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| Chapter 4
WE stayed some little time in China, meeting most interesting and valuable people, missionaries, teachers, diplomats, merchants, some of them the educated English-speaking Chinese.
Ellador's insatiable interest, her exquisite courtesy and talent as a listener, made anyone willing to talk to her. She learned fast, and placed in that wide sunlit mind of hers each fact in due relation.
"I'm beginning to understand," she told me sweetly, "that I mustn't judge this — miscellaneous — world of yours as I do my country. We were just ourselves — an isolated homogeneous people. When we moved, we all moved together. You are all kinds of people, in all kinds of places, touching at the edges and getting mixed. And so far from moving on together, there are no two nations exactly abreast — that I can see; and they mostly are ages apart; some away ahead of the others, some going far faster than others, some stationary."
"Yes," I told her, "and in the still numerous savages we find the beginners, and the back-sliders — the hopeless back-sliders, in human progress."
"I see — I see — " she said reflectively. "When you say 'the civilized world' that is just a figure of speech. The world is not civilized yet — only spots in it, and those not wholly."
"That's about it," I agreed with her. "Of course, the civilized nations think of themselves as the world — that's natural."
"How does it compare — in numbers?" she inquired. "Let's look!"
So we consulted the statistics on the population of the earth, chasing through pages of classification difficult to sift, until we hit upon a little table: "Population of the earth according to race." "That ought to do, roughly speaking," I told her. "We'll call the white races civilized — and lump the others. Let's see how it comes out."
It came out that the total of Indo-Germanic, or Aryan — White, for Europe, America, Persia, India and Australia, was 775,000,000; and the rest of the world, black, red, brown and yellow, was 788,000,000.
"Do you mean that the majority of mankind is still uncivilized?" she asked.
She didn't ask it unpleasantly. Ellador was never sarcastic or bitter. But the world was her oyster — to study, and she was quite impartial.
I, however, felt reproached by this cool estimate. "No indeed," I said, "you can't call China uncivilized — it is one of the very oldest civilizations we have. This is only by race you see, by color."
"Oh, yes," she agreed, "and race or color do not count in civilization? Of course not — how stupid I was!"
But I laid down the pencil I was using to total up populations, and looked at her with a new and grave misgiving. She was so world-innocent. Even the history she had so swiftly absorbed had not changed her, any more than indecent novels affect a child; the child does not know the meaning of the words.
In the light of Ellador's colossal innocence of what we are accustomed to call "life," I began to see that process in a wholly new perspective. Her country was but one; her civilization was one and indivisible; in her country the women and children lived as mothers, daughters, sisters, in general tolerance, love, education and service. Out of that nursery, school, garden, shop, and parlor, she came into this great scrambling world of ours, to find it spotted over with dissimilar peoples, more separated by their varying psychology than by geography, politics, or race; often ignorant of one another, often fearing, despising, hating one another; and each national group, each racial stock, assuming itself to be "the norm" by which to measure others. She had first to recognize the facts and then to disentangle the causes, the long lines of historic evolution which had led to these results. Even then it was hard for her really to grasp the gulfs divide one part of the human race from the others.
And now I had the unpleasant task of disabusing her of this last glad assumption, that race and color made no difference.
"Dear," I said slowly, "you must prepare your mind for another shock — though you must have got some of it already, here and there. Race and color make all the difference in the world. People dislike and despise one another on exactly that ground — difference in race and color. These millions who are here marked 'Aryan or White' include Persians and Hindus, yet the other white races are averse to intermarrying with these, whose skins are indeed much darker than ours, though they come of the same stock."
"Is the aversion mutual?" she asked, as calmly as if we had been discussing insects.
I assured her that, speaking generally, it was; that the flatter-faced Mongolians regarded us as hawk-like in our aquiline features; and that little African children fled screaming from the unnatural horror of a first-seen white face.
But what I was thinking about was how I should explain to her the race prejudice in my own country, when she reached it. I felt like a housekeeper bringing home company, discovering that the company has far higher and more exacting standards than herself, and longing to get home first and set the house in order before inspection.
We spent some little time in Japan, Ellador enjoying the fairy beauty of the country, with its flower-worshipping, sunny-faced people, and the plump happy children everywhere.
But instead of being content with the artistic beauty of the place; with that fine lacquer of smiling courtesy with which their life is covered, she followed her usual course of penetrating investigation. It needed no years of study, no dreary tables of figures. With what she already knew, so clearly held in mind, with a few questions each loaded with implications, she soon grasped the salient facts of Japanese civilization. Its conspicuous virtues gave her instant joy. The high honor of the Samurai, the unlimited patriotism of the people in general, the exquisite politeness, and the sincere love of beauty in nature and art — these were all comforting, and the free-footed women also, after the "golden lilies" of China.
