I have described the peculiar ceremony attending the burial of youth in Mizora. Old age, in some respects, had a similar ceremony, but the funeral of an aged person differed greatly from what I had witnessed at the grave of youth. Wauna and I attended the funeral of a very aged lady. Death in Mizora was the gradual failing of mental and physical vigor. It came slowly, and unaccompanied with pain. It was received without regret, and witnessed without tears.
The daughters performed the last labor that the mother required. They arrayed her body for burial and bore it to the grave. If in that season of the year, autumn leaves hid the bier, and formed the covering and pillow of her narrow bed. If not in the fall, full-blown roses and matured flowers were substituted.
The ceremony was conducted by the eldest daughter, assisted by the others. No tears were shed; no mourning worn; no sorrowful chanting. A solemn dirge was sung indicative of decay. A dignified solemnity befitting the farewell to a useful life was manifest in all the proceedings; but no demonstrations of sorrow were visible. The mourners were unveiled, and performed the last services for their mother with calmness. I was so astonished at the absence of mourning that I asked an explanation of Wauna.
"Why should we mourn," was the surprising answer, "for what is inevitable? Death must come, and, in this instance, it came in its natural way. There is nothing to be regretted or mourned over, as there was in the drowning of my young friend. Her life was suddenly arrested while yet in the promise of its fruitfulness. There was cause for grief, and the expressions and emblems of mourning were proper and appropriate. But here, mourning would be out of place, for life has fulfilled its promises. Its work is done, and nature has given the worn-out body rest. That is all."
That sympathy and regret which the city had expressed for the young dead was manifested only in decorum and respectful attendance at the funeral. No one appeared to feel that it was an occasion for mourning. How strange it all seemed to me, and yet there was a philosophy about it that I could not help but admire. Only I wished that they believed as I did, that all of those tender associations would be resumed beyond the grave. If only they could be convinced. I again broached the subject to Wauna. I could not relinquish the hope of converting her to my belief. She was so beautiful, so pure, and I loved her so dearly. I could not give up my hope of an eternal reunion. I appealed to her sympathy.
"What hope," I asked, "can you offer those whose lives have been only successive phases of unhappiness? Why should beings be created only to live a life of suffering, and then die, as many, very many, of my people do? If they had no hope of a spiritual life, where pain and sorrow are to be unknown, the burdens of this life could not be borne."
"You have the same consolation," replied Wauna, "as the Preceptress had in losing her daughter. That daring spirit that cost her her life, was the pride of her mother. She possessed a promising intellect, yet her mother accepts her death as one of the sorrowful phases of life, and bravely tries to subdue its pain. Long ages behind us, as my mother has told you, the history of all human life was but a succession of woes. Our own happy state has been evolved by slow degrees out of that sorrowful past. Human progress is marked by blood and tears, and the heart's bitterest anguish. We, as a people, have progressed almost beyond the reach of sorrow, but you are in the midst of it. You must work for the future, though you cannot be of it."
"I cannot," I declared, "reconcile myself to your belief. I am separated from my child. To think I am never to see it in this world, nor through endless ages, would drive me insane with despair. What consolation can your belief offer me?"
"In this life, you may yearn for your child, but after this life you sleep," answered Wauna, sententiously. "And how sweet that sleep! No dreams; no waking to work and trial; no striving after perfection; no planning for the morrow. It is oblivion than which there can be no happier heaven."
"Would not meeting with those you have loved be happier?" I asked, in amazement.
"There would be happiness; and there would be work, too."
"But my religion does not believe in work in heaven," I answered.
"Then it has not taken the immutable laws of Nature into consideration," said Wauna. "If Nature has prepared a conscious existence for us after this body decays, she has prepared work for us, you may rest assured. It might be a grander, nobler work; but it would be work, nevertheless. Then, how restful, in contrast, is our religion. It is eternal, undisturbable rest for both body and brain. Besides, as you say yourself, you cannot be sure of meeting those whom you desire to meet in that other country. They may be the ones condemned to eternal suffering for their sins. Think you I could enjoy myself in any surroundings, when I knew that those who were dear to me in this life, were enduring torment that could have no end. Give me oblivion rather than such a heaven.
