At this moment the lady who had hailed me so gayly from the top of the coach while I stood waiting for the Altrurian to help the porter with the baggage, just after the arrival of the train, came up with her husband to our little group and said to me: "I want to introduce my husband to you. He adores your books." She went on much longer to this effect, while the other men grinned round and her husband tried to look as if it were all true, and her eyes wandered to the Altrurian, who listened gravely. I knew perfectly well that she was using her husband's zeal for my fiction to make me present my friend; but I did not mind that, and I introduced him to both of them. She took possession of him at once and began walking him off down the piazza, while her husband remained with me, and the members of our late conference drifted apart. I was not sorry to have it broken up for the present; it seemed to me that it had lasted quite long enough, and I lighted a cigar with the husband, and we strolled together in the direction his wife had taken.
He began, apparently in compliment to literature in my person: "Yes, I like to have a book where I can get at it when we're not going out to the theatre, and I want to quiet my mind down after business. I don't care much what the book is; my wife reads to me till I drop off, and then she finishes the book herself and tells me the rest of the story. You see, business takes it out of you so! Well, I let my wife do most of the reading, anyway. She knows pretty much everything that's going in that line. We haven't got any children, and it occupies her mind. She's up to all sorts of things—she's artistic, and she's musical, and she's dramatic, and she's literary. Well, I like to have her. Women are funny, anyway."
He was a good-looking, good-natured, average American of the money-making type; I believe he was some sort of a broker, but I do not quite know what his business was. As we walked up and down the piazza, keeping a discreet little distance from the corner where his wife had run off to with her capture, he said he wished he could get more time with her in the summer— but he supposed I knew what business was. He was glad she could have the rest, anyway; she needed it.
"By-the-way," he asked, "who is this friend of yours? The women are all crazy about him, and it's been an even thing between my wife and Miss Groundsel which would fetch him first. But I'll bet on my wife every time, when it comes to a thing like that. He's a good-looking fellow—some kind of foreigner, I believe; pretty eccentric, too, I guess. Where is Altruria, anyway?"
I told him, and he said: "Oh yes. Well, if we are going to restrict immigration, I suppose we sha'n't see many more Altrurians, and we'd better make the most of this one. Heigh?"
I do not know why this innocent pleasantry piqued me to say: "If I understand the Altrurians, my dear fellow, nothing could induce them to emigrate to America. As far as I can make out, they would regard it very much as we should regard settling among the Eskimos."
"Is that so?" asked my new acquaintance, with perfect good temper. "Why?"
"Really, I can't say, and I don't know that I've explicit authority for my statement."
"They are worse than the English used to be," he went on. "I didn't know that there were any foreigners who looked at us in that light now. I thought the war settled all that."
I sighed. "There are a good many things that the war didn't settle so definitely as we've been used to thinking, I'm afraid. But, for that matter, I fancy an Altrurian would regard the English as a little lower in the scale of savagery than ourselves even."
"Is that so? Well, that's pretty good on the English, anyway," said my companion, and he laughed with an easy satisfaction that I envied him.
"My dear!" his wife called to him from where she was sitting with the Altrurian, "I wish you would go for my shawl. I begin to feel the air a little."
"I'll go if you'll tell me where," he said, and he confided to me, "Never knows where her shawl is one-quarter of the time."
"Well, I think I left it in the office somewhere. You might ask at the desk; or perhaps it's in the rack by the dining-room door—or maybe up in our room."
"I thought so," said her husband, with another glance at me, as if it were the greatest fun in the world, and he started amiably off.
I went and took a chair by the lady and the Altrurian, and she began at once: "Oh, I'm so glad you've come! I have been trying to enlighten Mr. Homos about some of the little social peculiarities among us that he finds so hard to understand. He was just now," the lady continued, "wanting to know why all the natives out here were not invited to go in and join our young people in the dance, and I've been trying to tell him that we consider it a great favor to let them come and take up so much of the piazza and look in at the windows."
