I SHALL always remember Bethune as a man who for a few years dwelt among us and then moved on and left behind him a fascination that drew our imagination to follow him and forecast, as it were, the ultimate haven of his so suddenly enfranchised spirit. He lives before me now, a vital entity, suggestive of every potent issue of birth and education.
One meets at rare intervals, men who have so subconsciously nursed their individuality that it expresses itself without effort or advance and radiates from some mysterious tissue a quality at once attractive and removent to which we yield without hesitation or protest. And with this quality there exists a natural pride, a mental hauteur that adds its own distinctive touch. We recognized it in Bethune. He was very silent, yet we talked to him without reserve leaning upon his palpable understanding. He had hosts of friends who admitted him to theninner circle, yet he cultivated one not more than another. I never heard him say a hasty thing but sometimes a fire seemed to light his eyes and be. tray unguessed depths
of feeling. Unmarried and possessed of ample means, he seldom referred to his people who, I was told, were an IrishItalian family. Physically, he was of middle height and rather heavily framed. His eyes and hair were very dark—his mouth large and motionless.
It was my wife who first told me of a queer friendship that had begun to exist between her sister Naomi and Bethune. It was, it appeared, an achievement for any woman to attract him. I doubted if Naomi had—and said so.
But Ruth only shook her head. “It’s the call of the average to the unusual.” She looked at me and laughed. “My dear you ought to know that.”
“I do,” I said ruefully, “but I’ve tried to improve.”
One very satisfactory thing about Ruth
is that she does not stop to collect compli-
ments on her way. They do not even divert her.
“And then,” she continued, “she’s thirty without being in the slightest sophisticated. Very few women accomplish that. But he’s not in love with her.”
“But they golf together and don’t use caddies.”
“Possibly—so do you and I. I know perfectly well what I hope—but I may be disappointed. And besides if he did marry, I hardly think he’d surrender the most attractive side of himself.”
“I’ve a curious idea that he’s saving himself for something. That’s the only way I can put it. It would not be the real Bethune who would marry, but the obvious, ostensible person we know. He’s very polite and charming but I’ve a strong suspicion that for him most of us don’t
really exist. He’s so intangible to me that when I saw him last at dinner I wondered where the food went.”
A T that moment the door opened and Naomi entered. She climbed into a sofa and demanded tea.
“Ripping ride,” she said breathlessly. “Came in from the Hunt Club in half an hour. Mr. Bethune wouldn’t stay. Hurry up the kettle, will you? My horse has no blanket.”
My wife and I exchanged glances. “You’re very good friends,” I hazarded.
“I like him. He makes me talk, so I suppose any woman would like him. Oh, by-the-by, I told him you two were off to Egypt.” She hesitated, then finished with a laugh that didn’t ring quite true.
Knowing Naomi, we waited and I handed her the cigarettes. In a moment she began again, speaking through a fine grey
“He didn’t say anything for a moment, then remarked in the coolest kind of way: T wonder whether they’d let me go with them?’ ” I caught Ruth’s eye. The domestic semaphore was at work. There are moments when the male mammal knows his place.
“Here’s the tea now,” I ventured inanely.
“I hadn’t the slightest idea that Mr. Bethune wanted to leave town,” said my wife impersonally.
“When do you leave? Next week, isn’t it?”
“Our arrangements are all made,” added Ruth with a touch of coldness. I knew that she rebelled at this shattering of her prophecy.
Naomi reached for her cup. “Then he’ll be with you. I’m sorry—our horses went awfully well together and I’ll have to find someone else to play with.”
“He hasn’t been asked yet. And one doesn’t carry out that sort of thing off one’s own bat.”
I said nothing, but it had instantly occurred to me that Bethune so rarely made any suggestion that when he did
make one the thing was apt to go through and curiously enough, as soon as Naomi had spoken, I had had vivid visions of him, the third of our party, traveling everywhere and doing everything with us. The idea presented itself as being, in spite of its suddenness, anything but preposterous, and the smoothness with which the film of the future seem to unreel was ample evidence.
Ruth shifted her ground and I recognized the first movements of a tactical retreat.
“Why in the world should he want to leave town? He told me a few days ago that the furnishing of his flat was just finished.”
