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15. The City And The Gods
We return once more to the Gothic encampment in the suburbs eastward of the
Pincian Gate, and to Hermanric and the warriors under his command, who are still
posted at that particular position on the great circle of the blockade.
The movements of the young chieftain from place to place expressed, in their
variety and rapidity, the restlessness that was agitating his mind. He glanced back
frequently from the warriors around him to the remote and opposite quarter of the
suburbs, occasionally directing his eyes towards the western horizon, as if
anxiously awaiting the approach of some particular hour of the coming night.
Weary at length of pursuing occupations which evidently irritated rather than
soothed his impatience, he turned abruptly from his companions, and advancing
towards the city, paced slowly backwards and forwards over the waste ground
between the suburbs and the walls of Rome.
At intervals he still continued to examine the scene around him. A more dreary
prospect than now met his view, whether in earth or sky, can hardly be conceived.
The dull sunless day was fast closing, and the portentous heaven gave promise of
a stormy night. Thick, black layers of shapeless cloud hung over the whole
firmament, save at the western point; and here lay a streak of pale, yellow light,
enclosed on all sides by the firm, ungraduated, irregular edges of the masses of
gloomy vapour around it. A deep silence hung over the whole atmosphere. The
wind was voiceless among the steady trees. The stir and action in the being of
nature and the life of man seemed enthralled, suspended, stifled. The air was
laden with a burdensome heat; and all things on earth, animate and inanimate, felt
the oppression that weighed on them from the higher elements. The people who
lay gasping for breath in the famine-stricken city, and the blades of grass that
drooped languidly on the dry sward beyond the walls, owned the enfeebling
influence alike.
As the hours wore on and night stealthily and gradually advanced, a monotonous
darkness overspread, one after another, the objects discernible to Hermanric from
the solitary ground he still occupied. Soon the great city faded into one vast,
impenetrable shadow, while the suburbs and the low country around them
vanished in the thick darkness that gathered almost perceptibly over the earth.
And now the sole object distinctly visible was the figure of a weary sentinel, who
stood on the frowning rampart immediately above the rifted wall, and whose
drooping figure, propped upon his weapon, was indicated in hard relief against the
thin, solitary streak of light still shining in the cold and cloudy wastes of the
western sky.
But as the night still deepened, this one space of light faded, contracted, vanished,
and with it disappeared the sentinel and the line of rampart on which he was
posted. The rule of the darkness now became universal. Densely and rapidly it
overspread the whole city with startling suddenness; as if the fearful destiny now