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Chapter Thirty

The stars came out that night, dazzling in their brilliance and clarity. Ford and Arthur had walked more miles than they had any means of judging and finally stopped to rest. The night was cool and balmy, the air pure, the Sub-Etha Sens.O.Matic totally silent.

A wonderful stillness hung over the world, a magical calm which combined with the soft fragrances of the woods, the quiet chatter of insects and the brilliant light of the stars to soothe their jangled spirits. Even Ford Prefect, who had seen more worlds than he could count on a long afternoon, was moved to wonder if this was the most beautiful he had ever seen. All that day they had passed through rolling green hills and valleys, richly covered with grasses, wild scented flowers and tall thickly leaved trees, the sun had warmed them, light breezes had kept them cool, and Ford Prefect had checked his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic at less and less frequent intervals, and had exhibited less and less annoyance at its continued silence. He was beginning to think he liked it here.

Cool though the night air was they slept soundly and comfortably in the open and awoke a few hours later with the light dewfall feeling refreshed but hungry. Ford had stuffed some small rolls into his satchel at Milliways and they breakfasted off those before moving on.

So far they had wandered purely at random, but now they struck out firmly eastwards, feeling that if they were going to explore this world they should have some clear idea of where they had come from and where they were going.

Shortly before noon they had their first indication that the world they had landed on was not an uninhabited one: a half glimpsed face amongst the trees, watching them. It vanished at the moment they both saw it, but the image they were both left with was of a humanoid creature, curious to see them but not alarmed. Half an hour later they glimpsed another such face, and ten minutes after that another.

A minute later they stumbled into a wide clearing and stopped short.

Before them in the middle of the clearing stood a group of about two dozen men and women. They stood still and quiet facing Ford and Arthur. Around some of the women huddled some small children and behind the group was a ramshackle array of small dwellings made of mud and branches.

Ford and Arthur held their breath.

The tallest of the men stood a little over five feet high, they all stooped forward slightly, had longish arms and lowish foreheads, and clear bright eyes with which they stared intently at the strangers.

Seeing that they carried no weapons and made no move towards them, Ford and Arthur relaxed slightly.

For a while the two groups simply stared at each other, neither side making any move. The natives seemed puzzled by the intruders, and whilst they showed no sign of aggression they were quite clearly not issuing any invitations.

For a full two minutes nothing continued to happen.

After two minutes Ford decided it was time something happened.

``Hello,'' he said.

The women drew their children slightly closer to them.

The men made hardly any discernible move and yet their whole disposition made it clear that the greeting was not welcome --- it was not resented in any great degree, it was just not welcome.

One of the men, who had been standing slightly forward of the rest of the group and who might therefore have been their leader, stepped forward. His face was quiet and calm, almost serene.

``Ugghhhuuggghhhrrrr uh uh ruh uurgh,'' he said quietly.

This caught Arthur by surprise. He had grown so used to receiving an instantaneous and unconscious translation of everything he heard via the Babel Fish lodged in his ear that he had ceased to be aware of it, and he was only reminded of its presence now by the fact that it didn't seem to be working. Vague shadows of meaning had flickered at the back of his mind, but there was nothing he could get any firm grasp on. He guessed, correctly as it happens, that these people had as yet evolved no more than the barest rudiments of language, and that the Babel Fish was therefore powerless to help. He glanced at Ford, who was infinitely more experienced in these matters.

``I think,'' said Ford out of the corner of his mouth, ``he's asking us if we'd mind walking on round the edge of the village.''

A moment later, a gesture from the man-creature seemed to confirm this.

``Ruurgggghhhh urrgggh; urgh urgh (uh ruh) rruurruuh ug,'' continued the man-creature.

``The general gist,'' said Ford, ``as far as I can make out, is that we are welcome to continue our journey in any way we like, but if we would walk round his village rather than through it it would make them all very happy.''

``So what do we do?''

``I think we make them happy,'' said Ford.

Slowly and watchfully they walked round the perimeter of the clearing. This seemed to go down very well with the natives who bowed to them very slightly and then went about their business.

Ford and Arthur continued their journey through the wood. A few hundred yards past the clearing they suddenly came upon a small pile of fruit lying in their path --- berries that looked remarkably like raspberries and blackberries, and pulpy, green skinned fruit that looked remarkably like pears.

So far they had steered clear of the fruit and berries they had seen, though the trees and bushed were laden with them.

``Look at it this way,'' Ford Prefect had said, ``fruit and berries on strange planets either make you live or make you die. Therefore the point at which to start toying with them is when you're going to die if you don't. That way you stay ahead. The secret of healthy hitch-hiking is to eat junk food.''

