THE FELL FINGER OF CALUMNY SEEMS TO BE AGREEABLY DIVERTED
Shut in his study, the rector of St.
Antipas paced the floor with nicely measured steps,
or sat at his desk to make endless squares, circles,
and triangles. He was engrossed in the latter
diversion when he heard the bell sound below.
He sat back to hear the steps of the maid, the opening
of the door; then, after an interval, her steps ascending
the stairs and stopping at his own door; then her
“A letter for Mr. Bernal, sir!”
He glanced at the envelope she held, noting its tint.
“He’s not here Nora.
Take it to Mrs. Linford. She will know where he
He heard her go down the hall and
knock at another door. She was compelled to knock
twice, and then there was delay before the door opened.
He drew some pages of manuscript before
him and affected to be busy at a work of revision,
crossing out a word here, interlining one there, scanning
the result with undivided attention.
When he heard a knock he did not look
up, but said, “Come!” Though still intent
at his work, he knew that Nancy stood there, looking
from the letter to him.
“Nora said you sent this letter to me it’s
for Bernal ”
He answered, still without looking up,
“I thought he might be with you, or that you
might know where he was.”
He knew that she studied the superscription of the
“Well, leave it here on my desk
till he comes. I sent it to you only because
I heard him inquiring if a letter had not come for
him he seemed rather anxious about some
letter troubled, in fact doubtless
some business affair. I hoped this might be what
he was expecting.”
His eyes were still on the page before
him, and he crossed out a word and wrote another above
it, after a meditative pause. Still the woman
at the door hesitated.
“Did you chance to notice the address on the
He glanced at her now for the first
time, apparently in some surprise: “No it
is not my custom to study addresses of letters not
my own. Nora said it was for Bernal and he had
seemed really distressed about some letter or message
that didn’t come if you will leave
it here ”
“I wish to hand it to him myself.”
“As you like.” He
returned to his work, crossing out a whole line and
a half with broad, emphatic marks. Then he bent
lower, and the interest in his page seemed to redouble,
for he heard the door of Bernal’s room open.
He came to the door where she stood
and she stepped a little inside so that he might enter.
“I am anxious about a letter. Ah, you have
She was scanning him with a look that
was acid to eat out any untruth in his face.
“Yes it just came.”
She held it out to him. He looked at the front
of the envelope, then up to her half-shut eager eyes eyes
curiously hardened now then he blushed
flagrantly a thorough, riotous blush and
reached for the letter with a pitiful confusion of
manner, not again raising his uneasy eyes to hers.
“I was expecting looking for
a message, you know yes, yes this
is it thank you very much, you know!”
He stammered, his confusion deepened.
With the letter clutched eagerly in his hand he went
She looked after him, intently.
When he had shut his own door she glanced over at
the inattentive Allan, once more busy at his manuscript
and apparently unconscious of her presence.
A long time she stood in silence,
trying to moderate the beating of her heart.
Once she turned as if to go, but caught herself and
turned again to look at the bent head of Allan.
At last it seemed to her that she
could trust herself to speak. Closing the door
softly, she went to the big chair at the end of the
desk. As she let herself go into this with a
sudden joy in the strength of its supporting arms,
her husband looked up at her inquiringly.
She did not speak, but returned his
gaze; returned it, with such steadiness that presently
he let his own eyes go down before hers with palpable
confusion, as if fearing some secret might lie there
plain to her view. His manner stimulated the
suspicion under which she now seemed to labour.
“Allan, I must know something
at once very clearly. It will make a mighty difference
in your life and in mine.”
“What is it you wish to know?”
His glance was oblique and his manner one of discomfort,
the embarrassed discomfort of a man who fears that
the real truth the truth he has generously
striven to withhold is at last to come
“That letter which Bernal was
so troubled about came from from that woman how
could I avoid seeing that when it was handed to me?
Did you know it, too?”
“Why, Nancy I knew of
course I knew he expected I mean
the poor boy told me ” Here he broke
off in the same pitiful confusion that had marked
Bernal’s manner at the door the confusion
of apprehended deceit. Then he began again, as
if with gathered wits “What was I
saying? I know nothing whatever of Bernal’s
affairs or his letters. Really, how should I?
You see, I have work on my mind.” As if
to cover his awkwardness, he seized his pen and hastily
began to cross out a phrase on the page before him.
