Between Friends

Robert W. Chambers


Composition had been determined upon, and the sketch completed by the middle of August; Cecile had sat for him every day from nine until five; every evening they had dined together at the seashore or other suburban and cool resorts. Together they had seen every summer entertainment in town, had spent the cooler, starlit evenings together in his studio, chatting, reading loud sometimes, sometimes discussing he work in hand or other subjects of he moment, even topics covering a wider and more varied range than he had ever before discussed with any woman. 
          He seemed to have become utterly changed; the dark preoccupation had been absent from his face--the gauntness, the grayness, seemed to have become subdued; the deep lines of pain, imperceptible at times, smoothed out and shadowed in an almost gay resurgence of youth. 
          If, during the first week or two of her companionship, his gaiety had been not entirely spontaneous, his smile shadowed with something duller, his laughter a trifle forced, she had not perceived it in her surprised and shyly troubled preoccupation with this amazing and delightful transfiguration. 
          At first she scarcely knew what to look for, what to expect from him, from herself, when she came into the studio after many weeks of absence; and she always halted in the doorway, trembling a little, as always, when in contact with him. 
          But he was very delightful, smiling, easy, and deferential enough to reassure her with a greeting that became him, as he saluted her pretty hand, held it a moment in possession, laughingly, and released it. 
          From the moment of their reunion he had never touched her, save for a quick, firm, smiling hand-clasp in the morning and another at the night's parting. 
          Now, little by little, she was finding herself delightfully at ease with him, emerging by degrees from her charming bewilderment out of isolation to a happy companionship never before shared with any man. 
          Nor even vaguely had she dreamed that Drene could be such a man, such a friend, never had she imagined there was in him such kindness, such patience, such gentleness, such comprehension, such virile sense and sympathy. 
          And never, now, was her troubled consciousness aware of anything disquieting in his attitude, of anything to perturb her. 
          He seemed to enjoy himself like a boy, with her companionship, wholly, heartily, without any motive other than the pleasure of the moment; and so, little by little, she gave herself up to it too, in the same fashion, unguardedly, frankly, innocently revealing herself to him by degrees as their comradeship became deliciously unembarrassed. 
          He was making a full length study in clay now.  All day long she sat there enthroned, her eyes partly closed, the head lifted a trifle and fallen back, and her lovely hands resting on her heart--and sometimes she strove to imagine something of the divine moment which she was embodying; pondering, dreaming, wondering; and sometimes, in the stillness, through her trance crept a thrill, subtle, exquisite, as though in faint perception of the heavenly moment. And once, into her halfdreaming senses came the soft stirring of wings, and she opened her eyes and looked up, startled and thrilled. 
          But it was only a pigeon which had come through the great window from the cote on the adjacent roof and which circled above her on whimpering wings for a moment and then sheered out into the sunlight. 
          They dined together at a roof garden that evening, the music was particularly and surprisingly good, and what surprised him even more was that she knew it and spoke of it. And continued speaking of music, he not interrupting. 
          Reticent hitherto concerning her antecedents he learned now something of them--and inferred more; nothing unusual--a musical career determined upon, death intervening dragging over her isolation the steel meshes of destitution--the necessity for self-support, a friend who knew a painter who employed models--not anything unusual, not even dramatic. 
          He nodded as she ended: 
          "Have you saved anything?" 
          "A hundred dollars." 
          "That's fine." 
          She smiled, then sighed unconsciously. 
          "You are thinking," he said, "that youth is flying." 
          She smiled wistfully. 
          "Youth is the time to study.  You were thinking that, too." 
          She nodded. 
          "You could have married." 
          "Why?" she asked, troubled. 
          "To obtain the means for a musical education." 
          She gazed at him in amazement, then: "I could go out on the street, too, as far as that is concerned. It would be no more disgraceful." 
          "Folk-ways sanction self-sale, when guaranteed by the clergy," he said. She turned her head and he saw the pure, cold profile against the golden table-lamp, and he saw something else under the palms beyond--Graylock's light eyes riveted upon them both. 
