THE AMERICAN PEASANT
A Timely Allegory.By T.H. TIBBLES AND ANOTHER.
CHICAGO; F.J. Schulte & COMPANY, PUBLISHERS, 298 DEARBORN STREET
To my friends, the American millionaires, to whom I have given the proceeds of many years of toil on a Nebraska farm, all of whom have leisure, and some of whom have brains enough to comprehend political and social science, this work is respectfully dedicated.T.G. TIBBLES. BANCROFT, NEBRASKA, July 4, 1892.
DAY by day the gospel of the emancipation of the common people is being written in books and in the hearts of men. It is a holy record. Although it contains much that is said, yet it is the hope of the world. This book, which contains one chapter of that gospel, will become part of the record, and I cheerfully bid it "God speed."
This conflict has always waged, and always will, where there is a necessity for bread and existence on one side and a greed for gold on the other. The struggle is generally an unequal one. It is as true to-day as when written years ago by neither a crank nor a demagogue that;
"Plate sin in gold, the lance of justice harmless breaks; Clothe in its rags, a pigmy straw doth pierce it."
Yet, still there is hope. We try to believe that the world is growing better. The condition of mankind is much the same as when Christ was upon the earth. Its wealth is the same; its power is the same; labor is the same. All conditions are materially the same, except there is no Christ who dares preach another sermon on the mount; no Christ who dares to drive the money changers from the temple; no Christ who dares to eat with publicans and sinners; no Christ who dares to say it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Labor is handicapped. Combinations of capital capture in detail all the opposing forces.
Year by year the multitude tolls; the few gather in the fruit. Can this republic live while the majority produce wealth and the few gather it in? Yet the struggle in a republic as well as under a monarchy endures the same disappointment. The poet tells us but history when he writes:"Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne;
But the scaffold sways the future, And behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above his own."
CHARLES H. VANWYCK.
NEBRASKA CITY, August 23d, 1892.
THE AMERICAN PEASANT.
SEATTLE rises like an amphitheater, street above street, from the blue Sound. In a morning when the air is clear, and the sky swells in a sapphire dome, it is possible to see the snow-tips of the mountains lying against the heavens like clouds, only fairer to the eye than ever clouds were. The scent of the pines seems always to be on the air, and the brine of the Sound unites with this its invigorating odor. This beauty and bounty of nature pricks a man into action. His body is alert, his mind feels a subtle inspiration. That is how it comes that I am always glad when business takes me to Seattle.
Not long ago I was there, and was strolling about the wharves. I think I was building air castles—even the most sensible of persons will now and then do as much—and that is how I came to run square into a man much larger than myself, but not quite so steady as I in his walk. The reasons for this unsteadiness of gait were alcoholic ones—that was easy to see. He was a swarthy fellow, with the eyes that are made to look upon Spanish skies. His huge body was, moreover, belted with a soiled but once beautiful silken sash, which would have told me his nationality even if I had not seen his eyes or heard the oaths with which he received my unintentional rudeness. I apologized. It is always well to apologize to a man twice your size when you have offended him. But his vituperations grew fiercer. I took out a dollar and handed it to him. And this changed his enmity to a degree of friendship hardly less desirable. It was in vain that I tried to escape from him. He followed me about the wharves. He put his arm around my neck. He insisted on confiding his story to me in broken English. It seemed to be a romantic story. It had adventure enough in it to have supplied material for a number of wild sea tales. And at last, in the midst of his story, he drew from his pocket a cylinder of some silver-colored metal, and offered it to me. I had lost the thread of his tale, and did not understand why he offered me this curious trifle, but I took it absent-mindedly in my hand. No sooner had I done so than I became interested. This cylinder had no appreciable weight. It offered no resistance to my hand. In short, I perceived that, even with the inflation of vitality, my hand was of much heavier specific gravity than this cylinder.
"Unalaska," he ejaculated. "Unalaska. I found at Unalaska."
"Oh! did you? Found it among the houses? Or did it come in from the ocean?"
"On wave—so." He tossed his hands with a graphic gesture. "So—at my feet."
I turned it over and over. There was evidently something within the cylinder heavier than the metal itself. I grew curious. I could not imagine where this could have come from, to drift through the Arctic Sea to that northward-stretching land. I was seized with a desire to own this little curiosity. So I drew another dollar from my pocket. My acquaintance looked at the cylinder with some affection. He played hesitatingly with one of his ear-rings. I drew out another coin. He succumbed. I shook hands with him, and walked rapidly away. Back at my hotel I hastened to examine the metal. It was undoubtedly aluminum. A heated knife-blade opened it, and when I lifted the cover a roll of onion-skin paper, closely covered with writing, fell out.
Some way this discovery made me tremble with excitement. In all my life nothing had ever occurred before which was out of the common. I locked it in a drawer, ran down to my dinner, and, through with that, hastened to my room, and, after locking the door, sat down to a night of reading, for I was confident that I held in my hand the history of the adventures of some unknown fellow creatures. I think I never before recognized the tremendous importance of written language. The vastness of man's ingenuity struck me as it never had before. I re-rolled the paper till it was flat, and then read the strange account which follows:
If this falls into the hands of some man of my own country, let me beg him to read it earnestly and carefully. I am Paul Hyde, of the State of Wisconsin, of the United States of America. Ripon is the town of my birth. It is possible that my sister is still living there. Her name is, or was, Mary Hyde. I write this from the great Arctic continent, the existence of which has been a matter of so much controversy in the land in which I used to live. It is surrounded by an open sea, temperate as that which rolls along the shore of Oregon, and this continent is rich in all that makes a people progressive and a nation rich. If it were not for the barrier of ice that lies between it and the rest of the world, it would be the most blessed and desirable of spots, for the beauty of it is past my powers of description. For flowers and fruit and all growing things spring to life here with a suddenness and splendor that is not equaled in all the world. This is because of the electric light which illumines the sky, and of the atmosphere, which is continually charged with the most capricious and powerful of nature's agencies. This great power has been chained by us, and underneath our fields of wheat and corn and our gardens run wires carrying the electric force, something as the irrigating ditches of my country carry water through the fertile alkali stretches. But I wish to tell consecutively the whole history of my strange experience.
In June, 1845, I set sail for the Northern Pacific Islands for the purpose of investigating, with two friends of mine, certain commercial chances there which were reported to us as promising. We went in a whaling schooner, and as there was no haste in the business of any of us, we spent much time cruising about. Now, in all the world I will venture to say there are no fogs so dense as those which now and then bear down upon the Alaskan seas. One day there descended upon us a fog so dense that our very lungs were stifled by it. For three terrible weeks our boat appeared to be in a cloud. Indeed, I dare say it not only appeared to be so, but that this actually was the case. For it is not infrequent for a cloud, in that country of low atmosphere, to drop so low that it is pierced by the rigging of the ship. The cold during this fog was worse than anything I had ever experienced, although our thermometer had registered lower. There was a wind blowing, but it drifted this fog back and forth, in billows of moisture, but never lifted it. Many and many a time we felt the near proximity of a great berg, and on several occasions collided with them with a shock that made our none too staunch vessel strain and crack. Had she not been built with two bottoms, and one of these of copper, expressly for her voyages in the northern seas, we should have all been sunk. As it was, we somehow kept afloat, though our rudder went before the end of the second day, and we drifted helpless. As for anchorage, there was none. The mountains which line the coast of Alaska show only a small fraction of their height above water. They reach down and down to a terrible depth, and their sloping and rugged sides, hidden under the green waters of the endless sounds and straits, make any approach to the shore dangerous in the extreme.
The first morning of the third week we became conscious of a lightening. Then, as suddenly as if some one had pulled the cords, the vast curtain of mist lifted, rolling up in mighty scrolls, which, as they went, caught an electric green from the reflection of the atmosphere, and became as beautiful to look on as if they were vanishing fields of tender and greenish verdure. Not far beyond us were stretches of broken ice, and about us still floated crumbs of the glaciers, but for all of that there was a sort of mellowness in the air. This was not continuous, but every few seconds a pleasant gust brought to us recollections of the country we thought never to see again.
I do not wish to make too much of those troublous days through which we had passed. It is all like a dream, mysterious, terrible, filled with apprehension. I do not think any of us had been quite sane. Now that we had come upon this unknown sea, with the strange green light hanging over it, and the greener waves lifting themselves with their white foam-tips far as the eyes could reach, the beauty of it affected us in a peculiar way. The pleasure that it gave was almost too intense to be counted as simple happiness. Besides, we were still surrounded by uncertainties.
There were no adjacent shores to prove to us the fact, but, nevertheless, we had not drifted long in this weird and exquisite sea before we perceived that our boat was in a current, and that her course never varied. I do not know whether this occasioned satisfaction or alarm. We felt that we were in the hands of destiny.
I remember that our little heterogeneous crew seemed stunned. There was nothing much for them to do, and they lounged together at the forecastle, staring, with the eyes of men drunk upon poppies, at the tumbling emerald sea.
There was something blinding to our eyes in the scintillant atmosphere, with its tender green glow. Besides, our bodies seemed charged with some strange, exhilarating influence. Everything was unreal to us, as if this were all the vision of an opium-eater.
That is why we were not filled with more alarm when we saw, looming up before us, a gray rock in the midst of this green sea. Beneath the boulder the waves curled cruelly, and we knew there were reefs before us. Steadfast as destiny, the current bore us on. We had no way to guide the ship. The order was given to lower the boats, and the men moved around the task, but not as sailors are wont to do. You might have thought some enchantment was over them.
I leaped into one of the boats before it was manned. I remember hearing the captain call to me to stop. But the instinct to save my life overmastered me. I called to my friends to follow. They did so. I hardly know what happened next. I remember that our boat was whirled round and round, and that some invisible force seemed to be sucking it downward. I simply clung to the sides of the skiff as it was twisted about and about. Then, suddenly, it was released, and it rocked on a wave out of the whirlpool. Then we saw our ship plunging forward, with her nose down, like a bull tangled with a lariat, and so, after a struggle sickening to behold, she went down—sucked up as neatly as a man takes an oyster. In the horror of it all, in the midst of the strange light, and the formidable place, we were tossed on, half mad, I think, and not reasoning about anything, or trying in any way to act. And so, at last, we struck on the shallows further to the north, and then we made a plunge for it, and dashed through the breakers—hurled back now and then, but still struggling on—till we reached the long, sandy beach, and lay there breathing like men half dead, and wondering, in a maze of apprehension, what our fate was to be.
The breath labored worse and worse in my chest, and it seemed as if all the waters of the seas were rolling over my head in one vast tidal wave, and then there was unconsciousness.
THE dawn of my consciousness broke slowly, and I seemed to be coming back to life through long gray corridors of half reason. But I knew that it was life. I was conscious of my arousing. At last my eyes opened. I looked out upon a room. I felt a bed beneath me. I was aware of a lamp burning dimly near my head.
This knowledge flashed over me with the effect of an electric shock. For I still bore in my mind the horror of being wrecked on an uninhabited island of the Arctic Sea, and the dread of death was yet strong. The reaction threatened for a moment to throw me back into unconsciousness. But, with an effort, I raised my head and looked about me.
A pungency filled the room and gave vigor to the atmosphere. As I sniffed it, it seemed to refresh me, like the smell of camphor. Only some way it brought to my mind the Wisconsin woods. Then, a moment later, I remembered that it was the smell of cedar, and, looking closer, I found that my chamber was built of that odorous wood, which, even in the dim light, showed its rich color, glowing with oil. The floor was of this wood, as well as the walls, and on the floor were rugs of white bear-skin, and on the walls figures carved from a black stone. These figures were very beautiful, and they were made, it was apparent, by a race which thought much of physical development. The furniture about the room was straight of line and heavy, and I noticed that the wood was not varnished, but that it was oiled. A simple and a curious apartment it was. I had never seen one which in any way resembled it. Lying so, idly observant, and pricking with curiosity, I became conscious of voices without my chamber. The words floated in to me distinctly. They were not of my tongue, and yet they seemed strangely familiar. So dull was my brain that I could not tell for a moment what train of associations it was that they aroused. Then, suddenly, before my mental vision came the old class-room at school, with the professor electrifying us all with his incisive intonation—and then I knew the tongue to which I was listening was Latin, but spoken in different fashion than I had ever heard it.
A moment later the heavy azure curtain at the door parted, and a man and woman entered.
Till then, I think, I had never known what true beauty, in man or woman, was. But as these two moved across the room together, tall, unconscious, lithe, full at the chest and waist, with strong, firm limbs, they looked almost godlike to me. The woman was very young, with a face serene and noble. A gown of soft white cloth fell from her shoulders, just caught beneath the breasts with a girdle of bronze medallions. A band of the same metal held her short curls back from her face. The man was older than she, but, if possible, even pleasanter to look upon. In him age seemed no decay, but a ripening, though he was far from old at worst.
Simultaneously their eyes fell on me, and an exclamation escaped their lips. Then the man came forward, holding out his hand.
"I welcome you back to life," he said, gently. "And I hope that you comprehend the words I speak." It was as much the intonation and the gesture as the words themselves that made me aware of the meaning of his words.
"You must be a scholar," I replied, as well as I could—I never was good at construing—"and I take it that you use this ancient tongue that we may have speech together. What is your native tongue?"
"It is that in which I speak," the man replied, with dignity. "I know no other. What is your own tongue, young man?"
"I speak English," I said. "I am an American."
The man looked puzzled. He repeated my words to the young woman. She moved forward to where I was. Then, pausing, she regarded me shyly, with the color deepening a little in her face.
"We do not know the names you give," the man said. "The world is wide, and men are many, and the lands they dwell in are to us unknown. But do not think that we count our fate sad, though you are the first in all the history of this country to come to us from other lands."
I wondered if this were a part of those hot dreams that had chased themselves through my perplexed head.
"You are not well enough to talk," he said, noticing my confusion. "I have done very wrong. I will leave you. Rest. You are safe here, and you are welcome. Another time we will talk together. We will have much to tell each other."
"But my friends"—
"Your friends are, like yourself, much tried with your mysterious experiences; but it is the will of God that they shall live."
Heavens! what comfort that brought to me. For all of the kindness and the safe shelter, the idea of being alone in this almost impenetrable sea, with a strange people, was terrifying to me. I breathed a sigh of relief.
"You are very fortunate. I leave you for a moment with my sister. I do not know in what esteem you may hold women in your country. Here we think them the apex of creation. They are our friends and chosen companions. I confer an honor on you in leaving my sister with you." There was something in his voice that was at once an inquiry and a command. I was very weak, and I could not help wishing that I might merely close my eyes and sleep, without trying to send a voice up from my dull consciousness, but I managed to limp through a declaration that I could not take the presence of his sister otherwise than as an honor. He left the room after a ceremonious leave-taking, and I lay looking at this beautiful young woman. She moved toward me shyly, and, though her face was tender, it bore no smile.
"Sleep," she said, softly. I turned my face toward the wall, and slept, thinking that, whoever she might be, of whatever strange race or mysterious country, that I was safe under her watch-care.
There was a monotony about the days that followed which made them seem short. Morning came, bringing to me only the quiet of that beautiful room, a repast of agreeable food, and then the long day filled with rest. Now it was one person, and now another, who sat beside me. Often I was alone for hours, though I had no want left unsatisfied. Sometimes, but not very often, Lesbia was with me—I learned that the name of the woman I saw that first day was Lesbia.
Of her I loved to ask questions. She answered me without seeming to think it strange that I knew nothing of the matters concerning which I questioned her.
"I come from the busiest country in all the history of the world," I said. "We are an ingenious race, and a commonplace one. We are given up to providing ourselves with material ease. If we have any genius, it is in the contriving of labor-saving machines. At the same time, we are a nation of money-makers. Indeed, with us money-making as become a sort of national game, at which every man essays to play, and in which statesman do not hesitate to take a hand. We have imagined that there was nothing under the sun with which we were not acquainted. Certainly none of us have believed that there was any country on this globe yet unexplored. The Arctic continent we have, indeed, spoken of as a sort of possibility, and on our maps is an indefinite tracing of its southeastern coast. But from what I see from my windows, I imagine I must be in a land as bountiful as that from which I came. And when I see the prosperity and happiness of this home, I am sure I am in a country where there is law, and the enforcement of that law. And I know that there are schools, by the way all of you talk. And that there is courtesy, and a love of elegant behavior, and hospitality, I cannot doubt, since I continually see it. I am strong now—almost as well as ever I was—although you do not seem to think so. And these mysteries, which were pleasant enough a few days ago, when I was weak and confused, irritate me now. I want to know where I am. I insist on knowing by what name your people call themselves. And above all—far above all else—I demand to know who you are!"
I am afraid I did not speak fluently, although I spoke much. To conduct a conversation in a language which was associated in my mind only with the laborious efforts of the class-room, was, to say the least, trying. But every time I essayed speech it became easier, and the sympathy of mind with mind lightened my task. My beautiful little friend listened to me intently, puzzling now and then over my obscurities, and keeping her serene eyes fixed on my face.
"It seems strange, indeed," she said at last, with a soft elision on the stately words, "that I should have to sit here and tell you, like some ancient poet, all the glories and the disasters of our race. I wish that I might speak it as the poets do. We have such. Do you not think I would better call one of them? Their history, as well as their manner of talking, is much better than mine."
There was no coquetry in the suggestion. She rose, as if to go in search of one of her minstrels, but I caught at her robe.
"I'll have no graybeard tell me this history!" I cried. "I'll hear it from your lips, or I'll never hear it at all. It is only youth that has the poetry to feel the best of a nation's history. I want the tale from young lips. I want it from yours!"
"Philosophy is better than poetry," she replied, gravely. "Perhaps I might feel fire enough when I relate our history to you, but I could not point out the significance of it all with so much wisdom as could one of our historians."
She spoke as if she were some grave professor. But her dark and wayward curls, spilled from her fillet over her brow, and her red lips, looked as saucy as a child's. The incongruity moved me to laughter. And that offended her. And then I apologized, and she drew one of those great cedar chairs closer, and told me this tale:
"Is it known in your country," she asked, "of the fall of that great city, Pompeii? It was all destroyed from the burning mountain. We have a mountain very like that here, but none of us live near it. We have learned a lesson. My ancestors, the founders of this nation, were citizens of that beautiful city. And when the day of darkness came, and they heard the cruel heart of the mountain throbbing within it, and the flames began to shoot out of the mouth of that terrible thing, and the sky to darken, and all the people were running wildly from the city, a few escaped in a wonderful way. There were some great Phœnician ships in the harbor—three of them—and to these fled a company, taking with them such of their possessions as they could. Each took that which was dearest to him. The crews of the ships were aboard, and they set sail, glad enough to escape, and knowing they would be made rich for life. It is important that you should know that among them was one Sallust, a Christian, who had been at Rome—a great and dangerous journey. And he had brought home with him a scroll filled with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. And while the others brought jewels and coins and embroidered robes, Sallust brought nothing but the scroll that taught the words of Him for whom Paul suffered. You may read in our chronicles all the story of how our ship sailed out into the sea, and was beaten with storms, and driven into the dark unknown waters of the ocean, and blown northward, until at length there were those among us who begged we might go on to see what land we could find. For now and then a gloomy shore was seen with dark green trees, and mountains rising beyond, and low-hanging clouds. And because home was lost, and friends, and all that made life worth living, none cared whither they were taken. And so at last it came about that the companion ships seemed to be caught in a great current of air and water, moving always, always to the north, and, try hard as they might, they could not escape from it. The winds followed a path in the water which was bluer than the water round about, and which flowed as strong and free as a mighty river through the land. So northward we went, continually—I say 'we,' though that is eighteen hundred years ago—and at last found land. And here we settled, and built us houses of the great trees, and after a time learned to make everything that was needed for our comfort. And so from year to year this nation has grown, and found new, wonderful things made to help man to live, and give him happiness. And now we have towers built, with glasses in them which swing as the stars move from east to west, and with so great a power that we are learning much about the sky, although it is never very dark here, as our histories say it was at night in Pompeii. For either the light of the sun or that of the aurora borealis makes the heavens always bright."
"But you have a government? Have you a king?"
"No king, sir. One is not greater than another, except as he does great things. At birth we start equal. For it seemed right to make laws, and have a government, when the first necessities had been attended to. And there was much talking of what sort of a government it should be. And all of them said that they wanted no more walled cities, and provinces fighting one against another. We wished to be an aggregation of citizens working for a common end. And so the country was named Sorosis, and the laws were founded on the teachings of Christ, which Sallust read to the assemblies, till all hearing them said they held more of wisdom than anything of which they had ever heard. And so we learned that what was for the good of one was for the good of all. If the good of all is held in view, there is no need to compete and try to overthrow each other, for our laws are so arranged that to conspire against another is like conspiring against one's self. We enact but few laws, and for this there is a reason. It is said that law must be so wide that it does not closely fit each individual case. Therefore we have magistrates with great authority, who may adjust each matter upon its evidence and deserts, and not be hampered in the execution of equity by laws. Besides, as it is continually taught in our schools that one man may not harm another without harming himself, it has come to be that people see that crime is a waste and a hindrance, and that it does not pay. So may father has explained to me. None in Sorosis more dearly love this country than he. He is a very, very old man, hardly able to leave his room. You shall meet him when you are stronger. There are not many we introduce to father, for he has begged that now, in these last years of his life, he may see nothing that is not fair and good. He says that he has fought his fight, and that he now would rest. He has taught me all I know, and he says that law may be so constructed that it will only make crime, and that, the more laws there are, the more offenses men commit. Therefore we have but few laws, and these apply mostly to the duty of a citizen to the state. Each man knows right from wrong, and when he injures another, the other has only to complain, to have his complaint investigated. Punishment is quick, because we have no perplexity of code and statute. But I am talking too much. You must have your dinner, and then sleep. I will go order your dinner sent to you."
"You have not told me half I want to hear."
"I've told you all I understand. I have never made it my work to learn these matters. Some one else—a man—can inform you better. I do not much care to talk about such things."
"What do you care to talk about? Talk of anything you like."
But she would have her way.
"I like to talk of dinner. And I am going to the kitchen to talk of yours. And this is, as you must know, a wonderful day, because this afternoon my brother comes, who is a merry fellow. He has been at the government school, and we have not seen him since the last sun-season. He will rejoice you, for he is always happy."
She flitted out of the door, and left me to think over the strange government she had pictured to me—a government where it was recognized that the good of one was the good of all—one where right, and now law, was the criterion of justice. So simple she was! So calm! So strong in body, so confident of speech, and stately of manner! I had never seen such a serene pride. It was as if she knew all the nobility and none of the vanity of commanding. I felt that this was the most cultivated woman I had ever met.
