Thomas Aird

The Christian Bride: Part First

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Young Torthil sits below the woody steeps
Of Apennine, beneath a spreading oak.
His downcast eye a stern abstraction keeps;
Dawn not for him with purple stains has broke,
Nor sunshine filled the world: the captive's yoke
Is on his heart—bright things are not for him.
The cloudy day, the high-winged tempest's shock
Would more delight him, with unbounded limb
Swift o'er far Morven's hills, throughout her forests dim.
Who knows not Torthil from Ausonia's bound
Of Alps Helvetian to her southern heel?
Now homeward musing o'er the vast profound,
The fisher sees him by the ocean kneel;
Now o'er the mountains with impetuous zeal
He strikes the tusky monster with his spear;
The chamois leaps, the bird in airy wheel
Screams to his piercing arrow: far and near,
Scorning a life in Rome, he takes the wild severe.
There Torthil sits. Up looking now he sees
A damsel reading, shaded from the heat,
Beautiful, walking in the myrtle-trees
On yonder bank, forth now in sunlight sweet,
Now glimmering back into the shy retreat
Of twilight green. But hark! adown the vale
A tumult comes, the wild boar gallops fleet,
Two dogs close track him grinning to assail.
Far echoes tell the pack are on some other trail.
Fled has the damsel. Torthil's o'er the brook.
Behind she hears the panting brute advance,
Nearer, and nearer still; she turns to look—
O terror! joy! her eye's bewildered trance
Hangs crowded thick with death and life at once:
The monster's sidelong, half-upturning head
Is gnarled to strike, his bared tusks backward glance
To gather fury for his onset dread,
To tear her tender limb—bold Torthil's lance has sped.
But ah! he stumbles from his forceful blow;
The beast transfixed, disdaining yet to fly,
Has bowed his levelled head, and, ploughing low
As if to pass his rising enemy,
With tearing side-stroke rips his spouting thigh;
Then forward staggers, darkly crushed to fall;
But bites his fiery wound ere he will die,
Snaps with his teeth that shaft of deadly gall,
And grinds with foam and blood the sputtered splinters small.
Turned to the rescued maid, along the brow
Of Torthil lightens a heroic smile;
Till, o'er his drained benumbed limb forced to bow,
To earth succumbs he, gazing yet the while
On her whose presence can his pains beguile.

But she for him her silken vesture tears,
Binds his stanched wound with pity's gentlest wile;
Cold sprinklings then from out the stream she bears,
Refreshes his sick face, his fainting strength repairs.
“And spare,” he said, “for me those wistful fears.
Wonder divine! thee in a dream of yore
Twice did I see—mine own! Not years, long years,
Could make me know, could make me love thee more.
My heart's last blood I'd give thee o'er and o'er!
I would but have thee know me should I die:
Afar I come from Caledonia's shore,
Torthil my name, a chieftain there was I;
A captive next—nay, sent thy safety thus to buy.
“I am a savage; but in thy sweet sight
To live, would make me gentle soon, and wise.
Would thou couldst love me!” With impassioned might
He strove, nor vainly, from the ground to rise.
The light was thickened in his heavy eyes;
He fell, yet falling kissed her dear young feet.
Alone the fainting Caledonian lies,
The maid in haste has sought the wood's retreat;
But soon she reappears with new assistance meet.
A reverend father and a female old
Come to her guidance, and the youth upraise;
His drooping head the virgin's hands uphold:
Borne o'er the rivulet, through the woodland maze,
Where many a path the uncertain foot betrays,
A cave withdrawn into the mountain's side,
Received them from the forest's puzzling ways.
There Father Hippo healing bands supplied;
And there, till he wax well, young Torthil shall abide.

But oft Roscrana came, that Princess good,
Niece of Zenobia, Tadmor's famous Queen,
Who, since Aurelian had her throne subdued,
With honour placed in Italy had been.
A huntress, she her summer dwelling green
Chose near the central mountains of the land.
Fair daughters round her graced the sylvan scene;
But she, and they, a haughty sister-band,
Roscrana's meekness scorned, and ruled her with high hand.
Yet more divided from her kindred blood,
Roscrana's heart confessed our holy faith;
Nursed by a Christian Jewess, and imbued
With early love for Him of Nazareth,
She to His Cross will cling unto the death.
The sovereign knowledge fain would she declare
To her proud kin, but still they shunned her path;
Then sought she solace in the woods, and there
She found the cave proscribed of that old Christian pair.
They o'er the Syrian orphan, as their child,
Rejoiced, that dear faith mutually confessed.
More than a daughter, she their fears beguiled,
She brought them food, she watched their aged rest,
Fit garments wrought by her their bodies dressed.
For this, the scrolls of the Eternal Word
Given by those saints, she hid beneath her vest,
Till to the night, to shady walks restored,
She drew them forth and read of her incarnate Lord.
Within the cavern of those Christians laid,
With plants of healing gathered from the hill,
Was Torthil cured by that Palmyran maid,
Oh more to love her for her gentle skill.

