Having conquered the son, Katie that evening set vigorously about for the conquest of the father.
"The trouble is," she turned it over in giving a few minutes to her own toilet for dinner, after having given many minutes to Ann's, "that there's simply no telling about Wayne. He is just the most provokingly uncertain man now living."
And yet it was not a formidable looking man she found in the library a few minutes before the dinner hour. He was poring over some pictures of Panama in one of the weeklies, sufficiently deep in them to permit Katie to sit there for the moment pondering methods of attack. But instead of outlining her campaign she found herself concluding, what she had concluded many times before, that Wayne was very good-looking. "Not handsome, like Harry Prescott," she granted, "but Wayne seems the product of something—the result of things to be desired. He hasn't a new look."
"Katherine is going to give us more trouble than Wayne ever will," their mother had sighed after one of those escapades which made life more colorful than restful during Katie's childhood. To which Major Jones replied that while Kate might give them more trouble, he thought it probable Wayne would give himself the more. Certain it had been from the first that if Wayne could help it no one would know what trouble he might be giving himself.
Old-fashioned folk who expected brothers and sisters to be alike had, on the surface at least, a sorry time with Wayneworth and Katherine Jones. Katie was sunny. Katie had a genius for play. She laughed and danced up and down the highways and the byways of life and she had such a joyous time about it that it had not yet occurred to any one to expect her to help pay the fiddler. Just watching Katie dance would seem pay enough for any reasonable fiddler. Katie laughed a great deal, and was smiling most of the time; she seemed always to have things in her thoughts to make smiles. Wayne laughed little and some of his smiles made one understand how the cat felt about having its fur rubbed the wrong way. Their friend Major Darrett once said: "When I meet Katie I have a fancy she has just come from a jolly dip in the ocean; that she lay on the sands in the sun and kicked up her heels longer than she had any business to, and now she's flying along to keep the most enchanting engagement she ever had in all her life. She's smiling to herself to think how bad she was to lie in the sand so long, and she's not at all concerned, because she knows her friends will be so happy to see her that they'll forget to scold her for being late. Katie's spoiled," the Major concluded, "but we like her that way."
Of Wayne this same friend remarked: "Wayne's a hard nut to crack."
Many army people felt that way. In fact, Wayne was a nut the army itself had not quite cracked. Some army people maintained that Wayne was disagreeable. But that may have been because he was not just like all other army people. He did not seem to have grasped the idea that being "army" set him apart. Sometimes he made the mistake of judging army affairs by ordinary standards. That was when they got some idea of how the cat felt. And of all cats an army cat would most resent having its fur rubbed in any but the prescribed direction.
Katie, continuing her ruminations about Wayne as the product of things, had come to see that with it all he was detached from those desirable things which had produced him. One knew that Wayne had traditions, yet he was not tradition fettered; he suggested ancestors without being ancestor conscious. Was it the gun—as Wayne the Worthy persisted in calling it—and the gun's predecessors—for Wayne always had something—made him so distinctly more than the mere result of things which had formed him? "It is the gun," Katie decided, taking him in with half shut eyes as a portrait painter might. "Had the same ancestors myself, and yet I'm both less and more of them than he is. What I need's a gun! Then I'd stand out of the background better, too." Then with one of Katie's queer twists of fancy—Ann! Might not Ann be her gun? Perhaps she had been wanting a gun for a long time without knowing what it was she was wanting when surely wanting something. Perhaps every one felt the gun need to make them less the product and more the person.
Then there was another thing. The thing that had traced those lines about Wayne's mouth, and had whitened, a little, the brown hair of his temples. Wayne had cared for Clara. Heaven only knew how he could—Katie's thoughts ran on. Perhaps heaven did understand those things—certainly it was too much for mere earth. Why Wayne, about whom there had always seemed a certain brooding bigness, certainly a certain rare indifference, should have fallen so absurdly in love with the most vain and selfish and vapid girl that ever wrecked a post was more than Katie could make out. And it had been her painful experience to watch Wayne's disappointment develop, watch that happiness which had so mellowed him recede as day by day Clara fretted and pouted and showed plainly enough that to her love was just a convenient thing which might impel one's husband to get one a new set of furs. She remembered so well one evening she had been in Clara's room when Wayne came in after having been away since early morning. So eager and tender was Wayne's face as he approached Clara, who was looking over an advertising circular. There was a light in his eyes which it would seem would have made Clara forget all about advertising circulars. But before he had said a word, but stood there, loving her with that look—and it would have to be admitted Clara did look lovely, in one of the neglige affairs she affected so much—she said, with a babyish little whine she evidently thought alluring: "I just don't see, Wayne, why we can't have a new rug for the reception room. We can certainly afford things as well as the Mitchells." And Wayne had just stood there, with a smile which closed the gates and said, with an irony not lost upon Katie, at least: "Why I fancy we can have a new rug, if that is the thing most essential to our happiness." Clara had cried: "Oh Wayne—you dear!" and twittered and fluttered around, but the twittering and fluttering did not bring that light back to Wayne's face. He went over to the far side of the room and began reading the paper, and that grim little understanding smile—a smile at himself—made Katie yearn to go over and wind her arms about his neck—dear strange Wayne who had believed there was so much, and found so little, and who was so alive to the bitter humor of being drawn to the heart of things only to be pushed back to the outer rim. But Katie knew it was not her arms could do any good, and so she had left the room, not clear-eyed, Clara still twittering about the kind of rug she would have. And day by day she had watched Wayne go back to the outer circle, that grim little smile as mile-stones in his progress.
But he was folding his paper; it was growing too near the hour to speculate longer on Wayne and his past.
"Wayne?" she began.
He looked up, smiling at the beseeching tone. "Yes? What is it, Katie?
Just what brand of boredom are you planning to inflict?"
"You can be so nice, Wayne—when you want to be."
"'Um—hum. A none too subtle way of calling a man a brute."
"I presume there are times when you can't help being a brute, Wayne; but
I do hope to-night will not be one of them."
"Why it must be something very horrible indeed, that you must approach with all this flaunting of diplomacy."
"It is something a long way from horrible, I assure you," she replied with dignity. "Ann will be down for dinner to-night, Wayne."
He leaned back and devoted himself to his cigarette with maddening deliberation. Then he smiled. "Through sleeping?"
"Wayne—I'm in earnest. Please don't get yourself into a hateful mood!"
He laughed in real amusement at sight of Katie's puckered face. "I am conscious that feminine wiles are being exercised upon me. I wonder—why?"
"Because I am so anxious you should like Ann, Wayne, and—be nice to her."
"Why?" Again it was that probing, provoking why.
"Because of what she means to me, I suppose."
Something in her voice made him look at her differently. "And what does she mean to you, Katie?"
"Ann is different from all the other girls I've known. She means—something different."
"Strange I've never heard you speak of her."
"I think you have, and have forgotten. Though possibly not—just because of the way I feel about her." She paused, seeking to express how she felt about her. Unable to do so, she concluded simply: "I have a very tender feeling for Ann."
"I see you have," he replied quietly. He looked at her meditatively, and then asked, humorously but gently: "Well Katie, what were you expecting me to do? Order her out of the house?"
"But I want you to be more than civil, Wayne; I want you to be sympathetic."
"I'll be civil and you can bring Prescott on for the sympathetic," he laughed. "You know I haven't great founts of sympathy gushing up in my heart for the jeune fille."
"Ann's not the jeune fille, Wayne. She's something far more interesting and worth while than that." She paused, again trying to get it, but could do no better than: "I sometimes think of Ann as sitting a little apart, listening to beautiful music."
He smiled. "I can only reply to that, Katie, that I trust she is more inviting than your pictures of her. A young woman who looked as though sitting apart listening to beautiful music should certainly be left sitting apart."
"I'll bring her down," laughed Kate, rising; "then you can get your own picture."
"I'll be decent, Katie," he called after her in laughing but reassuring voice.
The meeting had been accomplished. Dinner had reached the salad, and all was well. Yes, and a little more than well.
From the moment she stood in the doorway of Ann's room and the girl rose at her suggestion of dinner, Katie's courage had gone up. Ann's whole bearing told that she was on her mettle. And what Katie found most reassuring was less the results of the effort Ann was making than her unmistakable sense of the necessity for making it. There was hope in that.
