At the sound of the name Lady Durwent checked a violent sob, which was of double inspiration—grief for her son and pity for her own pride. Her husband showed no sign that he had heard, but ran his hand slowly down the arm of his chair.
And, for the first time, Selwyn became conscious of her presence—Elise had come noiselessly into the room, and was standing in the shadows. She walked slowly towards him.
‘Is it necessary,’ she said, with an imperious tilt of her head, ’to talk of my brother? We all know what happened.’
By the firelight he saw that, only less noticeably than in her father’s case, she too had been stricken. Her rich-hued beauty, which had become so intense with her spiritual development, bore the marks of silent agony. In her eyes there was pain.
‘Without wishing to appear discourteous,’ said Lord Durwent, ’I think my daughter is right. My family has been one that always put honour first. My son Malcolm maintained that tradition to the end. My younger son broke it. And it is perhaps as well that our title becomes extinct with my death. If you don’t mind, we would rather not speak of the matter further.’
‘He was such a kind boy—they both were,’ sobbed Lady Durwent in an enveloping hysteria, ‘and so devoted to their mother.’
Putting Elise gently to one side, Selwyn faced her father.
‘Lord Durwent,’ he said, ’I was with your son when he was killed. In the long line of your family, sir, not one has died more gloriously.’
Lord Durwent’s hands gripped the arms of his chair, and Lady Durwent looked wildly up through her tears. Elise stood pale and motionless.
‘It is true,’ said Selwyn. ’I tell you’——
‘There is nothing,’ said the older man— ’there can be nothing for you to tell that would make our shame any the less. My son was shot’——
’——shot for disgracing his uniform. That he was brave or fearless at the end cannot alter that truth.’
‘Elise!’ Selwyn turned from Lord Durwent, and his clenched hands were stretched supplicatingly towards her. ’Your brother was not shot by the British. He was killed as he went out alone and in the open against the German machine-guns.’
‘What are you saying?’ Lord Durwent half rose from his chair. ’Why do you bring such rumours? What proof is there’——
‘Would I come here at this time,’ said Selwyn desperately, ’with rumours? Do you think I have so little sympathy for what you must feel? I saw your son killed, sir. It was in the early morning, and he went to his death as you would have had him go. As you know he did go, Elise.’
In a voice that shook with feeling he told of the fight for the bridge; how Dick, and Mathews, who had saved him, reached the Americans; of the desperate hand-to-hand fighting; how the groom had guarded his young master; the impending disaster; and the death of Dick.