THE RED THREAD OF HONOUR.
BY SIR F.H. DOYLE.
[Told to the author by the late Sir Charles James Napier.]
Eleven men of England
A breast-work charged in vain;
Eleven men of England
Lie stripped, and gashed, and slain.
Slain; but of foes that guarded
Their rock-built fortress well,
Some twenty had been mastered,
When the last soldier fell.
Whilst Napier piloted his wondrous
Across the sand-waves of the desert sea,
Then flashed at once, on each fierce clan, dismay,
Lord of their wild Truckee.
These missed the glen to which
their steps were bent,
Mistook a mandate, from afar half heard,
And, in that glorious error, calmly went
To death without a word.
The robber chief mused deeply,
Above those daring dead,
“Bring here,” at length he shouted,
“Bring quick, the battle thread.
Let Eblis blast for ever
Their souls, if Allah will:
But we must keep unbroken
The old rules of the Hill.
“Before the Ghiznee
Leapt forth to burn and slay;
Before the holy Prophet
Taught our grim tribes to pray;
Before Secunder’s lances
Pierced through each Indian glen;
The mountain laws of honour
Were framed for fearless men.
“Still when a chief
We bind with green one wrist—
Green for the brave, for heroes
One crimson thread we twist.
Say ye, oh gallant Hillmen,
For these, whose life has fled,
Which is the fitting colour,
The green one, or the red?”
“Our brethren, laid in honoured
graves, may wear
Their green reward,” each noble savage said;
“To these, whom hawks and hungry wolves shall tear,
Who dares deny the red?”
Thus conquering hate, and steadfast
to the right,
Fresh from the heart that haughty verdict came;
Beneath a waning moon, each spectral height
Rolled back its loud acclaim.
Once more the chief gazed
Down on those daring dead;
From his good sword their heart’s blood
Crept to that crimson thread.
Once more he cried, “The judgment,
Good friends, is wise and true,
But though the red be given,
Have we not more to do?
“These were not stirred
Nor yet by lust made bold;
Renown they thought above them,
Nor did they look for gold.
To them their leader’s signal
Was as the voice of God:
Unmoved, and uncomplaining,
The path it showed they trod.
“As, without sound
The stars unhurrying march,
Where Allah’s finger guides them,
Through yonder purple arch.
These Franks, sublimely silent,
Without a quickened breath,
Went, in the strength of duty,
Straight to their goal of death.
“If I were now to ask
To name our bravest man,
Ye all at once would answer,
They called him Mehrab Khan.
He sleeps among his fathers,
Dear to our native land,
With the bright mark he bled for
Firm round his faithful hand.