A NOVEL BY SUSAN GLASPELL
Miss Katherine Wayneworth Jones was bunkered. Having been bunkered many times in the past, and knowing that she would be bunkered upon many occasions in the future, Miss Jones was not disposed to take a tragic view of the situation. The little white ball was all too secure down there in the sand; as she had played her first nine, and at least paid her respects to the game, she could now scale the hazard and curl herself into a comfortable position. It was a seductively lazy spring day, the very day for making arm-chairs of one's hazards. And let it be set down in the beginning that Miss Jones was more given to a comfortable place than to a tragic view.
Katherine Wayneworth Jones, affectionately known to many friends in many lands as Katie Jones, was an "army girl." And that not only for the obvious reasons: not because her people had been of the army, even unto the second and third generations, not because she had known the joys and jealousies of many posts, not even because bachelor officers were committed to the habit of proposing to her—those were but the trappings. She was an army girl because "Well, when you know her, you don't have to be told, and if you don't know her you can't be," a floundering friend had once concluded her exposition of why Katie was so "army." For her to marry outside the army would be regarded as little short of treason.
To-day she was giving a little undisturbing consideration to that thing of her marrying. For it was her twenty-fifth birthday, and twenty-fifth birthdays are prone to knock at the door of matrimonial possibilities. Just then the knock seemed answered by Captain Prescott. Unblushingly Miss Jones considered that doubtless before the summer was over she would be engaged to him. And quite likely she would follow up the engagement with a wedding. It seemed time for her to be following up some of her engagements.
She did not believe that she would at all mind marrying Harry Prescott. All his people liked all hers, which would facilitate things at the wedding; she would not be rudely plunged into a new set of friends, which would be trying at her time of life. Everything about him was quite all right: he played a good game of golf, not a maddening one of bridge, danced and rode in a sort of joy of living fashion. And she liked the way he showed his teeth when he laughed. She always thought when he laughed most unreservedly that he was going to show more of them; but he never did; it interested her.
And it interested her the way people said: "Prescott? Oh yes—he was in Cuba, wasn't he?" and then smiled a little, perhaps shrugged a trifle, and added:
"Great fellow—Prescott. Never made a mess of things, anyhow."
To have vague association with the mysterious things of life, and yet not to have "made a mess of things"—what more could one ask?
Of course, pounding irritably with her club, the only reason for not marrying him was that there were too many reasons for doing so. She could not think of a single person who would furnish the stimulus of an objection. Stupid to have every one so pleased! But there must always be something wrong, so let that be appeased in having everything just right. And then there was Cuba for one's adventurous sense.
She looked about her with satisfaction. It frequently happened that the place where one was inspired keen sense of the attractions of some other place. But this time there was no place she would rather be than just where she found herself. For she was a little tired, after a long round of visits at gay places, and this quiet, beautiful island out in the Mississippi—large, apart, serene—seemed a great lap into which to sink. She liked the quarters: big old-fashioned houses in front of which the long stretch of green sloped down to the river. There was something peculiarly restful in the spaciousness and stability, a place which the disagreeable or distressing things of life could not invade. Most of the women were away, which was the real godsend, for the dreariness and desolation of pleasure would be eliminated. A quiet post was charming until it tried to be gay—so mused Miss Katherine Wayneworth Jones.
And of various other things, mused she. Her brother, Captain Wayneworth Jones, was divorced from his wife and wedded to something he was hoping would in turn be wedded to a rifle; all the scientific cells of the family having been used for Wayne's brain, it was hard for Katie to get the nature of the attachment, but she trusted the ordnance department would in time solemnly legalize the affair—Wayne giving in marriage—destruction profiting happily by the union. Meanwhile Wayne was so consecrated to the work of making warfare more deadly that he scarcely knew his sister had arrived. But on the morrow, or at least the day after, would come young Wayneworth, called Worth, save when his Aunt Kate called him Wayne the Worthy. Wayne the Worthy was also engaged in perfecting a death-dealing instrument, the same being the interrogation point. Doubtless he would open fire on Aunt Kate with—Why didn't his mother and father live in the same place any more, and—Why did he have to live half the time with mama if he'd rather stay all the time with father? Poor Worth, he had only spent six years in a world of law and order, and had yet to learn about courts and incompatibilities and annoying things like that. It did not seem fair that the hardest part of the whole thing should fall to poor little Wayne the Worthy. He couldn't help it, certainly.
But how Worthie would love those collie pups! They would evolve all sorts of games to play with them. Picturing herself romping with the boy and dogs, prowling about on the river in Wayne's new launch, lounging under those great oak trees reading good lazying books, doing everything because she wanted to and nothing because she had to, flirting just enough with Captain Prescott to keep a sense of the reality of life, she lay there gloating over the happy prospect.
And then in that most irresponsible and unsuspecting of moments something whizzed into her consciousness like a bullet—something shot by her vision pierced the lazy, hazy, carelessly woven web of imagery—bullet-swift, bullet-true, bullet-terrible—striking the center clean and strong. The suddenness and completeness with which she sat up almost sent her from her place. For from the very instant that her eye rested upon the figure of the girl in pink organdie dress and big hat she knew something was wrong.
And when, within a few feet of the river the girl stopped running, shrank back, covered her face with her hands, then staggered on, she knew that that girl was going to the river to kill herself.
There was one frozen instant of powerlessness. Then—what to do? Call to her? She would only hurry on. Run after her? She could not get there. It was intuition—instinct—took the short cut a benumbed reason could not make; rolling headlong down the bunker, twisting her neck and mercilessly bumping her elbow, Katherine Wayneworth Jones emitted a shriek to raise the very dead themselves. And then three times a quick, wild "Help—Help—Help!" and a less audible prayer that no one else was near.
It reached; the girl stopped, turned, saw the rumpled, lifeless-looking heap of blue linen, turned back toward the river, then once more to the motionless Miss Jones, lying face downward in the sand. And then the girl who thought life not worth living, delaying her own preference, with rather reluctant feet—feet clad in pink satin slippers—turned back to the girl who wanted to live badly enough to call for help.
Through one-half of one eye Katie could see her; she was thinking that there was something fine about a girl who wanted to kill herself putting it off long enough to turn back and help some one who wanted to live.
Miss Jones raised her head just a trifle, showed her face long enough to roll her eyes in a grewsome way she had learned at school, and with a "Help me!" buried her face in the sand and lay there quivering.
The girl knelt down. "You sick?" she asked, and Katie had the fancy of her voice sounding as though she had not expected to use it any more.
"So ill!" panted Kate, rolling over on her back and holding her heart. "Here! My heart!"
The girl looked around uncertainly. It must be a jar, Katie conceded, being called back to life, expected to fight for the very thing one was running away from. Her rescuer was evidently considering going to the river for water—saving water (Katie missed none of those fine points)—but instead she pulled the patient to a sitting position, supporting her.
"You can breathe better this way, can't you?" she asked solicitously. "Have you had them before? Will it go away? Shall I call some one?"
Katie rolled her head about as she had seen people do who were dying on the stage. "Often—before. Go away—soon. But don't leave me!" she implored, clutching at the girl wildly.
"I will not leave you," the stranger assured her. "I have plenty of time."
Miss Jones made what the doctors would call a splendid recovery. Her breath began coming more naturally; her spine seemed to regain control of her head; her eyes rolled less wildly. "It's going," she panted; "but you'll have to help me to the house."
"Why of course," replied the girl who was being delayed. "Do you think I'd leave a sick girl sitting out here all alone?"
Kate felt like apologizing. It seemed rather small—that interrupting a death to save a life.
"Where do you live?" her companion was asking. She pointed to the quarters. "In one of those?"
"The second one," Katie told her. "And thank Heaven," she told herself, "the first one is closed!"
"Lean on me," directed the girl in pink, with a touch of the gentle authority of strong to weak. "Don't be afraid to lean on me."
Kate felt the quick warm tears against her eyelids. "You're very kind," she said, and the quiver in her voice was real.
They walked slowly on, silently. Katie was trembling now, and in earnest. "My name is Katherine Jones," she said at last, looking timidly at the girl who was helping her.
It wrought a change. The girl's mouth closed in a hard line. A hard, defending glitter seemed to seal her eyes. She did not respond.
"May I ask to whom I am indebted for this kindness?" It was asked with gentleness.
But for the moment it brought no response. "My name is Verna Woods," came at last with an unsteady defiance.
They had reached the steps of the big, hospitable porch. With deep relief Katie saw that there was no one about. Nora had gone out with one of her adorers from the barracks.
They turned, and were looking back to the river. It was May at May's loveliest: the grass and trees so tender a green, the river so gently buoyant, and a softly sympathetic sky over all. A soldier had appeared and was picking twigs from the putting green in front of them; another soldier was coming down the road with some eggs which he was evidently taking to Captain Prescott's quarters. He was whistling. Everything seemed to be going very smoothly. And a launch was coming down the river; a girl's laugh came musically across the water and the green; it inspired the joyful throat of a nearby robin. And into this had been shot—!
Katie turned to the intruder. "It's lovely, isn't it?" she asked in a queer, hushed way.
