Antonina HTML version

By these persons, who entreaties that he would suspend his hopeless search he
always answered with the same firm and patient denial, his course was carefully
watched and his wants anxiously provided for. Out of every supply of food which
they were enabled to collect, his share was invariably carried to his abode. They
remembered their teacher in the hour of his dejection, as they had formerly
reverenced him in the day of his vigour; they toiled to preserve his life as
anxiously as they had laboured to profit by his instructions; they listened as his
disciples once, they served him as his children now.
But over these, as over all other offices of human kindness, the famine was
destined gradually and surely to prevail. The provision of food garnered up by the
congregation ominously lessened with each succeeding day. When the pestilence
began darkly to appear, the numbers of those who sought their afflicted teacher at
his abode, or followed him through the dreary streets, fatally decreased.
Then, as the nourishment which had supported, and the vigilance which had
watched him, thus diminished, so did the hard-tasked energies of the unhappy
father fail him faster and faster. Each morning as he arose, his steps were more
feeble, his heart grew heavier within him, his wanderings through the city were
less and less resolute and prolonged. At length his powers totally deserted him;
the last-left members of his congregation, as they approached his abode with the
last-left provision of food which they possessed, found him prostrate with
exhaustion at his garden gate. They bore him to his couch, placed their charitable
offering by his side, and leaving one of their number to protect him from the
robber and the assassin, they quitted the house in despair.
For some days the guardian remained faithful to his post, until his sufferings from
lack of food overpowered his vigilance. Dreading that, in his extremity, he might
be tempted to take from the old man's small store of provision what little
remained, he fled from the house, to seek sustenance, however loathsome, in the
public streets; and thenceforth Numerian was left defenceless in his solitary
He was first beheld on the scenes which these pages present, a man of austere
purpose, of unwearied energy; a valiant reformer, who defied all difficulties that
beset him in his progress; a triumphant teacher, leading at his will whoever
listened to his words; a father, proudly contemplating the future position which he
destined for his child. Far different did he now appear. Lost to his ambition,
broken in spirit, helpless in body, separated from his daughter by his own act, he
lay on his untended couch in a death-like lethargy. The cold wind blowing
through his opened window awakened no sensations in his torpid frame; the cup
of water and the small relics of coarse food stood near his hand, but he had no
vigilance to discern them. His open eyes looked steadfastly upward, and yet he
reposed as one in a deep sleep, or as one already devoted to the tomb; save when,
at intervals, his lips moved slowly with a long and painfully drawn breath, or a
fever flush tinged his hollow cheek with changing and momentary hues.
While thus in outward aspect appearing to linger between life and death, his
faculties yet remained feebly vital within him. Aroused by no external influence,
and governed by no mental restraint, they now created before him a strange
waking vision, palpable as an actual event.