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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Vengeance on the Traitors
By Sir Henry Taylor (1800–1886)
 
From ‘Philip Van Artevelde’

ARTEVELDE—I thank you, sirs; I knew it could not be
But men like you must listen to the truth.
Sirs, ye have heard these knights discourse to you
Of your ill fortunes, numbering in their glee
The worthy leaders ye have lately lost.        5
True, they were worthy men, most gallant chiefs,
And ill would it become us to make light
Of the great loss we suffer by their fall:
They died like heroes: for no recreant step
Had e’er dishonored them,—no stain of fear,        10
No base despair, no cowardly recoil;
They had the hearts of freemen to the last,
And the free blood that bounded in their veins
Was shed for freedom with a liberal joy.
But had they guessed, or could they but have dreamed,        15
The great examples which they died to show
Should fall so flat, should shine so fruitless here,
That men should say, “For liberty these died,
Wherefore let us be slaves,”—had they thought this,
Oh then with what an agony of shame,        20
Their blushing faces buried in the dust,
Had their great spirits parted hence for heaven!
What! shall we teach our chroniclers henceforth
To write that in five bodies were contained
The sole brave hearts of Ghent! which five defunct,        25
The heartless town by brainless counsel led
Delivered up her keys, stript off her robes,
And so with all humility besought
Her haughty lord to scourge her lightly! No,
It shall not be—no, verily! for now,        30
Thus looking on you as ye gather round,
Mine eyes can single out full many a man
Who lacks but opportunity to shine
As great and glorious as the chiefs that fell.
But lo, the earl is mercifully moved!        35
And surely if we, rather than revenge
The slaughter of our bravest, cry them shame,
And fall upon our knees, and say we’ve sinned,
Then will the earl take pity on his thralls
And pardon us our letch for liberty!        40
What pardon it shall be, if we know not,
Yet Ypres, Courtray, Grammont, Bruges, they know;
For never can those towns forget the day
When by the hangman’s hands five hundred men,
The bravest of each guild, were done to death        45
In those base butcheries that he called pardons.
And did it seal their pardons, all this blood?
Had they the earl’s good love from that time forth?
O sirs! look round you lest ye be deceived:
Forgiveness may be written with the pen,        50
But think not that the parchment-and-mouth pardon
Will e’er eject old hatreds from the heart.
There’s that betwixt you been, men ne’er forget
Till they forget themselves, till all’s forgot;
Till the deep sleep falls on them in that bed        55
From which no morrow’s mischief knocks them up.
There’s that betwixt you been, which you yourselves,
Should ye forget, would then not be yourselves;
For must it not be thought some base men’s souls
Have ta’en the seats of yours and turned you out,        60
If in the coldness of a craven heart
Ye should forgive this bloody-minded man
For all his black and murderous monstrous crimes?
Think of your mariners,—three hundred men,—
After long absence in the Indian seas,        65
Upon their peaceful homeward voyage bound,
And now, all dangers conquered as they thought,
Warping the vessels up their native stream,
Their wives and children waiting them at home
In joy, with festal preparations made,—        70
Think of these mariners, their eyes torn out,
Their hands chopped off, turned staggering into Ghent
To meet the blasted eyesight of their friends!
And was not this the earl? ’Twas none but he!
No Hauterive of them all had dared to do it        75
Save at the express instance of the earl.
And now what asks he? Pardon me, sir knights,  [To Grutt and Bette.]
I had forgotten, looking back and back
From felony to felony foregoing,
This present civil message which ye bring:        80
Three hundred citizens to be surrendered
Up to that mercy which I tell you of,—
That mercy which your mariners proved,—which steeped
Courtray and Ypres, Grammont, Bruges, in blood!
Three hundred citizens—a secret list:        85
No man knows who; not one can say he’s safe;
Not one of you so humble but that still
The malice of some secret enemy
May whisper him to death;—and hark—look to it!
Have some of you seemed braver than their peers,        90
Their courage is their surest condemnation;
They are marked men—and not a man stands here
But may be so.—Your pardon, sirs, again!  [To Grutt and Bette.]
You are the pickers and the choosers here,
And doubtless you’re all safe, ye think—ha! ha!        95
But we have picked and chosen, too, sir knights.
What was the law for, I made yesterday?
What! is it you that would deliver up
Three hundred citizens to certain death?
Ho! Van den Bosch! have at these traitors: there!  [Stabs Grutt, who falls.]        100
  Van den Bosch—Die, treasonable dog! is that enough?
Down, felon, and plot treacheries in hell.  [Stabs Bette.]
 
 
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