Oxygen and Aromasia
by Claës Lundin
translated by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
Chapter 10 appeared
in issue 264.
Chapter 11: A Ball Game at Rydberg’s Square
part 1 of 2
Inspired by the German philosopher and science fiction writer Kurd Lasswitz’ novel Bilder aus der Zukunft (“Pictures from the Future”), the Swedish journalist Claës Lundin (1825-1908) created the novel Oxygen och Aromasia, “pictures from the year 2378” — a date exactly five centuries in the novel’s future. Bewildering Stories is pleased to bring you this classic of early modern science fiction in Bertil Falk’s translation.
It happened in a playground in downtown Gothenburg, just about where the “drill-ground” had been situated in the past. Gothenburg has many similar places, where young people gathered for ball-throwing, races, wrestling and other “male sports,” as they said in the past, when only the male part of the youth carried out such exercises. Nowadays, girls as well as boys, young women as well as young men, even older people of both sexes performed such practices.
Such sporting fields existed in all places, in the cities as well as in the countryside, and they were supported at the public expense. To this end, the parliament granted fairly great sums and even though the opinions often differed with respect to other grants, there were never disagreements about the necessity of the playgrounds. Everyone knew that they could not do without them.
For centuries past, experience had shown the advantages society derived from the playgrounds. Long before the government took care of the matter, Gothenburg had begun constructing such playgrounds and that example was followed, if not immediately, at least at last by Stockholm and some other cities.
To be sure, the municipal council of Stockholm had required some hundred years before the opinion had matured. But after that the city diligently carried out the undertaking, and at the end of the 24th century the old city on the Lake Mälar had many well-tended places where the youth could play. The Stockholmers considered their sporting fields as good as those of Gothenburg, but the inhabitants of the latter city laughed at that idea.
“Nobody can be superior to Gothenburg,” they said, as they used to say about everything. Rydberg’s Square was the name of the playground in the Scandinavian capital, and it was undeniably quite adapted to its purpose even though it was surrounded by very tall buildings. Nonetheless, thanks to the company responsible for adjusting temperature, it was fairly airy, cool in the summer and mild in the winter — except for the days when the great snowballing took place. Then the air would not be too mild.
But for the time being, it was summer and now people enjoyed the coolness of the square. It was one of the thirty free days of the year — holidays as they were called in the past. Many of the inhabitants of Gothenburg had gone to the edification halls of the city. Many of them offered lectures, similar to the sermons of the past. But people also used them for discussions on serious subjects, deliberations upon several matters and in quite general terms, they found diversions of a more important kind than those offered at the ordinary places of entertainment.
These thirty free days were generally used as days of rest. All other holidays had long since been done away with. The old Catholic secondary holidays had been abolished as early as at the end of the 20th century, although not until after rather hot disputes within the parliaments still existing at the time.
Some hundred years later, the old Sundays disappeared. But since the worker doubtlessly has need of a day of rest now and then, the thirty days referred to were introduced: these were days when, as a rule, no work was performed, although, as already has been mentioned, it was not prohibited by law.
Although, a great number of the inhabitants of the city were present in the edification halls, the playing grounds were not empty, and Rydberg’s square, especially, was filled with happy and vivacious young people. The ball game was in full swing.
“Who are the two women on that bench?” one of the players asked the man closest to him. “The younger one just participated in the game. She looks good.”
“It’s Miss Ozodes, the well-known artist,” the consulted person replied. “The older woman is said to be a relative of hers.”
“So! She’s perhaps here for the elections?”
“Probably, but she’s also supposed to give a concert here.”
“On air-piano! That’s already said to be antiquated. The brain-organ will probably push aside the scent-chords.”
“I’m not so sure about that. Miss Ozodes is a great artist.”
“Look at the game!”
The ball-throwers strained every nerve. One beautiful throw followed another. The physical exercise tensed muscles, colored cheeks, set eyes on fire. Bursts of laughter, encouraging calls, the vivacity grew all the time. The playground offered a lovely picture.
“I think the Gothenburgers are almost as rapid ballplayers as the Stockholmers,” Aunt Vera said.
“I don’t think so,” Aromasia replied, “but it’s nevertheless enjoyable to see their confident strikes. I don’t regret that I was persuaded into coming here.”
Aunt Vera had finally succeeded in pulling Aromasia out of her sorrowful solitude and induced her relative to come with her to Gothenburg in order to give a concert. But she had not yet been able to persuade Aromasia to appear at the great, common electoral assembly that preceded the parliamentary elections.
