The Island: Canto 03.
I. The fight was o’er; the flashing through the gloom, Which robes the cannon as he wings a tomb, Had ceased; and sulphury vapours upward driven Had left the Earth, and but polluted Heaven: The rattling roar which rung in every volley Had left the echoes to their melancholy; No more they shrieked their horror, boom for boom; The strife was done, the vanquished had their doom; The mutineers were crushed, dispersed, or ta’en, Or lived to deem the happiest were the slain. Few, few escaped, and these were hunted o’er The isle they loved beyond their native shore. No further home was theirs, it seemed, on earth, Once renegades to that which gave them birth; Tracked like wild beasts, like them they sought the wild, As to a Mother’s bosom flies the child; But vainly wolves and lions seek their den, And still more vainly men escape from men, II. Beneath a rock whose jutting base protrudes Far over Ocean in its fiercest moods, When scaling his enormous crag the wave Is hurled down headlong, like the foremost brave, And falls back on the foaming crowd behind, Which fight beneath the banners of the wind, But now at rest, a little remnant drew Together, bleeding, thirsty, faint, and few; But still their weapons in their hands, and still With something of the pride of former will, As men not all unused to meditate, And strive much more than wonder at their fate. Their present lot was what they had foreseen, And dared as what was likely to have been; Yet still the lingering hope, which deemed their lot Not pardoned, but unsought for or forgot, Or trusted that, if sought, their distant caves Might still be missed amidst the world of waves, Had weaned their thoughts in part from what they saw And felt, the vengeance of their country’s law. Their sea-green isle, their guilt-won Paradise, No more could shield their Virtue or their Vice: Their better feelings, if such were, were thrown Back on themselves,- their sins remained alone. Proscribed even in their second country, they Were lost; in vain the World before them lay; All outlets seemed secured. Their new allies Had fought and bled in mutual sacrifice; But what availed the club and spear, and arm Of Hercules, against the sulphury charm, The magic of the thunder, which destroyed The warrior ere his strength could be employed? Dug, like a spreading pestilence, the grave No less of human bravery than the brave! Their own scant numbers acted all the few Against the many oft will dare and do; But though the choice seems native to die free, Even Greece can boast but one Thermopylae, Till now, when she has forged her broken chain Back to a sword, and dies and lives again! III. Beside the jutting rock the few appeared, Like the last remnant of the red-deer’s herd; Their eyes were feverish, and their aspect worn, But still the hunter’s blood was on their horn. A little stream came tumbling from the height, And straggling into ocean as it might, Its bounding crystal frolicked in the ray, And gushed from cliff to crag with saltless spray; Close on the wild, wide ocean, yet as pure And fresh as Innocettce, and more secure, Its silver torrent glittered o’er the deep, As the shy chamois’ eye o’erlooks the steep, While far below the vast and sullen swell Of Ocean’s alpine azure rose and fell. To this young spring they rushed,-all feelings first Absorbed in Passion’s and in Nature’s thirst,- Drank as they do who drink their last, and threw Their arms aside to revel in its dew; Cooled their scorched throats, and washed the gory stains From wounds whose only bandage might be chains; Then,when their drought was quenched, looked sadly round, As wondering how so many still were found Alive and fetterless:-but silent all, Each sought his fellow’s eyes, as if to call On him for language which his lips denied, As though their voices with their cause had died. IV. Stern, and aloof a little from the rest, Stood Christian, with his arms across his chest. The ruddy, reckless, dauntless hue once spread Along his cheek was livid now as lead; His light-brown locks, so graceful in their flow, Now rose like startled vipers o’er his brow. Still as a statue, with his lips coinprest To stifle even the breath within his breast, Fast by the rock, all menacing, but mute, He stood; and, save a slight beat of his foot, Which deepened now and then the sandy dint Beneath his heel, his form seemed turned to flint. Some paces further Torquil leaned his head Against a bank, and spoke not, but he bled,- Not