The Visioning by Susan Glaspell
Ann remained in her room all of the next day. Katie encouraged her to do so, wishing to foster the idea of illness.
It did not need much fostering. She had not gone back to those old days without leaving with them most of her newly accumulated vitality. But it was weakness rather than nervousness. Talking to Katie seemed to have relieved a pressure.
It was Katie who was nervous. It was as if a battery within her had been charged to its uttermost. She was in some kind of electric communication with life. She was tingling with the things coming to her.
So charged was she with new big things that it was hard to manage the affairs of her household as old things demanded they be managed that day. She told Mrs. Prescott again how sorry she and Ann were that Ann had given way. Mrs. Prescott received it with self-contained graciousness. Her one comment was that she trusted when her son decided to marry he would content himself with a wife who had not gone upon a quest.
Katie smiled and agreed that it might get him a more comfortable wife.
The son himself she tried to avoid. That thing which had tried to shape itself between her and Ann still remained there, a thing without body but vaguely outlined between Ann and all other things.
They had not drawn any nearer to it. They let the story rest at the place where all of life had not been going over the wire.
And Katie told herself that she understood. That Ann was to be judged by the Something Somewhere she had formed in her heart rather than by whatever it was life had tardily and ungenerously and unwisely brought her.
That Ann might still cling to a Something Somewhere--a thing for which even yet she would keep the heart right--was suggested that afternoon when Katie told her of Captain Prescott.
She had not meant to tell her. She tried to think she was doing it in order to know how to meet Harry, but had to admit finally that she did it for no nobler reason than to see how Ann would take it.
She took it most unexpectedly. "I am sorry," she said simply, "but I do not care at all for Captain Prescott. I--" She paused, coloring slightly as she said with a little laugh: "We all like to be liked, don't we, Katie? And with me--well it meant something just to know I could be liked--in that nice kind of way. It helped. But that's all--so I hope he doesn't care very much for me. Though if he does," concluded Ann sagely, "he'll get over it. He's not the caring sort."
The words had a familiar sound; after a moment she remembered them as what he had said that night of the "Don't You Care" girls.
While she would have been panic-stricken at finding Ann interested, she was more discomfited than relieved at not finding her more impressed. "To marry into the army, Ann," she said, "is considered very advantageous."
Ann was lying there with her face pillowed upon her hand. She turned her large eyes, about which just then there were large circles, seriously, it would even seem rebukingly, upon Katie. "If I ever should marry," she said, "it will be for some other reason than because it is 'advantageous.'"
Katie felt both rebuked and startled. Most of the girls she knew--girls who had never worked in factories or restaurants or telephone offices, or had never thought of taking their own lives, had not scorned to look upon marriages as advantageous.
Nor, for that matter, had Katie herself.
Ann's superior attitude toward marriage turned Katie to religion. As the niece of a bishop she was moved to set Ann right on things within a bishop's domain. And underlying that was an impulse to set her right with herself.
"Ann," she said, "if somebody said to you, 'I starve you in the name of Katie Jones,' wouldn't you say, 'Oh no you don't. Starve me if you want to, but don't tell me you do it in the name of Katie Jones. She doesn't want people starved!'"
"I could say that," said Ann, "because I know you, and know you don't want people starved. But if I'd never heard anything about you except that I was to be starved in your name--"
"I should think even so you might question. Didn't it ever occur to you that God had more to do with your Something Somewhere than He did with things done in His name in Centralia?"
"Why, Katie, how strange you should think of that. For I thought of it--but I supposed it was the most wicked thought of all."
"How strange it would be," said Katie, "if He had more to do with the 'call' than with the God-fearing things you were called from."
For an instant Ann's face lighted up. But it hardened. "Well, if He had," she said, "it seems He might have stood by me a little better after I was 'called.'"
Katie had no reply for that, so she turned to her uncle, the Bishop.
"Well there's one place where you're wrong, Ann; and that is that religion is incompatible with the love of dogs. You know my uncle--my mother's brother--is a bishop. I don't know just how well uncle understands God, but if he understands Him as well as he does dogs then he must be well fitted for his office. I don't think in his heart uncle would have any respect for any person--no matter how religious--or even how much they subscribed--who wouldn't appreciate the tragedy of losing one's dog. Uncle has a splendid dog--a Great Dane; they're real chums. He often reads his sermons to Caesar. He says Caesar can stay awake under them longer than some of the congregation. I once shocked, but I think secretly delighted uncle, by saying that he rendered to Caesar the things that were Caesar's and to God what Caesar left. Well, one dreadful day someone stole Caesar. They took him out of town, but Caesar got away and made a return that has gone down into dog history. Poor uncle had been all broken up about it for three days. He was to preach that morning. My heart ached for him as he stood there at his study window looking down the street when it was time to go. I knew what he was hoping for--the way you go on hoping against hope when your dog's lost. And then after uncle had gone, and just as I was ready to start myself, I heard the great deep bark of mighty Caesar! You may know I was wild about it--and crazy to get the news to uncle. I hurried over to church, but service had begun. But because I was bursting to tell it, and because I appreciated something of what it would mean to talk about the goodness of God when you weren't feeling that way, I wrote a little note and sent it up. I suppose the people who saw it passed into the chancel in dignified fashion thought it was something of ecclesiastical weight. What it said was, 'Hallelujah--he's back--safe and sound. K--.'
"It was great fun to watch uncle--he's very dignified in his official capacity. He frowned as it was handed him, as if not liking the intrusion into holy routine. He did not open it at once but sat there holding it rebukingly--me chuckling down in the family pew. Then he adjusted his glasses and opened it--ponderously. I wish you could have seen his face! One of our friends said he supposed it read, 'Will give fifty thousand.' He quickly recalled his robes and suppressed his grin, contenting himself with a beatific expression which must have been very uplifting to the congregation. I think I never saw uncle look so spiritual. And I know I never heard him preach as feelingly. When he came to the place about when sorrow has been upon the heart, and seemed more than the heart could bear, but when the weight is lifted, as the loving Father so often does mercifully lift it--oh I tell you there were tears in more eyes than uncle's. I had my suspicions, and that night I asked, 'Uncle, did you preach the sermon you meant to preach this morning?' And uncle--if he weren't a bishop I would say he winked at me--replied, 'No, dear little shark. I had meant to preach the one about man yearning for Heaven because earth is a vale of tears.' I'm just telling you this yarn, Ann, to make you see that religion doesn't necessarily rule out the love of dogs."
"It's a nice story, and I'm glad you told me," replied Ann. "Only my father would say that your uncle had no religion."
Katie laughed. "A remark which has not gone unremarked. Certainly he hasn't enough to let it harden his heart. As I am beginning to think about things now it seems to me uncle might stand for more vital things than he does, but for all that I believe he can love God the more for loving Caesar so well."
They were quiet for a time, thinking of Ann's father and Katie's uncle; the love of God and the love of dogs and the love of man. Many things. Then Ann said: "Naturally you and I don't look at it the same way. I see you were brought up on a pleasant kind of religion. The kind that doesn't matter."
That phrase started the electric batteries within Katie and the batteries got so active she had to go for a walk.
In the course of the walk she stopped at the shops to see Wayne. She wanted to know if he would let Worth go into the country for a week with Ann. An old servant of theirs--a woman who had been friend as well as servant to Katie's mother--lived on a farm about ten miles up the river and it had been planned that Worth--and Katie, too, if she would--go up there for a week or more during the summer. It seemed just the thing for Ann. It would get her away from Captain Prescott and his mother, and from Major Darrett, who was coming in a few days. Katie believed Ann would like to be away from them all for about a week, and get her bearings anew. And Katie herself would like to be alone for a time and get her bearings, too, and make some plans. In one way or other she was going to help Ann find her real Something Somewhere. Perhaps she would take her to Europe. But until things settled down, as Katie vaguely put it, she thought it just the thing for Ann to have the little trip with Worth.
Wayne listened gravely, but did not object. He was quiet, and, Katie thought, not well. She suggested that working so steadily during the hot weather was not good for him.
He laughed shortly and pointed through the open door to the shops where long rows of men were working at forges--perspiration streaming down their faces.
But instead of alluding to them he asked abruptly: "How is she today?"
"Tired," said Katie. "She didn't sleep well last night."
Something in the way he was looking at her brought to Katie acute realization of how much she cared for Wayne. He was her big brother. She had always been his little sister. They were not giving to thinking of it that way--certainly not speaking of it--but the tenderness of the relationship was there. Consciousness of it came now as she seemed to read in Wayne's look that she hurt him in withholding her confidence, in not having felt it possible to trust even him.
She broke under that look. "Wayne dear," she said unevenly, "I don't deny there is something to tell. I'd like to tell you, if I could. If ever I can, I will."
His reply was only to dismiss it with a curt little nod.
But Katie knew that did not necessarily mean that he was feeling curt.
She was drawn back to the open door from which she could see the long double line of men working steadily at the forges.
"What are those men doing?" she asked.
"Forging one of the parts of a rifle," he replied.
It recalled what the man who mended the boats had said of the saddles: that the first war those saddles would see would be the war over the manufacture of them. Would he go so far as to say the first use for the rifles--?
Surely not. He must have been speaking figuratively.
But something in the might of the thing--the long lines of men at work on rifles to be used in a possible war--made the industrial side of it seem more vital and more interesting than the military phase. This was here. This was real. There was practically no military life at the Arsenal--not military life in the sense one found it at the cavalry post. That had made it seem, from a military standpoint, uninteresting. But here was the real life--over in what the women of the quarter vaguely called "the shops," and dismissed as disposed of by the term.
Suddenly she wondered what all those men thought about God. Whether either the hard blighting religion of Ann's father, or the aesthetic comfortable religion of her uncle "mattered" much to them?
Were the things which "mattered" forging a religion of their own?
But just what were those things that mattered?
A young man had entered and was speaking to Wayne. After a second's hesitation Wayne introduced him to Katie as Mr. Ferguson, who was helping him.
He had an open, intelligent face--this young mechanic. He did not seem overwhelmed at being presented to Captain Jones' sister, but merely replied pleasantly to her greeting and was turning away.
But Katie was not going to let him get away. If she could help it, Katie was not going to let any one get away who she thought could tell her anything about the things which were perplexing her--all those things pressing closer and closer upon her.
"Do many of these men go to church?" she asked.
He appeared startled. Katie's gown did not suggest a possible tract concealed about it.
"Why yes, some of them," he laughed. "I don't think the majority of them do."
Then she came right out with it. "What would you say they look upon as the most important thing in life?"
He looked startled again, but in more interested way. "Higher wages and shorter hours," he said.
"Are you a socialist?" she demanded.
It came so unexpectedly and so bluntly that it confused him. "Why, Katie," laughed her brother, "what do you mean by coming over here and interviewing men on their politics?"
"What made you think I was a socialist?" asked Ferguson.
"Because you had such a quick answer to such a big question, and seemed so sure of yourself. I'm reading a book about socialists. They don't seem to think there is a particle of doubt they could put the world to rights, and things are so intricate--so confused--I don't see how they can be so sure they're saying the final word."
"I don't know that they claim to be saying the final word, but they do know they could take away much of the confusion."
Katie was thinking of the story she had heard the night before. "Do you think socialism's going to remove all the suffering from the world? Reach all the aches and fill all the empty places? Get right into the inner things that are the matter and bring peace and good will and loving kindness everywhere?"
She had spoken impetuously, and paused with an embarrassed laugh. The young mechanic was looking at her gravely, but his look was less strange than Wayne's.
"I don't think they'd go that far, Miss Jones. But they do know that there's a lot of needless misery they could wipe out."
"They're out and out materialists, aren't they? Everything's economic--the economic basis for everything in creation. They seem very cocksure that getting that the way they want it would usher in the millennium. You said the most important thing in life to these men was higher wages and shorter hours. I don't blame them for wanting them--I hope they get them--but I don't know that I see it as very promising that they regard it as the most important thing in life. To do less and get more is not what you'd call a spiritual aspiration, is it?" she laughed. "This is what I mean--it's not the end, is it?"
"Socialists wouldn't call it the end. But it's got to be the end until it can become the means."
"Yes, but if you get in the habit of looking at it as an end, will there be anything left for it to be a means to?"
"Why yes, those spiritual aspirations you mention."
"Unless by that time the world's such an economic machine it doesn't want spiritual aspirations."
"Well Heaven help the working man that's got them in the present economic machine," said Ferguson a little impatiently.
She, too, moved impatiently. "Oh I don't know a thing about it. It's absurd for me to be talking about it."
"Why I don't think it's at all absurd, only I don't think you see the thing clear to the end, and I wish you could talk to somebody who sees farther than I do. I'm new to it myself. Now there's a man doing a lot of boat repairing up here above the Island. I wish you could talk to him. He'd know just what you mean, and just how to meet you."
"Oh, would he?" said Katie. "What's his name?"
"Mann. Alan Mann."
"Why, Katie," laughed Wayne, "it must be that he's that same mythical creature known as the man who mends the boats."
"Yes," said Katie, "I fancy he's the very same mythical creature."
"My little boy talks about him," Wayne explained.
