And Helen did prove something. Certain it was that from neither church nor navy would Fred have seen his Helen in just this way.
Perhaps it was that democracy Wayne had been talking about. Perhaps this democracy was a thing not contented with any one section of a man's life. Perhaps once it had him—it had its way with him. Katie thought of the last thirty days—of paths leading out from other paths. Once one started—
Fred's father had never started. Bishop Wayneworth was only democratic when delivering addresses on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The democracy of the past was sanctified; the democracy of the present, pernicious and uncouth. Thought of her uncle put Katie on the outside, eyes dancing with the fun of the attack.
"Who are her people, Fred?"
"Oh, Western people—ranchers; best sort of people. They raised the best crop of potatoes in the valley this year."
Katie yearned to commend the family of her daughter-in-law to her Aunt Elizabeth with the boast that they raised the best crop of potatoes in the valley!
"They had hard sledding for a long time; but they're making a go of it now. They've worked—let me tell you. Helen wouldn't have to work now—but don't you say that to Helen! What do you think, Katie? She even wants to keep on working after we're married!"
That planted Katie firmly within. "Oh, she can't do that, Fred."
"Well, I wish you'd tell her she can't. That's where we are now. We stick on that point. I try to assert my manly authority, but manly authority doesn't faze Helen much. She has some kind of theory about the economic independence of woman. You know anything about it, Katie?"
"You forget that I'm one of the doll-baby girls," she replied in a light voice which trailed a little bitterness on behind.
"Not you! Just before I left I said to Helen: 'Well there's at least one relative of mine who will have sense enough to appreciate you, and that's my corking cousin Katie Jones!'"
That lured feminine Kate outside again. "Fred," she asked, moved by her never slumbering impulse to find out about things, "just what is it you care for in Helen? Is she pretty? Funny? Sympathetic? Clever? What?"
She watched his face as he tried to frame it. And watching, she decided that whatever kind of girl Helen was, she was a girl to be envied. Yes, and to be admired.
"Well I fear it doesn't sound sufficiently romantic," he laughed, "but Helen's such a sturdy little wretch. The first things I ever noticed about her was her horse sense. She's good on her job, too. She seems to me like the West. Though that's rather amusing, for she's such a little bit of a thing. She's afraid she'll get fat. But she won't. She's not that kind."
"Why of course not," said Katie stoutly, and they laughed and seemed very near to Helen in thus scorning her fear of getting fat.
He continued his confidences, laughter from the porch coming down to them all the while. Helen was so real—she was so square—so independent—so dauntless—and yet she had such dear little ways. He couldn't make her sound as nice as she was; Katie would have to come and see her. In fact they were counting on Katie's coming. She was to come and stay a long time with them and really get acquainted with the West. "I'll tell you what Helen's like," he summed it up. "She's very much what you would have been if you'd lived out there and had the advantages she has."
Katie stared. No, he was not trying to be funny.
They started toward the house. "Katie," he broke out, "if you have any cousinly love in your heart, and know anything about Walt Whitman, tell me something, so I can go back and spring it on Helen. She's mad over him."
"He was one of the 'advantages' I didn't have," said Katie. "He didn't play a heavy part in the thing I had that passed for an education."
"Isn't it the limit the way they 'do you' at those girls' schools?" agreed Fred sympathetically. "Helen says that in religion and education the more you pay the less you get."
"I should like her," laughed Katie.
But what would her Aunt Elizabeth think of a "sturdy little wretch," believing in the economic independence of woman—whatever that might be—with lots of horse sense, and good on her job!
Katie was on the outside now, and for good. If nothing else, the fun was out there. And there was something else. That light on Fred's face when he was trying to tell about Helen.
Captain Prescott had come down the steps to meet them. "I was just coming for you. Don't you think, Katie, it would be fun to look in on the dance up here at the club house?"
On the alert for shielding Ann, Katie demurred. It was late, and Ann was tired from her golf.
There was an eager little flutter, and Ann had stepped forward. "Oh, I'm not at all tired, Katie," she said.
"Does she look tired?" scoffed Wayne. "She's only tired of being made to play the invalid. Hurry along, Katie. If you girls aren't sufficiently befrocked, frock up at once."
Katie hesitated, annoyed. She felt shorn of the function of her office. And she was dubious. The party was one which the younger set over the river were giving—at the golf club-house on the Island—for the returned college boys. She did not know who might be there—she was always meeting friends of her friends. She felt a trifle injured in thinking that just for the sake of Ann she had avoided the social life those people offered her, and now—
Ann was speaking again, her voice stripped of the happy eagerness. "Just as you say, Katie. It is late, and perhaps I am—too tired."
That moved Katie. That a girl should not be privileged to be insistent about going to a dance—it seemed depriving her of her birthright. And more cruel than taking away a birthright was bringing the consciousness of having no birthright.
Katie entered gayly into the plans. They decided that Ann was to wear the rose-colored muslin—the same gown she had worn that first night. As she was fastening it for her Katie saw that Ann was smiling at herself in the mirror, giving herself little pats of approval here and there.
She had not done that the first time Katie helped her into that dress.
But it was the Ann of the first days who turned strained face to her in the dressing-room at the club-house. All the girlish radiance—girlish vanity—was gone. "Katie," she whispered, "I think I'd better go home. I—I didn't know it would be like this. So many people—so many lights—and things."
Gently Katie reassured her. Ann needing her was the Ann she knew how to care for, and would care for in the face of all the people—all the "lights—and things." "You needn't dance if you don't want to," she told her. "I'll tell Wayne to look out for you, that you're really not able to meet people. If I put him on guard he'll go through fire and water for you."
"Yes—I know that," said Ann, and seemed to take heart.
And for some time she did not dance. From the floor Katie Would get glimpses of Ann and Wayne sauntering on the veranda on which the ball-room opened. More than once she found Ann's eyes following her—Ann out in the shadow, looking in at the gay people in the light.
But with the opening of a lively two-step Captain Prescott insisted Ann dance with him. "Oh come now," he urged. "Life's too short to sit on the side lines. This is a ripping two-step."
The music, too, was urgent—and persuasive. As if without volition she fell into gliding little steps, moving toward the dancing floor.
It was Katie who watched that time. She wanted to see Ann dancing. At first it puzzled her; she was too graceful not to dance well, but she danced as if differently trained, as if unaccustomed to their way of dancing. But as the two-step progressed she fell into the swing of it and seemed no different from the rest of the pretty, happy girls all about her.
She was radiant when she came back to them. Like the golf, the dancing seemed to have given her confidence—and confidence, happiness.
Though she still shrank from meeting people. Katie fell in with a whole troop of college boys who hovered around her, as both college boys and their elders were wont to hover around Katie. She wanted to bring some of them to Ann, but Ann demurred. "Oh no, Katie. I don't want to dance with any strange men, please. Just our own."
Why, Katie wondered, should one not wish to dance with "strange men." It seemed so curious a thing to shrink from. Katie herself had never felt at all strange with "strange men." Nice fellows were nice fellows the world over, and she never felt farther from strange than when dancing with a nice man—strange or otherwise. Even in the swing of her gayety Katie wondered what it was could make one feel like that. And she wondered what Wayne must think of that plaintive little "Just our own" which she was sure he had overheard.
Katie had come out at last to say she thought they should go. Ann must not get too tired.
But just then the orchestra began dreaming out a waltz, one of those waltzes lovers love to remember having danced together. "Now there," said Wayne, "is a nice peaceful waltz. You'll have to wait, Katie," and his arm was about Ann and they had glided away together.
Katie told her cousin she would rather not dance. "Let's stand here and watch," she said.
Couple after couple passed by, not the crowd of the gay two-step of a few moments before. Few were talking; some were gently humming, many dreaming—with a veiled smile for the dream. It was one of those waltzes to find its way back to cherished moments, flood with lovely color the dear things held apart. Fred was saying he wished Helen were there. Katie turned from the vivid picture out to the subtle night—warm summer's night. The dreaming music carried her back to vanished things—other waltzes, other warm summer's nights, to the times when she had been, in her light-hearted fashion, in love, to those various flirtations for which she had more tenderness than regret just for the glimpses they brought. And suddenly the heart of things gone seemed to flow into a great longing for that never known tenderness and wildness of feeling that sobbed in the music. She was being borne out to the heart of the night, and at the heart of the night some one waited for her with arms held out. But as she was swept nearer the some one was the man who mended the boats! With a little catch of her breath for that sorry twist of her consciousness that must make lovely moments ludicrous ones, she turned back to the bright room—crowded, colorful, moving room which seemed set in the vast, soft night.
