AT THE CROSSROADS
The great turning points of life are often rounded unconsciously. Invisible tides hurry us on and only when we are well past the curve do we realize what has happened to us.
Brace Northrup, sitting in Doctor Manly’s office, smoking and ruminating, was not conscious of turning points or tides; he was sluggish and depressed; wallowing in the after-effects of a serious illness.
Manly, sitting across the hearth from his late patient––he had shoved him out of that category––regarded him from the viewpoint of a friend.
Manly was impressionistic in his methods of thought and expression. Every stroke told.
The telephone had not rung for fifteen minutes but both men knew its potentialities and wanted to make the most of the silence.
“Oh! I confess,” Northrup admitted, “that my state of gloom is due more to the fact that I cannot write than to my sickness. I’m done for!”
Manly looked at his friend and scowled.
“Rot!” he ejaculated. Then added: “The world would not perish if you didn’t write again.”
“I’m not thinking about the world,” Northrup was intent upon the fire, “it’s how the fact is affecting me. The world can accept or decline, but I am made helpless. You see my work is the only real, vital thing I have clawed out of life, by my own efforts, Manly; that means a lot to a fellow.”
Manly continued to scowl. Had Northrup been watching him he might have gained encouragement, for Manly’s scowls were proof of his deeply moved sympathies.
“The trouble with you, old man,” he presently said, “is this: You’ve been dangerously ill; you thought you were going to slip out, and so did I, and all the others. You’re like the man who fell on the battlefield and thought his legs were shot off. You’ve got to get up and learn to walk again. We’re all suggesting the wrong thing to you. Go where people don’t know, don’t care a damn for you. Take to the road. That ink-slinging self that you are hankering after is just ahead. You’ll overtake it, but it will never turn back for you––the self that you are now.”
Manly fidgeted. He hated to talk. Then Northrup said something that brought Manly to his feet––and to several minutes of restless striding about the room.
“Manly, while I was at my worst I couldn’t tell whether it was delirium or sanity, I saw that Thing across the water, the Thing that for lack of a better name we call war, in quite a new light. It’s what has got us all and is shaking us into consciousness. We’re going to know the true from the false when this passes. My God! Manly, I wonder if any of us know what is true and what isn’t? Ideals, nations, folks!”
Northrup’s face flushed.
“See here, old man,” Manly paused, set his legs wide apart as if to balance himself and pointed a finger at Northrup, “You’ve got to cut all this out and––beat it! Whatever that damned thing is over there, it isn’t our mess. It’s the eruption of a volcano that’s been bubbling and sizzling for years....