“Why don’t you come with us?” I floundered. “And make a parti carré?” Naomi got up, walked to the window and stood slapping her habit with her crop. “That horse is getting cold—and thank you, but it’s not come to that.” Then she pitched her cigarette stub into the fire and, standing back from the door, added: “Mother says she’ll take the car for the winter if you’ll keep Simmons on. By, Ruth. By-by, Bob. Thanks all the same, I know you meant well.”
The front door crashed and, as the quick hoofs clattered up the pavement, I left the conversation entirely to my wife. The slight pause that followed quite justified me.
“I can’t see why any man should want to break off such a charming friendship,” she began presently. “She’s the only woman he’s paid any attention to since we knew him. Naomi told me that he gave her a curious sensation of being safe. Think of it—safe!”
“Then you suggest that I—?”
“I know perfectly well,” she continued, undisturbed, “that he’s as sedate as her grandfather—probably more so.”
“Her grandfather was a two-bottle man,” I hazarded. “My grandfather told me; and he knew.”
“We’ve improved, on him, thank goodness. And can you tell me why Mr. Bethune’s whim should upset our plans?” “I don’t see that they do. It’s the greatest compliment you’ve ever had—except
She turned to me suddenly. “You want him?”
“Don’t you think that it would introduce an element of er—interest. As you tired of me for instance, you—”
“When I see you begin to slide, Bob, and know perfectly well that willy nilly I shall be drawn after you, I wish you did not yield so easily.”
“Life is one long surrender.”
She looked at me thoughtfully. “Oh, I can foresee it all. Mr. Bethune will come and, of course, be extremely polite and affable and then after we get back and it’s impossible to imagine what it would have been like without him, you’ll ask me if it wasn’t a splendid sucecss, and, of course, I’ll say yes. You might as well know now that my prophetic soul can go that far.” With that she left me and, when next morning Bethune telephoned to enquire whether he could see me at my office, I felt a pleasurable glow that I was at least contributing toward the truth of Ruth’s forecast.
' I 'HERE are conversations that stick in one’s mind. Bethune as he talked seemed to be involuntarily taking cover after cover from his hitherto uncommunicable personality. He seemed neither apologetic nor confidential, and yet it was by no particular stretch of fancy that I saw Naomi’s aura suspended over him. His wanderings and hobbies; these were touched upon lightly and then with a curious shade in the voice that for a year had attracted me, he went on deliberately:
“There are things almost too personal to mention but I feel that I ought to speak, even if what I say sounds childish or ridiculous. Did you ever hear of a man, who through loyalty to something he did not understand, appeared disloyal to things that everyone understands?”
He paused, but I did not speak. This was too palpably a preface to that which he had come to say.
“I have a strange and overwhelming belief that I am linked in some mysterious way to some woman I have never seen or heard of,” he resumed quietly. “I cannot even tell whether she is alive or dead.” He glanced at me with a sudden petition in his eyes that moved me strangely. Then the level voice went on with a new quality of appeal.
“It is quite impossible for you to grasp this, so I can only ask you to accept it as being literally and absolutely true. You can, however, imagine what it must mean to a man who not only has all the natural visions and longings of life, but also is in a position to live normally and happily.
I cannot cut myself off from the society of women. I admire them enormously, and I suppose that has to do with my LatinHibernian blood: But if I were to ask a woman to marry me, I would only be offering her that which in my soul I know is not meant that I should offer. The thing that is me has passed beyond my control and until I find the woman who, to put it baldly, has me, I am only a shell that has the likeness of a man, but is empty nevertheless.”
He leaned back, thrust his chin into a lean brown hand and eyed me closely. It was as though after years of indecision, he had plunged into speech and was searching my heart to discover whether even now, he had spoken at random. It seemed, furthermore, as though the very pendulum of his spiritual existence was swinging there before me, and that I might put out a finger and stop it. Then behind his gaze I divined that which he had not yet said. The hearing of it was no surprise.
“And if you think it odd that I should ask to travel with you,” he went on, “it is for two reasons. One is that the volition of others may guide me to my great discovery, since my own efforts, as you can imagine, have been fruitless. The other is that it would be a great privilege to be near one who is so like Naomi, one who would be entirely undisturbed and even untouched by whatever tribute I might pay. It’s a ferocious thing,” he added under his breath, “to hurt that which one desires to worship.”
