As a matter of fact Katie did laugh a great deal that night. At least it passed for laughter, and the man who was worth cultivating for Wayne seemed to find it most attractive. It was evident to them all that Katie was getting on famously with him.
It was well that she was, for Wayne himself seemed making little headway. Before dinner Katie had told him briefly that Ann had come down with Worth (whose sore throat didn't seem serious, after all) and then had been called away. She said she couldn't talk about it then; she would tell him later.
But though they had a quiet host they had a vivid and a brilliant hostess. Those who knew Katie best, Mrs. Prescott in particular, kept watching her in wonderment. She had never known Katie to vie with Zelda Fraser in saying those daring things. Katie, though so merry, had seemed a different type. But to-night Katie and Zelda and Major Darrett kept things very lively.
Katie was telling her distinguished guest the tale of the champagne glasses. "Just fancy," she said, "here was I, giving a dinner for you—and it looked as if somebody would have to turn teetotaler or drink out of the bottle! After I finally got it straightened out I told Zelda she must keep her hand as much as possible on the stem of her glass so it would not be noted she was drinking from gothic architecture and the rest of us from classic."
"And you may have observed," blithely observed Zelda, "that keeping my hand on the stem of my glass is an order I am not loathe to obey—be it any old architecture."
They laughed. Zelda was the daughter of a general, and could say very much what she pleased and be laughed at as amusing.
It came to Katie in what large measure they all could do very much as they pleased. It was a game they played, and great liberty was accorded them in that game so long as they took their liberty in accordance with the prescribed rules of that game. But they guarded their own privileges with an intolerance for all those outside their game who would take privileges of their own. That—labeled a respect for good form—was in reality their method of self-defense.
She looked at Zelda Fraser—Zelda with her bold black eyes, her red cheeks which she made still redder—and her hair—as long as people were "wearing" hair Zelda wore a little more than any one else. Nothing about her suggested anything so redeeming as a quest for Something Somewhere. No veiled splendor of a dream hovered tenderly over Zelda. Watching her as she bantered with Major Barrett it grew upon Katie as one of the grotesque things of the world that Zelda should be within and Ann without.
Major Barrett had remained. It was Ann who had gone. Yet it was Ann had dreamed the dream. He who had made the "excursion" despoiling the dream. It was Ann had been "called." He who had preyed upon—cheated—that call.
Yet she had not sent him away. She was too much in the game for that. She had not seemed to have the power. Certainly she had not had the wit nor the courage. He had remained and taken command. She had done as he told her.
He was smiling approvingly upon her now, manifestly proud of the way
Katie was playing the game.
Seeing it as a thing to win his approval she could with difficulty continue it. She was thankful that the dinner itself had drawn to a close.
Later, on the porch, Caroline Osborne asked for Ann. Zelda and Major
Darrett and Harry Prescott were in the group at the time.
"You mean she is not coming back?" she pursued in response to Katie's statement that Ann had been called away.
"I don't know," said Katie. "I'm afraid not."
"Who is she, Katie?" Zelda asked.
"No one you know."
Zelda turned to Prescott. "You know her?"
"Yes," he said. His voice told Katie how hard he was finding it just then to play the game.
"Yes," he replied.
Zelda threw back her head in an impertinent way of hers that was called engaging. "Love her?"
He stepped nearer Katie, as if for protection. His smile was a dead smile.
"Really, Zelda," said Katie, in laughing protest.
"I just wondered," said Zelda, "if she was going to marry into the army."
Katie saw Major Darrett's smile.
"If she did," she said, "the army would gain something that might do it good."
Major Darrett was staring at her speechlessly. Harry gratefully. "You're very fond of her?" said Caroline Osborne in her sweet-toned way.
"Very," said Kate in way less sweet.
"Too bad we missed her," said Zelda, "especially if she would do us good. Now Cal here's going in for doing good, too. Only she's not trying to do it to the army. She's doing it to the working people."
"Get the distinction," laughed the Major.
"I must get hold of some stunt like that," said Zelda. "The world's getting stuntier and stuntier." She turned to Major Darrett. "Whom do you think I could do good to?"
"Me," he said, and they strolled laughingly away together.
A few minutes later Katie found herself alone with Captain Prescott.
"Katie," he asked pleadingly, "where has Ann gone?"
"She's been called away, Harry. She's—gone away."
"But won't she be back?"
Katie turned away. "I don't know. I'm afraid not."
"Katie," he besought, "won't you help me? Won't you tell me where I can find her? I know—something's the matter. I know—something's strange. But I want to see her! I want to find her!"
"I want to see her!—I want to find her!"—It invaded the chamber in
Katie's heart she would keep inexorably shut. She dared not speak.
But he was waiting, and she was forced to speak. "Harry, I'm afraid you'll have to forget Ann," she said unsteadily. "I'm afraid you'll have to—" Because she could not go on, sure if she did she would not be able to go on with the evening, she laughed. "I'll tell you what you do," she said briskly. "Marry Caroline Osborne. She's going to have heaps of money and will go in for philanthropy. 'Twill be quite stunty. Don't you see, even Zelda thinks it stunty?"
He stepped back. "I had thought, Katie,"—and his voice pierced her armor—"that you were kind."
She dared not let in anything so human as a hurt. "Well that's where you're wrong. I'm not kind," she said harshly.
"So I see," he answered unsteadily.
