As he helped the girls to alight Selwyn heard the nurse catch her breath with a spasm of pain. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a man standing on the lawn facing the sun, which was reaching the west with the passing of afternoon.
‘Please remain here,’ said Selwyn, ‘and I will motion you when to come.’
He walked towards the solitary figure, who heard him, and turned a little to greet him.
‘Is that you, Austin?’
‘Yes, Van,’ answered Selwyn. ‘How could you tell?’
With his old kindly, tired smile the ex-diplomat put out his hand, which Selwyn gripped heartily.
‘I suppose it is nature’s compensation,’ said Van Derwater calmly. ’Now that I cannot see, footsteps and voices seem to mean so much more. I was just thinking before you came that, though I have seen it a thousand times, I have never felt the sun in the west before. Look—I can feel it on my face from over there. Sir Redwood tells me that the news from France is excellent.’
‘It is,’ said Selwyn. ‘I think the end is only a matter of hours.’
’A matter of hours; and after that—peace. Austin, I haven’t much to live for. It was in my stars, I suppose, that I should walk alone; but there is one fear which haunts me—that all this may be for nothing—for nothing. If I thought that on my blindness and the suffering of all these other men a structure could be built where Britain and America and France would clasp the torch of humanity together, I would welcome this darkness as few men ever welcomed the light. But it is a terrible thought—that people may forget; that civilisation might make no attempt to atone for her murdered dead.’
He smiled again, and fumbling for Selwyn’s shoulder, patted it, as if to say he was not to be taken too seriously.
‘The world must have looked wonderful to-day in this sunlight,’ he went on. ’Do you know, I hardly dare think of the spring at all. I sometimes feel that I could never look upon the green of a meadow again, and live.’
Selwyn had beckoned to the nurse, who was coming across the lawn towards them.
‘Van,’ he said, taking his friend’s arm, ’don’t be too surprised, will you? But—but an old friend has come back to you.’
‘Who is it?’ Van Derwater’s form became rigid. ’I can hear a step, Austin! Austin, where are you? What is this you’re doing to me? Speak, man—would you drive me mad?’
Without a sound the girl had clutched his hand and had fallen on her knees at his feet.
‘Marjory!’ With a pitiful joy he felt her hair and face with his hand, and in his weakness he almost fell. Vainly he protested that she must go away, that he could not let her share his tragedy. Her only answer was his name murmured over and over again.
Creeping silently away, Selwyn rejoined Elise. Once they looked back. The girl was in Van Derwater’s arms, and his face was raised towards the sun which he was nevermore to see. But on that face was written a happiness that comes to few men in this world.