The new life in her heart gave her new courage that night to look out at life. She faced what before that she had evaded consciously facing.
Perhaps they would not find Ann at all. Perhaps Ann had given up—as they were giving up. Perhaps Ann was not there to be found.
It was her fight against that fear had kept her so much in the crowds. Ann was there. She had only to find her. Leaving the crowds seemed to be admitting that Ann was not in them; for if she really felt she was in them, surely she would not consent to leaving them.
That idea of Ann's not being there was as a shadow which had from time to time crept beside her. In the crowds she lost it. There were so many in the crowds. Ann, too, was in the crowds. She had only to stay in them and she must find her.
Now she was leaving them; and it was he who understood the crowds was telling her to leave them. Did he think she was not there? Why had she not had the courage to press it? There was so much they should have been talking of in those last blocks—and they had talked of nothing.
But the new warmth flooded Katie's heart at thought of having talked of nothing. What was there to talk about so important as talking of nothing? In a new way it drew her back to the crowds; the crowds that talked so loudly of many unlovely things in order to still in their hearts that call for the loveliness of talking of nothing.
It gave her new understanding of Ann. Ann was one who must rest in the wonder of talking of nothing. It was for that she had gone down. The world had destroyed her for the very thing for which life loved her—Katie joining with the world.
She would not have done that to-night. To-night, in the face of all the world, she must have joined with life.
She wondered if all along it was not the thing for which she had most loved Ann. This shy new thing in her own heart seemed revealing Ann. It was kin to her, and to Katie's feeling for her.
Many times she had wondered why she cared so terribly, would ask herself, as she could hear her friends asking if they knew: "But does it matter so much as all this?"
She had never been able to make clear to herself why it mattered so much—mattered more than anything else mattered. None of the reasons presenting themselves on the surface were commensurate to the depth of the feeling. To-night she wondered if deep below all else might not lie that thing of Ann's representing life, her failure with Ann meaning infidelity to life.
It turned her to Ann's letter;—she had not had the courage to read it for a number of days.
"Katie," Ann had written, "I'm writing to try and show you that you were not all wrong. That there was something there. And I'm not doing it for myself, Katie. I'm doing it for you.
"If I can just forget I'm writing about myself, feel instead that I'm writing about somebody you've cared for, believed in, somebody who has disappointed and hurt you, trying to show you—for your sake—if I don't mind being either egotistical or terrible for the sake of showing you—
"It's not me that matters, Katie—it's what you thought of me. That's why I'm writing.
"I never could talk to you right. For a long time I couldn't talk at all, and then that night I talked most of the night I didn't tell the real things, after all. And at the last I told you something I knew would hurt you without telling you the things that might keep it from hurting, without saving for you the things you had thought you saw. I don't know why I did that—desperate, I suppose, because it was all spoiled, frantic because I was helpless to keep it from being spoiled. And then I said things to you—that must show—And yet, Katie, as long as I'm trying to be honest I've got to say again, though all differently, that I was surprised—shocked, I suppose, at something in the way you looked. It's just a part of your world that I don't understand. It's as I told you—we've lived in different worlds. Things—some things—that seem all right in yours—well, it's just surprising that you should think them all right. In your world the way you do things seems to matter so much more than what you do.
"I've gone, Katie, and as far as I'm concerned it's what has to be. You see you couldn't fit me in. The only thing I can do for you now is to—stay gone. You'll feel badly—oh, I know that—but in the end it won't be as bad as trying to fit me in, trying to keep it up. And I can't have you doing things for me in another way—as you'd want to—because—it's hard to explain just what I mean, but after I've been Ann I couldn't be just somebody you were helping. It meant too much to me to be Ann to become just a girl you're good to.
"What I'd rather do—want this letter to do—is keep for you that idea of
Ann—memory of her.
"So that's why I want to tell you about some things that really were Ann. I haven't any more right to you, but I want you to know you have some right to her.
"I told you that I was standing on the corner, and that he asked me to get in the automobile, and that I did, and that that—began it. It was true. It was one way to put it. I'll try and put it another way.
"It isn't even fair to him, putting it that way. You know, of course, that he's not in the habit of asking girls on corners to go with him. I think—there at the first—he was sorry for me. I think it was what you would call an impulse and that being sorry for me had more to do with it than anything else.
"And I know I wasn't fair to myself when I put it that way; and you weren't fair to me when you called it common and low. That's what I want to try and show you—that it wasn't that.
