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23. The Last Efforts Of The
We return to the street before the palace. The calamities of the siege had fallen
fiercely on those who lay there during the night. From the turbulent and ferocious
mob of a few hours since, not even the sound of a voice was now heard. Some,
surprised in a paroxysm of hunger by exhaustion and insensibility, lay with their
hands half forced into their mouths, as if in their ravenous madness they had
endeavoured to prey upon their own flesh. Others now and then wearily opened
their languid eyes upon the street, no longer regardful, in the present extremity of
their sufferings, of the building whose destruction they had assembled to behold,
but watching for a fancied realisation of the visions of richly spread tables and
speedy relief called up before them, as if in mockery, by the delirium of starvation
and disease.
The sun had as yet but slightly risen above the horizon, when the attention of the
few among the populace who still preserved some perception of outward events
was suddenly attracted by the appearance of an irregular procession--composed
partly of citizens and partly of officers of the Senate, and headed by two men--
which slowly approached from the end of the street leading into the interior of the
city. This assembly of persons stopped opposite Vetranio's palace; and then such
members of the mob who watched them as were not yet entirely abandoned by
hope, heard the inspiring news that the procession they beheld was a procession of
peace, and that the two men who headed it were the Spaniard, Basilius, a
governor of a province, and Johannes, the chief of the Imperial notaries--
appointed ambassadors to conclude a treaty with the Goths.
As this intelligence reached them, men who had before appeared incapable of the
slightest movement now rose painfully, yet resolutely, to their feet, and crowded
round the two ambassadors as round two angels descended to deliver them from
bondage and death. Meanwhile, some officers of the Senate, finding the front
gates of the palace closed against them, proceeded to the garden entrance at the
back of the building, to obtain admission to its owner. The absence of Vetranio
and his friends from the deliberations of the government had been attributed to
their disgust at the obstinate and unavailing resistance offered to the Goths. Now,
therefore, when submission had been resolved upon, it had been thought both
expedient and easy to recall them peremptorily to their duties. In addition to this
motive for seeking the interior of the palace, the servants of the Senate had
another errand to perform there. The widely rumoured determination of Vetranio
and his associates to destroy themselves by fire, in the frenzy of a last debauch--
disbelieved or disregarded while the more imminent perils of the city were under
consideration--became a source of some apprehension and anxiety to the acting
members of the Roman council, now that their minds were freed from part of the
responsibility which had weighed on them, by their resolution to treat for peace.