A Week in the Future, by Catherine Helen Spence

Chapter ii


Associated Homes

It was Friday afternoon when I took leave of life in Adelaide, South Australia. It was on a Monday morning that I woke, and began the strange experience of a Week in the Future. The first thing I was fully conscious of was that I had completely thrown off all the uncomfortable sensations as well as the apprehensions of the last two days. I was not indeed young, but I was well and strong, and full of life, energy, and hope. I stood — as I said before — in the open air. I felt the soft moist climate of the father-land caressing me; the sun shone, not with the summer blaze of our Australian skies, but as if through a tender haze. Yes! this was London that lay vast, but strangely changed before me. Where was the smoke? Was smoke one of the exploded nuisances of the past? The gas lamps familiar to me were replaced by something new — probably some modification of the electric light, for I could not conceive of anything better being invented even in a hundred years, and I hoped and almost felt that I had bridged over that length of time. And now I seemed to see difficulties in my way. How could I, a stranger from another hemisphere and from another century, ask for information, and learn what I longed so much to know without subjecting myself to suspicions of lying and imposture? How hard it would be to keep silent, and simply watch for the changes which must have taken place in the way of living and thinking since men lived and thought a hundred years before. I did not like to stand like a fool or an idler, and I began to walk briskly along a suburban street which I seemed to know, but it had no longer rows of houses placed closely together, but large buildings, each standing in extensive grounds. Passers-by looked well-to-do; their clothes varied a good deal in fashion more than material. A workman — erect, strong, and cheery, with a bag of tools on his shoulder, whistling sweetly a tune quite unknown to me — was moving towards a large building, which lay on the east side of the street. It was like a palace for size, but not palatial in its style of architecture, which was plain and simple. Garden plots lay in front of it, and a beautiful lawn, while I could see that there were many acres of cultivated ground at the back.

“Good morning, Sir,” I said to the workman. “Good morning, madam,” he replied. “It is a very fine morning;’ I ventured to say. Surely the weather could not be quite a worn out topic of conversation in the variable climate of England — even after the lapse of a hundred years.

“Yes, it is fine after yesterday’s rain. It came on handsomely and no mistake. Bad for the harvest!”

“Are you going to work here?” said I.

“Yes, we have the contract for repairs at the Owen Home here; the rain got in at the north wing; the first leak there for ten years, I hear; but it is a rare strong old building.”

I saw inscribed over the gateway in deep cut stone letters “Owen Associated Home, 1900”. Yes, I might have lived to have heard of the new departure, if I had not seen it in the colonies, if I had lived twelve years longer.

I walked with the workman to the door, which stood open and showed a handsome entrance hall enclosed. We both touched the knob of a bell I supposed to be electric. A young woman came to our summons, and directed, in the first place, the workman to his job, and then asked me whom I wished to see.

“Does Mrs. Carmichael live here?” I said, as if by inspiration.

“Yes, madam; No. 7,” was the reply. “I think she is in her own room. I shall ascertain if she objects to be disturbed.”

“If not, give her my card, and say ‘Miss Emily Bethel would be happy to see her.’”

A question, telephonic, answered at once, let me know that Mrs. Carmichael would be equally happy to see me. The attendant motioned me to a lift, and stepped in after me, and in a few seconds we were on the second floor, and walked along a corridor till we reached No. 7, when she took my card


to the occupant of the room. A pleasant voice said “Come in,” and the young woman left me to pursue her own avocation. I entered a large, light, airy, comfortable apartment, one half of which was furnished as a bedroom, and the other half as a sitting-room. The weather was a little chill outside after the rain, though the month was August, but there was no fireplace visible, though the room was pleasantly warm. A pleasant-faced lady of apparently my own age, though I afterwards discovered that she was considerably older, was sitting in an easy chair by a table, with her work and work-basket — quite like the old lady of our own day.

“Sit down, pray,” and she placed me on a sofa, close to her chair. “I am indeed very glad to welcome a cousin from over the sea. We do not see so much of our far-away kinsfolk as we should like. I have of course the newspapers and books, but I have long wanted to hear by word of mouth what these great southern lands which our forefathers planted have attained to.”

“And, alas, I cannot tell you,” said I, plunging at once, in medias res, “my knowledge of Australia is, unfortunately, of old date.”

“I am at a loss to reconcile this with your card, which puts down Adelaide as your present residence.”

“We are now, I presume,” I said making another desperate stroke, “in the month of August, 1988.”

“Just so,” said Mrs. Carmichael, with a surprised look at the assertion.

“My last knowledge of Melbourne, and indeed of the world, ended in August, 1888.”

The lady looked at me as if questioning my sanity, but I stood her gaze steadily. “I have exchanged a year of life for a Week in the Future, and I chose to have my week a century ahead of the date of the bargain. I have been permitted to make the exchange, and now with your good help I want to make the most and the best of my short span of existence.”

“We are very sceptical of the supernatural now-a-days,” said Mrs. Carmichael.

“Not more so than I have been,” said I, earnestly. “I cannot account for the extraordinary position in which I find myself, which is indeed staggering to my own powers of belief, and must be tenfold more so to a stranger, though you appear to be a remote kinsman, and might be disposed to believe what is so marvellous. It may be that the intense longing I had to know what was in the womb of time and ready to be delivered, has projected me over nearly half the globe, and the lapse of a complete century — more than three average generations. I may be now in a mere trance or vision. This room, this Owen Home may be a mere phantasm or mirage, and you a mere eidolon — an appearance — a shadow thrown out by my own inner consciousness, or like a dream, which evades you when you try to grasp it.”

