Katie was writing to her uncle the Bishop. At least that was what she would have said she was doing. To be literal, she was nibbling at the end of her pen.
Writing to her uncle had never been a solemn affair with Kate. She gossiped and jested with him quite as she would with a playfellow; it was playfellow, rather than spiritual adviser, he had always been to her, Kate's need seeming rather more for playfellows than for spiritual advisers. But the trouble that morning was that the things of which she was wont to gossip and jest seemed remote and uninteresting things.
Finally she wrote: "My friend Ann Forrest is with us now. I am hoping to be able to keep her for some time. Poor dear, she has not been well and has had much sorrow—such a story!—and I think the peace of things here—peace you know, uncle, being poetic rendition of stupidity—is just what Ann needs."
A robin on a lilac bush entered passionate protest against the word stupidity. "What will you have? What will you have?" trilled the robin in joyous frenzy.
Wise robin! After all, what would one have? And when within the world of May that robins love one was finding a whole undiscovered country to explore?
"No, I don't mean that about stupidity," she wrote after a wide look and a deep breath. "It does seem peace. Peace that makes some other things seem stupidity. I must be tired, for you will be saying, dear uncle, that a yearning for peace has never been one of the most conspicuous of my attributes."
There she fell to nibbling again, looking over at the girl in the deep garden chair in the choice corner of the big porch. "My friend Ann Forrest!" Katie murmured, smiling strangely.
Her friend Ann Forrest was turning the leaves of a book, "Days in Florence," which Kate had left carelessly upon the arm of the chair she commended to Ann. It was after watching her covertly for sometime that Katie set down, a little elf dancing in her eye, yet something of the seer in that very eye in which the elf danced:
"Of course you have heard me tell of Ann, the girl to whom I was so devoted in Italy. I should think, uncle, that you of the cloth would find Ann a most interesting subject. Not that she's of your flock. Her mother was a passionate Catholic. Her father a relentless atheist. He wrote a famous attack on the church which Ann tells me hastened her mother's death. The conflict shows curiously in Ann. When we were together in Florence a restlessness would many times come upon her. She would say, 'You go on home, Katie, without me. I have things to attend to.' I came to know what it meant. Once I followed her and saw her go to the church and literally fling herself into its arms in a passion of surrender. And that night she sat up until daybreak reading her father's books. You see what I mean? A wealth of feeling—but always pulled two ways. It has left its mark upon her."
She read it over, gloated over it, and destroyed it. "Uncle would be coming on the next train," she saw. "He'd hold Ann up for a copy of the attack! And why this mad passion of mine for destruction? Should a man walking on a tight-rope yield to every playful little desire to chase butterflies?"
But as she looked again—Ann was deep in the illustrations of "Days in Florence" and could be surveyed with impunity—she wondered if she might not have written better than she knew. Her choice of facts doubtless was preposterous enough; what had been the conflicting elements—her fancy might wander far afield in finding that. But she was sure she saw truly in seeing marks of conflict. Life had pulled her now this way, now that, as if playing some sort of cruel game with her. And that game had left her very tired. Tired as some lovely creature of the woods is tired after pursuit, and fearful with that fear of the hunted from which safety cannot rescue. It was in Ann's eyes—that looking out from shadowy retreat, that pain of pain remembered, that fear which fear has left. Katie had seen it once in the eyes of an exhausted fawn, who, fleeing from the searchers for the stag, had come full upon the waiting hunt—in face of the frantic hounds in leash. The terror in those eyes that should have been so soft and gentle, the sick certitude of doom where there should have been the glad joy of life struck the death blow to Katie's ambitions to become the mighty huntress. She had never joined another hunt or wished to hear another story of the hunt, saying she flattered herself she could be resourceful enough to gain her pleasures in some other way than crazing gentle creatures with terror. Ann made her think of that quivering fawn, suggesting, as the fawn had suggested, what life might have been in a woods uninvaded. She had a vision of Ann as the creature of pure delight she had been fashioned to be, loving life and not knowing fear.