"It was in the warm weather. It had been a hot, hard day. Oh they were all hot, hard days. I didn't feel well. I made mistakes. I was scolded for it. I quarreled with one of the girls about washing my hands! She said she was there before I was and that I took the bowl. We said hateful things to each other, grew furious about it. We were both so tired—the day had been so hot—
"Out on the street I was so ashamed. It seemed that was what life had come to.
"That afternoon I got something that was going over the wire. You get so tired you don't care what's going over the wire—you aren't alive enough to care—but I just happened to be let in to this—a man's voice talking to the girl he loved. I don't remember what he was saying, but his voice told that there were such things in the world—and girls they were for. One glimpse of a beautiful country—to one in a desert. I don't know, perhaps that's why I talked that way to the other poor girl who was tired—perhaps that's why I went in the automobile.
"I had to ride a long way on the street car to get where I boarded. I had to stand up—packed in among a lot of people who were hot and tired too—the smell so awful—everything so ugly.
"I had to transfer. That's where I was when I first saw him—standing on the corner waiting for the other car.
"Something was the matter—it was a long time coming. I was so tired, Katie, as I stood there waiting. Tired of having it all going over the wire.
"He was doing something to his automobile. I didn't pay any attention at first—then I realized he was just fooling with the automobile—and was looking at me.
"And then he took my breath away by stepping up to me and raising his hat. I had never had a man raise his hat to me in that way—
"And then he said—and his voice was low—and like the voices in your world are—I hadn't heard them before, except on the wire—'I beg pardon—I trust I'm not offensive. But you seem so tired. You're waiting for a car? It doesn't appear to be coming. Why not ride with me instead? I'll take you where you want to go. Though I wish'—it was like the voice on the wire—and for me—'that you'd let me take you for a ride.'
"Katie, you called him charming. You told about the women in your world being in love with him. If he's charming to them—to you—what do you suppose he seemed to me as he stood there smiling at me—looking so sorry for me—?
"He went on talking. He drew a beautiful picture of what we would do. We would ride up along the lake. There would be a breeze from the lake, he said. And way up there he knew a place where we could sit out of doors under trees and eat our dinner and listen to beautiful music. Didn't I think that might be nice?
"Didn't I think it might be—nice? Oh Katie—you'd have to know what that day had been—what so many days—all days—had been.
"I looked down the street. The car was coming at last—packed—men hanging on outside—everybody looking so hot—so dreadful. 'Oh you mustn't get in that car,' he said.
"Beautiful things were beckoning to me—things I was to be taken to in an automobile—I had never been in an automobile. It seemed I was being rescued, carried away to a land of beautiful things, far away from crowded street cars, from the heat and the work that make you do things you hate yourself for doing.
"Was it so common, Katie? So low? What I felt wasn't—what I dreamed as we went along that beautiful drive beside the lake.
"For I dreamed that the city of dreadful things was being left behind. The fairy prince had come for me. He was taking me to the things of dreams, things which lately had seemed to slip out beyond even dreams.
"It was just as he had said—A little table under a tree—a breeze from the lake—music—the lovely things to eat and the beautiful happy people. Of course I wasn't dressed as much as they were, so we sat at a little table half hidden in one corner—Oh I thought it was so wonderful!
"And he saw I thought it wonderful and that interested him, pleased him. Maybe it was new to him. I think he likes things that are new to him. Anyhow, he was very gentle and lovely to me that night. He told me I was beautiful—that nothing in the world had ever been so beautiful as my eyes. You know how he would say it, the different ways he would have of saying it beautifully. And I want to say again—if it seems beautiful to you—Why, Katie, I had never had anything.
"Going home he kissed me—
"When I went home that night the world was all different. The world was too wonderful for even thoughts. Too beautiful to believe it could be the world.
"I was in the arms of the wonderful new beauty of the world. Something in my heart which had been crouching down afraid and cold and sad grew warm and live and glad. Life grew so lovely; and as the days went on I think I grew lovely too. He said so; said love was making me radiant—that I was wonderful—that I was a child of love.
"Those days when I was in the dream, folded in the dream, days before any of it fell away, they were golden days, singing days—days there are no words for.
"We saw each other often. He said business kept him away from Chicago much of the time. I didn't know he was in the army; I suppose now he belonged in some place near there. And I think you told me he was not married. He said he was—but was going to be divorced some day. But I didn't seem to care—didn't think much about it. Nothing really mattered except the love.
"Then there came a time when I knew I was trying to keep a door shut—keep the happiness in and the thoughts out. It wasn't that I came to think it was wrong. But the awful fear that wanted to get into my heart was that it was not beautiful.
