This is written from memory, unfortunately. If I could have brought with me the material I so carefully prepared, this would be a very different story. Whole books full of notes, carefully copied records, firsthand descriptions, and the pictures—that’s the worst loss. We had some bird’s-eyes of the cities and parks; a lot of lovely views of streets, of buildings, outside and in, and some of those gorgeous gardens, and, most important of all, of the women themselves.
Nobody will ever believe how they looked. Descriptions aren’t any good when it comes to women, and I never was good at descriptions anyhow. But it’s got to be done somehow; the rest of the world needs to know about that country.
I haven’t said where it was for fear some self-appointed missionaries, or traders, or land-greedy expansionists, will take it upon themselves to push in. They will not be wanted, I can tell them that, and will fare worse than we did if they do find it.
It began this way. There were three of us, classmates and friends—Terry O. Nicholson (we used to call him the Old Nick, with good reason), Jeff Margrave, and I, Vandyck Jennings.
We had known each other years and years, and in spite of our differences we had a good deal in common. All of us were interested in science.
Terry was rich enough to do as he pleased. His great aim was exploration. He used to make all kinds of a row because there was nothing left to explore now, only patchwork and filling in, he said. He filled in well enough—he had a lot of talents—great on mechanics and electricity. Had all kinds of boats and motorcars, and was one of the best of our airmen.
We never could have done the thing at all without Terry.
Jeff Margrave was born to be a poet, a botanist—or both—but his folks persuaded him to be a doctor instead. He was a good one, for his age, but his real interest was in what he loved to call “the wonders of science.”
As for me, sociology’s my major. You have to back that up with a lot of other sciences, of course. I’m interested in them all.
Terry was strong on facts—geography and meteorology and those; Jeff could beat him any time on biology, and I didn’t care what it was they talked about, so long as it connected with human life, somehow. There are few things that don’t.
We three had a chance to join a big scientific expedition. They needed a doctor, and that gave Jeff an excuse for dropping his just opening practice; they needed Terry’s experience, his machine, and his money; and as for me, I got in through Terry’s influence.
The expedition was up among the thousand tributaries and enormous hinterland of a great river, up where the maps had to be made, savage dialects studied, and all manner of strange flora and fauna expected.
But this story is not about that expedition. That was only the merest starter for ours.
My interest was first roused by talk among our guides. I’m quick at languages, know a good many, and pick them up readily. What with that and a really good interpreter we took with us, I made out quite a few legends and folk myths of these scattered tribes.
And as we got farther and farther upstream, in a dark tangle of rivers, lakes, morasses, and dense forests, with here and there an unexpected long spur running out from the big mountains beyond, I noticed that more and more of these savages had a story about a strange and terrible Woman Land in the high distance.
“Up yonder,” “Over there,” “Way up”—was all the direction they could offer, but their legends all agreed on the main point—that there was this strange country where no men lived—only women and girl children.
None of them had ever seen it. It was dangerous, deadly, they said, for any man to go there. But there were tales of long ago, when some brave investigator had seen it—a Big Country, Big Houses, Plenty People—All Women.
Had no one else gone? Yes—a good many—but they never came back. It was no place for men—of that they seemed sure.
I told the boys about these stories, and they laughed at them. Naturally I did myself. I knew the stuff that savage dreams are made of.
But when we had reached our farthest point, just the day before we all had to turn around and start for home again, as the best of expeditions must in time, we three made a discovery.
The main encampment was on a spit of land running out into the main stream, or what we thought was the main stream. It had the same muddy color we had been seeing for weeks past, the same taste.
I happened to speak of that river to our last guide, a rather superior fellow with quick, bright eyes.
He told me that there was another river—“over there, short river, sweet water, red and blue.”
I was interested in this and anxious to see if I had understood, so I showed him a red and blue pencil I carried, and asked again.
Yes, he pointed to the river, and then to the southwestward. “River—good water—red and blue.”
Terry was close by and interested in the fellow’s pointing.
“What does he say, Van?”
I told him.
Terry blazed up at once.
“Ask him how far it is.”
The man indicated a short journey; I judged about two hours, maybe three.
“Let’s go,” urged Terry. “Just us three. Maybe we can really find something. May be cinnabar in it.”
“May be indigo,” Jeff suggested, with his lazy smile.
It was early yet; we had just breakfasted; and leaving word that we’d be back before night, we got away quietly, not wishing to be thought too gullible if we failed, and secretly hoping to have some nice little discovery all to ourselves.
It was a long two hours, nearer three. I fancy the savage could have done it alone much quicker. There was a desperate tangle of wood and water and a swampy patch we never should have found our way across alone. But there was one, and I could see Terry, with compass and notebook, marking directions and trying to place landmarks.
We came after a while to a sort of marshy lake, very big, so that the circling forest looked quite low and dim across it. Our guide told us that boats could go from there to our camp—but “long way—all day.”
This water was somewhat clearer than that we had left, but we could not judge well from the margin. We skirted it for another half hour or so, the ground growing firmer as we advanced, and presently we turned the corner of a wooded promontory and saw a quite different country—a sudden view of mountains, steep and bare.
“One of those long easterly spurs,” Terry said appraisingly. “May be hundreds of miles from the range. They crop out like that.”
Suddenly we left the lake and struck directly toward the cliffs. We heard running water before we reached it, and the guide pointed proudly to his river.
It was short. We could see where it poured down a narrow vertical cataract from an opening in the face of the cliff. It was sweet water. The guide drank eagerly and so did we.
“That’s snow water,” Terry announced. “Must come from way back in the hills.”
But as to being red and blue—it was greenish in tint. The guide seemed not at all surprised. He hunted about a little and showed us a quiet marginal pool where there were smears of red along the border; yes, and of blue.
Terry got out his magnifying glass and squatted down to investigate.
“Chemicals of some sort—I can’t tell on the spot. Look to me like dyestuffs. Let’s get nearer,” he urged, “up there by the fall.”
We scrambled along the steep banks and got close to the pool that foamed and boiled beneath the falling water. Here we searched the border and found traces of color beyond dispute. More—Jeff suddenly held up an unlooked-for trophy.
It was only a rag, a long, raveled fragment of cloth. But it was a well-woven fabric, with a pattern, and of a clear scarlet that the water had not faded. No savage tribe that we had heard of made such fabrics.
The guide stood serenely on the bank, well pleased with our excitement.
“One day blue—one day red—one day green,” he told us, and pulled from his pouch another strip of bright-hued cloth.
“Come down,” he said, pointing to the cataract. “Woman Country—up there.”
Then we were interested. We had our rest and lunch right there and pumped the man for further information. He could tell us only what the others had—a land of women—no men—babies, but all girls. No place for men—dangerous. Some had gone to see—none had come back.
I could see Terry’s jaw set at that. No place for men? Dangerous? He looked as if he might shin up the waterfall on the spot. But the guide would not hear of going up, even if there had been any possible method of scaling that sheer cliff, and we had to get back to our party before night.
“They might stay if we told them,” I suggested.
But Terry stopped in his tracks. “Look here, fellows,” he said. “This is our find. Let’s not tell those cocky old professors. Let’s go on home with ’em, and then come back—just us—have a little expedition of our own.”
We looked at him, much impressed. There was something attractive to a bunch of unattached young men in finding an undiscovered country of a strictly Amazonian nature.
Of course we didn’t believe the story—but yet!
“There is no such cloth made by any of these local tribes,” I announced, examining those rags with great care. “Somewhere up yonder they spin and weave and dye—as well as we do.”
“That would mean a considerable civilization, Van. There couldn’t be such a place—and not known about.”
“Oh, well, I don’t know. What’s that old republic up in the Pyrenees somewhere—Andorra? Precious few people know anything about that, and it’s been minding its own business for a thousand years. Then there’s Montenegro—splendid little state—you could lose a dozen Montenegroes up and down these great ranges.”
We discussed it hotly all the way back to camp. We discussed it with care and privacy on the voyage home. We discussed it after that, still only among ourselves, while Terry was making his arrangements.
He was hot about it. Lucky he had so much money—we might have had to beg and advertise for years to start the thing, and then it would have been a matter of public amusement—just sport for the papers.
But T. O. Nicholson could fix up his big steam yacht, load his specially made big motorboat aboard, and tuck in a “dissembled” biplane without any more notice than a snip in the society column.
We had provisions and preventives and all manner of supplies. His previous experience stood him in good stead there. It was a very complete little outfit.
We were to leave the yacht at the nearest safe port and go up that endless river in our motorboat, just the three of us and a pilot; then drop the pilot when we got to that last stopping place of the previous party, and hunt up that clear water stream ourselves.
The motorboat we were going to leave at anchor in that wide shallow lake. It had a special covering of fitted armor, thin but strong, shut up like a clamshell.
“Those natives can’t get into it, or hurt it, or move it,” Terry explained proudly. “We’ll start our flier from the lake and leave the boat as a base to come back to.”
“If we come back,” I suggested cheerfully.
“ ’Fraid the ladies will eat you?” he scoffed.
“We’re not so sure about those ladies, you know,” drawled Jeff. “There may be a contingent of gentlemen with poisoned arrows or something.”
“You don’t need to go if you don’t want to,” Terry remarked drily.
“Go? You’ll have to get an injunction to stop me!” Both Jeff and I were sure about that.
But we did have differences of opinion, all the long way.
An ocean voyage is an excellent time for discussion. Now we had no eavesdroppers, we could loll and loaf in our deck chairs and talk and talk—there was nothing else to do. Our absolute lack of facts only made the field of discussion wider.
“We’ll leave papers with our consul where the yacht stays,” Terry planned. “If we don’t come back in—say a month—they can send a relief party after us.”
“A punitive expedition,” I urged. “If the ladies do eat us we must make reprisals.”
“They can locate that last stopping place easy enough, and I’ve made a sort of chart of that lake and cliff and waterfall.”
“Yes, but how will they get up?” asked Jeff.
“Same way we do, of course. If three valuable American citizens are lost up there, they will follow somehow—to say nothing of the glittering attractions of that fair land—let’s call it ‘Feminisia,’ ” he broke off.
“You’re right, Terry. Once the story gets out, the river will crawl with expeditions and the airships rise like a swarm of mosquitoes.” I laughed as I thought of it. “We’ve made a great mistake not to let Mr. Yellow Press in on this. Save us! What headlines!”
“Not much!” said Terry grimly. “This is our party. We’re going to find that place alone.”
“What are you going to do with it when you do find it—if you do?” Jeff asked mildly.
Jeff was a tender soul. I think he thought that country—if there was one—was just blossoming with roses and babies and canaries and tidies, and all that sort of thing.
And Terry, in his secret heart, had visions of a sort of sublimated summer resort—just Girls and Girls and Girls—and that he was going to be—well, Terry was popular among women even when there were other men around, and it’s not to be wondered at that he had pleasant dreams of what might happen. I could see it in his eyes as he lay there, looking at the long blue rollers slipping by, and fingering that impressive mustache of his.
But I thought—then—that I could form a far clearer idea of what was before us than either of them.
“You’re all off, boys,” I insisted. “If there is such a place—and there does seem some foundation for believing it—you’ll find it’s built on a sort of matriarchal principle, that’s all. The men have a separate cult of their own, less socially developed than the women, and make them an annual visit—a sort of wedding call. This is a condition known to have existed—here’s just a survival. They’ve got some peculiarly isolated valley or tableland up there, and their primeval customs have survived. That’s all there is to it.”
“How about the boys?” Jeff asked.
“Oh, the men take them away as soon as they are five or six, you see.”
“And how about this danger theory all our guides were so sure of?”
“Danger enough, Terry, and we’ll have to be mighty careful. Women of that stage of culture are quite able to defend themselves and have no welcome for unseasonable visitors.”
We talked and talked.
And with all my airs of sociological superiority I was no nearer than any of them.
It was funny though, in the light of what we did find, those extremely clear ideas of ours as to what a country of women would be like. It was no use to tell ourselves and one another that all this was idle speculation. We were idle and we did speculate, on the ocean voyage and the river voyage, too.
“Admitting the improbability,” we’d begin solemnly, and then launch out again.
“They would fight among themselves,” Terry insisted. “Women always do. We mustn’t look to find any sort of order and organization.”
“You’re dead wrong,” Jeff told him. “It will be like a nunnery under an abbess—a peaceful, harmonious sisterhood.”
I snorted derision at this idea.
“Nuns, indeed! Your peaceful sisterhoods were all celibate, Jeff, and under vows of obedience. These are just women, and mothers, and where there’s motherhood you don’t find sisterhood—not much.”
“No, sir—they’ll scrap,” agreed Terry. “Also we mustn’t look for inventions and progress; it’ll be awfully primitive.”
“How about that cloth mill?” Jeff suggested.
“Oh, cloth! Women have always been spinsters. But there they stop—you’ll see.”
We joked Terry about his modest impression that he would be warmly received, but he held his ground.
“You’ll see,” he insisted. “I’ll get solid with them all—and play one bunch against another. I’ll get myself elected king in no time—whew! Solomon will have to take a back seat!”
“Where do we come in on that deal?” I demanded. “Aren’t we Viziers or anything?”
“Couldn’t risk it,” he asserted solemnly. “You might start a revolution—probably would. No, you’ll have to be beheaded, or bowstrung—or whatever the popular method of execution is.”
“You’d have to do it yourself, remember,” grinned Jeff. “No husky black slaves and mamelukes! And there’d be two of us and only one of you—eh, Van?”
Jeff’s ideas and Terry’s were so far apart that sometimes it was all I could do to keep the peace between them. Jeff idealized women in the best Southern style. He was full of chivalry and sentiment, and all that. And he was a good boy; he lived up to his ideals.
You might say Terry did, too, if you can call his views about women anything so polite as ideals. I always liked Terry. He was a man’s man, very much so, generous and brave and clever; but I don’t think any of us in college days was quite pleased to have him with our sisters. We weren’t very stringent, heavens no! But Terry was “the limit.” Later on—why, of course a man’s life is his own, we held, and asked no questions.
But barring a possible exception in favor of a not impossible wife, or of his mother, or, of course, the fair relatives of his friends, Terry’s idea seemed to be that pretty women were just so much game and homely ones not worth considering.
It was really unpleasant sometimes to see the notions he had.
But I got out of patience with Jeff, too. He had such rose-colored halos on his womenfolks. I held a middle ground, highly scientific, of course, and used to argue learnedly about the physiological limitations of the sex.
We were not in the least “advanced” on the woman question, any of us, then.
So we joked and disputed and speculated, and after an interminable journey, we got to our old camping place at last.
It was not hard to find the river, just poking along that side till we came to it, and it was navigable as far as the lake.
When we reached that and slid out on its broad glistening bosom, with that high gray promontory running out toward us, and the straight white fall clearly visible, it began to be really exciting.
There was some talk, even then, of skirting the rock wall and seeking a possible footway up, but the marshy jungle made that method look not only difficult but dangerous.
Terry dismissed the plan sharply.
“Nonsense, fellows! We’ve decided that. It might take months—we haven’t got the provisions. No, sir—we’ve got to take our chances. If we get back safe—all right. If we don’t, why, we’re not the first explorers to get lost in the shuffle. There are plenty to come after us.”
So we got the big biplane together and loaded it with our scientifically compressed baggage: the camera, of course; the glasses; a supply of concentrated food. Our pockets were magazines of small necessities, and we had our guns, of course—there was no knowing what might happen.
Up and up and up we sailed, way up at first, to get “the lay of the land” and make note of it.
Out of that dark green sea of crowding forest this high-standing spur rose steeply. It ran back on either side, apparently, to the far-off white-crowned peaks in the distance, themselves probably inaccessible.
“Let’s make the first trip geographical,” I suggested. “Spy out the land, and drop back here for more gasoline. With your tremendous speed we can reach that range and back all right. Then we can leave a sort of map on board—for that relief expedition.”
“There’s sense in that,” Terry agreed. “I’ll put off being king of Ladyland for one more day.”
So we made a long skirting voyage, turned the point of the cape which was close by, ran up one side of the triangle at our best speed, crossed over the base where it left the higher mountains, and so back to our lake by moonlight.
“That’s not a bad little kingdom,” we agreed when it was roughly drawn and measured. We could tell the size fairly by our speed. And from what we could see of the sides—and that icy ridge at the back end—“It’s a pretty enterprising savage who would manage to get into it,” Jeff said.
Of course we had looked at the land itself—eagerly, but we were too high and going too fast to see much. It appeared to be well forested about the edges, but in the interior there were wide plains, and everywhere parklike meadows and open places.
There were cities, too; that I insisted. It looked—well, it looked like any other country—a civilized one, I mean.
We had to sleep after that long sweep through the air, but we turned out early enough next day, and again we rose softly up the height till we could top the crowning trees and see the broad fair land at our pleasure.
“Semitropical. Looks like a first-rate climate. It’s wonderful what a little height will do for temperature.” Terry was studying the forest growth.
“Little height! Is that what you call little?” I asked. Our instruments measured it clearly. We had not realized the long gentle rise from the coast perhaps.
“Mighty lucky piece of land, I call it,” Terry pursued. “Now for the folks—I’ve had enough scenery.”
So we sailed low, crossing back and forth, quartering the country as we went, and studying it. We saw—I can’t remember now how much of this we noted then and how much was supplemented by our later knowledge, but we could not help seeing this much, even on that excited day—a land in a state of perfect cultivation, where even the forests looked as if they were cared for; a land that looked like an enormous park, only it was even more evidently an enormous garden.
“I don’t see any cattle,” I suggested, but Terry was silent. We were approaching a village.
I confess that we paid small attention to the clean, well-built roads, to the attractive architecture, to the ordered beauty of the little town. We had our glasses out; even Terry, setting his machine for a spiral glide, clapped the binoculars to his eyes.
They heard our whirring screw. They ran out of the houses—they gathered in from the fields, swift-running light figures, crowds of them. We stared and stared until it was almost too late to catch the levers, sweep off and rise again; and then we held our peace for a long run upward.
“Gosh!” said Terry, after a while.
“Only women there—and children,” Jeff urged excitedly.
“But they look—why, this is a civilized country!” I protested. “There must be men.”
“Of course there are men,” said Terry. “Come on, let’s find ’em.”
He refused to listen to Jeff’s suggestion that we examine the country further before we risked leaving our machine.
“There’s a fine landing place right there where we came over,” he insisted, and it was an excellent one—a wide, flat-topped rock, overlooking the lake, and quite out of sight from the interior.
“They won’t find this in a hurry,” he asserted, as we scrambled with the utmost difficulty down to safer footing. “Come on, boys—there were some good lookers in that bunch.”
Of course it was unwise of us.
It was quite easy to see afterward that our best plan was to have studied the country more fully before we left our swooping airship and trusted ourselves to mere foot service. But we were three young men. We had been talking about this country for over a year, hardly believing that there was such a place, and now—we were in it.
It looked safe and civilized enough, and among those upturned, crowding faces, though some were terrified enough, there was great beauty—on that we all agreed.
“Come on!” cried Terry, pushing forward. “Oh, come on! Here goes for Herland!”
Not more than ten or fifteen miles we judged it from our landing rock to that last village. For all our eagerness we thought it wise to keep to the woods and go carefully.
Even Terry’s ardor was held in check by his firm conviction that there were men to be met, and we saw to it that each of us had a good stock of cartridges.
“They may be scarce, and they may be hidden away somewhere—some kind of a matriarchate, as Jeff tells us; for that matter, they may live up in the mountains yonder and keep the women in this part of the country—sort of a national harem! But there are men somewhere—didn’t you see the babies?”
We had all seen babies, children big and little, everywhere that we had come near enough to distinguish the people. And though by dress we could not be sure of all the grown persons, still there had not been one man that we were certain of.
“I always liked that Arab saying, ‘First tie your camel and then trust in the Lord,’ ” Jeff murmured; so we all had our weapons in hand, and stole cautiously through the forest. Terry studied it as we progressed.
“Talk of civilization,” he cried softly in restrained enthusiasm. “I never saw a forest so petted, even in Germany. Look, there’s not a dead bough—the vines are trained—actually! And see here”—he stopped and looked about him, calling Jeff’s attention to the kinds of trees.
They left me for a landmark and made a limited excursion on either side.
“Food-bearing, practically all of them,” they announced returning. “The rest, splendid hardwood. Call this a forest? It’s a truck farm!”
“Good thing to have a botanist on hand,” I agreed. “Sure there are no medicinal ones? Or any for pure ornament?”
As a matter of fact they were quite right. These towering trees were under as careful cultivation as so many cabbages. In other conditions we should have found those woods full of fair foresters and fruit gatherers; but an airship is a conspicuous object, and by no means quiet—and women are cautious.
All we found moving in those woods, as we started through them, were birds, some gorgeous, some musical, all so tame that it seemed almost to contradict our theory of cultivation—at least until we came upon occasional little glades, where carved stone seats and tables stood in the shade beside clear fountains, with shallow bird baths always added.
“They don’t kill birds, and apparently they do kill cats,” Terry declared. “Must be men here. Hark!”
We had heard something: something not in the least like a birdsong, and very much like a suppressed whisper of laughter—a little happy sound, instantly smothered. We stood like so many pointers, and then used our glasses, swiftly, carefully.
“It couldn’t have been far off,” said Terry excitedly. “How about this big tree?”
There was a very large and beautiful tree in the glade we had just entered, with thick wide-spreading branches that sloped out in lapping fans like a beech or pine. It was trimmed underneath some twenty feet up, and stood there like a huge umbrella, with circling seats beneath.
“Look,” he pursued. “There are short stumps of branches left to climb on. There’s someone up that tree, I believe.”
We stole near, cautiously.
“Look out for a poisoned arrow in your eye,” I suggested, but Terry pressed forward, sprang up on the seat-back, and grasped the trunk. “In my heart, more likely,” he answered. “Gee! Look, boys!”
We rushed close in and looked up. There among the boughs overhead was something—more than one something—that clung motionless, close to the great trunk at first, and then, as one and all we started up the tree, separated into three swift-moving figures and fled upward. As we climbed we could catch glimpses of them scattering above us. By the time we had reached about as far as three men together dared push, they had left the main trunk and moved outward, each one balanced on a long branch that dipped and swayed beneath the weight.
We paused uncertain. If we pursued further, the boughs would break under the double burden. We might shake them off, perhaps, but none of us was so inclined. In the soft dappled light of these high regions, breathless with our rapid climb, we rested awhile, eagerly studying our objects of pursuit; while they in turn, with no more terror than a set of frolicsome children in a game of tag, sat as lightly as so many big bright birds on their precarious perches and frankly, curiously, stared at us.
“Girls!” whispered Jeff, under his breath, as if they might fly if he spoke aloud.
“Peaches!” added Terry, scarcely louder. “Peacherinos—apricot-nectarines! Whew!”
They were girls, of course, no boys could ever have shown that sparkling beauty, and yet none of us was certain at first.
We saw short hair, hatless, loose, and shining; a suit of some light firm stuff, the closest of tunics and kneebreeches, met by trim gaiters. As bright and smooth as parrots and as unaware of danger, they swung there before us, wholly at ease, staring as we stared, till first one, and then all of them burst into peals of delighted laughter.
Then there was a torrent of soft talk tossed back and forth; no savage singsong, but clear musical fluent speech.
We met their laughter cordially, and doffed our hats to them, at which they laughed again, delightedly.
Then Terry, wholly in his element, made a polite speech, with explanatory gestures, and proceeded to introduce us, with pointing finger. “Mr. Jeff Margrave,” he said clearly; Jeff bowed as gracefully as a man could in the fork of a great limb. “Mr. Vandyck Jennings”—I also tried to make an effective salute and nearly lost my balance.
Then Terry laid his hand upon his chest—a fine chest he had, too, and introduced himself; he was braced carefully for the occasion and achieved an excellent obeisance.
Again they laughed delightedly, and the one nearest me followed his tactics.
“Celis,” she said distinctly, pointing to the one in blue; “Alima”—the one in rose; then, with a vivid imitation of Terry’s impressive manner, she laid a firm delicate hand on her gold-green jerkin—“Ellador.” This was pleasant, but we got no nearer.
“We can’t sit here and learn the language,” Terry protested. He beckoned to them to come nearer, most winningly—but they gaily shook their heads. He suggested, by signs, that we all go down together; but again they shook their heads, still merrily. Then Ellador clearly indicated that we should go down, pointing to each and all of us, with unmistakable firmness; and further seeming to imply by the sweep of a lithe arm that we not only go downward, but go away altogether—at which we shook our heads in turn.
“Have to use bait,” grinned Terry. “I don’t know about you fellows, but I came prepared.” He produced from an inner pocket a little box of purple velvet, that opened with a snap—and out of it he drew a long sparkling thing, a necklace of big varicolored stones that would have been worth a million if real ones. He held it up, swung it, glittering in the sun, offered it first to one, then to another, holding it out as far as he could reach toward the girl nearest him. He stood braced in the fork, held firmly by one hand—the other, swinging his bright temptation, reached far out along the bough, but not quite to his full stretch.
She was visibly moved, I noted, hesitated, spoke to her companions. They chattered softly together, one evidently warning her, the other encouraging. Then, softly and slowly, she drew nearer. This was Alima, a tall long-limbed lass, well-knit and evidently both strong and agile. Her eyes were splendid, wide, fearless, as free from suspicion as a child’s who has never been rebuked. Her interest was more that of an intent boy playing a fascinating game than of a girl lured by an ornament.
The others moved a bit farther out, holding firmly, watching. Terry’s smile was irreproachable, but I did not like the look in his eyes—it was like a creature about to spring. I could already see it happen—the dropped necklace, the sudden clutching hand, the girl’s sharp cry as he seized her and drew her in. But it didn’t happen. She made a timid reach with her right hand for the gay swinging thing—he held it a little nearer—then, swift as light, she seized it from him with her left, and dropped on the instant to the bough below.
He made his snatch, quite vainly, almost losing his position as his hand clutched only air; and then, with inconceivable rapidity, the three bright creatures were gone. They dropped from the ends of the big boughs to those below, fairly pouring themselves off the tree, while we climbed downward as swiftly as we could. We heard their vanishing gay laughter, we saw them fleeting away in the wide open reaches of the forest, and gave chase, but we might as well have chased wild antelopes; so we stopped at length somewhat breathless.
“No use,” gasped Terry. “They got away with it. My word! The men of this country must be good sprinters!”
“Inhabitants evidently arboreal,” I grimly suggested. “Civilized and still arboreal—peculiar people.”
“You shouldn’t have tried that way,” Jeff protested. “They were perfectly friendly; now we’ve scared them.”
But it was no use grumbling, and Terry refused to admit any mistake. “Nonsense,” he said. “They expected it. Women like to be run after. Come on, let’s get to that town; maybe we’ll find them there. Let’s see, it was in this direction and not far from the woods, as I remember.”
When we reached the edge of the open country we reconnoitered with our field glasses. There it was, about four miles off, the same town, we concluded, unless, as Jeff ventured, they all had pink houses. The broad green fields and closely cultivated gardens sloped away at our feet, a long easy slant, with good roads winding pleasantly here and there, and narrower paths besides.
“Look at that!” cried Jeff suddenly. “There they go!”
Sure enough, close to the town, across a wide meadow, three bright-hued figures were running swiftly.
“How could they have got that far in this time? It can’t be the same ones,” I urged. But through the glasses we could identify our pretty tree-climbers quite plainly, at least by costume.
Terry watched them, we all did for that matter, till they disappeared among the houses. Then he put down his glass and turned to us, drawing a long breath. “Mother of Mike, boys—what Gorgeous Girls! To climb like that! to run like that! and afraid of nothing. This country suits me all right. Let’s get ahead.”
“Nothing venture, nothing have,” I suggested, but Terry preferred “Faint heart ne’er won fair lady.”
We set forth in the open, walking briskly. “If there are any men, we’d better keep an eye out,” I suggested, but Jeff seemed lost in heavenly dreams, and Terry in highly practical plans.
“What a perfect road! What a heavenly country! See the flowers, will you?”
This was Jeff, always an enthusiast; but we could agree with him fully.
The road was some sort of hard manufactured stuff, sloped slightly to shed rain, with every curve and grade and gutter as perfect as if it were Europe’s best. “No men, eh?” sneered Terry. On either side a double row of trees shaded the footpaths; between the trees bushes or vines, all fruit-bearing, now and then seats and little wayside fountains; everywhere flowers.
“We’d better import some of these ladies and set ’em to parking the United States,” I suggested. “Mighty nice place they’ve got here.” We rested a few moments by one of the fountains, tested the fruit that looked ripe, and went on, impressed, for all our gay bravado by the sense of quiet potency which lay about us.
Here was evidently a people highly skilled, efficient, caring for their country as a florist cares for his costliest orchids. Under the soft brilliant blue of that clear sky, in the pleasant shade of those endless rows of trees, we walked unharmed, the placid silence broken only by the birds.
Presently there lay before us at the foot of a long hill the town or village we were aiming for. We stopped and studied it.
Jeff drew a long breath. “I wouldn’t have believed a collection of houses could look so lovely,” he said.
“They’ve got architects and landscape gardeners in plenty, that’s sure,” agreed Terry.
I was astonished myself. You see, I come from California, and there’s no country lovelier, but when it comes to towns—! I have often groaned at home to see the offensive mess man made in the face of nature, even though I’m no art sharp, like Jeff. But this place! It was built mostly of a sort of dull rose-colored stone, with here and there some clear white houses; and it lay abroad among the green groves and gardens like a broken rosary of pink coral.
“Those big white ones are public buildings evidently,” Terry declared. “This is no savage country, my friend. But no men? Boys, it behooves us to go forward most politely.”
The place had an odd look, more impressive as we approached. “It’s like an exposition.” “It’s too pretty to be true.” “Plenty of palaces, but where are the homes?” “Oh there are little ones enough—but—.” It certainly was different from any towns we had ever seen.
“There’s no dirt,” said Jeff suddenly. “There’s no smoke,” he added after a little.
“There’s no noise,” I offered; but Terry snubbed me—“That’s because they are laying low for us; we’d better be careful how we go in there.”
Nothing could induce him to stay out, however, so we walked on.
Everything was beauty, order, perfect cleanness, and the pleasantest sense of home over it all. As we neared the center of the town the houses stood thicker, ran together as it were, grew into rambling palaces grouped among parks and open squares, something as college buildings stand in their quiet greens.
And then, turning a corner, we came into a broad paved space and saw before us a band of women standing close together in even order, evidently waiting for us.
We stopped a moment and looked back. The street behind was closed by another band, marching steadily, shoulder to shoulder. We went on—there seemed no other way to go—and presently found ourselves quite surrounded by this close-massed multitude, women, all of them, but—
They were not young. They were not old. They were not, in the girl sense, beautiful. They were not in the least ferocious. And yet, as I looked from face to face, calm, grave, wise, wholly unafraid, evidently assured and determined, I had the funniest feeling—a very early feeling—a feeling that I traced back and back in memory until I caught up with it at last. It was that sense of being hopelessly in the wrong that I had so often felt in early youth when my short legs’ utmost effort failed to overcome the fact that I was late to school.
Jeff felt it too; I could see he did. We felt like small boys, very small boys, caught doing mischief in some gracious lady’s house. But Terry showed no such consciousness. I saw his quick eyes darting here and there, estimating numbers, measuring distances, judging chances of escape. He examined the close ranks about us, reaching back far on every side, and murmured softly to me, “Every one of ’em over forty as I’m a sinner.”
Yet they were not old women. Each was in the full bloom of rosy health, erect, serene, standing surefooted and light as any pugilist. They had no weapons, and we had, but we had no wish to shoot.
“I’d as soon shoot my aunts,” muttered Terry again. “What do they want with us anyhow? They seem to mean business.” But in spite of that businesslike aspect, he determined to try his favorite tactics. Terry had come armed with a theory.
He stepped forward, with his brilliant ingratiating smile, and made low obeisance to the women before him. Then he produced another tribute, a broad soft scarf of filmy texture, rich in color and pattern, a lovely thing, even to my eye, and offered it with a deep bow to the tall unsmiling woman who seemed to head the ranks before him. She took it with a gracious nod of acknowledgment, and passed it on to those behind her.
He tried again, this time bringing out a circlet of rhinestones, a glittering crown that should have pleased any woman on earth. He made a brief address, including Jeff and me as partners in his enterprise, and with another bow presented this. Again his gift was accepted and, as before, passed out of sight.
“If they were only younger,” he muttered between his teeth. “What on earth is a fellow to say to a regiment of old Colonels like this?”
In all our discussions and speculations we had always unconsciously assumed that the women, whatever else they might be, would be young. Most men do think that way, I fancy.
“Woman” in the abstract is young, and, we assume, charming. As they get older they pass off the stage, somehow, into private ownership mostly, or out of it altogether. But these good ladies were very much on the stage, and yet any one of them might have been a grandmother.
We looked for nervousness—there was none.
For terror, perhaps—there was none.
For uneasiness, for curiosity, for excitement—and all we saw was what might have been a vigilance committee of women doctors, as cool as cucumbers, and evidently meaning to take us to task for being there.
Six of them stepped forward now, one on either side of each of us, and indicated that we were to go with them. We thought it best to accede, at first anyway, and marched along, one of these close at each elbow, and the others in close masses before, behind, on both sides.
A large building opened before us, a very heavy thick-walled impressive place, big, and old-looking; of gray stone, not like the rest of the town.
“This won’t do!” said Terry to us, quickly. “We mustn’t let them get us in this, boys. All together, now—”
We stopped in our tracks. We began to explain, to make signs pointing away toward the big forest—indicating that we would go back to it—at once.
It makes me laugh, knowing all I do now, to think of us three boys—nothing else; three audacious impertinent boys—butting into an unknown country without any sort of a guard or defense. We seemed to think that if there were men we could fight them, and if there were only women—why, they would be no obstacles at all.
Jeff, with his gentle romantic old-fashioned notions of women as clinging vines. Terry, with his clear decided practical theories that there were two kinds of women—those he wanted and those he didn’t; Desirable and Undesirable was his demarcation. The latter as a large class, but negligible—he had never thought about them at all.
And now here they were, in great numbers, evidently indifferent to what he might think, evidently determined on some purpose of their own regarding him, and apparently well able to enforce their purpose.
We all thought hard just then. It had not seemed wise to object to going with them, even if we could have; our one chance was friendliness—a civilized attitude on both sides.
But once inside that building, there was no knowing what these determined ladies might do to us. Even a peaceful detention was not to our minds, and when we named it imprisonment it looked even worse.
So we made a stand, trying to make clear that we preferred the open country. One of them came forward with a sketch of our flier, asking by signs if we were the aerial visitors they had seen.
This we admitted.
They pointed to it again, and to the outlying country, in different directions—but we pretended we did not know where it was, and in truth we were not quite sure and gave a rather wild indication of its whereabouts.
Again they motioned us to advance, standing so packed about the door that there remained but the one straight path open. All around us and behind they were massed solidly—there was simply nothing to do but go forward—or fight.
We held a consultation.
“I never fought with women in my life,” said Terry, greatly perturbed, “but I’m not going in there. I’m not going to be—herded in—as if we were in a cattle chute.”
“We can’t fight them, of course,” Jeff urged. “They’re all women, in spite of their nondescript clothes; nice women, too; good strong sensible faces. I guess we’ll have to go in.”
“We may never get out, if we do,” I told them. “Strong and sensible, yes; but I’m not so sure about the good. Look at those faces!”
They had stood at ease, waiting while we conferred together, but never relaxing their close attention.
Their attitude was not the rigid discipline of soldiers; there was no sense of compulsion about them. Terry’s term of a “vigilance committee” was highly descriptive. They had just the aspect of sturdy burghers, gathered hastily to meet some common need or peril, all moved by precisely the same feelings, to the same end.
Never, anywhere before, had I seen women of precisely this quality. Fishwives and market women might show similar strength, but it was coarse and heavy. These were merely athletic—light and powerful. College professors, teachers, writers—many women showed similar intelligence but often wore a strained nervous look, while these were as calm as cows, for all their evident intellect.
We observed pretty closely just then, for all of us felt that it was a crucial moment.
The leader gave some word of command and beckoned us on, and the surrounding mass moved a step nearer.
“We’ve got to decide quick,” said Terry.
“I vote to go in,” Jeff urged. But we were two to one against him and he loyally stood by us. We made one more effort to be let go, urgent, but not imploring. In vain.
“Now for a rush, boys!” Terry said. “And if we can’t break ’em, I’ll shoot in the air.”
Then we found ourselves much in the position of the suffragette trying to get to the Parliament buildings through a triple cordon of London police.
The solidity of those women was something amazing. Terry soon found that it was useless, tore himself loose for a moment, pulled his revolver, and fired upward. As they caught at it, he fired again—we heard a cry—.
Instantly each of us was seized by five women, each holding arm or leg or head; we were lifted like children, straddling helpless children, and borne onward, wriggling indeed, but most ineffectually.
We were borne inside, struggling manfully, but held secure most womanfully, in spite of our best endeavors.
So carried and so held, we came into a high inner hall, gray and bare, and were brought before a majestic gray-haired woman who seemed to hold a judicial position.
There was some talk, not much, among them, and then suddenly there fell upon each of us at once a firm hand holding a wetted cloth before mouth and nose—an odor of swimming sweetness—anesthesia.
From a slumber as deep as death, as refreshing as that of a healthy child, I slowly awakened.
It was like rising up, up, up through a deep warm ocean, nearer and nearer to full light and stirring air. Or like the return to consciousness after concussion of the brain. I was once thrown from a horse while on a visit to a wild mountainous country quite new to me, and I can clearly remember the mental experience of coming back to life, through lifting veils of dream. When I first dimly heard the voices of those about me, and saw the shining snowpeaks of that mighty range, I assumed that this too would pass, and I should presently find myself in my own home.
That was precisely the experience of this awakening: receding waves of half-caught swirling vision, memories of home, the steamer, the boat, the airship, the forest—at last all sinking away one after another, till my eyes were wide open, my brain clear, and I realized what had happened.
The most prominent sensation was of absolute physical comfort. I was lying in a perfect bed: long, broad, smooth; firmly soft and level; with the finest linen, some warm light quilt of blanket, and a counterpane that was a joy to the eye. The sheet turned down some fifteen inches, yet I could stretch my feet at the foot of the bed free but warmly covered.
I felt as light and clean as a white feather. It took me some time to conscientiously locate my arms and legs, to feel the vivid sense of life radiate from the wakening center to the extremities.
A big room, high and wide, with many lofty windows whose closed blinds let through soft green-lit air; a beautiful room, in proportion, in color, in smooth simplicity; a scent of blossoming gardens outside.
I lay perfectly still, quite happy, quite conscious, and yet not actively realizing what had happened till I heard Terry.
“Gosh!” was what he said.
I turned my head. There were three beds in this chamber, and plenty of room for them.
Terry was sitting up, looking about him, alert as ever. His remark, though not loud, roused Jeff also. We all sat up.
Terry swung his legs out of bed, stood up, stretched himself mightily. He was in a long nightrobe, a sort of seamless garment, undoubtedly comfortable—we all found ourselves so covered. Shoes were beside each bed, also quite comfortable and good-looking though by no means like our own.
We looked for our clothes—they were not there, nor anything of all the varied contents of our pockets.
A door stood somewhat ajar; it opened into a most attractive bathroom, copiously provided with towels, soap, mirrors, and all such convenient comforts, with indeed our toothbrushes and combs, our notebooks, and thank goodness, our watches—but no clothes.
Then we made a search of the big room again and found a large airy closet, holding plenty of clothing, but not ours.
“A council of war!” demanded Terry. “Come on back to bed—the bed’s all right anyhow. Now then, my scientific friend, let us consider our case dispassionately.”
He meant me, but Jeff seemed most impressed.
“They haven’t hurt us in the least!” he said. “They could have killed us—or—or anything—and I never felt better in my life.”
“That argues that they are all women,” I suggested, “and highly civilized. You know you hit one in the last scrimmage—I heard her sing out—and we kicked awfully.”
Terry was grinning at us. “So you realize what these ladies have done to us?” he pleasantly inquired. “They have taken away all our possessions, all our clothes—every stitch. We have been stripped and washed and put to bed like so many yearling babies—by these highly civilized women.”
Jeff actually blushed. He had a poetic imagination. Terry had imagination enough, of a different kind. So had I, also different. I always flattered myself I had the scientific imagination, which, incidentally, I considered the highest sort. One has a right to a certain amount of egotism if founded on fact—and kept to one’s self—I think.
“No use kicking, boys,” I said. “They’ve got us, and apparently they’re perfectly harmless. It remains for us to cook up some plan of escape like any other bottled heroes. Meanwhile we’ve got to put on these clothes—Hobson’s choice.”
The garments were simple in the extreme, and absolutely comfortable, physically, though of course we all felt like supes in the theater. There was a one-piece cotton undergarment, thin and soft, that reached over the knees and shoulders, something like the one-piece pajamas some fellows wear, and a kind of half-hose, that came up to just under the knee and stayed there—had elastic tops of their own, and covered the edges of the first.
Then there was a thicker variety of union suit, a lot of them in the closet, of varying weights and somewhat sturdier material—evidently they would do at a pinch with nothing further. Then there were tunics, knee-length, and some long robes. Needless to say, we took tunics.
We bathed and dressed quite cheerfully.
“Not half bad,” said Terry, surveying himself in a long mirror. His hair was somewhat longer than when we left the last barber, and the hats provided were much like those seen on the prince in the fairy tale, lacking the plume.
The costume was similar to that which we had seen on all the women, though some of them, those working in the fields, glimpsed by our glasses when we first flew over, wore only the first two.
I settled my shoulders and stretched my arms, remarking: “They have worked out a mighty sensible dress, I’ll say that for them.” With which we all agreed.
“Now then,” Terry proclaimed, “we’ve had a fine long sleep—we’ve had a good bath—we’re clothed and in our right minds, though feeling like a lot of neuters. Do you think these highly civilized ladies are going to give us any breakfast?”
“Of course they will,” Jeff asserted confidently. “If they had meant to kill us, they would have done it before. I believe we are going to be treated as guests.”
“Hailed as deliverers, I think,” said Terry.
“Studied as curiosities,” I told them. “But anyhow, we want food. So now for a sortie!”
A sortie was not so easy.
The bathroom only opened into our chamber, and that had but one outlet, a big heavy door, which was fastened.
“There’s someone outside,” Jeff suggested. “Let’s knock.”
So we knocked, whereupon the door opened.
Outside was another large room, furnished with a great table at one end, long benches or couches against the wall, some smaller tables and chairs. All these were solid, strong, simple in structure, and comfortable in use—also, incidentally, beautiful.
This room was occupied by a number of women, eighteen to be exact, some of whom we distinctly recalled.
Terry heaved a disappointed sigh. “The Colonels!” I heard him whisper to Jeff.
Jeff, however, advanced and bowed in his best manner; so did we all, and we were saluted civilly by the tall-standing women.
We had no need to make pathetic pantomime of hunger; the smaller tables were already laid with food, and we were gravely invited to be seated. The tables were set for two; each of us found ourselves placed vis-à-vis with one of our hosts, and each table had five other stalwarts nearby, unobtrusively watching. We had plenty of time to get tired of those women!
The breakfast was not profuse, but sufficient in amount and excellent in quality. We were all too good travelers to object to novelty, and this repast with its new but delicious fruit, its dish of large rich-flavored nuts, and its highly satisfactory little cakes was most agreeable. There was water to drink, and a hot beverage of a most pleasing quality, some preparation like cocoa.
And then and there, willy-nilly, before we had satisfied our appetites, our education began.
By each of our plates lay a little book, a real printed book, though different from ours both in paper and binding, as well, of course, as in type. We examined them curiously.
“Shades of Sauveur!” muttered Terry. “We’re to learn the language!”
We were indeed to learn the language, and not only that, but to teach our own. There were blank books with parallel columns, neatly ruled, evidently prepared for the occasion, and in these, as fast as we learned and wrote down the name of anything, we were urged to write our own name for it by its side.
The book we had to study was evidently a schoolbook, one in which children learned to read, and we judged from this, and from their frequent consultation as to methods, that they had had no previous experience in the art of teaching foreigners their language, or of learning any other.
On the other hand, what they lacked in experience, they made up for in genius. Such subtle understanding, such instant recognition of our difficulties, and readiness to meet them, were a constant surprise to us.
Of course, we were willing to meet them halfway. It was wholly to our advantage to be able to understand and speak with them, and as to refusing to teach them—why should we? Later on we did try open rebellion, but only once.
That first meal was pleasant enough, each of us quietly studying his companion, Jeff with sincere admiration, Terry with that highly technical look of his, as of a past master—like a lion tamer, a serpent charmer, or some such professional. I myself was intensely interested.
It was evident that those sets of five were there to check any outbreak on our part. We had no weapons, and if we did try to do any damage, with a chair, say, why five to one was too many for us, even if they were women; that we had found out to our sorrow. It was not pleasant, having them always around, but we soon got used to it.
“It’s better than being physically restrained ourselves,” Jeff philosophically suggested when we were alone. “They’ve given us a room—with no great possibility of escape—and personal liberty—heavily chaperoned. It’s better than we’d have been likely to get in a man-country.”
“Man-Country! Do you really believe there are no men here, you innocent? Don’t you know there must be?” demanded Terry.
“Ye—es,” Jeff agreed. “Of course—and yet—”
“And yet—what! Come, you obdurate sentimentalist—what are you thinking about?”
“They may have some peculiar division of labor we’ve never heard of,” I suggested. “The men may live in separate towns, or they may have subdued them—somehow—and keep them shut up. But there must be some.”
“That last suggestion of yours is a nice one, Van,” Terry protested. “Same as they’ve got us subdued and shut up! You make me shiver.”
“Well, figure it out for yourself, anyway you please. We saw plenty of kids, the first day, and we’ve seen those girls—”
“Real girls!” Terry agreed, in immense relief. “Glad you mentioned ’em. I declare, if I thought there was nothing in the country but those grenadiers I’d jump out the window.”
“Speaking of windows,” I suggested, “let’s examine ours.”
We looked out of all the windows. The blinds opened easily enough, and there were no bars, but the prospect was not reassuring.
This was not the pink-walled town we had so rashly entered the day before. Our chamber was high up, in a projecting wing of a sort of castle, built out on a steep spur of rock. Immediately below us were gardens, fruitful and fragrant, but their high walls followed the edge of the cliff which dropped sheer down, we could not see how far. The distant sound of water suggested a river at the foot.
We could look out east, west, and south. To the southeastward stretched the open country, lying bright and fair in the morning light, but on either side, and evidently behind, rose great mountains.
“This thing is a regular fortress—and no women built it, I can tell you that,” said Terry. We nodded agreeingly. “It’s right up among the hills—they must have brought us a long way.”
“And pretty fast, too,” I added.
“We saw some kind of swift-moving vehicles the first day,” Jeff reminded us. “If they’ve got motors, they are civilized.”
“Civilized or not, we’ve got our work cut out for us to get away from here. I don’t propose to make a rope of bedclothes and try those walls till I’m sure there is no better way.”
We all concurred on this point, and returned to our discussion as to the women.
Jeff continued thoughtful. “All the same, there’s something funny about it,” he urged. “It isn’t just that we don’t see any men—but we don’t see any signs of them. The—the—reaction of these women is different from any that I’ve ever met.”
“There is something in what you say, Jeff,” I agreed. “There is a different—atmosphere.”
“They don’t seem to notice our being men,” he went on. “They treat us—well—just as they do one another. It’s as if our being men was a minor incident.”
I nodded. I’d noticed it myself. But Terry broke in rudely.
“Fiddlesticks!” he said. “It’s because of their advanced age. They’re all grandmas, I tell you—or ought to be. Great aunts, anyhow. Those girls were girls all right, weren’t they?”
“Yes—” Jeff agreed, still slowly. “But they weren’t afraid—they flew up that tree and hid, like schoolboys caught out of bounds—not like shy girls.”
“And they ran like marathon winners—you’ll admit that, Terry,” he added.
Terry was moody as the days passed. He seemed to mind our confinement more than Jeff or I did; and he harped on Alima, and how near he’d come to catching her. “If I had—” he would say, rather savagely, “we’d have had a hostage and could have made terms.”
But Jeff was getting on excellent terms with his tutor, and even his guards, and so was I. It interested me profoundly to note and study the subtle difference between these women and other women, and try to account for them. In the matter of personal appearance, there was a great difference. They all wore short hair, some few inches at most; some curly, some not; all light and clean and fresh-looking.
“If their hair was only long,” Jeff would complain, “they would look so much more feminine.”
I rather liked it myself, after I got used to it. Why we should so admire “a woman’s crown of hair” and not admire a Chinaman’s queue is hard to explain, except that we are so convinced that the long hair “belongs” to a woman. Whereas the “mane” in horses is on both, and in lions, buffalos, and such creatures only on the male. But I did miss it—at first.
Our time was quite pleasantly filled. We were free of the garden below our windows, quite long in its irregular rambling shape, bordering the cliff. The walls were perfectly smooth and high, ending in the masonry of the building; and as I studied the great stones I became convinced that the whole structure was extremely old. It was built like the pre-Incan architecture in Peru, of enormous monoliths, fitted as closely as mosaics.
“These folks have a history, that’s sure,” I told the others. “And some time they were fighters—else why a fortress?”
I said we were free of the garden, but not wholly alone in it. There was always a string of those uncomfortably strong women sitting about, always one of them watching us even if the others were reading, playing games, or busy at some kind of handiwork.
“When I see them knit,” Terry said, “I can almost call them feminine.”
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Jeff promptly replied. “Scotch shepherds knit—always knitting.”
“When we get out—” Terry stretched himself and looked at the far peaks, “when we get out of this and get to where the real women are—the mothers, and the girls—”
“Well, what’ll we do then?” I asked, rather gloomily. “How do you know we’ll ever get out?”
This was an unpleasant idea, which we unanimously considered, returning with earnestness to our studies.
“If we are good boys and learn our lessons well,” I suggested. “If we are quiet and respectful and polite and they are not afraid of us—then perhaps they will let us out. And anyway—when we do escape, it is of immense importance that we know the language.”
Personally, I was tremendously interested in that language, and seeing they had books, was eager to get at them, to dig into their history, if they had one.
It was not hard to speak, smooth and pleasant to the ear, and so easy to read and write that I marveled at it. They had an absolutely phonetic system, the whole thing was as scientific as Esperanto yet bore all the marks of an old and rich civilization.
We were free to study as much as we wished, and were not left merely to wander in the garden for recreation but introduced to a great gymnasium, partly on the roof and partly in the story below. Here we learned real respect for our tall guards. No change of costume was needed for this work, save to lay off outer clothing. The first one was as perfect a garment for exercise as need be devised, absolutely free to move in, and, I had to admit, much better-looking than our usual one.
“Forty—over forty—some of ’em fifty, I bet—and look at ’em!” grumbled Terry in reluctant admiration.
There were no spectacular acrobatics, such as only the young can perform, but for all-around development they had a most excellent system. A good deal of music went with it, with posture dancing and, sometimes, gravely beautiful processional performances.
Jeff was much impressed by it. We did not know then how small a part of their physical culture methods this really was, but found it agreeable to watch, and to take part in.
Oh yes, we took part all right! It wasn’t absolutely compulsory, but we thought it better to please.
Terry was the strongest of us, though I was wiry and had good staying power, and Jeff was a great sprinter and hurdler, but I can tell you those old ladies gave us cards and spades. They ran like deer, by which I mean that they ran not as if it was a performance, but as if it was their natural gait. We remembered those fleeting girls of our first bright adventure, and concluded that it was.
They leaped like deer, too, with a quick folding motion of the legs, drawn up and turned to one side with a sidelong twist of the body. I remembered the sprawling spread-eagle way in which some of the fellows used to come over the line—and tried to learn the trick. We did not easily catch up with these experts, however.
“Never thought I’d live to be bossed by a lot of elderly lady acrobats,” Terry protested.
They had games, too, a good many of them, but we found them rather uninteresting at first. It was like two people playing solitaire to see who would get it first; more like a race or a—a competitive examination, than a real game with some fight in it.
I philosophized a bit over this and told Terry it argued against their having any men about. “There isn’t a man-size game in the lot,” I said.
“But they are interesting—I like them,” Jeff objected, “and I’m sure they are educational.”
“I’m sick and tired of being educated,” Terry protested. “Fancy going to a dame school—at our age. I want to Get Out!”
But we could not get out, and we were being educated swiftly. Our special tutors rose rapidly in our esteem. They seemed of rather finer quality than the guards, though all were on terms of easy friendliness. Mine was named Somel, Jeff’s Zava, and Terry’s Moadine. We tried to generalize from the names, those of the guards, and of our three girls, but got nowhere.
“They sound well enough, and they’re mostly short, but there’s no similarity of termination—and no two alike. However, our acquaintance is limited as yet.”
There were many things we meant to ask—as soon as we could talk well enough. Better teaching I never saw. From morning to night there was Somel, always on call except between two and four; always pleasant with a steady friendly kindness that I grew to enjoy very much. Jeff said Miss Zava—he would put on a title, though they apparently had none—was a darling, that she reminded him of his Aunt Esther at home; but Terry refused to be won, and rather jeered at his own companion, when we were alone.
“I’m sick of it!” he protested. “Sick of the whole thing. Here we are cooped up as helpless as a bunch of three-year-old orphans, and being taught what they think is necessary—whether we like it or not. Confound their old-maid impudence!”
Nevertheless we were taught. They brought in a raised map of their country, beautifully made, and increased our knowledge of geographical terms; but when we inquired for information as to the country outside, they smilingly shook their heads.
They brought pictures, not only the engravings in the books but colored studies of plants and trees and flowers and birds. They brought tools and various small objects—we had plenty of “material” in our school.
If it had not been for Terry we would have been much more contented, but as the weeks ran into months he grew more and more irritable.
“Don’t act like a bear with a sore head,” I begged him. “We’re getting on finely. Every day we can understand them better, and pretty soon we can make a reasonable plea to be let out—”
“Let out!” he stormed. “Let out—like children kept after school. I want to Get Out, and I’m going to. I want to find the men of this place and fight!—or the girls—”
“Guess it’s the girls you’re most interested in,” Jeff commented. “What are you going to fight with—your fists?”
“Yes—or sticks and stones—I’d just like to!” And Terry squared off and tapped Jeff softly on the jaw. “Just for instance,” he said.
“Anyhow,” he went on, “we could get back to our machine and clear out.”
“If it’s there,” I cautiously suggested.
“Oh, don’t croak, Van! If it isn’t there, we’ll find our way down somehow—the boat’s there, I guess.”
It was hard on Terry, so hard that he finally persuaded us to consider a plan of escape. It was difficult, it was highly dangerous, but he declared that he’d go alone if we wouldn’t go with him, and of course we couldn’t think of that.
It appeared he had made a pretty careful study of the environment. From our end window that faced the point of the promontory we could get a fair idea of the stretch of wall, and the drop below. Also from the roof we could make out more, and even, in one place, glimpse a sort of path below the wall.
“It’s a question of three things,” he said. “Ropes, agility, and not being seen.”
“That’s the hardest part,” I urged, still hoping to dissuade him. “One or another pair of eyes is on us every minute except at night.”
“Therefore we must do it at night,” he answered. “That’s easy.”
“We’ve got to think that if they catch us we may not be so well treated afterward,” said Jeff.
“That’s the business risk we must take. I’m going—if I break my neck.” There was no changing him.
The rope problem was not easy. Something strong enough to hold a man and long enough to let us down into the garden, and then down over the wall. There were plenty of strong ropes in the gymnasium—they seemed to love to swing and climb on them—but we were never there by ourselves.
We should have to piece it out from our bedding, rugs, and garments, and moreover, we should have to do it after we were shut in for the night, for every day the place was cleaned to perfection by two of our guardians.
We had no shears, no knives, but Terry was resourceful. “These Jennies have glass and china, you see. We’ll break a glass from the bathroom and use that. ‘Love will find out a way,’ ” he hummed. “When we’re all out of the window, we’ll stand three-man high and cut the rope as far up as we can reach, so as to have more for the wall. I know just where I saw that bit of path below, and there’s a big tree there, too, or a vine or something—I saw the leaves.”
It seemed a crazy risk to take, but this was, in a way, Terry’s expedition, and we were all tired of our imprisonment.
So we waited for full moon, retired early, and spent an anxious hour or two in the unskilled manufacture of man-strong ropes.
To retire into the depths of the closet, muffle a glass in thick cloth, and break it without noise was not difficult, and broken glass will cut, though not as deftly as a pair of scissors.
The broad moonlight streamed in through four of our windows—we had not dared leave our lights on too long—and we worked hard and fast at our task of destruction.
Hangings, rugs, robes, towels, as well as bed-furniture—even the mattress covers—we left not one stitch upon another, as Jeff put it.
Then at an end window, as less liable to observation, we fastened one end of our cable, strongly, to the firm-set hinge of the inner blind, and dropped our coiled bundle of rope softly over.
“This part’s easy enough—I’ll come last, so as to cut the rope,” said Terry.
So I slipped down first, and stood, well braced against the wall; then Jeff on my shoulders, then Terry, who shook us a little as he sawed through the cord above his head. Then I slowly dropped to the ground, Jeff following, and at last we all three stood safe in the garden, with most of our rope with us.
“Goodbye, Grandma!” whispered Terry, under his breath, and we crept softly toward the wall, taking advantage of the shadow of every bush and tree. He had been foresighted enough to mark the very spot, only a scratch of stone on stone, but we could see to read in that light. For anchorage there was a tough, fair-sized shrub close to the wall.
“Now I’ll climb up on you two again and go over first,” said Terry. “That’ll hold the rope firm till you both get up on top. Then I’ll go down to the end. If I can get off safely, you can see me and follow—or, say, I’ll twitch it three times. If I find there’s absolutely no footing—why I’ll climb up again, that’s all. I don’t think they’ll kill us.”
