Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
| Chapter 5
IN THROUGH the Golden Gate we steamed at last, one glorious morning; calm Tamalpais basking on the northern side, and the billowing city rising tumultously on the southern, with the brilliant beauty of "The Fair" glowing on the water's edge.
I had been through before, and showed her through the glass as we passed, the Seal Rocks and the Cliff House with the great Sutro Baths beside it; and then the jewelled tower, the streaming banners of that wonder-city of a year.
It was in February. There had been rain, and now the luminous rich green of the blazing sudden spring was cloaking every sloping shore. The long bay stretched wide on either hand; the fair bay cities opposite embroidered the western shore for miles; San Francisco rose before us.
Ellador stood by my side, holding my arm with tense excitement. "Your country, dear!" she said. "How beautiful it is! I shall love it!"
I was loving it myself, at that moment, as I never had before.
Behind me was that long journey of us three adventurous explorers; our longer imprisonment, and then these travels of ours, through war-torn Europe, and the slow dark reaches of the Oriental civilization.
"It certainly looks good to me!" I told her.
We spent many days at the great Exposition, and others, later, at the still lovelier, smaller one at San Diego, — days of great happiness to both of us, and real pride to me. Later on I lost this feeling — replacing it with a growing discomfort.
I suppose everyone loves and honors his own country — practically everyone. And we Americans, so young a people, so buoyantly carried along on the flood of easy geographical expansion, so suddenly increased in numbers, not by natural growth of our own stock but by crowding injections of alien blood, by vast hordes of low-grade laborers whose ignorant masses made our own ignorant masses feel superior to all the earth — we Americans are almost as boastful as the still newer Federation of Germany.
I had thought myself a sociologist, an ethnologist, one able to judge fairly from wide knowledge. And yet, with all my knowledge, with all my lucid criticism of my country's errors and shortcomings, I had kept an unshaken inner conviction of our superiority.
Ellador had shaken it.
It was not that she had found any fault with the institutions of my beloved land. Quite the contrary. She believed it faultless — or nearly so. She expected too much. Knowing her as I now did, becoming more and more familiar with the amazing lucidity and fairness of her mind, with its orderly marshalling of well-knit facts and the swinging searchlight of perception which covered every point in her field of vision, I had a strange helpless sense of coming to judgment.
In Herland I had never fully realized the quality of mind developed by their cultural system. Some of its power and clarity was of course plain to us, but we could no more measure that mind than a child can measure its teacher's. I had lived with it now, watched it work, seen it in relation to others, to those of learned men and women of various nations. There was no ostentation about Ellador's intellectual processes. She made no display of learning, did not contradict and argue. Sometimes, in questions of fact, if it seemed essential to the matter under discussion, she would quote authority in opposition, but for the most part she listened, asking a few questions to satisfy herself as to the point of view of her interlocutor. I used to note with appreciative delight how these innocent, almost irrelevant questions would bring out answers each one of which was a branching guide-post as to the mind of the speaker. Sometimes just two would show him to be capable of believing flat contradictions, or merely one would indicate a limitation of knowledge or an attitude of prejudice which "placed" the man at once. These were not "smart" questions, with a flippantly triumphant and all-too-logical demand at the end, leaving the victim confused and angry. He never realized what was being done to him.
"How do you have patience with these chumps?" I asked her. "They seem like children in your hands — and yet you don't hurt them a bit."
"Perhaps that is why," she answered gravely. "We are so used to children, at home And when a whole country is always, more or less, teaching children — why it makes us patient, I suppose. What good would it do to humiliate these people? They all know more than I do — about most things."
"They may know more, about some things, but it's their mental processes that seem so muddy — so sticky — so slow and fumbling somehow."
"You're right there, Van. It impresses me very much. There is an enormous fund of knowledge in the minds of your people — I mean any of these people I have met, but the minds themselves are — to me — astonishing. The Oriental mind is far more highly developed than the Occidental — in some lines; but as serenely unconscious of its limits as — as the other is. What strikes me most of all is the lack of connection between all this knowledge they have accumulated, and the way they live. I'm hoping to find it wholly different here. You Americans, I understand, are the people who do things."
Before I go on with Ellador's impressions of America I want to explain a little further, lest my native-born fellow-citizens resent too bitterly her ultimate criticisms. She perhaps would not have published those criticisms at all; but I can — now.
The sensitiveness I felt at first, the hurt pride, the honest pain, as my pet ideals inexorably changed color under that searchlight of hers, do what I would to maintain them in their earlier glory — all this is outgrown. I love my country, better than I ever did before. I understand it better — probably that accounts for the increased tenderness and patience. But if ever a country needed to wake up and look itself in the face, it is this one.
Ellador, in that amazing little pocket history she compiled, had set up the "order of exercises" in our development, and placed the nations in due sequence as contributors. Running over its neat pages, with the outline maps, the charts with their varied washes of color, showing this or that current of tendency and pressure of condition, one gathered at once a clear bird's eye view of what humanity had been doing all this time. She speculated sagely, with me, as to what trifling deflection of type, what variation in environment, was responsible for the divigation of races; especially those of quite recent common stock. But in the little book was no speculation, merely the simple facts.
Referring to it she could show in a few moments what special influences made Egypt Egypt, and differentiated Assyria from Chaldea. She shook her head sadly over those long early ages.
"They were slow to learn, weren't they?" she'd say; "Never seemed to put two and two together at all. I suppose that peculiar arrest of the mental processes was due first to mere social inertia, with its piled up weight of custom, and then much more to religion. That finality, that 'believing', seemed to put an end to real thinking and learning."
"But, my dear," interposed, "they were learned, surely. The ancient priests had practically all the learning, and in the Dark Ages, the Church in Europe was all that kept learning alive at all."
"Do you mean 'learning' dear, or just 'remembering'?" she asked. "What did the Mediaeval Church 'learn'?"
This was a distinction I had never thought of. Of course what we have always called "learning" was knowing what went before — long before — and mostly what people had written. Still I made out something of a case about the study of alchemy and medicine — which she gravely admitted.
It remained true that the Church, any church, in any period, had set its face like a flint against the people's learning anything new; and, as we commonly know, had promptly punished the most progressive.
"It is a wonder to me," said Ellador, tenderly, "that you have done as well as you have — with all these awful handicaps. But you — America! — you have a different opportunity. I don't suppose you quite realize yourselves what a marvellous difference there is between you and every other people on earth."
Then she pointed out, briefly, how by the start in religious rebellion we had set free the mind from its heaviest shackles; by throwing off the monarchy and aristocracy we had escaped another weight; how our practically unlimited area and fluctuating condition made custom but a name; and how the mixture of races broke the current of heredity.
All this we had gone over on the steamer, sitting by the hour in our long chairs, watching the big smooth swells roll by, and talking of my country.
"You have reason to be proud," she would say. "No people on earth ever had such a chance.
I used to feel misgivings then, especially after Hawaii. I tried to arrange some satisfying defense for our treatment of the Asiatics, the Negroes, Mexico. I thought up all that I could to excuse the open evils that I knew — intemperance, prostitution, graft, lynching. I began to see more holes in the bright fabric of Columbia's robe than I had ever noticed before — and bigger ones. But at that I did not anticipate .
We spent several weeks in California. I took her to see Shasta, the Yosemite, the cedars of Monterey, the Big Trees, the Imperial Valley. All through the country she poured out constant praises of the boundless loveliness of the land, the air, the sunshine, even the rain. Rain did not depress Ellador — she was a forester.
And she read, avidly. She read John Muir with rapture. "How I should have loved him!" she said. She read the brief history of the state, and some books about it — Ramona, for instance. She visited and talked with some leading Japanese — and Chinamen. And she read steadily, with a fixed non-committal face, the newspapers.
If I asked her anything about it all she would pour forth honest delight in the flowers and fruit, the beauty and brightness of the land. If I pressed for more, she would say: "Wait, Van dear — give me time. I've only just come — I don't know enough yet to talk!"
But, I knowing how quickly she learned, and how accurately she related new knowledge to old, watched her face with growing dismay. In Europe I had seen that beautiful face pale with horror; in Asia, sicken with loathing; now, after going around the world; after reaching this youngest land, this land of hope and pride, of wealth and power, I saw that face I loved so well, set in sad lines of disappointment — fairly age before my eyes.
She was still cheerful, with me, still happy out of doors; and her heart rose as I had hoped it would among the mountains, on the far-spread lustrous deserts, in that wordless wonder, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.
But as she read, as she sat thinking, I could see the light die out of her face and a depressing look creep over it; a look of agonized disappointment, yet of patience too — and a courageous deep determination. It was as if a mother had learned that her baby was an idiot.
* * *
As we drew eastward and the cities grew larger, noisier, blacker, her distress increased. She began to urge me to play games with her; to read aloud from books she loved; and especially to talk of Herland.
I was willing; more than willing. As I saw my country through her eyes — as I saw its effect on her — I became less and less inclined, indeed less able, to discuss with her it. But the tension grew; her suffering increased; until I told her as I had that terrible night in Europe, that she must talk to me about it.
"You see you will have to, whether you want to or not," I argued. "You cannot take all America to task about itself — you would get yourself disliked. Besides — if you don't want to tell them about your country — and if you pitch into theirs, they will insist on knowing where you come from, quite naturally. I can't bear to see you getting more and more distressed and saying nothing about it. Besides — it is barely possible that I might offer some palliation, or explanation, of some of the worst things."
"What do you consider the 'worst things'?" she asked casually enough.
But I was already wise enough to see at once that we might not agree on definition.
"Suppose we do this," I suggested. "Here are you, as extra-mundane as a Martian. You are like an Investigating Committee from another world. Quite apart from my love for you, my sympathy with you, my admiration for you — yes, all serious and sincere, my dear — I do appreciate this unparalleled opportunity to get a real outsider's point of view.
"This is something that never happened before, you see; Marco Polo came nearest to it, perhaps, when he went poking into the Asiatic wonderland. But these old adventurers of ours, whatever their hardships, never took it so hard as you do. They enjoyed satisfying their curiosity; they always thought their own birthplace infinitely superior, and the more inferior they found other places the more they enjoyed it. Now with you — it seems to hurt your feelings most horribly. I wish you could somehow detach yourself from it — so that you could learn, and not suffer."
"You are quite right, dear boy — it is most unphilosophical of me. I suppose it is largely a result of our long period of — lovingness — at home, that things strike so harshly on my mind."
"And partly your being a woman, don't you think?" I urged. "You see yours is a feminine culture and naturally more sensitive, isn't it?"
"Perhaps that is it," she said, pondering. "The very first thing that strikes me in this great rich lovely land of yours is its unmotherliness. We are of course used to seeing everything taken care of."
"But surely, it was worse — far worse — in the other countries wasn't it?"
She smiled tenderly and sadly. "Yes, Van, it was — but here — well, doubtless I expected too much."
"But isn't there some comfort in the contrast?" I asked eagerly. "Here is not the petrified oppression, the degradation of women, that so sickened you in Asia; and here is not the wild brutality of war that so horrified you in Europe."
"No — not either of those," she slowly agreed. "But you see I had warning that Europe was at war, and had read about it a little. It was like going into a — a slaughter-house, for the first time.
"Then all I learned in my studies in Europe prepared me to find what I did find in Asia — Asia was in some ways better than I had been told — in some ways worse. But here!... Oh, Van!" That look of gray anguish had settled on her face again. She seized my arms, held me fast, searched my face as if I was withholding something. Big slow tears welled over and dropped. "This is the , top of the tree, Van; this is the last young nation, beginning over again in a New World — a New World! Here was everything to make life richly happy — everything. And you had all the dreadful record of the past to guide you, to teach you at least what not to do. You had courage; you had independence; you had intelligence, education, opportunity. And such splendid principles to start with — such high ideals. And then all kinds of people coming! Oh, surely, surely, surely this should be the Crown of the World!
"Why, Van — Europe was like a man with — with delirium tremens. Asia was like something gnarled and twisted with hopeless age. But America is a Splendid Child ... with ... " She covered her face with her hands.
I couldn't stand this. I was an American, and she was my wife. I took her in my arms.
"Look here, you blessed Herlander," I said, "I'm not going to have my country wiped off the map in disgrace. You must remember that all judgment is comparative. You cannot compare any other country with your country for two reasons; first your long isolation, and second that miraculous manlessness of yours.
"This world of ours has been in more or less intercourse and exchange for many more thousands of years than Herland has lived. We Americans were not a new created race — we were just English and Dutch and French and Scandinavian and Italian, and so on — just everybody. We brought with us our inherited tendencies, of course — all of them. And while we did make a clean break with some of the old evils, we had no revelation as to a perfect social method. You are expecting too much ...
"Don't you see," I went on, for she said nothing, "that a Splendid Child may be a pretty bad child, sometimes, and may have the measles pretty hard — and yet not be hopeless?"
She raised her wet face from my shoulder and her own warm loving smile illuminated it once more.
"You're right, Van, you're wholly right," she agreed. "I was most unreasonable, most unwise. It is just a piece of the same world — a lot of pieces — mixed samples — on a new piece of ground. And it was a magnificent undertaking — I can see that — and you are young, aren't you? Oh, Van dear, you do make it easier."
I held her very close for awhile. This journey among strange lands had brought me one deep joy. Ellador had grown to need me as she never did in her own peaceful home.
"You see, dearest," I said, "you have a dual mission. You are to study all about the world and take your knowledge back with you — but all you need of it there is to decide whether you'll come out and play with us or not — or let any more of us come in. Then you have what I, as a citizen of the rest of the world — rather the biggest part of it, consider a more important duty. If that Herland mind of yours can find out what ails us — and how we are to mend it; if your little country with its strange experiment can bring aid in solving the problems of the world — that is what I call a Historic Mission! How does that strike you, Mrs. Jennings?"
It was good to see her rise to it. That wonderful motherheart, which all those women had, seemed to shine out like a sunrise. I went on, delighted with my success.
"I'll just forget I'm an American," I said. "This country is The Child. I'm not its father or anything — I'm just a doctor, a hygienist, an investigator. You're another — and a bigger one. Now I understand that you find The Child is in a bad way — worse off than I thought it was. To judge from your expression, dear, on several occasions, you think it is a very dirty child, a careless child, a wasteful child, with a bad temper and no manners — am I right?"
"Not about the temper, dear. Pettish at times, but not vindictive, and very, very kind.... Van ... I think I've been too hard on The Child 1 I'm quite ashamed. Yes, we are two investigators — I'm so glad there are two!"
She stopped and looked at me with an expression I never saw enough of, that I used to long for in vain, at first; that look as if she needed me.
"No matter what we have in Herland," she said slowly, "we miss this — this united feeling. It grows, Van; I feel more and more as if — somehow or other — we were really blended. We have nothing just like it."
"No, you haven't — with all your Paradise. So let's allow some good things in your 'case', and particularly in this case of the bad child. And we'll pitch in and work out a diagnosis — won't we? And then prescribe."
We pitched in.
First she had insisted on knowing the whole country. We made a sort of spiral, beginning on the outside, and circulated south, east, north, west, and so over again; till we wound ourselves up in Topeka. By that time we had been in every state, in all the principal cities, and in many of those tiny towns which are more truly indicative of the spirit of the community than the larger ones.
When we were interested in a given place we would stay awhile — there was nothing to hurry us; and when Ellador showed signs of wear and tear there was always some sweet wild country to fly to, and rest. She sampled both sea-coasts, the Great Lakes, and some little ones, many a long winding river, mountains wooded and mountains bare; the restful plains, the shadowy cypress swamps.
Her prompt reaction to the beauty of the real country was always beneficial, and, to my great delight she grew to love it, and even to feel a pride in its vast extent and variety — just as I did. We both admitted that it was a most illegitimate ground for pride, but we both felt it.
As she saw more of the cities, and of the people, by mere usage she grew accustomed to what had grieved her most at first. Also I suggested a method which she gladly used, and found most comforting, in which we classified all the evils as "transient", and concerned ourselves merely with finding out how they came there and how to remove them.
"Some of these things you'll just outgrow," she said relievedly. "Some are already outgrown. America is not nearly so — cocky — as Dickens found her. She is now in an almost morbid attitude of self-distrust and condemnation — but she'll outgrow that too."
It was a great relief to me to have her push through that period of shocked disappointment so readily. But of course the vigor of her mental constitution made it possible for her to throw off a trouble like that more easily than we can do it.
She soon devised methods of her own of acquiring further information. In her capacity of a traveler, and recently come from the seat of war, to say nothing of the Orient, she found frequent opportunity for addressing women's clubs, churches and forums of various -kinds, and so coming in touch with large bodies of people; and their reactions.
"I am learning to realize 'the popular mind'," she said. "I can already distinguish between the different parts of the country. And, oh, Van " she laughed a little, caught her breath over, and added with an odd restraint: "I'm getting to know the — women."
"Why do you say it like that?" I inquired.
She looked at me in what I might describe as "forty ways at once." It was funny. There was such an odd mixture of pride and shame, of hope and disillusionment; of a high faith and a profound distrust.
"I can stand it," she protested. "The Child is by no means hopeless — in fact I begin to think it is a very promising child, Van. But, oh, how it does behave!"
And she laughed.
I was a little resentful. We were such good chums by this time; we had played together such a lot, and studied together so widely; we had such a safe foundation of mutual experience that I began to dare to make fun of my strange Princess now and then, and she took it most graciously.
"There's one thing I won't stand for," I told her solemnly. "You can call my country a desert, my people incompetent, dishonest, wasteful and careless to a degree; you can blackguard our agriculture, horticulture, aboriculture, floriculture, viticulture, and — and — ("Apiculture," she suggested, with a serious face.) — you can deride our architecture and make trivial objections to the use of soot as a civic decoration; but there is one thing I, as an American Man, will not stand — you mustn't criticize our Women!"
"I won't," she said meekly, a twinkle in her eye. "I won't say one word about them, dear — until you ask me to! "
Whereat I knew that my doom was sealed once more. Could I rest without knowing what she thought of them?