The New Arcadia/Chapter 16



"Our human refuse shall be utilized, like our material refuse, when man as man, down to the weakest and most ignorant, shall be found to be (as he really is), so variable that it will be worth while to preserve his health to the level of his capabilities, to save him alive, body, intellect, and character, at any cost: because men will see that a man is, after all, the most precious and useful thing on the earth, and that no cost spent on the development of human beings can possibly be thrown away."

C. Kingsley.

The doctor had not forgotten his promise to Willie, that Nurse Maggie and some of the convalescents should accompany him to the country. So beneficial was the change in their case, that Dr. Courtenay resolved upon putting into effect a project he had long contemplated of settling, not only the poor and distressed, but the sick and afflicted on the generous soil.

The conditions of commerce and industry may possibly necessitate the congregation of the busy and strong in the crowded metropolis. He failed, however, to see the wisdom of confining the suffering and afflicted in huge, antiquated edifices reeking with disease; condemning them to breathe, to the last, the polluted air of the city they rendered still more deadly; depriving them of the solace Nature might have afforded, and of occupation with which to relieve their dark days and last years.

The cost of maintaining the unfortunates in town he knew to be double what it would be in the country, even if they were unable to contribute by their labour towards their own support.

The doctor called a meeting of chairmen of hospitals and benevolent institutions, to which also public officials and charitable workers were invited. His offer to select from various institutions patients suited for his proposed treatment was gladly accepted. He asked a grant for each at the rate of half the present cost of their maintenance, holding out hopes that at no distant time the subsidy would be unnecessary, and his infirmary village become self-supporting. With the aid of a committee of medical men, convalescents were drafted from the various hospitals; the stronger patients from the benevolent asylums, and even from homes of the incurable.

Eventually the deaf and dumb institution was removed bodily; a selection was very carefully made from patients of the lunatic asylums, even from criminals of a promising character undergoing their first sentence. Arrangements were completed for transfer of the juvenile reformatories to the new settlement. The female refuges were relieved of their more hopeful cases. Special provision was made for the reception and treatment of the intemperate. The good doctor was too capable an organizer to dream of herding all these together.

Across the lake at Mimosa Vale, beyond the spot where Gwyneth and Travers had nearly met their death, the flats and sloping hill-sides were specially prepared. Lands were cleared and ploughed, cottages and dairies erected, avenues laid out on the plan of Mimosa Vale. Each cottage accommodated two or three patients, or a household. Where possible, family life was reconstituted. The deaf and dumb child restored to its parents, one of whom might be under treatment for intemperance, or suffering from partial paralysis. The grand-parents were rescued from the benevolent asylum and restored to their children's home. So the strong of a family were able to help the weak. Those in rude health cheered the less fortunate. Each household was debited with the value of the weekly rations received, and seed, tools, and other necessaries supplied.

Around each cottage a few acres were ploughed. Provision was made for gardening, fruit-planting, dairying, poultry-keeping, basket-making, broom manufacture, silkworm culture, and other industries suited to the capacities of the less strong and active. All were expected to render some service.

Many so-called "incurables" recovered, and after being subjected to a careful examination, were allotted a block at Kokiana, when that settlement was formed. Within two years Hygeia was entirely self-supporting. In a short time it maintained its own receiving-hospital, accident wards, and the like in the city.

On the top of the hill overlooking the lake, consumptives in the first stage were afforded a home and opportunity of recovery. A mile further down the stream, the reformatory was stationed.

All who did not abuse it were afforded freedom within their own settlement. The warders' cottages and gardens were disposed along the ridges that shut in the successive bends of the river. All were afforded an opportunity of not only purchasing full freedom with their labour, but of acquiring a homestead-block in an independent community further on. Every means were adopted of sweetening the life and elevating the tastes of those who had fallen under a cloud. Precautions were taken to prevent contagion, physical or moral, between the respective cantonments of Hygeia.

Some few, of course, of the criminal class fled away, were re-arrested, and completed their term in the barrack gaols in town. The operation of the law of heredity was not suspended, but in the majority of cases love and wisdom wrought their work. The youth whose existence had become a menace to society was transformed in the course of years into a prospering yeoman. The prospect of winning land and a home by honest means, of acquiring an assured position among a free community, won the wavering to the ranks of industry. The alternative to a life of vice and crime was no longer one of hopeless, life-long drudgery. "Honesty" was at length "the better policy," and self-interest threw its tremendous weight into the scales that were trembling in the balance.