TN the silence that followed, he got up •I and bowed formally. “I must ask you to overlook the fact that I have spoken
as I did not believe it would ever be possible for me to speak.”
“Hold on,” I blurted. “May I ask one question?”
“As many as you like.”
“What started this? When did you know first?”
He colored like a girl. “You will think me more unnatural than ever, but if you—”
“No, never mind!” I said hastily. “It’s all right. I suppose it’s an influence of some kind.”
He nodded. “Yes—exactly.”
“And you can’t throw it off until—” “Until I can demonstrate in one particular way that I am free.”
I got up and held out my hand, “My dear fellow, the matter of your coming with us was settled before you asked me. I hope you’ll not get tired of us, and that you’ll consider yourself a perfectly free
“And Mrs. Vincent?” he put in with a touch of wistfulness. “Do I not impose up—?”
“My wife will be very glad,” I answered
Knowing Ruth, I knew she would— within the first week.
I saw little more of him till we met in New York, but curiously enough it was Naomi who said, “Thank you.” Her earnestness puzzled me till, remembering the other mystery, 'it all seemed reasonable enough.
“You know there was a good deal of misunderstanding about us. You certainly got hold of the wrong end of it.”
It would have been futile to assure her that it was Ruth. “So your spirits merely met and touched, as the poet puts it,” I said pointedly.
“That’s all.” Then she looked straight at me. “How much did he tell you?”
“We had a very interesting talk,” I parried, “and since he was evidently overwrought, the Egyptian trip seemed to be just the thing for him.”
She nodded. “So you know—and I know—but how about Ruth?”
“I considered it his private affair and let it go at that,” I confessed, feeling like a stealthy conspirator.
“Did he show you his”—she hesitated— “his evidence?”
“Good Lord, no! How could he have any?”
Naomi bit her lip. “I’m a good deal of a fool and please forget my question.” “Certainly. But”—I regarded her
keenly—“my dear, can you forget?”
She glanced out of the window but I could see that her lip trembled. “There is very little for me to remember,” she said unsteadily.
There are moments when the best intentioned man feels as though he had trodden on a lily bed. I reached for her hand. “I’m sorry. Tell me just what you want me to do.”
“You can’t think of anything? I’m not always as clumsy as I look.”
She smiled mistily. “The only thing I can think of is that I have to play Norah Farrell eighteen holes this morning for the Ladies’ Trophy, and if you get a chance to do Mr. Bethune another good turn—do it—for my sake, Bob.” Then
she kissed me swiftly behind the ear and vanished.
I yielded to a curious sensation, that as she went, the circle in which Ruth, Bethune and myself were to exist for the next few months, tightened perceptibly. I was far from guessing what might be the evidence of which she spoke, but the fact that she knew seemed in some way to fortify me in having Bethune with us.
A Æ Y justification I found in the gratitude in his face when we met at the steamer. There was just a handshake and a promise to meet at dinner and then he obliterated himself in the swarm that populated our mechanical ant hill. There was, too, a certain poignant romance in the reflection that whatever heartache he left behind, he had set forth again to tour a teeming world in an attempt to silence a voluble myth of his own creation. He was rubbing elbows with business men, tourists and invalids, and amongst us all he was alone, in that all havens were the same to him.
Madeira was only a blur on the horizon, when Ruth revealed how completely indeed Bethune had been adopted by her childless heart.
“I’m not very happy about him. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed it but he seems more restless than when we started. He’s like a man who has let go of some thing before he’s taken hold of another.”
“Or before he’s been taken hold of,” I ventured. “There’s salvation in that.”
As usual I missed fire. “I’m thankful I married one whom I can understand perfectly,” she continued calmly.
“Then you don’t feel any lack of—er-—the joys of exploration?”
“No, dear, nor the uncertainty of it.”
This might mean anything, so I let it pass and we lapsed into contemplation of what Homer used to call “the laughter of the sea.”
\\T E were well into the ^ * Mediterranean before I was convinced that a change had actually taken place in Bethune. He was now like a man who, as my wife said, was fumbling steadily in the future. He was just as courtly and had just the same reserved charm but his sentences broke off abruptly and his eyes were as wistful as a girl’s. It seemed that he already anticipated some hitherto unguessed development of his journey and was viewing it from as many angles as he might. There was no further offer to speak of his own affairs, but I knew he was immensely appreciative.
