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´╗┐Title: Ripeness is All
Author: Roarke, Jesse
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ripeness is All" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                          Ripeness Is All

                          By JESSE ROARKE

                        Illustrator SUMMERS

    [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Fantastic Stories
    of Imagination May 1962. Extensive research did not uncover any
    evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


    _Shakespeare wrote it, in the tragedy of King Lear--a phrase
    to live by:

                      Men must endure
    Their going hence, even as their coming hither;_


He was disturbed, but he did not know it. Murky, agitated waters crept
up in his vast subconscious world, and sought the threshold, the mouth
of the pit, the slope of the clean shore; little rainbows of light
now and then flashed over the waters. They heaved, and against the
sluice-gates they beat, sullenly. There was a yielding, but the great
force was contained.

He left his Pad, curiously mopping his brow a little, and furrowing it
between the eyes. It came to him that he was hungry. He stepped to the
curb, pushed the button, and leaned against the post, as if waiting, or
in thought. Almost immediately a Car appeared, in a cheery orange and
green. He almost shuddered, and he almost knew that he did so. Then he
brightened, stepped into the car, and voiced his desire.

He was carried at a moderate pace through clean, broad streets and past
bright, shiny buildings and smiling parks and gardens. He came to the
top of a high hill, saw the sparkling blue bay in the distance, and
thought vaguely of sailing upon it. On his face he felt a brisk spray,
and the air was tanged with salt. Then a warmed, faintly perfumed
glow dried and composed him, and the Car shut off all its machinery
and glided to a stop. He got out, ever so comfortable, and entered a
luxurious Kitchen, in which he had not dined for several days.

The doors opened automatically, and a smiling android, gaily featured
and clothed, conducted him to a table. She was a soothing sight: yes,
that's what it was. He ordered a sumptuous meal, rubbing his ample
waistline in anticipation.

"Dig dig!" crooned the waitress.

He patted good-naturedly her well-moulded behind as she turned; she
glowed sweetly back over her soft and delicate shoulder. He wondered if
Meg was enough, and decided that, well, for the time being, he guessed
she was. No use hurrying things. The waitress returned and served the
meal. As always, it was excellent. He finished with a leisurely bottle
of wine and a cigar, pinched the waitress's firm yet ever so yielding
thigh, and departed.

Then a deep stirring almost took hold upon him. Yes, that was what
he needed. It had been several months now. He pushed another button,
and a rosy pink Car appeared to his service. "Take me to a House, you
know what I mean?" he said, as he arranged himself upon the pearl grey
cushions. The Car glided away.

       *       *       *       *       *

On and on along the shore of the ocean they pleasantly careened. At
length they turned into a rich garden bower, and stopped in front of
a great mansion overlooking the waves. He alighted; the Car departed.
Profusely bloomed scarlet and golden and azure flowers, everywhere;
succulent and bright was the lavish green. The doors opened, and a Woman
received him. She was past child-bearing, motherly, and smiling.

He smiled back, and said, "You got one, huh?"

"Of course," she answered.

He sat down to wait.

And while he waited, he almost thought. Meg was good, all right, but
why wasn't she enough, sometimes? He tapped his thumb-nail against his
teeth in a few moments of near perplexity, and then desisted. Soon a
bevy of charming Girls entered the room and paraded for him, laughing
and smiling. He settled upon a petite brunette with cherry lips. She
stripped him of his clothes, and they went walking in a private garden.

In an inner bower they sat down to a rustic table, and were served by
robot with a heady aphrodisiac wine. On the grasses and the petals
of flowers, overlooking the sea, they entwined their limbs and their
bodies, and he nearly enjoyed her. He thought that once he had enjoyed
this activity indeed, and wondered whether it were so.

He sat looking over the waters, trying to muse. The androids were
physically perfect, flesh meeting flesh, clinging to it, thrilling with
it. They were warm, they whispered, they strained and cried. They were
freely available, for every man and woman. None need be unsatisfied.

But he did not know all of this, history and psychology were lost to
him and he could never keep a connected train of thought; his being
unsatisfied could not penetrate to his consciousness. He did not quite
know that flesh cried out for something more than flesh, and had
always done so. He did know, more or less, that there was the matter
of population, and that real men and real women had, at mysterious
intervals, to copulate. That was the way it was. He had once spent some
time in a House himself, meeting the requirements of an endless variety
of Girls. He supposed that some of them had borne the issue of his seed,
though he did not suppose it in these terms. But it was better not to
know these things for certain, and not to have anything to do with
the rearing of children, after the early mother-feeling was over. The
Schools could take care of that better than people could.

She snuggled against him.

"What say, Man?" she said: "What's eatin yuh?"

He did not know how to answer. He tried to talk, tried to break through,
to clarify.

"What's it, huh?" he nearly pleaded. "All this, I mean. Like what's it
for?"

She stretched out on the grass and looked at him a moment.

"Search me," she ventured. "I guess maybe what you need's a Bed."

He guessed she was right.

       *       *       *       *       *

They went back to the mansion through the twilight, and established
themselves in one of the rooms. The soft curtains were drawn, the Bed
was large, the sheets were silky and creamy. She reclined on her back,
and the mattress moulded itself perfectly to her form.

