She dropped from the high-board fence with a jolt that well-nigh knocked her senseless.
"I suppose," he said, "that you must have suspected."
"Well, not exactly suspected," said Katie, feeling her bumps, as it were.
Her first emotion was that it was pretty shabby treatment to accord one who was at such pains to be kind. It gave one a distinctly injured feeling—getting all sweet and mellow only to be dashed to the ground and let lie there in that foolish looking—certainly foolish feeling heap!
But as soon as she had picked herself up—and Katie was too gamey to be long in picking herself up—she wondered what under heaven she was going to do about things! What had she let herself in for now! The pains of an injured dignity—throb of a pricked self love—were forgotten in this real problem, confronting her. She even grew too grave to think about how funny it was.
For Katie saw this as genuinely serious.
"Harry," she asked, "have you said anything to your mother?"
"Well, not said anything," he laughed.
"But she knows?"
"Mother's keen," he replied.
"I once thought I was," was Katie's unspoken comment.
"And have you—you are so good as to confide in me, so I presume to ask questions—have you said anything to Ann?"
"No, not said anything," he laughed again.
"But she knows?"
"I don't know. I wondered if you did."
"No," said Katie, "I don't. Truth is I've been so wrapped up in my own affairs—some things I've had on my mind—that I haven't been thinking about people around me falling in love."
"People are always falling in love," he remarked sentimentally. "One should always be prepared for that."
"So it seems," replied Katie. "And yet one is not always—entirely prepared."
She had picked herself up from her fall, but she was not yet able to walk very well. Fortunately he was too absorbed in his own happy striding to mark her hobbling.
A young man talking of his love does not need a brilliant conversationalist for companion.
And he was a young man in love—that grew plain. Had Katie ever seen such eyes? And as for the mouth—though perhaps most remarkable of all was the voice. Just what did it make Katie think of? He enumerated various things it made him think of, only to express his dissatisfaction with them all as inadequate. Had Katie ever seen any one so beautiful? And with such an adorable shy little way? Had Katie ever heard her say anything about him? Did she think he had any chance? Was there any other fellow? Of course there must have been lots of other fellows in love with her—a girl like that—but had she cared for any of them? Would Katie tell him something about her? She had been reserved about herself—the kind of reserve a fellow wouldn't try to break through. Would Katie tell him of her life and her people? Not that it made any difference with him—oh, he wanted just her. But his mother would want to know—Katie knew how mothers were about things like that. And he did want his mother to like her. Surely she would. How could she help it?
She wondered if Ann knew him for a young man in love. Katie's heart hardened against Ann at the possibility. That would not be playing a fair game. Ann was not in position to let Katie's friends fall in love with her. Katie had not counted on that.
"Have you any reason," she asked, "to think Ann cares for you?"
He laughed happily. "N—o; only I don't think it displeases her to have me say nice things to her." And again he laughed.
Then Ann had encouraged him. A girl had no business to encourage a man to say nice things to her when she knew nothing could come of it.
But Katie's memory there nudged Katie's primness; memory of all the men who had been encouraged to say nice things to Katie Jones, even when it was not desirable—or perhaps even possible—that anything could "come of it."
But of course that was different. Ann was in no position to permit nice things being said to her.
"Katie," he was asking, "where did you first meet her? How did you come to know her? Can't you tell me all about it?"
There came a mad impulse to do so. To say: "I first met her right down there at the edge of the water. She was about to commit suicide. I don't know why. I think she was one of those 'Don't You Care' girls you admired in 'Daisey-Maisey.' But I'm not sure of even that. I didn't want her to kill herself, so I took her in and pretended she was a friend of mine. I made the whole thing up. I even made up her name. She said her name was Verna Woods, but I think that's a made-up name, too. I haven't the glimmering of an idea what her real name is, who her people are, where she came from, or why she wanted to kill herself."
First, bitter reproaches for Katie. She would be painted as having violated all the canons.
For the first time, watching her friend's face softened by his dreams, seeing him as his mother's son, she questioned her right to violate them. She did not know why she had not thought more about it before. It had seemed such a joke on the people in the enclosure. But it was not going to be a joke to hurt them. Was that what came of violating the canons? Was the hurt to one's friends the punishment one got for it?
"You can't cauterize the wounds with the story of the dog's hard life," Wayne had said of poor little unpetted—and because unpetted, unpettable—Pet.
Was Watts the real philosopher when he said "things was as they was"?
She was bewildered. She was in a country where she could not find her way. She needed a guide. Her throat grew tight, her eyes hot, at thought of how badly she needed her guide.
Then, perhaps in self-defense, she saw her friend Captain Prescott, not as a victim of the violation of canons, but as a violator of them himself. She turned from Ann's past to his.
"Harry," she asked, in rather metallic voice, "how about that affair of yours down in Cuba?"
He flushed with surprise and resentment. "I must say, Katie," he said stiffly, "I don't see what it has to do with this."
"Why, I should think it might have something to do with it. Isn't there a popular notion that our pasts have something to do with our futures?"
"It's all over," he said shortly.
"Then you would say, Harry, that when things are over they're over. That they needn't tie up the future."
"Certainly not," said he, making it clear that he wanted that phase of the conversation "over."
"It's my own theory," said Katie. "But I didn't know whether or not it was yours. Now if I had had a past, and it was, as you say yours is, all over, I shouldn't think it was any man's business to go poking around in it."
"That," he said, "is a different matter."
"What's a different matter?" she asked aggressively.
"A woman's past. That would be a man's business."
"Though a man's past is not a woman's business?"
"Oh, we certainly needn't argue that old nonsense. You're too much the girl of the world to take any such absurd position, Katie."
"Of course, being what you call a 'girl of the world' it's absurd I should question the man's point of view, but I can't quite get the logic of it. You wouldn't marry a woman with a past, and yet the woman who marries you is marrying a man with one."
"I've lived a man's life," he said. And he said it with a certain pride.
"And perhaps she's lived a woman's life," Katie was thinking. Only the woman was not entitled to the pride. For her it led toward self-destruction rather than self-approval.
"It's this way, Katie," he explained to her. "This is the difference. A woman's past doesn't stay in the past. It marks her. Why I can tell a woman with a past every time," he concluded confidently.
Katie sat there smiling at him. The smile puzzled him.
"Now look here, Katie, surely you—a girl of the world—the good sort—aren't going to be so melodramatic as to dig up a 'past' for me, are you?"
"No," said Katie, "I don't want to be melodramatic. I'll try to dig up no pasts."
His talk ran on, and her thoughts. It seemed so cruel a thing that Ann's past—whatever it might be, and surely nothing short of a "past" could make a girl want to kill herself—should rise up and damn her now. To him she was a dear lovely girl—the sort of a girl a man would want to marry. Very well then, intrinsically, she was that. Why not let people be what they were? Why not let them be themselves, instead of what one thought they would be from what one knew of their lives? It was so easy to see marks when one knew of things which one's philosophy held would leave marks. It seemed a fairer and a saner thing to let human beings be what their experiences had actually made them rather than what one thought those experiences would make them.
Captain Prescott had blighted a Cuban woman's life—for his own pleasure and vanity. With Ann it may have been the press of necessity, or it may have been—the call of life. Either one, being driven by life, or drawn to it, seemed less ignominious than trifling with life.
Why would it be so much worse for Captain Prescott to marry Ann than it would be for Ann to marry Captain Prescott?
The man who mended the boats would back her up in that!
Through her somber perplexity there suddenly darted the sportive idea of getting Ann in the army! The audacious little imp of an idea peeped around corners in Katie's consciousness and tried to coquet with her. Banished, it came scampering back to whisper that Ann would not bring the army its first "past"—either masculine or feminine. Only in the army they managed things in such wise that there was no need of committing suicide. Ann had been a bad manager.
But at that moment they were joined by Captain Prescott's mother and he retired for a solitary smoke.
Mrs. Prescott made vivid and compelling those days, those things, which Katie had a little while before had the fancy of so easily slipping away from. She made them things which wove themselves around one, or rather, things of which one seemed an organic part, from which one could no more pull away than the tree's branch could pull away from the tree's trunk.
In her presence Katie was claimed by those things out of which she had grown, claimed so subtly that it seemed a thing outside volition. Mrs. Prescott did not, in any form, say things were as they were; it was only that she breathed it.
How could one combat with words, or in action, that rooted so much deeper than mere words or action?
She was a slight and simple looking lady to be doing anything so large as stemming the tide of a revolutionary impulse. She had never lost the girlishness of her figure—or of her hands. So much had youth left her. Her face was thin and pale, and of the contour vaguely called aristocratic. It was perhaps the iron gray hair rolling back from the pale face held the suggestion of austerity. But that which best expressed her was the poise of her head. She carried it as if she had a right to carry it that way.
It was of small things she talked: the people she had met, people they knew whom Katie knew. It was that net-work of small things she wove around Katie. One might meet a large thing in a large way. But that subtle tissue of the little things!
They talked of Katie's mother, and as they talked it came to Katie that perhaps the most live things of all might be the dead things. Katie's mother had not been unlike Mrs. Prescott, save that to Katie, at least, she seemed softer and sweeter. They had been girls together in Charleston. They had lived on the same street, gone to the same school, come out at the same party, and Katie's mother had met Katie's father when he came to be best man at Mrs. Prescott's wedding. Then they had been stationed together at a frontier post in a time of danger. Wayne had been born at that post. They had been together in times of birth and times of death.
Mrs. Prescott spoke of Worth, and of how happy she knew Katie was to have him with her. She talked of the responsibility it brought Katie, and as they talked it did seem responsibility, and responsibility was another thing which stole subtly up around her, chaining her with intangible—and because intangible, unbreakable—chains.
Mrs. Prescott wanted to know about Wayne. Was he happy, or had the unhappiness of his marriage gone too deep? "Your dear mother grieved so about it, Katie," she said. "She saw how it was going. It hurt her."
"Yes," said Katie, "I know. It made mother very sad."
"I am glad that her death came before the separation."
"Oh, I don't know," said Katie; "I think mother would have been glad."
"She did not believe in divorce; your mother and I, Katie, were the old-fashioned kind of churchwomen."
"Neither did mother believe in unhappiness," said Katie, and drew a longer breath for saying it, for it was as if the things claiming her had crowded up around her throat.
Mrs. Prescott sighed. "We cannot understand those things. It is a strange age in which we are living, Katie. I sometimes think that our only hope is to trust God a little more."
"Or help man a little more," said Katie.
"Perhaps," said Mrs. Prescott gently, "that giving more trust to God would be giving more help to man."
"I'm not sure I get the connecting link," said Katie, more sure of herself now that it had become articulate.
Mrs. Prescott put one of her fine hands over upon Katie's. "Why, child, you can't mean that. That would have hurt your mother."
For the moment Katie did not speak. "If mother had understood just what I meant—understood all about it—I don't believe it would." A second time she was silent, as it struggled. "And if it had"—she spoke it as a thing not to be lightly spoken—"I should be very deeply sorry, but I would not be able to help it."
"Why, child!" murmured her mother's friend. "You're talking strangely. You—the devoted daughter you always were—not able to 'help' hurting your mother?"
Katie's eyes filled. It had become so real: the things stealing around her, the thing in her which must push them back, that it was as if she were hurting her mother, and suffering in the consciousness of bringing suffering. Memory, the tenderest of memories, was another thing weaving itself around her, clinging to her heart, claiming her.
But suddenly she leaned forward. "Would I be able to help being myself?" she asked passionately.
Mrs. Prescott seemed startled. "I fear," she said, perplexed by the tears in Katie's eyes and the stern line of her mouth, "that we are speaking of things I do not understand."
Katie was silent, agreeing with her.
Mrs. Prescott broke the silence. "The world is changing."
And again agreeing, Katie saw that in those changes friends bound together by dear ties might be driven far apart.
"Katie," she asked after a moment, "tell me of my boy and your friend." There was a wistful, almost tremulous note in her voice. "You have sympathy and intelligence, Katie. You must know what a time like this means to a mother."
Katie could not speak. It seemed she could bear little more that night. And she longed for time to think it out, know where she stood, come to some terms with herself.
But forced to face it, she tried to do so lightly. She thought it just a fancy of Harry's. Wasn't he quite given to falling in love with pretty girls?
His mother shook her head. "He cares for her. I know. And do you not see, Katie, that that makes her about the biggest thing in life to me?"
Katie's heart almost stood still. She was staggered. Through her wretchedness surged a momentary yearning to be one of those people—oh, one of those safe people—who never found the peep-holes in their enclosure!
"Tell me of her, Katie," urged her mother's friend. "Harry seems to think she means much to you. Just what is it she means to you?"
For the moment she was desperate in her wondering how to tell it. And then it happened that from her frenzied wondering what to say of it she sank into the deeper wondering what it was. What it was—what in truth it had been all the time—Ann meant to her.
Why had she done it? What was that thing less fleeting than fancy, more imperative than sympathy, made Ann mean more than things which had all her life meant most?
Watching Katie, Mrs. Prescott wavered between gratification and apprehension: pleased that that light in Katie's eyes, a finer light than she had ever known there before, should come through thought of this girl for whom Harry cared; troubled by the strangeness and the sternness of Katie's face.
It was Katie herself Mrs. Prescott wanted—had always wanted. She had always hoped it would be that way, not only because she loved Katie, but because it seemed so as it should be. She believed that summer would have brought it about had it not been for this other girl—this stranger.
Katie's embarrassment had fallen from her, pushed away by feeling. She was scarcely conscious of Mrs. Prescott.
She was thinking of those paths of wondering, every path leading into other paths—intricate, limitless. She had been asleep. Now she was awake. It was through Ann it had come. Perhaps more had come through Ann than was in Ann, but beneath all else, deeper even than that warm tenderness flowering from Ann's need of her, was that tenderness of the awakened spirit—a grateful song coming through an opening door.
It had so claimed her that she was startled at sound of Mrs. Prescott's voice as she said, with a nervous little laugh: "Why, Katie, you alarm me. You make me feel she must be strange."
"She is strange," said Katie.
"Would you say, Katie," she asked anxiously, "that she is the sort of girl to make my boy a good wife?"
Suddenly the idea of Ann's making Harry Prescott any kind of wife came upon Katie as preposterous. Not because she would be bringing him a "past," but because she would bring gifts he would not know what to do with.
"I don't think of Ann as the making some man a good wife type. I think of Ann," she tried to formulate it, "as having gone upon a quest, as being ever upon a quest."
"A—quest?" faltered Mrs. Prescott. "For what?"
"Life," said Katie, peering off into the darkness.
Mrs. Prescott was manifestly disturbed at the prospect of a daughter-in-law upon a quest. "She sounds—temperamental," she said critically.
"Yes," said Katie, laughing a little grimly, "she's temperamental all right."
They could not say more, as Ann and Wayne were coming toward them across the grass.
And almost immediately afterward the Osborne car again stopped before the house. It was Mr. Osborne himself this time, bringing the Leonards, who had been dining with him. They had stopped to see Mrs. Prescott.
Katie was not sorry, for it turned Mrs. Prescott from Ann. Like the football player who has lost his wind, she wanted a little time counted out.
But she soon found that she was not playing anything so kindly as a game of hard and fast rules.
It seemed at first that Ann's ride had done her good. She seemed to have relaxed and did not give Katie that sense of something smoldering within her. Katie sat beside her, an arm thrown lightly about Ann's shoulders—lightly but guardingly.
Neither of them talked much. Mrs. Prescott and Mrs. Leonard were "visiting"; the men talking of some affairs of Mr. Osborne's. He was commending the army for minding its own business—not "butting in" and trying to ruin business the way some other departments of the Government did. The army seemed in high favor with Mr. Osborne.
Suddenly Mrs. Leonard turned to Katie. She was a large woman, poised by the shallow serenity of self-approval.
"I do feel so sorry for Miss Osborne," she said. "Such a shocking thing has occurred. One of the girls at the candy factory—you know she's trying so hard to help them—has committed suicide!"
Mrs. Prescott uttered an exclamation of horror. Katie patted the shoulder beside her soothingly, understandingly, and as if begging for calm. Even under her light touch she seemed to feel the nerves leap up.
Mr. Osborne turned to them. "Poor Cal, she'd better let things alone. What's the use? She can't do anything with people like that."
"It's the cause of the suicide that's the disgusting thing," said Colonel Leonard.
"Or rather," amended his wife, "the lack of cause."
"But surely," protested Mrs. Prescott, "no girl would take her life without—what she thought was cause. Surely all human beings hold life and death too sacred for that."
"Oh, do they?" scoffed Mrs. Leonard. "Not that class. I scarcely expect you to believe me—I had a hard time believing it myself—but she says she committed suicide—she left a note for her room-mate—because she was 'tired of not having any fun!'"
The hand upon Ann's shoulder grew fairly eloquent. And Ann seemed trying. Her hands were tightly clasped in her lap.
"Why, I don't know," said Wayne, "I think that's about one of the best reasons I can think of."
"This is not a jesting matter, Captain Jones," said Mrs. Leonard severely.
"Far from it," said Wayne.
"Think what it means to a girl like Caroline Osborne! A girl who is trying to do something for humanity—to find the people she wants to uplift so trivial—so without souls!"
"It is hard on Cal," agreed Cal's father.
"Though perhaps just a trifle harder," ventured Wayne, "on the girl who did."
"Well, what did she do it for?" he demanded. "Come now, Captain, you can't make out much of a case for her. Mrs. Leonard's word is just right—trivial. She said she was tired of things. Tired—tired—tired of things, she put it. Tired of walking down the same street. Tired of hanging her hat on the same kind of a peg! Now, Captain—if you can put up any defense for a girl who kills herself because she's tired of hanging her hat on a certain kind of peg! Well," he laughed, "if you can, all I've got to say is that you'd better leave the army and go in for criminal law."
"Why didn't she walk down some other street," he resumed, as no one broke the pause. "If it's a matter of life and death—a person might walk down some other street!"
"And I've no doubt," said Captain Prescott, "that if it were known her life, as well as her hat, hung upon it—she might have had a different kind of peg."
"Oh, of course, the secret of it is," pronounced the Colonel, "she was a neurotic."
For the first time Katie spoke. "I think it's such a fine thing we got hold of that word. Since we've known about neurotics we can just throw all the emotion and suffering and tragedy of the world in the one heap and leave it to the scientists. It lets us out so beautifully, doesn't it?"
