by Alfred Austin
Time: August 1870 -Close of May1871
And Miriam's prayer was heard. The hosts of France
Low in the dust, low in dishonour, lay:
Broken her tumbrils, blunted was her lance,
And tinsel Empire vanished in a day.
The serried tramp of men, the war-steed's prance,
Pennon's proud smile and clarion's boastful bray,
Dominion's madness, glory's lustful dream,
Were swept like wrecks down Fate's unswerving stream.
For drunk by envy's ill-fermenting wine,
And each the other goading 'gainst a throne
Which late by force had proved its right divine,
And, vassal once, had now a rival grown,
Monarch and nation towards the peaceful Rhine,
Journeying through happy vineyards of its own,
Had urged the wheels of war, and, greedy horde,
Into the scales of justice flung the sword.
The sin of ancient years, unhallowed bed,
When, without love or honour, law or rite,
Bestial Ambition to the altar led
A ravished nation, giddy with affright,
And with vile lips the assenting victim wed,
Had borne its foul-got brood in all men's sight;
A bastard offspring, wearing on their face
Brand nor success could hide nor pomp displace.
And these had waxed to ripeness: sly distrust,
Which covers up its fear with mute assent;
Curt sneers which sap, base gibes that fret like rust,
The irksome bond of spurious blandishment,
Disinclination deepening to disgust,
Overt reproaches, discord, discontent,
Divided purpose, longings ne'er the same,
And, lastly, naked scandal, dead to shame.
Thus from domestic petulancy grew
The itch of foreign venture. Vexed at home
By weak disunion, throne and rabble threw
Distracting glance athwart the fencing foam.
Now into tropic seas their banner flew,
Now flapped forbidding over yearning Rome,
Now, lured and luring to dismay, unfurled
Its restless folds against the Western world.
But bootless all. The blight of failure fell
On each deft-trained design ere waxed it ripe,
Which straightway wizened just as it should swell,
And turned to ashes in the Schemer's gripe.
O'erbrooded purpose addled in the shell:
Kings donned their swords, hearing his peaceful pipe;
And when he tricked them into strife, One rose
Colossal o'er a Continent of foes.
Then, thus confronted, Prince and people wreaked
Their spite upon each other. Baffled pride
Recalled that impious night when sobbed and shrieked
Through smothering hands the violated bride,
And morrow with her murdered kindred reeked.
While, thrusting condonation's pledge aside,
They who trooped willing slaves at Glory's heel,
Clamoured for freedom round its rusted steel.
Dazed by his dissipated dream, aghast
At ghosts he had deemed long laid, spurred by the cries
Of sullen crowds that gathered thick and fast,
Age in his limbs and death-rheum in his eyes,
With vacillating hand the rod he passed
To female counsels, perilous allies,
And pricked by priests and women blind with hate,
Passed to his doom through War's wide-opened gate.
Then sleek corruption found its issue dire,
Teaching the obeisant multitude how vain
Is purple ostentation's eunuch choir,
When iron battle tramps the trembling plain,
Kneads the lithe golden grain to crimson mire,
And sings thanksgiving over sheaves of slain;
How forward splendour curlike slinks to heel,
When sabres clash and wrestling armies reel.
Servility, which brings the base to front,
Indiscipline, the mongrel jade that kicks
Against the whip and to the bit is blunt,
Yoked with confusion, twin in knavish tricks,
Loud braggart fear, that tempts then shirks the brunt,
And fireside luxury, which purrs and licks
Its velvet paws when wet winds wail without,
Swelled the loose train of predetermined rout.
And these, by adulating courtiers led,
Lagged forth to meet where flattery smirks in vain,
A phalanxed people, mailed from heel to head,
And moved by law, as by the moon the main.
God, King, and Fatherland, the watchwords sped
From hearth to hearth, as from hill, vale, and plain,
They trooped to call, and drawn towards one sole aim
By one sole will, half-conquered ere they came.
Then Meuse rolled red with blood and dark with shame,
And Sedan's bootless battlements concealed
Pale hosts of jostling fugitives that came
Clamouring for shelter from its fatal field.
Blind now to glory, deaf and dead to fame,
They sought in fear a friend, disgrace a shield,
And cowering mute in pools of comrades' gore,
Blessed the kind night that hushed the victors' roar.
But when the dark pall parted, and they saw
The day come forth and reascend the sky,
Full on them yawned the cannon's hungry jaw,
And on them glared its fixed, impassive eye.
Lo! round their terror moving myriads draw
The steel-knit network, surely, silently,
Nor strategy can foil nor valour tear,
Nor even death, though banded with despair.
Then foiled Aggression grovelled on the ground,
And France's Tricolor waxed deadly white.
Her legions to the Teuton's chariot bound,
Her Caesar's sword surrendered, not in fight,
The spoil-clad victor through her vineyards wound,
Through ransomed towns, past camps too scared to smite,
On to the harlot City, which in dread
Whined to the world to save her from their tread.
Whereat that other City, to the cup
Of her abominations sacrificed,
That she of lusts and glories false might sup,
City in turn of Caesar and of Christ,
Though now of both long dispossessed, rose up,
And when Gaul's darkening flag no more sufficed
To cover her own bosom, freedom's sun
Felt on her face,-and Italy was One!
Then banned for ever was that bastard thing,
The regal diadem round priestly brows,
And a divine divorce decreed 'twixt King
Of carnal conquest and Christ's spotless spouse.
And though awhile her old affection cling
To the unnatural bond and impious vows,
She yet shall own, her alien banner furled,
That the soul's kingdom is not of this world.
Dragged from the clutches of tenacious death
By Miriam's love, who, when weak skill despaired,
Despaired not, feeding failing breath with breath,
And screening flickering life till life reflared,
Like flame that, hand-protected, brighteneth,
Gilbert, with her, that supreme moment shared,
When, through the gate Mentana's captives trod,
Burst Italy's flag and Savoy's kingly rod.
And Godfrid, too, was there. When first he woke
From that submerging swoon wherein he sank
With cry impenitent and raving stroke
That rent Olympia's heart, and saw life's bank
Once more in reach, round him were stranger folk.
He knew not whom to question, whom to thank.
There were no battle-stains his vest upon.
He looked: but lo! his shattered sword was gone.
There was a little crucifix instead,
Of silver upon sandalwood, that lay
Close to his cheek, half slipping from the bed:
Which when he reverent would have drawn away,
He saw 'twas fastened by a hempen thread
Round his own neck, so could not go astray,
But, as he moved, moved still with him, and kept
A quiet watch upon him when he slept.
He lay not now in squalid ruin built
Of mud and rifled empires. Four white walls,
Blank, saving where there hung Who for man's guilt
Dies always, and in silent anguish calls
Sin to His feet, soft pillows, smoothened quilt,
A silence such as reigns in empty halls,
And by his bed a pot of fragrant flowers,-
These were his company through the muffled hours.
But he could hear, in corridor without,
The sound of swiftly, softly, passing feet,
That constant to some business moved about,
But did it without noise, or haste, or heat.
Sometimes this movement waned, and quite died out;
And, always then, he could catch voices sweet,
Just far enough away sick ear to please,
Chanting plain hymn or singing litanies.
And none e'er broke the silence of his door
Save white-cowled sisters, who, with modest speech,
Asked him if felt he happier than before,
Resmoothed his bed, placed food within his reach,
Then glided silently across the floor,
And left. And each so like was unto each,
In office like, and all without a name,
He wondered were they others or the same.
But one there was who never came, for whom
He ever looked with quickly-turning cheek
Whene'er a fresh foot comforted his room,
For whom he longed, of whom he dared not speak.
At length, one eve, as twilight's deepening gloom
Drove from his wall the sunlight's farewell streak,
He asked, ``Where, sister, have I found a home?
Where am I now?'' She answered him, ``In Rome.'
Whereat, when she was gone, he wondering lay
Upon his bed. ``Yes, Rome or Death!'' he mused.
``The stern alternative of that lost fray,
Death, hath missed fire, and destiny refused
The other doom. But no! Did she not say
I am in Rome? Thus, thus the Gods amused
Fulfil the formulas for which we strive.
I am not dead. Is Italy alive?
``And where is Gilbert? Miriam, where? Where, she,
The maiden mistress of my soul, that knelt
With darkness, and the howling gusts, and me,
On that distressful midnight when I felt
My being like a bark that takes the sea,
And on known shore beholds dear figures melt
Into dim distance, and the waves and wind
Shut out the sense of all we leave behind.
``Where is my dear Olympia? Dear, too dear!''
Then, down his cheek, like one last drop of dew
Hot noon hath spared, trickled a tender tear.
And when, at early morn, a nun-nurse drew
To his bedside, ``Who was it brought me here?''
He asked. She answered: ``One who prays for you,''
And changed his faded flowers for fresh, and went.
And he, being gentle, gathered what she meant;
Nor questioned them again, though still his breast
Fluttered whenever fresh hand touched his door,
Fluttering for nought. But when, self-kempt and drest,
He, all unhelped, could walk across the floor,
There came a sister older than the rest,
Who said, ``You are our prisoner no more,
Who, elsewhere prisoned, would have found release
Hardly so soon. Now, brother, go in peace.''
And so he went, the little cross around
His neck, and silent sadness in his soul.
And by and by he wrote his thanks profound
To the good nuns who thus had made him whole,
And in whose cloister he had shelter found,
At their own risk, against the prying shoal
Of victor sbirri, pity their sole creed,-
And sent them humble gifts for humble need.
Thence he returned to Capri, like a bird
That crawls back to its nest with broken wings;
Lamenting, lonely, with a voice unheard,
The jar irreconcilable of things,
How at each other Past and Future gird,
How each one's music general discord brings,
And, with this grief which causeth the world's moan,
Blending a kindred sorrow of his own.
His sole joy seemed to gaze on the bland brow
Of meditating mountains, and the sight
Of that serene felicity which now
Made Gilbert's years seem few, his memories light,
Dead bond forgotten in a livelier vow;
But who still lacked, vicissitudes despite,
The philosophic vision, which perceives
Some goodness even in that o'er which it grieves.
So when the Gallic bayonets that suppressed
The yearning efforts of parental Rome
To fold her prosperous children to her breast,
Answering the cry of Paris, hurried home,
And Christ's miscrowned Vicegerent stood confessed
In his own strength, across the Tyrrhene foam
Gilbert and Miriam flew with eager breath,
To swell once more the cry of ``Rome or Death!''
