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  • 1912
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“Truly a honeymoon name,” Bedient observed.

“You see,” the Captain concluded, “I can speak of _The Pleiad_ only from the outside. That’s the Senor’s name for his establishment, possibly because there are seven wings to his castle, but others say it was the name of a gold-ship that he took in the early days. Anyway, Rey and I don’t neighbor. He’s becoming formidable, I’m told, in the politics of the Island. He’s at the head of a very powerful colony nevertheless, and no matter what its inter-relations are, it hangs together against the law and the outside world. Rey wants more say back yonder at headquarters, and our Dictator, Jaffier, all things considered, is a very good man, but old and stubborn and impolitic. He won’t be driven even by Celestino Rey, who in turn is not a man to be denied. He is probably richer than Equatoria, and then Coral City lives off this institution as Monaco lives off Monte Carlo. He doubtless commands the whole lower element of the town. The word is, Celestino Rey intends to run the Island first-hand–if he can’t run it through the powers that are.”

All of which Bedient found of interest, inasmuch as he was passing through the heart of these strange affairs. Having any part in them seemed unearthly remote. The carriage was taking the gradual rise behind a pair of fine ponies, and the view behind, over _The Pleiad_ to the sapphire water, was noble. The horizon, beyond the harbor distances, was a blazing intensity of light that stung the eyes to quick contraction. The Captain sat back in the cushions, weary from talking, but his face was happy, and he took in the exterior, and something of the inner proportions, of the young man, with a sense of awe. He did not try to explain yet–even to himself.

The _hacienda_ was slightly over twenty miles interior. Bedient was entranced by the sunset from the heights. Then the slow ride to the Carreras House through the darkened hills: the smell of warm earth from the thick growths by the trail-side; little stars slipping into place like the glisten of fireflies in a garden, or gems in a maiden’s hair; a scandalously-naked new moon lying low, like an arc of white-hot wire in the purple twilight, and always behind them, a majestic splash of jewel-edged crimson which showed the West.

And presently, from a high curve in the road, they saw the lights of the _hacienda_ bold upon its eminence–and a dark valley between. Into this night they descended, for the last course of the journey; and as the ponies clattered upward again, white-coated natives came forth to meet them. Bedient was further astonished at their volubility and easy laughter. They spoke a debased Spanish, which the Captain had fallen into,–as difficult of understanding for one whose medium was pure Castilian as for one who spoke English. There was that mystery upon the environs that always comes to one who reaches his destination in the darkness. And to Bedient the sensation was not wholly of joy. These were wild hills, not without grandeur, but there was something of chaos, too, to him who came from the roof of the world. He missed the peace of the greater mountains. His heart hungered to go out to the natives crowding around–white-toothed men and women of incessant laughter–but the tones of their voices checked the current. It was emptiness–but nothing he had to give seemed able to enter.

The Captain was ill with fatigue. His face–the weakness expressed in the smiling mouth–remained before Bedient’s mind, as he followed a giggling native boy to the large upper room which was for him. Rows of broad windows faced the South and East, while a corridor ran to the North for the cool wind at night. Electric lights and glistening black floors–the first effect came from these. Then the details: rugs that matched, by art or accident, as perfectly as a valley of various grain-fields pleases the eye from a mountain-side; a great teak bed, caned with bamboo strips and canopied with silk net, yards of which one could crush in his hand, so nearly immaterial was this mosquito fabric; sumptuous steamer-chairs; a leather reading-couch that could be moved to the best breeze or light with a touch of the finger; a broad-side of books and a vast writing-table, openly dimensioned to defy litter–the whole effect was that of coolness and silence and room. Everything a man needed seemed to be there and breathing spaciously…. Turning through a draped door, the astonished wanderer found completeness again–everything that makes a bath fragrant and refreshing–even to Carreras scent and a set of perfect English razors…. It was all new to Bedient. For an hour he _tried_ things–and still there were drawers and cases of undiscovered novelties and luxuries–details of wealth which make delightful and uncommon the mere processes of living. Very much restored in his fresh clothing, and eagerly, he went down to dinner.

The little man was waiting with expectant smile under a dome of sheltered lights in the dining-hall. Something of his dazed, ashen look brought back to Bedient the afternoon of the great wind–the Captain expecting to stick to his ship…. The table was set for two, and on one corner was the fresh handkerchief and the rose-dark meerschaum bowl. Bedient took his old place at the other’s chair until the Captain was seated–and both were laughing strangely…. The ships from Holland brought all manner of European delicacies. Fresh meats and Northern vegetables arrived every eight days in the refrigerators of the alternating Dryden steamers, _Hatteras_ and _Henlopen_, from New York. Most tropical fruits were native to Equatoria–those thick, abbreviated red bananas, and small oranges with thin skin of _suede_ finish, so sharply sweet that one never forgets the first taste. These were served in their own foliage.

Much of the solid and comfortable furnishing of the _hacienda_ had come from the old English house of the Carreras’ in Surrey. The Captain’s cook, Leadley, and his personal factotum, Falk, were English. A dozen natives kept the great house in order; and their white dress was as fresh and pleasing as the stewards of an Atlantic liner. As a matter of fact, Captain Carreras had softened in this kingly luxury, the infinite resourcefulness of which was startling to Bedient, who had known but simplicities all his years, and who even in the Orient had been his own servant.

The Captain lit his pipe but forgot to keep it going. His eyes turned to Bedient again and again, and each time with deeper regard. Often he cleared his voice–but failed to speak. The young man plunged into the heart of things–and finally with effort, the other interrupted.

“You are not what I expected–forgive me, Andrew—-“

“You mean I’ve disappointed you? Thinking a long time about one–sometimes throws the mind off the main road of reality–“

“Dear God, not disappointed…. The Man has come to you in a different way than I expected, that’s all. What has India been doing to you?”

“It made New York very strange to me,” said Bedient.

“You are like an Oriental,” Carreras added. “Oh, they are all mad up in The States…. It’s very good to have you back. I wonder why it was–that I never doubted you’d come?” Here the Captain swallowed some wine without adequately preparing his throat, and fell to coughing. Then he rose with the remark that he had experienced altogether too much joy for one old man, in a single day–and started for bed in confusion. Bedient sat back laughing softly, but noting the feeble movement of the other’s limbs, quickly gave his arm. Up they went together…. In the big room alone, Bedient put on night garments; and unsatisfied, crossed after a time to the Captain’s quarters. He found the old man sitting in the dark by the window, the meerschaum glowing…. It may have been the darkness altogether; or that Bedient as a man gave the other an affection that the boy could not; in any event that night, they found each other across the externals.

This was the cue for further grand talks–pajamas and darkness. Often, if it were not too late, they would hear the natives singing in their cabins. The haunting elemental melody of the African curiously blended with the tuneful and cavalierish songs of Spain and fitted into the majestic nights. The darkies sang to the heart of flesh. In such moments, Equatoria was at her loveliest for Bedient–but the clear impersonal meditations did not come to him. In a hundred ways he had been given understanding during the first fortnight, of that something he had missed the first night on the Island. These people were infant souls. They were children, rudimentary in every thought. Theirs were sensations, not emotions; superstitions, not faiths. Their consciousness was never deeper than the skin. And fresh from his spacious years in India, where everything is old in spirit, where more often than not the beggar is a sage,–to encounter in this land of beauty, a people who were but babes in the thought of God–gave to Bedient the painful sense that his inner life was dissipating. There was no Gobind to restore him. It was as if the Spirit had favored the East; that Africa and the Western Isles had been cast apart as unfit for the experiment of the soul.

Moments of poignant sorrow were these when Bedient realized he was not of the West; that he irrevocably missed the great inner _con_tent of India, and would continue to hunger for it, until he returned, or coarsened his sensibilities to the Western vibration. This last was as far from him as the commoner treason to a friend. There were moments when he feared Captain Carreras almost understood. That dear old seaman through his solitudes, his natural cleanness and kindness, his real love, and more than all, through those vague visions which come late to men of simple hearts–had seemed, from several startling sayings, to touch the very ache in the young man’s breast. These approaches were under the cover of darkness:

“There was something about you then, Andrew,” (meaning the long-ago days at sea,) “I haven’t been able to forget…. Damme–I haven’t done well here–“

Bedient bent forward, perceiving that “here” meant his earthly life, as well as Equatoria.

“I should have stayed over yonder and sat down as you did–before you did. Here”–now the Captain meant Equatoria alone–“I have thought of my stomach and my ease. My stomach has gone back on me–and there is no ease. Over there, I might have–oh, I might have thought more–but I didn’t know enough, early enough. And you did–at seventeen, you did! That’s what made you. They’re all mad up in The States, and they’re just little children down here…. I might have profited in India–“

That was a frequent saying of the Captain’s about the States. Twice a year at least, he was accustomed to make the voyage to New York…. The truth was, the old man felt a yearning for something the years and India had given Bedient. He felt much more than he said, and often regarded the young man, as one rapt in meditation…. His interest in Gobind and the Himalayas was insatiable; much more eagerly did he listen regarding the Punjab than about the ports he had known so well–and the changes that had passed under the eyes of the young man in Manila and Japan…. When Bedient was relating certain events of days and nights, that had become happy memories through the little things of the soul, Captain Carreras would start to convey the indefinite desires he felt; then suddenly, the deep intimacy of his revelations would appear to his timid nature, and even in the mothering dark, the panic would strike home–and he would swing off with pitiful humor about goats or some other Island affair….

Bedient had an odd way of associating men whom he liked with mothers of his own imagining. Happily discovering fine qualities in a man, he would conjure up a mother to fit them…. Often, he saw the little Englishwoman whose boy had taken early to the seas…. She was plump and placid in her cap; inclined to think a great deal for herself, but still she allowed herself to be kept in order mentally and spiritually by her husband, whose orthodoxy was a whip. Perhaps she died thinking her tremulous little departures were sure attractions of hell and heresy. Bedient liked to think of her as vastly bigger than her mate, bigger than she dreamed–but alone and afraid.

SEVENTH CHAPTER

_ANDANTE CON MOTO_–FIFTH

For the first time in his life, Bedient learned what America liked to read…. All the finer expressions of the human mind and hand gave him deep joy. His love and divination for the good and the true were the same that characterized the rarest minds of our ancestors, who had access only to a few noble books in their formative years. And Bedient’s was the expanded and fortified intelligence of one who has grown up with the Bible.

Each ship brought the latest papers, periodicals and certain pickings from the publishers’ lists. India had not prepared Bedient for this. With glad welcome he discovered David Cairns here and there among short-story contributors, but the love of man and woman which the stories in general exploited, struck him of Indian ideals as shifty and pestilential. The woman of fiction was equipped with everything to make her as common as man. She was glib, pert, mundane, her mind a chatter-mill; a creature of fur, paint, hair, and absurdly young. The clink of coins was her most favorable accompaniment; and her giving of self was a sort of disrobing formality. The men who pursued her were forward and solicitous. There was something of sacrilege about it all. The minds and souls of real women–such were not matters for American story; and yet the Americans wrote with dangerous facility. Bedient, who worshipped the abstraction, Womanhood, felt his intelligence seared, calcined…. Only here and there was a bit of real literature–usually by a woman. The men seemed hung up to dry at twenty-five. There was no manhood of mind.