Her brother was just passing—her brother and her friend Ann Forrest. They did not look out at her. They did not seem to know that Katie was near. She had never seen Ann's face so beautiful. It had that beauty she had all the while seen as possible for it, only more intense, more exalted than she had been able to foresee it. The music stopped on a sob. Every one was still for an instant—then they were applauding for more. Ann was not clapping. Katie had never seen anything as beautiful as that look of rapt loveliness on Ann's face as she stood there waiting. She might have been the very spirit of love waiting in the mists at the heart of the night. As softly the music began again and Wayne once more guided her in and out among those boys and girls—boys and girls for whom life had meant little more than laughing and dancing—Katie had a piercing vision of the girl with her hands over her face stumbling on toward the river.
They were all very quiet on the way home.
That night just as she was falling asleep Katie was startled. It seemed at first she was being awakened by a sharp dart, one of those darts of apprehension seemed shot into her approaching slumber. But it was nothing more than Wayne whistling out on the porch, whistling the dreaming waltz which would bear one to the love waiting at the heart of the night.
But Katie was sleepy now. How did Wayne expect any one to go to sleep, she thought crossly, whistling at that time of night.
But across the hall was another girl who listened. She had not been asleep. She had been lying there looking out into the night, very wide awake. And when she heard the whistling she too sat up in bed, swaying ever so gently to the rhythm of it, inarticulately following it under her breath and smiling a hushed, tender little smile. Something lovely seemed stealing over her. But in the wake of it was something else—something cold, blighting. Before he had finished she had covered her ears with her hands, and was sobbing.
As she looked back afterward upon that span of days, searching them, translating, Katie saw that the day of the golf and the dancing marked the farthest advance.
After that it was as if Ann, frightened at finding herself so far out in the open, shrank back into the shadows. But having gone a little way into the open she was not again the same girl of the shadows. Her response to life seeming thwarted, there came an incipient sullenness in her view of that life which she had reached over the bridge of make-believe.
It did not show itself at once, but afterward it seemed to Katie that the next day marked the beginning of Ann's retreat on the bridge of make-believe.
And she wondered whether the stray dog or the dangerous literature had most to do with that retreat.
Ann was pale and quiet the day after the dance, and it was not merely the languor of the girl who has fatigued herself in having a good time.
At luncheon Katie suddenly demanded: "Wayne, where do you get dangerous literature?"
"I don't know what form of danger you're courting, Katie. I have a valuable work on high explosives, and I have a couple of volumes of De Maupassant."
"Oh I weathered all that kind of danger long ago," said she airily. "I want the kind that is distressing editors of church papers. The man who edits this religious paper uncle sends me is a most unchristian gentleman. He devoted a whole page to talking about dangerous literature and then didn't tell you where to get it. Well, I'll try Walt Whitman. He's very popular in the West, I'm told, and as the West likes danger perhaps he's dangerous enough to begin on."
"And you feel, do you, Katie, that the need of your life just now is for danger?"
"Yes, dear brother. Danger I must have at any cost. What's the good living in a dangerous age if you don't get hold of any of the danger? This unchristian editor says that little do we realize what a dangerous age it is. And he says it's the literature that's making it so. Then find the literature. Only he—beast!—doesn't tell you where to."
Worth there requested the privilege of whispering in his Aunt Kate's ear. The ear being proffered, he poured into it: "I guess the man that mends the boats has got some dangerous literature, Aunt Kate."
"Tell him to endanger Aunt Kate," she whispered back.
"Do you suppose there is any way, Wayne," she began, after a moment of seeming to have a very good time all to herself, "of getting back the money we spent for my so-called education?"
"It would considerably enrich us," grimly observed Wayne.
"When doctors or lawyers don't do things right can't you sue them and get your money back? Why can't you do the same thing with educators? I'm going to enter suit against Miss Sisson. This unchristian editor says modern education is dangerous; but there was no danger in the course at Miss Sisson's. I want my money back."
"That you may invest it in dangerous literature?" laughed Wayne.
After he had gone Ann was standing at the window, looking down toward the river. Suddenly she turned passionately upon Katie. "If you had ever had anything to do with danger—you might not be so anxious to find it."
She was trembling, and seemed close to tears. Katie felt it no time to explain herself.
And when she spoke again the tears were in her voice. "I can't tell you—when I begin to talk about it—" The tears were in her eyes, too, then, and upon her cheeks. "You see—I can't—But, Katie—I want you to be safe. I want you to be safe. You don't know what it means—to be safe."
With that she passed swiftly from her room.
Katie sat brooding over it for some time. "If you've been in danger," she concluded, "you think it beautiful to be 'safe.' But if you've never been anything but 'safe'—" Her smile finished that.
But Katie was more in earnest than her manner of treating herself might indicate. To be safe seemed to mean being shielded from life. She had always been shielded from life. And now she was beginning to feel that that same shielding had kept her from knowledge of life, understanding of it. Katie was disturbingly conscious of a great deal going on around her that she knew nothing about. Ann wished her to be 'safe'; yet it was Ann who had brought a dissatisfaction with that very safety. It was Ann had stirred the vague feeling that perhaps the greatest danger of all was in being too safe.
Katie felt an acute humiliation in the idea that she might be living in a dangerous age and knowing nothing of the danger. She would rather brave it than be ignorant of it. Indeed braving it was just what she was keen for. But she could not brave it until she found it.
She would find it.
But the next afternoon she went over to the city with Ann and found nothing more dangerous than a forlorn little stray dog.
It was evident that he had never belonged to anybody. It was written all over his thin, squirming little yellow body that he was Nobody's dog—written just as plainly as the name of Somebody's dog would be written on a name-plate on a collar.
And it was written in his wistful little watery eyes, told by his unconquerable tail, that with all his dog's heart he yearned to be Somebody's dog.
So he thought he would try Miss Katherine Wayneworth Jones.
She had a number of errands to do, and he followed her from place to place.
She saw him first when she came out from the hair-dresser's. He seemed to have been waiting for her. His heart was too experienced in being broken for him to dance around her with barks of joy, but he stood a little way off and wigglingly tried to ingratiate himself, his eyes looking love, and the longing for love.
Impulsively Katie stooped down to him. "Poor little doggie, does he want a pat?"
He fairly crouched to the sidewalk in his thankfulness for the pat, his tail and eyes saying all they could.
Then she saw that he was following her. "Don't come with me, doggie," she said; "please don't. You must go home. You'll get lost."
But in her heart Katie knew he would not get lost, for to be so unfortunate as to be lost presupposed being so fortunate as to have a home. And she knew that he was of the homeless. But because that was so terrible a thing to face, between him and her she kept up that pretense of a home.
When she came out from the confectioner's he was waiting for her again, a little braver this time, until Katie mildly stamped her foot and told him to "Go back!"
At the third place she expostulated with him. "Please, doggie, you're making me feel so badly. Won't you run along and play?"
The hypocrisy of that left a lump in her throat as she turned from him.
When she found him waiting again she said nothing at all, but began talking to Ann about some flowers in a window across the street.
Ann had seemed to dislike the dog. She would step away when Katie stopped to speak to him and be looking intently at something else, as if trying not to know that there were such things as homeless dogs.
Watts was waiting for them with the station wagon when they had finished their shopping. After they had gone a little way Katie, in the manner of one doing what she was forced to do, turned around.
He was coming after them. He had not yet fallen to the ranks of those human and other living creatures too drugged in wretchedness to make a fight for happiness. Nor was he finding it a sympathetic world in which to fight for happiness. At that very moment a man crossing the street was giving him a kick. He yelped and crouched away for an instant, but his eyes told that the real hurt was in the thought of losing sight of the carriage that held Katie Jones. As he dodged in and out, crouching always before the possible kick, she could read all too clearly how harassed he was with that fear.
They were approaching the bridge. The guard on the bridge would foil that quest. He would not permit a forlorn little yellow dog to seek happiness by following members of an officer's family across the Government bridge. Probably in the name of law and order he would kick him, as the other man had done; the dog's bleared little eyes, eyes through which the love longing must look, would cast one last look after the unattainable, and then, another hope gone, another promise unrealized, he would return miserably back to his loveless world, but always—
"Watts," said Katie sharply, "stop a moment, please. I want to get something."