"Oh, but Katie!" admonished Mrs. Prescott. "Think of it! What is the world coming to? Going forth to meet one's God because one doesn't like the peg for one's hat!"
Katie had a feeling of every nerve in Ann's body leaping up in frenzy. "God?" she laughed wildly. "Don't drag Him into it! Do you think He cares"—turning upon Mrs. Prescott as if she would spring at her—"do you think for a minute He cares—what kind of pegs our hats are on!"
Katie's memory of what followed was blurred. She remembered how relieved she was when Ann's laugh—oh the memory of that laugh was clear enough!—gave way to sobbing. Sobbing was easier to deal with. She said something about her friend's being ill, and that they would have to excuse them. She almost wanted to laugh—or was it cry?—herself at the way Harry Prescott was looking from Ann to his mother. After she got Ann in the house she went back and begged somebody's pardon—she wasn't sure whose—and told Colonel Leonard that of course he could understand it on the score of Ann's being a neurotic. She was afraid she might have said that rather disagreeably. And she believed she told Mrs. Prescott—she had to tell Mrs. Prescott something, she looked so frightened and hurt and outraged—that Ann had a form of nervous trouble which made it impossible for her to hear the name of God.
The hardest was Wayne. She came to him on the porch after the others had gone—they were not long in dispersing. "Wayne," she said, "I'm sorry to have embarrassed you."
His short, curt laugh did not reveal his mood. It was scoffing—contemptuous—but she could not tell at what it scoffed. He had not turned toward her.
"I'm sorry," she repeated. "Ann will be sorry. She's so—"
He turned upon her hotly. "Katie, quit lying to me. I know there's something you're not telling. I've suspected it for some time. Now don't get off any of that 'nervous trouble' talk to me!"
She stood there dumbly.
It seemed to enrage him. "Why don't you go and look after her! What do you mean by leaving her all alone?"
So she went to look after her.
Ann looked like one who needed looking after. Her eyes were intolerably bright. It seemed the heat behind them must put them out.
She was walking about the room, walking as if something were behind her with a lash.
"You see, Katie," she began, not pausing in the walking—her voice, too, as though a whip were behind it—"it was just as I told you. It was just as I tried to tell you. There are two worlds. There's no use trying to put me in yours. See what I bring you! See what you get for it! See what—"
She stood still, rocking back and forth as she stood there. "It was too much for me to hear her talking about God! That was a little too much! My father was a minister!" And Ann laughed.
A minister was one thing Katie had not thought of. Even in that moment she was conscious of relief. Certainly the ministry was respectable.
But why should it be "too much" for the daughter of a minister to hear anything about God?
"Ann," she began quietly, "I don't want to force anything. If you want to be alone I'll even take my things and sleep somewhere else. But, Ann, dear, if you could tell me a little I wouldn't be so much in the dark; I could do better for us both."
Ann did not seem to notice what she was saying. "She was tired of things! She was tired of things! Tired of hanging her hat on the same kind of peg! Why it's awful—it's awful, I tell you—to always be hanging your hat on the same kind of peg!
"She was tired of not having any fun! Oh so tired of not having any fun! Why you don't care what you do when you get tired of not having any fun!
"Then people laugh—the people who have all the fun. Oh they think it's so funny!—the people who don't have to hang their hats on any kind of peg. So trivial. So—what's that nervous word? Katie—you're not like the rest of them! Why, you seem to know—just know without knowing."
"But it's hard for me," suggested Katie. "Trying to know—and not knowing."
Ann was still walking about the room. "I was brought up in a little town in Indiana. You see I'm going to tell you. I've got to be doing something—and it may as well be talking. Now how did I start? Oh yes—I was brought up in a little town in Indiana. Until three years ago, that was where I lived. Were you ever in a little town in Indiana?"
Katie replied in the negative.
"Maybe there are little towns in Indiana that are different. I don't know. Maybe there are. But this one-in this one life was just one long stretch of hanging your hat on exactly the same kind of peg!
"It was so square—so flat—so dingy—oh, so dreadful! It didn't have anything around it—as some towns do—a hill, or a river, or woods. Around it was something that was just nothing. It was just walled in by the nothingness all around it.
"And the people in it were flat, and square, and dingy. And the things around them were just nothing. They were walled in, too, by the nothingness all around them."
Then the most unexpected of all things happened. Ann smiled. "Katie, I'd like to have seen you in that town!"
"I'm afraid," said Katie, "that I would have invented a new kind of peg."
The smile seemed to have done Ann good. She sat down, grew more natural.
"When I try to tell about my life in that town I suppose it sounds as though I were making a terrible fuss about things. When you think of children that haven't any homes-that are beaten by drunken fathers—starved—overworked-but it was the nothingness. If my father only had got drunk!"
Katie smiled understandingly.
"Katie, you've a lot of imagination. Just try to think what it would mean never to have what you could really call fun!"
Katie took a sweep back over her own life—full to the brim of fun. Her imagination did not go far enough to get a real picture of life with the fun left out.
"Oh, of course," said Ann, "there were pleasures! My father and the people of his church were like Miss Osborne—they believed it was one of the underlying principles of life—only they would call it 'God's will'—that all must have pleasure. But such God-fearing pleasure! I think I could have stood it if it hadn't been for the pleasures."
"Pleasures with the fun left out," suggested Kate.
"Yes, though fun isn't the word, for I don't mean just good times. I mean—I mean—"
"You mean the joy of living," said Katie. "You mean the loveliness of life."
"Yes; now your kind of religion—the kind of religion your kind of people have, doesn't seem to hurt them any."
Katie laughed oddly. "True; it doesn't hurt us much."
"My father's kind is something so different. The love of God seems to have dried him up. He's not a human being. He's a Christian."
Katie thought of her uncle—a bishop, and all too human a human being. She was about to protest, then considered that she had never known the kind of Christian—or human being—Ann was talking about.
"Everything at our church squeaked. The windows. The organ. The deacon's shoes. My father's voice. The religion squeaked. Life squeaked.
"I'll tell you a story, Katie, that maybe will make you see how it was. It's about a dog, and it's easy for you to understand things about dogs.
"Some one gave him to me. I suppose he was not a fine dog—not full-blooded. But that didn't matter. You know that we don't love dogs for their blood. We love them for the way they look out of their eyes, and the way they wag their tails. I can't tell you what this dog meant to me—something to love—something that loved me—some one to play with—a companion—a friend—something that didn't have anything to do with my father's church!
"He used to feel so sorry when I had to sit learning Bible verses. Sometimes he would put his two paws up on my lap and try to push the Bible away. I loved him for that. And when at last I could put it away he would dance round me with little yelps of joy. He warmed something in me. He kept something alive.
"And then one day when I came home from a missionary meeting where I had read a paper telling how cruelly young girls were treated by their parents in India, and how there was no joy and love and beauty in their lives, I—" Ann hid her face and it was a drawn, grayish face she raised after a minute—"Tono was not there. I called and called him. My father was writing a sermon. He let me go on calling. I could not understand it. Tono always came running down the walk, wagging his tail and giving his little barks of joy when I came. It had made coming home seem different from what it had ever seemed before. But that day he was not there watching for me. My father let me go on calling for a long time. At last he came to the door and said—'Please stop that unseemly noise. The dog has been sent away.' 'Sent away?' I whispered. 'What do you mean?' 'I mean that I have seen fit to dispose of him,' he answered. I was trembling all over. 'What right had you to dispose of him?' I wanted to know. 'He wasn't your dog—' The answer was that I was to go up to my room and learn Bible verses until the Lord chastened my spirit. Then I said things. I would not learn Bible verses. I would have my dog. It ended"—Ann was trembling uncontrollably—"it ended with the rod being unspared. God's forgiveness was invoked with each stroke."
She was digging her finger nails into her palms. Katie put her arms around her. "I wouldn't, Ann dear—it isn't worth while. It's all over now. Wouldn't it be better to forget?"
"No, I want to tell you. Some day I may try to tell you other things. I want this to try to explain them. Loving dogs, you will understand this—better than you could some other things.
"The dog had been given away to some one who lived in the country. It was because I had played with him the Sunday morning before and had been late to Sunday-school."
Her voice was dry and hard; it was from Katie there came the exclamation of protest and contempt.
"No one except one who loves dogs as you do would know what it meant. Even you can't quite know. For Tono was all I had. He—"
Katie's arm about her tightened.
"I could have stood it for myself. I could have stood my own lonesomeness. But what I couldn't stand was thinking about him. Nights I would wake up and think of him—out in the cold—homesick—maybe hungry—not understanding—watching and waiting—wondering why I didn't come. I couldn't keep from thinking about things that tortured me. This man was a deacon in my father's church. From the way he prayed, I knew he was not one to be good to dogs.
"And then one afternoon I heard the little familiar scratch at the door. I rushed to it, and there he was—shivering—but oh so, so glad! He sprang right into my arms—we cried and cried together—sitting there on the floor. His heart had been almost broken—he had grieved—suffered. He wasn't willing to leave my arms; just whimpering the way one does when a dreadful thing is over—licking my face—you know how they do—you know how dear they are.
"Now I will tell you what I did. Holding him in my arms, my face buried in his fur—I made up my mind. The family would be away for at least an hour. I would give him the happiest hour I knew how to give him. One hour—it was all I had the power to give him. Then—because I loved him so much—I would end his life."
