The practical information that concerned the present peril menacing the Order delivered, and when it was plain that no further revelation or counsel was to be expected on this all-important topic, Esmo beckoned to me, taking my hand in his own and placing it very gently and carefully in that of the unconscious sybil. The effect, however, was startling. Without unclosing her eyes, she sprang into a sitting posture and clasped my hand almost convulsively with her own long, thin all but transparent fingers. Turning her face to mine, and seeming, though her eyes were closed, as if she looked intently into it, she murmured words at first unintelligible, but which seemed by degrees to bear clearer and clearer reference to some of the stormy scenes of my youth in another world. Then—as one looking upon pictures but partially intelligible to her, and commenting on them as a girl who had never seen or known the passions and the mutual enmity of men—she startled me by breaking into the kind of chant in which the peculiar verse of her language is commonly delivered. My own thought of the moment was not her guide. The Moslem battle-cry had rung too often in my ears ever to be forgotten; but up to that moment I had never recalled to memory the words in which on my last field I retorted upon my Arab comrades, when flinching from a third charge against those terrible “sons of Eblis,” whose stubborn courage had already twice hurled us back in confusion and disgrace with a hundred empty saddles. At first her tone was one of simple amaze and horror. It softened afterwards into wonder and perplexity, and the oft-repeated rebuke or curse was on its last recurrence spoken with more of pitying tenderness and regret than of severity:—
“What! those are human bosoms whereon
the brute hath trod!
What! through the storm of slaughter rings the appeal to God!
Through the smoke and flash of battle a single form is shown;
O’er clang and crash and rattle peals out one trumpet-tone—
‘Strike, for Allah and the Prophet! let Eblis take his own!’
“Strange! the soul that, fresh from
carnage, quailed not alone to face
The unfathomed depths of Darkness, the solitudes of Space!
Strange! the smile of scorn, while nerveless dropped the sword-arm from
On the death that scowled at distance, on the closing murder-ring.
Strange! no crimson stain on conscience from the hand in gore imbrued!
But Death haunts the death-dealer; blood taints the life of blood!
“Strange! the arm that smote and
spared not in the tempest of the strife,
Quivers with pitying terror—clings, for a maiden’s life!
Strange! the heart steel-hard to death-shrieks by girlish tears subdued;
The falcon’s sheathless talons among the esve’s brood!
But Death haunts the death-dealer; blood taints the life of blood.
“The breast for woman’s peril
that dared the despot’s ire,
Shall dauntless front, and scathless, the closing curve of fire.
The heart, by household treason stung home, that can forgive,
Shall brave a woman’s hatred, a woman’s wiles, and live.