But of a sudden the fact that he had been drawn to Ann drew her irresistibly to him. He had been part of all those wonderful days—days of dream and play, or waking and wondering. She remembered that other night they had stood on the porch speaking of Ann—the very night she had become Ann. That fact that he had accepted her as Ann—cared for her—made it impossible to harden her heart against him. "Oh Harry," she said, voice shaking, "I'm sorry. So sorry. It's my fault—and I'm sorry. I didn't want you to be hurt. I didn't want—anybody to be hurt."
Some one called to him and he had to turn away. She stepped into the shadow and had a moment to herself.
What did it mean—she wondered. That one was indeed bound hand and foot and brain and heart and spirit?
What had she done save prove that she could do nothing?
Ann had been driven away. And in her house now were Zelda Fraser and Caroline Osborne and Major Darrett and all those others who were not dreamers of dreams. And the dream betrayed—she felt one with them.
For she had turned the dream out of doors with Ann: the wonderful dream which sheltered the heart of reality, dream through which waking had come, from which all the long dim paths of wondering had opened—dream through which self had called.
And what was there left?
A house of hollow laughter was left—of pretense—"stunts"—of prescribed rules and intolerance with all breakers of rules even though the breakers of rules were dreamers of dreams.
With a barely repressed sob she remembered what Ann had said in her story of her dog. "I could have stood my own lonesomeness. But what I couldn't stand was thinking about him…. I couldn't keep from thinking things that tortured me."
It was that gnawed at the heart of it…. How go to bed that night without knowing that Ann had a bed? She had loved Ann because Ann needed her, been tender to her because Ann was her charge. She yearned for her now in fearing for her. More sickening than the pain of having failed was the pain of wondering where Ann would get her breakfast. Tears which she had been able to hold back even under the shame of her infidelity came uncontrollably with the simple thought that she might never do Ann's hair for her again.
It seemed to Katie then that the one thing she could not do was go back to her guests.
A boy was coming on a bicycle. He had a letter for Katie.
She excused herself and went to the little room to read it—the same little room where they had been that afternoon.
It was but a hurried note. He had found nothing at the station except that the Chicago train was probably there at the time. Doubtless she had taken it. He had taken a chance and wired the train asking her to wire Katie immediately. That was all he could think of to do. He was taking the night train for Chicago—not that he knew of anything to do there, but perhaps she would like to feel there was some one there. He would have to go soon anyhow—might as well be that night. He would be there three or four days. He told Katie where to address him. He would do anything she asked.
He advised her, for the time, to remain where she was. Probably word would come to her there. She might be able to do more from there than elsewhere. It was not even certain Ann had gone to Chicago—by no means certain. And even if she had—how find her there if she did not wish to be found?
At the last: "I suppose you're very gay at your dinner just now. That must be tough business—being gay. Don't let it harden your heart—as gayety like that could so easily do. And remember—you're going on! You're not a quitter. And it's only the quitters stop when they fall down."
Below, shyly off in one corner, written very lightly as if he scarcely dared write it, she found: "You don't know what a wonderful thing it is to me just to know that you are in the world."
Katie went back to her guests with less gayety but more poise.
Major Darrett had remained for a good-night drink with Wayne. He came out to Katie as she was going up stairs.
"I was proud of you, Katie," he said.
"I take no pride in your approval!"
"You made a great hit, Katie."
"Not with myself."
"Katie," he suddenly demanded, "what were you up to? I can't get the run of it. For heaven's sake, what did you mean?"
"You wouldn't understand," she murmured wearily, for she was indeed so very weary then.
"Well, I'm afraid I wouldn't. I don't want to be harsh—when you've had such a hard day, but it looks to me as if you broke the rules."
"Our rules. You didn't play the game fair, Katie—presenting her here. I never would have done that."
"No," she said, "I know. You put what you call the rules of life so far above life itself."
"And look here, Katie, what's this about Prescott? I'm not going to have him hurt. If he doesn't know the situation, and has any thought of marrying her—why I'm in honor bound to tell him."
That fired her. "Oh you are, are you? Well if your honor moves you to that I'll have a few things to say about that same 'honor' of yours! To our distinguished guest of this evening, for instance," she laughed.
He lost color, but quickly recovered himself. "Oh come now, Katie, you and I are not going to quarrel."
"No, not if you can help it. That wouldn't be your way. But do you know what I think of the 'game' you play?"
She had gone a little way up the stairs, and was standing looking back at him. Her eyes were shining feverishly.
"I think it's a game for cheats."
He did go colorless at that. "That's not the sort of thing you can say to a man, Katie," he said in shaking voice.
"A game for cheats," she repeated. "The cheats who cheat with life—and then make rules around their cheating and boast about the 'honor' of keeping those rules. You'd scorn a man who cheated at cards. Oh you're very virtuous—all of you—in your scorn of lesser cheats. What's cards compared with the divinest thing in life!"
"I tell you, I played fair," he insisted, his voice still unsteady.
"Why to be sure you did—according to the rules laid down by the cheats!"
Wayne came upon her upstairs a little later, sobbing. And sobbingly she told the story—her face buried too much of the time for her to see her brother's face, too shaken by her own sobs to mark how strange was his breathing. Wayne did not accuse her of not having played a fair game. He said almost nothing at all, save at the last, and that under his breath: "We'll move heaven and earth to get her back!"
His one reproach was—"Oh Katie—you might have told me!"