Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant , at sacred-texts.com
IT was winter, and snow was on the ground; white and sparkling, and as light as eider-down. Elodia kept a fine stable. Four magnificent white horses were harnessed to her sleigh, which was in the form of an immense swan, with a head and neck of frosted silver. The body of it was padded outside with white varnished leather, and inside with velvet of the color of a dove's breast. The robes were enormous skins of polar bears, lined with a soft, warm fabric of wool and silk. The harness was bestrung with little silver bells of most musical and merry tone; and all the trappings and accoutrements were superb. Elodia had luxurious tastes, and indulged them.
Every day we took an exhilarating drive. The two deep, comfortable seats faced each other like seats in a landau. Severnius and I occupied one, and Elodia the other; so that I had the pleasure of looking at her whenever I chose, and of meeting her eyes in conversation now and then, which was no small part of my enjoyment. The mere sight of her roused the imagination and quickened the pulse. Her eyes were unusually dark, but they had blue rays, and were as clear and beautiful as agates held under water. In fact they seemed to swim in an invisible liquid. Her complexion had the effect of alabaster through which a pink light p. 34 shines,deepest in the cheeks, as though they were more transparent than the rest of her face. Her head, crowned with a fascinating little cap, rose above her soft furs like a regal flower. She was so beautiful that I wondered at myself that I could bear the sight of her.
Strange to say, the weather was not cold, it was simply bracing,hardly severe enough to make the ears tingle.
The roads were perfect everywhere, and we often drove into the country. The horses flew over the wide white stretches at an incredible speed.
One afternoon when, at the usual hour, the coachman rang the bell and announced that he was ready, I was greatly disappointed to find that we were not to have Elodia. But I said nothing, for I was shy about mentioning her name.
When we were seated, Severnius gave directions to the driver.
"Time yourself, Giddo, so that you will be at the Public Square at precisely three o'clock," said he, and turned to me. "We shall want to see the parade."
"What parade?" I inquired.
"Oh! has not Elodia told you? This is The Auroras Annual,a great day. The parade will be worth seeing."
In the excitement of the drive, and in my disappointment about not having Elodia with us, I had almost forgotten about The Auroras Annual, when three o'clock came. I had seen parades in New York City, until the spectacle had calloused my sense of the magnificent, and I very much doubted whether Mars had anything new to offer me in that line.
Punctual to the minute, Giddo fetched up at the Square,among a thousand or so of other turnouts,with such a flourish as all Jehus love. We were not a second too soon. There was a sudden burst of music, infinitely mellowed by distance; and as p. 35 far up the street as the eye could well reach there appeared a mounted procession, advancing slowly. Every charger was snow white, with crimped mane and tail, long and flowing, and with trappings of various colors magnificent in silver blazonry.
The musicians only were on foot. They were beating upon drums and blowing transcendent airs through silver wind instruments. I do not know whether it was some quality of the atmosphere that made the strains so ravishing, but they swept over one's soul with a rapture that was almost painful. I could hardly sit still, but I was held down by the thought that if I should get up I would not know what to do. It is a peculiar sensation.
On came the resplendent column with slow, majestic movement; and I unconsciously kept time with the drums, with Browning's stately lines on my tongue, but unspoken:
There was no hill, but a very slight descent. As they drew nearer the splendor of the various uniforms dazzled my eyes. You will remember that everything about us was white; the buildings all of white stone or brick, the ground covered with snow, and the crowds of people lining the streets all dressed in the national color, or no-color.
There were several companies in the procession, and each company wore distinguishing badges and carried flags and banners peculiar to itself.
The housings on the horses of the first brigade were of yellow, and all the decorations of the riders corresponded; of the second pale blue, and of the third sky-pink. The uniforms of the riders p. 36 were inconceivably splendid; fantastic and gorgeous headgear, glittering belts, silken scarfs and sashes, badges and medals flashing with gems, and brilliant colors twisted into strange and curious devices.
As the first division was about to pass, I lost my grip on myself and half started to my feet with a smothered exclamation, "Elodia!"
Severnius put out his hand as though he were afraid I was going to leap out of the sleigh, or do something unusual.
"What is it?" he cried, and following my gaze he added, "Yes, that is Elodia in front; she is the Supreme Sorceress of the Order of the Auroras."
"Don't be frightened," he laughed; "the word means nothing,it is only a title."