She gave a little laugh of superiority, and twitched her pretty head in the direction of the young country girls and country fellows who were thronging the place that night in rather unusual numbers. They were well enough looking, and, as it was Saturday night, they were in their best. I suppose their dress could have been criticised; the young fellows were clothed by the ready-made clothing-store, and the young girls after their own devices from the fashion papers; but their general effect was good, and their behavior was irreproachable; they were very quiet—if anything, too quiet. They took up a part of the piazza that was yielded them by common usage, and sat watching the hop inside, not so much enviously, I thought, as wistfully; and for the first time it struck me as odd that they should have no part in the gayety. I had often seen them there before, but I had never thought it strange they should be shut out. It had always seemed quite normal, but now, suddenly, for one baleful moment, it seemed abnormal. I suppose it was the talk we had been having about the working-men in society which caused me to see the thing as the Altrurian must have seen it; but I was, nevertheless, vexed with him for having asked such a question, after he had been so fully instructed upon the point. It was malicious of him, or it was stupid. I hardened my heart, and answered: "You might have told him, for one thing, that they were not dancing because they had not paid the piper."
"Then the money consideration enters even into your social pleasures?" asked the Altrurian.
"Very much. Doesn't it with you?"
He evaded this question, as he evaded all straightforward questions concerning his country: "We have no money consideration, you know. But do I understand that all your social entertainments are paid for by the guests?"
"Oh no, not so bad as that, quite. There are a great many that the host pays for. Even here, in a hotel, the host furnishes the music and the room free to the guests of the house."
"And none are admitted from the outside?"
"Oh yes, people are welcome from all the other hotels and boarding-houses and the private cottages. The young men are especially welcome; there are not enough young men in the hotel to go round, you see." In fact, we could see that some of the pretty girls within were dancing with other girls; half-grown boys were dangling from the waists of tall young ladies and waltzing on tiptoe.
"Isn't that rather droll?" asked the Altrurian.
"It's grotesque!" I said, and I felt ashamed of it. "But what are you to do? The young men are hard at work in the cities, as many as can get work there, and the rest are out West, growing up with the country. There are twenty young girls for every young man at all the summer resorts in the East."
"But what would happen if these young farmers—I suppose they are farmers—were invited in to take part in the dance?" asked my friend.
"But that is impossible."
"Really, Mrs. Makely, I think I shall have to give him back to you," I said.
The lady laughed. "I am not sure that I want him back."
"Oh yes," the Altrurian entreated, with unwonted perception of the humor. "I know that I must be very trying with my questions; but do not abandon me to the solitude of my own conjectures. They are dreadful!"
"Well, I won't," said the lady, with another laugh. "And I will try to tell you what would happen if those farmers, or farm-hands, or whatever they are, were asked in. The mammas would be very indignant, and the young ladies would be scared, and nobody would know what to do, and the dance would stop."
"Then the young ladies prefer to dance with one another and with little boys—"
"No, they prefer to dance with young men of their own station; they would rather not dance at all than dance with people beneath them. I don't say anything against these natives here; they are very civil and decent. But they have not the same social traditions as the young ladies; they would be out of place with them, and they would feel it."
"Yes, I can see that they are not fit to associate with them," said the Altrurian, with a gleam of commonsense that surprised me, "and that as long as your present conditions endure they never can be. You must excuse the confusion which the difference between your political ideals and your economic ideals constantly creates in me. I always think of you politically first, and realize you as a perfect democracy; then come these other facts, in which I cannot perceive that you differ from the aristocratic countries of Europe in theory, or practice. It is very puzzling. Am I right in supposing that the effect of your economy is to establish insuperable inequalities among you, and to forbid the hope of the brotherhood which your policy proclaims?"
Mrs. Makely looked at me as if she were helpless to grapple with his meaning, and, for fear of worse, I thought best to evade it. I said: "I don't believe that anybody is troubled by those distinctions. We are used to them, and everybody acquiesces in them, which is a proof that they are a very good thing."
Mrs. Makely now came to my support. "The Americans are very high-spirited, in every class, and I don't believe one of those nice farm-boys would like being asked in any better than the young ladies. You can't imagine how proud some of them are."
"So that they suffer from being excluded as inferiors?"
