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and the dry tongue touched her fingers.... She must leave him. He
seemed to understand that she must go on; his eyes told her his
sufferings - in that he could not be with her. And so she went on alone.

When she turned he was watching, but he had sunk down upon the sand.
Only his head was raised a little. Still she saw the softness of the
eyes; and his ears, that had been so sharp in the happy days, had
dropped close about his head.

On she went, looking back, until the spot on the sand where he lay was
gone from her eyes. And she knew what it meant to be alone. The days
were blazing, and the nights filled with anguish to die. At last her
hour came.... So glad she was to sink down a last time and let the
night cover her.... But the sound of running water - water splashing
musically upon the stones, and the breath of flowers - awoke her after
many hours. A cooling dawn was abroad, and in the lovely light she saw
low trees ahead - green palms around a fountain - fruits and shade and
flowers.... She arose, and from her limbs all weariness was gone. There
was a quick bark, and her dog came bounding up - and Beth awoke,
thinking it was her soul that had returned to her, restored.

* * * * *

Beth realized that she had half-expected Bedient to re-enter that open
door.... Reflecting upon the days, she found that he had done none of
the things she had half-expected. Only, while she had believed herself
comparatively unresponsive, he had filled her with a deep, silent
inrushing. One by one he had swept away the ramparts which the world
had builded before her heart. So softly and perfectly had he fitted his
nature to her inner conception that she had not been roused in time.
But the Shadowy Sister had known him for her prince of playmates....
She wondered how she could have been so wilful and so blind with her
painter's strong eyes. Even her pride had betrayed her. Wordling and
the ocean could not continue to stand against all the good he had shown
her.

Beth had run away for a few days. She could not bear her mother's eyes,
nor the studio where he had been. Better the house of strangers, two
hours from New York up the Hudson.... She heard he had gone back to his
Island.... The June days drowsed. The mid-days were slow to come to as
far hills; and endless to pass as hills that turn into ranges. The
sloping afternoons were æon-long; and centuries of toil were told in
the hum of the bees about her window, toil to be done over and over
again; and sometimes from the murmur of the bees, would appear to her
like a swiftly-flung scroll, glimpses of her other lives, filled like
this with endless waiting - for she was always a woman. And for what was
she waiting?...

Often she thought of what Bedient had said about the women who refuse
the bowl of porridge, and who therefore do not leave their children to
brighten the race. These he had called the centres of new and radiant
energy, the spiritual mothers of the race. And one night she cried
aloud: "Would one be less a spiritual help, because she had a little of
her own heart's desire? Because she held the highest office of woman,
would her outer radiance be dimmed? To be a spiritual mother, why must
she be just a passing influence or inspiration - a cheer for those who
stop a moment to refresh themselves from her little cup, and hurry on
about their own near and dear affairs, in which she has no share?... He
stands in a big, bright garden and commands the spiritual mother to
remain a waif out on the dusty highway. 'How much better off you are
out there!' he says. 'You can show people the Gate, and keep them from
going the wrong way, on the long empty road. Nothing can hurt you, but
yourself. It is very foolish of _you_ to want to come in!'"...

She remembered that some fine thing had lit his eyes like stars at the
parting. Time came when she wished she had seen him at the studio, or
at her mother's house, when he called before going away.... The sharp
irony of her success brought tears - and Beth Truba was rather choice of
her tears. The portrait had made a stir at the Club, and the papers
were discussing it gravely.

It brought back the days in which he had come to the studio, and what
it had meant to her for him to move in and out. How dependent she had
become upon his giving! The imperishable memories of her life had
arisen from those days, while she painted his portrait. Beth realized
this now - days of strange achievement under his eyes - errant glimpses
of life's inner beauty - moments in which she had felt the power to
paint even that delicate and fleeting shimmer of sunlight about a
humming-bird's wing, so intense was her vision - their talks, and the
ride - well she knew that these would be the lights of her flagging
eyes - treasures of the old Beth, whose pictures all were painted.

It was hard to have known the joy of communion with his warm heart, and
deeply seeing mind - and now to accept the solitude again. She felt that
his going marked the end of her growth; that now it was a steady
downgrade, body and mind.... Some time, long hence, she would meet him
again.... She would be "Beth-who-used-to-paint-so-well." They would
talk together. The moment would come to speak of what they might have
been to each other, save for the Wordlings of this world. She would
weep - no, she would burst into laughing, and never be able to stop! It
would be too late. A woman must not be drained by the years if she
would please a man of flesh. She could not keep her freshness after
this; she had not the heart to try.... Thus at times her brain kept up
a hideous grinding.... She could feel the years!... Jim Framtree saw
them.

She had found a note from him two days old under her studio-door. He
had telephoned repeatedly, and taken the trip over to Dunstan to see
her.... Would she not allow him to call? And now Beth discovered an
amazing fact:

She had been unable to keep her mind upon him, even during the moment
required to read his single page of writing. She wrote that he might
come....

She heard his voice in the hall. The old janitor of the building had
remembered him. Beth's hands, which had lain idle, began leaping
strangely from the inner turmoil. She wished now she had met him
somewhere apart from the studio. His tone brought back thoughts too
fast to be tabulated, and his accent was slightly English. She divined
from this he had been out of the country - possibly had returned to New
York on a British ship. How well she knew his plastic intelligence! It
was so characteristic and easy for him - this little affectation.... She
was quite cold to him. Bedient had put him away upon the far-effacing
surfaces of her mind.

The knocker fell. Rising, she learned her weakness. As she crossed the
room the mirror showed her a woman who has met many deaths.

He greeted her with excited enthusiasm, but the tension which her
change in appearance caused, was imperfectly concealed by his words and
manner.... She knew his every movement, his every thought before it was
half-uttered, as a mother without illusions knows her grown son, who
has failed to become the man she hoped. They talked with effort about
earlier days. He treated her with a consideration he had never shown
before. The challenge of sex was missing. Duty, and an old and deep
regard - these Beth felt from him. She attributed it to the havoc of a
few weeks upon her face. She wished he would not come again; but he
did.

It was the next morning - and she was painting. Again the knocker and
his cheery greeting. Beth sat down to work - and then thoughts of the
two men came to her. She should not have tried to paint, with Framtree
in the room.... Thoughts arose, until she could not have borne another.
The colors of her canvas flicked out, leaving a sort of welted gray of
flesh, from which life is beaten. She rubbed her eyes.

"Jim," she said at last, "why did you come back?"

He came forward, and stood over her. "I wanted to see if there was any
change, Beth, - any chance."

She regarded him, noted how effective is humility with such magnificent
proportions of strength.

"There isn't, Jim," she answered. "At least, not the change you look
for. I'm sorry if you really wanted it, but I think in time you'll be
glad - - "

"Never, Beth."

She smiled.

Framtree hesitated, as if there were something further he would like to
say. He refrained, however.... Beth gave her hand, which he kissed for
old love's sake.

* * * * *

On the following Sunday morning, Adith Mallory's Equatorian
news-feature appeared. The entire truth and all the names were not
needed to make this as entertaining a Sunday newspaper story as ever
drew forth her fanciful and flowing style. It was Equatoria that caught
and held Beth's eye, and she saw Andrew Bedient in large movement
behind the tale. The feature was dated in Coral City ten days before.
Beth was so interested that she wanted to meet the correspondent, and
wondered if Miss Mallory had returned to New York. She dropped a card
with her telephone number, and the next morning Miss Mallory 'phoned.
Her voice became bright with animation upon learning that Beth was upon
the wire.

"There's no one in New York whom I'd rather talk with this moment, Miss
Truba."

"And why?"

"That portrait at the _Smilax Club_ - I saw it yesterday. I'm writing
about it.... The face I know - and you have done it tremendously! I
can't tell you how it affected me. Don't bother to come down here. Let
me go to you."

"I shall be glad to see you, Miss Mallory, - this afternoon?"

"Yes, and thank you."

The call had brightened Beth's mood somewhat. A bundle of letters had
been dropped through her door as she talked. Beth saw the quantity of
them and remembered it was Monday's first mail. She busied about the
studio for a moment.... Letters, she thought, - these were all she had
to represent her great investments of faith. Letters - the sum of her
longings and vivid expectations. No matter what she wanted or
deserved - a voice, a touch or a presence - it had all come to this, the
crackle of letter paper. What a strange thing to realize! A fold of
paper instead of a hand - a special delivery instead of a step upon the
stair - a telegram instead of a kiss!...