In another ten days we were on our dahabeah, heading for Wady Hafa. Bethune spent hours staring south toward the Nubian desert.
“I’m nearer to knowing what peace is than ever before,” he said one evening to my wife, glancing up at the perfect curve of our pointed sail.
Ruth was understandingly silent and, after a moment, he went on again. “I suppose the difficulty of getting one’s perspectiveness is that there are too many people in the world and the disturbed soul can neither do justice to itself or others. While here—”
“I don’t know that I quite agree with you.”
“I often wonder at the extraordinary amiability of people, especially of women,” he continued. “And I’ve an idea that if they were not content with so little, they’d get more.”
Ruth laughed, and quite brazenly I laid down my paper to listen.
“A sensible woman knows what she’ll get before she marries,” she retorted, “as for the others,” she shrugged her shoul-
“Yes—but think of it,” he persisted. “The terrific surrender, the domination— whether conscious or not—the stiffening into one form or another of what was before so pliable and fancy free. Doesn’t all that deserve the very best a man has to give?”
Ruth was moved in spite of herself. “And what would you call that?” she said gently.
“Something to lean on—companionship.
You have that and if I may say so—it’s beautiful to see—even though it hurts.” “Marriage precedes love, as I see it. Women are attracted by what they think they recognize in a man, and afterwards often learn to love something quite different.”
“Yes—I suppose that may be true, but the beauty of love is that it’s unexpected.” He dropped into silence for a while, then turning to me: “I saw in a Cairo paper that an old friend of mine, Barry, is digging near Abydos.”
“Tombs—he’s a rampant Egyptologist —caught it from Petrie, I think. Before that he was studying religious rites in the upper Congo.”
Ruth shivered a little. “Mummies and that sort of thing?”
“Yes—like to see it? I hear he’s not far from the Nile.”
“No thank you. To-day is enough for me and to-morrow and next day. I never had any respect for my ancestors.”
Instantly Bethune withdrew into his shell. He gave me the impression of having made an impetuous excursion and retreated swiftly to some inner security. It occurred to me that this was his sole suggestion since leaving America and, knowing how finely tempered is the link that holds roving Britons together, I cast about for something with which to heal his wounded sensibility. Looking at him I thought he had never looked more restless — and — yes, lonely.
But his mind worked more quickly than mine. He put the matter aside so completely that I felt he insisted that since we were one there should be no divisibility, so far as he was concerned.
WE moved lazily on,locked through Assouan and spent days at the half-submerged ruins of Philae that seemed doubly suggestive, rising out of the unwrinkled stream. Then we dropped back and some days later moored near Abydos where Barry was digging.
That evening Bethune, who had been surveying the cliffs that mark the western boundary of the Sahara, told us he would spend the next day ashore.
“I’ve changed my mind. I’d like to go,” said Ruth instantly. “I’ve thought quite a lot about my ancestors, since you spoke of it first.”
Bethune’s left eyelid drooped, as it always did when he was surprised. “Perhaps you’d better not. It’s a long ride on donkeys and means three hours to get there anyway.”
“Can’t your friend put us up?” I continued.
“It doesn’t mean that. We’ll be back to-night. The
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cemetery, I’m told, is only six miles from the river.”
So it came that next morning, the dahabeah furled her sail opposite a cluster of tents beside a mud village on the bank, and I saw a straight, trim figure stand and stare at us as we came ashore.
The meeting of the two friends had just sufficient suggestion of indifference to convince me that it was thoroughly British. Bethune nodded and held out his hand, while Barry’s eyes narrowed as he said: “Hullo—what are you doing here?”
WATCHING him while he was being introduced to Ruth, I thought I had never seen a man more hardened by exposure to sun, wind and weather. His skin was tanned a mahogany brown and the muscles in his lean arms looked like whipcord. He had moreover, the distinctive calmness of the Saxon and that definite touch, which assured one that he had drunk brandies and sodas from Alaska to Mandalay. His hair was brown and his eyes a hard blue and he betrayed no particular age.