But presently, piercing below all these, she found the general poverty of the people, their helplessness under a new and hard-grinding commercialism, and the patient ignominy in which the women lived.
"How is it, dear," she asked me, "that these keenly intelligent people fail to see that such limited women cannot produce a nobler race?"
I could only say that it was a universal failing, common to all races — except ours, of course. Her face always lighted when we spoke of America.
"You don't know how I look forward to it, dear," she said. "After this painful introduction to the world I knew so little of — I'm so glad we came this way — saving the best to the last."
The nearer we came to America and the more eagerly she spoke of it, the more my vague uneasiness increased. I began to think of things I had never before been sensitive about and to seek for justification.
Meanwhile Ellador was accumulating heart-ache over the Japanese women, whose dual duty of child-bearing and man-service dominated all their lives.
"It is so hard for me to understand, Van; they aren't people at all, somehow — just wives — or worse."
"They are mothers, surely," I urged.
"No — not in our sense, not consciously. Look at this ghastly crowding! Here's a little country, easy to grasp and manage, capable of supporting about so many people — not more. And here they are, making a 'saturated solution' of themselves. She had picked up that phrase from one of her medical friends, a vigorous young man who told her much that she was eager to know about the health and physical development of the Japanese. "Can't they see that there are too many?" she went on. "If a people increases beyond its means of support it has to endure miserable poverty — or what is that the Germans demand? — expansion! They have to have somebody else's country. How strangely dull they are!"
"But, my dear girl, please remember that this is life," I told her. "This is the world. This is the way people live. You expect too much of them. It is a law of nature to increase and multiply. Of course, Malthus set up a terrified cry about over-populating the earth, but it has not come to that yet, not near. Our means of subsistence increase with the advance of science."
"As to the world, I can see that; but as to a given country, and especially as small a one as this — what does become of them?" she asked suddenly.
This started her on a rapid study of emigration, in which, fortunately, my own knowledge was of some use; and she eagerly gathered up and arranged in her mind that feature of our history on which hangs so much, the migration and emigration of peoples. She saw at once how, when most of the earth's surface was unoccupied, people moved freely about in search of the best hunting or pasturage; how in an agricultural system they settled and spread, widening with the increase of population; how ever since they met and touched, each nation limited by its neighbors, there had been the double result of overcrowding inside the national limits, and warfare in the interests of "expansion."
"I can see now the wonderful advantage you have," she said eagerly. "Humanity got its 'second wind' with the discovery of the 'new world' — didn't it?"
It always delighted me to note the speed and correctness with which she picked up idioms and bits of slang. They were a novelty to her, and a constant delight.
"You had a big new country to spread out in, and no competitors — there were no previous inhabitants, were there?" "Nothing but Indians," I said.
"Yes, savages, like those in the forests below your mountain land, though more advanced in some ways."
"How did you arrange with them?" she asked.
"I hate to tell you, Ellador. You see you have — a little — idealized my country. We did not 'arrange' with those savages. We killed them."
"All of them? How many were there?" She was quite calm. She made no movement of alarm or horror, but I could see the rich color fade from her face, and her dear gentle mouth set in harder lines of control.
"It is a long story, and not a nice one, I'm sorry to say. We left some, hemming them in in spots called "reservations.' There has been a good deal of education and missionary work; some Indians have become fully civilized — as good citizens as any; and some have intermarried with the whites. We have many people with Indian blood. But speaking generally this is one of our national shames. Helen Hunt wrote a book about it, called 'A Century of Dishonor.'"
Ellador was silent. That lovely far-off homesick look came into her eyes.
"I hate to disillusion you, dear heart," I said. "We are not perfect in America. I truly think we have many advantages over any other country, but we are not blameless."
"I'll defer judgment till I get there," she presently answered. "Let's go back to what we were discussing — the pressure of population."
Rather sadly we took it up again, and saw how, as long as warfare was the relief, nations continually boiled over upon one another; gaining more land by the simple process of killing off the previous owners, and having to repeat the process indefinitely as soon as the population again pressed against its limits. Where warfare was abandoned and a settled boundary established, as when great China walled itself in from marauding tribes, then the population showed an ingrowing pressure, and reduced the standard of living to a ghastly minimum. Then came the later process of peaceful emigration, by which the coasts and islands of the Pacific became tinged with the moving thousands of the Yellow Races.
She saw it all as a great panorama, an endless procession, never accepting a static world with the limitations of parti-colored maps, but always watching the movement of races.
