Antonina HTML version

24. The Grave And The Camp
While the second and last embassy from the Senate proceeds towards the tent of
the Gothic king, while the streets of Rome are deserted by all but the dead, and
the living populace crowd together in speechless expectation behind the barrier of
the Pincian Gate, an opportunity is at length afforded of turning our attention
towards a scene from which it has been long removed. Let us now revisit the
farm-house in the suburbs, and look once more on the quiet garden and on
Hermanric's grave.
The tranquility of the bright warm day is purest around the retired path leading to
the little dwelling. Here the fragrance of wild flowers rises pleasantly from the
waving grass; the lulling, monotonous hum of insect life pervades the light, steady
air; the sunbeams, intercepted here and there by the clustering trees, fall in
irregular patches of brightness on the shady ground; and, saving the birds which
occasionally pass overhead, singing in their flight, no living creature appears on
the quiet scene, until, gaining the wicket-gate which leads into the farm- house
garden, we look forth upon the prospect within.
There, following the small circular footpath which her own persevering steps have
day by day already traced, appears the form of a solitary woman, pacing slowly
about the mound of grassy earth which marks the grave of the young Goth.
For some time she proceeds on her circumscribed round with as much
undeviating, mechanical regularity, as if beyond that narrow space rose a barrier
which caged her from ever setting foot on the earth beyond. At length she pauses
in her course when it brings her nearest to the wicket, advances a few steps
towards it, then recedes, and recommences her monotonous progress, and then
again breaking off on her round, finally succeeds in withdrawing herself from the
confines of the grave, passes through the gate, and following the path to the high-
road, slowly proceeds towards the eastern limits of the Gothic camp. The fixed,
ghastly, unfeminine expression on her features marks her as the same woman
whom we last beheld as the assassin at the farm-house, but beyond this she is
hardly recognisable again. Her formerly powerful and upright frame is bent and
lean; her hair waves in wild, white locks about her shrivelled face; all the rude
majesty of her form has departed; there is nothing to show that it is still
Goisvintha haunting the scene of her crime but the savage expression debasing
her countenance and betraying the evil heart within, unsubdued as ever in its
yearning for destruction and revenge.
Since the period when we last beheld her, removed in the custody of the Huns
from the dead body of her kinsman, the farm-house had been the constant scene
of her pilgrimage from the camp, the chosen refuge where she brooded in solitude
over her fierce desires. Scorning to punish a woman whom he regarded as insane
for an absence from the tents of the Goths which was of no moment wither to the
army or to himself, Alaric had impatiently dismissed her from his presence when
she was brought before him. The soldiers who had returned to bury the body of
their chieftain in the garden of the farm-house, found means to inform her secretly