He sat down, and in an instant the whole crowd was on its feet. Men cheered and shouted, and, unashamed, tears ran down many faces. With his heart pounding and his eyes blinded with emotion, Selwyn did not make a move. He could only watch, through the mist, the figure of Gerard Van Derwater with its cloak of loneliness. He saw him look down at the message and break the seal of the envelope. He saw a flush of colour sweep into the pallid cheeks and then recede again. Still with the air of calmness and self-control, Van Derwater rose again to his feet. ‘Gentlemen,’ he said. The room was hushed instantly and every face was turned towards him. ’Gentlemen, I have received a message from my headquarters. Germany has announced the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare.’
For a moment the room swam before Selwyn’s eyes. The shouts and exclamations of the others seemed to come from a distance. And suddenly he found that he was on his feet. His eyes were like brilliants and his voice rang out above all the other sounds.
‘Van!’ he cried, ‘does this mean war—at last?’
With steady, unchanging demeanour his former friend looked at him. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘At last.’
And as they watched they saw Van Derwater’s hands contract, and for a moment that passed as quickly as it came his whole being shook in a convulsive tremor of feeling. Then, in a silence that was poignant, he sank slowly into his chair, his shoulders drooping, listless and weary. With eyes that were seeing into some secret world of their own he gazed dreamily across the room, and a smile crept into his face—a smile of one who sees the dawn after a long, bitter night.
‘Thank God,’ he said, with lips that trembled oddly. ‘Thank God.’
THE SMUGGLER BREED.
On an April evening, fifteen months later, a certain liveliness could have been noted in the vicinity of Drury Lane Theatre. The occasion was another season of opera in English, and as the offering for the night was Madam Butterfly, the usual heterogeneous fraternity of Puccini-worshippers were gathering in large numbers.
Although the splendour of Covent Garden (which had been closed for the war) was missing, the boxes held their modicum of brilliantly dressed women; and through the audience there was a considerable sprinkling of soldiers, mostly from the British Dominions and America, grasping hungrily at one of the few war-time London theatrical productions that did not engender a deep and lasting melancholy—to say nothing of a deep and lasting doubt of English humour and English delicacy.