The girl looked at her, and at the fierce rush of things Kate took a frightened step backward. But quickly the other had turned away her face. Only her clenched hand and slightly moving shoulder told anything.
There was another call to make, and instinct alone could not reach this time. For the moment thought of it left her mute.
"You have been so kind to me," she began, her timidity serving well as helplessness, "so very kind. I wonder if I may ask one thing more? Am—am I keeping you from anything you should be doing?"
There was no response at first, just a little convulsive clenching of the hand, an accentuated movement of the shoulder. Then, "I have time enough," was the low, curt answer, face still averted.
"I am alone here, as you see. I am just a little afraid of a—a return attack. I wonder—would you be willing to come up to my room with me—help make a cup of tea for us and—stay with me a little while?"
Again for the minute, no reply. Then the girl turned hotly upon her, suspicion, resentment—was it hatred, too?—in her eyes. But what she saw was as a child's face—wide eyes, beseeching mouth. Women who wondered "what in the world men saw in Katie Jones" might have wondered less had they seen her then.
The girl did not seem to know what to say. Suddenly she was trembling from head to foot.
Kate laid a hand upon the quivering arm. "I've frightened you," she said regretfully and tenderly. "You need the tea, too. You'll come?"
The girl's eyes roved all around like the furtive eyes of a frightened animal. But they came back to Katie's steadying gaze. "Why yes—I'll come—if you want me to," she said in voice she was clearly making supreme effort to steady.
"I do indeed," said Kate simply and led the way into the house.
And now that they were face to face across a tea-table Miss Jones was bunkered again. How get out of the sand? She did not know. She did not even know what club to use.
For never had she drunk tea under similar circumstances. Life had brought her varied experiences, but sitting across the teacups from one whom she had interrupted on the brink of suicide did not chance to be among them. She was wholly without precedent, and it was trying for an army girl to be stripped of precedent.
They were sitting at a window which overlooked the river; the river which was flowing on so serenely, which was so blue and lazy and lovely that May afternoon. She looked to the place where—then back to the girl across from her—the girl who but for her—
"Is it coming back?" the girl asked.
"N—o; I think not; but I hope you will not go." Then, desperately resolved to break through, she asked boldly: "Am I keeping you from anything important?"
A strange gleam, compounded of things she did not understand, shot out at her. To be followed with: "Important? Oh I don't know. That depends on how you look at it. The only thing I have left to do is to kill myself. I guess it won't take long."
Kate met it with a sharp, involuntary cry. For the sullen steadiness, dispassionateness, detachment with which it was said made it more real than it had been at the water's edge.
"But—but you see it's such a lovely day. You know—you know it's such a beautiful place," was what the resourceful Miss Jones found herself stammering.
"Yes," agreed her companion, "pleasant weather, isn't it?" She looked at Katie contemptuously. "You think weather makes any difference? That's like a girl like you!"
Katie laughed. Laughing seemed the only sand club she had just then. "I am a fool," she agreed. "I've often thought so myself. But like most other fools I mean well, and this just didn't seem to me the sort of day when it would occur to one to kill one's self. Now if it were terribly hot, the kind of hot that takes your brains away, or so cold you were freezing, or even if it were raining, not a decent rain, but that insulting drizzle that makes you hate everything—why then, yes, I might understand. But to kill one's self in the sunshine!"
As she was finishing she had a strange sensation. She saw that the girl was looking at her compassionately. Katherine Wayneworth Jones was not accustomed to being viewed with compassion.
"It would be foolish to try to make you understand," said the girl simply, finality in her weariness. "It would be foolish to try to make a girl like you understand that nothing can be so bad as sunshine."
Katie leaned across the table. This interested her. "Why I suppose that might be true. I suppose—"
But the girl was not listening. She was leaning back in the great wicker chair. She seemed actually to be relaxing, resting. That seemed strange to Kate. How could she be resting in an hour which had just been tacked on to her life? And then it came to her that perhaps it was a long time since the girl had sat in a chair like that. If she had had a chance, when things were going badly, to sit in such a chair and rest, might the river have seemed a less desirable place? She had always supposed it was big things—queer, abstract, unknowable things like forces and traits that made life and death. Did chairs count?
As the girl's eyes closed, surrenderingly, Katie was glad that no matter what she might decide to do about things she had had that hour in the big, tenderly cushioned wicker chair. It might be a kinder memory to take with her from life than anything she had known for a long time.
Katherine had grown very still, still both outwardly and inwardly. People spoke of her enviously as having experienced so much; living in all parts of the world, knowing people of all nations and kinds. But it seemed all of that had been mere splashing around on the beach. She was out in the big waves now.
She looked at the girl; looked with the eyes of one who would understand.
And what she saw was that some one, something, had, as it were, struck a blow at the center, and the girl, the something that really was her, had gone to pieces. Everything was scattered. Even her features scarcely seemed to belong to each other, so how must it not be with those other things, inner things, oh, things one did not know what to call? Was it because she could not get things together it seemed to her she must make them all stop? Was that it? Did people lose the power to hold themselves in the one that made you you?
What could do that? Something that reached the center; not many things could; something, perhaps, that kept battering at it for a long time, and just shook it at first, and then—
It was too dreadful to think of it that way. She tried to make herself stop.
The girl's face was turned to the out-of-doors; to a great tree in front of the window, a tree in which some robins had built their nests. Such a tired face! So many tear marks, and so much less reachable than tear stains.
A beautiful face, too. If all were back which the blow at the center had struck away, if she had all of her—if lighted—it would be a rarely beautiful face.
The girl was like a flower; a flower, it seemed to Kate, which had not been planted in the right place. The gardener had been unwise in his selection of a place for this flower; perhaps he had not used the right kind of soil, perhaps he had put it in the full heat of the sun when it was a flower to have more shade; perhaps too much wind or too much rain—Katie wondered just what the mistake had been. For the flower would have been so lovely had the gardener not made those mistakes.
Even now, it was lovely: lovely with a saddening loveliness, for one saw at a glance how easily a breeze too rough could beat it down. And one knew there had been those breezes. Every petal drooped.
A strange desire entered the heart of Katherine: a desire to see whether those petals could take their curves again, whether a color which blunders had faded could come back to its own. She was like the new gardener eager to see whether he can redeem the mistakes of the old. And the new gardener's zeal is not all for the flower; some of it is to show what he can do, and much of it the true gardener's passion for experiment. Katie Jones would have made a good gardener.
And yet it was something less cold than the experimenting instinct tightened her throat as she looked at the frail figure of the girl for whom life had been too much.
"I must go now," she was saying, with what seemed mighty effort to summon all of herself over which she could get command. "You are all right now. I must go."
But she sank back in the chair, as if that one thing left at the center pulled her back, crying out that if it could but have a little more time there—
The girl in blue linen was sitting at the feet of the girl in pink organdie. She had hold of her hand, so slim a hand. Everything about the girl was slim, built for favoring breezes.
"I have one thing more to ask." It was Kate's voice was not well controlled this time.
"You may call it a whim, a notion, foolish notion; call it what you like, but I want you to stay here to-night."
The girl was looking down at her, down into the upturned face, all light and strength and purpose as one standing apart and disinterested might view a spectacle. Slowly, comprehendingly, dispassionately she shook her head. "It would be—no use."
"Perhaps," Katie acquiesced. "Some of the very nicest things in life are—no use. But I have something planned. May I tell you what it is I want to do?"
Still she did not take her eyes from Katie's kindling face, looking at it as at something a long way off and foreign.
"I am not a philanthropist, have no fears of that. But I have an idea, a theory, that what seem small things are perhaps the only things in life to help the big things. For instance, a hot bath. I can't think of any sorrow in the world that a hot bath wouldn't help, just a little bit."
"Now we have such a beautiful bathroom. I loathe hot baths in tiny bathrooms, where the air gets all steamy and you can't get your breath. Perhaps one thing the matter with you is that all the bathrooms you've been in lately were too small. Of course, you didn't know that was one thing the matter; like once at a dance I thought I was very sad about a man's dancing so much with another girl, a new girl—don't you loathe 'new girls'?—but when I got home I found that one of my dress stays was digging into me and when I got my dress off I didn't feel half so broken up about the man."
An odd thing happened; one thing struck away came back. There was a light in the eyes telling that something human and understanding, something to link her to other things human, would like to come back. She looked and listened as to something nearer.
Seeing it, Katie chattered on, against time, about nothing; foolish talk, heartless talk, it might even seem, to be pouring out to a girl who felt there was no place for her in life. But it was nonsense carried by tenderness. Nonsense which made for kinship. It reached. Several times the girl who thought she must kill herself was not far from a smile and at last there was a tear on the long lashes.
"So I'm going to undress you," Katie unfolded her plan, encouraged by the tear, "and then let's just see what hot water can do about it. And maybe a little rub. I used to rub my mother's spine. She said life always seemed worth living after I had done that." She patted the hand she held ever so lightly as she said: "How happy I would be if I could make you feel that way about it, too. Then I've a dear room to take you into, all soft grays and greens, and oh, such a good bed! Why you know you're tired! That's what's the matter with you, and you're just too tired to know what's the matter."
The girl nodded, tears upon her cheeks, looking like a child that has had a cruel time and needs to be comforted.