"Our punishment comes in this world; but it is not so much through sin as ignorance. The savages lived lives of misery, occasioned by their lack of intelligence. Humanity must always suffer for the mistakes it makes. Misery belongs to the ignorant; happiness to the wise. That is our doctrine of reward and punishment."
"And you believe that my people will one day reject all religions?"
"When they are advanced enough," she answered. "You say you have scholars among you already, who preach their inconsistencies. What do you call them?"
"Philosophers," was my reply.
"They are your prophets," said Wauna. "When they break the shackles that bind you to creeds and dogmas, they will have done much to advance you. To rely on one's own will power to do right is the only safe road to morality, and your only heaven."
I left Wauna and sought a secluded spot by the river. I was shocked beyond measure at her confession. It had the earnestness, and, to me, the cruelty of conviction. To live without a spiritual future in anticipation was akin to depravity, to crime and its penalty of prison life forever. Yet here was a people, noble, exalted beyond my conceiving, living in the present, and obeying only a duty to posterity. I recalled a painting I had once seen that always possessed for me a horrible fascination. In a cave, with his foot upon the corpse of a youth, sat the crowned and sceptered majesty of Death. The waters of oblivion encompassed the throne and corpse, which lay with its head and feet bathed in its waters--for out of the Unknown had life come, and to the Unknown had it departed. Before me, in vision, swept the mighty stream of human life from which I had been swept to these strange shores. All its sufferings, its delusions; its baffled struggles; its wrongs, came upon me with a sense of spiritual agony in them that religion--my religion, which was their only consolation--must vanish in the crucible of Science. And that Science was the magician that was to purify and exalt the world. To live in the Present; to die in it and become as the dust; a mere speck, a flash of activity in the far, limitless expanse of Nature, of Force, of Matter in which a spiritual ideal had no part. It was horrible to think of. The prejudices of inherited religious faith, the contracted forces of thought in which I had been born and reared could not be uprooted or expanded without pain.
I had begun to feel an intense longing to return to my own country, but it was accompanied by a desire, equally as strong, to carry back to that woe-burdened land some of the noble lessons and doctrines I had learned in this. I saw no means of doing it that seemed so available as a companion,--a being, born and bred in an atmosphere of honor and grandly humane ideas and actions.
My heart and my judgment turned to Wauna. She was endeared to me by long and gentle association. She was self-reliant and courageous, and possessed a strong will. Who, of all my Mizora acquaintances, was so well adapted to the service I required.
When I broached the subject to her, Wauna expressed herself as really pleased with the idea; but when we went to the Preceptress, she acknowledged a strong reluctance to the proposition. She said: "Wauna can form no conception of the conditions of society in your country. They are far, very far, behind our own. They will, I fear, chafe her own nature more than she can improve theirs. Still, if I thought she could lead your people into a broader intelligence, and start them on the way upward to enlightenment and real happiness, I would let her go. The moment, however, that she desires to return she must be aided to do so."
I pledged myself to abide by any request the Preceptress might make of me. Wauna's own inclinations greatly influenced her mother, and finally we obtained her consent. Our preparations were carefully made. The advanced knowledge of chemistry in Mizora placed many advantages in our way. Our boat was an ingenious contrivance with a thin glass top that could be removed and folded away until needed to protect us from the rigors of the Arctic climate.
I had given an accurate description of the rapids that would oppose us, and our boat was furnished with a motive power sufficient to drive us through them at a higher rate of speed than what they moved at. It was built so as to be easily converted into a sled, and runners were made that could be readily adjusted. We were provided with food and clothing prepared expressly for the severe change to and rigors of the Arctic climate through which we must pass.
