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Nerves And Intuition

From: The Branding Iron

"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 quizzically.

"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 any more?"

"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 what?"

"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

"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 it out.

"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

"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?"

"How's that?"

"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

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 feet.

"You're angry?"

He laughed.

"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 distress.

"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

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