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.”
“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.
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.