct advantages to a member of his household that the priesthood. His family had been from their earliest origin rigid Pagans. One of them had already attained to the most distinguished honours of his gorgeous worship. He determined that another should rival his kinsman, and that that other should be his eldest son.

Firm in this resolution, he at once devoted his child to the great design which he now held continually in view. He knew well that Paganism, revived though it was, was not the universal worship that it had been; that it was now secretly resisted, and might soon be openly opposed, by the persecuted Christians throughout the Empire; and that if the young generation were to guard it successfully from all future encroachments, and to rise securely to its highest honours, more must be exacted from them than the easy attachment to the ancient religion require from the votaries of former days. Then, the performance of the most important offices in the priesthood was compatible with the possession of military or political rank. Now, it was to the temple, and to the temple only, that the future servant of the gods should be devoted. Resolving thus, the father took care that all the son’s occupations and rewards should, from his earliest years, be in some way connected with the career for which he was intended. His childish pleasures were to be conducted to sacrifices and auguries; his childish playthings and prizes were images of the deities. No opposition was offered on the boy’s part to this plan of education. Far different from his younger brother, whose turbulent disposition defied all authority, he was naturally docile; and his imagination, vivid beyond his years, was easily led captive by any remarkable object presented to it. With such encouragement, his father became thoroughly engrossed by the occupation of forming him for his future existence. His mother’s influence over him was jealously watched; the secret expression of her love, of her sorrow, at the prospect of parting with him, was ruthlessly suppressed whenever it was discovered; and his younger brother was neglected, almost forgotten, in order that the parental watchfulness might be entirely and invariably devoted to the eldest son.

When Emilius had numbered fifteen years, his father saw with delight that the time had come when he could witness the commencement of the realisation of all his projects. The boy was removed from home, taken to Alexandria, and gladly left, by his proud and triumphant father, under the especial guardianship of Macrinus, the high priest.

The chief of the temple full sympathised in his brother’s designs for the young Emilius. As soon as the boy had entered on his new occupations, he was told that he must forget all that he had left behind him at Rome; that he must look upon the high priest as his father, and upon the temple, henceforth, as his home; and that the sole object of his present labours and future ambition must be to rise in the service of the gods. Nor did Macrinus stop here. So thoroughly anxious was he to stand to his pupil in the place of a parent, and to secure his allegiance by withdrawing him in every way from the world in which he had hitherto lived, that he even changed his name, giving to him one of his own appellations, and describing it as a privilege to stimulate him to future exertions. From the boy Emilius, he was now permanently transformed to the student Ulpius.

With such a natural disposition as we have already described, and under such guardianship as that of the high priest, there was little danger that Ulpius would disappoint the unusual expectations which had been formed of him. His attention to his new duties never relaxed; his obedience to his new masters never wavered. Whatever Macrinus demanded of him he was sure to perform. Whatever longings he might feel to return to home, he never discovered them; he never sought to gratify the tastes naturally peculiar to his age. The high priest and his colleagues were astonished at the extraordinary readiness with which the boy himself forwarded their intentions for him. Had they known how elaborately he had been prepared for his future employments at his father’s house, they would have been less astonished at their pupil’s unusual docility. Trained as he had been, he must have shown a more than human perversity had he displayed any opposition to his uncle’s wishes. He had been permitted no childhood either of thought or action. His natural precocity had been seized as the engine to force his faculties into a perilous and unwholesome maturity; and when his new duties demanded his attention, he entered on them with the same sincerity of enthusiasm which his boyish coevals would have exhibited towards a new sport. His gradual initiation into the mysteries of his religion created a strange, voluptuous sensation of fear and interest in his mind. He heard the oracles, and he trembled; he attended the sacrifices and the auguries, and he wondered. All the poetry of the bold and beautiful superstition to which he was devoted flowed overwhelmingly into his young heart, absorbing the service of his fresh imagination, and transporting him incessantly from the vital realities of the outer world to the shadowy regions of aspiration and thought.

