Mizora, by Mary E. Bradley Lane

Chapter 5

The Preceptress of the National College appointed her daughter Wanna as a guide and instructor to me. I formed a deep and strong attachment for her, which, it pains me to remember, was the cause of her unhappy fate. In stature she was above the medium height, with a form of the fairest earthly loveliness and exquisite grace. Her eyes were so deep a blue, that at first I mistook them for brown. Her hair was the color of a ripe chestnut frosted with gold, and in length and abundance would cover her like a garment. She was vivacious and fond of athletic sports. Her strength amazed me. Those beautiful hands, with their tapering fingers, had a grip like a vise. They had discovered, in this wonderful land, that a body possessing perfectly developed muscles must, by the laws of nature, be symmetrical and graceful. They rode a great deal on small, two-wheeled vehicles, which they propelled themselves. They gave me one on which I accompanied Wauna to all of the places of interest in the Capital city and vicinity.

I must mention that Wauna’s voice was exceedingly musical, even in that land of sweet voices, but she did not excel as a singer.

The infant schools interested me more than all the magnificence and grandeur of the college buildings. The quaint courtesy, gentle manners and affectionate demeanor of the little ones toward one another, was a surprise to me. I had visited infant schools of my own and other countries, where I had witnessed the display of human nature, unrestrained by mature discretion and policy. Fights, quarrels, kicks, screams, the unlawful seizure of toys and trinkets, and other misdemeanors, were generally the principal exhibits. But here it was all different. I thought, as I looked at them, that should a philanthropist from the outside world have chanced unknowingly upon the playground of a Mizora infant school, he would have believed himself in a company of little angels.

At first, a kindness so universal impressed me as studied; a species of refined courtesy in which the children were drilled. But time and observation proved to me that it was the natural impulse of the heart, an inherited trait of moral culture. In my world, kindness and affection were family possessions, extended occasionally to acquaintances. Beyond this was courtesy only for the great busy bustling mass of humanity called — “the world.”

It must not be understood that there was no variety of character in Mizora. Just as marked a difference was to be found there as elsewhere; but it was elevated and ennobled. Its evil tendencies had been eliminated. There were many causes that had made this possible. The first, and probably the most influential, was the extreme cheapness of living. Food and fuel were items of so small consequence, that poverty had become unknown. Added to this, and to me by far the most vital reason, was their system of free education. In contemplating the state of enlightenment to which Mizora had attained, I became an enthusiast upon the subject of education, and resolved, should I ever again reach the upper world, to devote all my energies and ability to convincing the governments of its importance. I believe it is the duty of every government to make its schools and colleges, and everything appertaining to education — FREE. To be always starved for knowledge is a more pitiful craving than to hunger for bread. One dwarfs the body; the other the mind.

The utmost care was bestowed upon the training and education of the children. There was nothing that I met with in that beautiful and happy country I longed more to bring with me to the inhabitants of my world, than their manner of rearing children. The most scrupulous attention was paid to their diet and exercise, both mental and physical. The result was plump limbs, healthy, happy faces and joyous spirits. In all the fifteen years that I spent in Mizora, I never saw a tear of sorrow fall from children’s eyes. Admirable sanitary regulations exist in all the cities and villages of the land, which insures them pure air. I may state here that every private-house looks as carefully to the condition of its atmosphere, as we do to the material neatness of ours.

The only intense feeling that I could discover among these people was the love between parent and child. I visited the theater where the tragedy of the play was the destruction of a daughter by shipwreck in view of the distracted mother. The scenery was managed with wonderful realism. The thunder of the surf as it beat upon the shore, the frightful carnival of wind and waves that no human power could still, and the agony of the mother watching the vessel break to pieces upon the rock and her child sink into the boiling water to rise no more, was thrilling beyond my power to describe. I lost control of my feelings. The audience wept and applauded; and when the curtain fell, I could scarcely believe it had only been a play. The love of Mizora women for their children is strong and deep. They consider the care of them a sacred duty, fraught with the noblest results of life. A daughter of scholarly attainments and noble character is a credit to her mother. That selfish mother who looks upon her children as so many afflictions is unknown to Mizora. If a mother should ever feel her children as burdens upon her, she would never give it expression, as any dereliction of duty would be severely rebuked by the whole community, if not punished by banishment. Corporal punishment was unknown.

I received an invitation from a lady prominent in literature and science to make her a visit. I accepted with gratification, as it would afford me the opportunity I coveted to become acquainted with the domestic life of Mizora, and perhaps penetrate its greatest mystery, for I must confess that the singular dearth of anything and everything resembling Man, never ceased to prey upon my curiosity.

The lady was the editor and proprietor of the largest and most widely known scientific and literary magazine in the country. She was the mother of eight children, and possessed one of the largest fortunes and most magnificent residences in the country.

The house stood on an elevation, and was a magnificent structure of grey granite, with polished cornices. The porch floors were of clouded marble. The pillars supporting its roof were round shafts of the same material, with vines of ivy, grape and rose winding about them, carved and colored into perfect representations of the natural shrubs.

The drawing-room, which was vast and imposing in size and appearance, had a floor of pure white marble. The mantels and window-sills were of white onyx, with delicate vinings of pink and green. The floor was strewn with richly colored mats and rugs. Luxurious sofas and chairs comprised the only furniture. Each corner contained a piece of fine statuary. From the centre of the ceiling depended a large gold basin of beautiful design and workmanship, in which played a miniature fountain of perfumed water that filled the air with a delicate fragrance. The walls were divided into panels of polished and unpolished granite. On the unpolished panels hung paintings of scenery. The dull, gray color of the walls brought out in sharp and tasteful relief the few costly and elegant adornments of the room: a placid landscape with mountains dimly outlining the distance. A water scene with a boat idly drifting, occupied by a solitary figure watching the play of variegated lights upon the tranquil waters. Then came a wild and rugged mountain scene with precipices and a foaming torrent. Then a concert of birds amusingly treated.

The onyx marble mantel-piece contained but a single ornament — an orchestra. A coral vase contained a large and perfect tiger lily, made of gold. Each stamen supported a tiny figure carved out of ivory, holding a musical instrument. When they played, each figure appeared instinct with life, like the mythical fairies of my childhood; and the music was so sweet, yet faint, that I readily imagined the charmed ring and tiny dancers keeping time to its rhythm.

The drawing-room presented a vista of arches draped in curtains of a rare texture, though I afterward learned they were spun glass. The one that draped the entrance to the conservatory looked like sea foam with the faint blush of day shining through it. The conservatory was in the shape of a half sphere, and entirely of glass. From its dome, more than a hundred feet above our heads, hung a globe of white fire that gave forth a soft clear light. Terminating, as it did, the long vista of arches with their transparent hangings of cobweb texture, it presented a picture of magnificence and beauty indescribably.

The other apartments displayed the same taste and luxury. The sitting-room contained an instrument resembling a grand piano.

The grounds surrounding this elegant home were adorned with natural and artificial beauties, Grottoes, fountains, lakes, cascades, terraces of flowers, statuary, arbors and foliage in endless variety, that rendered it a miniature paradise. In these grounds, darting in and out among the avenues, playing hide-and-seek behind the statuary, or otherwise amusing themselves, I met eight lovely children, ranging from infancy to young maidenhood. The glowing cheeks and eyes, and supple limbs spoke of perfect health and happiness. When they saw their mother coming, they ran to meet her, the oldest carrying the two-year old baby. The stately woman greeted each with a loving kiss. She showed in loving glance and action how dear they all were to her. For the time being she unbent, and became a child herself in the interest she took in their prattle and mirth. A true mother and happy children.

I discovered that each department of this handsome home was under the care of a professional artist. I remarked to my hostess that I had supposed her home was the expression of her own taste.

“So it is,” she replied; “but it requires an equally well educated taste to carry out my designs. The arrangement and ornamentation of my grounds were suggested by me, and planned and executed by my landscape artist.”

After supper we repaired to the general sitting-room. The eldest daughter had been deeply absorbed in a book before we came in. She closed and left it upon a table. I watched for an opportunity to carelessly pick it up and examine it. It was a novel I felt sure, for she appeared to resign it reluctantly out of courtesy to her guest. I might, from it, gather some clue to the mystery of the male sex. I took up the book and opened it. It was The Conservation of Force and The Phenomena of Nature. I laid it down with a sigh of discomfiture.

The next evening, my hostess gave a small entertainment, and what was my amazement, not to say offense, to perceive the cook, the chamber-maid, and in fact all the servants in the establishment, enter and join in the conversation and amusement. The cook was asked to sing, for, with the exception of myself — and I tried to conceal it — no one appeared to take umbrage at her presence. She sat down to the piano and sang a pretty ballad in a charming manner. Her voice was cultivated and musical, as are all the voices in Mizora, but it was lacking in the qualities that make a great singer, yet it had a plaintive sweetness that was very attractive.

I was dumbfounded at her presumption. In my country such a thing is unknown as a servant entertaining guests in such a capacity, and especially among people of my rank and position in the world.

I repelled some advances she made me with a hauteur and coldness that it mortified me afterward to remember. Instead of being my inferior, I was her’s, and she knew it; but neither by look, tone nor action did she betray her consciousness of it. I had to acknowledge that her hands were more delicately modeled than mine, and her bearing had a dignity and elegance that might have been envied by the most aristocratic dame of my own land. Knowing that the Mizora people were peculiar in their social ideas, I essayed to repress my indignation at the time, but later I unburdened myself to Wauna who, with her usual sweetness and gentleness, explained to me that her occupation was a mere matter of choice with her.

“She is one of the most distinguished chemists of this nation. She solved the problem of making bread out of limestone of a much finer quality than had been in use before.”

“Don’t tell me that you gave me a stone when I asked for bread!” I exclaimed.

“We have not done that,” replied Wauna; “but we have given you what you took for bread, but which is manufactured out of limestone and the refuse of the marble quarries.”

I looked at her in such inane astonishment that she hastened to add:

“I will take you to one of the large factories some day. They are always in the mountains where the stone is abundant. You can there see loaves by the thousands packed in great glass tanks for shipment to the different markets. And they do not cost the manufacturer above one centime per hundred.”

