Through the Eye of the Needle
W. D. Howells
Part 2 out of 4
"I!" our hostess protested. But then she perceived that he was joking,
and she let me answer.
I said that I had seen them nearly all, during the past year, in New
England and in the West, but they appeared to me inalienable of the
simpler life of the country, and that I was not surprised they should not
have found an evolution in the more artificial society of the cities.
"I see," he returned, "that you reserve your _opinion_ of our more
artificial society; but you may be sure that our reporters will get it
out of you yet before you leave us."
"Those horrid reporters!" one of the ladies irrelevantly sighed.
The gentleman resumed: "In the mean time, I don't mind saying how it
strikes me. I think you are quite right about the indigenous American
things being adapted only to the simpler life of the country and the
smaller towns. It is so everywhere. As soon as people become at all
refined they look down upon what is their own as something vulgar. But it
is peculiarly so with us. We have nothing national that is not connected
with the life of work, and when we begin to live the life of pleasure we
must borrow from the people abroad, who have always lived the life of
"Mr. Homos, you know," Mrs. Makely explained for me, as if this were the
aptest moment, "thinks we all ought to work. He thinks we oughtn't to
have any servants."
"Oh no, my dear lady," I put in. "I don't think that of you as you
_are_. None of you could see more plainly than I do that in your
conditions you _must_ have servants, and that you cannot possibly
work unless poverty obliges you."
The other ladies had turned upon me with surprise and horror at Mrs.
Makely's words, but they now apparently relented, as if I had fully
redeemed myself from the charge made against me. Mrs. Strange alone
seemed to have found nothing monstrous in my supposed position.
"Sometimes," she said, "I wish we had to work, all of us, and that we
could be freed from our servile bondage to servants."
Several of the ladies admitted that it was the greatest slavery in the
world, and that it would be comparative luxury to do one's own work. But
they all asked, in one form or another, what were they to do, and Mrs.
Strange owned that she did not know. The facetious gentleman asked me how
the ladies did in Altruria, and when I told them, as well as I could,
they were, of course, very civil about it, but I could see that they all
thought it impossible, or, if not impossible, then ridiculous. I did not
feel bound to defend our customs, and I knew very well that each woman
there was imagining herself in our conditions with the curse of her
plutocratic tradition still upon her. They could not do otherwise, any of
them, and they seemed to get tired of such effort as they did make.
Mrs. Makely rose, and the other ladies rose with her, for the Americans
follow the English custom in letting the men remain at table after the
women have left. But on this occasion I found it varied by a pretty touch
from the French custom, and the men, instead of merely standing up while
the women filed out, gave each his arm, as far as the drawing-room, to
the lady he had brought in to dinner. Then we went back, and what is the
pleasantest part of the dinner to most men began for us.
I must say, to the credit of the Americans, that although the eating and
drinking among them appear gross enough to an Altrurian, you are not
revolted by the coarse stories which the English sometimes tell as soon
as the ladies have left them. If it is a men's dinner, or more especially
a men's supper, these stories are pretty sure to follow the coffee; but
when there have been women at the board, some sense of their presence
seems to linger in the more delicate American nerves, and the indulgence
is limited to two or three things off color, as the phrase is here, told
with anxious glances at the drawing-room doors, to see if they are fast
I do not remember just what brought the talk back from these primrose
paths to that question of American society forms, but presently some one
said he believed the church-sociable was the thing in most towns beyond
the apple-bee and sugar-party stage, and this opened the inquiry as to
how far the church still formed the social life of the people in cities.
Some one suggested that in Brooklyn it formed it altogether, and then
they laughed, for Brooklyn is always a joke with the New-Yorkers; I do
not know exactly why, except that this vast city is so largely a suburb,
and that it has a great number of churches and is comparatively cheap.
Then another told of a lady who had come to New York (he admitted, twenty
years ago), and was very lonely, as she had no letters until she joined a
church. This at once brought her a general acquaintance, and she began to
find herself in society; but as soon as she did so she joined a more
exclusive church, where they took no notice of strangers. They all
laughed at that bit of human nature, as they called it, and they
philosophized the relation of women to society as a purely business
relation. The talk ranged to the mutable character of society, and how
people got into it, or were of it, and how it was very different from
what it once was, except that with women it was always business. They
spoke of certain new rich people with affected contempt; but I could see
that they were each proud of knowing such millionaires as they could
claim for acquaintance, though they pretended to make fun of the number
of men-servants you had to run the gantlet of in their houses before you
could get to your hostess.
One of my commensals said he had noticed that I took little or no wine,
and, when I said that we seldom drank it in Altruria, he answered that he
did not think I could make that go in America, if I meant to dine much.
"Dining, you know, means overeating," he explained, "and if you wish to
overeat you must overdrink. I venture to say that you will pass a worse
night than any of us, Mr. Homos, and that you will be sorrier to-morrow
than I shall." They were all smoking, and I confess that their tobacco
was secretly such an affliction to me that I was at one moment in doubt
whether I should take a cigar myself or ask leave to join the ladies.
The gentleman who had talked so much already said: "Well, I don't mind
dining, a great deal, especially with Makely, here, but I do object to
supping, as I have to do now and then, in the way of pleasure. Last
Saturday night I sat down at eleven o'clock to blue-point oysters,
consomme, stewed terrapin--yours was very good, Makely; I wish I had
taken more of it--lamb chops with peas, redhead duck with celery
mayonnaise, Nesselrode pudding, fruit, cheese, and coffee, with sausages,
caviare, radishes, celery, and olives interspersed wildly, and drinkables
and smokables _ad libitum_; and I can assure you that I felt very
devout when I woke up after church-time in the morning. It is this
turning night into day that is killing us. We men, who have to go to
business the next morning, ought to strike, and say that we won't go
to anything later than eight-o'clock dinner."
"Ah, then the women would insist upon our making it four-o'clock tea,"
Our host seemed to be reminded of something by the mention of the women,
and he said, after a glance at the state of the cigars, "Shall we join
One of the men-servants had evidently been waiting for this question. He
held the door open, and we all filed into the drawing-room.
Mrs. Makely hailed me with, "Ah, Mr. Homos, I'm so glad you've come! We
poor women have been having a most dismal time!"
"Honestly," asked the funny gentleman, "don't you always, without us?"
"Yes, but this has been worse than usual. Mrs. Strange has been asking us
how many people we supposed there were in this city, within five minutes'
walk of us, who had no dinner to-day. Do you call that kind?"
"A little more than kin and less than kind, perhaps," the gentleman
suggested. "But what does she propose to do about it?"
He turned towards Mrs. Strange, who answered, "Nothing. What does any one
propose to do about it?"
"Then, why do you think about it?"
"I don't. It thinks about itself. Do you know that poem of Longfellow's,
"No, I never heard of it."
"Well, it begins in his sweet old way, about some Spanish king who was
killed before a city he was besieging, and one of his knights sallies out
of the camp and challenges the people of the city, the living and the
dead, as traitors. Then the poet breaks off, _apropos de rien:_
'There is a greater army
That besets us round with strife,
A numberless, starving army,
At all the gates of life.
The poverty-stricken millions
Who challenge our wine and bread
And impeach us all for traitors,
Both the living and the dead.
And whenever I sit at the banquet,
Where the feast and song are high,
Amid the mirth and the music
I can hear that fearful cry.
And hollow and haggard faces
Look into the lighted hall,
And wasted hands are extended
To catch the crumbs that fall.
For within there is light and plenty,
And odors fill the air;
But without there is cold and darkness,
And hunger and despair.
And there, in the camp of famine,
In wind and cold and rain,
Christ, the great Lord of the Army,
Lies dead upon the plain.'"
"Ah," said the facetious gentleman, "that is fine! We really forget how
fine Longfellow was. It is so pleasant to hear you quoting poetry, Mrs.
Strange! That sort of thing has almost gone out; and it's a pity."
Our fashion of offering hospitality on the impulse would be as strange
here as offering it without some special inducement for its acceptance.
The inducement is, as often as can be, a celebrity or eccentricity of
some sort, or some visiting foreigner; and I suppose that I have been a
good deal used myself in one quality or the other. But when the thing has
been done, fully and guardedly at all points, it does not seem to have
been done for pleasure, either by the host or the guest. The dinner is
given in payment of another dinner; or out of ambition by people who are
striving to get forward in society; or by great social figures who give
regularly a certain number of dinners every season. In either case it is
eaten from motives at once impersonal and selfish. I do not mean to say
that I have not been at many dinners where I felt nothing perfunctory
either in host or guest, and where as sweet and gay a spirit ruled as at
any of our own simple feasts. Still, I think our main impression of
American hospitality would be that it was thoroughly infused with the
plutocratic principle, and that it meant business.
I am speaking now of the hospitality of society people, who number, after
all, but a few thousands out of the many millions of American people.
These millions are so far from being in society, even when they are very
comfortable, and on the way to great prosperity, if they are not already
greatly prosperous, that if they were suddenly confronted with the best
society of the great Eastern cities they would find it almost as strange
as so many Altrurians. A great part of them have no conception of
entertaining except upon an Altrurian scale of simplicity, and they know
nothing and care less for the forms that society people value themselves
upon. When they begin, in the ascent of the social scale, to adopt forms,
it is still to wear them lightly and with an individual freedom and
indifference; it is long before anxiety concerning the social law renders
Yet from highest to lowest, from first to last, one invariable fact
characterizes them all, and it may be laid down as an axiom that in a
plutocracy the man who needs a dinner is the man who is never asked to
dine. I do not say that he is not given a dinner. He is very often given
a dinner, and for the most part he is kept from starving to death; but he
is not suffered to sit at meat with his host, if the person who gives him
a meal can be called his host. His need of the meal stamps him with a
hopeless inferiority, and relegates him morally to the company of the
swine at their husks, and of Lazarus, whose sores the dogs licked.
Usually, of course, he is not physically of such a presence as to fit him
for any place in good society short of Abraham's bosom; but even if he
were entirely decent, or of an inoffensive shabbiness, it would not be
possible for his benefactors, in any grade of society, to ask him to
their tables. He is sometimes fed in the kitchen; where the people of the
house feed in the kitchen themselves, he is fed at the back door.
We were talking of this the other night at the house of that lady whom
Mrs. Makely invited me specially to meet on Thanksgiving-day. It happened
then, as it often happens here, that although I was asked to meet her, I
saw very little of her. It was not so bad as it sometimes is, for I have
been asked to meet people, very informally, and passed the whole evening
with them, and yet not exchanged a word with them. Mrs. Makely really
gave me a seat next Mrs. Strange at table, and we had some unimportant
conversation; but there was a lively little creature vis-a-vis of me, who
had a fancy of addressing me so much of her talk that my acquaintance
with. Mrs. Strange rather languished through the dinner, and she went
away so soon after the men rejoined the ladies in the drawing-room that I
did not speak to her there. I was rather surprised, then, to receive a
note from her a few days later, asking me to dinner; and I finally went,
I am ashamed to own, more from curiosity than from any other motive. I
had been, in the mean time, thoroughly coached concerning her by Mrs.
Makely, whom I told of my invitation, and who said, quite frankly, that
she wished Mrs. Strange had asked her, too. "But Eveleth Strange wouldn't
do that," she explained, "because it would have the effect of paying me
back. I'm so glad, on your account, that you're going, for I do want you
to know at least one American woman that you can unreservedly approve of;
I know you don't _begin_ to approve of _me;_ and I was so vexed
that you really had no chance to talk with her that night you met her
here; it seemed to me as if she ran away early just to provoke me; and,
to tell you the truth, I thought she had taken a dislike to you. I wish I
could tell you just what sort of a person she is, but it would be
perfectly hopeless, for you haven't got the documents, and you never
could get them. I used to be at school with her, and even then she wasn't
like any of the other girls. She was always so original, and did things
from such a high motive, that afterwards, when we were all settled, I
was perfectly thunderstruck at her marrying old Bellington Strange, who
was twice her age and had nothing but his money; he was not related to
the New York Bellingtons at all, and nobody knows how he got the name;
nobody ever heard of the Stranges. In fact, people say that he used to be
plain Peter B. Strange till he married Eveleth, and she made him drop the
Peter and blossom out in the Bellington, so that he could seem to have a
social as well as a financial history. People who dislike her insisted
that they were not in the least surprised at her marrying him; that the
high-motive business was just her pose; and that she had jumped at the
chance of getting him. But I always stuck up for her--and I know that she
did it for the sake of her family, who were all as poor as poor, and were
dependent on her after her father went to smash in his business. She was
always as high-strung and romantic as she could be, but I don't believe
that even then she would have taken Mr. Strange if there had been anybody
else. I don't suppose any one else ever looked at her, for the young men
are pretty sharp nowadays, and are not going to marry girls without a
cent, when there are so many rich girls, just as charming every way; you
can't expect them to. At any rate, whatever her motive was, she had her
reward, for Mr. Strange died within a year of their marriage, and she got
all his money. There was no attempt to break the will, for Mr. Strange
seemed to be literally of no family; and she's lived quietly on in the
house he bought her ever since, except when she's in Europe, and that's
about two-thirds of the time. She has her mother with her, and I suppose
that her sisters and her cousins and her aunts come in for outdoor aid.
She's always helping somebody. They say that's her pose, now; but, if it
is, I don't think it's a bad one; and certainly, if she wanted to get
married again, there would be no trouble, with her three millions. I
advise you to go to her dinner, by all means, Mr. Homos. It will be
something worth while, in every way, and perhaps you'll convert her to
Altrurianism; she's as hopeful a subject as _I_ know."
I was one of the earliest of the guests, for I cannot yet believe that
people do not want me to come exactly when they say they do. I perceived,
however, that one other gentleman had come before me, and I was both
surprised and delighted to find that this was my acquaintance Mr.
Bullion, the Boston banker. He professed as much pleasure at our meeting
as I certainly felt; but after a few words he went on talking with Mrs.
Strange, while I was left to her mother, an elderly woman of quiet and
even timid bearing, who affected me at once as born and bred in a wholly
different environment. In fact, every American of the former generation
is almost as strange to it in tradition, though not in principle, as I
am; and I found myself singularly at home with this sweet lady, who
seemed glad of my interest in her. I was taken from her side to be
introduced to a lady, on the opposite side of the room, who said she had
been promised my acquaintance by a friend of hers, whom I had met in the
mountains--Mr. Twelvemough; did I remember him? She gave a little
cry while still speaking, and dramatically stretched her hand towards a
gentleman who entered at the moment, and whom I saw to be no other than
Mr. Twelvemough himself. As soon as he had greeted our hostess he
hastened up to us, and, barely giving himself time to press the still
outstretched hand of my companion, shook mine warmly, and expressed the
greatest joy at seeing me. He said that he had just got back to town, in
a manner, and had not known I was here, till Mrs. Strange had asked him
to meet me. There were not a great many other guests, when they all
arrived, and we sat down, a party not much larger than at Mrs. Makely's.
I found that I was again to take out my hostess, but I was put next the
lady with whom I had been talking; she had come without her husband, who
was, apparently, of a different social taste from herself, and had an
engagement of his own; there was an artist and his wife, whose looks I
liked; some others whom I need not specify were there, I fancied, because
they had heard of Altruria and were curious to see me. As Mr. Twelvemough
sat quite at the other end of the table, the lady on my right could
easily ask me whether I liked his books. She said, tentatively, people
liked them because they felt sure when they took up one of his novels
they had not got hold of a tract on political economy in disguise.
It was this complimentary close of a remark, which scarcely began with
praise, that made itself heard across the table, and was echoed with a
heartfelt sigh from the lips of another lady.
"Yes," she said, "that is what I find such a comfort in Mr. Twelvemough's
"We were speaking of Mr. Twelvemough's books," the first lady triumphed,
and several began to extol them for being fiction pure and simple, and
not dealing with anything but loves of young people.
Mr. Twelvemough sat looking as modest as he could under the praise, and
one of the ladies said that in a novel she had lately read there was a
description of a surgical operation that made her feel as if she had
been present at a clinic. Then the author said that he had read that
passage, too, and found it extremely well done. It was fascinating, but
it was not art.
The painter asked, Why was it not art?
The author answered, Well, if such a thing as that was art, then anything
that a man chose to do in a work of imagination was art.
"Precisely," said the painter--"art _is_ choice."
"On that ground," the banker interposed, "you could say that political
economy was a fit subject for art, if an artist chose to treat it."
"It would have its difficulties," the painter admitted, "but there
are certain phases of political economy, dramatic moments, human
moments, which might be very fitly treated in art. For instance, who
would object to Mr. Twelvemough's describing an eviction from an East
Side tenement-house on a cold winter night, with the mother and her
children huddled about the fire the father had kindled with pieces of the
"_I_ should object very much, for one," said the lady who had
objected to the account of the surgical operation. "It would be too
creepy. Art should give pleasure."
"Then you think a tragedy is not art?" asked the painter.
"I think that these harrowing subjects are brought in altogether too
much," said the lady. "There are enough of them in real life, without
filling all the novels with them. It's terrible the number of beggars
you meet on the street, this winter. Do you want to meet them in Mr.
Twelvemough's novels, too?"
"Well, it wouldn't cost me any money there. I shouldn't have to give."
"You oughtn't to give money in real life," said the lady. "You ought to
give charity tickets. If the beggars refuse them, it shows they are
"It's some comfort to know that the charities are so active," said the
elderly young lady, "even if half the letters one gets _do_ turn out
to be appeals from them."
"It's very disappointing to have them do it, though," said the artist,
lightly. "I thought there was a society to abolish poverty. That doesn't
seem to be so active as the charities this winter. Is it possible they've
found it a failure?"
"Well," said Mr. Bullion, "perhaps they have suspended during the hard
They tossed the ball back and forth with a lightness the Americans have,
and I could not have believed, if I had not known how hardened people
become to such things here, that they were almost in the actual presence
of hunger and cold. It was within five minutes' walk of their warmth and
surfeit; and if they had lifted the window and called, "Who goes there?"
the houselessness that prowls the night could have answered them from the
street below, "Despair!"
"I had an amusing experience," Mr. Twelvemough began, "when I was doing a
little visiting for the charities in our ward, the other winter."
"For the sake of the literary material?" the artist suggested.
"Partly for the sake of the literary material; you know we have to look
for our own everywhere. But we had a case of an old actor's son, who had
got out of all the places he had filled, on account of rheumatism, and
could not go to sea, or drive a truck, or even wrap gas-fixtures in paper
"A checkered employ," the banker mused aloud.
"It was not of a simultaneous nature," the novelist explained. "So he
came on the charities, and, as I knew the theatrical profession a little,
and how generous it was with all related to it, I said that I would
undertake to look after his case. You know the theory is that we get work
for our patients, or clients, or whatever they are, and I went to a
manager whom I knew to be a good fellow, and I asked him for some sort of
work. He said, Yes, send the man round, and he would give him a job
copying parts for a new play he had written."
The novelist paused, and nobody laughed.
"It seems to me that your experience is instructive, rather than
amusing," said the banker. "It shows that something can be done, if you
"Well," said Mr. Twelvemough, "I thought that was the moral, myself, till
the fellow came afterwards to thank me. He said that he considered
himself very lucky, for the manager had told him that there were six
other men had wanted that job."
Everybody laughed now, and I looked at my hostess in a little
bewilderment. She murmured, "I suppose the joke is that he had befriended
one man at the expense of six others."
"Oh," I returned, "is that a joke?"
No one answered, but the lady at my right asked, "How do you manage with
poverty in Altruria?"
I saw the banker fix a laughing eye on me, but I answered, "In Altruria
we have no poverty."
"Ah, I knew you would say that!" he cried out. "That's what he always
does," he explained to the lady. "Bring up any one of our little
difficulties, and ask how they get over it in Altruria, and he says they
have nothing like it. It's very simple."
They all began to ask me questions, but with a courteous incredulity
which I could feel well enough, and some of my answers made them laugh,
all but my hostess, who received them with a gravity that finally
prevailed. But I was not disposed to go on talking of Altruria then,
though they all protested a real interest, and murmured against the
hardship of being cut off with so brief an account of our country as I
had given them.
"Well," said the banker at last, "if there is no cure for our poverty, we
might as well go on and enjoy ourselves."
"Yes," said our hostess, with a sad little smile, "we might as well enjoy
The talk at Mrs. Strange's table took a far wider range than my meagre
notes would intimate, and we sat so long that it was almost eleven
before the men joined the ladies in the drawing-room. You will hardly
conceive of remaining two, three, or four hours at dinner, as one often
does here, in society; out of society the meals are despatched with a
rapidity unknown to the Altrurians. Our habit of listening to lectors,
especially at the evening repast, and then of reasoning upon what we
have heard, prolongs our stay at the board; but the fondest listener,
the greatest talker among us, would be impatient of the delay eked out
here by the great number and the slow procession of the courses served.
Yet the poorest American would find his ideal realized rather in the
long-drawn-out gluttony of the society dinner here than in our temperate
At such a dinner it is very hard to avoid a surfeit, and I have to guard
myself very carefully, lest, in the excitement of the talk, I gorge
myself with everything, in its turn. Even at the best, my overloaded
stomach often joins with my conscience in reproaching me for what you
would think a shameful excess at table. Yet, wicked as my riot is, my
waste is worse, and I have to think, with contrition, not only of what I
have eaten, but of what I have left uneaten, in a city where so many
wake and sleep in hunger.
