She did not see her brother until evening. "Katie," he demanded sharply, "have you been disagreeable to Ann?"
She shook her head. "I haven't meant to be, Wayne."
Her face was so wretched that he grew contrite. "You're not pleased?"
"Why, Wayne, you can scarcely expect me to be—wholly pleased, can you?"
"But you always seemed to understand so well. I"—he paused in that constraint there so often was between them in things delicately intimate—"I've never told you, Katie, how fine I thought you were. So big about it."
"It's not so difficult," said Kate, with a touch of her old smile, "to be 'big' about people who aren't marrying into the family."
It seemed that he, too, was not above cornering her. "You know, Katie, it was your attitude in the beginning that—"
"Just don't bother calling my attention to that, Wayne," she said sharply. "Please credit me with the intelligence to see it for myself."
Then she went right to the heart of it. "Oh Wayne—think of Major
The dull red that came quickly to his face told how bitterly he had thought of it, though he only said quietly: "Damn Barrett."
"But you can't damn him. Suppose you were to be stationed at the same place!"
He laughed shortly. "Well that, at least, is something upon which I can set your fears at rest."
She looked up quickly. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, Katie, that my army days are over."
She stared at him. "I don't understand you."
"It shouldn't be so difficult to comprehend. I have resigned my commission."
"Wayne," she asked slowly, "what do you mean?"
"Just what I say. That I have resigned my commission. That I am out of the army."
It made it seem that the whole world was whirling round and round and that there was nothing to take hold of. "But you can't do that. Why your whole life is there—friends—traditions—work—future."
"Not my future," he said briefly.
His calm manner made it the more bewildering. "Wayne, I don't see how you can—in such a light manner—give up such a big thing!"
He turned upon her in manner less calm. "What right have you to say that it is done in a 'light manner'!"
The words had a familiar sound and she recalled them as like something she had said to Mrs. Prescott the day before; just the day before, when she had been so sure of things, and of herself.
"But where is your future then, Wayne?" she asked appealingly. "We know, don't we, how hard it is for army men to find futures as civilians?"
"I'm going into the forest service."
Katie never could tell why, for the moment, it should have antagonized, infuriated her that way. "So that's it. That's what got—a poetic notion! And I suppose," she laughed scornfully, "you're going into the ranks? What is it they call them? Rangers? Starting in at your age—with your training—to 'work from the bottom up'—is that it?"
"No," he replied coldly, "that is not it. You have missed it about as far as you could. I have no such picturesque notion. I am doing no such quixotic thing. I value my training too highly for that. It should be worth too much to them. I don't even scorn personal ambition, or the use of personal pull, so you see I'm a long way from a heroic figure. I know I've a brain that can do a certain type of thing. I know I'm well equipped. Well, so far as the equipment goes, my country did it for me and I mean to give it back; only I've got to do it in my own way."
"Why, Katie," he resumed after a pause, "I never was more surprised in my life than to find you so out of sympathy with this. I knew what most people would think of it, but I quite took it for granted that you would understand."
"It seems a little hard," replied Katie with a tearful laugh, "to understand the fine things other people do. And, Wayne, I'm so afraid it will lead to disappointment! Aren't you idealizing this forest service? Remember Fred's tales of how it's almost strangled by politics. And you know what that means. Let us not forget Martha Matthews!"
It was a relief to be laughing together over a familiar thing. Martha Matthews was the daughter of a congressman from somewhere—Katie never could remember whether it was Texas or Wyoming. She had been asked to "take her up" at one time when the army appropriation bill was pending and Martha's father did not seem to realize that the country needed additional defense. But when Martha discovered that army people were "perfectly fascinating—and so hospitable" Martha's parent suddenly awakened to the grave dangers confronting his land. Katie had more than once observed a mysterious relationship between the fact of the army set being fashionable in Washington and the fact that the country must be amply protected, further remarking that army people were just clever enough to know when to be fascinating.
"No," he came back to it in seriousness, "I don't think I have many illusions. I know it's far from the perfect thing, but I see it as set in the right direction. It seems to me that that, in itself, ought to mean considerable. It's the best thing I know of—for what I have to offer. Then I want to get out of cities for awhile—get Ann away from them." He paused over that and fell silent. "Osborne offered me a job," he came back to it with a laugh. "Seemed to think I was worth a very neat sum a year to his company—but that was scarcely my notion. In fact I doubt if I would have so much confidence in the forest service if it weren't for his hatred of it. You can judge a thing pretty well by the character of its enemies. Then I'm enough the creature of habit to want to go on in a service; I'm schooled to that thing of the collectivity. But I'll be happier in a service that—despite the weak spots in it—is in harmony with the big collectivity—rather than hopelessly discordant with it. And perhaps it needs some more or less disinterested fellows to help fight for it," he added with a touch of embarrassment, as if fearing to expose himself.
He had come close enough to self-betrayal for Katie, despite her fear and confusion, to feel proud of him as he looked then.
"Wayne," she asked, "have you felt this way a long time? Out of sympathy with the army?"
He did not at once reply, thinking of the night he had sat beside Ann, night when the whole world was shaken and things he had regarded as fixed loosened and fell. Just how much had been loosening before that—some, he knew—just how much would have more or less insecurely held its place had it not been for that night, he was not prepared to say—even to himself.
"Longer than I knew, I think," he came back to Katie. "One night last fall I went to a dinner and they drank our toast." He repeated it, very slowly. "'My country—may she always be right—but right or wrong—my country.'
"I used to have the real thrill for that toast. That night it almost choked me. That 'right or wrong' is a spirit I can thrill to no longer. I'm more interested in getting it right.
"Though I'll own it terrified me, just as it seems to you, to feel it slipping from me. Recently I had occasion to go up to West Point and I spent a whole day deliberately trying to get back my old feeling for things—the whole business that we know so well and that I used to love so much.
"And, in a way, I could; but as for something gone. That day up at the
Point was one of the saddest of my life. I still loved the trappings.
They still called to me. But I knew that, for me, the spirit was dead.
"Oh I have no sensational declarations to make about the army. I wouldn't even be prepared to say what I think about disarmament. It's more complex than most peace advocates seem to see. I only know that the army's not the thing for me. I can't go on in it, simply because my feeling for it is gone."
He had been speaking slowly and seriously; his head was bent. Now he
looked up at her. "It was at the close of that day—day up at West
Point—that I resigned my commission. And if you had seen me that night,
Katie, I doubt if you would reproach me with 'doing it lightly.'"
The marks of struggle had come back to his face with the story of it.
They told more than the words.
"Forgive me," she said in her impetuous way. "No, I didn't know. How awful it is, Wayne, that we don't know—about each other."
She was forced to turn away; but after a moment controlled herself and turned back to add: "Wayne dear, I think you're right. I'm proud of you."
"Oh, I'm entitled to no halo," he hastened to say. "It's the fellow who would do it without an income might be candidate for that."
"But you would do it without an income, Wayne," she insisted warmly.
"I don't know. How can I tell whether I would or not?
"And you'll be good to Ann?" he took advantage of her mood to press, as though that were the one thing she could do for him. "You know, how much she needs you, Katie."
"I shall certainly want to be good to Ann," she murmured. "Though I don't think she needs me much—any more."
Something about her went to his heart. "Why, Katie—we all need you."
She shook her head; there were tears, but a smile with them. "Not much, Wayne. Not now. I'm not—indispensable. Though pray why should one wish to be anything so terrifying as indispensable?"
"Will you take Worth?" she asked after a little while. "He goes—with you and Ann?"
"We want him. And Katie, we want you. We're to go to Colorado and fight the water barons," he laughed. "Aren't you coming with us?"
She shook her head. "Not just now. I want to flit round in the East a little first. Be gay—renew my youth," she laughed, choking a little.
She drew him to talk of his hopes. "I'll fess up, Katie," he said, when warmed to it by her sympathy, "that I fear I do have rather a poetic notion about it. I want to do something—something that will count, something set in the direction of the future. And I like the idea of going back to that old frontier—place where I was born—and where mother went through so much—and where father fought—and because of which he died. And serving out there now in a way that is just as live—just as vital—as the way he served then."
He paused; they were both thinking of their father and mother, of how they might not have understood, of the sadness as well as the triumph there is in change, that tug at the heart that must so often come when the new generation sees a little farther down the road than older eyes can see, the ache in hearts left behind when children of a new day are called away from places endeared by habit into the incertitude and perhaps the danger of ways unworn.
"Life seems too fine a thing, Katie, to spend it making instruments of destruction more deadly. It's not a very happy thought to think of their being used; and it's not a very stimulating one to think of their not being. In either case, it doesn't make one too pleased with one's vocation. And life seems a big enough thing," he added, a little diffidently, "to try pretty hard to get one's self right with it."
He did not understand the way Katie was looking at him as she replied:
"Yes, Wayne; I know that. I've been thinking that myself."
Something moved her to ask: "Wayne, do you think you would have done it, if it had not been for Ann?"
"I think," he replied quietly, "that possibly that is still another thing I have to thank her for." His face and voice gave Katie a sharp sense of loneliness, that loneliness which came in seeing how poorly she had understood him, how little people knew each other.
They talked of a number of things before he suddenly exclaimed: "Oh Katie, I must tell you. That fellow—what's his name? Mann? The mythical being known as the man who mends the boats is a fellow you'll have to avoid, should you ever see him again—which of course is not likely."
She had turned and was looking out at the lights in the street below. "Yes?"
"Who do you suppose the scoundrel is?"
"I'm sure I don't know," she faltered.
"A military convict. Attacked an officer. Served time at Leavenworth."
