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WHITE as a white sail on a dusky sea,
When half the horizon's clouded and half free,
Fluttering between the dun wave and the sky,
Is hope's last gleam in man's extremity.
Her anchor parts; but still her snowy sail
Attracts our eye amidst the rudest gale:
Though every wave she climbs divides us more,
The heart still follows from the loneliest shore.
Not distant from the isle of Toobonai,
A black rock rears its bosom o'er the spray,
The haunt of birds, a desart to mankind,
Where the rough seal reposes from the wind,
And sleeps unwieldy in his cavern dun,
Or gambols with huge frolic in the sun ;
There shrilly to the passing oar is heard
The startled echo of the ocean bird,
Who rears on its bare breast her callow brood,
The feather'd fishers of the solitude.
A narrow segment of the yellow sand
On one side forms the outline of a strand;
Here the young turtle, crawling from his shell, '
Steals to the deep wherein his parents dwell;
Chipp'd by the beam, a nursling of the day,
But hatch'd for ocean by the fostering ray;
The rest was one bleak precipice, as e'er
Gave mariners a shelter and despair,
A spot to make the saved regret the deck
Which late went down, and envy the lost wreck.
Such was the stern asylum Neuha chose
To shield her lover from his following foes;
But all its secret was not told; she knew
In this a treasure hidden from the view.
Ere the canoes divided, near the spot,
The men that mann'd what held her Torquil's lot,
By her command removed, to strengthen more
The skiff which wafted Christian from the shore.
This he would have opposed; but with a smile
She pointed calmly to the craggy isle,
And bade him « speed and prosper.» She would take The rest upon herself for Torquil's sake
They parted with this added aid; afar
proa darted like a shooting star, And gain'd on the pursuers, who now steer'd Right on the rock which she and Torquil near❜d. They pull'd; her arm, though delicate, was free And firm as ever grappled with the sea, And yielded scarce to Torquil's manlier strength. The prow now almost lay within its length Of the crag's steep, inexorable face, With nought but soundless waters for its base; Within an hundred boats? length was the foe, And now what refuge but their frail canoe? This Torquil ask'd with half upbraiding eye, Which said Has Neuha brought me here to die?
Is this a place of safety, or a grave,
And yon huge rock the tombstone of the wave? >>
They rested on their paddles, and uprose
Neuha, and, pointing to the approaching foes,
Cried, «Torquil, follow me, and fearless follow!»
Then plunged at once into the ocean's hollow.
There was no time to pause-the foes were near-
Chains in his eye and menace in his ear;
With vigour they pull'd on, and as they came,
Hail'd him to yield, and by his forfeit name.
Headlong he leap'd-to him the swimmer's skill
Was native, and now all his hope from ill;
But how or where? He dived, and rose no more;
The boat's crew look'd amazed o'er sea and shore.
There was no landing on that precipice,
Steep, harsh, and slippery as a berg of ice.
They watch'd awhile to see him float again,
But not a trace rebubbled from the main :
The wave roll'd on, no ripple on its face,
Since their first plunge, recall'd a single trace;
The little whirl which eddied, and slight foam,
That whiten'd o'er what seem'd their latest home,
White as a sepulchre above the pair,
Who left no marble (mournful as an heir),
The quiet proa wavering o'er the tide,
Was all that told of Torquil and his bride;
And but for this alone the whole might seem
The vanish'd phantom of a seaman's dream.
They paused and search'd in vain, then pull'd away,
Even superstition now forbade their stay.
Some said he had not plunged into the wave,
But vanish'd like a corpse-light from a grave;
Others, that something supernatural
Glared in his figure, more than mortal tall;
While all agreed, that in his cheek and eye
There was the dead hue of eternity.
Still as their oars receded from the crag,
Round every weed a moment would they lag,
Expectant of some token of their prey;
But no-he had melted from them like the spray.
And where was he, the Pilgrim of the Deep;
Following the Nereid? Had they ceased to weep
For ever? or, received in coral caves,
Wrung life and pity from the softening waves?
Did they with Ocean's hidden sovereigns dwell,
And sound with Mermen the fantastic shell?
Did Neuha with the Mermaids comb her hair
Flowing o'er ocean as it stream'd in air?
Or had they perish'd, and in silence slept
Beneath the gulph wherein they boldly leap'd?
Young Neuha plunged into the deep, and he
Follow'd: her track beneath her native sea
Was as a native's of the element,
So smoothly, bravely, brilliantly she went,
Leaving a streak of light behind her heel,
Which struck and flash'd like an amphibious steel. 110
Closely, and scarcely less expert to trace
The depths where divers hold the pearl in chase,
Torquil, the nursling of the northern seas,
Pursued her liquid steps with art and ease.
Deep-deeper for an instant Neuha led
The way then upward soar'd-and, as she spread
Her arms, and flung the foam from off her locks,
Laugh'd, and the sound was answer'd by the rocks.
They had gain'd a central realm of earth again,
But look'd for tree, and field, and sky, in vain. 120
Around she pointed to a spacious cave,
Whose only portal was the keyless wave*
(A hollow archway by the sun unseen,
Save through the billows' glassy veil of green,
In some transparent ocean holiday,
When all the finny people are at play),
Wiped with her hair the brime from Torquil's eyës,
And clapp'd her hands with joy at his surprise;
Led him to where the rock appear❜d to jut
And form a something like a Triton's hut;
For all was darkness for a space, till day
Through clefts above let in a sober'd ray;
As in some old cathedral's glimmering aisle
The dusty monuments from light recoil,*
Thus sadly in their refuge submarine
The vault drew half her shadow from the scene.
Forth from her bosom the young savage drew
A pine torch, strongly girded with gnatoo;
A plantain leaf o'er all, the more to keep
* Of this cave (which is no fiction) the original will be found in the 9th chapter of MARINER'S Account of the Tonga Islands. I have taken the poetical liberty to transplant it to Toobonai, the last island where any distinct account is left of Christian and his comrades.