Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
| Chapter 3
A Journey of Inspection
IT WAS fortunate for Ellador's large purposes that her fat little bag of jewels contained more wealth than I had at first understood, and that there were some jewel-hungry millionaires left in the world. In India we found native princes who were as much athirst for rubies and emeralds as ever were their hoarding ancestors, and who had comfortable piles of ancient gold wherewith to pay for them. We were easily able to fill snug belts with universally acceptable gold pieces, and to establish credit to carry us wherever there were banks.
She was continually puzzled over our money values. "Why do they want these so much?" she demanded. "Why are they willing to pay so much for them?"
Money she understood well enough. They had their circulating medium in Herland in earlier years; but it was used more as a simple method of keeping accounts than anything else — like tickets, and finally discontinued. They had so soon centralized their industries, that the delay and inconvenience of measuring off every item of exchange in this everlasting system of tokens became useless, to their practical minds. As an "incentive to industry" it was not necessary; motherhood was their incentive. When they had plenty of everything it was free to all in such amounts as were desired; in scarcity they divided. Their interest in life was in what they were doing — and what they were going to do, not in what they were to get. Our point of view puzzled her.
I remember this matter coming up between Ellador and a solemn college professor, an economist, as we were creeping through the dangerous Mediterranean. She questioned and listened, saying nothing about her country — this we had long since found was the only safe way; for the instant demand: "Where is it?" was what we did not propose to answer.
But having learned what she could from those she talked with, and sped searchingly through the books they offered her, she used to relieve her mind in two ways; by talking with me, and by writing.
"I've simply got to," she told me. "I'm writing a book — :in fact, I'm writing two books. One is notes, quotations, facts, and pictures — pictures — pictures. This photography is a wonderful art! "
She had become quite a devotee of said art, and was gathering material right and left, to show her people.
"We'll have to go back and tell them, you know," she explained, "and they'll be so interested, I shall have to go about lecturing, as you men did." "
I wish you'd go about lecturing to us," I told her. "We have more to learn than you have — of the really important matters in living."
"But I couldn't, you see, without quoting always from home — and then they'd want to know — they'd have a right to know. Or else they wouldn't believe me. No, all I can do is to ask questions; to make suggestions, perhaps, here and there; even to criticise a little — when I've learned a lot more, and if I'm very sure of my hearers. Meanwhile I've got to talk it off to you, you poor boy — and just write. You shall read it, if you want to, of course."
Her notes were a study in themselves.
Ships and shipping interested her at once, as something totally new, and her first access to encyclopedias had supplied background to what she learned from people. She had set down, in the briefest possible manner, not mere loose data as to vessels and navigation, but an outlined history of the matter, arranged like a genealogical tree.
There were the rude beginnings — log, raft, skin-boat, basket-boat, canoe; and the line of paddled or oared boats went on to the great carved war-canoes with outriggers, the galleys of Romans and Norsemen, the delicate birch-barks of our American Aborigines, and the neat manufactured ones on the market. A bare sentence covered it, and another the evolution of the sailing craft; then steam.
"Navigation is an exclusively masculine process," she noted. "Always men, only men. Oared vessels of large size required slave labor; status of sailors still akin to slavery; rigid discipline, miserable accommodations, abusive language and personal violence." To this she added in parenthesis: "Same holds true of armies. Always men, only men. Similar status, but somewhat better provision for men, and more chance of promotion, owing to greater danger to officers."
Continuing with ships, she noted: "Psychology: a high degree of comradeship, the habit of obedience — enforced; this doubtless accounts for large bodies of such indispensable men putting up with such wretched treatment. Obedience appears to dull and weaken the mind; same with soldiers — study further. Among officers great personal gallantry, a most exalted sense of duty, as well as brutal and unjust treatment of inferiors. The captain in especial is so devoted to his concept of duty as sometimes to prefer to 'go down with his ship' to being saved without her. Why? What social service is there in being drowned? I learn this high devotion is found also in engineers and in pilots. Seems to be a product of extreme responsibility. Might be developed more widely by extending opportunity."
She came to me with this, asking for more information on our political system of "rotation in office."