"I belong in a cabinet," she sighed. "I guess I'm a letter-file instead
of a lady."...

There was a large square envelope from Equatoria.... With stinging
cheeks, Beth resented the buoyant happiness of the first few lines.
Until a clearer understanding came, it seemed that he was blessing her
refusal of him. How unwarranted afterward this thought appeared! The
letter lifted her above her own suffering. Her mind was held by the
great vital experience of a soul, a soul faring forth on its supreme
adventure. He did not say what had happened in words, but she saw his
descent in the flesh and his upward flight of spirit - the low ebb and
the flashing heights.... How well she knew the cool brightness of his
eyes, as he wrote! The god she had liberated that sunlit day was
dead - not dead to her alone, but to any woman of Shore or Mountain or
Isle.... With a gasp, she recalled Vina Nettleton's first conception,
that Bedient was past, or rapidly passing beyond the attraction of a
single woman.

Beth saw that she had helped to bring him to this greater dimension.
There was a thrill in the thought. There would have been a positive and
enduring joy, had he not gone from her to another. Truly, that was an
inauspicious beginning for Illumination - but miracles happened. This
thought fascinated her now: Had she seen clearly and made the great
sacrifice of withholding herself - that he might rise to prophecy - there
would have been gladness in that! She felt she could have done
that - the iron Beth - given him to the world and not retained him for
her own heart. He said that other women had done so. What an
instrument!

But strength did come from his letter; there was a certain magic in his
praise and blessing. It gave her something like the natural virtues of
mountain coolness and ocean air. Austerely pure, it was. Plainly,
pleasure had not made him tarry long.

* * * * *

Beth and Miss Mallory had talked an hour before the name of Jim
Framtree was innocently mentioned by the newspaperwoman. It was not
Beth's way to betray her fresh start of interest, even though she
gained her first clue to the meaning of the fine light she had seen in
Bedient's eyes at parting.... The blood seemed to harden in her heart.
The familiar sounds of the summer street came up through the open
windows with a sudden horror, as if she were a captive on cannibal
shores.

"No one knows why he wanted this talk with Mr. Framtree," Miss Mallory
was saying. "He wanted it vitally - and you see what came of it - a
revolution averted - the fortunes of the whole Island altered for the
better - and yet, those were only incidents. He was so ill - that another
man would have fallen - and yet he went to _The Pleiad_ - and aboard the
Spaniard's yacht, as you read.... I knew his courage before - from the
_Hedda Gabler_ night - but it was true, he didn't know me! The only
result I know was that Mr. Framtree came to New York - - "

It seemed to Beth that her humanity was lashed and flung and
desecrated.... "But he did not know," she thought. "He did not know. He
could not have hurt me this way. He thought I could not change, that I
should always worship the beauty of exteriors. I told him the
parable - and he went away - to send me what he thought I wanted!..."

Miss Mallory had come with a tribute of praise to a great artist. She
found a woman who was suffering, as she had suffered, in part. A great
mystery, too, she found. It was almost too sacred for her to try to
penetrate, because it had to do with him.... She wondered at Miss
Truba's inability to speak, or to help herself in any way with the
things that pressed her heart to aching fullness.... She had found it
wonderfully restoring to talk of him - with a woman who knew him - and
who granted his greatness from every point.

The long afternoon waned, but still the women were together. All that
had taken place was very clear to Beth - even this woman's ministerings.

"And he is better - beyond words, better!" Miss Mallory added. "I
received a note from him this morning. The _Hatteras_ arrived
yesterday. I came up on the _Henlopen_ eight days ago. So it was my
first word. Something great has happened. He is changed and lifted."

"Has Mr. Framtree finished his mission?" Beth asked.

"Yes. He intends to go back to-morrow afternoon. He finished sooner
than he thought. He is going to help Mr. Bedient in the administration
of the vast property.... It seems that no one ever touches Mr. Bedient,
but that some great good comes to him. I am going back, too - - "

"To live?"

"Yes." Miss Mallory explained what Dictator Jaffier had done for her,
adding:

"It was all Mr. Bedient's doing.... You see what I mean, about the
wonderful things that happen to others - where he is.... Yet I would
rather have that picture of him you painted - than all Equatoria - but
even that should not belong to one - - "

"You love him then?" Beth asked softly.

