It is a long cry from the jelly-fish to equal suffrage. But it is also a long cry from the moon to the tides. And lacking the one, we must forego the other. Presuppose moonlight, and we presuppose crested waves of green and silver, and the wash of the sea along a white beach, at night. Assume the jelly-fish—an infinitesimal gray film on the surface of the ocean—and we assume banners of white and gold, and many groups of serious-minded human beings gathered together, in the cities, in the lesser towns, in banquet halls, in obscure dwelling-places, in order that suffrage and sex-equality may be proclaimed aloud to a harassed and somewhat unobservant world.
Together, these many isolated groups have built up a great structure from their ideals, their propaganda—it is architectural in its proportions, reaching to the stars. But one of its cornerstones is a little gelatinous body, modest and humble, making no pretension whatever to greatness. However, it is not to be dispensed with; for without sex there would be no demand for justice, since with equality all would share equally. To deny the jelly-fish is to deny that great gulf between man and woman. For it is here that we have the alpha and omega of sex; the jelly-fish may mark for us the beginning of that wonderful distinction which through all the dim æons of past time has filled the waters and the land with joys and sorrows; has induced untold myriads of battles and courtships; has brought into existence the most beautiful colors of the animal world, and inspired all songs of love, from the cricket’s chirp and the skylark’s minstrelsy to the very sonnets of a Browning.
It is not without a somewhat cataclysmic mental readjustment that one is turned round and about and made to consider this picture of the universe balanced on the small, uncertain, spineless back of this infant of the sea. An atom of an Atlas, with a preposterous torso, with the most shy and the most unobtrusive of personalities, who is neither more nor less than the sum total of everything that the word sex implies, which at this particular moment of this particular century is the demand for equal suffrage, for equality, mental, spiritual, and political—chiefly political. For some occult reason this has become the paramount issue, although it may be in the last analysis little more than a symbol—not the final goal, the ultimate ideal, but a gateway which when once unlocked will disclose certain unsuspected vistas of freedom, a new land of sex-democracy. But if a democracy would survive there must be unity and coöperation in all its parts. A false distribution of power produces an imperfect coöperation, — a superiority and a corresponding inferiority which promote a chaotic division of interest and a total and widespread inefficiency. This is the law. And for this, too, we must return thanks to the jelly-fish. For he stands close to the true centre which marks the divergence of the two paths—one for the male, another for the female.
It is true that in the beginning this sex-differentiation was neither significant nor profound; but in league with time, to which all things are possible, it brought forward that miracle of all miracles, the mind, — introspective, self-analytic, competent to understand the process of its own creation, eager to know and to fulfill the ultimate purpose for which it was destined. The end, the fulfillment, is not to be estimated, for the two halves of the sex-mind are as yet neither unified nor correlated, save in some of the smallest matters of everyday life. And the beginning, itself, with all the intervening steps, is clouded and obscure.
Science, however, has traced the history of this divergence and subsequent development, painstakingly, gleaning it piecemeal, with infinite patience, from the palimpsest of evolution. Aristotle in his Athenian study pondered upon it; the mediæval seeker for truth, burdened by his poor and faulty microscope, groped blindly after facts, finding them only to lose them in the all-pervading fog of superstition. To-day, in our laboratories and on countless expeditions, we are gathering records of a host of strange phenomena, full of romance and beauty: of the march upward from water and slime, to earth and air and mental freedom, of those two miraculous beings, male and female.
But science has written these records in a tongue of her own devising, so that the beauty of romance are in hiding behind certain select and abstruse technicalities. What universal emotion is brought into being if we talk of syngamy of gametes, or the cytogamy of zygotes? And the strange histories of amphiblastulas and parenchymulas which are one and yet different, — are these sufficient in themselves to evoke the tears and laughter of the multitude? It is better to put aside the technicalities, since they do not serve our purpose but are a burden and an offense when removed from their rightful niche in the scientific scheme; it is better to deal simply with the simplicities of life. At the beginnings of sex there was neither complexity nor confusion, but an orderly and fitting distribution of small cells to form the first double link in the long chain which binds together this twentieth century and that dim and quiet age when the world was young.
In reality, we might observe the first hints of sex far lower in the scale of life than the jelly-fish, but to do so we should have to invoke the aid of the microscope and the scientific tongue, and that we have agreed not to do.
Nevertheless, the jelly-fish is well worth the fullest and most concentrated consideration. He, with his kind, lives a life filled to overflowing with all manner of marvels. It is like a fairy tale; but it is a hundred times more delightful because it is a hundred times less logical. As we look down upon a host of jelly-fishes drifting slowly along on their indefinite path through life, we see that some are almost a monochrome gray, a mere ghostly film of life, hardly separable from the surrounding water. In others, four conspicuous rings, pale salmon pink and joined at the centre, show clearly through the translucent body. These mark the females, with their burden of myriads of eggs which are being sown as the mother swims along—living seed, of which only a tithe will survive to face a hazardous existence.
The character of this survival is unique; it is the prologue to the fantasy, the fairy tale. For these children of the sea take it upon themselves to set aside every law of a normal universe. It is easy to believe from observation and comparison with its parent, that the kitten will eventually become a cat, that the friendly puppy on the sidewalk will assume in due time the parental attributes transmitted to him. But we should never guess who was the immediate ancestor of the little jelly-fish. This atom sinks straightway down, down through the green depths of the sea and takes root in the sand, in the heart of abysmal darkness. There he lives, and at the proper hour is transformed into a slender stalk with a circle of fingers at the top. This, in turn, splits up into many discs which fit one into the other like saucers stacked together; and one by one these become free and swim off, each a perfect jelly-fish. Think of a sedentary and some what august barnyard hen laying eggs which hatch into sunflowers only to dissolve into a noisy flock of full-grown chickens, and we can better image the life of the infant jelly-fish, who not at all resembles his mother, but is quite like his grandmother, who is, in all verity, his mother herself.
To continue with this jelly-fish group is to enter into a land where Alice and her consummate credulity would be taxed to the utmost. At the very portals, we meet that small creature of the ponds, the hydra. He is supremely gifted and versatile, and he is not to be exterminated. Cut him lengthwise, crosswise, disarm him utterly, and he is discommoded only temporarily, for in the shortest possible time he grows what is lacking and resumes the business of life. Did one of his tentacles offend him, he would not dare pluck it off, for straightway nearby there would be regenerated an offensive twin. He can but lose himself to find himself, once more. But what is portentous, and germane to the thesis, is the uncertainty of sex in the hydra. If a hydra falls upon pleasant days and finds an abundance of food, all his off-spring are females. When the food-supply lessens, his progeny are individually half male and half female—an equality of sex with a vengeance. And when the wolf is at the door only male hydras are born. We do not ask for explanation; like the jelly-fish, he has become a law unto himself. He is the anarchist, the revolutionary; and close beside him, in spirt at least, there is one other. He is a little green bug, belonging to the aphids or plant-lice clan. This clan gathers in clusters on the stems of garden flowers and thrives there in affluence and ease. Speaking comparatively, the aphid is highly organized, but his progeny are governed by the same obscure law that controls the progeny of the hydra. Through the summer, when the sap runs free, female aphids are the rule; but at the first frost, when hunger pinches, the male predominates. Alice, alone, is by nature fitted to cope with this problem.
It is obvious, therefore, that in this land of uncertainties, sex does not lend itself to an earnest, philosophical consideration. It exists indeed, but when any given individual may be of either sex, or of none whatever, it is difficult to take the question seriously. But in the higher insects, and in the spiders, fishes, frogs, birds, and mammals, we find sex coming to the front as one of the momentous things in life. These creatures are governed by three great desires: the desire to avoid danger, the desire for food, and the desire for the continuance of their race. The first two naturally take precedence, but the moment they are successfully achieved, all else is sacrificed to the accomplishment of the third. In this last field, two objects are paramount: the male must, in some one of many ways, influence the female to accept him; then the mother must be supplied with means to care for her offspring. It is impossible to consider any creature of forest or field, of the shore or the sea, without perceiving the tremendous importance of these two objects. In this domain, when the need for propagating the species is realized, there is little more to live for. Thousands of creatures die at once; others survive to a useless, hopeless existence for a space. Only the most highly developed, by an instinctive realization of other duties and interests, live on in full enjoyment of life.
At this stage of development, where sex is no longer an uncertainty, the law of propagation and the law of extermination seem to go hand in hand. Considering the species, nature is blinded to the fate of the individual. It is difficult to differentiate the units which compose the whole, the deviations are at once so subtle and so minute. We know that every man in the world, in greater or less degree, differs from every other man. Remeses, the Pharaoh, doubtless wooed his queen in a manner dictated by his own heart and his own desires, and this manner was as individual and as inimitable as his own personality—unlike that of any being who preceded or followed him. But we see twenty robins courting their mates, — twenty robins with fluttering wings and bursting throats, — and to our purblind vision they are one and the same. Nevertheless, to the discriminating eyes of the female robin, each one is known for better or for worse, and so it comes about that her ultimate decision is no such accidental or casual matter as it appears to be.
It is not here, however, that mating and death are inseparable, although it does not follow that this law operates only upon the water and the earth. There are dire hours when it fashions wings for itself and makes its way through the tall flowers and the tree-tops; and at such times shadow and suffering follow in its path. It searches out the tiny door of the beehive and enters in—the invisible, but pitiless, guest at a fête extraordinaire. For it is the day of days when at last the young queen bees—after the long period of special diet and the equally long period of nursing in cells adapted only to the royal grubs—shall leave their home to essay their one great adventure.
During all of this time of preparation, the drones and the young princesses have shared the same hive, even the same gallery of combs, and yet the drones have made no slightest sign to show a recognition of their regal sisters. This is one infinitesimal part of the careful scheme of nature to prevent interbreeding. No princess shall be wedded to one of her own family: this is the law of the bees. So, alone, she creeps out on the ledge in the warm sun, and after a preliminary whirring of her iridescent wings, she gathers her feet together and launches out into the air. The drones from all the hives on earth seem to have been made aware of this critical moment, whether or not by some mysterious, evanescent scent, we do not know. In her wake come legions of them, moved at last to the supreme effort of their lives.
One by one, the weaklings drop back; others stay from the scent trail to become the legitimate prey of any enemy who chances upon them; and at last only a small group of the fit remain, whirring through space faster and faster. The drone—now become a supreme refutation of his name—who by some small measure of strength of wing, or keenness of scent or sight, is the first to reach the object of his desires, fulfills not only his own individual destiny, but the destiny of the race of bees, entire. And in this fulfillment he finds his death. The culmination of his ambitions is neither more nor less than an expression of the racial will to survive; but this culmination is at the same time the blotting out of his own life. His tiny body falls by the roadside, or is lost in a veritable forest of grass-blades, where it is the rightful quarry of any passing ant. It is, perhaps, ignominious, but any death, eventually, is this.
But this atom, with its crushed and helpless wings and its useless coat of black and gold, is a symbol—a symbol of payment to the utmost. He has paid in full for all the care lavished upon him by the slaves of his hive—those workers who for so long a time tended and served him ceaselessly that he might be fitted to run the race he has run so well. And he has paid, also, for this same faithful and untiring service which was wasted upon thousands of brother drones who shared the good fortune of the hive, but who were not so well fashioned as he to survive in the pursuit for which they were created. Thousands must perish that one may be exalted. When we consider this, and the energy expended in the long preparation, we can discover in it nothing but a great waste. We have not the large vision of nature which sees that it is well and just to sacrifice individuals for the good of the race. Civilization preserves the unfit, victimizing the fit to further this end. This is a strange new fact for human beings to have discovered in life—a very reversal of the basic principles of evolution. And if we persevere and achieve the fullest development, we shall do so in defiance of the laws which have brought us up through all the ages to an undisputed sovereignty of the earth. We shall work not with them, but against them.
