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  • 1912
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_Andante_, the Grecian ruin and vine-leaves were curiously blended in his mind….

Though several days had passed since the Club affair, he had not seen Beth Truba again. This fact largely occupied his thinking. He would not telephone nor call, without a suggestion from her. The moment had not come to bring up her name to David Cairns, who, since his talk with Beth, had of course nothing to offer. So Bedient revolved in outer darkness…. The morning after _Hedda Gabler_ he found a very good chestnut saddle-mare in an up-town stable, and rode for an hour or two in the Park, returning to the Club after eleven. At the office, he was told that Mrs. Wordling had asked for him to go up to her apartment, as soon as he came in. Five minutes later, he knocked at her door.

“Is that you, Mr. Bedient?” she called. The voice came seemingly from an inner room; a cultivated voice, with that husky note in it which charms the multitude. Had he not a good mental picture of Mrs. Wordling, he would have imagined some enchanted Dolores…. “How good of you to come! Just wait one moment.”

The door opened partially after a few seconds, and he caught the gleam of a bare arm, but the actress had disappeared when he entered. Bedient was in a room where a torrential shower had congealed into photographs.

“I can’t help it,” she said at last, emerging from the inner room, unhooked…. “I’ve been trying to get a maid up here for the past half-hour…. I think there’s only three or four between the shoulder-blades–won’t you do them for me?”

She backed up to him bewitchingly…. Mrs. Wordling was in the twenty-nine period. If the thing can be imagined, she gave the impression of being both voluptuous and athletic. There was a rose-dusk tone under her healthy skin, where the neck went singing down to the shoulder, singing of warm blood and plenteous. Hers was the mid-height of woman, so that Bedient was amusedly conscious of the length of his hands, as he stood off for a second surveying the work to do.

“What’s the trouble; can’t you?”

There was a purring tremble in her tone that stirred the wanderer, only it was the past entirely that moved within him. The moment had little more rousing for him, than if he were asked to fasten a child’s romper…. Yet he did not miss that here was one of the eternal types of man’s pursuit–as natural a man’s woman as ever animated a roomful of photographs–a woman who could love much, and, as Heine added, _many_.

“I’ll just throw a shawl around, if you can’t,” she urged, nudging her shoulder.

“Far too warm for shawls,” he laughed. “I was only getting it straight in my mind before beginning. You know it’s tricksome for one accustomed mainly to men’s affairs…. There’s one–I won’t pinch–and the second–anytime you can’t find a maid, Mrs. Wordling–I’m in the Club a good deal–there they are, if they don’t fly open—-” and his hands fell with a pat on each of her shoulders.

Facing him, Mrs. Wordling encountered a perfectly unembarrassed young man, and a calm depth of eye that seemed to have come and gone from her world, and taken away nothing to remember that was wildly exciting…. At least three women of her acquaintance were raving about Andrew Bedient, two artists with a madness for sub-surface matters having to do with men. Mrs. Wordling believed herself a more finished artist in these affairs. She wanted to prove this, while Bedient was the dominant man-interest of the Club.

And now he surprised her. He was different from the man she had pictured. Equally well, she could have located him–had he kissed her, or appeared confused with embarrassment. Most men of her acquaintance would have kissed her; others would have proved clumsy and abashed, but none could have passed through the test she offered with both denial and calm…. She wanted the interest of Bedient, because the other women fancied him; she wanted to show them and “that hag, Kate Wilkes,” what a man desires in a woman; and now a third reason evolved. Bedient had proved to her something of a challenging sensation. He was altogether too calm to be inexperienced. Every instinct had unerringly informed her of his bounteous ardor, yet he had refrained. That which she had seen first and last about him–the excellence of his masculine attractions–had suddenly become important because no longer impersonal. Mrs. Wordling was fully equipped to carry out her ideas.

“You did that very well,” she said, dropping her eyes before his steady gaze, “for one experienced only with men-matters. And now, I suppose you want to know why I took the pains to ask you here; oh, no, not to hook me up…. I didn’t know you would get back so soon; I had just left word a few moments before you came…. Wasn’t it great the way a dreadful disaster was averted at the _Hedda Gabler_ performance last night?… Did you see the morning paper?”

“No,” said Bedient. “I was out early.”

“Why, it appears that after the explosion, when everyone was crushing toward the doors, some man in the audience took the words of _Hedda_ and steadied the crowd with them, as men and women struggled in the darkness…. ‘Now’s the time for vine-leaves!’ he called out. An unknown–wasn’t he lovely?”

She placed the paper before him, and he read a really remarkable account of “the vine-leaf man” magnetizing the mob and carrying out a fainting girl. It was absurd to him, though Ibsen’s subtlety, queerly enough, gave the story force…. No face of the audience had impressed him; none had appeared to notice him in the dark. He wondered how the newspaper had obtained the account…. There was a light, quick knock at the door.

“It isn’t very often that a newspaper story is gotten up so effectively,” Mrs. Wordling was saying. Apparently she had not heard the knock. Her voice, however, had fallen in a half-whisper, more penetrating than her usual low tones. “Do you suppose the hero will permit his name to be known?”

The knock was repeated in a brief, that-ends-it fashion. Mrs. Wordling with a sudden streak of clumsiness half overturned a chair, as she sped to the door. Bedient did not at once penetrate the entire manoeuver, but his nerve and will tightened with a premonition of unpleasantness.

Beth Truba was admitted. Quite as he would have had her do, the artist merely turned from one to the other a quick glance, and ignored the matter; yet that glance had stamped him with her conception of his commonness.

“I could just as well have sent the poster over,” Beth said, “but, as I ‘phoned, it is well to see, if it suits exactly, before putting it out of mind—-“

“Lovely of you, dear. I’m so glad Mr. Bedient is here to see it!” Mrs. Wordling’s brown eyes swam with happiness.

Beth was in brown. Her profile was turned to Bedient, as she unrolled the large, heavy paper…. The work was remarkable in its effect of having been done in a sweep. The subtle and characteristic appeal of the actress (so truly her own, that she would have been the last to notice it) had been caught in truth and cleverly, the restlessness of her empty arms and eager breast. The face was finer, and the curves of the figure slightly lengthened; the whole in Beth’s sweeping way, rather masterful.

“Splendid!” Mrs. Wordling exclaimed, and to Bedient added: “It’s for the road. Isn’t it a winner?”

“Yes, I do like it,” Bedient said.

Beth was glad that he didn’t enlarge.

“I must be on my way, then,” she said. “I’m going into the country to-morrow for the week-end…. We’re getting the old house fixed up for the winter. Mother writes that the repairs are on in full blast, and that I’m needed. Last Saturday when I got there the plumbers had just come. Very carefully they took out all the plumbing and laid it on the front lawn; then put it back…. Good-by.”

“Good-by, and thank you, Beth.”

“I am glad that it pleases you, Mrs. Wordling.” Her tone was pleasantly poised.

Bedient missed nothing now. He did not blame Mrs. Wordling for using him. He saw that she was out of her element with the others; therefore not at her best trying to be one with them. In her little strategies, she was quite true to herself. He could not be irritated, though he was very sorry. Of course, there could be no explanation. His own innocence was but a humorous aspect of the case. The trying part was that look in Beth Truba’s eyes, which told him how bored she was by this sort of commonness.

Then there was to-morrow and Sunday with her away. In her brown dress and hat, glorious and away.

Bedient went away, too.

THIRTEENTH CHAPTER

ABOUT SHADOWY SISTERS

Beth Truba hadn’t the gift of talking about the things that hurt her. She had met all her conflicts in solitudes of her own finding; and there they had been consummated, like certain processes of nature, far from the gaze of man. She had found the world deranged from every girlish ideal. Full grown young men could be so beautiful to her artist’s eyes, that years were required to realize that these splendid exteriors held more often than not, little more than strutting half-truths and athletic vanities.

Whistler, the master, had entered the class-room unannounced, where Beth was studying, as a girl in Paris. Glancing about the walls, his eyes fastened upon a sketch of hers. He asked the teacher for the pupil who did it, and uplifted Beth’s face to his, touching her chin and forehead lightly.

Then he whistled and said: “Off hand, I should say that you are to become an artist; but now that I look closely into your face, I am afraid you will become a woman.”

Tentatively, she was an artist; she would not grant more…. A little while before, she had been very close to becoming a woman. None but the Shadowy Sister knew how near. (The Shadowy Sister was an institution of Beth’s–her conscience, her spirit, her higher self, or all three in one. She came from an old fairy-book. A little girl had longed for a playmate, even as Beth, and one day beside a fountain appeared a Shadowy Sister. She could stay a while, for she loved the little girl, but confessed it was much happier where _she_ lived.)… Shadowy Sisters for little girls who have no playmates, and for women who have no confidantes.

Under Beth’s mirth, during the recent talk with David Cairns, had been much of verity. She was carrying an unhealed wound, which neither he nor the world understood. In Andrew Bedient she had discerned a fine and deeply-endowed nature–glimpses–as if he were some great woman’s gift to the world, her soul and all. But Beth’s romantic nature had been desolated so short a time ago, that she despised even her willingness to put forth faith again…. Such fruit must perish on the vine, if only common hands attend the harvest.

Women like Beth Truba learn in bitterness to protect themselves from possibilities of disillusionment. They hate their hardness, yet hardness is better than rebuilding sanctuaries that have been brutally stormed. For one must build of faith, radium-rare to those who have lost their intrinsic supply.

The Other Man had been a find of Beth’s. He had come to her mother’s house years ago–a boy. He had seemed quick to learn the ways of real people, and the things a man must know to delight a woman’s understanding. In so many ways, the finishing touches of manhood were put upon him gracefully, that Beth gloried in the work of adding treasures of mind and character. She had even made his place in the world, through strong friends of her own winning.

Beth was a year or two older. The boy had grown splendid in appearance, when she discovered she was giving him much that he must hold sacredly, or inflict havoc upon the giver…. In moments when she was happiest, there would come a thought that something would happen…. The young man did not fully understand what caused the break. This may be the key to the very limitation which made him impossible–this lack of delicacy of perception. Certainly he did not know the greatness of Beth’s giving, nor the fineness she had come to expect from him…. She did not exactly love him less, but rather as a mother than a maid, since she had to forgive.

