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With Her in Ourland

With Her in Ourland

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 The Return

  • THE three of us, all with set faces of high determination, sat close in th_ig biplane as we said goodbye to Herland and rose whirring from the leve_ock on that sheer edge. We went up first, and made a wide circuit, that m_ife Ellador might have a view of her own beloved land to remember. How gree_nd fair and flower-brightened it lay below us! The little cities, the thic_otted villages, the scattered hamlets and wide parks of grouped houses la_gain beneath our eyes as when we three men had first set our astonishe_asculine gaze on this ultra-feminine land.
  • Our long visit, the kind care, and judicious education given us, even thoug_nder restraint, and our months of freedom and travel among them, made it see_o me like leaving a second home. The beauty of the place was borne in upon m_new as I looked down on it. It was a garden, a great cultivated park, even t_ts wildest forested borders, and the cities were ornaments to the landscape, thinning out into delicate lace-like tracery of scattered buildings as the_erged into the open country.
  • Terry looked at it with set teeth. He was embittered through and through, an_ut for Ellador I could well imagine the kind of things he would have said. H_nly made this circuit at her request, as one who said: "Oh, well—an hour o_wo more or less—it's over, anyhow!"
  • Then the long gliding swoop as we descended to our sealed motor-boat in th_ake below. It was safe enough. Perhaps the savages had considered it som_eadly witch-work and avoided it; at any rate, save for some dents an_cratches on the metal cover, it was unhurt.
  • With some careful labor, Terry working with a feverish joyful eagerness, w_ot the machine dissembled and packed away, pulled in the anchors, and wit_ell-applied oiling started the long disused motor, and moved off toward th_reat river.
  • Ellador's eyes were on the towering cliffs behind us. I gave her the glass, and as long as we were on the open water her eyes dwelt lovingly on the hig_ocky border of her home. But when we shot under the arching gloom of th_orest she turned to me with a little sigh and a bright, steady smile.
  • "That's good-bye," she said. "Now it's all looking forward to the Big Ne_orld—the Real World—with You!"
  • Terry said very little. His heavy jaw was set, his eyes looked forward, eagerly, determinedly. He was polite to Ellador, and not impolite to me, bu_e was not conversational.
  • We made the trip as fast as was consistent with safety; faster, sometimes; living on our canned food and bottled water, stopping for no fresh meat; shooting down the ever-widening river toward the coast.
  • Ellador watched it all with eager, childlike interest. The freshness of min_f these Herland women concealed their intellectual power. I never quite go_sed to it. We are so used to seeing our learned men cold and solemn, holdin_hemselves far above all the "enthusiasm of youth," that it is hard for us t_ssociate a high degree of wisdom and intellectual power with vivid interes_n immediate events.
  • Here was my Wife from Wonderland, leaving all she had ever known,—a lifetim_f peace and happiness and work she loved, and a whole nation of friends, a_ar as she knew them; and starting out with me for a world which I frankl_old her was full of many kinds of pain and evil. She was not afraid. It wa_ot sheer ignorance of danger, either. I had tried hard to make her understan_he troubles she would meet. Neither was it a complete absorption in me—fa_rom it. In our story books we read always of young wives giving up all the_ave known and enjoyed "for his sake." That was by no means Ellador'_osition. She loved me—that I knew, but by no means with that engrossin_bsorption so familiar to our novelists and their readers. Her attitude wa_hat of some high ambassador sent on an important and dangerous mission. Sh_epresented her country, and that with a vital intensity we can hardl_ealize. She was to meet and learn a whole new world, and perhaps establis_onnections between it and her own dear land.
  • As Terry held to his steering, grim and silent, that feverish eagerness in hi_yes, and a curb on his usually ready tongue, Ellador would sit in the bow, leaning forward, chin on her hand, her eyes ahead, far ahead, down the lon_eaches of the winding stream, with an expression such as one could imagine o_olumbus. She was glad to have me near her. I was not only her own, in _egree she herself did not yet realize, but I was her one link with th_omeland. So I sat close and we talked much of the things we saw and more o_hat we were going to see. Her short soft hair, curly in the moist air, an_ippling back from her bright face as we rushed along, gave the broad forehea_nd clear eyes a more courageous look than ever. That finely cut mobile mout_as firmly set, though always ready to melt into a tender smile for me.
  • "Now Van, my dear," she said one day, as we neared the coast town where w_oped to find a steamer, "Please don't worry about how all this is going t_ffect me. You have been drawing very hard pictures of your own land, and o_he evil behavior of men; so that I shall not be disappointed or shocked to_uch. I won't be, dear. I understand that men are different from women—mus_e, but I am convinced that it is better for the world to have both men an_omen than to have only one sex, like us. We have done the best we could, w_omen, all alone. We have made a nice little safe clean garden place and live_appily in it, but we have done nothing whatever for the rest of the world. W_ight as well not be there for all the good it does anyone else. The savage_own below are just as savage, for all our civilization. Now you, even if yo_ere, as you say, driven by greed and sheer love of adventure and fighting—yo_ave gone all over the world and civilized it."
  • "Not all, dear," I hastily put in. "Not nearly all. There are ever so man_avages left."
  • "Yes I know that, I remember the maps and all the history and geography yo_ave taught me."
  • It was a never-ending source of surprise to me the way those Herland wome_nderstood and remembered. It must have been due to their entirely differen_ystem of education. There was very much less put into their minds, fro_nfancy up, and what was there seemed to grow there—to stay in place withou_ffort. All the new facts we gave them they had promptly hung up in the righ_laces, like arranging things in a large well-planned, not over-filled closet, and they knew where to find them at once.
  • "I can readily see," she went on, "that our pleasant collective economy i_ike that of bees and ants and such co-mothers ; and that a world of father_oes not work as smoothly as that. We have observed, of course, among animals, that the instincts of the male are different from those of the female, an_hat he likes to fight. But think of all you have done!"
  • That was what delighted Ellador. She was never tired of my stories o_nvention and discovery, of the new lands we had found, the mountain range_rossed, the great oceans turned into highways, and all the wonders of art an_cience. She loved it as did Desdemona the wild tales of her lover, but wit_ore understanding.
  • "It must be nobler to have Two," she would say, her eyes shining. "We are onl_alf a people. Of course we love each other, and have advanced our own littl_ountry, but it is such a little one— and you have The World !"
  • We reached the coast in due time, and the town. It was not much of a town, dirty and squalid enough, with lazy halfbreed inhabitants for the most part.
  • But this I had carefully explained and Ellador did not mind it, examinin_verything with kind impartial eyes, as a teacher would examine the work o_typical children.
  • Terry loved it. He greeted that slovenly, ill-built, idle place with ardor, and promptly left us to ourselves for the most part.
  • There was no steamer. None had touched there for many months, they said; bu_here was a sailing vessel which undertook, for sufficient payment, to take u_nd our motor-boat with its contents, to a larger port.
  • Terry and I had our belts with gold and notes; he had letters of credit too, while Ellador had brought with her not only a supply of gold, but a little ba_f rubies, which I assured her would take us several times around the world, and more. The money system in Herland was mainly paper, and their jewels, while valued for decoration, were not prized as ours are. They had som_istoric treasure chests, rivalling those of India, and she had been ampl_upplied.
  • After some delay we set sail.
  • Terry walked the deck, more eager as the days passed. Ellador, I am sorry t_ay, proved a poor sailor, as was indeed to be expected, but made no fus_bout her disabilities. I told her it was almost unescapable, unpleasant bu_ot dangerous, so she stayed in her berth, or sat wrapped mummy fashion on th_eck, and suffered in patience.
  • Terry talked a little more when we were out of her hearing.
  • "Do you know they say there's a war in Europe ?" he told me.
  • "A war? A real one—or just the Balkans?"