But Godfrid watched and waited, nor betook
His footsteps to the mainland till the Flag
Unto the breeze once more the colours shook
Which had freed Italy from cape to crag,
And, kingly still, to screen the Shepherd's crook
Now frankly waved. Then no more did he lag,
But hastened with hot heart past strand and stream,
To clasp, no vision now, his life's one dream.
And thus he shared, with tears of trembling joy,
That consummating moment: moment rare
In this begrudging planet, where the boy,
Too oft, as man, sees high hopes melt in air,
Or descend earthward, mixed with base alloy;
Moment admonishing no one to despair,
And that the nations which will watch and wait,
May even tire out time and rescind fate.
Upon the Palatine hill, presumptuous hands
Have swept and garnished, lending rival wrecks
Haphazard names, an enclosed space there stands
Of ruin unreclaimed. No fribbles vex
The silent surface of time's drifted sands.
Untrained, unhindered, Nature hides and decks
Man's heaped-up failures. Rarely human tread
Disturbs this green-grown dust-heap of the dead.
And here, where desolation's final tide
Advanced and scattered, Godfrid musing lay,
Feeling like one who misses from his side
Something that ne'er before hath been away,
Now that the goal was reached whose course untried
Had filled the blank of many a lonely day,
And, to replace the past, that kindly friend,
Stretched an unfancied Future, void of end.
He ever and anon could catch the burst
Of paeans popular in far-off street,
Wherein he too had gladly joined at first;
And as he mused that it were surely meet
This barren joy were not too oft rehearsed,
He heard the sound of slowly-winding feet,
He feared of strangers, but soon hailed, instead,
Gilbert's and Miriam's ever-welcome tread.
Straight, seeing them, he rose, that Miriam might
Choose some smooth seat, though choice in sooth was none.
But ere she reached the rude stair's topmost height,
Halting, she stood; while Gilbert, like to one
Who, awkward, blurts unwelcome news outright,
``We must be gone before the set of sun,''
Abruptly said: ``We are but here to tell
Our resolution, and to take farewell.''
``Gone before set of sun! And farewell! Why?
What is this deed I with you may not share?''
Godfrid exclaimed. But neither made reply,
And with joint silence paid his wondering stare.
So he rejoined: ``If it must be, good-bye!
For I shall miss you. Yet one parting prayer
Grant me, at least. Oh! do not, insane, break
This moulded Italy you helped to make.''
``Yes, Italy is made!'' cried Gilbert, ``though
Within its entrails priest and king still lurk;
And these must one day follow foreign foe.
This hour is not propitious for the work,
At least not here; and that is why we go.
At throat of throne-rid France is Teuton dirk;
But once by her Republic back are hurled
These bravo kings, she then will free the world!
``The Chief has called us round him now once more,
Now for one final, universal stroke,
And Italy shall find on foreign shore
The means wherewith to snap her native yoke.
Thus, thus will we avenge Mentana's gore,
And coals of fire upon their hearths shall smoke,
Who, duped by despots, now themselves condemn,
Denied us freedom we will bring to them!''
He ceased. But Godfrid made not haste to speak;
For well he knew that reason's clearest rays
Against the mists of passion are wan and weak.
So for awhile he did but stand and gaze,
Saying at length, ``If find you what you seek,
You will be honoured in all coming days.
The world hath not yet journeyed to its end,
And he who helps it onward is its friend.
``But, oftener far, presumption's hasty hand
Mars the slow-shaping form it fain would mould.
Forgive me! Your great Chief for this fair land
Hath done what long in story shall be told:
But that he quits her now for foreign strand,
Will leave me less regretful than consoled.
The rest she needs, it is not his to give;
And he might kill whom once he helped to live.
``But how of that ambiguous Cause he goes
To aid, will you the original sin repair?
I look, but can see only kites and crows
Fighting for carrion in the empty air.
Sooth! to be arbiter betwixt such foes!
Each, thanks to statecraft's need, hath borne a share
In Italy's redemption. She should stand
Aloof from both, her winnings in her hand.
``Republic! Empire! Words that feed no want.
What are they but authenticated sound,
Fine names, not virtues, given at the font,
Affection's too fond labels? Look around
At history's wide horizon! Nay, fie on't!
Better, with millstone round one's neck, be drowned
In sludge of foul oblivion, than loose seas
Of blood 'gainst seas of blood for feuds like these!
``No! France must pay the ransom of the wrong
Done to herself at first, to others last;
Nor will just Time take dithyrambic song
In quittance of the madness of the past.
Eleutheromaniacs round her rudder throng,
And wild she drives. Still, if the die be cast,
May you ne'er sigh, 'mid wreck of world-wide hopes,
For home's sure weal and Capri's narrow slopes!''
Slowly the last words trembled to their close,
And, trembling still, who uttered them was dumb.
Dumb, too, were they, unwilling to oppose
To friendship's pleading voice the stifling hum
And heat of passion, better kept for foes.
So Gilbert said, ``We knew you would not come.
But we must start forthwith. Say, will you cheer
Our parting feet, or bid us farewell here?''
``Nay, let us hence then,'' Godfrid said, and straight
Adown the ruins' twisting track they went;
Nor strove he more to turn them from their fate,
But only on last offices intent
Seemed anxious, more than they, they were not late.
And soon the remnant rapid hours were spent.
By Tullius' levelled walls they, silent grown,
Parted, and Godfrid was in Rome alone.
There he abode, his temperate sword laid by,
Content to scan, complete, the work it planned;
With peaceful hand, soft heart, and searching eye
Tending the needs of his adopted land,
And paid by its soft tongue and smiling sky:
All through that long white winter, when the brand
Of war austere fired Gaul's luxurious roofs,
And her sons crouched 'neath havoc's scouring hoofs.
For all in vain had scrambling tribunes snatched
From Caesar's captive hand the sword and flag,
And against regal victors, fumbling, patched
The rents of Empire with the ready rag
Of a Republic, from the gutter scratched.
In vain the phrase-plumed rhetoricians' brag,
The strut of hucksters panoplied, the loud
War-prattle of an armed unmastered crowd.
Hemmed in by silent steel and the clinched jaws
Of them that bared its edge, that stronghold lewd,
Semiramis of cities, whose soft laws
Make licit the illicit, till, subdued,
Even genius panders to her self-applause,
Now with her own sleek self herself at feud,
Lacked, as she stood effeminate at bay,
The antlers male to hew herself a way:
And loudly to her lovers called, to leap
To arms for her sore sake, that yestertide
In her delight delighted, and drank deep
Of her lascivious wine-cups, and but vied
To share the perfume of her wanton sleep:
But these had slipped away from her roused side,
And from far-off beheld the loveless spears
Couched at her breast and callous to her tears.
Then wailed she to her kindred, who sate scared
In innocent plain homes, whose cleanness she
Had outraged with her harlotries and spared
Nor scoff nor stain in days when she was free,
Corrupting to her dainties those she snared,
And mocking those who wailed her infamy,
That they would beat the ploughshare to a sword,
And die for her who had but danced and whored.
But when, unhelped by gods or men, she saw
From off her sybaritic tables melt
The dainties dressed for her voluptuous maw
In days of fat concubinage, and felt
Mute hunger her fastidious entrails gnaw,
Then she, so long unused to kneeling, knelt,
And, kissing with her unkissed lips the dust,
Sued to the foe to do what deemed he just.
And he, because he was just, would have stripped
The tinsel from her forehead, and torn off
The mimic steel in which she was equipped,
Making of Mars a mock, of death a scoff.
But once more in the dust her brow she dipped,
And tearfully besought she need not doff
Her new-found gewgaws, but might peaceful wear
Spur on her heel and war-plume in her hair.
And he, in part for scorn, in part that he
Knew she against herself would quickly turn
Her braggart weapons, once her limbs were free,
Bade her retain them, but with visage stern
Told her go find and fetch unto his knee
Ransom of gold she in the days could earn
When all men bought her pleasure, and until
She forfeit paid, his sword should guard her still.
This, from afar, foreseen with certain ken,
Had Godfrid watched, in Rome abiding still,
Through that lone winter, until Spring again,
That hastens nor delays for good or ill
Or aught that haps the fitful fate of men,
Came in her blushing beauty o'er the hill,
Kissing to softness air and earth and skies,
Youth's candid coyness laughing in her eyes.
Tidings the while had fitful reached him there
Of Gilbert and of Miriam: lines at first
Written in hope's free hand and symbols fair,
Then by a pen in dubious thoughts immersed,
And, finally, disfigured by despair,
That more betrayed than plain bespoke the worst;
Blent with recrimination, rage, distrust,
Which railed at all, and paused not to be just.
Now Earth, now Heaven, now kings, now crowds, were taxed
With burden of the failure. France itself,
And its too prosperous sons, had craven waxed,
But caring furtively to count their pelf.
It was the Purple Robe that had relaxed
Their fibre, narrowing to the well-stocked shelf
Their vile affections. Last, they were betrayed
By their own Chiefs. And where was Europe's aid?
Then Godfrid wrote: ``Come back, and be at peace.
You have done all it befits man to do,-
Fought for the faith that's in you. But now, cease.
With Miriam quick recross the waters blue,
And we will back, ere yet the years decrease,
Which once seemed many, that now seem so few,
To our dear island home, and there remain,
Loving the land we bled for not in vain.''
But still they came not; though the timid Spring
Grew confident, and all the snows were gone,
Even from the clefts. Louder the birds did sing,
Louder the streams; the sun more broadly shone,
And life was more like life with everything.
But still they came not; and the weeks went on,
And still they came not: till-afoot,-abed,-
Godfrid began to feel a shapeless dread.
It was the season of the year when he
Felt Reason's reasons useless, and when most
His heart, suffused with sensibility,
Owned fortitude the unproved stoic's boast.
For 'twas the season when he first did see
The face of Olive, mute unwalking ghost
That slept in Florence, but still came between
His thoughts and peace, like waves that sound unseen.
But, more than this, than all that e'er had been,
Or e'er could be, it was the season bland
When, flying from a world of noise and sin,
His feet had found Spiaggiascura's strand,
Beheld Madonna's chapel, sought to win
Olympia's love, ta'en with her, hand in hand,
That sweet sad journey, then with speechless pain
Left her betwixt the mountains and the main.
Once in the winter, as the time came round
To send his yearly gift of gratitude
To those with whom he life and shelter found
After Mentana dire, he thought he would
Be his own envoy. Through moist streets he wound,
And soon before the Convent portal stood,
With half-owned hope to find, within, some clue
To her, withal he never must pursue.
He rang, and loud through corridor unseen
Echoed the peal; making him wince the while
To think that cloister sheltered and serene
He with unbidden clamour should defile.
