“Do you want to know what my notion of Heaven is? It would be to go off alone, with one suit of clothes in a handbag, oh, and fifty or a hundred dollars in my pocket—I wouldn’t mind that; I don’t want to be a tramp—to some mining town, or mill town, or slum, where I could start a general practise; where the things I’d get would be accident cases, confinement cases; real things, urgent things, that night and day are all alike to. I’d like to start again and be poor; get this stink of easy money out of my nostrils. I’d like to see if I could make good on my own; have something I could look at and say, ’That’s mine. I did that. I had to sweat for it.’
“I’ve been thinking about that for two years. It makes quite a fancy-picture. There are a million details I can fill into it. A rotten little office over a drug-store somewhere; people coming in with real ills, and I curing them up and charging them a dollar, and sending them away happy. I smoke a pipe because I can’t afford cigars; get my meals at lunch-counters. I sit up here—in this room—and think about it.
“I came back from New York, after that look at Rose, meaning to do it; meaning to talk it out with Eleanor and tell her why, and then go. Well, I talked. Talk’s cheap. But I didn’t go. I’ll never go. I’ll go on getting softer and more of a fake; more dependent. And Eleanor will go on eating me up, until the last thing in me that’s me myself, is gone. And then, some day, she’ll look at me and see that I’m nothing. That I have nothing left to love her with.”
Then, with suddenly thickened speech (an affectation, perhaps) he looked up at Rodney and demanded:
“What the hell are you looking so s-solemn about? Can’t you take a joke? Come along and have another drink. The night’s young.”
“No,” Rodney said, “I’m going. And you’d better get to bed.”
“A couple more drinks,” Randolph said, “to put the cap on a jolly evening. Always get drunk th-thoroughly. Then in the morning, you wake up a wiser man. Wise enough to forget what a damned fool you’ve been. You don’t want to forget that, Aldrich. You’ve been drunk and you’ve talked like a damned fool. And I’ve been drunk and I’ve talked like a damned fool. But we’ll both be wiser in the morning.”
Rodney walked home that night like a man dazed. The vividness of one blazing idea blinded him. The thing that Randolph had seen and lacked the courage to do; the thing Rodney despised him for a coward for having failed to do, that thing Rose had done. Line by line, the parallel presented itself to him, as the design comes through in a half-developed photographic plate.