Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant , at sacred-texts.com
I was glad when spring came, when the trees began to bud, the grass to grow, the flowers to bloom; for, of all the seasons, I like it best,this wonderful resurrection of life and sweetness!
Thursia is a fine city,not only in its costly and architecturally and aesthetically perfect buildings, public and private, but in its shaded avenues, its parks, lawns, gardens, fountains, its idyllic statues, and its monuments to greatness.
Severnius took pains to exhibit all its attractions to me, driving with me slowly through the beautiful streets, and pointing out one conspicuous feature and another. Of course there were some streets which were not beautiful, but he avoided those as much as possible,as I have done myself when I have had friends visiting me in New York. It is a compliment to your guest to show him the best there is and to spare him the worst.
But often, too, we took long walks through fields and woods. When Elodia accompanied us, which she did a few times, the whole face of nature smiled, and I thought Paleveria the most p. 62 incomparably charming country I had ever seen. Her presence gave importance to everything,the song of a bird, the opening of a humble little flower, the babbling of water. But other things absorbed most of her time,we only got the scraps, the remnants. When she was with us she relaxed, as though we were in some sort a recreation. She amused herself with us just as I have seen a busy father amuse himself with his family for an hour or so of an evening. And I think we really planned our little theatricals of evening conversation for her,at least I did. I saved up whatever came to me of thought or incident to give to her at the dinner table. And she appreciated it; her mind bristled with keen points, upon which any ideas let loose were caught in a flash. The sudden illumination of her countenance when a new thing, or even an old thing in a new dress, was presented to her, was of such value to me that I found myself laying traps for it, inventing stories and incidents to touch her fancy.
Besides her banking interests, over which she kept a close surveillance, she had a great many other matters that required to be looked after. As soon as the weather was fine enough, and business activities in the city began to be redoubled, especially in the matter of real estate, she made a point of driving about by herself to inspect one piece of property and another, and to make plans and see that they were carried out according to her ideas. And she was just as conscientious in the discharge of her official duties. She was constantly devising means for the betterment of the schools, both as to buildings and methods of instruction. I believe she knew every teacher personally,and there must have been several thousand,and her relations with all of them were cordial and friendly. Her approbation was a thing they strove for and valued,not because of her official position and the authority she held in her hands, but because of p. 63 a power which was innate in herself and that made her a leader and a protector.
But I was too selfish to yield my small right to her society,the right only of a guest in her house,to these greater claims with absolute sweetness and patience.
"Why does she take all these things upon herself?" I asked of Severnius.
"Because she has a taste for them," he replied. "Or, as she would say, a need of them. It is an internal hunger. It is her nature to exert herself in these ways."
"I cannot believe it is her nature; it is no woman's nature," I retorted. "It is a habit which she has cultivated until it has got the mastery of her."
"Perhaps," returned Severnius, who was never much disposed to argue about his sister's vagariesas they seemed to me.
"All this is mannish," I went on. "There are other things for women to do. Why does she not give her time and attention to the softer graces, to feminine occupations?"
"I see," he laughed; "you want her to drop these weighty matters and devote herself to amusing us! and you call that 'feminine."
I joined in his laugh ruefully.
"Perhaps I am narrow, and selfish, too," I admitted; "but she is so charming, she brings so much into our conversations whenever we can entice her to spend a moment with us."
"Yes, that is true," he answered. "She gleans her ideas from a large and varied field."
"I do not mean her ideas, so much aswell, as the delicious flavor of her presence and personality."
"Her presence and her personality would not have much flavor, my friend, if she had no ideas, I am thinking."
"O, yes, they would," I insisted. "They are the ether in which p. 64 our own thoughts expand and take shape and color. They are the essence of her supreme beauty."
He shook his head. "Beauty is nothing without intelligence. What is the camellia beside the rose? Elodia is the rose. She has several pleasing qualities that appeal to you at one and the same time."
This was rather pretty, but a man's praises of his sister always sound tame to me. "She is adorable!" I cried with fervor. We were walking toward a depot connected with a great railway. For the first time I was to try the speed of a Marsian train. Severnius wanted me to visit the city of Frambesco, some two hundred miles from Thursia, in another state.
After a short, ruminating silence I broke out again:
"We don't even have her company evenings, to any extent. What does she do with her evenings?"
"Who? O, Elodia! Why, she goes to her club. For recreation, you know."
"That is complimentary to you and me," I said coolly.
He brought his spectacles to bear upon me somewhat sharply.
"Don't you think you are a little unreasonable?" he demanded. "You have curious ideas about individual liberty! Now, we hold that every soul shall be absolutely free,that is, in its relations to other souls; it shall not be coerced by any other. It is as though souls were stars suspended in space, each moving in its appointed orbit. No one has the right to disturb the poise and equilibrium of another, not even the one nearest it. That is a Caskian idea, by the way; about the only one Elodia is enamored of. These souls, or spheres, are extremely sensitive; and they may, and do, exert a tremendous influence, one upon another,but without violence."
"Your meaning is clear," I said coldly. "My powers of attraction p. 65 in this case are feeble. Is the club you speak of composed entirely of women?"
"Do not the men here have clubs?"
"O, yes; I belong to one, though I do not often attend. I will take you to visit it,I wonder I had not thought of it before! But those things are disturbing; we scientists like to keep our minds clear, like the lenses of our telescopes."
"Is Elodia's club a literary one!" I asked, though I was almost sure it was not.
"O, no; it is for recreation purely, as I said. The same kind of a club, I suppose, that you men have. Of course, they have the current literature, which they skim over and discuss, so as to keep themselves informed about what is going on in the world. It is the only way you can keep up with the times, I think, for no one can read everything. They have games and various diversions. Elodia's clubhouse is furnished with elegant baths, for women have an extraordinary fondness for bathing. And they have a gymnasium,you notice what splendid figures most of our women have!and of course a wine cellar."
"Severnius!" I cried. "You don't mean to tell me that these women have wines in their clubhouse?"
"Why, yes," said he.
"And it is tolerated, allowed, nobody objects?"
"O, yes, there are plenty of objectors," he replied. "There is a very strong anti-intoxicant element here, but it has no actual force and exerts but little influence inin our circles."
Severnius was too modest a man to boast of belonging to the upper class of society, but that was what "our circles" meant.
"But do not the male relatives of these women object,their husbands, fathers, brothers?" p. 66
"No, indeed, why should they? We do the same things they do, without demur from them."
"But they should be looking after their domestic affairs, their children, their homes."
"My dear sir! they have servants to attend to those matters."
It seemed useless to discuss these things with Severnius, his point of view concerning the woman question was so different from mine. Nevertheless, I persisted.
"Tell me, Severnius, do women on this planet do everything that men do?"
"They have that liberty," he replied, "but there is sometimes a difference of tastes."
"I am glad to hear it!"
"For instance, they do not smoke. By the way, have a cigar?" He passed me his case and we both fired up. There is a peculiarly delightful flavor in Marsian tobacco.
"They have a substitute though," he added, removing the fragrant weed from his lips to explain. "They vaporize." "They what?"
"They have a small cup, a little larger than a common tobacco pipe, which they fill with alcohol and pulverized valerian root. This mixture when lighted diffuses a kind of vapor, a portion of which they inhale through the cup-stem, a slender, tortuous tube attached to the cup. The most of it, however, goes into the general air."
"Good heavens!" I cried, "valerian! the most infernal, diabolical smell that was ever emitted from any known or unknown substance."
"It is said to be soothing to the nerves," he replied.
"But do you not find it horribly disagreeable, unbearable?" I suddenly recollected that, in passing through the upper hall p. 67 of the house, I had once or twice detected this nauseating odor, in the neighborhood of Elodia's suite of rooms.
"Yes, I do," he answered, "when I happen to come in contact with it, which is seldom. They are careful not to offend others to whom the vapor is unpleasant. Elodia is very delicate in these matters; she is fond of the vapor habit, but she allows no suggestion of it to cling to her garments or vitiate her breath."
"It must be a great care to deodorize herself," I returned, with ill-concealed contempt.
"That is her maid's business," said he.
"It is not injurious to health?" I asked.
"Quite so; it often induces frightful diseases, and is sometimes fatal to life even.
"And yet they persist in it! I should think you would interfere in your sister's case."
"Well," said he, "the evils which attend it are really no greater than those that wait upon the tobacco habit; and, as I smoke, I can't advise with a very good grace. I have a sort of blind faith that these good cigars of mine are not going to do me any harm,though I know they have harmed others; and I suppose Elodia reasons in the same friendly way with her vapor cup."
The train stood on the track ready to start. I was about to spring up the steps of the last car when Severnius stopped me.
"Not that one," he said; "that is the woman's special."
I stepped back, and read the word Vaporizer,printed in large gilt letters,bent like a bow on the side of the car.
"Do you mean to tell me, Severnius," I exclaimed, "that the railroad company devotes one of these magnificent coaches exclusively to the use of persons addicted to the obnoxious habit we have been speaking of?"
"That is about the size of it," he returned,he borrowed the p. 68 phrase from me. "Come, make haste, or we shall be left; the next car is the smoker; we'll step into that and finish these cigars, after which I'll show you what sumptuous parlor coaches we have."
As we mounted to the platform I could not resist glancing into the Vaporizer. There were only two or three ladies there, and one of them held in her ungloved hand the little cup with the tortuous stem which my friend had described to me. From it there issued a pale blue smoke or vapor, and oh! the smell of it! I held my breath and hurried after Severnius.
"That is the most outrageous, abominable thing I ever heard of!" I declared, as we entered the smoker and took our seats.
"O, it is nothing," he returned, smiling; "you are a very fastidious fellow. I saw you look into that car; did you observe the lady in blue?"
"I should think I did! she was in the act," I replied. "And I recognized her, too; she is that Madam Claris you introduced me to in the Auroras Temple, is she not?"
"Yes; but did you notice her cup?"
"It is carved out of the rarest wood we have,wood that hardens like stone with age,and has an indestructible lining and is studded with costly gems; the thing is celebrated, an heirloom in Claris family. They like to sport those things, the owners of them do. They are a mark of distinction,or, as they might say in some of your countries, a patent of nobility."
"I suppose, then, that only the rich and the aristocratic 'vaporize'?"
"By no means; whatever the aristocracy do, humble folk essay to imitate. These vapor cups are made in great quantities, of the commonest clay, and sold for a penny apiece."
"Then it must be a natural taste, among your women?" said I. p. 69
"No, no more than smoking is among men. They say it is nauseating in the extreme, at first, and requires great courage and persistence to continue in it up to the point of liking. There is no doubt that it becomes very agreeable to them in the end, and that it is almost impossible to break the habit when once it is fixed."
"And what do they do with their cups,I mean, how do they carry them about when they are not using them?" I asked.
"Put them in a morocco case, the same as you would a meerschaum, and drop them into a fanciful little bag which they wear on the arm, suspended by a chain or ribbon."
Frambesco could not compare with Thursia either in size or beauty; and it had a totally different air, a kind of swagger, you might say. I felt the mercury in my moral barometer drop down several degrees as we walked about the streets amid much filth, and foul odors, and unsightly spectacles.
I made the natural comments to my friend, and he replied that neither Frambesco nor any other city on the continent could hold a candle to Thursia, where the best of every thing was centered.
We observed a great many enormous placards posted about conspicuously, announcing a game of fisticuffs to take place that afternoon in an amphitheatre devoted to such purposes; and we decided to look in upon it. I think it was I who suggested it, for I had no little curiosity about the "tactics" of the manly art in that country, having seen Sullivan and several other famous hitters in our own.
Severnius had considerable difficulty in procuring tickets, and finally paid a fabulous price to a speculator for convenient seats. The great cost of admission of course kept out the rabble, and, in a way, it was an eminently respectable throng that was assembled,p. 70I mean in so far as money and rich clothes make for respectability. But there was an unmistakable coarseness in most of the faces, or if not that, a curiosity which bordered on coarseness. I was amazed to see women in the audience; but this was nothing to the horror that quivered through me like a deadly wound, when the combatants sprang into the arena and squared off for action. For they, too, were women,women with tender, rosy flesh; with splendid dark eyes gleaming with high excitement. Their long, fair hair was braided and twisted into a hard knot on top of the head. They wore no gloves. Ah, a woman's hands are soft enough without padding!I thought.
They went at it in scientific fashion and were careful to observe the etiquette of the game; it was held "foul" to attack the face. In fact it was more of a wrestling than a sparring match,a test of strength, prowess, agility. But I recoiled from it with loathing, and feeling myself grow sick and faint, I muttered something to Severnius and rushed out of the place. He followed me, of course; the performance was quite as distasteful to him as to me, the only difference being that he was familiar with the idea and I was not.
As I passed out, I observed that many of the women were vaporizing and many of the men smoking. I suppose it was, in part, the intolerable abomination of these commingled smells that affected me, for I experienced a physical as well as moral nausea. I did not get over it for hours, and I was as glad as a child when it came time to take the train back to Thursia.
My disgust was so great that I could not discuss the matter with Severnius, as I was wont to discuss other matters with him. There was one thing for which I was supremely thankful,that Elodia was not there.
A few days later, the subject accidentally came up, and I had p. 71 the satisfaction of hearing her denounce the barbarity as emphatically as I could denounce it,and more sweepingly, for she included male fighters in her condemnation, and I was unable to make her see that that was quite another matter.