73

CANTO IV.

I.


Parting is ill to bear—ev'n when we leave
Some town or city on a distant shore,
The heart flies back a moment's space to grieve,
And sighs to hear the knell of Never more!
And those indifferent and ne'er priz'd before
Excite the wish on earth again to meet,
With one exception only;—that fell bore
Who seizes on you in your last retreat—
A civil county neighbour, in your country seat.

II.


Who stuns you with the talk of bullocks, till
You wish with all your soul that he were one,
That you might turn him out to graze his fill,
And leave you with your thoughts, in peace alone;
Or preaches upon turnpikes, one by one
Thrumming them o'er, till from his mouth you'd swear
Fly bushels of dry dust and lumps of stone,
While in your heart you curse them in despair,
And, chief of all, the one which serv'd to bring him there.

74

III.


But when the Sylph departed, far less glad
Was fair Irene than she hop'd to be;
For in his freaks he was more gaily mad
Than any spirit of the land or sea:
And when his prisoner's mind from fear was free,
She rather long'd for the returning hour
When brightening in the sun's slant radiance, he
From the high vault descending, came to pour
Low at her feet earth's treasures, shell, and fruit, and flower.

IV.


Oh Loneliness! thou desert demon grim!
Destroyer of thy victim far more sure
Than the wild beast which tears him limb from limb,
Or aught that from his kind he can endure.
In vain Philosophy casts forth her lure,
Preaching up heavenly peace in rocky cell,
To live on fruits and drink from fountains pure;
For in that word Alone more horrors dwell
Than human heart can hold, or human tongue can tell.

V.


Then, as my poor Irene now must learn
To pass her joyless moments as she may,
We best had leave her, lest the world discern
Her dulness clouding o'er the languid lay;
For sometimes in good novels of the day
When bores or dull companions are brought in,
They are describ'd in such a natural way,
That your poor jaws to heave and gape begin,
As if the ponderous chest

[Note: "chest" altered to read "jest" in manuscript hand in this copy of the printed text.]

weigh'd down your drooping chin.

75

VI.


And it were more unpardonable now
To punish others, when my breath more free
I draw, rejoicing to leave rocks and snow,
And greet again my own dear Italy:
Where still the green leaf hangs upon the tree
Although November's come, and summer's gone,
And still the sun is warm, and wakes to glee
The heart from which all thought of glee was flown,
Oppress'd with heavier weight than lies in granite stone.

VII.


But yesterday the sharp tormenta blew
Within the mountain-giant's drear domain,
When frozen blood, and noses chill and blue
Paid homage to his seat and ancient reign;
And straw and blankets scarce could heat retain
In the wide coach and lighter cabriolet:
And plagues below the dignity of pain
Mustering at every mile in thick array,
Seem'd destin'd to impede and lengthen out the way.

VIII.


But now once more we have o'erclimb'd the wall
That guards the Hesperides from snow and bise,
And unrebuk'd again the muse I call
To come and sit beside me at her ease:
No more the Alpine snow and cutting breeze
Scare her away to realms beyond their line;
And, but she smile, I may not hope to seize
The power in fitting colours to design
The great adventures where Sir Florio's virtues shine.

76

IX.


I never mention'd how much time had past
Before the promis'd year and day began,
Which was to bring him back to port at last,
According to the Sylph's concerted plan.
It may be short or long; an hour, a span,
Will sometimes make strange work: and for a day—
Some days may colour all the life of man
And count for years;—while years may glide away,
Noiseless as sleep or death, and calm and cold as they.

X.


See where before an open lattice stands
The young Theresa, in the pale moon-beam:
Her dark hair waves unbound, her clasped hands
Press on her heart, her eyes through tear-drops gleam.
The drops stand trembling, for the tears that stream
Have less of hope, and far, far less of fear:
She looks upon the moon whose bright rays seem
To be the harbingers of danger near,
And wishes for a cloud to make the light less clear.

XI.


And every breath that stirs the orange bough
Makes her heart beat: and in each breeze's sigh
She strains to hear the footstep, stealing slow,
That summons to the garden gate to fly.
He comes! the steps approach!—the sounds pass by,
And far through distant streets extinguish'd fail:
And many a doubting terror presses nigh,
While still fond memory, striving to prevail,
Repeats the treasur'd vows she ne'er could guess were frail.

