‘Supposing,’ said the other, ‘that Germany invades Belgium?’
‘But—I understand that Germany has guaranteed Belgium’s neutrality.’
The ex-officer showed no signs of having heard him, but shook his head impatiently as one does when annoyed by a fly. ‘Supposing,’ he repeated, ‘that Germany invades Belgium.’
‘In that case,’ said Selwyn sternly, ’America will be the first to protest.’
‘And fight,’ said the American, swallowing a desire to hurl a plate at the monocle.
‘You will pardon me,’ said Lord Durwent, ’but I do not think we can expect America to become mixed up in this thing. She has her own problems of the New World, and it is too much to hope that she is going to come over here and become embroiled in a European conflict.’
‘But, dad,’ said Elise Durwent, speaking for the first time, ’if, as Mr. Selwyn says, it is clear that a wrong is being committed, America will insist upon acting.’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ broke in the youth who was always lively at breakfast, but who was beginning to be bored; ’it’s one thing to get waxy about your own corns, and quite another when they’re on some other blighter’s foot—what? I mean, you chaps over there got awfully hot under the collar when dear old Georgius Rex—Heaven rest his soul!—tried to jump down your throat with both spurs on and gallop your little tum-tums out. But the question is, does it hurt in the same place if old Frankie-Joseph of Austria pinks Thingmabob of Servia underneath the fifth rib—what, what?’
‘Is Britain great enough for such a situation?’ asked Selwyn, repressing a smile. ‘Would she accept Belgium’s crisis as her own?’
‘Oh, that’s another thing,’ said the young man a little uncomfortably. ’We’ve signed the bally thing, and of course we’ll play the game, and’——
‘As Maynard says,’ interrupted the former army man, ’it’s a bigger thing for America than for us. Mind you, I don’t say we need America to help us to make war, but we do need her help if war is to be averted; and any move of such a nature on her part demands what you author fellows would call “a high degree of altruism.” How’s that, Durwent, for a chap who never reads anything but the Pink Un?’
‘Oh, well,’ said Lady Durwent complacently, ’it’s probably all a storm in a teacup, anyway. Some Austrian diplomat has been jilted for a Servian, I suppose. Isn’t that the way wars always happen?’ and she sighed heavily, recalling to her mind the classic features of H. Stackton Dunckley.
‘That’s what I say,’ said the bright youth of the morning splendour. ’Why make a horse cross a bridge if it won’t drink? Here goes—heads, a European war; tails, another thousand years of peace.—Ah, tough luck, Fensome, old son; it’s tails.’
‘Then let’s begin the thousand years with some tennis,’ cried Elise, whose eyes were sparkling, ‘immediately after breakfast.’