The Visioning

by Susan Glaspell

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Chapter XXVII

But they did not get her back. July had passed, and August, and most of
September, and they had not found Ann.

Heaven and earth were not so easily moved.

Katie had tried, and the man who mended the boats had tried, and Wayne, but to no avail.

There had come the one letter from her—letter seeking to save "Ann" for Katie. It was a key to Ann, but no key to her whereabouts save that it was postmarked Chicago.

Those last three months had impressed Katie with the tragic indefiniteness of the Chicago postmark.

She had spent the greater part of the summer there, at a quiet little hotel on the North Side, where she was nominally one of a party of army women. That was the olive branch to her Aunt Elizabeth on the chaperone question. For her own part, she had seen too many unchaperoned girls in Chicago that summer to care whether she was chaperoned or not.

Her army friends thought Katie interested in some work which she did not care to talk about. They thought it interesting, though foolhardy to let it bring those lines. Katie was not a beauty, they said among themselves, and could not afford lines. Her charm had always been her freshness, her buoyancy and her blitheness. Now if she lost that—

Wayne had been there from time to time. It was but a few hours' ride from the Arsenal, and his detail to his individual work gave him considerable liberty.

He, too, had more "lines" in September than he had had in June. That they attributed to his "strenuousness" in his work, and thought it to be deplored. After all, the department might throw him down—who knew what it might not do?—and then what would have been the use? For a man who did not have to live on his pay, Captain Jones was looked upon as unnecessarily serious.

But Katie suspected that it was not alone devotion to military science had traced those lines. It surprised her a little that they should have come, but to Katie herself it was so vital and so tragic a thing that it was not difficult to accept the fact of its marking any one who came close to it. After that night at the dance there had several times stirred a vague uneasiness, calling out the thought that it was a good thing Wayne was, as she loosely thought it, immune. But even that uneasiness was lost now in sterner things.

She had never gone into her reasons for looking upon her brother as "immune." It was an idea fixed in her mind by her association with his unhappiness with Clara. Knowing how much he had given, she thought of him as having given all. Her sense of the depth of his hurt had unanalyzed associations with finality, associations intrenched by Wayne's growing "queerness."

It could not be said, however, that that queerness had stood in the way of his doing all he could. Some of the best suggestions had come from him. And Katie had reasons for suspecting he had done some searching of his own which he did not report to her.

She knew that he was worried about her, though he understood too well to ask her to give up and turn back to her own life.

Her gratitude to Wayne for that very understanding made her regret the more her inability to be frank with him about the man who mended the boats. She had had to tell him at first that he was helping, but Wayne had seemed to think it so strange, had appeared so little pleased with the idea, that she had not seen it as possible to make a clean breast of it. She told him that she had talked with him about Ann—that was because he had seen her, knew more about it than she did. And that she had talked with him again the day Ann left, thinking he might have seen her. That Wayne had not liked. "You should have sent for me," he said. "Never take outsiders into your confidence in intimate matters like that."

And what she had not found it possible to try to make clear to him was that the man who mended the boats seemed to her anything but an outsider.

And if he had not seemed so in those days of early summer, he seemed infinitely less so now. She talked with him of things of which she could not talk with anyone else. In those talks it was all the rest of the people of the world who were the outsiders.

He had been there several times during the summer. Katie knew now that he did not mean to spend all his life mending boats. He was writing a play; it was things in relation to that brought him to Chicago. Katie wanted to know about the play, but when she asked he told her, rather shortly, that he did not believe she would like it. He qualified it with saying he did not know that anyone would like it.

When he was there he went about with her as she looked for Ann.

Every day she pursued her search, now in this way, now in that. That search brought her a vision of the city she would have had in no other way. It was that vision, revealed, interpreted, by her anxiety for Ann brought the sleepless nights and the ceaseless imagery and imaginings which caused her army friends to wish that dear Katie would marry before she, as they more feelingly than lucidly put it, lost out that way.

She thought sometimes of Ann's moving picture show, showing her the things of which she had dreamed. All this, things seen in her search, had become to Katie as a moving picture show. It moved before her awake and asleep; "called" to her.

She would stand outside the stores as the girls were coming out at night. Stores, factories, all places where girls worked she watched that way. By the hundreds, thousands, she saw them filling the city's streets as through the long summer one hot day after another drew to a close. Often she would crowd into the street cars they were crowding into, rush with them for the elevated trains, or follow them across the river and see them disappear into boarding-house and rooming-house, those hot, crowded places waiting to receive them after the hot, crowded day. Sometimes she would go for lunch to the places she saw them going to—always searching, and as she searched, wondering, and as she wondered, sorrowing.

She came to know of many things: of "dates"—vulgar enough affairs many of them appeared to be. But she no longer dismissed them with that. She always wondered now if the sordid-looking adventure might not be at heart the divine adventure. Things which she would at one time have called "common" and turned from as such she brooded over now as sorry expression of a noble thing. And then she would go home to her friends at night and sometimes they would seem the moving-picture show—their pleasures and standards—the whole of their lives. And she sorrowed that where there was setting for loveliness the setting itself should so many times absorb it all, and that out on the city's streets that tender fluttering of life for life, divine yearning for joy that joy might give again to life, should find so many paths to that abyss where joy could be not and where the life of life must go. There were days which showed all too brutally that many were "called" and few were saved.

