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Chapter 15

XV

I am glad that I was called away from the disagreeable point I left in my last, and that I have got back temporarily to the scene of the Altrurianization of Mr. Thrall and his family. So far as it has gone it is perfect, if I may speak from the witness of happiness in those concerned, except perhaps Mrs. Thrall; she is as yet only partially reconstructed, but even she has moments of forgetting her lost grandeur and of really enjoying herself in her work. She is an excellent housekeeper, and she has become so much interested in making the marquee a simple home for her family that she is rather proud of showing it off as the effect of her unaided efforts. She was allowed to cater to them from the canned meats brought ashore from the yacht as long as they would stand it, but the wholesome open-air conditions have worked a wonderful change in them, and neither Mr. Thrall nor Lord and Lady Moors now have any taste for such dishes. Here Mrs. Thrall's old-time skill as an excellent vegetable cook, when she was the wife of a young mechanic, has come into play, and she believes that she sets the best table in the whole neighborhood, with fruits and many sorts of succulents and the everlasting and ever-pervading mushrooms.

As the Altrurians do not wish to annoy their involuntary guests, or to interfere with their way of life where they do not consider it immoral, their control has ended with setting them to work for a living. They have not asked them to the communal refectory, but, as long as they have been content to serve each other, have allowed them their private table. Of course, their adaptation to their new way of life has proceeded more slowly than it otherwise would, but with the exception of Mrs. Thrall they are very intelligent people, and I have been charmed in talking the situation over with them. The trouble has not been so great with the ship's people, as was feared. Such of these as have imagined their stay here permanent, or wished it to be so, have been received into the neighboring communes, and have taken the first steps towards naturalization; those who look forward to getting away some time, or express the wish for it, are allowed to live in a community of their own, where they are not molested as long as they work in the three hours of the Obligatoires. Naturally, they are kept out of mischief, but after their first instruction in the ideas of public property and the impossibility of enriching themselves at the expense of any one else, they have behaved very well. The greatest trouble they ever gave was in trapping and killing the wild things for food; but when they were told that this must not be done, and taught to recognize the vast range of edible fungi, they took not unwillingly to mushrooms and the ranker tubers and roots, from which, with unlimited eggs, cheese, milk, and shell-fish, they have constructed a diet of which they do not complain.

This brings me rather tangentially to Monsieur Anatole, who has become a fanatical Altrurian, and has even had to be restrained in some of his enthusiastic plans for the compulsory naturalization of his fellow castaways. His value as a scientist has been cordially recognized, and his gifts as an artist in the exquisite water-color studies of edible fungi has won his notice in the capital of the Seventh Regional where they have been shown at the spring water-color exhibition. He has printed several poems in the Regional Gazette, villanelles, rondeaux, and triolets, with accompanying versions of the French, into Altrurian by one of the first Altrurian poets. This is a widow of about Monsieur Anatole's own age; and the literary friendship between them has ripened into something much more serious. In fact they are engaged to be married. I suppose you will laugh at this, Dolly, and at first I confess that there was enough of the old American in me to be shocked at the idea of a French chef marrying an Altrurian lady who could trace her descent to the first Altrurian president of the Commonwealth, and who is universally loved and honored. I could not help letting something of the kind escape me by accident, to a friend, and presently Mrs. Chrysostom was sent to interview me on the subject, and to learn just how the case appeared to me. This put me on my honor, and I was obliged to say how it would appear in America, though every moment I grew more and more ashamed of myself and my native country, where we pretend that labor is honorable, and are always heaping dishonor on it. I told how certain of our girls and matrons had married their coachmen and riding-masters and put themselves at odds with society, and I confessed that marrying a cook would be regarded as worse, if possible.

Mrs. Chrysostom was accompanied by a lady in her second youth, very graceful, very charmingly dressed, and with an expression of winning intelligence, whom she named to me simply as Cecilia, in the Altrurian fashion. She apparently knew no English, and at first Mrs. Chrysostom translated each of her questions and my answers. When I had got through, this lady began to question me herself in Altrurian, which I owned to understanding a little. She said:

"You know Anatole?"

"Yes, certainly, and I like him, as I think every one must who knows him."

"He is a skillful chef?"

"Mr. Thrall would not have paid him ten thousand dollars a year if he had not been."

"You have seen some of his water-colors?"

"Yes. They are exquisite. He is unquestionably an artist of rare talent."

"And it is known to you that he is a man of scientific attainments?"

"That is something I cannot judge of so well as Aristides; but he says
M. Anatole is learned beyond any man he knows in edible fungi."

"As an adoptive Altrurian, and knowing the American ideas from our point of view, should you respect their ideas of social inequality?"

