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It shines a lake of fire!--away--away!
Ho! treachery! my guards! my scimitar!
The galleys feed the flames--and I afar!
Accursed Dervise!--these thy tidings--thou Some villain spy--seize--cleave him--slay him now!"
Up rose the Dervise with that burst of light, Nor less his change of form appalled the sight: Up rose that Dervise--not in saintly garb, 750 But like a warrior bounding on his barb, Dashed his high cap, and tore his robe away-- Shone his mailed breast, and flashed his sabre's ray!
His close but glittering casque, and sable plume, More glittering eye, and black brow's sabler gloom, Glared on the Moslems' eyes some Afrit Sprite, Whose demon death-blow left no hope for fight.
The wild confusion, and the swarthy glow Of flames on high, and torches from below; The shriek of terror, and the mingling yell-- 760 For swords began to clash, and shouts to swell-- Flung o'er that spot of earth the air of h.e.l.l!
Distracted, to and fro, the flying slaves Behold but b.l.o.o.d.y sh.o.r.e and fiery waves; Nought heeded they the Pacha's angry cry, _They_ seize that Dervise!--seize on Zatanai!
He saw their terror--checked the first despair That urged him but to stand and perish there, Since far too early and too well obeyed, The flame was kindled ere the signal made; 770 He saw their terror--from his baldric drew His bugle--brief the blast--but shrilly blew; 'Tis answered--"Well ye speed, my gallant crew!
Why did I doubt their quickness of career?
And deem design had left me single here?"
Sweeps his long arm--that sabre's whirling sway Sheds fast atonement for its first delay; Completes his fury, what their fear begun, And makes the many basely quail to one.
The cloven turbans o'er the chamber spread, 780 And scarce an arm dare rise to guard its head: Even Seyd, convulsed, o'erwhelmed, with rage, surprise, Retreats before him, though he still defies.
No craven he--and yet he dreads the blow, So much Confusion magnifies his foe!
His blazing galleys still distract his sight, He tore his beard, and foaming fled the fight;
For now the pirates pa.s.sed the Haram gate, And burst within--and it were death to wait; Where wild Amazement shrieking--kneeling--throws 790 The sword aside--in vain--the blood o'erflows!
The Corsairs pouring, haste to where within Invited Conrad's bugle, and the din Of groaning victims, and wild cries for life, Proclaimed how well he did the work of strife.
They shout to find him grim and lonely there, A glutted tiger mangling in his lair!
But short their greeting, shorter his reply-- "'Tis well--but Seyd escapes--and he must die-- Much hath been done--but more remains to do-- 800 Their galleys blaze--why not their city too?"
Quick at the word they seized him each a torch, And fire the dome from minaret to porch.
A stern delight was fixed in Conrad's eye, But sudden sunk--for on his ear the cry Of women struck, and like a deadly knell Knocked at that heart unmoved by Battle's yell.
"Oh! burst the Haram--wrong not on your lives One female form--remember--_we_ have wives.
On them such outrage Vengeance will repay; 810 Man is our foe, and such 'tis ours to slay: But still we spared--must spare the weaker prey.
Oh! I forgot--but Heaven will not forgive If at my word the helpless cease to live; Follow who will--I go--we yet have time Our souls to lighten of at least a crime."
He climbs the crackling stair--he bursts the door, Nor feels his feet glow scorching with the floor; His breath choked gasping with the volumed smoke, But still from room to room his way he broke. 820 They search--they find--they save: with l.u.s.ty arms Each bears a prize of unregarded charms; Calm their loud fears; sustain their sinking frames With all the care defenceless Beauty claims: So well could Conrad tame their fiercest mood, And check the very hands with gore imbrued.
But who is she? whom Conrad's arms convey, From reeking pile and combat's wreck, away-- Who but the love of him he dooms to bleed?
The Haram queen--but still the slave of Seyd! 830
Brief time had Conrad now to greet Gulnare,
Few words to rea.s.sure the trembling Fair; For in that pause Compa.s.sion s.n.a.t.c.hed from War, The foe before retiring, fast and far, With wonder saw their footsteps unpursued, First slowlier fled--then rallied--then withstood.
