Once again Katie was donning the dress which had the colors of the sea. She was wearing it this time, not because she must get the poor old thing worn out, but because she had been asked to wear it. "By Request" she was saying to herself, with a warm smile, as she shook out its folds.
As Nora was fastening it for her she saw her own face in the mirror and tried to twist it about in some way. It seemed she would have to make some explanation to Nora for looking like that.
It had been a day of golden October sunshine without, and within Katie's heart a day of such sunshine as all her years of sunshine had never brought. She had not felt like playing golf, or like reading about evolution; body and mind were filled with a gladness all their own and she had taken a long walk in and out among the wooded paths of her beautiful Island and had been filled with thoughts of many beautiful and wonderful things. Of the past she had thought, and of the future, and most of all of the living present: the night before, and that evening, when he was coming to see her again and would have things to tell her.
He had wanted to tell them then—some of the things about himself which he said she must know and which he gave fair warning would hurt her, "Then not to-night," she had said.
And now the happiness was too great, filled her too completely and radiantly for her to fear the pain of which she had been warned. She was fortified against all pain.
Wayne's finding Ann seemed to throw the gate to happiness wide open to her, giving her, not only happiness, but the right to it. She smiled in thinking how, again, it was Ann who opened a door.
If Ann had never come she would not—in this way which had made it all possible—have known her man who mended the boats. The experience with Ann was as a bridge upon which they met. It was because of Ann they could walk so far along that bridge.
The adventure, and what had come to seem the tragedy of the adventure, was over. It turned her back to those first days of play—the pretending which had led to realizing, the fancies which had been paths to realities.
They would not go on in just that way; some other way would shape itself; she and Wayne would talk of it, make some plan for Ann. She could plan it better after the letter she would have from Wayne the next day telling of finding Ann.
It was a new adventure now. The great adventure. But it was because she had ventured at all that the great adventure was offered her.
Her venturing had led her to the crowds. She was not forgetting the crowds. She would go back to them. It could not be otherwise. There was much she wanted to do, and so much she wanted to know. But she would go back to them happy, and because happy, wiser and stronger.
In myriad ways life had beckoned to her, promised her, as with buoyant step and singing heart she walked sunny paths that golden October afternoon.
Later she had stopped to see Mrs. Prescott, and she, as she so often did, talked of Katie's mother. Katie was glad to be talking of her mother, and, as they also did, of her father. It brought them very near, so close it was as if they could know of the beautiful happiness in their child's heart. They talked of things which had happened when Katie was a little girl, making herself as the little girl so real, visualizing her whole life, making real and dear those things in which her life had been lived.
As she thought of it again that night, after she was dressed and was waiting, hurt did come in the thought of his feeling for the army. She must talk to him again about the army, make him see that thing in it which was dear to her.
Though could she? She did not seem able to tell even herself just what there was in her feeling for the army.
Instead of arguments, came pictures—pictures and sounds known from babyhood: Men in uniform—her father in uniform, upon his horse—dress parade—the flag—the band—from reveille to taps things familiar and dear swept before her.
It would seem to be the picturesque in it which wove the spell; but would her throat have tightened, those tears be springing to her eyes at a thing no deeper than the picturesque? No, in what seemed that fantastic setting were things genuine and fine: simplicity, hospitality, friendship, comradeship, loyalty, courage in danger and good humor in petty annoyances.
Those things—oh yes, together with things less admirable—she knew to be there.
She got out her pictures of her father and mother; her father in uniform—that gentle little smile on her mother's face. She thought of what her mother had endured, of what hosts of army women had endured, going to outlandish spots of the earth, braving danger and doing without cooks! She was proud of them, proud to be of them.
She lingered over her father's picture. A soldier. Perhaps he was of a vanishing order, but she hoped it would be long—very long—before the things to be read in his face vanished from the earth.
Through memories of her father there many times sounded the notes of the bugle—now this call, now that, piercing, compelling, sounding as motif of his life, thing before which all other things must fall away. She seemed to hear now the notes of retreat—to see the motionless regiment—then the evening gun and the band playing the Star Spangled Banner and the flag—never touching the ground—coming down for the night. She answered it in the things it woke in her heart: those ideals of service, courage, fidelity which it had left her.
She would talk to him—to Alan (absurd she should think it so timidly—so close in the big things—so strange in some of the little ones)—about her father and mother. To make them real to him would make him see the army differently. It hurt her to think of his seeing it as he did, hurt her because she knew how it would have hurt them. To them, it had been the whole of their lives. They had not questioned; they had served. They had given it all they had.
And that other thing there was to tell her—? Was that, too, something that would have hurt them? She hoped not. It seemed she could bear the actual hurt to herself better than thought of the hurt it would have been to them.
