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See, I have plucked the fruit that promised best, And where not sure, perplexed, but pleased, I guessed At such as seemed the fairest; thrice the hill My steps have wound to try the coolest rill; Yes! thy Sherbet to-night will sweetly flow, See how it sparkles in its vase of snow!
The grapes' gay juice thy bosom never cheers; Thou more than Moslem when the cup appears: 430 Think not I mean to chide--for I rejoice What others deem a penance is thy choice.
But come, the board is spread; our silver lamp Is trimmed, and heeds not the Sirocco's damp: Then shall my handmaids while the time along, And join with me the dance, or wake the song; Or my guitar, which still thou lov'st to hear, Shall soothe or lull--or, should it vex thine ear, We'll turn the tale, by Ariosto told, Of fair Olympia loved and left of old. 440 Why, thou wert worse than he who broke his vow To that lost damsel, should thou leave me _now_-- Or even that traitor chief--I've seen thee smile, When the clear sky showed Ariadne's Isle, Which I have pointed from these cliffs the while: And thus half sportive--half in fear--I said, Lest Time should raise that doubt to more than dread, Thus Conrad, too, will quit me for the main: And he deceived me--for--he came again!"
"Again, again--and oft again--my Love! 450 If there be life below, and hope above, He will return--but now, the moments bring The time of parting with redoubled wing: The why, the where--what boots it now to tell?
Since all must end in that wild word--Farewell!
Yet would I fain--did time allow--disclose-- Fear not--these are no formidable foes!
And here shall watch a more than wonted guard, For sudden siege and long defence prepared: Nor be thou lonely, though thy Lord's away, 460 Our matrons and thy handmaids with thee stay; And this thy comfort--that, when next we meet, Security shall make repose more sweet.
List!--'tis the bugle!"--Juan shrilly blew-- "One kiss--one more--another--Oh! Adieu!"
She rose--she sprung--she clung to his embrace, Till his heart heaved beneath her hidden face: He dared not raise to his that deep-blue eye, Which downcast drooped in tearless agony.
Her long fair hair lay floating o'er his arms, 470 In all the wildness of dishevelled charms; Scarce beat that bosom where his image dwelt So full--_that_ feeling seem'd almost unfelt!
Hark--peals the thunder of the signal-gun!
It told 'twas sunset, and he cursed that sun.
Again--again--that form he madly pressed, Which mutely clasped, imploringly caressed![hu]
And tottering to the couch his bride he bore, One moment gazed--as if to gaze no more; Felt that for him Earth held but her alone, 480 Kissed her cold forehead--turned--is Conrad gone?
"And is he gone?"--on sudden solitude How oft that fearful question will intrude!
"'Twas but an instant past, and here he stood!
And now"--without the portal's porch she rushed, And then at length her tears in freedom gushed; Big, bright, and fast, unknown to her they fell; But still her lips refused to send--"Farewell!"
For in that word--that fatal word--howe'er We promise--hope--believe--there breathes Despair. 490 O'er every feature of that still, pale face, Had Sorrow fixed what Time can ne'er erase: The tender blue of that large loving eye Grew frozen with its gaze on vacancy, Till--Oh, how far!--it caught a glimpse of him, And then it flowed, and phrensied seemed to swim Through those long, dark, and glistening lashes dewed With drops of sadness oft to be renewed.
"He's gone!"--against her heart that hand is driven, Convulsed and quick--then gently raised to Heaven: 500 She looked and saw the heaving of the main: The white sail set--she dared not look again; But turned with sickening soul within the gate-- "It is no dream--and I am desolate!"
From crag to crag descending, swiftly sped Stern Conrad down, nor once he turned his head; But shrunk whene'er the windings of his way Forced on his eye what he would not survey, His lone, but lovely dwelling on the steep, That hailed him first when homeward from the deep: 510 And she--the dim and melancholy Star, Whose ray of Beauty reached him from afar, On her he must not gaze, he must not think-- There he might rest--but on Destruction's brink: Yet once almost he stopped--and nearly gave His fate to chance, his projects to the wave: But no--it must not be--a worthy chief May melt, but not betray to Woman's grief.
