A Traveler from Altruria: Romance
W. D. Howells
Part 2 out of 4
I went and took a chair by the lady and the Altrurian, and she began at
once: "Oh, I'm so glad you've come! I have been trying to enlighten Mr.
Homos about some of the little social peculiarities among us that he finds
so hard to understand. He was just now," the lady continued, "wanting to
know why all the natives out here were not invited to go in and join our
young people in the dance, and I've been trying to tell him that we
consider it a great favor to let them come and take up so much of the
piazza and look in at the windows."
She gave a little laugh of superiority, and twitched her pretty head in
the direction of the young country girls and country fellows who were
thronging the place that night in rather unusual numbers. They were well
enough looking, and, as it was Saturday night, they were in their best. I
suppose their dress could have been criticised; the young fellows were
clothed by the ready-made clothing-store, and the young girls after their
own devices from the fashion papers; but their general effect was good,
and their behavior was irreproachable; they were very quiet--if anything,
too quiet. They took up a part of the piazza that was yielded them by
common usage, and sat watching the hop inside, not so much enviously, I
thought, as wistfully; and for the first time it struck me as odd that
they should have no part in the gayety. I had often seen them there
before, but I had never thought it strange they should be shut out. It had
always seemed quite normal, but now, suddenly, for one baleful moment, it
seemed abnormal. I suppose it was the talk we had been having about the
working-men in society which caused me to see the thing as the Altrurian
must have seen it; but I was, nevertheless, vexed with him for having
asked such a question, after he had been so fully instructed upon the
point. It was malicious of him, or it was stupid. I hardened my heart, and
answered: "You might have told him, for one thing, that they were not
dancing because they had not paid the piper."
"Then the money consideration enters even into your social pleasures?"
asked the Altrurian.
"Very much. Doesn't it with you?"
He evaded this question, as he evaded all straightforward questions
concerning his country: "We have no money consideration, you know. But do
I understand that all your social entertainments are paid for by the
"Oh no, not so bad as that, quite. There are a great many that the host
pays for. Even here, in a hotel, the host furnishes the music and the room
free to the guests of the house."
"And none are admitted from the outside?"
"Oh yes, people are welcome from all the other hotels and boarding-houses
and the private cottages. The young men are especially welcome; there are
not enough young men in the hotel to go round, you see." In fact, we could
see that some of the pretty girls within were dancing with other girls;
half-grown boys were dangling from the waists of tall young ladies and
waltzing on tiptoe.
"Isn't that rather droll?" asked the Altrurian.
"It's grotesque!" I said, and I felt ashamed of it. "But what are you to
do? The young men are hard at work in the cities, as many as can get work
there, and the rest are out West, growing up with the country. There are
twenty young girls for every young man at all the summer resorts in the
"But what would happen if these young farmers--I suppose they are
farmers--were invited in to take part in the dance?" asked my friend.
"But that is impossible."
"Really, Mrs. Makely, I think I shall have to give him back to you," I
The lady laughed. "I am not sure that I want him back."
"Oh yes," the Altrurian entreated, with unwonted perception of the humor.
"I know that I must be very trying with my questions; but do not abandon
me to the solitude of my own conjectures. They are dreadful!"
"Well, I won't," said the lady, with another laugh. "And I will try to
tell you what would happen if those farmers, or farm-hands, or whatever
they are, were asked in. The mammas would be very indignant, and the young
ladies would be scared, and nobody would know what to do, and the dance
"Then the young ladies prefer to dance with one another and with little
"No, they prefer to dance with young men of their own station; they would
rather not dance at all than dance with people beneath them. I don't say
anything against these natives here; they are very civil and decent. But
they have not the same social traditions as the young ladies; they would
be out of place with them, and they would feel it."
"Yes, I can see that they are not fit to associate with them," said the
Altrurian, with a gleam of commonsense that surprised me, "and that as
long as your present conditions endure they never can be. You must excuse
the confusion which the difference between your political ideals and your
economic ideals constantly creates in me. I always think of you
politically first, and realize you as a perfect democracy; then come these
other facts, in which I cannot perceive that you differ from the
aristocratic countries of Europe in theory, or practice. It is very
puzzling. Am I right in supposing that the effect of your economy is to
establish insuperable inequalities among you, and to forbid the hope of
the brotherhood which your policy proclaims?"
Mrs. Makely looked at me as if she were helpless to grapple with his
meaning, and, for fear of worse, I thought best to evade it. I said: "I
don't believe that anybody is troubled by those distinctions. We are used
to them, and everybody acquiesces in them, which is a proof that they are
a very good thing."
Mrs. Makely now came to my support. "The Americans are very high-spirited,
in every class, and I don't believe one of those nice farm-boys would like
being asked in any better than the young ladies. You can't imagine how
proud some of them are."
"So that they suffer from being excluded as inferiors?"
"Oh, I assure you they don't feel themselves inferior! They consider
themselves as good as anybody. There are some very interesting characters
among them. Now, there is a young girl sitting at the first window, with
her profile outlined by the light, whom I feel it an honor to speak to.
That's her brother, standing there with her--that tall, gaunt young man
with a Roman face; it's such a common type here in the mountains. Their
father was a soldier, and he distinguished himself so in one of the last
battles that he was promoted. He was badly wounded, but he never took a
pension; he just came back to his farm and worked on till he died. Now the
son has the farm, and he and his sister live there with their mother. The
daughter takes in sewing, and in that way they manage to make both ends
meet. The girl is really a first-rate seamstress, and so cheap! I give her
a good deal of my work in the summer, and we are quite friends. She's very
fond of reading; the mother is an invalid, but she reads aloud while the
daughter sews, and you've no idea how many books they get through. When
she comes for sewing, I like to talk with her about them; I always have
her sit down; it's hard to realize that she isn't a lady. I'm a good deal
criticised, I know, and I suppose I do spoil her a little; it puts notions
into such people's heads, if you meet them in that way; they're pretty
free and independent as it is. But when I'm with Lizzie I forget that
there is any difference between us; I can't help loving the child. You
must take Mr. Homos to see them, Mr. Twelvemough. They've got the father's
sword hung up over the head of the mother's bed; it's very touching. But
the poor little place is so bare!"
Mrs. Makely sighed, and there fell a little pause, which she broke with a
question she had the effect of having kept back.
"There is one thing I should like to ask you, too, Mr. Homos. Is it true
that everybody in Altruria does some kind of manual labor?"
"Why, certainly," he answered, quite as if he had been an American.
"Ladies, too? Or perhaps you have none."
I thought this rather offensive, but I could not see that the Altrurian
had taken it ill. "Perhaps we had better try to understand each other
clearly before I answer that question. You have no titles of nobility as
they have in England--"
"No, indeed! I hope we have outgrown those superstitions," said Mrs.
Makely, with a republican fervor that did my heart good. "It is a word
that we apply first of all to the moral qualities of a person."
"But you said just now that you sometimes forgot that your seamstress was
not a lady. Just what did you mean by that?"
Mrs. Makely hesitated. "I meant--I suppose I meant--that she had not the
surroundings of a lady; the social traditions."
"Then it has something to do with social as well as moral qualities--with
ranks and classes?"
"Classes, yes; but, as you know, we have no ranks in America." The
Altrurian took off his hat and rubbed an imaginable perspiration from his
forehead. He sighed deeply. "It is all very difficult."
"Yes," Mrs. Makely assented, "I suppose it is. All foreigners find it so.
In fact, it is something that you have to live into the notion of; it
can't be explained."
"Well, then, my dear madam, will you tell me without further question what
you understand by a lady, and let me live into the notion of it at my
"I will do my best," said Mrs. Makely. "But it would be so much easier to
tell you _who_ was or who was not a lady. However, your acquaintance is so
limited yet that I must try to do something in the abstract and impersonal
for you. In the first place, a lady must be above the sordid anxieties in
every way. She need not be very rich, but she must have enough, so that
she need not be harassed about making both ends meet, when she ought to be
devoting herself to her social duties. The time is past with us when a
lady could look after the dinner, and perhaps cook part of it herself, and
then rush in to receive her guests and do the amenities. She must have a
certain kind of house, so that her entourage won't seem cramped and mean,
and she must have nice frocks, of course, and plenty of them. She needn't
be of the smart set; that isn't at all necessary; but she can't afford to
be out of the fashion. Of course, she must have a certain training. She
must have cultivated tastes; she must know about art and literature and
music, and all those kind of things, and, though it isn't necessary to go
in for anything in particular, it won't hurt her to have a fad or two. The
nicest kind of fad is charity; and people go in for that a great deal. I
think sometimes they use it to work up with, and there are some who use
religion in the same way; I think it's horrid; but it's perfectly safe;
you can't accuse them of doing it. I'm happy to say, though, that mere
church association doesn't count socially so much as it used to. Charity
is a great deal more insidious. But you see how hard it is to define
a lady. So much has to be left to the nerves, in all these things. And
then it's changing all the time; Europe's coming in, and the old American
ideals are passing away. Things that people did ten years ago would be
impossible now, or at least ridiculous. You wouldn't be considered vulgar,
quite, but you would certainly be considered a back number, and that's
almost as bad. Really," said Mrs. Makely, "I don't believe I can tell you
what a lady is."
We all laughed together at her frank confession. The Altrurian asked: "But
do I understand that one of her conditions is that she shall have nothing
whatever to do?"
"Nothing to _do_!" cried Mrs. Makely. "A lady is busy from morning till
night. She always goes to bed perfectly worn out."
"But with what?" asked the Altrurian.
"With making herself agreeable and her house attractive, with going to
lunches and teas and dinners and concerts and theatres and art
exhibitions, and charity meetings and receptions, and with writing a
thousand and one notes about them, and accepting and declining, and giving
lunches and dinners, and making calls and receiving them, and I don't know
what all. It's the most hideous slavery!" Her voice rose into something
like a shriek; one could see that her nerves were going at the mere
thought of it all. "You don't have a moment to yourself; your life isn't
"But the lady isn't allowed to do any useful kind of work?"
"_Work_! Don't you call all that work, and _useful_? I'm sure I envy the
cook in my kitchen at times; I envy the woman that scrubs my floors. Stop!
Don't ask why I don't go into my kitchen, or get down on my knees with the
mop. It isn't possible. You simply can't. Perhaps you could if you were
very _grande dame_, but if you're anywhere near the line of necessity, or
ever have been, you can't. Besides, if we did do our own household work,
as I understand your Altrurian ladies do, what would become of the servant
class? We should be taking away their living, and that would be wicked."
"It would certainly be wrong to take away the living of a
fellow-creature," the Altrurian gravely admitted, "and I see the obstacle
in your way."
