The Complete Stories (Page 5)
It had been bad for both of them. Horribly bad. She had been away from home and had lived in guilt ever since. If she had stayed at home, if she had not gone on an unnecessary shopping expedition, there would have been two of them available. One would have succeeded in saving Laurel.
Poor Arnold had not managed. Heaven knew he tried. He had nearly died himself. He had come out of the burning house, staggering in agony, blistered, choking, half-blinded, with the dead Laurel in his arms.
The nightmare of that lived on, never lifting entirely.
Arnold slowly grew a shell about himself afterward. He cultivated a low-voiced mildness through which nothing broke, no lightning struck. He grew puritanical and even abandoned his minor vices, his cigarettes, his penchant for an occasional profane exclamation. He obtained his grant for the preparation of a new history of Carthage and subordinated everything to that.
She tried to help him. She hunted up his references, typed his notes and microfilmed them. Then that ended suddenly.
She ran from the desk suddenly one evening, reaching the bathroom in bare time and retching abominably. Her husband followed her in confusion and concern.
"Caroline, what’s wrong?"
It took a drop of brandy to bring her around. She said, "Is it true? What they did?"
He stared at her and she got it out by indirection. She couldn’t say it right out.
The Carthaginians, it seemed, worshiped Moloch, in the form of a hollow, brazen idol with a furnace in its belly. At times of national crisis, the priests and the people gathered, and infants, after the proper ceremonies and invocations, were dextrously hurled, alive, into the flames.
They were given sweetmeats just before the crucial moment, in order that the efficacy of the sacrifice not be ruined by displeasing cries of panic. The drums rolled just after the moment, to drown out the few seconds of infant shrieking. The parents were present, presumably gratified, for the sacrifice was pleasing to the gods. . . .
Arnold Potterley frowned darkly. Vicious lies, he told her, on the part of Carthage’s enemies. He should have warned her. After all, such propa-gandistic lies were not uncommon. According to the Greeks, the ancient Hebrews worshiped an ass’s head in their Holy of Holies. According to the Romans, the primitive Christians were haters of all men who sacrificed pagan children in the catacombs.
"Then they didn’t do it?" asked Caroline.
"I’m sure they didn’t. The primitive Phoenicians may have. Human sacrifice is commonplace in primitive cultures. But Carthage in her great days was not a primitive culture. Human sacrifice often gives way to symbolic actions such as circumcision. The Greeks and Romans might have mistaken some Carthaginian symbolism for the original full rite, either out of ignorance or out of malice."
"Are you sure?"
"I can’t be sure yet, Caroline, but when I’ve got enough evidence, I’ll apply for permission to use chronoscopy, which will settle the matter once and for all."
"Time viewing. We can focus on ancient Carthage at some time of crisis, the landing of Scipio Africanus in 202 b.c., for instance, and see with our own eyes exactly what happens. And you’ll see, I’ll be right."
He patted her and smiled encouragingly, but she dreamed of Laurel every night for two weeks thereafter and she never helped him with his Carthage project again. Nor did he ever ask her to.
But now she was bracing herself for his coming. He had called her after arriving back in town, told her he had seen the government man and that it had gone as expected. That meant failure, and yet the little telltale sign of depression had been absent from his voice and his features had appeared quite composed in the teleview. He had another errand to take care of, he said, before coming home.
It meant he would be late, but that didn’t matter. Neither one of them was particular about eating hours or cared when packages were taken out of the freezer or even which packages or when the selfwarming mechanism was activated.
When he did arrive, he surprised her. There was nothing untoward about him in any obvious way. He kissed her dutifully and smiled, took off his hat and asked if all had been well while he was gone. It was all almost perfectly normal. Almost.
She had learned to detect small things, though, and his pace in all this was a trifle hurried. Enough to show her accustomed eye that he was under tension.
She said, "Has something happened?"
He said, "We’re going to have a dinner guest night after next, Caroline. You don’t mind?"
"Well, no. Is it anyone I know?"
"No. A young instructor. A newcomer. I’ve spoken to him." He suddenly whirled toward her and seized her arms at the elbow, held them a moment, then dropped them in confusion as though disconcerted at having shown emotion.
He said, "1 almost didn’t get through to him. Imagine that. Terrible, terrible, the way we have all bent to the yoke; the affection we have for the harness about us."
Mrs. Potterley wasn’t sure she understood, but for a year she had been watching him grow quietly more rebellious; little by little more daring in his criticism of the government. She said, "You haven’t spoken foolishly to him, have you?"
"What do you mean, foolishly? He’ll be doing some neutrinics for me."
"Neutrinics" was trisyllabic nonsense to Mrs. Potterley, but she knew it had nothing to do with history. She said faintly, "Arnold, I don’t like you to do that. You’ll lose your position. It’s-"
"It’s intellectual anarchy, my dear," he said. "That’s the phrase you want. Very well. I am an anarchist. If the government will not allow me to push my researches, I will push them on my own. And when I show the way, others will follow. . . . And if they don’t, it makes no difference. It’s Carthage that counts and human knowledge, not you and I."