But quick a novice peeped through grated screen,
Then opened; saying, with a settled smile,
Not on her lips or lids, but, as it were,
All o'er her face, ``How can we serve you, sir?''
``May I the Mother Abbess see?'' he said.
``Will it please you, sir, to enter?'' And she straight
Into a spacious whitewashed chamber led,
Where hung but Christ, and left him there to wait.
And by and by the door was openëd,
And came to him with gravely cheerful gait
That Sister reverend who, when erst did cease
His wounds and weakness, bade him go in peace.
After obeisance, ``Mother,'' he began,
``What hitherto I sent I here have brought,
To recognise-repay I never can,-
All that you did for me in days distraught.''
``My son,'' she said, ``to succour suffering man
Is our dear duty, and you owe us nought.
I take it for our Lord, to Whom we owe
All things. And it may soothe some sufferer's woe.''
Then all seemed said, and he was fain to go,
Though loth; when, taking courage from his fear,
``Forgive me, Mother! if it be that so
I 'chance transgress; but have you sister here
Men call Olympia, whom I once did know?''
``We have,'' she said; ``a sister very dear.''
``And is she well and happy? Tell me true!''
``She is, my son, and daily prays for you.''
And then he knew that he must ask no more,
But go; and with obeisance fresh he went,
Feeling more lone and restless than before,
And more than ever sundered from content.
And whensoe'er he spied a form that wore
That convent's habit, straight his steps he bent,
And, unobserved, glanced quick, in hopes he should
Find her mourned face beneath the modest hood.
But never found he the one face he sought,
Though more than once he seemed to recognise
Those who, when lay he as their guest, had brought
Food to his need and comfort to his sighs.
Had he forgotten how she looked? he thought;
Or was he duped by her austere disguise?
Then would he smile, as men, ta'en unawares,
Smile at a thought they had which was not theirs.
But as he thus more solitary grew,
And anxious more to learn how it might fare
With Gilbert and with Miriam, rumours new
Began to flock and hover in the air,
That what the wise foresaw was coming true,
And that the harlot city, in despair
At her own degradation, up had leapt,
And turned against herself the arms she kept.
Thence, before long, authentic tidings came,
Written with Gilbert's hand, and thus they ran:
``Lo! Paris tolls the knell of human shame,
Knell for which time hath yearned since time began.
Not now for kings, priests, soldiers, country, fame,-
Vampires or vainest shadows,-but for Man,
Man too long gaoler of himself, we shake
The wearied limbs of War, and bid them wake.
``Paris hath been cajoled, betrayed, by chiefs
That kept one foot in the foe's camp and held
Parley with kings, for fear the People's griefs
Should by her kingless triumph be dispelled.
Their season now hath vanished like the leaf's,
Their sceptre like the rotten trunk lies felled;
Their sycophantic pomp hath joined the dead,
And every crawling parasite hath fled.
``What! back to Capri now! now that the hour
Of centuries' gestation waits its birth!
When Freedom, born in panoply of power,
With godlike brain shall renovate the earth,
And Light, and Right, and all fair things, shall flower!
No! Godfrid! Burst, yourself, convention's girth,
And shed the tatters worn traditions wind
Around the bareness of your shivering mind!
``You want a Faith. Behold the Faith that feeds
The hunger of the heart all else but starves!
Faith that shall dispossess usurping creeds,
Incense, and train of priests, and fatted calves,
Vain supplications for phantasmal needs!-
Faith in Mankind: not faith that feels by halves,
But faith complete, whose dogmas shall redeem
Humanity from its distempered dream!
``Fling off the loose impeding folds of doubt,
Standing, tight-mailed, in arms of confidence,
And put the pale Past's gibbering ghosts to rout
That fool you with their shadowy pretence,
And shut the Future's dawning daylight out!''
More still there was, but ever in this sense;
And just one word from Miriam, which but said:
``Come to us, Godfrid, and no more live dead!''
Still walking, as he read it line by line,
Through undistracting Rome, his feet had strayed,
When it was ended, to the Esquiline,
Where, at its summit, the fair Mother-Maid,
Spouse of the Spirit, hath her chiefest shrine,
And on Corinthian column undecayed,
From fane long vanished, with soft-victor shoon
Stands in the hollow of a crescent moon.
'Twas the last day of March, midway between
Noon and slant eve. The air, the sky, was bland,
Even as She, Protectress of the scene.
Around, beyond, afar as near at hand,
Lopped arch and jaggëd wall with mantle green,
Calm wrecks of world-wide conquest and command,-
These the dumb comment, as his eyes he raised
From Gilbert's sanguine page, and round him gazed.
``Mankind! Faith! Future!'' mournfully he cried,
Folding the letter; ``Who shall build new faith
'Mid ruins such as these! The Gods have died,
The beautiful grand Gods, and but their wraith
Haunts the forsaken spot they sanctified.
Empire, Religion, Truth,-all perisheth.
Caesar hath gone, and Christ seems following fast:
Only our wants and weak deceptions last.''
So musing, toward the marble steps he walked
Of the Basilica, and sate him down;
Where past his mind the long procession stalked
Of vestals, shepherds, wearers of the Crown,
Tribunes and senators, and consuls baulked
Of regal gewgaws by the People's frown,
Pontiffs, and Emperors that mighty were-
Mere voices wailing in the unechoing air.
There sate he, as the sunshine slowly died,
While ever and anon, behind his back,
Some one the heavy curtain thrust aside,
And, past him, down the steps took homeward track:
Happier, that they before the Babe Who cried
In Bethlehem had laid life's heavy pack;
Monk, peasant, mendicant, the halt, the hale,
But all sad-burthened with some human tale.
``I too must go,'' he murmured. ``Unlike those
Who have passed onward, I can nowhere cast
The burden of my weakness and my woes,
Which I, unhelped, must carry to the last.''
Just then, once more the heavy curtain rose
Behind him, and adown the steps there passed,
Slowly, the figure of a nun who wore
The habit dear to him for evermore.
He had not seen her face, her aspect, ought
Men would call hers. But he had staked his soul
It was Olympia! and, as quick as thought,
Sprang forward, and forgetful of control,
Clutched at her robe. ``O you whom I have sought
Along lone course that seemed to have no goal,
Speak to me! Let me see your face, and hold
Your hand in mine once more, ere mine grows cold!''
``Godfrid!'' And paler than the smooth white hood,
Worn where once gleamed her undulating hair,
Glued to the spot by memory, she stood:
She looked into his face, she murmured prayer,
Quick, then exclaimed, as though 'twas all she could,
``Have you the cross?'' ``I have,'' he said, ``'tis there!''
His left hand pressed against his heart, his right
Creeping the while near hers, clenched close and tight.
``I knew it was your hand, Olympia! placed
The cord and cross around my neck; and hence,
'Mid all beside discarded or effaced,
It ne'er hath been, shall ne'er be lifted thence.
But, tell me: from the lone Campagna's waste,
When I lay reft of sword, and strength, and sense,
How did you move and carry me to Rome,
And how conceal me in your Convent home?''
``Ah! if you knew Madonna, would you ask?
When the day dawned, and still you, breathing, slept,
Then I, by her inspired, began to task
My brain to rescue you; and as I stepped
Into the morning air, upon a cask
Of wine-cart from Correse that slow crept
Along the track of the Nomentan way,
Romeward, a half-waked contadino lay.
``He murmured a good-morrow, and I prayed
That he would halt a moment; and he did.
Whereat I said he would be only paid
By Heaven in doing the task that I should bid.
There was a wounded man must be conveyed
Straightway to Rome, and in his cart be hid.
I too should go, and on the wain would sit,
And, for the rest, that I would see to it.''
Hereat she paused; and he was mute, for woe,
Gazing upon her with blent love and awe.
Her nun's tale told she simply, even as though
Nun she had ever been. But he,-he saw
The free-born girl, that like the bounding roe
Glanced o'er the down or flitted through the shaw,
Beneath whose garb reserved still lurked the wild
Prompt helpful instinct of the mountains' child.
``Yes, dear?'' he said, to end the pause. ``And then?''
``Well, then I got upon the wain, whilst he
Walked by his mules to ease their load, and when
None was in sight, I used to peep and see
If still you slept, nor looked like dying men,
And, when I dared, your head and chest left free,
Lifting the straw and sheepskin; though, for fear,
Oft I replaced them when was no one near.
``Thus slowly crept we on, the heavy wain
Jolting and swaying on the rough-hewn stones,
Making me wince in terror of your pain,
And fancy that I caught your waking groans.
But you lay hushed; and when to the good swain
Fresh groups of soldiers spoke in cheery tones,
Returning his salute or proffering theirs,
I knew Madonna smiled upon my prayers.
```See now,' I said to him, `is nought to fear;
And you your charity will never rue.'
He answered, `Mary grant it! Yet 'tis clear
These harm me not because they reverence you.
Ha! I can tell you, if you were not here,
I should have had to broach for not a few.
But when we reach the Gate, how then? For there,
Excise-dogs nose and rummage everywhere.'
``Thus did he warn me in his homely way,
As we drew nearer, nearer still to Rome,
While I could only quiet sit, and pray.
But when the last ascent of all we clomb
That hides the city, and lo! there it lay
Before us plain, crowned by Saint Peter's dome,
My heart grew most of me, and I began,
Wavering in faith, to frame some human plan.
``But ere I could devise one, there we were,
There at the Gate! and, round, a prying band.
Then prompt the peasant said, `Look here, good sir!'
Addressing him that seemed to have command,
`What must I pay? There's nothing, I aver,
Save wine-casks,-you can count them with your hand,-
That pays the tax. I have the money here:
Take it, I beg, and give us passage clear.
```The sister sitting on the cart is pressed
To reach her home. To help her on her way,
Who helps us others, I my mules distressed,
That have not had or bite or sup to-day,
And crawl half-dead for want of food and rest.
So pray you let us on without delay.'
The which he said with such a simple air,
I did not think they could refuse his prayer.
``Withal, the rest began the cart to scale,
While he addressed came over to my side.
`Is it true, good sister? And will you go bail
For this rough yokel's word?' I quick replied,
`Yes, he hath told you, sir, an honest tale.
Upon his wine-cart he hath let me ride
Straight from Mentana; and his wine's the whole
Of what it bears on which you levy toll.'
``Then through the city safe we went. But see,
My sisters I was waiting for come out
Of the Basilica.'' He turned; and three
Who wore Olympia's garb, demure, devout,
The steps descended, two of whom could he
Recall as being of those who moved about
The room where he had helpless lain for hours,
Brought food, smoothed sheet, and changed his faded flowers.
``This, sister, is the wounded brother who,
Three years ago, was in our Convent nursed.''
``O yes, I well remember, do not you?''
Softly replied the nun addressed the first.
``Yes, perfectly,'' the second; ``he that through
The chest was gashed, and could not sleep for thirst.''
Then both put questions tenderly, the while
The third looked on with blandly holy smile.
Answering, he strove to thank them; feeling, though,
Helpless the while, as feel we when we strive
To bless Heaven for good things. ``You doubtless know,
Although I warrant in your useful hive
You work without much buzzing, that I owe
To this sweet Sister I am still alive.
And, never having seen her since that day,
I had so much to ask, so much to say.''
``We love her very dearly,'' said the nun
Who had as yet been silent. ``Yes, and now,
She is to leave us,'' added quick the one
That first had spoken. ``Leave you! Leave you how?''
Godfrid exclaimed. ``To work elsewhere, my son,''
Rejoined the third. ``She but obeys her vow,
And goes where our dear Lady wants her aid
For suffering man. For her, be not afraid.
``They need more help in Paris, now that there
Men fight anew, and many die, 'tis said.
She is the only sister we can spare,
And but awaits an escort. She had led
Hither our steps, to say one parting prayer
Where Mary's worthiest temple rears its head.
But, sir, we must be going. In the sky
Ave Maria is fast drawing nigh.''
So he was fain, though loth, to let them go,
Olympia with them; touching not her hand,
But speeding all alike with reverence low:
Feeling like one who lately thought to stand
Within that Gate where Virgins white as snow
Follow the Lamb through the celestial Land,
And then sits dark without, and sees alone
His sinful self, and hears the silence moan.
But when the morrow flushed the summits topped
With statue or with stone-pine, and in street
The noise grew steadier, swift he sped, nor stopped
Till once more at the Convent paused his feet.
There, the same novice the same curtsey dropped,
Led to the same room with same welcome sweet,
Where, at same interval, there crossed the door
The selfsame reverend figure as before.
``Mother!'' he said, ``I haply yester-eve
Your daughter saw, whom men Olympia call.''
``I know you did, my son, with Heaven's good leave,
As told me she herself, who tells me all.
Your interview was timely; for I grieve-
Though in our life such partings oft befall,-
To think she quits us shortly, and but waits
An escort unto France, to leave our gates.''
``Mother!'' he gravely said, ``why not let me,
Me be her escort? I have close friends twain
In Paris, whom I fain would go and see,
And, be it not too late, snatch back, insane,
From maelstrom into which, no longer free,
Foolish and wise alike seem swirled amain.
Can I not take her, since our bourne is one,
Leaving her where you will, the journey done?
``I shall remain your debtor to the end,
And thanks must be my ransom. But intrust
To me this treasure, it will I defend
From hurt, as I would keep my sword from rust.
From morn to eve will I her steps attend
As faithfully yet distantly as must
Some dim meek satellite its unreached star,
Following her orbit fondly, but afar!''
``My son!'' she said, ``so be it. Nothing loth,
I will commit this jewel without flaw
To you, to her, to Him Who died for both;
Hoping thereby her heavenly track may draw,
Not by the force of wavering human troth,
But by a steadier and diviner law,
The erratic course of your unguided soul
Into its own, and thence to God, its goal.
``I know each prayer she breathes, each gift doth make
Of her own will before the Throne of Grace,
Each sacrifice of self, each act, each ache,
Each flood of tears before Christ's wounded face,
She breathes, she makes, she offers for your sake.
For you she works; she puts you in the place
Of her own soul; as though, so linked your lot,
She too must perish if she saves you not!''
He strove to speak, but spake not. Tears, not words,
Choked up the mortal avenues of sense;
And so he silent stood, as one that girds
Will against weakness. ``Come then, three days hence.
And since our claustral matins, like the birds',
Are chanted early, come betimes; though whence
You start, or which the road you take, content
To you I leave.'' ``I will,'' he said, and went.
And soon the twain were journeying on the sea,
Hearing no more discordant tongues of men,
But only ocean's plastic melody,
With wave attuned to wave, attuned again
To wave, where every wave withal was free.
And, there, before them zigzagged, full in ken,
The road they traversed, in the final stage,
Long years agone, of their vain pilgrimage.
Full many a little town they could descry,
Passed through of old, and sometimes catch the peal
Of church-bell ringing between slope and sky.
Lo! there the spot where took they mid-day meal,
And yonder where they did the first night lie.
But up the hills as dusk began to steal,
They saw no more, though sorely did he long
To note where once she sang her even-song.
But when dawn purpled wave and hill once more,
He found Olympia kneeling on the deck,
With gaze intently fastened on the shore,
Where Spiaggiascura shone, a little speck;
Which, as the vessel ever westward bore,
Past deep smooth creek, past jutting cape and neck
Laced with white foam, still plainer, larger, grew,
Until it stood, its very self, in view.
Yes! there the little city, and yes, there
The marble chapel straight afront the sea,
Whither he carried her Spring posies fair,
Had heard the humming of the truant bee,
Pale butterflies seen flickering everywhere,
Before Madonna with her bent the knee,
Brought love and ache where all was peace before,
And given his heart away for evermore.
Straining his gaze, and with the bodily eye
Coupling perchance fond fancy's quick-fooled ken,
Once, twice-there! there!-he thought he could descry
The very beck, the very mountain glen,
Where, while the lark shrilled loud, he saw her try
To reach the tantalising thorn, and then
Atiptoe tried once more, but only shook
Its snow down on herself and on the brook.
Quickly he glanced to see if, like to him,
She recognised the first dear place of old.
But she saw nothing now but misty rim
Of tears that down her cheeks slow-trickling rolled,
And, save to her soul's sight, all else was dim:
While he could only stand by and behold,
Speechless, her speechless pain, nor breathe one throe
Of all he felt, to share or soothe her woe.
There knelt she, mute and motionless, until
Again Spiaggiascura fainter grew,-
The vessel through the west waves arrowing still,-
Slow dwindled to a speck, then quick to view
Was lost behind a seaward-jutting hill.
Then up she got, and softly near him drew,
While he, scarce knowing what to say, or how,
Asked her who watched Madonna's chapel now.
``You must not talk to me of that,'' she said,
``I cannot bear it. Let us shred some lint,
Whereof will much be needed; or, instead,
You might, so please you, whittle wood for splint,
And I that simpler task, or ply my thread.''
So down they sate, offering or taking hint,
And working busily. But she no more,
That day, cast look or thought toward the shore.
Anon she said, ``Pray tell me who are those
That have on Paris this dread carnage brought
Anew, and count their own compatriots foes.
They must be very wicked.'' Then he thought:
How shall I make her understand the woes
Of either camp, and why the twain have fought,
When even they who scan the horizon wide
Of human passion can but take a side?
``Listen!'' he said, ``and you yourself shall judge
If one or other merely wicked be,
Or if mischance hath haply wreaked its grudge
On both, and forced this joint extremity.
When conscience sees clear, conscience need not budge:
But there are times it cannot clearly see
This way, or that, and then it strives to stand,
Holding an even balance in its hand.
``No easy task, Olympia! even when
The solitary conscience thus is tried.
When conscience shocks with second conscience, then
Where shall we find third conscience to decide?
This is the last perplexity of men,
For which, you know, the red-robed martyrs died,
Men holy deemed have men deemed holy given
To pain and death, unpitied and unshriven.
``I hope you do not think me wicked, dear!
Because my conscience jars your conscience so,
That we have been apart this many a year,
Who might have been together.'' ``O no! no!''
Quick, she rejoined. ``That, you need never fear.
I always think of you as good, and know,
Whether your conscience be Christ's foe or friend,
His Precious Blood will save you at the end.''
She ceased. And he made haste not to reply,
For all his soul was trembling. When he spake,
'Twas with a quivering voice and filmy eye.
``Sweet words, Olympia, that much mend my ache;
And I am glad to hear them ere I die.
I would have given up all things for your sake,
Save what none can give, yet themselves remain
A gift worth having,-candour without stain.
``Yet what a Human Tragedy is here!
We have not clashed on battlefield, but ours,
Pathos, and pain, and many a wasteful tear,
Dropped silent through the barren-moving hours.
Tragic enough! when one, that one holds dear,
Buds not, despite love's coaxing sun and showers!
But we, though one, keep two, for conscience' sake,
Not dying sooth, but living at the stake.
``There was no help,-there now can be no cure.
Withal, who stanched my wounds and bathed my brow?
Who, if not you, the pitiful, the pure,
Forgetting all except compassion's vow?
Yet, as before the Cause that can allure
Service like yours I bow my head, allow,
Allow, Olympia!-for indeed 'tis true-
That they with whom I served were upright too.
``See then, my child, the Tragedy, and see
What feeds it. Love, Religion, Country, all
That deepest, dearest, most enduring be,
That make us noble, and that hold us thrall,-
Once gone, the beasts were no more gross than we,-
'Tis these for which the victims fastest fall,
Man's self, in days that are as days that were,
Suppliant alike and executioner!
``Now once again this Tragedy, this jar
Of conscience against conscience, hath, meseems,
In Paris struck the lurid light of war.
Haply, they slay for straws, they die for dreams.
But things that seem must still be things that are
To half-experienced man, who perforce deems
He doth not dream, but knows not, nor can know,
Till death brings sleep or waking, is it so.
``Another dream, another watchword 'tis,
This strident Commune shrills upon the wind,
Which to it Love, Religion, Country, is,-
Level Equality for all Mankind.
Hence once again the man-made bullets whiz
'Gainst man man-made. I can but lag behind,
Sceptic, yet see withal the dupes that die
For falsest faith are somewhat more than I!''
Thus mournfully he spoke; then slowly she:
``I think I understand. But tell me why
Are not the poor content still poor to be,
Since mainly 'twas for them that Christ did die?
And equal? What is equal? Are not we
All equal in the great Superior's eye?
Are they not blest that weep and suffer wrong?
And is it not peril to be rich and strong?''
Out of another world they seemed to come,
These humble words and doctrines obsolete;
So that their very strangeness made him dumb.
``Alas!'' he said at length. ``You but repeat
Saws long rejected by mankind; though some
Still mumble them, when gasp they toward the seat
Of wealth, or place, or power, as boys bear
Pebbles within their mouth, to faster fare.
``Yours, dear, the teaching I myself did learn,
When on my upraised gaze my mother's shone.
I find none better wheresoe'er I turn,
None truer, fitter; but 'tis gone, clean gone.