"It's a mountain," said the lady, with exhaustion in her voice, but a
returning amiability; his forbearance must have placated her.
"May I ask what the use of your society life is?" he ventured, after a
"Use? Why should it have any? It kills time."
"Then you are shut up to a hideous slavery without use, except to kill
time, and you cannot escape from it without taking away the living of
those dependent on you?"
"Yes," I put in, "and that is a difficulty that meets us at every turn. It
is something that Matthew Arnold urged with great effect in his paper on
that crank of a Tolstoy. He asked what would become of the people who need
the work if we served and waited on ourselves, as Tolstoy preached. The
question is unanswerable."
"That is true; in your conditions, it is unanswerable," said the
"I think," said Mrs. Makely, "that, under the circumstances, we do pretty
"Oh, I don't presume to censure you. And if you believe that your
conditions are the best--"
"We believe them the best in the best of all possible worlds," I said,
devoutly; and it struck me that, if ever we came to have a national
church, some such affirmation as that concerning our economical conditions
ought to be in the confession of faith.
The Altrurian's mind had not followed mine so far. "And your young girls,"
he asked of Mrs. Makely--"how is their time occupied?"
"You mean after they come out in society?"
"I suppose so."
She seemed to reflect. "I don't know that it is very differently occupied.
Of course, they have their own amusements; they have their dances, and
little clubs, and their sewing-societies. I suppose that even an Altrurian
would applaud their sewing for the poor?" Mrs. Makely asked, rather
"Yes," he answered; and then he asked: "Isn't it taking work away from
some needy seamstress, though? But I suppose you excuse it to the
thoughtlessness of youth."
Mrs. Makely did not say, and he went on: "What I find it so hard to
understand is how you ladies can endure a life of mere nervous exertion,
such as you have been describing to me. I don't see how you keep well."
"We _don't_ keep well," said Mrs. Makely, with the greatest amusement. "I
don't suppose that when you get above the working classes, till you reach
the very rich, you would find a perfectly well woman in America."
"Isn't that rather extreme?" I ventured to ask.
"No," said Mrs. Makely, "it's shamefully moderate," and she seemed to
delight in having made out such a bad case for her sex. You can't stop a
woman of that kind when she gets started; I had better left it alone.
"But," said the Altrurian, "if you are forbidden by motives of humanity
from doing any sort of manual labor, which you must leave to those who
live by it, I suppose you take some sort of exercise?"
"Well," said Mrs. Makely, shaking her head gayly, "we prefer to take
"You must approve of that," I said to the Altrurian, "as you consider
exercise for its own sake insane or immoral. But, Mrs. Makely," I
entreated, "you're giving me away at a tremendous rate. I have just been
telling Mr. Homos that you ladies go in for athletics so much now in your
summer outings that there is danger of your becoming physically as well as
intellectually superior to us poor fellows. Don't take that consolation
"I won't, altogether," she said. "I couldn't have the heart to, after the
pretty way you've put it. I don't call it very athletic, sitting around on
hotel piazzas all summer long, as nineteen-twentieths of us do. But I
don't deny that there is a Remnant, as Matthew Arnold calls them, who do
go in for tennis and boating and bathing and tramping and climbing." She
paused, and then she concluded, gleefully: "And you ought to see what
wrecks they get home in the fall!"
The joke was on me; I could not help laughing, though I felt rather
sheepish before the Altrurian. Fortunately, he did not pursue the inquiry;
his curiosity had been given a slant aside from it.
"But your ladies," he asked, "they have the summer for rest, however they
use it. Do they generally leave town? I understood Mr. Twelvemough to say
so," he added, with a deferential glance at me.
"Yes, you may say it is the universal custom in the class that can afford
it," said Mrs. Makely. She proceeded as if she felt a tacit censure in his
question. "It wouldn't be the least use for us to stay and fry through our
summers in the city simply because our fathers and brothers had to.
Besides, we are worn out, at the end of the season, and they want us to
come away as much as we want to come."
"Ah, I have always heard that the Americans are beautiful in their
attitude toward women."
"They are perfect dears," said Mrs. Makely, "and here comes one of the
best of them."
At that moment her husband came up and laid her shawl across her
shoulders. "Whose character is it you're blasting?" he asked, jocosely.
"Where in the world did you find it?" she asked, meaning the shawl.
"It was where you left it--on the sofa, in the side parlor. I had to take
my life in my hand when I crossed among all those waltzers in there. There
must have been as many as three couples on the floor. Poor girls! I pity
them, off at these places. The fellows in town have a good deal better
time. They've got their clubs, and they've got the theatre, and when the
weather gets too much for them they can run off down to the shore for the
night. The places anywhere within an hour's ride are full of fellows. The
girls don't have to dance with one another there, or with little boys. Of
course, that's all right if they like it better." He laughed at his wife,
and winked at me, and smoked swiftly, in emphasis of his irony.
"Then the young gentlemen whom the young ladies here usually meet in
society are all at work in the cities?" the Altrurian asked him, rather
needlessly, as I had already said so.
"Yes, those who are not out West, growing up with the country, except, of
course, the fellows who have inherited a fortune. They're mostly off on
"But why do your young men go West to grow up with the country?" pursued
"Because the East is _grown_ up. They have got to hustle, and the West is
the place to hustle. To make money," added Makely, in response to a
puzzled glance of the Altrurian.
"Sometimes," said his wife, "I almost hate the name of money."
"Well, so long as you don't hate the thing, Peggy."
"Oh, we must have it, I suppose," she sighed. "They used to say about the
girls who grew into old maids just after the Rebellion that they had lost
their chance in the war for the Union. I think quite as many lose their
chance now in the war for the dollar."
"Mars hath slain his thousands, but Mammon hath slain his tens of
thousands," I suggested, lightly; we all like to recognize the facts, so
long as we are not expected to do anything about them; then, we deny them.
"Yes, quite as bad as that," said Mrs. Makely.
"Well, my dear, you are expensive, you know," said her husband, "and if we
want to have you--why, we've got to hustle first."
"Oh, I don't blame you, you poor things! There's nothing to be done about
it; it's just got to go on and on; I don't see how it's ever to end."
The Altrurian had been following us with that air of polite mystification
which I had begun to dread in him. "Then, in your good society you
postpone, and even forego, the happiness of life in the struggle to be
"Well, you see," said Makely, "a fellow don't like to ask a girl to share
a home that isn't as nice as the home she has left."
"Sometimes," his wife put in, rather sadly, "I think that it's all a
mistake, and that we'd be willing to share the privations of the man we
"Well," said Makely, with a laugh, "we wouldn't like to risk it."
I laughed with him, but his wife did not, and in the silence that ensued
there was nothing to prevent the Altrurian from coming in with another of
his questions: "How far does this state of things extend downward? Does it
include the working classes, too?"
"Oh no!" we all answered together, and Mrs. Makely said: "With your
Altrurian ideas, I suppose you would naturally sympathize a great deal
more with the lower classes, and think they had to endure all the
hardships in our system; but if you could realize how the struggle goes on
in the best society, and how we all have to fight for what we get, or
don't get, you would be disposed to pity our upper classes, too."
"I am sure I should," said the Altrurian.
Makely remarked: "I used to hear my father say that slavery was harder on
the whites than it was on the blacks, and that he wanted it done away with
for the sake of the masters."
Makely rather faltered in conclusion, as if he were not quite satisfied
with his remark, and I distinctly felt a want of proportion in it; but I
did not wish to say anything. His wife had no reluctance.
"Well, there's no comparison between the two things, but the struggle
certainly doesn't affect the working classes as it does us. They go on
marrying and giving in marriage in the old way. They have nothing to lose,
and so they can afford it."
"Blessed am dem what don't expect nuffin! Oh, I tell you, it's a
working-man's country," said Makely, through his cigar-smoke. "You ought
to see them in town, these summer nights, in the parks and squares and
cheap theatres. Their girls are not off for their health, anywhere, and
their fellows are not off growing up with the country. Their day's work is
over, and they're going in for a good time. And, then, walk through the
streets where they live, and see them out on the stoops with their wives
and children! I tell you, it's enough to make a fellow wish he was poor
"Yes," said Mrs. Makely, "it's astonishing how strong and well those women
keep, with their great families and their hard work. Sometimes I really
"Do you suppose," said the Altrurian, "that they are aware of the
sacrifices which the ladies of the upper classes make in leaving all the
work to them, and suffering from the nervous debility which seems to be
the outcome of your society life?"
"They have not the remotest idea of it. They have no conception of what a
society woman goes through with. They think we do nothing. They envy us,
too, and sometimes they're so ungrateful and indifferent, if you try to
help them, or get on terms with them, that I believe they hate us."
"But that comes from ignorance?"
"Yes, though I don't know that they are really any more ignorant of us
than we are of them. It's the other half on both sides."
"Isn't that a pity, rather?"
"Of course it's a pity, but what can you do? You can't know what people
are like unless you live like them, and then the question is whether the
game is worth the candle. I should like to know how you manage in
"Why, we have solved the problem in the only way, as you say, that it can
be solved. We all live alike."
"Isn't that a little, just a very trifling little bit, monotonous?" Mrs.
Makely asked, with a smile. "But there is everything, of course, in being
used to it. To an unregenerate spirit--like mine, for example--it seems
"But why? When you were younger, before you were married, you all lived at
home together--or, perhaps, you were an only child?"
"Oh, no indeed! There were ten of us."
"Then you all lived alike, and shared equally?"
"Yes, but we were a family."
"We do not conceive of the human race except as a family."
"Now, excuse me, Mr. Homos, that is all nonsense. You cannot have the
family feeling without love, and it is impossible to love other people.
That talk about the neighbor, and all that, is all well enough--" She
stopped herself, as if she dimly remembered who began that talk, and then
went on: "Of course, I accept it as a matter of faith, and the spirit of
it, nobody denies that; but what I mean is, that you must have frightful
quarrels all the time." She tried to look as if this were where she really
meant to bring up, and he took her on the ground she had chosen.
"Yes, we have quarrels. Hadn't you at home?"
"We fought like little cats and dogs, at times."
Makely and I burst into a laugh at her magnanimous frankness. The
Altrurian remained serious. "But, because you lived alike, you knew each
other, and so you easily made up your quarrels. It is quite as simple with
us, in our life as a human family."
This notion of a human family seemed to amuse Mrs. Makely more and more;
she laughed and laughed again. "You must excuse me," she panted, at last,
"but I cannot imagine it! No, it is too ludicrous. Just fancy the jars of
an ordinary family multiplied by the population of a whole continent! Why,
you must be in a perpetual squabble. You can't have any peace of your
lives. It's worse, far worse, than our way."
