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The Hostage (a ballad)
by [?]


The tyrant Dionys to seek,
Stern Moerus with his poniard crept;
The watchful guard upon him swept;
The grim king marked his changeless cheek:
“What wouldst thou with thy poniard? Speak!”
“The city from the tyrant free!”
“The death-cross shall thy guerdon be.”

“I am prepared for death, nor pray,”
Replied that haughty man, “I to live;
Enough, if thou one grace wilt give
For three brief suns the death delay
To wed my sister–leagues away;
I boast one friend whose life for mine,
If I should fail the cross, is thine.”

The tyrant mused,–and smiled,–and said
With gloomy craft, “So let it be;
Three days I will vouchsafe to thee.
But mark–if, when the time be sped,
Thou fail’st–thy surety dies instead.
His life shall buy thine own release;
Thy guilt atoned, my wrath shall cease.”

He sought his friend–“The king’s decree
Ordains my life the cross upon
Shall pay the deed I would have done;
Yet grants three days’ delay to me,
My sister’s marriage-rites to see;
If thou, the hostage, wilt remain
Till I–set free–return again!”

His friend embraced–No word he said,
But silent to the tyrant strode–
The other went upon his road.
Ere the third sun in heaven was red,
The rite was o’er, the sister wed;
And back, with anxious heart unquailing,
He hastes to hold the pledge unfailing.

Down the great rains unending bore,
Down from the hills the torrents rushed,
In one broad stream the brooklets gushed.
The wanderer halts beside the shore,
The bridge was swept the tides before–
The shattered arches o’er and under
Went the tumultuous waves in thunder.

Dismayed he takes his idle stand–
Dismayed, he strays and shouts around;
His voice awakes no answering sound.
No boat will leave the sheltering strand,
To bear him to the wished-for land;
No boatman will Death’s pilot be;
The wild stream gathers to a sea!

Sunk by the banks, awhile he weeps,
Then raised his arms to Jove, and cried,
“Stay thou, oh stay the maddening tide;
Midway behold the swift sun sweeps,
And, ere he sinks adown the deeps,
If I should fail, his beams will see
My friend’s last anguish–slain for me!”

More fierce it runs, more broad it flows,
And wave on wave succeeds and dies
And hour on hour remorseless flies;
Despair at last to daring grows–
Amidst the flood his form he throws;
With vigorous arms the roaring waves
Cleaves–and a God that pities, saves.

He wins the bank–he scours the strand,
He thanks the God in breathless prayer;
When from the forest’s gloomy lair,
With ragged club in ruthless hand,
And breathing murder–rushed the band
That find, in woods, their savage den,
And savage prey in wandering men.

“What,” cried he, pale with generous fear;
“What think to gain ye by the strife?
All I bear with me is my life–
I take it to the king!”–and here
He snatched the club from him most near:
And thrice he smote, and thrice his blows
Dealt death–before him fly the foes!

The sun is glowing as a brand;
And faint before the parching heat,
The strength forsakes the feeble feet:
“Thou hast saved me from the robbers’ hand,
Through wild floods given the blessed land;
And shall the weak limbs fail me now?
And he!–Divine one, nerve me, thou!”

Hark! like some gracious murmur by,
Babbles low music, silver-clear–
The wanderer holds his breath to hear;
And from the rock, before his eye,
Laughs forth the spring delightedly;
Now the sweet waves he bends him o’er,
And the sweet waves his strength restore.