Men will not have it so. The candid spurn,
The hypocrite ignore, what children con
Only to find it fable. 'Tis a world,
Where Christ's meek banner longwhile hath been furled.
``Man stands upon the hilltops in the dawn,
With veiling mists below him; and he sees
Only the Heaven of Heavens sublimely drawn
Above his ken, and blue immensities.
Slow melt the mists; then, comely breadths of lawn,
Forests, and lakes, and many-pastured leas,
Cities and herds of people, labour, mirth,
He scans, and all the kingdoms of the earth.
``O gorgeous vision! dazzling wonderland!
Swift he descends to share it. Then he hears
Sounds that at first he scarce can understand,
Discord, and taunt, and dismal drip of tears;
Love sobbing with her fresh gift in her hand,
Because none takes; menace, reproaches, jeers;
Greed munching refuse, jealous to repel;
And melancholy toll of funeral bell.
``Then, desolate of heart, he deems it best
To reascend the hilltops; and he goes,
With gaze upon the ground and panting breast.
But, as he mounts, mists round him once more close;
And when he turns to see if from the crest
Earth still looks fair, it blurred and doubtful grows;
While now in heaven glooms something dark afar,
Only, with here and there a flickering star.''
He ceased; and ceased the swishing of the wave,
Which to the end accompanied his speech.
Furled were the sails, and mute the vessel drave,
Through folds of still smooth water, to the beach.
Olympia to the crew blest rosaries gave,
While Godfrid had a word and vail for each,
As stood they, honest sea-folk, cap in hand.
And then the pair were softly rowed to land.
And soon on roaring lungs through burrows black
They were being swiftly borne; past towering crags
That seemed to frown on their presumptuous track,
And whither, save the chamois' or the stag's,
No foot hath ever clambered and come back;
Past gentler cliffs where waved the iris-flags,
And vineyard terraces, that catch the blaze
Of the south sun, with pastures at their base.
Then imperceptibly the mountains waned
To hills, the gorges unto valleys spread,
The valleys out to plains, and nought remained
Of that fair Italy from which they fled.
Nature grew less, man more, and use profaned
The bare-stripped homes of beauty, as they sped
Past populous cities, level stretch of fields,
Blank as the desert save for what it yields.
Thus all one day they journeyed, all one night,
Halting but seldom, and with brief delay:
Noting at first,-to both familiar sight,-
The kepi-ed umpires of Mentana's fray,
That changed at length to leathern helmets bright.
Whereat Olympia asked him, ``Who be they?''
``These are,'' he said, ``who late from France's hand
Struck sword, and now for ransom hold the land.''
Thence onward saw they sentries none but these,
Then scattered groups of comrades, next close files,
Last, armies, bivouacked 'neath boughs of trees,
Along straight road that seemed to stretch for miles.
Then Godfrid said: ``That Paris is, one sees
Where lights begin to twinkle in long aisles.
We shall be there ere long.'' And, just as night
Mastered the day, they halted, to alight.
Straight to her bourne, through many a dim-lit street,
Her he conducted, till at length they stood
Before its portal. Then for journey sweet
He thanked her, adding that he promptly should
Unto the Convent bend anew his feet,
To see the Mother of the sisterhood.
Then the gate opened; and she, paler grown,
Passed in, and he was in the street alone.
Then quick his steps he bent through narrow ways,
Built in the times when grew up side by side
Palace and hovel, and in all men's gaze
Sleek splendour feasted while lean misery died,
To those famed thoroughfares, with lights ablaze,
Far-stretching, vast, monotonous in pride,
Imperial aediles framed, to baulk the claws
Of Freedom, and replace its ravished laws.
But siege, and sordid famine, and the yoke
Of foeman's fork, humiliation, rage
At turncoat Fortune's contumelious stroke,
Iconoclastic group, had swept the stage
Of pasteboard pomp; and erst where harlot folk,
Train-bearing eunuchs to a sensual age,
Pandars, and purple parasites that glut
Their maw with slaver, used to swarm and strut;
And lustful song and jest obscene passed round,
And sexless things, with faces falsely fresh,
And cold limbs feigning wantonness, were crowned
By senile satyrs, as they wove the mesh
Of palsy premature o'er young and sound,
Ere haggling for the price of rented flesh;
While jingling gold, and sniggering mock, and gird
At God and man, in unison were heard;-
Hence now had sneaked the comfortable crew;
Or if one slunk along with eyes askance,
He strove to make him viewless to the view,
And, crawling to his hole, there bide till chance
The days for warm-furred vermin should renew.
There was no light lewd song, no pornic dance.
The streets seemed half-ashamed and half-aghast,
And night's sparse lamps blinked drowsy as he passed.
What few here held the ways were those whose tramp
Held it as victors: proletarian hordes,
Wealth in its jealous terror strives to cramp
Within the limits penury affords;
Driving them back to their own barbarous camp
With the unsteady aid of hireling swords,
Or coaxing them with golden bounties lest
They should swarm down, and rudely seize the rest.
But these had broken through the flimsy line
Of strained Civilisation, and now strode,
Grim apparitions,-with its dainties fine
And gauds abandoned making their abode,
And littering all the spot, like bristly swine,
Where lately lay its lapdogs snugly stowed;
And twisting to stern need of force and fear
Its gilded toys, soft beds, and silken gear.
These ever and anon his footsteps stayed,
With short sharp challenge. Whereupon he told
His simple tale, and asked if they could aid
His search for friends who fought within their fold.
Some bade him pass; some churlish answer made,
Some courteous; none gave tidings that consoled.
And fitful throat afar from sleepless bed
Bellowed, and whistling missile burst o'erhead.
Some scanned him with suspicious, hateful eyes,
Since in each lineament, soft-curving jaw,
Lithe gait, fair garb, slow questions, calm replies,
Hands that ne'er grasped or trowel, file, or saw,
A son of those cursed sires they viewed, whose cries
Of need or menace to their sires were law,
In days when these drew water and hewed wood,
And men to men denied their brotherhood.
And some, lest they should smite him, turned on heel,
And spat a curse upon the ground; while some
Pushed him aside with curt retort of steel.
Whereat, for very sadness, he was dumb;
Well knowing in his heart that he could feel
Most wofully for woe, past or to come,
And the sole privilege he prized or sought
Was power to cure the wrongs that others wrought.
At length one,-then another,-then a third,-
Sware to have seen them: a most goodly pair,
She lustrous-dark as plume of ebon bird,
He blond, robust, with grizzled beard and hair.
But nought of either had they seen or heard,
Since Paris, first aroused, had from its lair
Burst out, on myrmidon of priest and king
Leaping, to rend, and-curse on it!-missed its spring.
Further, none helped him. But, desisting not,
Still to his search he eachwhere craved reply;
Till he was greeted by a scowling knot
With ``See his Teuton face! A spy! A spy!''
Whereat armed rabble shuffled to the spot,
And loud reviled him. But with quiet eye
And front he scanned them, as in Delian wood
Apollo 'mong the satyrs might have stood.
To base gesticulation, wordy spite,
Mute he remained, and but surveyed them still
From the lone perch of sorrow's fearless height:
Affronting by confronting them, until,
Like hounds that egg each other on to bite
By barking, clamour giving heart to kill,
Closer they hemmed him, and, ferocious made
By their own throats, their hands upon him laid.
Then because blood heats quickly, he, unarmed,
Flashed them aside, and as the foremost fell,
The rest shrank back that lately round him swarmed,
And clear he stood, still ready to repel.
Yet not for long his mien their rage had charmed,
But that more swift than pen or tongue can tell,
One bustled to the front, and ere the crowd
Could set its teeth afresh, exclaimed aloud:
``Hold, citizens! This man is Freedom's friend,
Of English stock, no Teuton, and no spy.
I saw him at Mentana rout and rend
The Pope-King's wolves. You doubt it? Well then, try!''
Then turning quick to Godfrid, ``Pray, sir, lend
Best confirmation that I do not lie.
Show them your breast! I know the foeman's steel
There gashed a rent that ne'er will wholly heal.''
``Good comrade!'' Godfrid said, ``I scarce recall
Your Southern face; yet what you say is so,
And yours the land I have loved best of all,
After my own. My breast I need not show.
The thrust you speak of when you saw me fall,
Hath left its brand. Enough for these to know
I say it; and what wounds I feel or felt,
Fighting for Freedom, their compatriots dealt.''
``Not ours!'' they loud protested, timely shame
Awaking chivalry; ``not Frenchmen those,
No countrymen of ours! And in the name
Of France we hail you friend and them as foes.
But since for you hath Freedom's mountain flame
Once served for rousing beacon, how is it glows
Its watchfire now in vain, and that you stand,
There, with no answering weapon in your hand?
``See! arms here are! Quick! don them, and come fight
For Cause far purer than you yet have known,
That of Mankind and Universal Right!''
But he forbore to take them, and with tone,
Strange contrast unto theirs, said, ``Would I might!
But if I cannot make your thoughts my own,
How can I, honest, share your sword, and strike,
For striking's sake, at foe and friend alike?
``Forgive me! I to neither camp belong.
For, brothers mine, I fear you miss your way,
Aiming at too much right through too much wrong.''
``Pah! 'tis a casuist,'' some began to say;
``Wails with the weak, but battens with the strong,
And takes a brief alike from night and day:''
While others sneered, ``Do whelps belie their bed?
Look at his smooth white hands and dainty head!''
Upon the morrow, fourth day from the eve
He for Olympia had her Convent found,
Thither once more, no longer loth to leave
A plainly bootless quest, he gravely wound.
But now he wore, conspicuous round his sleeve,
A blood-red Cross upon a snow-white ground;
Emblem and shield, through fratricidal fray,
Of those who stanch the blood they cannot stay.
There it was ordered he should daily come,
Soon after sunrise, to the Convent yard,
Where, of the sisters, were there always some
Ready to start for rampart, gate, or ward.
And henceforth, every morn, at roll of drum,
With them he sallied forth, a constant guard,
Doing their hests till fire and fight grew slack
At dusk, then led them to their cloister back.
Oftenest Olympia came, and with her one,
Now two, now more, but not unoft alone,
Since that, in pairs, the work could best be done;
And thus, ere long, it had to custom grown
They should together start at rise of sun,
Together find the spot where gash and moan
Craved pity's presence most, together learn
To-morrow's post, together should return.
Oftenest their steps were bent-since loudest there
Was heard the awakening cannon's surly sound,-
Along the way presumptuous fribbles dare
To call Elysian, past the boastful ground
Where slaughter's storied Arch confronts the air,
And splendour's palaced alleys radiate round,
That house new wealth's gross pomp and surfeit sleep,
Onward to Neuilly's gate and Maillot's sweep.
And there, 'mid hiss of shell, and quick hot hail
That was its own unwarning messenger,
Oft minding of Mentana's closing tale,
Godfrid moved active, followed still by her
As by wan shadow; she composed but pale,
He flushed, as one whom curbed-in instincts spur,
And whose majestic port seemed far more fit
To lead to carnage than to wait on it.
At times a sullen unexpected lull
On the demoniac din awhile would fall,
Fierce-baying fort growl low, and then wax dull,
And rifle-rattle cease from ditch and wall.
Then Godfrid and Olympia, glad to cull
A passing respite from the thick of brawl,
As in the happier days, their wallet shared
Under some new-leafed tree rage yet had spared.
Then, seizing the brief chance, the birds would sing
Their love-song in the branches of young May,
And round the cannon's jaw and cold bright ring,
Grimly reposing, butterflies would play,
Sipping the sun, at peace with everything.
The fume of mortal fury rolled away,
Leaving the blue heaven bare, till half-closed eyes
Might deem the earth as happy as the skies.
And Godfrid, pointing through the shimmering air,
Shimmering and still, would say, ``Look, sister mine!
Doth Mont Valérien, perched up peaceful there,
Not mind you often of the Aventine?
One well might deem it, too, a hill of prayer.
Il Priorato's convent wall, the shrine
Of Sant' Alessio, and-there! leftward, see
Sabina's Church, with Dominic's lemon-tree!''
But, as he pointed, lo! quick puff of smoke,
And, in it, for an instant, flash of light,
And loud the claustral-seeming fortress spoke,
Bellowing its summons to renew the fight.
Then straight each dozing throat of war awoke,
And hoarse bayed back; while muskets' mongrel spite,
At the big war-dogs' signal to begin,
With short sharp yaps accompanied the din.
Then Godfrid and Olympia started up,
As May's sweet birds crouched silent, prompt to lend
Once more the helping hand, the timely cup.
But when day's ending brought awhile to end
This daily rage, and, homeward bound to sup,
Would the unwounded in disorder wend,
As each one willed, he oft sought news again
Of Gilbert, questioning knots of armëd men.
One eve when fight had even fiercer been
Than its fierce wont, and vantage had been gained
At point the assailants long had strained to win,
A stripling, with the day's work smoked and stained,
Of Gascon speech, blue eye, and tawny skin,
Hearing him put the question some disdained,
Some could not answer, forward pushed, and said,
``That pair are with the captive or the dead.
``Stalwart, intrepid, fair,-I mind them well,
And saw them with these eyes, that morn accurst,
When, ruin-lured by treachery or by hell,
We from yet open city pell-mell burst
To strangle wrong. Know you where Flourens fell,
Gay, gallant Flourens, of the foremost first?
There, in the river's bend I saw them both,-
Have seen not since.'' Then with a guttural oath,
Which every throat around took up;-a deep
Chorus of curses,-``You may stay your search,''
He laughed aloud; ``they have been drugged to sleep
With leaden dose, their backs against a church.''
Then others growled: ``Why on your left arm keep
That tame badge, leaving vengeance in the lurch?
Grasp with the right, man! if you want to aid,
Not the smooth scalpel, but the jaggëd blade.''
Thereat he turned away, and strode along,
She at his side; both, though perturbed with fear,
Striving with help of silence to be strong.
But when they reached the Convent, and could hear
The nuns within, singing the even-song,
He stopped, and gravely said: ``To-morrow, dear,
I cannot come with you. I must pass out
Straight to Versailles, to solve this dreadful doubt.''
Just then a half-intoxicated band
Trolled by, and mocked her with a gesture foul,
She saw not, seeing would not understand,
And passed within. But Godfrid, with a scowl
Of startled ire and ready-flashing hand,
Rolled two in mire; whose comrades with a growl
Of sottish rage their pieces cocked and raised
Against him and each other, drunk and dazed.
Swift as the lightning leaps from unguessed sheath,
A blade was flashed on high, then swooping down,
Scaring and scattering backward those beneath,
Swept space for Godfrid, while each stumbling clown
Muttered a muzzy curse betwixt his teeth.
``Away, ye sots! ye blots on our renown!
Is this a time to hiccup and carouse?
Hence home! and hide in sleep your shameless brows!''
Cowed, they slunk off; and, before Godfrid, stood
Gilbert and Miriam both! both, quick embraced
In the wide-opening arms of brotherhood:
One closely curved round Miriam's nestling waist,
She the while babbling all the joy she could,
The other upon Gilbert's shoulder placed
With firm fond grip; each gazing upon each,
But all alike yet mendicants for speech.
But Godfrid first found words to tell his tale,
Quickly as words could say it: how he came
Thither from Italy with prosperous sail,
Olympia's escort, cherishing the aim
To find them, but till then without avail;
How he felt sure, since none had heard their name,
They had gone homeward,-till that eve, he said,
News he had heard, to fear them ta'en or dead.
``No fabled news! Your Gascon lad spoke true.
We but an hour ago repassed the wall
From which we sallied forth, a motley crew,
A wasted month since. We saw Flourens fall.
My turn came next, though I was but struck through
The foot and lamed. But we contrived to crawl
Among thick river-canes, and, crouched from sight,
There passed a dripping day and famished night.
``Neither upon the morrow might we move;
For we could hear the foe's feet all around,
Prowling through copse and brushwood-bank, to prove
If living thing still lurked upon the ground:
And oft would bullet cleave a clean straight groove
Through the dense cane-stems with a swishing sound,
We lying close, and praying, scarcely loth,
The ball that found out one would find out both.
``On the third morning we no more heard steel
Beating the covert; but we still lay close.
For I was helpless yet with smarting heel,
And with long hunger numb and comatose.
Then Miriam crept along, and scraped a meal
From field hard by, of roots and refuse gross,-
What she could find,-and thus for two days more,
What flesh and blood at bay can bear, we bore.
``But what an endless tale! as long as were
Those nights and days that came, withal, to end.
Now, thanks once more to Miriam's craft and care,
And subtle help of friend succeeding friend,
I hale am yet again, and here to share
Defence's bitter dregs, or, should Heaven send
New hope to our extreme, with breast as meet
To swim to victory as to stem defeat.
``Plague on the long-lost weeks, wherein I lay
At Suresnes, then at Courbevoie, hearing still
The cannon bellow and the bugle bray,
My weakness chafing hourly at my will.
I convalescent days since, but to-day
We slipped the lines, and more by luck than skill;
For though the bloodhounds failed to do us hurt,
They put their fangs, you see, through Miriam's skirt.''
``A tasteless morsel!'' Miriam laughing said,
Spreading the riddled folds; as Godfrid drew
Her arm through his, and, Gilbert following, led
Along the pavement, trodden now by few,
To his own hearth. ``Come, I have board and bed
For both, if rough; not rough perhaps to you,
My dauntless Miriam, and your wounded wight.
Come, Gilbert! You are mine, at least to-night.''
Thus as they strolled, he sought, in leisured walk,
To scan both closely, but the while to hide
His anxious scrutiny with cheerful talk:
Fancying, withal, in Gilbert he descried
A generous plant which, flowering, runs to stalk,
A lavish stream whose bed is wellnigh dried
By its too copious flowing, a quick fire
Burnt by the very wind of its desire.
He looked a nobler and completer type
Of those one saw around; who, since that he
Was nobler, could more keenly feel the stripe
Of contumelious destiny, and be
For madness and for misery yet more ripe:
Like them, by war, and want, and gloomy glee
Of vain resistance, famine, failure, hate,
Fevered to fiery point prescribed by Fate.
She was less changed, and change in her had wrought
But summer's growth of loveliness; for though
Her steps had been with those that frenzied fought,
Hers still was woman's work; to come or go,
As Gilbert swayed. And so she had but caught
From this weird hour the purple-crimson glow
That comes upon dark streams when red suns set,
And day and night at twilight tryst have met.
Once round his board, them craftily he strove
To lead in thought towards Italy, with speech
Which, momentary theme eschewing, wove,
Far-off but well within affection's reach,
A glowing tale of how the dear land throve,
But hinting how it needed still from each,
Who loved it still, exclusive heart and soul;-
Keeping it wholesome, having made it whole.
Close-watching if their blood were taking fire,
In hers he marked infection wax apace,
And saw her glance at Gilbert to inquire
His thought. But he, like one that lends his face,
But hath elsewhere his ear and his desire,
Sate cold as listening statue in his place:
Whereat the warm flush faded from her cheek;
Then Godfrid knew that he in vain would speak.
So still avoiding discord and distress,
He lured discourse, with subtly-wandering wing,
To ruins softened by the sun's caress;
Saying at length: ``Will you, dear Miriam, sing
One of those songs of love and simpleness,
Such as in happy Capri often ring
Up goat-browsed cleft?'' Whereat, without stringed aid,
In her own tongue she sang this serenade.
Sleep! lady fair!
O but thy couch should be
The fleeciest cloudlet of the summer air,
The softest billow of the summer sea,
Or that unforsaken nest
I keep warm within my breast,
For thee, for thee!
Dream, lady sweet!
The moon and planets bright
Now thread thy slumber with unsounding feet,
Now lure thy fancy with unshaped delight:
As my spirit fain would steep
Thine, when only half asleep,
This night, this night!
Wake, lady mine!
See! are awake the flowers,
Their chalices begemmed with dewy wine,
And, buoyed on song, the moist lark trills and towers.
Wake! If thou must be away,
Nightly, let at least the day
Be ours, be ours!
Discordant with the gently closing notes,
A swelling roar of demon music stormed
The night without, growled by a thousand throats,
Hoarse, hirsute, ragged, in armed phalanx formed
Round wain designed for autumn's sickled oats,
Now piled with human forms life lately warmed,
Death-blanched and bloodless, swaying with each jar,
And jolted by each jolt, of the rude car.
And, guttering in the smoked air, torches flared
Upon their upturned faces; clotted beard,
Limp necks, dead-weighted arms, and breasts half-bared,
Feet with the blood they fell and died in smeared,
And lidless eyes that saw not but still stared,-
Blind-orbed, mute-mouthed, dull-nostrilled, and deaf-eared:
While, with notes deep as sullen-sounding surge,
The tramping mourners trolled a vengeful dirge.
Thus o'er the stony street the exposed dead,
Dirged by the living, vengeful moved along:
Godfrid with folded arms and downcast head,
Gilbert, stern-hearkening to the chanted wrong,
Miriam, heart-torn 'twixt sympathy and dread,
Each gazing down upon the marching throng.
