Katie Jones was very gay that winter. She made her home at her uncle's, near Washington, though most of the time she was in Washington itself, with various cousins and friends; there were always people wanting Katie, especially that winter, when she had such unfailing zest for gayety.
They wondered that she should not be more broken up at her brother's absurd move in quitting the army—just at the time the army offered him so much. She seemed to take it very easily; though Katie was not one to take things hard, too light of spirit for that. And they wondered about his marriage to a girl whom nobody but Katie knew anything about. Katie seemed devoted to her and happy in the marriage.
"Why, naturally I am pleased," she said to a group of army people who were inquiring about Wayne's bride. "She is my best friend. The girl I care most about."
Major Darrett was one of the group. Some one turned to him and asked if he had met her when she visited Katie at the Arsenal the summer before. He replied that he had had that pleasure and that she was indeed beautiful and very charming.
Katie hated him the more for having to be grateful to him.
She knew that he was sorry for her and grew more and more gay. She could not talk of it, so was left to disclaim tragedy in frivolity. It was royally disclaimed.
There were a few serious talks with older army men, men who had known her father and who were outraged at Wayne's leaving the army when he was worth so much to it and it to him. In her efforts to make them see, she was forced to remember what the man who mended the boats said of their lack of hospitality. They were unable to entertain the idea of there being any reason for a man's leaving the army when he was being as well treated in it as Wayne was. Katie's explanations only led them to shake their heads and say: "Poor Wayne."
It was impossible to bury certain things in her, for those were the things she must use in defending Wayne. And in defending him, especially to her uncle, she was forced to know how far those things were from being decently prepared for burial. She was never more gay than after one of her defenses of her brother.
The winter had passed and it was late in April, not unlike that May day just the year before when she had first seen her sister-in-law. Try as she would she could not keep her thoughts from that day and all that it had opened up.
She had received a letter from her sister-in-law that morning. It was hard to realize that the writer of that letter was the Ann of the year before.
Her thoughts of Ann led seductively to the old wonderings which Ann had in the beginning opened up. She wondered how many of the people with whom things were all wrong, people whom good people called bad people, were simply people who had been held from their own. She wondered how many of those good people would have remained good people had life baffled them, as it had some of the bad people. The people whom circumstances had made good people were so sure of themselves. She had observed that it was from those who had never sailed stormy waters came the quickest and harshest judgments on bad seamanship in heavy seas.
Ann had met Helen and did not seem to know just what to think about her. "She's nice, Katie," she wrote, "but I don't understand her very well. She has so many strange ideas about things. Wayne thinks you and she would get on famously. She doesn't seem afraid of anything and wants to do such a lot of things to the world. I'm afraid I'm selfish; I'm so happy in my own life—it's all so wonderful—that I can't get as excited about the world as Helen does."
And yet Ann would not have found the world the place she had found it were it the place Helen would have it. But Ann had found joy and peace—safety—and was too happy in her own life to get excited about the world—and thought Helen a little queer!
That was Ann's type—and that was why there were Anns.
Ann was radiant about the mountains and their life in them. "Helen said it about right, Katie. They're hard on the hair and the skin—but good for the soul!" They would be for the summer in one of the most beautiful mountain towns of Colorado and wanted Katie to come and bring Worth. Wayne had consented to leave him for a time with Katie at their uncle's. That Katie knew for a concession received for staying in New York with Ann until after her marriage.
She believed she would go. She was so tired of Zelda Fraser that she would like to meet Helen. And she would like the mountains. Perhaps they would do something for her soul—if she had not danced it quite away. She was getting very wretched about having to be so happy all the time.
She was on her way to Zelda's that afternoon, Zelda having asked her to come in for a cup of tea and a talk. A whiff of some new scandal, she supposed. That was the basis of most of Zelda's "talks."
Though possibly she had some things to tell about Harry Prescott's approaching marriage to Caroline Osborne. Katie had been asked to be a bridesmaid at that wedding.
"While we have known each other but a short time," Caroline had written in her too sweet way, "I feel close to you, Katie, because it was through you Harry and I came together. Then whom would we want as much as you! And as it is to be something of an army wedding, may I not have you, whom Harry calls the 'most bully army girl' he ever knew?"
Mrs. Prescott had also written Katie the glad news, saying she was happy, believing Caroline would make Harry a good wife. Katie was disposed to believe that she would and was emphatically disposed to believe that Mr. Osborne would make Harry a good father-in-law. Katie's knowledge of army finances led her to appreciate the value of the right father-in-law for an officer and gentleman who must subsist upon his pay.
But she had made an excuse about the wedding, in no mood to be a bridesmaid, especially to a bride who would enter the bonds of matrimony on the banks of the Mississippi, just opposite a certain place where boats were mended.
She walked on very fast toward Zelda's, trying to occupy the whole of her mind with planning a new gown.
But Zelda had more tender news to break that day than that of a new scandal. "Katie," she approached it, in Zelda's own delicate fashion, "what would you think of Major Darrett and me joy-riding through life together?"
"I approve of it," said Katie, with curious heartiness.
"Some joy-ride, don't you think?"
"I can fancy," laughed Katie, "that it might be hard to beat. I think," she added, "that he's just the one for you to marry. And I further think, Zelda, that you're just the one for him to marry."
Zelda looked at her keenly. "No slam on either party?"
"On the contrary, a sort of double-acting approval," she turned it with a laugh.
"Then as long as your approval has a back action, so to speak, I cop you out right now, Katie, for a bridesmaid."
"Don't," said Katie quickly. "No, Zelda, I'm not—suitable."
"Oh, too old and worn," she laughed. "Bridesmaids should be buds."
"Showing up the full-blowness of the bride? Don't you think it!"
"So you hastened to get me!"
"Come now, Katie, you know very well why I want you. Why wouldn't I want you? Anyhow," she exposed it, "father wants you. Father thinks you're so nice and respectable, Katie."
"And so, for that matter," she added, "does my chosen joy-rider."
"I'm not so sure of his being particularly impressed with my respectability," replied Katie.
"He's always been quite dippy about you, Katie. I don't know how I ever got him."
Zelda spoke feelingly of the approaching nuptials of her old school friend. "Cal's considerable of a prissy, but take it from me, Harry Prescott will see that all father's money doesn't pour into homes for the friendless—so there's something accomplished. Heaven help the poor fellow who must live on his pay," sighed Zelda piously.
Major Darrett, too, was to be congratulated on his father-in-law. Just the father-in-law for a man ambitious to become military attache.
It was nice, Katie told herself as she walked away, to know of so many weddings. She insisted upon asserting to herself that she was glad all her friends were getting on so famously.
Though if Zelda persisted, she would have to go West earlier than she had planned. She could not regard Ann's sister-in-law as suitable person for attendant at Major Darrett's wedding. That would be a little too much like playing the clown at a masked ball.
The image was suggested by seeing one of those grotesque figures across the street. He was advertising some approaching festivity. With the clown was a monkey. He put the monkey down on the sidewalk and it danced obediently in just the place where it was put down.
Suddenly it seemed to Katie that she was for all the world like that monkey—dancing obediently in the place where she was put down, not asking about the before or after, just dutifully being gay. That monkey did not know the great story about monkeys; doubtless he was even too degraded by clowns to yearn for a tree. He only danced at the end of the string the clown held—all else shut out.
She—shutting out the before and after—was that pathetically festive little monkey; and society was the clown holding the string—the whole of it advertising the tawdry thing the clown called life.
Only she knew that there were trees. She had danced frantically in seeking to forget them, but the string pulled by the clown fretted her more and more.
She could not make clear to herself why it had seemed that if Wayne were to be "free," she could not be; it was as if all the things she had worked out for herself had been appropriated by her brother. Everybody could not go into more spacious countries! There were some who must stay behind and make it right for the deserters.
Wayne's marrying Ann had turned her back to familiar paths. It had terrified her. There seemed too much involved, too little certainty as to where one would find one's self if one left the well-known ways.
She had been put in the position of the one hurt just when she had been steeled to bring the hurt. It gave her a new sense of the hurts—uncertainty as to the right to deal them.
And probably no monkey would dance more obediently than the monkey who had run away and been frightened at a glimpse of the vastness of the forest.
She would have to remain and explain Wayne, because she felt responsible about Wayne. It was her venturings had found what had led Wayne to venture—and, in the end, go. How could she outrage the army as long as Wayne had done so?
So it had seemed to Katie in her hurt and bewilderment. And the bewilderment came chiefly because of the hurt. It appalled her to find it did hurt like that.
But it was spring—and she knew that there were trees!
She paused and watched a gardener removing some debris that had covered a flower bed. It was spring, and there were new shoots and this gardener was wise and tender in taking the old things away, that the new shoots might have air. Katie could see them there—and tender green of them, as he lifted the old things away that the growing things might come through. The gardener did not seem to feel he was cruel in taking the dead things away. As a good gardener, he would scout the idea of its being unkind to take them away just because they had been there so long. What did that matter, the wise gardener would scornfully demand, when there were growing things underneath pushing their way to the light?
And if he were given to philosophizing he might say that the kindest thing even to the dead things was to let the new things come through. Thus life would be kept, and all the life that had ever been upon the earth perpetuated, vindicated, glorified.
It seemed to Katie that what life needed was a saner gardener. Not a gardener who would smother new shoots with a lot of dead things telling how shoots should go.
She drew a deep breath, lifted her face to the sky, and knew. Knew that she herself had power to push through the dead things seeking to smother her. Knew that if she but pushed on they must fall away because it was life was pushing them away.
She walked on slowly, breathing deep.
And swinging along in the April twilight she had a sense of having already set her face toward a more spacious country. And of knowing that it had been inevitable all the time that she should go. The delay had been but the moment's panic. Her life itself mattered more than what any group of people thought about her life.
Spring!—and new life upon the earth. It was that life itself, not the philosophy men had formulated for or against it, was pushing the dead things away. It was not even arrested by the fear of displacing something.
She had held herself back for so long that in the very admission that she longed to see him there was joy approaching the sweetness of seeing him. A long time she walked in the April twilight—knowing that it was spring—and that there was new life upon the earth.
Harry Prescott would be married within two weeks. It seemed nothing was so important as that she witness that ceremony. Dear Harry Prescott, who would be married on the banks of the Mississippi, close by a certain place where boats were mended.