“I cannot speak as I would,” she said at length, while her voice grew very faint. “But I have loved you. All is said!”
All was uttered in those four brief words. “She had loved them.” The whole story of her young life was told in the single phrase. And the gaunt, battle-scarred, murderous, ruthless veterans of Africa who heard her could have turned their weapons against their own breasts, and sheathed them there, rather than have looked on to see their darling die.
“I have been too quick in anger sometimes—forgive it,” she said gently. “And do not fight and curse among yourselves; it is bad amid brethren. Bury my Cross with me, if they will let you; and let the colors be over my grave, if you can. Think of me when you go into battle; and tell them in France——”
For the first time her eyes filled with great tears as the name of her beloved land paused upon her lips. She stretched her arms out with a gesture of infinite longing, like a lost child that vainly seeks its mother.
“If I could only see France once more! France——”
It was the last word upon her utterance; her eyes met Cecil’s in one fleeting, upward glance of unutterable tenderness, then, with her hands still stretched out westward to where her country was, and with the dauntless heroism of her smile upon her face like light, she gave a tired sigh as of a child that sinks to sleep, and in the midst of her Army of Africa the Little One lay dead.
In the shadow of his tent, at midnight he whom she had rescued stood looking down at a bowed, stricken form before him with an exceeding, yearning pity in his gaze.
The words had at length been spoken that had lifted from him the burden of another’s guilt; the hour at last had come in which his eyes had met the eyes of his friend, without a hidden thought between them. The sacrifice was ended, the martyrdom was over; henceforth this doom of exile and of wretchedness would be but as a hideous dream; henceforth his name would be stainless among men, and the desire of his heart would be given him. And in this hour of release the strongest feeling in him was the sadness of an infinite compassion; and where his brother was stretched prostrate in shame before him, Cecil stooped and raised him tenderly.
“Say no more,” he murmured. “It has been well for me that I have suffered these things. For yourself—if you do indeed repent, and feel that you owe me any debt, atone for it, and pay it, by letting your own life be strong in truth and fair in honor.”
And it seemed to him that he himself had done no great or righteous thing in that servitude for another’s sake, whose yoke was now lifted off him for evermore. But, looking out over the sleeping camp where one young child alone lay in a slumber that never would be broken, his heart ached with the sense of some great, priceless gift received, and undeserved, and cast aside; even while in the dreams of passion that now knew its fruition possible, and the sweetness of communion with the friend whose faith had never forsaken him, he retraced the years of his exile, and thanked God that it was thus with him at the end.