Even on the river it was not yet cool. Day had burned itself too deeply upon the earth for approaching night to hold messages for even its favorite messenger. Katie was herself at the steering wheel, and alone with Worth and Queen. She had learned to manage the boat, and much to the disappointment of Watts and the disapproval of Wayne sometimes went about on the river unattended. Katie contended that as a good swimmer and not a bad mechanic she was entitled to freedom in the matter. She held that to be taken about in a boat had no relation to taking a boat and going about in it; that when Watts went her soul stayed home.
Tonight, especially, she would have the boat for what it meant to self; for to Katie, too, the sultry day had become more than sultry day. The thing which pressed upon her seemed less humidity than the consciousness of a world she did not know. It was not the heat which was fretting her so much as that growing sense of limitations in her thought and experience.
She wondered what the man who mended the boats would say about Ann's two worlds.
She suspected that he would agree with Ann, and then proceeded to work herself into a fine passion at his agreeing with Ann against her. "That silly thing of two worlds is fixed up by people who can't get along in the one world," said she. "And that childish idea of one world is clung to by people who don't know the real world," retorted the trouble-maker.
To either side of the river were factories. Katie had never given much thought to factories beyond the thought that they disfigured the landscape. Now she wondered what the people who had spent that hot day in the unsightly buildings thought about the world in general—be it one world or two.
Worth had come up to the front of the boat. The day had weighed upon him too, for he seemed a wistful little boy just then.
She smiled at him lovingly. "What thinking about, Worthie dear?"
"Oh, I wasn't thinking, Aunt Kate," he replied soberly. "I was just wondering."
"You too?" she laughed.
"And what would you say, Worthie," she asked after they had gone a little way in silence, "was the difference between thinking and wondering?"
Worth maturely crossed his knees as a sign of the maturity of the subject. "Well, I don't know, 'cept when you think you know what you're thinking about, and when you wonder you just don't know anything."
"Maybe you wonder when you don't know what to think," Katie suggested.
"Yes, maybe so. There's more to wonder about than there is to think about, don't you think so, Aunt Kate?"
"I wonder," she laughed.
"You do wonder, don't you, Aunt Kate? You wonder more than you think."
She flashed him a keen, queer look.
"Worth," she asked, after another pause in which the mind of twenty-five and the mind of six were wondering in their respective fashions, "do you know anything about the underlying principles of life?"
"The what, Aunt Kate?"
"Underlying principles of life," she repeated grimly.
"Why no," he acknowledged, "I guess I never heard of them."
"I never did either, till just lately. I want to find out something about them. Do you know, Worthie dear, I'd go a long way to find out something about them."
"Where would you have to go, Aunt Kate? Could you go in a boat?"
"No, I fear you couldn't go in a boat. Trouble is," she murmured, more to herself than to him, "I don't know where you would go."
"Don't Papa know 'bout them?"
"I sometimes think he would like to learn."
"Papa knows all there is to know 'bout guns and powders," defended
"Yes, I know; but I don't believe guns and powders have any power to get you to these underlying principles of life."
"Well, what does get you there?" demanded her companion of the practical sex.
She laughed. "I don't know, dear. I honestly don't know. And I'd like to know. Perhaps some time I will meet some one who is very wise, and then I'll ask whether it is experience, or wisdom, or sympathy. Whether some people are born to get there and other people not, or just how it is."
"Watts says you have more sympathy than wisdom, Aunt Kate."
"You mustn't talk about me to Watts," she admonished spiritedly. Then in the distance she heard a mocking voice insinuatingly inquiring: "But why not, if it's all one world?"
"But he said," Worth added, "that it shouldn't be held against you, 'cause of course you never had half a chance. No, it wasn't Watts said that, either. It was the man that mends the boats. It was Watts said you was a yard wide."
Katie's head had gone up; she was looking straight ahead, cheeks red. "Indeed! So it's the man that mends the boats says these hateful things about me, is it?"
"Why no, Aunt Kate; not hateful things. He says he's sorry for you. Why, he says he don't know anybody more to be pitied than you are."
"Well—really! I must say that of all the insolent —impertinent—insufferable—"
"He says you would have amounted to something if you'd had half a chance.
But he's afraid you never will, Aunt Kate."
"I do not wish to hear anything more about him," said Aunt Kate haughtily. "Now, or at any future time."
But it was not five minutes later she asked, with studied indifference:
"Pray what does this absurd being look like?"
"What being, Aunt Kate?" innocently inquired the being who was very young.
"Why this sympathetic gentleman!"
"Oh, I don't know. He's just a man. Sometimes he wears boots. He's real nice, Aunt Kate."
"Oh I'm sure he must be charming!"
She turned toward home, more erect, attending to her duties with a dignified sense of responsibility.
The glare of day had gone, but without bringing the cool of night. It made the world seem very worn. Little by little resentment slipped away and she had joined the man who mended the boats in pitying herself. She was disposed to agree with him that she might have amounted to something had she had half a chance. No one else had ever thought of her amounting to anything—amounting, or not amounting. They had merely thought of her as Katie Jones. And certainly no one else had ever pitied her. It made the man who mended the boats seem a wise and tender being. As against the whole world she felt drawn to his large and kindly understanding.
Excitement had suddenly seized Worth. "Aunt Kate—Aunt Kate!" he cried peremptorily, pointing to a cove in one of the islands they were passing, "please land there!"
"Why no, Worth, we can't land. It's too hard. And why should we?"
"Oh Aunt Kate—please! Oh please!"
She was puzzled. "But why, Worthie?"
"Cause I want you to. Don't you love me 't all any more, Aunt Kate?"
That was too much. He was suddenly just a baby who had been made to suffer for her grown-up disturbances. "But, dearie, what will you do when we land?"
"I want to look for something. I've got to get something. I want to show you something. 'Twon't take but a minute."
"What do you want to show me, dear?"
"Why I can't tell you, Aunt Kate. It's a surprise. It's a beautifulest surprise. Something I want to show you just because I love you, Aunt Kate."
Katie's eyes brooded over him. "Dear little chappie, and Aunt Kate's a cross mean old thing, isn't she?"
"Not if she'll stop the boat," said crafty Worth.
She laughed and surveyed the shore. It looked feasible. "I'm very 'easy,' Worth. Just don't get it into your head all the world is as easy as I am."
The little boy and the dog were out before she had made her landing. They were running through the brush. "Worth," she called, "don't go far. Don't go out of sound."
"No," he called back excitedly, "'tain't far."
She was anxious, reproaching herself as absurd and rash, and was just attempting to ground the boat and follow when Queen came bounding back. Then came Worth's voice: "Here 'tis! Here's Aunt Kate—waiting for you!"
Next there emerged from the brush a flushed and triumphant little boy, and after him came a somewhat less flushed and less obviously triumphant man.