He lay down beside her, and caressed her. She clasped him tight to
her breast. And he was clasped also by an invisible but very palpable
field of energy, that directed his movements and charged him with an
inexhaustible and ceaseless power. He held her tight, and the force
entwined them. They were one throbbing ecstasy, and only at the very
last endurable moment were they given release.

Then the Bed slowly soothed them, massaged them, and invigorated them
once again. Throughout the night it continued, activity and repose,
until toward the dawn he fell into a dead sleep, which lasted until the
following morning.

He did not know that he dreamed. He did not consciously remember any
of it. He only knew, as he ate his ample breakfast, that he was not so
thoroughly at peace as he should have been. And he knew that it was
useless to ask the Woman, or one of the Girls.

But the Woman's androids did well by her, it seemed. Maybe he had better
go home to Meg.

"What the square, anyhow?" he said to himself. A little more rest in his
familiar surroundings, and he would be all right. A Bed always took a
lot out of a man. He arose to go.

"Goodbye, dear," the Woman said, as he came to the head of the main
path. She was serene and smiling.

He adjusted his tunic, and smiled in reply. Yes sir, the old world was
in good shape, just like always. He signaled for a Car. The bright ocean
again passed by him, and the broad sands, and he dozed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dreams were more importunate, this time. When he awoke, with a blank
start, the Car was cruising aimlessly. He looked around, and broke into
a sweat. There was a button he had to push, somewhere, there was a
handle he had to take hold of. He stammered out "Stop--now!" and stepped
onto the curb. The car sped away, to another summons. He was before an
Emporium, but he did not enter. Instead, he did an unprecedented thing:
he went for a walk, through the streets of the City. This was not done,
and none of the occupants of the passing cars observed him.

He was really wondering, now. Could something be wrong? This
possibility, with all its full horror, had never entered his mind
before; indeed, he did not even have the conceptions of rightness
and wrongness, and yet there was the inescapable word, "wrong". His
agitation increased. He found himself with the hardly formulated idea
that a school was a place where one learned something, and he did not
know what this could mean.

He thought of the School that he had attended. All the young people of
the District of Fransco attended it: they had been told that there were
other Schools, in other districts, and that they were all the same.
He had believed it, and forgotten about it. What did it matter? One
district was as good as another. He had never travelled. He knew a Man
who had gone to the District of Shasta, but he had not been interested
in hearing about it. He remembered that the Man had said it was all the
same thing, not worth the bother. One had everything he needed, in his
own place. But now it seemed that he needed something more, something
nobody had ever heard of. He walked on, thinking about the School.

Everybody was born in a House, and kept there till he was weaned, and
could walk. Then he was taken to the School. There he grew up in an
atmosphere of Group Living, and was gradually showed everything that he
needed--everything that there was. The hes and shes played together;
they were instructed in the Ways of Life.

As they grew older, they were taken around the City. They were showed
the places that the Cars could take them; they were showed how to push
the buttons. Of course the robots did a perfect job of instruction.
There were Kitchens, in which one could eat. There were parks and
gardens, in which one could stroll and lounge. There were Emporiums, in
which one could get clothes and things. It was all--as it was.

When one reached puberty, he was taken from the School, and given a
Pad. There he lived, listening to the soft music that came from the
walls, eating and sleeping. And doing. He selected his android from an
Emporium, and did her as he pleased. She was his company, the Warmth of
his Pad. She shopped in the Emporium for him, she fixed him cozy little
meals, and brought him his pipe or his cigar. She spread the depilatory
cream upon his face in the morning, and wiped, with so soft a touch, his
beard away; and she bathed him, in the scented waters.

       *       *       *       *       *

He remembered that after a year or two, he had felt almost restless.
From his touch, Meg had understood. She had whispered "House" to him,
and he had gone out and instructed a Car. That had been his first
experience of a Girl. He supposed that it had been the same with the
others. He had never inquired. In the garden bower the idea of children
had come to him, and his mind had been at rest. He had not tried a Bed
until the fifth or sixth time. He had, he supposed, taken for granted
that the Girls lived in the same way that he did. They had their own
androids, their own Pads. They never associated with the Men, except in
a House. Men got together sometimes, and ate and drank, and had android
orgies; no doubt the Girls did likewise.

With a great effort, aided by hints from what he could remember of Life,
he pieced an idea together, not knowing what he had done. Of course
human copulation was too dangerous: it might make one unhappy. He had
learned, in the bowers, that Man and Girl were not of the same temper,
and that their union was not always perfect. Somehow it was better, even
so, but it was too difficult. It tended to be--painful.

He did not know the word. He did not know any of the words for these
strange thoughts of his, but they were now very palpable to him, and
very urgent. His android was his, and was never dissatisfied; and so,
neither was he. It was a perfect and complete system. And what was
happening to him? The word "happiness" came upon him, and he shuddered,
almost in terror. What did it mean? Too many things were happening, all
at once.

       *       *       *       *       *

He turned into a street, and stopped. He had never seen it before.
But why should this disturb him? The District was a big place. But he
thought he had better get out of this street. Maybe pick up another
android, maybe even take her home: have a redhead for awhile, maybe. Meg
wouldn't mind. How could she? What was the matter with him? Other Men
changed readily, or kept a whole Padful. The waitresses were much in
demand. One did not even have to take them home: there were convenient
rooms in every Kitchen.

