Antonina HTML version
25. The Temple And The Church
It was Ulpius. The Pagan was changed in bearing and countenance as well as in
apparel. He stood more firm and upright; a dull, tawny hue overspread his face;
his eyes, so sunken and lustreless in other days, were now distended and bright
with the glare of insanity. It seemed as if his bodily powers had renewed their
vigour, while his mental faculties had declined towards their ruin.
No human eye had ever beheld by what foul and secret means he had survived
through the famine, on what unnatural sustenance he had satisfied the cravings of
inexorable hunger; but there, in his gloomy shelter, the madman and the outcast
had lived and moved, and suddenly and strangely strengthened, after the people of
the city had exhausted all their united responses, lavished in vain all their united
wealth, and drooped and died by thousands around him!
His grasp still lay heavy on the father and daughter, and still both confronted him-
-silent, as if death-struck by his gaze; motionless, as if frozen at his touch. His
presence was exerting over them a fatal fascination. The power of action,
suspended in Antonina as she entered their ill-chosen refuge, was now arrested in
Numerian also; but with him no thought of the enemy in the street had any part, at
this moment, in the resistless influence which held him helpless before the enemy
in the temple.
It was a feeling of deeper awe and darker horror. For now, as he looked upon the
hideous features of Ulpius, as he saw the forbidden robe of priesthood in which
the Pagan was arrayed, he beheld not only the traitor who had successfully plotted
against the prosperity of his household, but the madman as well,--the moral leper
of the whole human family--the living Body and the dead Soul--the disinherited
of that Divine Light of Life which it is the awful privilege of mortal man to share
with the angels of God.
He still clasped Antonina to his side, but it was unconsciously. To all outward
appearance he was helpless as his helpless child, when Ulpius slowly removed his
grasp from their shoulders, separated them, and locking the hand of each in his
cold, bony fingers, began to speak.
His voice was deep and solemn, but his accents, in their hard, unvarying tone,
seemed to express no human emotion. His eyes, far from brightening as he spoke,
relapsed into a dull, vacant insensibility. The connection between the action of
speech and the accompanying and explaining action of look which is observable
in all men, seemed lost in him. It was fearful to behold the death-like face, and to
listen at the same moment to the living voice.
'Lo! the votaries come to the temple!' murmured the Pagan. 'The good servants of
the mighty worship gather at the voice of the priest! In the far provinces, where
the enemies of the gods approach to profane the sacred groves, behold the
scattered people congregating by night to journey to the shrine of Serapis!
Adoring thousands kneel beneath the lofty porticoes, while within, in the secret
hall where the light is dim, where the air quivers round the breathing deities on