“And what royalty does the discoverer get for this wonder of chemistry?”

“None. Whenever anything of that kind is discovered in our country, it is purchased outright by the government, and then made public for the benefit of all. The competition among manufacturers consists in the care and exactness with which they combine the necessary elements. There is quite a difference in the taste and quality of our bread as it comes from different factories.”

“Why doesn’t such a talented person quit working in another woman’s kitchen and keep herself like a lady?” I inquired, all the prejudice of indolent wealth against labor coming up in my thoughts.

“She has a taste for that kind of work,” replied Wauna, “instead of for making dresses, or carving gems, or painting. She often says she could not make a straight line if she tried, yet she can put together with such nicety and chemical skill the elements that form an omelette or a custard, that she has become famous. She teaches all who desire to learn, but none seem to equal her. She was born with a genius for cooking and nothing else. Haven’t you seen her with a long glass tube testing the vessels of vegetables and fruit that were cooking?”

“Yes,” I answered. “It was from that that I supposed her occupation menial.”

“Visitors from other cities,” continued Wauna, “nearly always inquire for her first.”

Perceiving the mistake that I had made, I ventured an apology for my behavior toward her, and Wauna replied, with a frankness that nearly crushed me:

“We all noticed it, but do not fear a retaliation,” she added sweetly. “We know that you are from a civilization that we look back upon as one of barbarism.”

I acknowledged that if any superciliousness existed in Mizora while I was there, I must have had it.

The guests departed without refreshments having been served. I explained the custom of entertainment in my country, which elicited expressions of astonishment. It would be insulting to offer refreshments of any kind to a guest between the regular hours for dining, as it would imply a desire on your part to impair their health. Such was the explanation of what in my country would be deemed a gross neglect of duty. Their custom was probably the result of two causes: an enlightened knowledge of the laws of health, and the extreme cheapness of all luxuries of the table which the skill of the chemist had made available to every class of people in the land.

The word “servant” did not exist in the language of Mizora; neither had they an equivalent for it in the sense in which we understand and use the word. I could not tell a servant — for I must use the word to be understood — from a professor in the National College. They were all highly-educated, refined, lady-like and lovely. Their occupations were always matters of choice, for, as there was nothing in them to detract from their social position, they selected the one they knew they had the ability to fill. Hence those positions we are accustomed to regard as menial, were there filled by ladies of the highest culture and refinement; consequently the domestic duties of a Mizora household moved to their accomplishment with the ease and regularity of fine machinery.

It was long before I could comprehend the dignity they attached to the humblest vocations. They had one proverb that embraced it all: “Labor is the necessity of life.” I studied this peculiar phase of Mizora life, and at last comprehended that in this very law of social equality lay the foundation of their superiority. Their admirable system of adapting the mind to the vocation in which it was most capable of excelling, and endowing that with dignity and respect, and, at the same time, compelling the highest mental culture possible, had produced a nation in the enjoyment of universal refinement, and a higher order of intelligence than any yet known to the outside world.

The standard of an ordinary education was to me astonishingly high. The reason for it was easily understood when informed that the only aristocracy of the country was that of intellect. Scholars, artists, scientists, literateurs, all those excelling in intellectual gifts or attainments, were alone regarded as superiors by the masses.

In all the houses that I had visited I had never seen a portrait hung in a room thrown open to visitors. On inquiry, I was informed that it was a lack of taste to make a portrait conspicuous.

“You meet faces at all times,” said my informant, “but you cannot at all times have a variety of scenery before you. How monotonous it would be with a drawing-room full of women, and the walls filled with their painted representatives. We never do it.”

“Then where do you keep your family portraits?”

“Ours is in a gallery upstairs.”

I requested to be shown this, and was conducted to a very long apartment on the third floor, devoted exclusively to relics and portraits of family ancestry. There were over three thousand portraits of blond women, which my hostess’ daughter informed me represented her grandmothers for ages back. Not one word did she say about her grandfathers.

I may mention here that no word existed in their dictionaries that was equivalent to the word “man.” I had made myself acquainted with this fact as soon as I had acquired sufficient knowledge of their language. My astonishment at it cannot be described. It was a mystery that became more and more perplexing. Never in the closest intimacy that I could secure could I obtain the slightest clue, the least suggestion relating to the presence of man. My friend’s infant, scarcely two years old, prattled of everything but a father.

I cannot explain a certain impressive dignity about the women of Mizora that, in spite of their amiability and winning gentleness, forbade a close questioning into private affairs. My hostess never spoke of her business. It would have been a breach of etiquette to have questioned her about it. I could not bring myself to intrude the question of the marked absence of men, when not the slightest allusion was ever made to them by any citizen.

So time passed on, confirming my high opinion of them, and yet I knew and felt and believed that some strange and incomprehensible mystery surrounded them, and when I had abandoned all hope of a solution to it, it solved itself in the most unexpected and yet natural manner, and I was more astonished at the solution than I was at the mystery.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lane/mary_ebradley/mizora/part1.5.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:36