Bringing his fist down on the table with a crash, Watson leaned forward, and with flashing eyes poured out a stream of words in which reproach, taunts, accusations, and pleading were weirdly mixed. He told them they should remove the statue of Liberty and substitute one of Pontius Pilate. In a voice choking with emotion, he asked what they had done with the soul left them by the Fathers of the Republic. He pictured the British troops holding on with nothing but their indomitable cheeriness, and dying as if it were the greatest of jokes. In one sentence he visualised Arras with refugees fleeing from it, and New York glittering with prosperity. With no relevancy other than that born of his tempestuous sincerity, he thrust his words at them with a ring and an incision as though he were in the midst of an engagement.
‘That is all,’ he said when he had spoken for twenty minutes. ’In the name of those Americans who have died with the Allies, in the name of the Lusitania’s murdered, in the name of civilisation, I ask, What have you done with America’s soul?’
He sat down amidst a strained silence. Everywhere men’s faces were twitching with repressed fury. Some were livid, and others bit their lips to keep back the hot words that clamoured for utterance. The chairman made no attempt to rise, but by a subconscious unanimity of thought every eye was turned to the one man whose appearance had undergone no change. As if he had been listening to the legal presentation of an impersonal case, Gerard Van Derwater leaned back in his chair with the same courtly detachment he had shown from the beginning of the affair.
‘Mr. Van Derwater,’ said the chairman hoarsely; and a murmur indicated that he had voiced the wish of the gathering.
Slowly, almost ponderously, the diplomat rose, bowing to the chairman and then to Watson, who was looking straight ahead, his face flushed crimson.
‘Mr. Chairman—Mr. Watson—Gentlemen,’ said Van Derwater. He stroked his chin meditatively, and looked calmly about as though leisurely recalling a titbit of anecdote or quotation. ’Our friend from overseas has not erred on the side of subterfuge. He has been frank—excellently frank. He has told us that this Republic has become a jest, and that we are responsible. I assume from several of your faces that you are not pleased with the truth. Surely you did not need Mr. Watson to tell you what they are saying in England and France. That has been obvious—unpleasantly obvious—and, I suppose, obviously unpleasant.’
He smiled with a little touch of irony, and leaning forward, flicked the ash from his cigar on to a plate.
‘Mr. Watson,’ he resumed, ’has asked what we have done with America’s soul. That is a telling phrase, and I should like to meet it with an equally telling one; but this is not a matter of phraseology, but of the deepest thought. Gentlemen, if you will, look back with me over the brief history of this Republic. There are great truths hidden in the Past.