The Visioning by Susan Glaspell
"Nora," said Katie next morning, "Miss Forrest has had a great misfortune."
Nora paused in her dusting, all ready with the emotion which Katie's tone invited.
"She has lost all of her luggage!"
"The poor young lady!" cried good Nora.
"Yes, it is really terrible, isn't it? Everything lost; through the carelessness of the railroads, you know. And such beautiful gowns as they were. So--so unusual. Poor Miss Ann was forced to arrive in a dress most unsuited to traveling, and is now quite--oh quite--destitute."
Nora held her head with both hands, speechless.
"Didn't you tell me, Nora, that your cousin's wife was very clever at sewing--at fixing things over?"
"Yes, yes, Miss Kate--yes'm."
"I wonder, Nora, would she come and help us?"
"She would be that glad, Miss Kate. She--"
"You see, Miss Ann is not very well. She--poor Miss Ann, I hope you will be very kind to her. She is an orphan, like you, Nora."
Nora wiped both eyes.
"And just now it would be too dreadful for her to have to see about a lot of things. So I think, temporarily, we could arrange some of my things; let them down a little, and perhaps take them in--Miss Ann is a little taller and a little slimmer than I. Could you send for your cousin's wife to help us, Nora?"
Profusely, o'erflowingly, Nora affirmed that this would be possible.
When Captain Jones came in from the shops for luncheon it was to find his sister installed in the hall, one of those roomy halls adapted to all purposes of living, some white and pink and blue things strewn around her, doing something with a scissors. Just what she was doing seemed to concern him very little, for he sat down at a table near her, pulled out some blue prints, and began studying them. "Thank heaven for the saving qualities of firearms," mused Katherine, industriously letting out a tuck.
But luncheon seemed to suggest the social side of life, for after they were seated he asked: "Oh yes, by the way, where's Miss--"
"Ann is still sleeping," replied Kate easily.
"She must be a good sleeper," ventured Wayne.
"Ann is tired, Wayne," she said with reproving dignity, "and as I have already told you several times without seeming to reach through the bullets on your brain, not well. She is here for a rest. She may not come down for several days."
"Not what one would call a hilarious guest," he commented.
"No, less hilarious than Zelda Fraser." Katie spitefully mentioned a former guest whom Wayne had particularly detested.
He laughed. "Well, who is she? What did you say her name was?"
"Oh Wayne," she sighed long-sufferingly, "again--once again--let me tell you that her name is Forrest."
"'Um, I don't believe you know Ann's people."
"Not the Major Forrest family?"
"No, not that family; not army people at all."
"Well, what people? I can't seem to place her."
"Ann is of--artistic people. Her father was a great artist. That is, he would have been a great artist had he not died when he was very young."
"Rather an assumption, isn't it, that a man would have--"
"Why not at all, if he has done enough during his brief lifetime to warrant the assumption."
"Is her mother living?"
"Oh no," said Katie irritably, "certainly not. Her mother has been dead--five years." Then, looking into the dreamy distance and drawing it out as though she loved it: "Her mother was a great musician."
"I shan't like her," announced Wayne decisively; "she is probably exotic and self-conscious and supercilious, and not at all a comfortable person to have about. It's bad enough for her father to have been a great artist--without her mother needs having been a great musician."
"She is simple and sweet and very shy," reproved Kate. "So shy that she will doubtless be painfully embarrassed at meeting you, and seem--well, really ill at ease."
"That will be an odd spectacle--a young woman of to-day 'painfully embarrassed' at meeting a man. I never saw any of them very ill at ease, save when there were no men about."
"Ann's experiences have not all been happy ones, Wayne," said Katie in the manner of the deeply understanding to one of lesser comprehension.
"I hope she'll go on sleeping. A young woman of artistic people--painfully embarrassed--unhappy experiences--it doesn't sound at all comfortable to me."
But a little later he said: "Prescott seems to think that Daisey-Maisey company not bad. If you girls would like to go we'll telephone for seats."
Katie paused in the eating of a peach. "Thank you, Wayne, but I have an idea--just a vague sort of idea--that Ann would not care especially for that."
"She's probably right," said Wayne, returning with relief to the blue prints.
Katie's sporting blood was up. Ann was to be Ann. Never in her life had she been so fascinated with anything as with this creation of an Ann.