A woman may love a man whom she is too wise to marry. There are man-comets, splendid, flashing, unsubstantial, who sweep into the zones of attraction of all the planet sisterhood; but better, if one cannot have a sun all to oneself, is a little cold moon for the companion intimate…. Something that the young man had said or done was pure disturbance to Beth, compatible with no system of development. She had sent him from her, as one who had stood before her rooted among the second-rate.

Only Beth knew the depth of the hurt. All the feminine of her had turned to aching iron. The Shadowy Sister seemed riveted to a hideous clanking thing, and all the dream-children crushed.

Her friends said: “Who would have thought that after making such a _man_ of her protege, Beth would refuse to marry him? Ah, Beth loves her pictures better than she could love any mere man. She was destined to be true to her work. Only the great women are called upon to make this choice. Nature keeps them virgin to reveal at the last unshadowed beauty. This refusal is the signet of her greatness.”

Beth heard a murmur of this talk and laughed bitterly.

“No,” she said to her studio-walls. “It’s only because Beth is a bit choosey. She isn’t a very great artist, and if she were, she wouldn’t hesitate to become Mrs. Right Man, though it made her falter forever, eye and hand.”

In her own heart, she would rather have had her visions of happiness in children, than to paint the most exquisite flowers and faces in the comprehension of Art…. For days, for weeks, she had remained in her studio seeing no one. Some big work was rumored, and she was left alone with understanding among real people, just as was Vina Nettleton…. But she was too maimed within to work. She wanted to rush off to Asia somewhere, and bury herself alive, but pride kept her at home. As soon as she was able to move and think coherently, she sought her few friends again. Even her dearest, Vina Nettleton, had realized but a tithe of the tragedy.

* * * * *

Beth Truba reached her studio again Monday noon. Among the letters in her post-box, was one she felt instinctively to be from Andrew Bedient, though it was post-marked Albany. She hesitated to open the letter at first, for fear that he had attempted to explain his presence in Mrs. Wordling’s room. This would affix him eternally to commonness in her mind. He had a right to go to Mrs. Wordling’s room, but she had thought him other than the sort which pursues such obvious attractions. Especially after what Cairns had said, she was hurt to meet him there…. Beth found herself thinking at a furious rate, on the mere hazard that the letter was from Bedient….

Were there really such men in the world as the Bedient whom Cairns pictured, and believed in? Personally, she didn’t care to experiment, but there was a strange reliance in the thought that there _were_ such men…. The fine nature she wanted to believe in–wouldn’t have written!… This one letter alone remained unopened–when the telephone rang.

It was Cairns, who inquired if she had heard aught of his friend…. “I reached town Saturday morning,” Cairns went on, “and found a note that he would be away for the day and possibly Sunday; didn’t say where nor why. He left no word at the Club. In fact, Mrs. Wordling called me just now to inquire, volunteering that Bedient had been in her world Friday. Excuse me for bothering you. I’ve an idea this is his way when a gale is blowing in his brain. He pushes out for solitude and sea-room.”

Beth had not offered to assist. The Albany letter might not be his. It stared at her now from the library-table, full-formed black writing. There were no two ways about a single letter. It was the writing of a man who had not covered continents of white paper. “Miss Beth Truba” had been put there to stay, with a full pen, and as if pleasing to his sight. She was thinking–it would be well if Mrs. Wordling were always inquiring; and that the day would be spoiled if he had undertaken to explain things in this letter….

Beth crossed to the table, placed the paper-cutter under the flap and slit it across. Just at this moment, the door of the elevator-shaft opened on her floor–and her knocker fell. She tossed the letter under the leather cover of the table, and admitted Vina Nettleton.

FOURTEENTH CHAPTER

THIS CLAY AND PAINT AGE

A new light had come into the studio of Vina Nettleton; and only when at last the light became too strong, and the struggle too close, had she left it to seek her friend Beth Truba. She had not been sleeping, nor remembering to eat; but she had been thinking enough for seven artists, in the long hours, when the light was bad for work. And now the packing was worn from her nerve-ends, so that she wept easily, like a nervous child, or a man undone from drink.

The new force of Andrew Bedient had found in her a larger sensitiveness than even in David Cairns. That long afternoon which he had spent in her place of working and living was to her a visitation, high above the years. She had been amazed at the Grey One, for preserving a semblance of calm. The gratefulness that she had faltered was but a sign of what she felt.

The figures of Jesus in her room, she had been unable to touch. Bedient had made her see the _Godhood_ of the Christ. John the Baptist, who had attained the apex of manhood and prophecy, had called himself unworthy to loose the latchet of His shoes, and this before Jesus had put on the glory of the Father.

All the others were amazingly nearer to her. She saw the bleak Iscariot as never before, and his darkened mother emerged a step out of the gloom of ages. The Romans moved, as upon a stage, before her, unlit battling faces, clashing voices and armor; and the bearded Jews heavily collecting and confuting. She saw the Eleven, and nearest the light, the frail John, the brother of James,–sad young face and ascetic pallor…. And in the night, she heard that great Voice crying in the wilderness, that mighty Forerunner, the returned Elias; next to Christ Himself, this Baptist, who leaped in the womb of the aged Elizabeth, when the Mother of the Saviour entered her house in the hill country! This cataclysmic figure, not of the “Stations,” was dominant in the background of them all. She saw him second to the Christ (for was he not a prophet in the elder Scripture?) in being called to the Father’s Godhood; and Saint Paul, of that nameless thorn in the flesh, following gloriously on the Rising Road!

There was a new and loving friendliness in the Marys. She could pray to _them_, and wait for greater purity to image the Saviour, as they saw Him…. And one night from her fire-frame, staring down into the lurid precipices of the city, the awful question preyed upon her lips, “Are you Jews and Romans that you must have again the blood of the Christ, to show you the way to God?”… She was weeping, and would have swooned, but something in her consciousness bade her look above. There were the infinite worlds, immensities of time and space and evolving souls; and urging, weaving, glorifying all, was the Holy Spirit, Mystic Motherhood…. And back in the dark of her studio, she turned among creations and visions and longings. Next morning she sat upon the floor and wept, because she could not have her child of soul, only children of clay…. Hours afterward she was fashioning a cross with her fingers, and was suddenly crushed with anguish because she had not been there to carry the cross for Him, to confront the soldiery and take the cruel burden, and hear His Voice, Whom she knew now to be the Son of God.

* * * * *

The women embraced in that rare way which is neither formal nor an affectation. They had long liked and admired each other.

“Why, Vina,–it has been weeks–how did you manage to leave?”

“I haven’t done much–for days,” Vina said, ducking from under her huge hat, and tossing it with both hands upon the piano-top. “Not since he came up with the Grey One and spoiled my little old ideas. Let’s have some tea?”

Beth laughed at the other, until Vina moved into the circle of light, and her face showed paler and more transparent than ever. She sat down upon Beth’s working-stool, elbows on knees, and stared trance-like at her friend.

“Why, you dear little dreamer, what’s the matter?” Beth asked quickly. “Who is the destructive _he_?”

“The sailor-man David Cairns called us together to see. He’s been in the shadows among the panels ever since. What he said I keep hearing again and again—-“

Beth laughed at the remarkable way Bedient was besieging her own studio, without appearing in person. “But Vina, you’ve been living like a Hindu holy man, and no one can do that in New York, not even Hindus. I order you to eat thrice daily and tire yourself physically—-“

“I eat,” Vina said, looking bored and helpless at the thought. “I eat and I do enough physical work to tire a stone-mason—-“

“But I can see through you to the bone! I think you only imagine you take nourishment. Oh, Vina, I know your life–handling huge hard things and making them lovely with pure spirit. I must take better care of you. Tell me all about it, if it will help.”

“Beth, please don’t talk about pure spirit, meaning me. I used to be able to stand it, but not any more. The Grey One does that. I seem to suggest it to flesh and blood people…. I’m sure he didn’t see me so. He looked at me, as if to say, oh, I don’t know what!… I wish I _were_ fish-cold! I’m all overturned…. I just met Mary McCullom on the way over.”

Beth had forgotten the name for the moment. She thought Vina was about to tell her of Bedient.

“Don’t you remember Mary McCullom, who tried painting for awhile, painted one after another, discolored and shapeless children, wholly bereft and unfortunate children?”

“Oh, yes,” said Beth. “I heard she had married—-“

“That’s just it…. Do you remember how she used to look–pinched, evaporated, as one looks in a factory blue-light? I remember calling upon her, as she was giving up her last studio. We sat on a packing-case, while they took out her pictures, one child after another, foundlings which had come to her, and which no one would take nor buy—-“

“Vina, you’re cruel to her!”

“Listen, and you’ll see whom I’m cruel to…. I remember telling her that day what a fearsome, ineffectual thing art is anyway…. How spooky thin she looked, and her face was yellow in patches! My heart was wrung with her, the image of a little woman with no place, no heart to go to, all her dreams of girlhood turned to ghosts, fit only to run from. Then she admitted that she might marry, that a man wanted her, but her wail was that she was mean and helpless, a failure; as such it was cowardly to let the man have her, hardly a square thing for a girl to do. Well, I perked her up on that…. She took him; I don’t even know him by sight, but he’s a man, Beth Truba! Mind you, here was a woman who said she was so dismayed and distressed and generally bowled over by living twenty-seven years, that she hadn’t the heart left to love anybody. But he took her, and he’s a man—-“

“That seems to charm you,” Beth ventured. “‘He took her, and he’s a man.'”

“It does, for I just left her, and she’s a wicked flaunt of womanly happiness. I tell you, she has been playing with angels, all daintily plumped out, eyes shining, hands soft and white, her neck all round and new, lips red, and her voice low and ecstatic with the miracle of it all. And ‘Oh, Vina,’ she whispered, ‘I almost die to think I might have refused him! You helped me not to. He loves me, and oh, he’s so wonderful!’… I kissed her in an awed way–and asked about him…. ‘Oh, he’s just a nurseryman–trees, you know, but he lo–we’re so happy!’… Oh, Beth,” Vina finished in a lowered voice, “something eternal, something immortal happens, when a man brings love to a thirsting woman!”

“Not tea, but strong tea,” Beth observed. “Perhaps you think that’s a pretty story–and perhaps it is,” she added indefinitely.

Vina seemed hardly to hear. Many matters were revolving in her tired mind, and as soon as she caught a loose end, she allowed words to come, for there was some relief in thinking aloud.

“Hasn’t the world done for us perfectly, Beth?” she demanded finally. “Everything is arranged for men, to suit men–it’s a man’s world–and we’re foreigners. We’re forced to stand around and _mind_, before we understand. If we speak our own language, we’re suspected of sedition. And then we don’t stand together. We’re continually looking for some kind male native, and only now and then one of us is lucky…. Hideous and false old shames are inflicted upon us. We are hungry for many things, but appear shameless, if we say so… Beth, has it ever occurred to you that we come–I mean fair and normal women–we come from a country where there are lots of little children–?”

“The kingdom of heaven, you mean, Vina?”

“Possibly that’s it. And when we get here we miss them–want them terribly. It’s all _through_ us–like an abstraction. We know the way better than the natives here, but they have laws which make us dependent upon them for the way…. It has not lifted to an abstraction with our teachers, Beth. A crude concrete thing to them, a matter of rules broken or not. We must submit, or remain lonely, reviled foreigners…. Sometimes we discover a native who _could_ bring us back our own, but he’s probably teaching the nearest….”

“We’ve got to stand together, we foreigners,” Beth said laughingly. “All our different castes must stand together first–and keep the natives waiting–until in their very eagerness, they suddenly perceive that we know best—-“

“It’s not for us–that happy time,” Vina added hopelessly. “We are the sit-tight, hold-fast pilgrims. We belong to the clay-and-paint age—-“

“It’s something to see that—-“

“Oh, how truly _he_ sees it!”

“Your Sailor-man, does he see that, too?”

“Has he been _seeing_ other things–in your studio?” Vina asked hastily.

“Oh, no, he hasn’t been here, but he has been telling David Cairns things about writing…. David has really been born again.”

“Do you know, Beth,” Vina declared with intensity, “he has been such an inspiration to me, that I’m afraid my ‘Stations’ will look like a repaired wall, half new and half old plaster.”

“My work will stand an inspiration, too.”

“Beth—-“

“Yes.”

“You know what I think of your work, but I believe the Sailor-man could give you that inspiration—-“

“Perhaps I can get it through you and David Cairns,” remarked Beth, who was beginning to see, and with no little amazement, that to Vina the inspiration was spiritual, impersonal. This made Bedient’s influence all the more exciting.

“Oh, he’ll come to you, right enough. I supposed he had…. You know I was making my James and Matthews, my Peters and Jews and Romans quite contentedly in that bleak way it has been done a thousand times. But he made me see them! And the slopes of Calvary, and Gethsemane hunched in the darkness, and the Christ kneeling in a faint starry light; he made me see Him kneeling there, His Spirit, like a great mother’s loving heart, standing between an angry Father and the world, a wilful child—-“

“Yes,” came softly from Beth.

“And it’s almost too much for me now–the Passion, the Agony, the Crime and the Night–too much for me and clay. It would be, if it were not for the glowing Marys. They’re for _us_, Beth—-“

“That’s sweet of you, Vina…. It won’t be too much. You’re in the reaction now. After that passes you will do the ‘Stations’ as they have never been done. And God’s poor people will pass before your work for years and years to come; and something, as much as they can bear of the thrilling anguish of this new light of yours, will come to them, as they pray before the Eternal Tragedy.”

“But that isn’t all, Beth!… There’s another; a terrible side. I sort of had myself in hand until he came, sort of felt myself two thousand years old, back among them. But he has made me a pitiful modern again, a woman who has tried and refuses to try longer, to be happy with clay dolls. And Mary McCullom—-“

“Is submerged in tea–past resuscitation…. That modern madness will pass, too, dear. ‘Member how those Italian giants used to have periods of madness while they decorated the everlasting cathedrals? No modern man could come into your studio and break your work for long, Vina. You know we promised each other that none could.” Beth shivered at her memory. Vina had made her forget for a moment.

“But we said in our haste then, that all men were just natives—-“

“Many wise women say so at their leisure—-“

“But Mary McCullom—-“

“Taboo—-“

“Well, then, _he_ made me see there were real men in the world,” Vina declared with slow defiance.

“Oh.”

“You’re sure to misunderstand. Please listen carefully. He is as far _to me_–from being that kind of a real man–as a mere native. Do you understand?… I could worship through him, as through a pure priest—-“

“Vina, you’re a passionate idealist!”

“You don’t know him. I think he is beyond sex–or going beyond. Perhaps he doesn’t know it…. Oh, we’ve been hurt a little, by boys who failed to grow into men, and so we took to our breasts painted and molded images, saying there _are_ no real men. And here in our midst comes more than we ask or dream–a Prophet in the making. That’s very clear to me, and you’ll see it!… The result–a clearer vision into clay and its possibilities, and an expanded conception of my subjects–that’s one point and a wonderful one. I’m grateful, but there’s another…. Oh, Beth, I’m sick unto nausea with repression. Why, should I deny it; I want a real lover among men, and I want live dolls!”

A trenchant moment to Beth Truba. No one, so well as she, could perceive the tragedy of this gifted woman, whom the right man had missed in the crush of the world’s women. A real artist, but a greater woman…. More than this was revealed to Beth. Her own Shadowy Sister was speaking to her with Vina Nettleton’s tongue, as Beth Truba could never speak of another…

The Grey One, too, had her tragedy; and Kate Wilkes had hers long ago, a strong woman, whose cup of bitterness had overflowed in her veins; who had come so to despise men, as to profess disliking children. Indeed, that moment, Beth Truba seemed to hear the whispered affirmations of tragedy from evolved women everywhere….And whither was tending the race, if only the Wordlings of the world were to be satisfied–if Wordlings were all that men cared for? What was to become of the race, if the few women who loved art, and through art learned really to love their kind, were forever to be denied? And here was Vina Nettleton with the spiritual power to concentrate her dream into an avatar (if into the midst of her solitary labors, a great man’s love should suddenly come)!… Did the Destiny Master fall asleep for a century at a time, that such a genius for motherhood should be denied, while the earth was being replenished with children of chance, branded with commonness and forever afraid?

Beth Truba shook herself from this crippling rush of thoughts, and started to her feet.

“Vina, you’ve been drinking deep of power. You’re a giantess reeking with mad contagions. Also, you’re a heretic. Allow me to remind you that we are spinsters; born and enforced, and decently-to-be-buried _spinsters_. It isn’t the Sailor-man, but the spring of the year, that makes us a bit feverish. We should go to the catacombs for this season, when this devil’s rousing is in the air…. If you have anything further to say, purely in regard to artistic inspirations, you may go on—-“

Vina sat rigidly before her, wan and white-lipped as if her emotions were burned out. Presently she began to talk again in her trailing pensive way:

“I had been working deep and doggedly for days, hardly noticing who came in or out. When the Grey One entered with him, I felt myself bobbing, whirling up into light surface water. I hardly spoke the first half hour. I remembered the night before, when he told that fine story straight into your eyes. I thought him wonderful then, and it occurred to me that you were in for it. But it was different when he came into my shop–something intimate and important. His eyes roved from one ‘Station’ to another, while the Grey One exploited me in her absurd, selfless fashion. She’s a third in our trouble Beth.

“Presently he asked me how I knew the Christ had such wonderful hands; then he talked of the Forerunner and Saint Paul, who could have done so much, had they been there during the Passion, and of the women who _were_ there. It was strange to have him come into the studio–to me–with all these pictures developed through silent years. It seems to me something tremendous must come of it… Someone knocked, and frenziedly I ordered the intruder away, without opening the door.”

And now Vina repeated the belief of Bedient that impressed her so deeply: that the Holy Spirit is the source of the divine principle in woman; that the Marys of this world are the symbols of that Mystic Motherhood–the third of the Trinity–which will bring the races of the world to God, as a woman brings children to her husband.

“Everything he said glowed with this message,” she went on. “His every thought brought out that women are the holders of the spiritual loaf; that prophets are the sons of strength of great spiritual mothers; that artists and poets are prophets in the making, and that unto the purest and greatest of the prophets must come at last Godhood–the Three in One; and of this Jesus is the Exemplar; His life and death and rising, His whole Mission, should make us see with _human_ eyes, the Way of Truth.”

“I see, dear girl,” Beth said softly, “_why_ you could not open the door to anyone… Then the, Mission of Jesus was vicarious? I had about given up hope of comprehending that.”

“Yes. He lived and moved and bled and died and rose before the eyes of common men!” Vina exclaimed. “One has to _bleed_ for such eyes! Without the living sacrifice, only the rare souls here and there, with the highest prophetic vision, could have risen clearly to understand these things…. Thus the growth of spirituality was quickened among the lowly multitudes. The coming of the Christ is the loveliest manifestation of the divine feminine principle within Him–the Holy Spirit. Did he not become a Spiritual Mother of the world? Was not Godhood the next step for such a finished Spirit? His awful agony was that these tremendous mysteries of His illumination were enacted in the hideous low pressures of human understanding. That he could endure this for the world’s eye, is his greatness, his Godhood!”

“And Mr. Bedient comes out of India with this Christian conception?”

“Beth,” Vina said solemnly, “I believe there is meaning in that, too. The beauty and simplicity of that Sacrifice has been husked in dogmas for centuries, and we here have not torn them all away. He had just the Book and the Silence, and his own rare mind!”

* * * * *

“But, Vina, how could these things of pure religious fervor and beauty bring about that other rebellion of yours–the Mary McCullom one?”

“Oh, in a hundred ways; I’m all tired out now, but they’ll come back. In a hundred ways, Beth, he spoke of women–with that same fervor and beauty. Just as he cleared and made exalted the Mystic Motherhood of the Christ, he pointed out how it works among _us_. Why, he says that there is nothing worth reading nor regarding nor listening to in the world of art, that has not that visioning feminine quality. The artist must be evolving through spirit, before his book or painting or symphony begins to live. All the rest of art is a mere squabbling over the letter of past prophecies, as the Jews did with the living Christ in their streets!… What a mother he must have had! I seemed to see her–to sense her–beside him. It was as if _she_ looked into my heart and the Grey One’s heart, and with her hand on her big boy’s head, said to us, smiling and happily: ‘This is _my_ art–and he lives! You have but to look into your own hearts, you listening women, to know that he lives!’… Oh, Beth, her work does live to bless her! Can’t you see how dead-cold the clay felt to my fingers after that?”

“Did he speak of his mother?”

“No.”

Beth arose. “Vina,” she said, “we are absolutely detached from the centres of sanity. We shall now walk Broadway, not the Avenue, but Broadway, to get back to markets and mere men. You’re too powerful for this poor little room—-“

“You always talk and laugh, Beth, but you’re confronted and you know it. Confronted–that’s the thing! Woman or artist–there’s no word so naked and empty to me as just _artist_—-“

“Only _spinster_,” Beth suggested, shivering.

