Her first emotion was fury at herself. She must be losing her mind not to have suspected!
Then the fury overflowed on Worth and his companion. It reached high-water mark with the stranger's smile.
And there dissolved; or rather, flowed into a savage interest, for the smile enticed her to mark what manner of man he was. And as she looked, the interest shed the savagery.
His sleeves were rolled up; he had no hat, no coat. He had been working with something muddy. A young man, a large man, and strong. The first thing which she saw as distinctive was the way his smile lived on in his eyes after it had died on his lips, as if his thought was smiling at the smile.
Even in that first outraged, panic-stricken moment Katie Jones knew she had never known a man like that.
"Here he is, Aunt Kate!" cried her young nephew, dancing up and down.
"This is him!"
It was not a presentation calculated to set Katie at ease. She sought refuge in a frigid: "I beg pardon?"
But that was quite lost on Worth. "Why, Aunt Kate, don't you know him?
You said you'd rather see him than anybody now living! Don't you know,
Aunt Kate—the man that mends the boats?"
It seemed that in proclaiming their name for him Worth was shamelessly proclaiming it all: her conversations, the intimacy to which she had admitted him, her delight in him—yes, need of him. "But I thought," she murmured, as if in justification, "that you had a long white beard!"
And so she had—at times; then there had been other times when he had no beard at all—but just such a chin.
"I am sorry to be disappointing," the stranger replied—with his voice. With his eyes—it became clear even in that early moment that his eyes were insurgents—he said: "I don't take any stock in that long white beard!" Then, as if fearing his eyes had overstepped: "Perhaps you have visions of the future. A long white beard is a gift the years may bring me."
"You can just ask him anything you want to, Aunt Kate," Worth was brightly assuring her. "I told him you wanted to know about the under life—the under what it is of life. You needn't be 'fraid of him, Aunt Kate; you know he's the man's so sorry for you. He knows all about everything, and will tell you just everything he knows."
"Quite a sweeping commendation," Katie found herself murmuring foolishly—and in the imaginary conversations she had talked so brilliantly! But when one could not be brilliant one could always find cover under dignity. "If you will get in the boat now, Worth," she said, "we will go home."
But Worth, serene in the consciousness of having accomplished his mission, was sending Queen out after sticks and did not appear to have heard.
And suddenly, perhaps because the hot day had come to mean so much more than mere hot day, the feeling of being in a ridiculous position, together with that bristling sense of the need of a protective dignity, fell away. It became one of those rare moments when real things matter more than things which supposedly should matter. She looked at him to find him looking intently at her. He was not at all slipshod as inspector. "Why are you sorry for me?" she asked. "What is there about me to pity?"
He smiled as he surveyed her, considering it. Even people for whom smiling was difficult must have smiled at the idea of pitying Katie Jones—Katie, who looked so much as if the world existed that she might have the world.
But he looked with a different premise and saw a deeper thing. The world might exist for her enjoyment, but it eluded her understanding. And that was beginning to encroach upon the enjoyment.
She seemed to follow, and her divination stirred a singular emotion, possibly a more turbulent emotion than Katie Jones had ever known.
"It's all very well to pity me, but it's not a genuine pity—it's a jeering one. If you're going to pity me, why don't you do it sincerely instead of scoffingly? Is it my fault that I don't know anything about life? What chance did I ever have to know anything real? I wasn't educated. I was 'accomplished.' Oh, of course, if I had been a big person, a person with a real mind—if I had had anything exceptional about me—I would have stepped out. But I'm nothing but the most ordinary sort of girl. I haven't any talents. Nobody—myself included—can see any reason for my being any different from the people I'm associated with. I was brought up in the army. Army life isn't real life. It's army life. To an army man a girl is a girl, and what they mean by a girl has nothing to do with being a thinking being. Then what business has a man like you—I don't know who you are or what you're doing, but I believe you have some ideas about the real things of life—tell me, please—what business have you jeering at me?"
"I have no business jeering at you," he said quickly, simply and strongly.
