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Chapter 9

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« on: April 03, 2023, 05:57:53 am »

ON returning home Felix acquainted Saurus with particulars of the meeting, but before he did so Norah furnished some interesting information.

"He has been working very hard while you were away," she said, "and he tells me that he is now satisfied that he knows where he came from. Two days ago I went in early, to take him some plums and wish him 'good morning', and I could see that he had been working all night. His table was littered with innumerable sheets all covered with algebra and he seemed somewhat exhausted. You can, of coarse, never tell how he is feeling and he has never written a word on the subject of his health—doesn't appear conscious of it—but I thought that he looked tired and his eyes were hardly as bright as usual. He rose and bowed as he always does; then he sat down and wrote to me. He said that he would reserve all particulars for you; but was now in a position to determine the planet from which he had started. I congratulated him upon doing something our astronomers had failed to do, and asked him if he had come out of the solar system, or some other. Whereupon he wrote that he belonged to our system and his birthplace was well within it."

"Did this appear to be a source of satisfaction to him?" asked the professor, and his sister replied that the discovery left him indifferent.

"'Nothing can come of it,' he wrote, 'because though my people possess the knowledge of how to communicate with you, Earth is not clever enough to communicate with them. Had you been able to do so, much might have come of it, but as yet you do not know enough.'"

Felix felt slightly nettled.

"I much doubt if he is justified in jumping to any such conclusion," he said, and Norah laughed.

"He never jumps at anything. No doubt he will tell you all about it," she answered.

And presently her brother heard what Saurus was to say. The iguana had prepared a typewritten statement and invited his host to sit down and read it; but first he asked a question.

"Have you any knowledge of the asteroids?" he wrote, and Felix shook his head.

"I am no astronomer, my friend," he replied silently.

"So you have given me to understand," replied the other, "but you will find what you need to know about them here."

Then Felix adjusted his glasses and read, while Saurus proceeded with a dish of fruit. He used his silver knife, fork and spoon, and consumed a melon, five peaches, numerous greengages and five-and-twenty mulberries, while the professor, moving away a mass of mathematical calculations, set the typewritten story before him and read it with much care.

Thus wrote Saurus.

"Among the members of our little system are certain bodies known to astronomy as asteroids, or minor planets. They are far smaller than the great planets, and the orbits of most among them lie between Mars and Jupiter. These tiny worlds vary in size, and the greatest of them would represent something near the total bulk of what you call the British Isles. But they are not formless; they are true globes, and your telescopes distinguish their perfect disks when they move sunlit upon the darkness of the nocturnal sky. Astronomers have given them names culled from ancient mythology, and the greatest of them are called Ceres, Pallas, Eros and Hermes. The period of their axial revolution is unknown, but their distance from the sun has been measured and they may be said to lie somewhat more than double as far from him as from earth.

"Concerning their constitution they are believed to be rough rock masses of irregular shape and wholly denuded of atmosphere. That may or may not be the truth about them. From the first I was concerned to learn their nearest approach to earth—a matter of long calculation. It coincides with occasions when they are at their minimum distance from the sun, and these minima bring Ceres and Pallas to within rather more than two million miles of your measurement; but Eros and Hermes approach considerably nearer to earth than this, and Hermes recently passed us within half a million miles.

"Armed with these facts I have made elaborate calculations and arrived at the conclusion that I came from Hermes, and that I was probably despatched on the recent occasion when the planet passed within some five hundred thousand miles of earth."

"A brilliant achievement," signalled Felix. "Without doubt you have solved the problem. And what do we know of Hermes?"

"Nothing," wrote Saurus; "but the assumption appears to be that it lacks atmosphere and is of a mountainous and arid nature, incapable of supporting any life within human knowledge. I, on the contrary, suspect that within its fastnesses both air and water exist combined with vegetation capable of supporting lizard life. And a point of interest for you and myself is this. A year on the planet Pallas is represented by four and a half years on earth, and though I have yet to work out the exact extent of a year upon Hermes, I expect to find it of somewhat similar duration there."