"Oh, I assure you they don't feel themselves inferior! They consider themselves as good as anybody. There are some very interesting characters among them. Now, there is a young girl sitting at the first window, with her profile outlined by the light, whom I feel it an honor to speak to. That's her brother, standing there with her—that tall, gaunt young man with a Roman face; it's such a common type here in the mountains. Their father was a soldier, and he distinguished himself so in one of the last battles that he was promoted. He was badly wounded, but he never took a pension; he just came back to his farm and worked on till he died. Now the son has the farm, and he and his sister live there with their mother. The daughter takes in sewing, and in that way they manage to make both ends meet. The girl is really a first-rate seamstress, and so cheap! I give her a good deal of my work in the summer, and we are quite friends. She's very fond of reading; the mother is an invalid, but she reads aloud while the daughter sews, and you've no idea how many books they get through. When she comes for sewing, I like to talk with her about them; I always have her sit down; it's hard to realize that she isn't a lady. I'm a good deal criticised, I know, and I suppose I do spoil her a little; it puts notions into such people's heads, if you meet them in that way; they're pretty free and independent as it is. But when I'm with Lizzie I forget that there is any difference between us; I can't help loving the child. You must take Mr. Homos to see them, Mr. Twelvemough. They've got the father's sword hung up over the head of the mother's bed; it's very touching. But the poor little place is so bare!"
Mrs. Makely sighed, and there fell a little pause, which she broke with a question she had the effect of having kept back.
"There is one thing I should like to ask you, too, Mr. Homos. Is it true that everybody in Altruria does some kind of manual labor?"
"Why, certainly," he answered, quite as if he had been an American.
"Ladies, too? Or perhaps you have none."
I thought this rather offensive, but I could not see that the Altrurian had taken it ill. "Perhaps we had better try to understand each other clearly before I answer that question. You have no titles of nobility as they have in England—"
"No, indeed! I hope we have outgrown those superstitions," said Mrs. Makely, with a republican fervor that did my heart good. "It is a word that we apply first of all to the moral qualities of a person."
"But you said just now that you sometimes forgot that your seamstress was not a lady. Just what did you mean by that?"
Mrs. Makely hesitated. "I meant—I suppose I meant—that she had not the surroundings of a lady; the social traditions."
"Then it has something to do with social as well as moral qualities—with ranks and classes?"
"Classes, yes; but, as you know, we have no ranks in America." The Altrurian took off his hat and rubbed an imaginable perspiration from his forehead. He sighed deeply. "It is all very difficult."
"Yes," Mrs. Makely assented, "I suppose it is. All foreigners find it so. In fact, it is something that you have to live into the notion of; it can't be explained."
"Well, then, my dear madam, will you tell me without further question what you understand by a lady, and let me live into the notion of it at my leisure?"
"I will do my best," said Mrs. Makely. "But it would be so much easier to tell you who was or who was not a lady. However, your acquaintance is so limited yet that I must try to do something in the abstract and impersonal for you. In the first place, a lady must be above the sordid anxieties in every way. She need not be very rich, but she must have enough, so that she need not be harassed about making both ends meet, when she ought to be devoting herself to her social duties. The time is past with us when a lady could look after the dinner, and perhaps cook part of it herself, and then rush in to receive her guests and do the amenities. She must have a certain kind of house, so that her entourage won't seem cramped and mean, and she must have nice frocks, of course, and plenty of them. She needn't be of the smart set; that isn't at all necessary; but she can't afford to be out of the fashion. Of course, she must have a certain training. She must have cultivated tastes; she must know about art and literature and music, and all those kind of things, and, though it isn't necessary to go in for anything in particular, it won't hurt her to have a fad or two. The nicest kind of fad is charity; and people go in for that a great deal. I think sometimes they use it to work up with, and there are some who use religion in the same way; I think it's horrid; but it's perfectly safe; you can't accuse them of doing it. I'm happy to say, though, that mere church association doesn't count socially so much as it used to. Charity is a great deal more insidious. But you see how hard it is to define a lady. So much has to be left to the nerves, in all these things. And then it's changing all the time; Europe's coming in, and the old American ideals are passing away. Things that people did ten years ago would be impossible now, or at least ridiculous. You wouldn't be considered vulgar, quite, but you would certainly be considered a back number, and that's almost as bad. Really," said Mrs. Makely, "I don't believe I can tell you what a lady is."
We all laughed together at her frank confession. The Altrurian asked: "But do I understand that one of her conditions is that she shall have nothing whatever to do?"