"But, madam," he began, "you are supposing our family to be made up of
people with all the antagonistic interests of your civilization. As a
matter of fact--"
"No, no! _I know human nature_, Mr. Homos!" She suddenly jumped up and
gave him her hand. "Good-night," she said, sweetly, and as she drifted off
on her husband's arm she looked back at us and nodded in gay triumph.
The Altrurian turned upon me with unabated interest. "And have you no
provision in your system for finally making the lower classes understand
the sufferings and sacrifices of the upper classes in their behalf? Do you
expect to do nothing to bring them together in mutual kindness?"
"Well, not this evening," I said, throwing the end of my cigar away. "I'm
going to bed--aren't you?"
"Well, good-night. Are you sure you can find your room?"
"Oh yes. Good-night."
I left my guest abruptly, with a feeling of vexation not very easily
definable. His repetition of questions about questions which society has
so often answered, and always in the same way, was not so bad in him as it
would have been in a person of our civilization; he represented a wholly
different state of things, the inversion of our own, and much could be
forgiven him for that reason, just as in Russia much could be forgiven to
an American if he formulated his curiosity concerning imperialism from a
purely republican experience. I knew that in Altruria, for instance, the
possession of great gifts, of any kind of superiority, involved the sense
of obligation to others, and the wish to identify one's self with the
great mass of men, rather than the ambition to distinguish one's self from
them; and that the Altrurians honored their gifted men in the measure they
did this. A man reared in such a civilization must naturally find it
difficult to get our point of view; with social inclusion as the ideal, he
would with difficulty conceive of our ideal of social exclusion; but I
think we had all been very patient with him; we should have made short
work with an American who had approached us with the same inquiries.
Even from a foreigner, the citizen of a republic founded on the notion,
elsewhere exploded ever since Cain, that one is his brother's keeper,
the things he asked seemed inoffensive only because they were puerile;
but they certainly were puerile. I felt that it ought to have been
self-evident to him that when a commonwealth of sixty million Americans
based itself upon the great principle of self-seeking, self-seeking was
the best thing, and, whatever hardship it seemed to work, it must carry
with it unseen blessings in tenfold measure. If a few hundred thousand
favored Americans enjoyed the privilege of socially contemning all the
rest, it was as clearly right and just that they should do so as that four
thousand American millionaires should be richer than all the other
Americans put together. Such a status, growing out of our political
equality and our material prosperity, must evince a divine purpose to any
one intimate with the designs of Providence, and it seemed a kind of
impiety to doubt its perfection. I excused the misgivings which I could
not help seeing in the Altrurian to his alien traditions, and I was aware
that my friends had done so, too. But, if I could judge from myself, he
must have left them all sensible of their effort; and this was not
pleasant. I could not blink the fact that although I had openly disagreed
with him on every point of ethics and economics, I was still responsible
for him as a guest. It was as if an English gentleman had introduced a
blatant American Democrat into Tory society; or, rather, as if a
Southerner of the olden time had harbored a Northern Abolitionist and
permitted him to inquire into the workings of slavery among his neighbors.
People would tolerate him as my guest for a time, but there must be an end
of their patience with the tacit enmity of his sentiments and the explicit
vulgarity of his ideals, and when the end came I must be attainted with
I did not like the notion of this, and I meant to escape it if I could. I
confess that I would have willingly disowned him, as I had already
disavowed his opinions, but there was no way of doing it short of telling
him to go away, and I was not ready to do that. Something in the man, I do
not know what, mysteriously appealed to me. He was not contemptibly
puerile without being lovably childlike, and I could only make up my mind
to be more and more frank with him and to try and shield him, as well as
myself, from the effects I dreaded.
I fell asleep planning an excursion farther into the mountains, which
should take up the rest of the week that I expected him to stay with me,
and would keep him from following up his studies of American life where
they would be so injurious to both of us as they must in our hotel. A
knock at my door roused me, and I sent a drowsy "Come in!" toward it from
the bedclothes without looking that way.
"Good-morning!" came back in the rich, gentle voice of the Altrurian. I
lifted my head with a jerk from the pillow, and saw him standing against
the closed door, with my shoes in his hand. "Oh, I am sorry I waked you. I
"Not at all, not at all," I said. "It's quite time, I dare say. But you
oughtn't to have taken the trouble to bring my shoes in."
"I wasn't altogether disinterested in it," he returned. "I wished you to
compliment me on them. Don't you think they are pretty well done, for an
amateur?" He came toward my bed, and turned them about in his hands, so
that they would catch the light, and smiled down upon me.
"I don't understand," I began.
"Why," he said, "I blacked them, you know."
"You blacked them?"
"Yes," he returned, easily. "I thought I would go into the baggage-room,
after we parted last night, to look for a piece of mine that had not been
taken to my room, and I found the porter there, with his wrist bound up.
He said he had strained it in handling a lady's Saratoga--he said a
Saratoga was a large trunk--and I begged him to let me relieve him at the
boots he was blacking. He refused at first, but I insisted upon trying my
hand at a pair, and then he let me go on with the men's boots; he said he
could varnish the ladies' without hurting his wrist. It needed less skill
than I supposed, and after I had done a few pairs he said I could black
boots as well as he."
"Did anybody see you?" I gasped, and I felt a cold perspiration break out
"No, we had the whole midnight hour to ourselves. The porter's work with
the baggage was all over, and there was nothing to interrupt the
delightful chat we fell into. He is a very intelligent man, and he told me
all about that custom of feeing which you deprecate. He says that the
servants hate it as much as the guests; they have to take the tips now
because the landlords figure on them in the wages, and they cannot live
without them. He is a fine, manly fellow, and--"
"Mr. Homos," I broke in, with the strength I found in his assurance that
no one had seen him helping the porter black boots, "I want to speak very
seriously with you, and I hope you will not be hurt if I speak very
plainly about a matter in which I have your good solely at heart." This
was not quite true, and I winced inwardly a little when he thanked me with
that confounded sincerity of his which was so much like irony; but I went
on: "It is my duty to you, as my guest, to tell you that this thing of
doing for others is not such a simple matter here, as your peculiar
training leads you to think. You have been deceived by a superficial
likeness; but, really, I do not understand how you could have read all you
have done about us and not realize before coming here that America and
Altruria are absolutely distinct and diverse in their actuating
principles. They are both republics, I know; but America is a republic
where every man is for himself, and you cannot help others as you do at
home; it is dangerous--it is ridiculous. You must keep this fact in mind,
or you will fall into errors that will be very embarrassing to you in your
stay among us, and," I was forced to add, "to all your friends. Now, I
certainly hoped, after what I had said to you and what my friends had
explained of our civilization, that you would not have done a thing of
this kind. I will see the porter, as soon as I am up, and ask him not to
mention the matter to any one, but, I confess, I don't like to take an
apologetic tone with him; your conditions are so alien to ours that they
will seem incredible to him, and he will think I am stuffing him."
"I don't believe he will think that," said the Altrurian, "and I hope you
won't find the case so bad as it seems to you. I am extremely sorry to
have done wrong--"
"Oh, the thing wasn't wrong in itself. It was only wrong under the
circumstances. Abstractly, it is quite right to help a fellow-being who
needs help; no one denies that, even in a country where every one is for
"I am so glad to hear it," said the Altrurian. "Then, at least, I have not
gone radically astray; and I do not think you need take the trouble to
explain the Altrurian ideas to the porter. I have done that already, and
they seemed quite conceivable to him; he said that poor folks had to act
upon them, even here, more or less, and that if they did not act upon them
there would be no chance for them at all. He says they have to help one
another very much as we do at home, and that it is only the rich folks
among you who are independent. I really don't think you need speak to him
at all, unless you wish; and I was very careful to guard my offer of help
at the point where I understood from you and your friends that it might do
harm. I asked him if there was not some one who would help him out with
his boot-blacking for money, because in that case I should be glad to pay
him; but he said there was no one about who would take the job; that he
had to agree to black the boots, or else he would not have got the place
of porter, but that all the rest of the help would consider it a disgrace,
and would not help him for love or money. So it seemed quite safe to offer
him my services."
I felt that the matter was almost hopeless, but I asked: "And what he
said--didn't that suggest anything else to you?"
"How anything else?" asked the Altrurian, in his turn.
"Didn't it occur to you that if none of his fellow-servants were willing
to help him black boots, and if he did it only because he was obliged to,
it was hardly the sort of work for you?"
"Why, no," said the Altrurian, with absolute simplicity. He must have
perceived the despair I fell into at this answer, for he asked: "Why
should I have minded doing for others what I should have been willing to
do for myself?"
"There are a great many things we are willing to do for ourselves that we
are not willing to do for others. But even on that principle, which I
think false and illogical, you could not be justified. A gentleman is not
willing to black _his own_ boots. It is offensive to his feelings, to his
self-respect; it is something he will not do if he can get anybody else to
do it for him."
"Then in America," said the Altrurian, "it is not offensive to the
feelings of a gentleman to let another do for him what he would not do for
"Ah," he returned, "then we understand something altogether different by
the word gentleman in Altruria. I see, now, how I have committed a
mistake. I shall be more careful hereafter."
I thought I had better leave the subject, and, "By-the-way," I said, "how
would you like to take a little tramp with me to-day farther up into the
"I should be delighted," said the Altrurian, so gratefully that I was
ashamed to think why I was proposing the pleasure to him.
"Well, then, I shall be ready to start as soon as we have had breakfast. I
will join you down-stairs in half an hour."
He left me at this hint, though really I was half afraid he might stay and
offer to lend me a hand at my toilet, in the expression of his national
character. I found him with Mrs. Makely, when I went down, and she began,
with a parenthetical tribute to the beauty of the mountains in the morning
light: "Don't be surprised to see me up at this unnatural hour. I don't
know whether it was the excitement of our talk last night, or what it was,
but my sulphonal wouldn't act, though I took fifteen grains, and I was up
with the lark, or should have been, if there had been any lark outside of
literature to be up with. However, this air is so glorious that I don't
mind losing a night's sleep now and then. I believe that with a little
practice one could get along without any sleep at all here; at least, _I_
could. I'm sorry to say poor Mr. Makely _can't_, apparently. He's making
up for his share of my vigils, and I'm going to breakfast without him. Do
you know, I've done a very bold thing: I've got the head-waiter to give
you places at our table; I know you'll hate it, Mr. Twelvemough, because
you naturally want to keep Mr. Homos to yourself, and I don't blame you at
all; but I'm simply not going to _let_ you, and that's all there is about
The pleasure I felt at this announcement was not unmixed, but I tried to
keep Mrs. Makely from thinking so, and I was immensely relieved when she
found a chance to say to me, in a low voice: "I know just how you're
feeling, Mr. Twelvemough, and I'm going to help you keep him from doing
anything ridiculous, if I can. I _like_ him, and I think it's a perfect
shame to have people laughing at him. I know we can manage him between
We so far failed, however, that the Altrurian shook hands with the
head-waiter when he pressed open the wire-netting door to let us into the
dining-room, and made a bow to our waitress of the sort one makes to a
lady. But we thought it best to ignore these little errors of his and
reserve our moral strength for anything more spectacular. Fortunately we
got through our breakfast with nothing worse than his jumping up and
stooping to hand the waitress a spoon she let fall; but this could easily
pass for some attention to Mrs. Makely at a little distance. There were
not many people down to breakfast yet; but I could see that there was a
good deal of subdued sensation among the waitresses, standing with folded
arms behind their tables, and that the head-waiter's handsome face was red
Mrs. Makely asked if we were going to church. She said she was driving
that way, and would be glad to drop us. "I'm not going myself," she
explained, "because I couldn't make anything of the sermon, with my head
in the state it is, and I'm going to compromise on a good action. I want
to carry some books and papers over to Mrs. Camp. Don't you think that
will be quite as acceptable, Mr. Homos?"
