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Antonina

16. Love Meetings
Who that has looked on a threatening and tempestuous sky, has not felt the
pleasure of discovering unexpectedly a small spot of serene blue, still shining
among the stormy clouds? The more unwillingly the eye has wandered over the
gloomy expanse of the rest of the firmament, the more gladly does it finally rest
on the little oasis of light which meets at length its weary gaze, and which, when
it was dispersed over the whole heaven, was perhaps only briefly regarded with a
careless glance. Contrasted with the dark and mournful hues around it, even that
small spot of blue gradually acquires the power of investing the wider and sadder
prospect with a certain interest and animation that it did not before possess--until
the mind recognises in the surrounding atmosphere of storm an object adding
variety to the view--a spectacle whose mournfulness may interest as well as repel.
Was it with sensations resembling these (applied, however, rather to the mind
than to the eye) that the reader perused those pages devoted to Hermanric and
Antonina? Does the happiness there described now appear to him to beam through
the stormy progress of the narrative as the spot of blue beams through the
gathering clouds? Did that small prospect of brightness present itself, at the time,
like a garden of repose amid the waste of fierce emotions which encompassed it?
Did it encourage him, when contrasted with what had gone before, to enter on the
field of gloomier interest which was to follow? If, indeed, it has thus affected him,
if he can still remember the scene at the farm-house beyond the suburbs with
emotions such as these, he will not now be unwilling to turn again for a moment
from the gathering clouds to the spot of blue,-- he will not deny us an instant's
digression from Ulpius and the city of famine to Antonina and the lonely plains.
During the period that has elapsed since we left her, Antonina has remained
secure in her solitude, happy in her well-chosen concealment. The few straggling
Goths who at rare intervals appeared in the neighbourhood of her sanctuary never
intruded on its peaceful limits. The sight of the ravaged fields and emptied
granaries of the deserted little property sufficed invariably to turn their marauding
steps in other directions. Day by day ran smoothly and swiftly onwards for the
gentle usurper of the abandoned farm-house. In the narrow round of its gardens
and protecting woods was comprised for her the whole circle of the pleasures and
occupations of her new life.
The simple stores left in the house, the fruits and vegetables to be gathered in the
garden, sufficed amply for her support. The pastoral solitude of the place had in it
a quiet, dreamy fascination, a novelty, an unwearying charm, after the austere
loneliness to which her former existence had been subjected in Rome. And when
evening came, and the sun began to burnish the tops of the western tress, then,
after the calm emotions of the solitary day, came the hour of absorbing cares and
happy expectations--ever the same, yet ever delighting and ever new. Then the
rude shutters were carefully closed; the open door was shut and barred; the small
light--now invisible to the world without--was joyfully kindled; and then, the
 
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