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Statilius Taurus had caught fire; the stage, with its inflammable furniture, was intensely blazing below.
The flames were wheeling up, circle after circle, through the seventy thousand seats that rose from the ground to the roof. I stood in unspeakable awe and wonder on the side of this colossal cavern, this mighty temple of the city of fire. At length, a descending blast cleared
the smoke that covered the arena. The cause of those horrid cries was now visible. The wild beasts kept for the games had broken from their dens. Maddened by fright and pain, lions, tigers, panthers, wolves, whole herds of the monsters of India and Africa were enclosed in an impassable barrier of fire. They bounded, they fought, they screamed, they tore; they ran howling round and round the circle ; they made desperate leaps upward through the blaze; they were flung back, and fell only to fasten their fangs in each other, and, with their parching jaws bathed in blood, to die raging.
I looked anxiously to see whether any human being was involved in this fearful catastrophe. To my great relief I could
The keepers and attendants had obviously escaped. As I expressed my gladness, I was startled by a loud cry from my guide, the first sound that I had heard him utter. He pointed to the opposite side of the amphitheatre. There indeed sat an object of melancholy interest; a man who had been either unable to escape, or had determined to die. Escape was now impossible. He sat in desperate calmness on his funeral pile. He was a gigantic Ethiopian slave, entirely naked.
He had chosen his place, as if in mockery, on the imperial throne; the fire was above him and around him, and under this tremendous canopy
he gazed, without the movement of a muscle, on the combat of the wild beasts below; a solitary sovereign, with the whole tremendous game played for himself, and inaccessible to the help of man.
THE SICK SCHOLAR.
SHORTLY after the schoolmaster had arranged the forms and taken his seat behind his desk, a small white-headed boy with a sun-burnt face appeared at the door, and stopping there to make a rustic bow, came in and took his seat upon one of the forms. He then put an open book, astonishingly dog.eared, upon his knees, and thrusting his hands into his pockets, began counting the marbles with which they were filled; displaying, in the expression of his face, a remarkable capacity of totally abstracting his mind from the spelling on which his eyes were fixed.
Soon afterward, another white-headed little boy came straggling in, and after him a red-headed lad, and then one with a flaxen poll
, until the forms were occupied by a dozen boys, or thereabouts, with heads of every color but grey, and ranging in their ages from four
years old to fourteen years or more; for the legs of the youngest were a long way from the floor, when he sat upon the form; and the eldest was a heavy, good-tempered fellow, about half a head taller than the schoolmaster.
At the top of the first formthe post of honor in the schoolwas the vacant place of the little sick scholar; and, at the head of the row of pegs on which those who wore hats or caps were wont to hang them, one was empty. No boy attempted to violate the sanctity of seat or peg, but many a one looked from the empty spaces to the schoolmaster, and whispered to his idle neighbour, behind his hand. Then began the hum of conning over lessons and getting them by heart, the whispered jest and stealthy game, and all the noise and drawl of school ; and in the midst of the din sat the poor schoolmaster, vainly attempting to fix his mind upon the duties of the day, and to forget his little sick friend. But the tedium of his office reminded him more strongly of the willing scholar, and his thoughts were rambling from his pupils--it was plain.
None knew this better than the idlest boys, who, growing bolder with impunity, waxed louder and more daring; playing
odd or even "under the master's eye; eating apples openly and without rebuke; pinching each other, in sport or malice, without the least reserve ; and cutting their initials in the very legs of his desk. The puzzled dunce, who stood beside it to say his lesson “off the book," looked no longer at the ceiling for forgotten words, but drew closer to his master's elbow, and boldly cast his eye upon
wag of the little troop squinted and made grimaces (at the smallest boy, of course), holding no book before his face, and his approving companions knew no constraint in their delight. If the master did chance to rouse himself, and seem alive to what was going on, the noise subsided for a moment, and no eye met his but wore a studious and deeply humble look; but the instant he relapsed again, it broke out afresh, and ten times louder than before.
Oh ! how some of those idle fellows longed to be outside, and how they looked at the open door and window, as if they half meditated rushing violently out, plunging into the woods, and being wild boys and savages from that time forth. What rebellious thoughts of the cool river, and some shady bathing-place, beneath willow trees with branches dipping in the water, kept tempting and urging that sturdy boy, who, with his shirt-collar unbuttoned, and flung back as far as it would go, sat fanning his flushed face with a spelling-book, wishing himself a whale, or a minnow, or a fly, or anything but a boy at school, on that hot, broiling day.