"I should venture to hope it," he said, with a tolerant seriousness not
altogether out of keeping with her lightness.
"Who is Mrs. Camp?" I asked, not caring to commit myself on the question.
"Lizzie's mother. You know I told you about them last night. I think she
must have got through the books I lent her, and I know Lizzie didn't like
to ask me for more, because she saw me talking with you, and didn't want
to interrupt us. Such a nice girl! I think the Sunday papers must have
come, and I'll take them over, too; Mrs. Camp is always so glad to get
them, and she is so delightful when she gets going about public events.
But perhaps you don't approve of Sunday papers, Mr. Homos."
"I'm sure I don't know, madam. I haven't seen them yet. You know this is
the first Sunday I've been in America."
"Well, I'm sorry to say you won't see the old Puritan Sabbath," said Mrs.
Makely, with an abrupt deflection from the question of the Sunday papers.
"Though you ought to, up in these hills. The only thing left of it is
rye-and-Indian bread, and these baked beans and fish-balls."
"But they are very good?"
"Yes, I dare say they are not the worst of it."
She was a woman who tended to levity, and I was a little afraid she might
be going to say something irreverent; but, if she were, she was
forestalled by the Altrurian asking: "Would it be very indiscreet, madam,
if I were to ask you some time to introduce me to that family?"
"The Camps?" she returned. "Not at all. I should be perfectly delighted."
The thought seemed to strike her, and she asked: "Why not go with me this
morning, unless you are inflexibly bent on going to church, you and Mr.
The Altrurian glanced at me, and I said I should be only too glad, if I
could carry some books, so that I could compromise on a good action, too.
"Take one of your own," she instantly suggested.
"Do you think they wouldn't be too severe upon it?" I asked.
"Well, Mrs. Camp might," Mrs. Makely consented, with a smile. "She goes
in for rather serious fiction; but I think Lizzie would enjoy a good,
old-fashioned love-story, where everybody got married, as they do in your
I winced a little, for every one likes to be regarded seriously, and I did
not enjoy being remanded to the young-girl public; but I put a bold face
on it, and said: "My good action shall be done in behalf of Miss Lizzie."
Half an hour later, Mrs. Makely having left word with the clerk where we
were gone, so that her husband need not be alarmed when he got up, we were
striking into the hills on a two-seated buckboard, with one of the best
teams of our hotel, and one of the most taciturn drivers. Mrs. Makely had
the Altrurian get into the back seat with her, and, after some attempts to
make talk with the driver, I leaned over and joined in their talk. The
Altrurian was greatly interested, not so much in the landscape--though he
owned its beauty when we cried out over it from point to point--but in the
human incidents and features. He noticed the cattle in the fields, and the
horses we met on the road, and the taste and comfort of the buildings, the
variety of the crops, and the promise of the harvest. I was glad of the
respite his questions gave me from the study of the intimate character of
our civilization, for they were directed now at these more material facts,
and I willingly joined Mrs. Makely in answering them. We explained that
the finest teams we met were from the different hotels or boarding-houses,
or at least from the farms where the people took city people to board; and
that certain shabby equipages belonged to the natives who lived solely by
cultivating the soil. There was not very much of the soil cultivated, for
the chief crop was hay, with here and there a patch of potatoes or beans,
and a few acres in sweet-corn. The houses of the natives, when they were
for their use only, were no better than their turnouts; it was where the
city boarder had found shelter that they were modern and pleasant. Now and
then we came to a deserted homestead, and I tried to make the Altrurian
understand how farming in New England had yielded to the competition of
the immense agricultural operations of the West. "You know," I said, "that
agriculture is really an operation out there, as much as coal-mining is in
Pennsylvania, or finance in Wall Street; you have no idea of the vastness
of the scale." Perhaps I swelled a little with pride in my celebration of
the national prosperity, as it flowed from our Western farms of five and
ten and twenty thousand acres; I could not very well help putting on the
pedal in these passages. Mrs. Makely listened almost, as eagerly, as the
Altrurian, for, as a cultivated American woman, she was necessarily
quite ignorant of her own country, geographically, politically, and
historically. "The only people left in the hill country of New England," I
concluded, "are those who are too old or too lazy to get away. Any young
man of energy would be ashamed to stay, unless he wanted to keep a
boarding-house or live on the city vacationists in summer. If he doesn't,
he goes West and takes up some of the new land, and comes back in
middle-life and buys a deserted farm to spend his summers on."
"Dear me!" said the Altrurian. "Is it so simple as that? Then we can
hardly wonder at their owners leaving these worn-out farms; though I
suppose it must be with the pang of exile, sometimes."
"Oh, I fancy there isn't much sentiment involved," I answered, lightly.
"Whoa!" said Mrs. Makely, speaking to the horses before she spoke to the
driver, as some women will. He pulled them up, and looked round at her.
"Isn't that Reuben Camp, _now_, over there by that house?" she asked, as
if we had been talking of him; that is another way some women have.
"Yes, ma'am," said the driver.
"Oh, well, then!" and "Reuben!" she called to the young man, who was
prowling about the door-yard of a sad-colored old farm-house, and peering
into a window here and there. "Come here a moment--won't you, please?"
He lifted his head and looked round, and, when he had located the appeal
made to him, he came down the walk to the gate and leaned over it, waiting
for further instructions. I saw that it was the young man whom we had
noticed with the girl Mrs. Makely called Lizzie on the hotel piazza the
"Do you know whether I should find Lizzie at home this morning?"
"Yes, she's there with mother," said the young fellow, with neither liking
nor disliking in his tone.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" said the lady. "I didn't know but she might be at
church. What in the world has happened here? Is there anything unusual
going on inside?"
"No, I was just looking to see if it was all right. The folks wanted I
should come round."
"Why, where are they?"
"Oh, they're gone."
"Yes; gone West. They've left the old place, because they couldn't make a
living here any longer."
"Why, this is quite a case in point," I said. "Now, Mr. Homos, here is a
chance to inform yourself at first hand about a very interesting fact of
our civilization"; and I added, in a low voice, to Mrs. Makely: "Won't you
"Oh yes. Mr. Camp, this is Mr. Twelvemough, the author--you know his
books, of course; and Mr. Homos, a gentleman from Altruria."
The young fellow opened the gate he leaned on and came out to us. He took
no notice of me, but he seized the Altrurian's hand and wrung it. "I've
heard of _you_" he said. "Mrs. Makely, were you going to our place?"
"So do, then. Mother would give almost anything to see Mr. Homos. We've
heard of Altruria, over our way," he added to our friend. "Mother's been
reading up all she can about it. She'll want to talk with you, and she
won't give the rest of us much of a chance, I guess."
"Oh, I shall be glad to see her," said the Altrurian, "and to tell her
everything I can. But won't you explain to me first something about your
deserted farms here? It's quite a new thing to me."
"It isn't a new thing to us," said the young fellow, with a short laugh.
"And there isn't much to explain about it. You'll see them all through New
England. When a man finds he can't get his funeral expenses out of the
land, he don't feel like staying to be buried in it, and he pulls up and
"But people used to get their living expenses here," I suggested. "Why
can't they now?"
"Well, they didn't use to have Western prices to fight with; and then the
land wasn't worn out so, and the taxes were not so heavy. How would you
like to pay twenty to thirty dollars on the thousand, and assessed up to
the last notch, in the city?"
"Why, what in the world makes your taxes so heavy?"
"Schools and roads. We've got to have schools, and you city folks want
good roads when you come here in the summer, don't you? Then the season is
short, and sometimes we can't make a crop. The frost catches the corn in
the field, and you have your trouble for your pains. Potatoes are the only
thing we can count on, except grass, and, when everybody raises potatoes,
you know where the price goes."
"Oh, but now, Mr. Camp," said Mrs. Makely, leaning over toward him, and
speaking in a cosey and coaxing tone, as if he must not really keep the
truth from an old friend like her, "isn't it a good deal because the
farmers' daughters want pianos, and the farmers' sons want buggies? I
heard Professor Lumen saying, the other day, that, if the farmers were
willing to work as they used to work, they could still get a good living
off their farms, and that they gave up their places because they were too
lazy, in many cases, to farm them properly."
"He'd better not let _me_ hear him saying that," said the young fellow,
while a hot flush passed over his face. He added, bitterly: "If he wants
to see how easy it is to make a living up here, he can take this place and
try for a year or two; he can get it cheap. But I guess he wouldn't want
it the year round; he'd only want it a few months in the summer, when he
could enjoy the sightliness of it, and see me working over there on my
farm, while he smoked on his front porch." He turned round and looked at
the old house in silence a moment. Then, as he went on, his voice lost its
angry ring. "The folks here bought this place from the Indians, and they'd
been here more than two hundred years. Do you think they left it because
they were too lazy to run it, or couldn't get pianos and buggies out of
it, or were such fools as not to know whether they were well off? It was
their _home_; they were born and lived and died here. There is the family
burying-ground over there."
Neither Mrs. Makely nor myself was ready with a reply, and we left the
word with the Altrurian, who suggested: "Still, I suppose they will be
more prosperous in the West on the new land they take up?"
The young fellow leaned his arms on the wheel by which he stood. "What do
you mean by taking up new land?"
"Why, out of the public domain--"
"There _ain't_ any public domain that's worth having. All the good land is
in the hands of railroads and farm syndicates and speculators; and if you
want a farm in the West you've got to buy it; the East is the only place
where folks give them away, because they ain't worth keeping. If you
haven't got the ready money, you can buy one on credit, and pay ten,
twenty, and thirty per cent. interest, and live in a dugout on the
plains--till your mortgage matures." The young man took his arms from the
wheel and moved a few steps backward, as he added: "I'll see you over at
the house later."
