Wlliam Gilmore Simms
Count Julian; or, The Last Days of the Goth >> Book First / Chapter I >> Page 5

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Novel (Romance) | William Taylor & Co. | 1845 - 1846
Transcription THE LAST DAYS OF THE GOTH. 5
when his nephews, the two princes Egiza and Pelayo, would lift the standard of revolt in the Asturias ; and he well knew that nothing then but shows of the most devoted loyalty would suffice to protect him from suspicion. This difficulty was before him now; and alone, at midnight, in his chamber, the archbishop revolved the matter in his mind. While he mused, a private signal reached his ear. He rose instantly, and admitted one who seemed to have been expected. The stranger was one of those upon whom the arts of Oppas had been practiced in part already. Something, however, was yet to be done, to the completion of his purposes. The person who entered, and who now seated himself so confidently yet unobtrusively in the presence of the archbishop, was a priest, and one who had a great influence among his fellows, being endowed with the popular gift of eloquence in a wonderful degree, and being at the same time one of the four persons, chosen for their venerable appearance and known wisdom and sanctity, to be keepers of that famous and strange fabric in Toledo, which was known as the House of Hercules.
This ' house,' so called, was one of the greatest supposed wonders in all Spain, and was regarded by the people of the country—the natives being understood, and not the Goths—with a feeling of superstitious fear and veneration, which made it an object of national care and consideration. It was a mountain, in which there was a cavern and many secret and subterranean passages. Many were the strange stories told concerning it ; and, in that time of marvels and general superstition, when religion was only dawning as it were upon mankind, and all was twilight and shadow in the spiritual world, the popular story was the source of a most prevalent faith among the people. It was said of this cavern that it had been the work of Hercules, who, when he first came into Spain, raised it there in the course of a single night, building it on the inside of the most costly materials, and leaving a written prediction, which was contained within its walls, concerning the future destinies of the nation. Wo and nameless miseries were denounced against that person who should endeavor to obtain possession of the secret which it concealed ; and such had been the fear inspired by the denunciation, that the monarchs of that country, reckless and vicious as in every other respect they may have been, had never once dared to penetrate the sanctuary ; but, in respect of the prediction, or perhaps with a due regard to the popular superstition, they had each of them, previous to the time of Roderick, affixed a heavy lock to its gate of entrance, that it might be the more readily recognized as a place sealed up against idle curiosity or an improper thirst to know that which the due progress of events would necessarily reveal. At this day, it matters little to inquire the source and secret of this superstition. The probability is that it was one of the thousand arts of that venerable power, known to all nations and ages, which seeks to maintain its sovereignty by practicing upon the credulity of the weak and unsuspecting. The House of Hercules was in the possession of the Gothic priesthood. It gave them at all times a certain, and perhaps supreme command over the fears and the feelings of the Spanish people. It was confided to their direction, and a selection of four persons from their body were appointed to keep it. It does not appear that these four persons were kept front the knowledge which was denied by the monarchs of Spain—arbitrary though they might be in all things else--v-to themselves and their subjects. They had each of them, up to the time of Roderick, placed an additional lock upon its gate, the better to secure its secrets. That duty was yet to be performed by the reigning sovereign. But Oppas resolved that Roderick should not perform this duty. He resolved that this should be one of the appointed modes which the king should employ by which to offend the priesthood. This, however, was a secret resolve of his own mind, to be pursued with cautiousness. While he spoke with the venerable Romano, who, by