The Devolutionist and the Emancipatrix
Chapter VIII: Fire!
From the corner of his eyes Kinney saw Van Emmon turn a gaze of frank admiration at his wife. It lasted only a second, however; the geologist remembered, and masked the expression before Billie could detect it.
Smith had been electrified by the idea.
“By George!” he exclaimed two or three times. “Why didn’t I think of that? It’s simple as A, B, C now!”
“Why,” Van Emmon exulted, “all we’ve got to do is put the idea of fire into their heads, and the job is done!” He jumped around in his chair. “Darn those bees, anyhow!”
“And yet,” observed the doctor, “it’s not quite as simple as we may think. Of course it’s true that once they have fire, the humans ought to assert themselves. We’ll let that stand without argument.”
“Will we?” Smith didn’t propose to back down that easy. “Do you mean to say that fire, and nothing more than fire, can bring about human ascendency?”
The doctor felt sure. “All the other animals are afraid of fire. Such exceptions as the moth are really not exceptions at all; the moth is simply driven so mad by the sight of flame that it commits suicide in it. Horses sometimes do the same.
“Humans are the only creatures that do not fear fire! Even a tiny baby will show no fear at the sight of it.”
“Which ought to prove,” Van Emmon cut in to silence Smith, “that superiority is due to fire, rather than fire due to superiority, for the simple reason that a newborn child is very low in the scale of evolution.” Smith decided not to say what he intended to say. Van Emmon concluded:
“We’ve just got to give ‘em fire! What’s the first step?”
“I propose,” from the doctor, “that when we get in touch this time we concentrate on the idea of fire. We’ve got to give them the notion first.”
“Would you rather,” inquired Billie, “that I kept the idea from Supreme?”
“Thanks,” returned her husband, icily, “but you might just as well tell her, too. It’ll make her afraid in advance, all the better!”
The engineer threw himself back in his seat. “I’m with you,” said he, laying aside his argument. The rest followed his example, and presently were looking upon Sanus again.
All told, this particular session covered a good many hours. The four kept up a more or less connected mental conversation with each other as they went along, except, of course, when the events became too exciting. Mainly they were trying to catch their agents in the proper mood for receiving telepathic communications, and it proved no easy matter. It required a state of semi-consciousness, a condition of being neither awake nor asleep. It was necessary to wait until night had fallen on that particular part of the planet. [Footnote: It should be mentioned that all parts of Sanus showed the same condition of bee supremacy and human servitude. The spot in question was quite typical of all the colonies.]
Van Emmon was the first to get results. Corrus had driven his herd back from the brook at which they had got their evening drink, and after seeing them all quietly settled for the night, he lay down on the dried grass slope of a small hill, and stared up at the sky. Van Emmon had plenty of time to study the stars as seen from Sanus, and certainly the case demanded plenty of time.
For he saw a broad band of sky, as broad as the widest part of the Milky Way, which was neither black nor sparkling with stars, but glowing as brightly as the full moon! From the eastern horizon to the zenith it stretched, a great “Silvery Way,” as Van Emmon labeled it; and as the darkness deepened and the night lengthened, the illumination crept on until the band of light stretched all the way across. Van Emmon racked his brains to account for the thing.
Then Corrus became drowsy. Van Emmon concentrated with all his might. At first he overdid the thing; Corrus was not quite drowsy enough, and the attempt only made him wakeful. Shortly, however, he became exceedingly sleepy, and the geologist’s chance came.
At the end of a few minutes the herdsman sat up, blinking. He looked around at the dark forms of the cattle, then up at the stars; he was plainly both puzzled and excited. He remained awake for hours, in fact, thinking over the strange thing he had seen “in a dream.”
Meanwhile Smith was having a similar experience with Dulnop. The young fellow was, like Corrus, alone at the time; and he, too, was made very excited and restless by what he saw.
Billie was unable to work upon her bee. Supreme retired to a hive just before dusk, but remained wide awake and more or less active, feeding voraciously, for hours upon hours. When she finally did nap, she fell asleep on such short notice that the architect was taken off her guard. The bee seemed to all but jump into slumberland.
The doctor also had to wait for Rolla. The woman sat for a long time in the growing dusk, looming out pensively over the valley. Corrus was somewhere within a mile or two, and so Kinney was not surprised to see the herdsman’s image dancing, tantalizingly, before Rolla’s eyes. She was thinking of him with all her might.
Presently she shivered with the growing coolness, and went into a rough hut, which she shared with Cunora. The girl was already asleep on a heap of freshly gathered brush. Rolla, delightfully free of any need to prepare for her night’s rest--such as locking any doors or cleaning her teeth--made herself comfortable beside her friend. Two or three yawns, and the doctor’s chance came.
Two minutes later Rolla sat bolt upright, at the same time giving out a sharp cry of amazement and alarm. Instantly Cunora awoke.
“What is it, Rolla?” terror-stricken.
“Hush!” The older woman got up and went to the opening which served as a door. There she hung a couple of skins, arranging them carefully so that no bee might enter. Coming back to Cunora, she brought her voice nearly to a whisper:
“Cunora, I have had a wonderful dream! Ye must believe me when I say that it were more than a mere dream; ‘twere a message from the great god, Mownoth, or I be mad!”
“Rolla!” The girl was more anxious than frightened now. “Ye speak wildly! Quiet thyself, and tell what thou didst see!
“It were not easy to describe,” said Rolla, getting herself under control. “I dreamed that a man, very pale of face and most curiously clad, did approach me while I was at work. He smiled and spake kindly, in a language I could not understand; but I know he meant full well.
“This be the curious thing, Cunora: He picked up a handful of leaves from the ground and laid them on the trough at my side. Then, from some place in his garments he produced a tiny stick of white wood, with a tip made of some dark-red material. This he held before mine eyes, in the dream; and then spake very reassuringly, as though bidding me not to be afraid.
“Well he might! Cunora, he took that tiny stick in his hand and moved the tip along the surface of the trough; and, behold, a miracle!”
“What happened?” breathlessly.
“In the twinkling of an eye, the stick blossomed! Blossomed, Cunora, before mine eyes! And such a blossom no eye ever beheld before. Its color was the color of the poppy, but its shape--most amazing! Its shape continually changed, Cunora; it danced about, and rose and fell; it flowed, even as water floweth in a stream, but always upward!”
“Rolla!” incredulously. “Ye would not awaken me to tell such nonsense!”
“But it were not nonsense!” insisted Rolla. “This blossom was even as I say: a living thing, as live as a kitten! And as it bloomed, behold, the stick was consumed! In a moment or two the man dropped what was left of it; I stooped--so it seemed--to pick it up; but he stopped me, and set his foot upon the beautiful thing!”
She sighed, and then hurried on. “Saying something further, also reassuring, this angel brought forth another of the strange sticks; and when he had made this one bloom, he touched it to the little pile of leaves. Behold, a greater miracle, Cunora! The blossoms spread to the leaves, and caus’ed them to bloom, too!”
Cunora was eying her companion pretty sharply. “Ye must take me for a simple one, to believe such imagining.”
Rolla became even more earnest. “Yet it were more than imagining, Cunora; ‘twere too vivid and impressive for only that. As for the leaves, the blossoming swiftly spread until it covered every bit of the pile; and I tell thee that the bloom flowed as high as thy hand! Moreover, after a moment or so, the thing faded and died out, just as flowers do at the end of the season; all that was left of the leaves was some black fragments, from which arose a bluish dust, like unto the cloud that ye and I saw in the sky one day.
“Then the stranger smiled again, and said something of which I cannot tell the meaning. Once more he performed the miracle, and this time he contrived to spread the blossom from some leaves to the tip of a large piece of wood which he took from the ground. ‘Twas a wonderful sight!
“Nay, hear me further,” as Cunora threw herself, with a grunt of impatience, back on her bed; “there is a greater wonder to tell.
“Holding this big blooming stick in one hand, he gave me his other; and it seemed as though I floated through the air by his side. Presently we came to the place where Corrus’s herd lay sleeping. The angel smote one of the cows with the flat of his hand, so that it got upon its feet; and straighway the stranger thrust the flowing blossom into its face.
“The cow shrank back, Cunora! ‘Twas deadly afraid of that beautiful flower!”
“That is odd,” admitted Cunora. She was getting interested.