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Anthropological Note

The meeting of Miss Cummings and Ray Hale in a Krug village on Venus is one of those events for which there is no real explanation. Unless one believes that there was or is a Th'Tark, who arranged the matter, it simply doesn't make sense. But it did happen. Miss Cummings met Hale under quite preposterous circumstances in a female-Krug village. She had known him before, a good many years since and forty million miles away. Then she had passionately wished for sudden death to strike him. When, after years, she saw him again she knew the same wish and what followed very probably prevented the extermination of the Krug in the name of the prosperity of interplanetary commerce. This would amount to a proof of Th'Tark's interest if there ever was a Th'Tark. But it's all very complicated.

Th'Tark is or was the possibly mythical Law-giver of the Krug, who are the quasi-semi-humanoid inhabitants of the Krug Archipelago in the Summer Sea on Venus. They look more human than most earthly primates, probably because they aren't furry, and Th'Tark is said to have set up their laws and customs and very dubious moral code some tens of thousands of Venusian years ago. It was Th'Tark who decreed that male Krug should live dispirited, gloomy lives in the jungles by the seashore while female Krug built villages, practiced agriculture and other useful arts, and raised children. Miss Cummings was the lady anthropologist who examined their culture and kept them from extermination.

She landed in their midst from a survey-ship offshore from an island which on the map is called Tanit. The morning of her arrival was quite ordinary. There was no sunrise, of course. There never is. There was blackness everywhere at first, and then the sky became ever-so-faintly gray, and the cloudbank overhead lightened by imperceptible degrees, and presently it was morning with leaping waves all about the ship and foaming surf on the beaches and at the foot of the cliffs of the island a mile away. She prepared to land alone, as a field expedition in anthropology with qualified assistants, in the base, which was the ship. Her purpose was pure science, but the reason was interplanetary trade.

Venus wasn't well-settled then, and the cost of transportation to Earth was so high that only very precious things indeed could stand the cost and show a profit. But in the Krug Archipelago such a product had been found. It was crythli pearls and pearl-shell. They were utterly beautiful and utterly past imitation. They were the most desirable gems that men had ever seen, and their value was fabulous. But the few—still extremely rare—specimens which had been found had been discovered in the possession of male Krug in the jungles. The Krug were not anxious to part with them. They mentioned Th'Tark and females—the latter very reluctantly—and shut up. Moreover, when a Krug began to gather crythli shell and pearls, it was a sign that shortly he would disappear. Permanently. So trade in crythli pearls and pearl-shell languished, and the economic status of the Venusian colony needed interplanetary exchange. Hence Miss Cummings.

On this particular morning a helicopter lifted heavily from the ship and droned toward the island. Miss Cummings was in a landing-basket slung below. At four thousand feet altitude she could see the whole island, ringed by foam, with high mountains and broad valleys in its interior. The copter skimmed sharp-edged mountain-peaks and then settled down and down into the valley where a chosen village lay. The village had been studied by telephotography from the air, and Miss Cummings already had a fascinating list of questions to be answered. Why, for example, were there only females and Krug-children in the village? No picture had showed any male older than what would be earliest teen-age in a human. Was it true that the larger, kraal-like thatched dwellings belonged to multiparous lady Krug, while the curiously incomplete circle of quite small houses belonged to hopeful maidens? And those small, rounded, flower-beds before the kraal-houses. Filter-photography insisted that they were tastefully bordered with crythli shell, used by the Krug as clam-shells are sometimes used by the owners of beach-cottages on Earth. If this were true, they were fabulously valuable and the prosperity of the human colony on Venus required that they be acquired—by peaceful means if possible, but acquired—for shipment back to Earth.

Miss Cummings knew the blissful anticipation of a lady anthropologist with a new culture to study and assurance of credit for the job. She was utterly happy as the copter droned on down to land her for the beginning of her research. Of all things and persons in the solar system, she thought least of Ray Hale. But he was of paramount importance to her job, actually. As she watched the sprawling, thatched-roof village enlarge at her approach, Hale was doing some research, too. That very same morning, in fact. But his methods were his own.

* * *

He had quite a reputation, had Hale. The colonial government had learned of his arrival on Venus just too late to grab him before he vanished into unexplored territory. He wasn't welcome on a newly colonized planet. He'd caused the First Native War on Mars, by taking advantage of the fact that at that time human law had not defined the killing of Martians as murder. He was responsible for the B'setse Massacre on Titan, when a hundred and fifty human colonists died as the result of his treatment of the most ancient and therefore richest of the Titanian natives nearby. He got away with rich loot from Titan, as he had on Mars, but colonial government officials didn't want him around.

On this particular morning, not three hundred miles from where Miss Cummings landed, he was doing research in his own fashion. He'd caught a male Krug and was extracting information from him. Traders after crythli shell had developed a sort of pidgin-Krug with which limited communication was possible, and Hale used that as part of his process. The rest of it would not be nice to describe. But he was forcing his captive to try to tell him, by an inadequate means of communication, facts he probably didn't know about mysteries he almost certainly didn't understand and positively didn't like to think about.

It was an extremely revolting performance, and it lasted a long time, but Hale probably enjoyed it. He was still a fairly handsome man—his good looks had been important in the affair causing Miss Cummings' passionate desire for lightning to strike him—but he wasn't at all attractive as he worked on the Krug. The whole business was ghastly, but Th'Tark probably allowed it. After all, it bore upon the preservation of the Krug race and culture from extermination.

In any case, when Hale finally killed the Krug and washed the debris overboard from the deck of his stolen boat, he knew where crythli shells were found. But he didn't think of looking for them himself. Instead, he took other information the Krug had yielded, and rather zestfully worked out a pattern for action which should yield him all the crythli pearls a man could want. The shell itself was precious, as mother-of-pearl had been, but the pearls themselves were more precious a thousand times over.

* * *

Three hundred miles away, Miss Cummings arrived at the chosen village. The helicopter circled that straggling settlement and a small horde of Krug swarmed out to stare up at it. Maybe they thought Th'Tark had something to do with it. (Maybe Th'Tark had.) They stared up—almost exclusively female. The exceptions were children—boy-Krug. The copter settled gently until the landing-basket touched ground. Miss Cummings cast off. The copter rose to the cloud-bank over-head where Th'Tark was reputed to dwell, and remained handy to come back within two minutes if Miss Cummings called for it by communicator. She had a small, nearly invisible hand-weapon with which to hold Krug off that long if necessary.

She didn't need to. The villagers approached her warily. But they observed that she was female. She had adopted a costume which emphasized the Krugoid features of a human woman. She held up gifts. Beaming, she offered them.

In five minutes she informed the copter crew that she wouldn't need them, but they stayed overhead anyhow just in case.

The business of making friends went on swimmingly. Miss Cummings was beautifully equipped for field investigation of a female social system. Before coming to Venus she'd taught denatured anthropology to classes of human college girls. She knew her females. For example, the older matrons of the Krug village had exactly the authoritative and self-satisfied air of a committee of college alumnae. They were middle-aged or older and accustomed to having their own way under all circumstances. To them Miss Cummings was charmingly deferential. There was one awkward moment, but it soon passed over. Miss Cummings, trying to begin speech, pointed to some object and used the trade-Krug male language word for it. Her audience tittered. Miss Cummings knew instantly that male and female Krug spoke different languages—as in some primitive cultures on Earth—and it was indecorous for one sex to use a noun or verb appropriate to the other. But Miss Cummings made no other break. The younger females, she observed, wore the impatient expression of human college girls. She addressed them cheerfully. To the older matrons she distributed necklaces of fluorescent beads and to the younger she passed out bracelets and small mirrors. The young females thereupon treated her with the tolerant condescension the young give to the older in all races without exception.

She even dealt adequately with the children. Mature Krug wore crudely woven garments, but the Krug-children were as innocent of clothing as of guile. To them she distributed sweetmeats. Not candy, of course. Krug taste-buds are not like human ones. She passed out bonbons of almost pure quinine and the Krug-children went into ecstasies over the luxury. But Miss Cummings discovered that the community did not approve the wasting of such things upon boys. Only future Krug matrons were worthy of largesse.

By nightfall Miss Cummings had been accepted as a welcome visitor and assigned one of the smaller houses in the incomplete circle which from air-photos had been considered the maidens' houses. Next day she set to work to acquire a vocabulary.

* * *

Hale—a shade under three hundred miles away, now—caught a second Krug male. This time he chose one of the youngest of those dispirited creatures who loaf and lurk in the jungles of the Krug islands. This creature he treated gently, at intervals, plying him with quinine and alternate beatings and cajolings. He got from him—and recorded for study—the female-language words which the younger Krug remembered more fully than an older one would have done. It was a racking experience for the adolescent Krug. He'd been kicked out of his village and stridently told to go and associate with the other worthless males in the jungle. He was embittered. But Hale made him recall and repeat all his childhood experiences. In the end he kicked his second captive ashore and prepared to make use of the data he'd acquired. He had no faintest desire to perform any action for the preservation of the Krug race. It just happened that way—though only Th'Tark could possibly have thought of it in advance. If there is a Th'Tark.

At the end of a week in the village, Miss Cummings was in an anthropologist's idea of heaven. She was doing the first known research on an extensive race-culture, and she had skilled help on the steamer, and she would get all the credit. But the help was important. For example, the Krug language required careful analysis. Not only were there male and female versions which were wholly unlike, but there were honorific terms as in Japanese, which could have been pitfalls. Different forms of address were used to different Krug matrons according to whether they had one or two or more children up to a dozen, after which a super-honorific applied. This could have caused trouble.

With the research staff on the ship, however, she learned to speak with remarkable speed. Up to a certain point. At a definite place she ran into frustration. As a human being, Miss Cummings could never fully believe that the Krug language had no word meaning why? The lack of it was like a blank stone wall preventing progress. Her communicator sent all her gathered information to the ship, with her notes. The philologists labored over it. In long discussions between ship and village, Miss Cummings led in the discovery that the language had only one gender (female) but all personal pronouns had thirty-two forms, honorific or self-deprecatory. There was an incredibly complex system of verb-conjugations, and a fine and adequate vocabulary of nouns. But all the nouns were proper ones! The word which meant tree meant this tree. There was no word for the abstract notion of treeness which was common to all arborescent plants. Therefore there was no verbal machinery for the operations of logic.

On the face of it, the fact was impossible. The Krug were civilized in their fashion, and they definitely used speech to convey objective information. But they did not discuss. They did not argue. They were invincibly literal-minded, and therefore they were probably quite happy. But Miss Cummings was not pleased when she asked about this custom and that and the framing of a question was a tortuous process—and received the bland and irrelevant reply that she was this-unmarried-female. She couldn't ask why her status prevented her being told. There was no why. It was definitely a female culture.

She seethed. She almost resented her unmarried state, since it prevented the pursuance of anthropological research. With the peculiar jealousy of a woman scientific worker, she began to envision a married woman being hastily supplied with the data she'd compiled and then sent in to replace her. It could be said that she burned.

Th'Tark could have told her to be at ease, of course, if anybody could. If the Krug were to escape extermination by the march of progress, Miss Cummings had to be responsible. Because she knew Ray Hale.

* * *

He'd gathered quite a lot of information she didn't have, by the time the language difficulty had reached its most frustrating form for her. Before she'd been in the village more than two weeks, Hale had acquired close to a quart of crythli pearls—and no trader had ever before been able to gather as many as half a dozen in one trading-season from the Krug. Some of those that Hale acquired were rather crudely pierced for stringing, but he was well over a millionaire in crythli pearls, already, and they'd only cost him a couple of weeks of research and a few hair-raising moments and a crime most men would queasily prefer not to commit. But it wasn't murder, because Krug hadn't yet been ruled human—under the laws forbidding homicide.

* * *

In her third week in the village, Miss Cummings witnessed a partial parallel to Hale's enterprise, though she didn't know it.

It began at daybreak, when she was wakened by the morning-noises. There were snickering, giggling noises from the jungle, which was only a hundred yards from the incomplete circle of maidens'-huts. There were boomings deeper in the trees, and something honked discordantly, and something else made sounds as if of hysterical laughter. But Miss Cummings was used to such sounds now. They were commonplace. The noises that disturbed her were speech-sounds.

There were chitterings which were children—boys and females together. There were deeper, authoritative, firm notes which were those of matrons. There was a great congregation of the village near Miss Cummings' house.

She dressed herself and went out-of-doors. All the village was assembled in the center of the maidens'-huts ring. The unmarried-females were gathered together, and they fairly jittered with hopeful agitation. The Krug-children raced and scampered about a solemn group of the older females. Miss Cummings approached, with her communicator turned on and relaying everything to the tape-recorders on the ship. As she drew near, she saw that a crythli shell was being passed from hand to hand among the older matrons. They examined it with great care and extreme minuteness. They acted, indeed, like short-sighted alumnae caught without their eye-glasses and seeming rather to smell than to look at some interesting object.

The oldest, stoutest female—possessed of a preposterous number of offspring—seemed to debate a very long time. The maidens jittered more visibly than before. Then the oldest female solemnly handed the crythli-shell to one of them. The maiden clasped it to her breast with dramatic satisfaction. This particular young female stood out in Miss Cummings' mind because in a Kruggish way she resembled a frog-like undergraduate who'd infested one of Miss Cummings' classes at her woman's college on Earth. That undergraduate, with thick spectacles and buck teeth and an irritating personality, had been married the day after graduation to a millionaire. It had seemed injustice at the time. Now her Krug opposite number was plainly chosen for some splendid prize. The crythli shell, incidentally, would have fetched a good fifteen thousand credits in Venus City, and several times that on Earth.

A gabbling uproar rose, and the other maidens looked bitter over their contemporary's triumph. The matrons gathered about the chosen one, beaming at her. The Krug children burst into a run for the jungle. They vanished in its depths.

Miss Cummings fumed because all this was inexplicable and she couldn't ask the question, "Why?"

The morning passed. Miss Cummings, in her hut, conferred with her aides and superiors on the ship offshore. Whatever was coming, it was without precedent in this research. Therefore it must be important. She was urged not to miss any developments.

She went out as the village children returned from the jungle. They carried burdens. There were logs of the hollow, cane-like jungle-trees which broke off cleanly at their joints. They were of diverse lengths and thicknesses. Other children staggered under loads of jungle-leaves and vines and creepers. They marched to that part of the village where the kraal-like dwelling stood. They began to construct a new house.

This was as remarkable as anything else about the whole Krug culture. No adult supervised. No instructions were issued. The children swarmed about the enterprise like so many bees, and if Miss Cummings had not been engaged in getting barred from all the matrons and the frog-faced Krug girl, she would have gaped as the house went up. Because it was done perfectly. With a precision they could not possibly have learned, the Krug children heaved the feather-light logs into upright position without even a floor-plan scratched on the ground. They deftly flipped crosspieces into place and tied them with vines. They established a roofing framework in the same fashion and thatched it with absolute competence. Then they stuck limber saplings here and there and began matter-of-factly to thatch down the walls. In a matter of some four hours they had built a house indistinguishable from the kraal-like dwellings of the matrons, only with fewer rooms. But extra rooms could be added.

Having performed the work without instructions, they ceased it without being dismissed. Five minutes after it was done they were busy again with the normal and zestful and quite useless occupations of Krug childhood. And perhaps the most astonishing thing about the whole job was that there was neither anything lacking in the house nor any material left over. They'd brought back exactly enough.