From which musings she broke off with a hearty: "Good drive!" and Ann looked up inquiringly.
She pointed to the teeing ground some men were just leaving—caddies straggling on behind, two girls driving in a runabout along the river road calling gaily over to the men. It all seemed sunny and unfettered as the morning.
"I'll wager he feels good," she laughed. "I know no more exhilarating feeling than that thing of having just made a good drive. It makes life seem at your feet. You must play, Ann. I'm going to teach you."
"Do all those people belong here?" Ann asked, still looking at the girls who were calling laughingly back and forth to the men.
"On the Island? Oh, no; they belong over there." She nodded to the city which rose upon the hills across the river. "But they use these links."
"Don't they—don't they have to—work?" Ann asked timidly.
"Oh, yes," laughed Katie; "I fancy most of them work some. Though what's the good working a morning like this? I think they're very wise. But look now at the Hope of the Future! He's certainly working."
The Hope of the Future was ascending the steps, heavily burdened. So heavily was he burdened that for the moment ascent looked impossible. Each arm was filled with a shapeless bundle of white and yellow fur which closer inspection revealed as the collie pups.
With each step the hind legs of a wriggling puppy slipped a little farther through Worth's arms. When finally he stood before them only a big puppy head was visible underneath each shoulder. Approaching Ann, then backing around, he let one squirming pair of legs rest on her lap, freed his arm, and Ann had the puppy. "You can play with him a little while," he remarked graciously.
"Worth," said Katie, "it is unto my friend Miss Forrest, known in the intimacies of the household as Miss Ann, that you have just made this tender offering."
Worth took firm hold on his remaining puppy and stood there surveying Ann. "I came last night," he volunteered, after what seemed satisfactory inspection.
Ann just smiled at him, rumpling the puppy's soft woolly coat.
"How long you been here?" he asked cordially.
"Just two days," she told him.
"I'm going to stay all summer," he announced, hoisting his puppy a little higher.
"That's nice," said Ann; her puppy was climbing too.
"How long you goin' to stay?" he wanted to know.
"Miss Ann is going to stay just as long as we are real nice to her,
Worthie," said Katie, looking up from the magazine she was cutting.
"She can play with the puppies every morning, Aunt Kate," he cried in a fervent burst of hospitality.
"You got a dog at home?" he asked of Ann.
At the silence, Katie looked up. The puppy was now cuddled upon Ann's breast, her two arms about it. As she shook her head her chin brushed the soft puppy fur—then buried itself in it. Her eyes deepened.
"It must be just the dreadfulest thing there is not to have a dog,"
There was no response. The puppy's head was on Ann's shoulder. He was ambitious to mount to her face.
"Didn't you never have a dog?" Worth asked, drawling it out tragically.
The head nodded yes, but the eyes did not grow any more glad at thought of once having had a dog.
Worth took a step nearer and lay an awed hand upon her arm. "Did he—die?"
She nodded. Her face had grown less sorrowful than hard. It was the look of that first day.
Worth shook his head slowly to express deep melancholy. "It's awful—to have 'em die. Mine died once. I cried and cried and cried. Then papa got me a bigger one."
He waited for confidences which did not come. Ann was holding the puppy tight.
"Didn't your papa get you 'nother one?" he asked, as one searching for the best.
"Worth dear," called Katie, "let's talk about the live puppies. There are so many live puppies in the world. And just see how the puppy loves Miss Ann."
"And Miss Ann loves the puppy. Mustn't squeeze him too tight," he admonished. "Watts says it's bad for 'em to squeeze 'em. Watts knows just everything 'bout puppies. He knows when they have got to eat and when they have got to sleep, and when they ought to have a bath. Do you suppose, Aunt Kate, we'll ever know as much as Watts?"
"Probably not. Don't hitch your wagon to too far a star, Worthie. No use smashing the wagon."
Suddenly Ann had squeezed her puppy very tight. "O—h," cried Worth, "you mustn't! I like to do it, too, but Watts says it squeezes the grows out of 'em. It's hard not to squeeze 'em though, ain't it?" he concluded with tolerance.
Again Katie looked up. The girl, holding the puppy close, was looking at the little boy. Something long beaten back seemed rushing on; and in her eyes was the consciousness of its having been long beaten back.
Something of which did not escape the astute Wayne the Worthy. "Aunt Kate," he called excitedly, "Aunt Kate—Miss Ann's eyes go such a long way down!"
"Worth, I'm not at all sure that it is the best of form for a grown-up young gentleman of six summers to be audibly estimating the fathomless depths of a young woman's eyes. Note well the word audibly, Worthie."
"They go farther down than yours, Aunt Kate."
"'Um—yes; another remark better left with the inaudible."
"It looks—it looks as if there was such a lot of cries in them! o—h—one's coming now!"
"Worth," she called sharply, "come here. You mustn't talk to Miss Ann about cries, dear. When you talk about cries it brings the cries, and when you talk about laughs the laughs come, and Miss Ann is so pretty when she laughs."
"Miss Ann is pretty all the time," announced gallant Worth. "She has a mouth like—a mouth like—She has a mouth like—"
"Yes dear, I understand. When they say 'She has a mouth like—a mouth like—' I know just what kind of mouth they mean."
"But how do you know, Aunt Kate? I didn't say what kind, did I?"
"No; but as years and wisdom and guile descend upon you, you will learn that sometimes the surest way of making one's self clear is not to say what one means."
"But I don't see—"
"No, one doesn't—at six. Wait till you've added twenty thereto."
"How old is Miss Ann?"
"Worth, when this twenty I'm talking about has been added on, you will know that never, never, never must one speak or think or dream of a lady's age."
"Oh, because it brings the cries—lots of times."
He had seated himself on the floor. The puppy was in spasms of excitement over the discovery of a considerable expanse of bare legs.
"Are they sorry they're not as old as somebody else?" he asked, trying to get his legs out of the puppy's lurching reach.
"No, they're usually able to endure the grief brought them by that thought."
"Oh—yes?" It was a good story.
"Would Miss Ann be sorry she's not as old as you?"
"Hateful, ungrateful little wretch!"
"I am all attention, Wayneworth," she said, with inflection which should not have been wasted on ears too young.
"Do you know, Aunt Kate, sometimes I don't know just what you're talking about."
"No? Really? And this from your sex to mine!"
"Do you always say what you mean, Aunt Kate?"
"Somebody might find out what I thought."
"Don't you want them to know what you think, Aunt Kate?" he pursued, making a complete revolution and for the instant evading the frisking puppy.
"But why not, Aunt Kate?"—squirming as the puppy placed a long warm lick right below the knee.
"Oh, I don't know." The story was getting better. Then, looking up with
Kate's queer smile: "It might hurt their feelings."
"Why would it—?"
"Oh, Wayneworth Jones! Why were you born with your brain cells screwed into question marks?—and why do I have to go through life getting them unscrewed?"
She actually read a paragraph; and as there she had to turn a page she looked over at Ann. Ann's puppy had joined Worth's on the floor and together they were indulging in bites of puppyish delight at the little boy's legs, at each other's tails, at so much of the earth's atmosphere as came within range of their newly created jaws craving the exercise of their function. Mad with the joy of living were those two collie pups on that essentially live and joyous morning.
And Ann, if not mad with the joy of living, seemed sensible of the wonder of it. "Days in Florence" open on her lap, hands loose upon it, she was looking off at the river. From hard thoughts of other days Kate could see her drawn to that day—its softness and sunshine, its breath of the river and breath of the trees. Folded in the arms of that day was Ann just then. The breeze stirred a little wisp of hair on her temple—gently swayed the knot of ribbon at her throat. The spring was wooing Ann; her face softened as she listened. Was it something of that same force which bounded boisterously up in boy and dogs which was stealing over Ann—softening, healing, claiming?
The next paragraph of the story on the printed page was less interesting.
"Aunt Kate," said Worth, gathering both puppies into his arms as they were succeeding all too well in demonstrating that they were going to grow up and be real dogs, "Watts says it is the ungodliest thing he knows of that these puppies haven't got any names."
"I am glad to learn," murmured Kate, "that Watts is a true son of the church. He yearns for a christening?"
"He says that being as nobody else has thought up names for them, he calls the one that is most yellow, Mike; and the one that is most white, Pat. Do you think Mike and Pat are pretty names, Aunt Kate?"
"Well, I can't say that my esthetic sense fairly swoons with delight at sound of Mike and Pat," she laughed.
"I'll tell you, Worthie," she suggested, looking up with twinkling eye after her young nephew had been experimenting with various intonations of Mike—Pat, Pat—Mike, "why don't you call one of them Pourquoi?"
He walked right into it with the never-failing "Why?"
"Just so. Call one Pourquoi and the other N'est-ce-pas. They do good team work in both the spirit and the letter. Pourquoi, Worth, is your favorite word in French. Need I add that it means 'why'? And N'est-ce-pas—well, Watts would say N'est-ce-pas meant 'ain't it'? and more flexible translators find it to mean anything they are seeking to persuade you is true. Pourquoi is the inquirer and N'est-ce-pas the universalist. I trust Watts will give this his endorsement."
"I'll ask him," gravely replied Worth, and sought to accustom the puppies to their new names with chanting—Poor Qua—Nessa Pa. The chant grew so melancholy that the puppies subsided; oppressed, overpowered, perhaps, with the sense of being anything as large and terrible as inquirer and universalist.
But Worth was too true a son of the army to leave a brooding damsel long alone in the corner. "You seen the new cow?" was his friendly approach.
"Why, I don't believe I have," she confessed.
"I s'pose you've seen the chickens?" he asked, a trifle condescendingly.
Ann shamefacedly confessed that she had not as yet seen the chickens.
He took a step backward for the weighty, crushing: "Well, you've seen the horses, haven't you?"
"Aunt Kate—Aunt Kate!" he called peremptorily, as Ann humbly shook her head, "Miss Ann's not seen the cow—or the, chickens—nor the horses!"
"Isn't it scandalous?" agreed Kate. "It shows what sort of hostess I am, doesn't it? But you see, Worth, I thought as long as you were coming so soon you could do the honors of the stables. I think it's always a little more satisfactory to have a man do those things."
"I'll take you now," announced Worth, in manner which brooked neither delay nor gratitude.
And so the girl and the little boy and the two puppies, the joy of motion freeing them from the sad weight of inquirer and universalist, started across the lawn for the stables. Pourquoi caught at Ann's dress and she had to be manfully rescued by Worth. And no sooner had the inquirer been loosened from one side than the universalist was firmly fastened to the other and the rescue must be enacted all over again, amid considerable confusion and laughter. Ann's laugh was borne to Katie on a wave of the spring—just the laugh of a girl playing with a boy and his dogs.
It was a whole hour later, and as Kate was starting out for golf she saw Ann and Worth sitting on the sandpile, a tired inquirer and very weary universalist asleep at their feet. Ann was picking sand up in her hands and letting it sift through. Worth was digging with masculine vigor. Kate passed close enough to hear Ann's, "Well, once upon a time—"
Ann!—opening to a little child the door of that wondrous country of Once upon a Time! No mother had ever done it more sweetly, with more tender zeal, more loving understanding of the joys and necessities of Once upon a Time. Some once upon a time notions of Kate's were quite overturned by that "once upon a time" voice of Ann's. Then the once upon a time of the sandpile did not shut them out—they who had known another once upon a time? Did it perhaps love to take them in, knowing that upon the sands of this once upon a time the other could keep no foothold?
"Once upon a Time—Once upon a Time"—it kept singing itself in her ears.
For her, too, it opened a door.