Ann was sitting very straight, looking with great absorption up the river when Katie got back in the carriage with her dog. Her face was pale, and, it seemed to Katie, hard. She moved as far away from the dog as she could—her mouth set.
He sat just where Katie put him on the floor, trembling, and looking up at her with those asking eyes.
When they were almost home Ann spoke. "You can't take in all the homeless dogs of the world, Katie."
"I don't know that that's any reason for not taking in this one," replied Katie shortly.
"I hate to have you make yourself feel badly," Ann said tremulously.
"Why shouldn't I let myself feel badly?" demanded Katie roughly. "In a world of homeless dogs, why shouldn't I feel badly?"
They made a great deal of fun of Katie's dog. They named him "Pet." Captain Prescott wanted to know if she meant to exhibit him at a bench show and mention various points he was sure would excite attention.
"What I hate, Katie," said Wayne, "is the way he cringes. None of that cringing about Queen."
"And why not?" she demanded hotly. "Because Queen was never kicked. Because Queen was never chased down alleys by boys with rocks and tin cans. Because Queen never asked for a pat and got a cuff. Nor did Queen's mother. Queen hasn't a drop of kicked blood in her. This sorry little dog comes from a long line of the kicked and the cuffed. And then you blame him for cringing. I'm ashamed of you, Wayne!"
He was about to make laughing retort, but Katie's cheeks were so red, her eyes so bright, that he refrained and turned to Ann with: "Katie was always great for taking in all kinds of superfluous things."
"Yes," said Ann, "I know."
"And she always takes her outcasts so very seriously."
"Yes," agreed Ann.
"The trouble is, she can't hope to make them over."
"No," admitted Ann, "she can't do that."
"And then she breaks her heart over their forlorn condition."
"Yes," said Ann.
"These wretched things exist in the world, but Katie only makes her own life wretched in trying to do anything about them. She can't reach far enough to count, so why make herself unhappy?"
"Katie doesn't look at it that way," replied Ann, and turned away.
After the others had gone Katie committed her new dog to Worth. "Honey, will you play with him sometimes? I know he's not as nice to play with as the puppies, but maybe that's because nobody ever did play with him. The things that aren't nice about him aren't his fault, Worthie, so we mustn't be hard on him for them, must we? The reason he's so queer acting is just because he never had anybody to love him."
Worth was so impressed that he not only accepted the dog himself but volunteered to say a good word for him to Watts.
But a little later he brought back word that Watts said the newcomer was an ornery cur—that he was born an ornery cur—that he was meant to be an ornery cur, and never would be anything but an ornery cur.
"Watts is what you might call a conservative," said Katie.
And not being sure how a conservative member of the United States Army would treat a canine child of the alley, Katie went herself to the stable that night to see that the newcomer was fed and made to feel at home.
He did not appear to be feeling at all at home. He was crouching in his comfortable corner just as dejectedly as he would crouch in the most miserable alley his native city afforded.
He came, thankfully but cringingly, out to see Katie. "Doggie," said she, "don't be so apologetic. I don't like the apologetic temperament. You were born into this world. You have a right to live in it. Why don't you assert your right?"
His answer was to look around for the possible tin can.
Watts had approached. "Begging your pardon, Miss Jones, but he's the ungrateful kind. There's no use trying to do anything for that kind. He's deservin' no better than he gets. He snapped at one of our own pups to-night."
"I suppose so," said Kate. "I suppose when you spend your life asking for pats and getting kicks you do get suspicious and learn to snap. It seems too bad that little dogs that want to be loved should have to learn to snarl. You see, Watts, he's had a hard life. He's wandered up and down a world where nobody wanted him. He's spent his days trying now this one, now that. 'Maybe they'll take me,' he thinks; his poor little heart warms at the thought that maybe they will. He opens it up anew every day—opens it for a new wound. And now that he's found somebody to say the kind word he's still expecting the surly one. His life's shut him out from life—even though he wants it. It seems to me rather sad, Watts."
Watts was surveying him dubiously. "That kind is deserving what they get. They couldn't have been no other way. And beggin' your pardon, Miss Jones, but it's not us that's responsible for his life."
"Isn't it?" said Katie. "I wonder."
Watts not responding to the suggestion of the complexity of responsibility, she sought the personal. "As a favor to me, Watts, will you be good to the little dog?"
"As a favor to you, Miss Jones," said Watts, making it clear that for his part—
"Watts," she asked, "how long have you been in the service?"
"'Twill be five years in December, Miss Jones."
"Re-enlistment must mean that you like it."
"I've no complaint to offer, Miss Jones. Of course there are sometimes a few little things—"
"Why did you enter the army, Watts?"
"A man has to make a living some way, Miss Jones."
Katie was thinking that she had not asked for an apology.
"And yet I presume you could make more in some other way. Working in these shops, for instance."
"There's nothin' sure about them," said Watts.
"The army's certain. And I like things to move on decent and orderly like. For one that's willing to recognize his betters, the service is a good place, Miss Jones."
"But I suppose there are some not willing to recognize their betters," ventured Kate.
"There's all too many such," said Watts. "All too many nowadays thinks they're just as good as them that's above them."
"But you never feel that way, so you are contented and like the service, Watts?"
"Yes, Miss. It suits me well enough, Miss Jones. I'm not one to think I can make over the world. There's a fellow workin' up here at the point I sometimes have some conversation with. I was up there to-night at sundown—me and the little boy. Now there's a man, Miss, that don't know his place. He's a trouble-maker. He said to me tonight—"
But as Watts was there joined by a fellow-soldier Katie said: "Thank you for looking out for the poor little dog, Watts," and turned reluctantly to the house.
She would like to have remained; she would like to have talked with the other soldier and found out why he entered the service and what he thought of it. She was possessed of a great desire to ask people questions, find out why they had done what they did and what they thought about things other people were doing. Her mind was sending out little shoots in all directions and those little shoots were begging for food and drink.
She wished she might have a long talk with the "trouble-maker." She would like to talk about dogs who had lived in alleys and dogs that had been reared in kennels, about soldiers who were willing to recognize their betters and soldiers who thought they were as good as some above them. She would like to talk about Watts. Watts was the son of an old English servant. It was in Watts' blood to "recognize his betters." Was that why he could be moved to no sense of responsibility about stray dogs? Was that why he was a good man for the service and had no ambitions as civilian?
And Ann—she would like to talk to the boat-mending trouble-maker about Ann: Why Ann, whom one would expect to find sympathetic with the homeless, should be so hard and so queer about forlorn little stray dogs. Oh the world was just full of things that Katie Jones wanted to talk about that night!
When she reached the house she found that she had just received a package by special messenger. She tore off the outer wrapper and on the inner was written in red ink: "Danger." Murmuring some inane thing about its being her shoes, she ran with the package to her room. For a young woman who had all her life received packages of all kinds she was inordinately excited.
It held three books. One of them was about women who worked. There were pictures of girls working in factories and in different places. One was something about evolution, and one was on socialism. And there was a pamphlet about the United States Army, and another pamphlet about religion.
She looked for a name in the books, but found none. The fly-leaves had been torn out.
She was not sorry; she was just as glad to go on thinking of her trouble-maker as the man who mended the boats. There was something freeing about keeping him impersonal.
But in the book about women she found an envelope addressed: "To one looking for trouble."
This was what was type-written on the single sheet it contained:
"Here are a couple of books warranted to disturb one's peace of mind. They are marked danger as both warning and commendation. It is absolutely guaranteed that one will not be so pleased with the world—and with one's self—after reading them. There is more—both books and danger—where they came from."
It was signed: "One who loves to lead adventurous souls into dangerous paths."
It was two o'clock when Katie turned off her light that night.
Perhaps after all it was neither the dog nor the literature, but the heat. For the heat of that next day was the kind to prey through countries of make-believe. It oppressed every one, but Ann it seemed to excite, as if it stirred memories in their sleep. "Don't fight heat, Ann," Katie finally admonished, puzzled and disturbed by the way Ann kept moving about. "The only way to get ahead of the heat is to give up to it."
"Can you always do what you want to do?" Ann demanded with a touch of petulance. "Isn't there ever something makes you do things you know aren't the things to do?"
"Oh, dear me, yes," laughed Kate. "But you're simply your own worst enemy when you try to get ahead of the heat."
"I don't know how you're going to help being your own worst enemy," Ann murmured.
