Antonina HTML version

He shuddered as he stood shelterless under the open heaven. The cold, that he had
defied in the vaults of the rifted wall, pierced in the farm-house garden; his limbs,
which had resisted repose on the hard journey from Rome to the camp of the
Goths, now trembled so that he was fain to rest them on the ground. For a short
time he sat glaring with vacant and affrighted eyes upon the open dwelling before
him, as though he longed to enter it but dare not. At length the temptation of the
ruddy firelight seemed to vanquish his irresolution; he rose with difficulty, and
slowly and hesitatingly entered the house.
He had advanced, thief-like, but a few steps, he had felt but for a moment the
welcome warmth of the fire, when the figure of Antonina, still extended
insensible upon the floor, caught his eye; he approached it with eager curiosity,
and, raising the girl on his arm, looked at her with a long and rigid scrutiny.
For some moments no expression of recognition passed his lips or appeared on his
countenance, as, with a mechanical, doting gesture of fondness, he smoothed her
dishevelled hair over her forehead. While he was thus engaged, while the remains
of the gentleness of his childhood were thus awfully revived in the insanity of his
age, a musical string wound round a small piece of gilt wood fell from its
concealment in her bosom; he snatched it from the ground--it was the fragment of
her broken lute, which had never quitted her since the night when, in her innocent
grief, she had wept over it in her maiden bed-chamber.
Small, obscure, insignificant as it was, this little token touched the fibre in the
Pagan's shattered mind which the all-eloquent form and presence of its hapless
mistress had failed to reach; his memory flew back instantly to the garden on the
Pincian Mount, and to his past duties in Numerian's household, but spoke not to
him of the calamities he had wreaked since that period on his confiding master.
His imagination presented to him at this moment but one image--his servitude in
the Christian's abode; and as he now looked on the girl he could regard himself
but in one light--as 'the guardian restored'.
'What does she with her music here?' he whispered apprehensively. 'This is not
her father's house, and the garden yonder looks not from the summit of the hill!'
As he curiously examined the room, the red spots on the floor suddenly attracted
his attention. A panic, a frantic terror seemed instantly to overwhelm him. He rose
with a cry of horror, and, still holding the girl on his arm, hurried out into the
garden trembling and breathless, as if the weapon of an assassin had scared him
from the house.
The shock of her rough removal, the sudden influence of the fresh, cold air,
restored Antonina to the consciousness of life at the moment when Ulpius, unable
to support her longer, laid her against the little heap of turf which marked the
position of the young chieftain's grave. Her eyes opened wildly; their first glance
fixed upon the shattered door and the empty room. She rose from the ground,
advanced a few steps towards the house, then paused, rigid, breathless, silent, and,
turning slowly, faced the upturned turf.
The grave was all-eloquent of its tenant. His cuirass, which the soldiers had
thought to bury with the body that it had defended in former days, had been
overlooked in the haste of the secret interment, and lay partly imbedded in the
broken earth, partly exposed to view--a simple monument over a simple grave!