You Never Can Tell by Nellie
(Reprinted by permission of Saturday Night, Toronto.)
It was at exactly half-past three in the afternoon of a hot June day
that Mrs. Theodore Banks became smitten with the idea. Mrs. Banks often
said afterwards she did not know how she came to be thinking about the
Convention of the Arts and Crafts at all, although she is the
Secretary. The idea was so compelling that Mrs. Banks rushed down town
to tell Mr. Banks—she felt she could not depend on the telephone.
"Ted," she cried, when she opened the door of the office, "I have an
Theodore raised his eyelids.
Mrs. Banks was flushed and excited and looked well. Mrs. Banks was a
handsome woman any time, and to-day her vivacity was quite genuine.
"You know the Convention of the Arts and Crafts—which begins on the
"I've heard of it—somewhere."
"Well, it just came to me, Teddy, what a perfectly heavenly thing it
would be to invite that little Mrs. Dawson, who writes reviews for one
of the papers here—you remember I told you about her—she is awfully
clever and artistic and good-looking, and lives away off from every
place, and her husband is not her equal at all—perfectly illiterate,
I heard—uncultured anyway. What a perfect joy it would be to her to
have her come, and meet with people who are her equals. She's an Ottawa
girl originally, I believe, and she does write the most perfectly sweet
and darling things—you remember I've read them for you. Of course, she
is probably very shabby and out of date in her clothes by this time.
But it doesn't really matter what one wears, if one has heaps of
brains. It is only dull women, really, who have to be so terribly
careful about what they wear, and spend so much money that way!"
"Dull women!" Theodore murmured. "Oh! is that why? I never really
She laughed at his look of enlightened surprise. When Mrs. Banks
laughed there were three dimples plainly showing, which did not
entirely discourage her merriment.
"And you know, Teddy, there is such a mystery about her marriage! She
will really be quite an acquisition, and we'll have her on the
"What mystery?" Mr. Banks asked.
"Oh, well, not mystery, maybe, but we all suppose she's not happy. How
could she be with so few of the real pleasures of life, and still she
stays with it, and actually goes places with her husband, and seems to
be keeping it up, and you know, Ted, she has either three or four
"Is it as bad as that?" he asked, solemnly.
"Oh, Ted! you know well enough what I mean—don't be such an owl! Just
think of how tied down and horrible it must be for her out there in
that desolate Alberta, with no neighbors at all for miles, and then
only impossible people. I should think it would drive her mad. I must
try to get her on the programme, too. She will at least be interesting,
on account of her personality. Most of our speakers are horribly prosy,
at least to me, but of course I never listen; I just look to see what
they've on and then go straight back to my own thinking. I just thought
I'd ask your advice, Teddy dear, before I asked the Committee, and so
now I'll go to see Mrs. Trenton, the President. So glad you approve,
dear! And really there will be a touch of romance in it, Ted, for Bruce
Edwards knew her when she lived in Ottawa—it was he who told me so
much about her. He simply raved about her to me—it seems he was quite
mad about her once, and probably it was a lover's quarrel or something
that drove her away to the West to forget,—and now think of her
meeting Bruce again. Isn't that a thriller?"
"If I thought Bruce Edwards had brains enough to care for any woman I'd
say it was not right to bring her here," said Mr. Banks; "but he
"Oh, of course," Mrs. Banks agreed, "he is quite over it now, no doubt.
Things like that never last, but he'll be awfully nice to her, and give
her a good time and take her around—you know what Bruce is like—he's
so romantic and cynical, and such a perfect darling in his manners—
always ready to open a door or pick up a handkerchief!"
"I am sure he would—if he needed the handkerchief," Theodore put in,
"Oh, Ted! you're a funny bunny! You've never liked Bruce—and I know
why—and it's perfectly horrid of you, just because he has always been
particularly nice to me—he really can't help being dreamy and devoted
to any woman he is with, if she is not a positive fright."
* * * * *
Mrs. Trenton, the President of the Arts and Crafts, received Mrs.
Banks' suggestion cautiously. Mrs. Trenton always asked, Is it right?
Is it wise? Is it expedient? It was Mrs. Trenton's extreme cautiousness
that had brought her the proud distinction of being the first President
of the Arts and Crafts, where it was considered necessary to temper the
impetuosity of the younger members; and, besides, Mrs. Trenton never
carried her doubts and fears too far. She raised all possible
objections, mentioned all possible contingencies, but in the end
allowed the younger members to carry the day, which they did, with a
clear and shriven conscience, feeling that they had been very discreet
and careful and deliberate.