"I have prepared a place for her," she mused, over the untucking of the softest of rose pink muslins. "I have prepared for her a family and a temperament and a sorrow and all that a young woman could most desire. From out the nothing a conscious something I have evoked. It would be most ungracious--ungrateful--of Ann to refuse to be what I made her. I invented her. By all laws of decency, she must be Ann. Indeed, she is Ann."
And Katie was truly beginning to think so. Katie's imagination coquetted successfully with conviction.
Ann, or more accurately the idea of Ann, fascinated her. Never before had she known any one all unencumbered, unbound, by facts. Most people were rendered commonplace by the commonplace things one knew about them. But Ann was as interesting as one's brain could make her. Anything one choose to think--or say--about Ann could just as well as not be true. It swept one all unchained out into a virgin land of fancy.
There was but one question. Could Ann keep within hailing distance of one's imagination? Did Ann have it in her to live up to the things one wished to believe about her? Was she capable of taking unto herself the past and temperament with which one would graciously endow her? Katie's sense of justice forced from her the admission that it was expecting a good deal of Ann. She could see that nothing would be more bootless than thrusting traditions upon people who would not know what to do with them. But something about Ann encouraged one to believe she could fit into a background prepared for her. And if she could--would--! The prospect lured--excited. It was as inexplicably intoxicating as a grimace at the preacher--a wink at the professor. It seemed to be saucily tweaking the ear of that insufferably solemn Things-as-They-Are goddess.
There was in her eyes the light of battle when Nora finally came to tell her that Miss Forrest was awake.
But it changed to another light at sight of the girl sitting up in bed so bewilderedly, turning upon her eyes which seemed to say--"And what are you going to do with me now?"
Fighting down the lump in her throat Katie seized briskly upon that look of inquiry. "What she needs now," she decided, "is not tears, but a high hand."
"Next thing on the program," she began, buoyantly raising the shades and throwing the windows wide, "is air. You're a good patient, for you do as you're told. It's been a fine sleep, hasn't it? And now I mean to get you into some clothes and take you out for a drive."
The girl shrank down in the pillows, pulling the covers clear to her chin, as if to shut herself in. She did not speak, but shook her head.
But Katie rode right over that look of pain and fear in her eyes, refusing to emphasize it by recognition.
She left the room and returned after a moment with a white flannel suit which she spread out on the bed. "This is not a bad looking suit, is it? Your dress is scarcely warm enough for driving, so I want you to wear this. I told Nora that your luggage was lost. It may be just as well for you to know, from time to time, what I'm telling about you. I have an idea this suit will be very becoming to you. It came from Paris. I presume I'm rather foolish about things from Paris, but they always seem to me to have brought a little life and gayety along. There's a dear little white hat and stunning automobile veil goes with this suit. I can scarcely wait to see how pretty you're going to look in it all."
For answer the girl turned to the wall, hid her face in the pillows, and sobbed.
Kate laid a hand upon her hair--soft, fine brown hair with tempting little waves and gleams in it. There came to her a hideous vision of how that hair might have looked by this time had she not--by the merest chance--
It gave her a feeling of proprietary tenderness for the girl. It seemed indeed that this life was in her hands--for was it not her hands had kept it a life?
"Please," she murmured gently, persuasively, as the sobs grew wilder.
Suddenly the girl raised her head and turned upon Katie passionately. "What do you mean? What is this all about? I know well enough that people are not like this! This is not the way the world is!"
"Not like what?" Kate asked quietly.
"Doing things for people they don't have to do things for! Taking people into their houses and giving them things--their best things!--treating them as if there was some reason for treating them like that! I never heard of such a thing. What are you doing it for?"
Katie sat there smiling at her calmly. "Do you want to know the honest truth?"
The girl nodded, looking at her with anticipatory defiance, but that defiance which could so easily crumble to despair.
"Very well then," she began lightly, "here goes. I don't know that it will sound very well, but it has the doubtful virtue of being true. The first reason is that it interests me; perhaps I should even say--amuses me. I always did like new things--queer things--surprises--things different. And the other reason is that I've taken a sure enough liking to you."
She had drawn back at the first reason; but the bluntness of the first must have conveyed a sense of honesty in the second, for like the child who has been told something nice, a smile was faintly suggested beneath the tears.
"Would you like to hear my favorite quotation from Scripture?" Kate wanted to know.
