The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Viii Part 45
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The heat became intense. My wife and her soldiers began to feel the necessity for refreshment. My wife is accustomed to regular meals. The sun grew in strength as the time went on, and my wife gave the order to sit at ease, which was signalled to my mother. My mother tells me that she was never so pleased in her life.
One o'clock struck; two o'clock; three o'clock; and still no Wenuses. Faint sounds were now audible from the crockery department, and then a hissing, which pa.s.sed by degrees into a humming, a long, loud droning noise. It resembled as nearly as anything the boiling of an urn at a tea-meeting, and awoke in the b.r.e.a.s.t.s of my wife and her army an intense and unconquerable longing for tea, which was accentuated as four o'clock was reached. Still no Wenuses. Another hour dragged wearily on, and the craving for tea had become positively excruciating when five o'clock rang out.
At that moment, the gla.s.s doors of the crockery department were flung open, and out poured a procession of Wenuses smiling, said my mother, with the utmost friendliness, dressed as A.B.C. girls, and bearing trays studded with cups and saucers.
With the most seductive and ingratiating charm, a cup was handed to my wife. What to do she did not for the moment know. "Could such a gift be guileless?" she asked herself. "No." And yet the Wenuses looked friendly. Finally her martial spirit prevailed and my wife repulsed the cup, adjuring the rank and file to do the same. But in vain. Every member of my wife's wing of that fainting army greedily grasped a cup. Alas! what could they know of the deadly Tea-Tray of the Wenuses? Nothing, absolutely nothing, such is the disgraceful neglect of science in our schools and colleges. And so they drank and were consumed.
Meanwhile my mother, at the head of the south wing of the army, which had been entirely overlooked by the Wenuses, stood watching the destruction of my wife's host--a figure petrified with alarm and astonishment. One by one she watched her sisters in arms succ.u.mb to the awful Tea-Tray.
Then it was that this intrepid woman rose to her greatest height.
"Come!" she cried to her Amazons. "Come! They have no more tea left. Now is the moment ripe."
With these spirited words, my mother and her troops proceeded to charge down Queen's Road upon the unsuspecting Wenuses.
But they had reckoned without the enemy.
The tumult of the advancing host caught the ear of the Wonderful Wisitors, and in an instant they had extracted glittering cases of their crimson cigarettes from their pockets, and lighting them in the strange fas.h.i.+on I have described elsewhere, they proceeded to puff the smoke luxuriously into the faces of my mother and her comrades.
Alas! little did these gallant females know of the horrible properties of the Red Weed. How could they, with our science-teaching in such a wretched state?
The smoke grew in volume and density, spread and spread, and in a few minutes the south wing of my wife's army was as supine as the north.
How my wife and mother escaped I shall not say. I make a point of never explaining the escape of my wife, whether from Martians or Wenuses; but that night, as Commander-in-Chief, she issued this cataleptic despatch: "The Wenuses are able to paralyse all but strong-minded women with their deadly Tea-Tray. Also they burn a Red Weed, the smoke of which has smothered our troops in Westbourne Grove. No sooner have they despoiled Whiteley's than they will advance upon Jay's and Marshall and Snelgrove's. It is impossible to stop them. There is no safety from the Tea-Tray and the Red Weed but in instant flight."
That night the world was again lit by a pale pink flash of light. It was the Fifth Crinoline.
The general stampede that ensued on the publication of my wife's despatch is no fit subject for the pen of a coherent scientific writer. Suffice it to say, that in the s.p.a.ce of twenty-four hours London was practically empty, with the exception of the freaks at Barnum's, the staff of The Undertakers' Gazette, and Mrs. Elphinstone (for that, pace Wilkie Collins, was the name of the Woman in White), who would listen to no reasoning, but kept calling upon "George," for that was the name of my cousin's man, who had been in the service of Lord Garrick, the Chief Justice, who had succ.u.mbed to dipsomania in the previous invasion.
Meantime the Wenuses, flushed with their success in Westbourne Grove, had carried their devastating course in a south-easterly direction, looting Marshall and Snelgrove's, bearing away the entire stock of driving-gloves from Sleep's and subjecting Redfern's to the asphyxiating fumes of the Red Weed.