She picked some leaves from the vines and threw them away, purposelessly; she made the cat get out of a chair and sat down in it herself, only to get up again and pile all the magazines in a different way, not facilitating anything by the change. Then, after walking the length of the veranda, she stood there looking at Katie: Katie in the coolest and coolest-looking of summer dresses, leaning back in a cool-looking chair—adjusting herself to things as they were, poised, victorious in her submission.
Then Ann said a strange thing. "A hot day's just nothing but a hot day to you, is it?"
The words themselves said less than the laugh which followed them—a laugh which carried both envy and resentment, which at once admired and accused, a laugh straight from the girl they were trying to ignore.
And pray what was a hot day to her, Katie wondered. What was a hot day—save a hot day? But as she watched Ann in the next few moments she seemed to be surveying a figure oppressed less by heat than by that to which the heat laid her open. It seemed that the hot day might stand for the friction and the fretting of the world, for things which closed in upon one as heat closed in, bore down as heat bore down. As Ann pushed back the hair from her forehead it seemed she would push back the weight of the years.
It was at that moment that Caroline Osborne, richest and most prominent girl of the vicinity, stepped from her motor car.
Katie had met her a few nights before at the dance. And Wayne knew her father—a man of many interests. It was his quarrel with the forest service that had brought her cousin Fred Wayneworth there. Fred was not one of his admirers.
"Isn't this heat distressing?" was her greeting, though she had succeeded in keeping herself very fresh and sweet looking under the distress.
As Katie turned to introduce the two girls she saw that Ann was pulling at her handkerchief nervously. Was it irritating to have people for whom hot days were but hot days call heat distressing?
"Though one always has a breeze motoring," she took it up. "There are so many ways in which automobiles make life more bearable, don't you find it so, Miss Jones?"
Katie replied, inanely—Ann was still pulling at her handkerchief—that they were indispensable, of course, though personally she was so fond of horses—.
Yes, Miss Osborne loved horses too. Indeed it was army people had taught her to ride; once when she visited at Fort Riley—she had spent a month there with Mrs. Baxter. Katie knew her?
Oh, yes, Katie knew her, and almost all the rest of the army people whom Miss Osborne told of adoring. Of a common world, they were not long strangers. They came together through a whole network of associations. Finally they reached South Carolina and concluded they must be related—something about Katie's grandmother and Miss Osborne's great-aunt—.
Katie, in the midst of her interest turning instinctively to include Ann, was curiously arrested. Ann was sitting a little apart. And there seemed so poignant a significance in her sitting apart. It was an order of things from which she sat apart. The network went too far back, too deep down; it was too intricate for either sympathy or ingenuity to shape it at will.
Though Katie tried. For Katie, enough that she was sitting apart, and consciously. Leaving grandmothers and great-aunts in a sadly unfinished state she was lightly off into a story of something which had once happened to her and Ann in Rome.
But Ann was as an actor refusing to play her part. Perhaps she was too resentfully conscious of its being but a part—of her having no approach save through a part. For the first time she failed in that adaptability which had always made the stories plausible. In the midst of her tale Katie met Ann's eyes, and faltered. They were mocking eyes.
As best she could she turned the conversation to local affairs, for Miss Osborne was looking curiously at Miss Jones' unresponsive friend.
And as Ann for the first time seemed deliberately—yes, maliciously to fail—Katie for the first time felt out of patience, and injured. Perhaps the heat was enervating, but was that sufficient reason for embarrassing one's hostess? Perhaps it did make her think of hard things, but was that any reason for failing in the things that made all this possible? It was not appreciative, it was not kind, it did not show the right spirit, Katie told herself as she listened, with what she was pleased to consider both atoning and rebuking graciousness, to the plans for Miss Osborne's garden party.
"It is for the working girls, especially the lower class of working girls, who are in the factories. For instance, the candy factory girls. I am especially interested in that as father owns the candy factory—it is a pet side issue of his. You can see it from here, across the river there on the little neck of land. You see? The girls are just beginning to come from work now."
The three girls looked across the river, where groups of other girls were quitting a large building. They could be seen but dimly, but even at that distance something in the prevalent droop suggested that they, too, had found the day "distressingly warm."
"I hadn't realized," said Katie, "that making candy was such serious business."
"It couldn't have been very pleasant today," their guest granted, "but I believe it is regarded a very good place to work."
The book Katie had been reading the night before had shown her the value of facts when it came to judging places where women worked, and she was moved to the blunt inquiry: "How much do those girls make?"
"About six dollars a week, I believe," Miss Osborne replied.
Katie watched them: the long dim line of girls engaged in preparation of the sweets of life. She was wondering what she would have thought it worth to go over there and work all day. "Then each of those girls made a dollar today?" she asked, and her inflection was curious.
"Well—no," Miss Osborne confessed. "The experienced and the skillful made a dollar."
"And how much," pressed Katie, "did the least experienced and skillful make?"
"Fifty cents, I believe," replied Miss Osborne, seeming to have less enthusiasm when the scientific method was employed.
There was a jarring sound. The girl "sitting apart" had pushed her chair still farther back. "You call that a good place to work?" She addressed it to Miss Osborne in voice that scraped as the chair had scraped.
"Why yes, as places go, I believe so. Though that is why I am giving the garden party. They do need more pleasure in their lives. It is one of the under-lying principles of life—is it not?—that all must have their pleasures."
Ann laughed recklessly. Miss Osborne looked puzzled; Katie worried.
"And we are organizing this working girl's club. We think we can do a great deal through that."
"Oh yes, help them get higher wages, I suppose?" Katie asked innocently.
"N—o; that would scarcely be possible. But help them to get on better with what they have. Help them learn to manage better."
Again Ann laughed, not only recklessly but rudely. "That is surely a splendid thing," she said, and the voice which said it was high-pitched and unsteady, "helping a girl to 'manage better' on fifty cents a day!"
"You do not approve of these things?" Miss Osborne asked coldly.
And with all the heat Katie felt herself growing suddenly cold as she heard Ann replying: "Oh, if they help you—pass the time, I don't suppose they do any harm."
"You see," Katie hastened, "Miss Forrest and I were once associated with one of those things which wasn't very well conducted. I fear it—prejudiced us."
"Evidently," was Miss Osborne's reply.
"Though to be sure," Kate further propitiated, resentment at having to do so growing with the propitiation, "that is very narrow of us. I am sure your club will be quite different. We may come to the garden party?"
Katie followed her guest to her car. "I am hoping it will be cooler soon," she said. "My friend is here to grow stronger, and this heat is quite unnerving her."
Miss Osborne accepted it with polite, "I trust she will soon be much better. Yes, the heat is trying."
Katie did not return to Ann, but sat at the head of the steps, looking across the river.
She was genuinely offended. She knew nothing more unpardonable than to embarrass one's hostess. She grew hard in contemplation of it. Nothing justified it;—nothing.
A few girls were still coming from the candy factory. Miss Osborne's car had crossed the bridge and was speeding toward her beautiful home up the river—just the home for a garden party. The last group of girls, going along very slowly, had to step back for the machine to rush by.
Katie forgot her own grievance in wondering about those girls who had waited for the Osborne car to pass.
She knew where Miss Osborne was going, where and how she lived; she was wondering where the girls not enjoying the breeze always to be found in motoring were going, what they would do when they got there, and what they thought of the efforts to help them "manage better" on their dollar or less a day.
It made her rise and return to Ann.
Ann, too, was looking across the river at the girls who had given Miss Osborne right of way. Two very red spots burned in Ann's cheeks and her eyes, also, were feverish.
"I suppose I shouldn't have spoken that way to your friend," she began, but less contritely than defiantly.
Katie flushed. She had been prepared to understand and be kind. But she was not equal to being scoffed at, she who had been so embarrassed—and betrayed.
"It was certainly not very good form," she said coolly.
"And of course that's all that matters," said Ann shrilly. "It's just good form that matters—not the truth."
"Oh I don't see that you achieved any great thing for the truth, Ann. Anyhow, rudeness is no less rude when called truth."
"Garden parties!" choked Ann.
"I am not giving the garden party, Ann," said Katie long-sufferingly. "I was doing nothing more than being civil to a guest—against rather heavy odds."
"You were pretending to think it was lovely. But of course that's good form!"
Her perilously bright eyes had so much the look of an animal pushed into a corner that Katie changed. "Come, Ann dear, let's not quarrel with each other just because it has been a disagreeable day, or because Caroline Osborne may have a mistaken idea of doing good—and I a mistaken idea of being pleasant. I promised Worth a little spin on the river before dinner. You'll come? It will be cooling."