Katie's voice was lower, different, as she went on: "Then after I've brushed your hair and done all those 'comfy' things I'm going to put you in a certain, a very special gown I have. It was made by the nuns in a convent in Southern France. As they worked upon it they sat in a garden on a hillside. They thought serene thoughts, those nuns. You see I know them, lived with them. I don't know, one has odd fancies sometimes, and it always seemed to me that something of the peace of things there was absorbed in that wonderful bit of linen. It seems far away from things that hurt and harm. Almost as if it might draw back things that had gone. I was going to keep it—" Katie's eyes deepened, there was a little catch in her voice. "Well, I was just keeping it. But because you are so tired—oh just because you need it so.—I want you to let me give it to you."
And with a tender strength holding the sobbing girl Katie unfastened her collar and began taking off her dress.
"Kate," demanded Captain Jones, "what's that noise?"
"How should I know?" airily queried Kate.
"I heard a noise in the room above. This chimney carries every sound."
"Nonsense," jeered his sister. "Wayne, you've lived alone so long that you're getting spooky."
He turned to the other man. "Prescott, didn't you hear something?"
"Believe I did. It sounded like a cough."
"Well, what of it?" railed Kate. "Isn't poor Nora permitted to cough, if she is disposed to cough? She's in there doing the room for me. I'm going to try sleeping in there—isn't insomnia a fearful thing? But the fussiness of men!"
They were in the library over their coffee. Kate was peculiarly charming that night in one of the thin white gowns she wore so much, and which it seemed so fitting she should wear. She had been her gayest. Prescott was thinking he had never known any one who seemed to sparkle and bubble that way; and so easily and naturally, as though it came from an inner fount of perpetual action, and could more easily rise than be held down. And he was wondering why a girl who had so many of the attributes of a boy should be so much more fascinating than any mere girl. "There are two kinds of girl," he had heard an older officer once say. "There are girls, and then there is Katie Jones." He had condemned that as distinctly maudlin at the time, but recalled it to-night with less condemnation.
"Katie," exclaimed Wayne, after his sister had read aloud some one's engagement from the Army and Navy Register, and wondered vehemently how those two people ever expected to live together, "Nora's out on the side porch with Watts!"
"Do you disapprove of this affair between Nora and Watts?" Katie wanted to know, critically inspecting the design on her coffee spoon.
"I distinctly disapprove of having some one coughing in the room upstairs and not being satisfied who the some one is!"
She leaned forward, pointing her spoon at him earnestly. "Wayne, they say there are some excellent nerve specialists in Chicago. I'd advise you to take the night train. Take the rifle along, Wayne, and find out just what it's done to you."
"That's all very well! But if you'd been reading the papers lately you'd know that ideas of house-breaking are not necessarily neurasthenic."
"Dear Wayne, lover of maps and charts, let me take this pencil and make a little sketch for you. A is the chamber above. In that chamber is Nora. Nora coughs in parting. Then she parts. B is the back hall through which Nora walks. C is the back stairs which she treads. Watts being waiting, she treads—or is it kinder to say trips?—with good blithe speed. D is the side door and E the side porch. Now I ask you, oh master of engineering and weird mechanical and mathematical mysteries, what is to prevent Nora from getting from A to E in the interval of time between the coughing and the viewing?"
Prescott laughed, but Wayne only grunted and ominously eyed the chimney place.
"There!" he cried, triumphantly on his feet before his sister, as again came the faint but unmistakable little cough. "A little harder to make a map this time, isn't it? Talk about nerve specialists—!"
He started for the door, but Katie slipped in in front of him, and closed it.
"Don't go, Wayne," she said quietly; queerly, Prescott thought.
"Don't go? Kate, what's the matter with you? Now don't be foolish, Katie," he admonished with the maddening patronage of the older brother. "Open the door."
"I wish you wouldn't go," she sighed plaintively, arms outstretched against the door. "I do hope you won't insist on going. You'll frighten Ann."
"Ann," she repeated demurely.
"Ann who! Ann what! That's a nice way to speak of my friends! It's all very well to blow up the world, Wayne, but I think one should retain some of the civilities of life!"
"But I don't understand," murmured poor Wayne.
"No, of course not. Do you understand anything except things that nobody else wants to understand? Ann is not smokeless powder, so I presume you are not interested in her, but it seems to me you might tax your brain sufficiently to bear in mind that I told you she was coming!"
"I'm sorry," said Wayne humbly. "I don't seem able to recall a word about her."
"I scarcely expected you would," was the withering response.
"Tell me about her," Captain Prescott asked sympathetically. "I like girls better than guns. Has Ann another name? Do I know her?"
Katie was bending down inspecting a tear she had discovered at the bottom of her dress. "Oh yes, why yes, certainly, Ann has another name. Her name is Forrest. No, I think you do not know her. I don't know that Ann knows many army people. I knew her in Europe." Then, as they seemed waiting for more: "I am very fond of Ann."
She had resumed her seat and the critical examination of her coffee spoon. The men were silent, respecting the moment of tender contemplation of her fondness for Ann. "Ann is a dear girl," she volunteered at last.
"Having had it impressed upon me that I am such a duffer," Captain Jones began, a little haughtily, "I naturally hesitate to make many inquiries, but I cannot quite get it through my stupid and impossible head just why 'Ann' is hidden away in this mysterious manner."
"There's nothing mysterious about it," said Kate sharply. "Ann was tired."
"And why, if I may venture still another blundering question, was poor Nora held responsible for a cough she never coughed?"
Once more Miss Jones surveyed the torn ruffle at the bottom of her skirt. She seemed to be giving it serious consideration.
"I am glad that I do not live in the Mississippi Valley," was the remark she finally raised herself to make.
"One of Kate's greatest charms," Wayne informed Prescott, "is the emphasis and assurance with which she unfailingly produces the irrelevant. Now when you ask her if she likes Benedictine, don't be at all surprised to have her dreamily murmur: 'But why should oranges always be yellow?'"
"I am glad that I do not live in the Mississippi Valley," Kate went on, superiorly ignoring the observation, "because the joy of living seems to be at a very low ebb out here."
"Honestly now, do you get that?" he demanded of his friend.
"Ann and I had planned a beautiful surprise for you, Wayne."
"Thanks," said Wayne drily.
"To-night Ann was tired. She did not wish to come down to dinner. Of course, I might have told you: 'Ann is here.' To the orderly, West-Pointed mind, the well oiled, gun-constructing mind, I presume that would present itself as the thing to do. But Ann and I have a sense of the joy of living, a delight in the festive, in the—the bubbling wine of youth, you know. So we said, 'How beautiful to surprise dear Wayne.' In the morning Ann, refreshed by the long night's sleep, was to go out and gather roses. Wayne—"
"The roses don't bloom until next month," brutally interrupted Wayne.
"Of course, you would think of that! As we had planned it, Wayne, looking from his window was to see the beautiful girl—she is a beautiful girl—gathering dew-laden roses in the garden. Perhaps Captain Prescott, chancing at that very moment to look from his window, would see her too. It was to be a beautiful, a never-to-be-forgotten moment for you both."
"We humbly apologize," laughed Prescott.
"Hum!" grunted dear Wayne.
She stepped out on the porch for a moment as Captain Prescott was saying good-night. The moonlight was falling weirdly through the big trees, stretching itself over the grass in shapes that seemed to spell unearthly things. And there were mystical lights on the water down there, flitting about with the movement of the stream as ghosts might flit. Because it looked so other-world-like she wondered if it knew what it had just missed. She had never thought anything about water save as something to look beautiful and have a good time on. It seemed now that perhaps it knew a great deal about things of which she knew nothing at all.
"Oh, I say, jolly night, isn't it?" he exclaimed as they stood at the head of the steps.
"Yes," said Kate grimly, "pleasant weather, isn't it?" and laughed oddly.
"It's great about your friend coming; Miss—?"
"Forrest." She spoke it decisively.
"She arrived this afternoon?"
"Yes, unexpectedly. I was never more surprised in my life than when I looked up and saw Ann standing there." Katie was not too impressed to resist toying a little with the situation.
"Oh, is that so? I thought—" But he was too well-bred to press it.
"Of course," she hastened to patch together her thread, "of course, as I told Wayne, I knew that Ann was coming. But I didn't really expect her until day after to-morrow. You see, there have been complications."
"Oh, I see. Well, at any rate it's great that she's here. She will be with you for the summer?"
"Ann's plans are a little uncertain," Kate informed him.
"I hope she'll not find it dull. Does she care for golf?"
"U—m, I—Ann has never played much, I believe. You see she has lived so much in Europe—on the Continent—places where they don't play golf! And then Ann is not very strong."
"Then this is just the place for her. Great place for loafing, you know. I hope she is fond of the water?"
Kate was leaning against one of the pillars, still looking down toward the river. It might have been the moonlight made her look so strange as she said, with a smile of the same quality as those shadows on the grass: "Why yes; in fact, Ann's fondness for the water was the first thing I ever noticed about her. I think I might even say it was the water drew us together."
"Oh, well then, that is great. We can take the boat and do all sorts of jolly things. Now I wonder—about a horse for her. She rides?"