77

XlI.


The slowest, longest moments that e'er crept
With heavy pace o'er Sorrow's dungeon cell,
Were swift to those, which while the city slept,
It was this gentle creature's lot to tell:
Till the deep stroke from the cathedral bell
Told midnight's hour—and one—and two—and three:—
And from the gate the brazen trumpets swell
Their clamorous peal of military glee,
And day streaks all the east, and darkness' shadows flee.

XIII.


The window barr'd no longer gave to view
The lovely vision of the midnight hour;
To deepest shades retiring, she withdrew,
To weep unseen within her secret bower.
But tears alone possess'd not half the power
To soothe the burning of the poison'd dart;
And solemn vows were mingled with the shower,
From love, from life, from all but Heaven to part,
And on her saint's pure altar lay her broken heart.

XIV.


"Hear me," she said, "Oh thou who in my dreams"[12]

[Original referent was numeral 10, corrected in manuscript hand to read 12 in this copy of the printed text.]

"Hast oft look'd down with kindness, hear me now,
"Thou from whose heart the living ray still streams,
"To whose bright glory saints and seraphs bow!
"By the pure flame which wrapt thee—by the vow
"Which bound thy youth and burning heart to Heaven,
"Receive me in thine arms, where free may flow
"From human joy and human converse driven,
"The tears of anguish deep, in penitence forgiven!

78

XV.


"Oh, if I lov'd him, was it fault of mine?
"I ask'd not for the heart he freely gave:
"And ere my own I would to hope resign,
"I strove its weakness from such wreck to save.
"E'en when I lov'd him dearest, and would rave
"The long night hours in passion, torments, tears,
"Did not my constant purpose firmly brave
"The pain I felt, to fly and close my ears
"Against the dangerous tale that none escapes who hears?

XVI.


"And he is gone! gone without one kind word!
"Gone, and forsook the heart he just had won:
"He who had sworn, to live one hour its Lord,
"He would forsake all else beneath the sun!—
"To thee, to thee I turn: my vows begun
"In anguish, spurn not from thy blest repose!—
"And oh, could I, by treble penance done,
"Dare hope my prayers might shield him midst his foes,
"One gleam of gladness yet would light my setting close."

XVII.


Enough of her. Within another dome
The stroke of midnight brought dismay as great,
Though the proud Princess did not leave her room
To watch a window near the garden gate.
But from her forehead as she loosed the weight
Of diamond wreath and coronal, the knell
Rang in her ears—and statue-like she sat,
And pangs unwonted heart and bosom swell,
As one, and two, and three, strike hourly from the bell.

79

XVIII.


She threw the lattice wide: the kindling dawn
Streak'd the red east—the trumpets sounded far,
That told the troops in muster'd order drawn,
March'd with spread banners to the morning star.
She clos'd the window, and replac'd the bar,
And, cautious, down the stairs one glance she threw;—
" 'Tis well," she said; "If he return from war,
"There's interval to grant me means enow
"To work as deep revenge as ever hatred knew!

XIX.


"To me! to me! my brain reels round to think
"Of the deep stain, th' irreparable wrong;
"And that the wretch before the foe may sink,
"Escaping from a death more sharp and long.
"Oh Heav'n! but send him back my snares among,
"And turn my sighs to fire, my tears to blood!
"And slighted love shall make my weakness strong
"To bring this gallant to another mood,
"Though in the deed these hands were in his blood embrued!"

XX.


Meantime the cause of all this sad dismay.
The favour'd youth, what could have kept him back?—
But who might follow that eventful day
His loves' and leave takings' laborious track!
Within a tall arm-chair, in vesture slack
He sat at ease, most gracefully reclin'd;
His right leg o'er the elbow dangled, black
He frown'd, and seem'd with an unquiet mind
To read a billet ne'er for other eyes designed.

80

XXI.