Then suddenly all this was shaken from him. He was standing before a
large building, and he did not know what it was.

He stood for a long time, looking at it. Now and then a Man seemed
to pass, but he could not be sure. It was like a shadow, like the
flickering of a breeze. He wondered what the building could be.

At length he seemed to hear a murmur as of the waters, and at last a
voice broke upon him.

"This is a library," it said. "There are books here, and teachers, from
whom you can learn."

It was too much. He screamed, and ran down the street.

After a few blocks he became calmer; forgetfulness rescued him. He
pushed a button, and a Car conveyed him to his Pad.

Meg met him, all warmth and smiles. He sat down, and she brought him his
slippers and a cold bottle of beer. He drank deeply. She sat on the arm
of his chair, caressed him, and asked if he would like some dinner. She
had--

He cut her short.

"Meg, honey," he said, "I'm a little tired, that's how. You go to bed
now, huh, put on some of that jasmine perfume? You dig?"

"Sure, honey! Dig dig!" she replied.

The dark waters rose, and beat against him.

He finished his beer, and got himself another.

Meg whispered, "Say, honey!" The bed rustled softly.

He fought down his mind, and rapidly drank his beer. Almost as ever,
he embraced the Warmth, and slid into a comfortable oblivion. Meg lay
beside him in the darkness.

       *       *       *       *       *

He awoke early, and she laid her hand upon him.

Abruptly, he squirmed away.

"Don't do that!" His voice was loud. "It's no good, all that stuff!
Something's--wrong!"

He jumped out of bed, and began rapidly to put on his clothes.

Meg lay still for a moment. Her circuits were not built for such things.
There was nothing wrong, and nothing registered. Then the cheery morning
music started out of the wall, soothing and bright, and she began to hum
with it. She arose, went lightly to her dressing, freshly and sweetly
tripped into the kitchen.

"Scrambled eggs, honey?" she asked, in the most caressive of tones.

He had all but forgotten his outburst.

"Yeh, sure honey", he answered.

He ate copiously, and drank several cups of black coffee.

"Fine day!" he said, belching his appreciation.

He patted his companion good morning, exceptionally affectionately, and
went out into the street.

There he met an old friend and drinking companion. He lived next door,
it seemed. They were neighbors! He had seldom been so glad to see
anyone, as this old friend.

"Hi there, Charlie!" he boomed. "How's it all? Like Man, I'm glad to see
you! What's it, huh?"

Then he waited, with an expectant grin. He waited a considerable time
after Charlie had sauntered past him and ridden off in a Car.

Then it came to him.

"He didn't see me! Like as if I wasn't here! Yeah!"

He hurried down the street, and did not think of a Car at all.

He slowed his pace, and walked for a long time. Nobody saw him. He tried
to think. The effort was too much, and his mind was a strained blank,
and almost pained him. This street: it seemed familiar. Yes, he had
gone cruising here, several times. He began very nearly to regret his
deficiency of memory. Wasn't there a nice park, up here a little way?
He quickened his pace, perspiring freely. It was right here--no, it
couldn't be! Not that again! He couldn't be invisible to other people!
There couldn't be things all around him that he couldn't see! It wasn't
right! What did that word mean? He fainted.

When he came to, the library was still there. He staggered to his feet,
and stood still a moment, gazing. There was something cut in the stone
over the large front doors. Why would anybody cut something like that in
the stone? It didn't make sense. It wasn't comfy at all.

Then, in the back of his brain, a little light burst, and he heard the
words, "All men by nature desire to know."

There it was again. Hadn't he dreamed it? What was this "know"? It
wasn't eating or drinking or doing or anything.

Then there floated into his pulsating areas this "Aristotle".

No dig at all. But he knew that it was the inscription in the stone, and
he walked up the broad front walk and entered the doors, which opened
automatically for him.

He walked over the marble floor. Out of the corner of his eye he seemed
almost to discern an occasional dim figure hurrying past. He walked up
two flights of stairs, seemingly alone, and yet seemingly surrounded. It
was strange, and it was perfectly natural. He had never felt so alive
before. Not even in a Bed had he felt himself so much of a Man. And he
did not think about doing. He had not the slightest interest in it. He
wanted to _know_, whatever this might mean. He paused in front of a
door. It opened, and he entered and eased himself into a chair.

"You must begin with the alphabet," the voice began. "This is the letter
A."

It flashed upon the screen. He copied it on the plate before him. Over
and over again he copied the letter, and heard its name repeated. He was
on the way.

       *       *       *       *       *

He remained for weeks, for months, in the library. His room was
comfortable, his meals were tasty and well balanced. He lost weight, he
gained continually an alert, aware sense of well-being and purpose. He
was developing a mind, and beginning to know.

Throughout the day he studied consciously, or received hypnotic
instruction; during the night, while his sleep was more keen and more
restful than ever before, the instruction continued. He learned many
things. He became aware of who Aristotle was, and what he had done. He
developed an acquaintance with all the great men and cultures of the
lost lands of Europa. He learned that he lived on the west coast of
Ameru, and that this coast was one large City; he learned that the once
large continent had dwindled greatly in the disasters, that the ocean
waves now poured over the great plains, and all to the eastward. He
felt occasionally a longing to see the mountains, and the further waters.

