The next morning Katie did something which it had been in her mind to do for some time. She went to Centralia.
It was not that she expected Centralia to furnish any information about Ann. It was hard to say just why she was so certain Ann had not gone back to Centralia. The conviction had something to do with her belief in Ann.
Centralia, however, might be an avenue to something. Furthermore, she wanted to see Centralia. That was part of her passion for seeing the thing as a whole, realizing it. And she had a suspicion that if anything remained to forgive Ann it would be forgiven after seeing Centralia.
And back of all that lurked the longing to tell Ann's father what she thought of him.
Katie was in a strange mood that day. She had read Ann's letter many times, but had never finished it with that poignantly personal heartache of the night before. It was as if she were not worthy that new thing which kept warm in her own heart. For she had been hostile to the very thing from which the warmth in her own heart drew. The sadness deepened in the thought that the great hosts of the world's people sheltered joy in their own hearts and hardened those very hearts against all to whom love came less fortunately than it had come to them. How could there be 'hope for the world, no matter what it might do about its material affairs, while heart closed against heart like that, while men and women drew their own portions of joy and shut themselves in with them, refusing to see that they were one with all who drew, or would draw. It seemed the most cruel, the most wrong thing of all the world that men—and above all, women—should turn their most unloving face upon the face of love.
Of which things she thought again as she passed various Centralias and wondered if there were Anns longing for love in all those unlovely places.
She came at last, after crossing a long stretch of nothingness, to the town where Ann had lived, town from which she had gone forth to hear grand opera and find the loveliness of life. But as she stepped from the train and approached a group of men lounging at the station it came to her that "Ann's father," particularly as Ann had not been Ann in Centralia, was a somewhat indefinite person to be inquiring for.
After a moment's consideration she approached the man who looked newest to his profession and asked how many churches there were in Centralia. Thereupon one man beat open retreat and all viewed her with suspicion. But the man of her choice was a brave man and ventured to guess that there were four.
One of his comrades held that there were five. A discussion ensued closing with the consensus of opinion in favor of the greater number.
Then Katie explained her predicament; she wanted to find a man who was a minister in Centralia and she didn't know his name. Reassured, they gathered round interestedly. Was he young or old? Katie cautiously placed him in the forties or fifties. Then they guessed and reckoned that it couldn't be either the Reverend Lewis or that new fellow at the Baptist. Was he—would she say he was one to be kind of easy on a fellow, or did she think he took his religion pretty hard?
Katie was forced to admit that she feared he took it hard. With that they were agreed to a man that it must be the Reverend Saunders.
She was thereupon directed to the residence of the Reverend Saunders. Right down there was a restaurant with a sign in the window "Don't Pass By." But she was to pass by. Then there was the church said "Welcome." No, that was not the Reverend Saunders' church. It was the church where she turned to the right. She could turn to the left, but, on the whole, it would be better to turn to the right—It would all have been quite simple had it not been for the fullness of the directions.
She took it that the fullness of their directions was in proportion to the emptiness of their lives.
As she walked slowly along she appreciated what Ann had said of the town's being walled in by nothingness—the people walled in by nothingness. Her two blocks on "Main Street" showed her Centralia as a place of petty righteousness and petty vice. There was nothing so large and flexible as the real joys of either righteousness or unrighteousness.
Nor was Centralia picturesquely desolate. It had not that quality of hopelessness which lures to melancholy. New houses were going up. The last straw was that Centralia was "growing."
And it was on those streets that a lonely little girl with deep brown eyes and soft brown hair had dreamed of a Something Somewhere.
As she turned in at the residence of the Reverend Saunders Katie was newly certain that Ann had not come back to Centralia. It seemed the one disappointment in Ann she was not prepared to bear would be to find that she had returned to the home of her youth.
Katie had been shown into the parlor. She was sitting in a rocking chair which "squeaked"—her smartly shod foot resting on a pale blue rose—the pale blue rose being in the carpet. The carpet also squeaked—or the papers underneath it did. On the table beside her was a large and ornate Bible, an equally splendid album, and something called "Stepping Heavenward."
Oh no—Ann had not come back. She knew that before she asked.
Ann's father was a tall, thin man with small gray eyes. "Thin lips that shut together tight"—she recalled that. And the kind of beard that is unalterably associated with self-righteousness.
It was clear he did not know what to make of Katie. She was wearing a linen suit which had vague suggestions of the world, the flesh, and the devil. She had selected it that morning with considerable care. Likewise the shoes! And the angle of the quill in Katie's hat stirred in him the same suspicion and aggression which his beard stirred in her.
Thus viewing each other across seas of prejudice, separated, as it were, by all the experiences of the human race, they began to speak of Ann and of life.
"I am a friend of your daughter's," was Katie's opening.
It startled him, stirring something on the borderland of the human. Then he surveyed Katie anew and shut his lips together more tightly. It was evidently just what he had expected his daughter to come to.
"And I came," said Katie, "to ask if you had any idea where she was."
That reached even farther into the border-country. He sat forward—his lips relaxed. "Don't you know?"
"No—I don't know. She was living with me, and she went away."
That recalled his own injury. He sat back and folded his arms. "She was living with me—and she went away. No, I know nothing of her whereabouts. My daughter saw fit to leave her father's house—under circumstances that bowed his head in shame. She has not seen fit to return, or to give information of her whereabouts. I have tried to serve my God all my days," said the Reverend Saunders; "I do not know why this should have been visited upon me. But His ways are inscrutable. His purpose is not revealed."
"No," said Katie crisply, "I should say not."
He expressed his condemnation of the relation of manner to subject by a compression of both eyes and lips. That, Katie supposed, was the way he had looked when he told Ann her dog had been sent away.
