Wayne had gone over to Colonel Leonard's for bridge. Kate was to have gone too, but had pleaded fatigue. The plea was not wholly hollow. The last thirty hours had not been restful ones.
And now she was to go upstairs and do something which she did not know how to do, or why she was doing. Sitting there alone in the library she grew serious in the thought that a game was something more than a game when played with human beings.
Not that seriousness robbed her of the charm that was her own. The distinctive thing about Katie was that there always seemed a certain light about her, upon her, coming from her. Usually it was as iridescent lights dancing upon the water; but to-night it was more as one light, a more steady, deeper light. It made her gray eyes almost black; made her clear-cut nose and chin seem more finely chiseled than they actually were, and brought out both the strength and the tenderness of her not very small mouth. Katie's friends, when pinned down to it, always admitted with some little surprise that she was not pretty; they made amends for that, however, in saying that she just missed being beautiful. "But that's not what you think of when you see her," they would tell you. "You think, 'What a good sort! She must be great fun!'" And there were some few who would add: "Katie is the kind you would expect to find doing splendid service in that last ditch."
Yet even those few were not familiar with the Katie Jones of that moment, for it was a new Katie, less new when leaning forward, tense, puzzled, hand clenched, brow knitted, her whole well-knit, athletic body at attention than when leaning back—lax, open to new and awesome things. And as though she must come back where she felt acquainted with herself, she suddenly began to whistle. Katie found whistling a convenient and pleasant recepticle for excess emotion. She had enjoyed it when a little girl because she had been told it was unladylike; kept it up to find out if it were really true that it would spoil her mouth, and now liked doing it because she could do it so successfully.
She was still whistling herself back to familiar things as she ran lightly up the stairs; had warmed to a long final trill as she stood in the doorway. The girl looked up in amazement. She had been sitting there, elbows on her knees, face in her hands. It was hard to see what might have been seen in her face because at that moment the chief thing seen was astonishment. Katie slipped down among the pillows of the couch, an arm curled about her head. "Didn't know I could do that, did you?" she laughed. "Oh yes, I have several accomplishments. Whistling is perhaps the chiefest thereof. Then next I think would come golf. My game's not bad. Then there are a few wizardy things I do with a chafing dish, and lastly, and after all lastly should be firstly, is my genius for getting everything and everybody into a most hopeless mess."
The girl moved impatiently at first, as if determined not to be evaded by that light mood, but sight of Katie, lying there so much as a child would lie, seemed to suggest how truly Katie might have spoken and she was betrayed into the shadow of a smile.
"I suppose there has never been a human being as gifted in balling things up as I am," meditatively boasted Kate.
"Now here you are," she continued plaintively. "You want to go away. Well, of course, that's your affair. Why should you have to stay here—if you don't want to? But in the twenty-four hours you've been here I presume I've told twenty-four unnecessary lies to my brother. And if you do go away—as I admit you have a perfect right to do—it will put me in such a compromising position, because of those deathless lies that will trail me round through life that—oh, well," she concluded petulantly, "I suppose I'll just have to go away too."
But the girl put it resolutely from her. A wave of sternness swept her face as she said, with a certain dignity that made Katie draw herself to a position more adapted to the contemplation of serious things: "That's all very well. Your pretending—trying to pretend—that I would be doing you a favor in staying. It is so—so clever. I mean so cleverly kind. But I can't help seeing through it, and I'm not going to accept hospitality I've no right to—stay here under false pretenses—pretend to be what I'm not—why what I couldn't even pretend to be!" she concluded with bitterness.
Katie was leaning forward, all keen interest. "But do you know, I think you could. I honestly believe we could put it through! And don't you see that it would be the most fascinating—altogether jolliest sort of thing for us to try? It would be a game—a lark—the very best kind of sport!"
She saw in an instant that she had wounded her. "I'm sorry; I would like very much to do something for you after all this. But I am afraid this is sport I cannot furnish you. I am not—I'm not feeling just like—a lark."
"Now do you see?" Kate demanded with turbulent gesture. "Talk about balling things up! I like you; I want you to stay; and when I come in here and try and induce you to stay what do I do but muddle things so that you'll probably walk right out of the house! Why was I born like that?" she demanded in righteous resentment.
"'Katherine,' a worldly-wise aunt of mine said to me once, 'you have two grave faults. One is telling the truth. The other is telling lies. I have never known you to fail in telling the one when it was a time to tell the other.' Can't you see what a curse it is to mix times that way?"
As one too tired to resist the tide, not accepting, but going with it for the minute because the tide was kindly and the force to withstand it small, the girl, her arm upon the table, her head leaning wearily upon her hand, sat there looking at Katie, that combination of the non-accepting and the unresisting which weariness can breed.
Kate seemed in profound thought. "Of course, you would naturally be suspicious of me," she broke in as if merely continuing the thinking aloud; Katie's fashion of doing that often made commonplace things seem very intimate—a statement to which considerable masculine testimony could be affixed. "I don't blame you in the least. I'd be suspicious, too, in your place. It's not unnatural that, not knowing me well, you should think I had some designs about 'doing good,' or helping you, and of course nothing makes self-respecting persons so furious as the thought that some one may be trying to do them good. Now if I could only prove to you, as could be proved, that I never did any good in my life, then perhaps you'd have more belief in me, or less suspicion of me. I wonder if you would do this? Could you bring yourself to stay just long enough to see that I am not trying to do you good? Fancy how I should feel to have you go away looking upon me as an officious philanthropist! Isn't it only square to give me a chance to demonstrate the honor of my worthlessness?"
Still the girl just drifted, her eyes now revealing a certain half-amused, half-affectionate tenderness for the tide which would bear her so craftily.
"And speaking of honor, moves me to my usual truth-telling blunder, and I can't resist telling you that in one respect I really have designs on you. But be at peace—it has nothing to do with your soul. Never having so much as discovered my own soul, I should scarcely presume to undertake the management of yours, but what I do want to do is to feed you eggs!
"No—now don't take it that way. You're thinking of eggs one orders at a hotel, or—or a boarding-house, maybe. But did you ever eat the eggs that were triumphantly announced by the darlingest bantam—?"
She paused—beaten back by the things gathering in the girl's face.
"Tell me the truth!" it broke. "What are you doing this for? What have you to gain by it?"
"I hadn't thought just what I had to—gain by it," Katie stammered, at a loss before so fierce an intensity. "Does—must one always 'gain' something?"
"If you knew the world," the girl threw out at her, "you'd know well enough one always expects to gain something! But you don't know the world—that's plain."
Katie was humbly silent. She had thought she knew the world. She had lived in the Philippines and Japan and all over Europe and America. She would have said that the difference between her and this other girl was in just that thing of her knowing the world—being of it. But there seemed nothing to say when Ann told her so emphatically that she did not know the world.
The girl seemed on fire. "No, of course not; you don't know the world—you don't know life—that's why you don't know what an unheard-of thing you're doing! What do you know about me?" she thrust at her fiercely. "What do you think about me?"
"I think you have had a hard time," Katie murmured, thinking to herself that one must have had hard time—
"And what's that to you? Why's that your affair?"
"It's not exactly my affair, to be sure," Katie admitted; "except that we seem to have been—thrown together, and, as I said, there's something about you that I've—taken a fancy to."
It drew her, but she beat it back. Resistance made her face the more stern as she went on: "Do you think I'm going to impose on you—just because you know so little? Why with all your cleverness, you're just a baby—when it comes to life! Shall I tell you what life is like?" Her gaze narrowed and grew hard. "Life is everybody fighting for something—and knocking down everybody in their way. Life is people who are strong kicking people who are weak out of their road—then going on with a laugh—a laugh loud enough to drown the groans. Life is lying and scheming to get what you want. Life is not caring—giving up—getting hardened—I know it. I loathe it."
Katie sat there quite still. She was frightened.
"And you! Here in a place like this—what do you know about it? Why you're nothing but an—outsider!"
An outsider, was she?—and she had thought that Ann—
The girl's passion seemed suddenly to flow into one long, cunning look. "What are you doing it for?" she asked quietly with a sort of insolently indifferent suspicion.
"I don't know," Katie replied simply. "At least until a minute ago I didn't know, and now I wonder if perhaps, without knowing it, I was not trying to make up for some of those people—for I fear some of them were friends of mine—who have gone ahead by kicking other people out of their way. Perhaps their kicks provided my laughs. Perhaps, unconsciously, it—bothered me."
Passion had burned to helplessness, the appealing helplessness of the weary child. She sat there, hands loosely clasped in her lap, looking at Katie with great solemn eyes, tired wistful mouth. And it seemed to Kate that she was looking, not at her, but at life, that life which had cast her out, looking, not with rage now, but with a hurt reproachfulness in which there was a heartbreaking longing.
