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The loud and voluble talker is therefore an excellent shelter for those of weaker nerves, and will be found a useful ingredient in all mixed companies.
101. The Last Days of Herculaneum.
In thicker showers the flaky ashes fell;
Louder and deeper swelled the thunder's voice;
With stronger throes the laboring earthquake heaved :
Hotter and hotter grew the breathless air.
What thought can reach,
What language can express, the agonies -
The horrors of that hour! An earth beneath
That threatened to devour - an atmosphere
That burned and choked - ashes that fell for rain
Thunders that roared above thunders that groaned
And heaved below — and solid darkness round,
That like an ocean of black waters whelmed
And pressed upon the earth!
So passed the time; Still fell the ashy showers; still rocked the earth; Still with increasing rage Vesuvius spoke In thunders; still a pitchy darkness hung Impenetrable o'er all. Hundreds then Had perished; thousands gasped 'twixt life and death: All wanted aid, — but there was none to help.
But miserable above all were they,
The dungeon captives, by their ponderous chains
Chained to the ground, — helpless and hopeless ; far
From aid of man, or kindly sympathy,
Cheering though vain ; their subterranean cells
No safeguard — for the thunders rolled above,
And through the earth below; the lightnings pierced
Their dens profound, now first illumined bright
Only to show the swaying walls, - the earth
Cracking and closing back; the arched roofs
Heaving and grinding, stone 'gainst splintering stone:
Each moment threatening hideous ruin down,
Yet still delaying; while the wretches shrunk,
*As they looked up with agonized face,
And called on God to help.
There was a man,
A Roman soldier, for some daring deed
That trespassed on the laws, in dungeon low
Chained down. His was a noble spirit, rough,
But generous, and brave, and kind.
He had a son; 'twas a rosy boy,
A little faithful copy of his sire
In face and gesture.
She died that gave him birth; and since, the child
Had been his father's solace and his care.
Every spori The father shared and heightened. But at length The rigorous law had grasped the sire, condemned To fetters and to darkness.
The captive's lot He felt in all its bitterness; "the walls Of his deep dungeon answered many a sigh And heart-heaved groan. His tale was known, and touched His jailer with compassion; and the boy, Thenceforth a frequent visitor, beguiled His father's lingering hours, and brought a balm With his loved presence that in every wound Dropped healing. But in this terrific hour
He was a poisoned arrow in the breast
Where he had been a cure.
With earliest morna
Of that first day of darkness and amaze,
The iron door was closed - for them
Never to open more! The day, the night,
Dragged slowly by; nor did they know the fate
Impending o'er the city. Well he heard
The pent up thunders in the earth beneath,
And felt its giddy rocking; and the air
Grew hot at length, and thick ; but in his straw
The boy was sleeping; and the father hoped
The earthquake might pass by ; nor would he wake
From his sound rest the unfearing child, nor tell
The dangers of their state. On his low couch
The fettered soldier sunk, and with deep awe
Listened to fearful sounds; with upturned eye
To the great gods he breathed a prayer; then strove
To calm himself, and lose in sleep a while
His useless terrors. But he could not sleep;
His body burned with feverish heat; his chains
Clanked loud, although he moved not; deep in earth
Groaned unimaginable thunders ; - sounds,
Fearful and ominous, arose and died
Like the sad moanings of November's wind
In the blank midnight. Deepest horror chilled
His blood that burned before; cold, clammy sweats
Came o'er him; then anon a fiery thrill
Shot through his veins. Now on his couch he shrunk,
And shivered as in fear; now upright leaped,
As though he heard the battle trumpet sound,
And longed to cope with death.
He slept at last,
A troubled, dreamy sleep. Well — had he slept
Never to waken more! His hours are few,
But terrible his agony.
102. The Same, continued.
Soon the storm Burst forth; the lightnings glanced; the air Shook with the thunders. They awoke; they sprung Amazed upon their feet. The dungeon glowed A moment as in sunshine — then was dark ;Again a flood of white flame fills the cell; Dying away upon the dazzled eye In darkening, quivering tints, as stunning sound Dies throbbing, ringing in the ear. Silence, And blackest darkness ! With intensest awe The soldier's frame was filled ; and many a thought Of strange foreboding hurried through his mind, As underneath he felt the fevered earth Jarring and lifting — and the massive walls Heard harshly grate and strain; yet knew he not. While evils undefined and yet to come Glanced through his thoughts, what deep and cureless wound Fate had already given. Where, man of woe! Where, wretched father! is thy boy? Thou callest His name in vain ; — he cannot answer thee.
Loudly the father called upon his child ;-
No voice replied. Trembling and anxiously
He searched their couch of straw; with headlong haste
Trod round his stinted limits, and, low bent,
Groped darkling on the earth; no child was there.
Again he called ; again at farthest stretch
Of his accursed fetters, till the blood
Seemed bursting from his ears, and from his eyes
Fire flashed; he strained with arm extended far
And fingers widely spread, greedy to touch
Though but his idol's garment. Useless toil !
Yet still renewed; still round and round he goes,
And strains and snatches - and with dreadful cries
Calls on his boy. Mad frenzy fires him now;
He plants against the wall his feet; his chain
Grasps; tugs with giant strength to force away
The deep-driven staple; yells and shrieks with rage,
And, like a desert lion in the snare
Raging to break his toils — to and fro bounds.
But see! the ground is opening; a blue light
Mounts, gently waving - noiseless; thin and cold
seems, and like a rainbow tint, not flame ;
But by its lustre, on the earth outstretched,
Behold the lifeless child! his dress singed,
And over his serene face a dark line
Points out the lightning's track.
The father saw, And all his fury fled; a dead calm fell That instant on him; speechless, fixed he stood, And, with a look that never wandered, gazed Intensely on the corse. Those laughing eyes Were not yet closed; and round those pouting lips The wonted smile returned.
Silent and pale The father stands; no tear is in his eye: The thunders bellow, but he hears them not ; The ground lifts like a sea; he knows it not ; The strong walls grind and gape; the vaulted roof Takes shapes like bubble tossing in the wind; See! he looks up and smiles; for death to him Is happiness. Yet could one last embrace Be given, 'twere still a sweeter thing to die
It will be given. Look! how the rolling ground,
At every swell, nearer and still more near
Moves towards the father's outstretched arm his boy,