"Is that why you do it?" she asked eagerly. "Not so much as to get the work done better, as to make all the people — or at least most of them — feel greater responsibility, a deeper sense of duty?"
I had never put it that way to myself, but I now agreed that that was the idea — that it must be. She was warmly interested; said she knew she should love America. I felt sure she would.
There was an able Egyptologist on board, a man well acquainted with ancient peoples, and he, with the outline she had so well laid down during her English studies, soon filled her mind with a particularly clear and full acquaintance with our first civilizations.
"Egypt, with its One River; Asia Minor, with the Valley of the Two Rivers and China with its great rivers — " she poured over her maps and asked careful eager questions. The big black bearded professor was delighted with her interest, and discoursed most instructively.
"I see," she said. "I see! They came to places where the soil was rich, and where there was plenty of water. It made agriculture possible, profitable — and then the surplus — and then the wonderful growth — of course!"
That German officer, who had made so strong and disagreeable an impression while we were on the Swedish ship, had been insistent, rudely insistent, on the advantages of difficulty and what he called "disclipine." He had maintained that the great races, the dominant races, came always from the north. This she had borne in mind, and now questioned her obliging preceptor, with map outspread and dates at hand.
"For all those thousands of years these Mediterranean and Oriental peoples held the world — were the world?"
"And what was up here?" she pointed to the wide vacant spaces on the northern coasts.
"Savages — barbarians — wild, skin-clad ferocious men, madam."
Ellador made a little diagram, a vertical line, with many ages marked across it.
"This is The Year One — as far back as you can go," she explained, pointing to the mark at the bottom. "And here we are, near the top — this is Now. And these Eastern peoples held the stage and did the work all the way up to — here, did they?"
"They certainly did, madam."
"And were these people in these northern lands there all the time? Or did they happen afterward?"
"They were there — we have their bones to prove it."
"Then if they were there — and as long, and of the same stock — you tell me that all these various clans streamed out, westward, from a common source, and became in time, Persians, Hindus, Pelasgians, Etruscans, and all the rest — as well as "Celts, Slavs, Teutons?"
"It so held, roughly speaking." He resented a little her sweeping generalizations and condensations; but she had her own ends in view.
"And what did these northern tribes contribute to social progress during all this time?"
"Practically nothing," he answered. "Their arts were naturally limited by the rigors of the climate. The difficulties of maintaining existence prevented any higher developments."
"I see, I see." she nodded gravely. "Then why is it, in the face of these facts, that some still persist in attributing progress to difficulties, and cold weather."
This professor, who was himself Italian, was quite willing to question this opinion.
"That theory you will find is quite generally confined to the people who live in the colder climates," he suggested.
When Ellador discussed this with me, she went further. "It seems as if, when people say — 'The World' they mean their own people," she commented. "I've been reading history as written by the North European races. Perhaps when we get to Persia, India, China and Japan, it will be different."
It was different. I had spent my own youth in the most isolated of modern nations, the one most ignorant of and indifferent to all the others; the one whose popular view of foreigners is based on the immigrant classes, and whose travelling rich consider Europe as a play-ground, a picture gallery, a museum, a place wherein to finish one's education. Being so reared, and associating with similarly minded persons, my early view of history was a great helter-skelter surging background to the clear, strong, glorious incidents of our own brief national career; while geography consisted of the vivid large scale familiar United States, and a globe otherwise covered with more or less nebulous maps; and such political evolution as I had in mind consisted of the irresistible development of our own "institutions."
All this, of course, was my youthful attitude. In later studies I had added a considerable knowledge of general history, sociology and the like, but had never realized until now how remote all this was to me from the definite social values already solidly established in my mind.
Now, associating with Ellador, dispassionate and impartial as a visiting angel, bringing to her studies of the world, the triple freshness of view of one of different stock, different social development, and different sex, I began to get a new perspective. To her the world was one field of general advance. Her own country held the foreground in her mind, of course, but she had left it as definitely as if she came from Mars, and was studying the rest of humanity in the mass. Her alien point of view, her previous complete ignorance, and that powerful well-ordered mind she brought to bear on the new knowledge so rapidly amassed, gave her advantages as an observer far beyond our best scientists.
