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"I will tell you, Ben, anything in the world. We ought to be frank with each other now, don't you think so?"
There was no sound of voices from the assailants, only a rapid scuffle of feet, the whistle of sticks as they swung through the air or slapped smartly against a body or clashed upon each other, and the quick breathing of many people; but from the four policemen there came noise and to spare as they struck wildly on every side, cursing the darkness and their opposers with fierce enthusiasm.
'The winner is the one whose count is nearest to nine. Draws are played over again.'
But it is the spirit of the men, and not their names, that I wish to speak about in this paper. That spirit is truly English; they, and not Tennyson’s cotton-spinners or Mr. D’Arcy Thompson’s Abstract Bagman, are the true and typical Englishmen. There may be more head of bagmen in the country, but human beings are reckoned by number only in political constitutions. And the Admirals are typical in the full force of the word. They are splendid examples of virtue, indeed, but of a virtue in which most Englishmen can claim a moderate share; and what we admire in their lives is a sort of apotheosis of ourselves. Almost everybody in our land, except humanitarians and a few persons whose youth has been depressed by exceptionally aesthetic surroundings, can understand and sympathise with an Admiral or a prize-fighter. I do not wish to bracket Benbow and Tom Cribb; but, depend upon it, they are practically bracketed for admiration in the minds of many frequenters of ale-houses. If you told them about Germanicus and the eagles, or Regulus going back to Carthage, they would very likely fall asleep; but tell them about Harry Pearce and Jem Belcher, or about Nelson and the Nile, and they put down their pipes to listen. I have by me a copy of Boxiana, on the fly-leaves of which a youthful member of the fancy kept a chronicle of remarkable events and an obituary of great men. Here we find piously chronicled the demise of jockeys, watermen, and pugilists — Johnny Moore, of the Liverpool Prize Ring; Tom Spring, aged fifty-six; “Pierce Egan, senior, writer of Boxiana and other sporting works” — and among all these, the Duke of Wellington! If Benbow had lived in the time of this annalist, do you suppose his name would not have been added to the glorious roll? In short, we do not all feel warmly towards Wesley or Laud, we cannot all take pleasure in Paradise Lost; but there are certain common sentiments and touches of nature by which the whole nation is made to feel kinship. A little while ago everybody, from Hazlitt and John Wilson down to the imbecile creature who scribbled his register on the fly-leaves of Boxiana, felt a more or less shamefaced satisfaction in the exploits of prize-fighters. And the exploits of the Admirals are popular to the same degree, and tell in all ranks of society. Their sayings and doings stir English blood like the sound of a trumpet; and if the Indian Empire, the trade of London, and all the outward and visible ensigns of our greatness should pass away, we should still leave behind us a durable monument of what we were in these sayings and doings of the English Admirals.
Some fifteen or sixteen years ago I was engaged to give a short entertainment, for a still shorter fee, at some schoolrooms connected with a church in Camden Town. The rooms were in a small back street adjacent to the High Street. The festivities consisted of a spread of tea and what Mr. W. S. Gilbert calls "the rollicking bun and the gay Sally Lunn," interspersed with conversation, songs by amateurs, homely advice by the vicar, and a few comic songs—I beg pardon, I should say "humorous ditties"—by myself.
But marriage, if comfortable, is not at all heroic. It certainly narrows and damps the spirits of generous men. In marriage, a man becomes slack and selfish, and undergoes a fatty degeneration of his moral being. It is not only when Lydgate misallies himself with Rosamond Vincy, but when Ladislaw marries above him with Dorothea, that this may be exemplified. The air of the fireside withers out all the fine wildings of the husband’s heart. He is so comfortable and happy that he begins to prefer comfort and happiness to everything else on earth, his wife included. Yesterday he would have shared his last shilling; today “his first duty is to his family,” and is fulfilled in large measure by laying down vintages and husbanding the health of an invaluable parent. Twenty years ago this man was equally capable of crime or heroism; now he is fit for neither. His soul is asleep, and you may speak without constraint; you will not wake him. It is not for nothing that Don Quixote was a bachelor and Marcus Aurelius married ill. For women, there is less of this danger. Marriage is of so much use to a woman, opens out to her so much more of life, and puts her in the way of so much more freedom and usefulness, that, whether she marry ill or well, she can hardly miss some benefit. It is true, however, that some of the merriest and most genuine of women are old maids; and that those old maids, and wives who are unhappily married, have often most of the true motherly touch. And this would seem to show, even for women, some narrowing influence in comfortable married life. But the rule is none the less certain: if you wish the pick of men and women, take a good bachelor and a good wife.
The Gouernour gaue her thankes, and she returned to the other side of the Riuer. Within a little while the Ladie came out of the towne in a Chaire, whereon certaine of the principall Indians brought her to the Riuer. She entred into a barge, which had the sterne tilted ouer, and on the floore her mat readie laied with two cushions vpon it one vpon another, where she sate her downe; and with her came her principall Indians in other barges, which did wait vpon her. She went to the place where the Gouernour was, and at her comming she made this speech following:
Once the ship was in orbit the captain sent for Jason and Kerk. Kerk took the floor and was completely frank about the previous night's activities. The only fact of importance he left out was Jason's background as a professional gambler. He drew a beautiful picture of two lucky strangers whom the evil forces of Cassylia wanted to deprive of their gambling profits. All this fitted perfectly the captain's preconceptions of Cassylia. In the end he congratulated his officer on the correctness of his actions and began the preparation of a long report to his government. He gave the two men his best wishes as well as the liberty of the ship. It was a short trip. Jason barely had time to catch up on his sleep before they grounded on Darkhan. Being without luggage they were the first ones through customs. They left the shed just in time to see another ship landing in a distant pit. Kerk stopped to watch it and Jason followed his gaze. It was a gray, scarred ship. With the stubby lines of a freighter--but sporting as many guns as a cruiser. "Yours, of course," Jason said. Kerk nodded and started towards the ship. One of the locks opened as they came up but no one appeared. Instead a remote-release folding ladder rattled down to the ground. Kerk swarmed up it and Jason followed glumly. Somehow, he felt, this was overdoing the no-frills-and-nonsense attitude. Jason was catching on to Pyrran ways though. The reception aboard ship for the ambassador was just what he expected. Nothing. Kerk closed the lock himself and they found couches as the take-off horn sounded. The main jets roared and acceleration smashed down on Jason. It didn't stop. Instead it grew stronger, squeezing the air out of his lungs and the sight from his eyes. He screamed but couldn't hear his own voice through the roaring in his ears. Mercifully he blacked out. When consciousness returned the ship was at zero-G. Jason kept his eyes closed and let the pain seep out of his body. Kerk spoke suddenly, he was standing next to the couch. "My fault, Meta, I should have told you we had a 1-G passenger aboard. You might have eased up a bit on your usual bone-breaking take-off." "It doesn't seem to have harmed him much--but what's he doing here?" Jason felt mild surprise that the second voice was a girl's. But he wasn't interested enough to go to the trouble of opening his sore eyes. "Going to Pyrrus. I tried to talk him out of it, of course, but I couldn't change his mind. It's a shame, too, I would like to have done more for him. He's the one who got the money for us." "Oh, that's awful," the girl said. Jason wondered why it was awful. It didn't make sense to his groggy mind. "It would have been much better if he stayed on Darkhan," the girl continued. "He's very nice-looking. I think it's a shame he has to die." That was too much for Jason. He pried one eye open, then the other. The voice belonged to a girl about twenty-one who was standing next to the bed, gazing down at Jason. She was beautiful. Jason's eyes opened wider as he realized she was very beautiful--with the kind of beauty never found in the civilized galaxy. The women he had known all ran to pale skin, hollow shoulders, gray faces covered with tints and dyes. They were the product of centuries of breeding weaknesses back into the race, as the advance of medicine kept alive more and more non-survival types. This girl was the direct opposite in every way. She was the product of survival on Pyrrus. The heavy gravity that produced bulging muscles in men, brought out firm strength in straplike female muscles. She had the figure of a goddess, tanned skin and perfectly formed face. Her hair, which was cut short, circled her head like a golden crown. The only unfeminine thing about her was the gun she wore in a bulky forearm holster. When she saw Jason's eyes open she smiled at him. Her teeth were as even and as white as he had expected. "I'm Meta, pilot of this