« PreviousContinue »
Come on, poor babe !
Like offices of pity. *** As Polidor, a simple clown, the son of an old shep herd of Bohemia, waz hastening home to avoid a rising storm, his ears were assailed by the piteous cries of one in distress ; when his humanity tempted him to run and offer his assistance, but a sense of danger induced him to act with caution. On advancing towards the place whence the sound issued, a sight of horror struck his view. A gentleman, richly apparelled, was vainly struggling in the gripe of a ravenous bear, who tore him with merciless fury! His cries were dreadful, and on beholding Polidor he implored his help--offered him great rewards, and said his name was Antigonus, a nobleinan--but his appeal was quickly ended, for in the midst of his supplications, the savage beast tore out his heart, when he gave one loud and lengthened groan of agony-and then his voice was hushed in endless silence. The poor clown wept; but this was not the only affecting appeal to his humanity. While this horrid scene of carnage was acting, the threatening storm arose to appalling fury; the heavens appeared one sheet of living fire ; the peals of thunder seemed to shake the very earth to its foundation: the sea roared tremendously, and a fine ship was tossed to and fro upon its raging billows ! Now the masts seemed as they would touch the fiery sky, and now again were buried in the foaming waves ; the poor wretches on board wrung their hands in agony, and pierced the air with lamentations of indescribable anguish. At length, just at that dreadful moment when the bear tore out the heart of Antigonus, the vessel was dashed upon a rock. Piercing shrieks, for an instant, overtopped the raging of the storm--and in the next, all was lost—no vestige remained of ship or passengers--all swallowed by the boisterous waves.
Polidor stood like one petrified; he strained his eyes—to perceive some traces of the vessel ; and his ears—to listen for a sound from the poor gentleman, but all in vain : no voice was heard, no one was seen, and the youth, though not much given to softness, wept as he slowly retraced the path to his father's cottage. He had not proceeded far, when be stumbled upon the old shepherd, seemingly lost in a trance, kneeling on the ground, bare headed, regardless of the storm which had just past, and gazing intently on an infant, which he had taken from a box, well stored with gold and jewels.
“What have you there, father, (inquired Polidor) mercy be good into usma babe."
“ Yes, yes, troth, and a pretty babe too, Polidor, and money to boot-look here boy.”
The old shepherd had been so occupied in contemplations of this fairy gift, as he called it, that he had never heeded the pelting of the storm, and was dripping wet with the rain ; while the innocent child, who had engrossad all his attention, undisturbed by the warfare of the elements, slept soundly. The old
man hastened home with his prize ; but Polidor rcturned, as he said, to see if the bear had finished his dinner on the gentleman, and if he had, and there were any scraps left, he would turn sexton and bury them.
Polidor and his father, on his return, counted over the money again and again ; and, tempted by the right of so much wealth, resolved to keep the circumstance secret. The parents of the infant they doubted not had perished in the vessel ; little danger et discovery therefore was to be apprehended ; they however removed to some distance from their present residence, where the pretty foundling was brought up as the shepherd's daughter, ignorant of ncr high birth, but under the name of Perdita, which was written on a label and pinned to her bosom.
This infant was daughter of Leontes, King of Sicilia ; and, by the order of her cruel father, had been sent from home for the purpose of being thus
exposed in some strange country to perish : hc being irritated against his queen through an inpulse of unfounded jealousy:
Leontes, previous to the deatla of his father, had visited the court of Russia, where he becane enamoured of and married Hermione, daughter of the cmperor ; a lady of great beauty and accomplishment. They had lived together in the most perfect happiness for some years, and their union had been blessed by one son, Mamillius, a boy of rare qualifications, who possessing a shrewdness of sentiment, and an acụte sensibility uncommon at his years, was justly beloved by his parents and by the whole court.
Leontes had, in his boyish days, a friend and companion whom he highly loved and esteemed, Polixenes, son of the King of Bohemia. They had been educated together; and when Polixenes, on the death of his father, went to take possession of the throne, it was a painful separation to the youthful friends. Leontes soon afterwards succeeded his father in Sicilia. Several years had elapsed, since they had met, and when Bohemia, at the long and frequent intercession of Leontes, paid a visit to the court of Sicilia, he had been received with
demonstration of joy. Hermione, in her earnest desire to please her husband, paid the most pointed attention to Polixenes ; and Polixenes, valuing her as the exclusive property of his dearly loved friend and brother, considered her as a sister, and treated her with affection and kindness. For a long time Leontes considered this as it really was a tribute of respect to himself ; but by degress a feeling of jealousy took possession of his mind, and when Polirenes, at the earnest request of Hermione, agreed to extend his visitation some short time, a request which he had positively refused to Leontes, it was a confirmation of his jealous feelings: yet he suppressed his irritation ; and while Hermione with artless good
humour was conversing with Polixenes, Leontes, Inder pretence of playiag with his young son the Prince Mamillius, seized the opportunity of anxiously watching the countenances, and listening to the conversation of his suspected wife and friend.
Hermione, happy in the idea of having obliged her beloved Leontes, was more than usually gay, and looked more than usually beautiful ; little supposing that she was furnishing arms against herself, and seeding the demon of jealousy in the breast of her husband. Leontes, who was by nature petulant, and whose love towards Hermione was so ardent, that his resentment rose in proportion, being now confirmed in his suspicion, his rage exceeded all bounds; he shut his inind against conviction ; and when his Lords ventured to speak in defence of the Queen, he violently repulsed them, accusing them of disloyalty and treason: so unjustly confident was he, that Camillo declared to Polixenes that should he
Swear his thought over