The next day I saw my friends again. They had progressed more rapidly than I in their recovery from the hardships of that frightful day of wreck and disaster. They were both older and stronger men than I, and not only had their physical recovery been more rapid, but they had more quickly adapted themselves to the idea of living in a strange country among men and women of different ideas and foreign customs.
"I tell you what, it's not so bad," John Sherwood said to me, settling back in his chair, and running his hands down into his pockets. "I like it very well. We can't exactly grow up with the country, for the reason that the country is already grown up. But we can have things pretty much our own way here."
"I think we do have them our own way," I retorted. "I never saw such hospitality."
"Eh? Oh, yes, they are hospitable enough. But I mean we can manage things just about as we choose."
Tom Minehan stretched out his languid length on a couch at hand. "I'm sure I don't want to run things," he said, with his caressing Hibernian drawl. "The beauty of this new place to me is that it looks as if I might be able to get along without any responsibility whatever."
"You're a lazy dog," I said to him. I had a weakness for Tom. He was so deliciously young in his way of looking at things. "You know you'll soldier wherever you are. You never had any responsibility, moral or otherwise, at any time in your life. You're too picturesque to care about being moral."
He stroked his long yellow moustache with his hand, and seemed a little exhausted even by that effort.
"My dear boy," he said, "you will insist on forming opinions—even about me. Now, that is a great waste of time. The easiest way to get through life is to form no opinions whatever."
Sherwood looked at us with ill-concealed impatience. He was always feeling irritated at us, and his irritation piqued me a bit, but Minehan would not have minded a rebuff from the highest authority in the land.
"We didn't have to leave many houses and lots behind us, that's one comfort," Tom continued. "There's no need of worrying over the condition that our estates will fall into. Do you remember that ode I wrote, Paul, celebrating the blessings of poverty? That was when we were young and thought that posterity was trembling somewhere down in the womb of the future with eagerness to hear every syllable we had to utter. Then we thought glory was the only thing. But we found out that it took all of our transcendent genius to get bread and butter to put into our mouths. I'm afraid it's going to be the same thing here, after we have exhausted the generosity of our friends."
"I'm not going to wait to do that," I cried. "I'm ashamed of the way I've been waited on here. And I'll get out of it the first day I can stand on my pins. Then I'll look about for some way of repaying them. I'm afraid it may be a little hard at first. But they must need hewers of wood and carriers of water in every country, and I'll fight my may."
"Oh, Lord!" Sherwood ejaculated, in a burst of something that was little less than anger, "but you two are fools! Haven't you the brains to see that, coming as we do from a nation trained to all sorts of gambling, we have only to cast about a little in order to make our fortune? From all that I can hear, this race is nothing less than child-like. They are the most amusing sentimentalists imaginable. It seems incredible that in this age of the world there should be such a nation of greenhorns. You fellows seem to take the whole thing as a matter of course. Sickness must have taken all your usual stuff out of you."
"There's no use in wondering over it all any more," Tom drawled; "I wondered and wondered. It gave me delirium for a week. I don't see how any man can express his astonishment any better than by turning into a raving maniac for seven days. It seems to me that ought to satisfy even you, Sherwood."
"Oh, I've talked about it and thought about it till there is nothing more to say or think," I remarked. "I am continually recurring to the self-complacency of the fellows down in Wisconsin. Why, there's nothing about this whole mundane globe with which they do not suppose themselves acquainted. And here, at the place where they least suspect its existence, is a country more civilized than any on earth."
"I'm glad you think this civilized," said Sherwood. "It doesn't seem to me these people have got beyond the first principles of anything."
"They certainly have not made the mistake of being complex," I retorted.
The great cedar door swung back just then, and Lesbia entered. Behind her walked a youth, the picture of herself, only with the stronger features that belong to a man.
She saluted my friends, whom she had never met, quite as if she had known them.
"I am acquainted with your names," she said, "and I am sure that you know mine. I congratulate you on having escaped from the dangers which you encountered. You are welcome here, and I hope some time you will become citizens of Sorosis. I want to present to you my brother, Julius, who is to-day a free man for the first time."
He was an enormous young fellow, and by the way he walked and stood, it was easy to see that he was a trained athlete.
"What you say sounds strange to me," I replied, as the young man saluted us. "Why do you speak of him as free for the first time? Surely you have no slaves here, and if you had, they would not be such as he." I laughed at the absurdity of the suggestion. This young fellow could no more have been enslaved than an eagle.
"The state, sir," the young man replied for his sister, "does not relinquish its hold upon us until it thinks us fitted to become citizens. We must be educated before we can enjoy the privileges of citizenship. A man is of less importance to himself than he is to the state. I am now free from my apprenticeship. I have learned what the state wishes me to know. To-morrow I go to take the oath of citizenship. Two years from now my sister will do so."
"Do women become citizens here?" cried Sherwood.
"Not in all ways, but we hope they may yet be so. Must they not suffer the penalties of the law, and should they not, therefore, be allowed a voice in the making of those laws? Must they not pay a tax upon the ground they own, and should they not, therefore, have a voice in the distribution of those taxes? Must they not bear and rear patriots, and should they not, therefore, be given an opportunity of learning what patriotism really means?"
"Patriotism is the inclination and the power to protect one's country," Sherwood replied. "Could your women protect this country in time of war?"
"We have had wars, sir, and the men fought. But they could not have done so without the ruin of all commerce, if it had not been that the women were in the stores and shops, and on the farms. The work was divided, but the part they performed was even more important than that performed by us."
"Let us not talk of such serious questions," Lesbia interrupted. "Come out into our garden. Mr. Hyde can walk that far to-day, if he will take my brother's arm. I want to show you what flowers we can raise even without the light of the sun."
Julius came forward, his scarlet student robe falling about his strong limbs, and held out his arm. I arose, tremblingly.
"I am about to have a great experience," I said. "I am to learn of a new world."
"It is a world," he said, gently, "which is very happy. Sorrow must come to all, but we have learned, I think, to find some sweetness in everything. We do not dread death. We love each day of life. We believe in the brotherhood of man. There is a national dissension, it is true. Thousands of us in both sections wish it were otherwise. But we have a terrible quarrel, and cannot yet see how it is to be adjusted." It must have been my sickness that made me so foolish. But his words gave me a physical pain.
"Is there no land in all the world," I sighed, "where man may be free from hate?"
"No more," replied the young student, with a smile, "than there is a land in all the world where he may escape love."
Lesbia was opening the door into the garden, and as I passed her, my eyes met hers. I felt the blood rush to my face, and when I saw an answering glow in hers, it made me so faint that I had to lean more heavily upon the arm of my supporter.
A DAY came when I had to admit that I was completely well. I told Lesbia and Julius so. Their half-brother, General Lycurgus, in whose house they dwelt, was away at his military station, and I could not thank him in person for all his kindness to me. It was he on whom my eyes fell with my first returning consciousness. He was almost twice the age of his sister, and was the child of another mother.
"A standing army is the price that every nation has to pay for safety," I said to Lesbia the day I left. I wasn't thinking about standing armies exactly, but it served as well as anything else to give me an excuse for talking with her. And we had been talking about her brother.
"Men cannot be alike, nor look at things from the same point of view," she said in her grave way. "And it is only a question of sufficient difference of opinion to warrant a war. I suppose war is inevitable."
"It can never be anything but criminal," I said. "And it shows a low intellectual condition. Cultivated men ought to have other ways of adjusting their differences than by killing one another."
"You would feel still more deeply on the subject than you do, if you, like I, had those nearest you in the very heart and occupation of war. I have many kinsmen who are soldiers, and my dear brother must hold a place of supreme responsibility in the event of any trouble."
"It made me very sad, somehow. You see, I had dreams, as I lay there in bed through those long days when you cared for me so patiently, that I had reached a place where there was no turmoil. I thought I would buy a little farm. It is true that I have no money, but labor is the equivalent of money, and I am willing to give freely of that. Then, in that most natural and beautiful of all occupations, I would see what could be done with life. It seemed to me that temptations could be far removed. Quiet and happy would be my days. I would work, but not slave. The elements seem to act like obedient servitors here. I had dreams of making a home in the midst of neighbors who also had homes—a home seems to me the apex of civilization. I hoped to see what life could be made when it proceeded naturally, without any hindrance to its course through the perversity of man. And now you sadden me by telling me that war continually threatens. May I ask why? Is it necessary that you, in this strange but singularly blessed country, should fall to cutting each other's throats?"
"It is a long and a terrible story, and it involves so much that is shameful to my country, that I would much rather not tell it to you."
"But I am going to be a citizen," I protested. "I must know how matters stand. I want to get at your politics. I can never make an intelligent citizen till I have done so."
"You really mean to become a citizen!" she cried. "I did not know—I could not imagine—do you mean that you will not try to return to your own country? But why?"
I did not answer her. We were out in her garden. The yellow poppies were in bloom all about us. We seemed to be amid a field of gold. In the sky the wavering electric streamers darted and shrank tremulously, swelled and flirted, and so each moment threw new lights about us. Lesbia's eyes were fixed, as she spoke to me, on a scroll of this liquid light that seemed to be flung out by some invisible hand from horizon to zenith. It was to me like being in fairyland, and talking with the queen of all the fairies. Lesbia dropped her great eyes, after a time, from those bewildering heavens to my face, and saw there, perhaps, the answer to my question, for a flush crept over her cheeks, and her lips gave a smile to contradict the frown upon her brow.
"Of course," she said, in a voice which suddenly affected a coldly indifferent accent. "If you are to become a citizen—and I suppose this is a good country for a man to stay in who wishes to succeed in business—you have a right to know as much has you can be told about our politics. To begin with, our capital is, as you know, at the very apex of the earth. It is at the Pole. We speak, as I have told you, of going to the Pole when we mention our chief city. You will readily see, therefore, that we cannot speak of directions as you may do in all other countries, because every direction is south. We call the different directions by the names of stars. But I fear the names by which we call the stars are not the same as those by which you call them. This makes it difficult for me to talk with you, because you cannot understand our terms. Tell me what countries lie below, according to your language."
I told her Russia and America. And so she used the terms toward eastern, western or central America, or toward eastern, western or central Russia, to designate her meaning, and we got on very well.
"Only," she interrupted, "I want you to think of Sorosis as a part of America. I want to call myself an American. Indeed, we of Sorosis are Americans."
Some way the remark enraptured me. It was a subtle confession. I thought I had never heard a compliment more adroit. Then she went on with her story.
She told me that about four hundred years ago some adventurous young men started on an expedition of exploration toward Western America. Leaving the warm, electrical climate of the pole, they journeyed over fields of ice until, after many months of travel, they came to a village of brown-colored people. It was a race with which they were not acquainted. Though small of stature, they were capable of great endurance. By strategy or perfidy these people were captured and brought back to Sorosis. They were put to work at the commonest kinds of labor. They did not fight against their enslavement, but accepted it sullenly. Docile, superstitious, ignorant, affectionate, they seemed to their conquerors to be made for servitude. And those who might have felt their enslavement to be a crime reassured themselves by remembering that their state in Sorosis as slaves was infinitely better than it had been as free men in their own country. There they were divided into many small tribes, and constantly at warfare, and their ideas of war were barbarous and revolting.
So profitable was their service that in a short time other expeditions were formed for the purpose of bringing back more of the same unhappy race, and before the passage of many decades that part of Sorosis lying toward America was thickly populated with them.
The districts of Sorosis lying nearer the capital and toward the Russian side of the Arctic continent procured a few of those colored men, and enslaved them, for the purpose of experimenting with them as laborers. But these districts were devoted principally to manufacturing. They needed skilled laborers. They, therefore, did not find slaves profitable, and such of the brown race as had been enslaved were given their freedom.
But a nation cannot be divided against itself and thrive. And in those districts devoted to manufacturing there were still many thousands who earned their living by tilling the soil, and the slave labor of the agricultural districts could produce commodities cheaper than the free labor. It was very natural, therefore, that after a time the free laborers should bitterly protest, and demand the abolition of slavery. A great clamor arose. It rent the legislative halls. It divided the people. Every man and woman became a partisan. On the face it seemed as if the ethical was the only point under discussion; but it was the economical question that was, in fact, the vital one.
"We have one country and one religion," said Lesbia, sadly. "And the time is not long past when men and women from the most widely separated districts met as brothers and sisters. But that time is past. Hatred has taken the place of amity. We cannot even think kindly of the best actions of those opposed to us in this matter. I myself cannot keep the indignation out of heart. It seems to be boiling in my blood, in spite of my better judgment. I have kinsmen who own slaves, and now, though we have known and loved each other from childhood, I feel that I can no longer call them friends. At the capital the representatives of the people meet, not as citizens, but as hostile bands."
But it was easier to talk of other things than of threatening war, when I was alone with Lesbia. So I told her of all I hoped to do, how I meant to become more proficient in my Latin, how I hoped to buy a farm and build a beautiful home, and surround myself with trees and growing grain and flowers and animals, and live a happy life with such friends as I came to love. I dared say no more then. I once more spoke my thanks for all the happiness I enjoyed in her brother's house, and we parted.
The next few days were busy ones. I was very happy, for I was full of hope. Life seemed rich in possibilities. I spent a few pleasant days traveling about the country, making the selection of a farm from the land owned by the government. At last I found just what I wanted—a rolling stretch of upland, with exquisite little valleys, and a forked creek. I decided that I would build my house at the fork of this little stream. I walked about the place, making innumerable plans, when suddenly word came to me that I was wanted at the capital. The summons was from Sherwood. I was astonished, but I hastened thither, traveling on the electric road, which carried me toward the pole at the rate of seventy miles an hour. Sherwood had a little palace of basaltic stone, in which he lived, and had surrounded himself generally with the most obvious luxuries.
"Well!" I exclaimed, when I had been shown into his apartment, "this is getting on famously! How do you do this sort of thing?"
"Simply took it," said he. "There's nothing easier. The way to make money is to seem to have it."
"Your method is too brilliant for me." I responded. "It quite blinds me. I'm not made for such schemes."
"What are your schemes? That's what I called you up here for. Minehan has gone back on me. He says he likes to be a spectator, and that I am very exciting to look at. He's a fool, but he's an amusing one. I know you're made of more energetic stuff. So I called you up. Now what do you really intend doing?"
"I've thought of farming."
"But you've no capital. How can you get a farm and stock it?"
"There is plenty of uncultivated land which the government gives to any one who will go out and reside on it. I am young and strong. I can build my own house. And I have found a man who will loan me money to purchase stock and utensils. Money is only two per cent. interest here."
"Now, that is just what I want to talk with you about. You see, these people are comparatively on a level here. With the great productive capacity of this country, and plenty of money at two per cent., there is absolutely no chance to rise much above the common level. A few, with extraordinary ability, have accumulated a small fortune. The rest are all well off. The accumulation of a great fortune is impossible under conditions like the present ones. The financier is a drug on the market. In short, there is no opportunity for rising. But I see a loop-hole, Hyde. And I say that we were sent up here to stir up these dry bones. Now, I suppose you know that there is going to be a war. That much is pretty certain. And here is a chance to change the whole system. Four or five smart men can do it. And I want you to go in with me. If there is a war, production will be greatly retarded. Prices will rise. A great national debt will be created. Do you follow me?"
"I don't know that I do, exactly."
He leaned forward and put his long hand on my knee.
"My dear fellow," he said, impressively, "we must own that debt!"
"Stupid! Don't you see? When we own the debt, we own the country. We can take everything the people make, above the cost of living, in the way of interest. If we can only make the debt big enough, the interest high enough, and control the amount of money issued, the earth is ours—at least this Arctic continent is. It is a simple question of mathematics. I propose to let them fight for and against slavery until we own both parties—slaves and all. My boy, the people will themselves be slaves. A slave is a person whose labor-product, above the mere cost of living, is taken from him by another. It doesn't matter a penny's worth whether or not the slave is directed in his labor by the one who takes his product. If you leave the slave to direct his own labor, it saves a great many ethical complications. And these people are rather unpleasantly given to the discussion of ethics. Now, the only thing is to get them to make the debt big enough and the interest high enough. Then, my friend, owning the debt, and controlling the volume of money, we can control legislation. They are at liberty to continue to amuse themselves with their republic. The form of government makes very little difference to the true financier. Neither a democracy nor an autocracy can run the government without money. They can't have an officer without money to pay him. They can't pay him without taxation. The people can't pay taxes without money. Therefore, if we get hold of the money, and loan it to the people, and the people pay us in interest all that they get above the taxes and their maintenance, don't you see that we are the government? The people may think they are running things. It is certainly for our interest to let them think so. But in reality they control nothing. Suppose the government undertakes to cut through that peninsula of which you have heard them talk, so as to make a water route between the agricultural and manufacturing districts. They say it will take 100,000,000 denarii to do this. Now, of course, in itself the government hasn't a denarius. It must raise the money by taxation. The people could not pay more than one-fiftieth of it in a year. So the government must borrow the money. And from whom? My dear fellow, from the financier. If you doubt that the financier runs the country, you have only to imagine that the financier refuses to lend the government this money. Then what happens? Why, the government cannot blast a ton of rock. Of course, I am talking on the supposition that a government has a true system of finance—a money that is money."
I remember I looked at Sherwood, and laughed.
"You're a great talker," I said. "Think of your talking yourself into this palace—here within a stone's throw of the capitol building." I chaffed him some about his pomposity. I swear I did not take him seriously, nor grasp the cold diabolism of his scheme.
I felt that he was regarding me with some contempt, and I made an effort to get back into his good graces. "This money that is everywhere current here is queer looking stuff," I said. "Wonder how they ever came to use such stuff."
"I have been looking that matter up," he said. "When the first immigrants landed here they were without money. At first they had various makeshifts, such as strings of beads and hides of beasts, and jewels, all being made legal tender for debts by law. After a time they discovered a mine of aluminum, and the government put up a mint, and coined this into money. That was a very great advance. Then the government took possession of the mine, which is against all true principles of finance. That is what is the matter with this country. They have two mines now, one on the American side, and one on the Russian side. This money is coined by the government, and paid out in the course of government for salaries of officers and other expenses. This greatly reduces taxation, and makes money so plenty and cheap that it brings only two per cent. I hate a cheap money. It keeps everybody on a level. It makes financiering impossible."
I didn't take much interest in his important talking, but I feigned an interest, and said, quite as if I supposed him capable of doing anything he wanted to:
"But how do you propose to change their system? They will still have their mines, and work them."
"If they get to fighting, a scheme can be worked easily enough. A few charges of electrite, which they use in blasting, rightly employed, will fix things so that no more aluminum will ever be mined. Then our time will have arrived."
"Well," I said, rather irritably, "it seems to me a rather forlorn hope for a fortune. I am free to confess that I don't understand it at all. I have never studied these questions. I was always taught that gold and silver were the only true metals for coin, and I actually never supposed that people could live and do business with any other sort of money, unless they went back to barbarism, and swapped the articles they wished to exchange. That is, if a man had ten bushels of wheat, and wanted a pair of shoes and a coat, he would have to hunt up a tailor and a shoemaker who wanted wheat, and swap with them. That's what I was taught at school."
"There are things about finance that it won't do to teach in the schools."
"You can't understand, Hyde. It's no use. I hoped we could work together. But you're not qualified for it. It's not in your line."
"I guess you're right," I said. "And we would better work along different lines. But we're good friends, I hope, Sherwood?"
"Friends? Oh! we're friends all right. But we're not partners in this deal."
I felt relieved to hear it. I was sadly muddled. Whirling toward New Pompeii, the city where my Lesbia lived, I could not keep my mind off some of the strange things he had said, and this led me to thinking a little, in my stupid way, about the philosophy of money. I had always clung to the idea that gold and silver were the only metals out of which the money of civilized nations could be made. But here I found a people who got along in a state of universal comfort without a grain of either metal, although their commercial concerns were extensive. It had never before occurred to me that money is a creation of law, and that by law a government can make money out of gold, silver, copper, nickel, or any other material.
I WOULD gladly have kept away from Lesbia's house when I returned. I wanted to get at work. I was impatient with this infatuation, which would not let me go about my duties. But I seemed to have no choice in the matter. Even while I protested to myself that I would not visit her, I found myself at her door.
I did not have to wait for her. I heard her light step as she came running down the hall, and I turned to meet her with a feeling that was almost exaltation. But the second that my eyes fell upon her a chill struck my heart. Such misery I saw there that involuntarily I held out my arms, and I was not surprised when she came to them, and lifted a grief-stricken face to mine.
"It has come," she said, "sooner than my worst fears apprehended! My brother Lycurgus has sent me word. War has been declared. There can never come an end now except through terrible suffering. It means that our brothers and our fathers must be killed. It means that our homes must be destroyed. They are sacrificing us! Oh! they do not consider what it means for women! It is easy to fight. And when you are fighting it cannot be very hard to die. But to wait here—to dread"— She broke off, and paced the floor fast and faster, while I looked on stupidly at this anguish, against which I had no arguments.
"They will all be there," she went on, "Lycurgus in the front and brunt, and my cousins—they are like brothers to me—and Julius. He is hot with the subject. He says he is to ask for a command. He will command. Think of Julius!"
"You'll not be left alone," I cried. "I cannot in any way take the place of those you love, but I will stay here. I will look after your interests. If you need protection, it will be my happiest duty to give it to you. Do not speak as if you were friendless."
"But you will go, too!"
"I! Why should I go? I know nothing about the rights and wrongs of this matter. I have no concern in it. I want my farm—my quiet spot. I have no feeling in me that prompts me to slay my fellow-creatures."
Women are puzzling to me, or at least they were so then. This woman turned on me now with the grief suddenly gone out of her face, and in its place was a look of hauteur.
"The men I know are proud to go," she said. "Some of those I love are upon one side, and some upon the other. But all would scorn to stay home. The issue is too vital. We are fighting—we on this side—for the preservation of our undivided government. We are not a confederacy of provinces, each ruling its own petty state. We are a great nation, and in it will have only such institutions as the majority desire. And the majority, I hope, do not desire the enslavement of human beings. I would fight if I were a man. I could not live to enjoy in the future the peace which I had not helped to honorably purchase.
"Is this a command?" I asked.
"I have no right to command you," she said. But there was a flush upon her cheeks which had not been there a minute before.
"How do you reward victors?" I inquired.
She smiled with trembling lips.
"We let them choose their reward," she said.
I sprang toward her, but she evaded me, and the heavy bear-skin curtain dropped and left me alone.
