The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Ballad of Venus Nell

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Title: The Ballad of Venus Nell

Author: Nelson S. Bond

Illustrator: Don Lynch

Release date: May 11, 2020 [eBook #62096]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at


The Ballad of Venus Nell

By Nelson S. Bond

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Spring 1942.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Oh, the science of Man has narrowed the span
Between the near and the far,
With thunderous roar the great ships soar
From Earth to the dimmest star;
But though in their lust for gold they thrust
From planet to asteroid
The Will of the Great Astronomer still
Is the Will of the cosmic void.
And from Earth's own Sol to the ebon hole
Of the Coalsack's gaping maw
Though Man may jet, he is subject yet
To the Universal Law.
For whoever shall plot for another's lot,
Be he brother or foe or friend
Who seeks his gain of a fellowman’s pain
Has a price to pay in the end.
Now, Dougal MacNeer was a pioneer.
Just one of a million such
Who labor and toil in unmapped soil
With shovel and pick and hutch.
He was six-foot-two, and a man whom few
Would care to engage in a fight,
With shoulders as firm as a pachyderm;
A tower of granite might.
He had eyes of gray, and a quiet way
Of minding his own affairs;
He never came down to a commerce town
Save for fueling or ship repairs.
Thus it was that he roused the whys? and hows?
In the minds of the spaceport clique
When he landed at Krull[1] with his tanks half full
And rented a berth for a week.
The cradle-monk[2] stared, then boldly dared,
"By golly, you've struck it rich!
I always knew some day you'd come through,
You lucky son-of-a——"
Asked Doug MacNeer with a smile sincere,
"Is the best joy-joint in Krull?
I've lived alone till my mind's ingrown;
This prospecting life is dull.
"I want to go play from the dusk of day
Till I waken to morning bells."
The attendant said, with a nod of the head,
"You amble to Venus Nell's.
It's the hottest place in this end of space,
Just a couple of minutes' jaunt;
Nell's got music and games, and likker and dames
—And anything else you want!"
"Thanks, that sounds great!" said Mac. But, "Wait!"
Begged the other, "Gimme a break!
Help me out of this rut, MacNeer, and cut
Me in on a share of the take?"
"The take?" asked Doug with a little shrug,
"But I haven't made any find!"
And he strolled away with a whistle gay
While the monkey glowered behind.
In a moment or two, Doug wandered through
The gaudily-neoned door
Of a feverish-gay, bright cabaret;
Below, on the mirrored floor
Of the dancehall swayed a cavalcade
Of every breed and race
Whose daughters and sons defy the suns
To journey the ways of space.
A miner from Mars, pockmarked with scars
Pressed close to a woman from Io,
A Jovian baby drawled lazily, "Maybe—"
To pleas of a tar from Ohio;
A vicious-mouthed slattern from faraway Saturn
Sang ditties to make the hair curl.
And then—curtains parted, and Doug MacNeer started
To see such a beautiful girl!
Venus Nell was no saint, any preacher would paint
A bad ending for her at a peek.
But her worst enemy would be forced to agree
There was nothing wrong with her physique.
She was flat where it flattered, and curved where it mattered,
A creature of streamline and bubbles;
She had bright yaller hair, and a definite flair
For taking men's minds off their troubles.
She never had known the cap or the gown
Of grammar- or high-school or college,
Which didn't mean she couldn't win her A.B.
In a certain and specialized knowledge.
She had lure and illusion; creating confusion
'Mongst men was but one of her tricks.
Doug's eyes opened wide when she strolled to his side
—And he fell like a cargo of bricks!
She drawled, "Howdy, sailor!" and Dougal turned paler,
"H-howdy!" he managed to answer.
Then, in sudden alarm, "Are you one of the charm-
Gals?" he questioned, "Or only a dancer?"
Now, why an admission of her true position
Nell should at that moment decide
To conceal is a mystery buried in history;
Whatever the reason, she lied.
In fashion designed to make any man blind
She lowered her lashes and blushed.
(Which was no mean achievement itself.) "Oh, believe
Me! I'm no—entertainer," she gushed.
"I sell cigarettes, and I sometimes take bets
On the rocketship races—" MacNeer
Slowly nodded his head as he quietly said
"A girl like you shouldn't be here!
"I think we'd do well to get out of this hell
Of evil and vice," he decided.
Nell had to sit still and bite her lips till
Her inner amusement subsided.
This curious sucker, it suddenly struck her,
Meant business! His motives were pure.
To lead on the calf should be good for a laugh ...
She smiled at him, shy and demure.
"Oh, I cannot do that," she replied, "but a chat
In a quieter spot—?" And she led
Dougal out of the blare to a cool garden square
With the stars burning high overhead.
She gave orders by sign that a beaker of wine
Be served in their shady retreat,
And wondered how long it would be ere this strong,
Handsome stranger acknowledged defeat.
But strangest to tell, it was Doug and not Nell
Who emerged from that contest the victor.
It was nothing he did, but a loneliness hid
In her bosom that finally tricked her.
For Doug spoke of the night, and the glorious flight
Of ships through the reaches of Space;
Of his hopes and his schemes—and his words wakened dreams
That softened the lines of Nell's face.
He was just on the verge of confessing the urge
That brought him back out of the void
When a servant discreet appeared in their retreat
And Nell faced the fellow, annoyed.
"Well?" she icily said. The man bobbed his head.
