Antonina HTML version
drawn, as--supporting himself on his left arm, and creeping forward a few inches
at a time--he set forth on his toilsome journey.
Here, he paused bewildered in the darkness; there, he either checked himself by a
convulsive effort from falling headlong into the unknown deeps beneath him, or
lost the little ground he had gained in labour and agony, by retracing his way at
the bidding of some unexpected obstacle. Now he gnashed his teeth in anguish,
now he cursed in despair, now he was breathless with exhaustion; but still, with
an obstinacy that had in it something of the heroic, he never failed in his fierce
resolution to effect his escape.
Slowly and painfully, moving with the pace and the perseverance of the tortoise,
hopeless yet determined as a navigator in a strange sea, he writhed onward and
onward upon his unguided course, until he reaped at length the reward of his long
suffering, by the sudden discovery of a thin ray of moonlight toiling through a
crevice in the murky brickwork before him. Hardly did the hearts of the Magi
when the vision of 'the star in the East' first dawned on their eyes, leap within
them with a more vivid transport, than that which animated the heart of Ulpius at
the moment when he beheld the inspiring and guiding light.
Yet a little more exertion, a little more patience, a little more anguish; and he
stood once again, a ghastly and crippled figure, before the outer cavity in the wall.
It was near daybreak; the moon shone faintly in the dull, grey heaven; a small,
vaporous rain was sinking from the shapeless clouds; the waning night showed
bleak and cheerless to the earth, but cast no mournful or reproving influence over
the Pagan's mind. He looked round on his solitary lurking place, and beheld no
human figure in its lonely recesses. He looked up at the ramparts, and saw that the
sentinels stood silent and apart, wrapped in their heavy watch-cloaks, and
supported on their trusty weapons. It was perfectly apparent that the events of his
night of suffering and despair had passed unheeded by the outer world.
He glanced back with a shudder upon his wounded and helpless limb; then his
eyes fixed themselves upon the wall. After surveying it with an earnest and
defiant gaze, he slowly moved the brushwood with his foot, against the small
cavity in its outer surface.
'Days pass, wounds heal, chances change,' muttered the old man, departing from
his haunt with slow and uncertain steps. 'In the mines I have borne lashes without
a murmur--I have felt my chains widening, with each succeeding day, the ulcers
that their teeth of iron first gnawed in my flesh, and have yet lived to loosen my
fetters, and to close my sores! Shall this new agony have a power to conquer me
greater than the others that are past? I will even yet return in time to overcome the
resistance of the wall! My arm is crushed, but my purpose is whole!'