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So I had to come up with an encore. I gave them "Relic's Daughter," then "Jabberwocky," with gestures.

Star had interpreted me in spirit; she had said what I would have said had I been capable of extemporizing poetry. Late on the second day I had chanced on Star in the steam room of the manor's baths. For an hour we lay wrapped in sheets on adjacent slabs, sweating it out and restoring the tissues. Presently I blurted out to her how surprised—and delighted—I was. I did it sheepishly but Star was one to whom I dared bare my soul.

She had listened gravely. When I ran down, she said quietly, "My Hero, as you know, I do not know America. But from what Rufo tells me your culture is unique, among all the Universes."

"Well, I realize that the USA is not sophisticated in such things, not the way France is."

" ‘France!' " She shrugged, beautifully. " ‘Latins are lousy lovers.' I heard that somewhere, I testify that it is true. Oscar, so far as I know, your culture is the only semicivilized one in which love is not recognized as the highest art and given the serious study it deserves."

"You mean the way they treat it here. Whew! ‘Much too good for the common people!' "

"No, I do not mean the way it is treated here." She spoke in English. "Much as I love our friends here, this is a barbarous culture and their arts are barbaric. Oh, good art of its sort, very good; their approach is honest. But—if we live through this, after our troubles are over—I want you to travel among the Universes. You'll see what I mean." She got up, folding her sheet into a toga. I'm glad you are pleased, my Hero. I'm proud of you."

I lay there a while longer, thinking about what she had said. The "highest art"—and back home we didn't even study it, much less make any attempt to teach it. Ballet takes years and years. Nor do they hire you to sing at the Met just because you have a loud voice.

Why should "love" be classed as an "instinct"?

Certainly the appetite for sex is an instinct—but did another appetite make every glutton a gourmet, every fry cook a Cordon Bleu? Hell, you had to learn even to be a fry cook.

I walked out of the steam room whistling "The Best Things in Life Are Free"—then chopped it off in sudden sorrow for all my poor, unhappy compatriots cheated of their birthright by the most mammoth hoax in history.

A mile out the Doral bade us good-bye, embracing me, kissing Star and mussing her hair; then he and his escort drew swords and remained at salute until we passed over the next rise. Star and I rode knee to knee while Rufo snored behind us.

I looked at her and her mouth twitched. She caught my eye and said demurely, "Good morning, milord."

"Good morning, milady. You slept well?"

"Very well, thank you, milord. And you?"

"The same, thank you."

"So? ‘What was the strange thing the dog did in the night?' "

" ‘The dog did nothing in the night, that was the strange thing,' " I answered with a straight face.

"Really? So gay a dog? Then who was that knight I last saw with a lady?"

" ‘Twasn't night, ‘twas brillig."

"And your vorpal blade went snicker-snack! My beamish boy!"

"Don't try to pin your jabberwocking on me, you frolicsome wench," I said severely. "I've got friends, I have—I can prove an alibi. Besides, ‘my strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.' "

"And the line before that one. Yes, I know; your friends told me about it, milord." Suddenly she grinned and slapped me on the thigh and started bellowing the chorus of "Reilly's Daughter." Vita Brevis snorted; Ars Longa pricked up her ears and looked around reprovingly.

"Stop it," I said. "You're shocking the horses."

"They aren't horses and you can't shock them. Have you seen how they do it, milord? In spite of all those legs? First—"

"Hold your tongue! Ars Longa is a lady, even if you aren't."

"I warned you I was a bitch. First she sidles up—"

"I've seen it. Muri thought it would amuse me. Instead it gave me an inferiority complex that lasted all afternoon."

"I venture to disbelieve that it was all afternoon, milord Hero. Let's sing about Reilly then. You lead, I'll harmonize."

"Well—Not too loud, we'll wake Rufo."

"Not him, he's embalmed."

"Then you'll wake me, which is worse. Star darling, when and where was Rufo an undertaker? And how did he get from that into this business? Did they run him out of town?"

She looked puzzled. "Undertaker? Rufo? Not Rufo."

"He was most circumstantial."

"So? Milord, Rufo has many faults. But telling the truth is not one of them. Moreover, our people do not have undertakers."

"You don't? Then what do you do with leftover carcasses? Can't leave them cluttering the parlor. Untidy."

"I think so, too, but our people do just that: keep them in the parlor. For a few years at least. An overly sentimental custom but we are a sentimental people. Even so, it can be overdone. One of my great aunts kept all her former husbands in her bedchamber—a dreadful clutter and boring, too, because she talked about them, repeating herself and exaggerating. I quit going to see her."

"Well. Did she dust them?"

"Oh, yes. She was a fussy housekeeper."

"Uh—How many were there?"

"Seven or eight, I never counted."

"I see. Star? Is there black-widow blood in your family?"

"What? Oh! But, darling, there is black-widow blood in every woman." She dimpled, reached over and patted my knee. "But Auntie didn't kill them. Believe me, my Hero, the women in my family are much too fond of men to waste them. No, Auntie just hated to let them go. I think that is foolish. Look forward, not back."

" ‘And let the dead past bury its dead.' Look, if your people keep dead homes around the house, you must have undertakers. Embalmers at least. Or doesn't the air get thick?"

"Embalming? Oh, no! Just place a stasis on them once you're sure they are dead. Or dying. Any schoolboy can do that." She added, "Perhaps I wronged Rufo. He has spent much time on your Earth—he likes the place, it fascinates him—and he may have tried undertaking. But it seems to me an occupation too honest and straightforward to attract him."

"You never did tell me what your people eventually do with a cadaver."

"Not bury it. That would shock them silly." Star shivered. "Even myself and I've traveled the Universes, learned to be indifferent to almost any custom."

"But what?"

"Much what you did to Igli. Apply a geometrical option and get rid of it."

"Oh. Star, where did Igli go?"

"I couldn't guess, milord. I had no chance to calculate it. Perhaps the ones who made him know. But I think they were even more taken by surprise than I was."

"I guess I'm dense. Star. You call it geometry; Jocko referred to me as a ‘mathematician.' But I did what was forced on me by circumstances; I didn't understand it."

"Forced on Igli, you should say, milord Hero. What happens when you place an insupportable strain on a mass, such that it cannot remain where it is? While leaving it nowhere to go? This is a schoolboy problem in metaphysical geometry and the eldest proto-paradox, the one about the irresistible force and the immovable body. The mass implodes. It is squeezed out of its own world into some other. This is often the way the people of a universe discover the Universes—but usually as disastrously as you forced it on Igli; it may take millennia before they control it. It may hover around the fringes as ‘magic' for a long time, sometimes working, sometimes failing, sometimes backfiring on the magician."

"And you call this ‘mathematics'?"

"How else?"

"I'd call it magic."

"Yes, surely. As I told Jocko, you have a natural genius. You could be a great warlock."