“Nothing so unsubstantial,” said Mrs. Carmichael, “if there is anything unreal or shadowy in presence it is yourself. You will find all things altogether solid and coherent with us twentieth century people. If it is indeed as you say, and you have no knowledge of recent matters, I think it is likely that your week will be as satisfactory to yourself as it will be most interesting to me. Be my guest for this week, at least as far as it will serve your purpose and satisfy your desire to know all that can be known about our life in the short space at your command.”

I accepted this kind offer with gratitude, though I was not at all sure that Mrs. Carmichael believed the strange story I told.

“I feel as anxious to know about the life in the past as you can possibly be to learn about our present time.”

“That is impossible,” said I. “Books can tell you all about us and our doings, while to all of us in all generations the future is a blank.”

“Perhaps we are too much engaged with the works of our own day to give sufficient attention to the records of the past, at least I notice this is the case with the young people. And things are so much changed from the days of ferment and unrest which you speak of, that it is difficult for them to understand the language and the temper of the times. It needs to be, as it were, translated to them, for they carry their pre-conceived impressions into the books of old times. At least that is what my son-in-law — who is a literary man and somewhat of an antiquarian — says. For myself, I lived much with my grandmother, and she used to tell me of the old days, and, old-lady-like, occasionally regretted them; though, on the whole, she thought things much more equitably managed under the new régime.

“Who then was your grandmother?” I asked eagerly.

“She was from Adelaide in Australia, and that is why my heart warmed to your name and address when I saw it on your card. Her name was Florence Bethel before her marriage. My father was the eldest and only surviving child of her unhappy first marriage.”

“Then your father was the little baby Hugh I knew as a baby.”

“His name was Hugh. He was a very good son to my grandmother.”

“And had poor Florrie — it seems disrespectful to speak thus of your venerable grandmother,” I said, laughing, “but I parted from Florrie in the bloom of her youth a few days ago, and she will always be Florrie to me — had she a happier fate in her second marriage after that wretched creature (I must call your grandfather names, too) had departed this life?”

“He did not die. They lived separated for many years, and at last she got a divorce. Now-a-days it would have been much more promptly granted. She married again, happily, so far as I knew, but had no children. I recollect grandfather (as I called him) very well. He was very much attached to his step-son.”

“Then you are really my dear Florrie’s grand-daughter in the flesh. Did she ever speak of me, and of her grandmother who lived to be nearly a hundred.”

“I have often heard her speak of the old lady, a very storehouse of memories.”

“But not of me,” said I, with considerable feeling. I think, seeing that my amour propre was touched, convinced Mrs. Carmichael of my identity, and of the truth of my story more than anything else. “Oh, yes! certainly, of you who showed so much sympathy with her troubles — the dear Aunt Emily who died within a fortnight of the grandmother. Oh! that was another link of association with your card!”

“It is a curious relationship,” said I.

“We are sisters, rather than anything else more distant,” said Mrs. Carmichael.

This was better than looking on my senior as my great grand niece. I felt strangely drawn to the kindly old lady, and more hopeful of getting the information I wanted from her than from others who knew less and cared less about the past. Nevertheless, even with her, there were difficulties. I scarcely knew where to begin, and said so.

“You must ask questions for yourself, as well as take note with your eyes, and pick up information casually. Things as they are, are so familiar to us that we scarcely know what is new and what is old, but my son-in-law could help you a good deal.”

“I see a great change in the establishment of Associated Homes, for, I suppose, this is only one amongst many.”

“They are all but universal now-a-days. This, however, was one of the oldest in the country, and our founders gave to it the name of the pioneer in the movement.”

“The experiments of Robert Owen and of Fourier, and others, were only partially successful, but, considering the materials they had to build with, it was wonderful how much they effected, and they led the way to something better, I suppose?”

“Yes! We all acknowledge a deep debt of gratitude to these devoted men. The general breaking up of the old isolated homes, and the formation of the Associated or Unitary Homes, was due in the first place to the domestic servant difficulty. It was the middle classes who made the first start. The rich could always command sufficient domestic service by the high wages, by the luxurious living, and many privileges they could give. The working people who needed it even more did not understand the economy and the benefits of combination, till they were shown the example by the class above them, who had more education, and manners and tempers more under control. Now, of course, all the community are educated up to this standard, and all derive the full benefit of ‘Associated Homes?

“How many families live in this house?” I asked.

“Twenty is our number.”

“And I suppose they are of the professional and mercantile classes; not the working classes.”

“We scarcely speak of the working classes now-a-days, for all of us work. Still I understand what you mean. Here live twenty families, descended from many generations of educated people — many of these still cherishing relics of past days, as you see in this apartment of mine.”

“And these twenty families,” said I, “would in old times have each inhabited a home — which they accounted their castle. Each with at least two sitting-rooms, several bedrooms, including one spare room for guests, and must have kept from one to three servants, according to their means and the number and ages of the family — an average of two servants in England, if not in Australia. Whereas you”—

“Well, when twenty families combine, the forty or fifty small sitting-rooms are exchanged — the twenty dining-rooms for two large well-heated but uncarpeted eating-rooms or refectories; the twenty drawing-rooms, kept mostly for show, are represented by a large music room, an art room, a whist and chess room, a smoking room, a dancing room, a large library, a mechanics’ room, and a ladies’ work room. Twenty families would have at least ten nurseries — we manage with two, and class rooms for the earlier education of children before they go to the public schools.”

