It took her a number of seconds to get the fact that they must know each other.
And even then she could get no grip on the situation. She was too shaken by having jumped—as though she were some vulgar housemaid!
And why was Ann looking like that! She looked dreadful—huddled up that way as if some one was going to beat her!
"Why you can't know each other," said Katie wildly. "How could you know each other? Where would you know each other? And if you do know each other,"—turning upon him furiously—"need we all act like thieves?"
He tried to speak, but seemed unable to. He had lost command of himself, save in so far as standing very straight was concerned.
She wished Ann would stand up! It gave her such an awful sense of shame to see Ann huddled like that.
"Katie," Ann whispered, "you told me—"
"I never told you I'd shut the door in Major Darrett's face!" said Katie harshly. "And what are you talking about? What does this all mean?"
He had recovered himself. "Why it merely means, Katie, that we—as you surmised—at one time—knew each other. The—the acquaintance terminated—not pleasantly. That's all. A slight surprise for the moment. No harm done."
Then Ann did stand straight. "It means," she said shrilly, "that if I had never known him"—pointing at him—"you would never have found me there." She pointed down toward the river. "Oh no, no harm done, of course—No harm done—"
"Please let us try and keep very quiet," said Katie coldly. "It is—it is vulgar enough at best. Let us be as quiet—as decent as we can."
Ann crouched down again as though struck.
Then Katie laughed, bitterly. "Why really, it's quite as good as a play, isn't it? It's quite a scene, I'm sure."
"It needn't be," said he soothingly, and relaxing a little. "I own I was startled for the moment, and—discomfited. But you were quite right—we'll go into no hysterics. What I can't understand"—looking from one to the other—"is what she's doing here."
Katie's head went up. "She's here, I'll have you know, as my friend. Just as you're here as my friend."
She thought Ann was going to fall, and her heart softened a little. "Suppose you go up to my room, Ann. Lie down. Just—just lie down. Keep quiet. Why did you come home? Is something wrong?"
Ann whispered that Worth had a sore throat. She had a chance to come down in an automobile. She thought she had better. She was sorry she had.
"All right," said Katie. "It's all right. Just go lie down. I'll look after Worth—and you—in a minute."
Ann left the room and Katie turned to the Major. "Well?"
"You're so sensible, Katie," he said hurriedly, "in feeling the thing to do is make no fuss about things. Nothing is to be gained—But for God's sake, Katie, what is she doing here? Where did you know her?"
"Oh you tell first," said Katie, smiling a hard smile. "You tell where you found her, then I'll tell where I found her."
"Really—really," he said stiffly, "I must refuse to discuss such a matter with you. I can only repeat—she has no business here."
"Then pray why have you any business here?"
He flushed angrily. But restrained himself and said persuasively: "Why,
Katie, she's not one of us."
"She's one of me," said Katie. "She's my friend."
"I can only say again," he said shortly, "that she has no business to be."
"As I am to be kept so safe from the wicked world," said Katie stingingly, "I presume it is not proper you discuss the matter with me. I take it, however, that she was one of those 'excursions' into the great outer world?"
"Well," he said defiantly, "and what if she was? She was willing to be, I guess. She wasn't knocked down with a club."
"Oh, no! Oh, my no! That wouldn't be your method. And when one is tired of exursions—I suppose one is at perfect liberty to abandon them—?"
"Nonsense! You can't trump up anything of that sort. She wasn't 'abandoned.' She left in the night."
He colored. "I beg your pardon. But as long as we're speaking frankly—"
"Oh pray," said Katie, "let's not be overly delicate in this delicate little matter!"
"Very well then. Her coming was her own choice. Her going away was her own choice. I can see that I have no great responsibility in the matter."
"Why how clever you must be," said Katie, all the while smiling that hard smile, "to be able to argue it like that."
He was standing there with folded arms. "I think I was very decent to her. All things considered—in view of the nature of the affair—I consider that I was very decent."
Katie laughed. "Maybe you were. I found her in the very act of committing suicide."
He paled, but quickly recovered himself. "That was not my affair. There must have been—something afterward."
"Maybe. I'm sure I don't know. But you were the beginning, weren't you?" Suddenly she buried her face in her hands. "Oh I didn't think—I didn't think it could get in here! It's everywhere! It's everywhere! It's getting me!"
"Katie—dear Katie," he murmured, "don't. We'll get you out of this. You wanted to be kind. It was just a mistake of yours. We'll fix it up. Don't cry." And he put an arm about her.
She stood before him with clenched hands, eyes blazing. "Don't touch me!
Don't you touch me!" And she left him.
In the hall Nora stopped her to say there were not enough champagne glasses. She made no reply. Champagne glasses—!
She looked after Worth. Then she went to Ann.
"Well, Ann," she began, her voice high pitched and unsteady, "this is about the limit, isn't it?"
"Oh Katie," moaned Ann, "you told me—you told me—you understood. Why,
Katie—you must have known there was some one."
"Oh I knew there was some one, all right," said Katie, her voice getting higher and higher, her cheeks more and more red—"only I just hadn't figured, you see, on its being some one I knew! Why how under the sun," she asked, laughing wildly, "did you ever meet Major Darrett?"
"I—I'll try to tell you," faltered Ann miserably. "I want to. I want to make you understand. Katie!—I'll die if you don't understand!"
She looked so utterly wretched that Katie made heroic effort to get herself under control—curb that fearful desire to laugh. "I will try," she said quietly as she could. "I will try."
"Why, Katie," Ann began, "does it make so much difference—just because you know him?"
"It makes all the difference! Can't you see—why it makes it so vulgar."
Ann threw back her head. "Just the same—it wasn't vulgar. What I felt wasn't vulgar. Why, Katie," she cried appealingly, "it was my Something Somewhere! You didn't think that vulgar!"
"Oh no," laughed Katie, "not before I knew it was Major Darrett! But tell me—I've got to know now. What is it? Where did you meet him? Just how bad is it, anyhow?"
It must have been desperation led Ann to spare neither Katie nor herself. "I met him," she said baldly, "one night as I was standing on the corner waiting for a car. He had an automobile. He asked me to get in it—and I did. And that—began it."
Katie stepped back from her in horror, the outrage she felt stamped all too plainly on her face. "And you call that not vulgar? Why it was common. It was low."
Then Ann turned. "Was it? Oh I don't know that you need talk. I wouldn't say much—if I were you. I guess I saw the look on his face when I came in. Don't think for a minute I don't know that look. You got it there. And let me tell you another thing. Just let me tell you another thing! Whatever I did—whatever I did—I know I never had the look you did when I came in! I never had that look of fooling with things!"
Katie was white—powerless—with rage. "You dare speak to me like that!" she choked. "You—!"
And all control gone she rushed blindly from the room.