A Voyage to Arcturus/Chapter 7
The husband got up to meet his wife and their guest. He was clothed in white. He had a beardless face, with breve and poigns. His skin, on face and body alike, was so white, fresh, and soft, that it scarcely looked skin at all—it rather resembled a new kind of pure, snowy flesh, extending right down to his bones. It had nothing in common with the artificially whitened skin of an over-civilised woman. Its whiteness and delicacy aroused no voluptuous thoughts; it was obviously the manifestation of a cold and almost cruel chastity of nature. His hair, which fell to the nape of his neck, also was white; but again, from vigour, not decay. His eyes were black, quiet and fathomless. He was still a young man, but so stern were his features that he had the appearance of a lawgiver, and this in spite of their great beauty and harmony.
His magn and Joiwind's intertwined for a single moment and Maskull saw his face soften with love, while she looked exultant. She put him in her husband's arms with gentle force, and stood back, gazing and smiling. Maskull felt rather embarrassed at being embraced by a man, but submitted to it; a sense of cool, pleasant languor passed through him in the act.
"The stranger is red-blooded, then?"
He was startled by Panawe's speaking in English, and the voice too was extraordinary. It was absolutely tranquil, but its tranquillity seemed in a curious fashion to be an illusion, proceeding from a rapidity of thoughts and feelings so great that their motion could not be detected. How this could be, he did not know.
"How do you come to speak in a tongue you have never heard before?" demanded Maskull.
"Thought is a rich, complex thing. I can't say if I am really speaking your tongue by instinct, or if you yourself are translating my thoughts into your tongue as I utter them."
"Already you see that Panawe is wiser than I am," said Joiwind gaily.
"What is your name?" asked the husband.
"That name must have a meaning—but again, thought is a strange thing. I connect that name with something—but with what?"
"Try to discover," said Joiwind.
"Has there been a man in your world who stole something from the Maker of the universe, in order to ennoble his fellow creatures?"
"There is such a myth, The hero's name was Prometheus."
"Well, you seem to be identified in my mind with that action—but what it all means I can't say, Maskull."
"Accept it as a good omen, for Panawe never lies, and never speaks thoughtlessly."
"There must be some confusion. These are heights beyond me," said Maskull calmly, but looking rather contemplative.
"Where do you come from?"
"From the planet of a distant sun, called Earth."
"I was tired of vulgarity," returned Maskull laconically. He intentionally avoided mentioning his fellow voyagers, in order that Krag's name should not come to light.
"That's an honourable motive," said Panawe. "And what's more, it may be true, though you spoke it as a prevarication."
"As far as it goes, it's quite true," said Maskull, staring at him with annoyance and surprise.
The swampy lake extended for about half a mile from where they were standing to the lower buttresses of the mountain. Feathery purple reeds showed themselves here and there through the shallows. The water was dark green. Maskull did not see how they were going to cross it.
Joiwind caught his arm. "Perhaps you don't know that the lake will bear us?"
Panawe walked onto the water; it was so heavy that it carried his weight. Joiwind followed with Maskull. He instantly started to slip about—nevertheless the motion was amusing, and he learned so fast, by watching and imitating Panawe, that he was soon able to balance himself without assistance. After that he found the sport excellent.
For the same reason that women excel in dancing, Joiwind's half falls and recoveries were far more graceful and sure than those of either of the men. Her slight, draped form—dipping, bending, rising, swaying, twisting, upon the surface of the dark water—this was a picture Maskull could not keep his eyes away from.
The lake grew deeper. The gnawl water became green-black. The crags, gullies, and precipices of the shore could now be distinguished in detail. A waterfall was visible, descending several hundred feet. The surface of the lake grew disturbed—so much so that Maskull had difficulty in keeping his balance. He therefore threw himself down and started swimming on the face of the water. Joiwind turned her head, and laughed so joyously that all her teeth flashed in the sunlight.
They landed in a few more minutes on a promontory of black rock. The water on Maskull's garment and body evaporated very quickly. He gazed upward at the towering mountain, but at that moment some strange movements on the part of Panawe attracted his attention. His face was working convulsively, and he began to stagger about. Then he put his hand to his mouth and took from it what looked like a bright-coloured pebble. He looked at it carefully for some seconds. Joiwind also looked, over his shoulder, with quickly changing colors. After this inspection, Panawe let the object—whatever it was—fall to the ground, and took no more interest in it.
"May I look?" asked Maskull; and, without waiting for permission, he picked it up. It was a delicately beautiful egg-shaped crystal of pale green.
