'We are not so much surprised that you Freelanders are proof against this vice,' replied my father. 'But your respected mother tells us that even among the immigrants drunkards are as rare as white ravens. Now, I am not aware that teetotal apostles keep watch on your frontiers. The immigrants, at any rate many of them, belong to those races and classes which at home are by no means averse to drinking, and indeed to drunkenness in its most disgusting forms; what induces these people, when they get here, to become so persistently abstemious?'
'First, the removal of those things which in Europe and America lead to drunkenness. Sometimes, during my student-travels in Europe—when I studied not merely art, but also the manners and customs of your country—I have gone into the dens of the poor and have there found conditions under which it would have appeared positively miraculous if those who lived there had not sought in the dram-bottle forgetfulness of their torture, their shame, and their degradation. I saw persons to the number of twenty or thirty—all ages and sexes thrown indiscriminately together—sleeping in one room, which was only large enough for those who were in it to crowd close together upon the filthy straw that covered the floor—men who from day to day had no other home than the factory or the ale-house. And these were not the breadless people, but persons in regular employ; and not exceptional cases, but types of the labourers of large districts. That such men should seek in beastly intoxication an escape from thoughts of their degradation, of the shame of their wives and daughters—that they should lose all consciousness of their human dignity, never astonished me, and still less provoked me to indignation. I felt astonishment and indignation only at the folly which allowed such wretchedness to continue, as if it were in reality a product of an unchangeable law of nature. And it seems to me quite as natural that such men, when they get here—where they regain their dignity and their rights, where on every hand gladness and beauty smile upon them—should along with their misery cast away the vices of misery. These immigrants all gladly and eagerly adapt themselves to their new surroundings. Most of them cannot expect to become in all respects our equals: the more wretched, the more degraded, they were before, so much the more boundless is their delight, their gratitude, at being here treated by everyone as equals; on no account would they forfeit the respect of their new associates, and, as these latter universally avoid drunkenness, so the former avoid it also.'
'You have explained to us why there are no drunkards in this country,' I said. 'But it appears to me much more remarkable that your principle of granting a right of maintenance to all who are incapable of working, whatever may be the occasion of that incapacity, has not overwhelmed you with invalids and old people without number. Or have we yet to learn of some provisions made to defend you from such guests? And how, without exercising a painfully inquisitorial control, can you prevent the lazy from enjoying the careless leisure which the right of maintenance guarantees to real invalids? I can perfectly well understand that your intelligent Freelanders, with their multitudinous wants, will not be content with forty per cent., when a little easy labour would earn them a hundred per cent. But among the fresh immigrants there must certainly be many who at first can scarcely know what to do with the full earnings of their labour, and who at any rate—so I should suppose—would prefer to draw their maintenance-allowance and live in idleness rather than engage in what, from their standpoint, must appear to be quite superfluous labour. Perhaps, with respect to the right to a maintenance-allowance, you make a distinction between natives and immigrants; if so, what gives a claim to maintenance?'
'No distinction is made with respect to the right to a maintenance-allowance, a sufficient qualification for which is a certificate of illness signed by one of our public physicians, or proof of having attained to the age of sixty years. The greatest liberality is exercised on principle in granting the medical certificate; indeed, everyone has the right, if one physician has refused to grant a certificate, to go to any other physician, as we prefer to support ten lazy impostors rather than reject one real invalid. Nevertheless we have among us as few foreign idlers as native ones. In this matter also, the influence of our institutions is found to be powerful enough to nip all such tendencies in the bud. Note, above all, that the strongest ambition of the immigrant is to become like us, to become incorporated with us; in order to this, if he is healthy and strong, he must participate in our affairs. They understand human nature very imperfectly who think that proletarians in whom there lingers a trace of human dignity would, when they have an opportunity of taking part in important enterprises as fully enfranchised self-controlling men, forego that opportunity and prefer to allow themselves to be supported by the commonwealth. The new-comers are anxious to participate in all that is to be earned and done in this country; in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred no other stimulus to work is needed than this. And the few to whom this stimulus is not sufficient, soon find themselves, when the novelty of their surroundings has worn off, compelled by ennui and isolation to turn to some productive activity. We have here no public-house life in the European sense, no consorting of habitual idlers: here a man must work if he would feel at ease, and therefore everyone works who is capable of doing so. The most stubborn indolence cannot resist for more than a few weeks at the longest the magical influence of the thought that in order to dare to salute the first in the land as an equal no other title of honour or influence is necessary than any honest work. Consequently, even among the immigrants strong healthy idlers are extremely rare exceptions, which we allow to exist as cases of mental disease. But even these must not suffer want among us. Without possessing any recognised right to it, they receive what they need, and even more than is absolutely necessary according to European ideas.
'As to the question whether the right of maintenance does not attract into this country all the bodily and mental incapables, the cripples and the old people, of the rest of the world, I can only answer that Freeland irresistibly attracts everyone who hears of the character of its institutions; and that therefore the proportion between the immigrants who are capable of working and those who are not is dependent simply upon whether such information reaches the one class more quickly and more easily than it does the other. We reject no one, and admit the cripple to our country as freely as the able-bodied worker; but it lies in the nature of things that the ablest, the most vigorous, offer themselves in larger numbers than those who are weak in body or in mind.
'From the founding of our commonwealth we have insisted upon the ability to read and write sufficiently to be able to participate in all our rights. Freedom and equality of rights assume the possession of a certain degree of knowledge, from which we cannot exempt anyone. It is true we might resort to the expedient of exercising guardianship over the untaught; but to do this would be to open up to the authorities a sphere of influence which we hold to be incompatible with real freedom, and we therefore treat illiterate immigrants as strangers, or, if you will, as guests whom it is everyone's duty to assist as much as possible, and who, so far as they show themselves capable of doing anything, suffer no material disadvantage in comparison with the natives, but are not allowed to exercise any political right.'
'But how,' asked my father—'how do you arrive at a knowledge of the mental condition of your ignorant fellow-countrymen? Have you a special board for this purpose; and do no unpleasantnesses spring from such an inquisition?'
'We make no inquiry, and no board troubles itself about the knowledge of the people. At first, in order not to be overwhelmed by foreign ignorance, we took the precaution of excluding illiterates from gratuitous admission into Freeland, but for the last nineteen years we have ceased to exclude any. Everyone, without any exception, has since been free to settle gratuitously in any part whatever of Freeland. No one asks him what he knows; he is free to make full use of all our institutions, to exercise all our rights; only he must do so in the same way as we, and that is impossible to the illiterate. Whithersoever he goes—to the central bank, to any of the associations, to the polling-places—he must read and write, and as a matter of course write with understanding—must be familiar with printed and written words; in short, he must possess a certain degree of culture, from the possession of which we cannot exempt him even if we would.'
'Then,' said my father, 'your boasted equality of rights exists only for educated persons?'
'Of course,' explained Mrs. Ney. 'Or do you really believe that perfectly uneducated persons possess the power of disciplining themselves? Certainly, real freedom and equality of rights presuppose some degree of culture. The freedom and equality of rights of poverty and barbarism can, it is true, exist among ignorant barbarians, but wealth and leisure are the products of higher art and culture, and can be possessed only by truly civilised men. He who would make men free and rich must first give them knowledge—this lies in the nature of things; and it is not our fault, but yours, that so many of your compatriots must be educated into freedom.'
'There you are right,' sighed my father. 'And what has been your experience of these illiterate immigrants?'
'The experience that this exclusion from perfect equality of rights, being connected with no material disadvantage, operates as an absolutely irresistible stimulus to acquire as quickly as possible what was left unacquired in the old home. For the use of such immigrants we have established special schools for adults; neighbours and friends interest themselves in them, and the people learn with touching eagerness. They by no means content themselves with acquiring merely that amount of knowledge which is requisite to the exercise of all the Freeland rights, but they honestly endeavour to gain all the knowledge possible; and the cases are very few in which the study of a few years has not converted such immigrants into thoroughly cultured men.'
'And as to the immigrants who reach us in a really invalided condition,' interposed David, 'we fulfil towards them the duty of maintenance as if they had grown old and weak in Freeland workshops. We have not detected any considerable increase of our annual expenditure in consequence. It is a characteristic fact, moreover, that those who reach us as invalids make for the most part only a partial use of their right to claim a maintenance-allowance. These pitiable sufferers as a rule take some time to accustom themselves to the Freeland standard of higher enjoyments, and at first they have no use for the wealth which streams in upon them.'