He learned and throve. He began to see other figures more distinctly:
once in the corridor he met a Man face to face, and they smiled and
bowed to each other. It had been a small Man, with a funny beard, and
very bright eyes. It had not been like anybody he had ever seen in the
City. But suddenly he knew that he was not like anybody in the City, and
that it could no longer be his home. The shock of the fact that the City
was not everything, that there was existence, and desirable existence,
outside of it, came to him strongly; but now he was ready for it. When
the tumult was over, his mind was at last born, and he was a human
being, ready to aim for high goals, and to co-operate with destiny.

That night much of a strange nature, called "Sunrise", came to him, and
strange names, faces, and disciplines were vaguely lodged within him. He
awoke with a most definite feeling of readiness, and with his breakfast
he knew, beyond doubt, that "When the disciple is ready, the Master
appears."

When he had finished eating, he left the library, and walked in thought.
How dismal everything was! Nobody knowing, or caring about anything
really important; nobody seeing anything. And certainly they did not see
him: but he saw them very clearly. And how much was there, still to be
seen, all around him? And what was it, what did it mean? He had to get
out, he had to find an answer.

He pushed the nearest button, and slid into the suave black Car that
noiselessly approached. He had never seen a black Car before. He
wondered if his eyes were still playing tricks upon him, if he would
ever see anything aright. Then he dismissed it from his mind.

"Take me out of the City", he said.

There was a slight hesitation; then they were moving, slowly and
quietly, in a northeasterly direction.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a long ride, past all the familiar features of the City,
multiplied many fold. At length the Car shuddered slightly, and the
virtue seemed to go out of it in a gentle rush: it stopped, utterly
still, and the silent door slid open with an eloquent finality. He got
out, and the Car seemed to hasten away as from an undesired doom.

But his weird was upon him; he thought so, in the transfixing old terms;
and he turned and beheld an open field, with mountains in the distance.
And it came to him that he had ridden this way before, and seen nothing
but City all around him. He thought then of enigmatic things that he
had heard and read in the library: of how certain Tibetans rendered
themselves invisible, or at least passed unseen, by shielding their
thought waves--by giving out no handle for perception to grasp. So
had this landscape hidden itself, it seemed: shielded itself from
desecration.

Or perhaps there were beings, perhaps there was existence, that gave
continual indication, bristled with handles, as it were: but handles
that could not be grasped or made use of by an organism insufficiently
developed. It seemed more of a truism, the more he thought of it.

But it did not seem to matter, on this bright new day. He dismissed the
question and stepped forward, into the yielding grass.

What a great thing it was to have a mind, to feel alive on such a day!
He tried to remember how dim, how crippled he had been; it seemed
impossible. Could he have been only one poor, flickering candle, he who
now blazed with the light of a hundred, or a thousand? Could he have
rattled on one cylinder, he who now moved smoothly and noiselessly on
sixteen or twenty? It was too marvelous for words, or for thoughts.

For a long time he walked, perspiring freely, then puffing, limping and
laboring. It was hot, with no breezes from the sea. An occasional rill
was refreshing, and a glade was cooling: the leaves rustled gently in
the now and then quickened air, and the birds were sweet with song. But
there was no sign of human life. At length he sat down on a fallen log,
and rested.

He sat long, thinking and dozing. The sun was low in the sky when he
arose, and followed some prompting to a ridge not too greatly in the
distance. He had come without provision of any kind, and with no fear
for his welfare: he would see. The ground seemed soft enough, if he had
to sleep there; he took off his shoes and socks, and enjoyed the cool
grass.

He walked on toward the ridge, slowly and confidently, his shoes and
socks in his hand. He had not eaten for many hours, but he did not seem
hungry. Food was not the tremendously important thing that it used to
be. He thought of his old esurience, and smiled. Whatever his god was,
it was not his belly, it was not his body at all. He still had enough
flab to live on for some time without inconvenience, and it would be
better to live on it, than to keep stuffing himself. There were no women
either, and no androids. They were tiresome, and tiring, things. He
sighed almost with contentment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Soon he crossed the ridge, and saw the smiling farmland in the valley
not far below. This was where the old food supplies had come from: this
had been the life of all but a few, for many centuries. There was a
great peace over it all. With a sense as of treading on hallowed ground,
he descended steadily, and soon came upon a large and rambling wooden
house, unpainted, and comfortable. Really comfortable, in a human way,
not in the sham way of the City. There was an elderly woman on the
porch, serenely rocking. As he approached, she smiled.

"Welcome, stranger!" she said. "Come on up and rest awhile."

He was glad of the invitation, and he mounted the generous and solid
steps with his shoes and socks still in his hand. He sat down and
redonned them, under her friendly smile.

"It feels good, doesn't it?" she asserted. "The real earth, under real
feet. Maybe you read the poet Hopkins before you got out. I did, right
at the last. One poem has always stuck with me, and especially this one
line of it:

    Neither can feet feel, being shod.

I wanted to feel things; I was tired of being shod, and insulated,
and deadened. I was just a young girl, then. I felt charged with the
grandeur of God, as Hopkins put it, and I had to get out. I've seen a
lot of God's grandeur, and a lot of His blessing, through a long life.
It's been good, here in the real world.