Thus had she passed the summer, and thus it happened that she did not have in September all the freshness and the gladness that had been her charm in May.

Though to the man waiting for her that afternoon she had another and a finer charm. Life had taken something from her, but she had wrested something from life.

"I could have had a job," she said, and smiled.

But the smile was soon engulfed. "And there was a girl who needed it, she told me how she was 'up against it,' and through some caprice she didn't get it. Needing it doesn't seem to make a bit of difference. If anything, it works the other way."

She had read in the paper that morning that the chorus was to be "tried out" for a new musical comedy. Thinking that Ann, too, might have read that in the paper, she went.

She had been seeing something of chorus girls as well as shop girls. She went to all the musical comedies and sat far front and kept her glasses on the chorus. More than once she had stood near stage doors as they were coming out. Seeing them so, they were not a group of chorus girls; they were a number of individuals, any one of whom might be Ann, more than one of whom might be fighting the things Ann had fought, seeking the things Ann had sought. It was that about the city that got her. It was a city full of individuals, none of whom were to be dismissed as just this, or exactly that. She challenged all groupings, those groupings which seemed formed by the accidents of life and so often made for the tragedy of life.

She was talking to him about chorus girls; announcing her discovery that they were just girls in the chorus. "I was once asked to define army people," she laughed, "and said that they were people who entered the army—either martially or maritally. Now I find that chorus girls are girls who enter the chorus. Even their vocabularies can't disguise them, and if that can't—what could?

"Though there are different kinds of chorus girls," she reflected. "Some wanted to be somewhere else. Some hope to be somewhere else. And some swaggeringly make it plain that they wouldn't be anywhere else if they could. I'd hate to have to say which kind is the most sad."

"Katie," he said—he never spoke her name save in that timid, lingering way—"don't you think you're rather over-emphasizing the sadness?"

Two girls passed them, laughing boisterously. "Perhaps so. I suppose I am. And yet nothing seems to me sadder than some of the people who would be astonished at suggesting sadness."

That afternoon they were going to the telephone office. Katie had been there early in the summer, to the central office and all the exchanges, but wanted to go again. And Mann said he would like to go with her and see what the thing looked like.

The officials were cordial to them at the telephone office, seeming pleased to exhibit and explain. And it seemed that with their rest rooms and recreation rooms, their various things to contribute to comfort and pleasure, their pride was justified.

But when they were in the immense room where several hundred girls were sitting before the boards, rest rooms and recreation rooms did not seem to reach. They walked behind a long row, their guide proudly calling attention to the fact that not one of those girls turned her head to look at them. He called it discipline—concentration. Katie, looking at the tense faces, was thinking of the price paid for that discipline. Many of the girls were very young, some not more than sixteen. They preferred taking them young, said the guide; they were easier to break in if they had never done anything else.

There was not the shadow of a doubt that they were being "broken in." So clearly was that demonstrated that Katie wondered what there would be left for them to be broken in to after they had been thoroughly broken in to that. Walking slowly behind them, looking at every girl as a possible Ann, she wondered what they would have left for a Something Somewhere. She remembered the woman who wore the white furs saying it "got on her nerves" and wondered what kind of nerves they would be it wouldn't "get on." The thing itself seemed a mammoth nervous system, feeding on other nervous systems, lesser sacrificed to greater.

Her fancy reached out to all the things that at that instant were going through those cords. Plans were being made for dinner, for motoring that evening, for many pleasant, restful things. Many little red lights, with many possible invitations, were insistently dancing before tired eyes just then. They seemed endless—those demands of life—demands of life before which other demands of life were slowly going down.

She and Mann were alone for the minute. "And yet," she turned to him, after following his glance to a girl's tense, white face, "what can they do? The company, I mean. One must be fair. They pay better than most things pay, seem more interested in the girls. What more can we ask?"

"Well, what would you think," he suggested, "of 'asking' for a system more interested in conserving nervous systems than in producing millionaires?

"Why, yes," he added, "in view of the fact that it has to make a few men rich, perhaps they are doing all they can. I don't doubt that they think they are. But if this were a thing that didn't have to produce wealth—then it wouldn't need to endanger health. Don't you think that in this nerve-blighting work four or five hours, instead of eight, would be a pretty good day's work for girls just out of short clothes?"

"It would seem so," sighed Katie, as she left the room filled with girls answering calls—girls looking too worn to respond to any "call" life might have for them.

Though when, a little later, they stood in the doorway watching a long line of them passing out into the street it was amazing how ready and how eager they seemed for what life had to offer them. They all looked tired, but many appeared happy—determined that all of life should not be going over the wire. It seemed to Katie the most wonderful thing she knew of that girls from whom life exacted so much could remain so ready—so happily eager—for life.