'I must ask you to remove yet one other difficulty, and one that seems to me to be the greatest of all. What of the criminals, against whose immigration you are not protected? To me it seems most strange that, with the millions of your Freeland population, you can dispense with both police and penal code; and I am utterly at a loss to understand how you dispose of those vagabonds and criminals who are sure to be drawn hither, like wasps by honey, by your enticing lenity, which will not punish but merely reform the bad? It is true you have told us that the justices of the peace appointed to decide civil disputes have authority in the first instance in criminal cases also, and that an appeal is allowed from these to a higher judicial court; but you added that these judges had all of them as good as nothing to do, and that only very rare cases occurred in which the reformatory treatment adopted in this country had to be resorted to. Have your institutions such a strong ameliorating power over hardened criminals?'
'Certainly,' answered Mrs. Ney. 'And if you carefully consider what is the essential and ultimate source of all crime, you will find this is quite intelligible. Do not forget that justice and law in the exploiting form of society make demands on the individual which are directly opposed to human nature. The hungry shivering man is expected to pass by the abundance of others without appropriating that which he needs to satisfy the imperative demands of nature—nay, he must not indulge in envy and ill-will towards those who have in plenty what he so cruelly lacks! He is to love his fellow-man, though just where the conflict of interests is the most bitter, because it is waged around the very essentials of existence—just there, where his fellow-man is his rival, his tyrant, his slave, in every case his enemy, from whose injury he derives gain and from whose gain injury accrues to him! That for thousands of years all this has been inevitable cannot be denied; but it would be foolish to overlook the fact that the same cruel sequence which made the exploitation of man by man—that is, injustice—the necessary antecedent to the progress of civilisation, also called into existence crime—that is, the rebellion of the individual against the order which is both horrible in itself and yet indispensable to the welfare of the community. The exploiting system of society requires the individual to do what harms him, because the welfare of the community demands it, and demands it not as a specially commendable and pre-eminently meritorious act, which can be expected of only a few noble natures in whom public spirit has suppressed every trace of egoism, but as something which everyone is to do as a matter of course, the doing of which is not called a virtue, though the not doing of it is called a crime. The hero who sacrifices his life to his fatherland, to mankind, subordinates his own to a higher interest, and never will the human race be able to dispense with such sacrifices, but will always demand of its noblest that love of wife shall conquer love of self; nay, it may be stated as a logical consequence of progressive civilisation that this demand shall grow more and more imperative and meet with an ever readier response. But the name of this response is 'heroism,' its lack involves no crime; it cannot be enforced, but it is a voluntary tribute of love paid by noble natures. But in the economic domain a similar, nay, more difficult, heroism is required especially from the lowest and the most wretched, and must be required of such as long as society is based upon a foundation of exploitage, and 'criminal' must be the name of all those who show themselves to be less great than a Leonidas, or a Curtius, or a Winkelried on the battle-field, or than those generally nameless heroes of human love who have fearlessly sacrificed themselves in the conflict with the inimical powers of nature at the bidding of the holy voice within them—the voice of human love.
'But we in Freeland ask from no one such heroism as our right. In economic matters we require of the individual nothing that is antagonistic to his own interests; it follows as a matter of course that he never rebels against our laws. That which under the old order could be asserted only by self-complacent thoughtlessness, is a truth among us—namely, that economic morality is nothing but rational egoism. You will therefore find it intelligible that reasonable men cannot break our laws.
'But you ask, further, how does it happen that those unfortunates who in other countries are driven into crime, not by want, but by their evil disposition—and it cannot be denied that there are such—do not give us any trouble? Here also the question suggests its own answer. This hatred towards society and its members is not natural, is not innate in even the worst of men, but is the product of the injustice in the midst of which these habitual criminals live. The love of wife and of one's fellows is ineradicably implanted in every social animal—and man is such an animal; but its expression can be suppressed by artificially excited hatred and envy. It is true that long-continued exercise of evil instincts will gradually make them so powerfully predominant as to make it appear that the social nature of man has been transformed into that of the beast of prey, no longer linked to society by any residuum of love or attachment. But it only seems so. The most hardened criminal cannot long resist the influence of genuine human affection; hatred and defiance hold out only so long as the unfortunate sees himself deprived of the possibility of obtaining recognition in the community of the happy, as one possessed of equal rights with the others. If this hope is held out to him all defiance ceases.
'I question if there has ever been a large percentage of men of criminal antecedents among the immigrants into Freeland. As my son has already said, the proportion in which different categories of men have come hither depends not upon the greater or less degree of misery, but upon the intelligence of the men. Since the criminal classes in the five parts of the world know relatively less of Freeland than do the honest and intelligent workers, I am convinced that relatively fewer of them have come hither. At any rate, we have seen very few signs of their presence here. We have a few dozen incorrigibly vicious persons in the country, but these are without exception incurable idiots. How these reached us I do not know; but of course, as soon as their mental unsoundness was ascertained, they were placed in asylums.'
This point being cleared up, my father asked for a final explanation. He said he could perfectly understand that the Freeland institutions, being nothing else but a logical carrying out of the principle of economic justice, were thoroughly capable of meeting every fair and reasonable demand. He nevertheless expressed his astonishment at the perfect satisfaction which the people universally exhibited with themselves and their condition. Did not unreasonable party agitations create difficulties in Freeland? Particularly he wished to know if Communism and Nihilism, which were ever raising their heads threateningly in Europe, gave no trouble here. 'In the eyes of a genuine Communist,' he cried, 'you are here nothing but arrant aristocrats! There is not a trace of absolute equality among you! What value can your boasted equality of rights have in the eyes of people who act upon the principle that every mouthful more of bread enjoyed by one than is enjoyed by another is theft; and who therefore, to prevent one man from possessing more than another, abolish all property whatever? And yet there are no police, no soldiers, to keep these Bedlamites in order! Give us the recipe according to which the nihilistic and communistic fanaticism can be rendered so harmless.'
'Nothing easier,' answered Mrs. Ney. 'Supply everyone to satiety, and no one will covet what others have. Absolute equality is an hallucination of the hunger-fever, nothing more. Men are not equal, either in their faculties or in their requirements. Your appetite is stronger than mine; perhaps you are fond of gay clothing, I would not give a farthing for it; perhaps I am dainty, while you prefer a plain diet; and so on without end. What sense would there be in attempting to assimilate our several needs? I do not care to inquire whether it is possible, whether the violence necessary to the attempt would not destroy both freedom and progress; the idea itself is so foolish that it would be absolutely inconceivable how sane men could entertain it, had it not been a fact that one of us is able to satisfy neither his strong nor his weak appetite, his preference neither for fine nor for quiet clothing, neither for dainties nor for plain food, but must endure brutal torturing misery. When to that is added the mistake that my superfluity is the cause of your deficiency, it becomes intelligible why you and those who sympathise with you in your sufferings should call for division of property—absolutely equal division. In a word, Communism has no other source than the perception of the boundless misery of a large majority of men, together with the erroneous opinion that this misery can be alleviated only by the aid of the existing wealth of individuals. This view is inconceivably foolish, for it is necessary only to open one's eyes to see what a pitiful use is made of the power which man already possesses to create wealth. But this foolish notion was not hatched by the Communists; your orthodox economists gave currency to the doctrine that increased productiveness of labour cannot increase the already existing value—it was they, and not the Communists, who blinded mankind to the true connexion between economic phenomena. Communists are in reality merely credulous adherents of the so-called "fundamental truths" of orthodox economy; and the only distinction between them and the ruling party among you is that the Communists are hungry while the ruling classes are full-fed. When it is perceived that nothing but perfect equality of rights is needed in order to create more than enough for all, Communism disappears of itself like an evil tormenting dream. You may require—even if you do not carry it out—that all men shall be put upon the same bread rations, so long as you believe that the commonwealth upon which we are all compelled to depend will furnish nothing more than mere bread, for we all wish to eat our fill. To require that the same sorts and quantity of roast meats, pastry, and confections shall be forced upon everyone, when it is found that there is enough of these good things for all, would be simply puerile. Hence there is and can be no Communist among us.
