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Our Library => Eden Phillpotts - Saurus (1938) => Topic started by: Admin on April 03, 2023, 12:00:06 am

Title: Chapter 6
Post by: Admin on April 03, 2023, 12:00:06 am
THE Director of Kew wrote to Professor Toddleben and confirmed a discovery that Felix had already made for himself.

"Your plant," he said, "belongs to no existing species in our knowledge, yet so nearly resembles solanum and develops so precisely along those lines that we may without impropriety attribute it to that family, unless future, definite contradictions shall appear. But what is infinitely more interesting than the thing itself appears in its unparalleled speed of growth. We are faced with a vegetable that, in its relation to time, upsets our knowledge and confounds all experience. Germination proved speedy but not remarkable and the seedlings were submitted to different temperatures, that we might learn which suited them best. We found that the higher the temperature, the speedier the growth and the better the progress and well-being of the plants. Strange to say, they prefer light soil to anything rich, and the more arid the conditions, the more sparing the water, the swiftlier they attain to perfection. They appreciate such conditions as suit the cacti, and the more dry and hot we keep them, the more succulent is the foliage. When I tell you that many of our plants are already in flower—a week from germination—and standing two feet tall, with fleshy leaves six inches long, you will realize this astounding adaptation to conditions beyond our knowledge. The blossom is that of a glorified potato and I should judge that the coming fruit will resemble a tomato, or a large aubergine. We shall not have to wait long to see. As for your own plants, grow as hot and dry as you know how and spare the water that you doubtless give. There can be little doubt that this is the foodstuff of your iguana, and I suspect the foliage will serve his turn as well as the fruit. The plant I judge to be annual and of easy increase. Mature, it should be some three to four feet high, but it is evidently a case of 'soon ripe, soon rotten', and I expect to see it wither immediately after the fruit has ripened. One may presume to say that, where it appears to have come from, the conditions are subject to heat of extreme character."

Felix read the words to Norah at breakfast and commented upon them.

"Sir Humphrey confirms my own experience," he declared. "I have evidently been too lavish with water and given my seeds too rich soil. It would seem to be a desert plant. But a significant conclusion arises from this discovery. If time and growth proceed at a different rate of progress in the herb from any that we recognize and the whole procedure of its life is probably compassed with such brevity, then it is a reasonable deduction that the lizard also will reach maturity within far less time than any species that we know."

"You can see it happening," she answered. "I watched him yesterday—I meant to tell you and forgot it. One thing is certain. He isn't going on all fours much longer. He is like a baby learning to walk. He gets up on his hind-legs and totters along; then he falls; then he gets up again and holds the dead twigs you put in; and presently he begins to toddle again. And how he looks at you!"

"You should have mentioned this sooner," declared Felix. "It doesn't surprise me. If the thing is feeling out in its body, it may be similarly feeling out in its mind. It grows very quickly, and should it actually possess mind, then very definite duties lie before us. But they will be attended with extraordinary difficulties."

"Why?" she asked. "If there is something to be called reason hidden in that great head—something more than animal instinct—why should it be harder to teach it than any other bright child?"

"For this reason," he replied, "that it lacks the senses of a human infant. Needless to say, I have studied its growing capabilities very carefully, but we can only proceed on our own knowledge of the senses. I have no understanding concerning any others than those with which we are ourselves endowed. Others there well may be and probably are. Animals and insects reveal senses, the nature and purpose of which we cannot tell. But this lizard lacks two of our own very vital senses, both essential to education in any shape at a first thought. The creature is absolutely tame and trustful. It allows me to handle it and it will sit in my lap and hold my watch-chain in its little hands and mark the dial for minutes together. But it is deaf and dumb. It can make no sound of any kind and, while amazingly sensitive to vibration, is stone deaf, as we say. With such limitations one can only hope that nothing to be called reasoning powers develop."

"There's a technique for teaching deaf-and-dumb children," suggested his sister, "but perhaps it will be better if the necessity doesn't arise. You might discover that it has other gifts to atone for this state of things."

"Meantime it grows and eats heartily," he said. "The succulent leaves of the solanum rejoice it, and I have no fear that the lack of fruit jelly, which is now nearly finished, will be felt. We can furnish something equally full of vitamins from our own fruits, and the tomato, or whatever it may be, that came with it will soon be ripe. The creature will not eat anything likely to do it harm. I am trying him with lettuce and half a peach this morning."