Which passed, they nothing said, since each one guessed
The other's thought, and straight retired to rest.
And ever narrower closed the iron ring
Around the city, stronger, as it shrank;
To desperation's ever-shortening spring
Presenting stouter barrier, front and flank.
One gap there was: but this the Teuton King
Held for his own, and with the sabre's clank,
Valid as though 'twere waved on high to strike,
Warned off besiegers and besieged alike.
And Godfrid and Olympia, still close-bound
By their and others' sorrow, moved intent
On lulling anguish whereso'er 'twas found,
And finding it, alas! where'er they went.
For slaughter seemed to spring from out the ground,
And wounds and wailing from some secret vent
Of Heaven down-poured: their wedded help, withal,
Not spent but strengthened by woe's constant call.
Now scared no longer by the bellowing quake
Of fulgurating smoke, in gardened street
Bold birds descanted gleeful pipe and shake,
And you could catch their love-notes 'twixt the beat
Of hatred's feverish pulse. Syringa's flake,
Laburnum's golden chains, the lilac's sweet,
Hanging unheeded o'er each vacant bench,
Mingled their perfume with war's sulphurous stench.
``O that we were in some moist Alpine valley,''
Loud, once in momentary lull, he sighed,
``Where orchards bloom, and runnels swift that sally
From far-up cleft in sheltering mountain side
Trip smiling past the door of pine-wood châlet;
Where cattle-bells make music far and wide,
Where pale-blue crocuses the green meads dapple,
And I could build you, dear, another chapel.''
``O yes!'' she cried. ``Or rather that we were
Back, back at Spiaggiascura! 'Tis, you know,
The Month of Mary, and is no one there
To give her of the round thorn's blossoming snow,
To scour the hill for cyclamens, to bear
Jonquil, and rose, and all sweet things that blow,
To her immaculate feet, and never cease
Importuning her ears for love and peace.
``But this will soon be over, will it not?''
Gravely she asked. ``Yes, very soon!'' he said.
And as he said it, through his heart there shot
The unhallowed thought that when no more the dead
And dying linked his life with hers, his lot
Would be once more his widowed world to tread
Alone, without her! and it then required
All virtue's will to wish the strife expired.
``And those you love?'' she added. ``What of them?''
Meaning thereby, as well he understood,
Gilbert and Miriam. ``I as lief might stem,''
He answered sadly, ``ocean at its flood,
As them withstand. Yet, let us not condemn.
They think they die for human brotherhood.
So far, their lives seemed charmed.'' ``Heaven grant they may
Still be!'' she said. ``For both, our Sisters pray.''
She face to face with neither had been brought,
Since that he daily studied to evade,
With false male instinct, meeting none had sought,
And, happening, woman's tact had simple made.
Yet kept he closest watch where Gilbert fought
And Miriam followed, by the trusty aid
Of eyes well paid, and bound, by orders curt,
To seek him straight, should either suffer hurt.
Beneath his roof he held them, keeping now
From vain expostulation. But, one night,
Gilbert the moment absent, Miriam's brow,
Temples, and cheek, turned suddenly as white
As dark waves sundered by a surging prow;
And with a cry that stifled seemed by fright,
And hands stretched out to help the eyes that fail,
She swooned upon the ground, and lay there pale.
By her he knelt, and on her bloodless face
Dashed water, till she opened wide her eyes,
And murmuring it was needless to unlace
Her bodice now, for she should shortly rise,
Vowed, ``It is but the strangeness of the place,
Some need of mountain air, of native skies.
Now lift me up; it will be over soon;
And tease not Gilbert with this foolish swoon.
``You will not,-will you? 'Twould but harass more
His heart already harassed overmuch.
Promise me, Godfrid! Promise, I implore!''
And she besought him so with voice and touch,
And eyes with tearful pathos brimming o'er,
That he, but vulnerable stuff to such,
To give the asked-for pledge was feeling fain,
When a suspicion flashed across his brain.
Why this importunate violence of fear?
Why thus so anxiously his help discard?
And whence that swoon, more fit for luxury's sphere,
In one stern-nurtured as the hawk or pard?
``Miriam!'' he said, ``you ought not to be here!
For you have now another life to guard.
Answer me straight! You solitary bear
A sacred secret Gilbert ought to share!''
Again the paleness of the sky-peaks' snow
Spread o'er her face an instant, ere it took
The crimson flush they wear at sunset's glow;
And she exclaimed, with supplicating look,
``You will not tell him? For he must not know!
Promise me, Godfrid! Oh! I could not brook
To clog his stroke just as we near Fate's shore.
Can you not wait? You see 'twill soon be o'er!''
That instant Gilbert entered, with a gaze
Which, fixed on far-off anguish, noted not
Pallor and pain in life's familiar ways,
And in the world's woe home distress forgot;
And, ere from horror's dizzying amaze
Godfrid his thoughts could steady, from the spot,
Saying, ``Come, Miriam! deepens now the fight;''
Had with her passed into the hurtling night.
But when they had gone, and Godfrid nought could hear
Save hungry boom of death, then left alone
With his own self and formless ghosts of fear,
He fancied in each gust of battle blown
Over the roof by echoing atmosphere,
To catch now Gilbert's cry, now Miriam's groan,
Or in the rattling pane and quaking street
To hear the scamper of their flying feet.
Outward he rushed, unterrified by such,
For terror in his heart: his one sole thought,
Amid the crackling hurricane, to touch
The barrier where he knew that Gilbert fought;
To search it, force his way to front, and clutch
The arm that should be sheltering her it brought
Full face to face with death, and shame the sire,
Since deaf the husband, from its jaws of fire.
But as he reached the point he strained for, lo!
Defence had vanished from it, and it stood
Naked to night, empty of friend and foe,
Horribly silent as some haunted wood.
Aghast he paused; then, turning quick to go,
Though without thought or purpose whither should
His feet next fly, by something lying prone
Across his path, was tripped, and forward thrown.
He fell upon his hands in warm wet slop,
That splashed up in his face and neck, and sprawled
At first he scarce knew where, then lay atop
Of that which threw him; but, as back he crawled,
Placing one hand upon it for a prop,
Wherewith to raise himself, he felt, appalled,
A human form beneath his touch, whose clothes
Got with his own entangled as he rose.
Then, touch befooling sight to see, he thought
That in that tumbled heap he plain could trace
The figure of the combatant he sought,-
The arm, the hand, the head, the hair, the face.
And, fumbling in his pouch, he struck, distraught,
A fearful light, which, fluttered by the pace
At which he lowered it through the air, went out,
Leaving him once again in dark and doubt.
So this time carefully he knelt him down
Hard by the face ere striking light, which then
Flashed suddenly upon the visage brown
Of-no, not Gilbert! but, scanned close again,
Of a poor, low-browed, famished-featured clown,
Lying as he might lie with reaping men
At mid-day meal; a face which, though unknown,
Through death seemed kindred and familiar grown.
With thankful gasp he scrambled from his knees,
And, at that moment, the short match burnt out;
Yet not before he saw, quick as one sees
Landscape by lightning, dotted thick about,
Dead shapes of men, like felled but unbarked trees:
Whereat instinctively he gave a shout,
Listening for answer. But came no reply,
Of living groan or dying agony.
Then he paused silently among the dead,
Transfixed there by the scene which he could see
More plainly for the darkness, and by dread
Stamped on his brain for ever instantly.
When hark! he thought, he heard a shuffling tread,
Then saw a shifting light that seemed to be
Coming anear him slowly; so he cried
Aloud once more, and a man's voice replied.
And moving toward the light, the light towards him,
He met a wizened thing, blear, hunchback, spare,
One of wealth's pariahs, who, when night grows grim,
In to-day's offal for to-morrow's fare
Grope with a pointed stick and lantern dim.
Him foul, with fairest words, he begged to bear
The link before him, so that one by one
He might the corpses scan, omitting none.
Then picking through the dead his way, he bent
Over each body, and with dread renewed
At each fresh trial, while that other lent
Careless his light, the wan blank faces viewed,
Fearfully searching every lineament,
Lest death had chance the well-known look imbued
With its own strangeness; and, at times, again
Stooping, to make more certain of his ken.
But terror found not what it sought, and thence,
Hastily dropping guerdon, straight he fled,
With horror at his heels, each separate sense
Sharpened to keen acquaintance with the dead.
Nor paused he till he reached the portal whence
His steps had started; mounting, with new dread,
To his own hearth, lest haply he should there
Find waiting summons, to make doubt despair.
There found he line from Miriam, saying, ``I send
This line by messenger,-a last farewell;
For we are face to face now with the end.
How yet we live unscathed, I cannot tell;
Brought finally to bay, our ranks defend
The routed Commune's topmost citadel,
At Belleville, compassed round by foe that gives
Nothing but death to anything that lives.
``Seek for our bodies, claim them if you may,
Gilbert's and mine, and for the love you bore
Unto us both, across the bright blue bay
Row them, yourself, back unto Capri's shore,
And within hearing of the murmuring spray
Make us a grave; and see you strew it o'er
Sometimes with flowers from Tuoro Grande's brow.
I never loved you, brother, more than now.''
Again he hurried outward, hope and dread
Lending joint wings. But as into the street,
He passed, he heard his name by some one said,
And, close behind, the sound of hastening feet.
Turning, he saw Olympia! ``Oh! not dead!
Not dead!'' she cried, with rapture that was sweet
Unto his ear even in that bitter hour,
Asserting 'mid worst woe love's lasting power!
``Dead? No, dear love!'' he with prompt lips replied,
And arms instinctively outstretched to fold
Her form to his, then sudden to his side
Dropped mindful, empty, reverently cold.
``But why, Olympia! deemed you I had died?''
He asked, in accents tender, but less bold.
``Because you did not come to me,'' she said,
``And so I thought you must indeed be dead.''
Again love's swift electric current ran
From the heart's battery to the moving hands,
Tingling to fondle. But, man checked by man,
Flesh paused, the noble serf of soul's commands.
``I did not come to you, because you can
Do nothing more,'' he said. ``Infuriate bands
Nor see nor spare. I felt, 'mid rage like theirs,
That you, dear child, were better at your prayers.
``For me there is one office left, and then
I to your Convent will repair. For see!
Gilbert with Miriam in defeat's last den
Are close shut in, and from it cannot flee,
Even if they would; their comrades desperate men,
Who nor to earth nor Heaven would bend the knee,
And whom their foes, now biding vengeance' tryst,
Would slay, if clung they to the skirt of Christ!''