But his duties did not entirely occupy the attention of Ulpius. The boy had his peculiar pleasures as well as his peculiar occupations. When his employments were over for the day, it was a strange, unearthly, vital enjoyment to him to wander softly in the shade of the temple porticoes, looking down from his great mysterious eminence upon the populous and sun-brightened city at his feet; watching the brilliant expanse of the waters of the Nile glittering joyfully in the dazzling and pervading light; raising his eyes from the fields and woods, the palaces and garden, that stretched out before him below, to the lovely and cloudless sky that watched round him afar and above, and that awoke all that his new duties had left of the joyfulness, the affectionate sensibility, which his rare intervals of uninterrupted intercourse with his mother had implanted in his heart. Then, when the daylight began to wane, and the moon and stars already grew beautiful in their places in the firmament, he would pass into the subterranean vaults of the edifice, trembling as his little taper scarcely dispelled the dull, solemn gloom, and listening with breathless attention for the voices of those guardian spirits whose fabled habitation was made in the apartments of the sacred place. Or, when the multitude had departed for their amusements and their homes, he would steal into the lofty halls and wander round the pedestals of the mighty statues, breathing fearfully the still atmosphere of the temple, and watching the passage of the cold, melancholy moonbeams through the openings in the roof, and over the colossal limbs and features of the images of the pagan gods. Sometimes, when the services of Serapis and the cares attendant on his communications with the Emperor were concluded, Macrinus would lead his pupil into the garden of the priests, and praise him for his docility till his heart throbbed with gratitude and pride. Sometimes he would convey him cautiously outside the precincts of the sacred place, and show him, in the suburbs of the city, silent, pale, melancholy men, gliding suspiciously through the gay, crowded streets. Those fugitive figures, he would declare, were the enemies of the temple and all that it contained; conspirators against the Emperor and the gods; wretches who were to be driven forth as outcasts from humanity; whose appellation was ‘Christian’; and whose impious worship, if tolerated, would deprive him of the uncle whom he loved, of the temple that he reverenced, and of the priestly dignity and renown which it should be his life’s ambition to acquire.

Thus tutored in his duties by his guardian, and in his recreations by himself, as time wore on, the boy gradually lost every remaining characteristic of his age. Even the remembrance of his mother and his mother’s love grew faint on his memory. Serious, solitary, thoughtful, he lived but to succeed in the temple; he laboured but to emulate the high priest. All his feelings and faculties were now enslaved by an ambition, at once unnatural at his present age, and ominous of affliction for his future life. The design that Macrinus had contemplated as the work of years was perfected in a few months. The hope that his father had scarce dared to entertain for his manhood was already accomplished in his youth.

In these preparations for future success passed three years of the life of Ulpius. At the expiration of that period the death of Julian darkened the brilliant prospects of the Pagan world. Scarcely had the priests of Serapis recovered the first shock of astonishment and grief consequent upon the fatal news of the vacancy in the imperial throne, when the edict of toleration issued by Jovian, the new Emperor, reached the city of Alexandria, and was elevated on the walls of the temple.

The first sight of this proclamation (permitting freedom of worship to the Christians) aroused in the highly wrought disposition of Ulpius the most violent emotions of anger and contempt. The enthusiasm of his character and age, guided invariably in the one direction of his worship, took the character of the wildest fanaticism when he discovered the Emperor’s careless infringement of the supremacy of the temple. He volunteered in the first moments of his fury to tear down the edict from the walls, to lead an attack on the meetings of the triumphant Christians, or to travel to the imperial abode and exhort Jovian to withdraw his act of perilous leniency ere it was too late. With difficulty did his more cautious confederates restrain him from the execution of his impetuous designs. For two days he withdrew himself from his companions, and brooded in solitude over the injury offered to his beloved superstition, and the prospective augmentation of the influence of the Christian sect.

But the despair of the young enthusiast was destined to be further augmented by a private calamity, at once mysterious in its cause and overwhelming in its effect. Two days after the publication of the edict the high priest Macrinus, in the prime of vigour and manhood, suddenly died.