This Seyd perceives, then first perceives how few, Compared with his, the Corsair's roving crew, And blushes o'er his error, as he eyes The ruin wrought by Panic and Surprise. 840 Alla il Alla! Vengeance swells the cry-- Shame mounts to rage that must atone or die!
And flame for flame and blood for blood must tell.
The tide of triumph ebbs that flowed too well-- When Wrath returns to renovated strife, And those who fought for conquest strike for life.
Conrad beheld the danger--he beheld His followers faint by freshening foes repelled: "One effort--one--to break the circling host!"
They form--unite--charge--waver--all is lost! 850 Within a narrower ring compressed, beset, Hopeless, not heartless, strive and struggle yet-- Ah! now they fight in firmest file no more, Hemmed in--cut off--cleft down and trampled o'er; But each strikes singly--silently--and home, And sinks outwearied rather than o'ercome-- His last faint quittance rendering with his breath, Till the blade glimmers in the grasp of Death!
But first, ere came the rallying host to blows, And rank to rank, and hand to hand oppose, 860 Gulnare and all her Haram handmaids freed, Safe in the dome of one who held their creed, By Conrad's mandate safely were bestowed, And dried those tears for life and fame that flowed: And when that dark-eyed lady, young Gulnare, Recalled those thoughts late wandering in despair, Much did she marvel o'er the courtesy That smoothed his accents, softened in his eye-- 'Twas strange--_that_ robber thus with gore bedewed, Seemed gentler then than Seyd in fondest mood. 870 The Pacha wooed as if he deemed the slave _Must_ seem delighted with the heart he gave; The Corsair vowed protection, soothed affright, As if his homage were a Woman's right.
"The wish is wrong--nay, worse for female--vain: Yet much I long to view that Chief again; If but to thank for, what my fear forgot, The life--my loving Lord remembered not!"
And him she saw, where thickest carnage spread, But gathered breathing from the happier dead; 880 Far from his band, and battling with a host That deem right dearly won the field he lost, Felled--bleeding--baffled of the death he sought, And s.n.a.t.c.hed to expiate all the ills he wrought; Preserved to linger and to live in vain, While Vengeance pondered o'er new plans of pain, And stanched the blood she saves to shed again-- But drop by drop, for Seyd's unglutted eye Would doom him ever dying--ne'er to die!
Can this be he? triumphant late she saw, 890 When his red hand's wild gesture waved, a law!
'Tis he indeed--disarmed but undeprest, His sole regret the life he still possest; His wounds too slight, though taken with that will, Which would have kissed the hand that then could kill.
Oh were there none, of all the many given, To send his soul--he scarcely asked to Heaven?
Must he alone of all retain his breath, Who more than all had striven and struck for death?
He deeply felt--what mortal hearts must feel, 900 When thus reversed on faithless Fortune's wheel, For crimes committed, and the victor's threat Of lingering tortures to repay the debt-- He deeply, darkly felt; but evil Pride That led to perpetrate--now serves to hide.
Still in his stern and self-collected mien A conqueror's more than captive's air is seen, Though faint with wasting toil and stiffening wound, But few that saw--so calmly gazed around: Though the far shouting of the distant crowd, 910 Their tremors o'er, rose insolently loud, The better warriors who beheld him near, Insulted not the foe who taught them fear; And the grim guards that to his durance led, In silence eyed him with a secret dread.
The Leech was sent--but not in mercy--there, To note how much the life yet left could bear; He found enough to load with heaviest chain, And promise feeling for the wrench of Pain; To-morrow--yea--to-morrow's evening Sun 920 Will, sinking, see Impalement's pangs begun, And rising with the wonted blush of morn Behold how well or ill those pangs are borne.
Of torments this the longest and the worst, Which adds all other agony to thirst, That day by day Death still forbears to slake, While famished vultures flit around the stake.
"Oh! water--water!"--smiling Hate denies The victim's prayer, for if he drinks he dies.
This was his doom;--the Leech, the guard, were gone, 930 And left proud Conrad fettered and alone.
