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

p. 72



"O, in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose."—SHAKESPEARE.

DURING the time that intervened before the arrival of the Caskians, to make their proposed visit, I gleaned many more interesting hints from Severnius relative to their life and conduct, which greatly whetted my curiosity to meet them. For instance, we were one day engaged in a conversation, he, Elodia, and myself, upon the subject of the province of poetry in history,—but that does not matter,—when dinner was announced in the usual way; that is, the way which assumes without doubt that nothing else in the world is so important as dinner. It may be a bell, or a gong, or a verbal call, but it is as imperative as the command of an autocrat. It brings to the ground, with the suddenness of a mental shock, the finest flights of the imagination. It wakes the soul from transcendent dreams, cools the fervor of burning eloquence, breaks the spell of music. More than this: it destroys the delicate combination of mental states and forces sometimes induced when several highly trained minds have fallen into an attitude of acute sympathy toward one another,—a rare and ineffable thing!—and are borne aloft through mutual p. 73 helpfulness to regions of thought and emotion infinitely exalted, which can never be reproduced.

I have often had this experience myself, and have wished that the cook was a creature of supernatural intuitions, so that he could divine the right moment in which to proclaim that the soup was served! There is a right moment, a happy moment, when the flock of intellectual birds, let loose to whirl and circle and soar in the upper air, descend gracefully and of their own accord to the agreeable level of soup.

On the occasion to which I have referred, I tried to ignore, and to make my companions ignore, the discordant summons—by a kind of dominant action of my mind upon theirs—in order that we might continue the talk a little longer. We three had never before shown ourselves off to each other to such striking advantage; we traveled miles in moments, we expanded, we unrolled reams of intelligence which were apprehended in a flash, as a whole landscape is apprehended in a glare of lightning. It was as if our words were tipped with flame and carried their illumination along with them. I knew that there never would, never could, come another such time, but Elodia thwarted my effort to hold it a moment longer.

"Come!" she cried gayly, rising to her feet and breaking off in the middle of a beautiful sentence, the conclusion of which I was waiting for with tremors of delight,—for her views, as it happened, accorded with mine,—"the ideal may rule in art, but not in life; it is very unideal to eat, but the stomach is the dial of the world."

"We make it so," said Severnius.

"Of course, we make all our sovereigns," she returned. "We set the dial to point at certain hours, and it simply holds us to our agreement,—it and the chef." p. 74

"That reminds me of our Caskian friends," said Severnius, "They have exceedingly well-ordered homes, but occasionally one of the three Natures waits upon another; the Mind may yield to some contingency connected with the Body, or the Body waive its right in favor of the Spirit."

"I had supposed they were more machine-like," commented Elodia, with her usual air of not being able to take a great interest in the Caskians.

"They are the farthest from that of any people I know," he answered. "They have great moments, now and then, when a few people are gathered together, and their thought becomes electrical and their minds mingle as you have seen the glances of eyes mingle in a language more eloquent than speech,—and, to tell the truth, we ourselves have such moments, I'll not deny that; but the difference is, that they appreciate the value of them and hold them fast, while we open our hands and let them fly away like uncoveted birds, or worthless butterflies. I have actually known a meal to be dropped out entirely in Calypso's house, forgotten in the felicity of an intellectual or spiritual delectation!"

"Thank heaven, that we live in Thursia!" cried Elodia, "where such lapses are impossible."

"They are next to impossible there," said Severnius; "But they do happen, which proves a great deal. They are in the nature of miracles, they are so wonderful,—and yet not so wonderful. We forget sometimes that we have a soul, and they forget that they have a body; there's no great difference."

"There is a mighty difference," answered Elodia. "We are put into a material world, to enjoy material benefits. I should think those people would miss a great deal of the actual good of life in the pursuit of the unactual,—always taking their flights from lofty pinnacles, and skipping the treasures that lie in the valleys." p. 75

"On the contrary," he returned, "the humblest little flower that grows, the tiniest pebble they pick up on the beach, the smallest voice in nature, all have place in their economy. They miss nothing; they gather up into their lives all the treasures that nature scatters about. If a bird sings, they listen and say, 'That song is for me;' or, if a blossom opens, 'I will take its beauty into my heart.' These things, which are free to all, they accept freely. Their physical senses are supplemented,—duplicated as it were, in finer quality,—by exquisite inner perceptions."