From the top he reconnoitered carefully, waved his hand, and whispered, “OK,” then slipped over. Jeff climbed up and I followed, and we rather shivered to see how far down that swaying, wavering figure dropped, hand under hand, till it disappeared in a mass of foliage far below.
Then there were three quick pulls, and Jeff and I, not without a joyous sense of recovered freedom, successfully followed our leader.
We were standing on a narrow, irregular, all too slanting little ledge, and should doubtless have ignominiously slipped off and broken our rash necks but for the vine. This was a thick-leaved, wide-spreading thing, a little like Amphelopsis.
“It’s not quite vertical here, you see,” said Terry, full of pride and enthusiasm. “This thing never would hold our direct weight, but I think if we sort of slide down on it, one at a time, sticking in with hands and feet, we’ll reach that next ledge alive.”
“As we do not wish to get up our rope again—and can’t comfortably stay here—I approve,” said Jeff solemnly.
Terry slid down first—said he’d show us how a Christian meets his death. Luck was with us. We had put on the thickest of those intermediate suits, leaving our tunics behind, and made this scramble quite successfully, though I got a pretty heavy fall just at the end, and was only kept on the second ledge by main force. The next stage was down a sort of “chimney”—a long irregular fissure; and so with scratches many and painful and bruises not a few, we finally reached the stream.
It was darker there, but we felt it highly necessary to put as much distance as possible behind us; so we waded, jumped, and clambered down that rocky riverbed, in the flickering black and white moonlight and leaf shadow, till growing daylight forced a halt.
We found a friendly nut-tree, those large, satisfying, soft-shelled nuts we already knew so well, and filled our pockets.
I see that I have not remarked that these women had pockets in surprising number and variety. They were in all their garments, and the middle one in particular was shingled with them. So we stocked up with nuts till we bulged like Prussian privates in marching order, drank all we could hold, and retired for the day.
It was not a very comfortable place, not at all easy to get at, just a sort of crevice high up along the steep bank, but it was well veiled with foliage and dry. After our exhaustive three- or four-hour scramble and the good breakfast food, we all lay down along that crack—heads and tails, as it were—and slept till the afternoon sun almost toasted our faces.
Terry poked a tentative foot against my head.
“How are you, Van? Alive yet?”
“Very much so,” I told him. And Jeff was equally cheerful.
We had room to stretch, if not to turn around; but we could very carefully roll over, one at a time, behind the sheltering foliage.
It was no use to leave there by daylight. We could not see much of the country, but enough to know that we were now at the beginning of the cultivated area, and no doubt there would be an alarm sent out far and wide.
Terry chuckled softly to himself, lying there on that hot narrow little rim of rock. He dilated on the discomfiture of our guards and tutors, making many discourteous remarks.
I reminded him that we had still a long way to go before getting to the place where we’d left our machine, and no probability of finding it there; but he only kicked me, mildly, for a croaker.
“If you can’t boost, don’t knock,” he protested. “I never said ’twould be a picnic. But I’d run away in the Antarctic ice fields rather than be a prisoner.”
We soon dozed off again.
The long rest and penetrating dry heat were good for us, and that night we covered a considerable distance, keeping always in the rough forested belt of land which we knew bordered the whole country. Sometimes we were near the outer edge, and caught sudden glimpses of the tremendous depths beyond.
“This piece of geography stands up like a basalt column,” Jeff said. “Nice time we’ll have getting down if they have confiscated our machine!” For which suggestion he received summary chastisement.
What we could see inland was peaceable enough, but only moonlit glimpses; by daylight we lay very close. As Terry said, we did not wish to kill the old ladies—even if we could; and short of that they were perfectly competent to pick us up bodily and carry us back, if discovered. There was nothing for it but to lie low, and sneak out unseen if we could do it.
There wasn’t much talking done. At night we had our marathon-obstacle race; we “stayed not for brake and we stopped not for stone,” and swam whatever water was too deep to wade and could not be got around; but that was only necessary twice. By day, sleep, sound and sweet. Mighty lucky it was that we could live off the country as we did. Even that margin of forest seemed rich in foodstuffs.
But Jeff thoughtfully suggested that that very thing showed how careful we should have to be, as we might run into some stalwart group of gardeners or foresters or nut-gatherers at any minute. Careful we were, feeling pretty sure that if we did not make good this time we were not likely to have another opportunity; and at last we reached a point from which we could see, far below, the broad stretch of that still lake from which we had made our ascent.
“That looks pretty good to me!” said Terry, gazing down at it. “Now, if we can’t find the plane, we know where to aim if we have to drop over this wall some other way.”
The wall at that point was singularly uninviting. It rose so straight that we had to put our heads over to see the base, and the country below seemed to be a far-off marshy tangle of rank vegetation. We did not have to risk our necks to that extent, however, for at last, stealing along among the rocks and trees like so many creeping savages, we came to that flat space where we had landed; and there, in unbelievable good fortune, we found our machine.
“Covered, too, by jingo! Would you think they had that much sense?” cried Terry.
“If they had that much, they’re likely to have more,” I warned him, softly. “Bet you the thing’s watched.”
We reconnoitered as widely as we could in the failing moonlight—moons are of a painfully unreliable nature; but the growing dawn showed us the familiar shape, shrouded in some heavy cloth like canvas, and no slightest sign of any watchman near. We decided to make a quick dash as soon as the light was strong enough for accurate work.
“I don’t care if the old thing’ll go or not,” Terry declared. “We can run her to the edge, get aboard, and just plane down—plop!—beside our boat there. Look there—see the boat!”
Sure enough—there was our motor, lying like a gray cocoon on the flat pale sheet of water.
Quietly but swiftly we rushed forward and began to tug at the fastenings of that cover.
“Confound the thing!” Terry cried in desperate impatience. “They’ve got it sewed up in a bag! And we’ve not a knife among us!”
Then, as we tugged and pulled at that tough cloth we heard a sound that made Terry lift his head like a war horse—the sound of an unmistakable giggle; yes—three giggles.
There they were—Celis, Alima, Ellador—looking just as they had when we first saw them, standing a little way off from us, as interested, as mischievous as three schoolboys.
“Hold on, Terry—hold on!” I warned. “That’s too easy. Look out for a trap.”
“Let us appeal to their kind hearts,” Jeff urged. “I think they will help us. Perhaps they’ve got knives.”
“It’s no use rushing them, anyhow,” I was absolutely holding on to Terry. “We know they can outrun and out-climb us.”
He reluctantly admitted this; and after a brief parley among ourselves, we all advanced slowly toward them, holding out our hands in token of friendliness.
They stood their ground till we had come fairly near, and then indicated that we should stop. To make sure, we advanced a step or two and they promptly and swiftly withdrew. So we stopped at the distance specified. Then we used their language, as far as we were able, to explain our plight, telling how we were imprisoned, how we had escaped—a good deal of pantomime here and vivid interest on their part—how we had traveled by night and hidden by day, living on nuts—and here Terry pretended great hunger.
I know he could not have been hungry; we had found plenty to eat and had not been sparing in helping ourselves. But they seemed somewhat impressed; and after a murmured consultation they produced from their pockets certain little packages, and with the utmost ease and accuracy tossed them into our hands.
Jeff was most appreciative of this; and Terry made extravagant gestures of admiration, which seemed to set them off, boy-fashion, to show their skill. While we ate the excellent biscuits they had thrown us, and while Ellador kept a watchful eye on our movements, Celis ran off to some distance, and set up a sort of “duck-on-a-rock” arrangement, a big yellow nut on top of three balanced sticks; Alima, meanwhile, gathering stones.
They urged us to throw at it, and we did, but the thing was a long way off, and it was only after a number of failures, at which those elvish damsels laughed delightedly, that Jeff succeeded in bringing the whole structure to the ground. It took me still longer, and Terry, to his intense annoyance, came third.
Then Celis set up the little tripod again, and looked back at us, knocking it down, pointing at it, and shaking her short curls severely. “No,” she said. “Bad—wrong!” We were quite able to follow her.
Then she set it up once more, put the fat nut on top, and returned to the others; and there those aggravating girls sat and took turns throwing little stones at that thing, while one stayed by as a setter-up; and they just popped that nut off, two times out of three, without upsetting the sticks. Pleased as Punch they were, too, and we pretended to be, but weren’t.
We got very friendly over this game, but I told Terry we’d be sorry if we didn’t get off while we could, and then we begged for knives. It was easy to show what we wanted to do, and they each proudly produced a sort of strong clasp-knife from their pockets.
“Yes,” we said eagerly, “that’s it! Please—” We had learned quite a bit of their language, you see. And we just begged for those knives, but they would not give them to us. If we came a step too near they backed off, standing light and eager for flight.
“It’s no sort of use,” I said. “Come on—let’s get a sharp stone or something—we must get this thing off.”
So we hunted about and found what edged fragments we could, and hacked away, but it was like trying to cut sailcloth with a clamshell.
Terry hacked and dug, but said to us under his breath. “Boys, we’re in pretty good condition—let’s make a life and death dash and get hold of those girls—we’ve got to.”
They had drawn rather nearer to watch our efforts, and we did take them rather by surprise; also, as Terry said, our recent training had strengthened us in wind and limb, and for a few desperate moments those girls were scared and we almost triumphant.
But just as we stretched out our hands, the distance between us widened; they had got their pace apparently, and then, though we ran at our utmost speed, and much farther than I thought wise, they kept just out of reach all the time.
We stopped breathless, at last, at my repeated admonitions.
“This is stark foolishness,” I urged. “They are doing it on purpose—come back or you’ll be sorry.”
We went back, much slower than we came, and in truth we were sorry.
As we reached our swaddled machine, and sought again to tear loose its covering, there rose up from all around the sturdy forms, the quiet determined faces we knew so well.
“Oh Lord!” groaned Terry. “The Colonels! It’s all up—they’re forty to one.”
It was no use to fight. These women evidently relied on numbers, not so much as a drilled force but as a multitude actuated by a common impulse. They showed no sign of fear, and since we had no weapons whatever and there were at least a hundred of them, standing ten deep about us, we gave in as gracefully as we might.
Of course we looked for punishment—a closer imprisonment, solitary confinement maybe—but nothing of the kind happened. They treated us as truants only, and as if they quite understood our truancy.
Back we went, not under an anesthetic this time but skimming along in electric motors enough like ours to be quite recognizable, each of us in a separate vehicle with one able-bodied lady on either side and three facing him.
They were all pleasant enough, and talked to us as much as was possible with our limited powers. And though Terry was keenly mortified, and at first we all rather dreaded harsh treatment, I for one soon began to feel a sort of pleasant confidence and to enjoy the trip.
Here were my five familiar companions, all good-natured as could be, seeming to have no worse feeling than a mild triumph as of winning some simple game; and even that they politely suppressed.
This was a good opportunity to see the country, too, and the more I saw of it, the better I liked it. We went too swiftly for close observation, but I could appreciate perfect roads, as dustless as a swept floor; the shade of endless lines of trees; the ribbon of flowers that unrolled beneath them; and the rich comfortable country that stretched off and away, full of varied charm.
We rolled through many villages and towns, and I soon saw that the parklike beauty of our first-seen city was no exception. Our swift high-sweeping view from the plane had been most attractive, but lacked detail; and in that first day of struggle and capture, we noticed little. But now we were swept along at an easy rate of some thirty miles an hour and covered quite a good deal of ground.
We stopped for lunch in quite a sizable town, and here, rolling slowly through the streets, we saw more of the population. They had come out to look at us everywhere we had passed, but here were more; and when we went in to eat, in a big garden place with little shaded tables among the trees and flowers, many eyes were upon us. And everywhere, open country, village, or city—only women. Old women and young women and a great majority who seemed neither young nor old, but just women; young girls, also, though these, and the children, seeming to be in groups by themselves generally, were less in evidence. We caught many glimpses of girls and children in what seemed to be schools or in playgrounds, and so far as we could judge there were no boys. We all looked, carefully. Everyone gazed at us politely, kindly, and with eager interest. No one was impertinent. We could catch quite a bit of the talk now, and all they said seemed pleasant enough.
Well—before nightfall we were all safely back in our big room. The damage we had done was quite ignored; the beds as smooth and comfortable as before, new clothing and towels supplied. The only thing those women did was to illuminate the gardens at night, and to set an extra watch. But they called us to account next day. Our three tutors, who had not joined in the recapturing expedition, had been quite busy in preparing for us, and now made explanation.
They knew well we would make for our machine, and also that there was no other way of getting down—alive. So our flight had troubled no one; all they did was to call the inhabitants to keep an eye on our movements all along the edge of the forest between the two points. It appeared that many of those nights we had been seen, by careful ladies sitting snugly in big trees by the riverbed, or up among the rocks.
Terry looked immensely disgusted, but it struck me as extremely funny. Here we had been risking our lives, hiding and prowling like outlaws, living on nuts and fruit, getting wet and cold at night, and dry and hot by day, and all the while these estimable women had just been waiting for us to come out.
Now they began to explain, carefully using such words as we could understand. It appeared that we were considered as guests of the country—sort of public wards. Our first violence had made it necessary to keep us safeguarded for a while, but as soon as we learned the language—and would agree to do no harm—they would show us all about the land.
Jeff was eager to reassure them. Of course he did not tell on Terry, but he made it clear that he was ashamed of himself, and that he would now conform. As to the language—we all fell upon it with redoubled energy. They brought us books, in greater numbers, and I began to study them seriously.
“Pretty punk literature,” Terry burst forth one day, when we were in the privacy of our own room. “Of course one expects to begin on child-stories, but I would like something more interesting now.”
“Can’t expect stirring romance and wild adventure without men, can you?” I asked. Nothing irritated Terry more than to have us assume that there were no men; but there were no signs of them in the books they gave us, or the pictures.
“Shut up!” he growled. “What infernal nonsense you talk! I’m going to ask ’em outright—we know enough now.”
In truth we had been using our best efforts to master the language, and were able to read fluently and to discuss what we read with considerable ease.
That afternoon we were all sitting together on the roof—we three and the tutors gathered about a table, no guards about. We had been made to understand some time earlier that if we would agree to do no violence they would withdraw their constant attendance, and we promised most willingly.
So there we sat, at ease; all in similar dress; our hair, by now, as long as theirs, only our beards to distinguish us. We did not want those beards, but had so far been unable to induce them to give us any cutting instruments.
“Ladies,” Terry began, out of a clear sky, as it were, “are there no men in this country?”
“Men?” Somel answered. “Like you?”
“Yes, men,” Terry indicated his beard, and threw back his broad shoulders. “Men, real men.”
“No,” she answered quietly. “There are no men in this country. There has not been a man among us for two thousand years.”
Her look was clear and truthful and she did not advance this astonishing statement as if it was astonishing, but quite as a matter of fact.
“But—the people—the children,” he protested, not believing her in the least, but not wishing to say so.
“Oh yes,” she smiled. “I do not wonder you are puzzled. We are mothers—all of us—but there are no fathers. We thought you would ask about that long ago—why have you not?” Her look was as frankly kind as always, her tone quite simple.
Terry explained that we had not felt sufficiently used to the language, making rather a mess of it, I thought, but Jeff was franker.
“Will you excuse us all,” he said, “if we admit that we find it hard to believe? There is no such—possibility—in the rest of the world.”
“Have you no kind of life where it is possible?” asked Zava.
“Why, yes—some low forms, of course.”
“How low—or how high, rather?”
“Well—there are some rather high forms of insect life in which it occurs. Parthenogenesis, we call it—that means virgin birth.”
She could not follow him.
“ ‘Birth,’ we know, of course; but what is ‘virgin’?”
Terry looked uncomfortable, but Jeff met the question quite calmly. “Among mating animals, the term ‘virgin’ is applied to the female who has not mated,” he answered.
“Oh, I see. And does it apply to the male also? Or is there a different term for him?”
He passed this over rather hurriedly, saying that the same term would apply, but was seldom used.
“No?” she said. “But one cannot mate without the other surely. Is not each then—virgin—before mating? And, tell me, have you any forms of life in which there is birth from a father only?”
“I know of none,” he answered, and I inquired seriously.
“You ask us to believe that for two thousand years there have been only women here, and only girl babies born?”
“Exactly,” answered Somel, nodding gravely. “Of course we know that among other animals it is not so, that there are fathers as well as mothers; and we see that you are fathers, that you come from a people who are of both kinds. We have been waiting, you see, for you to be able to speak freely with us, and teach us about your country and the rest of the world. You know so much, you see, and we know only our own land.”
In the course of our previous studies we had been at some pains to tell them about the big world outside, to draw sketches, maps, to make a globe, even, out of a spherical fruit, and show the size and relation of the countries, and to tell of the numbers of their people. All this had been scant and in outline, but they quite understood.
I find I succeed very poorly in conveying the impression I would like to of these women. So far from being ignorant, they were deeply wise—that we realized more and more; and for clear reasoning, for real brain scope and power they were A No. 1, but there were a lot of things they did not know.
They had the evenest tempers, the most perfect patience and good nature—one of the things most impressive about them all was the absence of irritability. So far we had only this group to study, but afterward I found it a common trait.
We had gradually come to feel that we were in the hands of friends, and very capable ones at that—but we couldn’t form any opinion yet of the general level of these women.
“We want you to teach us all you can,” Somel went on, her firm shapely hands clasped on the table before her, her clear quiet eyes meeting ours frankly. “And we want to teach you what we have that is novel and useful. You can well imagine that it is a wonderful event to us, to have men among us—after two thousand years. And we want to know about your women.”
What she said about our importance gave instant pleasure to Terry. I could see by the way he lifted his head that it pleased him. But when she spoke of our women—someway I had a queer little indescribable feeling, not like any feeling I ever had before when “women” were mentioned.
“Will you tell us how it came about?” Jeff pursued. “You said ‘for two thousand years’—did you have men here before that?”
“Yes,” answered Zava.
They were all quiet for a little.
“You should have our full history to read—do not be alarmed—it has been made clear and short. It took us a long time to learn how to write history. Oh, how I should love to read yours!”
She turned with flashing eager eyes, looking from one to the other of us.
“It would be so wonderful—would it not? To compare the history of two thousand years, to see what the differences are—between us, who are only mothers, and you, who are mothers and fathers, too. Of course we see, with our birds, that the father is as useful as the mother, almost. But among insects we find him of less importance, sometimes very little. Is it not so with you?”
“Oh, yes, birds and bugs,” Terry said, “but not among animals—have you no animals?”
“We have cats,” she said. “The father is not very useful.”
“Have you no cattle—sheep—horses?” I drew some rough outlines of these beasts and showed them to her.
“We had, in the very old days, these,” said Somel, and sketched with swift sure touches a sort of sheep or llama, “and these”—dogs, of two or three kinds, “and that”—pointing to my absurd but recognizable horse.
“What became of them?” asked Jeff.
“We do not want them anymore. They took up too much room—we need all our land to feed our people. It is such a little country, you know.”
“Whatever do you do without milk?” Terry demanded incredulously.
“Milk? We have milk in abundance—our own.”
“But—but—I mean for cooking—for grown people,” Terry blundered, while they looked amazed and a shade displeased.
Jeff came to the rescue. “We keep cattle for their milk, as well as for their meat,” he explained. “Cow’s milk is a staple article of diet. There is a great milk industry—to collect and distribute it.”
Still they looked puzzled. I pointed to my outline of a cow. “The farmer milks the cow,” I said, and sketched a milk pail, the stool, and in pantomime showed the man milking. “Then it is carried to the city and distributed by milkmen—everybody has it at the door in the morning.”
“Has the cow no child?” asked Somel earnestly.
“Oh, yes, of course, a calf, that is.”
“Is there milk for the calf and you, too?”
It took some time to make clear to those three sweet-faced women the process which robs the cow of her calf, and the calf of its true food; and the talk led us into a further discussion of the meat business. They heard it out, looking very white, and presently begged to be excused.
It is no use for me to try to piece out this account with adventures. If the people who read it are not interested in these amazing women and their history, they will not be interested at all.
As for us—three young men to a whole landful of women—what could we do? We did get away, as described, and were peacefully brought back again without, as Terry complained, even the satisfaction of hitting anybody.
There were no adventures because there was nothing to fight. There were no wild beasts in the country and very few tame ones. Of these I might as well stop to describe the one common pet of the country. Cats, of course. But such cats!
What do you suppose these Lady Burbanks had done with their cats? By the most prolonged and careful selection and exclusion they had developed a race of cats that did not sing! That’s a fact. The most those poor dumb brutes could do was to make a kind of squeak when they were hungry or wanted the door open, and, of course, to purr, and make the various mother-noises to their kittens.
Moreover, they had ceased to kill birds. They were rigorously bred to destroy mice and moles and all such enemies of the food supply; but the birds were numerous and safe.
While we were discussing birds, Terry asked them if they used feathers for their hats, and they seemed amused at the idea. He made a few sketches of our women’s hats, with plumes and quills and those various tickling things that stick out so far; and they were eagerly interested, as at everything about our women.
As for them, they said they only wore hats for shade when working in the sun; and those were big light straw hats, something like those used in China and Japan. In cold weather they wore caps or hoods.
“But for decorative purposes—don’t you think they would be becoming?” pursued Terry, making as pretty a picture as he could of a lady with a plumed hat.
They by no means agreed to that, asking quite simply if the men wore the same kind. We hastened to assure her that they did not—and drew for them our kind of headgear.
“And do no men wear feathers in their hats?”
“Only Indians,” Jeff explained. “Savages, you know.” And he sketched a war bonnet to show them.
“And soldiers,” I added, drawing a military hat with plumes.
They never expressed horror or disapproval, nor indeed much surprise—just a keen interest. And the notes they made!—miles of them!
But to return to our pussycats. We were a good deal impressed by this achievement in breeding, and when they questioned us—I can tell you we were well pumped for information—we told of what had been done for dogs and horses and cattle, but that there was no effort applied to cats, except for show purposes.
I wish I could represent the kind, quiet, steady, ingenious way they questioned us. It was not just curiosity—they weren’t a bit more curious about us than we were about them, if as much. But they were bent on understanding our kind of civilization, and their lines of interrogation would gradually surround us and drive us in till we found ourselves up against some admissions we did not want to make.
“Are all these breeds of dogs you have made useful?” they asked.
“Oh—useful! Why, the hunting dogs and watchdogs and sheepdogs are useful—and sleddogs of course!—and ratters, I suppose, but we don’t keep dogs for their usefulness. The dog is ‘the friend of man,’ we say—we love them.”
That they understood. “We love our cats that way. They surely are our friends, and helpers, too. You can see how intelligent and affectionate they are.”
It was a fact. I’d never seen such cats, except in a few rare instances. Big, handsome silky things, friendly with everyone and devotedly attached to their special owners.
“You must have a heartbreaking time drowning kittens,” we suggested. But they said, “Oh, no! You see we care for them as you do for your valuable cattle. The fathers are few compared to the mothers, just a few very fine ones in each town; they live quite happily in walled gardens and the houses of their friends. But they only have a mating season once a year.”
“Rather hard on Thomas, isn’t it?” suggested Terry.
“Oh, no—truly! You see, it is many centuries that we have been breeding the kind of cats we wanted. They are healthy and happy and friendly, as you see. How do you manage with your dogs? Do you keep them in pairs, or segregate the fathers, or what?”
Then we explained that—well, that it wasn’t a question of fathers exactly; that nobody wanted a—a mother dog; that, well, that practically all our dogs were males—there was only a very small percentage of females allowed to live.
Then Zava, observing Terry with her grave sweet smile, quoted back at him: “Rather hard on Thomas, isn’t it? Do they enjoy it—living without mates? Are your dogs as uniformly healthy and sweet-tempered as our cats?”
Jeff laughed, eyeing Terry mischievously. As a matter of fact we began to feel Jeff something of a traitor—he so often flopped over and took their side of things; also his medical knowledge gave him a different point of view somehow.
“I’m sorry to admit,” he told them, “that the dog, with us, is the most diseased of any animal—next to man. And as to temper—there are always some dogs who bite people—especially children.”
That was pure malice. You see, children were the—the raison d’être in this country. All our interlocutors sat up straight at once. They were still gentle, still restrained, but there was a note of deep amazement in their voices.
“Do we understand that you keep an animal—an unmated male animal—that bites children? About how many are there of them, please?”
“Thousands—in a large city,” said Jeff, “and nearly every family has one in the country.”
Terry broke in at this. “You must not imagine they are all dangerous—it’s not one in a hundred that ever bites anybody. Why, they are the best friends of the children—a boy doesn’t have half a chance that hasn’t a dog to play with!”
“And the girls?” asked Somel.
“Oh—girls—why they like them too,” he said, but his voice flatted a little. They always noticed little things like that, we found later.
Little by little they wrung from us the fact that the friend of man, in the city, was a prisoner; was taken out for his meager exercise on a leash; was liable not only to many diseases but to the one destroying horror of rabies; and, in many cases, for the safety of the citizens, had to go muzzled. Jeff maliciously added vivid instances he had known or read of injury and death from mad dogs.
They did not scold or fuss about it. Calm as judges, those women were. But they made notes; Moadine read them to us.
“Please tell me if I have the facts correct,” she said. “In your country—and in others too?”
“Yes,” we admitted, “in most civilized countries.”
“In most civilized countries a kind of animal is kept which is no longer useful—”
“They are a protection,” Terry insisted. “They bark if burglars try to get in.”
Then she made notes of “burglars” and went on: “because of the love which people bear to this animal.”
Zava interrupted here. “Is it the men or the women who love this animal so much?”
“Both!” insisted Terry.
“Equally?” she inquired.
And Jeff said, “Nonsense, Terry—you know men like dogs better than women do—as a whole.”
“Because they love it so much—especially men. This animal is kept shut up, or chained.”
“Why?” suddenly asked Somel. “We keep our father cats shut up because we do not want too much fathering; but they are not chained—they have large grounds to run in.”
“A valuable dog would be stolen if he was let loose,” I said. “We put collars on them, with the owner’s name, in case they do stray. Besides, they get into fights—a valuable dog might easily be killed by a bigger one.”
“I see,” she said. “They fight when they meet—is that common?” We admitted that it was.
“They are kept shut up, or chained.” She paused again, and asked, “Is not a dog fond of running? Are they not built for speed?” That we admitted, too, and Jeff, still malicious, enlightened them further.
“I’ve always thought it was a pathetic sight, both ways—to see a man or a woman taking a dog to walk—at the end of a string.”
“Have you bred them to be as neat in their habits as cats are?” was the next question. And when Jeff told them of the effect of dogs on sidewalk merchandise and the streets generally, they found it hard to believe.
You see, their country was as neat as a Dutch kitchen, and as to sanitation—but I might as well start in now with as much as I can remember of the history of this amazing country before further description.
And I’ll summarize here a bit as to our opportunities for learning it. I will not try to repeat the careful, detailed account I lost; I’ll just say that we were kept in that fortress a good six months all told, and after that, three in a pleasant enough city where—to Terry’s infinite disgust—there were only “Colonels” and little children—no young women whatever. Then we were under surveillance for three more—always with a tutor or a guard or both. But those months were pleasant because we were really getting acquainted with the girls. That was a chapter!—or will be—I will try to do justice to it.
We learned their language pretty thoroughly—had to; and they learned ours much more quickly and used it to hasten our own studies.
Jeff, who was never without reading matter of some sort, had two little books with him, a novel and a little anthology of verse; and I had one of those pocket encyclopedias—a fat little thing, bursting with facts. These were used in our education—and theirs. Then as soon as we were up to it, they furnished us with plenty of their own books, and I went in for the history part—I wanted to understand the genesis of this miracle of theirs.
And this is what happened, according to their records.
As to geography—at about the time of the Christian era this land had a free passage to the sea. I’m not saying where, for good reasons. But there was a fairly easy pass through that wall of mountains behind us, and there is no doubt in my mind that these people were of Aryan stock, and were once in contact with the best civilization of the old world. They were “white,” but somewhat darker than our northern races because of their constant exposure to sun and air.
The country was far larger then, including much land beyond the pass, and a strip of coast. They had ships, commerce, an army, a king—for at that time they were what they so calmly called us—a bi-sexual race.
What happened to them first was merely a succession of historic misfortunes such as have befallen other nations often enough. They were decimated by war, driven up from their coastline till finally the reduced population, with many of the men killed in battle, occupied this hinterland, and defended it for years, in the mountain passes. Where it was open to any possible attack from below they strengthened the natural defenses so that it became unscalably secure, as we found it.
They were a polygamous people, and a slave-holding people, like all of their time; and during the generation or two of this struggle to defend their mountain home they built the fortresses, such as the one we were held in, and other of their oldest buildings, some still in use. Nothing but earthquakes could destroy such architecture—huge solid blocks, holding by their own weight. They must have had efficient workmen and enough of them in those days.
