"I am," she replied.
"And would you object to giving me a condensed recital of it?"
"Not if it can do you any good?"
"What has become of their descendants--of those portraits?"
"They became extinct thousands of years ago."
She became silent again, lost in reverie. The agitation of my mind was not longer endurable. I was too near the acme of curiosity to longer delay. I threw reserve aside and not without fear and trembling faltered out: "Where are the men of this country? Where do they stay?"
"There are none," was the startling reply. "The race became extinct three thousand years ago."
I trembled at the suggestion of my own thoughts. Was this an enchanted country? Where the lovely blonde women fairies--or some weird beings of different specie, human only in form? Or was I dreaming?
"I do not believe I understand you," I said. "I never heard of a country where there were no men. In my land they are so very, very important."
"Possibly," was the placid answer.
"And you are really a nation of women?"
"Yes," she said. "And have been for the last three thousand years."
"Will you tell me how this wonderful change came about?"
"Certainly. But in order to do it, I must go back to our very remote ancestry. The civilization that I shall begin with must have resembled the present condition of your own country as you describe it. Prisons and punishments were prevalent throughout the land."
I inquired how long prisons and places of punishment had been abolished in Mizora.
"For more than two thousand years," she replied. "I have no personal knowledge of crime. When I speak of it, it is wholly from an historical standpoint. A theft has not been committed in this country for many many centuries. And those minor crimes, such as envy, jealousy, malice and falsehood, disappeared a long time ago. You will not find a citizen in Mizora who possesses the slightest trace of any of them.
"Did they exist in earlier times?"
"Yes. Our oldest histories are but records of a succession of dramas in which the actors were continually striving for power and exercising all of those ancient qualities of mind to obtain it. Plots, intrigues, murders and wars, were the active employments of the very ancient rulers of our land. As soon as death laid its inactivity upon one actor, another took his place. It might have continued so; and we might still be repeating the old tragedy but for one singular event. In the history of your own people you have no doubt observed that the very thing plotted, intrigued and labored for, has in accomplishment proved the ruin of its projectors. You will remark this in the history I am about to relate.
"Main ages ago this country was peopled by two races--male and female. The male race were rulers in public and domestic life. Their supremacy had come down from pre-historic time, when strength of muscle was the only master. Woman was a beast of burden. She was regarded as inferior to man, mentally as well as physically. This idea prevailed through centuries of the earlier civilization, even after enlightenment had brought to her a chivalrous regard from men. But this regard was bestowed only upon the women of their own household, by the rich and powerful. Those women who had not been fortunate enough to have been born in such a sphere of life toiled early and late, in sorrow and privation, for a mere pittance that was barely sufficient to keep the flame of life from going out. Their labor was more arduous than men's, and their wages lighter.
"The government consisted of an aristocracy, a fortunate few, who were continually at strife with one another to gain supremacy of power, or an acquisition of territory. Wars, famine and pestilence were of frequent occurrence. Of the subjects, male and female, some had everything to render life a pleasure, while others had nothing. Poverty, oppression and wretchedness was the lot of the many. Power, wealth and luxury the dower of the few.
"Children came into the world undesired even by those who were able to rear them, and often after an attempt had been made to prevent their coming alive. Consequently numbers of them were deformed, not only physically, but mentally. Under these conditions life was a misery to the larger part of the human race, and to end it by self-destruction was taught by their religion to be a crime punishable with eternal torment by quenchless fire.
"But a revolution was at hand. Stinted toil rose up, armed and wrathful, against opulent oppression. The struggle was long and tragical, and was waged with such rancor and desperate persistence by the insurrectionists, that their women and children began to supply the places vacated by fallen fathers, husbands and brothers. It ended in victory for them. They demanded a form of government that should be the property of all. It was granted, limiting its privileges to adult male citizens.
"The first representative government lasted a century. In that time civilization had taken an advance far excelling the progress made in three centuries previous. So surely does the mind crave freedom for its perfect development. The consciousness of liberty is an ennobling element in human nature. No nation can become universally moral until it is absolutely FREE.
"But this first Republic had been diseased from its birth. Slavery had existed in certain districts of the nation. It was really the remains of a former and more degraded state of society which the new government, in the exultation of its own triumphant inauguration, neglected or lacked the wisdom to remedy. A portion of the country refused to admit slavery within its territory, but pledged itself not to interfere with that which had. Enmities, however, arose between the two sections, which, after years of repression and useless conciliation, culminated in another civil war. Slavery had resolved to absorb more territory, and the free territory had resolved that it should not. The war that followed in consequence severed forever the fetters of the slave and was the primary cause of the extinction of the male race.
"The inevitable effect of slavery is enervating and demoralizing. It is a canker that eats into the vitals of any nation that harbors it, no matter what form it assumes. The free territory had all the vigor, wealth and capacity for long endurance that self-dependence gives. It was in every respect prepared for a long and severe struggle. Its forces were collected in the name of the united government.
"Considering the marked inequality of the combatants the war would necessarily have been of short duration. But political corruption had crept into the trust places of the government, and unscrupulous politicians and office-seekers saw too many opportunities to harvest wealth from a continuation of the war. It was to their interest to prolong it, and they did. They placed in the most responsible positions of the army, military men whose incapacity was well known to them, and sustained them there while the country wept its maimed and dying sons.
"The slave territory brought to the front its most capable talent. It would have conquered had not the resources against which it contended been almost unlimited. Utterly worn out, every available means of supply being exhausted, it collapsed from internal weakness.
"The general government, in order to satisfy the clamors of the distressed and impatient people whose sons were being sacrificed, and whose taxes were increasing, to prolong the war had kept removing and reinstating military commanders, but always of reliable incapacity.
"A man of mediocre intellect and boundless self-conceit happened to be the commander-in-chief of the government army when the insurrection collapsed. The politicians, whose nefarious scheming had prolonged the war, saw their opportunity for furthering their own interests by securing his popularity. They assumed him to be the greatest military genius that the world had ever produced; as evidenced by his success where so many others had failed. It was known that he had never risked a battle until he was assured that his own soldiers were better equipped and outnumbered the enemy. But the politicians asserted that such a precaution alone should mark him as an extraordinary military genius. The deluded people accepted him as a hero.
"The politicians exhausted their ingenuity in inventing honors for him. A new office of special military eminence, with a large salary attached, was created for him. He was burdened with distinctions and emoluments, always worked by the politicians, for their benefit. The nation, following the lead of the political leaders, joined in their adulation. It failed to perceive the dangerous path that leads to anarchy and despotism--the worship of one man. It had unfortunately selected one who was cautious and undemonstrative, and who had become convinced that he really was the greatest prodigy that the world had ever produced.
"He was made President, and then the egotism and narrow selfishness of the man began to exhibit itself. He assumed all the prerogatives of royalty that his position would permit. He elevated his obscure and numerous relatives to responsible offices. Large salaries were paid them and intelligent clerks hired by the Government to perform their official duties.
"Corruption spread into every department, but the nation was blind to its danger. The few who did perceive the weakness and presumption of the hero were silenced by popular opinion.
"A second term of office was given him, and then the real character of the man began to display itself before the people. The whole nature of the man was selfish and stubborn. The strongest mental trait possessed by him was cunning.
"His long lease of power and the adulation of his political beneficiaries, acting upon a superlative self-conceit, imbued him with the belief that he had really rendered his country a service so inestimable that it would be impossible for it to entirely liquidate it. He exalted to unsuitable public offices his most intimate friends. They grew suddenly exclusive and aristocratic, forming marriages with eminent families.
"He traveled about the country with his entire family, at the expense of the Government, to gradually prepare the people for the ostentation of royalty. The cities and towns that he visited furnished fetes, illuminations, parades and every variety of entertainment that could be thought of or invented for his amusement or glorification. Lest the parade might not be sufficiently gorgeous or demonstrative he secretly sent agents to prepare the programme and size of his reception, always at the expense of the city he intended to honor with his presence.
"He manifested a strong desire to subvert the will of the people to his will. When informed that a measure he had proposed was unconstitutional, he requested that the constitution be changed. His intimate friends he placed in the most important and trustworthy positions under the Government, and protected them with the power of his own office.