“Allan!” Though low, it
was so near a cry that he looked up in what seemed
to be alarm. She was leaning forward in the chair,
one hand reaching toward him over the desk, and she
“Allan, I find myself suspecting
now that you tried to deceive me this afternoon that
Bernal did, also, incredible as it sounds that
you tried to take the blame of that wretched thing
off his shoulders. That letter to him indicates
it, his own pitiful embarrassment just now oh,
an honest man wouldn’t have looked as he did! your
own manner at this instant. You are both trying Oh,
tell me the truth now! you’ll never
dream how badly I need it, what it means to my whole
life tell me, Allan for God’s
sake be honest this instant my poor head
is whirling with all the lies! Let me feel there
is truth somewhere. Listen. I swear I’ll
stay by it, wherever it takes me here or
away from here but I must have it.
Oh, Allan, if it should be in you, after all Allan!
dear, dear Oh! I do see it
now you can’t deceive you
Slowly at first his head bent under
her words, bent in cowardly evasion of her sharp glance,
the sidelong shiftings of his eyes portraying him,
the generous liar, brought at last to bay by his own
honest clumsiness. Then, as her appeal grew warmer,
tenderer, more insistent, the fine head was suddenly
erected and proud confession was written plainly over
the glowing face that beautiful contrition
of one who has willed to bear a brother’s shame
and failed from lack of genius in the devious ways
Now he stood nobly from his chair
and she was up with a little loving rush to his arms.
Then, as he would have held her protectingly, she
gently pushed away.
take me yet, dear I should be crying in
another moment I’m so so
beaten and I want not to cry till
I’ve told you, oh, so many things! Sit
again and let us talk calmly first. Now why why
did you pretend this wretched thing?”
He faced her proudly, with the big,
honest, clumsy dignity of a rugged man and
there was a loving quiet in his tones that touched
“Poor Bernal had told me his his
contretemps. The rest is simple. He
is my brother. The last I remember of our mother
is her straining me to her poor breast and saying,
‘Oh, take care of little Bernal!’”
Tears were glistening in his eyes.
“From the very freedom of the
poor boy’s talk about religious matters, it
is the more urgent that his conduct be irreproachable.
I could not bear that even you should think a shameful
thing of him.”
She looked at him with swimming eyes,
yet held her tears in check through the very excitement
of this splendid new admiration for him.
“But that was foolish quixotic ”
“You will never know, little
woman, what a brother’s love is. Don’t
you remember years ago I told you that I would stand
by Bernal, come what might. Did you think that
was idle boasting?”
“But you were willing to have me suspect that
He spoke with a sad, sweet gentleness
now, as one might speak who had long suffered hurts
“Dearest dear little
woman I already knew that I had been unable
to retain your love God knows I tried but
in some way I had proved unworthy of it. I had
come to believe painful and humiliating
though that belief was that you could not
think less of me your words to-night proved
that I was right you would have gone away,
even without this. But at least my poor brother
might still seem good to you.”
“Oh, you poor, foolish, foolish,
man And yet, Allan, nothing less than this
would have shown you truly to me. I can speak
plainly now indeed I must, for once.
Allan, you have ways mannerisms that
are unfortunate. They raised in me a conviction
that you were not genuine that you were
somehow false. Don’t let it hurt now, dear,
for see this one little unstudied, impetuous
act of devotion, simple and instinctive with your
generous heart, has revealed your true self to me as
nothing else could have done. Oh, don’t
you see how you have given me at last what I had to
have, if we were to live on together something
in you to hold to a foundation to
rest upon something I can know in my heart
of hearts is stable despite any outward,
traitorous seeming! Now forever I can be
loving, and loyal, in spite of all those signs which
I see at last are misleading.”
Again and again she sought to envelope
him with acceptable praises, while he gazed fondly
at her from that justified pride in his own stanchness murmuring,
“Nance, you please me you please
“Don’t you see, dear?
I couldn’t reach you before. You gave me
nothing to believe in not even God.
That seeming lack of genuineness in you stifled my
soul. I could no longer even want to be good and
all that for the lack of this dear foolish bit of
realness in you.”
“No one can know better than
I that my nature is a faulty one, Nance ”
“Say unfortunate, Allan not
faulty. I shall never again believe a fault of
you. How stupid a woman can be, how superficial
in her judgments and what stupids they
are who say she is intuitive! Do you know, I believed
in Bernal infinitely more than I can tell you, and
Bernal made me believe in everything else in
God and goodness and virtue and truth in
all the good things we like to believe in yet
see what he did!”
“My dear, I know little of the circumstances,
“It isn’t that I
can’t judge him in that but this I
must judge Bernal, when he saw I did not
know who had been there, was willing I should think
it was you. To retain my respect he was willing
to betray you.” She laughed, a little hard
laugh, and seemed to be in pain. “You will
never know just what the thought of that boy has been
to me all these years, and especially this last week.