The one special and predominant distinction given to her studies by her supreme femininity, was what gave me the most numerous, and I may say, unpleasant surprises. In my world studies I had always assumed that humanity did thus and so, but she was continually sheering through the tangled facts with her sharp distinction that this and this phenomenon was due to masculinity alone.
"But Ellador," I protested, "why do you say — 'the male Scandinavians continually indulged in piracy,' and 'the male Spaniards practiced terrible cruelties,' and so on? It sounds so — invidious — as if you were trying to make out a case against men."
"Why, I wouldn't do that for anything!" she protested. "I'm only trying to understand the facts. You don't mind when I say 'the male Phoenicians made great progress in navigation,' or 'the male Greeks developed great intelligence,' do you?"
"That's different," I answered. "They did do those things."
"Didn't they do the others, too?"
"Well — yes — they did them, of course; but why rub it in that they were exclusively males?"
"But weren't they, dear? Really? Did the Norse women raid the coasts of England and France? Did the Spanish women cross the ocean and torture the poor Aztecs?"
"They would have if they could!" I protested.
"So would the Phoenician women and Grecian women in the other cases — wouldn't they?"
"Now my Best Beloved," she said, holding my hand in both hers and looking deep into my eyes — "Please, oh please, don't mind. The facts are there, and they are immensely important. Think, dearest. We of Herland have known no men — till now. We, alone, in our tiny land, have worked out a happy, healthy life. Then you came — you' 'Wonderful Three.' Ah! You should realize the stir, the excitement, the Great Hope that it meant to us! We knew there was more world — but nothing about it, and you meant a vast new life to us. Now I come to see — to learn — for the sake of my country.
"Because, you see, some things we gathered from you made us a little afraid. Afraid for our children, you see. Perhaps it was better, after all, to live up there, alone, in ignorance, but in happiness, we thought. Now I've come — to see — to learn — to really understand, if I can, so as to tell my people.
"You mustn't think I'm against men, dear. Why, if it were only for your sake, I would love them. And I'm sure — we are all sure at home (or at least most of us are) that two sexes, working together, must be better than one.
"Then I can see how, being two sexes, and having so much more complex a problem than ours, and having all kinds of countries to live in — how you got into difficulties we never knew.
"I'm making every allowance. I'm firm in my conviction of the superiority of the bisexual method. It must be best or it would not have been evolved in all the higher animals. But — but you can't expect me to ignore facts."
No, I couldn't. What troubled me most was that I, too, began to see facts, quite obvious facts, which I had never noticed before.
Wherever men had been superior to women we had proudly claimed it as a sex-distinction. Wherever men had shown evil traits, not common to women, we had serenely treated them as race-characteristics.
So, although I did not enjoy it, I did not dispute any further Ellador's growing collection of facts. It was just as well not to. Facts are stubborn things.
We visited a little in Tunis, Algiers, and Cairo, making quite an excursion in Egypt, with our steamship acquaintance, whose knowledge was invaluable to us. He translated inscriptions; showed us the more important discoveries, and gave condensed accounts of the vanished civilizations.
Ellador was deeply impressed.
"To think that under one single city, here in Abydos, there are the remains of five separate cultures. Five! As different as can be. With a long time between, evidently, so that the ruins were forgotten, and a new people built a new city on the site of the old one. It is wonderful."
Then she turned suddenly on Signor Armini. "What did they die of?" she demanded.
"Die of? Who, madam?"
"Those cities — those civilizations?"
"Why, they were conquered in war, doubtless; the inhabitants were put to the sword — some carried away as slaves, perhaps — and the cities razed to the ground?"
"By whom?" she demanded. "Who did it?"
"Why, other peoples, other cultures, from other cities?'
"Do you mean other peoples, or just other men?" she asked. He was puzzled. "Why, the soldiers were men, of course, but war was made by one nation against another."
"Do you mean that the women of the other nations were the governing power and sent the men to fight?"
No, he did not mean that.
"And surely the children did not send them?"
Of course not.