Vina stretched out her frail arms wearily, and her eyes suddenly fastened upon a fresh heather-plant on the corner of the writing-table. “Oh, please, drop a veil over that little bush,” she pleaded. “It’s arrayed like a bride—-“

“A bridal veil, dear?”

“‘No, no, a shawl, a rug!”

* * * * *

Beth returned alone at dusk. In some ways the afternoon was memorable. It was hard for her to keep her doubts about Bedient. Most of all that impressed her was Vina’s sense of the mother’s nearness to the man. She had thought of that at once, as she listened to his story. And he had not told Vina nor the Grey One about his mother… She sat down at her table and drew forth the opened but unread letter from Albany.

“Woman or artist,” she whispered bitterly, “as if one could not be both!…It is only because a woman-and-artist requires a man who can love artistically. Few men can do that–and anything else beside…. Can you, Sailor-man?… Not if you explain to me why I found you at Wordling’s…. Perhaps I can forgive you, after all the lovely things you’ve said. Anyway I shall tell no one….”

“Dear Miss Truba: I want to have a portrait painted of myself. I’m convinced that you can do it very well. Will you undertake the work? I shall be back in New York shortly after this letter reaches you Monday, and will wait at the Club until I hear from you. Yours, Andrew Bedient.”

There was an instant in which she was conscious of something militant, something of the quiet power of the man who does not go home empty-handed. In his leaving the city Saturday, she perceived one who wishes to avoid the appearance of evil, and is content to leave his movements unexplained, trusting to another’s perception.

“Vina is right,” she said slowly. “‘Confronted’ is the word.”

FIFTEENTH CHAPTER

THE STORY OF THE MOTHER

Andrew Bedient had entered the company of lovers…. There have been great lovers who were not otherwise great men, but never a great man who was not a great lover…. On the night he had first seen Beth Truba across the table, deep within there had been a swift ignition of altar-flames that would never cease to burn. Often in his reading and thinking, in pictures he had seen, and in his limited adventures into music; wherever, in fact, man had done well in the arts, the vision of some great woman was behind the work for his eyes; famous and lovely women long-dead, whose kisses are imperishable in tone or pigment or tale; women who called to themselves for a little space the big-souled men of their time, and sent them away illustrious. And these men forever afterward brought their art to witness that such women are the way to the Way of Life.

Bedient had rejoiced to discover the two women in every great man’s life: the woman who visioned his greatness in the mothering; and the woman who saw it potentially afterward–and ignited it. How often the latter loosed a landslide of love at the ignition, and how seldom she stepped aside to let it pass!

All this thinking for years upon the beauty and fineness of women was focussed now…. The depth of his humility, and the vastness of his appreciation were the essential beginnings of the love of this hour, just as they would be, if he were ready to perform some great creative expression in art. The boyhood of a genius is a wild turning from one passionate adoration to another among the masters of his art; often his gift of appreciation is a generation ahead of his capacity to produce. And love is the genius of mothering, the greatest of all the arts. The love that a man inspires in a woman’s heart is _her_ expression of the Holy Spirit. According to the degree and beauty of that love, does the woman’s child lift its head above the brute; according to the greater or lesser expression of this Mystic Motherhood in the world, at a certain hour, must be determined the morality of the race.

A fortnight in New York had terrorized Bedient. He perceived that men had not humility, nor passionate appreciation for anything; that they were dazed with their own or other men’s accumulations; that they destroyed every dream of woman, drove the kingdom of heaven from her heart, with their comings and their goings and their commonness. He came to believe that this was an age of impossible men, impossible lovers, artists, and critics, because they had not the delicacy and wisdom to accept the finer forces, which women bring into the world for men.

Indeed, he saw that this was woman’s gray hour of restless hoping, pitiful dreaming and untellable pain; that out of these must come the new generation. Then it appeared to him with splendid cheer, that woman had not fallen to these modern miseries, but _risen_ to them, from a millenium of serfdom, untimely outraging, hideous momentary loving, brute mastery, ownership and drudgery…. These of to-day were finer sufferings; this an age of transition in which she was passing through valleys of terrible shadow, but having preserved her natural greatness through the milleniums, she could not fail now with her poor gleanings of real love to give the world a generation of finer-grained men.

Women, then, he thought, have a natural greatness which man cannot destroy. If men were able to destroy it, the sources of the saving principle of the race would be shut off. But marvellously can man _inspire_ this natural greatness, make it immense and world-swaying by bringing out the best of women, and yet how few have this chivalry! Here was the anguish, the failure. With his mind filled with these illimitable possibilities, Bedient was overcome with his insight of New York, the awfulness of ignorance and cruelty in the ordinary relations of man with woman.

Bedient firmly believed that if women were granted (a heavenly dispensation, it would have to be) a decade of happiness beginning now, a decade of lovers of their own choosing, men of delicacy and wisdom, that thirty years from now there would be that poise and sweetness in the world that dreamers descry in far future ages. And here and there would be a beyond-man, indeed; and here and there cosmic, instead of mere self-consciousness.

He believed that the greatest miracle for the unsealed eye in this day, was that woman had emerged from a degraded past with this powerful present vitality; the capacity to hope and dream and suffer and be aroused; that she had the fervor and power of visioning _left_ to be aroused! Surely this was the Third of the Trinity sustaining her…. Bedient began to study with sympathy and regard those groups of women, willing to sacrifice the best of their natures and descend into man’s spheres of action, there to wring from man on his own ground the privileges so doggedly withheld. He saw that their sacrifice was heroic; that their cause was “in the air”; that this was but one startling manifestation of a great feminist seething over the world; and yet every brightness of evolution depended, as he saw it, upon woman being herself, retaining first of all those stores of beauty and spirit which are designed to be her gifts to manhood and the race. In the eyes of the future, he believed, these women would stand as the inspired pioneers of a rending transition period.

The note that came from Beth Truba, saying that she would see him about the portrait at two on Tuesday, Bedient regarded as one of the happiest things that ever befell. It was delivered at the Club by messenger that Monday night. Very well he knew, that she gracefully might have declined, and would have, had she not been able to look above a certain misleading event.

There were moments in which he seemed always to have known Beth Truba. Had he come back after long world-straying?

There was a painting of Bernhardt in an upper gallery at the Club, that he had regarded with no little emotion during past days. The face of the greatest actress, so intensely feminine, in strangely effective profile between a white feathery collar and a white fur hat, had made him think of Beth Truba in a score of subtle ways. They told him that the painting had been done by a young Italian, who had shown the good taste to worship the creator of _La Samaritaine_…. Bedient wished he could paint the russet-gold hair and the lustrous pallor of ivory which shone from Beth’s skin, and put upon the canvas at the last, what had been a revelation to him, and which had carried credentials to the Bedient throne, to the very crown-cabinet of his empire, the fine and enduring spirit in her brilliant eyes.

They met in the studio on the business basis. It was a gray day, one of those soft, misty, growing days. She was a trifle taller than he had thought. Something of the world-habit was about her, or world-wear, a professionalism that work had taught her, and a bit of humor now and then. The studio was filled with pictures, many studies of her own, bits of Paris and Florence, many flowers and heads. There was one door which opened into a little white room. The door was only partly open, and it was shut altogether presently. Bedient had only looked _within_ it once, but reverently. Besides, there was a screen which covered an arcanum, from which tea and cakes and sandwiches came on occasion. An upright piano, some shelves of books, an old-fashioned mantle and fire-place; and the rest–pictures and yellow-brown hangings and lounges. He wondered if anyone ever saw Beth’s pictures so deeply as he…. She was in her blouse. The gray light subdued the richness of her hair, but made her pallor more luminous. She was very swift and still in her own house.

A chair was placed for him, and Beth went back to her stool under the light. Occasionally she asked him to look at certain pictures in her room, studying him as he turned. She told him of adorable springtimes in Florence; how once she had asked a beautiful Italian peasant boy to help her with an easel, and some other matters, up a long flight of marble steps, and he had answered, with drowsy gentleness, “Please ask another boy, Signorina. I have dined to-day.”… And Bedient watched, when her head was bowed over the board upon her knee. Her hair, so wonderful now in the shadows, made amazing promises for sunlit days. Uncommon energy was in his heart, and a buoyant activity of mind that formed, one after another, ideals for her happiness.

“Yesterday at this time,” she said finally, “Vina Nettleton was here. She spoke of your great help in her work—-“

“Her studio was thrilling to me…. Altogether, getting back to New York has been my greatest experience.”

“You have been away very long?”

“So long that I don’t remember leaving, nor anything about it, except the boats and whistles, the elevated railways and the Park, and certain strains of music. I remember seeing the animals, and the hall of that house—-“

“Where the light frightened you?”

“Yes. And I remember the bees…. I have ridden through and about the Park several times, but I can’t seem to get anything back. I felt like asking questions, as I did long ago, of my mother.”

Beth wanted to tell him that she would ride with him sometime and answer questions, but he seemed very near the deep places, and she dared not urge nor interrupt.

“It was very clear to me then, that we needed each other,” he added. “A child knows that. She must have answered all the questions in the world, for I was always satisfied. I wonder that she had time to think about her own things…. Isn’t it remarkable, and I don’t remember anything she said?”

Bedient seemed to be thinking aloud, as if this were the right place to talk of these things. They had been in the foreground of his mind continually, but never uttered before.

“It was always above words–our relation,” he went on presently. “Though we must have talked and talked–it is not the words I remember–but realizations of truth which came to me afterward, from them. What a place for a little boy’s hand to be!…

“I remember the long voyage, and she was always near. There were many strange things–far too strange to remember; and then, the sick room. She was a long time there. I could not be with her as much as I wanted. It was very miserable all around, though it seems the people were not unkind. They must have been very poor. And then, one night I knew that my mother was going to die. I could not move, when this came to me. I tried not to breathe, tried to die too; and some one came in and shook me, and it was all red about my eyes.

“They took me to her, but I couldn’t tell what I knew, though she saw it. And this I remember, though it was in the dark. The others were sent away, and she made a place for me on her arm, and she laughed, and whispered and whispered. Why, she made me over that night on her arm!