"And arrange something for him to sit on," urged Norah. "I've got a sort of feeling that he's made to sit, just as we are, in fact. He might be more comfortable so. Once you get used to his stumpy little figure and immense head, you cannot but admire him. His eyes are like moonstones and his colours grow brighter and brighter every day."

"The mystery is to know why in the name of fortune the creatures that control its world should have packed it off to another," mused Felix.

"I'm afraid he won't be able to throw any light on that," she answered, "however sharp he may turn out to be. Probably you might find a way to teach him tricks, though one can hardly suppose you can teach him anything else. I never heard of a performing lizard before, and I don't suppose you ever did."

"There is nothing I detest more than the mentality that teaches animals to do tricks," he answered. "A most debased and debasing business, and had I the power to forbid it, I should do so."

The lizard showed no fear of any among those who visited it, but inspected them gravely and with a sort of dignity. It would fix its eyes upon them and watch their movements; but it could not hear their voices, though in some fashion it began dimly to understand their attitude of mind.

Norah explained this.

"I believe it is beginning to read our faces," she said. "There's nothing it can't see, and it may have a sort of sense to tell it that our expressions generally reveal our feelings. Some visitors hate it and think it hideous. Some smile at it and admire it and look kind. The scientists have 'poker' faces, as you'd expect, and all seem merely to regard it as a deformed lizard. Even if it were, a decent soul would feel pity for it; but you are the only scientist with a spark of human pity that I ever saw, except Dr. Wilson. He loves our lizard and doesn't believe he's deformed, but quite the contrary. And when he came, the creature liked him and sat on his lap and climbed on his shoulder and played with his hair."

"When I brought 'Rex' to see him," said Felix, "the dog detested him, bristled, showed his teeth and bayed furiously. He couldn't hear 'Rex', but he had no difficulty in perceiving that he was far from a success in the Great Dane's opinion."

Norah found a stout little chair which stood but five inches off the ground and Felix inserted it into the lizard's glass cage. The result was something of a shock, for the creature rose, crept to it and sat down with every sign of satisfaction.

"There!" she cried. "What a change! Now you can see in a moment he is built for sitting as I always told you."

Still the professor hesitated.

"It may be no more than an imitative instinct," he argued. "It has seen me sit in the chair beside it hundreds of times and may have tried to copy me and recognized the use of the little chair."

Within another week, however, it appeared that all doubts were resolved. During this time the lizard ate heartily of fruit, lettuce and its own special plant. Plenty of leaves had been sent from Kew and there came a report that the fruits had grown ripe. They were of beetroot colour and as large as big oranges. Then came a day when Felix returned pale and shaking to his luncheon, ate but little, helped himself to a brandy and soda and waited impatiently for the butler to withdraw.

When Peters was gone Norah spoke.

"What's happened?" she asked. "You're looking ghastly. You stop in that hot-house far too much and it's bad for you. You're white as a sheet and your hands are shaking. Shall I send for Wilson?"

"A terrific thing has happened," he said weakly. "An experience that confounds all experience and plunges me into a sea of difficulties. I am too old—too old to face this tremendous challenge. It ought to have happened to a younger man."

"Not at all, Felix," she answered firmly. "I hate that defeatist tone of voice and am very angry with you for using it. Nothing will ever happen to you that you are not very well endowed to cope with. If you feel ill, say so and we will telephone for Dr. Wilson to come and make you well again, which he is amply competent to do, no doubt; but if you're all right, then everything is all right; and if you had the faith in Providence that I have, you would not talk about being too old for any challenge, however tremendous it might be."

"The lizard," he said. "The lizard is conscious! It possesses reason and henceforth has just as ample rights as any human infant. It has ceased to be an animal, save in the scientific sense that we all are, and demands precisely the same respect and nurture as any other waif left upon our doorstep."

Norah was always calm under any provocation and preserved admirable self-control while she replied.

