They would get in late that afternoon. Off on the horizon was a hazy mass which held the United States of America, as sometimes the haze of a dream may hold a mighty truth.
Katie and Mrs. Prescott were having a brisk walk on deck. They paused and peered off at that mist out of which New York must soon shape itself.
"Just off yonder's your country, Katie," the older woman was saying. "Soon you'll see the flag flying over Governor's Island. Will it make you thrill?"
"It always has," replied Katie.
Mrs. Prescott stole a keen look at her, seeing that she was not answered. They had had some strange talks on that homeward trip, talks to stir in the older woman's mind vague apprehensions for the daughter of her old friend. It did not seem to Mrs. Prescott what she called "best" that a woman—and particularly an unmarried one—should be doing as much thinking as Katie seemed to be doing. She wished Katie would not read such strange books; she was sure Walt Whitman, for one, could not be a good influence. What would happen to the world if the women of Katie's class were to—let down the bars, she vaguely and uneasily thought it. And she was too fond of Katie to want her to venture out of shelter.
"Well it ought to, Katie dear. I don't know who has the right to thrill to it, if you haven't. Doesn't it make you think of those sturdy forefathers of yours who came to it long ago, when it was an unknown land, and braved dangers for it? Your people have always fought for it, Katie. There would be no country had not such lives as theirs been given to it."
Katie was peering off at the faint outlines which one moment seemed discernible in the mist and the next seemed but a phantom of the imagination, as the truth which is to stand out bold and incontestable may at first suggest itself so faintly through the dream as to be called a phantom of the imagination. "True," she said. "And fine. And equally true and fine that there's just as much to fight for now as there ever was."
"Oh yes," murmured Mrs. Prescott, "we must still have the army, of course."
"The fighting's not in the army," said Katie, to herself rather than to her friend.
The older woman sighed. "I'm afraid I don't understand you, Katie." After a pause she added, sadly: "Something seems happening in the world that is driving older people and younger people apart."
Katie turned to her affectionately. "Oh, no."
But more affectionately than convincingly. Mrs. Prescott looked at her wistfully: so strong, so buoyant, so fearless and so fine; she felt an impulse to keep her, though for what—from what—she would not have been able to say.
"Katie dear," she said gently, "I get a glimpse of what you mean in there still being things to fight for. You mean new ideas; new things. I know you're stirred by something. I feel your enthusiasm; it shines from your face. Enthusiasm is a splendid thing in the young, Katie. In any of us. New things there always are to fight for, of course. But, dear Katie—the old things? Those beautiful old things which the generations have left us? Things fought for, tested, mellowed by our fathers and mothers, and their fathers and mothers? Aren't they a little too precious, too hardly won, too freighted with memories to be lightly cast aside?"
Katie looked at her friend's face, itself so incontestably the gift of the generations. It made vivid her own mother's face, and that her own struggle. "I don't think," she said tremulously, "that you are justified in saying they are 'lightly' cast aside."
They were silent, looking off at the land which was breaking through the mists, responding in their different ways to the different things it was saying to them.
"It seems to me," Mrs. Prescott began uncertainly, "that it is not for women—particularly women to whom they have come as directly as to you and me—to cast them off at all. We seem to be in strange days. Days of change. To me, Katie, it seems that the work for the women—our women—is in preserving those things, dear things left to us, holding them safe and unharmed through the destroying days of change."
She had grown more sure of herself in speaking.
The last came staunchly.
"It seems," she added, "that it would be enough for us to do. And the thing for which we are best fitted."
Katie was silent; she could not bear to say to her friend—her mother's friend—that it did not seem to her enough to do, or the thing for which she was best fitted.
She was the less drawn to the idea because of a face she could see down in the steerage: face of an immigrant girl who was also turning eager face, not to the land for which her forefathers had fought, but to that which would be the land of her descendants.