"I dared that at first, but I didn't understand. He is too big to
belong that way.... I would rather be a servant in his house - than the
wife of any other man I ever knew. I am that - in thought - and I shall
be near him!"

After a moment, Beth _heard_ the silence - and drew her thoughts back to
the hour. She seemed to have gone to the utmost pavilions of
tragedy - far beyond the sources of tears - where only the world's
strongest women may venture. The Shadowy Sister was there.... Beth had
come back with humility, which she could not reveal.

The dusk was closing about them.

"You have been good to come - good to tell me these things," Beth said.
"Some time I shall paint a little copy of the portrait for you. I'm
sure he would be glad."



THIRTY-EIGHTH CHAPTER


A SELF-CONSCIOUS WOMAN

Two days later Beth answered a 'phone call from David Cairns.... He was
just back from Nantucket ... for a few days.... Very grateful to find
her in.... Yes, Vina had come over, too.

Beth was instantly animate. Vina had planned to be gone a month at
least.

"I'd like to come over alone first - may I, Beth?" Cairns asked.

"Yes."

"Within a half-hour?"

"Yes.... I shall prepare to listen to great happiness."

... Beth reflected that she looked a belated forty; that she had lost
her charm for the eye of Jim Framtree, who had treated her like a
relative. She was ashamed to show her suffering to David
Cairns - ashamed that she cared - but it was part of her. Happiness was
in the air. She must listen. She marveled at her capacity to endure....

The dews of joy were upon David Cairns. Between Bedient and Vina, he
had been born again. He looked at her - as all who knew her did now - and
then again in silence. It always made her writhe - that second stare. It
gave her the sense of some foreign evil in her body - like the discovery
of a malady with its threat of death in every vein.

He told her that Vina and he were to be married at once. Beth gave to
the story all that listening could add to the telling of happiness.

"And, David," she said. "I claim a little bit of credit for this
glorious thing - - "

"Credit, Beth!" he said rousingly. "I told Vina I could worship you for
it!"

"Don't, please - David. I don't need it. I'm too happy over you both....
And then, it wasn't all mine, you know. I think Mr. Bedient saw you
together in his mind. I think he meant me to startle you to your real
empire - - "

"Did he?" Cairns asked eagerly.

"Hasn't it turned out perfectly?"

Beth did not miss the gladness which this hint gave him. She knew that
Bedient's thought of it would be like an authority to Vina as well....
She felt herself drawing farther and farther back from the lives of the
elect, but joyously she urged David to tell about their house in
Nantucket.

"And, Beth," he said intensely. "That was Bedient's doing, too. I
have - all I have seems to be the happiness part."

"Poor dear boy - how hard!"

"...I was telling him how Vina loved Nantucket," Cairns went on, "some
of the rare things she said about the Island and the houses in Lily
Lane, and how I planned to go over and find her there this month. He
knew we were coming on very well.... One night at the Club, he asked me
why I didn't buy one of those houses in Lily Lane, fix up a studio in
one of the upper rooms, and then show it to her some summer morning and
let it seep in slowly that it was hers - and my heart, too - - "

"Beautiful!" Beth exclaimed. A trace of color came to her face.

"I'm telling it badly. Vina will tell you better. Anyway, he wouldn't
let me go over alone. You remember when we went away together - for
three or four days early in June?"

"I didn't know you - were you with him?"

"Yes, we went together - found the house in Lily Lane - - "

"And he went back to Equatoria - right after that?"

Her tone had risen, the words rapid.

"Yes - and without letting me know."

Cairns noted vaguely that Beth's face seemed farther away.

"David, you were with him - those three days, beginning Monday, the
first week in June - you - were - with - with - him - - ?"

"Every minute, Beth - - "

"David, how did Mrs. Wordling know - you were going?"

"Why, Beth, she didn't. No one knew - - "

"Are you sure? Isn't there some way she could have heard - at the Club?"

He hesitated. He had caught her eyes. They horrified him.... He
remembered.

