THE REMORSE OF WONDERING NANCY
She awoke to the sun, glad-hearted
and made newly buoyant by one of those soundless black
sleeping-nights that come only to the town-tired when
they have first fled. She ran to the glass to
know if the restoration she felt might also be seen.
With unbiassed calculation the black-fringed lids
drew apart and one hand pushed back of the temple,
and held there, a tangled skein of hair that had thrown
the dusk of a deep wood about her eyes. Then,
as she looked, came the little dreaming smile that
unfitted critic eyes for their office; a smile that
wakened to a laugh as she looked a little
womanish chuckle of confident joy, as one alone speaking
aloud in an overflowing moment.
An hour later she was greeting Bernal
where the sun washed through the big room.
“Young life sings in me!”
she said, and felt his lightening eyes upon her lips
as she smiled.
There were three days of it days
in which, however, she grew to fear those eyes, lest
they fall upon her in judgment. She now saw that
his eyes had changed most. They gave the face
its look of absence, of dreaming awkwardness.
They had the depth of a hazy sky at times, then cleared
to a coldly lucid glance that would see nothing ever
to fear, within or without; that would hide no falseness
nor yet be deceived by any a deadly half-shut,
appraising coolness that would know false from true,
even though they mated amicably and distractingly in
The effect of this glance which she
found upon herself from time to time was to make Nancy
suspect herself to question her motives
and try her defenses. To her amazement she found
these latter weak under Bernal’s gaze, and there
grew in her a tender remorse for the injustice she
had done her husband. From little pricking suspicions
on the first day she came on the last to conviction.
It seemed that being with Bernal had opened her eyes
to Allan’s worth. She had narrowly, flippantly
misjudged a good man good in all essentials.
She was contrite for her unwifely lack of abnegation.
She began to see herself and Allan with Bernal’s
eyes: she was less than she had thought he
was more. Bernal had proved these things to her
all unconsciously. Now her heart was flooded with
gratitude for his simple, ready, heartfelt praise of
his brother of his unfailing good-temper,
his loyalty, his gifts, his modesty so often distressed
by outspoken admiration of his personal graces.
She listened and applauded with a heart that renewed
itself in all good resolves of devotion. Even
when Bernal talked of himself, he made her feel that
she had been unjust to Allan.
Little by little she drew many things
from him the story of his journeyings and
of his still more intricate mental wanderings.
And it thrilled her to think he had come back with
a message even though he already doubted
himself. Sometimes he would be jocular about it
and again hot with a passion to express himself.
“Nance,” he said on another
night, “when you have a real faith in God a
dead man is a miracle not less than a living and
a live man dying is quite as wondrous as a dead man
living. Do you know, I was staggered one day
by discovering that the earth didn’t give way
when I stepped on it? The primitive man knowing
little of physics doesn’t know that a child’s
hand could move the earth through space but
for a certain mysterious resistance. That’s
God. I felt him all that day, at every step, pushing
the little globe back under me counteracting
me resisting me ever so gently.
Those are times when you feel you must tell it, Nance when
the God-consciousness comes.”
“Oh, Bernal, if you could if
you could come back to do what your grandfather really
wanted you to do to preach something worth
“I doubt the need for my message,
Nance. I need for myself a God that could no
more spare a Hottentot than a Pope but I
doubt if the world does. No one would listen
to me I’m only a dreamer. Once,
when I was small they gave me a candy cane for Christmas.
It was a thing I had long worshipped in shop-windows actually
worshipped as the primitive man worshipped his idol.
I can remember how sad I was when no one else worshipped
with me, or paid the least attention to my treasure.
I suspect I shall meet the same indifference now.
And I hope I’ll have the same philosophy.
I remember I brought myself to eat the cane, which
I suppose is the primary intention regarding them and
perhaps the fruits of one’s faith should be
eaten quite as practically.”
They had sent no word to Allan, agreeing
it were better fun to surprise him. When they
took the train together on the third day, the wife
not less than the brother looked forward to a joyous
reunion with him. And now that Nancy had proved
in her heart the perverse unwifeliness of her old
attitude and was eager to begin the symbolic rites
of her atonement, it came to her to wonder how Bernal
would have judged her had she persisted in that first
wild impulse of rebellion. She wanted to see
from what degree of his reprobation she had saved herself.
She would be circuitous in her approach.
“You remember, Bernal, that
night you went away how you said there was
no moral law under the sky for you but your own?”
He smiled, and above the noise of
the train his voice came to her as his voice of old
came above the noise of the years.
“Yes Nance that
was right. No moral law but mine. I carried
out my threat to make them all find their authority
“Then you still believe yours is the only authority?”
“Yes; it sounds licentious and
horrible, doesn’t it; but there are two queer
things about it the first is that man quite
naturally wishes to be decent, and the second
is that, when he does come to rely wholly upon the
authority within himself, he finds it a stricter disciplinarian
than ever the decalogue was. One needs only ordinary
good taste to keep the ten commandments the
moral ones. A man may observe them all and still
be morally rotten! But it’s no joke to live
by one’s own law, and yet that’s all anybody
has to keep him right, if we only knew it, Nance barring
a few human statutes against things like murder and
keeping one’s barber-shop open on the Sabbath the
ruder offenses which no gentleman ever wishes to commit.
