"Please let us try and keep very quiet," said Katie coldly. "It is—it is vulgar enough at best. Let us be as quiet—as decent as we can."
Ann crouched down again as though struck.
Then Katie laughed, bitterly. "Why really, it's quite as good as a play, isn't it? It's quite a scene, I'm sure."
"It needn't be," said he soothingly, and relaxing a little. "I own I was startled for the moment, and—discomfited. But you were quite right—we'll go into no hysterics. What I can't understand"—looking from one to the other—"is what she's doing here."
Katie's head went up. "She's here, I'll have you know, as my friend. Just as you're here as my friend."
She thought Ann was going to fall, and her heart softened a little. "Suppose you go up to my room, Ann. Lie down. Just—just lie down. Keep quiet. Why did you come home? Is something wrong?"
Ann whispered that Worth had a sore throat. She had a chance to come down in an automobile. She thought she had better. She was sorry she had.
"All right," said Katie. "It's all right. Just go lie down. I'll look after Worth—and you—in a minute."
Ann left the room and Katie turned to the Major. "Well?"
"You're so sensible, Katie," he said hurriedly, "in feeling the thing to do is make no fuss about things. Nothing is to be gained—But for God's sake, Katie, what is she doing here? Where did you know her?"
"Oh you tell first," said Katie, smiling a hard smile. "You tell where you found her, then I'll tell where I found her."
"Really—really," he said stiffly, "I must refuse to discuss such a matter with you. I can only repeat—she has no business here."
"Then pray why have you any business here?"
He flushed angrily. But restrained himself and said persuasively: "Why, Katie, she's not one of us."
"She's one of me," said Katie. "She's my friend."
"I can only say again," he said shortly, "that she has no business to be."
"As I am to be kept so safe from the wicked world," said Katie stingingly, "I presume it is not proper you discuss the matter with me. I take it, however, that she was one of those 'excursions' into the great outer world?"
"Well," he said defiantly, "and what if she was? She was willing to be, I guess. She wasn't knocked down with a club."
"Oh, no! Oh, my no! That wouldn't be your method. And when one is tired of exursions—I suppose one is at perfect liberty to abandon them—?"
"Nonsense! You can't trump up anything of that sort. She wasn't 'abandoned.' She left in the night."
He colored. "I beg your pardon. But as long as we're speaking frankly—"
"Oh pray," said Katie, "let's not be overly delicate in this delicate little matter!"
"Very well then. Her coming was her own choice. Her going away was her own choice. I can see that I have no great responsibility in the matter."
"Why how clever you must be," said Katie, all the while smiling that hard smile, "to be able to argue it like that."
He was standing there with folded arms. "I think I was very decent to her. All things considered—in view of the nature of the affair—I consider that I was very decent."
Katie laughed. "Maybe you were. I found her in the very act of committing suicide."
He paled, but quickly recovered himself. "That was not my affair. There must have been—something afterward."
"Maybe. I'm sure I don't know. But you were the beginning, weren't you?" Suddenly she buried her face in her hands. "Oh I didn't think—I didn't think it could get in here! It's everywhere! It's everywhere! It's getting me!"
"Katie—dear Katie," he murmured, "don't. We'll get you out of this. You wanted to be kind. It was just a mistake of yours. We'll fix it up. Don't cry." And he put an arm about her.
She stood before him with clenched hands, eyes blazing. "Don't touch me! Don't you touch me!" And she left him.
In the hall Nora stopped her to say there were not enough champagne glasses. She made no reply. Champagne glasses—!
She looked after Worth. Then she went to Ann.
"Well, Ann," she began, her voice high pitched and unsteady, "this is about the limit, isn't it?"
"Oh Katie," moaned Ann, "you told me—you told me—you understood. Why, Katie—you must have known there was some one."
"Oh I knew there was some one, all right," said Katie, her voice getting higher and higher, her cheeks more and more red—"only I just hadn't figured, you see, on its being some one I knew! Why how under the sun," she asked, laughing wildly, "did you ever meet Major Darrett?"
"I—I'll try to tell you," faltered Ann miserably. "I want to. I want to make you understand. Katie!—I'll die if you don't understand!"
She looked so utterly wretched that Katie made heroic effort to get herself under control—curb that fearful desire to laugh. "I will try," she said quietly as she could. "I will try."
"Why, Katie," Ann began, "does it make so much difference—just because you know him?"
"It makes all the difference! Can't you see—why it makes it so vulgar."
Ann threw back her head. "Just the same—it wasn't vulgar. What I felt wasn't vulgar. Why, Katie," she cried appealingly, "it was my Something Somewhere! You didn't think that vulgar!"
"Oh no," laughed Katie, "not before I knew it was Major Darrett! But tell me—I've got to know now. What is it? Where did you meet him? Just how bad is it, anyhow?"
It must have been desperation led Ann to spare neither Katie nor herself. "I met him," she said baldly, "one night as I was standing on the corner waiting for a car. He had an automobile. He asked me to get in it—and I did. And that—began it."
Katie stepped back from her in horror, the outrage she felt stamped all too plainly on her face. "And you call that not vulgar? Why it was common. It was low."
Then Ann turned. "Was it? Oh I don't know that you need talk. I wouldn't say much—if I were you. I guess I saw the look on his face when I came in. Don't think for a minute I don't know that look. You got it there. And let me tell you another thing. Just let me tell you another thing! Whatever I did—whatever I did—I know I never had the look you did when I came in! I never had that look of fooling with things!"
Katie was white—powerless—with rage. "You dare speak to me like that!" she choked. "You—!"
And all control gone she rushed blindly from the room.
She had no idea how long she had been walking. She was conscious of being glad that there was so big a place for walking, that walking was not a preposterous thing to be doing. She passed several groups of soldiers. They were reassuring; they looked so much in the natural order of things and gave no sign of her being out of that order.
Though she knew she was out of it. It was dizzying—that feeling of having lost herself. She had never known it before.
After she had walked very fast for what seemed a long time she seemed able to gather at least part of her forces back under control.
That blinding sense of everything being scattered, of her being powerless, was passing.
And the first thing sanity brought was the suggestion that Ann, too, might be like that. Once before Ann had been "scattered" that way—oh she understood it now as she had not been able to do then. And perhaps Ann would have less power to gather herself back—
She grew frightened. She turned toward home, walking fast as she could—worried to find herself so far away.
Major Darrett stepped out from the library to speak to her, but she hurried past him up the stairs.
Ann was not in the room where she had left her.
She looked through the other rooms. She called to her.
Then it must be—she told herself—all the while fear growing larger in her heart—that Ann, too, had gone out for a walk.
"Worth," she asked, grotesquely overdoing unconcern, "where's Miss Ann? Has she gone for a walk?"
"Why, Aunt Kate, she was called away."
"Called away?" whispered Katie. "Called where?"
"She said she was called away. She's gone."
"But she's coming back? When did she say, dear," she pleaded, "that she would be back?"
"I don't know, Aunt Kate. She felt awful bad because she had to go. She came and kissed me—she kissed me and kissed me—and said she hated to leave me—but that she had to go. She kept saying she had to."
In the hall was Nora. "Nora," asked Katie, standing with her back to her, "what is it about Miss Forrest?"
"She was called away, Miss Kate. A telegram. I didn't see no boy—"
"They must have 'phoned it," said Katie sharply.
"Yes'm. I didn't hear the 'phone. But I was busy. I'm so upset, Miss Kate, about them champagne glasses. We've telephoned over the river—"
"Never mind the champagne glasses! What about Miss Forrest? How did she go? When did she go?"
"She went in Mr. Osborne's automobile. Miss Osborne sent you some beautiful flowers, Miss Kate. Oh they're just lovely!"
"Oh, I don't care anything about flowers! You say Ann went in the machine?"
"Yes'm. She told the chauffeur—he brought the flowers—that big colored man, you know, Miss Kate—that she was called away, and would he take her to the station. And he said sure he would—and so they went. But, Miss Kate—it's most five o'clock—what will we do about those two champagne glasses!"
"Merciful heavens, Nora! Stop talking about them! I don't care what you do about them!"
She went down to the library. "Look here," she said to the Major, "what is this? What have you done? Where's Ann gone?"
"I don't know a thing about it. I went over to the office—an appointment—and when I came back—hurried back because I was worried about you—I saw her going away in the Osborne car."
"And never tried to stop her?"
"See here, Katie. Why should I stop her? Best thing you can do is let her go."
"Do you know—do you know," choked Katie—"that she may kill herself?"
He laughed. "Oh I guess not. Calm down, Katie. She had her wits about her, all right. I heard her tell the man to drive her to the station. She had sense enough to take advantage of the car, you see. I guess she knows the ropes. Don't think she has much notion of killing herself."
