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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > Out of the Silent Planet (Page 18)     
  • Out of the Silent Planet(Cosmic #1)(18) by C.S.Lewis
  • "Here, Oyarsa," said a pfifltrigg.

    "Have you in your cisterns water that has been made cold?"

    "Yes, Oyarsa."

    "Then let this thick hnau be taken to the guest-house and let them bathe his head in cold water. Much water and many times. Then bring him again. Meanwhile I will provide for my killed hrossa."

    Weston did not clearly understand what the voice said - indeed, he was still too busy trying to find out where it came from - but terror smote him as he found himself wrapped in the strong arms of the surrounding hrossa and forced away from his place. Ransom would gladly have shouted out some reassurance, but Weston himself was shouting too loud to hear him. He was mixing English and Malacandrian now, and the last that was heard was a rising scream of "Pay for this - pouff! bang! - Ransom, for God's sake - Ransom! Ransom!"

    "And now," said Oyarsa, when silence was restored, "let us honour my dead hnau."

    At his words ten of the hrossa grouped themselves about the biers. Lifting their heads, and with no signal given as far as Ransom could see, they began to sing.

    To every man, in his acquaintance with a new art, there comes a moment when that which before was meaningless first lifts, as it were, one corner of the curtain that hides its mystery, and reveals, in a burst of delight which later and fuller understanding can hardly ever equal, one glimpse of the indefinite possibilities within. For Ransom, this moment had now come in his understanding of Malacandrian song. Now first he saw that its rhythms were based on a different blood from ours, on a heart that beat more quickly, and a fiercer internal heat.  Through his knowledge of the creatures and his love for them he began, ever so little, to hear it with their ears. A sense of great masses moving at visionary speeds, of giants dancing, of eternal sorrows eternally consoled, of he knew not what and yet what he had always known, awoke in him with the very first bars of the deep-mouthed dirge, and bowed down his spirit as if the gate of heaven had opened before him.

    "Let it go hence," they sang. "Let it go hence, dissolve and be no body. Drop it, release it, drop it gently, as a stone is loosed from fingers drooping over a still pool. Let it go down, sink, fall away. Once below the surface there are no divisions, no layers in the water yielding all the way down; all one and all unwounded is that element. Send it voyaging; it will not come again.  Let it go down; the hnau rises from it. This is the second life, the other beginning. Open, oh coloured world, without weight, without shore. You are second and better; this was first and feeble. Once the worlds were hot within and brought forth life, but only the pale plants, the dark plants. We see their children when they grow today, out of the sun's light in the sad places. After, the heaven made grow another kind of worlds: the high climbers, the bright-haired forests, cheeks of flowers. First were the darker, then the brighter. First was the worlds' brood, then the suns' brood."

    This was as much of it as he contrived later to remember and could translate. As the song ended Oyarsa said:

    "Let us scatter the movements which were their bodies. So will Maleldil scatter all worlds when the first and feeble is worn."

    He made a sign to one of the pfifltriggi, who instantly arose and approached the corpses.  The hrossa, now singing again but very softly, drew back at least ten paces. The pfifltrigg touched each of the three dead in turn with some small object that appeared to be made of glass or crystal - and then jumped away with one of his froglike leaps. Ransom closed his eyes to protect them from a blinding light and felt something like a very strong wind blowing in his face, for a fraction of a second. Then all was calm again, and the three biers were empty.

    "God! That would be a trick worth knowing on earth," said Devine to Ransom. "Solves the murderer's problem about the disposal of the body, eh?"

    But Ransom, who was thinking of Hyoi, did not answer him; and before he spoke again everyone's attention was diverted by the return of the unhappy Weston among his guards.

    Chapter XX

    THE hross who headed this procession was a conscientious creature and began at once explaining itself in a rather troubled voice.

    "I hope we have done right, Oyarsa," it said. "But we do not know. We dipped his head in the cold water seven times, but the seventh time something fell off it. We had thought it was the top of his head, but now we saw it was a covering made of the skin of some other creature.  Then some said we had done your will with the seven dips, and others said not. In the end we dipped it seven times more. We hope that was right. The creature talked a lot between the dips, and most between the second seven, but we could not understand it."

    "You have done very well, Hnoo," said Oyarsa. "Stand away that I may see it, for now I will speak to it."

    The guards fell away on each side. Weston's usually pale face, under the bracing influence of the cold water, had assumed the colour of a ripe tomato, and his hair, which had naturally not been cut since he reached Malacandra, was plastered in straight, lank masses across his forehead. A good deal of water was still dripping over his nose and ears. His expression -unfortunately wasted on an audience ignorant of terrestrial physiognomy - was that of a brave man suffering in a great cause, and rather eager than reluctant to face the worst or even to provoke it. In explanation of his conduct it is only fair to remember that he had already that morning endured all the terrors of an expected martyrdom and all the anticlimax of fourteen compulsory cold douches. Devine, who knew his man, shouted out to Weston in English.

    "Steady, Weston. These devils can split the atom or something pretty like it. Be careful what you say to them and don't let's have any of your bloody nonsense."

    "Huh !" said Weston. "So you've gone native too?"

    "Be silent," said the voice of Oyarsa. "You, thick one, have told me nothing of yourself, so I will tell it to you. In your own world you have attained great wisdom concerning bodies and by this you have been able to make a ship that can cross the heaven; but in all other things you have the mind of an animal. When first you came here, I sent for you, meaning you nothing but honour. The darkness in your mind filled you with fear. Because you thought I meant evil to you, you went as a beast goes against a beast of some other kind, and snared this Ransom. You would give him up to the evil you feared. Today, seeing him here, to save your own life, you would have given him to me a second time, still thinking I meant him hurt. These are your dealings with your own kind. And what you intend to my people, I know. Already you have killed some. And you have come here to kill them all. To you it is nothing whether a creature is hnau or not. At first I thought this was because you cared only whether a creature had a body like your own; but Ransom has that and you would kill him as lightly as any of my hnau. I did not know that the Bent One had done so much in your world and still I do not understand it. If you were mine, I would unbody you even now. Do not think follies; by my hand Maleldil does greater things than this, and I can unmake you even on the borders of your own world's air. But I do not yet resolve to do this. It is for you to speak. Let me see if there is anything in your mind besides fear and death and desire."

    Weston turned to Ransom. "I see," he said, "that you have chosen the most momentous crisis in the history of the human race to betray it." Then he turned in the direction of the voice.

    "I know you kill us," he said. "Me not afraid. Others come, make it our world -"

    But Devine had jumped to his feet, and interrupted him.

    "No, no, Oyarsa," he shouted. "You no listen him. He very foolish man, he have dreams.  We little people, only want pretty sun-bloods. You give us plenty sun-bloods, we go back into sky, you never see us no more. All done, see ?"

    "Silence," said Oyarsa. There was an almost imperceptible change in the light, if it could be called light, out of which the voice came, and Devine crumpled up and fell back on the ground.  When he resumed his sitting position he was white and panting.

    "Speak on," said Oyarsa to Weston.

    "Me no ... no ..." began Weston in Malacandrian and then broke off. "I can't say what I want in their accursed language," he said in English.

    "Speak to Ransom and he shall turn it into our speech," said Oyarsa.

    Weston accepted the arrangement at once. He believed that the hour of his death was come and he was determined to utter the thing - almost the only thing outside his own science - which he had to say. He cleared his throat, almost he struck a gesture, and began:

    "To you I may seem a vulgar robber, but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race. Your tribal life with its stone-age weapons and beehive huts, its primitive coracles and elementary social structure, has nothing to compare with our civilization - with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system which is rapidly annihilating space and time. Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower. Life -"

    "Half a moment," said Ransom in English. "That's about as much as I can manage at one go." Then, turning to Oyarsa, he began translating as well as he could. The process was difficult and the result - which he felt to be rather unsatisfactory - was something like this:

    "Among us, Oyarsa, there is a kind of hnau who will take other hnaus' food and - and things, when they are not looking. He says he is not an ordinary one of that kind. He says what he does now will make very different things happen to those of our people who are not yet born.  He says that, among you, hnau of one kindred all live together and the hrossa have spears like those we used a very long time ago and your huts are small and round and your boats small and light and like our old ones, and you have one ruler. He says it is different with us. He says we know much. There is a thing happens in our world when the body of a living creature feels pains and becomes weak, and he says we sometimes know how to stop it. He says we have many bent people and we kill them or shut them in huts and that we have people for settling quarrels between the bent hnau about their huts and mates and things. He says we have many ways for the hnau of one land to kill those of another and some are trained to do it. He says we build very big and strong huts of stones and other things - like the pfifltriggi. And he says we exchange many things among ourselves and can carry heavy weights very quickly a long way.

    Because of all this, he says it would not be the act of a bent hnau if our people killed all your people."

    As soon as Ransom had finished, Weston continued.

    "Life is greater than any system of morality; her claims are absolute. It is not by tribal taboos and copy-book maxims that she has pursued her relentless march from the amoeba to man and from man to civilization."

    "He says," began Ransom, "that living creatures are stronger than the question whether an act is bent or good - no, that cannot be right - he says it is better to be alive and bent than to be dead - no - he says, he says - I cannot say what he says, Oyarsa, in your language. But he goes on to say that the only good thing is that there should be very many creatures alive. He says there were many other animals before the first men and the later ones were better than the earlier ones; but he says the animals were not born because of what is said to the young about bent and good action by their elders. And he says these animals did not feel any pity."

    "She -" began Weston.

    "I'm sorry," interrupted Ransom, "but i've forgotten who She is."

    "Life, of course," snapped Weston. "She has ruthlessly broken down all obstacles and liquidated all failures and today in her highest form - civilized man - and in me as his representative, she presses forward to that interplanetary leap which will, perhaps, place her for ever beyond the reach of death."

    "He says," resumed Ransom, "that these animals learned to do many difficult things, except those who could not; and those ones died and the other animals did not pity them. And he says the best animal now is the kind of man who makes the big huts and carries the heavy weights and does all the other things I told you about; and he is one of these and he says that if the others all knew what he was doing they would be pleased. He says that if he could kill you all and bring our people to live in Malacandra, then they might be able to go on living here after something had gone wrong with our world. And then if something went wrong with Malacandra they might go and kill all the hnau in another world. And then another - and so they would never die out."

    "It is in her right," said Weston, "the right, or, if you will, the might of Life herself, that I am prepared without flinching to plant the flag of man on the soil of Malacandra: to march on, step by step, superseding, where necessary, the lower forms of life that we find, claiming planet after planet, system after system, till our posterity - whatever strange form and yet unguessed mentality they have assumed - dwell in the universe wherever the universe is habitable."

    "He says," translated Ransom, "that because of this it would not be a bent action - or else, he says, it would be a possible action - for him to kill you all and bring us here. He says he would feel no pity. He is saying again that perhaps they would be able to keep moving from one world to another and wherever they came they would kill everyone. I think he is now talking about worlds that go round other suns. He wants the creatures born from us to be in as many places as they can. He says he does not know what kind of creatures they will be."

    "I may fall," said Weston. "But while I live I will not, with such a key in my hand, consent to close the gates of the future on my race. What lies in that future, beyond our present ken, passes imagination to conceive: it is enough for me that there is a Beyond."

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