I found my way out to the street. My head was swimming. I had bound myself to join in this fraternal strife. I had no heart in it, but I was willing to fight for my lady in the lists, and this appeared to be the way in which I was to do it. In a few days all was changed about the quiet-going town. That peculiar repose, which at first had struck me as being almost languor, was gone. The streets were filled with idle and excited men. With pulses leaping, how can men stay at the desk or the lathe? It seemed to me that the very voices were changed of the men as they talked together. Each issue of the papers brought news of the plans that the government was making for defense and attack. The drill of the recruits was on every vacant square. In the evening the citizens listened to speeches, and, inflamed with fierceness, arose the next morning to join the ranks. Music lured the men as well as words, and to the pleasing piping of military airs, hundreds of young fellows went gayly marching away to their death. Julius led out such a company, and Lesbia stood on the portico and waved a farewell to him as he marched by at the head of his column, with his bright blue uniform on, and she never wept. She stood there when, a few days later, I myself went by. And I knew that neither did she weep for me. The women had grown fiercer than the men.
"Fight," they said; "we will make lint for your wounds. Fight!" I felt like a man impelled by some outward fate. It was as if I were devil-driven. The enthusiasm held me fast. I was ready to die for my cause, but I protest there were times when I forgot what my cause was. I do not wish to go into the details of what followed. Who wants to hear of the march by night, of the attack at dawn, and the horrible screeching of the shells, and the sudden swift fall of bullet-pierced men, and the night torment on the battlefield, where men die in touch of each other, and may not give aid, and the crueler experience of prison, and the hospital, and the discharge at last, when the cause has been won, and the men who won it return to pick up the dropped thread of their lives?"
It is a tale that is not for my telling.
I wish only to speak of something which occurred when the war had lasted two years. The war had not been alone with bodies and weapons. It had been with our very souls. We had become educated in hate. We had made an art of it. Villain, traitor, hireling, rebel, invader, vandal, were words very common on the tongue. The land was full of the dead, the wounded, of widows and orphans. The army of the states toward America, those which had desired to secede, called itself the Liberty army. The other was called the Freedom army. And Liberty and Freedom were straining every nerve to annihilate each other. There seemed to be only two calm persons in the whole land. One was General Lycurgus. He had been calm all the time, because he had argued the thing out satisfactorily to his military understanding. From the beginning he saw the end.
The other calm man was my friend John Sherwood. He was calm because his financial schemes were working to perfection. During the first year of the war, by the aid of one Colonel Demetrius, who was left to guard a port, the enemy was allowed to slip through the lines and completely destroy the money mine which belonged to the Freedom faction, and the product of which was furnishing the money to carry on the war. Sherwood put the matter before General Lycurgus in his own peculiar way.
"Where is the money to come from to carry on this war?" he asked. "Think of the millions it takes to pay the officers and soldiers—to furnish sustenance and ammunition, transportation and all the supplies. The government has nothing, while the enemy retain their mine, and coin the money they want."
"It's too late to do anything," the General said, gloomily. "There was treachery somewhere. The capture of the mine could have been prevented. By every law of war it should have been prevented if my directions had been followed."
Sherwood smiled. He cast a patronizing look at Lycurgus, who sat with his head resting on his thin hand. I was there, too. It was at his temporary headquarters at Roma, a small city just at the dividing line of the two sections. It was hard to tell why Sherwood was there. He had not engaged in the conflict.
"Well, you've got to stop fighting, or get money," Sherwood said, coldly.
Lycurgus did not move or speak.
Sherwood regarded him steadily, and at last the General said:
"Sherwood, you are in close relations with our government. They accept your counsels. They think of your ideas. Since we cannot get aluminum, let us get something else for money. We selected aluminum, and passed a law making it money. We can shift to suit the times and the exigency, and take some other metal."
Sherwood leaped to his feet excitedly. His smile was gone.
"You don't understand the subject at all," he shouted. "And, when I come to think of it, I don't know that you can be expected to do so. Fighting is your trade. Permit me to suggest something in your own line. Take a handsome revenge for this wrong done us. Destroy the mine of the enemy. Then they will be on a par with us. If none of us can pay, feed and clothe our armies, we will have to disband them."
"That mine can be captured," said the General, doubtfully. "I can do it, but it will prolong the war another year. I shall have to change the whole plan of campaign. I will be obliged to convey large bodies of troops to very distant points, and the cost of transportation will be enormous."
"But there is no alternative," said Sherwood, pressing his point hard.
"It is better to prolong the war than to suffer defeat. And if they can pay their troops, and we cannot, it is evident that we must soon capitulate. Get their mine, and you fight on a fair field."
"I can destroy the mine a great deal quicker and easier than I can hold it."
"Destroy it, then! Destroy it!" shouted Sherwood.
John Sherwood had become a well-known man. He had found congenial spirits among those high in the affairs of the nation. He was much with these men. They were all of them given to large commercial dealings. The war offered an opportunity for them to make enormous contracts to furnish supplies. Sherwood had a genius for enterprise. He began by borrowing money of his friends, and giving them a certain per cent. of the profits he made by his investments and speculations. At last he formed a syndicate with five of these men—Damalio, Clio, Abacis, Bacorio and Enipo. These men set about a scheme, which they laid out with elaborate care. It was a damnable thing, coolly planned—a scheme to defraud, to impoverish, to make miserable.
The climate of Sorosis requires, for six months in the year, somewhat heavy clothing. The fiber from which this clothing is made requires two years for its growth and manufacture. When the war first broke out, John Sherwood and his friends bought up and stored away all of this material which could be found in the country. This syndicate, by the way, called itself by the first three letters of the Latin alphabet, and I may, therefore, refer to them as the A B C's.
It seems hardly necessary to tell what followed, it is so obvious. At the end of the first year the troops were in rags, and clothing and bedding for them could not be obtained. Thousands of them slept on the ground, without so much as a blanket to wrap over their thin clothing. Their sufferings grew intense. The hospitals were filled with the sick and dying, and among those who died was my happy friend Tom Minehan. The women took the clothes from their own bodies, and sent them to their loved ones. General Lycurgus told me one night that the want of clothing had caused forty thousand deaths, which was more than the loss incurred in three of the greatest battles. It became necessary for the men to have clothing at any price. And then the A B C's sold out their stock at five times what it cost them. If, under any other name than financiering, a syndicate of men had filled forty thousand graves with soldiers, the rest of that army would have employed itself in digging a grave of the syndicate. But no crime, however foul, is punishable, if it can, by any stretch of imagination, be termed financiering. In short, success is its own justification in the eyes of most men, and the godly quote such success as an evidence of ability.
This transaction brought into the hands of the syndicate a vast sum of money, and the members became persons of great importance. Before this was begun, a man who was worth one hundred thousand denarii was considered very rich, but here were five or six men who were worth a million each, and the word "millionaire" was coined and came into general use. I am a simple man, and have not the faculty of thinking very keenly, and I do not like vituperation, yet as I think of it all now, it seems to me that these "millionaires" should be called "murderers," for to get their millions they had murdered by slow torture, forty thousand men, besides many women and children.
The savage looks imperturbably at the mutilated remains of his victim. And the financier is not dismayed at the death of forty thousand men, for there is no relation between financiering and morality.
THE plan of campaign necessary to capture the "Liberty" mine was begun. But the government owned that it did not know how to carry on the venture. It was in the utmost perplexity as to where to get money. At last the treasurer of the government went to the millionaires to borrow. John Sherwood acted as their spokesman, and said they had no money to loan. The treasurer went back to the capital and called a council. It was a fearful hour. The cause so dear to them all seemed lost. The treasurer was an old man; he had devoted his life to the nation; he was a true patriot; now, sitting there with the tears rolling bitterly down his face, he told the council that every avenue was closed; that the cause was lost.
But that night, while the whole city was in gloom, word came from General Lycurgus of a great victory. His new combinations had worked. The enemy was in full retreat, and the mine was in his possession.
Then came the rejoicings! The buildings were gay with colored fabrics, flung in festoons from window and cornice. The bands came out, and marched through the streets, playing patriotic airs. Men fell on each other's necks when they met. The women wiped their tears of sorrow, and shed tears of joy. At the schools the teachers explained to the children that the government would now have plenty of money, and the enemy would have none. While the festivities were at this height the council was called together again. They met, and all night long remained together. When they came out their faces were grave. In the face of the treasurer there was despair.
Shortly after this a bulletin was posted on the walls of the capitol building:
"Word is received that the Liberty aluminum mine has been destroyed by the orders of General Lycurgus. It was almost immediately blown up with electrite."
I was lying in the hospital then at New Pompeii. Lesbia came to me with the news.
"What does it mean?" she said. "There has been some horrible blunder."
She was reading the list of killed, captured and wounded, which was of melancholy length. Julius had been captured. She lay with her head sunk in the wrappings of my cot, and I offered her nothing but silent sympathy.
"It is said that at the last Lycurgus doubted the expediency of blowing up the mine," she said, "but Demetrius counseled otherwise."
"Doubtless," I rejoined, "for I have my own opinion that it was he who permitted the destruction of our mine. That man is a traitor. He is in league with our new millionaires."
"Do you think so? It is hard to believe."
"It is true," I said. "Just as true as that your brother is of childlike simplicity. In military ways he is a genius; in other things he is a fool. A little more suspicion would be good for him. He trusts the counsels of every knave." Lesbia arose angrily.
"You are very unjust," she said. "I did not think to hear such words from you." But I was too sore at heart just then to care for a rebuke, even when it came from my dear love.
Every one in the city was dismayed, excepting the millionaires. They were depressed only when the cause of the Freedom army and of our government was prospering.
Meanwhile the treasurer, pressed to the wall, had no choice but to go to them once more with a prayer for money. He put the case before him. Many of the Freedom army had not been paid for six months. They had been exposed to every privation, they had fought in many battles, they had gone without the comforts promised them, and yet they had made no complaint. But he was treated with contempt. He left them and went back alone to his chamber at the capitol, to review the situation. It looked as if those men out on the field, protecting home and country with their lives, were about to be defrauded of all that was due them. Both mines had been destroyed. The bulk of such money as there was coined was in the possession of the millionaires. The old patriot, skilled as he had been in the management of the finances of an honest country, could see no way out of the difficulty into which dishonesty had plunged the state.
At this time General Sergius, who commanded the third division of the army under General Lycurgus, came to the city to have his wounds treated. He had had no pay for a year, and as he was a poor man, much sympathy was expressed for him and his family. He had the highest credentials that could be given him by his commander-in-chief, and he ventured to take these and present them to the millionaires, asking for a loan, with such security as the debt owed him by the government would offer. But he did not get one denarius.
This incident puzzled the General. They could not easily understand how it was that these men did not consider the government good security. He went to the old treasurer with his trouble.
"If we cannot get any of the money we have been in the habit of using," he said, "why do we not make money out of something else?"
"That's all very well," the treasurer said, "but if we did, no one would accept it."
"We will make the people accept it, sir. Pay me with it, and I will write a receipt in full. The army will see to it that it is accepted."
A few days after the treasurer submitted to the council a proposition for the government to issue money to other material than aluminum, and the council did issue 100,000,000 denarii of paper money, and declared that it should be legal tender for all debts, public and private. The millionaires were wild with rage, and besieged the council, day after day, to repeal the law. But the council replied that the only alternative was to disband the army and surrender in the very teeth of victory. So the money was issued. The army was paid, war material accumulated, and the country saved.
"The repeal of the law is the only thing," Sherwood said to me. "And we will bring it about yet." He had come to see me just before I was discharged from the hospital. I could not imagine why he did it. His presence was hateful to me. And there was certainly nothing in me to attract him. I sometimes thought he overestimated my abilities, and kept up a friendship for the purpose of learning my plans. Yet he was always taking me into his confidence, and was forever remarking that he regretted that I could not have been induced to go in with him in his plans. He got into a deal of trouble with the other members of the syndicate. No one, not even his fellow thieves, trusted him. At one of the meetings of the syndicate Clio accused him of being a traitor of their cause.
"You induced us," he complained, "to put all we had into aluminum, and for two years we have been accumulating that metal, until we have secured about all there is in the country. Now that we have it lying in our vaults, what good is it doing us? We cannot eat it, drink it, wear it, or do anything else with it. I cannot see that it has as much value as the same amount of steel or iron. We might as well have it hauled to the smelter and cast into drinking-cups. The government can make as much of this paper money as it pleases. It can buy all its supplies with it; it can pay all of its debts, and there will be so much of it that interest rates will run down to nothing. Then, instead of living in palaces, upon interest which the government was to collect and pay over to us, we will have to go to work and produce something to live upon, just like the common herd."
Sherwood told me about this himself that day he was at the hospital with me.
"I acknowledge that the outlook is pretty bad at present," he said. "But no one could have foreseen that the government would proclaim itself dishonored, and put its dishonesty into the form of law. It has disgraced itself for all time to come. To make paper a legal tender is nothing less than a crime. They call it a military necessity. But necessity does not excuse a thing like that. However, the case is not yet hopeless, for aluminum is still money. Damalio was hard on me, too. He remarked, quite truly, that there was very little consolation in the fact that aluminum was still money. He pointed out that, if the war went on in this way, it would close without having produced a national debt. Of course, that would knock all chance for financiering sky-high. We may have money, but so will every one else. No one will want to borrow, he said, or if they do, there will be so many who want to lend, that interest will not be high enough to accumulate any of the great fortunes that we have all been planning to have. He said we should have loaned the money to the government that the treasurer asked for. That would have prevented the issuing of paper money. Of course, that was true enough. And I intended to let the treasurer have the money eventually. But I wanted to wait until the government was in such straits that it would be willing to give me a bond to pay double the amount and six per cent. on the whole of this, and if they had not devised this dishonest paper-money scheme, they would have been forced to do it. I went on the supposition that there was a little financial honor left in the officers of the government. But I said to them, and I say now to you, that the case is not hopeless. I have brought considerable pressure to bear upon some members of the government. I have shown them that an unlimited issue of paper money will bring ruin. And I think a number of them are in favor of modifying the law.
I RETURNED to my regiment, and took my place in the ranks again. For two years more war, with its vicissitudes, continued—victory, defeat, cold, long marches, wounds, days of horrible illness, nights of fearful apprehension, now in the ranks and now in the hospital, and, at last, a culmination of the worst terrors of war in one frantic, ill-conducted battle—and final victory.
I received my pay, and went home.
But after a war it is always difficult to find home.
The towns seemed changed. There was a gloom upon them. The faces of the women had lost their vivacity. All of them showed the tortures of waiting and fearing.
I hastened to Lesbia. It seems strange that there should have been no joy in our meeting. I had found my thoughts of her the one bright thing in all the years of disaster just passed. Her letters had put courage into me, and pride, and happiness. I fought not so much for my new country as for the approval of my love. Yet now, when the hour of which I had unceasingly dreamed was really come, and I held her in my arms and looked into her familiar eyes, there seemed to be a weight at my heart. The shadow of those blasted years darkened the present. The smoke of battle still hung before us.
Julius was wounded so that he would be incapacitated for manual work for the rest of his days, and his long experience in prison had ruined his general constitution.
Lesbia's old father was dead. The horror of war was so revolting that he could not endure it, and so closed his eyes on a distressing world. The General, her brother, bore fresh wounds. Of her kin, several had died on both sides. Suffering had made her heart old, and it was with none of the fresh delight that I had always pictured in connection with my association with her that we were married one day, quietly, and took up our burden of life together.
I had a few hundred denarii, and Lesbia a trifling fortune from the estate of her father. Altogether there was fifteen hundred denarii—enough, as we thought, to being with, for persons of frugal habits. Besides, we had some books and pictures, and these made our stock seem less contemptible.
"We can have a beautiful home, even though it is a simple one," Lesbia said.
She was trying hard, poor girl, to put a little romance into our commonplace lot. But life was rather grim for us, and I knew that the joy of first youth had somehow taken to itself wings.
I purchased a farm valued at two thousand denarii, paid one thousand down, and got the rest on ten years' time, at ten per cent. interest. Things had greatly changed in four years, and that was the rate of interest everywhere current. I did not do this hastily, for I was averse to debt. I talked the matter over with such friends as I thought understood the whole situation. Wheat was selling for two denarii per measure, and I calculated that I could raise four hundred measures on my farm each year. Other things could be raised to the value of one hundred denarii. That would give us an income of nine hundred denarii. We could live on five hundred and fifty, and lay by three hundred and fifty to pay the mortgage, and repair wear and tear. So we figured.
Wheat is a certain crop in this country, and, as it varied but little from year to year, I looked forward to rather easy success, for, I said to myself, it is obvious that people must always have bread. In ten years I hoped to have my little farm free.
In some ways the farm-life offered many allurements. The love of nature was born in me. I was not intended for life in a city. I loved to plow the ground, watch the growing grain, draw in the fresh perfume of the earth, and live continually among the changing miracles of the seasons. I congratulated myself that, being in the very prime of life, and a strong man, in spite of my one troublesome wound, I ought, with the help of the woman who loved me, to enjoy life exceeding well. My brother-in-law, Lycurgus, settled not far from us, and went to work on a farm also. Julius was an experimental chemist, and he combined a laboratory and a farm, and lived near us in a quiet way. The fine old house in the city had been sold, and we divided the beautiful things which it contained among us, and so settled down to a toil which, though monotonous, was enlivened by hope and friendship.
For the next few years we lived happily. I paid my interest regularly twice a year, and laid by a little to meet the maturing mortgage. After that, wheat began to decline in price, and I redoubled my energies. I rose earlier, and went to bed later. Lesbia helped in every way. She sacrificed her pleasures in order that we might save. She made over her clothes with pathetic patience, and patched and repatched. Sometimes she came into the field and insisted on helping me. One day such an offer brought a terrible revelation to me.
There had been a bad wind the night before, and our wheat-shocks were blown down. So the next day I went about the field, lifting up the heavy bundles. It was stifling—the heat—that day. Not a breath of air was stirring, and the dull throbbing of my head told me how prominent was the electricity in the atmosphere. Lesbia came out to the field, and stood looking at me a few moments, with a strange expression on her face. Then she said:
"I am going to help you. Oh! it won't do you any good to tell me that you do not like to see me working in the field. I know that very well. I don't particularly like working there myself. But I can see very well that you must have help. Your wound is bothering you—you needn't tell me it is not."
The manner in which she worked, so fiercely as if she was afraid she would not sufficiently save me, and in which she turned now and then to look at me with a new anxiety in her face, aroused a suspicion that work and years must be telling upon me. That night, as I lay in bed, I brought myself to face the thought that my best days were past. That hour comes to every man, no doubt—an hour when he owns to himself that his best vigor is spent. And for any it must be an hour of despondency which it takes the highest fortitude to meet philosophically. Words cannot describe what a sinking of the heart it causes. It seemed to tear every pleasant illusion from my eyes. Never had the farm looked so discouraging, the house so bare, my dear wife so weary.
"Your shoes are full of holes," I said to her, almost petulantly, the next morning. "Why do you not get some new ones?"
"These will do," she said softly, "very well, indeed."
"They will not do very well," I retorted, angrily. "I do not want my wife wearing such things. You must get another pair, Lesbia."
"No, I must not," she said, gently. "We lack twenty-five denarii of having money enough to pay the interest, and a pair of shoes will cost three denarii. After we get the money for the interest, we will get the shoes."
It was true. The day of judgment was drawing near, and for the first time I did not have the money to pay the interest. I had a large crop of wheat, but it would not be ready for market in time to meet the demand. It seemed to me, in the days that followed, that I had only one thought—work. I staggered from my bed in the morning, with aching bones and dizzy head, to hurry to the field. At night I dreamed of toiling, toiling! I could feel the sweat running down my face in my dreams. Lesbia exerted herself no less. I tried to shut my eyes to the fact that she was dressing in rags. Our table was supplied with only the cheapest food. Sometimes Lesbia prepared a little delicacy, but she herself would only taste it. She gave it to me, and feigned not to care for it. The day for the payment of the interest came, and I was delinquent. To prevent a foreclosure, I borrowed the money, at a rate of fifteen per cent. interest. I looked forward to righting things with my wheat. But when I marketed my wheat the price had fallen so low that, instead of getting eight hundred denarii for the four hundred measures, I received only two hundred. During the six years I had been on the farm, wheat had fallen from two denarii per measure to one-half denarii. When I brought the little roll of money home, I laid it on the table and told Lesbia to count it. She did so, slowly.
"Is that all?"
"It is all!"
She folded her hands and looked for a long time out of the window. Over her face came a look of horror, such as I remembered to have seen on it that fateful day, years ago, when the war had broken out, and I was leaving her. It was not with passion, but with an accent of despair, that she said at last:
"This is worse than war. The carnage of battle is better than this! To die in the excitement of battle is not so bad, but to be forced from your home and driven forth like beggars"—
"Don't!" I said. "Don't, my dear. There must be some way—some possible way—in a productive country like this for an honest man to make a living."
She shook her head.
"I cannot see it," she responded. "When we came on the farm wheat was two denarii a measure, and our vegetables and other products brought us one hundred denarii per annum That made, in all, nine hundred denarii. Now the wheat is one-half denarius a measure, and the other things have fallen proportionately in price, so that, instead of getting nine hundred denarii for our work, we get only two hundred and fifty. If we add to that your pension of forty-eight denarii, we have still less than half the amount we made the first year. We would have been a great deal better off it we had never had any pensions at all, and the prices had remained the same."
"I saw General Sergius this morning, said I; "he was going by toward the village. When he comes back I will ask him in. I think we might feel better if we talked with him." For this devoted patriot had also settled near us.
"I don't see how he or any other could help us. Besides, the General is in much the same trouble that we are. It is true that he is a man used to thinking about the reason of things. But all of his cleverness has not kept him out of debt."
We sat and watched by the window in silence for a long time. I gave myself up to gloomy fancies, and once it seemed to me that I was in the midst of a moving wall which approached me on all sides, and threatened to crush me altogether. Sitting there, I saw the General returning, and went to the door and called him in.
The General had a kindly eye, and such a gracious manner that he always spread confidence and cordiality about him. He was by nature an optimist—the last man in the world to admit the existence of any trouble that could be avoided. Lesbia smiled at him in something of her old way. She had a simple and graphic way of telling things, and I let her lay our little story before him—a story so meager and so pathetic! He looked at her keenly, and once, when she was talking, he lifted one of her hands gently in his, and regarded its worn and hardened flesh gravely.
"So you want to know what has become of those four hundred and fifty denarii which you ought to have had for this year's crop," he said, when she had finished. "I can tell you. John Sherwood stole them."
"John Sherwood!" she exclaimed. "I have not seen him for years. He has nothing to do with our affairs. How could he steal our money?"
"Well, he and his confederate millionaires have stolen it. They call it by another name, but stealing is the right name for it."
Lesbia regarded the General with a slight frown.
"I do not understand you," she said. "Perhaps you can explain what you mean so that I will be able to understand you. Other people get along. How is it that we cannot?"
"Go out and talk with your neighbors, and you will find that they are all in the same straits." Then, turning to me, he said: "Hyde, why don't you join the Farmers' League?"
"I have been invited to. But I thought it would pay me better to mind my own business, and stay at home and work."
"Well, you have stayed at home and worked with faithfulness, and you have just been telling me how it paid you."
"But this is not what we were talking about," interrupted Lesbia. "You were going to explain to me how it was that John Sherwood had stolen our money."
The General turned his kind blue eyes upon her, and as he regarded her troubled face I saw an expression of terrible indignation creep into his eyes.
"It is impossible for me to explain it in a few words," he said. "But it is a fact that he and his confederates have in their possession not only the profits of this farm, earned by your toil, but they have also in their possession the profits of thousands of other farms. Not only have they stolen the profits of the farms, but they have, in many cases, purloined the farm, buildings and improvements, and now hold the title deeds. At the end of ten years they will have filched your farm, and you will be turned out, with no place to call your own. You, Hyde, who fought for four years to save this nation, you, whom all men should honor, you will be a beggar, and the government will send you to an almshouse, called a soldiers' home, and then boast of its generosity, while allowing John Sherwood to appropriate the fruits of years of your toil. That's what the end will be."
The eye of the General was flashing, and he spoke with a vehemence and power that thrilled us. The great scar on his cheek had turned into a vivid streak of red. He drew himself up to his full height, and stood like a lion at bay. So I fancy he must have looked facing a whirlwind of shell and shot.
Lesbia first broke the silence.
"Still I do not understand," she said, sadly. "I see very well that the time is coming when we must lose this farm. But I do not see what John Sherwood has to do with it. You are eloquent, General, but I think my soul is too weary to be affected by eloquence. These are the facts—they are very homely and uninteresting ones: We borrowed money of a loan company. We have worked hard, but we have not even been able to keep up the interest on that loan. John Sherwood has had nothing to do with the loan, or with us. You must talk more simply."
The General got back suddenly to himself, and smiled at her kindly.
"I cannot tell you now," he said, gently. "But come to my house and visit me. The press of work is over, and you can spend a few days with me—both of you. And you shall hear the whole story."
LESBIA always spoke of our visit to General Segius as "going to school." We learned, that much is certain, and we had the most illuminating of instructors. I had not got well into this new branch of knowledge before I discovered that John Sherwood was right when he said that there were some things about finance which were not taught in the schools. I realized for the first time that there was not a text-book in existence which explained the effect of the volume of money upon prices. The teachers of political economy must know, but they dare not teach it. At least, none that I had ever listened to had taught it. But it may be that in that part of America where I was born, the great Republic of the United States, no one has ever felt the oppression of dear money. The first lesson is memorable; I cannot say that I had very much interest in it. I was tired almost to death—tired of continual work, unrelieved by amusement—tired of incessant failure—tired of the wrinkles in Lesbia's face, which even my kisses could not smooth—tired of my coarse clothes, and my laborious days, unbroken by mental uplifting. So I sat me down, wearily, in the little study at the General's house, where I could look out over a pleasant meadow, and was more grateful for the opportunity of resting than that of learning. With Lesbia it was different. She was alert; her eyes were bright; she was determined to get at the foundation of things. Her long gray gown, with its classic folds, fell about her strong, still beautiful frame, and that noble head was poised in the old proud fashion.
"You must speak in a simple manner," she said to the General. "I'm stupid at best, and, besides, I know nothing at all about these matters of money and production, and exchange and fair compensation. I barely know that there are such things. I am sorry I am so ignorant"—
"Am I ever guilty," he interrupted, "of verbosity or of pretension?"
Lesbia protested vehemently. "But you know," she said, in conclusion, "that those ideas are entirely new to us. The most difficult thing the human mind is called upon to do is to receive a perfectly new idea. Do you suppose I have forgotten the first time I read that 'two planes which are perpendicular to the same straight line are parallel to each other'? There is not a word in the sentence which is not in common use. The sentence is simple. And yet the words conveyed no idea at all to me. Now, my mind is in much the same case at present. When I try to think about money I find that my mind is a perfect blank. It holds nothing at all on the subject. No impressions have been taken, as a photographer would say. If you should ask me what is a denarius, I could not answer."
The General walked the floor for a time in silence.
"I see the difficulty you speak of," he said at length, "and I realize that it is very great. So at first we will not touch upon theory, but will confine ourselves to a few statements of fact. Before the war we had no millionaires in this country. Now we have several thousand of them. Before the war the wealth of the country was distributed with comparative evenness. Not only did we have no millionaires, but we had no able-bodied paupers. Before the war agriculture prospered. Men bought land on time, and paid for it. Now agriculture is depressed, and if a man buys land on time, and attempts to pay for it from the proceeds of the soil, so low are the prices for his products that he is almost sure to fail in his attempt, and not only loses his land, but all that he has paid on it. Before the war there was work for every one. Now there are thousands of men who cannot procure employment. These are facts which all men admit. No perplexity so far?"
"None. But I do not know the reason of all this. I cannot tell why the price of wheat has fallen from two denarii to one-half denarius a measure. If it had stayed at the old price, we could have paid off the mortgage on the farm. When we bought the farm it took only five hundred measures of wheat to pay the mortgage. Now it takes two thousand measures. How does it happen that we have to give the loan company fifteen hundred more measures of wheat than we agreed to give?"
"John Sherwood stole that fifteen hundred measurers of wheat and applied it to his own use," said the General.
"That is what you said before," said Lesbia, "and now you must tell us how. I believe that some one has got fifteen hundred measurers of wheat for nothing, and that, I suppose, is stealing; but I do not see how it was done, and I do not know, to my own satisfaction, who did it."
"I will not answer that question now, because it might be that you would not understand. You see I remember your admonition to be direct and simple. I prefer to demonstrate this. You understand geometry. This is as exact as any proposition. You remember, do you not, the day that the aluminum mine was destroyed, and the despair of the government, and the frightful search for money? You remember, too, how the country was saved by the issuing of paper money? I was at the capitol, and saw what a furore that act created among the millionaires. My wounds had incapacitated me for active service, and I stayed on duty at the capitol for a long time, in charge of the provost marshal's office. I had a good chance, through the secret service, to keep an outlook on the millionaires. I knew they were plotting together. I saw that one of my officers was present at most of their secret meetings. His written report is filled among the archives of the secret service. While I knew all that was going on, I was as ignorant of money and its uses as you are now, and I could not comprehend what purpose these traitors had in view. At their first meeting they resolved that every effort must be made to have the law issuing paper money modified. The paper money was a legal tender for debt, and they persuaded the council to change the law so that the money should pay for the debt the government owed the soldiers, but that it should not pay any loan the government might make. The next thing these clever fellows did was to get the government to declare that aluminum was the only money and the standard by which everything else in all the world, to which any value attached, was to be measured. After that, they induced the government not to make any more paper money, but, when it wanted money, to borrow of the millionaires. The government followed these directions. When it wanted money, instead of making paper money, it went to the millionaires to get money, and offered them 6 per cent. interest, and agreed to pay them back, not in the same kind of money that the government accepted from them, but it promised that principal and interest were to be in aluminum."
The General went to his cabinet and got a roll of papers out, and from the roll he selected one.
"This," he said, "is a report of the secret service officer of one of the meetings of the millionaires. The millionaires seemed highly elated over the late action of the government. John Sherwood made a speech, in which he said the government had at last got on a sound basis. It would be forced to borrow many millions, and, as the loan was to be paid in aluminum, it looked as though a reasonable system had been reached. Aluminum, he said, was scarce and hard to get. And the greater part of it was held by a few who understood the art of manipulating it. 'We have the most of the aluminum,' he said, 'and as the government has no mine from which to get the metal, and has promised to pay the loan in that material, it is evident that it will have to get the aluminum from us. It, therefore, follows that we can charge the government what we please for aluminum. For it must have it, and from us only can it get it.'
"Clio replied. He said: 'This looks all right, but I do not forget what a disastrous turn you gave to our affairs once before by pressing the government too hard. If it had not been for that blunder, the government would never have issued paper money at all. You will remember that I opposed your action then, and I will oppose it now, unless you can show me how the government is going to get the aluminum to pay the interest and principal of this loan. The government hasn't an ounce of aluminum, and if it has to get it from the syndicate, and syndicate is governed by you, you will hold the metal so high that the government will again escape us, and our affairs will suffer a severer set-back than they did before.' 'I have found,' admitted Sherwood, 'that you can press a people about so far, and no farther. I think that I know the limit now. I will not insist upon going quite as far as before.'
"After that," continued the General, "the next move on their parts was to"—
But I interrupted him.
"Wait a moment," I pleaded. "I believe I will have to think this over. I begin to see the light, but my eyes are not used to it."
"Oh, think! think!" cried the General. "That is what I want you to do! You ought to have done some thinking a long time ago. If you had thought to enough purpose, you would not have been so defrauded as you have been. If you would have perceived that, though slavery has been abolished by constitutional amendment, the people have permitted themselves to be made slaves."
"Let this end our first lesson, General," I begged. "I am going out to walk in this pleasant meadow. I want to be alone."
Lesbia said nothing. Her eyes were shaded by her worn hand, and I could not see them.
LESBIA was waiting for me at the gate when I came back.
"Remus, the General's neighbor, was just here," she said, animatedly, "and he told me that the farmers are to have a meeting to-night, and that he would like you to come. It is a meeting of the League of which the General has told us. There will be many women there, Remus says, and he begged that I would attend with you. And I should greatly like it, if I may." She looked at me wistfully.
"Why not go?" I asked.
"And Remus says," she went on, rather excitedly, "that they meet for electioneering purposes. I thought if we went, it might help us to understand these things which are so puzzling us."
As soon as the evening meal was over we all started together for the meeting. I was surprised to find nearly all the farmers of the neighborhood there, with their wives. They greeted me warmly, and said they very much wondered that I had not been there before. After some simple opening exercises, the chairman declared that discussions were in order, and said that any and all were invited to speak.
The first speaker went over much the same ground that General Sergius had in our "first lesson." The next speaker spoke as follows:
"I have thought long over our present situation. And I think I see a way of escape. They say history repeats itself. If this is so, conditions also repeat themselves. I think we can do not better than to go back to the ways of our grandfathers. We must produce everything that is absolutely necessary to existence on each of our farms. That is to say, we must be free from the need of purchasing. We can raise our own food. We can make our own clothing. Our women can take to the loom and distaff as of old. So we can live, buying nothing, and once more independent. Independence is better than any degree of luxury. It will matter little to us then whether wheat is one denarius or five denarii per measure. For we will neither buy nor sell."
Then another farmer arose, and said:
"My brother can well afford to do that, for he is one of the few among us who is not in debt. If we owed nothing, we might find independence in the way that he suggests. But our farms are mortgaged. Therefore, it makes all the difference that lies between success and failure, whether wheat is one or five denarii a measure. The question with most of us is, how are we to get money to pay our debts? We cannot create money. Yet the government says we must pay in money. That is the law. The only way I can get money is by raising wheat. Wheat I can create. I take one grain of wheat, and put it in the ground, and I get fifty grains. I am responsible for the creation of forty-nine grains of wheat. I exchange that for denarii, and with denarii I pay my debts. But, after all, I am practically paying my debts with wheat. Now it seems to me that when I contract to pay a loan with one hundred measures of wheat, by some power which I do not understand the debt increases until I am forced to pay five hundred measures of wheat in order to release that debt. In other words, in addition to the interest, I pay four hundred measures more of wheat than I contracted to pay."
It was then that a man sprang to his feet whom I had never seen before. He was much better dressed that most of us, and his hands showed conspicuously white in contrast to the brown and calloused hands that the rest of us had.
"I believe in honesty," he cried. "If a man borrows a thousand denarii, he should pay back a thousand. I am bound to say that you farmers are the worst grumblers on earth. The weather is always too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. If you cannot get money you growl, and if you can get it you still growl because you have to pay it out. What are you asking for? Do you want your honest debts repudiated?"
"Who is that man?" I asked of my neighbor.
"Oh, he claims to be a farmer because he owns some land. He never did a real day's work in his life."
For some time I had not noticed Lesbia, so deeply interested had I been in what was being said around me. Now, by chance, I looked at her. Her cheeks were deeply flushed, and her eyes were sparkling. One hand, I saw, was nervously clutching the edge of the seat. Just then the chairman said;
"We have heard from several of the men, but thus far the women have only listened, though they must have their share to tell of this perplexing story. We would be glad to listen to any of them."
To my utter astonishment, Lesbia arose slowly to her feet. Something of the old stateliness which I had noticed in her in other and more prosperous days came back to her. It seemed incredible to me that my gentle, modest, retiring girl should be there on her feet before all of those people.
"I did not know that anything could make me speak before so many," she said. Her tones were tense. "Nothing but a great sorrow could give me voice. To-night it has come to me to see, as I have never seen before, the whole long road over which I have traveled thus far in my life. Usually it is almost as hard to see distinctly that which has passed as that which is to come. But to-night I remember—I remember everything," and I see the significance of things. Years ago I was very happy. I thought work was a privilege. Rest was only the spice of work. Life seemed an opportunity for accomplishment. It seemed to me that I had more energy and more happiness in me than I could find time in the short lease of life to rightly expend. When I married and went with my husband to the piece of land which we called our own, I felt as if life could hold nothing more. It is true that the ground was not really our own, but I felt that it soon would be. I told myself that all we had to do was to be patient for a little while, and to work. And it is easy to be patient and to work when there is hope in the heart. Besides, we loved the ground. We liked the smell of its fallowness. It was always a miracle that the plants, the grains, the fruit, came up out of the ground. It was like having God speak straight to us. To raise a field of grain is almost like creating it. You seem for a time to be in partnership with the Creator. I did not mind rising very early in the morning and going to bed late at night. I did not mind when my body ached and my head was dizzy with fatigue. I continually saw in my mind's eye the end, when we should have for our own, always, the beautiful field which we were rescuing from the wild. My responsibilities grew year by year. But I subdued the body. I thought only of our independence. I was willing to bear my full share of the burden. I have helped to plow, to sow, to reap. But I could not stand it to see him I loved so bowed with labor, and do nothing to help him. His face seemed to me to be changing every day. It was growing haggard. Besides, it had a look of being conquered. I sometimes thought it looked like the face of a slave. That, more than anything else, pierced my heart. My happiness was gone. It was not that I was tired of work, or that I was afraid of the responsibilities that had come upon me. It was that I could not see the end—it was impossible to longer anticipate any fortunate result—I was beginning to lose my hope. My hands, when I looked at them, I discovered to be hard. They had lost their shapeliness. And I had always so loved beautiful forms. When I looked in the glass I had to confess that my beauty was gone. No grace was left me, only a terrible capacity for work. Sometimes I feared my husband would think of me no other way than as a drudge. I used often to think of the children of my neighbors who were growing up around me, and to be thankful that I had none. For what knowledge of beauty, of courtesy, could I have given them in the midst of this incessant drudgery? Life to them must have seemed nothing better than a servitude. They would have seen the toil, but they could not have seen any benefits arising from it. Indeed, it was the same with ourselves. It was not strange that when, day after day, we lived without pleasure, diversion or luxury, our lives began to grow grim and sad, and even devoid of graciousness. I have sometimes thought the very tones of our voices changed. The modulations are gone. That is the result of a frightful monotony. The vivacity also has vanished. We do not laugh. We are old before our time. And now, after these years of sacrifice, after having given ourselves up to continual labors, after having gone without all that makes life lovely—without travel, and music, and books, and pictures; without leisure for friendship, or even for contemplation; without reserve of strength, over and above our daily tasks, even for worship—I face the fact that we are no nearer the end of our toil than the day our tasks began. Our wheat has grown to plenteous harvests. It has found a ready market. Our cattle have multiplied and been sold. Our orchards have grown to fine fruition. Day and night we have worked, but there are no results. All this has brought us nothing. We have been making ropes of sand. We have been trying to fill a sieve. And now, with my youth gone, my hope killed, all the joy taken out of my heart, with poverty my only portion, and old age only a few sad years distant, I ask, Who has got that energy I and mine gave? That energy was an entity. It was a palpable thing. It was a possession. But it has gone. Some one else has stolen from me all of the profits of it. And I am penniless. I have been held up on the public highway. And now I think I have a right to ask who my despoilers are."
THE next morning at breakfast, when the mail was delivered, and General Sergius had read his letters, I saw that he was much excited, but for some time he said nothing, and ate furiously. This is not a bad place to mention the fact that in Sorosis there was not a habit of discriminating between citizens in the public conveniences extended. A man in the city was not given the advantage over a man in the country. It was considered that if he paid taxes he was entitled to privileges; and, therefore, mail was delivered at the door of the most isolated farm-house.
The General had bolted a cup of hot coffee, which, I am sure, must have burned his mouth, when he burst out:
"I have just received a most extraordinary letter—a most peculiar letter. It is from Abaces—who, as you know, is one of the A B C's. I cannot keep it to myself. I must certainly read it to you."
"Have some more coffee, General," interrupted his wife. She was a quiet little woman, who always thought everything was for the best, and the enthusiasms of her husband quite wore her out. She never could understand why he would not submit to the will of Providence—Madam Sergius never doubted that everything that happened was the will of Providence.
"The letter will have a sufficiently stimulating effect," he said; and he read:
"Abace to General Sergius, greeting.
"For a long time I have been waiting for an opportunity to write to you. You are a man esteemed honorable by all in the nation, and, therefore, to you I wish to make a confession, and ask your aid and advice. You know that it was the influence of the syndicate to which I belong, that known as the A B C's, that brought to bear on the government the inducements which persuaded the council to return to aluminum payment. It also caused the enactment of the law which required the government to pay in aluminum all the loans made to carry on the war. As this had been our money for nearly nineteen centuries, I thought it was only right that it should still continue to be so. But when John Sherwood insisted that it should be our only money, I began to be disturbed. He wished the government to take all the paper money as soon as it was collected as taxes, and destroy it. I objected to this. It seemed to me that such paper money as we had in circulation might well remain. I soon found that I was in disfavor with my associates. But I insisted that if the government burned up the money, and did not issue other money immediately, the government would be just that much poorer. It seemed very plain to me that, if the government had in its vaults 1,000,000 denarii, it could with that money pay much of the government expenses, while, if the money was burned up, there would have to be 1,000,000 denarii of additional taxes levied.
"John Sherwood said the paper money itself was a debt, and that it would be quite as dishonest not to pay off that debt as not to pay off any other debt. I confess that I was somewhat confused upon this point. I replied, however, that no man had ever loaned this money to the government, and asked, if it was a debt and in honor ought to be paid, to whom should the payment be made? Sherwood answered that there was no money but aluminum—that the paper money was not money at all—and that the payment of aluminum should be made to the person who had held the paper money. In other words, that a denarius of aluminum should be given to every holder of a denarius of paper money, and that when the paper had all been taken up by the government the debt would be paid.
"I replied that the government had paid the debt several times, if that were true, for every denarius of this money had been taken by the government, time and time again, in the payment of taxes. But Sherwood replied that the government had issued it again, and thereby made a new debt, and that it would continue to owe that debt until every denarius of paper money had been taken up and destroyed. He insisted that an irredeemable paper denarius is a forced loan or a direct robbery, and that the government would stand dishonored if it ever gave up its intention of redeeming this money in aluminum.
"As I said, I was somewhat confused upon this point. I might have answered that when the government owned the mines and coined aluminum, and made a man take that in payment of debt, that was a robbery, for aluminum is as useless to most men as a piece of paper, and really of no value, because of no use, except as it has a value given to it by law, making it money, and that that power could as well have been given to any token as to aluminum. Sherwood's argument proved efficacious with the government, and as fast as the paper money was taken in for taxes, it was destroyed. Then prices began to fall, and things got cheaper and cheaper, and money became more and more difficult to get, and another thing happened which I had not thought of, but which Sherwood and the other members of the syndicate seemed to have designed from the beginning. The syndicate had loaned a great deal of money, and taken mortgages on farms for security. As the prices of all the products of the earth kept going down and down, the farmers could not sell their productions for enough to pay their debts, and the syndicate foreclosed those mortgages, and to-day they own thousands of farms, and the men who once owned them, cultivated and improved them, are now tenants of the syndicate or beggars and wanderers.
"One day the cause of all this sorrow in the land flashed into my mind. It was like an illumination in a dark room. It took this formula in my thoughts:
"To collect a debt which was contracted when there was a large volume of money in circulation, and prices were high, at a time when there is a small volume of money and prices are low, is more criminal than midnight robbery, and a man who will do it is a thief. To deliberately bring such a thing to pass is a crime so vile that there are no words in our language with which to sufficiently condemn it. It is not the robbery of one person, or of hundreds. It is the deliberate taking of the all of tens of thousands. It is the sending of men and women out from their homes—the homes they have builded with their own hands by years of toil. It is the crime of crimes. These convictions seemed forced upon me from without. It was not as if the thoughts were my own. The words seemed shouted in my ears. I have not been able to escape from them. I sought consolation in religion. The temple in which we worship is presided over by a priest of great learning. I went to him. After listening to my troubles, he said he would deliver a discourse on the subject. I waited with dread, and yet with impatience, for the day. I would not let me wife and children go, for I expected that the priest would picture to the audience the blackness of my crimes. What was my surprise when he announced as his topic, 'The Gospel of Wealth.'
"He spoke of the mystery of dispensation. He perceived that God had created some men to be successful. They held the wealth of the world in trust for the poor. They were the utilizers of labor, the captains of industry, the governors of money—that greatest of servants. Others were born to be poor. It was Christ himself who said that the poor must always be with us. The millionaire bore great responsibilities. It was for him to build temples, found schools, erect almshouses and perform works of charity. The differences between the rich and poor were inevitable and foreordained.
"It was a remarkable sermon—because it involved the utmost of the suave sophistry with which men sop the conscience. I had given that priest 10,000 denarii for the erection of temples, but when I thought of the thousands of homeless men and women there were within the borders of the country, and whose poverty I was in a measure responsible for, I felt that I could not be satisfied till I had told that man that he was a deliberate sophist.
"Sometimes, when I had been in the poorer quarters of the city, I had noticed a priest who was visiting the sick and very poor, and it struck me, now that I had such a disgust in my soul for men—and myself above all other men—that I would find him. It was not easy, but I did so after much inquiry, and found him living in the barest of rooms, among the very most wretched of the city. To him I made my confession of guilt. When I had finished, he said: 'Your sin consists in violating one of the commands of God which he spoke by the mouth of his prophet many centuries ago.' He then took a book and read to me these words: 'If any lend money to any of my people who is poor by thee, thou shall not be to him as an interest-taker, neither shalt thou lay upon him interest.' He closed the book and laid it gently beside him.
"'This you have done,' he said, 'and therein is your sin.'
"I had to confess to him that I had never understood the words as he read them. I had thought them to be, 'Thou shalt not be to him an usurer.'
