’Jarvis sent me a note that he and his wife were running hack to New York, and that you were taking his rooms. Damn fine place, isn’t it? There’s a woman’s touch all over here. But you’re looking precious seedy.’
‘I feel all right.’
‘You don’t look it.’
‘I have been very busy, Doug.’
‘Glad to hear it. Putting over a killing in the literature game?’
‘The biggest thing yet,’ said Selwyn, opening a drawer and searching for the cigars. ’I am making a sincere attempt to write something which will sway people. Have one of these?’
’Thanks. I guess I’d better smoke one while I have the chance. It might get the sergeant-major’s goat if he found a buck private smoking half-crown cigars.’
‘You haven’t joined the army?’
’Not yet; but I shall to-morrow. You can do it by graft, old boy. For three weeks I’ve courted a colonel’s daughter so as to get next to the old man, and to-morrow I receive my reward. I am to become a full-fledged Tommy Atkins.’
‘And the daughter?’
The younger man grinned and cut off the end of his cigar with a pocket-knife. ’Can you see the colonel’s daughter “walking out” with a Tommy? My dear Austin, patriotism excuses much, but the social code must be maintained. I’d render that in Latin if I wasn’t so rusty on languages. What are the chances of your coming along with me tomorrow?’
Selwyn reached for an ash-tray and matches.
‘America is neutral,’ he said quietly.
‘America is not neutral,’ replied Watson with a decisiveness that one would hardly have suspected to lie beneath the calm exterior and the veneer of good-breeding polished by Cambridge associations—a veneer that made his occasional lapses into crudity of language seem oddly out of place. ’The German-Americans, the Irish-Americans, the Jewish-Americans, the God-knows-who-else-Americans may be neutral, but the America of Washington and Lincoln, the America of Lee and Grant, isn’t neutral. Not by a long sight.’
‘Doug,’ said Selwyn reproachfully, ’you are the last man I thought would be caught by this flag-waving, drum-beating stuff.’
The younger man’s brows puckered as he looked through the haze of tobacco-smoke at his host. ‘Austin,’ he said abruptly, ’you’ve changed.’
‘Yes,’ said Selwyn thoughtfully. He was going to say more, but, changing his mind, remained silent.
‘I thought you looked different,’ went on Watson. ‘What’s up?’
Selwyn’s eyes narrowed and his lips and jaw stiffened resolutely. ’I am writing,’ he said, enunciating each word distinctly, ’in the hope of arousing the slumbering conscience of the world against this war.’
‘Canute the Second,’ commented Watson dryly.
‘Doug,’ said the other, frowning, ’I deserve better than sarcasm from you.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Watson with a laugh, ’but I can’t just get this new Austin Selwyn right off the bat. Of course war is wrong—any boob knows that—but what can you hope to do with writing about it?’