Katie's face whitened. "I carried out the plan," Ann went on. "I gave him the meat we were to have had for supper. I had him do all his little tricks. I loved him and loved him. I do not think any little dog ever had a happier hour.
"And then—down at a house in the next block I saw my father—and the man he had given Tono to. The man was coming to our house for supper. Our time was up.
"I can never explain to any one the way I did it—the way I felt as I did it. There was no crying. There was no faltering. It seemed that all at once I understood—understood the hardness of life—that things are hard—that things have got to be done. Then was when it came to me that you've got to harden yourself—that it's the only way.
"I filled a tub with water—I didn't know any other way to do it. Tono stood there watching me. I took a bucket. I took up the dog. I hugged him. I let him lick my face. Though I live to be very old, Katie, and suffer very much, I can never forget the look in his eyes as I put him in the water and held him to put down the bucket. There are things a person goes through that make perfect happiness forever impossible. There are hours that stay."
The face of the soldier's daughter was wet. "I love you for it, Ann," she whispered. "I love you for it. It was strong, Ann. It was fine."
"I wasn't very strong and fine the minute it was over," sobbed Ann. "I fainted. They found me there. And then I screamed and laughed and said I was going to kill all the dogs in the world. I said—oh, dreadful things."
"They should have understood," murmured Kate.
"They didn't. They said I was wicked. They said the Evil One had entered into me. They said I must pray God to forgive me for having killed one of his creatures! Me—!
"Of course it ended in Bible verses. Is it so strange I loathed the Bible? And every morning I had to hear myself prayed for as a wicked girl who would harm one of God's creatures. The Almighty was implored not to send me to Hell. 'Send me there if you want to,' I'd say to myself on my knees, 'Tono's not in Hell, anyway.'"
Ann laughed bitterly. "So that's why I'm a sacrilegious, blasphemous person who doesn't care much about hearing about God. I associate Him with thin lips that shut together tight-and people who make long prayers and break little dogs' hearts—and with boots—and souls—that squeak. I can't think of one single thing I ever heard about Him that made me like Him."
"Oh, Ann dear!" protested Katie shudderingly.
"Try not to think such things. Try not to feel that way. You haven't heard everything there is to hear about God. You haven't heard any of it in the right way."
"Perhaps not. I only know what I have heard." And Ann's face was too white and hard for Katie to say more.
"And your mother, dear? Where was she all this time? Didn't she love you—and help?"
"She died when I was twelve. She'd like to have loved me. She did some on the sly—in a scared kind of way."
Katie sat there contemplating the picture of Ann's father and mother and Ann—Ann, as child of that union.
"I think she died because life frightened her so. In a year my father married again. She isn't afraid of anything. She's a God-fearing, exemplary woman. And she always looks to see if you have any mud on your shoes."
After a moment Ann said quietly: "I hate her."
"So would I," said Katie, and it brought the ghost of a smile to Ann's lips, perhaps thinking of just how cordially Katie would hate her.
"And then after a while you left this town?" Katie suggested as Ann seemed held there by something.
"Yes, after a while I left." And that held her again.
"I was fifteen when I—freed Tono from life," she emerged from it. "It was five years later that you—stopped me from freeing myself. Lots of things were crowded into those five years, Katie—or rather into the last three of them. I had to be treated worse than Tono was treated before it came to me that I had better be as kind to myself as I had been to my dog. Only I," Ann laughed, "didn't have anybody to give me a last hour!"
"But you see it wasn't a last hour, after all," soothed Katie. "Only the last hour of the old hard things. Things that can never come back."
"Can't they come back, Katie? Can't they?"
Katie shook her head with decision. "Do you think I'd let them come back? Why I'd shut the door in their face!"
"Sometimes," said Ann, "it seems to me they're lying in wait for me. That they're going to spring out. That this is a dream. That there isn't any Katie Jones. Some nights I've been afraid to go to sleep. Afraid of waking to find it a dream. There's an awful dream I dream sometimes! The dream is that this is a dream."
"Poor dear," murmured Katie. "It will be more real now that we've talked."
"I used to dream a dream, Katie, and I think it was about you. Only you weren't any one thing. You were all kinds of different things. Lovely things. You were Something Somewhere. You were the something that was way off beyond the nothingness of Centralia."
"The something that didn't squeak," suggested Katie tremulously.
"Something Somewhere. You were both a waking and a sleeping dream. I knew you were there. Isn't it queer how we do—know without knowing? My father used to talk about people being 'called.' Called to the ministry—called to the missionary field—called to heaven. Well maybe you're called to other things, too. Maybe," said Ann with a laugh which sobbed, "you're even 'called' to Chicago."
The laugh died and the sob lingered. "Only when you get there—Chicago doesn't seem to know that it had called you.
"My Something Somewhere was always something I never could catch up with. Sometimes it was a beautiful country—where a river wound through a woods. Sometimes it was beautiful people laughing and dancing. Sometimes it was a star. Sometimes it was a field of flowers—all blowing back and forth. Sometimes it was a voice—a wonderful far-away voice. Sometimes it was a lovely dress—oh a wonderful gauzy dress—or a hat that was like the blowing field of flowers. Sometimes—this was the loveliest of all—it was somebody who loved me. But whatever it was, it was something I couldn't overtake.
"And you mustn't laugh, Katie, when I tell you that the thing that made me think I could catch up with it was a moving-picture show!
"It came to Centralia—the first one that had ever been there. I heard the people next door talking about it. They said there were pictures of things that really happened in the great cities—oh of kings and queens and the president and millionaires and automobile races and grand weddings; that the pictures went on just like the happenings went on; that it was just as if the pictures were alive; that it was just like being there.
"Oh, I was so excited about it! I was so excited I could hardly get ready.
"You see ever since Tono had died—two years before, I had kept that idea that things were hard. That the thing to do was to be hard. I dreamed about things that were lovely—the Something Somewhere things—but as far as the real things went I never changed my mind about them. You mustn't let them into your heart. They just wanted to get in there to hurt you.
"Now I forgot all about that. These pictures were dreams made real. They had caught up with the Something Somewhere. And I was going to see them.
"But I didn't—not that day. I was so happy that my father suspected something. And he got it out of me and said I couldn't go. He said that the things that would be pictured would be the wickedness of the world. That I was not to see it.
"But I made up my mind that I would see the wickedness of the world." Ann paused, and then said in lower voice: "And I have—and not just in pictures."
She seemed to be meeting something, and she answered it. "But just the same," she made answer defiantly, "I'd rather see the wickedness of the world than stay in the nothingness of the world!
"The pictures were to be there a week. I thought of nothing else but how I could see them. The last day there was a thimble-bee. I went to the thimble-bee—said I couldn't stay—and went to the pictures.
"Katie, that moving-picture show was proof. Proof of the Something Somewhere. And in my heart I made a vow—it was a solemn vow—that I would find the things that moved in the pictures.
"And there was music—such music as I had never heard before, even though it came out of a box. They had the songs of the grand opera singers. And as I listened—I tell you I was called!—I don't care how silly it sounds—I was called by the voices that had sung into that box. For this was real—if the life hadn't been there it couldn't have been caught into the pictures and the box. It proved—I thought—that all the lovely things I had dreamed were true. I had only to go and find them. People were walking upon those streets. Then I could walk on those streets. And those people were laughing—and talking to each other. Everybody seemed to have friends. Everybody was happy! And all of that really was. The pictures were alive. Alive with the things that there were out beyond the nothingness of Centralia.
"The man played something from an opera and showed pictures of beautiful people going into a beautiful place to listen to that very music. He said that the very next night in Chicago those people would be going into that place to listen to those very voices.
"Katie, I don't believe you'll laugh at me when I tell you that my teeth fairly chattered when first it came to me that I must be one of those people! It was something all different from the longing for fun—oh it was something big—terrible—it had to be. It was the same feeling of its having to be that I had about Tono.
"Though probably that feeling would have passed away if it hadn't been for my father. He came there and found me, and—humiliated me. And after we got home—" Ann was holding herself tight, but after a moment she relaxed to say with an attempted laugh: "It wasn't all being 'called.' Part of it was being driven.
"Then there was another thing. The treasurer of the missionary society came that night with some money—eighteen dollars—I was to send off the next day. It was that money started me out to find my Something Somewhere."
"Oh Ann!" whispered Katie, drawing back. "But of course," she added, "you paid it back just as soon as you could?"
"I never paid it back! If I had eighteen million dollars, I'd never pay it back! I like to think of not paying it back!"
Katie's face hardened. "I can't understand that."
"No," sobbed Ann, "you'd have to have lived a long time in nothingness to understand that—and some other things, too." She looked at her strangely. "There's more coming, Katie, that you won't be able to understand."
Katie's face was averted, but something in Ann's voice made her turn to her. "I think it was wrong, Ann. There's no use in my pretending I don't. I can't understand this. But maybe I can understand some of the other things better than you think."
"I left at six o'clock the next morning," Ann went back to it when she was calmer. "And at the last minute I don't think I would have had the courage to go if my father hadn't been snoring so. How silly it all sounds!
"And the only reason I got on the train was that it would have taken more courage to go back than to go on.
"Katie, some time I'll tell you all about it. How I felt when I got to Chicago. How it seemed to shriek and roar. How I seemed just buried under the noise. How I walked around the streets that day—frightened almost to death—and yet, inside the fright, just crazy about it. And how green I was!
