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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Vengeance of Gothelindis
By Felix Dahn (1834–1912)
 
From ‘The Struggle for Rome’: Translation of R. H. Knorr

THE SLAVE silently opened a door in the marble walls. Amalaswintha entered, and stood in the narrow gallery which ran around the basin. Just in front, low steps led into the magnificent bath, from which already warm delicious odors were rising. Light fell in from above through an octagonal dome of finely cut glass. At the entrance was a flight of steps of cedar wood, which led up twelve stairs to a spring-board. Round about the marble walls of the gallery, as well as of the basin, countless friezes hid the mouths of the pipes needed for the water-works and the hot air.  1
  Silently the bath-woman spread the bathing accessories over the soft cushions and carpets that covered the floor of the gallery, and turned toward the door.  2
  “Why is it that I feel that I know you?” asked the princess, looking at her thoughtfully. “How long have you been here?”  3
  “Since eight days.” And she took hold of the door.  4
  “How long have you served Cassiodorus?”  5
  “I have always served the Princess Gothelindis.”  6
  With a cry of terror Amalaswintha started up at this name. She turned and grasped at the garment of the woman—too late! She was gone, the door fell to. Amalaswintha heard the key drawn out of the lock.  7
  In vain her eye sought for another place of exit. Then an immense unnamable fear overcame the queen. She felt that she had been terribly deceived, that here was hidden a disastrous secret. Fear, nameless fear, fell upon her. Flight, flight out of this chamber was her one thought.  8
  But flight seemed impossible; the door from this side was now only a thick marble slab, like those at the right and the left. Not even a pin could penetrate through the seams. In despair her eyes traveled around the wall of the gallery. Only the tritons and dolphins stared back at her. At last her gaze rested on the snake-enwreathed head of the Medusa just opposite, and she uttered a cry of terror. The face of the Medusa was pushed aside, and the oval space under the snaky hair was filled by a human countenance!  9
  Was it a human countenance?  10
  Trembling, she clutched the marble railing, and leaning far forward peered over: yes, those were the features of Gothelindis, drawn to a grimace; and a hell of hatred and scorn flamed in her eyes.  11
  Amalaswintha sank on her knees and hid her face.  12
  “You—you here!”  13
  Hoarse laughter answered her.  14
  “Yes, Amelung woman! I am here, and to your ruin! This island, this house, is mine! It shall be your grave! Dolios and all slaves of Cassiodorus are mine, sold to me a week ago. I have lured you hither. I have followed you as your shadow. Through long days and long nights I have borne within me burning hatred, at length to taste here full revenge. For hours I will enjoy your mortal agony, will witness miserable, moaning terror shake as in fever that proud body and cover that haughty face!—Oh, I will drink a sea of revenge!”  15
  Amalaswintha rose, wringing her hands:—“Revenge, Gothelindis! Wherefore? Whence this deadly hatred of me?”  16
  “Ha, and you ask? To be sure, decades have passed by, and the heart of the happy soon forgets. But hatred has a more faithful memory. Have you forgotten how once upon a time two young girls played beneath the plantains on the meadows of Ravenna? Both were chief among their playmates. Both were young, beautiful, and charming; the one daughter of a king, the other daughter of the Baltha. And the girls had to choose a queen for their games: and they chose Gothelindis, for she was yet more beautiful than you, and not as imperious; and they chose her once, twice in succession. But the daughter of the king stood by, consumed by wild untamable pride,—pride and envy; and when they chose me for the third time, she took up the sharp-pointed garden scissors—”  17
  “Stop! oh, hush, Gothelindis!”  18
  “—And flung it at me. And it hit its mark, and crying out and bloody I fell to the ground, my whole cheek a gaping wound, and my eye, my eye pierced. Ah, how that hurts, even now!”  19
  “Pardon, forgive, Gothelindis!” moaned the prisoner. “You had forgiven me long ago.”  20
  “Forgiven? I forgive you? That you robbed my face of its eye, and my life of its beauty, shall I forgive that? You had got the better of me for life; Gothelindis was no longer dangerous; she mourned in silence, the disfigured one fled the eyes of men. And years passed. Then out of Spain came to the court of Ravenna the noble Eutharich, the Amaler with the dark eye and the tender heart: he, ill himself, took pity on the ill, half-blind one; and he talked with her kindly and compassionately, with the ugly one, whom all else avoided. Oh, how that refreshened my thirsting soul! And it was decided in order to bury the old hatred between the two houses, to wipe away old and recent guilt,—for the Duke of the Baltha, Alarich, had likewise been executed on secret, unproved accusation,—that the poor maltreated daughter of the Baltha should become the wife of the noblest of the Amaler. When you heard that, you who had disfigured me! you decided to take my lover from me—not from jealousy, not because you loved him! no, from pride; because you wanted as your own the chief man in the Gothic Kingdom, the next male heir to the crown. You decided on that, and you achieved it. Your father could not deny you any wish; and Eutharich forgot at once his pity for the one-eyed one, as soon as the hand of the beautiful daughter of the king beckoned to him. For compensation—or was it for scorn?—they gave to me likewise an Amaler—Theodahad, the miserable coward!”  21
