It was a strange contrast in faces as the young man folded the letter and handed it back. In the countenance of the groom there was a sturdy pride in the epistolary achievement of his wife—a pride which he made a violent but unsuccessful effort to conceal. In the pale, handsome face of the young aristocrat there was a whimsical pathos. By the picture conjured up in the crudely written letter he had seen his parents, his sister, the humble cottage of the groom, and the wife’s faithfulness and cheeriness. He had seen them, not as separate things, but hallowed and unified by a common sacrifice for England.
For the first time since his escape Dick Durwent regretted it. He could see no safety ahead for Mathews, no matter how long they evaded arrest. Although a cool, fretful wind was blowing over the fields, the warm noon sun made his eyelids heavy.
Against the wish of the groom, he insisted upon spreading the greatcoat over them both, and in a few minutes master and man were resting side by side as comrades.
‘Mathews,’ said Dick quietly.
’Give me your word that if you ever reach England you will never tell my family about this. They don’t know I am in France, and’——
’Mum as a oyster, sir—that’s the ticket. Werry good, Mas’r Dick. A oyster it is.’
Ten minutes had passed without either of them speaking, when Mathews partially raised himself on one elbow. ‘If women,’ he said ruminatingly, ’was to have votes, my old girl would run for Parlyment, sure as skittles. I wonder, Mas’r Dick, if a feller who courted a girl in good faith, and arter a few years found she were Prime Minister of England—would that constitoot grounds for divorce?’
But Dick was asleep, and dreaming of days when happiness was in the air one breathed; when brother and sister had revelled in nature’s carnival of seasons. After several minutes’ contemplation of the uncertainty of married life, the old groom followed him into a slumber which was unattended by dreams, but did not lack a sonorous serenade.
The night was streaked with tragedy as the fugitives stole to the road. The drum-fire of the guns had grown to a roar, through which there came the blast and the crash of siege artillery, shaking the earth to its very foundations, as if the gases of hell had ignited and were bursting through. As though by lightning striking low, the night was lit with flashes illuminating the fields and the roads about; and shells were screaming and whining through the air, winged, blood-sucking monsters crying for their prey. Across a yellow moon broken clouds were driven on a gale that whipped the dust of the roads into moaning whirlpools.
Dense traffic moved sullenly on, the ghostly figures of drivers astride horses that whinnied in terror of the night. Not a light was shown. There were only the glimpses of the sickly moonlight and the flame-red flashes of the guns; and, unnoticed, Durwent and the groom followed beside a lorry.