"Nothing seemed to matter except going to grand opera. I didn't even have sense enough to find a place to stay. I thought about it, but didn't know how, and anyhow the most important thing was finding the things that moved in the pictures—and sang in the box.
"I saw a woman go up to a policeman and ask him where something was and he told her, so I did that, too. Asked him where you went to hear grand opera. And he pointed. I was right there by it.
"I heard some people talking about going in to get tickets. So I thought I had better get a ticket.
"But they didn't have any. They were all gone.
"When I came out I was almost crying. Then a smiling man outside stepped up to me and said he had tickets and he'd let me have one for ten dollars. I was so glad he had them! Ten dollars seemed a good deal—but I didn't think much about it.
"Then I had my ticket and just two dollars left.
"But that night at the opera I didn't know whether I had two dollars, or no dollars, or a thousand dollars. At first I was frightened because everybody but me had on such beautiful clothes. But soon I was too crazy about their clothes to care—and then after the music began—
"Oh, Katie! Suppose you'd always dreamed of something and never been able to catch up with it. Suppose you'd not even been able to really dream it, but just dream that it was, and then suppose it all came—No, I can't tell you. You'd have to have lived in Centralia—and been a minister's daughter.
"My heart sang more beautifully than the singers sang. 'Now you have found it! Now you have found it!' my heart kept singing.
"When all the other people left I left too—in a dream. For it had passed into a dream—into a beautiful dream that was going to shelter it for me forever.
"I stood around watching the beautiful people getting into their carriages. And I couldn't make myself believe that it was in the same world with Centralia.
"Then after a while it occurred to me that all those people were going home. Everybody was going home.
"At first I wasn't frightened. Something inside me was singing over and over the songs of the opera. I was too far in my dream to be much frightened.
"Then all at once I got—oh, so tired. And cold. And so frightened I did not know what to do. My dream seemed to have taken wings and flown away. All the beautiful laughing people had gone. It was just as if I woke up. And I was on the strange streets all alone. Only some noisy men who frightened me.
"I hid in a doorway till those men got by. And then I saw a woman coming. She was all alone, too. She had on a dress that rustled and lovely white furs, and did not seem at all frightened.
"I stepped out and asked her to please tell me where to go for the night.
"Some time I'll tell you about her, too. Now I'll just tell you that it ended with her taking me home with her to stay all night. She made a lot of fun of me—and said things to me I didn't understand—and swore at me—and told me to 'cut it' and go back to the cornfields—but I was crying then, and she took me with her.
"She kept up her queer kind of talk, but I was so tired that the minute I was in bed I went to sleep.
"The next morning she told me I had got to go back to the woods. I said I would if there were any woods. But there weren't. She laughed and said more queer things. She asked me why I had come, and I told her. First she laughed. Then she sat there staring at me—blinking. And what she said was: 'Poor little fool. Poor little greenhorn.'
"She asked me what I was going to do, and I said work, so I could stay there and go to the opera and see beautiful things. She asked me what kind of a job I was figuring on and told me there was only one kind would let me in for that. I asked her what it was and she said it was her line. I asked her if she thought I was fitted for it, and she looked at me—a look I didn't understand at all—and said she guessed the men she worked for would think so. I asked her if she'd say a good word to them for me, and then she turned on me like a tiger and swore and said—No, she hadn't come to that!
"It was a case of knowing without knowing. I was so green that I didn't know. And yet after a while I did. As I look back on it I appreciate things I couldn't appreciate then, thank her for things I didn't know enough to thank her for at the time.
"She was leaving that day for San Francisco. She gave me ten dollars, and told me if I had any sense I'd take it and go back to prayer-meeting. She said I might do worse. But if I didn't have any sense—and she said of course I wouldn't—I was to be careful of it until I got a job. She told me how to manage. And I was to read 'ads' in the newspaper. She told me how to try and get in at the telephone office. She had been there once, she said, but it 'got on her nerves.'
"She told me things about girls who worked in Chicago—awful things. But I supposed she was prejudiced. The last things she said to me was—'The opera! Oh you poor little green kid—I'm afraid I see your finish.'
"But I thought she was queer acting because she led that queer kind of a life."
Ann had paused. And suddenly she hid her face in her hands, as if it was more than she could face. Katie was smoothing her hair.
"Katie, as the days went on it was just as hard to believe that the world of the opera was the same world I was working in—right there in the same city—as it had been the first night to believe it was the same world as Centralia. I learned two things. One was that the Something Somewhere was there. The other that it was not there for me.
"The world was full of things I couldn't understand, but I could understand—a little better—the woman who wore the white furs.
"Oh Katie, you get so tired—you get so dead—all day long putting suspenders in a box—or making daisies—or addressing envelopes—or trying to remember whether it was apple or custard pie—
"And you don't get tired just because your back aches—and your head aches—and your hands ache—and your feet ache—you get tired—that kind of tired—because the city doesn't care how tired you get!
"I often wondered why I went on, why any of them went on. I used to think we must be crazy to be going on."
She was pondering it—somberly wistful. "Though perhaps we're not crazy. Perhaps it's the—call. Katie, what is it? That call? That thing that makes us keep on even when our Something Somewhere won't have anything to do with us?"
Katie did not reply. She had no reply.
"At last I got in the telephone office. That's considered a fine place to work. They're like Miss Osborne; they believe it is one of the fundamental principles of life that all must have pleasures. But they were like the pleasures of Centralia—not God-fearing, exactly, but so dutiful. They didn't have anything to do with 'calls.'
"The real pleasures were going over the wire. It was my business to make the connections that arrange those pleasures. A little red light would flash—sometimes it would flash straight into my brain—and I'd say 'Number, please?'—always with the rising inflection. Then I'd get the connection and Life would pass through the cords. That was the closest I came to it—operating the cords that it went through. There was a whole city full of it—beautiful, laughing, loving Life. But it was on the wire—just as in Centralia it had been in the pictures—and in the box. And oh I used to get so tired—so tight—operating the cords for Life. Sometimes when I left my chair the whole world was one big red light. And at night they danced dances for me—those little red lights."
She brushed her hand before her eyes as if they were there again and she would push them away. "Katie," she suddenly burst forth, "if you ever do pray—if you believe in praying—pray sometimes for the girl who goes to Chicago to find what you call the 'joy of living.' Pray for the pilgrims who go to the cities to find their Something Somewhere. And whatever you do, Katie—whatever you do—don't ever laugh at the people who kill themselves because they're tired of not having any fun!"
"But wasn't there any fun, dear?" Katie asked after a moment.
Ann did not speak, but looked at Katie strangely. "Yes," she said. "Afterwards. Differently."
They were silent. Something seemed to be outlining itself between them. Something which was meaning to grow there between them.
"There came a time," said Ann, "when all of life was not going over the wire."
And still Katie did not speak, as if pushed back by that thing shaping itself between them.
"Your Something Somewhere," said Ann, very low, "doesn't always come in just the way you were looking for it. But, Katie, if you get very tired waiting for it—don't you believe you might take it—most any way it came?"
It was a worn and wistful face she turned to Katie. Suddenly Katie brushed away the thing that would grow up between them and laid her cheek upon Ann's hair. "Poor child," she murmured, and the tears were upon Ann's soft brown hair. "Poor weary little pilgrim."
Ann remained in her room all of the next day. Katie encouraged her to do so, wishing to foster the idea of illness.
It did not need much fostering. She had not gone back to those old days without leaving with them most of her newly accumulated vitality. But it was weakness rather than nervousness. Talking to Katie seemed to have relieved a pressure.
It was Katie who was nervous. It was as if a battery within her had been charged to its uttermost. She was in some kind of electric communication with life. She was tingling with the things coming to her.
So charged was she with new big things that it was hard to manage the affairs of her household as old things demanded they be managed that day. She told Mrs. Prescott again how sorry she and Ann were that Ann had given way. Mrs. Prescott received it with self-contained graciousness. Her one comment was that she trusted when her son decided to marry he would content himself with a wife who had not gone upon a quest.
Katie smiled and agreed that it might get him a more comfortable wife.
The son himself she tried to avoid. That thing which had tried to shape itself between her and Ann still remained there, a thing without body but vaguely outlined between Ann and all other things.
They had not drawn any nearer to it. They let the story rest at the place where all of life had not been going over the wire.
And Katie told herself that she understood. That Ann was to be judged by the Something Somewhere she had formed in her heart rather than by whatever it was life had tardily and ungenerously and unwisely brought her.
That Ann might still cling to a Something Somewhere—a thing for which even yet she would keep the heart right—was suggested that afternoon when Katie told her of Captain Prescott.
She had not meant to tell her. She tried to think she was doing it in order to know how to meet Harry, but had to admit finally that she did it for no nobler reason than to see how Ann would take it.
She took it most unexpectedly. "I am sorry," she said simply, "but I do not care at all for Captain Prescott. I—" She paused, coloring slightly as she said with a little laugh: "We all like to be liked, don't we, Katie? And with me—well it meant something just to know I could be liked—in that nice kind of way. It helped. But that's all—so I hope he doesn't care very much for me. Though if he does," concluded Ann sagely, "he'll get over it. He's not the caring sort."
The words had a familiar sound; after a moment she remembered them as what he had said that night of the "Don't You Care" girls.
