Part 4 out of 7
Bedient liked the Grey One. He liked her that afternoon, when she asked
if he cared to come up to Vina Nettleton's with her. There was real
warmth in her manner from the first.... Always that illusion of having
played with her long ago, stole into mind with her name or presence.
(Once he had found her sobbing, about something she wouldn't tell. She
had always been ready to give up things. The smile she had for _him_,
would remain upon her lips, while she thought of something else. She
would leave the others and wait for him to come and find her.) These
things were altogether outside of human experience, a sweet and subtly
attractive run of vagaries which had to do with a tall yellow-haired
maid, now Marguerite Grey.... From something Cairns had said, Bedient
knew she was unhappy. He saw it afresh when he entered the big still
place where she was. She had been working, but dropped a curtain over
the easel as he entered.
"Did I come at a wrong time?" he asked. "I can just as well come
"I don't know of any time so good. You may not want to come again."
She had not been weeping. He saw that with a quick look. It was deeper
than that--something cold and slow and creeping, that made her reckless
with hatred, and writhing. Answering Bedient's swift glance, she
perceived that he had seen deeply, and was glad. It eased her; she
hoped he had seen all, for she was sick with holding her own....
Meanwhile, her soft voice was telling him about her house. The pictures
of her own here and there, were passed over quickly. Children, these,
that the world had found wanting; badly-brought-up children that the
world had frightened back to the parent roof where they warred with one
Back of all, Bedient saw a most feminine creature in the Grey One,
naturally defenceless in her life against the world; a woman so preyed
upon by moods that many a time she gladly would have turned devil, but
was helpless to know how to begin; again and again plucked to the quick
by the world. She had put on foreign scepticisms, and pitifully
attempted to harden herself; but the hardening, try as she would, could
not be spread evenly. It didn't protect her, as Kate Wilkes' did, only
made her the more misunderstood. She did not have less talent than Vina
or Beth; indeed, she had been considered of rather rich promise in
Paris; but she had less developed energies and balance to use them,
less physique. She lacked the spirit of that little thoroughbred, Vina
Nettleton, and the pride and courage of Beth Truba. The Grey One had
been badly hurt in that sadly sensitive period which follows the
putting away of girlish things--when womanhood is new and wonderful.
She was slow to heal. Few men interested her, but she needed a
man-friend, some one to take her in hand. She had needed such a one for
years. He would have been of little use, had he not come at this time.
Bedient's eager friendliness for this woman was one of the most
interesting things he had encountered in New York, a sort of fellowship
which no one else had evoked. The Grey One had felt something of this,
but had learned to expect so little, that she had not allowed herself
to think about it. Only she had felt suddenly easier, perceiving the
comprehension in his glance.
They had talked an hour, and were having tea. He admired some of her
pictures unreservedly. They were like her voice to him--lingering,
soft, mysteriously of the long-ago. Their settings were play-places
that he might have imagined. She believed what he said, but did not
approve of his perception. She had lost faith. It was the sailor part
of him that liked her pictures.
"I had great dreams when I came to New York three years ago," she said
somewhat scornfully. "For a time in Paris, I did things with little
thought, and they took very well. I must have been happy. Then when I
came here, all that period was gone. I was to be an artist--sheer,
concentrated, the nothing-else sort of an artist. And things went so
well for a time. That's queer when you think of it. The papers took me
up. They gave me an exhibition at the _Smilax Club_, and not a few
things were disposed of. In fact, when I learned that this studio was
to be let, I was so prosperous as to consider it none too adequate for
Margie Grey herself----
"Since then these things and others have been done, and they haven't
struck the vogue at all. First, I thought it was just one of those
changing periods which come to every artist, in which one does badly
during the transition. I have continued to do badly. It was not a
change of skin. I have become sour and ineffectual, and know it----"
"You won't mind if I say you are wrong?" Bedient asked quietly.
"No," she laughed. "Only please don't tell me that I'm only a little
ahead of my time; that presently these things will dart into the public
mood, and people will squabble among themselves to possess them----"
"I might have told you just that--if you hadn't warned me.... I like
your woods; they're the sort of woods that fairies come to; and I like
your fields and afternoons--I can hear the bees and forget myself in
them. I _know_ they're good."
The Grey One whipped out a match and cigarette from the pocket of her
blouse, lit it and stared at her covered easel. "You have your way,
don't you?" she asked, and her lips were tightened to keep from
"It isn't a way," he said. "It's a matter of feeling. I never judge a
book or picture, but when I _feel_ them, they are good to me. I would
have stopped before some of these in any gallery, because I feel them.
They make me steal away----"
"I'm hard-hearted and a scoffer," she said, holding fast. "It isn't
that I want to be--oh, you are different. I don't believe you were ever
_tired_!... I see what David Cairns meant about your coming up here out
of the seas with a fresh eye--and all your ideals.... Don't you
see--we're all tired out! New York has made us put our ideals
away--commercial, romantic--every sort of ideal.... Oh, it's harder for
a woman to talk like this than for a man; she's slower to learn it.
When a woman does learn it, you may know she carries scars----"
The Grey One arose. She looked tall and gaunt, and her eyes had that
burning look which dries tears before they can be shed. He did not
hasten to speak.
"It's crude to talk so to you, but you came _to-day_," she went on. "I
had about given up. The race--oh, it's a race to sanctuary right
enough--but so long!... In the forenoons one can run, but strength
With a quick movement, the Grey One tossed up the covering from the
easel. He saw a girl in red, natty figure, piquant face. It was not
finished. She was to stand at the head of a saddle-horse, as yet
embryonic. She stepped hastily to a little desk and poked at a
formidable pile of business-looking correspondence.
"Do these look like an artist's communications?" she asked in the dry
pent way that goes with burning eyes.... "They are not, but letters to
one who paints for lithographers' stones! See here----"
And now she lifted a couch-cover, and drew from beneath a big portfolio
which she opened on the floor before him. It was filled with flaring
magazine covers, calendars, and other painted products having to do
with that expensive sort of advertising which packing-houses and
steel-shops afford. _Girls_--girls mounted side and astride, girls in
racing-shells and skiting motor-boats, in limousines and runabouts, in
dirigibles and 'planes;--seaside, mountain and prairie girls;
house-boat, hunting and skating girls; even a vivid parlor variety--all
conventional, colorful and unsigned.
"Eight years in Europe for these," she said in a dragging, morbid tone.
"And the letters on the table say I may do more, as the managers of
shirt-waist factories might say to poor sewing-women when business is
good. And they pay piece-work prices just the same; and they want
girls, not real girls, but things of bright paint like these! Oh, they
know what they want--and they must be common in order to suit--girls of
"And women of just flesh," said Bedient. "New York has shown me that
about so many men!"
This startled her--made her forget the sailor part. It was particularly
in the range of her mood that moment, and seemed finished.
"You're going to feel a lot better, and soon," he went on. "It's going
to be much better than you think----"
She drew suddenly back, hatred altering her features as a gust of wind
on the face of a pool.
"You mean my marriage?" she asked, clearing her voice.
"I did not know that you were to be married," he said quickly. "I'm
sorry not to have been clearer. I meant the days to come through your
work--and nothing more."
"A few have heard that I'm to be married," she said. "I thought you had
heard. As a matter of fact, it is not settled. Oh, I have croaked to
you terribly--please forgive me!"
"That first night, I felt that we were old friends at once," he added,
rising and standing before her. "The next day, you said it was just
like a dream--the night before--and it was the same to me. We went up
to Miss Nettleton's on the minute, just as if we were old playmates,
and you had said, 'Let's----'... So to-day, you have only told an old
friend things--trying things--exactly as you should. And I--I think
you're brave to have done so well--for so long. I like New York better.
I'm coming again. I like your pictures. They are not just paint....
Hasn't anyone told you--don't you know--that it wouldn't hurt you at
all to do the others--if your real pictures were just paint? And since
you are driven to do them, and don't do them out of greed, nor through
commonness, nor by habit, they can't hurt your real work? I really
believe, too, that it is what you have done that will help you, and
bring the better times, and not what anyone else will do.... I seem to
be talking a great deal--as I could not at all, except for the sense of
an old friend's authority, and to one I have found rare and admirable.
Believe me, I have very good eyes,--New York has not printed its metal
soul upon you."
The Grey One had listened with bowed head. A tall woman is at her
loveliest, standing so. She regarded his face searchingly for an
instant, smiled, and turned away.
* * * * *
Bedient asked no one. He did not know that the race Marguerite Grey was
running was with American dollars, and that the sanctuary she meant was
only a debtless spinsterhood. He did not know that she dared not give
up the Handel studio while she held a single hope of her vogue
returning. Only the great, who are permitted eccentricities, dare
return to their garrets. Nor did Bedient know that her marriage meant
she had failed utterly, and that another must square her debts; that
only out of the hate of defeat could she give herself for this
price.... Still, Bedient knew quite enough.
It was a little later, after he had been truly admitted into the circle
he loved so well, that Beth told him the story of the Grey One's first
collision with the man world. It was a rainy afternoon; they were
together in the studio he always entered with reverence.
"She is different from Vina," Beth said, speaking of Marguerite Grey.
"She has been working fearfully and she's not made for such furious
sessions as Vina Nettleton can endure. Vina seems replenished by her
own atmosphere. She told me once that when her work is coming well, her
whole body sings, all the functions in rhythm. Aren't people strange?
That little soft thing with baby hands! Why, her physical labor alone
some days would weary a strong man--and that is the thoughtless part.
"But I was telling you about the Grey One. Sometimes I think she is
more noble than we understand--one of those strange, solitary women who
love only once. At least, she seems to ask only success in her work,
and what that will bring her." Beth thought a moment of the horrible
alternative which she did not care to explain to Bedient. "A few years
ago in Europe--just a young thing, she was, when she met her hero. He
was a good man, and loved her. I knew them both over there. In the
beginning, it was one of those really golden romances, and in Italy.
One day, a woman came to the Grey One, and in the lightest, brassiest
way, asked to be congratulated on her engagement, mentioning the man
whose attentions Marguerite had accepted as a heavenly dispensation.
This was in Florence. The woman hurried away that day for London. The
Grey One, just a gullible girl, was left half dead. When her lover
came, she refused to see him. He wrote a letter which she foolishly
sent back, unopened. And she returned to Paris--all this in the first
shock.... She did not hear from him again for two years. Word came that
he was married--no, not to that destroyer, but to a girl who made him
happy, let us hope. The Grey One penetrated then to the truth. He had
only a laughing acquaintance with the other woman to whom he was one of
several chances. Leaving Florence, she had crippled the Grey One. This
is just the bare fact--but it is enough to show how the lie of a
worthless woman--kept Marguerite from happiness. And she has remained
apart.... It is said that the Grey One encountered the destroyer here
in New York a few months ago, the first time since that day in
Florence. So natural was evil to this woman, that she did not remember,
but came forward gushingly--and would have kissed her victim...."
