FOR THE SAKE OF NANCY
It was toward six o’clock when
she ascended the steps of the rectory. Bernal,
coming from the opposite direction, met her at the
door. Back of his glance, as they came together,
was an intimation of hidden things, and at sight of
him she was smitten by an electric flash of wonder.
The voice of Wyeth, that friendly, untroubled voice,
she now remembered had called to no specific Linford.
In the paralysis of embarrassment that had seized
her in that darkened hallway, she had failed to recall
that there were at least two Linfords in existence.
In an instant her inner world, wrought into something
like order in the past two hours, was again chaos.
“Why, Nance you look
like night, when there are no stars what
is it?” He scanned her with an assumption of
jesting earnestness, palpably meant to conceal some
deeper emotion. She put a detaining hand on his
arm as he was about to turn the key in the lock.
“Bernal, I haven’t time
to be indirect, or beat about, or anything so
forgive the abruptness were you at Mrs.
Wyeth’s this afternoon?”
His ear caught the unusual note in
her voice, and he was at once concerned with this
rather than with her question.
“Why, what is it, Nance what
if I was? Are you seeing another Gratcher?”
“Bernal, quick, now please!
Don’t worry me needlessly! Were you at Mrs.
Her eyes searched his face. She
saw that he was still either puzzled or confused,
but this time he answered plainly,
“No I haven’t
seen that most sightly cold lady to-day more’s
She breathed one quick little sigh it
seemed to him strangely like a sigh of relief.
“I knew you couldn’t have
been.” She laughed a little laugh of secrets.
“I was only wondering foolish wonders you
know how Gratchers must be humoured right up to the
very moment you puff them away with the deadly laugh.”
Together they went in. Bernal
stopped to talk with Aunt Bell, who was passing through
the hall as they entered; while Nancy, with the manner
of one not to be deflected from some set purpose, made
straight for Allan’s study.
In answer to her ominously crisp little
knock, she heard his “Come!” and opened
He sat facing her at his desk, swinging
idly from side to side in the revolving chair, through
the small space the desk permitted. Upon the
blotter before him she saw that he had been drawing
interminable squares, oblongs, triangles and circles,
joining them to one another in aimless, wandering
sequence his sign of a perturbed mind.
He glanced up with a look of waiting
defiance which she knew but masked all his familiar
Instantly she determined to give him
no opportunity to use this. She would end matters
with a rush. He was awaiting her attack.
She would make none.
“I think there is nothing to
say,” she began quickly. “I could
utter certain words, but they would mean one thing
to me and other things to you there is
no real communication possible between us. Only
remember that this to-day matters
little I had already resolved that sooner
or later I must go. This only makes it necessary
to go at once.”
She turned to the door which she had
held ajar. At her words he sat forward in his
chair, the yellow stars blazing in his eyes. But
the opening was not the one he had counted upon, and
before he could alter his speech to fit it, or could
do more than raise a hand to detain her, she had gone.
He sat back in his chair, calculating
how to meet this mood. Then the door resounded
under a double knock and Bernal came in.
“Well, old boy, I’ll be
off to-night. The lawyer is done with me here
and now I’ll go to Edom and finish what’s
to be done there. Then in a few days I’ll
be out of this machine and back to the ranche.
You know I’ve decided that my message to the
world would best take the substantial form of beef a
message which no one will esteem unpractical.”
He paused, noting the other’s general droop
“But what’s the trouble, old chap?
You look done up!”
all because I am too good-hearted, too unsuspecting.
Being slow to think evil of others, I foolishly assume
that others will be equally charitable. And you
don’t know what women are you don’t
know how the sentimental ones impose upon a man in
my office. I give you my word of honour as a
man my word of honour, mind you! there
never has been a thing between us but the purest,
the most elevated the loftiest, most ideal ”
“Hold on, old chap I
shall have to take the car ahead, you know, if you
won’t let me on this one....”