This was the scroll. "Your early parting hence
"Leaves me scarce time to breathe, far less to think,
"And trusting to your honour and good sense,
"I risk a step, from which I else should shrink:
"A few short moments, and perhaps the link
"Which long has bound our hearts, for aye may sever,—
''I stand upon a precipice's brink—
"Yet for your sake to calm my fears endeavour—
"Then come to snatch farewell—Oh heavens! perhaps for ever!—

XXII.


"Ere twelve has struck, be on the stairs, a guide
"Will meet you there:"—and Florio shuts his eyes,
And holding o'er his face the page spread wide,
Within its shade inspection's search defies.
Then twirling down his leg and arm, he sighs—
And t'other leg o'er t'other elbow flings,
And, shaking hard his sleeve of ample size,
Another billet forth to light he brings,
And in his left hand spread, unfolds its snowy wings.

XXIII.


And thus it read: "The time is past when fear
"Binding my tongue, hath made me seem unkind:
"Already seems to burst upon my ear
"The trumpet summons swelling on the wind.
"Oh, judge me not too lightly! call to mind
"Your last reproachful words and sorrowing tone,—
"Alas! you left a bursting heart behind,
"That scarce had strength to wait till you were gone
"To rave in grief as wild, as frantic as your own.

81

XXIV.


"True—I refus'd the last farewell you ask'd—
"I thought I must—oh pardon if 'twas wrong!
"For ne'er was heart to such hard duty task'd
"As mine, concealing all its wounds so long.
"Then come ere twelve—a gate unlock'd among
"The thick-grown shrubs will hide you—and for me,—
"I feel already I have liv'd too long,
"And, losing you, indifferent all must be,
"Or where or how I die, discover'd, bound, or free."

XXV.


This second billet o'er two pages spread
Call'd up a deeper frown, almost like pain,
And turning back the leaf, the whole he read,
Line after line, at leisure slow, again.
Then lowering down his leg, his busy brain
Full of deep working seem'd to puzzle sore,—
Till, like that quadruped whose bundles twain
Of provender but mock'd his hunger more,
He bolted on his feet, his cogitations o'er.

XXVI.


"A plague upon them both! was ever man
"So hardly, so abominably us'd?"
('Twas thus his tender monologue began;)
"Have these two baggages so long abused
"My patience, and my earnest suit refused,
"As if their virtue mock'd the power of fate,—
''To find their pens all of a sudden loosed,
"One with her stairs, the other with her gate,—
"By Jove, tis almost twelve!—they wait—well—let them wait—

82

XXVII.


"I'm not their foot-licker—and there is no man
"(Except the Doctor) who is bound to fly
"The moment that a vain capricious woman
"Thinks fit to summon his attendance nigh.
"And yet I should have lik'd to see—but why?
" 'Twere hardly handsome to keep faith with one:—
"Come, none shall say I acted selfishly,
"(For that among my many faults is none,)
"If I for each's sake the love of both disown.

XXVIII.


"Perhaps I rather spoke too strong—one's words
"When heated in discourse with parleying dames,
"Flow rather freer than strict truth accords,
"Describing pangs and raptures, darts and flames.
"Yet if my conduct either lady blames,
"Let her consider candidly the whole;
"On their attention I had no such claims
"As either could against her wish control
"To listen; yet they did, with all their ears and soul.

XXIX.


"No—I am no ways blameable—I'll burn
"The foolish creatures' sentimental scrawls:—
"I am not such a child as now to learn
"The dangers of the ears and eyes of walls.
"And now whoe'er my conduct doubts or calls
"In question, I defy the veriest spite
"To say that aught of blame upon it falls,—
"Discreet and noble, gentlemanly quite—
"And so the business rests—fair ladies both—good night!"

83

XXX.


And flumping into bed, a moment's time
Consign'd him to a sound refreshing sleep,
And midnight's loud and terror-waking chime
Suffic'd not to disturb his slumbers deep,
Which lasted till the dawn began to peep,
When his squire call'd him—and his toilet made,—
He mounted on his gallant steed, to keep
Appointment at the gate, where all array'd,
The squadrons' glittering lines their banners gay display'd.

XXXI.