"That's what ails Europe now, isn't it?" she said at last. "That's why those close-packed fertile races were always struggling up and down among one another, and making room, for awhile, by killing people?"
"That's certainly a good part of it," I agreed. "Every nation wants more land to accommodate its increasing population."
"And they-want an increase of population in order to win more land — don't they?"
This, too, was plain.
"And there isn't any way out of it — on a limited earth — but fixed boundaries with suicidal crowding inside, or the 'fortunes of war?' "
That, too, was plain, unfortunately.
"Then why do not the women limit the population, as we did?"
"Oh, Ellador, Ellador — you cannot seem to realize that this world is not a woman's world, like your little country. This is a man's world — and they did not want to limit the population."
"Why not?" she urged. "Was it because they did not bear the children? Was it because they would rather fight than live in peace? What was the reason?"
"Neither of those," I said slowly. "The real reason is that neither men nor women have been able to see broadly enough, to think deeply enough, sufficiently to visualize these great racial questions. They just followed their instincts and obeyed their ancient religions, and these things happened without their knowing why."
"But the women!" protested Ellador. "Surely the women could see as simple a thing as that. It's only a matter of square miles; how many people to a mile can live healthfully and pleasantly. Are these women willing to have their children grow up so crowded that they can't be happy, or where they'll have to fight for room to live? I can't understand it."
Then she went determinedly to question a Japanese authority, to whom we were introduced by one of our friends, as to the status of women in Japan. She was polite; she was meek; she steeled herself beforehand to hear without surprise; and the authority, also courteous to a degree, gave her a brief outline with illustrative story and quotation, of the point of view from which women were regarded in that country.
She grasped it even more thoroughly than she had in India or China.
We left Japan for Home, via Hawaii, and for days she was silent about the subject. Then, as the wide blue sea, the brilliant days spinning by, the smooth magnificence of our progress comforted her, she touched on it once more.
"I'm trying not to feel about these particularly awful things, and not to judge, even, till I know more. These things are so; and my knowing them does not make them any worse than they were before."
"You're a brave girl — and a strong one," I assured her. "That's the only way to do. I'm awfully sorry you had to have such a dose at first — this war, of all things; and then women in the East! I ought to have prepared you better."
"You could not have, dearest — it would have been impossible. No mere words could have made me visualize the inconceivable. And no matter how I came to it, slow or fast, the horror would have been the same. It is as impossible for me to make you see how I feel it now, as it would have been for you to make me feel it beforehand."
The voyage did her great good. She loved the sea, and gloried in the ships, doing her best to ignore the pitiful labor conditions of those who made the glory possible. Always she made friends — travelers, missionaries, business men, and women, wherever she found them. Yet, strangely enough, she seemed more at a loss with the women than with the men; seemed not to know, quite, how to approach them. It was not for lack of love and sympathy — far from it; she was eager to make friends with them. I finally worked out an explanation like this: She made friends with the men on the human side rather than attracting them by femininity; and as human beings they exchanged ideas and got on well together. The women were not so human; had a less wide outlook, less experience, as a rule. When she did get near enough to one of them for talk at all intimate, then came the ultra-feminine point of view, the different sense of social and moral values, the peculiar limitations of their position.
I saw this, as reflected by Ellador, as I had never seen it for myself before. What I did not understand, at first, was why she seemed to flag in interest and in patience, with the women, sooner than with the men. She never criticised them, but I could see a puzzled grieved look come over her kind face and then she would withdraw.
There were exceptions, marked ones. A woman doctor who had worked for years in China was going home for a long needed vacation, and Ellador was with her day after day, "learning," she told me. And there was another, once a missionary, now a research worker in biology, who commanded her sincere admiration.
We came to the lovely Hawaiian Islands, quite rested and refreshed, and arranged to stay there awhile and enjoy the splendor of those sea-girt mountains. Here her eager social interest was again aroused and she supplied herself with the history of this little sample of "social progress" most rapidly.
There were plenty to teach her, a few excellent books to read, and numbers of most self-satisfied descendants of missionaries to boast of the noble work of their fathers.
"This is very illuminating," she told me. "It is a — what's that nice word Professor Whiting used? — a microcosm — isn't it?"
By this time my dear investigator had as clear an idea of general human history as any one, not a specialist could wish; and had it in a very small notebook. While in England someone had given her Winwood Reade's wonderful "Martyrdom of Man," as good a basis for historical study as could be asked; and all the facts and theories she had been collecting since were duly related to her general views.
"Here you have done it so quickly — inside of a century. Only 1820 — and these nice gentle golden-colored people were living here by themselves."
"They weren't always gentle — don't idealize them too much!" I interrupted. "They had wars and quarrels, and they had a very horrid taboo religion — particularly hard on women."
"Yes — I know that — they weren't 'perfect, as we are,' as Professor Boynton used to say; but they were beautiful and healthy and happy; they were courteous and kind; and oh, how splendidly they could swim! Even the babies, they tell me."
"I've understood a child can swim earlier than it can walk — did they tell you that?"
"Yes — why not? But look here, my dear. Then came the missionaries and — interfered. Now these natives and owners of the land are only 15 per cent. of the population, with 20 per cent. of the deaths. They are dispossessed and are being exterminated."
"Yes," I said. "Well?"
Ellador looked at me. One could watch the expressions follow one another over her face, like cloud shadows and sunlight over a landscape. She looked puzzled; she evidently saw a reason. She became stern; then a further reason was recognized, and then that heavenly mother-look came over her, the one I had grown to prize most deeply.
But all she said was: "I love you. Van."
"Thank Heaven for that, my dear. I thought you were going to cast me out because of the dispossessed Hawaiians. I didn't do it — you're not blaming me, are you?"
"Did not — America — do it?" she asked, quietly. "And do you care at all?"
Then I embarked on one of those confined and contradictory explanations by which the wolf who has eaten the lamb seeks to show how unavoidable — if not how justifiable it all was.
"Do you feel like that about England's taking the Boers' country?" she asked gently.
I did not. I had always felt that a particularly inexcusable piece of "expansion."
"And your country it not packed very close yet — is it? Having so much — why did you need these?"
"We wanted to Christianize them — to civilize them," I urged rather sulkily.
"Do you think Christ would have had the same effect on them? And does civilization help dead people?"
She saw I was hurt, and stopped to kiss me. "Let's drop it, dear — I was wrong to press the point. But I've become so used to saying everything to you, just as if you were one of my sisters — I forget that things must look differently when one's own country is involved."
She said no more about the vanishing Hawaiians, but I began to look at them with a very different feeling from what I had ever had before. We had brought them syphilis and tuberculosis. The Chinese brought them leprosy. One of their lovely islands was now a name of horror from that ghastly disease, a place where noble Christians strive to minimize the evil — too late.
The missionaries, nobly purposed, no doubt, to begin with, had amassed great fortunes in land given to them by these careless children who knew so little of land ownership; and the children and grandchildren of the missionaries lived wealthy and powerful, proud of the "great work" of their forefathers, and apparently seeing no evil in the sad results. Perhaps they thought it was no matter how soon the natives died, so that they died Christians.
And the civilization we have brought them means an endless day of labor, long hours of grinding toil for other people's profit, in place of the clean ease and freedom of their own old life. Hard labor, disease, death; and the lasting consciousness of all this among their dwindling ranks; exclusion, social dissemination, industrial exploitation, approaching extermination — it is no wonder their music is mournful.
I was glad to leave the lovely place; glad to put aside a sense of national guilt, and to see Ellador freshen again as the golden days and velvet nights flowed over us as we steamed toward the sunrise — and Home.
There were plenty of Californians on board, both wise and unwise, and I saw my wile, with a constantly increasing case and skill, extracting information from each and all she talked with. It is not difficult to extract information about California from a Californian. Not being one myself; and having more definite knowledge about my own country than I had had about most of the others we had visited, I was able to check off this triumphant flood of "boosting" with somewhat colder facts.
Ellador liked it. "It does my heart good," she said, "both to know that there is such a country on earth, and that people can care for it like that."
She particularly revelled in Ina Coolbrith's exquisite poem "California," so rich with tender pride, with vivid appreciation. Some devotee had the book with her, and poured forth a new torrent of praise over a fine list she had of "Californian authors."
This annoyed me rather more than real estate, climate, fruit or flowers; and having been somewhat browbeaten over Hawaii, I wanted to take it out of somebody else. I am not as good as Ellador; don't pretend to be. At moments like that I don't even want to be. So I said to this bubbling enthusiast: "Why do you call all these people 'Californian authors?"
She looked at me in genuine surprise.
"Were they born there?" I inquired. "Are they native sons or daughters?"
She had to admit they were not, save in a few cases. We marked those who were — it was a most insufficient list. "But they lived in California," she insisted.
"How long?" I asked. "How long a visit or residence does it take to make an author a 'Californian' — like Mark Twain, for instance? Is he 'a Connecticut author' because he lived more years than that in Connecticut, or 'a New York author' because he lived quite a while in New York?"
She looked much annoyed, and I was not a bit sorry, but went on ruthlessly: "I think California is the only state in the Union that is not content with its own crop — but tries to claim everything in sight."