To narrate the confusion and horror within and without the temple on the discovery of this fatal even; to describe the execrations and tumults of the priests and the populace, who at once suspected the favoured and ambitious Christians of causing, by poison, the death of their spiritual ruler, might be interesting as a history of the manners of the times, but is immaterial to the object of this chapter. We prefer rather to trace the effect on the mind of Ulpius of his personal and private bereavement; of this loss–irretrievable to him–of the master whom he loved and the guardian whom it was his privilege to revere.

An illness of some months, during the latter part of which his attendants trembled for his life and reason, sufficiently attested the sincerity of the grief of Ulpius for the loss of his protector. During his paroxysms of delirium the priests who watched round his bed drew from his ravings many wise conclusions as to the effects that his seizure and its causes were likely to produce on his future character; but, in spite of all their penetration, they were still far from appreciating to a tithe of its extent the revolution that his bereavement had wrought in his disposition. The boy himself, until the moment of the high priest’s death, had never been aware of the depth of his devotion to his second father. Warped as they had been by his natural parent, the affectionate qualities that were the mainspring of his nature had never been entirely destroyed; and they seized on every kind word and gentle action of Macrinus as food which had been grudged them since their birth. Morally and intellectually, Macrinus had been to him the beacon that pointed the direction of his course, the judge that regulated his conduct, the Muse that he looked to for inspiration. And now, when this link which had connected every ramification of his most cherished and governing ideas was suddenly snapped asunder, a desolation sunk down upon his mind which at once paralysed its elasticity and withered its freshness. He glanced back, and saw nothing but a home from whose pleasures and affections his father’s ambition had exiled him for ever. He looked forward, and as he thought of his unfitness, both from character and education, to mix in the world as others mixed in it, he saw no guiding star of social happiness for the conduct of his existence to come. There was now no resource left for him but entirely to deliver himself up to those pursuits which had made his home as a strange place to him, which were hallowed by their connection with the lost object of his attachment, and which would confer the sole happiness and distinction that he could hope for in the wide world on his future life.

In addition to this motive for labour in his vocation, there existed in the mind of Ulpius a deep and settled feeling that animated him with unceasing ardour for the prosecution of his cherished occupations. This governing principle was detestation of the Christian sect. The suspicion that others had entertained regarding the death of the high priest was to his mind a certainty. He rejected every idea which opposed his determined persuasion that the jealousy of the Christians had prompted them to the murder, by poison, of the most powerful and zealous of the Pagan priests. To labour incessantly until he attained the influence and position formerly enjoyed by his relative, and to use that influence and position, when once acquired, as the means of avenging Macrinus, by sweeping every vestige of the Christian faith from the face of the earth, were now the settled purposes of his heart. Inspired by his determination with the deliberate wisdom which is in most men the result only of the experience of years, he employed the first days of his convalescence in cautiously maturing his future plans, and impartially calculating his chances of success. This self- examination completed, he devoted himself at once and for ever to his life’s great design. Nothing wearied, nothing discouraged, nothing impeded him. Outward events passed by him unnoticed; the city’s afflictions and the city’s triumphs spoke no longer to his heart. Year succeeded to year, but Time had no tongue for him. Paganism gradually sank, and Christianity imperceptibly rose, but change spread no picture before his eyes. The whole outward world was a void to him, until the moment arrived that beheld him successful in his designs. His preparations for the future absorbed every faculty of his nature, and left him, as to the present, a mere automaton, reflecting no principle, and animated by no event–a machine that moved, but did not perceive–a body that acted, without a mind that thought.

Returning for a moment to the outward world, we find that on the death of Jovian, in 364, Valentinian, the new Emperor, continued the system of toleration adopted by his predecessor. On his death, in 375, Gratian, the successor to the imperial throne, so far improved on the example of the two former potentates as to range himself boldly on the side of the partisans of the new faith. Not content with merely encouraging, both by precept and by example, the growth of Christianity, the Emperor further testified to his zeal for the rising religion by inflicting incessant persecutions upon the rapidly decreasing advocates of the ancient worship; serving, by these acts of his reign, as pioneer to his successor, Theodosius the Great, in the religious revolution which that illustrious opponent of Paganism was destined to effect.

