Katie was back home; or, more accurately, she was back at Wayne's quarters, where they could perhaps remain for a month or two longer.
And craving some simple, natural thing, something that could not make the heart ache, she went out that afternoon to play golf. The physical Kate, Katie of the sound body, was delighted to be back playing golf. Every little cell sang its song of rejoicing—rejoicing in emancipation from the ill-smelling crowds, return to the open air and the good green earth.
It seemed a saving thing that they could so rejoice.
Katie was reading the little book on man's evolution which the man who was having much to do with her evolution had—it seemed long ago—sent her in the package marked "Danger." She had finished the book about women and was just looking through the one on evolution on the day Caroline Osborne's car had stopped at her door. That began a swift series of events leaving small place for reading. But when, that last day they were together in Chicago, she asked him about something to read, he suggested a return to that book. There seemed wisdom and kindness in the suggestion. The story of evolution was to the mind what the game of golf was to the body. With the life about her pressing in too close there was something freeing and saving in that glimpse of herself as part of all the life there had ever been. Because the crowds had seemed the all—were suffocating her—something in that vastness of vision was as fresh air after a stifling room. It was not that it did away with the crowds—made her think they did not matter; they were, after all, the more vital—imperative—but she had more space in which to see them, was given a chance to understand them rather than be blindly smothered by them.
For a number of years Katie had known that there was such a thing as evolution. It had something to do with an important man named Darwin. He got it up. It was the idea that we came from monkeys. The monkey was not Katie's favorite animal and she would have been none too pleased with the idea had it not been that there was something so delicious about solemn people like her Aunt Elizabeth and proper people like Clara having come from them. She was willing to stand it herself, just because if she came from them they did, too. She had assumed all along that she believed in Darwin and that people who did not believe in him were benighted. But the chief reason she had for believing in him was that the church had not believed in him. That was through neither malice nor conviction as regards the church, but merely because it was exciting to have some one disagreeing with it. It had thrilled her as "fearless," She had always meant to find out more about evolution, she had a hazy idea that there was a great deal more to it than just the fact of having come from monkeys, but she led such a busy life—bridge and things—that there was never time and so it remained a thing she believed in and was some day going to find out about.
Now she was furious with herself and with everybody connected with her for having lived so much of her life shut out from the knowledge—vision—that made life so vast and so splendid. It was like having lived all one's life in sight of the sea and being so busy walking around a silly little lake in a park that there was no time to turn one's face seaward. She wondered what she would think of a person who said the little toy lake kept her so busy there was never a minute to turn around and take a good look at the sea!
Katie had always loved the great world of living things—the fishes and birds—all animals—all things that grew. They had always called to her imagination—she used to make up stories about them. She saw now that their real story was a thousand-fold more wonderful—more the story—than anything she had been able to invent. She would give much to have known it long before. She felt that she had missed much. There was something humiliating in the thought of having lived one's life without knowing what life was. It made one seem such a dead thing. Now she was on fire to know all about it.
She smiled as it suggested to her what her uncle had said a few days before of the fresh paint. She supposed there was some truth in it, that one who was conserving the past must find something raw and ludicrous in her state of mind. Her passion to fairly devour knowledge would probably bring to many of them the same amused smile it had brought to her uncle. But it was surprising how little she minded the smile. She was too intent on the things she would devour.
Her glimpse into this actual story of life brought the first purely religious feeling she had ever known. It even brought the missionary fervor, which, as they sat down to rest, she exercised upon Worth, who had been proudly filling the office of caddy. She told him that she was going to tell him the most wonderful fairy story there had ever been in the world. And the thing that made it most wonderful of all was that, while it was just like a fairy story in being wonderful, it was every bit true. And then she told him a little of the great story of how one thing became another thing, how everything grew out of something else, how it had been doing that for millions of years, how he was what he was then because through all those years one thing had changed, grown, into something else.
As she told it it seemed so noble a thing to be telling a child, so much purer and more dignified—to say nothing of more stimulating—than the evasive tales of life employed in the attempt to thwart her childish mind.