A CHEMISTRY OF SCANDAL
Beth had seen Andrew Bedient almost daily for three weeks. Many
wonderful moments had been passed together; indeed, there were moments
when he reached in her mind that height he had gained at once in the
ideals of Vina Nettleton. But he was sustained in Vina's mind, while
Beth encountered reactions.... "I believe he is beyond sex--or fast
going beyond--though he may not know it," Vina had said in effect....
On the contrary, the Shadowy Sister had sensed a lover in the room.
Beth had perceived what Vina meant--the mystic who worshipped woman as
an abstraction--but it had also come to her, that he could love _one_.
Beth would not trust the Shadowy Sister, but was determined to judge
Bedient according to world standards. Plainly she attracted him, but
could not be sure that her attraction was unique, though she always
remembered that he had told of his mother only to her. He had a
different mood, a different voice almost, for each of the other women
of their acquaintance. His liking for the Grey One mystified Beth; Vina
Nettleton had charmed him, brought forth in a single afternoon many
intimate things from his depths. He spoke pleasantly of Mrs. Wordling.
The Shadowy Sister was bewitched. To her a great lover had come--a
lover who had added to a boy's delicacy and beauty of ideal, a man's
certainty and power. This was the trusting, visionary part of Beth,
that had not entered at all into the other romance. Beth refused now to
be ruled by it. The world had hurt her. The fault was not hers, but the
world's. The only profit she could see to be drawn from her miseries of
the past was to use her head to prevent repetition. Hearts were
And yet, the contrasting conduct of the Shadowy Sister in this and that
other romance, was one of the most astonishing things in Beth's
experience. (Sailor-man had but to enter and speak, for Shadowy Sister
to appear in kneeling adoration.)
Often Bedient was allowed to stay while she worked at other things. His
own portrait prospered slowly, a fact in which the world might have
found humor. And often they talked together long after the slanting
light had made work impossible; their faces altered in the dim place;
their voices low.... There were moments when the woman's heart stirred
to break its silence; when the man before her seemed bravely a man, and
the confines of his nature to hold magnificent distances. If she could
creep within those confines, would it not mean truly to live?... But
the years would sweep through her mind--grim, gray, implacable
chariots--and in their dusty train, the specific memories of fleshly
limitation and untruth. To survive, she had been forced to lock her
heart; to hold every hope in the cold white fingers of fear; cruelly to
curb the sweep of feminine outpouring, lest its object soften into
chaos; and roused womanhood, returning empty--overwhelm. This is the
sorriest instinct of self-preservation.
She would have said at this time that Andrew Bedient had not aroused
the woman in her as the Other had done. Indeed, she paled at the
thought that the Other had exhausted a trifle, her great force of
heart-giving. There had been beauty in such a bestowal--pain and
passion--but beauty, too.... Another strange circumstance: Bedient had
made her think of the Other so differently. She had half put away her
pride; she might have been too insistent for her rights. The Other
really had improved miraculously from the poor boy who had come to
their house. And to the artist's eye, he was commandingly masculine, a
veritable ideal.... Bedient was different every day.
The visit to the gallery, too, had given Beth much to think over. What
he had said about the pictures, especially before the one he had called
_The Race Mother_, had revealed his processes of mind, and made her
feel very small for a while. She saw that all her own talk had not
lifted from herself, from her own troubles, and certain hateful aspects
of the world; while his thoughts had concerned the sufferings of all
women, and the fruitage that was to come from them. She had talked for
herself; he for the race. But he had merely _observed_ the life of
women, while she had lived that life.
Why did Andrew Bedient continue to show her seemingly inexhaustible
sources of fineness, ways so delicate and wise that the Shadowy Sister
was conquered daily, and was difficult to live with? It is true that
Bedient asked nothing. But if the hour of asking struck, what should
she say to him? (Here Shadowy Sister was firmly commanded to begone.)
Beth had not been able to answer alone.... Could Vina Nettleton be
right? Was her studio honored by a man who was beyond the completing of
any woman? If so, why did Shadowy Sister so delight in him? Or was this
proof that he was not designed to be the human mate of woman? These
were mighty quandaries. Beth determined to talk about prophets when he
came again.... Her friends told her she hadn't looked so well in years.
Beth drew forth at length a picture of the Other Man, that she had
painted recently from a number of kodak prints. The work of a miniature
had been put upon it. A laughing face, a reckless face, but huge and
handsome. Before her, was the contrasting work of the new portrait. The
two pictures interested her together.... Bedient was at the door. It
was his hour. Beth placed the smaller picture upon the mantle, instead
of in its hidden niche--and admitted the Shadowy Sister's Knight....
"I saw Vina yesterday," she observed, after work was begun. "She was
still talking about prophets and those other things you said----"
"What a real interest she has," Bedient answered. "She has asked me for
a _Credo_--in two or three hundred words--to embody the main outline of
the talk that day. Perhaps it can be done. I'm trying."
"If one could put all his thinking into a few pages, that would be big
After a pause, Beth said:
"Don't think I'm flippant if I ask: How do these men who, in their
maturity, become great spiritual forces, escape being caught young by
some perceiving woman?"
"I'm not so sure the question could be put better," Bedient said.
"There is often a time in the youth of men, to whom illumination comes
later, when they hang divided between the need of woman and some inner
austerity that commands them to go alone."
"If they disobey, does the light fail to come?" Beth asked.
"It is less likely to come. But then, often the youth of such men is
spent in some great passion for an unattainable woman, a distant star
for the groping years. In other cases, women have divined the mystic
quality, and instead of giving themselves, have held the young
visionaries pure. Again, poverty, that grim stepmother of the elect,
often intervenes. And to common women--such lovers are absurd, beyond
comprehension. That helps.... Illumination comes between the age of
thirty and forty. After that, the way is clear. They do not grope, they
see; they do not believe, they feel and know."
Beth found these things absorbing, though she accepted them only
tentatively. She saw they were real to him--as bread and wool and
"There is an impulse, too, among serious young men to live the life of
asceticism and restraint," Bedient added. "It comes out of their very
strength. This is the hasty conclusion of monasteries----"
"Well--unfledged saints fall.... Their growth becomes self-centred. The
intellect expands at the expense of soul, a treacherous way that leads
to the dark.... And then--a man must father his own children
beautifully before he can father his race."
"That sounds unerring to me," Beth said.
"Why, it's all the Holy Spirit driving the race!" Bedient exclaimed
suddenly. "You can perceive the measure of it in every man. Look at the
multitude. The sexes devour each other; marriage is the vulgarest
proposition of chance. Men and women want each other--that is all they
know. They have no exquisite sense of selection. In them this glorious
driving Energy finds no beautiful surfaces to work upon, just the
passions, the meat-fed passions. Here is quantity. Nature is always
ruthless with quantity, as cities are ruthless with the crowds. Here is
the great waste, the tearing-down, and all that is ghastly among the
masses; yet here and there from some pitiful tortured mother emerges a
faltering artist--her dream."
"You never forget her, do you,--that figure which sustains through the
darkness and horror?"
"I cannot," he smiled. "No race would outlast a millenium without her.
Such women are saviors--always giving themselves to men--silently
falling with men."
"But about the artist?" Beth asked. "What is his measure of the driving
Energy? How does it work upon him?"
"He has risen from the common," Bedient replied. "He feels the furious
need of completion, some one to ignite his powers and perfect his
expression. It is a woman, but he has an ideal about her. He rushes
madly from one to another, as a bee to different blooms. The flesh and
the devil pull at him, too; surface beauty blinds him, and the world he
has come from, hates him for emerging. It is a fight, but he has not
lost, who fails once. The women who know him are not the same again.
The poor singer destroys his life, but leaves a song, a bit of
fastidiousness. The world remembers the song, links it with the
destroyed life, and loves both.
"But look at the mother-given prophets standing alone, militant but
tender, the real producers! The spirit that sparks fitfully in the
artist is a steady flame now. Their giving is to all, not to one. What
they take of the world is very little, but through them to the world is
given direct the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul and the Forerunner are the
highest types, and in perspective. Their way is the way of the Christ,
Who showed the world that unto the completed union of Mystic Womanhood
and militant manhood, is added Godhood.
"There are immediate examples of men maturing in prophecy," Bedient
concluded. "Men in our own lives almost--Whitman, Lincoln, Thoreau,
Emerson, Carlyle, Wordsworth. See the poise and the service which came
from their greater gifts. Contrast them with the beautiful boys who
searched so madly, so vainly, among the senses--Burns, Byron, Shelley,
Keats, Poe. What noble elder brothers they are! More _con_tent, they
have, more soul-age, more of the visioning feminine principle.... And
see how flesh destroys! In the small matter of years they lived, the
prophets more than doubled the age of the singers. Their greatest work
was done in the years which the lyric-makers did not reach.... The
great masses of the world have not yet the spark which shows itself in
the singing poetic consciousness. Such men are mere males, leaning upon
matter, soldiers and money-makers, pitifully unlit, chance children,
without fastidiousness, but all on the road."
"There will be plenty, yes, more than plenty," said Beth, "to take the
places of those, who confine their parenthood to the race."
Bedient was gone, and though his incorruptible optimism was working
more than ever in her heart, that which she had sought to learn, had
not come. Prophet or not, his smile at the door had left something
volatile within her, something like girlhood in her heart. He had not
overlooked the picture upon the mantel. Twice she had looked up, and
found him regarding it.... It was the late still time of afternoon.
Beth felt emotional. She ran over several songs on the piano, while the
dusk thickened in the studio. One was about an Indian maiden who
yearned for the sky-blue water; another about an Irish Kathleen who
gave her lover to strike a blow for the Green; and still another
concerned a girl who would rather lie in the dust of her lord's chariot
than be the ecstasy of lesser man. Beth Truba's face was upturned to
the light--to the last pallor of day. She was like a wraith singing and
communing with the tuneful tragedies of women world-wide. But there was
gaiety in her heart.... Then the knocker, the scurrying of dreams away,
and the voice of Marguerite Grey in the dark.
