AS THE procession drew nearer Ransom saw that the foremost hrossa were supporting three long and narrow burdens. They carried them on their heads, four hrossa to each. After these came a number of others armed with harpoons and apparently guarding two creatures which he did not recognize. The light was behind them as they entered between the two farthest monoliths. They were much shorter than any animal he had yet seen on Malacandra, and he gathered that they were bipeds, though the lower limbs were so thick and sausage-like that he hesitated to call them legs. The bodies were a little narrower at the top than at the bottom so as to be very slightly pear-shaped, and the heads were neither round like those of hrossa nor long like those of sorns, but almost square. They stumped along on narrow, heavy-looking feet which they seemed to press into the ground with unnecessary violence. And now their faces were becoming visible as masses of lumped and puckered flesh of variegated colour fringed in some bristly, dark substance.... Suddenly, with an indescribable change of feeling, he realized that he was looking at men. The two prisoners were Weston and Devine and he, for one privileged moment, had seen the human form with almost Malacandrian eyes.
The leaders of the procession had now advanced to within a few yards of Oyarsa and laid down their burdens. These, he now saw, were three dead hrossa laid on biers of some unknown metal; they were on their backs and their eyes, not closed as we close the eyes of human dead, stared disconcertingly up at the far-off golden canopy of the grove. One of them he took to be Hyoi, and it was certainly Hyoi's brother, Hyahi, who now came forward, and after an obeisance to Oyarsa began to speak.
Ransom at first did not hear what he was saying, for his attention was concentrated on Weston and Devine. They were weaponless and vigilantly guarded by the armed hrossa about them. Both of them, like Ransom himself, had let their beards grow ever since they landed on Malacandra, and both were pale and travel stained. Weston was standing with folded arms, and his face wore a fixed, even an elaborate, expression of desperation. Devine, with his hands in his pockets, seemed to be in a state of furious sulks. Both clearly thought that they had good reason to fear, though neither was by any means lacking in courage. Surrounded by their guards as they were, and intent on the scene before them, they had not noticed Ransom.
He became aware of what Hyoi's brother was saying.
"For the death of these two, Oyarsa, I do not so much complain, for when we fell upon the hmana by night they were in terror. You may say it was as a hunt and these two were killed as they might have been by a hnakra. But Hyoi they hit from afar with a coward's weapon when he had done nothing to frighten them. And now he lies there (and I do not say it because he was my brother, but all the handramit knows it) and he was a hnakrapunt and a great poet and the loss of him is heavy."
The voice of Oyarsa spoke for the first time to the two men.
"Why have you killed my hnau?" it said.
Weston and Devine looked anxiously about them to identify the speaker.
"God!" exclaimed Devine in English. "Don't tell me they've got a loudspeaker."
"Ventriloquism," replied Weston in a husky whisper. "Quite common among savages. The witch-doctor or medicine-man pretends to go into a trance and he does it. The thing to do is to identify the medicine-man and address your remarks to him wherever the voice seems to come from; it shatters his nerve and shows you've seen through him. Do you see any of the brutes in a trance? By Jove - I've spotted him."
Due credit must be given to Weston for his powers of observation: he had picked out the only creature in the assembly which was not standing in an attitude of reverence and attention. This was an elderly hross close beside him. It was squatting; and its eyes were shut. Taking a step towards it, he struck a defiant attitude and exclaimed in a loud voice (his knowledge of the language was elementary):
"Why you take our puff-bangs away? We very angry with you. We not afraid."
On Weston's hypothesis his action ought to have been impressive. Unfortunately for him, no one else shared his theory of the elderly hross's behaviour. The hross - who was well known to all of them, including Ransom - had not come with the funeral procession. It had been in its place since dawn. Doubtless it intended no disrespect to Oyarsa; but it must be confessed that it had yielded, at a much earlier stage in the proceedings, to an infirmity which attacks elderly hnau of all species, and was by this time enjoying a profound and refreshing slumber. One of its whiskers twitched a little as Weston shouted in its face, but its eyes remained shut.
The voice of Oyarsa spoke again. "Why do you speak to him?" it said. "It is I who ask you, Why have you killed my hnau?"
"'You let us go, then we talkee-talkee," bellowed Weston at the sleeping hross. "You think we no power, think you do all you like. You no can. Great big headman in sky he send us. You no do what I say, he come, blow you all up - Pouff! Bang!"
"I do not know what bang means," said the voice. "But why have you killed my hnau?"
"Say it was an accident," muttered Devine to Weston in English.
"I've told you before," replied Weston in the same language. "You don't understand how to deal with natives. One sign of yielding and they'll be at our throats. The only thing is to intimidate them."
"All right! Do your stuff, then," growled Devine. He was obviously losing faith in his partner.
Weston cleared his throat and again rounded on the elderly hross.
"We kill him," he shouted. "Show what we can do. Every one who no do all we say - pouff! bang! - kill him same as that one. You do all we say and we give you much pretty things. See! See!" To Ransom's intense discomfort, Weston at this point whipped out of his pocket a brightly coloured necklace of beads, the undoubted work of Mr Woolworth, and began dangling it in front of the faces of his guards, turning slowly round and round and repeating, "Pretty, pretty! See! See!"