"Why, yes. We were talking - it was the night he first spoke of going
over to Nantucket with me. Mrs. Wordling was behind at a near table. I
told him we'd better talk lower - - "

No sound escaped her. Cairns sprang up at the sight of her uplifted
face.... Her eyes turned vaguely toward the door of the little room. He
was standing before it. She seemed only to know - like some half-killed
creature - that she was hunted and must hide. She couldn't pass him into
the little room, but turned behind the screen. He did not hear her
step, but something like the rush of a skirt, or a sigh.

There was no sound from the kitchenette. Cairns could not think in this
furious stress. After a moment he called.

No answer.

It did not occur to him to go to her. Scores of times he had been in
the studio, but he had never passed that screen.

He called again.... Not a breath nor movement in answer. He did not
think of her as dead, but stricken with some awful madness. She had
stood transfixed.... Yet her old authority was about her. He feared her
anger.

"Dear - Beth, - won't you let me come - or do something?... In God's
name - what is it?"

He listened intently.

"Beth, I'll go and get Vina - shall I?"

Terrible seconds passed; then her voice came to him - trailed forth,
high-pitched, slow - an eerie thing in his brain:

"_I thought I was a good queen, but I have been hard and wicked as
hell. I'm Bloody Beth.... He asked for bread and I gave him a stone....
Bloody Beth of the Middle Ages_."

"Beth - please!" he cried.

"Go away - oh, go away!"

Cairns' only thought was to bring Vina to her. Some awful hatred for
himself came forth from the back room. He turned to the outer door,
saying, aloud:

"Yes, Beth, I'll go."

The door shut and clicked after him - without his touch - it seemed very
quickly. He descended the steps - a sort of slave to the routine of
death - as one who finds death, must run to perform certain formalities.
At the front door he stopped a second or two, as if his name had been
called faintly. He thought it a delusion - and went out. Crossing the
street, he heard it again:

"David!"

It was just enough for him to hear - a queer high quality.

He glanced up. Beth was leaning out of the lofty window.... More than
ever it was like death to him - the old newspaper days when he was first
at death - the mute face aloft, the gesture, the instant vanishing, when
he was seen to comprehend.

Her door was ajar. She called for him to come in, as he halted in the
hall. Beth came forth from the little room, after a moment, and stood
before him, leaning against the piano. Her face was grayish-white, but
she was controlled.

"Once you told me you loved me," she said. "A happy man should be ready
to do something for a woman he once told that."

"Anything, Beth."

"It came forth from your happiness - so suddenly. You have found me
out.... You made me see - that I believed the lie of a worthless
woman - - "

She halted. The last words had a familiar ring.

"I believed a despicable thing of Andrew Bedient - and sent him away....
He must never know. I could not live and have him know that I believed
it. I am paying. I shall pay. I only ask you to keep it, forever - all
that you saw - all that was said - to-day - - "

"I will keep it, Beth."

"Even from Vina. Vina is pure. He would read it in her eyes - if she
knew. I wonder that he loved me.... God!... You have enough of the
world left - to bury this evil thing - for me. I am glad of your
happiness."

"Vina will want to see you to-day."

"She may come.... You may say I have been ill. It is true.... I shall
stay and be with you for your marriage. You want me - - "

"We came back to New York for that."

"Yes.... And then I shall go away."

Cairns lingered. "But Beth, Bedient will always love you. He will come
back - - "

"It is not the same. You will see when he writes. I made him
suffer - until a great light came - and he is the world's - not mine."

"Beth," he said humbly, "you are Absolute!"

"I shall come back - strong enough to meet him - as one of the world's
women - or I shall stay away," she said.



THIRTY-NINTH CHAPTER


ANOTHER SMILAX AFFAIR

The _Hatteras_ was warping into a New York slip the day before
Christmas. Bedient was aboard. There was to be a little party for him,
given by Cairns and Vina at the _Smilax Club_ that night. The Cairns'
had come over from Nantucket for the winter, and were living at the
Club. This was Bedient's third trip to New York in the half-year
preceding. He had not seen Beth, but there had been letters between
them - of late, important letters, big with reality and understanding.
She had been in Europe since July, but had promised to be home for the
holidays. Vina's last letter told him that Beth would be at their
affair of greeting to-night.

Adith Mallory saw Jim Framtree in New York, after her hours with Beth
Truba. It was the day before he sailed for Equatoria. Framtree asked
her not to tell Mr. Bedient that the name of Framtree was spoken in her
conversation with Beth. This request gave her a clearer understanding.


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