Mrs. Banks introduced her subject by telling Mrs. Trenton that she had
come to ask her advice, whereupon Mrs. Trenton laid aside the work she
was doing and signified her gracious willingness to be asked for
counsel. When Mrs. Banks had carefully laid the matter before Mrs.
Trenton, dwelling on the utter loneliness of the prairie woman's life,
Mrs. Trenton called the Vice-President, Miss Hastings, who was an oil
painter by profession, and a lady of large experience in matters of the
heart. Mrs. Trenton asked Mrs Banks to outline her plan again.
When she had finished, Mrs. Trenton asked: "Is it wise—is it kind? She
has chosen her life. Why bring her back? It will only fill her heart
with vain repinings. This man, illiterate though he may be, is her
lawful husband—she owes him a duty. Are we just to him?"
"Maybe she is perfectly happy," Miss Hastings said. "There is no
accounting for love and its vagaries. Perhaps to her he is clothed in
the rosy glow of romance, and all the inconveniences of her life are
forgotten. I have read of it," she added in explanation, when she
noticed Mrs. Trenton's look of incredulity.
Mrs. Trenton sighed, a long sigh that undulated the black lace on her
"It has been written—it will continue to be written, but to-day
marriage needs to be aided by modern—" she hesitated, and looked at
Mrs. Banks for the word.
"Methods," Mrs. Banks supplied, promptly, "housemaids, cooks, autos,
theatres, jewelry and chocolates."
"You put it so aptly, my dear," Mrs. Trenton smiled, as she patted her
pearl bracelet, Mr. Trenton's last offering on the hymeneal altar. "It
requires—" she paused again—Mrs. Trenton's pauses were a very
important asset in her conversation—"it requires—"
"Collateral," said Mrs. Banks.
Miss Hastings shook her head.
"I believe in marriage—all the same," she said heroically.
"Now, how shall we do it?" Mrs. Banks was anxious to get the
preliminaries over. "You have decided to invite her, of course."
Mrs. Trenton nodded.
"I feel we have no choice in the matter," she said slowly. "She is
certainly a woman of artistic temperament—she must be, or she would
succumb to the dreary prairie level. I have followed her career with
interest and predict great things for her—have I not, Miss Hastings?
We should not blame her if in a moment of girlish romance she turned
her back on the life which now is. We, as officers of the Arts and
Crafts, must extend our fellowship to all who are worthy. This joining
of our ranks may show her what she lost by her girlish folly, but it is
better for her to know life, and even feel regrets, than never to
"Better have a scarlet thread run through the dull gray pattern of
life, even if it makes the gray all the duller," said Miss Hastings,
who worked in oils.
And so it came about that an invitation was sent to Mrs. James Dawson,
Auburn, Alberta, and in due time an acceptance was received.
From the time she alighted from the Pacific Express, a slight young
woman in a very smart linen suit, she was a constant surprise to the
Arts and Crafts. The principal cause of their surprise was that she
seemed perfectly happy. There was not a shadow of regret in her clear
grey eyes, nor any trace of drooping melancholy in her quick, business-
Naturally the Arts and Crafts had made quite a feature of the Alberta
author and poet who would attend the Convention. Several of the
enthusiastic members, anxious to advertise effectively, had interviewed
the newspaper reporters on the subject, with the result that long
articles were published in the Woman's Section of the city dailies,
dealing principally with the loneliness of the life on an Alberta
ranch. Kate Dawson was credited with an heroic spirit that would have
made her blush had she seen the flattering allusions. Robinson Crusoe
on his lonely isle, before the advent of Friday, was not more isolated
than she on her lonely Alberta ranch, according to the advance notices.
Luckily she had not seen any of these, nor ever dreamed she was the
centre of so much attention, and so it was a very self-possessed and
unconscious young woman in a simple white gown who came before the Arts
It was the first open night of the Convention, and the auditorium was
crowded. The air was heavy with the perfume of many flowers, and pulsed
with dreamy music. Mrs. Trenton, in billows of black lace and glinting
jet, presided with her usual graciousness. She introduced Mrs. Dawson
Whatever the attitude of the audience was at first, they soon followed
her with eager interest as she told them, in her easy way, simple
stories of the people she knew so well and so lovingly understood.
There was no art in the telling, only a sweet naturalness and an
apparent honesty—the honesty of purpose that comes to people in lonely
places. Her stories were all of the class that magazine editors call
"homely, heart-interest stuff," not deep or clever or problematical—
the commonplace doings of common people—but it found an entrance into
the hearts of men and women.