"Perhaps you had better make no plans for Ann," she suddenly advised. "It really would not surprise me at all if she went away to-morrow. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the whole thing. In fact, Ann has had a great deal of trouble."
"I'm sorry," he said with a simplicity she liked in him.
"Yes, a great deal of trouble. Last year both her father and mother died, which was a great blow to her."
"And now there are all sorts of business things to straighten out. It's really very hard for Ann."
"Perhaps we can help her," he suggested.
"Perhaps we can," agreed Kate. Her eyes left him to wander across the shadows down to the river again. But she came back to him to say, and this with the oddest smile of all, "Wouldn't it be a queer sensation for us? That thing of really 'helping' some one?"
She could not go to sleep that night. For a long time she sat in her room in the same big chair in which Ann had sat that afternoon. Poor Ann, who had sat there before she knew she was Ann, who was sleeping now without knowing she was Ann. For Ann was indeed sleeping. From her door as Kate carefully opened it had come the deep breathing as of an exhausted child.
Who was Ann? Where had she come from? How did she get there? What had happened? Why had she wanted to kill herself?
She wanted to know. In truth, she was madly curious to know. And probably she never would know.
And what would happen now? It suddenly occurred to her that Wayne might be rather annoyed at having Ann commit suicide. But there was a little catch in her laugh at the thought of Wayne's consternation.
A long time she sat there wondering. Where had Ann come from? She had just seemed whirled out of the nowhere into the there, as an unannounced comet in well-ordered heavens Ann had come. From what other world?—and why? Did she belong to anybody? Another pleasant prospect for poor Wayne! Was some one looking for Ann? Would there be things in the paper about her?
Surely a girl could not step out of her life and leave no trail behind. Things could not close up like that, even about Ann. Every one had a place. Then how could one step from that place without leaving a conspicuous looking vacancy?
Why had Ann been dressed that way? It seemed a strange costume in which to kill one's self. It seemed to Katie that one would prefer to meet the unknown in a smaller hat.
She went to the closet and took out the organdie dress and satin slippers. From whence? and why thither? They opened long paths of wondering. The dress was bedraggled about the bottom, as though trailed through fields and over roads. And so strangely crumpled, and so strange the scent—a scent hauntingly familiar, yet baffling in its relation to gowns. A poorly made gown, Katie noted, but effective. She tried to read the story, but could not read beyond the fact that there was a story. The pink satin slippers had broken heels and were stained and soaked. They had traveled ground never meant for them. Something about Ann made one feel she was not the girl to be walking about in satin slippers. Something had happened. She had been dressed for one thing and then had done another thing. Could it be that ever since the night before she had been out of her place in the scheme of things?—loosened from the great human unit?—seeking destruction, perhaps, because she could not regain her place therein? "Where have you been?" Katie murmured to the ruined slippers. "What did it? What do you know? What did you want?"
Many a pair of just such slippers she had danced to the verge of shabbiness. To her they were associated with hops, the gayest of music and lightest of laughter, brilliant crowds in flower-scented rooms, dancing and flirtation—the froth and bubble of life. But something sterner than waxed floors had wrought the havoc here. How much of life's ground all unknown to her had these poor little slippers trodden? Was it often like that?—that the things created for the fun and the joy found the paths of tragedy?
She had put them away and was at last going to bed when she idly picked up the evening paper. What she saw was that the Daisey-Maisey Opera Company was playing at the city across the river. Something made her stand there very still. Could it be—? Might it not be—?
She did not know. Would she ever know?
It drew her back to the girl's room. She was sleeping serenely. With shaded candle Katie stood at the door watching her. Surely the hour was past! Sleep such as that must draw one back to life.
Lying there in the sweet dignity of her braided hair, in that simple lovely gown, she might have been Ann indeed.
There was tenderness just then in the heart of Katherine Wayneworth Jones. She was glad that this girl who was sleeping as though sleep had been a treasure long withheld, was knowing to-night the balm of a good bed, glad that she could sink so unquestioningly into the lap of protection. Protection!—it was that which one had in a place like this. Why was it given the Anns—and not the Vernas? The sleeping girl seemed to feel that all was well in the house which sheltered her that night. Suddenly Katie knew what it was had gone. Fear. It was terror had slipped back, leaving the weariness which can give itself over to sleep. Katie was thinking, striking deeper things than were wont to invade Katie's meditations. The protection of a Wayne, the chivalrous comradeship of a Captain Prescott—how different the life of an Ann from the life this girl might have had! She stood at the door for a long moment, looking at her with a searching tenderness. What had she been through? What was there left for her?
Once, as a child, she had taken a turtle from its native mud and brought it home. Soon after that they moved into an apartment and her father said that she must give the turtle up. "But, father," she had cried, "you don't understand! I took it! Now how can I throw it away?"
"You are right, Katherine," he had replied gravely—her dear, honorable, understanding father; "it is rather inconvenient to have a turtle in an apartment, but, as you say, responsibilities are greater than conveniences."
She was thinking of that story as she finally went to bed.
"Nora," said Katie next morning, "Miss Forrest has had a great misfortune."
Nora paused in her dusting, all ready with the emotion which Katie's tone invited.
"She has lost all of her luggage!"
"The poor young lady!" cried good Nora.
"Yes, it is really terrible, isn't it? Everything lost; through the carelessness of the railroads, you know. And such beautiful gowns as they were. So—so unusual. Poor Miss Ann was forced to arrive in a dress most unsuited to traveling, and is now quite—oh quite—destitute."
Nora held her head with both hands, speechless.
"Didn't you tell me, Nora, that your cousin's wife was very clever at sewing—at fixing things over?"
"Yes, yes, Miss Kate—yes'm."
"I wonder, Nora, would she come and help us?"
"She would be that glad, Miss Kate. She—"
"You see, Miss Ann is not very well. She—poor Miss Ann, I hope you will be very kind to her. She is an orphan, like you, Nora."
Nora wiped both eyes.
"And just now it would be too dreadful for her to have to see about a lot of things. So I think, temporarily, we could arrange some of my things; let them down a little, and perhaps take them in—Miss Ann is a little taller and a little slimmer than I. Could you send for your cousin's wife to help us, Nora?"
Profusely, o'erflowingly, Nora affirmed that this would be possible.
When Captain Jones came in from the shops for luncheon it was to find his sister installed in the hall, one of those roomy halls adapted to all purposes of living, some white and pink and blue things strewn around her, doing something with a scissors. Just what she was doing seemed to concern him very little, for he sat down at a table near her, pulled out some blue prints, and began studying them. "Thank heaven for the saving qualities of firearms," mused Katherine, industriously letting out a tuck.
But luncheon seemed to suggest the social side of life, for after they were seated he asked: "Oh yes, by the way, where's Miss—"
"Ann is still sleeping," replied Kate easily.
"She must be a good sleeper," ventured Wayne.
"Ann is tired, Wayne," she said with reproving dignity, "and as I have already told you several times without seeming to reach through the bullets on your brain, not well. She is here for a rest. She may not come down for several days."
"Not what one would call a hilarious guest," he commented.
"No, less hilarious than Zelda Fraser." Katie spitefully mentioned a former guest whom Wayne had particularly detested.
He laughed. "Well, who is she? What did you say her name was?"
"Oh Wayne," she sighed long-sufferingly, "again—once again—let me tell you that her name is Forrest."
"'Um, I don't believe you know Ann's people."
"Not the Major Forrest family?"
"No, not that family; not army people at all."
"Well, what people? I can't seem to place her."
"Ann is of—artistic people. Her father was a great artist. That is, he would have been a great artist had he not died when he was very young."
"Rather an assumption, isn't it, that a man would have—"
"Why not at all, if he has done enough during his brief lifetime to warrant the assumption."
"Is her mother living?"
"Oh no," said Katie irritably, "certainly not. Her mother has been dead—five years." Then, looking into the dreamy distance and drawing it out as though she loved it: "Her mother was a great musician."
"I shan't like her," announced Wayne decisively; "she is probably exotic and self-conscious and supercilious, and not at all a comfortable person to have about. It's bad enough for her father to have been a great artist—without her mother needs having been a great musician."
"She is simple and sweet and very shy," reproved Kate. "So shy that she will doubtless be painfully embarrassed at meeting you, and seem—well, really ill at ease."
"That will be an odd spectacle—a young woman of to-day 'painfully embarrassed' at meeting a man. I never saw any of them very ill at ease, save when there were no men about."
"Ann's experiences have not all been happy ones, Wayne," said Katie in the manner of the deeply understanding to one of lesser comprehension.
"I hope she'll go on sleeping. A young woman of artistic people—painfully embarrassed—unhappy experiences—it doesn't sound at all comfortable to me."
But a little later he said: "Prescott seems to think that Daisey-Maisey company not bad. If you girls would like to go we'll telephone for seats."
Katie paused in the eating of a peach. "Thank you, Wayne, but I have an idea—just a vague sort of idea—that Ann would not care especially for that."
"She's probably right," said Wayne, returning with relief to the blue prints.
Katie's sporting blood was up. Ann was to be Ann. Never in her life had she been so fascinated with anything as with this creation of an Ann.
