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working its fulfilment in Rome had forced the external appearances of the night
into harmony with its own woe-boding nature.
Then, as the young Goth still lingered at his post of observation, the long, low,
tremulous, absorbing roll of thunder afar off became grandly audible. It seemed to
proceed from a distance almost incalculable; to be sounding from its cradle in the
frozen north; to be journeying about its ice-girdled chambers in the lonely poles.
It deepened rather than interrupted the dreary, mysterious stillness of the
atmosphere. The lightning, too, had a summer softness in its noiseless and
frequent gleam. It was not the fierce lightning of winter, but a warm, fitful
brightness, almost fascinating in its light, rapid recurrence, tinged with the glow
of heaven, and not with the glare of hell.
There was no wind--no rain; and the air was as hushed as if it slept over chaos in
the infancy of a new creation.
Among the various objects displayed, instant by instant, by the rapid lightning to
the eyes of Hermanric, the most easily and most distinctly visible was the broad
surface of the rifted wall. The large, loose stones, scattered here and there at its
base, and the overhanging lid of its broad rampart, became plainly though fitfully
apparent in the brief moments of their illumination. The lightning had played for
some time over that structure of the fortifications, and the bare ground that
stretched immediately beyond them, when the smooth prospect which it thus gave
by glimpses to view, was suddenly chequered by a flight of birds appearing from
one of the lower divisions of the wall, and flitting uneasily to and fro at one spot
before its surface.
As moment after moment the lightning continued to gleam, so the black forms of
the birds were visible to the practised eye of the Goth-- perceptible, yet
evanescent, as sparks of fire or flakes of snow-- whirling confusedly and
continually about the spot whence they had evidently been startled by some
unimaginable interruption. At length, after a lapse of some time, they vanished as
suddenly as they had appeared, with shrill notes of affright which were audible
even above the continuous rolling of the thunder; and immediately afterwards,
when the lightning alternated with the darkness, there appeared to Hermanric, in
the part of the wall where the birds had been first disturbed, a small red gleam,
like a spark of fire lodged in the surface of the structure. Then this was lost; a
longer obscurity than usual prevailed in the atmosphere, and when the Goth gazed
eagerly through the next succession of flashes, they showed him the momentary
and doubtful semblance of a human figure, standing erect on the stones at the base
of the wall.
Hermanric started with astonishment. Again the lightning ceased. In the ardour of
his anxiety to behold more, he strained his eyes with the vain hope of penetrating
the obscurity around him. The darkness seemed interminable. Once again the
lightning flashed brilliantly out. He looked eagerly towards the wall--the figure
was still there.
His heart throbbed quickly within him, as he stood irresolute on the spot he had
occupied since the first peal of thunder had struck upon his ear. Were the light and
the man--one seen but for an instant, the other still perceptible--mere phantoms of
his erring sight, dazzled by the quick recurrence of atmospheric changes through