"Where did this come from?" he asked queerly.
Panawe turned away, but Joiwind answered for him. "It came out of my husband."
"That's what I thought, but I couldn't believe it. But what is it?"
"I don't know that it has either name or use. It is merely an overflowing of beauty."
Joiwind smiled. "If you were to regard nature as the husband, and Panawe as the wife, Maskull, perhaps everything would be explained."
"On Earth," he said after a minute, "men like Panawe are called artists, poets, and musicians. Beauty overflows into them too, and out of them again. The only distinction is that their productions are more human and intelligible."
"Nothing comes from it but vanity," said Panawe, and, taking the crystal out of Maskull's hand, he threw it into the lake.
The precipice they now had to climb was several hundred feet in height. Maskull was more anxious for Joiwind than for himself. She was evidently tiring, but she refused all help, and was in fact still the nimbler of the two. She made a mocking face at him. Panawe seemed lost in quiet thoughts. The rock was sound, and did not crumble under their weight. The heat of Branchspell, however, was by this time almost killing, the radiance was shocking in its white intensity, and Maskull's pain steadily grew worse.
When they got to the top, a plateau of dark rock appeared, bare of vegetation, stretching in both directions as far as the eye could see. It was of a nearly uniform width of five hundred yards, from the edge of the cliffs to the lower slopes of the chain of hills inland. The hills varied in height. The cup-shaped Poolingdred was approximately a thousand feet above them. The upper part of it was covered with a kind of glittering vegetation which he could not comprehend.
Joiwind put her hand on Maskull's shoulder, and pointed upward. "Here you have the highest peak in the whole land—that is, until you come to the Ifdawn Marest."
On hearing that strange name, he experienced a momentary unaccountable sensation of wild vigour and restlessness—but it passed away.
Without losing time, Panawe led the way up the mountainside. The lower half was of bare rock, not difficult to climb. Halfway up, however, it grew steeper, and they began to meet bushes and small trees. The growth became thicker as they continued to ascend, and when they neared the summit, tall forest trees appeared.
These bushes and trees had pale, glassy trunks and branches, but the small twigs and the leaves were translucent and crystal. They cast no shadows from above, but still the shade was cool. Both leaves and branches were fantastically shaped. What surprised Maskull the most, however, was the fact that, as far as he could see, scarcely any two plants belonged to the same species.
"Won't you help Maskull out of his difficulty?" said Joiwind, pulling her husband's arm.
He smiled. "If he'll forgive me for again trespassing in his brain. But the difficulty is small. Life on a new planet, Maskull, is necessarily energetic and lawless, and not sedate and imitative. Nature is still fluid—not yet rigid—and matter is plastic. The will forks and sports incessantly, and thus no two creatures are alike."
"Well, I understand all that," replied Maskull, after listening attentively. "But what I don't grasp is this—if living creatures here sport so energetically, how does it come about that human beings wear much the same shape as in my world?"
"I'll explain that too," said Panawe. "All creatures that resemble Shaping must of necessity resemble one another."
"Then sporting is the blind will to become like Shaping?"
"It is most wonderful," said Maskull. "Then the brotherhood of man is not a fable invented by idealists, but a solid fact."
Joiwind looked at him, and changed colour. Panawe relapsed into sternness.
Maskull became interested in a new phenomenon. The jale-coloured blossoms of a crystal bush were emitting mental waves, which with his breve he could clearly distinguish. They cried out silently, "To me To me!" While he looked, a flying worm guided itself through the air to one of these blossoms and began to suck its nectar. The floral cry immediately ceased.
They now gained the crest of the mountain, and looked down beyond. A lake occupied its crater-like cavity. A fringe of trees partly intercepted the view, but Maskull was able to perceive that this mountain lake was nearly circular and perhaps a quarter of a mile across. Its shore stood a hundred feet below them.
Observing that his hosts did not propose to descend, he begged them to wait for him, and scrambled down to the surface. When he got there, he found the water perfectly motionless and of a colourless transparency. He walked onto it, lay down at full length, and peered into the depths. It was weirdly clear: he could see down for an indefinite distance, without arriving at any bottom. Some dark, shadowy objects, almost out of reach of his eyes, were moving about. Then a sound, very faint and mysterious, seemed to come up through the gnawl water from an immense depth. It was like the rhythm of a drum. There were four beats of equal length, but the accent was on the third. It went on for a considerable time, and then ceased.
