The Visioning by Susan Glaspell
To get out into the air was the thing she was always wanting in those days, or at least for the last two months it had been so. At first she had been too wretched to be conscious of needing anything.
But Katie was not built for wretchedness; everything in her was fighting now for air, what air meant to spirit and body.
It was in the sense of the spirit that she most of all wanted to get out into the air, out into a more spacious country than the world Clara suggested, out where the air was clear and keen and where there were distances more vast than those which would shut her in.
For she had looked into a larger country. Allegiance to the smaller one could not be whole-hearted.
She wondered if it were true she was getting hard. Something in her did seem hardening. At any rate, something in her was wanting to fight, fight for air, fight, no matter who must be hurt in the struggle, for that bigger country into which she had looked, those greater distances, more spacious sweeps. Sometimes she had a sense of being in a close room, and nothing in the world was so dreadful to Katie as a close room, and felt that she had but to open a door and find herself out where the wind would blow upon her face. And the door was not bolted. It was hers to open, if she would. There were no real chains. There were only dead hands, hands which live hands had power to brush away. And the room was made close by all those things which they of the dead hands had loved, things which they had served, things which, for them, had been out in the open, not making the air unbearable in a close room. And when she wanted to tell them that she must get out of the room because it was too close for her, that she could no longer stay with things which shut out the air, it seemed they could not understand--for they were dead, but they could look at her with love and trust, those hands, which could have been so easily brushed away, as bolts on the door of the room holding the things they had left for her to guard.
And they were proud, and their trusting eyes seemed to say they knew she would not make all their world sorry for them.
She walked slowly across Pont du Carrousel, watching the people, the people going their many ways, meeting their many problems, wondering if many of them had well loved hands, either of life or death, as bolts upon the doors which held them from more spacious countries, holding them so securely because they could be so easily brushed away. It was people, people of the crowds, who saved her from a sense of isolation her own friends brought: for she was always certain that in the crowds was some one else who was wondering, longing, perhaps a courageous some one who was fighting.
Paris itself had fought, was fighting all the time. She loved it anew in the new sense of its hurts and its hopes. And always it had laughed. She felt kinship to it in that. Seeming so little caring, yet so deeply understanding. The laughter-loving city had paid stern price that its children might laugh. It seemed to her sometimes that one could love and hate Paris for every known reason, but in the end always love for the full measure it gave. She stood for a moment looking at the spire of Sainte Chapelle, slender as a fancy, yet standing out like a conviction; watching the people on the busses, the gesticulating crowds--blockades of emotion, the men on the Quai rummaging among the book-stalls for possible treasures left by men who had loved it long before, looking at the thanks in stone for yesterday's vision of to-morrow, and everywhere cabs--as words carrying ideas--breathlessly bearing eager people from one vivid point to another in the hurrying, highly-pitched, articulate city.
It interested her for a time, as things that were live always interested Katie. The city's streets had always been for her as waves which bore her joyously along. But after a time, perhaps just because she was so live, it made her unbearably lonely.
The things they might do together in Paris! The things to see--to talk about.
And still filled with her revolt against Clara's self-delusions, she asked of herself how much the demand of her spirit to soar was prompted by the hunger of her heart to love.
She could not say. She wondered how many of the world's people would be able to say. How many of the spacious countries would have been gained had men been fighting only for their philosophies, pushed only by the beating of wings that would soar. But did that make the distances less vast? Less to be desired? Though visioning be child of desiring--was the vision less splendid, and was not the desire ennobled?
Her speculations were of such nature as to make her hurry home to see whether there was American mail.
A certain letter which sometimes came to her was called "American mail." All the rest of the American mail which reached Paris was privileged to be classed with that letter.
Katie had come over in October with her Aunt Elizabeth, who felt the need of recuperation from the bitter blow of her son's marriage. Katie, too, felt the need of recuperation--she did not say from what, but from something that made her intolerant of her aunt's form of distress. Her aunt said that Katie was changing: growing unsympathetic, hard, unfeminine. She thought it was because she did not marry. It would soften her to care for some one, was the theory of her Aunt Elizabeth.
She had remained in order to be with Worth; and, too, because there seemed nothing to go back to. Mrs. Prescott had come over to be for a time with a niece who was studying music, and she and Katie were together. Now the older woman was beginning to talk of wanting to go back; she was getting letters from Harry which made her want to see him. The letters sounded as though he were in love again.