"Oh you don't. Much you know about it! You with your fine noble understanding of life!" She turned away, sobbing. "What shall I do? What shall I do?"
But in a moment she stopped. "The thing for me to do," she said, "is telephone the Osbornes' chauffeur."
Which she did. Yes, he had taken the young lady to the station. He didn't know where she was going. He just pulled in to the station and then pulled right out again—she told him there was nothing more to do. He didn't believe she bought a ticket. He saw her walking out to get a train. No, he didn't know what train. There were two or three trains standing there.
"What can I do?" Katie kept murmuring frantically.
Suddenly her face lighted. She sat there thinking for a moment, then called her brother's office. Wayne, she was glad to find, was not there. She asked if she might speak to Mr. Ferguson.
"Mr. Ferguson," she said, "this is—this is Captain Jones' sister. I want for a very particular—a very imperative reason—to speak at once to the—to your friend—that man—why the man that mends the boats, you know. Could you get word for him to come here—here, to my house—right away? Tell him it's very—oh very important. Tell him Miss Jones says she—needs him."
Ferguson said it was just quitting time. He'd go up there on his wheel. He thought he could find him. He would send him right down.
She admired the way he controlled what must have been his astonishment.
The man who mended the boats would come. He would know what to do. He would help her. She would keep as calm as she could until he got there.
But surely—surely—Ann wouldn't go away and leave her without a word! Ann couldn't be so cruel as to let her worry like that. Why of course—Ann had left a note for her.
So she looked for the note—tossed everything in the room topsy-turvey. Even looked in the closet.
Again she heard Nora in the hall. "Nora," she said, and Katie's face was white and pleading, "didn't Miss Ann say anything about leaving me a note?"
"Why yes, Miss Kate—yes—sure she did. I was so upset about them champagne glasses—"
"Well, where is it? Oh, hurry, Nora. Tell me."
"Why it's in the desk, Miss Kate. She said you was to look in the desk."
She ran to it with a sob. "Nora, how could you let me—"
Nora was saying again that she was so worried about the champagne glasses—
The desk, of course, would be the last place one would think of looking for a note!
She found, and with trembling fingers smoothed out the note; it had been crumpled rather than folded. It was brief, and so written she could scarcely read it.
"You see, Katie, you can't—you simply can't. So I'm going. When you come back, you won't want me to. That's why I've got to go now. I'd tell you—only I don't know. I'll get a train—just any train. I can't write. Because for one thing I haven't time—and for another if I began to say things I'd begin to cry—and then I wouldn't go. I've got to keep just this feeling—the one I told you about its having to be—
"Katie, you're not like the rest of your world, but it is your world—and see what you get when you try to be any different from it!
"Oh Katie—I didn't think I'd be leaving like this. I didn't think I'd ever say to you—"
There it ended.
"Miss Kate," Nora said, "Major Darrett wants to know if he may speak to you in the library."
She went down mechanically.
"Now, Katie," he began quietly and authoritatively, "there are several orders you must give, several things you must attend to, in relation to your dinner. Things seem a little disorganized, and it's getting late, and it won't do, you know, to get these people upset. Now Nora tells me that through some complication or other you're two champagne glasses short."
Katie was staring at him. "And is that all that matters? Two champagne glasses short! And here a life—Why what kind of people are we?"
"Katie," he said, his voice well controlled, "we're just that kind of people. No matter what's at stake—no matter what we're thinking about things—or about each other—the thing we've got to do now—you know it—and you're going to do it—is go ahead with this affair."
"I'm not going to have it! Why what do you think I'm made of? I won't. Telephone them. Call it off. I tell you I can't."
"Katie, you think you can't, and yet you know you will. I know exactly what you're made of. I know what your father was made of. I know what your mother was made of. I know that no matter what it costs you—you'll go on as if nothing had occurred. Now will you telephone Prescott, or shall I? Ask him about the glasses. And if he can't do anything for you you'll have to call up Zelda at Miss Osborne's and tell the girls they can't come unless they each bring a glass. I'll do it if you want me to. They'll think it a great lark, you know, having to bring their own glasses or getting no champagne."
"Yes," whispered Katie, "they'll think it a great lark. For that matter—everything's a great lark."
She sank to a chair. Her tears were falling as she said again that everything was a great lark. He paid no attention to her but went to the telephone.
But the tears were interrupted. "Miss Kate," said Nora, "can you come and look at the table a minute? They want to know—"
She dried her eyes as best she could and went and looked at the table.
She kept on looking at things—doing things—until she heard the bell.
"If that's some one for me, Nora," she said, "show him in here, and don't interrupt me while he's here." She passed into a small room they used as a den.
He came to her there. And when she saw that it was indeed he she broke down.
"Something is the matter?" he asked gently. "You wanted me? You sent for me?"
She raised her head. "Yes. I sent for you. I need you."
It was evident she needed some one. He would scarcely have known her for Katie—so white, so shaken. "I'm glad you sent for me," he said simply. "Now won't you tell me what I can do?"
"She's gone," whispered Katie.
"I don't know—I don't know where. Away. On a train. Some train. Any train. Somewhere. I don't know where. I thought—oh you'll find her for me—won't you? You will find her—won't you?"
She had stretched out her hands, and he took them, holding them strongly in both of his. "Don't you want to tell me what you know? I can't help you unless you tell me."
Briefly she told him—wrenched the heart out of it in a few words. "You see, I failed," she concluded, looking up at him with swimming eyes. "The very first thing—the very first test—I failed. I wanted to do so much—thought I understood so well—oh I was so proud of the way I understood! And then just the minute it came up against my life—"
Her head went down to her hands, and because he was holding them it was upon his hands rather than hers it rested, Katie's head with its gold brown hair all disorderly.
"Don't," he whispered, as she seemed breaking her heart with it. "Why don't you know all the world's like that? Don't you know we all can be fine and free until it comes up against our lives?"
"I was so hard!" she sobbed.
"Yes—I know. We are hard—when it's our lives are touched. Don't cry, Katie." He spoke her name timidly and lingeringly. "Isn't that what life is? Just one long thing of trying and failing? But going on trying again! That's what you'll do."
"If you can find her for me! But I never can hold up my head again—never believe in myself—never do anything—why I never can laugh again—not really laugh—if you don't find her for me."
A curious look passed over his face with those last words. "Well if that's the case," he said, with a strange little laugh of his own, "I've got to find her."
They talked of things. He would go to the station. He would do what he could. If he thought anything to be gained by it he would go on to Chicago. He had to go in a few days anyhow, he explained, to see about some work, and if it didn't seem a mere wild goose chase he would go that night.
The change in Katie, the life which came back to her eyes, rewarded him.
"I'd go with you to the station," she said, "only we're giving a big dinner to-night."
She thought his face darkened. "Oh yes, I know. But that's the kind of person I am. We go on with the dinner—no matter what's happening. It's—our way."
He seemed to be considering it as a curious phenomenon. "Yes, I know it is. And you can't help that either, can you? So you're going to be very festive in this house to-night?"
"Oh very festive in this house to-night. Some army people are here from Washington. We're going to have a gorgeous dinner, and I'm going to wear a gorgeous gown and drink champagne and try and smile myself into the good graces of a man who can do things for my brother and be—oh so clever and festive."
He looked at her as if by different route he had come again to that thing of pitying her; only along this other route the quality of the pity had changed and there was in it now a tender sadness. "It's not so simple a matter for you, is it—this 'being free'? You're of the bound, too, aren't you? And you've become conscious of your chains. There's all the hope and all the tragedy of it in that." He took an impulsive step toward her and smiled at her appealingly, a little mistily, as he said: "Only please don't tell me you're not going to laugh any more."
As a matter of fact Katie did laugh a great deal that night. At least it passed for laughter, and the man who was worth cultivating for Wayne seemed to find it most attractive. It was evident to them all that Katie was getting on famously with him.
It was well that she was, for Wayne himself seemed making little headway. Before dinner Katie had told him briefly that Ann had come down with Worth (whose sore throat didn't seem serious, after all) and then had been called away. She said she couldn't talk about it then; she would tell him later.
But though they had a quiet host they had a vivid and a brilliant hostess. Those who knew Katie best, Mrs. Prescott in particular, kept watching her in wonderment. She had never known Katie to vie with Zelda Fraser in saying those daring things. Katie, though so merry, had seemed a different type. But to-night Katie and Zelda and Major Darrett kept things very lively.