Bedient’s sense of loneliness became pervasive. Apparently he was outside the range of consciousness–for better or worse–with the country to which he had always hoped to give his best years. His ideals of the literary art were founded upon large flexible lines of beauty into which every dimension of life fell according to the reader’s vision. He felt himself alone; that he was out of alignment with this young race from which he had sprung, to wander so far and so long.

And yet there was a Woman up there for him to know. This was imbedded in his consciousness. Soon he should go to her…. He should find her. And as the Hindu poets falteringly called upon the lotos and the nectars; upon the brilliance of midday athwart the plain, and the glory of moonlight upon mountain and glacier and the standing water of foliaged pools; upon the seas at large, and the stars and the bees and the gods–to express the triune loveliness of woman (which mere man may only venture to appraise, not to know)–so should he, Bedient, envision the reality when the winds of the world brought him home to her heart.

* * * * *

There was much to do at the _hacienda_. The Captain was past riding a great deal, and the large hill and river property–the coffee, cacao, cotton, cane and tobacco industries profited much better with an overseer. Still Bedient slowly realized that the hundreds of natives in touch with Captain Carreras’ plantations worked about as well for him as they knew. Single-handed, Carreras had done great things, and was loved as a good doctor is loved. In spite of his huge accumulation of land, the Captain was the least greedy of men. He had been content to improve slowly. His incalculable riches, as he had early confided to Bedient, were in the river-beds. Only a few of these placer possibilities were operated. There was a big leak in the washings. Still, the natives were not greedy, either. They were home-keepers, and had no way to dispose of bullion.

Carreras had managed all his affairs so as to keep the government on his side, and his revenues were no little part of the support of the Capitol. This was his largest outlay, but in return he was protected…. Deep disorder brooded in the present political silence; all recalcitrants were gathering under Celestino Rey–but this situation was only beginning to be understood.

At certain times of year, Carreras had in his employ the heads of five hundred families, and had shown himself unique in paying money for labor. This was un-Spanish. It gave him the choice of the natives. He represented therefore a stable and prosperous element of the population. His revenues were becoming enormous. The Hollanders paid him a fortune annually for raw chocolate. This, with tree-planting and culture, would double, for the soil seemed to contain the miraculous properties of _alkahest_. The point of all this is, that Captain Carreras had come to be regarded as the right wing of the government. He arranged all his dealings on a friendly rather than a business basis; his good-will was his best protection…. Bedient had been in Equatoria for several months when Jaffier sent for the Captain.

“I don’t feel like it, but I’d better go,” the old man said. “Something amiss is in the air. Damme, I’ve got all delicate to the saddle since you came, sir…. I used to think nothing of the ride down town–and now it’s a carriage…. Ah, well, you can try out a new symphony–and tell me what it says when I get back.”

As it turned out, Bedient did exactly this thing…. Time could not efface the humor evoked by the sight or sound of the magnificent orchestrelle. During one of the Captain’s New York trips, he had heard a famous orchestra. The effect upon him was of something superhuman. The Captain went again–followed the musicians to Boston and Philadelphia. The result was more or less the same. Soul flew in one direction; mind in another; and, inert before the players–a little fat man, perspiring, weeping, ecstatic. What came of it, he had told Bedient in this way:

“The _Hatteras_ was to sail at night-fall, but on that morning I went into a music-store, not knowing what I wanted exactly,–but a souvenir of some kind, a book about orchestras. It appears, I told a man there how I’d been philanderin’ with the musicians; how I had caught them in an off day at Springfield, Mass., and bought cornucopias of Pilsner until they would have broken down and wept had they not been near their instruments…. It was a big music-store, and he was a very good man. He sold me the orchestrelle that morning. You think I had an electric plant installed down here to light the house and drive my sugar-mill, don’t you? It wasn’t that at all, but to run the big music-box yonder. The man had smoothly attached a current, but he said I could just as well pump it with my feet. Then he called in a church organist–to drive the stops. Between them, they got me where I was all run down from that orchestra crowd. They said a child could learn the stops…. You should have heard my friends on the _Hatteras_–when the orchestrelle was put aboard that afternoon. They never forget that. Then we had a triple ox-cart made down in Coral City, and four span were goaded up the trail–and there she stands.

“Andrew, they finally left me alone with it and a couple of hundred music-rolls…. It was hours after, that I came forth a sick man to cable for power…. About those music-rolls–I had called for the best. One does that blind, you know. But the best in music matters, it appears, has nothing to do with retired sea-captains…. It’s a pretty piece of furniture. The orchestra had died out of me by the time we had the electric-plant going…. I take it you have to be caught young to deal with those stops…. You go after it, Andrew. It scares me and the natives when it begins to pipe up. I had a time getting my household back that first time. Maybe, I didn’t touch the right button–or I touched too many. You go after it, my boy–it’s all there–_appassionato–oboe–‘consharto’–vox humana_ and the whole system–“

… It is hard for one to realize how little music Bedient had heard in his life. Just a few old songs–always unfinished–but they had haunted the depths of him, and made him think powerfully. Certain strains had loosed within him emotions, ancient as world-dawns to his present understanding, but intimate as yesterday to something deeper than mind. And so he came to ask; “Are not all the landmarks of evolution identified with certain sounds or combinations of sounds? Is there not an answering interpretation in the eternal scroll of man’s soul, to all that is true in music?”

Long ago, one night in Korea, he had been wakened by the yammering of a tigress. His terror for a moment had been primal, literally a simian’s helpless quaking. Earlier still, he had heard a hoot-owl, and encountered through it, his first realization of phantom horrors; he knew then there _was_ an Unseen, and nether acoustics; here was a key to ghostly doors. A mourning-dove had brought back in a swift passage of consciousness the breast of some savage mother. Night-birds everywhere meant to him restless mystery…. Is sound a key to psychology? Is the history of our emotions, from monster to man, sometime to be interpreted through music–as yet the infant among the arts?

The answer had come–why the unfinished songs had the greater magic for him. So diaphanous and ethereal is this marvellously expressive young medium, music, that the composers could only pin a strain here and there to concrete form–as a bit of lace from a lovely garment is caught by a thorn. So they build around it–as flesh around spirit. But it was the strain of pure spirit that sang in Bedient’s mind–and knew no set forms. So an artistic imagination can finish a song or a picture, many times better than the original artist could with tones or pigments. Too much finish binds the spirit, and checks the feeling of those who follow to see or hear.

These, and many thoughts had come to him from the unpretentious things of music…. _Ben Bolt_ brought back the memory of some prolonged and desperate sorrow. The lineaments of the tragedy were effaced, but its effect lived and preyed upon him under the stress of its own melody. Once he had heard _Caller Herrin’_ grandly sung, and for the time, the circuit was complete between the Andrew Bedient of Now, and another of a bleak land and darker era. In this case the words brought him a clearer picture–gaunt coasts and the thrilling humanity of common fisher folk…. Many times a strain of angelic meaning and sweetness was yoked to a silly effigy of words; but he rejoiced in opposite examples, such as that little lullaby of Tennyson’s, _Sweet and Low_, which J. Barnby seemed to have exactly _tono_-graphed…. Once across infantry campfires, _Juanita_ came, with a bleeding passion for home–to him who had no home. There was a lyrical Ireland very dear to him–songs and poems which wrung him as if he were an exile; Tom Moore’s _Sunflower Song_ incited at first a poignant anguish, as of a sweetheart’s dead face; and _Lead Kindly Light_ brought almost the first glimmer of spiritual light across the desolate distances of the world–like a tender smile from a greater being than man. And there were baleful songs that ran red with blood, as the _Carmagnole_; and roused past the sense of physical pain, like the _Marseillaise_. What heroic sins have been committed in their spell! By no means was it all uplift which the songs brought. There was one night when he heard _Mandalay_ sung by some British seaman across the dark of a Japanese harbor. They were going out, and he was coming into port….

These were his sole adventures in music, but they had bound his dreams together. He had felt, _if the right person were near_, he could have made music tell things, not to be uttered in mere words; and under the magic of certain songs, that which was creative within him, even dim and chaotic, stirred and warmed for utterance…. So fresh a surface did Bedient bring to the Carreras music-room.

The time had come when his nature hungered for great music. The orchestrelle added to the Island something he needed soulfully. Experimenting with the rolls, the stops and the power, he found there was nothing he could not do in time. Music answered–trombone, clarionet, horn, bassoon, hautboy, flute, ‘cello answered. Volume and tempo were mere lever matters. On the rolls themselves were suggestions. Reaching this point, his exaltation knew no bounds. He looked upon the great array of rolls–symphonies, sonatas, concertos, fantasies, rhapsodies, overtures, prayers, requiems, meditations, minuets–and something of that rising power of gratitude overcame him, as only once before in his life–when he had realized that the Bible was all _words_, and they were for him. From the first studious marvellings, Bedient’s mind lifted to adoring gratefulness in which he could have kissed the hands of the toilers who had made this instrument answer their dreams. Then, he fell deeply into misgiving. It seemed almost a sacrilege for him to take music so cheaply; that he had not earned such joy. But he could praise them in his heart, and he did with every sound.

The orchestrelle unfolded to a spirit like this. Doubtless his early renderings of random choice were weird, but more and more as he went on, the great living things righted themselves in his consciousness, for he had ear and soul and love for them. Some great fissure in his nature had long needed thus to be filled. He sent for books about the great composers; descriptions of the classics; how the themes were developed through different instruments. Then he wanted the history of all music; and for weeks his receptivity never faltered. No neophyte ever brought a purer devotion to the masters. His first loves–the _Andante in F_, the three movements of the _Kreutzer Sonata_, a prayer from _Otello_, the _Twelfth_ _Rhapsody,_ the _Swan Song_ and the _Evening Star_, and finally _Isolde’s Triumph over Death_–these were ascendings, indeed–to the point of wings.

The stops so formidable at first became as stars in the dark…. Little loves, little fears and sins and hopes were all he had known before; and now he entered into the torrential temperaments of the masters–magnificent and terrifying souls who dared to sin against God, or die defying man; whose passions stormed the world; whose dirges were wrung from heaven. Why, these men levelled emperors and aspired to angels, violated themselves, went mad with music, played with hell’s own dissonances, and dared to transcribe their baptisms, illuminations, temptations, Gethsemanes, even their revilings and stigmata.

