THE PARTS MEN PLAY
ARTHUR BEVERLEY BAXTER
Author of “Merrie Gentlemen,” “The Airy Prince," etc.
SYNOPSIS:—Lady Durwent, the commoner wife of an English peer, has two sons, Malcolm and Dick, the latter a headstrong lad always in trouble, and one daughter Elise. Finding herself barred from the inner circles of society on account of her plebeian birth, she cultivates unusual people and so in course of time, when Malcolm has grown up and joined the Guards and Dieft has been rusticated from College and Elise has become a beautiful, though rebellious young lady, Lady Durwent gives a dinner in honor of a young American author,
Austin Selwyn. The latter is attracted by Elise who appears to him to have a character of great complexity.
He persuades her to have dinner with him at a WestEnd restaurant. They are disturbed by sounds of loud hilarity and find that Dick is in the next compartment, in a drunken condition, with a party of gay friends.
CHAPTER VII — Continued
SELWYN nodded his understanding. He hardly knew what words he could speak that might not hurt her.
"Listen, Dick dear,” she said, stepping very close to him and taking his hand in hers. “Please don’t say anything. Just come with me and I’ll take you to your rooms.” Through the befuddled wits of the young fellow came the sound of the voice that had dominated his childhood. He smelt the freshness of the long grass in the Roselawn meadows; with his disordered imagination he heard again the clattering of the horses’ hoofs on the country road, and he saw his sister with her copper-tinted hair flung to the breeze. With a look of mixed wonder and pain in the yellowish blue of his eyes, he allowed her to take his arm, and together they went slowly downstairs and through the throng of diners craning their necks to see, while the party he had left emitted snorts and howls of contempt.
Selwyn reached the door in time to help the drunken youth into the car, and then placed the cloak about Elise’s shoulders. She put out her hand.
“Good night,” she said.
“But you will permit me to come?” he said. “I could be of assistance.”
“No—no,” she said tensely, “please—I want to be alone with him. Have no fear, Mr. Selwyn. Poor old Dick would do anything for me.”
He held her hand in his. “Miss Durwent,” he said, “I cannot express what I mean. But if this makes any difference at all, it is only that I admire you infinitely more for—”
“No—please—please say nothing more,” she cried with a sound of pain in her voice.
“But may I come and see you again?”
She withdrew her hand and pressed it against her brow. “Yes. I—I don’t know. Good-night. Please don’t say any more.” The words ended in a choking, tearless sob. She stepped into the car, and with no further sign to him threw in the clutch and started away.
Huddled in the corner, his pale face glistening in the 1 amplight of the street, the Honorable Richard Durwent lay in a drunken sleep.
CHAPTER VIII Intermezzo
TT was several months later — May, to be precise— when Austin Selwyn made the determination, common to most men, to remain in for an evening and catch up in his correspondence.
After the manner of his species, he produced a small army of letters from various pockets, and spreading them in a heap on his desk, proceeded to answer the more urgent and postpone the less important to a further occasion when conscience would again overcome indolence. For an hour he wrote trivial politenesses to hostesses who had extended hospitality or were going to do so; there was a reply to a literary agent; one to a moving picture concern; an answer to a critic; and a note of thanks to an admirer.
Having disposed of these sundry matters he sat back in his chair and read a long letter that had been enclosed in an envelope bearing the postage stamp of the United States of America. At its finish he settled himself comfortably, lit a cigar, and, squaring his shoulders, wrote a reply to the Reverend Edgerton Forbes, rector of St.
Giles’ Episcopal Church Fifth Avenue, New York. 4
“London, May 12, 1914 “My Dear Edge,—
I’ve been supplying your friend the devil with all sorts of cobblestones recently, but, my dear old boy, if I had written you every time I intended to, you would have had no time to prepare those knock-out sermons of yours.
“In your letter you hint at possible heart entanglements for me.
Do you not know that t o
a writer all women are ‘copy?’ Even when he falls in love your author is so busy studying the symptoms that he usually fails to inform the lady until she has eloped with some other clown. >
"I must admit that you were partly correct in your surmise. I almost fell in love last November with a girl who invariably angered me when I was with her, but clung to my mind next day like an unfinished plot. I saw her
quite frequently up to February, when I went to the Continent, but have not called on her since my return.
“I met her first at her mother’s town house, where there were several people who admitted their greatness with an aplomb one was forced to admire. This girl sort of sat there and said nothing, but her silence had a good deal more in it than some of the talk. We had our first chat that night by the fire, next morning went riding in Rotten Row, and had dinner together the same night. Fast travelling, you say? On paper, yes, but actually I don’t know the girl any better now than the night I met her. She’s a strange creature; self-willed, fiery, sweet, and sometimes as clever as your Ancient Adversary. But friendship with her • makes me think of the days when I was a kid. My great hobby was building sky-scrapers with blocks, and very laboriously I would erect the structure up to the point when ‘feeding time’ or ‘washing time’ or being shown to the minister’ used always to intervene. When I returned, the blocks had always fallen dnvi.
Well, friendship with Elise (pretty name, isn’t it?) is not unlike my experience with the blocks. You can leave her, firmly convinced that at last yôu are on a basis of real understanding, and two or three days later, when you meet her again, you find all the blocks lying around in disorder. Instead of a friend, one is an esteemed acquaintance. The only way to win her, I suppose, would be to call at dawn and stay until midnight. It would be a bit trying, but I get awfully fed up’ (as they say over here) with being constantly recalled to the barrier.
Of course, you old humbug, I can see you pursing your lips and saying: ‘Does Austin really love her? If he did he would be unable to see her faults.’ It’s an exploded theory that love is blind. Good Heavens! if a man in love can see in a girl beauty which doesn’t exist, is there any reason to suppose he will be unable to see the faults that do?
I don’t think I am in love with this young lady. I might be if I were given half a chance, but then emotional
icebergs were always my specialty. I meet a dozen girls who treat me with a tender cordiality that is touching; then there comes into my course one who expresses a sort of friendly indifférence, and there I stay scorching my wings or freezing my toes—whichever figureof speech you prefer.
“She makes me think of a painting sometimes, one that changes in appearance with the varying lights and shadows of the sky. But, Edge, given the exact light that her beauty needs, she is a masterpiece. In some strange way her personality has given me a new pleasure in Corot and Diaz. It is difficult to explain, but it is so. I feel my powers of description are inadequate really to picture Elise to you. She is truly feminine, and yet when she is with other women her unique gift of personality makes them merely feminine. ‘Lordy, Lordy,’ as a nigger of mine used to say, ‘dis am becomin’ abtuse.’
“As a matter of fact the girl is a result of conflicting elements of heredity. I haven’t met her father, but I gather that he is a good old Tory of blameless respectability and has * deep-seated disbelief in evolution. On the other hand, the girl’s mother is rather a buxom and florid descendant of a vigorous : orth of England family, the former members of which, with the exception of her father, were highly esteemed smugglers. The lady’s grandfather, Elise tells me, was known as ‘Gentleman Joe,’ and was as adventurous a cutthroat as a small boy’s imagination could desire.
“Well, Mr. Parson, you can imagine what happened when these conflicting elements of heredity were brought together. In the language ( f science, there was or.e negative result and two positive. The first mentioned is a son Malcolm, whom I have not met. He has a commission in the Cavalry, is a devil at billiards, can’t read a map, and rides like a Centaur. “Of the positive results it seems to me I may have already mentioned one—Elise. The other is Richard, the tragedy of the family. Poor Dick was practically kicked out of Eton for drunkenness when he was about fifteen. For the past year or so he has been at Cambridge, but he got in with a bad set there, and after several warnings has been ‘sent down’—or, in ordinary language, expelled. It appears that the old combination of ‘booze’ and women got the better of him, though there’s something oddly fine about the fellow too. He was hitting an awful pace at Cambridge, and when he tried to pass off a fourth-rate chorus girl as the Duchess of Turveydrop, the axe descended. As the masquerading duchess was rather noisy and very ‘elevated,’ you can see that there must have been complications.