“She must have whispered it a thousand times–so it left a lasting impression. Though I could not always see her, _she would always be near_! That remains from the night, though none of the words ever came back. I never lost that, and it was true…. Do you see how great she was to laugh that night?… And how she had to struggle to leave that message on such a little boy’s mind?… More wonderful and wonderful it becomes, as I grow older. She was dying, and we had been such dependent lovers. She was not leaving me, as it _had_ been with us, nor in any way as she liked….

“She must have grappled with all the forces that drive the world that night!… First, I was happy on her arm–and then, through the long hours, and mysteriously, she implanted her message…. And see what came of it–see her strength! The actual parting was not so terrible–she had builded a fortress around me against that–not so terrible as the hours before, when I tried not to breathe.”

Beth did not raise her eyes as he paused. She could not speak. The little boy had come home to her mind–like a wraith-child of her own. She was shaken with a passion of pity.

“It seems it was meant for me to stay in that house, but I couldn’t,” Bedient went on. “They probably bothered a great deal after I stole away, and tried to find me. But they didn’t…. And I went down where there were ships. I think the ships fascinated me, because _we_ had come on one. I slipped aboard, and fell asleep below. The sailors found me after we had cleared. They were very good, and called me ‘Handy.’… I think my mother must have taught me my letters, for when an old sailor, with rings in his ears, pointed out to me the name of the ship on the jolly-boat, the letters came back to me. I was soon reading the Bible. That was the book I cut my teeth on, as they say…. And one time, as we were leaving port, I thought I had better have a name. One of the men had asked me, you see, and I was only able to say, ‘Handy.’ And just then, we passed an old low schooner. She had three masts; her planking was gray and weathered, and her seams gaped. On her stern, I saw in faded sprawly letters, that had been black:

“ANDREW BEDIENT

“Of–somewhere, I couldn’t make out. So I took that for my name. It fitted ‘Handy’ and the little boy’s idea of bigness and actuality, because I had seen it in print…. I never saw the old schooner again. I don’t know the port in which she lay at the time; nor the port where my mother died. You see, I was very little…. Everyone was good to me. And it is true that my mother was near…. There were places and times that must have put dull care into her eyes, but she was the true sentry. I only _knew_ when I was asleep.”

It was beautiful to Beth, the way he spoke. His heart seemed to say, “God love her!” with every sentence.

Her lips breathed the words, her eyes had long questioned:

“And your father?”

The room suddenly filled with her fateful words.

“My father?” he repeated. “He was never with my mother. I did not understand until long afterward, but she meant me to understand–that she was not married. She impressed it upon my consciousness _for_ me to understand–when I was older.”

Beth could have knelt in her humility that moment.

“Please forgive me for asking,” she faltered.

“It was right. I intended to tell you.”

Some strange, sustaining atmosphere came from him. His words lifted her. Beth saw upon his brow and face the poise and fineness of a love-child…. With all the mother’s giving there had been no name for him; and he had told her with all the ease and grace of one who knows in his heart–a mother’s purity of soul…. It was hard for Beth to realize, with Bedient sitting there, that the world makes tragic secrets of these things he had told her; that lives of lesser men have been ruined with the fear of such discoveries…. Nothing of so intense and intimate appeal had ever come to her studio, as the heroism of this mother, impressing upon her tortured and desperate child, that though taken from him, she would be near always…. The sensitive Vina had seemed to see the mother _near_ him, her hand upon his head, saying with a laugh, “This is my Art–and he _lives_!”

Beth spoke at last: “You honor me, Mr. Bedient, in telling me these deep things.”

“This seemed the place,” he said, leaning forward. “It’s extraordinary when I recall I have only been here an hour or so. It would seem absurd to some women, but the story knew where it belonged…. In fact, it is hard for me to remember that this is our first talk alone…. Perhaps you should know, that I’ve never spoken of my mother to anyone else…. I never could find the port where she died.”

They learned that they could be silent together…. Beth knew that she would have extended conference with the Shadowy Sister when alone. Big things were enacting in the depths. There was another thing that Vina had said regarding the appeal of Bedient personally to her, which required much understanding…. Beth had found herself thinking (in Bedient’s presence) that she might have been hasty and imperious in sending the Other away. She had been rather proud of her iron courage up to this hour. Of course, it was ridiculous that Bedient should recall the Other, and after months suggest her unreasonableness; yet these things recurred…. Moreover, a moment after Bedient’s entering, there had been no embarrassment between them. Not only had they dared be silent, but they had not tried each other out tentatively by talking about people they knew. Then he had said it was hard for him to remember this was their first talk together alone. Beth realized that here was a subject who would not bore her before his portrait was finished.

“Does David Cairns know Miss Nettleton very well?” Bedient asked, as he was leaving.

She smiled at the question, and was about to reply that they had been right good friends for years, when it occurred that he might have a deeper meaning.

Bedient resumed while she was thinking: “I know that he admires her work and intelligence, but he never spoke to me of any further discoveries. Perhaps he wouldn’t…. He’s a singularly fine chap, finer than I knew…. I noticed a short essay in your stand that contains a sentence I cannot forget. It was about a rare man who ‘stooped and picked up a fair-coined soul that lay rusting in a pool of tears.'”

“Browning,” she said excitedly.

“Yes…. Good-by and thank you…. To-morrow?”

“Yes.”

* * * * *

He left her in the whirl of this new conception. She was taking dinner with David Cairns that night. David, she felt, had arranged this for further urging in the matter of her seeing his friend. And now she smiled at the surprise in store for him; then for a long time, until the yellows and browns were thickly shadowed about her, Beth sat very still, thinking about the Vina Nettleton of yesterday, and the altered and humble David Cairns of the past fortnight…. In the single saying of Bedient’s, that he had found Cairns finer than he knew, there was a remarkable, winsome quality for her perception. Bedient had started the revolution which was clearing the inner atmospheres of his friend; and yet, he refused any part.

David took her for dinner to a club far down-town–a dining-room on the twentieth floor, overlooking the rivers and the bay, the shipping and the far shores pointed off with lights…. They waited by a window in the main hall for a moment while a smaller room was being arranged. Forty or more business men were banqueting in a glare of light and glass and red roses–a commercial dinner with speeches. The talk had to do with earnings, per cents, leakages, markets and such matters. The lower lid of many an eye was updrawn in calculation.

Beth shivered, for she saw avarice, cunning, bluff, campaigning with humor and natural forces. “The starry night and the majestic rivers might just as well be plaster-walls,” she whispered. “What terrible occupations are these to make our brothers so dull, bald and stodgy-looking?”

“It’s their art,” said Cairns. “They start in merrily enough, but it’s a fight out in the centre of the current. You see them all of one genial dining-countenance, yet this day they fought each other in the streets below, and to-morrow again…. It’s not only the sweep of the current, but each other, they have to fight…. Oh, it’s very easy for an artist to look and feel superior, Beth, but we know very well how much is sordid routine in our own decenter games–and suppose we had been called to money-making instead. It would catch us young, and we’d either harden or fail.”

… They were taken to a place of stillness and the night-view was restoring…. Though Cairns had just left Bedient, he had not been told about the portrait nor the first sitting. Beth wondered if Bedient foresaw that she would appreciate this. She was getting so that she could believe anything of the Wanderer. For a long time they talked about him…. Cairns already was emerging from the miseries of reaction; new ways of work had opened; he was fired with fresh growth and delights of service. Beth was charmed with him…. At last she said:

“Nor has Mr. Bedient missed those rare and subtle things which make Vina Nettleton the most important woman of my acquaintance.”

The sentence was a studied challenge.

“You mean in her work?” he said, under the first spur.

“Did I say _artist_? I meant woman–‘most important woman’—-“

“That’s what you said.”

“Yes, I thought so—-” Beth shaded the interior light from her eyes to regard the night through the open window. “It was misty gray all day, and yet it is clear now as a summer night.”

“And so Bedient sees more than a remarkable artist in Vina?” Cairns mused.

“That much is for the world to see…. Why, those dollar-eating gentlemen in the big room could see that, if they interested themselves in her kind of work. But they are not trained to know real women. Their work keeps them from knowing such things. When they marry a real woman, it’s an accident, largely. A diadem of paste would have caught their eyes quite as quickly. Sometimes I think they prefer paste jewels…. Only here and there a man of deep discernment reads the truth–and is held by it. What a fortune is that discernment! A woman may well tremble before that kind of vision, for it is her own, empowered with a man’s understanding—-“

“Why, Beth, that’s Bedient’s mind exactly!” Cairns exclaimed. “A woman’s vision of the finest sort, empowered with a man’s understanding—-“

“Of the finest sort,” Beth finished laughingly. “By the way, that’s a good definition of a prophet, isn’t it?”

“It does work out,” he said, thinking hard.

Beth observed with interest at this point, that Bedient had confined his discussion of the visioning feminine principle to Vina. There were several approaches to his elevation.

“How glorious it is to see things, David!” she exclaimed happily. “Even to see things after they are pointed out. And you–I’m really so glad about you! You’re coming along so finely, and putting away boyish things.”

She reached across the table and dropped her hand upon his sleeve.

“It’s so tonic and bracing to watch one’s friend burst into bloom!… I needed the stimulus, too. You are helping me.”

It was Cairns’ turn to shade his eyes for a clearer view of the night.

SIXTEENTH CHAPTER

“THROUGH DESIRE FOR HER”

David Cairns left Beth at her elevator, and walked down the Avenue toward Gramercy. It was still an hour from midnight. As he had hoped, Bedient was at the Club. The library was deserted, and they sat down in the big chairs by the open window. The only lights in the large room were those on the reading table. The quiet was actually interesting for down-town New York.

“I’ve been out hunting up music,” Bedient said. “There is a place called the _Columbine_ where you eat and drink; and a little Hungarian violinist there with his daughter–surely they can’t know how great they are! He played the _Kreutzer Sonata_, the daughter accompanying as if it were all in the piano, and she just let it out for fun, and then they played it again for me–“

Cairns laughed at his joy. Bedient suddenly leaned forward and regarded him intently through the vague light. “David,” he said, “you’re looking fit and happy, and I’m very glad to see you.” This was a way of Bedient’s at unexpected moments…. “Do you know, it’s a marvellous life you live,” he went on, “looking inward upon the great universe of ideas constantly, balancing thought against thought, seeking the best vehicle, and weighing the effects–for or against the Ultimate Good—-“

“It appears that you had to come up here–to show me—-“

“It’s good of you to say so, David, but you had to be Cairns and not New York! A woman would have shown you—-“

Cairns had met before, in various ways, Bedient’s unwillingness to identify himself with results of his own bringing about. Beth had long realized his immaturity, yet she had not spoken. Cairns saw this now.