The sound appeared to him to belong to a different world from that in which he was travelling. The latter was mystical, dreamlike, and unbelievable—the drumming was like a very dim undertone of reality. It resembled the ticking of a clock in a room full of voices, only occasionally possible to be picked up by the ear.
He rejoined Panawe and Joiwind, but said nothing to them about his experience. They all walked round the rim of the crater, and gazed down on the opposite side. Precipices similar to those that had overlooked the desert here formed the boundary of a vast moorland plain, whose dimensions could not be measured by the eye. It was solid land, yet he could not make out its prevailing colour. It was as if made of transparent glass, but it did not glitter in the sunlight. No objects in it could be distinguished, except a rolling river in the far distance, and, farther off still, on the horizon, a line of dark mountains, of strange shapes. Instead of being rounded, conical, or hogbacked, these heights were carved by nature into the semblance of castle battlements, but with extremely deep indentations.
The sky immediately above the mountains was of a vivid, intense blue. It contrasted in a most marvellous way with the blue of the rest of the heavens. It seemed more luminous and radiant, and was in fact like the afterglow of a gorgeous blue sunset.
Maskull kept on looking. The more he gazed, the more restless and noble became his feelings.
"What is that light?"
Panawe was sterner than usual, while his wife clung to his arm. "It is Alppain—our second sun," he replied. "Those hills are the Ifdawn Marest.... Now let us get to our shelter."
"Is it imagination, or am I really being affected—tormented by that light?"
"No, it's not imagination—it's real. How can it be otherwise when two suns, of different natures, are drawing you at the same time? Luckily you are not looking at Alppain itself. It's invisible here. You would need to go at least as far as Ifdawn, to set eyes on it."
"Why do you say 'luckily'?"
"Because the agony caused by those opposing forces would perhaps be more than you could bear.... But I don't know."
For the short distance that remained of their walk, Maskull was very thoughtful and uneasy. He understood nothing. Whatever object his eye chanced to rest on changed immediately into a puzzle. The silence and stillness of the mountain peak seemed brooding, mysterious, and waiting. Panawe gave him a friendly, anxious look, and without further delay led the way down a little track, which traversed the side of the mountain and terminated in the mouth of a cave.
This cave was the home of Panawe and Joiwind. It was dark inside. The host took a shell and, filling it with liquid from a well, carelessly sprinkled the sandy floor of the interior. A greenish, phosphorescent light gradually spread to the furthest limits of the cavern, and continued to illuminate it for the whole time they were there. There was no furniture. Some dried, fernlike leaves served for couches.
The moment she got in, Joiwind fell down in exhaustion. Her husband tended her with calm concern. He bathed her face, put drink to her lips, energised her with his magn, and finally laid her down to sleep. At the sight of the noble woman thus suffering on his account, Maskull was distressed.
Panawe, however, endeavoured to reassure him. "It's quite true this has been a very long, hard double journey, but for the future it will lighten all her other journeys for her.... Such is the nature of sacrifice."
"I can't conceive how I have walked so far in a morning," said Maskull, "and she has been twice the distance."
"Love flows in her veins, instead of blood, and that's why she is so strong."
"You know she gave me some of it?"
"Otherwise you couldn't even have started."
"I shall never forget that."
The languorous beat of the day outside, the bright mouth of the cavern, the cool seclusion of the interior, with its pale green glow, invited Maskull to sleep. But curiosity got the better of his lassitude.
"Will it disturb her if we talk?"
"But how do you feel?"
"I require little sleep. In any case, it's more important that you should hear something about your new life. It's not all as innocent and idyllic as this. If you intend to go through, you ought to be instructed about the dangers."
"Oh, I guessed as much. But how shall we arrange—shall I put questions, or will you tell me what you think is most essential?"
Panawe motioned to Maskull to sit down on a pile of ferns, and at the same time reclined himself, leaning on one arm, with outstretched legs.
"I will tell some incidents of my life. You will begin to learn from them what sort of place you have come to."
"I shall be grateful," said Maskull, preparing himself to listen.
Panawe paused for a moment or two, and then started his narrative in tranquil, measured, yet sympathetic tones.
"My earliest recollection is of being taken, when three years old (that's equivalent to fifteen of your years, but we develop more slowly here), by my father and mother, to see Broodviol, the wisest man in Tormance. He dwelt in the great Wombflash Forest. We walked through trees for three days, sleeping at night. The trees grew taller as we went along, until the tops were out of sight. The trunks were of a dark red colour and the leaves were of pale ulfire. My father kept stopping to think. If left uninterrupted, he would remain for half a day in deep abstraction. My mother came out of Poolingdred, and was of a different stamp. She was beautiful, generous, and charming—but also active. She kept urging him on. This led to many disputes between them, which made me miserable. On the fourth day we passed through a part of the forest which bordered on the Sinking Sea. This sea is full of pouches of water that will not bear a man's weight, and as these light parts don't differ in appearance from the rest, it is dangerous to cross. My father pointed out a dim outline on the horizon, and told me it was Swaylone's Island. Men sometimes go there, but none ever return. In the evening of the same day we found Broodviol standing in a deep, miry pit in the forest, surrounded on all sides by trees three hundred feet high. He was a big gnarled, rugged, wrinkled, sturdy old man. His age at that time was a hundred and twenty of our years, or nearly six hundred of yours. His body was trilateral: he had three legs, three arms, and six eyes, placed at equal distances all around his head. This gave him an aspect of great watchfulness and sagacity. He was standing in a sort of trance. I afterward heard this saying of his: 'To lie is to sleep, to sit is to dream, to stand is to think.' My father caught the infection, and fell into meditation, but my mother roused them both thoroughly. Broodviol scowled at her savagely, and demanded what she required. Then I too learned for the first time the object of our journey. I was a prodigy—that is to say, I was without sex. My parents were troubled over this, and wished to consult the wisest of men.
"Old Broodviol smoothed his face, and said, 'This perhaps will not be so difficult. I will explain the marvel. Every man and woman among us is a walking murderer. If a male, he has struggled with and killed the female who was born in the same body with him—if a female, she has killed the male. But in this child the struggle is still continuing.'
"'How shall we end it?' asked my mother.
"'Let the child direct its will to the scene of the combat, and it will be of whichever sex it pleases.'
"'You want, of course, to be a man, don't you?' said my mother to me earnestly.
"'Then I shall be slaying your daughter, and that would be a crime.'
"Something in my tone attracted Broodviol's notice.
"'That was spoken, not selfishly, but magnanimously. Therefore the male must have spoken it, and you need not trouble further. Before you arrive home, the child will be a boy.'
"My father walked away out of sight. My mother bent very low before Broodviol for about ten minutes, and he remained all that time looking kindly at her.
"I heard that shortly afterward Alppain came into that land for a few hours daily. Broodviol grew melancholy, and died.
"His prophecy came true—before we reached home, I knew the meaning of shame. But I have often pondered over his words since, in later years, when trying to understand my own nature; and I have come to the conclusion that, wisest of men as he was, he still did not see quite straight on this occasion. Between me and my twin sister, enclosed in one body, there never was any struggle, but instinctive reverence for life withheld both of us from fighting for existence. Hers was the stronger temperament, and she sacrificed herself—though not consciously—for me.
"As soon as I comprehended this, I made a vow never to eat or destroy anything that contained life—and I have kept it ever since.
"While I was still hardly a grown man, my father died. My mother's death followed immediately, and I hated the associations of the land. I therefore made up my mind to travel into my mother's country, where, as she had often told me, nature was most sacred and solitary.
"One hot morning I came to Shaping's Causeway. It is so called either because Shaping once crossed it, or because of its stupendous character. It is a natural embankment, twenty miles long, which links the mountains bordering my homeland with the Ifdawn Marest. The valley lies below at a depth varying from eight to ten thousand feet—a terrible precipice on either side. The knife edge of the ridge is generally not much over a foot wide. The causeway goes due north and south. The valley on my right hand was plunged in shadow—that on my left was sparkling with sunlight and dew. I walked fearfully along this precarious path for some miles. Far to the east the valley was closed by a lofty tableland, connecting the two chains of mountains, but overtopping even the most towering pinnacles. This is called the Sant Levels. I was never there, but I have heard two curious facts concerning the inhabitants. The first is that they have no women; the second, that though they are addicted to travelling in other parts they never acquire habits of the peoples with whom they reside.
"Presently I turned giddy, and lay at full length for a great while, clutching the two edges of the path with both hands, and staring at the ground I was lying on with wide-open eyes. When that passed I felt like a different man and grew conceited and gay. About halfway across I saw someone approaching me a long way off. This put fear into my heart again, for I did not see how we could very well pass. However, I went slowly on, and presently we drew near enough together for me to recognise the walker. It was Slofork, the so-called sorcerer. I had never met him before, but I knew him by his peculiarities of person. He was of a bright gamboge colour and possessed a very long, proboscis-like nose, which appeared to be a useful organ, but did not add to his beauty, as I knew beauty. He was dubbed 'sorcerer' from his wondrous skill in budding limbs and organs. The tale is told that one evening he slowly sawed his leg off with a blunt stone and then lay for two days in agony while his new leg was sprouting. He was not reputed to be a consistently wise man, but he had periodical flashes of penetration and audacity that none could equal.
