Between Friends

Robert W. Chambers


He wrote to Cecile once: 
          Hereafter keep clear of men like Graylock and like me. We're both of a stripe--the same sort under our skins. I've known him all my life. It all depends upon the opportunity, the circumstances, and the woman. And, what is a woman between friends--between such friends as Graylock and I once were--or between the sort of friends we have now become? Keep clear of such men as we are. We were boys together. 
           For a week or two he kept his door locked and lived on what the janitor provided for him, never going out of the studio at all. 
          He did no work, although there were several unexecuted commissions awaiting his attention and a number of sketches, clay studies, and one marble standing around the studio in various stages of progress. The marble was the Annunciation. The head and throat and slender hands were completed, and one slim naked foot. 
          Sometimes he wandered from one study to the next, vague-eyed, standing for a long time before each, staring, lost in thought. Sometimes, in the evening he read, choosing a book at random among the motley collection in a corner case--a dusty, soiled assortment of books, ephemeral novels of the moment, ponderous volumes which are in everybody's library but which nobody reads, sets of histories, memoirs, essays, beautifully bound and once cared for, but now dirty from neglect--jetsam from a wrecked home. 
          There had been a time when law, order and neatness formed the basis of Drene's going forth and coming in. He had been exact, precise, fastidious; he had been sensitive to environment, a lover of beautiful things, a man who deeply appreciated any symbol that suggested home and hearth and family. 
          But when these three were shattered in the twinkling of an eye, something else broke, too. And he gradually emerged from chaos, indifferent to all that had formerly been a part of him, a silent emotionless, burnt out thing, callous to all that he had once cared for. 
          Yet something of what he had been must have remained latent within him for with unimpaired precision and logic he constructed his clay and chiseled his marble; and there must have been in him something to express, for the beauty of his work, spiritual and material, had set him high among the highest in his profession. 
          Sometimes sorrow changes the dross from the lamp of the spirit so that it burns with a purity almost unearthly; sometimes sorrow sears, rendering the very soul insensible; and sometimes sorrow remains under the ashes, a living coal steadily consuming all that is noble, hardening all that is ignoble; and is extinguished leaving a devil behind it--fully equipped to slay the crippled soul. 
          Alone in his studio at night, motionless in his chair, Drene was becoming aware of this devil. Reading by lamplight he grew conscious of it; recognized it as a companion of many years, now understanding that although pain had ended, hatred had remained, hiding, biding, and very, very quiet. 
          And suddenly this hatred had flamed like hell-fire, amazing even himself--that day when, lifted out of his indifference for an instant by a young girl's gaiety--and with a smile, half-responsive, on his own unaccustomed lips, he had learned from her in the same instant, that the man he had almost ceased to remember was honestly in love with her. 
          And suddenly he knew that he hated and that he should strike, and that there could be no comparison in perfection between hatred and what perhaps was love. 
          Sometimes, at night, lying on the studio couch, he found himself still hesitating. Could Graylock be reached after death? Was it possible? If he broke his word after Graylock was dead could he still strike and reach him through the woman for whose sake he, Graylock, was going to step out of things? 
          That occupied his mind continually, now.  Was there anybody who could tell him about such matters? Did clergymen really know whether the soul survived? And if it did, and if truly there were a hell, could a living man add anything to its torments for his enemy's benefit? 
          One day the janitor, lingering, ventured to ask Drene whether he was feeling quite well. 
          "Yes" said Drene, "I am well." 
          The janitor spoke of his not eating.  And, as Drene said nothing, he mentioned the fact that Drene had not set foot outside his own quarters in many weeks. 
          Drene nodded: "I expect to go for a walk this evening." 
          But he did not.  He lay on his couch, eyes open in the darkness, wondering what Graylock was doing, how he lived, what occupied his days. 
          What were the nights of a condemned man like?  Did Graylock sleep? Did he suffer? Was the suspense a living death to him? Had he ever suspected him, Drene, of treachery after he, Graylock, had fulfilled his final part of the bargain. 
          For a long time, now, a fierce curiosity concerning what Graylock was thinking and doing had possessed Drene. What does a man, who is in good physical health, do, when he is at liberty to compute to the very second how many seconds of life remain for him? 
          Drene's sick brain ached with the problem day and night. 
          In November the snow fell.  Drene had not been out except in imagination. 
          Day after day, in imagination, he had followed Graylock, night after night, slyly, stealthily, shirking after him through busy avenues at midday, lurking by shadowy houses at midnight, burning to see what expression this man wore, what was imprinted on his features;--obsessed by a desire to learn what he might be thinking--with death drawing nearer. 
          But Drene, in the body, had never stirred from his own chilly room--a gaunt, fierce-eyed thing, unkempt, half-clothed, huddled all day in his chair brooding above his bitten nails, or flung starkly across his couch at night staring at the stars through the dirty crust of glass above. 
          One night in December when the stars were all staring steadily back at him, and his thoughts were out somewhere in the darkness following his enemy, he heard somebody laughing in the room. 
          For a while he lay very still, listening; but when he realized that the laughter was his own he sat up, pressing his temples between hot and trembling fingers. 
          It seemed to silence the laughter: terror subsided to a tremulous apprehension--as though he had been on the verge of something horrible sinking into it for a moment--but had escaped. 
          Again he found himself thinking of Graylock, and presently he laughed; then frightened, checked himself. But his fevered brain had been afire too long; he lay fighting with his thoughts to hold them in leash lest they slip out into the night like blood hounds on the trail of the man they had dogged so long. 
          Trembling, terrified, he set his teeth in his bleeding lip, and clenched his gaunt fists: He could not hold his thoughts in leash; could not control the terrifying laughter; hatred blazed like hell-fire scorching the soul in him, searing his aching brain with flames which destroy. 
          In the darkness he struggled blindly to his feet; and he saw the stars through the glass roof all ablaze in the midnight sky; saw the infernal flicker of pale flames in the obscurity around him, heard a voice calling for help--his own voice-- 
          Then something stirred in the darkness; he listened, stared, striving to pierce the obscurity with fevered eyes. 
          Long since the cloths that swathed the clay figures in the studio had dried out unnoticed by him. He gazed from one to another, holding his breath. Then his eyes rested upon the altar piece, fell on the snowy foot, were lifted inch by inch along the marble folds upward slowly to the slim and child-like hands-- 
          "Oh, God!" he whispered, knowing he had gone mad at last. 
          For, under the carven fingers, the marble folds of the robe over the heart were faintly glowing from some inward radiance. And, as he reeled forward and dropped at the altar foot, lifting his burning eyes, he saw the child-like head bend toward him from the slender neck--saw that the eyes were faintly blue-- 
          "Mother of God!" he screamed, "my mind is dying--my mind is dying! . . . We were boys, he and I. . . . Let God judge him. . . . Let him be judged . . . mercifully. . . . I am worse than he. . . . There is no hell. I have striven to fashion one--I have desired to send him thither--Mother of God--Cecile--" 
          Under his fevered eyes he was confusing them, now, and he sank down close against the pedestal and laid his f ace against her small cold foot. 
          "I am sick," he rambled on--"and very tired. . . .  We were boys together, Cecile. . . . When I am in my right mind I would not harm him. . . . He was so handsome and daring. There was nothing he dared not do. . . . So young, and straight, and daring. . . . I would not harm him. Or you, Cecile. . . . Only I am sick, burning out, with only a crippled mind left--from being badly hurt--It never got well. . . . And now it is dying of its hurt--Cecile!--Mother of God!--before it dies I do forgive him--and ask forgiveness--for Christ's sake--" 
          Toward noon the janitor broke in the door. 


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