THE WOMAN AT THE END OF THE PATH
He stopped, noticing that the chairs
were pushed back. There was an unmistakeable
air of boredom, though one or two of the men still
smoked thoughtfully. One of these, indeed the
high church rector even came back with
a question, to the undisguised apprehension of several
“You have formulated a certain
fashion of belief, Mr. Linford, one I dare say appealing
to minds that have not yet learned that even reason
must submit to authority; but you must admit that this
revelation of God in the human heart carries no authoritative
assurance of immortality.”
Bernal had been sitting in some embarrassment,
dismayed at his own vehemence, but this challenge
“True,” he answered, “but
let us thank God for uncertainty, if it take the place
of Christian belief in a sparsely peopled heaven and
a crowded hell.”
“Really, you know ”
“I know nothing of a future
life; but I prefer ignorance to a belief that the
most heinous baby that ever died in sin is to languish
in a state of damnation even ‘in
a wide sense’ as our good friend puts it.”
“But, surely, that is the first
great question of all people in all ages ’If
a man die shall he live again?’
“Because there has never been
any dignified conception of a Supreme Being.
I have tried to tell you what my own faith is faith
in a God wiser and more loving than I am, who, being
so, has devised no mean little scheme of revenge such
as you preach. A God more loving than my own
human father, a God whose plan is perfect whether it
involve my living or dying. Whether I shall die
to life or to death is not within my knowledge; but
since I know of a truth that the God I believe in must
have a scheme of worth and dignity, I am unconcerned.
Whether his plan demand extinction or immortality,
I worship him for it, not holding him to any trivial
fancy of mine. God himself can be no surer of
his plan’s perfection than I am. I call
this faith faith the more perfect that it
is without condition, asking neither sign nor miracle.”
“And life is so good that I’ve
no time to whine. If this ego of mine
is presently to become unnecessary in the great Plan,
my faith is still triumphant. It would be interesting
to know the end, but it’s not so important as
to know that I am no better only a little
wiser in certain ways than yesterday’s
murderer. Living under the perfect plan of a
perfect Creator, I need not trouble about hidden details
when so many not hidden are more vital. When,
in some far-off future, we learn to live here as fully
and beautifully as we have power to, I doubt not that
in the natural ways of growth we shall learn more of
this detail of life we call ’death’ but
I can imagine nothing of less consequence to one who
“I saw a stanza the other day that tells it
“’We know not whence is life,
nor whither death,
Know not the Power that circumscribes
But yet we do not fear; what made us men,
What gave us love, shall we not trust
While quoting the lines his eyes had
been straight ahead, absently dwelling upon the space
between the slightly parted doors that gave into the
next room. But even as he spoke, the last line
faltered and halted. His glance slowly stiffened
out of widening eyes to the face it had caught there a
face new, strange, mesmeric, that all at once enchained
him soul and body. With a splendid, reckless might
it assailed him left him dazed, deaf, speechless.
It was the face of Nancy, for the
first time all its guards down. Full upon him
flamed the illumined eyes that made the face a yielding
radiance; lifted a little was the chin of gentle curves,
the under lip caught as if in that quivering eagerness
she no longer breathed the face of Nancy,
no longer wondering, Nancy at last compelled and compelling.
A moment the warm light flashed from each to each.
He stopped in a sudden bewilderment,
looking blankly, questioningly at the faces about
him. Then out of the first chaos came the sense
of having awakened from some long, quiet sleep of
having suddenly opened his eyes upon a world from
which the morning mists had lifted, to see himself and
the woman who stood always at the end of that upward
path face to face for the first time.
One by one his outer sensations returned. At
first he heard a blurred murmuring, then he became
aware that some of the men were looking at him curiously,
that one of them had addressed him. He smiled
“I beg your pardon. I I couldn’t
have been listening.”
“I merely asked,” repeated
Floud, “how you expect to satisfy humanity with
the vague hope that you would substitute for the Christian
promise of eternal life.”
He stared stupidly at the questioner.
“I I don’t
know.” He passed a hand slowly upward over
his forehead. “Really I can hardly trouble
about those matters there’s so much
life to live. I think I knew a moment ago, but
I seem to have forgotten, though it’s doubtless
no great loss. I dare say it’s more important
to be unafraid of life than to be unafraid of death.”
“You were full of reasons a
moment ago,” reminded Whittaker “some
of them not uninteresting.”
“Was I? Oh, well, it’s
a small matter I’ve somehow lost hold
of it.” He laughed awkwardly. “It
seems to have come to me just now that those who study
an apple until it falls from its stem and rots are
even more foolish than those who pluck and eat.”
Again he was silent, with a great
hidden impatience for them to be gone. But Whittaker,
the wicked Unitarian, detained them still a moment
“How hardly we should believe
in a God who saved every one!” he breathed softly
to the remains of his cigar.
“Humph! Such a God would
be a mere mush of concession!” retorted Floud,
“And how true,” pursued
the unruffled Unitarian, “that we cannot worship
a ’mere mush of concession’ how
true that our God must hate what we hate, and punish
what we would punish. We might stomach a God who
would save orthodox burglars along with orthodox bishops,
but not one who saved unbaptised infants and adults
of unsound doctrine. Dear, dear, yes! We
must have a God with a little human spite in Him or
He seems to be spineless.”
“A hopeless cynic,” declared
the soft voice of the Catholic “it’s
the Unitarianism working out of him, mind you!”
“So glad to have met you!”
continued the same good man to Bernal. “Your
words are conducive to thought you’re
an earnest, decent lad at all events.”
But Bernal scarcely heard them or
identified the speakers. They were to him but
so many noisy wheels of the vast machine, each revolving
as it must. His whole body seemed to send electric
sparks of repulsion out to them to drive them away
as quickly as might be. All his energies were
centred to one mighty impulse.
At last the door closed and he stood
alone with the disordered table and the pushed back
chairs, doggedly gathering himself. Then he went
to the doors and with a hand to each, pushed them
She stood at the farther side of the
room. She seemed to have fled there, and yet
she leaned toward him breathless, again with the under
lip caught fast in its quivering helpless,
piteously helpless. It was this that stayed him.
Had she utterly shrunk away, even had he found her
denying, defiant the aroused man had prevailed.
But seeing her so, he caught at the back of a chair
as if to hold himself. Then he gazed long and
exultingly into the eyes yielded so abjectly to his.
For a moment it filled him to see and know, to be
certain that she knew and did not deny. But the
man in him was not yet a reasoning man too
lately had he come to life.
He stepped eagerly toward her, to
halt only when one weak white hand faltered up with
absurd pretension of a power to ward him off.
Nor was it her hand that made him stop then.
That barrier confessed its frailness in every drooping
line. Again it was the involuntary submission
of her whole poise she had actually leaned
a little further toward him when he started, even
as her hand went up. But the helpless misery
in her eyes was still a defense, passive but sufficient.
Then she spoke and his tension relaxed
a little, the note of helpless suffering in her voice
making him wince and fall back a step.
“Bernal, Bernal, Bernal!
It hurts me so, hurts me so! It’s the Gratcher isn’t
it hurting you, too? Oh, it must be!”
He retreated a little, again grasping
the back of the chair with one hand, but there was
no restraint in his voice.
“Laugh, Nance, laugh! You
know what laughing does to them!”
“Not to this one, Bernal oh, not
to this one!”
“But it’s only a Gratcher,
Nance! I’ve been asleep all these years.
Now I’m awake. I’m in the world again here,
do you understand, before you. And it’s
a glad, good world. I’m full of its life and
I’ve money think of that! Yesterday
I didn’t know what money was. I was going
to throw it away throw it away as lightly
as I threw away all those good, precious years.
How much it seems now, and what fine, powerful stuff
it is! And I, like a sleeping fool, was about
to let it go at a mere suggestion from Allan.”
