Again Katie looked up. The girl, holding the puppy close, was looking at the little boy. Something long beaten back seemed rushing on; and in her eyes was the consciousness of its having been long beaten back.
Something of which did not escape the astute Wayne the Worthy. "Aunt Kate," he called excitedly, "Aunt Kate—Miss Ann's eyes go such a long way down!"
"Worth, I'm not at all sure that it is the best of form for a grown-up young gentleman of six summers to be audibly estimating the fathomless depths of a young woman's eyes. Note well the word audibly, Worthie."
"They go farther down than yours, Aunt Kate."
"'Um—yes; another remark better left with the inaudible."
"It looks—it looks as if there was such a lot of cries in them! o—h—one's coming now!"
"Worth," she called sharply, "come here. You mustn't talk to Miss Ann about cries, dear. When you talk about cries it brings the cries, and when you talk about laughs the laughs come, and Miss Ann is so pretty when she laughs."
"Miss Ann is pretty all the time," announced gallant Worth. "She has a mouth like—a mouth like—She has a mouth like—"
"Yes dear, I understand. When they say 'She has a mouth like—a mouth like—' I know just what kind of mouth they mean."
"But how do you know, Aunt Kate? I didn't say what kind, did I?"
"No; but as years and wisdom and guile descend upon you, you will learn that sometimes the surest way of making one's self clear is not to say what one means."
"But I don't see—"
"No, one doesn't—at six. Wait till you've added twenty thereto."
"How old is Miss Ann?"
"Worth, when this twenty I'm talking about has been added on, you will know that never, never, never must one speak or think or dream of a lady's age."
"Oh, because it brings the cries—lots of times."
He had seated himself on the floor. The puppy was in spasms of excitement over the discovery of a considerable expanse of bare legs.
"Are they sorry they're not as old as somebody else?" he asked, trying to get his legs out of the puppy's lurching reach.
"No, they're usually able to endure the grief brought them by that thought."
"Oh—yes?" It was a good story.
"Would Miss Ann be sorry she's not as old as you?"
"Hateful, ungrateful little wretch!"
"I am all attention, Wayneworth," she said, with inflection which should not have been wasted on ears too young.
"Do you know, Aunt Kate, sometimes I don't know just what you're talking about."
"No? Really? And this from your sex to mine!"
"Do you always say what you mean, Aunt Kate?"
"Somebody might find out what I thought."
"Don't you want them to know what you think, Aunt Kate?" he pursued, making a complete revolution and for the instant evading the frisking puppy.
"But why not, Aunt Kate?"—squirming as the puppy placed a long warm lick right below the knee.
"Oh, I don't know." The story was getting better. Then, looking up with Kate's queer smile: "It might hurt their feelings."
"Why would it—?"
"Oh, Wayneworth Jones! Why were you born with your brain cells screwed into question marks?—and why do I have to go through life getting them unscrewed?"
She actually read a paragraph; and as there she had to turn a page she looked over at Ann. Ann's puppy had joined Worth's on the floor and together they were indulging in bites of puppyish delight at the little boy's legs, at each other's tails, at so much of the earth's atmosphere as came within range of their newly created jaws craving the exercise of their function. Mad with the joy of living were those two collie pups on that essentially live and joyous morning.
And Ann, if not mad with the joy of living, seemed sensible of the wonder of it. "Days in Florence" open on her lap, hands loose upon it, she was looking off at the river. From hard thoughts of other days Kate could see her drawn to that day—its softness and sunshine, its breath of the river and breath of the trees. Folded in the arms of that day was Ann just then. The breeze stirred a little wisp of hair on her temple—gently swayed the knot of ribbon at her throat. The spring was wooing Ann; her face softened as she listened. Was it something of that same force which bounded boisterously up in boy and dogs which was stealing over Ann—softening, healing, claiming?
The next paragraph of the story on the printed page was less interesting.
"Aunt Kate," said Worth, gathering both puppies into his arms as they were succeeding all too well in demonstrating that they were going to grow up and be real dogs, "Watts says it is the ungodliest thing he knows of that these puppies haven't got any names."
"I am glad to learn," murmured Kate, "that Watts is a true son of the church. He yearns for a christening?"
"He says that being as nobody else has thought up names for them, he calls the one that is most yellow, Mike; and the one that is most white, Pat. Do you think Mike and Pat are pretty names, Aunt Kate?"
"Well, I can't say that my esthetic sense fairly swoons with delight at sound of Mike and Pat," she laughed.
"I'll tell you, Worthie," she suggested, looking up with twinkling eye after her young nephew had been experimenting with various intonations of Mike—Pat, Pat—Mike, "why don't you call one of them Pourquoi?"
He walked right into it with the never-failing "Why?"
"Just so. Call one Pourquoi and the other N'est-ce-pas. They do good team work in both the spirit and the letter. Pourquoi, Worth, is your favorite word in French. Need I add that it means 'why'? And N'est-ce-pas—well, Watts would say N'est-ce-pas meant 'ain't it'? and more flexible translators find it to mean anything they are seeking to persuade you is true. Pourquoi is the inquirer and N'est-ce-pas the universalist. I trust Watts will give this his endorsement."
"I'll ask him," gravely replied Worth, and sought to accustom the puppies to their new names with chanting—Poor Qua—Nessa Pa. The chant grew so melancholy that the puppies subsided; oppressed, overpowered, perhaps, with the sense of being anything as large and terrible as inquirer and universalist.
But Worth was too true a son of the army to leave a brooding damsel long alone in the corner. "You seen the new cow?" was his friendly approach.
"Why, I don't believe I have," she confessed.
"I s'pose you've seen the chickens?" he asked, a trifle condescendingly.
Ann shamefacedly confessed that she had not as yet seen the chickens.
He took a step backward for the weighty, crushing: "Well, you've seen the horses, haven't you?"
"Aunt Kate—Aunt Kate!" he called peremptorily, as Ann humbly shook her head, "Miss Ann's not seen the cow—or the, chickens—nor the horses!"
"Isn't it scandalous?" agreed Kate. "It shows what sort of hostess I am, doesn't it? But you see, Worth, I thought as long as you were coming so soon you could do the honors of the stables. I think it's always a little more satisfactory to have a man do those things."
"I'll take you now," announced Worth, in manner which brooked neither delay nor gratitude.
And so the girl and the little boy and the two puppies, the joy of motion freeing them from the sad weight of inquirer and universalist, started across the lawn for the stables. Pourquoi caught at Ann's dress and she had to be manfully rescued by Worth. And no sooner had the inquirer been loosened from one side than the universalist was firmly fastened to the other and the rescue must be enacted all over again, amid considerable confusion and laughter. Ann's laugh was borne to Katie on a wave of the spring—just the laugh of a girl playing with a boy and his dogs.
It was a whole hour later, and as Kate was starting out for golf she saw Ann and Worth sitting on the sandpile, a tired inquirer and very weary universalist asleep at their feet. Ann was picking sand up in her hands and letting it sift through. Worth was digging with masculine vigor. Kate passed close enough to hear Ann's, "Well, once upon a time—"
Ann!—opening to a little child the door of that wondrous country of Once upon a Time! No mother had ever done it more sweetly, with more tender zeal, more loving understanding of the joys and necessities of Once upon a Time. Some once upon a time notions of Kate's were quite overturned by that "once upon a time" voice of Ann's. Then the once upon a time of the sandpile did not shut them out—they who had known another once upon a time? Did it perhaps love to take them in, knowing that upon the sands of this once upon a time the other could keep no foothold?
"Once upon a Time—Once upon a Time"—it kept singing itself in her ears. For her, too, it opened a door.
Having conquered the son, Katie that evening set vigorously about for the conquest of the father.
"The trouble is," she turned it over in giving a few minutes to her own toilet for dinner, after having given many minutes to Ann's, "that there's simply no telling about Wayne. He is just the most provokingly uncertain man now living."
And yet it was not a formidable looking man she found in the library a few minutes before the dinner hour. He was poring over some pictures of Panama in one of the weeklies, sufficiently deep in them to permit Katie to sit there for the moment pondering methods of attack. But instead of outlining her campaign she found herself concluding, what she had concluded many times before, that Wayne was very good-looking. "Not handsome, like Harry Prescott," she granted, "but Wayne seems the product of something—the result of things to be desired. He hasn't a new look."
"Katherine is going to give us more trouble than Wayne ever will," their mother had sighed after one of those escapades which made life more colorful than restful during Katie's childhood. To which Major Jones replied that while Kate might give them more trouble, he thought it probable Wayne would give himself the more. Certain it had been from the first that if Wayne could help it no one would know what trouble he might be giving himself.