The death of Gratian, in 383, saw Ulpius enrolled among the chief priests of the temple, and pointed out as the next inheritor of the important office once held by the powerful and active Macrinus. Beholding himself thus secure of the distinction for which he had laboured, the aspiring priest found leisure, at length, to look forth upon the affairs of the passing day. From every side desolation darkened the prospect that he beheld. Already, throughout many provinces of the Empire, the temples of the gods had been overthrown by the destructive zeal of the triumphant Christians. Already hosts of the terrified people, fearing that the fate of their idols might ultimately be their own, finding themselves deserted by their disbanded priests, and surrounded by the implacable enemies of the ancient faith, had renounced their worship for the sake of saving their lives and securing their property. On the wide field of Pagan ruin there now rose but one structure entirely unimpaired. The Temple of Serapis still reared its head–unshaken, unbending, unpolluted. Here the sacrifice still prospered and the people still bowed in worship. Before this monument of the religious glories of ages, even the rising power of Christian supremacy quailed in dismay. Though the ranks of its once multitudinous congregations were now perceptibly thinned, though the new churches swarmed with converts, though the edicts from Rome denounced it as a blot on the face of the earth, its gloomy and solitary grandeur was still preserved. No unhallowed foot trod its secret recesses; no destroying hand was raised as yet against its ancient and glorious walls.

Indignation, but not despondency, filled the heart of Ulpius as he surveyed the situation of the Pagan world. A determination nourished as his had been by the reflections of years, and matured by incessant industry of deliberation, is above all those shocks which affect a hasty decision or destroy a wavering intention. Impervious to failure, disasters urge it into action, but never depress it to repose. Its existence is the air that preserves the vitality of the mind–the spring that moves the action of the thoughts. Never for a moment did Ulpius waver in his devotion to his great design, or despair of its ultimate execution and success. Though every succeeding day brought the news of fresh misfortunes for the Pagans and fresh triumphs for the Christians, still, with a few of his more zealous comrades, he persisted in expecting the advent of another Julian, and a day of restoration for the dismantled shrines of the deities that he served. While the Temple of Serapis stood uninjured, to give encouragement to his labours and refuge to his persecuted brethren, there existed for him such an earnest of success as would spur him to any exertion, and nerve him against any peril.

And now, to the astonishment of priests and congregations, the silent, thoughtful, solitary Ulpius suddenly started from his long repose, and stood forth the fiery advocate of the rights of his invaded worship. In a few days the fame of his addresses to the Pagans who still attended the rites of Serapis spread throughout the whole city. The boldest among the Christians, as they passed the temple walls, involuntarily trembled when they heard the vehemence of the applause which arose from the audience of the inspired priest. Addressed to all varieties of age and character, these harangues woke an echo in every breast they reached. To the young they were clothed in all the poetry of the worship for which they pleaded. They dwelt on the altars of Venus that the Christians would lay waste; on the woodlands that the Christians would disenchant of their Dryads; on the hallowed Arts that the Christians would arise and destroy. To the aged they called up remembrances of the glories of the past achieved through the favour of the gods; of ancestors who had died in their service; of old forgotten loves, and joys, and successes that had grown and prospered under the gentle guardianship of the deities of old–while the unvarying burden of their conclusion to all was the reiterated assertion that the illustrious Macrinus had died a victim to the toleration of the Christian sect.

But the efforts of Ulpius were not confined to the delivery of orations. Every moment of his leisure time was dedicated to secret pilgrimages into Alexandria. Careless of peril, regardless of threats, the undaunted enthusiast penetrated into the most private meeting-places of the Christians; reclaiming on every side apostates to the Pagan creed, and defying the hostility of half the city from the stronghold of the temple walls. Day after day fresh recruits arrived to swell the ranks of the worshippers of Serapis. The few members of the scattered congregations of the provinces who still remained faithful to the ancient worship were gathered together in Alexandria by the private messengers of the unwearied Ulpius. Already tumults began to take place between the Pagans and the Christians; and even now the priest of Serapis prepared to address a protest to the new Emperor in behalf of the ancient religion of the land. At this moment it seemed probable that the heroic attempts of one man to prop the structure of superstition, whose foundations were undermined throughout, and whose walls were attacked by brigands, might actually be crowned with success.