"Not the least in the world. I understand as well as you do that their ideas must prevail wherever one works for a living and another does not. hose ideas are practically as much accepted in America as they are in Europe, but I have fully renounced them."

You see, Dolly, how far I have gone!

The unknown, who could be pretty easily imagined, rose up and gave me her hand. "If you are in the Region on the third of May you must come to our wedding."

The same afternoon I had a long talk with Mr. Thrall, whom I found at work replanting a strawberry-patch during the Voluntaries. He rose up at the sound of my voice, and after an old man's dim moment for getting me mentally in focus, he brightened into a genial smile, and said, "Oh, Mrs. Homos! I am glad to see you."

I told him to go on with his planting, and I offered to get down on my knees beside him and help, but he gallantly handed me to a seat in the shade beside his daughter's flower-bed, and it was there that we had a long talk about conditions in America and Altruria, and how he felt about the great change in his life.

"Well, I can truly say," he answered much more at length than I shall report, "that I have never been so happy since the first days of my boyhood. All care has dropped from me; I don't feel myself rich, and I don't feel myself poor in this perfect safety from want. The only thing that gives me any regret is that my present state has not been the effect of my own will and deed. If I am now following the greatest and truest of all counsels it has not been because I have sold all and given to the poor, but because my money has been mercifully taken from me, and I have been released from its responsibilities in a state of things where there is no money."

"But, Mr. Thrall," I said, "don't you ever feel that you have a duty to the immense fortune which you have left in America, and which must be disposed of somehow when people are satisfied that you are not going to return and dispose of it yourself?"

"No, none. I was long ago satisfied that I could really do no good with it. Perhaps if I had had more faith in it I might have done some good with it, but I believe that I never did anything but harm, even when I seemed to be helping the most, for I was aiding in the perpetuation of a state of things essentially wrong. Now, if I never go back—and I never wish to go back—let the law dispose of it as seems best to the authorities. I have no kith or kin, and my wife has none, so there is no one to feel aggrieved by its application to public objects."

"And how do you imagine it will be disposed of?"

"Oh, I suppose for charitable and educational purposes. Of course a good deal of it will go in graft; but that cannot be helped."

"But if you could now dispose of it according to your clearest ideas of justice, and if you were forced to make the disposition yourself, what would you do with it?"

"Well, that is something I have been thinking of, and as nearly as I can make out, I ought to go into the records of my prosperity and ascertain just how and when I made my money. Then I ought to seek out as fully as possible the workmen who helped me make it by their labor. Their wages, which, were always the highest, were never a fair share, though I forced myself to think differently, and it should be my duty to inquire for them and pay them each a fair share, or, if they are dead, then their children or their next of kin. But even when I had done this I should not be sure that I had not done them more harm than good."

How often I had heard poor Mr. Strange say things like this, and heard of other rich men saying them, after lives of what is called beneficence! Mr. Thrall drew a deep sigh, and cast a longing look at his strawberry-bed. I laughed, and said, "You are anxious to get back to your plants, and I won't keep you. I wonder if Mrs. Thrall could see me if I called; or Lady Moors?"

He said he was sure they would, and I took my way over to the marquee. I was a little surprised to be met at the door by Lord Moors' man Robert. He told me he was very sorry, but her ladyship was helping his lordship at a little job on the roads, which they were doing quite in the Voluntaries, with the hope of having the National Colonnade extended to a given point; the ladies were helping the gentlemen get the place in shape. He was still sorrier, but I not so much, that Mrs. Thrall was lying down and would like to be excused; she was rather tired from putting away the luncheon things.

He asked me if I would not sit down, and he offered me one of the camp-stools at the door of the marquee, and I did sit down for a moment, while he flitted about the interior doing various little things. At last I said, "How is this, Robert? I thought you had been assigned to a place in the communal refectory. You're not here on the old terms?"

He came out and stood respectfully holding a dusting-cloth in his hand. "Thank you, not exactly, ma'am. But the fact is, ma'am, that the communal monitors have allowed me to come back here a few hours in the afternoon, on what I may call terms of my own."

"I don't understand. But won't you sit down, Robert?"

"Thank you, if it is the same to you, ma'am, I would rather stand while
I'm here. In the refectory, of course, it's different."

"But about your own terms?"

"Thanks. You see, ma'am, I've thought all along it was a bit awkward for them here, they not being so much used to looking after things, and I asked leave to come and help now and then. Of course, they said that I could not be allowed to serve for hire in Altruria; and one thing led to another, and I said it would really be a favor to me, and I didn't expect money for my work, for I did not suppose I should ever be where I could use it again, but if they would let me come here and do it for—"

Robert stopped and blushed and looked down, and I took the word, "For love?"

"Well, ma'am, that's what they called it."