"I have prepared a place for her," she mused, over the untucking of the softest of rose pink muslins. "I have prepared for her a family and a temperament and a sorrow and all that a young woman could most desire. From out the nothing a conscious something I have evoked. It would be most ungracious—ungrateful—of Ann to refuse to be what I made her. I invented her. By all laws of decency, she must be Ann. Indeed, she is Ann."
And Katie was truly beginning to think so. Katie's imagination coquetted successfully with conviction.
Ann, or more accurately the idea of Ann, fascinated her. Never before had she known any one all unencumbered, unbound, by facts. Most people were rendered commonplace by the commonplace things one knew about them. But Ann was as interesting as one's brain could make her. Anything one choose to think—or say—about Ann could just as well as not be true. It swept one all unchained out into a virgin land of fancy.
There was but one question. Could Ann keep within hailing distance of one's imagination? Did Ann have it in her to live up to the things one wished to believe about her? Was she capable of taking unto herself the past and temperament with which one would graciously endow her? Katie's sense of justice forced from her the admission that it was expecting a good deal of Ann. She could see that nothing would be more bootless than thrusting traditions upon people who would not know what to do with them. But something about Ann encouraged one to believe she could fit into a background prepared for her. And if she could—would—! The prospect lured—excited. It was as inexplicably intoxicating as a grimace at the preacher—a wink at the professor. It seemed to be saucily tweaking the ear of that insufferably solemn Things-as-They-Are goddess.
There was in her eyes the light of battle when Nora finally came to tell her that Miss Forrest was awake.
But it changed to another light at sight of the girl sitting up in bed so bewilderedly, turning upon her eyes which seemed to say—"And what are you going to do with me now?"
Fighting down the lump in her throat Katie seized briskly upon that look of inquiry. "What she needs now," she decided, "is not tears, but a high hand."
"Next thing on the program," she began, buoyantly raising the shades and throwing the windows wide, "is air. You're a good patient, for you do as you're told. It's been a fine sleep, hasn't it? And now I mean to get you into some clothes and take you out for a drive."
The girl shrank down in the pillows, pulling the covers clear to her chin, as if to shut herself in. She did not speak, but shook her head.
But Katie rode right over that look of pain and fear in her eyes, refusing to emphasize it by recognition.
She left the room and returned after a moment with a white flannel suit which she spread out on the bed. "This is not a bad looking suit, is it? Your dress is scarcely warm enough for driving, so I want you to wear this. I told Nora that your luggage was lost. It may be just as well for you to know, from time to time, what I'm telling about you. I have an idea this suit will be very becoming to you. It came from Paris. I presume I'm rather foolish about things from Paris, but they always seem to me to have brought a little life and gayety along. There's a dear little white hat and stunning automobile veil goes with this suit. I can scarcely wait to see how pretty you're going to look in it all."
For answer the girl turned to the wall, hid her face in the pillows, and sobbed.
Kate laid a hand upon her hair—soft, fine brown hair with tempting little waves and gleams in it. There came to her a hideous vision of how that hair might have looked by this time had she not—by the merest chance—
It gave her a feeling of proprietary tenderness for the girl. It seemed indeed that this life was in her hands—for was it not her hands had kept it a life?
"Please," she murmured gently, persuasively, as the sobs grew wilder.
Suddenly the girl raised her head and turned upon Katie passionately. "What do you mean? What is this all about? I know well enough that people are not like this! This is not the way the world is!"
"Not like what?" Kate asked quietly.
"Doing things for people they don't have to do things for! Taking people into their houses and giving them things—their best things!—treating them as if there was some reason for treating them like that! I never heard of such a thing. What are you doing it for?"
Katie sat there smiling at her calmly. "Do you want to know the honest truth?"
The girl nodded, looking at her with anticipatory defiance, but that defiance which could so easily crumble to despair.
"Very well then," she began lightly, "here goes. I don't know that it will sound very well, but it has the doubtful virtue of being true. The first reason is that it interests me; perhaps I should even say—amuses me. I always did like new things—queer things—surprises—things different. And the other reason is that I've taken a sure enough liking to you."
She had drawn back at the first reason; but the bluntness of the first must have conveyed a sense of honesty in the second, for like the child who has been told something nice, a smile was faintly suggested beneath the tears.
"Would you like to hear my favorite quotation from Scripture?" Kate wanted to know.
At thought of Katie's having a favorite quotation the smile grew a little more defined.
"My favorite quotation is this: 'Take no thought for the morrow.' Perhaps it ends in a way that spoils it; I would never read the rest of it, fearing it would ruin itself, but taking just so much and no more—and it certainly is your privilege to do that if you wish—if all of a thing is good for you, part of it must be somewhat good—it does make the most comfortable philosophy of life I know of. It's a great solace to me. Now when I am seventy, I don't doubt I will have lost my teeth. Losing one's teeth is such a distressing thing that I could sit here and weep bitterly for mine were it not for the sustaining power of my favorite quotation. Why don't you adopt it for your favorite, too? And, taking no thought for the morrow, is there any reason in the world why you shouldn't go out now and have a beautiful drive? Going for a drive doesn't commit one to any philosophy of life, or line of action, does it? And whatever you do, don't ever refuse nice things because you can't see the reason for people's doing them. I shudder to think how much—or better, how little fun I would have had in life had I first been compelled to satisfy myself I was entitled to it. We're entitled to nothing—most of us; that's all the more reason for taking all we can get. But come now! Here are some fresh things—yours seem a bit dusty."
In such wise she rambled on as a bewildered but unresisting girl surrendered herself to her wiles and hands.
When Katie returned from a call to the telephone it was to find Ann rubbing her hand over a pretty ankle adorned with the most silky of silken hose. "Likes them," Katie made of it, at sight of the down-turned face; "always wanted them—maybe never had them. Moral—If you want people to believe in you, give them something they don't need, but would like to have."
She did her hair for her, chatting all the while about ways of doing hair, exclaiming about the beauty of Ann's and planning things she was going to do with it. "Were I as proud of all my works as I am of this, I might be a more self-respecting person," she said, finally passing Ann the hand mirror as if the girl's one concern in life was to see whether she approved of the plaiting of those soft glossy braids.
And unmistakably she did approve. "It does look nice this way, doesn't it?" she agreed, looking up at Katie with a shy eagerness.
When at last Ann had been made ready, when Katie had slipped on the long loosely fitted white coat, had adjusted the big veil with just the right touch of sophisticated carelessness, as she surveyed the work of her hands her excitement could with difficulty contain itself. "She is Ann," she gloated. "Her father was a great artist. Her mother simply couldn't be anything but a great musician. And she's lived all her life in—Italy, I think it is. Oh—I know! She's from Florence. Why she couldn't be any place but from Florence—and she doesn't know anything about bridge and scandal and pay and promotion—but she knows all about dreaming dreams and seeing visions. She's lived a life apart—aloof—looking at great pictures and hearing great music. Of course, she's a little shy with us—she doesn't understand our roistering ways—that's part of her being Ann."
But when she came back after getting her own things, Ann had gone. The girl in white was still sitting there in the chair, but she was not at all Ann. Things not from Florence, other things than dreams and visions and great pictures and music had taken hold of her. Frightened and disorganized again, she was huddled in the chair, and as Katie stood in the doorway she said not a word, but shook her head, and the eyes told all.
Katie bent over the chair. "It's all 'up to me,'" she said quietly. "Don't you see that it is? You haven't a thing in the world to do but follow my lead. Won't you trust me enough to know that you will not be asked to do anything that would be too hard? Believe in me enough to feel I will put through anything I begin? Isn't it rather—oh, unthrifty, to let pasts and futures spoil presents? Some time soon we may want to talk of the future, but just now there's only the present. And not a very terrifying present. Nothing more fearful than winding in and out of the wooded roads of this beautiful place—listening to birds and—but come—" changing briskly to the practical and helping her rise as though dismissing the question—"I hear our horse."
"I see Miss Jones has got some of her swell friends visitin' her," a soldier who was cutting grass remarked to a comrade newer to the service. "Great swell—they tell me Miss Jones is. They say she's it in Washington all right—way ahead of some that outranks her. Got outside money—their own money. Handy, ain't it?" he laughed. "Though it ain't just the money, either. Her mother was—well, somebody big—don't just recollect the name. Friendly, Miss Jones is. Not like some, afraid you're going to forget your place the minute she has a civil word with you. That one with her is some swell from Washington or New York. You can tell that by the looks of her, all right. Lord, don't they have it easy though?"
It would indeed seem so. Men looking from the windows of the big shops—those great shops where army supplies were manufactured—noticed them with much the same thought, some of them admiringly, some resentfully, as they chanced to feel about things. They drove past building after building, buildings in which hundreds of men toiled on preparations for a possible war. The throb of those engines, sight of the perspiring faces, might suggest that rather large, a trifle extravagant, a bit cumbersome, was the price for peace. But these girls did not seem to be thinking of the possible war, or of the men who earned their bread thwarting it by preparation. One would suppose them to be just two beautifully cared for, careless-of-life girls, thinking of what some man had said at the dance the night before, or of the texture of the plume on some one's hat, or, to get down to the really serious issues of life, whether or not they could afford that love of a dinner gown.