  • "A real one, they say—Germany and Austria against the rest of Europ_pparently. Began months ago—no news for a long time."
  • "Oh well—it will be over before we reach home, I guess. Lucky for us we ar_mericans."
  • But I was worried for Ellador. I wanted the world, my world, to look its bes_n her eyes. If those women, alone and unaided, had worked out that pleasant, peaceful, comfortable civilization of theirs, with its practical sisterlines_nd friendliness all over the land, I was very anxious to show her that me_ad done at least as well, and in some ways better —men and women, that is.
  • And here we had gotten up a war—a most undesirable spectacle for a_nternational guest.
  • There was a missionary on board, a thin, almost emaciated man, of th_resbyterian denomination. He was a most earnest person, and a great talker, naturally.
  • "Woe unto me," he would say, "if I preach not this gospel! And he preached it
  • "in season and out of season."
  • Ellador was profoundly interested. I tried to explain to her that he was a_nthusiast of a rather rigid type, and that she must not judge Christianit_oo harshly by him, but she quite re-assured me.
  • "Don't be afraid, my dear boy—I remember your outline of the variou_eligions—all about how Christianity arose and spread; how it held together i_ne church for a long time, and then divided, and kept on dividing—naturally.
  • And I remember about the religious wars, and persecutions, that you used t_ave in earlier ages. We had a good deal of trouble with religion in our firs_enturies too, and for a long time people kept appearing with some sort of ne_ne they had had 'revealed' to them, just like yours. But we saw that all tha_as needed was a higher level of mentality and a clear understanding of th_eal Laws—so we worked toward that. And, as you know, we have been quite a_eace as to our religion for some centuries. It's just part of us."
  • That was the clearest way of putting it she had yet thought of. The Herlan_eligion was like the manners of a true aristocrat, a thing unborn and inbred.
  • It was the way they lived. They had so clear and quick a connection betwee_onviction and action that it was well nigh impossible for them to know _hing and not do it. I suppose that was why, when we had told them about th_oble teachings of Christianity, they had been so charmed, taking it fo_ranted that our behavior was equal to our belief.
  • The Reverend Alexander Murdock was more than pleased to talk with Ellador—an_an would be, of course. He was immensely curious about her too, but even t_mpertinent questions she presented an amiable but absolute impermeability.
  • "From what country do you come, Mrs. Jennings;" he asked her one day, in m_earing. He did not know I was within earshot, however.
  • Ellador was never annoyed by questions, nor angry, nor confused. Where mos_eople seem to think that there is no alternative but to answer correctly o_o lie, she recognized an endless variety of things to say or not say.
  • Sometimes she would look pleasantly at the inquirer, with those deep kind eye_f hers, and ask: "Why do you wish to know ?" Not sarcastically, no_ffensively at all, but as if she really wanted to know why they wanted t_now. It was generally difficult for them to explain the cause of thei_uriosity, but if they did; if they said it was just interest, a kindly huma_nterest in her, she would thank them for the interest, and ask if they fel_t about every one. If they said they did, she would say, still with her quie_entleness: "And is it customary, when one feels interested in a stranger, t_sk them questions? I mean is it a —what you call a compliment? If so, I than_ou heartily for the compliment."
  • If they drove her—some people never will take a hint—she would remain alway_uite courteous and gentle, even praise them for their perseverance, but neve_ay one word she did not choose to. And she did not choose to give to anyon_ews of her beloved country until such time as that country decided it shoul_e done.
  • The missionary was not difficult to handle.
  • "Did you not say that you were to preach the gospel to all nations—or al_eople—or something like that?" she asked him. "Do you find some nation_asier to preach to than others? Or is it the same gospel to all?"
  • He assured her that it was the same, but that he was naturally interested i_ll his hearers, and that it was often important to know something of thei_ntecedents. This she agreed might be an advantage, and left it at that, asking him if he would let her see his Bible. Once he was embarked on tha_ubject, she had only to listen, and to steer the conversation, or rather th_onologue.
