by Edward Bellamy

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Chapter IX. Something that had not changed

When we parted with the superintendent of the paper-process factory I said to Edith that I had taken in since that morning about all the new impressions and new philosophies I could for the time mentally digest, and felt great need of resting my mind for a space in the contemplation of something--if indeed there were anything--which had not changed or been improved in the last century.

After a moment's consideration Edith exclaimed: "I have it! Ask no questions, but just come with me."

Presently, as we were making our way along the route she had taken, she touched my arm, saying, "Let us hurry a little."

Now, hurrying was the regulation gait of the nineteenth century. "Hurry up!" was about the most threadbare phrase in the English language, and rather than "E pluribus unum" should especially have been the motto of the American people, but it was the first time the note of haste had impressed my consciousness since I had been living twentieth-century days. This fact, together with the touch of my companion upon my arm as she sought to quicken my pace, caused me to look around, and in so doing to pause abruptly.

"What is this?" I exclaimed.

"It is too bad!" said my companion. "I tried to get you past without seeing it."

But indeed, though I had asked what was this building we stood in presence of, nobody could know so well as I what it was. The mystery was how it had come to be there for in the midst of this splendid city of equals, where poverty was an unknown word, I found myself face to face with a typical nineteenth-century tenement house of the worst sort--one of the rookeries, in fact, that used to abound in the North End and other parts of the city. The environment was indeed in strong enough contrast with that of such buildings in my time, shut in as they generally were by a labyrinth of noisome alleys and dark, damp courtyards which were reeking reservoirs of foetid odors, kept in by lofty, light-excluding walls. This building stood by itself, in the midst of an open square, as if it had been a palace or other show place. But all the more, indeed, by this fine setting was the dismal squalor of the grimy structure emphasized. It seemed to exhale an atmosphere of gloom and chill which all the bright sunshine of the breezy September afternoon was unable to dominate. One would not have been surprised, even at noonday, to see ghosts at the black windows. There was an inscription over the door, and I went across the square to read it, Edith reluctantly following me. These words I read, above the central doorway:


"This is one of the ghost buildings," said Edith, "kept to scare the people with, so that they may never risk anything that looks like bringing back the old order of things by allowing any one on any plea to obtain an economic advantage over another. I think they had much better be torn down, for there is no more danger of the world's going back to the old order than there is of the globe reversing its rotation."

A band of children, accompanied by a young woman, came across the square as we stood before the building, and filed into the doorway and up the black and narrow stairway. The faces of the little ones were very serious, and they spoke in whispers.

"They are school children." said Edith. "We are all taken through this building, or some other like it, when we are in the schools, and the teacher explains what manner of things used to be done and endured there. I remember well when I was taken through this building as a child. It was long afterward before I quite recovered from the terrible impression I received. Really, I don't think it is a good idea to bring young children here, but it is a custom that became settled in the period after the Revolution, when the horror of the bondage they had escaped from was yet fresh in the minds of the people, and their great fear was that by some lack of vigilance the rule of the rich might be restored.

"Of course," she continued, "this building and the others like it, which were reserved for warnings when the rest were razed to the ground, have been thoroughly cleaned and strengthened and made sanitary and safe every way, but our artists have very cunningly counterfeited all the old effects of filth and squalor, so that the appearance of everything is just as it was. Tablets in the rooms describe how many human beings used to be crowded into them, and the horrible conditions of their lives. The worst about it is that the facts are all taken from historical records, and are absolutely true. There are some of these places in which the inhabitants of the buildings as they used to swarm in them are reproduced in wax or plaster with every detail of garments, furniture, and all the other features based on actual records or pictures of the time. There is something indescribably dreadful in going through the buildings fitted out in that way. The dumb figures seem to appeal to you to help them. It was so long ago, and yet it makes one feel conscience-stricken not to be able to do anything."

"But, Julian, come away. It was just a stupid accident my bringing you past here. When I undertook to show you something that had not changed since your day, I did not mean to mock you."

Thanks to modern rapid transit, ten minutes later we stood on the ocean shore, with the waves of the Atlantic breaking noisily at our feet and its blue floor extending unbroken to the horizon. Here indeed was something that had not been changed--a mighty existence, to which a thousand years were as one day and one day as a thousand years. There could be no tonic for my case like the inspiration of this great presence, this unchanging witness of all earth's mutations. How petty seemed the little trick of time that had been played on me as I stood in the presence of this symbol of everlastingness which made past, present, and future terms of little meaning!

In accompanying Edith to the part of the beach where we stood I had taken no note of directions, but now, as I began to study the shore, I observed with lively emotion that she had unwittingly brought me to the site of my old seaside place at Nahant. The buildings were indeed gone, and the growth of trees had quite changed the aspect of the landscape, but the shore line remained unaltered, and I knew it at once. Bidding her follow me, I led the way around a point to a little strip of beach between the sea and a wall of rock which shut off all sight or sound of the land behind. In my former life the spot had been a favorite resort when I visited the shore. Here in that life so long ago, and yet recalled as if of yesterday, I had been used from a lad to go to do my day dreaming. Every feature of the little nook was as familiar to me as my bedroom and all was quite unchanged. The sea in front, the sky above, the islands and the blue headlands of the distant coast--all, indeed, that filled the view was the same in every detail. I threw myself upon the warm sand by the margin of the sea, as I had been wont to do, and in a moment the flood of familiar associations had so completely carried me back to my old life that all the marvels that had happened to me, when presently I began to recall them, seemed merely as a day dream that had come to me like so many others before it in that spot by the shore. But what a dream it had been, that vision of the world to be; surely of all the dreams that had come to me there by the sea the weirdest!

There had been a girl in the dream, a maiden much to be desired. It had been ill if I had lost her; but I had not, for this was she, the girl in this strange and graceful garb, standing by my side and smiling down at me. I had by some great hap brought her back from dreamland, holding her by the very strength of my love when all else of the vision had dissolved at the opening of the eyes.

Why not? What youth has not often been visited in his dreams by maidenly ideals fairer than walk on earth, whom, waking, he has sighed for and for days been followed by the haunting beauty of their half-remembered faces? I, more fortunate than they, had baffled the jealous warder at the gates of sleep and brought my queen of dreamland through.

When I proceeded to state to Edith this theory to account for her presence, she professed to find it highly reasonable, and we proceeded at much length to develop the idea. Falling into the conceit that she was an anticipation of the twentieth-century woman instead of my being an excavated relic of the nineteenth-century man, we speculated what we should do for the summer. We decided to visit the great pleasure resorts, where, no doubt, she would under the circumstances excite much curiosity and at the same time have an opportunity of studying what to her twentieth-century mind would seem even more astonishing types of humanity than she would seem to them--namely, people who, surrounded by a needy and anguished world, could get their own consent to be happy in a frivolous and wasteful idleness. Afterward we would go to Europe and inspect such things there as might naturally be curiosities to a girl out of the year 2000, such as a Rothschild, an emperor, and a few specimens of human beings, some of which were at that time still extant in Germany, Austria, and Russia, who honestly believed that God had given to certain fellow-beings a divine title to reign over them.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.