Thomas Aird

The Captive Of Fez: Canto I: The Prison

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O'er golden Fez the summer sun is shining,
But not for Julian, there in durance pining.
Why thus in durance he, to whom life's spring
Was promised joy, descended of a King?
Upgrew his stately youth; up with it grew
His soul enlarged, heroic, gentle, true,
And won the honour and the love of all
Within his father's Court of Portugal.
Forth then rejoicing in his early might
He rode, against the sultry hosts to fight
Of Fez, led on by black Zemberbo, far
Flashing abroad his thunder-lights of war.
O'er desert hills, and many cloudy lands,
Battling he rode, and o'er a world of sands,
The bold young Prince! He galled the Afric horde;
He won the garland for his virgin sword;
A world-wide name he'll win. Ah fatal hour!
A Captive now he's in Zemberbo's power:
Sent to the Fezzan Court, with special care
Zemberbo bade be light his bondage there;
His honour pledged that thence he should not flee,
He in the Palace otherwise was free.

But Geraldine he saw. To Abusade,
The King of Fez, was born the beauteous maid;
Born of an English mother, who had been
Raised from a slave to be the Fezzan Queen.
Her, though a playful child, that mother well
Trained up like England's women to excel,
To hold the holy Jesus far above
The Arab Prophet, and his Cross to love.
That mother died. 'Twas laid on Geraldine
At once her sportive girlhood to resign
For a grave weight of cares, to be a mother
To her young sisters and her infant brother,
And make them Christians: for the King had vowed
Unto his dying wife that this should be allowed.
Nor by the Fezzan Court unfelt had been,
The English manners of its honoured Queen,
That jealous law to soften which inthralls
Untrusted woman in sequestered halls.
Hence Julian saw the Princess, unreproved:
He saw and loved, and told her that he loved;
And, heart to heart, he won her gentle sigh
In thrall inglorious that his youth should lie.

But came a sterner thrall. To darkness now,
And dungeon fetters he is doomed to bow.
So wills Zenone—wild peculiar maid!
Her princely sire was slain by Abusade,
Who vengeful wrapped in one devouring roar
Of fire his palace on the Italian shore.
Perished all else within; from out the flame
Alone, unscathed, the child Zenone came.
Saved by the King, he bore her o'er the sea
To Fez, his own adopted child to be;
And chastely reared within his Court was she.
But other passions in her heart she nursed,
Of hate and vengeance, yet on him to burst,
Great was her spirit; though retired she dwelt,
Wide o'er the Fezzan realm her power was felt,
From daring counsels: for it gratified
Her soul capacious, and her native pride,
To rule; but more because it gave her power
Of wider wrath against her vengeful hour.
Thus walked she queenlike; for the Monarch still,
Soothed by her harp, indulged her passionate will,
And gave her sway, the more because he found
With large success her counsels had been crowned.
She met, she loved young Julian; chaste yet bold,
Flushing in tears, her love for him she told,
Deliverance promised, waived her mighty pride,
And sought to flee with him, and sought to be his bride.
How from the Captive's just refusal burned
The Syren's heart, to equal anger turned!
To more than anger; for the youth, she knew,
Cold to herself, to Geraldine was true!
Chains for him then! And he was chained and thrown
Down to a dungeon; nor the thing was known
Save by the King, who yielded his assent
To this, Zenone's ready argument:—
“What though Zemberbo speeds not to retake
Shore-guarding Ceuta, still have we a stake;
His honoured Captive shall in ward remain,
Menaced with death, till we our town regain:
His father holds, and back to us will give
The place, how gladly, that his son may live.
Meanwhile our Court his durance must not learn,
So shall we shun to rouse Zemberbo stern.”
To enlarge her vengeance in the Captive's ill,
Or still the purpose of her love fulfil,
That he to her, whom he had dared to spurn,
All humbly yet might be constrained to turn,
The instructed jailer, with a well-assumed
Reluctance, told him that his bonds were doomed
By Geraldine, to calm the jealous pride
Of a young native prince, who sought her for his bride.

