As the declaration of his great mission burst thus from the lips of the Gothic king,
the spirit of his lofty ambition seemed to diffuse itself over his outward form. His
noble stature, his fine proportions, his commanding features, became invested
with a simple, primeval grandeur. Contrasted as he now was with the shrunken
figure of the spirit-broken stranger, he looked almost sublime.
A succession of protracted shuddering ran through the Pagan's frame, but he
neither wept nor spoke. The unavailing defence of the Temple of Serapis, the
defeated revolution at Alexandria, and the abortive intrigue with Vetranio, were
now rising on his memory, to heighten the horror of his present and worst
overthrow. Every circumstance connected with his desperate passage through the
rifted wall revived, fearfully vivid, on his mind. He remembered all the emotions
of his first night's labour in the darkness, all the miseries of his second night's
torture under the fallen brickwork, all the woe, danger, and despondency that
accompanied his subsequent toil--persevered in under the obstructions of a
famine-weakened body and a helpless arm--until he passed, in delusive triumph,
the last of the hindrances in the long-laboured breach. One after another these
banished recollections returned to his memory as he listened to Alaric's rebuking
words--reviving past infirmities, opening old wounds, inflicting new lacerations.
But, saving the shudderings that still shook his body, no outward witness betrayed
the inward torment that assailed him. It was too strong for human words, too
terrible for human sympathy;--he suffered it in brute silence. Monstrous as was
his plot, the moral punishment of its attempted consummation was severe enough
to be worthy of the projected crime.
After watching the man for a few minutes more, with a glance of pitiless disdain,
Alaric summoned one of the warriors in attendance; and, having previously
commanded him to pass the word to the sentinels, authorising the stranger's free
passage through the encampment, he then turned, and, for the last time, addressed
him as follows:--
'Return to Rome, through the hole whence, reptile-like, you emerged!-- and feed
your starving citizens with the words you have heard in the barbarian's tent!'
The guard approached, led him from the presence of the king, issued the
necessary directions to the sentinels, and left him to himself. Once he raised his
eyes in despairing appeal to the heaven that frowned over his head; but still, no
word, or tear, or groan, escaped him. He moved slowly on through the thick
darkness; and turning his back on the city, passed, careless whither he strayed,
into the streets of the desolate and dispeopled suburbs.