A Traveler from Altruria, by William Dean Howells

VII

The Altrurian looked at Mrs. Makely with an amazement visibly heightened by the air of complacency she put on after delivering this poser: “Do you really think Christ meant that you ought always to have the poor with you?” he asked.

“Why, of course!” she answered, triumphantly. “How else are the sympathies of the rich to be cultivated? The poverty of some and the wealth of others, isn’t that what forms the great tie of human brotherhood? If we were all comfortable, or all shared alike, there could not be anything like charity, and Paul said, ‘The greatest of these is charity.’ I believe it’s ‘love’ in the new version, but it comes to the same thing.”

The Altrurian gave a kind of gasp, and then lapsed into a silence that lasted until we came in sight of the Camp farm-house. It stood on the crest of a road-side upland, and looked down the beautiful valley, bathed in Sabbath sunlight, and away to the ranges of hills, so far that it was hard to say whether it was sun or shadow that dimmed their distance. Decidedly, the place was what the country people call sightly. The old house, once painted a Brandon red, crouched low to the ground, with its lean-to in the rear, and its flat-arched wood-sheds and wagon-houses stretching away at the side of the barn, and covering the approach to it with an unbroken roof. There were flowers in the beds along the underpinning of the house, which stood close to the street, and on one side of the door was a clump of Spanish willow; an old-fashioned June rose climbed over it from the other. An aged dog got stiffly to his feet from the threshold stone and whimpered as our buckboard drew up; the poultry picking about the path and among the chips lazily made way for us, and as our wheels ceased to crunch upon the gravel we heard hasty steps, and Reuben Camp came round the corner of the house in time to give Mrs. Makely his hand and help her spring to the ground, which she did very lightly; her remarkable mind had kept her body in a sort of sympathetic activity, and at thirty-five she had the gracile ease and self-command of a girl.

“Ah, Reuben,” she sighed, permitting herself to call him by his first name, with the emotion which expressed itself more definitely in the words that followed, “how I envy you all this dear, old, homelike place! I never come here without thinking of my grandfather’s farm in Massachusetts, where I used to go every summer when I was a little girl. If I had a place like this, I should never leave it.”

“Well, Mrs. Makely,” said young Camp, “you can have this place cheap, if you really want it. Or almost any other place in the neighborhood.”

“Don’t say such a thing!” she returned. “It makes one feel as if the foundations of the great deep were giving way. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I suppose it’s equivalent to mislaying George’s hatchet and going back on the Declaration generally; and I don’t like to hear you talk so.”

Camp seemed to have lost his bitter mood, and he answered, pleasantly: “The Declaration is all right, as far as it goes, but it don’t help us to compete with the Western farm operations.”

“Why, you believe every one was born free and equal, don’t you?” Mrs. Makely asked.

“Oh yes, I believe that; but —”

“Then why do you object to free and equal competition?”

The young fellow laughed, and said, as he opened the door for us: “Walk right into the parlor, please. Mother will be ready for you in a minute.” He added: “I guess she’s putting on her best cap for you, Mr. Homos. It’s a great event for her, your coming here. It is for all of us. We’re glad to have you.”

“And I’m glad to be here,” said the Altrurian, as simply as the other. He looked about the best room of a farm-house that had never adapted itself to the tastes or needs of the city boarder, and was as stiffly repellent in its upholstery and as severe in its decoration as hair-cloth chairs and dark-brown wall-paper of a trellis pattern, with drab roses, could make it. The windows were shut tight, and our host did not offer to open them. A fly or two crossed the doorway into the hall, but made no attempt to penetrate the interior, where we sat in an obscurity that left the high-hung family photographs on the walls vague and uncertain. I made a mental note of it as a place where it would be very characteristic to have a rustic funeral take place; and I was pleased to have Mrs. Makely drop into a sort of mortuary murmur, as she said: “I hope your mother is as well as usual this morning?” I perceived that this murmur was produced by the sepulchral influence of the room.