They left the main avenue and were winding in and out of the by-roads, roads which had all the care of a great park and all the charm of the deep woods. Here and there were soldiers doing nothing more warlike than raking grass or repairing roads. It seemed far removed from the stress and the struggle, place where the sense of protection but contributed to the sense of freedom. There would come occasional glimpses of the river, the beautiful homes and great factories of the busy, prosperous, middle-western city opposite. To the other side was a town, too, a little city of large enterprises; to either side seethed the questions of steel, and all those attendant questions of mind and heart whose pressure grew ever bigger and whose safety valves seemed tested to their uttermost. To either side the savage battles of peace, and there in between—an island—the peaceful preparations for war.
And in such places, sheltered, detached, yet offered all she would have from without, had always lived Katie Jones, a favorite child of the favored men whom precautions against war offered so serene a life; surrounded by friends who were likewise removed from the battles of peace to the peace of possible war, knowing the social struggle only as it touched their own detached questions of pay and rank, pleasant and stupid posts, hospitable and inhospitable commandants.
And into this had rushed a victim of the battles of peace! From the stony paths of peace there to the well-kept roads of war!
The irony of it struck Katie anew: the incongruity of choosing so well-regulated a place for the performance of so disorderly an act as the taking of one's life. Choosing army headquarters as the place in which to desert from the army of life! Such an infringement of discipline as seeking self-destruction in that well-ordered spot where the machinery of destruction was so peacefully accumulated!
She looked covertly at Ann; she could do it, for the girl seemed for the most part unconscious of her. She was leaning back in the comfortably rounded corner of the stanhope, her hands lax in her lap, her eyes often closed—a tired child of peace drinking in the peace furnished by the military, was Ann. It was plain that Ann was one who could drink things in, could draw beauty to her as something which was of her, something, too, it seemed, of which she had been long in need. Could it be that in the big outside world into which these new wonderings were sent, world which they seemed to penetrate but such a little way, there were many who did not find their own? Might it not be that some of the most genuine Florentines had never been to Florence?
And because all this was of Ann, it was banishing the things it could not assimilate. Those hurt looks, fretted looks, that hard look, already Kate had come to know them, would come, but always to go as Ann would swiftly raise her head to get the song of a bird, or yield her face to the caress of a soft spring breeze. Katie was grateful to the benign breezes, rich with the messages of opening buds, full, tender, restoring, which could blow away hard memories and bitter visions. Yet those same breezes had blown yesterday. Why could they not reach then? What was it had closed the door and shut in those things that were killing Ann? What were those things that had filled up and choked Ann's poor soul?
From a hundred different paths she kept approaching it, could not keep away from it. One read of those things in the papers; they had always seemed to concern a people apart, to be pitied, but not understood, much less reached. Overwhelming that one who had wished to kill one's self should be enjoying anything! That a door so tragically shut should open to so simple a knock! Mere human voice reach that incomprehensible outermost brink! Were they not people different, but just people like one's self, who had simply fallen down in the struggle, and only needed some one to help them up, give them a cool drink and chance for a moment's rest? Were the big and the little things so close? One's own kind and the other kind just one kind, after all?
"I love winding roads," Katie was saying, after a long silence. "I suppose the thing so alluring about them is that one can never be sure just what is around the bend. When I was a little girl I used to pretend it was fairies waiting around the next curve, and I have never—"
But she drew in her horse sharply, for the moment at a loss; for it was not fairies, but Captain Prescott, riding smilingly toward them, very handsome on his fine mount.
"It's—one of our officers," she said sharply. "I—I'll have to present him."
"Oh please—please!" was the girl's panic-stricken whisper. "Let me get out! I must! I can't!"
"You can. You must!" commanded Katie. And then she had just time for just an imploring little: "For my sake."
He had halted beside them and Katie was saying, with her usual cool gaiety: "You care for this day, too, do you? We're fairly steeped in it. Ann,"—not with the courage to look squarely at her—"at this moment I present your next-door neighbor. And a very good neighbor he is. We use his telephone when our telephone is discouraged. We borrow his books and bridles; we eat his bread and salt, drink his water and wine—especially his wine—we impose on him in every way known to good neighboring. Yes, to be sure, this is Miss Forrest of whom I told you last night."
As the Captain was looking at Ann and not seeming overpowered with amazement, looking, on the other hand, as though seeing something rarely good to look at, Katie had the courage to look too. And at what she saw her heart swelled quite as the heart of the mother swells when the child speaks his piece unstutteringly. Ann was doing it!—rising to the occasion—meeting the situation. Then she had other qualities no less valuable than looking Florentine. That thing of doing it was a thing that had always commanded the affectionate admiration of Katie Jones.
It was not what Ann did so much as her effective manner of doing nothing. One would not say she lacked assurance; one would put it the other way—that she seemed shy. It seemed to Katie she looked for all the world like a startled bird, and it also seemed that Captain Prescott particularly admired startled birds.
He turned and rode a little way beside them, he and Katie assuming conversational responsibilities. But Ann's smile warmed her aloofness, and her very shyness seemed well adjusted to her fragility. "And just fits in with what I told him!" gloated Kate. And though she said so little, for some reason, perhaps because she looked so different, one got the impression of her having said something unusual. She had a way of listening which conveyed the impression she could say things worth listening to—if she chose. One took her on faith.
He said to her at the last, with that direct boyish smile it seemed could not frighten even a startled bird: "You think you are going to like it here?" And Ann replied, slowly, a tremor in her voice, and a child's earnestness and sweetness in it too: "I think it the most beautiful place I ever saw in all my life."
At the simple enough words his face softened strangely. It was with an odd gentleness he said he hoped they could all have some good times together.
But, the moment conquered, things which it had called up swept in. The whole of it seemed to rush in upon her.
She turned harshly upon Katie. "This is—ridiculous! I'm going away to-night!"
"We will talk it over this evening," replied Kate quietly. "You will wait for that, won't you? I have something to suggest. And in the end you will be at liberty to do exactly as you think best. Certainly there can be no question as to that."
On their way home they encountered the throng of men from the shops—dirty, greasy, alien. It was not pleasant—meeting the men when one was driving. And yet, though certainly distasteful, they interested Katie, perhaps just because they were so different. She wondered how they lived and what they talked about.
Chancing to look at Ann, she saw that stranger than the men was the look with which Ann regarded them. She could not make it out. But one thing she did see—the soft spring breezes had much yet to do.
Wayne had gone over to Colonel Leonard's for bridge. Kate was to have gone too, but had pleaded fatigue. The plea was not wholly hollow. The last thirty hours had not been restful ones.
And now she was to go upstairs and do something which she did not know how to do, or why she was doing. Sitting there alone in the library she grew serious in the thought that a game was something more than a game when played with human beings.
Not that seriousness robbed her of the charm that was her own. The distinctive thing about Katie was that there always seemed a certain light about her, upon her, coming from her. Usually it was as iridescent lights dancing upon the water; but to-night it was more as one light, a more steady, deeper light. It made her gray eyes almost black; made her clear-cut nose and chin seem more finely chiseled than they actually were, and brought out both the strength and the tenderness of her not very small mouth. Katie's friends, when pinned down to it, always admitted with some little surprise that she was not pretty; they made amends for that, however, in saying that she just missed being beautiful. "But that's not what you think of when you see her," they would tell you. "You think, 'What a good sort! She must be great fun!'" And there were some few who would add: "Katie is the kind you would expect to find doing splendid service in that last ditch."
Yet even those few were not familiar with the Katie Jones of that moment, for it was a new Katie, less new when leaning forward, tense, puzzled, hand clenched, brow knitted, her whole well-knit, athletic body at attention than when leaning back—lax, open to new and awesome things. And as though she must come back where she felt acquainted with herself, she suddenly began to whistle. Katie found whistling a convenient and pleasant recepticle for excess emotion. She had enjoyed it when a little girl because she had been told it was unladylike; kept it up to find out if it were really true that it would spoil her mouth, and now liked doing it because she could do it so successfully.
She was still whistling herself back to familiar things as she ran lightly up the stairs; had warmed to a long final trill as she stood in the doorway. The girl looked up in amazement. She had been sitting there, elbows on her knees, face in her hands. It was hard to see what might have been seen in her face because at that moment the chief thing seen was astonishment. Katie slipped down among the pillows of the couch, an arm curled about her head. "Didn't know I could do that, did you?" she laughed. "Oh yes, I have several accomplishments. Whistling is perhaps the chiefest thereof. Then next I think would come golf. My game's not bad. Then there are a few wizardy things I do with a chafing dish, and lastly, and after all lastly should be firstly, is my genius for getting everything and everybody into a most hopeless mess."
The girl moved impatiently at first, as if determined not to be evaded by that light mood, but sight of Katie, lying there so much as a child would lie, seemed to suggest how truly Katie might have spoken and she was betrayed into the shadow of a smile.
"I suppose there has never been a human being as gifted in balling things up as I am," meditatively boasted Kate.
