At the lodge gate they found a soldier, who allowed them to pass, and they drove on towards the house. So vivid was the sense of her presence that he almost thought he saw her and himself running hand-in-hand together again down the road. By that oak he had picked her up in his arms—and he wondered at the human mind which can find torture and joy in the one recollection.
Driving into the courtyard, he told the man to wait, and knocked at the great central door. An orderly admitted him, and took him to a nurse, who offered to lead him to the wing occupied by Lord and Lady Durwent. With wondering eyes he glanced at the transformation of the rooms once so familiar to him. There were beds even in the halls, and everywhere soldiers in hospital-blue were combining in a cheerful noise which was sufficient indication that their convalescence was progressing favourably. In the music-room a local concert-party (including the organist who had tried to teach Elise the piano) were giving an entertainment, with the utmost satisfaction to themselves and the patients.
The nurse led him upstairs and knocked at a door. On receiving a summons to enter she went in, and a moment later emerged again.
‘Will you please go in?’ she said.
Thanking her for her trouble, Selwyn stepped into the room, which was lit only by the light from a log-fire, beside which Lord Durwent and his wife were seated. Lady Durwent, who had just come from her nightly grand-duchess parade of the patients, was busying herself with her knitting, and was in obvious good spirits. Lord Durwent rose as Selwyn entered, and the good lady dramatically dropped her knitting on the floor.
‘Mister Selwyn!’ she exclaimed. ‘This is an unexpected pleasure!’
The American bowed cordially over her proffered hand; but when he turned to acknowledge the old nobleman’s greeting he was struck silent. No tree withered by a frost ever showed its hurt more clearly than did Lord Durwent. Although he stood erect in body, and summoned the gentle courtesy which was inseparable from his nature, his whole bearing was as of one whom life has cut across the face with a knotted whip, leaving an open cut. He had thought to live his days in the seclusion of Roselawn, but destiny had spared him nothing.
‘Have you had dinner?’ asked Lord Durwent. ’We are strictly rationed, but I think the larder still holds something for a welcome guest.’
‘Isn’t the war dreadful?’ said Lady Durwent gustily.
‘I had something to eat at the inn,’ said Selwyn, ’so I hope you won’t bother about me.’
The older man was going to press his hospitality further, but as it was obvious from the American’s manner that he had come for a special purpose, he merely indicated a chair near the fire.
‘You move stiffly,’ he said. ‘Have you been wounded?’
‘Yes,’ said Selwyn, continuing to stand; ’but there are no permanent ill effects, luckily. Lord Durwent, I came from London to-day to speak about your son Dick.’