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conversation, occasionally looking round anxiously to a couch placed against the
third side of the apartment, on which Antonina lay extended, while Numerian
watched by her in silence. The point of Goisvintha's knife had struck deep, but, as
yet, the fatal purpose of the assassination had failed.
The girl's eyes were closed; her lips were parted in the languor of suffering; one
of her hands lay listless on her father's knee. A slight expression of pain,
melancholy in its very slightness, appeared on her pale face, and occasionally a
long-drawn, quivering breath escaped her-- nature's last touching utterance of its
own feebleness! The old man, as he sat by her side, fixed on her a wistful,
inquiring glance. Sometimes he raised his hand, and gently and mechanically
moved to and fro the long locks of her hair, as they spread over the head of the
couch; but he never turned to communicate with the other persons in the room--he
sat as if he saw nothing save his daughter's figure stretched before him, and heard
nothing save the faint, fluttering sound of her breathing, close at his ear.
It was now dark, and one lamp hanging from the ceiling threw a soft equal light
over the room. The different persons occupying it presented but little evidence of
health and strength in their countenances, to contrast them in appearance with the
wounded girl; all had undergone the wasting visitation of the famine, and all were
pale and languid, like her. A strange, indescribable harmony prevailed over the
scene. Even the calmness of absorbing expectation and trembling hope, expressed
in the demeanour of Numerian, seemed reflected in the actions of those around
him, in the quietness with which the women pursued their employment, in the
lower and lower whispers in which the men continued their conversation. There
was something pervading the air of the whole apartment that conveyed a sense of
the solemn, unworldly stillness which we attach to the abstract idea of religion.
Of the two men cautiously talking together, one was the patrician, Vetranio; the
other, a celebrated physician of Rome.
Both the countenance and manner of the senator gave melancholy proof that the
orgie at his palace had altered him for the rest of his life. He looked what he was,
a man changed for ever in constitution and character. A fixed expression of
anxiety and gloom appeared in his eyes; his emaciated face was occasionally
distorted by a nervous, involuntary contraction of the muscles; it was evident that
the paralysing effect of the debauch which had destroyed his companions would
remain with him to the end of his existence. No remnant of his careless self-
possession, his easy, patrician affability, appeared in his manner, as he now
listened to his companion's conversation; years seemed to have been added to his
life since he had headed the table at 'The Banquet of Famine'.
'Yes,' said the physician, a cold, calm man, who spoke much, but pronounced all
his words with emphatic deliberation,--'Yes, as I have already told you, the wound
in itself was not mortal. If the blade of the knife had entered near the centre of the
neck, she must have died when she was struck. But it passed outwards and
backwards; the large vessels escaped, and no vital part has been touched.'
'And yet you persist in declaring that you doubt her recovery!' exclaimed
Vetranio, in low, mournful tones.
'I do,' pursued the physician. 'She must have been exhausted in mind and body
when she received the blow--I have watched her carefully; I know it! There is