Antonina HTML version

ground at a short distance to the west, which overhung a second and lower range
of rocks. From this spot might be seen far beneath, on days when the atmosphere
was clear, the olive grounds that clothed the mountain's base, and beyond,
stretching away to the distant horizon, the plains of fated Italy, whose destiny of
defeat and shame was now hastening to its dark and fearful accomplishment.
The cavern, within, was low and irregular in form. From its rugged walls the
damp oozed forth upon its floor of decayed moss. Lizards and noisome animals
had tenanted its comfortless recesses undisturbed, until the period we have just
described, when t
human intruders.
A woman crouched near the entrance of the place. More within, on the driest part
of the ground, lay a child asleep. Between them were scattered some withered
branches and decayed leaves, which were arranged as if to form a fire. In many
parts this scanty collection of fuel was slightly blackened; but, wetted a
the rain, all efforts to light it permanently had evidently been fruitless.
The woman's head was bent forwards, and her face, hid in her hands, rested on
her knees. At intervals she muttered to herself in a hoarse, moaning voice. A
portion of her scanty clothing had been removed to cover the child. What
remained on her was composed, partly of skins of animals, partly of coarse cotton
cloth. In many places this miserable dress was marked with blood, and her long,
flaxen hair bore upon its dishevelled locks the same ominous and repulsive stain.
The child seemed scarcely four years of age, and showed on his pale, thin face all
the peculiarities of his Gothic origin. His features seemed to have been once
beautiful, both in expression and form; but a deep wound, extending the whole
length of his cheek, had now deformed him for ever. He shivered and trembled in
his sleep, and every now and then mechanically stretched forth his little arm
towards the dead cold branches that were scattered before him.
Suddenly a large stone became detached from the rock in a distant part of the
cavern, and fell noisily to the ground. At this sound he woke with a scream--
raised himself--endeavoured to advance towards the woman, and staggered
backward against the side of the cave. A second wound in the leg had wreaked
that destr
At the instant of his awakening the woman had started up. She now raised him
from the ground, and taking some herbs from her bosom, applied them to his
wounded cheek. By this action her dress became discomposed: it was stiff at t
top with coagulated blood, which had evidently flowed from a cut in her neck.
All her attempts to compose the child were in vain; he moaned and wept
piteously, muttering at intervals his disjointed exclamations of impatience at the
coldness of the place and the agony of his recent wounds. Speechless and tearless
the wretched woman looked vacantly down on his face. There was little difficulty
in discerning from that fixed, distracted gaze the nature of the tie that bound the
mourning woman to the suffering boy. The expression of rigid and awful despair
that lowered in her fixed, gloomy eyes, the livid paleness that discoloured her
compressed lips, the spasms that shook her firm, commanding form, mutely
s it was by
uction on his vigour which the first had effected on his beauty. He was a
expressing in the divine eloquence of human emotion that between the solitary
heir miserable rights were infringed on for the first time by