They made a brave fight for their existence, but no nation can stand up against what the steamship companies call “an act of God.” While the whole fighting force was doing its best to defend their mountain pathway, there occurred a volcanic outburst, with some local tremors, and the result was the complete filling up of the pass—their only outlet. Instead of a passage, a new ridge, sheer and high, stood between them and the sea; they were walled in, and beneath that wall lay their whole little army. Very few men were left alive, save the slaves; and these now seized their opportunity, rose in revolt, killed their remaining masters even to the youngest boy, killed the old women too, and the mothers, intending to take possession of the country with the remaining young women and girls.
But this succession of misfortunes was too much for those infuriated virgins. There were many of them, and but few of these would-be masters, so the young women, instead of submitting, rose in sheer desperation and slew their brutal conquerors.
This sounds like Titus Andronicus, I know, but that is their account. I suppose they were about crazy—can you blame them?
There was literally no one left on this beautiful high garden land but a bunch of hysterical girls and some older slave women.
That was about two thousand years ago.
At first there was a period of sheer despair. The mountains towered between them and their old enemies, but also between them and escape. There was no way up or down or out—they simply had to stay there. Some were for suicide, but not the majority. They must have been a plucky lot, as a whole, and they decided to live—as long as they did live. Of course they had hope, as youth must, that something would happen to change their fate.
So they set to work, to bury the dead, to plow and sow, to care for one another.
Speaking of burying the dead, I will set down while I think of it, that they had adopted cremation in about the thirteenth century, for the same reason that they had left off raising cattle—they could not spare the room. They were much surprised to learn that we were still burying—asked our reasons for it, and were much dissatisfied with what we gave. We told them of the belief in the resurrection of the body, and they asked if our God was not as well able to resurrect from ashes as from long corruption. We told them of how people thought it repugnant to have their loved ones burn, and they asked if it was less repugnant to have them decay. They were inconveniently reasonable, those women.
Well—that original bunch of girls set to work to clean up the place and make their living as best they could. Some of the remaining slave women rendered invaluable service, teaching such trades as they knew. They had such records as were then kept, all the tools and implements of the time, and a most fertile land to work in.
There were a handful of the younger matrons who had escaped slaughter, and a few babies were born after the cataclysm—but only two boys, and they both died.
For five or ten years they worked together, growing stronger and wiser and more and more mutually attached, and then the miracle happened—one of these young women bore a child. Of course they all thought there must be a man somewhere, but none was found. Then they decided it must be a direct gift from the gods, and placed the proud mother in the Temple of Maaia—their Goddess of Motherhood—under strict watch. And there, as years passed, this wonder-woman bore child after child, five of them—all girls.
I did my best, keenly interested as I have always been in sociology and social psychology, to reconstruct in my mind the real position of these ancient women. There were some five or six hundred of them, and they were harem-bred; yet for the few preceding generations they had been reared in the atmosphere of such heroic struggle that the stock must have been toughened somewhat. Left alone in that terrific orphanhood, they had clung together, supporting one another and their little sisters, and developing unknown powers in the stress of new necessity. To this pain-hardened and work-strengthened group, who had lost not only the love and care of parents, but the hope of ever having children of their own, there now dawned the new hope.
Here at last was Motherhood, and though it was not for all of them personally, it might—if the power was inherited—found here a new race.
It may be imagined how those five Daughters of Maaia, Children of the Temple, Mothers of the Future—they had all the titles that love and hope and reverence could give—were reared. The whole little nation of women surrounded them with loving service, and waited, between a boundless hope and an equally boundless despair, to see if they, too, would be mothers.
And they were! As fast as they reached the age of twenty-five they began bearing. Each of them, like her mother, bore five daughters. Presently there were twenty-five New Women, Mothers in their own right, and the whole spirit of the country changed from mourning and mere courageous resignation to proud joy. The older women, those who remembered men, died off; the youngest of all the first lot of course died too, after a while, and by that time there were left one hundred and fifty-five parthenogenetic women, founding a new race.
They inherited all that the devoted care of that declining band of original ones could leave them. Their little country was quite safe. Their farms and gardens were all in full production. Such industries as they had were in careful order. The records of their past were all preserved, and for years the older women had spent their time in the best teaching they were capable of, that they might leave to the little group of sisters and mothers all they possessed of skill and knowledge.
There you have the start of Herland! One family, all descended from one mother! She lived to a hundred years old; lived to see her hundred and twenty-five great-granddaughters born; lived as Queen-Priestess-Mother of them all; and died with a nobler pride and a fuller joy than perhaps any human soul has ever known—she alone had founded a new race!
The first five daughters had grown up in an atmosphere of holy calm, of awed watchful waiting, of breathless prayer. To them the longed-for motherhood was not only a personal joy, but a nation’s hope. Their twenty-five daughters in turn, with a stronger hope, a richer, wider outlook, with the devoted love and care of all the surviving population, grew up as a holy sisterhood, their whole ardent youth looking forward to their great office. And at last they were left alone; the white-haired First Mother was gone, and this one family, five sisters, twenty-five first cousins, and a hundred and twenty-five second cousins, began a new race.
Here you have human beings, unquestionably, but what we were slow in understanding was how these ultra-women, inheriting only from women, had eliminated not only certain masculine characteristics, which of course we did not look for, but so much of what we had always thought essentially feminine.
The tradition of men as guardians and protectors had quite died out. These stalwart virgins had no men to fear and therefore no need of protection. As to wild beasts—there were none in their sheltered land.
The power of mother-love, that maternal instinct we so highly laud, was theirs of course, raised to its highest power; and a sister-love which, even while recognizing the actual relationship, we found it hard to credit.
Terry, incredulous, even contemptuous, when we were alone, refused to believe the story. “A lot of traditions as old as Herodotus—and about as trustworthy!” he said. “It’s likely women—just a pack of women—would have hung together like that! We all know women can’t organize—that they scrap like anything—are frightfully jealous.”
“But these New Ladies didn’t have anyone to be jealous of, remember,” drawled Jeff.
“That’s a likely story,” Terry sneered.
“Why don’t you invent a likelier one?” I asked him. “Here are the women—nothing but women, and you yourself admit there’s no trace of a man in the country.” This was after we had been about a good deal.
“I’ll admit that,” he growled. “And it’s a big miss, too. There’s not only no fun without ’em—no real sport—no competition; but these women aren’t womanly. You know they aren’t.”
That kind of talk always set Jeff going; and I gradually grew to side with him. “Then you don’t call a breed of women whose one concern is motherhood—womanly?” he asked.
“Indeed I don’t,” snapped Terry. “What does a man care for motherhood—when he hasn’t a ghost of a chance at fatherhood? And besides—what’s the good of talking sentiment when we are just men together? What a man wants of women is a good deal more than all this ‘motherhood’!”
We were as patient as possible with Terry. He had lived about nine months among the “Colonels” when he made that outburst; and with no chance at any more strenuous excitement than our gymnastics gave us—save for our escape fiasco. I don’t suppose Terry had ever lived so long with neither Love, Combat, nor Danger to employ his superabundant energies, and he was irritable. Neither Jeff nor I found it so wearing. I was so much interested intellectually that our confinement did not wear on me; and as for Jeff, bless his heart!—he enjoyed the society of that tutor of his almost as much as if she had been a girl—I don’t know but more.
As to Terry’s criticism, it was true. These women, whose essential distinction of motherhood was the dominant note of their whole culture, were strikingly deficient in what we call “femininity.” This led me very promptly to the conviction that those “feminine charms” we are so fond of are not feminine at all, but mere reflected masculinity—developed to please us because they had to please us, and in no way essential to the real fulfillment of their great process. But Terry came to no such conclusion.
“Just you wait till I get out!” he muttered.
Then we both cautioned him. “Look here, Terry, my boy! You be careful! They’ve been mighty good to us—but do you remember the anesthesia? If you do any mischief in this virgin land, beware of the vengeance of the Maiden Aunts! Come, be a man! It won’t be forever.”
To return to the history:
They began at once to plan and built for their children, all the strength and intelligence of the whole of them devoted to that one thing. Each girl, of course, was reared in full knowledge of her Crowning Office, and they had, even then, very high ideas of the molding powers of the mother, as well as those of education.
Such high ideals as they had! Beauty, Health, Strength, Intellect, Goodness—for those they prayed and worked.
They had no enemies; they themselves were all sisters and friends. The land was fair before them, and a great future began to form itself in their minds.
The religion they had to begin with was much like that of old Greece—a number of gods and goddesses; but they lost all interest in deities of war and plunder, and gradually centered on their Mother Goddess altogether. Then, as they grew more intelligent, this had turned into a sort of Maternal Pantheism.
Here was Mother Earth, bearing fruit. All that they ate was fruit of motherhood, from seed or egg or their product. By motherhood they were born and by motherhood they lived—life was, to them, just the long cycle of motherhood.
But very early they recognized the need of improvement as well as of mere repetition, and devoted their combined intelligence to that problem—how to make the best kind of people. First this was merely the hope of bearing better ones, and then they recognized that however the children differed at birth, the real growth lay later—through education.
Then things began to hum.
As I learned more and more to appreciate what these women had accomplished, the less proud I was of what we, with all our manhood, had done.
You see, they had had no wars. They had had no kings, and no priests, and no aristocracies. They were sisters, and as they grew, they grew together—not by competition, but by united action.
We tried to put in a good word for competition, and they were keenly interested. Indeed, we soon found from their earnest questions of us that they were prepared to believe our world must be better than theirs. They were not sure; they wanted to know; but there was no such arrogance about them as might have been expected.
We rather spread ourselves, telling of the advantages of competition: how it developed fine qualities; that without it there would be “no stimulus to industry.” Terry was very strong on that point.
“No stimulus to industry,” they repeated, with that puzzled look we had learned to know so well. “Stimulus? To industry? But don’t you like to work?”
“No man would work unless he had to,” Terry declared.
“Oh, no man! You mean that is one of your sex distinctions?”
“No, indeed!” he said hastily. “No one, I mean, man or woman, would work without incentive. Competition is the—the motor power, you see.”
“It is not with us,” they explained gently, “so it is hard for us to understand. Do you mean, for instance, that with you no mother would work for her children without the stimulus of competition?”
No, he admitted that he did not mean that. Mothers, he supposed, would of course work for their children in the home; but the world’s work was different—that had to be done by men, and required the competitive element.
All our teachers were eagerly interested.
“We want so much to know—you have the whole world to tell us of, and we have only our little land! And there are two of you—the two sexes—to love and help one another. It must be a rich and wonderful world. Tell us—what is the work of the world, that men do—which we have not here?”
“Oh, everything,” Terry said grandly. “The men do everything, with us.” He squared his broad shoulders and lifted his chest. “We do not allow our women to work. Women are loved—idolized—honored—kept in the home to care for the children.”
“What is ‘the home’?” asked Somel a little wistfully.
But Zava begged: “Tell me first, do no women work, really?”
“Why, yes,” Terry admitted. “Some have to, of the poorer sort.”
“About how many—in your country?”
“About seven or eight million,” said Jeff, as mischievous as ever.
I had always been proud of my country, of course. Everyone is. Compared with the other lands and other races I knew, the United States of America had always seemed to me, speaking modestly, as good as the best of them.
But just as a clear-eyed, intelligent, perfectly honest, and well-meaning child will frequently jar one’s self-esteem by innocent questions, so did these women, without the slightest appearance of malice or satire, continually bring up points of discussion which we spent our best efforts in evading.
Now that we were fairly proficient in their language, had read a lot about their history, and had given them the general outlines of ours, they were able to press their questions closer.
So when Jeff admitted the number of “women wage earners” we had, they instantly asked for the total population, for the proportion of adult women, and found that there were but twenty million or so at the outside.
“Then at least a third of your women are—what is it you call them—wage earners? And they are all ‘poor.’ What is ‘poor,’ exactly?”
“Ours is the best country in the world as to poverty,” Terry told them. “We do not have the wretched paupers and beggars of the older countries, I assure you. Why, European visitors tell us, we don’t know what poverty is.”
“Neither do we,” answered Zava. “Won’t you tell us?”
Terry put it up to me, saying I was the sociologist, and I explained that the laws of nature require a struggle for existence, and that in the struggle the fittest survive, and the unfit perish. In our economic struggle, I continued, there was always plenty of opportunity for the fittest to reach the top, which they did, in great numbers, particularly in our country; that where there was severe economic pressure the lowest classes of course felt it the worst, and that among the poorest of all the women were driven into the labor market by necessity.
They listened closely, with the usual note-taking.
“About one-third, then, belong to the poorest class,” observed Moadine gravely. “And two-thirds are the ones who are—how was it you so beautifully put it?—‘loved, honored, kept in the home to care for the children.’ This inferior one-third have no children, I suppose?”
Jeff—he was getting as bad as they were—solemnly replied that, on the contrary, the poorer they were, the more children they had. That too, he explained, was a law of nature: “Reproduction is in inverse proportion to individuation.”
“These ‘laws of nature,’ ” Zava gently asked, “are they all the laws you have?”
“I should say not!” protested Terry. “We have systems of law that go back thousands and thousands of years—just as you do, no doubt,” he finished politely.
“Oh no,” Moadine told him. “We have no laws over a hundred years old, and most of them are under twenty. In a few weeks more,” she continued, “we are going to have the pleasure of showing you over our little land and explaining everything you care to know about. We want you to see our people.”
“And I assure you,” Somel added, “that our people want to see you.”
Terry brightened up immensely at this news, and reconciled himself to the renewed demands upon our capacity as teachers. It was lucky that we knew so little, really, and had no books to refer to, else, I fancy we might all be there yet, teaching those eager-minded women about the rest of the world.
As to geography, they had the tradition of the Great Sea, beyond the mountains; and they could see for themselves the endless thick-forested plains below them—that was all. But from the few records of their ancient condition—not “before the flood” with them, but before that mighty quake which had cut them off so completely—they were aware that there were other peoples and other countries.
In geology they were quite ignorant.
As to anthropology, they had those same remnants of information about other peoples, and the knowledge of the savagery of the occupants of those dim forests below. Nevertheless, they had inferred (marvelously keen on inference and deduction their minds were!) the existence and development of civilization in other places, much as we infer it on other planets.
When our biplane came whirring over their heads in that first scouting flight of ours, they had instantly accepted it as proof of the high development of Some Where Else, and had prepared to receive us as cautiously and eagerly as we might prepare to welcome visitors who came “by meteor” from Mars.
Of history—outside their own—they knew nothing, of course, save for their ancient traditions.
Of astronomy they had a fair working knowledge—that is a very old science; and with it, a surprising range and facility in mathematics.
Physiology they were quite familiar with. Indeed, when it came to the simpler and more concrete sciences, wherein the subject matter was at hand and they had but to exercise their minds upon it, the results were surprising. They had worked out a chemistry, a botany, a physics, with all the blends where a science touches an art, or merges into an industry, to such fullness of knowledge as made us feel like schoolchildren.
Also we found this out—as soon as we were free of the country, and by further study and question—that what one knew, all knew, to a very considerable extent.
I talked later with little mountain girls from the fir-dark valleys away up at their highest part, and with sunburned plains-women and agile foresters, all over the country, as well as those in the towns, and everywhere there was the same high level of intelligence. Some knew far more than others about one thing—they were specialized, of course; but all of them knew more about everything—that is, about everything the country was acquainted with—than is the case with us.
We boast a good deal of our “high level of general intelligence” and our “compulsory public education,” but in proportion to their opportunities they were far better educated than our people.
With what we told them, from what sketches and models we were able to prepare, they constructed a sort of working outline to fill in as they learned more.
A big globe was made, and our uncertain maps, helped out by those in that precious yearbook thing I had, were tentatively indicated upon it.
They sat in eager groups, masses of them who came for the purpose, and listened while Jeff roughly ran over the geologic history of the earth, and showed them their own land in relation to the others. Out of that same pocket reference book of mine came facts and figures which were seized upon and placed in right relation with unerring acumen.
Even Terry grew interested in this work. “If we can keep this up, they’ll be having us lecture to all the girls’ schools and colleges—how about that?” he suggested to us. “Don’t know as I’d object to being an Authority to such audiences.”
They did, in fact, urge us to give public lectures later, but not to the hearers or with the purpose we expected.
What they were doing with us was like—like—well, say like Napoleon extracting military information from a few illiterate peasants. They knew just what to ask, and just what use to make of it; they had mechanical appliances for disseminating information almost equal to ours at home; and by the time we were led forth to lecture, our audiences had thoroughly mastered a well-arranged digest of all we had previously given to our teachers, and were prepared with such notes and questions as might have intimidated a university professor.
They were not audiences of girls, either. It was some time before we were allowed to meet the young women.
“Do you mind telling what you intend to do with us?” Terry burst forth one day, facing the calm and friendly Moadine with that funny half-blustering air of his. At first he used to storm and flourish quite a good deal, but nothing seemed to amuse them more; they would gather around and watch him as if it was an exhibition, politely, but with evident interest. So he learned to check himself, and was almost reasonable in his bearing—but not quite.
She announced smoothly and evenly: “Not in the least. I thought it was quite plain. We are trying to learn of you all we can, and to teach you what you are willing to learn of our country.”
“Is that all?” he insisted.
She smiled a quiet enigmatic smile. “That depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“Mainly on yourselves,” she replied.
“Why do you keep us shut up so closely?”
“Because we do not feel quite safe in allowing you at large where there are so many young women.”
Terry was really pleased at that. He had thought as much, inwardly; but he pushed the question. “Why should you be afraid? We are gentlemen.”
She smiled that little smile again, and asked: “Are ‘gentlemen’ always safe?”
“You surely do not think that any of us,” he said it with a good deal of emphasis on the “us,” “would hurt your young girls?”
“Oh no,” she said quickly, in real surprise. “The danger is quite the other way. They might hurt you. If, by any accident, you did harm any one of us, you would have to face a million mothers.”
He looked so amazed and outraged that Jeff and I laughed outright, but she went on gently.
“I do not think you quite understand yet. You are but men, three men, in a country where the whole population are mothers—or are going to be. Motherhood means to us something which I cannot yet discover in any of the countries of which you tell us. You have spoken”—she turned to Jeff, “of Human Brotherhood as a great idea among you, but even that I judge is far from a practical expression?”
Jeff nodded rather sadly. “Very far—” he said.
“Here we have Human Motherhood—in full working use,” she went on. “Nothing else except the literal sisterhood of our origin, and the far higher and deeper union of our social growth.
“The children in this country are the one center and focus of all our thoughts. Every step of our advance is always considered in its effect on them—on the race. You see, we are Mothers,” she repeated, as if in that she had said it all.
“I don’t see how that fact—which is shared by all women—constitutes any risk to us,” Terry persisted. “You mean they would defend their children from attack. Of course. Any mothers would. But we are not savages, my dear lady; we are not going to hurt any mother’s child.”
They looked at one another and shook their heads a little, but Zava turned to Jeff and urged him to make us see—said he seemed to understand more fully than we did. And he tried.
I can see it now, or at least much more of it, but it has taken me a long time, and a good deal of honest intellectual effort.
What they call Motherhood was like this:
They began with a really high degree of social development, something like that of Ancient Egypt or Greece. Then they suffered the loss of everything masculine, and supposed at first that all human power and safety had gone too. Then they developed this virgin birth capacity. Then, since the prosperity of their children depended on it, the fullest and subtlest coordination began to be practiced.
I remember how long Terry balked at the evident unanimity of these women—the most conspicuous feature of their whole culture. “It’s impossible!” he would insist. “Women cannot cooperate—it’s against nature.”
When we urged the obvious facts he would say: “Fiddlesticks!” or “Hang your facts—I tell you it can’t be done!” And we never succeeded in shutting him up till Jeff dragged in the hymenoptera.
“ ‘Go to the ant, thou sluggard’—and learn something,” he said triumphantly. “Don’t they cooperate pretty well? You can’t beat it. This place is just like an enormous anthill—you know an anthill is nothing but a nursery. And how about bees? Don’t they manage to cooperate and love one another?
‘As the birds do love the Spring,
Or the bees their careful king.’
as that precious Constable had it. Just show me a combination of male creatures, bird, bug, or beast, that works as well, will you? Or one of our masculine countries where the people work together as well as they do here! I tell you, women are the natural cooperators, not men!”
Terry had to learn a good many things he did not want to. To go back to my little analysis of what happened:
They developed all this close inter-service in the interests of their children. To do the best work they had to specialize, of course; the children needed spinners and weavers, farmers and gardeners, carpenters and masons, as well as mothers.
Then came the filling up of the place. When a population multiplies by five every thirty years it soon reaches the limits of a country, especially a small one like this. They very soon eliminated all the grazing cattle—sheep were the last to go, I believe. Also, they worked out a system of intensive agriculture surpassing anything I ever heard of, with the very forests all reset with fruit- or nut-bearing trees.
Do what they would, however, there soon came a time when they were confronted with the problem of “the pressure of population” in an acute form. There was really crowding, and with it, unavoidably, a decline in standards.
And how did those women meet it?
Not by a “struggle for existence” which would result in an everlasting writhing mass of underbred people trying to get ahead of one another—some few on top, temporarily, many constantly crushed out underneath, a hopeless substratum of paupers and degenerates, and no serenity or peace for anyone, no possibility for really noble qualities among the people at large.
Neither did they start off on predatory excursions to get more land from somebody else, or to get more food from somebody else, to maintain their struggling mass.
Not at all. They sat down in council together and thought it out. Very clear, strong thinkers they were. They said: “With our best endeavors this country will support about so many people, with the standard of peace, comfort, health, beauty, and progress we demand. Very well. That is all the people we will make.”
There you have it. You see, they were Mothers, not in our sense of helpless involuntary fecundity, forced to fill and overfill the land, every land, and then see their children suffer, sin, and die, fighting horribly with one another; but in the sense of Conscious Makers of People. Mother-love with them was not a brute passion, a mere “instinct,” a wholly personal feeling; it was—a religion.
It included that limitless feeling of sisterhood, that wide unity in service, which was so difficult for us to grasp. And it was National, Racial, Human—oh, I don’t know how to say it.
We are used to seeing what we call “a mother” completely wrapped up in her own pink bundle of fascinating babyhood, and taking but the faintest theoretic interest in anybody else’s bundle, to say nothing of the common needs of all the bundles. But these women were working all together at the grandest of tasks—they were Making People—and they made them well.
There followed a period of “negative eugenics” which must have been an appalling sacrifice. We are commonly willing to “lay down our lives” for our country, but they had to forego motherhood for their country—and it was precisely the hardest thing for them to do.
When I got this far in my reading I went to Somel for more light. We were as friendly by that time as I had ever been in my life with any woman. A mighty comfortable soul she was, giving one the nice smooth mother-feeling a man likes in a woman, and yet giving also the clear intelligence and dependableness I used to assume to be masculine qualities. We had talked volumes already.
“See here,” said I. “Here was this dreadful period when they got far too thick, and decided to limit the population. We have a lot of talk about that among us, but your position is so different that I’d like to know a little more about it.
“I understand that you make Motherhood the highest social service—a sacrament, really; that it is only undertaken once, by the majority of the population; that those held unfit are not allowed even that; and that to be encouraged to bear more than one child is the very highest reward and honor in the power of the state.”
(She interpolated here that the nearest approach to an aristocracy they had was to come of a line of “Over Mothers”—those who had been so honored.)
“But what I do not understand, naturally, is how you prevent it. I gathered that each woman had five. You have no tyrannical husbands to hold in check—and you surely do not destroy the unborn—”
The look of ghastly horror she gave me I shall never forget. She started from her chair, pale, her eyes blazing.
“Destroy the unborn—!” she said in a hard whisper. “Do men do that in your country?”
“Men!” I began to answer, rather hotly, and then saw the gulf before me. None of us wanted these women to think that our women, of whom we boasted so proudly, were in any way inferior to them. I am ashamed to say that I equivocated. I told her of certain criminal types of women—perverts, or crazy, who had been known to commit infanticide. I told her, truly enough, that there was much in our land which was open to criticism, but that I hated to dwell on our defects until they understood us and our conditions better.
And, making a wide detour, I scrambled back to my question of how they limited the population.
As for Somel, she seemed sorry, a little ashamed even, of her too clearly expressed amazement. As I look back now, knowing them better, I am more and more and more amazed as I appreciate the exquisite courtesy with which they had received over and over again statements and admissions on our part which must have revolted them to the soul.
She explained to me, with sweet seriousness, that as I had supposed, at first each woman bore five children; and that, in their eager desire to build up a nation, they had gone on in that way for a few centuries, till they were confronted with the absolute need of a limit. This fact was equally plain to all—all were equally interested.
They were now as anxious to check their wonderful power as they had been to develop it; and for some generations gave the matter their most earnest thought and study.
“We were living on rations before we worked it out,” she said. “But we did work it out. You see, before a child comes to one of us there is a period of utter exaltation—the whole being is uplifted and filled with a concentrated desire for that child. We learned to look forward to that period with the greatest caution. Often our young women, those to whom motherhood had not yet come, would voluntarily defer it. When that deep inner demand for a child began to be felt she would deliberately engage in the most active work, physical and mental; and even more important, would solace her longing by the direct care and service of the babies we already had.”
She paused. Her wise sweet face grew deeply, reverently tender.
“We soon grew to see that mother-love has more than one channel of expression. I think the reason our children are so—so fully loved, by all of us, is that we never—any of us—have enough of our own.”
This seemed to me infinitely pathetic, and I said so. “We have much that is bitter and hard in our life at home,” I told her, “but this seems to me piteous beyond words—a whole nation of starving mothers!”
But she smiled her deep contented smile, and said I quite misunderstood.
“We each go without a certain range of personal joy,” she said, “but remember—we each have a million children to love and serve—our children.”
It was beyond me. To hear a lot of women talk about “our children”! But I suppose that is the way the ants and bees would talk—do talk, maybe.
That was what they did, anyhow.
When a woman chose to be a mother, she allowed the child-longing to grow within her till it worked its natural miracle. When she did not so choose she put the whole thing out of her mind, and fed her heart with the other babies.
Let me see—with us, children—minors, that is—constitute about three-fifths of the population; with them only about one-third, or less. And precious—! No sole heir to an empire’s throne, no solitary millionaire baby, no only child of middle-aged parents, could compare as an idol with these Herland children.
But before I start on that subject I must finish up that little analysis I was trying to make.
They did effectually and permanently limit the population in numbers, so that the country furnished plenty for the fullest, richest life for all of them: plenty of everything, including room, air, solitude even.
And then they set to work to improve that population in quality—since they were restricted in quantity. This they had been at work on, uninterruptedly, for some fifteen hundred years. Do you wonder they were nice people?
Physiology, hygiene, sanitation, physical culture—all that line of work had been perfected long since. Sickness was almost wholly unknown among them, so much so that a previously high development in what we call the “science of medicine” had become practically a lost art. They were a clean-bred, vigorous lot, having the best of care, the most perfect living conditions always.
When it came to psychology—there was no one thing which left us so dumbfounded, so really awed, as the everyday working knowledge—and practice—they had in this line. As we learned more and more of it, we learned to appreciate the exquisite mastery with which we ourselves, strangers of alien race, of unknown opposite sex, had been understood and provided for from the first.
With this wide, deep, thorough knowledge, they had met and solved the problems of education in ways some of which I hope to make clear later. Those nation-loved children of theirs compared with the average in our country as the most perfectly cultivated, richly developed roses compare with—tumbleweeds. Yet they did not seem “cultivated” at all—it had all become a natural condition.
And this people, steadily developing in mental capacity, in will power, in social devotion, had been playing with the arts and sciences—as far as they knew them—for a good many centuries now with inevitable success.
Into this quiet lovely land, among these wise, sweet, strong women, we, in our easy assumption of superiority, had suddenly arrived; and now, tamed and trained to a degree they considered safe, we were at last brought out to see the country, to know the people.
Being at last considered sufficiently tamed and trained to be trusted with scissors, we barbered ourselves as best we could. A close-trimmed beard is certainly more comfortable than a full one. Razors, naturally, they could not supply.
“With so many old women you’d think there’d be some razors,” sneered Terry. Whereat Jeff pointed out that he never before had seen such complete absence of facial hair on women.
“Looks to me as if the absence of men made them more feminine in that regard, anyhow,” he suggested.
“Well, it’s the only one then,” Terry reluctantly agreed. “A less feminine lot I never saw. A child apiece doesn’t seem to be enough to develop what I call motherliness.”
Terry’s idea of motherliness was the usual one, involving a baby in arms, or “a little flock about her knees,” and the complete absorption of the mother in said baby or flock. A motherliness which dominated society, which influenced every art and industry, which absolutely protected all childhood, and gave to it the most perfect care and training, did not seem motherly—to Terry.
We had become well used to the clothes. They were quite as comfortable as our own—in some ways more so—and undeniably better looking. As to pockets, they left nothing to be desired. That second garment was fairly quilted with pockets. They were most ingeniously arranged, so as to be convenient to the hand and not inconvenient to the body, and were so placed as at once to strengthen the garment and add decorative lines of stitching.
In this, as in so many other points we had now to observe, there was shown the action of a practical intelligence, coupled with fine artistic feeling, and, apparently, untrammeled by any injurious influences.