The dirges lifted him to immensity from which the abysses of the world spread themselves below. Two marches of Chopin, and the death-march of Siegfried, the haunting suggestion of a soul’s preparation for departure in Schubert’s _Unfinished_; the _Death of Aase_, the _Pilgrim’s Chorus_, one of Mozart’s requiems, and that Napoleonic _funebre_ from the _Eroica_–these, with others, grouped themselves into an unearthly archipelago–towering cliffs of glorious gloom, white birds silently sweeping the gray solitudes above the breakers….

It was during the four days while Captain Carreras remained in Coral City with Jaffier, that Bedient entered into the mysterious enchantment of the _Andante_ movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. He had played it all, forgetting almost to breathe, and then returned to the second movement which opens with the ‘celli:

[Illustration: Musical notation]

Again and again it unfolded for him, but not its full message. There was a meaning in it _for him_! He heard it in the night; three voices in it–a man, a woman and a soul…. The lustrous third Presence was an angel–there for the sake of the woman. She was in the depths, but great enough to summon the angel to her tragedy. The man’s figure was obscure, disintegrate…. Bedient realized in part at least that this was destined to prove his greatest musical experience….

Captain Carreras found much to do in the city, but he did not tell Bedient that the real reason for his remaining four days was that he couldn’t sooner summon courage for the long ride home. He spoke but little regarding the reasons Jaffier had called him.

“He’s afraid of Celestino Rey, and likely has good reason,” said the Captain wearily. “The old pirate is half-dead below the knees, but his ugly ambition still burns bright. He thinks he ought to be drawing all the Island tributes, instead of the government. Jaffier expects assassination. On this point, it would be well to watch for the death of Rey. These two old hell-weathered Spaniards are worth watching–each tossing spies over the other’s fences, and openly conducting affairs with melting courtesy toward each other–but I don’t seem to have much appetite for the game. There was a time when I would have stopped work and helped Jaffier whip this fellow. But I hardly think he’ll take our harvests and the river-beds just yet–“

They talked late. The Captain alternated from his bed to a chair, seemed unwilling for Bedient to leave and unable to sleep or find ease anywhere. He was over-tired, he explained, and hearing about Bedient’s experience with the _Andante con moto_, insisted upon it being played that night….

“It’s very soothing,” Carreras said, when Andrew returned to the upper apartment. “I think I can sleep now. Off to bed with you, lad.”

So lightly did Bedient sleep, however,–for the music haunted his brain,–that he was aroused by the bare feet of a servant in the hall-way, before the latter touched his door to call him. Captain Carreras had asked for him. The glow of dawn was in the old man’s quarters, and he smiled in a queer, complacent way from his bed, as if a long-looked-for solution to some grave problem had come in the night, and he wanted his friend to guess. A hand lifted from the coverlet, and Bedient’s sped to it; yet he saw that something more was wanted. The Captain’s shoulder nudged a little, and the smile had become wistful. He did not fail to understand the need, but other realizations were pressing into his brain. So the Captain nudged his shoulder again bashfully. Bedient bent and took him in his arms.

It was death. Bedient had known it from the first instant of entering, but he was not prepared. He could not speak–only look into the tender, glowing smile. Captain Carreras finally turned his eyes into the morning:

“You know it was very foolish of me–very–to think I could make you happy, Andrew, with all these riches,” he said at last, not thickly, but very low, as if he had saved strength for what he wished to say…. “You were a long time coming, but I knew you would come–knew it would be just like this–in your arms. Queer, isn’t it? And all the waiting years, I kept piling up lands and money, saying: ‘This shall be his when he comes.’… It was a little hard at first to know you didn’t care–you couldn’t care–that one, and ten, were all the same to you. And last night, I saw it all again. Had I brought you word that Celestino Rey had the government and that confiscation of these lands were inevitable, you would never have compared it in importance with finding that part of the symphony. It’s all right. I wouldn’t have it changed….”

Andrew listened with bowed head, patting the Captain’s shoulder gently, as he sustained.

“But I have given you more than money, boy. And this you know–as a man, who knew money better, could never understand. I have given you an old man’s love for a son–but more than that, too,–something of the old man’s love for the mother of his son…. I thought only women had the delicacy and fineness–you have shown me, sir…. It is all done, and you have made me very glad for these years–since the great wind failed to get us–“

Then he mingled silences with sentences that finally became aimless–seas, ships, cooks, and the boy who had nipped him from the post he meant to hold–and a final genial blending of goats and symphonies, on the borders of the Crossing. Then he nestled, and Bedient felt the hand he had taken, try to sense his own through the gathering cold…. It was very easy and beautiful–and so brief that Bedient’s arm was not even tired.

An hour afterward, Falk came in for orders–and withdrew.

Bedient had merely nodded to him from the depths of contemplation…. At last, he heard the weeping of the house-servants. And there was one low wailing tone that startled him with the memory of the Sikh woman who had wept for old Gobind.

EIGHTH CHAPTER

THE MAN FROM _THE PLEIAD_

Bedient drew from Falk a few days afterward that the Captain had planned almost exactly as it happened. Since the beginnings of unrest in Equatoria, he had transferred his banking to New York; so that in the event of defeat in war, only the lands and _hacienda_ would revert, upon the fall of the present government. Falk could not remember (and his services dated back fifteen years, at which time he left Surrey with the Captain) when the master did not speak of Bedient’s coming.

“But for your letters, sir, Leadley and I would have come to think of you as–as just one of the master’s ways, Mister Andrew.”

Falk was a middle-aged serving-class Englishman, highly trained and without humor. Leadley, the cook, and a power in his department, dated also from Surrey, which was his county. These men had learned to handle the natives to a degree, and the entire responsibility of the establishment had fallen upon them during the absences of the Captain. As chief of house-servants and as cook, these two at their best were faultless, but the life was very easy, and they were given altogether too many hands to help. Moreover, Falk and Leadley belonged to that queer human type which proceeds to burn itself out with alcohol if left alone. The latter years of such servants become a steady battle to keep sober enough for service. Each man naturally believed himself an admirable drinker.

Natives came from the entire Island to smoke and drink and weep for the Captain. Dictator Jaffier sent his “abject bereavement” by pony pack-train, which, having formed in a sort of hollow square, received the thanks of Bedient, and assurances that his policy would continue in the delightful groove worn by the late best of men. The reply of Jaffier was the offer of a public funeral in Coral City, but Bedient declined this, and the body of his friend was turned toward the East upon the shoulder of his highest hill….

Presently Bedient read the Captain’s documents. Falk and Leadley were bountifully cared for; scores of natives were remembered; the policy toward Jaffier outlined according to the best experience; and the bulk, name, lands, bonds, capital and all–“to my beloved young friend, Andrew Bedient.”… At the request and expense of the latter, the New York bankers sent down an agent to verify the transfer of this great fortune. A month passed–a foretaste of what was to come. Bedient, prepared for greater work than this, was lonely in the sunlight.

He knew that he must soon begin to live his own life. His every faculty was deeply urging. Equatoria had little to do with the realities for which he had gathered more than thirty years’ equipment. He felt a serious responsibility toward his fortune, though absolutely without the thrill of personal possession. The just administration of these huge forces formed no little part of his work, and in his entire thinking on this subject, New York stood most directly in the need of service. It was there that the Captain’s accumulated vitality must be used for good.

Early in the second month, Bedient came in at noon from a long ride across the lands, and reaching the great porch of the _hacienda_, he turned to observe a tropic shower across the valley. The torrent approached at express speed. It was a clean-cut pouring, several acres in extent. Bedient watched it fill the spaces between the little hills, sweep from crest to crest, and bring out a subdued glow in the wild verdure as it swept across the main valley. Sharp was the line of dry sunlit air and gray slanting shower. Presently he heard its pounding, and the dustless slopes rolled into the gray…. Now he sniffed the acute fragrance that rushed before it in the wind, and then it climbed the drive, deluged the _hacienda,_ and was gone…. In the moist, sweet, yellow light that filled his eyes, Bedient, fallen into deeps of contemplation, saw the face of a woman.

He went inside and looked up the Dryden sailings. The _Hatteras_ would clear, according to schedule, in ten days. That meant that the _Henlopen_ was now in port. His eyes had looked first for the former, since it had brought him down, and was the Captain’s favorite…. Yes, the _Henlopen_ was due to sail to-morrow at daylight…. He told Falk he would go…. In that upper room across from his own, he bowed his head for a space, and the fragrance still there brought back the heaving cabin of the _Truxton_…. Then he rode down to Coral City in the last hours of daylight.

His devoirs were paid to Dictator Jaffier, who confided that he had purchased a gunboat and search-light on behalf of the government. Its delivery was but ten days off, and with it he expected to keep that old sea-fighter, Celestino Rey, better in order…. Bedient had the evening to himself. In one of the _Calle Real_ cafes, he was attracted by the face and figure of a young white man, of magnificent proportions and remarkably clean-cut profile. The stranger sipped iced claret, watched the natives moving about, and seemed occasionally to forget himself in his thinking.

He looked more than ever a giant in the midst of the little tropical people, and seemed to feel his size in the general diminutive setting. Yet there was balance and fitness about his splendid physical organization, which suggested that he could be quick as a mink in action. He chaffed the native who waited upon him, and his face softened into charming boyishness as he laughed. His mouth was fresh as a child’s, but on a scale of grandeur. Bedient found himself smiling with him. Then there was that irresistible folding about the eyes when he laughed, which is Irish as sin, and quite as attractive. Left to himself he fell to brooding, and his brow puzzled over some matter in the frank bored way of one pinned to a textbook. Bedient sat down at the other’s table. Acquaintance was as agreeably received as offered.

The stranger’s name was Jim Framtree. He had been on the Island for several weeks, and intended to stay for awhile. He liked Equatoria well enough–as well, in fact, as a man could like any place, when he was barred from the real trophy-room in the house of the world, New York.

“I’m sailing for New York in the morning,” Bedient said.

Framtree shivered and fell silent.

“You’ve found work that you like here?” Bedient asked simply.

The other glanced at him humorously, and yet with a bit of intensity, too,–as if searching for the meaning under such an unadorned question.

“I seem to have caught on with Senor Rey at _The Pleiad_,” he replied.

“Ah–“

“I’m afraid you’re making a mistake, sir,” Framtree added quickly. “I’m not barred from New York on any cashier matter. You know when something you want badly–and can’t have–is in a town–that isn’t the place for you…. Even if you like that town best on earth…. What I mean is, I’m not using _The Pleiad_ as a hiding proposition.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” Bedient said.

“I suppose it would be natural–down here—-“

“But I _saw you first_.”

“Um-m.”

“I was only thinking,” Bedient resumed, “that if the establishment of Senor Rey palled upon you at any time, I’d like to have you come up and see me in the hills…. I’d be glad to have you come, anyway. I may not be very long in New York–“

* * * * *

“That’s mighty good of you,” Framtree declared, and yet it was obvious that he could not regard the invitation as purely a friendly impulse, even if he wished to. “I remember now. I’ve heard of your big place up there.”