“Of course his governor was furious and, settling a very small allowance on the poor beggar, turned him out of the family home and forbade him to ever darken, etc., etc. (see, split infinitive and all, any ‘best seller’ of a few years
“Does this seem at all incongruous to you? These so-called aristocrats bring a son into existence, and, providing he’s a decent-living, rule-abiding chap, he is* sheltered from the world and kept for the enriching of their own hot-house of respectability.
But—if one of them upsets the ashcan and otherwise messes up the family escutcheon, the father says: ‘You have disgraced our traditions. Get thee hence into the cold, outside world After this you belong to it.’
“Damned generous of paterfamilias, isn’t it? Only, as one of the cold, outside world, I can’t help wondering why, if Milord is going to keep his good apples for himself, we should have to accept the rotten ones?
“Concerning Cambridge—I spent a week-end there recently with Doug Watson of Boston, who is taking Engineering. Cambridge is quite a little community, as separate from the rest of England as the Channel Islands.
On the Saturday evening I was there,
Watson took a punt, and with considerable dexterity piloted me along the Cam with its green velvet banks and overhanging trees. The river is an exquisite thing, and there was a sensuous drowsiness in the beauty of the hour before dark.
“The lawns from the back of the colleges slope down to the river, and as we passed along we noticed group after group of students drinking coffee made from percolators in their possession. There was something almost pastoral in the sight of those young Britishers in such complete repose. Perhaps I should have enjoyed it all without question if it had not been that, a week before, I had visited a poor little Non-conformist preacher who labors on an empty stomach to a little congregation in a chain-making district. Edge, the sights I saw there were not good for any man to see and remain quiet. Women work at the fires when pregnant, and fuddle themselves with beer at night; the men are a shiftless lot, who spend their lives hand in hand with poverty and think only of beer, ‘baccy,’ and loafing. You know I’m no temperance man, but I hate to see beer the goal of men’s ambitions. In one school there was a class with forty ‘backward’ children. That’s the kinder word, Edge, but the real one is ‘imbecile.’ Think of it— forty human destinies that must be lived out to a finish! They tell me that conditions are improving there. I hope so, in Heaven’s name.
"It was that visit I had in mind when punting along the Cam. A man is a fool to pit his little mind against so vast and wonderful an edifice as a great university like Cambridge, but one thought which occurred more than once to me was whether or not a man can be considered educated if he be ignorant of human misery existing beyond the college gates. In the Scottish universities the Professor of Latin is called Professor of Humanity. I wonder, Edge, if the time is not ripe for a chair of Humanity in a wider sense in all universities?
• "On Sunday we went to one of the churches and, with eleven others, managed to present a formidable congregation of thirteen. The preacher's prayer, which he read, was a superb piece of work. He started off with the
King and the Royal Family, passed on to titled and landed gentry, after them the higher order of the clergy, leaders of the Navy, the Army, and all those in more or less authority, then the lower orders of the clergy, and after several categories I have forgotten, he reached the commoners, and (in an appropriate tone of voice) hoped we should live in peace, one with another.'
“Think of it, Edge, in this enlightened age! I wanted to go up to him after the service and ask him why he had left out the minor poets, but Doug stopped me, which is perhaps just as well. He might have added a prayer for Americans after the commoners.
“Sometimes I think that the English Church is losing its grip. I don’t mean that snobbery of the kind I have described is common, but in the development of Church character it seems to me that the truth of Christ’s birth into a humble walk of life is drifting steadily further from the clerical consciousness. The timid snobbery which
permeates so much of English life, and reaches its wretched climax in the terms ‘working class’ and ‘lower classes,’ finds condonement in the ranks of the clergy. Even in its humorous aspect, when Mrs. Retired Naval Officer starts to swank it over Mrs. Retired Army Officer (senior service, deah boy, y’know), and so on down the line, the local rector too often takes an active part in seeing that the various grades are punctiliously preserved. Of course there are glorious exceptions to all this, and they are the men who count.
“I suppose at home we are just as bad, and that even so democratic a preacher as yourself doesn’t take supper on Sunday night with the poorest parishioner. Perhaps living in a strange country makes a man see many things he would not notice in his own.