He sees his bark, he notes how fair the wind, And sternly gathers all his might of mind: 520 Again he hurries on--and as he hears The clang of tumult vibrate on his ears, The busy sounds, the bustle of the sh.o.r.e, The shout, the signal, and the dashing oar; As marks his eye the seaboy on the mast, The anchors rise, the sails unfurling fast, The waving kerchiefs of the crowd that urge That mute Adieu to those who stem the surge; And more than all, his blood-red flag aloft, He marvelled how his heart could seem so soft. 530 Fire in his glance, and wildness in his breast, He feels of all his former self possest; He bounds--he flies--until his footsteps reach The verge where ends the cliff, begins the beach, There checks his speed; but pauses less to breathe The breezy freshness of the deep beneath, Than there his wonted statelier step renew; Nor rush, disturbed by haste, to vulgar view: For well had Conrad learned to curb the crowd, By arts that veil, and oft preserve the proud; 540 His was the lofty port, the distant mien, That seems to shun the sight--and awes if seen: The solemn aspect, and the high-born eye, That checks low mirth, but lacks not courtesy; All these he wielded to command a.s.sent: But where he wished to win, so well unbent, That Kindness cancelled fear in those who heard, And others' gifts showed mean beside his word, When echoed to the heart as from his own His deep yet tender melody of tone: 550 But such was foreign to his wonted mood, He cared not what he softened, but subdued; The evil pa.s.sions of his youth had made Him value less who loved--than what obeyed.
Around him mustering ranged his ready guard.
Before him Juan stands--"Are all prepared?"
"They are--nay more--embarked: the latest boat Waits but my chief----"
"My sword, and my capote."
Soon firmly girded on, and lightly slung, His belt and cloak were o'er his shoulders flung: 560 "Call Pedro here!" He comes--and Conrad bends, With all the courtesy he deigned his friends; "Receive these tablets, and peruse with care, Words of high trust and truth are graven there; Double the guard, and when Anselmo's bark Arrives, let him alike these orders mark: In three days (serve the breeze) the sun shall shine On our return--till then all peace be thine!"
This said, his brother Pirate's hand he wrung, Then to his boat with haughty gesture sprung. 570 Flashed the dipt oars, and sparkling with the stroke, Around the waves' phosphoric brightness broke; They gain the vessel--on the deck he stands,-- Shrieks the shrill whistle, ply the busy hands-- He marks how well the ship her helm obeys, How gallant all her crew, and deigns to praise.
His eyes of pride to young Gonsalvo turn-- Why doth he start, and inly seem to mourn?
Alas! those eyes beheld his rocky tower, And live a moment o'er the parting hour; 580 She--his Medora--did she mark the prow?
Ah! never loved he half so much as now!
But much must yet be done ere dawn of day-- Again he mans himself and turns away; Down to the cabin with Gonsalvo bends, And there unfolds his plan--his means, and ends; Before them burns the lamp, and spreads the chart, And all that speaks and aids the naval art; They to the midnight watch protract debate; To anxious eyes what hour is ever late? 590 Meantime, the steady breeze serenely blew, And fast and falcon-like the vessel flew; Pa.s.sed the high headlands of each cl.u.s.tering isle, To gain their port--long--long ere morning smile: And soon the night-gla.s.s through the narrow bay Discovers where the Pacha's galleys lay.
Count they each sail, and mark how there supine The lights in vain o'er heedless Moslem shine.
Secure, unnoted, Conrad's prow pa.s.sed by, And anch.o.r.ed where his ambush meant to lie; 600 Screened from espial by the jutting cape, That rears on high its rude fantastic shape.
Then rose his band to duty--not from sleep-- Equipped for deeds alike on land or deep; While leaned their Leader o'er the fretting flood, And calmly talked--and yet he talked of blood!
CANTO THE SECOND.
"Conosceste i dubbiosi desiri?"
Dante, _Inferno_, v, 120.
In Coron's bay floats many a galley light, Through Coron's lattices the lamps are bright,
For Seyd, the Pacha, makes a feast to-night: A feast for promised triumph yet to come, 610 When he shall drag the fettered Rovers home; This hath he sworn by Allah and his sword, And faithful to his firman and his word, His summoned prows collect along the coast, And great the gathering crews, and loud the boast; Already shared the captives and the prize, Though far the distant foe they thus despise; 'Tis but to sail--no doubt to-morrow's Sun Will see the Pirates bound--their haven won!
Meantime the watch may slumber, if they will, 620 Nor only wake to war, but dreaming kill.
Though all, who can, disperse on sh.o.r.e and seek To flesh their glowing valour on the Greek; How well such deed becomes the turbaned brave-- To bare the sabre's edge before a slave!
Infest his dwelling--but forbear to slay, Their arms are strong, yet merciful to-day, And do not deign to smite because they may!
Unless some gay caprice suggests the blow, To keep in practice for the coming foe. 630 Revel and rout the evening hours beguile, And they who wish to wear a head must smile; For Moslem mouths produce their choicest cheer, And h.o.a.rd their curses, till the coast is clear.