"Nothing would have surprised me less, my dear. In fact I have been expecting this for a week. So have you. With that stupendous forehead and those eyes, you only need to put a pair of glasses on his face to make him look as wise as you do yourself. What is there terrific or shattering about it? Two things instantly suggest themselves to me. He must have proper quarters—a day nursery and a night nursery and toys to play with. That's the first thing; and as he is evidently growing up so fast, we must set about the business of educating him. Of course we haven't the faintest idea what sort of education he would have got from the people in his own country. But we can certainly give him the benefits of sound home training. My own belief is that he will learn quite fast if we don't put too much strain upon him, and prove quite a clever boy."

"One thing is certain: that his education cannot begin too soon, and I invite your aid in details," replied Felix. "I have noticed that he will often sit on my shoulder and watch me as I read and turn over the pages of a book. He is not rendered impatient by this process and seems to understand that I gain advantages from it denied to him."

"Once we teach him to read, there is no saying how fast his brain will develop," she answered. "Something in the nature of the kindergarten system, I should think. You show him objects and let him handle them. Then you show him the symbols of the objects in the shape of words. Thus, having learned the alphabet, he comes to associate the things with their names. Of course, being deaf, the difficulties are much greater, because sound will not enter into his education."

"The attempt must be made. He certainly won't oppose it for he manifests remarkable interest in all that he sees. You have not asked what upset me to-day; but I will tell you. The first of the new fruit was ripe and bursting with its own fatness, so I took a plate, cut it up and placed it before him after opening the cage. He approached it, smelled the musky odour and, taking a piece in his right hand, squatted down by the plate and ate a slice with utmost satisfaction. Then he reflected, picked up a second slice, rose on his hind legs, waddled across to me and offered it to me! I nodded and smiled as one would to a kindly child, and he nodded and watched what I would do. I took it from him and put it to my mouth. It was sweet, sugary, obviously bursting with vitamins, but exceedingly uninteresting. I consumed it and he was satisfied. Then he went and fetched me another piece, not stopping to eat again himself. I shook my head and he shook his head! Then he returned to the plate and finished everything with great gusto."

"The poor scrap has got a heart," said Norah.

"That was not all," continued Felix. "Having fed, he rambled about among the pot plants and pulled out the labels and looked at the labels as though he were reading them, then he put them back. He has done that before, and he stood some time at the window looking out as he has often done before. He watched Medland pass with a wheelbarrow and showed great interest in it, and he watched the birds. Then happened the extraordinary thing. He came to me, sat in my lap and took my watch out of my pocket as he likes to do. He has studied the dial many times and it interests him far more than anything else. And now I come to the staggering powers of the creature. Interested in my book, I forgot the time, but he was perfectly conscious of it. He must know that, when it is one o'clock, I take the watch from him, put him back in his cage and repair to the house. It is evidently clear to him that, when the hands of the watch reach a certain position, I get up and go away. He does not hear the luncheon-gong that summons me, but he perceives that on the minute-hand reaching twelve and the hour-hand standing at one, it is a signal to me to depart. This has happened often and been recorded by his observation. Now to-day, immersed in my 'proofs', I did not hear the gong and was oblivious to time; but he knew and patted my waistcoat with one hand and held up the watch with the other. I nodded, put the watch in my pocket, shut him up and returned to the house."

For once Mrs. Hapgood permitted herself to be astonished.

"Good powers!" she exclaimed. "If he has got as far as that without any education whatever, he must have an extraordinary brain. A human baby couldn't do anything of that kind."

"We cannot consider him relatively," answered the professor, "and from the first must not attempt to argue from the criterion of a human baby. All we know is that the lizards in some other planet than our own have reached to a sort of self-consciousness and reasoning power; but exactly what form reasoning has taken and what shape it may take on the maturity of the creature remains to be discovered. We cannot trace any analogy with our own kind. We cannot even talk of him as a baby, because we do not know how he stands to time, or how long it may take him to 'grow up', as we say."

"He is two months old according to our time," said Norah.

"Exactly, but we know not what two months may represent as a proportion of his probable age. We don't know where he stands, or the extent of his mental development. We know that he lives and grows infinitely faster than ourselves, just as the plant which he brought with him lives and grows. He certainly is far short of a mature iguana as yet; but the reasoning power that can read a watch and associate the hour of one o'clock with my movements is far beyond that of any infant mind in our experience."

"I've finished his little coat," said Mrs. Hapgood. "It is warm, woolly and soft. It won't hurt him. He let me try it on and didn't mind at all. He never minds anything. You'd think, with such a brain, he would have his likes and dislikes by this time."

"One cannot presume to say. He may have a brain above likes and dislikes as we understand the word. He represents an order of intelligence of which we have no knowledge, sent here from a world of which he can have no knowledge. Thus we are utterly unable to guess how our wisdom will appeal to him and equally unable to imagine the sort of wisdom that would have awaited him in his own environment."

"That's going to be puzzling—both for him and us," admitted Norah. "However, we must do the best we can. He can't teach us anything, unfortunately, because if you leave your home town, so to say, in the shape of an egg, you won't be able to tell other people much about it, even if they take the trouble to hatch you and bring you up in the way they think you should go. So we return to the problem of what we should teach him and how much he is equal to learning. He might not have any use for our education, though you'd judge that a conscious lizard was hardly likely to be so well endowed with intellect as a conscious human being."

"That doesn't follow at all," he answered. "You may, however, be right, in which case we are faced with another possibility, which this iguana will not be able to clear up. Whence he comes there may possibly be more than one conscious order of living creatures. The reasoning powers that made and despatched the bolt were emphatically of a kind superior to our own in certain scientific directions. Those unknown beings know more than we do and manufactured something which we could not have done. They doubtless understood that it was not possible to travel in that way themselves, and so despatched an iguana in the egg as the most likely messenger to reach us safely. On the other hand, it may actually be a lizard world from which he has come, and they have sent us a scion of a good family—the product of worthy and intelligent parents."

Norah laughed, because Felix was so serious.

"If Professor Linklater heard you, he would say that too much learning had made you mad, my dear. The one bright thing is to think how you will score off him next time you read a paper. Meanwhile our little friend's cloak is finished and I think we must make the experiment of taking him into the garden if to-morrow is a really hot day. He longs to go. There ought to be a perambulator hired."

"Quite needless," he said. "He will quickly outgrow anything of that kind and can walk quite steadily and sturdily now. If we each take a hand and go slowly, he will be all right."

"One can't of course advertise for a nursemaid for an iguana," said Mrs. Hapgood.

Custom and force of habit made his friends often address the new-comer although they knew that he could not hear them; but the difference between him and a human baby was very remarkable and Mrs. Hapgood observed it with feminine competence long before the professor was able to do so.

"We're very apt to babble to babies, though we know quite well they have no idea what we're talking about," she told him. "They hear us, but, of course, cannot tell what the noises mean; yet in some weird way, though the lizard hears nothing, he does sometimes react as though he did know what we are talking about."

"Another mystery," sighed Felix.

They were just preparing to take the little creature on his first walk abroad, for the late August day was exceedingly hot and no wind blew.

"Now you're coming to see the garden, little man," announced Norah, and the lizard appeared to anticipate his adventure happily enough. Felix endeavoured to explain this fact, but failed, in his sister's opinion.

"He sees the coat," he said, "and associates it in some way with going out."

"Impossible," she answered. "After to-day he will no doubt associate it with going out and welcome it accordingly, but as yet he cannot know what it means."

"He must not stop out long," he declared. "He is accustomed to the temperature of his glass-house. We must watch him narrowly, for the outer air is many degrees cooler and he may not be able to breathe it with comfort."

They took him out between them in his little coat and walked slowly. His eyes were everywhere and he appeared to suffer no inconvenience. 'Sally' was pulling the mowing-machine and they marched him up to her. Felix patted the old horse, and the iguana, who now stood two feet high, regarded the mare with watchful observance, but showed no fear. Then he turned his attention to the mowing-machine and revealed considerably greater interest. He touched it, ran his tiny fingers over it and presently watched it working and perceived its purpose. Anon they visited a sunk garden and a pond, where pink-and-white water-lilies grew in profusion; but the goldfish, not the plants, interested him most and he watched them for some time. He touched the water and shivered and held his hand up for Norah to dry it. Presently they took him to a garden seat in the sun and set him down between them. He looked up at them; then his eyes shut and he went to sleep. They had been out for half an hour and he was clearly very tired. Norah picked him up, but he did not waken, and they carried him to his apartment, removed his coat and left him sleeping.