"But people are men, women and children, aren't they? And only the adult men, about one-fifth of the population, made war?"
This he admitted perforce, and Ellador did not press the point further.
"But in these cities were all kinds of people, weren't there? Women and children, as well as men?"
This was obvious, also; and then she branched off a little: "What made them want to conquer a city?"
"Either fear — or revenge — or desire for plunder. Oftenest that. The ancient cities were the centers of production, of course." And he discoursed on the beautiful handicrafts of the past, the rich fabrics, the jewels and carved work and varied treasures.
"Who made them," she asked.
"Slaves, for the most part," he answered.
"Men and women?"
"Yes — men and women."
"I see," said Ellador. She saw more than she spoke of, even to me. In ancient Egypt she found much that pleased her in the power and place of historic womanhood. This satisfaction was short-lived as we went on eastward.
With a few books, with eager questioning of such experts as we met, and what seemed to me an almost supernatural skill in eliciting valuable and apposite information from unexpected quarters, my lady from Herland continued to fill her mind and her note-books.
To me, who grew more and more to admire her, to reverence her, to tenderly love her, as we traveled on together, there now appeared a change in her spirit, more alarming even than that produced by Europe's war. It was like the difference between the terror roused in one surrounded by lions, and the loathing experienced in the presence of hideous reptiles, this not in the least at the people, but at certain lamentable social conditions.
In visiting our world she had been most unfortunately first met by the hot horrors of war; and I had thought to calm her by the static nations, the older peoples, sitting still among their ruins, richly draped in ancient and interesting histories. But a very different effect was produced. What she had read, while it prepared her to understand the sequence of affairs, had in no case given what she recognized as the really important events and their results.
"I'm writing a little history of the world," she told me, with a restrained smile. "Just a little one, so that I can have something definite to show them."
"But how can you, dearest — in this time, with what data you have? I know you are wonderful — but a history of the world!"
"Only a little one," she answered. "Just a synopsis. You know we are used to condensing and simplifying for our children. I suppose that is where we get the 'grasp of salient features' you have spoken of so often. These historians I read now certainly do not have it."
She continued tender to me, more so if anything. Of two things we talked with pleasure: of Herland and my land, and always of the beauty of nature. This seemed to her a ceaseless source of strength and comfort.
"It's the same world," she said, as we leaned side by side on the rail at the stern, and watched the white wake run uncoiling away from us, all silver-shining under the round moon. "The same sky, the same stars, some of them, the same blessed sun and moon. And the dear grass — and the trees — the precious trees."
Being by profession a forester, it was inevitable that she should notice trees; and in Europe she found much to admire, though lamenting the scarcity of food-bearing varieties. In Northern Africa she had noted the value of the palm, the olive, and others, and had readily understood the whole system of irrigation and its enormous benefits. What she did not easily grasp was its disuse, and the immeasurable futility of the fellaheen, still using the shadoof after all these ages of progress.
"I don't' see yet," she admitted, "what makes their minds so — so impervious. It can't be because they're men, surely. Men are not duller than women, are they, dear?"
"Indeed they are not!" I cried, rather stung by this new suggestion. "Men are the progressive sex, the thinkers, the innovators. It is the women who are conservative and slow. Even you will have to admit that."
"I certainly will if I find it so," she answered cheerfully. "I can see that these women are dull enough. But then — if they do things differently there are penalties, aren't there?"
"Why, yes. If the women innovate and rebel the least that happens to them is that the men won't marry them — isn't that so?"
"I shouldn't think you would call that a penalty, my dear," I answered.
"Oh, yes, it is; it means extinction — the end of that variety of woman. You seem to have quite successfully checked mutation in women; and they had neither education, opportunity, or encouragement in other variation."
"Don't say 'you,'" I urged. "These are the women of the Orient you are talking about, not of all the world. Everybody knows that their position is pitiful and a great check to progress. Wait till you see my country!"
"I shall be glad to get there, dearest, I'm sure of that," she told me. "But as to these more progressive men among the Egyptians — there was no penalty for improving on the shadoof, was there? Or the method of threshing grain by the feet of cattle?"
