The Three Giaours

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THE THREE GIAOURS

In the midst of the dark and stormy night
Feruz Pacha awakes in fright,
And springs from out his curtained bed.
The candle trembles as though it read
Upon his pallid face the theme
And terror of his nightly dream.

He calls to his startled favorite:
"The keys! the keys of the dungeon-pit!
Cannot those cursed Giaours stay
There in their own dark, rotting away,
Where I gave them leave three years ago?
Had I but buried their bones!—but, no!
They come at midnight to clatter and creep,
And haunt and threaten me in my sleep."

"Pacha, wait till the morning light!
Do not go down that fearful flight
Where every step is a dead man's moan!
Mujo to-morrow will gather each bone
And bury it deep. Let the Giaours freeze
If thy bed be warm."

                                      "Nay, give me the keys.
Girl, you talk like a wrinkled dame
That shudders at whisper of a name.
When they were living, their curses made
A thousand cowards: was I afraid?
Now they are dead, shall my fear begin
With the Giaour's curse, or the skeleton's grin?
No, I must see them face to face
In the very midst of their dwelling-place,
And find what need they have of me
That they call my name eternally."

As groping along to the stair he goes,
The light of the shaking candle shows
A face like a white and faded rose;
But if this be fear, it is fear to stay,
For something urges him on his way—
Though the steps are cold and the echoes mock—
Till the right key screams in the rusted lock.

Ugh! what a blast from the dungeon dank!—
From the place where Hunger and Death were wed;
Whence even the snakes by instinct fled,
While the very lizards crouched and shrank
In a chill of terror. 'T is inky black
And icy cold, but he cannot go back,
For there, as though the darkness flowers—
There sit the skeletons of three Giaours
Ghost-white in the flickering candle-gleam!—
(Or is it the remnant of his dream?)
About a stone that is green with mold
They sit in a group, and their fingers hold
Full glasses, and as the glasses clink
The first Giaour beckons him to drink.

    "Pacha, here is a glass for thee!
        When last on me the sunlight shone
    I had a wife who was dear to me.
        She was alone—no, not alone;
    The blade in her hand was her comrade true,
    As she came to your castle, seeking you.

    "And when she came to your castle gate
        She dared you forth, but you would not go.
    Fiend and coward, you could not wait
        For a woman's wrath, but shot her, so.
    Her heart fell down in a piteous flood.
    This glass is filled with her precious blood.

    "See how fine as I hold it up!
    Drink, Feruz Pacha, the brimming cup!"

Spellbound the Pacha now draws nigh;
He empties the glass with a sudden cry:
The skeletons drink with a laugh and toss,
And they make the sign of the holy cross.

Then speaks the second of the dead:
    "When to this darkness I was led,
        My mother asked, 'What sum will give
    Your prisoner back to the sun?' You said,
        'Three measures of gold, and the dog shall live.'
    Through pinching toil by noon and night
    She saved and saved till her hope grew bright.

    "But when she brought you the yellow hoard,
        You mocked at the drops on her tired brow,
    And said, 'Toward the pay for his wholesome board
        Of good round stones I will this allow.'
    She died while her face with toil was wet.
    This glass is filled with her faithful sweat.

    "See how fine as I hold it up!
    Drink, Feruz Pacha, the brimming cup!"

Haggard the Pacha now stands by;
He drains the glass with a stifled cry:
Again they drink with a laugh and toss,
And the third one says, as his comrades cross:

    "When this black shadow on me fell,
        There sang within my mountain home
    My one pale lad. Bethought him well
        That he would to my rescue come;
    But when he tried to lift the gun
    He tottered till the tears would run.

    "Though vengeance sped his weary feet,
        Too late he came. Then back he crept,—
    Forgot to drink, forgot to eat,—
        And no slow moment went unwept.
    He died of grief at his meager years.
    This glass is laden with his tears.

    "See how fine as I hold it up!
    Drink, Feruz Pacha, the brimming cup!"

The Pacha staggers; he holds it high;
He drinks; he falls with a moan and cry:
They laugh, they cross, but they drink no more—
For the dead in the dungeon-cave are four.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).