Chapter III.

21 Apr

The tree leaves collected by several generations of Sameths were mounted in silicon frames hanging on the walls of a large room on the second floor of the manor. Display cases within the interior of the chamber held the rarest and most valuable varieties. Scores of species were visible.

“This was once my father’s special study,” said the planter, guiding his guest into the room. “The various individual items are arranged according to the patterns within each species. That makes it easier to see the similarities and differences involved.”

Gimel began an inspection of the general shapes, identifying them aloud to his companion, the plantation-owner.

“Deltoids, those are triangular. Sagittate means shaped like an arrowhead. Poltate, like a shield. Runcinates, these are saw-toothed, with the teeth curved backwards. All of these are of general interest to me. I have never before seen most of them except in book illustrations. It is all amazing and astounding to me.”

He spoke with increasing energy and enthusiasm in his tone.

Samekh followed a step behind him, complimenting the visitor on his knowledge of the shapes of leaves.

Vexa, smiling at the flattery he was receiving, continued his display of special knowledge on the subject of tree leaves.

“Acerose means it resembles chaff. Ogive is S-shaped, with a pointed ogee arch. Those labeled rugose are ridged and corrugated.

“Ovate leaves, of course, are egg-shaped. The obovate are inversely ovate, with their broad end at the top. And the orbicular are lopsided circles.”

The two men moved further along the wall, toward an outside corner of the room.

“That is an ensiform, which I’ve never seen before.” Gimel pointed to a long, sword-shaped leaf. “And below it is a wedge-like cuneate. It is fascinating to see all of this with my own eyes.”

Mem smiled with satisfaction, sensing the excitement that was growing in his guest.

“Pandurilate, a violin leaf with concavity on both sides,” sighed Vexa with wonder. “That is a genuine rarity.” His face grew unnaturally livid as he progressed on. “Kidney-shaped reniforms! And lance-like lanceolates that no other collection anywhere has!”

The pair moved on, reaching the windowed outside wall, then crossing to the opposite side of the room. Samekh pointed out silicon cases holding leaves that were lyre-shaped and foot-like. “These are tropical lyrates and pedates,” he told his house-guest. “And those are branched ramiforms.”

On they proceeded, to the trifoliates, the quinquefoliates, the hand-like palmates, scalloped crennates, wavy undulates, notched serrates, spoon-shaped spatulates, tapering acuminates, eared auriculates, heart-like cordates, beard-shaped aristates, square truncates, and sharply-pointed mucronates.

By the time the circuit of the display cases was completed, Gimel Vexa appeared thoroughly drained and exhausted. His breathing was now fast, his brown eyes dilated with a flood of emotion. He turned to his host and posed a question.

“Has anyone ever tried to purchase this collection from you, my friend?” he inquired, his purpose clearly evident. He himself was the only potential buyer at that moment. There was no attempt to conceal that acquisitive purpose from his host, the owner of the rich variety of samples.

Mem grinned with his success. The leaves had hooked the foreigner, so that he could not be at rest until all these cases of leaves were his.

Time is on my side, the planter realized. The longer the delay, the more this sucker will pay me. And then he remembered that there was also his sister he could indirectly offer in his bargaining with this perhaps lonely widower.

I have to throw him together with Thav, so that she can cast a spell of physical attraction over this rich Landrian. She is my ultimate weapon of conquest in our encounter with the wealthy foreigner who is visiting us. Thav and her beauty will be the bait that does the trick of conquering his mind and his emotions. That would be a magnificent victory.

“No,” answered the host with a grin. “Except for me and my father and grandfather, there has been little interest among Tochians in leaves as such. You are the first person in many years to visit here with an interest in seeing what I have inherited in the area of tree leaves.

“I am so glad that we found each other and that you and your daughter made this trip to Tochsylvania and our latifundium. We have never had any visitors from abroad. You two are the first ones. We are extremely happy to have you here with us.”

