Page:Amazing Stories Volume 01 Number 02.djvu/48

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143
THE MAN FROM THE ATOM

learned in what fashion they interpreted my speech. I told of my journey and of its consequences. I told about my world. At intervals they nodded, I suppose to assure me that they were listening. After awhile I was given writing materials. I wrote an appeal to them to explain their world to me, so that I might take up the frayed ends of my life upon it. But always they only nodded at me, and at last they departed, taking with them the words I had written. A little while later, several guards were sent to my cell. They handled me as though I were an animal, washing me with a peculiar sort of water, cutting my hair, shaving my beard. When I was apparently clean enough for their sensibilities, I was left alone again.

This went on for days and days. Sometimes the same two men who had first interviewed me came again. Sometimes there were other visitors. Every day I was forced to submit to the attendance of the guards, like any caged beast. I was never spoken to. All day long, when I was alone, I would wander restlessly about, thinking over and over again the old, terrible thoughts of what I had seen and lost and would not know. I should have gone mad, I think, had they not acceded finally to my request for writing materials—the only sign they ever gave me that I was understood. I might have given way to some murderous fit of rage against them, had those guards not always been there, with their tiny, threatening weapons.

But I was at least a little consoled with the writing materials. Thereafter I was able to spend hours and hours setting down the details of my adventure, recording all my thoughts and desires. I have given here only a small portion of all that I wrote. I think it must have been this relief in writing that kept me sane. I had never before realized so fully the vast wonder of the alphabet, of this thing we call writing. By pouring out all my heart into words, by expressing the things that hung so oppressively over my heart, I was able to make them a little lighter, and, perhaps, a little heroic, a little flattering and epic.

But this, thank God, did not go on forever. For one day Vinda came. She said afterward that it had been only curiosity which led her to my cell. Everybody in the City, everybody in that world, seems to have been wildly curious to see the strange creature from the distant star. But Vinda was the daughter of the King of the planet, whose family, so far as I could gather, retained its supremacy only so long as it retained its great intellectual power. Vinda's father, the King, was a physicist.

Vinda came in state, with a guard of six men and an escort of six scientists. I will not say that I loved her at first sight. I was, indeed, amazed by her great beauty and the mobility of her features, so fine a contrast with the impassivity of the men. She was not very tall either, just about my own height, and the most graceful woman I have ever known. She smiled at me with a somewhat aloof interest, and then—then she spoke! The first sounds of human speech I had heard on the planet. And she spoke English! Only a few broken words, it is true. But I found afterward that she had learned them, just for the amusement of it, from the reports of the scientists who examined me. She said:

"You—are—Kirby?" Her accent—how could I reproduce the sweetness of that clear accent, so exotic, so perfectly in keeping with the delicacy of her own appearance? For a long time I could say nothing, just stare at her open-mouthed, amazed, delighted. Then I managed to stutter some foolish reply:

"Kirby? Yes.… yes, I am Kirby. Yes …" And she smiled again, and I smiled, unaware of the scornful gleam in the eyes of the men. She smiled even more brightly when she saw my own grin. Indeed, I fancy she was about to laugh, laugh at me, but perhaps my very simplicity made her calm again. For—do you see?—I did not learn for a long time that only women laughed and played, and amused themselves with artistic pursuits on that planet. They did, indeed, scorn me, those men, when they saw me laughing, as we would scorn a man who talked with a piping voice and giggled and stepped mincingly about. But I like to think that there was something in me more appealing to Vinda than the impassive manhood of those scientists. Perhaps, after all, it is only that I was unique. But she did like me—I am certain of it now.

We said very little that time. She was reserved, formal, I was too confused to speak coherently. After a while she retired, and it seemed to me that my cell was ten thousand times as bare and cold and hard as it had been before.

The next time she came alone, except for a single guard. She had appealed to her father, the King, telling him how harmless I was and how different from the men of that planet, and that I should not be judged by their standards. She had persuaded him, so she came alone, with writing materials and a small machine which recorded sound and vision, and which took the place of books. She had decided to learn my language, knowing that hers was incomprehensible to me, since it depended on a sense which is dormant or inexistent in us, something related, perhaps, to the vague thing we call mental telepathy.

Oh, but I spent endless days of wonder and enchantment there with Vinda! Never once was I permitted to leave my cell, but I was content now, for it seemed that she brought all the beauty of the universe in with her, the sunshine, the gold and the green of the fields, the blue of the sea—everything. God knows how I ever failed to realize why those days were so beautiful, but I did not. Not until I was gone, and it was too late.

It was not long before we could converse together, for she had what seemed to me a marvellous mind, although, apparently, the minds of women were not very highly esteemed in that world. She told me, quite simply, that women had never evolved there beyond a certain state of civilization, while men had gone on thousands of years ahead. Women, it seemed, were kept for the sort of intellectual labour which corresponds to the manual labour of the savage women. The men were creators and teachers. They discovered, invented, reproduced, perfected endless marvellous things. Women, on the other hand, understood them only in the detailed way of those who tend them, watch over them, care for them.

But I had to confess to her that my own intellect probably was not so advanced as hers. And it is this, it seems, that made our companionship so de-