The ladies made a show of lingering after we joined them in the
drawing-room; but there were furtive glances at the clock, and presently
her guests began to bid Mrs. Strange good-night. When I came up and
offered her my hand, she would not take it, but murmured, with a kind of
passion: "Don't go! I mean it! Stay, and tell us about Altruria--my
mother and me!"
I was by no means loath, for I must confess that all I had seen and heard
of this lady interested me in her more and more. I felt at home with her,
too, as with no other society woman I have met; she seemed to me not only
good, but very sincere, and very good-hearted, in spite of the world she
lived in. Yet I have met so many disappointments here, of the kind that
our civilization wholly fails to prepare us for, that I should not have
been surprised to find that Mrs. Strange had wished me to stay, not that
she might hear me talk about Altruria, but that I might hear her talk
about herself. You must understand that the essential vice of a system
which concentres a human being's thoughts upon his own interests, from
the first moment of responsibility, colors and qualifies every motive
with egotism. All egotists are unconscious, for otherwise they would be
intolerable to themselves; but some are subtler than others; and as most
women have finer natures than most men everywhere, and in America most
women have finer minds than most men, their egotism usually takes the
form of pose. This is usually obvious, but in some cases it is so
delicately managed that you do not suspect it, unless some other woman
gives you a hint of it, and even then you cannot be sure of it, seeing
the self-sacrifice, almost to martyrdom, which the _poseuse_ makes
for it. If Mrs. Makely had not suggested that some people attributed
a pose to Mrs. Strange, I should certainly never have dreamed of looking
for it, and I should have been only intensely interested, when she began,
as soon as I was left alone with her and her mother:
"You may not know how unusual I am in asking this favor of you, Mr.
Homos; but you might as well learn from me as from others that I am
rather unusual in everything. In fact, you can report in Altruria, when
you get home, that you found at least one woman in America whom fortune
had smiled upon in every way, and who hated her smiling fortune almost
as much as she hated herself. I'm quite satisfied," she went on, with a
sad mockery, "that fortune is a man, and an American; when he has given
you all the materials for having a good time, he believes that you must
be happy, because there is nothing to hinder. It isn't that I want to be
happy in the greedy way that men think we do, for then I could easily be
happy. If you have a soul which is not above buttons, buttons are enough.
But if you expect to be of real use, to help on, and to help out, you
will be disappointed. I have not the faith that they say upholds you
Altrurians in trying to help out, if I don't see my way out. It seems to
me that my reason has some right to satisfaction, and that, if I am a
woman grown, I can't be satisfied with the assurances they would give
to little girls--that everything is going on well. Any one can see that
things are not going on well. There is more and more wretchedness of
every kind, not hunger of body alone, but hunger of soul. If you escape
one, you suffer the other, because, if you _have_ a soul, you must
long to help, not for a time, but for all time. I suppose," she asked,
abruptly, "that Mrs. Makely has told you something about me?"
"Something," I admitted.
"I ask," she went on, "because I don't want to bore you with a statement
of my case, if you know it already. Ever since I heard you were in New
York I have wished to see you, and to talk with you about Altruria; I did
not suppose that there would be any chance at Mrs. Makely's, and there
wasn't; and I did not suppose there would be any chance here, unless I
could take courage to do what I have done now. You must excuse it, if it
seems as extraordinary a proceeding to you as it really is; I wouldn't at
all have you think it is usual for a lady to ask one of her guests to
stay after the rest, in order, if you please, to confess herself to him.
It's a crime without a name."
She laughed, not gayly, but humorously, and then went on, speaking always
with a feverish eagerness which I find it hard to give you a sense of,
for the women here have an intensity quite beyond our experience of the
sex at home.
"But you are a foreigner, and you come from an order of things so utterly
unlike ours that perhaps you will be able to condone my offence. At any
rate, I have risked it." She laughed again, more gayly, and recovered
herself in a cheerfuller and easier mood. "Well, the long and the short
of it is that I have come to the end of my tether. I have tried, as truly
as I believe any woman ever did, to do my share, with money and with
work, to help make life better for those whose life is bad; and though
one mustn't boast of good works, I may say that I have been pretty
thorough, and, if I've given up, it's because I see, in our state of
things, _no_ hope of curing the evil. It's like trying to soak up
the drops of a rainstorm. You do dry up a drop here and there; but the
clouds are full of them, and, the first thing you know, you stand, with
your blotting-paper in your hand, in a puddle over your shoe-tops. There
is nothing but charity, and charity is a failure, except for the moment.
If you think of the misery around you, that must remain around you for
ever and ever, as long as you live, you have your choice--to go mad and
be put into an asylum, or go mad and devote yourself to society."
While Mrs. Strange talked on, her mother listened quietly, with a dim,
submissive smile and her hands placidly crossed in her lap. She now said:
"It seems to be very different now from what it was in my time. There are
certainly a great many beggars, and we used never to have one. Children
grew up, and people lived and died, in large towns, without ever seeing
one. I remember, when my husband first took me abroad, how astonished we
were at the beggars. Now I meet as many in New York as I met in London or
in Rome. But if you don't do charity, what can you do? Christ enjoined
it, and Paul says--"
"Oh, people _never_ do the charity that Christ meant," said Mrs.
Strange; "and, as things are now, how _could_ they? Who would dream
of dividing half her frocks and wraps with poor women, or selling
_all_ and giving to the poor? That is what makes it so hopeless. We
_know_ that Christ was perfectly right, and that He was perfectly
sincere in what He said to the good young millionaire; but we all go away
exceeding sorrowful, just as the good young millionaire did. We have to,
if we don't want to come on charity ourselves. How do _you_ manage
about that?" she asked me; and then she added, "But, of course, I forgot
that you have no need of charity."
"Oh yes, we have," I returned; and I tried, once more, as I have tried so
often with Americans, to explain how the heavenly need of giving the self
continues with us, but on terms that do not harrow the conscience of the
giver, as self-sacrifice always must here, at its purest and noblest. I
sought to make her conceive of our nation as a family, where every one
was secured against want by the common provision, and against the
degrading and depraving inequality which comes from want. The "dead-level
of equality" is what the Americans call the condition in which all would
be as the angels of God, and they blasphemously deny that He ever meant
His creatures to be alike happy, because some, through a long succession
of unfair advantages, have inherited more brain or brawn or beauty than
others. I found that this gross and impious notion of God darkened even
the clear intelligence of a woman like Mrs. Strange; and, indeed, it
prevails here so commonly that it is one of the first things advanced as
an argument against the Altrurianization of America.
I believe I did, at last, succeed in showing her how charity still
continues among us, but in forms that bring neither a sense of
inferiority to him who takes nor anxiety to him who gives. I said that
benevolence here often seemed to involve, essentially, some such risk as
a man should run if he parted with a portion of the vital air which
belonged to himself and his family, in succoring a fellow-being from
suffocation; but that with us, where it was no more possible for one to
deprive himself of his share of the common food, shelter, and clothing,
than of the air he breathed, one could devote one's self utterly to
others without that foul alloy of fear which I thought must basely
qualify every good deed in plutocratic conditions.
She said that she knew what I meant, and that I was quite right in my
conjecture, as regarded men, at least; a man who did not stop to think
what the effect, upon himself and his own, his giving must have, would be
a fool or a madman; but women could often give as recklessly as they
spent, without any thought of consequences, for they did not know how
"Women," I said, "are exterior to your conditions, and they can sacrifice
themselves without wronging any one."
"Or, rather," she continued, "without the sense of wronging any one. Our
men like to keep us in that innocence or ignorance; they think it is
pretty, or they think it is funny; and as long as a girl is in her
father's house, or a wife is in her husband's, she knows no more of
money-earning or money-making than a child. Most grown women among us,
if they had a sum of money in the bank, would not know how to get it
out. They would not know how to indorse a check, much less draw one. But
there are plenty of women who are inside the conditions, as much as men
are--poor women who have to earn their bread, and rich-women who have to
manage their property. I can't speak for the poor women; but I can speak
for the rich, and I can confess for them that what you imagine is true.
The taint of unfaith and distrust is on every dollar that you dole out,
so that, as far as the charity of the rich is concerned, I would read
'It curseth him that gives, and him that takes.'
"Perhaps that is why the rich give comparatively so little. The poor can
never understand how much the rich value their money, how much the owner
of a great fortune dreads to see it less. If it were not so, they would
surely give more than they do; for a man who has ten millions could give
eight of them without feeling the loss; the man with a hundred could give
ninety and be no nearer want. Ah, it's a strange mystery! My poor husband
and I used to talk of it a great deal, in the long year that he lay
dying; and I think I hate my superfluity the more because I know he hated
it so much."
A little trouble had stolen into her impassioned tones, and there was a
gleam, as of tears, in the eyes she dropped for a moment. They were
shining still when she lifted them again to mine.
"I suppose," she said, "that Mrs. Makely told you something of my
"Eveleth!" her mother protested, with a gentle murmur.
"Oh, I think I can be frank with Mr. Homos. He is not an American, and he
will understand, or, at least, he will not misunderstand. Besides, I dare
say I shall not say anything worse than Mrs. Makely has said already. My
husband was much older than I, and I ought not to have married him; a
young girl ought never to marry an old man, or even a man who is only
a good many years her senior. But we both faithfully tried to make the
best of our mistake, not the worst, and I think this effort helped us to
respect each other, when there couldn't be any question of more. He was
a rich man, and he had made his money out of nothing, or, at least, from
a beginning of utter poverty. But in his last years he came to a sense of
its worthlessness, such as few men who have made their money ever have.
He was a common man, in a great many ways; he was imperfectly educated,
and he was ungrammatical, and he never was at home in society; but he had
a tender heart and an honest nature, and I revere his memory, as no one
would believe I could without knowing him as I did. His money became a
burden and a terror to him; he did not know what to do with it, and he
was always morbidly afraid of doing harm with it; he got to thinking that
money was an evil in itself."
"That is what we think," I ventured.
"Yes, I know. But he had thought this out for himself, and yet he had
times when his thinking about it seemed to him a kind of craze, and, at
any rate, he distrusted himself so much that he died leaving it all
to me. I suppose he thought that perhaps I could learn how to give it
without hurting; and then he knew that, in our state of things, I must
have some money to keep the wolf from the door. And I am afraid to part
with it, too. I have given and given; but there seems some evil spell on
the principal that guards it from encroachment, so that it remains the
same, and, if I do not watch, the interest grows in the bank, with that
frightful life dead money seems endowed with, as the hair of dead, people
grows in the grave."
"Eveleth!" her mother murmured again.
