At the conclusion of the letter he put it down, and crossing to the French windows, leaned against them, while his fingers drummed nervously on the glass. With a gesture of impatience, as though he resented its having been written at all, he picked up the letter once more, and turning the pages, quickly reached the part which had affected him so:
’They tell me I’m going to lose my arm, and that I’m out of it; but they’re wrong. I’m going back to America just as soon as they will let me, and I’m going to tell them at home what this war is about. And, what’s more, I’m going to tell them what war is. It isn’t great armies moving wonderfully forward “as if on parade,” as some of these newspaper fellows tell you. It’s a putrid, rotten business. After Loos dead men and horses rotted for days in the sun. War’s not a thing of glory; it’s rats and vermin and filth and murder. Three weeks ago I killed a German. He hadn’t a chance to get his gun up before I stuck him with my bayonet like a pig. As he fell his helmet rolled off; he was about eighteen, with sort of golden hair, and light, light blue eyes. I’ve been through some hell, Austin, but when I saw his face I cried like a kid. To you that’s another argument for our remaining neutral. To me that poor little Fritzie is the very reason America should have been in it from the first. Can’t you see that this Prussian outfit is not only murdering Frenchmen and Russians and Britishers, but is murdering her own men as well? If America had been in the war it would have been over now, and every day she holds back means so many more of the best men in the world dead.
’For the love of Mike, Austin, clear your brains. I have seen your stuff in American papers sent over to me, and it’s vile rot. Tomorrow they’re going to take my left arm from me, but’——
Selwyn crumpled the letter in his hand and hurled it into the fireplace. Plunging his hands into his pockets, he paced the room as he had done that night when Watson had called to tell him he was going to enlist. He was seized with an incoherent fury at it all—the inhumanity of it—the degradation of the whole thing. But through the formless cloud of his thoughts there gleamed the one incessant phrase ‘about eighteen, with sort of golden hair, and light, light blue eyes.’ Why should that groove his consciousness so deeply? He had heard, unmoved, of the death of Malcolm Durwent. A month ago he had read how Captain Fensome, of Lady Durwent’s house-party, had been killed trying to rescue his servant in No Man’s Land. The sight of Dick Durwent and Johnston Smyth marching away had been only a spur to more intensive writing. Then why should that haltingly worded sentence lie like ice against his heart?
A sharp pain shot through his head.
Stopping his walk, he leaned once more against the windows, and rested his hot face on the grateful coolness of the glass.