“And as for sleeping accommodation?” I asked.

“We have sleeping rooms to accommodate the twenty families comfortably, arranged in suites — with some few rooms for guests. Casual hospitality is frequent and inexpensive. There is a pro rata charge for each guest, and the table is always abundant, and the company pleasant, and some congenial amusement open to people of ordinary tastes. My grandmother used to tell me that one of the trials of life was the arrival of a guest to a shabby dinner.”

“There was not much chance of that at her father’s house. Belle was a most liberal housekeeper.”

“Things went badly with them afterwards, I think; she also told me of the dinner-parties and the evening-parties which cost so much, both in money and trouble, and I did not think that they gave pleasure in proportion.”

“Then how do you manage about servants?” I asked.

“The service in this as in similar homes is done by contract. The men and women who provide for the daily comfort of our lives are as independent and as much respected as those they wait upon. I think all our attendants here are members of Associated Homes of their own, except two who are engaged to sleep on the premises.”

“And how many do you keep?”

“Mr. Oliphant (my son-in-law) who is one of the home committee, could give you more exact information. I think there are sixteen in all, and the washing is done in the home. We have every sort of labor-saving machinery that ingenuity can devise, or money can pay for, because the human instrument is far more costly than it ever was.”

“Then, perhaps, your servants are as rich as you are yourselves?”

“I do not know, probably they are; but yet the service does not cost each family nearly as much as it did in the old times, there are fewer of them to keep, and there is no waste.”

“The item of washing, thrown in, must make a difference to a London household certainly. But what do you ladies do with no housekeeping to attend to?”

“We are relieved from these cares, at least such of us are not on the house committee of three, elected yearly, who give a general supervision, and so we are set free to pursue the breadwinning avocation which all men and women must betake themselves.”

“And how does the Associated Home answer for domestic comfort?” I asked. “The average Englishman as I knew him would rather be dull and cramped in a home where he was entirely master, than better lodged and served where he must give way on all sides to other people. The average Englishwoman fancied her mission was to practice housekeeping, and rule over her establishment of children and servants. Is not this combined home of yours too like the hotel life of America — which was so bad for the children of the family, and demoralising for the parents too?”

“No, indeed it is not like hotel life at all! for it is a home. This, like most of those, founded by what were then called the middle class, was a proprietary home from the first. Each family has a vested interest in it. My grandmother’s second husband was one of the original founders, and he left it to his step-son, Hugh Henderson. I inherited it from my father, as my brother has his occupation in the North of England, and my sister married a man who took her to America. That is an old story, fifty years ago.”

“Then did Florrie end her life here?” I asked.

“Yes, certainly she did! Her husband was on a visit to Australia and met her there, and brought her to England in the year 1900, and here he settled till his death.”

“Then this is really your own property,” said I, “to have and to hold, to bequeath or to sell as you please.”’

“Not exactly; I can neither bequeath or sell — except to one who would be agreeable to the other dwellers in the home. An upset (sic) price is fixed, and when a vacancy occurs by death or removal, applicants are balloted for.”

“It must then be a little difficult for a young couple to settle, unless there are constantly new homes built to be filled?”

“New homes are not often built, for the whole of our present happiness and prosperity depends on the population remaining stationary, and the homes are built so substantially that they will last for hundreds of years if kept in proper repair.”

“But what sort of life do you ladies lead without household cares? It looks like all leisure, which I do not think would be either pleasant or useful.”

“Oh, by no means all leisure! I have my work to do during the day, and I can either do it here, or in one of the pleasant public rooms down stairs. If I want society I can seek it where it is likely to be most congenial. My own favorite room is the art room; but if I want music I can hear it in the music room; if I want to read I can go to the library, where none of the readers there will disturb me. If I want a game of cards, I can have it in the room dedicated to such quiet games. For the closest intimacy — such as I used to have with my husband in his lifetime, and with my children, and even now with such friends as I wish to talk unreservedly with — as I do with you — I can have this best and sweetest of society here.”

“You have then no private sitting room?”

“No, we do not feel the want of it, and it would materially add to the cost of building and keeping up an Associated Home if each family required such a luxury.”

“Have you been long a widow?” I asked.

“My husband died four years ago.”

“You are then alone?”

“Oh no! my daughter and her husband and two of their three children live in this home, and shortly there will be another included in the family, for his only daughter is to be married on Thursday, and there have been arrangements made that the young people should live here. Florrie is young, and does not like to leave her mother.”

“How many children had you?”

“I had only two who lived. One was born an idiot, owing to a fright I got some months before, and, of course, it was destroyed at birth.”

“That is a summary way of disposing of a heavy charge,” said I. “In my day there were costly idiot asylums for a few, and idiots in all the workhouses in the kingdom. Why, I saw one in an Australian asylum thirty-four years old, who had never been able to speak, to walk, or to feed herself. I do not know how much longer she lived; but she must have cost the country a large sum.”

“It is really the best thing to do to put such imperfect and helpless beings painlessly out of existence.” said Mrs. Carmichael calmly. “My other children are quite satisfactory — rather above than below the average. My son is the manager of a large co-operative cotton factory, and he lives with his workpeople during the day, and in an Associated Home near it where his wife’s family are established. I see him every Sunday of my life, and occasionally on other days.”

