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Chapter 13

XIII

Well, Dolly, I suppose you will think it was pretty hard for those people, and when I got over my temper I confess that I felt sorry for the two men, and for the young girl whom the Altrurians would not call Lady Moors, but addressed by her Christian name, as they did each of the American party in his or her turn; even Mrs. Thrall had to answer to Rebecca. They were all rather bewildered, and so were the butler and the footmen, and the chef and his helpers, and the ladies' maids. These were even more shocked than those they considered their betters, and I quite took to my affections Lord Moors' man Robert, who was in an awe-stricken way trying to get some light from me on the situation. He contributed as much as any one to bring about a peaceful submission to the inevitable, for he had been a near witness of what had happened to the crew when they attempted their rebellion to the authorities; but he did not profess to understand the matter, and from time to time he seemed to question the reality of it.

The two masters, as you would call Mr. Thrall and Lord Moors, both took an attitude of amiable curiosity towards their fate, and accepted it with interest when they had partly chosen and partly been chosen by it. Mr. Thrall had been brought up on a farm till his ambition carried him into the world; and he found the light gardening assigned him for his first task by no means a hardship. He was rather critical of the Altrurian style of hoe at first, but after he got the hang of it, as he said, he liked it better, and during the three hours of the first morning's Obligatoires, his ardor to cut all the weeds out at once had to be restrained rather than prompted. He could not be persuaded to take five minutes for rest out of every twenty, and he could not get over his life-long habit of working against time. The Altrurians tried to make him understand that here people must not work against time, but must always work with it, so as to have enough work to do each day; otherwise they must remain idle during the Obligatoires and tend to demoralize the workers. It seemed that Lady Moors had a passion for gardening, and she was set to work with her father on the border of flowers surrounding the vegetable patch he was hoeing. She knew about flowers, and from her childhood had amused herself by growing them, and so far from thinking it a hardship or disgrace to dig, she was delighted to get at them. It was easy to see that she and her father were cronies, and when I went round in the morning with Aristides to ask if we could do anything for them, we heard them laughing and talking gayly together before we reached them. They said they had looked their job (as Mr. Thrall called it) over the afternoon before during the Voluntaries, and had decided how they would manage, and they had set to work that morning as soon as they had breakfast. Lady Moors had helped her mother get the breakfast, and she seemed to regard the whole affair as a picnic, though from the look of Mrs. Thrall's back, as she turned it on me, when I saw her coming to the door of the marquee with a coffee-pot in her hand, I decided that she was not yet resigned to her new lot in life.

Lord Moors was nowhere to be seen, and I felt some little curiosity about him which was not quite anxiety. Later, as we were going back to our quarters in the village, we saw him working on the road with a party of Altrurians who were repairing a washout from an overnight rain. They were having all kinds of a time, except a bad time, trying to understand each other in their want of a common language. It appeared that the Altrurians were impressed with his knowledge of road-making, and were doing something which he had indicated to them by signs. We offered our services as interpreters, and then he modestly owned in defence of his suggestions that when he was at Oxford he had been one of the band of enthusiastic undergraduates who had built a piece of highway under Mr. Ruskin's direction. The Altrurians regarded his suggestions as rather amateurish, but they were glad to act upon them, when they could, out of pure good feeling and liking for him; and from time to time they rushed upon him and shook hands with him; their affection did not go further, and he was able to stand the handshaking, though he told us he hoped they would not feel it necessary to keep it up, for it was really only a very simple matter like putting a culvert in place of a sluice which they had been using to carry the water off. They understood what he was saying, from his gestures, and they crowded round us to ask whether he would like to join them during the Voluntaries that afternoon, in getting the stone out of a neighboring quarry, and putting in the culvert at once. We explained to him, and he said he should be very happy. All the time he was looking at them admirably, and he said, "It's really very good," and we understood that he meant their classic working-dress, and when he added, "I should really fancy trying it myself one day," and we told them they wanted to go and bring him an Altrurian costume at once. But we persuaded them not to urge him, and in fact he looked very fit for his work in his yachting flannels.

I talked him over a long time with Aristides, and tried to get his point of view. I decided finally that an Englishman of his ancient lineage and high breeding, having voluntarily come down to the level of an American millionaire by marriage, could not feel that he was lowering himself any further by working with his hands. In fact, he probably felt that his merely undertaking a thing dignified the thing; but of course this was only speculation on my part, and he may have been resigned to working for a living because like poor people elsewhere he was obliged to do it. Aristides thought there was a good deal in that idea, but it is hard for an Altrurian to conceive of being ashamed of work, for they regard idleness as pauperism, and they would look upon our leisure classes, so far as we have them, very much as we look upon tramps, only they would make the excuse for our tramps that they often cannot get work.

We had far more trouble with the servants than we had with the masters in making them understand that they were to go to work in the fields and shops, quite as the crew of the yacht had done. Some of them refused outright, and stuck to their refusal until the village electrician rescued them with the sort of net and electric filament which had been employed with the recalcitrant sailors; others were brought to a better mind by withholding food from them till they were willing to pay for it by working. You will be sorry to learn, Dolly, that the worst of the rebels were the ladies' maids, who, for the honor of our sex, ought not to have required the application of the net and filament; but they had not such appetites as the men-servants, and did not mind starving so much. However, in a very short time they were at work, too, and more or less resigned, though they did not profess to understand it.

You will think me rather fickle, I am afraid, but after I made the personal acquaintance of Mr. Thrall's chef, Anatole, I found my affections dividing themselves between him and his lordship's man Robert, my first love. But Anatole was magnificent, a gaunt, little, aquiline man, with a branching mustache and gallant goatee, and having held an exalted position at a salary of ten thousand a year from Mr. Thrall, he could easily stoop from it, while poor Robert was tormented with misgivings, not for himself, but for Lord and Lady Moors and Mr. Thrall. It became my pleasing office to explain the situation to Monsieur Anatole, who, when he imagined it, gave a cry of joy, and confessed, what he had never liked to tell Mr. Thrall, knowing the misconceptions of Americans on the subject, that he had belonged in France to a party of which the political and social ideal was almost identical with that of the Altrurians. He asked for an early opportunity of addressing the village Assembly and explaining this delightful circumstance in public, and he profited by the occasion to embrace the first Altrurian we met and kiss him on both cheeks.

His victim was a messenger from the Commune, who had been sent to inquire whether Anatole had a preference as to the employment which should be assigned to him, and I had to reply for him that he was a man of science; that he would be happy to serve the republic in whatever capacity his concitizens chose, but that he thought he could be most useful in studying the comestible vegetation of the neighborhood, and the substitution of the more succulent herbs for the flesh-meats to the use of which, he understood from me, the Altrurians were opposed. In the course of his preparation for the rĂ´le of chef, which he had played both in France and America, he had made a specialty of edible fungi; and the result was that Anatole was set to mushrooming, and up to this moment he has discovered no less than six species hitherto unknown to the Altrurian table. This has added to their dietary in several important particulars, the fungi he has discovered being among those highly decorative and extremely poisonous-looking sorts which flourish in the deep woods and offer themselves almost inexhaustibly in places near the ruins of the old capitalistic cities, where hardly any other foods will grow. Anatole is very proud of his success, and at more than one Communal Assembly has lectured upon his discoveries and treated of their preparation for the table, with sketches of them as he found them growing, colored after nature by his own hand. He has himself become a fanatical vegetarian, having, he confesses, always had a secret loathing for the meats he stooped to direct the cooking of among the French and American bourgeoisie in the days which he already looks back upon as among the most benighted of his history.

William Dean Howells