His in Herland, Updated!

His in Herland is a response to the utopia/adventure/polemic novella Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Told from the point of view of Terry, Herland's original fang-less villain, and from the point of view of a disguised male citizen of the supposedly all female Herland, His in Herland tackles the following problem:

Are utopias possible?

Okay, why not?

And . . .

Why do people turn out the way they do?

The current novella contains updated and new chapters.

* * *

Chapter 1 Updated
Chapter 2 Updated
Chapter 3 Updated
Chapter 4 New
Chapter 5 Updated
Chapter 6 Updated
Chapter 7 Updated
Chapter 8 Updated
Chapter 9 New
Chapter 10 Updated and Expanded
Chapter 11 Updated
Chapter 12 Updated
Chapter 13 Updated
Chapter 14 Updated
Chapter 15 Updated
Chapter 16 New
Chapter 17 Updated
Chapter 18 Updated
Chapter 19 Updated
Chapter 20 New
Chapter 21 Updated

Alim in Herland, Final Chapter

Fall arrived. I worked at the hospital. I visited pregnant Ellador and pregnant (again) Celis. I made jokes with my companions. I learned soldiers' stories, sitting by their beds after I operated on them.

I sobbed some nights when I was too tired to think and couldn't stave off my fears, the things I hoped wouldn't come to pass, wouldn’t turn out to be true. I trooped between Har and the village with messages and supplies.

I was at Har, discussing medical supplies for prisoners with Juste when Moadine came to fetch me.

“I need Alim,” she said. “An important surgery.”

There were three Herlander surgeons by then; Taila, Sabine, and me. Taila and Sabine were both in the village. Jeff—not a surgeon but an adequate doctor—sometimes tended to soldiers in the fortress, but he was currently wholly occupied with Celis's second pregnancy. I left Juste to finish up the list and joined Moadine in her car.

She drove rapidly down the mountain roads while I watched the scenery of high trees and rocky outgrowths flash by, leaning on the car door like a boy of twelve.

Speaking of which—

“Did you truly not know I was male when I came to the plains?” I said as we swept around the town of Jontz to join the road coming up from the factories in the west. I turned my head on my arm and studied Moadine.

She laughed. “I knew years before,” she admitted.

“Don't tell me one of your spies is Juste's companion!” I said, faintly horrified though I wasn't sure why. Juste never kept secrets from anyone.

Moadine laughed again, a full laugh with her head back.

She said, “People voluntarily tell me things.”

I could believe it.

I said, “When I came to the plains as a boy—did that worry you?”

“You weren't always happy,” she said. “But you were Miranda's child, so I knew you were tough or could be, knew you had it in you to survive, find a purpose.”

Herland rhetoric. From Moadine, it sounded natural.

She said gently, “Miranda volunteered—rather like you at the hospital.”

“That's all Terry.”

“No. His idea, perhaps. And a wise one. But nobody sticks at anything like you have done without desire, commitment, belief. You are a good man, Alim.”

I breathed that in. I looked away, so she couldn't see the moisture in my eyes (not that she would mind) and pressed my face to my arm.

I woke when it was dusk, sprawled in the passenger seat, head lolling. The car was slowing outside massive stone walls, and I recognized the fortress. I sat up, tilting my head and rolling my shoulders.

“Dinner time,” I hazarded since we'd left Har in late afternoon and the fortress is three hours away by car.

“A little after seven.” Moadine threaded the narrow, arched gate and began the slow climb up cobblestone roads. When we reached the keep, the tower, she pulled into a courtyard and parked. We got out.

I had my medical kit with me, and I jogged up the narrow steps to the wide grass lawn bordered by the wall that Terry and Van and Jeff had once escaped across. The gymnasium had become a hospital dormitory; a row of beds along the wall faced the windows and door. The fortress didn't get as many wounded as we did in the village, but Somel ran it, and she liked to be prepared. I suspected she foresaw the keep as a future hospital for Herland, one with updated machinery based on medical advances in the outside world. In the meantime, it doubled as a military clinic.

There was currently one patient in the farthest bed. I went towards it, came up on it with the faint light of the glowing lamps above me and the half-light of dusk behind me and saw Terry asleep on the white-sheeted cot.

“He landed near the lake two days ago,” Moadine said. “The scouts spotted him and sent out a team. We didn't know it was Terry, of course. Not until we reached him.”

I nodded. I sat on the side of the bed and studied the bearded face. He was thinner there, despite the beard, thin all over. I examined him thoroughly, noting old burns and scars. New ones. He had a broken leg, but it had already been set. “By Jeff,” Somel told me. “He couldn't leave his friend in pain.”

I checked the splint anyway. Then I settled back on the side of the bed while Moadine told me of Terry's arrival.

“The plane was shredded. He was obviously attacked. And he came here, forced that plane to carry him back to us. To you.”

I nodded and took his hand. Moadine set hers on my shoulder.

“He will recover,” she said. “He'll get better. And when he wants to leave, he can go. And you. Nobody can stop you.”

“Thank you,” I said when she reached the outside door. I said it softly and looked up to say it louder, but Moadine was already turning back, and I saw her smile in the light above the door.

“I'm so glad,” she said and went out.

