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From: The Fire People

The girl stood quiet beside the tree, watching Alan as he tied up his
boat. She continued smiling. Alan stood up and faced her. He wondered what
he should say--whether she could understand him any better than he could

"You speak English?" he began hesitantly.

The girl did not answer at once; she seemed to be trying to divine his
meaning. Then she waved her hand--a curious movement, which he took to be
a gesture of negation--her broadening smile disclosing teeth that were
small, even, and very white.

At this closer view Alan could see she was apparently about twenty years
old, as time is reckoned on earth. Her body was very slender, gracefully
rounded, yet with an appearance of extreme fragility. Her slenderness, and
the long, sleek wings behind, made her appear taller than she really was;
actually she was about the height of a normal woman of our own race.

Her legs were covered by a pair of trousers of some silky fabric, grayish
blue in color. Her bare feet were incased in sandals, the golden cords of
which crossed her insteps and wound about her ankles, fastening down the
lower hems of the trousers. A silken, gray-blue scarf was wound about her
waist; crossing in front, it passed up over her breast and shoulders,
crossing again between the wings behind and descending to the waist.

Her hair was a smooth, glossy black. It was parted in the middle, covered
her ears, and came forward over each shoulder. The plaits were bound
tightly around with silken cords; each was fastened to her body in two
places, at the waist and, where the plait ended, the outside of the
trouser leg just above the knee.

Her skin was cream colored, smooth in texture, and with a delicate flush
of red beneath the surface. Her eyes were black, her face small and oval,
with a delicately pointed chin. There was nothing remarkable about her
features except that they were extraordinarily beautiful. But--and this
point Alan noticed at once--there was in her expression, in the delicacy
of her face, a spiritual look that he had never seen in a woman before. It
made him trust her; and--even then, I think--love her, too.

Such was the strange girl as Alan saw her that morning standing beside the
tree on the bank of the little Florida bayou.

"I can't talk your language," said Alan. He realized it was a silly thing
to say. But his smile answered hers, and he went forward until he was
standing close beside her. She did not appear so tall now, for he towered
over her, the strength and bigness of his frame making hers seem all the
frailer by contrast.

He held out his hand. The girl looked at it, puzzled.

"Won't you shake hands?" he said; and then he realized that, too, was a
silly remark.

She wrinkled up her forehead in thought; then, with a sudden
comprehension, she laughed--a soft little ripple of laughter--and placed
her hand awkwardly in his.

As he released her hand she reached hers forward and brushed it lightly
against his cheek. Alan understood that was her form of greeting. Then she
spread her wings and curtsied low--making as charming a picture, he
thought, as he had ever seen in his life.

As she straightened up her eyes laughed into his, and again she spoke a
few soft words--wholly unintelligible. Then she pointed toward the sun,
which was still low over the horizon, and then to the silver object lying
back near the center of the island.

"I know," said Alan. "Mercury."

The girl repeated his last word immediately, enunciating it almost
perfectly. Then she laid her hand upon her breast, saying: "Miela."

"Alan," he answered, indicating himself.

The girl laughed delightedly, repeating the word several times. Then she
took him by the hand and made him understand that she wished to lead him
back into the island.

They started off, and then Alan noticed a curious thing. She walked as
though weighted to the ground by some invisible load. She did not raise
her feet normally, but dragged them, like a diver who walks on land in his
heavily weighted iron shoes. After a few steps she spread her wings, and,
flapping them slowly, was able to get along better, although it was
obvious that she could not lift her body off the ground to fly.

For a moment Alan was puzzled, then he understood. The force of gravity on
earth was too great for the power of her muscles, which were developed
only to meet the pull of Mercury--a very much smaller planet.

The girl was so exceedingly frail Alan judged she did not weigh, here on
earth, much over a hundred pounds. But even that he could see was too much
for her. She could not fly, and it was only by the aid of her wings that
she was able to walk with anything like his own freedom of movement.

He made her understand, somehow, that he comprehended her plight. Then,
after a time, he put his left arm about her waist. She spread the great
red wings out behind him, the right one passing over his shoulder; and in
this fashion they went forward more easily.

The girl kept constantly talking and gesturing. She seemed remarkably
intelligent; and even then, at the very beginning of their
acquaintanceship, she made Alan understand that she intended to learn his
language. Indeed, she seemed concerned about little else; and she went
about her task systematically and with an ability that amazed him.

As they walked forward she kept continually stooping to touch objects on
the ground--a stick, a handful of sand, a woodland flower, or a palmetto
leaf. Or, again, she would indicate articles of his clothing, or his
features. In each case Alan gave her the English word; and in each case
she repeated it after him.

