Ordinary forms of greeting had changed to mutual congratulations on affluence. Anecdotes of business men were no longer of struggle and privation, but of record outputs and maximum prices. Theatres, cafes, cinema palaces, churches, hotels—they had never seen such times. Success was in the very dampness of the air as thousands of people looked at it from the cosy interior of limousines, people who had never aspired higher than an occasional taxi-cab. The times! Dollars multiplied and begat great families of dollars—and Broadway glittered as never before.
It is difficult to state what trend of thought made conversation between the friends difficult, but after two or three desultory attempts they walked on without speaking. As they were entering the majestic portals of the club, Selwyn was reminded of a question he had intended all day to ask.
‘Edge,’ he said, ‘have you heard anything of Marjory Shoreham?’
‘She sailed two weeks ago for France,’ answered the clergyman.
They were directed to an upper floor, where they found a hundred or so guests who claimed Harvard as their alma mater. Although most of his old acquaintances were quite cordial, Selwyn felt oddly self-conscious. He caught sight of Gerard Van Derwater with his impassive courtliness dominating a group of active but less impressive men; and behind them he saw Douglas Watson of Cambridge surrounded by a dozen guests; but he pleaded a headache to Forbes, and sought a secluded corner, where he remained until dinner was announced.
Like all affairs where men are alone and the charming artifices of femininity are missing, there was a severity and a formality which did not disappear until the ministrations of wine and food had engendered a glow which did away with shyness. The table was arranged in the form of the letter U, with Watson beside the chairman at the head.
Towards the end of the dinner conversation and hilarity were growing apace. Men were forgetting the scramble of existence in the recollection of old college days, when their blood was like wine and the world a thing of adventure. Mellowed by retrospect, they laughed over incidents that had caused heart-burnings at the time; and as they laughed more than one felt a swelling of the throat. It was, perhaps, just an odd streak of sentiment (and the man who is without such is a sorry spectacle); or it may have been the memory of ideals, aspirations, dreams—left behind the college gates.
‘Gentlemen.’ The chairman had risen to his feet. Cigars were lit; and he was greeted with the usual applause. ’Gentlemen, we have gathered here at short notice to welcome an old boy of Harvard—Douglas Watson. He has a message which he wants to deliver to us, and not only because he is one with us in tradition would we listen, but his empty sleeve is a mute testimony that he has fought in a cause which—though not our own—is one which I know has the sympathy of every man in this room. I shall not detain you, gentlemen, but ask your most attentive hearing for Mr. Watson.’