"One would have expected to hear that the year was infinitely shorter there," said Felix; but the iguana's mathematical mind saw no reason for any such expectation.

"Why?" he asked; and of course the professor couldn't tell him.

"And what do you glean of personal value from this discovery?" he inquired.

"Nothing of value," admitted Saurus. "A problem solved will often lead to valuable deductions and support or confound our opinions; but the fact that I now know where I came from, though interesting to me, leads nowhere. You cannot return what was doubtless intended for a compliment. In the first place you lack the knowledge to despatch a bolt to Hermes, and if you could, no mammal would be able to travel in it."

"And no lizard," ventured Felix.

"It might be possible to suspend my animation and get me back," wrote Saurus, "and I should have no objection to the experiment, if you were able to make it; but you cannot, so we need not waste time on the idea. In any case you would be faced with a far more difficult problem than my compatriots, seeing that they had a much greater target to hit than would you. Earth, seen at a distance of half a million miles, would be a mighty object and, with their vision and the telescopes they doubtless possess, must represent a stupendous sight no doubt; but it probably needs a much more accurate aim to strike Hermes and calculations demanding profounder knowledge than you are likely to possess."

"Most things can be done by us, given money enough to do them," declared Felix. "I should not be prepared to say the deed was beyond human power; but I should certainly not be prepared to say where the money was likely to come from to do it. I can conceive of none prepared to furnish a penny."

"The experiment would not cost as much as one of your battleships," replied Saurus, "and might, if successful, result in an interchange of culture that would show you a way to discard battleships and much else that cumbers earth. But it is ruled out. I have now done with astronomy and mathematics, and for such time as I may still live and interest myself in this terrestrial home, I shall devote myself to mankind and endeavour to learn all about him that I am capable of comprehending. I appear to have a better brain than the average man and, had it been possible for me to come to you enriched with what my brain could hold from my own land, it might have been my privilege to serve you; but that was impossible, so I must concentrate upon the best wisdom that you have gathered, digest it, bring my own intellect to bear upon it and find what it amounts to. To this end I must look to your literature and learn all that your wisest ones can teach me."

From that time forward, as autumn waned and another winter descended upon Applewood, Saurus devoted himself to study, slept by day and read interminably through the watches of the night.

"The poor fellow crams himself with knowledge," said Norah to her brother. "Nothing seems to come amiss to him, but nothing annoys him and nothing excites him. 'The more I read concerning his ways, his contradictions and manner of employing his reason, the more I am puzzled to detect the meaning of Man when contrasted with the harmony of purpose to be observed in every other branch of the natural order'—so he wrote for me. Saurus now regards us much as I regard a cross-word puzzle, and he is apparently wasting his intelligence upon the hopeless task of reconciling opposites. I told him so; but he explained that it might yet be done. 'The explanation lies within yourselves,' he wrote. 'Only there can we seek with any hope of finding it. But many of your wise men have looked for it elsewhere and so failed of their quest.'

"And then," added Norah, "he said a strange thing. 'Among your sacred writings,' he told me, 'I find the statement that you are "born in sin", and if that were indeed so, then many mysteries are explained and your extraordinary wickedness accounted for in some measure; but why should you assume any such radical defect? As yet I cannot deny its apparent truth; but I hope to be able to find that a great error lies here. I do not discover that your young are born sinners. They are born babies; and I suspect that if it were possible to despatch them to Hermes, or elsewhere, immediately upon their arrival, it might be found there was no radical taint of sin about them.'"

"We have got to deal with the facts of human nature," declared Felix.

"He knows that. But he has a synthetic brain," replied Mrs. Hapgood. "He's preparing some notes for you. He begins to understand our disabilities; but he says there is something he calls a 'time-lag' in man. He feels that we ought to be forwarder, my dear, and the thing that puzzles the poor fellow so utterly is that, despite all the blessings of evolution and relativity and such-like, we don't get a move on. Of course he didn't put it like that, because he doesn't understand slang; but that's what I think he meant. I've ordered two cases of Jaffa oranges for him and I hope they won't be dreadfully sour. He likes the Cape plums pretty well; but he still prefers the tomatoes from Hermes to everything else."

