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Chapter 12

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« on: April 03, 2023, 07:20:01 am »

WHEN Milly returned home, to recover after her painful adventure, Saurus was, in some vague fashion, aware that he ought to be sorry for her. Himself, he only experienced surprise at her thanks. All human emotions puzzled him not a little, but had long ceased much to interest him. At the moment, however, he was full of an exciting discovery, for he had detected in himself a sensation entirely foreign to his nature and quite the last to have been anticipated for him. He was full of this experience and desired to invite Mildred's opinion concerning it; but he found her upon her return so preoccupied with her own affairs and so furious to think of her adventure that he made efforts to remember the incident.

"Doubtless a most inconvenient experience," he wrote, after acknowledging her many expressions of gratitude. "It is clear that love may be a disappointment to a young woman, and your tribulation shows that a great many lovable people are by no means trustable."

"You say these trite things because you are an iguana and not a human being," she answered. "One of the first signs of love is an idiotic conviction that the loved object is to be trusted before the whole world. Of course, after you're married, you generally find you were mistaken, and that's where the strain begins and love may crash altogether, or just sink down into the usual humdrum business of being linked to a disappointment. But, in my case, the maddening thing is to think a girl like myself should have been so utterly deceived and never seen through this abomination. It may surprise you to hear it, Saurus, but at present I actually hate myself more than I hate him."

"To hate must be very fatiguing," he replied, "and I should try not to hate anybody any more. Boluski, too, no doubt, is hating you for having deceived him, and hating me also for assisting to save you. Unruly events of this sort show the strange disasters that happen in a world where good and evil are so important. But no doubt some other young male of your species will appear to console you, though you must not give him your love until you feel he is orderly and trustworthy."

Milly laughed and called his attention to the fact that she was laughing.

"That's the first time I have been amused since it all happened," she said, and so gave him opportunity for the matter in his own mind.

"I can always observe by the twinkle of the eyes, the creasing of the skin, the elongation of the lips and opening of the mouth when human beings are laughing," he explained, "and though I am not physically made to laugh, a strange thing has happened to me, and I believe that something I have read begins to awaken in me a shadow of the emotion of amusement which makes you laugh. This must argue what you call 'a sense of humour', and if that be so, then I am unquestionably the only iguana from Hermes that ever felt it. And that fact shows how it is possible for nurture to triumph over nature."

"I can't imagine anything on earth amusing you," said Milly. "In fact it's generally quite the other way. Taking it all round we cast you down and you never see any funny side to us; which, from our point of view, makes you so funny yourself."

"I will tell you of two things that awakened this curious sensation," he replied, "and you shall judge if there was anything to occasion it. I may of course be quite mistaken."

He typed with lightning speed, then handed the sheet to Mildred.

"You may see nothing amusing and, in that case, I am wrong," he wrote, "but keep an open mind. The facts are these. Probably in my own country nothing amusing has ever happened and Iguana Sapiens therefore lacks any such experience; but on earth the confusions, paradoxes and dilemmas arising from good and evil have evidently educated you to laugh and trained your features to do so. Now yesterday I read how the famous Lumbwa tribe of Africa go forth to fight lions armed only with spear and shield, risk their lives in the tremendous encounter and exhibit immense human qualities of courage and heroism while so doing. No doubt they are often worsted and perish; but when they triumph and the lion falls, they save his fat and anoint their children with it, that the infant Lumbwas may inherit the leonine bravery of the dead beast. Them you designate savages; but now consider another spectacle. The British otter-hunter, supported by well-trained dogs, pursues his prey, and having hounded the little creature to death, without any courage or heroism on his own part and probably no worse hurt than getting his boots wet, cuts the slaughtered otter up and dabs its blood upon the faces of his boys and girls. Him you call a sportsman, and in your esteem the term 'sportsman' apparently embraces every desirable virtue. Now be quite frank. Does that strike you as in any sort of way amusing, or am I mistaken in supposing the emotion it wakened in me was to be described as such?"

"It's quite amusing; though it wouldn't amuse otter-hunters much," answered Milly. "I used to be keen about otter-hunting years ago, but it rather alters your outlook after you've been hunted, caught and nearly killed yourself. You hear plenty of sporting people say that wild creatures enjoy being hunted; but I am now in a position to contradict them."

"Many who eat lobsters would probably declare that they revel in being boiled alive," replied Saurus. "Thus personal appetite condones much else. It appears to be a thorny subject, and you have tortured one another so long and so savagely that cruelty to lesser animals, for your personal pleasure, does not strike you as barbarous. Now for my second instance. In one of your newspapers I recently read that a new gun had been invented to kill people as they have never been killed before, and on the selfsame page—the very same page, mark you—I also read that the diminishing birth-rate is causing your nations much anxiety. Now does that strike you as entertaining?"

"A scream," answered Mildred, and then changed the subject.

"Why?" she asked, "are you so excited to find if you can see a joke?"

"The interest is to know whether one so different from man can acquire his way of looking at things," replied Saurus, "because the gap to be crossed seems almost too profound. I conceive of my species as you are apt to regard the working bee, whose short life is an endless toil, yet that brief existence may not lack such happiness as a bee can experience. She gathers bee-bread and honey—not for herself but the hive—meantime her personal sojourn in sunshine amid the fragrance and rainbow colours of many flowers may reach a contentment and delight that you will never know. Then, in five or six weeks, all is over, the insect worn out, her wings frayed, her flight finished. A day comes when she is too weak to alight on the bee-board any more. She falls beneath it on returning from her final effort and is sped. Thus she has devoted her life to the common weal and proceeded upon the immemorial path of her kind. No selfish act has ever been committed by her, no selfish thought ever entered her tiny brain. And no credit whatsoever attaches to her, for it must not be claimed for the working bee that she operates above good and evil, but merely outside them. If you have never conquered temptation to do ill, then you can have done nothing to be called good. And so I imagine my people to be. In your case consciousness brought good and evil along with it. In ours I judge that consciousness, proceeding upon another road and quickening other faculties than you possess, has not created this confusion."