"'You have doubtless heard them so,' said the man, gravely, 'for you have heard them from the lips of a man who preaches always to rich men, to money-loaners whom he does not wish to annoy, but he knows well that the words in the original language are interest and interest-taker.'
"However, I was still unconvinced. I said it was unreasonable to expect a man to forego interest, and that all men availed themselves of it.
"'We have some of the words of the great Teacher,' he said, 'by which the priests of my order guide their lives. He has said that it will be difficult indeed for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.'
"I asked him for advice.
"'I have no wisdom of my own,' he replied. 'I can only repeat to you the words of the great Teacher. A man in perplexity not unlike your own once came to Him, and He said: 'One thing thou lackest; go thy way, sell whatever thou hast, and give to the poor.'
"I left him that I might ponder his words. They seemed absurd. The priest was what any sensible man would call a fanatic. There was no reason in his advice.
"I felt my sorrow deepen. I seemed the victim of fate. The complexities of right and wrong were too difficult for me. I resolved simply to be honest, and not to ask from men and women four times the amount of interest they had agreed to pay me. Thus far I could see a clear way. At the next meeting of the syndicate I therefore made an address. I told them that I had doubted the wisdom of the government in calling in and destroying the paper money, and that at the outset I had so expressed myself. The results of the policy, as they all saw, had been to reduce the price of all the products of the earth, and to make it impossible for debtors to met their obligations, and, as a consequence, the wealth of the country and the land was being concentrated in a few hands. Sherwood interrupted me.
"'That is just what we expected it to do,' he said brutally. 'We have been planning it for years. It seems very idiotic of any member of this syndicate to pretend not to understand that.'
"The calm assumption of the responsibility of this unspeakable crime enraged me. I hardly know what I replied. I think I must have told him that the eighteen centuries which made up the history of our country had not produced a criminal like him. I know that I drew in words the picture that agitated my brain, of homeless men and women, of faces with despair written upon them, of souls embittered with hopeless toil, of minds deprived of education, of an impoverished nation. And I am sure that I said at length that a man who would deliberately produce such woe, who could in cold blood so despoil a nation, was worthy of death. Perhaps I was frenzied past all semblance of sanity. I cannot say. But they seized me. They put me in irons. Then in the asylum for the insane. And here I am now. With much difficulty I have found a messenger for this letter. I pray for your help.ABACES."
THERE had been one listener to this communication of whom we had not been aware. It was Julius, my wife's brother. He was sitting in the door-way, and his horse was stretching his neck to tug at the yellow flowers on the creeper. Julius twisted his mustache, and smiled.
"That's a very remarkable epistle," he said, in a tone not at all in keeping with the seriousness of the rest of us, but which evidently afforded the greatest relief to Madam Sergius, who was insufferably bored by it all. "It reminds me of an occurrence of the war. You remember that a curious and very contagious disease broke out in one of the divisions. A number of doctors rushed over to investigate, and they all caught the disease. I met a solider from the camp, and asked him how things were going on there. 'Oh, we are all right now,' he said. 'We have all the doctors in the hospital and unable to do anything, and we are getting along very well.' Only let us get the other members of the syndicate in the asylum, and we will soon be a prosperous country."
"There is often as much reason in Julius' jokes as in some men's philosophy," General Sergius said.
Lesbia was frowning a little. She sometimes accused her brother of being frivolous. We had not seen much of him during these busy years. I imagine that our home was not the pleasantest place in the world to visit. We had grown to be very serious. Julius came into the room to salute Madam Sergius and kiss his sister.
"There is no reason in philosophy at all," he said, in reply to the General. "It's all a joke—a mild sort of amusement to help out lagging leisure. Think, for example, of all the philosophy we have had in the last few years about money. See the books that have been written. Think of the speeches that have been made. Recall the laws that have been proposed. Shake them all up and pour them out, and you have a conglomeration that looks like a pudding, and which no one can eat for fear of indigestion. But what's the use crying? If the pudding does not agree with you, eat something else. That's what our ancestors did when they landed here—they took what they could get. Now, their sort of philosophy was a bit better than ours. It was practical. We are not practical. We are only verbose."
"You have interrupted our lesson," said Lesbia to him. "We are going to school. General Sergius is the professor. What you say does not agree with what we are learning." He was sitting near her, and he played with her hands gayly, quite as if he did not see how hard an unbeautiful they had grown. But it was never possible to tell what was going on in Julius' heart by that which came from his lips.
"Let Julius be professor," said the General. "He has ideas on the present crisis."
"Ideas!" ejaculated Julius. "Nothing is so cheap in the world as ideas. They are such a drug on the market that they will not bring any price at all. As I am the most ordinary of men, I am stuffed with ideas like a duck with dressing. It is only your genius who knows the worthlessness of opinions. I am perfectly willing to speak. But you must come out on the veranda, that I may keep my horse from stripping the vines. To begin at the beginning of things. Man is born of woman—and for the purpose of enjoying himself. The question is, how is he to do it? He begins experimenting the first day of his life and upsets everybody around him in his endeavors. For five years he is a prince. He rules. Life has its disadvantages, but they are few, compared with its advantages. Then his servitors—otherwise his parents—rebel. They send him to school. A teacher is paid to teach him mathematics, morality and philosophy, besides other trifles, with longer names. The result of all this is principally to make him see things as they are not—to make him the victim of ten thousand pleasing hallucinations. After a time he receives a certificate which deposes that he is qualified to do anything, and that he knows it all—except how to make a living. Then he takes a wife, and has a wondrously pleasing delusion for a time. It is called love. It does not, however, aid him in earning a living. For that he realizes that he must look to education. He finds that mathematics are not a material help in that process, and that morality is an undeniable detriment. If it were not for morals, he could easily become wealthy. The possession of them is a handicap. His only remaining resource is philosophy. He must make something out of that, or there is no more fun for him. He therefore brings it to his aid, and discovers that a man must have a house to live in, clothes to wear, and food to eat, and that obviously the thing to do is to build houses, make much clothing, and produce great quantities of food. When all are housed, clothed and fed, the maximum of fun will have been reached. He puts his philosophy into practice, and induces others to do the same. He brings science to his aid, and increases production. The land is filled with cloth, with food and with houses. But then he meets with something peculiar which makes him doubt the correctness of his reasoning. For he and many other men, who have built their houses, made their cloth, and raised their grain, have neither houses, food nor cloth. By some 'hocus' he finds it is all owned by other men—men who have done nothing. He goes to his old teacher and asks him to explain the coil. The teacher tells him that it is over-production. That there is so much cloth that people must go naked; there are so many houses that they must sleep out of doors; so much grain that people must go without bread. This, then, is the proof that what I said of philosophy is true. It is an amusement devised for men. Unfortunately, it is not always a harmless amusement."
Lesbia was still determined to take things seriously. "I do not see," she complained, "just how the things were taken away from those who made them—the houses, the clothes and the food."
"Another joke!" cried Julius. "Now, that was philosophy! The syndicate did it. The syndicate is made up of philosophers. They had the government makes some money. This was lent to the young men who prided themselves on being producers, and it was lent at a high rate of interest. Besides, the taxes were increased. After that they had the government call the money in and burn it up. So, when the time came for paying back the borrowed money, there wasn't any money to play with. That's how the syndicate has the houses, the clothes, the food. It is an enormous joke. But some of the young producers are so very stupid that they have never seen the joke yet.
"The joy of life hasn't left you yet, has it?" Lesbia said to him, fondly. "I wish I could take matters as you do. But still I dare say that your happiness does depend a little on circumstances. If you, like us, were about to lose your beautiful home"—
"Cheer up! cheer up!" cried Julius. "I am preparing the biggest joke of the century. It is one, my dear sister, that will really make you laugh the remainder of your days. I said John Sherwood and his philosophers have had their joke, and we will have ours." And he burst into a laugh so contagious that we had no will but to join him.
"Tell us," said the General; "let us into the fun."
"I'll not tell you my best joke. But I have a second best one, and you shall have that. It's this way," explained Julius. "I was making some experiments with the soil. I was investigating. And I discovered a chemical combination, which can be prepared by any one at very little expense, which will— But say, Hyde, how much wheat can you raise on an acre?"
"About twenty-five measures. But what has that to do with the joke?"
"Everything. This inexpensive preparation, when spread on your land, would make it produce one hundred and twenty measures to an acre, and your farm would grow richer every year. I have been thinking of giving this secret to the public. Then you farmers could pay off your debts in one year. That looks like a joke, doesn't it?"
"It looks wonderfully like a joke," assented Lesbia, with an excitement she could not conceal. "Now, why do you not tell us what the preparation is, that we may save our home?"
"Because it won't work—I have thought it all out. I experimented three years with that preparation, and, without letting any one know of it, I raised wheat at the rate of two hundred measurers an acre. But at the moment I was ready to spring the joke on John Sherwood and his friends I found that there was a fatal flaw. The joke had a sort of double back-action. It kicked as hard as it shot. It would, if universally adopted, have ruined every farmer in the land."
"I don't see how it would," Lesbia said.
"Here is a good point for me to make in your lessons," General Sergius interrupted "Julius is quite right. It would have ruined every farmer. And it would have added immensely to the wealth of the money-lenders. If the production of wheat should, by scientific farming, be quadrupled, and the amount of money in circulation remain as it is, the result would be that wheat would be selling at one-tenth a denarius a measure, instead of half a denarius a measure, as it does now. In other words, the amount received for that immense crop would be less than that now received for our comparatively meager one. Four years ago we had an example of that. The crop was large. The farmers felt very much elated. But the price received by them for the large crop was less than the price received the year before for their small one."
"That is true enough," assented Lesbia, "but I do not see how that would benefit the money-lenders."
"In two ways," said the General. "The increase of wealth among money-lenders is derived from interest. Now it takes the interest of five denarii to buy a measure of wheat. Then it would take the interest on only one denarius to buy a measure of wheat, and the interest on the other four could be added to their lending capital. In other words, they could buy five times as much with their income from loans as they now are able to buy. Or, if you look at it in another way, it raises the rate of interest, if compared with other commodities, to five times what you now pay. This is the 'hocus' of which Julius spoke, and which he said the farmers could not understand. In the second place, the lowering of prices renders it impossible for the farmers to produce enough to pay their debts, and the money-lenders, who have let them have money to the amount of half the value of their farms, foreclose their mortgages and take the farms at one-half their valuation. The final result of the plan proposed by Julius would be to double the capital and quadruple the interest of the money-lenders."
"f I warned you," said Julius, "that this was a double back-action joke. But I have another joke, that is loaded electrite, and it all goes one way."
"Then that is the joke we want to know about," cried Lesbia.
"It's not only a joke, but it is a secret," returned Julius. "I dare not tell it to you now. But when you do hear it, you'll laugh! I dare say it would kill a man with a sense of humor that was strong enough, and even a corpse might interrupt the solemnity of his own funeral if he happened to think of it." He threw back his head and gave vent to another of his spasms of merriment.
"You are a very provoking fellow," said Lesbia, in her old girlish fashion.
"Leave me my crowning joke," pleaded Julius. "I'm sure there are plenty of other things for you to laugh at, meantime. Now, there are the millionaires' charities. They are among the funniest things on earth. Take one of the Sunday clubs, called churches. See the priest in his gorgeous raiment. Look at the highly-paid singers and musicians, and the congregation in their cushioned pews. Listen to the orotund voice of the preacher! Then remember that these are followers of the Man of Poverty—the man who had not where to lay his head. If this doesn't awaken the risibles in a man, it is because he has none to arouse. Then the gratitude of the poor is a constant comedy. They are grateful because the millionaires endow colleges and schools of technology. There is enough fun in that to make a granite rock smile. That is just like my back-action joke. A millionaire sets up a scientific school and trains young men to go out in the world prepared to produce twice as much as they would without education. They teach farmers to produce more grain to the man and to the acre. And as they increase the production, down goes the price, and the millionaires takes it all in. Then they get the government to tax the people to establish agricultural colleges and experiment stations, to still increase production and still lower prices, until the interest on debts will buy all the products of the earth. When one sees a farmer voting for these taxes and lauding the charities of these millionaires and opposing an increase in the amount of money, the sight is enough to make the eyes of a marble statue twinkle."
Julius was getting too abstruse for me. I couldn't see the fun in these jokes, nor understand the philosophy of them. So I said:
"Do you mean to say that production should be decreased, and that the less grain we raise, the fewer houses we build, and the less clothes we make, the better we shall be fed, housed and clothed?"
"I mean to say that the more of these things that you make, the more the money-loaners will have, if you let them control the money. That little 'hocus' takes to itself all the products of the earth, except the plainest and coarsest maintenance of the producers. It's a jolly 'hocus,' and its other names are interest and contraction of the currency."
LESBIA and I had been trying to forget our specific and personal troubles in the contemplation of the general misfortune. It is always pleasanter to think about a large general trouble than about a small personal one. But in a few days we were brought suddenly to a full recollection of our troubles. The mail brought us an announcement that if in a few days our interest was not paid, the mortgage would be foreclosed on our house. I hardly know why I had been so apathetic on the subject for a fortnight previous to this. For weeks and months before, I had thought of nothing else but that interest which I was not able to accumulate. Then, for a fortnight, there at the comfortable home of General Sergius, I seemed to have got in a strange frame of mind, in which all present troubles seemed remote and impersonal. I heard Lesbia talking to Madam Sergius more than once about the trouble that we were in. I knew that only a part of the interest had been paid. I realized that I had no way of earning any more money. My crops had been good, they had been harvested and sold—and they had brought next to nothing. It may have been utter weariness of mind and body that made me so indifferent to what might happen.
But this reminder of my delinquencies awoke me out of my torpor with a sudden shock.
"I have been loitering here," I said to the General, "listening to your dissertations, when I might have been doing something to save myself from ruin."
"What would you have done?" asked the General, gently. "If I had the money, you should have had it long ago. But you are very well aware that I am not able to lend it to you. You might have borrowed a little at the rate of thirty-six per cent., but it would have brought you to this pass in a very short time. Your agony would only have been stretched out."
"So it would," echoed Madam Sergius. "Let your farm go, Mr. Hyde. Farming is a very dull thing at best. I am sure I almost go wild for a glimpse of city life. I never have anything here to help me even to remember the days of the week. No society, no music, no theater"—
I heard her droning along, and her words, though so unimportant, fixed themselves upon any memory, as very unimportant things sometimes will do at important moments. I felt some resentment toward my old friend. It seemed to me that he had taken advantage of my strange mental torpor to coax me into idleness at a time when every nerve should have been exerted.
Lesbia and I said farewell to the General and his wife, and together we were driven back over the familiar road to our home.
There is no need to picture what followed. It was nothing new in our neighborhood for a farmer to lose his stock and his place. I remember going about with Lesbia while she bade good-by to the animals. We had concluded to sell, even to the furniture. The days that followed linger confusedly in my memory. I felt dishonored. I did not see how I could ever hold up my head again among the men who had known me and counted me honorable. I said this over and over to Lesbia, until she begged me, weeping, to cease. I could not bear her out of my sight. I wanted her where I could continually talk to her.
"I have earned enough to feed a hundred men this year," I said to her. "Why is it, then, that I have nothing to eat? Do you remember how the fields of wheat looked? The wind used to creep through the wheat like a snake and leave a long trail in the tops. When a cloud went over the sky you could trace its course by looking at the field of wheat. At first I thought it so beautiful—years ago, Lesbia, it seemed the finest thing in the world. It was my own! It had a song to it! It seemed so plenteous—so like a gift of God! I used to want to fill my hands with it! But it changed year by year—my love for it. It was still beautiful, but its beauty was deadly to me, like the smile of some woman who had betrayed me. I could not bear to look at it and think how much work its fruition meant, and that I had been cheated out of all the profits of it. I have grown poorer year by year, Lesbia, all through the wheat"—
"Not the wheat," my poor girl would say. "How can you be so foolish, Paul, as to say it was the fault of the wheat?"
Julius came down to see us, and to offer us a home with him.
"It's a queer place I have," he said, "and I'm afraid Lesbia would be made a little nervous with my machines. I confess they are rather scattered around. Besides, I have my laboratory in the kitchen, and she might put prussic acid in the gravy. But you are welcome. Come along, now. Sell your stock and furniture, and put what you can in with me, and we will manage together."
"No," I heard Lesbia reply to him, in her firm way. "I knew very well, dear, that you would have married long before this if you could have afforded it. And if you cannot afford that pleasure, I do not think you can afford a burden. I am glad you made the offer, because it has lightened my heart to know that my brother thinks of me and loves me. But we must live our own life and fight our own fight."
"As to getting married," Julius said, "that is different. I wasn't willing to take—to take any girl to such a life of drudgery, and say: 'Here, my dear, I love you better than any other woman in the world, and, therefore, marry me, and in exchange for myself take up a life of incessant and unrequited toil. Go without everything that makes life lovely—without even some of the necessities.' No, my dear sister, it wasn't in me to do that. But with you it is different. I can well afford to have you stay with me, since I do not invite you to any hardship with which you are unacquainted."
These words sounded sensible to me, but they are the last I heard which did so. For they brought to me such a vision of our poverty and helplessness that a sea of despair seemed to swoop down over me and swallow me up, and after that, whenever I heard people talking, they seemed only to be saying:
"He is a pauper! He is a beggar! He is dishonored. He could not pay his debts."
Then comes a stretch of time that, as I remember it, seemed to reach ever out and out before me, like an undulant, grassy plain, in which there is nothing to serve as mark or guide. Only it was wheat, and not grass, that I seemed always to be walking among, and my hands were full of it continually—not because I loved it, for I hated and tore it up with maledictions, handful after handful. And I hoped that, if I worked very hard, I might be able to destroy the whole wilderness of wheat, that no more might be raised to deceive men with false hopes. Even in the midst of all this madness I was conscious of one friend about me—one person who always spoke kindly and firmly, in the midst of many who seemed always at war with themselves, even as I was. In later days, when some faint glimmer of reason came creeping in upon my brain, I discovered this to be Abaces.
"So you're a lunatic because you are poor," he said to me, "while I am a lunatic because I am rich."
No one in the asylum had any hesitation about using the word lunatic. They seemed to take a sort of savage pleasure in applying that word to themselves. I spent many days with this man. He was never tired of talking, and if it had not been that now and then a melancholy came upon him so deep that speech seemed impossible to him, I should have concluded that he was not mad. We all had our opinions about one another. We said freely what we thought.
"How long have I been here?" I asked him, one day.
"It is almost two years," he said. "There have been several persons here to see you. Your wife has often come. But, though you listened to all she said, you never replied or seemed to know her. The last time she was here, her brother was with her, and I heard them say to each other that it was hopeless; that you would never know them again. But that shows just how much at fault people can be—and the scientists are quite as much at sea as any. Now, I know very well all the details of my trouble I know that for six months of the year I am elated and perfectly sane, except that I am too enthusiastic. And I know that the other six months I am so depressed as not to be able to judge rightly concerning any matter. Perhaps my trouble had begun to show itself before I came here. But I think not—and yet, of course, it is not possible for me to know. But this much I do know, I must sell all of my goods and give to the poor. But how to do it! Besides, where are the poor? I have been looking everywhere for the poor. Only I cannot get out of the asylum. If I could go by night to Christ and talk with him"—
So he would go on from sense to vagary—from sanity to utter madness. His remorse, his passion and his overstrained brain had driven him mad. Only for hours at a time he would talk to me with perfect sanity and wit, and I have never enjoyed the conversation of any man more; for he had been a studious fellow, and always used to the society of fine men and women, who made a specialty of their elegance. And even in this horrible place he preserved his polite and kindly manners.
It is needless to say that day and night I wondered where Lesbia could be. A sort of fear of the warden pervaded the place—not because he was in any way cruel; it was merely the apprehension of those who had long been in subjection. I dared not ask him where my wife was.
But one day she came. At first I did not know it was she. The door opened, and I turned, as did all in the long, sunny room, to see who it was that entered. Some of us were not of a placid turn of mind. There were certain ones who sprang toward the door, as if they had found at last the passionately sought-for chance of escape. Others ran to the farthest part of the room, as if the door had opened to admit some monster. I looked up sadly. I felt humiliated at being found among these demented creatures. My eyes fell on the warden and a woman—a woman with gray hair, who walked slowly, and with a stately poise of the body. A long black cloak was wrapped about her, and above her gray hair was a black turban wound after the fashion of those who mourn for the dead. She moved toward me, and I saw that her eyes held an infinite sadness. Then, suddenly—and not because of the face so much as because of a sweet electric thrill—I knew that it was Lesbia. I arose with a feebleness born of my joy and staggered toward her."
"You see," the warden was saying, "it is as I told you. He is almost himself."
I saw her arms reached out for me! I saw her quivering lips raised to mine!
But I will not speak more of that moment. My brain, till now half-dimmed with a mist through which I never seemed to reach the sun, suddenly cleared, and left memory, and affection, and ambition, there before me again, as they had been in other days. I knew myself. I knew Lesbia. I remembered the past. I gauged the possibilities of the future.
We rode away together on a little electric car that went by the door of the asylum, and I tried hard not to look strange and unnatural, but I could see that every one on the car was watching me, and I was very glad when at length we reached the great electric cars which ran from city to city, and found myself alone in a compartment with my love.
For a long time we said little to each other. It was enough to sit there with content pervading us. To feel myself near her gave me courage and confidence. Still, I felt like a man who had known what the grave was, and had again put on the habiliments of the living. I think she feared to say much to me, lest she should find in me some peculiarity that should publish to her the fact that I was not yet my old self.
Then, little by little, she told me of the struggle she had had.
"To give up the idea of living on a place of my own was hard," she said, "and if it had not been that I had trouble so much greater because of your—your illness, I would have found it almost unbearable. But when you really seemed lost to me, nothing else mattered very much. The human mind can only accept so much of suffering. With what little money I had I went to Byzantium. I chose that because it was near my friends, and yet not so near that I would have them constantly about me. And I wished to be independent. I might have had a dozen different homes. But I felt that you would rather I showed what was really in me, and lived my own life, as you used so often to say. So I set up a little confectioner's shop. It seemed a foolish sort of business in some ways, and not at all what you expected me to do, I know. But I reasoned that children would be my principal customers, and I felt I could endure it better to have children for my associates than grown folk, who would know all about my troubles, very likely, and would pity me. I did not want pity. I cannot tell you how I shrank from it. I have made a living, dear, not at all in the way I might have done. But, at least, I owe no man anything, and I have some little rooms back of my shop which are pleasant to be in, and which I hope you will look upon as home."
I could only tell my brave girl that any place where she was was home. It took a night's ride before we reached this little village of Byzantium. It was not far from our old farm, but on the side farthest from the village where we had been in the habit of going to make our purchases. I felt like another man, and if I thought my old self, and the life I had hoped to lead, and the changed condition of my poor girl, it was in a sort of dim, impersonal way, as if it only remotely touched me. It was as if it were a pathetic tale which I had read somewhere.
Such a little shop it was! Such a very cozy, amusing, altogether peculiar shop, with its sweets and preserves on the shelves, and its muslin curtains at windows and doors, and its pots of red and yellow flowers at the window. And behind was the merest caricature of a sitting-room, and a bed-room, and a room for cooking, which was large and bright, and where Lesbia spent much of her time. A little apartment, almost all glass, opened out of this, and here we ate, attended by one thin servant, who seemed to resent my existence, and was constantly pitying Lesbia in a silent sort of a way for being hampered with me. She was given to congratulating herself aloud that she was not hampered, whatever she was.
Julius, I heard in the course of our first evening together at home, had met with a wonderful experience, and had, through it, become one of the most prominent men in the government. His inventions had at last brought him something like success. He had fashioned a peculiar boat, which, having an enormous propelling power of electricity, had taken him through the perverse currents that swirl about Sorosis, and had come upon a country peopled by the descendants of one of those ships which had sailed from Pompeii in the old days. This vessel had been a companion with those which bore to the shores of Sorosis its great founders, but, becoming separated from the fleet, was supposed to have been lost, until it was found by Julius that the people had reached an island to the westward of Sorosis, had multiplied, and cultivated the arts of civilization, and pursued letters, till they were none inferior to the highly cultivated inhabitants of Sorosis in their qualities. The climate on the Island of Pompey, as it was called, was not as good as that of Sorosis. Wheat was raised there hardly at all, and their only cereals were of a coarse quality. But a sort of wild goat, with a coat capable of making fine, warm and beautiful clothing, grazed there in mighty herds, which, in the course of the centuries, had, of course, become thoroughly domesticated. As a result of this, the fabrics of the loom were finer than any known in Sorosis. And if the people had not so many poets and historians among them, they had greater artists, especially among those who designed the fabrics and rugs and shawls which were considered the leading product of the land.
Through the reports brought by Julius, the government had been induced to make boats after the model of the one that had accomplished the feat of stemming the obstinate currents, and, as a consequence, a constant exchange of visitors and of products was going on between the two countries, not to mention various sorts of international exchange of courtesies.
This wonderful tale was the last thing my weary brain received that night. I dropped asleep with the complacency of a weary child, by whose cradle its mother is watching.
TO TAKE up life again, after such an experience as mine, is one of the most terrible things that a man can be called upon to do. But I tried to summon my courage and my lost trick of happiness. To be sure, it was hard to think that the beautiful woman I had wooed in an elegant home, amid men and women conspicuous for their breeding and their scholarship, should have come, through her association with me, to be a maker of sweets for children, and to have for her associates only the honest poor, whose limited opportunities confessed themselves in their narrow views of life and their rude speech. But I tried to reason with myself that a mind such as hers depended but little upon surroundings for its happiness. She was fed from within. I smothered my foolish pride, and began to assist her in the little shop. All day we worked together, and at night, sitting in the room back of the shop, we read from the books which had been printed since my misfortune overtook me. My old friends found out that I had returned, and began visiting me. And Lesbia, in spite of her whitened hair, got a glow in her cheeks, and summoned back a pleasant echo of her old laugh. I felt myself growing happy and self-confident again. And I was delighted one morning to read in the paper that General Sergius would address the people of Byzantium on the following evening. We determined that he should accept our hospitality, however meager it might be, and had a busy afternoon preparing a sort of extemporized chamber for him in the little glass eating-room. But in spite of our efforts, we did not learn of his whereabouts until evening, when, with many hundred others, we gathered in the open square to listen to him.
The daily newspapers had none of them given him greeting, but all contained scathing remarks concerning him.
He was referred to as "the great calamity howler."
"Notwithstanding the fact," said one paper, "that this country has increased in wealth at an unheard-of rate during the last thirty years, the land is cursed with a few calamity howlers who roam about prophesying all manner of disasters. Among these howlers, General Sergius is chief. Let him look at the magnificent palaces that line the streets of our cities; let him contemplate the devices for the saving of time and of energy; let him view our beautiful places of amusement, our exquisite parks, and think upon our long list of successful men, and then tell us what he sees in all this to presage disaster. These birds of evil omen are croaking over our very feasts. Can they not be exterminated? To be sure, there may be some slight depression among the farmers, but one good crop will relieve their stress."
This was the most temperate of the comments upon him.
"General Sergius," remarked another sheet, "is demanding a reissue of paper money. He admits that he wants cheap money. This is pure lunacy. A man who will go about deliberately trying to influence the people to adopt a measure so obviously against their interests ought to be put in the lunatic asylum."
Another paper, which was the representative of the best culture in the land, said: "The man who declares cheap money of any kind to be the people's money is the worst possible enemy of the people. Such men are not serving the people, but the devil, and the issue they raise is a moral one of the first magnitude."
Another paper said: "Aluminum has been the money of the people for eighteen centuries, and the man who thinks that another sort of money is needed must have studied our history to very little effect. Aluminum is beautiful; it is not subject to oxidation; it is ductile, malleable; it is light, convenient, and the labor of producing it gives it a value which is all its own, and makes it a standard. Other metals may fluctuate in price. Aluminum cannot. We want a money which is hard to get—which is rare in quantity and fine in quality. Foolish and ignorant, indeed, is the man who, for mere love of agitation, tries to dismiss a servant which has served us so well."
General Sergius spoke in the street. Lesbia and I were there, crowded in among a mass of men and women, with hardly room to breathe. The General looked more venerable than I had ever seen him before. His long white hair drifted back from his shoulders, and those magnetic, piercing eyes had an intenser light in them.
His tones were pleasant and cordial. "The papers," he said, "have not given me a very flattering reception. But that does not matter. To be called a lunatic, a thief and a false guide is, after all, a sort of compliment. For it is merely a way of saying that I am in the minority. And the man who is in the minority is very apt to be in advance of his age. The minorities of one age make the majorities of the next. This is the law of progress. So I beg you not to feel ashamed that few men side with you. For that is to their shame, and not because of your mistakes."
The government has just taken a census of the indebtedness of the land. The most of these debts had been contracted when there was a large volume of money in circulation. The General read these figures from the census bulletin. He added up the national debt, the debts of the separate provinces, the debts of the great corporations, and the private debts. It made an immense sum. He told us exactly what the interest on all that sum amounted to. Then he told us the amount of all the products of labor, above the bare maintenance of the workers, and it was not enough to pay the interest.
"The result is," he said, "that every year some of the property of the people is sold to pay the interest. Year by year this goes on, and more and more of the property of the people goes into the hands of the men who loan money. I can give you the figures of the ratio with which this occurs, and then you can amuse yourself by finding out how long it will be before the money-lenders own all the property in the country."
In his old way he drew the picture of the ceaseless toil of the poor, their valiant fight against overwhelming odds, their piteous failure, their homeless and broken old age.
"But a better day must come," he cried. "A day when no man will search for work and not find it—a day when the farmer will receive enough for his products to pay all his debts; a day when schools and churches will crown every hill-side; a day when eight hours' work will supply every legitimate want and pay every honest debt; a day when the price of the products of labor will be high, and interest low; a day when the natural accumulations of a frugal life will supply a sufficient surplus to let the limbs of age rest."
A priest in the crowd cried out:
"How do you propose to bring all this about?"
"I propose to issue paper money enough to raise the price of the products of labor to the place where they stood when these debts were contracted."
"That is advocating theft," said the priest.
"There are but three ways to get property," retorted the General. "To produce it, to beg it, or to steal it. A large part of the wealth of this country is to-day found in the possession of a few thousand men. They never produced it. They did not beg it. Therefore, they must have stolen it. There are but three classes of men, the producer, the beggar, and the thief. To which do you belong? To which class do the most of the men who are listening to me belong?"
"We are workingmen," they cried, and, shouting over and over that word, they dispersed, leaving on the square only the trampled dust and scraps of torn clothing to show that a great crowd had been there.
IT was not long after this that Julius came to see us. He lived at the capital now, and, though he still had the ways of a very simple man, he was, in fact, as prominent as any one in the nation.
"He is the greatest after-dinner speaker in the country," Lesbia said, laughingly. "And he tells his truth so humorously that his listeners forgive his impertinence in telling them anything so disagreeable as the truth, because he tells it so very amusingly."
The face that used to be so smiling still had its quizzical look, but I am bound to say that round about the mouth were marks of seriousness which there was no disguising.
"You're not married yet," I said to him. "You do wrong. Why not get as much happiness out of life as possible?"
"Well," he replied, soberly, "every man is entitled to at least one luxury—that of indulging himself in his favorite ideas. Now, it is an idea of mine that I would not care to have certain privileges until some old friends of mine have them also. Back where we used to live, Hyde, were thirty-four young men. They were all bachelors, and did not marry because they felt that it would be cruel to marry a woman and bring her to such privation and drudgery as is the lot of every farmer. All of them denied themselves the pleasures of marriage, and I think I will do so, too, till I have arranged matters so that they can have what I have."
"You have become very famous," I said to him, with, perhaps, a little unconfessed envy in my voice. "I hardly dared hope that you would think it worth your while to visit such a wreck as I"—
"You're very unfair, Hyde," he said, angrily, "to speak to me like that. I would not have thought it of you. You have the advantage of me, and you know it. Why should you try to make me seem like that? You might be more generous."
"I've lost my decency, I fear," I said, trying to make amends awkwardly. "I know you are glad to see me, Julius. But there is no denying that I am not the man I once thought I was going to be."
"He didn't answer me, but began to talk to his wonderful journey, and the people he had discovered.
"I wonder if you can imagine what a delightful and peculiar experience it was," he said to Lesbia, whom he had not before seen since his great exploit. "To sail across unknown waters, to feel that, in a way, the earth and the mystery of it was yours, and to come at last to an unknown land. The people were like, and yet unlike, those I had known. They had the same language, but spoken in a different way. They had, to an extent, the same traditions. I shall never forget, either, my return to my own country, and the feeling of intense happiness that it gave me to be back among my people. I had some exciting times immediately after my return. Of course, I had no sooner returned than the newspapers sent their reporters to interview me about my strange experience. I not only told them all I knew about the place, but also told them of several theories I had. I told them that the people of Pompey had developed manufacturing to a great extent. Their wares are marvelous, and their clothing is much better than anything we produce in this country. The animals from which they get the wool browse on every hill. This wool they weave into an infinite variety of fabrics. And, besides being clever in such manufacture of necessaries, they are adept in the making of beautiful trifles. They think much more of decoration than we of Sorosis, and understand art better—I think I may say they are more creative. But food there is dear, and it is coarse. So it immediately occurred to me that it would be a very sensible thing if we were to buy clothing of them, and they were to take fruit, wheat and other such products from us. It seemed to me that this would benefit both countries, because it would give us both something that was needed, and also it would establish friendly relations between us—which seemed to me the least that could be done by two nations who were anxious to become as civilized as possible. No sooner had these ideas of mine got published abroad than up came John Sherwood—I was staying at the capital then.
"'You've made a great discovery,' he said, as he shook hands with me, 'but you will find that it is a very unfortunate thing for this country.'
"'I don't see it,' I said, tartly. I hated the man. I didn't see why he could not leave me alone.
"'Well,' he said, 'you yourself predict that a trade is likely to spring up. Of course, there is no setting a limit to it. It is likely to be a great trade. The farmers will be sending their wheat over there, and taking cloth and other wares in exchange for it. Now, every boat-load of cloth they will bring over will prevent the manufacture of just that much there. It will throw just as many workmen out of employment in Sorosis as it took to produce that cloth in Pompey. The result will be that we will have thousands more unemployed men in this country. I feel that this trade must be carefully guarded against, or it will ruin us.' 'You are a sophist, and you know it,' I said to him. 'And if you try to bring about a restriction of trade between these two countries, I will stop you, if I can, even if you are a great officer of the government, and I am nobody at all.' You know, don't you, Hyde, that he is chairman of the council?"
"As soon as one serpent is slain another rises to sting us," I said, gloomily.
Lesbia was just coming in from the little shop, and she overheard my remark. I saw an apprehension creep into her eyes, and then she shook her head almost imperceptibly at Julius.
"I've never seen any serpents around," she replied in a jocular way. "And if I did, I should prefer to give my attention to the birds, which are very much pleasanter to spend your regards upon."
"I'm not a child," I broke in, angrily, "to be kept from every subject that I choose to talk upon. One would think, from the way you treat me that I were not in my right senses"—
A sudden recollection made me stop and cover my face with my hands. Julius beat the floor with his foot, impatiently.
"You people are too intense," he said at length. "Have we not all had our illnesses and our misfortunes and our disappointments? And do we all sit around and look like the embodiment of a tragedy? There's no use in you two imagining that you have had all the trouble in the world. You have no right to be a monopolist, even in that way. For at least you have had one another, and you have loved"— He broke off suddenly, and went out, and I heard no more of him that night.
But the next morning Lesbia told me that she had found the portrait of a very beautiful woman lying on his dressingtable.
"A face that frightened me," she whispered, as she bruised herself with the manufacture of confections in the great sunny kitchen. "The face of a woman who would do what she thought right, no matter what it cost, or whom it hurt. If Julius loves a woman like that, I do not wonder he is unhappy. For there is a sort of fatality in her face. I feel as if she could never temporize with anything, and as if even love could not tempt her from her duty—she is sure to have some very disagreeable sort of a duty."
"Lesbia,"I said, "how flippant you are! Not at all like yourself."
"Oh, well," she replied, inconsequentially, "I don't mind having suffered a deal myself. I am willing to undergo any sort of refinement by fire that fate has in store. But I wish Julius might escape. He's such a dear boy. I don't see why that woman wants to torture him!" All of which was very amusing, seeing that she had no knowledge that Julius was being tortured, or even that he loved. But I have always noticed that women have a way of jumping at conclusions in this manner. And, though I do not like to admit it, because it seems so very illogical, I have also noticed that they are right.
AFTER Julius had finished his visit with us, and gone home, I kept an outlook on the drift of politics, with a constant delight in seeing how firmly he stood for what seemed to be right, and with a growing pride at the respect with which his utterances were treated, even when the papers which published and commented on them did not agree with him. His discovery of Pompey had produced a wonderful effect upon the country. Many vessels found their way between the two countries, and the prices of farm products began to rise. Still the burden of interest and direct taxes was very great. The government tax-collectors, as they went from house to house, found it hard to make their collections, and they also suffered great unpopularity. Many devices were contemplated for getting the money for the government in some more popular way. It was not long before the great syndicate of money-makers began to take an active interest in these matters, and they pointed out a way of get taxes out of the people without their knowledge. They induced the government to abolish all direct taxes, and put a tax on production. This new process raised the price of such articles to the consumer, so that, when the purchaser bought anything, a part of the price was the tax, but as it was paid at the same time as the actual cost of the goods, the purchaser did not realize that he was paying anything above the real value.
But this process did not raise money enough. Then it was that the syndicate induced the government to levy a tax of about sixty per cent. on almost every article brought from Pompey. The result of this was that all manufactured articles rose from fifty to one hundred per cent. in price, and farm products remained stationary.
For a time this was very popular. Every one congratulated himself on the fact that taxes were light. No one was conscious of that great burden of interest on the national debt which had previously oppressed them. It was true that the price of living seemed to be very great. And it was also true that what a farmer got for the products he had to sell would not pay for the things which he had to buy, and which were the necessities of civilized life. So that, in spite of the apparent relaxation of taxes, he found himself still unable to cope with the problem of independence, and still saw the spectacle of foreclosed mortgages and impoverished laborers and farmers, and the accession of more land and property to the money-lenders.
The collection of taxes under this system was so easy that, almost inadvertently, the government collected more than was necessary, and great piles of aluminum were accumulated in the treasury vaults. This made money harder to get than ever, and a cry of distress came up from all over the land. The Farmers' Leagues were thronged with new members, who wished to learn what the cause of this general distress was, and a school of political economy was started, where all were teachers and all were learners.
A certain class thought that the whole trouble was caused by the tax on imports, but others said that could not be the case, for there had been grievous distress in the land before there were any import taxes.
So hot and universal was the discussion that the millionaires grew apprehensive lest the true solution of the problem should be found. So they sent speakers all through the country, who presented certain views which were intended to distract het minds of the people from the truth. One variety of these speakers claimed, as did many of the people, that in the tax on imports lay the difficulty; another class said that this tax was a great safeguard over the people, and a protection to them, and that, if it were removed, unrestricted international trade would throw a large part of the workingmen out of employment; but both sets of speakers agreed that import tax was the only question worth discussing. Meantime the farmers continued to study in their own way about these questions, and they agreed that neither the pro nor the con of this question was worth debating.
One of the first conclusions they arrived at was that there was no conflict of interest between the workingmen on the farms and the workingmen in the cities, and that an organization of the two would be beneficial. So this was effected.
Meanwhile, the millionaires on their part continued to work together. They assured the people, with great suavity, that while the tax on imports would raise prices for awhile, ultimately competition among themselves would reduce prices, and things would be very cheap. The tax was solely for the benefit of workingmen. There was nothing the millionaires could possibly gain by it, but they submitted because of the workingman and his interests-after which they felt bound to look.
These discussions went merrily on, but the price of manufactured goods did not fall. Cloth was especially dear, and the prices went up and up until it cost three times what it ever had before. Then it was discovered that the A B C's, the great syndicate, had bought all the mills that made cloth, and therefore that, owning all the cloth there was in the country, and having no competition, they were able to put any price they chose upon it. So high was the price that thousands were obliged to go half-naked, and others had no resort but to clothe themselves in the skins of beasts. This set the example for that now large class of men who found out how much easier it is to earn money from the work of other men than to earn money by one's own work. The manufacturers in every line followed the example of John Sherwood and his A B C's. Every article was owned and manufactured by some combination, and no competition was permitted. If any man attempted to sell the same article, they offered him such a price for his trade that he could not resist the temptation to sell, or they conspired against him so that his trade became worthless, and he found himself forced to resign his business. So all the manufacturers charged exactly what they pleased, and when they could not sell their goods at such exorbitant rates, they closed up their factories and turned their workingmen out of employment. The warehouses were full of goods, but the people were naked, and the cause of this state of things, John Sherwood said, was "over-production." When the manufactories were many of them shut up, and thousands of men thus thrown out of employment, and when many deserted farms showed the rapacity of the money-loaner, and the farmers who retained their homes were too poor to hire help, it came about naturally that an army of hungry men, women and children should wander about, seeking work, or food, or place to live. Their pride was gone. Misfortune and contumely had broken them. The worst instincts of their nature came to the surface. They sometimes became criminals. That is to say, as they were not permitted to earn bread, and sometimes could not get it when they begged, they took to stealing it. A new word was coined to describe these miserable ones. They were called "tramps."
Production may stop, but interest never stops. Let there be famine or flood, drought or pestilence, it has no effect upon interest, which, like gravitation, is always present, and always making itself felt.
"What is the cause?" men asked of each other when they found that four out of every five business ventures failed, and that the mass of the people daily grew more desperate.
"Over-production," glibly retorted John Sherwood and his allies, "and want of confidence. Men must have confidence if they want to keep a steady market."
THE great distress that followed did not affect Lesbia and myself. In our small way our prosperity grew. To be sure, with a few exceptions, we had no friends among those with whom we would have chosen to associate. For so alluring is wealth that even the cultivated will follow it. And we were poor and belonged to the class which "produced." And so false had the conditions of society become that there was a sort of contempt for producers. Only those who lived upon the results of other men's products were counted aristocratic. But in a monetary way we prospered. That is to say, we had all we wanted, and more. Out dealings were with the rich, and the rich had never had so much money to spend as now. Therefore they bought our confectionery.
The land was made wretched with men and women who begged for work that they might get bread, and the wives of the millionaires, in their luxurious palaces, got up subscriptions for building refuges and homes for these miserable creatures, and their gentle hearts were much aggrieved when some of these they would have helped refused, with bitterness, to receive this charity. They could not understand why these men and women were not willing to be paupers and beggars.
How often, in these troublous days, did I wish I was back in my own free United States of America, where such injustice was unknown, where the monopolist was held in check by wise laws, where oppression by the money-lender was impossible, and where all men were made free and equal by constitutional amendment.
The fact that I was personally prosperous did not prevent me from being gloomy and misanthropic. I could not see the suffering and the hatred and crime around me without a sort of vicarious torture. So it was a relief from my gloomy thoughts when one day an invitation came from Julius, who was still at the capital, asking Lesbia and myself to visit him. This we were able to do, because we now hired two trusty assistants in our business. Lesbia was delightfully elated. She bought herself some new robes, and when she was dressed in them, looked as beautiful as I had ever seen her. I admit that her face had a pathos in it, but the lines that marked sorrow were gentle ones. No bitterness could find place in that benign countenance.
Julius met us at the station, and took us to his house in his electric road phaeton. We seemed to fly along the road, but Julius remarked, apologetically, that traveling by electricity was such an ancient and commonplace device that he was surprised a progressive nation could be contented with it.
Julius' house was one of severe simplicity. A large part of it was taken up by the workshop, and behind this ran a perfectly equipped laboratory. A smoking and reading-room opened out of the workshop, and afforded a view of the blue polar sea, over which almost continually flashed the white and crimson light of the aurora. Have I mentioned that almost all the men in Sorosis were the victims of a smoking habit? A pungent and delicious dried weed, which gently soothed without stupefying the brain, was in constant use. I must confess that, though I tried in all things to be a temperate man, I found myself as much addicted to the use of this weed as in my own land I had been to tobacco. There was a simple room adjoining the kitchen, where Julius ordinarily ate his meals, but now that we were with him he opened a long and beautifully decorated dining-hall, where now and then he had entertained companies of bachelor friends. There was no parlor or drawing-room, but above stairs were three rooms fitted with the utmost daintiness, which he gave to Lesbia. It was hard to believe that they had not been furnished by the capricious taste of some petted woman, so full were they of exquisite trifles which women affect. One room was the sleeping-chamber, and the wood was of white cedar, carved and braided, for the roots are as pliable as rattan. And on the floor and beds were beautiful skins of delicately furred animals. On the walls were many pictures, and every toilet luxury that a woman could desire was at hand, even to the bath-tub of white marble. Another smaller room seemed to be intended as a sort of work-room, and it had in it whatever contrivances could most facilitate sewing, writing, or the weaving of decorative fabrics such as the women of leisure of Sorosis delighted to make. The third room hung fairly over the sea, and was furnished with musical instruments, with books and carvings, and many inviting divans and hammocks. These three rooms alone indicated to me the fortune of which I now felt sure my brother-in-law was possessed. The other sleeping-chambers were large, bare and convenient, and were designed to suit the tastes of simple and busy men. In one of these Julius put me.
