A MOMENT since, he stood unmoved--alone;
Courage and thought on his resolvēd brow;
But hope is quivering in the broken tone,
Whose bitter anguish seems to shake him now:
Her light foot woke no echo as it came,
The rustling robe her sudden swiftness told;
She pleads for one who dies a death of shame;
She pleads--for agony and love are bold.
"Oh! hear me, thou, who in the sunshine's glare
So calmly waitest till the warning bell
Shall of the closing hour of his despair
In gloomy notes of muffled triumph tell.
Let him not die! Avenging Heaven is just;
Thine, a like fate in after years may be:
Thy forfeit head may gasping bite the dust,
While those thou lovest, plead in vain for thee!
Thou smilest sternly: thou could'st well brave death;
Hast braved it often on the tented field.
So fought my hero on th' ensanguined heath,
With desperate strength, that knew not how to yield:
But oh! the death whose punctual hour is set,
And waited for mid lingering thoughts of pain;
Where no excitement bids the heart forget,
And skill and courage are alike in vain;
Who shall find strength for that?--Oh! man, to whom
Fate, chance, or what thou wilt, hath given this hour--
Upon whose will depends his dreaded doom--
Doth it not awe thee, thinking of thy power?
In the wide battle's hot and furious rage,
Where the mix'd banners flutter to and fro,
Where all alike the desperate combat wage,
One of a thousand swords may pierce him through:
But, now, his life is in thy single hand:
To thee the strange and startling power is given--
And thou shalt answer for this day's command
When ye stand face to face in God's own Heaven.
Bear with me! pardon me this sudden start!
My words are bitter, for my heart is sore;
And oh! dark soldier of the iron heart,
Fain would I learn the speech should touch thee more!
He hath a mother--age hath dimm'd her sight--
But when his quick returning step comes nigh,
She smiles, as though she saw a sudden light,
And turns to bless him with a stifled sigh.
When to her arms a lonely wretch I go,
And she doth ask for him, the true and the brave,
While on her cheek faint smiles of welcome glow,
How shall I answer 'he is in the grave!'
He hath a little son--a mirthful boy,
Whose coral lips with ready smiles are curl'd;
Wilt thou quench all the spring-time of his joy,
And leave him orphan in a friendless world?
Hast thou no children?--Do no visions come,
When the low night-wind through the poplar grieves--
Echoes of farewell voices--sounds of home--
For which thy busy day no leisure leaves?
Some one doth love thee--some one thou dost love--
(For such the blessed lot of all on earth,)
Some one to whom thy thoughts oft fondly rove,
The sharer of thy sorrows and thy mirth;
Who with dim weeping eyes, and thoughts that burn,
Sees thy proud form lead forth th' embattled host;
To whom 'a victory' speaks of thy return--
And 'a defeat' means only thou are lost!
If such there be, (and on thy helm-worn brow
Sternness, not cruelty, doth seem to reign,)
Think it is she, who kneels before thee now,
Her heart which bursts with agony of pain.
"Hark--'T is the warning stroke--his hour is come--
I hear the bell slow clanging on the air--
I hear the beating of the muffled drum--
Thou hast a moment yet to save and spare!
Oh! when returning to thy native land,
Greeted with grateful tears and loud acclaim;
While gazing on thy homeward march they stand,
And smiling children shout thy welcome name:
How wilt thou bear the joyous village chimes,
Whose ringing peals remind thee of to-day--
Will not my image haunt thee at those times?
And my hoarse desperate voice seem yet to pray?
When thy long term of bloody toil is past,
And the hush'd trumpet calls no more to arms--
Will not his death thy tranquil brow o'ercast,
And rob that peaceful hour of half its charms?
When thy child's mother bends thy lip to press,
And her true hand lies clasp'd within thine own--
Will her low voice have perfect power to bless,
Remembering me, the widow'd and the lone?
When they embrace thee--when they welcome thee--
By all my hopes of Heaven, thy brow relents!
Oh! sign the paper--let his life go free--
Give it me quick!"--
"What ho! Raise her--the woman faints!"