"Oh yes," she answered, "I dare say my words are wild. I dare say they
only mean that I loathe my luxury from the bottom of my soul, and long to
be rid of it, if I only could, without harm to others and with safety to
It seemed to me that I became suddenly sensible of this luxury for the
first time. I had certainly been aware that I was in a large and stately
house, and that I had been served and banqueted with a princely pride and
profusion. But there had, somehow, been through all a sort of simplicity,
a sort of quiet, so that I had not thought of the establishment and its
operation, even so much as I had thought of Mrs. Makely's far inferior
scale of living; or else, what with my going about so much in society, I
was ceasing to be so keenly observant of the material facts as I had been
at first. But I was better qualified to judge of what I saw, and I had
now a vivid sense of the costliness of Mrs. Strange's environment. There
were thousands of dollars in the carpets underfoot; there were tens of
thousands in the pictures on the walls. In a bronze group that withdrew
itself into a certain niche, with a faint reluctance, there was the value
of a skilled artisan's wage for five years of hard work; in the bindings
of the books that showed from the library shelves there was almost as
much money as most of the authors had got for writing them. Every
fixture, every movable, was an artistic masterpiece; a fortune, as
fortunes used to be counted even in this land of affluence, had been
lavished in the mere furnishing of a house which the palaces of nobles
and princes of other times had contributed to embellish.
"My husband," Mrs. Strange went on, "bought this house for me, and let me
furnish it after my own fancy. After it was all done we neither of us
liked it, and when he died I felt as if he had left me in a tomb here."
"Eveleth," said her mother, "you ought not to speak so before Mr. Homos.
He will not know what to think of you, and he will go back to Altruria
with a very wrong idea of American women."
At this protest, Mrs. Strange seemed to recover herself a little. "Yes,"
she said, "you must excuse me. I have no right to speak so. But one is
often much franker with foreigners than with one's own kind, and,
besides, there is something--I don't know what--that will not let me keep
the truth from you."
She gazed at me entreatingly, and then, as if some strong emotion swept
her from her own hold, she broke out:
"He thought he would make some sort of atonement to me, as if I owed none
to him! His money was all he had to do it with, and he spent that upon me
in every way he could think of, though he knew that money could not buy
anything that was really good, and that, if it bought anything beautiful,
it uglified it with the sense of cost to every one who could value it in
dollars and cents. He was a good man, far better than people ever
imagined, and very simple-hearted and honest, like a child, in his
contrition for his wealth, which he did not dare to get rid of; and
though I know that, if he were to come back, it would be just as it was,
his memory is as dear to me as if--"
She stopped, and pressed in her lip with her teeth, to stay its tremor.
I was painfully affected. I knew that she had never meant to be so open
with me, and was shocked and frightened at herself. I was sorry for her,
and yet I was glad, for it seemed to me that she had given me a glimpse,
not only of the truth in her own heart, but of the truth in the hearts of
a whole order of prosperous people in these lamentable conditions, whom I
shall hereafter be able to judge more leniently, more justly.
I began to speak of Altruria, as if that were what our talk had been
leading up to, and she showed herself more intelligently interested
concerning us than any one I have yet seen in this country. We appeared,
I found, neither incredible nor preposterous to her; our life, in her
eyes, had that beauty of right living which the Americans so feebly
imagine or imagine not at all. She asked what route I had come by to
America, and she seemed disappointed and aggrieved that we placed the
restrictions we have felt necessary upon visitors from the plutocratic
world. Were we afraid, she asked, that they would corrupt our citizens or
mar our content with our institutions? She seemed scarcely satisfied when
I explained, as I have explained so often here, that the measures we had
taken were rather in the interest of the plutocratic world than of the
Altrurians; and alleged the fact that no visitor from the outside had
ever been willing to go home again, as sufficient proof that we had
nothing to fear from the spread of plutocratic ideals among us. I assured
her, and this she easily imagined, that, the better known these became,
the worse they appeared to us; and that the only concern our priors felt,
in regard to them, was that our youth could not conceive of them in their
enormity, but, in seeing how estimable plutocratic people often were,
they would attribute to their conditions the inherent good of human
nature. I said our own life was so directly reasoned from its economic
premises that they could hardly believe the plutocratic life was often an
absolute non sequitur of the plutocratic premises. I confessed that this
error was at the bottom of my own wish to visit America and study those
"And what has your conclusion been?" she said, leaning eagerly towards
me, across the table between us, laden with the maps and charts we had
been examining for the verification of the position of Altruria, and my
own course here, by way of England.
A slight sigh escaped Mrs. Gray, which I interpreted as an expression of
fatigue; it was already past twelve o'clock, and I made it the pretext
"You have seen the meaning and purport of Altruria so clearly," I said,
"that I think I can safely leave you to guess the answer to that
She laughed, and did not try to detain me now when I offered my hand for
good-night. I fancied her mother took leave of me coldly, and with a
certain effect of inculpation.
It is long since I wrote you, and you have had reason enough to be
impatient of my silence. I submit to the reproaches of your letter, with
a due sense of my blame; whether I am altogether to blame, you shall say
after you have read this.
I cannot yet decide whether I have lost a great happiness, the greatest
that could come to any man, or escaped the worst misfortune that could
befall me. But, such as it is, I will try to set the fact honestly down.
I do not know whether you had any conjecture, from my repeated mention of
a lady whose character greatly interested me, that I was in the way of
feeling any other interest in her than my letters expressed. I am no
longer young, though at thirty-five an Altrurian is by no means so old as
an American at the same age. The romantic ideals of the American women
which I had formed from the American novels had been dissipated; if I had
any sentiment towards them, as a type, it was one of distrust, which my
very sense of the charm in their inconsequence, their beauty, their
brilliancy, served rather to intensify. I thought myself doubly defended
by that difference between their civilization and ours which forbade
reasonable hope of happiness in any sentiment for them tenderer than
that of the student of strange effects in human nature. But we have not
yet, my dear Cyril, reasoned the passions, even in Altruria.
After I last wrote you, a series of accidents, or what appeared so, threw
me more and more constantly into the society of Mrs. Strange. We began to
laugh at the fatality with which we met everywhere--at teas, at lunches,
at dinners, at evening receptions, and even at balls, where I have been a
great deal, because, with all my thirty-five years, I have not yet
outlived that fondness for dancing which has so often amused you in me.
Wherever my acquaintance widened among cultivated people, they had no
inspiration but to ask us to meet each other, as if there were really no
other woman in New York who could be expected to understand me. "You must
come to lunch (or tea, or dinner, whichever it might be), and we will
have her. She will be so much interested to meet you."
But perhaps we should have needed none of these accidents to bring us
together. I, at least, can look back and see that, when none of them
happened, I sought occasions for seeing her, and made excuses of our
common interest in this matter and in that to go to her. As for her, I
can only say that I seldom failed to find her at home, whether I called
upon her nominal day or not, and more than once the man who let me in
said he had been charged by Mrs. Strange to say that, if I called, she
was to be back very soon; or else he made free to suggest that, though
Mrs. Strange was not at home, Mrs. Gray was; and then I found it easy
to stay until Mrs. Strange returned. The good old lady had an insatiable
curiosity about Altruria, and, though I do not think she ever quite
believed in our reality, she at least always treated me kindly, as if I
were the victim of an illusion that was thoroughly benign.
I think she had some notion that your letters, which I used often to take
with me and read to Mrs. Strange and herself, were inventions of mine;
and the fact that they bore only an English postmark confirmed her in
this notion, though I explained that in our present passive attitude
towards the world outside we had as yet no postal relations with other
countries, and, as all our communication at home was by electricity, that
we had no letter-post of our own. The very fact that she belonged to a
purer and better age in America disqualified her to conceive of Altruria;
her daughter, who had lived into a full recognition of the terrible
anarchy in which the conditions have ultimated here, could far more
vitally imagine us, and to her, I believe, we were at once a living
reality. Her perception, her sympathy, her intelligence, became more and
more to me, and I escaped to them oftener and oftener, from a world where
an Altrurian must be so painfully at odds. In all companies here I am
aware that I have been regarded either as a good joke or a bad joke,
according to the humor of the listener, and it was grateful to be taken
From the first I was sensible of a charm in her, different from that I
felt in other American women, and impossible in our Altrurian women. She
had a deep and almost tragical seriousness, masked with a most winning
gayety, a light irony, a fine scorn that was rather for herself than for
others. She had thought herself out of all sympathy with her environment;
she knew its falsehood, its vacuity, its hopelessness; but she
necessarily remained in it and of it. She was as much at odds in it as I
was, without my poor privilege of criticism and protest, for, as she
said, she could not set herself up as a censor of things that she must
keep on doing as other people did. She could have renounced the world, as
there are ways and means of doing here; but she had no vocation to the
religious life, and she could not feign it without a sense of sacrilege.
In fact, this generous and magnanimous and gifted woman was without that
faith, that trust in God which comes to us from living His law, and
which I wonder any American can keep. She denied nothing; but she had
lost the strength to affirm anything. She no longer tried to do good from
her heart, though she kept on doing charity in what she said was a mere
mechanical impulse from the belief of other days, but always with the
ironical doubt that she was doing harm. Women are nothing by halves, as
men can be, and she was in a despair which no man can realize, for we
have always some if or and which a woman of the like mood casts from her
in wild rejection. Where she could not clearly see her way to a true
life, it was the same to her as an impenetrable darkness.
You will have inferred something of all this from what I have written of
her before, and from words of hers that I have reported to you. Do you
think it so wonderful, then, that in the joy I felt at the hope, the
solace, which my story of our life seemed to give her, she should become
more and more precious to me? It was not wonderful, either, I think, that
she should identify me with that hope, that solace, and should suffer
herself to lean upon me, in a reliance infinitely sweet and endearing.
But what a fantastic dream it now appears!
I can hardly tell you just how we came to own our love to each other; but
one day I found myself alone with her mother, with the sense that
Eveleth had suddenly withdrawn from the room at the knowledge of my
approach. Mrs. Gray was strongly moved by something; but she governed
herself, and, after giving me a tremulous hand, bade me sit.
"Will you excuse me, Mr. Homos," she began, "if I ask you whether you
intend to make America your home after this?"
"Oh no!" I answered, and I tried to keep out of my voice the despair with
which the notion filled me. I have sometimes had nightmares here, in
which I thought that I was an American by choice, and I can give you no
conception of the rapture of awakening to the fact that I could still go
back to Altruria, that I had not cast my lot with this wretched people.
"How could I do that?" I faltered; and I was glad to perceive that I had
imparted to her no hint of the misery which I had felt at such a notion.
"I mean, by getting naturalized, and becoming a citizen, and taking up
your residence among us."
"No," I answered, as quietly as I could, "I had not thought of that."
"And you still intend to go back to Altruria?"
"I hope so; I ought to have gone back long ago, and if I had not met the
friends I have in this house--" I stopped, for I did not know how I
should end what I had begun to say.
"I am glad you think we are your friends," said the lady, "for we have
tried to show ourselves your friends. I feel as if this had given me the
right to say something to you that you may think very odd."
"Say anything to me, my dear lady," I returned. "I shall not think it
unkind, no matter how odd it is."