I was constantly dreading the terrors of that long ice-bound journey, but the Preceptress appeared to be little concerned about it. When I spoke of its severities, she said for us to observe her directions, and we should not suffer. She asked me if I had ever felt uncomfortable in any of the air-ship voyages I had taken, and said that the cold of the upper regions through which I had passed in their country was quite as intense as any I could meet within a lower atmosphere of my own.
The newspapers had a great deal to say about the departure of the Preceptress' daughter on so uncertain a mission, and to that strange land of barbarians which I represented. When the day arrived for our departure, immense throngs of people from all parts of the country lined the shore, or looked down upon us from their anchored air-ships.
The last words of farewell had been spoken to my many friends and benefactors. Wauna had bidden a multitude of associates good-bye, and clasped her mother's hand, which she held until the boat parted from the shore. Years have passed since that memorable parting, but the look of yearning love in that Mizora mother's eyes haunts me still. Long and vainly has she watched for a boat's prow to cleave that amber mist and bear to her arms that vision of beauty and tender love I took away from her. My heart saddens at the thought of her grief and long, long waiting that only death will end.
We pointed the boat's prow toward the wide mysterious circle of amber mists, and then turned our eyes for a last look at Mizora. Wauna stood silent and calm, earnestly gazing into the eyes of her mother, until the shore and the multitude of fair faces faded like a vision of heaven from our views.
"O beautiful Mizora!" cried the voice of my heart. "Shall I ever again see a land so fair, where natures so noble and aims so lofty have their abiding place? Memory will return to you though my feet may never again tread your delightful shores. Farewell, sweet ideal land of my Soul, of Humanity, farewell!"
My thoughts turned to that other world from which I had journeyed so long. Would the time ever come when it, too, would be a land of universal intelligence and happiness? When the difference of nations would be settled by argument instead of battle? When disease, deformity and premature death would be unknown? When locks, and bolts and bars would be useless?
I hoped so much from the personal influence of Wauna. So noble, so utterly unconscious of wrong, she must surely revolutionize human nature whenever it came in contact with her own.
I pictured to myself my own dear land--dear, despite its many phases of wretchedness--smiling in universal comfort and health. I imagined its political prisons yawning with emptiness, while their haggard and decrepit and sorrowful occupants hobbled out into the sunshine of liberty, and the new life we were bringing to them. Fancy flew abroad on the wings of hope, dropping the seeds of progress wherever it passed.
The poor should be given work, and justly paid for it, instead of being supported by charity. The charity that had fostered indolence in its mistaken efforts to do good, should be employed to train poverty to skillful labor and economy in living. And what a world of good that one measure would produce! The poor should possess exactly the same educational advantages that were supplied to the rich. In this one measure, if I could only make it popular, I would see the golden promise of the future of my country. "Educate your poor and they will work out their own salvation. Educated Labor can dictate its rights to Capital."
How easy of accomplishment it all seemed to me, who had seen the practical benefits arising to a commonwealth that had adopted these mottoes. I doubted not that the wiser and better of my own people would aid and encourage me. Free education would lead to other results.
Riches should be accumulated only by vast and generous industries that reached a helping hand to thousands of industrious poor, instead of grinding them out of a few hundred of poorly-paid and over-worked artisans. Education in the hands of the poor would be a powerful agent with which they would alleviate their own condition, and defend themselves against oppression and knavery.
The prisons should be supplied with schools as well as work-rooms, where the intellect should be trained and cultivated, and where moral idiocy, by the stern and rigorous law of Justice to Innocence, should be forced to deny itself posterity.
No philanthropical mind ever spread the wings of its fancy for a broader flight.
Our journey was a perilous one with all our precautions. The passage through the swiftest part of the current almost swamped our boat. The current that opposed us was so strong, that when we increased our speed our boat appeared to be cleaving its way through a wall of waters. Wauna was perfectly calm, and managed the motor with the steadiest nerves. Her courage inspired me, though many a time I despaired of ever getting out of the rapids. When we did, and looked up at the star-gemmed canopy that stretches above my own world, and abroad over the dark and desolate waste of waters around us, it gave me an impression of solemn and weird magnificence. It was such a contrast to the vivid nights of Mizora, to which my eyes had so long been accustomed, that it came upon me like a new scene.