The driver touched his horses, and we started briskly off again. But I
confess I had quite enough of his pessimism, and as we drove away I leaned
back toward the Altrurian and said: "Now, it is all perfect nonsense to
pretend that things are at that pass with us. There are more millionaires
in America, probably, than there are in all the other civilized countries
of the globe, and it is not possible that the farming population should be
in such a hopeless condition. All wealth comes out of the earth, and you
may be sure they get their full share of it."
"I am glad to hear you say so," said the Altrurian. "What is the meaning
of this new party in the West that seems to have held a convention lately?
I read something of it in the train yesterday."
"Oh, that is a lot of crazy Hayseeds, who don't want to pay back the money
they have borrowed, or who find themselves unable to meet their interest.
It will soon blow over. We are always having these political flurries. A
good crop will make it all right with them."
"But is it true that they have to pay such rates of interest as our young
"Well," I said, seeing the thing in the humorous light which softens for
us Americans so many of the hardships of others, "I suppose that man likes
to squeeze his brother man when he gets him in his grip. That's human
nature, you know."
"Is it?" asked the Altrurian.
It seemed to me that he had asked something like that before when I
alleged human nature in defence of some piece of every-day selfishness.
But I thought best not to notice it, and I went on: "The land is so rich
out there that a farm will often pay for itself with a single crop."
"Is it possible?" cried the Altrurian. "Then I suppose it seldom really
happens that a mortgage is foreclosed, in the way our young friend
"Well, I can't say that exactly"; and, having admitted so much, I did not
feel bound to impart a fact that popped perversely into my mind. I was
once talking with a Western money-lender, a very good sort of fellow,
frank and open as the day; I asked him whether the farmers generally paid
off their mortgages, and he answered me that if the mortgage was to the
value of a fourth of the land, the farmer might pay it off, but if it were
to a half, or a third even, he never paid it, but slaved on and died in
his debts. "You may be sure, however," I concluded, "that our young friend
takes a jaundiced view of the situation."
"Now, really," said Mrs. Makely, "I must insist upon dropping this
everlasting talk about money. I think it is perfectly disgusting, and I
believe it was Mr. Makely's account of his speculations that kept me awake
last night. My brain got running on figures till the dark seemed to be all
sown with dollar-marks, like the stars in the Milky Way. I--ugh! What in
the world is it? Oh, you dreadful little things!"
Mrs. Makely passed swiftly from terror to hysterical laughter as the
driver pulled up short and a group of barefooted children broke in front
of his horses and scuttled out of the dust into the road-side bushes like
a covey of quails. There seemed to be a dozen of them, nearly all the same
in size, but there turned out to be only five or six; or at least no more
showed their gleaming eyes and teeth through the underbrush in quiet
enjoyment of the lady's alarm.
"Don't you know that you might have got killed?" she demanded, with that
severity good women feel for people who have just escaped with their
lives. "How lovely the dirty little dears are!" she added, in the next
wave of emotion. One bold fellow of six showed a half-length above the
bushes, and she asked: "Don't you know that you oughtn't to play in the
road when there are so many teams passing? Are all those your brothers and
He ignored the first question. "One's my cousin." I pulled out a
half-dozen coppers, and held my hand toward him. "See if there is one
for each." They had no difficulty in solving the simple mathematical
problem except the smallest girl, who cried for fear and baffled longing.
I tossed the coin to her, and a little fat dog darted out at her feet and
caught it up in his mouth. "Oh, good gracious!" I called out in my light,
humorous way. "Do you suppose he's going to spend it for candy?" The
little people thought that a famous joke, and they laughed with the
gratitude that even small favors inspire. "Bring your sister here," I said
to the boldest boy, and, when he came up with the little woman, I put
another copper into her hand. "Look out that the greedy dog doesn't get
it," I said, and my gayety met with fresh applause. "Where do you live?" I
asked, with some vague purpose of showing the Altrurian the kindliness
that exists between our upper and lower classes.
"Over there," said the boy. I followed the twist of his head, and glimpsed
a wooden cottage on the border of the forest, so very new that the
sheathing had not yet been covered with clapboards. I stood up in the
buckboard and saw that it was a story and a half high, and could have had
four or five rooms in it. The bare, curtainless windows were set in the
unpainted frames, but the front door seemed not to be hung yet. The people
meant to winter there, however, for the sod was banked up against the
wooden underpinning; a stovepipe stuck out of the roof of a little wing
behind. While I gazed a young-looking woman came to the door, as if she
had been drawn by our talk with the children, and then she jumped down
from the threshold, which still wanted a doorstep, and came slowly out to
us. The children ran to her with their coppers, and then followed her back
Mrs. Makely called to her before she reached us: "I hope you weren't
frightened. We didn't drive over any of them."
"Oh, I wasn't frightened," said the young woman. "It's a very safe place
to bring up children, in the country, and I never feel uneasy about them."
"Yes, if they are not under the horses' feet," said Mrs. Makely, mingling
instruction and amusement very judiciously in her reply. "Are they all
"Only five," said the mother, and she pointed to the alien in her flock.
"He's my sister's. She lives just below here." Her children had grouped
themselves about her, and she kept passing her hands caressingly over
their little heads as she talked. "My sister has nine children, but she
has the rest at church with her to-day."
"You don't speak like an American," Mrs. Makely suggested.
"No, we're English. Our husbands work in the quarry. That's _my_ little
palace." The woman nodded her head toward the cottage.
"It's going to be very nice," said Mrs. Makely, with an evident perception
of her pride in it.
"Yes, if we ever get money to finish it. Thank you for the children."
"Oh, it was this gentleman." Mrs. Makely indicated me, and I bore the
merit of my good action as modestly as I could.
"Then thank _you_, sir," said the young woman, and she asked Mrs. Makely:
"You're not living about here, ma'am?"
"Oh no, we're staying at the hotel."
"At the hotel! It must be very dear, there."
"Yes, it is expensive," said Mrs. Makely, with a note of that satisfaction
in her voice which we all feel in spending a great deal of money.
"But I suppose you can afford it," said the woman, whose eye was running
hungrily over Mrs. Makely's pretty costume. "Some are poor, and some are
rich. That's the way the world has to be made up, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Makely, very dryly, and the talk languished from this
point, so that the driver felt warranted in starting up his horses. When
we had driven beyond earshot she said: "I knew she was not an American,
as soon as she spoke, by her accent, and then those foreigners have no
self-respect. That was a pretty bold bid for a contribution to finish up
her 'little palace'! I'm glad you didn't give her anything, Mr.
Twelvemough. I was afraid your sympathies had been wrought upon."
"Oh, not at all," I answered. "I saw the mischief I had done with the
The Altrurian, who has not asked anything for a long time, but had
listened with eager interest to all that passed, now came up smiling with
his question: "Will you kindly tell me what harm would have been done by
offering the woman a little money to help finish up her cottage?"
I did not allow Mrs. Makely to answer, I was so eager to air my political
economy. "The very greatest harm. It would have pauperized her. You have
no idea how quickly they give way to the poison of that sort of thing. As
soon as they get any sort of help they expect more; they count upon it,
and they begin to live upon it. The sight of those coppers which I gave
her children--more out of joke than charity--demoralized the woman. She
took us for rich people, and wanted us to build her a house. You have to
guard against every approach to a thing of that sort."
"I don't believe," said Mrs. Makely, "that an American would have hinted,
as she did."
"'No, an American would not have done that, I'm thankful to say. They take
fees, but they don't ask charity, yet." We went on to exult in the noble
independence of the American character in all classes, at some length. We
talked at the Altrurian, but he did not seem to hear us. At last he asked,
with a faint sigh: "Then, in your conditions, a kindly impulse to aid one
who needs your help is something to be guarded against as possibly
"Exactly," I said. "And now you see what difficulties beset us in dealing
with the problem of poverty. We cannot let people suffer, for that would
be cruel; and we cannot relieve their need without pauperizing them."
"I see," he answered. "It is a terrible quandary."
"I wish," said Mrs. Makely, "that you would tell us just how you manage
with the poor in Altruria."
"We have none," he replied.
"But the comparatively poor--you have some people who are richer than
"No. We should regard that as the worst incivism."
"What is incivism?"
I interpreted, "Bad citizenship."
"Well, then, if you will excuse me, Mr. Homos," she said, "I think that is
simply impossible. There _must_ be rich and there _must_ be poor. There
always have been, and there always will be. That woman said it as well as
anybody. Didn't Christ Himself say, 'The poor ye have always with you'?"
The Altrurian looked at Mrs. Makely with an amazement visibly heightened
by the air of complacency she put on after delivering this poser: "Do you
really think Christ meant that you _ought_ always to have the poor with
you?" he asked.
"Why, of course!" she answered, triumphantly. "How else are the sympathies
of the rich to be cultivated? The poverty of some and the wealth of
others, isn't that what forms the great tie of human brotherhood? If we
were all comfortable, or all shared alike, there could not be anything
like charity, and Paul said, 'The greatest of these is charity.' I believe
it's 'love' in the new version, but it comes to the same thing."
The Altrurian gave a kind of gasp, and then lapsed into a silence that
lasted until we came in sight of the Camp farm-house. It stood on the
crest of a road-side upland, and looked down the beautiful valley, bathed
in Sabbath sunlight, and away to the ranges of hills, so far that it was
hard to say whether it was sun or shadow that dimmed their distance.
Decidedly, the place was what the country people call sightly. The old
house, once painted a Brandon red, crouched low to the ground, with its
lean-to in the rear, and its flat-arched wood-sheds and wagon-houses
stretching away at the side of the barn, and covering the approach to it
with an unbroken roof. There were flowers in the beds along the
underpinning of the house, which stood close to the street, and on one
side of the door was a clump of Spanish willow; an old-fashioned June rose
climbed over it from the other. An aged dog got stiffly to his feet from
the threshold stone and whimpered as our buckboard drew up; the poultry
picking about the path and among the chips lazily made way for us, and as
our wheels ceased to crunch upon the gravel we heard hasty steps, and
Reuben Camp came round the corner of the house in time to give Mrs. Makely
his hand and help her spring to the ground, which she did very lightly;
her remarkable mind had kept her body in a sort of sympathetic activity,
and at thirty-five she had the gracile ease and self-command of a girl.
"Ah, Reuben," she sighed, permitting herself to call him by his first
name, with the emotion which expressed itself more definitely in the words
that followed, "how I envy you all this dear, old, homelike place! I never
come here without thinking of my grandfather's farm in Massachusetts,
where I used to go every summer when I was a little girl. If I had a place
like this, I should never leave it."