"Oh, it's nothing. It's merely that--that when you are not here with us I
lose my grasp on Altruria, and--and I begin to doubt--"
I smiled. "I know! People here have often hinted something of that kind
to me. Tell me, Mrs. Gray, do Americans generally take me for an
"Oh no!" she answered, fervently. "Everybody that I have heard speak of
you has the highest regard for you, and believes you perfectly sincere.
"But what?" I entreated.
"They think you may be mistaken."
"Then they think I am out of my wits--that I am in an hallucination!"
"No, not that," she returned. "But it is so very difficult for us to
conceive of a whole nation living, as you say you do, on the same terms
as one family, and no one trying to get ahead of another, or richer, and
having neither inferiors nor superiors, but just one dead level of
equality, where there is no distinction except by natural gifts and good
deeds or beautiful works. It seems impossible--it seems ridiculous."
"Yes," I confessed, "I know that it seems so to the Americans."
"And I must tell you something else, Mr. Homos, and I hope you won't take
it amiss. The first night when you talked about Altruria here, and showed
us how you had come, by way of England, and the place where Altruria
ought to be on our maps, I looked them over, after you were gone, and I
could make nothing of it. I have often looked at the map since, but I
could never find Altruria; it was no use."
"Why," I said, "if you will let me have your atlas--"
She shook her head. "It would be the same again as soon as you went
away." I could not conceal my distress, and she went on: "Now, you
mustn't mind what I say. I'm nothing but a silly old woman, and
Eveleth would never forgive me if she could know what I've been saying."
"Then Mrs. Strange isn't troubled, as you are, concerning me?" I asked,
and I confess my anxiety attenuated my voice almost to a whisper.
"She won't admit that she is. It might be better for her if she would.
But Eveleth is very true to her friends, and that--that makes me all the
more anxious that she should not deceive herself."
"Oh, Mrs. Gray!" I could not keep a certain tone of reproach out of my
She began to weep. "There! I knew I should hurt your feelings. But you
mustn't mind what I say. I beg your pardon! I take it all back--"
"Ah, I don't want you to take it back! But what proof shall I give you
that there is such a land as Altruria? If the darkness implies the day,
America must imply Altruria. In what way do I seem false, or mad, except
that I claim to be the citizen of a country where people love one another
as the first Christians did?"
"That is just it," she returned. "Nobody can imagine the first
Christians, and do you think we can imagine anything like them in our own
"But Mrs. Strange--she imagines us, you say?"
"She thinks she does; but I am afraid she only thinks so, and I know her
better than you do, Mr. Homos. I know how enthusiastic she always was,
and how unhappy she has been since she has lost her hold on faith, and
how eagerly she has caught at the hope you have given her of a higher
life on earth than we live here. If she should ever find out that she was
wrong, I don't know what would become of her. You mustn't mind me; you
mustn't let me wound you by what I say."
"You don't wound me, and I only thank you for what you say; but I entreat
you to believe in me. Mrs. Strange has not deceived herself, and I have
not deceived her. Shall I protest to you, by all I hold sacred, that I am
really what I told you I was; that I am not less, and that Altruria is
infinitely more, happier, better, gladder, than any words of mine can
say? Shall I not have the happiness to see your daughter to-day? I had
something to say to her--and now I have so much more! If she is in the
house, won't you send to her? I can make her understand--"
I stopped at a certain expression which I fancied I saw in Mrs. Gray's
"Mr. Homos," she began, so very seriously that my heart trembled with a
vague misgiving, "sometimes I think you had better not see my daughter
"Not see her any more?" I gasped.
"Yes; I don't see what good can come of it, and it's all very strange and
uncanny. I don't know how to explain it; but, indeed, it isn't anything
personal. It's because you are of a state of things so utterly opposed to
human nature that I don't see how--I am afraid that--"
"But I am not uncanny to _her!_" I entreated. "I am not unnatural,
"Oh no; that is the worst of it. But I have said too much; I have said a
great deal more than I ought. But you must excuse it: I am an old woman.
I am not very well, and I suppose it's that that makes me talk so much."
She rose from her chair, and I, perforce, rose from mine and made a
movement towards her.
"No, no," she said, "I don't need any help. You must come again soon and
see us, and show that you've forgotten what I've said." She gave me her
hand, and I could not help bending over it and kissing it. She gave a
little, pathetic whimper. "Oh, I _know_ I've said the most dreadful
things to you."
"You haven't said anything that takes your friendship from me, Mrs. Gray,
and that is what I care for." My own eyes filled with tears--I do not
know why--and I groped my way from the room. Without seeing any one in
the obscurity of the hallway, where I found myself, I was aware of some
one there, by that sort of fine perception which makes us know the
presence of a spirit.
"You are going?" a whisper said. "Why are you going?" And Eveleth had me
by the hand and was drawing me gently into the dim drawing-room that
opened from the place. "I don't know all my mother has been saying to
you. I had to let her say something; she thought she ought. I knew you
would know how to excuse it."
"Oh, my dearest!" I said, and why I said this I do not know, or how we
found ourselves in each other's arms.
"What are we doing?" she murmured.
"You don't believe I am an impostor, an illusion, a visionary?" I
besought her, straining her closer to my heart.
"I believe in you, with all my soul!" she answered.
We sat down, side by side, and talked long. I did not go away the whole
day. With a high disdain of convention, she made me stay. Her mother sent
word that she would not be able to come to dinner, and we were alone
together at table, in an image of what our united lives might be. We
spent the evening in that happy interchange of trivial confidences that
lovers use in symbol of the unutterable raptures that fill them. We were
there in what seemed an infinite present, without a past, without a
Society had to be taken into our confidence, and Mrs. Makely saw to it
that there were no reserves with society. Our engagement was not quite
like that of two young persons, but people found in our character and
circumstance an interest far transcending that felt in the engagement of
the most romantic lovers. Some note of the fact came to us by accident,
as one evening when we stood near a couple and heard them talking. "It
must be very weird," the man said; "something like being engaged to a
materialization." "Yes," said the girl, "quite the Demon Lover business,
I should think." She glanced round, as people do, in talking, and, at
sight of us, she involuntarily put her hand over her mouth. I looked at
Eveleth; there was nothing expressed in her face but a generous anxiety
for me. But so far as the open attitude of society towards us was
concerned, nothing could have been more flattering. We could hardly have
been more asked to meet each other than before; but now there were
entertainments in special recognition of our betrothal, which Eveleth
said could not be altogether refused, though she found the ordeal as
irksome as I did. In America, however, you get used to many things. I
do not know why it should have been done, but in the society columns of
several of the great newspapers our likenesses were printed, from
photographs procured I cannot guess how, with descriptions of our persons
as to those points of coloring and carriage and stature which the
pictures could not give, and with biographies such as could be
ascertained in her case and imagined in mine. In some of the society
papers, paragraphs of a surprising scurrility appeared, attacking me as
an impostor, and aspersing the motives of Eveleth in her former marriage,
and treating her as a foolish crank or an audacious flirt. The goodness
of her life, her self-sacrifice and works of benevolence, counted for no
more against these wanton attacks than the absolute inoffensiveness of my
own; the writers knew no harm of her, and they knew nothing at all of me;
but they devoted us to the execration of their readers simply because we
formed apt and ready themes for paragraphs. You may judge of how wild
they were in their aim when some of them denounced me as an Altrurian
We could not escape this storm of notoriety; we had simply to let it
spend its fury. When it began, several reporters of both sexes came to
interview me, and questioned me, not only as to all the facts of my past
life, and all my purposes in the future, but as to my opinion of
hypnotism, eternal punishment, the Ibsen drama, and the tariff reform. I
did my best to answer them seriously, and certainly I answered them
civilly; but it seemed from what they printed that the answers I gave did
not concern them, for they gave others for me. They appeared to me for
the most part kindly and well-meaning young people, though vastly
ignorant of vital things. They had apparently visited me with minds made
up, or else their reports were revised by some controlling hand, and a
quality injected more in the taste of the special journals they
represented than in keeping with the facts. When I realized this, I
refused to see any more reporters, or to answer them, and then they
printed the questions they had prepared to ask me, in such form that my
silence was made of the same damaging effect as a full confession of
guilt upon the charges.
The experience was so strange and new to me that it affected me in a
degree I was unwilling to let Eveleth imagine. But she divined my
distress, and, when she divined that it was chiefly for her, she set
herself to console and reassure me. She told me that this was something
every one here expected, in coming willingly or unwillingly before the
public; and that I must not think of it at all, for certainly no one else
would think twice of it. This, I found, was really so, for when I
ventured to refer tentatively to some of these publications, I found that
people, if they had read them, had altogether forgotten them; and that
they were, with all the glare of print, of far less effect with our
acquaintance than something said under the breath in a corner. I found
that some of our friends had not known the effigies for ours which they
had seen in the papers; others made a joke of the whole affair, as the
Americans do with so many affairs, and said that they supposed the
pictures were those of people who had been cured by some patent medicine,
they looked so strong and handsome. This, I think, was a piece of Mr.
Makely's humor in the beginning; but it had a general vogue long after
the interviews and the illustrations were forgotten.
I linger a little upon these trivial matters because I shrink from what
must follow. They were scarcely blots upon our happiness; rather they
were motes in the sunshine which had no other cloud. It is true that I
was always somewhat puzzled by a certain manner in Mrs. Gray, which
certainly was from no unfriendliness for me; she could not have been more
affectionate to me, after our engagement, if I had been really her own
son; and it was not until after our common kindness had confirmed itself
upon the new footing that I felt this perplexing qualification on it. I
felt it first one day when I found her alone, and I talked long and
freely to her of Eveleth, and opened to her my whole heart of joy in our
love. At one point she casually asked me how soon we should expect to
return from Altruria after our visit; and at first I did not understand.
"Of course," she explained, "you will want to see all your old friends,
and so will Eveleth, for they will be her friends, too; but if you want
me to go with you, as you say, you must let me know when I shall see New
"Why," I said, "you will always be with us."
"Well, then," she pursued, with a smile, "when shall _you_ come
"Oh, never!" I answered. "No one ever leaves Altruria, if he can help it,
unless he is sent on a mission."
She looked a little mystified, and I went on: "Of course, I was not
officially authorized to visit the world outside, but I was permitted to
do so, to satisfy a curiosity the priors thought useful; but I have now
had quite enough of it, and I shall never leave home again."
"You won't come to live in America?"
"God forbid!" said I, and I am afraid I could not hide the horror that
ran through me at the thought. "And when you once see our happy country,
you could no more be persuaded to return to America than a disembodied
spirit could be persuaded to return to the earth."
She was silent, and I asked: "But, surely, you understood this, Mrs.
"No," she said, reluctantly. "Does Eveleth?"
"Why, certainly," I said. "We have talked it over a hundred times. Hasn't
"I don't know," she returned, with a vague trouble in her voice and eyes.
"Perhaps I haven't understood her exactly. Perhaps--but I shall be ready
to do whatever you and she think best. I am an old woman, you know; and,
you know, I was born here, and I should feel the change."