“I don’t want to make an appearance at a big election meeting,” Aromasia said.
“I am beginnng to believe that Oxygen is right,” the old woman uttered, “when he accuses you of holding ancient opinions. In our time, women should not feel a dislike to work for their own success.”
“If they elect me, I’ll accept it,” Aromasia declared, “but I will myself not do anything to get the most votes.”
“That’s how it was in the past,” Aunt Vera objected. “But it was sometimes false modesty, mostly hypocrisy. Our time ought to be truer and more honest. Furthermore, have you forgotten what probably was the real cause for Oxygen’s sudden decision to be elected instead of you?”
“Forgotten? Certainly not!” Aromasia exclaimed and turned very red. “I’ve read the letter you found in your parlor that night when Oxygen surprised me with his strange behavior.”
“And that letter cannot have been meant for anyone else but him, and it could not have come from anyone else but a person who wants to harm you. I’ve more than one reason to suspect that Miss Rosebud is the one who wrote the letter, though her plans in this case seem incomprehensible to me.”
“But if Oxygen has permitted himself to be misled by that false letter and therefore acts out of jealousy, then it shows that he really loves me,” Aromasia objected. She rather seemed to find excuses for her rival candidate’s behavior.
“And because of that you want to withdraw in favor of him?” Aunt Vera asked, not without a mocking expression.
“I’m not withdrawing,” Aromasia objected, “nut I’m not going to appear in public at an election meeting against Oxygen.”
“What a folly!” You’re certainly far away from your own time, my dear Aromasia.”
“Self-denial and privation is the woman’s task,” the young girl whispered.
“Where have you read that?” Aunt Vera asked in astonishment.
“I read it in one of my dear aunt’s books, in an old venerable work from the 19th century.”
“So much for venerable! You can be absolutely sure that this book was written by a man, and in a time when the men thought they were created to take precedence over women. It was long ago that people believed such things.”
“Since then, I’ve read another book, by another writer who lived five hundred years before our time: his name was Balzac. He was famous. He said that the woman who resigns herself to her fate, who cries and forgives and only lives for her memories, has the right kind of love: the proud love that lives on her pain and dies thereof. Many other writers, almost all of them in those days, I believe, expressed themselves in a similar way.”
“And you believe them?”
“Yes, I think I need to believe what they say.”
“If that’s so, then you’re lost, my poor Aromasia. The old ones lived under the spell of a false outlook on life, with thoughts and feelings that would have destroyed all of mankind, had not opposite opinions manifested themselves in time and a fresher wind cleared the air. The woman’s task is not to deny herself, neither is it the man’s task. You should know that as well as I do.”
The ballplayers gave enormous shouts of joy. One of the young women had thrown a ball that surpassed all the other players. All of them acknowledged her superiority and once more the square re-echoed the praise of the victorious woman.
“Do you hear?” Aunt Vera said and regarded Aromasia with radiant eyes. “A girl won the contest. The male authors and governing men of the past would certainly have found that improper, not to say indecent. Should the skillful girl perhaps have given up her victory because she’s a woman? Her eyes are unerring, her step is light, and many years of physical exercise have made her arm strong.
“Even so, her eye is still as mild as it was with the maidens of the past, and her arm is as beautiful. She has all the qualities of a skillful ball-thrower. Do you wish that she should not benefit from all these advantages, simply because she doesn’t belong to the male gender?”
“Certainly not,” Aromasia replied eagerly. “I’ve just recently taken part in the ball game. And they say, that I’m not too bad at it.”
“Well, do you want this skillful ball-player to hold back if the young man she loves comes out to play?”
“No, but neither do I want her too take pains to obstruct the young man’s success.”
“I don’t understand you. You should not give way to any man, even if he’s your husband to-be. Least of all should you do so if he acts out of mean motive.”
“Yes, but I don’t understand Oxygen’s motive.”
“Hm!” Aunt Vera said after looking for a moment at the sorrowful expression on Aromasia’s face. “My child, you’re not the strong woman I thought you were. You know that Oxygen entertains unworthy suspicions about you.”
“It would be much too sad to believe,” Aromasia objected, “that personal conditions would have an influence on acts that ought to be based only on love of one’s country and a serious desire for serving the community at large.”
“Such influences have always existed, and mankind will probably never free itself from it,” Aunt Vera uttered thoughtfully.
“If that’s so, then we’re no better than our forerunners,” Aromasia remarked.