19. The Guardian Restored
Not long is the new-made grave left unwatched to the solemn guardianship of
Solitude and Night. More than a few minutes have scarcely elapsed since it was
dug, yet already human footsteps press its yielding surface, and a human glance
scans attentively its small and homely mound.
But it is not Antonina, whom he loved; it is not Goisvintha, through whose
vengeance he was lost, who now looks upon the earth above the young warrior's
corpse. It is a stranger, an outcast; a man lost, dishonoured, abandoned--it is the
solitary and ruined Ulpius who now gazes with indifferent eyes upon the peaceful
garden and the eloquent grave.
In the destinies of woe committed to the keeping of the night, the pagan had been
fatally included. The destruction that had gone forth against the body of the young
man who lay beneath the earth had overtaken the mind of the old man who stood
over his simple grave. The frame of Ulpius, with all its infirmities, was still there,
but the soul of ferocious patience and unconquerable daring that had lighted it
grandly in its ruin was gone. Over the long anguish of that woeful life the veil of
self-oblivion had closed for ever!
He had been dismissed by Alaric, but he had not returned to the city whither he
was bidden. Throughout the night he had wandered about the lonely suburbs,
striving in secret and horrible suffering for the mastery of his mind. There did the
overthrow of all his hopes from the Goths expand rapidly into the overthrow of
the whole intellect that had created his aspirations. There had reason burst the
bonds that had so long chained, perverted, degraded it! At length, wandering
hither and thither, he had dragged the helpless body, possessed no longer by the
perilous mind, to the farm-house garden in which he now stood, gazing alternately
at the upturned sods of the chieftain's grave and the red gleam of the fire as it
glowed from the dreary room through the gap of the shattered door.
His faculties were fatally disordered rather than utterly destroyed. His penetration,
his firmness, and his cunning were gone; but a wreck of memory, useless and
unmanageable--a certain capacity for momentary observation still remained to
him. The shameful miscarriage in the tent of Alaric, which had overthrown his
faculties, had passed from him as an event that never happened, but he
remembered fragments of his past existence--he still retained a vague
consciousness of the ruling purpose of his whole life.
These embryo reflections, disconnected and unsustained, flitted to and fro over
his dark mind as luminous exhalations over a marsh--rising and sinking, harmless
and delusive, fitful and irregular. What he remembered of the past he remembered
carelessly, viewing it with as vacant a curiosity as if it were the visionary
spectacle of another man's struggles and misfortunes and hopes, acting under it as
under a mysterious influence, neither the end nor the reason of which he cared to
discover. For the future, it was to his thoughts a perfect blank; for the present, it
was a jarring combination of bodily weariness and mental repose.