He stopped, as if under the thrust of a cold, keen
he repeated dazedly while the look of pain deepened
in the woman’s eyes. He stared back at
her dumbly. Then another awakening became visible
in him and he laughed awkwardly.
“It’s funny, Nance funny and
awful! Do you know that not until I spoke his
name then had a thought of Allan come to me? Can
you comprehend it? I can’t now. But
it’s the truth. I woke up too suddenly.
Allan Allan .” It sounded
as if he were trying to recall some forgotten personality.
The last was more like a cry.
He fell into the chair by which he had stood.
And now the woman erected herself, coming forward to
stand before him, her head bowed, her hands convulsively
“Do you see it all, Bernal?
Is it plain now? Oh, how it tortured me that
last Gratcher the one we make in our own
image and yet make to be perfect. It never hurt
me before, but now I know why. It couldn’t
hurt me so long as I looked it straight in the eye but
just now my eyes had to fall before it, and all in
a second it was tearing me to pieces. That’s
the only defense against this last Gratcher, Bernal,
to look it in the eyes unafraid. And oh, it hurts
so and it’s all my own miserable
“No, it’s your goodness,
Nance.” He spoke very quietly now.
“Only the good have a Gratcher that can’t
be laughed away. My own was late in coming.
Your Gratcher has saved us.”
He stood up and took her unresisting
hands in both his own. They rested there in peace,
yielding themselves like tired children to caring arms.
“Now I shall be healed,” she said.
“It will take me longer, Nance.
My hurt is more stubborn, more complicated. I
can’t help it. Something in me resists.
I see now that I know too much too much
of you, too much of ”
She saw that he must have suffered
some illumination upon Allan. There was a look
of bitter comprehension in his face as he broke off.
She turned away from it.
When, an hour later, Allan came in,
he found them chatting easily of the few people of
St. Antipas that Bernal had met. At the moment,
they were discussing Mrs. Wyeth, whose face, Bernal
declared, was of a rare perfection. Nance turned
to her husband.
“You must thank Bernal,”
she said, “for entertaining your guests this
“He wouldn’t if he knew
what I said or how it must have bored them.
One thing, Nance, they won’t meet here again
until you swear I’ve gone!”
“Bernal’s heart is right,
even if his theology doesn’t always please me,”
said his brother graciously, examining some cards that
lay on the table. “I see Mrs. Wyeth has
called,” he continued to Nancy, looking up from
“Yes. She wanted me to
see her sister, poor Mrs. Eversley, who is ill at
her house. I promised to look in to-morrow.”
“I’ve just been telling
Nance how beautiful I think Mrs. Wyeth is,” said
Bernal. “She’s rare, with that face
of the low-browed Greek. It’s one of the
memories I shall take back to my Eve-less Eden.”
“She is beautiful,”
said Nancy. “Of course her nose is the least
bit thin and long, but it rather adds zest to her
face. Now I must dress for dinner.”
When Nancy had gone, Bernal, who had
been speaking with a marked lightness of tone, turned
to Allan with an equally marked seriousness.
“Old chap, you know about that
money of mine of Grandfather’s?”
Allan instantly became attentive.
“Of course, there’s no
hurry about that you must take time to think
it over,” he answered.
“But there is hurry!
I shouldn’t have waited so long to make up my
“Then you have made up
your mind?” questioned his brother, with guarded
all yours, Allan. It will help you in what you
want to do. And not having it will help me to
do what I want to do make it simpler, easier.
Take it and for God’s sake be good
“I can’t tell you how
you please me, Bernal. Not that I’m avid
for money, but it truly seems more in accord with
what must have been grandfather’s real wish.
And Nancy of course I shall be good to
her though at times she seems unable to
There was a sanctified displeasure
in his tone, as he spoke of Nancy. It caused
Bernal to turn upon him a keen, speculative eye, but
only for a moment. And his next words had to
do with matters tangible. “To-morrow I’ll
do some of the business that can be done here.
Then I’ll go up to Edom and finish the transfers
that have to be made there.” After a brief
hesitation, he added: “Try to please her
a bit, Allan. That’s all.”