Then I explained, trying to show no irritation, that there was a difference in the progressiveness of nations, of various races; but that other things being equal, the men were as a rule more progressive than the women."
"Where are the other things equal, Van?"
I had to laugh at that; she was a very difficult person to argue with; but I told her they were pretty near equal in our United States, and that we thought our women fully as good as men, and a little better. She was comforted for a while, but as we went on into Asia, her spirit sank and darkened, and that change I spoke of became apparent.
Burmah was something of a comfort, and that surviving matriarchate in the island hills. But in our rather extended visit to India, guided and informed by both English and native friends, and supplied with further literature, she began to suffer deeply.
We had the rare good fortune to be allowed to accompany a scientific expedition up through the wonder of the Himalayas, through Thibet, and into China. Here that high sweet spirit drooped and shrunk, with a growing horror, a loathing, such as I had never seen before in her clear eyes. She was shocked beyond words at the vast area of dead country; skeleton country, deforested, deshrubbed, degrassed, wasted to the bone, lying there to burn in the sun and drown in the rain, feeding no one.
"Van, Van," she said. "Help me to forget the women a little and talk about the land! Help me to understand the — the holes in the minds of people. Here is intelligence, intellect, a high cultural development — of sorts. They have beautiful art in some lines. They have an extensive literature. They are old, very old, surely old enough to have learned more than any other people. And yet here is proof that they have never mastered the simple and obvious facts of how to take care of the land on which they live."
"But they still live on it, don't they?"
"Yes — they live on it. But they live on it like swarming fleas on an emaciated kitten, rather than careful farmers on a well-cultivated ground. However," she brightened a little, "there's one thing; this horrible instance of a misused devastated land must have been of one great service. It must have served as an object lesson to all the rest of the world. Where such an old and wise nation has made so dreadful a mistake — for so long, at least no other nation need to make it."
I did not answer as fully and cheerfully as she wished, and she pressed me further.
"The world has learned how to save its trees — its soil — its beauty — its fertility, hasn't it? Of course, what I've seen is not all — it's better in other places?"
"We did not go to Germany, you know, my dear. They have a high degree of skill in forestry there. In many countries it is now highly thought of. We are taking steps to preserve our own forests, though, so far, they are so extensive that we rather forgot there was any end of them."
"It will be good to get there, Van," and she squeezed my hand hard. "I must see it all. I must 'know the worst' — and surely I am getting the worst first! But you have free education — you have every advantage of climate — you have a mixture of the best blood on earth, of the best traditions. And you are brave and free and willing to learn. Oh, Van! I am so glad it was America that found us! "
I held her close and kissed her. I was glad, too. And I was proud clear through to have her speak so of us. Yet, still — I was not as perfectly comfortable about it as I had been at first.
She had read about the foot-binding process still common in so large a part of China, but somehow had supposed it was a thing of the past, and never general. Also, I fancy she had deliberately kept it out of her mind, as something impossible to imagine. Now she saw it. For days and days, as we traveled through the less known parts of the great country, she saw the crippled women; not merely those serenely installed in rich gardens and lovely rooms, with big-footed slaves to do their bidding; or borne in swaying litters by strong Coolies; but poor women, working women, toiling in the field, carrying their little mats to kneel on while they worked, because their feet were helpless aching pegs.
Presently, while we waited in a village, and were entertained by a local magnate who had business relations with one of our guides, Ellador was in the women's apartment, and she heard it — the agony of the bound feet of a child. The child was promptly hushed, struck and chided; made to keep quiet, but Ellador had heard its moaning. From a woman missionary she got details of the process, and was shown the poor little shrunken stumps.
That night she would not let me touch her, come near her. She lay silent, staring with set eyes, long shudders running over her from time to time.
When it came to speech, which was some days later, she could still but faintly express it.
"To think," she said slowly, "that there are on earth men who can do a thing like that to women — to little helpless children!"
"But their men don't do it, dearest," I urged. "It is the women, their own mothers, who bind the feet of the little ones. They are afraid to have them grow up 'big-footed women? "
"Afraid of what?" asked Ellador, that shudder passing over her again.