"It is my fancy that no man shall enter the room where Lesbia is," he said, gravely, and something in his tone make me forebear to ask why. That evening General Sergius joined us. Genial, familiar as of old, we were all happy at seeing him, and feeling the cordiality of his presence. His wife had died not long before, and he grieved for her exceedingly, though he confided to us that he believed he had been the cause of her death. She could not understand why he was not contented to leave things as they were, and his continual efforts at reform had worn her patience out.
We were requested by Julius to arise early the following morning, and accordingly did so. After a hasty breakfast, in which Julius took no interest at all, we were told to put on warm wraps, and come with him to an inclosure which we had seen back of the house.
"One of my jokes," he explained, as he unlocked the gate, "and the prettiest of them."
Before us rose a huge machine, not unlike a great bird. There was something tense about Julius that kept us from asking any questions. He motioned for us to mount some steps, and enter the very center of the body of this bird-like creature. Excited and rather awe-struck, we did so, Lesbia and the General and I. Julius followed us. He sat between the wings, at the point where the head should have been. His hands grasped two small handles. Then slowly, powerfully, with a swaying motion, the great creature lifted itself, and we realized that we were rising with rapidity from the familiar earth.
It made us tremble.
We were not afraid, but we felt presumptuous.
The earth and the sea—they belong to man. But the air seems not to be his element. He breathes it. But it is not expected that he will conquer it.
"I have never had any ambition," said Lesbia, in an awe-struck tone, "to conquer space."
Julius turned quickly toward her. His eyes were blazing with excitement.
"Yes, you have had," he retorted, "so long as the space was ignominiously near the ground. But this—this is almost like making a live thing; I feel, Lesbia, as if I were almost immortal!"
With slow, swaying wings, still it rose. Blue and yet more blue was the sky. Keen as ice-water the streams of air that played over our faces. Down, dizzily below, the dark earth lay, but I dared not look at it. Lesbia, as she looked at the uplifted face of her brother, began to catch something of his courage and exaltation. At last, when we seemed to have endured all that human nerves could stand, Julius, without any more effort than was required by the on warm wraps, and come with him to an inclosure which we had seen back of the house.
Her excitement had exhausted her.
"An eagle," were the words that broke unconsciously from her lips as she was recovering. "I was an eagle, and very strong."
A sleep seemed necessary to all of us. After that came the midday meal, and Julius talked excitedly as he carved.
"I told you I would fight those infamous import taxes," he said, "and my bird is the palpable sign of that determination. Do you see what I mean to do? In Pompey are the people who want to sell us cloth. Here are our people who want to sell them wheat. But John Sherwood and his syndicate say we must go without cloth, and they must go without bread. Now, as we can produce wheat cheaper than they can, and they can produce cloth cheaper than we can, it seems to the advantage of both to trade. This restriction is senseless. It would be just as sensible to make an enactment compelling every carpenter to work in iron, and every blacksmith to work in wood. Or suppose they had all the blacksmiths in Pompey, and we all the carpenters. John Sherwood would immediately put a tax upon the labor of their hands. But I will have no more of these unjust taxes. For they will have a sorry time trying to collect import taxes when my bird brings cloth and carries wheat. I'll drop the cloth down over all the country and the government will have to put a collector of imports in every square mile, or else roof the country in."
We stayed a week, and then returned to our little home and our labors. I can not relate in detail all that followed the introduction of air-ships. It made the collection of import duties an impossibility, and the laws regulating the import tax were repealed after they had become a dead letter. The results of free trade were beneficial. Instead of workingmen being thrown out of employment, many thousands of the idle men found work in transporting goods from one country to the other. For a time farm products increased in price. But after a little the prices again began to fall. The manufacturers no longer had any advantage over the farmers, but soon the price of everything lowered, until produce, whether of the mill or the earth, was lower than ever before.
For none of the changes in tax collection had affected interest. The millionaires now took the profits of both mill and farm and added to their possessions.
THE course of events in the sister provinces of Sorosis was for some time quite uneventful. The people—by which I mean the proletariat—talked a great deal about new laws. But the money party controlled the council, and the only laws passed were those which were adapted to the further concentration of wealth.
There were more tramps, and there was also a new class among the capitalists. They were called "billionaires."
The whole country was, comparatively speaking, owned by a few persons. The farmers, with a few exceptions, were tenants of the syndicate. They paid to the syndicate directly all the products of their toil, above a meager maintenance. They were conservative men, and they bore this oppression with remarkable patience. Though they talked of reform, none spoke of revolution. With the workingmen it was different. They often broke out in riots and strikes, and the syndicate caused a vast police force to be maintained to put them down. And these men, who did not scruple to kill a man who had struck for higher wages and was vainly trying, by force of unorganized arms, to maintain his rights, were supported by taxes collected from these unfortunates themselves. Everywhere there was discontent, and now and then the discontent threatened to become anarchy.
The farmers had been reduced to a state of peasantry. But they had not lost their intellectual pride nor activity. They still held the right to think. They still continued to "go back to school." They thought as they toiled, and from the facts learned they established opinions. Then these opinions became principles, for which they were determined to fight. But the fighting of the farmers did not come in riot. They formed themselves into a political organization.
And their party, in spite of the finer organization of the moneyed interests, soon became the popular party. Even the most sanguine capitalist could not but apprehend that the hour of his defeat had come. And then they, in their turn, became "calamity howlers." There was not a disaster which the ingenuity of morbid man could invent which they did not presage for their unhappy country.
General Sergius was naturally the leader of the new party—the beloved and trusted leader. There was not much discussion. The time for that was past. The questions had all been studied and the conclusions reached. The men who produced the wealth of the country had got to a point where they were determined to oust from power the men who fattened upon that wealth. They walked to the polls grimly.
The majority of the votes was theirs. They had elected the council. There was consternation among the millionaires. John Sherwood had a scheme for counting out the returns—a thing in which he was an adept, having done that once or twice before. But no one stood by him. The millionaires were afraid of a revolution. They knew that their trained fighters could never stand against such an uprising as would come if the despair of the people was pressed another point. Sullenly the situation was accepted.
The council met. As there is but one house in this country and no president to exercise the veto, it did not take long for the laboring party to put its ideas into practice. The first thing done by them was to abolish every tax and restriction upon trade, whether a license, a stamp, or a tax upon internal or foreign commerce. Such taxes as the government needed for revenue were levied upon land.
And then the legislators had to face the great economic question of Money. The syndicate made very conceivable efforts to have aluminum pronounced the only money. General Sergius, who held the most important position, considering the circumstances, as treasurer, was besieged by them day and night. The millionaires, who had hitherto treated him with conspicuous contumely, became his suppliants. They put the case pathetically before him, and reminded him that, since it was no longer possible for them to look after the interests of the workingman, they felt it their duty to remind the council of its sacred responsibilities, and to beg them not to forget the "vested interests" of the workingman. They spoke of the degrading spectacle of a "dishonored nation." And the General listened with courtesy to all they had to say, and faithfully read their petitions.
At last he appointed a day for a hearing of the case. The representative millionaires were there. The men who sent messages by electricity waited without for the decision. Every paper in the country delayed its presses to put in type the proceedings of this memorable afternoon. The most eloquent men among the millionaires set forth their side of the question. The General gave each an opportunity. Then he arose and said, so Lesbia and I read the next morning in the paper:
"It has been my duty to listen to all you have to say, for this country is governed by the people, for the people. And you are a part of the people. You are entitled to as much right and justice even as a man who earns his daily bread. The fact that you have lived upon the proceeds of other men's earnings shall not operate against you. A tramp does the same thing; and I would not permit that fact to operate against such a one, if he were here, as you are, with a petition. Your arguments in favor of aluminum as the historic money of our country have great weight. Your pleas for the workingman are touching and influential. I admire your disinterested sympathy. I confess that I have been greatly moved. I am therefore happy to inform you that the council had decided, without a dissenting voice, that aluminum shall be the only money in this country."
Then a shout went up from the throats of the millionaires! And then was the wisdom, the patriotism and the perspicuity of General Sergius trumpeted abroad as it never had been before!
LESBIA and I could not understand it. We talked together of the many times we had heard General Sergius inveigh against aluminum, and declared that this had done more harm to the people than all the other superstitions put together. Julius happened to be in the city about this time, bent on mysterious business. A few miles out of Byzantine he built him a rude laboratory, and with him he took a number of the best chemists in the country. They all used to ride up to the village in the evening, and would stop before our little shop. Julius seemed very happy.
"The country is no better off than it was before," I complained to them all one evening. "Just at present the working classes are a little less turbulent because they have hope that their problems will be solved. But I do not share their hopes, I confess. I think our theories of reform look better on paper than they do in practice."
The chemists said nothing. They sat easily on their horses—an interesting cavalcade. But Julius was smiling.
"Hyde," he said, "do you remember long ago, when you lived on your farm, that I told you I had a joke that would keep you laughing as long as you lived? Before long that joke will be sprung. Every one in Sorosis is going to laugh at it. They will laugh as they work and as they play, and they will even find it worth while to wake up from a sound sleep to laugh."
"I've grown suspicious of your jokes," I said, irritably. "Why don't you grow up, Julius? How many years do you mean to stay a boy? Why, your hair is getting gray"—
"No!" he interrupted. "It isn't! It can't be!" He looked from one to another of us, and seemed ridiculously disconcerted. I went on talking about his "jokes."
"They lack in an essential quality," I said. "They do not remain amusing. At first everybody laughs, but in a little time we are all weeping again."
"That's a fact," he admitted. "My jokes have not turned out, previously, the way I thought they would They have all had that fatal back-action. They have kicked as hard as they shot—no denying that. But this is different. I have got at the essence of things."
"So we thought," I interrupted, somewhat bitterly, "when you got the import taxes abolished through the instrumentality of your wonderful air-ships. But the country is no better off than it was before. John Sherwood and the rest still have things their own way. They will always beat you."
"Not this time, Hyde. I shall blast out the very foundation of their structure!" He put spurs to his horse and rode rapidly away, and his mysterious scientific friends followed him.
I laughed rather sardonically, if the truth must be told, and went back to my work. I had got so used to the disappointments and the vicissitudes of our political life that I had at last come to accept the uneven conditions of men as inevitable. I longed more and more for my own native land, where a man could enjoy what he earned, and where labor alone won money, and worth alone won power.
Here in Sorosis, the property was nearly all in the hands of the millionaires. Besides the property, they owned the national debt— and on this the government collected interest for them. This national debt was a curious thing. It belonged to neither heaven, hell nor earth. It could not be seen, or touched or handled. Yet it brought untold millions to the pockets of the rich. It was property of the most substantial kind. It brought certain returns. It was not produced by labor, nor was it a production of nature. But, in addition to owning the whole earth, the millionaires owned this impalpable, yet valuable thing, which was neither houses nor land, nor cloth nor food. I could not understand an obligation so spiritual, so I stopped thinking about it.
Julius did not come to see us for some time after this, till at length Lesbia and I began to worry about him, and one morning I rode out to his laboratory—a curious, isolated spot—for the purpose of finding out how things fared with him. There was a large warehouse attached to the laboratory, and in this I saw a number of workmen, but none of the scientific enthusiasts who had been the companions of Julius were anywhere to be seen. These workingmen were packing an immense number of boxes on a flat car which had been run down on an impromptu road, and although these boxes were very large, the workingmen tossed them about as if they were filled with feathers. The whole party of men seemed to be in a very mirthful humor, and I concluded they must be infected with one of Julius' jokes. All of the boxes, I noticed, were addressed to General Sergius, at the capitol, and this excited more curiosity than I could conceal.
"What is in those boxes," I asked one of the workingmen. He smiled in a friendly fashion, but managed to get an expression of utter blankness into his eyes.
"I haven't an idea," he said, stupidly. So I asked another, with the same result.
"Are those boxes the property of General Sergius or the government?" I ventured again.
"I know nothing," said another of these merry but mysterious workmen.
"After so many rebuffs I hesitated to ask another question, but finally ventured to inquire where Julius was.
"He went to the capitol this morning," was the reply.
I felt relieved, and hastened home to tell Lesbia that her brother seemed to be preserving all of his natural activity. And the next morning we watched the paper, to see if there was any extraordinary news about him or his doings. But there was nothing more than a mere notice of his arrival at the capitol.
The paper was, however, a memorable one. It contained copies of several new laws which the council had created. There was also an announcement that the collection of all taxes, of whatever nature, had been suspended for two years. This seemed impossible. We were all incredulous. We were even amused. The men who were in the government employ—and there were a great many in every town—were not amused.
"No taxes no pay," they said. "We might have known that something would go wrong with such fanatics in the council."
But the next day an official proclamation was issued. It read that, to remove the apprehensions that office-holders under the government would not receive their full pay on account of the suspension of tax collections for two years, the statement was made that there was sufficient aluminum in the vaults of the treasury to pay all expenses of the government and the interest on the public debt for three years, and the council had decided to suspend collections until a part of the surplus had been expended.
To say that there was amazement among the millionaires would be to put the case inadequately. They said they knew the exact amount of aluminum in the country, and knew where it was. And that there certainly was no such amount as General Sergius stated—and yet! They expended the rest of their emotions in epithets. But the next day, when a proclamation called in a large part of the government loan, their incredulity began to give way to unalloyed anxiety. They gathered up their bonds and went to the treasury, where a row of clerks stood ready to count out their denarii by the hundred thousand. And when the payments were all made, it was evident that the treasury had not yet been broken.
They called a meeting to discuss the situation. The only conclusion which they could reach was that the farmers had found some way to open the old aluminum mine. So they hired skilled engineers to investigate the mine. But it was found closed, as it had been at the time of the unfortunate war, many years before. So complete had the ruin of these mines been that it was easy to see it would be a physical impossibility to work them again.
It was only to be expected that John Sherwood would then make an attack on General Sergius in the newspapers, and this he did without delay. He said the General was trying to run the government on "confidence"—that undoubtedly he had exhausted every grain of aluminum there was in the treasury, and that the first considerable demand made on the treasury would force it to default. A panic and universal disaster would follow. It was odd, considering how he had objected to "calamity howling," that he should make such an eloquent calamity howler himself. General Sergius took the trouble to reply to this. He invited the millionaires to send a committee and inspect the treasury vaults. They did so, and were shown such quantities of aluminum piled up in the iron receptacles, that, experts as they were, they could not guess the amount of the metal before them. Then a great moment arrived for General Sergius. With stern finger he pointed to the mass of glittering metal and said to John Sherwood:
"Tell me the value of what you see."
"Almost nothing," said Sherwood, gloomily.
"So I have maintained," cried Sergius, throwing back his venerable head, and speaking so that his voice echoed and reëchoed among those iron chambers. "So, for many trying years, by speech, by pen, I have maintained. I am glad you have come to agree with me. I am privileged to have been allowed to teach you the truth. Money is an Idea. Money is not a substance. It has no intrinsic value."
"When you cannot control the amount," said Sherwood, angrily, "it has no value."
The effect of all this upon the country was as severe as an electric shock. The larger part of the government debt had been paid, and that threw a vast quantity of money into the hands of the millionaires. Now, a millionaire never wants any money on hand. He is as weary as a fish out of water until he gets that money put out at interest. Hitherto when a farmer wanted money and went to one of these money-loaning fellows, the lender roughly inquired:
"What's your security?"
"What are you going to do with the loan?"
He would, if the answers were satisfactory, express a willingness to "accommodate" the borrower. It may be said that all loans were referred to as "accommodations."
Now there was a difference. There was a flurry among the millionaires to "reinvest" their money, which had been returned to them in full, and which had therefore ceased to bring them in interest. But by this time men had received an education. They did not care to have the money of the millionaires reinvested. Therefore, down came the rate of interest. And things were very dramatically reversed, as regarded the position of the producer and the money-lender. The millionaire now found himself saying:
"I have some money that I am not using. Couldn't you accommodate me by taking it?"
A good many farmers—from necessity—did take money at the low rates, and paid off their old debts. But on the whole, the millionaires had a very difficult time finding opportunities for reinvestments. They therefore found it necessary to become producers themselves, or live off their capital; and, therefore, new mills were built, new farms opened, and old ones improved.
There was a demand for labor of every kind, and idle men became rare in the land.
MEANWHILE I had been thinking, and I discovered the key to all this mystery.
The boxes that I had seen at Julius' laboratory contained aluminum. His tremendous joke, which was to reach to the bottom of things, was that he had found a means of producing aluminum.
"You've a great man for a brother," I said to Lesbia. "He is a brilliant liberator. He has performed as great a service for the nation as did Lycurgus. Lycurgus freed some slaves—men of another race, men not particularly adverse to slavery. Julius has emancipated his own race; he has brought hope to homes where there was despair, and comfort where there was poverty. To uplift the physical condition of a race is also to uplift their moral condition. He was always a happy man, but he should be happier now that he has brought self-respect and equity to the men who were bearing the burden that falls upon the helpless poor. He might, if he were not quite so great, have a monument in stone built to him. But the laughter of children who are fed and clothed; educated and made happy, the tears of grateful women and the speechless gratitude of men are a better monument."
It was the same day that I said all this to Lesbia, who was radiantly happy over it all, that Julius himself appeared at our little shop. But his face was not as serene as I had expected it to be. I saw in a moment that something was greatly troubling him.
"My dear Julius," I cried, "what is the matter? What has happened?"
"Something which I ought to be willing to endure. Call Lesbia. My dear girl, I have come to say farewell for a time. I always said, you know, that my virtues were too conspicuous"—he laughed rather in his old fashion—"and it has proved to be the case. I suppose you have both guessed by this time that I found a way to extract aluminum from clay. I have, in fact, known how to do it for years. I spoke about my mighty joke to you, years ago, on the farm. But I knew it would not be of any benefit to the people so long as the millionaires controlled the government, for they would immediately have demonetized aluminum, and have made money out of something that they could control. So I waited till the council was composed of producers—men who understood as I did. When General Sergius was made treasurer, I perceived that my time had come to act. To him alone have I confided the whole secret of my process, and he superintends the coining. The government mint has been closed ever since the mines were destroyed, therefore the money which released the government debt, and which is now running the government, was coined at my place. I considered that I was doing no harm. There was not, so far as the attorney of General Sergius could discover, any law against the coining of money. Besides, I felt that, if any of the millionaires said that I was doing wrong. I could reply that, if the money had an intrinsic value, there certainly could be no harm in coining it. But it appears, my dear friends, that there is a law. And that is why I have come to say farewell. For it is a law that will put me in prison. It was made when John Sherwood first began to direct legislation. No one has ever paid any attention to it. But it exists."
"But who will make charge against you," I inquired. "The millionaires cannot consistently do so, for they have always claimed that the government stamp added nothing to the value of aluminum. If you have given full value for everything received, where is the crime?"
Julius smiled and shook his head. Then he pointed out of the window.
Two officers of the law were approaching. They came to my shop door, looked within, saw Julius, and entered.
"You were very kind," said one of them, sardonically, "to tell us where we could find you."
"Not at all, not at all," ejaculated Julius in his most courteous tone. "I had something more to tell you," he said, in a low voice to Lesbia, "something that it has often been in my heart to let you know. But no matter. I am old enough to bear my troubles alone. Kiss me, and do not worry. Remember that it almost always happens when a man preaches a new truth that he is imprisoned for it. I count myself as rather fortunate in having this opportunity for identifying myself with the truly great." He was bantering again as he said this, and he went out, gaily waving his hand to us.
But, grieved as we were at all this, I think we were even more distressed when the paper brought us news that General Sergius, accompanied by a crowd of protesting citizens, had been taken from his home at the capital, and lodged in jail. A cordon of police constantly patroled the jail, as if her were a very dangerous prisoner indeed, and were likely to attempt his escape at any time.
The suddenness of this revolution took the nation by surprise. Their great leader being in prison, the council was practically at the mercy of John Sherwood and his supporters. The workingmen broke out in riots. They seemed to lose all sense of what was judicious and right. Buildings were blown up by them, property most wantonly destroyed, and threats were uttered which did not become them, and which did not in any way advance their cause. The army, which the millionaires had maintained, was brought into action, and blood was spilt in every large city of the nation.
The Farmers' League, which had started as a school, and turned into a political party, still maintained its complete organization. Every precinct had it leader, and all were united under leaders of each province, and each province owned the authority of the national organization. It was this organization which evolved order out of the chaos. Its members preached against anarchy. They asserted their rights with firmness. When necessary, they used force. And after a few weeks of turmoil they were in possession of all municipal governments, and had the council backed by their support. Then, once more, things began to adjust themselves.
In the midst of all this, Lesbia and I found out the secret of Julius' life. It was not owing to our cleverness that we did so, but to an incident which we could in to way have expected.
We were busy one day in our little shop when a carriage drove to the door, and a lady alighted. This in no way attracted our attention, for we had a large trade with the rich of the city. But his lady, as we both saw, was one whom we had never met before. She was young—a tall, dark woman, with splendid eyes, and a manner that I think, could only be called imposing. It seemed odd to us that she should stand blushing before us, as if she had something to say which she could not bring to her lips. So sure did we become after a second's time that her errand was no common one that we waited for her to speak.
"My name," she said at length, "is Octavia. I am the daughter of Abaces. Have you ever heard of me?"
"We have heard of you often," replied Lesbia, courteously, "as one hears of those who live in prominence, and who are much admired. We have often read of you in those papers which chronicle the doings of the fashionable."
She frowned impatiently, and the blush deepened yet more on her face.
"But have you heard of me no other way?" she asked, anxiously. "Has no one whom you know spoken of me to you?" She seemed so distressed that Lesbia hesitated to answer.
The lady seemed piqued.
"It does not matter," she went on. "I will tell you myself, then, that for many years I have intimately known your brother Julius. But I do not need to explain that none of my friends have known of this intimacy. It would have been impossible to tell them. I think you can guess that we have both been very unhappy. But still, our acquaintance has brought us all that has been best in our lives, and we are not sorry for what we have suffered. It would be egotistical to say that no one in this great nation has watched the recent course of events with such intense personal interest as I have, but certainly none have had more at stake than I. I have dreamed that in the final adjustment of affairs all men would attain their rights—their opportunity! Julius and I have often talked of the day when each man would have his chance! But now all seems chaotic again. The riot and bloodshed occasioned by the people whom I so hoped to see made happy have made me bitter against them. It seems to me as if they did not have the wisdom to use any good that might come to them."
"Not so," broke in Lesbia. "You must be patient! Think of the bitterness they have kept in their fuming hearts these many years. Are you surprised that it has broken forth? Bear with them."
She went to a little sofa and drew our guest down beside her.
