The Visioning by Susan Glaspell
She returned to Chicago to find that her uncle was in town. He had left a message asking her to join him for dinner over at his hotel.
It was pleasant to be dining with her uncle that night. The best possible antidote she could think of for Ann's father was her dear uncle the Bishop.
As she watched him ordering their excellent dinner she wondered what he would think of Ann's father. She could hear him calling Centralia a God-forsaken spot and Ann's father a benighted fossil. Doubtless he would speak of the Reverend Saunders as a type fast becoming obsolete. "And the quicker the better," she could hear him add.
But she fancied that the Reverend Saunderses of the world had yet a long course to run in the Centralias of the world. She feared that many Anns had yet to go down before them.
At any rate, her uncle was not that. To-night Katie loved him anew for his delightful worldliness.
Though he was not in his best form that night. He was on his way out to Colorado for the marriage of his son. "There was no doing anything about it," he said with a sigh. "My office has made me enough the diplomat, Katherine, to know when to quit trying. So I'm going out there--fearful trip--why it's miles from Denver--to do all I can to respectablize the affair. It seemed to me a trifle inconsiderate--in view of the effort I'm making--that they could not have waited until next month; there are things calling me to Denver then. Now what shall I do there all that time?--though I may run on to California. But it seems my daughter-in-law would have her honeymoon in the mountains while the aspens are just a certain yellow she's fond of. So of course"--with his little shrug Katie loved--"what's my having a month on my hands?"
"Well, uncle, dear uncle," she laughed, "hast forgotten the days when nothing mattered so much as having the leaves the right shade of yellow?"
"I have not--and trust I never will," he replied, with a touch of asperity; "but I feel that Fred has shown very little consideration for his parents."
"But why, uncle? I'm strong for her! She sounds to me like just what our family needs."
He gave her a glance over his glasses--that delighted Katie, too; she had long ago learned that when her uncle felt occasion demand he look like a bishop he lowered his chin and looked over his glasses.
"Well our family may need something; it's the first intimation I've had, Katherine, that it's in distress--but I don't see that a young woman who votes is the crying need of the family."
"She's in great luck," returned Katie, "to live in a State where she can vote."
He held up his hands. "Katie? You?"
"Oh I haven't prowled around this town all summer, uncle, without seeing things that women ought to be voting about."
He stared at her. "Well, Katie, you--you don't mean to take it up, do you?"
He looked so unhappy that she laughed. "Oh I don't know, uncle, what I mean to 'take up,' but I herewith serve notice that I'm going to take something up--something besides bridge and army gossip."
She looked at him reflectively. "Uncle, does it ever come home to you that life's a pretty serious business?"
"Well I hadn't wanted it to come home to me tonight," he sighed plaintively. "I'm really most upset about this unfortunate affair. I had thought that you, Katie, would be pleasant."
"Forgive me," she laughed. "I can see how it must disturb you, uncle, to hear me express a serious thought."
He laughed at her delightedly. He loved Katie. "You've got the fidgets, Katie. Just the fidgets. That's what's the matter with the whole lot of you youngsters. It's becoming an epidemic--a sort of spiritual measles. Though I must say, I hadn't expected you to catch it. And just a word of warning, Katie. You've always been so unique as a trifler that one rather hates to see you swallowed up in the troop of serious-minded young women. I was talking to Darrett the other day--charming fellow, Darrett--and he held that your charm was in your brilliant smile. I told him I hadn't thought so much about the brilliant smile, but that I knew a good deal about a certain impish grin. Katie, you have a very disreputable grin. You have a way of directing it at me across ponderous drawing-rooms that I wish you'd stop. It gives me a sort of--'Oh I am on to you, uncle old boy' feeling that is most--"
He looked at her, humorously and yet meditatively--fondly. "Katie, why do you think it's so funny? Why does it make you want to grin?"
"You know. Else you wouldn't read the grin."
"But I don't know. Nobody else grins at me."
"Oh don't you think we're a good deal of a joke, uncle?"
"Us. The solemnity with which we take ourselves and the way the world lets us do it."
He laughed. Then, as one coming back to his lines: "You have no reverence."
"No, neither have you. That's why we get on."
He made an unsuccessful attempt at frowning upon her and surveyed her a little more seriously. "Katie, do you know that the things you say sometimes puzzle me. They're queer. They burrow. They're so insultingly knowing, down at the root of their unknowingness. I'll think--'She didn't know how "pat" that was'--and then as I consider it I'll think--'Yes, she did, only she didn't know that she knew.' I remember telling your mother once when you were a little girl that if you were going to sit through service with your head cocked in that knowing fashion I wished she'd leave you at home."
