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Chapter 11

XI

Mr. Thrall and Lord Moors must have seen us coming, for they met us at the door of the tent without the intervention of the footman, and gave us quite as much welcome as we could expect in our mission, so disagreeable all round. Mr. Thrall was as fatherly with me as before, and Lord Moors was as polite to Cyril and Mrs. Chrysostom as could have been wished. In fact he and Cyril were a sort of acquaintances from the time of Cyril's visit to England where he met the late Earl Moors, the father of the present peer, in some of his visits to Toynbee Hall, and the Whitechapel Settlements. The earl was very much interested in the slums, perhaps because he was rather poor himself, if not quite slummy. The son was then at the university, and when he came out and into his title he so far shared his father's tastes that he came to America; it was not slumming, exactly, but a nobleman no doubt feels it to be something like it. After a little while in New York he went out to Colorado, where so many needy noblemen bring up, and there he met the Thralls, and fell in love with the girl. Cyril had understood—or rather Mrs. Cyril,—that it was a love-match on both sides, but on Mrs. Thrall's side it was business. He did not even speak of settlements—the English are so romantic when they are romantic!—but Mr. Thrall saw to all that, and the young people were married after a very short courtship. They spent their honeymoon partly in Colorado Springs and partly in San Francisco, where the Thralls' yacht was lying, and then they set out on a voyage round the world, making stops at the interesting places, and bringing up on the beach of the Seventh Region of Altruria, on route for the eastern coast of South America. From that time on, Cyril said, we knew their history.

After Mr. Thrall had shaken hands tenderly with me, and cordially with Aristides, he said, "Won't you all come inside and have breakfast with us? My wife and daughter"—

"Thank you, Mr. Thrall," Cyril answered for us, "we will sit down here, if you please; and as your ladies are not used to business, we will not ask you to disturb them."

"I'm sure Lady Moors," the young nobleman began, but Cyril waved him silent.

"We shall be glad later, but not now! Gentlemen, I have asked my friends Aristides Homos and Eveleth Homos to accompany my wife and me this morning because Eveleth is an American, and will understand your position, and he has lately been in America and will be able to clarify the situation from both sides. We wish you to believe that we are approaching you in the friendliest spirit, and that nothing could be more painful to us than to seem inhospitable."

"Then why," the old man asked, with business-like promptness, "do you object to our presence here? I don't believe I get your idea."

"Because the spectacle which your life offers is contrary to good morals, and as faithful citizens we cannot countenance it."

"But in what way is our life immoral? I have always thought that I was a good citizen at home; at least I can't remember having been arrested for disorderly conduct."

He smiled at me, as if I should appreciate the joke, and it hurt me to keep grave, but suspecting what a bad time he was going to have, I thought I had better not join him in any levity.

"I quite conceive you," Cyril replied. "But you present to our people, who are offended by it, the spectacle of dependence upon hireling service for your daily comfort and convenience."

"But, my dear sir," Mr. Thrall returned, "don't we pay for it? Do our servants object to rendering us this service?"

"That has nothing to do with the case; or, rather, it makes it worse. The fact that your servants do not object shows how completely they are depraved by usage. We should not object if they served you from affection, and if you repaid them in kindness; but the fact that you think you have made them a due return by giving them money shows how far from the right ideal in such a matter the whole capitalistic world is."

Here, to my great delight, Aristides spoke up:

"If the American practice were half as depraving as it ought logically to be in their conditions, their social system would drop to pieces. It was always astonishing to me that a people with their facilities for evil, their difficulties for good, should remain so kind and just and pure."

"That is what I understood from your letters to me, my dear Aristides. I am willing to leave the general argument for the present. But I should like to ask Mr. Thrall a question, and I hope it won't be offensive."

Mr. Thrall smiled. "At any rate I promise not to be offended."

"You are a very rich man?"

"Much richer than I would like to be."

"How rich?"

"Seventy millions; eighty; a hundred; three hundred; I don't just know."

"I don't suppose you've always felt your great wealth a great blessing?"

"A blessing? There have been times when I felt it a millstone hanged about my neck, and could have wished nothing so much as that I were thrown into the sea. Man, you don't know what a curse I have felt my money to be at such times. When I have given it away, as I have by millions at a time, I have never been sure that I was not doing more harm than good with it. I have hired men to seek out good objects for me, and I have tried my best to find for myself causes and institutions and persons who might be helped without hindering others as worthy, but sometimes it seems as if every dollar of my money carried a blight with it, and infected whoever touched it with a moral pestilence. It has reached a sum where the wildest profligate couldn't spend it, and it grows and grows. It's as if it were a rising flood that had touched my lips, and would go over my head before I could reach the shore. I believe I got it honestly, and I have tried to share it with those whose labor earned it for me. I have founded schools and hospitals and homes for old men and old women, and asylums for children, and the blind, and deaf, and dumb, and halt, and mad. Wherever I have found one of my old workmen in need, and I have looked personally into the matter, I have provided for him fully, short of pauperization. Where I have heard of some gifted youth, I have had him educated in the line of his gift. I have collected a gallery of works of art, and opened it on Sundays as well as week-days to the public free. If there is a story of famine, far or near, I send food by the shipload. If there is any great public calamity, my agents have instructions to come to the rescue without referring the case to me. But it is all useless! The money grows and grows, and I begin to feel that my efforts to employ it wisely and wholesomely are making me a public laughing-stock as well as an easy mark for every swindler with a job or a scheme." He turned abruptly to me. "But you must often have heard the same from my old friend Strange. We used to talk these things over together, when our money was not the heap that mine is now; and it seems to me I can hear his voice saying the very words I have been using."

I, too, seemed to hear his voice in the words, and it was as if speaking from his grave.

I looked at Aristides, and read compassion in his dear face; but the face of Cyril remained severe and judicial. He said: "Then, if what you say is true, you cannot think it a hardship if we remove your burden for the time you remain with us. I have consulted with the National and Regional as well as the Communal authorities, and we cannot let you continue to live in the manner you are living here. You must pay your way."

"I shall be only too glad to do that," Mr. Thrall returned, more cheerfully. "We have not a great deal of cash in hand, but I can give you my check on London or Paris or New York."

"In Altruria," Cyril returned, "we have no use for money. You must pay your way as soon as your present provision from your yacht is exhausted."

Mr. Thrall turned a dazed look on the young lord, who suggested: "I don't think we follow you. How can Mr. Thrall pay his way except with money?"

"He must pay with work. As soon as you come upon the neighbors here for the necessities of life you must all work. To-morrow or the next day or next week at the furthest you must go to work, or you must starve."

Then he came out with that text of Scripture which had been so efficient with the crew of the Little Sally: "For even when we were with you this we commanded you, that if any would not work neither should he eat."

Lord Moors seemed very interested, and not so much surprised as I had expected. "Yes, I have often thought of that passage and of its susceptibility to a simpler interpretation than we usually give it. But—"

"There is but one interpretation of which it is susceptible," Cyril interrupted. "The apostle gives that interpretation when he prefaces the text with the words, 'For yourselves know how you ought to follow us; for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you. Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.' The whole economy of Altruria is founded on these passages."

"Literally?"

"Literally."

"But, my dear sir," the young lord reasoned, "you surely do not wrench the text from some such meaning as that if a man has money, he may pay his way without working?"

"No, certainly not. But here you have no money, and as we cannot suffer any to 'walk among us disorderly, working not at all,' we must not exempt you from our rule."

William Dean Howells