High in his hall reclines the turbaned Seyd; Around--the bearded chiefs he came to lead.
Removed the banquet, and the last pilaff-- Forbidden draughts, 'tis said, he dared to quaff, Though to the rest the sober berry's juice
The slaves bear round for rigid Moslems' use; 640 The long chibouque's dissolving cloud supply, While dance the Almas to wild minstrelsy.
The rising morn will view the chiefs embark; But waves are somewhat treacherous in the dark: And revellers may more securely sleep On silken couch than o'er the rugged deep: Feast there who can--nor combat till they must, And less to conquest than to Korans trust; And yet the numbers crowded in his host Might warrant more than even the Pacha's boast. 650
With cautious reverence from the outer gate Slow stalks the slave, whose office there to wait, Bows his bent head--his hand salutes the floor, Ere yet his tongue the trusted tidings bore: "A captive Dervise, from the Pirate's nest Escaped, is here--himself would tell the rest."
He took the sign from Seyd's a.s.senting eye, And led the holy man in silence nigh.
His arms were folded on his dark-green vest, His step was feeble, and his look deprest; 660 Yet worn he seemed of hardship more than years, And pale his cheek with penance, not from fears.
Vowed to his G.o.d--his sable locks he wore, And these his lofty cap rose proudly o'er: Around his form his loose long robe was thrown, And wrapt a breast bestowed on heaven alone; Submissive, yet with self-possession manned, He calmly met the curious eyes that scanned; And question of his coming fain would seek, Before the Pacha's will allowed to speak. 670
"Whence com'st thou, Dervise?"
"From the Outlaw's den A fugitive--"
"Thy capture where and when?"
"From Scalanova's port to Scio's isle, The Saick was bound; but Allah did not smile Upon our course--the Moslem merchant's gains The Rovers won; our limbs have worn their chains.
I had no death to fear, nor wealth to boast, Beyond the wandering freedom which I lost; At length a fisher's humble boat by night Afforded hope, and offered chance of flight; 680 I seized the hour, and find my safety here-- With thee--most mighty Pacha! who can fear?"
"How speed the outlaws? stand they well prepared, Their plundered wealth, and robber's rock, to guard?
Dream they of this our preparation, doomed To view with fire their scorpion nest consumed?"
"Pacha! the fettered captive's mourning eye, That weeps for flight, but ill can play the spy; I only heard the reckless waters roar, Those waves that would not bear me from the sh.o.r.e; 690 I only marked the glorious Sun and sky, Too bright--too blue--for my captivity; And felt that all which Freedom's bosom cheers Must break my chain before it dried my tears.
This mayst thou judge, at least, from my escape, They little deem of aught in Peril's shape; Else vainly had I prayed or sought the Chance That leads me here--if eyed with vigilance: The careless guard that did not see me fly, May watch as idly when thy power is nigh. 700 Pacha! my limbs are faint--and nature craves Food for my hunger, rest from tossing waves: Permit my absence--peace be with thee! Peace With all around!--now grant repose--release."
"Stay, Dervise! I have more to question--stay, I do command thee--sit--dost hear?--obey!
More I must ask, and food the slaves shall bring; Thou shall not pine where all are banqueting: The supper done--prepare thee to reply, Clearly and full--I love not mystery." 710 'Twere vain to guess what shook the pious man, Who looked not lovingly on that Divan; Nor showed high relish for the banquet prest, And less respect for every fellow guest.
Twas but a moment's peevish hectic pa.s.sed Along his cheek, and tranquillised as fast: He sate him down in silence, and his look Resumed the calmness which before forsook: The feast was ushered in--but sumptuous fare He shunned as if some poison mingled there. 720 For one so long condemned to toil and fast, Methinks he strangely spares the rich repast.
"What ails thee, Dervise? eat--dost thou suppose This feast a Christian's? or my friends thy foes?
Why dost thou shun the salt? that sacred pledge,
Which, once partaken, blunts the sabre's edge, Makes even contending tribes in peace unite, And hated hosts seem brethren to the sight!"
"Salt seasons dainties--and my food is still The humblest root, my drink the simplest rill; 730 And my stern vow and Order's laws oppose To break or mingle bread with friends or foes; It may seem strange--if there be aught to dread That peril rests upon my single head; But for thy sway--nay more--thy Sultan's throne, I taste nor bread nor banquet--save alone; Infringed our Order's rule, the Prophet's rage To Mecca's dome might bar my pilgrimage."
"Well--as thou wilt--ascetic as thou art-- One question answer; then in peace depart. 740 How many?--Ha! it cannot sure be day?
What Star--what Sun is bursting on the bay?