But Time rolled on; and with him came inexorable change, trampling over the little barriers set up against it by human opposition, and erecting its strange and transitory fabrics triumphantly in their stead. In vain did the devoted priest exert all his powers to augment and combine his scattered band; in vain did the mighty temple display its ancient majesty, its gorgeous sacrifices, its mysterious auguries. The spirit of Christianity was forth for triumph on the earth–the last destinies of Paganism were fast accomplishing. Yet a few seasons more of unavailing resistance passed by, and then the Archbishop of Alexandria issued his decree that the Temple of Serapis should be destroyed.

At the rumour of their Primate’s determination, the Christian fanatics rose by swarms from every corner of Egypt, and hurried into Alexandria to be present at the work of demolition. From the arid solitudes of the desert, from their convents on rocks and their caverns in the earth, hosts of rejoicing monks flew to the city gates, and ranged themselves with the soldiery and the citizens, impatient for the assault. At the dawn of morning this assembly of destroyers was convened, and as the sun rose over Alexandria they arrived before the temple walls.

The gates of the glorious structure were barred; the walls were crowded with their Pagan defenders. A still, dead, mysterious silence reigned over the whole edifice; and, of all the men who thronged it, one only moved from his appointed place–one only wandered incessantly from point to point, wherever the building was open to assault. Those among the besiegers who were nearest the temple saw in this presiding genius of the preparations for defence the object at once of their most malignant hatred and their most ungovernable dread–Ulpius the priest.

As soon as the Archbishop gave the signal for the assault, a band of monks–their harsh, discordant voices screaming fragments of psalms, their tattered garments waving in the air, their cadaverous faces gleaming with ferocious joy–led the way, placed the first ladders against the walls, and began the attack. From all sides the temple was assailed by the infuriated besiegers, and on all sides it was successfully defended by the resolute besieged. Shock after shock fell upon the massive gates without forcing them to recede; missile after missile was hurled at the building, but no breach was made in its solid surface. Multitudes scaled the walls, gained the outer porticoes, and slaughtered their Pagan defenders, but were incessantly repulsed in their turn ere they could make their advantage good. Over and over again did the assailants seem on the point of storming the temple successfully, but the figure of Ulpius, invariably appearing at the critical moment among his disheartened followers, acted like a fatality in destroying the effect of the most daring exertions and the most important triumphs. Wherever there was danger, wherever there was carnage, wherever there was despair, thither strode the undaunted priest, inspiring the bold, succouring the wounded, reanimating the feeble. Blinded by no stratagem, wearied by no fatigue, there was something almost demoniac in his activity for destruction, in his determination under defeat. The besiegers marked his course round the temple by the calamities that befell them at his every step. If the bodies of slaughtered Christians were flung down upon them from the walls, they felt that Ulpius was there. If the bravest of the soldiery hesitated at mounting the ladders, it was known that Ulpius was directing the defeat of their comrades above. If a sally from the temple drove back the advanced guard upon the reserves in the rear, it was pleaded as their excuse that Ulpius was fighting at the head of his Pagan bands. Crowd on crowd of Christian warriors still pressed forward to the attack; but though the ranks of the unbelievers were perceptibly thinned, though the gates that defended them at last began to quiver before the reiterated blows by which they were assailed, every court of the sacred edifice yet remained in the possession of the besieged, and was at the disposal of the unconquered captain who organised the defence.

Depressed by the failure of his efforts, and horrified at the carnage already perpetrated among his adherents, the Archbishop suddenly commanded a cessation of hostilities, and proposed to the defenders of the temple a short and favourable truce. After some delay, and apparently at the expense of some discord among their ranks, the Pagans sent to the Primate an assurance of their acceptance of his terms, which were that both parties should abstain from any further struggle for the ascendancy until an edict from Theodosius determining the ultimate fate of the temple should be applied for and obtained.