"Most romantic--song, hour and all," she said, while Beth turned on the
"Beth Truba is naturally so romantic----"
"Possibly the piano could tell tales; I know my 'cello could," said the
Grey One. "Beth, dear, I am touching wood, and praying to preserve 'an
humble and a contrite heart,' but reeking with commerce. Sold three
pictures--real pictures. The one that was hanging at Torvin's so long
was sold four days ago, and Torvin immediately took two more----"
"Margie Grey, there are few things you could tell to make me happier,"
Beth exclaimed, coming forward with both hands out.
"I know it. That's why I came."
"With Torvin interested, anything is liable to happen. He's one of the
few in New York who know, and those who buy carefully know he knows.
Really we should celebrate.... Let's get Vina to go with us, and we
three set out in search of an absurd supper----"
Beth phoned at once. Her part was utterly disconnected. She put up the
"What have you to say--about those two going out to dinner?"
"Vina and David Cairns?"
A long, low talk followed, but Beth did not tell that she had spurred
David to look deeply into Vina's case, through a remark made by Andrew
Bedient.... The Grey One was emancipated, restless. She bloomed like a
lily as she moved about the studio, above the shaded reading-lamps.
Beth felt her happiness, the intensity of it, and rejoiced with her.
Bedient came in for discussion presently, and the park episode. Beth,
who had not heard, grew cold, and remembered her own call at Mrs.
Wordling's apartment, with the poster.... The Grey One was speaking as
if Beth had heard about the later park affair:
"... Sometimes that woman seems so obvious, and again so deep."
"I have failed to see the deep part," Beth ventured, turning her face
from the light.
"Evidently she interests Mr. Bedient."
"I wonder if she really does?" Beth said idly. The Grey One was not a
tale-bearer. She would not have spoken at all, except granting Beth's
"I don't like to see him lose caste that way," the Grey One went on.
"He's too splendid, and yet she's the sort that twirls men. She knows
he has interested all of us, and doubtless wants to show _her_
strength. Possibly he hasn't thought twice about it. That's what Vina
says. And then Mrs. Wordling was one of those first asked to meet him.
I wish David Cairns hadn't done that----"
"David's idea was all right," Beth said slowly. "He thought one of her
kind would set us all off to advantage. Then, I was painting her
"It would have been only a little joke in a man's club, but the
_Smilax_ took to it as something looked and yearned for long.... Two
things appear funny to me. Mrs. Wordling has lived at the Club part of
the year for three years, and yet didn't know the Park was locked at
midnight. And she, who has done all the crying about consequences, was
the one who told me----"
Beth was beginning to understand. Here was an opening such as she had
awaited: "What is her story?" she asked.
"Why, they met between eleven and twelve coming into the Club--one of
those perfect nights. Wordling dismissed her carriage and talked a
little while before going in. The Park looked inviting for a
stroll--full moon, you know. They crossed. Wordling didn't know or had
forgotten about midnight locking. 'His talk was so interesting,' she
said.... It was after one, when Mr. Bedient hailed a page at the Club
"From inside the bars, across the street?" Beth asked.
"Of course. The boy came over with the keys."
"How clumsy and uninteresting, even innocence of that sort can be!"
Beth remarked. "And Mrs. Wordling was so zealous for you to hear that
she told you herself?"
"That _is_ rather humorous, isn't it?" the Grey One agreed. "Of course
she supposed I had heard, and wanted to be sure the truth came to me. I
think, too, she wanted me to know that Mr. Bedient had invited her to
go to the shore for a few days--later. She asked if I thought she had
"And you told her?" Beth managed to say.
"Just as you would, that she was an adult and must use her own
"Exactly," said Beth, and then a sentence got away from her, though she
contrived to garb it in a laugh. "He won't go to the shore with Mrs.
Wordling!... Wait until I get my hat."
* * * * *
In the little room alone, she saw that the long dark road must be
traversed again; the chains had fallen upon her anew--their former
wounds yet unhealed.... The old lies and acting; the old hateful
garment for the world to see; suffering beneath a smile. She must hear
the voice of Beth Truba lightly observing and answering, while
_she_--the heart of her--was deathly ill.
Her throat tightened; it seemed her breast must burst with old and new
agonies. Once more she had given her full faith. This was clear now.
She had been a weakling again, and tumultuously, in spite of an ugly
warning! Had she not called at Wordling's apartment with the poster?
Had she not heard the whispers, the overturned chair and scornfully
fathomed the delayed answering of the door?... And to think she had
almost succeeded in putting that rankling incident away, though he had
not been in New York a month. And the shame of it, the recent hours she
had spent, with this visionary thing; that _he_ was beyond mating with
a woman of flesh--beyond her best--a forerunner with glad tidings for
all women!... Forerunner, indeed, and twice caught in a second-rate
woman's net of beguilings! Twice caught, and how many times
uncaught?... And she had thought herself hard and sceptical in his
The old romance looked clean and fair compared to this--the old lover,
boyish and forgivable. He had not won by preaching.... Where was the
Shadowy Sister now?
There was no quarter for Beth. She was a modern product, a twentieth
century woman, an angry, solitary, world-trained woman, who could not
make a concession to imperfect manhood. This was the key to all her
agonies. She had asked manhood of mind, and could not accept less. The
awful part was that she must do over again all the hateful strategies,
all the concealing and worldliness--her body, mind and soul sorely
crippled from before. That she must thus use her womanhood, her
precious prime of strength. One experience had not hardened her enough.
With what corrosion of self-hatred did she turn upon herself that
Her intellect had faltered; the Shadowy Sister had betrayed; David
Cairns had been consummately stupid; Vina Nettleton was soft with
dreams, and not to be reckoned with in the world; Vina could tell her
woes, but she, Beth Truba, must not scream nor fall. She must face the
woman in the other room, sit across a lighted table for an hour, and
talk and laugh. Her heart cried out against this, but pride uprose to
whip--Beth's iron pride finished under the world's mastery. Slowly,
rhythmically, the blows fell. Beth could not run away.
She stretched out her fingers, which were biting into her palms,
drenched her face with cold water, breathed for a minute by the open
window like a doe in covert.... There was ammonia, and she inhaled the
"_Pale hands I loved
Beside the Shalimar----"
hummed the Grey One, from the open sheet on the piano.
Beth faltered at the door, for the song hurled her back to an hour ago
with bruising force. She re-entered the little room--to fix her hat....
"You weren't long, Beth," the Grey One said.
"No?... I'm glad of that, but speaking of glad things, let us not
Beth was already turning out the lights.
"You look a little tired, dear," the Grey One said in the elevator.
"It's the time of day," Beth responded readily. After being in all day,
and suddenly deciding to go out, haven't you felt a tension come over
you as if you could hardly wait a minute?"
"Many times, dear, as if one must snatch hat and gloves and get into
the street at any cost."
* * * * *
Beth came in alone about ten, sighed as the latch clicked, and sat down
in the dark. But she rose again in a moment, for she didn't like the
dark. She was worn out, even physically; and yet it was different now
from the first reaction. Bedient had not continued to fit so readily to
commonness, as in those first implacable moments in the little room. He
had never judged anyone in her presence; had spoken well of everyone,
even of Mrs. Wordling. He was no intimidated New Yorker, who felt he
must conduct himself for the eyes of others.
Mrs. Wordling had not shown the quality to hold the fancy position she
aspired to, in the little circle of artists at the Club; and retaliated
by showing her power over the lion of this circle. She had challenged
him to cross the street, knowing they would be locked in and that the
Club would hear. She had desired this, having nothing to lose. For fear
the Grey One had not heard, she had told the story. The recent agony in
the little room was great, above the Wordling's expectations.... And
now Beth faltered. Had Andrew Bedient asked her to join him somewhere
on the shore? She could not see him asking this; and yet, regarded as a
fiction plunge, it seemed bigger and more formidable than Wordling
This must wait. This must prove. If he went away--enough! She had been
hasty and implacable once--this time she would wait.
Beth would have liked to talk with David Cairns, but she could not
bring up such a subject. This was not her sort of talk-material with
him. Plainly he would not mention it, in the hope that her ears had
missed it entirely.
She had even felt a rage against the Grey One for bringing the news.
This helped to show how maddened and unjust she was, in those first
terrible moments. Piece by piece she had drawn the odious thing from
her caller, who was by no means inclined to spread and thicken the
shadow of an evil tale. Marguerite Grey was not a weigher of motives,
nor penetrative in the chemistry of scandal. So many testimonies had
come to her of the world's commonness that she had become flexible in
judgment. What had been so terrible at first was to identify Andrew
Bedient with these sordid things, so obvious and shallow. But was he
identified with them? Rather, did he not feel himself sufficiently an
entity to be safe in any company? Did he not trust her, and worth-while
people, to grant him this much?... This was the highest point in the
upsweep of her thoughts.
So the story extracted from the Grey One was held free from its fatal
aspect, until time should dissolve the matter of the shore.... After
all, the lamplight, usually soft and mellow in the gold-brown room,
held an alien, unearthly glitter for Beth's strained eyes.... Was it
that which kept the Shadowy Sister afar, as the light from the colored
pane in the hall of his boyhood had frightened _him_?
THE SINGING DISTANCES
David Cairns was coming along. He had ridden his ego down stream, until
he heard the rapids. Now he was towing it back. He planned to go just
as far and as fast up stream as he could. The current, to him, had
become the crowd. One can see the crowd as it brushes past, as one can
never see it from the ruck.... Sometimes it came to him in a flash,
that this new David Cairns was but another lie and pose--but this
couldn't hold. It was a bit of deviltry that wouldn't stand scrutiny.
There had been too much unfolding o' nights; too many gifts found upon
the doorstep of his mind in the morning, revealing the sleepless
activity of something identified with him, but wiser than he; too much
cutting down of false cultures, and outpourings of sincere friendship,
and general joy of giving. Then, there was some real clean-cut thinking
that expressed itself with brevity and finish; and also, the
wonder-working in his heart--the happiest thing that had ever
befallen--his conception of the genius of woman in Vina Nettleton.
Cairns' experience with women was not nearly so large as it looked. He
had known many women, but impersonally. He was late to mature, and all
his younger energies were used for what he had believed to be the
world's work, but what he now perceived were the activities of a vain,
ego-driven intellect, that delighted to attract the passing eye by the
ring of the anvil and a great show of unsleeved muscle. Much of this
early work had kept him afield, and his calls home to New York had
inflicted upon him the fatal stimulus for quantity. His still earlier
years were passed in a home where a placid mother reigned, and a large
family of sisters served. He, therefore, met the world's women without
that mighty tang of novelty which features the young manhood of the
He had undergone his mannish period of treason to women generally.
