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.”