This spirit of hope, prospect of betterment, and of ownership, Wrought a like transforming effect upon those mentally and physically afflicted. Their spirits revived, and in many instances lifted them out of the trammels of disease in which they had long lain.

If any spark of health lingers in the pallid cheek, in the confused mind or vitiated heart, let the free air of the country play on that cheek and gladden, as it must, that heart; put some implement of industry into the unsteady hand; let the man work for himself, for a home, and if it be not altogether too late, the sick will revive, and rejoice in the healthful pleasure of making a plot of God's earth fruitful, and their own.

One Saturday afternoon Gwyneth, taking Willie with her for company, sailed across the lake—she was an expert yachtswoman now—to see how Nurse Maggie and her friends fared at Hygeia. A dozen times she paused, after landing, and peeped into happy homes, within or about which, young and old, hale and sick were resting or labouring. More than one Willie recognized as erstwhile fellow-inmates of the hospital.

"You did not bring the terrible screen with you," he said to a nurse he knew; "you'll never want it here."

"We have to thank you, young man, for inciting the doctor to initiate a reform with respect to hospital methods and management that has long been awaiting some one to start it."

"When I look around on these scenes," the nurse added to Gwyneth, "I shudder as I think of those blank white-washed walls, with the lines of close-packed houses and dusty, stifling streets on which we used to look. Nearly all, we find, can do something here—feed fowls, cut flowers for the market, and see to the silk-worms. Others garden and farm quite effectively. It is the sense of home and ownership that prompts them."

"You remember," said Gwyneth, "the saying of Arthur Young—was it not—somewhat to this effect? 'Set a man to work in the garden of another, and it will speedily become a wilderness; give him personal interest in a desert rock, and he will cause it to flourish, and blossom as the rose.'"

A long visit Gwyneth paid to the consumptives on the hill. They had a peculiar attraction for her. Their lot was so hopeless, where all others were renewing their strength.

"They seem half-way to heaven already," said Willie, as in the hot afternoon the two panted up the hill. "I fear they've got the screen here."

"It's a terrible disease," replied the girl, as though communing with her own thoughts. "Largely bred of foul air, and unhealthy, unnatural conditions of modern life. The scourge of God! My mother fell its victim. And my heart always goes out towards those who pine away on the hill-top."

A few hours later the pair came upon the village green of the deaf mutes. Frank Brown was playing cricket with the lads. Maud, beside a table, beneath an awning, was preparing sandwiches and refreshments.

"Do you two never get tired of your self-imposed tasks?" asked Gwyneth, exchanging an affectionate greeting with her friend.

"I might fairly ask that of you," replied Maud. "There is not much task about it either. We had the most delightful sail across the lake, and a scamper on ponies to the Reformatory Bend."

"Is it true that you are engaged?" whispered Gwyneth, casting a questioning glance on the radiant face of sweet content beside her.

"You all are ever imagining that," said Maud, amused. "We are 'engaged' in a common and a pleasant work."

"And nothing else?"

"Why should there be anything more? Cannot people like each other and work together without love-making? We have eschewed such nonsense."

After a while Gwyneth moved on.

"Nothing more!" Maud repeated to herself as she cut and patted her sandwiches. "I think not. Sometimes I am afraid. I shall be disappointed if we come to grief like other selfish people. It is so nice in theory to be brother and sister, but so hard in practice."

"Now, Maud, have you a grand lunch for these famished urchins?" called Frank, as he came to where she was engaged. "I do not know what I should do without you," he added, looking admiringly at the busy maiden.

"You'd go on just the same in your happy-go-lucky fashion."

"Indeed I should not. I should become dull as ditch-water, and miserable as a bandicoot."

"Do not say that, Frank. I like to think of you as the one single-minded man in the universe—doing good for the love of it."

"Then you do not care to be identified inseparably with my day-dreams?"

"Do not ask what I want. We try not to be introspective and self-contemplative."

"A high ideal, Maud! Are we succeeding?"

The girl looked furtively at her companion and averted her eyes, while the colour deepened on her cheeks.

"Maud, must there never be anything more?"

The words she had lately heard from another startled her.

"Is my vow, do you think, to be ever binding? I was young when I made it. We are both older now." He laid his hand on hers. She did not remove it. She hesitated. Then, with the tenacity of a good woman clinging to her ideal, she raised her eyes, after a pause, and answered—

"I could never be party to your breaking it, Frank."