However, in relegating to ourselves this quality of mercy, we protect ourselves from the sight of suffering. It is not so with the hive. For since the thousand drones may not live, they must die. One becomes a king, but many are destined to perish in unknown places—let us think that, defeated, they creep into some crevice or shadow hidden from their kind. Some weaklings return to the hive to meet a dishonorable death. Their fate has been brought about by no fault of their own, since from the beginning they were handicapped by some physical imperfection; therefore, they make full atonement for a sin not committed. They hesitate on the landing ledge, afraid to enter where there is no longer a rightful place for them. Some lose heart, and turning, fly out into the open to make their losing fight against an inexorable decree; others, with a cunning and strategy born of desperation, steal past the guardian workers and make their way to the uttermost depths of the combs, where, sooner or later, they are hounded out and stung to death by the workers, who for so long a time tended them with unswerving loyalty and devotion. This is the full expression of that poetic justice which was the keystone of Greek tragedy.
It is but one of many—this small history. For the courtship of all the creatures on this particular rung of the evolutionary ladder comprises many intricacies and follows a devious and eventful path. It is potentially dramatic, rich in situations for comedy, pure farce, and tragedy—and it does not lose in value because we must measure it by a miniature and not a heroic scale. There are the spiders, who live and die in the shadow of a unique law which declares that the female shall be in all things stronger and wiser than the male. It is impossible to find elsewhere in nature such an astounding sex-relation, for it is the chief object of the male spider to escape being devoured by the lady spider to whom he was elected to surrender his heart. His whole structure is designed to aid and abet him in this perilous undertaking. He is small, — indeed sometimes minute, — strong of limb, agile, wary to an extreme. As a natural result, his personality is not prepossessing. He is no expert spinner. He goes his way through life, now and then weaving an inadequate web—a poor, lop-sided affair—to snare the one or two gnats which are all he needs as sustenance for his diminutive body.
At length, at the proper hour, he discovers the silken castle of a female, and observing it, hesitates, profoundly meditative. In this he is not alone; for others, too, have obeyed her silent summons—have come from far places to group themselves discreetly near her. There is one suitor, perhaps, possessed of great valor—even so, for days his courage fails him; but at last, valiantly, this troubadour advances and twangs one of the strands to her web. By this, he strives to discover her temper, to discern her mood. At last, overcome by his own temerity, he risks all and goes up her silken ladder, stumbling over his own multifarious legs, so great is his haste.
She watches him, immobile, a tiny sphinx made of velvet; then there is a sudden rush, a fatal wrapping of the entangling mesh—and an ogre drops aside the body of a gallant knight, sucked dry. It was not auspicious, this venture; and six more suitors may meet a like fate before one succeeds in soothing her. No, a spider’s lot isn’t a happy one. Imagine, if you please, the courage needed to pay suit to a lady, ferocious, cannibalistic, and of most uncertain temper, with the added advantage of being fully a thousand times as large as one’s self as well as thirteen hundred times one’s weight.
It is a struggle for the imagination to picture this in humanity: an average man offering his heart and hand to a buxom damsel towering several hundred feet above him, and with a weight of some two hundred thousand pounds! And yet such are some of the courtships taking place among the wild folk, in the fields about us, along the dusty roadside, at our very doors—courtships of such seriousness and moment that life and death are daily weighed one against the other.
Skoal! to the spider who dares wage his small battle in face of such tremendous odds; who holds steadfastly to the ideals of his race, though failure is synonymous with death, and success signifies neither affection nor love, but, at best, a momentary toleration.
In the life of the spider, we have, perhaps, the most spectacular juxtaposition of the sexes. But in most of the higher insects, the ants, the wasps, and the bees, the female is the dominant sex in every way. In the solitary species, the male is seldom seen; often he is stingless, worthy the name of drone, and the moment of mating is the only high light on the drab and monotonous canvas of his existence. The female, on the contrary, leads an eventful life in which all her acts are carefully correlated to promote in her the greatest possible efficiency. For, she must eventually build a home, and provide food for her isolated offspring whom she will never see; or she must establish a new colony over which she will reign supreme—a thankless monarchy, however, for as queen, she becomes nothing more than a perpetual egg-laying machine. In achieving aristocracy, she achieves personal annihilation—this is the penalty of royalty.
Nevertheless, there is among the insects a regal paradox—the queen who is free to live and to love in accordance with her own desires. She is the solitary wasp, vigilant, purposeful, trained to conserve and to expend her energy with the utmost discretion. She dismisses her mate, evincing no concern over the immediate death which may be meted out to him, and turns without a moment’s delay to her work. She searches out hollows in fence-rails, in tree-trunks; or, not finding them, digs suitable ones, herself, in the ground, and stores them with insects—thereby providing a larder sufficient unto the tastes of a gourmet. These insects are neither living nor dead, but stung so cunningly that, paralyzed, they will remain in this comatose condition for weeks, until the young wasp-grub, awakened to the needs of life, demands sustenance. This is unparalleled evidence of the economics of anæsthesia. It is a sociological phenomenon, one manifestation of instinct, plus, may we say, feminine ingenuity. Indeed, so completely is wasp-life an affaire des femmes that diverse rivalries and competitions have sprung up between the females of different species.
A black-and-white wasp overpowers a small spider and carries it to her improvised larder in a fence-post, hiding it there. Since she must secure other provisions against a needy day, she does not linger to keep guard over her possessions, but straightway flies away, pursued by her shadow, which flits over the clover leaves and the petals of the field flowers. This coming and going has not been accomplished in secret: another wasp, clad in solid iridescent armor, has watched every movement, binding her time. When there is no one to see, she flies swiftly to the treasure trove and hovers above it, waiting for a second to be sure that all is well. But this delay is fatal. The black-and-white wasp appears, moving slowly above the long grass, for she is weighed down by her trophy—a young caterpillar, mute evidence of skillful and well-waged warfare. She sees her enemy and darts forward, letting her prey fall by the wayside. The Amazons come together in mid air, clinch, and fall to the ground. The brilliant one is known at once for what she is—an insect vampire, striving to foist her egg upon the home of the worker wasp, that her off-spring may feed upon the worker’s egg and the hidden store of prey. In common with every such member of society, she is the dependent, the vampire in all things, profiting always by her natural gifts and the weakness of others. She makes no attempt to fight, but relying upon her almost impenetrable armor, curls herself up tightly and allows the worker wasp to roll her about, angrily, searching for an unguarded crevice into which she may stab. Realizing her helplessness the worker wasp becomes frantic with rage, and seizing the iridescent wings of her enemy she bits and tears them beyond repair. Then, quietly, she goes off again on her eternal quest.
But that may be victorious, another must be vanquished. The defeated wasp, badly maimed, tries vainly to rise on her tattered pinions—the stumps vibrate pitifully. She is crippled in body as well, but in her desire to fulfill her destiny, she forgets all but the treasure trove high overhead, where her young may find a haven. In the beginning, she was denied the rightful instincts which were meted out to her more favored sisters: she was never taught to track and to overwhelm her lawful prey, to utilize the natural resources of her small sphere. She knows but one thing: that she must lodge her egg in another’s nest or her race will come to an end—the greatest possible catastrophe to any civilization, however humble or pretentious. Therefore, she climbs up painfully, inch by inch, to the hole in the post, lays her egg in the nest, and having in this wise, completed the small mosaic of her existence, makes no further fight against those great forces which have combined to destroy her. So it comes about that eventually, although through no conscious design of her own, she wreaks vengeance upon her enemy. For sooner or later, the worker wasp carries the last spider to the treasure-house, lays her egg, and carefully closes the nest. But the egg of the intruder will hatch first, and after the preliminary cannibal feast, the changeling will thrive and in due time issue forth to search, primarily, for a mate, then for the homes she may despoil and convert to her purposes. In this, she is nothing more than an instrument expressing the will of her race, for she lives by no creed which differentiates good and evil.