“Oh yes,” said Camp, and at that moment a door opened from the room across the hall, and his sister seemed to bring in some of the light from it to us where we sat. She shook hands with Mrs. Makely, who introduced me to her, and then presented the Altrurian. She bowed very civilly to me, but with a touch of severity, such as country people find necessary for the assertion of their self-respect with strangers. I thought it very pretty, and instantly saw that I could work it into some picture of character; and I was not at all sorry that she made a difference in favor of the Altrurian.

“Mother will be so glad to see you,” she said to him, and, “Won’t you come right in?” she added to us all.

We followed her and found ourselves in a large, low, sunny room on the southeast corner of the house, which had no doubt once been the living-room, but which was now given up to the bedridden invalid; a door opened into the kitchen behind, where the table was already laid for the midday meal, with the plates turned down in the country fashion, and some netting drawn over the dishes to keep the flies away.

Mrs. Makely bustled up to the bedside with her energetic, patronizing cheerfulness. “Ah, Mrs. Camp, I am glad to see you looking so well this morning. I’ve been meaning to run over for several days past, but I couldn’t find a moment till this morning, and I knew you didn’t object to Sunday visits.” She took the invalid’s hand in hers, and, with the air of showing how little she felt any inequality between them, she leaned over and kissed her, where Mrs. Camp sat propped against her pillows. She had a large, nobly moulded face of rather masculine contour, and at the same time the most motherly look in the world. Mrs. Makely bubbled and babbled on, and every one waited patiently till she had done, and turned and said, toward the Altrurian: “I have ventured to bring my friend, Mr. Homos, with me. He is from Altruria.” Then she turned to me and said: “Mr. Twelvemough you know already through his delightful books”; but, although she paid me this perfunctory compliment it was perfectly apparent to me that in the esteem of this disingenuous woman the distinguished stranger was a far more important person than the distinguished author. Whether Mrs. Camp read my perception of this fact in my face or not I cannot say, but she was evidently determined that I should not feel a difference in her. She held out her hand to me first, and said that I never could know how many heavy hours I had helped to lighten for her, and then she turned to the Altrurian and took his hand. “Oh!” she said, with a long, deep-drawn sigh, as if that were the supreme moment of her life. “And are you really from Altruria? It seems too good to be true!” Her devout look and her earnest tone gave the commonplace words a quality that did not inhere in them, but Mrs. Makely took them on their surface.

“Yes, doesn’t it?” she made haste to interpose, before the Altrurian could say anything. “That is just the way we all feel about it, Mrs. Camp. I assure you, if it were not for the accounts in the papers and the talk about it everywhere, I couldn’t believe there was any such place as Altruria; and if it were not for Mr. Twelvemough here — who has to keep all his inventions for his novels, as a mere matter of business routine — I might really suspect him and Mr. Homos of — well, working us, as my husband calls it.”

The Altrurian smiled politely, but vaguely, as if he had not quite caught her meaning, and I made answer for both: “I am sure, Mrs. Makely, if you could understand my peculiar state of mind about Mr. Homos, you would never believe that I was in collusion with him. I find him quite as incredible as you do. There are moments when he seems so entirely subjective with me that I feel as if he were no more definite or tangible than a bad conscience.”

“Exactly!” said Mrs. Makely, and she laughed out her delight in my illustration.

The Altrurian must have perceived that we were joking, though the Camps all remained soberly silent. “I hope it isn’t so bad as that,” he said, “though I have noticed that I seem to affect you all with a kind of misgiving. I don’t know just what it is; but, if I could remove it, I should be very glad to do so.”

