Selwyn nodded his understanding. He hardly knew what words he could speak that might not hurt her.
‘Listen, Dick dear,’ she said, stepping very close to him and taking his hand in hers. ’Please don’t say anything. Just come with me, and I’ll take you to your rooms.’
Through the befuddled wits of the young fellow came the sound of the voice that had dominated his childhood. He smelt the freshness of the long grass in the Roselawn meadows; with his disordered imagination he heard again the clattering of horses’ hoofs on the country-road, and he saw his sister with her copper-tinted hair flung to the breeze. With a look of mixed wonder and pain in the yellowish blue of his eyes, he allowed her to take his arm, and together they went slowly downstairs and through the throng of diners craning their necks to see, while the party he had left emitted snorts and howls of contempt.
Selwyn reached the door in time to help the drunken youth into the car, and then placed the cloak about Elise’s shoulders. She put out her hand.
‘Good-night,’ she said.
‘But you will permit me to come?’ he said. ‘I could be of assistance.’
‘No—no,’ she said tensely, ’please—I want to be alone with him. Have no fear, Mr. Selwyn. Poor old Dick would do anything for me.’
He held her hand in his. ‘Miss Durwent,’ he said, ’I cannot express what I mean. But if this makes any difference at all, it is only that I admire you infinitely more for’——
‘No—please—please say nothing more,’ she cried with a sound of pain in her voice.
‘But may I come and see you again?’
She withdrew her hand and pressed it against her brow.
‘Yes. I—I don’t know. Good-night. Please don’t say any more.’ The words ended in a choking, tearless sob. She stepped into the car, and with no further sign to him threw in the clutch and started away.
Huddled in the corner, his pale face glistening in the lamplight of the street, the Honourable Richard Durwent lay in a drunken sleep.
It was several months later—May 1914, to be precise—when Austin Selwyn made the determination, common to most men, to remain in for an evening and catch up in his correspondence.
After the manner of his species, he produced a small army of letters from various pockets, and spreading them in a heap on his desk, proceeded to answer the more urgent, and postpone the less important to a further occasion when conscience would again overcome indolence. For an hour he wrote trivial politenesses to hostesses who had extended hospitality or were going to do so; there was a reply to a literary agent, one to a moving-picture concern, an answer to a critic, and a note of thanks to an admirer.
Having disposed of these sundry matters, he sat back in his chair and read a long letter that had been enclosed in an envelope bearing the postage-stamp of the United States of America. At its finish he settled himself comfortably, lit a cigar, and, squaring his shoulders, wrote a reply to the Reverend Edgerton Forbes, Rector of St. Giles’ Episcopal Church, Fifth Avenue, New York: