Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant , at sacred-texts.com
Thus far, I had seen no women. I was curious on this point, and I was not kept long in suspense. Late in the afternoon of the day following my arrival, Severnius and I went out to walk about the grounds, and were returning through an avenue of eucalyptus trees,of a variety more wide-spreading in their branches than any I have seen in our country,when a person alighted from a carriage in the porte cochere and, instead of entering the house, came to meet us. It was a woman. Though it was not left to her dress, nor her stature,she was nearly as tall as myself,to proclaim that fact; her grace and carriage would have determined her sex, if her beautiful face had not. She advanced p. 16 swiftly, with long, free steps. Her white dress, similar in cut and style to ours, was relieved only by a girdle studded with gems. She carried a little white parasol with a gold fringe, and wore no head-gear to crush down her beautifully massed hair.
I felt myself growing red under her lively gaze, and attributed it to my clothes. I was not accustomed to them yet, and I felt as you would to appear before a beautiful woman in your night shirt. Especially if you fancied you saw something in her eyes which made you suspect that she thought you cut a ludicrous figure. Of course that was my imagination; my apparel, in her eyes, must have been correct, since it was selected from among his best by my new friend, who was unmistakably a man of taste.
Her face, which was indescribably lovely, was also keenly intelligent,that sort of intelligence which lets nothing escape, which is as quick to grasp a humorous situation as a sublime truth. It was a face of power and of passion,of, I might say, manly self-restraint,but yet so soft!
I now observed for the first time the effect of the pinkish atmosphere on the complexion. You have seen ladies in a room where the light came through crimson hangings or glass stained red. So it was here.
Severnius smiled, spoke, and gave her his hand. The glance they bestowed upon each other established their relationship in my mind instantly. I had seen that glance a thousand times, without suspecting it had ever made so strong an impression upon me that in a case like this I should accept its evidence without other testimony. They were brother and sister. I was glad of that, for the reason, I suppose, that every unmarried man is glad to find a beautiful woman unmarried,there are seductive possibilities in the situation. p. 17
Severnius did his best to introduce us. He called her Elodia. I learned afterwards that ladies and gentlemen in that country have no perfunctory titles, like Mrs., or Mr., they support their dignity without that. It would have seemed belittling to say "Miss" Elodia.
I had a feeling that she did not attach much importance to me, that she was half amused at the idea of me; a peculiar tilting-up of her eyebrows told me so, and I was piqued. It seemed unfair that, simply because she could not account for me, she should set me down as inferior, or impossible, or ridiculous, whichever was in her mind. She regarded me as I have sometimes regarded un-English foreigners in the streets of New York.
She indulged her curiosity about me only for a moment, asking a few questions I inferred, and then passed me over as though she had more weighty matters in hand. I knew, later on, that she waived me as a topic of conversation when her brother insisted upon talking about me, saying half impatiently, "Wait till he can talk and explain himself, Severnius,since you say he is going to learn our speech."
I studied her with deep interest as we walked along, and no movement or accent of hers was lost upon me. Once she raised her handher wide sleeve slipped back and bared a lovely armto break off a long scimeter-shaped leaf from a bough overhead. Quicker than thought I sprang at the bough and snapped off the leaf in advance of her, and presented it with a low obeisance. She drew herself up with a look of indignant surprise, but instantly relented as though to a person whose eccentricities, for some reason or other, might better be excused. She did not, however, take the leaf,it fluttered to the ground.
She was not like any other woman,any woman I had ever seen before. You could not accuse her of hauteur, yet she bore p. 18 herself like a royal personage, though with no suggestion of affecting that sort of an air. You had to take her as seriously as you would the Czar. I saw this in her brother's attitude toward her. There was none of that condescension in his manner that there often is in our manner toward the women of our households. I began to wonder whether she might not be the queen of the realm! But she was not. She was simply a private citizen.
She sat at the dinner table with us, and divided the honors equally with Severnius.
I wish I could give you an idea of that dinner,the dining-room, the service, the whole thing! It surpassed my finest conceptions of taste and elegance.
We sat down not merely to eat,though I was hungry enough!but to enjoy ourselves in other ways.
There was everything for the eye to delight in. The room was rich in artistic decorations upon which the rarest talent must have been employed. The table arrangements were superb; gold and silver, crystal, fine china, embroidered linen, flowers. And the food, served in many courses, was a happy combination of the substantial and the delicate. There was musicnot too nearof a bright and lively character. Music enters largely into the life of these people. It seemed to me that something beat time to almost everything we did.
The conversation carried on between the brother and sisterin which I could take no more part than a deaf-mutewas, I felt sure, extremely entertaining if not important. My eyes served me well,for one sense is quick to assume the burdens of another,and I knew that the talk was not mere banter, nor was it simply the necessary exchange of words and opinions about everyday matters which must take place in families periodically, concerning fuel, and provisions, and servants, and water-tax, and p. 19 the like. It took a much higher range. The faces of both were animated, their eyes beamed brightly upon each other. It was clear that the brother did not talk down to her understanding, rather he talked up to it,or no, they were on a level with each other, the highest level of both, for they held each other up to their best. However, Elodia had been away for a couple of days, I learned, and absence gives a bloom of newness which it is delightful to brush off.
I did not detect any of the quality we call chivalry in Severnius pose, nor of its complement in hers. Though one would hardly expect that between brothers and sisters anywhere. Still, we have a way with our near women relations which never ignores the distinction between the sexes; we humor them, patronize them, tyrannize over them. And they defer to, and exalt us, and usually acknowledge our superiority.
It was not so with this pair. They respected and honored each other equally. And there was a charming camaraderie between them, the same as if they had both been menor women, if you single out the right kind.
They held widely different opinions upon many subjects, but they never crowded them upon each other. Their tastes were dissimilar. For one thing, Elodia had not her brother's fine religious sense. She seldom entered the sanctuary, though once or twice I saw her there, seated far apart from Severnius and myself.
Stimulated by the hope of some day being able to talk with her, and of convincing her that I was a person not altogether beneath her intelligence, I devoted myself, mind and soul, to the Paleverian language. In six weeks I could read and write it fairly well.
Severnius was untiring in his teaching; and every day strengthened my regard for him as a man. He was an accomplished p. 20 scholar, and he was as clean-souled as a child,but not weakly or ignorantly so. He knew evil as well as good; but he renounced the one and accepted the other He was a man "appointed by Almighty God to stand for a fact." And I never knew him to weaken his position by defending it. Often we spent hours in the observatory together. It was a glorious thing to me to watch the splendid fleet of asteroids sailing between Jupiter and Mars, and to single out the variously colored moons of Jupiter, and to distinguish with extraordinary clearness a thousand other wonders but dimly seen from the Earth.
Even to study the moons of Mars, the lesser one whirling round the planet with such astonishing velocity, was a world of entertainment to me.
I had begged Severnius not to ask to me see any visitors at all until I could acquit myself creditably in conversation. He agreed, and I saw no one. I believe that in those weeks of quiet study, observation, and close companionship of one noble man, my soul was cleared of much dross. I lived with books, Severnius, and the stars.
At last, I no longer feared to trust myself to speak, even to Elodia. It was a great surprise to her, and evidently a pleasure too.
My first brilliant attempt was at the dinner table. Severnius adroitly drew me into a conversation about our world. Elodia turned her delightful gaze upon me so frankly and approvingly that I felt myself blushing like a boy whom his pretty Sabbath-school teacher praises with her smile when he says his text.
Up to that time, although she had been polite to me,so entirely polite that I never for a moment felt myself an intruder in her home,she apparently took no great interest in me. But now she voluntarily addressed me whenever we met, and took pains to draw me out. p. 21
Once she glanced at a book I was reading, a rather heavy work, and smiled.
"You have made astonishing progress," she said. "I have had the best of instructors," I replied.
"Ah, yes; Severnius has great patience. And besides, he likes you. And then of course he is not wholly disinterested, he wants to hear about your planet."
"And do you?" I asked foolishly. I wanted somehow to get the conversation to running in a personal channel.
"O, of course," she returned indifferently, "though I am not an astronomer. I should like to hear something about your people."
I took that cue joyfully, and soon we were on very sociable terms with each other. She listened to my stories and descriptions with a most flattering interest, and I soon found myself worshiping her as a goddess. Yes, as a goddess, not a woman. Her entire lack of coquetry prevented me from making love to her, or would have prevented me if I had dared to have such a thought. If there could have been anything tender between us, I think she must have made the advances. But this is foolish. I am merely trying to give you some idea of the kind of woman she was. But I know that I cannot do that; the quality of a woman must be felt to be understood.
There was a great deal of social gayety in Thursia. We went out frequently, to operas, to concerts, and to crowded gatherings in splendid homes. I observed that Elodia immediately became the centre of interest wherever she appeared. She gave fresh zest to every amusement or conversation. She seemed to dignify with her presence whatever happened to be going on, and made it worth while. Not that she distinguished herself in speech or act; she had the effect of being infinitely greater than anything she did or said and one was always looking out for manifestations p. 22 of that. She kept one's interest in her up to the highest pitch. I often asked myself, "Why is it that we are always looking at her with a kind of inquiry in our glances?what is it that we expect her to do?"
It was a great part of her charm that she was not blasé. She was full of interest in all about her, she was keenly and delightfully alive. Her manners were perfect, and yet she seemed careless of etiquette and conventions. Her good manners were a part of herself, as her regal carriage was.
It was her unvarying habit, almost, to spend several hours down town every day. I ventured to ask Severnius wherefore.
He replied that she had large business interests, and looked carefully after them herself.
I expressed astonishment, and Severnius was equally surprised at me. I questioned him and he explained.
"My father was a banker," he said, "and very rich. My sister inherited his gift and taste for finance. I took after my mother's family, who were scientists. We were trained, of course, in our early years according to our respective talents. At our parents' death we inherited their fortune in equal shares. Elodia was prepared to take up my father's business where he left it. In fact he had associated her with himself in the business for some time previous to his departure, and she has carried it on very successfully ever since."
"She is a banker!" said I.
"Yes. I, myself, have always had a liking for astronomy, and I have been employed, ever since I finished my education, in the State Observatory."
"And how do you employ your capital?" I asked.
"Elodia manages it for me. It is all in the bank, or in investments which she makes. I use my dividends largely in the p. 23 interest of science. The State does a great deal in that direction, but not enough."
"And what, may I ask, does she do with her surplus,your sister, I mean,she must make a great deal of money?"
"She re-invests it. She has a speculative tendency, and is rather daring; though they tell me she is very safefar-sighted, or large-sighted, I should call it. I do not know how many great enterprises she is connected with,railroads, lines of steamers, mining and manufacturing operations. And besides, she is public-spirited. She is much interested in the cause of education,practical education for the poor especially. She is president of the school board here in the city, and she is also a member of the city council. A great many of our modern improvements are due to her efforts."
My look of amazement arrested his attention.
"Why are you so surprised?" he asked. "Do not your women engage in business?"
"Well, not to such an extraordinary degree," I replied. "We have women who work in various ways, but there are very few of them who have large business interests, and they are not entrusted with important public affairs, such as municipal government and the management of schools!"
"Oh!" returned Severnius with the note of one who does not quite understand. "Would you mind telling me why? Is it because they are incapable, orunreliable?"
Neither of the words he chose struck me pleasantly as applied to my countrywomen. I remembered that I was the sole representative of the Earth on Mars, and that it stood me in hand to be careful about the sort of impressions I gave out. It was as if I were on the witness stand, under oath. Facts must tell the story, not opinions,though personally I have great confidence p. 24 in my opinions. I thought of our government departments where women are the experts, and of their almost spotless record for faithfulness and honesty, and replied:
"They are both capable and reliable, in as far as they have had experience. But their chances have been circumscribed, and I believe they lack the inclination to assume grave public duties. I fear I cannot make you understand,our women are so different, so unlike your sister."
Elodia was always my standard of comparison.
"Perhaps you men take care of them all," suggested Severnius, "and they have grown dependent. We have some such women here."
"No, I do not think it is that entirely," said I. "For in my city alone, more than a hundred and seventy thousand women support not only themselves, but others who are dependent upon them."
"Ah, indeed! but how?"
"You mean servants?"
"Not so-called. I mean intelligent, self-respecting women; teachers, clerks, stenographers, type-writers."
"I should think it would be more agreeable, and easier, for them to engage in business as our women do."
"No doubt it would," I replied, feeling myself driven to a close scrutiny of the Woman Question, as we call it, for the first time in my life. For I saw that my friend was deeply interested and wanted to get at the literal truth. "But the women of my country," I went on, "the self-supporting ones, do not have control of money. They have a horror of speculation, and shrink from taking risks and making ventures, the failure of which would mean loss or ruin to others. A woman's right to make her living is p. 25 restricted to the powers within herself, powers of brain and hand. She is a beginner, you know. She has not yet learned to make money by the labor of others; she does not know how to manipulate those who are less intelligent and less capable than herself, and to turn their ignorance and helplessness to her own account. Perhaps I had better add that she is more religious than man, and is sustained in this seeming injustice by something she calls conscience."
Severnius was silent for a moment; he had a habit of setting his reason to work and searching out explanations in his own mind, of things not easily understood.
As a rule, the Marsians have not only very highly developed physical faculties, such as sight and hearing, but remarkably acute intellects. They let no statement pass without examination, and they scrutinize facts closely and seek for causes.
"If so many women," said he, "are obliged to support themselves and others beside, as you say, by their work simply, they must receive princely wages,and of course they have no responsibilities, which is a great saving of energy."
I remembered having heard it stated that in New York City, the United States Bureau gives the average of women's wagesleaving out domestic service and unskilled laboras five dollars and eighty-five cents per week. I mentioned the fact, and Severnius looked aghast.
"What, a mere pittance!" said he. "Only about a third as much as I give my stableman. But then the conditions are different, no doubt. Here in Thursia that would no more than fight off the wolf, as we say,the hunger and cold. It would afford no taste of the better things, freedom, leisure, recreation, but would reduce life to its lowest terms,mere existence."
"I fear the conditions are much the same with us," I replied. p. 26
"And do your women submit to such conditions,do they not try to alter them, throw them off?"
"They submit, of course," I said; "I never heard of a revolt or an insurrection among them! Though there seems to be growing up among them, lately, a determination strong as death, to work out of those conditions as fast as may be. They realizejust as men have been forced to realize in this centurythat work of the hands cannot compete with work of machines, and that trained brains are better capital than trained fingers. So, slowly but surely, they are reaching up to the higher callings and working into places of honor and trust. The odds are against them, because the 'ins' always have a tremendous advantage over the 'outs.' The women, having never been in, must submit to a rigid examination and extraordinary tests. They know that, and they are rising to it. Whenever, it is said, they come into competition with men, in our colleges and training schools, they hold their own and more."
"What are they fitting for?" asked Severnius.
"Largely for the professions. They are becoming doctors, lawyers, editors, artists, writers. The enormous systems of public schools in my own and other countries is entirely in their hands,except of course in the management and directorship."
"Except in the management and directorship?" echoed Severnius.
"Of course they do not provide and disburse the funds, see to the building of school-houses, and dictate the policy of the schools!" I retorted. "But they teach them; you can hardly find a male teacher except at the head of a school,to keep the faculty in order."
Severnius refrained from comment upon this, seeing, I suppose, that I was getting a little impatient. He walked along with p. 27 his head down. I think I neglected to say that we were taking a long tramp into the country, as we often did. In order to change the conversation, I asked him what sort of a government they had in Paleveria, and was delighted when he replied that it was a free republic.
"My country is a republic also," I said, proudly.
"We both have much to be thankful for," he answered. "A republic is the only natural government in the world, and man cannot get above nature."
I thought this remark rather singular,at variance with progress and high civilization. But I let it pass, thinking to take it up at some future time.
"How do you vote here?" I asked. "What are your qualifications and restrictions?"
"Briefly told," he replied. "Every citizen may vote on all public questions, and in all elections."
"But what constitutes citizenship?"
"A native-born is a citizen when he or she reaches maturity. Foreigners are treated as minors until they have lived as long under the government as it takes for a child to come of age. It is thus," he added, facetiously, "that we punish people for presuming to be born outside our happy country."
"Excuse me," I said, "but do I understand you to say that your women have the right of suffrage?"
"Assuredly. Do not yours?"
"Indeed no!" I replied, the masculine instinct of superiority swelling within me.
Severnius wears spectacles. He adjusted them carefully on his nose and looked at me.
"But did you not tell me just now that your country is a republic?" p. 28
"It is, but we do not hold that women are our political equals," I answered.
His face was an exclamation and interrogation point fused into one.
"Indeed! and how do you manage it,how, for instance, can you prevent them from voting?"
"O, they don't often try it," I said, laughing. "When they do, we simply throw their ballots out of the count."
"Is it possible! That seems to me a great unfairness. However, it can be accounted for, I suppose, from the fact that things are so different on the Earth to what they are here. Our government, you see, rests upon a system of taxation. We tax all property to defray governmental expenses, and for many other purposes tending toward the general good; which makes it necessary that all our citizens shall have a voice in our political economy. But you say your women have no property, and so"
"I beg your pardon!" I interposed; "I did not say that. We have a great many very rich women,women whose husbands or fathers have left them fortunes."
"Then they of course have a vote?"
"They do not. You can't make a distinction like that." "No? But you exempt their property, perhaps?"
"Of course not."
"Do you tell me that you tax property, to whatever amount, and for whatever purpose, you choose, without allowing the owner her fractional right to decide about either the one or the other?"
"Their interests are identical with ours," I replied, "so what is the difference? We men manage the government business, and I fancy we do it sufficiently well."
I expanded my chest after this remark, and Severnius simply p. 29 looked at me. I think that at that moment I suffered vicariously in his scornful regard for all my countrymen.
I did not like the Socratic method he had adopted in this conversation, and I turned the tables on him.
"Do your women hold office, other than in the school board and the council?" I asked.
"O, yes, fully half our offices are filled by women."
"And you make no discrimination in the kind of office?"
"The law makes none; those things adjust themselves. Fitness, equipment, are the only things considered. A woman, the same as a man, is governed by her taste and inclination in the matter of officeholding. Do women never take a hand in state affairs on the Earth?"
"Yes, in some countries they do,monarchies. There have been a good many women sovereigns. There are a few now." "And are they successful rulers?"
"Some are, some are not."
"The same as men. That proves that your women are not really inferior."
"Well, I should say not!" I retorted. "Our women are very superior; we treat them more as princesses than as inferiors,they are angels."
I was carried away in the heat of resentment, and knew that what I had said was half cant.
"I beg your pardon!" said Severnius quickly; "I got a wrong impression from your statements. I fear I am very stupid. Are they all angels?"
I gave him a furtive glance and saw that he was in earnest. His brows were drawn together with a puzzled look.
I had a sudden vision of a scene in Five Points; several groups p. 30 of frowsled, petticoated beings, laughing, joking, swearing, quarreling, fighting, and drinking beer from dirty mugs.
"No, not all of them," I replied, smiling. "That was a figure of speech. There are so many classes."
"Let us confine our discussion to one, then," he returned. "To the women who might be of your own family; that will simplify matters. And now tell me, please, how this state of things came about, this subjection of a part of your people. I cannot understand it,these subjects being of your own flesh and blood. I should think it would breed domestic discontent, where some of the members of a family wield a power and enjoy a privilege denied to the others. Fancy my shaking a ballot over Elodia's head!"
"O, Elodia!" I said, and was immediately conscious that my accent was traitorous to my countrywomen. I made haste to add,
"Your sister isincomparable. She is unusual even here. I have seen none others like her."
"How do you mean?"
"I mean that she is as responsible as a man; she is not inconsequent."
"Are your women inconsequent?"
"They have been called so, and we think it rather adds to their attractiveness. You see they have always been relieved of responsibility, and I assure you the large majority of them have no desire to assume it,I mean in the matter of government and politics."
I dislike an interrogative "yes," and I made no reply. Severnius added,
"I suppose they have lost the faculty which you say they lack,the faculty that makes people responsible,through disuse. I have seen the same thing in countries on the other side of our p. 31 globe, where races have been held as slaves for several centuries. They seem to have no ideas about personal rights, or liberties, as pertaining to themselves, and no inclination in that direction. It always struck me as being the most pathetic feature of their condition that they and everybody else accepted it as a matter of course, as they would a law of nature. In the place of strength and self-assertion there has come to them a dumb patience, or an unquestioning acquiescence like that of people born blind. Are your women happy?"
"You should see them!" I exclaimed, with certain ball-room memories rushing upon me, and visions of fair faces radiant with the joy of living. But these were quickly followed by other pictures, and I felt bound to add, "Of late, a restless spirit has developed in certain circles,"
"The working circles, I suppose," interrupted Severnius. "You spoke of the working women getting into the professions."
"Not those exclusively. Even the women of leisure are not so satisfied as they used to be. There has been, for a great many years, more or less chaffing about women's rights, but now they are beginning to take the matter seriously."
"Ah, they are waking up, perhaps?"
"Yes, some of them are waking up,a good many of them. It is a little ridiculous, when one thinks of it, seeing they have no power to enforce their 'rights, and can never attain them except through the condescension of men. Tell me, Severnius, when did your women wake up?"
Severnius smiled. "My dear sir, I think they have never been asleep!"
We stalked along silently for a time; the subject passed out of my mind, or was driven out by the beauties of the landscape about us. I was especially impressed with the magnificence of p. 32 the trees that hedged every little patch of farm land, and threw their protecting arms around houses and cottages, big and little; and with the many pellucid streams flowing naturally, or divided like strands of silk and guided in new courses, to lave the roots of trees or run through pasture lands where herds were feeding.
A tree is something to be proud of in Paleveria, more than a fine residence; more even than ancient furniture and cracked china. Perhaps because the people sit out under their trees a great deal, and the shade of them has protected the heads of many generations, and they have become hallowed through sacred memories and traditions. In Paleveria they have tree doctors, whose business it is to ward off disease, heal wounded or broken boughs, and exterminate destructive insects.
Severnius startled me suddenly with another question: "What, may I ask, is your theory of Man's creation?" "God made Man, and from one of his ribs fashioned woman,"
I replied catechetically.
"Ours is different, said he. "It is this: A pair of creatures, male and female, sprang simultaneously from an enchanted lake in the mountain region of a country called Caskia, in the northern part of this continent. They were only animals, but they were beautiful and innocent. God breathed a Soul into them and they were Man and Woman, equals in all things."
"A charming legend!" said I.
Later on I learned the full breadth of the meaning of the equality he spoke of. At that time it was impossible for me to comprehend it, and I can only convey it to you in a complete account of my further experiences on that wonderful planet.