But when the bell rang and she heard his voice asking for her a tumult of happiness crowded all else out.
She was shyly radiant as she came to him. As he looked at her, it seemed to pass belief.
But when he dared, and was newly convinced, as, his arms about her he looked down into her kindling face, his own grew purposeful as well as happy, more resolute than radiant. "We will make a life together," he said, as if answering something that had been in his thoughts. "We will beat it all down."
An hour went by and he had not told the story of his life, life itself too mysterious, too luring, too beautiful. Whenever they came near to it they seemed to hold back, as if they would remain as they were then. Instead, they told each other little things about themselves, absurd little things, drawing near to each other by all those tender little paths of suddenly remembered things. And they lingered so, as if loving it so.
It was when Katie spoke of her brother that he was swept again into the larger seriousness. Looking into her tender face, his own grew grave. "You know, Katie—what I told you—what I must tell you—"
"Oh yes," said Katie, "there was something, wasn't there?" But she put out her hand as if to show there was nothing that could matter. He took the hand and held it; but he did not grow less grave.
"Katie," he asked, "how much do you really care for the army?"
It startled her, stirring a vague fear in her happy heart.
"Why—I don't know; more than I realize, I presume." She was silent, then asked: "Why?"
He did not reply; his face had become sober.
"You are thinking," she ventured, "that your feeling for it is going to be—hard for me?"
He nodded; he was still holding her hand tightly, as if to make sure of keeping it.
"You see, Katie," he went on, with difficulty, "I have reason for that feeling."
"What do you mean?" she asked sharply.
"I have tried not to show you that I knew anything—in a personal way—about the army."
Her breath was coming quickly; her face was strained. But after a moment she exclaimed: "Why—to be sure—you were in the Spanish War!"
"No," said he with a hard laugh, "I am nothing so glorious as a veteran."
He felt the hand in his grow cold. She drew it away and rose; turned away and was picking the leaves from a plant.
But she found another thing to reach out to. "Well I suppose"—this she ventured tremulously, imploringly—"you went to West Point—and were— didn't finish?"
"No, Katie," he said, "I never went to West Point."
"Well then what did you do?" she demanded sharply.
He laughed harshly. "Oh I was just one of those fools roped in by a recruiting officer in a gallant-looking white suit!"
"You were—?" she faltered.
"In the ranks. One of the men." The fact that she should be looking like that drove him to add bitterly: "Like Watts, you know."
She stood there in silence, held. The radiance had all fallen from her. She was looking at him with something of the woe and reproach of a child for a cherished thing hurt.
"Why, Katie," he cried, "does it matter so? I thought it was only when we were in that we were so—impossible."
But she did not take the hands he stretched out. She was held.
It drove him desperate. "Well if that's so—if to have been in the army at all is a thing to make you look like that—Heaven knows," he threw in, "I don't blame you for despising us for fools!—But I don't know what you'll say when I tell you—"
"When you tell me—what?" she whispered.
"That I have no honorable discharge to lay at your feet. That I left your precious army through the noble gates of a military prison!"
She took a step backward, swaying. The anguish which mingled with the horror in her face made him cry: "Katie, let me tell you! Let me show you—"
But Katie, white-faced, was standing erect, braced for facing it. "What for? What did you do?"
Her voice was quick, sharp; tenseness made her seem arrogant. It roused something ugly in him. "I knocked down a cur of a lieutenant," he said, and laughed defiantly.
"You struck—an officer?"
"I knocked down a man who ought to have been knocked down!"
"Struck—your superior officer?"
"Katie," he cried, "that's your way of looking at it! But let me tell you—let me show you—"
But she had turned from him, covered her face; and before Katie there swept again those pictures, sounds: her father's voice ringing out over parade ground—silent, motionless regiment; the notes of retreat—those bugle notes, piercing, compelling, thing before which all other things must fall away—evening gun and lowered flag—
She lifted colorless face, shaking her head.
"Katie!" he cried. "Our life—our love—our life—"
She raised her hand for silence, still shaking her head.
"Won't you—fight for it?" he whispered. "Try?"
She kept shaking her head. "Anything else," she managed to articulate.
"Anything else. Not this. You don't understand. Can't. Never would."
Suddenly she cried: "Oh—go away!"
For a moment he stood there. But her face was locked against appeal.
Colorless, unsteady, he turned and left her.
Katie put out her hand. Her father—her father in uniform, it had been so real, it seemed he must be there. But he was not there. Nothing was there. Nothing at all. As the front door closed she started forward, but there sounded for her again the notes of the bugle—piercing, compelling, thing before which all other things must fall away. "Taps," this time, as blown over her father's grave, soldiers' heads bowed and tears falling for a fine soldier who would respond to bugle calls no more.