The Manifold Life

Yes, I come with a new gospel. It was revealed to me while I was pursuing an amateur investigation into the waysand customs of the infusoria. Now, far be it from me to say that the doings of these microscopic fellow citizens of ours are in any way strange or unusual; for anything that occurs in every roadside puddle a million times a year can hardly be called unusual. On the contrary, I have been impressed with the comparative provincialism of the small sect of the vertebrates to which we belong : a few scattered humans, dogs, and menagerie animals, we have blindly led for ages our dull restricted lives, surrounded by uncounted millions of beings who long ago learned those secrets of freedom and self-expression which still vaguely puzzle our muddled, futile brains.

Let me tell you the story of one day in the life of one of my new acquaintances — I dare not presume to call her friend, though she has meant so much to me in inspiration and awakened hope.

When first I saw Elizabeth, she was a dainty cup-shaped creature on a long hair-like stem, waving herself to and fro in the water, guarding in her bosom her precious nucleus, and leading, it seemed to me, a happy, carefree life. But she had ideas of her own of what life was to mean to her. Her personality required expression in directions I had never thought of. First she divided her nucleus into two parts, and split herself down the middle. Bess swam across to a grain of mud nearby and set up for herself, while Elizabeth continued to wave at the old stand.

This, however, satisfied her only for the moment. Perhaps Bess’s conversation tired her; anyhow, she decided to enter the silence. So she turned into a delicate transparent vase, covered tight against the outer world, and bedecked (such was her fancy) with long aigrettes of glass. Within this house beautiful, she doubtless thought to find repose; but her unquiet spirit could not stagnate. She soon gathered up her nucleus and began to flax around, dusting and sweeping in all directions, till she wore a hole clear through the wall — there’s a warning for you, madam — and swam off, carrying her nucleus with her.

The house soon healed up, and before long another little creature was dusting and sweeping about within: Margaret we will call her, for she had a nucleus of her own, and must therefore be a new one, fresh out of the everywhere. After a time she too burst out, and settled down near Bess, where she split energetically, till Bess was beset with Margaret, Meg, Peggy, Margie, and Madge.

This was too much for Bess, and she too entered the silence. Her temperament, however, was different from Elizabeth’s; for as she contemplated the Infinite, she became enamored of multitude, and divided her nucleus into thirty-three little round bodies, named Beth, Betty, Liz, Betsy, Lisbeth, Lib, Eliza, Etc. (Twenty-six of them were named ‘Etc.’ — one of the slight drawbacks of the Manifold Life). Well, they romped and scampered all over the place, till they broke a window, and escaping pell mell, like Abenaki Cauldwell, rode rapidly away in all directions.

Elizabeth is getting a bit too many for me, so I’ll not continue her history.

Thus came my great idea. Why not live the Larger Life too? Shall Man be outdone by a microscopic lower animal — Man, the Master of the World ? (Slight chill at this point, on recalling that Elizabeth, before becoming a League of Nations, never troubled her head to await the approval of the U.S. Senate.) But anyhow, we are a higher organism, and surely ought not to let ourselves be surpassed by any animalcule, however advanced.

I picture myself a few years hence, calling on some of my disciples in the country. I find the good farmer smoking on his front porch, in the middle of the afternoon.

‘Hello!’ I cry, and use, at last, the classic phrase in all its meaning: ‘how many are you?’

‘Lots,’ says he, ‘and we’re glad to see you; how are you all?’

So we fall into talk. Yes, everything is going finely. Being unable to get help, he has split into four husky farmers and a team of horses; three of him and the team are now getting in the hay, so he can take life easy and be sure everything is being well looked after.

‘Yes,’ he says, ‘it’s a great life. There’s my wife,’ — pointing out a pretty young woman with an embroidery frame, approaching across the lawn, — ‘she was tired of drudging all the time, and when she read your book, it broke her all up. She came out as two Swedish cooks, an English butler, a pianola-piano, and this young lady here. Naturally, I’m more than pleased.

‘Of course,’ he continues, ‘there are some drawbacks. Now, Jim,’ — waving his hand toward a field where a baseball game is going on, — ‘Jim never was much of a hand to work; but since he turned into two baseball nines and an umpire, I can’t even get him to do his chores.

‘But it’s worth it,’ he exclaims, shying a stone at one of his cows, who, having overheard some of my regenerating doctrine, has turned into a chipmunk and is sassing him from the top of a gate-post.

‘“But,” said Alice, “don’t you think it would be rather hard?”

‘“I have n’t tried it yet,” the Knight said gently, “but I’m afraid it would be a little hard.”’

Ah, yes, perhaps; but oh, would n’t it be worth the effort?