The swell people wouldn't call anybody but themselves 'clean,' and those others would drop sort of meekly into their way of talking and they wouldn't call themselves clean. We don't do that way here. Everybody calls himself a lady or gentleman, and thinks he is, and don't care what anybody else thinks him, so long as he don't say it out loud. You think there's no difference. You knuckle down and we don't. Ain't that a difference?"
"It is a difference I hadn't thought of; I admit that. Still--calling one's self a lady doesn't--er--"
"I wouldn't go on if I were you."
Howard Tracy turned his head to see who it might be that had introduced this remark. It was a short man about forty years old, with sandy hair, no beard, and a pleasant face badly freckled but alive and intelligent, and he wore slop-shop clothing which was neat but showed wear. He had come from the front room beyond the hall, where he had left his hat, and he had a chipped and cracked white wash-bowl in his hand. The girl came and took the bowl.
"I'll get it for you. You go right ahead and give it to him, Mr. Barrow. He's the new boarder--Mr. Tracy--and I'd just got to where it was getting too deep for me."
"Much obliged if you will, Hattie. I was coming to borrow of the boys." He sat down at his ease on an old trunk, and said, "I've been listening and got interested; and as I was saying, I wouldn't go on, if I were you. You see where you are coming to, don't you? Calling, yourself a lady doesn't elect you; that is what you were going to say; and you saw that if you said it you were going to run right up against another difference that you hadn't thought of: to-wit, Whose right is it to do the electing? Over there, twenty thousand people in a million elect themselves gentlemen and ladies, and the nine hundred and eighty thousand accept that decree and swallow the affront which it puts upon them. Why, if they didn't accept it, it wouldn't be an election, it would be a dead letter and have no force at all. Over here the twenty thousand would-be exclusives come up to the polls and vote themselves to be ladies and gentlemen. But the thing doesn't stop there. The nine hundred and eighty thousand come and vote themselves to be ladies and gentlemen too, and that elects the whole nation. Since the whole million vote themselves ladies and gentlemen, there is no question about that election. It does make absolute equality, and there is no fiction about it; while over yonder the inequality, (by decree of the infinitely feeble, and consent of the infinitely strong,) is also absolute--as real and absolute as our equality."
Tracy had shrunk promptly into his English shell when this speech began, notwithstanding he had now been in severe training several weeks for contact and intercourse with the common herd on the common herd's terms; but he lost no time in pulling himself out again, and so by the time the speech was finished his valves were open once more, and he was forcing himself to accept without resentment the common herd's frank fashion of dropping sociably into other people's conversations unembarrassed and uninvited. The process was, not very difficult this time, for the man's smile and voice and manner were persuasive and winning. Tracy would even have liked him on the spot, but for the fact--fact which he was not really aware of--that the equality of men was not yet a reality to him, it was only a theory; the mind perceived, but the man failed to feel it. It was Hattie's ghost over again, merely turned around. Theoretically Barrow was his equal, but it was distinctly distasteful to see him exhibit it. He presently said:
"I hope in all sincerity that what you have said is true, as regards the Americans, for doubts have crept into my mind several times. It seemed that the equality must be ungenuine where the sign-names of castes were still in vogue; but those sign-names have certainly lost their offence and are wholly neutralized, nullified and harmless if they are the undisputed property of every individual in the nation.