These were the days when he believed in using force--punishing with
words--"punch," he called it. This is a mental indelicacy which the
ordinary man seldom outgrows. His crowning fact is that dynamite will
loosen stumps and break rock. Therefore, all that is not dynamite is
not proper man-stuff. Woman, to this sort, is something between "an
angel and an idiot." She must be guarded from herself in all that has
to do with thought and performance. As panderer and caterer, she
emphatically belongs. Young men grasp this. If they reach middle age
with it, only an angel can roll the stone away.
Cairns now realized he had been near to missing one of the greatest
moments that come into the life of man. What chance has the ordinary
male--half-grown, except physically--of ever glowing with real
chivalry? To him women are easy, common, plentiful, without mystery or
lofty radiance. How can the valor of humility brighten his quest? How
can _he_ be a lover--who does not realize his poverty, his evil, the
vastness of his need? What does it mean to the mere male, this highest
of earthly gifts, the glance from a woman which ends his quest of her,
the gift of herself? To be great and a man, and a lover, he must reach
that point of declaration which holds: _Without her, I am an outcast;
with her I can alter worlds!_ A transcendent moment of conquest is the
winning of a woman, to such a spirit....
A frightful void stretches between mere man and reality.... Mere man
must be baptized in spirit to feel the anguish that is woman's, to give
her _real_ treasures to some male. Which are the greater artists and
producers, the saviors of the race? Those heroines who survive the
heart-break of man's indelicacy, and manage alone to give their
treasures to their children. The art of such women lives, indeed. David
Cairns was coming along.
The work that Andrew Bedient began in the Cairns mind and heart was
being finished by Vina Nettleton. In great thirst of soul, he had come
to her and been restored. He was very eager to leave all he had in the
shelter of the palms.
"David," Bedient had said, "there is only one greater work for a man in
the world than making a woman happy; and that--making _all_ women
happier! It seems that an avatar must come for that soon. To-day the
great gifts of women are uncalled for by men. They cannot take each
other, save in physical arms. There is a barrier between the sexes. Man
has not learned, or has forgotten, the heart-language. What a need for
lovers! If one could look into the secret places of women, across the
world's table, into the minds of women who hate and are restless, and
whose desires rove; even into the minds of those who actually venture
beyond the man-made pale, he would see over all the need of lovers!...
Give a woman love, and she will give the world lovers, and we shall
have brotherhood singing in our ears.... David, I ask you only to look
at the genius born of woman, in and out of wedlock, during the first
days of her mating with a man whom she believes to be all that she has
cried out for. He may have destroyed every hope afterward, sacked every
sanctuary, but, if she trembled close to her great happiness in the
beginning, the child of such a beginning has glory upon his brow!"
Cairns was ready to see; ready to read this in the history of men. More
than this, he was ready to flood fresh dawns of light into the tired
eyes of Vina Nettleton, and upon her pallor make roses bloom. Moreover,
he could discern in her an immortal artist, the conception of which
changed him from a male to a man.
And of this seeing came another needed conception: that intellectual
arrogance is the true modern devil; that the ancient devil, desire of
flesh, is obvious, banal, and commonplace, compared to this.... He
dared to bring his realizations to a woman, and found that she had a
crown for each and every one. And he learned to talk to her about
things vital to men and women, and found that this was the strangest,
grandest and most providential hour in the world--this newest hour.
It was with a rich and encompassing delight that Cairns discovered
Vina's fineness, endurance, delicacy, and intuition. He was humble
before her spirit, for he had become sensitive to that which was mystic
and ineffable. He saw through her, a sanction and authority for his own
future years, her light upon the work he must do. The animation of his
mind in her presence was pure with service. And Vina awakened, for she
saw with trembling, what is a miracle to a modern woman's eyes, man's
delight to honor that which is most truly woman's. So her girlhood
* * * * *
At first Vina thought he was using her for a study. They had long been
friends; she was glad to be of assistance; so he was free to come and
go, and she was free with him as only an old comrade can be--one who
expects nothing. They had great talks about Bedient; both revered him,
and were grateful for his coming. And Vina was not slow to see the
change in David Cairns; that it was in nowise momentary, but sound and
structural. She took a deep interest in his progress, mothered it, made
him glad to show her its phases.
"Things are looking so differently to me," he said, one of the first
days. "It makes me think of the American soldiers I met the first time
afield--the time I met Bedient. I praised the officers for their own
home papers. They looked so big and thrilling to me, as men. It was
easy. I remember riding with a cavalry leader one rough day--a long
day. He was hard and still with courage. He rolled a hundred cigarettes
that day. I thought him the genius of an officer. Then I saw him
afterward over here. It was the same with others. They seemed to have
left their glory out there among the swamps and the hills.... It's the
same way with the things I thought before Bedient came.... I can see
_your_ things a lot better."
It was true, he could. Vina had noted that. He could sense her
atmosphere, and divine her intents. Formerly, he had taken the word of
the others that she had power for her work.... Almost every afternoon
now he tapped at her door. Entering, he would take a seat by the
fire-frame, stare a bit at the city or the tower, or move about behind
her, regarding the freshly done work; and presently they would find
themselves talking. It was because David Cairns, as a lover, was out of
the question from her point of view in the first days, that such a
splendid companionship was established. He did not know that a woman
could be such a companion; and her unconsciousness of his deeper quest,
gave her an ease with him, that was one of the secrets of her great and
Heretofore, all feminine aspirants for Cairns' admiration had ranged
themselves in his mind against the paragon, Beth Truba (with whom he
had long comported himself with a rueful might-have-been manner, both
pretty and pleasant). Beth had easily transcended. Whatever was great
and desirable in woman was likely to wear a Beth Truba hall-mark for
his observation. Now, that was changed, not that Beth suffered eclipse,
nor that his admiration abated; indeed, his gratefulness for that word
of Beth's at just the proper moment, which had caused him gallantly to
take the road of Vina Nettleton, was a rare study; but another had
risen, not of Beth, but of more intimate meaning to the man, David
Cairns. Beth's great force of feminine energy and aspiration, he had
been unable to attract. Beth had demanded more than virtue from him,
and at a time when he was not finished enough to answer her many
Cairns and Vina Nettleton had in reality just met, and at one of the
memorable crossings of eternity. To each, the other had just been
brought forth from a sumptuous shadow of nature. In the brighter light
they discerned each other. Cairns was first to see, for he had been
told, and he brought to the meeting all the fresh inspirations of his
maturity, and they rested upon the solid values earned through a life
of hard-held decency.
Among the May days there was one afternoon in which the conception of
summer was in the air. It was not the heat alone, but the stirring of
the year's tremendous energy everywhere, even under pavements. The
warmth of creation was kindly in old bones and old walls, and an
imperious quickening in the elastic veins of youth. Vina (half-way up a
step-ladder) turned about and sat down on one of the steps. Cairns had
asked her what plans she had for the summer.
"Oh, I shan't be a great way from New York. Maybe a trip or two over to
my beloved Nantucket."
This started her to thinking and presently to expatiating upon the
dearest place on earth to her mind.... She told him how the villagers
refused to have mail-service, as it threatened to destroy one of the
important social features of the day, that of going to the post office
for letters. Also he was informed that automobiles were forbidden in
Nantucket, and that a train started daily across the Island, a
nine-mile journey, and sometimes arrived. The conductor and engineer,
both old seamen, were much more interested in a change of weather, a
passing ship, or a school of fish, than in the immediate schedule or
right of way.... And Cairns was given another glimpse of the
enchantress that had been hidden so long in the workaday vesture of the
little artist, as she unfolded:
"To me, there's real peace and silence away out there in the sea. Every
thought is a picture.... You know the little gray shingle houses are
built very close together, and many are flush with the sidewalk. They
don't draw the shades at night, and everyone uses little muslin
curtains which conceal nothing. One of my favorite things to do is to
walk along Pleasant Street to Lily Lane, or through Vestal Street, just
about dusk, and see the darling interiors of the spotless cottages. Not
really to stop nor stare, just to go softly and slowly by.... One house
has little heads around the tea-table with father and mother; another
has company for supper; and the next--just old folks are left--but all
so radiant as they shine out through the old-fashioned window-panes....
To have one of those places for one's own! It has seemed the happiest
destiny for me, but only for the very fortunate and elect.... I wonder
if they ever know of the night-birds that flutter at the window-panes
to see the happiness within?"
Cairns might have taken this very lightly; even with a reservation that
she knew realities did not fit the ideal; that such realities were not
for the elect always;--but he chose to regard it instead, as an
expression of Vina's yearning, which she felt safe in disclosing for
the sake of the ingenious picture she made.... He looked about this
remarkable studio in the heart of New York, where a really great task
was being wrought to endure. Sometimes it seemed to him that the
spirits of the saints came to rest in this place, where the woman
worshipped them through her work.... And he knew she meant much that
she said; that to her, work was not enough of the breath of life....
She had not completed her picture; rather life had not completed it for
Cairns confided in Bedient the Nantucket story, and an idea, occurred
to the latter that delighted him. It was one of the evenings when they
dined together at the Club.... Another day, Cairns inquired of Vina
what took her to Nantucket in summer, curious as to the material
"My own people used to go there summers when I was a little thing," she
told him, "and of late--there are many friends who ask me over."
"Say, Vina, when you get over to Nantucket, would you be terribly
disconcerted to discover some morning, down among the wharves there,
with a copy of _Moby Dick,_ and a distressed look from deciding whether
breakfast should be of clam or cod chowder--_me_?"
"I should be glad of all things," she said with quiet eagerness. "There
are so many ways to pass the hours----"
"Besides walking in Lily Lane in the dusk?"
"Yes.... There's the ride over the open moors. It's like Scotland in
places, with no division or fences, and the sea away off in all
directions. Then, we must go to the lighthouse, one of the most
important of America, and the first to welcome the steamers coming in
from Europe. And the Haunted House on Moor's End, the Prince Gardens
and the wonderful old water-front--where I am to discover you--once so
rich and important in the world, now forgotten and sunken and deserted,
except for an old seasoned sea captain here and there, smoking about,
dreaming as you imagine, of the China trade or the lordly days of the
old sperm fishery, and looking wistfully out toward the last port....
Venice or Nantucket--I can hardly say which is more dream-like or
alluring, or sad with the goneness of its glory.... I'd love to show
you, because I know every stick and stone on the Island, and many of
its quaint people."
"And when do you think you will go?" he asked.
