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Chapter 8


ON ONE SIDE ONLY


NEW OXFORD, U.S.A., _June-July_ 1892.

'The truth is,' said the man in the train, 'that we live in a tropical
country for three months of the year, only we won't recognise. Look at
this.' He handed over a long list of deaths from heat that enlivened the
newspapers. All the cities where men live at breaking-strain were
sending in their butcher-bills, and the papers of the cities, themselves
apostles of the Gospel of Rush, were beseeching their readers to keep
cool and not to overwork themselves while the hot wave was upon them.
The rivers were patched and barred with sun-dried pebbles; the logs and
loggers were drought-bound somewhere up the Connecticut; and the grass
at the side of the track was burned in a hundred places by the sparks
from locomotives. Men--hatless, coatless, and gasping--lay in the shade
of that station where only a few months ago the glass stood at 30 below
zero. Now the readings were 98 degrees in the shade. Main Street--do you
remember Main Street of a little village locked up in the snow this
spring?[2]--had given up the business of life, and an American flag
with some politician's name printed across the bottom hung down across
the street as stiff as a board. There were men with fans and alpaca
coats curled up in splint chairs in the verandah of the one hotel--among
them an ex-President of the United States. He completed the impression
that the furniture of the entire country had been turned out of doors
for summer cleaning in the absence of all the inhabitants. Nothing looks
so hopelessly 'ex' as a President 'returned to stores,' The stars and
stripes signified that the Presidential Campaign had opened in Main
Street--opened and shut up again. Politics evaporate at summer heat when
all hands are busy with the last of the hay, and, as the formers put it,
'Vermont's bound to go Republican.' The custom of the land is to drag
the scuffle and dust of an election over several months--to the
improvement of business and manners; but the noise of that war comes
faintly up the valley of the Connecticut and is lost among the fiddling
of the locusts. Their music puts, as it were, a knife edge upon the heat
of the day. In truth, it is a tropical country for the time being.
Thunder-storms prowl and growl round the belted hills, spit themselves
away in a few drops of rain, and leave the air more dead than before. In
the woods, where even the faithful springs are beginning to run low, the
pines and balsams have thrown out all their fragrance upon the heat and
wait for the wind to bring news of the rain. The clematis, wild carrot,
and all the gipsy-flowers camped by sufferance between fence line and
road net are masked in white dust, and the golden-rod of the pastures
that are burned to flax-colour burns too like burnished brass. A pillar
of dust on the long hog-back of the road across the hills shows where a
team is lathering between farms, and the roofs of the wooden houses
flicker in the haze of their own heat. Overhead the chicken-hawk is the
only creature at work, and his shrill kite-like call sends the gaping
chickens from the dust-bath in haste to their mothers. The red squirrel
as usual feigns business of importance among the butternuts, but this is
pure priggishness. When the passer-by is gone he ceases chattering and
climbs back to where the little breezes can stir his tail-plumes. From
somewhere under the lazy fold of a meadow comes the drone of a
mowing-machine among the hay--its _whurr-oo_ and the grunt of the tired
horses.

[Footnote 2: See 'In Sight of Monadnock.']

Houses are only meant to eat and sleep in. The rest of life is lived at
full length in the verandah. When traffic is brisk three whole teams
will pass that verandah in one day, and it is necessary to exchange news
about the weather and the prospects for oats. When oats are in there
will be slack time on the farm, and the farmers will seriously think of
doing the hundred things that they have let slide during the summer.
They will undertake this and that, 'when they get around to it.' The
phrase translated is the exact equivalent to the _maņana_ of the
Spaniard, the _kul hojaiga_ of Upper India, the _yuroshii_ of the
Japanese, and the long drawled _taihod_ of the Maori. The only person
who 'gets around' in this weather is the summer boarder--the refugee
from the burning cities of the Plain, and she is generally a woman. She
walks, and botanizes, and kodaks, and strips the bark off the white
birch to make blue-ribboned waste-paper baskets, and the farmer regards
her with wonder. More does he wonder still at the city clerk in a
blazer, who has two weeks' holiday in the year and, apparently,
unlimited money, which he earns in the easiest possible way by 'sitting
at a desk and writing,' The farmer's wife sees the fashions of the
summer boarder, and between them man and woman get a notion of the
beauties of city life for which their children may live to blame them.
The blazer and the town-made gown are innocent recruiting sergeants for
the city brigades; and since one man's profession is ever a mystery to
his fellow, blazer and gown believe that the farmer must be happy and
content. A summer resort is one of the thousand windows whence to watch
the thousand aspects of life in the Atlantic States. Remember that
between June and September it is the desire of all who can to get away
from the big cities--not on account of wantonness, as people leave
London--but because of actual heat. So they get away in their millions
with their millions--the wives of the rich men for five clear months,
the others for as long as they can; and, like drawing like, they make
communities set by set, breed by breed, division by division, over the
length and breadth of the land--from Maine and the upper reaches of the
Saguenay, through the mountains and hot springs of half-a-dozen
interior States, out and away to Sitka in steamers. Then they spend
money on hotel bills, among ten thousand farms, on private companies who
lease and stock land for sporting purposes, on yachts and canoes,
bicycles, rods, châlets, cottages, reading circles, camps, tents, and
all the luxuries they know. But the luxury of rest most of them do not
know; and the telephone and telegraph are faithfully dragged after them,
lest their men-folk should for a moment forget the ball and chain at
foot.