"My head aches," said Ann, but the tension of her voice broke on a sob. "If you don't mind—I'll stay here." She looked up at her in a way which remotely suggested the look of that little dog the day before, "Katie, I don't mean you. When I say things like that—I don't mean you. I mean—I suppose I mean—the things back of you. All those things—"
She stopped, but Katie did not speak. "You see," said Ann, "there are two worlds, and you and I are in different ones."
"I don't believe in two worlds," said Katie promptly. "It's not a democratic view of things. It's all one world."
"Your Miss Osborne and the fifty cents a day girls—all one world? I am afraid," laughed Ann tremulously, "that even the 'underlying principles of life' would have a hard time making them one."
Even on the river it was not yet cool. Day had burned itself too deeply upon the earth for approaching night to hold messages for even its favorite messenger. Katie was herself at the steering wheel, and alone with Worth and Queen. She had learned to manage the boat, and much to the disappointment of Watts and the disapproval of Wayne sometimes went about on the river unattended. Katie contended that as a good swimmer and not a bad mechanic she was entitled to freedom in the matter. She held that to be taken about in a boat had no relation to taking a boat and going about in it; that when Watts went her soul stayed home.
Tonight, especially, she would have the boat for what it meant to self; for to Katie, too, the sultry day had become more than sultry day. The thing which pressed upon her seemed less humidity than the consciousness of a world she did not know. It was not the heat which was fretting her so much as that growing sense of limitations in her thought and experience.
She wondered what the man who mended the boats would say about Ann's two worlds.
She suspected that he would agree with Ann, and then proceeded to work herself into a fine passion at his agreeing with Ann against her. "That silly thing of two worlds is fixed up by people who can't get along in the one world," said she. "And that childish idea of one world is clung to by people who don't know the real world," retorted the trouble-maker.
To either side of the river were factories. Katie had never given much thought to factories beyond the thought that they disfigured the landscape. Now she wondered what the people who had spent that hot day in the unsightly buildings thought about the world in general—be it one world or two.
Worth had come up to the front of the boat. The day had weighed upon him too, for he seemed a wistful little boy just then.
She smiled at him lovingly. "What thinking about, Worthie dear?"
"Oh, I wasn't thinking, Aunt Kate," he replied soberly. "I was just wondering."
"You too?" she laughed.
"And what would you say, Worthie," she asked after they had gone a little way in silence, "was the difference between thinking and wondering?"
Worth maturely crossed his knees as a sign of the maturity of the subject. "Well, I don't know, 'cept when you think you know what you're thinking about, and when you wonder you just don't know anything."
"Maybe you wonder when you don't know what to think," Katie suggested.
"Yes, maybe so. There's more to wonder about than there is to think about, don't you think so, Aunt Kate?"
"I wonder," she laughed.
"You do wonder, don't you, Aunt Kate? You wonder more than you think."
She flashed him a keen, queer look.
"Worth," she asked, after another pause in which the mind of twenty-five and the mind of six were wondering in their respective fashions, "do you know anything about the underlying principles of life?"
"The what, Aunt Kate?"
"Underlying principles of life," she repeated grimly.
"Why no," he acknowledged, "I guess I never heard of them."
"I never did either, till just lately. I want to find out something about them. Do you know, Worthie dear, I'd go a long way to find out something about them."
"Where would you have to go, Aunt Kate? Could you go in a boat?"
"No, I fear you couldn't go in a boat. Trouble is," she murmured, more to herself than to him, "I don't know where you would go."
"Don't Papa know 'bout them?"
"I sometimes think he would like to learn."
"Papa knows all there is to know 'bout guns and powders," defended Worth loyally.
"Yes, I know; but I don't believe guns and powders have any power to get you to these underlying principles of life."
"Well, what does get you there?" demanded her companion of the practical sex.
She laughed. "I don't know, dear. I honestly don't know. And I'd like to know. Perhaps some time I will meet some one who is very wise, and then I'll ask whether it is experience, or wisdom, or sympathy. Whether some people are born to get there and other people not, or just how it is."
"Watts says you have more sympathy than wisdom, Aunt Kate."
"You mustn't talk about me to Watts," she admonished spiritedly. Then in the distance she heard a mocking voice insinuatingly inquiring: "But why not, if it's all one world?"
"But he said," Worth added, "that it shouldn't be held against you, 'cause of course you never had half a chance. No, it wasn't Watts said that, either. It was the man that mends the boats. It was Watts said you was a yard wide."
Katie's head had gone up; she was looking straight ahead, cheeks red. "Indeed! So it's the man that mends the boats says these hateful things about me, is it?"
"Why no, Aunt Kate; not hateful things. He says he's sorry for you. Why, he says he don't know anybody more to be pitied than you are."
"Well—really! I must say that of all the insolent —impertinent—insufferable—"
"He says you would have amounted to something if you'd had half a chance. But he's afraid you never will, Aunt Kate."
"I do not wish to hear anything more about him," said Aunt Kate haughtily. "Now, or at any future time."
But it was not five minutes later she asked, with studied indifference: "Pray what does this absurd being look like?"
"What being, Aunt Kate?" innocently inquired the being who was very young.
"Why this sympathetic gentleman!"
"Oh, I don't know. He's just a man. Sometimes he wears boots. He's real nice, Aunt Kate."
"Oh I'm sure he must be charming!"
She turned toward home, more erect, attending to her duties with a dignified sense of responsibility.
The glare of day had gone, but without bringing the cool of night. It made the world seem very worn. Little by little resentment slipped away and she had joined the man who mended the boats in pitying herself. She was disposed to agree with him that she might have amounted to something had she had half a chance. No one else had ever thought of her amounting to anything—amounting, or not amounting. They had merely thought of her as Katie Jones. And certainly no one else had ever pitied her. It made the man who mended the boats seem a wise and tender being. As against the whole world she felt drawn to his large and kindly understanding.
Excitement had suddenly seized Worth. "Aunt Kate—Aunt Kate!" he cried peremptorily, pointing to a cove in one of the islands they were passing, "please land there!"
"Why no, Worth, we can't land. It's too hard. And why should we?"
"Oh Aunt Kate—please! Oh please!"
She was puzzled. "But why, Worthie?"
"Cause I want you to. Don't you love me 't all any more, Aunt Kate?"
That was too much. He was suddenly just a baby who had been made to suffer for her grown-up disturbances. "But, dearie, what will you do when we land?"
"I want to look for something. I've got to get something. I want to show you something. 'Twon't take but a minute."
"What do you want to show me, dear?"
"Why I can't tell you, Aunt Kate. It's a surprise. It's a beautifulest surprise. Something I want to show you just because I love you, Aunt Kate."
Katie's eyes brooded over him. "Dear little chappie, and Aunt Kate's a cross mean old thing, isn't she?"
"Not if she'll stop the boat," said crafty Worth.
She laughed and surveyed the shore. It looked feasible. "I'm very 'easy,' Worth. Just don't get it into your head all the world is as easy as I am."
The little boy and the dog were out before she had made her landing. They were running through the brush. "Worth," she called, "don't go far. Don't go out of sound."
"No," he called back excitedly, "'tain't far."
She was anxious, reproaching herself as absurd and rash, and was just attempting to ground the boat and follow when Queen came bounding back. Then came Worth's voice: "Here 'tis! Here's Aunt Kate—waiting for you!"
Next there emerged from the brush a flushed and triumphant little boy, and after him came a somewhat less flushed and less obviously triumphant man.
Her first emotion was fury at herself. She must be losing her mind not to have suspected!
Then the fury overflowed on Worth and his companion. It reached high-water mark with the stranger's smile.
And there dissolved; or rather, flowed into a savage interest, for the smile enticed her to mark what manner of man he was. And as she looked, the interest shed the savagery.
His sleeves were rolled up; he had no hat, no coat. He had been working with something muddy. A young man, a large man, and strong. The first thing which she saw as distinctive was the way his smile lived on in his eyes after it had died on his lips, as if his thought was smiling at the smile.
Even in that first outraged, panic-stricken moment Katie Jones knew she had never known a man like that.
"Here he is, Aunt Kate!" cried her young nephew, dancing up and down. "This is him!"
It was not a presentation calculated to set Katie at ease. She sought refuge in a frigid: "I beg pardon?"
