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Chapter 26


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 here."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You could destroy it," I said.

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

"He doesn't do it willingly."

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

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

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

William Dean Howells