I sat there through the night. Somal checked in a few times as well as a nurse who carried blankets and asked quietly if the patient was cold. I took an extra one and tucked it around Terry more closely. I picked up his hand again and waited.

Dawn came, the light soft and cold yet brighter still than the dormitory's artificial product. It filled in the windows that lined the opposite wall, sent ambassadors to stroke the sides of the cot. I yawned as Terry stirred.

He opened his eyes, saw me. And I guess I hadn't changed so much because he said, “Alim” and grinned a Terry grin. I let one side of my mouth slide upwards, relaxing, believing.

“Hullo, boy,” he said. “I told you I'd come get you.”

Terry in Herland, Chapter 20


For the first two years of the war, I flew supplies to the clinic in the valley below Herland. At the end of 1916, I was brought into the RFC to provide trench stafing. The need for air defense was so great, I couldn’t say no. By then, Herland was connected to Allied supply lines.

There were a number of us “free-lance” pilots in both the French and British aviation units. Even after America entered the war, its pilots usually worked for commands headed by the more experienced French, British, and Australian air powers. By the time the American Expeditionary Force was established in summer 1917, I’d already survived Bloody April.

Battles followed battles, not unlike the rat-tat-tat of machine guns. I couldn’t break away to visit Herland. I sent a letter with a government friend to deliver to the supply train; Herland had become a military secret, and I couldn’t trust the regular mail routes. In the letter, I wrote only that I was (still) alive and hoped Alim was well. I had no guarantee that he would ever see it.

He was strong. He would find a way to achieve his dreams even if I went down in the drink.

When I wasn’t in the air, I entertained myself as pilots always do. Eat, drink, and be merry. Or maybe not so merry. I ate, found bed partners, drank in bars, sang jolly songs. Through it all, I was numb, the entire world reduced to one moment, one minute, one flight at a time.

More than I would have imagined possible, I appreciated the bland peace of Herland. Lying in a cot, trying to sleep despite the incessant noise of planes coming and going, I remembered not the formal pageantry or the monotonous lessons but Solis’s town square in the early morning. In my half-waking dreams, I walked over golden stones on my way to the gym, passing the fountain and the temple. I looked up into a blue sky, unclouded by smoke.

Or I saw myself on the pebbled bank by the stream near the tower. The moon was a shining reflection on the surface water. Alim’s shouts of glee echoed in the glen.

Herland was haven, safety, a place to send the mind away from grunge and mud. I was glad such realities existed, societies where people care more about arguing over vague philosophical principles than being shot out of the sky in a blaze of fire.

Let them be well, Alim safe and waiting for me to take him to America.

I missed Herland. I still wanted to go home to New York. I wanted to wander glowing Times Square, visit Cleopatra’s Needle. I wanted to show Alim the Empire States Building, take him on a trolley. I wanted to watch him thrive as a doctor, helping revitalize America’s troubled medical schools.

See—even I can be a revolutionary.

No, I wouldn’t want to mislead the reader. I cared little for the improvement of medical practices in America or even the Flexner Report. But I knew Alim would. I wanted to offer him engagement for his mind, for his heart. I wanted him to wonder.

While I wanted rest, to sleep an actual full night’s sleep without having to stagger awake, responsive to a shouted query or order. I’d begun to think it was wishful thinking to close one’s eyes and slumber and stretch awake at one’s choosing.

Yet I never envied Van and Ellador away on their world tour. After her tears over trench warfare and other horrors, Ellador heroically determined that “race-progress” was the ultimate good. If people died, oh, well, it must be for the best, countries being so overpopulated and all. The world would learn from its mistakes and do better next time.

Off they went, searching for the purpose of life. I doubted they would find it. How could they when Ellador’s studies neglected human ties for the sake of theory. She never peered into the tangle of motives and desires, needs and beliefs that thread through any single event. Family. Friends. Curiosity about the “other”.

But then Ellador was quite adept at dismissing “unlikable” behavior in communities she approved of while despising it in ones she found objectionable. She went so far as to argue that Germany was merely behaving like a disobedient child: prideful and vengeful, yes, but full of such terribly good and progressive ideas before things went so wrong.

Head over heels in love, Van put up token arguments, then swooned in utter agreement. They retreated into their carefully constructed version of reality, their supposedly modern prejudices against much of the human race intact. I was frankly relieved when they left.

I continued to live at the center of an international conflict. What did I care about? My fellow pilots. The young soldiers arriving daily from home. My family. Alim. I even hoped to see my mother again.

I rose, I flew. The routine continued. I hardly understood why I and others survived when so many pilots died.

And then the day came when I encountered a German fighter plane, a Flying Razor. A dog-fight ensued. I pushed the engines, saw the left wing explode in flames. The lake—the lake below Herland’s cliff wasn’t far. Only, Herland required protection. Women and children: isn’t that the chivalrous man’s mantra? And Alim was there. And I’d promised to keep him safe.

I turned in a tight arc. I didn’t ram the other plane. I wanted to live. But I let my front Vickers guns loose without bothering to look through the scope. The other plane spiraled downwards, disappearing into black smoke. I turned my plane again, even as it lost altitude. One wing shredded. No way to assess possible bullet damage to the engine.

Don’t give up. Don’t die. Survive. Get to safety. Make it.

Alim in Herland, Chapter 19

“Did you hear?” Taila asked one morning as I was stitching up a soldier's shoulder. “A plane came in from the west yesterday, landed on the meadows near the cliff.”

“A plane?” It couldn't be Terry; he would never be so reckless as to enter our territory without pre-arranged signals. It couldn't be—

“The scouts let it land. It was Van and Ellador—can you believe it!?”

“They're lucky they didn't get shot,” said Kal crisply as she came in carrying masks to distribute to the soldiers returning to the front.

Moadine had placed guards with weapons on the cliffs, weapons borrowed from outside nations and never permitted further into Herland.

“You'd think they didn't realize there's a war on,” Kal said acidly.

“Oh, but that's probably why they came back,” Taila told her.

I said something placatory (“I'm glad they're safe”) and tried not to notice the shrinking of my heart. It was good that Van and Ellador had returned. It didn't mean Terry was—

I took the next trip up the mountain passage with news and supplies for Juste, which supplies included rifles. Juste paid no attention to Herland's strictures on weapons; if any invaders broached Har's borders, she wanted her women to shoot and to kill.

Celis was visiting, as she often did without Jeff or Rosalind. Celis liked being a mother; she also liked to temporarily stop being one.

“Jeff's enough parent,” she announced with a shrug. “He coos and praises and encourages Rosy to play official games. He's a devotee of Herland's system.”

“As long as she thinks for herself,” Juste said robustly, and Celis rolled her eyes.

“Rosy's a brat who has her father wrapped around her finger,” she told me after Juste strolled out of Har's storehouse. “I play the disciplinarian, but sometimes I'd rather let someone else like Tyra do it. Believe me, when she's old enough, Rosy will go her own way.”

“Has she met Van and Ellador?”

“Sure. They're going to try for a child.”

“How are they?” I said, storing the rifles I'd brought into the wooden racks. I locked the bar that held them in place.

Do they know where Terry is? Do they know if he is alive? Do they care?

“Full of ideas,” Celis said. “Ellador's been giving lectures all over Herland about their tour.”

“Does she talk about the war?” I set the ammunition in the top cupboard above the barred windows—I was tall enough to reach it now.

“No.” Celis stretched out in the opposite windowsill and kicking up her feet. “She talks about the trip that she and Van made around the world. The conditions. The women. She claims women out there don't wish to improve the world or can't see that it needs improvement or something. They are stuck in man-made systems.”

I turned and stared at Celis who shrugged.

“Has Ellador heard of Edith Cavell?” I said, striving to sound level-headed and rational. “Nurses in field hospitals? Women in the munitions factories?”

“Those are all war examples, Alim,” Celis said gently.

“Those women are choosing, aren't they? They're making decisions about what they support? They're sacrificing money and time and their lives? Edith Cavell was executed!”

“For a war that Ellador believes was preventable.”

“Anything is preventable,” I said. “Any system can be dismantled and destroyed and cast down, even Herland's. What does pointing that out accomplish?”

“Change. Progress. In the long-run, you understand. For the good of humanity.”

“Bullshit,” I said.

I'd picked up bad habits from the soldiers. Celis didn't flinch.

“Oh, Ellador's lectures aren't so bad,” she said. “Pretty-sounding rhetoric. The whole world crafted into theory and argument. But they're like that, you know: Van and Ellador. You know that.”

I did. And I suppose Terry would say he was fighting for people like Van and Ellador, allowing them the privilege of a safe home where they could argue their theories and present their Reasons for Everything.

“They're printing a book,” Celis said. “With all their ideas.”

“Send me a copy.”

Better to skim the book than attend one of Herland's endless lectures.

* * *

A week later, Ellador came to see. I was restocking shelves with antiseptics when she burst in the clinic storeroom, once a scullery.

She said, “Oh, Alima. Alim, I mean. Look at you.”

I was nearly six feet by then, not as wide-shouldered as I would be by the end of the war, but then I was never as big a chap as Terry. I still only shaved twice a week. But. Still. I was eighteen going on nineteen, and I looked it.

Ellador looked sophisticated. She was wearing Herland dress, but her hair was coiffed like the women in Van's dictionary. Of course, she was older. Of course, she was more experienced.

I hugged her because I couldn't not. She'd been my friend and companion and defender while I was growing up. I had to remember that.

She helped me stock the remaining shelves, then sat down and shook her head at me in wonder.

“You look a proper man. Van said that is the right thing to say.”

“I suppose. Have you heard anything about Terry?”

“Only how you two tricked the rest of us. Oh, you mean— No, we haven't. I know he's missing but—” Her shoulders hunched. “I hate talking about the war. I hate it, Alim. So much hatred and destruction and for such selfish reasons.”

I didn't disagree. I got up to make tea, and Ellador accepted a mug.

“But you are doing such fine things here. Men are so noble,” she said with flushed enthusiasm.

“Terry's idea,” I told her. “And he was right. I'm helping people.”

“Yes. Yes, you are.”

“I read Van's book, the one about your trip around the world. How everything out there is broken and hampered and stalled.”

I tried to keep my voice level, but she heard the note of disdain. She cocked an eyebrow and waited, sipping her tea.

She said coyly, “I don't want my ideas to upset you—”

“Cut it out, Ellador. I'm not your husband.”

She eyed me, then nodded.

She said straight-forwardly, “There are many things that need to be fixed. Many injustices.”

“But your explanations for those injustices don’t take actual behavior into account,” I said. “Your so-called progress would deny the human condition.”

“If the ideas behind a country or institution are wrong, they must be fixed, rethought, retried.”

“But countries and institutions aren't ideas. They are people, individual members of society. With all their idiosyncrasies and flaws and personal desires. Beliefs. I've met religious soldiers, Ellador. Catholics. Protestants. Jews. British Muslims. I've sat by their beds as they talk about their families and their God. You dismiss religion in your book. You treat it with such contempt—as little more than a civilizing influence. And yet it sustains them—”

“I don't doubt that. People can be very good. But you must admit that the ideas behind the religious thought are corrupt, inherently problematic. The patriarchal Father with his stern voice and demands of obedience.”

“That's not what they believe. Not exactly. You're trivializing a larger passion.”

“Which is rooted in an inability to question.”

“No, Ellador.” I slammed my hand down, then stood, shaking, and paced to the door. I took a deep breath and came back. Ellador appeared patient and long-suffering, and I frowned at her imperturbability.

I had an inkling then that nothing I said would change her mind.

I tried anyway—I'm sure she felt the same:

“People aren't a collection of theories, Ellador. They aren't some overriding system. There are theories out there about how people should rise up against those who keep them down, should revolt against debunked traditions. But all these theories come after. The theorists look back at things. They don't experience them. The soldiers don't believe in your theories, no matter how clever you sound. They believe in—have faith in—something emotional or intellectual. Traditional. Personal. And your authority can't stop them—unless you plan to 'fix' their minds.”

“But Alima—Alim—I have seen unjust systems out there, corrupt industries that control everything from the so-called free press to the industry's workers. Government institutions that print propaganda. Religions that take money for profit. Traditions that bind little girls' feet. Policies that thrive on old ideas, such as slavery. Men who preach against other races. Where else can we begin but by changing how people think? Re-educating them?”

Maybe I would have agreed with her two years ago. I would have been as appalled by the “injustices” she listed as she was. But here's the thing about true education: the perfect, trite theories no longer fit.

I'd read newspapers and books brought in by the soldiers. I’d help heal them. I'd talked to them.

I said, “Haven't you noticed, Ellador, how eventually all these theories and policies you praise come down to force? Eugenics. Segregation. Your fancy progressive philosophers are not entirely trustworthy.”

“Except they see the need for reform, better working conditions, cleaner cities, more charity,” she insisted. “New ideas. Experimentation. Trial and error. The problem is that nations stop—they get stuck on one notion—they go to war!”

“They make it impossible for the individual to operate, to move, to dream, to leave. Where else have you seen that?”

“Oh, no, Alim. Herland taught you, didn't it? You're here now, helping others because—”

“Because of Terry, Ellador. Because a man with bourgeois, petty, so-called chauvinistic ideal—ideals that you despise—pulled the best out of his upbringing and encouraged me to do the same. And yet, according to you, he has nothing to offer. No one has anything to offer who doesn't fit the theory of progress.”

“I think people do wonderful things, but they could do better! They can learn—”

“They learn because there are wars, challenges, change. They don't learn in a vacuum, Ellador.”

She threw up her hands and sighed.

“You let me get away with less than Van,” she told me. “He's nearby,” she added and looked about wistfully as if he might come in at any moment.

I sighed too because Ellador did adore Van, and that was individual and real, more real than any of her theories.

I said as if it were a concession, “Herland did raise me well.”

I was healthy. I could read and write. When Terry arrived, I'd been ready to tackle his ideas, to take on the wildness of the outside world. My upbringing wasn't all bad.

Van came in a few minutes later while Ellador and I were exchanging news about various friends (we'd retreated to the safe and normal world of gossip). He gaped at my height (I was taller than Van now), then laughed and hugged me.

“I am so impressed by what you have done here,” he said in that absolutely faultlessly friendly way that Van has.

As they were leaving for Herland—in Van's plane (flight plan approved)—Ellador said, face faintly crimson, “You know we want to try for a baby. A boy, perhaps.”

“You'll be a wonderful mother,” I told her. “You helped raise me.”

And I meant it. The world Terry wanted to give me was a world of flaws. There was a place there for Ellador and Van, who were also flawed.

Like me.

Alim in Herland, Chapter 18

Herland was never attacked directly, thank God. It managed to stay untrammeled and unbombed throughout the war.

We did assist with wounded soldiers coming through the land below the mountain passage; eventually we established a medical aid unit in the village clinic.

“We” was Moadine and Somel, I and scores of young women, not only the “brash girls” but some of Van and Jeff's disciples.

Juste was not part of the “we,” not directly. She agreed with Terry that the European War was not our war. She focused instead on protecting the pass. She didn't object to our humanitarian efforts, however, and aided in “sheltering” (imprisoning) soldiers of the Axis nations. They were well-fed and housed, and, I suspected, kindly cared for at a personal level; more than a few stayed in reach of Herland once the war ended and they were freed.

We were nominally neutral. But all our aid came from the Allies, which was what Moadine wanted. Moadine believed that Herland would suffer if the Allies lost. Her reasons had to do, as far I understood, with the allegiances of the various governments in the regions below Herland. Those nations were a cushion to Herland, a fence between us and the world, and Moadine was loathe to lose it.

“We” did not include Jeff, despite his medical knowledge. He was disgusted and horrified by the European War and felt that he would taint Celis and their baby, Rosalind, with an “aura” of violence if he worked in the clinic. He created a manual for first-aid and occasionally agreed to go to the fortress to care for pilots who crashed in the lake. But he denounced any more involvement.

Celis didn't push him. She didn't want him to get infected with Terry's patriotism or manly sense of duty and rush off to help. Herland's mentors were divided on his behavior. On the one hand, he was obviously not acting for the good of anything larger than his wife and child. On the other, many of them agreed with Juste that the outside war was none of our concern. Still others objected to Herland girls coming to help in the clinic.

The girls came anyway, much to my relief. My peers, my fellow citizens were a solace when Terry left. They accepted me as male (not without jokes at my expense) and set to work.

Terry made infrequent trips in the first two years. Every six to eight months, he would show up with supplies. His visits were rushed though he often spent hours with Moadine relaying messages from her people—”spies,” Terry called them—in Europe.

And then Terry stopped coming. America had entered the war, and Terry was American, so maybe he'd been assigned to a specific unit or whatever the American air force did.

Maybe. Maybe something else happened. I didn’t tell myself he was dead or captured; I used my Herland training and avoided thinking about his disappearance at all.

In the meantime, our village clinic was growing. We now had an X-ray machine, obtained by one of Moadine's agents, and a full pharmacy; we had access to supplies through the American Medical Department. What Terry had brought to us in irregular and dangerous visits from the north were delivered to us now on safer routes from the south. We were a small organization but we fell beneath flight paths between the front and various airfields. We were useful to the Allies.

In the clinic, I undertook triage. I also treated incoming soldiers for broken bones and chemical burns and other damage. We regulars were seven in total. Taila and Sabine stitched and disinfected like me. Kal drove the hospital ambulance Nieve, Fiona, and Jacey came often to nurse and clean and fix things. Jacey was especially good at getting soldiers to relax before surgery.

I didn't approach any of my Herland compatriots romantically—or even sexually. I understood now, as I hadn’t when I was younger, the risk of “taking advantage.” Romantic entanglements would disrupt our outfit's smooth running.

If nothing else, Herland taught me that there are times when work comes first.

But I watched our young women—who grew up without men—flirt with the soldiers, and I grinned over Celis's foresight. No amount of “absence” in one's education can dictate future behavior. These women may never have met men (knowingly) in their younger years. They had no trouble adjusting to them now—or to me.

A few did try to flirt with me, but most of them looked past me to the greater prize. Other men, I thought at first, but eventually I realized I was making the mentors' mistake. I was defining my friends entirely in terms of one system or another: progress equals no men; war equals men and marriage.

“We always liked you, Alim,” Fiona told me when she came to fix the ambulance and to check the trucks. “You Alima. You're not the only one who got in trouble growing up, you know. You're not even the only one who hid from the mentors. There are so many girls in Herland who want to run races and play loud games and throw eggs off roofs—”

“You remember that?!”

“Sure. I was so jealous of Ellador and Celis when you joined them on forestry. I'm not sure I saw the point of the egg toss—”

I chuckled. Fiona grinned.

“But there're bigger dreams in Herland than the mentors can envision. Or keep in line.”

“Even if it means we don't progress?”

“What's the use of progress if a girl can't dress up in jewelry and laugh her head off at a silly mustache?” She flicked her finger at the one I was attempting.

“We want opportunities,” she told me seriously. “We want education and cooperation and good hygiene, sure. We also want danger. Diversions. The old stories. Prayers. Love affairs. Rituals. Celebrations. And sweet babies that belong to us. Maybe all those things token the end of civilization. But they're—”

“—captivating,” I said, and she nodded, smile glimmering.

She meant what she was saying. She wanted a world of chance and wonder, not the planned program that Herland lay devotedly at her feet.

She wasn't the only one. We all needed time to figure out our wants and needs. So when pretty Nieve came to deliver finely made surgical tools, I spoke to her like a friend and learned about her interests and let her go back to her craft work without making advances.

After the war, as the soldiers said in their near-sleep voices. After the war.

Terry in Herland, Chapter 17

The world outside Herland was at war.

Van records the shock and horror of that revelation. It was the European War, the nearly unpreventable series of events that snowballed from assassination to invasion. The breaking of treaties. The declaration of hostilities. And then Belgium's borders were breached, and Great Britain entered the fray.

I went to France to meet friends of mine in the British army. Van and Ellador followed, the fools, all for the sake of Ellador's “education.” She insisted I take her up in the plane to view the destruction of trench warfare—this was in the lull between battles in 1915. I protested, but Ellador insisted, and she's as difficult to say “No” to as Alim. Van told me later that Ellador cried that night over the unimaginable destruction she saw. Of course, she did.

I was planning to offer my plane, my abilities as a pilot, and my extremely rough French to the RFC. I had connections—the aviation world back then was not so large—and I could hardly go home and settle back into the business world, not when it seemed likely that the war would not end as rapidly as the wishful politicians were promising.

I needed to return to Herland first. The location of that country is known now in many government offices, but the wariness I developed during the war stays with me. Suffice it to say that I was able to make the return trip with little difficulty; a few months later, it was far more dangerous.

I encountered British and French expeditions as Alim said I would. Their members queried me closely about the war in Europe and made their own plans. I equipped myself and started up the mountain passage. I'd made an initial pass in the plane over where I understood Har to be, so I was not surprised when Alim met me half-way up my ascent.

He was already three inches taller, nearly my height. His shoulders had broadened, his frame expanding to encompass all that cheerful energy. He waved and shouted, then heaved off his backpack to scramble down the path to hug me.

“You came! You came!”

There was no way to soften the blow.

“I'm not taking you with me,” I said.

He didn't seem to hear. He talked about seeing my plane, about his preparations “for months and months” beforehand, about his hurried goodbyes in Har that morning. I held his arms and studied the mobile face with its faint beard (he would be using a razor at least once a week now) and knew how much I'd missed him.

And how much I absolutely was not going to take him with me. Not now.

“Alim,” I said, and his eyes dipped, dimmed.

He'd heard me.

He said, “You promised.”

“The countries out there—in the West—are at war. It's a bad war, Alim. It's old and modern all at once. It's destroying everything. It could destroy everything.”

“Even in America?”

“It's not there yet.”

“Then—”

“I'm going to fight, Alim, for the Entente Powers.”

“I can help.”

“No.”

“Yes,” he insisted. “You've said—how many times have you talked about men being honorable and courageous and valiant—?”

“It's not your fight.”

“I can make it my fight. You're the one who said not to stay in the 'nursery,' not to be 'coddled.'“

I shook him gently. “These countries have nothing to do with Herland.”

“I'm going to be an American.”

“But you aren't. Not yet. Alim, I have cousins and uncles in the British army. I have relatives in the Netherlands. That's where my political allegiances lie. Shortly after we returned, the Germans sank a ship full of Americans. I was horrified. I still am. Because they were civilians. Because it was outside the bounds of decent behavior, as even some German newspapers reported. But mostly, Alim, because I’m an American with European ties. Do you understand? I have investment. You don't.”

He was shaking his head.

“Here,” I said urgently. “The war could come here. Do you want Herland invaded? By anyone? Do you want your people bombed?”

He needed to understand war as a reality, not a lesson in philosophy. The Germans had released gas a few months earlier at the Second Battle of Ypres. I didn't want Alim to hide in a temple and debate the dreadful behaviors of uncivilized and ignorant people who were only behaving so badly due to their disappointing education (tut, tut, tut).

He was a man, not a child jumping around with his hands over his ears. He could help defend Herland, keep its borders strong. He could arrange for Herland to have lookouts. He wouldn't be alone. If I'd learned nothing else in eighteen months, I'd learned that there were Colonels and “brash girls” to help him. The women of Herland could protect themselves.

We stayed the night in the mountain pass. It was like our meetings at the base of the tower—only much colder, of course (no swimming competitions). I started a fire, and we ate from Alim's pack (he had fruits and bread and roasted lamb). I kept my arm around his shoulders as he took in his disappointment, then listened to me explain the war that was growing, stretching, and looming over the world.

He was ready the next morning to take on the role I'd proposed. In fact, he requested that I not leave immediately as I'd planned, that I wait in the village below the pass until he could bring Juste to meet me, to learn from me directly what was happening in Europe and now Africa.

Juste came—a wiry woman with a mane of curly red hair—and with her, Moadine, who greeted me calmly. Her eyes flickered with amusement between me and an abashed Alim.

“I think she always knew we were lying,” he whispered to me. “She wasn't even a little surprised when she saw how male I've gotten.”

I was thinking that Moadine likely knew a great deal more about the world than the subterfuge of one overactive boy. She and Juste bent over the newspapers I'd brought and asked such precise questions about the European conflict that I began to wonder if Van and Jeff and I had ever surprised her.

Were all the mentors hiding a deeper agenda?

No, I decided. Moadine had always behaved differently than the others: observing more than educating, querying more than remonstrating or classifying. As if she had a specific mission, given to her by her queen perhaps.

“Is Ellador your spy then?” I hazarded.

“Not wittingly,” she said good-humoredly, which was as good a confession that Moadine had spies in the outside world.

I wondered for the first time what else Alim's mother had been doing beyond the borders of Herland, other than getting pregnant.

I said civilly, “How is Celis?”

“Blooming. The baby is due soon. Jeff is, ah, engaged in fatherhood.”

I gathered that the women of Herland wanted Jeff to use his practical skills as a doctor, but Jeff was too busy doing useless things like planning a pageant about Parenthood. I saw Alim smirk and surmised that Celis—who wrote Alim weekly— found the whole dispute endlessly amusing.

“I'll come back to get you,” I told Alim as I gathered my belongings. “We'll still make that final trip together.”

