Momentarily reduced to the democracy of pedestrianism, they would lose themselves in the surging mob of passers-by—shop-girls on their way to a cinema; rural visitors shocked and thrilled with everything; keen-faced, black-haired Jews speculating on life’s profits; sallow-faced, lustrous-eyed girls hungry for romance, imagining every begowned woman to be an adventuress, and every man a Prince Charming; here and there an Irish policeman, proving that his people can control any country but their own. Of such threads is woven the pattern of New York’s theatre-hour on Broadway.
From sheer inability to stem the traffic, Selwyn stepped into a doorway. On the opposite side of the street a theatrical sign announced that ‘Lulu’ was ’the biggest, most stupendous, comedy of the season.’ He wondered what constituted largeness in a comedy. Surely not the author’s wit! Before he could formulate a solution of the mystery, a great overhead sign suddenly ignited with the searching question—
DO YOU CHEW SWORDSAFE’S GUM?
Hastily detaching his mind from the biggest, most stupendous, comedy of the season, he stared at the interrogation of the gum company. It suddenly disappeared, however, and then he saw that, like the goblins who chased the small boy who was lost, the business interests of New York had assumed a violent interest in his personal habits. What underwear did he buy? Did he know that Hot-door’s shaving-soap was used by 76 per cent. of the entire manhood of America? There was only one place humanly conceivable where lingerie could be purchased; to prove it, the illuminated signboard promptly showed a lady in a costume usually confined to boudoirs. To equalise the immodesty of the sexes, a near male neighbour, at a height of two hundred odd feet, did an electrified turn by putting on and taking off a pair of trousers-suspenders.
DO YOU CHEW SWORDSAFE’S GUM?
That was the question. What importance could a mere war have in comparison with that? Blinking in the glare, Selwyn left the doorway and made for Madison Avenue, where Van Derwater’s rooms were.
The clocks were just striking nine when he reached the number he wanted, and a negro servant led him upstairs. As Selwyn entered Van Derwater rose from his chair and greeted him with a restrained courtliness that was gentlemanly to a degree, but had an instantly chilling effect on the visitor. It was the room the owner used for lounging or reading, and the only light was the shaded one on the table.
Van Derwater had just passed thirty, but the premature thinness of his hair in front, the listless droop of his heavy shoulders, and the bluish pallor about his firm jaw contrived to make him appear older than he was. There was a kindliness in the wrinkles about his eyes, and his mouth, though solid, was not lacking in indications of intuitive understanding. It was perhaps the formality of his bearing, the stiffness of his body from the hips, that gave him the air of one who belonged by right to a past and more ceremonious age.