For sadness with laughter at bottom there are few things to compare with
the sight of a coat-less, muddy-booted, millionaire, his hat adorned
with trout-flies, and a string of small fish in his hand, clawing wildly
at the telephone of some back-of-beyond 'health resort.' Thus:

'Hello! Hello! Yes. Who's there? Oh, all right. Go ahead. Yes, it's me!
Hey, what? Repeat. Sold for _how_ much? Forty-four and a half? Repeat.
No! I _told_ you to hold on. What? What? _Who_ bought at that? Say, hold
a minute. Cable the other side. No. Hold on. I'll come down. (_Business
with watch_.) Tell Schaefer I'll see him to-morrow.' (_Over his shoulder
to his wife, who wears half-hoop diamond rings at_ 10 A.M.) 'Lizzie,
where's my grip? I've got to go down.'

And he goes down to eat in a hotel and sleep in his shut-up house. Men
are as scarce at most of the summer places as they are in Indian
hill-stations in late April. The women tell you that they can't get
away, and if they did they would only be miserable to get back. Now
whether this wholesale abandonment of husbands by wives is wholesome let
those who know the beauties of the Anglo-Indian system settle for
themselves.

That both men and women need rest very badly a glance at the crowded
hotel tables makes plain--so plain, indeed, that the foreigner who has
not been taught that fuss and worry are in themselves honourable wishes
sometimes he could put the whole unrestful crowd to sleep for seventeen
hours a day. I have inquired of not less than five hundred men and women
in various parts of the States why they broke down and looked so gash.
And the men said: 'If you don't keep up with the procession in America
you are left'; and the women smiled an evil smile and answered that no
outsider yet had discovered the real cause of their worry and strain, or
why their lives were arranged to work with the largest amount of
friction in the shortest given time. Now, the men can be left to their
own folly, but the cause of the women's trouble has been revealed to me.
It is the thing called 'Help' which is no help. In the multitude of
presents that the American man has given to the American woman (for
details see daily papers) he has forgotten or is unable to give her good
servants, and that sordid trouble runs equally through the household of
the millionaire or the flat of the small city man. 'Yes, it's easy
enough to laugh,' said one woman passionately, 'we are worn out, and our
children are worn out too, and we're always worrying, I know it. What
can we do? If you stay here you'll know that this is the land of all
the luxuries and none of the necessities. You'll know and then you won't
laugh. You'll know why women are said to take their husbands to
boarding-houses and never have homes. You'll know what an Irish Catholic
means. The men won't get up and attend to these things, but _we_ would.
If _we_ had female suffrage, we'd shut the door to _all_ the Irish and
throw it open to _all_ the Chinese, and let the women have a little
protection.' It was the cry of a soul worn thin with exasperation, but
it was truth. To-day I do not laugh any more at the race that depends on
inefficient helot races for its inefficient service. When next you,
housekeeping in England, differ with the respectable, amiable,
industrious sixteen-pound maid, who wears a cap and says 'Ma'am,'
remember the pauper labour of America--the wives of the sixty million
kings who have no subjects. No man could get a thorough knowledge of the
problem in one lifetime, but he could guess at the size and the import
of it after he has descended into the arena and wrestled with the Swede
and the Dane and the German and the unspeakable Celt. Then he perceives
how good for the breed it must be that a man should thresh himself to
pieces in naked competition with his neighbour while his wife struggles
unceasingly over primitive savagery in the kitchen. In India sometimes
when a famine is at hand the life of the land starts up before your eyes
in all its bareness and bitter stress. Here, in spite of the trimmings
and the frillings, it refuses to be subdued and the clamour and the
clatter of it are loud above all other sounds--as sometimes the thunder
of disorganised engines stops conversations along the decks of a liner,
and in the inquiring eyes of the passengers you read the question--'This
thing is made and paid to bear us to port quietly. Why does it not do
so?' Only here, the rattle of the badly-put-together machine is always
in the ears, though men and women run about with labour-saving
appliances and gospels of 'power through repose,' tinkering and oiling
and making more noise. The machine is new. Some day it is going to be
the finest machine in the world. To the ranks of the amateur artificers,
therefore, are added men with notebooks tapping at every nut and
bolthead, fiddling with the glands, registering revolutions, and crying
out from time to time that this or that is or is not 'distinctively
American.' Meantime, men and women die unnecessarily in the wheels, and
they are said to have fallen 'in the battle of life.'

The God Who sees us all die knows that there is far too much of that
battle, but we do not, and so continue worshipping the knife that cuts
and the wheel that breaks us, as blindly as the outcast sweeper worships
Lal-Beg the Glorified Broom that is the incarnation of his craft. But
the sweeper has sense enough not to kill himself, and to be proud of it,
with sweeping.