Old-fashioned folk who expected brothers and sisters to be alike had, on the surface at least, a sorry time with Wayneworth and Katherine Jones. Katie was sunny. Katie had a genius for play. She laughed and danced up and down the highways and the byways of life and she had such a joyous time about it that it had not yet occurred to any one to expect her to help pay the fiddler. Just watching Katie dance would seem pay enough for any reasonable fiddler. Katie laughed a great deal, and was smiling most of the time; she seemed always to have things in her thoughts to make smiles. Wayne laughed little and some of his smiles made one understand how the cat felt about having its fur rubbed the wrong way. Their friend Major Darrett once said: "When I meet Katie I have a fancy she has just come from a jolly dip in the ocean; that she lay on the sands in the sun and kicked up her heels longer than she had any business to, and now she's flying along to keep the most enchanting engagement she ever had in all her life. She's smiling to herself to think how bad she was to lie in the sand so long, and she's not at all concerned, because she knows her friends will be so happy to see her that they'll forget to scold her for being late. Katie's spoiled," the Major concluded, "but we like her that way."
Of Wayne this same friend remarked: "Wayne's a hard nut to crack."
Many army people felt that way. In fact, Wayne was a nut the army itself had not quite cracked. Some army people maintained that Wayne was disagreeable. But that may have been because he was not just like all other army people. He did not seem to have grasped the idea that being "army" set him apart. Sometimes he made the mistake of judging army affairs by ordinary standards. That was when they got some idea of how the cat felt. And of all cats an army cat would most resent having its fur rubbed in any but the prescribed direction.
Katie, continuing her ruminations about Wayne as the product of things, had come to see that with it all he was detached from those desirable things which had produced him. One knew that Wayne had traditions, yet he was not tradition fettered; he suggested ancestors without being ancestor conscious. Was it the gun—as Wayne the Worthy persisted in calling it—and the gun's predecessors—for Wayne always had something—made him so distinctly more than the mere result of things which had formed him? "It is the gun," Katie decided, taking him in with half shut eyes as a portrait painter might. "Had the same ancestors myself, and yet I'm both less and more of them than he is. What I need's a gun! Then I'd stand out of the background better, too." Then with one of Katie's queer twists of fancy—Ann! Might not Ann be her gun? Perhaps she had been wanting a gun for a long time without knowing what it was she was wanting when surely wanting something. Perhaps every one felt the gun need to make them less the product and more the person.
Then there was another thing. The thing that had traced those lines about Wayne's mouth, and had whitened, a little, the brown hair of his temples. Wayne had cared for Clara. Heaven only knew how he could—Katie's thoughts ran on. Perhaps heaven did understand those things—certainly it was too much for mere earth. Why Wayne, about whom there had always seemed a certain brooding bigness, certainly a certain rare indifference, should have fallen so absurdly in love with the most vain and selfish and vapid girl that ever wrecked a post was more than Katie could make out. And it had been her painful experience to watch Wayne's disappointment develop, watch that happiness which had so mellowed him recede as day by day Clara fretted and pouted and showed plainly enough that to her love was just a convenient thing which might impel one's husband to get one a new set of furs. She remembered so well one evening she had been in Clara's room when Wayne came in after having been away since early morning. So eager and tender was Wayne's face as he approached Clara, who was looking over an advertising circular. There was a light in his eyes which it would seem would have made Clara forget all about advertising circulars. But before he had said a word, but stood there, loving her with that look—and it would have to be admitted Clara did look lovely, in one of the neglige affairs she affected so much—she said, with a babyish little whine she evidently thought alluring: "I just don't see, Wayne, why we can't have a new rug for the reception room. We can certainly afford things as well as the Mitchells." And Wayne had just stood there, with a smile which closed the gates and said, with an irony not lost upon Katie, at least: "Why I fancy we can have a new rug, if that is the thing most essential to our happiness." Clara had cried: "Oh Wayne—you dear!" and twittered and fluttered around, but the twittering and fluttering did not bring that light back to Wayne's face. He went over to the far side of the room and began reading the paper, and that grim little understanding smile—a smile at himself—made Katie yearn to go over and wind her arms about his neck—dear strange Wayne who had believed there was so much, and found so little, and who was so alive to the bitter humor of being drawn to the heart of things only to be pushed back to the outer rim. But Katie knew it was not her arms could do any good, and so she had left the room, not clear-eyed, Clara still twittering about the kind of rug she would have. And day by day she had watched Wayne go back to the outer circle, that grim little smile as mile-stones in his progress.
But he was folding his paper; it was growing too near the hour to speculate longer on Wayne and his past.
"Wayne?" she began.
He looked up, smiling at the beseeching tone. "Yes? What is it, Katie? Just what brand of boredom are you planning to inflict?"
"You can be so nice, Wayne—when you want to be."
"'Um—hum. A none too subtle way of calling a man a brute."
"I presume there are times when you can't help being a brute, Wayne; but I do hope to-night will not be one of them."
"Why it must be something very horrible indeed, that you must approach with all this flaunting of diplomacy."
"It is something a long way from horrible, I assure you," she replied with dignity. "Ann will be down for dinner to-night, Wayne."
He leaned back and devoted himself to his cigarette with maddening deliberation. Then he smiled. "Through sleeping?"
"Wayne—I'm in earnest. Please don't get yourself into a hateful mood!"
He laughed in real amusement at sight of Katie's puckered face. "I am conscious that feminine wiles are being exercised upon me. I wonder—why?"
"Because I am so anxious you should like Ann, Wayne, and—be nice to her."
"Why?" Again it was that probing, provoking why.
"Because of what she means to me, I suppose."
Something in her voice made him look at her differently. "And what does she mean to you, Katie?"
"Ann is different from all the other girls I've known. She means—something different."
"Strange I've never heard you speak of her."
"I think you have, and have forgotten. Though possibly not—just because of the way I feel about her." She paused, seeking to express how she felt about her. Unable to do so, she concluded simply: "I have a very tender feeling for Ann."
"I see you have," he replied quietly. He looked at her meditatively, and then asked, humorously but gently: "Well Katie, what were you expecting me to do? Order her out of the house?"
"But I want you to be more than civil, Wayne; I want you to be sympathetic."
"I'll be civil and you can bring Prescott on for the sympathetic," he laughed. "You know I haven't great founts of sympathy gushing up in my heart for the jeune fille."
"Ann's not the jeune fille, Wayne. She's something far more interesting and worth while than that." She paused, again trying to get it, but could do no better than: "I sometimes think of Ann as sitting a little apart, listening to beautiful music."
He smiled. "I can only reply to that, Katie, that I trust she is more inviting than your pictures of her. A young woman who looked as though sitting apart listening to beautiful music should certainly be left sitting apart."
"I'll bring her down," laughed Kate, rising; "then you can get your own picture."
"I'll be decent, Katie," he called after her in laughing but reassuring voice.
The meeting had been accomplished. Dinner had reached the salad, and all was well. Yes, and a little more than well.
From the moment she stood in the doorway of Ann's room and the girl rose at her suggestion of dinner, Katie's courage had gone up. Ann's whole bearing told that she was on her mettle. And what Katie found most reassuring was less the results of the effort Ann was making than her unmistakable sense of the necessity for making it. There was hope in that.
Not that she suggested anything so hopeless as effort. She suggested reserve feeling, and she was so beautiful—so rare—that the suggestion was of feeling more beautiful and rare than a determination to live up to the way she was gowned. Her timidity was of a quality which seemed related to things of the spirit rather than to social embarrassment. Jubilantly Kate saw that Ann meant to "put it over," and her depth of feeling on the subject suggested a depth which in itself dismissed the subject.
She saw at a glance that Wayne related Ann to the things her appearance suggested rather than to the suggestions causing that appearance. As Katie said, "Ann, I am so glad that at last my brother is to know you," she was thinking that it seemed a friend to whom one might indeed be proud to present one's brother. She never lost the picture of the Ann whom Wayne advanced to meet. She loved her in that rose pink muslin, the skirt cascaded in old-fashioned way, an old-fashioned looking surplice about the shoulders, and on her long slim throat a lovely Florentine cameo swinging on the thinnest of old silver chains. She might have been a cameo herself.
And she never forgot the way Ann said her first words to Wayne. They were two most commonplace words, merely the "Thank you" with which she responded to his hospitable greeting, but that "Thank you" seemed let out of a whole under sea of feeling for which it would try to speak.
Before Wayne could carry out his unmistakable intention of saying more, Katie was airily off into a story about the cook, dragging it in with a thin hook about the late dinner, and the cook in the present case suggested a former cook in Washington whom Katie held, and sought to prove, nature had ordained for a great humorist. The ever faithful subject of cooks served stanchly until they had reached the safety of soup.
Katie was in story-telling mood. She seemed to have an inexhaustible fund of them in reserve which she could deftly strap on as life-preserver at the first far sign of danger. And she would flash into her stories an "As you said, Ann," or "As you would put it, Ann," whenever she found anything to fit the Ann she would create.
