It was astonishing how Ann seemed to find herself in just that thing of being able to learn to play golf.
They were gay at dinner that night, and Ann was as gay as any one. She continued to talk about her game, which they jestingly permitted her to do, and the men told some good golf stories which she entered into merrily. It was Katie who was rather quiet. While they still lingered around the table Fred Wayneworth joined them, and Katie, eager to talk with him of his people and his work, left Ann alone with Wayne and Captain Prescott, something which up to that time she had been reluctant to do. But to-night she did not feel Ann clinging to her, calling out to her, as she had felt her before. She seemed on surer ground; it was as if golf had given her a passport. From her place in the garden with her cousin, Ann's laugh came down to them from time to time—just a girl's happy laugh.
"Who is your stunning friend, Katie?" Fred asked. "No, stunning doesn't fit her, but lovely. She is lovely, isn't she?"
"Ann's very pretty," said Kate shortly.
"Oh—pretty," he laughed, "that won't do at all. So many girls are pretty, and I never saw any girl just like her."
Again she was vaguely uneasy, and the uneasiness irritated her, and then she was ashamed of the irritation. Didn't she want poor Ann to have a good time—and feel at home—and be admired? Did she care for her when she was somber and shy, and resent her when happy and confident? She told herself she was glad to hear Ann laughing; and yet each time the happy little laugh stirred that elusive foreboding in the not usually apprehensive soul of Katie Jones.
"I want to tell you about my girl, Katie," her cousin was saying. "I've got the only girl."
He was off into the story of Helen: Helen, who was a clerk in the forest service and "put it all over" any girl he had ever known before, who was worth the whole bunch of girls he had known in the East—girls who had been brought up like doll-babies and had doll-baby brains. Didn't Katie agree that a girl who could make her own way distanced the girls who could do nothing but spend their fathers' money?
In her heart, Katie did; had she been defending Fred to his father, the Bishop, or to his Bostonian mother, she would have grown eloquent for Helen. But listening to Fred, it seemed something was being attacked, and she, unreasonably enough, instead of throwing herself with the aggressor was in the stormed citadel with her aunt and uncle and the girls with the doll-baby brains.
And she had been within the citadel that afternoon when Wayne was attacking the army. She gloried in attacks of her own, but let some one else begin one and she found herself running for cover—and to defense. She wondered if that were anything more meaningful than just natural perversity.
The Bishop had wanted his son for the church; but Fred not taking amicably to the cloth, he had urged the navy. Fred had settled that by failing to pass the examinations for Annapolis. Failing purposely, his father stormily held; a theory supported by the good work he did subsequently at Yale. There he became interested in forestry, again to the disapproval of his parents, who looked upon forestry as an upstart institution, not hallowed by the mellowing traditions of church or navy. Now they would hold that Helen proved it.
And Helen did prove something. Certain it was that from neither church nor navy would Fred have seen his Helen in just this way.
Perhaps it was that democracy Wayne had been talking about. Perhaps this democracy was a thing not contented with any one section of a man's life. Perhaps once it had him—it had its way with him. Katie thought of the last thirty days—of paths leading out from other paths. Once one started—
Fred's father had never started. Bishop Wayneworth was only democratic when delivering addresses on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The democracy of the past was sanctified; the democracy of the present, pernicious and uncouth. Thought of her uncle put Katie on the outside, eyes dancing with the fun of the attack.
"Who are her people, Fred?"
"Oh, Western people—ranchers; best sort of people. They raised the best crop of potatoes in the valley this year."
Katie yearned to commend the family of her daughter-in-law to her Aunt Elizabeth with the boast that they raised the best crop of potatoes in the valley!
"They had hard sledding for a long time; but they're making a go of it now. They've worked—let me tell you. Helen wouldn't have to work now—but don't you say that to Helen! What do you think, Katie? She even wants to keep on working after we're married!"
That planted Katie firmly within. "Oh, she can't do that, Fred."
"Well, I wish you'd tell her she can't. That's where we are now. We stick on that point. I try to assert my manly authority, but manly authority doesn't faze Helen much. She has some kind of theory about the economic independence of woman. You know anything about it, Katie?"
"You forget that I'm one of the doll-baby girls," she replied in a light voice which trailed a little bitterness on behind.
"Not you! Just before I left I said to Helen: 'Well there's at least one relative of mine who will have sense enough to appreciate you, and that's my corking cousin Katie Jones!'"
