Chapter 7




VII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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