Our first step of comparative freedom was a personally conducted tour of the country. No pentagonal bodyguard now! Only our special tutors, and we got on famously with them. Jeff said he loved Zava like an aunt—“only jollier than any aunt I ever saw”; Somel and I were as chummy as could be—the best of friends; but it was funny to watch Terry and Moadine. She was patient with him, and courteous, but it was like the patience and courtesy of some great man, say a skilled, experienced diplomat, with a schoolgirl. Her grave acquiescence with his most preposterous expression of feeling; her genial laughter, not only with, but, I often felt, at him—though impeccably polite; her innocent questions, which almost invariably led him to say more than he intended—Jeff and I found it all amusing to watch.
He never seemed to recognize that quiet background of superiority. When she dropped an argument he always thought he had silenced her; when she laughed he thought it tribute to his wit.
I hated to admit to myself how much Terry had sunk in my esteem. Jeff felt it too, I am sure; but neither of us admitted it to the other. At home we had measured him with other men, and, though we knew his failings, he was by no means an unusual type. We knew his virtues too, and they had always seemed more prominent than the faults. Measured among women—our women at home, I mean—he had always stood high. He was visibly popular. Even where his habits were known, there was no discrimination against him; in some cases his reputation for what was felicitously termed “gaiety” seemed a special charm.
But here, against the calm wisdom and quiet restrained humor of these women, with only that blessed Jeff and my inconspicuous self to compare with, Terry did stand out rather strong.
As “a man among men,” he didn’t; as a man among—I shall have to say, “females,” he didn’t; his intense masculinity seemed only fit complement to their intense femininity. But here he was all out of drawing.
Moadine was a big woman, with a balanced strength that seldom showed. Her eye was as quietly watchful as a fencer’s. She maintained a pleasant relation with her charge, but I doubt if many, even in that country, could have done as well.
He called her “Maud,” amongst ourselves, and said she was “a good old soul, but a little slow”; wherein he was quite wrong. Needless to say, he called Jeff’s teacher “Java,” and sometimes “Mocha,” or plain “Coffee”; when specially mischievous, “Chicory,” and even “Postum.” But Somel rather escaped this form of humor, save for a rather forced “Some ’ell.”
“Don’t you people have but one name?” he asked one day, after we had been introduced to a whole group of them, all with pleasant, few-syllabled strange names, like the ones we knew.
“Oh yes,” Moadine told him. “A good many of us have another, as we get on in life—a descriptive one. That is the name we earn. Sometimes even that is changed, or added to, in an unusually rich life. Such as our present Land Mother—what you call president or king, I believe. She was called Mera, even as a child; that means ‘thinker.’ Later there was added Du—Du-Mera—the wise thinker, and now we all know her as O-du-mera—great and wise thinker. You shall meet her.”
“No surnames at all then?” pursued Terry, with his somewhat patronizing air. “No family name?”
“Why no,” she said. “Why should we? We are all descended from a common source—all one ‘family’ in reality. You see, our comparatively brief and limited history gives us that advantage at least.”
“But does not each mother want her own child to bear her name?” I asked.
“No—why should she? The child has its own.”
“Why for—for identification—so people will know whose child she is.”
“We keep the most careful records,” said Somel. “Each one of us has our exact line of descent all the way back to our dear First Mother. There are many reasons for doing that. But as to everyone knowing which child belongs to which mother—why should she?”
Here, as in so many other instances, we were led to feel the difference between the purely maternal and the paternal attitude of mind. The element of personal pride seemed strangely lacking.
“How about your other works?” asked Jeff. “Don’t you sign your names to them—books and statues and so on?”
“Yes, surely, we are all glad and proud to. Not only books and statues, but all kinds of work. You will find little names on the houses, on the furniture, on the dishes sometimes. Because otherwise one is likely to forget, and we want to know to whom to be grateful.”
“You speak as if it were done for the convenience of the consumer—not the pride of the producer,” I suggested.
“It’s both,” said Somel. “We have pride enough in our work.”
“Then why not in your children?” urged Jeff.
“But we have! We’re magnificently proud of them,” she insisted.
“Then why not sign ’em?” said Terry triumphantly.
Moadine turned to him with her slightly quizzical smile. “Because the finished product is not a private one. When they are babies, we do speak of them, at times, as ‘Essa’s Lato,’ or ‘Novine’s Amel’; but that is merely descriptive and conversational. In the records, of course, the child stands in her own line of mothers; but in dealing with it personally it is Lato, or Amel, without dragging in its ancestors.”
“But have you names enough to give a new one to each child?”
“Assuredly we have, for each living generation.”
Then they asked about our methods, and found first that “we” did so and so, and then that other nations did differently. Upon which they wanted to know which method has been proved best—and we had to admit that so far as we knew there had been no attempt at comparison, each people pursuing its own custom in the fond conviction of superiority, and either despising or quite ignoring the others.
With these women the most salient quality in all their institutions was reasonableness. When I dug into the records to follow out any line of development, that was the most astonishing thing—the conscious effort to make it better.
They had early observed the value of certain improvements, had easily inferred that there was room for more, and took the greatest pains to develop two kinds of minds—the critic and inventor. Those who showed an early tendency to observe, to discriminate, to suggest, were given special training for that function; and some of their highest officials spent their time in the most careful study of one or another branch of work, with a view to its further improvement.
In each generation there was sure to arrive some new mind to detect faults and show need of alterations; and the whole corps of inventors was at hand to apply their special faculty at the point criticized, and offer suggestions.
We had learned by this time not to open a discussion on any of their characteristics without first priming ourselves to answer questions about our own methods; so I kept rather quiet on this matter of conscious improvement. We were not prepared to show our way was better.
There was growing in our minds, at least in Jeff’s and mine, a keen appreciation of the advantages of this strange country and its management. Terry remained critical. We laid most of it to his nerves. He certainly was irritable.
The most conspicuous feature of the whole land was the perfection of its food supply. We had begun to notice from that very first walk in the forest, the first partial view from our plane. Now we were taken to see this mighty garden, and shown its methods of culture.
The country was about the size of Holland, some ten or twelve thousand square miles. One could lose a good many Hollands along the forest-smothered flanks of those mighty mountains. They had a population of about three million—not a large one, but quality is something. Three million is quite enough to allow for considerable variation, and these people varied more widely than we could at first account for.
Terry had insisted that if they were parthenogenetic they’d be as alike as so many ants or aphids; he urged their visible differences as proof that there must be men—somewhere.
But when we asked them, in our later, more intimate conversations, how they accounted for so much divergence without cross-fertilization, they attributed it partly to the careful education, which followed each slight tendency to differ, and partly to the law of mutation. This they had found in their work with plants, and fully proven in their own case.
Physically they were more alike than we, as they lacked all morbid or excessive types. They were tall, strong, healthy, and beautiful as a race, but differed individually in a wide range of feature, coloring, and expression.
“But surely the most important growth is in mind—and in the things we make,” urged Somel. “Do you find your physical variation accompanied by a proportionate variation in ideas, feelings, and products? Or, among people who look more alike, do you find their internal life and their work as similar?”
We were rather doubtful on this point, and inclined to hold that there was more chance of improvement in greater physical variation.
“It certainly should be,” Zava admitted. “We have always thought it a grave initial misfortune to have lost half our little world. Perhaps that is one reason why we have so striven for conscious improvement.”
“But acquired traits are not transmissible,” Terry declared. “Weissman has proved that.”
They never disputed our absolute statements, only made notes of them.
“If that is so, then our improvement must be due either to mutation, or solely to education,” she gravely pursued. “We certainly have improved. It may be that all these higher qualities were latent in the original mother, that careful education is bringing them out, and that our personal differences depend on slight variations in prenatal condition.”
“I think it is more in your accumulated culture,” Jeff suggested. “And in the amazing psychic growth you have made. We know very little about methods of real soul culture—and you seem to know a great deal.”
Be that as it might, they certainly presented a higher level of active intelligence, and of behavior, than we had so far really grasped. Having known in our lives several people who showed the same delicate courtesy and were equally pleasant to live with, at least when they wore their “company manners,” we had assumed that our companions were a carefully chosen few. Later we were more and more impressed that all this gentle breeding was breeding; that they were born to it, reared in it, that it was as natural and universal with them as the gentleness of doves or the alleged wisdom of serpents.
As for the intelligence, I confess that this was the most impressive and, to me, most mortifying, of any single feature of Herland. We soon ceased to comment on this or other matters which to them were such obvious commonplaces as to call forth embarrassing questions about our own conditions.
This was nowhere better shown than in that matter of food supply, which I will now attempt to describe.
Having improved their agriculture to the highest point, and carefully estimated the number of persons who could comfortably live on their square miles; having then limited their population to that number, one would think that was all there was to be done. But they had not thought so. To them the country was a unit—it was theirs. They themselves were a unit, a conscious group; they thought in terms of the community. As such, their time-sense was not limited to the hopes and ambitions of an individual life. Therefore, they habitually considered and carried out plans for improvement which might cover centuries.
I had never seen, had scarcely imagined, human beings undertaking such a work as the deliberate replanting of an entire forest area with different kinds of trees. Yet this seemed to them the simplest common sense, like a man’s plowing up an inferior lawn and reseeding it. Now every tree bore fruit—edible fruit, that is. In the case of one tree, in which they took especial pride, it had originally no fruit at all—that is, none humanly edible—yet was so beautiful that they wished to keep it. For nine hundred years they had experimented, and now showed us this particularly lovely graceful tree, with a profuse crop of nutritious seeds.
They had early decided that trees were the best food plants, requiring far less labor in tilling the soil, and bearing a larger amount of food for the same ground space; also doing much to preserve and enrich the soil.
Due regard had been paid to seasonable crops, and their fruit and nuts, grains and berries, kept on almost the year through.
On the higher part of the country, near the backing wall of mountains, they had a real winter with snow. Toward the southeastern point, where there was a large valley with a lake whose outlet was subterranean, the climate was like that of California, and citrus fruits, figs, and olives grew abundantly.
What impressed me particularly was their scheme of fertilization. Here was this little shut-in piece of land where one would have thought an ordinary people would have been starved out long ago or reduced to an annual struggle for life. These careful culturists had worked out a perfect scheme of refeeding the soil with all that came out of it. All the scraps and leavings of their food, plant waste from lumber work or textile industry, all the solid matter from the sewage, properly treated and combined—everything which came from the earth went back to it.
The practical result was like that in any healthy forest; an increasingly valuable soil was being built, instead of the progressive impoverishment so often seen in the rest of the world.
When this first burst upon us we made such approving comments that they were surprised that such obvious common sense should be praised; asked what our methods were; and we had some difficulty in—well, in diverting them, by referring to the extent of our own land, and the—admitted—carelessness with which we had skimmed the cream of it.
At least we thought we had diverted them. Later I found that besides keeping a careful and accurate account of all we told them, they had a sort of skeleton chart, on which the things we said and the things we palpably avoided saying were all set down and studied. It really was child’s play for those profound educators to work out a painfully accurate estimate of our conditions—in some lines. When a given line of observation seemed to lead to some very dreadful inference they always gave us the benefit of the doubt, leaving it open to further knowledge. Some of the things we had grown to accept as perfectly natural, or as belonging to our human limitations, they literally could not have believed; and, as I have said, we had all of us joined in a tacit endeavor to conceal much of the social status at home.
“Confound their grandmotherly minds!” Terry said. “Of course they can’t understand a Man’s World! They aren’t human—they’re just a pack of Fe-Fe-Females!” This was after he had to admit their parthenogenesis.
“I wish our grandfatherly minds had managed as well,” said Jeff. “Do you really think it’s to our credit that we have muddled along with all our poverty and disease and the like? They have peace and plenty, wealth and beauty, goodness and intellect. Pretty good people, I think!”
“You’ll find they have their faults too,” Terry insisted; and partly in self-defense, we all three began to look for those faults of theirs. We had been very strong on this subject before we got there—in those baseless speculations of ours.
“Suppose there is a country of women only,” Jeff had put it, over and over. “What’ll they be like?”
And we had been cocksure as to the inevitable limitations, the faults and vices, of a lot of women. We had expected them to be given over to what we called “feminine vanity”—“frills and furbelows,” and we found they had evolved a costume more perfect than the Chinese dress, richly beautiful when so desired, always useful, of unfailing dignity and good taste.
We had expected a dull submissive monotony, and found a daring social inventiveness far beyond our own, and a mechanical and scientific development fully equal to ours.
We had expected pettiness, and found a social consciousness besides which our nations looked like quarreling children—feebleminded ones at that.
We had expected jealousy, and found a broad sisterly affection, a fair-minded intelligence, to which we could produce no parallel.
We had expected hysteria, and found a standard of health and vigor, a calmness of temper, to which the habit of profanity, for instance, was impossible to explain—we tried it.
All these things even Terry had to admit, but he still insisted that we should find out the other side pretty soon.
“It stands to reason, doesn’t it?” he argued. “The whole thing’s deuced unnatural—I’d say impossible if we weren’t in it. And an unnatural condition’s sure to have unnatural results. You’ll find some awful characteristics—see if you don’t! For instance—we don’t know yet what they do with their criminals—their defectives—their aged. You notice we haven’t seen any! There’s got to be something!”
I was inclined to believe that there had to be something, so I took the bull by the horns—the cow, I should say!—and asked Somel.
“I want to find some flaw in all this perfection,” I told her flatly. “It simply isn’t possible that three million people have no faults. We are trying our best to understand and learn—would you mind helping us by saying what, to your minds, are the worst qualities of this unique civilization of yours?”
We were sitting together in a shaded arbor, in one of those eating-gardens of theirs. The delicious food had been eaten, a plate of fruit still before us. We could look out on one side over a stretch of open country, quietly rich and lovely; on the other, the garden, with tables here and there, far apart enough for privacy. Let me say right here that with all their careful “balance of population” there was no crowding in this country. There was room, space, a sunny breezy freedom everywhere.
Somel set her chin upon her hand, her elbow on the low wall beside her, and looked off over the fair land.
“Of course we have faults—all of us,” she said. “In one way you might say that we have more than we used to—that is, our standard of perfection seems to get farther and farther away. But we are not discouraged, because our records do show gain—considerable gain.
“When we began—even with the start of one particularly noble mother—we inherited the characteristics of a long race-record behind her. And they cropped out from time to time—alarmingly. But it is—yes, quite six hundred years since we have had what you call a ‘criminal.’
“We have, of course, made it our first business to train out, to breed out, when possible, the lowest types.”
“Breed out?” I asked. “How could you—with parthenogenesis?”
“If the girl showing the bad qualities had still the power to appreciate social duty, we appealed to her, by that, to renounce motherhood. Some of the few worst types were, fortunately, unable to reproduce. But if the fault was in a disproportionate egotism—then the girl was sure she had the right to have children, even that hers would be better than others.”
“I can see that,” I said. “And then she would be likely to rear them in the same spirit.”
“That we never allowed,” answered Somel quietly.
“Allowed?” I queried. “Allowed a mother to rear her own children?”
“Certainly not,” said Somel, “unless she was fit for that supreme task.”
This was rather a blow to my previous convictions.
“But I thought motherhood was for each of you—”
“Motherhood—yes, that is, maternity, to bear a child. But education is our highest art, only allowed to our highest artists.”
“Education?” I was puzzled again. “I don’t mean education. I mean by motherhood not only childbearing, but the care of babies.”
“The care of babies involves education, and is entrusted only to the most fit,” she repeated.
“Then you separate mother and child!” I cried in cold horror, something of Terry’s feeling creeping over me, that there must be something wrong among these many virtues.
“Not usually,” she patiently explained. “You see, almost every woman values her maternity above everything else. Each girl holds it close and dear, an exquisite joy, a crowning honor, the most intimate, most personal, most precious thing. That is, the child-rearing has come to be with us a culture so profoundly studied, practiced with such subtlety and skill, that the more we love our children the less we are willing to trust that process to unskilled hands—even our own.”
“But a mother’s love—” I ventured.
She studied my face, trying to work out a means of clear explanation.
“You told us about your dentists,” she said, at length, “those quaintly specialized persons who spend their lives filling little holes in other persons’ teeth—even in children’s teeth sometimes.”
“Yes?” I said, not getting her drift.
“Does mother-love urge mothers—with you—to fill their own children’s teeth? Or to wish to?”
“Why no—of course not,” I protested. “But that is a highly specialized craft. Surely the care of babies is open to any woman—any mother!”
“We do not think so,” she gently replied. “Those of us who are the most highly competent fulfill that office; and a majority of our girls eagerly try for it—I assure you we have the very best.”
“But the poor mother—bereaved of her baby—”
“Oh no!” she earnestly assured me. “Not in the least bereaved. It is her baby still—it is with her—she has not lost it. But she is not the only one to care for it. There are others whom she knows to be wiser. She knows it because she has studied as they did, practiced as they did, and honors their real superiority. For the child’s sake, she is glad to have for it this highest care.”
I was unconvinced. Besides, this was only hearsay; I had yet to see the motherhood of Herland.
At last Terry’s ambition was realized. We were invited, always courteously and with free choice on our part, to address general audiences and classes of girls.
I remember the first time—and how careful we were about our clothes, and our amateur barbering. Terry, in particular, was fussy to a degree about the cut of his beard, and so critical of our combined efforts, that we handed him the shears and told him to please himself. We began to rather prize those beards of ours; they were almost our sole distinction among those tall and sturdy women, with their cropped hair and sexless costume. Being offered a wide selection of garments, we had chosen according to our personal taste, and were surprised to find, on meeting large audiences, that we were the most highly decorated, especially Terry.
He was a very impressive figure, his strong features softened by the somewhat longer hair—though he made me trim it as closely as I knew how; and he wore his richly embroidered tunic with its broad, loose girdle with quite a Henry V air. Jeff looked more like—well, like a Huguenot Lover; and I don’t know what I looked like, only that I felt very comfortable. When I got back to our own padded armor and its starched borders I realized with acute regret how comfortable were those Herland clothes.
We scanned that audience, looking for the three bright faces we knew; but they were not to be seen. Just a multitude of girls: quiet, eager, watchful, all eyes and ears to listen and learn.
We had been urged to give, as fully as we cared to, a sort of synopsis of world history, in brief, and to answer questions.
“We are so utterly ignorant, you see,” Moadine had explained to us. “We know nothing but such science as we have worked out for ourselves, just the brain work of one small half-country; and you, we gather, have helped one another all over the globe, sharing your discoveries, pooling your progress. How wonderful, how supremely beautiful your civilization must be!”
Somel gave a further suggestion.
“You do not have to begin all over again, as you did with us. We have made a sort of digest of what we have learned from you, and it has been eagerly absorbed, all over the country. Perhaps you would like to see our outline?”
We were eager to see it, and deeply impressed. To us, at first, these women, unavoidably ignorant of what to us was the basic commonplace of knowledge, had seemed on the plane of children, or of savages. What we had been forced to admit, with growing acquaintance, was that they were ignorant as Plato and Aristotle were, but with a highly developed mentality quite comparable to that of Ancient Greece.
Far be it from me to lumber these pages with an account of what we so imperfectly strove to teach them. The memorable fact is what they taught us, or some faint glimpse of it. And at present, our major interest was not at all in the subject matter of our talk, but in the audience.
Girls—hundreds of them—eager, bright-eyed, attentive young faces; crowding questions, and, I regret to say, an increasing inability on our part to answer them effectively.
Our special guides, who were on the platform with us, and sometimes aided in clarifying a question or, oftener, an answer, noticed this effect, and closed the formal lecture part of the evening rather shortly.
“Our young women will be glad to meet you,” Somel suggested, “to talk with you more personally, if you are willing?”
Willing! We were impatient and said as much, at which I saw a flickering little smile cross Moadine’s face. Even then, with all those eager young things waiting to talk to us, a sudden question crossed my mind: “What was their point of view? What did they think of us?” We learned that later.
Terry plunged in among those young creatures with a sort of rapture, somewhat as a glad swimmer takes to the sea. Jeff, with a rapt look on his high-bred face, approached as to a sacrament. But I was a little chilled by that last thought of mine, and kept my eyes open. I found time to watch Jeff, even while I was surrounded by an eager group of questioners—as we all were—and saw how his worshipping eyes, his grave courtesy, pleased and drew some of them; while others, rather stronger spirits they looked to be, drew away from his group to Terry’s or mine.
I watched Terry with special interest, knowing how he had longed for this time, and how irresistible he had always been at home. And I could see, just in snatches, of course, how his suave and masterful approach seemed to irritate them; his too-intimate glances were vaguely resented, his compliments puzzled and annoyed. Sometimes a girl would flush, not with drooped eyelids and inviting timidity, but with anger and a quick lift of the head. Girl after girl turned on her heel and left him, till he had but a small ring of questioners, and they, visibly, were the least “girlish” of the lot.
I saw him looking pleased at first, as if he thought he was making a strong impression; but, finally, casting a look at Jeff, or me, he seemed less pleased—and less.
As for me, I was most agreeably surprised. At home I never was “popular.” I had my girl friends, good ones, but they were friends—nothing else. Also they were of somewhat the same clan, not popular in the sense of swarming admirers. But here, to my astonishment, I found my crowd was the largest.
I have to generalize, of course, rather telescoping many impressions; but the first evening was a good sample of the impression we made. Jeff had a following, if I may call it that, of the more sentimental—though that’s not the word I want. The less practical, perhaps; the girls who were artists of some sort, ethicists, teachers—that kind.
Terry was reduced to a rather combative group: keen, logical, inquiring minds, not overly sensitive, the very kind he liked least; while, as for me—I became quite cocky over my general popularity.
Terry was furious about it. We could hardly blame him.
“Girls!” he burst forth, when that evening was over and we were by ourselves once more. “Call those girls!”
“Most delightful girls, I call them,” said Jeff, his blue eyes dreamily contented.
“What do you call them?” I mildly inquired.
“Boys! Nothing but boys, most of ’em. A standoffish, disagreeable lot at that. Critical, impertinent youngsters. No girls at all.”
He was angry and severe, not a little jealous, too, I think. Afterward, when he found out just what it was they did not like, he changed his manner somewhat and got on better. He had to. For, in spite of his criticism, they were girls, and, furthermore, all the girls there were! Always excepting our three!—with whom we presently renewed our acquaintance.
When it came to courtship, which it soon did, I can of course best describe my own—and am least inclined to. But of Jeff I heard somewhat; he was inclined to dwell reverently and admiringly, at some length, on the exalted sentiment and measureless perfection of his Celis; and Terry—Terry made so many false starts and met so many rebuffs, that by the time he really settled down to win Alima, he was considerably wiser. At that, it was not smooth sailing. They broke and quarreled, over and over; he would rush off to console himself with some other fair one—the other fair one would have none of him—and he would drift back to Alima, becoming more and more devoted each time.
She never gave an inch. A big, handsome creature, rather exceptionally strong even in that race of strong women, with a proud head and sweeping level brows that lined across above her dark eager eyes like the wide wings of a soaring hawk.
I was good friends with all three of them but best of all with Ellador, long before that feeling changed, for both of us.
From her, and from Somel, who talked very freely with me, I learned at last something of the viewpoint of Herland toward its visitors.
Here they were, isolated, happy, contented, when the booming buzz of our biplane tore the air above them.
Everybody heard it—saw it—for miles and miles, word flashed all over the country, and a council was held in every town and village.
And this was their rapid determination:
“From another country. Probably men. Evidently highly civilized. Doubtless possessed of much valuable knowledge. May be dangerous. Catch them if possible; tame and train them if necessary This may be a chance to reestablish a bi-sexual state for our people.”
They were not afraid of us—three million highly intelligent women—or two million, counting only grownups—were not likely to be afraid of three young men. We thought of them as “Women,” and therefore timid; but it was two thousand years since they had had anything to be afraid of, and certainly more than one thousand since they had outgrown the feeling.
We thought—at least Terry did—that we could have our pick of them. They thought—very cautiously and farsightedly—of picking us, if it seemed wise.
All that time we were in training they studied us, analyzed us, prepared reports about us, and this information was widely disseminated all about the land.
Not a girl in that country had not been learning for months as much as could be gathered about our country, our culture, our personal characters. No wonder their questions were hard to answer. But I am sorry to say, when we were at last brought out and—exhibited (I hate to call it that, but that’s what it was), there was no rush of takers. Here was poor old Terry fondly imagining that at last he was free to stray in “a rosebud garden of girls”—and behold! the rosebuds were all with keen appraising eye, studying us.
They were interested, profoundly interested, but it was not the kind of interest we were looking for.
To get an idea of their attitude you have to hold in mind their extremely high sense of solidarity. They were not each choosing a lover; they hadn’t the faintest idea of love—sex-love, that is. These girls—to each of whom motherhood was a lodestar, and that motherhood exalted above a mere personal function, looked forward to as the highest social service, as the sacrament of a lifetime—were now confronted with an opportunity to make the great step of changing their whole status, of reverting to their earlier bi-sexual order of nature.
Beside this underlying consideration there was the limitless interest and curiosity in our civilization, purely impersonal, and held by an order of mind beside which we were like—schoolboys.
It was small wonder that our lectures were not a success; and none at all that our, or at least Terry’s, advances were so ill received. The reason for my own comparative success was at first far from pleasing to my pride.
“We like you the best,” Somel told me, “because you seem more like us.”
“More like a lot of women!” I thought to myself disgustedly, and then remembered how little like “women,” in our derogatory sense, they were. She was smiling at me, reading my thought.
“We can quite see that we do not seem like—women—to you. Of course, in a bi-sexual race the distinctive feature of each sex must be intensified. But surely there are characteristics enough which belong to People, aren’t there? That’s what I mean about you being more like us—more like People. We feel at ease with you.”
Jeff’s difficulty was his exalted gallantry. He idealized women, and was always looking for a chance to “protect” or to “serve” them. These needed neither protection nor service. They were living in peace and power and plenty; we were their guests, their prisoners, absolutely dependent.
Of course we could promise whatsoever we might of advantages, if they would come to our country; but the more we knew of theirs, the less we boasted.
Terry’s jewels and trinkets they prized as curios; handed them about, asking questions as to workmanship, not in the least as to value; and discussed not ownership, but which museum to put them in.
When a man has nothing to give a woman, is dependent wholly on his personal attraction, his courtship is under limitations.
They were considering these two things: the advisability of making the Great Change; and the degree of personal adaptability which would best serve that end.
Here we had the advantage of our small personal experience with those three fleet forest girls; and that served to draw us together.
As for Ellador: Suppose you come to a strange land and find it pleasant enough—just a little more than ordinarily pleasant—and then you find rich farmland, and then gardens, gorgeous gardens, and then palaces full of rare and curious treasures—incalculable, inexhaustible, and then—mountains—like the Himalayas, and then the sea.
I liked her that day she balanced on the branch before me and named the trio. I thought of her most. Afterward I turned to her like a friend when we met for the third time, and continued the acquaintance. While Jeff’s ultra-devotion rather puzzled Celis, really put off their day of happiness, while Terry and Alima quarreled and parted, re-met and re-parted, Ellador and I grew to be close friends.
We talked and talked. We took long walks together. She showed me things, explained them, interpreted much that I had not understood. Through her sympathetic intelligence I became more and more comprehending of the spirit of the people of Herland, more and more appreciative of its marvelous inner growth as well as outer perfection.
I ceased to feel a stranger, a prisoner. There was a sense of understanding, of identity, of purpose. We discussed—everything. And, as I traveled farther and farther, exploring the rich, sweet soul of her, my sense of pleasant friendship became but a broad foundation for such height, such breadth, such interlocked combination of feeling as left me fairly blinded with the wonder of it.
As I’ve said, I had never cared very much for women, nor they for me—not Terry-fashion. But this one—
At first I never even thought of her “in that way,” as the girls have it. I had not come to the country with any Turkish-harem intentions, and I was no woman-worshipper like Jeff. I just liked that girl “as a friend,” as we say. That friendship grew like a tree. She was such a good sport! We did all kinds of things together. She taught me games and I taught her games, and we raced and rowed and had all manner of fun, as well as higher comradeship.
Then, as I got on farther, the palace and treasures and snowy mountain ranges opened up. I had never known there could be such a human being. So—great. I don’t mean talented. She was a forester—one of the best—but it was not that gift I mean. When I say “great,” I mean great—big, all through. If I had known more of those women, as intimately, I should not have found her so unique; but even among them she was noble. Her mother was an Over Mother—and her grandmother, too, I heard later.
So she told me more and more of her beautiful land; and I told her as much, yes, more than I wanted to, about mine; and we became inseparable. Then this deeper recognition came and grew. I felt my own soul rise and lift its wings, as it were. Life got bigger. It seemed as if I understood—as I never had before—as if I could Do things—as if I too could grow—if she would help me. And then It came—to both of us, all at once.
A still day—on the edge of the world, their world. The two of us, gazing out over the far dim forestland below, talking of heaven and earth and human life, and of my land and other lands and what they needed and what I hoped to do for them—
“If you will help me,” I said.
