Page images
PDF
EPUB

VESPERS OF PALERMO.

ACT THE FIRST.

Scene I. - A Valley, with Vineyards and Cottages. Groups of Peasants Procida, distinguished as a

Pilgrim, among them. First Peasant. Ay, this was wont to be a festal

time In days gone by! I can remember well The old familiar melodies that rose At break of morn, from all our purple hills, To welcome in the vintage. Never since Hath music seem'd so sweet. But the light hearts Which to those measures beat so joyously, Are tamed to stillness now. There is no voice Of joy through all the land. Second Peasant.

Yes! there are sounds
Of revelry within the palaces,
And the fair castles of our ancient lords,
Where now the stranger banquets. Ye may hear
From thence the peals of song and laughter rise
At midnight's deepest hour.
Third Peasant.

Alas! we sat,
In happier days, so peacefully beneath
The olives and the vines our fathers rear'd,
Encircled by our children, whose quick steps

Flew by us in the dance! The time hath been
When peace was in the hamlet, wheresoe'er
The storm might gather. But this yoke of France
Falls on the peasant's neck as heavily
As on the crested chieftain's. We are bow'd
E'en to the earth.

Peasant's Child. My father, tell me when
Shall the gay dance and song again resound
Amidst our chestnut-woods, as in those days
Of which thou’rt wont to tell the joyous tale ?
First Peasant. When there are light and reckless

hearts once more In Sicily's green vales. Alas! my boy, Men meet not now to quaff the flowing bowl, To hear the mirthful song, and cast aside The weight of work-day care: - they meet to speak Of wrongs and sorrows, and to whisper thoughts They dare not breathe aloud.

Procida. (from the back-ground.) Ay, it is well
So to relieve th’ o'erburthen'd heart, which pants
Beneath its weight of wrong; but better far
În silence to avenge them!
An old Peasant.

What deep voice
Came with that startling tone?
First Peasant.

It was our guest's,
The stranger pilgrim, who hath sojourn'd here
Since yester-morn. Good neighbours, mark him well :
He hath a stately bearing, and an eye
Whose glance looks through the heart. His mien

accords Ill with such vestments. How he folds round him His pilgrim-cloak, e'en as it were a robe Of knightly ermine! That commanding step

Should have been used in courts and camps to move,
Mark him!
Old Peasant. Nay, rather, mark him not; the

times Are fearful, and they teach the boldest hearts A cautious lesson. What should bring him here?

A Youth. He spoke of vengeance!
Old Peasant.

Peace! we are beset
By snares on every side, and we must learn
In silence and in patience to endure.
Talk not of vengeance, for the word is death.
Procida (coming forward indignantly.) The word

is death! And what hath life for thee, That thou shouldst cling to it thus ? thou abject thing! Whose very soul is moulded to the yoke, And stamp'd with servitude. What! is it life Thus at a breeze to start, to school thy voice Into low fearful whispers, and to cast Pale jealous looks around thee, lest, e'en then, Strangers should catch its echo?— Is there aught In this so precious, that thy furrow'd cheek Is blanch'd with terror at the passing thought Of hazarding some few and evil days, Which drag thus poorly on?

Some of the Peasants. Away, away! Leave us, for there is danger in thy presence.

Procida. Why, what is danger? - Are there deep

er ills

Than those ye bear thus calmly? Ye have drain'd
The cup of bitterness, till naught remains
To fear or shrink from therefore, be ye strong!
Power dwelleth with despair.- Why start ye thus

At words which are but echoes of the thoughts
Lock'd in your secret souls ?-For well I know,
There is not one among you, but hath nursed
Some proud indignant feeling, which doth make
One conflict of his life. I know thy wrongs,
And thine - and thine,- but if within your breasts
There is no chord that vibrates to my voice,
Then fare ye well.

A Youth (coming forward.) No, no! say on, say on!
There are still free and fiery hearts e'en here,
That kindle at thy words.
Peasant.

If that indeed
Thou hast a hope to give us
Procida.

There is hope
For all who suffer with indignant thoughts
Which work in silent strength. What! think ye

Heaven O’erlooks th’ oppressor, if he bear awhile His crested head on high?-I tell you, no! Th' avenger will not sleep

It was an hour Of triumph to the conqueror, when our king, Our young brave Conradin, in life's fair morn, On the red scaffold died. Yet not the less Is justice throned above; and her good time Comes rushing on in storms: that royal blood Hath lifted an accusing voice from earth, And hath been heard. The traces of the past Fade in man's heart, but ne'er doth Heaven forget.

Peasant. Had we but arms and leaders, we are

men

Who might earn vengeance yet; but wanting these, What wouldst thou have us do?

Procida.

Be vigilant,
And when the signal wakes the land, arise !
The peasant's arm is strong, and there shall be
A rich and noble harvest. Fare ye well.

[Exit Procida. First Peasant. This man should be a prophet:

how he seem'd To read our hearts with his dark searching glance And aspect of command! And yet his garb Is mean as ours.

Second Peasant. Speak low: I know him well.
At first his voice disturb'd me like a dream
Of other days; but I remember now
His form, seen oft when in my youth I served
Beneath the banners of our kings ! 'Tis he
Who hath been exiled and proscribed so long,
The Count di Procida.
Peasant.

And is this he?
Then Heaven protect him! for around his steps
Will many snares be set.
First Peasant.

He comes not thus
But with some mighty purpose; doubt it not;
Perchance to bring us freedom. He is one,
Whose faith, through many a trial, hath been proved
True to our native princes. But away!
The noontide heat is past, and from the seas
Light gales are wandering through the vineyards; now
We may resume our toil. [Exeunt Peasants.

Vol. V. 2

« PreviousContinue »