Muh-Lan's swift fingers flying to and fro
Crossed warp with woof in deft and even row,
As by the side of spinning-wheel and loom
She sat at work without the women's room.
But tho' her hand the shuttle swiftly plies
The whir cannot be heard for Muh-Lan's sighs;
When neighbours asked what ills such mood had wrought,
And why she worked in all-absorbing thought;
She answered not, for in her ears did ring
The summons of last evening from the King,
Calling to arms more warriors for the west,
The name of Muh-Lan's father heading all the rest.
But he was ill — no son to take his place,
Excuses meant suspicion and disgrace;
Her father's honour must not be in doubt;
Nor friend, nor foe, his stainless name shall flout;
She would herself his duty undertake
And fight the Northern foe for honour's sake.
Her purpose fixed, the plan was soon evolved,
But none should know it, this she was resolved;
Alone, unknown, she would the danger face,
Relying on the prowess of her race.
A charger here, a saddle there, she bought,
And next a bridle and a whip she sought;
With these equipped she donned the soldier's gear,
Arming herself with bow and glittering spear.
And then before the sun began his journey steep
She kissed her parents in their troubled sleep,
Caressing them with fingers soft and light,
She quietly passed from their unconscious sight;
And mounting horse she with her comrades rode
Into the night to meet what fate forbode;
And as her secret not a comrade knew,
Her fears soon vanished as the morning dew.
That day they galloped westward fast and far,
Nor paused until they saw the evening star;
Then by the Yellow River's rushing flood
They stopped to rest and cool their fevered blood.
The turbid stream swept on with swirl and foam
Dispelling Muh-Lan's dreams of friends and home;
Muh-Lan! Muh-Lan! she heard her mother cry —
The waters roared and thundered in reply!
Muh-Lan! Muh-Lan! she heard her father sigh —
The river surged in angry billows by!
The second night they reach the River Black,
And on the range which feeds it, bivouac;
Muh-Lan! Muh-Lan! she hears her father pray —
While on the ridge the Tartars' horses neigh;
Muh-Lan! Muh-Lan! her mother's lips let fall!
The Tartars' camp sends forth a bugle call!
The morning dawns on men in armed array
Aware that death may meet them on that day;
The Winter sun sends forth a pallid light
Through frosty air on knights in armour bright;
While bows strung tight, and spears in glittering rows,
Forebode the struggle of contending foes.
And soon the trumpets blare — the fight's begun;
A deadly mêlee — and the Pass is won!
The war went on, and many a battle-field
Revealed Muh-Lan both bow and spear could wield;
Her skill and courage won her widespread fame,
And comrades praised, and leaders of great name.
Then after several years of march and strife,
Muh-Lan and others, who had 'scaped with life
From fields of victory drenched with patriots' blood,
Returned again to see the land they loved.
And when at last the Capital was reached,
The warriors, who so many forts had breached,
Were summoned to the presence of the King,
And courtiers many did their praises sing;
Money and presents on them, too, were showered,
And some with rank and office were empowered;
While Muh-Lan, singled out from all the rest,
Was offered fief and guerdon of the best.
But gifts and honours she would gladly lose
If she might only be allowed to choose
Some courier camels, strong and fleet of pace,
To bear her swiftly to her native place.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
And now, at last, the journey nears the end,
And father's, mother's voices quickly blend
In — " Muh-Lan, Muh-Lan! welcome, welcome, dear!"
And this time there was naught but joy to fear.
Her younger sisters decked the house with flowers,
And loving words fell sweet as summer showers;
Her little brother shouted Muh-Lan's praise,
For many proud and happy boastful days!
The greetings o'er, she slipped into her room —
Radiant with country flowers in fragrant bloom —
And changed her soldier's garb for woman's dress:
Her head adorned with simple maiden's tress —
A single flower enriched her lustrous hair —
And forth she came, fresh, maidenly, and fair!
Some comrades in the war had now come in,
Who durst not mingle in the happy din;
But there in awe and admiration stood,
As brave men do before true womanhood;
For not the boldest there had ever dreamed,
On toilsome march, or when swords, flashed and gleamed
In marshalled battle, or on sudden raid,
That their brave comrade was a beauteous maid.
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