NERVES AND INTUITION
“Mr. Gael,” said Joan
standing before him at the breakfast-table, “I’m
a-goin’ to work.”
She was pale, gaunt, and imperturbable.
He gave her a quick look, one that turned to amusement,
for Joan was really as appealing to his humor as a
child. She had such immense gravity, such intensity
over her one-syllable statements of fact. She
announced this decision and sat down.
“Woman’s work?” he asked her, smiling
“No, sir,” with her own rare smile; “I
ain’t rightly fitted for that.”
“Certainly not in those clothes,”
he murmured crossly, for she was dressed again in
her own things.
“I’m a-goin’ to
do man’s work. I’m a-goin’ to
shovel snow an’ help fetch wood an’ kerry
in water. You tell your Chinese man, please.”
“And you’re not going to read or study
“Yes, sir. I like that.
If you still want to teach me, Mr. Gael. But
I’m a-goin’ I’m going to
get some action. I’ll just die if I don’t.
Why, I’m so poor I can’t hardly lift a
broom. I don’t know why I’m so miserably
poor, Mr. Gael.”
She twisted her brows anxiously.
“You’ve had a nervous breakdown.”
“A nervous breakdown.”
He lit his cigarette and watched her
in his usual lazy, smoke-veiled manner, but she might
have noticed the shaken fabric of his self-assurance.
“Say, now,” said Joan, “what’s
that the name for?”
“There’s a book about
it over there third volume on the top shelf look
up your case.”
With an air of profound alarm, she went over and took
“There’s books about everything,
ain’t there? isn’t there, Mr.
Gael? Why, there’s books about lovin’
an’ about sickness an’ about cattle an’
what-not, an’ about women an’ children ”
She was shirking the knowledge of her “case,”
but at last she pressed her lips together and opened
the book. She fell to reading, growing anxiety
possessed her face, she sat down on the nearest chair,
she turned page after page. Suddenly she gave
him a look of anger.
“I ain’t none of this,
Mr. Gael,” she said, smote the page, rose with
dignity, and returned the book.
He laughed so long and heartily that
she was at last forced to join him. “You
was you were jobbin’ me,
wasn’t you?” she said, sighing relief.
“Did you know what that volume said? It
said like this I’ll read you about
it ” She took the volume, found the
place and read in a low tone of horror, he helping
her with the hard words: “’One of
the most frequent forms of phobia, common in cases
of psychic neurasthenia, is agrophobia in which patients
the moment they come into an open space are oppressed
by an exaggerated feeling of anxiety. They may
break into a profuse perspiration and assert that
they feel as if chained to the ground....’
And here, listen to this, ’batophobia, the fear
that high things will fall, atrophobia, fear of thunder
and lightning, pantophobia, the fear of every thing
and every one’.... Well, now, ain’t
that too awful? An’ you mean folks really
get that way?”
Their talk was for some time of nervous
diseases, Joan’s horror increasing.
“Well, sir,” said she,
“lead me out an’ shoot me if I get anyways
like that! I believe it’s caused by all
that queer dressin’ an’ what-not.
I feel like somethin’ real to-day in
this shirt an’ all, an’ when I get through
some work I’ll feel a whole lot better.
Don’t you say I’m one of those nervous
breakdowns again, though, will you?” she pleaded.
“No, I won’t, Joan. But don’t
make one of me, will you?”
“By wearing those clothes all
day and half the night. If you expect me to teach
you, you’ll have to do something for me, to make
up for running away. You might put on pretty
things for dinner, don’t you think? Your
nervous system could stand that?”
“My nervous system,” drawled
Joan, and added startlingly, for she did not often
swear, “God!” It was an oath of scorn,
and again Prosper laughed.
But he heard with a sort of terror
the sound of her “man’s work” to
which she energetically applied herself. It meant
the return of her strength, of her independence.
It meant the shortening of her captivity. Before
long spring would rush up the canyon in a wave of
melting snow, crested with dazzling green, and the
valley would lie open to Joan. She would go unless had
he really failed so utterly to touch her heart?
Was she without passion, this woman with the deep,
savage eyes, the lips, so sensuous and pure, the body
so magnificently made for living? She was not
defended by any training, she had no moral standards,
no prejudices, none of the “ideals.”
She was completely open to approach, a savage.
If he failed, it was a personal failure. Perhaps
he had been too subtle, too restrained. She did
not yet know, perhaps, what he desired of her.
But he was afraid of rousing her hatred, which would
be fully as simple and as savage as her love.
That evening, after she had dressed to please him,
and sat in her chair, tired, but with the beautiful,
clean look of outdoor weariness on her face, and tried,
battling with drowsiness, to give her mind to his
reading and his talk, he was overmastered by his longing
and came to her and knelt down, drawing down her hands
to him, pressing his forehead on them.
For a moment she was stiff and still,
then, “What is it, Mr. Gael?” she asked
in a frightened half-voice.
He felt, through her body, the slight
recoil of spirit, and drew away, and arose to his
“Oh, no. I’m not
angry; why should I be? I’m a superman.
I’m made let’s say of
alabaster. Women with great eyes and wonderful
voices and the beauty of broad-browed nymphs walking
gravely down under forest arches, such women give
me only a great, great longing to read aloud very
slowly and carefully a ’Child’s History
of the English Race’!” He took the book,
tossed it across the room, then stood, ashamed and
defiant, laughing a little, a boy in disgrace.
Joan looked at him in profound bewilderment and dawning
“Now,” she said, “you
are angry with me. You always are when
you talk that queer way. Won’t you please
explain it to me, Mr. Gael?”
“No!” said he sharply.
“I won’t.” And he added after
a moment, “You’d better go to bed.
You’re sleepy and as stupid as an owl.”
“Yes. And you’ve
destroyed what little superstitious belief I had left
concerning something they tell little ignorant boys
about a woman’s intuition. You haven’t
got a bit. You’re stupid and I’m tired
of you No, Joan, I’m not. Don’t
mind me. I’m only in fun. Please!
Damn! I’ve hurt your feelings.”
Her lips were quivering, her eyes
full. “I try so awful hard,” she
said. It was a lovely, broken trail of music.
He bent over her and patted her shoulder.
“Dear child! Joan, I won’t be so
disagreeable again. Only, don’t you ever
think of me?”
“Yes, yes; all the while I’m
thinking of you. I wisht I could do more for
you. Why do I make you so angry? I know I’m
awful awfully stupid and ignorant.
I I must drive you most crazy, but truly” here
she turned quickly in his arm and put her hands about
his neck and laid her cheek against his shoulder “truly,
Mr. Gael, I’m awful fond of you.”
Then she drew quickly away, quivered back into the
other corner of her great chair, put her face to her
hands. “Only I can’t help
Just her tone showed him that still
and ghastly youth, and again he saw the brown hand
that moved. He had stood between her and that
sight. The man ought to have died. He did
not deserve his life nor this love of hers. Even
though he had failed to kill the man, he would not
fail to kill her love for him, sooner or later, thought
Prosper. If only the hateful spring would give
him time. He must move her from her memory.
She had put her hands about his neck, she had laid
her head against his shoulder, and, if it had been
the action of a child, then she would not have started
from him with that sharp memory of Pierre.