"Well, Mrs. Makely," said young Camp, "you can have this place cheap, if
you really want it. Or almost any other place in the neighborhood."
"Don't say such a thing!" she returned. "It makes one feel as if the
foundations of the great deep were giving way. I don't know what that
means exactly, but I suppose it's equivalent to mislaying George's hatchet
and going back on the Declaration generally; and I don't like to hear you
Camp seemed to have lost his bitter mood, and he answered, pleasantly:
"The Declaration is all right, as far as it goes, but it don't help us to
compete with the Western farm operations."
"Why, you believe every one was born free and equal, don't you?" Mrs.
"Oh yes, I believe that; but--"
"Then why do you object to free and equal competition?"
The young fellow laughed, and said, as he opened the door for us: "Walk
right into the parlor, please. Mother will be ready for you in a minute."
He added: "I guess she's putting on her best cap for you, Mr. Homos. It's
a great event for her, your coming here. It is for all of us. We're glad
to have you."
"And I'm glad to be here," said the Altrurian, as simply as the other. He
looked about the best room of a farm-house that had never adapted itself
to the tastes or needs of the city boarder, and was as stiffly repellent
in its upholstery and as severe in its decoration as hair-cloth chairs and
dark-brown wall-paper of a trellis pattern, with drab roses, could make
it. The windows were shut tight, and our host did not offer to open them.
A fly or two crossed the doorway into the hall, but made no attempt
to penetrate the interior, where we sat in an obscurity that left the
high-hung family photographs on the walls vague and uncertain. I made a
mental note of it as a place where it would be very characteristic to have
a rustic funeral take place; and I was pleased to have Mrs. Makely drop
into a sort of mortuary murmur, as she said: "I hope your mother is as
well as usual this morning?" I perceived that this murmur was produced by
the sepulchral influence of the room.
"Oh yes," said Camp, and at that moment a door opened from the room across
the hall, and his sister seemed to bring in some of the light from it to
us where we sat. She shook hands with Mrs. Makely, who introduced me to
her, and then presented the Altrurian. She bowed very civilly to me, but
with a touch of severity, such as country people find necessary for the
assertion of their self-respect with strangers. I thought it very pretty,
and instantly saw that I could work it into some picture of character; and
I was not at all sorry that she made a difference in favor of the
"Mother will be so glad to see you," she said to him, and, "Won't you come
right in?" she added to us all.
We followed her and found ourselves in a large, low, sunny room on
the southeast corner of the house, which had no doubt once been the
living-room, but which was now given up to the bedridden invalid; a door
opened into the kitchen behind, where the table was already laid for the
midday meal, with the plates turned down in the country fashion, and some
netting drawn over the dishes to keep the flies away.
Mrs. Makely bustled up to the bedside with her energetic, patronizing
cheerfulness. "Ah, Mrs. Camp, I am glad to see you looking so well this
morning. I've been meaning to run over for several days past, but I
couldn't find a moment till this morning, and I knew you didn't object to
Sunday visits." She took the invalid's hand in hers, and, with the air of
showing how little she felt any inequality between them, she leaned over
and kissed her, where Mrs. Camp sat propped against her pillows. She had a
large, nobly moulded face of rather masculine contour, and at the same
time the most motherly look in the world. Mrs. Makely bubbled and babbled
on, and every one waited patiently till she had done, and turned and said,
toward the Altrurian: "I have ventured to bring my friend, Mr. Homos, with
me. He is from Altruria." Then she turned to me and said: "Mr. Twelvemough
you know already through his delightful books"; but, although she paid me
this perfunctory compliment it was perfectly apparent to me that in the
esteem of this disingenuous woman the distinguished stranger was a far
more important person than the distinguished author. Whether Mrs. Camp
read my perception of this fact in my face or not I cannot say, but she
was evidently determined that I should not feel a difference in her. She
held out her hand to me first, and said that I never could know how many
heavy hours I had helped to lighten for her, and then she turned to the
Altrurian and took his hand. "Oh!" she said, with a long, deep-drawn sigh,
as if that were the supreme moment of her life. "And are you really from
Altruria? It seems too good to be true!" Her devout look and her earnest
tone gave the commonplace words a quality that did not inhere in them, but
Mrs. Makely took them on their surface.
"Yes, doesn't it?" she made haste to interpose, before the Altrurian could
say anything. "That is just the way we all feel about it, Mrs. Camp. I
assure you, if it were not for the accounts in the papers and the talk
about it everywhere, I couldn't believe there _was_ any such place as
Altruria; and if it were not for Mr. Twelvemough here--who has to keep all
his inventions for his novels, as a mere matter of business routine--I
might really suspect him and Mr. Homos of--well, _working_ us, as my
husband calls it."
The Altrurian smiled politely, but vaguely, as if he had not quite caught
her meaning, and I made answer for both: "I am sure, Mrs. Makely, if you
could understand my peculiar state of mind about Mr. Homos, you would
never believe that I was in collusion with him. I find him quite as
incredible as you do. There are moments when he seems so entirely
subjective with me that I feel as if he were no more definite or tangible
than a bad conscience."
"Exactly!" said Mrs. Makely, and she laughed out her delight in my
The Altrurian must have perceived that we were joking, though the Camps
all remained soberly silent. "I hope it isn't so bad as that," he said,
"though I have noticed that I seem to affect you all with a kind of
misgiving. I don't know just what it is; but, if I could remove it, I
should be very glad to do so."
Mrs. Makely very promptly seized her chance: "Well, then, in the first
place, my husband and I were talking it over last night after we left you,
and that was one of the things that kept us awake; it turned into money
afterward. It isn't so much that a whole continent, as big as Australia,
remained undiscovered till within such a very few years, as it is the
condition of things among you: this sort of all living for one another,
and not each one for himself. My husband says that is simply moonshine;
such a thing never was and never can be; it is opposed to human nature,
and would take away incentive and all motive for exertion and advancement
and enterprise. I don't know _what_ he didn't say against it; but one
thing, he says it's perfectly un-American." The Altrurian remained silent,
gravely smiling, and Mrs. Makely added, with her most engaging little
manner: "I hope you won't feel hurt, personally or patriotically, by what
I've repeated to you. I know my husband is awfully Philistine, though he
_is_ such a good fellow, and I don't, by any means, agree with him on all
those points; but I _would_ like to know what you think of them. The
trouble is, Mrs. Camp," she said, turning to the invalid, "that Mr. Homos
is so dreadfully reticent about his own country, and I am so curious to
hear of it at first hands, that I consider it justifiable to use any means
to make him open up about it."
"There is no offence," the Altrurian answered for himself, "in what Mr.
Makely says, though, from the Altrurian point of view, there is a good
deal of error.
"Does it seem so strange to you," he asked, addressing himself to Mrs.
Camp, "that people should found a civilization on the idea of living for
one another instead of each for himself?"
"No indeed!" she answered. "Poor people have always had to live that way,
or they could not have lived at all."
"That was what I understood your porter to say last night," said the
Altrurian to me. He added, to the company generally: "I suppose that even
in America there are more poor people than there are rich people?"
"Well, I don't know about that," I said. "I suppose there are more people
independently rich than there are people independently poor."
"We will let that formulation of it stand. If it is true, I do not see why
the Altrurian system should be considered so very un-American. Then, as to
whether there is or ever was really a practical altruism, a civic
expression of it, I think it cannot be denied that among the first
Christians, those who immediately followed Christ, and might be supposed
to be directly influenced by His life, there was an altruism practised as
radical as that which we have organized into a national polity and a
working economy in Altruria."
"Ah, but you know," said Mrs. Makely, with the air of advancing a point
not to be put aside, "they had to drop _that_. It was a dead failure. They
found that they couldn't make it go at all among cultivated people, and
that, if Christianity was to advance, they would have to give up all that
crankish kind of idolatry of the mere letter. At any rate," she went on,
with the satisfaction we all feel in getting an opponent into close
quarters, "you must confess that there is a much greater play of
Before the Altrurian could reply, young Camp said: "If you want to see
American individuality, the real, simon-pure article, you ought to go down
to one of our big factory towns and look at the mill-hands coming home in
droves after a day's work, young girls and old women, boys and men, all
fluffed over with cotton, and so dead tired that they can hardly walk.
They come shambling along with all the individuality of a flock of sheep."
"Some," said Mrs. Makely, heroically, as if she were one of these, "must
be sacrificed. Of course, some are not so individual as others. A great
deal depends upon temperament."
"A great deal more depends upon capital," said Camp, with an offensive
laugh. "If you have capital in America, you can have individuality; if you
haven't, you can't."
His sister, who had not taken part in the talk before, said, demurely: "It
seems to me you've got a good deal of individuality, Reub, and you haven't
got a great deal of capital, either," and the two young people laughed
Mrs. Makely was one of those fatuous women whose eagerness to make a point
excludes the consideration even of their own advantage. "I'm sure," she
said, as if speaking for the upper classes, "we haven't got any
individuality at all. We are as like as so many peas or pins. In fact, you
have to be so in society. If you keep asserting your own individuality too
much, people avoid you. It's very vulgar and the greatest bore."
"Then you don't find individuality so desirable, after all," said the
"I perfectly detest it!" cried the lady, and evidently she had not the
least notion where she was in the argument. "For my part, I'm never happy
except when I've forgotten myself and the whole individual bother."
Her declaration seemed somehow to close the incident, and we were all
silent a moment, which I employed in looking about the room, and taking in
with my literary sense the simplicity and even bareness of its furnishing.
There was the bed where the invalid lay, and near the head a table with a
pile of books and a kerosene-lamp on it, and I decided that she was a good
deal wakeful, and that she read by that lamp when she could not sleep at
night. Then there were the hard chairs we sat on, and some home-made
hooked rugs, in rounds and ovals, scattered about the clean floor; there
was a small melodeon pushed against the wall; the windows had paper
shades, and I recalled that I had not seen any blinds on the outside of
the house. Over the head of the bed hung a cavalryman's sword, with its
belt--the sword that Mrs. Makely had spoken of. It struck me as a room
where a great many things might have happened, and I said: "You can't
think, Mrs. Camp, how glad I am to see the inside of your house. It seems
to me so typical."
A pleased intelligence showed itself in her face, and she answered: "Yes,
it is a real old-fashioned farmhouse. We have never taken boarders, and so
we have kept it as it was built pretty much, and only made such changes in
it as we needed or wanted for ourselves."
"It's a pity," I went on, following up what I thought a fortunate lead,
"that we city people see so little of the farming life when we come into
the country. I have been here now for several seasons, and this is the
first time I have been inside a farmer's house."
"Is it possible!" cried the Altrurian, with an air of utter astonishment;
and, when I found the fact appeared so singular to him, I began to be
rather proud of its singularity.
