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Chapter 8

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« on: April 03, 2023, 04:21:40 am »

MILDRED enjoyed scraps of conversation with Saurus before she returned to London and was able to report a few interesting incidents, all tending to show how swiftly his intelligence began to grow.

"For one thing," she said, "of course, he knocks all our cut-and-dried notions of time side-wise. Time moves on an utterly different plane with him, and no doubt he and his blessed tomato prefer their own quick time to our jog-trot pace."

"Both are under the dominion of their own time," explained Felix, "and though it is impossible to make biological experiments with him, already they are trying hard at Kew to cross the extra-terrestrial 'tomato', as you call it, with our own varied species of solanum. As yet, however, they have failed."

"I tried him on art," said Mildred, "and he was amazingly large-minded. Art means nothing to him and he doesn't understand the first word about it; and yet he seems to perceive what it may mean for creatures like us. He said that the business of making pictures and statues seems futile to him, just as the business of making noises, which we call music, would be futile to him if he could hear them. In the same way to read stories of things that might have happened but never did, and of people who might have existed but never did, seems utterly childish. Fiction is a wash-out from his point of view; while for men and women to dress up and pretend to be somebody else, which we call the drama, merely puzzles him. But he admits that, though probably not any use to his people, art must be valuable to us, or we shouldn't have discovered it. That's where his large-mindedness came in. He wrote this in his tiny handwriting. He writes already far faster than we can, but it is quite clear. I've kept it to show my friends."

She brought a sheet of paper from her pocket and read to them.

"'Art seems to be greater than science in some ways,'" wrote Saurus. "'Your artists make things. They are creators and they hate war, which is their opposite, because it is a destroyer. Your science neither hates nor loves anything; therefore I understand science, because I neither hate nor love anything. Science is just as willing to advance war as to oppose it. To me war seems so terrible a thought that, for your sakes, I could wish science also thought it terrible. This indifference is opposed to much that I have discovered about your species, and it shows that the scientific mind is lacking in those qualities which would enable it to dominate earth and compose your deep differences. It is narrow and stark and frosty. If what you call "Art" could bring something to the help of science in this matter, then mankind might be the gainer. Of good, or evil, I know nothing, but I see their significance in human affairs and, could your art and science join forces, they would perhaps influence and aid each other to your advantage.'"

"Very sensible," declared Norah.

"As a matter of fact, art and science do appear to hate each other," said Mildred, "so nothing will make them friends."

"Does he ever talk about himself to you?" asked Felix. "He is very reticent on the subject to me, though now, since our great discovery, we communicate freely enough."

"No, uncle. You can only get glimpses of his queer character through his mind. Lots of things puzzle him; but nothing vexes him. He seems to feel, somehow, that human emotions are a pity. He wonders if we may not be mistaken in a great many of our performances. He would laugh at us sometimes—that is, if he ever laughed at anything. But, of course, he can't. About the only thing he will always be incapable of seeing is a joke. He said that reality no doubt existed, though quite beyond our reach; but he said that since we had discovered the existence of reality, which was a great feat in itself, our attitude to reality seemed imbecile, because we appear utterly to ignore it."

"He'll soon have us out of our depth," prophesied Norah. "He's going to be a monster, after all."

"If he's going to be a monster of reason to us, then we are going to be monsters of unreason to him," feared Felix. "The point of view is everything."

"We cannot say what he is, but we can say what he is not, in a guarded sort of way," argued Milly. "He is not unkindly; he is not opinionated; he is not unamiable; above all else, he is not unreasonable. But, of course, the more he sees of men and women the more he is bound to find that we are all these things and a great many more. So we can't expect him to feel that we are not far worse monsters than he is, anyway. He wrote a queer thing about that. He told me that if he had come laden with knowledge from his own world, he might have been some use to us; but the snag is that he didn't, and the state of civilization in his own country is quite as much a secret from him as it must be from us."

"Everything turns on that," said Felix. "As it is, he can no more help us than a European baby could help Hottentots if committed to their charge; but I still venture to hope that his inherited instincts may develop and aid him to give us glimpses of other conditions than those we know."

"I'm afraid he doesn't expect anything like that," said Norah. "'I can never teach: I can only learn,' he told me yesterday. But he thought that no great matter, because the wisdom of a lizard world might only be folly to a mammal world. And, of course, vice versa. He reads philosophy and doesn't find it in the least dry. He feels that we already know enough to be good, but what we call 'evil' prevents this knowledge from getting into our heads and influencing our actions."