“A woman would have shown me—-?” he repeated.

“That the way to heaven is always against the crowd,” Bedient finished…. “A few days after I came to New York, you joined me at the Club. You said you couldn’t work; that you found your mind stealing away from the pages before you. I knew you were getting closer to real work then. David, when you find yourself stealing mentally away to follow some pale vision or shade of remembrance, don’t jerk up, thinking you must get back to work. Why, you’re nearer real work in following the phantoms than mere gray matter ever will unfold for you. Creating is a process of the depths; the brain is but the surface of the instrument that produces. How wearisome music would be, if we knew only the major key! How terrible would be sunlight, if there were no night! Out of darkness and the deep minor keys of the soul come those utterances vast and flexible enough to contain reality.”

“Why don’t you write, Andrew?” Cairns asked.

“New York has brought one thought to my mind with such intensity, that all others seem to have dropped back into the melting-pot,” Bedient answered.

“And that one?”

“The needs of women.”

“I have heard your tributes to women—-“

“I have uttered no tributes to women, David!” Bedient said, with uncommon zeal. “Women want no tributes; they want truth…. The man who can restore to woman those beauties of consciousness which belong to her–which men have made her forget–just a knowledge of her incomparable importance to the race, to the world, to the kingdom of heaven–and help woman to make men see it; in a word, David, the man who can make men see what women are, will perform in this rousing hour of the world–the greatest good of his time!”

“Go on, it is for me to listen!”

“You can break the statement up into a thousand signs and reasons,” said Bedient. “We hear such wonderful things about America in Asia–in India. Waiting for a ship in Calcutta, I saw a picture-show for the first time. It ran for a half hour, showing the sufferings of a poor Hindu buffeted around the world–a long, dreary portion of starvation, imprisonment and pain. The dramatic climax lifted me from the chair. It was his heaven and happiness. His stormy passage was ended. I saw him standing in the rain among the steerage passengers of an Atlantic steamer–and suddenly through the gray rushing clouds, appeared the Goddess of Liberty. He had come home at last–to a port of freedom and peace and equality—-“

“God have mercy on him,” murmured Cairns.

“Yes,” said Bedient, “a poor little shaking picture show, and I wept like a boy in the dark. It was my New York, too…. But we shall be that–all that the world in its distress and darkness thinks of us, we must be. You know a man is at his best with those who think highly of him. The great world-good must come out of America, for its bones still bend, its sutures are not closed…. You and I spent our early years afield with troops and wars, before we were adult enough to perceive the bigger conflict–the sex conflict. This is on, David. It must clear the atmosphere before men and women realize that their interests are _one_; that neither can rise by holding down the other; that the present relations of men and women, broadly speaking, are false to themselves, to each other, and crippling to the morality and vitality of the race.

“You have seen it, for it is about you. The heart of woman to-day is kept in a half-starved state. That’s why so many women run to cultists and false prophets and devourers, who preach a heaven of the senses. In another way, the race is sustaining a tragic loss. Look at the young women from the wisest homes–the finest flower of young womanhood–our fairest chance for sons of strength. How few of them marry! I tell you, David, they are afraid. They prefer to accept the bitter alternative of spinsterhood, rather than the degrading sense of being less a partner than a property. They see that men are not grown, except physically. They suffer, unmated, and the tragedy lies in the leakage of genius from the race.”

Cairns’ mind moved swiftly from one to another of the five women he had called together to meet his friend.

“David,” Bedient added after a moment, “the man who does the great good, must do it _through_ women, for women are listening to-day! Men are down in the clatter–examining, analyzing, bartering. The man with a message must drive it home through women! If it is a true message, they will _feel_ it. Women do not analyze, they realize. When women realize their incomparable importance, that they are identified with everything lovely and of good report under the sun, they will not throw themselves and their gifts away. First, they will stand together–a hard thing for women, whose great love pours out so eagerly to man–stand together and demand of men, Manliness. Women will learn to withhold themselves where manliness is not, as the flower of young womanhood is doing to-day…. I tell you, David, woman can make of man anything she wills–by withholding herself from him…. _Through his desire for her_!… This is her Power. This is all in man that electricity is in Nature–a measureless, colossal force. Mastering that (and to woman alone is the mastery), she can light the world. Giving away to it ignorantly, she destroys herself.”

… So much was but a beginning. Their talk that night was all that the old Luzon nights had promised, which was a great deal, indeed…. It was not until Cairns was walking home, that he recalled his first idea in looking in upon Bedient that night–a sort of hope that his friend would talk about Vina Nettleton in the way Beth had suggested. “How absurd,” he thought, “that is exactly the sort of thing he would leave for me to find out!”

SEVENTEENTH CHAPTER

THE PLAN OF THE BUILDER

New York had brought Andrew Bedient rather marvellously into his own. He awoke each morning with a ruling thought. He lived in a state of continual transport; he saw all that was savage in his race, and missed little that was beautiful. Work was forming within him; he felt all the inspiritings, all the strange pressures of his long preparation. He realized that his thirty-three years had been full years; that all the main exteriors of man’s life had passed before him in swift review, as a human babe in embryo takes on from time to time the forms of the great stations of evolution. He had passed without temptation from one to another of the vast traps which catch the multitude; nor tarried at a single one of the poisoned oasis of sense. Mother Earth had taken him to her breast; India had lulled his body and awakened his spirit; he had gone up to his Sinai there.

He looked back upon the several crises in which he might have faltered, and truly it seemed to him that he had been guided through these, by some wiser spirit, by something of larger vision, at least, than his own intelligence. Humility and thankfulness became resurgent at the memory of these times. Books of beauty and wisdom had come to his hand, it seemed, at the certain particular instants when he was ready. Exactly as he had been spared the terrible temptations of flesh in his boyhood years, so had he preserved a humble spirit in his intellectual attainments. It was not he, but the poise that had been given him, through which he was enabled to cry out in gratitude this hour; for the soul of man meets a deadlier dragon in intellectual arrogance than in the foulest pits of flesh. The Destiny Master can smile in pity at a poor brain, brutalized through bodily lusts, but white with anger is the countenance that regards a spirit, maimed and sick from being yoked together with a proud mind. Angels burst into singing when that spirit is free.

His health was a perfect thing; of that kind that men dream of, and boys know, but do not stop to feel. He could smell the freshness of pure water in his bath or when he drank; there was delight in the taste of common foods; at night in his high room, higher still than the studio of Vina Nettleton, there were moments when the land-wind seemed to bring delicacies from the spring meadows of Jersey; or blowing from the sea, he sensed the great sterile open. He was tireless, and could discern the finest prints and weaves at bad angles of light.

He moved often along the water-fronts and through abandoned districts; a curious sense of unreality often came over him in these night rambles, as if he were tranced among the perversions of astral light. He gave a great deal, but saw that if he gave his life nightly, even that would not avail. His money was easily passed into another hand; that would not do–little vessels of oil overturned upon an Atlantic of storm. These were but tentative givings; they denied him nothing. Bedient saw that he must give more than this, and waited for the way…. The most poignant and heart-wringing experience for him in New York was suddenly to find himself in the midst of the harried human herd, when it was trying to play. One can best read a city’s tragedy at its pleasure-places.

…Beth Truba was his great ignition. His love for her overflowed upon all things…. The hour or more in her studio became the feature of his day. Bedient was not shown the work on the portrait. Beth didn’t altogether like the way it progressed. Sometimes, she talked as she worked (sitting low beneath the skylight, so that every change of light was in her hair, while the spring matured outside). Deep realities were often uttered thus, sentences which bore the signet of her strong understanding, for they passed through the stimulated faculties of the artist, engrossed in her particular expression. Thus the same intelligence which colored her work, distinguished her sayings…. Bedient daily astonished her. Again and again, she perceived that he had come to New York, full of power from his silences apart. She wanted him to preserve his freshness of vision. His quiet expressions thrilled her.

“The women I know, married or unmarried, are nearly all unhappy,” she said, one day. “My younger friends, even among girls, are afraid. They see that men are blinded by things they can taste and see and touch–speed, noise and show. The married women are restless and terrified by spiritual loneliness. The younger women see it and are afraid.”

“‘Had I but two loaves of bread, I should sell one to buy white hyacinths,'” Bedient quoted; “I like to think of that line of Mahomet’s…. Women are ready for white hyacinths–the bread of life…. But this spiritual loneliness is a wonderful sign. The spirit floods in where it can–where it is sought after–and the children of women who are hungry for spiritual things, are children of dreams. They must be. They may not be happy, but they will feel a stronger yearning to go out alone and find ‘the white presences among the hills.'”

Beth was silent.

“Yearning is religion,” Bedient added. “Hunger of the heart for higher things will bring spiritual expansion. Look at the better-born children to-day. I mean those who do not have _every_ chance against them. I seem to catch a new tone in the murmur of this rousing generation. They have an expanded consciousness. It is the spiritual yearnings of motherhood.”

“But what of the woman who will not take the bowl of porridge that ordinary man gives her?” Beth demanded. “So many women dare not–cannot–and then their dreams, their best, are not reflected in the consciousness of the new race.”

Bedient smiled, and Beth regarded her work intently, for an echo of the confessional had come back to her from her own words.

“That is a matter so intensely individual,” he replied. “We are at the beginning of the woman’s era, and with every transition there are pangs to be suffered by those who are great enough. These great ones are especially prepared to see how terrible is their denial from the highest privileges of woman. And yet they may be spiritual mothers, centres of pure and radiant energy. Every work of genius has been inspired by such a woman. And if, as sometimes happens, a true lover does come, the two are so happy that the temperature of the whole race warms through them.”

“What an optimist!” she said, but when alone, it came to her that he had been less certain than usual in this answer. Perhaps, he had felt her stress upon realizing the personal aspect; perhaps he had too many things to say, and was not ready. It _was_ a matter intensely individual. However, this was the only time he had failed to carry her critical attention.

* * * * *

Bedient saw that the years had locked one door after another about the real heart of Beth Truba. His work was plain–to unlock them one by one. How the task fascinated; he made it his art and his first thought.

“You change so,” she complained laughingly, after there had been several sittings. “I’m afraid I shall paint you very badly because I am trying so hard. You don’t look at all the same as you did at first. Therefore all the first must be destroyed.”

Bedient knew if his work prospered, all that had been before would be redeemed.

