She had no idea how long she had been walking. She was conscious of being glad that there was so big a place for walking, that walking was not a preposterous thing to be doing. She passed several groups of soldiers. They were reassuring; they looked so much in the natural order of things and gave no sign of her being out of that order.
Though she knew she was out of it. It was dizzying—that feeling of having lost herself. She had never known it before.
After she had walked very fast for what seemed a long time she seemed able to gather at least part of her forces back under control.
That blinding sense of everything being scattered, of her being powerless, was passing.
And the first thing sanity brought was the suggestion that Ann, too, might be like that. Once before Ann had been "scattered" that way—oh she understood it now as she had not been able to do then. And perhaps Ann would have less power to gather herself back—
She grew frightened. She turned toward home, walking fast as she could—worried to find herself so far away.
Major Darrett stepped out from the library to speak to her, but she hurried past him up the stairs.
Ann was not in the room where she had left her.
She looked through the other rooms. She called to her.
Then it must be—she told herself—all the while fear growing larger in her heart—that Ann, too, had gone out for a walk.
"Worth," she asked, grotesquely overdoing unconcern, "where's Miss Ann?
Has she gone for a walk?"
"Why, Aunt Kate, she was called away."
"Called away?" whispered Katie. "Called where?"
"She said she was called away. She's gone."
"But she's coming back? When did she say, dear," she pleaded, "that she would be back?"
"I don't know, Aunt Kate. She felt awful bad because she had to go. She came and kissed me—she kissed me and kissed me—and said she hated to leave me—but that she had to go. She kept saying she had to."
In the hall was Nora. "Nora," asked Katie, standing with her back to her, "what is it about Miss Forrest?"
"She was called away, Miss Kate. A telegram. I didn't see no boy—"
"They must have 'phoned it," said Katie sharply.
"Yes'm. I didn't hear the 'phone. But I was busy. I'm so upset, Miss
Kate, about them champagne glasses. We've telephoned over the river—"
"Never mind the champagne glasses! What about Miss Forrest? How did she go? When did she go?"
"She went in Mr. Osborne's automobile. Miss Osborne sent you some beautiful flowers, Miss Kate. Oh they're just lovely!"
"Oh, I don't care anything about flowers! You say Ann went in the machine?"
"Yes'm. She told the chauffeur—he brought the flowers—that big colored man, you know, Miss Kate—that she was called away, and would he take her to the station. And he said sure he would—and so they went. But, Miss Kate—it's most five o'clock—what will we do about those two champagne glasses!"
"Merciful heavens, Nora! Stop talking about them! I don't care what you do about them!"
She went down to the library. "Look here," she said to the Major, "what is this? What have you done? Where's Ann gone?"
"I don't know a thing about it. I went over to the office—an appointment—and when I came back—hurried back because I was worried about you—I saw her going away in the Osborne car."
"And never tried to stop her?"
"See here, Katie. Why should I stop her? Best thing you can do is let her go."
"Do you know—do you know," choked Katie—"that she may kill herself?"
He laughed. "Oh I guess not. Calm down, Katie. She had her wits about her, all right. I heard her tell the man to drive her to the station. She had sense enough to take advantage of the car, you see. I guess she knows the ropes. Don't think she has much notion of killing herself."
"Oh you don't. Much you know about it! You with your fine noble understanding of life!" She turned away, sobbing. "What shall I do? What shall I do?"
But in a moment she stopped. "The thing for me to do," she said, "is telephone the Osbornes' chauffeur."
Which she did. Yes, he had taken the young lady to the station. He didn't know where she was going. He just pulled in to the station and then pulled right out again—she told him there was nothing more to do. He didn't believe she bought a ticket. He saw her walking out to get a train. No, he didn't know what train. There were two or three trains standing there.
"What can I do?" Katie kept murmuring frantically.
Suddenly her face lighted. She sat there thinking for a moment, then called her brother's office. Wayne, she was glad to find, was not there. She asked if she might speak to Mr. Ferguson.
"Mr. Ferguson," she said, "this is—this is Captain Jones' sister. I want for a very particular—a very imperative reason—to speak at once to the—to your friend—that man—why the man that mends the boats, you know. Could you get word for him to come here—here, to my house—right away? Tell him it's very—oh very important. Tell him Miss Jones says she—needs him."
Ferguson said it was just quitting time. He'd go up there on his wheel.
He thought he could find him. He would send him right down.
She admired the way he controlled what must have been his astonishment.
The man who mended the boats would come. He would know what to do. He would help her. She would keep as calm as she could until he got there.
But surely—surely—Ann wouldn't go away and leave her without a word! Ann couldn't be so cruel as to let her worry like that. Why of course—Ann had left a note for her.
So she looked for the note—tossed everything in the room topsy-turvey.
Even looked in the closet.
Again she heard Nora in the hall. "Nora," she said, and Katie's face was white and pleading, "didn't Miss Ann say anything about leaving me a note?"
"Why yes, Miss Kate—yes—sure she did. I was so upset about them champagne glasses—"
"Well, where is it? Oh, hurry, Nora. Tell me."
"Why it's in the desk, Miss Kate. She said you was to look in the desk."
She ran to it with a sob. "Nora, how could you let me—"
Nora was saying again that she was so worried about the champagne glasses—
The desk, of course, would be the last place one would think of looking for a note!
She found, and with trembling fingers smoothed out the note; it had been crumpled rather than folded. It was brief, and so written she could scarcely read it.