The morning after this conversation, Severnius and I took a long drive in a new direction. We went up the river a mile or so, the road winding through an avenue of century-old elms, whose great, graceful branches interlocked overhead and made a shade so dense that the very atmosphere seemed green. We were so earnestly engaged in conversation that I did not observe when we left the avenue and entered a wood. We drove some distance through this, and then the road branched off and skirted round a magnificent park,—the finest I had seen,—bordered by a thick hedge, all abloom with white, fragrant flowers and fenced with a fretwork of iron, finished with an inverted fringe of bristling points. Within, were evidences of costly and elaborate care; the trees were of noble growth and the greensward like stretches of velvet over which leaf-shadows flickered and played. The disposition of shrubbery and flowers, the chaste and beautiful statuary, the fountains, brooklets, arbors, and retreats; the rustic efforts in bridges, caves, grottoes, and several graceful arches, hidden in wreathed emerald, from which snow-white cherubs with wings on their shoulders peeped roguishly, all betokened ingenious design, and skilful and artistic execution.

Beyond, seen vaguely through the waving foliage, were handsome buildings, of the elegant cream-colored stone so much in p. 76 vogue in Thursia. Here and there, I espied a fawn; one pretty creature, with a ribbon round its neck, was drinking at a fountain, and at the same time some beautiful birds came and perched upon the marble rim and dipped into the sparkling water.

"How lovely! how idyllic!" I cried. "What place is it, Severnius, and why have I never seen it before?"

His answer came a little reluctantly, I thought. "It is called Cupid's Gardens."

"And what does it mean?" I asked.

"Does not its name and those naked imps sufficiently explain it?" he replied. As I looked at him, a blush actually mantled his cheek. "It is a rendezvous," he explained, "where women meet their lovers."

"How curious! I never heard of such a thing," said I. "Do you mean that the place was planned for that purpose, or did the name get fastened upon it through accident? Surely you are joking, Severnius; women can receive their lovers in their homes here, the same as with us!"

"Their suitors, not their lovers," he replied.

"You make a curious distinction!" said I.

"Women sometimes marry their suitors, never their lovers,—any more than men marry their mistresses."

"Great heavens, Severnius!" I felt the blood rush to my face and then recede, and a cold perspiration broke out all over me. There was a question in my mind which I did not dare to ask, but Severnius divined it.

"Is it a new idea to you?" said he. "Have you no houses of prostitution in your country, licensed by law, as this is?" "For men, not for women," said I.

"Ah! another of your peculiar discriminations!" he returned. p. 77

"Well, surely you will agree with me that in this matter, at least, there should be discrimination?" I urged.

He shook his head with that exasperating stubbornness one occasionally finds in sweet-tempered people.

"No, I cannot agree with you, even in this," he replied. "What possible reason is there why men, more than women, should be privileged to indulge in vice?"

"Why, in the very nature of things!" I cried. "There is a hygienic principle involved; you know,—it is a statistical fact,—that single men are neither so vigorous nor so long-lived as married men, and a good many men do not marry."

"Well, a good many more women do not marry; what of those?"

"Severnius! I cannot believe you are in earnest. Women!—that is quite another matter. Women are differently constituted from men; their nature—"

"O, come!" he interrupted; "I thought we had settled that question—that their nature is of a piece with our own. It happens in your world, my friend, that your women were kept to a strict line of conduct, according to your account, by a severe discipline,—including even the death penalty,—until their virtue, from being long and persistently enforced, grew into a habit and finally became a question of honor."

"Yes, stronger than death, thank God!" I affirmed.

"Well, then, it seems to me that the only excuse men have to offer for their lack of chastity—I refer to the men on your planet—is that they have not been hedged about by the wholesome restraints that have developed self-government in women. I cannot admit your 'hygienic' argument in this matter; life is a principle that needs encouragement, and a man of family has p. 78 more incentives to live, and usually his health is better cared for, than a single man, that is all."

We rode in silence for some time. I finally asked, nodding toward the beautiful enclosure still in view:

"How do they manage about this business; do they practice any secrecy?"

"Of course!" he replied. "I hope you do not think we live in open and shameless lawlessness? Usually it is only the very wealthy who indulge in such 'luxuries,' and they try to seal the lips of servants and go-betweens with gold. But it does not always work; it is in the nature of those things to leak out."

"And if one of these creatures is found out, what then?" I asked.

He answered with some severity:

"'Creatures' is a harsh name to apply to women, some of whom move in our highest circles!"

"I beg your pardon! Call them what you like, but tell me, what happens when there is an exposé? Are they denounced, ostracized, sat upon?" I inquired.

"No, not so bad as that," said he. "Of course there is a scandal, but it makes a deal of difference whether the scandal is a famous or an infamous one. If the woman's standing is high in other respects,—if she has money, political influence, talent, attractiveness,—there is very little made of it; or if society feels itself particularly insulted, she may conciliate it by marrying an honest man whose respectability and position protect her."

