AS I look over my mass of notes, of hastily jotted down or wholly reconstructed conversations, and some of Ellador's voluminous papers, I am distressingly conscious of the shortcomings of this book. There is no time now to improve it, and I wish to publish it, as a little better than no report at all of the long visit of my wife from Herland to the world we know.
In time I hope, if I live, and if I come back again, to make a far more competent study than this. Yet why trouble myself to do that? She will do it, I am sure, with the help of her friends and sisters, far better than I could.
I had hoped that she could go blazing about our world, lecturing on the wonders and beauties of Herland, but that was all dropped when they decided not to betray their strange geographical secret — yet. I am allowed to print the previous account of our visit there — even that will set explorers on their track; but she did not wish to answer specific questions while here, nor to refuse to answer.
They were quite right. The more I see of our world, the surer I am that they are right to try to preserve their lovely country as it is, for a while at least.
Ellador begs that I explain how inchoate, how fragmentary, how disproportionate, her impressions necessarily were.
"The longer I stay," she said, "the more I learn of your past and understand of your present, the more hopeful I feel for you. Please make that very clear." This she urged strongly.
The war did not discourage her, after a while. "What is one more — among so many?" she asked, with a wry smile. "The very awfulness of this is its best hope; that, and the growing wisdom of the people. You'll have no more, I'm sure; that is, no more except those recognized as criminal outbreaks, and punitive ones; the receding waves of force as these turbulent cross-currents die down and disappear.
"But, Van, dear, whatever else you leave out, be sure to make it as strong as you can about the women and children."
"Perhaps you'd better say it yourself, my dear. Come, you put in a chapter," I urged. But she would not.
"I should be too abusive, I'm afraid," she objected; "and I've talked enough on the subject — you know that."
She had, by this time, gone over it pretty thoroughly. And it is not very difficult to give the drift of it — we all know the facts. Her position, as a Herlander, was naturally the maternal one.
"The business of people is, of course, to be well, happy, wise, beautiful, productive and progressive."
"Why don't you say 'good,' too," I suggested.
"Don't be absurd, Van. If people are well and happy, wise, beautiful, productive and progressive, they must incidentally be good; that's being good. What sort of goodness is it which does not produce those effects? Well, these 'good' people need a 'good' world to live in, and they have to make it; a clean, safe, comfortable world to grow in.
"Then, since they all begin as children, it seems so self-evident that the way to make better people and a better world is to teach the children how."
"You'll find general agreement so far," I admitted.
"But the people who train children are, with you, the mothers," she pursued, "and the mothers of your world have not yet seen this simple truth."
"They talk of nothing else," I suggested. "They are always talking of the wonderful power and beauty of motherhood, from the most ancient morality to Ellen Key."
"Yes, I know they talk about it. Their idea of motherhood, to what it ought to be, is like a birch-bark canoe to an ocean steamship, Van. They haven't seen it as a whole — that's the trouble. What prevents them is their dwarfed condition, not being people, real, world-building people; and what keeps them dwarfed is this amazing relic of the remote past — their domestic position."
"Would you 'destroy the home,' as they call it, Ellador?"
"I think the home is the very loveliest thing you have on earth," she unexpectedly replied.
"What do you mean, then?" I asked, genuinely puzzled. "You can't have homes without women in them, can you? And children?"
"And men," she gravely added. "Why, Van — do not men have homes, and love them dearly? A man does not have to stay at home all day, in order to love it; why should a woman?"
Then she made clear to me, quite briefly, how the home should be to the woman just what it was to a man, and far more to both, in beauty and comfort, in privacy and peace, in all the pleasant rest and dear companionship we so prize; but that it should not be to him a grinding weight of care and expense, or an expression of pride; nor to her a workshop or her sole means of personal expression.
"It is so pathetic," she said, "and so unutterably absurd, to see great city-size and world-size women trying to content themselves and express themselves in one house; or worse, one flat. You know how it would be for a man, surely. It is just as ridiculous for a woman And your city-size and world-size men are all tied up to these house-size women. It's so funny, Van, so painfully' funny, like a horse harnessed with an eohippus."
"We haven't got to wait for Mrs. Eohippus to catch up to Mr. Horse, I hope?"
"You won't have to wait long," she assured me. "They are born equal, your boys and girls; they have to be. It is the tremendous difference in cultural conditions that divides them; not only in infancy and youth; not only in dress and training; but in this wide gulf of industrial distinction, this permanent division which leaves one sex free to rise, to develop every social power and quality, and forcibly restrains the other to a labor-level thousands of years behind. It is beginning to change, I can see that now, but it has to be complete, universal, before women can do their duty as mothers."
"But I thought — at least I've always heard — that it was their duty as mothers which kept them at home."
She waved this aside, with a touch of impatience. "Look at the children," she said; "that's enough. Look at these girls who do not even know enough about motherhood to demand a healthy father. Why, a — a — sheep would know better than to mate with such creatures as some of your women marry.
"They are only just beginning to learn that there are such diseases as they have been suffering and dying from for all these centuries. And they are so poor) They haven't any money, most of them; they are so disorganized — unorganized — apparently unconscious of any need of organization."
I mentioned the growth of trade unions, but she said that was but a tiny step — useful, but small; what she meant was Mother Union. . . .
"I suppose it is sex," she pursued, soberly. "With us, motherhood is so simple. I had supposed, at first, that your bi-sexual method would mean a better motherhood, a motherhood of two, so to speak. And I find that men have so enjoyed their little part of the work that they have grown to imagine it as quite a separate thing, and to talk about 'sex' as if it was wholly distinct from parentage. Why, see what I found the other day" — and she pulled out a copy of a little yellow medical magazine, published by a physician who specializes in sex diseases, and read me a note this doctor had written on "Sterilization," wherein he said that it had no injurious effect on sex.
"Just look at that!" she said. "The man is a doctor — and thinks the removal of parental power is no loss to 'sex'! What men — yes, and some women, too — seem to mean by sex is just their preliminary pleasure... . When your women are really awake and know what they are for, seeing men as the noblest kind of assistants, nature's latest and highest device for the improvement of parentage, then they will talk less of 'sex' and more of children."
I urged, as genuinely as I could, the collateral value and uses of sex indulgence; not the common theories of "necessity," which any well-trained athlete can deny, but the more esoteric claims of higher flights of love, and of far-reaching stimulus to all artistic faculty: the creative inpulse in our work.
She listened patiently, but shook her head when I was done.
"Even if all those claims were true," she said, "they would not weigh as an ounce to a ton beside the degradation of women, the corruption of the body and mind through these wholly unnecessary diseases, and the miserable misborn children. Why, Van, what's 'creative impulse' and all its 'far-reaching stimulus' to set beside the stunted, meager starveling children, the millions of poor little sub-ordinary children, children who are
mere accidents and by-products of this much-praised 'sex'? It's no use, dear, until all the children of the world are at least healthy; at least normal; until the average man and woman are free from taint of sex-disease and happy in their love — lastingly happy in their love — there is not much to boast of in this popular idea of sex and sex indulgence.
"It can not be changed in a day or a year," she said. "This is evidently a matter of long inheritance, and that's why I allow three generations to get over it. But nothing will help much till the women are free and see their duty as mothers."
"Some of the 'freest' women are urging more sex freedom," I reminded her. "They want to see the women doing as men have done, apparently."
"Yes, I know. They are almost as bad as the antis — but not quite. They are merely a consequence of wrong teaching and wrong habits; they were there before, those women, only not saying what they wanted. Surely, you never imagined that all men could be unchaste and all women chaste, did you?"
I shamefacedly admitted that that was exactly what we had imagined, and that we had most cruelly punished the women who were not.
"It's the most surprising thing I ever heard of," she said; "and you bred and trained plenty of animals, to say nothing of knowing the wild ones. Is there any case in nature of a species with such a totally opposite traits in the two sexes?"
There wasn't, that I knew of, outside of their special distinctions, of course.
All these side issues she continually swept aside, all the minor points and discussable questions, returning again and again to the duty of women.
"As soon as the women take the right ground, men will have to follow suit," she said, "as soon as women are free, independent and conscientious. They have the power in their own hands, by natural law."
"What is going to rouse them, to make them see it?" I asked.
"A number of things seems to be doing that," she said, meditatively. "From my point of view, I should think the sense of maternal duty would be the strongest thing, but there seem to be many forces at work here. The economic change is the most imperative, more so, even, than the political, and both are going on fast. There's the war, too, that is doing wonders for women. It is opening the eyes of men, millions of men, at once, as no arguments ever could have."
