“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.
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?”