Worth was upon her with a hundred questions. How did a worm become something that wasn't a worm? Did it know it was going to do it? And why did one worm go one way and in a lot of million years be a little boy and another worm go another way and just never be anything but a worm? Did she think in another hundred million years that little bird up there would be something else? Would they be anything else? And why—?
She saw that she had let herself in for a whole new world of whys. One thing was certain: if she were to remain with Worth she would have to find out more about evolution. Her knowledge was pitifully incommensurate to his whys.
But it was beautiful to her the way his mind reached out to it. He was lying on his stomach, head propped up on hands, in an almost prayerful attitude before an ant hill. Did she think those little ants knew that they were alive? Would they ever be anything else? He wanted to be told more stories about things becoming other things, seemed intoxicated with that idea of the constant becoming.
"But, Aunt Kate," he cried, "mama told me that God made me!"
"Why so He did, Worthie—that is, I suppose He did—but He didn't just make you out of nothing."
He lay there on the grass in silence for a long time, looking at the world about him—thinking. After a while he was singing a little song. This was the song:
"Once I was a little worm—
Katie smiled in thinking how scandalized Clara would be to have heard the story just told her son, story moving him to sing a vulgar song about having been a horrid little worm. It would be Clara's notion of propriety to tell Worth that the doctor brought him in his motor car and expect his mind, that wonderful, plastic little mind of his, to be proper enough to rest content with that lucid exposition of the wonder of life.
The time was near for Clara's six months of Worth to begin. Katie had promised she would bring him to her wherever she was; and Clara was in Paris and meaning to remain there. It meant that Worth would spend the winter in Paris, away from them; from time to time—as the custom of the city dictated—he would be taken for perfunctory little walks in the Bois and would be told to "run and play" if he asked indelicate questions concerning the things of life.
In the light of this story of the ways of growth the arrangement about
Worth seemed an unnatural and a brutal thing.
She did not believe that, as a matter of fact, Clara wanted Worth. The maternal passion was less strong in Clara than the passion for lingerie. But she wanted Worth with her for six months because that kept him from Wayne and Katie for six months and she knew that they did want him.
The poor little fellow's summer had not been what Katie had planned. Part of the time he had been with his father and part of the time with her—that thing of division again, and as neither of them had been happy any of the time Worth had had to suffer for it. He seemed to have to suffer so much through the fact that grown-up people did not know how to manage their lives.
Suddenly he sat up. "Aunt Kate," he asked, "when's Miss Ann coming back?"
"I don't know, dear."
"Well where is she?"
"She's been—called away."
"Well I wish she'd come back. I like Miss Ann, Aunt Kate."
"Yes, dear; we all do."
"She tells nice stories, too. Only they're about fairies that are just fairies—not worms and things that are really so. Do you suppose Miss Ann knows, Aunt Kate, that she used to be a frog?"
Katie laughed and tried to elucidate her point about the frog. But she wondered what difference it might not have made had Ann known that, as Worth put it, she used to be a frog. With Ann, fairy stories would have to be about things not real. All Ann's life it had been so. It suddenly seemed that it might have made all the difference in the world had Ann known that the things most wonderful were the things that were.
Or rather, had the world in which Ann lived cared to know real things for precious things, the desire for life as the most radiant thing that had ever been upon the earth. Ann would have found the world a different place had men known life for the majestic thing it was, seen that back of what her uncle called the "splendid heritage of the country's institutions" was the vastly more splendid heritage of the institution of life. Letting the former shut them from the latter was being too busy with the toy lake to look out at the sea.
Seeing Ann as part of all the life that had ever been upon the earth she became, not infinitesimal, but newly significant. Widened outlook brought deepened feeling. Newly understanding, she sat there brooding over Ann anew, pain in the perfection of her understanding.
But new courage. Life had persisted through so much, was so triumphant. The larger conception lent its glow to the paling belief that Ann would persist, triumph.
"Aunt Kate," Worth burst forth, "let's take the boat and go up and find the man that mends the boats."
Aunt Kate blushed. "Oh no, dearie, we couldn't do that."
"Why we did do it once," argued Worth.
"I know, but we can't do it now."
"I don't see why not."
No, Worth didn't see.
"I just want to ask him, Aunt Kate, if he knows that he used to live in a tree."
"Oh, he knows it," she laughed.
"He knows everything," said Worth.
"Worthie, is that why you like him? 'Cause he knows everything? Or do you like him—just because you like him?"
"I like him because he knows everything—but mostly I like him just because I like him."
"Same here," breathed Aunt Kate.
The man who mended the boats was coming to see her that night. Perhaps golf and evolution should not grow arrogant, after all.
He had been strange about coming; when she talked with him over the 'phone he had hesitated at the suggestion and finally said, with a defiance she could not see the situation called for, that he would like to come. In Chicago he had once said to her: "There's too much gloom around you now for me to contribute the story of my life. But please remember that that was why I didn't tell it."
She wondered if the "story of his life" had anything to do with his hesitancy in coming to see her. Surely he would have no commonplace notions about "different spheres," though he had mentioned them, and with bitterness. He was especially hostile to the army, had more than once hurt her in his hostility. She would not have resented his attacking it as an institution, that she would expect from his philosophy, but it was a sort of personal contempt for the army and its people she had resented, almost as she would a contemptuous attitude toward her own family.
She had contended that he was unjust; that a lack of sympathy with the ends of the army—basis of it—should not bring him to a prejudiced attitude toward its people. She maintained that officers of the army were a higher type than civilians of the same class. He had told her, almost roughly, that he didn't think she knew anything about it, and she had replied, heatedly, that she would like to know why she wouldn't know more about it than he! In the end he said he was sorry to have hurt her when there was so much else to hurt her, but had not retracted what he had said, or even admitted the possibility of mistake.
It seemed that one of the worst things about "classes" was that they inevitably meant misunderstanding. They bred antagonism, and that prejudice. People didn't know each other.
Considering it now, she wondered, though feeling traitorous to him in the wondering, if the man who mended the boats might shrink from anything so distinctly social as calling upon her.
Their meetings theretofore had been on a bigger and a sterner basis; she had missed a few of the little niceties of consideration, a few of those perfunctory and yet curiously vital courtesies to which she had all her life been accustomed as a matter of course from her army men; but it had been as if they were merely leaving them behind for things larger and deeper, as if their background was the real world rather than world of perfunctory things. From him she had a consideration, not perfunctory, but in the mood of the things they were sharing. That sense of sharing big things, things real and rude, had swept them out of the world of artificial things. Now did he perhaps hold back in timidity from that world of the trivial things?
She put it from her, disliking herself as of the trivial things in letting it suggest itself at all. Expecting him to be just like the men she had known would be expecting the sea to behave like that lake in the park.
That night she put on her most attractive gown, a dress sometimes gray and sometimes cloudy blues and greens, itself like the sea, and finding in Katie a more mysterious quality than her openness would usually suggest. Feeling called upon to make some account to herself for dressing more than occasion would seem to demand, she told herself that she must get the poor old thing worn out and get something new.
But it was not a poor old thing, and the last thing Katie really wanted was to succeed in getting it worn out.
As she dressed she was thinking of Ann's pleasure in clothes. There were times when it had seemed a not altogether likeable vanity. It was understandable—lovable—after having been to Centralia, after knowing. So many things were understandable and lovable after knowing.
She wished she might call across the hall and ask Ann to come in and fasten her dress. She would like to chat with her about the way she had done her hair—all those intimate little things they had countless times talked about so gayly.
She walked over into Ann's room—room in which Ann had taken such pride and pleasure. Ann had loved the things on the dressing-table, she had more than once seen her fairly caressing those pretty ivory things. She wondered if Ann had anything resembling a dressing-table—what she wore—how she managed.
Those were the little worries about Ann forever haunting her, as they would a mother who had a child away from home. New vision of the immensity of life could save her from giving destroying place to that sense of the woe of the world, but a conception of the wonders of the centuries could not keep out the gnawing fear that Ann might not be getting enough to eat.