"I don't know, David,--not before the last of June. And I won't be able
to stay very long this year, because there is no place to work there. I
ought to have a little change and rest, but I can't afford to 'run
down' entirely--just enough to freshen the eye."
Cairns nodded seriously....
A day or two afterward he brought Bedient. To Vina he was like some
tremendous vibration in the room. Her mind was roused as if by some
great music.... It was in nothing that Bedient had said or looked, yet
only a little while after the two men had gone, Vina realized she had a
lover in David Cairns.
She was dismayed, filled with confusion and alarm, but this was the
foreground of mind. She had the sense of glad singing in the distances.
There was no sleep for hours this night, though of late, she had been
sleeping unusually well.... Why had the realization been so slow in
coming? An answer was ready enough: Because David was an old
acquaintance. But another thought came: For years, except in rare
reactionary hours, such as that afternoon in Beth's studio, she had put
away the thought of man as a mate.... For years, she had tried to
become a block instead of a battery; tried to give the full portion of
her life to the thing called work, and hated herself because she
couldn't. For years she had dreaded to go where men and women were,
because the rare sight of human happiness brought upon her a torrent of
dreams. The emptiness of her own life, together with the hatred of
self, because she could not be glad for the simple object lesson of a
man and woman happy in each other, made her miserable for hours. Late
years she had not cared if she looked tacky. "What does it matter," she
would ask, with a hateful glance into the glass, "when at best, I look
like a water-nymph with hay-fever?"... A long and hard fight, but she
had almost broken the habit of thinking what she might do with certain
prerogatives of women, which were not granted to her. A bitter fight,
and only she knew the hollowness of the honors her good work had
brought. It was not the hard work that had left her at the end of many
a long day--just a worn bundle of sparking nerve-ends.
And yet, this was the creature whom the new David Cairns had come to,
again and again and again. This mighty fact arose from the vortex of
confusion and alarm. "Ah, David," she thought, "is it not too late? Am
I not too old and weathered a world-campaigner?... I am old, David.
Older than my years. Older even than I look! I have warred so long,
that I think all peace and happiness from now on would kill me. Oh, you
don't want me. Surely you can't want me!"
But there were sad smilings upon the hundred hand-wrought faces in the
room. The Marys, the Magdalens, and the Marthas were a strangely
smiling Sisterhood.... "Child, you have been faithful in the little
things," came to her. "You have thought of us and wept with us and
loved us, and we have prevailed to bring you happiness."
And so the other side of the picture--Vina Nettleton's life
picture--now turned. The "Stations" were like panels of fairies, after
that. All the hidden shames and secrets of the years, the awful sense
of being unwanted at the hearth of the human family, were taken from
her, like the brittle and dusty packings from a glorious urn. Some
marvel of freshness sped through her veins. She was not as yesterday--a
little gray shade of an evil dream. Yesterday, and all the yesterdays,
she had modelled alone, poor creatures of clay, and now the world
suddenly called her to the academy of immortals....
Yes, he had come. He was brave and beloved.... She arose and knelt in
the dark before that panel of greatest meaning--the Gethsemane. And
long afterward, she stood by the open window. There were no stars, but
the tired city was cut in light. And faint sounds reached her from
below.... They were not Jews and Romans, but her own people, rushing to
and fro for the happiness she had found.
BETH SIGNS THE PICTURE
Bedient walked up the Avenue, carrying one of his small leather-bound
books to Beth. It was the day after the call of the Grey One there. He
had learned to give--which may be made an exquisite art--little things
that forbade refusal, but which were invested with cumulative values.
Thus he brought many of his rare books of the world to the studio. In
them she came upon his marginal milestones, and girdled them with her
own pencillings. So their inner silences were broken, and they entered
the concourse of the elect together.
The wonder of the woman rose and rose in his mind. His joy, apart from
her, was to give joy to others, and so he had moved about New York for
days and nights, reflecting her in countless ways. When he thought of
his money at all, it was to realize with curious amazement that there
was quite enough for anything he wished to do. Things to do were so
many in New York, that numberless times each day he sent a prayer of
thankfulness to Captain Carreras, always with a warm delight in the
memory. And he liked to think it was Beth's hand. She had told him of
her pilgrimages during holiday time to the infinite centres of
sorrow--and it became a kind of dream of his--the time when they would
go together, not holidays alone, but always. The great fortune slowly
became identified in his mind with the work he had to do; but
Equatoria, the base, amusingly enough, sank away into vaster
remoteness. There were moments in which Bedient almost believed there
was a little garden of his planting in the heart of the lustrous lady;
moments, even, when he thought it was extending broader and broader
upon an arable surface. Again, some bitterness from the world seemed to
blast the young growths--and the delicate fragrance was far-blown. It
was these reactions, and his sensitiveness to the beauty of the
romance, which put off from day to day the time for words.
Two or three days before, she had returned from a week-end in the
country, and more than ever her presence was an inspiration. She must
have been keeping holy vigils. There was animation in her hands, a note
of singing in her laughter--the dawn of June in her eyes, the fresh
loveliness of the country in her whole presence. She showed him that
Monday morning, how good it was to see him again--after forty-eight
hours. And he had gone about his work with renewed spirit--the silent
siege. The strength of youth was in his attentions, but the fineness of
maturity, as well. He cultured her heart as only a great lover could;
but being the lover, he was slow to see the blooms that answered.
Only of words, he would have none of them yet. Deeply he understood
that she had been terribly hurt--long ago or recently, he could not
tell. Could the story she had suggested of the Grey One's lover be
anything like her own?... Words--he was afraid. Words often break the
sensitive new-forming tissues over old wounds of the heart. His was a
life-work, to heal and expand her heart to hold the great happiness....
Beth felt herself giving away secrets, when Bedient looked at her early
this afternoon. He glanced as usual into her face--but then, a second
time. She followed his eyes an instant later to the place on the
mantel, where the small picture of the Other had rested for just one
day. He started to ask a question, but she took the little book, and
thanking him, held the talk to it.
Bedient grappled with an obstacle he could not master. In the silences
of that day, something different from anything he had met before,
closed in; a new order of atmosphere that altered the very tone and
color of things. It seemed not in the studio alone, but in the world.
Bedient fell into depths of thinking before it. A sudden turn for the
worst in a well-established convalescence, held something of the same
startling confrontation. There was no response to his willing it away.
It was fateful, encompassing.
Beth moved about the room, not ready at once to touch the picture. She
carried the little book in her hand.... Strong but mild winds were
blowing. Sudden gusts fell upon the skylight with the sound of spray,
and sparrows scurried across the glass, their clawed feet moving
swiftly about Mother Nature's business. The East ventilator shook, as
if grimly holding on.
"A day like this always touches my nerves," she said. "The wind seems
to bring a great loneliness out of the sea."
"It's pure land weather," he answered, "damp, warm, aimless winds. Now,
if there was a strong, steady and chill East wind----"
But she wouldn't discuss what that might do. "Loneliness," she
repeated. "What a common lot! One scarcely dares stop to think how
lonely one is.... How many people do you know, who are happily
companioned? I've known only six in my life, and two of those were
brother and sister. It's the dull, constant, ache at the human heart.
What's the reason, do you suppose?"
"The urge to completion----"
"I suppose it is, and almost never satisfied. I think I should train
children first and last for the stern trials of loneliness. It's almost
necessary to have resources within one's self----"
"But how wonderful when real companions catch a glimpse of each other
across some room of the world!" he said quietly.
"A tragedy more often than not," she finished. "One of them so often
has built his house, and must abide. Real companions never build their
house upon the ruins of another."
"That has a sound ring."
"What is the reason for this everywhere, this forever loneliness?" she
demanded, without lifting her eyes from the work.
"Something must drive," he replied. "You call it loneliness this
morning. It's as good as any. Great things come from yearning. People
of the crowd choose each other at random, under the pressure of
passionate loneliness. Greater human hearts vision their One. Once in a
while the One appears and answers the need--and then there is
happiness. There is nothing quite so important as the happiness in each
other of two great human hearts. Don't you see, it can exist hardly a
moment, until it is adjusted to _all time_--until its relation to
eternity is firmly established? When that comes, the world has another
beautiful centre of pure energy to look at and admire and aspire to.
And the spirit of such a union never dies, but goes on augmenting until
it becomes a great river in the world.
"It is very clear to me," he went on, trying to fight the shadows,
"that something like this must happen before great world-forces come
into being. First, the two happy ones learn that love is giving. Their
love goes on and on into a bigger thing than love for each other, and
becomes love for the race. That's the greater glory. Avatars have that.
The children of real lovers have such a chance for that vaster spirit!
Indeed, you can almost always trace a great man's lineage back to some
lustrous point of this kind."
Beth regarded him deeply for a moment. She could not adjust him to
commonness. She was suffering. Bedient saw only the mystic light of
that suffering. He had never loved her as at this moment.
"I always wish I could paint you, as you look when you are thinking
about such things!" she said. "Just as you looked when you spoke about
two people who have illumined each other, so that they turn their great
anguish of loving upon the race.... Yes, I see it: prophets might
indeed come from that kind of love."
Beth worked with uncommon energy for many minutes.
All-forgetting--time, place, tension and the man near. Her spirit was
strangely sustained under his eyes. The work flew, and left little
traces of its processes in her mind--her concentration was deeper than
* * * * *
"I'd like to ride with you," he said, rising to leave.
Beth had often spoken of her saddle-horse, which of late had been kept
at her mother's country place. Bedient rented a very good mount in New
York, but Beth remarked that her own had spoiled her for all others,
adding that he would say so, too, if he could see Clarendon, the famous
black she rode.
"I can't afford to keep him in the city long at a time," she explained.
"Oh, it's not what he costs, but he's a devourer of daylight.... It
breaks up half a day to get to the stables and change and all, and I
haven't tried to ride after dark. We poor paint creatures are so
dependent upon light for our work.... And yet riding adds to good
health--just the right sparkle in my case."
"And that's royalty," Bedient declared.
Beth was thinking. He had spoken of riding with her before. He had been
singularly appealing this day. Trouble had filled his eyes at the first
sight of her, and she had felt his struggle with it.... Her mother had
asked to see him, but there wasn't a good mate for Clarendon in or
about Dunstan, where her home was.... She was so worn, mind and nerve
and spirit, that the thought of a long ride lured strongly. She knew he
would be different. Perhaps he might show, beyond the shadow of a
doubt, that he was not identified with commonness.... He might bring
the talk to the point of--Beth thrilled at this. She was far from
ready, and yet with him before her, Wordling and the sea were remote
"Could you get the good mare you ride--across to Jersey?"
