But the temptation—sweet, insidious, intense, strengthened by the strength of right, and well-nigh overwhelming with all its fair, delicious promise for the future—did not conquer him. What resisted it was his own simple instinct of justice; an instinct too straight and true either to yield to self-pity or to passionate desire—justice which made him feel that, since he had chosen to save this weakling once for their lost mother’s sake, he was bound forever not to repent nor to retract. He gazed a while longer, silently, at the younger man, who sat, still rocking himself wearily to and fro on the loose earth of the freshly filled grave. Then he went and laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder. The other started and trembled; he remembered that touch in days of old.
“Do not fear me,” he said, gently and very gravely. “I have kept your secret twelve years; I will keep it still. Be happy—be as happy as you can. All I bid of you in return is so to live that in your future your past shall be redeemed.”
The words of the saint to the thief were not more merciful, not more noble, than the words with which he purchased, at the sacrifice of his own life, the redemption of his brother’s. The other looked at him with a look that was half of terror—terror at the magnitude of this ransom that was given to save him from the bondage of evil.
“My God! You cannot mean it! And you——”
“I shall lead the life fittest for me. I am content in it. It is enough.”
The answer was very calm, but it choked him in its utterance. Before his memory rose one fair, proud face. “Content!” Ah, Heaven! It was the only lie that had ever passed his lips.
His hand lay still upon his brother’s shoulder, leaning more heavily there, in the silence that brooded over the hushed plains.
“Let us part now, and forever. Leave Algeria at once. That is all I ask.”
Then, without another word that could add reproach or seek for gratitude, he turned and went away over the great, dim level of the African waste, while the man whom he had saved sat as in stupor; gazing at the brown shadows, and the sleeping herds, and the falling stars that ran across the sky, and doubting whether the voice he had head and the face upon which he had looked were not the visions of a waking dream.
How that night was spent Cecil could never recall in full. Vague memories remained with him of wandering over the shadowy country, of seeking by bodily fatigue to kill the thoughts rising in him, of drinking at a little water-channel in the rocks as thirstily as some driven deer, of flinging himself down at length, worn out, to sleep under the hanging brow of a mighty wall of rock; of waking, when the dawn was reddening the east, with the brown plains around him, and far away, under a knot of palms was a goatherd with his flock, like an idyl from the old pastoral life of Syria. He stood looking at the light which heralded the sun, with some indefinite sense of heavy loss, of fresh calamity, upon him. It was only slowly that he remembered all. Years seemed to have been pressed into the three nights and days since he had sat by the bivouac-fire, listening to the fiery words of the little Friend of the Flag.