Mizora, by Mary E. Bradley Lane

Chapter 8

It was during my visit at my friend’s house that I first witnessed the peculiar manner in which the markets in Mizora are conducted. Everything, as usual, was fastidiously neat and clean. The fruit and vegetables were fresh and perfect. I examined quantities of them to satisfy myself, and not a blemish or imperfection could be found on any. None but buyers were attending market. Baskets of fruit, bunches of vegetables and, in fact, everything exhibited for sale, had the quality and the price labeled upon it. Small wicker baskets were near to receive the change. When a buyer had selected what suited her, she dropped the label and the change in the basket. I saw one basket filled with gold and silver coin, yet not one would be missing when the owner came to count up the sales. Sometimes a purchaser was obliged to change a large piece of money, but it was always done accurately.

There was one singular trait these people possessed that, in conjunction with their other characteristics, may seem unnatural: they would give and exact the last centime (a quarter of a cent) in a trade. I noticed this peculiarity so frequently that I inquired the reason for it, and when I had studied it over I decided that, like all the other rules that these admirable people had established, it was wise. Said my friend:

“We set a just value on everything we prepare for sale. Anything above or below that, would be unjust to buyer or seller.”

The varieties of apples, pears, peaches and other fruits had their names attached, with the quality, sweet, sour, or slightly acid. In no instance was it found to be incorrectly stated. I came to one stall that contained nothing but glass jars of butter and cream. The butter was a rich buff color, like very fine qualities I had seen in my own country. The cream, an article I am fond of drinking, looked so tempting I longed to purchase a glass for that purpose. The lady whom I accompanied (my hostess’ cook) informed me that it was artificially prepared. The butter and cheese were chemical productions. Different laboratories produced articles of varying flavor, according to the chemist’s skill. Although their construction was no secret, yet some laboratories enjoyed special reputation for their butter and cheese owing to the accuracy with which their elements were combined.

She gave me quite a history about artificial food, also how they kept fruits and vegetables in their natural state for years without decaying or losing their flavor, so that when eaten they were nearly as fine as when freshly gathered. After hearing that the cream was manufactured, I resolved to taste it. Dropping my coin into the basket, I took up a glass and drank it. A look of disgust crossed the countenance of my companion.

“Do you not drink this?” I asked in surprise, as I set down the empty vessel. “It is truly delicious.”

“At regular meal times we all use it, and sometimes drink it in preference to other beverages — but never in public. You will never see a citizen of Mizora eating in public. Look all over this market and you will not discover one person, either adult or child, eating or drinking, unless it be water.”

I could not; and I felt keenly mortified at my mistake. Yet in my own country and others that, according to our standard, are highly civilized, a beverage is made from the juice of the corn that is not only drank in public places, but its effects, which are always unbecoming, are exhibited also, and frequently without reproof. However, I said nothing to my companion about this beverage. It bears no comparison in color or taste to that made in Mizora. I could not have distinguished the latter from the finest dairy cream.

The next place of interest that I visited were their mercantile bazars or stores. Here I found things looking quite familiar. The goods were piled upon shelves behind counters, and numerous clerks were in attendance. It was the regular day for shopping among the Mizora ladies, and the merchants had made a display of their prettiest and richest goods. I noticed the ladies were as elegantly dressed as if for a reception, and learned that it was the custom. They would meet a great many friends and acquaintances, and dressed to honor the occasion.

It was my first shopping experience in Mizora, and I quite mortified myself by removing my glove and rubbing and examining closely the goods I thought of purchasing. I entirely ignored the sweet voice of the clerk that was gently informing me that it was “pure linen” or “pure wool,” so habituated had I become in my own country to being my own judge of the quality of the goods I was purchasing, regardless always of the seller’s recommendation of it. I found it difficult, especially in such circumstances, to always remember their strict adherence to honesty and fair dealing. I felt rebuked when I looked around and saw the actions of the other ladies in buying.