"Yes, he's the same one. I've seen him talking to your little boy and one of the soldiers. He's a queer genius."
"In what way is he a queer genius?" asked Katie.
"Why--I don't know. He's always got a way of looking at a thing that you hadn't seen yourself." He looked up with a little smile from the tool he was trying to adjust. "I'd like to have you tell him you were worrying about socialism hurting spiritual aspirations."
"Would he annihilate me?"
"No, he wouldn't want to annihilate you, if he thought you were trying to find out about things. He'd guide you."
"Oh--so he's a guide, is he? Is he a spiritual or an economic guide?" she laughed.
"I think he might combine them," he replied, laughing too.
"He must be remarkable," said Kate.
"He is remarkable, Miss Jones," gravely replied the admirer of the man who mended the boats. "I wish you could have heard him talking to a crowd of men last Sunday."
"Dear me--is he a public speaker?"
"Yes--in a way. And he writes things."
Katie wanted to ask what things, but they were cut short by the entrance of Captain Prescott. It was curious how his entrance did cut them short. She smiled to herself, wondering what he would have thought of the conversation.
He followed her to the door and inquired for Miss Forrest. His manner was constrained, but his eyes were begging for an explanation. He looked unhappy, and Katie hurried away from him. It seemed she could not bear to have any more unhappiness come pressing against her, even the unhappiness she was confident would pass away.
In her mood of that day it seemed to Katie that the affairs of the world were too involved for any one to have a solution for them. Life surged in too fiercely--too uncontrollably--to be contained within a formula.
As she continued her walk, winding in and out of the wooded paths, awe spread its great wings about her at thought of the complexity and the fathomlessness of the relationships of life. She had but a little peep into them, but that peep held the suggestion of limitlessness.
Because a lonely girl in a barren little town in Indiana had dreamed dreams which life would not deliver to her, life now was beating in upon Katie Jones. Because Ann had been foiled in her quest for happiness, sobering shadows were falling across the sunny path along which Katie had tripped. Did life thwarted in one place take it out in another? Because Ann could not find joy was it to be that Katie could not have peace? Had Ann's yearning for love been the breath blowing to flame Katie's yearning for understanding? Because Ann could not dream her way to realities did it mean that Katie must fight her way to them?
They were such big things--such resistless things--these wild new things which were sweeping in upon her. With the emotion of the world surging in and out like that how could any one claim to have a solution for the whole question of living?
She seemed passing into a country too big and too dark for her of the sunny paths. She needed a guide. She grew lonely at thought of how badly she needed her guide.
She turned for comfort to thought of the things she would do for Ann. She would pay it back in revealing to Ann the beauty of the world. She would assume the responsibility of the Something Somewhere. Perhaps in fulfilling a dream she would find a key to reality.
She found pleasure in the vision of Ann in the old world cathedrals. How wisely they had builded--builders of those old cathedrals--in expressing religion through beauty. At peace in the beauty of form, might Ann not find an inner beauty? She believed Ann's nature to be an intensely religious one. How might Ann's soul not flower when she at last saw God as a God of beauty?
Thus she soothed herself in building a future for Ann. Sought to appease those surgings of life with promise that Ann should at last find the loveliness of life.
But in the end it led to a terrifying vision. A vision of thousands upon thousands of other dreamers of dreams whose soul stuff might be slowly ebbing away in long dreary days of putting suspenders in boxes. Of thousands of other girls who might be growing faint in operating the wires for life. Oh, she had power to fill Ann's life--but would that have power to still for her the mocking whispers from the dreams which had died slow deaths in all the other barren lives? Even though she took Ann from the crowd to a far green hill of happiness, would not Katie herself see from that far green hill all the other girls "called" to life, going forth as pilgrims with the lovely love-longing in their hearts only to find life waiting to seize them for the work of the woman who wore the white furs?
A sob shook Katie. The woe of the world seemed surging just beneath her--rising so high that it threatened to suck her in.
But because she was a fighter she mastered the sob and vowed that rather than be sucked in to the woe of the world she would find out about the world. Certainly she would sit apart no longer. She would study. She would see. She would live.
Life had become a sterner and a bigger thing. She would meet it in a sterner and bigger way. To understand! That was the greatest thing in life.
That passion to understand grew big within her. How could she hope to go laughing through a world which sobbed? How turn from life when she saw life suffering? Why she could not even turn from a little bird which she saw suffering!
There was a noble wistfulness in her longing to talk again with the man who mended the boats.