The Complete Stories (Page 197)
Stuart turned a sidelong glance upon the little man who sat looking at the map of Earth and went on, "I owe you a particular and personal apology, Mullen. I didn’t think much of you."
"It was your privilege," said Mullen in his dry voice, There was no feeling in it.
"No, it wasn’t. It is no one’s privilege to despise another. It is only a hard-won right after long experience." ,.’ "Have you been thinking about this?"
"Yes, all day. Maybe I can’t explain. It’s these hands." He held them up before him, spread out. "It was hard knowing that other people had hands of their own. I had to hate them for it. I always had to do my best to investigate and belittle their motives, point up their deficiencies, expose their stupidities. I had to do anything that would prove to myself that they weren’t worth envying."
Mullen moved restlessly. "This explanation is not necessary."
"It is. It is!" Stuart felt his thoughts intently, strained to put them into words. "For years I’ve abandoned hope of finding any decency in human beings. Then you climbed into the C-chute."
"You had better understand," said Mullen, "that I was motivated by practical and selfish considerations. I will not have you present me to myself as a hero."
"I wasn’t intending to. I know that you would do nothing without a reason. It was what your action did to the rest of us. It turned a collection of phonies and fools into decent people. And not by magic either. They were decent all along. It was just that they needed something to live up to and you supplied it. And-I’m one of them. I’ll have to live up to you, too. For the rest of my life, probably."
Mullen turned away uncomfortably. His hand straightened his sleeves, which were not in the least twisted. His finger rested on the map.
He said, "I was born in Richmond, Virginia, you know. Here it is. I’ll be going there first. Where were you born?"
"Toronto," said Stuart.
"That’s right here. Not very far apart on the map, is it?"
Stuart said, "Would you tell me something?"
"If I can."
"Just why did you go out there?"
Mullen’s precise mouth pursed. He said, dryly, "Wouldn’t my rather prosaic reason ruin the inspirational effect?"
"Call it intellectual curiosity. Each of the rest of us had such obvious motives. Porter was scared to death of being interned; Leblanc wanted to get back to his sweetheart; Polyorketes wanted to kill Kloros; and Windham was a patriot according to his lights. As for me, I thought of myself as a noble idealist, I’m afraid. Yet in none of us was the motivation strong enough to get us into a spacesuit and out the C-chute. Then what made you do it, you, of all people?"
"Why the phrase, ‘of all people’?"
"Don’t be offended, but you seem devoid of all emotion."
"Do I?" Mullen’s voice did not change. It remained precise and soft, yet somehow a tightness had entered it. "That’s only training, Mr. Stuart, and
self-discipline; not nature. A small man can have no respectable emotions. Is there anything more ridiculous than a man like myself in a state of rage? I’m five feet and one-half inch tall, and one hundred and two pounds in weight, if you care for exact figures. I insist on the half inch and the two pounds.
"Can I be dignified? Proud? Draw myself to my full height without inducing laughter? Where can I meet a woman who will not dismiss me instantly with a giggle? Naturally, I’ve had to learn to dispense with external display of emotion.
"You talk about deformities. No one would notice your hands or know they were different, if you weren’t so eager to tell people all about it the instant you meet them. Do you think that the eight inches of height I do not have can be hidden? That it is not the first and, in most cases, the only thing about me that a person will notice?"
Stuart was ashamed. He had invaded a privacy he ought not have. He said, "I’m sorry."
"I should not have forced you to speak of this. I should have seen for myself that you-that you-"
"That I what? Tried to prove myself? Tried to show that while I might be small in body, I held within it a giant’s heart?"
"1 would not have put it mockingly."
"Why not? It’s a foolish idea, and nothing like it is the reason I did what I did. What would I have accomplished if that’s what was in my mind? Will they take me to Earth now and put me up before the television cameras- pitching them low, of course, to catch my face, or standing me on a chair- and pin medals on me?"
"They are quite likely to do exactly that."
"And what good would it do me? They would say, ‘Gee, and he’s such a little guy.’ And afterward, what? Shall I tell each man I meet, ‘You know, I’m the fellow they decorated for incredible valor last month?’ How many medals, Mr. Stuart, do you suppose it would take to put eight inches and sixty pounds on me?"
Stuart said, "Put that way, I see your point."
Mullen was speaking a trifle more quickly now; a controlled heat had entered his words, warming them to just a tepid room temperature. "There were days when I thought I would show them, the mysterious ‘them’ that includes all the world. I was going to leave Earth and carve out worlds for myself. I would be a new and even smaller Napoleon. So I left Earth and went to Arcturus. And what could I do on Arcturus that I could not have done on Earth? Nothing. I balance books. So I am past the vanity, Mr. Stuart, of trying to stand on tiptoe."
"Then why did you do it?"
"I left Earth when I was twenty-eight and came to the Arcturian System. I’ve been there ever since. This trip was to be my first vacation, my first visit