After dinner the family adjourned for coffee to the living-room, and, as was his custom, Lord Durwent proffered his guest a cigar.
‘No, thanks,’ said Selwyn. ’If you will excuse me, I think I will do without a smoke just now.—Lady Durwent, do you mind if I go to my room for half-an-hour? There are one or two matters I must attend to.’
Half-way up the stairs he changed his mind, and went out on the lawn instead. Darkness was setting in with swiftly gathering shadows, and he found the cool evening air a slight solace to a brow that was weary with conflicting thoughts.
America had not acted. There towards the west his great country lay wrapped in ocean’s aloofness. The pointed doubts of the ex-army captain had been confirmed—America had stood aside. Well, why shouldn’t she! It was all very well, he argued, for Britain to pose as a protector of Belgium, but she could not afford to do otherwise. It was simply European politics all over again, and the very existence of America depended on her complete isolation from the Old World.
Yet Germany had sworn to observe Belgium’s neutrality, and at that very moment her guns were battering the little nation to bits. Was that just a European affair, or did it amount to a world issue?
If only Roosevelt were in power! . . . Who was this man Wilson, anyway? Could anything good come out of Princeton? . . . In spite of himself, Selwyn laughed to find how much of the Harvard tradition remained.
If America had only spoken. If she had at least recorded her protest. Supposing Germany won. . . .
He kicked at a twig that lay in his path, and recalled the wonderful regiments that he had seen march past the Kaiser only three months ago. Who was going to stop that mighty empire? Effeminate France? Insular, ease-loving England?
Passing the stables, he started nervously at hearing his name spoken.
‘Good-evening, Mr. Selwyn. It’s pleasant out o’ doors, sir.’
It was Mathews, the head-groom of the Durwents.
‘Yes,’ said the American, pausing, ‘very pleasant.’
’It looks sort of as if we was going to ‘ave some ditherin’s wi’ Germany, Mr. Selwyn.’
‘It does. I don’t see how war can be averted now.’
’It’s funny Mister Malcolm ain’t ’ome yet, sir. Has ‘is moberlizin’ orders came?’
’There’s a War Office telegram in the house. I suppose his instructions are in it.’
The groom shook his head and swung philosophically on his heels. He was a broad-faced man of nearly fifty, with an honest simplicity of countenance and manner engendered of long service where master and man live in a relation of mutual confidence. He sucked meditatively at a corn-cob pipe, and Selwyn, changing his mind about a cigar, produced a case from his pocket.
‘Have one, Mathews?’ he asked.
’No, thank ‘ee, sir. I’m a man o’ easy-goin’ ’abits, and likes me old pipe and me old woman likewise, both being sim’lar and the same.’