“I suppose he lives in a more luxurious way than you do.”

“No, I scarcely think so. Of course each home has its little peculiarities and specialties, but the average standard of comfort is about the same.”

“As a manager of a large concern he ought to be paid very highly.”

“He has invested more capital in the factory than the operatives, and, of course, draws a larger proportion of interest, but for his actual services there is not the difference there would seem to be between direction and actual production. Indeed the tendency is towards equalisation, though that is not reached yet.”

“Indeed!” said I, “that is most surprising. Who will you find to take high and difficult positions if there is no adequate payment made?”

“Why, we find people are all eager enough to take the high positions if they are only fit for them. It is far more interesting to direct than to obey. And, after all, people can only eat three meals a day and wear one suit of clothes at a time. What would more money do in adding to one’s enjoyment of life?”

“It did much in my time,” said I. “Life was cramped and narrowed and harrassed for want of money. Those who had not enough of it for necessaries were starved physically. Those who had a bare livelihood were starved mentally and aesthetically. A sufficient margin of money over and above the supply of material wants meant leisure, amusement, foreign travel, books, pictures, wines; as Charles Lamb would say, ‘Money is not dross, it is all these delightful things.’ It also allowed us to be hospitable to our friends and charitable to the poor. Cynics and ascetics reviled it, but money was the open sesame to much of the beauty and to a great deal of the goodness of life.”

“Much that you consider so desirable we obtain now-a-days by means of combination. Much of it appears no longer so attractive as it must have been in the time when ‘every gate was barred with gold, and opened but to golden keys,’ as my grandmother used to say.” I recognised my old Tennyson-lover in the quotation.

“You have then learned to be happy with little money?”

“I do not know what you call little. We feel we have enough. As for leisure, we have no longer what is called a leisured class, but everyone has a great deal of leisure that may be used either for amusement, for self-improvement, for the riding of hobbies, or for what satisfies our modern ideas of charitable work.

“I suppose you have a general eight-hours system? What a fight there was for that in my time.”

“No! Six hours a day is reckoned a day’s work in shop or factory. Machinery, which is costly, such as that at my son’s cotton factory is worked by relays. There are some occupations and professions in which there can be no such limit; but the general feeling is that six good hours’ work for everybody should provide all the necessaries and comforts of life for everybody.”

“Then all your people work?”

“With very few exceptions — which count for nothing — every adult man and woman has some bread-earning occupation.”

“Married women, too?” I asked.

“Certainly! My daughter, for instance, is a physician, her husband edits a newspaper. Both of them have somewhat irregular hours of labor, but I do not fancy they average much more than six hours daily”

“If the practice is good, and the newspaper has a large circulation they ought to be rich, especially as they have only three children?”

“It is the full number. No one living in an Associated Home is allowed to have more than three children — at least in Europe. I hear that four is allowed in America and Australia.”

“Then people ought to become rich with so few demands upon their purses,” said I.

“I scarcely know how to express myself.” said my kinswoman, “Incomes, I know, were very different in your time. There is a moderate competence within reach of all, but the opportunity of making fortunes is gone. Everywhere co-operation and combination prevents the accumulation of capital in single hands. The professions are not crowded; there are few blanks, but the prizes are not great, and all the great profits which large means used to make for a single capitalist or firm are reduced to a minimum, while each operative gets a share of that minimum. As for my daughter’s practice, she contracts to watch over the health of the women and children who live in the Owen Home and eight other homes. Sickness is not so costly as it used to be, because in an Associated Home it is one of the items of expense included in the ordinary hoard or contribution made for housekeeping.”

“Oh! I see an evolution of the working man’s friendly club or lodge, and the homes contract at a cheap rate, no doubt.”

“Probably you will think so, especially as the medical adviser is expected to look ahead, and prevent sickness as well as to minister to it. Mrs. Oliphant does a little hospital work too, but that, of course, is gratis.”

“And her husband is on the press?”

“He is also a writer of books. He is mainly engaged during his leisure hours in writing a complete history of the co-operative movement. He will thus be the best man for you to consult and enquire from, as he has made it his business to study the beginning of the social system that to us is so old, and to you is so new and strange.”

“I have then been most fortunate in the Home to which I have been directed. Not only kinsfolk, but people especially fitted to instruct me in the new régime!! So married women as well as single women work for their livelihood now? I could see that change coming even in my day.”

“Far more married women than single; for the single life lasts so short a time. Even I am not quite off work yet, I can still earn half of my livelihood, the other half being drawn from my own and my husband’s savings, which will last me out, even if I live to a great age.”

“What was Mr. Carmichael’s avocation?”

“He was an artist. I learned much from him to help me in my own calling of a designer for calico and muslin printing; but I had also a great love for art needlework, and as I am a little old-fashioned for the calico printers I stick to this, and even give lessons in it to the young people.”

“I should have thought there was little demand for painting, and as little for such work as this,” and I looked more carefully at the exquisite embroidery which my kinswoman had laid down out of respect for me. “In the flat, dead level of conditions you live in, no one can afford to pay for such commodities.”

“There is a limited demand in the Associated Homes and in the Churches. I have had great pleasure in giving a good deal of my work to the Owen Home, as my husband presented to it no less than twelve of his best pictures. We delighted to beautify our home, but I must confess that both my husband’s work and mine falls out of demand because everyone has so much leisure, and so many have artistic taste that each home is adorned with work of its own volunteers, but when we began life it was not so.”

“The Associated Homes must furnish a market for books also?”

“Yes, our reading rooms or libraries have always a permanent library of standard works. For the modern and ephemeral a syndicate of thirty homes exchange with each other.”

“And after running the gauntlet of thirty homes the books are pretty well worn out I suppose?”

“Just so, but the young people, at least, have read them.”

“But what about quarrelling? That was the bugbear which threatened all associated living when it was spoken of in my time, for the idea was already in the air a hundred years ago.”

“The pioneers had to go through many hard trials. My father told me that during the first ten years there were more changes, resignations and expulsions than there were for fifty years after. The quarrels were sometimes personal, sometimes about children. I am ashamed to say that the women were worse offenders in this way than the men. Now, both men and women have been educated into bearing and forebearing. My grandmother told me that she was within an ace of making her husband sell out, she was so aggravated by the dress and manners and language of the people in the next suite of rooms, but he talked her over, and gradually the people improved.”

“Poor Florrie!” said I, “she was a fastidious young personage. Little did she think to end her days as a unit in an Associated Home.”

“It took some time, too,” said my kinswoman, “to establish the rule that no married couples should have more than three children. They stood out that if they could afford to keep four or five they should not be prevented, and many expulsions followed this infraction. Now it is felt to be as disgraceful to exceed the number, as in old times it was to have a child born out of wedlock.”

“That is a curious condition of public opinion.”

“It is the keystone of our whole system. Science, too, has put the limitation of the family more completely in our power than when the rule was laid down. People who do not care for children, have none, and some couples who would like them are not blessed with them; so that the limit of three keeps the population stationary.”

“I suppose that almost all the children who are born grow to maturity,” said I.

“My daughter says that nothing shows the advantages of our social order like the small death rate, and the average long healthy life. The death of infants is very rare indeed, most of the infantile diseases are stamped out. Children do not need now to take measles and whooping-cough any more than they do small-pox. Care is certainly needed during the time of teething, and the changes of weather should be provided against; but our babies are not such tender blossoms as those of our great-grandmothers.”

“One would think that so many mothers in a home would quarrel about their children?”

“Well the children are kept in their place, and our nurses are well-educated, good-principled women; but, really, as to quarrelling, the advantages are so enormous in comfort and material well-being, as well as for social intercourse, that people have learned to put their pride and their susceptibilities aside. The rules of the home are seldom referred to, but they are tacitly respected by everyone.”

“I suppose it has never occurred to you that you would be happier in the old way, the way in which it was last week suggested to me that I should live; — in furnished apartments by myself.”

“Certainly not; this is the home I was born in and married in. My widowhood need not sever me from all society.”

“Should you not prefer to live with your married daughter and her children in a pleasant house of her own.”

“Why I live with her now. I do not bore or restrain her in any way. Old people constantly with two generations of younger ones must have been a tie, and sometimes a nuisance. The younger might also be a nuisance to the old. Elderly people do not like the continual worry of children, who in your old times were very abundant and irrepressible — if I may judge by the light literature of the period.”

“I suppose, living in the same house, your daughter devotes herself to you?” said I, recollecting my life with my mother.

“Part of every day she spends with me here. If I am ill, she is my physician, and often my nurse, but her own professional arid public duties carry her outside a great deal. My granddaughter who is a student at the university, and who is to be married to another student on Thursday, always look in on me every day; we meet of course at meals, each family sitting together or opposite, and we see a great deal of each other in the public rooms. But I do not depend altogether on them when I am really ill, as I have been sometimes lately; there are six or seven other people in the house, who have time to spare, and who are glad to bestow it on me.”

“The Associated Homes seem to be the paradise of declining years,” said I.

“If I feel disposed for society, I can mix with it, and I can choose what group among seven or eight to attach myself to.”

“And this without fatigue or expense?” said I. “And as for amusements, I suppose there still exist theatres and concerts, or have you become too utilitarian to care for them, or too poor to pay for the highest talent?”

“We have music and the drama certainly, and the public exhibitions in this way are not costly; but there are entertainments of a similar kind got up in each Associated Home at least twice a week, to which we have the privilege of inviting our friends from outside. This Home, too, is the first that started keeping a carriage for the older and weaker of its members.”

“Then the young and healthy do not ride in it?” said I, recollecting the many carriages rolling about everywhere with the healthy wives and daughters of the rich in them, while the old — perhaps infirm — fathers and mothers were supposed to be quite satisfactorily dealt with by being left in the close indoor atmosphere of the fireside.

“Young people can walk and cycle.” She used quite a new word; indeed there were many new words in my kinswoman’s talk — as might be supposed in a language that had been alive and changing for a hundred years — but I guessed at her meaning by the context. “They can take the public conveyances, but to give old people fresh air and sunshine without fatigue is like life to them.”

Our pleasant talk was here interrupted by the penetrating sound of an electric bell. “There is the warning bell for dinner,” said she, “it is half-past twelve.”

“You call your middle-day meal dinner, and not luncheon?”

“Certainly, because it is dinner.”

“What are your hours for meals?”

“Breakfast at half-past seven, dinner at one, and supper at half-past six are our hours at the Owen house.”

“People engaged in business cannot all come to a middle-day meal.”

“Some of the gentlemen engaged in the city take dinner there, but most of us manage to put in an appearance at the chief meal of the day. You will like to take off your bonnet and cloak, and to wash your hands. I shall ring for you to be shown to your room.”

