Antonina HTML version

The Passage Of The Wall
'A fair night this, Balbus! All moonlight and no mist! I was posted last evening at
the Ostian Gate, and was half choked by the fog.'
'If you were posted last night at the Ostian Gate, you were better placed than you
are now. The ramparts here are as lonely as a ruin in the provinces. Nothing
behind us but the back of the Pincian Mount; nothing before us but the empty
suburbs; nothing at each side of us but brick and stone; nothing at our posts but
ourselves. May I be crucified like St. Peter, if I believe that there is another place
on the whole round of the walls possessed of such solitary dulness as this!'
'You are a man to find something to complain of, if you were lodged in one of the
palaces yonder. The place is solitary enough, it is true; but whether it is dull or not
depends on ourselves, its most honourable occupants. I, for one, am determined to
promote its joviality by the very praiseworthy exertion of obliging you, my
discontented friend, with an inexhaustible series of those stories for which, I may
say, without arrogance, I am celebrated throughout the length and breadth of all
the barracks of Rome.'
'You may tell as many stories as you please, but do not imagine that I will make
one of your audience.'
'You are welcome to attend to me or not, as you choose. Though you do not listen,
I shall still relate my stories by way of practice. I will address them to the walls,
or to the air, or to the defunct gods and goddesses of antiquity, should they
happen at this moment to be hovering over the city in a rage, as some of the
unconverted would have us believe; or to our neighbours the Goths, if they are
seized with a sudden desire to quite their encampments, and obtain a near view of
the fortifications that they are so discreetly unwilling to assault. Or, these
materials for a fit and decent auditory failing me, I will tell my stories to the most
attentive of all listeners--myself.'
And the sentinel, without further delay, opened his budget of anecdotes, with the
easy fluency of of a man who possessed a well-placed confidence in the
perfection of his capacities for narration. Determined that his saturnine colleague
should hear him, though he would not give him his attention, he talked in a raised
voice, pacing briskly backwards and forwards over the space of his allotted limits,
and laughing with ludicrous regularity and complacency at every jest that he
happened to make in the course of his ill-rewarded narrative. He little thought, as
he continued to proceed in his tale that its commencement had been welcomed by
an unseen hearer, with emotions widely different from those which had dictated
the observations of the unfriendly companion of his watch.
True to his determination, Ulpius, with part of the wages which he had hoarded in
Numerian's service, had procured a small lantern from a shop in one of the distant
quarters of Rome; and veiling its light in a piece of coarse, thick cloth, had
proceeded by the solitary pathway to his second night's labour at the wall. He
arrived at the breach, at the commencement of the dialogue above related, and
heard with delight the sentinel's noisy resolution to amuse his companion in spite