by Edward Bellamy

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Chapter X. A midnight plunge

It was after dark when we reached home, and several hours later before we had made an end of telling our adventures. Indeed, my hosts seemed at all times unable to hear too much of my impressions of modern things, appearing to be as much interested in what I thought of them as I was in the things themselves.

"It is really, you see," Edith's mother had said, "the manifestation of vanity on our part. You are a sort of looking-glass to us, in which we can see how we appear from a different point of view from our own. If it were not for you, we should never have realized what remarkable people we are, for to one another, I assure you, we seem very ordinary."

To which I replied that in talking with them I got the same looking-glass effect as to myself and my contemporaries, but that it was one which by no means ministered to my vanity.

When, as we talked, the globe of the color clock turning white announced that it was midnight, some one spoke of bed, but the doctor had another scheme.

"I propose," said he, "by way of preparing a good night's rest for us all, that we go over to the natatorium and take a plunge."

"Are there any public baths open so late as this?" I said. "In my day everything was shut up long before now."

Then and there the doctor gave me the information which, matter of course as it is to twentieth-century readers, was surprising enough to me, that no public service or convenience is ever suspended at the present day, whether by day or night, the year round; and that, although the service provided varies in extent, according to the demand, it never varies in quality.

"It seems to us," said the doctor, "that among the minor inconveniences of life in your day none could have been more vexing than the recurrent interruption of all, or of the larger part of all, public services every night. Most of the people, of course, are asleep then, but always a portion of them have occasion to be awake and about, and all of us sometimes, and we should consider it a very lame public service that did not provide for the night workers as good a service as for the day workers. Of course, you could not do it, lacking any unitary industrial organization, but it is very easy with us. We have day and night shifts for all the public services--the latter, of course, much the smaller."

"How about public holidays; have you abandoned them?"

"Pretty generally. The occasional public holidays in your time were prized by the people, as giving them much-needed breathing spaces. Nowadays, when the working day is so short and the working year so interspersed with ample vacations, the old-fashioned holiday has ceased to serve any purpose, and would be regarded as a nuisance. We prefer to choose and use our leisure time as we please."

It was to the Leander Natatorium that we had directed our steps. As I need not remind Bostonians, this is one of the older baths, and considered quite inferior to the modern structures. To me, however, it was a vastly impressive spectacle. The lofty interior glowing with light, the immense swimming tank, the four great fountains filling the air with diamond-dazzle and the noise of falling water, together with the throng of gayly dressed and laughing bathers, made an exhilarating and magnificent scene, which was a very effective introduction to the athletic side of the modern life. The loveliest thing of all was the great expanse of water made translucent by the light reflected from the white tiled bottom, so that the swimmers, their whole bodies visible, seemed as if floating on a pale emerald cloud, with an effect of buoyancy and weightlessness that was as startling as charming. Edith was quick to tell me, however, that this was as nothing to the beauty of some of the new and larger baths, where, by varying the colors of the tiling at the bottom, the water is made to shade through all the tints of the rainbow while preserving the same translucent appearance.

I had formed an impression that the water would be fresh, but the green hue, of course, showed it to be from the sea.

"We have a poor opinion of fresh water for swimming when we can get salt," said the doctor. "This water came in on the last tide from the Atlantic."

"But how do you get it up to this level?"

"We make it carry itself up," laughed the doctor; "it would be a pity if the tidal force that raises the whole harbor fully seven feet, could not raise what little we want a bit higher. Don't look at it so suspiciously," he added. "I know that Boston Harbor water was far from being clean enough for bathing in your day, but all that is changed. Your sewerage systems, remember, are forgotten abominations, and nothing that can defile is allowed to reach sea or river nowadays. For that reason we can and do use sea water, not only for all the public baths, but provide it as a distinct service for our home baths and also for all the public fountains, which, thus inexhaustibly supplied, can be kept always playing. But let us go in."

"Certainly, if you say so," said I, with a shiver, "but are you sure that it is not a trifle cool? Ocean water was thought by us to be chilly for bathing in late September."

"Did you think we were going to give you your death?" said the doctor. "Of course, the water is warmed to a comfortable temperature; these baths are open all winter."

"But, dear me! how can you possibly warm such great bodies of water, which are so constantly renewed, especially in winter?"

"Oh, we have no conscience at all about what we make the tides do for us," replied the doctor. "We not only make them lift the water up here, but heat it, too. Why, Julian, cold or hot are terms without real meaning, mere coquettish airs which Nature puts on, indicating that she wants to be wooed a little. She would just as soon warm you as freeze you, if you will approach her rightly. The blizzards which used to freeze your generation might just as well have taken the place of your coal mines. You look incredulous, but let me tell you now, as a first step toward the understanding of modern conditions, that power, with all its applications of light, heat, and energy, is to-day practically exhaustless and costless, and scarcely enters as an element into mechanical calculation. The uses of the tides, winds, and waterfalls are indeed but crude methods of drawing on Nature's resources of strength compared with others that are employed by which boundless power is developed from natural inequalities of temperature."

A few moments later I was enjoying the most delicious sea bath that ever up to that time had fallen to my lot; the pleasure of the pelting under the fountains was to me a new sensation in life.

"You'll make a first-rate twentieth-century Bostonian," said the doctor, laughing at my delight. "It is said that a marked feature of our modern civilization is that we are tending to revert to the amphibious type of our remote ancestry; evidently you will not object to drifting with the tide."

It was one o'clock when we reached home.

"I suppose," said Edith, as I bade her good-night, "that in ten minutes you will be back among your friends of the nineteenth century if you dream as you did last night. What would I not give to take the journey with you and see for myself what the world was like!"

"And I would give as much to be spared a repetition of the experience," I said, "unless it were in your company."

"Do you mean that you really are afraid you will dream of the old times again?"

"So much afraid," I replied, "that I have a good mind to sit up all night to avoid the possibility of another such nightmare."

"Dear me! you need not do that," she said. "If you wish me to, I will see that you are troubled no more in that way."

"Are you, then, a magician?"

"If I tell you not to dream of any particular matter, you will not," she said.

"You are easily the mistress of my waking thoughts," I said; "but can you rule my sleeping mind as well?"

"You shall see," she said, and, fixing her eyes upon mine, she said quietly, "Remember, you are not to dream of anything to-night which belonged to your old life!" and, as she spoke, I knew in my mind that it would be as she said.

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