Mrs. Makely very promptly seized her chance: “Well, then, in the first place, my husband and I were talking it over last night after we left you, and that was one of the things that kept us awake; it turned into money afterward. It isn’t so much that a whole continent, as big as Australia, remained undiscovered till within such a very few years, as it is the condition of things among you: this sort of all living for one another, and not each one for himself. My husband says that is simply moonshine; such a thing never was and never can be; it is opposed to human nature, and would take away incentive and all motive for exertion and advancement and enterprise. I don’t know what he didn’t say against it; but one thing, he says it’s perfectly unAmerican.” The Altrurian remained silent, gravely smiling, and Mrs. Makely added, with her most engaging little manner: “I hope you won’t feel hurt, personally or patriotically, by what I’ve repeated to you. I know my husband is awfully Philistine, though he is such a good fellow, and I don’t, by any means, agree with him on all those points; but I would like to know what you think of them. The trouble is, Mrs. Camp,” she said, turning to the invalid, “that Mr. Homos is so dreadfully reticent about his own country, and I am so curious to hear of it at first hands, that I consider it justifiable to use any means to make him open up about it.”

“There is no offence,” the Altrurian answered for himself, “in what Mr. Makely says, though, from the Altrurian point of view, there is a good deal of error.

“Does it seem so strange to you,” he asked, addressing himself to Mrs. Camp, “that people should found a civilization on the idea of living for one another instead of each for himself?”

“No indeed!” she answered. “Poor people have always had to live that way, or they could not have lived at all.”

“That was what I understood your porter to say last night,” said the Altrurian to me. He added, to the company generally: “I suppose that even in America there are more poor people than there are rich people?”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” I said. “I suppose there are more people independently rich than there are people independently poor.”

“We will let that formulation of it stand. If it is true, I do not see why the Altrurian system should be considered so very unAmerican. Then, as to whether there is or ever was really a practical altruism, a civic expression of it, I think it cannot be denied that among the first Christians, those who immediately followed Christ, and might be supposed to be directly influenced by His life, there was an altruism practised as radical as that which we have organized into a national polity and a working economy in Altruria.”

“Ah, but you know,” said Mrs. Makely, with the air of advancing a point not to be put aside, “they had to drop that. It was a dead failure. They found that they couldn’t make it go at all among cultivated people, and that, if Christianity was to advance, they would have to give up all that crankish kind of idolatry of the mere letter. At any rate,” she went on, with the satisfaction we all feel in getting an opponent into close quarters, “you must confess that there is a much greater play of individuality here.”

Before the Altrurian could reply, young Camp said: “If you want to see American individuality, the real, simon-pure article, you ought to go down to one of our big factory towns and look at the mill-hands coming home in droves after a day’s work, young girls and old women, boys and men, all fluffed over with cotton, and so dead tired that they can hardly walk. They come shambling along with all the individuality of a flock of sheep.”

“Some,” said Mrs. Makely, heroically, as if she were one of these, “must be sacrificed. Of course, some are not so individual as others. A great deal depends upon temperament.”

“A great deal more depends upon capital,” said Camp, with an offensive laugh. “If you have capital in America, you can have individuality; if you haven’t, you can’t.”

His sister, who had not taken part in the talk before, said, demurely: “It seems to me you’ve got a good deal of individuality, Reub, and you haven’t got a great deal of capital, either,” and the two young people laughed together.

Mrs. Makely was one of those fatuous women whose eagerness to make a point excludes the consideration even of their own advantage. “I’m sure,” she said, as if speaking for the upper classes, “we haven’t got any individuality at all. We are as like as so many peas or pins. In fact, you have to be so in society. If you keep asserting your own individuality too much, people avoid you. It’s very vulgar and the greatest bore.”

“Then you don’t find individuality so desirable, after all,” said the Altrurian.

“I perfectly detest it!” cried the lady, and evidently she had not the least notion where she was in the argument. “For my part, I’m never happy except when I’ve forgotten myself and the whole individual bother.”

Her declaration seemed somehow to close the incident, and we were all silent a moment, which I employed in looking about the room, and taking in with my literary sense the simplicity and even bareness of its furnishing. There was the bed where the invalid lay, and near the head a table with a pile of books and a kerosene-lamp on it, and I decided that she was a good deal wakeful, and that she read by that lamp when she could not sleep at night. Then there were the hard chairs we sat on, and some home-made hooked rugs, in rounds and ovals, scattered about the clean floor; there was a small melodeon pushed against the wall; the windows had paper shades, and I recalled that I had not seen any blinds on the outside of the house. Over the head of the bed hung a cavalryman’s sword, with its belt — the sword that Mrs. Makely had spoken of. It struck me as a room where a great many things might have happened, and I said: “You can’t think, Mrs. Camp, how glad I am to see the inside of your house. It seems to me so typical.”

