Jandrax 14

After three months, Marcel Dumezil reinstituted the Sabbath. From a practical standpoint it was a good system. Planning and good judgment depend on frequent periods of rest; otherwise the immediate but trivial has a tendency to swamp more important long range considerations.

With that in mind, Jan walked with Angi to the field beyond the palisade after the service. Everyone in the colony seemed to have the same idea and soon the snowy earth was dotted with furry shapes, each sitting a little apart from his neighbor, relishing privacy after the cramped squalor of life within the palisade.

“Jan,” she said, placing her hand on his arm, “you look worried. Today is a day of rest, so please relax. I spend half my time worrying that either you or Papa will crack under the strain you are carrying.”

Jan looked up at the broad, barren expanse of snow, at the mountains beyond, where the scars of their cutting lay, and behind at the palisade. They had done well; yet it was not any natural disaster that worried him, He feared the seeds of dissension carried within the group.

“Nur and Tenn did not attend the service,” Jan pointed out. “How will your people feel about that?”

She shrugged. “It is their right. We are not barbarians, you know.”

Jan said nothing. Angi scooped up snow, balled it angrily and tossed it down. “You think we are, don’t you?”

“Huh? Are what?”

“Barbarians. You think Nur and Tenny are in danger from us because they are of a different religion. Where did you ever get such an idea? What have we done to make you think that of us. Or are you just prejudiced?”

“I never said any such thing,” Jan replied, but he was thinking of Jason. And he was remembering Hallam.

***

There was a holiday air about the camp. Raoul LaBarge was a trained geologist; he had explored the hills back of the settlement keeping mainly to the creeks for reasons of future transportation – and he found an outcropping of iron ore, something infinitely more precious than gold.

Jan gave himself the afternoon off for good behavior and took Angi out. They went on skis, for the snow was half a meter deep. She looked beautiful to him, though, in truth, imagination played a good part in that. She was dressed as everyone else, Jan included, in a trihorn parka cut from the hairy shoulder section of the hide, wide herbyskin trousers, and boots made from the hairless rump section of trihorn hide. Only her face and a few wisps of hair showed from beneath her krathide cap. Angi’s beauty was a thing remembered from warmer days, not something available for immediate experience.

They talked of things which had become commonplace and of the future of the colony. They spoke a little of a more personal future and she remained very close to him while he cursed the cold that imprisoned them in their furry armor.

Jan was not a man given to noticing natural beauty. It was not a thing to brag about, but his profession had made him very businesslike in his relationship to the environment. Were that not so, he would long since have been dead. Yet he had come to love their cold, barren world – but never so much as on that afternoon when imprisoned passion was transmuted into softer feelings as they skiied hand in hand across the clean, white plains, moving in a common rhythm.

*****

Jan’s indifference to natural beauty was suggested a decade before I became a writer when Peter Matthiessen, in The Cloud Forest, considered an orange that he was eating after a long period of near starvation. He was a world traveller who often found himself short on meals. He confessed to having no interest in food as anything but fuel, until that orange after that privation became the finest taste he had ever encountered. more tomorrow

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