’Word has reached us that in all probability this nation will be faced shortly with the most momentous decision of the war. Therefore I must insist that you take charge of the anti-disruptionist propaganda. I shall be in New York next Wednesday, and will discuss with you the methods by which we can stem the tide of disloyal pacificism as exemplified by this man Selwyn.
’We have no hold over you, my boy; but in the name of this great Republic which is struggling against such odds for unification of her national life, I bid you remain at your post. I know that the son of my old friend Colonel Van Derwater will not question an order.—Yours faithfully,
A. WALTER GALLEY.’
As Selwyn finished the letter, a flush swept into his cheeks and his jaw stiffened with his old fighting mannerism.
‘This is infamous!’ he cried hotly. ’Do you accuse me of disloyalty to my own country?’
‘I do,’ said Van Derwater calmly.
Selwyn’s fists clenched with fury. ‘Van,’ he said, his voice quivering with suppressed passion, ’I may have been blind—I can see where I have injured you and many others—but when you or Galley say that I have been trying to disrupt America, you lie. There is no one more passionately devoted to his country than I.’
‘Which is your country?’ said Van Derwater.
Through the dim light of the room the eyes of the two men met. Selwyn’s were blazing like hot coals; Van Derwater’s were cold and steely.
‘What have I done,’ said Selwyn, twice checking himself before he could trust his voice, ’but tried to show that war is wrong—that men without quarrel are killing each other now—that every nation has contributed to this terrible thing by its ignorance? What is there in that which merits the name of traitor?’
Van Derwater shrugged his shoulders, and taking a book from the table, idly studied its cover. ‘Since the war began,’ he said, his tones calm and low, ’the United States has been trying to speak with one voice, the voice of a united people. It was the plain duty of every American to aid the Administration in that. Instead, what have we found? Pro-Germans plotting outrage, and pro-Britishers casting slurs; conspiracy, political blackmailing, financial pressure—everywhere she has looked, this country has found within her borders the factors of disruption. We have fought them all. We have refused to be bullied or cajoled into choosing a false national destiny. At the moment that we seem to have accomplished something—with Europe looking to us for the final decision that must come—you, and others of your kind, contrive to poison the great educated, decent-thinking class that we always thought secure. Your cry of “Peace—peace—at any price let us have peace,” has done its work. Consciously or unconsciously, Austin, you have been a traitor.’
Selwyn rose furiously to his feet. ’This is the end of our friendship,’ he said, with his voice almost choking, and his shoulders chafing under the passion which possessed him. ’Your chief has chosen to name me as a reason for keeping you in America, and so it is I who have come between you and Marjory. For that I am sorry. But when you question my loyalty to America—that is the finish.’