She turned to me, with that high, sweet look of hers, and then, as her eyes rested in mine and her hands too—then suddenly there blazed out between us a farther glory, instant, overwhelming—quite beyond any words of mine to tell.
Celis was a blue-and-gold-and-rose person; Alima, black-and-white-and-red, a blazing beauty. Ellador was brown: hair dark and soft, like a seal coat; clear brown skin with a healthy red in it; brown eyes—all the way from topaz to black velvet they seemed to range—splendid girls, all of them.
They had seen us first of all, far down in the lake below, and flashed the tidings across the land even before our first exploring flight. They had watched our landing, flitted through the forest with us, hidden in that tree and—I shrewdly suspect—giggled on purpose.
They had kept watch over our hooded machine, taking turns at it; and when our escape was announced, had followed alongside for a day or two, and been there at the last, as described. They felt a special claim on us—called us “their men”—and when we were at liberty to study the land and people, and be studied by them, their claim was recognized by the wise leaders.
But I felt, we all did, that we should have chosen them among millions, unerringly.
And yet “the path of true love never did run smooth”; this period of courtship was full of the most unsuspected pitfalls.
Writing this as late as I do, after manifold experiences both in Herland and, later, in my own land, I can now understand and philosophize about what was then a continual astonishment and often a temporary tragedy.
The “long suit” in most courtships is sex attraction, of course. Then gradually develops such comradeship as the two temperaments allow. Then, after marriage, there is either the establishment of a slow-growing, widely based friendship, the deepest, tenderest, sweetest of relations, all lit and warmed by the recurrent flame of love; or else that process is reversed, love cools and fades, no friendship grows, the whole relation turns from beauty to ashes.
Here everything was different. There was no sex-feeling to appeal to, or practically none. Two thousand years’ disuse had left very little of the instinct; also we must remember that those who had at times manifested it as atavistic exceptions were often, by that very fact, denied motherhood.
Yet while the mother process remains, the inherent ground for sex-distinction remains also; and who shall say what long-forgotten feeling, vague and nameless, was stirred in some of these mother hearts by our arrival?
What left us even more at sea in our approach was the lack of any sex-tradition. There was no accepted standard of what was “manly” and what was “womanly.”
When Jeff said, taking the fruit basket from his adored one, “A woman should not carry anything,” Celis said, “Why?” with the frankest amazement. He could not look that fleet-footed, deep-chested young forester in the face and say, “Because she is weaker.” She wasn’t. One does not call a race horse weak because it is visibly not a cart horse.
He said, rather lamely, that women were not built for heavy work.
She looked out across the fields to where some women were working, building a new bit of wall out of large stones; looked back at the nearest town with its woman-built houses; down at the smooth, hard road we were walking on; and then at the little basket he had taken from her.
“I don’t understand,” she said quite sweetly. “Are the women in your country so weak that they could not carry such a thing as that?”
“It is a convention,” he said. “We assume that motherhood is a sufficient burden—that men should carry all the others.”
“What a beautiful feeling!” she said, her blue eyes shining.
“Does it work?” asked Alima, in her keen, swift way. “Do all men in all countries carry everything? Or is it only in yours?”
“Don’t be so literal,” Terry begged lazily. “Why aren’t you willing to be worshipped and waited on? We like to do it.”
“You don’t like to have us do it to you,” she answered.
“That’s different,” he said, annoyed; and when she said, “Why is it?” he quite sulked, referring her to me, saying, “Van’s the philosopher.”
Ellador and I talked it all out together, so that we had an easier experience of it when the real miracle time came. Also, between us, we made things clearer to Jeff and Celis. But Terry would not listen to reason.
He was madly in love with Alima. He wanted to take her by storm, and nearly lost her forever.
You see, if a man loves a girl who is in the first place young and inexperienced; who in the second place is educated with a background of caveman tradition, a middle-ground of poetry and romance, and a foreground of unspoken hope and interest all centering upon the one Event; and who has, furthermore, absolutely no other hope or interest worthy of the name—why, it is a comparatively easy matter to sweep her off her feet with a dashing attack. Terry was a past master in this process. He tried it here, and Alima was so affronted, so repelled, that it was weeks before he got near enough to try again.
The more coldly she denied him, the hotter his determination; he was not used to real refusal. The approach of flattery she dismissed with laughter, gifts and such “attentions” we could not bring to bear, pathos and complaint of cruelty stirred only a reasoning inquiry. It took Terry a long time.
I doubt if she ever accepted her strange lover as fully as did Celis and Ellador theirs. He had hurt and offended her too often; there were reservations.
But I think Alima retained some faint vestige of long-descended feeling which made Terry more possible to her than to others; and that she had made up her mind to the experiment and hated to renounce it.
However it came about, we all three at length achieved full understanding, and solemnly faced what was to them a step of measureless importance, a grave question as well as a great happiness; to us a strange, new joy.
Of marriage as a ceremony they knew nothing. Jeff was for bringing them to our country for the religious and the civil ceremony, but neither Celis nor the others would consent.
“We can’t expect them to want to go with us—yet,” said Terry sagely. “Wait a bit, boys. We’ve got to take ’em on their own terms—if at all.” This, in rueful reminiscence of his repeated failures.
“But our time’s coming,” he added cheerfully. “These women have never been mastered, you see—” This, as one who had made a discovery.
“You’d better not try to do any mastering if you value your chances,” I told him seriously; but he only laughed, and said, “Every man to his trade!”
We couldn’t do anything with him. He had to take his own medicine.
If the lack of tradition of courtship left us much at sea in our wooing, we found ourselves still more bewildered by lack of tradition of matrimony.
And here again, I have to draw on later experience, and as deep an acquaintance with their culture as I could achieve, to explain the gulfs of difference between us.
Two thousand years of one continuous culture with no men. Back of that, only traditions of the harem. They had no exact analogue for our word “home,” any more than they had for our Roman-based “family.”
They loved one another with a practically universal affection, rising to exquisite and unbroken friendships, and broadening to a devotion to their country and people for which our word “patriotism” is no definition at all.
Patriotism, red hot, is compatible with the existence of a neglect of national interests, a dishonesty, a cold indifference to the suffering of millions. Patriotism is largely pride, and very largely combativeness. Patriotism generally has a chip on its shoulder.
This country had no other country to measure itself by—save the few poor savages far below, with whom they had no contact.
They loved their country because it was their nursery, playground, and workshop—theirs and their children’s. They were proud of it as a workshop, proud of their record of ever-increasing efficiency; they had made a pleasant garden of it, a very practical little heaven; but most of all they valued it—and here it is hard for us to understand them—as a cultural environment for their children.
That, of course, is the keynote of the whole distinction—their children.
From those first breathlessly guarded, half-adored race mothers, all up the ascending line, they had this dominant thought of building up a great race through the children.
All the surrendering devotion our women have put into their private families, these women put into their country and race. All the loyalty and service men expect of wives, they gave, not singly to men, but collectively to one another.
And the mother instinct, with us so painfully intense, so thwarted by conditions, so concentrated in personal devotion to a few, so bitterly hurt by death, disease, or barrenness, and even by the mere growth of the children, leaving the mother alone in her empty nest—all this feeling with them flowed out in a strong, wide current, unbroken through the generations, deepening and widening through the years, including every child in all the land.
With their united power and wisdom, they had studied and overcome the “diseases of childhood”—their children had none.
They had faced the problems of education and so solved them that their children grew up as naturally as young trees; learning through every sense; taught continuously but unconsciously—never knowing they were being educated.
In fact, they did not use the word as we do. Their idea of education was the special training they took, when half grown up, under experts. Then the eager young minds fairly flung themselves on their chosen subjects, and acquired with an ease, a breadth, a grasp, at which I never ceased to wonder.
But the babies and little children never felt the pressure of that “forcible feeding” of the mind that we call “education.” Of this, more later.
What I’m trying to show here is that with these women the whole relationship of life counted in a glad, eager growing-up to join the ranks of workers in the line best loved; a deep, tender reverence for one’s own mother—too deep for them to speak of freely—and beyond that, the whole, free, wide range of sisterhood, the splendid service of the country, and friendships.
To these women we came, filled with the ideas, convictions, traditions, of our culture, and undertook to rouse in them the emotions which—to us—seemed proper.
However much, or little, of true sex-feeling there was between us, it phrased itself in their minds in terms of friendship, the one purely personal love they knew, and of ultimate parentage. Visibly we were not mothers, nor children, nor compatriots; so, if they loved us, we must be friends.
That we should pair off together in our courting days was natural to them; that we three should remain much together, as they did themselves, was also natural. We had as yet no work, so we hung about them in their forest tasks; that was natural, too.
But when we began to talk about each couple having “homes” of our own, they could not understand it.
“Our work takes us all around the country,” explained Celis. “We cannot live in one place all the time.”
“We are together now,” urged Alima, looking proudly at Terry’s stalwart nearness. (This was one of the times when they were “on,” though presently “off” again.)
“It’s not the same thing at all,” he insisted. “A man wants a home of his own, with his wife and family in it.”
“Staying in it? All the time?” asked Ellador. “Not imprisoned, surely!”
“Of course not! Living there—naturally,” he answered.
“What does she do there—all the time?” Alima demanded. “What is her work?”
Then Terry patiently explained again that our women did not work—with reservations.
“But what do they do—if they have no work?” she persisted.
“They take care of the home—and the children.”
“At the same time?” asked Ellador.
“Why yes. The children play about, and the mother has charge of it all. There are servants, of course.”
It seemed so obvious, so natural to Terry, that he always grew impatient; but the girls were honestly anxious to understand.
“How many children do your women have?” Alima had her notebook out now, and a rather firm set of lip. Terry began to dodge.
“There is no set number, my dear,” he explained. “Some have more, some have less.”
“Some have none at all,” I put in mischievously.
They pounced on this admission and soon wrung from us the general fact that those women who had the most children had the least servants, and those who had the most servants had the least children.
“There!” triumphed Alima. “One or two or no children, and three or four servants. Now what do those women do?”
We explained as best we might. We talked of “social duties,” disingenuously banking on their not interpreting the words as we did; we talked of hospitality, entertainment, and various “interests.” All the time we knew that to these large-minded women whose whole mental outlook was so collective, the limitations of a wholly personal life were inconceivable.
“We cannot really understand it,” Ellador concluded. “We are only half a people. We have our woman-ways and they have their man-ways and their both-ways. We have worked out a system of living which is, of course, limited. They must have a broader, richer, better one. I should like to see it.”
“You shall, dearest,” I whispered.
“There’s nothing to smoke,” complained Terry. He was in the midst of a prolonged quarrel with Alima, and needed a sedative. “There’s nothing to drink. These blessed women have no pleasant vices. I wish we could get out of here!”
This wish was vain. We were always under a certain degree of watchfulness. When Terry burst forth to tramp the streets at night he always found a “Colonel” here or there; and when, on an occasion of fierce though temporary despair, he had plunged to the cliff edge with some vague view to escape, he found several of them close by. We were free—but there was a string to it.
“They’ve no unpleasant ones, either,” Jeff reminded him.
“Wish they had!” Terry persisted. “They’ve neither the vices of men, nor the virtues of women—they’re neuters!”
“You know better than that. Don’t talk nonsense,” said I, severely.
I was thinking of Ellador’s eyes when they gave me a certain look, a look she did not at all realize.
Jeff was equally incensed. “I don’t know what ‘virtues of women’ you miss. Seems to me they have all of them.”
“They’ve no modesty,” snapped Terry. “No patience, no submissiveness, none of that natural yielding which is woman’s greatest charm.”
I shook my head pityingly. “Go and apologize and make friends again, Terry. You’ve got a grouch, that’s all. These women have the virtue of humanity, with less of its faults than any folks I ever saw. As for patience—they’d have pitched us over the cliffs the first day we lit among ’em, if they hadn’t that.”
“There are no—distractions,” he grumbled. “Nowhere a man can go and cut loose a bit. It’s an everlasting parlor and nursery.”
“And workshop,” I added. “And school, and office, and laboratory, and studio, and theater, and—home.”
“Home!” he sneered. “There isn’t a home in the whole pitiful place.”
“There isn’t anything else, and you know it,” Jeff retorted hotly. “I never saw, I never dreamed of, such universal peace and good will and mutual affection.”
“Oh, well, of course, if you like a perpetual Sunday school, it’s all very well. But I like Something Doing. Here it’s all done.”
There was something to this criticism. The years of pioneering lay far behind them. Theirs was a civilization in which the initial difficulties had long since been overcome. The untroubled peace, the unmeasured plenty, the steady health, the large good will and smooth management which ordered everything, left nothing to overcome. It was like a pleasant family in an old established, perfectly run country place.
I liked it because of my eager and continued interest in the sociological achievements involved. Jeff liked it as he would have liked such a family and such a place anywhere.
Terry did not like it because he found nothing to oppose, to struggle with, to conquer.
“Life is a struggle, has to be,” he insisted. “If there is no struggle, there is no life—that’s all.”
“You’re talking nonsense—masculine nonsense,” the peaceful Jeff replied. He was certainly a warm defender of Herland. “Ants don’t raise their myriads by a struggle, do they? Or the bees?”
“Oh, if you go back to insects—and want to live in an anthill—! I tell you the higher grades of life are reached only through struggle—combat. There’s no Drama here. Look at their plays! They make me sick.”
He rather had us there. The drama of the country was—to our taste—rather flat. You see, they lacked the sex motive and, with it, jealousy. They had no interplay of warring nations, no aristocracy and its ambitions, no wealth and poverty opposition.
I see I have said little about the economics of the place; it should have come before, but I’ll go on about the drama now.
They had their own kind. There was a most impressive array of pageantry, of processions, a sort of grand ritual, with their arts and their religion broadly blended. The very babies joined in it. To see one of their great annual festivals, with the massed and marching stateliness of those great mothers, the young women brave and noble, beautiful and strong; and then the children, taking part as naturally as ours would frolic round a Christmas tree—it was overpowering in the impression of joyous, triumphant life.
They had begun at a period when the drama, the dance, music, religion, and education were all very close together; and instead of developing them in detached lines, they had kept the connection. Let me try again to give, if I can, a faint sense of the difference in the life view—the background and basis on which their culture rested.
Ellador told me a lot about it. She took me to see the children, the growing girls, the special teachers. She picked out books for me to read. She always seemed to understand just what I wanted to know, and how to give it to me.
While Terry and Alima struck sparks and parted—he always madly drawn to her and she to him—she must have been, or she’d never have stood the way he behaved—Ellador and I had already a deep, restful feeling, as if we’d always had one another. Jeff and Celis were happy; there was no question of that; but it didn’t seem to me as if they had the good times we did.
Well, here is the Herland child facing life—as Ellador tried to show it to me. From the first memory, they knew Peace, Beauty, Order, Safety, Love, Wisdom, Justice, Patience, and Plenty. By “plenty” I mean that the babies grew up in an environment which met their needs, just as young fawns might grow up in dewy forest glades and brook-fed meadows. And they enjoyed it as frankly and utterly as the fawns would.
They found themselves in a big bright lovely world, full of the most interesting and enchanting things to learn about and to do. The people everywhere were friendly and polite. No Herland child ever met the overbearing rudeness we so commonly show to children. They were People, too, from the first; the most precious part of the nation.
In each step of the rich experience of living, they found the instance they were studying widen out into contact with an endless range of common interests. The things they learned were related, from the first; related to one another, and to the national prosperity.
“It was a butterfly that made me a forester,” said Ellador. “I was about eleven years old, and I found a big purple-and-green butterfly on a low flower. I caught it, very carefully, by the closed wings, as I had been told to do, and carried it to the nearest insect teacher”—I made a note there to ask her what on earth an insect teacher was—“to ask her its name. She took it from me with a little cry of delight. ‘Oh, you blessed child,’ she said. ‘Do you like obernuts?’ Of course I liked obernuts, and said so. It is our best food-nut, you know. ‘This is a female of the obernut moth,’ she told me. ‘They are almost gone. We have been trying to exterminate them for centuries. If you had not caught this one, it might have laid eggs enough to raise worms enough to destroy thousands of our nut trees—thousands of bushels of nuts—and make years and years of trouble for us.’
“Everybody congratulated me. The children all over the country were told to watch for that moth, if there were any more. I was shown the history of the creature, and an account of the damage it used to do and of how long and hard our foremothers had worked to save that tree for us. I grew a foot, it seemed to me, and determined then and there to be a forester.”
This is but an instance; she showed me many. The big difference was that whereas our children grow up in private homes and families, with every effort made to protect and seclude them from a dangerous world, here they grew up in a wide, friendly world, and knew it for theirs, from the first.
Their child-literature was a wonderful thing. I could have spent years following the delicate subtleties, the smooth simplicities with which they had bent that great art to the service of the child mind.
We have two life cycles: the man’s and the woman’s. To the man there is growth, struggle, conquest, the establishment of his family, and as much further success in gain or ambition as he can achieve.
To the woman, growth, the securing of a husband, the subordinate activities of family life, and afterward such “social” or charitable interests as her position allows.
Here was but one cycle, and that a large one.
The child entered upon a broad open field of life, in which motherhood was the one great personal contribution to the national life, and all the rest the individual share in their common activities. Every girl I talked to, at any age above babyhood, had her cheerful determination as to what she was going to be when she grew up.
What Terry meant by saying they had no “modesty” was that this great life-view had no shady places; they had a high sense of personal decorum, but no shame—no knowledge of anything to be ashamed of.
Even their shortcomings and misdeeds in childhood never were presented to them as sins; merely as errors and misplays—as in a game. Some of them, who were palpably less agreeable than others or who had a real weakness or fault, were treated with cheerful allowance, as a friendly group at whist would treat a poor player.
Their religion, you see, was maternal; and their ethics, based on the full perception of evolution, showed the principle of growth and the beauty of wise culture. They had no theory of the essential opposition of good and evil; life to them was growth; their pleasure was in growing, and their duty also.
With this background, with their sublimated mother-love, expressed in terms of widest social activity, every phase of their work was modified by its effect on the national growth. The language itself they had deliberately clarified, simplified, made easy and beautiful, for the sake of the children.
This seemed to us a wholly incredible thing: first, that any nation should have the foresight, the strength, and the persistence to plan and fulfill such a task; and second, that women should have had so much initiative. We have assumed, as a matter of course, that women had none; that only the man, with his natural energy and impatience of restriction, would ever invent anything.
Here we found that the pressure of life upon the environment develops in the human mind its inventive reactions, regardless of sex; and further, that a fully awakened motherhood plans and works without limit, for the good of the child.
That the children might be most nobly born, and reared in an environment calculated to allow the richest, freest growth, they had deliberately remodeled and improved the whole state.
I do not mean in the least that they stopped at that, any more than a child stops at childhood. The most impressive part of their whole culture beyond this perfect system of child-rearing was the range of interests and associations open to them all, for life. But in the field of literature I was most struck, at first, by the child-motive.
They had the same gradation of simple repetitive verse and story that we are familiar with, and the most exquisite, imaginative tales; but where, with us, these are the dribbled remnants of ancient folk myths and primitive lullabies, theirs were the exquisite work of great artists; not only simple and unfailing in appeal to the child-mind, but true, true to the living world about them.
To sit in one of their nurseries for a day was to change one’s views forever as to babyhood. The youngest ones, rosy fatlings in their mothers’ arms, or sleeping lightly in the flower-sweet air, seemed natural enough, save that they never cried. I never heard a child cry in Herland, save once or twice at a bad fall; and then people ran to help, as we would at a scream of agony from a grown person.
Each mother had her year of glory; the time to love and learn, living closely with her child, nursing it proudly, often for two years or more. This perhaps was one reason for their wonderful vigor.
But after the baby-year the mother was not so constantly in attendance, unless, indeed, her work was among the little ones. She was never far off, however, and her attitude toward the co-mothers, whose proud child-service was direct and continuous, was lovely to see.
As for the babies—a group of those naked darlings playing on short velvet grass, clean-swept; or rugs as soft; or in shallow pools of bright water; tumbling over with bubbling joyous baby laughter—it was a view of infant happiness such as I had never dreamed.
The babies were reared in the warmer part of the country, and gradually acclimated to the cooler heights as they grew older.
Sturdy children of ten and twelve played in the snow as joyfully as ours do; there were continuous excursions of them, from one part of the land to another, so that to each child the whole country might be home.
It was all theirs, waiting for them to learn, to love, to use, to serve; as our own little boys plan to be “a big soldier,” or “a cowboy,” or whatever pleases their fancy; and our little girls plan for the kind of home they mean to have, or how many children; these planned, freely and gaily with much happy chattering, of what they would do for the country when they were grown.
It was the eager happiness of the children and young people which first made me see the folly of that common notion of ours—that if life was smooth and happy, people would not enjoy it.
As I studied these youngsters, vigorous, joyous, eager little creatures, and their voracious appetite for life, it shook my previous ideas so thoroughly that they have never been reestablished. The steady level of good health gave them all that natural stimulus we used to call “animal spirits”—an odd contradiction in terms. They found themselves in an immediate environment which was agreeable and interesting, and before them stretched the years of learning and discovery, the fascinating, endless process of education.
As I looked into these methods and compared them with our own, my strange uncomfortable sense of race-humility grew apace.
Ellador could not understand my astonishment. She explained things kindly and sweetly, but with some amazement that they needed explaining, and with sudden questions as to how we did it that left me meeker than ever.
I betook myself to Somel one day, carefully not taking Ellador. I did not mind seeming foolish to Somel—she was used to it.
“I want a chapter of explanation,” I told her. “You know my stupidities by heart, and I do not want to show them to Ellador—she thinks me so wise!”
She smiled delightedly. “It is beautiful to see,” she told me, “this new wonderful love between you. The whole country is interested, you know—how can we help it!”
I had not thought of that. We say: “All the world loves a lover,” but to have a couple of million people watching one’s courtship—and that a difficult one—was rather embarrassing.
“Tell me about your theory of education,” I said. “Make it short and easy. And, to show you what puzzles me, I’ll tell you that in our theory great stress is laid on the forced exertion of the child’s mind; we think it is good for him to overcome obstacles.”
“Of course it is,” she unexpectedly agreed. “All our children do that—they love to.”
That puzzled me again. If they loved to do it, how could it be educational?
“Our theory is this,” she went on carefully. “Here is a young human being. The mind is as natural a thing as the body, a thing that grows, a thing to use and enjoy. We seek to nourish, to stimulate, to exercise the mind of a child as we do the body. There are the two main divisions in education—you have those of course?—the things it is necessary to know, and the things it is necessary to do.”
“To do? Mental exercises, you mean?”
“Yes. Our general plan is this: In the matter of feeding the mind, of furnishing information, we use our best powers to meet the natural appetite of a healthy young brain; not to overfeed it, to provide such amount and variety of impressions as seem most welcome to each child. That is the easiest part. The other division is in arranging a properly graduated series of exercises which will best develop each mind; the common faculties we all have, and most carefully, the especial faculties some of us have. You do this also, do you not?”
“In a way,” I said rather lamely. “We have not so subtle and highly developed a system as you, not approaching it; but tell me more. As to the information—how do you manage? It appears that all of you know pretty much everything—is that right?”
This she laughingly disclaimed. “By no means. We are, as you soon found out, extremely limited in knowledge. I wish you could realize what a ferment the country is in over the new things you have told us; the passionate eagerness among thousands of us to go to your country and learn—learn—learn! But what we do know is readily divisible into common knowledge and special knowledge. The common knowledge we have long since learned to feed into the minds of our little ones with no waste of time or strength; the special knowledge is open to all, as they desire it. Some of us specialize in one line only. But most take up several—some for their regular work, some to grow with.”
“To grow with?”
“Yes. When one settles too close in one kind of work there is a tendency to atrophy in the disused portions of the brain. We like to keep on learning, always.”
“What do you study?”
“As much as we know of the different sciences. We have, within our limits, a good deal of knowledge of anatomy, physiology, nutrition—all that pertains to a full and beautiful personal life. We have our botany and chemistry, and so on—very rudimentary, but interesting; our own history, with its accumulating psychology.”
“You put psychology with history—not with personal life?”
“Of course. It is ours; it is among and between us, and it changes with the succeeding and improving generations. We are at work, slowly and carefully, developing our whole people along these lines. It is glorious work—splendid! To see the thousands of babies improving, showing stronger clearer minds, sweeter dispositions, higher capacities—don’t you find it so in your country?”
This I evaded flatly. I remembered the cheerless claim that the human mind was no better than in its earliest period of savagery, only better informed—a statement I had never believed.
“We try most earnestly for two powers,” Somel continued. “The two that seem to us basically necessary for all noble life: a clear, far-reaching judgment, and a strong well-used will. We spend our best efforts, all through childhood and youth, in developing these faculties, individual judgment and will.”
“As part of your system of education, you mean?”
“Exactly. As the most valuable part. With the babies, as you may have noticed, we first provide an environment which feeds the mind without tiring it; all manner of simple and interesting things to do, as soon as they are old enough to do them; physical properties, of course, come first. But as early as possible, going very carefully, not to tax the mind, we provide choices, simple choices, with very obvious causes and consequences. You’ve noticed the games?”
I had. The children seemed always playing something; or else, sometimes, engaged in peaceful researches of their own. I had wondered at first when they went to school, but soon found that they never did—to their knowledge. It was all education but no schooling.
“We have been working for some sixteen hundred years, devising better and better games for children,” continued Somel.
I sat aghast. “Devising games?” I protested. “Making up new ones, you mean?”
“Exactly,” she answered. “Don’t you?”
Then I remembered the kindergarten, and the “material” devised by Signora Montessori, and guardedly replied: “To some extent.” But most of our games, I told her, were very old—came down from child to child, along the ages, from the remote past.
“And what is their effect?” she asked. “Do they develop the faculties you wish to encourage?”
Again I remembered the claims made by the advocates of “sports,” and again replied guardedly that that was, in part, the theory.
“But do the children like it?” I asked. “Having things made up and set before them that way? Don’t they want the old games?”
“You can see the children,” she answered. “Are yours more contented—more interested—happier?”
Then I thought, as in truth I never had thought before, of the dull, bored children I had seen, whining; “What can I do now?”; of the little groups and gangs hanging about; of the value of some one strong spirit who possessed initiative and would “start something”; of the children’s parties and the onerous duties of the older people set to “amuse the children”; also of that troubled ocean of misdirected activity we call “mischief,” the foolish, destructive, sometimes evil things done by unoccupied children.
“No,” said I grimly. “I don’t think they are.”
The Herland child was born not only into a world carefully prepared, full of the most fascinating materials and opportunities to learn, but into the society of plentiful numbers of teachers, teachers born and trained, whose business it was to accompany the children along that, to us, impossible thing—the royal road to learning.
There was no mystery in their methods. Being adapted to children it was at least comprehensible to adults. I spent many days with the little ones, sometimes with Ellador, sometimes without, and began to feel a crushing pity for my own childhood, and for all others that I had known.
The houses and gardens planned for babies had in them nothing to hurt—no stairs, no corners, no small loose objects to swallow, no fire—just a babies’ paradise. They were taught, as rapidly as feasible, to use and control their own bodies, and never did I see such surefooted, steady-handed, clearheaded little things. It was a joy to watch a row of toddlers learning to walk, not only on a level floor, but, a little later, on a sort of rubber rail raised an inch or two above the soft turf or heavy rugs, and falling off with shrieks of infant joy, to rush back to the end of the line and try again. Surely we have noticed how children love to get up on something and walk along it! But we have never thought to provide that simple and inexhaustible form of amusement and physical education for the young.
Water they had, of course, and could swim even before they walked. If I feared at first the effects of a too intensive system of culture, that fear was dissipated by seeing the long sunny days of pure physical merriment and natural sleep in which these heavenly babies passed their first years. They never knew they were being educated. They did not dream that in this association of hilarious experiment and achievement they were laying the foundation for that close beautiful group feeling into which they grew so firmly with the years. This was education for citizenship.
It took me a long time, as a man, a foreigner, and a species of Christian—I was that as much as anything—to get any clear understanding of the religion of Herland.
Its deification of motherhood was obvious enough; but there was far more to it than that; or, at least, than my first interpretation of that.
I think it was only as I grew to love Ellador more than I believed anyone could love anybody, as I grew faintly to appreciate her inner attitude and state of mind, that I began to get some glimpses of this faith of theirs.
When I asked her about it, she tried at first to tell me, and then, seeing me flounder, asked for more information about ours. She soon found that we had many, that they varied widely, but had some points in common. A clear methodical luminous mind had my Ellador, not only reasonable, but swiftly perceptive.
She made a sort of chart, superimposing the different religions as I described them, with a pin run through them all, as it were; their common basis being a Dominant Power or Powers, and some Special Behavior, mostly taboos, to please or placate. There were some common features in certain groups of religions, but the one always present was this Power, and the things which must be done or not done because of it. It was not hard to trace our human imagery of the Divine Force up through successive stages of bloodthirsty, sensual, proud, and cruel gods of early times to the conception of a Common Father with its corollary of a Common Brotherhood.
