It was hard for Katie to contain her delight in Wayne's generosity when she found he had left his launch with Captain Prescott. "Now wasn't that just sweet of father?" she exulted to Worth as they walked together down to the little boat house.
Worth was more dispassionate. "Y—es; but why wouldn't he, Aunt Kate?
Where would he take it?"
"Well, but it's just so nice, dearie, that it's here."
"You going out in it?" he demanded.
Katie looked around. Some soldiers and some golfers in the distance, but like the day Ann had come upon the Island, no one within immediate range.
"Watts says she's running like a bird, Aunt Kate. Somebody was out this morning and somebody's going again this afternoon."
"Maybe she won't be here for them to take!"
"You going to take it, Aunt Kate?" he pressed excitedly.
"Well, I don't just know, Worth." She looked up the river. She could see a part of the little island where she had once pulled in to ask about the underlying principles of life, but not being able to see the other side of it, how could she be sure whether a launch ride was what she wanted or not?
"Father says we mustn't go in it alone, Aunt Kate. Shall I see if we can get Watts?"
"N—o; that's not exactly the idea," said Aunt Kate, stepping into the launch.
"Goin', Aunt Kate?"
"Why—I don't know. I thought I'd just sit in it a little while."
So Worth joined her for the delightful pastime of just sitting in it for a little while.
"I'd rather like to find out whether it's in good condition." She turned to Worth appealing. "It seems we ought to be able to tell father whether they're taking good care of it, doesn't it, Worth?"
"I guess I'll go and get Watts."
"I don't know why, but I don't seem able to get up a great deal of enthusiasm for that idea." Her fingers were upon the steering wheel, longingly. Eyes, too, were longing. Suddenly she started the engine. "We'll just run round the head of the Island," she said.
So they started up the river—the river as blue and lovely as it had been that day a year before when she had cheated it, and had begun to see that life was cheating her.
"Worth," she asked, "what is there on the other side of that little island?"
"Why, Aunt Kate—why on the other side of it is the man that mends the boats."
"Oh, that so? Funny I never thought of that.
"But I suppose," she began again, "he wouldn't be very likely to be there mending boats now?"
"Why yes, Aunt Kate, he might be."
"You heard anything about him, Worth?"
"Yes sir; Watts says he has cut him out. He says he's on to him."
"That must be a bitter blow," said Aunt Kate. "Watts getting on to one—and cutting one out.
"Watts say anything about whether he was still mending boats?" she asked in the off-hand manner people adopt for vital things.
"Why I guess he is, 'cause he made a speech last week—oh there was a whole lot of men—and he just sowed seeds of discontentment."
"Such a busy little sower!" murmured Aunt Kate lovingly.
She knew that he was there, or at least had been there the week before, for just as she was leaving her uncle's she had received a note from him. They had not been writing to each other since the brief letter she had sent him the day after receiving the announcement of her brother's engagement. This note had been written to tell her no special thing; simply because, he said, after trying his best for a number of weeks, he was not longer able to keep from writing. He wrote because he couldn't help it. He had determined to love her too well to urge her to do what, knowing it all, she evidently felt could not hold happiness for her. But the utter desolation of life without her had crumbled the foundation of that determination.
In the note he said that his boat-mending days were about over. They would not have lasted that long only he had had no heart for other things.
But the letter gave Katie heart for other things! Its unmistakable wretchedness made her superbly radiant.
"Why, Worthie," she exclaimed, "just see here! Here's the very place where we landed that other time."
"Oh yes, Aunt Kate—it's still here."
She smiled; he could not have done better had he been trying.
"Now I wonder if I could make that landing again. I was proud of the way
I did that before. I don't suppose I could do it again."
That baited him. "Oh yes, I guess you could, Aunt Kate. You just try it."
She demonstrated her skill and then they once more enjoyed the delightful pastime of just sitting in the launch.
Katie's eyes were misty, her lips trembled to a tender smile as she finally turned to him. "Worth dear, will you do something for your Aunt Kate?"
"Sure I will, Aunt Kate." Suddenly he guessed it. "Want me to get the man that mends the boats?"
"I'll try and get him for you, Aunt Kate."
"Try pretty hard, Worthie."
He started, but turned back. "What'll I tell him, Aunt Kate?"
The smile had lingered and the eyes were wonderfully soft just then. "Tell him I'm here again and want to find out some more about the underlying principles of life."
"The—now what is it, Aunt Kate?"
"Well just say life," she laughed tremulously. "Life'll do."
She found it hard to keep from crying. There had been too much. It had been too long. It was not with clear vision she looked over at the big house where Harry Prescott's wedding feast would be served on the morrow.
It seemed that about half of her life had passed before Worth came back—alone.
Pretense fell away. "Didn't you get him?"
"Why, Aunt Kate, there's another man there. But don't you feel so bad, Aunt Kate," he hastened. "We will get him, 'cause that other man is going to tell him."
"Oh, he—then he is here?"
"Oh yes, he's here. He's just over at the shop."
"I see," said Aunt Kate, very much engaged with something she appeared to think was trying to get in her eye.
"But, Worth," she asked, when she had blinked the gnat away, "what did you tell this other man?"
"Why, I just told him. Told him you was here and wanted the other man that mended the boats. The first man. The big man, I said. He knows who I mean."
