CHAPTER II. - The Philosopher Proposes.
"Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won;
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed;
And when a woman wooes, what woman's son
Will sourly leave her till she have prevailed?"
MNAG BIG, the great philosopher, sat waiting for Yung. He was an old man, old rather with thought than with years. His bowed head was gray, his long thin arms appeared nerveless, only his high forehead showed itself to be the covering of a mind still strong and vigorous.
By his side sat his daughter, Tue Swe. No wonder the villagers were puzzled by this girl; for she seemed of a different kind from them. She was very small in stature, and slight though elegant in form; her hands and feet were shorter and much narrower than those of the ordinary ape. Her features were well formed, without that ruggedness of outline so common in the Apeland females.
The girl seemed restless and ill at ease. She was unaccustomed to entertaining visitors, and the prospect was not a pleasant one. Her father saw and pitied her embarrassment. "It is your time for exercise," he said; "you may walk out, as usual, if you wish." Tue thanked him, and hurried from the room.
Yung Thing soon entered the hut. He, however, had only time to say "good-morning," when Loe Hie and Sue Choe followed him. Sue immediately addressed the philosopher.
"O Mnag," exclaimed she, as a means of drawing him out, "what do you think of our village? I suppose it seems mean and petty to a great traveller and thinker like you."
"No shell is so mean," said Mnag sententiously, "that it may not contain a pearl; nor do I call petty the smallest insect that owns the mystery of life."
The girl seemed a little oppressed by this ponderous sentence; but soon recovering herself, she proceeded: -
"What do you think of us?"
"Your political ideas are crude. Selfishness is the basis of your government. No country can be well governed where each arrogates to himself the right to a voice in the administration. The time will come when an unselfish policy will prevail; when the people will give up their petty individualities, and leave their destinies in the hands of a Supreme Ruler, who in turn will sacrifice himself, if need be, for his people."
"Ah, sir, how charmingly you talk! No one can be stupid who is blessed with your company," said Sue, with a coquettish glance.
"Truly, thought, like fear and suspicion, is essentially communicable."
"And yet," continued Sue, "one is so impressed by the littleness of one's self, and the greatness of your brain! After all, one cannot be entirely happy with you."
"A most extraordinary woman," thought Mnag. "She has decidedly the most discrimination of any female I have yet seen."
Thus, with mutually complimentary thoughts and words, these two passed the time in learned discourse. Meanwhile Loe was trying to engage Yung in conversation. She had begun by casting down her eyes and sighing; but on looking out under her lashes, she saw that Yung was doing the very same thing. Clearly nothing was to be gained by this method of action. Since, then, the enemy was too wary, or rather too diffident, to be caught by stratagem, she resorted to the besieger's arts; she approached him by parallels. But not even then was Yung conquered; he remained safe in the fortress of his diffidence, though he did venture one or two glances at the approaching Loe.
At last the girl reached the vicinity of the enemy; and here she hazarded all in a direct assault. In other words, she boldly addressed the diffident youth.
"Ah, Yung," said she, "so you have come to visit the philosopher? What do you think of him?"
Yung looked about him for some method of escape. As his eyes travelled over the bones and horns, with which, instead of the customary clubs and stone darts, the walls were covered, he spied in a corner several skins of wild animals, which were hung from the roof. Toward them, accordingly, he retreated, while he stammered, to mask his movement, "I don't know."
"Is he so very learned as they say?" continued Loe, following up her adversary and her advantage at once.
Yung had not yet reached the skins. "I don't know," he repeated.
"Have you seen his daughter?" pursued the pitiless Loe.
Yung had reached the skins; he laid his hand on them. They divided, and he saw behind them the bower of Tue Swe. In an instant he felt that hope of escape was vain, he turned and faced the enemy, he spoke. "No," he replied.
"Nor I," said Loe, placing herself beside her helpless victim and leaning trustingly toward him. The victim? Ah, he was no longer a victim; he had gained the courage that comes of necessity, and he was even glad to be near the object of his admiration. But, poor fellow, he could not long enjoy this unwonted pleasure. The cold drops stood on his brow, as he realized that he must manage to get away, if he would not suffer the agony of walking through the village, at noon-day, with two young girls. He stood a few minutes in awkward silence, and then abruptly left the hut.
The hut had now no attraction for Loe. "Are you ready to go home, my dear?" she inquired of Sue.
"Ah," said the philosopher, looking up, "you must stay to see my daughter. She will be back presently."
As he spoke, the girl entered and saw the visitors. She replied rather diffidently to their profuse words of greeting, and sat almost silent while they told her, volubly, the gossip and the possibilities for gossip in the village. She seemed much relieved when they took their leave.
"You will find no perfection in this place," she sighed to her father.
"On the contrary," said the philosopher, "I have found here the only woman I have ever seen who can make use of her approximation to brain."
After leaving the philosopher, Yung went directly home. His thoughts were full of Loe, and he yearned for the time when he could see her alone; yet, in his diffidence, he also dreaded it. With Loe in his mind, he made his preparations for dinner; and as he laid out the freshly caught trout and the delicious fruits, he said, "Would she were here to share them!"
Had his words called her to his side? No sooner had he spoken than a knock was heard at the door. He hastened to open; but alas! it was only the philosopher. Yung was in every respect a good host; therefore, in spite of his disappointment, his welcome was a cordial one.
"I have a matter of importance to communicate," said Mnag.
"By all means," assented Yung; "but first come in and sit down to dinner."
After a hearty meal, the philosopher broached his subject. "Yung," said he, "have you an attachment to any girl?"
Yung looked confused.
"Of course not," cried the philosopher, skilfully covering the other's embarrassment. "I hope, then, that you may favorably consider the proposition that I am about to make to you."
The philosopher then explained his conviction that his daughter was destined to be the mother of a wonderful race; he told his weary wandering in search of a father worthy of such descendants, and his success in finding such a father in the person of his hearer; and he begged that Yung might not, by refusing to gratify his wishes, make his search vain.
"But," stammered Yung, utterly bewildered by a proposition so unheard of, "how will your daughter receive me?"
"With the warmest welcome," answered the philosopher; "she would else have her father's curse."
"Why do you think me so worthy?" asked Yung. "I am not used to being so highly esteemed;" and he blushed, thinking of the one girl who had esteemed him.
"The people here are fools," said the philosopher. "How could they appreciate you? They look only on the surface; they cannot see and appreciate the mind. I see in you the highest possible development of our species."
"I - I must think over your proposition," said Yung. "I cannot give you an answer at once."
"Very well," said the philosopher, "can you decide by to-morrow at this time?" His glance wandered toward the remains of the dinner, as if that might have had some influence in fixing the time.
"Dine with me to-morrow," agreed Yung, "and you shall know my decision." Then, with expressions of good-will on both sides, the philosopher took leave of his host.
(To be continued.)