There was one thing to which she had made up her mind. Amid the confusion of her thinking and the sadness of her spirit one thing she saw as clear. There was something wrong with an arrangement of life which struck that hard at life. The very fact that the capacity for life persisted through so much was the more reason for its being a thing to be cherished rather than sacrificed.

"Let's walk up this way," she was saying; "walk over the river. The bridge is a good place just now."

Katie's face was white and tense as some of the faces they had left behind "No," he said impetuously. "Let's not. Let's do something jolly!"

She shook her head "I have a feeling we're going to find her to-night."

Katie was always having that feeling. But as she looked then he had not the heart to remind her of the many times it had played her false.

Many girls passed them on the bridge, but not Ann. "I can never make up my mind to go," she said. "I always think I ought to wait till the next one comes round the corner."

A girl who appeared to be thinking deeply passed them, turning weary eyes upon them in languid interest.

"I wonder what," Katie exclaimed. "What she's thinking about," she explained. "Maybe she's come to the end of her string—and if she has, hundreds of thousands of people about her—oh I think it's terrible"—her voice broke—"the way people are crowded so close together—and held so far apart. Everybody's alone. Nobody knows."

For a second his hand closed over hers as it rested on the railing of the bridge, as if he would bear some of the hurt for her, that hurt she was finding in everything.

Despite the extreme simplicity of her dress she looked out of place standing on that bridge at that hour; he was thinking that she had not lost her distinction with her buoyancy.

Her face was quivering. "Katie," it made him ask, "don't you think you'd better—quit?"

She turned wet eyes upon him reproachfully. "From you?"

"But is any—individual—worth it?"

"Oh I suppose no 'individual' is worth much to you," she said a little bitterly.

There was a touch of irony in the tender smile which was his only response.

They stood there in silence watching men and women come and go—solitary and in groups—groups tired and groups laughing—groups respectable and groups questionable—humanity—worn humanity—as it crossed that bridge.

She recalled that first night she had talked with him—that first time a hot day had seemed to her anything more than mere hot day, that night on the Mississippi—where distant hills were to be seen. She remembered how she had looked around the world that night to see if it needed "saving." It seemed a long time ago since she had not been able to see that the world needed saving.

That was the night the man who mended the boats told her she had walked sunny paths. She looked up at him with a faint smile, smiling at the fancy of his being an outsider.

It seemed, on the other hand, that all the hopes and fears in all the hearts that were passing them were drawing them together. There had been times when she had had a wonderful sense of their silences holding the sum of man's experiences.

"You must go home," he was saying decisively.

"Home? Where? To my uncle's? That's where I keep the trunks I'm not using."

She laughed and brushed away a tear. "You know in the army we don't have homes."

"Well you have temporary homes," he insisted, as each moment she seemed to become more worn. "You know what I mean. Go back to your brother's."

"He'll be ordered from there very soon. There'll not be a place there for me much longer."

He did not seem to have reckoned with that. His face changed. "Then where will you go, Katie?" he asked, very low. "What will you do?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. I don't know where I'll go—and I don't know what I'll do."

They stood there in silence, drawn close by thought of separation.

"Shall we walk on?" she said at last. "I've lost the feeling that we're going to find Ann to-night."

And so, still silently, they walked on.

But when, after a moment, he looked at her, it was to see that she was making heroic effort to control the tears. "Katie!" he murmured, "what is it?"

"We're giving up," she said, and could not say more.

"Why no we're not! It's only the method we're giving up. This way of doing it. You've tried this long enough."

"But what else is there? Just looking. Just keeping on looking—and hoping. Just the chance. What other method is there?"

"We'll find some other," he insisted, not willing, when she looked like that, to speak his fears. "There'll be some other way. But you can't keep on this way—dear."

There was another silence—a different one: silence which opened to receive them at the throb in his voice as he spoke that last word.

He had to go back that night. "Well?" he asked gently, as they neared her hotel.

"I'll be down in a couple of days," replied Katie, not steadily.

"And you'll be there a little while, won't you," he asked wistfully, "before you go—you don't know where?"

"Yes," she said, turning her eyes upon him for just an instant, "a little while—before I go—I don't know where."

But though she was going—she didn't know where—though she was giving up—seemed conquered—through all the uncertainty and the sadness there surged a strange new joy in their hearts as, very slowly, they walked that final block.

At the door, after a moment's full silence, she held out her hand. "And you'll be down there—mending boats?"

He nodded, his eyes going where words had not ventured.

"And you'll—come and see me?" she asked shyly. "You don't mean, do you,"—looking away, as if with scarcely the courage to say it—"that I'm to 'stop'—everything?"

"No, Katie," he said, and his voice was shaking, "I think you must know I do not mean you are to—stop everything."

As they lingered for a final moment, they were alone—far out in the sweet wild new places of the spirit; and all that man had ever yearned for, all joy that had been given and all joy denied seemed as a rich sea—fathomless sea—swelling just beneath that sweet wild new thing that had fluttered to consciousness in their hearts.


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