Several times, however, the rescuing party had to knock down good form and trample gentle breeding under foot to reach the spot in time. Wayne spoke of a friend in Vienna from whom he had heard that day and turned to Ann with an interrogation about the Viennese. Katie, contemplating the suppleness of Ann's neck, momentarily asleep at her post, missed the "Come over and help us" look, and Ann had begun upon a fatal, "I have never been in—" when Katie, with ringing laugh broke in: "Isn't it odd, Ann, that you should never have been in Vienna, when you lived all those years right there in Florence? I do think it the oddest thing!"
Ann agreed that it was odd—Wayne concurring.
But driven from Vienna, he sought Florence. "And Italy? I presume I go on record as the worst sort of bounder in asking if you really care greatly about living there?"
Katie thought it time Ann try a stroke for herself. One would never develop strength on a life-preserver.
Seeing that she had it to make, she paused before it an instant. Fear seemed to be feeling, and a possible sense of the absurdity of her situation made for a slightly tremulous dignity as she said: "I do love it. Love it so much it is hard to tell just how much—or why." And then it was as if she shrank back, having uncovered too much. She looked as though she might be dreaming of the Court of the Uffizi, or Santa Maria Novella, but Katie surmised that that dreamy look was not failing to find out what Wayne was going to do with his lettuce. But one who suggested dreams of Tuscany when taking observations on the use of the salad fork—was there not hope unbounded for such a one?
Wayne was silent for the moment, as though getting the fact that the love of Italy, or perhaps its associations, was to this girl not a thing to be compressed within the thin vein of dinner talk. "Well," he laughed understanding, "to be sure I don't know it from the inside. I never was of it; I merely looked at it. And I thought the plumbing was abominable."
"Wayne," scoffed Kate, "plumbing indeed! Have you no soul?"
"Yes, I have; and bad plumbing is bad for it."
Ann laughed quite blithely at that, and as though finding confidence in the sound of her own laugh, she boldly volunteered a stroke. "I don't know much about plumbing," Katie heard Ann saying. "I suppose perhaps it is bad. But do you care much about plumbing when looking at"—her pause before it might have been one of reverence—"The Madonna of the Chair?"
Katie treated herself to a particularly tender bit of lettuce and secretly hugged herself, Ann, and "Days in Florence." The Madonna of the Chair furnished the frontispiece for that valuable work.
Ann had receded, flushed, her lip trembling a little; Wayne was looking at her thoughtfully—and a little as one might look at the Madonna of the Chair. Katie heard the trump of duty call her to another story.
Feeling that first efforts, even on life-preservers, should not be long ones, it was soon after they returned to the library that Katie threw out: "Well, Ann, if that letter must be written—"
Ann rose. "Yes, and it must."
"But morning is the time for letter writing," urged Wayne.
"Morning in this instance is the time for shopping," said Kate.
She had left Ann at the foot of the stairs, murmuring something about having to see Nora. It was a half hour later that she looked in upon her.
What she saw was too much for Katie. Had the whole of creation been wrecked by her laughing, Katie must needs have laughed just then.
For Ann's two hands gripped "Days in Florence" with fierce resolution. Ann's head was bent over the book in a sort of stern frenzy. Ann, not even having waited to disrobe, was attacking Florence as the good old city had never been attacked before.
She seemed to get the significance of Katie's laugh, however, for it was as to a confederate she whispered: "I'll get caught!"
"Trust me," said Kate, and laughed from a new angle.
Ann could laugh, too, and when Katie sat down to "talk it over" they were that most intimate of all things in the world, two girls with a secret, two girls set apart from all the world by that secret they held from all the world, hugging between them a beautiful, brilliant secret and laughing at the rest of the world because it couldn't get in. That secret, shared and recognized and laughed over and loved, did what no amount of sympathy or gratitude could have done. It was as if the whole situation heaved a sigh of relief and settled itself in more comfortable position.
"Why no," sparkled Kate, in response to Ann's protestation, "the only thing you have to do is not to try. Lovers of Italy must take their Italy with a superior calm. And when you don't know what to say—just seem too full for utterance. That being too full for utterance throws such a safe and lovely cover over the lack of utterance. And if you fear you're mixed up just look as though you were going to cry. Wayne will be so terrified at that prospect that he'll turn the conversation to air-ships, and you'll always be safe with Wayne in an air-ship because he'll do all the talking himself."
Ann grew thoughtful. She seemed to have turned back to something. Katie would have given much to know what it was Ann's deep brown eyes were surveying so somberly.
"The strange part of it is," she said, "I used to dream of some such place."
"Of course you did. That's why you belong there. A great deal more than some of us who've tramped miles through galleries." Then swiftly Katie changed her position, her expression and the conversation. "Elizabeth Barrett Browning is your favorite poet, isn't she, Ann?"
"Why—why no," stammered Ann. "I'm afraid I haven't any favorite. You see—"
"So much the better. Then you can take Elizabeth without being untrue to any one else. She loved Florence. You know she's buried there. I think you used to make pilgrimages to her tomb."
Again Ann turned back, and at what she saw smiled a little, half bitterly, half wistfully. "I'd like to have made pilgrimages somewhere."
"To be sure you would. That's why you did. The things we would like to have done, and would have done if we could, are lots more part of us than just the things we did do because we had to do them. Just consider that all those things you'd like to have done are things you did. It will make you feel at home with yourself. And to-morrow we'll go over the river and order Elizabeth Barrett Browning and a tailored suit."
But with that the girl who would like to have done things receded, leaving baldly exposed the girl who had done the things she had had to do. "No," said Ann stubbornly and sullenly.
"But blue gingham morning dress and rose-colored evening dress are scarcely sufficient unto one's needs," murmured Kate.
Ann turned away her head. "I can't take things—not things like that."
"But why not?" pursued Kate. "Why can't you take as well as I can take?"
She turned upon her hotly, as if resentful of being toyed with. "How silly! It is yours."
Katie had said it at random, but once expressed it interested her. "Why I don't know whether it is or not," she said, suddenly more interested in the idea itself than in its effect upon Ann. "Why is it? I didn't earn it."
"There's no use talking that way. It's yours because you've got it." That not seeming to bring ethical satisfaction she added: "It's yours because your family earned it."
Katie was unfastening the muslin gown. "But as a matter of fact,"—getting more and more interested—"they didn't. They didn't earn it. They just got it. What they earned they had to use to live on. This that is left over is just something my grandfather fell upon through luck. Then why should it be mine now—any more than yours?"
Ann deemed her intelligence insulted. "That's ridiculous."
"Well now I don't know whether it is or not." She was silent for a moment, considering it. "But anyhow," she came back to the issue, "we have our hands on this money, so we'll get the suit. You're in the army now, Ann. You're enlisted under me, and I'll have no insubordination. You know—into the jaws of death!—Even so into the jaws of Elizabeth Barrett Browning—and a tailor-made suit!"
So Katie laughed herself out of the room.
And softly she whistled herself back into the library. The whistling did not seem to break through the smoke which surrounded Wayne. After several moments of ostentatious indifference, she threw out at him, with a conspicuous yawn: "Well, Wayne, what did you think of the terrifying jeune fille?"
Wayne's reply was long in coming, simple, quiet, and queer: "She's a lady."
Startled, peculiarly gratified, impishly delighted, she yet replied lightly: "A lady, is she? Um. Once at school one of the girls said she had a 'trade-last' for me, and after I had searched the closets of memory and dragged out that some one had said she had pretty eyes, dressed it up until this some one had called her ravishingly beautiful—after all that conscientious dishonesty what does she tell me but that some one had said I was so 'clean-looking.' One rather takes 'clean-looking' for granted! Even so with our friends being ladies. Quaint old word for you to resurrect, Wayne."
"Yes," he laughed, "quite quaint. But she seems to me just that old-fashioned thing our forefathers called a lady. Now we have good fellows, and thoroughbreds, and belongers. Not many of this girl's type."
Katie wanted to chuckle. But suddenly the unborn chuckle dissolved into a sea of awe.
Thoughts and smoke seemed circling around Wayne together; and perhaps the blue rim of it all was dreams. His face was not what one would expect the face of a man engaged in making warfare more deadly to be as he murmured, not to Katie but to the thin outer rim, softly, as to rims barely material: "And more than that—a woman."
He puzzled her. "Well, Wayne," she laughed, "aren't you getting a little—cryptic? I certainly told you—by implication—that she was both a lady and a woman. Then why this air of discovery?"
But it did not get Katie into the smoke. He made no effort to get her in, but after a moment came back to her with a kindly: "I am glad you have such a friend, Katie. It will do you good."
That inward chuckle showed no disposition to dissolve into anything; it fought hard to be just a live, healthy chuckle.
Moved by an impulse half serious, half mischievous she asked: "You would say then, Wayne, that Ann seems to you more of a lady than Zelda Fraser?"
Wayne's real answer lay in his look of disgust. He did condescend to put into words: "Oh, don't be absurd, Katie."
"But Zelda has a splendid ancestry," she pressed.
"And suggests a chorus girl."
That stilled her. It left her things to think about.
At last she asked: "And Wayne, which would you say I was?"
He came back from a considerable distance. "Which of what?"
"Lady or chorus girl?"
He looked at her and smiled. Katie was all aglow with the daring of her adventure. "I should say, Katie dear, that you were a half-breed."
"What a sounding thing to be! But Major Darrett in his last letter tells me I am his idea of a thoroughbred. How can I be a half-breed if I'm a thoroughbred?"
"True, it makes you a biological freak. But you should be too original to complain of that."
"But I do complain. It sounds like something with three legs. Not but what I'd rather be a biological freak than a grind—or a prude."
"Be at peace," drily advised Wayne.
"Ann was quiet to-night," mused Katie, feeling an irresistible desire to get back to her post of duty, not because there was any need for her being there, but merely because she liked the post. "She felt a little strange, I think. She has been much alone and with people of a different sort."
"And I presume it never occurred to you, Katie, that neither Ann nor I was fairly surfeited with opportunities for conversational initiative? Just drop me a hint sometime when you are not going to be at home, will you? I should like a chance to get acquainted with your friend."
Katie was straightway the hen with feathers ruffled over her brood. "You must be careful, Wayne," she clucked at him. "When you are alone with Ann please try to avoid all unpleasant subjects, or anything you see she would rather not talk about."
"Thanks awfully for the hint," returned Wayne quietly. "I had been meaning to speak first of her father's funeral. I thought I would follow that with a searching inquiry into her mother's last illness. But of course if you think this not wise I am glad to be guided by your judgment, Katie."
"Wayne!" she reproached laughingly. "Now you know well enough! I simply meant if you saw Ann wished to avoid a subject, not to pursue it."
"Thanks again, dear Sister Kate, for these easy lessons in behavior. Rule 1—"
But she waved it laughingly aside, rising to leave him. "Just the same," she maintained, from the doorway, "experience may make the familiar things—and dear things—the very things of which one wishes least to speak. Talk to Ann about the army, Wayne; talk about—"
But as he was holding out note-book and pencil she beat grimacing retreat.
That night Miss Jones dreamed. The world had been all shaken up and everything was confused and no one could put it to rights. All those dames whose ancestors had sailed unknown waters were in the front row of the chorus, and all the chorus girls were dancing a stately minuet at Old Point Comfort. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was trying to commit suicide by becoming a biological freak, and the Madonna of the Chair was wearing a smartly tailored brown rajah suit.
Peacefully and pleasantly one day slipped after another. Some thirty of them had joined their unnumbered fellows and to-morrow bade fair to pass serenely as yesterday. "This, dear Queen," Katie confided to the dog stretched at her feet, "is what in vulgar parlance is known as 'nothing doing,' and in poetic language is termed the 'simple life.'"
Thirty days of "nothing doing"—and yet there had been more "doing" in those days than in all the thousands of their predecessors gaily crowded to the brim. Those crowded days seemed days of a long sleep; these quiet ones, days of waking.
Ann was out on the links that afternoon with Captain Prescott. From her place on the porch Katie had a glimpse of them at that moment. Ann's white dress with its big knot of red ribbon was a vivid and a pleasing spot. The olive of the Captain's uniform seemed part of the background of turf and trees—all of it for Ann, so live and so pretty in white and red.
He was seeking to correct her stroke. Both were much in earnest about it. It would seem that the whole of Ann's life hung upon that thing of better form in her golf. Finally she made a fair drive and turned to him jubilantly. He was commending enthusiastically and Ann quite pranced under his enthusiasm. Seeing Katie, she waved her hand and pointed off to her ball that Katie, too, might mark the triumph. Then they came along, laughing and chatting. When the ball was reached they were in about the spot where Katie had first seen Ann, thirty days before.
She knew how Ann felt. There was joy in the good stroke. In this other game she had been playing in the last thirty days—this more difficult and more alluring game—she had come to know anew the exhilaration of bunker cleared, the satisfaction of the long drive and the sure putt.
And Katie had played a good game. It was not strange she should have convinced others, for there were times when her game was so good as to convince even herself. Though it had ever been so with Kate. The things in the world of "Let's play like" had always been persuasive things. Curious she was to know how often or how completely Ann was able to forget they were playing a game.
She had come to think of Ann, not as a hard-and-fast, all-finished product, but as something fluid, certainly plastic. It was as if anything could be poured into Ann, making her. A dream could be woven round her, and Ann could grow into that dream. That was a new fancy to Kate; she had always thought of people more as made than as constantly in the making. It opened up long paths of wondering. To all sides those paths were opening in those days—it was that that made them such eventful days. Down this path strayed the fancy how much people were made by the things which surrounded them—the things expected of them. That path led to the vista that amazing responsibility might lie with the things surrounding—the things expected. It even made her wonder in what measure she would have been Katie Jones, differently surrounded, differently called upon. Her little trip down that path jostled both her approval of herself and her disapproval of others.
It was only once or twice that the real girl had stirred in the dream. For the most part she had remained in the shadow of Katie's fancyings. She was as an actor on the stage, inarticulate save as regards her part. Katie had grown so absorbed in that part that there were times of forgetting there was a real girl behind it. Often she believed in her friend Ann Forrest, the dear girl she had known in Florence, the poor child who had gone through so many hard things and was so different from the Zelda Frasers of the world. She rejoiced with Wayne and Captain Prescott in seeing dear Ann grow a little more plump, a little rosier, a little more smiling. She could understand perfectly, as she had made them understand, why Ann did not talk more of Italy and the things of her own life. Life had crowded in too hard upon her, that setting of the other days made other days live again too acutely. Ann was taking a vacation from her life, she had laughingly put it to Wayne. That was why she played so much with Worth and the dogs and talked so little of grown-up things. Though one could never completely take a vacation from one's life; that was why Ann looked that way when she was sometimes sitting very still and did not know that any one was looking at her.
Persuasion was the easier as fabrication was but a fanciful dress for truth. Imagination did not have it all to do; it only followed where Ann called—blazing its own trail.
Yet there were times when the country of make-believe was swept down by a whirlwind, a whirlwind of realization which crashed through Katie's consciousness and knocked over the fancyings. Those whirlwinds would come all unannounced; when Ann seemed most Ann, playing with Worth, perhaps wearing one of the prettiest dresses and smilingly listening to something Wayne was telling her had happened over at the shops. And on the heels of the whirlwind knocking down the country of make-believe would come the girl from a vast unknown rushing wildly from—what? What had become of that girl? Would she hear from her again? It was almost as if the girl made by reality had indeed gone down under the waters that day, and the things the years had made her had abdicated in favor of the things Katie would make her. And yet did the things the years had made one ever really abdicate? Was it because the girl of the years was too worn for assertiveness that the girl of fancy could seem the all? Was it only that she slumbered—and sometimes stirred a little in her sleep?—And when she awoke?
Even to each other they did not speak of that other girl, as if fearing a word might wake her. Sometimes they heard her stir; as one day soon after Ann's coming Katie had said: "Ann, just what is it is the matter with your vocal chords?"
"Why I didn't know anything was," stammered Ann.
"But you seem unable to pronounce my name."
"It is spelled K-a-t-i-e," Kate went on, "and is pronounced K—T. Try it, Ann. See if you can say it."
Ann looked at her. The look itself crossed the border country. "Katie—" she choked—and the country of make-believe fell palely away.
But they did not speak of the things they had stirred.
That thing of not saying it had been established the day Ann's bank account was opened. Katie had been "over the river," as she called going over to the city. Upon returning she found Ann up in her room. She stood there unpinning her hat, telling of an automobile accident on the bridge—Katie seldom came in without some stirring tale. As she was leaving she rummaged in her bag. "And oh yes, Ann," she said, carelessly, "here's your bank book. I presumed to draw twenty dollars for you, thinking you might need it before you could get over. Oh dear—that telephone! And I know it's Wayne for me."
But she did not escape. Ann was waiting for her when she came back up stairs.
She held out the book, shaking her head. Her face told that she had been pulled back.
"Not money," she said unsteadily. "All the rest of it is bad enough—but not money. I'd have no—self-respect."
"Self-respect!" jeered Kate. "I'd have no self-respect if I didn't take money. Nobody can be self-respecting when broke. None of the rest of us seem to be inquiring into our sources of revenue, so why should you?"
As had happened that other time, in relation to the suit, the thing shot out at Ann turned back to her. It had more than once occurred that the thing thrown out sparingly persisted as thing to be considered genuinely. Her browbeating of Ann—for it was a sort of tender, protective browbeating—led her to reach out blindly for weapons, and once in her hand many of those weapons proved ideas.
"We take everything we can get," she followed it up, forcing herself from interest in the weapon to the use of it, "from everybody we can get it from. We take this house from the government—and heaven only knows how many sons of toil the government takes it from. I take this money we're so stupidly quibbling about now from a company the papers say takes it from everybody in reach. Take or you will be taken from is the basis of modern finance. Please don't be fanatical, Ann."