"But it's no use chattering," she continued. "That doesn't really
express or communicate anything. Nature has got a bigger and better
voice than any of us, and the best thing to do is just to listen for it.
I hope you'll stay with us awhile. The longer the better. We like to
help people who've just escaped. But I still talk too much. Supper'll be
ready pretty soon, and I have to go tend to it for a few minutes. Just
you sit there and be calm: listen for the still voices."

He was glad to do so, and gladder still to see the men of the family
returning from the fields. There were three of them, tall and strong,
real human beings, healthy and alive, and little marked by unprofitable
care. They had a faith, it seemed, a communion, a divine assurance, more
or less fulfilled.

       *       *       *       *       *

The older man, the father, welcomed him again, and they were soon seated
at the supper table. He noticed that the men ate heartily, and had
yet not an ounce of excess flesh. He rued his own bulk, and ate but
sparingly, only out of politeness. But food had never tasted so good
before.

The two sons were already approaching middle age, and were still
unmarried. This occasioned their mother some concern. But, as she said,
they didn't seem to care, and God or nature could take care of these
things better than people could. There was no use straining.

"And there aren't so many young women around," she mused. "There aren't
many people. Whatever love-making there may be, there's very little
breeding. It's like the City, in that respect. It seems this just isn't
a very good world these days, comparatively speaking, and people are
being held back till it gets better. There seems to be a sort of a cloud
over everything. I don't know. Anyway, we're contented. At least we have
our minds and hearts, and our patience."

He stayed a week, a month: into the natural influences he vigorously
and gratefully plunged. He helped with the farm work, and grew lean and
hard, and mentally as well as physically strong. He stayed on, through
the winter.

Then, with the spring, his own fertile ground began to burst and ache,
and he was no longer satisfied. He was not nature itself, to endure
unmoved the countless cycles of diversified sameness; he was rather a
flower that faded with a season, a leaf that would soon fall. He was
like a single wave of the vast ocean, and like that wave he must forever
be moving on, questioning.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so he left the farm very early one morning, and walked north, as he
could tell by the stars. They would not be surprised, and it was better
this way, without farewells. They would know that, for him, they had
served their purpose, and would be glad. And so he walked north, before
sunrise. For this direction he was conscious of no particular reason;
but he felt it to be as good as any other.

He passed a farm or two, skirting them carefully, and breakfasted on
the sunrise alone. It was so beautiful, thus breaking, rose and golden,
over the hills. He remembered the last poet that he had read, before
his deliverance: the great Sidney Lanier. "The Georgia gold mine," he
thought facetiously; and was at once sorry, for his shallowness. No more
would successive suns blaze upon the soft southern beauty. The warm blue
Atlantic waves rolled over the home of this poet-prophet; whose promise,
he fervently hoped, was not yet drowned. He also would be Lit with the
Sun. He stretched out his arms to the streaming gold, and then walked
on vigorously, with a new purpose not yet defined.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was getting into ruggeder country, and the going was more difficult.
But yet he felt no inclination to break his fast, or to slacken his
pace. The air was fresh, and good. He climbed around the spur of a
hill, and found himself entering a wild valley with no sign of human
habitation. There was a small stream close by, rippling down from the
solitudes. He went to it, and knelt to drink.

As he arose, two ropes descended upon him, from opposite sides, and his
arms were firmly pinioned. He looked around, and saw two bearded young
men, of not unprepossessing aspect. Each wore tight-fitting clothing and
a peaked hat with a long feather, and was armed with knife and sword.
One of them motioned into the valley.

"Come on, thou varlet!" he said.

They proceeded, and were soon immersed in the rippling and jutting hills.

Near the head of the valley, and up a hollow to the side, they came to
an expansive and well populated clearing. Many men, bearded and heavily
armed, were lounging about, dressed fancifully, but for action. There
were women also, sturdy and for the most part quite attractive. He found
himself speculating briefly on the fierce joy of their dalliance in
these invigorating wilds. Then his attention was abruptly drawn ahead,
and he was forced to his knees before one who was obviously the leader.

He was in his middle years, and bore a long flaxen beard and leonine
mane of hair; his eyes were large, and of a piercing but softly
reassuring green. He sat, still and lordly, and surveyed his captive.

At length: "Arise!"

He obeyed, and stood calmly.

The leader continued, "Thou art doubtless but lately from the City, of
abhorred name. Thou art but little acquainted with the usages of life.
Do not speak! I know 'tis true."

       *       *       *       *       *

He paused for a while, then went on with ruminative authority.

"Know that thou hast come into the hands of the Knights of Eld," he
said. "As our name implies, and indeed our visible delimitations
proclaim, we are no cut-throats, or vulgar brawlers. Thou art safe here.

"But thou art not one of us. Though thou art healthy and strong, and
might well prove a formidable adversary, thou takest no delight in
combat. Do I speak sooth? Proclaim!"

He proclaimed that it was sooth indeed; with the silent reservation
that, if the combat were sufficiently noble, and profound, and really,
fundamentally necessary--but his thoughts were cut short.

"Then thou hast no place here, unless perchance thou comest for succour,
or for sanctuary."