"Now here you are," she continued plaintively. "You want to go away. Well, of course, that's your affair. Why should you have to stay here—if you don't want to? But in the twenty-four hours you've been here I presume I've told twenty-four unnecessary lies to my brother. And if you do go away—as I admit you have a perfect right to do—it will put me in such a compromising position, because of those deathless lies that will trail me round through life that—oh, well," she concluded petulantly, "I suppose I'll just have to go away too."
But the girl put it resolutely from her. A wave of sternness swept her face as she said, with a certain dignity that made Katie draw herself to a position more adapted to the contemplation of serious things: "That's all very well. Your pretending—trying to pretend—that I would be doing you a favor in staying. It is so—so clever. I mean so cleverly kind. But I can't help seeing through it, and I'm not going to accept hospitality I've no right to—stay here under false pretenses—pretend to be what I'm not—why what I couldn't even pretend to be!" she concluded with bitterness.
Katie was leaning forward, all keen interest. "But do you know, I think you could. I honestly believe we could put it through! And don't you see that it would be the most fascinating—altogether jolliest sort of thing for us to try? It would be a game—a lark—the very best kind of sport!"
She saw in an instant that she had wounded her. "I'm sorry; I would like very much to do something for you after all this. But I am afraid this is sport I cannot furnish you. I am not—I'm not feeling just like—a lark."
"Now do you see?" Kate demanded with turbulent gesture. "Talk about balling things up! I like you; I want you to stay; and when I come in here and try and induce you to stay what do I do but muddle things so that you'll probably walk right out of the house! Why was I born like that?" she demanded in righteous resentment.
"'Katherine,' a worldly-wise aunt of mine said to me once, 'you have two grave faults. One is telling the truth. The other is telling lies. I have never known you to fail in telling the one when it was a time to tell the other.' Can't you see what a curse it is to mix times that way?"
As one too tired to resist the tide, not accepting, but going with it for the minute because the tide was kindly and the force to withstand it small, the girl, her arm upon the table, her head leaning wearily upon her hand, sat there looking at Katie, that combination of the non-accepting and the unresisting which weariness can breed.
Kate seemed in profound thought. "Of course, you would naturally be suspicious of me," she broke in as if merely continuing the thinking aloud; Katie's fashion of doing that often made commonplace things seem very intimate—a statement to which considerable masculine testimony could be affixed. "I don't blame you in the least. I'd be suspicious, too, in your place. It's not unnatural that, not knowing me well, you should think I had some designs about 'doing good,' or helping you, and of course nothing makes self-respecting persons so furious as the thought that some one may be trying to do them good. Now if I could only prove to you, as could be proved, that I never did any good in my life, then perhaps you'd have more belief in me, or less suspicion of me. I wonder if you would do this? Could you bring yourself to stay just long enough to see that I am not trying to do you good? Fancy how I should feel to have you go away looking upon me as an officious philanthropist! Isn't it only square to give me a chance to demonstrate the honor of my worthlessness?"
Still the girl just drifted, her eyes now revealing a certain half-amused, half-affectionate tenderness for the tide which would bear her so craftily.
"And speaking of honor, moves me to my usual truth-telling blunder, and I can't resist telling you that in one respect I really have designs on you. But be at peace—it has nothing to do with your soul. Never having so much as discovered my own soul, I should scarcely presume to undertake the management of yours, but what I do want to do is to feed you eggs!
"No—now don't take it that way. You're thinking of eggs one orders at a hotel, or—or a boarding-house, maybe. But did you ever eat the eggs that were triumphantly announced by the darlingest bantam—?"
She paused—beaten back by the things gathering in the girl's face.
"Tell me the truth!" it broke. "What are you doing this for? What have you to gain by it?"
"I hadn't thought just what I had to—gain by it," Katie stammered, at a loss before so fierce an intensity. "Does—must one always 'gain' something?"
"If you knew the world," the girl threw out at her, "you'd know well enough one always expects to gain something! But you don't know the world—that's plain."
Katie was humbly silent. She had thought she knew the world. She had lived in the Philippines and Japan and all over Europe and America. She would have said that the difference between her and this other girl was in just that thing of her knowing the world—being of it. But there seemed nothing to say when Ann told her so emphatically that she did not know the world.
The girl seemed on fire. "No, of course not; you don't know the world—you don't know life—that's why you don't know what an unheard-of thing you're doing! What do you know about me?" she thrust at her fiercely. "What do you think about me?"
"I think you have had a hard time," Katie murmured, thinking to herself that one must have had hard time—
"And what's that to you? Why's that your affair?"
"It's not exactly my affair, to be sure," Katie admitted; "except that we seem to have been—thrown together, and, as I said, there's something about you that I've—taken a fancy to."
It drew her, but she beat it back. Resistance made her face the more stern as she went on: "Do you think I'm going to impose on you—just because you know so little? Why with all your cleverness, you're just a baby—when it comes to life! Shall I tell you what life is like?" Her gaze narrowed and grew hard. "Life is everybody fighting for something—and knocking down everybody in their way. Life is people who are strong kicking people who are weak out of their road—then going on with a laugh—a laugh loud enough to drown the groans. Life is lying and scheming to get what you want. Life is not caring—giving up—getting hardened—I know it. I loathe it."
Katie sat there quite still. She was frightened.
"And you! Here in a place like this—what do you know about it? Why you're nothing but an—outsider!"
An outsider, was she?—and she had thought that Ann—
The girl's passion seemed suddenly to flow into one long, cunning look. "What are you doing it for?" she asked quietly with a sort of insolently indifferent suspicion.
"I don't know," Katie replied simply. "At least until a minute ago I didn't know, and now I wonder if perhaps, without knowing it, I was not trying to make up for some of those people—for I fear some of them were friends of mine—who have gone ahead by kicking other people out of their way. Perhaps their kicks provided my laughs. Perhaps, unconsciously, it—bothered me."
Passion had burned to helplessness, the appealing helplessness of the weary child. She sat there, hands loosely clasped in her lap, looking at Katie with great solemn eyes, tired wistful mouth. And it seemed to Kate that she was looking, not at her, but at life, that life which had cast her out, looking, not with rage now, but with a hurt reproachfulness in which there was a heartbreaking longing.
It drew Katie over to the table. She stretched her hand out across it, as if seeking to bridge something, and spoke with an earnest dignity. "You say I'm an outsider. Then won't you take me in? I don't want to be an outsider. You mustn't think too badly of me for it because you see I have just stayed where I was put. But I want to know life. I love it now, and yet, easy and pleasant though it is, I can't say that I find it very satisfying. I have more than once felt it was cheating me. I'm not getting enough—just because I don't know. Loving a thing because you don't know it isn't a very high way of loving it, is it? I believe I could know it and still love it—love it, indeed, the more truly. No, you don't think so; but I want to try." She paused, thinking; then saw it and spoke it strongly. "I've never done anything real. I've never done anything that counted. That's why I'm an outsider. If making a place for you here is going to make one for me there—on the inside, I mean—you're not going to refuse to take me in, are you?"
Something seemed to leap up in the girl's eyes, but to crouch back, afraid. "What do you know about me?" she whispered.
"Not much. Only that you've met things I never had to meet, met them much better, doubtless, than I should have met them. Only that you've fought in the real, while I've flitted around here on the playground." Katie's eyes contracted to keenness. "And I wonder if there isn't more dignity in fighting—yes, and losing—in the real, than just sitting around where you get nothing more unpleasant than the faint roar of the guns. To lose fighting—or not to fight! Why certainly there can be no question about it. What do I know about you?" she came back to it.
"Only that you seemed just shot into my life, strangely disturbing it, ruffling it so queerly. It's too ruffled now to settle down without—more ruffling. So you're not going away leaving it in any such distressing state, are you?" she concluded with a smile which lighted her face with a fine seriousness.
She made a last stand. "But you don't know. You don't understand."
"No, I don't know. And don't think I ever need know, as a matter of obligation. But should there ever come a time when you feel I would understand, understand enough to help, then I should be glad and proud to know, for it would make me feel I was no longer an outsider. And let me tell you something. In whatever school you learned about life, there's one thing they taught you wrong. They've developed you too much in suspicion. They didn't give you a big enough course in trust. All the people in this world aren't designing and cruel. Why the old globe is just covered with beautiful people who are made happy in doing things for the people about them."
"I haven't met them," were the words which came from the sob.
"I see you haven't; that's why I want you to. Your education has been one-sided. So has mine. Perhaps we can strike a balance. What would you think of our trying to do that?"
The wonder of it seemed stealing up upon the girl, growing upon her. "You mean," she asked, in slow, hushed voice, "that I should stay here—here?—as a friend of yours?"
"Stay here as a friend—and become a friend," came the answer, quick and true.
So true that it went straight to the girl's heart. Tears came, different tears, tears which were melting something. And yet, once again she whispered: "But I don't understand."