The stars were a source of wonder and ceaseless delight to Wauna. "It looks," she said, "as though a prodigal hand had strewn the top of the atmosphere with diamonds."
The journey over fields of ice and snow was monotonous, but, owing to the skill and knowledge of Mizora displayed in our accoutrements, it was deprived of its severities. The wind whistled past us without any other greeting than its melancholy sound. We looked out from our snug quarters on the dismal hills of snow and ice without a sensation of distress. The Aurora Borealis hung out its streamers of beauty, but they were pale compared to what Wauna had seen in her own country. The Esquimaux she presumed were animals.
We traveled far enough south to secure passage upon a trading-vessel bound for civilized shores. The sun came up with his glance of fire and his banners of light, laying his glorious touch on cloud and water, and kissing the cheek with his warmth. He beamed upon us from the zenith, and sank behind the western clouds with a lingering glance of beauty. The moon came up like the ghost of the sun, casting a weird yet tender beauty on every object. To Wauna it was a revelation of magnificence in nature beyond her contriving.
"How grand," she exclaimed, "are the revelations of nature in your world! To look upon them, it seems to me, would broaden and deepen the mind with the very vastness of their splendor. Nature has been more bountiful to you than to Mizora. The day with its heart of fire, and the night with its pale beauty are grander than ours. They speak of vast and incomprehensible power."
When I took Wauna to the observatory, and she looked upon the countless multitudes of worlds and suns revolving in space so far away that a sun and its satellites looked like a ball of mist, she said that words could not describe her sensations.
"To us," she said, "the leaves of Nature's book are the winds and waves, the bud and bloom and decay of seasons. But here every leaf is a world. A mighty hand has sprinkled the suns like fruitful seeds across the limitless fields of space. Can human nature contemplate a scene so grand that reaches so far beyond the grasp of mind, and not feel its own insignificance, and the littleness of selfish actions? And yet you can behold these myriads of worlds and systems of worlds wheeling in the dim infinity of space--a spectacle awful in its vastness--and turn to the practice of narrow superstitions?"
At last the shores of my native land greeted my longing eyes, and the familiar scenes of my childhood drew near. But when, after nearly twenty years absence, I stood on the once familiar spot, the graves of my heart's dear ones were all that was mine. My little one had died soon after my exile. My father had soon followed. Suspected, and finally persecuted by the government, my husband had fled the country, and, nearly as I could discover, had sought that universal asylum for the oppressed of all nations--the United States. And thither I turned my steps.
In my own country and in France, the friends who had known me in girlhood were surprised at my youthful appearance. I did not explain the cause of it to them, nor did I mention the people or country from whence I had come. Wauna was my friend and a foreigner--that was all.
The impression she made was all that I had anticipated. Her unusual beauty and her evident purity attracted attention wherever she went. The wonderful melody of her singing was much commented upon, but in Mizora she had been considered but an indifferent singer. But I had made a mistake in my anticipation of her personal influence. The gentleness and delicacy of her character received the tenderest respect. None who looked upon that face or met the glance of the dark soft eyes ever doubted that the nature that animated them was pure and beautiful. Yet it was the respect felt for a character so exceptionably superior that imitation and emulation would be impossible.
"She is too far above the common run of human nature," said one observer. "I should not be surprised if her spirit were already pluming its wings for a heavenly flight. Such natures never stay long among us."
The remark struck my heart with a chill of depression. I looked at Wauna and wondered why I had noticed sooner the shrinking outlines of the once round cheek. Too gentle to show disgust, too noble to ill-treat, the spirit of Wauna was chafing under the trying associations. Men and women alike regarded her as an impossible character, and I began to realize with a sickening regret that I had made a mistake. In my own country, in France and England, her beauty was her sole attraction to men. The lofty ideal of humanity that she represented was smiled at or gently ignored.
