He held in his hand the golden sash and rose-coloured wand which marked the rank about to be bestowed on me. I felt very deeply my own incompetence and ignorance; and even had I valued more the proffered honour, I should have been bound to decline it. But at the third word I spoke, I was silenced with a stern though perfectly calm severity. Flinging back the fold of his robe that covered his left arm, with a gesture that placed the Signet full before my eyes, he said—
“You have sworn obedience.”
A soldier’s instinct or habit, the mesmeric command of Esmo’s glance, and the awe, due less to my own feeling than to the infectious reverence of others, which the symbols and the oaths of the Order extorted, left me no further will to resist. At the foot of the Throne I received the investiture of my new rank; and as I rose and faced my brethren, every hand was lifted to the lips, every head bent in salutation of their new leader. Then, as I passed to the extreme place on the right, they came forward to grasp my hand and utter a few words of sympathy and kindness, in which a frank spirit of affectionate comradeship, that reminded me forcibly of the mess-tent and the bivouac fire, was mingled with the sense of a deeper and more sacred tie.
Scarcely had we resumed our places than a startling incident gave a new turn to the scene. Approaching the barrier, a woman, veiled, but wearing the sash and star, knelt for a moment to the presence of the Arch-Teacher, and then, as the barrier was thrown open by the sentries, came up to the dais.
“She,” said the new-comer, “has a message for you, Clavelta, for your Council, and particularly for the last of its members.”
“It is well,” he answered.
The messenger took her seat among the Initiates, and Esmo dismissed the assembly in the solemn form employed on the former occasion. Then, followed by the twelve, and guided by the messenger (the gloved fingers of whose left hand, as I observed, he very slightly touched with his own right), he passed by another door out of the Hall, and along one of the many passages of the subterrene Temple, into a chamber resembling in every respect an apartment in an ordinary residence. Here, with her veil, as is permitted only to maidenhood, drawn back from her face, but covering almost entirely her neck and bosom, and clad in the vestal white, reclined with eyes nearly closed a young girl, in whose countenance a beauty almost spiritual was enhanced rather than marred by signs of physical ill-health painfully unmistakable. Warning us back with a slight movement of his hand, Esmo approached her. Our presence had at first seemed to cast her into almost convulsive agitation; but under his steady gaze and the movement of his hands, she lapsed almost instantly into what appeared to be profound slumber.
* * * * *