"Yes," he said eagerly. "I could send a man over with her--a day
This was Thursday.
"I'll ride with you Saturday," she said finally. "You get your horse
over to Dunstan Friday--to-morrow--and we'll start from here early
Saturday morning. A day in the hills--and supper at night in my real
She had never seen him so pleased, but Beth was a little startled at
herself when she considered yesterday.... He was always so different
when he came, from the creation of her mind when alone, and the doubts
flew in and out. Then the little sacred book he had brought--so
powerfully fathomed and marked--it was like bringing his youth to her,
with all its thoughts and wanderings. He was particularly attractive to
her in these little things, and she missed not a phase of such
impulses. He delighted to see them in _her_ house, he said, and she
knew they had been his riches in the years of loneliness and
wandering.... Far back in her faculties, however, the battle was
furious and constant. Every faltering advance of faith was met and
"I thank you," he said. "In fact, I can't thank you.... What a day it
will be for me to live over.... There's a little thing that needs
doing. It will take me away for three or four days next week."
Beth almost laughed. She caught the laugh of mockery in time. The ride
just arranged seized and held her attention, like some baleful
creature. There was abomination about it, to her thoughts--the ease
with which he had managed, her abject softness.... She was trembling
within, all her resistance settling, straining, like a tree before the
final stroke of the axe. Her hands trembled crazily and were cold....
She had given her word; yes, they would ride together. She could not
evade his eyes, his question, if she refused now.... He must not see
that she was whipped.... But she would not see him after that. He could
not come back to her from the Wordling arms. She would not see him
to-morrow. But the picture----
She had turned from the easel to her desk, and was fumbling with papers
there, her back turned to him. A half minute had passed since his last
word... One word came from her:
She had meant it to sound as if spoken absently, as if she were
preoccupied in search for a certain paper. Instead it was an eldritch
note in the room, like the croak of an evil bird... He was standing
near the outer door. Something of her tumult must have come to him, she
thought, for his voice was strangely altered when he asked:
"Will three or four days make any difference about the picture?"
... She would not see him again. He could not come back here to-morrow
nor afterward. He must go away now... She thought of her wail to the
Grey One that he would not go to the ocean with Wordling... It meant
nothing to him; she could not punish _him_ by keeping him away... But
the picture--that final inner lustre. It had come to her this
morning--what havoc in the memory--and she had seen it that day in the
great gallery before his _Race Mother_, but had been unable quite to
hold it in mind until the working light of the following day... She
must not add to her own punishment, after all her care and labor, by
failing in the last touch. And yet he must not come again...
"The picture, did you say?"
He repeated his question.
"Why, the picture is practically done," she said. "I'll sign and
deliver it to-morrow. I think it will get to you to-morrow. The long,
ridiculously long, preliminary work gave me the modelling, as well as I
could have it.... This weather makes one think of the ocean or the
She had forgotten this gray day of winds. Her sentence, and the design
of it, had been founded upon the recent run of superb spring days.
"There's a little thing that needs doing by the ocean--that's why I
go." His words seemed to come from a distance.
"It would not do for you to look at the picture here. You'd feel
expected to say something pretty--or most would. I want it out of its
work-light, then you can judge and send it back if it's bad. I'll try
to have it at the Club to-morrow.... You did not know this was the
final sitting, did you?"
She was talking feverishly, in fear of his questions. She knew it must
sound strange and unreasonable to his mind.
"No," he said gently. "You always surprise me. And the ride--Saturday?"
"Yes, the ride.... We must start----"
"Yes. We'll meet--at the Thirty-fourth Street boat--at seven."
"I thank you. And good-by."
There was something amazing to her in his capacity not to question. In
her weakness she was grateful almost to tears. She would not show him
her hurt, but crossed the room hastily, and extended her hand with a
brave smile.... Listening, she heard him descend the stairs.... Then
from the front window, she saw him reach the street, turn to the Avenue
and mingle with men.
It was not like yesterday in the little room. That agony had worn her
too much for another such crisis.... The thought fascinated, that there
must be some hidden meaning to the queer promise she had been impelled
to make--to ride with him Saturday.... The parting, his instant
comprehension of some mood of hers, in which words had no place; his
sad smile, and the look of gratitude when she came forward; his seeming
content with all her decisions; his inability to question or ask
favors--all these retained a remarkable hold upon her imagination. And
even though, to her eyes, he stood as one fallen, there was poise in
his presence.... Something about him brought back her dreams, whether
or no, with all their ecstasy and dread. Already she was thinking of
him--as one gone; and yet the studio seemed mystic with his comings and
goings and gifts.... It came to her how her lips had quivered under his
eyes, as she went forward to say good-by.... It was not three or four
days, but "good-by," indeed.
* * * * *
Though she would have put the black mark of misery upon it, this was
one of the greatest of Beth Truba's days. She had come into the world
with a great faith to bestow--and some dreadful punishment, it seemed,
made her bear it alone. It had long ached within to be given. It shamed
her that she could not. With all her intellect, all her world-habit of
mind, she believed that Andrew Bedient had fallen greatly--greatly,
because he had shown himself so clean and wise. She granted to herself
nothing but a thrilling admiration for him in his higher moments, but
still she was associated with this fall, because she had permitted him
to come to her, almost at will. And she had not been _enough_ for
him--what poison in that thought!
Yet, the unseen Shadowy Sister endeavored to restore her faith again
and again, and garland the Wanderer with it....
Every instant of passing daylight harried her with the thought of the
work yet to do. It might prove much--and to-morrow--the thought came
with heaviness and darkening--the portrait must go to him. And the day
after--he would go.... She dreaded to look at the picture now. Many
touches of love, she had put upon it. Her highest thinking it had
called, as his words had done. It had even stimulated her to an old
dream of really great work. Beth Truba had long put that away.
The rapt look in his eyes; the rapt smile upon his lips when he spoke
of his great theme; just to paint that, would be greatness. Just to put
it once upon the canvas, that would be enough. It would show that she
had seen more than man--deeper than flesh. One song, one picture, one
book, is enough for any artist. She had always said that....
These thoughts stilled and softened her spirit--held her moveless in
the centre of the room; but again the world returned, with all its play
upon her finished intelligence.... He had not found her sufficient to
restrain him from this ocean episode; and pride uprose--a vindictive
burning that scorched full-length.
"He is very brave and evolved," she whispered bitterly, "but the man
within him was not to be denied.... Wordling has that.... God, it seems
as if there is nothing of that--in red-haired Beth Truba!... No, he
must run off to the ocean, quite as if he had been a poor, impatient
boy, like the Other!"
Her face crimsoned. The shame and agony of the thought brought her to
her knees before the picture she had painted.
"And perhaps it _is_ my fault," she whispered desperately. "Perhaps I
have asked too much, and waited too long. Perhaps they see--what I do
not--and women lie--and I only think I feel! Perhaps I _am_ weathered
and inflexible, and hard and old and cold, and they know, and become
But there was stern denial in the face before her--reproach in the eyes
she had made of paint.... In her terror before these thoughts, which
struck home in the hour of her weakness, the art of the thing suddenly
prevailed--good work, the valiant rescuer.... She remembered how her
presence had aroused the giant in the Other. Her spell had done that.
She had felt the crush of his arms, and queer fires had laughed across
her brain. Then she fell again with the thought, that even that had not
sufficed. Her pride had sent him away even after that--his laugh, his
Greek beauty, his passion and all.... And now it came to her with
fierce reality, that should the Other ever return, it would only make
these later hours and later memories burn the deeper.... A temptation
came to hold Bedient--as a woman could--to keep him from going to
another woman, but her eyes fell with swift shame from the picture.
"I have not made you common--how can I be common with you?" she cried.
"Oh, why could you not always remember your best, you, who have helped
The light, though gray, was still strong. Fixed upon the canvas, as she
had never seen it before, was a revelation of one of those high moments
which had exalted Vina Nettleton, and changed David Cairns in the whole
order of his being. She almost listened for him to speak of the natural
greatness of women.
"But you are forgetting those higher moments," she whispered. "That's
the way with men and boys--to forget--to run away for the little things
beside the ocean----"
But the face denied; the face was of purity. It regarded her steadily
in her long watching--a fixture of poise, happiness assured.... Then
the need of haste and work, left deep in her mind, arose to the surface
with a strong and sudden urging--the delivery to-morrow. Her heart, her
flesh, her soul, all were at war and weary unto death. It was hideous
to attempt to touch it again that day; yet to-morrow an evil light ...
and now came the full realization of a remarkable fact.
The final inner lustre was there. The thing she had long been afraid to
do, save in the exact perfect moment, was done. That Something of his
was before her, its lifting valor not to be denied....
It was just before he had asked her to ride, she recalled now. An elate
concentration had held her while she painted. She had not spoken; she
had hardly known the world about her. It had been too big to leave a
memory.... It was done. It pleaded for him. It was like the Shadowy
Sister pleading for him. Swiftly, she signed the work. It was his.
That was hard.
...In the veil of dusk she was still kneeling, her face ghastly with
waiting.... And not until pride intervened again, and prevailed upon
her to see him no more, after the last ride together, did she find some
old friendly tears, almost as remote from the days she now lived, as
Florentine springtimes of student memory.
THE LAST RIDE TOGETHER
Bedient arose at four on Saturday morning and looked out of his high
window. June had come. The smell of rain was _not_ in the air. He was
grateful and drew up a chair, facing the East. The old mystery of
morning unfolded over sea, and there was no blemish.... Bedient had not
slept, nor during the two preceding nights. While the abundance of his
strength was not abated, deep grooves (that came to abrupt blind
endings) were worn in his mind from certain thoughts, and he was
conscious of his body, which may be the beginning of weariness;
conscious, too, of a tendency of his faculties to mark time over little
Yesterday the picture had come. He had hoped hard against this. Its
coming had brought to him a sense of separateness from the studio, that
he tried not to dwell upon in mind, but which recurred persistently....
He could not judge a portrait of himself; yet he knew this was
wonderful. Beth had caught him in an animate moment, and fixed him
there. Her fine ideal had put on permanence.... "Hold fast to a
soul-ideal of your friend," he remembered telling her once, "and you
help him to build himself true to it. If your ideal is rudely broken,
you become one of the disintegrating forces at work upon him."