“Perhaps, I’d better explain that I wasn’t thinking of Island politics–when I asked you…. Queer how one has to explain things down here. I’ve noticed that it’s hard for folks to go straight at a thing.”

Framtree laughed again, and tried hard to understand what was in the other’s mind. Bedient’s simplicity was too deep for him. They talked for an hour, each singularly attracted, but evading any subject that would call in the matters of political unrest. Each felt that the other wanted to be square, but Bedient saw that it would be useless to impress upon Framtree how little hampered he was by Jaffier…. At daybreak the next morning, the fruity old _Henlopen_ pointed out toward the reefs, and presently was nudging her way through the coral passage, as confidently as if the trick of getting to sea from Coral City was part of the weathered consciousness of her boilers and plates.

II

NEW YORK

_Andante con moto_

NINTH CHAPTER

THE LONG-AWAITED WOMAN

Bedient went directly to the house-number of David Cairns in West Sixty-seventh Street, without telephoning for an appointment. It happened that the time of his arrival was unfortunate. Something of this he caught, first from the look of the elevator attendant, who took him to the tenth floor of a modern studio-building; and further from the man-servant who answered his ring at the Cairns apartment.

“Mr. Cairns sees no one before two o’clock, sir,” said the latter, whose cool eye took in the caller.

Bedient hesitated. It was now twelve-forty-five. He felt that Cairns would be hurt if he went away. “Tell him that Andrew Bedient is here, and that I shall be glad to wait or call again, just as he prefers.”

And now the servant hesitated. “It is very seldom we disturb him, sir. Most of his friends understand that he is not available between nine and two.”

Bedient was embarrassed. The morning in the city had preyed upon him. Realizing his discomfort, and the petty causes of it, he became unwilling to leave. “I am not of New York and could not know. I think you’d better tell Mr. Cairns and let him judge—-“

The servant had reached the same conclusion. Bedient was shown into a small room, furnished with much that was peculiarly metropolitan to read…. He rather expected Cairns to rush from some interior, and waited ten minutes, glancing frequently at the door through which the servant had left…. His heart had bounded at the thought of seeing David, and he smiled at his own hurt…. A door opened behind him. The writer came forward quietly, with warm dignity caught him by both shoulders and smilingly searched his eyes. Bedient was all kindness again. “Doubtless his friends come in from Asia often,” he thought.

“Andrew, it’s ripping good to see you…. Why didn’t you let me know you were coming?”

“I didn’t want you to alter your ways at all.”

“You see, I have to keep these morning hours—-“

“Go back–I’ll wait gladly, or call when you like.”

“Don’t go away, pray, unless there is something you must do for the next hour or so.”

* * * * *

In waiting, Bedient did not allow himself to search for anything theatric or unfeeling at the centre of the episode. Cairns had moved in many of the world atmospheres, and had done some work which the world noted with approval. Moreover, he had called from Bedient bestowals of friendship which could not be forgotten…. “I have been alone and in the quiet so much that _I_ can remember,” Bedient mused, “while he has been rushing about from action to action. Then New York would rub out anybody’s old impressions.”

As the clock struck, Cairns appeared ready for the street. He was a trifle drawn about the mouth, and irritated. Having been unable to work in the past hour, the day was amiss, for he hated a broken session and an allotment of space unfilled. Still, Cairns did not permit the other to see his displeasure; and the distress which Bedient felt, he attributed to New York, and not the New Yorker….

The mind of David Cairns had acquired that cultivated sense of authority which comes from constantly being printed. He was a much-praised young man. His mental films were altogether too many, and they had been badly developed for the insatiable momentary markets to which timeliness is all. Very much, he needed quiet years to synthesize and appraise his materials…. Bedient, he regarded as a luxury, and just at this moment, he was not in the mood for one. Cairns drove himself and his work, forgetting that the fuller artist is driven…. Luzon and pack-train memories were dim in his mind. He did not forget that he had won his first name in that field, but he did forget for a time the wonderful night-talks. A multitude of impressions since, had disordered these delicate and formative hours. Only now, in his slow-rousing heart he felt a restlessness, a breath of certain lost delights.

It was a sappy May day. The spring had been late–held long in wet and frosty fingers–and here was the first flood of moist warmth to stir the Northern year into creation. Cairns was better after a brisk walk. Housed for long, unprofitable hours, everything had looked slaty at first.

“Where are you staying, Andrew?”

“_Marigold_.”

“Why do you live ‘way down there? That’s a part of town for business hours only. The heart of things has been derricked up here.”

“I’m very sure of a welcome there,” Bedient explained. “My old friend Captain Carreras had Room 50, from time to time for so many years, that I fell into it with his other properties. Besides, all the pirates, island kings and prosperous world-tramps call at the _Marigold._ And then, they say–the best dinner—-“

“That’s a tradition of the Forty-niners—-“

“I have no particular reason for staying down there, even if I keep the room. I’ll do that for the Captain’s sake…. I’m not averse to breezing around up-town.”

“Ah—-” came softly from Cairns.

“I’d like to know some _folks_,” Bedient admitted.

Cairns was smiling at him. “You’ll have to have a card at my clubs. There’s _Teuton’s, Swan’s_ and the _Smilax_ down Gramercy way…. Perhaps we’d better stop in at the _Swan’s_ for a bite to eat. The idea is, you can try them all, Andrew, and put up at the one you fit into best—-“

“Exactly,” breathed Bedient.

“You won’t like the _Smilax_ overmuch,” Cairns ventured, “but you may pass a forenoon there, while I’m at work. Stately old place, with many paintings and virgin silence. The women artists are going there more and more—-“

“I like paintings,” said Bedient.

They walked across _Times Square_ and toward the Avenue, through Forty-second. Cairns waited for the quiet to ask:

“Andrew, you haven’t found Her yet–The Woman?”

“No. Have you?”

“Did–I used to have one, too?”

“Yes.”

“Andrew, do you think She’s in New York?” Cairns asked.

“It’s rather queer about that,” Bedient answered. “I was watching a rain-storm from the porch of the _hacienda_ seven or eight days ago, when it came to me that I’d better take the first ship up. I sailed the next morning.”

This startled Cairns. He was unaccustomed to such sincerity. “You mean it occurred to you that She was here–the One you used to tell me about in Asia?”

“Yes.”

Cairns now felt an untimely eagerness of welcome for the wanderer. A renewal of Bedient’s former attractions culminated in his mind, and something more that was fine and fresh and permanent. He twinged for what had happened at the apartment…. Bedient was a man’s man, strong as a platoon in a pinch–that had been proved. He was plain as a sailor in ordinary talk, but Cairns knew now that he had only begun to challenge Bedient’s finer possessions of mind…. Here in New York, a man over thirty years old, who could speak of the Woman-who-must-be-somewhere. And Bedient spoke in the same ideal, unhurt way of twenty, when they had spread blankets together under strange stars… Cairns knew in a flash that something was gone from his own breast that he had carried then. It was an altogether uncommon moment to him. “So it has not all been growth,” he thought. “All that has come since has not been fineness.”… He felt a bit denied, as if New York had “gotten” to him, as if he had lost a young prince’s vision, that the queen mother had given him on setting out…. He was just one of the million males, feathering nests of impermanence, and stifling the true hunger for the skies and the great cleansing migratory flights….

All this was a miracle to David Cairns. He was solid; almost English in his up-bringing to believe that man’s work, and established affairs, thoughts and systems generally were right and unimpeachable. He heard himself scoffing at such a thing, had it happened to another…. He stared into Bedient’s face, brown, bright and calm. He had seen only good humor and superb health before, but for an instant now, he perceived a spirit that rode with buoyancy, after a life of loneliness and terror that would have sunk most men’s anchorage, fathoms deeper than the reach of the longest cable of faith.

“I think I’m getting to be–just a biped…. I’m glad you came up…. Here we are at _Swan’s_,” said Cairns.

* * * * *

Like most writers, David Cairns was intensely interesting to himself. His sudden reversal from bleak self-complacence to a clear-eyed view of his questionable approaches to real worth, was strong with bitterness, but deeply absorbing. He was remarkable in his capacity to follow this opening of his own insignificance. It had been slow coming, but ruthlessly now, he traced his way back from one breach to another, and finally to that night in the plaza at Alphonso, when he had been enabled to see service from a unique and winning angle, through the pack-train cook. That was the key to his catching on; that, and his boy ideals of war had lifted his copy from the commonplace. He remembered Bedient in China, in Japan, and in his own house–how grudgingly he had appeared in his working hours. He felt like an office-boy who has made some pert answer to an employer too big and kind to notice. Now and then up the years, certain warm thoughts had come to him from those island nights, but he had forgotten their importance in gaining his so-called standing.

Andrew Bedient was nothing like the man he had expected to find. He remembered now that he might have looked for these rare elements of character, since the boyhood talks had promised them, and power had emanated from them…. Still, Bedient had grown marvellously, in strange, deep ways. Cairns could not fathom them all, but he realized that nothing better could happen to him than to study this man. Indeed, his mind was fascinated in following the rich leads of his friend’s resources. He consoled himself for his shortcomings with the thought that, at least, he was ready to see….

They talked as of old, far into the night. Cairns found himself endeavoring with a swift, nervous eagerness to show his _best_ to Andrew Bedient, and to be judged by that best. He spoke of none of the achievements which the world granted to be his; instead, the little byway humanities were called forth, for the other to hear–buds of thought and action, which other pressures had kept from fertilizing into seed–the very things he would have delighted in relating to a dear, wise woman. Something about Bedient called them forth, and Cairns fell into new depths. “I thought it was pure sex-challenge which made a man bring these things to a woman.” (This is the way he developed the idea afterward.) “But that can’t be all, since I unfolded so to Bedient…. He has me going in all directions like a steam-shovel.”

Cairns was arranging a little party for his friend. In the meantime, his productive quantity sank from torrent to trickle. His secretary, who knew the processes of the writer’s mind as the keys of his machine, and had adjusted his own brain to them through many brisk sessions, fell now through empty space. He had no resources in this room, where he had been driven so long by the mental force of another. Having suffered himself to be played upon, like the instrument before him, he died many deaths from _ennui_…. So Cairns and the secretary stared helplessly at each other across the emptiness; and New York rushed on, with its mad business, singing spitefully in their ears: “You for the poor-farms. You’ll lose your front, and your markets. Your income is suffering; the presses are waiting; editors dependent….”

Cairns left the house on the third morning after Bedient’s coming, having dictated two or three letters…. Bedient was across the street from the _Smilax Club_ in the little fenced-in park–Gramercy. Cairns told his work-difficulty.

“Don’t you think it would be good for you, David,” Bedient asked, “to let the subconscious catch up?”

Cairns was interested at once. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve been thinking more than a little about you and New York. One thing is sure: New York is pretty much wrong, or I’m insane—-“

“You’re happy about it,” Cairns remarked. “Tell me the worst.”