While she would have been panic-stricken at finding Ann interested, she was more discomfited than relieved at not finding her more impressed. "To marry into the army, Ann," she said, "is considered very advantageous."
Ann was lying there with her face pillowed upon her hand. She turned her large eyes, about which just then there were large circles, seriously, it would even seem rebukingly, upon Katie. "If I ever should marry," she said, "it will be for some other reason than because it is 'advantageous.'"
Katie felt both rebuked and startled. Most of the girls she knew—girls who had never worked in factories or restaurants or telephone offices, or had never thought of taking their own lives, had not scorned to look upon marriages as advantageous.
Nor, for that matter, had Katie herself.
Ann's superior attitude toward marriage turned Katie to religion. As the niece of a bishop she was moved to set Ann right on things within a bishop's domain. And underlying that was an impulse to set her right with herself.
"Ann," she said, "if somebody said to you, 'I starve you in the name of Katie Jones,' wouldn't you say, 'Oh no you don't. Starve me if you want to, but don't tell me you do it in the name of Katie Jones. She doesn't want people starved!'"
"I could say that," said Ann, "because I know you, and know you don't want people starved. But if I'd never heard anything about you except that I was to be starved in your name—"
"I should think even so you might question. Didn't it ever occur to you that God had more to do with your Something Somewhere than He did with things done in His name in Centralia?"
"Why, Katie, how strange you should think of that. For I thought of it—but I supposed it was the most wicked thought of all."
"How strange it would be," said Katie, "if He had more to do with the 'call' than with the God-fearing things you were called from."
For an instant Ann's face lighted up. But it hardened. "Well, if He had," she said, "it seems He might have stood by me a little better after I was 'called.'"
Katie had no reply for that, so she turned to her uncle, the Bishop.
"Well there's one place where you're wrong, Ann; and that is that religion is incompatible with the love of dogs. You know my uncle—my mother's brother—is a bishop. I don't know just how well uncle understands God, but if he understands Him as well as he does dogs then he must be well fitted for his office. I don't think in his heart uncle would have any respect for any person—no matter how religious—or even how much they subscribed—who wouldn't appreciate the tragedy of losing one's dog. Uncle has a splendid dog—a Great Dane; they're real chums. He often reads his sermons to Caesar. He says Caesar can stay awake under them longer than some of the congregation. I once shocked, but I think secretly delighted uncle, by saying that he rendered to Caesar the things that were Caesar's and to God what Caesar left. Well, one dreadful day someone stole Caesar. They took him out of town, but Caesar got away and made a return that has gone down into dog history. Poor uncle had been all broken up about it for three days. He was to preach that morning. My heart ached for him as he stood there at his study window looking down the street when it was time to go. I knew what he was hoping for—the way you go on hoping against hope when your dog's lost. And then after uncle had gone, and just as I was ready to start myself, I heard the great deep bark of mighty Caesar! You may know I was wild about it—and crazy to get the news to uncle. I hurried over to church, but service had begun. But because I was bursting to tell it, and because I appreciated something of what it would mean to talk about the goodness of God when you weren't feeling that way, I wrote a little note and sent it up. I suppose the people who saw it passed into the chancel in dignified fashion thought it was something of ecclesiastical weight. What it said was, 'Hallelujah—he's back—safe and sound. K—.'
"It was great fun to watch uncle—he's very dignified in his official capacity. He frowned as it was handed him, as if not liking the intrusion into holy routine. He did not open it at once but sat there holding it rebukingly—me chuckling down in the family pew. Then he adjusted his glasses and opened it—ponderously. I wish you could have seen his face! One of our friends said he supposed it read, 'Will give fifty thousand.' He quickly recalled his robes and suppressed his grin, contenting himself with a beatific expression which must have been very uplifting to the congregation. I think I never saw uncle look so spiritual. And I know I never heard him preach as feelingly. When he came to the place about when sorrow has been upon the heart, and seemed more than the heart could bear, but when the weight is lifted, as the loving Father so often does mercifully lift it—oh I tell you there were tears in more eyes than uncle's. I had my suspicions, and that night I asked, 'Uncle, did you preach the sermon you meant to preach this morning?' And uncle—if he weren't a bishop I would say he winked at me—replied, 'No, dear little shark. I had meant to preach the one about man yearning for Heaven because earth is a vale of tears.' I'm just telling you this yarn, Ann, to make you see that religion doesn't necessarily rule out the love of dogs."
"It's a nice story, and I'm glad you told me," replied Ann. "Only my father would say that your uncle had no religion."
Katie laughed. "A remark which has not gone unremarked. Certainly he hasn't enough to let it harden his heart. As I am beginning to think about things now it seems to me uncle might stand for more vital things than he does, but for all that I believe he can love God the more for loving Caesar so well."
They were quiet for a time, thinking of Ann's father and Katie's uncle; the love of God and the love of dogs and the love of man. Many things. Then Ann said: "Naturally you and I don't look at it the same way. I see you were brought up on a pleasant kind of religion. The kind that doesn't matter."
That phrase started the electric batteries within Katie and the batteries got so active she had to go for a walk.
In the course of the walk she stopped at the shops to see Wayne. She wanted to know if he would let Worth go into the country for a week with Ann. An old servant of theirs—a woman who had been friend as well as servant to Katie's mother—lived on a farm about ten miles up the river and it had been planned that Worth—and Katie, too, if she would—go up there for a week or more during the summer. It seemed just the thing for Ann. It would get her away from Captain Prescott and his mother, and from Major Darrett, who was coming in a few days. Katie believed Ann would like to be away from them all for about a week, and get her bearings anew. And Katie herself would like to be alone for a time and get her bearings, too, and make some plans. In one way or other she was going to help Ann find her real Something Somewhere. Perhaps she would take her to Europe. But until things settled down, as Katie vaguely put it, she thought it just the thing for Ann to have the little trip with Worth.
Wayne listened gravely, but did not object. He was quiet, and, Katie thought, not well. She suggested that working so steadily during the hot weather was not good for him.
He laughed shortly and pointed through the open door to the shops where long rows of men were working at forges—perspiration streaming down their faces.
But instead of alluding to them he asked abruptly: "How is she today?"
"Tired," said Katie. "She didn't sleep well last night."
Something in the way he was looking at her brought to Katie acute realization of how much she cared for Wayne. He was her big brother. She had always been his little sister. They were not giving to thinking of it that way—certainly not speaking of it—but the tenderness of the relationship was there. Consciousness of it came now as she seemed to read in Wayne's look that she hurt him in withholding her confidence, in not having felt it possible to trust even him.
She broke under that look. "Wayne dear," she said unevenly, "I don't deny there is something to tell. I'd like to tell you, if I could. If ever I can, I will."
His reply was only to dismiss it with a curt little nod.
But Katie knew that did not necessarily mean that he was feeling curt.
She was drawn back to the open door from which she could see the long double line of men working steadily at the forges.
"What are those men doing?" she asked.
"Forging one of the parts of a rifle," he replied.
It recalled what the man who mended the boats had said of the saddles: that the first war those saddles would see would be the war over the manufacture of them. Would he go so far as to say the first use for the rifles—?
Surely not. He must have been speaking figuratively.
But something in the might of the thing—the long lines of men at work on rifles to be used in a possible war—made the industrial side of it seem more vital and more interesting than the military phase. This was here. This was real. There was practically no military life at the Arsenal—not military life in the sense one found it at the cavalry post. That had made it seem, from a military standpoint, uninteresting. But here was the real life—over in what the women of the quarter vaguely called "the shops," and dismissed as disposed of by the term.
Suddenly she wondered what all those men thought about God. Whether either the hard blighting religion of Ann's father, or the aesthetic comfortable religion of her uncle "mattered" much to them?
Were the things which "mattered" forging a religion of their own?
But just what were those things that mattered?
A young man had entered and was speaking to Wayne. After a second's hesitation Wayne introduced him to Katie as Mr. Ferguson, who was helping him.
He had an open, intelligent face—this young mechanic. He did not seem overwhelmed at being presented to Captain Jones' sister, but merely replied pleasantly to her greeting and was turning away.
But Katie was not going to let him get away. If she could help it, Katie was not going to let any one get away who she thought could tell her anything about the things which were perplexing her—all those things pressing closer and closer upon her.
"Do many of these men go to church?" she asked.
He appeared startled. Katie's gown did not suggest a possible tract concealed about it.
"Why yes, some of them," he laughed. "I don't think the majority of them do."
Then she came right out with it. "What would you say they look upon as the most important thing in life?"
He looked startled again, but in more interested way. "Higher wages and shorter hours," he said.
"Are you a socialist?" she demanded.
It came so unexpectedly and so bluntly that it confused him. "Why, Katie," laughed her brother, "what do you mean by coming over here and interviewing men on their politics?"
"What made you think I was a socialist?" asked Ferguson.
"Because you had such a quick answer to such a big question, and seemed so sure of yourself. I'm reading a book about socialists. They don't seem to think there is a particle of doubt they could put the world to rights, and things are so intricate—so confused—I don't see how they can be so sure they're saying the final word."
"I don't know that they claim to be saying the final word, but they do know they could take away much of the confusion."
Katie was thinking of the story she had heard the night before. "Do you think socialism's going to remove all the suffering from the world? Reach all the aches and fill all the empty places? Get right into the inner things that are the matter and bring peace and good will and loving kindness everywhere?"