That lured feminine Kate outside again. "Fred," she asked, moved by her never slumbering impulse to find out about things, "just what is it you care for in Helen? Is she pretty? Funny? Sympathetic? Clever? What?"
She watched his face as he tried to frame it. And watching, she decided that whatever kind of girl Helen was, she was a girl to be envied. Yes, and to be admired.
"Well I fear it doesn't sound sufficiently romantic," he laughed, "but Helen's such a sturdy little wretch. The first things I ever noticed about her was her horse sense. She's good on her job, too. She seems to me like the West. Though that's rather amusing, for she's such a little bit of a thing. She's afraid she'll get fat. But she won't. She's not that kind."
"Why of course not," said Katie stoutly, and they laughed and seemed very near to Helen in thus scorning her fear of getting fat.
He continued his confidences, laughter from the porch coming down to them all the while. Helen was so real—she was so square—so independent—so dauntless—and yet she had such dear little ways. He couldn't make her sound as nice as she was; Katie would have to come and see her. In fact they were counting on Katie's coming. She was to come and stay a long time with them and really get acquainted with the West. "I'll tell you what Helen's like," he summed it up. "She's very much what you would have been if you'd lived out there and had the advantages she has."
Katie stared. No, he was not trying to be funny.
They started toward the house. "Katie," he broke out, "if you have any cousinly love in your heart, and know anything about Walt Whitman, tell me something, so I can go back and spring it on Helen. She's mad over him."
"He was one of the 'advantages' I didn't have," said Katie. "He didn't play a heavy part in the thing I had that passed for an education."
"Isn't it the limit the way they 'do you' at those girls' schools?" agreed Fred sympathetically. "Helen says that in religion and education the more you pay the less you get."
"I should like her," laughed Katie.
But what would her Aunt Elizabeth think of a "sturdy little wretch," believing in the economic independence of woman—whatever that might be—with lots of horse sense, and good on her job!
Katie was on the outside now, and for good. If nothing else, the fun was out there. And there was something else. That light on Fred's face when he was trying to tell about Helen.
Captain Prescott had come down the steps to meet them. "I was just coming for you. Don't you think, Katie, it would be fun to look in on the dance up here at the club house?"
On the alert for shielding Ann, Katie demurred. It was late, and Ann was tired from her golf.
There was an eager little flutter, and Ann had stepped forward. "Oh, I'm not at all tired, Katie," she said.
"Does she look tired?" scoffed Wayne. "She's only tired of being made to play the invalid. Hurry along, Katie. If you girls aren't sufficiently befrocked, frock up at once."
Katie hesitated, annoyed. She felt shorn of the function of her office. And she was dubious. The party was one which the younger set over the river were giving—at the golf club-house on the Island—for the returned college boys. She did not know who might be there—she was always meeting friends of her friends. She felt a trifle injured in thinking that just for the sake of Ann she had avoided the social life those people offered her, and now—
Ann was speaking again, her voice stripped of the happy eagerness. "Just as you say, Katie. It is late, and perhaps I am—too tired."
That moved Katie. That a girl should not be privileged to be insistent about going to a dance—it seemed depriving her of her birthright. And more cruel than taking away a birthright was bringing the consciousness of having no birthright.
Katie entered gayly into the plans. They decided that Ann was to wear the rose-colored muslin—the same gown she had worn that first night. As she was fastening it for her Katie saw that Ann was smiling at herself in the mirror, giving herself little pats of approval here and there.
She had not done that the first time Katie helped her into that dress.
But it was the Ann of the first days who turned strained face to her in the dressing-room at the club-house. All the girlish radiance—girlish vanity—was gone. "Katie," she whispered, "I think I'd better go home. I—I didn't know it would be like this. So many people—so many lights—and things."
Gently Katie reassured her. Ann needing her was the Ann she knew how to care for, and would care for in the face of all the people—all the "lights—and things." "You needn't dance if you don't want to," she told her. "I'll tell Wayne to look out for you, that you're really not able to meet people. If I put him on guard he'll go through fire and water for you."
"Yes—I know that," said Ann, and seemed to take heart.
And for some time she did not dance. From the floor Katie Would get glimpses of Ann and Wayne sauntering on the veranda on which the ball-room opened. More than once she found Ann's eyes following her—Ann out in the shadow, looking in at the gay people in the light.
But with the opening of a lively two-step Captain Prescott insisted Ann dance with him. "Oh come now," he urged. "Life's too short to sit on the side lines. This is a ripping two-step."
The music, too, was urgent—and persuasive. As if without volition she fell into gliding little steps, moving toward the dancing floor.
It was Katie who watched that time. She wanted to see Ann dancing. At first it puzzled her; she was too graceful not to dance well, but she danced as if differently trained, as if unaccustomed to their way of dancing. But as the two-step progressed she fell into the swing of it and seemed no different from the rest of the pretty, happy girls all about her.
She was radiant when she came back to them. Like the golf, the dancing seemed to have given her confidence—and confidence, happiness.
Though she still shrank from meeting people. Katie fell in with a whole troop of college boys who hovered around her, as both college boys and their elders were wont to hover around Katie. She wanted to bring some of them to Ann, but Ann demurred. "Oh no, Katie. I don't want to dance with any strange men, please. Just our own."
Why, Katie wondered, should one not wish to dance with "strange men." It seemed so curious a thing to shrink from. Katie herself had never felt at all strange with "strange men." Nice fellows were nice fellows the world over, and she never felt farther from strange than when dancing with a nice man—strange or otherwise. Even in the swing of her gayety Katie wondered what it was could make one feel like that. And she wondered what Wayne must think of that plaintive little "Just our own" which she was sure he had overheard.
Katie had come out at last to say she thought they should go. Ann must not get too tired.
But just then the orchestra began dreaming out a waltz, one of those waltzes lovers love to remember having danced together. "Now there," said Wayne, "is a nice peaceful waltz. You'll have to wait, Katie," and his arm was about Ann and they had glided away together.
Katie told her cousin she would rather not dance. "Let's stand here and watch," she said.
Couple after couple passed by, not the crowd of the gay two-step of a few moments before. Few were talking; some were gently humming, many dreaming—with a veiled smile for the dream. It was one of those waltzes to find its way back to cherished moments, flood with lovely color the dear things held apart. Fred was saying he wished Helen were there. Katie turned from the vivid picture out to the subtle night—warm summer's night. The dreaming music carried her back to vanished things—other waltzes, other warm summer's nights, to the times when she had been, in her light-hearted fashion, in love, to those various flirtations for which she had more tenderness than regret just for the glimpses they brought. And suddenly the heart of things gone seemed to flow into a great longing for that never known tenderness and wildness of feeling that sobbed in the music. She was being borne out to the heart of the night, and at the heart of the night some one waited for her with arms held out. But as she was swept nearer the some one was the man who mended the boats! With a little catch of her breath for that sorry twist of her consciousness that must make lovely moments ludicrous ones, she turned back to the bright room—crowded, colorful, moving room which seemed set in the vast, soft night.
Her brother was just passing—her brother and her friend Ann Forrest. They did not look out at her. They did not seem to know that Katie was near. She had never seen Ann's face so beautiful. It had that beauty she had all the while seen as possible for it, only more intense, more exalted than she had been able to foresee it. The music stopped on a sob. Every one was still for an instant—then they were applauding for more. Ann was not clapping. Katie had never seen anything as beautiful as that look of rapt loveliness on Ann's face as she stood there waiting. She might have been the very spirit of love waiting in the mists at the heart of the night. As softly the music began again and Wayne once more guided her in and out among those boys and girls—boys and girls for whom life had meant little more than laughing and dancing—Katie had a piercing vision of the girl with her hands over her face stumbling on toward the river.
They were all very quiet on the way home.
That night just as she was falling asleep Katie was startled. It seemed at first she was being awakened by a sharp dart, one of those darts of apprehension seemed shot into her approaching slumber. But it was nothing more than Wayne whistling out on the porch, whistling the dreaming waltz which would bear one to the love waiting at the heart of the night.
But Katie was sleepy now. How did Wayne expect any one to go to sleep, she thought crossly, whistling at that time of night.
But across the hall was another girl who listened. She had not been asleep. She had been lying there looking out into the night, very wide awake. And when she heard the whistling she too sat up in bed, swaying ever so gently to the rhythm of it, inarticulately following it under her breath and smiling a hushed, tender little smile. Something lovely seemed stealing over her. But in the wake of it was something else—something cold, blighting. Before he had finished she had covered her ears with her hands, and was sobbing.