At thought of Katie's having a favorite quotation the smile grew a little more defined.
"My favorite quotation is this: 'Take no thought for the morrow.' Perhaps it ends in a way that spoils it; I would never read the rest of it, fearing it would ruin itself, but taking just so much and no more--and it certainly is your privilege to do that if you wish--if all of a thing is good for you, part of it must be somewhat good--it does make the most comfortable philosophy of life I know of. It's a great solace to me. Now when I am seventy, I don't doubt I will have lost my teeth. Losing one's teeth is such a distressing thing that I could sit here and weep bitterly for mine were it not for the sustaining power of my favorite quotation. Why don't you adopt it for your favorite, too? And, taking no thought for the morrow, is there any reason in the world why you shouldn't go out now and have a beautiful drive? Going for a drive doesn't commit one to any philosophy of life, or line of action, does it? And whatever you do, don't ever refuse nice things because you can't see the reason for people's doing them. I shudder to think how much--or better, how little fun I would have had in life had I first been compelled to satisfy myself I was entitled to it. We're entitled to nothing--most of us; that's all the more reason for taking all we can get. But come now! Here are some fresh things--yours seem a bit dusty."
In such wise she rambled on as a bewildered but unresisting girl surrendered herself to her wiles and hands.
When Katie returned from a call to the telephone it was to find Ann rubbing her hand over a pretty ankle adorned with the most silky of silken hose. "Likes them," Katie made of it, at sight of the down-turned face; "always wanted them--maybe never had them. Moral--If you want people to believe in you, give them something they don't need, but would like to have."
She did her hair for her, chatting all the while about ways of doing hair, exclaiming about the beauty of Ann's and planning things she was going to do with it. "Were I as proud of all my works as I am of this, I might be a more self-respecting person," she said, finally passing Ann the hand mirror as if the girl's one concern in life was to see whether she approved of the plaiting of those soft glossy braids.
And unmistakably she did approve. "It does look nice this way, doesn't it?" she agreed, looking up at Katie with a shy eagerness.
When at last Ann had been made ready, when Katie had slipped on the long loosely fitted white coat, had adjusted the big veil with just the right touch of sophisticated carelessness, as she surveyed the work of her hands her excitement could with difficulty contain itself. "She is Ann," she gloated. "Her father was a great artist. Her mother simply couldn't be anything but a great musician. And she's lived all her life in--Italy, I think it is. Oh--I know! She's from Florence. Why she couldn't be any place but from Florence--and she doesn't know anything about bridge and scandal and pay and promotion--but she knows all about dreaming dreams and seeing visions. She's lived a life apart--aloof--looking at great pictures and hearing great music. Of course, she's a little shy with us--she doesn't understand our roistering ways--that's part of her being Ann."
But when she came back after getting her own things, Ann had gone. The girl in white was still sitting there in the chair, but she was not at all Ann. Things not from Florence, other things than dreams and visions and great pictures and music had taken hold of her. Frightened and disorganized again, she was huddled in the chair, and as Katie stood in the doorway she said not a word, but shook her head, and the eyes told all.
Katie bent over the chair. "It's all 'up to me,'" she said quietly. "Don't you see that it is? You haven't a thing in the world to do but follow my lead. Won't you trust me enough to know that you will not be asked to do anything that would be too hard? Believe in me enough to feel I will put through anything I begin? Isn't it rather--oh, unthrifty, to let pasts and futures spoil presents? Some time soon we may want to talk of the future, but just now there's only the present. And not a very terrifying present. Nothing more fearful than winding in and out of the wooded roads of this beautiful place--listening to birds and--but come--" changing briskly to the practical and helping her rise as though dismissing the question--"I hear our horse."
"I see Miss Jones has got some of her swell friends visitin' her," a soldier who was cutting grass remarked to a comrade newer to the service. "Great swell--they tell me Miss Jones is. They say she's it in Washington all right--way ahead of some that outranks her. Got outside money--their own money. Handy, ain't it?" he laughed. "Though it ain't just the money, either. Her mother was--well, somebody big--don't just recollect the name. Friendly, Miss Jones is. Not like some, afraid you're going to forget your place the minute she has a civil word with you. That one with her is some swell from Washington or New York. You can tell that by the looks of her, all right. Lord, don't they have it easy though?"