In manufactured goods, as in all other things, not the slightest cheatery is to be found. Woolen and cotton mixtures were never sold for pure wool. Nobody seemed to have heard of the art of glossing muslin cuffs and collars and selling them for pure linen.

Fearing that I had wounded the feelings of the lady in attendance upon me, I hastened to apologize by explaining the peculiar methods of trade that were practiced in my own country. They were immediately pronounced barbarous.

I noticed that ladies in shopping examined colors and effects of trimmings or combinations, but never examined the quality. Whatever the attendant said about that was received as a fact.

The reason for the absence of attendants in the markets and the presence of them in mercantile houses was apparent at once. The market articles were brought fresh every day, while goods were stored.

Their business houses and their manner of shopping were unlike anything I had ever met with before. The houses were all built in a hollow square, enclosing a garden with a fountain in the center. These were invariably roofed over with glass, as was the entire building. In winter the garden was as warm as the interior of the store. It was adorned with flowers and shrubs. I often saw ladies and children promenading in these pretty inclosures, or sitting on their rustic sofas conversing, while their friends were shopping in the store. The arrangement gave perfect light and comfort to both clerks and customers, and the display of rich and handsome fabrics was enhanced by the bit of scenery beyond. In summer the water for the fountain was artificially cooled.

Every clerk was provided with a chair suspended by pulleys from strong iron rods fastened above. They could be raised or lowered at will; and when not occupied, could be drawn up out of the way. After the goods were purchased, they were placed in a machine that wrapped and tied them ready for delivery.

A dining-room was always a part of every store. I desired to be shown this, and found it as tasteful and elegant in its appointments as a private one would be. Silver and china and fine damask made it inviting to the eye, and I had no doubt the cooking corresponded as well with the taste.

The streets of Mizora were all paved, even the roads through the villages were furnished an artificial cover, durable, smooth and elastic. For this purpose a variety of materials were used. Some had artificial stone, in the manufacture of which Mizora could surpass nature’s production. Artificial wood they also made and used for pavements, as well as cement made of fine sand. The latter was the least durable, but possessed considerable elasticity and made a very fine driving park. They were experimenting when I came away on sanded glass for road beds. The difficulty was to overcome its susceptibility to attrition. After business hours every street was swept by a machine. The streets and sidewalks, in dry weather, were as free from soil as the floor of a private-house would be.

Animals and domestic fowls had long been extinct in Mizora. This was one cause of the weird silence that so impressed me on my first view of their capital city. Invention had superceded the usefulness of animals in all departments: in the field and the chemistry of food. Artificial power was utilized for all vehicles.

The vehicle most popular with the Mizora ladies for shopping and culling purposes, was a very low carriage, sometimes with two seats, sometimes with one. They were upholstered with the richest fabrics, were exceedingly light and graceful in shape, and not above three feet from the ground. They were strong and durable, though frequently not exceeding fifty pounds in weight. The wheel was the curious and ingenious part of the structure, for in its peculiar construction lay the delight of its motion. The spokes were flat bands of steel, curved outward to the tire. The carriage had no spring other than these spokes, yet it moved like a boat gliding down stream with the current. I was fortunate enough to preserve a drawing of this wheel, which I hope some day to introduce in my own land. The carriages were propelled by compressed air or electricity; and sometimes with a mechanism that was simply pressed with the foot. I liked the compressed air best. It was most easily managed by me. The Mizora ladies preferred electricity, of which I was always afraid. They were experimenting with a new propelling power during my stay that was to be acted upon by light, but it had not come into general use, although I saw some vehicles that were propelled by it. They moved with incredible speed, so rapid indeed, that the upper part of the carriage had to be constructed of glass, and securely closed while in motion, to protect the occupant. It was destined, I heard some of their scientists say, to become universal, as it was the most economical power yet discovered. They patiently tried to explain it to me, but my faculties were not receptive to such advanced philosophy, and I had to abandon the hope of ever introducing it into my own country.