Once she stopped stock still, and with astonishing rapidity and accuracy
rattled off the whole list--some fifteen or twenty words
altogether--pointing out each object as she enunciated the word.

Alan understood then--and he found out afterward it was the case--that the
girl's memory was extraordinarily retentive, far more retentive than is
the case with any normal earth person. He discovered also, a little later,
that her intuitive sense was highly developed. She seemed, in many
instances, to divine his meaning, quite apart from his words or the
gestures--which often were unintelligible to her--with which he
accompanied them.

After a time they reached the Mercutian vehicle. It was a cubical box,
with a pyramid-shaped top, some thirty feet square at the base, and
evidently constructed of metal, a gleaming white nearer like silver than
anything else Alan could think of. He saw that it had a door on the side
facing him, and several little slitlike windows, covered by a thick,
transparent substance which might have been glass.

As they got up close to it Alan expected the girl's companions to come
out. His heart beat faster. Suddenly he raised his voice and shouted:
"Hello, inside!"

The girl looked startled. Then she smiled and made the negative gesture
with her hand.

Alan understood then that she was alone. They went inside the vehicle. It
was dark in there. Alan could make out little, but after a moment his eyes
grew accustomed to the darkness.

He noticed first that the thing was very solidly constructed. He expected
to see some complicated mechanism, but there was little or nothing of the
kind so far as he could make out in the darkness in this first hurried

Fastened to one wall was an apparatus which he judged was for the making
of oxygen. He looked around for batteries, and for electric lights, but
could see nothing of the kind.

All this time Alan's mind had been busily trying to puzzle out the mystery
of the girl's presence here alone. Evidently she came in the most friendly
spirit; and thus, quite evidently, her mission, whatever it was, must be
very different from that of the invaders who had landed almost
simultaneously in Wyoming.

Whatever it was that had brought her--whatever her purpose--he realized it
must be important. The girl, even now, seemed making no effort to show or
explain anything to him, but continued plying him with questions that gave
her the English words of everything about them that she could readily

Alan knew then that she must have something important to
communicate--something that she wanted to say as quickly as possible. And
he knew that she realized the only way was for her to learn his language,
which she was doing with the least possible loss of time, and with an
utter disregard of everything else that might have obtruded.

Alan decided then to take the girl back home with him--indeed, it had
never been in his mind to do anything else--and let Beth care for her.
Meanwhile he would do everything he could to help her get the knowledge
necessary to make known what it was that had brought her from Mercury.
That she had some direct connection with the Wyoming invaders he did not

Alan had just reached this decision when the girl made him realize that
she had the same thought in mind. She pointed around the room and then to
herself, and he knew that she was insisting upon a general word to include
all her surroundings.

Finally Alan answered: "House."

After pointing to him, she waved her hand vaguely toward the country
outside the open doorway, and he understood she was asking where his house

Alan's decision was given promptly. "We'll go there," he said.

He put his arm about her and started out. By the way she immediately
responded he knew she understood, and that it was what she wished to do.

They got back to Alan's launch in a few moments. He seated her in the
stern of the boat, where she half reclined with her wings spread out a
little behind her. So assiduous was she--and so facile--in her task of
learning English, that before she would let him start the motor she had
learned the names of many of the new objects in sight, and several verbs
connected with his actions of the moment.

There was a large tarpaulin in the launch, and this Alan wrapped about the
girl's shoulders. He did not want her vivid red wings to be seen by any
one as they passed down the bayou.

Finally they started off.

Professor Newland's home was some three miles from the village of Bay
Head, on the shore of a large bay which opened into the Gulf of Mexico.
The bayou down which they were heading flowed into this bay near where the
house stood. Their home was quite isolated, Alan thought with
satisfaction. There was no other habitation nearer than Bay Head except a
few negro shacks. With the girl's wings covered he could take her home and
keep her there, in absolute seclusion, without causing any comment that
might complicate things.

On the way down the bayou the girl showed extreme interest in everything
about her. She seemed to have no fear, trusting Alan implicitly in his
guidance and protection of her in this strange world. She continued her
questions; she laughed frequently, with almost a childlike freedom from
care. Only once or twice, he noticed, as some thought occurred to her, the
laughter died away, her face suddenly sobered, and a far-away, misty look
came into her beautiful eyes.

Alan sat close beside her in the stern, steering the launch and
occasionally pulling the tarpaulin back onto her shoulders when it
threatened to slip off because of her impetuous gestures.

They saw only a few negroes as they passed down the bayou, and these paid
no particular attention to them. Within an hour Alan had the girl safely
inside the bungalow, and was introducing her, with excited explanations,
to his astonished father and sister, who were just at that moment sitting
down to breakfast.

Next: The Mercutian Camp

Previous: Captured!

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