They looked at the pile that lay in their path with suspicion. It looked so good it made them almost dizzy with hunger.

``Look at it this way,'' said Ford, ``er ...''

``Yes?'' said Arthur.

``I'm trying to think of a way of looking at it which means we get to eat it,'' said Ford.

The leaf-dappled sun gleamed on the pulp skins of the things which looked like pears. The things which looked like raspberries and strawberries were fatter and riper than any Arthur had ever seen, even in ice cream commercials.

``Why don't we eat them and think about it afterwards?'' he said.

``Maybe that's what they want us to do.''

``Alright, look at it this way ...''

``Sounds good so far.''

``It's there for us to eat. Either it's good or it's bad, either they want to feed us or to poison us. If it's poisonous and we don't eat it they'll just attack us some other way. If we don't eat, we lose out either way.''

``I like the way you're thinking,'' said Ford, ``Now eat one.''

Hesitantly, Arthur picked up one of those things that looked like pears.

``I always thought that about the Garden of Eden story,'' said Ford.

``Eh?''

``Garden of Eden. Tree. Apple. That bit, remember?''

``Yes of course I do.''

``Your God person puts an apple tree in the middle of a garden and says do what you like guys, oh, but don't eat the apple. Surprise surprise, they eat it and he leaps out from behind a bush shouting `Gotcha'. It wouldn't have made any difference if they hadn't eaten it.''

``Why not?''

``Because if you're dealing with somebody who has the sort of mentality which likes leaving hats on the pavement with bricks under them you know perfectly well they won't give up. They'll get you in the end.''

``What are you talking about?''

``Never mind, eat the fruit.''

``You know, this place almost looks like the Garden of Eden.''

``Eat the fruit.''

``Sounds quite like it too.''

Arthur took a bite from the thing which looked like a pear.

``It's a pear,'' he said.

A few moments later, when they had eaten the lot, Ford Prefect turned round and called out.

``Thank you. Thank you very much,'' he called, ``you're very kind.''

They went on their way.

For the next fifty miles of their journey eastward they kept on finding the occasional gift of fruit lying in their path, and though they once or twice had a quick glimpse of a native man-creature amongst the trees, they never again made direct contact. They decided they rather liked a race of people who made it clear that they were grateful simply to be left alone.

The fruit and berries stopped after fifty miles, because that was where the sea started.

Having no pressing calls on their time they built a raft and crossed the sea. It was reasonably calm, only about sixty miles wide and they had a reasonably pleasant crossing, landing in a country that was at least as beautiful as the one they had left.

Life was, in short, ridiculously easy and for a while at least they were able to cope with the problems of aimlessness and isolation by deciding to ignore them. When the craving for company became too great they would know where to find it, but for the moment they were happy to feel that the Golgafrinchans were hundreds of miles behind them.

Nevertheless, Ford Prefect began to use his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic more often again. Only once did he pick up a signal, but that was so faint and from such enormous distance that it depressed him more than the silence that had otherwise continued unbroken.

On a whim they turned northwards. After weeks of travelling they came to another sea, built another raft and crossed it. This time it was harder going, the climate was getting colder. Arthur suspected a streak of masochism in Ford Prefect --- the increasing difficulty of the journey seemed to give him a sense of purpose that was otherwise lacking. He strode onwards relentlessly.

Their journey northwards brought them into steep mountainous terrain of breathtaking sweep and beauty. The vast, jagged, snow covered peaks ravished their senses. The cold began to bite into their bones.

They wrapped themselves in animal skins and furs which Ford Prefect acquired by a technique he once learned from a couple of ex-Pralite monks running a Mind-Surfing resort in the Hills of Hunian.

The galaxy is littered with ex-Pralite monks, all on the make, because the mental control techniques the Order have evolved as a form of devotional discipline are, frankly, sensational --- and extraordinary numbers of monks leave the Order just after they have finished their devotional training and just before they take their final vows to stay locked in small metal boxes for the rest of their lives.

Ford's technique seemed to consist mainly of standing still for a while and smiling.

After a while an animal --- a deer perhaps --- would appear from out of the trees and watch him cautiously. Ford would continue to smile at it, his eyes would soften and shine, and he would seem to radiate a deep and universal love, a love which reached out to embrace all of creation. A wonderful quietness would descend on the surrounding countryside, peaceful and serene, emanating from this transfigured man. Slowly the deer would approach, step by step, until it was almost nuzzling him, whereupon Ford Prefect would reach out to it and break its neck.

``Pheromone control,'' he said it was, ``you just have to know how to generate the right smell.''


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