"They are growing them on a huge scale at Kew," said the professor. "We must watch the temperature very carefully for him through the winter."

"Go on getting the muscat grapes as long as they last," begged Norah. "He loves them."

"He doesn't love anything—he couldn't," declared Felix, "but he finds them very sustaining. He only thinks of food in terms of nourishment and seems to know exactly what everything does to him inside."

"He told me that the tomatoes ought to be made a national industry," said Norah, "like corn and potatoes, because they feed the brain; which is where we want all the support we can possibly get. He never has the slightest idea that he is saying anything cynical or impolite. He will 'drop a brick', as we say, without the least idea it is a brick."

"That is bound to happen," answered Felix. "When any member of what is probably an absolutely truthful community finds himself thrust into our society then it must happen."

And not long afterwards Mildred Hapgood experienced a still more potent example of the saurian's method of looking at life. She informed her mother that she had decided to marry the Russian, and presently brought Serge Boluski for a week-end, that he might be introduced to her relations. They found him handsome, flamboyant and on the best terms both with Milly and himself. Of his own affairs he never tired and assured them, in confidence, that, at the psychological moment, he proposed to desert the Soviets, become naturalized in England and seek for diplomatic work in the country of his adoption. "When your Secret Service learns all that I can tell it," he said, "it will swiftly recognize my value, for I come of a high family, famed in Tsarist days; I have diplomacy in my blood and my ancient traditions and natural flair for delicate world problems will take me high."

The professor was rather dazzled by Serge, but Norah felt not so convinced.

"He courts danger," she declared, "and that is not a bad thing in the young; but he is a sly piece of goods. You can see that in his almond eyes. And he is so fearfully pleased with himself."

"They love one another without a doubt," answered Felix; but his sister was not sure even of that.

"Milly loves him with devotion," she answered. "I never thought that she had it in her to love anybody so well; but I am not so certain about Boluski. He tells you frankly that he is deep and subtle, and it may be true. However, her head is screwed on the right way and neither of them seems in a hurry to be married. It may come to nothing. He may be talking nonsense about leaving his own party. If he did, probably somebody would assassinate him at once. And another thing: I doubt if he is so tremendously brave really. It is easy to talk bravely when you are out of danger and he is obviously very fond of his own skin, so I dare say he is only trying to be picturesque."

The Russian visited Saurus and, guided by Mildred, took him seriously. He discoursed at great length on the theme of Russia and his sweetheart conveyed his information through the channels of thought to the iguana, who listened, asked a few questions on paper and eyed Serge in his usual glittering but impassive fashion. Boluski talked grandly concerning himself and was patronizing and pitying to Saurus.

"To find yourself plunged into the society of a superior civilization and to meet Homo Sapiens, while yourself an iguana, or great tree lizard, must have been a bewildering experience and put no slight strain upon your remarkable intelligence," he signalled. "But I hear you have come out of the test wonderfully well so far and hold your own with our intellectuals in a surprising manner. As a member of the intelligentzia myself, I shall always be at your service, and if you need light on abstruse political questions, write to me and I will throw it willingly."

Saurus bowed, but made no reply, and Milly told him how her betrothed would presently become a citizen of her own country and apply his genius to British problems. It was not until the young man had returned to London that his sweetheart suffered her shock. Then, anxious to learn the visitor's opinion of him, she asked for it and Saurus responded readily. He put a piece of paper into his little typewriter, reflected for a moment and then tapped a swift reply.

Milly read as follows:

"Among the later books that I have read is Cicero—his Essay on Friendship. It is full of man's wisdom and, among other excellent things, he says 'that in the whole compass of Nature there is not a more insufferable creature than a prosperous fool'. The sage is right, because a prosperous fool outrages the human idea of justice, and nothing is harder to bear than that, so your mother tells me. Being, however, a fool, the man named Serge Boluski may yet attain to the usual reward of folly, so it will doubtless be better for your own future comfort if you enter into no intimate relations with him."