"He has given up reading history, because he says it is calculated to make him under-value us," explained Milly. "But fancy a person not six months old feeling so sorry that he'd never be able to teach us anything! Priceless, I call it. If he goes on at the rate he's going, teaching him what we know will soon be like playing elementary exercises on a concert 'grand'. A brain like his will be utterly wasted here."

"Not at all," declared Felix. "He must do some original thinking presently on the basis of our instruction. He may prove far more limited and devoid of originality than you suppose."

Mildred kept her own great item of news until the hour of her departure. She had no desire to argue about it, so timed her intelligence that argument would be impossible. Indeed, it was not until a motor car waited to carry her to the station that she spoke. Then she told them of her adventure.

"You will be interested to hear, mother, that Serge Boluski wants to marry me," she said. "I have not as yet decided."

But Norah knew better.

"You wouldn't have mentioned the matter at all if you were not decided," she answered, "and very well you know it, Milly. I can only pray you not to be in any hurry. You knew this was going to distress Uncle Felix and myself very much."

"I was afraid so, but you must try to bear up," begged Mildred. "I haven't decided yet, honour bright. I'll bring him down if we agree about it. And there's no need for either of you to be miserable, in any case, because he's a healthy, well-born man and comes from a distinguished family. Most of his relations were killed off in the Revolution. As for him, of course, I can't tell you his secrets, but he's not altogether what he seems. Naturally a diplomat wouldn't be."

Leaving uncle and mother with her disturbing news, the young woman kissed them both and went her way. Felix was the more troubled and began to wonder where he might glean secret light upon the Russian; but Norah declared them both powerless.

"It's a case of hoping for the best," she said. "We can do nothing, in any case. She is not a fool, and the young man may be a worthy member of society."

"One doubts, however, that he can be well born," sighed the professor. "Birth would surely be an irrevocable bar to any high office in Russia."

He was about to occupy himself with the forthcoming paper on Saurus, and during the next few weeks he compiled it and stated the position as it stood. But again and again it became necessary to make additions, because the iguana was now in a position to help him and add various theories to the facts at Toddleben's command.

At last, however, he stood before his peers and read his paper. There was no jeering now, because a great many eminent men had visited Applewood and made the acquaintance of the great lizard. He had become the paramount interest of science, though sceptics still existed who refused to accept the startling fact of his existence and believed that some cunning charlatanry must lie behind him. None, however, who had once visited him and perceived the existing means of communication any longer doubted.

It was concerning these channels of exchange that Felix first dwelt when he opened his address.

"The discovery was, of course, inevitable," he began, "and it has not only enabled us to arrive at a much more direct and ready understanding, but it serves to explain in no small measure what before was obscure. I often wondered whether Saurus—by which name the iguana has elected to be called—I often wondered whether his deafness and dumbness were peculiar to himself, or defects, as we should call them, common to his species. I was disposed to suspect that his journey through space might account for certain injuries to substance which had thus robbed him of such vital senses; but now I find this was not the case, and he agrees with me that the conscious community of which he is one are undoubtedly deaf and dumb. Yet, none the less, they communicate in a manner that may be regarded as infinitely superior to our own. Thought is their channel, and as soon as Saurus was able to write, the secret appeared. We had been mystified by his power to anticipate our wishes and gather our purpose; but when he learned sufficient language to read the thoughts in our minds, then the mystery vanished.

"Thought obviously travels far quicklier than sound or light. The process is instantaneous, and thoughts directed to Saurus possess his mind at the moment they are formed. They come into his head simultaneously with coming into ours. Man, however, cannot think without mental formation of words. We may think in one language, or we may think in another, but we think in terms of words, and one has only to attempt to think without this backbone of words to find the impossibility. Saurus, then, could not read our thoughts better than any other baby could read them until he had acquired language; and this he did through the medium of the printed page with incredible speed. That done, the machine began to function and his peculiar endowment of thought-reading enabled him to learn what was passing in our minds concerning himself. When we are not thinking of him, or directing him, or asking for information from him, he is not in touch with our minds and he cannot gather any thoughts or wishes we do not wish to impart to him; but if we would be in touch with him, we instantly become so, and it is thus without doubt that his people communicate. No spoken speech, of course, exists in a deaf-and-dumb world; but the medium of thought enables them to communicate and co-operate. We see something akin to this mysterious business in the insect world, and we notice how a flock of a thousand starlings will all warp and turn in mid-air with military precision and perfection of timing that can only come from some impulse, or instinct, beyond our comprehension. Similarly a shoal of fish will all dart or plunge together at some secret and simultaneous direction.

