Puslapio vaizdai

for, though they seek to vary their every-day diet of nuts and berries by an occasional meal of mutton, they prefer to hunt tame and helpless flocks. Eagles and coyotes, no doubt, capture an unprotected lamb at times, or some unfortunate beset in deep, soft snow, but these cases are little more than accidents. So, also, a few perish in long-continued snow-storms, though, in all my mountaineering, I have not found more than five or six that seemed to have met their fate in this way. A little band of three were discovered snow-bound in Bloody Cañon a few years ago, and were killed with an ax by some travelers who chanced to be crossing the range in winter.

Man, being the most powerful, is the most dangerous enemy of all, but even

from him our brave mountain-dweller has little to fear in the remote solitudes of the Alps. The golden plains of the Sacramento and San Joaquin were lately thronged with bands of elk and antelope, but, being fertile and accessible, they were required for human pastures. So also are the magnificent feeding-grounds of the deer-hill, valley, forest, and meadow, but it will be long ere man will care to take the highland castles of the sheep. And when we consider here how rapidly entire species of noble animals, such as the elk, moose, and buffalo, are being pushed to the very verge of extinction, all lovers of wildness will rejoice with me in the rocky security of Ovis Montana, the bravest inhabitant of the California Alps.




HOT was the noon and heavy. A pitiless, quivering brightness
Hung in the motionless air; and o'er the abodes of the Cæsars

Broke the fierce breath of the sun from the fathomless deeps of the heavens.
Tiber, the ancient, had shrunk in his bed, and, with sluggish pulsations,
Languished his tawny blood in his veins as he crept 'neath the arches,-
Crept 'neath the walls of the city of Mars to the happy Campagna.

Gray was the grass on his banks, and the far-spreading crowns of the palm-trees
Hung with a nerveless droop. Among the rank-growing rushes
Stirred no murmuring breeze; and, hid in the gloom of the ilex,
Moped the voiceless birds. Beneath the arcades of the temples

Brooded the spirit of silence; around the sculptured altars
Drowsed in the wide and tenantless space the heavy-eyed augurs,

Waiting in vain for the worshipers' tread and the prayers of the faithful,

Offering votive gifts on the shrines of the lofty Immortals.

Lo! without, on the Forum the stately façades and the columns,

Lifted their snowy shapes against the deep blue of the ether,
Grave, and placid, and pure, like the thought of a god of Olympus
Swiftly congealed to stone in its large primeval perfection.
Soundless and white was the noon; and, under the resonant arches,
Rose in trembling wavelets the air from the sun-smitten pavements,
And a bright lizard, perchance, that noiselessly slid o'er the marble,
Flashed his golden-brown throat, and a hound slunk by in the shadow,
Sadly, with lolling tongue. Thus, desolate, silent, and weary,
Slept the great city at noon, the city of Mars and the Cæsars.

[graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

HIGH on the Palatine Hill, within the cool courts of his palace,
Stretched on the tawny skin of a beast from the African jungles,
Lay Maxentius Cæsar, the scourge of the angry Immortals.
Huge was his frame and seamed with the scars of manifold battles;
Rough-hewn his face and uncouth. A savage, barbarian cunning
Lurked in his keen black eyes 'neath the bulging wall of his forehead,
Furrowed across with a blood-red streak from the rim of the helmet.
Bearded, burly, and fierce, like the men from Teutonian forest:

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

Such was Maxentius Cæsar. In Diocletian's absence,

Held he the scepter of Mars and ruled the realm of the Romans.

Close to the Emperor's couch, where the whispering spray of the fountains
Fell with its cooling breath from the tortuous horns of the Tritons,

Stood, with helmet in hand, Ausonius Mycon, the prætor;

Tall and noble his growth, and his face was clear as Apollo's.


"Wroth are the gods," quoth Cæsar. Great Jove from the high-vaulted heavens Thunders in cloudless space, but sends no rain to refresh us.

Parched is the land, and the fruits of the earth are sapless and withered.
Have I not hearkened unto the voice of the priests and the augurs

Spying dark omens and signs amid the firmament's arches

Bulls with flaming horns that dashed through the glittering star-world,
Black-winged birds that filled with their screams the heavens at midnight?
And in the steaming entrails of sacrificial cattle

Ill-boding signs have appeared. The maids of the virginal Vesta,
Late at their shuddering watch by the sacred fire of the goddess,
Thrice have swooned with dread, and terrible visions affright them.
Wroth are the gods; for they brook not the impious worship of Jesus
Risen (they say) from the dead,-a Galilean impostor,-
Brook not the presence of men who sleepless walk in the darkness,
Plotting, disaster and death to the city of Mars and the Cæsars—

Who, in the stillness of night, with horrid rites of the Orient

Stain the fair face of the earth. The gods in their vengeance have wakened,
And, at the games which to-morrow will gather the flower of the Romans

Densely about the arena, the foes of the lofty Immortals

Shall with the reeking dust of the earth which their feet have polluted

Mingle their blood; and Death's keen tooth shall sting through their entrails."

