Peacefully and pleasantly one day slipped after another. Some thirty of them had joined their unnumbered fellows and to-morrow bade fair to pass serenely as yesterday. "This, dear Queen," Katie confided to the dog stretched at her feet, "is what in vulgar parlance is known as 'nothing doing,' and in poetic language is termed the 'simple life.'"
Thirty days of "nothing doing"—and yet there had been more "doing" in those days than in all the thousands of their predecessors gaily crowded to the brim. Those crowded days seemed days of a long sleep; these quiet ones, days of waking.
Ann was out on the links that afternoon with Captain Prescott. From her place on the porch Katie had a glimpse of them at that moment. Ann's white dress with its big knot of red ribbon was a vivid and a pleasing spot. The olive of the Captain's uniform seemed part of the background of turf and trees—all of it for Ann, so live and so pretty in white and red.
He was seeking to correct her stroke. Both were much in earnest about it. It would seem that the whole of Ann's life hung upon that thing of better form in her golf. Finally she made a fair drive and turned to him jubilantly. He was commending enthusiastically and Ann quite pranced under his enthusiasm. Seeing Katie, she waved her hand and pointed off to her ball that Katie, too, might mark the triumph. Then they came along, laughing and chatting. When the ball was reached they were in about the spot where Katie had first seen Ann, thirty days before.
She knew how Ann felt. There was joy in the good stroke. In this other game she had been playing in the last thirty days—this more difficult and more alluring game—she had come to know anew the exhilaration of bunker cleared, the satisfaction of the long drive and the sure putt.
And Katie had played a good game. It was not strange she should have convinced others, for there were times when her game was so good as to convince even herself. Though it had ever been so with Kate. The things in the world of "Let's play like" had always been persuasive things. Curious she was to know how often or how completely Ann was able to forget they were playing a game.
She had come to think of Ann, not as a hard-and-fast, all-finished product, but as something fluid, certainly plastic. It was as if anything could be poured into Ann, making her. A dream could be woven round her, and Ann could grow into that dream. That was a new fancy to Kate; she had always thought of people more as made than as constantly in the making. It opened up long paths of wondering. To all sides those paths were opening in those days—it was that that made them such eventful days. Down this path strayed the fancy how much people were made by the things which surrounded them—the things expected of them. That path led to the vista that amazing responsibility might lie with the things surrounding—the things expected. It even made her wonder in what measure she would have been Katie Jones, differently surrounded, differently called upon. Her little trip down that path jostled both her approval of herself and her disapproval of others.
It was only once or twice that the real girl had stirred in the dream. For the most part she had remained in the shadow of Katie's fancyings. She was as an actor on the stage, inarticulate save as regards her part. Katie had grown so absorbed in that part that there were times of forgetting there was a real girl behind it. Often she believed in her friend Ann Forrest, the dear girl she had known in Florence, the poor child who had gone through so many hard things and was so different from the Zelda Frasers of the world. She rejoiced with Wayne and Captain Prescott in seeing dear Ann grow a little more plump, a little rosier, a little more smiling. She could understand perfectly, as she had made them understand, why Ann did not talk more of Italy and the things of her own life. Life had crowded in too hard upon her, that setting of the other days made other days live again too acutely. Ann was taking a vacation from her life, she had laughingly put it to Wayne. That was why she played so much with Worth and the dogs and talked so little of grown-up things. Though one could never completely take a vacation from one's life; that was why Ann looked that way when she was sometimes sitting very still and did not know that any one was looking at her.
Persuasion was the easier as fabrication was but a fanciful dress for truth. Imagination did not have it all to do; it only followed where Ann called—blazing its own trail.
Yet there were times when the country of make-believe was swept down by a whirlwind, a whirlwind of realization which crashed through Katie's consciousness and knocked over the fancyings. Those whirlwinds would come all unannounced; when Ann seemed most Ann, playing with Worth, perhaps wearing one of the prettiest dresses and smilingly listening to something Wayne was telling her had happened over at the shops. And on the heels of the whirlwind knocking down the country of make-believe would come the girl from a vast unknown rushing wildly from—what? What had become of that girl? Would she hear from her again? It was almost as if the girl made by reality had indeed gone down under the waters that day, and the things the years had made her had abdicated in favor of the things Katie would make her. And yet did the things the years had made one ever really abdicate? Was it because the girl of the years was too worn for assertiveness that the girl of fancy could seem the all? Was it only that she slumbered—and sometimes stirred a little in her sleep?—And when she awoke?
Even to each other they did not speak of that other girl, as if fearing a word might wake her. Sometimes they heard her stir; as one day soon after Ann's coming Katie had said: "Ann, just what is it is the matter with your vocal chords?"
"Why I didn't know anything was," stammered Ann.
"But you seem unable to pronounce my name."
"It is spelled K-a-t-i-e," Kate went on, "and is pronounced K—T. Try it,
Ann. See if you can say it."
Ann looked at her. The look itself crossed the border country. "Katie—" she choked—and the country of make-believe fell palely away.
But they did not speak of the things they had stirred.
That thing of not saying it had been established the day Ann's bank account was opened. Katie had been "over the river," as she called going over to the city. Upon returning she found Ann up in her room. She stood there unpinning her hat, telling of an automobile accident on the bridge—Katie seldom came in without some stirring tale. As she was leaving she rummaged in her bag. "And oh yes, Ann," she said, carelessly, "here's your bank book. I presumed to draw twenty dollars for you, thinking you might need it before you could get over. Oh dear—that telephone! And I know it's Wayne for me."
But she did not escape. Ann was waiting for her when she came back up stairs.
She held out the book, shaking her head. Her face told that she had been pulled back.
"Not money," she said unsteadily. "All the rest of it is bad enough—but not money. I'd have no—self-respect."
"Self-respect!" jeered Kate. "I'd have no self-respect if I didn't take money. Nobody can be self-respecting when broke. None of the rest of us seem to be inquiring into our sources of revenue, so why should you?"
As had happened that other time, in relation to the suit, the thing shot out at Ann turned back to her. It had more than once occurred that the thing thrown out sparingly persisted as thing to be considered genuinely. Her browbeating of Ann—for it was a sort of tender, protective browbeating—led her to reach out blindly for weapons, and once in her hand many of those weapons proved ideas.
"We take everything we can get," she followed it up, forcing herself from interest in the weapon to the use of it, "from everybody we can get it from. We take this house from the government—and heaven only knows how many sons of toil the government takes it from. I take this money we're so stupidly quibbling about now from a company the papers say takes it from everybody in reach. Take or you will be taken from is the basis of modern finance. Please don't be fanatical, Ann."
"I can't take it," repeated Ann.
Katie looked worried. Then she took new ground. "Well, Ann, if you won't take the sane financial outlook, at least be a good sport. We're in this game; the money has got to be part of making it go. We'll never get anywhere at all if we're going to balk and fuss at every turn. There now, honey,"—as if to Worth—"put your book away. Don't lose it; it makes them cross to have you lose them. And another principle of modern finance with which I am heartily in sympathy is that money should be kept in circulation. It encourages embezzlement to leave it in banks too long." Then, seeing what was gathering, she said quietly but authoritatively: "Leave it unsaid, Ann. Can't we always just leave it unsaid? Nothing makes me so uncomfortable as to feel I'm constantly in danger of having something nice said to me."
Perhaps Katie knew that countries of make-believe are sensitive things, that it does not do to admit you know them for that.
There had been that one time when the hand of reality reached savagely into the dream, as if the things the girl had run away from had come to claim her. It seemed through that long night that they had claimed her, that Ann's "vacation" was over.
Captain Prescott had been dining with them that night and after dinner they were sitting out on the porch. He was humming a snatch of something. Katie heard a chair scrape and saw that Ann had moved farther into the shadow. She was all in shadow save her hand; that Katie could see was gripping the arm of her chair.
He turned to Ann. "Did you see 'Daisey-Maisey'?"
"Ann wasn't here then," said Kate.
"Did you see it, Katie?"
"It was a jolly, joyous sort of thing," he laughed. "Sort of thing to make you feel nothing matters. That was the name of that thing I was humming. No, not 'Nothing Matters,' but 'Don't You Care.' And there were the 'Don't You Care' girls—pink dresses and big black hats. They seemed to mean what they sang. They didn't care, certainly."
It was Wayne who spoke. "Think not?"
Ann came a little way out of the shadow. She had leaned toward Wayne.
"Well you'd never know it if they did," laughed Prescott. He turned to
Wayne. "What's your theory?"
"Oh I have no theory. Just a wondering. Can't see how girls who have their living to earn could sing 'Don't You Care' with complete abandon."
Ann leaned forward, looking at him tensely. Then, as if afraid, she sank back into shadow. Katie could still see her hand gripping the arm of her chair.
"But they're not the caring sort," Prescott was holding.
"Think not?" said Wayne again, in Wayne's queer way.
There was a silence, and then Ann had murmured something and slipped away.
Katie followed her; for hours she sat by her bed, holding her hand, trying to soothe her. It was almost morning before that other girl, that girl they were trying to get away from, would let Ann go to sleep.
Sitting beside the tortured girl that night, hearing the heart-breaking little moans which as sleep finally drew near replaced the sobs, Katie Jones wondered whether many of the things people so serenely took for granted were as absurd—and perhaps as tragically absurd—as Captain Prescott's complacent conclusion that the "Don't You Care" girls were girls who didn't care.
How she would love—turning it all over in her mind that afternoon—to talk some of those things over with "the man who mends the boats"!