It drew Katie over to the table. She stretched her hand out across it, as if seeking to bridge something, and spoke with an earnest dignity. "You say I'm an outsider. Then won't you take me in? I don't want to be an outsider. You mustn't think too badly of me for it because you see I have just stayed where I was put. But I want to know life. I love it now, and yet, easy and pleasant though it is, I can't say that I find it very satisfying. I have more than once felt it was cheating me. I'm not getting enough—just because I don't know. Loving a thing because you don't know it isn't a very high way of loving it, is it? I believe I could know it and still love it—love it, indeed, the more truly. No, you don't think so; but I want to try." She paused, thinking; then saw it and spoke it strongly. "I've never done anything real. I've never done anything that counted. That's why I'm an outsider. If making a place for you here is going to make one for me there—on the inside, I mean—you're not going to refuse to take me in, are you?"
Something seemed to leap up in the girl's eyes, but to crouch back, afraid. "What do you know about me?" she whispered.
"Not much. Only that you've met things I never had to meet, met them much better, doubtless, than I should have met them. Only that you've fought in the real, while I've flitted around here on the playground." Katie's eyes contracted to keenness. "And I wonder if there isn't more dignity in fighting—yes, and losing—in the real, than just sitting around where you get nothing more unpleasant than the faint roar of the guns. To lose fighting—or not to fight! Why certainly there can be no question about it. What do I know about you?" she came back to it.
"Only that you seemed just shot into my life, strangely disturbing it, ruffling it so queerly. It's too ruffled now to settle down without—more ruffling. So you're not going away leaving it in any such distressing state, are you?" she concluded with a smile which lighted her face with a fine seriousness.
She made a last stand. "But you don't know. You don't understand."
"No, I don't know. And don't think I ever need know, as a matter of obligation. But should there ever come a time when you feel I would understand, understand enough to help, then I should be glad and proud to know, for it would make me feel I was no longer an outsider. And let me tell you something. In whatever school you learned about life, there's one thing they taught you wrong. They've developed you too much in suspicion. They didn't give you a big enough course in trust. All the people in this world aren't designing and cruel. Why the old globe is just covered with beautiful people who are made happy in doing things for the people about them."
"I haven't met them," were the words which came from the sob.
"I see you haven't; that's why I want you to. Your education has been one-sided. So has mine. Perhaps we can strike a balance. What would you think of our trying to do that?"
The wonder of it seemed stealing up upon the girl, growing upon her. "You mean," she asked, in slow, hushed voice, "that I should stay here—here?—as a friend of yours?"
"Stay here as a friend—and become a friend," came the answer, quick and true.
So true that it went straight to the girl's heart. Tears came, different tears, tears which were melting something. And yet, once again she whispered: "But I don't understand."
"Try to understand. Stay here with me and learn to laugh and be foolish, that'll help you understand. And if you're ever in the least oppressed with a sense of obligation—horrid thing, isn't it?—just put it down with, 'But she likes it. It's fun for her.' For really now, Ann, I hope this is not going to hurt you, but I simply can't help getting fun out of things. I get fun out of everything. It's my great failing. Not a particularly unkind sort of fun, though. I don't believe you'll mind it as you get used to it. My friends all seem to accept the fact that I—enjoy them. And then my curiosity. Well, like the eggs. It's not entirely to make you stronger. It's to see whether the things I've always heard about milk and eggs are really so. See how it works—not altogether for the good of the works, you see? Oh, I don't know. Motives are slippery things, don't you think so? Mine seem particularly athletic. They hop from their pigeon holes and turn hand-springs and do all sorts of stunts the minute I turn my back. So I never know for sure why I want to do a thing. For that matter, I don't know why I named you Ann. I had to give you a name—I thought you might prefer my not using yours—so all in a flash I had to make one up—and Ann was what came. I love that name. It never would have come if something in you hadn't called it. The Ann in you has had a hard time." She was speaking uncertainly, timidly, as if on ground where words had broken no paths. "Oh, I'm not so much the outsider I can't see that. But the Ann in you has never died. That I see, too. Maybe it was to save Ann you were going to—give up Verna. And because I see Ann—like her—because I called her back, won't you let her stay here and—" Katie's voice broke, so to offset that she cocked her head and made a wry little face as she concluded, not succeeding in concealing the deep tenderness in her eyes, "just try—the eggs?"