A pleased intelligence showed itself in her face, and she answered: “Yes, it is a real old-fashioned farmhouse. We have never taken boarders, and so we have kept it as it was built pretty much, and only made such changes in it as we needed or wanted for ourselves.”

“It’s a pity,” I went on, following up what I thought a fortunate lead, “that we city people see so little of the farming life when we come into the country. I have been here now for several seasons, and this is the first time I have been inside a farmer’s house.”

“Is it possible!” cried the Altrurian, with an air of utter astonishment; and, when I found the fact appeared so singular to him, I began to be rather proud of its singularity.

“Yes, I suppose that most city people come and go, year after year, in the country, and never make any sort of acquaintance with the people who live there the year round. We keep to ourselves in the hotels, or, if we go out at all, it is to make a call upon some city cottager, and so we do not get out of the vicious circle of our own over-intimacy with ourselves and our ignorance of others.”

“And you regard that as a great misfortune?” asked the Altrurian.

“Why, it’s inevitable. There is nothing to bring us together, unless it’s some happy accident, like the present. But we don’t have a traveler from Altruria to exploit every day, and so we have no business to come into people’s houses.”

“You would have been welcome in ours long ago, Mr. Twelvemough,” said Mrs. Camp.

“But, excuse me,” said the Altrurian, “what you say really seems dreadful to me. Why, it is as if you were not the same race or kind of men!”

“Yes,” I answered. “It has sometimes seemed to me as if our big hotel there were a ship anchored off some strange coast. The inhabitants come out with supplies, and carry on their barter with the ship’s steward, and we sometimes see them over the side, but we never speak to them or have anything to do with them. We sail away at the close of the season, and that is the end of it till next summer.”

The Altrurian turned to Mrs. Camp. “And how do you look at it? How does it seem to you?”

“I don’t believe we have thought about it very much; but, now that Mr. Twelvemough has spoken of it, I can see that it does look that way. And it seems very strange, doesn’t it, for we are all the same people, and have the same language and religion and country — the country that my husband fought for and, I suppose I may say, died for; he was never the same man after the war. It does appear as if we had some interests in common, and might find it out if we ever came together.”

“It’s a great advantage, the city people going into the country so much as they do now,” said Mrs. Makely. “They bring five million dollars into the State of New Hampshire, alone, every summer.”

She looked round for the general approval which this fact merited, and young Camp said: “And it shows how worthless the natives are, that they can’t make both ends meet, with all that money, but have to give up their farms and go West, after all. I suppose you think it comes from wanting buggies and pianos.”

“Well, it certainly comes from something,” said Mrs. Makely, with the courage of her convictions.

She was evidently not going to be put down by that sour young fellow, and I was glad of it, though I must say I thought the thing she left to rankle in his mind from our former meeting had not been said in very good taste. I thought, too, that she would not fare best in any encounter of wits with him, and I rather trembled for the result. I said, to relieve the strained situation: “I wish there was some way of our knowing each other better. I’m sure there’s a great deal of good-will on both sides.”

“No, there isn’t,” said Camp, “or at least I can answer for our side that there isn’t. You come into the country to get as much for your money as you can, and we mean to let you have as little as we can. That’s the whole story, and if Mr. Homos believes anything different, he’s very much mistaken.”

“I hadn’t formed any conclusion in regard to the matter, which is quite new to me,” said the Altrurian, mildly. “But why is there no basis of mutual kindness between you?”

“Because it’s like everything else with us; it’s a question of supply and demand, and there is no room for any mutual kindness in a question of that kind. Even if there were, there is another thing that would kill it. The summer folks, as we call them, look down on the natives, as they call us, and we know it.”

“Now, Mr. Camp, I am sure that you cannot say I look down on the natives,” said Mrs. Makely, with an air of argument.

The young fellow laughed. “Oh yes, you do,” he said, not unamiably, and he added, “and you’ve got the right to. We’re not fit to associate with you, and you know it, and we know it. You’ve got more money, and you’ve got nicer clothes, and you’ve got prettier manners. You talk about things that most natives never heard of, and you care for things they never saw. I know it’s the custom to pretend differently, but I’m not going to pretend differently.”

I recalled what my friend the banker said about throwing away cant, and I asked myself if I were in the presence of some such free spirit again. I did not see how young Camp could afford it; but then I reflected that he had really nothing to lose by it, for he did not expect to make anything out of us; Mrs. Makely would probably not give up his sister as seamstress if the girl continued to work so well and so cheaply as she said.

“Suppose,” he went on, “that some old native took you at your word, and came to call upon you at the hotel, with his wife, just as one of the city cottagers would do if he wanted to make your acquaintance?”

“I should be perfectly delighted,” said Mrs. Makely, “and I should receive them with the greatest possible cordiality.”

“The same kind of cordiality that you would show to the cottagers?”

“I suppose that I should feel that I had more in common with the cottagers. We should be interested in the same things, and we should probably know the same people and have more to talk about —”

“You would both belong to the same class, and that tells the whole story. If you were out West, and the owner of one of those big twenty-thousand-acre farms called on you with his wife, would you act toward them as you would toward our natives? You wouldn’t. You would all be rich people together, and you would understand one another because you had money.”

“Now, that is not so,” Mrs. Makely interrupted. “There are plenty of rich people one wouldn’t wish to know at all, and who really can’t get into society — who are ignorant and vulgar. And then, when you come to money, I don’t see but what country people are as glad to get it as anybody.”

“Oh, gladder,” said the young man.

“Well?” demanded Mrs. Makely, as if this were a final stroke of logic. The young man did not reply, and Mrs. Makely continued: “Now I will appeal to your sister to say whether she has ever seen any difference in my manner toward her from what I show to all the young ladies in the hotel.” The young girl flushed and seemed reluctant to answer. “Why, Lizzie!” cried Mrs. Makely, and her tone showed that she was really hurt.

The scene appeared to me rather cruel, and I glanced at Mrs. Camp with an expectation that she would say something to relieve it. But she did not. Her large, benevolent face expressed only a quiet interest in the discussion.

“You know very well, Mrs. Makely,” said the girl, “you don’t regard me as you do the young ladies in the hotel.”

There was no resentment in her voice or look, but only a sort of regret, as if, but for this grievance, she could have loved the woman from whom she had probably had much kindness. The tears came into Mrs. Makely’s eyes, and she turned toward Mrs. Camp. “And is this the way you all feel toward us?” she asked.

“Why shouldn’t we?” asked the invalid, in her turn. “But, no, it isn’t the way all the country people feel. Many of them feel as you would like to have them feel; but that is because they do not think. When they think, they feel as we do. But I don’t blame you. You can’t help yourselves any more than we can. We’re all bound up together in that, at least.”

At this apparent relenting Mrs. Makely tricked her beams a little, and said, plaintively, as if offering herself for further condolence: “Yes, that is what that woman at the little shanty back there said: some have to be rich, and some have to be poor; it takes all kinds to make a world.”

“How would you like to be one of those that have to be poor?” asked young Camp, with an evil grin.

“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Makely, with unexpected spirit; “but I am sure that I should respect the feelings of all, rich or poor.”

“I am sorry if we have hurt yours, Mrs. Makely,” said Mrs. Camp, with dignity. “You asked us certain questions, and we thought you wished us to reply truthfully. We could not answer you with smooth things.”

“But sometimes you do,” said Mrs. Makely, and the tears stood in her eyes again. “And you know how fond I am of you all!”

