THE REASON OF A WOMAN WHO HAD NO REASON
It was not a jest Nancy’s
telling Aunt Bell that her reason for going to Edom
was too foolish to give even to herself. At least
such reticence to self is often sincerely and plausibly
asserted by the very inner woman. Yet no sooner
had her train started than her secret within a secret
began to tell itself: at first in whispers, then
low like a voice overheard through leafy trees; then
loud and louder until all the noise of the train did
no more than confuse the words so that only she could
When the exciting time of this listening
had gone and she stepped from the train into the lazy
spring silence of the village, her own heart spelled
the thing in quick, loud, hammering beats a
thing which, now that she faced it, was so wildly
impossible that her cheeks burned at the first second
of actual realisation of its enormity; and her knees
weakened in a deathly tremble, quite as if they might
bend embarrassingly in either direction.
Then in the outer spaces of her mind
there grew, to save her, a sense of her crass fatuity.
She was quickly in a carriage, eager to avoid any
acquaintance, glad the driver was no village familiar
who might amiably seek to regale her with gossip.
They went swiftly up the western road through its
greening elms to where Clytie kept the big house her
own home while she lived, and the home of the family
when they chose to go there.
At last, the silent, cool house with
its secretive green shutters rose above her; the wheels
made their little crisping over the fine metal of
the driveway. She hastily paid the man and was
at the side door that opened into the sitting-room.
As she put her hand to the knob she was conscious
of Clytie passing the window to open the door.
Then they were face to face over the
threshold Clytemnestra, of a matronly circumference,
yet with a certain prim consciousness of herself,
which despite the gray hair and the excellent maturity
of her face, was unmistakably maidenish Clytie
of the eyes always wise to another’s needs and
beaming with that fine wisdom.
She started back from the doorway
by way of being playfully dramatic her
hands on her hips, her head to one side at an astounded
angle. Yet little more than a second did she let
herself simulate this welcoming incredulity this
stupefaction of cordiality. There must be quick
speech especially as to Nancy’s face which
seemed strangely unfamiliar, set, suppressed, breathless,
unaccountably young and there had to be
the splendid announcement of another matter.
“Why, child, is it you or your ghost?”
Nancy could only nod her head.
“My suz! what ails the child?”
Here the other managed a shake of the head and a made
“And of all things! you’ll
never, never, never guess! ”
“There there! yes,
yes yes! I know know all
about it knew it knew it last
She had put out a hand toward Clytie
and now reached the other from her side, easing herself
to the doorpost against which she leaned and laughed,
“Some one told you on the way up?”
“Yes I knew it, I
tell you that’s what makes it so funny
and foolish why I came, you know ”
She had now gained a little in coherence, and with
it came a final doubt. She steadied herself in
the doorway to ask “When did Bernal
And Clytie, somewhat relieved, became voluble.
“Night before last on the six-fifteen,
and me getting home late from the Epworth meeting fire
out not a stick of kindling-wood in only
two cakes in the buttery, neither of them a layer not
a frying-size chicken on the place thank
goodness he didn’t have the appetite he used
to though in another way it’s just
downright heartbreaking to see a person you care for
not be a ready eater but I had some of the
plum jell he used to like, and the good half of an
apple-John which I at once het up and I
sent Mehitty Lykins down for some chops ”
“Where is he?”
There had seemed to be a choking in
the question. Clytie regarded her curiously.
“He was lying down up in the
study a while ago kicking one foot up in
the air against the wall, with his head nearly off
the sofy onto the floor, just like he used to there that’s
his step ”
“I can’t see him now!
Here let me go into your room till I freshen
and rest a bit quick ”
Once more the indecisive knees seemed
about to bend either way under their burden.
With an effort of will she drew the amazed Clytie toward
the open door of the latter’s bedroom, then closed
it quickly, and stood facing her in the dusk of the
weak it’s so strange actually
weak I shake so Oh, Clytie I’ve
got to cry!”
There was a mutual opening of arms
and a head on Clytie’s shoulder, wet eyes close
in a corner that had once been the good woman’s
neck and stifling sobs that seemed one
moment to contract her body rigidly from head to foot the
next to leave it limp and falling. From the nursing
shoulder she was helped to the bed, though she could
not yet relax her arms from that desperate grip of
Clytie’s neck. Long she held her so, even
after the fit of weeping passed, clasping her with
arms in which there was almost a savage intensity arms
that locked themselves more fiercely at any little
stirring of the prisoned one.
At last, when she had lain quiet a
long time, the grasp was suddenly loosened and Clytie
was privileged to ease her aching neck and cramped
shoulders. Then, even as she looked down, she
heard from Nancy the measured soft breathing of sleep.
She drew a curtain to shut out one last ray of light,
and went softly from the room.
Two hours later, as Clytemnestra attained
ultimate perfection in the arrangement of four glass
dishes of preserves and three varieties of cake upon
her table for she still kept to the sinfully
complex fare of the good old simple days Nancy
came out. Clytie stood erect to peer anxiously
over the lamp at her.
“I’m all right you
were a dear to let me sleep. See how fresh I am.”
“You do look pearter, child but
you look different from when you came. My suz!
you looked so excited and kind of young when I opened
that door, it give me a start for a minute I
thought I’d woke out of a dream and you was
a Miss in short skirts again. But now let
me see you closer.” She came around the
table, then continued: “Well, you look fresh
and sweet and some rested, and you look old and reasonable
again I mean as old as you had ought to
look. I never did know you to act that way before,
child. My neck ain’t got the crick out of
“Poor old Clytie but
you see yesterday all day I felt queer very
queer, and wrought up, and last night I couldn’t
rest, and I lay awake and excited all night and
something seemed to give way when I saw you in the
door. Of course it was nervousness, and I shall
be all right now ”
She looked up and saw Bernal staring
at her standing in the doorway of the big
room, his face shading into the dusk back of him.
She went to him with both hands out and he kissed
“Is it Nance?”
“I don’t know but it’s
“Clytie says you knew I had come.”
“Clytie must have misunderstood.
No one even intimated such a thing. I came up
to-day I had to come because if
I had known you were here, wouldn’t I have brought
“Of course I was going to let
you know, and come down in a few days there
was some business to do here. Dear old Allan!
I’m aching to get a stranglehold on him!”
“Yes he’ll be so glad there’s
so much to say!”
“I didn’t know whom I should find here.”
“We’ve had Clytie look
after both houses sometimes we’ve
rented mine and almost every summer we’ve
“You know I didn’t dream
I was rich until I got here. The lawyer says
they’ve advertised, but I’ve been away
from everything most of the time not looking
out for advertisements. I can’t understand
the old gentleman, when I was such a reprobate and
Allan was always such a thoroughly decent chap.”
“Oh, hardly a reprobate!”
“Worse, Nance an
ass think of my talking to that dear old
soul as I did taking twenty minutes off
to win him from his lifelong faith. I shudder
when I remember it. And yet I honestly thought
he might be made to see things my way.”
Their speech had been quick, and her
eyes were fastened upon his with a look from the old
days striving in her to bring back that big moment
of their last parting that singular moment
when they blindly groped for each other but had perforce
to be content with one poor, trembling handclasp!
Had that trembling been a weakness or a strength?
For all time since and increasingly during
the later years secret memories of it had
wonderfully quickened a life that would otherwise have
tended to fall dull, torpid, stubborn. It was
not that their hands had met, but that they had trembled those
two strange hands that had both repelled and coerced
each other faltering at last into that long
moment of triumphant certainty.
Under the first light words with Bernal
this memory had welled up anew in her with a mighty
power before which she was as a leaf in the wind.
Then, all at once, she saw that they had become dazed
and speechless above this present clasp the
yielding, yet opposing, of those all-knowing, never-forgetting
hands. There followed one swift mutual look of
bewilderment. Then their hands fell apart and
with little awkward laughs they turned to Clytie.
They were presently at table, Clytie
in a trance of ecstatic watchfulness for emptied plates,
broken only by reachings and urgings of this or that
Under the ready talk that flowed,
Nancy had opportunity to observe the returned one.
And now his strangeness vaguely hurt her. The
voice and the face were not those that had come to
secret life in her heart during the years of his absence.
Here was not the laughing boy she had known, with
his volatile, Lucifer-like charm of light-hearted recklessness
in the face of destiny. Instead, a thinned, shy
face rose before her, a face full of awkwardness and
dreaming, troubled and absent; a face that one moment
appealed by its defenseless forgetfulness, and the
next, coerced by a look eloquent of tested strength.
As she watched him, there were two
of her: one, the girl dreaming forward out of
the past, receptive of one knew not what secrets from
inner places; the other, the vivid, alert woman listening,
waiting, judging. She it was whose laugh came
often to make of her face the perfect whole out of
many little imperfections.
Later, when they sat in the early
summer night, under a moon blurred to a phantom by
the mist, when the changed lines of his face were no
longer relentless and they two became little more
than voices and remembered presences to each other,
she began to find him indeed unchanged. Even
his voice had in an hour curiously lost that hurting
strangeness. As she listened she became absent,
almost drowsy with memories of that far night when
his voice was quite the same and their hands had trembled
together with such prescience that through
all the years her hand was to feel the groping of
Yet awkward enough was that first
half-hour of their sitting side by side in the night,
on the wide piazza of his old home. Before them
the lawn stretched unbroken to the other big house,
where Nancy had wondered her way to womanhood.
Empty now it was, darkened as those years of her dreaming
girlhood must be to the present. Should she enter
it, she knew the house would murmur with echoes of
other days; there would be the wraith of the girl
she once was flitting as of old through its peopled
And out there actually before her
was the stretch of lawn where she had played games
of tragic pretense with the imperious, dreaming boy.
Vividly there came back that late afternoon when the
monster of Bernal’s devising had frightened
them for the last time when in a sudden
flash of insight they had laughed the thing away forever
and faced each other with a certain half-joyous, half-foolish
maturity of understanding. One day long after
this she had humorously bewailed to Bernal the loss
of their child’s faith in the Gratcher.
He had replied that, as an institution, the Gratcher
was imperishable that it was brute humanity’s
instinctive negation to the incredible perfections
of life; that while the child’s Gratcher was
not the man’s, the latter was yet of the same
breed, however it might be refined by the subtleties
of maturity: that the man, like the child, must
fashion some monster of horror to deter him when he
hears God’s call to live.
She had not been able to understand,
nor did she now. She was looking out to the two
trees where once her hammock had swung to
the rustic chair, now falling apart from age, from
which Bernal had faced her that last evening.
Then with a start she was back in the present.
Nancy of the old days must be shut fat in the old
house. There she might wander and wonder endlessly
among the echoes and the half-seen faces, but never
could she come forth; over the threshold there could
pass only the wife of Allan Linford.
Quick upon this realisation came a
sharp fear of the man beside her a fear
born of his hand’s hold upon hers when they had
met. She shrank under the memory of it, with
a sudden instinct of the hunted. Then from her
new covert of reserve she dared to peer cautiously
at him, seeking to know how great was her peril to
learn what measure of defense would best insure her
safety recognising fearfully the traitor
in her own heart.
Their first idle talk had died, and
she noted with new alarm that they had been silent
for many minutes. This could not safely be this
insidious, barrier-destroying silence. She seemed
to hear his heart beating high from his own sense
of peril. But would he help her? Would he
not rather side with that wretched traitor within her,
crying out for the old days would he not
still be the proud fool who would suffer no man’s
law but his own? She shivered at the thought of
his nearness of his momentous silence of
his treacherous ally.
She stirred in her chair to look in
where Clytie bustled between kitchen and dining-room.
Her movement aroused him from his own abstraction.
For a breathless stretch of time she was frozen to
inertness by sheer terror. Would that old lawless
spirit utter new blasphemies, giving fearful point
to them now? Would the old eager hand come again
upon hers with a boy’s pleading and a man’s
power? And what of her own secret guilt?
She had cherished the memory of him and across space
had responded to him through that imperious need of
her heart. Swiftly in this significant moment
she for the first time saw herself with critical eyes saw
that in her fancied security she had unwittingly enthroned
the hidden traitor. More and more poignant grew
her apprehension as she felt his eyes upon her and
divined that he was about to speak. With a little
steadying of the lips, with eyes that widened at him
in the dim light, she waited for the sound of his
voice waited as one waits for something
“terrible and dear” the whirlwind
that might destroy utterly, or pass to
leave her forever exulting in a new sense of power
against elemental forces.
“Would you mind if I smoked, Nance?”
She stared stupidly. So tense
had been her strain that the words were mere meaningless
blows that left her quivering. He thought she
had not heard.
“Would you mind my pipe and this
very mild mixture?”
She blessed him for the respite.
“Smoke, of course!” she managed to say.
She watched him closely, still alert,
as he stuffed the tobacco into his pipe-bowl from
a rubber pouch. Then he struck the match and in
that moment she suffered another shock. The little
flame danced out of the darkness, and wavering, upward
shadows played over a face of utter quietness.
The relaxed shoulders drooped sideways in the chair,
the body placidly sprawled, one crossed leg gently
waving. The shaded eye surveyed some large and
tranquil thought and in that eye the soul
sat remote, aloof from her as any star.
She sank back in her chair with a
long, stealthy breath of relief a relief
as cold as stone. She had not felt before that
there was a chill in the wide sweetness of the night.
Now it wrapped her round and slowly, with a soft brutality,
penetrated to her heart.
The silence grew too long. With
a shrugging effort she surmounted herself and looked
again toward the alien figure looming unconcerned in
the gloom. A warm, super-personal sense of friendliness
came upon her. Her intellect awoke to inquiries.
She began to question him of his days away, and soon
he was talking freely enough, between pulls of his
“You know, Nance, I was a prodigal only
when I awoke I had no father to go to. Poor grandad!
What a brutal cub I was! That has always stuck
in my mind. I was telling you about that cold
wet night in Denver. I had found a lodging in
the police station. There were others as forlorn and
Nance did you ever realise the buoyancy
of the human mind? It’s sublime. We
rejected ones sat there, warming ourselves, chatting,
and pretty soon one man found there were thirteen
of us. You would have thought that none of them
could fear bad luck worse luck none
of them could have been more dismally situated.
But, do you know? most of those fellows became nervous as
apprehensive of bad luck as if they had been pampered
princes in a time of revolution. I was one of
the two that volunteered to restore confidence by
bringing in another man.
“We found an undersized, insignificant-looking
chap toddling aimlessly along the street a few blocks
away from the station. We grappled with him and
hustled him back to the crowd. He slept with us
on the floor, and no one paid any further attention
to him, except to remark that he talked to himself
a good bit. He and I awoke earliest next morning.
I asked him if he was hungry and he said he was.
So I bought two fair breakfasts with the money I’d
saved for one good one, and we started out of town.
This chap said he was going that way, and I had made
up my mind to find a certain friend of mine a
chap named Hoover. The second day out I discovered
that this queer man was the one who’d been turning
Denver upside down for ten days, healing the halt and
the blind. He was running away because he liked
a quieter life.”
He stopped, laughing softly, as if
in remembrance until she prompted him.
“Yes, he said, ‘Father’
had commanded him to go into the wilderness to fast.
He was always talking familiarly with ‘Father,’
as we walked. So I stayed by him longer than
I meant to he seemed so helpless and
I happened at that time to be looking for the true
“Did you find him, Bernal?”
“In this strange man?”
“In myself. It’s
the same old secret, Nance, that people have been
discovering for ages but it is a secret
only until after you learn it for yourself. The
only true revelation from God is here in man in
the human heart. I had to be years alone to find
it out, Nance I’d had so much of
that Bible mythology stuffed into me but
I mustn’t bore you with it.”
“Oh, but I must know, Bernal you
don’t dream how greatly I need at this moment
to believe something more than you
“It’s simple, Nance.
It’s the only revelation in which the God of
yesterday gives willing place to the better God of
to-day only here does the God of to-day
say, ’Thou shalt have no other God before me
but the God of to-morrow who will be more Godlike
than I. Only in this way can we keep our God growing
always a little beyond us so that to-morrow
we shall not find ourselves surpassing him as the first
man you would meet out there on the street surpasses
the Christian God even in the common virtues.
That was the fourth dimension of religion that I wanted,
Nance faith in a God that a fearless man
He lighted his pipe again, and as
the match blazed up she saw the absent look still
in his eyes. By it she realised how far away from
her he was realised it with a little sharp
sense of desolation. He smoked a while before
“Out there in the mountains,
Nance, I thought about these things a long time the
years went before I knew it. At first I stayed
with this healing chap, only after a while he started
back to teach again and they found him dead.
He believed he had a mission to save the world, and
that he would live until he accomplished it.
But there he was, dead for want of a little food.
Then I stayed a long time alone until I
began to feel that I, too, had something for the world.
It began to burn in my bones. I thought of him,
dead and the world not caring that he hadn’t
saved it not even knowing it was lost.
But I kept thinking a man can be so much
more than himself when he is alone and it
seemed to me that I saw at least two things the world
needed to know two things that would teach
men to stop being cowards and leaners.”
Her sympathy was quick and ardent.
“Oh, Bernal,” she said
warmly, “you made me believe when you believed
nothing and now, when I need it above all
other times, you make me believe again! And you’ve
come back with a message! How glorious!”
He smiled musingly.
“I started with one, Nance one
that had grown in me all those years till it filled
my life and made me put away everything. I didn’t
accept it at first. It found me rebellious wanting
to live on the earth. Then there came a need
to justify myself to show that I was not
the mere vicious unbeliever poor grandad thought me.
And so I fought to give myself up and I
won. I found the peace of the lone places.”
His voice grew dreamy ceased,
as if that peace were indeed too utter for words.
Then with an effort he resumed:
“But after a while the world
began to rumble in my ears. A man can’t
cut himself off from it forever. God has well
seen to that! As the message cleared in my mind,
there grew a need to give it out. This seemed
easy off there. The little puzzles that the world
makes so much of solved themselves for me. I
saw them to be puzzles of the world’s own creating all
artificial all built up fashioned
clumsily enough from man’s brute fear of the
half-God, half-devil he has always made in his own
“But now that I’m here,
Nance, I find myself already a little bewildered.
