Mizora, by Mary E. Bradley Lane

Chapter 11

Our journey was a perilous one with all our precautions. The passage through the swiftest part of the current almost swamped our boat. The current that opposed us was so strong, that when we increased our speed our boat appeared to be cleaving its way through a wall of waters. Wauna was perfectly calm, and managed the motor with the steadiest nerves. Her courage inspired me, though many a time I despaired of ever getting out of the rapids. When we did, and looked up at the star-gemmed canopy that stretches above my own world, and abroad over the dark and desolate waste of waters around us, it gave me an impression of solemn and weird magnificence. It was such a contrast to the vivid nights of Mizora, to which my eyes had so long been accustomed, that it came upon me like a new scene.

The stars were a source of wonder and ceaseless delight to Wauna. “It looks,” she said, “as though a prodigal hand had strewn the top of the atmosphere with diamonds.”

The journey over fields of ice and snow was monotonous, but, owing to the skill and knowledge of Mizora displayed in our accoutrements, it was deprived of its severities. The wind whistled past us without any other greeting than its melancholy sound. We looked out from our snug quarters on the dismal hills of snow and ice without a sensation of distress. The Aurora Borealis hung out its streamers of beauty, but they were pale compared to what Wauna had seen in her own country. The Esquimaux she presumed were animals.

We traveled far enough south to secure passage upon a trading-vessel bound for civilized shores. The sun came up with his glance of fire and his banners of light, laying his glorious touch on cloud and water, and kissing the cheek with his warmth. He beamed upon us from the zenith, and sank behind the western clouds with a lingering glance of beauty. The moon came up like the ghost of the sun, casting a weird yet tender beauty on every object. To Wauna it was a revelation of magnificence in nature beyond her contriving.

“How grand,” she exclaimed, “are the revelations of nature in your world! To look upon them, it seems to me, would broaden and deepen the mind with the very vastness of their splendor. Nature has been more bountiful to you than to Mizora. The day with its heart of fire, and the night with its pale beauty are grander than ours. They speak of vast and incomprehensible power.”

When I took Wauna to the observatory, and she looked upon the countless multitudes of worlds and suns revolving in space so far away that a sun and its satellites looked like a ball of mist, she said that words could not describe her sensations.

“To us,” she said, “the leaves of Nature’s book are the winds and waves, the bud and bloom and decay of seasons. But here every leaf is a world. A mighty hand has sprinkled the suns like fruitful seeds across the limitless fields of space. Can human nature contemplate a scene so grand that reaches so far beyond the grasp of mind, and not feel its own insignificance, and the littleness of selfish actions? And yet you can behold these myriads of worlds and systems of worlds wheeling in the dim infinity of space — a spectacle awful in its vastness — and turn to the practice of narrow superstitions?”

At last the shores of my native land greeted my longing eyes, and the familiar scenes of my childhood drew near. But when, after nearly twenty years absence, I stood on the once familiar spot, the graves of my heart’s dear ones were all that was mine. My little one had died soon after my exile. My father had soon followed. Suspected, and finally persecuted by the government, my husband had fled the country, and, nearly as I could discover, had sought that universal asylum for the oppressed of all nations — the United States. And thither I turned my steps.

In my own country and in France, the friends who had known me in girlhood were surprised at my youthful appearance. I did not explain the cause of it to them, nor did I mention the people or country from whence I had come. Wauna was my friend and a foreigner — that was all.

The impression she made was all that I had anticipated. Her unusual beauty and her evident purity attracted attention wherever she went. The wonderful melody of her singing was much commented upon, but in Mizora she had been considered but an indifferent singer. But I had made a mistake in my anticipation of her personal influence. The gentleness and delicacy of her character received the tenderest respect. None who looked upon that face or met the glance of the dark soft eyes ever doubted that the nature that animated them was pure and beautiful. Yet it was the respect felt for a character so exceptionably superior that imitation and emulation would be impossible.

“She is too far above the common run of human nature,” said one observer. “I should not be surprised if her spirit were already pluming its wings for a heavenly flight. Such natures never stay long among us.”

The remark struck my heart with a chill of depression. I looked at Wauna and wondered why I had noticed sooner the shrinking outlines of the once round cheek. Too gentle to show disgust, too noble to ill-treat, the spirit of Wauna was chafing under the trying associations. Men and women alike regarded her as an impossible character, and I began to realize with a sickening regret that I had made a mistake. In my own country, in France and England, her beauty was her sole attraction to men. The lofty ideal of humanity that she represented was smiled at or gently ignored.

“The world would be a paradise,” said one philosopher, “if such characters were common. But one is like a seed in the ocean; it cannot do much good.”

When we arrived in the United States, its activity and evident progress impressed Wauna with a feeling more nearly akin to companionship. Her own character received a juster appreciation.

