The Visioning by Susan Glaspell
Perhaps after all it was neither the dog nor the literature, but the heat. For the heat of that next day was the kind to prey through countries of make-believe. It oppressed every one, but Ann it seemed to excite, as if it stirred memories in their sleep. "Don't fight heat, Ann," Katie finally admonished, puzzled and disturbed by the way Ann kept moving about. "The only way to get ahead of the heat is to give up to it."
"Can you always do what you want to do?" Ann demanded with a touch of petulance. "Isn't there ever something makes you do things you know aren't the things to do?"
"Oh, dear me, yes," laughed Kate. "But you're simply your own worst enemy when you try to get ahead of the heat."
"I don't know how you're going to help being your own worst enemy," Ann murmured.
She picked some leaves from the vines and threw them away, purposelessly; she made the cat get out of a chair and sat down in it herself, only to get up again and pile all the magazines in a different way, not facilitating anything by the change. Then, after walking the length of the veranda, she stood there looking at Katie: Katie in the coolest and coolest-looking of summer dresses, leaning back in a cool-looking chair--adjusting herself to things as they were, poised, victorious in her submission.
Then Ann said a strange thing. "A hot day's just nothing but a hot day to you, is it?"
The words themselves said less than the laugh which followed them--a laugh which carried both envy and resentment, which at once admired and accused, a laugh straight from the girl they were trying to ignore.
And pray what was a hot day to her, Katie wondered. What was a hot day--save a hot day? But as she watched Ann in the next few moments she seemed to be surveying a figure oppressed less by heat than by that to which the heat laid her open. It seemed that the hot day might stand for the friction and the fretting of the world, for things which closed in upon one as heat closed in, bore down as heat bore down. As Ann pushed back the hair from her forehead it seemed she would push back the weight of the years.
It was at that moment that Caroline Osborne, richest and most prominent girl of the vicinity, stepped from her motor car.
Katie had met her a few nights before at the dance. And Wayne knew her father--a man of many interests. It was his quarrel with the forest service that had brought her cousin Fred Wayneworth there. Fred was not one of his admirers.
"Isn't this heat distressing?" was her greeting, though she had succeeded in keeping herself very fresh and sweet looking under the distress.
As Katie turned to introduce the two girls she saw that Ann was pulling at her handkerchief nervously. Was it irritating to have people for whom hot days were but hot days call heat distressing?
"Though one always has a breeze motoring," she took it up. "There are so many ways in which automobiles make life more bearable, don't you find it so, Miss Jones?"
Katie replied, inanely--Ann was still pulling at her handkerchief--that they were indispensable, of course, though personally she was so fond of horses--.
Yes, Miss Osborne loved horses too. Indeed it was army people had taught her to ride; once when she visited at Fort Riley--she had spent a month there with Mrs. Baxter. Katie knew her?
Oh, yes, Katie knew her, and almost all the rest of the army people whom Miss Osborne told of adoring. Of a common world, they were not long strangers. They came together through a whole network of associations. Finally they reached South Carolina and concluded they must be related--something about Katie's grandmother and Miss Osborne's great-aunt--.
Katie, in the midst of her interest turning instinctively to include Ann, was curiously arrested. Ann was sitting a little apart. And there seemed so poignant a significance in her sitting apart. It was an order of things from which she sat apart. The network went too far back, too deep down; it was too intricate for either sympathy or ingenuity to shape it at will.
Though Katie tried. For Katie, enough that she was sitting apart, and consciously. Leaving grandmothers and great-aunts in a sadly unfinished state she was lightly off into a story of something which had once happened to her and Ann in Rome.
But Ann was as an actor refusing to play her part. Perhaps she was too resentfully conscious of its being but a part--of her having no approach save through a part. For the first time she failed in that adaptability which had always made the stories plausible. In the midst of her tale Katie met Ann's eyes, and faltered. They were mocking eyes.
As best she could she turned the conversation to local affairs, for Miss Osborne was looking curiously at Miss Jones' unresponsive friend.
And as Ann for the first time seemed deliberately--yes, maliciously to fail--Katie for the first time felt out of patience, and injured. Perhaps the heat was enervating, but was that sufficient reason for embarrassing one's hostess? Perhaps it did make her think of hard things, but was that any reason for failing in the things that made all this possible? It was not appreciative, it was not kind, it did not show the right spirit, Katie told herself as she listened, with what she was pleased to consider both atoning and rebuking graciousness, to the plans for Miss Osborne's garden party.
"It is for the working girls, especially the lower class of working girls, who are in the factories. For instance, the candy factory girls. I am especially interested in that as father owns the candy factory--it is a pet side issue of his. You can see it from here, across the river there on the little neck of land. You see? The girls are just beginning to come from work now."
The three girls looked across the river, where groups of other girls were quitting a large building. They could be seen but dimly, but even at that distance something in the prevalent droop suggested that they, too, had found the day "distressingly warm."
"I hadn't realized," said Katie, "that making candy was such serious business."
"It couldn't have been very pleasant today," their guest granted, "but I believe it is regarded a very good place to work."
