Long before the appointed time Ernest walked up and down in front of the abode of Reginald Clarke, a stately apartment-house overlooking Riverside Drive.
Misshapen automobiles were chasing by, carrying to the cool river’s marge the restlessness and the fever of American life. But the bustle and the noise seemed to the boy only auspicious omens of the future.
Jack, his room-mate and dearest friend, had left him a month ago, and, for a space, he had felt very lonely. His young and delicate soul found it difficult to grapple with the vague fears that his nervous brain engendered, when whispered sounds seemed to float from hidden corners, and the stairs creaked under mysterious feet.
He needed the voice of loving kindness to call him back from the valley of haunting shadows, where his poet’s soul was wont to [Pg 14]linger overlong; in his hours of weakness the light caress of a comrade renewed his strength and rekindled in his hand the flaming sword of song.
And at nightfall he would bring the day’s harvest to Clarke, as a worshipper scattering precious stones, incense and tapestries at the feet of a god.
Surely he would be very happy. And as the heart, at times, leads the feet to the goal of its desire, while multicoloured dreams, like dancing-girls, lull the will to sleep, he suddenly found himself stepping from the elevator-car to Reginald Clarke’s apartment.
Already was he raising his hand to strike the electric bell when a sound from within made him pause half-way.
“No, there’s no help!” he heard Clarke say. His voice had a hard, metallic clangour.
A boyish voice answered plaintively. What the words were Ernest could not distinctly hear, but the suppressed sob in them almost brought the tears to his eyes. He instinctively knew that this was the finale of some tragedy.
[Pg 15]He withdrew hastily, so as not to be a witness of an interview that was not meant for his ears.
Reginald Clarke probably had good reason for parting with his young friend, whom Ernest surmised to be Abel Felton, a talented boy, whom the master had taken under his wings.
In the apartment a momentary silence had ensued.
This was interrupted by Clarke: “It will come again, in a month, in a year, in two years.”
“No, no! It is all gone!” sobbed the boy.
“Nonsense. You are merely nervous. But that is just why we must part. There is no room in one house for two nervous people.”
“I was not such a nervous wreck before I met you.”
“Am I to blame for it—for your morbid fancies, your extravagance, the slow tread of a nervous disease, perhaps?”
“Who can tell? But I am all confused. I don’t know what I am saying. Everything is so puzzling—life, friendship, you. I fancied [Pg 16]you cared for my career, and now you end our friendship without a thought!”
“We must all follow the law of our being.”
“The laws are within us and in our control.”
“They are within us and beyond us. It is the physiological structure of our brains, our nerve-cells, that makes and mars our lives.
“Our mental companionship was so beautiful. It was meant to last.”
“That is the dream of youth. Nothing lasts. Everything flows—panta rei. We are all but sojourners in an inn. Friendship, as love, is an illusion. Life has nothing to take from a man who has no illusions.”
“It has nothing to give him.”
They said good-bye.
At the door Ernest met Abel.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“For a little pleasure trip.”
Ernest knew that the boy lied.
He remembered that Abel Felton was at work upon some book, a play or a novel. It occurred to him to inquire how far he had progressed with it.
[Pg 17]Abel smiled sadly. “I am not writing it.”
“Not writing it?”
“I am afraid I don’t understand.”
“Never mind. Some day you will.”