His answer being negative, the leader continued:

"Know that our life is combat. There be many bands, against whom we
strive. We have made good escape from the emasculate life of yon City,
and we have vowed not to let the spirit of gentle manhood perish. The
elements strive together, and yet the strife is co-operative: and so
should it be with men.

"I like thee," he continued, with a smile. "Say if thou wilt stay with
us, and learn our ways. There is much that we can rede thee, and the
benefit will be mutual, and I trust great."

He was briefly tempted, but still, clearly and promptly, he declined.
The leader frowned slightly, and was silent. Then the imperious tones
rang out:

"Thou art strong! And thou shalt be stronger, if ought of ours can aid
to the achievement of this result, so much to be desired.

"Then hearken well. Thy food shall be taken from thee."

His knapsack was ripped rudely from his back.

"Thou shalt wander without guide, and no one of us shall take, in any
case, further heed of thee. Go with our respect. And may it be that thou
fallest not into the hands of those ruder and less magnanimous, like
as the Snakes, perdie, or the Mountain Lions. Thou hast been honorably
received, and thou art warned. Begone!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He left with as much alacrity as he thought became him, and continued on
his way. For the remainder of the day he wandered, without attempting to
fix a course, or to avoid anything that might come to him. He was lost
in thought, with a great sense of well-being that he felt that nothing
could overcome.

As the shadows of evening began to lengthen, and the first stars to
shine, he found himself ascending the side of a small but respectably
rugged mountain. By the time of total darkness, he had reached the top,
and seated himself beneath a redwood tree. He began to feel hungry, but
not faint, and with a slight effort of his will the hunger passed away.
He sank into a revery, he sat still and thought and contemplated through
the long night hours. The cool dews came upon him, and the light winds
were whispering in the pale first light, and he was undisturbed.

He remained on the mountain for three days, eating nothing, and not
thinking of food. He felt the opposing forces of life within, through
and around him. The harmonious, continually pulsing tension of existence
became in a manner clear to him, its great necessity indubitable. He
knew that the battle of opposites, the co-operative strife of elements,
abilities, tendencies, must be fought within himself; he foresaw no
gain from the struggle's objectification, or its transferral to his
associations with others. He would have peaceful, profoundly and highly
aspiring, adequate companions, or he would remain alone.

During the fourth night, just before the dawn, he saw a shimmering light
over a higher crest in the distance. For an instant it seemed to become
a finger, pointing; and then it faded. He arose, light but unfaint from
fasting, and set out for the indicated mountain. He encountered no other
person along the way.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was in the late afternoon that he arrived. It was a large and
beautiful valley, into which he slowly descended. It was thickly
populated, and filled with a seething, a tremendous activity. Waves
of immense, ardent energy enveloped him, compound of great joy and
great despair; heart-ravishing music, barely audible, came to him,
spasmodically, on the faint breezes. And the weariness and the weakness
came to him also, strongly, the exhaustion of his great efforts of the
past several days. He lost consciousness, and sank in a seemingly almost
boneless heap to the side of the mountain.

He awoke the following morning in a small hut, secluded, in the shade of
a large tree and beside a stream. A spare old man, with a slight beard
and twinkling eyes, nodded to him.

"Smells good, does it?" he asked.

It smelled very good, and it looked better when the old man brought him
an ample breakfast, well prepared. He ate slowly, savoring each mouthful.

"If you don't know where you are," said the old man, "this is a
community of artists. We don't always get along very well together," he
smiled, "but usually we're minding our own business anyway; and it's
good to exchange ideas and insights now and then, and see each other's
work. And we co-operate too, especially on the stage productions, like
Noh plays, or Wagner, or something contemporary. I can introduce you to
a young man who has written some very powerful and apt music for the
Aeschylean choruses.

"I'm a poet myself," he continued, "and a dramatist now and then. I'm
pretty modest and easy-going, compared to most of the people here, but
I have my moments, and I've done some pretty good things in my life.
I'll probably show you some later on. It's a good thing for you I'm in a
silent period just now: if the old touch had been on my lyre, I'd never
have noticed you; or if I had, I'd not have attended to you. But come
on, you look healthy enough: let me show you around."

He arose to dress, and the old man looked him over with frank admiration.

"You're a fine figure," he said. "And the beard does you justice: or you
do justice to the beard. You're like one of the old Biblical patriarchs.
Or like my idea of them, anyway; which may be far enough from the truth."

They left the hut, and walked beside the stream into the main valley.

       *       *       *       *       *

They passed an occasional distracted figure, who paid them no heed.
Painters were numerous: one of them, burly and covered with paint,
had ostentatiously affixed his canvas to a rock wall, and was facing
away from all the beauties of the scenery: with furious strokes he was
nearing the completion of his vivid abstraction. One sat cross-legged,
quite self-contained, and with a few strokes of the brush, black on
white, achieved a bird that seemed almost ready to fly from the paper.
Another was painting a meltingly beautiful portrait of his mistress,
with flowers in her hair.

"When we get back, I'll show you a real picture," the old poet said.
"It's called Vasuki. He's the king of the snakes, according to the
Hindus. I don't know much about the man who did it, except that he's
got the most wonderful eyes I ever saw. I tried to do him justice
in a sonnet once, but I failed. He just appeared one day, and then
disappeared one day, and that's all anyone seems to know. Two of our
best young painters went out to look for him over a year ago, and they
haven't returned."