"I can't take it," repeated Ann.
Katie looked worried. Then she took new ground. "Well, Ann, if you won't take the sane financial outlook, at least be a good sport. We're in this game; the money has got to be part of making it go. We'll never get anywhere at all if we're going to balk and fuss at every turn. There now, honey,"—as if to Worth—"put your book away. Don't lose it; it makes them cross to have you lose them. And another principle of modern finance with which I am heartily in sympathy is that money should be kept in circulation. It encourages embezzlement to leave it in banks too long." Then, seeing what was gathering, she said quietly but authoritatively: "Leave it unsaid, Ann. Can't we always just leave it unsaid? Nothing makes me so uncomfortable as to feel I'm constantly in danger of having something nice said to me."
Perhaps Katie knew that countries of make-believe are sensitive things, that it does not do to admit you know them for that.
There had been that one time when the hand of reality reached savagely into the dream, as if the things the girl had run away from had come to claim her. It seemed through that long night that they had claimed her, that Ann's "vacation" was over.
Captain Prescott had been dining with them that night and after dinner they were sitting out on the porch. He was humming a snatch of something. Katie heard a chair scrape and saw that Ann had moved farther into the shadow. She was all in shadow save her hand; that Katie could see was gripping the arm of her chair.
He turned to Ann. "Did you see 'Daisey-Maisey'?"
"Ann wasn't here then," said Kate.
"Did you see it, Katie?"
"It was a jolly, joyous sort of thing," he laughed. "Sort of thing to make you feel nothing matters. That was the name of that thing I was humming. No, not 'Nothing Matters,' but 'Don't You Care.' And there were the 'Don't You Care' girls—pink dresses and big black hats. They seemed to mean what they sang. They didn't care, certainly."
It was Wayne who spoke. "Think not?"
Ann came a little way out of the shadow. She had leaned toward Wayne.
"Well you'd never know it if they did," laughed Prescott. He turned to Wayne. "What's your theory?"
"Oh I have no theory. Just a wondering. Can't see how girls who have their living to earn could sing 'Don't You Care' with complete abandon."
Ann leaned forward, looking at him tensely. Then, as if afraid, she sank back into shadow. Katie could still see her hand gripping the arm of her chair.
"But they're not the caring sort," Prescott was holding.
"Think not?" said Wayne again, in Wayne's queer way.
There was a silence, and then Ann had murmured something and slipped away.
Katie followed her; for hours she sat by her bed, holding her hand, trying to soothe her. It was almost morning before that other girl, that girl they were trying to get away from, would let Ann go to sleep.
Sitting beside the tortured girl that night, hearing the heart-breaking little moans which as sleep finally drew near replaced the sobs, Katie Jones wondered whether many of the things people so serenely took for granted were as absurd—and perhaps as tragically absurd—as Captain Prescott's complacent conclusion that the "Don't You Care" girls were girls who didn't care.
How she would love—turning it all over in her mind that afternoon—to talk some of those things over with "the man who mends the boats"!
She had only known him for about twenty days—"The man who mends the boats"—but she had fallen into the way of referring all interesting questions to him. That was perhaps the more remarkable as her eyes had never rested upon him.
One morning Worth had looked up from some comparative measurements of the tails of Pourquoi and N'est-ce-pas to demand: "Why, Aunt Kate, what do you think?"
"There are times," replied Aunt Kate, looking over at the girl swaying in the hammock, humming gently to herself, "when I don't know just what to think."
"Well sir, what do you think? The man that mends the boats knows more 'an Watts!"
"Worthie," she admonished, "it's bad business for an army man to turn traitor."
"But yes, he does. 'Cause I asked Watts why Pourquoi had more yellow than white, and why N'est-ce-pas was more white 'an yellow, and he said I sure had him there. He'd be blowed if he knew, and he guessed nobody did, 'less maybe the Almighty had some ideas about it; but yesterday I asked the man that mends the boats, and he explained it—oh a whole lot of long words, Aunt Kate. More long words 'an I ever heard before."
"And the explanation? I trust it was satisfactory?"
"I guess it was," replied Worth uncertainly. "'Twas an awful lot of long words."
"My experience, too," laughed Aunt Kate.
"With the man that mends the boats?"
"No, with other sages. You see when they're afraid to stay down here on the ground with us any longer, afraid they'll be hit with a question that will knock them over, they get into little air-ships they have and hurl the long words down at our heads until we're too stunned to ask any more questions, and in such wise is learning disseminated."
"I'll ask the man that mends the boats if he's got any air-ships. He's got most everything up there."
"Oh, up there,"—with vague nod toward the head of the Island.
"He says he'd like to get acquainted with you, Aunt Kate. He says he really believes you might be worth knowing."
Thereupon Aunt Kate's book fell to the floor with a thud of amazement that reverberated indignation. "Well upon my word!" gasped she. Then, recovering her book—and more—"Why what a kindly gentleman he must be," she drawled.
"Oh yes, he's kind. He's awful kind, I guess. He'll talk to you any time you want him to, Aunt Kate. He'll tell you just anything you want to know. He said you must be a—I forgot the word."
"Oh no, you haven't," wheedled Aunt Kate. "Try to think of it, dearie."
"Can't think of it now. Shall I ask him again?"
"Certainly not! How preposterous! As if it made the slightest difference in the world!"
But it made difference enough for Aunt Kate to ask a moment later: "And how did it happen, Worthie, that this kindly philosopher should have deemed me worth knowing?"
"Oh, I don't know. 'Cause he liked the puppies' names, I guess. I told him how their mother was just Queen, but how they was Pourquoi and N'est-ce-pas—a 'quirer and 'versalist and so then he said: 'And which is Aunt Kate?'"
"Which is Aunt Kate? What did he mean?"
"'Is she content to be just Queen,' he said, 'or is she'—there was a lot of long words, you wouldn't understand them, Aunt Kate—I didn't either—'does she show a puppyish tendon'—tendon something—'to butt into the universe?'"
Suddenly Aunt Kate's face grew pink and she sat straight. "Worth, was this one of the men?"
"Oh no, Aunt Kate. He's not one of the men. He's just a man. He's the man that mends the boats."
"'The man that mends the boats!' He sounds like a creature in flowing robes out of a mythology book, or the being expressing the high and noble sentiments calling everybody down in a new-thoughtish play."
From time to time Worth would bring word of him. What boats does he mend, Aunt Kate wanted to know, and what business has he landing them on our Island? To which came the answer that he mended boats sick unto death with speed mania and other social disease, and that he didn't land them on the Island, but on an island off the tip of the Island, a tiny island which the Lord had thoughtlessly left lying disrespectfully close to the Isle of Dignity. Katie was too true a romancer to inquire closely about the man who mended the boats, for she liked to think of him as an unreal being who only touched the earth off the tip of the Island, and only touched humanity through Worth. That wove something alluringly mysterious—and mysteriously alluring—about the man who made sick boats well, whereas had she given rein to the possibility of his belonging to the motorboat factory across the river, and scientifically testing gasoline engines it would be neither proper nor interesting that her young nephew should run back and forth with pearls of wit and wisdom. It developed that Worth visited this tip of the Island with the ever faithful Watts, and that one day the boat mender and Watts had—oh just the awfulest fight with words Worth had ever heard. It was about the Government, which the man who mended the boats said was running on one cylinder, drawing from patriotic Watts the profane defense that it had all the power it needed for blowing up just such fools as that! He further held that soldiers were first-class dishwashers and should be brave enough to demand first-class dishwashing pay. Katie had chuckled over that. But she had puzzled rather than chuckled over the statement that the first war the saddles manufactured on that Island would see would be the war over the manufacturing of them. Now what in the world had he meant by that? She had asked Wayne, but Wayne had seemed so seriously interested in the remark, and asked such direct questions as to who made it, that she had tried to cover her tracks, thinking perhaps the man who mended the boats could be thrown into the guard-house for saying such dark things about army saddles.
On the way home from that talk Watts had branded the man who mended the boats as one of them low-down anarchists that ought to be shot at sunrise. Things was as they was, held Watts, and how could anybody but a fool expect them to be any way but the way they was? It showed what he was—and after that Worth had had no more fireworks of thought for a week, Watts standing guard over the world as it was.
But he slipped into an odd place in Katie's life of wonderings and fancyings, and that life of musing and questioning was so big and so real a life in those days. He was something to shoot things out at, to hang things to. She held imaginary conversations with him, demolished him in imaginary arguments only to stand him up and demolish him again. Sometimes she quite winked with him at the world as it was, and at other times she withdrew to lofty heights and said cutting things. In more friendly mood she asked him questions, sometimes questions he could not answer, and she could not answer them either, and then their thoughts would hover around together, brooding over a world of unanswerable things. All her life she had held those imaginary conversations, but heretofore it had been with her horse, her dog, the trees, a white cloud against the blue, something somewhere. None of the hundreds of nice people she knew had ever moved her to imaginary conversations. And so now it was stimulating—energizing—not to have to diffuse her thought into the unknown, but to direct it at, and through, the man who mended the boats and said strange things to Worth up at the tip of the Island.
