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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > Out of the Silent Planet (Page 15)     
  • Out of the Silent Planet(Cosmic #1)(15) by C.S.Lewis
  • He felt tired and thought that in this favoured land it would be warm enough to rest out of doors. He sat down. The softness of the weed, the warmth and the sweet smell which pervaded the whole island, reminded him of Earth and gardens in summer. He closed his eyes for a moment; then he opened them again and noticed buildings below him, and over the lake he saw a boat approaching. Recognition suddenly came to him. That was the ferry, and these buildings were the guesthouse beside the harbour; he had walked all round the island. A certain disappointment succeeded this discovery. He was beginning to feel hungry. Perhaps it would be a good plan to go down and ask for some food; at any rate it would pass the time.

    But he did not do so. When he rose and looked more closely at the guest-house he saw a considerable stir of creatures about it, and while he watched he saw that a full load of passengers was landing from the ferry-boat. In the lake he saw some moving objects which he did not at first identify but which turned out to be sorns up to their middles in the water and obviously wading to Meldilorn from the mainland. There were about ten of them. For some reason or other the island was receiving an influx of visitors. He no longer supposed that any harm would be done to him if he went down and mixed in the crowd, but he felt a reluctance to do so. The situation brought vividly back to his mind his experience as a new boy at school -new boys came a day early - hanging about and watching the arrival of the old hands. In the end he decided not to go down. He cut and ate some of the groundweed and dozed for a little.

    In the afternoon, when it grew colder, he resumed his walking. Other hnau were roaming about the island by this time. He saw sorns chiefly, but this was because their height made them conspicuous. There was hardly any noise. His reluctance to meet these fellow-wanderers, who seemed to confine themselves to the coast of the island, drove him half consciously upwards and inwards. He found himself at last on the fringes of the grove and looking straight up the monolithic avenue. He had intended, for no very clearly defined reason, not to enter it, but he fell to studying the stone nearest to him, which was richly sculptured on all its four sides, and after that curiosity led him on from stone to stone.

    The pictures were very puzzling. Side by side with representations of sorns and hrossa and what he supposed to be pfifltriggi there occurred again and again an upright wavy figure with only the suggestion of a face, and with wings. The wings were perfectly recognizable, and this puzzled him very much. Could it be that the traditions of Malacandrian art went back to that earlier geological and biological era when, as Augray had told him, there was life, including bird-life, on the harandra? The answer of the stones seemed to be Yes. He saw pictures of the old red forests with unmistakable birds flying among them, and many other creatures that he did not know. On another stone many of these were represented lying dead, and a fantastic hnakra-like figure, presumably symbolizing the cold, was depicted in the sky above them shooting at them with darts. Creatures still alive were crowding round the winged, wavy figure, which he took to be Oyarsa, pictured as a winged flame. On the next stone Oyarsa appeared, followed by many creatures, and apparently making a furrow with some pointed instrument. Another picture showed the furrow being enlarged by pfifltriggi with digging tools. Sorns were piling the earth up in pinnacles on each side, and hrossa seemed to be making water channels.  Ransom wondered whether this were a mythical account of the making of handramits or whether they were conceivably artificial in fact.