This pleased her very much, and when I expatiated on the Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, and so on, of our God, and of the loving kindness taught by his Son, she was much impressed.
The story of the Virgin birth naturally did not astonish her, but she was greatly puzzled by the Sacrifice, and still more by the Devil, and the theory of Damnation.
When in an inadvertent moment I said that certain sects had believed in infant damnation—and explained it—she sat very still indeed.
“They believed that God was Love—and Wisdom—and Power?”
“Yes—all of that.”
Her eyes grew large, her face ghastly pale.
“And yet that such a God could put little new babies to burn—for eternity?” She fell into a sudden shuddering and left me, running swiftly to the nearest temple.
Every smallest village had its temple, and in those gracious retreats sat wise and noble women, quietly busy at some work of their own until they were wanted, always ready to give comfort, light, or help, to any applicant.
Ellador told me afterward how easily this grief of hers was assuaged, and seemed ashamed of not having helped herself out of it.
“You see, we are not accustomed to horrible ideas,” she said, coming back to me rather apologetically. “We haven’t any. And when we get a thing like that into our minds it’s like—oh, like red pepper in your eyes. So I just ran to her, blinded and almost screaming, and she took it out so quickly—so easily!”
“How?” I asked, very curious.
“ ‘Why, you blessed child,’ she said, ‘you’ve got the wrong idea altogether. You do not have to think that there ever was such a God—for there wasn’t. Or such a happening—for there wasn’t. Nor even that this hideous false idea was believed by anybody. But only this—that people who are utterly ignorant will believe anything—which you certainly knew before.’ ”
“Anyhow,” pursued Ellador, “she turned pale for a minute when I first said it.”
This was a lesson to me. No wonder this whole nation of women was peaceful and sweet in expression—they had no horrible ideas.
“Surely you had some when you began,” I suggested.
“Oh, yes, no doubt. But as soon as our religion grew to any height at all we left them out, of course.”
From this, as from many other things, I grew to see what I finally put in words.
“Have you no respect for the past? For what was thought and believed by your foremothers?”
“Why, no,” she said. “Why should we? They are all gone. They knew less than we do. If we are not beyond them, we are unworthy of them—and unworthy of the children who must go beyond us.”
This set me thinking in good earnest. I had always imagined—simply from hearing it said, I suppose—that women were by nature conservative. Yet these women, quite unassisted by any masculine spirit of enterprise, had ignored their past and built daringly for the future.
Ellador watched me think. She seemed to know pretty much what was going on in my mind.
“It’s because we began in a new way, I suppose. All our folks were swept away at once, and then, after that time of despair, came those wonder children—the first. And then the whole breathless hope of us was for their children—if they should have them. And they did! Then there was the period of pride and triumph till we grew too numerous; and after that, when it all came down to one child apiece, we began to really work—to make better ones.”
“But how does this account for such a radical difference in your religion?” I persisted.
She said she couldn’t talk about the difference very intelligently, not being familiar with other religions, but that theirs seemed simple enough. Their great Mother Spirit was to them what their own motherhood was—only magnified beyond human limits. That meant that they felt beneath and behind them an upholding, unfailing, serviceable love—perhaps it was really the accumulated mother-love of the race they felt—but it was a Power.
“Just what is your theory of worship?” I asked her.
“Worship? What is that?”
I found it singularly difficult to explain. This Divine Love which they felt so strongly did not seem to ask anything of them—“any more than our mothers do,” she said.
“But surely your mothers expect honor, reverence, obedience, from you. You have to do things for your mothers, surely?”
“Oh, no,” she insisted, smiling, shaking her soft brown hair. “We do things from our mothers—not for them. We don’t have to do things for them—they don’t need it, you know. But we have to live on—splendidly—because of them; and that’s the way we feel about God.”
I meditated again. I thought of that God of Battles of ours, that Jealous God, that Vengeance-is-mine God. I thought of our world-nightmare—Hell.
“You have no theory of eternal punishment then, I take it?”
Ellador laughed. Her eyes were as bright as stars, and there were tears in them, too. She was so sorry for me.
“How could we?” she asked, fairly enough. “We have no punishments in life, you see, so we don’t imagine them after death.”
“Have you no punishments? Neither for children nor criminals—such mild criminals as you have?” I urged.
“Do you punish a person for a broken leg or a fever? We have preventive measures, and cures; sometimes we have to ‘send the patient to bed,’ as it were; but that’s not a punishment—it’s only part of the treatment,” she explained.
Then studying my point of view more closely, she added: “You see, we recognize, in our human motherhood, a great tender limitless uplifting force—patience and wisdom and all subtlety of delicate method. We credit God—our idea of God—with all that and more. Our mothers are not angry with us—why should God be?”
“Does God mean a person to you?”
This she thought over a little. “Why—in trying to get close to it in our minds we personify the idea, naturally; but we certainly do not assume a Big Woman somewhere, who is God. What we call God is a Pervading Power, you know, an Indwelling Spirit, something inside of us that we want more of. Is your God a Big Man?” she asked innocently.
“Why—yes, to most of us, I think. Of course we call it an Indwelling Spirit just as you do, but we insist that it is Him, a Person, and a Man—with whiskers.”
“Whiskers? Oh yes—because you have them! Or do you wear them because He does?”
“On the contrary, we shave them off—because it seems cleaner and more comfortable.”
“Does He wear clothes—in your idea, I mean?”
I was thinking over the pictures of God I had seen—rash advances of the devout mind of man, representing his Omnipotent Deity as an old man in a flowing robe, flowing hair, flowing beard, and in the light of her perfectly frank and innocent questions this concept seemed rather unsatisfying.
I explained that the God of the Christian world was really the ancient Hebrew God, and that we had simply taken over the patriarchal idea—that ancient one which quite inevitably clothed its thought of God with the attributes of the patriarchal ruler, the grandfather.
“I see,” she said eagerly, after I had explained the genesis and development of our religious ideals. “They lived in separate groups, with a male head, and he was probably a little—domineering?”
“No doubt of that,” I agreed.
“And we live together without any ‘head,’ in that sense—just our chosen leaders—that does make a difference.”
“Your difference is deeper than that,” I assured her. “It is in your common motherhood. Your children grow up in a world where everybody loves them. They find life made rich and happy for them by the diffused love and wisdom of all mothers. So it is easy for you to think of God in the terms of a similar diffused and competent love. I think you are far nearer right than we are.”
“What I cannot understand,” she pursued carefully, “is your preservation of such a very ancient state of mind. This patriarchal idea you tell me is thousands of years old?”
“Oh yes—four, five, six thousand—every so many.”
“And you have made wonderful progress in those years—in other things?”
“We certainly have. But religion is different. You see, our religions come from behind us, and are initiated by some great teacher who is dead. He is supposed to have known the whole thing and taught it, finally. All we have to do is believe—and obey.”
“Who was the great Hebrew teacher?”
“Oh—there it was different. The Hebrew religion is an accumulation of extremely ancient traditions, some far older than their people, and grew by accretion down the ages. We consider it inspired—‘the Word of God.’ ”
“How do you know it is?”
“Because it says so.”
“Does it say so in as many words? Who wrote that in?”
I began to try to recall some text that did say so, and could not bring it to mind.
“Apart from that,” she pursued, “what I cannot understand is why you keep these early religious ideas so long. You have changed all your others, haven’t you?”
“Pretty generally,” I agreed. “But this we call ‘revealed religion,’ and think it is final. But tell me more about these little temples of yours,” I urged. “And these Temple Mothers you run to.”
Then she gave me an extended lesson in applied religion, which I will endeavor to concentrate.
They developed their central theory of a Loving Power, and assumed that its relation to them was motherly—that it desired their welfare and especially their development. Their relation to it, similarly, was filial, a loving appreciation and a glad fulfillment of its high purposes. Then, being nothing if not practical, they set their keen and active minds to discover the kind of conduct expected of them. This worked out in a most admirable system of ethics. The principle of Love was universally recognized—and used.
Patience, gentleness, courtesy, all that we call “good breeding,” was part of their code of conduct. But where they went far beyond us was in the special application of religious feeling to every field of life. They had no ritual, no little set of performances called “divine service,” save those religious pageants I have spoken of, and those were as much educational as religious, and as much social as either. But they had a clear established connection between everything they did—and God. Their cleanliness, their health, their exquisite order, the rich peaceful beauty of the whole land, the happiness of the children, and above all the constant progress they made—all this was their religion.
They applied their minds to the thought of God, and worked out the theory that such an inner power demanded outward expression. They lived as if God was real and at work within them.
As for those little temples everywhere—some of the women were more skilled, more temperamentally inclined, in this direction, than others. These, whatever their work might be, gave certain hours to the Temple Service, which meant being there with all their love and wisdom and trained thought, to smooth out rough places for anyone who needed it. Sometimes it was a real grief, very rarely a quarrel, most often a perplexity; even in Herland the human soul had its hours of darkness. But all through the country their best and wisest were ready to give help.
If the difficulty was unusually profound, the applicant was directed to someone more specially experienced in that line of thought.
Here was a religion which gave to the searching mind a rational basis in life, the concept of an immense Loving Power working steadily out through them, toward good. It gave to the “soul” that sense of contact with the inmost force, of perception of the uttermost purpose, which we always crave. It gave to the “heart” the blessed feeling of being loved, loved and understood. It gave clear, simple, rational directions as to how we should live—and why. And for ritual it gave first those triumphant group demonstrations, when with a union of all the arts, the revivifying combination of great multitudes moved rhythmically with march and dance, song and music, among their own noblest products and the open beauty of their groves and hills. Second, it gave these numerous little centers of wisdom where the least wise could go to the most wise and be helped.
“It is beautiful!” I cried enthusiastically. “It is the most practical, comforting, progressive religion I ever heard of. You do love one another—you do bear one another’s burdens—you do realize that a little child is a type of the kingdom of heaven. You are more Christian than any people I ever saw. But—how about death? And the life everlasting? What does your religion teach about eternity?”
“Nothing,” said Ellador. “What is eternity?”
What indeed? I tried, for the first time in my life, to get a real hold on the idea.
“It is—never stopping.”
“Never stopping?” She looked puzzled.
“Yes, life, going on forever.”
“Oh—we see that, of course. Life does go on forever, all about us.”
“But eternal life goes on without dying.”
“The same person?”
“Yes, the same person, unending, immortal.” I was pleased to think that I had something to teach from our religion, which theirs had never promulgated.
“Here?” asked Ellador. “Never to die—here?” I could see her practical mind heaping up the people, and hurriedly reassured her.
“Oh no, indeed, not here—hereafter. We must die here, of course, but then we ‘enter into eternal life.’ The soul lives forever.”
“How do you know?” she inquired.
“I won’t attempt to prove it to you,” I hastily continued. “Let us assume it to be so. How does this idea strike you?”
Again she smiled at me, that adorable, dimpling, tender, mischievous, motherly smile of hers. “Shall I be quite, quite honest?”
“You couldn’t be anything else,” I said, half gladly and half a little sorry. The transparent honesty of these women was a never-ending astonishment to me.
“It seems to me a singularly foolish idea,” she said calmly. “And if true, most disagreeable.”
Now I had always accepted the doctrine of personal immortality as a thing established. The efforts of inquiring spiritualists, always seeking to woo their beloved ghosts back again, never seemed to me necessary. I don’t say I had ever seriously and courageously discussed the subject with myself even; I had simply assumed it to be a fact. And here was the girl I loved, this creature whose character constantly revealed new heights and ranges far beyond my own, this superwoman of a superland, saying she thought immortality foolish! She meant it, too.
“What do you want it for?” she asked.
“How can you not want it!” I protested. “Do you want to go out like a candle? Don’t you want to go on and on—growing and—and—being happy, forever?”
“Why, no,” she said. “I don’t in the least. I want my child—and my child’s child—to go on—and they will. Why should I want to?”
“But it means Heaven!” I insisted. “Peace and Beauty and Comfort and Love—with God.” I had never been so eloquent on the subject of religion. She could be horrified at Damnation, and question the justice of Salvation, but Immortality—that was surely a noble faith.
“Why, Van,” she said, holding out her hands to me. “Why Van—darling! How splendid of you to feel it so keenly. That’s what we all want, of course—Peace and Beauty, and Comfort and Love—with God! And Progress too, remember; Growth, always and always. That is what our religion teaches us to want and to work for, and we do!”
“But that is here,” I said, “only for this life on earth.”
“Well? And do not you in your country, with your beautiful religion of love and service have it here, too—for this life—on earth?”
None of us were willing to tell the women of Herland about the evils of our own beloved land. It was all very well for us to assume them to be necessary and essential, and to criticize—strictly among ourselves—their all-too-perfect civilization, but when it came to telling them about the failures and wastes of our own, we never could bring ourselves to do it.
Moreover, we sought to avoid too much discussion, and to press the subject of our approaching marriages.
Jeff was the determined one on this score.
“Of course they haven’t any marriage ceremony or service, but we can make it a sort of Quaker wedding, and have it in the temple—it is the least we can do for them.”
It was. There was so little, after all, that we could do for them. Here we were, penniless guests and strangers, with no chance even to use our strength and courage—nothing to defend them from or protect them against.
“We can at least give them our names,” Jeff insisted.
They were very sweet about it, quite willing to do whatever we asked, to please us. As to the names, Alima, frank soul that she was, asked what good it would do.
Terry, always irritating her, said it was a sign of possession. “You are going to be Mrs. Nicholson,” he said. “Mrs. T. O. Nicholson. That shows everyone that you are my wife.”
“What is a ‘wife’ exactly?” she demanded, a dangerous gleam in her eye.
“A wife is the woman who belongs to a man,” he began.
But Jeff took it up eagerly: “And a husband is the man who belongs to a woman. It is because we are monogamous, you know. And marriage is the ceremony, civil and religious, that joins the two together—‘until death do us part,’ ” he finished, looking at Celis with unutterable devotion.
“What makes us all feel foolish,” I told the girls, “is that here we have nothing to give you—except, of course, our names.”
“Do your women have no names before they are married?” Celis suddenly demanded.
“Why, yes,” Jeff explained. “They have their maiden names—their father’s names, that is.”
“And what becomes of them?” asked Alima.
“They change them for their husbands’, my dear,” Terry answered her.
“Change them? Do the husbands then take the wives’ ‘maiden names’?”
“Oh, no,” he laughed. “The man keeps his own and gives it to her, too.”
“Then she just loses hers and takes a new one—how unpleasant! We won’t do that!” Alima said decidedly.
Terry was good-humored about it. “I don’t care what you do or don’t do so long as we have that wedding pretty soon,” he said, reaching a strong brown hand after Alima’s, quite as brown and nearly as strong.
“As to giving us things—of course we can see that you’d like to, but we are glad you can’t,” Celis continued. “You see, we love you just for yourselves—we wouldn’t want you to—to pay anything. Isn’t it enough to know that you are loved personally—and just as men?”
Enough or not, that was the way we were married. We had a great triple wedding in the biggest temple of all, and it looked as if most of the nation was present. It was very solemn and very beautiful. Someone had written a new song for the occasion, nobly beautiful, about the New Hope for their people—the New Tie with other lands—Brotherhood as well as Sisterhood, and, with evident awe, Fatherhood.
Terry was always restive under their talk of fatherhood. “Anybody’d think we were High Priests of—of Philoprogenitiveness!” he protested. “These women think of nothing but children, seems to me! We’ll teach ’em!”
He was so certain of what he was going to teach, and Alima so uncertain in her moods of reception, that Jeff and I feared the worst. We tried to caution him—much good that did. The big handsome fellow drew himself up to his full height, lifted that great chest of his, and laughed.
“There are three separate marriages,” he said. “I won’t interfere with yours—nor you with mine.”
So the great day came, and the countless crowds of women, and we three bridegrooms without any supporting “best men,” or any other men to back us up, felt strangely small as we came forward.
Somel and Zava and Moadine were on hand; we were thankful to have them, too—they seemed almost like relatives.
There was a splendid procession, wreathing dances, the new anthem I spoke of, and the whole great place pulsed with feeling—the deep awe, the sweet hope, the wondering expectation of a new miracle.
“There has been nothing like this in the country since our Motherhood began!” Somel said softly to me, while we watched the symbolic marches. “You see, it is the dawn of a new era. You don’t know how much you mean to us. It is not only Fatherhood—that marvelous dual parentage to which we are strangers—the miracle of union in life-giving—but it is Brotherhood. You are the rest of the world. You join us to our kind—to all the strange lands and peoples we have never seen. We hope to know them—to love and help them—and to learn of them. Ah! You cannot know!”
Thousands of voices rose in the soaring climax of that great “Hymn of The Coming Life.” By the great Altar of Motherhood, with its crown of fruit and flowers, stood a new one, crowned as well. Before the Great Over Mother of the Land and her ring of High Temple Counsellors, before that vast multitude of calm-faced mothers and holy-eyed maidens, came forward our own three chosen ones, and we, three men alone in all that land, joined hands with them and made our marriage vows.
We say, “Marriage is a lottery”; also “Marriages are made in Heaven”—but this is not so widely accepted as the other.
We have a well-founded theory that it is best to marry “in one’s class,” and certain well-grounded suspicions of international marriages, which seem to persist in the interests of social progress, rather than in those of the contracting parties.
But no combination of alien races, of color, of caste, or creed, was ever so basically difficult to establish as that between us, three modern American men, and these three women of Herland.
It is all very well to say that we should have been frank about it beforehand. We had been frank. We had discussed—at least Ellador and I had—the conditions of The Great Adventure, and thought the path was clear before us. But there are some things one takes for granted, supposes are mutually understood, and to which both parties may repeatedly refer without ever meaning the same thing.
The differences in the education of the average man and woman are great enough, but the trouble they make is not mostly for the man; he generally carries out his own views of the case. The woman may have imagined the conditions of married life to be different; but what she imagined, was ignorant of, or might have preferred, did not seriously matter.
I can see clearly and speak calmly about this now, writing after a lapse of years, years full of growth and education, but at the time it was rather hard sledding for all of us—especially for Terry. Poor Terry! You see, in any other imaginable marriage among the peoples of the earth, whether the woman were black, red, yellow, brown, or white; whether she were ignorant or educated, submissive or rebellious, she would have behind her the marriage tradition of our general history. This tradition relates the woman to the man. He goes on with his business, and she adapts herself to him and to it. Even in citizenship, by some strange hocus-pocus, that fact of birth and geography was waved aside, and the woman automatically acquired the nationality of her husband.
Well—here were we, three aliens in this land of women. It was small in area, and the external differences were not so great as to astound us. We did not yet appreciate the differences between the race-mind of this people and ours.
In the first place, they were a “pure stock” of two thousand uninterrupted years. Where we have some long connected lines of thought and feeling, together with a wide range of differences, often irreconcilable, these people were smoothly and firmly agreed on most of the basic principles of their life; and not only agreed in principle, but accustomed for these sixty-odd generations to act on those principles.
This is one thing which we did not understand—had made no allowance for. When in our premarital discussions one of those dear girls had said: “We understand it thus and thus,” or “We hold such and such to be true,” we men, in our own deep-seated convictions of the power of love, and our easy views about beliefs and principles, fondly imagined that we could convince them otherwise. What we imagined, before marriage, did not matter any more than what an average innocent young girl imagines. We found the facts to be different.
It was not that they did not love us; they did, deeply and warmly. But there you are again—what they meant by “love” and what we meant by “love” were so different.
Perhaps it seems rather cold-blooded to say “we” and “they,” as if we were not separate couples, with our separate joys and sorrows, but our positions as aliens drove us together constantly. The whole strange experience had made our friendship more close and intimate than it would ever have become in a free and easy lifetime among our own people. Also, as men, with our masculine tradition of far more than two thousand years, we were a unit, small but firm, against this far larger unit of feminine tradition.
I think I can make clear the points of difference without a too painful explicitness. The more external disagreement was in the matter of “the home,” and the housekeeping duties and pleasures we, by instinct and long education, supposed to be inherently appropriate to women.
I will give two illustrations, one away up, and the other away down, to show how completely disappointed we were in this regard.
For the lower one, try to imagine a male ant, coming from some state of existence where ants live in pairs, endeavoring to set up housekeeping with a female ant from a highly developed anthill. This female ant might regard him with intense personal affection, but her ideas of parentage and economic management would be on a very different scale from his. Now, of course, if she was a stray female in a country of pairing ants, he might have had his way with her; but if he was a stray male in an anthill—!
For the higher one, try to imagine a devoted and impassioned man trying to set up housekeeping with a lady angel, a real wings-and-harp-and-halo angel, accustomed to fulfilling divine missions all over interstellar space. This angel might love the man with an affection quite beyond his power of return or even of appreciation, but her ideas of service and duty would be on a very different scale from his. Of course, if she was a stray angel in a country of men, he might have had his way with her; but if he was a stray man among angels—!
Terry, at his worst, in a black fury for which, as a man, I must have some sympathy, preferred the ant simile. More of Terry and his special troubles later. It was hard on Terry.
Jeff—well, Jeff always had a streak that was too good for this world! He’s the kind that would have made a saintly priest in earlier times. He accepted the angel theory, swallowed it whole, tried to force it on us—with varying effect. He so worshipped Celis, and not only Celis, but what she represented; he had become so deeply convinced of the almost supernatural advantages of this country and people, that he took his medicine like a—I cannot say “like a man,” but more as if he wasn’t one.
Don’t misunderstand me for a moment. Dear old Jeff was no milksop or mollycoddle either. He was a strong, brave, efficient man, and an excellent fighter when fighting was necessary. But there was always this angel streak in him. It was rather a wonder, Terry being so different, that he really loved Jeff as he did; but it happens so sometimes, in spite of the difference—perhaps because of it.
As for me, I stood between. I was no such gay Lothario as Terry, and no such Galahad as Jeff. But for all my limitations I think I had the habit of using my brains in regard to behavior rather more frequently than either of them. I had to use brainpower now, I can tell you.
The big point at issue between us and our wives was, as may easily be imagined, in the very nature of the relation.
“Wives! Don’t talk to me about wives!” stormed Terry. “They don’t know what the word means.”
Which is exactly the fact—they didn’t. How could they? Back in their prehistoric records of polygamy and slavery there were no ideals of wifehood as we know it, and since then no possibility of forming such.
“The only thing they can think of about a man is fatherhood!” said Terry in high scorn. “Fatherhood! As if a man was always wanting to be a father!”
This also was correct. They had their long, wide, deep, rich experience of Motherhood, and their only perception of the value of a male creature as such was for Fatherhood.
Aside from that, of course, was the whole range of personal love, love which as Jeff earnestly phrased it “passeth the love of women!” It did, too. I can give no idea—either now, after long and happy experience of it, or as it seemed then, in the first measureless wonder—of the beauty and power of the love they gave us.
Even Alima—who had a more stormy temperament than either of the others, and who, heaven knows, had far more provocation—even Alima was patience and tenderness and wisdom personified to the man she loved, until he—but I haven’t got to that yet.
These, as Terry put it, “alleged or so-called wives” of ours, went right on with their profession as foresters. We, having no special learnings, had long since qualified as assistants. We had to do something, if only to pass the time, and it had to be work—we couldn’t be playing forever.
This kept us out of doors with those dear girls, and more or less together—too much together sometimes.
These people had, it now became clear to us, the highest, keenest, most delicate sense of personal privacy, but not the faintest idea of that solitude à deux we are so fond of. They had, every one of them, the “two rooms and a bath” theory realized. From earliest childhood each had a separate bedroom with toilet conveniences, and one of the marks of coming of age was the addition of an outer room in which to receive friends.
Long since we had been given our own two rooms apiece, and as being of a different sex and race, these were in a separate house. It seemed to be recognized that we should breathe easier if able to free our minds in real seclusion.
For food we either went to any convenient eating-house, ordered a meal brought in, or took it with us to the woods, always and equally good. All this we had become used to and enjoyed—in our courting days.
After marriage there arose in us a somewhat unexpected urge of feeling that called for a separate house; but this feeling found no response in the hearts of those fair ladies.
“We are alone, dear,” Ellador explained to me with gentle patience. “We are alone in these great forests; we may go and eat in any little summerhouse—just we two, or have a separate table anywhere—or even have a separate meal in our own rooms. How could we be aloner?”
This was all very true. We had our pleasant mutual solitude about our work, and our pleasant evening talks in their apartments or ours; we had, as it were, all the pleasures of courtship carried right on; but we had no sense of—perhaps it may be called possession.
“Might as well not be married at all,” growled Terry. “They only got up that ceremony to please us—please Jeff, mostly. They’ve no real idea of being married.”
I tried my best to get Ellador’s point of view, and naturally I tried to give her mine. Of course, what we, as men, wanted to make them see was that there were other, and as we proudly said “higher,” uses in this relation than what Terry called “mere parentage.” In the highest terms I knew I tried to explain this to Ellador.
“Anything higher than for mutual love to hope to give life, as we did?” she said. “How is it higher?”
“It develops love,” I explained. “All the power of beautiful permanent mated love comes through this higher development.”
“Are you sure?” she asked gently. “How do you know that it was so developed? There are some birds who love each other so that they mope and pine if separated, and never pair again if one dies, but they never mate except in the mating season. Among your people do you find high and lasting affection appearing in proportion to this indulgence?”
It is a very awkward thing, sometimes, to have a logical mind.
Of course I knew about those monogamous birds and beasts too, that mate for life and show every sign of mutual affection, without ever having stretched the sex relationship beyond its original range. But what of it?
“Those are lower forms of life!” I protested. “They have no capacity for faithful and affectionate, and apparently happy—but oh, my dear! my dear!—what can they know of such a love as draws us together? Why, to touch you—to be near you—to come closer and closer—to lose myself in you—surely you feel it too, do you not?”
I came nearer. I seized her hands.
Her eyes were on mine, tender radiant, but steady and strong. There was something so powerful, so large and changeless, in those eyes that I could not sweep her off her feet by my own emotion as I had unconsciously assumed would be the case.
It made me feel as, one might imagine, a man might feel who loved a goddess—not a Venus, though! She did not resent my attitude, did not repel it, did not in the least fear it, evidently. There was not a shade of that timid withdrawal or pretty resistance which are so—provocative.
“You see, dearest,” she said, “you have to be patient with us. We are not like the women of your country. We are Mothers, and we are People, but we have not specialized in this line.”
“We” and “we” and “we”—it was so hard to get her to be personal. And, as I thought that, I suddenly remembered how we were always criticizing our women for being so personal.
Then I did my earnest best to picture to her the sweet intense joy of married lovers, and the result in higher stimulus to all creative work.
“Do you mean,” she asked quite calmly, as if I was not holding her cool firm hands in my hot and rather quivering ones, “that with you, when people marry, they go right on doing this in season and out of season, with no thought of children at all?”
“They do,” I said, with some bitterness. “They are not mere parents. They are men and women, and they love each other.”
“How long?” asked Ellador, rather unexpectedly.
“How long?” I repeated, a little dashed. “Why as long as they live.”
“There is something very beautiful in the idea,” she admitted, still as if she were discussing life on Mars. “This climactic expression, which, in all the other life-forms, has but the one purpose, has with you become specialized to higher, purer, nobler uses. It has—I judge from what you tell me—the most ennobling effect on character. People marry, not only for parentage, but for this exquisite interchange—and, as a result, you have a world full of continuous lovers, ardent, happy, mutually devoted, always living on that high tide of supreme emotion which we had supposed to belong only to one season and one use. And you say it has other results, stimulating all high creative work. That must mean floods, oceans of such work, blossoming from this intense happiness of every married pair! It is a beautiful idea!”
She was silent, thinking.
So was I.
She slipped one hand free, and was stroking my hair with it in a gentle motherly way. I bowed my hot head on her shoulder and felt a dim sense of peace, a restfulness which was very pleasant.
“You must take me there someday, darling,” she was saying. “It is not only that I love you so much, I want to see your country—your people—your mother—” she paused reverently. “Oh, how I shall love your mother!”
I had not been in love many times—my experience did not compare with Terry’s. But such as I had was so different from this that I was perplexed, and full of mixed feelings: partly a growing sense of common ground between us, a pleasant rested calm feeling, which I had imagined could only be attained in one way; and partly a bewildered resentment because what I found was not what I had looked for.
It was their confounded psychology! Here they were with this profound highly developed system of education so bred into them that even if they were not teachers by profession they all had a general proficiency in it—it was second nature to them.
And no child, stormily demanding a cookie “between meals,” was ever more subtly diverted into an interest in house-building than was I when I found an apparently imperative demand had disappeared without my noticing it.
And all the time those tender mother eyes, those keen scientific eyes, noting every condition and circumstance, and learning how to “take time by the forelock” and avoid discussion before occasion arose.
I was amazed at the results. I found that much, very much, of what I had honestly supposed to be a physiological necessity was a psychological necessity—or so believed. I found, after my ideas of what was essential had changed, that my feelings changed also. And more than all, I found this—a factor of enormous weight—these women were not provocative. That made an immense difference.
