The Afterglow by
George Allan England
CHAPTER I. DEATH, LIFE, AND LOVE
Life! Life again, and light, the sun and the fresh winds of heaven, the perfect azure of a June sky, the perfume of the passionate red blooms along the lips of the chasm, the full-throated song of hidden birds within the wood to eastward--life, beauty, love--such, the sunrise hour when Allan and the girl once more stood side by side in the outer world, delivered from the perils of the black Abyss.
Hardly more real than a disordered nightmare now, the terrible fall into those depths, the captivity among the white barbarians, the battles and the ghastly scenes of war, the labors, the perilous escape.
All seemed to fall and fade away from these two lovers, all save their joy in life and in each other, their longing for the inevitable greater passion, pain and joy, their clear-eyed outlook into the vast and limitless possibilities of the future, their future and the world's.
And as they stood there, hand in hand beside the body of the fallen patriarch--he whose soul had passed in peace, even at the moment of his life's fulfilment, his knowledge of the sun--awe overcame them both. With a new tenderness, mingled with reverent adoration, Stern drew the girl once more to him.
Her face turned up to his and her arms tightened about his neck. He kissed her brow beneath the parted masses of her wondrous hair. His lips rested a moment on her eyes; and then his mouth sought hers and burned its passion into her very soul.
Suddenly she pushed him back, panting. She had gone white; she trembled in his clasp.
“Oh, your kiss--oh, Allan, what is this I feel?--it seems to choke me!” she gasped, clutching her full bosom where her heart leaped like a prisoned creature. “Your kiss--it is so different now! No, no--not again--
He released her, for he, too was shaking in the grip of new, fierce passions.
“Forgive me!” he whispered. “I--I forgot myself, a moment. Not yet--no, not yet. You're right, Beatrice. A thousand things are pressing to be done. And love--must wait!”
He clenched his fists and strode to the edge of the chasm, where, for a while, he stood alone and silent, gazing far down and away, mastering himself, striving to get himself in leash once more.
Then suddenly he turned and smiled.
“Come, Beta,” said he. “All this must be forgotten. Let's get to work. The whole world's waiting for us, for our labor. It's eager for our toil!”
She nodded. In her eyes the fire had died, and now only the light of comradeship and trust and hope glowed once again.
“Our first duty--” She gestured toward the body of the patriarch, nobly still beneath the rough folds of the mantle they had drawn over it.
“Yes,” murmured he. “And his grave shall be for all the future ages a place of pilgrimage and solemn thought. Where first, one of lost Folk issued again into the world and where he died, this shall be a monument of the new time now coming to its birth.
“His grave shall lie here on this height, where the first sun shall each day for ages fall upon it, supreme in its deep symbolism. Forever it shall be a memorial, not of death, but life, of liberty, of hope!”
They kept a moment's silence, then Stern added.
“So now, to work!” From the biplane he fetched the ax. With this he cut and trimmed a branch from a near-by fir. He sharpened it to a flat blade three or four inches across. In the deep red sand along the edge of the Abyss he set to work, scooping the patriarch's grave.
In silence Beatrice took the ax and also labored, throwing the sand away. Together, in an hour, they had dug a trench sufficiently deep and wide.
“This must do, for now,” said Stern, looking up at last. “Some time he shall have fitting burial, but for the present we can do no more. Let us now commit his body to the earth, the Great Mother which created and which waits always to give everlasting sleep, peace, rest.”
Together, silently, they bore him to the grave, still wrapped in the cloak which now had become his shroud. Once more they gazed upon the noble face of him they had grown to love in the long weeks of the Abyss, when only he had understood them or seemed near.
“What is this, Allan?” asked the girl, touching a fine chain of gold about the patriarch's neck, till now unnoticed.
Allan drew at the chain, and a small golden cylinder was revealed, curiously carven. Its lightness told him it was hollow.
“Some treasure of his, I imagine,” judged he.
“Some record, perhaps? Oughtn't we to look?”
He thought a moment in silence, then detached the chain.
“Yes,” said he. “It can't help him now. It may help us. He himself would have wanted us to have it.”
And into the pocket of his rough, brown cassock, woven of the weed-fiber of the dark sea, he slid the chain and golden cylinder.
A final kiss they gave the patriarch, each; then, carefully wrapping his face so that no smallest particle of sand should come in contact with it, stood up. At each other they gazed, understandingly.
“Flowers? Some kind of service?” asked the girl.
“Yes. All we can do for him will be too little!”
Together they brought armfuls of the brilliant crimson and purple blooms along the edge of the sands, where forest and barren irregularly met; and with these, fir and spruce boughs, the longer to keep his grave freshly green.
All about him they heaped the blossoms. The patriarch lay at rest among beauties he never had beheld, colors arid fragrances that to him had been but dim traditions of antiquity.
“I can't preach,” said Stern. “I'm not that kind, anyway, and in this new world all that sort of thing is out of place. Let's just say good-by, as to a friend gone on a long, long journey.”
Beatrice could no longer keep back her grief. Kneeling beside the grave, she arranged the flowers and the evergreens, on which her tears fell shining.
“Dust unto dust!” Stern said. “To you, oh Mother Nature, we give back the body of this friend, your son. May the breeze blow gently here, the sun shine warm, and the birds forever sing his requiem. And may those who shall come after us, when we too sleep, remember that in him we had a friend, without whom the world never again could have hoped for any new birth, any life! To him we say good-by--eternally! Dust unto dust; good-by!”
“Good-by!” whispered the girl. Then, greatly overcome, she arose and walked away.
Stern, with his naked hands, filled the shallow grave and, this done, rolled three large boulders onto it, to protect it from the prowling beasts of the wild.
Beatrice returned. They strewed more flowers and green boughs, and in silence stood a while, gazing at the lowlier bed of their one friend on earth.
Suddenly Stern took her hand and drew her toward him.
“Come, come, Beatrice,” said he, “he is not dead. He still lives in our memories. His body, aged and full of pain, is gone, but his spirit still survives in us--that indomitable sold which, buried alive in blindness and the dark, still strove to keep alive the knowledge and traditions of the upper world, hopes of attaining it, and visions of a better time to be!
“Was ever greater human courage, faith or strength? Let us not grieve. Let us rather go away strengthened and inspired by this wonderful life that has just passed. In us, let all his hopes and aspirations come to reality.
“His death was happy. It was as he wished it, Beatrice, for his one great ambition was fully granted--to know