And he came at a time when she had great need of him. Never before had there been so many things to start one on imaginary conversations, conversations which ended usually in a limitless wondering. Since Ann had come the simplest thought had a way of opening a door into a vast country.
Too many doors were opening that afternoon. She was making no headway with the letters she had told herself she would dispose of while Ann and Captain Prescott were out on the links.
The letter from Harry Prescott's mother was the most imperative. She was returning from California and sent some inquiries as to the habitability of her son's house.
Katie was thinking, as she re-read it, that it was a letter with a background. It expressed one whom dead days loved well. The writer of the letter seemed to be holding in life all those gentlewomen who had formed her.
In a short time Mrs. Prescott would be at the Arsenal. That meant a more difficult game. Did it also mean an impossible one?
Yet Katie would prefer showing her Ann to Mrs. Prescott than to Zelda Fraser. Zelda, the fashionable young woman, would pounce upon the absence of certain little tricks and get no glimmer of what Katie vaguely called the essence. Might not Mrs. Prescott find the reality in the possibilities? "It comes to this," Katie suddenly saw, "I'm not shamming, I'm revealing. I'm not vulgarly imitating; I'm restoring. The connoisseur should be the first to appreciate that."
It turned her off into one of those long paths of wondering, paths which sometimes seemed to circle the whole of the globe. It was on those paths she frequently found the man who mended the boats waiting for her. Sometimes he was irritating, turning off into little by-paths, by-paths leading off to the dim source of things. Katie could not follow him there; she did not know her way; and often, as to-day, he turned off there just when she was most eager to ask him something. She would ask him what he thought about backgrounds. How much there was in that thing of having the background all prepared for one, in simply fitting into the place one was expected to fit into. How many people would create for themselves the background it was assumed they belonged in just because they had been put in it? Suddenly she laughed. She had a most absurd vision of Jove—Katie believed it would be Jove—standing over humanity with some kind of heroic feather duster and mightily calling "Shoo!—Shoo!—Move on!—Every fellow find his place for himself!"
Such a scampering as there would be! And how many would be let stay in the places where they had been put? Who would get the nice corners it had been taken for granted certain people should have just because they had been fixed up for them in advance? How about the case of Miss Katherine Wayneworth Jones? Would she be ranked out of quarters?
Certain it was that a very choice corner had been fitted up for said Katherine Wayneworth Jones. People said that she belonged in her corner; that no one else could fit it, that she could not as well fit anywhere else. But she was not at all sure that under the feather duster act that would give her the right of possession. People were so stupid. Just because they saw a person sitting in a place they held that was the place for that person to be sitting. Katie almost wished that mighty "Shoo!" would indeed reverberate 'round the world. It would be such fun to see them scamper and squirm. And would there not be the keenest of satisfaction in finding out what sort of place one would fit up for one's self if none had been fitted up for one in advance?
Few people were called upon to prove themselves. Most people judged people as they judged pictures at an exhibition. They went around with a catalogue and when they saw a good name they held that they saw a good picture. And when they did not know the name, even though the picture pleased them, they waited around until they heard someone else saying good things, then they stood before it murmuring, "How lovely."
She had put Ann in the catalogue; she had seen to it that she was properly hung, and she herself had stood before her proclaiming something rare and fine. That meant that Ann was taken for granted. And being taken for granted meant nine-tenths the battle.
It would be fun to fool the catalogue folks. And she need have no compunctions about lowering the standard of art because the picture she had found out in the back room and surreptitiously hung in the night belonged in the gallery a great deal more than some of the pictures which had been solemnly carried in the front way. It was the catalogue folks, rather than the lovers of art, were being imposed upon.
And Mrs. Prescott, though to be sure a maker of catalogues, was also a lover of art. There lay Katie's hope for her, and apology to her.
Though she was apprehensive, a stronger light was to be turned on—that was indisputable. "You and I know, dear Queen," Katie confided to the member of her sex lying at her feet, "that men are not at all difficult. You can get them to swallow most anything—if the girl in the case is beautiful enough. And feminine enough! Masculine dotes on discovering feminine—but have you ever noticed what the rest of the feminine dote on doing to that discovery? Women can even look at wondrous soft brown eyes and lovely tender mouths through those 'Who was your father?' 'specs' they keep so well dusted. The manner of holding a teacup is more important than the heart's deep dreams. When it comes to passing inspection, the soul's not in it with the fork. We know 'em—don't we, old Queen?"
Queen wagged concurrence, and Katie pulled herself sternly back to her letters.
Mrs. Prescott spoke of the chance of her son's being ordered away. "I hope not," she wrote, "for I want the quiet summer for him. And for myself, too. The great trees and the river, and you there, dear Katie, it seems the thing I most desire. But we of the army learn often to relinquish the things we most desire. We, the homeless, for in the abiding sense we are homeless, make homes possible. Think of it with pride sometimes, Katie. Our girls think of it all too little now. I sometimes wonder how they can forego that just pride in their traditions. During this spring in the West my thoughts have many times turned to those other days, days when men like your father and my husband performed the frontier service which made the West of to-day possible. Recently at a dinner I heard a young woman, one of the 'advanced' type, and I am sorry to say of army people, speak laughingly to one of our men of the uselessness of the army. She was worthy nothing but scorn, or I might have spoken of some of the things your mother and I endured in those days of frontier posts. And now we have a California—serene—fruitful—and can speak of the uselessness of the army! Does the absurdity of it never strike them?"
Katie pondered that; wondered if Mrs. Prescott's attitude and spirit were not passing with the frontier. Few of the army girls she knew thought of themselves as homeless, or gave much consideration to that thing of making other homes possible, save, to be sure, the homes they were hoping—and plotting—to make for themselves. And she could not see that the "young woman" was answered. The young woman had not been talking about traditions. Probably the young woman would say that yesterday having made to-day possible it was quite time to be quit of yesterday. "Though to be sure," Katie now answered her, "while we may not seem to be doing anything, we're keeping something from being done, and that perhaps is the greatest service of all. Were it not for us and our dear navy we should be sailed on from East and West, marched on from North and South. At least that's what we're told by our superiors, and are you the kind of young woman to question what you're told by your superiors? Because if you are!—I'd like to meet you."
Her letter continued: "Harry writes glowingly of your charming friend. Strange that I am not able to recall her, though to be sure I knew little of you in those years abroad. Was she a school friend? I presume so. Harry speaks of her as 'the dear sort of girl,' not leaving a clear image in my mind. But soon my vision will be cleared."
"Oh, will it?" mumbled Kate. "I don't know whether it will or not. 'The dear sort of girl!' And I presume the young goose thought he had given a vivid picture."
She turned to Major Darrett's note: a charming note it was to turn to. He had the gift of making himself very real—and correspondingly attractive—in those notes.
A few days before she had been telling Ann about Major Darrett. "He's a bachelor," she had said, "and a joy." Ann had looked vague, and Katie laughed now in seeing that her characterization was broad as "the dear sort of girl."
It was probable Major Darrett would relieve one of the officers at the Arsenal. He touched it lightly. "Should fate—that part of it dwelling in Washington—waft me to your Island, Katie Jones, I foresee a summer to compensate me for all the hard, cruel, lonely years."
Kate smiled knowingly; not that she actually knew much to be knowing about.
She wondered why she did not disapprove of Major Darrett. Certain she was that some of the things which had kept his years from being hard, cruel, and lonely were in the category for disapproval. But he managed them so well; one could not but admire his deftness, and admiration was weakening to disapproval. One disapproved of things which offended one, and in this instance the results of the things one knew one should disapprove were so far from offensive that one let it go at smiling knowingly, mildly disapproving of one's self for not disapproving.
Ann had not responded enthusiastically to Katie's drawing of Major Darrett. She had not seemed to grasp the idea that much was forgiven the very charming; that ordinary standards were not rigidly applied to the extraordinarily fascinating. When Katie was laughingly telling of one of the Major's most interesting flirtations Ann's eyes had seemed to crouch back in that queer way they had. Katie had had an odd sense of Ann's disapproving of her—disapproving of her for her not disapproving of him. More than once Ann had given her that sense of being disapproved of.
As with all things in the universe just then, he was a new angle back to Ann. If he were to come there—? For Major Darrett would not at all disapprove of those eyes of Ann's. And yet his own eyes would see more than Wayne and Harry Prescott had seen. Major Darrett had been little on the frontier, but much in the drawing-room; he had never led up San Juan hill, but he had led many a cotillion. He had had that form of military training which makes society favorites. As to Ann, he would have the feminine "specs" and the masculine delight at one and the same time. What of that union?
Katie's eyes began to dance. She hoped he would come. He would be a foe worthy her steel. She would have to fix up all her fortifications—look well to her ammunition. Whatever might be held against Major Darrett it could not be said he was not worthy one's cleverest fabrications. But the triumph of holding one's own with a veteran!
