It was a little later, after he had been truly admitted into the circle he loved so well, that Beth told him the story of the Grey One’s first collision with the man world. It was a rainy afternoon; they were together in the studio he always entered with reverence.
“She is different from Vina,” Beth said, speaking of Marguerite Grey. “She has been working fearfully and she’s not made for such furious sessions as Vina Nettleton can endure. Vina seems replenished by her own atmosphere. She told me once that when her work is coming well, her whole body sings, all the functions in rhythm. Aren’t people strange? That little soft thing with baby hands! Why, her physical labor alone some days would weary a strong man—and that is the thoughtless part.
“But I was telling you about the Grey One. Sometimes I think she is more noble than we understand—one of those strange, solitary women who love only once. At least, she seems to ask only success in her work, and what that will bring her.” Beth thought a moment of the horrible alternative which she did not care to explain to Bedient. “A few years ago in Europe—just a young thing, she was, when she met her hero. He was a good man, and loved her. I knew them both over there. In the beginning, it was one of those really golden romances, and in Italy. One day, a woman came to the Grey One, and in the lightest, brassiest way, asked to be congratulated on her engagement, mentioning the man whose attentions Marguerite had accepted as a heavenly dispensation. This was in Florence. The woman hurried away that day for London. The Grey One, just a gullible girl, was left half dead. When her lover came, she refused to see him. He wrote a letter which she foolishly sent back, unopened. And she returned to Paris—all this in the first shock.... She did not hear from him again for two years. Word came that he was married—no, not to that destroyer, but to a girl who made him happy, let us hope. The Grey One penetrated then to the truth. He had only a laughing acquaintance with the other woman to whom he was one of several chances. Leaving Florence, she had crippled the Grey One. This is just the bare fact—but it is enough to show how the lie of a worthless woman—kept Marguerite from happiness. And she has remained apart.... It is said that the Grey One encountered the destroyer here in New York a few months ago, the first time since that day in Florence. So natural was evil to this woman, that she did not remember, but came forward gushingly—and would have kissed her victim....”
A CHEMISTRY OF SCANDAL
Beth had seen Andrew Bedient almost daily for three weeks. Many wonderful moments had been passed together; indeed, there were moments when he reached in her mind that height he had gained at once in the ideals of Vina Nettleton. But he was sustained in Vina’s mind, while Beth encountered reactions.... “I believe he is beyond sex—or fast going beyond—though he may not know it,” Vina had said in effect.... On the contrary, the Shadowy Sister had sensed a lover in the room. Beth had perceived what Vina meant—the mystic who worshipped woman as an abstraction—but it had also come to her, that he could love one.