Mingling these subconscious elements with those of logic and reason, Selwyn wrote for two days, almost without an hour’s rest, and when it was finished ‘The Island of Darkness’ was a powerful, vivid, passionate arraignment of England, the heart of the British Empire. It was clever, full of big thoughts, and glowed with the genius of a man who had made language his slave.
It lacked only one ingredient, a simple thing at best—Truth.
But that is the tragedy of idealism, which studies the world as a crystal-gazer reading the forces of destiny in a piece of glass.
A week later, in the early afternoon, Selwyn was going up Whitehall, when he heard the sound of pipes, and turned with the crowd to gaze. With rhythmic pomposity a pipe-major was twirling a staff, while a band of pipes and drums blared out a Scottish battle-song on the frosty air. Following them in formation of fours were five or six hundred men in civilian clothes, attested recruits on their way to training-centres.
With the intellectual appetite of the psychologist, Selwyn looked searchingly at the faces of the strangely assorted crowd, and the contrasts offered would have satisfied the most rapacious student of human nature.
His eyes seized on one well-built, well-groomed man of thirty odd years whose slight stoop and cultured air of tolerance marked him a ’’Varsity man’ as plainly as cap and gown could have done. Just behind him a costermonger in a riot of buttons was indulging in philosophic quips of a cheerfully vulgar nature. A few yards back a massive labourer with clear untroubled eye and powerful muscles stood out like a superior being to the three who were alongside. Half-way a poet marched. What form his poesy took—whether he expressed beauty in words, or, catching the music of the western wind, wove it into a melody, or whether he just dreamed and never told of what he dreamed—it matters not; he was a poet. His step, his dreamy eyes, the poise of his forehead raised slightly towards the skies, were things which showed his personality as clearly as the mighty forearm or the plethora of buttons bespoke the labourer or the costermonger.
With a great sense of pity the American watched them pass, while the skirl of the bagpipes lessened in the distance. In spite of the dissimilarity of type, there was a community of shyness that embraced almost every one—a silent plea not to be mistaken for heroes. As they passed the Horse Guards and saw the two sentries astride their horses still as statues (their glorious trappings, breastplates, helmets, and swords, the embodiment of spectacular militarism) an apologetic, humorous smile was on the face of almost every recruit. The sight was a familiar enough one to the large majority, but in the presence of those grim, superb cavalrymen they felt the self-conscious embarrassment of small boys about to enter a room full of their elders.