It was too much for Miss Cummings to grasp. She was striving to gather information on what she considered more important matters. Barred from the society of the matrons, for today, she visited the other maidens in their huts. She found them occupied as usual. Some of them wove. Miss Cummings had shown them minor improvements in the process which improved their product, but they ignored her instructions. They used the cloth she'd partly woven, but they did not adopt her changes.

Miss Cummings chatted with them, subject to the limitations of the language. She could say "this-cloth-is-good" or "I-come-to-visit-you." And they could agree. She could observe "the-house-is-becoming," meaning that it was being built. Which was similarly true. She could even say, and did say, "the-maiden-with-the-crythli-shell-is-not-where-we-are." They agreed to that, also. But Miss Cummings, bursting with scientific curiosity, could not ask why a new house had been built or where the crythli shell had come from or why it was presented to the frog-like maiden and what it signified. The language blocked all efforts.

* * *

Roy Hale could have told her, though. He was only two hundred miles away, then, and he now had three quarts of crythli pearls and did not even bother to own more than a few shells—though practically any shell was worth ten thousand credits in Venus City. He was a multi-multi-millionaire in crythli pearls, and still he planned to grow richer. He considered it humorous that there was no law forbidding his enterprise. It had not been defined that Krug were human, and therefore there was no penalty for killing them.

* * *

But to Miss Cummings the matter was still mystery. A crythli shell in the center of the maidens'-hut ring. The gift of the shell to the especially repulsive Krug girl. The building of a house. The complete withdrawal into privacy of the Krug maiden and all the matrons. Miss Cummings made wild guesses and waited for something to happen to solve the mystery.

She had to wait until evening when the cloudbank overhead began faintly to dim, since there were no sunsets on Venus. The light was no more than halfway faded when the Krug girl came out of the newly built kraal-house. Miss Cummings saw her and fairly sputtered her excitement into the communicator.

The Krug girl sat down before the new house with an air of elaborate unconcern. Always, previously, she had worn the single crude cloth garment of her sister-maidens. Now she wore a quite special outfit of which Miss Cummings had had no inkling before. But being a woman she grasped its marvelousness and its meaning instantly. The Krug girl was dressed as a bride. But no human bride was ever arrayed in a headdress of crythli pearls which would have sold for millions on the Earth-market, nor wore necklaces of crythli pearls no mere millionaire could have hoped to buy, nor did any human bride ever wear armlets and belts and breast-plates of crythli shell, when a reasonably rich man's wife only hoped wistfully to own a single small shell disk.

Miss Cummings gasped the news into the communicator. She was about to witness, she said agitatedly, the marriage ceremony of the Krug. It must be! It was the more certain because there was no visible bridegroom!

The village gathered. Behind the gaudily decorated Krug girl the matrons of the village took their places. They were stout and bland and infinitely satisfied with themselves and all the world. They looked rather like an alumnae group posing for a photograph on their twentieth class reunion. As the cloudbank overhead became darker and darker and more nearly black, there was a hushed waiting atmosphere everywhere. The children appeared. They came filing out in a long line. The foremost—a Krug child barely toddling—carried a lighted torch with tremendous solicitude. The others carried things which might also be torches, but were unlighted. There was silence save for the noises of the nearby jungle. The cloudbank darkened and darkened, and presently it was truly night There was no light anywhere in the village except the one small torch in the hands of a toddling Krug child. And nothing happened for a very long time.

Then came crisp, grunting commands from the oldest of the matrons. The small child reached its light to the next. A second torch flamed. That torch swung to a third, and that to a fourth, and so on until fifty flaring, sparkling flames furnished a brighter light than Miss Cummings had ever seen in the village after nightfall.

Then, and only then, she saw the bridegroom. In the darkness, guided by the first and only burning torch, the male Krug had crept into the village and to the new house. He had doubtless been perceived, but Th'Tark had undoubtedly ordained that a pretense of invisibility should rule until he stood before his bride.

Now he seemed to shrivel in the torchlight. He appeared at once desperately to wish to be anywhere else on the planet—in which he was like many human bridegrooms—and despairingly to be resigned to his fate. In the torchlight, seeming numbed in some fashion, he unburdened himself of crythli shells. He laid them down, one by one, before the adorned but stonily unresponsive maiden. Shell after shell to a fabulous value was piled before her. He actually laid down a full two dozen of the gleaming things. Most human girls would have grown starry-eyed if presented with a single one.

He straightened up. The torchlight glistened on his body. Miss Cummings had an impression that he sweated like a man in absolute terror and despair.

The most ancient of the matrons grunted.

The seated, decorated Krug-bride looked scornfully upon the despised male. But, very, very condescendingly, she rose. She faced him. Then she reached out her hand and with a sort of infinite and conscious generosity she touched him. Which act of abandoning aversion appeared to be the official climax of the wedding.

There was a clamor. The children dashed their torches to the ground and stamped on them. The village reverted to darkness, Miss Cummings heard rustlings all about her as if the inhabitants of the village returned to their homes, the ceremony over.

She made her own way to her own maidens'-circle hut and settled down zestfully for a long conference over the communicator. She reported the wedding with the enthusiasm and rapturous sentimentality of a lady society reporter at the wedding of a human heiress to an Earth-Council member. She gloated over the bride's costume. Being a woman she considered the relative insignificance of the bridegroom and his total lack of male attendants a right and proper thing. She was even sentimental about the symbolism of the bride's formally excepting this one male from her abhorrence of masculine creation.

Presently she calmed down enough to talk proper anthropological shop. The absence of other males from the village population remained odd, but there were references to analogous social customs on Earth. There was a Himalayan culture in which after marriage there was a honeymoon lasting only three days, when the bride and bridegroom separated for most of a year before setting up housekeeping together. There was an Indo-Chinese culture in which females affected to ignore the existence of males for an almost indefinite period, remaining in their parental home until the bride's parents insisted that their daughter's husband take over the support of his by-then-numerous offspring. There were many human customs suggested by this Krug wedding. There was enthusiastic anthropological shop-talk on the ether-waves of Venus, that night.

Next morning Miss Cummings happily noted that the bride appeared in her usual costume—with only a little more cloth added to it in token of her matronly status—and joined the matrons in their activities. She was addressed by a new honorific, and all the personal pronouns appropriate to an unmarried girl were now changed in her speech and in speech to her. But her husband did not appear at all. Miss Cummings had almost expected it.

There was one other interesting item. Miss Cummings got up at the break of day, but not in time to see the ornamentation of the mounded, rounded flower-bed now existing before the home of the new matron. It had quite two dozen crythli shells disposed about it, but of course the flowers were not yet established. They had been planted, though.

Miss Cummings and her aides on the ship discussed the matter exhaustively. The crythli-shell gift of the bridegroom had its parallel in bride-prices paid on Earth. There had possibly been an additional gift of pearls which Miss Cummings had not observed. The use of precious shells to decorate a flower-bed was conspicuous waste like the potlatch festivals of Alaskan Indians. The fact that the bride-gift was without utility-value resembled the old Bornean custom, in which an aspiring lover had to present a new-taken human head to his inamorata, for her to think him a good catch.

The village settled down again. The bride faithfully watered the plants in her shell-bordered flower-garden. She preened herself on her new status. But her husband remained invisible.

* * *

Miss Cummings practically forgot about him during the week that followed. A disturbing change in her own status was beginning to appear. She was taking up, now, the distribution of authority in the village, and discovered that the oldest of the matrons had begun to regard her with a disturbing disapproval.

The status of this pompous dowager was approximately that of headwoman of the village, yet the authority she exercised was not quite that of command. From time to time she gave what could be considered signals for community activity—for cultivating the soil, for repairing the community huts. Everybody worked at whatever she indicated was to be the activity for the day. But she gave no orders. Nobody asked for instructions. Everyone down to the smallest Krug child seemed to know perfectly every duty that might be required. And conversation was strictly confined to observations of objective fact.

When Miss Cummings had been in the village for five weeks, she received a special call from this strutting and authoritative female. The matron-Krug came to Miss Cummings' maiden-hut and regarded her with disapproval. Her air was something like the aloof scorn with which an elderly married alumna, revisiting the college of her youth, looks upon a middle-aged and unmarried professor who seems unlikely to emulate the alumna's career. The stout lady Krug made two statements to Miss Cummings. The first one, the philologists on the ship decided, could be translated as meaning, "you are-venerable-and-have-no-children." The second would be translated variously as finish, end, termination, or practically any word meaning finality. The Krug matron then formally handed Miss Cummings an odd pointed instrument made out of the only really hard wood to grow in the Krug Archipelago. And she waddled out of Miss Cummings' hut.

Miss Cummings, disturbed, transmitted a picture of the instrument to the survey-ship. The anthropological staff was able to determine that it was old, that it was sharp, and that it was enigmatic. Miss Cummings, however, had an intuition. She did not like it.

* * *

Here, Miss Cummings' instincts served her better than Ray Hale's methods of research. She could guess what it was for, and he could not. At this time he was less than seventy miles from Miss Cummings' island. He knew more about crythli pearls and shell than any other human being. But he didn't know about that instrument.

* * *

Miss Cummings guessed indignantly. The Krug were absolutely practical creatures. The most ancient matron had decided that Miss Cummings was too old to find a husband So she had stated the fact and given Miss Cummings the sharp and nasty instrument so Miss Cummings could take appropriate action.

Miss Cummings furiously determined to do nothing of the kind. They couldn't make her commit suicide! But if she didn't carry out the instructions—obey the signal—do whatever obedience to the head-woman's observations would be—why . . . they might do it for her!

Miss Cummings raged privately. She might have to be withdrawn from her field investigation! Another female anthropologist might have to take over! It could mean that the definitive anthropological report on the Krug race-culture would be written by somebody else, and contain merely a falsely warm acknowledgement of her contribution to the study in a preface nobody would ever read!

Miss Cummings began to wear a chip on her shoulder. It seemed to her that the villagers regarded her with mild reproof for being alive. The most authoritative matron stopped her in the street and repeated her two statements—the one that meant she was venerable without children—and the one meaning finality. A day or to later, two other matrons repeated them. A day later still, and Miss Cummings found herself ostracized. Even the Krug maidens said coldly to her that she was venerable and had no children and finality.

It was heart-breaking, and it was more than a little frightening. But also it was enraging. Miss Cummings felt that the Krug were her project! They belonged to her! She had learned their language! She had made complete evaluations of their technology and work-habits and the gradations of social prestige and had reported fully on their marriage-customs! She would not give them up!

She took to sleeping with the tiny, almost invisible hand-weapon under her head—so far as she managed to sleep at all. But after two days in which she was ignored by all the village, she slept from pure weariness and then was awakened by the usual morning-noises from the jungle. Only this morning she found herself sitting bolt upright, and frightened.

She heard voices. Krug voices. Her heart skipped beats. Perhaps this would be violence on the way. She'd been given the signal to commit suicide and she hadn't done it. Perhaps now she was to have forcible assistance . . . 

She peered out of her doorway, ready to give an emergency signal for rescue by helicopters from the ship. There was a great congregation of the village in the center of the maidens'-circle of huts. Krug-children raced and scampered about.

The maidens of the village fairly jittered with hopeful agitation. The congress of matrons examined a crythli shell. As before, they examined it in the manner of near-sighted alumnae caught without their glasses. As if they were smelling it.

Then the most ancient matron, the headwoman of the village, made grunting noises to the others. She marched firmly to the hut occupied by Miss Cummings. She presented the crythli shell. And Miss Cummings took it.

* * *

She explained the matter crisply to her associates on the survey-ship. She would expect, she said, to be picked up shortly after nightfall. She would give a suitable warning and advance estimate of the time. But this was a perfect opportunity to record the initiatory ceremonies preceding matrimony among the Krug. It could not be expected that anybody else would have the same chance. So, once the male Krug had appeared, she would expect helicopters to drop smoke-bombs, descend in their midst guided by aerial flares, and carry her away with the absolutely invaluable anthropological treasure of a Krug bridal outfit. In the meanwhile she was, of course, armed.

The children rushed into the jungle. They returned and began to build a house. Miss Cummings, herself, was taken in hand by the village matrons. She had her personal communicator turned on and during all the daylight hours it transmitted scientific anthropological data which sent the staff on the survey-ship into ecstasies. Much of it is still unintelligible, and nobody but another anthropologist would find any of it interesting. But it all got down on tape. For one thing, there was more detailed data about Th'Tark, than anybody had dreamed existed, and Miss Cummings' claim to be the authority on the Krug was settled for all time.

There was just one curious omission in the staff's and Miss Cummings' reaction. It did not occur to them that Th'Tark might have arranged their triumph, as part of the business of keeping the Krug from being exterminated.

Presently the cloudbank began to shade slightly toward a darker hue, and when it was distinctly gray Miss Cummings came out of the new kraal-type house that had been built for her prospective matronly estate. She wore the bridal costume of the village. And even Miss Cummings was almost overwhelmed by its richness. It was barbaric, of course. It was crude. But the luminous, changing colors of the pearl headdress and necklaces, and the incredible richness of the arm-bands and shell ornament gave her an extraordinary sensation.

The light faded still more, and the children disappeared, and presently the sky was black—and consequently all of the village—and then they returned, with the smallest child of all carrying a lighted torch while the others bore unlighted ones.

Miss Cummings sat in darkness, arrayed in wedding garb of a richness such as no human daughter of a sultan ever wore. There were the night-noises of the jungle. She murmured into her communicator. A reassuring voice spoke in her invisible ear-receiver. The copter rescue-party was ready. Besides, she had her small hand-weapon in case of need. She was not even faintly timid, now. The data obtained today had made her scientific reputation permanent. From now on she would be secure in the fame of being the first truly great authority on the race-culture of the Krug of the Summer Sea on Venus. With that splendor in mind, she could not be afraid. And after five weeks and more in a Krug village she could assuredly not be frightened by any mere male!

There was a single, flickering torch some fifty yards away, solicitously held by the smallest ambulatory Krug child. There was a waiting, breathless silence for a very long time.

Then a voice panted words in Kruggish speech. A matron grunted. The child with the lighted torch passed the flame to another. The lighting spread. There were fifty flaming torches in the village night. And Miss Cummings looked with dazed, and shocked, and wholly incredulous eyes at Ray Hale.

He was smeared with pigments to enhance the Kruglikeness of the human race. He bore a burden of crythli shell. He looked at her, and his eyes widened with shock. Then sweat poured out on his skin in the torchlight. He knew her not only as a human woman, but as herself—and he was the one person she unfeignedly and by long habit hated past all considerations of charity.

He swallowed, and then panted:

"Play up! Or we'll both be killed!"

Miss Cummings caught her breath. He said more shrilly:

"Play up, I tell you!"

Miss Cummings said unsteadily, with her voice a mere whisper:

"There are copters overhead. I've only to call them—"

Hale glared at her like a trapped wild beast. His desperation was so evident that Miss Cummings sensed a deep approval among the female Krug about her.

"You married my little sister," said Miss Cummings in a strange, toneless monotone. "She loved you, and you broke her heart. You beat her! You were everything that was vile to her—and she died when you left her because she loved you. I've prayed that death would strike you down! Oh, you beast-beast-beast—"

A murmur of admiration from the Krug matrons. At least, it seemed so. Hale sweated in the torchlight. He gabbled:

"They'll kill me if you don't play up! You too!"

It was a lie. Miss Cummings did not know how she knew, but she was fully aware that her behavior accorded with the ideal of Kruggish female scorn of all masculinity. The most proper of previous Krug maidens had never displayed such magnificent scorn for their bridegrooms. Miss Cummings was abstractedly aware that she would be the pattern of bridal propriety from now on.

Ray Hale put down a crythli shell. He trembled with his terror, but he went through the routine of matrimony among the Krug. Shell after lustrous shell, coiled, iridescent, color changing beauty—he laid down the customary offering before Miss Cummings.

"I can let them kill you," she whispered, her throat taut. "They won't be punished. I can let them kill you as you should be killed—or I can call down the copters . . . ."

There was a voice in her ears. The rescue-party overhead was ready to swoop down, but it was bewildered. They were waiting a summons for action. They heard highly improbable human speech where nothing of the sort should be. The voice asked anxious questions. Miss Cummings recovered herself.

"Something unexpected has developed," she said in a level voice for her communicator to send aloft. "I find that I am perfectly safe. I am confident that I will not need to be rescued. But make sure that all the recorders are ready for later data."

She flipped off the communicator-switch.

In the torchlight Ray Hale looked convincingly Kruglike and desperate and despairing as he ceased the putting-down of shell and stared at Miss Cummings with the air of a man who has heard his death sentence and waits for it to be carried out. He suddenly babbled:

"Here! Pearls! I'll give you all of them! Gallons of them! Anything—anything! But don't let them kill me . . . ."

He poured a double handful of crythli pearls into her lap. And Miss Cummings rose. She was ashen-white, and she hated Ray Hale as she had never hated any other human being. But she was also an anthropologist. And Hale could not possibly have undertaken this enterprise if he hadn't gathered scientific information Miss Cummings still lacked.

Her lips twisted themselves into the most mirthless and seemingly most scornful of smiles. Actually, it was a grimace of anguish. She reached out and touched him—with the muzzle of her almost-invisible hand-weapon.

"If you try to escape in the darkness," said Miss Cummings, "I will pull the trigger when I feel no pressure on this gun."

A child dashed a torch to the ground. Instantly all the spouting flames were rolling in the earth and small Krug children were stamping on them. Miss Cummings shepherded Hale into the kraal-house that had been built that day for her.

"I think," she said thinly, "you have information I lack. I shall turn on my communicator, now, and you will tell all you know about the Krug. It will be recorded for study. Then I will decide whether to kill you or not."

She stood beside him in the darkness. He gasped. She prodded him with questions—and with the weapon.

The weapon was part of Miss Cummings' equipment. It was very small, and it fired electronically, and when the slack on the trigger was taken up it necessarily emitted microwave radiation. The fact was very useful on Earth. It made the illicit use of weapons impractical, because armed officers arrived within minutes anywhere the trigger-slack of a weapon was taken up, and this worked out nicely for law-abiding citizens, but not so well for the lawless. On Venus the same fact kept non-terrestrials from making use of human weapons without permission. But for Miss Cummings, the important thing was that the emission of radiation from an electronic weapon was accompanied by a high-pitched humming sound.

Hale heard the thin drone of the pistol, and knew that Miss Cummings had only to tighten her finger ever so slightly to end his life. The sound meant that she was ready and willing to do it.

He whimpered. He was in a very great hurry to leave the bridal dwelling. He'd meant to remain there only minutes. But he did not dare to say why. When Miss Cummings asked him questions in a thinly level voice, he babbled an almost incoherent excuse for trying to go through the Krug marriage ceremony with a Krug female. But Miss Cummings wore the crythli-pearl headdress. She stopped him.

The thin whining sound of the ready-for-firing weapon drove him frantic, in combination with his other reasons for fear. He panted the truth. He'd made the ceremonial offering of a crythli shell to the center of the circle of maidens' cottages. He'd known that a bride would be chosen and a kraal-house built. The instant he entered the dwelling he meant—he panted it—to knock the female unconscious and escape with the costume worth millions of credits on earth.

"But," said Miss Cummings with the same thin steadiness, "you offered me gallons of pearls. How many times have you done this?"

He whimpered. He quivered with the need to flee. But she said as steadily and as deliberately as before:

"You would not risk only stunning the brides. You killed them, did you not? You strangled them?"

Hale babbled that the Krug were not human. It was not murder to kill them. And this was true—so far. Hale was mad to get away from the village now. Miss Cummings considered that he was fearful of a copter coming to pick him up as a criminal.

"Nobody will come from the ship unless I call them," she said with a sort of unearthly reasonableness. "It would spoil my research project for a copter to land in the village. But my sister died because she loved you. If you wish to live, you will tell me . . . ."

What followed was one of the most peculiar data-gathering interviews in the history of anthropology. With his own reasons for desperate and headlong flight urging him, and the whine of the taut triggered weapon holding him still, Hale tried—stumbling over his words in his haste—to answer all Miss Cummings chose to ask. He did not even try to lie. He gabbled in his effort to satisfy her scientific curiosity in the shortest possible time. He trembled. He shook. Presently his breathing was only gasps. But she was inexorable. She held consultations with the ship to clarify what other questions she should ask. She reflected, and phrased her questions with precision. And all the time the weapon whined softly, ready to destroy Hale if he tried to flee.

It was an excellent interview, though. Miss Cummings got a full picture of the male side of the marriage-custom story, which no trader had been able to do. Male Krug were despised. But to marry they had to gather crythli shells. Preferably those bearing pearls. Tending to grow incoherent in his haste, Hale told her where the crythli shells were found and how they had to be acquired. Only a Krug would do it, and a Krug wouldn't do it for money. It had to be the stark necessity which drove a Krug to marriage . . . .

"I've got to get away from here!" panted Hale shrilly. "I can't stay here! I can't—I can't—"

Miss Cummings said thinly:

"I shall remain in the village a few days more to gather the data needed to complete what I know now. It would be inconvenient to have your body here. So I do not kill you. Go!"

She drew back the muzzle of the weapon, but it still whined faintly. She was aware of exhaustion, now. She'd remained standing and terribly tense for a length of time she didn't realize. Actually it was to be measured in hours. Only an anthropologist could have done it, and only then to gather information there would be no second chance to procure. Miss Cummings felt herself wilting as Hale sprang away from her and dived desperately into the blackness outside the kraal-house door.

But, weary as she was, she burst incontinently into sobs. She had been very, very fond of the sister whom Hale had married fifteen years before and who had died of her love for him. Miss Cummings wept exhaustedly. She was too exhausted even to try to muffle her sobbing.

But this, as it happened, was considered suitable behavior in a new matron. Among the Krug a new-wedded bride weeps loudly when her brand new husband makes his way back into the darkness from which he came. It is, in a way, a signal of his departure. Also, it covers any sounds that may be made outside.

As in this case.

* * *

When Miss Cummings appeared in public, next morning, she was saluted with the honorific pronouns she rated as a married lady Krug. She was regarded with complete approval, and in a matter of four days more she had gathered absolutely all the information the Krug female language could convey in the absence of a word for why. She felt only one minor disappointment as an anthropologist. It was that she did not take part in the making of the mound-like flower-bed she found before her kraal-house in the morning, nor in its decoration with the crythli shell that Hale had set out in the torchlight. Even the flowers were planted for her. But she watered them dutifully.

Before the week was out she went back to the ship, to the stark amazement of the Krug. In time she wrote a book about the Krug culture which brought her eminence among anthropologists and is still the standard work. Incidentally, her book prevented the extermination of the Krug by revealing where the crythli mollusks grow and how they have to be obtained. Humans do not attempt to gather them. They still leave that to the Krug. But it is now the custom to purchase the decorative shells from Krug villages when a kraal-house is torn down because of the demise of the lady Krug who lived in it. Then the crythli shells have no more significance to the Krug, and they part with them readily for a fair price in quinine. Which, of course, means that the supply of crythli shell is steady but moderate and the price remains stable—which is good for interplanetary trade. Sometimes a few pearls are purchased, too.

And this may possibly have been the reason for the whole affair. Th'Tark could have arranged it. If there is a Th'Tark, this could be the explanation. But one has doubts.

The most recent editions of Miss Cummings' book have a three-page appendix added to them. The three pages add little of importance to the anthropological side of her work, but they do complete the biology. They report recent discoveries that once a Krug maiden becomes a matron, she produces offspring with a fine regularity for all the rest of her life, though she never sees her husband again. Biologists tend to speak of Krug males as "drones," nowadays, by analogy with honeybees and ants, whose males like the Krug are driven from the communities of working females, and who die after their mating. And philologists put a word in, too, arguing that since the Krug language is incapable of expressing the operations of logic, there is no evidence that the Krug think in concepts i.e., that they are reasoning beings. And the biologists join in zestfully to point out that the Krug technology and symbiosis with vegetation is certainly no more complex than that of the leaf-cutter ants. Other myrmidae and some kinds of bees and wasps approach it, too. Altogether, they make out quite a case.

The anthropologists consider that they have the last word, though. They point out triumphantly that the Krug must be considered human because there is no other case, among irrational animals, of social participation in a marriage rite. And especially, they point out, no other non-human creature engages in any sort of funerary activity. But the Krug do have a marriage ceremony. It is elaborate. They have a socially recognized honeymoon, during which the bride and her new husband are alone in the new home built for the bride, and during which for a matter of hours every other Krug returns to her own dwelling and the privacy of the wedding pair is absolute. Even the end of the honeymoon is no less officially recognized, because after a fixed interval—of as much as four hours—the Krug matrons gather about the hut again. When the new Krug bridegroom flees his new wife's hut he is met by this committee of mated females. And they dispatch him very dexterously with a sharp wooden instrument and bury him in a neat mound before his widow's door and ornament the mound with crythli shells. And afterward his widow dutifully waters the flowers that are planted there.

This, the anthropologists say, is human behavior.

It is not settled yet. Maybe Hale could throw some light upon the question. He knew a great deal about the Krug. Even in his frantic haste to tell all he knew, it took hours for Miss Cummings to exhaust her list of questions and the secondary questions suggested by his replies. Maybe he did know more than she learned from him, because she couldn't but be affected by his frantic anxiety to be gone. But nobody knows how much Hale had found out. He has never been seen since his Krug-wedding night, on Venus or elsewhere.

Maybe the only way to find out the facts would be to ask Th'Tark, who could, just possibly, have arranged the whole affair. It prevented the extermination of the Krug by the march of progress. Th'Tark would have wanted to bring that about, certainly.

If there is or was a Th'Tark.


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