The result of this manoeuvre was more striking than Weston himself had anticipated. Such a roar of sounds as human ears had never heard before - baying of hrossa, piping of pfifltriggi, booming of sorns - burst out and rent the silence of that august place, waking echoes from the distant mountain walls. Even in the air above them there was a faint ringing of the eldil voices.
It is greatly to Weston's credit that though he paled at this he did not lose his nerve.
"You no rear at me," he thundered. "No try make me afraid. Me no afraid of you."
"You must forgive my people," said the voice of Oyarsa - and even it was subtly changed -" but they are not roaring at you. They are only laughing."
But Weston did not know the Malacandrian word for laugh: indeed, it was not a word he understood very well in any language. He looked about him with a puzzled expression. Ransom, biting his lips with mortification, almost prayed that one experiment with the beads would satisfy the scientist; but that was because he did not know Weston. The latter saw that the clamour had subsided. He knew that he was following the most orthodox rules for frightening and then conciliating primitive races; and he was not the man to be deterred by one or two failures. The roar that went up from the throats of all spectators as he again began revolving like a slow motion picture of a humming-top, occasionally mopping his brow with his left hand and conscientiously jerking the necklace up and down with his right, completely drowned anything he might be attempting to say; but Ransom saw his lips moving and had little doubt that he was working away at "Pretty, pretty!" Then suddenly the sound of laughter almost redoubled its volume. The stars in their courses were fighting against Weston. Some hazy memory of efforts made long since to entertain an infant niece had begun to penetrate his highly trained mind. He was bobbing up and down from the knees and holding his head on one side; he was almost dancing; and he was by now very hot indeed. For all Ransom knew he was saying "Diddle, diddle, diddle."
It was sheer exhaustion which ended the great physicist's performance - the most successful of its kind ever given on Malacandra - and with it the sonorous raptures of his audience. As silence returned Ransom heard Devine's voice in English:
"For God's sake stop making a buffoon of yourself, Weston," it said. "Can't you see it won't work?"
"It doesn't seem to be working," admitted Weston, "and I'm inclined to think they have even less intelligence than we supposed. Do you think, perhaps, if I tried it just once again - or would you like to try this time?"
"Oh, Hell!" said Devine, and, turning his back on his partner, sat down abruptly on the ground, produced his cigarette case and began to smoke.
"I'll give it to the witch-doctor," said Weston during the moment of silence which Devine's action had produced among the mystified spectators; and before anyone could stop him he took a step forward and attempted to drop the string of beads round the elderly hross's neck. The hross's head was, however, too large for this operation and the necklace merely settled on its forehead like a crown, slightly over one eye. It shifted its head a little, like a dog worried with flies, snorted gently, and resumed its sleep.
Oyarsa's voice now addressed Ransom. "Are your fellow-creatures hurt in their brains, Ransom of Thulcandra?", it said. "Or are they too much afraid to answer my questions?"
"I think, Oyarsa," said Ransom, "that they do not believe you are there. And they believe that all these hnau are - are like very young cubs. The thicker hman is trying to frighten them and then to please them with gifts."
At the sound of Ransom's voice the two prisoners turned sharply around. Weston was about to speak when Ransom interrupted him hastily in English:
"Listen, Weston. It is not a trick. There really is a creature there in the middle - there where you can see a kind of light, or a kind of something, if you look hard. And it is at least as intelligent as a man - they seem to live an enormous time. Stop treating it like a child and answer its questions. And if you take my advice, you'll speak the truth and not bluster."
"The brutes seem to have intelligence enough to take you in, anyway," growled Weston; but it was in a somewhat modified voice that he turned once more to the sleeping hross - the desire to wake up the supposed witchdoctor was becoming an obsession - and addressed it.
"We sorry we kill him," he said, pointing to Hyoi. "No go to kill him. Sorns tell us bring man, give him your big head. We got away back into sky. He come" (here he indicated Ransom) "with us. He very bent man, run away, no do what sorns say like us. We run after him, get him back for sorns, want to do what we say and sorns tell us, see? He not let us. Run away, run, run. We run after. See a big black one, think he kill us, we kill him - pouff! bang!
All for bent man. He no run away, he be good, we no run after, no kill big black one, see? You have bent man - bent man make all trouble - you plenty keep him, let us go. He afraid of you, we no afraid. Listen -"
At this moment Weston's continual bellowing in the face of the hross at last produced the effect he had striven for so long. The creature opened its eyes and stared mildly at him in some perplexity. Then, gradually realizing the impropriety of which it had been guilty, it rose slowly to its standing position, bowed respectfully to Oyarsa, and finally waddled out of the assembly still carrying the necklace draped over its right ear and eye. Weston, his mouth still open, followed the retreating figure with his gaze till it vanished among the stems of the grove.
It was Oyarsa who broke the silence. "We have had mirth enough," he said, "and it is time to hear true answers to our questions. Something is wrong in your head, hnau from Thulcandra. There is too much blood in it. Is Firikitekila here?"
"Here, Oyarsa," said a pfifltrigg.
"Have you in your cisterns water that has been made cold?"
"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.