There was a complexity in her mood of that night—happiness and sadness so close as at times to be indistinguishable—the whole of it making for a sense of the depth of life.
But their evening was constrained. Katie blamed the dress for part of it, vexed with herself for having put it on. She had wanted to be attractive—not suggest the unattainable.
And that was what something seemed suggesting. He appeared less ill at ease than morose. Katie herself, after having been so happy in his coming, was, now that he was there, uncontrollably depressed. They talked of a variety of things—in the main, the things she had been reading—but something had happened to that wonderful thing which had grown warm in their hearts as they walked those last two blocks.
Even the things of which they talked had lost their radiance. What did it matter whether the universe was wonderful or not if the wonderful thing in one's own heart was to be denied life?
From the first, it had been as if the things of which they talked were things sweeping them together, they were in the grip of the power and the wonder of those things, wrung by the tragedy of them, exalted by the hope—in it all, by it all, united. It was as if the whole sea of experience and emotion, suffering and aspiration, was driving, holding, them together.
So it had been all along.
But not tonight. It was now—or at least so it seemed to Katie—as if those forces had let them go. What had been as a great sea surging around their hearts was now just things to talk about.
It left her desolate. And as she grew unhappy, she forced her gaiety and that seemed to put him the farther away.
The two different worlds had sent Ann away; was it, in a way she was unable to cope with, likewise to send him away?
Watts passed through the hall. She saw him glance out at the soldier loweringly and after that he grew more morose, almost sullenly so.
It seemed foolish to talk of one's being free when held by things one could not even see.
It was just when she was feeling so lonely and miserable she wished he would go that the telephone rang and central told her that Chicago was trying to get her.
It was in the manner of the old days that she turned to him and asked what he thought it could be.
The suggestion—possibility—swept them back to the old basis, the old relationship. Katie grew excited, unnerved, and he talked to her soothingly while she waited for central to call again.
They spoke of what it probably was; her brother was in Chicago, Katie told him, and of course it was he, and something about his own affairs. Perhaps he had news of when he would be ordered away. Yes, without doubt that was it.
But there was a consciousness of dissembling. They were drawn together by the possibility they did not mention, drawn together in the very thing of not mentioning it.
As in those tense moments they tried to talk of other things, they were keyed high in the consciousness of not talking of the real thing. And in that there was suggestion of the other thing of which they were not talking. It was all inexplicably related: the excitement, the tenseness, the waiting, the dissembling.
Katie had never been more lovely than as she sat there with her hand on the telephone: flushed, stirred, expectant—something stealing back to her eyes, something both pleading and triumphant in Katie's eyes just then.
The man sitting close beside her at the telephone desk scarcely took his eyes from her face.
When the bell rang again and her hand shook as it took down the receiver he lay a steadying hand upon her arm.
At first there was nothing more than a controversy as to who had the line. In her impatience, she rose; he rose, too, standing beside her.
"Here's your party," said central at last.
Her "party" was Wayne.
But something was still the matter on the line; she could not get what
Wayne was trying to tell her.
As her excitement became more difficult to control the man at her side kept speaking to her—touching her—soothingly.
At last she could hear Wayne. "You hear me, Katie?"
"Oh yes—yes—what is it?"
"I want to tell you—"
It was swallowed up in a buzzing on the line.
Then central's voice came clear and crisp. "Your party is trying to tell you that Ann is found."
"Oh—" gasped Katie, and lost all color—"Oh—"
"Katie—?" That was Wayne again.
"Oh yes, Wayne?"
"I have found her. She is well—that is, will be well. She is all right—going to be all right. I'll write it all to-morrow. It's all over, Katie. You don't have to worry any more."
The next instant the telephone was upside down on the table and Katie, sobbing, was in his arms. He was holding her close; and as her sobs grew more violent he kissed her hair, murmured loving things. Suddenly she raised her head—lifting her face to his. He kissed her; and all the splendor of those eons of life was Katie's then.