``Then let us go there straight!'' she said, ``and save!
It was for this Madonna sent me here.
Can we not start at once?'' But he, the brave,
The unshrinking, cried with pallid lips of fear,
``My child! I cannot take you to your grave!
You must not come. I hold you far too dear.''
``Not go where you go!'' solemnly she said:
``I must live safe, you perilled,-perhaps dead!
``O Godfrid! I have lived without you long,
And shall live ever thus, while yet I live;
But it was Heaven's promise made me strong,
That when earth's refuse should have run the sieve,
And nought remain but spirit, for the wrong
Love here hath suffered, love beyond would give
Eternal compensation! If it be
You now face death, you face it must with me!''
``Come then!'' he said, fear now extinct. ``Come quick!
Each step is precious!'' Then up streets they wound,
Where slaughter of its own work had grown sick,
And dreadful silence followed dreadful sound.
Men's doors were closed; but now and then the click
Of latch was heard, and head, sly glancing round,
Protruded for a moment, quickly then
Withdrawn, and latch dropped noiselessly again.
But as they got up higher, barricade,
Empty, except of the unnoticed dead,
Abandoned rifle and unwielded blade,
Grew thicker, and the ways more blocked to tread.
And shortly, trim battalions, on parade,
But with accoutrements splashed foul and red,
As though through blood they had waded, held the place,
By moody cannon flanked that gazed on space.
And many a hand was lifted in salute,
Returned by Godfrid, though intended less
For him than her, who walked meek-eyed and mute,
Her senses cloistered in her sober dress,
And lips in prayer composedly resolute,
Close at his side; and as the martial press
Waxed denser, one whose garb bespoke command
Stayed them, and said, with deprecating hand:
``'Twere best to go no farther, sir! You stray
Beyond our lines, and desperadoes hold
What is beyond. At any moment may
The bugles flourish and the drum be rolled.
We shall attack at once. So turn back, pray!''
And others, crowding round, like story told.
But he, ``I thank you, gentlemen! Withal,
You see my badge; I but obey its call.''
So these, once more saluting, let them pass;
And by streets staircased, intricate, they came
To where the remnant of the rebel mass
Waited behind last rampart, pledged to shame
Ungenerous Fortune, deaf to shame, alas!
For her desertion, and from juster Fame
Extort the avowal, if unfit to live,
Their brave death makes vindictiveness forgive!
Just as they reached the very topmost crown
Of the rude citadel, and came in view
Of its defences,-in the lower town,
From which they just had clomb, a bugle blew,
And upward whizzed a shell, then hurtled down.
Swiftly to arms the loitering victims flew,
And Godfrid Gilbert saw, amid the chase,
Hurrying with Miriam o'er the open space.
Fast as can foot be lifted from the ground,
Unheeding even Olympia, straight he ran,
Shouting their names before him. At the sound
They halted and looked back; while hastening van,
Urged on by hastening rear, of battle, wound
Past them, defiance now its only plan;
Leaving them stranded, as by scudding wind
Are hesitating leaves left loose behind.
``What do you here?'' asked Gilbert. ``This is not
The place, the hour for mercy. O fly! fly!''
``I fly!'' cried Godfrid. ``Man! you have forgot
Your manhood utterly. 'Tis you, not I,
Who must be dragged, if need be, from the spot;
For, by Love's sovran right! she shall not die!
Do you not know she bears within her womb
Its pledge, you now would cradle in the tomb?''
Was it a mortal bullet from the foe,
Or only Godfrid's words, pierced Gilbert's brain?
Pallid he stood, then staggered back as though
He a farewell had made of life and pain.
But propped by Miriam promptly, ``Is it so?''
Aghast he murmured. ``Tell me,-tell me plain!''
``It is,'' she said. ``But what untimely power
Brings you here, Godfrid, in this final hour?''
``It is not final,'' he replied. ``Now quick!
Gilbert, be calm, and do as I shall bid!
See you yon curving wall of crumbling brick?
Turn, when it turns to right, then straightway thrid
A twisting alley where stone stairs stand thick,
Until you reach an archway almost hid
By the contiguous dwellings. Once when there,
You will be safe. Then to my roof repair.
``Here is a pass, the safest you can wear,
'Twill serve for both.'' And from his arm he took
The Red Cross brassard rapidly, and ere
Either could speak, the badge began to hook
Round Gilbert's sleeve, who still with horror's stare
Stood as transfixed. But Miriam cried, ``Look! look!
See what he does. He helps us both to fly,
And, unprotected, he remains to die!''
``Silence! It is not so,'' he sternly said,
``And if it were, what then! I bid you flee!
The unborn shall not be mingled with the dead!''
Then gazing round, he saw and bade them see
A Sister bending by the upraised head
Of dying form. ``She will suffice for me:
That is Olympia, and her garb will sue
For both of us, as this for both of you.''
``Swear you are safe!'' said Gilbert. ``Then, we go!''
``I swear it! Now, farewell! One moment more
May prove too late. For I can hear the foe
Firing more closely, and the rising roar
Of troops advancing. But first,-see you!-throw
Your arms away; put on this cloak I wore
Expressly for your need. There! now depart;
Delay, and it may be too late to start.''
But Miriam fought for one embrace, and then
They were gone! safe passed beyond the shattered wall.
And Godfrid, gazing round with rapid ken,
Beheld Olympia, still to misery's call
Lending her ear, deaf to the yells of men
Maddened with battle, deaf to cannon's brawl,
And murmuring for pale lips, which 'neath her lay,
Prayers long unsaid, prayers now they could not say.
He hastened towards her, and below her saw
That timely face which, when they dubbed him spy,
Pleaded against the rabble's lawless law.
``Alas!'' she said, ``I fear that he must die!
He spoke my tongue.'' ``In truth, he ne'er will draw
Life's breath again! He is dead! Now must we fly;
For we too should be gone. In vain to wait,
When upon mercy wrath hath clanged the gate.''
``And have you saved them?'' ``Yes! my badge they wear,-
Enough for both. Now must I cling to you,
My safeguard ever!'' ``Welcome! They who spare,
Or slay the one, must spare or slay the two,''
With joy she cried; ``so straight hence let us fare,
If nought be left for pity's touch to do.
But lest that any fail to understand
We two are one,-here! Godfrid! take my hand!''
He took it. ``See, Olympia! we must make
To the west corner, for the opening where
Gilbert and Miriam vanished.'' As he spake,
Shouts of fierce exultation rent the air,
And swarming in wherever foot could take
Or head force passage to the rebel square,
The storming files of vengeance came apace,
Death in their hands and fury in their face.
Too few to guard each passage, and thus ta'en
In rear and flank, the rebel band faced round,
Their sole thought now to slay before being slain,
And with lowered points fired blank across the ground
At ranks that, blind as theirs, flashed deadly rain
Direct on all their level barrels found
Standing erect; both far too fierce to know
Whether their bullets fell on friend or foe.
And Godfrid had but time,-at last!-to fling
His arms around the form he had loved so well,
Thinking to save, and she to him to cling,
When, 'twixt the madness of the twain they fell:
He pierced by ball that fought for faith of old,
She by their shaft who 'gainst all faith rebel;
Albeit so close was this their first, last troth,
One well-aimed bullet would have served for both.
Thus were they found, when, rummaging among
Mixed heaps of slain, the victors came to save
The corpses of their brethren, ere was flung
The refuse in one contumelious grave.
And seeing that one who wore Christ's habit clung,
Even in death, to form so worldly brave,
They touched them not, but prayed that priest or nun
Would come and say what meet were to be done.
Then quickly from the Convent thither sped
The reverend Mother, with two daughters dear;
Who, when she saw this bridal of the dead,
Weeping, commanded, ``Put them on one bier,
And bear them after me with gentle tread.''
And straight she sent for him who many a year
To them had been Heaven's helpmate in that place,
A venerable man, with tranquil face.
To him, in hearing of them all, she told
The story she herself had learnt when first,
Six brief weeks gone, Olympia joined their fold,
And next, how Godfrid, aiding her, had nursed
The wounded she with deeper balm consoled;
But from their ears withholding not the worst,-
His strange sad unbelief, which still had kept
The pair apart, till one in death they slept.
The agëd pastor, thuswise as she spake,
In silence listened, and then slowly said:
``My children! these two souls, for Truth's pure sake,
Divided were, since Faith, in him, was dead.
Who knows? perchance it did in death awake:
It was to save the lost Christ breathed and bled.
Doubt watered by such prayer must somewhere bud;
And see! he hath the baptism of blood.
``Therefore I dare not say Christ vainly died
Even for him. And since the twain would lie,
Methinks, at Spiaggiascura side by side,
Heaven will not earth's infirmity deny.
So let us there one grave for both provide,
In consecrated ground beneath the sky.
She needs no epitaph; so let his plea,
Dilexit multum, sole inscription be!''
So you who go, half guided by my song,
To Spiaggiascura, there a grave will find,
To which the waves make music all day long,
And wherein sleep the gentlest of their kind,
Sheltered for ever now from hap of wrong.
And, can it be our mortal causes find
Immortal consequence beyond the tomb,
He either shares her bliss, or she his doom.
Enter the little chapel, as you pass,
That still stands shimmering in the fragrant air,
Though she who loved it is not there, alas!
And, if you can, kneel down and say a prayer.
Then seek, without, a grave amid the grass,
With that inscription carved in marble fair;
And falling tears will sound, if wept for woe,
Sweeter than summer shower to those below.
And should it be the springtime, go at morn
Straight up the dewy dell, until you gain
Spot you will know, and from the blossoming thorn
That on the streamlet showers its snow-white rain,
Pluck branch, and just as from the tree 'twas torn,
Lay it at their feet. And, lastly, will you deign
Lend one kind thought, be such prayer not too bold,
To him who, stammering, hath their story told.
Gilbert and Miriam live, and strive to cope
With grief in tutoring a baby mind,
Named after Godfrid, that is taught to hope
For common happiness to all Mankind.
Surely, a blameless creed; for we must grope
Onward to light, so long as we are blind;
And, through the deepest night and murkiest air,
Hope still waves torch and beckons to despair.
But whether the unsetting day shall rise
For which the downcast weep, the sanguine pine,
Or, but as hitherto, in fitful skies,
Dawn must to dark, fair will to foul decline,-
For gentle hearts and steadfast-gazing eyes
Thou, thou at least, wilt never cease to shine
On wreck of things that were, or things that are,
Love! reconciling Love! eternal Star!
Last updated November 03, 2022