"Then we must leave the question as it is, I suppose," replied the young man, withdrawing his hand with a sigh.

Gulping down the tender feelings arising in his breast, the young man joked and grimaced with his afflicted friends as though all. his life were wrapped up in making them happy. But it was not.

"I believe he is quite content in just performing his daily task," thought Maud, as she looked on, vexed with herself because the thought brought her no pleasure.

Amongst the domains of the inebriates, Gwyneth and Willie were moving.

"We have had few cases of desertion and failure," said the farmer's wife who acted as matron. "One case, however, perplexes me. I wish you would try your persuasive powers. Miss Elms; the sound of your voice and touch of your hands are more soothing than whole sermons of others."

"I would it were so," replied Gwyneth, laughing. "Where is your patient?"

In a bright room opening from the broad verandah a woman lay on a snow-white pallet. A wealth of dark hair contrasted with the pallor of the worn face it encircled; large hazel eyes almost glared at the intruders. The woman turned her face towards the wall.

"Poor thing!" said the matron. "She has drunk for years. Now that, for the first time, she has awakened to a sense of her position, she is crushed with remorse."

Quietly, Gwyneth took her seat beside the patient.

The woman turned her head for a moment, as though resenting the advance. Gwyneth's hand lay carelessly, as it were, on the shrinking shoulder, and the gentle light in her eyes shed its radiance on the troubled brow. The woman, with a deep sigh, turned, more quietly, away.

Gwyneth motioned for the matron to leave. Insensibly, almost without signs or words, by the sheer attraction of her presence and influence, the visitor drew the woman out from herself. The hard look slowly disappeared. Bending forward till the dark tresses covered the hands that held hers, the pent-up soul poured out its grief in tears that had not flowed for months.

"The kindness here," she sobbed, "the beauty and quiet of the place, make me feel my sin and loss the more. They remind me of the happy home I once had, which, owing to discontent and longing for excitement, we broke up to seek our fortune in the city. My husband found no work. I fell into bad company. He left me. I actually sold my one child for drink! I did not know what I was doing. ... Now my sin has found me out. ... No one accuses me. ... I condemn myself. ... I am lost and alone."

Gwyneth calmed the conscience-stricken woman with words of which she well knew the comfort herself. Willie's story flashed to her mind as she recognized the unmistakable likeness existing between mother and child.

"If your husband and son were restored to you, could you serve them truly, and retrieve the past?"

"If they were! ... But that is impossible! Could I see my child again, and work and slave for him; could I show my husband that the devil has gone out of me at last, that the sweetness of this place has entered into my soul, I should feel that God had not cast me off. But that is impossible. My family, my God, have deserted me."

"If you had the chance of making a new home here, for your husband and son, would, you never fail again, from the old cause?"

The woman clutched the girl's hands, her eyes rolled with excitement.

"Ah, miss," she cried, sinking back on to her pillow, "if I had that chance, I would show I valued it to my dying day; but I have not. Do not mock me!"

The woman lay still. The hard expression settled on her face again.

Gwyneth rose and lightly tapped on the window, beckoning to Willie, who was picking flowers in the garden.

"See what I have got for you! The sick people grew them all themselves," cried the lad, bursting into the room.

He stopped on the threshold, holding the door in his hand. He looked hard and long at the sick woman, who was gazing in wonderment upon him. The boy hesitated, blushed scarlet, and stood toying with the flowers as if doubting whether to flee or to stand his ground.

"Do you not know this person?" inquired Gwyneth.

"Course I do. Her's my mother."

"Are you not glad?"

"That depends."

"Depends upon what?"

"Whether she's gived up the drink."

"Your mother is filled with remorse for all her past doings. She is going to live a new life in this sweet garden, and wants you to help her."

Slowly the lad drew towards the mother's side, and, kneeling down, showered kisses upon the weeping face.

The next day the grandmother joined them, and the next the father.

Removed from all special temptation, the four established themselves permanently and happily beside the lake.

"At the least," said the doctor to himself, after paying the household a visit, "I have set that little man on his feet again, and led one lost woman to value the 'flesh and blood' she so lightly sold for a five-pound note. Undoubtedly the land can do wonders. Some of the most diseased trees of the city merely require careful transplanting."