‘Well, well!’ said the cavalry lieutenant, reading the first message, which was signed by the adjutant of his regiment; ’dear old Agitato. How he does love sending out those sweet little things: “Leave cancelled; return at once”! Ah, my word! “Secret and Confidential”—good old War Office. What a rag they’ll have now running their pet little regiments all over the world! Humph! By Jove! we’re to move to-morrow. Good work! Let me see, pater. What train can I catch to town? I must throw a few things together’—he looked at his watch—’but I’ll be in heaps of time for the 11.50. The Agitato always has a late lunch and never drinks less than three glasses of port, so I’ll throw myself on his full stomach and squeal for mercy for being late. I say, pater, do come up while I toss a few unnecessaries into my case.—That’s right, Brown; put my bag in my room. And, Brown, you might put some vaseline on those golf-clubs. I sha’n’t be wanting them for some little time.—Come along, pater.—Excuse me, Mr.—Mr.’——
‘SELWYN,’ cried Lady Durwent.
‘Mr. Selwyn, I’ll see you later, eh?’
’The old nobleman ascended the stairs with his son, and the agreeable chatter of the younger man, with its references to ‘topping sport’ and ‘absolutely ripping weather,’ came to an end as they disappeared along the western wing of the house. Lady Durwent, wiping her eyes, went into the library, and Selwyn, who was not particularly enamoured of solitude and its attending tyranny of thoughts, followed her.
Elise, who had stood in mute contemplation of her brother, neither addressing a remark nor being addressed, hesitated momentarily, then went into the drawing-room by herself and closed the door.
‘Oh, Mr. Selwyn,’ said Lady Durwent, breathing heavily, ’you have no idea what a mother’s feelings are at a time like this.’
‘I can only sympathise most sincerely,’ said the American gravely.
‘He has been such a good boy,’ she said vaguely, ’and so devoted to his mother.’
‘I can see that, Lady Durwent.’
‘I shall never forget,’ she went on, her own words creating a deliciously dramatic trembling in her bosom, ’how he wept when his father insisted upon his leaving home for school. It was all I could do to console the child; and when he came home for the holidays he was just my shadow.’
At that satisfactory thought (though Selwyn was a little puzzled at the picture of the diminutive Malcolm serving as a shadow for Lady Durwent’s bulk) she expanded into a smile, but immediately corrected the error with a burst of unrestrained grief.
‘THINK OF IT, MR. SELWYN,’ she cried, reversing the formula—’WE ARE AT WAR!’
He murmured assent. ‘I am afraid, Lady Durwent,’ he said, ’that I must return to London this afternoon.’
‘Oh, Mr. Selwyn!’
’Yes, I must. I have a great deal of work before me, and only the cordiality of your welcome and the pleasure I have felt in being here would have allowed me to stay so long. You have been wonderfully kind, and perhaps the fact that I was here when war broke out will lend a special significance to our friendship for the future.’