"Try to understand. Stay here with me and learn to laugh and be foolish, that'll help you understand. And if you're ever in the least oppressed with a sense of obligation—horrid thing, isn't it?—just put it down with, 'But she likes it. It's fun for her.' For really now, Ann, I hope this is not going to hurt you, but I simply can't help getting fun out of things. I get fun out of everything. It's my great failing. Not a particularly unkind sort of fun, though. I don't believe you'll mind it as you get used to it. My friends all seem to accept the fact that I—enjoy them. And then my curiosity. Well, like the eggs. It's not entirely to make you stronger. It's to see whether the things I've always heard about milk and eggs are really so. See how it works—not altogether for the good of the works, you see? Oh, I don't know. Motives are slippery things, don't you think so? Mine seem particularly athletic. They hop from their pigeon holes and turn hand-springs and do all sorts of stunts the minute I turn my back. So I never know for sure why I want to do a thing. For that matter, I don't know why I named you Ann. I had to give you a name—I thought you might prefer my not using yours—so all in a flash I had to make one up—and Ann was what came. I love that name. It never would have come if something in you hadn't called it. The Ann in you has had a hard time." She was speaking uncertainly, timidly, as if on ground where words had broken no paths. "Oh, I'm not so much the outsider I can't see that. But the Ann in you has never died. That I see, too. Maybe it was to save Ann you were going to—give up Verna. And because I see Ann—like her—because I called her back, won't you let her stay here and—" Katie's voice broke, so to offset that she cocked her head and made a wry little face as she concluded, not succeeding in concealing the deep tenderness in her eyes, "just try—the eggs?"
Katie was writing to her uncle the Bishop. At least that was what she would have said she was doing. To be literal, she was nibbling at the end of her pen.
Writing to her uncle had never been a solemn affair with Kate. She gossiped and jested with him quite as she would with a playfellow; it was playfellow, rather than spiritual adviser, he had always been to her, Kate's need seeming rather more for playfellows than for spiritual advisers. But the trouble that morning was that the things of which she was wont to gossip and jest seemed remote and uninteresting things.
Finally she wrote: "My friend Ann Forrest is with us now. I am hoping to be able to keep her for some time. Poor dear, she has not been well and has had much sorrow—such a story!—and I think the peace of things here—peace you know, uncle, being poetic rendition of stupidity—is just what Ann needs."
A robin on a lilac bush entered passionate protest against the word stupidity. "What will you have? What will you have?" trilled the robin in joyous frenzy.
Wise robin! After all, what would one have? And when within the world of May that robins love one was finding a whole undiscovered country to explore?
"No, I don't mean that about stupidity," she wrote after a wide look and a deep breath. "It does seem peace. Peace that makes some other things seem stupidity. I must be tired, for you will be saying, dear uncle, that a yearning for peace has never been one of the most conspicuous of my attributes."
There she fell to nibbling again, looking over at the girl in the deep garden chair in the choice corner of the big porch. "My friend Ann Forrest!" Katie murmured, smiling strangely.
Her friend Ann Forrest was turning the leaves of a book, "Days in Florence," which Kate had left carelessly upon the arm of the chair she commended to Ann. It was after watching her covertly for sometime that Katie set down, a little elf dancing in her eye, yet something of the seer in that very eye in which the elf danced:
"Of course you have heard me tell of Ann, the girl to whom I was so devoted in Italy. I should think, uncle, that you of the cloth would find Ann a most interesting subject. Not that she's of your flock. Her mother was a passionate Catholic. Her father a relentless atheist. He wrote a famous attack on the church which Ann tells me hastened her mother's death. The conflict shows curiously in Ann. When we were together in Florence a restlessness would many times come upon her. She would say, 'You go on home, Katie, without me. I have things to attend to.' I came to know what it meant. Once I followed her and saw her go to the church and literally fling herself into its arms in a passion of surrender. And that night she sat up until daybreak reading her father's books. You see what I mean? A wealth of feeling—but always pulled two ways. It has left its mark upon her."
She read it over, gloated over it, and destroyed it. "Uncle would be coming on the next train," she saw. "He'd hold Ann up for a copy of the attack! And why this mad passion of mine for destruction? Should a man walking on a tight-rope yield to every playful little desire to chase butterflies?"
But as she looked again—Ann was deep in the illustrations of "Days in Florence" and could be surveyed with impunity—she wondered if she might not have written better than she knew. Her choice of facts doubtless was preposterous enough; what had been the conflicting elements—her fancy might wander far afield in finding that. But she was sure she saw truly in seeing marks of conflict. Life had pulled her now this way, now that, as if playing some sort of cruel game with her. And that game had left her very tired. Tired as some lovely creature of the woods is tired after pursuit, and fearful with that fear of the hunted from which safety cannot rescue. It was in Ann's eyes—that looking out from shadowy retreat, that pain of pain remembered, that fear which fear has left. Katie had seen it once in the eyes of an exhausted fawn, who, fleeing from the searchers for the stag, had come full upon the waiting hunt—in face of the frantic hounds in leash. The terror in those eyes that should have been so soft and gentle, the sick certitude of doom where there should have been the glad joy of life struck the death blow to Katie's ambitions to become the mighty huntress. She had never joined another hunt or wished to hear another story of the hunt, saying she flattered herself she could be resourceful enough to gain her pleasures in some other way than crazing gentle creatures with terror. Ann made her think of that quivering fawn, suggesting, as the fawn had suggested, what life might have been in a woods uninvaded. She had a vision of Ann as the creature of pure delight she had been fashioned to be, loving life and not knowing fear.
From which musings she broke off with a hearty: "Good drive!" and Ann looked up inquiringly.
She pointed to the teeing ground some men were just leaving—caddies straggling on behind, two girls driving in a runabout along the river road calling gaily over to the men. It all seemed sunny and unfettered as the morning.
"I'll wager he feels good," she laughed. "I know no more exhilarating feeling than that thing of having just made a good drive. It makes life seem at your feet. You must play, Ann. I'm going to teach you."
"Do all those people belong here?" Ann asked, still looking at the girls who were calling laughingly back and forth to the men.
"On the Island? Oh, no; they belong over there." She nodded to the city which rose upon the hills across the river. "But they use these links."
"Don't they—don't they have to—work?" Ann asked timidly.
"Oh, yes," laughed Katie; "I fancy most of them work some. Though what's the good working a morning like this? I think they're very wise. But look now at the Hope of the Future! He's certainly working."
The Hope of the Future was ascending the steps, heavily burdened. So heavily was he burdened that for the moment ascent looked impossible. Each arm was filled with a shapeless bundle of white and yellow fur which closer inspection revealed as the collie pups.
With each step the hind legs of a wriggling puppy slipped a little farther through Worth's arms. When finally he stood before them only a big puppy head was visible underneath each shoulder. Approaching Ann, then backing around, he let one squirming pair of legs rest on her lap, freed his arm, and Ann had the puppy. "You can play with him a little while," he remarked graciously.
"Worth," said Katie, "it is unto my friend Miss Forrest, known in the intimacies of the household as Miss Ann, that you have just made this tender offering."
Worth took firm hold on his remaining puppy and stood there surveying Ann. "I came last night," he volunteered, after what seemed satisfactory inspection.
Ann just smiled at him, rumpling the puppy's soft woolly coat.
"How long you been here?" he asked cordially.
"Just two days," she told him.
"I'm going to stay all summer," he announced, hoisting his puppy a little higher.
"That's nice," said Ann; her puppy was climbing too.
"How long you goin' to stay?" he wanted to know.
"Miss Ann is going to stay just as long as we are real nice to her, Worthie," said Katie, looking up from the magazine she was cutting.
"She can play with the puppies every morning, Aunt Kate," he cried in a fervent burst of hospitality.
"You got a dog at home?" he asked of Ann.
At the silence, Katie looked up. The puppy was now cuddled upon Ann's breast, her two arms about it. As she shook her head her chin brushed the soft puppy fur—then buried itself in it. Her eyes deepened.
"It must be just the dreadfulest thing there is not to have a dog," Worth condoled.
There was no response. The puppy's head was on Ann's shoulder. He was ambitious to mount to her face.
"Didn't you never have a dog?" Worth asked, drawling it out tragically.
The head nodded yes, but the eyes did not grow any more glad at thought of once having had a dog.
Worth took a step nearer and lay an awed hand upon her arm. "Did he—die?"
She nodded. Her face had grown less sorrowful than hard. It was the look of that first day.
Worth shook his head slowly to express deep melancholy. "It's awful—to have 'em die. Mine died once. I cried and cried and cried. Then papa got me a bigger one."
He waited for confidences which did not come. Ann was holding the puppy tight.
"Didn't your papa get you 'nother one?" he asked, as one searching for the best.
"Worth dear," called Katie, "let's talk about the live puppies. There are so many live puppies in the world. And just see how the puppy loves Miss Ann."
"And Miss Ann loves the puppy. Mustn't squeeze him too tight," he admonished. "Watts says it's bad for 'em to squeeze 'em. Watts knows just everything 'bout puppies. He knows when they have got to eat and when they have got to sleep, and when they ought to have a bath. Do you suppose, Aunt Kate, we'll ever know as much as Watts?"
"Probably not. Don't hitch your wagon to too far a star, Worthie. No use smashing the wagon."
Suddenly Ann had squeezed her puppy very tight. "O—h," cried Worth, "you mustn't! I like to do it, too, but Watts says it squeezes the grows out of 'em. It's hard not to squeeze 'em though, ain't it?" he concluded with tolerance.