There was another article manufactured in Mizora that excited my wonder and admiration. It was elastic glass. I have frequently mentioned the unique uses that they made of it, and I must now explain why. They had discovered a process to render it as pliable as rubber. It was more useful than rubber could be, for it was almost indestructible. It had superceded iron in many ways. All cooking utensils were made of it. It entered largely into the construction and decoration of houses. All cisterns and cellars had an inner lining of it. All underground pipes were made of it, and many things that are the necessities and luxuries of life.

They spun it into threads as fine and delicate as a spider’s gossamer, and wove it into a network of clear or variegated colors that dazzled the eye to behold. Innumerable were the lovely fabrics made of it. The frailest lace, in the most intricate and aerial patterns, that had the advantage of never soiling, never tearing, and never wearing out. Curtains for drawing-room arches were frequently made of it. Some of them looked like woven dew drops.

One set of curtains that I greatly admired, and was a long time ignorant of what they were made of, were so unique, I must do myself the pleasure to describe them. They hung across the arch that led to the glass conservatory attached to my friend’s handsome dwelling. Three very thin sheets of glass were woven separately and then joined at the edges so ingeniously as to defy detection. The inside curtain was one solid color: crimson. Over this was a curtain of snow flakes, delicate as those aerial nothings of the sky, and more durable than any fabric known. Hung across the arched entrance to a conservatory, with a great globe of white fire shining through it, it was lovely as the blush of Aphrodite when she rose from the sea, veiled in its fleecy foam.

They also possessed the art of making glass highly refractive. Their table-ware surpassed in beauty all that I had ever previously seen. I saw tea cups as frail looking as soap bubbles, possessing the delicate iridescence of opals. Many other exquisite designs were the product of its flexibility and transparency. The first article that attracted my attention was the dress of an actress on the stage. It was lace, made of gossamer threads of amber in the design of lilies and leaves, and was worn over black velvet.

The wonderful water scene that I beheld at the theatre was produced by waves made of glass and edged with foam, a milky glass spun into tiny bubbles. They were agitated by machinery that caused them to roll with a terribly natural look. The blinding flashes of lightning had been the display of genuine electricity.

Nothing in the way of artistic effect could call forth admiration or favorable comment unless it was so exact an imitation of nature as to not be distinguished from the real without the closest scrutiny. In private life no one assumed a part. All the acting I ever saw in Mizora was done upon the stage.

I could not appreciate their mental pleasures, any more than a savage could delight in a nocturne of Chopin. Yet one was the intellectual ecstasy of a sublime intelligence, and the other the harmonious rapture of a divinely melodious soul. I must here mention that the processes of chemical experiment in Mizora differed materially from those I had known. I had once seen and tasted a preparation called artificial cream that had been prepared by a friend of my fathers, an eminent English chemist. It was simply a combination of the known properties of cream united in the presence of gentle heat. But in Mizora they took certain chemicals and converted them into milk, and cream, and cheese, and butter, and every variety of meat, in a vessel that admitted neither air nor light. They claimed that the elements of air and light exercised a material influence upon the chemical production of foods, that they could not be made successfully by artificial processes when exposed to those two agents. Their earliest efforts had been unsuccessful of exact imitation, and a perfect result had only been obtained by closely counterfeiting the processes of nature.

The cream prepared artificially that I had tasted in London, was the same color and consistency as natural cream, but it lacked its relish. The cream manufactured in Mizora was a perfect imitation of the finest dairy product.

It was the same with meats; they combined the elements, and the article produced possessed no detrimental flavor. It was a more economical way of obtaining meat than by fattening animals.

They were equally fortunate in the manufacture of clothing. Every mountain was a cultivated forest, from which they obtained every variety of fabric; silks, satins, velvets, laces, woolen goods, and the richest articles of beauty and luxury, in which to array themselves, were put upon the market at a trifling cost, compared to what they were manufactured at in my own country. Pallid and haggard women and children, working incessantly for a pittance that barely sustained existence, was the ultimatum that the search after the cause of cheap prices arrived at in my world, but here it traveled from one bevy of beautiful workwoman to another until it ended at the Laboratory where Science sat throned, the grand, majestic, humane Queen of this thrice happy land.

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