"The world would be a paradise," said one philosopher, "if such characters were common. But one is like a seed in the ocean; it cannot do much good."
When we arrived in the United States, its activity and evident progress impressed Wauna with a feeling more nearly akin to companionship. Her own character received a juster appreciation.
"The time is near," she said, "when the New World will be the teacher of the Old in the great lesson of Humanity. You will live to see it demonstrate to the world the justice and policy of giving to every child born under its flag the highest mental, moral and physical training known to the present age. You can hardly realize what twenty-five years of free education will bring to it. They are already on the right path, but they are still many centuries behind my own country in civilization, in their government and modes of dispensing justice. Yet their free schools, as yet imperfect, are, nevertheless, fruitful seeds of progress."
Yet here the nature of Wauna grew restless and homesick, and she at last gave expression to her longing for home.
"I am not suited to your world," she said, with a look of deep sorrow in her lovely eyes. "None of my people are. We are too finely organized. I cannot look with any degree of calmness upon the practices of your civilization. It is a common thing to see mothers ill-treat their own helpless little ones. The pitiful cries of the children keep ringing in my ears. Cannot mothers realize that they are whipping a mean spirit into their offspring instead of out. I have heard the most enlightened deny their own statements when selfishness demanded it. I cannot mention the half of the things I witness daily that grates upon my feelings. I cannot reform them. It is not for such as I to be a reformer. Those who need reform are the ones to work for it."
Sorrowfully I bade adieu to my hopes and my search for Alexis, and prepared to accompany Wauna's return. We embarked on a whaling vessel, and having reached its farthest limit, we started on our perilous journey north; perilous for the lack of our boat, of which we could hear nothing. It had been left in charge of a party of Esquimaux, and had either been destroyed, or was hidden. Our progress, therefore, depended entirely upon the Esquimaux. The tribe I had journeyed so far north with had departed, and those whom I solicited to accompany us professed to be ignorant of the sea I mentioned. Like all low natures, the Esquimaux are intensely selfish. Nothing could induce them to assist us but the most apparent benefit to themselves; and this I could not assure them. The homesickness, and coarse diet and savage surroundings told rapidly on the sensitive nature of Wauna. In a miserable Esquimaux hut, on a pile of furs, I saw the flame of a beautiful and grandly noble life die out. My efforts were hopeless; my anguish keen. O Humanity, what have I sacrificed for you!
"Oh, Wauna," I pleaded, as I saw the signs of dissolution approaching, "shall I not pray for you?"
"Prayers cannot avail me," she replied, as her thin hands reached and closed over one of mine. "I had hoped once more to see the majestic hills and smiling valleys of my own sweet land, but I shall not. If I could only go to sleep in the arms of my mother. But the Great Mother of us all will soon receive me in her bosom. And oh! my friend, promise me that her dust shall cover me from the sight of men. When my mother rocked me to slumber on her bosom, and soothed me with her gentle lullaby, she little dreamed that I should suffer and die first. If you ever reach Mizora, tell her only that I sleep the sleep of oblivion. She will know. Let the memory of my suffering die with me."
"Oh, Wauna," I exclaimed, in anguish, "you surely have a soul. How can anything so young, so pure, so beautiful, be doomed to annihilation?"
"We are not annihilated," was the calm reply. "And as to beauty, are the roses not beautiful? Yet they die and you say it is the end of the year's roses. The birds are harmless, and their songs make the woods melodious with the joy of life, yet they die, and you say they have no after life. We are like the roses, but our lives are for a century and more. And when our lives are ended, the Great Mother gathers us in. We are the harvest of the centuries."
When the dull, gray light of the Arctic morning broke, it fell gently upon the presence of Death.
