Miss Katherine Wayneworth Jones was bunkered. Having been bunkered many times in the past, and knowing that she would be bunkered upon many occasions in the future, Miss Jones was not disposed to take a tragic view of the situation. The little white ball was all too secure down there in the sand; as she had played her first nine, and at least paid her respects to the game, she could now scale the hazard and curl herself into a comfortable position. It was a seductively lazy spring day, the very day for making arm-chairs of one's hazards. And let it be set down in the beginning that Miss Jones was more given to a comfortable place than to a tragic view.
Katherine Wayneworth Jones, affectionately known to many friends in many lands as Katie Jones, was an "army girl." And that not only for the obvious reasons: not because her people had been of the army, even unto the second and third generations, not because she had known the joys and jealousies of many posts, not even because bachelor officers were committed to the habit of proposing to her—those were but the trappings. She was an army girl because "Well, when you know her, you don't have to be told, and if you don't know her you can't be," a floundering friend had once concluded her exposition of why Katie was so "army." For her to marry outside the army would be regarded as little short of treason.
To-day she was giving a little undisturbing consideration to that thing of her marrying. For it was her twenty-fifth birthday, and twenty-fifth birthdays are prone to knock at the door of matrimonial possibilities. Just then the knock seemed answered by Captain Prescott. Unblushingly Miss Jones considered that doubtless before the summer was over she would be engaged to him. And quite likely she would follow up the engagement with a wedding. It seemed time for her to be following up some of her engagements.
She did not believe that she would at all mind marrying Harry Prescott. All his people liked all hers, which would facilitate things at the wedding; she would not be rudely plunged into a new set of friends, which would be trying at her time of life. Everything about him was quite all right: he played a good game of golf, not a maddening one of bridge, danced and rode in a sort of joy of living fashion. And she liked the way he showed his teeth when he laughed. She always thought when he laughed most unreservedly that he was going to show more of them; but he never did; it interested her.
And it interested her the way people said: "Prescott? Oh yes—he was in Cuba, wasn't he?" and then smiled a little, perhaps shrugged a trifle, and added:
"Great fellow—Prescott. Never made a mess of things, anyhow."
To have vague association with the mysterious things of life, and yet not to have "made a mess of things"—what more could one ask?
Of course, pounding irritably with her club, the only reason for not marrying him was that there were too many reasons for doing so. She could not think of a single person who would furnish the stimulus of an objection. Stupid to have every one so pleased! But there must always be something wrong, so let that be appeased in having everything just right. And then there was Cuba for one's adventurous sense.
She looked about her with satisfaction. It frequently happened that the place where one was inspired keen sense of the attractions of some other place. But this time there was no place she would rather be than just where she found herself. For she was a little tired, after a long round of visits at gay places, and this quiet, beautiful island out in the Mississippi—large, apart, serene—seemed a great lap into which to sink. She liked the quarters: big old-fashioned houses in front of which the long stretch of green sloped down to the river. There was something peculiarly restful in the spaciousness and stability, a place which the disagreeable or distressing things of life could not invade. Most of the women were away, which was the real godsend, for the dreariness and desolation of pleasure would be eliminated. A quiet post was charming until it tried to be gay—so mused Miss Katherine Wayneworth Jones.
And of various other things, mused she. Her brother, Captain Wayneworth Jones, was divorced from his wife and wedded to something he was hoping would in turn be wedded to a rifle; all the scientific cells of the family having been used for Wayne's brain, it was hard for Katie to get the nature of the attachment, but she trusted the ordnance department would in time solemnly legalize the affair—Wayne giving in marriage—destruction profiting happily by the union. Meanwhile Wayne was so consecrated to the work of making warfare more deadly that he scarcely knew his sister had arrived. But on the morrow, or at least the day after, would come young Wayneworth, called Worth, save when his Aunt Kate called him Wayne the Worthy. Wayne the Worthy was also engaged in perfecting a death-dealing instrument, the same being the interrogation point. Doubtless he would open fire on Aunt Kate with—Why didn't his mother and father live in the same place any more, and—Why did he have to live half the time with mama if he'd rather stay all the time with father? Poor Worth, he had only spent six years in a world of law and order, and had yet to learn about courts and incompatibilities and annoying things like that. It did not seem fair that the hardest part of the whole thing should fall to poor little Wayne the Worthy. He couldn't help it, certainly.
But how Worthie would love those collie pups! They would evolve all sorts of games to play with them. Picturing herself romping with the boy and dogs, prowling about on the river in Wayne's new launch, lounging under those great oak trees reading good lazying books, doing everything because she wanted to and nothing because she had to, flirting just enough with Captain Prescott to keep a sense of the reality of life, she lay there gloating over the happy prospect.
And then in that most irresponsible and unsuspecting of moments something whizzed into her consciousness like a bullet—something shot by her vision pierced the lazy, hazy, carelessly woven web of imagery—bullet-swift, bullet-true, bullet-terrible—striking the center clean and strong. The suddenness and completeness with which she sat up almost sent her from her place. For from the very instant that her eye rested upon the figure of the girl in pink organdie dress and big hat she knew something was wrong.
And when, within a few feet of the river the girl stopped running, shrank back, covered her face with her hands, then staggered on, she knew that that girl was going to the river to kill herself.