Katie was telling her distinguished guest the tale of the champagne glasses. "Just fancy," she said, "here was I, giving a dinner for you—and it looked as if somebody would have to turn teetotaler or drink out of the bottle! After I finally got it straightened out I told Zelda she must keep her hand as much as possible on the stem of her glass so it would not be noted she was drinking from gothic architecture and the rest of us from classic."
"And you may have observed," blithely observed Zelda, "that keeping my hand on the stem of my glass is an order I am not loathe to obey—be it any old architecture."
They laughed. Zelda was the daughter of a general, and could say very much what she pleased and be laughed at as amusing.
It came to Katie in what large measure they all could do very much as they pleased. It was a game they played, and great liberty was accorded them in that game so long as they took their liberty in accordance with the prescribed rules of that game. But they guarded their own privileges with an intolerance for all those outside their game who would take privileges of their own. That—labeled a respect for good form—was in reality their method of self-defense.
She looked at Zelda Fraser—Zelda with her bold black eyes, her red cheeks which she made still redder—and her hair—as long as people were "wearing" hair Zelda wore a little more than any one else. Nothing about her suggested anything so redeeming as a quest for Something Somewhere. No veiled splendor of a dream hovered tenderly over Zelda. Watching her as she bantered with Major Barrett it grew upon Katie as one of the grotesque things of the world that Zelda should be within and Ann without.
Major Barrett had remained. It was Ann who had gone. Yet it was Ann had dreamed the dream. He who had made the "excursion" despoiling the dream. It was Ann had been "called." He who had preyed upon—cheated—that call.
Yet she had not sent him away. She was too much in the game for that. She had not seemed to have the power. Certainly she had not had the wit nor the courage. He had remained and taken command. She had done as he told her.
He was smiling approvingly upon her now, manifestly proud of the way Katie was playing the game.
Seeing it as a thing to win his approval she could with difficulty continue it. She was thankful that the dinner itself had drawn to a close.
Later, on the porch, Caroline Osborne asked for Ann. Zelda and Major Darrett and Harry Prescott were in the group at the time.
"You mean she is not coming back?" she pursued in response to Katie's statement that Ann had been called away.
"I don't know," said Katie. "I'm afraid not."
"Who is she, Katie?" Zelda asked.
"No one you know."
Zelda turned to Prescott. "You know her?"
"Yes," he said. His voice told Katie how hard he was finding it just then to play the game.
"Yes," he replied.
Zelda threw back her head in an impertinent way of hers that was called engaging. "Love her?"
He stepped nearer Katie, as if for protection. His smile was a dead smile.
"Really, Zelda," said Katie, in laughing protest.
"I just wondered," said Zelda, "if she was going to marry into the army."
Katie saw Major Darrett's smile.
"If she did," she said, "the army would gain something that might do it good."
Major Darrett was staring at her speechlessly. Harry gratefully. "You're very fond of her?" said Caroline Osborne in her sweet-toned way.
"Very," said Kate in way less sweet.
"Too bad we missed her," said Zelda, "especially if she would do us good. Now Cal here's going in for doing good, too. Only she's not trying to do it to the army. She's doing it to the working people."
"Get the distinction," laughed the Major.
"I must get hold of some stunt like that," said Zelda. "The world's getting stuntier and stuntier." She turned to Major Darrett. "Whom do you think I could do good to?"
"Me," he said, and they strolled laughingly away together.
A few minutes later Katie found herself alone with Captain Prescott.
"Katie," he asked pleadingly, "where has Ann gone?"
"She's been called away, Harry. She's—gone away."
"But won't she be back?"
Katie turned away. "I don't know. I'm afraid not."
"Katie," he besought, "won't you help me? Won't you tell me where I can find her? I know—something's the matter. I know—something's strange. But I want to see her! I want to find her!"
"I want to see her!—I want to find her!"—It invaded the chamber in Katie's heart she would keep inexorably shut. She dared not speak.
But he was waiting, and she was forced to speak. "Harry, I'm afraid you'll have to forget Ann," she said unsteadily. "I'm afraid you'll have to—" Because she could not go on, sure if she did she would not be able to go on with the evening, she laughed. "I'll tell you what you do," she said briskly. "Marry Caroline Osborne. She's going to have heaps of money and will go in for philanthropy. 'Twill be quite stunty. Don't you see, even Zelda thinks it stunty?"
He stepped back. "I had thought, Katie,"—and his voice pierced her armor—"that you were kind."
She dared not let in anything so human as a hurt. "Well that's where you're wrong. I'm not kind," she said harshly.
"So I see," he answered unsteadily.
But of a sudden the fact that he had been drawn to Ann drew her irresistibly to him. He had been part of all those wonderful days—days of dream and play, or waking and wondering. She remembered that other night they had stood on the porch speaking of Ann—the very night she had become Ann. That fact that he had accepted her as Ann—cared for her—made it impossible to harden her heart against him. "Oh Harry," she said, voice shaking, "I'm sorry. So sorry. It's my fault—and I'm sorry. I didn't want you to be hurt. I didn't want—anybody to be hurt."
Some one called to him and he had to turn away. She stepped into the shadow and had a moment to herself.
What did it mean—she wondered. That one was indeed bound hand and foot and brain and heart and spirit?
What had she done save prove that she could do nothing?
Ann had been driven away. And in her house now were Zelda Fraser and Caroline Osborne and Major Darrett and all those others who were not dreamers of dreams. And the dream betrayed—she felt one with them.
For she had turned the dream out of doors with Ann: the wonderful dream which sheltered the heart of reality, dream through which waking had come, from which all the long dim paths of wondering had opened—dream through which self had called.
And what was there left?
A house of hollow laughter was left—of pretense—"stunts"—of prescribed rules and intolerance with all breakers of rules even though the breakers of rules were dreamers of dreams.
With a barely repressed sob she remembered what Ann had said in her story of her dog. "I could have stood my own lonesomeness. But what I couldn't stand was thinking about him.... I couldn't keep from thinking things that tortured me."
It was that gnawed at the heart of it.... How go to bed that night without knowing that Ann had a bed? She had loved Ann because Ann needed her, been tender to her because Ann was her charge. She yearned for her now in fearing for her. More sickening than the pain of having failed was the pain of wondering where Ann would get her breakfast. Tears which she had been able to hold back even under the shame of her infidelity came uncontrollably with the simple thought that she might never do Ann's hair for her again.
It seemed to Katie then that the one thing she could not do was go back to her guests.
A boy was coming on a bicycle. He had a letter for Katie.
She excused herself and went to the little room to read it—the same little room where they had been that afternoon.
It was but a hurried note. He had found nothing at the station except that the Chicago train was probably there at the time. Doubtless she had taken it. He had taken a chance and wired the train asking her to wire Katie immediately. That was all he could think of to do. He was taking the night train for Chicago—not that he knew of anything to do there, but perhaps she would like to feel there was some one there. He would have to go soon anyhow—might as well be that night. He would be there three or four days. He told Katie where to address him. He would do anything she asked.
He advised her, for the time, to remain where she was. Probably word would come to her there. She might be able to do more from there than elsewhere. It was not even certain Ann had gone to Chicago—by no means certain. And even if she had—how find her there if she did not wish to be found?
At the last: "I suppose you're very gay at your dinner just now. That must be tough business—being gay. Don't let it harden your heart—as gayety like that could so easily do. And remember—you're going on! You're not a quitter. And it's only the quitters stop when they fall down."
Below, shyly off in one corner, written very lightly as if he scarcely dared write it, she found: "You don't know what a wonderful thing it is to me just to know that you are in the world."
Katie went back to her guests with less gayety but more poise.
Major Darrett had remained for a good-night drink with Wayne. He came out to Katie as she was going up stairs.
"I was proud of you, Katie," he said.
"I take no pride in your approval!"
"You made a great hit, Katie."
"Not with myself."
"Katie," he suddenly demanded, "what were you up to? I can't get the run of it. For heaven's sake, what did you mean?"
"You wouldn't understand," she murmured wearily, for she was indeed so very weary then.
"Well, I'm afraid I wouldn't. I don't want to be harsh—when you've had such a hard day, but it looks to me as if you broke the rules."
"Our rules. You didn't play the game fair, Katie—presenting her here. I never would have done that."
"No," she said, "I know. You put what you call the rules of life so far above life itself."
"And look here, Katie, what's this about Prescott? I'm not going to have him hurt. If he doesn't know the situation, and has any thought of marrying her—why I'm in honor bound to tell him."
That fired her. "Oh you are, are you? Well if your honor moves you to that I'll have a few things to say about that same 'honor' of yours! To our distinguished guest of this evening, for instance," she laughed.
He lost color, but quickly recovered himself. "Oh come now, Katie, you and I are not going to quarrel."
"No, not if you can help it. That wouldn't be your way. But do you know what I think of the 'game' you play?"
She had gone a little way up the stairs, and was standing looking back at him. Her eyes were shining feverishly.
"I think it's a game for cheats."
He did go colorless at that. "That's not the sort of thing you can say to a man, Katie," he said in shaking voice.
"A game for cheats," she repeated. "The cheats who cheat with life—and then make rules around their cheating and boast about the 'honor' of keeping those rules. You'd scorn a man who cheated at cards. Oh you're very virtuous—all of you—in your scorn of lesser cheats. What's cards compared with the divinest thing in life!"
"I tell you, I played fair," he insisted, his voice still unsteady.
"Why to be sure you did—according to the rules laid down by the cheats!"
Wayne came upon her upstairs a little later, sobbing. And sobbingly she told the story—her face buried too much of the time for her to see her brother's face, too shaken by her own sobs to mark how strange was his breathing. Wayne did not accuse her of not having played a fair game. He said almost nothing at all, save at the last, and that under his breath: "We'll move heaven and earth to get her back!"
His one reproach was—"Oh Katie—you might have told me!"
But they did not get her back. July had passed, and August, and most of September, and they had not found Ann.
Heaven and earth were not so easily moved.
Katie had tried, and the man who mended the boats had tried, and Wayne, but to no avail.
There had come the one letter from her—letter seeking to save "Ann" for Katie. It was a key to Ann, but no key to her whereabouts save that it was postmarked Chicago.
Those last three months had impressed Katie with the tragic indefiniteness of the Chicago postmark.
She had spent the greater part of the summer there, at a quiet little hotel on the North Side, where she was nominally one of a party of army women. That was the olive branch to her Aunt Elizabeth on the chaperone question. For her own part, she had seen too many unchaperoned girls in Chicago that summer to care whether she was chaperoned or not.
Her army friends thought Katie interested in some work which she did not care to talk about. They thought it interesting, though foolhardy to let it bring those lines. Katie was not a beauty, they said among themselves, and could not afford lines. Her charm had always been her freshness, her buoyancy and her blitheness. Now if she lost that—
Wayne had been there from time to time. It was but a few hours' ride from the Arsenal, and his detail to his individual work gave him considerable liberty.
He, too, had more "lines" in September than he had had in June. That they attributed to his "strenuousness" in his work, and thought it to be deplored. After all, the department might throw him down—who knew what it might not do?—and then what would have been the use? For a man who did not have to live on his pay, Captain Jones was looked upon as unnecessarily serious.
But Katie suspected that it was not alone devotion to military science had traced those lines. It surprised her a little that they should have come, but to Katie herself it was so vital and so tragic a thing that it was not difficult to accept the fact of its marking any one who came close to it. After that night at the dance there had several times stirred a vague uneasiness, calling out the thought that it was a good thing Wayne was, as she loosely thought it, immune. But even that uneasiness was lost now in sterner things.
She had never gone into her reasons for looking upon her brother as "immune." It was an idea fixed in her mind by her association with his unhappiness with Clara. Knowing how much he had given, she thought of him as having given all. Her sense of the depth of his hurt had unanalyzed associations with finality, associations intrenched by Wayne's growing "queerness."
It could not be said, however, that that queerness had stood in the way of his doing all he could. Some of the best suggestions had come from him. And Katie had reasons for suspecting he had done some searching of his own which he did not report to her.
She knew that he was worried about her, though he understood too well to ask her to give up and turn back to her own life.
Her gratitude to Wayne for that very understanding made her regret the more her inability to be frank with him about the man who mended the boats. She had had to tell him at first that he was helping, but Wayne had seemed to think it so strange, had appeared so little pleased with the idea, that she had not seen it as possible to make a clean breast of it. She told him that she had talked with him about Ann—that was because he had seen her, knew more about it than she did. And that she had talked with him again the day Ann left, thinking he might have seen her. That Wayne had not liked. "You should have sent for me," he said. "Never take outsiders into your confidence in intimate matters like that."
And what she had not found it possible to try to make clear to him was that the man who mended the boats seemed to her anything but an outsider.
And if he had not seemed so in those days of early summer, he seemed infinitely less so now. She talked with him of things of which she could not talk with anyone else. In those talks it was all the rest of the people of the world who were the outsiders.
He had been there several times during the summer. Katie knew now that he did not mean to spend all his life mending boats. He was writing a play; it was things in relation to that brought him to Chicago. Katie wanted to know about the play, but when she asked he told her, rather shortly, that he did not believe she would like it. He qualified it with saying he did not know that anyone would like it.
When he was there he went about with her as she looked for Ann.
Every day she pursued her search, now in this way, now in that. That search brought her a vision of the city she would have had in no other way. It was that vision, revealed, interpreted, by her anxiety for Ann brought the sleepless nights and the ceaseless imagery and imaginings which caused her army friends to wish that dear Katie would marry before she, as they more feelingly than lucidly put it, lost out that way.
She thought sometimes of Ann's moving picture show, showing her the things of which she had dreamed. All this, things seen in her search, had become to Katie as a moving picture show. It moved before her awake and asleep; "called" to her.
She would stand outside the stores as the girls were coming out at night. Stores, factories, all places where girls worked she watched that way. By the hundreds, thousands, she saw them filling the city's streets as through the long summer one hot day after another drew to a close. Often she would crowd into the street cars they were crowding into, rush with them for the elevated trains, or follow them across the river and see them disappear into boarding-house and rooming-house, those hot, crowded places waiting to receive them after the hot, crowded day. Sometimes she would go for lunch to the places she saw them going to—always searching, and as she searched, wondering, and as she wondered, sorrowing.
She came to know of many things: of "dates"—vulgar enough affairs many of them appeared to be. But she no longer dismissed them with that. She always wondered now if the sordid-looking adventure might not be at heart the divine adventure. Things which she would at one time have called "common" and turned from as such she brooded over now as sorry expression of a noble thing. And then she would go home to her friends at night and sometimes they would seem the moving-picture show—their pleasures and standards—the whole of their lives. And she sorrowed that where there was setting for loveliness the setting itself should so many times absorb it all, and that out on the city's streets that tender fluttering of life for life, divine yearning for joy that joy might give again to life, should find so many paths to that abyss where joy could be not and where the life of life must go. There were days which showed all too brutally that many were "called" and few were saved.
Thus had she passed the summer, and thus it happened that she did not have in September all the freshness and the gladness that had been her charm in May.
Though to the man waiting for her that afternoon she had another and a finer charm. Life had taken something from her, but she had wrested something from life.
"I could have had a job," she said, and smiled.
But the smile was soon engulfed. "And there was a girl who needed it, she told me how she was 'up against it,' and through some caprice she didn't get it. Needing it doesn't seem to make a bit of difference. If anything, it works the other way."
She had read in the paper that morning that the chorus was to be "tried out" for a new musical comedy. Thinking that Ann, too, might have read that in the paper, she went.
She had been seeing something of chorus girls as well as shop girls. She went to all the musical comedies and sat far front and kept her glasses on the chorus. More than once she had stood near stage doors as they were coming out. Seeing them so, they were not a group of chorus girls; they were a number of individuals, any one of whom might be Ann, more than one of whom might be fighting the things Ann had fought, seeking the things Ann had sought. It was that about the city that got her. It was a city full of individuals, none of whom were to be dismissed as just this, or exactly that. She challenged all groupings, those groupings which seemed formed by the accidents of life and so often made for the tragedy of life.
She was talking to him about chorus girls; announcing her discovery that they were just girls in the chorus. "I was once asked to define army people," she laughed, "and said that they were people who entered the army—either martially or maritally. Now I find that chorus girls are girls who enter the chorus. Even their vocabularies can't disguise them, and if that can't—what could?
"Though there are different kinds of chorus girls," she reflected. "Some wanted to be somewhere else. Some hope to be somewhere else. And some swaggeringly make it plain that they wouldn't be anywhere else if they could. I'd hate to have to say which kind is the most sad."
"Katie," he said—he never spoke her name save in that timid, lingering way—"don't you think you're rather over-emphasizing the sadness?"
Two girls passed them, laughing boisterously. "Perhaps so. I suppose I am. And yet nothing seems to me sadder than some of the people who would be astonished at suggesting sadness."
That afternoon they were going to the telephone office. Katie had been there early in the summer, to the central office and all the exchanges, but wanted to go again. And Mann said he would like to go with her and see what the thing looked like.
The officials were cordial to them at the telephone office, seeming pleased to exhibit and explain. And it seemed that with their rest rooms and recreation rooms, their various things to contribute to comfort and pleasure, their pride was justified.
But when they were in the immense room where several hundred girls were sitting before the boards, rest rooms and recreation rooms did not seem to reach. They walked behind a long row, their guide proudly calling attention to the fact that not one of those girls turned her head to look at them. He called it discipline—concentration. Katie, looking at the tense faces, was thinking of the price paid for that discipline. Many of the girls were very young, some not more than sixteen. They preferred taking them young, said the guide; they were easier to break in if they had never done anything else.
There was not the shadow of a doubt that they were being "broken in." So clearly was that demonstrated that Katie wondered what there would be left for them to be broken in to after they had been thoroughly broken in to that. Walking slowly behind them, looking at every girl as a possible Ann, she wondered what they would have left for a Something Somewhere. She remembered the woman who wore the white furs saying it "got on her nerves" and wondered what kind of nerves they would be it wouldn't "get on." The thing itself seemed a mammoth nervous system, feeding on other nervous systems, lesser sacrificed to greater.
Her fancy reached out to all the things that at that instant were going through those cords. Plans were being made for dinner, for motoring that evening, for many pleasant, restful things. Many little red lights, with many possible invitations, were insistently dancing before tired eyes just then. They seemed endless—those demands of life—demands of life before which other demands of life were slowly going down.
She and Mann were alone for the minute. "And yet," she turned to him, after following his glance to a girl's tense, white face, "what can they do? The company, I mean. One must be fair. They pay better than most things pay, seem more interested in the girls. What more can we ask?"
"Well, what would you think," he suggested, "of 'asking' for a system more interested in conserving nervous systems than in producing millionaires?
"Why, yes," he added, "in view of the fact that it has to make a few men rich, perhaps they are doing all they can. I don't doubt that they think they are. But if this were a thing that didn't have to produce wealth—then it wouldn't need to endanger health. Don't you think that in this nerve-blighting work four or five hours, instead of eight, would be a pretty good day's work for girls just out of short clothes?"
"It would seem so," sighed Katie, as she left the room filled with girls answering calls—girls looking too worn to respond to any "call" life might have for them.
Though when, a little later, they stood in the doorway watching a long line of them passing out into the street it was amazing how ready and how eager they seemed for what life had to offer them. They all looked tired, but many appeared happy—determined that all of life should not be going over the wire. It seemed to Katie the most wonderful thing she knew of that girls from whom life exacted so much could remain so ready—so happily eager—for life.
There was one thing to which she had made up her mind. Amid the confusion of her thinking and the sadness of her spirit one thing she saw as clear. There was something wrong with an arrangement of life which struck that hard at life. The very fact that the capacity for life persisted through so much was the more reason for its being a thing to be cherished rather than sacrificed.
"Let's walk up this way," she was saying; "walk over the river. The bridge is a good place just now."
Katie's face was white and tense as some of the faces they had left behind "No," he said impetuously. "Let's not. Let's do something jolly!"
She shook her head "I have a feeling we're going to find her to-night."
Katie was always having that feeling. But as she looked then he had not the heart to remind her of the many times it had played her false.
Many girls passed them on the bridge, but not Ann. "I can never make up my mind to go," she said. "I always think I ought to wait till the next one comes round the corner."
A girl who appeared to be thinking deeply passed them, turning weary eyes upon them in languid interest.
"I wonder what," Katie exclaimed. "What she's thinking about," she explained. "Maybe she's come to the end of her string—and if she has, hundreds of thousands of people about her—oh I think it's terrible"—her voice broke—"the way people are crowded so close together—and held so far apart. Everybody's alone. Nobody knows."
For a second his hand closed over hers as it rested on the railing of the bridge, as if he would bear some of the hurt for her, that hurt she was finding in everything.
Despite the extreme simplicity of her dress she looked out of place standing on that bridge at that hour; he was thinking that she had not lost her distinction with her buoyancy.
Her face was quivering. "Katie," it made him ask, "don't you think you'd better—quit?"
She turned wet eyes upon him reproachfully. "From you?"
"But is any—individual—worth it?"
"Oh I suppose no 'individual' is worth much to you," she said a little bitterly.
There was a touch of irony in the tender smile which was his only response.
They stood there in silence watching men and women come and go—solitary and in groups—groups tired and groups laughing—groups respectable and groups questionable—humanity—worn humanity—as it crossed that bridge.
She recalled that first night she had talked with him—that first time a hot day had seemed to her anything more than mere hot day, that night on the Mississippi—where distant hills were to be seen. She remembered how she had looked around the world that night to see if it needed "saving." It seemed a long time ago since she had not been able to see that the world needed saving.
That was the night the man who mended the boats told her she had walked sunny paths. She looked up at him with a faint smile, smiling at the fancy of his being an outsider.
It seemed, on the other hand, that all the hopes and fears in all the hearts that were passing them were drawing them together. There had been times when she had had a wonderful sense of their silences holding the sum of man's experiences.
"You must go home," he was saying decisively.
"Home? Where? To my uncle's? That's where I keep the trunks I'm not using."
She laughed and brushed away a tear. "You know in the army we don't have homes."
"Well you have temporary homes," he insisted, as each moment she seemed to become more worn. "You know what I mean. Go back to your brother's."
"He'll be ordered from there very soon. There'll not be a place there for me much longer."
He did not seem to have reckoned with that. His face changed. "Then where will you go, Katie?" he asked, very low. "What will you do?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. I don't know where I'll go—and I don't know what I'll do."
They stood there in silence, drawn close by thought of separation.
"Shall we walk on?" she said at last. "I've lost the feeling that we're going to find Ann to-night."
And so, still silently, they walked on.
But when, after a moment, he looked at her, it was to see that she was making heroic effort to control the tears. "Katie!" he murmured, "what is it?"
"We're giving up," she said, and could not say more.
"Why no we're not! It's only the method we're giving up. This way of doing it. You've tried this long enough."
"But what else is there? Just looking. Just keeping on looking—and hoping. Just the chance. What other method is there?"
"We'll find some other," he insisted, not willing, when she looked like that, to speak his fears. "There'll be some other way. But you can't keep on this way—dear."
There was another silence—a different one: silence which opened to receive them at the throb in his voice as he spoke that last word.
He had to go back that night. "Well?" he asked gently, as they neared her hotel.
"I'll be down in a couple of days," replied Katie, not steadily.
"And you'll be there a little while, won't you," he asked wistfully, "before you go—you don't know where?"
"Yes," she said, turning her eyes upon him for just an instant, "a little while—before I go—I don't know where."
But though she was going—she didn't know where—though she was giving up—seemed conquered—through all the uncertainty and the sadness there surged a strange new joy in their hearts as, very slowly, they walked that final block.
At the door, after a moment's full silence, she held out her hand. "And you'll be down there—mending boats?"
He nodded, his eyes going where words had not ventured.
"And you'll—come and see me?" she asked shyly. "You don't mean, do you,"—looking away, as if with scarcely the courage to say it—"that I'm to 'stop'—everything?"
"No, Katie," he said, and his voice was shaking, "I think you must know I do not mean you are to—stop everything."
As they lingered for a final moment, they were alone—far out in the sweet wild new places of the spirit; and all that man had ever yearned for, all joy that had been given and all joy denied seemed as a rich sea—fathomless sea—swelling just beneath that sweet wild new thing that had fluttered to consciousness in their hearts.
The new life in her heart gave her new courage that night to look out at life. She faced what before that she had evaded consciously facing.
Perhaps they would not find Ann at all. Perhaps Ann had given up—as they were giving up. Perhaps Ann was not there to be found.
It was her fight against that fear had kept her so much in the crowds. Ann was there. She had only to find her. Leaving the crowds seemed to be admitting that Ann was not in them; for if she really felt she was in them, surely she would not consent to leaving them.
That idea of Ann's not being there was as a shadow which had from time to time crept beside her. In the crowds she lost it. There were so many in the crowds. Ann, too, was in the crowds. She had only to stay in them and she must find her.
Now she was leaving them; and it was he who understood the crowds was telling her to leave them. Did he think she was not there? Why had she not had the courage to press it? There was so much they should have been talking of in those last blocks—and they had talked of nothing.
But the new warmth flooded Katie's heart at thought of having talked of nothing. What was there to talk about so important as talking of nothing? In a new way it drew her back to the crowds; the crowds that talked so loudly of many unlovely things in order to still in their hearts that call for the loveliness of talking of nothing.
It gave her new understanding of Ann. Ann was one who must rest in the wonder of talking of nothing. It was for that she had gone down. The world had destroyed her for the very thing for which life loved her—Katie joining with the world.
She would not have done that to-night. To-night, in the face of all the world, she must have joined with life.