A foreigner can do little good by talking of these things; for the same
lean dry blood that breeds the fever of unrest breeds also the savage
parochial pride that squeals under a steady stare or a pointed finger.
Among themselves the people of the Eastern cities admit that they and
their womenfolk overwork grievously and go to pieces very readily, and
that the consequences for the young stock are unpleasant indeed; but
before the stranger they prefer to talk about the future of their mighty
continent (which has nothing to do with the case) and to call aloud on
Baal of the Dollars--to catalogue their lines, mines, telephones, banks,
and cities, and all the other shells, buttons, and counters that they
have made their Gods over them. Now a nation does not progress upon its
brain-pan, as some books would have us believe, but upon its belly as
did the Serpent of old; and in the very long run the work of the brain
comes to be gathered in by a slow-footed breed that have unimaginative
stomachs and the nerves that know their place.

All this is very consoling from the alien's point of view. He perceives,
with great comfort, that out of strain is bred impatience in the shape
of a young bundle of nerves, who is about as undisciplined an imp as the
earth can show. Out of impatience, grown up, habituated to violent and
ugly talk, and the impatience and recklessness of his neighbours, is
begotten lawlessness, encouraged by laziness and suppressed by violence
when it becomes insupportable. Out of lawlessness is bred rebellion (and
that fruit has been tasted once already), and out of rebellion comes
profit to those who wait. He hears of the power of the People who,
through rank slovenliness, neglect to see that their laws are soberly
enforced from the beginning; and these People, not once or twice in a
year, but many times within a month, go out in the open streets and, with
a maximum waste of power and shouting, strangle other people with ropes.
They are, he is told, law-abiding citizens who have executed 'the will
of the people'; which is as though a man should leave his papers
unsorted for a year and then smash his desk with an axe, crying, 'Am I
not orderly?' He hears lawyers, otherwise sane and matured, defend this
pig-jobbing murder on the grounds that 'the People stand behind the
Law'--the law that they never administered. He sees a right, at present
only half--but still half--conceded to anticipate the law in one's own
interests; and nervous impatience (always nerves) forejudging the
suspect in gaol, the prisoner in the dock, and the award between nation
and nation ere it is declared. He knows that the maxim in London,
Yokohama, and Hongkong in doing business with the pure-bred American is
to keep him waiting, for the reason that forced inaction frets the man
to a lather, as standing in harness frets a half-broken horse. He comes
across a thousand little peculiarities of speech, manner, and
thought--matters of nerve and stomach developed by everlasting
friction--and they are all just the least little bit in the world
lawless. No more so than the restless clicking together of horns in a
herd of restless cattle, but certainly no less. They are all good--good
for those who wait.

On the other hand, to consider the matter more humanly, there are
thousands of delightful men and women going to pieces for the pitiful
reason that if they do not keep up with the procession, 'they are left.'
And they are left--in clothes that have no back to them, among mounds of
smilax. And young men--chance-met in the streets, talk to you about
their nerves which are things no young man should know anything about;
and the friends of your friends go down with nervous prostration, and
the people overheard in the trains talk about their nerves and the
nerves of their relatives; and the little children must needs have their
nerves attended to ere their milk-teeth are shed, and the middle-aged
women and the middle-aged men have got them too, and the old men lose
the dignity of their age in an indecent restlessness, and the
advertisements in the papers go to show that this sweeping list is no
lie. Atop of the fret and the stampede, the tingling self-consciousness
of a new people makes them take a sort of perverted pride in the futile
racket that sends up the death-rate--a child's delight in the blaze and
the dust of the March of Progress. Is it not 'distinctively American'?
It is, and it is not. If the cities were all America, as they pretend,
fifty years would see the March of Progress brought to a standstill, as
a locomotive is stopped by heated bearings....

Down in the meadow the mowing-machine has checked, and the horses are
shaking themselves. The last of the sunlight leaves the top of
Monadnock, and four miles away Main Street lights her electric lamps. It
is band-night in Main Street, and the folks from Putney, from
Marlboro', from Guildford, and even New Fane will drive in their
well-filled waggons to hear music and look at the Ex-President. Over the
shoulder of the meadow two men come up very slowly, their hats off and
their arms swinging loosely at their sides. They do not hurry, they have
not hurried, and they never will hurry, for they are of country--bankers
of the flesh and blood of the ever bankrupt cities. Their children may
yet be pale summer boarders; as the boarders, city-bred weeds, may take
over their farms. From the plough to the pavement goes man, but to the
plough he returns at last.

'Going to supper?'

'Ye-ep,' very slowly across the wash of the uncut grass.

'Say, that corncrib wants painting.'

''Do that when we get around to it.'

They go off through the dusk, without farewell or salutation steadily as
their own steers. And there are a few millions of them--unhandy men to
cross in their ways, set, silent, indirect in speech, and as
impenetrable as that other Eastern fanner who is the bedrock of another
land. They do not appear in the city papers, they are not much heard in
the streets, and they tell very little in the outsider's estimate of
America.

And _they_ are the American.

Rudyard Kipling

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