"Yes, I suppose that most city people come and go, year after year, in the
country, and never make any sort of acquaintance with the people who live
there the year round. We keep to ourselves in the hotels, or, if we go out
at all, it is to make a call upon some city cottager, and so we do not get
out of the vicious circle of our own over-intimacy with ourselves and our
ignorance of others."
"And you regard that as a great misfortune?" asked the Altrurian.
"Why, it's inevitable. There is nothing to bring us together, unless it's
some happy accident, like the present. But we don't have a traveler from
Altruria to exploit every day, and so we have no business to come into
"You would have been welcome in ours long ago, Mr. Twelvemough," said Mrs.
"But, excuse me," said the Altrurian, "what you say really seems dreadful
to me. Why, it is as if you were not the same race or kind of men!"
"Yes," I answered. "It has sometimes seemed to me as if our big hotel
there were a ship anchored off some strange coast. The inhabitants come
out with supplies, and carry on their barter with the ship's steward, and
we sometimes see them over the side, but we never speak to them or have
anything to do with them. We sail away at the close of the season, and
that is the end of it till next summer."
The Altrurian turned to Mrs. Camp. "And how do you look at it? How does it
seem to you?"
"I don't believe we have thought about it very much; but, now that Mr.
Twelvemough has spoken of it, I can see that it does look that way. And it
seems very strange, doesn't it, for we are all the same people, and have
the same language and religion and country--the country that my husband
fought for and, I suppose I may say, died for; he was never the same man
after the war. It does appear as if we had some interests in common, and
might find it out if we ever came together."
"It's a great advantage, the city people going into the country so much as
they do now," said Mrs. Makely. "They bring five million dollars into the
State of New Hampshire, alone, every summer."
She looked round for the general approval which this fact merited, and
young Camp said: "And it shows how worthless the natives are, that they
can't make both ends meet, with all that money, but have to give up their
farms and go West, after all. I suppose you think it comes from wanting
buggies and pianos."
"Well, it certainly comes from something," said Mrs. Makely, with the
courage of her convictions.
She was evidently not going to be put down by that sour young fellow, and
I was glad of it, though I must say I thought the thing she left to rankle
in his mind from our former meeting had not been said in very good taste.
I thought, too, that she would not fare best in any encounter of wits with
him, and I rather trembled for the result. I said, to relieve the strained
situation: "I wish there was some way of our knowing each other better.
I'm sure there's a great deal of good-will on both sides."
"No, there isn't," said Camp, "or at least I can answer for our side that
there isn't. You come into the country to get as much for your money as
you can, and we mean to let you have as little as we can. That's the whole
story, and if Mr. Homos believes anything different, he's very much
"I hadn't formed any conclusion in regard to the matter, which is quite
new to me," said the Altrurian, mildly. "But why is there no basis of
mutual kindness between you?"
"Because it's like everything else with us; it's a question of supply and
demand, and there is no room for any mutual kindness in a question of that
kind. Even if there were, there is another thing that would kill it. The
summer folks, as we call them, look down on the natives, as they call us,
and we know it."
"Now, Mr. Camp, I am sure that you cannot say _I_ look down on the
natives," said Mrs. Makely, with an air of argument.
The young fellow laughed. "Oh yes, you do," he said, not unamiably, and he
added, "and you've got the right to. We're not fit to associate with you,
and you know it, and we know it. You've got more money, and you've got
nicer clothes, and you've got prettier manners. You talk about things that
most natives never heard of, and you care for things they never saw. I
know it's the custom to pretend differently, but I'm not going to pretend
I recalled what my friend the banker said about throwing away cant, and I
asked myself if I were in the presence of some such free spirit again. I
did not see how young Camp could afford it; but then I reflected that he
had really nothing to lose by it, for he did not expect to make anything
out of us; Mrs. Makely would probably not give up his sister as seamstress
if the girl continued to work so well and so cheaply as she said.
"Suppose," he went on, "that some old native took you at your word, and
came to call upon you at the hotel, with his wife, just as one of the city
cottagers would do if he wanted to make your acquaintance?"
"I should be perfectly delighted," said Mrs. Makely, "and I should receive
them with the greatest possible cordiality."
"The same kind of cordiality that you would show to the cottagers?"
"I suppose that I should feel that I had more in common with the
cottagers. We should be interested in the same things, and we should
probably know the same people and have more to talk about--"
"You would both belong to the same class, and that tells the whole story.
If you were out West, and the owner of one of those big twenty-thousand-
acre farms called on you with his wife, would you act toward them as you
would toward our natives? You wouldn't. You would all be rich people
together, and you would understand one another because you had money."
"Now, that is not so," Mrs. Makely interrupted. "There are plenty of rich
people one wouldn't wish to know at all, and who really can't get into
society--who are ignorant and vulgar. And then, when you come to money, I
don't see but what country people are as glad to get it as anybody."
"Oh, gladder," said the young man.
"Well?" demanded Mrs. Makely, as if this were a final stroke of logic. The
young man did not reply, and Mrs. Makely continued: "Now I will appeal to
your sister to say whether she has ever seen any difference in my manner
toward her from what I show to all the young ladies in the hotel." The
young girl flushed and seemed reluctant to answer. "Why, Lizzie!" cried
Mrs. Makely, and her tone showed that she was really hurt.
The scene appeared to me rather cruel, and I glanced at Mrs. Camp with an
expectation that she would say something to relieve it. But she did not.
Her large, benevolent face expressed only a quiet interest in the
"You know very well, Mrs. Makely," said the girl, "you don't regard me as
you do the young ladies in the hotel."
There was no resentment in her voice or look, but only a sort of regret,
as if, but for this grievance, she could have loved the woman from whom
she had probably had much kindness. The tears came into Mrs. Makely's
eyes, and she turned toward Mrs. Camp. "And is this the way you _all_ feel
toward us?" she asked.
"Why shouldn't we?" asked the invalid, in her turn. "But, no, it isn't the
way all the country people feel. Many of them feel as you would like to
have them feel; but that is because they do not think. When they think,
they feel as we do. But I don't blame you. You can't help yourselves any
more than we can. We're all bound up together in that, at least."
At this apparent relenting Mrs. Makely tricked her beams a little, and
said, plaintively, as if offering herself for further condolence: "Yes,
that is what that woman at the little shanty back there said: some have to
be rich, and some have to be poor; it takes all kinds to make a world."
"How would you like to be one of those that have to be poor?" asked young
Camp, with an evil grin.
"I don't know," said Mrs. Makely, with unexpected spirit; "but I am sure
that I should respect the feelings of all, rich or poor."
"I am sorry if we have hurt yours, Mrs. Makely," said Mrs. Camp, with
dignity. "You asked us certain questions, and we thought you wished us to
reply truthfully. We could not answer you with smooth things."
"But sometimes you do," said Mrs. Makely, and the tears stood in her eyes
again. "And you know how fond I am of you all!"
Mrs. Camp wore a bewildered look. "Perhaps we have said more than we
ought. But I couldn't help it, and I don't see how the children could,
when you asked them here, before Mr. Homos."
I glanced at the Altrurian, sitting attentive and silent, and a sudden
misgiving crossed my mind concerning him. Was he really a man, a human
entity, a personality like ourselves, or was he merely a sort of spiritual
solvent, sent for the moment to precipitate whatever sincerity there was
in us, and show us what the truth was concerning our relations to one
another? It was a fantastic conception, but I thought it was one that I
might employ in some sort of purely romantic design, and I was
professionally grateful for it. I said, with a humorous gayety: "Yes, we
all seem to have been compelled to be much more honest than we like; and
if Mr. Homos is going to write an account of his travels when he gets
home, he can't accuse us of hypocrisy, at any rate. And I always used to
think it was one of our virtues! What with Mr. Camp, here, and my friend
the banker at the hotel, I don't think he'll have much reason to complain
even of our reticence."
"Well, whatever he says of us," sighed Mrs. Makely, with a pious glance at
the sword over the bed, "he will have to say that, in spite of our
divisions and classes, we are all Americans, and, if we haven't the same
opinions and ideas on minor matters, we all have the same country."
"I don't know about that," came from Reuben Camp, with shocking
promptness. "I don't believe we all have the same country. America is one
thing for you, and it's quite another thing for us. America means ease and
comfort and amusement for you, year in and year out, and if it means work,
it's work that you _wish_ to do. For us, America means work that we _have_
to do, and hard work all the time if we're going to make both ends meet.
It means liberty for you; but what liberty has a man got who doesn't know
where his next meal is coming from? Once I was in a strike, when I was
working on the railroad, and I've seen men come and give up their liberty
for a chance to earn their family's living. They knew they were right, and
that they ought to have stood up for their rights; but they had to lie
down and lick the hand that fed them. Yes, we are all Americans, but I
guess we haven't all got the same country, Mrs. Makely. What sort of a
country has a blacklisted man got?"
"A blacklisted man?" she repeated. "I don't know what you mean."
"Well, a kind of man I've seen in the mill towns, that the bosses have all
got on their books as a man that isn't to be given work on any account;
that's to be punished with hunger and cold, and turned into the street,
for having offended them; and that's to be made to suffer through his
helpless family for having offended them."
"Excuse me, Mr. Camp," I interposed, "but isn't a blacklisted man usually
a man who has made himself prominent in some labor trouble?"
"Yes," the young fellow answered, without seeming sensible of the point I
"Ah!" I returned. "Then you can hardly blame the employers for taking it
out of him in any way they can. That's human nature."
"Good heavens!" the Altrurian cried out. "Is it possible that in America
it is human nature to take away the bread of a man's family because he has
gone counter to your interest or pleasure on some economical question?"
"Well, Mr. Twelvemough seems to think so," sneered the young man. "But
whether it's human nature or not, it's a fact that they do it, and you can
guess how much a blacklisted man must love the country where such a thing
can happen to him. What should you call such a thing as blacklisting in
"Oh yes," Mrs. Makely pleaded, "do let us get him to talking about
Altruria on any terms. I think all this about the labor question is so
tiresome; don't you, Mrs. Camp?"
Mrs. Camp did not answer; but the Altrurian said, in reply to her son: "We
should have no name for such a thing, for with us such a thing would be
impossible. There is no crime so heinous with us that the punishment would
take away the criminal's chance of earning his living."
"Oh, if he was a criminal," said young Camp, "he would be all right
_here_. The state would give him a chance to earn his living then."
"But if he had no other chance of earning his living, and had committed no
offence against the laws--"
"Then the state would let him take to the road--like that fellow."
