She stepped out on the porch for a moment as Captain Prescott was saying good-night. The moonlight was falling weirdly through the big trees, stretching itself over the grass in shapes that seemed to spell unearthly things. And there were mystical lights on the water down there, flitting about with the movement of the stream as ghosts might flit. Because it looked so other-world-like she wondered if it knew what it had just missed. She had never thought anything about water save as something to look beautiful and have a good time on. It seemed now that perhaps it knew a great deal about things of which she knew nothing at all.
"Oh, I say, jolly night, isn't it?" he exclaimed as they stood at the head of the steps.
"Yes," said Kate grimly, "pleasant weather, isn't it?" and laughed oddly.
"It's great about your friend coming; Miss—?"
"Forrest." She spoke it decisively.
"She arrived this afternoon?"
"Yes, unexpectedly. I was never more surprised in my life than when I looked up and saw Ann standing there." Katie was not too impressed to resist toying a little with the situation.
"Oh, is that so? I thought—" But he was too well-bred to press it.
"Of course," she hastened to patch together her thread, "of course, as I told Wayne, I knew that Ann was coming. But I didn't really expect her until day after to-morrow. You see, there have been complications."
"Oh, I see. Well, at any rate it's great that she's here. She will be with you for the summer?"
"Ann's plans are a little uncertain," Kate informed him.
"I hope she'll not find it dull. Does she care for golf?"
"U—m, I—Ann has never played much, I believe. You see she has lived so much in Europe—on the Continent—places where they don't play golf! And then Ann is not very strong."
"Then this is just the place for her. Great place for loafing, you know.
I hope she is fond of the water?"
Kate was leaning against one of the pillars, still looking down toward the river. It might have been the moonlight made her look so strange as she said, with a smile of the same quality as those shadows on the grass: "Why yes; in fact, Ann's fondness for the water was the first thing I ever noticed about her. I think I might even say it was the water drew us together."
"Oh, well then, that is great. We can take the boat and do all sorts of jolly things. Now I wonder—about a horse for her. She rides?"
"Perhaps you had better make no plans for Ann," she suddenly advised. "It really would not surprise me at all if she went away to-morrow. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the whole thing. In fact, Ann has had a great deal of trouble."
"I'm sorry," he said with a simplicity she liked in him.
"Yes, a great deal of trouble. Last year both her father and mother died, which was a great blow to her."
"And now there are all sorts of business things to straighten out. It's really very hard for Ann."
"Perhaps we can help her," he suggested.
"Perhaps we can," agreed Kate. Her eyes left him to wander across the shadows down to the river again. But she came back to him to say, and this with the oddest smile of all, "Wouldn't it be a queer sensation for us? That thing of really 'helping' some one?"
She could not go to sleep that night. For a long time she sat in her room in the same big chair in which Ann had sat that afternoon. Poor Ann, who had sat there before she knew she was Ann, who was sleeping now without knowing she was Ann. For Ann was indeed sleeping. From her door as Kate carefully opened it had come the deep breathing as of an exhausted child.
Who was Ann? Where had she come from? How did she get there? What had happened? Why had she wanted to kill herself?
She wanted to know. In truth, she was madly curious to know. And probably she never would know.
And what would happen now? It suddenly occurred to her that Wayne might be rather annoyed at having Ann commit suicide. But there was a little catch in her laugh at the thought of Wayne's consternation.
A long time she sat there wondering. Where had Ann come from? She had just seemed whirled out of the nowhere into the there, as an unannounced comet in well-ordered heavens Ann had come. From what other world?—and why? Did she belong to anybody? Another pleasant prospect for poor Wayne! Was some one looking for Ann? Would there be things in the paper about her?
Surely a girl could not step out of her life and leave no trail behind. Things could not close up like that, even about Ann. Every one had a place. Then how could one step from that place without leaving a conspicuous looking vacancy?
Why had Ann been dressed that way? It seemed a strange costume in which to kill one's self. It seemed to Katie that one would prefer to meet the unknown in a smaller hat.
She went to the closet and took out the organdie dress and satin slippers. From whence? and why thither? They opened long paths of wondering. The dress was bedraggled about the bottom, as though trailed through fields and over roads. And so strangely crumpled, and so strange the scent—a scent hauntingly familiar, yet baffling in its relation to gowns. A poorly made gown, Katie noted, but effective. She tried to read the story, but could not read beyond the fact that there was a story. The pink satin slippers had broken heels and were stained and soaked. They had traveled ground never meant for them. Something about Ann made one feel she was not the girl to be walking about in satin slippers. Something had happened. She had been dressed for one thing and then had done another thing. Could it be that ever since the night before she had been out of her place in the scheme of things?—loosened from the great human unit?—seeking destruction, perhaps, because she could not regain her place therein? "Where have you been?" Katie murmured to the ruined slippers. "What did it? What do you know? What did you want?"
Many a pair of just such slippers she had danced to the verge of shabbiness. To her they were associated with hops, the gayest of music and lightest of laughter, brilliant crowds in flower-scented rooms, dancing and flirtation—the froth and bubble of life. But something sterner than waxed floors had wrought the havoc here. How much of life's ground all unknown to her had these poor little slippers trodden? Was it often like that?—that the things created for the fun and the joy found the paths of tragedy?
She had put them away and was at last going to bed when she idly picked up the evening paper. What she saw was that the Daisey-Maisey Opera Company was playing at the city across the river. Something made her stand there very still. Could it be—? Might it not be—?
She did not know. Would she ever know?
It drew her back to the girl's room. She was sleeping serenely. With shaded candle Katie stood at the door watching her. Surely the hour was past! Sleep such as that must draw one back to life.
Lying there in the sweet dignity of her braided hair, in that simple lovely gown, she might have been Ann indeed.
There was tenderness just then in the heart of Katherine Wayneworth Jones. She was glad that this girl who was sleeping as though sleep had been a treasure long withheld, was knowing to-night the balm of a good bed, glad that she could sink so unquestioningly into the lap of protection. Protection!—it was that which one had in a place like this. Why was it given the Anns—and not the Vernas? The sleeping girl seemed to feel that all was well in the house which sheltered her that night. Suddenly Katie knew what it was had gone. Fear. It was terror had slipped back, leaving the weariness which can give itself over to sleep. Katie was thinking, striking deeper things than were wont to invade Katie's meditations. The protection of a Wayne, the chivalrous comradeship of a Captain Prescott—how different the life of an Ann from the life this girl might have had! She stood at the door for a long moment, looking at her with a searching tenderness. What had she been through? What was there left for her?
Once, as a child, she had taken a turtle from its native mud and brought it home. Soon after that they moved into an apartment and her father said that she must give the turtle up. "But, father," she had cried, "you don't understand! I took it! Now how can I throw it away?"
"You are right, Katherine," he had replied gravely—her dear, honorable, understanding father; "it is rather inconvenient to have a turtle in an apartment, but, as you say, responsibilities are greater than conveniences."
She was thinking of that story as she finally went to bed.