The thing that Terry had so complained of when we first came—that they weren’t “feminine,” they lacked “charm,” now became a great comfort. Their vigorous beauty was an aesthetic pleasure, not an irritant. Their dress and ornaments had not a touch of the “come-and-find-me” element.
Even with my own Ellador, my wife, who had for a time unveiled a woman’s heart and faced the strange new hope and joy of dual parentage, she afterward withdrew again into the same good comrade she had been at first. They were women, plus, and so much plus that when they did not choose to let the womanness appear, you could not find it anywhere.
I don’t say it was easy for me; it wasn’t. But when I made appeal to her sympathies I came up against another immovable wall. She was sorry, honestly sorry, for my distresses, and made all manner of thoughtful suggestions, often quite useful, as well as the wise foresight I have mentioned above, which often saved all difficulty before it arose; but her sympathy did not alter her convictions.
“If I thought it was really right and necessary, I could perhaps bring myself to it, for your sake, dear; but I do not want to—not at all. You would not have a mere submission, would you? That is not the kind of high romantic love you spoke of, surely? It is a pity, of course, that you should have to adjust your highly specialized faculties to our unspecialized ones.”
Confound it! I hadn’t married the nation, and I told her so. But she only smiled at her own limitations and explained that she had to “think in we’s.”
Confound it again! Here I’d have all my energies focused on one wish, and before I knew it she’d have them dissipated in one direction or another, some subject of discussion that began just at the point I was talking about and ended miles away.
It must not be imagined that I was just repelled, ignored, left to cherish a grievance. Not at all. My happiness was in the hands of a larger, sweeter womanhood than I had ever imagined. Before our marriage my own ardor had perhaps blinded me to much of this. I was madly in love with not so much what was there as with what I supposed to be there. Now I found an endlessly beautiful undiscovered country to explore, and in it the sweetest wisdom and understanding. It was as if I had come to some new place and people, with a desire to eat at all hours, and no other interests in particular; and as if my hosts, instead of merely saying, “You shall not eat,” had presently aroused in me a lively desire for music, for pictures, for games, for exercise, for playing in the water, for running some ingenious machine; and, in the multitude of my satisfactions, I forgot the one point which was not satisfied, and got along very well until mealtime.
One of the cleverest and most ingenious of these tricks was only clear to me many years after, when we were so wholly at one on this subject that I could laugh at my own predicament then. It was this: You see, with us, women are kept as different as possible and as feminine as possible. We men have our own world, with only men in it; we get tired of our ultra-maleness and turn gladly to the ultra-femaleness. Also, in keeping our women as feminine as possible, we see to it that when we turn to them we find the thing we want always in evidence. Well, the atmosphere of this place was anything but seductive. The very numbers of these human women, always in human relation, made them anything but alluring. When, in spite of this, my hereditary instincts and race-traditions made me long for the feminine response in Ellador, instead of withdrawing so that I should want her more, she deliberately gave me a little too much of her society.—always de-feminized, as it were. It was awfully funny, really.
Here was I, with an Ideal in mind, for which I hotly longed, and here was she, deliberately obtruding in the foreground of my consciousness a Fact—a fact which I coolly enjoyed, but which actually interfered with what I wanted. I see now clearly enough why a certain kind of man, like Sir Almroth Wright, resents the professional development of women. It gets in the way of the sex ideal; it temporarily covers and excludes femininity.
Of course, in this case, I was so fond of Ellador my friend, of Ellador my professional companion, that I necessarily enjoyed her society on any terms. Only—when I had had her with me in her de-feminine capacity for a sixteen-hour day, I could go to my own room and sleep without dreaming about her.
The witch! If ever anybody worked to woo and win and hold a human soul, she did, great superwoman that she was. I couldn’t then half comprehend the skill of it, the wonder. But this I soon began to find: that under all our cultivated attitude of mind toward women, there is an older, deeper, more “natural” feeling, the restful reverence which looks up to the Mother sex.
So we grew together in friendship and happiness, Ellador and I, and so did Jeff and Celis.
When it comes to Terry’s part of it, and Alima’s, I’m sorry—and I’m ashamed. Of course I blame her somewhat. She wasn’t as fine a psychologist as Ellador, and what’s more, I think she had a far-descended atavistic trace of more marked femaleness, never apparent till Terry called it out. But when all is said, it doesn’t excuse him. I hadn’t realized to the full Terry’s character—I couldn’t, being a man.
The position was the same as with us, of course, only with these distinctions. Alima, a shade more alluring, and several shades less able as a practical psychologist; Terry, a hundredfold more demanding—and proportionately less reasonable.
Things grew strained very soon between them. I fancy at first, when they were together, in her great hope of parentage and his keen joy of conquest—that Terry was inconsiderate. In fact, I know it, from things he said.
“You needn’t talk to me,” he snapped at Jeff one day, just before our weddings. “There never was a woman yet that did not enjoy being mastered. All your pretty talk doesn’t amount to a hill o’ beans—I know.” And Terry would hum:
“I’ve taken my fun where I found it.
I’ve rogued and I’ve ranged in my time,”
“The things that I learned from the yellow and black,
They ’ave helped me a ’eap with the white.”
Jeff turned sharply and left him at the time. I was a bit disquieted myself.
Poor old Terry! The things he’d learned didn’t help him a heap in Herland. His idea was to take—he thought that was the way. He thought, he honestly believed, that women like it. Not the women of Herland! Not Alima!
I can see her now—one day in the very first week of their marriage, setting forth to her day’s work with long determined strides and hard-set mouth, and sticking close to Ellador. She didn’t wish to be alone with Terry—you could see that.
But the more she kept away from him, the more he wanted her—naturally.
He made a tremendous row about their separate establishments, tried to keep her in his rooms, tried to stay in hers. But there she drew the line sharply.
He came away one night, and stamped up and down the moonlit road, swearing under his breath. I was taking a walk that night too, but I wasn’t in his state of mind. To hear him rage you’d not have believed that he loved Alima at all—you’d have thought that she was some quarry he was pursuing, something to catch and conquer.
I think that, owing to all those differences I spoke of, they soon lost the common ground they had at first, and were unable to meet sanely and dispassionately. I fancy too—this is pure conjecture—that he had succeeded in driving Alima beyond her best judgment, her real conscience, and that after that her own sense of shame, the reaction of the thing, made her bitter perhaps.
They quarreled, really quarreled, and after making it up once or twice, they seemed to come to a real break—she would not be alone with him at all. And perhaps she was a bit nervous, I don’t know, but she got Moadine to come and stay next door to her. Also, she had a sturdy assistant detailed to accompany her in her work.
Terry had his own ideas, as I’ve tried to show. I daresay he thought he had a right to do as he did. Perhaps he even convinced himself that it would be better for her. Anyhow, he hid himself in her bedroom one night …
The women of Herland have no fear of men. Why should they have? They are not timid in any sense. They are not weak; and they all have strong trained athletic bodies. Othello could not have extinguished Alima with a pillow, as if she were a mouse.
Terry put in practice his pet conviction that a woman loves to be mastered, and by sheer brute force, in all the pride and passion of his intense masculinity, he tried to master this woman.
It did not work. I got a pretty clear account of it later from Ellador, but what we heard at the time was the noise of a tremendous struggle, and Alima calling to Moadine. Moadine was close by and came at once; one or two more strong grave women followed.
Terry dashed about like a madman; he would cheerfully have killed them—he told me that, himself—but he couldn’t. When he swung a chair over his head one sprang in the air and caught it, two threw themselves bodily upon him and forced him to the floor; it was only the work of a few moments to have him tied hand and foot, and then, in sheer pity for his futile rage, to anesthetize him.
Alima was in a cold fury. She wanted him killed—actually.
There was a trial before the local Over Mother, and this woman, who did not enjoy being mastered, stated her case.
In a court in our country he would have been held quite “within his rights,” of course. But this was not our country; it was theirs. They seemed to measure the enormity of the offense by its effect upon a possible fatherhood, and he scorned even to reply to this way of putting it.
He did let himself go once, and explained in definite terms that they were incapable of understanding a man’s needs, a man’s desires, a man’s point of view. He called them neuters, epicenes, bloodless, sexless creatures. He said they could of course kill him—as so many insects could—but that he despised them nonetheless.
And all those stern grave mothers did not seem to mind his despising them, not in the least.
It was a long trial, and many interesting points were brought out as to their views of our habits, and after a while Terry had his sentence. He waited, grim and defiant. The sentence was: “You must go home!”
We had all meant to go home again. Indeed we had not meant—not by any means—to stay as long as we had. But when it came to being turned out, dismissed, sent away for bad conduct, we none of us really liked it.
Terry said he did. He professed great scorn of the penalty and the trial, as well as all the other characteristics of “this miserable half-country.” But he knew, and we knew, that in any “whole” country we should never have been as forgivingly treated as we had been here.
“If the people had come after us according to the directions we left, there’d have been quite a different story!” said Terry. We found out later why no reserve party had arrived. All our careful directions had been destroyed in a fire. We might have all died there and no one at home have ever known our whereabouts.
Terry was under guard now, all the time, known as unsafe, convicted of what was to them an unpardonable sin.
He laughed at their chill horror. “Parcel of old maids!” he called them. “They’re all old maids—children or not. They don’t know the first thing about Sex.”
When Terry said “Sex,” “sex” with a very large S, he meant the male sex, naturally; its special values, its profound conviction of being “the life force,” its cheerful ignoring of the true life process, and its interpretation of the other sex solely from its own point of view.
I had learned to see these things very differently since living with Ellador; and as for Jeff, he was so thoroughly Herlandized that he wasn’t fair to Terry, who fretted sharply in his new restraint.
Moadine, grave and strong, as sadly patient as a mother with a degenerate child, kept steady watch on him, with enough other women close at hand to prevent an outbreak. He had no weapons, and well knew that all his strength was of small avail against those grim, quiet women.
We were allowed to visit him freely, but he had only his room, and a small high-walled garden to walk in, while the preparations for our departure were under way.
Three of us were to go: Terry, because he must; I, because two were safer for our flyer, and the long boat trip to the coast; Ellador, because she would not let me go without her.
If Jeff had elected to return, Celis would have gone too—they were the most absorbed of lovers; but Jeff had no desire that way.
“Why should I want to go back to all our noise and dirt, our vice and crime, our disease and degeneracy?” he demanded of me privately. We never spoke like that before the women. “I wouldn’t take Celis there for anything on earth!” he protested. “She’d die! She’d die of horror and shame to see our slums and hospitals. How can you risk it with Ellador? You’d better break it to her gently before she really makes up her mind.”
Jeff was right. I ought to have told her more fully than I did, of all the things we had to be ashamed of. But it is very hard to bridge the gulf of as deep a difference as existed between our life and theirs. I tried to.
“Look here, my dear,” I said to her. “If you are really going to my country with me, you’ve got to be prepared for a good many shocks. It’s not as beautiful as this—the cities, I mean, the civilized parts—of course the wild country is.”
“I shall enjoy it all,” she said, her eyes starry with hope. “I understand it’s not like ours. I can see how monotonous our quiet life must seem to you, how much more stirring yours must be. It must be like the biological change you told me about when the second sex was introduced—a far greater movement, constant change, with new possibilities of growth.”
I had told her of the later biological theories of sex, and she was deeply convinced of the superior advantages of having two, the superiority of a world with men in it.
“We have done what we could alone; perhaps we have some things better in a quiet way, but you have the whole world—all the people of the different nations—all the long rich history behind you—all the wonderful new knowledge. Oh, I just can’t wait to see it!”
What could I do? I told her in so many words that we had our unsolved problems, that we had dishonesty and corruption, vice and crime, disease and insanity, prisons and hospitals; and it made no more impression on her than it would to tell a South Sea Islander about the temperature of the Arctic Circle. She could intellectually see that it was bad to have those things; but she could not feel it.
We had quite easily come to accept the Herland life as normal, because it was normal—none of us make any outcry over mere health and peace and happy industry. And the abnormal, to which we are all so sadly well acclimated, she had never seen.
The two things she cared most to hear about, and wanted most to see, were these: the beautiful relation of marriage and the lovely women who were mothers and nothing else; beyond these her keen, active mind hungered eagerly for the world life.
“I’m almost as anxious to go as you are yourself,” she insisted, “and you must be desperately homesick.”
I assured her that no one could be homesick in such a paradise as theirs, but she would have none of it.
“Oh, yes—I know. It’s like those little tropical islands you’ve told me about, shining like jewels in the big blue sea—I can’t wait to see the sea! The little island may be as perfect as a garden, but you always want to get back to your own big country, don’t you? Even if it is bad in some ways?”
Ellador was more than willing. But the nearer it came to our really going, and to my having to take her back to our “civilization,” after the clean peace and beauty of theirs, the more I began to dread it, and the more I tried to explain.
Of course I had been homesick at first, while we were prisoners, before I had Ellador. And of course I had, at first, rather idealized my country and its ways, in describing it. Also, I had always accepted certain evils as integral parts of our civilization and never dwelt on them at all. Even when I tried to tell her the worst, I never remembered some things—which, when she came to see them, impressed her at once, as they had never impressed me. Now, in my efforts at explanation, I began to see both ways more keenly than I had before; to see the painful defects of my own land, the marvelous gains of this.
In missing men we three visitors had naturally missed the larger part of life, and had unconsciously assumed that they must miss it too. It took me a long time to realize—Terry never did realize—how little it meant to them. When we say “men,” “man,” “manly,” “manhood,” and all the other masculine derivatives, we have in the background of our minds a huge vague crowded picture of the world and all its activities. To grow up and “be a man,” to “act like a man”—the meaning and connotation is wide indeed. That vast background is full of marching columns of men, of changing lines of men, of long processions of men; of men steering their ships into new seas, exploring unknown mountains, breaking horses, herding cattle, ploughing and sowing and reaping, toiling at the forge and furnace, digging in the mine, building roads and bridges and high cathedrals, managing great businesses, teaching in all the colleges, preaching in all the churches; of men everywhere, doing everything—“the world.”
And when we say “Women,” we think “Female”—the sex.
But to these women, in the unbroken sweep of this two-thousand-year-old feminine civilization, the word “woman” called up all that big background, so far as they had gone in social development; and the word “man” meant to them only “male”—the sex.
Of course we could tell them that in our world men did everything; but that did not alter the background of their minds. That man, “the male,” did all these things was to them a statement, making no more change in the point of view than was made in ours when we first faced the astounding fact—to us—that in Herland women were “the world.”
We had been living there more than a year. We had learned their limited history, with its straight, smooth, upreaching lines, reaching higher and going faster up to the smooth comfort of their present life. We had learned a little of their psychology, a much wider field than the history, but here we could not follow so readily. We were now well used to seeing women not as females but as people; people of all sorts, doing every kind of work.
This outbreak of Terry’s, and the strong reaction against it, gave us a new light on their genuine femininity. This was given me with great clearness by both Ellador and Somel. The feeling was the same—sick revulsion and horror, such as would be felt at some climactic blasphemy.
They had no faintest approach to such a thing in their minds, knowing nothing of the custom of marital indulgence among us. To them the one high purpose of motherhood had been for so long the governing law of life, and the contribution of the father, though known to them, so distinctly another method to the same end, that they could not, with all their effort, get the point of view of the male creature whose desires quite ignore parentage and seek only for what we euphoniously term “the joys of love.”
When I tried to tell Ellador that women too felt so, with us, she drew away from me, and tried hard to grasp intellectually what she could in no way sympathize with.
“You mean—that with you—love between man and woman expresses itself in that way—without regard to motherhood? To parentage, I mean,” she added carefully.
“Yes, surely. It is love we think of—the deep sweet love between two. Of course we want children, and children come—but that is not what we think about.”
“But—but—it seems so against nature!” she said. “None of the creatures we know do that. Do other animals—in your country?”
“We are not animals!” I replied with some sharpness. “At least we are something more—something higher. This is a far nobler and more beautiful relation, as I have explained before. Your view seems to us rather—shall I say, practical? Prosaic? Merely a means to an end! With us—oh, my dear girl—cannot you see? Cannot you feel? It is the last, sweetest, highest consummation of mutual love.”
She was impressed visibly. She trembled in my arms, as I held her close, kissing her hungrily. But there rose in her eyes that look I knew so well, that remote clear look as if she had gone far away even though I held her beautiful body so close, and was now on some snowy mountain regarding me from a distance.
“I feel it quite clearly,” she said to me. “It gives me a deep sympathy with what you feel, no doubt more strongly still. But what I feel, even what you feel, dearest, does not convince me that it is right. Until I am sure of that, of course I cannot do as you wish.”
Ellador, at times like this, always reminded me of Epictetus. “I will put you in prison!” said his master. “My body, you mean,” replied Epictetus calmly. “I will cut your head off,” said his master. “Have I said that my head could not be cut off?” A difficult person, Epictetus.
What is this miracle by which a woman, even in your arms, may withdraw herself, utterly disappear till what you hold is as inaccessible as the face of a cliff?
“Be patient with me, dear,” she urged sweetly. “I know it is hard for you. And I begin to see—a little—how Terry was so driven to crime.”
“Oh, come, that’s a pretty hard word for it. After all, Alima was his wife, you know,” I urged, feeling at the moment a sudden burst of sympathy for poor Terry. For a man of his temperament—and habits—it must have been an unbearable situation.
But Ellador, for all her wide intellectual grasp, and the broad sympathy in which their religion trained them, could not make allowance for such—to her—sacrilegious brutality.
It was the more difficult to explain to her, because we three, in our constant talks and lectures about the rest of the world, had naturally avoided the seamy side; not so much from a desire to deceive, but from wishing to put the best foot foremost for our civilization, in the face of the beauty and comfort of theirs. Also, we really thought some things were right, or at least unavoidable, which we could readily see would be repugnant to them, and therefore did not discuss. Again there was much of our world’s life which we, being used to it, had not noticed as anything worth describing. And still further, there was about these women a colossal innocence upon which many of the things we did say had made no impression whatever.
I am thus explicit about it because it shows how unexpectedly strong was the impression made upon Ellador when she at last entered our civilization.
She urged me to be patient, and I was patient. You see, I loved her so much that even the restrictions she so firmly established left me much happiness. We were lovers, and there is surely delight enough in that.
Do not imagine that these young women utterly refused “the Great New Hope,” as they called it, that of dual parentage. For that they had agreed to marry us, though the marrying part of it was a concession to our prejudices rather than theirs. To them the process was the holy thing—and they meant to keep it holy.
But so far only Celis, her blue eyes swimming in happy tears, her heart lifted with that tide of race-motherhood which was their supreme passion, could with ineffable joy and pride announce that she was to be a mother. “The New Motherhood” they called it, and the whole country knew. There was no pleasure, no service, no honor in all the land that Celis might not have had. Almost like the breathless reverence with which, two thousand years ago, that dwindling band of women had watched the miracle of virgin birth, was the deep awe and warm expectancy with which they greeted this new miracle of union.
All mothers in that land were holy. To them, for long ages, the approach to motherhood has been by the most intense and exquisite love and longing, by the Supreme Desire, the overmastering demand for a child. Every thought they held in connection with the processes of maternity was open to the day, simple yet sacred. Every woman of them placed motherhood not only higher than other duties, but so far higher that there were no other duties, one might almost say. All their wide mutual love, all the subtle interplay of mutual friendship and service, the urge of progressive thought and invention, the deepest religious emotion, every feeling and every act was related to this great central Power, to the River of Life pouring through them, which made them the bearers of the very Spirit of God.
Of all this I learned more and more—from their books, from talk, especially from Ellador. She was at first, for a brief moment, envious of her friend—a thought she put away from her at once and forever.
“It is better,” she said to me. “It is much better that it has not come to me yet—to us, that is. For if I am to go with you to your country, we may have ‘adventures by sea and land,’ as you say [and as in truth we did], and it might not be at all safe for a baby. So we won’t try again, dear, till it is safe—will we?”
This was a hard saying for a very loving husband.
“Unless,” she went on, “if one is coming, you will leave me behind. You can come back, you know—and I shall have the child.”
Then that deep ancient chill of male jealousy of even his own progeny touched my heart.
“I’d rather have you, Ellador, than all the children in the world. I’d rather have you with me—on your own terms—than not to have you.”
This was a very stupid saying. Of course I would! For if she wasn’t there I should want all of her and have none of her. But if she went along as a sort of sublimated sister—only much closer and warmer than that, really—why I should have all of her but that one thing. And I was beginning to find that Ellador’s friendship, Ellador’s comradeship, Ellador’s sisterly affection, Ellador’s perfectly sincere love—none the less deep that she held it back on a definite line of reserve—were enough to live on very happily.
I find it quite beyond me to describe what this woman was to me. We talk fine things about women, but in our hearts we know that they are very limited beings—most of them. We honor them for their functional powers, even while we dishonor them by our use of it; we honor them for their carefully enforced virtue, even while we show by our own conduct how little we think of that virtue; we value them, sincerely, for the perverted maternal activities which make our wives the most comfortable of servants, bound to us for life with the wages wholly at our own decision, their whole business, outside of the temporary duties of such motherhood as they may achieve, to meet our needs in every way. Oh, we value them, all right, “in their place,” which place is the home, where they perform that mixture of duties so ably described by Mrs. Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon, in which the services of “a mistress” are carefully specified. She is a very clear writer, Mrs. J. D. D. Bacon, and understands her subject—from her own point of view. But—that combination of industries, while convenient, and in a way economical, does not arouse the kind of emotion commanded by the women of Herland. These were women one had to love “up,” very high up, instead of down. They were not pets. They were not servants. They were not timid, inexperienced, weak.
After I got over the jar to my pride (which Jeff, I truly think, never felt—he was a born worshipper, and which Terry never got over—he was quite clear in his ideas of “the position of women”), I found that loving “up” was a very good sensation after all. It gave me a queer feeling, way down deep, as of the stirring of some ancient dim prehistoric consciousness, a feeling that they were right somehow—that this was the way to feel. It was like—coming home to mother. I don’t mean the underflannels-and-doughnuts mother, the fussy person that waits on you and spoils you and doesn’t really know you. I mean the feeling that a very little child would have, who had been lost—for ever so long. It was a sense of getting home; of being clean and rested; of safety and yet freedom; of love that was always there, warm like sunshine in May, not hot like a stove or a featherbed—a love that didn’t irritate and didn’t smother.
I looked at Ellador as if I hadn’t seen her before. “If you won’t go,” I said, “I’ll get Terry to the coast and come back alone. You can let me down a rope. And if you will go—why you blessed wonder-woman—I would rather live with you all my life—like this—than to have any other woman I ever saw, or any number of them, to do as I like with. Will you come?”
She was keen for coming. So the plans went on. She’d have liked to wait for that Marvel of Celis’s, but Terry had no such desire. He was crazy to be out of it all. It made him sick, he said, sick; this everlasting mother-mother-mothering. I don’t think Terry had what the phrenologists call “the lump of philoprogenitiveness” at all well developed.
“Morbid one-sided cripples,” he called them, even when from his window he could see their splendid vigor and beauty; even while Moadine, as patient and friendly as if she had never helped Alima to hold and bind him, sat there in the room, the picture of wisdom and serene strength. “Sexless, epicene, undeveloped neuters!” he went on bitterly. He sounded like Sir Almroth Wright.
Well—it was hard. He was madly in love with Alima, really; more so than he had ever been before, and their tempestuous courtship, quarrels, and reconciliations had fanned the flame. And then when he sought by that supreme conquest which seems so natural a thing to that type of man, to force her to love him as her master—to have the sturdy athletic furious woman rise up and master him—she and her friends—it was no wonder he raged.
Come to think of it, I do not recall a similar case in all history or fiction. Women have killed themselves rather than submit to outrage; they have killed the outrager; they have escaped; or they have submitted—sometimes seeming to get on very well with the victor afterward. There was that adventure of “false Sextus,” for instance, who “found Lucrese combing the fleece, under the midnight lamp.” He threatened, as I remember, that if she did not submit he would slay her, slay a slave and place him beside her and say he found him there. A poor device, it always seemed to me. If Mr. Lucretius had asked him how he came to be in his wife’s bedroom overlooking her morals, what could he have said? But the point is Lucrese submitted, and Alima didn’t.
“She kicked me,” confided the embittered prisoner—he had to talk to someone. “I was doubled up with the pain, of course, and she jumped on me and yelled for this old harpy [Moadine couldn’t hear him] and they had me trussed up in no time. I believe Alima could have done it alone,” he added with reluctant admiration. “She’s as strong as a horse. And of course a man’s helpless when you hit him like that. No woman with a shade of decency—”
I had to grin at that, and even Terry did, sourly. He wasn’t given to reasoning, but it did strike him that an assault like his rather waived considerations of decency.
“I’d give a year of my life to have her alone again,” he said slowly, his hands clenched till the knuckles were white.
But he never did. She left our end of the country entirely, went up into the fir-forest on the highest slopes, and stayed there. Before we left he quite desperately longed to see her, but she would not come and he could not go. They watched him like lynxes. (Do lynxes watch any better than mousing cats, I wonder!)
Well—we had to get the flyer in order, and be sure there was enough fuel left, though Terry said we could glide all right, down to that lake, once we got started. We’d have gone gladly in a week’s time, of course, but there was a great to-do all over the country about Ellador’s leaving them. She had interviews with some of the leading ethicists—wise women with still eyes, and with the best of the teachers. There was a stir, a thrill, a deep excitement everywhere.
Our teaching about the rest of the world has given them all a sense of isolation, of remoteness, of being a little outlying sample of a country, overlooked and forgotten among the family of nations. We had called it “the family of nations,” and they liked the phrase immensely.
They were deeply aroused on the subject of evolution; indeed, the whole field of natural science drew them irresistibly. Any number of them would have risked everything to go to the strange unknown lands and study; but we could take only one, and it had to be Ellador, naturally.
We planned greatly about coming back, about establishing a connecting route by water; about penetrating those vast forests and civilizing—or exterminating—the dangerous savages. That is, we men talked of that last—not with the women. They had a definite aversion to killing things.
But meanwhile there was high council being held among the wisest of them all. The students and thinkers who had been gathering facts from us all this time, collating and relating them, and making inferences, laid the result of their labors before the council.
Little had we thought that our careful efforts at concealment had been so easily seen through, with never a word to show us that they saw. They had followed up words of ours on the science of optics, asked innocent questions about glasses and the like, and were aware of the defective eyesight so common among us.
With the lightest touch, different women asking different questions at different times, and putting all our answers together like a picture puzzle, they had figured out a sort of skeleton chart as to the prevalence of disease among us. Even more subtly with no show of horror or condemnation, they had gathered something—far from the truth, but something pretty clear—about poverty, vice, and crime. They even had a goodly number of our dangers all itemized, from asking us about insurance and innocent things like that.
They were well posted as to the different races, beginning with their poison-arrow natives down below and widening out to the broad racial divisions we had told them about. Never a shocked expression of the face or exclamation of revolt had warned us; they had been extracting the evidence without our knowing it all this time, and now were studying with the most devout earnestness the matter they had prepared.
The result was rather distressing to us. They first explained the matter fully to Ellador, as she was the one who purposed visiting the Rest of the World. To Celis they said nothing. She must not be in any way distressed, while the whole nation waited on her Great Work.
Finally Jeff and I were called in. Somel and Zava were there, and Ellador, with many others that we knew.
They had a great globe, quite fairly mapped out from the small section maps in that compendium of ours. They had the different peoples of the earth roughly outlined, and their status in civilization indicated. They had charts and figures and estimates, based on the facts in that traitorous little book and what they had learned from us.
Somel explained: “We find that in all your historic period, so much longer than ours, that with all the interplay of services, the exchange of inventions and discoveries, and the wonderful progress we so admire, that in this widespread Other World of yours, there is still much disease, often contagious.”
We admitted this at once.
“Also there is still, in varying degree, ignorance, with prejudice and unbridled emotion.”
This too was admitted.
“We find also that in spite of the advance of democracy and the increase of wealth, that there is still unrest and sometimes combat.”
Yes, yes, we admitted it all. We were used to these things and saw no reason for so much seriousness.
“All things considered,” they said, and they did not say a hundredth part of the things they were considering, “we are unwilling to expose our country to free communication with the rest of the world—as yet. If Ellador comes back, and we approve her report, it may be done later—but not yet.
“So we have this to ask of you gentlemen [they knew that word was held a title of honor with us], that you promise not in any way to betray the location of this country until permission—after Ellador’s return.”
Jeff was perfectly satisfied. He thought they were quite right. He always did. I never saw an alien become naturalized more quickly than that man in Herland.
I studied it awhile, thinking of the time they’d have if some of our contagions got loose there, and concluded they were right. So I agreed.
Terry was the obstacle. “Indeed I won’t!” he protested. “The first thing I’ll do is to get an expedition fixed up to force an entrance into Ma-land.”
“Then,” they said quite calmly, “he must remain an absolute prisoner, always.”
“Anesthesia would be kinder,” urged Moadine.
“And safer,” added Zava.
“He will promise, I think,” said Ellador.
And he did. With which agreement we at last left Herland.
was published in 1915 by
Charlotte Perkins Gilman.