During dinner Frank chiefly occupied himself in bringing himself up-to-date in the movements and
achievements of this old friend whom he had not seen for six years. Those six years, it now appeared, had
been full of incident and success for Darcy; he had made a name for himself as a portrait painter which bade
fair to outlast the vogue of a couple of seasons, and his leisure time had been brief. Then some four months
previously he had been through a severe attack of typhoid, the result of which as concerns this story was that
he had come down to this sequestered place to recruit.
'Yes, you've got on,' said Frank at the end. 'I always knew you would. A.R.A. with more in prospect.
Money? You roll in it, I suppose, and, O Darcy, how much happiness have you had all these years? That is the
only imperishable possession. And how much have you learned? Oh, I don't mean in Art. Even I could have
done well in that.'
'Done well? My dear fellow, all I have learned in these six years you knew, so to speak, in your cradle. Your
old pictures fetch huge prices. Do you never paint now?'
Frank shook his head.
'No, I'm too busy,' he said.
'Doing what? Please tell me. That is what every one is for ever asking me.'
'Doing? I suppose you would say I do nothing.'
Darcy glanced up at the brilliant young face opposite him.
'It seems to suit you, that way of being busy,' he said. 'Now, it's your turn. Do you read? Do you study? I
remember you saying that it would do us all--all us artists, I mean--a great deal of good if we would study any
one human face carefully for a year, without recording a line. Have you been doing that?'
Frank shook his head again.
'I mean exactly what I say,' he said, 'I have been doing nothing. And I have never been so occupied. Look at
me; have I not done something to myself to begin with?'
'You are two years younger than I,' said Darcy, 'at least you used to be. You therefore are thirty-five. But had
I never seen you before I should say you were just twenty. But was it worth while to spend six years of
greatly-occupied life in order to look twenty? Seems rather like a woman of fashion.'
Frank laughed boisterously.
'First time I've ever been compared to that particular bird of prey,' he said. 'No, that has not been my
occupation--in fact I am only very rarely conscious that one effect of my occupation has been that. Of course,
it must have been if one comes to think of it. It is not very important. Quite true my body has become young.
But that is very little; I have become young.'
Darcy pushed back his chair and sat sideways to the table looking at the other.
'Has that been your occupation then?' he asked.
'Yes, that anyhow is one aspect of it. Think what youth means! It is the capacity for growth, mind, body,
spirit, all grow, all get stronger, all have a fuller, firmer life every day. That is something, considering that
every day that passes after the ordinary man reaches the full-blown flower of his strength, weakens his hold
on life. A man reaches his prime, and remains, we say, in his prime, for ten years, or perhaps twenty. But after
his primest prime is reached, he slowly, insensibly weakens. These are the signs of age in you, in your body,
in your art probably, in your mind. You are less electric than you were. But I, when I reach my prime--I am
nearing it--ah, you shall see.'
The stars had begun to appear in the blue velvet of the sky, and to the east the horizon seen above the black
silhouette of the village was growing dove-colored with the approach of moon-rise. White moths hovered
dimly over the garden-beds, and the footsteps of night tip-toed through the bushes. Suddenly Frank rose.
'Ah, it is the supreme moment,' he said softly. 'Now more than at any other time the current of life, the
eternal imperishable current runs so close to me that I am almost enveloped in it. Be silent a minute.'
He advanced to the edge of the terrace and looked out standing stretched with arms outspread. Darcy heard
him draw a long breath into his lungs, and after many seconds expel it again. Six or eight times he did this,
then turned back into the lamplight.
'It will sound to you quite mad, I expect,' he said, 'but if you want to hear the soberest truth I have ever
spoken and shall ever speak, I will tell you about myself. But come into the garden if it is not too damp for
you. I have never told any one yet, but I shall like to tell you. It is long, in fact, since I have even tried to
classify what I have learned.'
They wandered into the fragrant dimness of the pergola, and sat down. Then Frank began:
'Years ago, do you remember,' he said, 'we used often to talk about the decay of joy in the world. Many
impulses, we settled, had contributed to this decay, some of which were good in themselves, others that were
quite completely bad. Among the good things, I put what we may call certain Christian virtues, renunciation,
resignation, sympathy with suffering, and the desire to relieve sufferers. But out of those things spring very
bad ones, useless renunciations, asceticism for its own sake, mortification of the flesh with nothing to follow,
no corresponding gain that is, and that awful and terrible disease which devastated England some centuries
ago, and from which by heredity of spirit we suffer now, Puritanism. That was a dreadful plague, the brutes
held and taught that joy and laughter and merriment were evil: it was a doctrine the most profane and wicked.
Why, what is the commonest crime one sees? A sullen face. That is the truth of the matter.
'Now all my life I have believed that we are intended to be happy, that joy is of all gifts the most divine.