Life and Times of a Priestess: Ch.11: Dumis (Part 1 - Section 1)
Chapter 11: Dumis
Many passers-by lingered at decorously furnished shops such as she had never seen in Pirion. Some of them had enlarged windows so that goods could be displayed. There was much life here in such a busy city, which she surveyed in the first flush of her arrival with an open mind. It would have been difficult not to taste the excitement inspired by the beautiful and fanciful goods for sale. She was drawn towards one shop which caught her eye because of the varied colours of the finery it displayed. She pulled Ravelleon behind her. He allowed her to lead him, pleased that she should appreciate the good things his nation could offer. She found it to be a corset makers shop. There were many beautiful Prancirian ladies, with maids and children in attendance, surrounded by many coloured corsets hung from shelves in every stage of production. Her eye was caught by pretty pink stays, smooth as ivory, pearl buttons at the shoulder. She had worn Prancirian costume often for many months now, and she wore it now. The shape of the female body, which it accentuated, still excited her.
She continued along the busy street, almost forgetful of her General in her excitement. It was tempting to peer into each shop front. Shops selling necklaces or little crosses to be worn around the neck or beads. There were shops full of fans, shoes, and dressmakers shops. Amongst the crowds of proud businessmen and humbled clerks, compliant housewives, long suffering workmen, beggars and visitors from far and wide, Danella felt herself to be a simple innocent. She came from a land where there was no money, not the kind which these people traded feverishly over shop counters, betrayed each other for, and flourished about so generously. Pirion seemed such a quiet place by contrast, save for the cries of lovers which could be heard nowhere here. These people filled their lives with other thoughts it seemed. The people on these city streets all seemed to have something urgent to perform, whether they performed duties for employers or sought to purchase some small object which they desired.
They came past a grand railway station, fronted by huge blocks of stone, and roofed by a glass dome. The most important means of locomotion here was the steam train. Trains were so bulky they looked like whole rows of houses on the move. The remarkable railway development in Vanmar was probably due to the immense number of citizens who needed to travel, often on a daily basis and the interconnected, specialised nature of their economies. As she had seen in the shops there was a great demand for produced goods of many kinds, which all needed to be transported. Steam ships were used for marine transport.
Danella’s first visit to the metropolis of one of the great empires of Vanmar, the capital of Prancir, Dumis, was an outstanding experience. Everything was at once so strange, and yet slightly familiar, by comparison with the Empire of the Goddess.
There were streets and many windowed stores and offices. In the older parts of the city the streets were narrow, and so congested by carriages, horses and pedestrians. The crowds that streamed along these footpaths were more varied than in her own Empire. The men wore shirts, and jackets, and trousers quite different from the tunics of the Goddess’s Empire. Less flesh was visible on the legs and the arms were covered. The women also displayed less flesh although curiously to Danella their fashions accentuated the shape of the female body by often baring the neck and upper chest above the breasts while the stomach was constricted by a corset which made the flesh appear narrower than was really the case. The hips were emphasised by long dresses which were often built wide around the hips, and covered the legs completely. Indeed these dresses tended to trail along the ground. The overall effect was quite pleasing although Danella could not help feeling the women were quite constricted by what they wore. Taking such clothes off and then putting them on again would be quite time consuming tasks. The ladies also wore hats which made them look less than real in Danella’s eyes although when she grew used to the appearance of them, she began to like the look of them, being so different from the styles of the Goddess’s Empire. The men wore hats, rounded hats with brims for the men who worked in offices, taller flat topped hats with brims for the men who had money or wished to look as if they did. Many of the women wore gloves.
Here then, was a massive host of people who in spite of their oddities, were essentially people much the same as in Shanla or Dalos. They went about their private affairs with assurance, unaware how a spectator from the Goddess’s Empire found them strange. They were alive and busy, shopping, staring, talking, working. Children dragged at their mothers’ hands. Old men with whitened hair bowed over walking sticks, somehow seeming to be aged earlier in this more competitive society. Young men eyed young women, but that was as far as most of them seemed prepared to go. The prosperous were easily to be distinguished from the unfortunate by their newer and richer clothes, their confident and sometimes arrogant bearing.
Here as in Pirion infants were being born every hour, clamouring for food, and very soon for companionship. They discovered what pain was, and what loneliness, and if they were lucky, love was. They grew up, moulded by the harsh or kindly pressure of their fellows, to be either well nurtured, generous, sound, or mentally crippled, bitter, unwittingly vindictive. One and all they desperately craved the bliss of true community; and very few, fewer here perhaps than in Danella’s own society found more than that vanishing flavour of it. They howled with the pack and hounded with the pack. Starved both physically and mentally, they trawled over the quarry and tore one another to pieces, were afflicted with hunger, physical or mental. Sometimes some of them paused and asked what it was all for; and there followed a battle of words, but no clear answer. Suddenly they were old and finished.
This continent had produced a race which looked basically the same as her own, though in culture and attitude quite different. All the characteristics and desires of the spirit manifested in her own Empire’s society had their equivalents in the history of Prancir and the other nations of Vanmar. As with the Goddess’s Empire there had been dark periods and periods of brilliance, phases of advancement and of retreat. Many of the differences, of course, were superficial, but there was also an underlying difference in culture which Danella took long to understand fully, which came from the different attitudes to the sexual life and to competitive economic life. The animal nature of the Vanmarians was at bottom the same as for the people of the Goddess. They responded with anger, fear, hate, tenderness, and curiosity the same way.
As the races and languages of the Vanmarians were more varied than in the Goddess’s land the strife between groups whose appearance or languages were repugnant to one another played a great part in history. Each race or nation tended to believe that its own appearance or language or culture was characteristic of all the finest qualities of appearance or language or culture. In former times the differences between nations and races had been true signs of differences, but in modern times and particularly in the more developed lands, there had been great changes. Not only had the races ceased to be clearly localised, but also industrial civilisation had produced similarities of culture which rendered the old racial distinctions meaningless. The ancient cultural differences, although they may now have no meaning at all, and although the members of one nation might have different cultural attitudes within themselves, they still felt superior to the cultures and peoples of other races or nations despite often having no obvious cultural or appearance differences. In Prancir many of them considered themselves to be the very ‘salt of the earth’.
In what was often the first experience of full sexual discovery newly married couples were liable to be disappointed in one another on their wedding night due to ignorance and high expectation. Since in the great majority of unions neither person was perfect in knowledge or performance, both were willing to pretend to the world that all was well. Sometimes there would turn out to be a distressing incompatibility between the two. The whole population was rotten with the neuroses of repressed sexual desire and disappointments, and the effort of keeping secret the tragedies of marriage.
In Vanmar, nearly all the chief means of production, nearly all the mines, factories, railways, ships, were controlled for private profit by a minority of the population. These privileged individuals were able to force the masses to work for them on pain of starvation. The tragic farce inherent in such a system was already approaching. The owners directed the energy of the workers increasingly toward the production of more means of production rather than the fulfilment of the needs of individual life, for machinery might bring profit to the owners; bread or human pleasures and services would not. With the increasing competition of machine with machine, profits declined, and therefore wages and therefore effective demand for goods. Products which could not find their market were destroyed though, in many places bellies were underfed and backs underclad. Unemployment, disorder and stern repression had increased as the economic system disintegrated.