"Thus, gentlemen, it can be perceived that a sense of which we have no knowledge takes the place of speech and hearing in that remote lacertian land from which Saurus has come to us; but, unfortunately, we do not ourselves possess this sense, and while he can read, not only the message of conscious man, but interpret the instinct of any unconscious animal when directed to himself, he cannot share this gift with us and communicate through the lightning-swift channels of thought. For him to know our purpose is an instantaneous business; but in order to respond—to answer questions, or to express opinions—he has to fall back upon the medium of writing, since no other means exist. Thus he has perfected this art, and he can already write in ink or pencil, or upon a typewriter, with a speed infinitely superior to our most practised penman or typist. Time, which passes with him incomparably faster than with us, accelerates his mentality in due proportion, and his development proceeds at such a rate of speed as confounds our human experience and calculations until we grow accustomed to it.

"A side issue occurred to me in this connection and I asked him, since time and space are nothing to thought, whether as yet he had found it possible to communicate with his own species; but he pointed out the impossibility. 'Because I know not their medium of language and they know not mine, that is for ever impossible,' he wrote.

"Physically," proceeded Felix, "I should judge Saurus to be now approaching adult perfection. Already his rate of growth has slowed down and the amount of sustenance he demands diminishes a little. He stands four feet six inches tall, measures his height daily and declares that he has nearly ceased to grow. He is healthy in every respect, not much given to exercise, and at ease in a temperature of seventy degrees. He enjoys even higher, but suffers no inconvenience unless it should fall below sixty. His main nourishment is derived from his own plant, which is now cultivated extensively for him at Kew and despatched regularly. This has grown generation after generation from seed, and the hotter they raise it the swiftlier it matures and the more succulent is the fruit and foliage. I also grow it, because he likes to pick it with his own hands and watch it growing. For the rest every sort of fruit satisfies him, and he appreciates lettuce and endive and cucumbers. He will partake of nothing that has been cooked and drink nothing but water; but he likes water with the chill off and does not drink very much at a time. With the approach of winter he welcomes the light wraps that my sister makes for him, and, when he sleeps, likes his bedroom to be very warm. He does not wear anything to be called clothes and is more comfortable without them.

"I shall now name a physical peculiarity concerning his eyes and then proceed to give you insight into his mentality, where your principal interest must naturally centre.

"A highly skilled oculist, Professor Bode, of Dresden, has examined his eyes and found them to be unique. They are dual and far superior to any terrestrial eye in our knowledge. He possesses what we call 'long sight' and what we call 'close sight', and he can change his focus from one to the other by an act of will which controls the focus. His long sight is telescopic and he can see with unaided vision much only revealed to us in fairly powerful telescopes. For example, he can see the moons of Jupiter and the ring of Saturn with his naked eyes, and to him the planets all reveal their disks as a matter of course. Aided by glasses he distinguishes far more than we are able to do. Greenwich Observatory has presented him with a pair of light but immensely strong binoculars, which he handles and adjusts easily, and he observes detail on the moon that we as yet only know through luna photography. In a moment he can reverse the process and take note if a speck of foreign matter occurs upon his fruit or other food, or some minute fragment of dust, or germ which may have fallen on his person—objects so exceedingly small that only microscopes would enable us to see them. Many of you who have visited Saurus must have studied the appearance of these extraordinary eyes; but for you, who have not seen them, I can only say that they are huge and placid, never lighted by any apparent emotion of joy or sorrow, hope or fear. They have, in fact, no more translatable expression at any time than a pair of motor-lamps.

"I will next dwell upon his mental predilections, which at present are three only. He appears to be deeply interested in human life and its problems. He reads the Times every morning and refers repeatedly to a large terrestrial globe which I have transferred from my study to his apartment. When puzzled he invites me to explain a problem, and as his problems often involve our irrational conduct and haphazard procedure, I am frequently unable to give him any satisfactory answer. I should be disposed to say that the more he learns about mankind, the greater his bewilderment becomes. This is probably inevitable, since he brings a rational brain to problems, the solution of which we attempt without any aid from reason. Such problems may not arise in his own planet. Philosophy will probably become his paramount interest; but for the moment he devotes the larger part of his time to advanced mathematics and astronomy. The latter subject cannot, of course, be studied scientifically without the former, and he concentrates at present on astronomy for a definite purpose. This is his intense desire to learn where he came from. He has corresponded with our foremost astronomers, but as yet declares himself unconvinced by any of them. In their judgment, given such meagre data as we can provide, they imagine the bolt to have fallen from the planet Venus; but his study of this possibility convinces him that they must be wrong. He has visited the bolt, which is still awaiting ultimate transfer to the National History Museum, and he examined it with obvious interest. I have also shown him the boxes it contained and begged that he would regard the box in which he came to earth as his own personal possession for life. The suggestion made no appeal to him for he has no sense of property; but the box still occupies a little bracket in his apartment. He asked me if the bolt was capable of withstanding the necessary initial force to impel it on a journey of two million miles before it should have come within the ambit of earth's gravitation and so complete its destined journey. I could not tell him; but he has learned the composition of the bolt and worked out many pages of figures and calculations; and he is of opinion that such a feat was possible. He expressly mentioned a distance of two million miles, and has also told me that he may be taken without doubt to be a product of the solar system. Satisfied so far, he proceeds with his figures and astronomical studies.

"I may report that our great libraries have provided Saurus with literature in liberal quantities and upon a scale that must have been far beyond my power. His reading is confined to these three subjects, and he can, of course, only read in English. Invited to consider other languages, of which he understands there are many, Saurus declined. He declares that our writings and translations will serve his purpose. He is interested to observe the difference between our progress in time and his own; but gathers from it that his terrestrial years are likely to be limited in comparison with our average. The usual length of lizard life is admittedly somewhat shorter than our own.

"One has to approach him as something outside any human experience in the phenomena of consciousness. His own civilization must be for ever hidden from him, and he can only use his intellect upon the material of another planet; while for us he represents an alien intelligence and habits of mind formulated and handed down to him from his own heredity. These lack nearly every impulse and emotion to which we are accustomed in ourselves and our fellow creatures. I have made a thousand suggestions and pointed out that the resources of earth are at his disposal. I have told Saurus that we regard him as an honoured guest with ample right to declare his pleasure and for whom any course of action in our power will be a privilege. I have suggested foreign travel and experience of our civilization. I have assured him that he is free to indicate his desires, so that we may have the pleasure of gratifying them. But he evinces no interest in any programme that I, or my sister, are able to put before him. He is contented with a life of purely mental activity and appears to be satisfied with things as they are. Our minds interest him, not our physical activities, which for the most part he appears to find distasteful. Courtesy and tact, as we understand these terms, lie outside his mental processes. He shocks by his extraordinary indifference to our cherished opinions and the ordinary reticence which actuates the relations of cultured people; but he is quite unaware that he shocks and would not tread upon our toes for a moment if he imagined that he was doing so. As yet he finds it difficult to judge our emotions from our faces and is confused in his conclusions unless we direct thought to him at the same time. This we generally do, and so he is learning that our expressions denote varying emotions. Himself he is totally lacking in expression, and his countenance tells you nothing of what may be passing in his mind. He is, in fact, an embodied intellect, and one can form no clearer idea of his personal character than we can of any common iguana separated from us by the gulf of unconsciousness. What are his own attributes and how he agrees with, or differs from, his kindred we cannot tell. He may be exceptional and the product of unusually brilliant parents, or he may (which I think more probable) represent the norm and mental average of his kind. He entertains no opinions on this subject, and when my sister expressed some sympathy concerning the pathos of his own situation—exiled as he must be for life from his home and kindred—he obviously failed to comprehend her."

Felix then made a conclusion.