And as upon the muster-ground he dash'd,
Ruling his fiery steed with master's hand,
Envy herself her teeth had vainly gnash'd,
Nor hop'd against his merit's praise to stand.
The elder knights who bore the chief command
Surpris'd behold how well his rein he guides,
And e'en the warlike monarch of the land,
Twisting his long mustachios to both sides,
Exclaims with haughty glance, "How well that coxcomb rides!"

XXXII.


They went to war: they fought with various fortune,
Sometimes advancing, sometimes in retreat;
They had allies, a genuine misfortune,
Through whose mishaps they oft were soundly beat.
But Florio, or in conquest or defeat,
Prov'd himself train'd to arms in perfect school;
And many who had shunn'd the youth to meet
Believing him a swindler or a fool,—
Now sought him out with praises neither spare nor cool.

84

XXXIII.


Yet sometimes on a night-watch plac'd, a cloud
Would fall across the fervour of his brain,
When something, speaking neither long nor loud,
Told him, the search for happiness was pain.
He wish'd himself from war return'd again
Where all the city's joys to joy entice;
Yet there, he felt, 't were equally in vain,
And that no pleasure half repaid it's price—
'Tis a sad inconvenience, waiting still on Vice.

XXXIV.


An inconvenience to which all are liable
Whose toil for pleasure's all the toil they know;
Who think their wildest whimsies undeniable,—
And Cæsar Borgia felt it long ago.
Look at his portrait,11

[Referent should be numeral 13]

where the haughty brow
And proud dim eye's so princely—care within
Corroding through, has bleach'd away the glow
From cheek and lip with yellow shades of sin—
Well worth contemplating to those who just begin.

XXXV.


I've heard on Teviot of a shepherd's dog
Outlaw'd for sheep-stealing, whose talents quite
Defied the power of collar, chain, or clog,
To keep him in his master's yard at night.
He did not kill his victims, but would bite
A morsel of their hearts, and drink their blood;
Then scour away to let them die outright
As much at leisure as they pleas'd or could,
Till he got shot, a fate much for the brute too good.

85

XXXVI.


A pretty little sermon might be made
Out of this anecdote, as e'er was penn'd;
But that to preach I somewhat feel afraid
As there are those the freedom might offend.
I fain would hope without it they may mend,
As, nine times out of ten in chance's round
Such courses come to an unlucky end,
Waylaid or kidnapp'd, poison'd, shot, or drown'd,
As both the farmer's dog, and all the Borgias found.

XXXVII.


Of all the youthful knights, none could compete
With Florio in his rich and gay attire:
His arms were all most perfect and complete,
His scarf and surcoat's cost could go no higher.
His helm, a mark for envy and desire,
Rose o'er the points of poor Irene's crown,
To which he had small right: a fane on fire
Blaz'd on his shield; beneath—this motto shone,
"It came from Heaven," no doubt, alluding to his own.

XXXVIII.


Six squires of noble birth, equipp'd more fine
Than the King's cousins, road

[Corrected in manuscript hand in this copy of the printed text to read "rode".]

his banner near:
Pages and lacqueys follow'd in a line,
And strings of mules with gorgeous toilet-gear.
No matter when you call'd him, he'd appear
Gay as the morning, prank'd in high array,
And for his horses, not the worst could fear
Comparison in fight or tourney day
E'en with the King's proud coursers, proud and deck'd as they.

86

XXXIX.


And though the equipment show'd some lack of sense,
His means were ample as his cost was great;
And gold that would o'erpay his vast expense
He drew in sackfulls from his own estate.
For the good lady, at whose open gate
He was so kindly welcom'd, since had died,
And with her wealth entail'd on him the hate,
The hearty hate of all her race beside,
Who pray'd that time might bring a downfall to his pride.

XL.


He had surpassing luck, and enemies
Of every kind and sort abundant too;
He'd made some deep ones by his gallantries,
And by his mien and talents not a few:
But still when there was any deed to do
Desperate and hazardous, he'd volunteer,
And with such reckless bravery go through
Acts which seem'd miracles for one sole spear,
That faith in victory brought it, when his arm was near.

XLI.


One night when in his tent asleep he lay,
His page awoke him, saying that a wight,
An old grey man, desir'd without delay
In the King's name to see him. 'Twas midnight,
And Florio almost felt a qualm of fright,
For certain reasons which are yet unknown:
"Does the King seem displeas'd?"—"Displeas'd? not quite;—
"He's more disturb'd than angry, but the frown
"Hath never left his brow since couriers from the town

87

XLII.