“To finish with Cambridge—we joined a party of two large punts on Sunday afternoon, and with about twelve college chaps and local (approved i girls v e vc t f ,r a
picnic up the river. The girls were fairly pretty and terrifically energetic, insisting upon doing an equal share in the punting and managing to look graceful while they manoeuvred the punts, which were really fair-sized barges. And when we reached the picnic place they made all the preparations, and waited on usas if we were royal invalids. Bless their hearts! Edge, to restore a man’s natural vanity, commend me to life in England. Coming home we played the gramophone, and, with appropriate flirtation, floated nearly the whole way to the holding of hands and the hearing of music.
“And, theologian as you are, if you deny the charm of that combination, I renounce you utterly.
“Just one more Cambridge thought. (This letter has as many false endings as one of your sermons). There were quite a number of native students from India in attendance, and I noticed that these men, many of them striking-looking fellows, were left pretty much to themselves.
The English answer when spoken to and offer that well-bred tolerance exerted by them so easily, but the Indian student must feel that he is not admitted on a footing of equality. I’m not certain that the dark races can be admitted as equals—but what effect on India will it have if these fellows are educated, then sent back with resentment fermenting their knowledge into sedition? It may be another case where the Englishman is instinctively right in his racial psychology; or, again, it may be a further example of his dislike to look facts squarely in the face.
“Of course we have our own racial problem, and have hardly made such a success of it that we can afford to offer advice.
“Well, Edge, this letter has run on to too great a length to permit of any European treatment. That will have to wait. Of course I have paid several visits to Paris and understand as never before the saying: ‘Every man loves two countries—his own and France.’
“Edge, why is it that people who travel always have the worst characteristics of their nationality? On the ■ Continent one sees Englishmen wearing clothes that I swear are never to be seen in England, and their women so often appear angular and semimasculine, whereas at home—but then you know what an admirer I am of English women. And our own people are worse. Tell me: at home when a gentleman talks to you, does he keep his cigar in his mouth and merely resonate through his nose? Or is that a mannerism acquired through travelling?
“But enough, old boy. Time has covered too vast an acreage of thought already. Oh yes—about my writing. I have been doing very little recently, but can feel the tide rising to that point where it will of necessity overflow the confines of my lethargy. I have had the honor of meeting several of the foremost writers here, and there is no question about it, they are doing excellent work. But I wish that I could feel a little more idealism in their work. The whole country here is parched for the lack of Heaven’s moisture of idealism. People must, have an objective in their lives, and the Arts should combine with the Church in creating it.
"Of course there is an amazing amount of drivel written over here, most of which, I think, would never get past the office-boy of an American publication. •The English short story and the English music-hall are things to be avoided.
"Before I end, have you seen Gerard Yanderwaterrecently? 1 heard that he joined the diplomatic service at Washington after leaving college. I often think of him with his strange pallor, but suggestion of brooding strength. Did it ever strike you that everyone respected him and yet he really never had a close friend? It always seemed to me that he carried about with him a sense of impending tragedy. Find out what he is doing and let me know.
“Well, old boy, in another few months 1 shall pack up and return to America, and once more woo the elusive editor. I am looking forward to sitting by your fireside and, through the cloud of tobacco smoke, weaving again our old romances. I am really proud of you, Edgerton, and know that you must be a tremendous power for good. FROM the time that Austin Selwyn received the note there was nothing else in his mind —as in Elise’s—but the coming meeting. As playwrights planning a scene, each went through the encounter in prospect a dozen times, reading into it the play of emotions which was almost
Continued on Page 67
The Parts Men Play
Continued from Page 21
certain to dominate the affair. Although completely ignorant of her motive In writing to him, Selwyn invented a hundred different reasons—only to discard them alL Nor was Elise more able to satisfy herself as to the outcome of the meeting. It was not his actions that were difficult to forecast, but her own. Would her dislike of him be intensified? Would she experience again the momentary rapture of that summer afternoon?
It was fortunate that another lover had appeared for Marian, so that the desertion of Maynard did not leave her moping untidily about the place. She was one of those women who are so singularly lacking in self-sufficiency that, except when in the company pf men, they are as flat as champagne from which the sparkle has departed.
It so happened, therefore, that Elise was again alone the following evening, dreading Selwyn’s arrival, yet impatient of delay.
A few minutes after eight she heard him knock, and, going to the street door, opened it for him. The night _ was a vaporish, miserable one, blurring his figure into indistinctness, and when he spoke his voice was hoarse, as though the damp tendrils of the mist had penetrated to his throat.
Answering something to his greeting, she led him through the hallway into the sitting-room. He paused as he entered. Without looking back, she crossed to the fireplace, and kneeling down, stirred the fire.
“May I help?”
"No, thanks. I prefer to do it.”
Her answer had followed so swiftly on his question that he stopped in the âct of stepping forward. She looked over her shoulder with a swift, searching glance.
HIS face was a tired gray, and the silk scarf thrown about his neck looked oddly vivid against the black evening clothes and overcoat. But if his face suggested weariness, his eyes were alive with dynamic force. The intensity of the man’s personality strangely moved Elise. She felt the presence of a mind and a body vibrating with tremendous purpose—a man who drew vitality from others, yet charged them in return with his own greater store.
To her he seemed to have divorced himself from type—he had lost even the usual characteristics of race. With the thought, she wondered how far his solitary life had effected the transition, if his idealism had brought him loneliness.
“Won’t you sit down?” she said hesitatingly.
“Do you mind if I stand?” he replied. She acquiesced, and took a seat in the chair from which Maynard had run the emotional gamut the previous evening. His desire to stand annoyed her. It was nothing, but at the very beginning it introduced an element of duelling.
“You look pale,” she said. “I hope you have not been unwell.”
“No—no, it is merely that I have been so little out of doors. I could not gather from your note what kind of work you were engaged in. I see you are an ambulance-driver. I congratulate you.”
His voice conveyed nothing but polite interest in an obvious situation. With over-sensitive apprehension she listened for any suggestion of sarcasm that lay behind his words, but she could detect nothing beyond mere impersonal courtesy —that, and a far-off weariness, as of one who has passed the borders of fatigue.
“I wrote to your mother,” he said, “when I heard of your elder brother’s death. It must have been a great grief to you all.”
She did not answer him. His manner was so cold that he might have been deliberately disposing of a number of prepared comments rendered imperative by the laws of polite intercourse.
“Why didn’t you let us know you had seen Dick?” she said abruptly.
“Then—you have heard?” He raised his eye-brows in surprise.
“Only last night, by the merest accident. He might have been killed in France, and we should never have known about it.” Her words were resentful and swift. “Will you please tell me about him?” Omitting the incident of Archibald’s tavern, Selwyn told of the chance meeting with Dick, the encounter with Johnston Smyth, the night at the rooms in St. James’s Square, and the subsequent glimpse of them marching through Whitehall.
“Your brother asked me to saying nothing,” he said calmly. “That is one of the reasons why I did not let you know.” “Had Dick changed at all?” she asked, trying to make her words as listless as his. “I wish that you would tell me something that he said. You must know more about him than just—” , “I don’t think he had changed,” said Selwyn; and fór the first time his voice was tinged with compassion. “He spoke of you with a kind of worship. I suppose you know how he idolizesyou.”
His dark eyes looked at her through partially closed eyelashes, but only the manner in which her fingers compressed the fold of her skirt betrayed the turmoil of her feelings.
“Is that all you can tell me?”
“That is all.” He made no attempt to elaborate the conversation or to introduce any new theme. The scene which had promised to be so dramatic was actually dragging with uncomfortable silences. She waited long enough for him to speak, but when he remained silent—it was a sardonic silence to her—she rose from the chair with the manner of one who has determined to bring an interview to a
“Thank you for coming so promptly,” she said. “I am most grateful for your kindness to Dick—and I know enough of ■the law to realize that you were taking a risk in hiding him.”
“It was nothing at all,” he said. He looked at her for an indication that her questions were at an end.
“I hope you will be able to get a taxi,” she ventured helplessly.
FOR the first time he smiled, and she reddened with mortification. He had been so cool and unyielding, so bloodless, -that he had forced her to a disadvantage. She knew he could not be ignorant of the «train of the affair on her, yet he had done nothing to ease it. If she could have rojected her mind into his she would ave seen that his conduct was as inexplicable to himself as to her. He knew he was hurting her. . . Perhaps it was because her warm lips and crimson cheeks were creating a torment in his soul that he could not curb the impulse to wound her. It may have been the subconscious knowledge that where one can hurt one can conquer, that dominated his actions. While she resented the invulnerability with which he guarded his own feelings, ■it is probable that any different attitude on his part would have brought forth a more active unkindness on hers. When men and women love, strange paradoxes are found.
They went to the door together, and in the brighter light of the hall Elise saw for the first time that he was considerably thinner and that his brow was like marble. She felt a little stab of pity for him, forgetting his own lack of sympathy towards herself; she caught a faint realization of what he must have endured for it to have marked him so indelibly.
“Don’t you think,” she said, “that you ought to go to the seaside for a while? You are not looking at all well.”
His lips grew firmer, but there was a curious look in his eyes as he turned towards her. “I have work to do here,” he said crisply.
“I know—but surely—”
“In London,” he said, and there was a suggestion of the fanatic’s ecstasy in his voice; “it is impossible to forget life. I don’t want my mind soothed or lulled. You can always hear the challenge of the human destiny in London.” He had held his head erect, and had spoken louder than was his custom; but, checking himself, he made a queer, dramatic gesture with his bands.
The fire of his spirit swept over her. Once more she stood close to him as she had done so many times in her thoughts. She did not know whether she loved or detested him. . . She was fascinated— trembling—longing for him to force her to surrender in his arms—knowing that she would hate him if he did. She gave a little cry as Selwyn, almost as if he read her conflicting throughts, took her arms with his hands once more.
“If we had both been English,” he said, and his voice was so parched that it seemed to have been scorched by his spirit, “or if we had met in other times than these, things might have been different. I know what you think of me for the work I am doing, but it would be as impossible for me to give' it ujp as for you to think as I do. We come of two different worlds, you and L : . I am sorry we have met to-night. For me, at least, it has reopened old wounds. And it is all so useless.”
SHE made no reply, but aah~ eyes were lowered to her face and he saw once more the trembling lips, her unsoiled womanliness, her whole vivid, lonely,
gripping charm. . . a look of suffering crossed his face. He realized the hopelessness of it all, but the admission was like tearing out a thread which had been woven into the whole scheme of his being.
“We both have our work to do,” he said wearily, letting his arms drop to his side. “Good-night.”
She answered, but did not give him her hand. With a repetition of the farewell he left her, and she walked musingly into the room again. She felt a flush of anger at his daring to say their friendship was impossible, when she had not even suggested that it could ever be resumed. His vanity knew no bounds. . . She was furious at having let him hold her as he did—even more furious with the knowledge that she would not have resisted if he had kissed her.
“And not once,” she murmured, with a little catch of her breath, “did he call me ‘Elise’.”
CHAPTÈR XVII Moonlight
TWO summers came and went, and the little park in St. James’s Square rested once more beneath its covering of autumn leaves.
Selwyn, who was still occupying the rooms of the absent New Yorker, was looking over his morning mail. The thinning of his hair at the temples was more pronounced, and here and there was the warning of premature gray. He had lost flesh, but his face had steadied into a set grimness, and his mouth had the firmness of one who had fought a long uphill fight.
Looking through a heavy mail, he extracted a letter from his New York agent.
“Oct. 2nd, 1916.
* “Dear Mr. Selwyn,—You will be interested to know that the extraordinary sensation caused by your writings in America has resulted in the sale of them to Mr. J. V. Schneider for foreign rights. They have been translated, and will shortly appear in the press of Spain, Norway, Holland, and the various states of South America.
“It would be impossible for me to forward pi ore than a small percentage of the comments of our press on your work, but in my whole literary experience I don’t remember any writer who has caused such a storm of comment on every appearance as you. As you can see by the selection I have made, the papers are by no means entirely favorable. I feel that you should know that you are openly accused of proGermanism, of being a conscientious objector, etc., etc.—all of which, of course, means excellent advertisement.
“I have had many inquiries as to whether you would care to conduct a lecture-tour. There is a Mr. C. B. Benjamin, who is financially interested in Mr. Schneider’s affairs, and who is willing to pay you almost anything within reason, if you care to state your terms.
“Of course the most discussed article of all is ‘The Island of Darkness,’ in which you accuse Britain of contributing so largely towards bringing about the present war. The German-American organizations and the strong Irish section here were especially jubilant, and everyone concedes that it has awakened a great deal of resentment against Britain that had been forgotten since the beginning of the war. Even your detractors admit that ‘The Island of Darkness' will live as a literary classic.
“Your first ten articles have been made into book form under the title America’s War, and are selling most satisfactorily. The first edition has gone into 40,000 copies. The attached clipping from the New York Express is fairly typical of the reception given the book by the proEntente press.
“Your September statement will go forward to-morrow with cheque covering foreign rights, royalties, etc.—I am, Mr. Selwyn, Yours very truly,
S. T. LYONS.”
WITH hardly more than a merely casual interest, Selwyn glanced at the clipping attached to the letter. It was from the editorial page of the Express;
“THE MENACE OF SELWYN
“In 1912 Austin Selwyn was known as a younger member of New York’s writing fraternity. He had done one or two good things and seve mediocre ones, but romised to reach the doubtful altitude of est-sellership without difficulty. To-day ! Selwyn is the mouthpiece of neutrality.
He has preached it in a language that will : not permit of indifference. He has succeeded in surrounding his doubtful idealism with a vigorousness that commands attention even if not respect. Right in the heart of London he is turning out insidious propaganda which is being seized upon by every ¡ neutral American who has his own reasons for wanting us to keep out of the war.
I It would be absurd to say that one man’s ! writing could in itself sway a great nation, but nevertheless it is a vehicle which is being used to the limit by every proGerman agency in this free land.
“Truly we are a strange people. We have a President who deliberately cuts his political throat with a phrase, “Too proud to fight”; but because we think Wilson is a greater man than he himself knows, we sew up the cut and send him back for another term. In the same way, although every red-blooded American has in his heart been at war with Germany since the Lusitania, we permit this man Selwyn to go on cocaining the conscience of our people until our flag, which we have loved to honor, is beginning to be a thing of shame. He should be brought back from England and interned here with à few ‘neutral’ German-Americans. He certainly can write, and perhaps from confinement he might give us a second De Profundis. His book, America’s War, which is now on the market, is a series of arguments showing that America is at war with the causes of the war. It is a nice conceit. Our advice is to add the book to your library—but don’t read it for ten years. In that time it will be interesting to see the work of a brilliant mind prostituted (and in this we are placing the most charitable construction on Mr. Selwyn’s motives) by intellectual perversion.”
Without the expression of his face unftergoing any change, Selwyn carefully placed the letter on his file and took from the envelope a number of American press clippings. Choosing them at random, he contented himself with reading the headings:
“Author of ‘The Island of Darkness again hits out.”
“ ‘Britain has thrived on European medievalism,’ says Austin Selwyn.”
‘‘More hot air from the super-Selwyn.” “Selwyn is the spokesman for enlightened America.”
“Masterful thinker, masterful writer, is the author of ‘The Island of Darkness.’ ” “What does Selwyn receive from Germany?”
“The arch-hypocrite of American letters.”
With a shrug of his shoulders he threw them to one side. “A pack of hounds!” he muttered, “howling at the moon.”
IJ E leaned back in his chair and ponA -*■ dered over the written word that could leap such spaces and carry his message into countries which he had never seen. It was with a deeper emotion than just the author’s pleasure at recognition that he visualized his ancestor leaving Holland for the New World, and the strange trend of events which was resulting in the emigrant’s descendant sending back to the Netherlands his call to higher and world citizenship.
Still ruminating over the power that had become his, he noticed a letter, on the envelope of which was written “On Active Service,” and breaking the seal, found that it was from Douglas Watson, written at a British hospital in France. As Selwyn read it the impassiveness of his face gave way to a look of trouble. For the first time in many months there was the quick play of expression about his lips and his eyes that had always differentiated him from those about him.
At the conclusion of the letter he put it down, and crossing to the French windows, leaned against them, while his fingers drummed nervously on the glass. With a gesture of impatience, as though he resented its having been written at all, he picked up the letter once more, and turning the pages, quickly reached the part which had affected him so:
“. . . . They tell me I’m going to lose my arm, and that I’m out of it; but they’re wrong. I’m going back to America just as soon as they will let me, and I’m going to tell them at home what this war is about. And, what’s more, I’m going to tell them what war is. It isn’t g.reat armies
moving wonderfully forward ‘as if on
Í>arade,’ as some of these newspaper felows tell you. It’s a putrid, rotten business. After Loos dead men and horses rotted for days in the sun. War’s not a thing of glory; it’s rats and vermin and filth and murder. Three weeks ago I killed a German. He hadn’t a chance to get his gun up before I stuck him with my bayonet like a pig. As he fell, his helmet rolled off; he was about eighteen, with sort of golden hair, and light, light blue eyes. I’ve been through some hell, Austin, but when I saw his face I cried like a kid. To you that’s another argument for our remaining neutral. To me that poor little Fritzie is the very reason America should have been in it from the first. Can’t you see that this Prussian outfit is not only murdering Frenchmen and Russians and Britishers, but is murdering her own men as well? If America had been in the war it would have been over now, and every day she holds back means so many more of the best men in the world dead.
“For the love of Mike, Austin, clear your brains. I have seen your stuff in American papiers sent over to me, and it’s vile rot. To-morrow they’re going to take my left arm from me, but—”
CELWYN crumpled the letter in his ^ hand and hurled it into the fireplace. Plunging his hands into his pockets, he paced the room as he had done that night when Watson had called to tell him he was going to enlist. He was seized with an incoherent fury at it all—the inhumanity of it—the degradation of the whole thing. But through the formless cloud of his thoughts there gleamed the one incessant phrase, “about eighteen, with sort of golden hair, and light, light blue eyes.”. . . Why should that groove his consciousness so deeply? He had heard, unmoved, of the death of Malcolm Durwent. . '. A month ago he had read how Captain Fensome of Lady Durwent’s house-party had been killed trying to rescue his servant in No Man’s Land. . . The sight of Dick Durwent and Johnston Smyth marching away had been only a spur to more intensive writing. . . . Then why should that haltingly worded sentence lie like ice against his heart?. . .
A sharp pain shot through his head. Stopping his walk he leaned once more against the windows, and rested his hot face on the grateful coolness of the glass.
What, he questioned, had he accomplished, after all? He had gained the ears of millions, but the war was no nearer a close. America was neutral—that was true. But why was America neutral? Had he falsely idealized his own country? Was her aloofness from the world-war the result of a passionate, overwhelming realization of her God-deputed destiny as he had imagined?
Hitherto he had paid no attention to the writings in the English press chronicling the passing of the world’s gold reserve from London to New York. He had ignored the evidence of nation-wide prosperity from the Atlantic coast to San Francisco. All such things he had dismissed as unavoidable, unsought material results of America’s spiritual neutrality.
Yet. . . . while the wheels of prosperity were turning at such a pitch, there was a boy lying dead. . . . about eighteen. . .
He beat his fist into the palm of his hand. Who was this Schneider who had purchased foreign rights of his articles? What sort of a man was. this Benjamin , who wanted him to lecture? . Were they, as he had supposed, men of vision who wished to co-operate in achieving the great unison of Right?. . . Or were they
The thought was hideous. Was it possible that those writings, bom of his mental torture, robbing him of every friend he valued—was it thinkable that they had been used for gross purposes?
His fingers again played rapidly against the windows as he wrestled with the sudden ugly suspicion. At last, utterly exhausted, he sank into a chair.
“There is only one thing I can do,” he said decisively; “return to America at once.
If, as I have thought, her neutrality is in tune with the highest; if my fellowcountrymen are imbued with such a spirit of infinite mercifulness that from them will flow the healing streams to cure the wounds of bleeding Europe—then I have carried a lamp whose light reflects the face of God. . . But if. . . ”
(To he Continued)