But Katie had changed. He had a fancy that she would always be changing; that she was not one to rest in outlived emotions, that one mood was always but the making and enriching of another mood, moment ever flowing into moment, taking with it the heart of the moment that had gone. "You are quite right to pity me," she said, and tears surged beneath both eyes and voice. "Whether scoffingly or genuinely—you were quite right. Feeling just enough to feel there is something—but not a big enough feeling to go to that something, knowing just enough to know I'm being cheated, but without either the courage or the knowledge to do anything about it—I'm surely a pitiable and laughable object. Come, Worth," she said sharply, "we're going home."
But Worth had begun upon the construction of a raft, and was not in a home-going mood. Thus encouraged by his young friend the man who mended the boats sat down on a log.
"When did you begin to want to know about the 'underlying principles of life'?" His smile quoted it, though less mockingly than tenderly.
Katie was silent.
"Was it the day she came?" he asked quietly.
She gasped. Was he—a wizard? But looking at him and seeing he looked very much more like a man than like anything else, she met him as man should be met. "The day who came? I don't know what you mean."
"The girl. Was it the day you took her in? Saved her by making her save you?"
She was too startled by that for pretense. She could only stare at him.
"I saw her before you did," he said.
She looked around apprehensively. The man who mended the boats knowing about Ann? Was the whole world losing its mind just because it had been such a hot day?
But the world looking natural enough, she turned back to him. "I don't understand. Tell me, please."
As he summoned it, he changed. She had an impression of all but the central thing falling away, leaving his spirit exposed. And a thought or a vision gripped that spirit, and he tightened under it as a muscle would tighten.
When he turned to her, taking her in, self-consciousness fell away. There was no place for it.
"You want to hear about it?" he asked.
"As a matter of fact, it's nothing, as facts go. Only an impression. Yet an impression that swore to facts. Perhaps you know that she came on the Island from the south bridge?"
Katie shook her head. "I know nothing, save that suddenly she was there."
That held him. "And knowing nothing, you took her in?"
She kept silence, and he looked at her, dwelling upon it. "And you," he said softly, "don't know anything about the 'underlying principles of life'? Perhaps you don't. But if we had more you we'd have no her."
She disclaimed it. "It wasn't that way—an understanding way. I didn't do
it because I thought it should be done; because I wanted to—do good.
I—oh, I don't know. I did it because I wanted to do it. I did it because
I couldn't help doing it."
That called to him. He seemed one for whom ideas were as doors, ever opening into new places. And he did not shut those doors, or turn from them, until he had looked as far as he could see.
"Perhaps," he saw now, "that is the way it must come. Doing it because you can't help doing it. It seems wonderful enough to work the wonder."
"Work what wonder?" Katie asked timidly.
"The wonder of saving the world."
He spoke it quietly, but passion, the passion of the visioner, leaped to his eyes at sound of what he had said.
Katie looked about at so much of the world as her vision afforded: Prosperous factories—beautiful homes—hundreds of other homes less beautiful, but comfortable looking—some other very humble homes which yet looked habitable, the beautifully kept Government island in between the two cities, seeming to stand for something stable and unifying—far away hills and a distant sky line—a steamboat going through the splendid Government bridge, automobiles and carriages and farm wagons passing over that bridge—this man who mended the boats, this young man so live that thoughts of life could change him as a sculptor can change his clay—dear little Worth who was happily building a raft, the beautiful dog lying there drawing restoration from the breath of the water—"But it doesn't look as though it needed 'saving,'" said Katie.
He shook his head. "You're looking at the framework. Her eyes that day brought word from the inside. To one knowing—"
He broke off, looking at her as though seeing her from a new angle.
He thought it aloud. "You've walked sunny paths, haven't you? You never had your soul twisted. Life never tried to wring you out of shape. And yet—oh there's quite a yet," he finished more lightly.
"But you were telling me of Ann," Katie felt she must say.
"Yes, and when I've finished telling you, you'll go back to your sunny paths, won't you? Please don't hurry me. I can tell it better if I think I'm not being hurried."
She smiled openly. "I am in no hurry." There was a sunny rim trying all the while to pierce the somber thing which drew them together. Little rays from the sunny paths would dart daringly in to the dark place from which Ann rose.
It made him wonder how far she of the sunny paths could penetrate an unlighted country. He looked at her—peered at her, fairly—trying to decide. But he could not decide. Katie baffled him on that.
"I wonder," he voiced it, "where it's going to lead you? I wonder if you're prepared to go where it may lead you? Have you thought of that? Perhaps it's going to take you into a country too dark for you of the sunny paths. She may be called back. You know we are called back to countries where we have—established a residence. You might have to go with her to settle a claim, or break a tie, or pull some one else out that she might not be pulled back in. Then what? Perhaps you might feel you needed a guide. If so,"—he went boldly to the edge of it, then halted, and concluded with a boyishly bashful humor—"will you keep my application on file?"
Katie was not going to miss her chance of finding out something. "I should want a guide who knew the territory," she said.
"I qualify," he replied shortly, with a short, unmirthful laugh. "That is one advantage of not having spent one's days on sunny paths." His voice on that was neither bashful nor boyish.
"But you must have spent some of them on sunny paths," she urged, with more feeling than she would have been able to account for. "You don't look," Katie added almost shyly, "as if you had grown in the dark."
He did not reply. He looked so much older when sternness set his face, leaving no hint of that teasing gleam in his eyes, that pleasing little humorous twist of his mouth.
Gently her voice went into the dark country claiming him then. "But you were telling me of my friend."
It brought him out, wondering anew. "Your friend! There you go again! How can you expect me to stick to a subject when paths open out on all sides of you like that? But I'll try to quit straying. It happened that on that day, just at that time, I was going under the south bridge. I chanced to look up. A face was bending down. Her face. Our eyes met—square. I got it—flung to me in that one look. What the world had done to her—what she thought of it for doing it—what she meant to do about it.
"I wish," he went on, with a slow, heavy calm, "that the 'good' men and women of the world—those 'good' men and women who eat good dinners and sleep in good beds—some of the 'God's in heaven all's well with the world' people—could have that look wake them up in the middle of the night. I'd like to think of them turning to the wall and trying to shut it out—and the harder they tried the nearer and clearer it grew. I'd like to think of them sitting up in bed praying God—the God of 'good' folks—to please make it stop. I'd like to have it haunt them—dog them—finally pierce their brains or souls or whatever it is they have, and begin to burrow. I'd like to have it right there on the job every time they mentioned the goodness of God or the justice of man, till finally they threw up their hands in crazed despair with, 'For God's sake, what do you want me to do about it!'"
He had scarcely raised his voice. He was smiling at her. It was the smile led her to gasp: "Why I believe you hate us!"
"Why I really believe I do," he replied quietly, still smiling.
Suddenly she flared. "That's not the thing! You're not going to set the world right by hating the world. You're not going to make it right for some people by hating other people. What good thing can come of hate?"
"The greatest things have come of hate. Of a divine hate that transcends love."
"Why no they haven't! The greatest things have come of love. What the world needs is more love. You can't bring love by hating."
He seemed about to make heated reply, but smiled, or rather his smile became really a smile as he said: "What a lot of things you and I would find to talk about."
"We must—" Katie began impetuously, but halted and flushed. "We must go on with our story," was what it came to.
"I haven't any story, except just the story of that look. Though it holds the story of love and hate and a hundred other things you and I would disagree about. And I don't know that I can convey to you—you of the sunny paths—what the look conveyed to me. But imagine a crowd, a crazed crowd, all pushing to the center, and then in the center a face thrown back so you can see it for just an instant before it sinks to suffocation. If you can fancy that look—the last gasp for breath of one caught—squeezed—just going down—a hatred of the crowd that got her there, just to suffocate her—and perhaps one last wild look at the hills out beyond the crowd. If you can get that—that fear, suffocation, terror—and don't forget the hate—yet like the dog you've kicked that grieved—'How could you—when it was a pat I wanted!'—"
"I know it in the dog language," said Katie quiveringly.
"Then imagine the dog crazed with thirst tied just out of reach of a leaping, dancing brook—"
"Oh—please. That's too plain."
"It hurts when applied to dogs, does it?" he asked roughly.
"But they're so helpless—and they love us so!"
"And they're so helpless—and they hate because they weren't let love."
"But surely there aren't many—such looks. Not many who feel they're—going down. Why such things couldn't be—in this beautiful world."
"Such," he said smilingly, "has ever been the philosophy of sunny paths."
"You needn't talk to me like that!" she retorted angrily. "I guess I saw the look as well as you did—and did a little more to banish it than you did, too."
"True. I was just coming to that thing of my not having done anything. Perhaps it was a case of fools rushing in where angels feared to tread. You mustn't mind being called a fool in any sentence so preposterous as to call me an angel. You see one who had never been in the crowd would say—'Why don't you get out?' It would be droll, wouldn't it, to have some one on a far hill call—'But why don't you come over here?' Don't you see how that must appeal to the sense of humor of the one about to go down?"
She made no reply. The thing that hurt her was that he seemed to enjoy hurting her.
"You see I've been in the crowd," he said more simply and less bitterly. "I don't suppose men who have been most burned to death ever say—'The fire can't hurt you.'"
"And do they never try to rescue others from fires?" asked Katie scornfully. "Do they let them burn—just because they know fire for a dangerous thing?"
"Rescue them for what? More fires? It's a question whether it's very sane, or so very humane, either, to rescue a man from one fire just to have him on hand for another."
"I don't think I ever in my life heard anything more farfetched," pronounced Katie. "How do you know there'll be another?"
"Because there are people for whom there's nothing else. If you can't offer a safe place, why rescue at all? Though it's true," he laughed, "that I hadn't the courage of my convictions in the matter. After that look—oh I haven't been able to make it live—burn—as it did—she passed on the Island, the guard evidently thinking she was with some people who had just got out of an automobile and gone on for a walk. And suddenly I was corrupted, driven by that impulse for saving life, that beautiful passion for keeping things alive to suffer which is so humorously grounded in the human race."
He stopped with a little laugh. Watching him, Katie was thinking one need have small fear of his not always being "corrupted." There was a light in his eyes spoke for "corruption."
"I saw her making straight across the Island," he went back to his story. "I knew. And I knew that on the other side she might find things very conveniently arranged for her purpose. I turned the boat and went at its best speed around the head of the Island. Hugged the shore on your side. Pulled into a little cove. Waited."
He looked at Katie, comparing her with an a priori idea of her. "I saw you sitting up there in the sun—on the bunker. Just having received the last will and testament, as it were, of this other human soul, can't you fancy how I hated you—sitting there so serenely in the sun?"
"But why hate me?" she demanded passionately. "That's where you're small and unjust! I don't make the crazed crowds, do I?"
"Yes; that's just what you do. There'd be no crowds if it weren't for you. You take up too much room."
"I don't see why you want to—hurt me like that," she said unevenly. "Don't you want me to enjoy my place any more? Will it do any good for me to get in the crowd? What can I do about it?"
Looking into her passionately earnest face it was perhaps the gulf between the girl and his a priori idea of her brought the smile—a smile no kin to that hard smile of his. And looking with a different slant across the gulf there was a sort of affectionate roguery in his eyes as he asked: "Do you want to know what I honestly think about you?"
"I think you're in for it!"
"In for what?"
"I don't think you've the ghost of a chance to escape!" he gloated.
"Seeing. And when you do—!" He laughed—that laugh one thinks of as the exclusive possession of an affectionate understanding. And when it died to a smile, something tenderly teasing flickered in that smile.
She flushed under it. "You were telling me—we keep stopping."
"Yes, don't we? I wonder if we always would."
"We keep stopping to quarrel."
"Yes—to quarrel. I wonder if we always would."
"I haven't a doubt of it in the world," said Katie feelingly, and they laughed together as friends laugh together.
"Well, where did I leave myself? Oh yes—waiting. Sitting there busily engaged in hating you. Then she came across the grass—making straight for the river—running. I saw that you saw, and the thing that mattered to me then was what you would do about it. Saved or not saved, she was gone—I thought. The crowd had squeezed it all out of her. The live thing to me was what you—the You of the world that you became to me—would do about her."
He paused, smiling at that absurd and noble vision of Katie tumbling down the bunker. "And when you did what you did do—it was so treacherously disarming, the quick-witted humanity, the clever tenderness of it—I loved you so for it that I just couldn't go on hating. There's where you're a dangerous person. How dare you—standing for the You of the world—dampen the splendid ardor of my hate?"
Katie did not let pass her chance. "Perhaps if the Me of the world were known a little more intimately it would be less hated."
He shook his head. "They just happened to have you. They can't keep you."
There was another one of those pauses which drew them so much closer than the words. She knew what he was wondering, and he knew that she knew. At length she colored a little and called him back to the greater reserve of words.
"I saw how royally you put it through. I could see you standing there on the porch, looking back to the river. I've wanted several things rather badly in my life, but I doubt if I've ever wanted anything much worse than to know what you were saying. And then with my own two eyes I saw the miracle: Saw her—the girl who had just had all the concentrated passion of the Her of the world—turn and follow you into the house. It was a blow to me! Oh 'twas an awful blow."
"Why a blow?"
"In the first place that you should want to, and then that you should be able to. My philosophy gives you of the sunny paths no such desire nor power."
"Showing," she deduced quickly and firmly, "that your philosophy is all wrong."
"Oh no; showing that the much toasted Miss Katherine Jones is too big for mere sunny paths. Showing that she has a latent ambition to climb a mountain in a storm."
Fleetingly she wondered how he should know her for the much toasted Miss Katherine Jones, but in the center of her consciousness rose that alluring picture of climbing a mountain in a storm.
"Tell me how you did it."
"Why—I don't know. I had no method. I told her I needed her."
"And afterwards, in a different way, I told her that again. And I did. I do."
"Why do you need her? How do you need her?" he urged gently.
She hesitated. Her mouth—her splendid mouth shaped by stern or tender thinking to lines of exquisite fineness or firmness—trembled slightly, and the eyes which turned seriously upon him were wistful. "Perhaps," said Katie, "that even on sunny paths one guesses that there are such things as storms in the mountains."
It was only his eyes which answered, but the fullness of the response ushered them into a silence in which they rested together understandingly.
"I sat there watching the house," he went back to it after the moment. "I was sure the girl would come out again. 'She'll bungle it,' I said to myself. 'She'll never be able to put it through.' But time passed—and she did not come out!"—inconsistently enough that came with a ring of triumph. "And then the next day—after the wonder had grown and grown—I saw her driving with you. I was just off the head of the Island. She was turned toward me, looking up the river. Again I saw her eyes, and in them that time I read you. And I don't believe," he concluded with a little laugh, "that my stock of hate can ever be quite so secure again."
They talked on, not conscious that it was growing late. Time and place, and the conventions of time and place, seemed outside. She let him in quite freely: to that edge of fun and excitement as well as to the strange and somber places. It was fun sharing fun with him; and something in his way of receiving it suggested that he had been in need of sharing some one's fun. He had a way of looking at her when she laughed that had vague suggestion of something not far from gratitude.
But the fun light, and that other light which seemed wanting to thank her for something, went from his eyes, leaving a glimmer of something deeper as he asked: "But you've never asked for her story? You've demanded nothing?"
"Why no," said Katie; "only that I should be proud if she ever felt I could help."
He turned his face a little away. One looking into it then would not have given much for his stock of hate.
Worth had approached. "Ain't you getting awful hungry, Aunt Kate?"
It recalled her, and to embarrassment. "We must go at once," she said, confused.
"Did you find out all you wanted to know from him, Aunt Kate?" he asked, getting in the boat.
She transcended her embarrassment. "No, Worth. Only that there is a very great deal I would like to know."
He was standing ready to push her boat away. She did not give the word. As she looked at him she had a fancy that she was leaving him in a lonely place—she who was going back to what he called the sunny paths. And not only did she feel that he was lonely, but she felt curiously lonely herself, sitting there waiting to tell him to push her away. She wanted to say, "Come and see me," but she was too bound by the things to which she was returning to put it in the language of those things. And so she said, and the new shyness brought its own sweetness:
"You tell me to come to you if I need a guide. Thank you for that. I shall remember. And perhaps sunshine is a thing that soaks in and can be stored up, and given out again. If it ever seems I can be of any use—in any way—will you come where you know you can find me?"
Her eyes fell before the things which had leaped to his.