"Many things that were distasteful and unlawful in a free government were flagrantly flaunted in the face of the people, and were followed by other slow, but sure, approaches to the usurpation of the liberties of the Nation. He urged the Government to double his salary as President, and it complied.
"There had long existed a class of politicians who secretly desired to convert the Republic into an Empire, that they might secure greater power and opulence. They had seen in the deluded enthusiasm of the people for one man, the opportunity for which they had long waited and schemed. He was unscrupulous and ambitious, and power had become a necessity to feed the cravings of his vanity.
"The Constitution of the country forbade the office of President to be occupied by one man for more than two terms. The Empire party proposed to amend it, permitting the people to elect a President for any number of terms, or for life if they choose. They tried to persuade the people that the country owed the greatest General of all time so distinctive an honor. They even claimed that it was necessary to the preservation of the Government; that his popularity could command an army to sustain him if he called for it.
"But the people had begun to penetrate the designs of the hero, and bitterly denounced his resolution to seek a third term of power. The terrible corruptions that had been openly protected by him, had advertised him as criminally unfit for so responsible an office. But, alas! the people had delayed too long. They had taken a young elephant into the palace. They had petted and fed him and admired his bulky growth, and now they could not remove him without destroying the building.
"The politicians who had managed the Government so long, proved that they had more power than the people They succeeded, by practices that were common with politicians in those days, in getting him nominated for a third term. The people, now thoroughly alarmed, began to see their past folly and delusion. They made energetic efforts to defeat his election. But they were unavailing. The politicians had arranged the ballot, and when the counts were published, the hero was declared President for life. When too late the deluded people discovered that they had helped dig the grave for the corpse of their civil liberty, and those who were loyal and had been misled saw it buried with unavailing regret. The undeserved popularity bestowed upon a narrow and selfish nature had been its ruin. In his inaugural address he declared that nothing but the will of the people governed him. He had not desired the office; public life was distasteful to him, yet he was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of his country.
"Had the people been less enlightened, they might have yielded without a murmur; but they had enjoyed too long the privileges of a free Government to see it usurped without a struggle. Tumult and disorder prevailed over the country. Soldiers were called out to protect the new Government, but numbers of them refused to obey. The consequence was they fought among themselves. A dissolution of the Government was the result. The General they had lauded so greatly failed to bring order out of chaos; and the schemers who had foisted him into power, now turned upon him with the fury of treacherous natures when foiled of their prey. Innumerable factions sprung up all over the land, each with a leader ambitious and hopeful of subduing the whole to his rule. They fought until the extermination of the race became imminent, when a new and unsuspected power arose and mastered.
"The female portion of the nation had never had a share in the Government. Their privileges were only what the chivalry or kindness of the men permitted. In law, their rights were greatly inferior. The evils of anarchy fell with direct effect upon them. At first, they organized for mutual protection from the lawlessness that prevailed. The organizations grew, united and developed into military power. They used their power wisely, discreetly, and effectively. With consummate skill and energy they gathered the reins of Government in their own hands.
"Their first aim had been only to force the country into peace. The anarchy that reigned had demoralized society, and they had suffered most. They had long pleaded for an equality of citizenship with men, but had pleaded in vain. They now remembered it, and resolved to keep the Government that their wisdom and power had restored. They had been hampered in educational progress. Colleges and all avenues to higher intellectual development had been rigorously closed against them. The professional pursuits of life were denied them. But a few, with sublime courage and energy, had forced their way into them amid the revilings of some of their own sex and opposition of the men. It was these brave spirits who had earned their liberal cultivation with so much difficulty, that had organized and directed the new power. They generously offered to form a Government that should be the property of all intelligent adult citizens, not criminal.
"But these wise women were a small minority. The majority were ruled by the remembrance of past injustice. They were now the power, and declared their intention to hold the Government for a century.
"They formed a Republic, in which they remedied many of the defects that had marred the Republic of men. They constituted the Nation an integer which could never be disintegrated by States' Rights ideas or the assumption of State sovereignty.
"They proposed a code of laws for the home government of the States, which every State in the Union ratified as their State Constitution, thus making a uniformity and strength that the Republic of men had never known or suspected attainable.
"They made it a law of every State that criminals could be arrested in any State they might flee to, without legal authority, other than that obtained in the vicinity of the crime. They made a law that criminals, tried and convicted of crime, could not be pardoned without the sanction of seventy-five out of one hundred educated and disinterested people, who should weigh the testimony and render their decision under oath. It is scarcely necessary to add that few criminals ever were pardoned. It removed from the office of Governor the responsibility of pardoning, or rejecting pardons as a purely personal privilege. It abolished the power of rich criminals to bribe their escape from justice; a practice that had secretly existed in the former Republic.
"In forming their Government, the women, who were its founders, profited largely by the mistakes or wisdom displayed in the Government of men. Neither the General Government, nor the State Government, could be independent of the other. A law of the Union could not become such until ratified by every State Legislature. A State law could not become constitutional until ratified by Congress.
"In forming the State Constitutions, laws were selected from the different State Constitutions that had proven wise for State Government during the former Republic. In the Republic of men, each State had made and ratified its own laws, independent of the General Government. The consequence was, no two States possessed similar laws.
"To secure strength and avoid confusion was the aim of the founders of the new Government. The Constitution of the National Government provided for the exclusion of the male sex from all affairs and privileges for a period of one hundred years.
"At the end of that time not a representative of the sex was in existence."
I expressed my astonishment at her revelation. Their social life existed under conditions that were incredible to me. Would it be an impertinence to ask for an explanation that I might comprehend? Or was it really the one secret they possessed and guarded from discovery, a mystery that must forever surround them with a halo of doubt, the suggestion of uncanny power? I spoke as deprecatingly as I could. The Preceptress turned upon me a calm but penetrating gaze.
"Have we impressed you as a mysterious people?" she asked.
"Very, very much!" I exclaimed. "I have at times been oppressed by it."
"You never mentioned it," she said, kindly.
"I could not find an opportunity to," I said.
"It is the custom in Mizora, as you have no doubt observed, never to make domestic affairs a topic of conversation outside of the family, the only ones who would be interested in them; and this refinement has kept you from the solution of our social system. I have no hesitancy in gratifying your wish to comprehend it. The best way to do it is to let history lead up to it, if you have the patience to listen."
I assured her that I was anxious to hear all she chose to tell. She then resumed: "The prosperity of the country rapidly increased under the rule of the female Presidents. The majority of them were in favor of a high state of morality, and they enforced it by law and practice. The arts and sciences were liberally encouraged and made rapid advancement. Colleges and schools flourished vigorously, and every branch of education was now open to women.
"During the Republic of men, the government had founded and sustained a military and naval academy, where a limited number of the youth of the country were educated at government expense. The female government re-organized the institutions, substituting the youth of their own sex. They also founded an academy of science, which was supplied with every facility for investigation and progress. None but those having a marked predilection for scientific research could obtain admission, and then it was accorded to demonstrated ability only. This drew to the college the best female talent in the country. The number of applicants was not limited.
"Science had hitherto been, save by a very few, an untrodden field to women, but the encouragement and rare facilities offered soon revealed latent talent that developed rapidly. Scarcely half a century had elapsed before the pupils of the college had effected by their discoveries some remarkable changes in living, especially in the prevention and cure of diseases.
"However prosperous they might become, they could not dwell in political security with a portion of the citizens disfranchised. The men were resolved to secure their former power. Intrigues and plots against the government were constantly in force among them. In order to avert another civil war, it was finally decided to amend the constitution, and give them an equal share in the ballot. They had no sooner obtained that than the old practices of the former Republic were resorted to to secure their supremacy in government affairs. The women looked forward to their former subjugation as only a matter of time, and bitterly regretted their inability to prevent it. But at the crisis, a prominent scientist proposed to let the race die out. Science had revealed the Secret of Life."
She ceased speaking, as though I fully understood her.
"I am more bewildered than ever," I exclaimed. "I cannot comprehend you."
"Come with me," she said.
I followed her into the Chemist's Laboratory. She bade me look into a microscope that she designated, and tell her what I saw.
"An exquisitely minute cell in violent motion," I answered.
"Daughter," she said, solemnly, "you are now looking upon the germ of all Life, be it animal or vegetable, a flower or a human being, it has that one common beginning. We have advanced far enough in Science to control its development. Know that the MOTHER is the only important part of all life. In the lowest organisms no other sex is apparent."
I sat down and looked at my companion in a frame of mind not easily described. There was an intellectual grandeur in her look and mien that was impressive. Truth sat, like a coronet, upon her brow. The revelation I had so longed for, I now almost regretted. It separated me so far from these beautiful, companionable beings.
"Science has instructed you how to supercede Nature," I said, finally.
"By no means. It has only taught us how to make her obey us. We cannot create Life. We cannot develop it. But we can control Nature's processes of development as we will. Can you deprecate such a power? Would not your own land be happier without idiots, without lunatics, without deformity and disease?"
"You will give me little hope of any radical change in my own lifetime when I inform you that deformity, if extraordinary, becomes a source of revenue to its possessor."
"All reforms are of slow growth," she said. "The moral life is the highest development of Nature. It is evolved by the same slow processes, and like the lower life, its succeeding forms are always higher ones. Its ultimate perfection will be mind, where all happiness shall dwell, where pleasure shall find fruition, and desire its ecstasy.
"It is the duty of every generation to prepare the way for a higher development of the next, as we see demonstrated by Nature in the fossilized remains of long extinct animal life, a preparatory condition for a higher form in the next evolution. If you do not enjoy the fruit of your labor in your own lifetime, the generation that follows you will be the happier for it. Be not so selfish as to think only of your own narrow span of life."
"By what means have you reached so grand a development?" I asked.
"By the careful study of, and adherence to, Nature's laws. It was long years--I should say centuries--before the influence of the coarser nature of men was eliminated from the present race.
"We devote the most careful attention to the Mothers of our race. No retarding mental or moral influences are ever permitted to reach her. On the contrary, the most agreeable contacts with nature, all that can cheer and ennoble in art or music surround her. She is an object of interest and tenderness to all who meet her. Guarded from unwholesome agitation, furnished with nourishing and proper diet--both mental and physical--the child of a Mizora mother is always an improvement upon herself. With us, childhood has no sorrows. We believe, and the present condition of our race proves, that a being environed from its birth with none but elevating influences, will grow up amiable and intelligent though inheriting unfavorable tendencies.
"On this principle we have ennobled our race and discovered the means of prolonging life and youthful loveliness far beyond the limits known by our ancestors.
"Temptation and necessity will often degrade a nature naturally inclined and desirous to be noble. We early recognized this fact, and that a nature once debased by crime would transmit it to posterity. For this reason we never permitted a convict to have posterity."
"But how have you become so beautiful?" I asked. "For, in all my journeys, I have not met an uncomely face or form. On the contrary, all the Mizora women have perfect bodies and lovely features."
"We follow the gentle guidance of our mother, Nature. Good air and judicious exercise for generations and generations before us have helped. Our ancestors knew the influence of art, sculpture, painting and music, which they were trained to appreciate."
"But has not nature been a little generous to you?" I inquired.
"Not more so than she will be to any people who follow her laws. When you first came here you had an idea that you could improve nature by crowding your lungs and digestive organs into a smaller space than she, the maker of them, intended them to occupy.
"If you construct an engine, and then cram it into a box so narrow and tight that it cannot move, and then crowd on the motive power, what would you expect?
"Beautiful as you think my people, and as they really are, yet, by disregarding nature's laws, or trying to thwart her intentions, in a few generations to come, perhaps even in the next, we could have coarse features and complexions, stoop shoulders and deformity.
"It has required patience, observation and care on the part of our ancestors to secure to us the priceless heritage of health and perfect bodies. Your people can acquire them by the same means."
As to Physical causes, I am inclined to doubt altogether of their operation in this particular; nor do I think that men owe anything of their temper or genius to the air, food, or climate.--Bacon.
I listened with the keenest interest to this curious and instructive history; and when the Preceptress had ceased speaking. I expressed my gratitude for her kindness. There were many things about which I desired information, but particularly their method of eradicating disease and crime. These two evils were the prominent afflictions of all the civilized nations I knew. I believed that I could comprehend enough of their method of extirpation to benefit my own country. Would she kindly give it?