“God is my witness, no.”
The light, that was like sunlight, shone once more in the aching, wandering eyes.
“I knew, I knew! It was—”
Cecil bowed his head over him, lower and lower.
“Hush! He was but a child; and I—”
With a sudden and swift motion, as though new life were thrilling in him, Rake raised himself erect, his arms stretched outward to the east, where the young day was breaking.
“I knew, I knew! I never doubted. You will go back to your own some day, and men shall learn the truth—thank God! thank God!”
Then, with that light still on his face, his head fell backward; and with one quick, brief sigh his life fled out forever.
The time passed on; the storm had risen afresh; the violence of the gusts blew yellow sheets of sand whirling over the plains. Alone, with the dead one across his knees, Cecil sat motionless as though turned to stone. His eyes were dry and fixed; but ever and again a great, tearless sob shook him from head to foot. The only life that linked him with the past, the only love that had suffered all things for his sake, were gone, crushed out as though they never had been, like some insect trodden in the soil.
He had lost all consciousness, all memory, save of that lifeless thing which lay across his knees, like a felled tree, like a broken log, with the glimmer of the tempestuous day so chill and white upon the upturned face.
He was alone on earth; and the solitudes around him were not more desolate than his own fate.
He was like a man numbed and stupefied by intense cold; his veins seemed stagnant, and his sight could only see those features that became so terribly serene, so fearfully unmoved with the dread calm of death. Yet the old mechanical instincts of a soldier guided him still; he vaguely knew that his errand had to be done, must be done, let his heart ache as it would, let him long as he might to lie down by the side of his only friend, and leave the torture of life to grow still in him also for evermore.
Instinctively, he moved to carry out the duty trusted to him. He looked east and west, north and south; there was nothing in sight that could bring him aid; there were only the dust clouds hurled in billows hither and thither by the bitter winds still blowing from the sea. All that could be done had to be done by himself alone. His own safety hung on the swiftness of his flight; for aught he knew, at every moment, out of the mist and the driven sheets of sand there might rush the desert horses of his foes. But this memory was not with him; all he thought of was that burden stretched across his limbs, which laid down one hour here unwatched, would be the prey of the jackal and the vulture. He raised it reverently in his arms, and with long, laborious effort drew its weight up across the saddle of the charger which stood patiently waiting by, turning its docile eyes with a plaintive, wondering sadness on the body of the rider it had loved. Then he mounted himself; and with the head of his lost comrade borne up upon his arm, and rested gently on his breast, he rode westward over the great plain to where his mission lay.