Antonina (The Fall of Rome) Page 01
Or, The Fall of Rome
By Wilkie Collins
In preparing to compose a fiction founded on history, the writer of these pages thought it no necessary requisite of such a work that the principal characters appearing in it should be drawn from the historical personages of the period. On the contrary, he felt that some very weighty objections attached to this plan of composition. He knew well that it obliged a writer to add largely from invention to what was actually known--to fill in with the colouring of romantic fancy the bare outline of historic fact--and thus to place the novelist's fiction in what he could not but consider most unfavourable contrast to the historian's truth. He was further by no means convinced that any story in which historical characters supplied the main agents, could be preserved in its fit unity of design and restrained within its due limits of development, without some falsification or confusion of historical dates--a species of poetical licence of which he felt no disposition to avail himself, as it was his main anxiety to make his plot invariably arise and proceed out of the great events of the era exactly in the order in which they occurred.
Influenced, therefore, by these considerations, he thought that by forming all his principal characters from imagination, he should be able to mould them as he pleased to the main necessities of the story; to display them, without any impropriety, as influenced in whatever manner appeared most strikingly interesting by its minor incidents; and further, to make them, on all occasions, without trammel or hindrance, the practical exponents of the spirit of the age, of all the various historical illustrations of the period, which the Author's researches among conflicting but equally important authorities had enabled him to garner up, while, at the same time, the appearance of verisimilitude necessary to an historical romance might, he imagined, be successfully preserved by the occasional introduction of the living characters of the era, in those portions of the plot comprising events with which they had been remarkably connected.
On this plan the recent work has been produced.
To the fictitious characters alone is committed the task of representing the spirit of the age. The Roman emperor, Honorius, and the Gothic king, Alaric, mix but little personally in the business of the story--only appearing in such events, and acting under such circumstances, as the records of history strictly authorise; but exact truth in respect to time, place, and circumstance is observed in every historical event introduced in the plot, from the period of the march of the Gothic invaders over the Alps to the close of the first barbarian blockade of Rome.
CHAPTER 1. GOISVINTHA.
CHAPTER 2. THE COURT.
CHAPTER 3. ROME.
CHAPTER 4. THE CHURCH.
CHAPTER 5. ANTONINA.
CHAPTER 6. AN APPRENTICESHIP TO THE TEMPLE.
CHAPTER 7. THE BED-CHAMBER.
CHAPTER 8. THE GOTHS.
CHAPTER 9. THE TWO INTERVIEWS.
CHAPTER 10. THE RIFT IN THE WALL.
CHAPTER 11. GOISVINTHA'S RETURN.
CHAPTER 12. THE PASSAGE OF THE WALL.
CHAPTER 13. THE HOUSE IN THE SUBURBS.
CHAPTER 14. THE FAMINE.
CHAPTER 15. THE CITY AND THE GODS.
CHAPTER 16. LOVE MEETINGS.
CHAPTER 17. THE HUNS.
CHAPTER 18. THE FARM-HOUSE.
CHAPTER 19. THE GUARDIAN RESTORED.
CHAPTER 20. THE BREACH REPASSED.
CHAPTER 21. FATHER AND CHILD.
CHAPTER 22. THE BANQUET OF FAMINE.
CHAPTER 23. THE LAST EFFORTS OF THE BESIEGED.
CHAPTER 24. THE GRAVE AND THE CAMP.
CHAPTER 25. THE TEMPLE AND THE CHURCH.
CHAPTER 26. RETRIBUTION.
CHAPTER 27. THE VIGIL OF HOPE.
THE CONCLUSION. 'UBI THESAURUS IBI COR.'
CHAPTER 1. GOISVINTHA.
The mountains forming the range of Alps which border on the north- eastern confines of Italy, were, in the autumn of the year 408, already furrowed in numerous directions by the tracks of the invading forces of those northern nations generally comprised under the appellation of Goths.
In some places these tracks were denoted on either side by fallen trees, and occasionally assumed, when half obliterated by the ravages of storms, the appearance of desolate and irregular marshes. In other places they were less palpable. Here, the temporary path was entirely hidden by the incursions of a swollen torrent; there, it was faintly perceptible in occasional patches of soft ground, or partly traceable by fragments of abandoned armour, skeletons of horses and men, and remnants of the rude bridges which had once served for passage across a river or transit over a precipice.
Among the rocks of the topmost of the range of mountains immediately overhanging the plains of Italy, and presenting the last barrier to the exertions of a traveller or the march of an invader, there lay, at the beginning of the fifth century, a little lake. Bounded on three sides by precipices, its narrow banks barren of verdure or habitations, and its dark and stagnant waters brightened but rarely by the presence of the lively sunlight, this solitary spot--at all times mournful-- presented, on the autumn of the day when our story commences, an aspect of desolation at once dismal to the eye and oppressive to the heart.
It was near noon; but no sun appeared in the heaven. The dull clouds, monotonous in colour and form, hid all beauty in the firmament, and shed heavy darkness on the earth. Dense, stagnant vapours clung to the mountain summits; from the drooping trees dead leaves and rotten branches sunk, at intervals, on the oozy soil, or whirled over the gloomy precipice; and a small steady rain fell, slow and unintermitting, upon the deserts around. Standing upon the path which armies had once trodden, and which armies were still destined to tread, and looking towards the solitary lake, you heard, at first, no sound but the regular dripping of the rain-drops from rock to rock; you saw no prospect but the motionless waters at your feet, and the dusky crags which shadowed them from above. When, however, impressed by the mysterious loneliness of the place, the eye grew more penetrating and the ear more attentive, a cavern became apparent in the precipices round the lake; and, in the intervals of the heavy rain-drops, were faintly perceptible the sounds of a human voice.
The mouth of the cavern was partly concealed by a large stone, on which were piled some masses of rotten brushwood, as if for the purpose of protecting any inhabitant it might contain from the coldness of the atmosphere without. Placed at the eastward boundary of the lake, this strange place of refuge commanded a view not only of the rugged path immediately below it, but of a large plot of level 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 their miserable rights were infringed on for the first time by 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 as it was by 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.