“You do not dress for a middle-day dinner, I suppose?”

“Oh, I change this cap, which is good enough for my own room, for a fresher one, and take off my apron; that is all.”

“Do you dress for the evening meal, then?”

“The young folks may smarten themselves up a little, but we old folks make no change.”

I observed that Mrs. Carmichael’s dress showed signs of long service, though it was perfectly neat and spotlessly clean. The material and fashion were both simple and inexpensive.

“I suppose,” said I, “that my dress must appear as antidiluvian, as the short-waisted white embroidered dress my mother wore tight before her marriage, and hoarded all her life, appeared to her grand-children.”

“No, your dress is rich and most elaborate, but our styles are now as various as our tastes. My own was designed for me by my dear husband when I began to feel I was growing old, and I keep to it. I am having a new dress made for Florrie’s wedding, as I needed one, but it is after the old pattern. What is the meaning of that hump at the back? Is it to hide any sort of deformity?”

“By no means. It is to hang the drapery on, and is considered — or was considered — to be indispensable. It helps stout people like myself to have some appearance of a waist.”

“What is this rough stuff which sets off the soft woollen material of your dress and mantle? The two blacks are so different from each other.”

Had my kinswoman never heard of crape and mourning? “I got the dress nearly a fortnight ago as mourning for my mother; my sister-in-law ordered it for me, and it was rather more costly than I wished or could afford, but Mrs. Grundy — if you ever heard of such a person?”

“I think I have; but I confuse her with the Philistines in some way.”

“Mrs. Grundy stands for public opinion, or the opinion of the Philistines, or the least intelligent part of the community. Well, Mrs. Grundy requires mourning to be worn for relatives, and, regardless of ways and means, demands that this mourning should be costly. This crape which is new to you is the authentic and authorised sign of woe; the greater the grief, the nearer the relative in blood to you the deeper should be the crape which is an expensive texture made of silk — though it has none of its lustre. In fact it is a sign of unmitigated woe to be enveloped in crape from head to foot, but, as a shower of rain injures it greatly, that mark of respect is only fit for people who ride in close carriages, or keep indoors.”

“I do not wonder at our giving up that practice. Of course I have read of crape in old books, but I have never seen it before.”

“Did you not make any alteration in your dress when you became a widow?”

“Certainly not,” said Mrs. Carmichael, “I continued to wear the clothes my husband had designed, and that he had seen me in, and that were hallowed by the touch of his dying hands.”

“Then you are no slaves to fashion?”

“Fashion, as far as I can gather from the records which I have read, and from the grandmother’s talk, was a capricious deity who exacted costly service. We wear such clothes as suit us till they are worn out honestly. We could neither afford to wear such clothes as you have on, or to change them often; but here is Mrs. Cox, ready to show you to your room.” “This lady, Mrs. Cox, is my guest for a week; there is a guest-room vacant, I believe?”

“Yes, No. 1, which is on this floor,” said the attendant, and she led me to a pretty little room, not quite half the size of Mrs. Carmichael’s. Everything was on a smaller scale, but in the same style. The bedstead was a single one, and the writing-table with writing materials was half the size of my kinswoman’s; there was a cane chair, but no couch, and at the washstand I could have both hot and cold water by turning the taps. I laid aside my outward wrappings, and sat for five minutes at the window to try to take in the situation. I saw from this side of the house, which looked to the back, a garden cultivated in a manner which surpassed all I had seen or dreamed of. Such beds of vegetables — without a weed to be seen in them, such fruit trees on walls and espaliers to catch all they could of the English sun. Golden apricots that reminded me of Australia, downy peaches, rosy apples, melting pears; all the gooseberry and currant tribe were represented, as well as raspberries; strawberries, of course, were over — except for what appeared a late white variety. There must have been ten acres of garden at the back, besides what I had seen from the front. A large shadehouse and a hothouse were placed in the most favourable aspect, so that exotic flowers and fruits might be cultivated as well as the ordinary English varieties. This fruit and vegetable garden appeared to be in charge of three gardeners, who, I saw, put on their coats and go to dinner, probably to their own Associated Homes.

I rose to my feet, shook myself to feel that I was substantially here in the flesh; I looked at myself in the mirror, and I saw that I was the same Emily Bethel who had up to to-day lived and breathed in the atmosphere of the nineteenth century. I took out of my bag the soft cap which I had taken with me for my week’s visit and fastened it with the pins provided for guests in No 1 guest-room at the Owen house, which held better than my own. Everything in my bag was as I had packed it. How real and yet so strange was my experience!

My friend was at my door ere I was quite ready, and took me with her down the lift. We walked into the dining-room for adults — to which children were not admitted till they were fourteen years old.

“As a rule the families sit together at meals. I introduce you as an Australian cousin to the community, but you must take Mr. and Mrs. Oliphant into your confidence, as both of them can help you more than I can to get the full value of your queer bargain.” said Mrs. Carmichael. “There, of course, is one frequent guest — soon to be a permanent inmate — Fred. Steele; there is no keeping him away from Florrie.”

I was introduced to my kinswoman’s daughter, who had a shrewd, sensible face, and a somewhat incisive way of speaking. Mr. Oliphant impressed me even more favorably. Of their two sons, one had settled and married at Liverpool; the other was having his Wanderjahre — his year of travel — before he began his work in his father’s newspaper office. His tour was to include America, Africa, and Australia before he returned by India and the Suez Canal.

I therefore could only see one of the younger generation, but I was pleased to see in the seventeen-year-old Florrie of 1988 a great likeness to the Florrie of 1888, especially about the eyes and the turn of the head. After a special study of my relatives, I gave a more comprehensive glance up and down both sides of the table, at which we were seated about the middle, and I felt on the whole very well satisfied with the appearance of the inhabitants of the Owen Home. The expression of restfulness and candour and kindliness which had charmed me with my kinswoman was to be seen on almost every countenance, old and young. Their manners to each other, and to the attendants, were perfect. Matthew Arnold has told us that equality is the best foundation for fine manners, and that the vast disparities in material wealth and in intellectual culture between different classes of society prevent the development of that respect humain which is the root of courtesy. I thought of his words as I sat at this dinner table.

As for dress it was on the whole — though various in fashion and style of different ages — much plainer and less expensive than that of middle-class people in my own day. I recollect a newcomer from England asking my mother how people dressed in Adelaide, and she said, curtly, “As well as they can afford to do, and often a great deal better.”

As for good looks, I was more than satisfied. The lovely complexion of youth in England was where Florrie and her compeers had the advantage over the Australian ancestors, but the complexion stood even in middle and advanced age, and the physique was altogether finer. Both men and women were taller, larger, and stronger than our old average.

I compared the table, at which about seventy people sat, with one at a table d’hôte, or in a large ocean steamer. The appointments were good, though not showy. The tablecloth and table napkins were tolerably fine and beautifully white. Linen, glassware, dinner set, knives, forks and spoons were all marked Owen Home, and could be replaced when worn out or broken. The twenty middle-class families of the nineteenth century would each have had at least two sets of china, stoneware and glass, and of the more expensive an extra number for purposes of hospitality. Thus there was a large saving made in the original outlay and maintenance for the twenty families. The food was abundant and excellently cooked and served, but there was far less meat on the table than I was accustomed to see. Three of the families were absolutely vegetarians, but, independent of that, vegetable diet took a much greater place in the food of the people now that all classes lived alike, and when England was expected to provide for her own population. Soups made largely from pulses, a profusion of vegetables — some familiar to me, but others quite new, salads, light puddings and pastry, and a large quantity of fruit — raw and cooked, with white and brown bread à discretion made up the dinner, which I enjoyed very much. There was a large profusion of water drinkers, but some drank light beer or wine with dinner. I was told that those paid a little more, and the vegetarians a little less, as their contribution for housekeeping than the average rate. Four expert waiters — two men and two women — waited at the table. The children had had their dinner half-an-hour earlier in their own dining-room. The meal lasted about forty minutes or three-quarters of an hour, and was enlivened with talk — chiefly amongst the separate families, but occasionally more general. I was interested in some talk about the prospects of the next Presidential election between some opposite neighbors, and I could not help watching with interest the boy and girl, the student lovers who were at my side.

Mrs. Oliphant went after dinner to visit some patients in a Home, Hounslow way. The lovers went for a walk preparatory to settling down to their afternoon work.

Mr. Oliphant — whom I took at once into my confidence — had five leisure hours before going to his office, which he was accustomed to spend either in the library for the preparation of his book on “Co-operation,” or in the garden — for he was an enthusiastic horticulturalist; but he was too interested in my story to do anything but devote himself to me. My accurate information and shrewdness up to a certain date, my ignorance and helplessness about all subsequent matters gradually convinced him that I was a belated fellow mortal astray in another century.

Mr. Oliphant was at this particular time a member of the house committee of the Owen Home, and he showed me all over it. First we went to the kitchen — with its marvellous cooking range, and the central fire which warmed sufficiently the whole building at a very small cost for each family even in winter. The same economy characterised the lighting of the establishment by the electric light. The drainage was perfect, and the consequence was that the health of the little community was generally excellent.

Supplies were procured from co-operative stores, which again were connected with cooperative farms and factories. All the processes of production, distribution and consumption were made inter-dependent, and while the cost of production and the labor employed in getting the product to the consumer were minimised, everyone had a share in the profit. It was difficult to compare prices with ours. Perhaps the bushel of wheat was the nearest to accuracy. I could see that a man’s work for the day of six hours might be reckoned at the price of a bushel-and-a-half of wheat, and a woman’s at a bushel-and-a-quarter. The relation which a bushel of wheat bore to other commodities was, however so different from what I was used to that this unit is somewhat misleading. Prices were marvellously steady, but on the whole the day’s work tended to procure more of the necessaries and comforts of life every decade. Wheat was grown in England for the bulk of its supplies, but other cereals and pulses took a large place in cultivation, while the minor industries — too much neglected on large capitalist farms — were developed to the utmost extent on the large co-operative farms which had taken their place; the dairy, pigs and poultry, and fruit and vegetable productions for consumption enormously increased. The Owen Home grew all its own fruit and vegetables, and supplied itself with honey from the garden. The waste from the garden and the house fed the pigs and poultry, but milk was bought, and dairy produce as well as bread, meat, general groceries and beer and wine from the co-operative stores with which the Home was affiliated. The twenty families, without servants, numbered 104 old and young; for though the number of children was limited, it was so much the custom for two or three generations to inhabit the same home that there was more than the old average of five.

I went through the public rooms, each set apart for its specific purpose, and I noted how the hands of various members during three generations had beautified and enriched the common property. I saw, too, how furniture — originally well made — would last if properly cared for and not cast aside for fashion’s sake. When the Home was founded in 1900 each member was supposed to put in so much money for the purchase and the furnishing. In order to economise the cost, most of the associates contributed out of their old abandoned homes some things that would take the place of new. Mrs. Carmichael’s bedroom furniture was still in great part what Florrie and her husband had put into it. There were still chairs and tables in the whist room and the smoking room, and others, which dated as far back, and the best violins in the music room, as well as one piano, were as old. The mechanics’ room was not only utilised for all repairs, which were made properly and efficiently, but many pieces of furniture — such as easy chairs, couches and occasional tables — were made there with the latest improvements in comfort and economy. I saw and admired Mr. Carmichael’s paintings, and his widow’s needlework.

There was nothing of the meretricious and showy decorations of the present hotel or fashionable boarding house in the appointments and decorations of the Associated Home. Though inhabited by as many families as would make a hamlet or small village the place looked and felt like a home, and I could see that each member felt an owner’s pride in it. Inside I could see traces of this everywhere, and there were quite a dozen of the families who had a taste for gardening, and worked at the flower beds and greenhouses — and even at the kitchen garden in their leisure hours.

There was a committee for floral decorations, who arranged them in the public rooms before breakfast each day. There was also an amusement committee who arranged and carried out the programmes of the Owen Home entertainments, week by week. When Mr. Oliphant took me round the garden — which was his own special health-giving hobby, he showed me more in detail that minute and extensive cultivation which was the rule in the England of the 20th century, and dwelt upon the fact that, by the larger and more varied use of fruit and vegetables as diet, the race had improved in health, and, besides, the land had been able to support in plenty a population which must have emigrated elsewhere, or been insufficiently nourished when English manufactures no longer supplied the rest of the world.

“To-morrow you must see agriculture proper, where the same principle is carried out to waste nothing, and to coax mother earth to produce her uttermost. You must also see the factory system. That will be enough for one day. This day, it should suffice to make yourself acquainted with the machinery of our Associated Homes, the unit in our society, from which commercial associations proceeded, rising to national association up to the confederation of the world for peaceful industry and interchange of commodities and ideas.”

“But you say that the export trade of England has departed:”

“In the gigantic form which it used to rear, it is no more; but there are still some foreign goods we must buy and we must export an equivalent. Although foreigners and colonists no longer depend on the capital, labor, and ingenuity of England for their manufactured goods, but supply themselves, there are still some lines which force their way into the markets of the world, because they are better and, for the quality, cheaper than the home product, and this, sometimes in the face of a protective tariff. For instance, Australia cannot manufacture cottons to compete with us, and we share that large market with the United States. In iron goods, America, perhaps, exports more value than we do — but we hold our own. There is a limited demand in the more backward East for some of the comforts and conveniences of life. On the whole we export what procures us what we need from abroad, and thus make life richer and pleasanter for ourselves and others.”

“I must make the most of my week:” I said, “but there is so much to see and to learn that it seems all too short.”

The evening meal was announced before I could take in all I wanted to do of the Associated Home and its working. Supper, as it was called, was different from the dinner, because there was no meat or even fish upon the table. There was tea, coffee and cocoa, and a quite new beverage — patronised by the vegetarians — bread, butter, preserves, light puddings, salads, and an abundance of fruit. Meat was only eaten once a day — even by those who were not vegetarians, but the best vegetable substitutes in the way of pulses were largely consumed, especially at breakfast, which I was told was a more substantial meal than supper. Wheaten and oaten porridge and lentils or other legumes were eaten at breakfast, with eggs prepared in various ways, bacon and fish. I never ate more delicious bread and butter in my life than at supper — the only recollection that came at all near to it was at Paris. Three meals a day made the regular course. Invalids might have food more frequently, but healthy children and adults were supposed to be abundantly nourished with breakfast, dinner, and supper. I contrasted the meals with those of the Melbourne well-to-do, and found that though different they were substantially as good; but, when I contrasted them with those of the Australian working men with meat and tea and bread three times a day, I could see that the working men of the future had a far more healthy dietary, and as for the children at whom I had a peep, there was no comparison.

After supper Mr. Oliphant went to his office, but for me and all others there was an evening, and my kinsfolk asked me where I should like to spend it. I saw by the programme that there was a little dramatic entertainment in which Florrie Oliphant and her lover were to take part, so I chose to go there. The half hour before the performance began I spent in looking through the public rooms and seeing how affinities grouped themselves. I also had a peep at the younger children being put to bed, but I must delay my remarks on the children until I can embrace the whole subject.

The acting was quiet, but very pleasing and remarkably equal. I never heard the prompter at all. Florrie reminded me even more of her great great grandmother in the slight alteration of dress than before, but there was very little make-up in the little play. The piece was so very different in plot from what I was used to — and even in character — that I did not quite know whether I liked it or not, but I knew quite well that I liked the acting.

When I went up to my room, I took pen in hand, and sat down to the little writing-table to commit to paper the wonderful events and experiences of the day. This took so long a time and excited me so much that it must have been far in the morning before I dropped off to sleep. The morning bell awoke me before I had had half enough of the refreshing oblivion of sleep — of deep, dreamless sleep; but I did not ask for a week in the future to waste it in over much slumber. I rose briskly, plunged into a cold bath — and felt a new woman — put on my clothes with a somewhat uncomfortable feeling of being over-dressed for the morning in the Owen Home, and hastened down to eat with excellent appetite a well served and delicious breakfast.


Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30