Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/45

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realized that he stood at her feet and his great height reached scarcely above her arched instep. They saw her head bend and a marvelous smile change her face; then she swept one arm and covered him with her glittering mantle, and the song of the dancers rose like a vast wind between the worlds, then gradually grew softer until it was again the chime of bells, the tinkle of ice. As it diminished, the radiant figure merged into the fringes of the pulsing aurora, and was swept away.

They stood mute and motionless. Crayne heard the Negro's teeth chattering like castanets, felt the piercing cold, and motioned him toward the cabin. Not a word was spoken as the men followed Mose. Crayne waited for Captain Ek, who had turned and came slowly, laboriously, toward the plane. He put out a hand to catch the old man, who was swaying on his feet. But he was amazed at the bitter cry that came:

"You have seen them. You have seen Her, who has waited for me this century or more. Now, for the love of your God, will you go forward? Grant me that one mercy, that I can bathe in the cold fire of that Light which vitalizes this puny earth, and join my Mate."

Crayne did not answer then. He got the old man into the cabin, and found the others still silent, except Murphy, who in low tones was hurrying the efforts of the badly shaken cook to serve hot soup and coffee.

Captain Ek lay on a narrow couch with closed eyes until Crayne touched him and proffered a steaming cup.

"Come, sir, you're cold as we all are. Drink this."

The old man opened eyes misted with dreams, stared about him, then shook his great body, and, reaching for the cup, swallowed it at a draft.

"How long," he cried, "how long will it be?"

"A day, Captain Ek," said Crayne quietly. "But I don't want to promise the impossible. I am as anxious as you to approach nearer that crater."

"You will fly over it. You will see the source of all life on this earth. You will land beside it where I can walk to the Bridge and bathe once more in the flame of life and death. Don't quibble now, Crayne. I have paid for this; paid as never man paid before. You will, if you have the guts, go back with such wealth that you can buy this earth. There in that Bowl is the stuff men call radium. I'm not asking you to believe that. You wouldn't believe. You didn't believe when I told you of the Bowl and the Children of Light. Now that you've seen them, I'll tell it all. These others have seen. They shall hear!

"I was born one hundred and sixty years ago," said the old man, "sea-born, on my father's fishing-boat in the North Sea.

"He had run away with my mother, the daughter of a wealthy thane, without time for a marriage ceremony; and because of her love for him she accepted his belief in the old gods of the Northland, Odin, Thor, and the reward of Valhalla. I was sixteen when we were wrecked off the north shores of Newfoundland when our vessel struck a berg in a fog. I saw the Valkyries carry the souls of my parents to that heaven of our belief. I heard

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