  • I told her I had overheard this bit of conversation, begging her pardon fo_istening, but she said she would greatly enjoy having me with her while h_alked. I told her I doubted if he would talk as freely if there were three o_s, and she suggested in that case that if I was interested I was quit_elcome to listen as far as she was concerned. Of course I wasn't going to b_n eavesdropper, even on a missionary trying to convert my wife, but I heard _ood bit of their talk as I strolled about, and sat with them sometimes.
  • He let her read his precious flexible Oxford Bible at times, giving her marke_assages, and she read about a hundred times as much as he thought she coul_n a given time. It interested her immensely, and she questioned him eagerl_bout it:
  • "You call this 'The Word of God'?"
  • "Yes," he replied solemnly. "It is His Revealed Word."
  • "And every thing it says is true?"
  • "It is Truth itself, Divine Truth," he answered.
  • "You do not mean that God wrote it ?"
  • "Oh, no. He revealed it to His servants. It is an Inspired Book."
  • "It was written by many people, was it not?"
  • "Yes—many people, but the same Word."
  • "And at different times ?'
  • "Oh yes—the revelation was given at long intervals—the Old Testament to th_ews, the New Testament to us all."
  • Ellador turned the pages reverently. She had a great respect for religion, an_or any sincere person.
  • "How old is the oldest part ?" she asked him.
  • He told her as best he could, but he was not versed in the latest scholarshi_nd had a genuine horror of "the higher criticism." But I supplied a littl_nformation on the side, when we were alone, telling her of the patchwor_roup of ancient legends which made up the first part; of the very huma_ouncils of men who had finally decided which of the ancient writings wer_nspired and which were not; of how the Book of Job, the oldest of all, ha_nly scraped in by one vote, and then, with rather a malicious relish, of tha_ost colossal joke of all history—how the Song of Songs—that amorous, not t_ay salacious ancient love-lyric, had been embraced with the others an_nterpreted as a mystical lofty outburst of devotion with that "black bu_omely" light-o'-love figuring as The Church.
  • Ellador was quite shocked.
  • "But Van!—he ought to know that. You ought to tell him. Is it generall_nown?"
  • "It is known to scholars, not to the public as a whole."
  • "But they still have it bound in with the others—and think it is holy—when i_sn't."
  • "Yes," I grinned, "the joke is still going on."
  • "What have the scholars done about it?" she asked.
  • "Oh, they have worked out their proof, shown up the thing—and let it go a_hat."
  • "Wasn't there any demand from the people who knew to have it taken out of th_ible?"
  • "There is one edition of the Bible now printed in all the separate books—_hole shelf full of little ones, instead of one big one."
  • "I should think that would be much better," she said, "but the other one i_till printed—and sold?"
  • "Printed and sold and given away by hundreds of thousands—with The Joke goin_ight on."
  • She was puzzled. It was not so much the real outside things we did which sh_ound it hard to understand, but the different way our minds worked. I_erland, if a thing like that had been discovered, the first effort of al_heir wisest students would have been to establish the facts. When they wer_ure about it, they would then have taken the rather shameful old thing out o_ts proud position among the "sacred" books at once. They would have publicl_cknowledged their mistake, rectified it, and gone on.
  • "You'll have to be very patient with me, Van dearest. It is going to take me _ong time to get hold of your psychology. But I'll do my best."
  • Her best was something amazing. And she would have come to her fina_onclusions far earlier but for certain firm preconceptions that we wer_omehow better, nobler, than we were.
  • The Reverend Murdock kept at her pretty steadily. He started in at th_eginning, giving her the full circumstantial account of The Temptation, Th_all, and The Curse.
  • She listened quietly, with no hint in her calm face of what she might b_hinking. But when he came to the punishment of the serpent: "Upon thy bell_halt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life," she asked _uestion.
  • "Will you tell me please—how did the serpent 'go' before?"
  • Mr. Murdock looked at her. He was reading in a deep sorrowful voice, his min_ull of the solemn purport of the Great Tragedy.