mortally:-his worst wound was within; His brow was pale, his blue eyes sunken in,too And blood-drops, sprinkled o’er his yellow hair, Showed that his faintness came not from despair, But Nature’s ebb. Beside him was another, Rough as a bear, but willing as a brother,- Ben Bunting, who essayed to wash, and wipe, And bind his wound-then calmly lit his pipe, A trophy which survived a hundred fights, A beacon which had cheered ten thousand nights. The fourth and last of this deserted group Walked up and down-at times would stand, then stoop To pick a pebble up-then let it drop- Then hurry as in haste-then quickly stop- Then cast his eyes on his companions-then Half whistle half a tune, and pause again- And then his former movements would redouble, With something between carelessness and trouble. This is a long description, but applies To scarce five minutes passed before the eyes; But yet what minutes! Moments like to these Rend men’s lives into immortalities. V. At length Jack Skyscrape, a mercurial man, Who fluttered over all things like a fan, More brave than firm, and more disposed to dare And die at once than wrestle with despair, Exclaimed, ‘G-d damn I’-those syllables intense,- Nucleus of England’s native eloquence, As the Turk’s ‘Allah!’ or the Roman’s more Pagan ‘Proh Jupiter!’ was wont of yore To give their first impressions such a vent, By way of echo to embarrassment. Jack was embarrassed,-never hero more, Till on the surf their skimming paddles play, Buoyant as wings, and flitting through the spray;- Now perching on the wave’s high curl, and now Dashed downward in the thundering foam below, Which flings it broad and boiling sheet on sheet, And slings its high flakes, shivered into sleet: But floating still through surf and swell, drew nigh The barks, like small birds through a lowering sky. Their art seemed nature-such the skill to sweep The wave of these born playmates of the deep. VIII. And who the first that, springing on the strand, Leaped like a Nereid from her shell to land, With dark but brilliant skin, and dewy eye Shining with love, and, hope, and constancy? Neuha-the fond, the faithful, the adored- Her heart on Torquil’s like a torrent poured; And smiled, and wept, and near, and nearer clasped, As if to be assured ’twas him she grasped; Shuddered to see his yet warm wound, and then, To find it trivial, smiled and wept again. She was a warrior’s daughter, and could bear Such sights, and feel, and mourn, but not despair. Her lover lived,-nor foes nor fears could blight That full-blown moment in its all delight: Joy trickled in her tears, joy filled the sob That rocked her heart till almost HEARD to throb; And Paradise was breathing in the sigh Of Nature’s child in Nature’s ecstasy. IX. The sterner spirits who beheld that meeting Were not unmoved; who are, when hearts are greeting? Even Christian gazed upon the maid and boy With tearless eye, but yet a gloomy joy Mixed with those bitter thoughts the soul arrays In hopeless visions of our better days, When all ‘s gone-to the rainbow’s latest ray. ‘And but for me!’ he said, and turned away; Then gazed upon the pair, as in his den A lion looks upon his cubs again; And then relapsed into his sullen guise, As heedless of his further destinies. X. But brief their time for good or evil thought; The billows round the promontory brought The plash of hostile oars.-Alas! who made That sound a dread? All around them seemed arrayed Against them, save the bride of Toobonai She, as she caught the first glimpse o’er the bay Of the armed boats, which hurried to complete The remnant’s ruin with their flying feet, Beckoned the natives round her to their prows, Embarked their guests and launched their light canoes; In one placed Christian and his comrades twain- But she and Torquil must not part again. She fixed him in her own.-Away! away! They cleared the breakers, dart along the bay, And towards a group of islets, such as bear The sea-bird’s nest and seal’s surf-hollowed lair, They skim the blue tops of the billows; fast They flew, and fast their fierce pursuers chased. They gain upon them-now they lose again,- Again make way and menace o’er the main; And now the two canoes in chase divide, Arid follow different courses o’er the tide, To baffle the pursuit.-Away! away! As Life is on each paddle’s flight to-day, And more than Life or lives to Neuha: Love Freights the frail bark and urges to the cove; And now the refuge and the foe are nigh- Yet, yet a moment! Fly, thou light ark, fly!