Dolly, it made the tears come into my eyes, and I said very solemnly, "Robert, do you know, I believe you are the sweetest soul even in this and flowing with milk and honey?"

"Oh, you mustn't say that, ma'am. There's Mr. Thrall and his lordship and her ladyship. I'm sure they would do the like for me if I needed their help. And there are the Altrurians, you know."

"But they are used to it, Robert, and—Robert! Be frank with me! What do you think of Altruria?"

"Quite frank, ma'am, as if you were not connected with it, as you are?"

"Quite frank."

"Well, ma'am, if you are sure you wouldn't mind it, or consider it out of the way for me, I should say it was—rum."

"Rum? Don't you think it is beautiful here, to see people living for each other instead of living on each other, and the whole nation like one family, and the country a paradise?"

"Well, that's just it, ma'am, if you won't mind my saying so. That's what
I mean by rum."

"Won't you explain?"

"It doesn't seem real. Every night when I go to sleep, and think that there isn't a thief or a policeman on the whole continent, and only a few harmless homicides, as you call them, that wouldn't hurt a fly, and not a person hungry or cold, and no poor and no rich, and no servants and no masters, and no soldiers, and no—disreputable characters, it seems as if I was going to wake up in the morning and find myself on the Saraband and it all a dream here."

"Yes, Robert," I had to own, "that was the way with me, too, for a long while. And even now I have dreams about America and the way matters are there, and I wake myself weeping for fear Altruria isn't true. Robert! You must be honest with me! When you are awake, and it's broad day, and you see how happy every one is here, either working or playing, and the whole land without an ugly place in it, and the lovely villages and the magnificent towns, and everything, does it still seem—rum?"

"It's like that, ma'am, at times. I don't say at all times."

"And you don't believe that the rest of the world—England and
America—will ever be rum, too?"

"I don't see how they can. You see the poor are against it as well as the rich. Everybody wants to have something of his own, and the trouble seems to come from that. I don't suppose it was brought about in a day, Altruria wasn't, ma'am?"

"No, it was whole centuries coming."

"That was what I understood from that Mr. Chrysostom—Cyril, he wants me to call him, but I can't quite make up my mouth to it—who speaks English, and says he has been in England. He was telling me about it, one day when we were drying the dishes at the refectory together. He says they used to have wars and trusts and trades-unions here in the old days, just as we do now in civilized countries."

"And you don't consider Altruria civilized?"

"Well, not in just that sense of the word, ma'am. You wouldn't call heaven civilized?"

"Well, not in just that sense of the word. Robert,"

"You see, it's rum here, because, though everything seems to go so right, it's against human nature."

"The Altrurians say it isn't."

"I hope I don't differ from you, ma'am, but what would people—the best people—at home say? They would say it wasn't reasonable; they would say it wasn't even possible. That's what makes me think it's a dream—that it's rum. Begging your pardon, ma'am."

"Oh, I quite understand, Robert. Then you don't believe a camel can ever go through the eye of a needle?"

"I don't quite see how, ma'am."

"But you are proof of as great a miracle, Robert."

"Beg your pardon, ma'am?"

"Some day I will explain. But is there nothing that can make you believe
Altruria is true here, and that it can be true anywhere?"

"I have been thinking a good deal about that, ma'am. One doesn't quite like to go about in a dream, or think one is dreaming, and I have got to saying to myself that if some ship was to come here from England or America, or even from Germany, and we could compare our feelings with the feelings of people who were fresh to it, we might somehow get to believe that it was real."

"Yes," I had to own. "We need fresh proofs from time to time. There was a ship that sailed from here something over a year ago, and the captain promised his crew to let them bring her back, but at times I am afraid that was part of the dream, too, and that we're all something I am dreaming about."

"Just so, ma'am," Robert said, and I came away downhearted enough, though he called after me, "Mrs. Thrall will be very sorry, ma'am."

Back in the Maritime Capital, and oh, Dolly, Dolly, Dolly! They have sighted the Little Sally from the terrace! How happy I am! There will be letters from you, and I shall hear all that has happened in America, and I shall never again doubt that Altruria is real! I don't know how I shall get these letters of mine back to you, but somehow it can be managed. Perhaps the Saraband's crew will like to take the Little Sally home again; perhaps when Mr. Thrall knows the ship is here he will want to buy it and go back to his money in America and the misery of it! Do you believe he will? Should I like to remind my husband of his promise to take me home on a visit? Oh, my heart misgives me! I wonder if the captain of the Little Sally has brought his wife and children with him, and is going to settle among us, or whether he has just let his men have the vessel, and they have come to Altruria without him? I dare not ask anything, I dare not think anything!

THE END

William Dean Howells