She had spoken impetuously, and paused with an embarrassed laugh. The young mechanic was looking at her gravely, but his look was less strange than Wayne's.
"I don't think they'd go that far, Miss Jones. But they do know that there's a lot of needless misery they could wipe out."
"They're out and out materialists, aren't they? Everything's economic—the economic basis for everything in creation. They seem very cocksure that getting that the way they want it would usher in the millennium. You said the most important thing in life to these men was higher wages and shorter hours. I don't blame them for wanting them—I hope they get them—but I don't know that I see it as very promising that they regard it as the most important thing in life. To do less and get more is not what you'd call a spiritual aspiration, is it?" she laughed. "This is what I mean—it's not the end, is it?"
"Socialists wouldn't call it the end. But it's got to be the end until it can become the means."
"Yes, but if you get in the habit of looking at it as an end, will there be anything left for it to be a means to?"
"Why yes, those spiritual aspirations you mention."
"Unless by that time the world's such an economic machine it doesn't want spiritual aspirations."
"Well Heaven help the working man that's got them in the present economic machine," said Ferguson a little impatiently.
She, too, moved impatiently. "Oh I don't know a thing about it. It's absurd for me to be talking about it."
"Why I don't think it's at all absurd, only I don't think you see the thing clear to the end, and I wish you could talk to somebody who sees farther than I do. I'm new to it myself. Now there's a man doing a lot of boat repairing up here above the Island. I wish you could talk to him. He'd know just what you mean, and just how to meet you."
"Oh, would he?" said Katie. "What's his name?"
"Mann. Alan Mann."
"Why, Katie," laughed Wayne, "it must be that he's that same mythical creature known as the man who mends the boats."
"Yes," said Katie, "I fancy he's the very same mythical creature."
"My little boy talks about him," Wayne explained.
"Yes, he's the same one. I've seen him talking to your little boy and one of the soldiers. He's a queer genius."
"In what way is he a queer genius?" asked Katie.
"Why—I don't know. He's always got a way of looking at a thing that you hadn't seen yourself." He looked up with a little smile from the tool he was trying to adjust. "I'd like to have you tell him you were worrying about socialism hurting spiritual aspirations."
"Would he annihilate me?"
"No, he wouldn't want to annihilate you, if he thought you were trying to find out about things. He'd guide you."
"Oh—so he's a guide, is he? Is he a spiritual or an economic guide?" she laughed.
"I think he might combine them," he replied, laughing too.
"He must be remarkable," said Kate.
"He is remarkable, Miss Jones," gravely replied the admirer of the man who mended the boats. "I wish you could have heard him talking to a crowd of men last Sunday."
"Dear me—is he a public speaker?"
"Yes—in a way. And he writes things."
Katie wanted to ask what things, but they were cut short by the entrance of Captain Prescott. It was curious how his entrance did cut them short. She smiled to herself, wondering what he would have thought of the conversation.
He followed her to the door and inquired for Miss Forrest. His manner was constrained, but his eyes were begging for an explanation. He looked unhappy, and Katie hurried away from him. It seemed she could not bear to have any more unhappiness come pressing against her, even the unhappiness she was confident would pass away.
In her mood of that day it seemed to Katie that the affairs of the world were too involved for any one to have a solution for them. Life surged in too fiercely—too uncontrollably—to be contained within a formula.
As she continued her walk, winding in and out of the wooded paths, awe spread its great wings about her at thought of the complexity and the fathomlessness of the relationships of life. She had but a little peep into them, but that peep held the suggestion of limitlessness.
Because a lonely girl in a barren little town in Indiana had dreamed dreams which life would not deliver to her, life now was beating in upon Katie Jones. Because Ann had been foiled in her quest for happiness, sobering shadows were falling across the sunny path along which Katie had tripped. Did life thwarted in one place take it out in another? Because Ann could not find joy was it to be that Katie could not have peace? Had Ann's yearning for love been the breath blowing to flame Katie's yearning for understanding? Because Ann could not dream her way to realities did it mean that Katie must fight her way to them?
They were such big things—such resistless things—these wild new things which were sweeping in upon her. With the emotion of the world surging in and out like that how could any one claim to have a solution for the whole question of living?
She seemed passing into a country too big and too dark for her of the sunny paths. She needed a guide. She grew lonely at thought of how badly she needed her guide.
She turned for comfort to thought of the things she would do for Ann. She would pay it back in revealing to Ann the beauty of the world. She would assume the responsibility of the Something Somewhere. Perhaps in fulfilling a dream she would find a key to reality.
She found pleasure in the vision of Ann in the old world cathedrals. How wisely they had builded—builders of those old cathedrals—in expressing religion through beauty. At peace in the beauty of form, might Ann not find an inner beauty? She believed Ann's nature to be an intensely religious one. How might Ann's soul not flower when she at last saw God as a God of beauty?
Thus she soothed herself in building a future for Ann. Sought to appease those surgings of life with promise that Ann should at last find the loveliness of life.
But in the end it led to a terrifying vision. A vision of thousands upon thousands of other dreamers of dreams whose soul stuff might be slowly ebbing away in long dreary days of putting suspenders in boxes. Of thousands of other girls who might be growing faint in operating the wires for life. Oh, she had power to fill Ann's life—but would that have power to still for her the mocking whispers from the dreams which had died slow deaths in all the other barren lives? Even though she took Ann from the crowd to a far green hill of happiness, would not Katie herself see from that far green hill all the other girls "called" to life, going forth as pilgrims with the lovely love-longing in their hearts only to find life waiting to seize them for the work of the woman who wore the white furs?
A sob shook Katie. The woe of the world seemed surging just beneath her—rising so high that it threatened to suck her in.
But because she was a fighter she mastered the sob and vowed that rather than be sucked in to the woe of the world she would find out about the world. Certainly she would sit apart no longer. She would study. She would see. She would live.
Life had become a sterner and a bigger thing. She would meet it in a sterner and bigger way. To understand! That was the greatest thing in life.
That passion to understand grew big within her. How could she hope to go laughing through a world which sobbed? How turn from life when she saw life suffering? Why she could not even turn from a little bird which she saw suffering!
There was a noble wistfulness in her longing to talk again with the man who mended the boats.
In temporary relaxation from the stress of that mood she was glad to see her friend Major Darrett.
He did not suggest the woe of the world. Because the big new things had become—for the moment, at least—too much for her, there was rest in the shelter of the small familiar things.
So much of the unknown had been beating against her that she was glad for a little laughing respite in the known.
He stood for a world she knew how to deal with. In that he seemed to offer shelter; not that he would be able to do it for long.
He always roused a particular imp in Katie which wanted to be flirtatious. She found now, with a certain relief, that the grave things of life had not exterminated that imp. She would scarcely have felt acquainted with herself had it perished.
And because she was so pleased to find it alive she let it grow very live indeed.
Ann and Worth had been gone for five days. Ann had seemed to like the idea of going. She said she would be glad to be alone for a time and "rest up," as she vaguely put it. Katie told her that when she came back they would make some plans; and she told her she was not to worry about things; that everything was going to be all right.
Ann received it with childlike trust. She seemed to think that it was all in Katie's hands, to accept with a child's literalness that Katie would not let the old things come back, that she would "shut the door in their face."
Other things were in Katie's hands that day: preparations for a big dinner they were giving that night.
It was for some cavalry people who were stopping there. And in addition to the cavalry officers and their wives there was a staff officer from Washington who was valuable to Wayne just then. Katie was anxious that the dinner be a success. She was glad Major Darrett was there. He went a long way toward assuring its success.
And Zelda Fraser was with the party. Katie had seen her for a moment that morning, and would see her again at night. She was stopping with Caroline Osborne, whom she had known at school.
Zelda did not suggest the woe of the world. Neither did she suggest the dreams of the world.
It was early in the afternoon and the Major and Katie were having a conference. He was acquainted with the palate of the visiting staff officer, and was assuring Katie that she was on the way to his good graces.
They had gone into the library, where Katie was arranging flowers. He offered a suggestion there, too. He had an intuitive knowledge of such things, seemed to be guided by inner promptings as to which bowl should hold the lavender sweet peas and which the pink ones.
Though Katie disputed his judgment, glad to be on ground where she could dispute with assurance. They argued it hotly, as if sweet peas were the most vital things in the world. It was good to be venting all one's feeling on things so tangible and knowable as sweet peas.
Her dinner safe in the hands of experts, Katie made herself comfortable and told her friend the Major that she wished now to be put in a brilliant mood. That a brilliant mood was the one thing the skilled laborers in possession of her house could not furnish.
He gallantly defied any laborer in the world to be so skilled as to get Katie out of a brilliant mood.
She told him that was silly, that she had grown very stupid.
He challenged her to prove it.
Katie felt very much at home with him; not merely at home with him the individual, but comfortably at home with the things he represented. It gave her a nice homelike feeling to be flirting with him.
And flirting with him herself, she grew interested in all those others who had flirted with him—she knew they were legion. She seemed to see them off there in the background—a lovely group of spoiled darlings. She did not suppose many of them were much the worse for having flirted with Major Darrett. Suddenly she laughed and told him she regarded him as one of the great educators of the age. He wanted to know in what way he was a great educator. Katie would not tell him. There ensued a gay discussion from which she emerged feeling as if she had had a cocktail.