Mildred grew red.

"You're a hateful little narrow-minded beast!" she cried, "and I never want to see you again."

Then she tore up her communication and left him. Saurus had never seen anger save once, and Milly's temper reminded him of the former occasion.

"The Great Dane looked and felt like that," he reflected. "The emotion of anger is indicated in this way. The human sufferer finds blood rushing to the countenance and fire to the eye. There is an impulse to open the mouth too wide and show the teeth, as the dog did. She clenched her hands as the preliminary to striking me with them, and I think she must have been liberating a considerable volume of sound."

He puzzled to know the reason for such a display, but could not hit upon it; while the girl related her painful experience to her mother and uncle when they met at luncheon.

"Cold-blooded little wretch!" she said. "I never want to see him again. He squats here—feeding on the fat of the land and with comforts that no other lizard ever enjoyed in its life—and then, when a chance comes to say something decent and sporting and tactful and obvious, he goes out of his way to tell an insulting lie—a wretched little brute not worthy to black Serge's boots!"

"Be calm," urged Felix. "You always claim the right to your own opinions, Milly, and must not deny the same privilege to other people. Saurus cannot, of course, pretend to our knowledge of humanity. He has only his own inherited instincts to go upon, and they are often likely to err when he contemplates the complex composition of human character. But, when you speak of being 'sporting and decent and tactful', you name three of our own approved qualities. Of those virtues we most value and find desirable he knows nothing. He comes to us——"

"As a hopeless outsider," declared Milly.

"And we ought to be sorry for outsiders, not angry with them," concluded Norah.

"The consciousness of being an 'outsider', as you term it, is seldom felt by those whom we agree to put under that stern ban," explained Felix. "Saurus would not comprehend the accusation and, in honesty, it cannot be applied to him. As a descendant of parents in the planet Hermes, he is indubitably very much an outsider, but he must not be accused of any human dereliction from what we are apt to regard as 'good form'. Judged by his family standards, if we knew them, we should probably find his manners perfect and his natural inclinations seemly; but when we come to morals, he moves on another plane, and the occasional inclination that we have to speak the truth may be and probably is in him a native impulse, which would occasion no comment among his own people. Such a practice, if pursued by everybody, of course, argues a sort of civilization beyond our power to conceive."

Mildred was intelligent and reasonable when not driven by circumstances to be neither.

"I see the point," she said. "We can only hope that Saurus will live long enough to find how hideously mistaken he was. No doubt he won't apologize even when he does."

"But you can," urged her mother. "Don't go away without saying you're sorry. You must have shown him that he had said something to vex you. He has mastered English perfectly, and if you told him that he was a hateful little narrow-minded beast, as you say you did, then no doubt he wondered in his queer mind what had led you to that conclusion."

"I'll tell him I'm sorry for losing my temper and being rude," promised the girl. "He won't understand it, but still, I'll tell him. If I told him that I was sorry for him, too, and felt very much for him being cut off from his fellow lizards and having to live with a lot of human beings, he wouldn't understand that either."

'The dilemma must ever be insoluble,' thought Felix. 'Born and bred under terrestrial conditions, he brings to them an inheritance of others which apparently combat our own in vital particulars. Whether he will live long enough to accept our culture remains to be seen; but it is certain that he can never develop his own, for the reason that he can never acquire it himself.'

"A jolly good thing, too," answered Milly, who was still a little sore. "If his dreadful people always say what they think, without stopping to consider other people, then the wonder to me is that there's a lizard left alive in Hermes."

Later in the day she apologized to Saurus.

"I'm very sorry I was angry," she said.

"I thought you must be," he replied. "I hope you are quite well again now. Perhaps you ought to take something for it. Have you ever considered a fruit diet?"
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