'For the same reason Nihilism is impossible among us, for that also is nothing more than an hallucination due to the despair of hunger, and can flourish only on the soil of the orthodox view of the world. Whilst Communism is the practical application which hunger makes of the thesis that human labour does not suffice to create a superfluity for all, Nihilism is the inference drawn by despair from the doctrine that culture and civilisation are incompatible with equality of rights. It is orthodoxy which has given currency to this doctrine; certainly, as the spokesman of the well-to-do, it holds no other inference to be conceivable than that the eternally disinherited masses must submit to their fate in the interests of civilisation. But the party of the hungry turn in foaming rage against this civilisation, the very defenders of which assert that it can never help the enormous majority of men, and therefore can do nothing more for them than make them increasingly conscious of their misery. We have demonstrated that civilisation is not merely compatible with, but is necessarily implied in, the economic equality of rights. Hence Nihilism also must be unknown among us.'
'Then you think,' I said, 'that equality of actual income has nothing to do with equality of rights? For my part, I must admit that that useless heaping up of superfluous riches, which we have occasion to observe in our European society, has grown to be a very objectionable thing, even though I am convinced that the misery is not, in the slightest degree, caused by this accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, and would not be materially alleviated by a general distribution of it. A social system that does not prevent this excessive accumulation in a few hands must remain imperfect, whatever provision it may make in other directions for the welfare of all.'
'And I cannot altogether get rid of the same feeling,' said my father. 'But my opinion is that in this revolt against inequality in itself we need see nothing more than the moral repulsion which every impartial thoughtful man feels against what have hitherto been the causes of the inequality. Among us at home, we see that large fortunes are very seldom acquired by means of pre-eminent individual talent, but are, as a rule, due to the exploitation of other men; and, when acquired, they are sure to be employed in further exploitation. This it is that arouses our indignation. If a fortune, however great, were acquired merely by pre-eminent talent, and employed to no other end than the heightening of the owner's personal enjoyment—as is the case in Freeland—the repugnance we now feel would soon pass away. What does our amiable hostess think upon this point?'
'The repugnance to excessively large fortunes,' replied Mrs. Ney, 'is not, in my opinion, based upon any injustice in their origin or use, but has a deeper cause—namely, the fact that, apart from very rare exceptions, the difference of capacity in men is not so great as to justify such enormous differences of fortune. Most of the wealth of a highly civilised society consists of what was bequeathed by the past; and the portion actually produced by existing individuals is so relatively small that a certain degree of equality—not merely of rights, but also of enjoyment and use—possesses a basis in fact and is a requirement of justice. Every advance in civilisation is synonymous with a progressive diminution of the differences. Carry your thoughts back to primitive conditions, when the individual, in his struggle for existence, was almost entirely shut up to the use of his congenital appliances, and you will find the differences were very great: only the strong, the agile, the cunning could hold their own; the less gifted were compelled to give way. As the growth of civilisation added to men's appliances, so that even the less gifted was able to procure what was necessary to his subsistence, the difference in the achievements of different individuals at first remained very great. The skilful hunter gets a far richer booty than the less skilful one; the strong and nimble agriculturist achieves with the spade a manifold greater result than the weak and the slow. The invention of the plough very materially reduces this difference, and—so far as the difference depends upon physical capacity—the invention of the power-machine reduces it almost to nil. Machinery more and more takes the place of the energy of human muscles; and, at the same time, the results of the talent and experience of previous generations accumulate and, in a growing ratio, exceed the invention of the actual living generation. It is true that in intellectual matters the individual differences do not diminish so completely as in matters dependent upon the corporal powers; but even the intellectual differences do not justify the colossal inequality suggested to the mind by the words "a large fortune." The man who drives a steam-plough may be either a giant or a dwarf, but he gets through the same amount of work. Quick-wittedness and discretion in conducting the process of production will considerably increase the result; but in the present day an achievement which shall exceed the average a hundredfold or a thousandfold in value is possible only to genius, and it is only to genius that our sense of justice would accord it.
'I believe that in this respect also our Freeland institutions have hit the mark. Among us inequality exists only so far as the difference of capacity justifies it; and we have seen that, in proportion as wealth increases, the distribution of it becomes automatically more and more equal. As in this country everything is controlled by a competition which is free in fact, and not in name merely, it follows as a necessary result that every kind of capacity is better paid the rarer it is. When we first founded our commonwealth knowledge and experience in business were rare—that is, the demand was greater than the supply; they were therefore able to command a higher price than ordinary labour. This is no longer the case; thanks to the general improvement in culture and the intensive participation of all in all kinds of business, head-work, as such, has lost its claim to exceptional wages. Only when superior intellectual gifts are connected with knowledge and experience in business can the man who performs head-work expect to obtain higher pay than the manual labourer. Yet even here there is to be seen a relative diminution of the higher pay. In the early years of Freeland a specially talented leader of production could demand six times as much as the average earnings of a labourer; at present three times as much as the average is a rare maximum, which in the domain of material production is exceeded only in isolated cases of pre-eminent inventors. On the other hand, the earnings of gifted authors and artists in this country have no definite limits; as their works are above competition, so the rewards they obtain bear no proportion to those obtainable in ordinary business.
'But in this way, I think, the most delicate sense of equality can be satisfied. Economic equality of rights never produces absolute and universal equality; but it is really accompanied by a general levelling of the enjoyments of all, and leaves unaffected only such incongruities as the most fastidious sense of justice will recognise as having their basis in the nature of things.'
Here ended this conversation, which will ever be a memorable one to me, because it confirmed my decision to become a Freelander.
Eden Vale: Aug. 20, ——
In your last you say you think it very strange that in my letters I make no further mention of the young ladies who for the past six weeks have been under the same roof with me. When a young Italian—so argues your inexorable logic—has nothing to say about pretty girls with whom he associates, and among whom there is one whose first glance—according to his own confession—threw him into confusion, he has either been rejected by the lady in question or contemplates giving her an opportunity of rejecting him. Your logic is right, Louis: I am in love—indeed I was from the first sight I had of Bertha, David's splendid sister; and I have even had a narrow escape of being rejected. Not that my beloved has not returned my affection; as soon as I could summon courage to propose to her, Bertha confessed, with that undisguised candour which is charming in her—more correctly, in all the women of Freeland—that on the very first evening of our acquaintance she felt she should either marry me or marry no one. And yet, on my first wooing her, I had to listen to a 'No' of the most determined character. The fact was that Bertha could not make up her mind to become an Italian duchess; and my father, who—hear it and be astounded!—pleaded for me, had as a matter of course insisted that she should go to Italy with me, reside on our ducal estates there, weave the ducal diadems into her locks—they are of a ravishing blonde—and make it her life's duty to continue the noble race of the Falieri. My desire to settle in Freeland as a Freelander was regarded by my father as a foolish and extravagant whim. You know his views—a strange medley of honest Liberalism and aristocratic pride: rather, these were his views, but here in Freeland the democratic side of his character has considerably broadened and strengthened. Indeed, he became quite enthusiastic in his admiration of the Freeland institutions. If there were but another branch of the Falieri to which could be committed the transmission of the ducal traditions, per Bacco! my father would have at once assented to my wish, and, as he loves me tenderly, he would not hesitate long before he followed my example. But his enthusiasm, noble and sincere as it is, would not permit me to lay the axe at the root of the genealogical tree of a house whose ancestors had fought among the first Crusaders, and had later, as petty Italian princes, filled the world with deeds (of infamy). Against my loving Bertha he made no objection—really and truly, my dear friend, not the least. On the contrary, he was not a little proud of me when, in answer to his question whether I was sure of the maiden's love in return, I replied with a confident 'Yes.' 'Lucky dog you are,' cried he, 'to win that splendid creature so quickly! Who can match us Falieris!' Bertha had captivated my father as she had me; and as he entertained the greatest respect for the Freeland women in general, he had no objection whatever to a bourgeoise daughter-in-law. But only on condition that I gave up the 'insane' idea of remaining here. 'The girl has more sense in her little finger than you have in your whole body,' said he; 'she would little relish seeing her lover cast a shattered ducal crown at her feet. It is very fine to be a Freeland woman—but, believe me, it is much finer to be a duchess. Besides, these two very agreeable qualities can easily be united. Spend the winter and spring in our palaces at Rome and Venice; summer and autumn you could enjoy freedom on your lake and among your mountains—in my company, if you had no objection. Let it stand so: I will get Bertha for you, but not another word about a permanent settlement here.'
This did not please me. I assure you I had not formed the intention of becoming a Freelander for the sake of my beloved; but I could not think of her either in a ducal diadem or in the state rooms of our castles. Nevertheless, I was fain to submit for a while to the will of my father; and I did not really know whether Bertha and her relatives would show themselves so insensible to the attractions of a title and of princely wealth as would be necessary in order that I might have them as confederates against my father. In short, my father pleaded my case with Mr. Ney, and in the presence of Bertha and myself asked her parents for the hand of their daughter for his son, the Prince Carlo Falieri, adding that immediately after the wedding he would hand over to me his estates in the Romagna, Tuscany, and Venice, as well as the palaces at Rome, Florence, Milan, Verona, and Venice; and would retain for himself merely our Sicilian possessions—as a reserve property, he jestingly said. The elder Neys received these grandiose proposals with a chill reserve that gave me little hope. After a silence of some minutes, and after having thrown at me a searching and reproachful glance, Mr. Ney said, 'We Freelanders are not the despots, but simply the counsellors, of our daughters; but in this case our child does not need counsel: if Bertha is willing to go with you to Italy as the Princess Falieri, we will not prevent her.'
With a proud and indignant mien Bertha turned—not to me, but—to my father: 'Never, never!' she cried with quivering lips. 'I love your son more than my life; I should die if your son discarded me in obedience to you; but leave Freeland—leave it as princess!—never, never! Better die a thousand times!'
'But, unhappy child,' replied my father, quite horrified at the unexpected effect of his proposal, 'you utter the word "princess" as if it were to you the quintessence of all that is dreadful. Yes, you should be princess, one of the richest, proudest of the princesses of Europe—that is, you should have no wish which thousands should not vie with each other in fulfilling; you should have opportunities of making thousands happy; you should be envied by millions—' 'And cursed and hated,' interposed Bertha with quivering lips. 'What! You have lived among us six weeks, and you have not learned what a free daughter of Freeland must feel at the mere suggestion of leaving these happy fields, this home of justice and human affection, in order, afar off in your miserable country, not to wipe away, but to extort the tears of the downtrodden—not to alleviate the horrors of your slavery, but to become one of the slave-holders! I love Carlo so much above all measure that I should be ready by his side to exchange the land of happiness for that of misery if any imperative duty called him thither; but only on condition that his hands and mine remained free from foreign property, that we ourselves earned by honest labour what we needed for our daily life. But to become princess; to have thousands of serfs using up their flesh and blood in order that I might revel in superfluity; to have thousands of curses of men tortured to death clinging to the food I eat and the raiment I wear!' As she uttered these words she shuddered and hid her face in her hands; then, mastering herself with an effort, she continued: 'But reflect—if you had a daughter, and some one asked you to let her go to be queen among the cannibal Njam-Njam, and the father of her bridegroom promised that a great number of fat slaves should be slaughtered for her—what would she say, the poor child who had drunk in with her mother's milk an invincible disgust at the eating of human flesh? Now, see: we in Freeland feel disgust at human flesh, even though the sacrifice be slowly slaughtered inch by inch, limb by limb, without the shedding of blood; to us the gradual destruction of a fellow-man is not less abhorrent than the literal devouring of a man is to you; and it is as impossible for us to exist upon the exploitation of our enslaved fellows as it is for you to share in the feasts of cannibals. I cannot become a princess—I cannot! Do not separate me from Carlo—if you do we shall both die, and—I have not learnt it to-day for the first time—you love not only him, but me also.'
This appeal, enforced by the most touching glances and a tender grasping of his hands, was more than my father could resist. 'You have verily made me disgusted with myself. So you think we are cannibals, and the only difference between us and your amiable Njam-Njam is that we do not slay our sacrifices with one vigorous blow and then devour them forthwith, but we delight in doing it bit by bit, inch by inch? You are not far wrong; at any rate, I will not force upon you the privileges of a position as to which you entertain such views. And my son appears in this point to share your tastes rather than those which have hitherto been mine. Take each other, and be happy in your own fashion. For myself, I will consider how I may to some extent free myself from the odour of cannibalism in my new daughter's eyes.'
Bertha flew first to me, then to my father, then in succession to her parents and brothers and sisters, and then again fell upon my father's neck. Her embrace of her father-in law was so affectionate that I was almost inclined to be jealous. My father became at once so eager for our wedding that he asked the Neys forthwith to make all the necessary arrangements for this event. He expected to be obliged to return to Europe, provisionally, in about a month, and he should be pleased if we could be married before he went. Mrs. Ney, however, asked what further preliminaries were necessary? We had mutually confessed our love, the blessing of the parents on both sides was not lacking; we might, if agreeable to ourselves, start off somewhere that very day, by one of the evening trains, on our wedding-tour—perhaps to the Victoria Nyanza, on whose shores she knew of a small delightfully situated country house.
I myself was somewhat surprised at these words, though they were evidently anticipated by my bride. But my father was utterly at a loss to know what to make of them. Of course his delicacy of feeling would not have allowed him to declare plainly that he thought it scandalous in the highest degree for a couple of lovers to start off on a journey together only a few hours after their betrothal, and that he could not conceive how a respectable lady could suggest what would bring such disgrace upon her house. There was a painful pause, until Mr. Ney explained to us that in Freeland the reciprocal declaration by two lovers that they wished to become husband and wife was all that was required to the conclusion of a marriage-contract. The young people had nothing further to do than to make such an express declaration, and they would be married.
'That is, indeed, extremely simple and charming,' said my father, shaking his head. 'But if the State or the commonwealth here has nothing to do with the marriage-contract, how does it know that such a contract has been entered into, and how can it give its protection to it?'
'Of course the marriage-contract is communicated to the Statistical Department as quickly as possible, but this enrolment has nothing to do with the validity of the contract; and as to the protection of the marriage-bond, we know of no other here than that which is to be found in the reciprocal affection of the married pair,' said Mrs. Ney.
My father thereupon began to ventilate the question whether it was not advisable on many grounds to attach to the marriage-contract some more permanent guarantee; but this suggestion was met, particularly on the part of Bertha, with such an evident and—to him—quite inexplicable resentment that he dropped the subject. Later, when we men were by ourselves, he inquired what the ladies found so offensive in the idea of giving to marriage some kind of protection against the changing fancies of the wedded pair? It was easy to see that the conversation had left upon him the impression that the women of Freeland held views upon this subject which were altogether too 'free.' But Mr. Ney gradually succeeded in convincing him—I had understood the matter from the beginning—that the reverse was the case; that the horror at the thought of being compelled to belong to a man who was not loved was not merely quite compatible with inviolable conjugal fidelity, but was a logical outcome of the highest and purest conception of marriage. At first he held out. He would not deny the ethical justness of the Freeland principle that marriage without love was objectionable; only he questioned whether this principle could be strictly applied to practical life without opening the door to licentiousness. The fact that in Freeland divorces were quite unknown did not at once suffice to convince him. Mrs. Ney, who surprised us in the midst of this discussion, gave the finishing touch.
'If you take a comprehensive view of the whole complex of our economic and social institutions,' said she to my father, 'you will see why in Freeland man and wife must regard each other with different eyes than is the case in Europe or America. All your scruples will vanish, for the logical connection of economic justice with conjugal fidelity and honour lies as plain and open as does its connection with honour in questions of meum and tuum. That well-to-do intelligent men do not steal and rob, that in a highly cultivated society which guarantees to everyone the undiminished product of his own labour no one touches the fruits of another man's industry—this is not more self-evident than it is that the same principle of economic justice must smother in the germ all longing for the wife or the husband of another. For man is by nature a monogamous and monandrous being; polygamy and polyandry are inconsistent with the fundamental characteristics of his nature; they are diseases of civilisation which would vanish spontaneously with a return to the healthy conditions of existence. Sexual honour and fidelity, like honesty in matters of property, are rare "virtues" only where they impose upon the individual the exercise of a self-denial which is not reconcilable with the instinct of self-preservation; where, as among us, a harmony of interests is established even in this domain, where everyone gets the whole of what is his own, and no one is expected to forego in the common interest of the community what belongs to himself—here even this virtue is transformed into a rational self-interest which every accountable person exhibits spontaneously and without any compulsion from without, as something that he owes to himself. We are all faithful because faithfulness does not impose upon any one of us the renunciation of his individuality.'
'I admire this sentiment,' answered my father, 'and do not wish to dispute the fact upon which it is based. It may be that in Freeland conjugal fidelity is without exception the rule, and that unfaithfulness is regarded as a kind of mental aberration; but if it is so, then the men and women of Freeland are themselves exceptions, and to deduce a formal law of nature from their behaviour seems to me to be premature. Because in this country—it matters not from what causes—sexual morality has become exceptionally high, because to your delicate ethical sense polygamy and polyandry in any form are repugnant, it does not follow that the inconstancy which has marked men and women in all stages of civilisation is to be at once regarded as "contrary to human nature." It were well, madam, if you were right, for that would mean that the last source of vice and crime was stopped; but, alas! the experience of all ages shows that unfaithfulness and love root themselves by turns deeply in human nature. I can understand that you, as a woman, should be influenced more by moral than by sober scientific views; but I am afraid that results which are based less upon nature than upon—certainly very admirable—moral experiments, will prove to be not too permanent.'
A delicate flush passed over the face of my mother as she heard this. I noticed that she did not feel quite comfortable in having to reply to this in the presence of men; but as my father was not to be convinced in any other way, she answered, at first with hesitancy, but she was afterwards carried away by her interest in the subject. She said:
'I am a woman of Freeland, and my sentiments are those of Freeland. I would not ascribe to nature what is merely the outcome of my own moral views. When I said that man is a monogamous being, and that polygamy and polyandry were repugnant to the conditions of his existence, were contrary to his real nature, I referred—far from speaking from an ethical standpoint—simply to the animal nature of man. We belong, to speak plainly, to a species of animals which nature intends to be monogamous and monandrous. A species, whose progeny takes nearly twenty years to arrive at maturity, cannot thrive without the united care of father and mother. It is the long-continued helplessness of our children that makes the permanent union of a single pair natural to man. The moral sentiments—which, certainly, in a healthy condition of human society also gravitate in the same direction—are nothing more than the outcome of these natural conditions of existence. If a man reached maturity in a single year our moral sentiments would permit, would perhaps imperatively demand, a change of partner after every child; for, without exception, we hold that alone to be beautiful and good which is requisite to the thriving of the species. Now the genus homo categorically demands, in order that it may thrive, that father and mother should foster the young for twenty years; in the meantime fresh offspring arrive; the natural command to rear children—you see I make use of the crassest expressions of natural history—therefore keeps the male and the female together until there ceases to be any reason for a separation. It would be simply contrary to nature if the natural sentiments and instincts of man were not in harmony with this command of nature. Conjugal attachment and fidelity must be and are natural instincts of man; all phenomena that appear to indicate the opposite are simply consequences of transitory excrescences of civilisation. It was social inequality which gave rise to sexual vices as to all the other vices. The same relation of mastership which gives the employer control over the labour of other men also gives him power over other women than his wife; and the same servitude which deprived the slave of his right to the produce of his own labour robs the woman of her right to herself. Love becomes an article of merchandise, sold in order to appease hunger and to cover nakedness, bought in order to gratify inconstant desires. You think I hold that to be unnatural because it is immoral? On the contrary, I hold it to be immoral because it is contrary to nature. That, your highness, is what I would impress upon you. A better acquaintance with this land of freedom will show you that fidelity and honour between husband and wife are here no rare exceptions, but the universal rule; but you must know at once that we do not therefore exercise any superhuman virtue, but simply act in conformity with the real nature of man.'
I could plainly see, by the warm admiration expressed in the way in which he gallantly lifted Mrs. Ney's hand to his lips, that my father was already convinced; but, in order to mask his retreat, he threw out the question whether there were not, in this country, any other disturber of conjugal peace?
'You mean harshness, love of domination, wrangling? Even these cannot occur in a really free society based upon perfect equality of rights. It is the lack of freedom and of legal equality which elsewhere sows discord between the sexes and makes them like enemies by nature. The enslaved woman, robbed of her share of the goods of the earth, is impelled, by inexorable necessity, to trade upon the sexual desires and the weaknesses of man; she finds herself in a constant state of war with him, for she has no alternative but to suffer wrong or to do wrong. What the other sex has wrongly obtained from her sex the individual woman must win back for herself from the individual man by stratagem and cunning, and the individual man is forced into a continuous attitude of defence by this injustice of his sex, and by the consequently necessary attempts at re-vindication by the woman. In this respect, also, Schopenhauer is not altogether wrong: there is no other sympathy between man and woman than that of the epidermis; but he forgets here also to add that this is not the natural relation of the sexes, but one resulting from the unnatural subjection of the woman—that not man and woman as such, but slave and master, are reciprocally opposed as strangers and foes. Remove the injustice which this disturbance of a relation so consonant with nature has called forth, and it will at once be seen that the sympathy between husband and wife is the strongest, the most varied, and the most comprehensive of all. The woman possesses those very excellences of heart and intellect which most charm the man, and the excellences of the man are just those which the woman most highly prizes. Nature, which has physically adapted the sexes to each other, has also psychically formed them as complementary halves. Nature, to accomplish whose purposes it is necessary that man and wife should remain faithful for life, could not have acted so inconsistently as to endow them with psychical attributes which would prevent or render difficult such lifelong fidelity. The instinct that preserves the race and is the occasion of so much passionate physical enjoyment, this instinct must also inspire the sexes with the strongest conceivable mutual sympathy with each other's mental and ethical character. In Freeland every disturbing discord is removed from the natural relation between the sexes; what wonder that that relation shows itself in its perfect harmony and beauty! Every Freeland man is an enthusiastic worshipper of the women; every Freeland woman is a not less enthusiastic worshipper of the men. In the eyes of our men there is nothing purer, better, more worthy of reverence than the woman; and in the eyes of us, the women of Freeland, there is nothing greater, nobler, more magnanimous than the man. A man who ill-uses or depreciates his wife, who does not make it his pride to screen her from every evil, would be excluded from the society of all other men; and a wife who attempted to rule over her husband, who did not make it her highest aim to beautify his life, would be avoided by all other women.'
My father made no further objection. He was content that I should take my Bertha according to Freeland customs and without any formal ceremony. Only one condition he insisted upon: there should be a fortnight's interval between betrothal and wedding. I consented reluctantly to this delay; had I followed my own desires, we should have flown off together to the Victoria Nyanza that same day, and my betrothed also—for prudery is unknown here—did not hide the fact that she shared in my impatience. But during the last few hours my father had made such superhuman concessions that we owed him this—truly no small—sacrifice. On the 3rd of September, therefore, Bertha will become my wife; but from to-day you must look upon me as a citizen of Freeland.
* * * * *
Ungama: Aug. 24.
''Twixt cup and lip...'
When I finished my letter four days ago, and kept it back a little while in order to put in an enclosure from Bertha, who declared herself under an obligation to send to my friend a few words of apology for having stolen me, I had not the slightest presentiment that momentous events would come between me and the fulfilment of my ardent desires. The war in which we are engaged produces remarkably little excitement in my new fatherland; and if I were not in Ungama, I should not suspect that we were at war with an enemy who has repeatedly given serious trouble to several of the strongest military States of Europe. But I have not been a Freelander long enough not to be keenly sensible of the bitter disgrace and the heavy loss which my native land has lately suffered; and on all grounds—in my character of Freelander and also of quondam Italian—I held it to be my duty to take part personally in the war. Until this war is ended, there can of course be no thought of a wedding. In the meantime, the chance of war has brought me away from Eden Vale to the coast of the Indian Ocean. But I will tell my story in order.
Know then, first of all, that—for this is no longer a diplomatic secret—the efforts of my father and of his English and French colleagues to get permission for 300,000 or 350,000 Anglo-Franco-Italian troops to pass through Freeland, utterly failed. The Eden Vale government said that Freeland was at peace with Abyssinia, and had no right to mix itself up with the quarrels of the Western Powers. But the aspect of affairs would be entirely changed if those Powers resolved to adopt the Freeland constitution in their African territories; in which case those territories would be regarded as a part of the Freeland district, and as such would naturally be protected by Freeland. But then the military convention asked for would be superfluous, for Freeland would treat every attack upon its allies as a casus belli, and would with its own forces compel Abyssinia to keep the peace. The negotiations lasted for weeks without any result. Evidently the cabinets of London, Paris, and Rome did not attach any importance to the promise made by Freeland, though the ambassadors, and particularly my father, honestly did what they could to give the Western cabinets confidence in the military strength of Freeland. The Powers were not indisposed to recognise the Freeland law in their colonies on the Red and Indian Seas as a condition of alliance; but persisted, nevertheless, in asking for a military convention, to which Freeland would not consent. So the matter stood until a few days ago.
On the morning after my betrothal, as we were sitting at breakfast, a despatch in cypher came to my father from Ungama, the large port belonging to Freeland on the Indian Ocean. My father, when he had deciphered the despatch, sprang up pale and excited, and asked Mr. Ney forthwith to summon a session of the executive of the Freeland central government, as he had a communication of urgent importance to make. Remarking the sympathetic alarm of our friends, my father said, 'The matter cannot remain a secret—you shall learn the bad news from my lips. The despatch is from Commodore Cialdini, captain of one of our ironclads stationed at Massowah. It runs: "Ungama: Aug. 21, 8 A.M. Have just reached here with ironclad 'Erebus' and two despatch-boats—one ours and one French—escaped from Massowah much damaged. The night before last, John of Abyssinia, contrary to existing treaty of peace, treacherously fell upon Massowah and took it with scarcely a blow struck. Our vessels lying in harbour, as well as the English and French, seventeen in number, were also surprised and taken, none escaping except ourselves and the two despatch-boats. The smaller coast fortresses which we passed are also all in the hands of the Abyssinians. As we are cut off from Aden by a number of the enemy's steamships that are following us, and the 'Erebus' is not in a condition to fight, we have run into Ungama for refuge and to repair our damage. If the Abyssinians find us here, I shall blow up our ships."'
This was bad tidings, not only for the allies, but also for Freeland, for it meant war with Abyssinia, which the Freelanders had hoped to avoid. Though it had been resolved from the first to secure for the European Powers, as presumptive allies, peace with Abyssinia, yet, in reliance upon the great respect which Freeland enjoyed among the neighbouring peoples, the Freelanders had indulged in the hope of so imposing upon the defiant semi-barbarians by a determined attitude as to keep them quiet without a resort to arms. The treacherous attack, at the very time when the plenipotentiaries of the attacked Powers were in Eden Vale, destroyed this hope.
In the National Palace we found the Freeland ministers already assembled, and we were soon followed by the English and French plenipotentiaries. By his agitated demeanour, the French ambassador showed that he had already heard the unhappy tidings. It was some hours later when the English ambassador received direct tidings that their ironclad corvette 'Nelson' had reached Ungama half-wrecked, having had a desperate encounter on her way with two of the vessels that had fallen into the hands of the Abyssinians, and one of which she bored and sank. In the meantime, more accurate and detailed accounts had reached the Freeland Foreign Office from different places on the coast, revealing the full extent of the misfortune. The Abyssinian attack had been made with vastly superior forces, assisted by treachery, and had been completely successful. As the treaty of peace with Abyssinia had several weeks to run, the garrisons of the—for the most part unhealthy—places on the coast were neither very strong nor very vigilant. The Abyssinians had simultaneously—at about two o'clock in the morning—attacked and taken Massowah, Arkiko, and Obok, the chief fortresses of the Italians, the English, and the French, as well as all the eight coast forts belonging to the same Powers. The garrisons, surprised asleep, were in part cut down, in part taken prisoners, and the vessels lying in the harbours were—with the exception of those already mentioned—captured at the same time. That as early as the next morning the Abyssinians were able to put to sea in some of these captured vessels is to be explained by the Negus's zealous enlistment of sailors already mentioned, which also proves that the attack had been long premeditated and was carefully planned. The treachery was so excellently well managed, that it was only a few minutes after the vessels were taken that the four which had escaped had to encounter a most destructive attack from the guns of the other ships. The vessels that fell into the hands of the Abyssinians in the three ports were: seven English, five French, and four Italian ironclads, including several of the first class; and eleven English, eight French, and four Italian gunboats and despatch-boats. About 24,000 men were either killed or taken prisoners in the fortresses and vessels.
The plenipotentiaries of the three Powers had, upon receipt of this Job's tidings, telegraphed to their governments for instructions. They told the Freeland executive that in all probability the conclusion of the military convention would now be most strongly insisted upon. Now that the fortresses had fallen, it would be absolutely impossible to collect upon the inhospitable shores of the Red Sea an army sufficiently large to meet the Negus. In fact, this was almost categorically the collective demand of the three Powers which reached Eden Vale the same day. As categorical, however, was the rejection of the proposal, accompanied by the declaration that the Eden Vale government intended to carry on alone the war with Abyssinia which now seemed inevitable. Moreover, the allies were told that their armies could not be brought to the seat of war soon enough. Even if the Suez Canal had been practicable for the transport of troops, their proposed 350,000 could not be brought together under two months at the least; and it was certain that, long ere that, the Negus John would have attempted to get possession of all the strategical positions of Freeland. And again, wherever the ships which the Abyssinians had taken could be utilised to block the Suez Canal, the allied forces, if they were called out, would at any rate arrive too late to prevent it. The overland route through Egypt could be so easily blocked by the Abyssinians that to select it as the base of operations would be simply absurd. The only route that remained was that round the Cape of Good Hope; and how long it would take to transport 350,000 auxiliary troops that way to Freeland, the cabinets of Paris, Rome, and London could calculate for themselves. But the Powers need feel no uneasiness; they should receive satisfaction sooner and more completely than they seemed to expect it. Before the English, French, and Italians could have got ready so great an expedition, we should have reckoned with the Negus. In the meantime, the allies might get their new garrisons ready to sail for the coast towns of the Red and Indian Seas; they could despatch them by the usual route through the Suez Canal, for before their transport-ships reached the canal—which could not be until the end of the next month—Freeland would either have recaptured or destroyed the stolen fleet of Abyssinia.
The last statement in particular was received by the allied Powers and their ambassadors with intense astonishment; and I must confess that I could not myself see how we, without a single ship of war, were to annihilate a fleet of sixteen first-class and twenty-three small vessels of war. It was not without some amount of bitter sarcasm that the ambassadors replied that, instead of making such grandiose proposals, it would be more practical to take measures that the wretchedly battered vessels now lying in the harbour at Ungama might be repaired and sent to sea again as quickly at possible. Even the possibility of saving them from the immensely superior force of the enemy rested upon the very uncertain hope that the foe would not at once look for them in the utterly defenceless port of Ungama.
'For the moment'—thus did one of the executive console the distressed diplomats—' that is, for the next few hours, you are certainly right. If before dark this evening a superior Abyssinian force appears before Ungama and begins at once by attacking your ships, those ships are in all human probability lost. But that holds good only for to-day. If the Abyssinian fleet shows itself, we have prepared for it a reception which will certainly not entice it to come again.'
'What have you done?' asked the ambassadors in astonishment. 'What can you do to protect the wretched remnant of our proud allied fleet?' While he said this, the eyes of the men whose patriotism had been so deeply wounded were anxiously fixed upon the members of the executive, and, in spite of my naturalisation in Freeland, I participated only too strongly in their feelings. You will understand that we were not concerned merely for the preservation of the few vessels; but to have at last found a point of resistance to the daring barbarians, to know that our men were relieved from the necessity of renewing their shameful flight—this it was which had a sweet sound of promise in the ear. The executive hastened to give us a full explanation.
As I have already told you, the Education Department of the Freeland government possesses a large number of cannon of different calibre in all parts of the country for the exercise of the young men. The largest of these can pierce the strongest of the armour-plates now in use like a piece of card. As soon as the first news of the attack had been received, eighty-four of these giant guns had been put in motion towards Ungama from the adjoining districts. As all these monsters run upon rails that are in connection with the network of Freeland railways, they were all on their way towards the coast before noon, accompanied by the young men who were familiar with the handling of them; and they would reach their destination in the course of the evening or during the night. As in Ungama, for purposes of ordinary harbour-service, several lines of rails ran along the coast in connection with the network of railways, the guns as they arrived could at once be placed in their several positions, which had been in the meantime—in course of the same day—provided with provisional earthworks. Later on, these earthworks were to receive armour-coating; but at present, as the central executive calculated, eighty-four guns of the largest size, manned by the most experienced gunners, would suffice even without any special protection to keep any armour-clads manned by wandering adventurers at a respectful distance.
I could not endure to stay longer in Eden Vale. After bidding my father a hasty farewell, and taking a somewhat less hurried farewell of Bertha, I started for Ungama. Two days later it was seen that the precautions which had been taken were neither superfluous nor insufficient. On the 23rd of August five Abyssinian ironclads and four gunboats appeared off Ungama; and, as the harbour was thought to be quite defenceless, they attempted forthwith to steam in for the purpose of destroying the disabled vessels of the allies which lay there. A shot from the largest of our armour-crushers, at a distance of a little over six miles, carried away one of the funnels of the nearest ironclad frigates. This made them more cautious; but they held on their way. Now our young gunners allowed the once-warned foe to steam in to within four miles and a-half of the shore, without giving a sign of their presence; then they opened fire simultaneously with thirty-seven cannons. This, however, did not last long. The first volley sank a gunboat, and damaged the whole fleet so much that the enemy was thrown into visible disorder. Some of the vessels appeared to be about to return our fire, while others seemed disposed to turn about and steam away. Two minutes later our second volley swept over the waves; it could be plainly seen that this time not one of the thirty-seven shots had missed its mark. All the enemy's ships showed severe damage, and the whole fleet had lost all desire to continue the unequal conflict. They reversed their engines and steamed off into the open sea with all possible speed. A third and a fourth salvo were sent after them, and a second gunboat and the largest of the ironclad frigates sank. Three other volleys did still further damage to the fleeing enemy, but failed to sink any more of the ships; but we learnt from the Italian despatch-boat, which followed the Abyssinian ships at a distance, that an hour after the battle a third gunboat sank, and that one of the ironclad frigates had to be taken in tow in order to get her out of the reach of our strand batteries. These batteries had lost only two men.
With the account of this Freeland deed of arms—in which I was simply an astonished spectator—I close this letter. When, where, and whether I shall write you another is known only to the God of war.
Massowah; Sept. 25, ——
If I recollect rightly, it is just a month and a day since I sent you my last letter. During this brief time I have gone through experiences which must have afforded you in old Europe many a surprise, and which—if I am not mistaken in the views of my new countrymen—will, in their immediate consequences, be of decisive importance to the whole of the habitable globe. It is the freedom of the world, I believe, that has been won on the battle-fields of the Red Sea and the Galla country; a victory has been gained, not merely over the unhappy John of Abyssinia, but also over many another tyranny which has held nations in bondage in your so-called civilised world. But why should I spend time in surmises about questions which the immediate future must bring to a decision? My present letter shall serve the purpose of assuring you of my safety and health, as well as of describing the Freeland-Abyssinian campaign, in which I took part from the beginning to the end.
On the 25th of August, two days after the outbreak of the war, the Eden Vale central executive received the Negus's ultimatum, in which he declared that he bore no ill-will against Freeland, but he had taken up arms only in order to protect himself and Freeland against a European invasion, which, as he had learnt, would be forced upon Freeland. As we had not shown courage enough to keep the foe away from our frontiers, the duty of self-preservation compelled him to demand from us the surrender of several important strategical points. If we acceded to this request, he would otherwise respect our liberties and rights, and would even overlook the damage done to his vessels at Ungama. But, if we refused, he would make a hostile invasion into our territory; and as, by the overthrow of the coast fortresses, he had guarded against our receiving any speedy assistance from Europe, the result could not be doubtful. He was already in motion with an army of occupation numbering 300,000 men, and expected within a week to have crossed our northern frontier. It was for us to decide whether we would receive him as a friend or as a foe. The answer to the Negus ran thus: He was mistaken in his supposition that Freeland thought of receiving foreign troops. Freeland was as little disposed to admit into its territory either English, French, or Italian, as to admit him for military purposes. We could, nevertheless, live at peace with him only on condition that he determined to maintain peace with the above-mentioned European Powers, and to make full compensation for the injury he had done to them. We did not wish to conceal from him that Freeland intended to enter into a friendly alliance with these European States, and would then hold itself bound to regard the enemies of its friends as its own enemies. He was warned against mistaking the conspicuously pacific character of Freeland for cowardice or weakness. A week would be given him to relinquish his threatening attitude and to furnish guarantees of peace and compensation. If within a week overtures of peace were not made, Freeland would attack him wherever he was found.
Of course, no one doubted the issue of this interchange of messages; and the preparations for the war were carried on with all speed.
Scarcely had the telegraph and the journals carried the first news of the Abyssinian attack through Freeland, before announcements and questions reached the central executive from all quarters, proving that the population of the whole country not merely had come to the conclusion that a war was imminent, but that, without any instruction from above, there had set themselves automatically in motion all those factors of resistance which could have been supplied by a military organisation perpetually on a war-footing. Freeland mobilised itself; and the event proved that this self-determined activity of millions of intelligent minds accustomed to act in common afforded very much better results than would have been obtained under an official system of mobilisation, however wisely planned and prepared for. From all the corps of thousands of the whole country there came in the course of the first few days inquiries whether the central executive thought the co-operation of the inquirers desirable. The corps of thousands of the first class, belonging to the twelve northern and north-eastern districts, comprising the Baringo country and Lykipia, announced at once that on the next day they should be fully assembled—with the exception of any who might be travelling—since they assumed that the prosecution of the war with Abyssinia would be specially their business. It was the general opinion in Freeland that from 40,000 to 50,000 men would be sufficient to defeat the Abyssinians; and as the northern districts possessed eighty-five of the corps of thousands that had gained laurels in the district exercises, no one doubted that the work of the war would fall upon these alone. Many a young man in the other parts of the country felt in his breast the stirrings of a noble ambition; but there was nowhere manifested a desire to withdraw more labour from the country than was necessary, or to interfere with the rational plan of mobilisation by pushing corps into the foreground from a distance. While the other corps thus voluntarily held back, those of the northern districts threw themselves, as a matter of course, into the campaign. But those thousands which during recent years had been victors at the great Aberdare games expressed the wish—so many of them as did not belong to the mobilised districts—to participate in the mobilisation; and all who had been victors in the individual contests at the last year's district and national games begged, as a favour, to be incorporated among the mobilised thousands. Both requests were granted; and the additional material thus supplied amounted to four corps of thousands and 960 individuals. Altogether about 90,000 men prepared themselves—about twice as many as the general opinion held to be requisite. But the men themselves, of their own initiative, decided, on the next day, that merely the unmarried men of the last four years, between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-six, should take the field. The force was thereby reduced to 48,000, including 9,500 cavalry and 180 guns, to which last were afterwards added eighty pieces from the Upper Naivasha district.
Each thousand had its own officers. Some of them were married, but it was resolved that, notwithstanding this, they should be retained. The election of superior officers took place on the 23rd of August, after the four extra corps had arrived at the place in North Lykipia appointed for this purpose. The chief command was not given to one of the officers present, but to a young engineer named Arago, living at Ripon as head of the Victoria Nyanza Building Association. Arago of course accepted the position, but asked to have one of the head officials of the traffic department of the central executive as head of the general staff. Hastening from Ungama direct to North Lykipia, I applied to that official with the request that he would place me on the general staff—a request to which, as I was able to prove my possession of the requisite knowledge, and in consideration of my recent renunciation of my Italian birthright, he was doubly willing to accede. David arrived at the same time as myself, bringing me the tenderest greetings and the cordial consent of my bride to the step I was taking, declaring at the same time that he should not jog from my side while the campaign lasted.
All the thousands were abundantly furnished with weapons and ammunition; and there was no lack of well-trained saddle-horses.
The commissariat was entrusted to the Food-providing Associations of Eden Vale and Dana City. The technical service—pioneering, bridge-construction, field-telegraphy, &c.—was undertaken by two associations from Central and Eastern Baringo; and the transport service was taken in hand by the department of the central executive in charge of such matters. Within the Freeland frontiers, the perfection of the network of communication made the transport and maintenance of so small an army a matter of no difficulty whatever. But as the Freelanders did not intend to wait for the Abyssinians, but meant to carry the war into the Galla country and to Habesh, 5,000 elephants, 8,000 camels, 20,000 horses, and 15,000 buffalo oxen were taken with the army as beasts of burden. Tents, field-kitchens, conserves, &c., had to be got ready; in short, provision had to be made that the army should want nothing even in the most inhospitable regions outside of Freeland.