She wondered if all along it was not the thing for which she had most loved Ann. This shy new thing in her own heart seemed revealing Ann. It was kin to her, and to Katie's feeling for her.
Many times she had wondered why she cared so terribly, would ask herself, as she could hear her friends asking if they knew: "But does it matter so much as all this?"
She had never been able to make clear to herself why it mattered so much—mattered more than anything else mattered. None of the reasons presenting themselves on the surface were commensurate to the depth of the feeling. To-night she wondered if deep below all else might not lie that thing of Ann's representing life, her failure with Ann meaning infidelity to life.
It turned her to Ann's letter;—she had not had the courage to read it for a number of days.
"Katie," Ann had written, "I'm writing to try and show you that you were not all wrong. That there was something there. And I'm not doing it for myself, Katie. I'm doing it for you.
"If I can just forget I'm writing about myself, feel instead that I'm writing about somebody you've cared for, believed in, somebody who has disappointed and hurt you, trying to show you—for your sake—if I don't mind being either egotistical or terrible for the sake of showing you—
"It's not me that matters, Katie—it's what you thought of me. That's why I'm writing.
"I never could talk to you right. For a long time I couldn't talk at all, and then that night I talked most of the night I didn't tell the real things, after all. And at the last I told you something I knew would hurt you without telling you the things that might keep it from hurting, without saving for you the things you had thought you saw. I don't know why I did that—desperate, I suppose, because it was all spoiled, frantic because I was helpless to keep it from being spoiled. And then I said things to you—that must show—And yet, Katie, as long as I'm trying to be honest I've got to say again, though all differently, that I was surprised—shocked, I suppose, at something in the way you looked. It's just a part of your world that I don't understand. It's as I told you—we've lived in different worlds. Things—some things—that seem all right in yours—well, it's just surprising that you should think them all right. In your world the way you do things seems to matter so much more than what you do.
"I've gone, Katie, and as far as I'm concerned it's what has to be. You see you couldn't fit me in. The only thing I can do for you now is to—stay gone. You'll feel badly—oh, I know that—but in the end it won't be as bad as trying to fit me in, trying to keep it up. And I can't have you doing things for me in another way—as you'd want to—because—it's hard to explain just what I mean, but after I've been Ann I couldn't be just somebody you were helping. It meant too much to me to be Ann to become just a girl you're good to.
"What I'd rather do—want this letter to do—is keep for you that idea of Ann—memory of her.
"So that's why I want to tell you about some things that really were Ann. I haven't any more right to you, but I want you to know you have some right to her.
"I told you that I was standing on the corner, and that he asked me to get in the automobile, and that I did, and that that—began it. It was true. It was one way to put it. I'll try and put it another way.
"It isn't even fair to him, putting it that way. You know, of course, that he's not in the habit of asking girls on corners to go with him. I think—there at the first—he was sorry for me. I think it was what you would call an impulse and that being sorry for me had more to do with it than anything else.
"And I know I wasn't fair to myself when I put it that way; and you weren't fair to me when you called it common and low. That's what I want to try and show you—that it wasn't that.
"It was in the warm weather. It had been a hot, hard day. Oh they were all hot, hard days. I didn't feel well. I made mistakes. I was scolded for it. I quarreled with one of the girls about washing my hands! She said she was there before I was and that I took the bowl. We said hateful things to each other, grew furious about it. We were both so tired—the day had been so hot—
"Out on the street I was so ashamed. It seemed that was what life had come to.
"That afternoon I got something that was going over the wire. You get so tired you don't care what's going over the wire—you aren't alive enough to care—but I just happened to be let in to this—a man's voice talking to the girl he loved. I don't remember what he was saying, but his voice told that there were such things in the world—and girls they were for. One glimpse of a beautiful country—to one in a desert. I don't know, perhaps that's why I talked that way to the other poor girl who was tired—perhaps that's why I went in the automobile.
"I had to ride a long way on the street car to get where I boarded. I had to stand up—packed in among a lot of people who were hot and tired too—the smell so awful—everything so ugly.
"I had to transfer. That's where I was when I first saw him—standing on the corner waiting for the other car.
"Something was the matter—it was a long time coming. I was so tired, Katie, as I stood there waiting. Tired of having it all going over the wire.
"He was doing something to his automobile. I didn't pay any attention at first—then I realized he was just fooling with the automobile—and was looking at me.
"And then he took my breath away by stepping up to me and raising his hat. I had never had a man raise his hat to me in that way—
"And then he said—and his voice was low—and like the voices in your world are—I hadn't heard them before, except on the wire—'I beg pardon—I trust I'm not offensive. But you seem so tired. You're waiting for a car? It doesn't appear to be coming. Why not ride with me instead? I'll take you where you want to go. Though I wish'—it was like the voice on the wire—and for me—'that you'd let me take you for a ride.'
"Katie, you called him charming. You told about the women in your world being in love with him. If he's charming to them—to you—what do you suppose he seemed to me as he stood there smiling at me—looking so sorry for me—?
"He went on talking. He drew a beautiful picture of what we would do. We would ride up along the lake. There would be a breeze from the lake, he said. And way up there he knew a place where we could sit out of doors under trees and eat our dinner and listen to beautiful music. Didn't I think that might be nice?
"Didn't I think it might be—nice? Oh Katie—you'd have to know what that day had been—what so many days—all days—had been.
"I looked down the street. The car was coming at last—packed—men hanging on outside—everybody looking so hot—so dreadful. 'Oh you mustn't get in that car,' he said.
"Beautiful things were beckoning to me—things I was to be taken to in an automobile—I had never been in an automobile. It seemed I was being rescued, carried away to a land of beautiful things, far away from crowded street cars, from the heat and the work that make you do things you hate yourself for doing.
"Was it so common, Katie? So low? What I felt wasn't—what I dreamed as we went along that beautiful drive beside the lake.
"For I dreamed that the city of dreadful things was being left behind. The fairy prince had come for me. He was taking me to the things of dreams, things which lately had seemed to slip out beyond even dreams.
"It was just as he had said—A little table under a tree—a breeze from the lake—music—the lovely things to eat and the beautiful happy people. Of course I wasn't dressed as much as they were, so we sat at a little table half hidden in one corner—Oh I thought it was so wonderful!
"And he saw I thought it wonderful and that interested him, pleased him. Maybe it was new to him. I think he likes things that are new to him. Anyhow, he was very gentle and lovely to me that night. He told me I was beautiful—that nothing in the world had ever been so beautiful as my eyes. You know how he would say it, the different ways he would have of saying it beautifully. And I want to say again—if it seems beautiful to you—Why, Katie, I had never had anything.
"Going home he kissed me—
"When I went home that night the world was all different. The world was too wonderful for even thoughts. Too beautiful to believe it could be the world.
"I was in the arms of the wonderful new beauty of the world. Something in my heart which had been crouching down afraid and cold and sad grew warm and live and glad. Life grew so lovely; and as the days went on I think I grew lovely too. He said so; said love was making me radiant—that I was wonderful—that I was a child of love.
"Those days when I was in the dream, folded in the dream, days before any of it fell away, they were golden days, singing days—days there are no words for.
"We saw each other often. He said business kept him away from Chicago much of the time. I didn't know he was in the army; I suppose now he belonged in some place near there. And I think you told me he was not married. He said he was—but was going to be divorced some day. But I didn't seem to care—didn't think much about it. Nothing really mattered except the love.
"Then there came a time when I knew I was trying to keep a door shut—keep the happiness in and the thoughts out. It wasn't that I came to think it was wrong. But the awful fear that wanted to get into my heart was that it was not beautiful.
"And it wasn't beautiful because to him it wasn't beautiful. It was only—what shall I say—would there be such a thing as usurping beauty? That was the thought—the fear—I tried and tried to push away. I see I can't tell it; no matter how much we may want to tell everything—no matter how willing we are—there are things can't be told, so I'll just have to say that things happened that forced the door open, and I had to know that what to me was—oh what shall I say, Katie?—was like the prayer at the heart of a dream—didn't, to him, have anything to do with dreams, or prayers, or beautiful, far-away things that speak to you from the stars.
"And having nothing to do with them, he seemed to be pushing them away, crowding them out, hurting them.
"I haven't told it at all. I can't. But, Katie, you're in the army, you must admire courage and I want you to take my word for it when I tell you I did what it took courage to do. I think you'd let me live on in your heart as Ann if you knew what I gave up—and just for something all dim and distant I had no assurance I'd ever come near to. For oh, Katie—when you love love—need it—it's not so easy to let go what's the closest you've come to it. Not so easy to turn from the most beautiful thing you've known—just because something very far away whispers to you that you're hurting beauty.