    Many of the pictures he could make nothing of. One that particularly puzzled him showed at the bottom a segment of a circle, behind and above which rose three-quarters of a disk divided into concentric rings. He thought it was a picture of the sun rising behind a hill; certainly the segment at the bottom was full of Malacandrian scenes - Oyarsa in Meldilorn, sorns on the mountain edge of the harandra, and many other things both familiar to him and strange. He turned from it to examine the disk which rose behind it. It was not the sun. The sun was there, unmistakably, at the centre of the disk: round this the concentric circles revolved. In the first and smallest of these was pictured a little ball, on which rode a winged figure something like Oyarsa, but holding what appeared to be a trumpet. In the next, a similar ball carried another of the flaming figures. This one, instead of even the suggested face, had two bulges which after long inspection he decided were meant to be the udders or br**sts of a female mammal. By this time he was quite sure that he was looking at a picture of the solar system. The first ball was Mercury, the second Venus - 'And what an extraordinary coincidence,' thought Ransom, 'that their mythology, like ours, associates some idea of the female with Venus.' The problem would have occupied him longer if a natural curiosity had not drawn his eyes on to the next ball which must represent the Earth. When he saw it, his whole mind stood still for a moment. The ball was there, but where the flame-like figure should have been, a deep depression of irregular shape had been cut as if to erase it. Once, then - but his speculations faltered and became silent before a series of unknowns. He looked at the next circle. Here there was no ball. Instead, the bottom of this circle touched the top of the big segment filled with Malacandrian scenes, so that Malacandra at this point touched the solar system and came out of it in perspective towards the spectator. Now that his mind had grasped the design, he was astonished at the vividness of it all. He stood back and drew a deep breath preparatory to tackling some of the mysteries in which he was engulfed. Malacandra, then, was Mars. The Earth - but at this point a sound of tapping or hammering, which had been going on for some time without gaining admission to his consciousness, became too insistent to be ignored. Some creature, and certainly not an eldil, was at work, close to him. A little startled - for he had been deep in thought - he turned round.

    There was nothing to be seen. He shouted out, idiotically, in English:

    "Who's there?"

    The tapping instantly stopped and a remarkable face appeared from behind a neighbouring monolith.

    It was hairless like a man's or a sorn's. It was long and pointed like a shrew's, yellow and shabby-looking, and so low in the forehead that but for the heavy development of the head at the back and behind the ears (like a bag-wig) it could not have been that of an intelligent creature. A moment later the whole of the thing came into view with a startling jump. Ransom guessed that it was a pfifltrigg - and was glad that he had not met one of this third race on his first arrival in Malacandra. It was much more insect-like or reptilian than anything he had yet seen. Its build was distinctly that of a frog, and at first Ransom thought it was resting, frog-like, on its 'hands.' Then he noticed that that part of its fore-limbs on which it was supported was really, in human terms, rather an elbow than a hand. It was broad and padded and clearly made to be walked on; but upwards from it, at an angle of about forty-five degrees, went the true forearms - thin, strong forearms, ending in enormous, sensitive, many-fingered hands. He realized that for all manual work from mining to cutting cameos this creature had the advantage of being able to work with its full strength from a supported elbow. The insect-like effect was due to the speed and jerkiness of its movements and to the fact that it could swivel its head almost all the way round like a mantis; and it was increased by a kind of dry, rasping, jingling quality in the noise of its moving. It was rather like a grasshopper, rather like one of Arthur Rackham's dwarfs, rather like a frog, and rather like a little old taxidermist whom Ransom knew in London.

    "I come from another world," began Ransom.

    "I know, I know," said the creature in a quick, twittering, rather impatient voice. "Come here, behind the stone. This way, this way. Oyarsa's orders. Very busy. Must begin at once.  Stand there."

    Ransom found himself on the other side of the monolith, staring at a picture which was still in process of completion. The ground was liberally strewn with chips and the air was full of dust.

    "There," said the creature. "Stand still. Don't look at me. Look over there."

    For a moment Ransom did not quite understand what was expected of him; then, as he saw the pfifltrigg glancing to and fro at him and at the stone with the unmistakable glance of artist from model to work which is the same in all worlds, he realized and almost laughed. He was standing for his portrait! From his position he could see that the creature was cutting the stone as if it were cheese and the swiftness of its movements almost baffled his eyes, but he could get no impression of the work done, though he could study the pfifltrigg. He saw that the jingling and metallic noise was due to the number of small instruments which it carried about its body.  Sometimes, with an exclamation of annoyance, it would throw down the tool it was working with and select one of these; but the majority of those in immediate use it kept in its mouth. He realized also that this was an animal artificially clothed like himself, in some bright scaly substance which appeared richly decorated though coated in dust. It had folds of furry clothing about its throat like a comforter, and its eyes were protected by dark bulging goggles. Rings -and chains of a bright metal - not gold, he thought - adorned its limbs and neck. All the time it was working it kept up a sort of hissing whisper to itself; and when it was excited - which it usually was - the end of its nose wrinkled like a rabbit's. At last it gave another startling leap, landed about ten yards away from its work, and said:

    "Yes, yes. Not so good as I hoped. Do better another time. Leave it now. Come and see yourself."