The book Katie had been reading the night before had shown her the value of facts when it came to judging places where women worked, and she was moved to the blunt inquiry: "How much do those girls make?"
"About six dollars a week, I believe," Miss Osborne replied.
Katie watched them: the long dim line of girls engaged in preparation of the sweets of life. She was wondering what she would have thought it worth to go over there and work all day. "Then each of those girls made a dollar today?" she asked, and her inflection was curious.
"Well--no," Miss Osborne confessed. "The experienced and the skillful made a dollar."
"And how much," pressed Katie, "did the least experienced and skillful make?"
"Fifty cents, I believe," replied Miss Osborne, seeming to have less enthusiasm when the scientific method was employed.
There was a jarring sound. The girl "sitting apart" had pushed her chair still farther back. "You call that a good place to work?" She addressed it to Miss Osborne in voice that scraped as the chair had scraped.
"Why yes, as places go, I believe so. Though that is why I am giving the garden party. They do need more pleasure in their lives. It is one of the under-lying principles of life--is it not?--that all must have their pleasures."
Ann laughed recklessly. Miss Osborne looked puzzled; Katie worried.
"And we are organizing this working girl's club. We think we can do a great deal through that."
"Oh yes, help them get higher wages, I suppose?" Katie asked innocently.
"N--o; that would scarcely be possible. But help them to get on better with what they have. Help them learn to manage better."
Again Ann laughed, not only recklessly but rudely. "That is surely a splendid thing," she said, and the voice which said it was high-pitched and unsteady, "helping a girl to 'manage better' on fifty cents a day!"
"You do not approve of these things?" Miss Osborne asked coldly.
And with all the heat Katie felt herself growing suddenly cold as she heard Ann replying: "Oh, if they help you--pass the time, I don't suppose they do any harm."
"You see," Katie hastened, "Miss Forrest and I were once associated with one of those things which wasn't very well conducted. I fear it--prejudiced us."
"Evidently," was Miss Osborne's reply.
"Though to be sure," Kate further propitiated, resentment at having to do so growing with the propitiation, "that is very narrow of us. I am sure your club will be quite different. We may come to the garden party?"
Katie followed her guest to her car. "I am hoping it will be cooler soon," she said. "My friend is here to grow stronger, and this heat is quite unnerving her."
Miss Osborne accepted it with polite, "I trust she will soon be much better. Yes, the heat is trying."
Katie did not return to Ann, but sat at the head of the steps, looking across the river.
She was genuinely offended. She knew nothing more unpardonable than to embarrass one's hostess. She grew hard in contemplation of it. Nothing justified it;--nothing.
A few girls were still coming from the candy factory. Miss Osborne's car had crossed the bridge and was speeding toward her beautiful home up the river--just the home for a garden party. The last group of girls, going along very slowly, had to step back for the machine to rush by.
Katie forgot her own grievance in wondering about those girls who had waited for the Osborne car to pass.
She knew where Miss Osborne was going, where and how she lived; she was wondering where the girls not enjoying the breeze always to be found in motoring were going, what they would do when they got there, and what they thought of the efforts to help them "manage better" on their dollar or less a day.
It made her rise and return to Ann.
Ann, too, was looking across the river at the girls who had given Miss Osborne right of way. Two very red spots burned in Ann's cheeks and her eyes, also, were feverish.
"I suppose I shouldn't have spoken that way to your friend," she began, but less contritely than defiantly.
Katie flushed. She had been prepared to understand and be kind. But she was not equal to being scoffed at, she who had been so embarrassed--and betrayed.
"It was certainly not very good form," she said coolly.
"And of course that's all that matters," said Ann shrilly. "It's just good form that matters--not the truth."
"Oh I don't see that you achieved any great thing for the truth, Ann. Anyhow, rudeness is no less rude when called truth."
"Garden parties!" choked Ann.
"I am not giving the garden party, Ann," said Katie long-sufferingly. "I was doing nothing more than being civil to a guest--against rather heavy odds."
"You were pretending to think it was lovely. But of course that's good form!"
Her perilously bright eyes had so much the look of an animal pushed into a corner that Katie changed. "Come, Ann dear, let's not quarrel with each other just because it has been a disagreeable day, or because Caroline Osborne may have a mistaken idea of doing good--and I a mistaken idea of being pleasant. I promised Worth a little spin on the river before dinner. You'll come? It will be cooling."
"My head aches," said Ann, but the tension of her voice broke on a sob. "If you don't mind--I'll stay here." She looked up at her in a way which remotely suggested the look of that little dog the day before, "Katie, I don't mean you. When I say things like that--I don't mean you. I mean--I suppose I mean--the things back of you. All those things--"
She stopped, but Katie did not speak. "You see," said Ann, "there are two worlds, and you and I are in different ones."
"I don't believe in two worlds," said Katie promptly. "It's not a democratic view of things. It's all one world."
"Your Miss Osborne and the fifty cents a day girls--all one world? I am afraid," laughed Ann tremulously, "that even the 'underlying principles of life' would have a hard time making them one."