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Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant [1893], at

p. 50



"If to her lot some female errors fall,
 Look to her face and you'll forget them all."—POPE.

MY contempt for Elodia vanished at the first intimation of her presence. I had expected to meet her with an air of cold superiority, but when she entered the dining-room that evening with her usual careless aplomb, the glance with which she favored me reduced me to my customary attitude toward her,—that of unquestioning admiration. Our physical nature is weak, and this woman dominated my senses completely, with her beauty, with her melodious voice, her singular magnetic attraction, and every casual expression of her face.

On that particular evening, her dress was more than ordinarily becoming, I thought. She had left off some of the draperies she usually wore about her shoulders, and her round, perfect waist was more fully disclosed in outline. She was somewhat pale, and her eyes seemed larger and darker than their wont, and had deeper shadows. And a certain air of languor that hung about her was an added grace. She had, however, recovered sufficiently from the dissipations of the day before to make herself uncommonly p. 51 agreeable, and I never felt in a greater degree the charm and stimulus of her presence and conversation.

After dinner she preceded us into the parlor,—which was unusual, for she was always too sparing of her society, and the most we saw of her was at dinner or luncheon time,—and crossed over to an alcove where stood a large and costly harp whose strings she knew well how to thrum.

"Elodia, you have never sung for our friend," said Severnius.

She shook her head, and letting her eyes rest upon me half-unconsciously—almost as if I were not there in fact, for she had a peculiar way of looking at you without actually seeing you,—she went on picking out the air she had started to play. I subjoined a beseeching look to her brother's suggestive remark, but was not sure she noted it. But presently she began to sing and I dropped into a chair and sat spell-bound. Her voice was sweet, with a quality that stirred unwonted feelings; but it was not that alone. As she stood there in the majesty of her gracious womanhood, her exquisite figure showing at its best, her eyes uplifted and a something that meant power radiating from her whole being, I felt that, do what she might, she was still the grandest creature in that world to me!

Soon after she had finished her song, while I was still in the thrall of it, a servant entered the room with a packet for Severnius, who opened and read it with evident surprise and delight.

"Elodia!" he cried, "those friends of mine, those Caskians from Lunismar, are coming to make us a visit."

"Indeed!" she answered, without much enthusiasm, and Severnius turned to me.

"It is on your account, my friend, that I am to be indebted to them for this great pleasure," he explained.

"On my account?" said I. p. 52

"Yes, they have heard about you, and are extremely anxious to make your acquaintance?"

"They must be," said Elodia, "to care to travel a thousand miles or so in order to do it."

"Who are they, pray?" I asked.

"They are a people so extraordinarily good," she said with a laugh, "so refined and sublimated, that they cast no shadow in the sun."

Severnius gave her a look of mild protest.

"They are a race exactly like ourselves, outwardly," he said, "who inhabit a mountainous and very picturesque country called Caskia, in the northern part of this continent."

"O, that is where the Perfect Pair came from," I rejoined, remembering what he had told me about Man's origin on Mars.

Elodia smiled. "Has Severnius been entertaining you with our religious fables?" she asked. I glanced at him and saw that he had not heard, he was finishing his letter.

"You will be interested in these Caskians," he said to me animatedly as he folded it up; "I was. I spent some months in Lunismar, their capital, once, studying. They have rare facilities for reading the heavens there,—I mean of their own contrivance,—beside their natural advantages; their high altitude and the clearness of the air."

"And they name themselves after the planetoids and other heavenly bodies," interjected Elodia, "because they live so near the stars. What is the name of the superlative creature you were so charmed with, Severnius?"

"I suppose you mean my friend Calypso's wife, Clytia," returned he.

"O, yes, I remember,—Clytia. Is she to favor us?"

"Yes, and her husband and several others." p. 53

"Any other women?"

"One or two, I think."

"And how are we to conduct ourselves during the visitation?"

"As we always do; you will not find that they will put any constraint upon you."

"No, hardly," said Elodia, with a slight curl of the lip.

I was eager to hear more about these singular people,—the more eager, perhaps, because the thought of them seemed to arouse Elodia to an unwonted degree of feeling and interest. Her eyes glowed intensely, and the color flamed brightly in her cheeks.

I pressed a question or two upon Severnius, and he responded:

"According to the traditions and annals of the Caskians, they began many thousands of years ago to train themselves toward the highest culture and most perfect development of which mankind is capable. Their aim was nothing short of the Ideal, and they believed that the ideal was possible. It took many centuries to counteract and finally to eradicate hereditary evils, but their courage and perseverance did not give way, and they triumphed. They have dropped the baser natural propensities—"

"As, in the course of evolution, it is said, certain species of animals dropped their tails to become Man," interrupted Elodia.