Mrs. Camp wore a bewildered look. “Perhaps we have said more than we ought. But I couldn’t help it, and I don’t see how the children could, when you asked them here, before Mr. Homos.”

I glanced at the Altrurian, sitting attentive and silent, and a sudden misgiving crossed my mind concerning him. Was he really a man, a human entity, a personality like ourselves, or was he merely a sort of spiritual solvent, sent for the moment to precipitate whatever sincerity there was in us, and show us what the truth was concerning our relations to one another? It was a fantastic conception, but I thought it was one that I might employ in some sort of purely romantic design, and I was professionally grateful for it. I said, with a humorous gayety: “Yes, we all seem to have been compelled to be much more honest than we like; and if Mr. Homos is going to write an account of his travels when he gets home, he can’t accuse us of hypocrisy, at any rate. And I always used to think it was one of our virtues! What with Mr. Camp, here, and my friend the banker at the hotel, I don’t think he’ll have much reason to complain even of our reticence.”

“Well, whatever he says of us,” sighed Mrs. Makely, with a pious glance at the sword over the bed, “he will have to say that, in spite of our divisions and classes, we are all Americans, and, if we haven’t the same opinions and ideas on minor matters, we all have the same country.”

“I don’t know about that,” came from Reuben Camp, with shocking promptness. “I don’t believe we all have the same country. America is one thing for you, and it’s quite another thing for us. America means ease and comfort and amusement for you, year in and year out, and if it means work, it’s work that you wish to do. For us, America means work that we have to do, and hard work all the time if we’re going to make both ends meet. It means liberty for you; but what liberty has a man got who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from? Once I was in a strike, when I was working on the railroad, and I’ve seen men come and give up their liberty for a chance to earn their family’s living. They knew they were right, and that they ought to have stood up for their rights; but they had to lie down and lick the hand that fed them. Yes, we are all Americans, but I guess we haven’t all got the same country, Mrs. Makely. What sort of a country has a blacklisted man got?”

“A blacklisted man?” she repeated. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, a kind of man I’ve seen in the mill towns, that the bosses have all got on their books as a man that isn’t to be given work on any account; that’s to be punished with hunger and cold, and turned into the street, for having offended them; and that’s to be made to suffer through his helpless family for having offended them.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Camp,” I interposed, “but isn’t a blacklisted man usually a man who has made himself prominent in some labor trouble?”

“Yes,” the young fellow answered, without seeming sensible of the point I had made.

“Ah!” I returned. “Then you can hardly blame the employers for taking it out of him in any way they can. That’s human nature.”

“Good heavens!” the Altrurian cried out. “Is it possible that in America it is human nature to take away the bread of a man’s family because he has gone counter to your interest or pleasure on some economical question?”

“Well, Mr. Twelvemough seems to think so,” sneered the young man. “But whether it’s human nature or not, it’s a fact that they do it, and you can guess how much a blacklisted man must love the country where such a thing can happen to him. What should you call such a thing as blacklisting in Altruria?”

“Oh yes,” Mrs. Makely pleaded, “do let us get him to talking about Altruria on any terms. I think all this about the labor question is so tiresome; don’t you, Mrs. Camp?”

Mrs. Camp did not answer; but the Altrurian said, in reply to her son: “We should have no name for such a thing, for with us such a thing would be impossible. There is no crime so heinous with us that the punishment would take away the criminal’s chance of earning his living.”

“Oh, if he was a criminal,” said young Camp, “he would be all right here. The state would give him a chance to earn his living then.”

“But if he had no other chance of earning his living, and had committed no offence against the laws —”

“Then the state would let him take to the road — like that fellow.”

He pulled aside the shade of the window where he sat, and we saw pausing before the house, and glancing doubtfully at the doorstep, where the dog lay, a vile and loathsome-looking tramp, a blot upon the sweet and wholesome landscape, a scandal to the sacred day. His rags burlesqued the form which they did not wholly hide; his broken shoes were covered with dust; his coarse hair came in a plume through his tattered hat; his red, sodden face, at once fierce and timid, was rusty with a fortnight’s beard. He offended the eye like a visible stench, and the wretched carrion seemed to shrink away from our gaze as if he were aware of his loathsomeness.