          "You know," he said, under his breath, "that I shall not marry you. But--would you care to begin your studies again?" 
          There was a long silence: She remained with face partly averted until the orchestra ceased. Then she turned and looked at him, and he saw her lip tremble. 
          "I had not thought you meant to ask me--that.  I do not quite understand what you mean." 
          "I care enough for you to wish to help you.  May I?" 
          "I was not sure you cared--enough--" 
          "Do you--for me?" 
          "Before I say that I do--care for you--" she began, tremulously --"tell me that I have nothing to fear--" 
          Neither spoke.  Over her shoulder Drene stared at the distant man who stared back at him. 
          Presently his eyes reverted to hers, absently studying the childlike beauty of her. 
          "I'm going to tell you something," he said.  "Love is no more wonderful than hate, no more perfect, no more eternal. And it is less fierce, and not as strong." 
          "What!" she whispered, bewildered at the sinister change in him. 
          "And I want to tell you another thing.  I am alone in the world. What I have, I have devised to you--in case I step out--suddenly--" 
          He paused, hesitated, then: 
          "Also I desire you to hear something else," he went on.  "This is the proper time for you to hear it, I think--now--to-night--" 
          He lifted his blazing eyes and looked at the other man. 
          "There was a woman," he said--"She happened to be my wife.  Also there was my closest friend: and myself. The comedy was cast. Afterward she died--abroad. I believe he was there at the time--Kept up a semblance--But he never married her. . . . And I do not intend to marry--you." 
          After a moment: "And that," she whispered, "is why you once said to me that I should have let you alone." 
          "Did I say that to you?" 
          "Yes." She looked up at him, straight into his eyes: "But if you care for me--I do not regret that I did not let you alone." 
          "I shall not marry you." 
          Her lip trembled but she smiled. 
          "That is nothing new to me," she said.  "Only one man has offered that." 
          "Why didn't you take him?" he asked, with an ugly laugh. 
          "I couldn't.  I cared for you." 
          "And now," he said, "are you afraid of me?" 
          "Yes--a little." 
          He leaned forward suddenly, "You'd better steer clear of me!"  Her startled eyes beheld in him a change as swift as his words. 
          "Fair warning!" he added: "look out for yourself."  Everything that was brutal in him; everything ruthless and violent had marred his features so that all in a moment the mouth had grown ugly and a hard, bruised look stamped the pallid muscles of his features and twitched at them. 
          "You're taking chances from now on," he said. "I told you once to let me alone. You'd better do it now. And--" he stared at the distant man--"I told you that hate is more vital than love. It is. I've waited a long time to strike. Even now it isn't in me to do it as I have meant to do it. And so I tell you to keep away from me; and I'll strike in the old-fashioned way, and end it--to-night." 
          Stunned by his sudden and dreadful metamorphosis, her ears ringing with his disjointed incoherencies, she rose, scarcely knowing what she was doing, scarcely conscious that he was beside her, moving lightly and in silence out into the brilliant darkness of the streets. 
          It was only at her own door that he spoke again: standing there on the shabby steps of her boarding-house, the light from the transom yellowing his ghastly face. 
          "Something snapped"--he passed an unsteady hand across his eyes;-- "I care very deeply for you. I--they'll make over to you--what I have. You can study on it--live on it, modestly--" 
          "W-what is the matter? Are you ill?" she stammered, white and frightened. 
          But he only muttered that she had her warning and that she should keep away from him, and that it would not be long before she should have an opportunity in life. And he went his way not looking back. 
          When he reached his studio the hall was dark.  As he turned the key he thought he heard something stirring in the shadows, but went in--leaving the door into the hallway open--and straight on across the room to his desk. 
          He was putting something into his coat pocket, and his back was still turned to the open door when Graylock stepped quietly across the threshold; and Drene heard him, but closed his desk, leisurely, and then, as leisurely, turned, knowing who had entered. 
          And so they stood alone together after many years. 


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