Love of Life and Other Stories HTML version

The Unexpected
IT is a simple matter to see the obvious, to do the expected. The tendency of the
individual life is to be static rather than dynamic, and this tendency is made into a
propulsion by civilization, where the obvious only is seen, and the unexpected rarely
happens. When the unexpected does happen, however, and when it is of sufficiently
grave import, the unfit perish. They do not see what is not obvious, are unable to do the
unexpected, are incapable of adjusting their well-grooved lives to other and strange
grooves. In short, when they come to the end of their own groove, they die.
On the other hand, there are those that make toward survival, the fit individuals who
escape from the rule of the obvious and the expected and adjust their lives to no matter
what strange grooves they may stray into, or into which they may be forced. Such an
individual was Edith Whittlesey. She was born in a rural district of England, where life
proceeds by rule of thumb and the unexpected is so very unexpected that when it happens
it is looked upon as an immorality. She went into service early, and while yet a young
woman, by rule-of-thumb progression, she became a lady's maid.
The effect of civilization is to impose human law upon environment until it becomes
machine-like in its regularity. The objectionable is eliminated, the inevitable is foreseen.
One is not even made wet by the rain nor cold by the frost; while death, instead of
stalking about grewsome and accidental, becomes a prearranged pageant, moving along a
well-oiled groove to the family vault, where the hinges are kept from rusting and the dust
from the air is swept continually away.
Such was the environment of Edith Whittlesey. Nothing happened. It could scarcely be
called a happening, when, at the age of twenty-five, she accompanied her mistress on a
bit of travel to the United States. The groove merely changed its direction. It was still the
same groove and well oiled. It was a groove that bridged the Atlantic with
uneventfulness, so that the ship was not a ship in the midst of the sea, but a capacious,
many-corridored hotel that moved swiftly and placidly, crushing the waves into
submission with its colossal bulk until the sea was a mill-pond, monotonous with
quietude. And at the other side the groove continued on over the land - a well-disposed,
respectable groove that supplied hotels at every stopping-place, and hotels on wheels
between the stopping- places.
In Chicago, while her mistress saw one side of social life, Edith Whittlesey saw another
side; and when she left her lady's service and became Edith Nelson, she betrayed, perhaps
faintly, her ability to grapple with the unexpected and to master it. Hans Nelson,
immigrant, Swede by birth and carpenter by occupation, had in him that Teutonic unrest
that drives the race ever westward on its great adventure. He was a large-muscled, stolid
sort of a man, in whom little imagination was coupled with immense initiative, and who
possessed, withal, loyalty and affection as sturdy as his own strength.