« PreviousContinue »
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. “'Tis 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
And on his arms lay musing. Young he seemed,
And sad, as though he could indulge at will
Some secret grief. “Thou shrinkest back," he said. .
"Well may'st thou, lying, as thou dost, so near
A ruffian one forever linked and bound
To guilt and infamy. There was a time
When he had not perhaps been deemed unworthy,
When he had watched yon planet to its setting,
And dwelt with pleasure on the meanest thing
Nature gives birth to. Now, alas! 't is past.
Wouldst thou know more? My story is an old one.
I loved, was scorned ; I trusted, was betrayed ;
And in my anguish, my necessity,
Met with the fiend, the tempter — in RUSCONI.
Why thus?' he cried. Thou wouldst be free and dar'st
Come and assert thy birthright while thou canst.
A robber's cave is better than a dungeon;
And death itself, what is it at the worst,
What but a harlequin's leap?' Him I had known,
Had served with, suffered with ; and on the walls
Of PADUA, while the moon went down, I swore
Allegiance on his dagger. Dost thou ask
How I have kept my oath? Thou shalt be told,
Cost what it may. But grant me,
But grant me, I implore,
Grant me a passport to some distant land,
That I may never, never more be named.
Thou wilt, I know thou wilt.
Two months ago,
When on a vineyard-hill we lay concealed
And scattered up and down as we were wont,
I heard a damsel singing to herself,
And soon espied her, coming all alone,
In her first beauty. Up a path she came,
Leafy and intricate, singing her song,
A song of love, by snatches; breaking off
If but a flower, an insect in the sun,
Pleased for an instant; then as carelessly
The strain resuming, and, where'er she stopt,
Rising on tiptoe underneath the boughs
To pluck a grape in very wantonness.
Her look, her mien and maiden ornaments,
Showed gentle birth ; and, step by step, she came,
Nearer and nearer, to the dreadful snare.
None else were by; and, as I gazed unseen,
Her youth, her innocence and gayety,
Went to my heart ! and, starting up, I breathed,
· Fly -- for your life !' Alas! she shrieked, she fell;
And, as I caught her falling, all rushed forth.
'A wood-nymph!' cried RUSCONI. By the light,
Lovely as Hebe! Lay her in the shade.'
I heard him not. I stood as in a trance.
What,' he exclaimed, with a malicious smile,
· Wouldst thou rebel?' I did as he required.
Now bear her hence to the well-head below;
A few cold drops will animate this marble.
Go! 'Tis an office all will envy thee ;
But thou hast earned it.' As I staggered down,
Unwilling to surrender her sweet body;
Her golden hair dishevelled on a neck
Of snow, and her fair eyes closed as in sleep,
Frantic with love, with hate, "Great God!' I cried
(I had almost forgotten how to pray;
But there are moments when the courage comes),