There was one frozen instant of powerlessness. Then—what to do? Call to her? She would only hurry on. Run after her? She could not get there. It was intuition—instinct—took the short cut a benumbed reason could not make; rolling headlong down the bunker, twisting her neck and mercilessly bumping her elbow, Katherine Wayneworth Jones emitted a shriek to raise the very dead themselves. And then three times a quick, wild "Help—Help—Help!" and a less audible prayer that no one else was near.
It reached; the girl stopped, turned, saw the rumpled, lifeless-looking heap of blue linen, turned back toward the river, then once more to the motionless Miss Jones, lying face downward in the sand. And then the girl who thought life not worth living, delaying her own preference, with rather reluctant feet—feet clad in pink satin slippers—turned back to the girl who wanted to live badly enough to call for help.
Through one-half of one eye Katie could see her; she was thinking that there was something fine about a girl who wanted to kill herself putting it off long enough to turn back and help some one who wanted to live.
Miss Jones raised her head just a trifle, showed her face long enough to roll her eyes in a grewsome way she had learned at school, and with a "Help me!" buried her face in the sand and lay there quivering.
The girl knelt down. "You sick?" she asked, and Katie had the fancy of her voice sounding as though she had not expected to use it any more.
"So ill!" panted Kate, rolling over on her back and holding her heart.
"Here! My heart!"
The girl looked around uncertainly. It must be a jar, Katie conceded, being called back to life, expected to fight for the very thing one was running away from. Her rescuer was evidently considering going to the river for water—saving water (Katie missed none of those fine points)—but instead she pulled the patient to a sitting position, supporting her.
"You can breathe better this way, can't you?" she asked solicitously.
"Have you had them before? Will it go away? Shall I call some one?"
Katie rolled her head about as she had seen people do who were dying on the stage. "Often—before. Go away—soon. But don't leave me!" she implored, clutching at the girl wildly.
"I will not leave you," the stranger assured her. "I have plenty of time."
Miss Jones made what the doctors would call a splendid recovery. Her breath began coming more naturally; her spine seemed to regain control of her head; her eyes rolled less wildly. "It's going," she panted; "but you'll have to help me to the house."
"Why of course," replied the girl who was being delayed. "Do you think
I'd leave a sick girl sitting out here all alone?"
Kate felt like apologizing. It seemed rather small—that interrupting a death to save a life.
"Where do you live?" her companion was asking. She pointed to the quarters. "In one of those?"
"The second one," Katie told her. "And thank Heaven," she told herself, "the first one is closed!"
"Lean on me," directed the girl in pink, with a touch of the gentle authority of strong to weak. "Don't be afraid to lean on me."
Kate felt the quick warm tears against her eyelids. "You're very kind," she said, and the quiver in her voice was real.
They walked slowly on, silently. Katie was trembling now, and in earnest. "My name is Katherine Jones," she said at last, looking timidly at the girl who was helping her.
It wrought a change. The girl's mouth closed in a hard line. A hard, defending glitter seemed to seal her eyes. She did not respond.
"May I ask to whom I am indebted for this kindness?" It was asked with gentleness.
But for the moment it brought no response. "My name is Verna Woods," came at last with an unsteady defiance.
They had reached the steps of the big, hospitable porch. With deep relief Katie saw that there was no one about. Nora had gone out with one of her adorers from the barracks.
They turned, and were looking back to the river. It was May at May's loveliest: the grass and trees so tender a green, the river so gently buoyant, and a softly sympathetic sky over all. A soldier had appeared and was picking twigs from the putting green in front of them; another soldier was coming down the road with some eggs which he was evidently taking to Captain Prescott's quarters. He was whistling. Everything seemed to be going very smoothly. And a launch was coming down the river; a girl's laugh came musically across the water and the green; it inspired the joyful throat of a nearby robin. And into this had been shot—!
Katie turned to the intruder. "It's lovely, isn't it?" she asked in a queer, hushed way.
The girl looked at her, and at the fierce rush of things Kate took a frightened step backward. But quickly the other had turned away her face. Only her clenched hand and slightly moving shoulder told anything.
There was another call to make, and instinct alone could not reach this time. For the moment thought of it left her mute.
"You have been so kind to me," she began, her timidity serving well as helplessness, "so very kind. I wonder if I may ask one thing more? Am—am I keeping you from anything you should be doing?"
There was no response at first, just a little convulsive clenching of the hand, an accentuated movement of the shoulder. Then, "I have time enough," was the low, curt answer, face still averted.
"I am alone here, as you see. I am just a little afraid of a—a return attack. I wonder—would you be willing to come up to my room with me—help make a cup of tea for us and—stay with me a little while?"
Again for the minute, no reply. Then the girl turned hotly upon her, suspicion, resentment—was it hatred, too?—in her eyes. But what she saw was as a child's face—wide eyes, beseeching mouth. Women who wondered "what in the world men saw in Katie Jones" might have wondered less had they seen her then.
The girl did not seem to know what to say. Suddenly she was trembling from head to foot.
Kate laid a hand upon the quivering arm. "I've frightened you," she said regretfully and tenderly. "You need the tea, too. You'll come?"
The girl's eyes roved all around like the furtive eyes of a frightened animal. But they came back to Katie's steadying gaze. "Why yes—I'll come—if you want me to," she said in voice she was clearly making supreme effort to steady.
"I do indeed," said Kate simply and led the way into the house.