"We sat down and faced one another, about two yards apart.
"'Which of us walks over the other?' asked Slofork. His manner was as calm as the day itself, but, to my young nature, terrible with hidden terrors. I smiled at him, but did not wish for this humiliation. We continued sitting thus, in a friendly way, for many minutes.
"'What is greater than Pleasure?' he asked suddenly.
"I was at an age when one wishes to be thought equal to any emergency, so, concealing my surprise, I applied myself to the conversation, as if it were for that purpose we had met.
"'Pain,' I replied, 'for pain drives out pleasure.'
"'What is greater than Pain?'
"I reflected. 'Love. Because we will accept our loved one's share of pain.'
"'But what is greater than Love?' he persisted.
"'And what is Nothing?'
"'That you must tell me.'
"'Tell you I will. This is Shaping's world. He that is a good child here, knows pleasure, pain, and love, and gets his rewards. But there's another world—not Shaping's and there all this is unknown, and another order of things reigns. That world we call Nothing—but it is not Nothing, but Something.'
"There was a pause.
"'I have heard,' said I, 'that you are good at growing and ungrowing organs?'
"'That's not enough for me. Every organ tells me the same story. I want to hear different stories.'
"'Is it true, what men say, that your wisdom flows and ebbs in pulses?'
"'Quite true,' replied Slofork. 'But those you had it from did not add that they have always mistaken the flow for the ebb.'
"'My experience is,' said I sententiously, 'that wisdom is misery.'
"'Perhaps it is, young man, but you have never learned that, and never will. For you the world will continue to wear a noble, awful face. You will never rise above mysticism.... But be happy in your own way.'
"Before I realised what he was doing, he jumped tranquilly from the path, down into the empty void. He crashed with ever-increasing momentum toward the valley below. I screeched, flung myself down on the ground, and shut my eyes.
"Often have I wondered which of my ill-considered, juvenile remarks it was that caused this sudden resolution on his part to commit suicide. Whichever it might be, since then I have made it a rigid law never to speak for my own pleasure, but only to help others.
"I came eventually to the Marest. I threaded its mazes in terror for four days. I was frightened of death, but still more terrified at the possibility of losing my sacred attitude toward life. When I was nearly through, and was beginning to congratulate myself, I stumbled across the third extraordinary personage of my experience—the grim Muremaker. It was under horrible circumstances. On an afternoon, cloudy and stormy, I saw, suspended in the air without visible support, a living man. He was hanging in an upright position in front of a cliff—a yawning gulf, a thousand feet deep, lay beneath his feet. I climbed as near as I could, and looked on. He saw me, and made a wry grimace, like one who wishes to turn his humiliation into humour. The spectacle so astounded me that I could not even grasp what had happened.
"'I am Muremaker,' he cried in a scraping voice which shocked my ears. 'All my life I have sorbed others—now I am sorbed. Nuclamp and I fell out over a woman. Now Nuclamp holds me up like this. While the strength of his will lasts I shall remain suspended; but when he gets tired—and it can't be long now—I drop into those depths.'
"Had it been another man, I would have tried to save him, but this ogre-like being was too well known to me as one who passed his whole existence in tormenting, murdering, and absorbing others, for the sake of his own delight. I hurried away, and did not pause again that day.
"In Poolingdred I met Joiwind. We walked and talked together for a month, and by that time we found that we loved each other too well to part."
Panawe stopped speaking.
"That is a fascinating story," remarked Maskull. "Now I begin to know my way around better. But one thing puzzles me."
"How it happens that men here are ignorant of tools and arts, and have no civilisation, and yet contrive to be social in their habits and wise in their thoughts."
"Do you imagine, then, that love and wisdom spring from tools? But I see how it arises. In your world you have fewer sense organs, and to make up for the deficiency you have been obliged to call in the assistance of stones and metals. That's by no means a sign of superiority."
"No, I suppose not," said Maskull, "but I see I have a great deal to unlearn."
They talked together a little longer, and then gradually fell asleep. Joiwind opened her eyes, smiled, and slumbered again.