And looking that way; looking, at least so he seemed to think, from the manner in which he leaned forward regarding her—most attractive, her cheeks so pink, her eyes dancing a little dance of defiance at him, and on her lips a mocking little smile, more sophisticated than any smile he had ever seen before on Katie's lips. "Katie of the laughing eyes"—he had once called her. She was leaning back lazily, a suggestion of insolence in her assurance. As she leaned back that way he marked the lines of her figure as he had never marked them before. He had previously thought of Katie as a good build for golf. Now that did not seem to express the whole of it—and Katie seemed to know it would not express the whole of it. And in summarizing Katie as having a good build for golf he had not properly appraised Katie's foot. It was thrust out now from her very short skirt as if Katie were quite willing he should know it for a lovely foot. And her arm, which was hanging down from the side of the chair, seemed conscious of being something more than a good arm for golf.
She looked so like a child, and yet so lurkingly like a woman. It gave him a new sense of Katie. It blew the warm breath of life over an idea he had had when he came there.
He had just come from Zelda Fraser, having had luncheon at the Osbornes'. He had once thought Zelda stimulating. Now she did not seem at all stimulating in comparison with Katie. She was too obvious. That lurking something in Katie's eyes, that mysterious smile she had, made Katie seem subtle.
If this were to be added to all her other charms—
Katie had always seemed delightfully daring in an innocent sort of way. It seemed now she might be capable of being subtle in a sophisticated way. He had always thought of Katie as romping. A distinguished and quite individual form of romping. She even had a romping imagination. He loved her for her merriness, for her open sunniness. That had been an impersonal love, not very different from the way he might have loved a sister. In fact he had more than once wished Katie were his little sister instead of Wayne's.
He did not wish that now.
She became too fascinating and too desirable in her mysterious new complexity. There was zest in discovering Katie after he had known her so long.
And her eyes and her smile seemed jeering at him for having been such a long while in discovering her.
He wanted to kiss her. That mocking little smile seemed daring him to kiss her. And yet he did not dare to. It seemed part of Katie's lovely new complexity that she could invite and forbid at one and the same time.
Now Zelda could not have done more than the inviting—and so many could invite.
He rose and stood near her. "Katie, you don't mean to marry Prescott, do you?"
She clapped her hands above her head and laughed like a child immensely tickled about something.
He laughed, too, and then asked to be informed what he was laughing at.
"Oh, you're just laughing because I am," laughed Katie.
"Then may I ask, mysterious one, what you're laughing at?"
"Oh I'm laughing at a tumble I once took. 'Twas such a tumble."
"I'd like to tumble to the tumble."
"You would like it. You'd love it."
"I hadn't thought," said the Major, "that when I asked if you meant to marry Prescott I was classifying with the great humorists of all time."
"And I hadn't thought," she returned, "that when I thought Prescott meant to marry me I was classifying with the great tumblers of all time!"
Suddenly she stopped laughing. "No, I don't mean to marry Harry, and I can further state with authority that Harry doesn't mean to marry me."
The laughter went from even her eyes—thinking, perhaps, of whom Harry did mean to marry.
But she was not going to let herself become grave. If she grew quiet she would know again about the woe of the world—surging right underneath. The only way not to know it was underneath was to keep merrily dancing away in one's place on top of it. She made a curious little gesture of flicking something from her hand and whistled a romping little tune.
He stood there surveying her. "It wouldn't do at all for you to marry Prescott, Katie. He's a likeable enough fellow, but with it all something of a duffer."
"Just what kind of man," asked Katie demurely, "would you say I had better marry?"
He sat down in a chair nearer her. "Just what kind of man would you like to marry?"
"How do you know," she asked, still demurely, "that I would like to marry any?"
"Oh you must have a guide, Katie. You must be guided through this wicked world."
She bit her lip and turned away when he told her she must have a guide.
But she turned back, and seriously. "Is it a wicked world?"
With that he ventured to pat the hand now lying on the arm of the chair so near him. "Well you'll never know it, if it is. We'll keep it all from you, Katie. You're safe."
Katie pulled her hand away petulantly. "If there's anything I don't want to be," she said, "it's safe."
That seemed to amuse him. "I only meant," he laughed, "safe from the great outer world."
"Tell me," said Katie, "what's in the great outer world?"
He sat there smiling at her as one would smile at a dear inquisitive child.
"Have you made many excursions into the great outer world?" she asked boldly.
"Oh yes," he replied lightly, "I've been something of an explorer. All men, you know, Katie, are born explorers. Though for the most part I must say I find our own little world the more attractive."
Then he surprised her. "Katie, would you think a man a brute to propose to a girl on the day she was giving an important dinner?"
But right there she pulled herself in. "No more tumbles!" thought Katie.
"It would seem rather inconsiderate, wouldn't it? Such a man wouldn't seem to have a true sense of values."
"Well, dinner or no dinner, the man I have in mind has a true sense of values. He has a true sense of values because he knows Katherine Wayneworth Jones for the most desirable thing in all the world."
It did surprise her, and the surprise grew. None of them had thought of Major Darrett as what they called a marrying man.
And on the heels of the surprise came a certain sense of triumph. Katie knew that any of the girls in what he called their little world would be looking upon it as a moment of triumph, and there was triumph in gaining what others would regard as triumph.
"How old are you, Katie?" he asked.
She told him.
"Twenty-five. And I'm forty-one. Is that prohibitive?"
She looked at him, thinking how lightly the years had touched him—how lightly, in all probability, they would touch him. He had distinctly the military bearing. He would have that same bearing at sixty. And that same charm. He was one to whom experience gave the gift of charm more insidiously than youth could give it.
Life would be more possible with him than with any man she knew within the enclosure. If one were to go dancing and smiling and flirting through the world Major Darrett would be the best possible man to go with.
As she looked at him, smiling at her half tenderly and half humorously, life with Major Darrett presented itself as such an attractive thing that there was almost pain in the thought of not being able to take it.
For deep within her she never questioned not being able to take it. But for the moment—
"You see, Katie," he was saying, "I would be the best possible one for you to be married to, because you could go right on having flirtations. Of course I needn't tell you, Katie dear, that you're a flirt. The trouble with your marrying most fellows would be that they wouldn't like it."
"And of course," she replied, "I would be a good one for you to marry because having my own flirtations I wouldn't be in a position to be critical about yours."
He laughed quite frankly.
Katie leaned back and sat there smiling at him, that new baffling smile he found so alluring.
"But do you know, Katie, I think, for a long time, anyway, we could keep busy flirting with each other."
"And we would keep all the busier," she said, "knowing that the minute we stopped flirting with each other one of us would get busy flirting with somebody else."
He laughed delightedly. "Katie, where did you learn it was very fetching to say outrageous things so demurely?"
"Tell me," said Katie, more seriously, "why do you want to marry?"
"Until about an hour ago I wanted to marry—oh for the most bromidic of reasons. Just because, in the natural course of events, it seemed the next thing for me to do. I'll even be quite frank and confess I had thought of you in that bromidic version of it. Had thought of it as 'eminently suitable'—also, eminently desirable. We'd like to do the same things. We'd get on—be good fellows together. But now I want to marry—and I want to marry you—because I think you're quite the most fascinating thing in all the world!"
Lightly and yet seriously he spoke of things—of his own prospects. She knew how good they were. Of where and how they would probably live;—a pleasant picture it was he could draw. It would mean life along the sunny paths. And very sunny indeed it seemed they would be—if possible at all. Certainly one would never have to explain any of one's jokes to Major Darrett.
For just a moment she let herself drift into it. And knowing she was drifting, and not knowing it was for just the moment, he rose and bent over her chair.
"Katie," he whispered, and there was passion in his voice, "I think I can make you fall in love with me."
The little imp in Katie took possession. And something deeper than the little imp stirred vaguely at sound of that thing in his voice. She raised her face so that it was turned up to him. "You think you could? Now I wonder."
"Oh you wonder, do you—you exasperating little wretch! Well just give me a chance—"
But suddenly he was standing at attention, his face colorless. Katie jumped up guiltily, and there leaning against the door—all huddled down and terrible looking—was Ann.
"Why, Katie," she whispered thickly—"Katie! But you told me—you promised me—that you would shut the door in his face."
It took her a number of seconds to get the fact that they must know each other.
And even then she could get no grip on the situation. She was too shaken by having jumped—as though she were some vulgar housemaid!
And why was Ann looking like that! She looked dreadful—huddled up that way as if some one was going to beat her!
"Why you can't know each other," said Katie wildly. "How could you know each other? Where would you know each other? And if you do know each other,"—turning upon him furiously—"need we all act like thieves?"
He tried to speak, but seemed unable to. He had lost command of himself, save in so far as standing very straight was concerned.
She wished Ann would stand up! It gave her such an awful sense of shame to see Ann huddled like that.
"Katie," Ann whispered, "you told me—"
"I never told you I'd shut the door in Major Darrett's face!" said Katie harshly. "And what are you talking about? What does this all mean?"
He had recovered himself. "Why it merely means, Katie, that we—as you surmised—at one time—knew each other. The—the acquaintance terminated—not pleasantly. That's all. A slight surprise for the moment. No harm done."
Then Ann did stand straight. "It means," she said shrilly, "that if I had never known him"—pointing at him—"you would never have found me there." She pointed down toward the river. "Oh no, no harm done, of course—No harm done—"