But that was quite lost on Worth. "Why, Aunt Kate, don't you know him? You said you'd rather see him than anybody now living! Don't you know, Aunt Kate—the man that mends the boats?"
It seemed that in proclaiming their name for him Worth was shamelessly proclaiming it all: her conversations, the intimacy to which she had admitted him, her delight in him—yes, need of him. "But I thought," she murmured, as if in justification, "that you had a long white beard!"
And so she had—at times; then there had been other times when he had no beard at all—but just such a chin.
"I am sorry to be disappointing," the stranger replied—with his voice. With his eyes—it became clear even in that early moment that his eyes were insurgents—he said: "I don't take any stock in that long white beard!" Then, as if fearing his eyes had overstepped: "Perhaps you have visions of the future. A long white beard is a gift the years may bring me."
"You can just ask him anything you want to, Aunt Kate," Worth was brightly assuring her. "I told him you wanted to know about the under life—the under what it is of life. You needn't be 'fraid of him, Aunt Kate; you know he's the man's so sorry for you. He knows all about everything, and will tell you just everything he knows."
"Quite a sweeping commendation," Katie found herself murmuring foolishly—and in the imaginary conversations she had talked so brilliantly! But when one could not be brilliant one could always find cover under dignity. "If you will get in the boat now, Worth," she said, "we will go home."
But Worth, serene in the consciousness of having accomplished his mission, was sending Queen out after sticks and did not appear to have heard.
And suddenly, perhaps because the hot day had come to mean so much more than mere hot day, the feeling of being in a ridiculous position, together with that bristling sense of the need of a protective dignity, fell away. It became one of those rare moments when real things matter more than things which supposedly should matter. She looked at him to find him looking intently at her. He was not at all slipshod as inspector. "Why are you sorry for me?" she asked. "What is there about me to pity?"
He smiled as he surveyed her, considering it. Even people for whom smiling was difficult must have smiled at the idea of pitying Katie Jones—Katie, who looked so much as if the world existed that she might have the world.
But he looked with a different premise and saw a deeper thing. The world might exist for her enjoyment, but it eluded her understanding. And that was beginning to encroach upon the enjoyment.
She seemed to follow, and her divination stirred a singular emotion, possibly a more turbulent emotion than Katie Jones had ever known.
"It's all very well to pity me, but it's not a genuine pity—it's a jeering one. If you're going to pity me, why don't you do it sincerely instead of scoffingly? Is it my fault that I don't know anything about life? What chance did I ever have to know anything real? I wasn't educated. I was 'accomplished.' Oh, of course, if I had been a big person, a person with a real mind—if I had had anything exceptional about me—I would have stepped out. But I'm nothing but the most ordinary sort of girl. I haven't any talents. Nobody—myself included—can see any reason for my being any different from the people I'm associated with. I was brought up in the army. Army life isn't real life. It's army life. To an army man a girl is a girl, and what they mean by a girl has nothing to do with being a thinking being. Then what business has a man like you—I don't know who you are or what you're doing, but I believe you have some ideas about the real things of life—tell me, please—what business have you jeering at me?"
"I have no business jeering at you," he said quickly, simply and strongly.
But Katie had changed. He had a fancy that she would always be changing; that she was not one to rest in outlived emotions, that one mood was always but the making and enriching of another mood, moment ever flowing into moment, taking with it the heart of the moment that had gone. "You are quite right to pity me," she said, and tears surged beneath both eyes and voice. "Whether scoffingly or genuinely—you were quite right. Feeling just enough to feel there is something—but not a big enough feeling to go to that something, knowing just enough to know I'm being cheated, but without either the courage or the knowledge to do anything about it—I'm surely a pitiable and laughable object. Come, Worth," she said sharply, "we're going home."
But Worth had begun upon the construction of a raft, and was not in a home-going mood. Thus encouraged by his young friend the man who mended the boats sat down on a log.
"When did you begin to want to know about the 'underlying principles of life'?" His smile quoted it, though less mockingly than tenderly.
Katie was silent.
"Was it the day she came?" he asked quietly.
She gasped. Was he—a wizard? But looking at him and seeing he looked very much more like a man than like anything else, she met him as man should be met. "The day who came? I don't know what you mean."
"The girl. Was it the day you took her in? Saved her by making her save you?"
She was too startled by that for pretense. She could only stare at him.
"I saw her before you did," he said.
She looked around apprehensively. The man who mended the boats knowing about Ann? Was the whole world losing its mind just because it had been such a hot day?
But the world looking natural enough, she turned back to him. "I don't understand. Tell me, please."
As he summoned it, he changed. She had an impression of all but the central thing falling away, leaving his spirit exposed. And a thought or a vision gripped that spirit, and he tightened under it as a muscle would tighten.
When he turned to her, taking her in, self-consciousness fell away. There was no place for it.
"You want to hear about it?" he asked.
"As a matter of fact, it's nothing, as facts go. Only an impression. Yet an impression that swore to facts. Perhaps you know that she came on the Island from the south bridge?"
Katie shook her head. "I know nothing, save that suddenly she was there."
That held him. "And knowing nothing, you took her in?"
She kept silence, and he looked at her, dwelling upon it. "And you," he said softly, "don't know anything about the 'underlying principles of life'? Perhaps you don't. But if we had more you we'd have no her."
She disclaimed it. "It wasn't that way—an understanding way. I didn't do it because I thought it should be done; because I wanted to—do good. I—oh, I don't know. I did it because I wanted to do it. I did it because I couldn't help doing it."
That called to him. He seemed one for whom ideas were as doors, ever opening into new places. And he did not shut those doors, or turn from them, until he had looked as far as he could see.
"Perhaps," he saw now, "that is the way it must come. Doing it because you can't help doing it. It seems wonderful enough to work the wonder."
"Work what wonder?" Katie asked timidly.
"The wonder of saving the world."
He spoke it quietly, but passion, the passion of the visioner, leaped to his eyes at sound of what he had said.
Katie looked about at so much of the world as her vision afforded: Prosperous factories—beautiful homes—hundreds of other homes less beautiful, but comfortable looking—some other very humble homes which yet looked habitable, the beautifully kept Government island in between the two cities, seeming to stand for something stable and unifying—far away hills and a distant sky line—a steamboat going through the splendid Government bridge, automobiles and carriages and farm wagons passing over that bridge—this man who mended the boats, this young man so live that thoughts of life could change him as a sculptor can change his clay—dear little Worth who was happily building a raft, the beautiful dog lying there drawing restoration from the breath of the water—"But it doesn't look as though it needed 'saving,'" said Katie.
He shook his head. "You're looking at the framework. Her eyes that day brought word from the inside. To one knowing—"
He broke off, looking at her as though seeing her from a new angle.
He thought it aloud. "You've walked sunny paths, haven't you? You never had your soul twisted. Life never tried to wring you out of shape. And yet—oh there's quite a yet," he finished more lightly.
"But you were telling me of Ann," Katie felt she must say.
"Yes, and when I've finished telling you, you'll go back to your sunny paths, won't you? Please don't hurry me. I can tell it better if I think I'm not being hurried."
She smiled openly. "I am in no hurry." There was a sunny rim trying all the while to pierce the somber thing which drew them together. Little rays from the sunny paths would dart daringly in to the dark place from which Ann rose.
It made him wonder how far she of the sunny paths could penetrate an unlighted country. He looked at her—peered at her, fairly—trying to decide. But he could not decide. Katie baffled him on that.
"I wonder," he voiced it, "where it's going to lead you? I wonder if you're prepared to go where it may lead you? Have you thought of that? Perhaps it's going to take you into a country too dark for you of the sunny paths. She may be called back. You know we are called back to countries where we have—established a residence. You might have to go with her to settle a claim, or break a tie, or pull some one else out that she might not be pulled back in. Then what? Perhaps you might feel you needed a guide. If so,"—he went boldly to the edge of it, then halted, and concluded with a boyishly bashful humor—"will you keep my application on file?"
Katie was not going to miss her chance of finding out something. "I should want a guide who knew the territory," she said.
"I qualify," he replied shortly, with a short, unmirthful laugh. "That is one advantage of not having spent one's days on sunny paths." His voice on that was neither bashful nor boyish.
"But you must have spent some of them on sunny paths," she urged, with more feeling than she would have been able to account for. "You don't look," Katie added almost shyly, "as if you had grown in the dark."
He did not reply. He looked so much older when sternness set his face, leaving no hint of that teasing gleam in his eyes, that pleasing little humorous twist of his mouth.