Her words conveyed to me a delicate reproach; I felt for the first time
that, in my love of my own country, I had not considered her love of
hers. It is said that the Icelanders are homesick when they leave their
world of lava and snow; and I ought to have remembered that an American
might have some such tenderness for his atrocious conditions, if he were
exiled from them forever. I suppose it was the large and wide mind of
Eveleth, with its openness to a knowledge and appreciation of better
things, that had suffered me to forget this. She seemed always so eager
to see Altruria, she imagined it so fully, so lovingly, that I had ceased
to think of her as an alien; she seemed one of us, by birth as well as by
Yet now the words of her mother, and the light they threw upon the
situation, gave me pause. I began to ask myself questions I was impatient
to ask Eveleth, so that there should be no longer any shadow of misgiving
in my breast; and yet I found myself dreading to ask them, lest by some
perverse juggle I had mistaken our perfect sympathy for a perfect
Like all cowards who wait a happy moment for the duty that should not be
suffered to wait at all, I was destined to have the affair challenge me,
instead of seizing the advantage of it that instant frankness would have
given me. Shall I confess that I let several days go by, and still had
not spoken to Eveleth, when, at the end of a long evening--the last long
evening we passed together--she said:
"What would you like to have me do with this house while we are gone?"
"Do with this house?" I echoed; and I felt as if I were standing on the
edge of an abyss.
"Yes; shall we let it, or sell it--or what? Or give it away?" I drew a
little breath at this; perhaps we had not misunderstood each other, after
all. She went on: "Of course, I have a peculiar feeling about it, so that
I wouldn't like to get it ready and let it furnished, in the ordinary
way. I would rather lend it to some one, if I could be sure of any one
who would appreciate it; but I can't. Not one. And it's very much the
same when one comes to think about selling it. Yes, I should like to give
it away for some good purpose, if there is any in this wretched state of
things. What do you say, Aristide?"
She always used the French form of my name, because she said it sounded
ridiculous in English, for a white man, though I told her that the
English was nearer the Greek in sound.
"By all means, give it away," I said. "Give it for some public purpose.
That will at least be better than any private purpose, and put it somehow
in the control of the State, beyond the reach of individuals or
corporations. Why not make it the foundation of a free school for the
study of the Altrurian polity?"
She laughed at this, as if she thought I must be joking. "It would be
droll, wouldn't it, to have Tammany appointees teaching Altrurianism?"
Then she said, after a moment of reflection: "Why not? It needn't be in
the hands of Tammany. It could be in the hands of the United States; I
will ask my lawyer if it couldn't; and I will endow it with money enough
to support the school handsomely. Aristide, you have hit it!"
I began: "You can give _all_ your money to it, my dear--" But I
stopped at the bewildered look she turned on me.
"All?" she repeated. "But what should we have to live on, then?"
"We shall need no money to live on in Altruria," I answered.
"Oh, in Altruria! But when we come back to New York?"
It was an agonizing moment, and I felt that shutting of the heart which
blinds the eyes and makes the brain reel. "Eveleth," I gasped, "did you
expect to return to New York?"
"Why, certainly!" she cried. "Not at once, of course. But after you had
seen your friends, and made a good, long visit--Why, surely, Aristide,
you don't understand that I--You didn't mean to _live_ in Altruria?"
"Ah!" I answered. "Where else could I live? Did you think for an instant
that I could live in such a land as this?" I saw that she was hurt, and I
hastened to say: "I know that it is the best part of the world outside of
Altruria, but, oh, my dear, you cannot imagine how horrible the notion of
living here seems to me. Forgive me. I am going from bad to worse. I
don't mean to wound you. After all, it is your country, and you must love
it. But, indeed, I could not think of living here. I could not take the
burden of its wilful misery on my soul. I must live in Altruria, and you,
when you have once seen my country, _our_ country, will never
consent to live in any other."
"Yes," she said, "I know it must be very beautiful; but I hadn't
supposed--and yet I ought--"
"No, dearest, no! It was I who was to blame, for not being clearer from
the first. But that is the way with us. We can't imagine any people
willing to live anywhere else when once they have seen Altruria; and I
have told you so much of it, and we have talked of it together so often,
that I must have forgotten you had not actually known it. But listen,
Eveleth. We will agree to this: After we have been a year in Altruria,
if you wish to return to America I will come back and live with you
"No, indeed!" she answered, generously. "If you are to be my husband,"
and here she began with the solemn words of the Bible, so beautiful in
their quaint English, "'whither thou goest, I will go, and I will not
return from following after thee. Thy country shall be my country, and
thy God my God."
I caught her to my heart, in a rapture of tenderness, and the evening
that had begun for us so forbiddingly ended in a happiness such as not
even our love had known before. I insisted upon the conditions I had
made, as to our future home, and she agreed to them gayly at last, as a
sort of reparation which I might make my conscience, if I liked, for
tearing her from a country which she had willingly lived out of for the
far greater part of the last five years.
But when we met again I could see that she had been thinking seriously.
"I won't give the house absolutely away," she said. "I will keep the deed
of it myself, but I will establish that sort of school of Altrurian
doctrine in it, and I will endow it, and when we come back here, for our
experimental sojourn, after we've been in Altruria a year, we'll take up
our quarters in it--I won't give the whole house to the school--and we
will lecture on the later phases of Altrurian life to the pupils. How
will that do?"
She put her arms around my neck, and I said that it would do admirably;
but I had a certain sinking of the heart, for I saw how hard it was even
for Eveleth to part with her property.
"I'll endow it," she went on, "and I'll leave the rest of my money at
interest here; unless you think that some Altrurian securities--"
"No; there are no such things!" I cried.
"That was what I thought," she returned; "and as it will cost us nothing
while we are in Altruria, the interest will be something very handsome by
the time we get back, even in United States bonds."
"Something handsome!" I cried. "But, Eveleth, haven't I heard you say
yourself that the growth of interest from dead money was like--"
"Oh yes; that!" she returned. "But you know you have to take it. You
can't let the money lie idle: that would be ridiculous; and then, with
the good purpose we have in view, it is our _duty_ to take the
interest. How should we keep up the school, and pay the teachers, and
I saw that she had forgotten the great sum of the principal, or that,
through lifelong training and association, it was so sacred to her that
she did not even dream of touching it. I was silent, and she thought that
I was persuaded.
"You are perfectly right in theory, dear, and I feel just as you do about
such things; I'm sure I've suffered enough from them; but if we didn't
take interest for your money, what should we have to live on?"
"Not _my_ money, Eveleth!" I entreated. "Don't say _my_ money!"
"But whatever is mine is yours," she returned, with a wounded air.
"Not your money; but I hope you will soon have none. We should need no
money to live on in Altruria. Our share of the daily work of all will
amply suffice for our daily bread and shelter."
"In Altruria, yes. But how about America? And you have promised to come
back here in a year, you know. Ladies and gentlemen can't share in the
daily toil here, even if they could get the toil, and, where there are so
many out of work, it isn't probable they could."
She dropped upon my knee as she spoke, laughing, and put her hand under
my chin, to lift my fallen face.
"Now you mustn't be a goose, Aristide, even if you _are_ an angel!
Now listen. You _know_, don't you, that I hate money just as badly
"You have made me think so, Eveleth," I answered.
"I hate it and loathe it. I think it's the source of all the sin and
misery in the world; but you can't get rid of it at a blow. For if you
gave it away you might do more harm than good with it."
"You could destroy it," I said.
"Not unless you were a crank," she returned. "And that brings me just to
the point. I know that I'm doing a very queer thing to get married, when
we know so little, really, about you," and she accented this confession
with a laugh that was also a kiss. "But I want to show people that we are
just as practical as anybody; and if they can know that I have left my
money in United States bonds, they'll respect us, no matter what I do
with the interest. Don't you see? We can come back, and preach and teach
Altrurianism, and as long as we pay our way nobody will have a right
to say a word. Why, Tolstoy himself doesn't destroy his money, though he
wants other people to do it. His wife keeps it, and supports the family.
You _have_ to do it."
"He doesn't do it willingly."
"No. And _we_ won't. And after a while--after we've got back, and
compared Altruria and America from practical experience, if we decide to
go and live there altogether, I will let you do what you please with
the hateful money. I suppose we couldn't take it there with us?"
"No more than you could take it to heaven with you," I answered,
solemnly; but she would not let me be altogether serious about it.
"Well, in either case we could get on without it, though we certainly
could not get on without it here. Why, Aristide, it is essential to the
influence we shall try to exert for Altrurianism; for if we came back
here and preached the true life without any money to back us, no one
would pay any attention to us. But if we have a good house waiting for
us, and are able to entertain nicely, we can attract the best people,
and--and--really do some good."
I rose in a distress which I could not hide. "Oh, Eveleth, Eveleth!" I
cried. "You are like all the rest, poor child! You are the creature of
your environment, as we all are. You cannot escape what you have been.
It may be that I was wrong to wish or expect you to cast your lot with me
in Altruria, at once and forever. It may be that it is my duty to return
here with you after a time, not only to let you see that Altruria is
best, but to end my days in this unhappy land, preaching and teaching
Altrurianism; but we must not come as prophets to the comfortable people,
and entertain nicely. If we are to renew the evangel, it must be in the
life and the spirit of the First Altrurian: we must come poor to the
poor; we must not try to win any one, save through his heart and
conscience; we must be as simple and humble as the least of those that
Christ bade follow Him. Eveleth, perhaps you have made a mistake. I love
you too much to wish you to suffer even for your good. Yes, I am so weak
as that. I did not think that this would be the sacrifice for you that it
seems, and I will not ask it of you. I am sorry that we have not
understood each other, as I supposed we had. I could never become an
American; perhaps you could never become an Altrurian. Think of it,
dearest. Think well of it, before you take the step which you cannot
recede from. I hold you to no promise; I love you so dearly that I cannot
let you hold yourself. But you must choose between me and your money--no,
not me--but between love and your money. You cannot keep both."
She had stood listening to me; now she cast herself on my heart and
stopped my words with an impassioned kiss. "Then there is no choice for
me. My choice is made, once for all." She set her hands against my breast
and pushed me from her. "Go now; but come again to-morrow. I want to
think it all over again. Not that I have any doubt, but because you wish
it--you wish it, don't you?--and because I will not let you ever think I
acted upon an impulse, and that I regretted it."
"That is right, Eveleth. That is like _you_" I said, and I took her
into my arms for good-night.
The next day I came for her decision, or rather for her confirmation of
it. The man who opened the door to me met me with a look of concern and
embarrassment. He said Mrs. Strange was not at all well, and had told him
he was to give me the letter he handed me. I asked, in taking it, if I
could see Mrs. Gray, and he answered that Mrs. Gray had not been down
yet, but he would go and see. I was impatient to read my letter, and I
made I know not what vague reply, and I found myself, I know not how, on
the pavement, with the letter open in my hand. It began abruptly without
date or address:
_"You will believe that I have not slept, when you read this.