The solution of the puzzles is as simple as ever, but
the puzzles themselves are more complex as I come
closer to them so complex that my simple
answer will seem only a vague absurdity.”
He paused and she felt his eyes upon
her felt that he had turned from his abstractions
to look at her more personally.
“Even since meeting you, Nance,”
he went on with an odd, inward note in his voice,
“I’ve been wondering if Hoover could by
some chance have been right. When I left, Hoover
said I was a fool a certain common variety
“Oh, I’m sure you’re
not at least, not the common kind.
I dare say that a man must be a certain kind of fool
to think he can put the world forward by leaps and
bounds. I think he must be a fool to assume that
the world wants truth when it wants only to be assured
that it has already found the truth for itself.
The man who tells it what it already believes is never
called a fool and perhaps he isn’t.
Indeed, I’ve come to think he is less than a
fool that he’s a mere polite echo.
But oh, Bernal, hold to your truth! Be the simple
fool and worry the wise in the cages they have built
She was leaning eagerly forward, forgetful
of all save that her starved need was feasting royally.
“Don’t give up; don’t
parrot the commoner fool’s conceits back to him
for the sake of his solemn approval. Let those
of his kind give him what he wants, while you meet
those who must have more. I’m one of them,
Bernal. At this moment I honestly don’t
know whether I’m a bad woman or a good one.
And I’m frightened I’m so defenseless!
Some little soulless circumstance may make me decisively
good or bad and I don’t want to be
bad! But give me what I want I must
have that, regardless of what it makes me.”
He was silent for a time, then at last spoke:
“I used to think you were a
rebel, Nance. Your eyes betrayed it, and the
corners of your mouth went up the least little bit,
as if they’d go further up before they went
down as if you’d laugh away many solemn
respectabilities. But that’s not bad.
There are more things to laugh at than are dreamed
of. That’s Hoover’s entire creed,
by the way.”
She remembered the name from that
old tale of Caleb Webster’s.
“Is is this friend of yours Mr.
Hoover in good health?”
“Fine weighs a hundred
and eighty. He and I have a ranch on the Wimmenuche only
Hoover’s been doing most of the work while I
thought about things. I see that. Hoover
says one can’t do much for the world but laugh
at it. He has a theory of his own. He maintains
that God set this planet whirling, then turned away
for a moment to start another universe or something.
He says that when the Creator glances back at us again,
to find this poor, scrubby little earth-family divided
over its clod, the strong robbing the weak in the
midst of plenty for all enslaving them
to starve and toil and fight, spending more for war
than would keep the entire family in luxury; that when
God looks closer, in his amazement, and finds that,
next to greed, the matter of worshipping Him has made
most of the war and other deviltry the hatred
and persecution and killing among all the little brothers he
will laugh aloud before he reflects, and this little
ballful of funny, passionate insects will be blown
to bits. He says if the world comes to an end
in his lifetime, he will know God has happened to
look this way, and perhaps overheard a bishop say
something vastly important about Apostolic succession
or the validity of the Anglican Orders or Transubstantiation
or ‘communion in two kinds’ or something.
He insists that a sense of humour is our only salvation that
only those will be saved who happen to be laughing
for the same reason that God laughs when He looks
at us that the little Mohammedans and Christians
and things will be burned for their blasphemy of believing
God not wise and good enough to save them all, Mohammedan
and Christian alike, though not thinking excessively
well of either; that only those laughing at the whole
gory nonsense will go into everlasting life by reason
of their superior faith in God.”
“Of course that’s plausible,
and yet it’s radical. Hoover’s father
was a bishop, and I think Hoover is just a bit narrow
from early training. He can’t see that
lots of people who haven’t a vestige of humour
are nevertheless worth saving. I admit that saving
them will be a thankless task. God won’t
be able to take very much pleasure in it, but in strict
justice he will do it even if Hoover does
regard it as a piece of extravagant sentimentality.”
A little later she went in. She
left him gazing far off into the night, filled with
his message, dull to memory on the very scene that
evoked in her own heart so much from the old days.
And as she went she laughed inwardly at a certain
consternation the woman of her could not wholly put
down; for she had blindly hurled herself against a
wall the wall of his message. But
it was funny, and the message chained her interest.
She could, she thought, strengthen his resolution
to give it out help him in a thousand ways.
As she fell asleep the thought of
him hovered and drifted on her heart softly, as darkness
rests on tired eyes.