The truce once agreed on, the wide space before the respited edifice was gradually cleared of its occupants. Slowly and sadly the Archbishop and his followers departed from the ancient walls whose summits they had assaulted in vain; and when the sun went down, of the great multitude congregated in the morning a few corpses were all that remained. Within the sacred building, Death and Repose ruled with the night, where morning had brightly glittered on Life and Action. The wounded, the wearied, and the cold, all now lay hushed alike, fanned by the night breezes that wandered through the lofty porticoes, or soothed by the obscurity that reigned over the silent halls. Among the ranks of the Pagan devotees but one man still toiled and thought. Round and round the temple, restless as a wild beast that is threatened in his lair, watchful as a lonely spirit in a city of strange tombs, wandered the solitary and brooding Ulpius. For him there was no rest of body–no tranquility of mind. On the events of the next few days hovered the fearful chance that was soon, either for misery or happiness, to influence irretrievably the years of his future life. Round and round the mighty walls he watched with mechanical and useless anxiety. Every stone in the building was eloquent to his lonely heart–beautiful to his wild imagination. On those barren structures stretched for him the loved and fertile home; there was the shrine for whose glory his intellect had been enslaved, for whose honour his youth had been sacrificed! Round and round the secret recesses and sacred courts he paced with hurried footstep, cleansing with gentle and industrious hand the stains of blood and the defilements of warfare from the statues at his side. Sad, solitary, thoughtful, as in the first days of his apprenticeship to the gods, he now roved in the same moonlit recesses where Macrinus had taught him in his youth. As the menacing tumults of the day had aroused his fierceness, so the stillness of the quiet night awakened his gentleness. He had combated for the temple in the morning as a son for a parent, and he now watched over it at night as a miser over his treasure, as a lover over his mistress, as a mother over her child!

The days passed on; and at length the memorable morning arrived which was to determine the fate of the last temple that Christian fanaticism had spared to the admiration of the world. At an early hour of the morning the diminished numbers of the Pagan zealots met their reinforced and determined opponents–both sides being alike unarmed–in the great square of Alexandria. The imperial prescript was then publicly read. It began by assuring the Pagans that their priest’s plea for protection for the temple had received the same consideration which had been bestowed on the petition against the gods presented by the Christian Archbishop, and ended by proclaiming the commands of the Emperor that Serapis and all other idols in Alexandria should immediately be destroyed.

The shout of triumph which followed the conclusion of the imperial edict still rose from the Christian ranks when the advanced guard of the soldiers appointed to ensure the execution of the Emperor’s designs appeared in the square. For a few minutes the forsaken Pagans stood rooted to the spot where they had assembled, gazing at the warlike preparations around them in a stupor of bewilderment and despair. Then as they recollected how diminished were their numbers, how arduous had been their first defence against a few, and how impossible would be a second defence against many–from the boldest to the feeblest, a panic seized on them; and, regardless of Ulpius, regardless of honour, regardless of the gods, they turned with one accord and fled from the place.

With the flight of the Pagans the work of demolition began. Even women and children hurried to join in the welcome task of indiscriminate destruction. No defenders on this occasion barred the gates of the temple to the Christian hosts. The sublime solitude of the tenantless building was outraged and invaded in an instant. Statues were broken, gold was carried off, doors were splintered into fragments; but here for a while the progress of demolition was delayed. Those to whom the labour of ruining the outward structure had been confided were less successful than their neighbours who had pillaged its contents. The ponderous stones of the pillars, the massive surfaces of the walls, resisted the most vigorous of their puny efforts, and forced them to remain contented with mutilating that which they could not destroy–with tearing off roofs, defacing marbles, and demolishing capitals. The rest of the buildings remained uninjured, and grander even now in the wildness of ruin than ever it had been in the stateliness of perfection and strength.