"Brought him despatches, scarce an hour ago;—
"And what they are, he has to no one said:
"But ever since, he paces to and fro,
"And stopping, sometimes stamps and strikes his head.
"I, though so old a favourite, was afraid
"To meddle with such wild unwonted mood,
"Till calling me, in tones disturb'd, he bade
"Me summon you as quickly as I could—
"And so I have—pray Heaven it all may end in good."

XLIII.


Arriving at the tent, a page desir'd
Florio alone to enter to the King,
Who, writing in the inner tent retir'd,
Nodded, but still wrote on.—Some moments bring
Conclusion to the epistle—and his ring,
His signet ring he stamp'd upon the seal,
And to the youth majestic beckoning,
He spoke—"I have not been the last to feel
"Respect for your high deeds, and pleasure in your zeal:

XLIV.


"And could have wish'd, young Sir, that from my hand
"You had receiv'd reward, before my need
"Had given you to perform a new command,
"Which, well accomplish'd, wins no common meed.
"Now, at a word—do you believe your speed,
"Your speed of life and death, can reach the town
"In six-and-thirty hours? You rule your steed
"With better skill than all our gallants own,
"And, if not done by you, it can be done by none."

88

XLV.


"Sire, it is possible," the youth replied,
"Just possible, with good and prompt relays:—
"But if they fail"—"No, no," the monarch cried,
"Heaven will lend favour to prevent delays.
"If you succeed, all fame, reward, and praise
"Shall lavishly be yours, and on your breast
"Shall every badge of knightly order blaze
"Wherewith my power my nobles can invest,
"And aught of boon beside, whate'er your wish finds best."

XLVI.


Reprieve from hanging ne'er made thief as glad
As Florio was.—With lighten'd heart and brow
He said, if his despatches could be had,
He was quite ready to set forwards now.
"Then," said the King, "this letter you must show
"To the Lord Legate's Grace: nor must you shun
"To thrust it in his hands, though by a row
"Begirt of bishop, canon, monk and nun,
"And loud, in the King's name, command them to have done.

XLVII.


"Seek him at St. Theresa's: the whole nest
"Collected there in function you will find,
"Trying by stealth to make a nun profess'd
"Of a young maid for other fate design'd.
"See her into my sister's care consign'd;
"And if more cause you want your zeal to stir,
"You need but call your knightly oath to mind
"Which pledg'd you ladies' knight and succourer,—
"And so good fortune speed your errand and your spur!—

89

XLVIII.


"Ah—I had nigh forgot—this other letter
"Give to my sister:—I should warn you too
"The less you see her afterwards, the better,
"As she might give the bearer cause to rue:
"Now go in Heav'n's name." Florio glad withdrew,
And a few moments saw him on his road:
And as he gallopp'd on, he thought how few
Had had such curious errand e'er bestow'd—
"A letter too for her! 'Tis really, truly odd.

XLIX.


"The dame whom I left planted on the stairs!
"There's little chance she will forgive that night—
"But she deserved it for the odious airs
"With which she chose my homage to requite.
"The letter's to displease her! very right;
"I'd like to see how she will look, displeas'd:
"If things had turn'd out otherwise, she might
"Have had more cause,—but something will be eas'd
"That rankles in my heart, to see her soundly teaz'd.

L.


"For t'other silly thing, I really lov'd her—
"She was my refuge when I'd nought to do,—
"And, if a little sooner I had mov'd her,
"I could have felt oblig'd, and grateful too."
Now, gentle reader, if it chance that you
Know such a youth, mark but his heart's disease,
And you will find, when he's had rope enow,
And that his mistress can no longer please,
He long will cease to love, before he cease to teaze.

90

LI.


The Princess' letter was a sharp rebuke
"For wilfully neglecting the command
"Intrusted to her, when the monarch took
"His final leave before he left the land:"
He said, "She must have known the step was plann'd,
"And plainly to the priests her aid had lent;
"And even at the last, a surer hand
"Than her snail courier might to him have sent—
''He plainly saw it all; 'twas purpos'd, plann'd, and meant.