He keenly felt the disorder in his relation to Beth. The thought that
held together, against all others, was that Beth loved some one, just
now out of her world. He wished she could see into his mind about this;
instantly, he would have helped her; his dearest labor, to restore her
He had never been confident of winning. He loved far too well, and held
Beth too high, ever to become familiar in his thoughts of her as a life
companion. Power lived in her presence for him; great struggles and
conquerings. He loved every year she had lived; every hour of life that
had brought her to this supremacy of womanhood before which he bowed,
was precious to him. In this instance he was myopic. He did not see
Beth Truba as other women, and failed to realize this. His penetration
faltered before her, for she lived and moved in the brilliant light of
his love, blended with it, so that her figure, and her frailties, lost
all sharpness of contour.
He had suffered in the past three days and nights. He was proud and
glad to suffer. There was no service nor suffering that he would have
hesitated to accept for Beth Truba.... This day amazed him in prospect,
one of her beautiful gifts to him. It was almost as if she had come to
his house, lovely, unafraid, and sat laughing before his fire. One of
the loftiest emotions, this sense of companionship with her. There was
something of distinct loveliness in every hour they had passed
together. Not one of their fragrances had he lost. These memories often
held him, like mysterious gardens.
...Bedient paced the big area in front of the ferry entrance long
before seven. He saw her the instant she stepped from the cross-town
car. The day was momentarily brightening, yet something of the early
morning red was about her. His throat tightened at sight of her radiant
swiftness. Her eyes were deeper, her lips more than ever red.... On the
deck of the ferry, before the start, she said:
"I feel as if we were escaping from somewhere, and could not tolerate a
...At ten o'clock they were in the saddle, and Dunstan was far behind.
The morning, as perfect as ever arose in Northern summer; the azure
glorified with golden light, and off to the South, a few shining
counterpanes of cloud lay still. The half had not been told about
Beth's Clarendon, a huge rounded black, with a head slightly Roman, and
every movement a pose. He was skimp of mane and tail; such fine grain
does not run to hair. While there was sanity and breeding in his steady
black eye, every look and motion suggested "too much horse" for a
woman. Yet Beth handled him superbly, and from a side-saddle. Clarendon
had in his temper, that gift of show aristocrats--excess of life, not
at all to be confused with wickedness--which finds in plain outdoors
and decent going, plentiful stimulus for top endeavor and hot
"I've had him long," Beth said, "and though he has sprung from a walk
to a trot countless times without a word from me, he has yet to slow
down of his own accord. He can do his twelve miles an hour, and turn
around and do it back.... You see how he handles--for me."
She delighted in his show qualities, rarely combined with such
excellent substance. She showed his gaits, but rode a trot by
preference. Bedient, who had a good mare, laughed joyously when his
mount was forced into a run to keep abreast. Clarendon, without the
slightest show of strain, had settled to his trot.... All Bedient's
thinking and imaging during the years alone, of the woman he should
some time find, had never brought him anything so thrilling as this
slightly flushed profile of Beth's now. What an anchorage of reality
she was, after years of dream-stuff--a crown of discoveries, no
less--and what an honor, her gift of companionship! He felt an
expansion of power, and strength to count this day great with
compensation, should the future know only the interminable dull aching
of absence and distance.
Bedient had started to speak of the picture, but she bade him wait....
As they rode along a country road, they came to an old ruin of a
farm-house, surrounded by huge barns, some new, and all in good repair.
A little beyond was a calf tied to a post. It was lying down, its legs
still being largely experimental--a pitifully new calf, shapeless and
The mother was nowhere around. Sick in some far meadow, perhaps, sick
of making milk for men.
"That's a veal calf," Beth said.
The note in her voice called his eyes. Something which the sight
suggested was hateful to her. Bedient dismounted and led his chestnut
mare up to the little thing, which stared, tranced in hope and fear.
The mare dropped her muzzle benignantly. She understood and became
self-conscious and uncomfortable. One of a group of children near the
farmhouse behind them called:
"Show off! Show off!"
"They sell its rightful food," Beth said, "and feed the poor little
thing on cheaper stuff until it hardens for the butcher. Men are so big
with their business."
"There are veal calves tied to so many posts on the world's highway,"
Bedient said slowly.
"When I was younger," Beth went on, "and used to read about the men who
had done great creative things, I often found that they had to keep
away from men and crowds, lest they perish from much pitying, dissipate
their forces in wide, aimless outpourings of pity, which men and the
systems of men called from them. Then--this was long ago--I used to
think this a silly affectation, but I have come to understand."
"Of course, you would come to understand," Bedient said.
"Men who do great things are much alone," she continued. "They become
sensitive to sights and sounds and odors--they are so alive, even
physically. The downtown man puts on an armor. He must, or could not
stay. The world seethes with agony--for him who can see."
"That is what made the sacrifice of the Christ," Bedient declared.
"Every day--he died from the sights on the world's highway----"
They looked back.
"It was not the Cross and the Spear, but the haggard agony of His Face
that night on Gethsemane that brings to me the realization of the
greatness of His suffering," he added.
"And the disciples were too sleepy to watch and pray with him----"
"How gladly would the women have answered His need for human
companionship that night!" he exclaimed. "But it was not so ordained.
It was His hour alone, the most pregnant hour in the world's history."
They reached the crest of a fine hill at noon, and dismounted in the
shade of three big elms. They could see small towns in the valley
distances, and the profile of hilltop groves against the sky. The
slopes of the hill wore the fresh green of June pasture lands; and
three colts trotted up to the fence, nickering as they came.... Beth
was staring away Westward through the glorious light. Bedient came
close to her; she felt his eyes upon her face, turned and looked
steadily into them. She was the first to look down. Beth had never seen
his eyes in such strong light, nor such power of control, such
serenity, such a look of inflexible integrity.... She did not like that
control. It was not designed in the least to take away the hate and
burning which for three days had warred against the best resistance of
That cool lofty gaze was her portion. Another--on the shore--ignited
the fires. A devil within--for days and nights--had goaded her: "Yes,
Beth Truba, red haired and all that, but old and cold, just the same,
and strange to men."
"I've wanted this day," he said. "It was some need deeper than impulse.
I wanted it just this way: A hill like this, shade of great trees that
whispered, distant towns and woods, horses neighing to ours. Something
more ancient and authoritative than the thing we call Memory, demanded
it this way. Why, I believe we have stood together before."
Beth smiled, for the goading devil had just whispered to her, "You were
a vestal virgin doubtless--oh, severely chaste!"... She said, "You
believe then we have come up through 'a cycle of Cathay'?"
"If I had heard your name, just your name, over there in India," he
replied thoughtfully, "it would have had some deep meaning for me."
"The 'cycle of Cathay' wasn't enough to cure you?"
He turned quickly, but didn't smile. "I think there was always some
distance between us, that we were never equal, a difference like that
between Clarendon and the chestnut. Only you were always above me, and
it was the better, the right way. Beth----"
She looked up.
"Is there any reason why I shouldn't tell you how great you are to
me--just that--asking nothing?"
"We are both grown-ups," she answered readily. "You won't mind if I
find it rather hard to believe--I mean, my greatness. You like my
riding and the portrait----"
"I can judge your riding. As for the picture, it is an inspiration,
though I cannot judge that so well. But it is not those----"
"And what then, pray?"
"A tired old artist whom nobody knows--really."
"I wish you wouldn't say that," he declared earnestly. "There is
nothing alive this moment, nothing in the great sun's light, that has
put on such a glory of maturity. Why, you are concentrated sunlight--to
"That's very pretty," she said, and turned a glance into his eyes....
The same cool deeps were there, though his face held a singular
happiness. She wondered if it were because she had not forbade him to
speak. Did he think she was ready, and that her heart was free?
There was no one on the sloping hill-road, either to the right or left,
and only the colts in the meadows. A good free thing--this elimination
of human beings--though at this height, they stood in the very eye of
the country-side. The chestnut mare was cropping the young grass by the
edge of the highway, but there were matters for Clarendon to
understand--far distances and movements not for human eyes. The colts
racing up and down the hill-fence were beneath his notice. The great
arched neck was lifted for far gazing and listening, and that which
came to his foreign senses, caused him to snort softly from time to
Beth rode without hat. Her arms were bare to the elbows; her gray silk
waist open at the throat. She stretched out her arms, and the sunlight,
cut by the high elm boughs, fell upon her like a robe, woven of
shimmerings. She seemed to want her full portion of vitality from the
great upbuilding day.
"It's strong medicine--this high noon of June," she said. "One feels
like unfolding as flowers do."
And then came over him--over all his senses--something flower-like in
scent, yet having to do with no particular flower. It dilated his
nostrils, but more than that, all his senses awoke to the strange charm
of it.... The distance between them was gone that instant. Though it
may have endured for ages and ages, it was gone. He had overtaken
her.... A haunting influence; and yet of magic authority! Was it the
perfume of the lotos and the bees? It was more than that. It was the
sublimate of all his bewitchings--chaste mountains, dawns, the morning
glow upon great heights, the flock of flying swans red with daybreak;
more still, all the petals of the Adelaide passion restored in one drop
of fragrance, and lifted, a different fragrance, the essence of a
miracle! This was the perfume that came from her life, from her arms
and throat and red mouth....
It was new out of the years. All his strangely guarded strength arose
suddenly animate. A forgotten self had come back to him, all fresh and
princely out of long enchantment.... And there she stood with face
averted awaiting this Return!... This was the mysterious prince who had
wrought in darkness so long, the source of his dreams of woman's
greatness, the energy that had driven and held him true to his ideals,
the structure into which his spiritual life had been builded (was this
the world's mighty illusion possessing him?), and now the prince had
come, asking for his own.... And she was there, stretching out her
Mighty forces awoke from sleep. They were not of his mind, but deep
resolutions of all his life, forces of her own inspiring which she must
gladly, gloriously obey. Was it not her love token, this electric
power, as truly as his mind's ardor and his spiritual reverence?... The
miracle of her life's fragrance held him.... Even desire was beautiful
in a love like this. All nature trembles for the issue, when love such
as his perceives the ripe red fruit of a woman's lips.... But better
far not to know it at all, than to know the half.
* * * * *
And Beth was thinking of the cool depths in his eyes a moment before,
and of his words, "asking nothing."... "Why asks he nothing of me?...
Because I am old and cold."... Some terrific magnetism filled her
suddenly, as if she had drawn vitality from great spaces of sunlight,
and some flaming thing from the huge hot strength of Clarendon.... And
now the goading devil whispered:
"With another he would not ask, he would take! Only you--you do not
attract great passions. The source of such attraction is gone from you.
Mental interests and spiritual ideals are your sphere!... Second-rate
women whistle and the giants come! They know the lovers in men. _You_
know the sedate mental gardeners and the tepid priests. How you worship
that still, cool gazing in the eyes of men! Books and pictures are
quite enough--for your adventures in passion. In them, you meet your
great lovers--of other women. You are Beth Truba of street and studio.