And soon he blessed those days of wounded ill,
For aye young pity trembles into love;
Lord of her heart is he and virgin will.
And aye to him of Jesus from above
She reads, or in the cave, or walking through the grove.
Sequestered they in love's unworldly dream,
In haunts of beauty lose the lapsing hours.
Forth by the lake, down by the living stream,
They dip their footsteps in the dewy flowers.
The glad birds twinkle from their morning bowers.
Noon's sultry silence on the forest broods.
Eve flushes soft: clear glance the sunny showers:
The mountains smile with all their hanging woods:
Lustre in all the vales, lustre on all the floods!
The stock-dove's voice, sweet intermittent bird,
That aye the shadow of the hawk's wing fears,
Crushed in the depth of leaves, and faintly heard,
Moaning of love, the twilight hour endears
To the young lovers. Lo! the Moon appears;
Beauty and Peace lead on the silver Queen;
The forests, brightening silently, she clears;
She walks the mountains; o'er the polished sheen
Of dimpling rivers far her sliding feet are seen.
Another eve: turned to the lord of day,
“So sinks,” said Torthil, “the immortal flame.
I too go down: back takes he on his way
His retrospect; if I should do the same,
Pride overthrown, youth crushed, the baffled aim,
Defeat, and exile from my native shore,
Are my memorials—felt by me, for shame
Was never in my father's house; yet sore
Though be my pangs for these, my country plagues me more.

“For me her youth into the battle's waste
She poured, she perished at my sole command.
Was this not much? Am I not all disgraced?
The exulting rivers of my native land,
These are not they—a captive here I stand.
Why fell I not? Yea, farther hear my shame:—
Lady, I chose to stoop beneath their band
Which binds me by the honour of my name,
Since slain not here in Rome, my freedom ne'er to claim,
“Ne'er to attempt return. Oh, I might say,
My very wish that shame to uncreate
Forbade my death, throughout the slavish day
Of circumstances bade me tamely wait
Some better morn of fortune or of fate.
What then? Unbounded blame is still my due
For you betrothed to my forlorn estate.
'Tis time to question thus myself for you,—
What hope contrive, sweet maid, what plan shall I pursue?
“This I might do—Oh, I no more can live
For thee to see me in my slavery!—
Yes, I will do it—I will go—will give
My life again from vows to be set free;
They gall me so! His slave I will not be;
I'll go, I'll brave him on his Roman throne.
Ha! first I'll promise to mine enemy
Long years of service in his battles done;
For thee with power fulfilled, he'll let me then be gone.
“Then home with me to Morven shalt thou go,
And be a daughter to my mother there.
There forth I'll lead thee by the hand, and show
The green translucent brine, when mermaids rare
Chant on the rocks and comb their slippery hair;
The bliss of morn, clear wells, and forests green;
The pure suffusion of the evening air,
When dipped in delicate lights far hills are seen.
Bards with their stately songs shall close our day serene.
“Ha! idle visions these! Why am I here?
Sweet Lady, come with me unto our cave;
Then home I'll guide thee. Ere next noon appear,
Aurelian hears me; wise, and just, and brave,
He'll grant the death of freedom that I crave.
Oh, not in vain last night in dreams did come
To me my mother, pale as from the grave;
Yet smiled the vested image from her home
O'er the wan waters far, over the travelled foam.”
Within the cave they wait the evening star.
But came Zenobia, beautifully keen;
Behind her thronging entered men of war;
A Jewish dwarf, misshapen, ugly, lean,
Who long her servant in the East had been,
Led on the party: he, of Christ the foe,
Had learned Roscrana's faith, had brought his Queen
Her doubtful haunt, her friends proscribed to know.
O'erpowered now must they all before Aurelian go.
Yea, worse than vain was Torthil's manly haste
His name to tell, his passion to declare;
Vain priestly Hippo's act, before them placed,
To wed Roscrana to her Torthil there.
Joy then be with them, a divided pair!
The Imperial lady with a deadly smile
Swore (for the Cæsar ne'er denies her prayer)
Dark dungeon chains shall Torthil have the while,
Roscrana banished be to some far foreign isle.

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Thomas Aird