And Katie was getting letters herself, letters to make her want to see the writer thereof. They, too, sounded as if written by one in love. With things as regards Worth adjusted, Katie would be free to go with her friend, and she was homesick. At least that was the non-committal name she gave to something that was tugging at her heart.
But--go home to what? For what?
Her vision had not grown any clearer. It was only that the "homesickness" was growing more acute.
And that night's mail did not fill her with a yearning to become an expatriate.
In addition to the "American mail" there was a letter from Ann. That evening after Worth was asleep and Mrs. Prescott had gone to her room, Katie reread both letters, and a number of others, and thought about a number of things.
Wayne had undertaken the supervision of Ann. In his first letter, that unsatisfactory letter in which he gave so few details about finding Ann, he had said quite high-handedly that he was going to look after things himself. "I think, Katie," he wrote, "that with the best of intentions, your method was at fault. I can see how it all came about, but it is not the way to go on. It was too unreal. The time of make-believe is over. Ann is a real person and should work out her life in a real way, her own way, not following your fancyings. She must be helped until she gets stronger and more prepared. You've had the thing come too tragically to you to see it just right, so I'm going to step in and I want you to leave things to me."
So Wayne had "stepped in" and was lending Ann the money to study stenography. Katie had made a wry face over stenography, which did not have a dream-like or an Ann-like sound--but a very Wayne-like one!--but had entered no protest; at that time she had been too dumbly miserable to enter protest about anything.
Wayne seemed to her curt and rather unfeeling about the whole thing, insisting, somewhat indelicately, she thought, on the point that Ann be prepared to earn her own living and that there be no more nonsense about her. She hoped he was kinder with Ann than he sounded in his letters about her.
Ann was in New York. Wayne had said, and Katie agreed with him, that Chicago was not the place for her to start in anew. She had gone through too many hard things there. And Katie was glad for other reasons. With Wayne in Washington, she would have no more occasion to be in the middle-west and Ann would be too far away in Chicago.
But Katie was looking desperately homesick at that thought of having no more occasion to be in the middle-west.
The man who mended the boats was still out there, mending boats and finishing his play, which she knew now was to be about the army. One reason he had wanted to mend boats there was that he might know some of the men who worked in the shops at the Arsenal, interested in that relation of labor to militarism.
For two months Katie had heard nothing from him. In those first months he, too, seemed helpless before it, seemed to understand that Katie's feeling was a thing he could not hope to understand--much less, change.
Then there rose in him the impulse to fight, for her, against it all, stir her to fight.
"Katie," he wrote in that first letter, letter she was re-reading that night, "we have seen two sides of the same thing. Our two visions, experiences, have roused in us two very different emotions. Does that mean it must kill for us what we have said is the biggest emotion--experience--the greatest joy and brightest hope life has brought us?
"We're both bound by it. I by the hurt it's brought me, you by the happiness; I by the hate it roused, you by the love that lingers round it. Are we going to make no efforts to set ourselves free? Are we so much of the past that the institutions of the past and the experiences and prejudices of those institutions can shut us out from the future and from each other?
"Katie, you have the rich gift of the open mind. I don't believe that, lastingly, there's anything you'll shut out as impossible to consider. Your eyes say it, Katie--say they'll look at everything, and just as fairly as they can. Oh they're such honest, fearless, just eyes--so wise and so tender. And it was I--I who love them so--brought that awful look of hurt to those wonderful eyes. Katie--I want to spend all of my life keeping that hurt look from those dear eyes!
"You're asked to do a hard thing, dear Katie. It's cruel it should be you so hard a thing is asked of. Asked to look at a thing you see through the feeling of a lifetime as though seeing it for the first time. To look at all you've got to push aside things you regarded as fixed. I suppose every one has something that to him seems the things unshakable, something he finds it terrifying to think of moving. All your traditions, all your love and loyalty cling round this thing which it seems to you you can't have touched. But Katie, as you read these pages won't you try to think of things, not as you've been told they were, but just as they seem to you from what you read? Think of them, not in the old grooves, but just as it comes in to you as the story of a life?
"You'll try to do that for me, won't you, dear fair-minded, loving-spirited Katie?
"I was a country boy; lived on a farm, got lonesome, thought about things I had nobody to talk to about, read things and wanted more things to read, part the dreamer and part the great husky fellow wanting life, adventure, wanting to see things and know things--most of all, experience things. I want to tell you a lot about it sometime. I can't let go the idea that there is going to be a sometime. Just because there's so much to tell, if nothing else. And, Katie, isn't there something else?
