class="line">I stole yet nearer
Through the brake:
Till, drawing nigh the cavern-mouth,
I heard the sound of half-hushed sobbing:
And then I saw, within the gloom,
My mother and my sisters clustering round
My father's body, lying stark and dead,
A spear-wound in his breast.
And as I crept to them, they did not hear me,
Nor ever lift their heads;
But, shuddering, crouched together,
With drooping breasts half-hid in falling hair,
By that familiar form
In such strange slumber bound.
Only the baby, on her shoulder slung,
Saw me, and crowed me greeting,
As I stooped down to touch my weeping mother,
Who, turning suddenly,
With wild tear-fevered eyes;
Arose with whispered warning;
But, even then, too late.
Already, from behind,
Around my throat
An arm was flung;
And heavily I fell:
Yet, with a desperate wrench,
I slipped the clutch of my assailant:
And picking up a slingstone that lay handy,
I crashed it through his helm;
And dead he dropped.
And now upon me all his fellows thronged,
Like hounds about an antelope;
And gripped my naked limbs,
And dragged me down,
A struggling beast, among them:
And desperately I fought,
As fights the boar at bay,
When all the yelling pack,
With lathered lips, and white teeth gnashing,
Is closing in upon him;
And in his quivering flank, and gasping throat,
He feels the fangs of death:
Till, overcome at last,
They bound me hand and foot,
With knotted, leathern thongs;
And dragged me out to where, beneath the trees,
Trussed in like manner, with defiant eyes,
My brothers lay, already, side by side.
They laid me in the shade;
And flicked my wincing spirit
With laughter and light words:
"Now is the roe-buck taken!"
On whose dark, sullen face there burned a livid weal
"A buck in flight's a panther brought to bay!"
And then his fellow:
"True enough! and yet,
For such young thews they give good gold--
They give good gold in Babylon!"
And, laughing thus, they left us,
To lie through hours of aching silence,
Until, at length, the cool of evening fell;
When they returned from slumber;
And loosed the ankle-cords that we might stand;
And bade our mother feed us;
And she, with tender fingers, held
The milk-bowl to our parching lips;
And thrust dried dates betwixt our teeth;
And wept, to see us standing there,
With helpless hands, before her.
Then, bringing out their mules, they saddled them;
And tied us to the girths on either hand.
They drove my weeping sisters from the cavern;
And sought to tear my mother from her home;
But she escaped them;
And they let her bide
Amid the ruins of her life,
Whose light had dropped, so suddenly,
From out the highest heavens:
And, when I turned to look on her,
And win from her a last farewell,
I saw her, sitting desolate betwixt
Her silent husband and her wailing babe,
With still, strange eyes,
That stared upon the dead, unseeing,
While her own children went from her,
Scarce knowing that they left her, nevermore
To look upon her face.
Thus, we set out, as over
The darkening, Southern crags
The new moon's keen, curved blade was thrust:
My sisters trooping on before us,
Like a drove of young gazelles,
Which, in the dead of night,
With pards in leash, and torches flaring,
The hunters have encompassed.
They moved with timid steps,
And little runs;
Stumbling, with stifled cries;
And starting, panic-shot,
From every lurking shadow--
Behind them, terror's lifted lash:
Before them, ever crouching,
The horror of the unknown night--
While, as they moved before us,
The moonlight shivered off their shrinking shoulders
And naked, glancing limbs,
In shimmering, strange beauty.
And closely on their heels,
I, with my brothers, foremost in the file,
Marched, tethered 'twixt the plodding beasts,
Whose stolid riders sat,
Each with his javelin on the pummel couched,
In watchful silence, with dark eyes alert.
And once, nigh driven crazy
By the tugging of the thongs,