Chapter 14




XIV

The scene has changed again, Dolly, and six months have elapsed without your knowing it. Aristides and I long ago completed the tour of the capitals which the Thrall incident interrupted, and we have been settled for many months in the Maritime Capital, where it has been decided we had better fill out the first two years of my husband's repatriation. I have become more and more thoroughly naturalized, and if I am not yet a perfect Altrurian, it is not for not loving better and better the best Altrurian of them all, and not for not admiring and revering this wonderful civilization.

During the Obligatories of the forenoons I do my housework with my own hands, and as my mother lives with us we have long talks together, and try to make each other believe that the American conditions were a sort of nightmare from which we have happily awakened. You see how terribly frank I am, my dear, but if I were not, I could not make you understand how I feel. My heart aches for you, there, and the more because I know that you do not want to live differently, that you are proud of your economic and social illogicality, and that you think America is the best country under the sun! I can never persuade you, but if you could only come here, once, and see for yourselves! Seeing would be believing, and believing would be the wish never to go away, but to be at home here always.

I can imagine your laughing at me and asking Mr. Makely whether the Little Sally has ever returned to Altruria, and how I can account for the captain's failure to keep his word. I confess that is a sore point with me. It is now more than a year since she sailed, and, of course, we have not had a sign or whisper from her. I could almost wish that the crew were willing to stay away, but I am afraid it is the captain who is keeping them. It has become almost a mania with me, and every morning, the first thing when I wake, I go for my before-breakfast walk along the marble terrace that overlooks the sea, and scan the empty rounding for the recreant ship. I do not want to think so badly of human nature, as I must if the Little Sally never comes back, and I am sure you will not blame me if I should like her to bring me some word from you. I know that if she ever reached Boston you got my letters and presents, and that you have been writing me as faithfully as I have been writing you, and what a sheaf of letters from you there will be if her masts ever pierce the horizon! To tell the truth, I do long for a little American news! Do you still keep on murdering and divorcing, and drowning, and burning, and mommicking, and maiming people by sea and land? Has there been any war since I left? Is the financial panic as great as ever, and is there as much hunger and cold? I know that whatever your crimes and calamities are, your heroism and martyrdom, your wild generosity and self-devotion, are equal to them.

It is no use to pretend that in little over a year I can have become accustomed to the eventlessness of life in Altruria. I go on for a good many days together and do not miss the exciting incidents you have in America, and then suddenly I am wolfishly hungry for the old sensations, just as now and then I want meat, though I know I should loathe the sight and smell of it if I came within reach of it. You would laugh, I dare say, at the Altrurian papers, and what they print for news. Most of the space is taken up with poetry, and character study in the form of fiction, and scientific inquiry of every kind. But now and then there is a report of the production of a new play in one of the capitals; or an account of an open-air pastoral in one of the communes; or the progress of some public work, like the extension of the National Colonnade; or the wonderful liberation of some section from malaria; or the story of some good man or woman's life, ended at the patriarchal age they reach here. They also print selected passages of capitalistic history, from the earliest to the latest times, showing how in war and pestilence and needless disaster the world outside Altruria remains essentially the same that it was at the beginning of civilization, with some slight changes through the changes of human nature for the better in its slow approaches to the Altrurian ideal. In noting these changes the writers get some sad amusement out of the fact that the capitalistic world believes human nature cannot be changed, though cannibalism and slavery and polygamy have all been extirpated in the so-called Christian countries, and these things were once human nature, which is always changing, while brute nature remains the same. Now and then they touch very guardedly on that slavery, worse than war, worse than any sin or shame conceivable to the Altrurians, in which uncounted myriads of women are held and bought and sold, and they have to note that in this the capitalistic world is without the hope of better things. You know what I mean, Dolly; every good woman knows the little she cannot help knowing; but if you had ever inquired into that horror, as I once felt obliged to do, you would think it the blackest horror of the state of things where it must always exist as long as there are riches and poverty. Now, when so many things in America seem bad dreams, I cannot take refuge in thinking that a bad dream; the reality was so deeply burnt into my brain by the words of some of the slaves; and when I think of it I want to grovel on the ground with my mouth in the dust. But I know this can only distress you, for you cannot get away from the fact as I have got away from it; that there it is in the next street, perhaps in the next house, and that any night when you leave your home with your husband, you may meet it at the first step from your door.

You can very well imagine what a godsend the reports of Aristides and the discussions of them have been to our papers. They were always taken down stenographically, and they were printed like dialogue, so that at a little distance you would take them at first for murder trials or divorce cases, but when you look closer, you find them questions and answers about the state of things in America. There are often humorous passages, for the Altrurians are inextinguishably amused by our illogicality, and what they call the perpetual non sequiturs of our lives and laws. In the discussions they frequently burlesque these, but as they present them they seem really beyond the wildest burlesque. Perhaps you will be surprised to know that a nation of working-people like these feel more compassion than admiration for our working-people. They pity them, but they blame them more than they blame the idle rich for the existing condition of things in America. They ask why, if the American workmen are in the immense majority, they do not vote a true and just state, and why they go on striking and starving their families instead; they cannot distinguish in principle between the confederations of labor and the combinations of capital, between the trusts and the trades-unions, and they condemn even more severely the oppressions and abuses of the unions. My husband tries to explain that the unions are merely provisional, and are a temporary means of enabling the employees to stand up against the tyranny of the employers, but they always come back and ask him if the workmen have not most of the votes, and if they have, why they do not protect themselves peacefully instead of organizing themselves in fighting shape, and making a warfare of industry.

There is not often anything so much like news in the Altrurian papers as the grounding of the Thrall yacht on the coast of the Seventh Region, and the incident has been treated and discussed in every possible phase by the editors and their correspondents. They have been very frank about it, as they are about everything in Altruria, and they have not concealed their anxieties about their unwelcome guests. They got on without much trouble in the case of the few sailors of the Little Sally, but the crew of the Saraband is so large that it is a different matter. In the first place, they do not like the application of force, even in the mild electrical form in which they employ it, and they fear that the effect with themselves will be bad, however good it is for their guests. Besides, they dread the influence which a number of people, invested with the charm of strangeness, may have with the young men and especially the young girls of the neighborhood. The hardest thing the Altrurians have to grapple with is feminine curiosity, and the play of this about the strangers is what they seek the most anxiously to control. Of course, you will think it funny, and I must say that it seemed so to me at first, but I have come to think it is serious. The Altrurian girls are cultivated and refined, but as they have worked all their lives with their hands they cannot imagine the difference that work makes in Americans; that it coarsens and classes them, especially if they have been in immediate contact with rich people, and been degraded or brutalized by the knowledge of the contempt in which labor is held among us by those who are not compelled to it. Some of my Altrurian friends have talked it over with me, and I could take their point of view, though secretly I could not keep my poor American feelings from being hurt when they said that to have a large number of people from the capitalistic world thrown upon their hands was very much as it would be with us if we had the same number of Indians, with all their tribal customs and ideals, thrown upon our hands. They say they will not shirk their duty in the matter, and will study it carefully; but all the same, they wish the incident had not happened.



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