Antonina HTML version

27. The Vigil Of Hope
A new prospect now opens before us. The rough paths through which we have
hitherto threaded our way grow smoother as we approach their close. Rome, so
long dark and gloomy to our view, brightens at length like a landscape when the
rain is past and the first rays of returning sunlight stream through the parting
clouds. Some days have elapsed, and in those days the temples have yielded all
their wealth; the conquered Romans have bribed the triumphant barbarians to
mercy; the ransom of the fallen city has been paid.
The Gothic army is still encamped round the walls, but the gates are opened,
markets for food are established in the suburbs, boats appear on the river and
waggons on the highroads, laden with provisions, and proceeding towards Rome.
All the hidden treasure kept back by the citizens is now bartered for food; the
merchants who hold the market reap a rich harvest of spoil, but the hungry are
filled, the weak are revived, every one is content.
It is the end of the second day since the free sale of provisions and the liberty of
egress from the city have been permitted by the Goths. The gates are closed for
the night, and the people are quietly returning, laden with their supplies of food,
to their homes. Their eyes no longer encounter the terrible traces of the march of
pestilence and famine through every street; the corpses have been removed, and
the sick are watched and sheltered. Rome is cleansed from her pollutions, and the
virtues of household life begin to revive wherever they once existed. Death has
thinned every family, but the survivors again assemble together in the social hall.
Even the veriest criminals, the lowest outcasts of the population, are united
harmlessly for a while in the general participation of the first benefits of peace.
To follow the citizens to their homes; to trace in their thoughts, words, and action
the effect on them of their deliverance from the horrors of the blockade; to
contemplate in the people of a whole city, now recovering as it were from a deep
swoon, the varying forms of the first reviving symptoms in all classes, in good
and bad, rich and poor-- would afford matter enough in itself for a romance of
searching human interest, for a drama of the passions, moving absorbingly
through strange, intricate, and contrasted scenes. But another employment than
this now claims our care. It is to an individual, and not to a divided source of
interest, that our attention turns; we relinquish all observations on the general
mass of the populace to revert to Numerian and Antonina alone--to penetrate once
more into the little dwelling on the Pincian Hill.
The apartment where the father and daughter had suffered the pangs of famine
together during the period of the blockade, presented an appearance far different
from that which it had displayed on the occasion when they had last occupied it.
The formerly bare walls were now covered with rich, thick hangings; and the
simple couch and scanty table of other days had been exchanged for whatever was
most luxurious and complete in the household furniture of the age. At one end of
the room three women, attended by a little girl, were engaged in preparing some
dishes of fruit and vegetables; at the other, two men were occupied in low, earnest