AS THE procession drew nearer Ransom saw that the foremost hrossa were supporting three long and narrow burdens. They carried them on their heads, four hrossa to each. After these came a number of others armed with harpoons and apparently guarding two creatures which he did not recognize. The light was behind them as they entered between the two farthest monoliths. They were much shorter than any animal he had yet seen on Malacandra, and he gathered that they were bipeds, though the lower limbs were so thick and sausage-like that he hesitated to call them legs. The bodies were a little narrower at the top than at the bottom so as to be very slightly pear-shaped, and the heads were neither round like those of hrossa nor long like those of sorns, but almost square. They stumped along on narrow, heavy-looking feet which they seemed to press into the ground with unnecessary violence. And now their faces were becoming visible as masses of lumped and puckered flesh of variegated colour fringed in some bristly, dark substance.... Suddenly, with an indescribable change of feeling, he realized that he was looking at men. The two prisoners were Weston and Devine and he, for one privileged moment, had seen the human form with almost Malacandrian eyes.
The leaders of the procession had now advanced to within a few yards of Oyarsa and laid down their burdens. These, he now saw, were three dead hrossa laid on biers of some unknown metal; they were on their backs and their eyes, not closed as we close the eyes of human dead, stared disconcertingly up at the far-off golden canopy of the grove. One of them he took to be Hyoi, and it was certainly Hyoi's brother, Hyahi, who now came forward, and after an obeisance to Oyarsa began to speak.
Ransom at first did not hear what he was saying, for his attention was concentrated on Weston and Devine. They were weaponless and vigilantly guarded by the armed hrossa about them. Both of them, like Ransom himself, had let their beards grow ever since they landed on Malacandra, and both were pale and travel stained. Weston was standing with folded arms, and his face wore a fixed, even an elaborate, expression of desperation. Devine, with his hands in his pockets, seemed to be in a state of furious sulks. Both clearly thought that they had good reason to fear, though neither was by any means lacking in courage. Surrounded by their guards as they were, and intent on the scene before them, they had not noticed Ransom.
He became aware of what Hyoi's brother was saying.
"For the death of these two, Oyarsa, I do not so much complain, for when we fell upon the hmana by night they were in terror. You may say it was as a hunt and these two were killed as they might have been by a hnakra. But Hyoi they hit from afar with a coward's weapon when he had done nothing to frighten them. And now he lies there (and I do not say it because he was my brother, but all the handramit knows it) and he was a hnakrapunt and a great poet and the loss of him is heavy."
The voice of Oyarsa spoke for the first time to the two men.
"Why have you killed my hnau?" it said.
Weston and Devine looked anxiously about them to identify the speaker.
"God!" exclaimed Devine in English. "Don't tell me they've got a loudspeaker."
"Ventriloquism," replied Weston in a husky whisper. "Quite common among savages. The witch-doctor or medicine-man pretends to go into a trance and he does it. The thing to do is to identify the medicine-man and address your remarks to him wherever the voice seems to come from; it shatters his nerve and shows you've seen through him. Do you see any of the brutes in a trance? By Jove - I've spotted him."
Due credit must be given to Weston for his powers of observation: he had picked out the only creature in the assembly which was not standing in an attitude of reverence and attention. This was an elderly hross close beside him. It was squatting; and its eyes were shut. Taking a step towards it, he struck a defiant attitude and exclaimed in a loud voice (his knowledge of the language was elementary):
"Why you take our puff-bangs away? We very angry with you. We not afraid."
On Weston's hypothesis his action ought to have been impressive. Unfortunately for him, no one else shared his theory of the elderly hross's behaviour. The hross - who was well known to all of them, including Ransom - had not come with the funeral procession. It had been in its place since dawn. Doubtless it intended no disrespect to Oyarsa; but it must be confessed that it had yielded, at a much earlier stage in the proceedings, to an infirmity which attacks elderly hnau of all species, and was by this time enjoying a profound and refreshing slumber. One of its whiskers twitched a little as Weston shouted in its face, but its eyes remained shut.
The voice of Oyarsa spoke again. "Why do you speak to him?" it said. "It is I who ask you, Why have you killed my hnau?"
"'You let us go, then we talkee-talkee," bellowed Weston at the sleeping hross. "You think we no power, think you do all you like. You no can. Great big headman in sky he send us. You no do what I say, he come, blow you all up - Pouff! Bang!"
"I do not know what bang means," said the voice. "But why have you killed my hnau?"
"Say it was an accident," muttered Devine to Weston in English.
"I've told you before," replied Weston in the same language. "You don't understand how to deal with natives. One sign of yielding and they'll be at our throats. The only thing is to intimidate them."
"All right! Do your stuff, then," growled Devine. He was obviously losing faith in his partner.
Weston cleared his throat and again rounded on the elderly hross.
"We kill him," he shouted. "Show what we can do. Every one who no do all we say - pouff! bang! - kill him same as that one. You do all we say and we give you much pretty things. See! See!" To Ransom's intense discomfort, Weston at this point whipped out of his pocket a brightly coloured necklace of beads, the undoubted work of Mr Woolworth, and began dangling it in front of the faces of his guards, turning slowly round and round and repeating, "Pretty, pretty! See! See!"
The result of this manoeuvre was more striking than Weston himself had anticipated. Such a roar of sounds as human ears had never heard before - baying of hrossa, piping of pfifltriggi, booming of sorns - burst out and rent the silence of that august place, waking echoes from the distant mountain walls. Even in the air above them there was a faint ringing of the eldil voices.
It is greatly to Weston's credit that though he paled at this he did not lose his nerve.
"You no rear at me," he thundered. "No try make me afraid. Me no afraid of you."
"You must forgive my people," said the voice of Oyarsa - and even it was subtly changed -" but they are not roaring at you. They are only laughing."
But Weston did not know the Malacandrian word for laugh: indeed, it was not a word he understood very well in any language. He looked about him with a puzzled expression. Ransom, biting his lips with mortification, almost prayed that one experiment with the beads would satisfy the scientist; but that was because he did not know Weston. The latter saw that the clamour had subsided. He knew that he was following the most orthodox rules for frightening and then conciliating primitive races; and he was not the man to be deterred by one or two failures. The roar that went up from the throats of all spectators as he again began revolving like a slow motion picture of a humming-top, occasionally mopping his brow with his left hand and conscientiously jerking the necklace up and down with his right, completely drowned anything he might be attempting to say; but Ransom saw his lips moving and had little doubt that he was working away at "Pretty, pretty!" Then suddenly the sound of laughter almost redoubled its volume. The stars in their courses were fighting against Weston. Some hazy memory of efforts made long since to entertain an infant niece had begun to penetrate his highly trained mind. He was bobbing up and down from the knees and holding his head on one side; he was almost dancing; and he was by now very hot indeed. For all Ransom knew he was saying "Diddle, diddle, diddle."