'Twere vain to paint to what his feelings grew-- It even were doubtful if their victim knew.
There is a war, a chaos of the mind,
When all its elements convulsed, combined Lie dark and jarring with perturbed force, And gnashing with impenitent Remorse-- That juggling fiend, who never spake before, But cries "I warned thee!" when the deed is o'er.
Vain voice! the spirit burning but unbent, 940 May writhe--rebel--the weak alone repent!
Even in that lonely hour when most it feels, And, to itself, all--all that self reveals,-- No single pa.s.sion, and no ruling thought That leaves the rest, as once, unseen, unsought, But the wild prospect when the Soul reviews, _All_ rushing through their thousand avenues-- Ambition's dreams expiring, Love's regret, Endangered Glory, Life itself beset; The joy untasted, the contempt or hate 950 'Gainst those who fain would triumph in our fate; The hopeless past, the hasting future driven Too quickly on to guess if h.e.l.l or Heaven; Deeds--thoughts--and words, perhaps remembered not So keenly till that hour, but ne'er forgot; Things light or lovely in their acted time, But now to stern Reflection each a crime; The withering sense of Evil unrevealed, Not cankering less because the more concealed; All, in a word, from which all eyes must start, 960 That opening sepulchre, the naked heart
Bares with its buried woes--till Pride awake, To s.n.a.t.c.h the mirror from the soul, and break.
Aye, Pride can veil, and Courage brave it all-- All--all--before--beyond--the deadliest fall.
Each hath some fear, and he who least betrays, The only hypocrite deserving praise: Not the loud recreant wretch who boasts and flies; But he who looks on Death--and silent dies: So, steeled by pondering o'er his far career, 970 He half-way meets Him should He menace near!
In the high chamber of his highest tower Sate Conrad, fettered in the Pacha's power.
His palace perished in the flame--this fort Contained at once his captive and his court.
Not much could Conrad of his sentence blame, His foe, if vanquished, had but shared the same:-- Alone he sate--in solitude had scanned His guilty bosom, but that breast he manned: One thought alone he could not--dared not meet-- 980 "Oh, how these tidings will Medora greet?"
Then--only then--his clanking hands he raised, And strained with rage the chain on which he gazed; But soon he found, or feigned, or dreamed relief, And smiled in self-derision of his grief, "And now come Torture when it will, or may-- More need of rest to nerve me for the day!"
This said, with langour to his mat he crept, And, whatso'er his visions, quickly slept.
'Twas hardly midnight when that fray begun, 990 For Conrad's plans matured, at once were done, And Havoc loathes so much the waste of time, She scarce had left an uncommitted crime.
One hour beheld him since the tide he stemmed-- Disguised--discovered--conquering--ta'en--condemned-- A Chief on land--an outlaw on the deep-- Destroying--saving--prisoned--and asleep!
He slept in calmest seeming, for his breath
Was hushed so deep--Ah! happy if in death!
He slept--Who o'er his placid slumber bends? 1000 His foes are gone--and here he hath no friends; Is it some Seraph sent to grant him grace?
No,'tis an earthly form with heavenly face!
Its white arm raised a lamp--yet gently hid, Lest the ray flash abruptly on the lid Of that closed eye, which opens but to pain, And once unclosed--but once may close again.
That form, with eye so dark, and cheek so fair, And auburn waves of gemmed and braided hair; With shape of fairy lightness--naked foot, 1010 That shines like snow, and falls on earth as mute-- Through guards and dunnest night how came it there?
Ah! rather ask what will not Woman dare?
Whom Youth and Pity lead like thee, Gulnare!
She could not sleep--and while the Pacha's rest In muttering dreams yet saw his pirate-guest, She left his side--his signet-ring she bore, Which oft in sport adorned her hand before-- And with it, scarcely questioned, won her way Through drowsy guards that must that sign obey. 1020 Worn out with toil, and tired with changing blows, Their eyes had envied Conrad his repose; And chill and nodding at the turret door, They stretch their listless limbs, and watch no more; Just raised their heads to hail the signet-ring, Nor ask or what or who the sign may bring.