Once we got engaged, Alim was ready to bust his cage. Now that he'd decided to leave, 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 for 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 others. 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 Clarice pull Alim aside more than once for serious chats. He told me later, giggling, that she warned him against me. Considering that I was behaving with nearly headmaster strictness, simply to keep Alim in line, I could rather 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," i.e. having a baby the old-fashioned way. And Celis did get 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.
Problem was: 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 initially making pronouncements about my husbandly expectations: "Alima should be at home, fulfilling her wifely duties, always at my side!"
How anyone could believe that 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 closely 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, ah, physical beings.
I wonder that Van's female co-author never remarks on this incongruity in their treatise Herland. She never raises the issue of 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 babies' diapers and scrubbing floors. A lack of appreciation of how other people--other classes, other cultures--live creeps through her work.
And perhaps, as Van postulated to me later, all societies have rules of acceptable behavior, even the Bohemians.
I broke 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 then 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 emphasize my uncivilized and brutal nature, and I felt as defensive as if I'd committed the deed.
Eventually I began to realize that she was trying to prepare my defense.
"My behavior is no more allowable there," I told her sullenly, unable to admit that I was rather 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.
The world outside Herland was at war.
Van records the shock, the horror of that revelation. It was the European War then, 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 there. 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 mindless politicians were promising.
First, I needed to return to Herland. 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. They queried me closely about the war in Europe and made their 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.
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."
"I'm going to fight, Alim, for the Entente Powers."
"I can help."
"Yes. 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.'"
"It's not your fight." 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. Many Americans do. And I have relatives in the Netherlands. That's where my political allegiances lie. Shortly after we returned, the Germans sank a boat 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 am American. 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 sociology or philosophy. In Van's second narrative--With Her in Ourland--he applauds Ellador's reaction to the European War. How she nobly, triumphantly, unrealistically determined that wars should never happen at all. She convinced herself that women from Herland could fix it all if only someone would invite enough of them for a long weekend.
Personally, I think Ellador was suffering from shock. She and Van set off on a trip around the world after heroically convincing themselves that "race-progress" is the ultimate good. If so many people died, oh, well, maybe it was for the best, countries being so overpopulated and all. The world would learn from its mistakes and do better next time: not fill itself up so much. I wasn't there to argue that a small population can damage itself as readily as a large one. Closed communities, no matter how ideal, can be ruthless.
I doubt my objections would have made any difference. Ellador became quite adept at dismissing "unlikable" behavior in communities she approved of while despising it in ones she disliked. She went so far as to argued that Germany was merely behaving like a disobedient child: prideful and vengeful, of course, but full of such terribly good and progressive ideas before things went so wrong.
It is as well that I was busy flying medical supplies to various locations when she came up with that rhetorical "explanation." I'm not sure I could have retained my chivalry and refrained from punching her.
In her and Van's trip around the world, Ellador correctly diagnosed much injustice. But she never comprehended the impact of every day human emotions and attitudes and beliefs; she barely glimpsed the wild love and deep sacrifice and desperate imagination--the hopes for the future, the ties of family and friendship, the curiosity about "the other"--that explain so much human endeavor. She never peered deeply into the tangle of motives and desires, needs and beliefs and viewpoints that thread through any single event. She had a theory and the theory overrode all observations.
We men in Herland had been prevented from a more exacting examination of that country. Ellador refused the more exacting examination--the non-streamlined, non-ideological version--of the outside world by choice. It was, after all, how she was raised.
Van, head over heels in love, put up token arguments before swooning into utter agreement. They retreated into their self-satisfied and carefully constructed version of reality, their prejudices against much of the human race intact.
As for me, I was back in the middle of an international conflict. When I encountered Alim in the pass, I never considered asking him if women possessing little outside diplomatic experience could mend centuries of interlocking treaties and grudges with a strong dose of commonsense. Nor did I consider debating the nature of war's awfulness. However much I wished to keep him safe and alive, I never considered telling him to retreat into Herland and bar the proverbial door.
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 and 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, and she nodded as if confirming a fact to herself.
"I think she always knew we were lying," he whispered to me. "She wasn't even a little alarmed when Juste told her you were nearby--or when she saw how, um, male I've gotten."
|Marthe Cnockaert, Belgium Spy|
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 while Juste harrumphed, 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 came 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.