"I have thought it all over again, as you wished, and it is all over
"I am what you said, the creature of my environment. I cannot detach
myself from it; I cannot escape from what I have been.
"I am writing this with a strange coldness, like the chill of death, in
my very soul. I do not ask you to forgive me; I have your forgiveness
already. Do not forget me; that is what I ask. Remember me as the
unhappy woman who was not equal to her chance when heaven was opened to
her, who could not choose the best when the best came to her.
"There is no use writing; if I kept on forever, it would always be the
same cry of shame, of love.
I reeled as I read the lines. The street seemed to weave itself into a
circle around me. But I knew that I was not dreaming, that this was no
delirium of my sleep.
It was three days ago, and I have not tried to see her again. I have
written her a line, to say that I shall not forget her, and to take the
blame upon myself. I expected the impossible of her.
I have yet two days before me until the steamer sails; we were to have
sailed together, and now I shall sail alone.
I will try to leave it all behind me forever; but while I linger out
these last long hours here I must think and I must doubt.
Was she, then, the _poseuse_ that they said? Had she really no hear
in our love? Was it only a pretty drama she was playing, and were those
generous motives, those lofty principles which seemed to actuate her, the
poetical qualities of the play, the graces of her pose? I cannot believe
it. I believe that she was truly what she seemed, for she had been that
even before she met me. I believe that she was pure and lofty in soul as
she appeared; but that her life was warped to such a form by the false
conditions of this sad world that, when she came to look at herself
again, after she had been confronted with the sacrifice before her, she
feared that she could not make it without in a manner ceasing to be.
But I shall soon see you again; and, until then, farewell.
END OF PART I
I could hardly have believed, my dear Dorothea, that I should be so late
in writing to you from Altruria, but you can easily believe that I am
thoroughly ashamed of myself for my neglect. It is not for want of
thinking of you, or talking of you, that I have seemed so much more
ungrateful than I am. My husband and I seldom have any serious talk which
doesn't somehow come round to you. He admires you and likes you as much
as I do, and he does his best, poor man, to understand you; but his not
understanding you is only a part of his general failure to understand how
any American can be kind and good in conditions which he considers so
abominable as those of the capitalistic world. He is not nearly so severe
on us as he used to be at times when he was among us. When the other
Altrurians are discussing us he often puts in a reason for us against
their logic; and I think he has really forgotten, a good deal, how bad
things are with us, or else finds his own memory of them incredible. But
his experience of the world outside his own country has taught him how to
temper the passion of the Altrurians for justice with a tolerance of the
unjust; and when they bring him to book on his own report of us he tries
to explain us away, and show how we are not so bad as we ought to be.
For weeks after we came to Altruria I was so unhistorically blest that if
I had been disposed to give you a full account of myself I should have
had no events to hang the narrative on. Life here is so subjective (if
you don't know what that is, you poor dear, you must get Mr. Twelvemough
to explain) that there is usually nothing like news in it, and I always
feel that the difference between Altruria and America is so immense that
it is altogether beyond me to describe it. But now we have had some
occurrences recently, quite in the American sense, and these have
furnished me with an incentive as well as opportunity to send you a
letter. Do you remember how, one evening after dinner, in New York, you
and I besieged my husband and tried to make him tell us why Altruria was
so isolated from the rest of the world, and why such a great and
enlightened continent should keep itself apart? I see still his look of
horror when Mr. Makely suggested that the United States should send an
expedition and "open" Altruria, as Commodore Perry "opened" Japan in
1850, and try to enter into commercial relations with it. The best he
could do was to say what always seemed so incredible, and keep on
assuring us that Altruria wished for no sort of public relations with
Europe or America, but was very willing to depend for an indefinite time
for its communication with those regions on vessels putting into its
ports from stress of one kind or other, or castaway on its coasts. They
are mostly trading-ships or whalers, and they come a great deal oftener
than you suppose; you do not hear of them afterwards, because their crews
are poor, ignorant people, whose stories of their adventures are always
distrusted, and who know they would be laughed at if they told the
stories they could of a country like Altruria. My husband himself took
one of their vessels on her home voyage when he came to us, catching the
Australasian steamer at New Zealand; and now I am writing you by the same
sort of opportunity. I shall have time enough to write you a longer
letter than you will care to read; the ship does not sail for a week yet,
because it is so hard to get her crew together.
Now that I have actually made a beginning, my mind goes back so strongly
to that terrible night when I came to you after Aristides (I always use
the English form of his name now) left New York that I seem to be living
the tragedy over again, and this happiness of mine here is like a dream
which I cannot trust. It was not all tragedy, though, and I remember how
funny Mr. Makely was, trying to keep his face straight when the whole
truth had to come out, and I confessed that I had expected, without
really knowing it myself, that Aristides would disregard that wicked note
I had written him and come and make me marry him, not against my will,
but against my word. Of course I didn't put it in just that way, but in a
way to let you both guess it. The first glimmering of hope that I had was
when Mr. Makely said, "Then, when a woman tells a man that all is over
between them forever, she means that she would like to discuss the
business with him?" I was old enough to be ashamed, but it seemed to me
that you and I had gone back in that awful moment and were two girls
together, just as we used to be at school. I was proud of the way you
stood up for me, because I thought that if you could tolerate me after
what I had confessed I could not be quite a fool. I knew that I deserved
at least some pity, and though I laughed with Mr. Makely, I was glad of
your indignation with him, and of your faith in Aristides. When it came
to the question of what I should do, I don't know which of you I owed the
most to. It was a kind of comfort to have Mr. Makely acknowledge that
though he regarded Aristides as a myth, still he believed that he was a
thoroughly _good_ myth, and couldn't tell a lie if he wanted to; and I
loved you, and shall love you more than any one else but him, for saying
that Aristides was the most real man you had ever met, and that if
everything he said was untrue you would trust him to the end of the
But, Dolly, it wasn't all comedy, any more than it was all tragedy, and
when you and I had laughed and cried ourselves to the point where there
was nothing for me to do but to take the next boat for Liverpool, and Mr.
Makely had agreed to look after the tickets and cable Aristides that I
was coming, there was still my poor, dear mother to deal with. There is
no use trying to conceal from you that she was always opposed to my
husband. She thought there was something uncanny about him, though she
felt as we did that there was nothing uncanny _in_ him; but a man
who pretended to come from a country where there was no riches and no
poverty could not be trusted with any woman's happiness; and though she
could not help loving him, she thought I ought to tear him out of my
heart, and if I could not do that I ought to have myself shut up in an
asylum. We had a dreadful time when I told her what I had decided to do,
and I was almost frantic. At last, when she saw that I was determined to
follow him, she yielded, not because she was convinced, but because she
could not give me up; I wouldn't have let her if she could. I believe
that the only thing which reconciled her was that you and Mr. Makely
believed in him, and thought I had better do what I wanted to, if nothing
could keep me from it. I shall never, never forget Mr. Makely's goodness
in coming to talk with her, and how skillfully he managed, without
committing himself to Altruria, to declare his faith in my Altrurian.
Even then she was troubled about what she thought the indelicacy of my
behavior in following him across the sea, and she had all sorts of doubts
as to how he would receive me when we met in Liverpool. It wasn't very
reasonable of me to say that if he cast me off I should still love him
more than any other human being, and his censure would be more precious
to me than the praise of the rest of the world.
I suppose I hardly knew what I was saying, but when once I had yielded to
my love for him there was nothing else in life. I could not have left my
mother behind, but in her opposition to me she seemed like an enemy, and
I should somehow have _forced_ her to go if she had not yielded. When she
did yield, she yielded with her whole heart and soul, and so far from
hindering me in my preparations for the voyage, I do not believe I could
have got off without her. She thought about everything, and it was her
idea to leave my business affairs entirely in Mr. Makely's hands, and
to trust the future for the final disposition of my property. I did not
care for it myself; I hated it, because it was that which had stood
between me and Aristides; but she foresaw that if by any wild
impossibility he should reject me when we met, I should need it for the
life I must go back to in New York. She behaved like a martyr as well as
a heroine, for till we reached Altruria she was a continual sacrifice to
me. She stubbornly doubted the whole affair, but now I must do her the
justice to say that she has been convinced by the fact. The best she can
say of it is that it is like the world of her girlhood; and she has gone
back to the simple life here from the artificial life in New York, with
the joy of a child. She works the whole day, and she would play if she
had ever learned how. She is a better Altrurian than I am; if there could
be a bigoted Altrurian my mother would be one.
I sent you a short letter from Liverpool, saying that by the
unprecedented delays of the _Urania_, which I had taken because it was
the swiftest boat of the Neptune line, we had failed to pass the old,
ten-day, single-screw Galaxy liner which Aristides had sailed in. I had
only time for a word to you; but a million words could not have told the
agonies I suffered, and when I overtook him on board the Orient Pacific
steamer at Plymouth, where she touched, I could just scribble off the
cable sent Mr. Makely before our steamer put off again. I am afraid you
did not find my cable very expressive, but I was glad that I did not try
to say more, for if I had tried I should simply have gibbered, at a
shilling a gibber. I expected to make amends by a whole volume of
letters, and I did post a dozen under one cover from Colombo. If they
never reached you I am very sorry, for now it is impossible to take up
the threads of that time and weave them into any sort of connected
pattern. You will have to let me off with saying that Aristides was
everything that I believed he would be and was never really afraid he
might not be. From the moment we caught sight of each other at Plymouth,
he at the rail of the steamer and I on the deck of the tender, we were as
completely one as we are now. I never could tell how I got aboard to him;
whether he came down and brought me, or whether I was simply rapt through
the air to his side. It would have been embarrassing if we had not
treated the situation frankly; but such odd things happen among the
English going out to their different colonies that our marriage, by a
missionary returning to his station, was not even a nine days' wonder
with our fellow-passengers.