"No way to begin the story of one's life!
"Then I went away from home. To see the world. Try my fortune. Experience. Adventure. That was the call.
"And the very first thing I fell in with that recruiting officer in the white suit. I can see just how that fellow looked. Get every intonation as he drew the glowing picture of life in the army.
"The army sounded good. The army was experience, adventure, with a vengeance. A life among men. A chance. He told me that an intelligent fellow like me would soon be an officer. Of course I agreed perfectly I was an intelligent fellow, impressed with army intelligence in picking me for one. Why I could see myself as commander-in-chief in no time!
"There's the cruelty of it, Katie. The expectation they rouse to get you--the contemptuous treatment after they've got you. The difference between the army of the 'Men Wanted For the Army' posters and the army those men find after those posters have done their work.
"Remember your telling me about visiting at Fort Riley when you were quite a youngster? The good time you had?--how gay it was? How charming your host was? As nearly as I can figure it out, I was there at the same time, filling the noble office of garbage man. Now, far be it from me, believing in the dignity of all labor, to despise the office of garbage man. I can think of conditions under which I would be quite happy to serve my country in that capacity. But having enlisted because of the noble figure of a soldier carrying a flag, I grew pretty sore at the 'Damn you, we've got you' manner in which I was ordered to carry things--well, not to be too indelicate let us merely say things less attractive than the flag.
"It's not having to peel potatoes and wash dishes; it's seeming to be despised for doing it that stirs in men's hearts the awful soreness that makes them deserters.
"In our regiment men were leaving right along. Our company had a particularly bad record on desertions. Our captain, a decent fellow, was away most of the time and the lieutenant in command was a cur. I'd find a more gentle word for him if I could, but I know none such. Army men talk a great deal about discipline. But there's a difference between discipline and bullying. This fellow couldn't issue an order without making you feel that difference.
"He had a laugh that was a sneer. It wasn't a laugh, just a smile; a smile that sneered. He couldn't pass a crowd of men cutting grass without making their hearts sore.
"I don't say he's the typical army man. I don't doubt that there are men high in the army who, if all were known, would despise him as much as the men in his company did. But I do say that if there were not a good many a good deal like him more than fifty thousand young men of America would not have deserted from the United States army in the past twelve years.
"There was a fellow in our company I had been particularly sorry for. He wasn't a bad sort at all; he was more dazed than anything else; didn't understand the army manner; the army snobbishness. This lieutenant couldn't look at him without making him sullen.
"One day he told him to do a loathsome thing, then stood there with that sneering smile watching him do it. Well, he did it, all right; that's what gets you, that powerlessness under what you know for injustice. But that night he left.
"I knew he was going. He wanted me to go with him. I don't know why I didn't. I don't blame men for deserting. But for my own part, it would only be two years more; I used to say to myself, 'You got into this. You'll see it through.'
"They caught him, brought him back the next day. I happened to be there at the time. So did our spick and span lieutenant. The man who had been caught--or boy, rather, for he was but that--was anything but spick and span. His clothes were torn and muddy, his face dirty and bloody--it had been scratched by something. He knew what he was in for. Court martial and imprisonment for desertion. We knew what that meant.
"He was a sorry, unsoldierly sight. Gone to pieces. Unnerved. All in. His chin was quivering. And then the little lieutenant came along, starting out for golf. He stood in front of him and looked him up and down--this boy who had been caught. Boy who would be imprisoned. And as he looked at him he laughed; or smiled rather, that smile that was a sneer.
"He stood there continuing to smile--torturing him with that smile he couldn't do a thing about--this boy who was down; this fellow who was all in. That was when I struck him in the face and knocked him down.
"The penalty for that, as I presume I need not tell an army girl, is death. 'Or such other punishment as a court martial may direct.'
"The thing directed in my case was imprisonment at Fort Leavenworth for five years. Most of the men in that prison would say, 'Give me death.'
"I'd better not say much about it. Something gets hot in my head when I begin to talk about it. If you were with me--your cooling hand, your steadying eyes--I could tell you about it. 'If you were with me'! I find that a very arresting phrase, Katie.
"Those were black years. Cruel years. Years to twist a man's soul. They took something from me that will not be mine again. I remember your telling how Ann said there were things to make perfect happiness forever impossible. She was right. There are hours that stay.
