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Chapter 47

"Felt your hair?" said Dors Venabili. She looked at Seldons hair as though she was of a mind to feel it herself.
Seldon moved away slightly. "Please dont. The woman made it seem like a perversion."
"I suppose it was--from her standpoint. Did you derive no pleasure from it yourself?"
"Pleasure? It gave me gooseflesh. When she finally stopped, I was able to breathe again. I kept thinking: What other conditions will she make?"
Dors laughed. "Were you afraid that she would force sex upon you? Or hopeful?"
"I assure you I didnt dare think. I just wanted the Book."
They were in their room now and Dors turned on her field distorter to make sure they would not be overheard.
The Mycogenian night was about to begin. Seldon had removed his skincap and kirtle and had bathed, paying particular attention to his hair, which he had foamed and rinsed twice. He was now sitting on his cot, wearing a light nightgown that had been hanging in the closet.
Dors said, eyes dancing, "Did she know you have hair on your chest?"
"I was hoping earnestly she wouldnt think of that."
"Poor Hari. It was all perfectly natural, you know. I would probably have had similar trouble if I was alone with a Brother. Worse, Im sure, since he would believe--Mycogenian society being what it is--that as a woman I would be bound to obey his orders without delay or demur."
"No, Dors. You may think it was perfectly natural, but you didnt experience it. The poor woman was in a high state of sexual excitement. She engaged all her senses ... smelled her fingers, licked them. If she could have heard hair grow, she would have listened avidly."
"But thats what I mean by natural. Anything you make forbidden gains sexual attractiveness. Would you be particularly interested in womens breasts if you lived in a society in which they were displayed at all times?"
"I think I might."
"Wouldnt you be more interested if they were always hidden, as in most societies they are?-- Listen, let me tell you something that happened to me. I was at a lake resort back home on Cinna ... I presume you have resorts on Helicon, beaches, that sort of thing?"
"Of course," said Seldon, slightly annoyed. "What do you think Helicon is, a world of rocks and mountains, with only well water to drink?"
"No offense, Hari. I just want to make sure youll get the point of the story. On our beaches at Cinna, were pretty lighthearted about what we wear ... or dont wear."
"Nude beaches?"
"Not actually, though I suppose if someone removed all of his or her clothing it wouldnt be much remarked on. The custom is to wear a decent minimum, but I must admit that what we consider decent leaves very little to the imagination."
Seldon said, "We have somewhat higher standards of decency on Helicon."
"Yes, I could tell that by your careful treatment of me, but to each its own. In any case, I was sitting at the small beach by the lake and a young man approached to whom I had spoken earlier in the day. He was a decent fellow I found nothing particularly wrong with. He sat on the arm of my chair and placed his right hand on my left thigh, which was bare, of course, in order to steady himself.
"After we had spoken for a minute and a half or so, he said, impishly. Here I am. You know me hardly at all and yet it seems perfectly natural to me that I place my hand on your thigh. Whats more, it seems perfectly natural to you, since you dont seem to mind that it remains there.
"It was only then that I actually noticed that his hand was on my thigh. Bare skin in public somehow loses some of its sexual quality. As I said, its the hiding from view that is crucial.
"And the young man felt this too, for he went on to say, Yet if I were to meet you under more formal conditions and you were wearing a gown, you wouldnt dream of letting me lift your gown and place my hand on your thigh on the precise spot it now occupies.
"I laughed and we continued to talk of this and that. Of course, the young man, now that my attention had been called to the position of his hand, felt it no longer appropriate to keep it there and removed it.
"That night I dressed for dinner with more than usual care and appeared in clothing that was considerably more formal than was required or than other women in the dining room were wearing. I found the young man in question. He was sitting at one of the tables. I approached, greeted him, and said, Here I am in a gown, but under it my left thigh is bare. I give you permission. Just lift the gown and place your hand on my left thigh where you had it earlier.
"He tried. Ill give him credit for that, but everyone was staring. I wouldnt have stopped him and Im sure no one else would have stopped him either, but he couldnt bring himself to do it. It was no more public then than it had been earlier and the same people were present in both cases. It was clear that I had taken the initiative and that I had no objections, but he could not bring himself to violate the proprieties. The conditions, which had been hand-on-thigh in the afternoon, were not hand-on-thigh in the evening and that meant more than anything logic could say."
Seldon said, "I would have put my hand on your thigh."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive."
"Even though your standards of decency on the beach are higher than ours are?"
"Yes."
Dors sat down on her own cot, then lay down with her hands behind her head. "So that youre not particularly disturbed that Im wearing a nightgown with very little underneath it."
"Im not particularly shocked. As for being disturbed, that depends on the definition of the word. Im certainly aware of how youre dressed."
"Well, if were going to be cooped up here for a period of time, well have to learn to ignore such things."
"Or take advantage of them," said Seldon, grinning. "And I like your hair. After seeing you bald all day, I like your hair."
"Well, dont touch it. I havent washed it yet." She half-closed her eyes. "Its interesting. Youve detached the informal and formal level of respectability. What youre saying is that Helicon is more respectable at the informal level than Cinna is and less respectable at the formal level. Is that right?"
"Actually, Im just talking about the young man who placed his hand on your thigh and myself. How representative we are as Cinnians and Heliconians, respectively, I cant say. I can easily imagine some perfectly proper individuals on both worlds--and some madcaps too."
"Were talking about social pressures. Im not exactly a Galactic traveler, but Ive had to involve myself in a great deal of social history. On the planet of Derowd, there was a time when premarital sex was absolutely free. Multiple sex was allowed for the unmarried and public sex was frowned upon only when traffic was blocked: And yet, after marriage, monogamy was absolute and unbroken. The theory was that by working off all ones fantasies first, one could settle down to the serious business of life."
"Did it work?"
"About three hundred years ago that stopped, but some of my colleagues say it stopped through external pressure from other worlds who were losing too much tourist business to Derowd. There is such a thing as overall Galactic social pressure too."
"Or perhaps economic pressure, in this case."
"Perhaps. And being at the University, by the way, I get a chance to study social pressures, even without being a Galactic traveler. I meet people from scores of places inside and outside of Trantor and one of the pet amusements in the social science departments is the comparison of social pressures.
"Here in Mycogen, for instance, I have the impression that sex is strictly controlled and is permitted under only the most stringent rules, all the mo............
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