Thus in wrath spoke Cæsar; Ausonius Mycon, the prætor,

Lifted his mournful eye, but tamed his tongue, for he dared not

Free the tumultuous thoughts which wrestled with might in his bosom.

And as he wavering stood he beheld, 'mid the blooming acacias

Which close-clustering grew at the brimming marge of the fountains,
Shyly a maiden approaching-a child of delicate stature.

Summers twelve had she told; like a bud-imprisoned blossom
Struggled her virginal grace through the tender beauty of childhood.
Pure was her brow, and her pallid cheek was wasted with weeping;
And in her eyes, where the gathering tears hung mute and appealing,
Lay something strange and remote, like the glow of a deep inspiration.
Wrapped was her slender form in a snowy garment that rippled
Down to her sandaled feet, and shone with glittering brooches
Artfully wrought, like nodding doves that gleamed on her shoulders.
Warily trod she with timorous step on the glittering pavement,
Paused in fear at the shafts of the jasper and porphyry columns,
Then more boldly advanced through the perfumed twilight that lingered
Under the marble arcades where reposed Maxentius Cæsar.
Wondering sore in his mind, Ausonius Mycon, the prætor,
Gazed at the lily-white maid, and saw her tremble and shiver
Like as a charmèd bird that feels the eye of the serpent,

Saw how her bosom shook with smothered sobs, as she prostrate
Flung herself at the Emperor's feet. Then her voice she uplifted-
Cried with a wild, sharp cry, as if wrung from a soul in despairing:
"Cæsar Maxentius, hear me! Oh, hear me, Maxentius Cæsar!
Give me death at thy hand! Oh, let me die, I implore thee!
Why hast thou spared a life so worthless, so weak and unfaithful,
When thou throw'st to the beasts my father, my mother-forgive me,
Christ! and restore me my strength-my mother, my mother,

To be thrown to the beasts in the sight of the blood-thirsty people!
I was weak. I denied my Lord; but now I am stronger.

Now I have strength to avow Him; for hath He not said to the faithful:
'He that loseth his life for My sake'-yes, Lord, I will follow-
Walk through the terrible portal of Death to Thy glory eternal-
Walk with unflinching feet, though my flesh be weak and unwilling!
Take me, O Cæsar, now; for now I am brave and intrepid!
Take me ere I grow weak and my heart within me unsteady!"

Thus she cried and wept, and the voice of her weeping resounded
Wide through the marble halls; while the whispering waters descended
Cool in showers of spray from the Naiad's cup, and the Satyrs,
Poised on tiptoe in heedless delight 'mid the blooming acacias,
Scarcely felt the restraint of the stone which their joy made immortal.

Silently listened Cæsar; a fierce frown wrinkled his forehead ;—
Then a curt, menacing laugh which boded ill for the maiden.
"Death thou demandest," quoth he, "and sav'st us the cost of the hunting;
Foolish bird, that fliest unsought to the claws of the eagle!

Sooth, ere to-morrow's noon thou wilt flutter in vain in his talons.

Take her, Ausonius Mycon, and see that her prayer be denied not."

Thus he spoke, and the prætor, Ausonius Mycon, made answer:

[ocr errors]

Master," he said, "thy servant I am, and my law is thy bidding.

Yet, if ever I merited praise for aught I have done thee,

Give me this maid as my slave; for choked are the prisons already
With the disciples of Christ that will bleed in the Flavian arena
'For the delight of the people. The gods are compassionate, Cæsar,—
Are not athirst for the blood of a pale and shy little maiden,
Who, by affection beguiled and natural love of her kindred,
Trod unthinking their path. My two Egyptian dancers,
Graceful, endowed with a skill that passes all understanding,
These will I give thee if thou wilt deign to accept from thy servant
What is already thine own." But, with a snort of impatience,
Shouted Maxentius: "Take her, and send thy Egyptian dancers,
Even to-day-dost thou hear?-for languor oppresses me sorely."

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

Stooping, the prætor uplifted the swooning form of the maiden
From the hard touch of the stone, and bore her out of the palace,
Through the exterior court, where brawled the dissolute guardsmen,
Playing at dice and tossing the clinking sesterce of silver

On the mosaic floor, and sentries dozed in the shadow

Of the arcades that were wrought with rarest skill by the cunning
Artist's hand; where arabesques swung their jubilant tendrils,
Like fleet voices of joy for a moment caught and arrested
Soaring in heavenward flight. But onward hastened the prætor
Through the desolate streets and the resonant void of the Forum,
While the faint rhythm of the maiden's heart that beat 'gainst his bosom
Filled his soul with an unknown peace and with tender compassion.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »