Between Friends

Robert W. Chambers


She had not posed for Drene during the last two weeks, and he had begun to miss her, after his own fashion--that is, he thought of her when not preoccupied and sometimes desired her companionship when unoccupied. 
          And one evening he went to his desk, rummaged among note-books, and scribbled sheets of paper, until he found her address, which he could never remember, wrote it down on another slip of paper, pocketed it, and went out to his dinner. 
          But as he dined, other matters reoccupied his mind, matters professional, schemes little and great, broad and in detail, which gradually, though not excluding her entirely, quenched his desire to see her at that particular time. 
          Sometimes it was sheer disinclination to make an effort to communicate with her, sometimes, and usually, the self-centering concentration which included himself and his career, as well as his work, seemed to obliterate even any memory of her existence. 
          Now and then, when alone in his shabby bedroom, reading a dull book, or duly preparing to retire, far in the dim recesses of heart and brain a faint pain became apparent--if it could still be called pain, this vague ghost of anger stirring in the ashes of dead years--and at such moments he thought of Graylock, and of another; and the partly paralyzed emotion, which memory of these two evoked, stirred him finally to think of Cecile. 
          It was at such times that he always determined to seek her the next day and continue with her what had been begun--an intimacy which depended upon his own will; a destiny for her which instinct whispered was within his own control. But the next day found him at work; models of various types, ages, and degrees of stupidity came, posed, were paid, and departed; his studies for the groups in collaboration with Guilder and Quair were approaching the intensely interesting period--that stage of completion where composition has been determined upon and the excitement of developing the construction and the technical charm of modeling begins. 
          And evening always found him physically tired and mentally satisfied--or perturbed--to the exclusion of such minor interests as life is made of--dress, amusement, food, women. Between a man and a beloved profession in full shock of embrace there is no real room for these or thought of these. 
          He ate irregularly and worked with the lack of wisdom characteristic of creative ability, and he grew thinner and grayer at the temples, and grayer of flesh, too, so that within a month, between the torrid New York summer and his own unwisdom, he became again the gaunt, silent, darkly absorbed recluse, never even stirring abroad for air until some half-deadened pang of hunger, or the heavy warning of a headache, set him in reluctant motion. 
          He heard of Cecile now and then; Cosby had used her for a figure on a fountain destined to embellish the estate of a wealthy young man somewhere or other; Greer employed her for the central figure of Innocence in his lovely and springlike decoration for some Western public edifice. Quair had met her several times at Manhattan Beach with various and assorted wealthy young men. 
          And one evening Guilder came alone to his studio and found him lying on the lounge, his lank, muscular hands, still clay-stained, hanging inert to the floor above an evening paper fallen there. 
          "Hello, Guilder," he said, without rising, as the big architect shambled loosely through the open doorway. 
          "How are you, Drene?" 
          "All right.  It's hot." 
          "There's not a breath of air.  It looks like a thunder-storm in the west." 
          He pulled up a chair and sprawled on it, wiping his grave features with a damp handkerchief. 
          "Drene," he said, "a philanthropic guy of sorts wants to add a chapel to the church at Shallow Brook, Long Island. We've pinched the job. Can you do an altar piece?" 
          "What sort?" 
          "They want a Virgin.  It's to be called the Chapel of the Annunciation. It's for women to repair to--under certain and natural circumstances." 
          "I've so much on hand--" 
          "It's only a single figure-barring the dove.  Why don't you do it?" 
          "There are plenty of other men--" 
          "They want you. There'll be no difficulty about terms." 
          Drene said with a shrug: 
          "Terms are coming to mean less and less to me, Guilder.  It costs very little for me to live." He turned his gray, tired face. "Look at this barn of a place; and go in there and look at my bedroom. I have no use for what are known as necessities." 
          "Still, terms are terms--" 
          "Oh, yes.  A truck may run over me.  Even at that, I've enough to live life out as I am living it here--between these empty walls--and that expanse of glass overhead. That's about all life holds for me--a sheet of glass and four empty walls--and a fistfull of wet clay." 
          "Are you a trifle morbid, Drene?" 
          "I'm not by any means; I merely prefer to live this way.  I have sufficient means to live otherwise if I wish. But this is enough of the world to suit me, Guilder--and I can go to a noisy restaurant to eat in when I'm so inclined--" He laughed a rather mirthless laugh and glanced up, catching a peculiar expression in Guilder's eyes. 
          "You're thinking," said Drene coolly, "what a god I once set up on the altar of domesticity. I used to talk a lot once, didn't I?--a hell of a clamor I made in eulogy of the domestic virtues. Well, only idiots retain the same opinions longer than twentyfour hours. Fixity is imbecility; the inconstant alone progress; dissatisfaction is only a synonym for intelligence; contentment translated means stagnation. . . . . I have changed my opinion concerning the virtues of domesticity." 
          Guilder said, in his even, moderate voice: 
          "Your logic is weird, Drene: in one breath you say you have changed your opinion; in another that you are content; in another that contentment is the fixedness of imbecility--" 
          Drene, reddening slightly, half rose on one elbow from his couch: 
          "What I meant was that I change in my convictions from day to day, without reproaching myself with inconstancy. What I believed with all my heart to be sacred yesterday I find a barrier to-day; and push it aside and go on." 
          "Toward what?" 
          "I go on, that's all I know--toward sanctuary." 
          "You mean professionally." 
          "In every way--ethically--spiritually.  The gods of yesterday, too, were very real--yesterday." 
          "Drene, a man may change and progress on his way toward what never changes. But standards remained fixed. They were there in the beginning; they are immutable. If they shifted, humanity could have no goal." 
          "Is there a goal?" 
          "Where are you going, then?" 
          "Just on." 
          "In your profession there is a goal toward which you sculptors all journey." 
          Guilder nodded. 
          "But," smiled Drene, "no two sculptors ever see it alike." 
          "It is still Perfection.  It is still the goal to the color-blind and normal alike, whatever they call it, however, they visualize it. That is its only importance; it is The Goal. . . . . In things spiritual the same obtains--whether one's vision embraces Nirvana, or the Algonquin Ocean of Light, or a pallid Christ half hidden in floating clouds--Drene, it is all one, all one. It is not the Goal that changes; only our intelligence concerning its existence and its immortality." 
          Drene lay looking at him: 
          "You never knew pain--real pain, did you?  The world never ended for you, did it?" 
          "In one manner or another we all must be reborn before we can progress." 
          "That is a cant phrase." 
          "No; there's truth under the cant.  Under all the sleek, smooth, canty phrases of ecclesiastic proverb, precept, axiom, and lore, there is truth worth the sifting out." 
          "You are welcome to think so, Guilder." 
          "You also could come to no other conclusion if you took the trouble to investigate." 
          Drene smiled: 
          "Morals are no more than folk-ways--merely mental condition consequent upon custom. Spiritual beliefs are radically dependant upon folkways and the resultant physical and mental condition of the human brain which creates everything that has been and that is to be." 
          "Physiology has proven that no idea, no thought, ever originated within the concrete and physical brain." 
          "I've read of those experiments." 
          "Then you can't ignore a conclusion." 
          "I haven't reached a conclusion.  Meanwhile, I have my own beliefs." 
          "That's all that's necessary," said Guilder, gravely, "--to entertain some belief, temporary or final." He smiled slightly down at Drene's drawn, gray visage. 
          "You and I have been friends of many years, Drene, but we have never before talked this way. I did not feel at liberty to assume any intimacy with you, even when I wanted to, even when--when you were in trouble--" He hesitated. 
          "Go on," grunted the other. "I'm out of trouble now." 
          "I just--it's a whimsical notion--no, it's a belief;--I just wanted to tell you one or two things concerning my own beliefs--" 
          "I don't know.  It doesn't matter; they are beliefs.  And this is one: all physical and mental ills are created only by our own minds--" 
          "Christian Science?" sneered Drene. 
          "Call it what you like," said Guilder serenely.  "And call this what you like: All who believe worthily will find that particular belief true in every detail after death." 
          "What do you call that?" demanded Drene, amused. 
          "God knows.  It seems to be my interpretation of the Goal.  I seem to be journeying toward it without more obstacles and more embarrassments to encounter than confront the wayfarer who professes any other creed." 
          After a while Drene sat up on his couch: 
          "How did all this conversation start?" he asked uneasily. 
          "It was about the Virgin for that chapel we are going to do. . . . . That's part of my belief: those who pray for her intercession will find her after death, interceding--" he smiled, "--if any intercession be necessary between us and Him who made us." 
          "And those unlisted millions who importune Mohammed and Buddha?" 
          "They shall find Mohammed and Buddha, who importune them worthily." 
          "He bears that name also--He!" 
          "Oh!  And so, spiritually as well as artistically, you believe in the Virgin?" 
          "You also can make a better Virgin if you believe in her otherwise than esthetically." 
          Drene gazed at him incredulously, then, with a shrug: 
          "When do you want this thing started?" 
          "I can't take it on now." 
          "I want a sketch pretty soon--the composition.  You can have a model of the chapel to--morrow. We went on with it as a speculation. Now we've clinched the thing. When shall I send it up from the office?" 
          "I'll look it over, but--" 
          "And," interrupted Guilder, "you had better get that Miss White for the Virgin--before she goes off somewhere out of reach." 
          Drene looked up somberly: 
          "I haven't kept in touch with her. I don't know what her engagements may be." 
          "One of her engagements just now seems to be to go about with Graylock," said Guilder. 
          Drene flushed, but said nothing. 
          "If he marries her," added Guilder, "as it's generally understood he is trying to, the best sculptor's model in town is out of the question. Better secure her now." 
          "He wants to marry her?" repeated Drene, in a curiously still voice. 
          "He's mad about her.  He's abject.  It's no secret among his friends. Men like that--and of that age--sometimes arrive at such a terminal--men with Graylock's record sometimes get theirs. She has given him a run, believe me, and he's brought up with a crash against a stone wall. He is lying there all doubled up at her feet like a rabbit with a broken back. There was nothing left for him to do but lie there. He's lying there still, with one of her little feet on his bull neck. All the town knows it." 
          "He wants to marry her," repeated Drene, as though to himself. 
          "She may not take him at that. They're queer--some women.  I suppose she'd jump at it if she were not straight. But there's another thing--" Guilder looked curiously at Drene. "Some people think she's rather crazy about you." 
          Drene gazed into space. 
          "But that wouldn't hurt her," added Guilder, in his calm, pleasant voice. "She's a straight little thing--white and straight. She could come to no harm through a man like you." 
          Drene continued to stare at space. 
          "So," continued the other, confident, "when she recovers from a natural and childlike infatuation for you she'll marry somebody. . . Possibly even such a man as Graylock might make her happy. You can't ever tell about such men at the eleventh hour." 
          Drene turned his eyes on him. There was no trace of color in his face. 
          "Aren't you pretty damned charitable?" 
          "Charitable?  Well, I--I'm so inclined, I fancy." 
          "You'd be content to see that girl marry a dog like that?" 
          "I did not say so.  I am no judge of men.  No man knows enough to condemn souls." 
          Drene looked at him: 
          "Well, I'll tell you something.  I know enough to do it.  I had rather damn my soul--and hers, too--than see her marry the man you have named. It would be worth it to me." 
          After a strained silence, Guilder said: 
          "There is a mode of dealing with those who have injured you, which is radically different--" 
          "I deal with such people in my own fashion!" 
          "But, after all, the infamy is Graylock's.  Why oblige him by sharing it with him?" 
          "Do you know what he did to me and mine?" 
          "A few of us know," said Guilder, gently, "--your old friends." 
          There came a pale, infernal flicker into Drene's eyes: 
          "I'll take your commission for that altar piece," he said. 
          "What is it?  An Annunciation?" 


.. .. ..
.. copyright @ 2003 Miskatonic University Press / Yankee Classic Pictures, Inc. All rights reserved. MU-LBS-0198