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and Margaret with her children about her knee. As he struggled on, and those pictures came and went before his eyes, it seemed to Cosmo that if he was too late it would be easier to die there with Edmund than to face the innocent, pleading eyes of that little group in Canonbury.
But he walked down his excitement as he began to grow weary, and then he began to think; to ask himself how it was that he could not say, when his brother pleaded for them, the words that now he would give all he was worth for the chance of saying.
He looked back over all that he could remember of Edmund, from his earliest childish recollection of the elder brother who was always kind, and always in disgrace with the parents who were so good to the younger. For the first time he saw the other as he was, not as a banished prince who could do no wrong, or as a hardened shameless deceiver, but as a loving, faulty, erring man, born with some defect of nature, some fault of blood, from whence drawn Cosmo could guess, but blushed to say even to himself. How far he was to blame, how far he might have fought against his doom and overcome it, whether he might have had more help from a father to whom his sin was less evidently loathsome-who could say? At any rate, his sin had cost him dear enough, and the price was not all paid yet.
For his own part Cosmo felt that he could more easily have excused Edmund for committing any or all of the sins that had ever stained the annals of the Herons since that faroff day when they first emerged from obscurity; and now for the first time that struck him as manifestly unjust. Who were they, after all, that they should pick and choose in the Decalogue, and
Compound for sins they are inclined to By damning those they have no mind to? No. 428.-VOL. LXXII.
If, in one fatal respect, Edmund had not been born a Heron, but had followed some one else who must not be named or blamed,-was that not his misfortune, though what had come of it might be his fault?
Since Edmund's confession it had seemed folly to yield to any gentler thoughts of him. The knowledge of his falseness had poisoned the memory of his caressing manner, his ready gratitude for any small service, his frank dependence on his brother's love; all those graces of daily life that it had seemed as if only a true heart could have taught him. The memory of these things had been torture to Cosmo; it was torture still, but in a different way. He knew now that Edmund's love had been real, if the only real thing about him; he knew it by that instinct by which the heart recognises and computes the value of what is offered to it alone. And Love has a royal right to her own welcome, though she come as a beggar in vile company, hand in hand with Falsehood and Shame.
Those gray leaden clouds had not stooped so near the ground for nothing. It was beginning to snow; half a dozen flakes fell softly through the still air, and then a pause, and then the air was suddenly thick with them on every side. No matter! It would be long before they could blot out those footprints, deeply cut into the frozen surface of last week's snow; and so long as those went on what did anything matter, but to follow them?
The Lechfield stretched round him now on every side wide and level. When Cosmo last saw it, it had been white with cotton - grass, save for innumerable black pools fringed with various plants; now it was all white for the pools were frozen, and the snow was a more complete winding-sheet for
the dead city than "the Canna's hoary beard. " The black pools were there still though, and some of them were deep, and the ice on them was not so thick but that a man might have broken it with a stone. But the footprints went on, and Cosmo, drawing a long breath that sounded like relief, went on following them.
He had begun to realise that it was better not to think; that there were certain possibilities he dare not face; that even to blame himself now was waste of energy when he was like to need all that he had. To overtake Edmund before it was too late, that was the one supremely practical consideration. It would not do to ask himself what might happen, -what might already have happened, -if he had delayed too long. It would not do even to let his fancy play tricks; to see in the curling drifts the outlines of a figure that the snow had covered; to picture a white face upturned to the gray sky, and despairing eyes taking their last farewell of a world that seemed already dead. Such thoughts only made his heart beat too fast, and took the strength of which he had none to spare.
Thank God those footprints still went on, and the falling snow had not blotted them out yet. They went on now over the long roll of the moor to the west of the Lechfield, and Cosmo quickened his pace so far as the heavy walking would permit, forgetting his weariness, or rather never having remembered or felt it. But now the snow seemed to cling round his feet and hinder them; and how endless seemed the long slow ascent whose summit was always just ten yards before him, against the low slate-coloured sky! It was like a vivid dream of terror and strain, of hopeless, useless effort; but in a dream when the tension becomes too great the dreamer escapes, and here no waking was possible till the end was
reached. He could not even say "God help me!" though his whole soul was one voiceless, wordless agony of supplication that he might not be too late.
It was reached at last, the brow of the weary, interminable hill. There the footprints strayed off to the left, and following them with his eyes Cosmo could see, far down the slope, a dark something, the figure of a man sitting on a low wind-swept shelf of rock, his elbows on his knees and his head resting on his joined hands.