“Really,” said Mrs. Makely, “I thought those fellows were arrested now. It is too bad to leave them at large. They are dangerous.” Young Camp left the room, and we saw him going out toward the tramp.

“Ah, that’s quite right,” said the lady. “I hope Reuben is going to send him about his business. Why, surely, he’s not going to feed the horrid creature!” she added, as Camp, after a moment’s parley with the tramp, turned with him and disappeared round a corner of the house. “Now, Mrs. Camp, I think that is really a very bad example. It’s encouraging them. Very likely he’ll go to sleep in your barn, and set it on fire with his pipe. What do you do with tramps in Altruria, Mr. Homos?”

The Altrurian seemed not to have heard her. He said to Mrs. Camp: “Then I understand from something your son let fall that he has not always been at home with you here. Does he reconcile himself easily to the country after the excitement of town life? I have read that the cities in America are draining the country of the young people.”

“I don’t think he was sorry to come home,” said the mother, with a touch of fond pride. “But there was no choice for him after his father died; he was always a good boy, and he has not made us feel that we were keeping him away from anything better. When his father was alive we let him go, because then we were not so dependent, and I wished him to try his fortune in the world, as all boys long to do. But he is rather peculiar, and he seems to have got quite enough of the world. To be sure, I don’t suppose he’s seen the brightest side of it. He first went to work in the mills down at Ponkwasset, but he was ‘laid off’ there when the hard times came and there was so much overproduction, and he took a job of railroading, and was braking on a freight-train when his father left us.”

Mrs. Makely said, smiling: “No, I don’t think that was the brightest outlook in the world. No wonder he has brought back such gloomy impressions. I am sure that if he could have seen life under brighter auspices he would not have the ideas he has.”

“Very likely,” said the mother, dryly. “Our experiences have a great deal to do with forming our opinions. But I am not dissatisfied with my son’s ideas. I suppose Reuben got a good many of his ideas from his father: he’s his father all over again. My husband thought slavery was wrong, and he went into the war to fight against it. He used to say when the war was over that the negroes were emancipated, but slavery was not abolished yet.”

“What in the world did he mean by that?” demanded Mrs. Makely.

“Something you wouldn’t understand as we do. I tried to carry on the farm after he first went, and before Reuben was large enough to help me much and ought to be in school, and I suppose I overdid. At any rate, that was when I had my first shock of paralysis. I never was very strong, and I presume my health was weakened by my teaching school so much, and studying, before I was married. But that doesn’t matter now, and hasn’t for many a year. The place was clear of debt then, but I had to get a mortgage put on it. The savings-bank down in the village took it, and we’ve been paying the interest ever since. My husband died paying it, and my son will pay it all my life, and then I suppose the bank will foreclose. The treasurer was an old playmate of my husband’s, and he said that as long as either of us lived the mortgage could lie.”

“How splendid of him!” said Mrs. Makely. “I should think you had been very fortunate.”

“I said that you would not see it as we do,” said the invalid, patiently.

The Altrurian asked: “Are there mortgages on many of the farms in the neighborhood?”

“Nearly all,” said Mrs. Camp. “We seem to own them, but in fact they own us.”

Mrs. Makely hastened to say: “My husband thinks it’s the best way to have your property. If you mortgage it close up, you have all your capital free, and you can keep turning it over. That’s what you ought to do, Mrs. Camp. But what was the slavery that Captain Camp said was not abolished yet?”

The invalid looked at her a moment without replying, and just then the door of the kitchen opened, and Young Camp came in and began to gather some food from the table on a plate.

“Why don’t you bring him to the table, Reub?” his sister called to him.

“Oh, he says he’d rather not come in, as long as we have company. He says he isn’t dressed for dinner; left his spike-tail in the city.”

The young man laughed, and his sister with him.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/howells/william_dean/h859tr/chapter7.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38