Gently her voice went into the dark country claiming him then. "But you were telling me of my friend."
It brought him out, wondering anew. "Your friend! There you go again! How can you expect me to stick to a subject when paths open out on all sides of you like that? But I'll try to quit straying. It happened that on that day, just at that time, I was going under the south bridge. I chanced to look up. A face was bending down. Her face. Our eyes met—square. I got it—flung to me in that one look. What the world had done to her—what she thought of it for doing it—what she meant to do about it.
"I wish," he went on, with a slow, heavy calm, "that the 'good' men and women of the world—those 'good' men and women who eat good dinners and sleep in good beds—some of the 'God's in heaven all's well with the world' people—could have that look wake them up in the middle of the night. I'd like to think of them turning to the wall and trying to shut it out—and the harder they tried the nearer and clearer it grew. I'd like to think of them sitting up in bed praying God—the God of 'good' folks—to please make it stop. I'd like to have it haunt them—dog them—finally pierce their brains or souls or whatever it is they have, and begin to burrow. I'd like to have it right there on the job every time they mentioned the goodness of God or the justice of man, till finally they threw up their hands in crazed despair with, 'For God's sake, what do you want me to do about it!'"
He had scarcely raised his voice. He was smiling at her. It was the smile led her to gasp: "Why I believe you hate us!"
"Why I really believe I do," he replied quietly, still smiling.
Suddenly she flared. "That's not the thing! You're not going to set the world right by hating the world. You're not going to make it right for some people by hating other people. What good thing can come of hate?"
"The greatest things have come of hate. Of a divine hate that transcends love."
"Why no they haven't! The greatest things have come of love. What the world needs is more love. You can't bring love by hating."
He seemed about to make heated reply, but smiled, or rather his smile became really a smile as he said: "What a lot of things you and I would find to talk about."
"We must—" Katie began impetuously, but halted and flushed. "We must go on with our story," was what it came to.
"I haven't any story, except just the story of that look. Though it holds the story of love and hate and a hundred other things you and I would disagree about. And I don't know that I can convey to you—you of the sunny paths—what the look conveyed to me. But imagine a crowd, a crazed crowd, all pushing to the center, and then in the center a face thrown back so you can see it for just an instant before it sinks to suffocation. If you can fancy that look—the last gasp for breath of one caught—squeezed—just going down—a hatred of the crowd that got her there, just to suffocate her—and perhaps one last wild look at the hills out beyond the crowd. If you can get that—that fear, suffocation, terror—and don't forget the hate—yet like the dog you've kicked that grieved—'How could you—when it was a pat I wanted!'—"
"I know it in the dog language," said Katie quiveringly.
"Then imagine the dog crazed with thirst tied just out of reach of a leaping, dancing brook—"
"Oh—please. That's too plain."
"It hurts when applied to dogs, does it?" he asked roughly.
"But they're so helpless—and they love us so!"
"And they're so helpless—and they hate because they weren't let love."
"But surely there aren't many—such looks. Not many who feel they're—going down. Why such things couldn't be—in this beautiful world."
"Such," he said smilingly, "has ever been the philosophy of sunny paths."
"You needn't talk to me like that!" she retorted angrily. "I guess I saw the look as well as you did—and did a little more to banish it than you did, too."
"True. I was just coming to that thing of my not having done anything. Perhaps it was a case of fools rushing in where angels feared to tread. You mustn't mind being called a fool in any sentence so preposterous as to call me an angel. You see one who had never been in the crowd would say—'Why don't you get out?' It would be droll, wouldn't it, to have some one on a far hill call—'But why don't you come over here?' Don't you see how that must appeal to the sense of humor of the one about to go down?"
She made no reply. The thing that hurt her was that he seemed to enjoy hurting her.
"You see I've been in the crowd," he said more simply and less bitterly. "I don't suppose men who have been most burned to death ever say—'The fire can't hurt you.'"
"And do they never try to rescue others from fires?" asked Katie scornfully. "Do they let them burn—just because they know fire for a dangerous thing?"
"Rescue them for what? More fires? It's a question whether it's very sane, or so very humane, either, to rescue a man from one fire just to have him on hand for another."
"I don't think I ever in my life heard anything more farfetched," pronounced Katie. "How do you know there'll be another?"
"Because there are people for whom there's nothing else. If you can't offer a safe place, why rescue at all? Though it's true," he laughed, "that I hadn't the courage of my convictions in the matter. After that look—oh I haven't been able to make it live—burn—as it did—she passed on the Island, the guard evidently thinking she was with some people who had just got out of an automobile and gone on for a walk. And suddenly I was corrupted, driven by that impulse for saving life, that beautiful passion for keeping things alive to suffer which is so humorously grounded in the human race."
He stopped with a little laugh. Watching him, Katie was thinking one need have small fear of his not always being "corrupted." There was a light in his eyes spoke for "corruption."
"I saw her making straight across the Island," he went back to his story. "I knew. And I knew that on the other side she might find things very conveniently arranged for her purpose. I turned the boat and went at its best speed around the head of the Island. Hugged the shore on your side. Pulled into a little cove. Waited."
He looked at Katie, comparing her with an a priori idea of her. "I saw you sitting up there in the sun—on the bunker. Just having received the last will and testament, as it were, of this other human soul, can't you fancy how I hated you—sitting there so serenely in the sun?"
"But why hate me?" she demanded passionately. "That's where you're small and unjust! I don't make the crazed crowds, do I?"
"Yes; that's just what you do. There'd be no crowds if it weren't for you. You take up too much room."
"I don't see why you want to—hurt me like that," she said unevenly. "Don't you want me to enjoy my place any more? Will it do any good for me to get in the crowd? What can I do about it?"
Looking into her passionately earnest face it was perhaps the gulf between the girl and his a priori idea of her brought the smile—a smile no kin to that hard smile of his. And looking with a different slant across the gulf there was a sort of affectionate roguery in his eyes as he asked: "Do you want to know what I honestly think about you?"
"I think you're in for it!"
"In for what?"
"I don't think you've the ghost of a chance to escape!" he gloated.
"Seeing. And when you do—!" He laughed—that laugh one thinks of as the exclusive possession of an affectionate understanding. And when it died to a smile, something tenderly teasing flickered in that smile.
She flushed under it. "You were telling me—we keep stopping."
"Yes, don't we? I wonder if we always would."
"We keep stopping to quarrel."
"Yes—to quarrel. I wonder if we always would."
"I haven't a doubt of it in the world," said Katie feelingly, and they laughed together as friends laugh together.
"Well, where did I leave myself? Oh yes—waiting. Sitting there busily engaged in hating you. Then she came across the grass—making straight for the river—running. I saw that you saw, and the thing that mattered to me then was what you would do about it. Saved or not saved, she was gone—I thought. The crowd had squeezed it all out of her. The live thing to me was what you—the You of the world that you became to me—would do about her."
He paused, smiling at that absurd and noble vision of Katie tumbling down the bunker. "And when you did what you did do—it was so treacherously disarming, the quick-witted humanity, the clever tenderness of it—I loved you so for it that I just couldn't go on hating. There's where you're a dangerous person. How dare you—standing for the You of the world—dampen the splendid ardor of my hate?"
Katie did not let pass her chance. "Perhaps if the Me of the world were known a little more intimately it would be less hated."
He shook his head. "They just happened to have you. They can't keep you."
There was another one of those pauses which drew them so much closer than the words. She knew what he was wondering, and he knew that she knew. At length she colored a little and called him back to the greater reserve of words.
"I saw how royally you put it through. I could see you standing there on the porch, looking back to the river. I've wanted several things rather badly in my life, but I doubt if I've ever wanted anything much worse than to know what you were saying. And then with my own two eyes I saw the miracle: Saw her—the girl who had just had all the concentrated passion of the Her of the world—turn and follow you into the house. It was a blow to me! Oh 'twas an awful blow."
"Why a blow?"
"In the first place that you should want to, and then that you should be able to. My philosophy gives you of the sunny paths no such desire nor power."
"Showing," she deduced quickly and firmly, "that your philosophy is all wrong."
"Oh no; showing that the much toasted Miss Katherine Jones is too big for mere sunny paths. Showing that she has a latent ambition to climb a mountain in a storm."
Fleetingly she wondered how he should know her for the much toasted Miss Katherine Jones, but in the center of her consciousness rose that alluring picture of climbing a mountain in a storm.