“ as pure a woman
as God ever made, while as for myself, I think my
integrity of purpose and honesty of character, my sense
of loyalty should be sufficiently known ”
“Say, old boy ”
Bernal’s face had lighted with a sudden flash
of insight “is it I don’t
wish to be indiscreet but is it anything
about Mrs. Wyeth?”
“Then you do know?”
“Nothing, except that Nance
met me at the door just now and puzzled me a bit by
her very curious manner of asking if I had been at
the Wyeth’s this afternoon.”
“What?” The other
turned upon him, his eyes again blazing with the yellow
points, his whole figure alert. “She asked
you that Really?”
“To be sure!”
“And you said ”
course and she mumbled something about having
been foolish to think I could have been. You
know, old man, Nance was troubled. I could see
His brother was now pacing the floor,
his head bent from the beautifully squared shoulders,
his face the face of a mind working busily.
“An idiot I was she didn’t
know me I had only to ”
“Are you talking to yourself, or to me?”
The rector of St. Antipas turned at one end of his
“To both of us, brother.
I tell you there has been nothing between us never
anything except the most flawless idealism. I
admit that at the moment Nancy observed us the circumstances
were unluckily such that an excitable, morbidly suspicious
woman might have misconstrued them. I will even
admit that a woman of judicial mind and of unhurried
judgments might not unreasonably have been puzzled,
but I would tear my heart open to the world this minute ’Oh,
be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt
not escape calumny!’”
“If I follow you, old chap,
Nancy observed some scene this afternoon in which
it occurred to her that I might have been an actor.”
There was quick pain, a sinking in his heart.
“She had reason to know it was
one of us and if I had denied it was I ”
“I see why didn’t you?”
“I thought she must surely have
seen me and besides” his
voice softened with affection “do
you think, old chap, I would have shifted a misunderstanding
like that on to your shoulders. Thank God,
I am not yet reduced to shirking the penalties of
my own blameless acts, even when they will be cruelly
“But you should have done so It
would mean nothing to me, and everything to you to
that poor girl poor Nance always
so helpless and wondering and so pathetically ready
to believe! She didn’t deserve that
you take it upon yourself, Allan!”
“No no, don’t
urge! I may have made mistakes, though I will
say that few men of my well, my attractions!
Why not say it bluntly? few men of my attractions,
placed as I have been, would have made so few but
I shall never be found shirking their consequences it
is not in my nature, thank God, to let another bear
the burden I can always be a man! ”
“But, old boy you
must think of poor Nancy not of me!”
Again he felt the hurt of her suspicion.
requires that I think of her rather than of my own
pride and I have but, you see,
it’s too late. I committed myself before
I knew she didn’t know!”
“Let her believe it is still a mistake ”
“No, no it would
be trickery and it’s impracticable I
as good as confessed to her, you see unless” he
brightened here and stopped in his walk “unless
she could be made to believe that I meant to shield
“That’s it! Really,
you are an executor, Allan! Now we’ll put
the poor girl easy in her mind again. I’ll
tell her you did it to shield me. You know it’s
important what Nancy thinks of you, old
chap she’s your wife and it
doesn’t matter a bit how meanly she
thinks of me of course not. I dare
say it will be better for me if she does think
meanly of me I’ll tell her at once what
was it I did?”
“No no she
wouldn’t believe you now. I dislike to say
this, Bernal, but Nancy is not always so trusting
as a good woman should be she has a habit
of wondering but mind you, I
could only consent to this for the sake of her peace
of mind ”
“I understand perfectly, old
chap it will help the peace of mind of all
of us, I begin to see hers and mine and
“Well, then, if she can be made
to suspect this other aspect of the affair without
being told directly ah! here’s
a way. Turn that messenger-call. Now listen I
will have a note sent here addressed to you by a certain
woman. It will be handed to Nancy to give to you.
She will observe the writing and she will
recognise it, she knows it. You will
have been anxious about this note expecting
it inquiring for it, you know. Get
your dinner now, then stay in your room so the maid
won’t see you when the note comes she
will have to ask Nance where you are ”
At dinner, which Bernal had presently
with Aunt Bell and two empty seats, his companion
regaled him with comments upon the development of
the religious instinct in mankind, reminding him that
should he ever aspire to a cult of his own he would
find Boston a more fertile field than New York.
