THE FLEXIBLE MIND OF A PLEASED HUSBAND
As they entered the little reception-room
from the hall, the doors of the next room were pushed
apart and they saw Allan bowing out Mrs. Talwin Covil,
a meek, suppressed, neutral-tinted woman, the inevitable
feminine corollary of such a man as Cyrus Browett,
whose only sister she was.
The eyes of Nancy, glad with a knowing
gladness, were quick for Allan’s face, resting
fondly there during the seconds in which he was changing
from the dead astonishment to live recognition at sight
of Bernal. During the shouts, the graspings,
pokings, nudgings, the pumping of each other’s
arms that followed, Nancy turned to greet Mrs. Covil,
who had paused before her.
“Do sit down a moment and tell
me things,” she urged, “while those boys
go back there to have it out!”
Thus encouraged, Mrs. Covil dropped
into a chair, seeming not loath to tell those things
she had, while Nancy leaned back and listened duteously
for a perfunctory ten minutes. Her thoughts ran
ahead to Allan and to Bernal as
children will run little journeys ahead of a slow-moving
Then suddenly something that the troubled
little woman was saying fixed her attention, pulling
up her wandering thoughts with a jerk.
“ and the Doctor
asked me, my dear, to treat it quite confidentially,
except to bother Cyrus. But, I’m sure he
would wish you to know. Of course it is a delicate
matter I can readily understand, as he
says, how the public would misconstrue the Doctor’s
words and apply them generally forgetting
that each case requires a different point of view.
But with Harold it is really a perfectly flagrant and
dreadful case of mismating due entirely
to the poor boy’s thoughtless chivalry barely
twenty-eight, mind you as if a man nowadays
knows his mind at all well before thirty-five.
Of course, divorce is an evil that, broadly speaking,
threatens the sanctity of our home life no
one understands that better than your husband and
re-marriage after divorce is usually an outrageous
scandal one, indeed, altogether too common sometimes
I wonder what we’re coming to, it seems to be
done so thoughtlessly but individual instances
are different ’exceptions prove the
rule,’ you know, as the old saying goes.
Now Harold is ready to settle down, and the girl is
of excellent family and all that quite the
social and moral brace he needs, in fact.”
Nancy was attentive, yet a little puzzled.
“But you speak of your son, Harold is
he not already married?”
“That’s it, my dear.
You know what a funny, bright, mischievous boy Harold
is even a little deliciously wild at times doubtless
you read of his marriage when it occurred how
these newspapers do relish anything of the sort she
was a theatrical young woman what they call
a ‘show girl,’ I believe. Humph! with
reason, I must say! Of all the egregious
and inveterate showiness! My dear, she is positively
a creature! Oh, if they’d only invent a
monocle that would let a young man pierce the glamour
of the footlights. I pledge you my word, she’s but
never mind that! Harold was a thoughtless, restless
boy not bad, you know, but heedless.
Why, he was quite the same about business. He
began to speculate, and of course, being brother Cyrus’s
nephew, his advantage was considerable. But he
suddenly declared he wouldn’t be a broker any
more and you’d never guess his absurd
reason: simply because some stock he held or
didn’t hold went up or down or something on a
rumour in the street that Mr. Russell Sage was extremely
ill! He said that this brought him to his senses.
He says to me, ’Mater, I’ve not met Mr.
Sage, you know, but from what I hear of him it would
be irrational to place myself in a position where
I should have to experience emotion of any sort at
news of the old gentleman’s taking-off.
An event so agreeable to the natural order of God’s
providence, so plausible, so seemly, should not be
endowed with any arbitrary and artificial significance,
especially of a monetary character one must
be able to view it absolutely without emotion of any
sort, either of regret or rejoicing one
must remain conscientiously indifferent as to when
this excellent old gentleman passes on to the Golden
Shore’ but you know the breezy way
in which Harold will sometimes talk. Only now
he seems really sobered by this new attachment ”
“But if he is already married ”
“Yes, yes if you
can call it married a ceremony performed
by one of those common magistrates quite
without the sanction of the Church but
all that is past, and he is now ready to marry one
who can be a wife to him only my conscience
did hurt me a little, and brother Cyrus said to me,
’You see Linford and tell him I sent you.
Linford is a man of remarkable breadth, of rare flexibility.’”
“Yes, and of course Allan was
emphatically discouraging.” Again she was
recalling the fervour with which he had declared himself
on this point on that last day when he actually made
her believe in him.
“Oh, the Doctor is broad!
He is what I should call adaptable. He said by
all means to extricate Harold from this wretched predicament,
not only on account of the property interests involved,
but on account of his moral and spiritual welfare;
that, while in spirit he holds deathlessly to the
indissolubility of the marriage tie, still it is unreasonable
to suppose that God ever joined Harold to a person
so much his inferior, and that we may look forward
to the real marriage that on which the
sanctity of the home is truly based when
the law has freed him from this boyish entanglement.
Oh, my dear, I feel so relieved to know that my boy
can have a wife from his own class and still
have it right up there with Him, you know!”
she concluded with an upward glance, as Nancy watched
her with eyes grown strangely quiet, almost steely watched
her as one might watch an ant. She had the look
of one whose will had been made suddenly to stand
aside by some great inner tumult.
When her caller had gone she dropped
back into the chair, absently pulling a glove through
the fingers of one hand her bag and parasol
on the floor at her feet. One might have thought
her on the point of leaving instead of having just
come. The shadows were deepening in the corners
of the room and about her half-shut eyes.