ship. And you must be--" "Jason dinAlt. That was a lousy take-off, Meta." "I'm really very sorry," she laughed. "But being born on a two-G planet does make one a little immune to acceleration. I save fuel too, with the synergy curve--" Kerk gave a noncommittal grunt. "Come along, Meta, we'll take a look at the cargo. Some of the new stuff will plug the gaps in the perimeter." "Oh yes," she said, almost clapping her hands with happiness. "I read the specs, they're simply wonderful." Like a schoolgirl with a new dress. Or a box of candy. That's a great attitude to have towards bombs and flame-throwers. Jason smiled wryly at the thought as he groaned off the couch. The two Pyrrans had gone and he pulled himself painfully through the door after them. * * * * * It took him a long time to find his way to the hold. The ship was big and apparently empty of crew. Jason finally found a man sleeping in one of the brightly lit cabins. He recognized him as the driver who had turned the car over to them on Cassylia. The man, who had been sleeping soundly a moment before, opened his eyes as soon as Jason drifted into the room. He was wide awake. "How do I get to the cargo hold?" Jason asked. The other told him, closed his eyes and went instantly back to sleep before Jason could even say thanks. In the hold, Kerk and Meta had opened some of the crates and were chortling with joy over their lethal contents. Meta, a pressure canister in her arms, turned to Jason as he came through the door. "Just look at this," she said. "This powder in here--why you can eat it like dirt, with less harm. Yet it is instantly deadly to all forms of vegetable life ..." She stopped suddenly as she realized Jason didn't share her extreme pleasure. "I'm sorry. I forgot for a moment there that you weren't a Pyrran. So you don't really understand, do you?" Before he could answer, the PA speaker called her name. "Jump time," she said. "Come with me to the bridge while I do the equations. We can talk there. I know so little about any place except Pyrrus that I have a million questions to ask." Jason followed her to the bridge where she relieved the duty officer and began taking readings for the jump-setting. She looked out of place among the machines, a sturdy but supple figure in a simple, one-piece shipsuit. Yet there was no denying the efficiency with which she went about her job. "Meta, aren't you a little young to be the pilot of an interstellar ship?" "Am I?" She thought for a second. "I really don't know how old pilots are supposed to be. I have been piloting for about three years now and I'm almost twenty. Is that younger than usual?" Jason opened his mouth--then laughed. "I suppose that all depends on what planet you're from. Some places you would have trouble getting licensed. But I'll bet things are different on Pyrrus. By their standards you must rank as an old lady." "Now you're making a joke," Meta said serenely as she fed a figure into the calculator. "I've seen old ladies on some planets. They are wrinkled and have gray hair. I don't know how old they are, I asked one but she wouldn't tell me her age. But I'm sure they must be older than anyone on Pyrrus, no one looks like that there." "I don't mean old that way," Jason groped for the right word. "Not old--but grown-up, mature. An adult." "Everyone is grown-up," she answered. "At least soon after they leave the wards. And they do that when they're six. My first child is grown-up, and the second one would be, too, only he's dead. So I surely must be." That seemed to settle the question for her, though Jason's thoughts jumped with the alien concepts and background, inherent behind her words. * * * * * Meta punched in the last setting, and the course tape began to chunk out of the case. She turned her attention back to Jason. "I'm glad you're aboard this trip, though I am sorry you are going to Pyrrus. But we'll have lots of time to talk. There are so many things I want to find out about other planets, and why people go around acting the way they do. Not at all like home where you know why people are doing things all the time." She frowned over the tape for a moment, then turned her attention back to Jason. "What is your home planet like?" One after another the usual lies he told people came to his lips, and were pushed away. Why bother lying to a girl who really didn't care if you were serf or noble? To her there were only two kinds of people in the galaxy--Pyrrans, and the rest. For the first time since he had fled from Porgorstorsaand he found himself telling someone the truth of his origin. "My home planet? Just about the stuffiest, dullest, dead-end in the universe. You can't believe the destructive decay of a planet that is mainly agrarian, caste-conscious and completely satisfied with its own boring existence. Not only is there no change--but no one wants change. My father was a farmer, so I should have been a farmer too--if I had listened to the advice of my betters. It was unthinkable, as well as forbidden for me to do anything else. And everything I wanted to do was against the law. I was fifteen before I learned to read--out of a book stolen from a noble school. After that there was no turning back. By the time I stowed aboard an off-world freighter at nineteen I must have broken every law on the planet. Happily. Leaving home for me was just like getting out of prison." Meta shook her head at the thought. "I just can't imagine a place like that. But I'm sure I wouldn't like it there." "I'm sure you wouldn't," Jason laughed. "So once I was in space, with no law-abiding talents or skills, I just wandered into one thing and another. In this age of technology I was completely out of place. Oh, I suppose I could have done well in some army, but I'm not so good at taking orders. Whenever I gambled I did well, so little by little I just drifted into it. People are the same everywhere, so I manage to make out well wherever I end up." "I know what you mean about people being alike--but they are so different," she said. "I'm not being clear at all, am I? What I mean is that at home I know what people will do and why they do it at the same time. People on all the other planets do act alike, as you said, yet I have very much trouble understanding why. For instance, I like to try the local food when we set down on a planet, and if there is time I always do. There are bars and restaurants near every spaceport so I go there. And I always have trouble with the men. They want to buy me drinks, hold my hand--" "Well, a single girl in those port joints has to expect a certain amount of interest from the men." "Oh, I know that," she said. "What I don't understand is why they don't listen when I tell them I am not interested and to go away. They just laugh and pull up a chair, usually. But I have found that one thing works wherever I am. I tell them if they don't stop bothering me I'll break their arm." "Does that stop them?" Jason asked. "No, of course not. But after I break their arm they go away. And the others don't bother me either. It's a lot of fuss to go through and the food is usually awful." Jason didn't laugh. Particularly when he realized that this girl could break the arm of any spaceport thug in the galaxy. She was a strange mixture of naivete and strength, unlike anyone he had ever met before. Once again he realized that he had to visit the planet that produced people like her and Kerk. "Tell me about Pyrrus," he asked. "Why is it that you and Kerk assume automatically that I will drop dead as soon as I land? What is the planet like?" All the warmth was gone from her face now. "I can't tell you. You will have to see for yourself. I know that much after visiting some of the other worlds. Pyrrus is like nothing you galaxy people have ever experienced. You won't really believe it until it is too late. Will you promise me something?" "No," he answered. "At least not until after I hear what it is and decide." "Don't leave the ship when we land. You should be safe enough aboard, and I'll be flying a cargo out within a few weeks." "I'll promise nothing of the sort. I'll leave when I want to leave." Jason knew there was logic in her words, but his back was up at her automatic superiority. Meta finished the jump settings without another word. There was a tension in the room that prevented them both from talking. It was the next shipday before he saw her again, then it was completely by accident. She was in the astrogation dome when he entered, looking up at the sparkling immensity of the jump sky. For the first time he saw her off duty, wearing something other than a shipsuit. This was a loose, soft robe that accentuated her beauty. She smiled at him. "The stars are so wonderful," she said. "Come look." Jason came close to her and with an unthinking, almost automatic movement, put his arm around her. Neither did she resent it, for she covered his hand with hers. Then they kissed and it was just the way he knew it would be.