last banquet given in Rome, ere the city is annihilated, will be mine! The Goths
and the famine shall have no part in my death! Pleasure shall preside at my last
moments, as it has presided at my whole life! I will die like Sardanapalus, with
my loves and my treasures around me, and the last of my guests who remains
proof against our festivity shall set fire to my palace, as the kingly Assyrian set
fire to his!'
'This is no season for jesting,' exclaimed the Prefect, staring round him with
bewildered eyes and colourless cheeks. 'Our miseries are but dawning as yet! In
the next street lies the corpse of a woman, and-- horrible omen!--a coil of serpents
is wreathed about her neck! We have no burial-place to receive her, and the
thousands who may die like her, ere assistance arrives. The city sepulchres
outside the walls are in the hands of the Goths. The people stand round the body
in a trance of horror, for they have now discovered a fatal truth we would fain
have concealed from them;' here the Prefect paused, looked round affrightedly on
his listeners, and then added in low trembling tones--
'The citizens are lying dead from famine in the streets of Rome!'