He trekked out to the field below the village. He waved his hand as the plane lifted me into the air and bore me back to war.

Alim in Herland, Chapter 16

I trooped into Har’s central tower, red-faced and chilled. I’d been in the southeastern field helping repair a wall. I greeted Juste, who gave me an appraising look and nodded towards the tower room. Moadine was waiting by the large fireplace.

Without thinking, I said, “Terry—” then stopped, biting my lip.

She smiled and said, “He isn’t with me. I gather he is expected?”

“Yes,” I said, only a little shame-faced and waited for her interrogation: Why did Terry and you play out a farce of seduction and rape?

Maybe it was obvious why. I was several inches taller. I was beginning to shave.

She said instead, “We heard from Ellador—she writes.”

“Herland doesn’t get mail from the outside.”

“I have couriers. You did arrange for Terry to fetch you?”

“The mentors wouldn’t let me leave.”

“You were afraid to ask?”

I stared back without apology. Because yes, I’d been afraid. I’d had good reason.

I said, “You know I’m a man?” Boy. Young man. Male.

“Yes. Terry called you Alim once.”

I snorted. “That was careless.”

“It is a nick-name. I doubt anyone noticed. I did.”

I eyed her. She hadn’t exactly answered the question. Did she really not guess I was a boy until Terry’s mistake? Or was this her official version of how she recognized my sex?

I was beginning to realize how right Terry had been: Moadine was diplomacy built on subterfuge.

I said abruptly, “How well did you know my mother?”

“Miranda worked for me.”

I nodded, unsurprised. Since I’d returned to Har, I’d spoken to Juste and other women in Har who'd known my mother. She returned to Herland to give birth to me. She didn’t stay. When I was growing up, she was an irregular visitor. I never questioned her comings and goings, accepting them as "the way things are." 

She returned permanently when I was eight. I realize now she already had a wasting disease, possibly tuberculosis. She arranged with Juste for me to find a profession, to become a necessary cog in Herland's machine.

Moadine said, “Miranda collected news from the outside world. Mostly, she researched medicine, progress regarding antitoxins and vaccines. Why do you think the men never made us ill from the pox?”

Because we had been immunized. I nodded.

Moadine said, “Herland scientists have improved on the research that occurs beyond our borders. But those kinds of advancements never happen in a vacuum. Some of our sisters are in contact with Madame Curie and other scientists. We owe your mother a great deal.”

“I know,” I said.

I was privileged to be her son. I would never let a mentor shame me over my mother again.

“I think she would support my decision to leave,” I said.

It is easy to claim support from the dead. Convenient. Sometimes dishonest. There’s a reason Herland resists ancestor worship. Yet I thought I was right, and Moadine nodded.

She motioned to the benches near the fireplace, and I sat, kicking off my boots. I pushed out my legs and let the fire warm my toes. Har has electricity. But Juste likes to keep the fireplaces clear and in use for those occasions when mountain winds blow out the power.

Moadine said, “There is a military conflict in the outside world.”

“Terry is safe—he is alright?”

“I believe so. We received letters from Ellador. She and Van are planning to tour the world.”

“Then things can’t be so bad,” I said.

An odd look crossed Moadine’s face. Amusement? Resignation?

“Ellador sees the big picture,” she said. “She declares—rightly, of course—that wars should never happen at all.”

Moadine’s tone was bland. I sighed. Ellador once suggested that women from Herland could fix all a nation’s problems if only said nation would invite enough of them for a long weekend. Sometimes her supreme, righteous confidence merited Terry’s scoffing.

And Moadine’s neutral indifference. Apparently, Moadine found information on immunizations more helpful than a philosophical treatise.

I said, “I want to help. I can. Out there.”

“You can help here.”

“As a girl?” I snapped, then held up my hands in placating apology. “Sorry,” I muttered.

“It is always better to save than to destroy,” Moadine said. “Would you have Herland disappear?”

“That’s not fair—to put that on me.”

“Perhaps not,” she said, to my surprise. “But Alim, we would be loath to lose you—your energy, your hard work and clever mind, your commonsense.”

I couldn’t stop the glow of satisfaction. Yet—

“When Terry comes,” I said stubbornly, “I’m going with him.”

She made no protest. Juste came in, a chicken under one arm, and Moadine turned the conversation to a query about livestock.

After Moadine left, I said to Juste, “Miranda, my mother, wanted me to work on the plains.”

“She worried that you needed an occupation. I thought you should stay in Har. But she wanted you accepted by the plainswomen. In case.”

“Why? If she was willing to chance the outside world—?

Rescue
“She was. But she went there with all the security of being one of Herland’s own. We are privileged, Alim, you and me and every person here. Our security. Our learning. Our rights. Your men have that—your Terry does. She wanted you to have it too.”

“I’m not sure it worked.”

“Probably more than you realize.”

I gave her a wry smile. How do any of us know what we’ve gained until it is challenged? Removed?

I said, “But you’ll support me going.”

And she hesitated—Juste, who never hesitates over anything, who braves wild animals and bad weather, outsiders with supplies, and querulous plainswomen without a qualm.

“It gets bad out there, Alim. It’s getting bad now.”

“I will go,” I told her fiercely. “When Terry comes. He will come.”

She threw up her hands and agreed.

I guess she knew already that I wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.

Terry in Herland, Chapter 15

Let's back up.

Once we got engaged, Alim was ready to bust his cage. He’d decided to leave, and the moment couldn't come soon enough. He turned overnight from an energetic puppy into something far less controllable, a demented hummingbird in desperate search of sustenance.

When he wasn't working, I would haul him out of Solis, Maodine keeping pace (we were gaining more freedom though I was never allowed to take Alim to the cliff edge--or go myself, for that matter). I would race Aim across the meadows, forcing him to leap streams, trip over tussocks, and scrabble up rises. He got wet and dirty, all while yelling, “Sweetie-pie” at me in high glee.

I was fairly certain that Moadine knew he was a boy. I wondered about the other mentors. Was their stillness, their carefulness around Alim due to his male identity? Did they think he didn't notice their cautiousness? Their “special” treatment as if he were a wild animal always about to bite? Wouldn't it have been kinder to let him know he was “not like the others”?

In any case, his undimmed enthusiasm--his interpretation of our engagement as “I can tackle Terry whenever I want”--did nothing to convince our mentors that I was a proper spouse-to-be. I saw Tyra pull Alim aside more than once for serious chats. He told me later, giggling, that she’d warned him against me. Considering that I was behaving like a particularly odious headmaster, I could see her point.

We were married in a ceremony that struck me as part state pageant, part museum opening with the three couples as the artsy unveiling. I can't blame the women. It was mostly Jeff's doing.

On the other hand, the women were terribly excited about the “new Fatherhood,” that is, having a baby the old-fashioned way. And Celis got pregnant almost immediately. I hoped that all this outpouring of support for male contributions--however biological--would mean that Alim and I would be allowed to leave Herland with Van and Ellador.

Except Van and Ellador's departure was planned for after Celis gave birth, and Alim would never last so long. He was getting more and more wild until Celis hauled him bodily out to the forest every day. Alim did suggest to the mentors that he take me to Har to meet his guardian Juste, which would have solved all our problems. The mentors hmmed and hawed. The idea was “being considered in counsel as a matter of reflection.”

Bureaucracies are the same the world over.

Finally, I swallowed my pride--my reputation as it was would be utterly besmirched--and put the second part of the plan in motion.

This entailed me making pronouncements about my husbandly expectations: “Alima should be at home, fulfilling her wifely duties, always at my side!”

As if I would prefer a spouse that stuck to me like a leech. But the women of Herland are not terribly sophisticated about male needs.

Which is not to say that some of my complaints didn't resonate with me personally. I honestly never understood Herland's treatment of a couple's living arrangements: the lack of privacy, the assumption that being “apart” was (merely) sexual (and sex could be accomplished anywhere). We had no home, no place of our own until I insisted on (at least) a private room.

But of course, Herland doesn't have many couples.

Not officially, that is.

In any case, Alim and I seemed as scrupulously monitored as before. I had a few qualms, wondering if Moadine and the other mentors were worried about--

I won't offend the sensibilities of my readers by suggesting what the women of Herland may have suspected about Alim and me. The country was both less restrictive and more prurient than our own, even in those years before the Great War. Things that offended us never occurred to them, yet they appeared scandalized by any suggestion that humans were physical beings.

I wonder that Van's female co-author never remarks on this incongruity in their treatise Herland. She never questions that country's excessive supervision, its coy avoidance of physical matters but then she comes from the same strata of society as Van (and me, but I'm no intellectual). She seems equally unaware of purely physical labor, such as washing diapers and scrubbing floors. A lack of appreciation of how other people--other classes, other cultures--live creeps through her work. She has her own rules of acceptable behavior, the way the “good” people should behave.

I broke all those rules: I became more demanding of Alim (“Where have you been?”!) and frustrated at the lack of intimacy, which I hardly had to mimic after eighteen months of forced celibacy.

The final confrontation occurred as Alim describes, not as scripted; I was prepared to “act” pain, not actually experience it. Alim was so shocked and horrified by his overly eager performance, he muttered, “Sorry, sorry, ah, Terry, sorry,” which nearly gave the game away.

It was as well that Alim got carried away, that the pain I presented was real rather than manufactured. Moadine was suspicious. She came more than once to my now-prison in Solis to question me. At first I thought she was interrogating me to stress my uncivilized and brutal nature, and I reacted as defensively as if I'd committed the deed.

Eventually I began to realize that she was trying to prepare my defense.

“Alima may have misunderstood you,” she said. “Your advances. In your country, how does the act of sexual congress proceed?”

“My behavior is no more allowable there,” I told her sullenly, unable to admit that I was touched by her solicitude.

She shook her head and had me go over the order of events again.

Then the edict came down: I was to leave with Van and Ellador within the next month. I promised to keep Herland's secrets. Ellador vouched for me. I think Van convinced her that “gentlemen” keep their word. Or she realized that nobody would believe me about Herland anyway.

I didn't promise not to kidnap one of the country's citizens.

We left on a bright morning. I flew us out, banking the plane to bring us into the landing near the large lake. I wished Alim could have seen it, but he would be flying in my plane soon enough.