Antonina HTML version

7. The Bed-Chamber
It is now time to resume our chronicle of the eventful night which marked the
destruction of Antonina's lute and the conspiracy against Antonina's honour.
The gates of Vetranio's palace were closed, and the noises in it were all hushed;
the banquet was over, the triumph of the Nightingale Sauce had been achieved,
and the daybreak was already glimmering in the eastern sky, when the senator's
favoured servant, the freedman Carrio, drew back the shutter of the porter's lodge,
where he had been dozing since the conclusion of the feast, and looked out lazily
into the street. The dull, faint light of dawn was now strengthening slowly over
the lonely roadway and on the walls of the lofty houses. Of the groups of idlers of
the lowest class who had assembled during the evening in the street to snuff the
fragrant odours which steamed afar from Vetranio's kitchens, not one remained;
men, women, and children had long since departed to seek shelter wherever they
could find it, and to fatten their lean bodies on what had been charitable bestowed
on them of the coarser relics of the banquet. The mysterious solitude and
tranquility of daybreak in a great city prevailed over all things. Nothing
impressed, however, by the peculiar and solemn attraction of the scene at this
moment, the freedman apostrophised the fresh morning air, as it blew over him, in
strong terms of disgust, and even ventured in lowered tones to rail against his
master's uncomfortable fancy for being awakened after a feast at the approach of
dawn. Far too well aware, nevertheless, of the necessity of yielding the most
implicit obedience to the commands he had received to resign himself any longer
to the pleasant temptations of repose, Carrio, after yawning, rubbing his eyes, and
indulging for a few moments more in the luxury of complaint, set forth in earnest
to follow the corridors leading to the interior of the palace, and to awaken
Vetranio without further delay.
He had not advanced more than a few steps when a proclamation, written in
letters of gold on a blue-coloured board, and hung against the wall at his side,
attracted his attention. This public notice, which delayed his progress at the very
outset, and which was intended for the special edification of all the inhabitants of
Rome, was thus expressed:--
Here the proclamation ended, without descending to particulars. It had been put
forth, in accordance with the easy fashion of the age, to answer at once all
applications at Vetranio's palace during the senator's absence. Although the
colouring of the board, the writing of the letters, and the composition of the
sentence were the work of his own ingenuity, the worthy Carrio could not prevail
upon himself to pass the proclamation without contemplating is magnificence
anew. For some time he stood regarding it with the same expression of lofty and
complacent approbation which we see in these modern days illuminating the
countenance of a connoisseur before one of his own old pictures which he has
bought as a great bargain, or dawning over the bland features of a linen-draper as