“People here use their reflectors and not their generators,” Bedient said. “They shine with another’s light, when they should be incandescent. The brain in your skull, in any man’s skull, is but a reflector, an instrument of his deeper mind. There’s your genius, infinitely wiser than your brain. It’s your sun; your brain, the moon. All great work comes from the subconscious mind. You and New York use too much moonshine.”

Both men were smiling, but to Cairns, nevertheless, it seemed that his own conscience had awakened after a long sleep. This wanderer from the seas had twigged the brain brass which he had long been passing for gold value. He saw many bits of his recent work, as products of intellectual foppery. He recalled a letter recently received from an editor; which read: “That last article of yours has caught on. Do six more like it.” He hadn’t felt the stab before. He had done the six–multiplied his original idea by mechanical means….

All things considered, it was rather an important affair–the party that night at the _Smilax Club_. Cairns began with the idea of asking ten people, but the more he studied Bedient’s effect upon himself, the more particular he became about the “atmosphere.” Just the men he wanted were out of reach, so he asked none at all, but five women. Four of these he would have grouped into a sentence as “the most interesting women in New York,” and the fifth was a romantic novelty in a minor key, sort of “in the air” at the Club.

So there were seven to sit down to the round table in the historic Plate Room. The curving walls were fitted with a lining of walnut cabinets. Visible through their leaded-glass doors, were ancient services of gold and silver and pewter. The table streamed with light, but the faces and cabinets were in shadow…. Directly across from Bedient sat Beth Truba, the most brilliant woman his visioning eyes ever developed.

The sight of her was the perfect stimulus, an elixir too volatile to be drunk, rather to be breathed. Bedient felt the door of his inner chambers swing open before fragrant winds. The heart of him became greatly alive, and his brain in grand tune. It is true, she played upon his faculties, as the Hindus play upon the _vina_, that strange, sensitive, oriental harp with a dozen strings, of which the musician touches but one. The other strings through sympathetic vibration furnish an undertone almost like an aeolian harmony. You must listen in a still place to catch the mystic accompaniment. So it was in Bedient’s mind. Beth Truba played upon the single string, and the others glorified her with their shadings. And the plaint from all humanity was in that undertone, as if to keep him sweet.

She was in white. “See the slim iceberg with the top afire!” Cairns had whispered, as she entered. Other lives must explain it, but the Titian hair went straight to his heart. And those wine-dark eyes, now cryptic black, now suffused with red glows like a night-sky above a prairie-fire, said to him, “Better come over and see if I’m tamable.”

“I can see, it’s just the place I wanted to be to-night,” she said, taking her chair. “We’re going to have such a good time!”

And Kate Wilkes drawled this comment to Cairns: “In other words, Beth says, ‘Bring on your lion, for I’m the original wild huntress.'”

Kate Wilkes was a tall tanned woman rather variously weathered, and more draped than dressed. She conducted departments of large feminine interest in several periodicals, and was noted among the “emancipated and impossible” for her papers on Whitman. The romantic novelty was Mrs. Wordling, the actress, and the other two women were Vina Nettleton, who made gods out of clay and worshipped Rodin, and Marguerite Grey, tall and lovely in a tragic, flower-like way, who painted, and played the ‘cello.

“Meeting Bedient this time has been an experience to me,” Cairns said, toward the end of dinner. “I called together the very finest people I knew, because of that. He had sailed for ten years before I knew him. That was nearly thirteen years ago. Not that there’s anything in miles, nor sailing about from port to port…. He has ridden for the English since, through the great Himalayan forests–years so strange that he forgot their passing…. We are all good friends; in a sense, artists, together, so I can say things. One wants to be pretty sure when one lets go from the inside. I didn’t realize before how rarely this happens with us.

“The point is, Bedient has kept something through the years, that I haven’t. I’m getting away badly, but I trust what I mean will clear up…. Bedient and I rode together with an American pack-train, when there was fighting, there in Luzon. He was the cook of the outfit, and he took me in, a cub-correspondent. I look back now upon some of those talks (with the smell of coffee and forage and cigarettes in the night air) as belonging to the few perfect things. And last night and the night before, we talked again—-“

Cairns’ eye hurried past Mrs. Wordling, but he seemed to find what he wanted in the glances of the others, before he resumed:

“Without knowing it, Bedient has made me see that I haven’t been keeping even decently white, here in New York. I found out, at the same time, that I couldn’t meet him half-way, when he brought the talk close. Back yonder in Luzon, I used to. Here, after the years, I couldn’t. Something inside is green and untrained. It shied before real man-talk…. Bedient came into a fortune recently, the result of saving a captain during a long-ago typhoon. His property is down in Equatoria, where he has been for some months. So he has had a windfall that would be unmanning to most, yet he comes up here, just as unspoiled as he used to be—-“

“David,” Bedient pleaded, “you’re swinging around in a circle. Be easy with me.”

“You’ve kept your boy’s heart, that’s what I’m trying to get at,” Cairns added briefly.

Kate Wilkes dropped her hand upon Bedient’s arm, and said, “Don’t bother him. It looks to me as if truth were being born. You’d have to be a city man or woman to understand how rare and relishable such an event is.”

“Thanks, Kate,” said Cairns. “It’s rather difficult to express, but I see I’m beginning to get it across.”

“Go on, please.”

Cairns mused absently before continuing:

“Probably it doesn’t need to come home to anyone else, as it did to me…. I’ve been serving King Quantity here in New York so long that I’d come to think it the proper thing to do. Bedient has kept to the open–the Bright Open–and kept his ideals. I listened to him last night and the night before, ashamed of myself. His dreams came forth fresh and undefiled as a boy’s–only they were man-strong and flexible–and his voice seemed to come from behind the intention of Fate…. I wouldn’t talk this way, only I chose the people here. I think without saying more, you’ve got what I’ve been encountering since Bedient blew up Caribbean way.”

Cairns leaned back in his chair with a glass of _moselle_ in his hand and told about the big lands in Equatoria, about the two Spaniards, Jaffier and Rey, trying to assassinate each other under the cover of courtesy; about the orchestrelle, the mines and the goats. Cleverly, at length, he drew Bedient into telling the typhoon adventure.

It was hard, until Beth Truba leaned forward and ignited the story. After that, the furious experience _lived_ in Bedient’s mind, and most of it was related into her eyes. When he described the light before the break of the storm, how it was like the hall-way of his boyhood, where the yellow-green glass had frightened him, Beth became paler if possible, and more than ever intent. Back in her mind, a sentence of Cairns’ was repeating, “His voice seemed to come from behind the intention of Fate.”… Finally when Bedient told of reaching Equatoria, and of the morning when Captain Carreras nudged bashfully–wanting his arm a last time–Beth Truba exclaimed softly:

“Oh, no, that really can’t all be true, it’s too good!” and her listening eyes stirred with ecstasy….

She liked, too, his picture of the _hacienda_ on the hill…. The party talked away up into the top of the night and over; and always when Bedient started across (in his heart) to tame the wine-dark eyes–lo, they were gone from him.

TENTH CHAPTER

THE JEWS AND THE ROMANS

Kate Wilkes lived at the _Smilax Club_, as did Vina Nettleton, and, for the present, Mrs. Wordling. The actress was recently in from the road. Her play had not run its course, merely abated for the hot months. She was an important satellite, if not a stellar attraction. About noon, on the day following the party for Bedient, Mrs. Wordling appeared in the breakfast room, and sat down at the table with Kate Wilkes, who was having her coffee.

“What an extraordinary evening we had,” the actress remarked. “David’s party was surely a success.”

“Rather,” assented Miss Wilkes, who felt old and nettled. She seemed of endless length, and one would suppose that her clothes were designed so that not one bone should be missed. Mrs. Wordling was not an especial favorite with her.

“They made it up beautifully between them, didn’t they?” the actress observed, as she squeezed orange-juice into her spoon.

“What?”

“That story.”

“Who?”

“Why, that story–that friendship, storm-at-sea, Equatoria story–done jointly by Messrs. Cairns and Bedient.”

“You think they rehearsed it, then?” Kate Wilkes asked softly.

“Why, of course. It unfolded like a story–each piling on clever enthusiasm for the other.”

There was a slight pause.

“And so you think David Cairns simulated that fine touch, about discovering through his friend, what damage New York was doing him?” Kate Wilkes’ manner was lightly reflective.

“Of course. Don’t you remember how he stumbled until you helped him going?”

“You think–as I understand it—-” Miss Wilkes had become queerly penetrative, and spoke in a way that made one think of a beetle being pinned through the thorax, “—-that David Cairns merely used his artistic intelligence for our entertainment; that Andrew Bedient is merely an interesting type of sailor and wanderer who has struck it rich?”

“Why, yes, Kate, that’s the way it got over to me. We all know David Cairns is selling everything he writes at a top-figure; that he is eminently successful, quite the thing in many periodicals, finely pleased with himself as a successful man—-“

“Wordling,” said Kate Wilkes, leaning toward her, “what kind of people do you associate with in your work?”

“The best, dear,–always the best. People who think, and who love their work.”

Slowly and without passion the elder woman now delivered herself:

“People who _think_ they think and who love themselves!… I have tried to make myself believe you were different. You are not different, Wordling. You are true to your kind, and not distinguished from them. David Cairns never rehearsed a part with Andrew Bedient. Men as full of real things as these two do not need rehearsals. Bedient came up from his Island, and all unconsciously made his old companion realize that he was not breathing the breath of life here in New York. Cairns wept over it, and made up his mind to try again; and fine chap that he is, he called a few of his friends together, to give us a chance to see the thing as he saw it. I call it an honor that he invited me. I see you do not. Unfortunately this is one of those differences of opinion which are at the base of things…. Luck to you, Wordling,” she finished, rising. “I feel seedy and have a busy afternoon ahead.”

Mrs. Wordling laughed delightedly, though boiling lava ran within and pressed against the craters. Alone, she asked herself what Kate Wilkes had done to get away with eccentricities, to which only those of stardom are entitled.

“Hag,” she muttered, after such conning.

* * * * *

Bedient was early abroad in the city, having felt entirely above the need of sleep. He was less serene than usual, but with compensations. There was a peculiar fear in his mind that New York was laughing at him a bit. Perhaps, Cairns had pressed down a little too hard on the queer unhurt quality he was alleged to possess. In a word, Bedient sensed the humor of Mrs. Wordling, and could not yet know that she, of the entire company, monopolized the taint.

The _Smilax Club_ pleased him, and he had permitted Cairns to put him up there.

That flame of a woman, Beth Truba, was the spirit of his every thought. Her listening had drawn the soul from him. The great thing had happened; and yet it was different from the way he had visioned it…. Never had a woman so startled him with the sense of the world’s fullness–in that she was in the world. That he had found her was his first achievement, true reward of deathless faith; and yet it was all so different. She was different. She had not known him.