We shook hands and, dismissing our past from his present, he jerked his chin toward the desert. “Want to come out? It was pretty good digging yesterday.” He paused and fished out a gold pendant. “Roman—about 500 B.C. Nice stuff, isn’t it?”
Ruth exclaimed at its beauty. “Where did' you get it?”
“Mummy—a wood coffin—very rare in Abydos. They didn’t put on many frills.” “Oh!”
“People been digging for a thousand years here. We don’t get very much now. I’m looking for inscriptions. Glad to have you, if you’d like to come.” He smiled faintly. “Nothing like this in the U.S.A.”
I became aware that Bethune had turned and was staring into the desert. His eyes were alight and his lips parted. He seemed like a wild creature that, long banished, now suddenly sniffed its native air. Ruth noted it too.
“I’ll be very glad to come,” she said. “When do we start? ”
“Right away. Wake up, old chap.” Bethune started as though jerked out of sleep, then looked at us and the color mounted hotly to his face.
“I’ve an extraordinary sensation of having been here before, but the river and those cliffs—I can’t just get that.” Barry glanced at him quickly. “Just what do you mean?”
“It seems,” answered Bethune, as though talking to himself, “that it’s too far from the water to the cliffs. We used to—” his voice trailed out and I felt Ruth’s hand slip into my arm.
Barry flashed us a warning. “Why is it too far? Go on,” he said evenly.
“The palms came closer to the river, and—” Again there was silence.
THE explorer crooked a finger and one of his men ran up. “A spade—dig!” he commanded sharply.
In a few moments, a small pyramid of white sand sparkled at his feet. “Look!” he said to me stooping. “This top stuff is what we call wind blown. Under a glass you would see that all the sharp corners and edges are rounded. That’S from traveling to and fro with the wind for a few thousand years. But this—” he plunged his hand to the bottom of the hole, “is water-laid and it’s quite sharp. It was brought here when the river covered where we stand. He glanced at Bethune. “How the devil did you know that?”
“Eight cubits deep,” whispered his friend. “Eight cubits deep and a brick tunnel at the bottom, the only one on that side. Let me sit down. I feel rather queer.”
It was an hour before we set out. These two rode ahead and Ruth, robbed of speech, beside me. Bethune was very pale and Barry surveyed him out of the corner of his eye. Soon we began to pass previous excavations. These were described curtly—Base of Pylon, courtyard, grain storage, temple wall, and so forth. The sun glared down and beat fiercely on ancient slabs and brickwork. There was something ruthless in this uncovering, denuding that which had slept so long beneath its glittering blanket, these memorial sands into which historic nations had thrust their myriad dead. I noted the straightness of Barry’s back and wondered if he was truly scientific, or had merely a predatory instinct.
At that instant he turned and pointed. “Temples of Memnon and Osiris, ripping work.” Then in just the same voice, and with a side glance, he added, “Remember any more, old man?”
“Hathor is dead and Isis; and only Ra the sun shines on. And the roofs of the houses are no longer thatched with millet but with cornstalks. How beautiful she was when she was dead,” mumbled Bethune.
I heard Ruth breathe quickly. Then Barry’s voice came in trembling.
“But before that?”
“I promised not to tell and Nefertari promised too,” chanted Bethune deliriously. Then he stiffened suddenly in his saddle. “It’s none of your damn business. Eh ! I beg your pardon.”
He rubbed his eyes and twisted round, but Ruth and I were staring at the Temple of Memnon. Not for worlds, would we have met his glance at that instant.
Barry said nothing more and we plodded toward the strip of barrenness, “that just divides the desert from the sown.” Beyond this were those amazing cliffs palpitating in orange and red. At one time the Nile must have lapped against these stupendous and vertical barricades but now, shrunk to a ribbon, it meandered lazily through the vast delta of its own creation.
T) ETHUNE was silent nor was there -*-* any attempt made to rouse him. Then, as we drew near the scene of Barry’s labors, the latter began to explain things, speaking all the time with a curious suggestion that it was only to us he
addressed himself, and not Bethune as he was in the secret already.
“Buildings and temples and towns generally show up somehow in outlines or shreds of pottery. Then we dig—with a system. I've seen ten towns built, one on top of each other. They just crumble and the next one is started.”
“But graves,” I said. “How do you find graves?”