Not that she suggested anything so hopeless as effort. She suggested reserve feeling, and she was so beautiful—so rare—that the suggestion was of feeling more beautiful and rare than a determination to live up to the way she was gowned. Her timidity was of a quality which seemed related to things of the spirit rather than to social embarrassment. Jubilantly Kate saw that Ann meant to "put it over," and her depth of feeling on the subject suggested a depth which in itself dismissed the subject.
She saw at a glance that Wayne related Ann to the things her appearance suggested rather than to the suggestions causing that appearance. As Katie said, "Ann, I am so glad that at last my brother is to know you," she was thinking that it seemed a friend to whom one might indeed be proud to present one's brother. She never lost the picture of the Ann whom Wayne advanced to meet. She loved her in that rose pink muslin, the skirt cascaded in old-fashioned way, an old-fashioned looking surplice about the shoulders, and on her long slim throat a lovely Florentine cameo swinging on the thinnest of old silver chains. She might have been a cameo herself.
And she never forgot the way Ann said her first words to Wayne. They were two most commonplace words, merely the "Thank you" with which she responded to his hospitable greeting, but that "Thank you" seemed let out of a whole under sea of feeling for which it would try to speak.
Before Wayne could carry out his unmistakable intention of saying more, Katie was airily off into a story about the cook, dragging it in with a thin hook about the late dinner, and the cook in the present case suggested a former cook in Washington whom Katie held, and sought to prove, nature had ordained for a great humorist. The ever faithful subject of cooks served stanchly until they had reached the safety of soup.
Katie was in story-telling mood. She seemed to have an inexhaustible fund of them in reserve which she could deftly strap on as life-preserver at the first far sign of danger. And she would flash into her stories an "As you said, Ann," or "As you would put it, Ann," whenever she found anything to fit the Ann she would create.
Several times, however, the rescuing party had to knock down good form and trample gentle breeding under foot to reach the spot in time. Wayne spoke of a friend in Vienna from whom he had heard that day and turned to Ann with an interrogation about the Viennese. Katie, contemplating the suppleness of Ann's neck, momentarily asleep at her post, missed the "Come over and help us" look, and Ann had begun upon a fatal, "I have never been in—" when Katie, with ringing laugh broke in: "Isn't it odd, Ann, that you should never have been in Vienna, when you lived all those years right there in Florence? I do think it the oddest thing!"
Ann agreed that it was odd—Wayne concurring.
But driven from Vienna, he sought Florence. "And Italy? I presume I go on record as the worst sort of bounder in asking if you really care greatly about living there?"
Katie thought it time Ann try a stroke for herself. One would never develop strength on a life-preserver.
Seeing that she had it to make, she paused before it an instant. Fear seemed to be feeling, and a possible sense of the absurdity of her situation made for a slightly tremulous dignity as she said: "I do love it. Love it so much it is hard to tell just how much—or why." And then it was as if she shrank back, having uncovered too much. She looked as though she might be dreaming of the Court of the Uffizi, or Santa Maria Novella, but Katie surmised that that dreamy look was not failing to find out what Wayne was going to do with his lettuce. But one who suggested dreams of Tuscany when taking observations on the use of the salad fork—was there not hope unbounded for such a one?
Wayne was silent for the moment, as though getting the fact that the love of Italy, or perhaps its associations, was to this girl not a thing to be compressed within the thin vein of dinner talk. "Well," he laughed understanding, "to be sure I don't know it from the inside. I never was of it; I merely looked at it. And I thought the plumbing was abominable."
"Wayne," scoffed Kate, "plumbing indeed! Have you no soul?"
"Yes, I have; and bad plumbing is bad for it."
Ann laughed quite blithely at that, and as though finding confidence in the sound of her own laugh, she boldly volunteered a stroke. "I don't know much about plumbing," Katie heard Ann saying. "I suppose perhaps it is bad. But do you care much about plumbing when looking at"—her pause before it might have been one of reverence—"The Madonna of the Chair?"
Katie treated herself to a particularly tender bit of lettuce and secretly hugged herself, Ann, and "Days in Florence." The Madonna of the Chair furnished the frontispiece for that valuable work.
Ann had receded, flushed, her lip trembling a little; Wayne was looking at her thoughtfully—and a little as one might look at the Madonna of the Chair. Katie heard the trump of duty call her to another story.