The House of the Vampire/IX
It seemed, indeed, as if work was to Ernest what the sting of pleasure is to the average human animal. The inter-play of his mental forces gave him the sensuous satisfaction of a woman's embrace. His eyes sparkled. His muscle tightened. The joy of creation was upon him.
Often very material reasons, like stone weights tied to the wings of a bird, stayed the flight of his imagination. Magazines were waiting for his copy, and he was not in the position to let them wait. They supplied his bread and butter.
Between the bread and butter, however, the play was growing scene by scene. In the lone hours of the night he spun upon the loom of his fancy a brilliant weft of swift desire—heavy, perfumed, Oriental—interwoven with bits of gruesome tenderness. The thread of his own life intertwined with the thread of the story. All genuine art is autobiography. It is not, however, necessarily a revelation of the artist's actual self, but of a myriad of potential selves. Ah, our own potential selves! They are sometimes beautiful, often horrible, and always fascinating. They loom to heavens none too high for our reach; they stray to yawning hells beneath our very feet.
The man who encompasses heaven and hell is a perfect man. But there are many heavens and more hells. The artist snatches fire from both. Surely the assassin feels no more intensely the lust of murder than the poet who depicts it in glowing words. The things he writes are as real to him as the things that he lives. But in his realm the poet is supreme. His hands may be red with blood or white with leprosy: he still remains king. Woe to him, however, if he transcends the limits of his kingdom and translates into action the secret of his dreams. The throng that before applauded him will stone his quivering body or nail to the cross his delicate hands and feet.
Sometimes days passed before Ernest could concentrate his mind upon his play. Then the fever seized him again, and he strung pearl on pearl, line on line, without entrusting a word to paper.
Even to discuss his work before it had received the final brush-strokes would have seemed indecent to him.
Reginald, too, seemed to be in a turmoil of work. Ernest had little chance to speak to him. And to drop even a hint of his plans between the courses at breakfast would have been desecration.
Sunset followed sunset, night followed night. The stripling April had made room for the lady May. The play was almost completed in Ernest's mind, and he thought, with a little shudder, of the physical travail of the actual writing. He felt that the transcript from brain to paper would demand all his powers. For, of late, his thoughts seemed strangely evanescent; they seemed to run away from him whenever he attempted to seize them.
The day was glad with sunshine, and he decided to take a long walk in the solitude of the Palisades, to steady hand and nerve for the final task.
He told Reginald of his intention, but met with little response. Reginald's face was wan and bore the peculiar pallor of one who had worked late at night.
“You must be frightfully busy?” Ernest asked, with genuine concern.
“So I am,” Reginald replied. “I always work in a white heat. I am restless, nervous, feverish, and can find no peace until I have given utterance to all that clamours after birth.”
“What is it that is so engaging your mind, the epic of the French Revolution?”
“Oh, no. I should never have undertaken that. I haven't done a stroke of work on it for several weeks. In fact, ever since Walkham called, I simply couldn't. It seemed as if a rough hand had in some way destroyed the web of my thought. Poetry in the writing is like red hot glass before the master-blower has fashioned it into birds and trees and strange fantastic shapes. A draught, caused by the opening of a door may distort it. But at present I am engaged upon more important work. I am modelling a vessel not of fine-spun glass, but of molten gold.”
“You make me exceedingly anxious to know what you have in store for us. It seems to me you have reached a point where even you can no longer surpass yourself.”
Reginald smiled. “Your praise is too generous, yet it warms like sunshine. I will confess that my conception is unique. It combines with the ripeness of my technique the freshness of a second spring.”
Ernest was bubbling with anticipated delights. His soul responded to Reginald's touch as a harp to the winds. “When,” he cried, “shall we be privileged to see it?”
Reginald's eyes were already straying back to his writing table. “If the gods are propitious,” he remarked, “I shall complete it tonight. To-morrow is my reception, and I have half promised to read it then.”
“Perhaps I shall be in the position soon to let you see my play.”
“Let us hope so,” Reginald replied absentmindedly. The egotism of the artist had once more chained him to his work.