A long time she listened to the animated
voices of the brothers. At last the doors were
pushed apart and they came out, Allan with his hand
on Bernal’s shoulder.
“There’s your bag now
hurry upstairs the maid will show you where.”
As Bernal went out, Nancy looked up
at her husband with a manner curiously quiet.
“Well, Nance ”
He stepped to the door to see if Bernal was out of
hearing “Bernal pleases me in the
way he talks about the old gentleman’s estate.
Either he is most reasonable, or I have never known
my true power over men.”
Her face was inscrutable. Indeed, she only half
“Mrs. Covil has been telling me some of your
broader views on divorce.”
The words shot from her lips with
the crispness of an arrow, going straight to the bull’s-eye.
He glanced quickly at her, the hint of a frown drawing
about his eyes.
“Mrs. Covil should have been
more discreet. The authority of a priest in these
matters is a thing of delicate adjustment the
law for one may not be the law for all. These
are not matters to gossip of.”
“So it seems. I was thinking of your opposite
counsel to Mrs. Eversley.”
“There really, you
know I read minds, at times somehow I knew
that would be the next thing you’d speak of.”
“The circumstances are entirely
different I may add that that
any intimation of inconsistency will be very unpleasing
to me very!”
“I can see that the circumstances
are different the Eversleys are not what
you would call ‘important factors’ in the
Church and besides that is a
case of a wife leaving her husband.”
afraid you’re not pleasing me if
I catch your drift. Must I point out the difference the
spiritual difference? That misguided woman wanted
to desert her husband merely because he had hurt her
pride her vanity by certain alleged
attentions to other women, concerning the measure
of which I had no knowledge. That was a case
where the cross must be borne for the true refining
of that dross of vanity from her soul. Her husband
is of her class, and her life with him will chasten
her. While here what have we here?”
He began to pace the floor as he was
wont to do when he prepared a sermon.
“Here we have a flagrant example
of what is nothing less than spiritual miscegenation that’s
it! why didn’t I think of that phrase
before spiritual miscegenation. A rattle-brained
boy, with the connivance of a common magistrate, effects
a certain kind of alliance with a person inferior
to him in every point of view birth, breeding,
station, culture, wealth a person, moreover,
who will doubtless be glad to relinquish her so-called
rights for a sum of money. Can that, I ask you,
be called a marriage? Can we suppose an all-wise
God to have joined two natures so ill-adapted, so
mutually exclusive, so repellent to each other after
that first glamour is past. Really, such a supposition
is not only puerile but irreverent. It is the
conventional supposition, I grant, and theoretically,
the unvarying supposition of the Church; but God has
given us reasoning powers to use fearlessly not
to be kept superstitiously in the shackles of any tradition
whatsoever. Why, the very Church itself from
its founding is an example of the wisdom of violating
tradition when it shall seem meet it has
always had to do this.”
“I see, Allan every
case must be judged by itself; every marriage requires
a special ruling ”
“Well er exactly only
don’t get to fancying that you could solve these
problems. It’s difficult enough for a priest.”
“Oh, I’m positive a mere
woman couldn’t grapple with them she
hasn’t the mind to! All she is capable
of is to choose who shall think for her.”
“And of course it would hardly
do to announce that I had counselled a certain procedure
of divorce and re-marriage no matter how
flagrant the abuse, nor how obvious the spiritual
equity of the step. People at large are so little
Browett told his sister you were. He was right you
are flexible, Allan more so than
I ever suspected.”
“Nance you please
me you are a good girl. Now I’m
going up to Bernal. Bernal certainly pleases
me. Of course I shall do the handsome thing by
him if he acts along the lines our talk has indicated.”
She still sat in the falling dusk,
in the chair she had taken two hours before, when
Aunt Bell came in, dressed for dinner.
“Mercy, child! Do you know how late it
“What did you say, Aunt Bell?”
“I say do you know how late it is?”
“Oh not too late!”
“Not too late for what?”
There was a pause, then she said:
“Aunt Bell, when a woman comes to make her very
last effort at self-deception, why does she fling herself
into it with such abandon such pretentious
flourishes of remorse and things?
Is it because some under layer of her soul knows it
will be the last and will have it a thorough test?
I wonder how much of an arrant fraud a woman may really
be to herself, even in her surest, happiest moments.”
“There you are again, wondering,
wondering instead of accepting things and
dressing for dinner. Have you seen Allan?”
“Oh, yes I’ve been seeing him
for three days through a glass, darkly.”
Aunt Bell flounced on into the library,
trailing something perilously near a sniff.
Bernal came down the stairs and stood in the door.
“Well, Nance!” He went
to stand before her and she looked up to him.
There was still light enough to see his eyes enough
to see, also, that he was embarrassed.
had quite a talk with Allan.” He laughed
a little constrained, uneasy laugh, looking quickly
at her to see if she might be observing him.
“He’s the same fine old chap, isn’t
he?” Quickly his eyes again sought her face.
“Yes, indeed, he’s the same old boy a
great old Allan only he makes me feel that
I have changed, Nance.”
She arose from her chair, feeling
cramped and restless from sitting so long.
“I’m sure you haven’t changed, Bernal.”
“Oh, I must have!”
He was looking at her very closely through the dusk.
“Yes, we had an interesting talk,” he
He reached out to take one of her
hands, which he held an instant in both his own.
“He’s a rare old Allan, Nance!”