In the amplitude of his wanderings, one conception had grown slightly out of proportion. He saw this now, and smiled affectionately at the old thought: “When The Woman appears, I shall not be alone in the gladness of the moment.”… Those were mountain-tops of dreaming upon which he strode without reckoning. It would have been absurd, had Beth Truba given him a sign. This was not India, nor the Dream Ranges…. She had faced life, lived it among the teeming elements of this vast city. The world had wrought upon her, while she wrought her place in the world. She was finished, an artist, a woman of New York, wise, poised, brilliant. It was the world’s ideals, and not those of the silence and the spirit, altogether, that governed her manner and dress and movement. She had not lived in the silence; therefore that which was of the silence had been kept among the deep inner places of her life. The secrets of her heart were deeper than mere man’s leaden fathomings. Even had he appeared unto her as an illumination–only Beth Truba would have known.

He did not come into great peace in her presence. No matter what she dreamed of, or desired, the lover could only come to her in the world’s approved ways. So, all the accumulated beauty of idealism counted nothing in this first stage of Bedient’s quest. Instead of the peace of her presence, he was filled with restless energies, past all precedent. Quite in a boyish way, he wanted to do things for her, huge and little things, forgetting not the least, and performing each succeeding action with a finer art.

Beth Truba was the first woman who ever appealed to Bedient, without recalling in some way the Adelaide passion. There was hardly a trace of that element in the new outpouring. If it is true that a woman calls from man a love-token in her own image, Beth Truba was marble cold. The larger part of his first giving was above the flesh, a passion to bestow beautiful things, the happiness of others. That she might ever have any meaning to him beyond receiving these gifts, scarcely entered, as yet, his thrilled consciousness. It _had_ startled him that she was seemingly free; that she had reached full womanhood in solitary empire. He dared be glad of this, but he could not grasp it, unless she were vowed to spinsterhood by some irrevocable iron of her will; or perhaps some king of men had come, and she had given her word…. Bedient could not understand how any discerning masculine mind could look upon Beth Truba, and go his way without determining his chance. He felt (and here he was “warm,” as they say in the children’s game) that David Cairns must be one of the men who had seen Beth Truba and not conquered. Perhaps Cairns would tell him regarding these things, but they were altogether too sacred to broach, except in the finest possible moment.

He had returned to the club early in the afternoon, and was standing at one of the windows, his eyes turned toward the green square opposite. He was thinking of the enchantress, and how she would admire the shower-whipped hills of Equatoria and all that wild perfumed beauty…. His name was softly spoken by one of the regal shadows of the night before, Marguerite Grey.

“If I hadn’t seen you or Mr. Cairns again,” she began, “I’d have come to think of last night almost as a dream.”

“That’s queer, Miss Grey,” he answered, taking her hand. “It’s like a dream to me, too.”

“I didn’t feel like working to-day,” she said. “The routine appalled me, so I came over to look in upon Vina Nettleton. Her studio is above. Have you seen her ‘Stations of the Cross’?”

“No.”

“Her four years’ task–for the great Quebec cathedral?… You really must. It’s an experience to watch her work, and Vina’s worth knowing–pure spirit…. Would you like to go up with me?”

Alternating fascinations possessed Bedient, as the elevator carried them upward…. These were his real playmates, these people of pictures and statues. He had come a long way through different lights and darkness to find them. He did not know their ways of play, but well knew he should like them when he learned, and that their play would prove prettier than any he had ever known…. And this tall, still woman beside him–almost as tall as he, of rarest texture, and with a voice sensuously soft, having that quality of softness which distinguishes a charcoal from a graphite line–this woman seemed identified in some remoteness of mind with long-ago rainy days, of which there had been none too many…. Her voice seemed to lose direction in his fancy, loitering there, strangely enticing…. _”Would you like to go up with me?”_… And these were Beth Truba’s friends….

A bell was touched in the high hall, and Vina Nettleton’s plaintive tone trailed forth:

“Won’t you come right in–please–into my muddy room?”

A large room opening upon a steel fire-frame, where two could sit, and a view of the city to the North. Commandingly near on the left arose the Metropolitan Tower. The studio itself had an unfinished look, with its step-ladders and scaffolding and plaster-panels. In the midst of such ponderous affairs, stood a frail creature in a streaky blouse, exhibiting her clayey hands and smiling pensively. It was only when you looked at the figures in the panels, and at the models in clay, that Vina Nettleton appeared to belong to these matters of a contractor. Marguerite Grey was saying:

“When I get too weary, or heart-sick, tired of my own work, in the sense of being bored by its commonness—-“

“Wicked woman,” murmured Vina.

“When the thought comes that I should be a cashier in a restaurant,” the other went on, in her sadly smiling way, speaking altogether to Bedient, “I come to this place. Here is an _artist_, Mr. Bedient. Vina has been working at these things for two years. She has still two years to finish within her contract. These are her prayers; they will live in the transept of a great cathedral.”

“Don’t mind the Grey One, Mr. Bedient,” Vina Nettleton said lightly. “We are dear friends.”

Bedient lost himself in the study of the veins which showed through the delicate white skin of Vina’s temples. He was moved to personal interest by this woman’s work. The room was intense with the figures about, and the artist’s being. He was sure Marguerite Grey did not know all that concerned her friend, the full meaning, for instance, of the shadows that began at the inner corners of her eyes and flared like dark wings outward. There was something tremendous in the frail, small creature, an inner brightness that shone forth through her white skin, as light through porcelain. Bedient granted quickly that there was power here to make the world remember the name of Vina Nettleton; but he knew she was not giving _all_ to these creatures of clay. He had never sensed such a mingling of emotions and spirit…. “Pure spirit,” the Grey One had said. Possibly it was so to the world, but he would have said that the spirit of Vina Nettleton was fed by emotion–seas, woods, fields, skies and rivers of emotion–and that mighty energies, unused by the great task, roamed in nightly anguish.

Bedient moved raptly among the panels. He wondered how the artist had made the light fall upon the dull clay, always where the Christ stood or walked or hung…. “And how did you know He had such beautiful hands?” he asked.

Vina Nettleton looked startled, and the Grey One came closer, saying: “I’m glad you see that. To me the hands are a particular achievement. Do you notice the fine modelling at the outer edges of the palms, and the trailing length of the fingers?”

“Yes,” said Bedient, “as if you could not quite tell where the flesh ended and the healing magnetism began.”

Vina Nettleton sat down upon one of the steps of a ladder and stared at him. The Grey One added:

“And yet you cannot say they are overdone. They are the hands of an artist, but not assertively so.”

“It is my limitation that I don’t know,” he said, “but how is that effect obtained, that suggestion of psychic power?”

“Part is your sensitiveness of eye and understanding,” the Grey One answered, “and the rest comes from our little woman making a prayer of her work; from taking an image of Him and the Others into the dark; of light, ascetic sleep and putting away the dreams of women—-“

Scarlet showed under the transparent skin of the Nettleton temples now–as if putting away the dreams of women were not an unqualified success.

“It is all interesting. I am grateful to you both for letting me come,” Bedient said with strange animation, eager yet full of hesitancy. “More wonderful than the hands, is the Face, which Miss Nettleton has kept averted throughout her entire idea. That’s the way the Face appears to me. The disciples and the multitudes must have seen it so, except on rare, purposeful occasions…. He must have been slight and not tall, and delicate as you see Him. It was not that He lacked physical endurance, but He was worn, as those about Him did not understand, with constant inner agony. That was His great weariness…. It was not an imposing Figure. Nothing about Him challenged the Romans. They were but abandoned boys who bowed to the strength that roars, and the bulk that makes easy blood-letting. Even in custody, He was beneath the notice of most Romans, so inflamed and brutish from conquest were they; and Pilate, though the Tragic Instrument, was among the least ignoble of them—-‘”

Bedient felt vaguely the interest of Vina Nettleton in what he was saying. It was a remarkable moment. His mind was crowded with a hundred things to say; yet he was startled, diffident, in spite of the joy of speaking these things aloud.

“What a hideous time of darkness!” he added in the silence. “The Jews were but little better than the Romans. They were looking for a king, a Solomon sort of king with temples and trappings and sizable authorities. Isn’t it divine irony, that the Messianic Figure should appear in the very heart of this racial weakness of the Jews? And their lesson seems still unlearned. New York brings this home to-day…. So, to the Jews and the Romans, He was insignificant in appearance. His beauty was spiritual, which to be recognized, requires spirituality–a feminine quality.

“And among the disciples: Hasn’t it occurred to you again and again how their doubting egos arose, when His face was turned away? Poor fellows, they were bothered with their stomachs and their places to sleep; they quarrelled with the different villagers, and doubtless wished themselves back a hundred times to their fishing-banks and kindred employments, when the Christ moved a little apart from them. I can see them (behind His back), daring each other to approach and make known their fancied injustices and rebellions. It was so with the multitudes before they looked upon His countenance.

“But when He turns, whether in sorrow or in anger, the look is invincible…. That is always true, whether the Face is turned upon one, or the Twelve, or the multitude–in the crowded market-place, or by the sea where the many were fed, or on the Mount–perfect tributes of silence answered His direct attention, and all spiteful, petty ego outcroppings vanished…. So there were two Figures: One, a man, slender, tired and tortured; and an Angel Countenance, before whose lustrous communications all men were abased according to their spirit.”

He paused, but the women did not speak….

“Dear God, how lonely He was!” Bedient said after a moment, as he regarded a picture of the Christ alone on the Mount, and the soldiers ascending to make the arrest “There were two who might have sustained in His daily death agonies. I have always wished they could have been near Him throughout the Passion. _They_ would not have slept, that darkest of nights while He prayed! I mean Saint Paul, who of course did not see the Jesus of history, and John the Baptist, who was given to know Him but an hour at the beginning. They were the greatest mortals of those days…. They were above the attractions of women of flesh. Do you see what I mean? They were humanly complete, beyond sex! Their grandeur of soul meant a _union within themselves_ of militant manhood and mystic womanhood. Illumination really means that. They could have sustained and ministered unto the Christ with real tenderness.

“Invariably, I think, this is true: It is a woman, or _the woman in man_ that recognizes a Messiah…. Look at those males of singing flesh–the ultra-masculine Romans–how blind and how torpid they were to Him; and the materialistic Jews, ponderously confronting each other with stupid forms and lifeless rituals, while their Marys and Magdalens and Miriams followed the Master and waited upon Him!… I always found a kind of soulful feminine in John, the apostle–not the Forerunner, but the brother of James. He was weak in those days of the Passion, but became mighty afterward, and divinely tender, the apostle whom Jesus loved, to whom he intrusted His Mother…. But look into the arch-feminine ideal of the Christ Himself–that night on the Mount of Olives, when all Earth’s struggle and anguish passed through Him, clothing itself with His pity and tenderness, before it reached the eye of the Father. What ineffable Motherhood!”

