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——”
“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.”