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A Plagiarist Of Dreams






Part of: Other World Life
From: Pharaoh's Broker

Being unable to sleep, I arose early to get the refreshment of a morning
walk. I passed quietly through the next room, where the doctor was still
sleeping soundly, out into the courtyard. I was scarcely outside when I
heard a familiar, excited barking, and Two-spot ran across the open
space toward me as fast as his four short legs and his very active tail
would carry him. His frantic jumping up toward me was extremely comical,
for he sprang with more than twice the swiftness I was accustomed to
seeing, almost to a level with my face, but he fell very slowly to the
ground with only one third the speed that he would have fallen on Earth.
He could jump, with almost the agility of a flea, and yet he fell back
deliberately like a gas ball. He was evidently enjoying his muscles as
much as I had mine. When he made a particularly high jump, I caught him
in my hands and patted him fondly.

"So you didn't fly away with the projectile? Or, did you go with it, and
is it safely back again, somewhere? How I wish you could speak my
language and tell me all you know! These different tongues are a great
bother, aren't they, Two-spot?"

He answered me volubly, but apart from the fact that he quite agreed
with me, I could not understand his message. Had I been able to, it
might have made a very great difference to me.

There was a beautiful, filmy snow on the ground, which had fallen during
the night. It was scarcely more than a heavy hoar frost, and as the sun
sprang up without any warning twilight, the snow melted and left the
surface damp and fresh. As I afterwards learned, this thin snow fell
almost every night of the year, except for the warmest month of summer
when the grain ripened. There were hardly ever any violent storms or
quick showers. The thin air made heavy clouds or severe atmospheric
movements impossible. But the coolness of night, after a day of feeble
but direct and tropical sunshine, precipitated the moisture in the form
of those delightful feathers of darkness. I also learned that the months
were distinguished by the time of night when this snow fell; for it was
precipitated directly after sunset in the winter, but gradually later
into the night as summer advanced, and finally just before daybreak. The
month in which none fell at all was midsummer, of course. It had
scarcely finished falling this morning when I came out into it.

I sprang to the top of the wall, and was watching the quick rising of
the Sun, and enjoying the sensation of looking fixedly at his orb
without being dazzled, when I noticed that there was a dark notch in the
lower left-hand part of his disc! Soon after I distinguished, somewhat
farther in, a faint and smaller dark spot. This must be the beginning of
the double transit of the Earth and the Moon! I experienced a sensation
of joy in finding the home planet again. I confess it had given me a
curious shock not to be able to see it in the heavens. It was more
comfortable to have it back in the sky again, and at last I knew just
where we were in the calendar. On Earth it was the third day of August,
1892. The summer there was at its height, and all my friends were as
busy and as deeply immersed in their own affairs as if their little spot
had no idea of coquetting with the Sun. Possibly a dozen pairs of
studious eyes out of the teeming hundreds of millions on Earth were
turned Marsward. This led me to wonder what all-absorbing topics of
sport, politics, or war may fill the minds of the possible million
people on Venus, when the Earth is so much excited over one of the
infrequent and picturesque transits of that planet across the Sun.

But the doctor and Zaphnath must know of this! I hastened into the
ante-chamber and called out,--

"Come, get up! I have already discovered two very significant things
this morning."

"What are they?" he asked wearily between yawns.

"Two-spot and the Earth!" I exclaimed. "The former crossed my path in
the courtyard, and the latter is just now crossing the Sun. Where is the
telescope? quick!"

The doctor was not long in propping it up by the east window, and I went
to look for a servant. By repeating the word "Zaphnath" several times, I
made him understand that we wished the attendance of the young ruler,
and he started for him.