"I went into the army just an adventurous boy. I came from it an embittered man. My experience with it made me suspect all of life. I was more than unhappy. I was sullen. I hated--and I wanted to get even. Oh it was a lovely spirit in which I went forth a second time to meet the world.
"I don't know what might not have happened, I think I was right in line to become a criminal, like so many of the rest of them who have served time at Leavenworth--I don't suppose the United States has any finer school anywhere than its academy for criminals at Fort Leavenworth--had it not been for a man I met.
"I got a job in a garage. I had always been pretty good at mechanical things and knew a little about it. And there I met this man--and through him came salvation.
"I don't know, Katie, maybe socialism will not save the world. I don't see how it can miss it--but be that as it may, I know it has saved many a man's soul. I know it saved mine.
"This fellow--an older man with whom I worked--talked to me. He saw the state I was in, won my confidence and got my story. And then he began talking to me and gave me books. He got me to come to his house instead of the places I was going to, saying nothing against the other places, but just making his things so much more attractive. We used to talk and argue and gradually other things fell away just because there was no room for them.
"You know I had loved books--read all I could get--but didn't seem to get the right ones. Well, after I had served time breaking clay I didn't care anything about books--too sore, too dogged, too full of hate. But the love for the books came back, and through the books, and through this friend, came the splendid saving vision.
"Vision of what the world might be--world with the army left out, with all that the army represented to me vanished from the earth. With men not ruling and cursing other men; but working together--the world for all and all for the world. And the thing that saved me was that I saw there was something to work for--something to believe in--look at--think about--when old memories of the guard knocking me down with the butt of his gun would tear into my soul and bring me low with the hate they roused.
"And so I began again, Katie dear, that sense of things as they might be--that vision--taking some of the sting from what I had suffered from things as they were. I stopped hating and cursing; I began thinking and dreaming. There came the desire to know. I tore into books like a madman. I couldn't go on hating my fellow-men because I was too busy trying to find out about them. And so it happened that there were things more interesting to think about than the things I had suffered in the army; I was carried out of myself--and saved.
"I wish I could talk to some of those other fellows! Some of those boys who ran away from the army, not because they were criminals and cowards, but just because they didn't know what to make of things. I wish I could talk to some of those men who dug clay with me at Fort Leavenworth--men who went away cursing the government, loathing the flag, hating all men, and who have nothing to take them out of it. I wish I could take them up with me to the hill-top and say--'There! Don't look at the little pit down below! Look out! Look wide!'
"Katie--you aren't going to save men by putting them at back-breaking work under brutalized guards. You aren't going to redeem men by belittling them. You're going to save them by making them see. And the crime of our whole system of punishments is that it does all in its power, not to make them see, but to shut them out from seeing...."
In the letters which followed he told her other things, things he had done, the work he hoped to do, what he wanted to do with his life. Told it with the simplicity of sincerity, the fine seriousness untainted with the self-consciousness called modesty.
He believed he could work with men; things he had already done made him believe he could do more, bigger things. He wanted to help fight the battles of the people who worked; not with any soldier of fortune notion, but because he was one of those people, because he had suffered as one of those people, and believed he saw their way more clearly than the mass of them were seeing it.
And he wanted to write about men; had some reason for believing he could. He was hoping that his play would open the way to many other things; it looked as though it were going to be put on.
He told of his feeling for it. "More than a showing up and a getting even, though there is that. It will be no prancing steed and clanking saber picture of the army. More digging of clay than waving of the flag. I see significant things arising from that survival of autocracy in a democracy, an interesting study in the bitter things coming out of the relation of the forms and habits of a vanishing order to the aspirations and tendencies of a forming one. And in that bending of spirit to form, the army codes and standards making for the army habit of mind, the army snobbishness and narrowness. The things that shape men, until a given body of men have particular characteristics, particular limitations. You said that if you loved them for nothing else you would love army people for their hospitality. But in the higher sense of that beautiful word they are the least hospitable of people. Their latch string of the spirit is not out. Their minds are tight--fixed. They have not that openness of spirit and flexibility of mind that make for wider visioning.
"And it's not that they haven't, but why they haven't, brings one to the vein.