They found themselves looking with her at broad sunlit spaces, where
struggling hearts work out noble destinies, without any thought of
heroism. They saw the moonlight and its drifting shadows on the wheat,
and smelled again the ripening grain at dawn. They heard the whirr of
prairie chickens' wings among the golden stubble on the hillside, and
the glamor of some old forgotten afternoon stole over them. Men and
women country-born who had forgotten the voices of their youth, heard
them calling across the years, and heard them, too, with opened hearts
and sudden tears. There was one pathetic story she told them, of the
lonely prairie woman—the woman who wished she was back, the woman to
whom the broad outlook and far horizon were terrible and full of fear.
She told them how, at night, this lonely woman drew down the blinds and
pinned them close to keep out the great white outside that stared at
her through every chink with wide, pitiless eyes—the mocking voices
that she heard behind her everywhere, day and night, whispering,
mocking, plotting; and the awful shadows, black and terrible, that
crouched behind her, just out of sight—never coming out in the open.
It was a weird and gloomy picture, that, but she did not leave it so.
She told of the new neighbor who came to live near the lonely woman—
the human companionship which drove the mocking voices away forever—
the coming of the spring, when the world awoke from its white sleep and
the thousand joyous living things that came into being at the touch of
the good old sun!
At the reception after the programme, many crowded around her,
expressing their sincere appreciation of her work. Bruce Edwards fully
enjoyed the distinction which his former acquaintance with her gave
him, and it was with quite an air of proprietorship that he introduced
to her his friends.
Mrs. Trenton, Mrs. Banks and other members of the Arts and Crafts, at a
distance discussed her with pride. She had made their open night a
wonderful success—the papers would be full of it to-morrow.
"You can see how fitted she is for a life of culture," said Miss
Hastings, the oil painter; "her shapely white hands were made for
silver spoons, and not for handling butter ladles. What a perfect joy
it must be for her to associate with people who are her equals!"
"I wonder," said Mrs. Banks, "what her rancher would say if he saw his
handsome wife now. So much admiration from an old lover is not good for
the peace of mind of even a serious-minded author—and such a
fascinating man as Bruce! Look how well they look together! I wonder if
she is mentally comparing her big, sunburned cattleman with Bruce, and
thinking of what a different life she would have led if she had married
"Do you suppose," said Mrs. Trenton, "that that was her own story that
she told us? I think she must have felt it herself to be able to tell
Just at that moment Bruce Edwards was asking her the same question.
"Oh, no," she answered, quickly, while an interested group drew near;
"people never write their own sorrows—the broken heart does not sing—
that's the sadness of it. If one can talk of their sorrows they soon
cease to be. It's because I have not had any sorrows of my own that I
have seen and been able to tell of the tragedies of life."
"Isn't she the jolly best bluffer you ever heard?" one of the men
remarked to another. "Just think of that beautiful creature, born for
admiration, living ten miles from anywhere, on an Albertan ranch of all
places, and saying she is happy. She could be a top-notcher in any
society in Canada—why, great Scott! any of us would have married that
girl, and been glad to do it!" And under the glow of this generous
declaration Mr. Stanley Carruthers lit his cigarette and watched her
with unconcealed admiration.
As the Arts and Crafts had predicted, the newspapers gave considerable
space to their open meeting, and the Alberta author came in for a large
share of the reporters' finest spasms. It was the chance of a lifetime
—here was local color—human interest—romance—thrills! Good old
phrases, clover-scented and rosy-hued, that had lain in cold storage
for years, were brought out and used with conscious pride.
There was one paper which boldly hinted at what it called her
"mesalliance," and drew a lurid picture of her domestic unhappiness,
"so bravely borne." All the gossip of the Convention was in it
intensified and exaggerated—conjectures set down as known truths—the
idle chatter of idle women crystallized in print!
And of this paper a copy was sent by some unknown person to James
Dawson, Auburn, Alberta.
* * * * *
The rain was falling at Auburn, Alberta, with the dreary insistence of
unwelcome harvest rain. Just a quiet drizzle—plenty more where this
came from—no haste, no waste. It soaked the fields, keeping green the
grain which should be ripening in a clear sun. Kate Dawson had been
gone a week, and it would still be a week before she came back. Just a
week—seven days. Jim Dawson went over them in his mind as he drove the
ten miles over the rain-soaked roads to Auburn to get his daily letter.
Every day she had written to him long letters, full of vital interest
to him. He read them over and over again.
"Nobody really knows how well Kate can write, who has not seen her
letters to me," he thought proudly. Absence had not made him fonder of
his wife, for every day he lived was lived in devotion to her. The
marvel of it all never left him, that such a woman as Kate Marks, who
had spent her life in the city, surrounded by cultured friends, should
be contented to live the lonely life of a rancher's wife.
He got his first disappointment when there was no letter for him. He
told himself it was some unavoidable delay in the mails—Kate had
written all right—there would be two letters for him to-morrow. Then
he noticed the paper addressed to him in a strange hand.
