« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
THREE HOURS: 24 AUGUST 410
I FOUND myself on the terrace of the Palatine, but it was not as we know it; the palaces rose high behind me, and the Forum, peopled with white statues, lay below. It was a hot night in the end of August, the air was heavy and thick with the scent of roses in the terrace garden.
The moon was more than half full and hung in the west, south of the Capitol. There were but few lights in the city, for it was late ; those who remained awake were mostly gathered in little groups, sitting under the stars in the Forum, in low talk. But all around the horizon was a circle of light, flaring brighter, first at one part and then at another-something apart from the gloom within.
Close by I could perceive that a man sat in an arbour, still, except for a deep sigh now and then. Presently a young woman passed, and coming up near the seat whispered 'Are you here, father?'
'It is so hot that I cannot sleep in there by Marcus. I thought I should find you in your old seat. His wound seems worse to-night; he says it pains him inwards; but Gunda is there, and she knows better than we what to do.'
She nestled in close to the old man, and a little cry came from her arms. ‘Ab, Marcianus, awake again. I am a poor nurse for thee, with this bad bread, and Marcus ill, and the Dread over us.'
She rocked him; and peering in the dark into his baby face, she said, 'What will those eyes see, long, long, long, after this?'
'What shall we all see?' said the old man. 'Look at that ring of fires, there are the wolves round us.'
' But the Goths were here, father, the last two years, and we are still living here. Why should they not go away again ? '
“Remember the horrible famine, and at what a price they left us—all the gold and silver we could spare, it wa's not taxing but seizing. And then we have tried that Greek fool for a peacemaker, and he did no better for us than the sacred idiot at Ravenna. VOL, LXXII-NO, 427 589
This time the city is promised to the wolves, and they mean to have it. Alaricus told us the first time that we should have nothing left but our souls, and this time there will be no chance of more.'
* But can we not live as well under Alaricus as under Attalus? The flowers will smell as sweet and the birds sing as clear.'
' And what are the birds or the flowers to our slaves when we flog them? We shall be the slaves under Alaricus.'
'He is a Christian, father; the Goths are Christians as well as we, after all, though they are foul Arians.'
* What is the Faith to us or to them, after we massacred all their youths who were in our training when I was young? If we Catholics could murder all the men and wreck all the women as Arians, what may a foul Arian do to us Catholics? Yet, after all, the walls are strong, and they have fever as well as we. In the race against the fever it is only the bad food that clogs us more than them.'
Marcus is much better of his fever, father, since we moved him up into the palace; that house of ours is too low, we shall always be sick there, like the Vestals we turned out.'
A young officer, hearing voices, drew near.
"There is an ugly rumour about, I have heard it from different quarters, that the brutes of slaves may play false. They would as soon work for a Goth as for a Roman, they do not care, they only think where they will get the best bread-brutes !' And he passed on.
'Ah, filiola, that is our curse, trusting to these slaves. They wrecked our supplies when they escaped to Ostia after the famine. They know too much. We should have lost Gunda then, when the Goths took away all our Goth slaves, if I had not freed her when you were small.'
'Father, when I think of dear old Gunda, how can a Goth hurt us? She is a Goth, and yet she has been everything to us, and I would trust her more than Rufus any day.'
'I cannot trust her with Rufus. She always says he killed her husband at the Danube, and that Junius killed her son. But I I doubt if she could see them in the dark, and my old troopers are too much to me to be sent away. I cannot spare them, and your mother could not spare her, and so I have never been easy about our house. I asked her once, direct, if she would promise not to poison the men. She only answered, in her Gothic way, that one follower of a lord could not hurt another so long as they were both in the peace of their lord, to break that peace would make her untrue. A strange sort of reason-no good law about it. But they never forget as we do. To speak at dinner of the Night of the Danube, if you had Goth slaves, was to have your household a bed of thorns for three days after. We never told you about Gunda when you were small for fear of frightening you; but now when we live this way from day to day you ought to know how she came.'
He then began to tell what his narrow legal soul could hold. It seems as yesterday, the first sight of Gunda. It was dawn. The day before had been the turmoil after the great Night of the Danube, and the killing of the men. The camp was all asleep except the guard-drunk with debauchery. The wolves were creeping back along the shore, their bellies heavy with Goth-flesh. As I stood outside of my tent I saw a tattered heap, in what had been a rich garment, shuffling over from the soldiers' quarters up to my feet, and crawling near it said, moaning, “In the name of God, save me.” I knew that she was a cursed Arian by that, but yet some power moved me. I dragged her into my tent, for by camp law it would be death for a captive to enter of herself, and a comrade had a Fescennine jest at my picking up such filth.'