But the most important achievement still remained, the death-wound of Paganism was yet to be struck–the idol Serapis, which had ruled the hearts of millions, and was renowned in the remotest corners of the Empire, was to be destroyed! A breathless silence pervaded the Christian ranks as they filled the hall of the god. A superstitious dread, to which they had hitherto thought themselves superior, overcame their hearts, as a single soldier, bolder than his fellows, mounted by a ladder to the head of the colossal statue, and struck at its cheek with an axe. The blow had scarcely been dealt when a deep groan was heard from the opposite wall of the apartment, succeeded by a noise of retreating footsteps, and then all was silent again. For a few minutes this incident stayed the feet of those who were about to join their companion in the mutilation of the idol; but after an interval their hesitation vanished, they dealt blow after blow at the statue, and no more groans followed–no more sounds were heard, save the wild echoes of the stroke of hammer, crowbar, and club, resounding through the lofty hall. In an incredibly short space of time the image of Serapis lay in great fragments on the marble floor. The multitude seized on the limbs of the idol and ran forth to drag them in triumph through the streets. Yet a few minutes more, and the ruins were untenanted, the temple was silent–Paganism was destroyed!

Throughout the ravaging course of the Christians over the temple, they had been followed with dogged perseverance, and at the same time with the most perfect impunity, by the only Pagan of all his brethren who had not sought safety by flight. This man, being acquainted with every private passage and staircase in the sacred building, was enabled to be secretly present at each fresh act of demolition, in whatever part of the edifice it might be perpetrated. From hall to hall, and from room to room, he tracked with noiseless step and glaring eye the movements of the Christian mob–now hiding himself behind a pillar, now passing into concealed cavities in the walls, now looking down from imperceptible fissures in the roof; but, whatever his situation, invariably watching from it, with the same industry of attention and the same silence of emotion, the minutest acts of spoliation committed by the most humble follower of the Christian ranks. It was only when he entered with the victorious ravagers into the vast apartment occupied by the idol Serapis that the man’s countenance began to give evidence of the agony under which his heart was writhing within him. He mounted a private staircase cut in the hollow of the massive wall of the room, and gaining a passage that ran round the extremities of the ceiling, looked through a sort of lattice concealed in the ornaments of the cornice. As he gazed down and saw the soldier mounting, axe in hand, to the idol’s head, great drops of perspiration trickled from his forehead. His hot, thick breath hissed through his closed teeth, and his hands strained at the strong metal supports of the lattice until they bent beneath his grasp. When the stroke descended on the image, he closed his eyes. When the fragment detached by the blow fell on the floor, a groan burst from his quivering lips. For one moment more he glared down with a gaze of horror upon the multitude at his feet, and then with frantic speed he descended the steep stairs by which he had mounted to the roof, and fled from the temple.

The same night this man was again seen by some shepherds whom curiosity led to visit the desecrated building, weeping bitterly in its ruined and deserted porticoes. As they approached to address him, he raised his head, and with a supplicating action signed to them to leave the place. For the few moments during which he confronted them, the moonlight shone full upon his countenance, and the shepherds, who had in former days attended the ceremonies of the temple, saw with astonishment that the solitary mourner whose meditations they had disturbed was no other than Ulpius the priest.

At the dawn of day these shepherds had again occasion to pass the walls of the pillaged temple. Throughout the hours of the night the remembrance of the scene of unsolaced, unpartaken grief that they had beheld–of the awful loneliness of misery in which they had seen the heart-broken and forsaken man, whose lightest words they had once delighted to revere–inspired them with a feeling of pity for the deserted Pagan, widely at variance with the spirit of persecution which the spurious Christianity of their day would fain have instilled in the bosoms of its humblest votaries. Bent on consolation, anxious to afford help, these men, like the Samaritan of old, went up at their own peril to succour a brother in affliction. They searched every portion of the empty building, but the object of their sympathy was nowhere to be seen. They called, but heard no answering sound, save the dirging of the winds of early morning through the ruined halls, which but a short time since had resounded with the eloquence of the once illustrious priest. Except a few night-birds, already sheltered by the deserted edifice, not a living being moved in what was once the temple of the Eastern world. Ulpius was gone.