One morning–it was one of the first of the May mornings–there was something like heart-break in the room. Up on the skylight, the sparrows were debating whether it would rain or not. There was tension in the air which Bedient tried to ease from every angle. Consummately he set about to restore and reassure, but she seemed to feel her work was faring ill; that life was an evil thing. All the brightness that had suffused her mind from his presence, again and again, had vanished apparently, leaving not the slightest glow behind.

“Don’t bother to work on this to-day,” he said. “I am not in the slightest hurry and you are to do it wonderfully. Please be sure that I know that…. Will you go with me to the Metropolitan galleries to-day?”

Beth smiled, and went on deliberating before the picture. Presently, the tension possessed her again. She looked very white in the North light.

“Did you ever doubt if you were really in the world?” she asked after a moment, but did not wait, nor seem to expect an answer…. “I have,” she added, “and concluded that I only thought I was here–queer sense of unreality that has more than once sent me flying to the telephone after a day’s work alone–to hear my own voice and be answered. But, even if one proves that one is indeed here, one can never get an answer to the eternal–_What for_?… I shall do a story, sometime, and call it _Miss What For_…. A young girl who came into the world with greatness of vitality and enthusiasm, alive as few humans are, and believing in everything and everybody. Before she was fully grown, she realized that she was not sought after so much as certain friends whose fathers had greater possessions. This was terrible. It took long for her to believe that nothing counted so much as money. It made the world a nightmare, but she set to work to become her own heiress…. In this struggle she must at last lose faith. This can be brought about by long years, smashing blows and incredible suffering, but the result must be made complete–to fit the title.”

“But, why do you try to fit such a poor shivering little title?”

She smiled wearily. “I was trying, perhaps, to picture one of your spiritual mothers, centres of pure and radiant energy, in one of the _other_ moments, that the world seldom sees. The power is almost always turned on, when the world is looking.”

She had made him writhe inwardly, as no one else could.

“But there _are_ many such women,” she went on, “victims of your transition period, caught between the new and the old, helpers, perhaps, of the Great Forces at work which will bring better conditions; but oh, so helpless!… They may bring a little cheer to passing souls who quickly forget; they may even inspire genius, as you say, but what of themselves when they, all alone, see that they have no real place in the world, no lasting effect, leaving no image, having no part in the plan of the Builder?”

Bedient arose. Beth saw he was not ready to answer.

“A visit to the galleries is tempting,” she said. “It may give me an idea…. I never had quite such a patron. You are so little curious to see what I have done, that I sometimes wonder why you wanted the portrait, and why you came to me for it…. I wonder if it’s the day or my eyes–it’s so much easier to talk aimlessly than to work—-“

“It’s really gray, and the sparrows have decided upon a shower.”

She regarded him whimsically.

“And you look so well in your raincoat,” he added.

They took the ‘bus up the Avenue…. She pointed out the tremendous vitalities of the Rodin marbles, intimated their visions, and remarked that he should hear Vina Nettleton on this subject.

“She breaks down, becomes livid, at the stupidity of the world, for reviling her idol on his later work, especially the bust of Balzac, which the critics said showed deterioration,” Beth told him, “As if Rodin did not know the mystic Balzac better than the populace.”

“It has always seemed that the mystics of the arts must recognize one another,” Bedient said…. “I do not know Balzac—-“

“You must. Why, even Taine, Sainte Beuve, and Gautier didn’t _know_ him! They glorified his work just so long as it had to do with fleshly Paris, but called him mad in his loftier altitudes where they couldn’t follow.”

It was possibly an hour afterward, when Bedient halted before a certain picture longer than others; then went back to another that had interested him. Moments passed. He seemed to have forgotten all exteriors, but vibrated at intervals from one to another of these–two small silent things–_Le Chant du Berger_ and another. They were designated only by catalogue numbers. Beth, who knew them, would have waited hours…. Presently he spoke, and told her long of their effects, what they meant to him.

“You have not been here before?” she asked.

“No.”

“You don’t know who did those pictures?”

“No.”

“Puvis de Chavannes.”

“The name is but a name to me, but the work–why, they are out of the body entirely! I can feel the great silence!” he explained, and told her of his cliff and _God-mother_, of Gobind, the bees, the moon, the standing pools, the lotos, the stars, the forests, the voices and the dreams…. They stood close together, talking very low, and the visitors brushed past, without hearing.

“If not the greatest painter, Puvis de Chavannes is the greatest mural painter of the nineteenth century,” Beth said. “Rodin, who knew Balzac, also knew Puvis de Chavannes…. ‘_The mystics of the arts know one another_,'” she added. “I saw Rodin’s bust and statue of these men in Paris.”

To Beth, the incident was of inestimable importance in her conception of Bedient…. A Japanese group interested him later–an old vender of sweetmeats in a city street, with children about him–little girls bent forward under the weight of their small brothers. Beth regarded the picture curiously and waited for Bedient to speak.

“It’s very real,” he said. “The little girls are crippled from these weights. The boy babe rides his sister for his first views of the world…. Look at the sweet little girl-faces, haggard from the burden of their fat-cheeked, wet-nosed brothers. A birth is a miss over there–a miss for which the mother suffers–when it is not a boy. The girls of Japan carry their brothers until they begin to carry their sons. You need only look at this picture to know that here is a people messing with uniforms and explosives, a people still hot with the ape and the tiger in their breasts.”

Beth was thinking that America was not yet aeons distant from this Japanese institution, the male incubus of the girl child. She did not speak, for she was thinking of what she had said in the studio–of the edginess of her temper. “Spinsters may scold, but not spiritual mothers,” she thought. She might have been very happy, but for a mental anchor fast to that gloomy mood of the morning…. Hours had flown magically. It was past mid-afternoon…. There was one more picture that had held him, not for itself, but like the Japanese scene, for the thoughts it incited…. An aged woman in a cheerless room, bending over the embers of a low fire. In the glow, the weary old face revealed a bitter loneliness, and yet it was strangely sustained. The twisted hands held to the fire, would have fitted exactly about the waist of a little child–which was not there.

“I would call her _The Race Mother_,” Bedient said reverently. “She is of every race, and every age. She has carried her brothers and her sons; given them her strength; shielded them from cold winds and dangerous heats; given them the nourishment of her body and the food prepared with her hands. Their evils were her own deeper shame; their goodness or greatness was of her conceiving, her dreams first. Her sons have turned to her in hunger, her mate in passion, but neither as their equal. For that which was noble in their sight and of good report, they turned to men. In their counsels they have never asked her voice; they suffered her sometimes to listen to their devotions, but hers were given to them_.

“They were stronger. They chose what should become the intellectual growth of the race. Having no part in this, her mind was stunted, according to their standards. She had the silences, the bearing, the services for others, the giving of love. She loved her mate sometimes, her brothers often, her sons always,–and served them. Loving much, she learned to love God. Silences, and much loving of men, one learns to love God. Silences and services and much loving of her kind–out of these comes the spirit which knows God.

“So while her men, like children with heavy blocks, were passing their intellectual matters one to the other, she came to know that love is giving; that as love pours out in service, the Holy Spirit floods in; that spaciousness of soul is immortality; that out of the spaciousness of soul, great sons are born…. And here and there down the ages, these great sons have appeared, veered the race right at moments of impending destruction, and buoyed it on.”

He had not raised his voice above that low animate tone, which has not half the carrying quality of a whisper. Beth had hoped for such a moment, for in her heart she knew that Vina Nettleton had felt this power of his. With her whole soul, she listened, and the look upon his face which she wanted for the portrait lived in her mind as he resumed:

“I ask you to look how every evil, every combination of hell, has arisen to tear at the flanks of the race, for this is history. Yet a few women, and a few men, the gifts of women, have arisen to save…. Do you think that war or money, or lust of any kind, shall destroy us _now_, in this modern rousing hour, with woman at last coming into her own–when they have never yet in the darkest hour of the world, vanquished a single great dream of a pure woman? And now women _generally_ are rising to their full dreams; approaching each moment nearer to that glorious formula for the making of immortals….”

He smiled suddenly into her white face. “I tell you, Beth Truba,” he said, “there isn’t a phase, a moment, of this harsh hour of transition, that isn’t majestic with promise!… It’s a good picture…. Dear old mother, in every province of the soul, she is a step nearer the Truth than man. The little matters of the intellect, from which she has been barred for centuries, she shall override like a Brunhilde. Even that which men called her sins were from loving…. Gaunt mother with bended back–she has stood between God and the world; she has been the vessel of the Holy Spirit; she _is_ the Holy Spirit in the world; and when she shall fully know her greatness, then prophets of her bearing shall walk the earth.”

They wound through the park in the rainy dusk, emerging in Fifty-ninth Street; and even then, Beth did not care to ride, so they finished the distance to her studio in the Avenue crowd.

EIGHTEENTH CHAPTER

THAT PARK PREDICAMENT

More May days had passed. Bedient came in from one of his night-strolls, just as an open carriage stopped in front of the Club, and Mrs. Wordling called his name. He waited while she dismissed her driver familiarly…. The Northern beauty of the night was full of charm to him. A full moon rode aloft in the blue. He had been thinking that there was cruelty and destruction wherever crowds gathered; that great cities were not a development of higher manhood. He thought of the sparcely tenanted islands around the world, of Australian, Siberian and Canadian areas–of glorious, virgin mountain places and empty shores–where these pent and tortured tens of thousands might have breathed and lived indeed. All they needed was but to dare. But they seemed not yet lifted from the herd; as though it took numbers to make an entity, a group to make a soul. The airs were still; the night serene as in a zone of peace blessed of God. The silence of Gramercy gave him back poise which the city–a terrible companion–had torn apart.

“That’s old John, who never misses a night at my theatre door, when that door opens to New York,” Mrs. Wordling said. “He only asks to know that I am in the city to be at my service night or day. And who would have a taxicab on a night like this?… Let’s not hurry in…. Have you been away?”

“No, Mrs. Wordling.”

“Don’t you think you are rather careless with your friends?” she asked, as one whom the earth had made much to mourn. “It is true, I haven’t been here many times for dinner (there have been so many invitations), but breakfasts and luncheons–always I have peeked into the farthest corners hoping to see you–before I sat down alone.”

“I have missed a great deal, but it’s good to be thought of,” he said.

“You didn’t mean, then, to be careless with your friends?”

“No.”

“I thought you were avoiding me.”

“If there were people here to be avoided, I’m afraid I shouldn’t stay.”