"I didn't go back. One night my Something Somewhere called me away—and I left the only real thing I had—and I didn't go back. I don't know—maybe I'm overestimating myself—perhaps I'm just measuring it by the suffering—but it seems to me, Katie, that you needn't despise yourself when loneliness can't take you back to the substitutes offered for your Something Somewhere. Something in you had been brave; something in you has been faithful—and what you've actually done doesn't matter much in comparison with that.
"I've been writing most of the day. It's evening now, and I'm tired. I was going to tell more. Tell you of things that happened afterward—tell you why you found me where you did find me. But now I don't believe I want to tell those things. They're too awful. They'd hurt you—haunt you. And that's not what I want to do. What I want is to make you understand, and if the part I've told hasn't done that—
"'I think it was to save Ann you were going to give up Verna,' you said. Oh Katie—how did you know? How do you know?
"And then you called to me. You weren't sick at all—were you, Katie? Oh I soon guessed that it was the wonderful goodness of your heart—not the disease of it—caused that 'attack.'
"Then those beautiful days began. I wanted to talk about what those days meant—what you meant—what our play—our dream meant. Things I thought that I never said—how proud I was you should want to make up those stories about me—how I wanted to be the things you said I was—and oh, Katie dear, the trouble you got me into by loving to tell those stories—telling one to one man and another to another! I'd never known any one full of play like you—yet play that is so much more than just play. Sometimes a picture of Centralia would come to me when I'd hear you telling about my having lived in Florence. Sometimes when I was listening to stories of things you and I had done in Italy I'd see that old place where I used to put suspenders in boxes—! Katie, how strange it all was. How did it happen that things you made up were things I had dreamed about without really knowing what I was dreaming? How wonderful you were, Katie—how good—to put me in the things of my dreams rather than the things of my life. The world doesn't do that for us.
"It seems a ridiculous thing to be mentioning, when I owe you so many things too wonderful to mention—but you know I do owe you some money. I took what was in my purse. I hope I can pay it back. I'm so tired just now it doesn't seem to me I ever can—but if I don't, don't associate it with my not paying back the missionary money!
"Katie, do you know how I'd like to pay you back? I'd like to give you the most beautiful things I've ever dreamed. And I hope that some of them, at least, are waiting somewhere—and not very far off—for you. How I used to love to hear you laugh—watch you play your tricks on people—so funny and so dear—
"Now that's over. Katie, I don't believe it's all my fault, and I know it's not yours. It's our two worlds. You see you couldn't fit me in.
"I used to be afraid it must end like that. Yet most of the time I felt so secure—that was the wonder of you—that you could make me so beautifully secure. And your brother, Katie, have you told him? I don't care if you do, only if you tell him anything, won't you try and make him understand everything? I couldn't bear it to think he might think me—oh those things I don't believe you really think me.
"If you don't see me any more, you won't think those things. It's easier to understand when things are all over. It's easier to forgive people who are not around. After what's happened I couldn't be Ann if I were with you. That's spoiled. But if I go—I think maybe Ann can stay. For both our sakes, that's what I want.
"'Twas a lovely dream, Katie. The house by the river—the big trees—the big flag that waved over us—the pretty dresses—the lovely way of living—the dogs—the men who were always so nice to us—Last night I dreamed you and Worth and I were going to a wedding. That is, it started out to be a wedding—then it seemed it was a funeral. But you were saying such funny things about the funeral, Katie. Then I woke up—"
The letter broke off there.
The next morning Katie did something which it had been in her mind to do for some time. She went to Centralia.
It was not that she expected Centralia to furnish any information about Ann. It was hard to say just why she was so certain Ann had not gone back to Centralia. The conviction had something to do with her belief in Ann.
Centralia, however, might be an avenue to something. Furthermore, she wanted to see Centralia. That was part of her passion for seeing the thing as a whole, realizing it. And she had a suspicion that if anything remained to forgive Ann it would be forgiven after seeing Centralia.
And back of all that lurked the longing to tell Ann's father what she thought of him.
Katie was in a strange mood that day. She had read Ann's letter many times, but had never finished it with that poignantly personal heartache of the night before. It was as if she were not worthy that new thing which kept warm in her own heart. For she had been hostile to the very thing from which the warmth in her own heart drew. The sadness deepened in the thought that the great hosts of the world's people sheltered joy in their own hearts and hardened those very hearts against all to whom love came less fortunately than it had come to them. How could there be 'hope for the world, no matter what it might do about its material affairs, while heart closed against heart like that, while men and women drew their own portions of joy and shut themselves in with them, refusing to see that they were one with all who drew, or would draw. It seemed the most cruel, the most wrong thing of all the world that men—and above all, women—should turn their most unloving face upon the face of love.
Of which things she thought again as she passed various Centralias and wondered if there were Anns longing for love in all those unlovely places.
She came at last, after crossing a long stretch of nothingness, to the town where Ann had lived, town from which she had gone forth to hear grand opera and find the loveliness of life. But as she stepped from the train and approached a group of men lounging at the station it came to her that "Ann's father," particularly as Ann had not been Ann in Centralia, was a somewhat indefinite person to be inquiring for.
After a moment's consideration she approached the man who looked newest to his profession and asked how many churches there were in Centralia. Thereupon one man beat open retreat and all viewed her with suspicion. But the man of her choice was a brave man and ventured to guess that there were four.
One of his comrades held that there were five. A discussion ensued closing with the consensus of opinion in favor of the greater number.
Then Katie explained her predicament; she wanted to find a man who was a minister in Centralia and she didn't know his name. Reassured, they gathered round interestedly. Was he young or old? Katie cautiously placed him in the forties or fifties. Then they guessed and reckoned that it couldn't be either the Reverend Lewis or that new fellow at the Baptist. Was he—would she say he was one to be kind of easy on a fellow, or did she think he took his religion pretty hard?
Katie was forced to admit that she feared he took it hard. With that they were agreed to a man that it must be the Reverend Saunders.
She was thereupon directed to the residence of the Reverend Saunders. Right down there was a restaurant with a sign in the window "Don't Pass By." But she was to pass by. Then there was the church said "Welcome." No, that was not the Reverend Saunders' church. It was the church where she turned to the right. She could turn to the left, but, on the whole, it would be better to turn to the right—It would all have been quite simple had it not been for the fullness of the directions.
She took it that the fullness of their directions was in proportion to the emptiness of their lives.
As she walked slowly along she appreciated what Ann had said of the town's being walled in by nothingness—the people walled in by nothingness. Her two blocks on "Main Street" showed her Centralia as a place of petty righteousness and petty vice. There was nothing so large and flexible as the real joys of either righteousness or unrighteousness.
Nor was Centralia picturesquely desolate. It had not that quality of hopelessness which lures to melancholy. New houses were going up. The last straw was that Centralia was "growing."
And it was on those streets that a lonely little girl with deep brown eyes and soft brown hair had dreamed of a Something Somewhere.
As she turned in at the residence of the Reverend Saunders Katie was newly certain that Ann had not come back to Centralia. It seemed the one disappointment in Ann she was not prepared to bear would be to find that she had returned to the home of her youth.
Katie had been shown into the parlor. She was sitting in a rocking chair which "squeaked"—her smartly shod foot resting on a pale blue rose—the pale blue rose being in the carpet. The carpet also squeaked—or the papers underneath it did. On the table beside her was a large and ornate Bible, an equally splendid album, and something called "Stepping Heavenward."
Oh no—Ann had not come back. She knew that before she asked.
Ann's father was a tall, thin man with small gray eyes. "Thin lips that shut together tight"—she recalled that. And the kind of beard that is unalterably associated with self-righteousness.
It was clear he did not know what to make of Katie. She was wearing a linen suit which had vague suggestions of the world, the flesh, and the devil. She had selected it that morning with considerable care. Likewise the shoes! And the angle of the quill in Katie's hat stirred in him the same suspicion and aggression which his beard stirred in her.
Thus viewing each other across seas of prejudice, separated, as it were, by all the experiences of the human race, they began to speak of Ann and of life.
"I am a friend of your daughter's," was Katie's opening.
It startled him, stirring something on the borderland of the human. Then he surveyed Katie anew and shut his lips together more tightly. It was evidently just what he had expected his daughter to come to.
"And I came," said Katie, "to ask if you had any idea where she was."
That reached even farther into the border-country. He sat forward—his lips relaxed. "Don't you know?"
"No—I don't know. She was living with me, and she went away."