Katie laughed and cocked her head at him again, just to show she had not forgotten. Then she fell serious.
"Uncle, for a long time I only smiled. I seemed to know enough to do that. Do you think you could bear it with Christian fortitude if I were to tell you I'm beginning now to try and figure out what I was smiling at?"
He shook his head. "'Twould spoil it."
He looked at his niece and smiled as he asked: "Katie dear, are you becoming world weary?" Katie, very smart that night in white gown and black hat, appealed to him as distinctly humorous in the role of world weariness.
"No," returned Katie, "not world weary; just weary of not knowing the world."
Afterward in his room they chatted cheerfully of many things: family affairs, army and church affairs. Katie strove to keep to them as merely personal matters.
But there were no merely personal matters any more. All the little things were paths to the big things. There was no way of keeping herself detached. Even the seemingly isolated topic of the recent illness of the Bishop's wife led full upon the picture of other people she had been seeing that summer who looked ill.
Her uncle was telling of a case he had recently disposed of, a rector of his diocese who was guilty of an atheistic book. He spoke feelingly of what he called the shallowness of rationalism, of the dangers of the age, beautifully of that splendid past which the church must conserve. He told of some lectures he himself was to deliver on the fallacies of socialism. "It's honeycombing our churches, Katherine--yes, and even the army. Darrett tells me they've found it's spreading among the men. Nice state of affairs were we to have any sort of industrial war!"
It was hard for Katie to keep silence, but she felt so sadly the lack of assurance arising from lack of knowledge. Well, give her a little time, she would fix that!
She contented herself with asking if he anticipated an industrial war.
The Bishop made a large gesture and said he hoped not, but he felt it a time for the church to throw all her forces to safeguarding the great heritage of the country's institutions. He especially deplored that the church itself did not see it more clearly, more unitedly. He mentioned fellow bishops who seemed to be actually encouraging inroads upon tradition. Where did they expect it to lead?--he demanded.
"Perhaps," meekly suggested Katie, "they expect it to lead to growth."
"Growth!" snorted the Bishop. "Destruction!"
They passed to the sunnier subject of raising money. As regards the budget, Bishop Wayneworth was the church's most valued servant. His manner of good-humored tolerance gave Mammon a soothing sense of being understood, moving the much maligned god to reach for its check book, just to bear the friendly bishop out in his lenient interpretation of a certain text about service rendered in two directions.
He was telling of a fund he expected to raise at a given time. If he did, a certain capitalist would duplicate it. The Bishop became jubilant at the prospect.
And as they talked, there passed before Katie, as in review, the things she had seen that summer--passed before her the worn faces of those girls who night after night during the hot summer had come from the stores and factories where the men of whom her uncle was so jubilantly speaking made the money which they were able to subscribe to the church. She thought of her uncle's church; she could not recall having seen many such faces in the pews of that church. She thought of Ann--wondered where Ann might be that night while she and her uncle chatted so cheerfully in his pleasant room at his luxurious hotel. She tried to think of anything for which her uncle stood which would give her confidence in saying to herself, "Ann will be saved." The large sum of money over which he was gloating was to be used for a new cathedral. She wondered if the Anns of her uncle's city would find the world a safer or a sweeter place after that cathedral had been erected. She thought of Ann's world of the opera and world of work. Was it true--as the man who mended the boats would hold--that the one made the other possible--only to be excluded from it? And all the while there swept before her faces--faces seen in the crowd, faces of those who were not finding what they wanted, faces of all those to whom life denied life. And then Katie thought of a man who had lived & long time before, a man of whom her uncle spoke lovingly in his sermons as Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. She thought of Ann's father--how far he had gone from a religion of love. Then came back to her lovable uncle. Well, what of him?
Charm of personality, a sense of humor, a comfortable view of living (for himself and his kind) did not seem the final word.
"Uncle," Katie asked quietly, "do you ever think much about Christ?"
In his astonishment the Bishop dropped his cigar.
"What a strange man he must have been," she murmured.
"Kindly explain yourself," said he curtly.
"He seemed to think so much about people. Just people. And chiefly people who were down on their luck. I don't believe he would have been much good at raising money. He had such a queer way of going around where people worked, talking with them about their work. If he were here now, and were to do that, I wonder if he'd help much in 'stemming the rising tide of socialism' What a blessing it is for our institutions," Katie concluded, "that he's not anywhere around."
The Bishop's hand shook. "I had not expected," he said, "that my own niece, my favorite niece--indeed, the favorite member of my family--was here to--revile me."
"Uncle--forgive me! But isn't it bigger than that thing of being members of the same family--hurting each other's feelings? Oh uncle!" she burst forth, no longer able to hold back, "as you stand sometimes at the altar don't you hear them moaning and sobbing down underneath?"
He looked at her sharply, with some alarm.
"Oh no," she laughed, "not going crazy. Just trying to think a little about things. But don't you ever hear them, uncle? I should think they might--bother you sometimes."
"Really, Katherine," he said stiffly, "this is most--annoying. Hear whom moaning and sobbing?"
"Those people! The worn out shop girls and broken down men and women and diseased children that your church is built right on top of!"
Not the words but the sob behind them moved him to ask gently: "Katie dear, what is it? What's the trouble?"
Her eyes were swimming. "Uncle--it's the misery of the world! It's the people who aren't where they belong! It's the lives ruined through blunders--it's the cruelty--the needless cruelty of it all." She leaned forward, the tears upon her cheeks. "Uncle, how can you? You have a mind--a kind heart. But what good are they? If you believe the things you say you believe--oh you think you believe them--but you don't seem to connect them. Here to-night we've been talking about the forms of the church--finances of the church--and humanity is in need, uncle--bodily need--and oh the heart need! Why don't you go and see? Why you've only to look! What are your puny little problems of the church compared with people's lives? And yet you--cut off--detached--save in so far as feeding on them goes--claim to be following in the footsteps of a man who followed in their footsteps--a man who went about seeing how people lived--finding out what troubled them--trying--" She sank back with a sob. "I didn't mean to--but I simply can't understand it. Can't understand how you can."
She hid her face. Those faces--they passed and passed.
He had risen and was walking about the room. After a moment he stopped and cleared his throat. "If I didn't think, Katherine, that something had happened to almost derange you, I should not have permitted you to continue these ravings."
She raised her head defiantly. "Truths people don't want to hear are usually disposed of as ravings!"
"Now if I may be permitted a word. Your indictment is not at all new, though your heat in making it would indicate you believed yourself to be saying something never said before--"
"I know it's been said before! I'm more interested in knowing how it's been answered."
"You have never seemed sufficiently interested in the affairs of the church, Katherine, for one to think of seriously discussing our charities with you--"
"Uncle, do you know what your charities make me think of?"
He had resumed his chair--and cigar. "No," he said coldly, "I do not know what they make you 'think of.' I was attempting to tell you what they were."
"I know what they are. The idea that comes to my mind has a rather vulgar--"
"Oh, pray do not hesitate, Katherine. You have not been speaking what I would call delicately."
"Your charities are like waving a scented handkerchief over the stock-yards. Or like handing out after-dinner mints to a mob of starving men."
"You're quite the wrong end there--as is usual with you agitators," he replied comfortably. "We don't give them mints. We give them soup."
"Giving them soup--even if you did--is the mint end. Why don't you give them jobs?"
He spread out his hands in gesture of despair. "What a bore a little learning can make of one! My dear niece, I deeply regret to be compelled to inform you that there aren't 'jobs' enough to go around."
"Why aren't there?"
"Why the obvious reason would seem, Katie," he replied patiently, "that there are too many of them wanting them."
"And as usual, the obvious reason is not it. There are too many of you and me--that's the trouble. They don't have the soup because they must furnish us the mints." It was Katie who had risen now and was walking about the room. Her cheeks were blazing. "I tell you, uncle, I feel it's a disgrace the way we live--taking everything and doing nothing. I feel positively cheap about it. The army and the church and all the other useless things--"
"I do not agree with you that the army is useless and I certainly cannot permit you to say the church is."
"You'll not be able to stop other people from saying it!"
He seemed about to make heated reply, but instead sank back with an amused smile. "Katie, your learning sounds very suspiciously as though it were put on last night. I feel like putting up a sign--'Fresh Paint--Keep Off.'"
"Well at any rate it's not mouldy!"
"At college I roomed with a chap who had a way of discovering things, getting in a fine glow of discovery over things everybody else had known. He would wake me out of a sound sleep to tell me something I had heard the week before."
"And it's trying to be waked out of a sound sleep, isn't it, uncle?" she flashed back at him.
It ended with his kindly assuring her that he was glad she had begun to think about the problems of the world; that no one knew better than he that there was a social problem--and a grave one; that men of the church had written some excellent things on the subject--he would send her some of them. Indeed, he would be glad to do all in his power to help her to a better understanding of things. He was convinced, he said soothingly, that when she had gone a little farther into them she would see them more sanely.