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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

Despite their theoretical privileges


books and sketches, as well as the portfolios of popular prints which I had selected to assist me in describing the life and scenery of our world, were, with my wardrobe and other properties, arranged on my shelves by the _ambau_, under the direction of Kevima, the young gentleman who had superintended their removal and conveyance to his father's house. The portfolios gave me occasional means and topics of pleasant intercourse with the family of my host, before we could converse at ease in their language. The children, though never troublesome or importunate, took frequent opportunities of stealing into the room to look over the prints I produced for their amusement. The ladies also, particularly the violet-eyed maiden, who seemed to be the especial guardian of the little ones, would draw near to look and listen. The latter, though she never entered the room or directly addressed me, often assisted in explaining my broken sentences to her charges, some of them not many years younger than herself. I took sincere pleasure in the children's company and growing confidence, but they were not the less welcome because they drew their sisters to listen to my descriptions of an existence so strange and so remote in habits and character, as well as in space. Perhaps their gentle governess learned more than any other member of the family respecting Earth-life, and my own adventures by land and water, in air and space. For, though just not child enough to share the children's freedom, she
took in all they heard; she listened in silence during our evening gatherings to the conversation in which her father and brother encouraged me to practise the language I was laboriously studying. She had, therefore, double opportunities of acquiring a knowledge which seemed to interest her deeply; naturally, since it was so absolutely novel, and communicated by one whose very presence was the most marvellous of the marvels it attested. How much she understood I could not judge. Except her mother, the ladies did not take a direct part in my talk with the children, and but very seldom interposed, through my host, a shy brief question when the evening brought us all together. The maidens, despite their theoretical privileges, were even more reserved than their elders, and the dark-haired Eveena the most silent and shy of all.

I learned afterwards that the privilege of intercourse with the ladies of the household, restricted as it was, was wholly exceptional, and even in this family was conceded only out of consideration for one who could not safely be allowed to leave the house.


Though treated with the greatest kindness and courtesy, I soon found reason to understand that I was, at least for the present, a prisoner. My host or his son never failed to invite me each day to spend some time in the outer enclosure, but never intentionally left me alone there. On one occasion, when Kevima had been called away and I ventured to walk down towards the gate, my host's youngest child, who had been playing on the roof, ran after me, and reaching me just as my foot was set on the spring that opened the gate or outer door, caught me by the hand, and looking up into my face, expressed by glance and gesture a negative so unmistakable that I thought it expedient at once to comply and return to the house. There my time was occupied, for as great a part of each day as I could give to such a task without extreme fatigue, in mastering the language of the country. This was a much simpler task than might have been supposed. I soon found that, unlike any Terrestrial tongue, the language of this people had not grown but been made--constructed deliberately on set principles, with a view to the greatest possible simplicity and the least possible taxation of the memory. There were no exceptions or irregularities, and few unnecessary distinctions; while words were so connected and related that the mastery of a few simple grammatical forms and of a certain number of roots enabled me to guess at, and by and by to feel tolerably sure of, the meaning of a new word. The verb has six tenses, formed by the addition of a consonant to the root, and six persons, plural and singular, masculine and feminine.

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