“I think, Bill, because it is too big to happen here—to happen anywhere, indeed, all at once—and too awful!”
To have tossed the sentence aside as nonsense, argued it away, proved that it was really meaningless, would have been easy—at any other time or in any other place; and, had the past week brought me none of the vivid impressions it had brought me, this is doubtless what I should have done. My narrowness again was proved. We understand in others only what we have in ourselves. But her explanation, in a measure, I knew was true. It hinted at the strife and struggle that my notion of a Shadow had seemed to cover thinly.
“Perhaps,” I murmured lamely, waiting in vain for her to say more. “But you said just now that you felt the thing was ‘in layers’, as it were. Do you mean each one—each influence—fighting for the upper hand?”
I used her phraseology to conceal my own poverty. Terminology, after all, was nothing, provided we could reach the idea itself.
Her eyes said yes. She had her clear conception, arrived at independently, as was her way.
And, unlike her sex, she kept it clear, unsmothered by too many words.
“One set of influences gets at me, another gets at you. It’s according to our temperaments, I think.” She glanced significantly at the vile portfolio. “Sometimes they are mixed—and therefore false. There has always been in me, more than in you, the pagan thing, perhaps, though never, thank God, like that.”
The frank confession of course invited my own, as it was meant to do. Yet it was difficult to find the words.
“What I have felt in this place, Frances, I honestly can hardly tell you, because—er—my impressions have not arranged themselves in any definite form I can describe. The strife, the agony of vainly-sought escape, and the unrest—a sort of prison atmosphere—this I have felt at different times and with varying degrees of strength. But I find, as yet, no final label to attach. I couldn’t say pagan, Christian, or anything like that, I mean, as you do. As with the blind and deaf, you may have an intensification of certain senses denied to me, or even another sense altogether in embryo—”
“Perhaps,” she stopped me, anxious to keep to the point, “you feel it as Mabel does. She feels the whole thing complete.”
“That also is possible,” I said very slowly. I was thinking behind my words. Her odd remark that it was “big and awful” came back upon me as true. A vast sensation of distress and discomfort swept me suddenly. Pity was in it, and a fierce contempt, a savage, bitter anger as well. Fury against some sham authority was part of it.
“Frances,” I said, caught unawares, and dropping all pretence, “what in the world can it be?” I looked hard at her. For some minutes neither of us spoke.
“Have you felt no desire to interpret it?” she asked presently, “Mabel did suggest my writing something about the house,” was my reply, “but I’ve felt nothing imperative. That sort of writing is not my line, you know. My only feeling,” I added, noticing that she waited for more, “is the impulse to explain, discover, get it out of me somehow, and so get rid of it. Not by writing, though—as yet.” And again I repeated my former question: