Through the Eye of the Needle - A Romance
by W. D. Howells
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

She laughed at this, as if she thought I must be joking. "It would be droll, wouldn't it, to have Tammany appointees teaching Altrurianism?" Then she said, after a moment of reflection: "Why not? It needn't be in the hands of Tammany. It could be in the hands of the United States; I will ask my lawyer if it couldn't; and I will endow it with money enough to support the school handsomely. Aristide, you have hit it!"

I began: "You can give all your money to it, my dear—" But I stopped at the bewildered look she turned on me.

"All?" she repeated. "But what should we have to live on, then?"

"We shall need no money to live on in Altruria," I answered.

"Oh, in Altruria! But when we come back to New York?"

It was an agonizing moment, and I felt that shutting of the heart which blinds the eyes and makes the brain reel. "Eveleth," I gasped, "did you expect to return to New York?"

"Why, certainly!" she cried. "Not at once, of course. But after you had seen your friends, and made a good, long visit—Why, surely, Aristide, you don't understand that I—You didn't mean to live in Altruria?"

"Ah!" I answered. "Where else could I live? Did you think for an instant that I could live in such a land as this?" I saw that she was hurt, and I hastened to say: "I know that it is the best part of the world outside of Altruria, but, oh, my dear, you cannot imagine how horrible the notion of living here seems to me. Forgive me. I am going from bad to worse. I don't mean to wound you. After all, it is your country, and you must love it. But, indeed, I could not think of living here. I could not take the burden of its wilful misery on my soul. I must live in Altruria, and you, when you have once seen my country, our country, will never consent to live in any other."

"Yes," she said, "I know it must be very beautiful; but I hadn't supposed—and yet I ought—"

"No, dearest, no! It was I who was to blame, for not being clearer from the first. But that is the way with us. We can't imagine any people willing to live anywhere else when once they have seen Altruria; and I have told you so much of it, and we have talked of it together so often, that I must have forgotten you had not actually known it. But listen, Eveleth. We will agree to this: After we have been a year in Altruria, if you wish to return to America I will come back and live with you here."

"No, indeed!" she answered, generously. "If you are to be my husband," and here she began with the solemn words of the Bible, so beautiful in their quaint English, "'whither thou goest, I will go, and I will not return from following after thee. Thy country shall be my country, and thy God my God."

I caught her to my heart, in a rapture of tenderness, and the evening that had begun for us so forbiddingly ended in a happiness such as not even our love had known before. I insisted upon the conditions I had made, as to our future home, and she agreed to them gayly at last, as a sort of reparation which I might make my conscience, if I liked, for tearing her from a country which she had willingly lived out of for the far greater part of the last five years.

But when we met again I could see that she had been thinking seriously.

"I won't give the house absolutely away," she said. "I will keep the deed of it myself, but I will establish that sort of school of Altrurian doctrine in it, and I will endow it, and when we come back here, for our experimental sojourn, after we've been in Altruria a year, we'll take up our quarters in it—I won't give the whole house to the school—and we will lecture on the later phases of Altrurian life to the pupils. How will that do?"

She put her arms around my neck, and I said that it would do admirably; but I had a certain sinking of the heart, for I saw how hard it was even for Eveleth to part with her property.

"I'll endow it," she went on, "and I'll leave the rest of my money at interest here; unless you think that some Altrurian securities—"

"No; there are no such things!" I cried.

"That was what I thought," she returned; "and as it will cost us nothing while we are in Altruria, the interest will be something very handsome by the time we get back, even in United States bonds."

"Something handsome!" I cried. "But, Eveleth, haven't I heard you say yourself that the growth of interest from dead money was like—"

"Oh yes; that!" she returned. "But you know you have to take it. You can't let the money lie idle: that would be ridiculous; and then, with the good purpose we have in view, it is our duty to take the interest. How should we keep up the school, and pay the teachers, and everything?"

I saw that she had forgotten the great sum of the principal, or that, through lifelong training and association, it was so sacred to her that she did not even dream of touching it. I was silent, and she thought that I was persuaded.

"You are perfectly right in theory, dear, and I feel just as you do about such things; I'm sure I've suffered enough from them; but if we didn't take interest for your money, what should we have to live on?"

"Not my money, Eveleth!" I entreated. "Don't say my money!"

"But whatever is mine is yours," she returned, with a wounded air.

"Not your money; but I hope you will soon have none. We should need no money to live on in Altruria. Our share of the daily work of all will amply suffice for our daily bread and shelter."

"In Altruria, yes. But how about America? And you have promised to come back here in a year, you know. Ladies and gentlemen can't share in the daily toil here, even if they could get the toil, and, where there are so many out of work, it isn't probable they could."

She dropped upon my knee as she spoke, laughing, and put her hand under my chin, to lift my fallen face.

"Now you mustn't be a goose, Aristide, even if you are an angel! Now listen. You know, don't you, that I hate money just as badly as you?"

"You have made me think so, Eveleth," I answered.

"I hate it and loathe it. I think it's the source of all the sin and misery in the world; but you can't get rid of it at a blow. For if you gave it away you might do more harm than good with it."

"You could destroy it," I said.

"Not unless you were a crank," she returned. "And that brings me just to the point. I know that I'm doing a very queer thing to get married, when we know so little, really, about you," and she accented this confession with a laugh that was also a kiss. "But I want to show people that we are just as practical as anybody; and if they can know that I have left my money in United States bonds, they'll respect us, no matter what I do with the interest. Don't you see? We can come back, and preach and teach Altrurianism, and as long as we pay our way nobody will have a right to say a word. Why, Tolstoy himself doesn't destroy his money, though he wants other people to do it. His wife keeps it, and supports the family. You have to do it."

"He doesn't do it willingly."

"No. And we won't. And after a while—after we've got back, and compared Altruria and America from practical experience, if we decide to go and live there altogether, I will let you do what you please with the hateful money. I suppose we couldn't take it there with us?"

"No more than you could take it to heaven with you," I answered, solemnly; but she would not let me be altogether serious about it.

"Well, in either case we could get on without it, though we certainly could not get on without it here. Why, Aristide, it is essential to the influence we shall try to exert for Altrurianism; for if we came back here and preached the true life without any money to back us, no one would pay any attention to us. But if we have a good house waiting for us, and are able to entertain nicely, we can attract the best people, and—and—really do some good."


I rose in a distress which I could not hide. "Oh, Eveleth, Eveleth!" I cried. "You are like all the rest, poor child! You are the creature of your environment, as we all are. You cannot escape what you have been. It may be that I was wrong to wish or expect you to cast your lot with me in Altruria, at once and forever. It may be that it is my duty to return here with you after a time, not only to let you see that Altruria is best, but to end my days in this unhappy land, preaching and teaching Altrurianism; but we must not come as prophets to the comfortable people, and entertain nicely. If we are to renew the evangel, it must be in the life and the spirit of the First Altrurian: we must come poor to the poor; we must not try to win any one, save through his heart and conscience; we must be as simple and humble as the least of those that Christ bade follow Him. Eveleth, perhaps you have made a mistake. I love you too much to wish you to suffer even for your good. Yes, I am so weak as that. I did not think that this would be the sacrifice for you that it seems, and I will not ask it of you. I am sorry that we have not understood each other, as I supposed we had. I could never become an American; perhaps you could never become an Altrurian. Think of it, dearest. Think well of it, before you take the step which you cannot recede from. I hold you to no promise; I love you so dearly that I cannot let you hold yourself. But you must choose between me and your money—no, not me—but between love and your money. You cannot keep both."

She had stood listening to me; now she cast herself on my heart and stopped my words with an impassioned kiss. "Then there is no choice for me. My choice is made, once for all." She set her hands against my breast and pushed me from her. "Go now; but come again to-morrow. I want to think it all over again. Not that I have any doubt, but because you wish it—you wish it, don't you?—and because I will not let you ever think I acted upon an impulse, and that I regretted it."

"That is right, Eveleth. That is like you" I said, and I took her into my arms for good-night.

The next day I came for her decision, or rather for her confirmation of it. The man who opened the door to me met me with a look of concern and embarrassment. He said Mrs. Strange was not at all well, and had told him he was to give me the letter he handed me. I asked, in taking it, if I could see Mrs. Gray, and he answered that Mrs. Gray had not been down yet, but he would go and see. I was impatient to read my letter, and I made I know not what vague reply, and I found myself, I know not how, on the pavement, with the letter open in my hand. It began abruptly without date or address:

_"You will believe that I have not slept, when you read this.

"I have thought it all over again, as you wished, and it is all over between us.

"I am what you said, the creature of my environment. I cannot detach myself from it; I cannot escape from what I have been.

"I am writing this with a strange coldness, like the chill of death, in my very soul. I do not ask you to forgive me; I have your forgiveness already. Do not forget me; that is what I ask. Remember me as the unhappy woman who was not equal to her chance when heaven was opened to her, who could not choose the best when the best came to her.

"There is no use writing; if I kept on forever, it would always be the same cry of shame, of love.

"Eveleth Strange."_

I reeled as I read the lines. The street seemed to weave itself into a circle around me. But I knew that I was not dreaming, that this was no delirium of my sleep.

It was three days ago, and I have not tried to see her again. I have written her a line, to say that I shall not forget her, and to take the blame upon myself. I expected the impossible of her.

I have yet two days before me until the steamer sails; we were to have sailed together, and now I shall sail alone.

I will try to leave it all behind me forever; but while I linger out these last long hours here I must think and I must doubt.

Was she, then, the poseuse that they said? Had she really no hear in our love? Was it only a pretty drama she was playing, and were those generous motives, those lofty principles which seemed to actuate her, the poetical qualities of the play, the graces of her pose? I cannot believe it. I believe that she was truly what she seemed, for she had been that even before she met me. I believe that she was pure and lofty in soul as she appeared; but that her life was warped to such a form by the false conditions of this sad world that, when she came to look at herself again, after she had been confronted with the sacrifice before her, she feared that she could not make it without in a manner ceasing to be.


But I shall soon see you again; and, until then, farewell.




I could hardly have believed, my dear Dorothea, that I should be so late in writing to you from Altruria, but you can easily believe that I am thoroughly ashamed of myself for my neglect. It is not for want of thinking of you, or talking of you, that I have seemed so much more ungrateful than I am. My husband and I seldom have any serious talk which doesn't somehow come round to you. He admires you and likes you as much as I do, and he does his best, poor man, to understand you; but his not understanding you is only a part of his general failure to understand how any American can be kind and good in conditions which he considers so abominable as those of the capitalistic world. He is not nearly so severe on us as he used to be at times when he was among us. When the other Altrurians are discussing us he often puts in a reason for us against their logic; and I think he has really forgotten, a good deal, how bad things are with us, or else finds his own memory of them incredible. But his experience of the world outside his own country has taught him how to temper the passion of the Altrurians for justice with a tolerance of the unjust; and when they bring him to book on his own report of us he tries to explain us away, and show how we are not so bad as we ought to be.

For weeks after we came to Altruria I was so unhistorically blest that if I had been disposed to give you a full account of myself I should have had no events to hang the narrative on. Life here is so subjective (if you don't know what that is, you poor dear, you must get Mr. Twelvemough to explain) that there is usually nothing like news in it, and I always feel that the difference between Altruria and America is so immense that it is altogether beyond me to describe it. But now we have had some occurrences recently, quite in the American sense, and these have furnished me with an incentive as well as opportunity to send you a letter. Do you remember how, one evening after dinner, in New York, you and I besieged my husband and tried to make him tell us why Altruria was so isolated from the rest of the world, and why such a great and enlightened continent should keep itself apart? I see still his look of horror when Mr. Makely suggested that the United States should send an expedition and "open" Altruria, as Commodore Perry "opened" Japan in 1850, and try to enter into commercial relations with it. The best he could do was to say what always seemed so incredible, and keep on assuring us that Altruria wished for no sort of public relations with Europe or America, but was very willing to depend for an indefinite time for its communication with those regions on vessels putting into its ports from stress of one kind or other, or castaway on its coasts. They are mostly trading-ships or whalers, and they come a great deal oftener than you suppose; you do not hear of them afterwards, because their crews are poor, ignorant people, whose stories of their adventures are always distrusted, and who know they would be laughed at if they told the stories they could of a country like Altruria. My husband himself took one of their vessels on her home voyage when he came to us, catching the Australasian steamer at New Zealand; and now I am writing you by the same sort of opportunity. I shall have time enough to write you a longer letter than you will care to read; the ship does not sail for a week yet, because it is so hard to get her crew together.

Now that I have actually made a beginning, my mind goes back so strongly to that terrible night when I came to you after Aristides (I always use the English form of his name now) left New York that I seem to be living the tragedy over again, and this happiness of mine here is like a dream which I cannot trust. It was not all tragedy, though, and I remember how funny Mr. Makely was, trying to keep his face straight when the whole truth had to come out, and I confessed that I had expected, without really knowing it myself, that Aristides would disregard that wicked note I had written him and come and make me marry him, not against my will, but against my word. Of course I didn't put it in just that way, but in a way to let you both guess it. The first glimmering of hope that I had was when Mr. Makely said, "Then, when a woman tells a man that all is over between them forever, she means that she would like to discuss the business with him?" I was old enough to be ashamed, but it seemed to me that you and I had gone back in that awful moment and were two girls together, just as we used to be at school. I was proud of the way you stood up for me, because I thought that if you could tolerate me after what I had confessed I could not be quite a fool. I knew that I deserved at least some pity, and though I laughed with Mr. Makely, I was glad of your indignation with him, and of your faith in Aristides. When it came to the question of what I should do, I don't know which of you I owed the most to. It was a kind of comfort to have Mr. Makely acknowledge that though he regarded Aristides as a myth, still he believed that he was a thoroughly good myth, and couldn't tell a lie if he wanted to; and I loved you, and shall love you more than any one else but him, for saying that Aristides was the most real man you had ever met, and that if everything he said was untrue you would trust him to the end of the world.

But, Dolly, it wasn't all comedy, any more than it was all tragedy, and when you and I had laughed and cried ourselves to the point where there was nothing for me to do but to take the next boat for Liverpool, and Mr. Makely had agreed to look after the tickets and cable Aristides that I was coming, there was still my poor, dear mother to deal with. There is no use trying to conceal from you that she was always opposed to my husband. She thought there was something uncanny about him, though she felt as we did that there was nothing uncanny in him; but a man who pretended to come from a country where there was no riches and no poverty could not be trusted with any woman's happiness; and though she could not help loving him, she thought I ought to tear him out of my heart, and if I could not do that I ought to have myself shut up in an asylum. We had a dreadful time when I told her what I had decided to do, and I was almost frantic. At last, when she saw that I was determined to follow him, she yielded, not because she was convinced, but because she could not give me up; I wouldn't have let her if she could. I believe that the only thing which reconciled her was that you and Mr. Makely believed in him, and thought I had better do what I wanted to, if nothing could keep me from it. I shall never, never forget Mr. Makely's goodness in coming to talk with her, and how skillfully he managed, without committing himself to Altruria, to declare his faith in my Altrurian. Even then she was troubled about what she thought the indelicacy of my behavior in following him across the sea, and she had all sorts of doubts as to how he would receive me when we met in Liverpool. It wasn't very reasonable of me to say that if he cast me off I should still love him more than any other human being, and his censure would be more precious to me than the praise of the rest of the world.

I suppose I hardly knew what I was saying, but when once I had yielded to my love for him there was nothing else in life. I could not have left my mother behind, but in her opposition to me she seemed like an enemy, and I should somehow have forced her to go if she had not yielded. When she did yield, she yielded with her whole heart and soul, and so far from hindering me in my preparations for the voyage, I do not believe I could have got off without her. She thought about everything, and it was her idea to leave my business affairs entirely in Mr. Makely's hands, and to trust the future for the final disposition of my property. I did not care for it myself; I hated it, because it was that which had stood between me and Aristides; but she foresaw that if by any wild impossibility he should reject me when we met, I should need it for the life I must go back to in New York. She behaved like a martyr as well as a heroine, for till we reached Altruria she was a continual sacrifice to me. She stubbornly doubted the whole affair, but now I must do her the justice to say that she has been convinced by the fact. The best she can say of it is that it is like the world of her girlhood; and she has gone back to the simple life here from the artificial life in New York, with the joy of a child. She works the whole day, and she would play if she had ever learned how. She is a better Altrurian than I am; if there could be a bigoted Altrurian my mother would be one.


I sent you a short letter from Liverpool, saying that by the unprecedented delays of the Urania, which I had taken because it was the swiftest boat of the Neptune line, we had failed to pass the old, ten-day, single-screw Galaxy liner which Aristides had sailed in. I had only time for a word to you; but a million words could not have told the agonies I suffered, and when I overtook him on board the Orient Pacific steamer at Plymouth, where she touched, I could just scribble off the cable sent Mr. Makely before our steamer put off again. I am afraid you did not find my cable very expressive, but I was glad that I did not try to say more, for if I had tried I should simply have gibbered, at a shilling a gibber. I expected to make amends by a whole volume of letters, and I did post a dozen under one cover from Colombo. If they never reached you I am very sorry, for now it is impossible to take up the threads of that time and weave them into any sort of connected pattern. You will have to let me off with saying that Aristides was everything that I believed he would be and was never really afraid he might not be. From the moment we caught sight of each other at Plymouth, he at the rail of the steamer and I on the deck of the tender, we were as completely one as we are now. I never could tell how I got aboard to him; whether he came down and brought me, or whether I was simply rapt through the air to his side. It would have been embarrassing if we had not treated the situation frankly; but such odd things happen among the English going out to their different colonies that our marriage, by a missionary returning to his station, was not even a nine days' wonder with our fellow-passengers.

We were a good deal more than nine days on the steamer before we could get a vessel that would take us on to Altruria; but we overhauled a ship going there for provisions at last, and we were all put off on her, bag and baggage, with three cheers from the friends we were leaving; I think they thought we were going to some of the British islands that the Pacific is full of. I had been thankful from the first that I had not brought a maid, knowing the Altrurian prejudice against hireling service, but I never was so glad as I was when we got aboard that vessel, for when the captain's wife, who was with him, found that I had no one to look after me, she looked after me herself, just for the fun of it, she said; but I knew it was the love of it. It was a sort of general trading-ship, stopping at the different islands in the South Seas, and had been a year out from home, where the kind woman had left her little ones; she cried over their photographs to me. Her husband had been in Altruria before, and he and Aristides were old acquaintances and met like brothers; some of the crew knew him, too, and the captain relaxed discipline so far as to let us shake hands with the second-mate as the men's representative.

I needn't dwell on the incidents of our home-coming—for that was what it seemed for my mother and me as well as for my husband—but I must give you one detail of our reception, for I still think it almost the prettiest thing that has happened to us among the millions of pretty things. Aristides had written home of our engagement, and he was expected with his American wife; and before we came to anchor the captain ran up the Emissary's signal, which my husband gave him, and then three boats left the shore and pulled rapidly out to us. As they came nearer I saw the first Altrurian costumes in the lovely colors that the people wear here, and that make a group of them look like a flower-bed; and then I saw that the boats were banked with flowers along the gunwales from stem to stern, and that they were each not manned, but girled by six rowers, who pulled as true a stroke as I ever saw in our boat-races. When they caught sight of us, leaning over the side, and Aristides lifted his hat and waved it to them, they all stood their oars upright, and burst into a kind of welcome song: I had been dreading one of those stupid, banging salutes of ten or twenty guns, and you can imagine what a relief it was. They were great, splendid creatures, as tall as our millionaires' tallest daughters, and as strong-looking as any of our college-girl athletes; and when we got down over the ship's side, and Aristides said a few words of introduction for my mother and me, as we stepped into the largest of the boats, I thought they would crush me, catching me in their strong, brown arms, and kissing me on each cheek; they never kiss on the mouth in Altruria. The girls in the other boats kissed their hands to mother and me, and shouted to Aristides, and then, when our boat set out for the shore, they got on each side of us and sang song after song as they pulled even stroke with our crew. Half-way, we met three other boats, really manned, these ones, and going out to get our baggage, and then you ought to have heard the shouting and laughing, that ended in more singing, when the young fellows' voices mixed with the girls, till they were lost in the welcome that came off to us from the crowded quay, where I should have thought half Altruria had gathered to receive us.

I was afraid it was going to be too much for my mother, but she stood it bravely; and almost at a glance people began to take her into consideration, and she was delivered over to two young married ladies, who saw that she was made comfortable, the first of any, in the pretty Regionic guest-house where they put us.

I wish I could give you a notion of that guest-house, with its cool, quiet rooms, and its lawned and gardened enclosure, and a little fountain purring away among the flowers! But what astonished me was that there were no sort of carriages, or wheeled conveyances, which, after our escort from the ship, I thought might very well have met the returning Emissary and his wife. They made my mother get into a litter, with soft cushions and with lilac curtains blowing round it, and six girls carried her up to the house; but they seemed not to imagine my not walking, and, in fact, I could hardly have imagined it myself, after the first moment of queerness. That walk was full of such rich experience for every one of the senses that I would not have missed a step of it; but as soon as I could get Aristides alone I asked him about horses, and he said that though horses were still used in farm work, not a horse was allowed in any city or village of Altruria, because of their filthiness. As for public vehicles, they used to have electric trolleys; in the year that he had been absent they had substituted electric motors; but these were not running, because it was a holiday on which we had happened to arrive.

There was another incident of my first day which I think will amuse you, knowing how I have always shrunk from any sort of public appearances. When Aristides went to make his report to the people assembled in a sort of convention, I had to go too, and take part in the proceedings; for women are on an entire equality with the men here, and people would be shocked if husband and wife were separated in their public life. They did not spare me a single thing. Where Aristides was not very clear, or rather not full enough, in describing America, I was called on to supplement, and I had to make several speeches. Of course, as I spoke in English, he had to put it into Altrurian for me, and it made the greatest excitement. The Altrurians are very lively people, and as full of the desire to hear some new things as Paul said the men of Athens were. At times they were in a perfect gale of laughter at what we told them about America. Afterwards some of the women confessed to me that they liked to hear us speaking English together; it sounded like the whistling of birds or the shrilling of locusts. But they were perfectly kind, and though they laughed it was clear that they laughed at what we were saying, and never at us, or at least never at me.

Of course there was the greatest curiosity to know what Aristides' wife looked like, as well as sounded like; he had written out about our engagement before I broke it; and my clothes were of as much interest As myself, or more. You know how I had purposely left my latest Paris things behind, so as to come as simply as possible to the simple life of Altruria, but still with my big leg-of-mutton sleeves, and my picture-hat, and my pinched waist, I felt perfectly grotesque, and I have no doubt I looked it. They had never seen a lady from the capitalistic world before, but only now and then a whaling-captain's wife who had come ashore; and I knew they were burning to examine my smart clothes down to the last button and bit of braid. I had on the short skirts of last year, and I could feel ten thousand eyes fastened on my high-heeled boots, which you know I never went to extremes in. I confess my face burned a little, to realize what a scarecrow I must look, when I glanced round at those Altrurian women, whose pretty, classic fashions made the whole place like a field of lilacs and irises, and knew that they were as comfortable as they were beautiful. Do you remember some of the descriptions of the undergraduate maidens in the "Princess"—I know you had it at school—where they are sitting in the palace halls together? The effect was something like that.

You may be sure that I got out of my things as soon as I could borrow an Altrurian costume, and now my Paris confections are already hung up for monuments, as Richard III. says, in the Capitalistic Museum, where people from the outlying Regions may come and study them as object-lessons in what not to wear. (You remember what you said Aristides told you, when he spoke that day at the mountains, about the Regions that Altruria is divided into? This is the Maritime Region, and the city where we are living for the present is the capital.) You may think this was rather hard on me, and at first it did seem pretty intimate, having my things in a long glass case, and it gave me a shock to see them, as if it had been my ghost, whenever I passed them. But the fact is I was more ashamed than hurt—they were so ugly and stupid and useless. I could have borne my Paris dress and my picture-hat if it had not been for those ridiculous high-heeled, pointed-toe shoes, which the Curatress had stood at the bottom of the skirts. They looked the most frantic things you can imagine, and the mere sight of them made my poor feet ache in the beautiful sandals I am wearing now; when once you have put on sandals you say good-bye and good-riddance to shoes. In a single month my feet have grown almost a tenth as large again as they were, and my friends here encourage me to believe that they will yet measure nearly the classic size, though, as you know, I am not in my first youth and can't expect them to do miracles.

* * * * *

I had to leave off abruptly at the last page because Aristides had come in with a piece of news that took my mind off everything else. I am afraid you are not going to get this letter even at the late date I had set for its reaching you, my dear. It seems that there has been a sort of mutiny among the crew of our trader, which was to sail next week, and now there is no telling when she will sail. Ever since she came the men have been allowed their liberty, as they call it, by watches, but the last watch came ashore this week before another watch had returned to the ship, and now not one of the sailors will go back. They had been exploring the country by turns, at their leisure, it seems, and their excuse is that they like Altruria better than America, which they say they wish never to see again.

You know (though I didn't, till Aristides explained to me) that in any European country the captain in such a case would go to his consul, and the consul would go to the police, and the police would run the men down and send them back to the ship in irons as deserters, or put them in jail till the captain was ready to sail, and then deliver them up to him. But it seems that there is no law in Altruria to do anything of the kind; the only law here that would touch the case is one which obliges any citizen to appear and answer the complaint of any other citizen before the Justiciary Assembly. A citizen cannot be imprisoned for anything but the rarest offence, like killing a person in a fit of passion; and as to seizing upon men who are guilty of nothing worse than wanting to be left to the pursuit of happiness, as all the Altrurians are, there is no statute and no usage for it. Aristides says that the only thing which can be done is to ask the captain and the men to come to the Assembly and each state his case. The Altrurians are not anxious to have the men stay, not merely because they are coarse, rude, or vicious, but because they think they ought to go home and tell the Americans what they have seen and heard here, and try and get them to found an Altrurian Commonwealth of their own. Still they will not compel them to go, and the magistrates do not wish to rouse any sort of sentiment against them. They feel that the men are standing on their natural rights, which they could not abdicate if they would. I know this will appear perfectly ridiculous to Mr. Makely, and I confess myself that there seems something binding in a contract which ought to act on the men's consciences, at least.


Well, my dear Dorothea, the hearing before the Assembly is over, and it has left us just where it found us, as far as the departure of our trader is concerned.

How I wish you could have been there! The hearing lasted three days, and I would not have missed a minute of it. As it was, I did not miss a syllable, and it was so deeply printed on my mind that I believe I could repeat it word for word if I had to. But, in the first place, I must try and realize the scene to you. I was once summoned as a witness in one of our courts, you remember, and I have never forgotten the horror of it: the hot, dirty room, with its foul air, the brutal spectators, the policemen stationed among them to keep them in order, the lawyers with the plaintiff and defendant seated all at one table, the uncouth abruptness of the clerks and janitors, or whatever, the undignified magistrate, who looked as if his lunch had made him drowsy, and who seemed half asleep, as he slouched in his arm-chair behind his desk. Instead of such a setting as this, you must imagine a vast marble amphitheatre, larger than the Metropolitan Opera, by three or four times, all the gradines overflowing (that is the word for the "liquefaction of the clothes" which poured over them), and looking like those Bermudan waters where the colors of the rainbow seem dropped around the coast. On the platform, or stage, sat the Presidents of the Assembly, and on a tier of seats behind and above them, the national Magistrates, who, as this is the capital of the republic for the time being, had decided to be present at the hearing, because they thought the case so very important. In the hollow space, just below (like that where you remember the Chorus stood in that Greek play which we saw at Harvard ages ago), were the captain and the first-mate on one hand, and the seamen on the other; the second-mate, our particular friend, was not there because he never goes ashore anywhere, and had chosen to remain with the black cook in charge of the ship. The captain's wife would rather have stayed with them, but I persuaded her to come to us for the days of the hearing, because the captain had somehow thought we were opposed to him, and because I thought she ought to be there to encourage him by her presence. She sat next to me, in a hat which I wish you could have seen, Dolly, and a dress which would have set your teeth on edge; but inside of them I knew she was one of the best souls in the world, and I loved her the more for being the sight she was among those wonderful Altrurian women.

The weather was perfect, as it nearly always is at this time of year—warm, yet fresh, with a sky of that "bleu impossible" of the Riviera on the clearest day. Some people had parasols, but they put them down as soon as the hearing began, and everybody could see perfectly. You would have thought they could not hear so well, but a sort of immense sounding-plane was curved behind the stage, so that not a word of the testimony on either side was lost to me in English. The Altrurian translation was given the second day of the hearing through a megaphone, as different in tone from the thing that the man in the Grand Central Station bellows the trains through as the vox-humana stop of an organ is different from the fog-horn of a light-house. The captain's wife was bashful, in her odd American dress, but we had got seats near the tribune, rather out of sight, and there was nothing to hinder our hearing, like the frou-frou of stiff silks or starched skirts (which I am afraid we poor things in America like to make when we move) from the soft, filmy tissues that the Altrurian women wear; but I must confess that there was a good deal of whispering while the captain and the men were telling their stories. But, no one except the interpreters, who were taking their testimony down in short-hand, to be translated into Altrurian and read at the subsequent hearing, could understand what they were saying, and so nobody was disturbed by the murmurs. The whispering was mostly near me, where I sat with the captain's wife, for everybody I knew got as close as they could and studied my face when they thought anything important or significant had been said. They are very quick at reading faces here; in fact, a great deal of the conversation is carried on in that way, or with the visible speech; and my Altrurian friends knew almost as well as I did when the speakers came to an interesting point. It was rather embarrassing for me, though, with the poor captain's wife at my side, to tell them, in my broken Altrurian, what the men were accusing the captain of.

I talk of the men, but it was really only one of them who at first, by their common consent, spoke for the rest. He was a middle-aged Yankee, and almost the only born American among them, for you know that our sailors, nowadays, are of every nationality under the sun—Portuguese, Norwegians, Greeks, Italians, Kanucks, and Kanakas, and even Cape Cod Indians. He said he guessed his story was the story of most sailors, and he had followed the sea his whole life. His story was dreadful, and I tried to persuade the captain's wife not to come to the hearing the next day, when it was to be read in Altrurian; but she would come. I was afraid she would be overwhelmed by the public compassion, and would not know what to do; for when something awful that the sailor had said against the captain was translated the women, all about us cooed their sympathy with her, and pressed her hand if they could, or patted her on the shoulder, to show how much they pitied her. In Altruria they pity the friends of those who have done wrong, and sometimes even the wrong-doers themselves; and it is quite a luxury, for there is so little wrong-doing here: I tell them that in America they would have as much pitying to do as they could possibly ask. After the hearing that day my friends, who were of a good many different Refectories, as we call them here, wanted her to go and lunch with them; but I got her quietly home with me, and after she had had something to eat I made her lie down awhile.

You won't care to have me go fully into the affair. The sailors' spokesman told how he had been born on a farm, where he had shared the family drudgery and poverty till he grew old enough to run away. He meant to go to sea, but he went first to a factory town and worked three or four years in the mills. He never went back to the farm, but he sent a little money now and then to his mother; and he stayed on till he got into trouble. He did not say just what kind of trouble, but I fancied it was some sort of love-trouble; he blamed himself for it; and when he left that town to get away from the thought of it, as much as anything, and went to work in another town, he took to drink; then, once, in a drunken spree, he found himself in New York without knowing how. But it was in what he called a sailors' boarding-house, and one morning, after he had been drinking overnight "with a very pleasant gentleman," he found himself in the forecastle of a ship bound for Holland, and when the mate came and cursed him up and cursed him out he found himself in the foretop. I give it partly in his own language, because I cannot help it; and I only wish I could give it wholly in his language; it was so graphic and so full of queer Yankee humor. From that time on, he said, he had followed the sea; and at sea he was always a good temperance man, but Altruria was the only place he had ever kept sober ashore. He guessed that was partly because there was nothing to drink but unfermented grape-juice, and partly because there was nobody to drink with; anyhow, he had not had a drop here. Everywhere else, as soon as he left his ship, he made for a sailors' boarding-house, and then he did not know much till he found himself aboard ship and bound for somewhere that he did not know of. He was always, he said, a stolen man, as much as a negro captured on the west coast of Africa and sold to a slaver; and, he said, it was a slave's life he led between drinks, whether it was a long time or short. He said he would ask his mates if it was very different with them, and when he turned to them they all shouted back, in their various kinds of foreign accents, No, it was just the same with them, every one. Then he said that was how he came to ship on our captain's vessel, and though they could not all say the same, they nodded confirmation as far as he was concerned.

The captain looked sheepish enough at this, but he looked sorrowful, too, as if he could have wished it had been different, and he asked the man if he had been abused since he came on board. Well, the man said, not unless you called tainted salt-horse and weevilly biscuit abuse; and then the captain sat down again, and I could feel his poor wife shrinking beside me. The man said that he was comparatively well off on the captain's ship, and the life was not half such a dog's life as he had led on other vessels; but it was such that when he got ashore here in Altruria, and saw how _white_ people lived, people that _used_ each other white, he made up his mind that he would never go hack to any ship alive. He hated a ship so much that if he could go home to America as a first-class passenger on a Cunard liner, John D. Rockefeller would not have money enough to hire him to do it. He was going to stay in Altruria till he died, if they would let him, and he guessed they would, if what he had heard about them was true. He just wanted, he said, while we were about it, to have a few of his mates tell their experience, not so much on board the _Little Sally, but on shore, and since they could remember; and one after another did get up and tell their miserable stories. They were like the stories you sometimes read in your paper over your coffee, or that you can hear any time you go into the congested districts in New York; but I assure you, my dear, they seemed to me perfectly incredible here, though I had known hundreds of such stories at home. As I realized their facts I forgot where I was; I felt that I was back again in that horror, where it sometimes seemed to me I had no right to be fed or clothed or warm or clean in the midst of the hunger and cold and nakedness and dirt, and where I could only reconcile myself to my comfort because I knew my discomfort would not help others' misery.

I can hardly tell how, but even the first day a sense of something terrible spread through that multitude of people, to whom the words themselves were mere empty sounds. The captain sat through it, with his head drooping, till his face was out of sight, and the tears ran silently down his wife's cheeks; and the women round me were somehow awed into silence. When the men ended, and there seemed to be no one else to say anything on that side, the captain jumped to his feet, with a sort of ferocious energy, and shouted out, "Are you all through, men?" and their spokesman answered, "Ay, ay, sir!" and then the captain flung back his grizzled hair and shook his fist towards the sailors. "And do you think I wanted to do it? Do you think I liked to do it? Do you think that if I hadn't been afraid my whole life long I would have had the heart to lead you the dog's life I know I've led you? I've been as poor as the poorest of you, and as low down as the lowest; I was born in the town poor-house, and I've been so afraid of the poor-house all my days that I hain't had, as you may say, a minute's peace. Ask my wife, there, what sort of a man I am, and whether I'm the man, really the man that's been hard and mean to you the way I know I been. It was because I was afraid, and because a coward is always hard and mean. I been afraid, ever since I could remember anything, of coming to want, and I was willing to see other men suffer so I could make sure that me and mine shouldn't suffer. That's the way we do at home, ain't it? That's in the day's work, ain't it? That's playing the game, ain't it, for everybody? You can't say it ain't." He stopped, and the men's spokesman called back, "Ay, ay, sir," as he had done before, and as I had often heard the men do when given an order on the ship.

The captain gave a kind of sobbing laugh, and went on in a lower tone. "Well, I know you ain't going back. I guess I didn't expect it much from the start, and I guess I'm not surprised." Then he lifted his head and shouted, "And do you suppose I want to go back? Don't you suppose I would like to spend the rest of my days, too, among white people, people that use each other white, as you say, and where there ain't any want or, what's worse, fear of want? Men! There ain't a day, or an hour, or a minute, when I don't think how awful it is over there, where I got to be either some man's slave or some man's master, as much so as if it was down in the ship's articles. My wife ain't so, because she ain't been ashore here. I wouldn't let her; I was afraid to let her see what a white man's country really was, because I felt so weak about it myself, and I didn't want to put the trial on her, too. And do you know why we're going back, or want to go? I guess some of you know, but I want to tell these folks here so they'll understand, and I want you, Mr. Homos," he called to my husband, "to get it down straight. It's because we've got two little children over there, that we left with their grandmother when my wife come with me this voyage because she had lung difficulty and wanted to see whether she could get her health back. Nothing else on God's green earth could take me back to America, and I guess it couldn't my wife if she knew what Altruria was as well as I do. But when I went around here and saw how everything was, and remembered how it was at home, I just said, 'She'll stay on the ship.' Now, that's all I got to say, though I thought I had a lot more. I guess it'll be enough for these folks, and they can judge between us." Then the captain sat down, and to make a long story short, the facts of the hearing were repeated in Altrurian the next day by megaphone, and when the translation was finished there was a general rush for the captain. He plainly expected to be lynched, and his wife screamed out, "Oh, don't hurt him! He isn't a bad man!" But it was only the Altrurian way with a guilty person: they wanted to let him know how sorry they were for him, and since his sin had found him out how hopeful they were for his redemption. I had to explain it to the sailors as well as to the captain and his wife, but I don't believe any of them quite accepted the fact.

The third day of the hearing was for the rendering of the decision, first in Altrurian, and then in English. The verdict of the magistrates had to he confirmed by a standing vote of the people, and of course the women voted as well as the men. The decision was that the sailors should be absolutely free to go or stay, but they took into account the fact that it would be cruel to keep the captain and his wife away from their little ones, and the sailors might wish to consider this. If they still remained true to their love of Altruria they could find some means of returning.

When the translator came to this point their spokesman jumped to his feet and called out to the captain, "Will you do it?" "Do what?" he asked, getting slowly to his own feet. "Come back with us after you have seen the kids?" The captain shook his fist at the sailors; it seemed to be the only gesture he had with them. "Give me the chance! All I want is to see the children and bring them out with me to Altruria, and the old folks with them." "Will you swear it? Will you say, 'I hope I may find the kids dead and buried when I get home if I don't do it'?" "I'll take that oath, or any oath you want me to." "Shake hands on it, then."

The two men met in front of the tribunal and clasped hands there, and their reconciliation did not need translation. Such a roar of cheers went up! And then the whole assembly burst out in the national Altrurian anthem, "Brothers All." I wish you could have heard it! But when the terms of the agreement were explained, the cheering that had gone before was a mere whisper to what followed. One orator after another rose and praised the self-sacrifice of the sailors. I was the proudest when the last of them referred to Aristides and the reports which he had sent home from America, and said that without some such study as he had made of the American character they never could have understood such an act as they were now witnessing. Illogical and insensate as their system was, their character sometimes had a beauty, a sublimity which was not possible to Altrurians even, for it was performed in the face of risks and chances which their happy conditions relieved them from. At the same time, the orator wished his hearers to consider the essential immorality of the act. He said that civilized men had no right to take these risks and chances. The sailors were perhaps justified, in so far as they were homeless, wifeless, and childless men; but it must not be forgotten that their heroism was like the reckless generosity of savages.

The men have gone back to the ship, and she sails this afternoon. I have persuaded the captain to let his wife stay to lunch with me at our Refectory, where the ladies wish to bid her good-bye, and I am hurrying forward this letter so that she can take it on board with her this afternoon. She has promised to post it on the first Pacific steamer they meet, or if they do not meet any to send it forward to you with a special-delivery stamp as soon as they reach Boston. She will also forward by express an Altrurian costume, such as I am now wearing, sandals and all! Do put it on, Dolly, dear, for my sake, and realize what it is for once in your life to be a free woman.

Heaven knows when I shall have another chance of getting letters to you. But I shall live in hopes, and I shall set down my experiences here for your benefit, not perhaps as I meet them, but as I think of them, and you must not mind having a rather cluttered narrative. To-morrow we are setting off on our round of the capitals, where Aristides is to make a sort of public report to the people of the different Regions on the working of the capitalistic conditions as he observed them among us. But I don't expect to send you a continuous narrative of our adventures. Good-bye, dearest, with my mother's love, and my husband's as well as my own, to both of you; think of me as needing nothing but a glimpse of you to complete my happiness. How I should like to tell you fully about it! You must come to Altruria!

I came near letting this go without telling you of one curious incident of the affair between the captain and his men. Before the men returned to the ship they came with their spokesman to say good-bye to Aristides and me, and he remarked casually that it was just as well, maybe, to be going back, because, for one thing, they would know then whether it was real or not. I asked him what he meant, and he said, "Well, you know, some of the mates think it's a dream here, or it's too good to be true. As far forth as I go, I'd be willing to have it a dream that I didn't ever have to wake up from. It ain't any too good to be true for me. Anyway, I'm going to get back somehow, and give it another chance to be a fact." Wasn't that charming? It had a real touch of poetry in it, but it was prose that followed. I couldn't help asking him whether there had been nothing to mar the pleasure of their stay in Altruria, and he answered: "Well, I don't know as you could rightly say mar; it hadn't ought to have. You see, it was like this. You see, some of the mates wanted to lay off and have a regular bange, but that don't seem to be the idea here. After we had been ashore a day or two they set us to work at different jobs, or wanted to. The mates didn't take hold very lively, and some of 'em didn't take hold a bit. But after that went on a couple of days, there wa'n't any breakfast one morning, and come noontime there wa'n't any dinner, and as far forth as they could make out they had to go to bed without supper. Then they called a halt, and tackled one of your head men here that could speak some English. He didn't answer them right off the reel, but he got out his English Testament and he read 'em a verse that said, 'For even when we were with you this we commanded you, that if any one would not work neither should he eat.' That kind of fetched 'em, and after that there wa'n't any sojerin', well not to speak of. They saw he meant business. I guess it did more than any one thing to make 'em think they wa'n't dreamin'."


You must not think, Dolly, from anything I have been telling you that the Altrurians are ever harsh. Sometimes they cannot realize how things really are with us, and how what seems grotesque and hideous to them seems charming and beautiful, or at least chic, to us. But they are wonderfully quick to see when they have hurt you the least, and in the little sacrifices I have made of my wardrobe to the cause of general knowledge there has not been the least urgence from them. When I now look at the things I used to wear, where they have been finally placed in the ethnological department of the Museum, along with the Esquiman kyaks and the Thlinkeet totems, they seem like things I wore in some prehistoric age—

"When wild in woods the noble savage ran."

Now, am I being unkind? Well, you mustn't mind me, Dolly. You must just say, "She has got it bad," and go on and learn as much about Altruria as you can from me. Some of the things were hard to get used to, and at first seemed quite impossible. For one thing, there was the matter of service, which is dishonorable with us, and honorable with the Altrurians: I was a long time getting to understand that, though I knew it perfectly well from hearing my husband talk about it in New York. I believe he once came pretty near offending you by asking why you did not do your own work, or something like that; he has confessed as much, and I could not wonder at you in your conditions. Why, when we first went to the guest-house, and the pretty young girls who brought in lunch sat down at table to eat it with us, I felt the indignation making me hot all over. You know how democratic I am, and I did not mind those great, splendid boat-girls hugging and kissing me, but I instinctively drew the line at cooks and waitresses. In New York, you know, I always tried to be kind to my servants, but as for letting one of them sit down in my presence, much less sit down at table with me, I never dreamed of such a thing in my most democratic moments. Luckily I drew the line subjectively here, and later I found that these young ladies were daughters of some of the most distinguished men and women on the continent, though you must not understand distinction as giving any sort of social primacy; that sort of thing is not allowed in Altruria. They had drawn lots with the girls in the Regionic school here, and were proud of having won the honor of waiting on us. Of course, I needn't say they were what we would have felt to be ladies anywhere, and their manners were exquisite, even to leaving us alone together as soon as we had finished luncheon. The meal itself was something I shall always remember for its delicious cooking of the different kinds of mushrooms which took the place of meat, and the wonderful salads, and the temperate and tropical fruits which we had for dessert.

They had to talk mostly with my husband, of course, and when they did talk to me it was through him. They were very intelligent about our world, much more than we are about Altruria, though, of course, it was by deduction from premises rather than specific information, and they wanted to ask a thousand questions; but they saw the joke of it, and laughed with us when Aristides put them off with a promise that if they would have a public meeting appointed we would appear and answer all the questions anybody could think of; we were not going to waste our answers on them the first day. He wanted them to let us go out and help wash the dishes, but they would not hear of it. I confess I was rather glad of that, for it seemed a lower depth to which I could not descend, even after eating with them. But they invited us out to look at the kitchen, after they had got it in order a little, and when we joined them there, whom should I see but my own dear old mother, with an apron up to her chin, wiping the glass and watching carefully through her dear old spectacles that she got everything bright! You know she was of a simpler day than ours, and when she was young she used to do her own work, and she and my father always washed the dishes together after they had company. I merely said, "Well, mother!" and she laughed and colored, and said she guessed she should like it in Altruria, for it took her back to the America she used to know.

I must mention things as they come into my head, and not in any regular order; there are too many of them. One thing is that I did not notice till afterwards that we had had no meat that first day at luncheon—the mushrooms were so delicious, and you know I never was much of a meat-eater. It was not till we began to make our present tour of the Regionic capitals, where Aristides has had to repeat his account of American civilization until I am sick as well as ashamed of America, that I first felt a kind of famine which I kept myself from recognizing as long as I could. Then I had to own to myself, long before I owned it to him, that I was hungry for meat—for roast, for broiled, for fried, for hashed. I did not actually tell him, but he found it out, and I could not deny it, though I felt such an ogre in it. He was terribly grieved, and blamed himself for not having thought of it, and wished he had got some canned meats from the trader before she left the port. He was really in despair, for nobody since the old capitalistic times had thought of killing sheep or cattle for food; they have them for wool and milk and butter; and of course when I looked at them in the fields it did seem rather formidable. You are so used to seeing them in the butchers' shops, ready for the range, that you never think of what they have to go through before that. But at last I managed to gasp out, one day, "If I could only have a chicken!" and he seemed to think that it could be managed. I don't know how he made interest with the authorities, or how the authorities prevailed on a farmer to part with one of his precious pullets; but the thing was done somehow, and two of the farmer's children brought it to us at one of the guest-houses where we were staying, and then fled howling. That was bad enough, but what followed was worse. I went another day on mushrooms before I had the heart to say chicken again and suggest that Aristides should get it killed and dressed. The poor fellow did try, I believe, but we had to fall back upon ourselves for the murderous deed, and—Did you ever see a chicken have its head cut off, and how hideously it behaves? It made us both wish we were dead; and the sacrifice of that one pullet was quite enough for me. We buried the poor thing under the flowers of the guest-house garden, and I went back to my mushrooms after a visit of contrition to the farmer and many attempts to bring his children to forgiveness. After all, the Altrurian mushrooms are wonderfully nourishing, and they are in such variety that, what with other succulent vegetables and the endless range of fruits and nuts, one does not wish for meat—meat that one has killed one's self!


I wish you could be making tour of the Regionic capitals with us, Dolly! There are swift little one-rail electric expresses running daily from one capital to another, but these are used only when speed is required, and we are confessedly in no hurry: Aristides wanted me to see as much of the country as possible, and I am as eager as he. The old steam-roads of the capitalistic epoch have been disused for generations, and their beds are now the country roads, which are everywhere kept in beautiful repair. There are no horse vehicles (the electric motors are employed in the towns), though some people travel on horseback, but the favorite means of conveyance is by electric van, which any citizen may have on proof of his need of it; and it is comfortable beyond compare—mounted on easy springs, and curtained and cushioned like those gypsy vans we see in the country at home. Aristides drives himself, and sometimes we both get out and walk, for there is plenty of time.

I don't know whether I can make you understand how everything has tended to simplification here. They have disused the complicated facilities and conveniences of the capitalistic epoch, which we are so proud of, and have got back as close as possible to nature. People stay at home a great deal more than with us, though if any one likes to make a journey or to visit the capitals he is quite free to do it, and those who have some useful or beautiful object in view make the sacrifice, as they feel it, to leave their villages every day and go to the nearest capital to carry on their studies or experiments. What we consider modern conveniences they would consider a superfluity of naughtiness for the most part. As work is the ideal, they do not believe in what we call labor-saving devices.

When we approach a village on our journey, one of the villagers, sometimes a young man, and sometimes a girl, comes out to meet us, and when we pass through they send some one with us on the way a little. The people have a perfect inspiration for hospitality: they not only know when to do and how much to do, but how little and when not at all. I can't remember that we have ever once been bored by those nice young things that welcomed us or speeded us on our way, and when we have stopped in a village they have shown a genius for leaving us alone, after the first welcome, that is beautiful. They are so regardful of our privacy, in fact, that if it had not been for Aristides, who explained their ideal to me, I should have felt neglected sometimes, and should have been shy of letting them know that we would like their company. But he understood it, and I must say that I have never enjoyed people and their ways so much. Their hospitality is a sort of compromise between that of the English houses where you are left free at certain houses to follow your own devices absolutely, and that Spanish splendor which assures you that the host's house is yours without meaning it. In fact, the guest-house, wherever we go, is ours, for it belongs to the community, and it is absolutely a home to us for the time being. It is usually the best house in the village, the prettiest and cosiest, where all the houses are so pretty and cosey. There is always another building for public meetings, called the temple, which is the principal edifice, marble and classic and tasteful, which we see almost as much of as the guest-house, for the news of the Emissary's return has preceded him, and everybody is alive with curiosity, and he has to stand and deliver in the village temples everywhere. Of course I am the great attraction, and after being scared by it at first I have rather got to like it; the people are so kind, and unaffected, and really delicate.

You mustn't get the notion that the Altrurians are a solemn people at all; they are rather gay, and they like other people's jokes as well as their own; I am sure Mr. Makely, with his sense of humor, would be at home with them at once. The one thing that more than any other has helped them to conceive of the American situation is its being the gigantic joke which we often feel it to be; I don't know but it appears to them more grotesque than it does to us even. At first, when Aristides would explain some peculiarity of ours, they would receive him with a gale of laughing, but this might change into cries of horror and pity later. One of the things that amused and then revolted them most was our patriotism. They thought it the drollest thing in the world that men should be willing to give their own lives and take the lives of other men for the sake of a country which assured them no safety from want, and did not even assure them work, and in which they had no more logical interest than the country they were going to fight. They could understand how a rich man might volunteer for one of our wars, but when they were told that most of our volunteers were poor men, who left their mothers and sisters, or their wives and children, without any means of support, except their meagre pay, they were quite bewildered and stopped laughing, as if the thing had passed a joke. They asked, "How if one of these citizen soldiers was killed?" and they seemed to suppose that in this case the country would provide for his family and give them work, or if the children were too young would support them at the public expense. It made me creep a little when my husband answered that the family of a crippled or invalided soldier would have a pension of eight or ten or fifteen dollars a month; and when they came back with the question why the citizens of such a country should love it enough to die for it, I could not have said why for the life of me. But Aristides, who is so magnificently generous, tried to give them a notion of the sublimity which is at the bottom of our illogicality and which adjusts so many apparently hopeless points of our anomaly. They asked how this sublimity differed from that of the savage who brings in his game and makes a feast for the whole tribe, and leaves his wife and children without provision against future want; but Aristides told them that there were essential differences between the Americans and savages, which arose from the fact that the savage condition was permanent and the American conditions were unconsciously provisional.

They are quite well informed about our life in some respects, but they wished to hear at first hand whether certain things were really so or not. For instance, they wanted to know whether people were allowed to marry and bring children into the world if they had no hopes of supporting them or educating them, or whether diseased people were allowed to become parents. In Altruria, you know, the families are generally small, only two or three children at the most, so that the parents can devote themselves to them the more fully; and as there is no fear of want here, the state interferes only when the parents are manifestly unfit to bring the little ones up. They imagined that there was something of that kind with us, but when they heard that the state interfered in the family only when the children were unruly, and then it punished the children by sending them to a reform school and disgracing them for life, instead of holding the parents accountable, they seemed to think that it was one of the most anomalous features of our great anomaly. Here, when the father and mother are always quarrelling, the children are taken from them, and the pair are separated, at first for a time, but after several chances for reform they are parted permanently.

But I must not give you the notion that all our conferences are so serious. Many have merely the character of social entertainments, which are not made here for invited guests, but for any who choose to come; all are welcome. At these there are often plays given by amateurs, and improvised from plots which supply the outline, while the performers supply the dialogue and action, as in the old Italian comedies. The Altrurians are so quick and fine, in fact, that they often remind me of the Italians more than any other people. One night there was for my benefit an American play, as the Altrurians imagined it from what they had read about us, and they had costumed it from the pictures of us they had seen in the newspapers Aristides had sent home while he was with us. The effect was a good deal like that American play which the Japanese company of Sada Yacco gave while it was in New York. It was all about a millionaire's daughter, who was loved by a poor young man and escaped with him to Altruria in an open boat from New York. The millionaire could be distinctly recognized by the dollar-marks which covered him all over, as they do in the caricatures of rich men in our yellow journals. It was funny to the last degree. In the last act he was seen giving his millions away to poor people, whose multitude was represented by the continually coming and going of four or five performers in and out of the door, in outrageously ragged clothes. The Altrurians have not yet imagined the nice degrees of poverty which we have achieved, and they could not have understood that a man with a hundred thousand dollars would have seemed poor to that multi-millionaire. In fact, they do not grasp the idea of money at all. I heard afterwards that in the usual version the millionaire commits suicide in despair, but the piece had been given a happy ending out of kindness to me. I must say that in spite of the monstrous misconception the acting was extremely good, especially that of some comic characters.

But dancing is the great national amusement in Altruria, where it has not altogether lost its religious nature. A sort of march in the temples is as much a part of the worship as singing, and so dancing has been preserved from the disgrace which it used to be in with serious people among us. In the lovely afternoons you see young people dancing in the meadows, and hear them shouting in time to the music, while the older men and women watch them from their seats in the shade. Every sort of pleasure here is improvised, and as you pass through a village the first thing you know the young girls and young men start up in a sort of girandole, and linking hands in an endless chain stretch the figure along through the street and out over the highway to the next village, and the next and the next. The work has all been done in the forenoon, and every one who chooses is at liberty to join in the fun.

The villages are a good deal alike to a stranger, and we knew what to expect there after a while, but the country is perpetually varied, and the unexpected is always happening in it. The old railroad-beds, on which we travelled, are planted with fruit and nut trees and flowering shrubs, and our progress is through a fragrant bower that is practically endless, except where it takes the shape of a colonnade near the entrance of a village, with vines trained about white pillars, and clusters of grapes (which are ripening just now) hanging down. The change in the climate created by cutting off the southeastern peninsula and letting in the equatorial current, which was begun under the first Altrurian president, with an unexpended war-appropriation, and finished for what one of the old capitalistic wars used to cost, is something perfectly astonishing. Aristides says he told you something about it in his speech at the White Mountains, but you would never believe it without the evidence of your senses. Whole regions to the southward, which were nearest the pole and were sheeted with ice and snow, with the temperature and vegetation of Labrador, now have the climate of Italy; and the mountains, which used to bear nothing but glaciers, are covered with olive orchards and plantations of the delicious coffee which they drink here. Aristides says you could have the same results at home—no! in the United States—by cutting off the western shore of Alaska and letting in the Japanese current; and it could be done at the cost of any average war.


But I must not get away from my personal experiences in these international statistics. Sometimes, when night overtakes us, we stop and camp beside the road, and set about getting our supper of eggs and bread and butter and cheese, or the fruits that are ripening all round us. Since my experience with that pullet I go meekly mushrooming in the fields and pastures; and when I have set the mushrooms stewing over an open fire, Aristides makes the coffee, and in a little while we have a banquet fit for kings—or for the poor things in every grade below them that serve kings, political or financial or industrial. There is always water, for it is brought down from the snow-fields of the mountains—there is not much rainfall—and carried in little concrete channels along the road—side from village to village, something like those conduits the Italian peasants use to bring down the water from the Maritime Alps to their fields and orchards; and you hear the soft gurgle of it the whole night long, and day long, too, whenever you stop. After supper we can read awhile by our electric lamp (we tap the current in the telephone wires anywhere), or Aristides sacrifices himself to me in a lesson of Altrurian grammar. Then we creep back into our van and fall asleep with the Southern Cross glittering over our heads. It is perfectly safe, though it was a long time before I could imagine the perfect safety of it. In a country where there are no thieves, because a thief here would not know what to do with his booty, we are secure from human molestation, and the land has long been cleared of all sorts of wild beasts, without being unpleasantly tamed. It is like England in that, and yet it has a touch of the sylvan, which you feel nowhere as you do in our dear New England hill country. There was one night, however, when we were lured on and on, and did not stop to camp till fairly in the dusk. Then we went to sleep without supper, for we had had rather a late lunch and were not hungry, and about one o'clock in the morning I was awakened by voices speaking Altrurian together. I recognized my husband's voice, which is always so kind, but which seemed to have a peculiarly tender and compassionate note in it now. The other was lower and of a sadness which wrung my heart, though I did not know in the least what the person was saying. The talk went on a long time, at first about some matter of immediate interest, as I fancied, and then apparently it branched off on some topic which seemed to concern the stranger, whoever he was. Then it seemed to get more indistinct, as if the stranger were leaving us and Aristides were going a little way with him. Presently I heard him coming back, and he put his head in at the van curtains, as if to see whether I was asleep.

"Well?" I said, and he said how sorry he was for having waked me. "Oh, I don't mind," I said. "Whom were you talking with? He had the saddest voice I ever heard. What did he want?"

"Oh, it seems that we are not far from the ruins of one of the old capitalistic cities, which have been left for a sort of warning against the former conditions, and he wished to caution us against the malarial influences from it. I think perhaps we had better push on a little way, if you don't mind."

The moon was shining clearly, and of course I did not mind, and Aristides got his hand on the lever, and we were soon getting out of the dangerous zone. "I think," he said, "they ought to abolish that pest-hole. I doubt if it serves any good purpose, now, though it has been useful in times past as an object-lesson."

"But who was your unknown friend?" I asked, a great deal more curious about him than about the capitalistic ruin.

"Oh, just a poor murderer," he answered easily, and I shuddered back: "A murderer!"

"Yes. He killed his friend some fifteen years ago in a jealous rage, and he is pursued by remorse that gives him no peace."

"And is the remorse his only punishment?" I asked, rather indignantly.

"Isn't that enough? God seemed to think it was, in the case of the first murderer, who killed his brother. All that he did to Cain was to set a mark on him. But we have not felt sure that we have the right to do this. We let God mark him, and He has done it with this man in the sorrow of his face. I was rather glad you, couldn't see him, my dear. It is an awful face."

I confess that this sounded like mere sentimentalism to me, and I said, "Really, Aristides, I can't follow you. How are innocent people to be protected against this wretch, if he wanders about among them at will?"

"They are as safe from him as from any other man in Altruria. His case was carefully looked into by the medical authorities, and it was decided that he was perfectly sane, so that he could be safely left at large, to expiate his misdeed in the only possible way that such a misdeed can be expiated—by doing good to others. What would you have had us do with him?"

The question rather staggered me, but I said, "He ought to have been imprisoned at least a year for manslaughter."

"Cain was not imprisoned an hour."

"That was a very different thing. But suppose you let a man go at large who has killed his friend in a jealous rage, what do you do with other murderers?"

"In Altruria there can be no other murderers. People cannot kill here for money, which prompts every other kind of murder in capitalistic countries, as well as every other kind of crime. I know, my dear, that this seems very strange to you, but you will accustom yourself to the idea, and then you will see the reasonableness of the Altrurian plan. On the whole, I am sorry you could not have seen that hapless man, and heard him. He had a face like death—"

"And a voice like death, too!" I put in.

"You noticed that? He wanted to talk about his crime with me. He wants to talk about it with any one who will listen to him. He is consumed with an undying pity for the man he slew. That is the first thing, the only thing, in his mind. If he could, I believe he would give his life for the life he took at any moment. But you cannot recreate one life by destroying another. There is no human means of ascertaining justice, but we can always do mercy with divine omniscience." As he spoke the sun pierced the edge of the eastern horizon, and lit up the marble walls and roofs of the Regionic capital which we were approaching.

At the meeting we had there in the afternoon, Aristides reported our having been warned against our danger in the night by that murderer, and public record of the fact was made. The Altrurians consider any sort of punishment which is not expiation a far greater sin than the wrong it visits, and altogether barren and useless. After the record in this case had been made, the conference naturally turned upon what Aristides had seen of the treatment of criminals in America, and when, he told of our prisons, where people merely arrested and not yet openly accused are kept, I did not know which way to look, for you know I am still an American at heart, Dolly. Did you ever see the inside of one of our police-stations at night? Or smell it? I did, once, when I went to give bail for a wretched girl who had been my servant, and had gone wrong, but had been arrested for theft, and I assure you that the sight and the smell woke me in the night for a month afterwards, and I have never quite ceased to dream about it.

The Altrurians listened in silence, and I hoped they could not realize the facts, though the story was every word true; but what seemed to make them the most indignant was the treatment of the families of the prisoners in what we call our penitentiaries and reformatories. At first they did not conceive of it, apparently, because it was so stupidly barbarous; they have no patience with stupidity; and when Aristides had carefully explained, it seemed as if they could not believe it. They thought it right that the convicts should be made to work, but they could not understand that the state really took away their wages, and left their families to suffer for want of the support which it had deprived them of. They said this was punishing the mothers and sisters, the wives and children of the prisoners, and was like putting out the eyes of an offender's innocent relatives as they had read was done in Oriental countries. They asked if there was never any sort of protest against such an atrocious perversion of justice, and when the question was put to me I was obliged to own that I had never heard the system even criticised. Perhaps it has been, but I spoke only from my own knowledge.


Well, to get away from these dismal experiences, and come back to our travels, with their perpetual novelty, and the constantly varying beauty of the country!

The human interest of the landscape, that is always the great interest of it, and I wish I could make you feel it as I have felt it in this wonderful journey of ours. It is like the New England landscape at times, in its kind of gentle wildness, but where it has been taken back into the hand of man, how different the human interest is! Instead of a rheumatic old farmer, in his clumsy clothes, with some of his gaunt girls to help him, or perhaps his ageing wife, getting in the hay of one of those sweet meadows, and looking like so many animated scarecrows at their work; or instead of some young farmer, on the seat of his clattering mower, or mounted high over his tedder, but as much alone as if there were no one else in the neighborhood, silent and dull, or fierce or sullen, as the case might be, the work is always going on with companies of mowers or reapers, or planters, that chatter like birds or sing like them.

It is no use my explaining again and again that in a country like this, where everybody works, nobody over works, and that when the few hours of obligatory labor are passed in the mornings, people need not do anything unless they choose. Their working-dresses are very simple, but in all sorts of gay colors, like those you saw in the Greek play at Harvard, with straw hats for the men, and fillets of ribbon for the girls, and sandals for both. I speak of girls, for most of the married women are at home gardening, or about the household work, but men of every age work in the fields. The earth is dear to them because they get their life from it by labor that is not slavery; they come to love it every acre, every foot, because they have known it from childhood; and I have seen old men, very old, pottering about the orchards and meadows during the hours of voluntary work, and trimming them up here and there, simply because they could not keep away from the place, or keep their hands off the trees and bushes. Sometimes in the long, tender afternoons, we see far up on some pasture slope, groups of girls scattered about on the grass, with their sewing, or listening to some one reading. Other times they are giving a little play, usually a comedy, for life is so happy here that tragedy would not be true to it, with the characters coming and going in a grove of small pines, for the coulisses, and using a level of grass for the stage. If we stop, one of the audience comes down to us and invites us to come up and see the play, which keeps on in spite of the sensation that I can feel I make among them.

Everywhere the news of us has gone before us, and there is a universal curiosity to get a look at Aristides' capitalistic wife, as they call me. I made him translate it, and he explained that the word was merely descriptive and not characteristic; some people distinguished and called me American. There was one place where they were having a picnic in the woods up a hillside, and they asked us to join them, so we turned our van into the roadside and followed the procession. It was headed by two old men playing on pipes, and after these came children singing, and then all sorts of people, young and old. When we got to an open place in the woods, where there was a spring, and smooth grass, they built fires, and began to get ready for the feast, while some of them did things to amuse the rest. Every one could do something; if you can imagine a party of artists, it was something like that. I should say the Altrurians had artists' manners, free, friendly, and easy, with a dash of humor in everything, and a wonderful willingness to laugh and make laugh. Aristides is always explaining that the artist is their ideal type; that is, some one who works gladly, and plays as gladly as he works; no one here is asked to do work that he hates, unless he seems to hate every kind of work. When this happens, the authorities find out something for him that he had better like, by letting him starve till he works. That picnic lasted the whole afternoon and well into the night, and then the picnickers went home through the starlight, leading the little ones, or carrying them when they were too little or too tired. But first they came down to our van with us, and sang us a serenade after we had disappeared into it, and then left us, and sent their voices back to us out of the dark.

One morning at dawn, as we came into a village, we saw nearly the whole population mounting the marble steps of the temple, all the holiday dress of the Voluntaries, which they put on here every afternoon when the work is done. Last of the throng came a procession of children, looking something like a May-Day party, and midway of their line were a young man and a young girl, hand in hand, who parted at the door of the temple, and entered separately. Aristides called out, "Oh, it is a wedding! You are in luck, Eveleth," and then and there I saw my first Altrurian wedding.

Within, the pillars and the altar and the seats of the elders were garlanded with flowers, so fresh and fragrant that they seemed to have blossomed from the marble overnight, and there was a soft murmur of Altrurian voices that might very well have seemed the hum of bees among the blossoms. This subsided, as the young couple, who had paused just inside the temple door, came up the middle side by side, and again separated and took their places, the youth on the extreme right of the elder, and the maiden on the extreme left of the eldresses, and stood facing the congregation, which was also on foot, and joined in the hymn which everybody sang. Then one of the eldresses rose and began a sort of statement which Aristides translated to me afterwards. She said that the young couple whom we saw there had for the third time asked to become man and wife, after having believed for a year that they loved each other, and having statedly come before the marriage authorities and been questioned as to the continuance of their affection. She said that probably every one present knew that they had been friends from childhood, and none would be surprised that they now wished to be united for life. They had been carefully instructed as to the serious nature of the marriage bond, and admonished as to the duties they were entering into, not only to each other, but to the community. At each successive visit to the authorities they had been warned, separately and together, against the danger of trusting to anything like a romantic impulse, and they had faithfully endeavored to act upon this advice, as they testified. In order to prove the reality of their affection, they had been parted every third month, and had lived during that time in different Regions where it was meant they should meet many other young people, so that if they felt any swerving of the heart they might not persist in an intention which could only bring them final unhappiness. It seems this is the rule in the case of young lovers, and people usually marry very young here, but if they wish to marry later in life the rule is not enforced so stringently, or not at all. The bride and groom we saw had both stood these trials, and at each return they had been more and more sure that they loved each other, and loved no one else. Now they were here to unite their hands, and to declare the union of their hearts before the people.

Then the eldress sat down and an elder arose, who bade the young people come forward to the centre of the line, where the elders and eldresses were sitting. He took his place behind them, and once more and for the last time he conjured them not to persist if they felt any doubt of themselves. He warned them that if they entered into the married state, and afterwards repented to the point of seeking divorce, the divorce would indeed be granted them, but on terms, as they must realize, of lasting grief to themselves through the offence they would commit against the commonwealth. They answered that they were sure of themselves, and ready to exchange their troth for life and death. Then they joined hands, and declared that they took each other for husband and wife. The congregation broke into another hymn and slowly dispersed, leaving the bride and groom with their families, who came up to them and embraced them, pressing their cheeks against the cheeks of the young pair.

This ended the solemnity, and then the festivity began, as it ended, with a wedding feast, where people sang and danced and made speeches and drank toasts, and the fun was kept up till the hours of the Obligatories approached; and then, what do you think? The married pair put off their wedding garments with the rest and went to work in the fields! Later, I understood, if they wished to take a wedding journey they could freely do so; but the first thing in their married life they must honor the Altrurian ideal of work, by which every one must live in order that every other may live without overwork. I believe that the marriage ceremonial is something like that of the Quakers, but I never saw a Quaker wedding, and I could only compare this with the crazy romps with which our house-weddings often end, with throwing of rice and old shoes, and tying ribbons to the bridal carriage and baggage, and following the pair to the train with outbreaks of tiresome hilarity, which make them conspicuous before their fellow-travellers; or with some of our ghastly church weddings, in which the religious ceremonial is lost in the social effect, and ends with that everlasting thumping march from "Lohengrin," and the outsiders storming about the bridal pair and the guests with the rude curiosity that the fattest policemen at the canopied and carpeted entrance cannot check.


We have since been at other weddings and at christenings and at funerals. The ceremonies are always held in the temples, and are always in the same serious spirit. As the Altrurians are steadfast believers in immortality, there is a kind of solemn elevation in the funeral ceremonies which I cannot give you a real notion of. It is helped, I think, by the custom of not performing the ceremony over the dead; a brief rite is reserved for the cemetery, where it is wished that the kindred shall not be present, lest they think always of the material body and not of the spiritual body which shall be raised in incorruption. Religious service is held in the temples every day at the end of the Obligatories, and whenever we are near a village or in any of the capitals we always go. It is very simple. After a hymn, to which the people sometimes march round the interior of the temple, each lays on the altar an offering from the fields or woods where they have been working, if it is nothing but a head of grain or a wild flower or a leaf. Then any one is at liberty to speak, but any one else may go out without offence. There is no ritual; sometimes they read a chapter from the New Testament, preferably a part of the story of Christ or a passage from His discourses. The idea of coming to the temple at the end of the day's labor is to consecrate that day's work, and they do not call anything work that is not work with the hands. When I explained, or tried to explain, that among us a great many people worked with their brains, to amuse others or to get handwork out of them, they were unable to follow me. I asked if they did not consider composing music or poetry or plays, or painting pictures work, and they said, No, that was pleasure, and must be indulged only during the Voluntaries; it was never to be honored like work with the hands, for it would not equalize the burden of that, but might put an undue share of it on others. They said that lives devoted to such pursuits must be very unwholesome, and they brought me to book about the lives of most artists, literary men, and financiers in the capitalistic world to prove what they said. They held that people must work with their hands willingly, in the artistic spirit, but they could only do that when they knew that others differently gifted were working in like manner with their hands.

I couldn't begin to tell you all our queer experiences. As I have kept saying, I am a great curiosity everywhere, and I could flatter myself that people were more eager to see me than to hear Aristides. Sometimes I couldn't help thinking that they expected to find me an awful warning, a dreadful example of whatever a woman ought not to be, and a woman from capitalistic conditions must be logically. But sometimes they were very intelligent, even the simplest villagers, as we should call them, though there is such an equality of education and opportunity here that no simplicity of life has the effect of dulling people as it has with us. One thing was quite American: they always wanted to know how I liked Altruria, and when I told them, as I sincerely could, that I adored it, they were quite affecting in their pleasure. They generally asked if I would like to go back to America, and when I said No, they were delighted beyond anything. They said I must become a citizen and vote and take part in the government, for that was every woman's duty as well as right; it was wrong to leave the whole responsibility to the men. They asked if American women took no interest in the government, and when I told them there was a very small number who wished to influence politics socially, as the Englishwomen did, but without voting or taking any responsibility, they were shocked. In one of the Regionic capitals they wanted me to speak after Aristides, but I had nothing prepared; at the next I did get off a little speech in English, which he translated after me. Later he put it into Altrurian, and I memorized it, and made myself immensely popular by parroting it.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse