Antonina HTML version

the sources which despair and suffering had dried up, the long-prisoned tears once
more flowed forth at the bidding of gratitude and hope. She looked upon the
senator, silent as himself, and her expression at that instant was destined to remain
on his memory while memory survived. Then, with faltering and hasty steps, she
departed by the way she had come; and in the great palace, which his evil
supremacy over the wills of others had made a hideous charnel-house, he was
once more left alone.
He made no effort to follow or detain her as she left him. The torch still
smouldered beside him on the floor, but he never stooped to take it up; he dropped
down on a vacant couch, stupefied by what he had beheld. That which no
entreaties, no threats, no fierce violence of opposition could have effected in him,
the appearance of Antonina had produced--it had forced him to pause at the very
moment of the execution of his deadly design.
He remembered how, from the very first day when he had seen her, she had
mysteriously influenced the whole progress of his life; how his ardour to possess
her had altered his occupations, and even interrupted his amusements; how all his
energy and all his wealth had been baffled in the attempt to discover her when she
fled from her father's house; how the first feeling of remorse that he had ever
known had been awakened within him by his knowledge of the share he had had
in producing her unhappy fate. Recalling all this; reflecting that, had she
approached him at an earlier period, she would have been driven back affrighted
by the drunken clamour of his companions; and had she arrived at a later, would
have found his palace in flames; thinking at the same time of her sudden presence
in the banqueting-hall when he had believed her to be dead, when her appearance
at the moment before he fired the pile was most irresistible in its supernatural
influence over his actions--that vague feeling of superstitious dread which exists
intuitively in all men's minds, which had never before been aroused in his, thrilled
through him. His eyes were fixed on the door by which she had departed, as if he
expected her to return. Her destiny seemed to be portentously mingled with his
own; his life seemed to move, his death to wait at her bidding. There was no
repentance, no moral purification in the emotions which now suspended his
bodily faculties in inaction; he was struck for the time with a mental paralysis.
The restless moments moved onward and onward, and still he delayed the
consummation of the ruin which the night's debauch had begun. Slowly the tender
daylight grew and brightened in its beauty, warmed the cold prostrate bodies in
the silent hall, and dimmed the faint glow of the wasting lamp; no black mist of
smoke, no red glare of devouring fire arose to quench its fair lustre; no roar of
flames interrupted the murmuring morning tranquillity of nature, or startled from
their heavy repose the exhausted outcasts stretched upon the pavement of the
street. Still the noble palace stood unshaken on its firm foundations; still the
adornments of its porticoes and its statues glittered as of old in the rays of the
rising sun; and still the hand of the master who had sworn to destroy it, as he had
sworn to destroy himself, hung idly near the torch which lay already extinguished
in harmless ashes at his feet.