All these preparations were completed by the 29th of August. Two days previously Arago had sent 4,000 horsemen with twenty-eight guns over the Konso pass into the neighbouring Wakwafi country, with instructions to spread themselves out in the form of a fan, to discover the whereabouts of the Abyssinians, whose approach we expected in that quarter. To be prepared for all contingencies, he sent smaller expeditionary corps of 1,200 and 900 men, with eight and four guns respectively, to watch the Endika and Silali mountain-ranges, which lay to the north-east and the north-west of his line of operations. Further, at the Konso pass he left a reserve of 6,000 men and twenty guns; and on the 30th of August he crossed the Galla frontier with 36,000 men and 200 guns. In order to make long marches and yet to spare the men, each man's kit was reduced as much as possible. It consisted, besides the weapons—repeating-rifle, repeating-pistol, and short sword, to be used also as bayonet—of eighty cartridges, a field-flask, and a small knapsack capable of holding only one meal. All the other luggage was carried by led horses, which followed close behind the marching columns, and of which there were twenty-five to every hundred men. This very mobile train, accessible to the men at all times, carried waterproof tents, complete suits and shoes for change of clothing, mackintoshes, conserves and drink for several days, and a reserve of 200 cartridges per man. In this way our young men were furnished with every necessary without being themselves overburdened, and they were consequently able to do twenty-five miles a day without injury.
The central executive had sent with the army a fully authorised commissioner, whose duty it was to carry out any wish of the leaders of the army, so far as the doing so was the business of the executive; to conduct negotiations for peace should the Negus be disposed to come to terms; and, finally, to provide for the security and comfort of the foreign military plenipotentiaries and newspaper correspondents who should join the campaign. Some of the latter accompanied us on horseback, while others were accommodated upon elephants; most of them followed the headquarters, and were thus kept au courant of all that took place.
On the third day's march—the 2nd of September—our mounted advance-guard announced that they had come upon the enemy. As Arago, before he engaged in a decisive battle, wished to test practically whether he and we were not making a fatal mistake in imagining ourselves superior to the enemy, he gave the vanguard orders to make a forced reconnaisance—that is, having done what he could to induce the foe to make a full disclosure of his strength, to withdraw as soon as he was sure of the course the enemy was taking.
At dawn on the 3rd of September we came into collision (I was one of the advanced body at my own request) with the Abyssinian vanguard at Ardeb in the valley of the Jubba. The enemy, not much more in number than ourselves, was completely routed at the first onset, all their guns—thirty-six pieces—taken, as well as 1,800 prisoners, whilst we lost only five men. The whole affair lasted scarcely forty minutes. While our lines were forming, the Abyssinian artillery opened upon us a perfectly ineffectual fire at three miles and three-quarters. Our artillery kept silent until the enemy was within a mile and a-half, when a few volleys from us silenced the latter, dismounted two of their guns, and compelled the rest to withdraw. Our artillery next directed its attention to the madly charging cavalry of the enemy, which it scattered by a few well-aimed shells, so that our squadron had nothing left to do but to follow the disordered fugitives and to ride down the enemy's infantry, thrown into hopeless confusion by their own fleeing cavalry. The affair closed with the pursuit of the panic-stricken foe and the bringing in of the prisoners. The enemy's loss in killed and wounded, though much greater than ours, was comparatively small.
Thus ended the prologue of the sanguinary drama. Our horse had scarcely got together again, and the prisoners, with the captured guns, sent to the headquarters, when dense and still denser masses of the enemy showed themselves in the distance. This was the whole of the Abyssinian left wing, numbering 65,000, with 120 guns. Twenty of our guns were stationed on a small height that commanded the marching route of the enemy, and opened fire about seven in the morning. The masses of the enemy's infantry were at once seen to turn aside, while ninety of the Abyssinian guns were placed opposite our artillery. The battle of cannons which now began lasted an hour without doing much harm to our artillery, for at so great a distance—three miles—the aim of the Abyssinian gunners was very bad, whilst our shells silenced by degrees thirty-four of the enemy's pieces. Twice the Abyssinians attempted to get nearer to our position, but were on both occasions driven back in a few minutes, so deadly was our fire at a shorter distance. As this did not answer, the enemy tried to storm our position. His masses of infantry and cavalry had deployed along the whole of our thin front, and shortly after eight o'clock the whole of the vastly superior force was in movement against us.
What next took place I should not have thought possible, notwithstanding what I had seen of the skill in the manipulation of their weapons possessed by the Freeland youth. Even the easily gained victory over the enemy's vanguard had not raised my expectations high enough. I confess that I regarded it as unjustifiable indiscretion, and as a proof of his total misunderstanding of the task which had been committed to him by the commander-in-chief, that Colonel Ruppert, the leader of our little band, should accept battle, and that not in the form of a covered retreat, but as a regular engagement which, if lost, must inevitably issue in the annihilation of his 4,000 men. For he had deployed his cavalry—who had all dismounted, and fired with their splendid carbines—in a thin line of over three miles, extending a little beyond the lines of the enemy, and with very weak reserves behind him. Thus he awaited the Abyssinians, as if they had been advancing as tirailleurs and not in compact columns. And I knew these storming columns well; at Ardeb and before Obok they had overthrown equal numbers of England's Indian veterans, France's Breton grenadiers, and Italy's bersaglieri; their weapons were equal to those of Freeland, their military discipline I was obliged to consider as superior to that of my present companions in arms. How could our thin line withstand the onset of fifteen times as many veteran warriors? I was firmly convinced that in another quarter of an hour they must be broken in pieces like a cord stretched in front of a locomotive; and then any child might see that after a few minutes' carnage all would be over. In spirit I took leave of distant loved ones—of my father—and I remembered you too, Louis, in that hour which I thought I had good reason to consider my last.
And, what was most astonishing to me, the Freelanders themselves all seemed to share my feelings. There was in their demeanour none of that wild lust for battle which one would have expected to see in those who—quite unnecessarily—engaged in the proportion of one against fifteen. A profound, sad earnestness, nay, repugnance and horror, could be read in the generally so clear and bright eyes of these Freeland youths and men. It was as if they, like myself, were all looking in the face of death. The officers also, even the colonel in command, evidently participated in these gloomy forebodings: then why, in heaven's name, did they offer battle? If they anticipated overthrow, why did they not withdraw in time? But what injustice had I done to these men! how completely had I mistaken the cause and the object of their anxiety! Incredible as it may sound, my comrades in arms were anxious not for their own safety, but on account of their enemies; they shuddered at the thought of the slaughter that awaited not themselves, but their foes. The idea that they, free men, could be vanquished by wretched slaves was as remote from their minds as the idea that the hare can be dangerous to him is from the mind of the sportsman. But they saw themselves compelled to shoot down in cold blood thousands of unfortunate fellow-creatures; and this excited in them, who held man to be the most sacred and the highest of all things, an unspeakable repugnance. Had this been told me before the battle, I should not have understood it, and should have held it to be braggadocio; now, after what I have shudderingly passed through, I find it intelligible. For I must confess that a column advancing against the Freeland lines, and torn to pieces by their fire, is a sight which freezes the blood of even men accustomed to murder en masse, as I am. I have several times seen the destroying angel of the battlefield at work, and could therefore consider myself steeled against its horrors: but here....
I will not describe my fooling, but what occurred. When the Abyssinians were a little less than a mile from us, Ruppert's adjutants galloped along our front for the last time and bade our men to fire: 'But not a shot after they begin to waver!' Then among us there was a stillness as of death, whilst from the other side the noise of the drums and the wild music grew louder and louder, interrupted from time to time by the piercing war-cries of the Abyssinians. When the enemy was within half a mile our men discharged a single volley: the front line of the enemy collapsed as if smitten by a blast of pestilence; their ranks wavered and had to be formed anew. No second shot was as yet fired by the Freelanders; but when the Abyssinians again pressed forward with wild cries, and now at a more rapid pace, there thundered a second volley; and as the death-seeking brown warriors this time stormed forward over their shattered front rank, a third volley met them. This was enough for the enemy for the present; they turned in wild confusion, and did not stop in their flight until they thought themselves out of our range. Our fire had ceased as soon as the enemy turned, and it was high time it did. Not that our position would have been at all endangered by a further advance of the enemy: the Abyssinians had advanced little more than a hundred yards, and were still, therefore, between six and seven hundred, yards away, and it was most improbable that one of them could have reached our front. But it was this very distance, and the consequent absence of the special excitement of close combat, that made the horror of the slaughter too great for human nerves to have borne it much longer. Within a few minutes nearly a thousand Abyssinians had been killed or wounded; and many of the Freeland officers afterwards declared to me that they were seized with faintness at the sight of the breaking ranks and of the foes in the agonies of death. I can perfectly understand this, for even I felt ill.