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VIIIEdit

The moon was shining brightly.

Swift and sure the prow of the night-boat parted the silvery foam. The smell of young flesh. Peals of laughter. A breathless pianola. The tripping of dancing-feet. Voices husked with drink and voices soft with love. The shrill accents of vulgarity. Hustling waiters. Shop-girls. Bourgeois couples. Tired families of four and upward. Sleeping children. A boy selling candy. The crying of babies.

The two friends were sitting on the upper deck, muffled in their long rain-coats. In the distance the Empire City rose radiant from the mist.

“Say, Ernest, you should spout some poetry as of old. Are your lips stricken mute, or are you still thinking of Coney Island?”

“Oh, no, the swift wind has taken it away. I am clean, I am pure. Life has passed me. It has kissed me, but it has left no trace.”

He looked upon the face of his friend. Their hands met. They felt, with keen enjoyment, the beauty of the night, of their friendship, and of the city beyond.

Then Ernest's lips moved softly, musically, twitching with a strange ascetic passion that trembled in his voice as he began:

“Huge steel-ribbed monsters rise into the air

Her Babylonian towers, while on high,

Like gilt-scaled serpents, glide the swift trains by,

Or, underfoot, creep to their secret lair.

A thousand lights are jewels in her hair,

The sea her girdle, and her crown the sky;

Her life-blood throbs, the fevered pulses fly.

Immense, defiant, breathless she stands there.

“And ever listens in the ceaseless din,

Waiting for him, her lover, who shall come,

Whose singing lips shall boldly claim their own,

And render sonant what in her was dumb,

The splendour, and the madness, and the sin,

Her dreams in iron and her thoughts of stone.”

He paused. The boat glided on. For a long time neither spoke a word. After a while Jack broke the silence: “And are you dreaming of becoming the lyric mouth of the city, of giving utterance to all its yearnings, its 'dreams in iron and its thoughts of stone'?”

“No,” replied Ernest, simply, “not yet. It is strange to what impressions the brain will respond. In Clarke's house, in the midst of inspiring things, inspiration failed me. But while I was with that girl an idea came to me—an idea, big, real.”

“Will it deal with her?”

Ernest smiled: “Oh, no. She personally has nothing to do with it. At least not directly. It was the commotion of blood and—brain. The air—the change. I don't know what.”

“What will it be?” asked Jack, with interest all alert.

“A play, a wonderful play. And its heroine will be a princess, a little princess, with a yellow veil.”

“What of the plot?”

“That I shall not tell you to-day. In fact, I shall not breathe a word to any one. It will take you all by surprise—and the public by storm.”

“So it will be playable?”

“If I am not very much mistaken, you will see it on Broadway within a year. And,” he added graciously, “I will let you have two box-seats for the first night.”

They both chuckled at the thought, and their hearts leaped within them.

“I hope you will finish it soon,” Jack observed after a while. “You haven't done much of late.”

“A similar reflection was on my mind when you came yesterday. That accounts for the low spirits in which you found me.”

“Ah, indeed,” Jack replied, measuring Ernest with a look of wonder. “But now your face is aglow. It seems that the blood rushes to your head swifter at the call of an idea than at the kiss of a girl.”

“Thank God!” Ernest remarked with a sigh of relief. “Mighty forces within me are fashioning the limpid thought. Passion may grip us by the throat momentarily; upon our backs we may feel the lashes of desire and bathe our souls in flames of many hues; but the joy of activity is the ultimate passion.