LII.


"And if it pleas'd Heav'n's will and purpose sage
"To send him back in safety, he would see
"Whether a dame of a maturer age
"Might not a cloister suit as well as she
"Who, deep he swore, a nun should never be!"—
You may imagine if this pleasant scroll
Entitled Florio to much courtesy:
Yet he rode light as if he knew the whole,
And heard not o'er his head the gathering thunders roll.

LIII.


It is a thing we all may sometimes see,
When great misfortunes or near deaths impend,
The spirits rise to a wild mood of glee,
And Nature hastes her lapsing bills to spend.
Thus Florio, as he near'd his journey's end,
Though spent and almost dead with his hard ride,
Felt so rejoic'd a beauty to defend,
To win renown and please the King beside,—
He thought his grasp could seize the moon, if he but tried.

91

LIV.


With more than mortal speed along he flew,
The distant towers on the horizon rise
Near and more near, until beneath his view
The city with its domes and temples lies.
The gate he passes swift as swallow flies,
Nor time for question from the guard he bides
But right to St. Theresa's church he hies,
And straight dismounting, up the nave he strides,
While all th' astonish'd crowd to right and left divides.

LV.


The organ through each long and vaulted aisle
Peal'd high the solemn strain: the tapers' light
Show'd in the noon-day radiance faint and pale,
Through painted windows pour'd, as rainbow bright:
The incense roll'd on high its volumes white,
The long-rob'd priests around the altar stand:
The Legate thron'd before it, high in sight,
Pray'd o'er a kneeling nun with gesture bland,
And held the sable veil, dark-streaming, in his hand.

LVI.


Now Florio, in the King's name speak, and save
The maiden, ere the work of fate be done!
Snatch from the horrors of her living grave
The Monarch's favourite care, the lovely nun!—
He seems bewitch'd: strange fears his senses stun
Till his knees knock;—he cannot see her face—
But chill and shuddering tremors o'er him run,
The while the veil the Legate slow doth place,
And while th' attendant nuns adjust its folds to grace.

92

LVII.


An hour—from memory long pass'd far away—
Rose as he saw that kneeling form inclin'd;
'Twas on the morn of that eventful day
Before his banner for the war he join'd:
In the dark orange-grove while his whole mind
And soul he strain'd to win Theresa's heart,
And left her, calling her untrue, unkind,—
He saw the gushing tear unbidden start,
And kneeling on the ground, she bade him straight depart.

LVIII.


And as her kneeling form her saint invok'd,
And pray'd for death before her courage fled,
He felt indignant, baffled, and provok'd,
And even did her bidding as she said.
And now this stranger maid's brown drapery spread
Ev'n thus upon the pavement—and the fane
Was St. Theresa's—doubt and anxious dread
So master'd all his mind, confus'd his brain,
That the King's mandates there no more a place retain.

LIX.


She rose from off her knees, and turning round,
Right upon Florio's face her eye-gleam fell—
''My God! Theresa!"—scarce his lips the sound
Pronounce,—scarce audible the accents swell.
A moment's space her looks upon him dwell
With love unutterable—and her cheeks
With hectic bloom quick flush'd, too surely tell
That still within her breast her passion speaks,
And that it will for aye, till the last heart-string breaks.

93

LX.


Transfix'd to marble, on his face and hands
Bursts the cold dew—erect his hair is grown—
With guilt of blood upon his soul he stands—
The very power to feel is well nigh flown.
The rite goes on:—on a low mattress thrown
Above her head the sable pall they spread:
The organ sounds; they chant in solemn tone
The funeral anthem of a soul that's fled—
'Tis o'er—they raise the pall—she stirs not—she is dead!—

LXI.


"She's dead"—"she's dead!" in shuddering whispers spoke
From every lip, like wild-fire spread around:
And, like the shock of an electric stroke,
Florio's dead trance to agony unbound:—
He burst into a scream, whose piercing sound
Seem'd born of tortures more acute than fire;—
Then forcing through the crowd, the gate he found,
And rush'd along the street, as if the dire
And cruel pangs he felt, his furious speed could tire.

[94]