But now poor weak Bernal! Poor Judas,
indeed!” There was a kind of anguished bitterness
in the last words.
“My dear, try not to think harshly
of the poor boy,” remonstrated Allan gently.
“Remember that whatever his mistakes, he has
a good heart and he is my brother.”
“Oh! you big, generous, good-thinking
boy, you Can’t you see that is precisely
what he lacks a good heart?
Oh, dearest, I needed this to show Bernal
to me not less than to show you to me. There were
grave reasons why I needed to see you both as I see
you this moment.”
There were steps along the hall and a knock at the
“It must be Bernal,” he said “he
was to leave about this time.”
“I can’t see him again.”
“Just this once, dear for my
Bernal stood in the doorway, hat in
hand, his bag at his feet. With his hat he held
a letter. Allan went forward to meet him.
Nancy stood up to study the lines of an etching on
“I’ve come to say good-bye,
you know.” She heard the miserable embarrassment
of his tones, and knew, though she did not glance at
him, that there was a shameful droop to his whole
Allan shook hands with him, first taking the letter
“Good-bye old chap God
He muttered, with that wretched consciousness
of guilt, something about being sorry to go.
“And I don’t want to preach,
old chap,” continued Allan, giving the hand
a farewell grip, “but remember there are always
two pairs of arms that will never be shut to you,
the arms of the Church of Him who died to save us, and
my own poor arms, hardly less loving.”
“Thank you, old boy I’ll
go back to Hoover” he looked hesitatingly
at the profile of Nancy “Hoover thinks
it’s all rather droll, you know Good-bye,
old boy! Good-bye, Nancy.”
“My dear, Bernal is saying good-bye.”
She turned and said “good-bye.”
He stepped toward her seeming to her to
slink as he walked but he held out his hand
and she gave him her own, cold, and unyielding.
He went out, with a last awkward “Good-bye, old
chap!” to Allan.
Nancy turned to face her husband,
putting out her hands to him. He had removed
from its envelope the letter Bernal had left him, and
seemed about to put it rather hastily into his pocket,
but she seized it playfully, not noting that his hand
gave it up with a certain reluctance, her eyes upon
“No more business to-night we
have to talk. Oh, I must tell you so much that
has troubled me and made me doubt, my dear and
my poor mind has been up and down like a see-saw.
I wonder it’s not a wreck. Come, put away
your business there.” She placed
the letter and its envelope on the desk.
“Now sit here while I tell you things.”
An hour they were there, lingering
in talk talking in a circle; for at regular
intervals Nancy must return to this: “I
believe no wife ever goes away until there is absolutely
no shred of possibility left no last bit
of realness to hold her. But now I know your stanchness.”
“Really, Nance I can’t tell
you how much you please me.”
There was a knock at the door. They looked at
each other bewildered.
“The telephone, sir,”
said the maid in response to Allan’s tardy “Come
When he had gone, whistling cheerily,
she walked nervously about the room, studying familiar
objects from out of her animated meditation.
Coming to his desk, she snuggled affectionately
into his chair and gazed fondly over its litter of
papers. With a little instinctive move to bring
somewhat of order to the chaos, she reached forward,
but her elbow brushed to the floor two or three letters
that had lain at the edge of the desk.
As she stooped to pick up the fallen
papers the letter Bernal had left lay open before
her, a letter written in long, slanting but vividly
legible characters. And then, quite before she
recognised what letter it was, or could feel curious
concerning it, the first illuminating line of it had
flashed irrevocably to her mind’s centre.
When Allan appeared in the doorway
a few minutes later, she was standing by the desk.
She held the letter in both hands and over it her eyes
Divining what she had done, his mind
ran with lightning quickness to face this new emergency.
But he was puzzled and helpless, for now her hands
fell and she laughed weakly, almost hysterically.
He searched for the key to this unnatural behaviour.
He began, hesitatingly, expecting some word from her
to guide him along the proper line of defense.
“I am sure, my dear if
you had only only trusted me implicitly your
opinion of this affair ”
At the sound of his voice she ceased
to laugh, stiffening into a wild, grim intensity.
“Now I can look that thing straight
in the eyes and it can’t hurt me.”
“In the eyes?” he questioned, blankly.
“I can go now.”
“You will make me the laughing-stock of this
For the first time in their life together
there was the heat of real anger in his voice.
Yet she did not seem to hear.
“Yes that last terrible Gratcher
can’t hurt me now.”
He frowned, with a sulky assumption
of that dignity which he felt was demanded of him.
“I don’t understand you!”
Still the unseeing eyes played about him, yet she
heard at last.
“But he will he
will!” she cried exultingly, and her eyes were
wet with an unexplained gladness.