“We go down till we come to the waterlaid sand and, if there’s any mixture of that and wind-blown, it just means that some one’s been diggin’ a grave there at some time and what he pitched out got mixed with what was on top.”
“Yes, and then—”
“They’re generally at the bottom of a brick-lined shaft. We strike the top of that.”
Bethune nodded thoughtfully but did not speak. He seemed to be listening.
“Where I’m working now is mostly Ptolemaic, you know,” concluded Barry, “about four hundred B.C. Cheerful people. The men generally married their sisters. Cleopatra was the last of ’em.”
TT was noon when we dismounted, stiffly, beside a tent he had pitched in the middle of his work. The shade was grateful, for the sun though not oppressive seemed extraordinarily penetrating. Bethune stood for a moment looking curiously about. He seemed hardly to breathe while his eyes wandered and apparently picked up old land marks. Something that was like memory clouded his eyes, till they took on a strange glaze. Then he stepped off toward two men who were emptying sand baskets on to a small, irregular mound.
Barry gathered us with a glance and we followed. Once at the excavation, he began to talk with a palpable assumption of indifference.
“There—you see the brick-lined shaft. It’s apt to bulge and bury the men below. If you lean over you can see him. He’s about at the bottom now.”
We leaned over and did see him. Bethune did not move and stood staring at the brick work. Then Barry ejaculated.
“By George! There it is—you’re here at just the right time. Can you see that tunnel?”
I stretched further and perceived that one side of the shaft opened into a small vault-like hole. The curve of its roof was also brick. “That’s the only one on that side,” he went on, his eyes wandering to Bethune.
The latter nodded and smiled sadly. “It was the best we could afford. She was so beautiful,” he whispered.
A sentence of Arabic floated up from the shaft. Barry looked at me. “I’ll have to go down. He wants help. Will you—” he glanced again at his friend.
I nodded and Ruth moved over and stood beside our traveler. Barry disappeared and took an end of rope with him. “Hoist!” he said presently.
TT came up lightly. Bethune stepped forward, received it in his arms and peered hard into the swathed bands ere he laid it gently down. Then Barry clambered up and, shaking the sand out of his clothes, examined it closely.
“Greek,” he said. “You can tell by those wrappings. They’re all in a pattern of concentric squares. That’s typical.”
But Bethune squatting on the earth began to shiver. “No—not Greek. They— they were good to her—that’s all. She came from far away.”
“It’s all right, old chap. Anyway you like.”
“Her name is Nefertari,” answered the other. “I ought to know. Look!—look— you know where.”
Ruth began to cry softly as Bethune, with his hands clasped, rocked to and fro while he crooned something unintelligible.
“My God ! Where did you get that?” snapped Barry. He turned to me and spoke under his breath. “It’s the incantation to Osiris.”
“Are you afraid to look?” whimpered the crouching man. “Go on. She won’t mind now.”
Barry crossed shakily and, stooping over the form, pulled away the wrappings at the breast. They crumbled into dust and there on the black and withered heart lay something tarnished and yellow.
“It’s Irish,” he said nervously. “There’s the flat band and the Celtic spiral—quite unmistakable, but it’s broken. This is only half. It’s probably a love token. She was evidently a slave girl in some Greek family, and in those days the Celts were famous for jewelry. I say Bethune, stop it. Get up.”
But Bethune was fumbling in his own breast and rocking in an abandonment of grief. Presently he found a leather case and, as he opend it, I could hear his teeth chatter; but his eyes were blazing. In another moment he laid the other half of the bracelet on the dusty bosom and bent forward, brows to the earth in the immemorial posture of worship. Then he crumpled up and keeled over.
A week later, he bade us good-by at Assouan and we watched his figure diminish as the steamer slid rapidly down stream. He stood motionless and bareheaded but utterly peaceful and triumphant. We never saw him again, nor did we hear that anyone else had seen him. Naomi married two years later and, on the eve of her wedding received a nameless and magnificent present of rubies. That was the last sign of his existence. We often talk of him. Ruth pictures him as still a wanderer with that deathless ache in his heart, but I know that somewhere he has found his mate and she will not disturb his dreams of that Nefertari on whose pale and sumptuous breast his spirit had rested two thousand years ago.