She found it difficult to adjust herself to the Ann who had luncheon with her the next day. The basis of their association had shifted and it had been too unique for it to be a simple matter to appear unconscious of the shifting.
She had not seen Ann since the day they said the cruel things to each other. Wayne had thought it best that way, saying that Ann must have no more emotional excitement. She had acquiesced the more readily as at the time she was not courting emotional excitement for herself.
And now the Ann sitting across the table from her was not the logical sequence of things experienced in last summer's search for Ann. She was not the sum of her thoughts about Ann—visioning through her, not the expression of the things Ann had opened up. It was hard, indeed, to think of her as in any sense related to them, at all suggestive of them.
An Ann radiating life rather than sorrowing for it was an Ann she did not know just what to do with.
And there was something disturbing in that rich glow of happiness. She did not believe that Ann's something somewhere could be stenography. Yet her radiance—the deep, warm quality of it—suggested nothing so much as a something somewhere attained. It seemed to Katie rather remarkable if the prospect of soon being able to earn her own living could make a girl's eyes as wonderful as that.
There was no mistaking her delight in seeing Katie and Worth. And a sense of the old relationship was there—deep and tender sense of it; but something had gone from it, or been added to it. It was not the all in all.
Truth was, Ann was more at home with her than she was with Ann.
After luncheon they went up to Katie's room for a little chat. Katie talked about stenography and soon came to be conscious of that being a vapid thing to be talking about.
"What pretty furs," she said, in the pause following the collapse of stenography.
That seemed to mean more. "Yes, aren't they lovely?" responded Ann, with happy enthusiasm. "They were my Christmas present—from Wayne."
The way Ann said Wayne—in the old days she had never said it at all—led instantly, though without her knowing by what path, to that strange fear of hers in finding Ann so free from fear.
Ann was blushing a little: the "Wayne" had slipped out so easily, and so prettily. "He thought I needed them. It's often so cold here, you know."
"Why certainly one needs furs," said Katie firmly, as if there could be no question as to that.
Katie's great refuge was activity. She got up and began taking some dresses from her trunk.
Then, just to show herself that she was not afraid, that there was nothing to be afraid about, she asked lightly: "What in the world brings Wayne up to New York so much?"
Ann was affectionately stroking her muff. She looked up at Katie shyly, but with a warm little smile. There was a pause which seemed to hover over it before she said softly: "Why, Katie, I think perhaps I bring him up to New York."
Everything in Katie seemed to tighten—close up. She gave her most cobwebby dress a perilous shake and said in flat voice: "Wayne's very kind, I'm sure."
Ann did not reply; she was still stroking her muff; that smile which hovered tenderly over something had not died on her lips. It made her mouth, her whole face, softly lovely. It did something else. Made it difficult for Katie to go on pretending with herself.
Though she made a last stand. It was a dreadful state of affairs, she told herself, if Ann had been so absurd as to fall in love with Wayne—Wayne—just because he had been kind in helping her get a start.
She followed that desperately. "Oh yes, Wayne's really very kind at heart. And then of course he's always been especially interested in you, because of me."
Ann looked up at her. The look kept deepening, sank far down beneath
Katie's shallow pretense.
"Well, Katie," Ann began, with the gentle dignity of one whom life has taken into the fold, "as long as we seem into this, I'd rather go on. Wayne said I was to do just as I liked about telling you. Just as it happened to come up. But I think you ought to know he is not interested in just the way you think." She paused before it, then said softly, with a tremulous pride: "He cares for me, Katie—and wants to marry me."
"He can't do that! He can't do that!"
It came quick and sharp. Quick and sharp as fire answering attack.
She sat down. The sharpness had gone and her voice was shaking as she said: "You certainly must know, Ann, that he can't do that."
So they faced each other—and the whole of it. It was all opened up now.
"It's very strange to me," Katie added hotly, "that you wouldn't know that."
It seemed impossible for Ann to speak; the attack had been too quick and too sharp; evidently, too unexpected.
"I told him so," she finally whispered. "Told and told him so. That you would feel—this way. That it—couldn't be. He said no. That you felt—all differently—after last summer. And I thought so, too. Your letters sounded that way."
Katie covered her eyes for a second. It was too much as if the things she was feeling differently about were the things she was losing.
"And when you want to be happy," Ann went on, "it's not so hard to persuade yourself—be persuaded." She stopped with a sob.
"I know that," was wrung wretchedly from Katie.
"And since—since I have been happy—let myself think it could be—it just hasn't seemed it could be any other way. So I stopped thinking—hadn't been thinking—took it for granted—"
Again it wrung from Katie the this time unexpressed admission that there was nothing much easier than coming to look upon one's happiness as the inevitable.
"And Wayne kept saying," Ann went on, sobs back of her words, "that all human beings are entitled to work out their lives in their own way. You believed that, he said. And I—I thought you did, too. Your letters—"
"No," said Katie bitterly, "what I believed was that I was entitled to work out my life in my own way. Wayne got his life mixed up with mine."
The laugh which followed them was more bitter, more wretched than the words.
She had persuaded herself the more easily that she was entitled to work out her life in her own way because she had assumed Wayne would be there to stand guard over the things left from other days. He was to stay there, fixed, leaving her free to go.
She could not have explained why it was that the things she had been thinking did not seem to apply to Wayne.
The thing grew to something monstrous. There whirled through her mind a frenzied idea as to what they would do about sending Major Barrett a wedding announcement.
Other things whirled through her mind—as jeers, jibes, they came, a laugh behind them. A something somewhere was very commendable while it remained abstract! Having a fine large understanding about Ann had nothing to do with having Ann for a sister-in-law! "Calls" were less beautiful when responded to by one's brother! This (and this tore an ugly wound) was what came of helping people in their quests for happiness.
It was followed by a frantic longing to be with Mrs. Prescott—in the shelter of her philosophy, hugging tight those things left by the women of other days. Frightened, outraged, her impulse was to fly back to those well worn ways of yesterday.
But that was running away. Ann was there. Ann with the radiance gone; though, for just that moment, less stricken than defiant. There was something of the cunning of the desperate thing cornered in the sullen flash with which she said: "You talked a good deal about wanting me to be happy. Used to think I had a right to be. When it was Captain Prescott—"
It was unanswerable. The only answer Katie would be prepared to make to it was that she didn't believe, all things considered, it was a thing she would have said. But doubtless people lost nice shades of feeling when they became creatures at bay fighting for life.
And seemingly one would leave nothing unused. "I want you to know, Katie, that I paid back that money. The missionary money. You made me feel that it wasn't right. That I—that I ought to pay it back. I earned the money myself—some work there was for me to do at school. I wanted to—to buy a white dress with it." Ann was sobbing. "But I didn't. I sent back the money."
Katie was wildly disposed to laugh. She did not know why, after having worried about it so much, Ann's having paid back the missionary money should seem so irrelevant now. But she did not laugh, for Ann was looking at her as pleadingly, as appealingly, as Worth would have looked after he had been "bad" and was trying to redeem it by being "good."
With a sob, Ann hid her face against her muff.
Seeing her thus, Katie made cumbersome effort to drag things to less delicate, less difficult, ground.
"Ann dear," she began, "I—oh I'm so sorry about this. But truly, Ann, you wouldn't be at all happy with Wayne."
Ann raised her face and looked at her with something that had a dull semblance to amusement.
"You see," Katie staggered on, "Wayne hasn't a happy temperament. He's morose. Queer. It wouldn't do at all, Ann, because it would make you both wretchedly unhappy."
She found Ann's faint smile irritating. "I ought to know," she added sharply, "for I've lived in the house with him most of my life."
"You may have lived in the house with him, Katie," gently came Ann's overwhelming response. "You've never understood him."
Katie openly gasped. But some of her anger passed swiftly into a wondering how much truth there might be in the preposterous statement. Wayne as "immune" was another idea jeering at her now. And that further assumption, which had been there all the while, though only now consciously recognized, that Wayne's knowing Ann's story, made Ann, to Wayne, impossible—
Living in the same house with people did not seem to have a great deal to do with knowing their hearts.
"Wayne," Ann had resumed, in voice low and shaken with feeling, "has the sweetest nature of any one in this world. He's been unhappy just because he hadn't found happiness. If you could see him with me, Katie, I don't think you'd say he had an unhappy nature—or worry much about our not being happy."
Katie was silent, driven back; vanquished, less by the words than by the light they had brought to Ann's face.
And what she had been wanting—had thought she was ready to fight for—was happiness—for every one.
"Of course I know," Ann said, "that that's not it." That light had all gone from her face. It was twisted, as by something cruel, blighting, as she said just above a whisper: "There's no use pretending we don't know what it is."
She turned her face away, shielding it with her muff.
It was all there—right there between them—opened, live, throbbing. All that it had always meant—all that generations of thinking and feeling had left around it.
And to Katie, held hard, it was true, all too bitterly true, that she came of what Mrs. Prescott called a long line of fine and virtuous women. In her misery it seemed that the one thing one need have no fear about was losing the things they had left one.
But other things had been left her. The war virtues! The braving and the fighting and the bearing. Hardihood. Unflinchingness. Unwhimperingness.
Those things fought within her as she watched Ann shaken with the sobs she was trying to repress.
Well at least she would not play the coward's part with it! She brought herself to look it straight in the face. And what she saw was that if she could be brave enough to go herself into a more spacious country, leaving hurts behind, she must not be so cowardly, so ignobly inconsistent as to refuse the hurts coming to her through others who would dare. Through the conflict of many emotions, out of much misery, she at last wrenched from a sore heart the admission that Wayne had as much right to be "free" as she had. That if Ann had a right to happiness at all—and she had always granted her that—she had a right to this. It was only that now it was she who must pay a price for it. And perhaps some one always paid a price.
Ann looked up into Katie's colorless, twitching face.
"I hope you and Wayne will be very happy." It came steadily, and with an attempted smile.
The next instant she was sobbing, but trying at the same time to tell Ann that sisters always acted that way when told of their brothers' engagements.