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XIIEdit

Somehow the night had passed—somehow in bitterness, in anguish. But it had passed.

Ernest's lips were parched and sleeplessness had left its trace in the black rings under the eyes, when the next morning he confronted Reginald in the studio.

Reginald was sitting at the writing-table in his most characteristic pose, supporting his head with his hand and looking with clear piercing eyes searchingly at the boy.

“Yes,” he observed, “it's a most curious psychical phenomenon.”

“You cannot imagine how real it all seemed to me.”

The boy spoke painfully, dazed, as if struck by a blow.

“Even now it is as if something has gone from me, some struggling thought that I cannot— cannot remember.”

Reginald regarded him as a physical experimenter might look upon the subject of a particularly baffling mental disease.

“You must not think, my boy, that I bear you any malice for your extraordinary delusion. Before Jack went away he gave me an exact account of all that has happened. Divers incidents recurred to him from which it appears that, at various times in the past, you have been on the verge of a nervous collapse.”

A nervous collapse! What was the use of this term but a euphemism for insanity?

“Do not despair, dear child,” Reginald caressingly remarked. “Your disorder is not hopeless, not incurable. Such crises come to every man who writes. It is the tribute we pay to the Lords of Song. The minnesinger of the past wrote with his heart's blood; but we moderns dip our pen into the sap of our nerves. We analyse life, love art—and the dissecting knife that we use on other men's souls finally turns against ourselves.

“But what shall a man do? Shall he sacrifice art to hygiene and surrender the one attribute that makes him chiefest of created things? Animals, too, think. Some walk on two legs. But introspection differentiates man from the rest. Shall we yield up the sweet consciousness of self that we derive from the analysis of our emotion, for the contentment of the bull that ruminates in the shade of a tree or the healthful stupidity of a mule?”

“Assuredly not.”

“But what shall a man do?”

“Ah, that I cannot tell. Mathematics offers definite problems that admit of a definite solution. Life states its problems with less exactness and offers for each a different solution. One and one are two to-day and to-morrow. Psychical values, on each manipulation, will yield a different result. Still, your case is quite clear. You have overworked yourself in the past, mentally and emotionally. You have sown unrest, and must not be surprised if neurasthenia is the harvest thereof.”

“Do you think—that I should go to some sanitarium?” the boy falteringly asked.

“God forbid! Go to the seashore, somewhere where you can sleep and play. Take your body along, but leave your brain behind—at least do not take more of it with you than is necessary. The summer season in Atlantic City has just begun. There, as everywhere in American society, you will be much more welcome if you come without brains.”

Reginald's half-bantering tone reassured Ernest a little. Timidly he dared approach once more the strange event that had wrought such havoc with his nervous equilibrium.

“How do you account for my strange obsession—one might almost call it a mania?”

“If it could be accounted for it would not be strange.”

“Can you suggest no possible explanation?”

“Perhaps a stray leaf on my desk a few indications of the plot, a remark—who knows? Perhaps thought-matter is floating in the air. Perhaps—but we had better not talk of it now. It would needlessly excite you.”

“You are right,” answered Ernest gloomily, “let us not talk of it. But whatever may be said, it is a marvellous play.”

“You flatter me. There is nothing in it that you may not be able to do equally well—some day.”

“Ah, no,” the boy replied, looking up to Reginald with admiration. “You are the master.”