"You see, Katie, you can't—you simply can't. So I'm going. When you come back, you won't want me to. That's why I've got to go now. I'd tell you—only I don't know. I'll get a train—just any train. I can't write. Because for one thing I haven't time—and for another if I began to say things I'd begin to cry—and then I wouldn't go. I've got to keep just this feeling—the one I told you about its having to be—
"Katie, you're not like the rest of your world, but it is your world—and see what you get when you try to be any different from it!
"Oh Katie—I didn't think I'd be leaving like this. I didn't think I'd ever say to you—"
There it ended.
"Miss Kate," Nora said, "Major Darrett wants to know if he may speak to you in the library."
She went down mechanically.
"Now, Katie," he began quietly and authoritatively, "there are several orders you must give, several things you must attend to, in relation to your dinner. Things seem a little disorganized, and it's getting late, and it won't do, you know, to get these people upset. Now Nora tells me that through some complication or other you're two champagne glasses short."
Katie was staring at him. "And is that all that matters? Two champagne glasses short! And here a life—Why what kind of people are we?"
"Katie," he said, his voice well controlled, "we're just that kind of people. No matter what's at stake—no matter what we're thinking about things—or about each other—the thing we've got to do now—you know it—and you're going to do it—is go ahead with this affair."
"I'm not going to have it! Why what do you think I'm made of? I won't.
Telephone them. Call it off. I tell you I can't."
"Katie, you think you can't, and yet you know you will. I know exactly what you're made of. I know what your father was made of. I know what your mother was made of. I know that no matter what it costs you—you'll go on as if nothing had occurred. Now will you telephone Prescott, or shall I? Ask him about the glasses. And if he can't do anything for you you'll have to call up Zelda at Miss Osborne's and tell the girls they can't come unless they each bring a glass. I'll do it if you want me to. They'll think it a great lark, you know, having to bring their own glasses or getting no champagne."
"Yes," whispered Katie, "they'll think it a great lark. For that matter—everything's a great lark."
She sank to a chair. Her tears were falling as she said again that everything was a great lark. He paid no attention to her but went to the telephone.
But the tears were interrupted. "Miss Kate," said Nora, "can you come and look at the table a minute? They want to know—"
She dried her eyes as best she could and went and looked at the table.
She kept on looking at things—doing things—until she heard the bell.
"If that's some one for me, Nora," she said, "show him in here, and don't interrupt me while he's here." She passed into a small room they used as a den.
He came to her there. And when she saw that it was indeed he she broke down.
"Something is the matter?" he asked gently. "You wanted me? You sent for me?"
She raised her head. "Yes. I sent for you. I need you."
It was evident she needed some one. He would scarcely have known her for
Katie—so white, so shaken. "I'm glad you sent for me," he said simply.
"Now won't you tell me what I can do?"
"She's gone," whispered Katie.
"I don't know—I don't know where. Away. On a train. Some train. Any train. Somewhere. I don't know where. I thought—oh you'll find her for me—won't you? You will find her—won't you?"
She had stretched out her hands, and he took them, holding them strongly in both of his. "Don't you want to tell me what you know? I can't help you unless you tell me."
Briefly she told him—wrenched the heart out of it in a few words. "You see, I failed," she concluded, looking up at him with swimming eyes. "The very first thing—the very first test—I failed. I wanted to do so much—thought I understood so well—oh I was so proud of the way I understood! And then just the minute it came up against my life—"
Her head went down to her hands, and because he was holding them it was upon his hands rather than hers it rested, Katie's head with its gold brown hair all disorderly.
"Don't," he whispered, as she seemed breaking her heart with it. "Why don't you know all the world's like that? Don't you know we all can be fine and free until it comes up against our lives?"
"I was so hard!" she sobbed.
"Yes—I know. We are hard—when it's our lives are touched. Don't cry,
Katie." He spoke her name timidly and lingeringly. "Isn't that what life
is? Just one long thing of trying and failing? But going on trying again!
That's what you'll do."
"If you can find her for me! But I never can hold up my head again—never believe in myself—never do anything—why I never can laugh again—not really laugh—if you don't find her for me."
A curious look passed over his face with those last words. "Well if that's the case," he said, with a strange little laugh of his own, "I've got to find her."
They talked of things. He would go to the station. He would do what he could. If he thought anything to be gained by it he would go on to Chicago. He had to go in a few days anyhow, he explained, to see about some work, and if it didn't seem a mere wild goose chase he would go that night.
The change in Katie, the life which came back to her eyes, rewarded him.
"I'd go with you to the station," she said, "only we're giving a big dinner to-night."
She thought his face darkened. "Oh yes, I know. But that's the kind of person I am. We go on with the dinner—no matter what's happening. It's—our way."
He seemed to be considering it as a curious phenomenon. "Yes, I know it is. And you can't help that either, can you? So you're going to be very festive in this house to-night?"
"Oh very festive in this house to-night. Some army people are here from Washington. We're going to have a gorgeous dinner, and I'm going to wear a gorgeous gown and drink champagne and try and smile myself into the good graces of a man who can do things for my brother and be—oh so clever and festive."
He looked at her as if by different route he had come again to that thing of pitying her; only along this other route the quality of the pity had changed and there was in it now a tender sadness. "It's not so simple a matter for you, is it—this 'being free'? You're of the bound, too, aren't you? And you've become conscious of your chains. There's all the hope and all the tragedy of it in that." He took an impulsive step toward her and smiled at her appealingly, a little mistily, as he said: "Only please don't tell me you're not going to laugh any more."