By this time the notch was almost a complete circle of dark shadow
within the lower edge of the Sun. The smaller spot, one-fourth the
diameter, was forging ahead like a herald to clear the way. Zaphnath
soon arrived, for he lived in another part of the Palace. He quietly
pressed his cheek to mine, but in my excitement I had seized his hand,
and with a pressure which must have hurt his shrinking flesh, I
exclaimed,--

"This is the day of thy greatness, O Zaphnath, for, behold, the Blue
Star is already upon the face of the Day-Giver!" I led him hastily to
the telescope, and explained to him that the smaller forward spot was
caused by a moon like Phobos, and that the Earth was really a round
ball, like the Sun. He looked intently for a long time, and then turning
about to me he said,--

"It is well ye left just when ye did, for the fire of the Day-Giver hath
by this time burned every living thing upon your star! See how she
hastens through his hot flames."

I attempted to explain that the Earth was more than twice as far from
the Sun as she was from us; but he believed the evidence of his eyes,
and I had to give it up in despair.

"I pray thee, bring this Larger Eye to the Council Chamber. I must
summon all the wise men at once to behold this wonder. How long will it
continue?"

The doctor told me it might last almost two hours; but I found it
impossible to convey any idea of this period of time to Zaphnath, until
I told him that it would continue half the time of the crossing of
Phobos, who had just risen dimly in the west.

We made a quick breakfast on fruit like grapes and a wheaten gruel, and
hastened to the chamber where we had been received the day before.
Zaphnath was already there, and so were eleven of the grey-beards. We
did not wait for the twelfth, but Zaphnath led the doctor to the place
at the centre of their oval table, which thus filled all the seats. Then
the young ruler ascended his throne and thus addressed them:--

"While ye have tossed and tumbled in an idle slumber, two things of
grave importance have happened touching you. The Pharaoh, acting upon my
urgent advices, hath appointed this grey-beard from the Blue Star to be
your chief; and now the Blue Star herself hath re-appeared upon the
very face of the Day-Giver, even as these, her people, told us yesterday
that she must do."

Just at this point the belated wise man came straggling in, a slow
surprise growing upon him when he saw that his seat was taken. Zaphnath
then turned, addressing him,--

"Thou hast not heard, O lazy idler in the lap of morning, what I have
just spoken to thy brothers? Then go thou to yonder Larger Eye and speak
truthfully to these grey-beards all that thou seest."

I adjusted the instrument, and placed him in the proper position to see.
He looked long and carefully, then left the instrument and looked with
the unaided eye. Coming back he gazed again, and finally spoke very
slowly, as if resigning his life with the words:--

"I am old, and my sight deceiveth me, O my brothers, for when I gaze
into this mysterious instrument the Day-Giver suddenly groweth very
large, and hath two blots of shadow upon the upper half of his
brightness. But when I look with my proper eyes, he keeps his size, and
there are still spots upon him, but they are upon his lower side."

I explained to Zaphnath that the telescope made things look wrong side
up, just as it made them look larger, and I focussed it upon the Gnomons
to convince the wise man of this. Then the youth spoke to him again:--

"The Pharaoh hath appointed this grey-beard from the Blue Star to be
chief of all the wise men, and as there can be but twelve, thou art no
longer one. Unto thee, however, is given the duty of teaching our
language to the chief. See that thou doest it well, for the lives of all
of you, having now been forfeited by the law, are in his hands. But so
long as his wisdom spares you, ye shall live."

As there was now a lull, I saw an opportunity for my plan which I had
not yet found time to explain to the doctor. I translated to him as I
proceeded, however,--

"Tell me, O Zaphnath, is it the custom here to relate dreams to the wise
men for interpretation? I had last night a most peculiar one, and I will
give this golden coin to whomsoever is able to explain its meaning." All
the great eyes opened wide and round at beholding the eagle I held up to
view. So large a piece of gold must have been uncommon. The youth
replied,--

"It is, in truth, an obsolete formality to submit dreams to the wise
men, for they have interpreted none since I came into Kem. But let us
hear it; if they cannot make it known, mayhap I can do so."

