There was another call to make, and instinct alone could not reach this time. For the moment thought of it left her mute.
“You have been so kind to me,” she began, her timidity serving well as helplessness, “so very kind. I wonder if I may ask one thing more? Am—am I keeping you from anything you should be doing?”
There was no response at first, just a little convulsive clenching of the hand, an accentuated movement of the shoulder. Then, “I have time enough,” was the low, curt answer, face still averted.
“I am alone here, as you see. I am just a little afraid of a—a return attack. I wonder—would you be willing to come up to my room with me—help make a cup of tea for us and—stay with me a little while?”
Again for the minute, no reply. Then the girl turned hotly upon her, suspicion, resentment—was it hatred, too?—in her eyes. But what she saw was as a child’s face—wide eyes, beseeching mouth. Women who wondered “what in the world men saw in Katie Jones” might have wondered less had they seen her then.
The girl did not seem to know what to say. Suddenly she was trembling from head to foot.
Kate laid a hand upon the quivering arm. “I’ve frightened you,” she said regretfully and tenderly. “You need the tea, too. You’ll come?”
The girl’s eyes roved all around like the furtive eyes of a frightened animal. But they came back to Katie’s steadying gaze. “Why yes—I’ll come—if you want me to,” she said in voice she was clearly making supreme effort to steady.
“I do indeed,” said Kate simply and led the way into the house.
And now that they were face to face across a tea-table Miss Jones was bunkered again. How get out of the sand? She did not know. She did not even know what club to use.
For never had she drunk tea under similar circumstances. Life had brought her varied experiences, but sitting across the teacups from one whom she had interrupted on the brink of suicide did not chance to be among them. She was wholly without precedent, and it was trying for an army girl to be stripped of precedent.
They were sitting at a window which overlooked the river; the river which was flowing on so serenely, which was so blue and lazy and lovely that May afternoon. She looked to the place where—then back to the girl across from her—the girl who but for her—
“Is it coming back?” the girl asked.
“N—o; I think not; but I hope you will not go.” Then, desperately resolved to break through, she asked boldly: “Am I keeping you from anything important?”
A strange gleam, compounded of things she did not understand, shot out at her. To be followed with: “Important? Oh I don’t know. That depends on how you look at it. The only thing I have left to do is to kill myself. I guess it won’t take long.”