"And it wasn't beautiful because to him it wasn't beautiful. It was only—what shall I say—would there be such a thing as usurping beauty? That was the thought—the fear—I tried and tried to push away. I see I can't tell it; no matter how much we may want to tell everything—no matter how willing we are—there are things can't be told, so I'll just have to say that things happened that forced the door open, and I had to know that what to me was—oh what shall I say, Katie?—was like the prayer at the heart of a dream—didn't, to him, have anything to do with dreams, or prayers, or beautiful, far-away things that speak to you from the stars.
"And having nothing to do with them, he seemed to be pushing them away, crowding them out, hurting them.
"I haven't told it at all. I can't. But, Katie, you're in the army, you must admire courage and I want you to take my word for it when I tell you I did what it took courage to do. I think you'd let me live on in your heart as Ann if you knew what I gave up—and just for something all dim and distant I had no assurance I'd ever come near to. For oh, Katie—when you love love—need it—it's not so easy to let go what's the closest you've come to it. Not so easy to turn from the most beautiful thing you've known—just because something very far away whispers to you that you're hurting beauty.
"I didn't go back. One night my Something Somewhere called me away—and I left the only real thing I had—and I didn't go back. I don't know—maybe I'm overestimating myself—perhaps I'm just measuring it by the suffering—but it seems to me, Katie, that you needn't despise yourself when loneliness can't take you back to the substitutes offered for your Something Somewhere. Something in you had been brave; something in you has been faithful—and what you've actually done doesn't matter much in comparison with that.
"I've been writing most of the day. It's evening now, and I'm tired. I was going to tell more. Tell you of things that happened afterward—tell you why you found me where you did find me. But now I don't believe I want to tell those things. They're too awful. They'd hurt you—haunt you. And that's not what I want to do. What I want is to make you understand, and if the part I've told hasn't done that—
"'I think it was to save Ann you were going to give up Verna,' you said.
Oh Katie—how did you know? How do you know?
"And then you called to me. You weren't sick at all—were you, Katie? Oh I soon guessed that it was the wonderful goodness of your heart—not the disease of it—caused that 'attack.'
"Then those beautiful days began. I wanted to talk about what those days meant—what you meant—what our play—our dream meant. Things I thought that I never said—how proud I was you should want to make up those stories about me—how I wanted to be the things you said I was—and oh, Katie dear, the trouble you got me into by loving to tell those stories—telling one to one man and another to another! I'd never known any one full of play like you—yet play that is so much more than just play. Sometimes a picture of Centralia would come to me when I'd hear you telling about my having lived in Florence. Sometimes when I was listening to stories of things you and I had done in Italy I'd see that old place where I used to put suspenders in boxes—! Katie, how strange it all was. How did it happen that things you made up were things I had dreamed about without really knowing what I was dreaming? How wonderful you were, Katie—how good—to put me in the things of my dreams rather than the things of my life. The world doesn't do that for us.
"It seems a ridiculous thing to be mentioning, when I owe you so many things too wonderful to mention—but you know I do owe you some money. I took what was in my purse. I hope I can pay it back. I'm so tired just now it doesn't seem to me I ever can—but if I don't, don't associate it with my not paying back the missionary money!
"Katie, do you know how I'd like to pay you back? I'd like to give you the most beautiful things I've ever dreamed. And I hope that some of them, at least, are waiting somewhere—and not very far off—for you. How I used to love to hear you laugh—watch you play your tricks on people—so funny and so dear—
"Now that's over. Katie, I don't believe it's all my fault, and I know it's not yours. It's our two worlds. You see you couldn't fit me in.
"I used to be afraid it must end like that. Yet most of the time I felt so secure—that was the wonder of you—that you could make me so beautifully secure. And your brother, Katie, have you told him? I don't care if you do, only if you tell him anything, won't you try and make him understand everything? I couldn't bear it to think he might think me—oh those things I don't believe you really think me.
"If you don't see me any more, you won't think those things. It's easier to understand when things are all over. It's easier to forgive people who are not around. After what's happened I couldn't be Ann if I were with you. That's spoiled. But if I go—I think maybe Ann can stay. For both our sakes, that's what I want.
"'Twas a lovely dream, Katie. The house by the river—the big trees—the big flag that waved over us—the pretty dresses—the lovely way of living—the dogs—the men who were always so nice to us—Last night I dreamed you and Worth and I were going to a wedding. That is, it started out to be a wedding—then it seemed it was a funeral. But you were saying such funny things about the funeral, Katie. Then I woke up—"
The letter broke off there.