Selwyn tried to frame words for a reply, but skilled as he was in the interpretation of thought, he was dumb in confession of his faith. He longed to speak the things which might have brought comfort to the lad’s harassed soul, but everything which came to him, echoing from his former years, was so inadequate, so tinctured with smug complacency. Was there a God?
The question left him mute.
‘There are times,’ went on Durwent, almost to himself, ’when my head is full of strange fancies—when I’m listening to music—or at dawn like this. While I was under arrest, a little French girl who had heard I was to die brought some flowers she had picked for me. When I think of that girl, and her flowers, and Elise, and the faithfulness of old Mathews, I do believe there is some kind of a God. . . . Selwyn’—unconsciously his hands stretched forward supplicatingly—’surely these things can’t die? . . . There’s been so much that’s ugly and lonely in my life. . . . Don’t you believe that we fellows who have failed will be able to have a little of the things we’ve missed down here?’
‘Dick,’ said Selwyn hoarsely, ’I believe’——
The words faltered on his lips, and in silence the two men stood together in the presence of the day’s birth. There was a strange calm in the air. The dew on the grass caught a faint sparkle from a ray of sunlight that penetrated the eastern skies.
‘The Boches, sir! They’re coming!’
The sergeant’s warning rang out, and in an instant the air was shattered with battle. Protected by the fire from a nest of machine-guns, the Germans launched a converging attack towards the bridge. Waiting until the advancing troops were too close to permit the aid of their own machine-gun fire, the Americans poured a deadly hail of bullets into their ranks. The attack broke, but fresh troops were thrown in, and the line was penetrated at several points.
Van Derwater rallied his men, directed the defence, and time after time organised or led counter-attacks which restored their position. His voice rose sonorously above everything. Hearing it, and seeing his powerful figure oblivious to the bullets which stung the air all about him, his men yelled that they could never be beaten so long as he led them.
Half-mad with excitement, Selwyn repelled the attacks on his sector, though his casualties were heavy and ammunition was running low. Durwent’s mood of reverie had passed, and he fought with limitless energy. Once, when the Huns had penetrated the road, one of their officers levelled a revolver on him, but discharged the bullet into the ground as the butt of Mathews’s rifle was brought smashing on his wrist. The old groom followed his master with eyes that saw only the danger hanging over him. For his own safety he gave no care, but wherever Dick stepped or turned, the groom was by his side, with his large, rough face set in a look that was like that of a mastiff protecting its young.