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"Let us settle it," said Kenyon, stamping his foot firmly down, "that
this is precisely the spot where the chasm opened, into which Curtius
precipitated his good steed and himself. Imagine the great, dusky gap,
impenetrably deep, and with half-shaped monsters and hideous faces
looming upward out of it, to the vast affright of the good citizens who
peeped over the brim! There, now, is a subject, hitherto unthought of,
for a grim and ghastly story, and, methinks, with a moral as deep as
the gulf itself. Within it, beyond a question, there were prophetic
visions,--intimations of all the future calamities of Rome,--shades of
Goths, and Gauls, and even of the French soldiers of to-day. It was a
pity to close it up so soon! I would give much for a peep into such a
"I fancy," remarked Miriam, "that every person takes a peep into it
in moments of gloom and despondency; that is to say, in his moments of
"Where is it, then?" asked Hilda. "I never peeped into it."
"Wait, and it will open for you," replied her friend. "The chasm was
merely one of the orifices of that pit of blackness that lies beneath
us, everywhere. The firmest substance of human happiness is but a thin
crust spread over it, with just reality enough to bear up the illusive
stage scenery amid which we tread. It needs no earthquake to open the
chasm. A footstep, a little heavier than ordinary, will serve; and we
must step very daintily, not to break through the crust at any moment.
By and by, we inevitably sink! It was a foolish piece of heroism in
Curtius to precipitate himself there, in advance; for all Rome, you see,
has been swallowed up in that gulf, in spite of him. The Palace of the
Caesars has gone down thither, with a hollow, rumbling sound of its
fragments! All the temples have tumbled into it; and thousands of
statues have been thrown after! All the armies and the triumphs have
marched into the great chasm, with their martial music playing, as they
stepped over the brink. All the heroes, the statesmen, and the poets!
All piled upon poor Curtius, who thought to have saved them all! I am
loath to smile at the self-conceit of that gallant horseman, but cannot
well avoid it."