"Nothing to do!" cried Mrs. Makely. "A lady is busy from morning till night. She always goes to bed perfectly worn out."
"But with what?" asked the Altrurian.
"With making herself agreeable and her house attractive, with going to lunches and teas and dinners and concerts and theatres and art exhibitions, and charity meetings and receptions, and with writing a thousand and one notes about them, and accepting and declining, and giving lunches and dinners, and making calls and receiving them, and I don't know what all. It's the most hideous slavery!" Her voice rose into something like a shriek; one could see that her nerves were going at the mere thought of it all. "You don't have a moment to yourself; your life isn't your own."
"But the lady isn't allowed to do any useful kind of work?"
"Work! Don't you call all that work, and useful? I'm sure I envy the cook in my kitchen at times; I envy the woman that scrubs my floors. Stop! Don't ask why I don't go into my kitchen, or get down on my knees with the mop. It isn't possible. You simply can't. Perhaps you could if you were very grande dame, but if you're anywhere near the line of necessity, or ever have been, you can't. Besides, if we did do our own household work, as I understand your Altrurian ladies do, what would become of the servant class? We should be taking away their living, and that would be wicked."
"It would certainly be wrong to take away the living of a fellow-creature," the Altrurian gravely admitted, "and I see the obstacle in your way."
"It's a mountain," said the lady, with exhaustion in her voice, but a returning amiability; his forbearance must have placated her.
"May I ask what the use of your society life is?" he ventured, after a moment.
"Use? Why should it have any? It kills time."
"Then you are shut up to a hideous slavery without use, except to kill time, and you cannot escape from it without taking away the living of those dependent on you?"
"Yes," I put in, "and that is a difficulty that meets us at every turn. It is something that Matthew Arnold urged with great effect in his paper on that crank of a Tolstoy. He asked what would become of the people who need the work if we served and waited on ourselves, as Tolstoy preached. The question is unanswerable."
"That is true; in your conditions, it is unanswerable," said the
"I think," said Mrs. Makely, "that, under the circumstances, we do pretty well."
"Oh, I don't presume to censure you. And if you believe that your conditions are the best—"
"We believe them the best in the best of all possible worlds," I said, devoutly; and it struck me that, if ever we came to have a national church, some such affirmation as that concerning our economical conditions ought to be in the confession of faith.
The Altrurian's mind had not followed mine so far. "And your young girls," he asked of Mrs. Makely—"how is their time occupied?"
"You mean after they come out in society?"
"I suppose so."
She seemed to reflect. "I don't know that it is very differently occupied. Of course, they have their own amusements; they have their dances, and little clubs, and their sewing-societies. I suppose that even an Altrurian would applaud their sewing for the poor?" Mrs. Makely asked, rather satirically.
"Yes," he answered; and then he asked: "Isn't it taking work away from some needy seamstress, though? But I suppose you excuse it to the thoughtlessness of youth."
Mrs. Makely did not say, and he went on: "What I find it so hard to understand is how you ladies can endure a life of mere nervous exertion, such as you have been describing to me. I don't see how you keep well."
"We don't keep well," said Mrs. Makely, with the greatest amusement. "I don't suppose that when you get above the working classes, till you reach the very rich, you would find a perfectly well woman in America."
"Isn't that rather extreme?" I ventured to ask.
"No," said Mrs. Makely, "it's shamefully moderate," and she seemed to delight in having made out such a bad case for her sex. You can't stop a woman of that kind when she gets started; I had better left it alone.
"But," said the Altrurian, "if you are forbidden by motives of humanity from doing any sort of manual labor, which you must leave to those who live by it, I suppose you take some sort of exercise?"
"Well," said Mrs. Makely, shaking her head gayly, "we prefer to take medicine."
"You must approve of that," I said to the Altrurian, "as you consider exercise for its own sake insane or immoral. But, Mrs. Makely," I entreated, "you're giving me away at a tremendous rate. I have just been telling Mr. Homos that you ladies go in for athletics so much now in your summer outings that there is danger of your becoming physically as well as intellectually superior to us poor fellows. Don't take that consolation from me."