“But supposing you liked the place very much, and there was just one whom you wished to avoid—-“

He laughed. “I give it up. I might stay–but I don’t avoid–certainly not one of my first friends in New York—-“

“Yes, I was a member of the original company, when David Cairns’ _Sailor-Friend_ was produced…. How different you seem from that night!” she added confidentially. “How is it you make people believe you so? You have been a great puzzle to me–to us. I supposed at first you were just a breezy individual, whom David Cairns (who is a very brilliant man) had found an interesting type—-“

“So long as I don’t fall from that, it is enough,” Bedient answered. “But why do you say I make people believe—-?”

Mrs. Wordling considered. “I never quite understood about one part of that typhoon story,” she qualified. “You were carrying the Captain across the deck, and a Chinese tried to knife you. You just mentioned that the Chinese died.”

“Yes,” said Bedient, who disliked this part of the story, and had shirred the narrative.

“But I wanted to hear more about it—-“

“That was all. He died. There were only a few survivors.”

Mrs. Wordling’s head was high-held. She was sniffing the night, with the air of a connoisseur. “Do you smell the mignonette, or is it Sweet William? Something we had in the garden at home when I was little…. Are you afraid to go across in the park–with _me_?”

“Sailors are never afraid,” he said, following her pointed finger to the open gate.

They crossed the street laughingly. There had been no one at the Club entrance…. They never determined what the fragrance was, though they strolled for some time through the paths of the park, among the thick low trees, and finally sat down by the fountain. The moonlight, cut with foliage, was magic upon the water. Bedient was merry in heart. The rising error which might shadow this hour was clear enough to him, but he refused to reckon with it. He was interested, and a little troubled, to perceive there was nothing in common in Mrs. Wordling’s mind and his. They spoke a different language. He was sorry, for he knew she could think hard and suddenly, if he had the power to say the exact thing. And that which he might have taken, and which her training had designed her both to attract and exact, Bedient did not want. All her sighs, soft tones, suddennesses and confidences fell wide; and yet, to Mrs. Wordling, he was too challenging and mysterious for her to be bored an instant. Their talk throughout was trifling and ineffectual, as it had begun. Mrs. Wordling was not Bedient’s type. No woman could have dethroned Beth Truba this hour. Bedient was not sorry (nothing he had said seemed to animate) when Mrs. Wordling arose, and led the way to the gate… which had been locked meanwhile.

Mrs. Wordling was inclined to cry a little. “One couldn’t possibly climb the fence!” she moaned.

“They have keys at the Club, haven’t they?” Bedient asked.

“Yes. All the houses and establishments on the park front have keys. It’s private–that far…. I should have known it would be locked after midnight. Our talk was so interesting!… Oh, one will die of exposure, and the whole Club will seethe.”

Bedient patted her shoulder cheerfully, and led the way along the fence through the thick greenery, until they were opposite the Club entrance. He had not known the park was ever locked. He saw disturbance ahead–bright disturbance–but steadily refused to grant it importance. He was sorry for Mrs. Wordling.

“Let the Club seethe, if it starts so readily,” he observed.

The remark astonished his companion, who had concluded he was either bashful to the depths, or some other woman’s property, probably Beth Truba’s.

“But you men have nothing to lose!” she exclaimed.

“I ask you to pardon me,” Bedient said quickly. “I had not thought of it in that way.”

They were watching the Club entrance. One o’clock struck over the city. Mrs. Wordling had become cold, and needed his coat, though she had to be forced to submit to its protection. At last, a gentleman entered the Club, and Bedient called to the page who appeared in the doorway. The boy stepped out into the street, when called a second time. Bedient made known his trouble. The keys were brought and richly paid for, though Bedient did not negotiate. The night-man smiled pleasantly, and cheered them, with the word that this had happened before, on nights less fine.

* * * * *

David Cairns had stepped into a telephone-booth in the main-hall of the _Smilax Club_ the following afternoon, to announce his presence in the building to Vina Nettleton. Waiting for the exchange-operator to connect, he heard two pages talking about Bedient and Mrs. Wordling. These were bright street-boys, very clever in their uniforms, and courteous, but street-boys nevertheless; and they had not noted the man in the booth. A clouded, noisome thing, David Cairns heard. Doubtless it had passed through several grades of back-stair intelligence before it became a morsel for Cairns’ particular informers. Having heard enough to understand, he kicked the door shut, and Vina found him distraught that day….

It was in the dusk of that afternoon when Cairns met Bedient, whose happiness was eminent and shining as usual. Cairns gave him a chance to mention the episode which had despoiled his own day, but Bedient seemed to have forgotten it remotely. It was because such wonderful things had been accomplished in his own life that Cairns was troubled. In no other man would he have objected to this sort of affair, though he might have criticised the trysting-place as a matter of taste. He had to bring up the subject.

Bedient’s face clouded. “How did you hear?”

Cairns told, but spared details.

“I hoped it wouldn’t get out on account of Mrs. Wordling,” Bedient said. “I should have had the instinct to spare her from any such comments. I didn’t know the laws of the park. It was a perfect night. We talked by the fountain. She was the first to suggest that we recross the street–and there we were–locked in.”

Cairns asked several questions. Once he started impatiently to say that Mrs. Wordling had nothing to lose, but he caught himself in time. He saw that Bedient had been handled a bit, and had only a vague idea that he was embroiled in a scandal, the sordidness of which was apt to reach every ear but the principals’. At all events, the old Bedient was restored; in fact, if it were possible, he was brightened at one certain angle. Cairns had been unable to forbear this question:

“But, Andrew, who suggested going across to the park?”

“I can’t just say,” Bedient answered thoughtfully. “You see we smelled mignonette, and followed a common impulse. You should have seen the night to understand…. I say, David, can I do anything to straighten this out for Mrs. Wordling?”

“Only ignore it,” Cairns said hastily. “I’ll nip it–wherever it comes up. And the next time a woman asks—-“

“But I didn’t say—-“

“The next time you smell mignonette, think of it as a soporific. Just yawn and say you’ve been working like a fire-horse on the Fourth…. You see, it isn’t what happens that gets out to the others, including those we care about, but what is imagined by minds which are not decently policed.”

“Crowds are cruel,” Bedient mused.

Cairns had found it hard not to be spiteful toward one whom he considered had abused his friend’s fineness…. They dined at the Club. The talk turned to a much fairer thing. Bedient saw (with deep and full delight) that Cairns had sighted his island of that Delectable Archipelago, and was making for it full-sailed. An enchanting idea came to Bedient (the fruit of an hour’s happy talk), as to the best way for Cairns to make a landing in still waters….

Bedient was detailing the plan with some spirit, when Cairns’ hand fell swiftly upon his arm…. At a near table just behind, Mrs. Wordling was sitting with a gentleman. Neither had noticed her come in. Mrs. Wordling turned to greet them. She was looking her best, which was sensational.

NINETEENTH CHAPTER

IN THE HOUSE OF GREY ONE

Bedient went one morning to the old Handel studio in East Fourteenth Street. The Grey One had asked him to come. Bedient liked the Grey One. He could laugh with Mrs. Wordling; Vina Nettleton awed him, though he was full of praise for her; he admired Kate Wilkes and had a keen relish for her mind. The latter had passed the crisis, had put on the full armor of the world; she was sharp and vindictive and implacable to the world; a woman who had won rather than lost her squareness, who showed her strength and hid her tenderness. He had rejoiced in several brushes with Kate Wilkes. There was a tang to them. A little sac of fiery acid had formed in her brain. It came from fighting the world to the last ditch, year after year. Her children played in the quick-passing columns of the periodicals–ambidextrous, untamable, shockingly rough in their games, these children, but shams slunk away from their shrill laughter. In tearing down, _she_ prepared for the Builder.

Bedient was not at all at his best with Kate Wilkes; indeed, none of the things that had aroused Vina and Beth and David, like sudden arraignments from their higher selves, came to his lips with this indomitable veteran opposite; still he would go far for ten minutes talk with her. She needed nothing that he could give; her copy had all gone to the compositor, her last forms were locked; and yet, he caught her story from queer angles on the stones, and it was a transcript from New York in this, the latest year of our Lord….

Bedient’s “poise and general decency” disturbed the arrant man-hater she had become; she called him “fanatically idealistic,” and was inclined to regard him at first as one of those smooth and finished Orientalists who have learned to use their intellects to a dangerous degree. But each time she talked with him, it seemed less possible to put a philosophical ticket upon him. “He’s not Buddhist, Vedantist, neo-Platonist,” she declared, deeply puzzled. Somehow she did not attract from him, as did Vina Nettleton, the rare pabulum which would have proved him just a Christian. Finally, from fragments brought by Vina, the Grey One, and David Cairns, she hit upon a name for him that would do, even if intended a trifle ironically at first: _The Modern_. She was easier after that; became very fond of him, and only doubted in her own thoughts, lest she hurt his work with the others, the good of which she was quick to see…. “He does not break training,” she said at last. “He cut out a high place and holds it easily. Suppose he is _The Modern_?” she asked finally. “If he is, we who thought ourselves modern, should laugh and clap our hands!” This was open heresy to the Kate Wilkes of the world. “I thought I was past that,” she sighed. “Here I am getting ready to be stung again.”

Certain of her barbed sentences caught in Bedient’s mind: “Women whom men avoid for being ‘strong-minded’ are apt to be strongest in their affections. You can prove this by the sons of clinging vines.”… “Beware of the man who discusses often, and broods much, upon his spiritual growth, when he fails to make his wife happy.”… “A man’s courage may be just his cowardice running forward under the fear of scorn from his fellows.”… “The most passionate mother is likely to be the least satisfied with just passion from her husband. Wedded to a man capable of real love, this woman, of all earth’s creatures, is the most natural monogamist.”… “A real woman had three caskets to give to a man she loved. One day she read in his eyes that he could take but the nearest and lowest; and that moment arose in her heart the wailing cry: ‘The King is dead!'”… “The half-grown man never understands that woman is happiest, and at her best in all her services to him, when he depends upon her for a few of the finer things.”…

Also Kate Wilkes had a way of doing a memorable bit of criticism in a sentence or two: Regarding MacDowell, the American composer, “He left the harvest to the others, but what exquisite gleanings he found!”… As to Nietschze; “He didn’t see all; his isn’t the last word; but he crossed the Forbidden Continent, and has spoken deliriously, half-mad from the journey.”… And her beloved Whitman, “America’s wisest patriot.”…

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