I could not believe him when I looked at the advancing figure of Elodia. She sat her horse splendidly erect. Her fair head was crowned with a superb diadem of gold and topazes, with a diamond star in the centre, shooting rays like the sun. Her expression was grave and lofty; she glanced neither to right nor left, but gazed straight aheadat nothing, or at something infinitely beyond mortal vision. Her horse champed its bits, arched its beautiful neck, and stepped with conscious pride; dangling the gold fringe on its sheeny yellow satin saddle-cloth, until one could hardly bear the sight.
"The words mean nothing!" I repeated to myself. "It is not so; Severnius has deceived me. His sister is a sorceress; aI don't know what! But no woman could preserve that majestic mien, that proud solemnity of countenance, if she were simplyplaying! There is a mystery here."
I scrutinized every rider as they passed. There was not a man p. 37 among them,all women. Their faces had all borrowed, or had tried to borrow, Elodia's queenly look. Many of them only burlesqued it. None were as beautiful as she.
When it was all over, and the music had died away in the distance, we drove off,Giddo threading his way with consummate skill, which redounded much to his glory in certain circles he cared for, through the crowded thoroughfares.
I could not speak for many minutes, and Severnius was a man upon whom silence always fell at the right time. I never knew him to break in upon another's mood for his own entertainment. Nor did he spy upon your thoughts; he left you free. By-and-by, I appealed to him:
"Tell me, Severnius, what does it mean?"
"This celebration?" returned he. "With pleasure. Giddo, you may drive round for half an hour, and then take us to the Auroras Temple,it is open to visitors to-day."
We drew the robes closely, and settled ourselves more comfortably, as we cleared the skirts of the crowd. It was growing late and the air was filled with fine arrows of frost, touched by the last sunbeams,their sharp little points stinging our faces as we were borne along at our usual lively speed.
"This society of the Auroras," said Severnius," originated several centuries ago, in the time of a great famine. In those days the people were poor and improvident, and a single failure in their crops left them in a sorry condition. Some of the wealthiest women of the country banded themselves together and worked systematically for the relief of the sufferers. Their faces appeared so beautiful, and beamed with such a light of salvation as they went about from hut to hut, that they got the name of 'auroras' among the simple poor. And they banished want and hunger so magically, that they were also called 'sorcerers'." p. 38
"O, then, it is a charitable organization?" I exclaimed, much relieved.
"It was," replied Severnius. "It was in active operation for a hundred or so years. Finally, when there was no more need of it, the State having undertaken the care of its poor, it passed into a sentiment, such as you have seen to-day."
"A very costly and elaborate sentiment," I retorted.
"Yes, and it is growing more so, all the time," said he. "I sometimes wonder where it is going to stop! For those who, like Elodia, have plenty of money, it does not matter; but some of the women we saw in those costly robes and ornaments can ill afford them,they mean less of comfort in their homes and less of culture to their children."
"I should think their husbands would not allow such a waste of money," I said, forgetting the social economy of Mars.
"It does not cost any more than membership in the orders to which the husbands themselves belong," returned he. "They argue, of course, that they need the recreation, and also that membership in such high-toned clubs gives them and their children a better standing and greater influence in society."
Severnius did not forget his usual corollary,the question with which he topped out every explanation he made about his country and people.
"Have you nothing of the sort on the Earth?" he asked. "Among the women?we have not," I answered. "I did not specify," he said.
"O, well, the men have," I admitted; "I belong to one such organization myself,the City Guards."
"And you guard the city?"
"No; there is nothing to guard it against at present. It's a 'sentiment,' as you say." p. 39
"And do you parade?"
"Yes, of course, upon occasion,there are certain great anniversaries in our nation's history when we appear."
"And why not your women?"
I smiled to myself, as I tried to fancy some of the New York ladies I knew, arrayed in gorgeous habiliments for an equestrian exhibition on Broadway. I replied,
"Really, Severnius, the idea is entirely new to me. I think they would regard it as highly absurd."
"Do they regard you as absurd?" he asked, in that way of his which I was often in doubt about, not knowing whether he was in earnest or not.
"I'm sure I do not know," I said. "They may,our women have a keen relish for the ludicrous. Still, I cannot think that they do; they appear to look upon us with pride. And they present us with an elaborate silken banner about once a year, stitched together by their own fair fingers and paid for out of their own pocket money. That does not look as though they were laughing at us exactly."
I said this as much to convince myself as Severnius.
The half-hour was up and we were at the Temple gate. The building, somewhat isolated, reared itself before us, a grand conception in chiseled marble, glinting in the brilliant lights shot upon it from various high points. Already it was dark beyond the radius of these lights,neither of the moons having yet appeared.
Severnius dismissed the sleigh, saying that we would walk home,the distance was not far,and we entered the grounds and proceeded to mount the flight of broad steps leading up to the magnificent arched entrance. The great carved doors,the carvings were emblematic,swung back and admitted us. The p. 40 Temple was splendidly illuminated within, and imagination could not picture anything more imposing than the great central hall and winding stairs, visible all the way up to the dome.
Below, on one side of this lofty hall, there were extensive and luxurious baths. Severnius said the members of the Order were fond of congregating here,and I did not wonder at that; nothing that appertains to such an establishment was lacking. Chairs and sofas that we would call "Turkish," thick, soft rugs and carpets, pictures, statuary, mirrors, growing plants, rare flowers, books, musical instruments. And Severnius told me the waters were delightful for bathing.
The second story consisted of a series of spacious rooms divided from each other by costly portieres, into which the various emblems and devices were woven in their proper tinctures.
All of these rooms were as sumptuously furnished as those connected with the baths; and the decorations, I thought, were even more beautiful, of a little higher or finer order.
In one of the rooms a lady was playing upon an instrument resembling a harp. She dropped her hands from the strings and came forward graciously.
"Perhaps we are intruding?" said Severnius.
"Ah, no, indeed," she laughed, pleasantly; "no one could be more welcome here than the brother of our Supreme Sorceress!" "Happy the man who has a distinguished sister!" returned he. "I am unfortunate," she answered with a slight blush. "Severnius is always welcome for his own sake."
He acknowledged the compliment, and with a certain reluctance, I thought, said, "Will you allow me, Claris, to introduce my friendfrom another planet?"
She took a swift step toward me and held out her hand. "I have long had a great curiosity to meet you, sir," she said. p. 41
I bowed low over her hand and murmured that her curiosity could not possibly equal the pleasure I felt in meeting her.
She gave Severnius a quick, questioning look. I believe she thought he had told me something about her. He let her think what she liked.
"How is it you are here?" he asked.
"You mean instead of being with the others?" she returned. "I have not been well lately, and I thoughtor my husband thoughtI had better not join the procession. I am awaiting them here."
As she spoke, I noticed that she was rather delicate looking. She was tall and slight, with large, bright eyes, and a transparent complexion. If Elodia had not filled all space in my consciousness I think I should have been considerably interested in her. I liked her frank, direct way of meeting us and talking to us. We soon left her and continued our explorations.
I wanted to ask Severnius something about her, but I thought he avoided the subject. He told me, however, that her husband, Massilia, was one of his closest friends. And then he added, "I wonder that she took his advice!"
"Why so," I asked; "do not women here ever take their husbands' advice?"
"Claris is not in the habit of doing so," he returned with, I thought, some severity. And then he immediately spoke of something else quite foreign to her.
The third and last story comprised an immense hall or assembly room, and rows of deep closets for the robes and paraphernalia of the members of the Order. In one of these closets a skeleton was suspended from the ceiling and underneath it stood a coffin. On a shelf were three skulls with their accompanying cross-bones, and several cruel-looking weapons. p. 42
Severnius said he supposed these hideous tokens were employed in the initiation of new members. It seemed incredible. I thought that, if it were so, the Marsian women must have stronger nerves than ours.
A great many beautiful marble columns and pillars supported the roof of the hall, and the walls had a curiously fluted appearance. There was a great deal of sculpture, not only figures, but flowers, vines, and all manner of decorations,even draperies chiseled in marble that looked like frozen lace, with an awful stillness in their ghostly folds. There was a magnificent canopied throne on an elevation like an old-fashioned pulpit, and seats for satellites on either side, and at the base. If I had been alone, I would have gone up and knelt down before the throne,for of course that was where Elodia sat,and I would have kissed the yellow cushion on which her feet were wont to rest when she wielded her jeweled scepter. The scepter, I observed, lay on the throne-chair.
There was an orchestra, and there were "stations" for the various officials, and the walls were adorned with innumerable cabalistic insignia. I asked Severnius if he knew the meaning of any of them.
"How should I know?" he replied in surprise. "Only the initiates understand those things."
"Then these women keep their secrets," said I.
"Yes, to be sure they do," he replied.
The apartment to the right, on the entrance floor, opposite the baths, was the last we looked into, and was a magnificent banquet hall. A servant who stood near the door opened it as though it had been the door of a shrine, and no wonder! It was a noble room in its dimensions and in all unparalleled adornments and appurtenances. p. 43
The walls and ceiling bristled with candelabra all alight. The tables, set for a banquet, held everything that could charm the eye or tempt the appetite in such a place.
I observed a great many inverted stemglasses of various exquisite styles and patterns, including the thin, flaring goblets, as delicate as a lily-cup, which mean the same thing to Marsians as to us.
"Do these women drink champagne at their banquets?" I asked, with a frown.
"O, yes," replied Severnius. "A banquet would be rather tame without, wouldn't it? The Auroras are not much given to drink, ordinarily, but on occasions like this they are liable to indulge pretty freely."
"Is it possible!" I could say no more than this, and Severnius went on:
"The Auroras, you see, are the cream of our society,the elite,and costly drinks are typical, in a way, of the highest refinement. Do you people never drink wine at your social gatherings?"
"The men do, of course, but not the women," I replied in a tone which the whole commonwealth of Paleveria might have taken as a rebuke.
"Ah, I fear I shall never be able to understand!" said he. "It is very confusing to my mind, this having two codessocial as well as politicalto apply separately to members of an identical community. I don't see how you can draw the line so sharply. It is like having two distinct currents in a river-bed. Don't the waters ever get mixed?"
"You are facetious," I returned, coldly.
"No, really, I am in earnest," said he. "Do no women in your country ever do these things,parade and drink wine, and the like,which you say you men are not above doing?" p. 44
I replied with considerable energy:
"I have never before to-day seen women of any sort dress themselves up in conspicuous uniforms and exhibit themselves publicly for the avowed purpose of being seen and making a sensation, except in circuses. And circus women,well, they don't count. And of course we have a class of women who crack champagne bottles and even quaff other fiery liquors as freely as men, but I do not need to tell you what kind of creatures those are."
At that moment there were sounds of tramping feet outside, and the orchestra filed in at the farther end of the salon and took their places on a high dais. At a given signal every instrument was in position and the music burst forth, and simultaneously the banqueters began to march in. They had put off their heavy outside garments but retained their ornaments and insignia. Their white necks and arms gleamed bewitchingly through silvered lace. They moved to their places without the least jostling or awkwardness, their every step and motion proving their high cultivation and grace.
"We must get out of here," whispered Severnius in some consternation. But a squad of servants clogged the doorway and we were crowded backward, and in the interest of self-preservation we took refuge in a small alcove behind a screen of tall hot-house plants with enormous leaves and fronds.
"Good heavens! what shall we do?" cried Severnius, beginning to perspire.
"Let us sit down," said I, who saw nothing very dreadful in the situation except that it was warm, and the odor of the blossoms in front of us was overpowering. There was a bench in the alcove, and we seated ourselves upon it,I with much comfort, for it was a little cooler down there, and my companion with much fear. p. 45
"Would it be a disgrace if we were found here?" I asked.
"I would not be found here for the world!" replied Severnius. "It would not be a disgrace, but it would be considered highly improper. Or, to put it so that you can better understand it, it would be the same as though they were men and we women."
"That is clear!" said I; and I pictured to myself two charming New York girls of my acquaintance secreting themselves in a hall where we City Guards were holding a banquet,ye gods!
As the feast progressed, and as my senses were almost swept away by the scent of the flowers, I sometimes half fancied that it was the City Guards who were seated at the tables.
During the first half-hour everything was carried on with great dignity, speakers being introducedthis occurred in the interim between coursesin proper order, and responding with graceful and well-prepared remarks, which were suitably applauded. But after the glasses had been emptied a time or two all around, there came a change with which I was very familiar. Jokes abounded and jolly little songs were sung,O, nothing you would take exception to, you know, if they had been men; but women! beautiful, cultivated, charming women, with eyes like stars, with cheeks that matched the dawn, with lips that you would have liked to kiss! And more than this: the preservers of our ideals, the interpreters of our faith, the keepers of our consciences! I felt as though my traditionary idols were shattered, until I remembered that these were not my countrywomen, thank heaven!
Severnius was not at all surprised; he took it all as a matter of course, and was chiefly concerned about how we were going to get out of there. It was more easily accomplished than we could have imagined. The elegant candelabra were a cunningly contrived system of electric lights, and, as sometimes happens with us, they went out suddenly and left the place in darkness for a p. 46 few convenient seconds. "Quick, now!" cried Severnius with a bound, and there was just time for us to make our escape. We had barely reached the outer door when the whole building was ablaze again.
Severnius offered no comments on the events of the evening, except to say we were lucky to get out as we did, and of course I made none. At my suggestion we stopped at the observatory and spent a few hours there. Lost among the stars, my soul recovered its equilibrium. I have found that little things cease to fret when I can lift my thoughts to great things.
It must have been near morning when I was awakened by the jingling of bells, and a sleigh driving into the porte cochere. A few moments later I heard Elodia and her maid coming up the stairs. Her maid attended her everywhere, and stationed herself about like a dummy. She was the sign always that Elodia was not far off; and I am sure she would have laid down her life for her mistress, and would have suffered her tongue to be cut out before she would have betrayed her secrets. I tell you this to show you what a power of fascination Elodia possessed; she seemed a being to be worshiped by high and low.
Severnius and I ate our breakfast alone the following morning. The Supreme Sorceress did not get up, nor did she go down town to attend to business at all during the day. At lunch time she sent her maid down to tell Severnius that she had a headache.
"Quite likely," he returned, as the girl delivered her message; "but I am sorry to hear it. If there is anything I can do for her, tell her to let me know."
The girl made her obeisance and vanished.
"We have to pay for our fun," said Severnius with a sigh. "I should not think your sister would indulge in such 'fun'!" p. 47 I retorted as a kind of relief to my hurt sensibilities, I was so cruelly disappointed in Elodia.
"Why my sister in particular?" returned he with a look of surprise.
"Well, of course, I mean all those women,why do they do such things? It is unwomanly, itit is disgraceful!"
I could not keep the word back, and for the first time I saw a flash of anger in my friend's eyes.
"Come," said he, "you must not talk like that! That term may have a different signification to you, but with us it means an insult."
I quickly begged his pardon and tried to explain to him. "Our women," I said, "never do things of that sort, as I have told you. They have no taste for them and no inclination in that direction,it is against their very nature. And if you will forgive me for saying so, I cannot but think that such indulgence as we witnessed last night must coarsen a woman's spiritual fibre, and dull the fine moral sense which is so highly developed in her."
"Excuse me," interposed Severnius. "You have shown me in the case of your own sex that human nature is the same on the Earth that it is on Mars. You would not have me think that there are two varieties of human nature on your planet, corresponding with the sexes, would you? You say 'womans' spiritual fibre and fine moral sense, as though she had an exclusive title to those qualities. My dear sir, it is impossible! you are all born of woman and are one flesh and one blood, whether you are male or female. I admit all you say about the unwholesome influence of such indulgence as wine drinking, late hours, questionable stories and songs,a night's debauch, in fact, which it requires days sometimes to recover from,but I must apply it to men as well p. 48 as women; neither are at their best under such conditions. I think," he went on, "that I begin to understand the distinction which you have curiously mistaken for a radical difference. Your women, you say, have always been in a state of semi-subjection"
"No, no," I cried, "I never said so! On the contrary, they hold the very highest place with us; they are honored with chivalrous devotion, cared for with the tenderest consideration. We men are their slaves, in reality, though they call us their lords; we work for them, endure hardships for them, give them all that we can of wealth, luxury, ease. And we defend them from danger and save them every annoyance in our power. They are the queens of our hearts and homes."
"That may all be," he replied coolly, "but you admit that they have always been denied their political rights, and it follows that their social rights should be similarly limited. Long abstinence from the indulgences which you regard as purely masculine, has resulted in a habit merely, not a change in their nature."
"Then thank heaven for their abstinence!" I exclaimed.
"That is all very well," he persisted, "but you must concede that in the first place it was forced upon them, and that was an injustice, because they were intelligent beings and your equals."
"They ought to thank us for the injustice, then," I retorted.
"I beg your pardon! they ought not. No doubt they are very lovely and innocent beings, and that your world is the better for them. But they, being restricted in other ways by man's authority, or his wishes, or by fear of his disfavor perhaps, have acquired these gentle qualities at the expense ofor in the place ofothers more essential to the foundation of character; I mean strength, dignity, self-respect, and that which you once attributed to my sister,responsibility."
I was bursting with indignant things which I longed to say, p. 49 but my position was delicate, and I bit my tongue and was silent.
I will tell you one thing, my heart warmed toward my gentle countrywomen! With all their follies and frivolities, with all their inconsistencies and unaccountable ways, their whimsical fancies and petty tempers, their emotions and their susceptibility to new isms and religions, they still represented my highest and best ideals. And I thought of Elodia, sick upstairs from her last night's carousal, with contempt.