That recalled his own injury. He sat back and folded his arms. "She was living with me—and she went away. No, I know nothing of her whereabouts. My daughter saw fit to leave her father's house—under circumstances that bowed his head in shame. She has not seen fit to return, or to give information of her whereabouts. I have tried to serve my God all my days," said the Reverend Saunders; "I do not know why this should have been visited upon me. But His ways are inscrutable. His purpose is not revealed."
"No," said Katie crisply, "I should say not."
He expressed his condemnation of the relation of manner to subject by a compression of both eyes and lips. That, Katie supposed, was the way he had looked when he told Ann her dog had been sent away.
"Did you ever wonder," she asked, with real curiosity, "how in the world you happened to have such a daughter?"
"I have many times taken it up in prayer," was his response.
Katie sat there viewing him and looking above his head at the motto "God Is Love." She wondered if Ann had had to work it.
It was the suggestion in the motto led her to ask: "Tell me, have you really no idea, have you never had so much as a suspicion of why Ann went away?"
"Who?" he asked sharply.
"Your daughter. Her friends call her Ann."
"Her name," said he uncompromisingly, "is Maria."
Katie smiled slightly. Maria, as he uttered it, squeaked distressingly.
"Be that as it may. But have you really no notion of why she went away?"
She was looking at him keenly. After a moment his eyes fell, or rather, lifted under the look. "She had a good home—a God-fearing home," he said.
But Katie did not let go her look. He had to come back to it, and he shifted. Did he have it in him remotely, unavowedly, to suspect?
It would seem so, for he continued his argument, as if meeting something. He repeated that she had a good home. He enumerated her blessings.
But when he paused it was to find Katie looking at him in just the same way. It forced him to an unwilling, uneasy: "What more could a girl want?"
"What she wanted," said Katie passionately, "was life."
The word spoken as Katie spoke it had suggestion of unholy things. "But God is life," he said.
Suddenly Katie's eyes blazed. "God! Well it's my opinion that you know just as little about Him as you do about 'life.'"
It was doubtless the most dumbfounded moment of the Reverend Saunders' life. His jaw dropped. But only to come together the tighter. "Young woman," said he, "I am a servant of God. I have served Him all my days."
"Heaven pity Him!" said Katie, and rocked and her chair squeaked savagely.
He rose. "I cannot permit such language to be used in my house."
Katie gave no heed. "I'll tell you why your daughter left. She left because you starved her.
"Above your head is a motto. The motto says, 'God Is Love.' I could almost fancy somebody hung that in this house as a joke!
"You see you don't know anything about love. That's why you don't know anything about God—or life—or Ann.
"In this universe of mysterious things," Katie went on, "it so happened—as you have remarked, God's ways are indeed inscrutable—that unto you was born a child ordained for love."
She paused, held herself by the mystery of that.
And as she contemplated the mystery of it her wrath against him fell strangely away. Telling him what she thought of him suddenly ceased to be the satisfying thing she had anticipated. It was all too mysterious.
It grew so large and so strange that it did not seem a matter the Reverend Saunders had much to do with it. Telling him what she thought of him was not the thing interesting her then. What interested her was wondering why he was as he was. How it had all happened. What it all meant.
Her wondering almost drew her to him; certainly it gave her a new approach. "Oh isn't it a pity!" was what Katie said next. And there was pain and feeling and almost sympathy in her voice as she repeated, "Isn't it a pity!"
He, too, spoke differently—more humanly. "Isn't—what a pity?"
"That we bungle it so! That we don't seem to know anything about each other.
"Why I suppose you didn't know—you simply didn't have it in you to know—that the way she needed to serve God was by laughing and dancing!"
He was both outraged and drawn. He neither rebuked nor agreed. He waited.
"You see it was this way. You were one thing; she was another thing. And neither of you had any way of getting at the thing that the other was. So you just grew more intolerant in the things you were, and that, I suppose, is the way hearts are broken and lives are spoiled."
Her eyes had filled. It had drawn her back to her mood of the morning. "Doesn't it seem to you," she asked gently of the Reverend Saunders, "that it's just an awful pity?"
The Reverend Saunders did not reply. But he was not looking at Katie's quill or Katie's shoes. He was looking at Katie's wet eyes.
And Katie, as they sat there for a moment in silence, was not seeing him alone as the Reverend Saunders. She was seeing him as product of something which had begun way back across the centuries, seeing far back of the Reverend Saunders that spirit of intolerance which had shaped him—wrung him dry—spirit which in the very beginning had lost the meaning of those words which hung above the Reverend Saunders' head.
It seemed a childish thing to be blaming the Reverend Saunders for the things the centuries had made him.
Indeed, she no longer felt like "blaming" any one. Sorrow which comes through seeing leaves small room for blame.
Katie did not know as much about the history of mankind as she now wished she did—as she meant to know!—but there did open to her a glimpse of the havoc wrought by the forerunners of the Reverend Saunders—of all the children of love blighted in the name of a God of love.
She had risen. And as she looked at him again she was sorry for him. Sterility of the heart seemed a thing for pity rather than scorn. "I'm sorry for you," she spoke it. "Oh I'm sorry for us all! We all bungle it! We're all in the grip of dead things, aren't we? Do you suppose it will ever be any different?"
And still he looked, not at the quill or the shoes, but the eyes, eyes which seemed sorrowing with all the love sorrows of the centuries. "Young woman," he said uncertainly, "you puzzle me."
"I puzzle myself," said Katie, and wiped her eyes and laughed a little, thinking of the scornful exit she had meant to make after telling him what she thought of him.
She retraced her steps and waited for two hours at the station, reconstructing for herself Ann's girlhood in Centralia and thinking larger thoughts of the things which spoiled girlhoods, the pity of it all. And it seemed that even self-righteousness was not wholly to blame. Katie felt a little lonely in losing her scorn of "goodness." She had so enjoyed hating the godly. If even they were to be gently grouped with the wicked as more to be pitied than hated, then whom would one hate?
Did knowing—seeing—spoil hating? And was all hating to go when all men saw?
At the last minute she had a fight with herself to keep from going back and refunding the missionary money! The missionary money worried Katie. She wanted it paid back. But she saw that it was not her paying it back would satisfy her. She even felt that she had no right to pay it back.
She returned to Chicago to find that her uncle was in town. He had left a message asking her to join him for dinner over at his hotel.
It was pleasant to be dining with her uncle that night. The best possible antidote she could think of for Ann's father was her dear uncle the Bishop.
As she watched him ordering their excellent dinner she wondered what he would think of Ann's father. She could hear him calling Centralia a God-forsaken spot and Ann's father a benighted fossil. Doubtless he would speak of the Reverend Saunders as a type fast becoming obsolete. "And the quicker the better," she could hear him add.
But she fancied that the Reverend Saunderses of the world had yet a long course to run in the Centralias of the world. She feared that many Anns had yet to go down before them.
At any rate, her uncle was not that. To-night Katie loved him anew for his delightful worldliness.
Though he was not in his best form that night. He was on his way out to Colorado for the marriage of his son. "There was no doing anything about it," he said with a sigh. "My office has made me enough the diplomat, Katherine, to know when to quit trying. So I'm going out there—fearful trip—why it's miles from Denver—to do all I can to respectablize the affair. It seemed to me a trifle inconsiderate—in view of the effort I'm making—that they could not have waited until next month; there are things calling me to Denver then. Now what shall I do there all that time?—though I may run on to California. But it seems my daughter-in-law would have her honeymoon in the mountains while the aspens are just a certain yellow she's fond of. So of course"—with his little shrug Katie loved—"what's my having a month on my hands?"
"Well, uncle, dear uncle," she laughed, "hast forgotten the days when nothing mattered so much as having the leaves the right shade of yellow?"
"I have not—and trust I never will," he replied, with a touch of asperity; "but I feel that Fred has shown very little consideration for his parents."
"But why, uncle? I'm strong for her! She sounds to me like just what our family needs."
He gave her a glance over his glasses—that delighted Katie, too; she had long ago learned that when her uncle felt occasion demand he look like a bishop he lowered his chin and looked over his glasses.
"Well our family may need something; it's the first intimation I've had, Katherine, that it's in distress—but I don't see that a young woman who votes is the crying need of the family."
"She's in great luck," returned Katie, "to live in a State where she can vote."
He held up his hands. "Katie? You?"
"Oh I haven't prowled around this town all summer, uncle, without seeing things that women ought to be voting about."
He stared at her. "Well, Katie, you—you don't mean to take it up, do you?"
He looked so unhappy that she laughed. "Oh I don't know, uncle, what I mean to 'take up,' but I herewith serve notice that I'm going to take something up—something besides bridge and army gossip."
She looked at him reflectively. "Uncle, does it ever come home to you that life's a pretty serious business?"