Having reached this satisfactory climax, the worthy colonel shifted his cap to the extreme side of his head, and walked jauntily along with his knees performing a variety of acrobatic wriggles.
‘I am most gratified,’ said Selwyn, repressing a smile. ’I had no idea, when I saw you and poor Dick Durwent marching away together, that you would rise to such fame.’
‘Alas, poor Durwent!’ cried Smyth, pulling his cap forward to a dignified angle. ’I never knew who he was until we got to France. You passed him along as Sherwood, you know. His people are frightfully cut up about him.’
‘They heard of his death, of course?’
’It isn’t that, old son; it’s the horrible disgrace. It only leaked out a couple of weeks ago from one of his battalion, but it’s common property now. The old boy was absolutely done in—looked twenty years older.’
‘What has leaked out?’ said Selwyn, stopping in his walk.
’Didn’t you hear? Durwent was shot by court-martial—drunk, they say, in the line.’
Selwyn’s hand gripped his arm. ‘Where is Lord Durwent now?’ he said breathlessly.
‘In the country, I believe. But why so agitated, my Americano?’
There was no answer. As fast as his weary limbs could take him, Selwyn was making for the door.
It was nearly eight o’clock that night when Selwyn alighted from a train at the village where he and Elise had heard the fateful announcement of war. He walked through the quaint street, silent and deserted in the November night. Except for two or three people at the station, there was no one to be seen as his footsteps on the cobbled road knocked with their echo against the casement windows of the slumbering dwellings. Reaching the inn, he bargained for a conveyance, and after taking a little food, and arranging for a room, he went outside again, and climbed into a dogcart which had been made ready.
After three or four futile attempts at conversation, the driver retired behind his own thoughts, and left the American to the reverie forced on him by every familiar thing looming out of the shadows. There was not a turn of the road, not one rising slope, that did not mean some memory of Elise. The very night itself, drowsy with the music of the breeze and the heavy perfume of late autumn, was nature’s frame encircling her personality. He had dreaded going because of the longings which were certain to be reawakened, but he had not known that in the secret crevices of his soul there had been left such sleeping memories that rustling bushes and silent meadows would make him want to cry aloud her name.
He told himself that she must be in London, and had forgotten him—and that it was better so. But the night and the darkened road would not be denied. They held the very essence of her being, and left him weak with the ecstasy of his emotion.