In a society where innocence and guilt are one and the same, there can be no sin, either of omission or commission. The worker preys upon the caterpillar, and the iridescent wasp preys upon the worker. So must life be given for life; so is natural cunning pitted against industry; and so, it would seem, is fate set above both, to do with them as she will. But we do not know the underlying truth and fitness of such matters; the justice or injustice of nature is not to be determined by the human standards of right and wrong. At best, we can but observe and tabulate the facts presented to us, endeavoring to reveal the inner law by correlating its many outward manifestations.
We have considered the infancy of sex and the subsequent stages of its early development. The second phase of its evolution does not follow such broad and simple lines, for new instincts arise to make war against those fundamental ones which have sufficed to motivate the countless small dramas of survival and propagation. Foremost, is the maternal instinct—that first, faint foreshadowing of emotion. Of course, when we remember that a cod-fish mother may lay over nine million eggs, we realize that it is impossible for her to do her full duty to each individual member of her family. Some of the codfish children must endure a bit of neglect, are practically orphaned, in fact. This, fortunately, does not influence them in after life. For, among the fishes, there is little logic of cause and effect; indeed, the maternal instinct usually finds its fullest expression in the father of the household. It is the quaint sea-horse who carries the eggs in his pouch and watches over them, with solicitude, until the young colts are of age; and it is the beautiful male paradise fish who protects his children from their unnatural mother, and who preserves a stainless escutcheon by a vigilant guardianship of his numerous offspring, collecting them, if they stray, and carrying them home from time to time in his mouth.
Among reptiles, the maternal instinct finds a lawful expression through the mother, which is as it should be in any reputable society. It is the female python who wraps her coils about her eggs; it is the female alligator who watches near her nest, ready to fight for it, unless the danger threatens to overpower her—when her mother instinct falters and fails, since it is, at best, but the tiniest spark. Courtship among these lowly, backboned creatures is not beautiful. With the pythons, sinister flowings of the tongue, hissing, and a slow, sinuous approach serve to complete the momentous circle; with the alligators, reverberating roars, tail-lashings, and uncouth intimidations, are sufficient unto the day. They have attained a new instinct, perhaps; but this progression is not equable. It but heralds a certain retrogression, for their courtship denotes neither preparation nor a harmonious sequence of incident.
It is in the birds that we find a nice balancing of the sex-instincts; it is in their life, too, that we see the predominance of the æsthetic impulse. However, their world is a world of many castes, so that while one courtship may be astonishingly complex and subtle, another is correspondingly crude. At one extreme, the bourgeois house-sparrow does no more than make a pretense of display, which degenerates at once into a rough-and-tumble pursuit, culminating in rapine. But, elsewhere, the wooing is full of beauty, employing secret and marvelous talents for its furtherance. There are the song of the hermit thrush and the graceful dance of the cranes; and there is that mysterious genius in the bower bird which impels him to gather colored blossoms and shells that he may beautify some chosen spot for the allurement of his mate. And everywhere throughout the land, there is that elaborate display of ruffs and crests and brilliant tail-feathers, in order that all the world, observing, may be enabled to make a true estimate of the individual prowess thus made manifest. For the female does not yield at once, but must be besieged, implored, pleaded with, made to know in a thousand ways the desirability of the suitor who would win her. Therefore, to aid him in his wooing, the male bird is almost always larger, stronger, with brighter coloring than his mate, or his song is filled with a poetry and sweetness wanting in her own.
But in every department of life, nature must entertain herself, upon occasion, with contradiction and paradox. So, each year, on the grassy, half-frozen tundras of the far north, on the dry, reedy plains of central India, in the very heart of the Brazilian tropical forest, she sets in motion courtships which are a living refutation of her normal laws. These secret and naïve dramas owe their being to the phalaropes or sandpipers, the bustard-quail, and the tinamou; but the chief and foremost of the three, in quaintness and versatility, is the clan phalarope.
It is in the cool months of early spring that the first of these little swimming sandpipers make their way to the northern tundras, where they scatter over the new arctic moss and wade and swim and search for food in the icy pools. With their warm and brilliant coloring of buff and rufous, they have the appearance of a small regiment come to make war against those insatiable, northland gods of eternal winter. But if they came to battle, they remain to loiter. However, this idleness endures but a few days, for the serious business of life is taken up the very instant that a second battalion of phalaropes appears against the horizon—for these are the males, duller in hue and smaller in size, come to profit by the reconnoitring of the stronger sex.
The landing is a joyful and gala hour, marked by fluttering wings, and the faint, confused sound of hundreds upon hundreds of tiny, webbed feet pattering along the water’s edge. And this is but the beginning of a fête délicieuse. For each male is assiduously courted by at least two females, who seldom leave him, but scurry about, slaves to his slightest whim; who anticipate the least of his desires, and bring him the choicest morsels from land and sea; who bow and hover around him, watchful, despising no strategy which will win his favor. It is his custom to exact this homage until he is forced to abandon his attitude of indifference and to indicate his choice. This fateful moment is attended by no scene, however; for the sandpipers live according to a philosophy denied the more complicated human machine. Straightway, the defeated rival flies away in search of a male more susceptible to her charms. This economy of effort is neither more nor less than an instinctive realization that the purpose of the individual is not to mourn but to propagate his race. And it is a realization in which complex human emotions have no place; hence the life of the phalarope runs its course smoothly, inevitably, untrammeled and unthwarted.
The courtship over, the bridegroom is plunged at once into a busy season of preparation. He searches here and there, — followed everywhere by his mate, who seems unwilling to trust him out of her sight, — and at last chooses a sheltered spot near a bit of overhanging turf, where with his dainty beak and toes he scratches out a little hollow—the tiniest hollow, in the very midst of the great arctic plain. Lady phalarope then condescends to deposit therein four beautiful eggs of gray, touched with a deep, rich brown, and feels that with this æsthetic contribution to the world, she has done all that any one with such ultra modern ideas could be called upon to do. So she wings her way to some neighboring quagmire and joins an assemblage of her sex, each and every one of whom has eased her conscience of all weight by having left similar quartettes of little eggs here and there in the growing turf.
The male, forsaken, steps forward and surveys his home with due pride; then, conscious that the weight of the universe has been transferred to his small back, he hurries to his nest and there composes himself for many days of patient brooding, stealing only now and then a little time that he may dine in some pool, providently stocked with mosquito larvæ. He even has the appearance of begrudging these briefest of intervals, and always hastens back to assume his duties, until the movement of life beneath him and the first faint pipings of the tiny nestling phalaropes reward his care and are a noisy proclamation that his warm body has fanned into existence four more of his kind, to go forth and be of service to the world.
During the ensuing weeks he thinks neither of himself nor of food, so great is his devotion to those long-legged, downy beings, — in reality more like strange insects than birds, — who follow him as closely as his shadow, and whose sole aim in life is to obey his slightest summons or warning. Now and then a great whistling of wings overhead sends them flat against the ground, crouching among the flowers of the tundra; but it is only their mother passing over, knowing them not for her own, intent only on reaching some pleasant roosting-place or fertile pool, with her gregarious sisters. Later, when the flowers have gone to seed, and the low sun sends less and less heat to the dying life of the tundra, all the phalaropes unite and fly swiftly southward, where—consistent in their inconsistency, defying to the last the laws of most other birds—the parents and young together spend the winter floating on the ocean far from land, challenging storms, sharks, and all the perils of the deep. By some strange chance, in obedience to some hidden whimsicality of nature, the females have become dominant, have taken to themselves strength, beauty, and a certain assertiveness, so that the males, unresisting, have fallen heir to the modest mantle of domesticity.
Four eggs and no more, are all that the little breast of the cock phalarope can successfully warm, so that for him to have another wife would cause an economic waste not countenanced in primitive society. And it appears that the lady phalarope desires to make but one conquest. But many miles to the south, in the tropical American forests, there are the tinamous, of partridge habit and color, whose diversion from type has not been tampered by such well-defined limitations. The female is aggressive, courting and winning her mate more roughly than the little aristocratic phalarope, hustling him and giving him no peace until he capitulates. To be sure, she lays for him the most wonderful eggs in the world, with shells like burnished metal, save that they are colored with the rarest greens and the most evanescent and subtle blues. But once she has thus built the walls of his prison for him, this emancipated tinamou promptly deserts him, and sends through the forests her clear and penetrating call—a trill of poignant sweetness.
At this moment, she may be poised on some fallen tree-trunk, or half hidden in tall ferns close by her first mate, who has quietly and unobtrusively assumed the responsibilities meted out to him. He hears the selfsame call which so short a time ago awakened him, led him to undertake the perilous task of hatching and rearing the brood, and can one be sure that he is not stirred by a passing wave of resentment, conscious of a fleeting desire to be one in freedom with the males of other species, whom he can see playing and singing about him, while their mates, in fitting subservience to law and custom, sit upon the nests? But that vast, incomprehensible machinery of evolution is not to be disarranged by an atom hidden in a forest; he must live as he must live. He has no word of protest; it is kismet.
But if here, among the phalaropes and the tinamous, does not exist that equable division of instinct which finds its purest expression in the birds, such harmony and balance are to be found notwithstanding, in the life of the wild goose; for, in common with many beautiful things, it is hidden where one would search for it last. We know nothing of the courtship of the wild goose, but we feel assured that it must be a seemly and worthy affair. Once mated, there is no further need for vows and protestations, for the birds made for life. Together, they unite in building the nest, but the goose alone watches over the eggs, while day and night, the gander weaves in all direction on water and on land his trails of watchfulness. Neither man nor beast may approach without being fiercely and successfully assailed, buffeted, and routed by a relentless attack with beak and wings. This guardianship is intensified when the new generation, helpless and dependent, voices its first need for protection from the perils which encompass and beset it. If, perchance, the small family elects to remain on the shore, the parents will circle round and round the group of golden goslings; and if danger threatens from any one direction, the gander, by some miracle of strategy, will succeed in placing himself at the one vulnerable point of his entrenchment. His loyalty, astuteness, and unselfishness are not to be found in those unobservant folk who have presumed to slander him. In swimming, the strictest discipline is maintained. The young form in single file, following the mother, while the gander brings up the rear, with eyes constantly sweeping the whole range of vision. His vigil is ceaseless and untiring. Such is the life of these two birds who are mated in more than sex; and when death comes to one or the other of them, we know that, many times, the one who remains will seek no other mate, but will return each spring to the site of his former nest which he will never renew again.
For these two, nature has shown herself just and generous, so that their life together, in its simplicity and equality, is an answer to many of those questions which men and women, victims of a perhaps too complex civilization, are considering with such profound and impressive gravity. The wild gander and his goose do not know that at one time sex was a comparatively unknown quantity; they do not know that subsequently male and female were differentiated, and that after many centuries this differentiation caused a widespread divergence of individual duties and interests. But they are aware that specialization, which is neither more nor less than the realization of one’s greatest talent and the judicious investment of it, will produce what is best for the individual and the race.
This talent may be a modest one, or it may be so pretentious as to become genius instead; but since genius is a natural endowment it must take care of itself. It is essential, only, that the making of bread, of houses, of streets and sidewalks and plays, shall continue for just so long a time as there is need for them, and that this work shall be done competently and well. This presupposes a division of labor and of inclination, as well as certain potential limitations; but it does not necessarily presuppose that one half of the world shall be set to dusting furniture while the other half goes stolidly marching off to war. It is evident that specialization in itself is not sufficient; but specialization and a thoughtful, respectful coöperation between the sexes—this is the true sex-equality.
The voice of the jelly-fish is heard throughout the land demanding equality in all things. Time, of course, will usurp the privilege of answering this demand; but the human being, for his diversion, may determine the wisdom or unwisdom of such a policy by considering these logical, if seemingly unrelated, descendants of the jelly-fish—the humble wild gander and his capable coöperative mate, the goose.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.