It is calculated that they spent nearly two days in Jay's, trying on all the costumes in that establishment, and a week in Peter Robinson's. During these days I never quitted Uxbridge Road Station, for just as I was preparing to leave, my eye caught the t.i.tle on the bookstall of Grant Allen's work, The Idea of Evolution! and I could not stir from the platform until I had skimmed it from cover to cover.
Wearily mounting the stairs, I then turned my face westward. At the corner of Royal Crescent, just by the cabstand, I found a man lying in the roadway. His face was stained with the Red Weed, and his language was quite unfit for the columns of Nature.
I applied a limp lettuce to his fevered brow, took his temperature with my theodolite, and pressing a copy of Home Chat into his unresisting hand, pa.s.sed on with a sigh. I think I should have stayed with him but for the abnormal obtusity of his facial angle.
Turning up Clarendon Road, I heard the faint words of the Wenusberg music by Wagner from a pianoforte in the second story of No. 34. I stepped quickly into a jeweller's shop across the road, carried off eighteen immature carats from a tray on the counter, and pitched them through the open window at the invisible pianist. The music ceased suddenly.
It was when I began to ascend Notting Hill that I first heard the hooting. It reminded me at first of a Siren, and then of the top note of my maiden aunt, in her day a notorious soprano vocalist. She subsequently emigrated to France, and entered a nunnery under the religious name of Soeur Marie Jeanne. "Tul-ulla-lulla-liety," wailed the Voice in a sort of superhuman jodel, coming, as it seemed to me, from the region of Westminster Bridge.
The persistent ululation began to get upon my nerves. I found, moreover, that I was again extremely hungry and thirsty. It was already noon. Why was I wandering alone in this derelict city, clad in my wife's skirt and my cook's Sunday bonnet?
Grotesque and foolish as it may seem to the scientific reader, I was entirely unable to answer this simple conundrum. My mind reverted to my school days. I found myself declining musa. Curious to relate, I had entirely forgotten the genitive of ego.... With infinite trouble I managed to break into a vegetarian restaurant, and made a meal off some precocious haricot beans, a brace of Welsh rabbits, and ten bottles of botanic beer.
Working back into Holland Park Avenue and thence keeping steadily along High Street, Notting Hill Gate, I determined to make my way to the Marble Arch, in the hopes of finding some fresh materials for my studies in the Stone Age.
In Bark Place, where the Ladies' Kennel Club had made their vast grand-stand, were a number of pitiful vestiges of the Waterloo of women-kind. There was a shattered Elswick bicycle, about sixteen yards and a half of nun's veiling, and fifty-three tortoise-sh.e.l.l side-combs. I gazed on the debris with apathy mingled with contempt. My movements were languid, my plans of the vaguest. I knew that I wished to avoid my wife, but had no clear idea how the avoiding was to be done.
From Orme Square, a lean-faced, unkempt and haggard waif, I drifted to Great Orme's Head and back again. Senile dementia had already laid its spectral clutch upon my wizened cerebellum when I was rescued by some kindly people, who tell me that they found me scorching down Hays Hill on a cus.h.i.+on-tired ordinary. They have since told me that I was singing "My name is John Wellington Wells, Hurrah!" and other s.n.a.t.c.hes from a pre-Wenusian opera.
These generous folk, though severely hara.s.sed by their own anxieties, took me in and cared for me. I was a lonely man and a sad one, and they bored me. In spite of my desire to give public expression to my grat.i.tude, they have refused to allow their names to appear in these pages, and they consequently enjoy the proud prerogative of being the only anonymous persons in this book. I stayed with them at the Bath Club for four days, and with tears parted from them on the spring-board. They would have kept me for ever, but that would have interfered with my literary plans. Besides, I had a morbid desire to gaze on the Wenuses once more.
And so I went out into the streets again, guided by the weird Voice, and via Grafton Street, Albemarle Street, the Royal Arcade, Bond Street, Burlington Gardens, Vigo Street and Sackville Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street, Pall Mall East, c.o.c.kspur Street and Whitehall, steadily wheeled my way across Westminster Bridge.
There were few people about and their skins were all yellow. Lessing, presumably in his Laoc.o.o.n, has attributed this to the effects of sheer panic; but Carver's explanation, which attributes the ochre-like tint to the hypodermic operation of the Mash-Glance, seems far more plausible. For myself I abstain from casting the weight of my support in either scale, because my particular province is speculative philosophy and not comparative dermatology.
As I pa.s.sed St. Thomas's Hospital, the tullululation grew ever louder and louder. At last the source of the sound could no longer be disguised. It proceeded without doubt from the interior of some soap works just opposite Doulton's. The gate was open and a faint saponaceous exhalation struck upon my dilated nostrils. I have always been peculiarly susceptible to odours, though my particular province is not Osmetics but speculative philosophy, and I at once resolved to enter. Leaning my bicycle against the wall of the archway, I walked in, and was immediately confronted by the object of my long search.
There, grouped picturesquely round a quant.i.ty of large tanks, stood the Wenuses, blowing a.s.siduously through pellucid pipettes and simultaneously chanting in tones of unearthly gravity a strain poignantly suggestive of baffled hopes, thwarted aspirations and impending departure. So absorbed were they in their strange preparations, that they were entirely unconscious of my presence. Grotesque and foolish as this may seem to the infatuated reader, it is absolutely true.
Gradually from out the troubled surface of the tanks there rose a succession of transparent iridescent globules, steadily waxing in bulk until they had attained a diameter of about sixteen feet. The Wenuses then desisted from their labours of inflation, and suddenly plunging into the tanks, reappeared inside these opalescent globules. I can only repeat that speculative philosophy, and not sapoleaginous hydro-dynamics, is my particular forte, and would refer doubtful readers, in search of further information, to the luminous hypothesis advanced by Professor Cleaver of Was.h.i.+ngton to account for the imbullification of the Wenuses.
Never shall I forget the touching scene that now unfolded itself before my bewildered eyes. Against a back ground of lemon-coloured sky, with the stars shedding their spiritual l.u.s.tre through the purple twilight, these gorgeous creatures, each ensphered in her beatific bubble, floated tremulously upward on the balmy breeze. In a moment it all flashed upon me. They were pa.s.sing away from the scene of their brief triumph, and I, a lonely and dejected scientist, saw myself doomed to expiate a moment's madness in long years of ineffectual speculation on the probable development of Moral Ideas.
My mind reverted to my abandoned arguments, embodied in the article which lay beneath the selenite paperweight in my study in Campden Hill Gardens. Frenzied with despair, I shot out an arm to arrest the upward transit of the nearest Wenus, when a strange thing occurred.
"At last!" said a voice.
I was startled. It was my wife, accompanied by Mrs. Elphinstone, my cousin's man, my mother, the widow of the landlord of the "Dog and Measles," Master Herodotus Tibbles in deep mourning, and the Artillery-man's brother from Beauchamp's little livery stables.
I shot an appealing glance to the disappearing Wenus. She threw me a kiss. I threw her another.
My wife took a step forward, and put her hand to my ear. I fell.
[Footnote 1: Cleaver in a subsequent Memoir [Sonnenschein, London, pp. xiv., 954, 20 in. x 8-1/2, price 2 2s. net] has made out, reluctantly and against the judgment of his firm, that the basic material of the globules, the peculiar tenacity of which was due to some toughening ingredient imported by the Wisitors from their planet, was undoubtedly that indispensable domestic article which is alleged to "save rubbing."]
My mother, whose vigilance during the Wenuses' invasion has been throughout of the greatest a.s.sistance to me, kept copies of the various papers of importance which commented upon that event. From them I am enabled, with my mother's consent, to supplement the allusions to contemporary journalism in the body of my history with the following extracts:-- The Times, or, as it is better known, the Thunder Child of Printing House Square, said: "The Duke of Curzon's statesmanlike reply in the House of Lords last night to the inflammatory question or string of questions put by Lord Ashmead with reference to our planetary visitors will go far to mitigate the unreasoning panic which has laid hold of a certain section of the community. As to the methods by which it has been proposed to confront and repel the invaders, the Duke's remark, 'that the use of dynamite violated the chivalrous instincts which were at the root of the British Nature,' called forth loud applause. The Foreign Secretary, however, showed that, while deprecating senseless panic, he was ready to take any reasonable steps to allay the natural anxiety of the public, and rising later on in the evening, he announced that a Royal Commission had been appointed, on which Lord Ashmead, Dr. Joseph Parker (of the City Temple), and Mr. Hall Caine, representing the Isle of Man, had consented to serve, and would be dispatched without delay to Kensington Gardens to inquire into the cause of the visit, and, if possible, to induce the new comers to accept an invitation to tea on the Terrace. By way of supplementing these tranquillizing a.s.surances, we may add that we have the authority of the best scientific experts, including Dr. Moreau, Professor Sprudelkopf of Carlsbad, and Dr. Fountain Penn of Philadelphia, for a.s.serting that no animate beings could survive their transference from the atmosphere of Venus to that of our planet for more than fourteen days. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the members of the Royal Commission may be successful in impressing upon our aerial visitors the imperative necessity of a speedy return. In these negotiations it is antic.i.p.ated that the expressive pantomime of Dr. Parker, and Mr. Hall Caine's mastery of the Manx dialect, will be of the greatest possible a.s.sistance."
To the Daily Telegraph Sir Edwin Arnold contributed a poem ent.i.tled "Aphrodite Anadyomene; or, Venus at the Round Pond." My mother can remember only the last stanza, which ran as follows: "Though I fly to Fus.h.i.+yama, Steeped in opalescent Karma, I shall ne'er forget my charmer, My adorable Khansamah. Though I fly to Tokio, Where the sweet chupatties blow, I shall ne'er forget thee, no! Yamagata, daimio."
A s.h.i.+lling testimonial to the Wenuses was also started by the same journal, in accordance with the precedent furnished by the similar treatment of the Graces, and an animated controversy raged in its correspondence columns with reference to mixed bathing at Margate, and its effect on the morality of the Wenuses.
A somewhat painful impression was created by the publication of an interview with a well-known dramatic critic in the periodical known as Great Scott's Thoughts. This eminent authority gave it as his unhesitating opinion that the Wenuses were not fit persons to a.s.sociate with actors, actresses, or dramatic critics, and that if, as was announced, they had been engaged at Covent Garden to lend realistic verisimilitude to the Venusberg scene in Tannhauser, it was his firm resolve to give up his long crusade against Ibsen, emigrate to Norway, and change his name to that of John Gabriel Borkman. A prolonged sojourn in Poppyland, however, resulted in the withdrawal of this dreadful threat, and, some few weeks after the extinction of the Wenuses, his reconciliation with the dramatic profession was celebrated at a public meeting, where, after embracing all the actor-managers in turn, he was presented by them with a magnificent silver b.u.t.ter-boat, filled to the brim with melted b.u.t.ter ready for immediate use.
My mother has obtained permission from the Laureate's publishers to reprint the following stanzas from "The Pale Pink Raid":-- "Wrong? O of coa.r.s.e it's heinous, But we're going, girls, you just bet! Do they think that the Wars of Wenus Can be stopped by an epithet? When the henpecked Earth-men pray us To join them at afternoon tea, Not rhyme nor reason can stay us From flying to set them free.
"When the men on that hapless planet, Handsome and kind and true, Cry out, 'Hurry up!' O hang it! What else can a Wenus do? I suppose it was rather bad form, girls, But really we didn't care, For our planet was growing too warm, girls, And we wanted a change of air.
"Mrs. Grundy may go on snarling, But still, at the Judgment Day, The author of England's Darling I think won't give us away. We failed, but we chose to chance it, And as one of the beaten side, I'd rather have made that transit Than written Jameson's Ride!"
By T. D. Hamm
Tommy hated Earth, knowing his mother might go home to Mars without him. Worse, would a robot secretly take her place?...
Tommy Benton, on his first visit to Earth, found the long-antic.i.p.ated wonders of twenty-first-century New York thrilling the first week, boring and unhappy the second week, and at the end of the third he was definitely ready to go home.
The never-ending racket of traffic was torture to his abnormally acute ears. Increased atmospheric pressure did funny things to his chest and stomach. And quick and sure-footed on Mars, he struggled constantly against the heavy gravity that made all his movements clumsy and uncoordinated.
The endless canyons of towering buildings, with their connecting Skywalks, oppressed and smothered him. Remembering the endless vistas of rabbara fields beside a ca.n.a.l that was like an inland sea, homesickness flooded over him.
He hated the people who stared at him with either open or hidden amus.e.m.e.nt. His Aunt Bee, for instance, who looked him up and down with frank disapproval and said loudly, "For Heavens sake, Helen! Take him to a good tailor and get those bones covered up!"
Was it his fault he was six inches taller than Terran boys his age, and had long, thin arms and legs? Or that his chest was abnormally developed to compensate for an oxygen-thin atmosphere? I'd like to see her, he thought fiercely, out on the Flatlands; she'd be gasping like a ca.n.a.l-fish out of water.
Even his parents, happily riding the social merry-go-round of Terra, after eleven years in the Martian flatlands, didn't seem to understand how he felt.
"Don't you like Earth, Tommy?" queried his mother anxiously.
"Oh ... it's all right, I guess."
"... 'A nice place to visit' ..." said his father sardonically.
"... 'but I wouldn't live here if they gave me the place!' ..." said his mother, and they both burst out laughing for no reason that Tommy could see. Of course, they did that lots of times at home and Tommy laughed with them just for the warm, secure feeling of belonging. This time he didn't feel like laughing.
"When are we going home?" he repeated stubbornly.
His father pulled Tommy over in the crook of his arm and said gently, "Well, not right away, son. As a matter of fact, how would you like to stay here and go to school?"
Tommy pulled away and looked at him incredulously.
"I've been to school!"
"Well, yes," admitted his father. "But only to the colony schools. You don't want to grow up and be an ignorant Martian sandfoot all your life, do you?"
"Yes, I do! I want to be a Martian sandfoot. And I want to go home where people don't look at me and say, 'So this is your little Martian!'"
Benton, Sr., put his arm around Tommy's stiffly resistant shoulders. "Look here, old man," he said persuasively. "I thought you wanted to be a s.p.a.ce engineer. You can't do that without an education you know. And your Aunt Bee will take good care of you."
Tommy faced him stubbornly. "I don't want to be any old s.p.a.ceman. I want to be a sandfoot like old Pete. And I want to go home."
Helen bit back a smile at the two earnest, stubborn faces so ridiculously alike, and hastened to avert the gathering storm.
"Now look, fellows. Tommy's career doesn't have to be decided in the next five minutes ... after all, he's only ten. He can make up his mind later on if he wants to be an engineer or a rabbara farmer. Right now, he's going to stay here and go to school ... and I'm staying with him."
Resolutely avoiding both crestfallen faces, Helen, having shepherded Tommy to bed, returned to the living room acutely conscious of Big Tom's bleak, hurt gaze at her back.
"Helen, you're going to make a sissy out of the boy," he said at last. "There isn't any reason why he can't stay here at home with Bee."
Helen turned to face him.
"Earth isn't home to Tommy. And your sister Bee told him he ought to be out playing football with the boys instead of hanging around the house."
"But she knows the doctor said he'd have to take it easy for a year till he was accustomed to the change in gravity and air-pressure," he answered incredulously.
"Exactly. She also asked me," Helen went on grimly, "if I thought he'd be less of a freak as he got older."
Tom Benton swore. "Bee always did have less sense than the average hen," he gritted. "My son a freak! h.e.l.l's-bells!"
Tommy, arriving at the hall door in time to hear the tail-end of the sentence, crept back to bed feeling numb and dazed. So even his father thought he was a freak.
The last few days before parting was one of strain for all of them. If Tommy was unnaturally subdued, no one noticed it; his parents were not feeling any great impulse toward gaiety either.
They all went dutifully sight-seeing as before; they saw the Zoo, and went shopping on the Skywalks, and on the last day wound up at the great showrooms of "Androids, Inc."
Tommy had hated them on sight; they were at once too human and too inhuman for comfort. The hotel was full of them, and most private homes had at least one. Now they saw the great incubating vats, and the processing and finally the showroom where one of the finished products was on display as a maid, sweeping and dusting.
"There's one that's a dead-ringer for you, Helen. If you were a little better looking, that is." Tommy's dad pretended to compare them judicially. Helen laughed, but Tommy looked at him with a resentfulness. Comparing his mother to an Android....
"They say for a little extra you can get an exact resemblance. Maybe I'd better have one fixed up like you to take back with me," Big Tom added teasingly. Then as Helen's face clouded over, "Oh, hon, you know I was only kidding. Let's get out of here; this place gives me the collywobbles. Besides, I've got to pick up my watch."
But his mother's face was still unhappy and Tommy glowered sullenly at his father's back all the way to the watch-shop.
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Viii Part 45
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