“And must poor woman be ruled by her own God,
“Well, it’s not so long
ago that the fathers of the Church were debating in
council whether she had a soul or not, charging her
with bringing sin, sickness and death into the world.”
“Exactly. St. John Damascene
called her ’a daughter of falsehood and a sentinel
of hell’; St. Jerome came in with ’Woman
is the gate of the devil, the road to iniquity, the
sting of the scorpion’; St. Gregory, I believe,
considered her to have no comprehension of goodness;
pious old Tertullian complimented her with corrupting
those whom Satan dare not attack; and then there was
St. Chrysostom really he was much more
charitable than his fellow Saints it always
seemed to me he was not only more humane but more
human more interested, you might say.
You know he said, ’Woman is a necessary evil,
a domestic peril, a deadly fascination, a painted
ill.’ It always seemed to me St. Chrysostom
had a past. But really, I think they all went
too far. I don’t know woman very well,
but I suspect she has to find her moral authority where
man finds his within herself.”
“You know what made me ask a
little woman in town came to see Allan not long ago
to know if she mightn’t leave her husband she
had what seemed to her sufficient reason.”
“I imagine Allan said ‘no.’”
“He did. Would you have advised her differently?”
“Bless you, no. I’d
advise her to obey her priest. The fact that she
consulted him shows that she has no law of her own.
St. Paul said this wise and deep thing: ’I
know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there
is nothing unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth
anything unclean, to him it is unclean!’”
“Then it lay in her own view
of it. If she had felt free to go, she would
have done right to go.”
“Yet Allan talked to her about the sanctity
of the home.”
“I doubt if the sanctity of
the home is maintained by keeping unwilling mates
together, Nance. I can imagine nothing less sanctified
than a home of that sort peopled by a couple
held together against the desire of either or both.
The willing mates need no compulsion, and they’re
the ones, it seems to me, that have given the home
its reputation for sanctity. I never thought
much about divorce, but I can see that much at once.
Of course, Allan takes the Church’s attitude,
which survives from a time when a woman was bought
and owned; when the God of Moses classed her with
the ox and the ass as a thing one must not covet.”
“You really think if a woman
has made a failure of her marriage she has a right
to break it.”
“That seems sound as a general
law, Nance better for her to make a hundred
failures, for that matter, than stay meekly in the
first because of any superstition. But, mind
you, if she suspects that the Church may, after all,
have succeeded in tying up the infinite with red-tape
and sealing-wax believes that God is a
large, dark notary-public who has recorded her marriage
in a book she will do better to stay.
Doubtless the conceit of it will console her that
the God who looks after the planets has an eye on
her, to see that she makes but one guess about so
uncertain a thing as a man.”
“Then you would advise ”
“No, I wouldn’t.
The woman who has to be advised should never take
advice. I dare say divorce is quite as hazardous
as marriage, though possibly most people divorce with
a somewhat riper discretion than they marry with.
But the point is that neither marriage nor divorce
can be considered a royal road to happiness, and a
woman ought to get her impetus in either case from
her own inner consciousness. I should call divorcing
by advice quite as silly as marrying by it.”
“But it comes at last to her own law in her
“When she has awakened to it when
she honestly feels it. God’s law for woman
is the same as for man and he has but two
laws for both that are universal and unchanging:
The first is, they are bound at all times to desire
happiness; the second is, that they can be happy only
by being wise which is what we sometimes
mean when we say ‘good,’ but of course
no one knows what wisdom is for all, nor what goodness
is for all, because we are not mechanical dolls of
the same pattern. That’s why I reverence
God the scheme is so ingenious so
productive of variety in goodness and wisdom.
Probably an evil marriage is as hard to be quit of
as any vice. People persist long after the sanctity
has gone because they lack moral courage.
Hoover was quite that way with cigarettes. If
some one could only have made Jim believe that God
had joined him to cigarettes, and that he mustn’t
quit them or he’d shatter the foundations of
our domestic integrity he’d have died
in cheerful smoke very soon after a time
when he says I saved his life. All he wanted
was some excuse to go on smoking. Most people
are so slothful-souled. But remember,
don’t advise your friend in town. Her asking
advice is a sign that she shouldn’t have it.
She is not of the coterie that Paul describes if
you don’t mind Paul once more ’Happy
is he that condemneth not himself in that which he
There had come to the woman a vast
influx of dignity a joyous increase in
the volume of that new feeling that called to her husband.
She would have gone back, but one of the reasons would
have been because she thought it “right” because
it was what the better world did! But now ah!
now she was going unhampered by that compulsion
which galls even the best. She was free to stay
away, but of her own glad, loyal will she was going
back to the husband she had treated unjustly, judged
by too narrow a standard.
“Allan will be so astonished
and delighted,” she said, when the coupe rolled
out of the train-shed.
She remembered now with a sort of
pride the fine, unflinching sternness with which he
had condemned divorce. In a man of principles
so staunch one might overlook many surface eccentricities.