“‘And what’s your answer, if you know?’ I asked.
“He made none at the minute, but turned away slowly to the door. There, with his hand on the threshold, he stopped to ask, almost under his breath: ‘Then you really think my stuff’s no good?’
“I was tired and exasperated, and I laughed. I don’t defend my laugh—it was in wretched taste. But I must plead in extenuation that the boy was a fool, and that I’d done my best for him—I really had.
“He went out of the room, shutting the door quietly after him. That afternoon I left for Frascati, where I’d promised to spend the Sunday with some friends. I was glad to escape from Gilbert, and by the same token, as I learned that night, I had also escaped from the eyes. I dropped into the same lethargic sleep that had come to me before when their visitations ceased; and when I woke the next morning, in my peaceful painted room above the ilexes, I felt the utter weariness and deep relief that always followed on that repairing slumber. I put in two blessed nights at Frascati, and when I got back to my rooms in Rome I found that Gilbert had gone ... Oh, nothing tragic had happened—the episode never rose to that. He’d simply packed his manuscripts and left for America—for his family and the Wall Street desk. He left a decent little note to tell me of his decision, and behaved altogether, in the circumstances, as little like a fool as it’s possible for a fool to behave ...”
CULWIN paused again, and again Frenham sat motionless, the dusky contour of his young head reflected in the mirror at his back.
“And what became of Noyes afterward?” I finally asked, still disquieted by a sense of incompleteness, by the need of some connecting thread between the parallel lines of the tale.
Culwin twitched his shoulders. “Oh, nothing became of him—because he became nothing. There could be no question of ‘becoming’ about it. He vegetated in an office, I believe, and finally got a clerkship in a consulate, and married drearily in China. I saw him once in Hong Kong, years afterward. He was fat and hadn’t shaved. I was told he drank. He didn’t recognize me.”
“And the eyes?” I asked, after another pause which Frenham’s continued silence made oppressive.
Culwin, stroking his chin, blinked at me meditatively through the shadows. “I never saw them after my last talk with Gilbert. Put two and two together if you can. For my part, I haven’t found the link.”
He rose stiffly, his hands in his pockets, and walked over to the table on which reviving drinks had been set out.
“You must be parched after this dry tale. Here, help yourself, my dear fellow. Here, Phil—” He turned back to the hearth.
Frenham still sat in his low chair, making no response to his host’s hospitable summons. But as Culwin advanced toward him, their eyes met in a long look; after which, to my intense surprise, the young man, turning suddenly in his seat, flung his arms across the table, and dropped his face upon them.