"What! does an honest man—a gentleman—ever marry such a woman as that?" I cried.

"Frequently; and sometimes they make very good wives. But it is risky. I have a friend, a capital fellow, who was so unfortunate p. 79 as to attract such a woman, and who finally yielded to her persuasions and married her."

"Heavens! do the women propose?"

"Certainly, when they choose to do so; what is there objectionable in that?"

I made no reply, and he continued, "My friend, as I said, succumbed to her pleadings partly—as I believe—because she threw herself upon his mercy, though she is a beautiful women, and he might have been fascinated to some extent. She told him that his love and protection would be her salvation, and that his denial of her would result in her total ruin; and that for his sake she would reform her life. He is both chivalrous and tender, and, withal, a little romantic, and he consented. My opinion is that, if she could have had him without marriage, she would have preferred it; but he is a true man, a man of honor. Women of her sort like virtuous men, and seldom marry any other. Her love proved to be an ephemeral passion—such as she had had before—and the result has been what you might expect, though Claris is not, by any means, the worst woman in the world."

"Claris?" I exclaimed.

"Ah! I did not mean to speak her name," he returned in some confusion; "and I had forgotten that you knew her. Well, yes, since I have gone so far, it is my friend Massilia's wife that I have been speaking of. In some respects she is an admirable woman, but she has broken her husband's heart and ruined his life."

"Admirable!" I repeated with scorn; "why, in my country, such conduct would damn a woman eternally, no matter what angelic qualities she might possess. She would be shown no quarter in any society—save the very lowest." p. 80

"And how about her counterpart of the other sex?" asked Severnius, slyly.

I disregarded this, and returned:

"Did he not get a divorce?"

"No; the law does not grant a divorce in such a case. There was where Claris was shrewder than her husband; she made herself safe by confessing her misdeeds to him, and cajoling him into marrying her in spite of them."

"I beg your pardon, but what a fool he was!"

Severnius acquiesced in this. "I tried to dissuade him," he said, "before the miserable business was consummated,—he made me his confidant,—but it was too late, she had him under her influence."

Another silence fell upon us, which I broke by asking, "Who were those pretty youngsters we saw lounging about on the lawn back there?" I referred to several handsome young men whom I had observed strolling through the beautiful grounds.

He looked at me in evident surprise at the question, and replied:

"Why, those are some of the professional 'lovers'." "Great Caesar's ghost!"

"Yes," he went on; "some of our most promising youths are decoyed into those places. It is a distressing business,—a hideous business! And, on the other hand, there are similar institutions where lovely young girls are the victims. I do not know which is the more deplorable,—sometimes I think the latter is. A tender mother would wish that her daughter had never been born, if she should take up with such a life; and an honorable father would rather see his son gibbeted than to find him inside that railing." p. 81

"I should think so!" I responded, and inquired, "What kind of standing have these men in the outside world?"

"About the same that a leper would have. They are ignored and despised by the very women who court their caresses here. In fact, they are on a level with the common, paid courtesan,—the lowest rank there is. I have often thought it a curious thing that either men or women should so utterly despise these poor instruments of their sensual delights!"

My friend saw that I was too much shocked to moralize on the subject, and he presently began to explain, and to modify the facts a little.

"You see, these fellows, when they begin this sort of thing, are mostly mere boys, with the down scarcely started on their chins; in the susceptible, impressionable stage, when a woman's honeyed words—ay, her touch, even—may turn the world upside down to them. The life, of course, has its attractions,—money and luxury; to say nothing of the flattery, which is sweeter. Still, few, if any, adopt it deliberately. Often they are wilily drawn into 'entanglements' outside; for the misery of it is, that good society, as I have said before, throws its cloak around these specious beguilers, and the unfortunate dupe does not dream whither he is being led,—youth has such a sincere faith in beauty, and grace, and feminine charm! Sometimes reverses and disaster, of one kind or another, or a cheerless home environment, drive a young man into seeking refuge and lethean pleasures here. It is a form of dissipation similar to the drink habit, only a thousand times worse."

"Worse?" I cried. "It is infernal, diabolical, damnable! And it is woman who accomplishes this horrible ruin!—and is 'received' in society, which, if too flagrantly outraged, will not forgive her unless she marries some good man!" p. 82

"O, not always that," protested Severnius; "the unlucky sinner sometimes recovers caste by a course of penitence, by multiplying her subscriptions to charities, and by costly peace-offerings to the aforesaid outraged society."

"What sort of peace-offerings?" I asked.

"Well, an entertainment, perhaps, something superb, something out of the common; or maybe a voyage in her private yacht. Bait of that sort is too tempting for any but the high and mighty, the real aristocrats, to withstand. The simply respectable, but weak-hearted,—who are a little below her level in point of wealth, position, or ancestry,—fall into her net. I have observed that a woman who has forfeited her place in the highest rank of society usually begins her reascent by clutching hold of the skirts of honest folk who are flattered by her condescension, and whose sturdy arms assist her to rise again."

"I have observed the same thing myself," I rejoined, but he had not finished; there was a twinkle in his eye as he went on:

"If you were to reveal the secret of your air-ship to a woman of this kind she would probably seize upon it as a means of salvation; she would have one constructed, on a large and handsome scale, and invite a party to accompany her on an excursion to the Earth. And though she were the worst of her class, every mother's son—and daughter—of us would accept! For none of us hold our self-respect at a higher figure than that, I imagine."

"Yes, Severnius, you do," I replied emphatically.

"I beg your pardon! I would knock off a good deal for a visit to your planet," he said, laughing.

By this time we had left Cupid's Gardens far behind. The road bent in again toward the river, which we presently crossed. If it had not been for the dreadful things I had just listened to, I think I should have been in transports over the serene loveliness p. 83 of the prospect around us. The view was especially fine from the summit of the bridge; it is a "high" bridge, for the Gyro is navigated by great steam-ships and high-masted schooners.

Severnius bade the driver stop a moment that we might contemplate the scene, but I had little heart for its beauties. And yet I can recall the picture now with extraordinary clearness. The river has many windings, and the woods often hide it from view; but it reappears, again and again, afar off, in green meadows and yellowing fields,—opalescent jewels in gold or emerald setting. Here and there, in the distance, white sails were moving as if on land. Far beyond were vague mountain outlines, and over all, the tender rose-blush of the sky. The sweetness of it, contrasted with the picture newly wrought in my mind, saddened me.

Some distance up the river, on the other side, we passed an old, dilapidated villa, or group of buildings jumbled together without regard to effect evidently, but yet picturesque. They were half hidden in mammoth forest trees that had never been trimmed or trained, but spread their enormous limbs wheresoever they would. Unpruned shrubbery and trailing vines rioted over the uneven lawn, and the rank, windblown grass, too long to stand erect, lay in waves like a woman's hair.

In a general way, the lawn sloped downward toward the road, so that we could see nearly the whole of it over the high, and ugly, board fence which inclosed it. Under the trees, a little way back, I observed a group of young girls lolling in hammocks and idling in rustic chairs. They caught sight of us and sprang up, laughing boisterously. I thought they were going to run away in pretended and playful flight; but instead, they came toward us, and blew kisses at us off their fingers.

I looked at Severnius. "What does this mean?" I asked. p. 84

"Why," he said, and the blush mantled his handsome face again, "this place is the counterpart of Cupid's Gardens—a resort for men."

"I thought so," I replied.

By-and-by he remarked, "I hope you will not form too bad an opinion of us, my friend! You have learned to-day what horrible evils exist among us, but I assure you that the sum total of the people who practice them constitutes but a small proportion of our population. And the good people here, the great majority, look upon these things with the same aversion and disgust that you do, and are doing their best—or they think they are—to abolish them."

"How?—by legislation?" I asked.

"Partly; but more through education. Our preachers and teachers have taken the matter up, but they are handicapped by the delicacy of the question and the privacy involved in it, which seems to hinder discussion even, and to forestall advice; though this is the only way to accomplish anything, I think. I have very little faith in legislative measures against secret vices; it is like trying to dam a stream which cannot be dammed but must break out somewhere. I am convinced that my friends, the Caskians, have solved the question in the only possible way—by elevating and purifying the marriage relation. I hope some good may be accomplished by the visit of the few who are coming here!"

"Will they preach or lecture?" I asked, with what seemed to me a moment later to be stupid simplicity.

"O, no!" replied Severnius, with the same air of modest but emphatic protest which they themselves would have doubtless assumed had the question been put to them. "It was simply their personal influence I had reference to. I do not know that I can make you understand, but their presence always seemed to me p. 85 like a disinfectant of evil. With myself, when I was among them, all the good that was in me responded to their nobility; the evil in me slept, I suppose."

I made a skeptical rejoinder to the implication in his last sentence, for to me he seemed entirely devoid of evil; and we finished the drive in silence.

Next: Chapter 7. New Friends