For a moment Cosmo's heart stood still; then he turned to the rough descent, thick with heather and cumbered with great stones. The deep snow muffled his steps, and he had drawn quite near before Edmund lifted his head. One startled, sullen look the elder brother gave, like that of a trapped wild thing whose cunning has failed it; and then he dropped back to his former attitude. Cosmo came nearer, and touched him on the shoulder, but he hardly moved.
"Well?" at last he said reluctantly. "Why did you follow me here? What do you want?"
"I want first what you have in your breast-pocket. And I must have it, Edmund!"
Edmund looked up as if surprised ; his hand went to his bosom, but paused there; then he turned his head away, and looked out over the waste as if resolved neither to hear nor to
"Edmund," said Cosmo again. "Did I ever ask you for anything before? You have spoken sometimes as though you owed me something, but whether or no I must have this. Give it me, if ever you cared for me."
The stronger will, at a white heat of resolve, must needs carry the day. Edmund's hand, as if in spite of himself, went again to his breast, and
drew from the pocket a tiny bottle stoppered and tied down. The instant it appeared Cosmo wrested it unceremoniously from his fingers, flung it on the ground and smashed it with his heel, treading it into the
"That is childish," said Edmund sulkily, after a moment. "If I want to do that sort of thing no one can prevent my accomplishing it, in one way if not in another. And if, as seems likely enough, I have neither pluck nor resolve to carry out such an idea, what good has that done?"
"Enough for the present moment, at all events. And now I want you to come with me."
"I am not coming. When I said good-bye to you down yonder I did not wish, any more than intend, ever to see you or to cross your path again."
"I am beginning at the wrong end after all," said Cosmo with abrupt simplicity. "What I have to do here is to ask you to forgive me."
"For having forgotten that we are brothers, and that there is a tie between us that nothing can break; for having seemed to constitute myself your judge."
"There is some disproportion between our offences against each other; but I forgive you, exactly as you forgive me. That is to say, I wish you no harm, and I would rather never see your face again."
"You are unjust to me, Edmund, and I suppose I have no right to be surprised at it. But I wish you would look me in the face now. I have a great deal more to say to you than I can easily manage unless you will be generous and meet me half-way."
No one had ever seen Edmund sullen before; but there must have been some latent sullenness in his nature, for he did not lift his head
or make the least sign of having heard. Perhaps in every nature there are some elements unsuspected until it is stirred to the very depths; and his had never been so deeply stirred before. Cosmo for his part was in no mood or state to argue. The desperate hurry of the last hour had left him spent and trembling; even the thrill of relief with which he had realised that Edmund was safe for the present had shaken him and robbed him of the little strength he had left. He cared indeed little for that. It was deliverance and joy unspeakable, though it had turned him weak and dizzy. The doubt and difficulty, and even the shame of the actual facts, were nothing compared to the ghastly fear that had just vanished, the fear of an endless, hopeless remorse. Down at Pennithorne two hours ago Edmund's very existence had seemed a disgrace from which there could be no escape; but now his presence, alive and well, was in itself a thing for which to be eternally thankful. As for Cosmo's physical sensations at the moment, so far as he could think at all he felt that to break down might be the best way to regain a hold over Edmund, in this new bitter mood of his.
He laid his hand on Edmund's shoulder once more, and let it rest there rather heavily. "Will you make room for me on that seat of yours?" he said, smiling, though somewhat faintly.
Instinctively Edmund moved, so as to make room on the rocky ledge beside him; at the same moment he glanced up surprised, and took his first real look into the other's face. "What's the matter?" he asked hurriedly. "Here, sit down; you've no business here."
"Nothing is the matter. Only I have come a long way in a hurry, and I am rather done up. I won't faint
if I can help it!" He half laughed as he spoke, in answer to the anxious haste with which Edmund had drawn him down, and thrown a supporting arm round him. Then he leaned his head against his brother's shoulder, closing his eyes to shut out the whirling, dizzying snow, and for a moment had to devote all his energies to keeping his word. But shortly he was aware that Edmund was chafing his hands and questioning him in the half savage tones of desperate anxiety, and he roused himself to understand and to answer. "It's all right! It's the first time I have been so far since the fire, that's all. I shall be all right in a minute."
"It is madness for you to have come here at all,-all this in such weather! What possessed you to think of coming after me?"
"You know!" Cosmo turned and raised himself a little on the arm that still held him, and looked full in his brother's eyes. "And I am more than content, now I have found you."
"It was a pity you did," said Edmund, with a little dreary laugh. "I had not quite screwed my courage to the sticking-place, but I dare say I should have managed it before long. And it would have been the best way out of the mess, for all of us."