We were a good deal more than nine days on the steamer before we could
get a vessel that would take us on to Altruria; but we overhauled a ship
going there for provisions at last, and we were all put off on her, bag
and baggage, with three cheers from the friends we were leaving; I think
they thought we were going to some of the British islands that the
Pacific is full of. I had been thankful from the first that I had not
brought a maid, knowing the Altrurian prejudice against hireling service,
but I never was so glad as I was when we got aboard that vessel, for when
the captain's wife, who was with him, found that I had no one to look
after me, she looked after me herself, just for the fun of it, she
said; but _I_ knew it was the love of it. It was a sort of general
trading-ship, stopping at the different islands in the South Seas, and
had been a year out from home, where the kind woman had left her little
ones; she cried over their photographs to me. Her husband had been in
Altruria before, and he and Aristides were old acquaintances and met like
brothers; some of the crew knew him, too, and the captain relaxed
discipline so far as to let us shake hands with the second-mate as the
I needn't dwell on the incidents of our home-coming--for that was what it
seemed for my mother and me as well as for my husband--but I must give
you one detail of our reception, for I still think it almost the
prettiest thing that has happened to us among the millions of pretty
things. Aristides had written home of our engagement, and he was expected
with his American wife; and before we came to anchor the captain ran up
the Emissary's signal, which my husband gave him, and then three boats
left the shore and pulled rapidly out to us. As they came nearer I saw
the first Altrurian costumes in the lovely colors that the people wear
here, and that make a group of them look like a flower-bed; and then I
saw that the boats were banked with flowers along the gunwales from stem
to stern, and that they were each not _manned,_ but _girled_ by six
rowers, who pulled as true a stroke as I ever saw in our boat-races. When
they caught sight of us, leaning over the side, and Aristides lifted his
hat and waved it to them, they all stood their oars upright, and burst
into a kind of welcome song: I had been dreading one of those stupid,
banging salutes of ten or twenty guns, and you can imagine what a relief
it was. They were great, splendid creatures, as tall as our millionaires'
tallest daughters, and as strong-looking as any of our college-girl
athletes; and when we got down over the ship's side, and Aristides said a
few words of introduction for my mother and me, as we stepped into the
largest of the boats, I thought they would crush me, catching me in their
strong, brown arms, and kissing me on each cheek; they never kiss on the
mouth in Altruria. The girls in the other boats kissed their hands to
mother and me, and shouted to Aristides, and then, when our boat set out
for the shore, they got on each side of us and sang song after song as
they pulled even stroke with our crew. Half-way, we met three other
boats, really _manned,_ these ones, and going out to get our baggage, and
then you ought to have heard the shouting and laughing, that ended in
more singing, when the young fellows' voices mixed with the girls, till
they were lost in the welcome that came off to us from the crowded quay,
where I should have thought half Altruria had gathered to receive us.
I was afraid it was going to be too much for my mother, but she stood it
bravely; and almost at a glance people began to take her into
consideration, and she was delivered over to two young married ladies,
who saw that she was made comfortable, the first of any, in the pretty
Regionic guest-house where they put us.
I wish I could give you a notion of that guest-house, with its cool,
quiet rooms, and its lawned and gardened enclosure, and a little fountain
purring away among the flowers! But what astonished me was that there
were no sort of carriages, or wheeled conveyances, which, after our
escort from the ship, I thought might very well have met the returning
Emissary and his wife. They made my mother get into a litter, with soft
cushions and with lilac curtains blowing round it, and six girls carried
her up to the house; but they seemed not to imagine my not walking, and,
in fact, I could hardly have imagined it myself, after the first moment
of queerness. That walk was full of such rich experience for every one of
the senses that I would not have missed a step of it; but as soon as I
could get Aristides alone I asked him about horses, and he said that
though horses were still used in farm work, not a horse was allowed in
any city or village of Altruria, because of their filthiness. As for
public vehicles, they used to have electric trolleys; in the year that he
had been absent they had substituted electric motors; but these were not
running, because it was a holiday on which we had happened to arrive.
There was another incident of my first day which I think will amuse you,
knowing how I have always shrunk from any sort of public appearances.
When Aristides went to make his report to the people assembled in a sort
of convention, I had to go too, and take part in the proceedings; for
women are on an entire equality with the men here, and people would be
shocked if husband and wife were separated in their public life. They did
not spare me a single thing. Where Aristides was not very clear, or
rather not full enough, in describing America, I was called on to
supplement, and I had to make several speeches. Of course, as I spoke in
English, he had to put it into Altrurian for me, and it made the greatest
excitement. The Altrurians are very lively people, and as full of the
desire to hear some new things as Paul said the men of Athens were. At
times they were in a perfect gale of laughter at what we told them about
America. Afterwards some of the women confessed to me that they liked to
hear us speaking English together; it sounded like the whistling of birds
or the shrilling of locusts. But they were perfectly kind, and though
they laughed it was clear that they laughed at what we were saying, and
never at us, or at least never at _me_.
Of course there was the greatest curiosity to know what Aristides'
wife looked like, as well as sounded like; he had written out about
our engagement before I broke it; and my clothes were of as much
interest As myself, or more. You know how I had purposely left my latest
Paris things behind, so as to come as simply as possible to the simple
life of Altruria, but still with my big leg-of-mutton sleeves, and my
picture-hat, and my pinched waist, I felt perfectly grotesque, and I have
no doubt I looked it. They had never seen a lady from the capitalistic
world before, but only now and then a whaling-captain's wife who had come
ashore; and I knew they were burning to examine my smart clothes down to
the last button and bit of braid. I had on the short skirts of last year,
and I could feel ten thousand eyes fastened on my high-heeled boots,
which you know _I_ never went to extremes in. I confess my face burned
a little, to realize what a scarecrow I must look, when I glanced round
at those Altrurian women, whose pretty, classic fashions made the whole
place like a field of lilacs and irises, and knew that they were as
comfortable as they were beautiful. Do you remember some of the
descriptions of the undergraduate maidens in the "Princess"--I know you
had it at school--where they are sitting in the palace halls together?
The effect was something like that.
You may be sure that I got out of my things as soon as I could borrow an
Altrurian costume, and now my Paris confections are already hung up for
monuments, as Richard III. says, in the Capitalistic Museum, where people
from the outlying Regions may come and study them as object-lessons in
what not to wear. (You remember what you said Aristides told you, when he
spoke that day at the mountains, about the Regions that Altruria is
divided into? This is the Maritime Region, and the city where we are
living for the present is the capital.) You may think this was rather
hard on me, and at first it did seem pretty intimate, having my things in
a long glass case, and it gave me a shock to see them, as if it had been
my ghost, whenever I passed them. But the fact is I was more ashamed than
hurt--they were so ugly and stupid and useless. I could have borne my
Paris dress and my picture-hat if it had not been for those ridiculous
high-heeled, pointed-toe shoes, which the Curatress had stood at the
bottom of the skirts. They looked the most frantic things you can
imagine, and the mere sight of them made my poor feet _ache_ in the
beautiful sandals I am wearing now; when once you have put on sandals you
say good-bye and good-riddance to shoes. In a single month my feet have
grown almost a tenth as large again as they were, and my friends here
encourage me to believe that they will yet measure nearly the classic
size, though, as you know, I am not in my first youth and can't expect
them to do miracles.
* * * * *
I had to leave off abruptly at the last page because Aristides had come
in with a piece of news that took my mind off everything else. I am
afraid you are not going to get this letter even at the late date I had
set for its reaching you, my dear. It seems that there has been a sort of
mutiny among the crew of our trader, which was to sail next week, and now
there is no telling when she will sail. Ever since she came the men have
been allowed their liberty, as they call it, by watches, but the last
watch came ashore this week before another watch had returned to the
ship, and now not one of the sailors will go back. They had been
exploring the country by turns, at their leisure, it seems, and their
excuse is that they like Altruria better than America, which they say
they wish never to see again.
You know (though I didn't, till Aristides explained to me) that in any
European country the captain in such a case would go to his consul, and
the consul would go to the police, and the police would run the men down
and send them back to the ship in irons as deserters, or put them in jail
till the captain was ready to sail, and then deliver them up to him. But
it seems that there is no law in Altruria to do anything of the kind; the
only law here that would touch the case is one which obliges any citizen
to appear and answer the complaint of any other citizen before the
Justiciary Assembly. A citizen cannot be imprisoned for anything but the
rarest offence, like killing a person in a fit of passion; and as to
seizing upon men who are guilty of nothing worse than wanting to be left
to the pursuit of happiness, as all the Altrurians are, there is no
statute and no usage for it. Aristides says that the only thing which can
be done is to ask the captain and the men to come to the Assembly and
each state his case. The Altrurians are not anxious to have the men stay,
not merely because they are coarse, rude, or vicious, but because they
think they ought to go home and tell the Americans what they have seen
and heard here, and try and get them to found an Altrurian Commonwealth
of their own. Still they will not compel them to go, and the magistrates
do not wish to rouse any sort of sentiment against them. They feel that
the men are standing on their natural rights, which they could not
abdicate if they would. I know this will appear perfectly ridiculous
to Mr. Makely, and I confess myself that there seems something binding in
a contract which ought to act on the men's consciences, at least.
Well, my dear Dorothea, the hearing before the Assembly is over, and it
has left us just where it found us, as far as the departure of our trader
How I wish you could have been there! The hearing lasted three days, and
I would not have missed a minute of it. As it was, I did not miss a
syllable, and it was so deeply printed on my mind that I believe I
could repeat it word for word if I had to. But, in the first place, I
must try and realize the scene to you. I was once summoned as a witness
in one of our courts, you remember, and I have never forgotten the horror
of it: the hot, dirty room, with its foul air, the brutal spectators, the
policemen stationed among them to keep them in order, the lawyers with
the plaintiff and defendant seated all at one table, the uncouth
abruptness of the clerks and janitors, or whatever, the undignified
magistrate, who looked as if his lunch had made him drowsy, and who
seemed half asleep, as he slouched in his arm-chair behind his desk.
Instead of such a setting as this, you must imagine a vast marble
amphitheatre, larger than the Metropolitan Opera, by three or four times,
all the gradines overflowing (that is the word for the "liquefaction of
the clothes" which poured over them), and looking like those Bermudan
waters where the colors of the rainbow seem dropped around the coast. On
the platform, or stage, sat the Presidents of the Assembly, and on a tier
of seats behind and above them, the national Magistrates, who, as this is
the capital of the republic for the time being, had decided to be present
at the hearing, because they thought the case so very important. In the
hollow space, just below (like that where you remember the Chorus stood
in that Greek play which we saw at Harvard ages ago), were the captain
and the first-mate on one hand, and the seamen on the other; the
second-mate, our particular friend, was not there because he never goes
ashore anywhere, and had chosen to remain with the black cook in charge
of the ship. The captain's wife would rather have stayed with them, but I
persuaded her to come to us for the days of the hearing, because the
captain had somehow thought we were opposed to him, and because I thought
she ought to be there to encourage him by her presence. She sat next to
me, in a hat which I wish you could have seen, Dolly, and a dress which
would have set your teeth on edge; but inside of them I knew she was one
of the best souls in the world, and I loved her the more for being the
sight she was among those wonderful Altrurian women.
The weather was perfect, as it nearly always is at this time of
year--warm, yet fresh, with a sky of that "bleu impossible" of the
Riviera on the clearest day. Some people had parasols, but they put them
down as soon as the hearing began, and everybody could see perfectly. You
would have thought they could not hear so well, but a sort of immense
sounding-plane was curved behind the stage, so that not a word of the
testimony on either side was lost to me in English. The Altrurian
translation was given the second day of the hearing through a megaphone,
as different in tone from the thing that the man in the Grand Central
Station bellows the trains through as the _vox-humana_ stop of an organ
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