"Because you are neither good nor bad yourself," suggested Milly.

"Exactly so," he agreed. "I can only judge by myself and I may be wrong. Such a neutral attitude is obviously enormously helpful to progress, because the eternal friction of opposition is not present; but against the amity of a conscious hive, where change proceeds with law and order, you have to remember the astounding things that your endless differences and devilries accomplish."

"We British are individualists and nobody will ever make robots of us. We may be wicked, but we are never dull," declared Milly. "Of course Hermes must be as dull as ditch-water if nobody is ever good or bad. No democracy, no liberty—nothing. You couldn't have any art, for instance, without comedy or tragedy."

Saurus agreed.

"It is but just and fair to balance the gain against the loss," he wrote. "Most men would probably prefer earth, while the greater number of intelligent iguanas vote for Hermes. For you, most of the things that you wish to happen generally fail to do so, because you want them to happen to yourselves. Thus unsatisfied hope breeds misery; and even when things go your way, they usually fail of expectation. With us I suspect that life proceeds differently, because wealth and liberty and power and ambition are unknown, love and hate unfelt, good and evil meaningless. Thus stability and serenity for all exist as in the nature of things, but create no satisfaction. We know not freedom or slavery, laughter or tears, courage or cowardice, riches or poverty."

"It sounds a hell of a world," answered Milly. "I almost wish you could go back and teach them what a blessing a joke is, or even a good row sometimes."

"If that were possible," he replied, "and my kin learned what I was able to tell them concerning the world to which they had sent me, the mind of the iguana might experience a real human emotion at last; but the emotion would be one of bitter disappointment, and before I had finished my story, every lizard on Hermes would be thanking fortune that it had been created an iguana and not a human being."

"Why should they be disappointed?" she asked, and he explained.

"Viewing earth, my people would perceive a world much mightier than their own, and they have probably leapt to the conclusion that it contains a conscious being far superior to themselves. One perceives their schemes. They despatched a sound egg, the product of sound parents, and judged that it would be nurtured, nourished and instructed in the manners and customs of its hosts. Then they doubtless dreamed that I should return to them enriched with wisdom and understanding, to advance their own inferior civilization; for they nothing doubted that if they could send me to you, you would possess means to return me to them.

"It is as well that you lack the power to do so, however, because my story of life upon earth could only appal them. I should return an adult iguana, utterly uneducated—a savage possessed of knowledge mostly evil. Henceforth, when they lifted their lizard eyes to earth, they would shudder to think what goes on up here. They would find that my horrid narrative had actually awakened within their hearts and heads disturbing instincts, new and strange. Thus they would perceive a danger in allowing me to live and might feel it wiser to destroy me. It would come as what you call 'a shock' to learn that consciousness, developed through the mammal, could take this dreadful shape. My information would probably be hushed up and kept from the ears of the young; while if any of the mammalia existed upon Hermes, it is safe to assume that they would be killed at once, to obviate the hideous possibility of mind developing among them."

"Well," admitted Milly, "I'm sure you've never done anything to make us want to wipe out the iguanas. There's a lot to be said for your people no doubt; but I wish they understood pictures. If they had sent us a few snapshots even, they would have been so helpful."

"I am trying to understand pictures," replied Saurus. "I have devoted much time to them, but they belong to art, and art is evidently left out of us. The professor hired a moving picture and displayed it before my eyes, hoping that it might penetrate to my understanding; but the result was a failure. As against this, however, I get glimpses of what can only be called art. They are fleeting and shadowy, yet indicate that there are cells within my brain that might be stimulated to develop an art sense. I dimly comprehend what your uncle calls 'imagery', wherein things seen remind you of deeper things that can only be felt. I read not long since how one Astolpho, wandering amid the antres of the moon, found therein a vast dump of all that had failed or been wasted by the people of earth.

"Every human fatuity that he could imagine lay shattered upon that melancholy scene, and there he found the records of misspent time and wealth, broken vows, unanswered prayers, failure, blunder, frustration, unfulfilled desires, ruined hopes, wasted talent, aborted genius, fruitless tears and all the heartbreak that goes to man's brief sojourn upon this planet.

"I told your mother of this curious narrative and asked if it were authentic; but she replied I was right in assuming that no such thing had ever really happened. Yet her human mind was constituted to appreciate the fable. That impressed me greatly. She said: 'If Astolpho found fruitless tears on the moon, dear Saurus, then there must be water there, after all—probably a large ocean, hidden upon the side that we never see.' I appreciated this in a foggy fashion; yet it can only belong to the domain of art, since it means nothing in the realm of reality."

"Very clever of you," declared Mildred. "You're getting on; but I quite see that it wouldn't be doing you a good turn to send you home again, even if we could. You're only nine or ten months old, anyway, and you may do something for us yet when you get to your prime."

"I am far advanced in life," he replied, "and judge that a year of your time will represent my span."

"You mustn't talk like that," begged Milly. "I hope you are going to be with us for ages yet."
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