Oh is it so? He fought against his chains,
Till worn, and sick, and sunk in fiery pains,
'Twas left him but, with nature's last endeavour,
To wade and struggle through delirious fever,
Where strength is worst disease, where manhood high
Is only fiercer than the mummery
Of palsied age, its laughter and lament,
Is but a dotage more magnificent.
No hand was there to wipe his forehead damp,
No care, no love, to trim life's fainting lamp;
Yet, helped by nature, from his bed of pain
He rose, but feebly, to his floor again.
From mood to mood revulsive, feeling less,
And brooding more, he sunk to listlessness,
Deeming all glory gone, all hope a lie,
All life itself one dull infirmity:
And Heaven was dark, and to his spirit's tone
Even God seemed weary on His boundless throne.


II

Thus Julian pines in durance. Now has run
The yearly circuit since he saw the sun;
And, from his softening jailer, this is all
He yet has won to mitigate his thrall,
That, nightly passing from his low mid place,
One hour his steps should have a freer space
In a wide room with grated bars, that so
Heaven's breath on his young head might freshly blow.
'Twas now his privileged hour; with weary pain
He paced the chamber, dragging still his chain.

But hark! near coming through the stilly night
A mandolin: how sweet its touches light!
He bent to hear it: well that lay he knew,
Since oft he breathed it forth, slow sauntering through
The Palace gardens, in the twilight dim,
Till Geraldine had learned it thus from him;
Since twice, as paused his song, entranced he stood
To hear it softly back to him renewed
From her high lattice: well he knew that lay;
No time shall blot it from his heart away!

It ceased; he started; in the moonlight clear,
Outside his window, stands a lady near.
'Tis Geraldine! softly he named her name,
And to his words this gentle answer came:—
“Thou good young Prince, oh is it thou? The grace
Of life they shame, who keep thee in this place
Forlorn and fettered thus. Say, Captive one,
Can aught to succour thee by me be done?”

“Why, I might wish these idle days were by;
Might wish,” he said, “again to see the sky
Wide o'er the world: The seasons in their range,
That come and go with sweet dividual change,
My home of early days, my friends of fame,
The camp, the field, the glory of a name,
Still haunt my heart. Yet joy, all hope, all power
Are undesired; yea death be mine this hour,
If thou hast doomed me thus! They tell me, maid,
By thee, O thee, in fetters here I'm laid.
My soul! can it be so? Shall man believe
She comes in mockery thus to see me grieve?”

“No, no!” she answered. “But my heart, not clear
From other blame, deserves thy thought severe.
For I did wrong thee, deeming, till to-day,
That thou hadst broke thy faith, and fled away.
They told me so, but oh, it ne'er was so;
Unstained thy honour, spotless as the snow.
And now, young Knight, need I declare that I
Ne'er doomed, ne'er wished thee thus abased to lie?
Oh no, indeed! To-day, my faithful slave
First heard of this: the news to me he gave:
Thy prison found, 'twas mine that lay to try,
To probe these depths of dull captivity;
To let thee know thou wert not all forgot,
Nor all uncared for in thy lonely lot;
To make thee hope that friends were planning for thee,
And yet again to freedom might restore thee.”

“This, this is to be free; and I am free!”
The Captive murmured: “ne'er the hard decree
That chained me thus, dear virgin, came from thee!
Yon Moon in heaven how many hearts have blest,
As on she journeys meekly to the west!
She lights the white ships o'er untravelled seas,
She soothes the little birds upon the trees,
And cheers the creatures of the solitudes,
And leads the lovers through the glimmering woods,
And gives to weary hearts unworldly calm,
When slumber comes not with its wonted balm:
But not yon Moon in heaven, without a stain,
To watchful sailors o'er the trackless main,
To little birds, to desert beasts of night,
To lovers hasting by her glimpsing light,
To hearts oppressed, is, as thou art to me,
Maid with the dovelike eyes, whose grace of love I see!”

“Farewell, young Sir! From out this living grave,”
The Princess whispered, “thee I'll try to save.
Farewell, and fear not!” Geraldine is gone;
Slowly the Captive turns, and feels he is alone.

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Thomas Aird