"Tell me how you did it."
"Why—I don't know. I had no method. I told her I needed her."
"And afterwards, in a different way, I told her that again. And I did. I do."
"Why do you need her? How do you need her?" he urged gently.
She hesitated. Her mouth—her splendid mouth shaped by stern or tender thinking to lines of exquisite fineness or firmness—trembled slightly, and the eyes which turned seriously upon him were wistful. "Perhaps," said Katie, "that even on sunny paths one guesses that there are such things as storms in the mountains."
It was only his eyes which answered, but the fullness of the response ushered them into a silence in which they rested together understandingly.
"I sat there watching the house," he went back to it after the moment. "I was sure the girl would come out again. 'She'll bungle it,' I said to myself. 'She'll never be able to put it through.' But time passed—and she did not come out!"—inconsistently enough that came with a ring of triumph. "And then the next day—after the wonder had grown and grown—I saw her driving with you. I was just off the head of the Island. She was turned toward me, looking up the river. Again I saw her eyes, and in them that time I read you. And I don't believe," he concluded with a little laugh, "that my stock of hate can ever be quite so secure again."
They talked on, not conscious that it was growing late. Time and place, and the conventions of time and place, seemed outside. She let him in quite freely: to that edge of fun and excitement as well as to the strange and somber places. It was fun sharing fun with him; and something in his way of receiving it suggested that he had been in need of sharing some one's fun. He had a way of looking at her when she laughed that had vague suggestion of something not far from gratitude.
But the fun light, and that other light which seemed wanting to thank her for something, went from his eyes, leaving a glimmer of something deeper as he asked: "But you've never asked for her story? You've demanded nothing?"
"Why no," said Katie; "only that I should be proud if she ever felt I could help."
He turned his face a little away. One looking into it then would not have given much for his stock of hate.
Worth had approached. "Ain't you getting awful hungry, Aunt Kate?"
It recalled her, and to embarrassment. "We must go at once," she said, confused.
"Did you find out all you wanted to know from him, Aunt Kate?" he asked, getting in the boat.
She transcended her embarrassment. "No, Worth. Only that there is a very great deal I would like to know."
He was standing ready to push her boat away. She did not give the word. As she looked at him she had a fancy that she was leaving him in a lonely place—she who was going back to what he called the sunny paths. And not only did she feel that he was lonely, but she felt curiously lonely herself, sitting there waiting to tell him to push her away. She wanted to say, "Come and see me," but she was too bound by the things to which she was returning to put it in the language of those things. And so she said, and the new shyness brought its own sweetness:
"You tell me to come to you if I need a guide. Thank you for that. I shall remember. And perhaps sunshine is a thing that soaks in and can be stored up, and given out again. If it ever seems I can be of any use—in any way—will you come where you know you can find me?"
Her eyes fell before the things which had leaped to his.
Two hours later she found herself alone on the porch with Captain Prescott.
A good deal had happened in the meantime.
Mrs. Prescott had arrived during Katie's absence, a stop-over of two weeks having been shortened to two hours because of the illness of her friend. Her room at her son's quarters being uninhabitable because of fresh paint, Wayne had insisted she come to them, and she was even then resting up in Ann's room, or rather the room which had been put at her disposal, a bed having been arranged for Ann in Katie's room. Had Katie been at home she would have planned it some other way, for above all things she did not want it to occur to Ann that she was in the way. But Katie had been very busy talking to the man who mended the boats, and naturally it would not occur to Wayne that Ann would be at all sensitive about giving up her room for a few days to accommodate a dear old friend of theirs. And perhaps she was not sensitive about it, only this was no time, Katie felt, to make Ann feel she was crowding any one.
And in Katie's absence "Pet" had been shot. Pet had not seemed to realize that alley methods of defense were not in good repute in the army. He could not believe that Pourquoi and N'est-ce-pas had no guile in their hearts when they pawed at him. Furthermore, he seemed to have a prejudice against enlisted men and showed his teeth at several of them. Katie began to explain that that was because—but Wayne had curtly cut her short with saying that he didn't care why it was, the fact that it was had made it impossible to have the dog around. If one of the men had been bitten by the contemptible cur Katie couldn't cauterize the wound with the story of the dog's hard life.
The only bright spot she could find in it was that probably Watts had taken a great deal of pleasure in executing Wayne's orders—and Caroline Osborne said that all needed pleasure.
She saw that Ann's hands were clenched, and so had not pursued the discussion.
Katie was not in high favor with her brother that night. He said it was outrageous she should not have been there to receive Mrs. Prescott. When Katie demurred that she would have been less outrageous had she had the slightest notion Mrs. Prescott would be there to be received, it developed that Wayne was further irritated because he had come to take Ann out for a boat ride—and Katie had gone in the boat—heaven only knew where! Then when Katie sought to demolish that irritation with the suggestion that just then was the most beautiful time of day for the river—and she knew it would do Ann good to go—Wayne clung manfully to his grievance, this time labeling it worry. He forbade Katie's going any more by herself. It was preposterous she should have stayed so long. He would have been out looking for her had it not been that Watts had been able to get a glimpse of the boat pulled in on the upper island.
Katie wondered what else Watts had been able to get a glimpse of.
Wayne was so bent on being abused (hot days affected people differently) that the only way she could get him to relinquish a grievance for a pleasure was to put it in the form of a duty. Ann needed a ride on the river, Katie affirmed, and so they had gone, Wayne doing his best to cover his pleasure.
"Men never really grow up," she mused to Wayne's back. "Every so often they have to act just like little boys. Only little boys aren't half so apt to do it."
Though perhaps Wayne had been downright disappointed at not having the boat for Ann when he came home. Was he meaning to deliver that lecture on the army? She hoped that whatever he talked about it would bring Ann home without that strained, harassed look.
And now Katie was talking to Captain Prescott and thinking of the man who mended the boats. Captain Prescott was a good one to be talking to when one wished to be thinking of some one else. He called one to no dim, receding distances.
She was thinking that in everything save the things which counted most he was not unlike this other man—name unknown. Both were well-built, young, vigorous, attractive. But life had dealt differently with them, and they were dealing differently with life. That made a difference big as life itself.
From the far country in which she was dreaming she heard Captain Prescott talking about girls. He was talking sentimentally, but even his sentiment opened no vistas.
And suddenly she remembered how she had at one time thought it possible she would marry him. The remembrance appalled her; less in the idea of marrying him than in the consciousness of how far she had gone from the place where marrying him suggested itself to her at all.
Life had become different. This showed her how vastly different.
But as he talked on she began to feel that it had not become as different to him as to her. He had not been making little excursions up and down unknown paths. He had remained right in his place. That place seemed to him the place for Katie Jones.
As he talked on—about what he called Life—sublimely unconscious of the fences all around him shutting out all view of what was really life—it became unmistakable that Captain Prescott was getting ready to propose to her. She had had too much experience with the symptoms not to recognize them.
Katie did not want to be proposed to. She was in no mood for dealing with a proposal. She had too many other things to be thinking of, wondering about.
But she reprimanded herself for selfishness. It meant something to him, whether it did to her or not. She must be kind—as kind as she could.
The kindest thing she could think of was to keep him from proposing. To that end she answered every sentimental remark with a flippant one.
It grieved, but did not restrain him. "I had thought you would understand better, Katie," he said.
Something in his voice made her question the kindness of her method. Better decline a love than laugh at it.
He talked on of how he had, at various times, cared—in a way, he said—for various girls, but had never found the thing he knew was fated to mean the real thing to him; Katie had heard it all before, and always told with that same freedom from suspicion of its ever having been said before. But perhaps it was the very fact that it was familiar made her listen with a certain tenderness. For she seemed to be listening, less to him than to the voice of by-gone days—all those merry, unthinking days which in truth had dealt very kindly and generously with her.
She had a sense of leaving them behind. That alone was enough to make her feel tenderly toward them. Even a place within a high-board fence, intolerable if one thought one were to remain in it, became a kindly and a pleasant spot from the top of the fence. Once free to turn one's face to the wide sweep without, one was quite ready to cast loving looks back at the enclosure.
And so she softened, prepared to deal tenderly with Captain Prescott, as he seemed then, less the individual than the incarnation of outlived days.
It was into that mellowed, sweetly melancholy mood he sent the following:
"And so, Katie, I wanted to talk to you about it. You're such a good pal—such a bully sort—I wanted to tell you that I care for Ann—and want to marry her."