Then of a sudden she wondered what the man who mended the boats would think of the Major.
Before she had finished her writing Wayne and Worth came up on the porch. The little boy had been over at the shops with his father.
"Father," he was saying, imagination under the stimulus of things he had been seeing, "I suppose our gun will kill 'bout forty thousand million folks—won't it, father?"
"Why no, son, I hope it's not going to be such a beastly gun as that," laughed Captain Jones.
"Yes, but, father, isn't a good gun a gun that kills folks? What's the use making a gun at all if it isn't going to kill folks?"
His father looked at him strangely. "Sonny," he said, "you're hitting home rather hard."
"Your reasoning is poor, Worth," said Katie; "fact is we make guns to keep folks from getting killed. If we didn't have the guns everybody would get killed. Now don't say 'why.'"
"'Cause you don't know why," calmly remarked Worth, adding: "I'll ask Watts, and if he don't know I'll ask the man that mends the boats."
"Do," said Katie.
Having, to his own satisfaction, exterminated some forty thousand million members of the human family, Worth opened attack on the puppies. He was an Indian and they were poor white settlers and he was going to kill them. No poor white settlers had ever received an Indian so joyously.
But he seemed to have left those forty thousand million souls on his father's hands. Wayne was looking very serious. He did not respond to—did not appear to have heard—Katie's remark about Worth needing some new clothes.
Katie wondered what he was thinking about; she supposed some new kind of barrel steel. She took it for granted that nothing short of steel could produce that look.
She was proud of the things that look had done, proud of the distinction her brother had already won in the army, proud, in advance, of the things she was confident he would do.
Captain Jones was at the Arsenal on special detail. An invention of his pertaining to the rifle was being manufactured for tests. There was keen interest in it and its final adoption seemed assured. It was of sufficient importance to make his name one of those conspicuous in army affairs. He had already several lesser things—devices pertaining to equipment—to his credit and was looked upon as one of the most promising of the army's men of invention.
And aside from her pride in him, Katie's affection for her brother was deep, intensified because of their being alone. Their father had died when Katie was sixteen, died as a result of wounds received long before in frontier skirmishes, where he had been one of those many brave men to serve fearlessly and faithfully, men who gave more to their country than their country perhaps understood. Their mother survived him only two years. Katie sometimes said that her mother, too, gave her life to her country. Her health had been undermined by hard living on the frontier—she who had been so tenderly reared in her southern home—and in the end she also died from a wound, that wound dealt the heart in the death of her husband. Katie revered her father's memory and adored her mother's, and while youth and Katie's indomitable spirit made it hard for one to think of her as sad, the memory of those two was the deepest, biggest thing in the girl's life.
"Oh Katie," Wayne suddenly roused himself to say, "your cousin Fred Wayneworth is in town. I had luncheon with him over the river. He sent all sorts of messages to you."
"Well—really! Messages! Why this haughty aloofness? Doesn't he mean to come over?"
"Oh yes, of course; to-morrow—perhaps to-night. He's fearfully busy—stopped off on his way East. There's a row on in the forest service about some of Osborne's timber claims—mining claims, too, I believe—in Colorado. Those years in the West have developed Fred splendidly. He's gone from boy to man, and a fine specimen of man, at that."
"He likes his work?"
"Full of it." Wayne was silent for a moment, then added: "I envied him."
It startled Katie. "Envied him? Why—why, Wayne? Surely you're lucky."
He laughed: not the laugh of a man too pleased with his luck. "Oh, am I? Perhaps I am, but just the same I envy a fellow who can look that way when talking about his work."
"But you have a work, Wayne."
"No, I have a place."
She grew more and more puzzled. "Why, Wayne, you've been all wrapped up in this thing you were doing."
He threw his cigarette away impatiently. "Oh yes, just for the sake of doing it. I get a certain satisfaction in scheming things out. I must say, however, I'd like to scheme out something I'd get some satisfaction in having schemed out. A morsel of truth dropped from the mouth of a babe a minute ago. You may have observed, Katie, that his inquiry was more direct and reasonable than your reply. An improvement on a rifle. Not such a satisfying thing to leave to a rifle eliminating future."
"But I didn't know the army admitted it was to be a rifle eliminating future."
"I'm not saying that the army does," he laughed.
He passed again to that look of almost passionate concentration which Katie had always supposed meant metallic fouling or some—to her—equally incomprehensible thing. He emerged from it to exclaim tensely: "Oh I get so sick of the spirit of the army!"
Instinctively Katie looked around. He saw it, and laughed.
"There you go! We've made a perfect fetich of loyalty. It's a different sort of loyalty those forestry fellows have—a more live, more constructive loyalty. The loyalty that comes, not through form, but through devotion to the work—a common interest in a common cause. Ours is built on dead things. Custom, and the caste—I know no other word—just the bull-headed, asinine, undemocratic caste that custom has built up."
"And yet—there must be discipline," Katie murmured: it seemed dreadful Wayne should be tearing down their house in that rude fashion, house in which they had dwelt so long, and so comfortably.
"Discipline is one thing. Bullying's another. I've never been satisfied discipline couldn't be enforced without snobbery. To-day Solesby—one year out of West Point!—walked through a shop I was in. He passed men working at their machines—skilled mechanics, many of them men of intelligence, ideas, character—as though he were passing so much cattle. I wanted to take him by the neck and throw him out!"
"Oh well," protested Katie, "one year out of the Point! He's yet to learn men are not cattle."
"Well, Leonard never learned it. His back gets some black looks, let me tell you."
"Wayne dear," she laughed, "I'm afraid you're not talking like an officer and a gentleman."
"I get tired talking like an officer and a gentleman. Sometimes I feel like talking like a man."
"But couldn't you be court-martialed for doing that?" she laughed.
"I think Leonard thinks I should be."
"Because I talk to the men. There's a young mechanic who has been detailed to me, and he and I get on famously. All too famously, I take it Leonard thinks. He came in to-day when this young Ferguson was telling me some things about his union. He treated Ferguson like a dog and me like a suspicious character."
"Dear me, Wayne," she murmured, "don't get in trouble."
"Trouble!" he scoffed. "Well if I can get in trouble for talking with an intelligent man I'm working with about the things that man knows—then let me get in trouble! I'd rather talk to Ferguson than Solesby—we've more in common. Oh I'll get in no trouble," he added grimly. "Leonard knows it wouldn't sound well to say it. But he feels it, just the same. Right there's the difference between our service and this forest service. That's where they're democrats and we're fossils. Look at the difference in the spirit of the ranger and the spirit of the soldier! And it's not because they're whipped into line and bullied and snarled at. It's because they're treated like men—and made to feel they're a needed part of a big whole. You should hear Fred tell of the way men meet in this forest service—superintendent meeting ranger on a common ground. And why? Because they're doing something constructive. Because the work's the thing that counts. You'll see what it's done for Fred. The boy has a real dignity; not the stiff-necked kind he'd acquire around an army post, but the dignity that comes with the consciousness of being, not in the service, but of service."
He fell silent there, and Katie watched him. He had never spoken to her that way before—she had not dreamed he felt like that; heretofore it had been only through laughing little jibes at the army she had had any inkling of his feeling toward it. That she had not taken seriously; half the people she knew in the service jibed at it to others in the service. This depth of feeling disturbed her, moved her to defense. After a moment's consideration she emerged triumphant with the Panama canal.
He shook his head. "When you consider the percentage of the army so engaged, you can't feel as happy about it as you'd like to. We ought all to be digging Panama canals!"
"Heavens, Wayne—we don't need them."
"Plenty of things we do need."
"Well I don't think you're fair to the army, Wayne. You're not looking into it—deeply enough. You're doing just as much as Fred, for in safeguarding the country you permit this constructive work to go on. As to our formalities—they have run off into absurdity at some points, but it was a real spirit created those very forms."
"True. And now the spirit's dead and the form's left—and what's so absurd as a form that rattles dead bones?"
"Father didn't feel as you do, Wayne."
"He had no cause to. He was needed. But we don't need the army on the frontier now. That's done. And we do need the forest service—the thing to build up. There's no use harking back to traditions. The world moves on too fast for that. Question is—not what did you do yesterday—but what good are you to-day—what are you worth to-morrow? Oh, I'm not condemning the army half so much as I'm sympathizing with it," he laughed. "It's full of live men who want to be doing something—instead of being compelled to argue that they're some good. They get very tired saying they're useful. They'd like to make it self-evident."
"Well, perhaps we'll have a war with Japan," said Katie consolingly.
"Perhaps we will. Having an army that's spoiling for it, I don't see how we can very well miss it."
"But if we had no army we certainly should have a war."
His silence led Katie to gasp: "Wayne, are you becoming—anti-militarist?"