The room wrought strangely upon Bedient. He had never spoken at such length before, nor so eagerly. Vina Nettleton spoke for the first time almost, since she had welcomed him. “You help me greatly,” she said with difficulty. “I cannot tell you exactly. I didn’t know why, but last night I hoped you would come here. Oh, it wasn’t to help me with this–not selfishly in the work, not that–but I seemed to know you knew the things you have said just now.”

Bedient was thrilled by her sincerity…. The low voice of the Grey One now repeated:

“Spirituality, a feminine quality?”

“To me, always,” said Bedient, his eyes lit with sudden enthusiasm. “The Holy Spirit _is_ Mystic Motherhood. It is divinely the feminine principle…. Look at the world’s prophets, or take Saint Paul, for he is in finished perspective. Completely human he is, unconquerable manhood ignited by the luminous feminine quality of the soul. There he stands, the man born again of the Holy Spirit, or Mystic Motherhood…. Now look at Jesus, a step higher still, and beyond which our vision cannot mount. Here is the prophet risen to Godhood–the union of Two, transcendent through that heavenly mystery–the adding of a Third! Doesn’t it clear for you startlingly now? It did for me. Here is the _Three in One in Jesus_–the Godhood of the Father, the manhood of the Son, and the Mystic Motherhood of the Holy Spirit. So in the radiance of the Trinity–Jesus arose–‘the first fruits of them that slept.'”

There was a light knock at the door. The face of the Grey One was like a wraith, motionless and staring at him. Vina Nettleton looked up from her soiled hands, which had streaked her face…. She moved suddenly to the door, but did not touch it.

“Go away,” she said intensely. “I can see no one.”

Her eyes seemed to burn along the frame. There was no answer from without, but a light step turning away…. Assured that the visitor was gone, Vina turned back to Bedient.

“We mustn’t be interrupted–nor must you go yet,” she said with effort. “I don’t think anything ever happened to me so important. Oh, I don’t mean for my work; believe me in _that_, won’t you? Since a little girl, I have thought of these things. And here for two years they have been about me. To me the Third of the Trinity has been as a voice calling out of darkness. They told me when I was a bit of a girl that It was not for me to understand, and that terrible men committed the deadly sin of blasphemy through It—-“

“Poor child,” Bedient said, smiling at her. “They didn’t know. Could anything be lovelier for one to think about? The Holy Spirit as the source of the divine principle in Woman, and Woman ever so eager to give the spiritual loaf to man! That’s the richest thought to me. After _that_ is realized, all one’s thinking must adjust itself to it; as in Hindu minds, all thoughts adjust to reincarnation, and flow from it…. There is a tender glow of spirit, a sort of ignition of the narrative, in every instance where a woman approaches the Christ in His mission on earth. And men seem to find no meaning in these wonderful things…. The women of this world _are_ the symbols and the vessels of the Holy Spirit. It is only through woman’s love that It can be given to the race. I like to think of it this way: _As a woman brings a child to her husband, the father, so the Holy Spirit–Mystic Motherhood–is bringing the World to God, the Father. And Jesus is the first fruits_.”

The women regarded each other in silence. Bedient stayed, until the tardy May dusk effaced the city, all but the myriad points of light.

ELEVENTH CHAPTER

TWO DAVIDS COME TO BETH

Beth Truba awoke late. Goliath of Gath had just fallen with obituary hiccoughs and a great clatter of armor…. She sat up, and reviewed recent events backward. The stone had sunk into the forehead. David came down to meet the giant smiling. There was no anger about it. The stone had been slung leisurely. Before that, the boy had been brought in from his sheep-herding to be anointed king. Samuel had seen it in a vision, and not otherwise…. David found Saul’s armor irksome, took up his staff, and went to the brook for good, sizable stones, just as if he had spied a wolf slavering at the herds from the brow of the hill….

Beth laughed, and wondered why the Bible story had come back in her dream. There seemed no clue, not even when she contemplated the events of the rather remarkable evening preceding. Many minutes afterward, however, arranging her hair, she found herself repeating:

“_Now he was ruddy, and withal, of a beautiful countenance.”_ Finally it came to her, and she was pleased and astonished: Throughout the evening, Beth had felt that some Bible description exactly fitted in her mind to the new impression of Bedient, but she could not think of it then. Her effort had brought it forth in the night, and the whole story that went with it.

Beth drank a bottle of milk, ashamed of the hour, though she had not slept long. She loved mornings; New York could never change her delight in the long forenoon. She was at work at two, and undisturbed for two hours. Beth’s studio was the garret of an old mansion, a step from Fifth Avenue in the Thirties. Its effect, as one entered, was golden at midday, and turned brown with the first shadows.

Mrs. Wordling called at four. For a woman who had been scornfully analyzed by Kate Wilkes (who really could be vitriol-tongued) and ordered away from Vina Nettleton’s door like an untimely beggar, Mrs. Wordling looked remarkably well. In point of fact, Mrs. Wordling was ungovernably pretty. Moreover, she knew Kate Wilkes well enough to understand that she was too busy to sketch the characters of other women except for their own benefit. As for Vina Nettleton, the cloistered, she could do as she liked, being great in her calling; besides, a woman who had a man-visitor so rarely as Vina Nettleton, might be expected to become snappy and excited. Bedient was proving a rather stiff drug. Mrs. Wordling now wished to observe his action upon Beth Truba. “I’ll appear to regard it as a perfectly lady-like party, which it was,” she mused, in the dingy interminable stairways,–the elevator being an uncertain quantity–“and run no risk of being thrown three nights.”

“Beth, you’re looking really right,” Mrs. Wordling enthused.

“So good of you,” said Beth. “Must be lovely out, isn’t it?… The poster will be ready in three or four days…. Didn’t we have a good time at David’s party?”

“Such a good time—-“

“Really must have, since we stayed until an unconscionable hour. Half-past two when we broke up—-“

“All of that, Beth.”

The artist looked up from her work. Mrs. Wordling’s acquiescences seemed modulated. The “Beths” were no more frequent than usual, however. The artist had grown used to this from certain people. It appeared that her name was so to the point, that many kept it juggling through their conversation with her, like a ball in a fountain…. The poster, Beth had consented to do in a weak moment. It was to be framed for theatre-lobbies. People whom Beth painted were seldom quite the same afterward to her. She seemed to learn too much. She had greatly admired Mrs. Wordling’s good nature at the beginning. There was no objection now; only the actress had given her in quantity what had first attracted, and quantity had palled. Beth often wished she did not discern so critically…. Just now she divined that her caller wanted to discuss Cairns’ friend. The result was that Mrs. Wordling left after a half-hour, with Bedient heavier and more undeveloped than ever in her consciousness. Always a considerable social factor in her theatrical companies, Mrs. Wordling was challenged by the people of the _Smilax Club_. She was not getting on with them, and the thought piqued. Bedient, who had not greatly impressed her, had apparently struck twelve with the others. Therefore, he became at once both an object and a means. There was a way to prove her artistry….

Beth went on with her painting, the face of another whom she had found out. And painting, she smiled and thought. She was like a pearl in the good North light. Across the pallor of her face ran a magnetic current of color from the famous hair to the crimson jacket she wore, pinned at the throat by a soaring gull, with the tiniest ruby for an eye…. David Cairns called. He seemed drawn and nervous. Obviously he had come to say things. Beth knew his moods.

“David, we had a memorable time last night, you know that,” she said. “You know, too, that I have been, and am, friendly to Mrs. Wordling. As the party turned out, I’m interested to know just how you came to choose the guests. We drew rather close together for New Yorkers—-“

“That’s a fact.”

“But the Grey One is engaged to be married. In theory, Kate Wilkes is a man-hater. Dear little Vina is consecrated to her ‘Stations’ for two years more. Eliminate me as, forborne, a spinster…. Yet you told me two or three days ago that you wouldn’t be surprised if your friend took his lady back—-“

“That may be true, Beth,” he interrupted. “But I spoke hastily. It sounds crude and an infringement now. I really didn’t know Bedient—-“

“When you invited your guests–Mrs. Wordling?”

“I should have consulted someone—-“

“Not at all, David. It was eminently right. I am not criticising, just interested.”

“I’ve been revoluting inside. Mrs. Wordling happened three days ago, when I was first thinking out the party. I didn’t know we were to get into real things. ‘Ah, here’s a ripe rounding influence,’ said I. ‘Do come, Mrs. Wordling.’ Maybe I _did_ figure out the contrast she furnished. She’s friendly and powerfully pretty and, why, I see it now, one of the Wordlings of this world would have taken Andrew Bedient into camp years ago, if he were designed for that kind of woman. Why, that’s the kind of woman he doubtless knows—-“

“Do you know what I think?” Beth inquired. “I think you should be punished for using Mrs. Wordling or anyone else as a foil. That’s a Wordl–a woman’s strategy.”

“I know it, Beth,” Cairns said excitedly. “But I didn’t think of it until afterward. I wouldn’t do it again.”

She was startled, saw too late that this was no time for showing him his crudities.

“You’re a dear boy—-” she began.

“No, I’m not, Beth. Oh, it isn’t the only thing–that has been rammed home to me…. _Me_; there’s so much _me_ mixed up in my mind, so much tiresome and squalid _me_, that I wonder every decent person hasn’t cut me long since for a bore and a nuisance. Why, I had become all puny and blinded–_my_ stomach, _my_ desires, markets, memories, ambitions, doubts, rages, rights, poses and conceits. I really need to tell some one, to unveil before some one who won’t wince, but treasure the little moral residuum—-“

“You have done well to come to Beth,” she said, leaning forward and patting his shoulder with the thin stem of her brush, though a woman always feels her years when a man brings woes such as these to her…. It was Beth’s weakness (or strength) that she could never reveal the intimacies of her heart. Only sometimes in half-humorous generalities, she permitted things to escape, thinking no one understood.

“Thanks, Beth. I’m grateful,” Cairns said. “I seem to have missed for a long time the bigger dimension in people, books, pictures, faces, even in the heart. It’s a long time since I set out this way, a down-grade, and the last few days, I’ve heard the rapids. I’m going back, as far and as fast as I can up-stream. And this is no lie; no pose.”

“I repeat, you’re a dear boy—-“

“Oh, it’s Bedient who jerked me up straight. I’d have gone on…. And to think I made him wait over an hour, when he first called…. He’s the finest bit of man-stuff I’ve ever known, Beth.”

She found herself relieved, that he had given to the stranger the praise.

“… And, Beth, if you want to dig for his views, you’ll get them. He says New York plucks everything green; opinionates on the wing, makes personal capital out of another’s offering, refusing to wait for the fineness of impersonal judgment. He asks nothing more stimulating than the capacity to say on occasion, ‘I don’t know,’ flat and unqualified. He sees everywhere, the readiness to be clever instead of true. So many New Yorkers, he says, are like fishes, that, knowing water, disclaim the possibility of air.

“You know, Beth, Bedient never encountered what America was thinking and reading, until a few months ago down on his Island. We are editorialists in the writing game, he declares, what-shall-I-write-about-to-day-folks! We don’t wait for fulness, but wear out brain thin bandying about what drops on it. If we would wait until we were full men, we would _have_ to write, and not drive ourselves to the work—-“

“Oh, I do believe that!” Beth said. “We need to be reminded of that.”

“That _we_ is very pretty, Beth,” Cairns went on. “…Such a queer finished incident happened yesterday. I hunted up Bedient at noon, and we talked about some of these matters. And then we met Ritchold for luncheon. It was at _Teuton’s_. I took Bedient aside and whispered with a flourish, ‘One of our ten-thousand-a-year editors, Andrew.’… ‘What makes him worth that?’ he asked. ‘He knows what the people want,’ I replied. Can you see us, Beth?…

“The luncheon was interesting. Bedient and Ritchold got together beautifully. The talk was brisk and big, just occasionally cutting the edges of shop. Both men came to me afterward. ‘Splendid chap, your friend,’ Ritchold said. ‘A man who has seen so much and can talk so well, ought to _write_. Thanks for meeting him.’

“‘I was very glad to meet Mr. Ritchold,’ Bedient remarked later–hours later–after I had given up hope of hearing on the subject. ‘I think he shows where one trouble lies…. It’s in _him_ and his kind, David. His periodical sells to the great number. He is a very bright man, and his art is in knowing what the great number wants. Being brighter, and of finer discernment, than those who buy his product, he debases his taste to make his organs relish the coarser article. That’s the first evil–prostituting himself…. Now a people glutted with what it wants is a stagnant people. Its only hope is in such men as Ritchold leading them to the higher ways. In refusing, he wrongs the public–the second evil…. Again, in blunting his own sensibilities and catering to the common, he stands as a barrier between the public and real creative energy. He and the public are one. A prostituted taste and a stagnant popular mind are alike repelled by reality. Rousing creative power glances from them both. So his third evil is the busheling and harrying of genius…. There he stands, forcing genius to be common, to appear, paying well and swiftly only for that which is common. Genius writhes a bit, starves a bit, but the terrible needs of this complicated life have him by the throat until he cries “Enough,” and presently is common, indeed.'”

“He need not have spoken of writing only,” Beth remarked. “_They_ must have taught him to see things clearly in the Orient…. You know, David, I found it hard last night, and a little now, to fix his point of view and his power to express it, with the life of outdoor men, the ‘enlisted,’ as he says, rather than the ‘commissioned’ folk of this world.”

“He has done much reading, but more thinking,” Cairns declared. “He has been much alone, and he has lived. He sees inside. ‘The great books of the world are little books,’ he said recently, ‘books that a pocket or a haversack will hold. You don’t realize what they have given you, until you sit down in a roomful of ordinary books and see how tame and common the quantities are.’ And it’s true. Look at the big men of few books. They learned to look _inside_ of books they had! He knows the Bible, and the _Bhagavad Gita_.”

“Oh, I’m beginning to understand,” Beth exclaimed. “Nights alone with the Bible and the _Bhagavad Gita_, and one’s schooldays–a weathering from the open and seasoning from the seas. Men have such chances to learn the perils and passions of the earth, but so few do…. I see it now. It isn’t remarkable that we find him poised and finished, but that he should have had the inclination naturally–a child among sailors–for the great little books of the world, and through them and his nights alone, to have kept his balance and builded his power.”

“That’s the point, Beth. New York is crowded with voyagers, and men of mileage to the moon, but what made this powerful unlettered boy _look_ for the inside of things? What made him different from the packers and cooks and sailors around the world, boys of the open who never become men except physically?”

Beth answered: “I think we’ll find that has to do with Mr. Bedient’s mother, David.”

“I know he’d be thrilled to hear you say that.”

“Is she still living?”

“No, or he’d be with her…. He has never spoken to me of her. And yet I’m sure she is the unseen glow upon his life. I think he would tell _you_ about her. Only a woman could draw that from him…. He saw no one but you last night; did all his talking to you, Beth.”

“I’m the flaringest, flauntingest posy in the garden. I call the bees first,” she said dryly, but there was a flitting of ghostly memories through her mind. “And then I’m an extraordinary listener.”

“Beth,” he said solemnly, “no one knows better than I, that it is you who send the bees away.”

She laughed at him. “We found each other out in time, David…. Too much artist between us. We’d surely taint each other, don’t you see?”

“I never could see that—-“

“That’s being polite; and one must be polite…. We are really fine friends, better than ever after to-day, and that’s something for a pair of incomplete New Yorkers.”

There was a pause.

“Beth,” said Cairns. “Shall I bring Bedient over to-morrow?”

“No, please. At least not to-morrow.”

He was surprised. Beth saw it; saw, too, that he had observed how Bedient talked to her last night. Mrs. Wordling had not missed comment here…. Cairns must not think, however, that she would avoid Andrew Bedient. She fell into her old resource of laughing at the whole matter.

“I can’t afford to take any chances, David. He’s _too_ attractive. Falling in love is pure dissipation to one of my temperament, and I have too many contracts to fill. I’m afraid of your sailor-man. Think of the character you built about him to-day in this room. If he didn’t prove up to that, what a pity for us all! And if he did, what a pity for poor Beth, if he started coming here!… Anyway, I’ve ceased to be a bachelor-girl. I’m a spinster…. That word hypnotizes me. I’m all ice again. I shall know Mr. Bedient ethically and not otherwise.”

Cairns laughed with her, but something within hurt. His relation with Beth Truba had been long, and increasingly delightful, since the ordeal of becoming just a friend was safely past. He realized that only a beautiful woman could speak this way, even in fun to an old friend…. His work dealt with wars, diplomacy and politics; his fictions were twenty-year-old appeals, so that Beth felt her present depth of mood to be fathoms deeper than his story instinct.

“You know, David, I’ve said for years there were no real lovers in the world,” she went on lightly. “But your friend was full of touches last night such as one dreams of: that colored pane in the hall-way, when he was a little boy somewhere, and the light that frightened him from it…. ‘One of the Chinese knifed me, but he died.’… That big ‘X’ of the _Truxton_ flung stern up, as she sank; … and about the old Captain wriggling his shoulder bashfully for his young friend’s arm at the last…. It is altogether enticing, in the light of what you have brought to-day. Really you must take him away. Red-haired spinsters mustn’t be bothered, nor imprisoned in magic spring weather. When does he return to his Island?”

“He hasn’t spoken of that, but I do know, Beth, that Bedient will never sink back into the common, from your first fine impressions. I’ve known him for years, you see—-“

She put down her brush and said theatrically, “I feel the fatal premonitive impulses…. Spinster, spinster; Beth Truba, spinster!… That’s my salvation.”

“You’re the finest woman I know,” Cairns said. “You know best, but I doubt if Bedient will go back to Equatoria without seeing more of you—-“

“Did he speak of such a thing?”

“That isn’t his way—-“

“I am properly rebuked.”

… Cairns was at the door. “Did you say, Beth, that the Grey One is engaged to be married?”

“Pure tragedy. The man is fifty and financial…. She’s a courageous girl, but I think under her dear smile is a broken nerve. She has about reached the end of her rope. The demand for her work has fallen off. One of those inexplicable things. She had such a good start after returning from Paris. And now with Handel’s expensive studio, probably not less than three thousand a year for that, debt and unsought pictures are eating out her heart. There’s much more to the story–I mean leading up. Help her if you can, or she must go to the arms and house of a certain rich man…. What a blithe thing is Life, and how little you predatory men know about it!”

They regarded each other, their thoughts poised upon an _If_. Beth spoke first:

“If your friend—-“

“But Bedient didn’t look into the eyes of the Grey One when he told his tale of the sea,” Cairns said, leaving.

TWELFTH CHAPTER

TWO LESSER ADVENTURES

A few nights after the party, Bedient was left to his own devices, Cairns being appointed out of town. He attended the performance of a famous actress in _Hedda Gabler_…. Bedient was early. The curtain interested him. It pictured an ancient Grecian ruin, a gloomy, heavy thing, but not inartistic. Beneath was a couplet from Kingsley:

“So fleet the works of men, back to their earth again, Ancient and holy things fade like a dream.”

Sensitive to such effects, he sat, musing and contemplative, when suddenly his spirit was imperiously aroused by the orchestra. The ‘celli had opened the _Andante_ from the C Minor Symphony. For ten minutes, the music held his every sense…. It unfolded as of old, but not its full message. There was a meaning in it _for him_! He heard the three voices–man, woman and angel. It was the woman’s tragedy. The lustrous Third Presence was for her. The man’s figure was obscure, disintegrate…. Bedient was so filled with the mystery, that the play had but little surface of his consciousness during the first act. He enjoyed it, but could not give all he had. Finally, as _Hedda_ was ordering the young writer to drink wine to get “vine-leaves in his hair,” there was an explosion back of the scenes. Bedient, as did many others, thought at first it belonged to the piece. The faces of the players fell away in thick gloom, the voices sank into crazy echoes, and the curtain went down. Bedient’s last look at the stage brought him the impression of squirming chaos. Fire touched the curtain behind, disfiguring and darkening the pictured ruin. Then a woman near him screamed. The back of a chair snapped, and now scores took up the woman’s cry.

The crowd caught a succession of hideous ideas: of being trapped and burned, of inadequate exits, murderous gases, bodies piled at the doors–all the detailed news-horror of former theatre disasters. And the crowd did all it could to repeat the worst of these. Bedient encountered an altogether new strength, the strength of a frenzied mass, and to his nostrils came a sick odor from the fear-mad. The lights had not been turned on with the fall of the curtain. Untrained to cities, Bedient was astonished at the fright of the people, the fright of the men!… The lines of _Hedda_ recurred to him, and he called out laughingly:

“Now’s the time for ‘vine-leaves in your hair,’ men!”

He moved among the seats free from the aisle. A body lay at his feet. Groping forward, his hand touched a woman’s hair. He smiled at the thought that here was one for _him_ to help, and lifted her, turning to look at the glare through the writhing curtain. There were voices behind in that garish furnace; and now the lights filled the theatre again. Bedient quickly made his way with others to a side exit, the red light of which had not attracted the crowd.

The woman was light in his arms. She wore a white net waist, and her brown hair was unfastened. She had crushed a large bunch of English violets to her mouth and nostrils, to keep out the smoke and gas. A peculiar thing about it was, Bedient did not see her face. In the alley, he handed his burden to a man and woman, standing together at the door of a car, and went back. One of the actors had stepped in front of the stage, and was calling out that the fire was under control, that there was no danger whatever. The roar from the gallery passages subsided. Only a few were hurt, since the theatre was modern and the main exit ample…. Bedient returned to the side-door but the woman he had carried forth was gone, probably with the pair in the car. He decided to see the end of _Hedda Gabler_ another time. The