With the assistance of the Esquimaux, a grave was dug, and a rude wooden cross erected on which I wrote the one word "Wauna," which, in the language of Mizora, means "Happiness."
The world to which I have returned is many ages behind the civilization of Mizora.
Though we cannot hope to attain their perfection in our generation, yet many, very many, evils could be obliterated were we to follow their laws. Crime is as hereditary as disease.
No savant now denies the transmittable taint of insanity and consumption. There are some people in the world now, who, knowing the possibility of afflicting offspring with hereditary disease, have lived in ascetic celibacy. But where do we find a criminal who denies himself offspring, lest he endow posterity with the horrible capacity for murder that lies in his blood?
The good, the just, the noble, close heart and eyes to the sweet allurements of domestic life, lest posterity suffer physically or mentally by them. But the criminal has no restraints but what the law enforces. Ignorance, poverty and disease, huddled in dens of wretchedness, where they multiply with reckless improvidence, sometimes fostered by mistaken charity.
The future of the world, if it be grand and noble, will be the result of UNIVERSAL EDUCATION, FREE AS THE GOD-GIVEN WATER WE DRINK.
In the United States I await the issue of universal liberty. In this refuge for oppression, my husband found a grave. Childless, homeless and friendless, in poverty and obscurity, I have written the story of my wanderings. The world's fame can never warm a heart already dead to happiness; but out of the agony of one human life, may come a lesson for many. Life is a tragedy even under the most favorable conditions.
THE DOOR THROUGH SPACE.
By Marion Zimmer Bradley
...across half a Galaxy, the Terran Empire maintains its sovereignty with the consent of the governed. It is a peaceful reign, held by compact and not by conquest. Again and again, when rebellion threatens the Terran Peace, the natives of the rebellious world have turned against their own people and sided with the men of Terra; not from fear, but from a sense of dedication.
There has never been open war. The battle for these worlds is fought in the minds of a few men who stand between worlds; bound to one world by interest, loyalties and allegiance; bound to the other by love.
Such a world is Wolf. Such a man was Race Cargill of the Terran Secret Service.
Author's Note: I've always wanted to write. But not until I discovered the old pulp science-fantasy magazines, at the age of sixteen, did this general desire become a specific urge to write science-fantasy adventures.
I took a lot of detours on the way. I discovered s-f in its golden age: the age of Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Ed Hamilton and Jack Vance. But while I was still collecting rejection slips for my early efforts, the fashion changed. Adventures on faraway worlds and strange dimensions went out of fashion, and the new look in science-fiction--emphasis on the science--came in.
So my first stories were straight science-fiction, and I'm not trying to put down that kind of story. It has its place. By and large, the kind of science-fiction which makes tomorrow's headlines as near as this morning's coffee, has enlarged popular awareness of the modern, miraculous world of science we live in. It has helped generations of young people feel at ease with a rapidly changing world.
But fashions change, old loves return, and now that Sputniks clutter up the sky with new and unfamiliar moons, the readers of science-fiction are willing to wait for tomorrow to read tomorrow's headlines. Once again, I think, there is a place, a wish, a need and hunger for the wonder and color of the world way out. The world beyond the stars. The world we won't live to see. That is why I wrote THE DOOR THROUGH SPACE.
--MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY.
Beyond the spaceport gates, the men of the Kharsa were hunting down a thief. I heard the shrill cries, the pad-padding of feet in strides just a little too long and loping to be human, raising echoes all down the dark and dusty streets leading up to the main square.
But the square itself lay empty in the crimson noon of Wolf. Overhead the dim red ember of Phi Coronis, Wolf's old and dying sun, gave out a pale and heatless light. The pair of Spaceforce guards at the gates, wearing the black leathers of the Terran Empire, shockers holstered at their belts, were drowsing under the arched gateway where the star-and-rocket emblem proclaimed the domain of Terra. One of them, a snub-nosed youngster only a few weeks out from Earth, cocked an inquisitive ear at the cries and scuffling feet, then jerked his head at me.