There were musical concerts, operas and plays. There were potters at
their wheels, and sculptors with their chisels and their clay. Every art
seemed represented.

"In that hut over there," said the poet, "lives one of the greatest
musical geniuses the world has ever known. Better even than Beethoven,
I think. Maybe you'll have a chance to meet him, if he turns sociable
while you're here. I trust you'll be here for a long time. Maybe you'll
stay for good? You seem to have the mark in your forehead."

He stayed for several months. He luxuriated in the splendor and the
beauty of this dedicated life. Great artistry of sound and word, color
and form, filled him: but never to overflowing, and never, fully, to
satisfaction. He grew weary of the continual reaching out, the perpetual
feeding upon dreams. He shared the raptures and the torments of the
artists, he felt powerfully and saw deeply, more than ever before:
but something was lacking. The occasional flashes of insight were
not enough, and the labor, the aspiration, was heart-breaking. What
he sought was still beyond, beyond art itself, beyond all possible
creation. And yet, it must be attainable.

       *       *       *       *       *

He aspired to poetry, he tried to give a voice to his aspiration and
his need. But it was not in him. And what if it had been? Why should he
write verses to complain that he was not Lit with the Sun? He thought
briefly of the Twentieth Century poetry that he had read, the poetry of
the Dark Ages, and shuddered at the thought of adding to that store.
He would never attempt expression again, until he knew something to
express. But when the time came, perhaps it would flow from him in such
a golden stream as he remembered from the great masters. Perhaps the
poet had not read too mistakenly the sign in his forehead.

He noticed that some of the artists, and those he considered the
profoundest and the surest, were not permanent residents here. They came
and went, with a light as of far peaks in their eyes. Like the painter
of Vasuki, which was truly a marvelous picture, instinct with a spirit
that made most other productions seem like mere daubs of paint. He felt
that that man knew something, and that he did not learn it here, that
he did not learn it as a painter at all. There must be other places,
or another place, in which art and the artists were mature. He had had
enough of this unquiet, the greatest ecstasies of which obviously fell
below the peace and the assurance that called to him. He was weary of
this perpetual straining with materials and methods inadequate to the
task.

And so, reluctantly, he left the artists, and continued his pilgrimage.
As he departed, a symphony orchestra was performing Mozart's Requiem,
and this perfect artistry, serene and soaring, dedicated to the very
Source, and, it seemed, instinct with something of its light, comprised
a fitting and a reassuring farewell.

As the dying strains played upon him, he was filled again with the
ravishing verses of Sidney Lanier. Out of the high beauty, these words
mingled clearly with his consciousness:

    O long ago the billow-flow of sense
    Aroused by passion's windy vehemence
    Upbore me out of depths to heights intense,
      But not to thee, Nirvana.

It was so true, and so much beyond him! The meaning was never clear, and
yet, against it, all else was a deeper darkness. But it called him, and
that was sufficient. He must continue, patiently, on the way.

       *       *       *       *       *

The walk was pleasant, and the evergreens were soughing gently, as he
passed. Midway in the afternoon he sat down by a convenient spring, and
ate quickly a light meal. As he was resting, a man came through the
trees before him: balding and rather stout, and apparently approaching
the end of middle age. He did not know whether he cared to talk with
this man. But he had little choice, for he hailed him with a sort of
good-natured camaraderie, and came and sat beside him.

"You may consider me a philosopher," the man announced; "that is, in the
fine old sense, a lover of wisdom. I don't think that will frighten you
away," he chuckled. "I think I can see that you agree with Socrates:
that you consider an unexamined life to be a life that is not worth
living. Is this correct?"

He replied that it was, and that he was a seeker of wisdom, and hoped
one day to prove to be a lover of it--after he had found it.

The philosopher smiled, and continued, "Perhaps it is best to be a
lover of the search; perhaps, indeed, the search itself is the greatest
wisdom. This used to be considered a platitude," he laughed, "when
education was more wide-spread in the world. But I have never found
anything bright and brand new that matches it. I do not want to be one
of those who 'give to dust that is a little gilt more laud than gilt
o'erdusted'. How about you?"

He smiled agreement. He was beginning somewhat to like this man: but
still he could not respect him, either as an embodiment of wisdom or
as a seeker of it. His mind seemed only clever, and rather lazy and
complacent with its cleverness: it seemed quite incapable of any really
deep probing, or high flight. This was not his idea of a philosopher.

The object of this scrutiny seemed somewhat to sense its import, and to
shrug it off.

"I could tell it at a glance," he said. "You're one of the most
intelligent men I've ever seen escape from that monstrosity of a City.
Let me congratulate you! It's a terrible thing to live like that.

"One immense mechanized mass! One big idiot's delight, full of nothing
but idiots, or morons at best. Everybody "happy": food, shelter and sex
all taken care of, and real human contact at a minimum: a true earthly
paradise. A paradise for morons, that is, for people who really prefer
to live worse than hogs. God bless the dear technologists, who keep it
going: they as stupid as the majority, of course, just morons with a
little mechanical know-how, as the phrase was. And bless whatever powers
there are, for the library, and the chance to escape!

