« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
The old camp
dark, going too quickly to keep torches alight. On they bore in a long body of a thousand or more. No guards tried to withstand them. They were all silent going up the slope, and did not find voice till they began to spread on the top. Straight into the great Palace they raced. Soon the scattered lights were multiplied, and in a few minutes torches were flying along from room to room, and the halls echoing with a torrent of harsh shouts.
Father! Let us go down quick to our house.'.
No, filiola, this is the safest place still. They will not search the gardens for treasure till the palace is bare. saying of the sack of a city is "Gold first, then women, next wine, and then hell.")
It was all too overwhelming for one to act; an individual seemed too trifling to affect events. The forces were too vast for any deeds to turn or check them; one could only hope to be isolated from the great current of action, and try to avoid it like a river of red-hot lava.
A century of common time seemed to be compressed into the product of an hour. We sat and felt our souls drying up within us. The girl had unconscious spasms of fright ever and anon, shaking her in every muscle. The old man had seen too many horrors to feel it in the flesh; his anguish was in the mind. He was being cut adrift from every anchor of his thought. All ideas that had been the axioms and pivots of being and action were swept away. Words could not help him; he knew of none that could express such feelings. At last his ancestral instincts prevailed, and raising his hands he called on the spirits of the mighty dead : ‘Dive Auguste Pater-Dive Traiane Optime Maxime-Dive Aureliane Restitutor Orbis-Dive Constantine Debellator Gentium.' He covered his head with his mantle, and bowed into a heap. It was more than the end of his life to him ; it was the end of the whole world of his being.
Some late comers of the plunderers began to hunt about near us; and the girl, rousing the old man, guided him by narrow ways into the road leading down to the deserted home of the Vestals.
As they turned aside to their house close to the road and went in, I slunk on in the heavy shadows to the darkness at the back of the temple of Divus Julius. There gathered a crowd of paupers, who had nothing to hide and nothing to lose. Some were talking of their neighbours' chances, some of the rich plunder that the Goths would have. Others, who had lost all, were crushed by the reverse, and huddled in desolate heaps, or were groaning demented. One old man sat crooning over and over, rocking himself to and fro:
Roma capta, Roma capta,
and when any tried to rouse him he could only say:
' And I have known Constantinus,
Roma capta, Roma capta,
A monk was reciting the Psalter as rapidly as possible, half aloud, only feeling that with the holy words on his lips no harm could fall on him; he at last came to 'O daughter of Babylon who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.' The terrible application so distracted his mind that he could not remember his cue to the next psalm, and continued repeating these verses, trying to find himself.
Every moment figures were flying past in different directions, each seeking for a rest anywhere but where he was.
The roar of voices and cries all around in the air of the whole city made a background on which anything individual was hard to distinguish.
Suddenly there came a party of three or four Goths straight across to one of the houses which had been lately adapted in the deserted home of the Vestals. As they appeared, the door was cautiously opened, and they at once went in and shut it. “Aha!' shouted a pauper, they have come back to the old nest and will look after their own. I ate at the feast when the Goth married the pretty daughter.'
Then a Goth came along and felt men down in search of valuables. A richly dressed man went by with a Goth pricking him on : You are out late to-night; you had better take a guard home; an angel unawares is better than seven devils in your house,' said the mocking Goth. Another fled by, pursued by a rapacious Hun, and a pauper shouted after them, “May you get every follis of his; the old skinflint owes me a year's wages.' An Alan running by from behind stripped up the tunic over a man's head in an instant, to see if he had anything on his bare body to snatch off, leaving his head and arms wrapped up helpless. A party of women went by decently guarded by Goths, who had received all their gold for a safe conduct out of the city.
Another pauper shouted, ‘Divus Julius is the patron of pauperini now; no one else will trust him.'
At this point a rush of Goths came down by various ways from the Palatine, where they had evidently found others already in full possession, with no loose spoils left; seeking plunder, they struck across to the great Basilica Aemilia. The Gothic trumpet3 blew in the Forum and echoed from every temple.
From this crowd drew off a wary old leader with a party of
Gothic youth under his orders, and turned facing the other way. He drew up quietly below the temple of Castor, saying, 'Leave the big places to others, there are too many doors. Look there'pointing to the old Imperial library which was now a church, just under the Palatine- see how they flock in ..
all women, . . that is the women's church of old, I know leave them quiet, there is only one door to guard .. see how they come! Some of them so heavy with gold they can hardly waddle ! .. No noise . . . wait, my boys.'
A quicker movement of the women, and then a rush of them with the cry ‘The Alans are stripping us behind !' Close in, boys,' was the sharp order, and in a moment a guarding crescent of swords spread opposite the church door. Threatened thus at their side, seized from the back, the wretched crowd reeled about helpless. The old leader hemmed them in at the open side at once, and said in a commanding voice, 'Your lives and your bodies are safe in the Church, on the faith of a Goth and a Christian. Enter.' Seeing the guard did not threaten them, a rush was made to enter, and many fell in the crowd. As they staggered up, a rabble of Alans-who had not yet caught any plunder in the rear-broke upon them, but a sharp drilled movement of the Goths drove the Alans back and guarded the entrance.