"So thus the being we have agreed to call 'Saurus' stands, and his amazingly rapid development will soon physically cease; but with a brain of this kind, his mental future must be unpredictable. He is healthy and of regular habits. He loves best to sleep in the sun and feel it upon his limbs. By night he usually studies. Lastly, I would say that his memory is astounding. He never forgets and appears incapable of forgetting. He will read a leader in the Times to-day and, when it is brought to his recollection a week later, can sit down and rewrite it word for word. Such a devastating power argues cerebral matter that must be exceedingly different from our own, but is doubtless of practical advantage in the world from which he comes, as, indeed, it would be anywhere else. Finally, I will mention another little personal trait. Saurus very much dislikes to be touched. He has seen me shake hands with visitors and understands the meaning of that salutation; but when I perceived his attitude, I instructed him to acknowledge a stranger by bowing, and this he will do. Pray now ask me any questions that may occur to you at this stage of these strange experiences; but I venture to hope that, in the course of a few months at most, I may be able to throw more light if Saurus finds himself able to impart it. I will now submit to you an example of his minute but very legible caligraphy. He dots down his reflections from time to time and leaves them for me to read when I return to him. You will rarely find him without a pencil in his hands, or a book spread open under his eyes."

Felix handed a specimen of the iguana's writing. It needed magnifying-glasses for most of those who read it; but the matter rather than the manner astonished them.

Thus had written Saurus:

"Astronomy should be a vital part of human education, for it would help you to think cosmically, which, as yet, you seem quite incapable of doing. The meagre and worthless things you teach and cherish handicap the minds of your children and start them upon the road of life under a weight of wrong values and false opinions. These harden, become permanent and ruin the promise of the infected pupil. To look upon the nightly sky should instantly inspire to cosmic thought and set your own significance in its proper place. It should teach you that the solar system is not a unique event in the universe, and that our little sun amid all the myriad mightier suns our eyes can see, is not the only one to embrace a system and bring life to conscious beings within it. More seemly and more sane must it be for us children of Sol to recognize our recent entry into time and our modest status in space, admitting that other and vaster suns have brought life and reason to innumerable conscious beings beyond our conception, either in body or in mind, through countless ages before our own creation."

"That is the way he appears to think," explained Felix. "From the cosmical point of view it can hardly be denied that mentality may exist in the universe which would rob us, perhaps, of a certain complacence were we aware of it."

The company was, however, agreed that reflections of this character demanded neither attention nor respect. Then a distinguished zoologist put a question.

"You told us," he said, "that not only man but animals are able to be understood by this peculiar accomplishment of Saurus. What leads you to suspect that any emotion or inclination felt by another animal and involving himself becomes apparent to his understanding?"

"From a practical experience," replied Felix. "Not long ago my Great Dane—a huge but orderly dog—followed me into the dwelling of my guest, and I was unaware that he had done so until I found him confronting the iguana and uttering his deep-mouthed annoyance. Saurus could not hear him, but perceived that the dog was unfriendly. It bristled and bared its teeth before a spectacle so unusual. The great lizard is a brilliant object now, with crimson crest and dewlap and a body of dark, rich green, illuminated with sparkling emerald encrustations like gems. Saurus showed no fear, but regarded the Great Dane with interest and fixed his eyes upon him—a process that quelled the hound and relieved me of my terror, for I had been quite powerless to intervene. I ordered the dog out with a word of command, and he crept off so that I was able to shut the door upon him. The lizard then turned to his pen. 'Your dog,' he wrote, 'feels acute distrust, dislike and deep suspicion. He told me that he was much feared for you, and he judges that you are doing a dangerous and foolish thing in trusting yourself alone with me. Had he himself been left alone with me, he would have instantly destroyed me, as a creature better dead and so beyond the power of doing you mischief. His thought was entirely for your welfare and he felt that you were incurring peril from which it was his duty to save you. He is quite certain that you run needless risks from which you would be saved by a single application of his mighty teeth.' Saurus then scribbled down this startling assertion: 'To some extent he understood the mental message that I sent him in return. That is the interesting fact. It may be that, though you do not possess my power, inferior animals to some extent do so. Inferiority is a relative term, and a dog may very possibly regard you as an inferior animal, needing his support and succour, just as I myself am bound to regard you as an inferior animal in various directions.'"

"He is, then, human to the extent of being vain," suggested the chairman; but Toddleben assured him to the contrary.

"Saurus is incapable of vanity," he replied. "He only deals in facts, and it cannot be denied that we are inferior to himself in various directions, while obviously superior to him in others. But, as a sequel to the dog story, I may tell you that they are now become fast friends. The iguana, by some effort of will, has convinced the Great Dane that he may be trusted as a worthy addition to my household, and a dog that learns he can inspire neither fear nor anger is half-way to being won."
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