She rose from the divan on which she had gracefully disposed herself when she ceased playing, and glided from the room, sweeping a bow to us as she vanished, before Severnius or I could interpose an objection to her leaving us. Although there was never any appearance of haste in her manner, she had a swift celerity of movement which made it impossible to anticipate her intention.

Severnius, however, did not care to interpose an objection, I think. He felt somewhat hurt by her sarcastic comments upon his friends, and he expanded more after she had gone.

"You must certainly visit Lunismar before you leave Mars," p. 54 he said. "You will feel well repaid for the trouble. It is a beautiful city, wonderful in its cleanness, in its dearth of poverty and squalor, and in the purity and elevation of its social tone. I think you will wish you might live there always."

There seemed to be a regret in his voice, and I asked: "Why did not you remain there?"

"Because of my sister," he answered.

"But she will marry, doubtless." For some occult reason I hung upon his reply to this. He shook his head.

"I do not think she will," he said. "And she and I are all that are left of our family."

"She does not like,—or she does not believe in these Caskians?" I hoped he would contradict me, and he did. I had come to found my judgments of people and of things upon Elodia's, even against the testimony of my reason. If she disapproved of her brother's extraordinary friends and thought them an impossible people, why, then, I knew I should have misgivings of them, too; and I wanted to believe in them, not only on Severnius’ account, but because they presented a curious study in psychology.

"O, yes, she does," he said. "She thinks that their principles and their lives are all right for themselves, but would not be for her—or for us; and our adoption of them would be simply apish. She is genuine, and she detests imitation. She accepts herself—as she puts it—as she found herself. God, who made all things, created her upon a certain plane of life, and with certain tastes, faculties, passions and propensities, and that it is not her office to disturb or distort the order of His economy."

"She does not argue thus in earnest," I deprecated.

"It is difficult to tell when Elodia is in earnest," he replied. "She thinks my sanctuary in the top story of the house here, is a kind of weakness, because I brought the idea from Lunismar." p. 55

"O, then, it is not common here in Thursia for people to have things of that sort in their homes!" I said in surprise.

"Yes, it has gotten to be rather common," he replied.

"Since you put in yours?"

He admitted that to be the case.

"You must think that you have done your country a great good," I began enthusiastically, "in introducing so beautiful an innovation, and—"

"You are mistaken," he interrupted, "I think the contrary; because our rich people, and some who are not rich but only ambitious, took it up as a fad, and I believe it has really worked evil. It is considered aristocratic to have one's own private shrine, and not to go to church at all except in condescension, to patronize the masses. Elodia saw clearly just how it would be, before I began to carry out my plan. She has a logical mind, and her thought travels from one sequence to the next with unfailing accuracy. I recall her saying that one cannot superinduce the customs and habits of one society upon another of a different order, without affectation; and that you cannot put on a new religion, like a new garment, and feel yourself free in it."

"Does she not believe, then, in progress, development?"

"Only along the familiar lines. She thinks you can reach outward and upward from your natural environment, but you must not tear yourself out of it with violence. However, she admitted that my sanctuary was well enough for me, because of my having lived among the Caskians and studied their sublime ethics until I grew into the meanings of them. But no person can take them second-hand from me, because I could not bring away with me the inexpressible something which holds those people together in a perfect Unit. I can go to Caskia and catch the spirit of their religion, but I cannot bring Caskia here. It was a mistake in so p. 56 far as my neighbors are concerned, since they only see in it, as I have said, a new fashion, a new diversion for their ennuied thoughts."

"What is there peculiar about the religion of those people?" I asked.

"The most peculiar thing about it is that they live it, rather than profess it," he replied.

"I don't think I understand," said I, and after a moment's consideration of the matter in his own mind, he tried to make his meaning clear to me.

"Do you often hear an upright man professing his honesty? It is a part of himself. He is so free of the law which enjoins honesty that he never gives it a thought. So with the man who is truly religious, he had flung off the harness and no longer needs to guide himself by bit and rein, or measure his conduct by the written code. My friends, the Caskians, have emancipated themselves from the thralldom of the law by absorbing its principles into themselves. It was like seed sown in the ground, the germs burst from the husk and shot upward; they are enjoying the flower and the fruit. That which all nations and peoples, and all individuals, prize and desire above everything else in life, is liberty. But I have seen few here in Paleveria who have any conception of the vast spiritual meanings of the word. We limit it to the physical; we say 'personal' liberty, as though that were all. You admire the man of high courage, because in that one thing he is free. So with all the virtues, named and unnamable; he is greatest who has loosed himself the most, who weighs anchor and sails away triumphant and free. But this is but a general picture of the Caskians; let me particularize: we are forbidden to steal, by both our civil and religious canons,—the coarseness of such a command would offend them as much as a direct charge p. 57 of theft would offend you or myself, so exquisite is their sense of the rights of others, not only in the matter of property but in a thousand subtle ways. Robbery in any form is impossible with them. They would think it a crying sin for one to take the slightest advantage of another,—nay, to neglect an opportunity to assist another in the accomplishment of his rightful purpose would be criminal. We, here on Mars, and you upon the Earth, have discovered very sensitive elements in nature; they have discovered the same in their own souls. Their perceptions are singularly acute, their touch upon each other's lives finely delicate. In this respect we compare with them as the rude blacksmith compares with the worker in precious metals."

"But do they also concern themselves with science?" I asked.

"Assuredly," he answered. "Their inventions are remarkable, their methods infinitely superior to ours. They believe in the triple nature,—the spiritual, the intellectual, and the physical,—and take equal pains in the development and culture of all."

"How wonderful!" I said, remembering that upon the Earth we have waves of culture breaking over the land from time to time, spasmodic, and never the same; today it may be physical, tomorrow intellectual, and by-and-by a superfine spiritual bloom. But, whichever it is, it sacrifices the other two and makes itself supreme.

Severnius went on. As he proceeded, I was struck by the fact that the principles of our Christian civilization formed the basis of Paleverian law.

"I wanted to give you some other instances," he said, "of the 'peculiarities' of the Caskians, as we started out with calling them. There is a law with us against bearing false witness; they hold each other in such honor and in such tenderness, that the command is an idle breath. There is nothing mawkish or sentimental p. 58 about this, however; they, in fact, make no virtue of it, any more than you or I make a virtue of the things we do habitually—perhaps from unanalyzed motives of policy. You would not strike a man if you knew he would hit back and hurt you worse than he himself was hurt; well, these people have sensibilities so finely developed, that a wrong done to another reacts upon themselves with exquisite suffering. The law and its penalties are both unseen forces, operating on an internal not an external plane. With us, the authority which declares, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' becomes powerless at the threshold of marriage. Like other such laws which hold us together in an outward appearance of decency and good order, it is a dead letter to them up to the point where we drop and trample upon it; here they take it up and carry it into their inmost lives and thoughts in a way almost too fine for us to comprehend. Because we have never so much as dreamed of catching the spirit of that law."

"What do you mean?" I demanded, with a wide stare.

"Why, that marriage does not sanction lust. The Caskians hold that the exercise of the procreative faculty is a divine function, and should never be debased to mere animal indulgence. It has been said upon Divine Authority—as we believe—that if a man look upon a woman to lust after her, he has committed adultery in his heart. The Caskians interpret that to mean a man's wife, the same as any other woman, because—they hold—one who owes his being to lust and passion naturally inherits the evil and the curse, just as surely as though wedlock had not concealed the crime. Their children are conceived in immaculate purity."

My look of prolonged amazement called out the question:

"Have you no such class in any of your highly civilized countries?"

"No, I think not. With us, children do not come in answer p. 59 to an intelligent desire for their existence, but are too often simply the result of indulgence, and so unwelcome that their prenatal life is overshadowed by sorrow and crime."

"Well," said he, "it is the same here; our people believe that conception without lust is an impossibility in nature, and that instances of it are supernatural. And certainly it is incredible unless your mind can grasp the problem, or rather the great fact, of a people engaged for centuries in eliminating the purely animal instincts from their consciousness."

After a moment he added:

"In Caskia it would be considered shocking if a pair contemplating marriage were to provide themselves with only one suite of rooms, to be shared together day and night. Even the humblest people have their respective apartments; they think such separateness is absolutely essential to the perfect development of the individual,—for in the main we each must stand alone,—and to the preservation of moral dignity, and the fine sentiment and mutual respect which are almost certain to be lost in the lawlessness of undue familiarity. The relation between my friend Calypso and his wife is the finest thing I ever saw; they are lovers on the highest plane. It would be an impossibility for either of them to say or do a coarse or improper thing in the other's presence, or to presume, in any of the innumerable ways you and I are familiar with in our observations of husbands and wives, upon the marriage bond existing between them. This matter of animal passion," he went on, after a little pause, "has been at the bottom of untold crimes, and unnumbered miseries, in our land. I doubt if any other one thing has been prolific of more or greater evils,—even the greed of wealth. Men, and women, too, have sacrificed kingdoms for it, have bartered their souls for it. Countless homes have been desolated because of it, countless p. 60 lives and hearts have been laid on its guilty altar. We ostracize the bastard; he is no more impure than the offspring of legalized licentiousness, and the law which protects the one and despises the other, cannot discriminate in the matter of after effects, cannot annul or enforce the curse of heredity. With these people the law of chastity is graven in the inmost heart, and in this matter, as in all others, each generation acknowledges its obligation to the next."

Next: Chapter 5. The Vaporizer