He opened it eagerly. A wavy ink-line caught his eye. "Western author
delights large audience." Jim Dawson's face glowed with pride. "My
girl!" he murmured, happily. "I knew it." He wanted to be alone when he
read it, and, folding it hastily, put it in his pocket and did not look
at it again until he was on the way home. The rain still fell drearily
and spattered the page as he read.
His heart beat fast with pride as he read the flattering words—his
girl had made good, you bet!
Suddenly he started, almost crushing the paper in his hands, and every
bit of color went from his face. "What's this? 'Unhappily married '—
'borne with heroic cheerfulness.'" He read it through to the end.
He stopped his horses and looked around—he did not know, himself, what
thought was in his mind. Jim Dawson had always been able to settle his
disputes without difficulty or delay. There was something to be done
now. The muscles swelled in his arms. Surely something could be
Then the wanton cruelty, the utter brutality of the printed page came
home to him—there was no way, no answer.
Strange to say, he felt no resentment for himself; even the paragraph
about the old lover, with its hidden and sinister meaning, angered him
only in its relation to her. Why shouldn't the man admire her if he was
an old lover?—Kate must have had dozens of men in love with her—why
shouldn't any man admire her?
So he talked and reasoned with himself, trying to keep the cruel hurt
of the words out of his heart.
Everyone in his household was asleep when he reached home. He stabled
his team with the help of his lantern, and then, going into the
comfortable kitchen, he found the lunch the housekeeper had left for
him. He thought of the many merry meals he and Kate had had on this
same kitchen table, but now it seemed a poor, cold thing to sit down
and eat alone and in silence.
With his customary thoughtfulness he cleared away the lunch before
going to his room. Then, lamp in hand, he went, as he and Kate had
always done, to the children's room, and looked long and lovingly at
his boy and girl asleep in their cots—the boy so like himself, with
his broad forehead and brown curls. He bent over him and kissed him
Then he turned to the little girl, so like her mother, with her tangle
of red curls on the pillow. Picking her up in his arms, he carried her
to his room and put her in his own bed.
"Mother isn't putting up a bluff on us, is she, dearie?" he whispered
as he kissed the soft little cheek beside his own. "Mother loves us,
surely—it is pretty rough on us if she doesn't—and it's rougher
still on mother!"
The child stirred in her sleep, and her arms tightened around his neck.
"I love my mother—and my dear daddy," she murmured drowsily.
All night long Jim Dawson lay wide-eyed, staring into the darkness with
his little sleeping girl in his arms, not doubting his wife for a
moment, but wondering—all night long—wondering!
The next evening Jim did not go for his mail, but one of the neighbors
driving by volunteered to get it for him.
It was nearly midnight when the sound of wheels roused him from his
reverie. He opened the door, and in the square of light the horses
"Hello, Jim—is that you?" called the neighbor; "I've got something for
Jim came out bareheaded. He tried to thank the neighbor for his
kindness, but his throat was dry with suppressed excitement—Kate had
The buggy was still in the shadow, and he could not see its occupant.
"I have a letter for you, Jim," said his friend, with a suspicious
twinkle in his voice, "a big one, registered and special delivery—a
right nice letter, I should say."
Then her voice rang out in the darkness.
"Come, Jim, and help me out."
Commonplace words, too, but to Jim Dawson they were sweeter than the
chiming of silver bells…..
An hour later they still sat over their late supper on the kitchen
table. She had told him many things.
"I just got lonely, Jim—plain, straight homesick for you and the
children. I couldn't stay out the week. The people were kind to me, and
said nice things about my work. I was glad to hear and see things, of
course. Bruce Edwards was there, you know—I've told you about Bruce.
He took me around quite a bit, and was nice enough, only I couldn't
lose him—you know that kind, Jim, always saying tiresome, plastery
sort of things. He thinks that women like to be fussed over all the
time. The women I met dress beautifully and all talk the same—and at
once. Everything is 'perfectly sweet' and 'darling' to them. They are
clever women all right, and were kind to me, and all that, but oh, Jim,
they are not for mine—and the men I met while I was away all looked
small and poor and trifling to me because I have been looking for the
last ten years at one who is big and brown and useful. I compared them
all with you, and they measured up badly. Jim, do you know what it
would feel like to live on popcorn and chocolates for two weeks and try
to make a meal of them—what do you think you would be hungry for?"
Jim Dawson watched his wife, his eyes aglow with love and pride. Not
until she repeated her question did he answer her.
"I think, perhaps, a slice of brown bread would be what was wanted," he
answered smiling. The glamor of her presence was upon him.
Then she came over to him and drew his face close to hers.
"Please pass the brown bread!" she said.