  “Gothelindis, I swear to you, I never imagined that you loved Eutharich! How could I—”  22
  “To be sure, how could you think that the ugly one would lift her thoughts so high? Oh, you cursed one! And if you had loved him, and had made him happy—I would have forgiven you everything. But you did not love him, you can love only the sceptre! You made him miserable. For years I saw him at your side, bowed down, unloved, frozen to the marrow by your coldness. Sorrow because of your chilling pride soon killed him! You, you have robbed me of my lover, and sent him to the grave! Revenge, revenge for him!”  23
  And the deep vault re-echoed the cry, “Revenge! Revenge!”  24
  “Help, ho!” cried Amalaswintha. She ran in despair along the circle of the gallery, beating her hands against the marble slab.  25
  “Yes, cry out! No one hears you now but the god of vengeance. Do you think that for months I have curbed in my hatred in vain? How often, how easily, could I even in Ravenna have reached you with poniard or poison! But no, I have lured you hither. At the petition of my cousins, at your bed an hour ago I restrained my uplifted arm from the stroke. Yes, for you shall die slowly, inch by inch! for hours I will watch your mortal agony increase.”  26
  “Terrible one!”  27
  “Oh, what are hours, compared to the decades through which you have tortured me with my disfigurement, with your beauty, with the possession of my lover? What are hours compared to decades? But you shall pay for it.”  28
  “What will you do?” cried the tortured one, again and again looking for an escape along the walls.  29
  “Do? I will drown you, slowly, slowly—in the water-works of this bath—which your friend Cassiodorus built! You do not know the pangs of jealousy and impotent fury I have suffered in this house, when you shared the couch with Eutharich, and I was among your followers and obliged to serve you. In this bath, you haughty one, I have loosened your sandals and dried the proud limbs. In this bath you shall die.”  30
  Gothelindis pressed a button. The floor of the basin of the upper story, the circular metal plate, divided into two semicircles. They disappeared to the right and left in the wall; the prisoner in terror looked from the narrow gallery into the abysmal depth at her feet.  31
  “Remember my eye!” cried Gothelindis, and then of a sudden the sluices at the bottom opened and the waters of the lake rushed in, gurgling and foaming, and rose higher and higher with terrible swiftness.  32
  Amalaswintha saw certain death before her. She knew the impossibility of escaping, or of softening with prayers her devilish enemy. But her old proud Amelung courage returned; composedly she awaited her fate. Near her, to the right of the entrance, she saw among the many friezes of Greek mythology a representation of the death of Christ; that refreshed her soul. She knelt down before the marble crucifix, clasped it with both hands and prayed calmly with closed eyes, while the waters rose and rose. Now they dashed against the steps of the gallery.  33
  “You are going to pray, are you, murderess?” cried Gothelindis furiously. “Away from the crucifix! Remember the three dukes!”  34
  Of a sudden all the dolphins and tritons on the right side of the octagon began to spout streams of hot water; white smoke puffed out of the pipes.  35
  Amalaswintha sprang up and rushed to the other side of the gallery. “Gothelindis, I forgive you! Kill me, but do you likewise forgive my soul.”  36
  And the water rose and rose. Already it surged over the upper step and pushed slowly on to the floor of the gallery.  37
  “I forgive you? Never! Think of Eutharich!” And from the left the boiling streams of water hissed toward Amalaswintha. She now fled toward the center, just opposite the head of the Medusa, the only place where no stream from the pipes could reach her.  38
  If she mounted the springboard placed here, she could for a little yet prolong her life. Gothelindis seemed to expect this, in order to enjoy the prolonged agony. The water already foamed on the marble floor of the gallery and moistened the feet of the prisoner. Quickly she bounded up the brown shimmering steps, and leaned against the railing of the bridge.  39
  “Hear me, Gothelindis! my last prayer! not for myself,—for my people, for our people. Petros intends to despoil it and Theodahad.”  40
  “Yes, I know, this realm is the uppermost care of your soul! Despair! It is lost! These foolish Goths, who for centuries preferred the Amaler to the Baltha, are sold and betrayed by the house of the Amaler. Belisarius draws near, and there is none to warn them.”  41
  “You are mistaken, fiend! They are warned. I their queen have warned them. Hail to my people! Ruin to its enemies and mercy to my soul!” And with a quick leap she threw herself from the platform into the waters. Foaming they closed over her.  42
  Gothelindis stared at the place where her victim had stood.  43
  “She has disappeared,” she said.  44
  Then she looked down into the water; the kerchief of Amalaswintha was swimming on the surface.  45
  “Even in death this woman triumphs over me,” she said slowly. “How long lasted the hatred! and how short was revenge!”  46
 
 
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