Cosmo did not answer, unless by the shudder that Edmund could feel run through him. His hand moved to his brother's, tightening on it with a significant imperious clasp that spoke as plainly as words. "I will not let you go,' " it said. "We love each other, and by that I have a right over you. You shall not go."
"I am as foolish as you, to let you sit here," said Edmund suddenly after a moment. Can you come on now? You will be frozen unless you keep moving, and I can at least give you a good strong prop to lean upon."
He rose, brushing off the snow that
had fallen thickly on them both. After a moment Cosmo rose too, feeling that the kindest thing he could do for Edmund was to lean hard on his support and let him have his way.
"Now," said Edmund, with a sort of determined briskness, "you know this country better than I do. What's the nearest house we can make for?"
"Herne's Edge. There may be others a trifle nearer as the crow flies, but for us who are not crows the Edge will be easiest reached." "So be it, then. How far should
you call it ?"
"I hardly know; between three and four miles."
"So much as that!
Will you ever
be able to do it?" "Of course! At any rate it is but to try, and to keep on trying."
"It is this way, isn't it, between those hills on the sky-line?" Edmund's voice faltered a little and he glanced anxiously at Cosmo as he spoke. He was by no means clear even as to general direction in this thick atmosphere, and ways there were none over the trackless, snowclad moor. If Cosmo was equally uncertain, where might they not find themselves? And the snow was coming down now so thickly that the night was drawing on before its time.
"So long as we can see the sky-line I know the way well enough," said Cosmo quietly. "It would be a good thing if we could get off the moor before we lose sight of everything a yard further than our noses; but I doubt we shall not manage it. The road is nearest in that direction, and we had better make for it, though it isn't quite in a bee-line for home."
"I grudge you a step out of your way, but if it can't be helped, it can't!"
They were moving on as fast as the inequality of the ground would permit, Edmund's whole thought and
attention given to helping and sparing his companion as much as possible. And now they fell silent, not only because both felt that Cosmo had better not waste his strength in talking, but because there was so much in their minds for which words were too clumsy. What Cosmo was thinking of let those say who have known the resurrection of buried love, when the heart that has been trying to harden itself suddenly flings all just resentment into the empty tomb, and buries it for ever; when other loves and hopes, that were not dead but had seemed cold and withered, come smiling back with their lost sister, and all the world is spring again. How foolish he had been! how natural it seemed now to bear all things and hope all things, and be sure that Love and Right would conquer in the end; while as yet he was in no mood to look before and after, or question the how and the where of their victory. Edmund's thoughts were simpler still, and less to be defined,-love and shame and gratitude contending, and the keen sense of present peril blotting out all difficulties that the future might have in store. It was happiness, life, after the death of blank despair, to know that he had been followed for love's sake into this wilderness of his humiliation; and yet in another sense he would have given much to have been alone, and not to have been haunted by the thought of what might well happen if they missed their way, and by the memory of that old man whose fate, an hour ago, he had envied and desired. And through it all was a sort of warmth of triumphant exultation. They two were alone together out of all the world, the fate of the one whom all loved bound up with that of him who was only a burden and a shame. "They would not trust me with him if they knew," he thought. "But Fate has
done that for them; and now we will live or die together."
Half an hour of battling with snow and wind may sometimes seem an endless space of time. It seemed longer to Edmund than to Cosmo, though Cosmo felt as though he had been struggling on through the deepening twilight ever since he could remember. For a long while they had not spoken, but at last Edmund said abruptly: "We ought to have reached the road by this time, surely! Can you tell at all if we are still in the right direction?"
"I have lost sight of my landmarks for some little time, but I feel as though the road was just ahead, and straight before us," answered Cosmo; and then there was silence again for a quarter of an hour or so.
"I am afraid we have missed the road."
"It runs east and west as straight as a line for more than two miles. We can hardly fail to hit it somewhere if we keep going."
"Unless, I daren't ask you how you are getting on."
"I begin to understand those Alpine explorers who entreat their friends to let them lie down and go to sleep. But I am not quite come to that yet."
There was silence again for a little while, and then Cosmo spoke, almost in a whisper. "I think I must stop for a moment. No; I won't ask to lie down and sleep, but you must give me a minute's breathing-space.'
Edmund's arm had been round his shoulder for some time past; now it tightened its clasp, and they stood still, hearkening to the little hissing whisper of the snow as it fell all round them.
"I think I could keep on for a good while yet if I knew we were going right," said Cosmo at last. "But the feeling that we may be