"Aren't you pleased to see the women working for peace?" I asked.
"Immensely, of course. All over Europe they are at it — that's what I mean."
"But I meant the Peace Movement."
"Oh, that? Talking for peace, you mean, and writing and telegraphing. Yes, that's useful, too. Anything that brings women out into social relation, into a sense of social responsibility, is good. But all that they say and write and urge will not count as much as what they do.
"Your women will surely have more sense than the men about economics," she suggested. "It does not seem to me possible for business women to mishandle food as men do, or to build such houses. It is all so — unreasonable: to make people eat what is not good, or live in dark, cramped little rooms."
"You don't think they show much sense in their own clothes?" I offered, mischievously.
"No, they don't. But that is women as they are, the kind of women you men have been so long manufacturing. I'm speaking of real ones, the kind that are there underneath, and sure to come out as soon as they have a chance. And what a glorious time they will have — cleaning up the world! I'd almost like to stay and help a little."
Gradually it had dawned upon me that Ellador did not mean to stay, even in America. I wanted to be sure.
"Like to stay? Do you mean that you want to go back — for good?"
"It is not absolutely clear to me yet," she answered. "But one thing I'm certain about. If I live here I will not have a child."
I thought for a moment that she meant the distress about her would have some deleterious effect and prevent it; but when I looked at her, saw the folded arms, the steady mouth, the fixed determination in her eyes, I knew that she meant "will not" when she said it.
"It would not be right," she added, simply. "There is no place in all your world, that I have seen or read of, where I should be willing to raise a child."
"We could go to some lovely place alone," I urged; "some island, clean and beautiful —"
"But we should be 'alone' there. That is no place for a child." "You could teach it — as they do in Herland," I still urged. "I teach it? I? What am I, to teach a child?"
"You would be its mother," I answered.
"And what is a mother to teach a solitary little outcast thing as you suggest? Children need the teaching of many women, and the society of many children, for right growth. Also, they need a social environment — not an island!"
"You see, dear," she went on, after a little, "in Herland everything teaches. The child sees love and order and peace and comfort and wisdom everywhere. No child, alone, could grow up so — so richly endowed. And as to these countries I have seen — these cities of abomination — I would die childless rather than to bear a child in this world of yours."
In Herland to say "I would die childless" is somewhat equivalent to our saying "I would suffer eternal damnation." It is the worst deprivation they can think of.
"You are going to leave me!" I cried. It burst upon me with sudden bitterness. She was not "mine," she was a woman of Herland, and her heavenly country, her still clear hope of motherhood, were more to her than life in our land with me. What had I to offer her that was comparable to that upland paradise?
She came to me, then, and took me in her arms — strong, tender, loving arms — and gave me one of her rare kisses.
"I'm going to stay with you, my husband, as long as I live — if you want me. Is there anything to prevent your coming back to Herland?"
As a matter of fact, there was really nothing to prevent it, nothing I might leave behind which would cost me the pain her exile was costing her; and especially nothing which could compensate for losing my wife.
We began to discuss it, with eager interest. "I don't mean to forsake this poor world," she assured me. "We can come back again — later, much later. My mind is full of great things that can be done here, and I want to get all the wisdom of Herland at work to help. But let us go back now, while we are young, and before this black, stupid confusion has — has hurt me any worse. Perhaps it is no harm, that I have suffered so. Perhaps our child will have a heart that aches for all the world — and will do more than any of us to help it. Especially if it is — a Boy."
"Do you want a boy, darling?"
"Oh, do I not! Just think — none of us, ever, in these two thousand years, has had one. If we, in Herland, can begin a new kind of men!"...
"What do you want of them?" I said, teasingly. "Surely you women alone have accomplished all that the world needs, haven't you?"
"Indeed, no, Van. We haven't begun. Ours is only a — a sample: a little bit of a local exhibit. If what we have done is the right thing, then it becomes our clearest duty to spread it to all the world. Such a new life as you have opened to us, Van, you Splendid Man!"
"Splendid Man! Splendid! I thought you thought we were to blame for all the misery in the world? Just look at the harm we've done!"
"Just look at the good you've done, too! Why, my darling, the harm you have done is merely the result of your misunderstanding and misuse of Sex; and the good you have done is the result of the humanness of you, the big, noble humanness that has grown and grown, that has built and lifted and taught the world in spite of all the dragging evil. Why, dear, when I see the courage, the perseverance, the persistent growth you men have shown, cumbered as you have been from the beginning by the fruits of your mistakes, it seems as if you were almost more than human?"
I was rather stunned by this. No man who had seen Herland and then come back to our tangled foolishness, waste and pain, could be proud of his man-made world. No man who had solidly grasped the biological facts as to the initial use of his sex, and his incredible misuse of it, could help the further shame for the anomalous position of the human male, completely mistaken, and producing a constant train of evils.
I could see it all plainly enough. And now, to have her talk like this!
"Remember, dear, that men never meant to do it, or any part of it," she tenderly explained. "The trouble evidently began when nobody knew much; it became an ironclad 'custom' even before religion took it up, and law. Remember, too, that the women haven't died — they are here yet, in equal numbers. Also, even the unjust restrictions have saved them from a great deal of suffering which the men met. And then nothing could rob them of their inheritance. Every step the men really made upward lifted the women, too. And don't forget Love, ever. That has lived and triumphed even through all the lust and slavery and shame."
I felt comforted, relieved.
"Besides," she went on, "you men ought to feel proud of the real world work you have done, even crippled as you were by your own excessive sex, and by those poor, dragging dead-weights of women you had manufactured. In spite of it all, you have invented and discovered and built and adorned the world. You have things as far along as we have, even some things better, and many sciences and crafts we know nothing about. And you've done it alone — just men! It's wonderful."
In spite of all the kindness and honest recognition she showed, I could not help a feeling of inner resentment at this tone. Of course, we three men had been constantly impressed with all that they had done in Herland — just women, alone — but that she thought it equally wonderful for men to do it was not wholly gratifying.
She went on serenely.
"We had such advantages, you see. Being women, we had all the constructive and organizing tendencies of motherhood to urge us on and, having no men, we missed all that greediness and quarreling your history is so sadly full of. Also, being isolated, we could just grow — like a sequoia in a sheltered mountain glade.
"But you men, in this mixed, big world of yours, in horrid confusion of mind and long ignorance, with all those awful religions to mix you up and hold you back, and with so little real Happiness — still, you have built the world! Van, dear, it shows how much stronger humanity is than sex, even in men. All that I have had to learn, you see, for we make no distinction at home — women are people, and people are women. "At first I thought of men just as males — a Herlander would, you know. Now I know that men are people, too, just as much as women are; and it is as one person to another that I feel this big love for you, Van. You are so nice to live with. You are such good company. I never get tired of you. I like to play with you, and to work with you. I admire and enjoy the way you do things. And when we sit down quietly, near together — it makes me so happy, Van! "
* * *
There were still a few big rubies in that once fat little bag she so wisely brought with her. We made careful plans, which included my taking a set of thorough lessons in aviation and mechanics; there must be no accidents on this trip. By a previous steamer we sent the well-fitted motorboat that should carry us and our dissembled aeroplane up that long river.
Of baggage, little could be carried, and that little, on Ellador's part, consisted largely of her mass of notes, all most carefully compressed, and done on the finest and lightest paper. She also urged that we take with us the lightest and newest of encyclopaedias. "We can leave it in the boat, if necessary, and make a separate trip," she suggested. Also photographs she took, and a moving picture outfit with well-selected films. "We can make them, I'm sure," she said; "but this one will do to illustrate." It did.
After all, her requirements did not weigh more than the third passenger whom we might have carried.
The river trip was a growing joy; day after day of swift gliding through those dark, drooping forests and wide, reedy flats; and when at last we shot out upon the shining silver of that hidden lake, and she saw above her the heights of Herland — my calm goddess trembled and cried, stretching her arms to it like a child to its mother.
But we set swiftly to work on our aeroplane, putting it all soundly together and fastening in the baggage, and then sealed up the tight sheathed boat like a trim cocoon.
Then the purr of our propeller, the long, skating slide on the water, and up — and up — in a widening spiral, Ellador breathless, holding fast to the supports, till we topped the rocky rim, rose above the forest, her forest — and sailed out over the serene expanse of that fair land. "O, let's look," she begged; "let's look at the whole of it first — it's the whole of it that I love!" So we swept in a great circle above, as one might sweep over Holland: the green fields, blossoming gardens, and dark woods, spread like a model of heaven below us, and the cities, the villages — how well I remembered them, in their scattered loveliness, rich in color, beautiful in design, everywhere fringed and shaded by dean trees, lit and cheered by bright water, radiant with flowers.
She leaned forward like a young mother over her sleeping child, tender, proud, gloating.
"No smoke!" she murmured; "no brutal noise, no wickedness, no disease. Almost no accidents or sickness — almost none." (This in a whisper, as if she were apologizing for some faint blemish on the child.)
"Beauty!" she breathed. "Beauty! Beauty! — everywhere. Oh, I had forgotten how beautiful it was'"
So had I. When I first saw it I was still too accustomed to our common ugliness to really appreciate this loveliness.
When we had swung back to the town where we had lived most, and made our smooth descent in a daisied meadow, there were many to meet us, with my Well-remembered Somel, and, first and most eager, Jeff and Celis, with their baby.
Ellador seized upon it as eagerly as her gentle tenderness would allow, with reverent kisses for the little hands, the rosy feet. She caught Celis to her arms and held her close. She even kissed Jeff, which he apparently liked, and nobody else minded. And then — well, if you live in a country of about three million inhabitants, and love them all; if you have been an envoy extraordinary — very extraordinary, indeed — to a far-off, unknown world, and have come back unexpectedly — why, your hands are pretty full for a while.
* * *
We settled back into the smooth-running Herland life without a ripple. No trouble about housing; they had always a certain percentage of vacancies, to allow for freedom of movement. No trouble about clothes; those perfect garments were to be had everywhere, always lovely and suitable. No trouble about food; that smooth, well-adjusted food supply was available wherever we went.
No appeals for deserving charity — no need of them. Nothing to annoy and depress, everything to give comfort and strength; and under all, more perceptible to me now than before, that vast, steady, onmoving current of definite purpose, planning and working to make good better and better best.
The "atmosphere" in the world behind us is that of a thousand mixed currents, pushing and pulling in every direction, controverting and opposing one another.
Here was peace — and power, with accomplishment.
Eagerly she returned to her people. With passionate enthusiasm she poured out, in wide tours of lecturing, and in print, her report of world conditions. She saw it taken up, studied, discussed by those great-minded over-mothers of the land. She saw the young women, earnest eyed, of boundless hope and high purpose, planning, as eager missionaries plan, what they could do to spread to all the world their proven gains. Reprints of that encyclopaedia were scattered to every corner of the land, and read swiftly, eagerly, to crowding groups of listeners. There began to stir in Herland a new spirit, pushing, seeking, a new sense of responsibility, a larger duty.
"It is not enough," they said, "that we should be so happy. Here is the whole round world — millions and hundreds of millions of people — and all their babies! Not in a thousand years will we rest, till the world is happy!"
And to this end they began to plan, slowly, wisely, calmly, making no haste; sure, above all, that they must preserve their own integrity and peace if they were to help others.
* * *
When Ellador had done her utmost, given all that she had gathered and seen the great work growing, she turned to me with a long, happy sigh.
"Let's go to the forest," she said. And we went.
We went to the rock where I had first landed and she showed me where three laughing girls had been hidden. We went to the tree where they had slipped away like quicksilver. We went to a far-off, quiet place she knew, a place of huge trees, heavy with good fruit, of smooth, mossy banks, of quiet pools and tinkling fountains. Here, unexpected, was a little forester house, still and clean, with tall flowers looking in at the windows.
"I used to love this best of all," she said. "Look — you can see both ways."
It was on a high knoll and, through the great boughs, a long vista opened to a bright sunlight in the fields below.
The other side was a surprise. The land dropped suddenly, fell to a rocky brink and ended. Dark and mysterious, far beyond, in a horizon-sweeping gloom of crowding jungle, lay — the world.
"I always wanted to see — to know — to help," she said. "Dear — you have brought me so much! Not only love, but the great new spread of life — of work to do for all humanity.
"And then — the other new Hope, too, — perhaps — perhaps — a son!"
And in due time a son was born to us.