CHAPTER THE LAST.
Under the green, springtide leafage of English woodlands, made musical with the movement and the song of innumerable birds that had their nests among the hawthorn boughs and deep, cool foliage of elm and beech, an old horse stood at pasture. Sleeping—with the sun on his gray, silken skin, and the flies driven off with a dreamy switch of his tail, and the grasses odorous about his hoofs, with dog-violets, and cowslips, and wild thyme—sleeping, yet not so surely but at one voice he started, and raised his head with all the eager grace of his youth, and gave a murmuring noise of welcome and delight. He had known that voice in an instant, though for so many years his ear had never thrilled to it; Forest King had never forgotten. Now, scarce a day passed but what it spoke to him some word of greeting or of affection, and his black, soft eyes would gleam with their old fire, because its tone brought back a thousand memories of bygone victory—only memories now, when Forest King, in the years of age, dreamed out his happy life under the fragrant shade of the forest wealth of Royallieu.
With his arm over the horse’s neck, the exile, who had returned to his birthright, stood silent a while, gazing out over the land on which his eyes never wearied of resting; the glad, cool, green, dew-freshened earth that was so sweet and full of peace, after the scorched and blood-stained plains, whose sun was as flame, and whose breath was as pestilence. Then his glance came back and dwelt upon the face beside him, the proud and splendid woman’s face that had learned its softness and its passion from him alone.
“It was worth banishment to return,” he murmured to her. “It was worth the trials that I bore to learn the love that I have known——”
She, looking upward at him with those deep, lustrous, imperial eyes that had first met his own in the glare of the African noon, passed her hand over his lips with a gesture of tenderness far more eloquent from her than from women less proud and less prone to weakness.
“Ah, hush! when I think of what her love was, how worthless looks my own! How little worthy of the fate it finds! What have I done that every joy should become mine, when she——”
Her mouth trembled, and the phrase died unfinished; strong as her love had grown, it looked to her unproven and without desert, beside that which had chose to perish for his sake. And where they stood with the future as fair before them as the light of the day around them, he bowed his head, as before some sacred thing, at the whisper of the child who had died for him. The memories of both went back to a place in a desert land where the folds of the Tricolor drooped over one little grave turned westward toward the shores of France—a grave made where the beat of drum, and the sound of moving squadrons, and the ring of the trumpet-call, and the noise of the assembling battalions could be heard by night and day; a grave where the troops, as they passed it by, saluted and lowered their arms in tender reverence, in faithful, unasked homage, because beneath the Flag they honored there was carved in the white stone one name that spoke to every heart within the army she had loved, one name on which the Arab sun streamed as with a martyr’s glory: