Work awaited me upon my return to Caiphul, work to which I might attend without harm to my delicate health, in fact rather tending to its improvement, furnishing a proper degree
of mental stimulus, without involving any of the severe tension of study.
On the day of my arrival home, Menax said to me in a way which set me to thinking:
"I understand that the people of Suern have lost the power which they have hitherto had of providing themselves with food by seeming magic. It must be a terrible problem to them how to meet the cravings of hunger."
Whether Menax designed these words for the purpose of arousing me to a sense of my duties in the premises or not, I had at the time no idea. But I pondered the situation very earnestly. It occurred to me that these people had few if any cultivated fields like our own; that they probably had no adequate knowledge of the arts of husbandry, tillage and like requirements, and, finally, that they were not possessed of muscles trained to effort. In fact they must be, in all matters of this sort, a kind of overgrown children. The more I dwelt on the problem, the more startling the situation seemed. I saw that they would, for at least a year, require to have provision made for them. They would also have to be taught the methods of agriculture, horticulture, and care of cattle, sheep and other useful domestic animals. Later, it would be necessary to teach them such other arts as mining, spinning and metal working. In fact, here was an entire nation of eighty-five millions of people coming to school to me for tuition in the arts of life. As the full force of the position came to my realization, it staggered me. Ah, poor me! I fell upon my knees on the greensward of the gardens and prayed to Incal. As I arose I turned and found Gwauxln regarding me with a most peculiar glance. His face was as grave as possible, but his splendid eyes were full of laughter.
"Dost thou feel equal to the task?" he queried.
"Zo Rai," I replied bravely, "thy son is hard pressed. Equal? Yea; if Incal will give me guidance."
"Well said, Zailm. Thou shalt call upon the resources of Poseid to aid thee, and they shall be at thy service."
Not to be prolix, the schools were established, the food and
raiment stations were placed in given districts, and the people of Suern, the great peninsula of modern Hindustan, with parts of Arabia, were taught the means of comfortable self-preservation and dependence upon their knowledge. Not all of this was done, that is to say, supervised by me, but the initiation of it, and during three and a half years the practical work of it was conducted by me and my vice-suzerains. Perhaps I was not grateful to Incal; perhaps I never thought a second time, in these days of prosperity, of the prayer of the moneyless and unknown youth upon Pitach Rhok. But perhaps I did, too. I rather think that I was never for one moment forgetful of that morning and its vows. Yet, it is a strange fact that human nature may swerve aside from what it knows to be the undeviating line of right; may be keenly conscious of every infraction and still be able to feel that it has been true to its vows. Moral lapses are the most frequent, those sins which are not strictly direct infractions of communal equities but rather of the Magdalen type. Strange, also, is it that mankind is seldom lenient to the victims, though generally quite sparing of censure for the real criminal. There can be no true justice in a decision on any subject in the world until, in crimes of this sort, equal penalty is meted regardless of sex. Does my proposition seem too sweeping? Consider then this: human justice is a system; if it be faulty in only one particular it is faulty in all things, since justice means perfection, and that is not perfection which hath a blemish.
In the history of the Judaic race the later records of the deserving portion of the people of Suernis may be found. Verily, my people, we have seen glory together and long suffering. We have stood together since before the age that is, and that which passeth, was! My seed of strong, effort was sown in fallow soil, and it returned more than a hundred fold. The end is not yet; the harvest is not garnered, nor the Chosen People come yet into their reward for the Great Tribulation since Ernon of Suern ceased to strive for them. The way was long, but, they shall come at last from out the desert they entered so long ago, and Yeovah will give His children rest!
As Rai Ernon had said, the Saldee general never returned to his native land. He wandered about the city, little noticed by the people, and made his chief abiding place at the vailx of a certain Poseid commissary stationed with others at Ganje.
One day, having become quite friendly with the latter, the Salda asked that his friend give him the pleasure of an ascent into the air; he had never experienced a ride on a vailx and was desirous of so doing. At the time the commissary was busy, and promised to do as requested on the morrow. Accordingly, after dinner next day, which meal was served on the open promenade deck of the vailx, the ascension was made. The general had taken too much strong wine and was rather unsteady in his motions. One of the party was a Suerna who had been one of Rai Ernon's counsellors. The general stalked to the taffrail of the vailx to look down into the nether air. Standing near was the Suerna. Neither liked the other, and the Salda, also excited by wine, became quarrelsome. The Suerna, the same, by the way, who had been so amazed by the failure of his occult powers when he made his attempt to kill me, gave the general a sly push, and he fell against the rail. Being heavy, his weight bent it so as to cause a still further loss of balance and he fell over the side, catching the rail with both hands in a very agile manner. Here, unable to raise himself, he hung, calling for help in an agony of terror. The Poseid captain was not a bad man, but he was somewhat stupid, as a result of a fall on his head, and while able to give satisfaction as a commissary, he was not able to rise higher than some such subordinate position. He had, previous to his injury, been a talented man, and was even yet an inventor of some small note. This was a talent that did him small service now, however, because so many others outranked him in the same direction. He had finally come to be a lunatic on the subject, and was ever seeking to utilize force or to economize power. While the captain was standing in stupid indecision, the Suerna stepped in and pushed him aside, himself grasping the terrified Salda by the arm. The next instant the ex-counselor and the Salda general were swinging, whirling towards
the earth, over a mile below. Then the Poseida looked over at them as they fell and, his mind all occupied with his favorite mania for invention, exclaimed.
"What a waste of force! If only they could fall on some mechanism adjusted to raise a weight!" How it happened, the commissary never knew, he averred, and for lack of witnesses, together with his obvious stupidity, the court excused him.
When I learned of the event it was through the governor, whom I had appointed, who reported having relieved the captain from command of his vailx and commissarial office, and the placing of another Poseida in his place. The Salda was the father of Lolix, and I thought it well to break the news as gently as possible to her. How was I astounded, after having done, so, to hear her calmly say:
"Prithee, how doth this concern me?"
"Why, thy father--" I began, when she interrupted me with:
"My father! I am glad. Shall I, who love courage, feel aught but displeasure at his cowardice in the face of death, wherefore he was moved to cry out in terror like a child? Faugh! I call no coward father!"
I turned away entirely horrified, silent for lack of words to express my feelings. Perceiving my action, Lolix came to me, and resting her small, white hand on my arm, looked up into my face, so that my gaze was directly into her glorious blue eyes.
"My Lord Zailm, thou seemst offended! Is it so? Have I said aught to cause thee offense?"
"Gracious gods!" I exclaimed. Then remembering a former estimate of mine, that the Saldu was only a child in certain respects, I said:
"Offended me? Not so, Astiku."
Then she slipped her hand through the bend of my arm and walked beside me. This little experience was the beginning of a longer one which, while very sweet for a length of time, yet
culminated in anguish there in Atlantis and, phoenix-like, arose from the ashes of the dead centuries, only a few short years ago. Verily, "the evil that men do lives after them."
Because it was so very obvious that her heartlessness was only that of undevelopment, I was not disgusted with Lolix. I reproved her, indeed, but instead of turning away in unreasoning wrath at its existence, I sought to induce a perception of the enormity of such an offense as cruelty of heart.
According to the custom of her people, Lolix wooed me to wed her. Of course I could not accede, pleasant though it -was to have this beautiful girl doing her best to win my regard. I could not, while I loved Anzimee. Of this love for my sweet, womanly little sister, I never told Lolix, disliking possible contingencies. But I did worse--I told her an untruth, for I said that the Poseid law forbade marriage with those of alien birth.
"Never an exception?" queried Lolix.
"Never one. Death is the penalty."
This was another falsehood, for in Poseid the death penalty was never inflicted, it being forbidden by the law of the Maxin book.
"Well, then, it matters nothing. Thou art young and strong, and of good courage and handsome. Wherefore I love thee. If the law forbid, it is all the same. None but ourselves need know."
The last barrier was fallen. Conscience slumbered. Thoughts of Anzimee were put aside as one would shun an accusing angel. Did I think of Pitach Rhok and my days of sinlessness? Or of the mysterious stranger whom I had heard in awe in the first of my life at Caiphul? Yea, I thought of these things. I thought of Incal, and I said:
"Incal, my God, if I am about to do wrong in thy sight, in disregarding the laws of society and marriage, smite me dead ere I sin."
But Incal smote, not then, but afterwards through the ages. He smote not then; conscience slept the sounder, but passion awoke.