"Did you ever wonder," she asked, with real curiosity, "how in the world you happened to have such a daughter?"
"I have many times taken it up in prayer," was his response.
Katie sat there viewing him and looking above his head at the motto "God
Is Love." She wondered if Ann had had to work it.
It was the suggestion in the motto led her to ask: "Tell me, have you really no idea, have you never had so much as a suspicion of why Ann went away?"
"Who?" he asked sharply.
"Your daughter. Her friends call her Ann."
"Her name," said he uncompromisingly, "is Maria."
Katie smiled slightly. Maria, as he uttered it, squeaked distressingly.
"Be that as it may. But have you really no notion of why she went away?"
She was looking at him keenly. After a moment his eyes fell, or rather, lifted under the look. "She had a good home—a God-fearing home," he said.
But Katie did not let go her look. He had to come back to it, and he shifted. Did he have it in him remotely, unavowedly, to suspect?
It would seem so, for he continued his argument, as if meeting something. He repeated that she had a good home. He enumerated her blessings.
But when he paused it was to find Katie looking at him in just the same way. It forced him to an unwilling, uneasy: "What more could a girl want?"
"What she wanted," said Katie passionately, "was life."
The word spoken as Katie spoke it had suggestion of unholy things. "But
God is life," he said.
Suddenly Katie's eyes blazed. "God! Well it's my opinion that you know just as little about Him as you do about 'life.'"
It was doubtless the most dumbfounded moment of the Reverend Saunders' life. His jaw dropped. But only to come together the tighter. "Young woman," said he, "I am a servant of God. I have served Him all my days."
"Heaven pity Him!" said Katie, and rocked and her chair squeaked savagely.
He rose. "I cannot permit such language to be used in my house."
Katie gave no heed. "I'll tell you why your daughter left. She left because you starved her.
"Above your head is a motto. The motto says, 'God Is Love.' I could almost fancy somebody hung that in this house as a joke!
"You see you don't know anything about love. That's why you don't know anything about God—or life—or Ann.
"In this universe of mysterious things," Katie went on, "it so happened—as you have remarked, God's ways are indeed inscrutable—that unto you was born a child ordained for love."
She paused, held herself by the mystery of that.
And as she contemplated the mystery of it her wrath against him fell strangely away. Telling him what she thought of him suddenly ceased to be the satisfying thing she had anticipated. It was all too mysterious.
It grew so large and so strange that it did not seem a matter the Reverend Saunders had much to do with it. Telling him what she thought of him was not the thing interesting her then. What interested her was wondering why he was as he was. How it had all happened. What it all meant.
Her wondering almost drew her to him; certainly it gave her a new approach. "Oh isn't it a pity!" was what Katie said next. And there was pain and feeling and almost sympathy in her voice as she repeated, "Isn't it a pity!"
He, too, spoke differently—more humanly. "Isn't—what a pity?"
"That we bungle it so! That we don't seem to know anything about each other.
"Why I suppose you didn't know—you simply didn't have it in you to know—that the way she needed to serve God was by laughing and dancing!"
He was both outraged and drawn. He neither rebuked nor agreed. He waited.
"You see it was this way. You were one thing; she was another thing. And neither of you had any way of getting at the thing that the other was. So you just grew more intolerant in the things you were, and that, I suppose, is the way hearts are broken and lives are spoiled."
Her eyes had filled. It had drawn her back to her mood of the morning. "Doesn't it seem to you," she asked gently of the Reverend Saunders, "that it's just an awful pity?"
The Reverend Saunders did not reply. But he was not looking at Katie's quill or Katie's shoes. He was looking at Katie's wet eyes.
And Katie, as they sat there for a moment in silence, was not seeing him alone as the Reverend Saunders. She was seeing him as product of something which had begun way back across the centuries, seeing far back of the Reverend Saunders that spirit of intolerance which had shaped him—wrung him dry—spirit which in the very beginning had lost the meaning of those words which hung above the Reverend Saunders' head.
It seemed a childish thing to be blaming the Reverend Saunders for the things the centuries had made him.
Indeed, she no longer felt like "blaming" any one. Sorrow which comes through seeing leaves small room for blame.
Katie did not know as much about the history of mankind as she now wished she did—as she meant to know!—but there did open to her a glimpse of the havoc wrought by the forerunners of the Reverend Saunders—of all the children of love blighted in the name of a God of love.
She had risen. And as she looked at him again she was sorry for him. Sterility of the heart seemed a thing for pity rather than scorn. "I'm sorry for you," she spoke it. "Oh I'm sorry for us all! We all bungle it! We're all in the grip of dead things, aren't we? Do you suppose it will ever be any different?"
And still he looked, not at the quill or the shoes, but the eyes, eyes which seemed sorrowing with all the love sorrows of the centuries. "Young woman," he said uncertainly, "you puzzle me."
"I puzzle myself," said Katie, and wiped her eyes and laughed a little, thinking of the scornful exit she had meant to make after telling him what she thought of him.
She retraced her steps and waited for two hours at the station, reconstructing for herself Ann's girlhood in Centralia and thinking larger thoughts of the things which spoiled girlhoods, the pity of it all. And it seemed that even self-righteousness was not wholly to blame. Katie felt a little lonely in losing her scorn of "goodness." She had so enjoyed hating the godly. If even they were to be gently grouped with the wicked as more to be pitied than hated, then whom would one hate?
Did knowing—seeing—spoil hating? And was all hating to go when all men saw?
At the last minute she had a fight with herself to keep from going back and refunding the missionary money! The missionary money worried Katie. She wanted it paid back. But she saw that it was not her paying it back would satisfy her. She even felt that she had no right to pay it back.
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