There was a frankness of countenance, a certain humour which one felt would rarely rise above banter, and the whole bearing was manly and attractive. But search the features as he would, Selwyn could not discover any lurking traces of undiscovered personality. Malcolm’s very frankness seemed to rob him of possession of any hidden, unexpected vein of individuality. He was essentially a type, and of as clear Anglo-Saxon origin as if he were living in the days before his breed was modified by inter-association with other tribes.
Selwyn recalled the words of Mathews: ’Milord, you’re a thoroughbred, you are.’ This youth was of a race of thoroughbreds. Maternal heredity had skipped him altogether; he was a Durwent of Durwents, and heir to all the distinction and lack of distinction which marked the long line of that family.
And opposite him was an American whose two generations of Republican ancestry led to the paths of Dutch and Irish parentage. Selwyn had never tried to discover the cause why his paternal ancestor had left the Green Island, or his maternal ancestor the land of dikes and windmills; it was sufficient that, out of resentment against conditions either avoidable or unavoidable, each had resolved to endure the ordeal of making his way in a land of strangers. Austin Selwyn bore the marks of that inheritance no less clearly than Malcolm Durwent bore the marks of his. In his features there was a certain repose, as became the part-son of a race that had produced the art of Rembrandt, but there was a roving Celtic strain as well that hid itself by turn in his eyes, in his lips, in his smile, in the lines of his frown. In contrast to the clear Saxon steadiness of Malcolm Durwent, his own face was constantly touched by lights and shadows of his mind, lit by the incessant prompting of his thoughts that demanded their answer to the riddle of life.
Although his build was fairly powerful, Selwyn’s well-knit shoulders and alert movements of body spoke of a physique that was always tuned to pitch, but one missed the impression of limitless endurance which lay behind the easy carelessness of Malcolm Durwent’s pose.
‘I want to ask you, Durwent,’ said the American, ’more from the stand-point of a writer than anything else, if these men of yours who are going out to fight are actuated by a great sense of patriotism, or a feeling that the liberty of the world depends on them or—well, in other words, I am trying to discover what it is that makes you men face death as if it were a game.’
‘My dear chap,’ said the Englishman, with a slightly embarrassed smile, ’there again we leave it to the fellows higher up. Naturally, if Britain goes to war, it isn’t up to her army to question it one way or another. Of course, back in our heads we like to feel that she is in the right—but, then, I don’t think Britain would ever do the rotten thing; do you?’
‘N—no, I suppose not.’