Van Derwater had also risen to his feet and with the utmost courtesy listened to Selwyn’s outburst. More than ever there was a mystic atmosphere of the Past in his bearing. He might have been a diplomat of the sixteenth century bidding adieu to a thwarted enemy plenipotentiary.
‘Austin,’ he said, with the merest inclination of his head, and his arms hanging wearily by his sides, ‘we live in difficult times.’
With an angry gesture, Selwyn left the room, and taking his coat and hat from the negro, went again into the street.
Closing his study door, Van Derwater moved slowly to his chair, and lifting his book, opened it. For a long time he gazed at the open page without reading a line. ‘Difficult times,’ he murmured.
Still in the grip of uncontrollable fury, Selwyn stamped his way through the streets. Colliding heavily with a passer-by, he turned and cursed him for his clumsiness. He cherished a mad desire to return to Van Derwater’s rooms and force an apology by violence. He had expected criticism, reproach, even abuse; but that any man should brand him treasonous! . . .
He spat into the gutter, and a sound that was almost a snarl escaped from his throat. He stopped, irresolute, and the wound in his head burst into a violent pain. He leaned against a post until the agony had passed, and once more he made for Broadway. At the sight of his face glowing-red with passion, girls tittered and men drew aside.
Crossing the road, he stood to let a street-car pass, its covered wheels giving an odd resemblance to an armoured car, when an extra burst of light made him look up.
It was the gum advertisement again.
A NIGHT IN JANUARY.
Next morning, when Selwyn left his hotel, a few desultory snowflakes were falling through the air, and moistly expiring on the asphalt pavements. It lacked a few minutes of nine, and the thousands who man the machinery of New York’s business were hurrying to their appointed places. People who had to catch trains were hurrying to stations; and people who had nowhere to go were hurrying still faster. Taxi-cabs were rushing people across the city; and other taxi-cabs were rushing them back again. The overhead railway was rattling and roaring its noisy way; the surface cars were clattering and clanging through the traffic; and every half-minute the subways were belching up cargoes of toilers into the open air.
New York was in a hurry.
All night the great engine of a million parts had lain idle, but morning was the signal that every wheel must leap into action again, driven by the inexhaustible army of human souls. Hurry, noise, clamour, greed, fever, progress. . . . Another day had dawned!