"I don't know how it came about, but there's something behind it. Just
before the poor little fools could blow themselves up, the Disasters hit
them: and while they were still traumatized, this system began to take
care of them. It's a fine thing, I guess, for those that aren't capable
of a life worth living. And for those that are, too: it seems to take
hold of them at just the right time. It seems that it gives everyone
just what he is best fitted for, and then lets him go.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It never really let go of me--or got rid of me. I alternate, from city
to country: read myself to a standstill, and then travel awhile. It's
always pleasant, up here. It's like the coast: the seasons don't change
anymore. That is, there aren't any seasons--just hints of them. But
maybe you know that by now. Ah--yes. I guessed as much. You look like a
man that has been out long enough to--well, to look like a man.

"I wonder how it will end? The birth-rate's way down, and seems to
continue decreasing, even in the country. Maybe the race is gradually
dying out: evolution getting rid of an unfit species. But I wouldn't
expect it to be so gentle about it.

"The more I think about it, the better I see what an infinite amount
I've got to learn. Another platitude: Newton picking up pebbles on the
sea-shore. Maybe the craze for sheer novelty is one of the things that
made this mess. I don't know. But I think that there is such a thing as
truth, and that it doesn't adapt itself to conditions: conditions have
to adapt themselves to it. Do you agree? Yes, I thought so. I think I'll
have to be heading back to the library in a few days. I've seen enough
this trek.

"There seems to be a guardian angel, somehow, if you believe in that.
The explanation's probably a purely natural one. But people come out and
live as they like to, with no hindrance, and they prosper. They do a
little simple farming, and always have bumper crops. The weather and the
wild animals never hurt them, and they never hurt each other. The ones
that like to fight do it, but only with swords and knives, and nobody
ever seems to get killed. All the literature and art of the world is
preserved, for those that want it: as many copies as demanded. Sometimes
I bring copies of books with me. It helps, to read them out here.
Nature's a lot vaster and more wonderful than we know.

"Everything seems to be taken care of. Nobody lives in want or fear
anymore. Except," he smiled ruefully, "want of understanding, and fear
of death. But we can take things philosophically, to use an old popular
expression."

The philosopher paused awhile, thinking, observing his perplexing
companion. He could not make him out. Presently he returned to his
long-standing provisional solution for all problems.

"Well, why don't you come back to the library with me? Tramping around
out here is all right for a while, it relaxes you and keeps you in touch
with things; but meanwhile, time flies. Shall we go?"

"I think not," the bearded patriarch replied. "The usefulness of books
is all but exhausted for me. And even the greatest and fullest truth,
set down in a book, I think must be inadequate. It's not an intellectual
thing I seek."

       *       *       *       *       *

The philosopher smiled tolerantly.

"You have found that the physical is deadly," he replied. "And you do
not appear to be a man who enjoys emotional drunkenness. What is it you
want?"

"Perhaps if I knew, I would have it. I suppose it might be called the
spiritual, if there is a word for it. But I know that it is calling me.
If you care to come with me, perhaps I can begin to explain."

The philosopher almost laughed outright.

"No thank you," he said. "I do not care to take refuge in any vague
mysticism. What I know I want really to know, intelligibly and clearly.
I am no dreamer."

"Are they irresponsible dreamers, who are behind these historically
unparalleled phenomena? Surely there must be someone there. You have
seemed to think so yourself."

The philosopher smiled wryly, a little sheepishly.

"Sages in the mountains, eh? Yes, I'll admit having sought them. But
they do not seem to want me to find them, and I am going back to the
library to follow some leads that I have thought up for myself.

"I do not care to let my mind abdicate its high position," he concluded,
with a slight sneer.

"Goodbye, then. I wish you well."

"And so do I wish you," rejoined the philosopher, with an attempt at
mocking irony, as he arose. "Goodbye, my friend."

He began briskly down the path, stopped, and called back, "I hear that
there is an island rising, in the Pacific: maybe you can find some wise
mermaids out there!"

He laughed maliciously, and strode quickly out of sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so the abused budding mystic was left alone, as he desired it.

"Goethe was right," he thought to himself; "men are all too
predominantly wont to scorn what they do not understand. Goethe himself
illustrated the tendency very well.

"There are so many things that cannot be understood by the ordinary
intellectual-emotional-sensible mind, no matter how clever it may be, or
how brilliant and vigorous, and broad and deep and strong. It lacks too
much: it is not self-existent, and self-sustaining. And the things that
it cannot understand are the only things of real, undying importance.

"May I soon find my teacher," he continued, "and be properly trained."

He stood up, restlessly. His last day among the artists was tumbling
piecemeal upon him. Was it Shakespeare that the theatrical group had
been performing? Yes, King Lear! Such magnificent art, and so futile. He
paced about sadly, trying to remember a certain line--yes, this was it:

        Men must endure
    Their going hence, even as their coming hither;
    Ripeness is all.

And that's true, too, he sighed with old Gloucester. And surely he was
ripe now, if he was ever going to be. He was balanced in the midst of
his various tendencies, and one-pointed for a great drive, a penetration
to the depths. He would know himself truly, as infinitely more than that
which comes and goes, and shines but briefly in the darkness.

He stood listening, and gazing into the distance. Yes! The call was
clear now, and there would be no further stopping along the way. He
strode out strongly, and cut due east, heading for the really high
mountains, and the farther shore.


THE END





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