Then, with the lilt of an old pastoral song, fresh of the Sarmatian plains, the leader sang out :
Now, my boys, the fold is full,
And shearing time is come. 'Two come in with me; the rest will guard the door.' Then entering quietly, he said ‘Matrons and virgins all, you are safe here in life and person, and I pledge you a guard so long as there is trouble. But you must pay for this.' He began undoing the gold necklace of the nearest woman, and slipping off her heavy bracelets and armlets. The next saw fit to save him the trouble. He cast the gold into the fold of the mantle of one of his youths. The other youth slid his hands down the body of each, in her thin single summer robe, and felt for any hard gear hidden below, slitting the garment and having it out in a moment. On they went, each rich dame feeling only too glad when those great Gothic hands had ended fumbling down heronly too glad to be decently done with. After clearing over a few, one acidly protested that she called it all sheer robbery. * Very likely, this is the Night of Rome, and the Night of the Danube was rape and murder too. If you want to go the same way as your gold, go to the Huns and Alans outside.' There was no more to be said. Soon after one youth said, 'That girl is using her hairpin.' 'Through?' said the leader. “No,
only on the bladebone.' 'Have her out.' Some violent kicking was cut short by quick pricks of a sword in the back, and she bounded forward into the hands of the Gothic youths. They, taking bold of a hand and a foot, quickly slid her along the marble pavement to the door, while the leader crisply said, ' Cast the foolish virgin into outer darkness where are Alans and Huns.' And she was left on the steps outside of the guard. Then in the sharpest tones he said, 'Women, we are not hurting you, and any that touch us go out like that.'
The clearing still went on. Those who had lost all, sat huddled together, and carefully kept at bay those who still were rich. They had no wish then for the contamination of wealth around them, for that would entail another search by those strong, unrelenting hands, which might be easily tempted to stay too long and be too inquisitive.
The ceaseless roar of shouts and screams was now even almost overwhelmed by the din of thundering and smashing near at hand, as parties of Goths began to break open the houses. These had been left shut up by their owners, who had fled for safety elsewhere. To crash in the doors with beams for battering rams, or hew them to pieces with axes, was no long work; and then the floors were ripped up and the walls battered all over in search of hiding-places of treasure. As soon as the men ran out of one house-often with a swag in their mantles-they began on another.
Sometimes the owner was hidden in the house; and, though I heard the orders given, 'No killing,' yet various permitted forms of persuasion, such as some clubbing or tying up with a twist, were evidently bringing forth fruit. The howls in the houses, and the state of the unlucky owners when they rushed out to escape, told the tale too plainly.
Hearing a great noise by the house of the filiola, I crept along in the shadows to where I could command the door. There were two Goths ramming it in with a beam ; little by little it split and broke up, until most of it fell away from the hinge-pin. Cautiously they stepped in, to make sure that no one was waiting to cut them down from the sides. The father tried to hold them back, but he was at once knocked senseless and dragged outside. In the little atrium a smouldering fire burned, and by it was the filiola with Marcianus in her arms. As the Goths approached her, there suddenly came a tremendous voice from the Palatine stairway above the house, which partly looked into the atrium : ' Peace there, that house is mine, and those are my slaves.'
“And who are you, old wife?'
'Frithagund, daughter of Gundwulf of the king's house ; stand back!' and she sprang through the broken door. 'Do as
I bid you, and you shall have gold enough.' That name, with such a promise in Gothic speech, made them pause. there, and you will find two men; one killed my husband, the other killed my son ; kill, kill !' And as they turned up the stairs with the torch, she shouted after them 'Take the girls.'
She then began rummaging and clanking over ironwork out of sight, until she brought out a sword to the firelight, and said to the filiola, 'Is not that the best sword of Marcus ?
Yes; why does he want it?' ' He will not want it; your man is with my man now.' 'You surely will not slay my father and me?'
Slay you! You deserve it for your folly. You are my fosterchild, and he is my lord; none shall hurt you while I am here. Can I be untrue?' She came out of the broken door and dragged in the father. 'So he took me into peace in his dwelling,' said she. “Look you to him; that is woman's work. I am a' man to-night.' Then, putting her hand on his heart, she said, 'Those good boys have knocked half the life out of him, but he is sound yet.'
There were some scuffles, cries, and shrieks, above, a mere nothing in the roar of voices that night. One of the slave girls bounded down into the atrium, terrified, bare. 'Back,' shouted Gunda, sweeping her in toward the door with the sword, and driving her up the stair.
Spare her here,' cried the filiola.
'Never,' said Gunda. 'There is a girl each for them and you are safe. Do not trouble about those hussies; they have been talking for weeks about seeing the Goths back here, and saying they would rather have a big young Goth in the house than those old carles Rufus and Junius.'
Gunda blew the fire and lit a' torch by it. Clumsy feet came down the steps, and the Goths drew in. * Where is the gold, lady?’ they demanded.
As they came into the light she glanced at their swords; only one was bloody. She said, 'Are both men killed ?'
* They are, lady; died like dogs.'
' take this, the best blade in the house,' giving the Goth the sword of Marcus.
• But where is the gold, lady?'
'Listen. This is a Goth house, not a Roman. The wergild of a chief is due to me, his daughter; the wergild of a chief's son is due to me, his wife; and the wergild of his three brothers,