It was nearing the end of a breakfast that had been trying for every one. Lord Durwent’s usual kindly affability was overcast by a fresh worry—the non-appearance of his son Malcolm. Four telegrams had been despatched to Scotland, but no answer had come. Elise had been gay and talkative with a forced vivacity; and Lady Durwent had been bordering on hysteria. Not that the dear lady was of sufficient depth to be profoundly moved by the world’s tragedy, but her unsatisfied sense of the dramatic gave her a new thrill every time she said, ‘WE ARE AT WAR—THINK OF IT!’ as if she were afraid that without her reminder they might forget the fact.
Selwyn sat in almost complete silence, merely acknowledging Lady Durwent’s proclamations of a state of war by appropriate acquiescence, but his eyes remained fixed on the table. He could not trust them to look at Elise for fear they should prove traitor and sue for an ignoble peace. As for her, she met the situation with a smile, using woman’s instinct of protection to assume a cloak behind which her real feelings were concealed.
They had just risen from the table, when the sound of a motor-car was heard in the courtyard, and Elise hurried to the window.
‘It’s Malcolm, dad,’ she said.
More in hysteria than ever, Lady Durwent hurried from the room, followed more slowly by her husband and her daughter, and greeting the Honourable Malcolm at the door, smothered him in a melodramatic embrace.
‘My dear, brave Malcolm,’ she cried.
With as good grace as possible the young man submitted to the maternal endearments, disengaging her arms as soon as he decently could.
‘Where’s the governor?’ he asked. ’Ah, there you are.—Hello, Elise!—I’m frightfully sorry, pater,’ he went on, shaking hands with Lord Durwent and patting his sister on the shoulder, ’about those telegrams of yours, but we were on M’Gregor’s yacht miles from nowhere, and didn’t even know the dear old war was on until a fishing-johnny told us. Are my orders here?’
‘Yes,’ answered Lord Durwent; ’there are two telegrams for you. One came last night, and one this morning. I will just go into the library and fetch them.’
‘But, Malcolm,’ said Lady Durwent, ’let me introduce our guest, Mr. Selwyn of New York.
The young Englishman smiled with rather an attractive air of embarrassment. ‘I’m frightfully sorry,’ he said amiably, proffering his hand, ’I didn’t see you there. Have you had any kind of a time? It’s rather a bore being inland in the summer, don’t you think?’
‘I have enjoyed myself very much,’ said the American, ’in spite of the tragic end to my visit.’
‘Eh,’ said the Honourable Malcolm, startled by the seriousness of the other’s voice, ’what’s that? Ah yes—you mean the war. Excuse me if I look at these, won’t you?—Thanks, pater.’
‘WE ARE AT WAR——THINK OF IT!’ cried Lady Durwent in a gust of emotion, assuming the duties of a Greek chorus while her son examined the telegrams brought by her husband.