  • "What was his method of locomotion before he was cursed?" asked Ellador.
  • He laid down the book in some annoyance. "It is believed that the serpen_alked erect, that he stood like a man, that he was Satan himself," h_eplied.
  • "But it says: "Now the serpent was more subtile than any of the beasts of th_ield," doesnt it? And the picture you showed me is of a snake, in the tree."
  • "The picture is, as it were, allegorical," he replied. "It is not reverent t_uestion the divine account like this."
  • She did not mind this note of censure, but asked further: "As a matter o_act, do snakes eat dust?  Or is that allegorical too? How do you know whic_s allegorical and which is fact? Who decides?"
  • They had a rather stormy discussion on that point; at least the missionary wa_tormy. He was unable to reconcile Ellador's gentle courtesy with her singula_ack of reverence for mere statements.
  • But our theological discussions were summarily ended, and Ellador reduced t_linging to her berth, by a severe storm. It was not a phenomenal hurricane b_ny means; but a steady lashing gale which drove us far out of our course, an_o damaged the vessel that we could do little but drive before the wind.
  • "There's a steamer !" said Terry on the third day of heavy weather. And as w_atched the drift of smoke on the horizon we found it was nearing us. And non_oo soon! By the time they were within hailing distance our small vessel ra_p signals of distress, for we were leaking heavily, and we were thankful t_e taken off, even though the steamer, a Swedish one, was bound for Europ_nstead of America.
  • They gave us better accommodations than we had had on the other, and eagerl_ook on board our big motor-boat and biplane—too eagerly, I thought.
  • Ellador was greatly interested in the larger ship, the big blond men, and i_heir talk. I prepared her as well as I could. They had good maps of Europe, and I filled in her outlines of history as far as I was able, and told her o_he war. Her horror at this was natural enough.
  • "We have always had war," Terry explained. "Ever since the world began— a_east as far as history goes, we have have had war. It is human nature."
  • "Human?" asked Ellador.
  • "Yes," he said, "human. Bad as it is, it is evidently human nature to do it.
  • Nations advance, the race is improved by fighting. It is the law of nature."
  • Since our departure from Herland, Terry had rebounded like a rubber ball fro_ll its influences. Even his love for Alima he was evidently striving t_orget, with some success. As for the rest, he had never studied the countr_nd its history as I had, nor accepted it like Jeff; and now he was treatin_t all as if it really was, what he had often called it to me, a bad dream. H_ould keep his word in regard to telling nothing about it; that virtue was hi_t any rate. But in his glad reaction, his delighted return, "a man in a worl_f men," he was now giving information to Ellador in his superior way, as i_he was a totally ignorant stranger. And this war seemed almost to deligh_im.
  • "Yes," he repeated, "you will have to accept life as it is. To make war i_uman activity."
  • "Are some of the soldiers women?" she inquired.
  • "Women! Of course not! They are men; strong, brave men. Once in a while som_bnormal woman becomes a soldier, I believe, and in Dahomey—that's i_frica—one of the black tribes have women soldiers. But speaking generally i_s men—of course."
  • "Then why do you call it 'human' nature?" she persisted. "If it was huma_ouldn't they both do it?"
  • So he tried to explain that it was a human necessity, but it was done by th_en because they could do it—and the women couldn't. "The women are just a_ndispensable —in their way. They give us the children—you know—men cannot d_hat."
  • To hear Terry talk you would think he had never left home.
  • Ellador listened to him with her grave gentle smile. She always seemed t_nderstand not only what one said, but all the back-ground of sentiment an_abit behind.
  • "Do you call bearing children 'human nature'?" she asked him.
  • "It's woman nature," he answered. "It's her work."
  • "Then why do you not call fighting 'man nature'—instead of human?"
  • Terry's conclusion of an argument with Ellador was the simple one of goin_omewhere else. So off he went, to enjoy himself in the society of thos_turdy Scandinavians, and we two sat together discussing war.