‘It meant more than just our lives,’ he concluded, in a silence so acute that the crackling of the logs startled the air like pistol-shots, ’for as Dick fell we went forward and gained the brushwood. Less than three hours afterwards the French arrived, and largely by the use of that bridge a heavy counter-attack was launched. We buried Dick where he fell—and, Lord Durwent, it is not often that men weep. The French general, to whom the tank officer had made his report, pinned this on your son’s breast, and then gave it to me to have it forwarded to you. He asked me to convey his message: “That the soil of France was richer for having taken so brave a man to its heart."’
He handed a medal of the Croix de Guerre to Lord Durwent, who held it for several moments in the palm of his hand. From the distant parts of the house came the noise of singing soldiers, and a gust of wind rattled the windows as it blew about the great old mansion. Elise had not moved, but through her tears an overwhelming triumph was shining.
‘And Mathews?’ asked Lord Durwent slowly.
‘We found him after the attack,’ the American answered. ’He must have dragged himself several yards after he had been hit, and was lying unconscious, with his hand stretched out to touch Dick’s boot. Have you heard nothing from him, sir?’
Again there was a silence fraught with such intensity that Selwyn thought the very beating of his pulses could be heard. At last Lord Durwent rose, and with an air of deepest respect placed the medal in the hands of his wife. Her theatricalism was mute in a sorrow that was free from shame.
‘Captain Selwyn,’ said Lord Durwent, ‘we shall never forget.’
Feeling that his presence was making the situation only the more acute, Selwyn pleaded the excuse of the waiting horse to hasten his departure.
‘But you will stay here for the night?’ said Lady Durwent.
’No—thank you very much. I have left my haversack at the inn; and, besides, I must catch the 7.45 train to London in the morning to keep an important appointment. Good-night, Lady Durwent.’
Amidst subdued but earnest good wishes from the peer and his wife, he wished them good-bye and turned to Elise.
‘Good-night,’ he said, his face flaming suddenly red.
‘Good-night,’ she answered, taking his proffered hand.
‘I shall go with you,’ said Lord Durwent.
The two men walked through the corridors, which were growing quieter as the night advanced, and, with another exchange of farewells, Selwyn went out into the dark.
He was weak from the ordeal through which he had passed, and both his mind and his body were bordering on exhaustion. He called to the sleeping driver, who in turn roused the horse from a similar condition, but just as the wheels grinding on the gravel were opposite him Selwyn heard the door open and the rustle of skirts.