"I dreamed that I stood by the great river which runneth just without
thy city walls, and I saw coming up out of the water, as if they had
been fishes, seven familiar beasts, such as I have not seen since I came
to Kem. Knowest thou here such large, useful animals, each having a long
tail and four legs, and whose peaceful habit is to eat the grass of the
fields, which, having digested, the female yieldeth back in a white
fluid very fit to drink?"

"It is kine thou meanest," answered Zaphnath. "In truth there are but
few within the city, but they are well known, for in the land of my
father my people do naught but to breed and raise them and send them
hither for ploughing in the fields. At the season of planting thou shalt
see many of them."

"I saw seven kine, most sleek and plump of flesh, feeding in a green
meadow by the river; but suddenly there came up out of the water in the
same manner two lean and shrunken kine, whose withered bones rattled
against their dry skins, they were so poor and hungry. And they stayed
not to eat the grass of the meadow, but fell upon and devoured their
fatter sisters----"

"Saidst thou two?" interrupted Zaphnath.

"Two of the lean and shrunken, but they ate the fat-fleshed, which were
seven," I answered, watching Zaphnath and the wise men closely, for he
was translating to them phrase by phrase as I spoke. He faltered when I
described the eating up of the fat cattle; there were wondering and
inquiring looks among the wise men and a constant chattering in Kemish.
I waited patiently for some time, then waving my coin I demanded,--

"Can none of the grey-beards declare the meaning to me?"

There were more consultations among themselves and with Zaphnath, and
presently he said,--

"Before the wise men can declare thy dream, they demand to know whether
the lean kine only slaughtered the sleek ones, or if they ate them
wholly up? And were they filled and satisfied when they had eaten their
fatter sisters?"

"In truth, I forgot to say that they devoured the fat kine wholly and
completely, yet it could not be known that they had eaten anything, they
were still so lean and ill-favoured."

This caused even a greater chattering than before, and the youth finally
asked,--

"Didst thou dream aught more, or is this all?"

"Truly I had another dream, but it was different. I thought that all the
wheat in the field grew upon one stalk in seven great kernels; then a
shrivelled and withered stalk began to spring up; when suddenly a
rapping on my door awakened me, and I dreamed no more."

The effect which this produced was most curious. Blank surprise, hidden
cunning, anxious debating and uneasy hesitation, succeeded each other
among the wise men. I watched it with great interest, and perceived the
doctor's satisfaction, but I again demanded the interpretation.

"Know, then, O dreamer," answered Zaphnath, "that we understand not only
the import of all that thou hast dreamed, but even what thou wouldst
have dreamed hadst thou not been wakened! But, in spite of thy handsome
offer, it doth not appear fit or proper to us that the interpretation of
it should be made known to thee. Tell me, however, hast thou had
conversation with any other person in Kem, save with me and with the
wise men?"

"Thou knowest well, O Zaphnath, that I speak not the Kemish tongue, and
can understand or communicate only through thy interpretation. I have
spoken with no one on all of Ptah except through thee, and if thou wilt
not declare my dream I care not, for while ye have been debating among
yourselves I have learned its meaning!"

"Thou understandest it already!" he exclaimed. "Pray tell us, then, how
thou hast learned it."

"The chief wise man hath declared it to me in my own tongue!" I
exclaimed, with a meaning look toward the doctor, who had been speaking
to me to urge caution. "He saith that the seven sleek kine are the
Kemish people, and the two lean and ill-favoured are we two from the
Earth--for are not thy people larger and plumper than we!--and the seven
denoteth their much greater number. But the dream meaneth that we two,
poor and hungry, might eat up all your people and become their masters."

There was still more delighted jabbering and excited comment. Then
Zaphnath arose, and turning graciously to the doctor said to him,--

"Thy marvellous interpretation, O chief grey-beard, is most correct and
wise, and it hath wholly eaten ours up! We quite agree with thy superior
wisdom, for thou only hast read the dream aright!"





Next: Getting Into The Corner

Previous: Parallel Planetary Life



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