Mem opened the door out of the room for the little man from Landia. “Let me show you the grounds nearby,” he told the latter. “You shall have many opportunities in the future to study these leaves at your leisure, my friend.”

Thav, after showing Lea the different areas of the sprawling villa, led the shorter young woman out of the stables where the riding horses were kept.

“My brother loves our mares and geldings,” said the hostess with pride. “But it is quite expensive to maintain all of these animals fit and well-fed. The cost is high, too high.”

“You have staff hands to care for them?”

“A couple of our Varzeans are assigned to the horses we still own. My brother has been compelled to sell some older steeds that we once had. There is now a much smaller number of them than before. We have had to live with this reduction within our stable, but it was a necessary thing to do.”

At that moment, a loud clapping noise arose from inside the stables. For a short time, Thav attempted to ignore the uncomfortable sound. But finally she began to move toward the brown brick barn. “I have to see what is going on in there,” she mumbled as if to herself. Lea, without conscious decision, followed immediately behind her.

The barn door was wide open, permitting the two women to stop and look into the interior of the structure.

A burly, nearly gargantuan figure stood over a cringing, supine one. The giant was beating the latter with a thick, heavy rattan cane. No sound came from the object of the beating, a bronze-skinned Varzean in a loincloth. Each blow was powerful and meant to inflict a maximum of pain. They were increasingly harder and faster, growing into a violent crescendo. The sound was a strange and overpowering one.

Only these periodic strikes of the merciless cane could be heard by the two women drawn to the place by curiosity.

Lea stared at the punisher, dressed in tan pants and a shirt of ramie. His head, a rocky cube, was covered with thick jet locks. The liquid, colorless eyes had a ghostlike glow to them as he punished the native with horrible physical torture.

All at once, Thav cried out “Stop. Stop this instant.”

A face of supreme ugliness turned toward the pair standing in the doorway. Down fell the rattan cane, dropping to the cement floor of the horse stable.

The native victim, panting with relief, looked at Thav with pleading dark eyes, waiting to see whether the beating would end for good. Was his torture over or not? What was he to expect now?

For what seemed a considerable time, no one said anything.

The fury in the eyes and face of the man in tan dissipated, till he was able to address Thav in a coherent manner.

“This triber was supposed to water and feed the horse that’s been ill for the last week or so,” he grumbled in a sandy, harsh voice. “But the scabby cur forgot, and this is the second time it’s happened. I had to teach him what the consequences of disobedience are on the Samekh latifundium, Miss Thav. The knave brought it upon himself through his laziness. He deserved what I just gave him.”

The owner’s sister averted her milky eyes from the sinewy titan.

“I think that should be enough, Khaph,” she said, her voice stammering nervously. “Let the triber go back to his hut, while you finish up your regular duties for today. The Master will want to know what happened here.” She motioned with her head toward the lying figure of the native.

“Your brother gave me permission to proceed with this flogging, Missie,” announced the beater.

Thav swallowed hard. “Oh! I did not know that. But it appears that this one has received his just due for now. We can let him think over the reasons for his getting the cane. Let him be. He has received enough punishment.”

The man she had called Khaph looked down at the beaten, injured body.

“Get out of the stable,” he coldly commanded. “Make it fast.”

The trembling triber slowly rose, then scurried away through a back door of the barn building as quickly as he could.

For a moment, the cruel gargantuan glared at Thav with brazen impudence, making her turn her gaze in the direction of Lea.

“Let’s go back to the house,” she whispered to her companion. “They will be expecting us there. We should not keep them waiting.”

The two started away from the stable scene.

When they were near the front of the manor, Lea asked a question.

“Who was the man with the cane?”

Thav grimaced as if with inner pain.

“Knaph Daleth, my brother’s overseer. He is in charge of the everyday affairs of the plantation.” She hesitated, but then went on. “You can see why I would rather not have him around or in our house.”

Lea sensed a shivering occurring in her new friend, Thav Samekh.

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