Alim in Herland, Chapter 4

I knew the men were locked up. Everyone knew, and there was ongoing conjecture about whether they would be thrown out of our country or hidden away forever. Ellador requested several times to see and speak with them.

Celis echoed Ellador's request. She was as curious as Ellador about the men but I doubted her interest would last, not once she actually met them. They would become part of her landscape, her scenery, not unlike the forests and babies and new buildings. Once Celis accepts something, that is what life is.

Ellador, though, wants to climb out of her knowledge into more knowledge, to find out stuff and things and possibilities. She wants to make all the parts of her landscape fit. I could have echoed Ellador's enthusiasm.

I didn't dare.

While Ellador argued and Celis laughingly pleaded, I felt the leaders' eyes on me. Tyra in particular seemed to ponder my supposed indifference. But what was I supposed to say?

These intruders are men, like me. If I talk to them, I might find likenesses, something that explains the connection between my body and my mind.

How could I say anything when our leaders had locked up these men—men—for being, as far I could fathom, not women. And therefore dangerous.

“I'm sure they're less interesting than we think,” I said.

* * *

Escape from Alcatraz
Then the men escaped. Van describes how they used broken glass to shred their linens to make a rope. They dropped out of their tower room to the gardens below and from there to the forest floor. They traveled through the forested area that encircled the country, finally reaching their plane.

Herland scouts were aware of the men’s escape almost from the moment they went over the wall. They had no chance of getting away. I learned later that some of the mentors argued that Herland should let them go. The risk was determined to be too great. Suppose they came back with more men from the outside world?

I was relieved at our leaders’ decision. I wanted the men to stay. I wanted a chance to talk to them, to ask them, however indirectly, “What does it mean to be a man?” Yet I felt for their frustrations when they reached the plane and found it sewn into a canvas covering. Terry swore for several minutes.

Celis, Ellador, and I were lurking nearby—we are foresters, after all; why shouldn’t we be out in the woods? We weren’t alone, however, and Ellador approached one of the scouts. She pointed out that the men knew us. We might be able to calm them.

I doubt the mentors would have agreed to Ellador’s suggestion, but the oldest scout—Mathilde—nodded, and Ellador, Celis, and I broke cover.

The men swirled when we stepped out of the woods. Terry looked wary and glanced beyond us. At least he realized how unlikely it was that we would be entirely alone.

Van stumbled through a greeting in Herland’s language, then attempted to explain the men’s predicament. He managed, “Fly—away” before giving us “dress” and “axe.” I suppose he was asking for a way to undo the canvas.

Celis giggled.

“At least you’re amusing them,” Terry said in exasperation.

I smirked, and Terry’s eyes flicked to me. As well as Herland’s language, I speak English and French. Outside expeditions pass through the country below the mountain passage near my hometown of Har. Har’s leader, Juste, encourages Har’s residents to learn multiple languages, a precaution against possible intruders and an aid to trade.

Jeff turned from contemplating Celis to address Terry: “If they understood our plight, I’m sure they would assist us.”

Van said to Ellador—she was attending to him quite seriously—“Find. Run.”

He motioned towards the plane. He honestly seemed to believe that the only barrier to him, Terry, and Jeff escaping was a lack of understanding. I wonder even now if he and Jeff were so witless to believe that we mere “girls” were incapable of loyalty to our country.

Perhaps they imagined we were in love with them. Did they honestly believe a romantic attachment could be established within one meeting? What kind of literature did these people read?

“We might take a hostage,” Terry said in a reflective voice.

He was still eyeing me, and I carefully didn’t react to his words, waiting until Terry and the other men darted towards us. We three Herlandians slid easily out of reach. This time, I grinned outright. Old, slow men.

Celis said, “If they want to play games, we should teach them Pyramids.”

Ellador said that playing games was an excellent communication device. Personally, I wanted to look at the plane, maybe ride in it. Instead I kept my eyes on Van, Jeff, and Terry while Ellador and Celis collected materials and set up the game.

The object of Pyramids is to hit a pebble off the top of a teepee without disturbing the sticks below. Clueless as a Herland cat, Jeff kept knocking over the sticks. Finally, Celis shooed him away and preceded to knock the pebble off the top three times in a row without a single dislodged stick. She’s the best at Pyramids.

Jeff applauded her achievements, which impressed me. Not every loser to Celis has always been so “sporting” (one of Terry’s words).

Van tried once, gave up, and started taking notes on a pad he kept in his pocket. Terry got the pebble off once, then started aiming for the bottom of the pyramid. Ellador shook her head at him, but I realized after the second time that he had changed the game’s rules. He was trying to get the sticks to fly off the rock all at once. Finally, he struck them so hard, they broke.

Ellador scolded. Celis raised her brows. I laughed, and Terry glanced at me, his own brows raised.

I wondered, Can he tell I’m a boy?

The scouts came forward then followed by mentors. Terry’s shoulders slumped while Van and Jeff looked almost apologetic. When the men first arrived, the scouts and guards had drugged them. This time, all three men held up their hands while Terry said gruffly in Herland’s language, “Return. No fight.”

Ellador, Celis, and I were escorted back to Solis by Marta and Tyra. They took us to a room at the back of the temple, sat us down, and explained to us patiently and seriously why the men needed to return to the tower and finish their “education.” We would be able to meet and speak with them—but not yet.
Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi
“This is unreasonable,” Ellador said with less patience and more bite. “We have endured the most contact with the strangers. We have acquitted ourselves. Why shouldn't we continue the association?”

“They could be dangerous.”

“In what way? You took their weapons away.”

“They have different customs than us.”

“We can learn from them. They can learn from us.”

“They have ideas about women that could cause problems. You young women can protect yourselves. You might hurt them.”

“We will be careful. Diligent. Kind.”

“We need to learn their intent.”

“Intent can be discovered through conversation. We could discover it.”

“They speak a different language. They have not yet mastered ours.”

Ellador, who spoke only one (then), bit her lip.

I spoke three, which Marta and Tyra knew. They glanced at me. I shrugged, and Marta turned back to Ellador while Tyra studied me with a frown.

Marta said gently, “It will take time. You will meet them eventually, and then we will learn more.”

Ellador looked as mutinous as Ellador can. Celis sighed and threw up her hands.

Marta and Tyra turned to me.

“Do you also want to meet these men, Alima?” Tyra said.

Do you want to keep that bauble?

“Juste wants me back in Har,” I said.

The next week, I went home to the mountains.

Next Chapter 5: Terry