He stared at her, dumbfounded. Her eyes were glowing, and her lips were parched with the fever of the breath passing through them.
‘A joke?’ he said. ’Great heavens! Do you think I would jest on such a subject?’
’But—— You mean that we women should organise, rise up, to hinder our men from going to war?’
‘Doesn’t your heart tell you how infamous war is?’
‘What does that matter?’
‘But, Elise,’ he pleaded desperately, ’some one must be great enough to rise to the new citizenship of the world even if martyrdom be the condition of enrolment. It is far, far harder than snatching a musket and sweeping on with the mob, but it is for people like you and me to have the courage to try to stem this flood of ignorance, to stop this butchery of women’s hearts.’
‘Women’s hearts!’ She laughed hysterically. ’And you believe that you understand women! Do you think war appals us? Do you think because we may shed tears that it is from self-pity? Rubbish! There are thousands of us to-night who could almost shout for joy.’
’I mean it. Don’t you see that to-night our whole life has been changed? Men are going to die—horribly, cruelly—but they’re going to play the parts of men. Don’t you understand what that means to us? We’re part of it all. It was the women who gave them birth. It was the women who reared them, then lost them in ordinary life—and now it’s all justified. They can’t go to war without us. We’re partners at last. Do you think women are afraid of war? Why, the glory of it is in our very blood.’
‘But,’ cried Selwyn, ‘you can’t think what you are saying.’
’I don’t want to. All I know is that I could sing and dance and go mad for the wonder of it all.’
He took a step forward and grasped both her wrists in his hands.
‘Listen to me,’ he said, his jaw stiffening as he spoke; ’some of us have got to keep our sanity in this crisis. You know better than I, for you have described it to me, that this country has been darkened with ignorance just as Germany and the rest have been. This is the climax of it all—and you’re going to help it on, instead of having the courage to take your stand. Elise, to-night I pledged my whole life to a crusade against the darkness that men are forced to endure. It is going to be a long fight, and perhaps a hopeless one, although some day, somehow, the cause must win. And I need your inspiration. Oh, my dear, my dear, you must know how much I love you. Every minute that you’re away I’m hungry for you. When we were together that evening by the stream I longed so to take you in my arms that my heart ached with the repression I forced on myself. I have known that there were a thousand difficulties in the way, and I was not going to speak, but the other night when you met your brother by the oak’——
‘Oh! you were spying.’