She had seen her there before, face set toward the land into which she was venturing. She had become interested in her. She seemed so eager. And thinking back to the things seen in her search for Ann, other things she had been reading of late, a fear for that girl—pity for her—more than that, sense of responsibility about her grew big in Katie.
It made it seem that there was bigger and more tender work for women than preserving inviolate those things women had left. As she drew near the harbor of New York she was more interested in the United States of America as related to that girl than as associated with her own forefathers who had fought for it long before.
And as it had been for them to fight in the new land, it seemed that it was for her, not merely to cherish the fact of their having fought, not holding that as something apart—something setting her apart, but to fight herself; not under the old standards because they had been their standards, but under whatsoever standards best served the fight. It even seemed that the one way to keep alive those things they had left her was to let them shape themselves in whatever form the new spirit—new demands—would shape them.
Mrs. Prescott was troubled by her silence. "Katie dear," she said, "you come of a long line of fine and virtuous women. In these days when everything seems attacked—endangered—that, at least—that thing most dear to women—most indispensable—must be held inviolate. And by such as you. Wherever your ideas may carry you, don't let that be touched. Remember that the safety of the world for women goes, if you do."
It turned Katie to Ann. Safety she had found. Then again she looked down at the immigrant girl—beautiful girl that she was. And wondered. And feared.
She turned to Mrs. Prescott with a tear on her eyelashes and a smile a little hard about her lips. "Would you say that 'fine and virtuous women' have succeeded in keeping the world a perfectly safe place for women?"
Mrs. Prescott was repelled, but Katie did not notice. She was looking with a passionate sternness off at New York. "Let anything be touched," she spoke it with deep feeling. "I say nothing's too precious to be touched—if touching it can make things better!"
Mrs. Prescott had gone below. Katie feared that she had wounded her, and was sorry. She had not been able to help it. The face of that immigrant girl was too tragically eager.
They were almost in now, close to Governor's Island, over which the flag was flying. It gripped her as it had never done before.
"Boy," she said to Worth, perched on a coil of rope beside her, "there's your country. Country your people came to a long time ago, and fought for, and some of them died for. And you'll grow up, Worth, and you'll fight for it. Not the way they fought; it won't need you to fight for it that way; they did that—and now that's done. But there will be lots for you to fight for, too; harder fights to fight, I think, than any they fought. You'll fight to make it a better place for men and women and little children to live in. Not by firing guns at other men, Worth, but by being as wise and kind and as honest and fair as you know how to be."
It was her voice moved him; it had been vibrant with real passion.
But after a moment the face of the child of many soldiers clouded. "But won't I have any gun 'tall, Aunt Kate?" he asked wistfully.
She smiled at the stubborn persistence of militarism. "I'm afraid not, dear. I hope we're not going to have so many guns when you're a man. But, Worth, if you don't have the gun, other little boys will have more to eat. There are lots of little boys and girls in the world now haven't enough to eat just because there are so many guns. Wouldn't you rather do without the gun and know that nobody was going hungry?"
"I—guess so," faltered Worth, striving to be magnanimous but looking wistful.
"But, Aunt Kate," he pursued after another silence, "what's father making guns for—if there aren't going to be any?"
Katie's smile was not one Worth would be likely to get much from. "Ask father," she said rather grimly. "I think he might find the question interesting."
Worth continued solemn. "But, Aunt Kate—won't there be anybody 'tall to kill?"
"Why, honey," she laughed, "does it really seem to you such a gloomy world—world in which there will be nobody to kill? Don't worry, dear. The world's getting so interesting we're going to find lots of things more fun than guns."
"Maybe," said Worth, "if I don't have a gun you'll get me an air-ship,
"Maybe so," she laughed.
"The man that mends the boats says I'll have an air-ship before I die,
She gave Worth a sudden little squeeze, curiously jubilant at the possibility of his having an air-ship before he died. And she viewed the city of sky-scrapers adoringly—tenderly—mistily. "Oh Worthie," she whispered, "isn't it lovely to be getting home?"