Page images
PDF
EPUB

281

A voice was heard, that never bade to spare,
Crying aloud, “Hence to the distant hills !
Tasso approaches; he, whose song beguiles
The day of half its hours; whose sorcery
Dazzles the sense, turning our forest-glades
To lists that blaze with gorgeous armory,
Our mountain-caves to regal palaces.
Hence, nor descend till he and his are gone.
Let him fear nothing." — When along the shore,
And by the path that, wandering on its way,
Leads through the fatal grove where Tully fell
(Gray and o'ergrown, an ancient tomb is there),
He came and they withdrew, they were a race
Careless of life in others and themselves,
For they had learnt their lesson in a camp;
But not ungenerous. 'Tis no longer so.
Now crafty, cruel, torturing ere they slay
The unhappy captive, and with bitter jests
Mocking misfortune ; vain, fantastical,
Wearing whatever glitters in the spoil ;
And most devout, though, when they kneel and pray,
With every bead they could recount a murder ;
As by a spell they start up in array,”
As by a spell they vanish — theirs a band,
Not as elsewhere of outlaws, but of such
As sow and reap, and at the cottage-door
Sit to receive, return the traveller's greeting ;
Now in the garb of peace, now silently
Arming and issuing forth, led on by men
Whose names on innocent lips are words of fear,
Whose lives have long been forfeit. —Some there are
That, ere they rise to this bad eminence,
Lurk, night and day, the plague-spot visible,

282

The guilt that says, Beware; and mark we now
Him, where he lies, who couches for his prey
At the bridge-foot in some dark cavity
Scooped by the waters, or some gaping tomb,
Nameless and tenantless, whence the red fox
Slunk as he entered.

There he broods, in spleen
Gnawing his beard; his rough and sinewy frame
O’erwritten with the story of his life :
On his wan check a sabre-cut, well earned
In foreign warfare ; on his breast the brand
Indelible, burnt in when to the port
He clanked his chain, among a hundred more
Dragged ignominiously ; on every limb
Memorials of his glory and his shame,
Stripes of the lash and honorable scars,
And channels here and there worn to the bone
By galling fetters.

He comes slowly forth, Unkennelling, and savage

dell Anxiously looks ; his cruise, an ample gourd (Duly replenished from the vintner's cask), Slung from his shoulder; in his breadth of belt Two pistols and a dagger yet uncleansed, A parchment scrawled with uncouth characters, And a small vial, his last remedy, His cure, when all things fail.

No noise is heard, Save when the rugged bear and the gaunt wolf Howl in the upper region, or a fish Leaps in the gulf beneath. But now he kneels; And (like a scout, when listening to the tramp

up that

Of horse or foot) lays his experienced ear.
Close to the ground, then rises and explores,
Then kneels again, and, his short rifle-gun
Against his cheek, waits patiently.

Two monks,
Portly, gray-headed, on their gallant steeds,
Descend where yet a mouldering cross o'erhangs
The grave of one that from the precipice
Fell in an evil hour. Their bridle-bells
Ring merrily; and many a loud, long laugh
Reëchoes; but at once the sounds are lost.
Unconscious of the good in store below,
The holy fathers have turned off, and now
Cross the brown heath, ere long to wag their beards
Before my lady-abbess, and discuss
Things only known to the devout and pure
O'er her spiced bowl — then shrive the sisterhood,
Sitting by turns with an inclining ear
In the confessional.

He moves his lips
As with a curse then paces up and down,
Now fast, now slow, brooding and muttering on;
Gloomy alike to him future and past.

But, hark! the nimble tread of numerous feet! 'T is but a dappled herd, come down to slake Their thirst in the cool wave.

He turns and aims; Then checks himself, unwilling to disturb The sleeping echoes. — Once again he earths ; Slipping away to house with them beneath, His old companions in that hiding-place, The bat, the toad, the blind-worm, and the newt;

And, hark ! a footstep, firm and confident,
As of a man in haste. Nearer it draws;
And now is at the entrance of the den.
Ha! 't is a comrade, sent to gather in
The band for some great enterprise.

Who wants
A sequel, may read on. The unvarnished tale,
That follows, will supply the place of one.
’T was told me by the Count St. Angelo,
When in a blustering night he sheltered me
In that brave castle of his ancestors
O’er GARIGLIANO, and is such indeed
As every day brings with it --- in a land
Where laws are trampled on and lawless men
Walk in the sun; but it should not be lost,
For it may serve to bind us to our country.

AN ADVENTURE.

283

THREE days they lay in ambush at my gate,
Then sprung and led me captive. Many a wild
We traversed ; but RUSCONI, 't was no less,
Marched by my side, and, when I thirsted, climbed
The cliffs for water; though, whene'er he spoke,
'T was briefly, sullenly; and on he led,
Distinguished only by an amulet,
That in a golden chain hung from his neck,
A crystal of rare virtue. Night fell fast,
When on a heath, black and immeasurable,
He turned and bade them halt. 'Twas where the earth
Heaves o'er the dead where erst some ALARIC

Fought his last fight, and every warrior threw
A stone to tell for ages where he lay.

Then all advanced, and, ranging in a square,
Stretched forth their arms as on the holy cross,
From each to each their sable cloaks extending,
That, like the solemn hangings of a tent,
Covered us round; and in the midst I stood,
Weary and faint, and face to face with one,
Whose voice, whose look dispenses life and death,
Whose heart knows no relentings. Instantly
A light was kindled and the bandit spoke.
"I know thee. Thou hast sought us, for the sport
Slipping thy blood-hounds with a hunter's cry;
And thou hast found at last. Were I as thou,
I in thy grasp as thou art now in ours,
Soon should I make a midnight spectacle,
Soon, limb by limb, be mangled on a wheel,
Then gibbeted to blacken for the vultures.
But I would teach thee better
Write as I dictate. If thy ransom comes,
Thou liv’st. If not — but answer not, I

pray,
Lest thou provoke me. I may strike thee dead;
And know, young man, it is an easier thing
To do it than to say it. Write, and thus.”—

I wrote. “'T is well,” he cried. “A peasant-boy, Trusty and swift of foot, shall bear it hence. Meanwhile lie down and rest. This cloak of mine Will serve thee; it has weathered many a storm.”

The watch was set; and twice it had been changed When morning broke, and a wild bird, a hawk, Flew in a circle, screaming. I looked up, And all were gone, save him who now kept guard

how to spare.

« PreviousContinue »