    Ransom obeyed. He saw a picture of the planets, not now arranged to make a map of the solar system, but advancing in a single procession towards the spectator, and all, save one, bearing its fiery charioteer. Below lay Malacandra and there, to his surprise, was a very tolerable picture of the space-ship. Beside it stood three figures for all of which Ransom had apparently been the model. He recoiled from them in disgust. Even allowing for the strangeness of the subject from a Malacandrian point of view and for the stylization of their art, still, he thought, the creature might have made a better attempt at the human form than these stock-like dummies, almost as thick as they were tall, and sprouting about the head and neck into something that looked like fungus.

    He hedged. "I expect it is like me as I look to your people," he said. "It is not how they would draw me in my own world."

    "No," said the pfifltrigg. "I do not mean it to be too like. Too like, and they will not believe it - those who are born after." He added a good deal more which was difficult to understand; but while he was speaking it dawned upon Ransom that the odious figures were intended as an idealization of humanity. Conversation languished for a little. To change the subject Ransom asked a question which had been in his mind for some time.

    "I cannot understand," he said, "how you and the sorns and the hrossa all come to speak the same speech. For your tongues and teeth and throats must be very different."

    "You are right," said the creature. "Once we all had different speeches and we still have at home. But everyone has learned the speech of the hrossa."

    "Why is that?" said Ransom, still thinking in terms of terrestrial history. "Did the hrossa once rule the others?"

    "I do not understand. They are our great speakers and singers. They have more words and better. No one learns the speech of my people, for what we have to say is said in stone and suns' blood and stars' milk and all can see them. No one learns the sorns' speech, for you can change their knowledge into any words and it is still the same. You cannot do that with the songs of the hrossa. Their tongue goes all over Malacandra. I speak it to you because you are a stranger. I would speak it to a sorn. But we have our old tongues at home. You can see it in the names. The sorns have big-sounding names like Augray and Arkal and Belma and Falmay.  The hrossa have furry names like Hnoh and Hnihi and Hyoi and Hlithnahi."

    "The best poetry, then, comes in the roughest speech?"

    "Perhaps," said the pfifltrigg. "As the best pictures are made in the hardest stone. But my people have names like Kalakaperi and Parakataru and Tafalakeruf. I am called Kanakaberaka."

    Ransom told it his name.

    "In our country," said Kanakaberaka, "it is not like this. We are not pinched in a narrow handramit. There are the true forests, the green shadows, the deep mines. It is warm. It does not blaze with light like this, and it is not silent like this. I could put you in a place there in the forests where you could see a hundred fires at once and hear a hundred hammers. I wish you had come to our country. We do not live in holes like the sorns nor in bundles of weed like the hrossa. I could show you houses with a hundred pillars, one of suns' blood and the next of stars' milk, all the way ... and all the world painted on the walls."

    "How do you rule yourselves?" asked Ransom. "Those who are digging in the mines - do they like it as much as those who paint the walls?"

    "All keep the mines open; it is a work to be shared. But each digs for himself the thing he wants for his work. What else would he do?"

    "It is not so with us."

    "Then you must make very bent work. How would a maker understand working in suns' blood unless he went into the home of suns' blood himself and knew one kind from another and lived with it for days out of the light of the sky till it was in his blood and his heart, as if he thought it and ate it and spat it?"

    "With us it lies very deep and hard to get and those who dig it must spend their whole lives on the skill."

    "And they love it?"

    "I think not ... I do not know. They are kept at it because they are given no food if they stop."

    Kanakaberaka wrinkled his nose. "Then there is not food in plenty on your world?"

    "I do not know," said Ransom. "I have often wished to know the answer to that question but no one can tell me. Does no one keep your people at their work, Kanakaberaka ?"

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