Inciting his eyes roam about the place, Selwyn noticed a group of six or seven subalterns surrounding a Staff officer, the whole party indulging in explosive merriment apparently over the quips of the betabbed gentleman in the centre. Selwyn shifted his chair to get a better view of the official humorist, but he could only make out a tunic well covered with foreign decorations. A moment later one of the subalterns shifted his position, and Selwyn could see that the much-decorated officer was wearing an enormous pair of spurs that would have done admirably for a wicked baron in a pantomime. But his knees! Superbly cut as were his breeches, they could not disguise those expressive knees.
Selwyn called a waitress over. ‘Can you tell me,’ he said, ’who that officer is in the centre of the room—that Staff officer?’
‘Him? Oh, that’s Colonel Johnston Smyth of the War Office.’
‘Colonel—Johnston Smyth!’ Selwyn repeated the words mechanically.
‘That’s him himself, sir. Will you have anything to drink?’
‘I think I had better,’ said Selwyn.
About ten minutes later, after perpetrating a jest which completely convulsed his auditors, the War Office official rose to his feet, endeavoured to adjust a monocle—with no success—smoothed his tunic, winked long and expressively, and with an air of melancholy dignity made for the door, with the admiring pack following close behind.
‘Good-day, colonel,’ said Selwyn, crossing the room and just managing to intercept the great man.
The ex-artist inclined his head with that nice condescension of the great who realise that they must be known by many whom it is impossible for themselves to know, when he noticed the features of the American. ‘My sainted uncle!’ he exclaimed; ’if it isn’t my old sparring-partner from Old Glory!—Gentlemen, permit me to introduce to you the brains, lungs, and liver of the American Army.’
The subalterns acknowledged the introduction with the utmost cordiality, suggesting that they should return to the lounge and inundate the vitals of the American Army with liquid refreshment; but Selwyn pleaded an excuse, and with many ‘Cheerios’ the happy-go-lucky youngsters moved on, enjoying to the limit their hard-earned leave from the front.
‘May I offer my congratulations?’ said Selwyn.
‘Come outside,’ said the colonel.
They adjourned to the terrace, and Smyth placed his hand in the other’s arm. ‘Do you know who I am?’ he said.
‘Eh?’ said Selwyn, rather bewildered by the mysterious nature of the question.
’I, my dear Americano, am A.D. Super-Camouflage Department, War Office.’ The colonel chuckled delightedly, but checking himself, reared his neck with almost Roman hauteur. ’I have one major, two captains, five subalterns, and eleven flappers, whose sole duty is to keep people from seeing me.’
‘Why?’ asked the American.