The night in January at the University Club in New York had marked a reconciliation between Selwyn and Van Derwater. With the issue between America and Germany so clearly defined, they had both lent their voices to the insistent demand for war. At first people had been incredulous, and hazarded the guess that the young author was endeavouring to cover his own tracks; but when he enlisted in the ranks at the outbreak of hostilities, they made a popular hero of him. They spoke of him as the Spirit of the Cause; but he paid little attention to the clamour. His joy in the prospect of action, and the release from all his mental tortures, had produced in him a kind of frenzy, that crystallised into an intense hatred of Germany.
The pendulum had swung to its extreme. Once a man animated with a passionate humanitarianism, in whom the spirit of universal brotherhood burned with an inextinguishable force, he had become a creature drunk with lust for revenge. Patriotism, Justice, Freedom—they were all catch-words to hide the brutal, primeval instinct to kill.
In the little thought which he permitted himself, Selwyn argued that the ignorance of many nations had made war possible, but only Germany had been vile enough to try to exploit it for the achievement of world-power. For that reason alone she was a thing of detestation.
His enthusiasm and quickly acquired knowledge of army routine marked him for promotion. He was given a commission, and at the request of Van Derwater was attached to the same regiment as himself. Together they had crossed to France, and were among the first American troops in action.
In the months that followed, Selwyn had revelled in the carnage and the excitement of war. He was reckless to the point of bravado, and his keen dramatic instinct drove him into unnecessary escapades where his senses could enjoy a thrill not far removed from insanity. Only when out of the line, when the mockery and the hideousness of the whole thing demanded his mind’s solution, would the mood of despondency return. But in the trenches he knew neither pity nor fear. Men fought for the privilege of serving under him, and with their instinct for euphony and love of the bizarre gave him the name of ‘Hell-fire.’ He gloried in the physical ascendancy of it all—in the dangers—in the discomforts. He was an instrument of revenge, a weapon without feeling.
On the other hand, Van Derwater had undergone no appreciable change. He carried himself with the same dignity and formality as in his days at Washington—except when emergency would scatter the wits of his fellow-officers, and he would suddenly become a dynamic force, vigorous in conception and swift of action. Yet success or failure left him unmoved, once a crisis had passed. His men respected but did not understand him. They wove a legend about his name. They said he had come to France wanting to be killed, but that no bullet could touch him. And even those who scoffed, when they saw him, unruffled and strangely solitary, moving about with almost ironic contempt of danger, wondered if there might not be some truth in the story.