Selwyn made no comment, and both men stared fixedly through the long grass that drooped with heavy dew.
‘Yesterday morning,’ said Durwent dully, ’I was to have been shot. I was drunk in the line, and deserved it. It’s no use trying to excuse myself. I fancy my nerves were a bit gone after what we’d been through the last few months, but—— Well, I suppose I am simply a failure, as that chap said in London—there isn’t much more to it than that. By a queer deal of the cards, Mathews was on guard, and helped me to escape. It was rotten of me to let him take the chance; but it’s been that way all through. Even at the end of everything—after being a waster and a rotter since I was a kid—I have to drag this poor chap down with me. Promise, Selwyn, if you come out of this alive, that you’ll fight his case for him.’
Selwyn murmured assent, but he was trying to shake off a haunting feeling that was enveloping him like a mist—a feeling that everything the young Englishman was saying he had heard before. It left him dazed, and made Durwent’s voice sound far away. He tried to dismiss it as an illogical prank of the mind, but the thing was relentless. He could not rid himself of the thought that sometime in the past—months, years, perhaps centuries ago—this pitiful scene had been enacted before.
It chilled his soul with its presage of disaster. He saw the hand of destiny, and everything in him rebelled against the inexorable cruelty of it all. It was infamous that any life should be dominated by a whim of the Fates; that any creature should enter this world with a silken cord about his throat. Destiny. Does it mould our lives; or do our lives, inundated with the forces of heredity, mould our destinies? He tried to grapple with the thought; but through the pain and confusion of his mind he could only feel the presence of unseen fingers spelling out the words written in a hidden past.
‘I wonder,’ said Durwent, after a pause of several minutes, during which neither had spoken, ‘what happens when this is finished.’
‘Do you mean—after death?’ said Selwyn, forcing his mind clear of its clouds.
Durwent nodded and leaned wearily with his arms on the bank. ’I tried to think it out the night before I was to be shot,’ he said. ’I can’t just say what I did think—but I know there’s something after this world. Selwyn, is there a God? I wonder if there will be another chance for the men who have made a mess of things here.’
The American turned towards the young fellow, whose pale face looked singularly boyish, and had a wistfulness that touched him to his very heart. Durwent was gazing over the grass into the distance, oblivious of everything about him, and in the blue of his eyes, which borrowed lustre from the morning, there was the mysticism of one who is searching for the land which lies beyond this life’s horizon.
‘I wonder,’ repeated Durwent dreamily.