He continued : 'I gave her some bread and water, for she had fasted since the Night of the Danube, and had been the sport of the camp day and night. After that I began to turn her out, to tie her up with the horse, and the girl that I had, who could not be trusted near bread or a sword. She entreated to be left inside, out of sight of the soldiers. She said, “See what those filthy men have done,” holding up her right arm twisted out at the elbow; every rent of her garment showed her great white limbs covered with bruises, weals and blood. “See what came from trying to defend my honour." I hesitated, she entreated still, and at last said, “There is no help on earth left for me but thee there is no other way but this.” Lifting her fallen right hand with her left, she held them together, and said-not as a captiva or a serva, or even an ancilla or a liberta, but like a domina—"Put thy hands outside of mine." Wondering, I did so, I know not why. “I swear to be thy gesith unto death, thy cause is my cause, thy friends are my friends, thy foes are my foes. Accept me. That means much more than our patron and client, it is a bond stronger than even blood-bond, and why should I let this captiva make it? I began to drag her out, when she looked up full in my eyes as she lay huddled on the ground, and said, “I am noble, how can I be untrue?” “I accept thee,” I said, and left her there in peace. I took my sword for fear she would fall on it; none could be trusted then not to kill themselves, indeed we lost a great many slaves by their joining hand in hand and rushing down into the Danube to drown.
I sent the camp doctor to hook her arm in again, but you know she never could carry you on the right arm. When we shared up the captives, I claimed her, and I had two or three more beside the first girl. I gave them all in exchanging horses to get a good horse, which was most necessary for my return. But I kept Gunda, for she seemed to be more than cattle. There was no need, in our long ride of two months to Rome, to rope her up and drag her along like the others. She was always by my horse, though, being high-born, her feet were not as hard as the others. When they were quite broken, not to lose her I let her sometimes ride on the baggage; but I soon heard of my men grumbling “ When the captive rides the baggage, it is time for us to ride the best horse," and I feared to feel a spear in my back. Once I thought she was lost, when we had to ride hard through the forest with the wolves gathering behind us. But she saved herself by her wolf-lore, and three days after, in Viminacium, two soldiers brought her in as a stray captive. She had threatened them with awful pains if they did not deliver her to her owner, and I was glad to get her again, and gave them a triens each. As she could not run by the horse, I actually waited until she could, instead of selling her. She always slept across my tent door, as a gesith must do,” she said, and she begged hard to have a sword, but that was impossible.
“At Rome the trouble was that my grandmother Constantia would not tolerate a Goth in the villa, because my grandfather's head had been cut off by a Goth in the war of Constantine. So I put her in my uncle's house, but all the Goth slaves there thought more of obeying her than their master, as she was of their chief's family. So we turned her into our garden, where she made a dwelling in an old hut, and had all the garden slaves soon in order, none could disobey her. She covered her hut with twisted osier in the manner of her people, and we called it the Gothic palace, for she still longed for her people and was not so Roman as you remember her.
My mother's favourite priest used to try to make her a Catholic, but she clung to her Arian heresy. There was a stir over her heresy, till my father-who hated the priest, and was half a pagan-said, “Leave her alone; a God more or less, what does it matter?” which was so unorthodox, that the priest threatened to excommunicate him, and that stopped the talk about her.
'Then, when I married your mother, Gunda came into our house, and ruled the slaves better than anyone I have known. When you were born, she would nurse you, for she said she must be foster-mother to her lord's child—such is their way. She became more Roman then, or perhaps we became more Gothic,
for I think she has made you as much of a Goth as a Roman can be.'
'Yes, father; I heard a little of all this, when she used to tell me tales of her old days, but she never let me hear what would frighten me.
Dear old Gunda! It was generally about her girl life she talked—the long travels in the wagons, and the camps, and the races across the plains on horseback with her brothers. .. How sweet those roses smell to-night. ... Listen! ... Do you hear that noise over there?' She was all eager ears, holding her breath.
. There again it is a great shout.' The old man pricked up instantly. 'Yes, I can hear it now
that is hundreds of men far off ... It rose stronger and clearer, like a distant waterfall on the silent night louder, like a torrent. The girl shook from head to foot, saying "What can it be, father?' with dismay in her tone.
He was silent, breathless, every muscle held, with a twitch of his arm or hand in unconscious action. ... At last he spoke.
It is ... the Gothic camp roaring, and all around the Salarian gate that must be the end ... they are in camp roars like that but in triumph ... Roma! Roma!'
Neither could say more; they could but listen and wait. The roar never lessened, but only grew louder . . . shot across with the sharper note of screams.
He said, 'The last time Rome heard that sound was when we killed five thousand Goths in the games over there,' pointing to the Coliseum.
They each rose from time to time . . . only to sit down again. There was no better point for seeing and knowing, with its wide view of vantage. To descend to the Forum was to be hemmed in by buildings, with many approaches, all intricate. To turn back across the Palatine was to lose all touch with that dread sound. Yet it was impossible to do anything . . . but equally impossible to do nothing. The tension was broken by seeing figures flying across the Forum from every opening that led from the roar. Soon a bright spot appeared in the sky, and then a flame shot up from the heart of the roar—the houses were fired.
Ever nearer drew the sound, spreading wider out to each side, with the blasts of the Gothic trumpets flashing out upon it all, until across the Coliseum there passed a headlong rush of & great body of men closely packed; they were tramping hard in their run as men that have covered a mile quickly. They headed straight along the road to the Palatine. We could not see them clearly, for the moon was near setting; they were all