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1. Goisvintha
The mountains forming the range of Alps which border on the north- eastern
confines of Italy, were, in the autumn of the year 408, already furrowed in
numerous directions by the tracks of the invading forc
generally comprised under the appellation of Goths.
In some places these tracks were denoted on either side by fallen trees, and
occasionally assumed, when half obliterated by the ravages of storms, the
appearance of desolate and irregular marshes. In other places they were less
palpable. Here, the temporary path was entirely hidden by the incursions of a
swollen torrent; there, it was faintly perceptible in occasional patches of soft
ground, or partly traceable by fragments of abandoned armour, skeletons of
horses and men, and remnants of the rude bridg
passage across a river or transit over a precipice.
Among the rocks of the topmost of the range of mountains immediately
overhanging the plains of Italy, and presenting the last barrier to the exertions of a
traveller or the march of an invader, there lay, at the beginning of the fifth
century, a little lake. Bounded on three sides by precipices, its narrow banks
barren of verdure or habitations, and its dark and stagnant waters brightened but
rarely by the presence of the lively sunlight, this solitary spot--at all times
mournful-- presented, on the autumn of the day when our story commen
aspect of desolation at once dismal to the eye and oppressive to the heart.
It was near noon; but no sun appeared in the heaven. The dull clouds, monotonous
in colour and form, hid all beauty in the firmament, and shed heavy darkness on
the earth. Dense, stagnant vapours clung to the mountain summits; from the
drooping trees dead leaves and rotten branches sunk, at intervals, on the oozy soil,
or whirled over the gloomy precipice; and a small steady rain fell, slow and
unintermitting, upon the deserts around. Standing upon the path which armies had
once trodden, and which armies were still destined to tread, and looking towards
the solitary lake, you heard, at first, no sound but the regular dripping of the rain-
drops from rock to rock; you saw no prospect but the motionless waters at your
feet, and the dusky crags which shadowed them from above. When, however,
impressed by the mysterious loneliness of the place, the eye grew more
penetrating and the ear more attentive, a cavern became apparent in the precipices
round the lake; and, in the intervals o
perceptible the sounds of a human voice.
The mouth of the cavern was partly concealed by a large stone, on which were
piled some masses of rotten brushwood, as if for the purpose of protecting any
inhabitant it might contain from the coldness of the atmosphere without. Placed at
the eastward boundary of the lake, this strange place of refuge commanded a view
not only of the rugged path immediately below it, but of a large plot of level
es which had once served for
ces, an
f the heavy rain-drops, were faintly
es of those northern nations