Alim in Herland, Chapter 18

Herland was never attacked directly, thank God and Goddess. 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 Central Powers. 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 surrounding 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. Many mentors objected to Herland girls coming to help in the outside 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 (though 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 to concentrate on nice thoughts and not think about Terry’s 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 also 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 while Nieve, Fiona, and Jancey came often to nurse and clean and fix things. Jancey 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 duty. I'm not sure I saw the point of the egg toss—”

I chuckled. Fiona grinned.

“But there are 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.

Next Chapter 19: Alim