“They’re so much broader
there, you know,” she began. “Really,
they’ll believe anything if you manage your
effects artistically. And that is the trouble
with you, Bernal. You appeal too little to the
imagination. You must not only have a novelty
to preach nowadays, but you must preach it in a spectacular
manner. Now, that assertion of yours that we are
all equally selfish is novel and rather interesting I’ve
tried to think of some one’s doing some act
to make himself unhappy and I find I can’t.
And your suggestion of Judas Iscariot and Mr. Spencer
as the sole inmates of hell is not without a certain
piquancy. But, my dear boy, you need a stage-manager.
Let your hair grow, wear a red robe, do healing ”
He laughed protestingly. “Oh,
I’m not a prophet, Aunt Bell I’ve
“But you could be, with proper
managing. There’s that perfectly stunning
beginning with that wild healing-chap in the far West.
As it is now, you make nothing of it it
might have happened to anybody and it never came to
anything, except that you went off into the wilderness
and stayed alone. You should tell how you fasted
with him in a desert, and how he told you secrets
and imparted his healing power to you. Then get
the reporters about you and talk queerly so that they
can make a good story of it. Also live on rice
and speak with an accent any kind
of accent would make you more interesting, Bernal.
Then preach your message, and I’d guarantee
you a following of thousands in New York in a month.
Of course they’d leave you for the next fellow
that came along with a key to the book of Revelations,
or a new diet or something, but you’d keep them
Aunt Bell paused, enthusiastic, but
somewhat out of breath.
“I’ll quit, Aunt Bell that’s
“Mr. Spencer is an example for
you. Contrast his hold on the masses with Mrs.
Eddy’s, who appeals to the imagination.
I’m told by those who have read his works that
he had quite the knack of logic, and yet the President
of Princeton Theological Seminary preaches a sermon
in which he calls him ‘the greatest failure
of the age.’ I read it in this morning’s
paper. His text was, ‘Ye believe in God,
believe also in me.’ You see, there was
an appeal to the imagination the most audacious
appeal that the world has ever known and
the crowd will be with this clergyman who uses it
to refute the arguments of a man who worked hard through
forty years of ill-health to get at the mere dry common-sense
of things. If Jesus had descended to logic, he’d
never have made a convert. But he appealed magnificently
to the imagination, and see the result!”
His mind had been dwelling on Allan’s
trouble, but now he came back to his gracious adviser.
“You do me good, Aunt Bell you’ve
taken all that message nonsense out of me. I
suppose I could be one of them, you know one
of those fellows that get into trouble if
I saw it was needed; but it isn’t. Let
the men who can’t help it do it they
have no choice. Hereafter I shall worry as little
about the world’s salvation as I do about my
When they had finished dinner he let
it be known that he was not a little anxious concerning
a message that was late in arriving, and he made it
a point, indeed, that the maid should advise Mrs. Linford
to this effect, with an inquiry whether she might
not have seen the delayed missive.
Then, after a word with Allan, he
went to his room and from his south window smoked
into the night smoked into something approaching
quietude a mind that had been rebelliously running
back to the bare-armed girl in dusky white the
wondering, waiting girl whose hand had trembled into
his so long ago so many years during which
he had been a dreaming fool, forgetting the world
to worship certain impalpable gods of idealism forgetting
a world in which it was the divinely sensible custom
to eat one’s candy cane instead of preserving
it superstitiously through barren years!
He knew that he had awakened too late
for more than a fleeting vision of what would have
made his life full. Now he must be off, up the
path again, this time knowing certainly that the woman
would never more stand waiting and wondering at the
end, to embitter his renunciations. The woman
was definitely gone. That was something, even
though she went with that absurd, unreasoning, womanish
suspicion. And he had one free, dear look from
her to keep through the empty days.