"A visiphone call on the rack."
Nell sighed as she rose. "Some friend, I suppose.
Wait, Dougal; I'll hurry right back."
An expression surprisingly soft in her eyes,
She answered the visiphone.
Her caller, however (the cradle-monk), never
Detected her altered tone.
"Hey, Nell, there's a chump on his way to your dump,
A big, quiet sort of a lout
By name of MacNeer—" Nell told him, "He's here;
What's all the commotion about?"
A hungry grimace of greed mottled the face of
The vengeful space-harbor assistant.
"Do I get my percent for a tip on the gent?"
He parried in accents insistent.
"You mean—?" whispered Nell. And, "Surer than hell!"
The answer came back, swift and eager,
"I've just seen his log, and he's in from the Bog
With a claim-stake the size of Omega!"
Now, for those who don't know their A. L. & O.[3]
The "Bog" is a treacherous sector
Of planetoids legion, a tightly-packed region
Avoided by every prospector.
None but the most daring do any space-faring
In those lethal, whirlagig niches,
But spacemen all claim that the Bog is aflame
With infinite, fabulous riches.
'Twas thence that the crew of the L-32
Returned with a cargo of ore
That assayed ninety-one and a half to the ton
—Or maybe a little bit more.
It was out of the Bog that old space-weasel Scrogg
Withdrew on his gravity-tractor
The rock 4-Omega, which brought such a figure
Scrogg set himself up as a Factor.
So it's easily seen why Nell's new, serene
Complaisance should disappear rudely.
She gasped and she started; her crimson lips parted;
Her eyes narrowed sharply and shrewdly.
"You're positive?" Slyly responded the spy,
"Why else would he put into Krull
With motors O.Q., and flame-jets brand-new,
And fuel-chambers more than half-full?"
Now, though Nelly was young, as has often been sung,
Her chosen profession was old.
Both instinct and habit advised her to "Grab it!"
Whenever she heard the word "gold."
She broke the connection, her vivid complexion
More flushed, and with movements exotic
Returned to the glade in which Dougal had stayed,
Her inner emotions chaotic.
She studied MacNeer as she slowly drew near,
Appraising him in a new light.
Nell trusted her spy; he would not tell a lie—
But somehow it didn't seem right!
MacNeer didn't act like a man who had cracked
A cache of asteroid dough,
And yet—Venus Nell smiled tightly—Ah, well,
She'd know in a minute or so.
With a cute little shrug she curled on the rug
And smiled into Doug's sober face.
"Go on!" she implored, "and tell me some more
About your adventures in Space.
Have you ever struck gold in the terrible cold?"
Her voice was a query and taunt.
Doug grinned at her there as he fondled her hair.
"I've found all the gold that I want!"
Nell's eyes opened wide. "You have?" she replied,
And suddenly somewhere within her
A duel transpired 'tween the Nell who admired
This miner and Nelly the sinner.
Which would have won out is a matter of doubt
But Dougal MacNeer, growing bolder,
At that moment tossed dice with Fate—and he lost!
—By placing a hand on her shoulder.
He bent to her ear, and, "Nelly, my dear,"
He whispered, "Come lift gravs with me
To the skyways above ... I'll teach you to love ...
How wonderfully happy we'll be...."
And—that was a story to Nell old and hoary;
Nell shrugged with a gesture resigned;
A lustful and bestial man, just like the rest
Of his sex....
And she made up her mind.
Averting her face, she escaped his embrace
And whispered, "Wait here for a minute—"
A prearranged sign brought a fresh jug of wine
To Doug—with a sleeping drug in it.
Dougal, gleaming of eye, the glass lifted high
And drank it down, swiftly and deep;
In no time at all, he lay there asprawl
In impotent, stertorous sleep.
A pungent aroma jarred Doug from his coma
Much later. He lifted his head
To find he was not in the cool, shady grot
But in some sort of workshop, instead.
His senses were blurry, his tongue thick and furry;
He gagged at the odor and choked.
Then, head still awhirl, he noticed the girl,
And, "Nelly, where are we?" he croaked.
But the girl standing there with the bright yaller hair
Was hardly the girl of his dreams.
She was distant and cold, her manner was bold,
Her eyes glistened brightly with schemes.
With icy élan she spoke to the man
At Dougal's side, "Very well, Gurk,
He's come to his senses, let's drop the pretenses;
Its time we got down to our work."
"Work, Nell?" Dougal gasped, and confusedly clasped
His hammering head in his hands.
He learned, then, that he was bound, foot and knee,
To his seat by unbreakable bands.
Nell said with a numb, deadly smile, "Don't play dumb!
Be smart and you'll shorten this visit.
We know from your log you struck gold in the Bog;
Now, come clean and tell us—where is it?"
"G-gold?" gulped MacNeer. "Th-there's some mistake here!"
He grinned, "Aw, you're kidding me, honey!
Now, be a good sport—" The girl cut him short,
"I don't think this matter is funny!
I gave you a chance to go into your dance;
If you won't, why—" She shifted her eyes
To her white-coated aide. "Well, Gurk, I'm afraid
He must talk through the menavise."
As Doug MacNeer's eyes opened wide in surprise
Gurk drew from a nearby cask
A shimmering, fiery helmet of wire;
A sinister sort of mask.
Doug never had seen the fantastic machine
Before, but he'd oftentimes heard
Of the dreaded and hated device that translated
Men's thoughts into spoken words!
With a terrible cry of anger, on high
He lifted his brawny fists,
But an instrument clicked, and manacles snicked!
Like vises about his wrists.
"Well, now will you tell us?" persisted Nell.
"There's nothing to tell!" he said.
Nell's warm lips drew fine, and she made a brief sign ...
And the helmet dropped over his head!