"Yes, I got the article you sent me, written by your army friend, eloquent over the splendid things war has done for the human race, the great things it has bred in us. Well if the 'war virtues' aren't killed by an armed peace, then I don't think we need worry much about ever losing them. It's the people at war for peace who are going to conserve and utilize for the future the strong and shining things which days of war have left us. Men who must base their great claim on what has been done in the past are not the men to shape the future--or even carry the heritage across the bridge. War is now a faithful servant of capitalism. Its glorious days are over. It's even a question whether it's longer valuable as a servant. It may lose its job before its master loses his. In any case, it goes with capitalism; and if the good old war virtues are to be saved out of the wreck it's the wreckers will save them!
"Which is not what I started out to say. This play into which I'm seeking to get the heart of what I've lived and thought and dreamed is not the impersonal thing this harangue might make it sound. I trust it's nothing so bloodless as a study of economic forces or picture of the relationship of old things to new. It's that only as that touches a man's life, means something to that life. It's about the army because this man happens, for a time, to be in the army--it's what the army does to him that's the thing.
"Though it seems to me a pretty dead thing in these days. Life itself is a dead thing with you gone from it."
In the letter she received that night he wrote: "Katie, is it going to spoil it for us? Can it? Need it? We who have come so close? Have so much? Are outlived things to push us apart? That seems too bitter!
"Oh don't think that I don't see. The things it would mean giving up. The wrench. And, for what?--your friends would say. At times I wonder how I can--ask it, hope for it. Then there lives for me again your wonderful face as it was when you lifted it to me that first time. You--and I grow bold again.
"I don't say you wouldn't suffer. I don't say there wouldn't be hurts, big hurts brought by the little things arising from lives differently lived. I know there would be times of longing for things gone. For the sunny paths. For it couldn't be all sunny paths with me, Katie. Those years in the dark will always throw their shadow.
"Then, how dare I? Loving you--laughing, splendid you--how can I?
"Because I believe that you love me. Remembering that light in your eyes, knowing you, I dare believe that the hurts would be less than the hurt of being spared those hurts.
"I can hear your friends denouncing me. Hear their withering arguments, and I'll own that at times they do wither. But, Katie, I just can't seem to stay withered!
"You're such an upsetting person, dear Katie. To both heart and philosophy. It's not possible to hate a world that Katie's in. World that didn't spoil Katie. And if there are many of the you--oh no other real you!--but many who, awakened, can fight as you can fight and love as you can love--wouldn't it be a joke on us revolutionists if we were cheated out of our revolution just by the love in the hearts of the Katies?
"Well, nobody would be so happy in that joke as would the defrauded revolutionists!
"You make me wonder, Katie, if perhaps it isn't less the vision than the visioning. Less the thing seen than that thing of striving to see. Make me feel the narrowness in scorning the trying to see just because not agreeing with the thing seen. Sometimes I have a new vision of the world. Vision of a world visioning. Of the vision counting less than the visioning.
"Those moments of glow bear me to you. Persuade me that our visions must be visioned together.
"Life's all empty without you. The radiance is not there. In these days light comes only through dreams, and so I dream dreams and see visions.
"Dreams of us--visions of the years we'd meet together. And you are not bowed and broken in those visions, Katie. You're very strong and buoyant--and always eager for life--and always tender. No, not always tender. Sometimes fighting! Telling me I don't know what I'm talking about. It's a splendid picture of Katie fighting--eyes shining, cheeks red.
"And then at the very height of her scorn, Katie happens to think of something funny. And she says the something funny in her inimitable way. Then she laughs, and after her laugh she's tender again, and says she loves me, though still maintaining I didn't know what I was talking about!
"And in the visions there are times when Katie is very quiet. So still. Hushed by the wonder of love. Then Katie's laughing eyes are deep with mystery, Katie's face seems melted to pure love, and from it shines the light that makes life noble.
"In these days of a fathomless loneliness I dare not look long upon that vision.
"Do you ever hear a call, dear heart? A call to a freer country than any country you have known? Call to a country where the things which bind you could bind no more? And if in fancy you sometimes let yourself drift into that other country, am I with you there? Do you ever have a picture of our venturing together into the unknown ways--daring--suffering--rejoicing--growing? Sometimes sunshine and sometimes storm--but always open country and everwidening sky-line. Oh Katie--how splendid it might be!"
She read and re-read it, dreaming and picturing. And at length there settled upon her that stillness, that pause before life's wonder and mystery. Her eyes were deep. The light that makes life noble glorified her tender face.
She broke from it at last to look for a card they had there giving dates of sailings.