Katie was intent upon the lights down below.
"And what do you suppose he was prying around the Island for?"
"I'm sure I have no idea," she managed to say.
"Going to write a play—a play about the army! Now what do you think of that? Darrett found out about it. Oh just the man, you see, to write a play about the army! And some sensationalists here are going to put it on. It's the most damnable insolence I ever heard of! They ought to stop it."
"Oh, I don't know," said Katie, still absorbed in the cabs down below; "a man has a right to use his experiences—in a play."
"Well a fine view he'll give of it! It's the most insufferable impertinence I ever knew of!"
She turned around to ask oddly: "Why, Wayne, why all this heat? You're not in the army any more."
"Well, don't you think I'm not of it, when an upstart like that turns up to rail at it!"
"But how do you know he'll rail?"
"Oh he'll rail, all right. I know his type. But we'll see to it that it's pretty generally understood it's military life as presented by a military convict."
"Perhaps you can trust him to make that point clear himself," said Katie rather dryly.
"The coward. The cur."
She turned upon him hotly. "Look here, Wayne, I don't know why you're so sure you have a right to say that!"
"I'd like to know why I haven't! Attacked an officer without the slightest provocation whatsoever! Some kind of a hot-headed taking sides with a deserter, I believe it was. I suppose this remarkable play is to be a glorification of desertion," he laughed.
"Well," said Katie with an unsteady laugh, "perhaps there are worse things to glorify than desertion."
He stared at her. "Come now, Katie, you know better than that."
But Katie was looking at him strangely. "Wayne," she said quietly, "you're a deserter, yourself."
He flushed, but after an instant laughed. "Really, Katie, you have a positive genius for saying preposterous things."
"In which there may occasionally lurk a little truth. You are deserting. Why aren't you?"
"I call that about as close to rot as an intelligent person could come," he replied hotly. "I'm resigning my commission. It's perfectly regular."
"Yes; being an officer and a gentleman, you can resign your commission, and have it perfectly regular. Being that same officer and gentleman, you never were mugged—treated as a prospective criminal; no four thousand posters bearing your picture will now be sent broadcast over the country; no fifty dollars is offered lean detectives for your capture; you're in no chance of being thrown into prison and have your government do all in its power to wring the manhood out of you! Oh no—an officer and a gentleman—you resign your commission and go ahead with your life. But you're leaving the army, aren't you? Deserting it. And why? Because you don't like the spirit of it. And yet—though you're too big for it—though it's time for you to desert—you're enough bound by it not to let the light of your intelligence fall for one single second on the question of desertion!"
She had held him. He made no reply, looking in bewilderment at her red cheeks and blazing eyes.
Suddenly her face quivered. "Wayne," she said, "I don't use the term as a hard name. I'm not using it in just its technical sense, our army sense. But mayn't desertion be a brave thing? A fine thing? To desert a thing we've gone beyond—to have the courage to desert it and walk right off from the dead thing to the live thing—? Oh, don't mind my calling you a deserter, Wayne," she added, her eyes full of tears, "for the truth is I'd like to be a deserter myself. But perhaps one deserter is enough for a family—and you beat me to it." She laughed and turned back to the cabs.
He wanted to go on with the argument; show her what it was in desertion that army men despised, make the distinction between deserting and resigning. But the truth was he was more interested in the things Katie had said than in the things which could be called in refutation.
And Katie puzzled him; her heat, feeling, not only astonished but worried him a little. She was standing there now beating a tattoo on the window pane. He wondered what she was thinking about. The experience as to Ann revealed Katie to him as having thought about things he would not have dreamed she was thinking about. What in the world did she mean by saying she'd like to be a deserter herself? One of her preposterous sayings—but it was true that considerable truth had often lurked at the heart of Katie's absurd way of talking.
Watching her, he was drawn to thought of her attractiveness and that made him wonder whom Katie would marry. He had always been secretly proud of his sister's popularity; it seemed she should make a brilliant marriage. Live brilliantly. It was the thing to which she was adapted. Katie was unique. Distinctive. Secretly, unadmittedly, he was very ambitious for her. And with a little smile he considered that seemingly Katie was just shrewd enough to be ambitious for herself. She had steered her little bark safely past the place where she would be likely to marry a lieutenant. Was she heading for a general?
So he reflected with humor and affection, watching Katie beat the tattoo on the window.
Thought of what some one had said of her as the army girl suggested something that changed his mood, bringing him suddenly to his feet. "Katie," he demanded, "how much did you ever talk to this fellow? You don't think, do you, that he was trying to get you for his 'army girl'—or some such rot? If I thought that—You don't think, do you, Katie, that that was what he was trying to work you for?"
Katie suddenly raised her hands and pushed back her hair, for the minute covering her eyes. "No, Wayne," she said, "I don't think that was what he was trying to 'work me' for."
And unable to bear more, she told him that she was very tired and asked him to go.