"The first thing is to arrange proper quarters and a proper bed for him," she said. "He must have a great deal more consideration."

"I design to build a house for him against the west wall," answered Felix. "I have already sketched the plans and propose to submit them to you to-night. One has to look ahead. The cage will soon be too small. I judge that he has now attained to about half his adult size. Then he will probably stand about four to five feet tall and his accommodation must be proportionate."

That night after dinner he submitted his ideas and Norah modified them in certain particulars, but for the most part approved. She faced the situation with greater courage than Felix, for something in the nature of his extraordinary experience often tended to cast him down and this great discovery had troubled his nerves and left him considerably depressed.

"I think it is the strain upon my imagination," he said. "Had I possessed imagination, I might better have faced this ordeal; but when suddenly a terrific demand arises for gifts which you lack, the result upon your intellect is painful and may even prejudice physical health."

"You'll soon get accustomed to him and feel too interested to think about yourself," she said.

"The interest is of course prodigious," he admitted; "but certain inevitable features of what lies before—not only us, but the iguana himself—are perplexing and frankly rather depressing. I am thinking of him now—not in any sense sentimentally, but from the standpoint of science. I am asking myself what possible advantage can accrue to earth from the lizard's advent, or how those who sent him imagined they were going to win any advantage from doing so. Some impulse must have prompted them and it is difficult to see whether they imagined they were doing us a good turn by despatching him, or whether they expect themselves to be the gainers."

"He may be able to throw some light upon himself when he grows up," suggested Norah; but the professor explained that such a hope was vain.

"Ask yourself how. The iguana comes to us as an embryo, totally ignorant of everything. He brings no information whatever and can never know more than he is able to learn from us and his own observation. Objectively he must be as every other new-born animal. There is only one hope: that subjectively, through the channels of his ancestry, he may possess instincts that will appear in action and so, presently, inform us of the reasons why he was despatched. Those who sent him can have possessed no knowledge whatever as to us, or how we should welcome or receive him. They cannot have known, for example, whether it would lie in our power to open the bolt or reach him at all. He was fired at a venture and it is impossible that those responsible for him knew that there were conscious creatures waiting to receive him on earth."

"You can't say it's impossible," argued Norah. "That is to assume that nobody in the universe knows any more about us than we know about them. We can only bring our limited wits to the problem; but, though doubtless limited too, the beings that sent him may have more sense than ourselves and know plenty of things that we do not."

"I grant that," agreed Felix, "but on the other hand, they must be exceedingly limited in their outlook and totally devoid of much common sense that we can claim. Suppose that we had learned how to construct and fire a projectile with such accuracy that we knew it must reach our nearest neighbour, the moon. Should we have been content to put into it——"

"Stop!" cried Mrs. Hapgood. "Now you are approaching the question from a human standpoint, darling, and finding purely human objections and suggestions. We couldn't have sent them a self-conscious lizard, because we haven't got such a thing. We should have thought of something quite different, of course. But as we didn't know how to start, that doesn't matter. They did know how to start and reach us, which argues to my mind they already knew something about us."

"The iguana cannot tell us whether they do or not in any case," replied Felix.

"You have no right to say what he can or cannot tell us, until we start on his education and give him a chance," she answered. "If he has no more sense than most of us, then I grant he won't be very useful; but if he happens to possess hereditary gifts that put him ahead of us in some way, then he may be valuable."

But Felix was quite unconvinced.

"I argue from the meagre contents of the bolt," he declared again. "Creatures of high comprehension would have done far more. Their scientific powers are apparent, but that is all we can grant them. It was a beggarly gift and quite devoid of imagination. Consider, for example, what light on their civilization a roll of photographs would have given us. Thus we should have seen their actual shapes, their habitations and a thousand other illuminating things."

"That's true," admitted Norah. "They evidently don't know anything about photography; but there may be good reasons for that."

Brother and sister argued to no purpose and Norah presently retired.

"Well," she concluded, "I can't cheer you up, darling, and you can't cast me down, so I will go to bed. To-morrow I begin the lizard's education, and though his friends can't make pictures, we shall probably find that he is quite capable of understanding them."