"I won't, altogether," she said. "I couldn't have the heart to, after the pretty way you've put it. I don't call it very athletic, sitting around on hotel piazzas all summer long, as nineteen-twentieths of us do. But I don't deny that there is a Remnant, as Matthew Arnold calls them, who do go in for tennis and boating and bathing and tramping and climbing." She paused, and then she concluded, gleefully: "And you ought to see what wrecks they get home in the fall!"
The joke was on me; I could not help laughing, though I felt rather sheepish before the Altrurian. Fortunately, he did not pursue the inquiry; his curiosity had been given a slant aside from it.
"But your ladies," he asked, "they have the summer for rest, however they use it. Do they generally leave town? I understood Mr. Twelvemough to say so," he added, with a deferential glance at me.
"Yes, you may say it is the universal custom in the class that can afford it," said Mrs. Makely. She proceeded as if she felt a tacit censure in his question. "It wouldn't be the least use for us to stay and fry through our summers in the city simply because our fathers and brothers had to. Besides, we are worn out, at the end of the season, and they want us to come away as much as we want to come."
"Ah, I have always heard that the Americans are beautiful in their attitude toward women."
"They are perfect dears," said Mrs. Makely, "and here comes one of the best of them."
At that moment her husband came up and laid her shawl across her shoulders. "Whose character is it you're blasting?" he asked, jocosely.
"Where in the world did you find it?" she asked, meaning the shawl.
"It was where you left it—on the sofa, in the side parlor. I had to take my life in my hand when I crossed among all those waltzers in there. There must have been as many as three couples on the floor. Poor girls! I pity them, off at these places. The fellows in town have a good deal better time. They've got their clubs, and they've got the theatre, and when the weather gets too much for them they can run off down to the shore for the night. The places anywhere within an hour's ride are full of fellows. The girls don't have to dance with one another there, or with little boys. Of course, that's all right if they like it better." He laughed at his wife, and winked at me, and smoked swiftly, in emphasis of his irony.
"Then the young gentlemen whom the young ladies here usually meet in society are all at work in the cities?" the Altrurian asked him, rather needlessly, as I had already said so.
"Yes, those who are not out West, growing up with the country, except, of course, the fellows who have inherited a fortune. They're mostly off on yachts."
"But why do your young men go West to grow up with the country?" pursued my friend.
"Because the East is grown up. They have got to hustle, and the West is the place to hustle. To make money," added Makely, in response to a puzzled glance of the Altrurian.
"Sometimes," said his wife, "I almost hate the name of money."
"Well, so long as you don't hate the thing, Peggy."
"Oh, we must have it, I suppose," she sighed. "They used to say about the girls who grew into old maids just after the Rebellion that they had lost their chance in the war for the Union. I think quite as many lose their chance now in the war for the dollar."
"Mars hath slain his thousands, but Mammon hath slain his tens of thousands," I suggested, lightly; we all like to recognize the facts, so long as we are not expected to do anything about them; then, we deny them.
"Yes, quite as bad as that," said Mrs. Makely.
"Well, my dear, you are expensive, you know," said her husband, "and if we want to have you—why, we've got to hustle first."
"Oh, I don't blame you, you poor things! There's nothing to be done about it; it's just got to go on and on; I don't see how it's ever to end."
The Altrurian had been following us with that air of polite mystification which I had begun to dread in him. "Then, in your good society you postpone, and even forego, the happiness of life in the struggle to be rich?"
"Well, you see," said Makely, "a fellow don't like to ask a girl to share a home that isn't as nice as the home she has left."
"Sometimes," his wife put in, rather sadly, "I think that it's all a mistake, and that we'd be willing to share the privations of the man we loved."
"Well," said Makely, with a laugh, "we wouldn't like to risk it."
I laughed with him, but his wife did not, and in the silence that ensued there was nothing to prevent the Altrurian from coming in with another of his questions: "How far does this state of things extend downward? Does it include the working classes, too?"
"Oh no!" we all answered together, and Mrs. Makely said: "With your Altrurian ideas, I suppose you would naturally sympathize a great deal more with the lower classes, and think they had to endure all the hardships in our system; but if you could realize how the struggle goes on in the best society, and how we all have to fight for what we get, or don't get, you would be disposed to pity our upper classes, too."
"I am sure I should," said the Altrurian.
