As they left the port authority office, Lieutenant Staff slowed his military gate, and offered his arm to Iolanthe. She took it and they turned down a cobblestone path beneath a bamboo cover and through a small garden. Red roses surrounded a small patch of grass. In the center of this lawn was a small fountain: an abstract shape spraying water into the air and then down into a pool about three feet across. Arranged around the little pool were carefully set rows of tiny yellow flowers of a type that Iolanthe had never seen before.
“What are those?” she wondered.
“I believe that they are called ‘bird feet’,” said Staff. “I don’t know why. They don’t look like bird’s feet to me.”
“If anything, they look like little faces,” said Iolanthe. “They’re quite pretty, don’t you think?”
“You know that garden represents the last bit of civilization that we’re likely to see for some time,” he said. “I know you are a strong woman, but you are a woman. I thought you should see something pretty before we get where we are going. There’s going to be very little to see there that’s pretty.”
“I think you may turn out to be wrong there,” she said.
Iolanthe took off her pith helmet, holding it in her right hand and primping the bun in which her auburn hair had been arranged, with her left hand. She looked into Lieutenant Staff’s eyes and felt a pressure in her chest that she had never felt before. It spread downward into her loins and out into her arms and legs. Her voice caught for just a moment.
“I like pretty things as much as any other woman,” she said finally. “But pretty things are just that—pretty things. Flowers in a vase will wilt in a few days. Those flowers by the fountain will be gone in a few weeks or months. The important things are the things that last. We’ll always be able to find a few pretties to place on a shelf or to plant by our door—but the shelf and the door, and the house and the city, and Kafiradom and Greater Brechalon—those are the important things we have to make sure we have.”
She watched his face to see what, if any, impact her words had on him. Then, when his eyes met hers again, she reached out with her right hand to grasp him by his shirt collar. Then pulling his face to hers, she kissed him firmly on the lips.