"Julius has been your guide," she said, gently, "it is not so? And now that he is gone, you are torn against with perplexities."
"Oh, it is so!" answered Octavia, with a suppressed sob. "It is so, indeed. In my home I hear him execrated daily—or, what is more humiliating to me, I hear him held up to ridicule! I can bear it no longer. I will not even live longer on ill-gotten gains. I have come to have a horror of my luxury. I think only of Julius—in prison. I have come to you to ask you to go with me to see him. For I fear they will not admit me if I go alone."
"I remember now," said Lesbia, looking at her closely, "that I once saw him with your portrait."
A light came into Octavia's face, but she said nothing.
"And I know," went on Lesbia, "that it was you of whom he wanted to tell me, but could not. And I understand now why he always spoke so sadly when I urged him to marry."
But I went away and left them talking together, and while they exchanged their confidences I made preparations for the journey to the prison where Julius was confined. It was a mere place of retention, for his formal trial had not yet occurred, but it was in an isolated district, and had never before been used for the retention of any except offenders against the state—arch-traitors and conspirators.
It was a historic spot, situated on a beautiful island in the midst of one of our wide, rapid rivers.
It was well toward the middle of the next day when we reached the spot, and we had much labor to get an entrance, so that the livid twilight of the north was upon us when at last we found ourselves walking down resonant iron corridors to the cell where Julius was. He was in a gray prison dress, and was leaning against the bars of his cell, listening to a priest who talked to him from without. He did not lift his eyes at the sound of our footsteps, and we paused where we could listen for a moment to what the priest was saying.
"You should glory in your imprisonment," he earnestly urged; "it is a certain sign of your success. Every reformer meets with a similar experience. He is first ridiculed, then fought, then imprisoned or killed. Do not forget, my son, that the greatest of reformers was crucified. The succeeding generations build monuments to the man the previous ones have murdered. It is a part of the evolution of the ages. The poets sing of the heroes who are dead, the scholars engraft the names of such on history. Look at this," he cried, holding up a cedar cross, "this is the badge of every reformer—every true reformer—since the time when the carpenter of Galilee met his fate. No doubt when they had Him dead they thought they had put an end to his reform. John Sherwood thinks because he has put you in prison that he has put an end to your reform."
He did not add the sequence, and Julius shook his head as if he did not think the parallels were correct. His face was pale, and thinner. I saw Octavia lead hard against Lesbia, as though the sight of the man she had loved so many disappointing years brought her pain.
"You are an eloquent comforter," Julius replied, "but you are mistaken in seriously calling me a reformer. I am a happy-go-lucky fellow who has amused himself. But I am not patient! It is not my reform I am thinking of, man! But you cannot understand. I love the things of earth. And I want those things which are dearest to me. I want my rights. It drives me wild when I remember how soon men are forgotten—there are thoughts I cannot tell you, which make this place a hell for me. I am no philosopher, I am a"—
"A lover perhaps. I am not so dull, nor so unsympathetic as you think me." A flush spread over the face of the other. And Octavia could stand no more. She glided forward, with head averted, as if ashamed to meet his welcoming eyes before us, and slid her hand through the bars. He had greetings for us all, and we talked long—and the little hand still reached through the bars, and was held in his. The officer who was with us seemed to have no inclination to place a limit upon our conversation, and the minutes passed rapidly.
"I care nothing about my imprisonment now," Julius said, with sparkling eyes. "I do not begrudge John Sherwood his little revenge on me. Have I not spoiled the work of his whole life? It is very amusing, Hyde. Do you not see that I have got him in a position where he will have to advocate paper money? Think how often he has denounced that as a villainy and a crime! When John Sherwood appears before the council and begs it to issue paper money there will be an immense joke! All the millionaires will join him, and will be suppliants for the very thing they hitherto execrated. That is, all the millionaires except one." He looked at the lack eye on a level with his own.
"I belong with them no longer," she said. "I reached a place where I had to live a lie, and I could not do that. I have left them. It was hard, because I loved some of them so dearly. But I have only one thought now. I must see you walk out of this prison, justified. After that"—
"Oh, after that!" ejaculated Julius.
"And I am more practical than you think," she went on, somewhat embarrassed at his earnestness. "See what I have brought with me!"
From the folds of her mantle she drew forth an ancient scroll. It was dated thirteen hundred years past, and was a copy of the laws enacted at that time. She pointed—with a readiness that showed she had read it many times—to a portion, she said:
"Every law passed for the punishment of crime, to which any penalty is attached, must contain in the title the statement of the penalty."
There was a silence.
"Well," said Julius, at length, "what has that to do with me, sweet law-expounder?"
"It has everything to do with you. When John Sherwood passed the act making the coining of aluminum by a private citizen a crime, he did not mention the penalty for that crime in the title."
Julius lifted one white hand to his lips.
"You are a beautiful philosopher," he said.
So, armed with this, and with the permission of Julius to effect his release, if we could, we went out.
All of these events had passed so rapidly, and Octavia had seemed so occupied with the cause of her lover, and so indifferent to every other subject, that I had hesitated to ask her the fate of her father, who, it will be remembered, had been incarcerated in the insane asylum for his too violent objection to the enterprises of John Sherwood and for his emotional remorse. I had never forgotten his kindness to me during that hideous time of my incarceration.
"My father has been liberated," Octavia said, gently, "but so broken is he that you would hardly know him. Besides, none of his family sympathize with him. My mother, who is a good woman, but who thinks that things have always been and must always be as they are, regards him as a wreck. She only pities him. She does not love him. My brothers think he is a fool. All of the efforts he made to make us honest are forgotten by them. They have misconstrued his motives. He is awaiting me now in a quiet town by the sea. I wanted to get far from all whom I knew. But first I must do my duty by Julius. Then I will go to my father."
There was something sad in her tone.
"Then Julius will go with you," Lesbia added.
"No," replied Octavia. "The time has been when I wanted and asked him to marry me. But he said no, though it would give him happiness greater than anything on earth, he would not do it till he had found a way to let every man afford to take him a wife. He said he could not, that he had sworn not to forget his old companions back in the farming country, who all their lives had been obliged to toil alone, because they could not afford to care for wives; until that was remedied, he said we would not wed. And now that he has become a famous man, the acknowledged leader among these reformers, I will not wed him, coming as I do from the people who have been responsible for this suffering—this degradation of our country. It would injure him past anything conceivable. I will not hamper his career. I will free him, and then I will leave him. But to-day, when he talked, I did not care to interrupt him. Besides," she added, after a pause, "I thought I might permit myself the happiness of listening to him just once more."
WE did not have as much trouble as we might have expected in hastening a trial for Julius. And simultaneously, since the offense was the same, occurred the trial of General Sergius. Both were acquitted. There was a day of public rejoicing. The workingmen, relieved of their apprehensions and forgetting all the tragedies of the past, drew Julius in a triumphal car with all the gayety natural to this Latin race.
General Sergius made speeches, which were full of wisdom, and the people respected him as they never had before; and Julius made speeches which contained a deal of nonsense, and some sense, inimitably put—and the people loved him.
"Do not," he said, "be impatient with the millionaire. He is often the most delightful of fellows. He is occasionally a genius. And we have tortured him. We are still doing so. He is confronting the awful fact that he must work if he wished to live. Therefore be patient. Tide him over a few years. Do not scorn him for his riches. He will be as hard-working as the rest of us presently. But he is undergoing a terrible transition. To stop the interest of the millionaire is much like putting out the sun that lights the earth. But the millionaire may sometime understand the dignity of labor. He will appreciate the fact that the producer alone is reputable and aristocratic. The millionaire has not meant to be as bad as he has seemed to be. He has had a craze for grabbing the fruits of other men's labors. But he can be cured. I think we have been quite successfully treating him for the disease. Millionaires, rightly controlled, are valuable. We must guard against an overproduction of them. We must not permit any confusion as to their intrinsic value. But we must use them as citizens, a little more clever then the ordinary run, who can, if they have their manias eradicated, become very valuable factors of the state."
And with such jests he averted what might have been a tragedy—for the feeling among the workingmen was running very high.
These joyful demonstrations did not seem to satisfy Julius. He wanted something else. And, as is the way with man in this life, what he most wanted he could not get. Octavia was not to be found. As soon as she was assured that Julius would be liberated she had disappeared, leaving behind her only a note of affectionate farewell to Lesbia. That distant and quiet spot by the sea to which she told us she was going was very indefinite indeed, and the task of finding her, with only that to guide us, was difficult. Julius visited her mother, but received nothing from her but an insulting rebuff.
Life at the capital was tense. The newspapers published in the interest of the millionaires were eloquent in their calamity howling. They said that the unlimited production of aluminum would enable the Sergius council to confiscate every debt in the land, and that every invested interest was at his mercy. And, on the other hand, some of the radical industrial papers advocated the unlimited coining of aluminum with an enthusiasm that was puerile in its disregard for justice. One of them said:
"These national thieves, these robbers of labor, these oppressors of the people, these villains who have turned a a free race into slaves, and forced them to go about begging the privilege of work, these nameless monsters of cruelty, these underminers of self-respect, have deserved death. But something more deadly than death has been dealt out to them. They have been paid their debts in full in the very coin which they have insisted was the only money, and which possessed an intrinsic value. They have got what they so vehemently demanded, and it has brought only confusion to them. They have their dues, but they no longer own the people or the product of the people's hands."
Close upon all this turmoil and fevered expression of selfish interests, came a proclamation from the council, which was as follows; "The General Council to the People of Sorosis. Greeting: It seems good to us to makes full statement of our purposes in order to allay animosities, reduce excitement, and bring peace and quiet to this perturbed nation.
"The difference between us and the moneyed class of the citizens of this nation has been that they maintained that certain things had an intrinsic value, whereas we have maintained that value was only an idea, and that the value of any given thing is seldom the same to two persons. If this were not so we would not have the phenomena of trade. In trade, each party esteems what the other has as more valuable than the thing he possesses, and therefore an exchange is made. In complex civilization the method of trading articles of bulk is inconvenient and men have devised a scheme by which exchanges are facilitated, and this device they term 'money.' Money is a medium of exchange, a representative of value, and not the value itself. We may, by law, make anything money, and fix its value. We may, by law, declare that the value of every other thing shall be measured by money, but as value is an idea, so this measure of value is also an idea. It is an immaterial thing represented by a material sign, and by this means we bring values into practical mathematics and common cognizance.
The 'price' of things is an entirely different matter from their value. The price may be more or it may be less than the consensus of men's estimation deems the value to be. So things are said to be sold for more than their value, or for less than their value. When there is unrestricted trade, it is a natural law that the 'price' of things advance or decline according to their abundance or scarcity, and it is not in the power of man to change this law. It applies to money as well as to all other things. But, the abundance or scarcity of money being within the control of man, and other things not being so within their control, and the value of all other things being measured by money, it will easily be seen that herein lies a power to oppress greater than any that was ever conceived by the curious spirit of evil that is within man.
"If, by the abundance, and therefore the cheapness of money, men, as individuals or as governments, are induced to contract large debts, and then, by the power to contract money, that medium is made scarce, and the 'price' is by natural law increased, then the lenders of money take, without giving anything in return, just the amount of that increase in the 'price' of money when the debts are paid. Reason would lead us to the conclusion that the result would be that money-lenders would take a large part of the wealth created by labor, for which they gave nothing in return. They would become enormously rich and the producers become correspondingly poor. This is what has been done in our own land. It seems to us that there is but one remedy to this wrong. It cannot be found in any system of taxation. It can only be remedied by increasing the money to the same amount it was when these debts were contracted. To increase it to any further extent would be to inflict that same wrong upon the money-lenders or 'capitalists,' as they have come to be called, that they have inflicted upon the producers. And to such a course the council is unalterably opposed. The council is aware that the power to tax can be so used as to greatly afflict the laboring classes. When the collection of taxes again becomes necessary we propose to impose them principally upon incomes, inheritances, and land, which is now almost wholly in the hands of the rich.
"The council believes that the increase in money and the payment of part of the national debt will make money so plentiful that interest will decline to two or three per cent. But should this not be the case, we propose that the government shall lend to the people on the security of crops or land, at two per cent., enough money to bring down the rate of interest to that point.
"The council hopes that these measures, in the course of time, will enable the people to pay all debts, and that there will be no further necessity for any industrious man to borrow money. In that day the producer will have the whole product of his labor, and no man or syndicate can take it from him."
IT is not an easy matter for an idea to be accepted by a whole people. Great masses of mind are difficult to move, just as are great masses of matter. But little by little the vast majority of the people came to regard this proclamation of the council as their guide, for they found in it the deepest principles of justice, equity and brotherhood hidden between its simple explanatory lines.
John Sherwood grew blacker. But he did not give up his influence without one last satirical effort to make General Sergius ridiculous. He headed a delegation to lay before the treasurer the fact that paper would be much better than money made of aluminum, for the reason that any person of ingenuity could counterfeit aluminum money, whereas it would be exceedingly difficult, and would, besides, be a direct forgery of signatures to counterfeit paper money.
"You have done me a great favor," the General replied, "in making this request. I should have long ago begun the substitution of paper money for money made of aluminum, but for the reason that you and your constituents had always seemed so bitterly opposed to the idea of paper money. But I realize as well as you that we need the enactment of strict laws upon the subject of counterfeiting, and they are, you will be glad to hear, already carefully framed, and within a few days will become a fact through the action of the council. I will then take pleasure in exchanging your aluminum for you at any time you may see fit."
It was the last time that John Sherwood was seen. Aside from his failure to run the country as he desired, was a sincere mortification at having been held up as wrong to the whole community. He took passage for Pompey, and lived quietly there with certain friends as bitter and arrogant as himself. They had enough money to keep them in prosperity but as there was no intrinsic value in even a vast aggregation of money, no their wealth brought them neither friends, happiness, innocence nor hope.
Julius left us on his quest for his love, and for many months we heard nothing of him. Daily we spoke of him, and prayed for his success. The nation marveled at his disappearance from public affairs, and, another election being at hand, were anxious for his return, that they might make, him secretary of the council. But no news of him was received by any one.
Although we had met with humble prosperity in town since my return to life and liberty, still neither Lesbia nor I were satisfied.
We hungered for the country.
"A dawn in the city," said Lesbia one morning as we arose, "only means that the people are sweeping their sidewalks. A dawn in the country means that God has created another poem."
There were many other reasons why we longed for the country. It was not natural for either of us to be keepers of a shop. We longed to be more by ourselves than we ever could be in a place of that sort.
"I do not like the eye of the public always on me," Lesbia used to say, facetiously. So we decided to buy us a farm, which we now had money enough to do, providing that the farm was small. We decided that it would be better for folk who had already spent a good part of their energy and their years in a conflict with the world, to get a farm which was already under cultivation. For there was no question but that both of us were much broken in health. So we got us a place not very far from the capital, in order that we might keep in contact with the intellectual life there. Many of the friends of our earlier days lived there, and our friendship was at once renewed with them. And though we lived in great simplicity, and our friends were most of them accustomed to elaborate living, they always seemed to feel it a relief and delight to visit at our home.
A beautiful home it truly was, in the midst of an orchard, through which, at the front, ran a solemn avenue of cedars, reaching down to a sea of almost terrible blueness. The house was without ornamentation—large, quiet, furnished with the simplest things designed to give comfort, with books everywhere, and a few fine statues, which, through all, Lesbia had saved because of their beauty, and because they belonged to her childhood home. We felt that we had a place in which not only the body, but the soul, could find rest. We worked, ourselves, busily all day, but we did not work with any feeling of slavishness, as in the old days. From our servants we required no more than eight hours of work a day, with the exception of the performance of such necessary tasks as feeding the animals, and other duties of the kind. In these we took turns, day and day about, and while we did not live on terms of close intimacy with our servants, for the reason that we believed in keeping the privacy of our family life intact from the intrusion of any one, yet we saw that they had rooms as good as those in which we lived, and fare as fine.
And it was now, at the very verge of old age almost, that a great and unexpected happiness came to us—a daughter, with serene eyes and a marvelous smile, who turned life into poetry for us, and who absorbed from our hearts the memory of all our sorrows.
The sorrows of others no longer oppressed us with vicarious grief. A moderate but indestructible prosperity made itself everywhere felt. Only the indolent or the sick now felt the stress of poverty—that is to say, of such poverty as causes degradation of the mind or suffering of the body. Almost every one owned his bit of land, for when the taxes began to be levied almost exclusively upon land, the millionaires no longer found it profitable to own vast tracts, to the exclusion of other men, and were as anxious to sell as they had hitherto been to retain a monopoly of it. This distribution of land made a fairly even distribution of taxation, so that no man felt the burden. Besides, we had now men in the administration of affairs—and particularly of municipal business—who had made a study of it, and who, therefore, conducted public affairs with more precision and economy than had previously been employed. For, by the old system of frequent election, we had been forever discharging men who, at the public expense, had acquired a comparative knowledge of their duties and how best to perform them, for men utterly unacquainted with the work. This had caused a vast waste of public money, and the correction of this abuse was felt favorably.
Another thing had disappeared—our aristocracy of money. A truer philosophy than that of the glory of wealth had taken its place. To be the producer of anything which added to the happiness of man was now considered to be the greatest honor that a man could bear in commercial matters. This exceeding change of sentiment was sudden, as great reformations sometimes appear to be. That is to say, the outbreak of ideas is sudden as is the eruption of a volcano. But no man can tell how long they have been seething and boiling within.
The prophecy of Julius, made in jest, that our millionaires would be among our most valuable citizens, proved to be quite true. They had a grace, a cultivation, a cosmopolitan sentiment, and experience with affairs, born of years of leisure and opportunity, which qualified them to act in many capacities in which a man used to quieter life would have done but poorly. At least two of our best poets were, within a year, developed among this class. Some of our great artists belonged there. Many of these former millionaires had a gift of oratory. Many had executive ability. They became, as had been jestingly predicted, very valuable citizens of the state.
A palpable peace seemed to have settled down upon the country after our years of strife. Sorrow there was, for there must always be sorrow where there is death, and disease, and disappointment. But with the unnecessary suffering eliminated, life in Sorosis was a great contrast to what it had been. Out in the old section, where we had lived in our younger days, and where Julius' "melancholy tribe of bachelors," as he used to call them, were still living, we heard that there had been many marriages. The increase of marriages, now that men could find a way of getting work and of receiving money for it, would have been almost ludicrous, if behind it had not always lurked the suggestion of all the lonely and bereft years which had preceded.
Lesbia and I found it hard to be sufficiently disinterested to rejoice at all these happy weddings while we still fancied Julius as keeping up his weary search from town to town.
But at length news came. It was in the way of a letter from Julius himself.
"I have found her," he wrote, "and, as she said, she was in a little town by the sea—but the very most unlikely town that ever was heard of. And what do you think I found my beautiful Octavia doing? Making fishing-nets! Can you imagine it. All day long, in a little cottage that looked down banks of shale upon the sea, the two, she and her father, sat together meshing nets, and talking in their philosophic way. Can you wonder that I was a long time finding them? But so well contented do they seem that I swear to you that I was almost tempted to give up the fever of a life back there at the capital, and take to making fishing-nets myself. But Octavia will not have it so. She says that she ran away from me that she might not be a drag upon what she is pleased to call my 'career,' and that if I insist on taking her with me, we will go to the capital. To-morrow we are to be married here, in the same little bare cottage where she was woven her nets and her pretty delusion that she could escape me. We are going to stop to see you, and then we are going to the capital, where almost any sort of a fate may be in store for us. Of course we take Abaces with us, and he is to have solitude, for which he prays above everything, even if I have to build a tower with iron doors to insure it for him."
Fate had a very happy revelation in store—much happier than Julius had any idea of when he wrote. For he found himself a sort of unofficial guide and mentor for the nation, and particularly for the young. He was idol of the rising generation. If he recommended the reading of a book, its author immediately became wealthy. If he applauded at an opera, that opera became a success. He kept alive the spirit of patriotism by brief and peculiar contributions to the magazines, calculated to inspire a love of country in the young. Socially he was a peculiar figure. His curious house was thronged every evening that he chose to open it, and he used to lay corner-stones and make addresses at more things any other man who ever lived. His inventions succeeded, not alone because they were good, but because they were his. He had children, and the public adopted them, and knew all about them, and fairly helped to bring them up. Lesbia and I often visited there, with our little daughter, and though I shrank from the brilliant men and women one was certain to meet, and wished myself back among my meadows, Lesbia enjoyed herself greatly, and, I could not help acknowledging, was as brilliant and beautiful as any there.
It was on one of these visits that Julius made us the present of a fine air-ship, and in this Lesbia and I used often to take long journeys across the land, stopping at towns for food or rest, and then journeying on over marvelous stretches of country. We felt almost like gods, thus accoutered with power to go where we liked, and never did our mood seem more nearly sublime than when, under the stars, amid the streamers of the Aurora Borealis, we moved along the night skies, alone with the vastness and the sublimity.
"If the hour comes when you know me to be dying," Lesbia said once, "take me up here, near the sky, and let me die far from the earth, which has been so defiled by the vileness of man."
As we had not been to the American coast for many years, we took a journey thither, and one night, in a sail in our air-ship over the vast blue sea, I noticed a current, different in color from the water around it, running rapidly toward the south. This current was about three hundred feet wide, and ran like a river in the midst of the other water.
"I think," I said to Lesbia, "that if I were minded, I might launch a boat in that current, and be carried to the continent of North America. Perhaps it would not be so difficult to reach my native land as I have hitherto feared."
Lesbia grasped my arms tremblingly.
"Paul," she whispered, with tense eyes fixed on mine, "you cannot mean—you surely cannot dream of ever returning to your home? If you go I must die. There is nothing else for me to do!"
"You foolish woman," I cried, impatiently, "you speak with as little confidence in me as if I were almost unknown to you."
"Never mind how I speak," she persisted. "I would not go with you to that strange land. And if you leave me"—
Her head sank upon my arms, and I caught a glimpse of bright tears falling.
So I resolutely turned my eyes away from that strong, free current which was running so gladly and swiftly toward the south. Yet, try as I would, I could not get it out of mind. And at last I conceived the idea of sending in a cylinder of aluminum this curious history of a people belonging to America—truly, I think they may be called Americans—and of my own adventures here.
I hope it will be read by those who have the power to prevent any such occurrences as I have set forth from ever saddening my own beloved country. For, truly, our liberty in Sorosis was well nigh lost through the specious sophistry of interested and grasping men. But I cannot picture to myself that any such catastrophe will ever befall a country in which human liberty has ever been held to be the dearest of things.
In the midst of a beneficent calm and prosperity in my adopted home, I have written this chronicle.
Perhaps it may serve as a warning.
Perhaps it may be only a diversion to those who love to read of strange lands and circumstances.