He pulled aside the shade of the window where he sat, and we saw pausing
before the house, and glancing doubtfully at the doorstep, where the dog
lay, a vile and loathsome-looking tramp, a blot upon the sweet and
wholesome landscape, a scandal to the sacred day. His rags burlesqued the
form which they did not wholly hide; his broken shoes were covered with
dust; his coarse hair came in a plume through his tattered hat; his red,
sodden face, at once fierce and timid, was rusty with a fortnight's beard.
He offended the eye like a visible stench, and the wretched carrion seemed
to shrink away from our gaze as if he were aware of his loathsomeness.
"Really," said Mrs. Makely, "I thought those fellows were arrested now. It
is too bad to leave them at large. They are dangerous." Young Camp left
the room, and we saw him going out toward the tramp.
"Ah, that's quite right," said the lady. "I hope Reuben is going to send
him about his business. Why, surely, he's not going to feed the horrid
creature!" she added, as Camp, after a moment's parley with the tramp,
turned with him and disappeared round a corner of the house. "Now, Mrs.
Camp, I think that is really a very bad example. It's encouraging them.
Very likely he'll go to sleep in your barn, and set it on fire with his
pipe. What do you do with tramps in Altruria, Mr. Homos?"
The Altrurian seemed not to have heard her. He said to Mrs. Camp: "Then I
understand from something your son let fall that he has not always been at
home with you here. Does he reconcile himself easily to the country after
the excitement of town life? I have read that the cities in America are
draining the country of the young people."
"I don't think he was sorry to come home," said the mother, with a touch
of fond pride. "But there was no choice for him after his father died; he
was always a good boy, and he has not made us feel that we were keeping
him away from anything better. When his father was alive we let him go,
because then we were not so dependent, and I wished him to try his fortune
in the world, as all boys long to do. But he is rather peculiar, and he
seems to have got quite enough of the world. To be sure, I don't suppose
he's seen the brightest side of it. He first went to work in the mills
down at Ponkwasset, but he was 'laid off' there when the hard times came
and there was so much overproduction, and he took a job of railroading,
and was braking on a freight-train when his father left us."
Mrs. Makely said, smiling: "No, I don't think that was the brightest
outlook in the world. No wonder he has brought back such gloomy
impressions. I am sure that if he could have seen life under brighter
auspices he would not have the ideas he has."
"Very likely," said the mother, dryly. "Our experiences have a great deal
to do with forming our opinions. But I am not dissatisfied with my son's
ideas. I suppose Reuben got a good many of his ideas from his father: he's
his father all over again. My husband thought slavery was wrong, and he
went into the war to fight against it. He used to say when the war was
over that the negroes were emancipated, but slavery was not abolished
"What in the world did he mean by that?" demanded Mrs. Makely.
"Something you wouldn't understand as we do. I tried to carry on the farm
after he first went, and before Reuben was large enough to help me much
and ought to be in school, and I suppose I overdid. At any rate, that was
when I had my first shock of paralysis. I never was very strong, and I
presume my health was weakened by my teaching school so much, and
studying, before I was married. But that doesn't matter now, and hasn't
for many a year. The place was clear of debt then, but I had to get a
mortgage put on it. The savings-bank down in the village took it, and
we've been paying the interest ever since. My husband died paying it, and
my son will pay it all my life, and then I suppose the bank will
foreclose. The treasurer was an old playmate of my husband's, and he said
that as long as either of us lived the mortgage could lie."
"How splendid of him!" said Mrs. Makely. "I should think you had been very
"I said that you would not see it as we do," said the invalid, patiently.
The Altrurian asked: "Are there mortgages on many of the farms in the
"Nearly all," said Mrs. Camp. "We seem to own them, but in fact they own
Mrs. Makely hastened to say: "My husband thinks it's the best way to have
your property. If you mortgage it close up, you have all your capital
free, and you can keep turning it over. That's what you ought to do, Mrs.
Camp. But what was the slavery that Captain Camp said was not abolished
The invalid looked at her a moment without replying, and just then the
door of the kitchen opened, and Young Camp came in and began to gather
some food from the table on a plate.
"Why don't you bring him to the table, Reub?" his sister called to him.
"Oh, he says he'd rather not come in, as long as we have company. He says
he isn't dressed for dinner; left his spike-tail in the city."
The young man laughed, and his sister with him.
Young Camp carried out the plate of victuals to the tramp, and Mrs. Makely
said to his mother: "I suppose you would make the tramp do some sort of
work to earn his breakfast on week-days?"
"Not always," Mrs. Camp replied. "Do the boarders at the hotel always work
to earn their breakfast?"
"No, certainly not," said Mrs. Makely, with the sharpness of offence. "But
they always pay for it."
"I don't think that paying for a thing is earning it. Perhaps some one
else earned the money that pays for it. But I believe there is too much
work in the world. If I were to live my life over again, I should not work
half so hard. My husband and I took this place when we were young married
people, and began working to pay for it. We wanted to feel that it was
ours, that we owned it, and that our children should own it afterward. We
both worked all day long like slaves, and many a moonlight night we were
up till morning, almost, gathering the stones from our fields and burying
them in deep graves that we had dug for them. But we buried our youth and
strength and health in those graves, too, and what for? I don't own the
farm that we worked so hard to pay for, and my children won't. That is
what it has all come to. We were rightly punished for our greed, I
suppose. Perhaps no one has a right to own any portion of the earth.
Sometimes I think so, but my husband and I earned this farm, and now the
savings-bank owns it. That seems strange, doesn't it? I suppose you'll say
that the bank paid for it. Well, perhaps so; but the bank didn't earn it.
When I think of that I don't always think that a person who pays for his
breakfast has the best right to a breakfast."
I could see the sophistry of all this, but I had not the heart to point it
out; I felt the pathos of it, too. Mrs. Makely seemed not to see the one
nor to feel the other very distinctly. "Yes, but surely," she said, "if
you give a tramp his breakfast without making him work for it, you must
see that it is encouraging idleness. And idleness is very corrupting--the
sight of it."
"You mean to the country people? Well, they have to stand a good deal of
that. The summer folks that spend four or five months of the year here
don't seem to do anything from morning till night."
"Ah, but you must recollect that they are _resting_! You have no idea how
hard they all work in town during the winter," Mrs. Makely urged, with an
air of argument.
"Perhaps the tramps are resting, too. At any rate, I don't think the sight
of idleness in rags, and begging at back doors, is very corrupting to the
country people; I never heard of a single tramp who had started from the
country; they all come from the cities. It's the other kind of idleness
that tempts our young people. The only tramps that my son says he ever
envies are the well-dressed, strong young fellows from town that go
tramping through the mountains for exercise every summer."
The ladies both paused. They seemed to have got to the end of their
tether; at least, Mrs. Makely had apparently nothing else to advance, and
I said, lightly: "But that is just the kind of tramps that Mr. Homos would
most disapprove of. He says that in Altruria they would consider exercise
for exercise' sake a wicked waste of force and little short of lunacy."
I thought my exaggeration might provoke him to denial, but he seemed not
to have found it unjust. "Why, you know," he said to Mrs. Camp, "in
Altruria every one works with his hands, so that the hard work shall not
all fall to any one class; and this manual labor of each is sufficient to
keep the body in health, as well as to earn a living. After the three,
hours' work, which constitutes a day's work with us, is done, the young
people have all sorts of games and sports, and they carry them as late
into life as the temperament of each demands. But what I was saying to Mr.
Twelvemough--perhaps I did not make myself clear--was that we should
regard the sterile putting forth of strength in exercise, if others were
each day worn out with hard manual labor, as insane or immoral. But I can
account for it differently with you, because I understand that in your
conditions a person of leisure could not do any manual labor without
taking away the work of some one who needed it to live by; and could not
even relieve an overworked laborer, and give him the money for the work,
without teaching him habits of idleness. In Altruria we can all keep
ourselves well by doing each his share of hard work, and we can help those
who are exhausted, when such a thing happens, without injuring them
materially or morally."
Young Camp entered at this moment, and the Altrurian hesitated. "Oh, do go
on!" Mrs. Makely entreated. She added to Camp: "We've got him to talking
about Altruria at last, and we wouldn't have him stopped for worlds."
The Altrurian looked around at all our faces, and no doubt read our eager
curiosity in them. He smiled and said: "I shall be very glad, I'm sure.
But I do not think you will find anything so remarkable in our
civilization, if you will conceive of it as the outgrowth of the
neighborly instinct. In fact, neighborliness is the essence of
Altrurianism. If you will imagine having the same feeling toward all," he
explained to Mrs. Makely, "as you have toward your next-door neighbor--"
"My next-door neighbor!" she cried. "But I don't _know_ the people next
door! We live in a large apartment house, some forty families, and I
assure you I do not know a soul among them."
He looked at her with a puzzled air, and she continued: "Sometimes it
_does_ seem rather hard. One day the people on the same landing with us
lost one of their children, and I should never have been a whit the wiser
if my cook hadn't happened to mention it. The servants all know each
other; they meet in the back elevator, and get acquainted. I don't
encourage it. You can't tell what kind of families they belong to."
"But surely," the Altrurian persisted, "you have friends in the city whom
you think of as your neighbors?"
"No, I can't say that I have," said Mrs. Makely. "I have my visiting-list,
but I shouldn't think of anybody on _that_ as a neighbor."
The Altrurian looked so blank and baffled that I could hardly help
laughing. "Then I should not know how to explain Altruria to you, I'm
"Well," she returned, lightly, "if it's anything like neighborliness as
I've seen it in small places, deliver me from it! I like being
independent. That's why I like the city. You're let alone."
"I was down in New York once, and I went through some of the streets and
houses where the poor people live," said young Camp, "and they seemed to
know each other and to be quite neighborly."
"And would you like to be all messed in with one another that way?"
demanded the lady.
"Well, I thought it was better than living as we do in the country, so far
apart that we never see one another, hardly. And it seems to me better
than not having any neighbors at all."
"Well, every one to his taste," said Mrs. Makely. "I wish you would tell
us how people manage with you socially, Mr. Homos."
"Why, you know," he began, "we have neither city nor country in your
sense, and so we are neither so isolated nor so crowded together. You feel
that you lose a great deal in not seeing one another oftener?" he asked
"Yes. Folks rust out living alone. It's Human nature to want to get
"And I understand Mrs. Makely that it is human nature to want to keep
"Oh no, but to come together independently," she answered.
"Well, that is what we have contrived in our life at home. I should have
to say, in the first place, that--"
"Excuse me just one moment, Mr. Homos," said Mrs. Makely. This perverse
woman was as anxious to hear about Altruria as any of us, but she was a
woman who would rather hear the sound of her own voice than any other,
even if she were dying, as she would call it, to hear the other. The
Altrurian stopped politely, and Mrs. Makely went on: "I have been thinking
of what Mr. Camp was saying about the blacklisted men, and their all
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