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قراءة كتاب The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 6, December 1864 Devoted To Literature And National Policy

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‏اللغة: English
The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 6, December 1864
Devoted To Literature And National Policy

The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 6, December 1864 Devoted To Literature And National Policy

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 9

that she had so far glided through it in safety, she had begun to feel somewhat reassured, and in turn dreaded the more open channels, since they would naturally be more frequented. It was, therefore, with new trepidation that, upon turning the corner, she saw, in the broader street before her, signs of movement and life. The street happened to be a favorite thoroughfare from the Triumphal Way, across the Cœlian Mount, and, in consequence, was never, perhaps, entirely deserted. Now that the whole city was throbbing with anticipations of the morrow's festivities, there were more persons wakeful and wandering about with feverish expectation than usual. Moreover, it was a street which abounded with drinking shops, and these were now all open, in spite of the lateness of the hour, and appeared to be thronged with customers. One of these shops stood upon the corner where Ænone had halted. A faint light burned over the doorway to mark the locality; and through the open passage she could see a crowd of ill-conditioned, rough-looking men, appearing, in the dim light, more rough and uncouth than they really were. Here were mingled together artisans of the lower orders, slaves and professional gladiators, all drinking and singing together in close fraternity. For a moment Ænone paused and hesitated, not daring to pass on. If she could reach the farther side without attracting observation, it would be but one step gained, for there were many other drinking shops glimmering in the distance along the whole street, and each one had its special crowd of noisy customers. To escape one peril seemed only to run into another. Then, as she deliberated and alternately put her foot forward and withdrew it again in a fruitless attempt to muster courage to run the gauntlet, two men emerged from the wine shop, and staggered toward her—a slave and a gladiator, linked arm in arm, and singing a wild song in discordant keys. Both appeared to be under the influence of wine, though in different degrees; for while the former had set no bounds to his license, the latter had somewhat restrained his propensities, in view of the demands upon his strength which the morrow's work would surely make. Seeing these men reel toward her, Ænone turned and fled, without knowing, or, for the moment, caring, in which direction she went. The men had not at first seen her, but, as they now caught sight of her flying figure, they set up a drunken whoop, and attempted to follow. All in vain; for ere they had advanced many paces, their weakened limbs betrayed them, and they sank powerless upon the ground, and, forgetting the pursuit, rolled over lovingly in each other's arms. Meanwhile, Ænone, not daring to look back, and not knowing that the chase had ended, still fled in wild terror, until at last her breath failed her, and she tottered helpless into the shade of the nearest wall.

She was now lost indeed. How long she had been running, or in which direction, how many divergences she had taken, or how many narrow alleys threaded, she knew not. She simply realized that she was in a portion of the city where she had never been before, and from which extrication seemed impossible, so dark and narrow and winding seemed the passages in every direction. Far narrower and darker, indeed, than the lane behind the palace, and without its protecting solitude. In place of high garden walls, the whole route seemed lined with miserable tenements, the refuge of the lowest of the Roman population. There, crowded together in close communication, were the rabble of poorer slaves and beggars, all equally marked with rags and filth.

In all this there was one comfort. However thronged the tenements along the side might be, the street itself seemed deserted, nor could Ænone any longer hear the sound of pursuit. That, at least, she had escaped, and now again she took partial courage as she reflected that with moderate caution she might yet be able to extricate herself. There must be some outlet to that neighborhood of squalid misery; and take whichever way she might, she could scarcely fail, at the end, to emerge into some more reputable region.

Again the sound of two persons approaching restrained her, and caused her to shrink into a corner until they might pass. Unlike the others, these men had not been drinking, but advanced gravely and steadily, with a slow, deliberate pace, indicative of weighty reflection. These, also, were slaves; and before they emerged into sight from the surrounding darkness, Ænone could distinctly mark the low, plotting whisper with which they spoke, occasionally rising, from excess of emotion, into a louder key. As they came opposite to her, they paused—not seeing her, but simply seeming to be arrested by the vehemence of their debate; and again their words sank nearly into a whisper.

'Tell me why I should not do so?' hissed the nearest, a man of gigantic proportions and development of strength. 'Why should I not leap out of the arena where these men place me to play a fool's part; and scrambling over the ranges of seats, plunge this dagger into his heart? Ye gods! were I once to begin to clamber up, no force could stop me from reaching him, were he at the very topmost range! And I will—why not?'

'You would gain but an instant's revenge,' said the other, striving to soothe him, 'and you would lose—'

'What? My life, would you say?' retorted the first. 'I know it. I know well, that before I could strike him thrice, I would myself be beaten down, a corpse. But one blow from me would be sufficient for him. Ay, though I used not my knife at all, but only my hardened fist. Would it not be a fine revenge, say you, thus to kill him? It was on account of my strength of arm that he laid toils for my capture, and for that alone he most valued me. Why not, then, prove its quality upon himself? With a single blow I could crush in his proud head like an egg shell. Then let them kill me—I care not.'

'And yet the life once lost by you cannot be gained again,' responded the other.

'O feeble-minded!' said the first, with disdain. 'Have I ever so dearly cared for life that I should thus guard it at the expense of honor? While I was a free man, in my native Rhodes, with my wife and children around me, did I not then risk my life among the very first? And am I likely to value it the more now that I am a slave, with wife torn from me and sent I know not where, with children slain one by one, as the only means of capturing me, with the accursed livery of the arena placed upon me that I may administer to their gaping appetite for blood? Can all this make me love my life more than I have ever loved it before?'

'But wait—only wait. There will come a time—'

'Ay, ay; there will come a time is what all say, and will continue to say, and yet the time comes not. There is never any time like the present. All around me are thousands of men, once free and now chained into slavery—and chained, perhaps, more through their own indolence than by the power of their masters; and yet they lie supine, and call upon each other to wait! And to-morrow there will be a thousand such in the arena, and instead of rising up together in their strength, they will fight only with each other. What might not that thousand accomplish, were they to act together in brave and earnest revolt? What chance would a few hundred pampered pretorians have of staying the flood? There, seated in fancied security upon their benches, will be the emperor, the court, the nobles, and the most wealthy of the empire. In one hour of action, we could sweep these away like chaff, together with all else that is held most worthy of place and power in the whole empire! And yet these thousand slaves will not rise up together with me, and it will not be done!'

The head of the Hercules dropped upon his chest with a gesture of despair.

'You say truly,' responded the other. 'It will not be done, for they will not act with you. And what