The powerfully built young American twirled his hat uncomfortably between his fingers. ‘Look here, Austin,’ he said vehemently, ’why in blazes can’t you get all that hot air out of your system? Come on—meet me to-morrow, and we’ll join up together. It’ll be all kinds of experience, you’ll get wagon-loads of copy, and when it’s all over you’ll feel like a man instead of a sissy.’
With a tired, patient smile Selwyn put out his hand. ’Good-night, Doug,’ he said. ‘I hope you come through all right.’
When he heard the door close downstairs as Watson went out, Selwyn re-entered the room. The light of the electric lamp glaring on his manuscript pained his eyes, and he turned it out, leaving the room in the dim light of the fire. The man-servant entered with a tray.
‘Will you have the light on, sir?’
‘No, thanks, Smith. Just leave the things on the table.’
‘Thank you, sir. Good-night, sir.’
The room was strangely, awesomely quiet. There was no sound from the deserted square; only the windows shook a little in the breeze. He reached for the ukulele, and staring dreamily into the fire, picked softly at the strings until he found four notes that blended harmoniously.
The fire slowly faded from his gaze, and in its place, by memory’s alchemy, came the vision of her face—a changing vision, one moment mocking as when he first met her, turning to a look of pain as when she spoke of Dick, and then resolving into the wistful tenderness that had crept into her eyes that evening by the trout-stream—a tenderness that vanished before the expression of scorn she had shown that fateful August night.
The night stole wearily on, but still Selwyn sat in the shadowy darkness, occasionally strumming the one chord on the strings, like a worshipper keeping vigil at some heathen shrine and offering the incense of soft music.
One slushy night in December Selwyn was returning from a solitary dinner at a modest Holborn restaurant, when a damp sleet began to fall, making the sickly street-lamps darker still, and defying the protection of mufflers and heavy coats. With hat pulled over his eyes and hands immersed in the pockets of his coat, he made his way through the throng, while the raucous voices of news-venders cried out the latest tidings from the front.
To escape the proximity of the crowds and the nerve-shaking noises of traffic, he turned down a wide thoroughfare, and eventually emerged on Fleet Street. Again the seething discontent of rumbling omnibuses and hurrying crowds irritated him, and crossing to Bouverie Street, where Mr. Punch looks out on England with his genial satire, he followed its quiet channel until he reached the Thames.