Heat! Ask that other boy, whose seat being nearest to the door, gave him opportunities of gliding out into the garden, and driving his companions to madness, by dipping his face into the bucket of the well, and then rolling on the grass,-ask him if there was ever such a day at that, when even the bees were diving deep down into the cups of the flowers, and stopping there, as if they had made up their minds to retire from business, and be manufacturers of honey no more. The day was made for laziness, and lying on one's back in green places, and staring at the sky, till its brightness forced the gazer to shut his eyes and go to sleep. And was this a time to be poring over musty books in a dark room, slighted by the very sun itself ? Monstrous !
The lessons over, writing time began. This was a more quiet time; for the master would come and look over the writer's shoulder, and mildly tell him to observe how such a letter was turned up, in such a copy on the wall, which had been written by their sick companion, and bid him take it as a model. Then he would stop and tell them what the sick child had said last night, and how he had longed to be among them once again ; and such was the poor schoolinaster's gentle and affectionate manner, that the boys seemed quite remorseful that they lrad worried him so much, and were absolutely quiet; eating no apples, cutting no names, and making no grimaces for full tuo minutes afterwards.
“I think, boys,” said the schoolmaster, when the clock struck twelve, “that I shall give you an extra half-holiday this afternoon.” At this intelligence, the boys, led on and headed by the tall boy, raised a great shout, in the midst of which the master was seen to speak, but could not be heard. As he held
bis hand, however, in token of his wish that they should be silent, they were considerate enough to leave off, as soon as the longestwinded
among them were quite out of breath. “You must promise me, first,” said the schoolmaster, “ that you'll not be noisy, or, at least, if you are, that you'll go away first, out of the village, I mean : I'm sure you wouldn't disturb your old playmate and companion."
There was a general murmur (and perhaps a very sincere one, for they were but boys) in the negative; and the tall boy, perhaps as sincerely as any of them, called those about him to witness, that he had only shouted in a whisper.
don't forget, my dear scholars,” said the schoolmaster, “what I have asked you, and do it as a favor to me. Be as happy as you can, and don't be unmindful that you are blessed with health. Goodbye, all.”
“Thank’ee, sir,” and “Good-bye, sir,” were said a great many times in a great variety of voices, and the boys went out very slowly and softly. But there was the sun shining, and there were the birds singing, as the sun only shines, and the birds only sing, on holidays and half-holidays; there were the trees waving to all free boys to climb, and nestle among their leafy branches; the hay, entreating them to come and scatter it to the pure air ; the green corn, gently beckoning toward wood and stream ; the smooth ground, rendered smoother still by blending lights and shadows, inviting to runs and leaps, and long walks, nobody knows whither. It was more than boy could bear, and with a joyous whoop, the whole cluster took to their heels, and spread
“ Then pray
themselves about, shouting and laughing as they went. “'Tis natural, thank Heaven !” said the poor schoolmaster, looking after them: “I am very glad they didn't mind me.”
Toward night the schoolmaster walked over to the cottage where his little friend lay sick. Knocking gently at the cottage door, it was opened without loss of time. He entered a room where a group of women were gathered about one who was wringing her hands and crying bitterly. “Oh, dame!” said the schoolmaster, drawing near her chair, “is it so bad as this?” Without replying, she pointed to another room, which the schoolmaster immediately entered; and there lay his little friend, halfdressed, stretched upon a bed.
He was a very young boy-quite a little child. His hair still hung in curls about his face, and his eyes were very bright; but their light was of heaven, not of earth. The schoolmaster took a seat beside him, and, stooping over the pillow, whispered his name. The boy sprung up, stroked his face with his hand, and threw his wasted arms around his neck, crying that he was his dear, kind friend. I hope I always was; I meant to be, God knows!” said the poor schoolmaster. "You remember my garden, Henry ?” whispered the old man, anxious to rouse him, for a dulness seemed gathering upon the child, " and how pleasant it used to be in the evening-time? You must make haste to visit it again, for I think the very flowers have missed you, and are less gay than they used to be. You will come soon, very soon now, won't you?”
The boy smiled faintly—so very, very faintly—and put his hand
upon his friend's grey head. He moved his lips, too, but no voice came from them, no, not a sound. In the silence that ensued, the hum of distant voices borne upon the evening air came floating through the open window. “ What's that?” said the sick child, opening his eyes. “The boys at play upon the green.” He took a handkerchief from his pillow, and tried to wave it above his head. But the feeble arm dropped powerless down. “ Shall I do it?” said the schoolmaster. “ Please wave it at the window," was the faint reply. “Tie it to the lattice. Some of them may see it there. Perhaps they'll think of me, and look this way.”