He laughed. "Oh, I don't know what I'm becoming. But as to myself—I do know this. There would be more satisfaction in constructive work than in work that constructs only that it may be ready to destroy. I would find it more satisfying to help give my country itself—through natural and legitimate means—than stand ready to give it some corner of some other country."
"But to keep the other country from getting a corner of it?"
"Doesn't it occur to you, Katie, that as a matter of fact the other country might like a chance to develop its resources? We're like a crowd of boys with rocks in their hands and all afraid to throw down the rocks. If one did, the others might be immensely relieved. It seems rather absurd, standing there with rocks nobody wants to throw—especially when there are so many other things to be doing—and everybody saying, 'I've got to keep mine because he's got his.' Would you call that a very intelligent gang of kids? Ferguson says it's the workingmen of the world will bring about disarmament. That they're coming to feel their common cause as workers too keenly to be forced into war with each other."
"That's what the man that mends the boats says," piped up Worth. "He says that when they're all socialists there won't be any wars—'cause nobody'll go. But Watts says that day'll never come, thank God."
"Are you thanking God for yourself or for Watts, sonny?" laughed his father. "And who, pray, is the man that mends the boats?"
"The man that mends the boats, father, is a man that's 'most as smart as you are."
"It has been a long time," gravely remarked Wayne, "since any man has been brought to my attention so highly commended as that."
But their talk had been sobering to them both, for they spoke seriously then of various things. It was probable that before long Wayne would be ordered to Washington. He wanted to know what Katie would do then. Why not spend next season in Washington with him? Just what were her plans?
But Katie had no plans. And suddenly she realized how completely all things had been changed by the coming of Ann.
She had spent much of her life in Washington. She loved it; loved its official life, in particular its army and diplomatic life; and loved, too, that rigidly guarded old Washington to which, as her mother's daughter, the door stood open to her. Her uncle, the Bishop, lived in a city close by. His home was the fixed spot which Katie called home. In Washington—and near it—she would find friends on all sides. Just thirty days before she would have gloated over that prospect of next season there.
But she was not prepared to bombard Washington with Ann. The mere suggestion carried realization of how propitious things had been, how simple she had found it.
The little game they were playing seemed to cut Katie off from her life, too, and without leaving the luxury of feeling sorry for herself. With it all, Washington did not greatly allure. Washington, as she knew it, was distinctly things as they were; just now nothing allured half so much as those long dim paths of wondering leading off into the unknown.
Suddenly she had an odd sense of Washington—all that it represented to her—being the play, the game, the thing made to order and seeming very tame to her because she was dwelling with real things. It was as if her craft of make-believe was the thing which had been able to carry her toward the shore of reality.
And so she told Wayne that she had no plans. Perhaps she would go back to Europe with Ann.
He turned quickly at that. "She goes back?"
"Oh yes—I suppose so."
"But why? Where? To whom?"
"Why? Why, why not? Why does one go anywhere? Florence is to Ann what Washington is to me—a sort of center."
"Katie," he asked abruptly, "has she no people? No ties? Isn't she—moored any place?"
"Am I 'moored' any place?" returned Kate.
"Why, yes; to the things that have made you—to the things you're part of. By moored I don't mean necessarily a fixed spot. But I have a feeling—"
He seemed either unable or unwilling to express it, and instead laughed: "I'd like to know how much her father made a month, and whether her mother was a good cook—a few little things like that to make her less a shadow. Do you really get at her, Katie?"
"Why—why, yes," stammered Katie; "though I told you, Wayne, that Ann was different. Quiet—and just now, sad."
"I don't think of her as particularly quiet," he replied; "and sad isn't it, either. I think of her"—he paused and concluded uncertainly—"as a girl in a dream."
"Her dream or your dream, Wayne?" laughed Katie, just to turn it.
She was throwing sticks for the puppies and missed his startled look.
But it was Katie who was startled when he said, still uncertainly, and more to himself than to Katie: "Though she's so real."
Ann and Captain Prescott were coming toward them. She had never looked less like a girl in a dream. Laughing and jesting with her companion, she looked simply like an exceedingly pretty girl having a very good time.
"But you like Ann, don't you, Wayne?" Katie asked anxiously.
"Yes," said Wayne, "I like her."
She came running up the steps to them, flushed, happy, as free from self-consciousness as Worth would have been. "Katie," she cried, "I played the last one in four. Didn't I?" turning proudly to the Captain for endorsement.
Both men were looking at her with pleasure: cheeks flushed, eyes glowing, hair a little disheveled and a little damp about the forehead, panting a little, her lithe, beautiful body swaying gently, hands outstretched to show Wayne how she had hardened her palms, Ann had never seemed so lovely and so live. In that moment it mattered not whether one knew anything about the earning capacity of her father or the culinary abilities of her mother. She was real. Real as sunshine and breezes and birds are real, as Worth and the puppies tumbling over each other on the grass were real, as all that is life-loving is real. And not detached, not mistily floating, but moored to that very love of life, capacity for life, to that look she had awakened in the faces of the men to whom she was talking. It seemed a paltry thing just then to wonder whether Ann was child of farmer, or clothing merchant, or great artist. She was Life's child. Love's child. Love's child—only she had not dwelt all her days in her father's house. But it was her father's house; that was why, once warmed and comforted, she could radiantly take her place. Watching her as she was going over her game for Wayne, demonstrating some of her strokes, and her slim, beautiful body made even the poor strokes wonderful things, Katie was not speculating on whether Ann had come from Chicago, or Florence, or Big Creek. She was thinking that Ann was product, expression, of the love of the world, that love which had brought the laughter and the tears, brought the hope and the radiance and the tragedy of life.
And then, suddenly and inexplicably, Katie was afraid. Of just what, she did not know; of things—big, tempestuous things—which Katie did not very well understand, and which Ann—perhaps not understanding either—seemed to embody. "Come, Ann," she said, "we must make ready for dinner."
Captain Prescott called after them that next he was going to teach Ann to ride. "Oh, we'll make an army girl of her yet," he laughed.
Ann turned back. "Do you know," she said, "I don't understand the army very well. Just what is it the army does?"
They laughed. "Ask the peace society in Boston," suggested Prescott.
But Wayne said: "Some day soon you and I'll take a ride on the river and I'll deliver a little lecture on the army."
"Oh, that will be nice," said Ann radiantly.
It was astonishing how Ann seemed to find herself in just that thing of being able to learn to play golf.
They were gay at dinner that night, and Ann was as gay as any one. She continued to talk about her game, which they jestingly permitted her to do, and the men told some good golf stories which she entered into merrily. It was Katie who was rather quiet. While they still lingered around the table Fred Wayneworth joined them, and Katie, eager to talk with him of his people and his work, left Ann alone with Wayne and Captain Prescott, something which up to that time she had been reluctant to do. But to-night she did not feel Ann clinging to her, calling out to her, as she had felt her before. She seemed on surer ground; it was as if golf had given her a passport. From her place in the garden with her cousin, Ann's laugh came down to them from time to time—just a girl's happy laugh.
"Who is your stunning friend, Katie?" Fred asked. "No, stunning doesn't fit her, but lovely. She is lovely, isn't she?"
"Ann's very pretty," said Kate shortly.
"Oh—pretty," he laughed, "that won't do at all. So many girls are pretty, and I never saw any girl just like her."
Again she was vaguely uneasy, and the uneasiness irritated her, and then she was ashamed of the irritation. Didn't she want poor Ann to have a good time—and feel at home—and be admired? Did she care for her when she was somber and shy, and resent her when happy and confident? She told herself she was glad to hear Ann laughing; and yet each time the happy little laugh stirred that elusive foreboding in the not usually apprehensive soul of Katie Jones.
"I want to tell you about my girl, Katie," her cousin was saying. "I've got the only girl."
He was off into the story of Helen: Helen, who was a clerk in the forest service and "put it all over" any girl he had ever known before, who was worth the whole bunch of girls he had known in the East—girls who had been brought up like doll-babies and had doll-baby brains. Didn't Katie agree that a girl who could make her own way distanced the girls who could do nothing but spend their fathers' money?
In her heart, Katie did; had she been defending Fred to his father, the Bishop, or to his Bostonian mother, she would have grown eloquent for Helen. But listening to Fred, it seemed something was being attacked, and she, unreasonably enough, instead of throwing herself with the aggressor was in the stormed citadel with her aunt and uncle and the girls with the doll-baby brains.
And she had been within the citadel that afternoon when Wayne was attacking the army. She gloried in attacks of her own, but let some one else begin one and she found herself running for cover—and to defense. She wondered if that were anything more meaningful than just natural perversity.
The Bishop had wanted his son for the church; but Fred not taking amicably to the cloth, he had urged the navy. Fred had settled that by failing to pass the examinations for Annapolis. Failing purposely, his father stormily held; a theory supported by the good work he did subsequently at Yale. There he became interested in forestry, again to the disapproval of his parents, who looked upon forestry as an upstart institution, not hallowed by the mellowing traditions of church or navy. Now they would hold that Helen proved it.