“The time is near,” she said, “when the New World will be the teacher of the Old in the great lesson of Humanity. You will live to see it demonstrate to the world the justice and policy of giving to every child born under its flag the highest mental, moral and physical training known to the present age. You can hardly realize what twenty-five years of free education will bring to it. They are already on the right path, but they are still many centuries behind my own country in civilization, in their government and modes of dispensing justice. Yet their free schools, as yet imperfect, are, nevertheless, fruitful seeds of progress.”

Yet here the nature of Wauna grew restless and homesick, and she at last gave expression to her longing for home.

“I am not suited to your world,” she said, with a look of deep sorrow in her lovely eyes. “None of my people are. We are too finely organized. I cannot look with any degree of calmness upon the practices of your civilization. It is a common thing to see mothers ill-treat their own helpless little ones. The pitiful cries of the children keep ringing in my ears. Cannot mothers realize that they are whipping a mean spirit into their offspring instead of out. I have heard the most enlightened deny their own statements when selfishness demanded it. I cannot mention the half of the things I witness daily that grates upon my feelings. I cannot reform them. It is not for such as I to be a reformer. Those who need reform are the ones to work for it.”

Sorrowfully I bade adieu to my hopes and my search for Alexis, and prepared to accompany Wauna’s return. We embarked on a whaling vessel, and having reached its farthest limit, we started on our perilous journey north; perilous for the lack of our boat, of which we could hear nothing. It had been left in charge of a party of Esquimaux, and had either been destroyed, or was hidden. Our progress, therefore, depended entirely upon the Esquimaux. The tribe I had journeyed so far north with had departed, and those whom I solicited to accompany us professed to be ignorant of the sea I mentioned. Like all low natures, the Esquimaux are intensely selfish. Nothing could induce them to assist us but the most apparent benefit to themselves; and this I could not assure them. The homesickness, and coarse diet and savage surroundings told rapidly on the sensitive nature of Wauna. In a miserable Esquimaux hut, on a pile of furs, I saw the flame of a beautiful and grandly noble life die out. My efforts were hopeless; my anguish keen. O Humanity, what have I sacrificed for you!

“Oh, Wauna,” I pleaded, as I saw the signs of dissolution approaching, “shall I not pray for you?”

“Prayers cannot avail me,” she replied, as her thin hands reached and closed over one of mine. “I had hoped once more to see the majestic hills and smiling valleys of my own sweet land, but I shall not. If I could only go to sleep in the arms of my mother. But the Great Mother of us all will soon receive me in her bosom. And oh! my friend, promise me that her dust shall cover me from the sight of men. When my mother rocked me to slumber on her bosom, and soothed me with her gentle lullaby, she little dreamed that I should suffer and die first. If you ever reach Mizora, tell her only that I sleep the sleep of oblivion. She will know. Let the memory of my suffering die with me.”

“Oh, Wauna,” I exclaimed, in anguish, “you surely have a soul. How can anything so young, so pure, so beautiful, be doomed to annihilation?”

“We are not annihilated,” was the calm reply. “And as to beauty, are the roses not beautiful? Yet they die and you say it is the end of the year’s roses. The birds are harmless, and their songs make the woods melodious with the joy of life, yet they die, and you say they have no after life. We are like the roses, but our lives are for a century and more. And when our lives are ended, the Great Mother gathers us in. We are the harvest of the centuries.”

When the dull, gray light of the Arctic morning broke, it fell gently upon the presence of Death.

With the assistance of the Esquimaux, a grave was dug, and a rude wooden cross erected on which I wrote the one word “Wauna,” which, in the language of Mizora, means “Happiness.”

The world to which I have returned is many ages behind the civilization of Mizora.

Though we cannot hope to attain their perfection in our generation, yet many, very many, evils could be obliterated were we to follow their laws. Crime is as hereditary as disease.

No savant now denies the transmittable taint of insanity and consumption. There are some people in the world now, who, knowing the possibility of afflicting offspring with hereditary disease, have lived in ascetic celibacy. But where do we find a criminal who denies himself offspring, lest he endow posterity with the horrible capacity for murder that lies in his blood?

The good, the just, the noble, close heart and eyes to the sweet allurements of domestic life, lest posterity suffer physically or mentally by them. But the criminal has no restraints but what the law enforces. Ignorance, poverty and disease, huddled in dens of wretchedness, where they multiply with reckless improvidence, sometimes fostered by mistaken charity.

The future of the world, if it be grand and noble, will be the result of UNIVERSAL EDUCATION, FREE AS THE GOD-GIVEN WATER WE DRINK.

In the United States I await the issue of universal liberty. In this refuge for oppression, my husband found a grave. Childless, homeless and friendless, in poverty and obscurity, I have written the story of my wanderings. The world’s fame can never warm a heart already dead to happiness; but out of the agony of one human life, may come a lesson for many. Life is a tragedy even under the most favorable conditions.

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