It was Nell who depressed the stud that expressed
In flaming, electric flood
The current that boils its way through the coils
Of a menavisal hood.
There was silence at first, then the silence burst
In a moment of horror fraught,
As Doug MacNeer's voice babbled clear
In fragments of tortured thought.
"I don't understand ... I can't move a hand ...
head aches, and my brain is on fire....
Stars ... Nelly ... Oh, Lord!" Thus Dougal's thoughts poured
In words through the webwork of wire.
"Must be a mistake ... I can't be awake
The orbit of Ceres is reckoned
"At three-oh-oh-ten...." Nell stepped forward then.
"O.Q., Gurk—let up for a second!"
The shimmering died, and to Dougal she cried,
"MacNeer, all we want to know
Is: Where is the gold? As soon as you've told
We promise to let you go."
"I've told you already," gasped Doug, unsteady,
"You're wrong if you think I'm rich—"
Nell's scarlet mouth curled. "Fool! Liar!" she snarled;
She viciously closed the switch.
Once again sallow flame trembled hot through the frame
Of the menavise; once again
Electrical stresses probed deep the recesses
Of Dougal's tormented brain.
"The torments of hell—but I never can tell ...
A man must fight to the end ...
My eyes—I've gone blind ... my head ... and my mind ...
If I only ... could only ... bend...."
It is better to not reveal just what
Things Dougal said and did
In the hour or more that followed, for
Such secrets are better hid.
He babbled of dreams, and hopes and schemes,
And names long lost in the past;
He spoke of flight through the endless night,
And of cosmic reaches vast.
But never he told of wealth or gold,
Though now he was growing weak;
Till finally the girl turned to her churl
Lips set, and as marble bleak.
"He's stalled long enough!" she rasped. "He's tough,
And he's held out for more than an hour;
But I'm going to get that secret yet,
If I have to turn on full power!"
Gurk shook his head, and warningly said,
"I wouldn't attempt it, Nell!
'Twould be of no use, an ounce more juice
Would blister his mind to hell.
He's weak as a cat; if you try that—"
He frowned—"After all that he's had,
Another degree of power would be
Sufficient to drive him mad!"
"That's up to him!" cried Nell, and grim
Of eye she approached the side
Of Doug MacNeer, and, "Listen here,
You obstinate fool!" she cried,
As she pressed the key to the last degree,
"You know very well you told
Me you'd found all the gold that a man could want
—Now, answer: Where is that gold?"
The menavise flamed, the battered and maimed
Hulk standing before them jerked
As the blistering pain seared Dougal's brain,
MacNeer's lips horribly worked....
And across the tomblike expanse of the room
His feeble answer carried:
"... lonely as hell ... must ask sweet Nell ...
It's time I was getting married...."
"I think that she ... and I could be ...
So happy ... a golden prize....
But ... Oh, the pain!" And he screamed again,
The light died out of his eyes.
And Nell stood aghast, to have seen at last
The terrible answer bare:
The gold of his dream was the glorious stream
Of her own bright yaller hair!

So, stranger, if you should happen to
Drop jets in the City of Krull
By chance you may meet on a quiet street
A man who with movements dull
Roams up and down through the little town
Like someone bewitched by a spell;
And the one at his side, his companion and guide
Is the lady once known as Nell.
For the woman who made of love a trade
And discovered true love too late
Has paid at last for the sins of her past
With Dougal MacNeer as her mate.
Her hair, that was gold, is streaked now with cold
White tendrils, but still she sighs
And she waits and she prays, through long, endless days,
For the light to return to his eyes.
For—Man in his lust for raw gold may thrust
From planet to asteroid,
But the will of the Great Astronomer still
Is the Will of the cosmic void.
And whoever shall plot for another's lot,
Be he brother or foe or friend,
Who seeks his gain of a fellowman's pain
Must pay a price in the end.

[1] Krull, a mining town in N. Campbell Terr., Mars. 84 m. SW of Sand City; pop. 3,587.

[2] Cradle-monkey; spaceport attendant.

[3] A. L. & O.—Astrogational Loci and Orbits, the space mariner's handbook.