"I should hope so," she murmured.
"But what did you tell him I wanted to see him for?" she asked, suddenly apprehensive.
Worth had sat down and begun upon a raft. "Why, I just told him. Told him you had come to find out some more about life."
"Worth! Told that to a strange man!"
"But I guess he didn't know what I meant, Aunt Kate. He's one of those awful dumb folks that talk mostly in foreign languages. I think he's some kind of a French Pole—or something."
She breathed deeper. "Oh, well perhaps one's confidences would be safe—with a French Pole."
"So he knows you want him, Aunt Kate, but he don't know just what you want him for."
"Yes; that's quite as well, I think," said Aunt Kate.
The other half of her life had almost passed when again there were footsteps—very hurried footsteps, these were.
It was not the French Pole, though some one who did not seem at home with the English tongue, some one who stood there looking at her as if he, too, wanted to cry.
Worth was the self-possessed member of the party. "Hello there," he said; "it's been a long time since we saw you, ain't it?"
"It seems to me to have been a—yes, a long time," replied the man who mended the boats, never taking his eyes from Katie.
Saying nothing more, he pulled in her boat, secured it. Held out his hand to help her out—forgot to let go the hand when her feet were upon firm earth. Acted, Worth thought, as though he thought somebody was going to hurt her.
A steamboat was coming down the river. And Worth!—a much interested Worth. The man who mended the boats did not seem to find his surroundings all he could ask.
"I want to show you this island," he began. "It's really quite a remarkable island. You know, I've been wanting to show it to you. There's a stone over here—quite—quite an astonishing stone. And a flower. Queer. Really an astounding flower. I don't believe you ever saw one like it."
"Pooh!" said Worth, starting on ahead. "I bet I've seen one like it."
"Say—I'll tell you what I'll bet you. I'll bet you two dollars and a quarter you can't get that raft done before we get back!"
"Well I'll just bet you two dollars and a half that I can!"
"It's a go!"—and Aunt Kate and the man who mended the boats were off to find the astonishing stone and the astounding flower, Worth calling after them: "Now you try to keep him, Aunt Kate. Keep him as long as you can."
It was after she had succeeded in keeping him long enough for considerable headway to have been made in raft-construction that he exclaimed: "Katie, will you do something for me?"
Her eyes were asking what there could be that she would not do for him.
"Then laugh, Katie. Oh if you could know how I've longed to hear you laugh again."
She did laugh, but a sob overtook the laugh. Then laughed again and ran away from the sob. But the laugh was sweeter for the sob.
"You will laugh, Katie, won't you?" he asked with an anxiety that touched deep things.
"Why there'll be days and days when I shan't do anything else!" Then her laughing eyes grew serious. "Though just a little differently, I think. I've heard the world sobbing, you know."
"But a world that is sobbing needs Katie's laughing." He drew her to him with something not unlike a sob. "I need it, I know."
There was a wonderful sense of saving herself in knowing again that the world was sobbing. What she could have borne no longer was drowning the world's sobs in the world's hollow laughter.
"Katie," he cried, after more time had elapsed without finding either the astonishing stone or the astounding flower, "here's a little sunny path! I want you to walk in it."
Laughingly he pushed her over into the narrow strip of sunshine, where there was just room for Katie's feet.
But Katie shook her head. "What do I care about sunny paths, if I must walk them alone?" And laughing, too, but with a deepening light in her eyes, she held out her hand to him.
But it was such a narrow sunny path; there was not room for two.
So Katie made room for him by stepping part way out of the sunshine herself. Smiling, but eyes speaking for the depth of the meaning, she said: "I'd rather be only half in the sunshine than be—"
"Be what, Katie?" he whispered.
"Be without you."
"Katie," he asked passionately, "you mean that if walking together we can't always be all in the sunshine—?"
"The thing that matters," said Katie, "is walking together."
"Over roads where there might be no sunshine? Rough, steep roads, perhaps?"
"Whatever kind, of roads they may be," said Katie, with the steadiness and the fervor of a devotee repeating a prayer.
They stood there as shadows lengthened across sunny paths, thinking of the years behind and the years ahead, now speaking of what they would do, now folded in exquisite silences.
And after the fashion of happy lovers who must hover around calamities averted, he exclaimed: "Suppose Ann had never come!"
It sent her heart out in a great tenderness to Ann: Ann, out in her mountains, and happy. Nor was the tenderness less warm in the thought that Ann would join with Wayne and the others in deploring. Ann, who was within now, would, Katie knew, grieve over her going without.
But that was only because Ann did not wholly understand. Everything the matter with everybody was just that they did not wholly understand. She grew tender toward all the world.
There rose before her vision of a possible day when all would understand; when none would wish another ill or work another harm; when war and oppression and greed must cease, not because the laws forbade them, but because men's hearts gave them no place.
"I see it!" she whispered unconsciously.
Her face was touched with the fine light of visioning. "See what—dear
Katie? Take me in."
"The world when love has saved it!" She remembered their old dispute and her arms went about his neck as she told him again: "Why 'tis love must save the world!"
He held her face in his two hands as if he could not look deeply enough.
And as he looked into her eyes a nobler light was in his own.
"As it has saved us," he whispered.
They grew very still, hushed by the wonder of it. In their two hearts there seemed love enough to redeem the world.