You can send lovers away. You can make them afraid of your tongue,
strip them of all ardor with your nineteenth century bigotry.... You
have so many years to waste. Empty arms are so light and cool, _their_
veins are never scorched; they never dry with age!... Oh, red-haired
Beth Truba, all the spaces of sky are laughing at you! To-morrow or
next day, by the ocean, another woman will start the flames in those
cool eyes of his, and feel them singing around her!... Why do you let
him go? Only a nineteenth century mind with the ideas of a slave woman
would let him go!... Keep him with you. Show your power. Create the
giant. By no means is that the least of woman's work!"
She shuddered at such a descent.
"Would you go back and be the waiting spider forever in the
yellow-brown studio, breaking your heart in the little room when some
woman chooses to bring you news of men and the world? You would not
descend to woman's purest prerogative?... Greater women than you shall
come, and they shall avail themselves of that, and their children shall
be great in the land...."
"Oh, what a world, and what a fool!" Beth said aloud.
She turned at his quick, imperious tone.
"I don't--I don't know. It just came!"
Beth bit her lip, and shut her eyes. There was a booming in her brain,
as from cataracts and rapids. His face had made her suddenly weak, but
there was something glorious in being carried along in this wild
current. She had battled so long. She was no longer herself, but part
of him. The face she had seen was white; the eyes dark and piercing,
terrible in their concentration of power, but not terrible to her. All
the magic from the sunlight had come to them. They were the eyes which
command brute matter.... The Other had become a giant; this man a god.
"What a day!" she whispered.
"Let's ride on!" he said swiftly.
The horses whirled about at his word. As his hand touched hers, she
felt the thrill of it, in her limbs and scalp. He lifted her to the
saddle. There was something invincible in his arms. The strength he
used was nothing compared to that which was reserved....
She seemed the plaything of some furious, reckless happiness....
"Asking nothing! Asking nothing!" repeated again and again in her
brain. And what should he ask--and why?... Her thoughts flew by and
upward--intent, but swift to vanish, like bees in high noon. Atoms of
concentrated sunlight, sun-gold upon their wings.... The good hot sun,
all the earth stretched out for it, and giving forth green tributes.
The newest leaf and the oldest tree alike expanded with praise.... What
a splendor to be out of the city and the paint and the tragedy; to have
in her veins the warm brown earth and the good hot sun--and this mighty
dynamo beneath! She was mad with it all, and glad it was so.
Beth raised her eyes to the dazzling vault. One cannot sit a horse
so--well. She lost the rhythm of her posting, but loved the roughness
of it. The heights thralled her. Up, up, into the blue and gold, she
trembled with the ecstasy of the thought, like the bee princess in
nuptial flight--a June day like this--up, up, until the followers had
fallen back--all but two--all but one--which one?... There was a slight
pull at her skirt. She turned.
He was laughing. His hand held a fold of her dress against the cantle
of the saddle. She could not have fallen on the far side, and he was on
this.... A sudden plunge of a mount would unseat any rider, staring
straight up.... Yes, he was there!... How different the world
looked--with him there. She had ridden alone so long. She dared to look
at him again.
His eyes were fastened ahead. Could it be illusion--their fiery
intentness? She followed his glance.... The big woods--she knew them,
had ridden by them many times--how deep and green they looked!... But
what was the meaning of that set, inexorable line of his profile? What
was he battling? That was her word, her portion. For hours, days, years
she had been battling, but not now! No longer would she be one of the
veal calves tied to a post on the world's highway, to consume the pity
of poor avatars!... Avatars--the word changed the whole order of her
thoughts; and those which came were not like hers, but reckless
ventures on forbidden ground; and, too, there was zest in the very
foreignness of the thoughts: Avatars--did they not spring into being
from such instants as this--high noon, vitality rising to the sun, all
earth in the stillness of creation; and above, blue and gold, millions
and millions of leagues of sheer happiness; and behind--put far behind
for the hour--all crawling and contending creatures....
And now the yellow-brown studio would not remain behind, but swept
clearly into her thinking. Something was queer about it. Yes, the havoc
of loneliness and suffering was gone.... And there seemed a rustling in
the far shadows of the little room. Could it be the Shadowy Sister
returning? And that instant, with a realism that haunted her for years,
there came--to her human or psychic sense, she could never tell--_a
tiny cry!_... Beth almost swooned. His hand sustained ... and then she
saw again his laughing face; all the intensity gone. It was carved of
sunlight. Everything was sunlight.
Beth spoke to Clarendon. She would ride--show him, she needed no hand
in riding. The great beast settled down to his famous trot, pulling the
chestnut mare to a run. Clarendon was steady as a car; the faster his
trot, the easier to ride.... She turned and watched this magician
beside her; his bridle-arm lifted, the leather held lightly as a
pencil; laughing, asking nothing, needing not to ask. And she was
unafraid, rejoicing in his power. All fear and slavishness and
rebellion, all that was bleak and nineteenth century, far behind. This
was the Rousing Modern Hour--her high day.
Nearer and nearer--the big woods.... She was thinking of a wonderful
little path ahead. She had never ventured in alone, a deep, leafy
footpath, soft with moss and fern-embroidered.... There was no one on
the road ahead, nor behind; only young corn in the sloping field on the
left, and now the big woods closed in on the right, and Beth reined a
There was no shade upon the highway, even with the wood at hand. The
horses were trampling their own shadows in this zenith hour.... She
watched his eye quicken as he noted the little path.
"Ah--let's go in!" he called, pulling up.
It was her thought. "I've always wanted to, but never dared, alone,"
she panted, bringing Clarendon down.
Bedient dismounted, pulled the reins over the mare's head and through
his arm; then held up both hands to her.... Something made her hesitate
a second. He did not seem to consider her faltering.
"Oh, Beth, why should _we_ rush in there, as if we were afraid of the
She knew by his eyes what would happen; and yet she leaned forward,
until his hands fitted under her arms, and her eyelids dropped against
the blinding light....
"It had to be in the great sunlight--_that!_.... How glorious you are!"
"Please ... put me down!"
But again, he kissed her mouth, and the shut eyelids. And when her feet
at last touched the earth, he caught her up again, because her figure
swayed a little,--and laughed and kissed her--until the fainting
* * * * *
"... And--these--were--the--great--things--you asked permission to tell
me?" she said slowly, without raising her eyes.
The strange smile on her scarlet lips, and the lustrous pallor of her
face, so wonderfully prevailed, that he caught her in his arms again.
And they were quite alone in that mighty light, as if they had
penetrated dragons-deep in an enchanted forest.
"I cannot help it. You are stronger!" she said in the same trailing,
faery tone.... "And that distance--between us--that you always felt--in
'the cycle of Cathay'--you seem to have overcome that----"
"It was another century----"
"And now to explore the wood!"
"But the horses, sir--"
"They will stand."
... She would not let him help, but loosened Clarendon's bridle, and
slipping out the bit, put the head-straps back. Bedient shook his head.
"It may slide askew that way, and worry him more than if the bit were
in," he said.
"If you command, I shall put it back."
Smiling, he watched her. The frail left hand parted the huge foamy
jaws, and held them apart--thumb and little finger--while the other
hand, behind Clarendon's ears, drew the bit home. The big fellow
decently bowed his head to take the steel from her. Then she patted the
mouse-colored muzzle, and gave the reins to the man, who, much
marvelling, tethered the two horses together.
Then they set forth into the wood.
A PARABLE OF TWO HORSES
They were nearing Dunstan on the way back. The light had flattened out,
and the little town was stretching its shadows. They were silent....
Beth was trying to fit this day to days that had gone, but it was hard.
This had a brightness apart from them, but it seemed to her now that
the brightness was gone with the sun. She was tired--and _alone_. The
thoughts in her mind had brought the sense of separateness.
She must soon know from him, if the day had served her end. She thought
of her temptation in the studio--to hold him from the ocean, as a woman
might, as a Wordling might. She had not needed quite to do that, merely
to let herself go. The glorious lover in him had done more than she
dreamed, in making her Beth of the bestowals, this day.
In the sunlight, she had been one with him. Rather startlingly it came
to her now, that she could have asked anything _then_. But in those
incomparable moments of the high day, there had been nothing to ask.
How strange this was to her! How utterly had they put all commonness
She trembled at the thought of another woman rousing that lover in him,
looking upon the miracle she had evoked. She could not bear it, nor
could she suffer him to know this thought of hers.
They were riding down into the town. Brightenings from the West were
still upon the upper foliage of the trees, but vague dusk had fallen
between their faces. His features were white and haggard.... She was
afraid to ask him now. She would wait for the darkness. Had he heard a
tremble in her voice, Bedient would have caught her bridle-rein and
searched her face.
She clucked. Clarendon, with stables just ahead, was only too eager....
Bedient rejoined her after turning over his horse, and making the
change of clothes. Beth met him at the gate of her mother's house and
there was a smile in the evening light.
They did not sit opposite at supper. Bedient studied the little mother
at the head of the table, but with a fear in his heart. A sense of
disaster had come to him at the end of the ride. He knew nothing of
what had formed about the short sea journey in Beth's mind; he could
not have believed from her own lips that she had been tempted to hold
him with passion. He would have expected faith from her, had some
destroying tale come to her ears. He did not realize the effect upon
others, of his aptness to ignore all explanation. Especially in this
seagoing affair, he had nothing to say. It was not his way to discuss
his adventures into the happiness of others.... Beth felt his reserve
instinctively, a reason why it had been impossible for her to show him
the document of disorder.
The talk at the supper table had to do with the portrait she had
painted. Beth never forgot some of Bedient's sentences.... Then she
told him about the new life of the Grey One; of the latter's call on
Wednesday, with the great news about Torvin, and of the telephone
"More buyers have been to her studio," Beth said. "You see, Torvin can
do anything. A whisper from him and they buy. The Grey One has disposed
of several of her little things at her vogue prices----"
"I'm glad," said Bedient.
"It came in the nick of time. It means more than money or pictures.
Margie Grey has won her race."
"I understand," he added.
After supper, they walked together outside. With her whole heart Beth
prayed that the day had changed him from going. She had put off until
the last moment any talk that would bring his answer. And now walking
with him in the darkness, she thought strangely of her parting with the
Other. All was forgotten save that moment of parting; all the old
intimacies had dropped from mind, banished by the sunlit god she had
met this day.... Bedient's defect would be quite as intrinsic as the