These events took place in the year 389. In 390, Pagan ceremonies were made treason by the laws throughout the whole Roman Empire.

From that period the scattered few who still adhered to the ancient faith became divided into three parties; each alike insignificant, whether considered as openly or secretly inimical to the new religion of the State at large.

The first party unsuccessfully endeavoured to elude the laws prohibitory of sacrifices and divinations by concealing their religious ceremonies under the form of convivial meetings.

The second preserved their ancient respect for the theory of Paganism, but abandoned all hope and intention of ever again accomplishing its practice. By such timely concessions many were enabled to preserve–and some even to attain–high and lucrative employments as officers of the State.

The third retired to their homes, the voluntary exiles of every religion; resigning the practice of their old worship as a necessity, and shunning the communion of Christians as a matter of choice.

Such were the unimportant divisions into which the last remnants of the once powerful Pagan community now subsided; but to none of them was the ruined and degraded Ulpius ever attached.

For five weary years–dating from the epoch of the prohibition of Paganism–he wandered through the Empire, visiting in every country the ruined shrines of his deserted worship–a friendless, hopeless, solitary man!

Throughout the whole of Europe, and all of Asia and the East that still belonged to Rome, he bent his slow and toilsome course. In the fertile valleys of Gaul, over the burning sands of Africa, through the sun- bright cities of Spain, he travelled–unfriended as a man under a curse, lonely as a second Cain. Never for an instant did the remembrance of his ruined projects desert his memory, or his mad determination to revive his worship abandon his mind. At every relic of Paganism, however slight, that he encountered on his way, he found a nourishment for his fierce anguish, and employment for his vengeful thoughts. Often, in the little villages, children were frightened from their sports in a deserted temple by the apparition of his gaunt, rigid figure among the tottering pillars, or the sound of his hollow voice as he muttered to himself among the ruins of the Pagan tombs. Often, in crowded cities, groups of men, congregated to talk over the fall of Paganism, found him listening at their sides, and comforting them, when they carelessly regretted their ancient faith, with a smiling and whispered assurance that a time of restitution would yet come. By all opinions and in all places he was regarded as a harmless madman, whose strange delusions and predilections were not to be combated, but to be indulged. Thus he wandered through the Christian world; regardless alike of lapse of time and change of climate; living within himself; mourning, as a luxury, over the fall of his worship; patient of wrongs, insults, and disappointments; watching for the opportunity that he still persisted in believing was yet to arrive; holding by his fatal determination with all the recklessness of ambition and all the perseverance of revenge.

The five years passed away unheeded, uncalculated, unregretted by Ulpius. For him, living but in the past, hoping but for the future, space held no obstacles–time was an oblivion. Years pass as days, hours as moments, when the varying emotions which mark their existence on the memory, and distinguish their succession on the dial of the heart, exist no longer either for happiness or woe. Dead to all freshness of feeling, the mind of Ulpius, during the whole term of his wanderings, lay numbed beneath the one idea that possessed it. It was only at the expiration of those unheeded years, when the chances of travel turned his footsteps towards Alexandria, that his faculties burst from the long bondage which had oppressed them. Then–when he passed through those gates which he had entered in former years a proud, ambitious boy, when he walked ungreeted through the ruined temple where he had once lived illustrious and revered–his dull, cold thoughts arose strong and vital within him. The spectacle of the scene of his former glories, which might have awakened despair in others, aroused the dormant passions, emancipated the stifled energies in him. The projects of vengeance and the visions of restoration which he had brooded over for five long years, now rose before him as realised already under the vivid influence of the desecrated scenes around. As he stood beneath the shattered porticoes of the sacred place, not a stone crumbling at his feet but rebuked him for his past inaction, and strengthened him for daring, for conspiracy, for revenge, in the service of the outrage gods. The ruined temples he had visited in his gloomy pilgrimages now became revived by his fancy, as one by one they rose on his toiling memory. Broken pillars soared from the ground; desecrated idols reoccupied their vacant pedestals; and he, the exile and the mourner, stood forth once