Part 9, Chapter 8

Part IX

Chapter 8

THE uproar died away. The shouts of warriors, the shrieks of women, the wild clang of warfare, all were silent. The flames were extinguished, the carnage ceased. The insurrection was suppressed, and order restored. The city, all the houses of which were closed, was patrolled by the conquering troops, and by sunset the conqueror himself, in his hall of state, received the reports and the congratulations of his chieftains. The escape of Abidan seemed counterbalanced by the capture of Jabaster. After performing prodigies of valour, the High Priest had been overpowered, and was now a prisoner in the Serail. The conduct of Scherirah was not too curiously criticised; a commission was appointed to inquire into the mysterious affair, and Alroy retired to the bath77 to refresh himself after the fatigues of the victory which he could not consider a triumph.

As he reposed upon his couch, melancholy and exhausted, Schirene was announced. The Princess threw herself upon his neck and covered him with embraces. His heart yielded to her fondness, his spirit became lighter, his depression melted away.

‘My ruby!’ said Schirene, and she spoke in a low smothered voice, her face hidden and nestled in his breast. ‘My ruby! dost thou love me?’

He smiled in fondness as he pressed her to his heart.

‘My ruby, thy pearl is so frightened, it dare not look upon thee. Wicked men! ’tis I whom they hate, ’tis I whom they would destroy.’

‘There is no danger, sweet. ’Tis over now. Speak not, nay, do not think of it.’

‘Ah! wicked men! There is no joy on earth while such things live. Slay Alroy, their mighty master, who, from vile slaves, hath made them princes! Ungrateful churls! I am so alarmed, I ne’er shall sleep again. What! slay my innocent bird, my pretty bird, my very heart! I’ll not believe it. It is I whom they hate. I am sure they will kill me. You shall never leave me, no, no, no, no! You shall not leave me, love, never, never! Didst hear a noise? Methinks they are even here, ready to plunge their daggers in our hearts, our soft, soft hearts! I think you love me, child; indeed, I think you do!’

‘Take courage, heart! There is no fear, my soul; I cannot love thee more, or else I would.’

‘All joy is gone! I ne’er shall sleep again. O my soul! art thou indeed alive? Do I indeed embrace my own Alroy, or is it all a wild and troubled dream, and are my arms clasped round a shadowy ghost, myself a spectre in a sepulchre? Wicked, wicked men! Can it indeed be true? What, slay Alroy! my joy, my only life! Ah! woe is me; our bright felicity hath fled for ever!’

‘Not so, sweet child; we are but as we were. A few quick hours, and all will be as bright as if no storm had crossed our sunny days.’

‘Hast seen Asriel? He says such fearful things!’

‘How now?’

‘Ah me! I am desolate. I have no friend.’


‘They will have my blood. I know they will have my blood.’

‘Indeed, an idle fancy.’

‘Idle! Ask Asriel, question Ithamar. Idle! ’tis written in their tablets, their bloody scroll of rapine and of murder. Thy death led only to mine, and, had they hoped my bird would but have yielded his gentle mate, they would have spared him. Ay! ay! ’tis I whom they hate, ’tis I whom they would destroy. This form, I fear it has lost its lustre, but still ’tis thine, and once thou saidst thou lovedst it; this form was to have been hacked and mangled; this ivory bosom was to have been ripped up and tortured, and this warm blood, that flows alone for thee, that fell Jabaster was to pour its tide upon the altar of his ancient vengeance. He ever hated me!’

‘Jabaster! Schirene! Where are we, and what are we? Life, life, they lie, that call thee Nature! Nature never sent these gusts of agony. Oh! my heart will break. I drove him from my thought, and now she calls him up, and now must I remember he is my—prisoner! God of heaven, God of my fathers, is it come to this? Why did he not escape? Why must Abidan, a common cut-throat, save his graceless life, and this great soul, this stern and mighty being—Ah me! I have lived long enough. Would they had not failed, would—’

‘Stop, stop, Alroy! I pray thee, love, be calm. I came to soothe thee, not to raise thy passions. I did not say Jabaster willed thy death, though Asriel says so; ’tis me he wars against; and if indeed Jabaster be a man so near thy heart, if he indeed be one so necessary to thy prosperity, and cannot live in decent order with thy slave that’s here, I know my duty, Sir. I would not have thy fortunes marred to save my single heart, although I think ’twill break. I will go, I will die, and deem the hardest accident of life but sheer prosperity if it profit thee.’

‘O Schirene! what wouldst thou? This, this is torture.’

‘To see thee safe and happy; nothing more.’

‘I am both, if thou art.’

‘Care not for me, I am nothing.’

‘Thou art all to me.’

‘Calm thyself, my soul. It grieves me much that when I came to soothe I have only galled thee. All’s well, all’s well. Say that Jabaster lives. What then? He lives, and may he prove more duteous than before; that’s all.’

‘He lives, he is my prisoner, he awaits his doom. It must be given.’

‘Yes, yes!’

‘Shall we pardon?’

‘My lord will do that which it pleases him.’

‘Nay, nay, Schirene, I pray thee be more kind. I am most wretched. Speak, what wouldst thou?’

‘If I must speak, I say at once his life.’

‘Ah me!’

‘If our past loves have any charm, if the hope of future joy, not less supreme, be that which binds thee to this shadowy world, as it does me, and does alone, I say his life, his very carnal life. He stands between us and our loves, Alroy, and ever has done. There is no happiness if Jabaster breathe; nor can I be the same Schirene to thee as I have been, if this proud rebel live to spy my conduct.’

‘Banish him, banish him!’

‘To herd with rebels. Is this thy policy?’

‘O Schirene! I love not this man, although methinks I should: yet didst thou know but all!’

‘I know too much, Alroy. From the first he has been to me a hateful thought. Come, come, sweet bird, a boon, a boon unto thy own Schirene, who was so frightened by these wicked men! I fear it has done more mischief than thou deemest. Ay! robbed us of our hopes. It may be so. A boon, a boon! It is not much I ask: a traitor’s head.* Come, give me thy signet ring. It will not; nay, then, I'll take it. What, resist! I know thou oft hast told me a kiss could vanquish all denial. There it is. Is’t sweet? Shalt have another, and another too. I've got the ring! Farewell, my lovely bird, I'll soon return to pillow in thy nest.’