Makely remarked: "I used to hear my father say that slavery was harder on the whites than it was on the blacks, and that he wanted it done away with for the sake of the masters."
Makely rather faltered in conclusion, as if he were not quite satisfied with his remark, and I distinctly felt a want of proportion in it; but I did not wish to say anything. His wife had no reluctance.
"Well, there's no comparison between the two things, but the struggle certainly doesn't affect the working classes as it does us. They go on marrying and giving in marriage in the old way. They have nothing to lose, and so they can afford it."
"Blessed am dem what don't expect nuffin! Oh, I tell you, it's a working-man's country," said Makely, through his cigar-smoke. "You ought to see them in town, these summer nights, in the parks and squares and cheap theatres. Their girls are not off for their health, anywhere, and their fellows are not off growing up with the country. Their day's work is over, and they're going in for a good time. And, then, walk through the streets where they live, and see them out on the stoops with their wives and children! I tell you, it's enough to make a fellow wish he was poor himself."
"Yes," said Mrs. Makely, "it's astonishing how strong and well those women keep, with their great families and their hard work. Sometimes I really envy them."
"Do you suppose," said the Altrurian, "that they are aware of the sacrifices which the ladies of the upper classes make in leaving all the work to them, and suffering from the nervous debility which seems to be the outcome of your society life?"
"They have not the remotest idea of it. They have no conception of what a society woman goes through with. They think we do nothing. They envy us, too, and sometimes they're so ungrateful and indifferent, if you try to help them, or get on terms with them, that I believe they hate us."
"But that comes from ignorance?"
"Yes, though I don't know that they are really any more ignorant of us than we are of them. It's the other half on both sides."
"Isn't that a pity, rather?"
"Of course it's a pity, but what can you do? You can't know what people are like unless you live like them, and then the question is whether the game is worth the candle. I should like to know how you manage in Altruria."
"Why, we have solved the problem in the only way, as you say, that it can be solved. We all live alike."
"Isn't that a little, just a very trifling little bit, monotonous?" Mrs. Makely asked, with a smile. "But there is everything, of course, in being used to it. To an unregenerate spirit—like mine, for example—it seems intolerable."
"But why? When you were younger, before you were married, you all lived at home together—or, perhaps, you were an only child?"
"Oh, no indeed! There were ten of us."
"Then you all lived alike, and shared equally?"
"Yes, but we were a family."
"We do not conceive of the human race except as a family."
"Now, excuse me, Mr. Homos, that is all nonsense. You cannot have the family feeling without love, and it is impossible to love other people. That talk about the neighbor, and all that, is all well enough—" She stopped herself, as if she dimly remembered who began that talk, and then went on: "Of course, I accept it as a matter of faith, and the spirit of it, nobody denies that; but what I mean is, that you must have frightful quarrels all the time." She tried to look as if this were where she really meant to bring up, and he took her on the ground she had chosen.
"Yes, we have quarrels. Hadn't you at home?"
"We fought like little cats and dogs, at times."
Makely and I burst into a laugh at her magnanimous frankness. The Altrurian remained serious. "But, because you lived alike, you knew each other, and so you easily made up your quarrels. It is quite as simple with us, in our life as a human family."
This notion of a human family seemed to amuse Mrs. Makely more and more; she laughed and laughed again. "You must excuse me," she panted, at last, "but I cannot imagine it! No, it is too ludicrous. Just fancy the jars of an ordinary family multiplied by the population of a whole continent! Why, you must be in a perpetual squabble. You can't have any peace of your lives. It's worse, far worse, than our way."
"But, madam," he began, "you are supposing our family to be made up of people with all the antagonistic interests of your civilization. As a matter of fact—"
"No, no! I know human nature, Mr. Homos!" She suddenly jumped up and gave him her hand. "Good-night," she said, sweetly, and as she drifted off on her husband's arm she looked back at us and nodded in gay triumph.
The Altrurian turned upon me with unabated interest. "And have you no provision in your system for finally making the lower classes understand the sufferings and sacrifices of the upper classes in their behalf? Do you expect to do nothing to bring them together in mutual kindness?"
"Well, not this evening," I said, throwing the end of my cigar away. "I'm going to bed—aren't you?"
"Well, good-night. Are you sure you can find your room?"
"Oh yes. Good-night."