Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/42

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Children of Light are here. And She, who is keeper of my soul, awaits me yonder."

Again Crayne kept silence. He felt the electric tingling of his skin and hair under fox furs, as if soft fingers caressed him. There was no wind stirring; it was a night of calm silence, and the black sea and the ghostly bergs were all that eye could see. Yet Crayne saw the pulsing of the aurora take strange forms, like radiant creatures of dream fantasy, with streaming gossamers of green and roseate light. They swung over the heavens and dimmed the stars, and swept closer to earth. They floated in a ring of splendor, as if dancing about a circle in the center of which he and the captain stood.

"A marvelous night," he murmured, his voice constricted and strange in his own ears. Captain Ek dropped a hand on Crayne's arm for silence, and immediately sounded music fragile as tinkling glass, or violin bows drawn over crystal goblets.

Again Captain Ek spoke in his sonorous voice, and it seemed to draw the sweeping, swirling creatures of light nearer, until the radiance was so dazzling that Crayne closed his eyes. He heard a sigh that was almost a moan, and opening his eyes again, he found that he stood alone outside the radiance, which enveloped Captain Ek like a flame. Then it was gone, and the night was bafflingly dark after the splendor which had flown like a wind-driven cloud due north.

Captain Ek walked without a word to the igloo, followed by Crayne, who was shaken by that baptism of light and the fantastic optical delusion it produced.

For two weeks there was constant work, hunting and providing caches of food, stocking the Aurora with fresh meat, and selecting native crews and dogs in case of emergency. Then, with decks almost awash and fuzzy with dogs and fur-clad natives, the Aurora headed between the bergs of Smith Sound and made for Grant Land. Bitter cold fought them with fangs and claws. There were cutting winds, blinding drifts, and ice, but miraculously the Aurora plowed through until she lay at last on the north shore of Grant Land, and it was time to unload the Birmingham plane which Crayne and Murphy had been getting in order for quick lightering.

She was to carry Captain Ek, Crayne, Murphy, Bjornsen, two mechanics and a Negro cook; and none except the commander and his aide knew the story told by Captain Ek. It was a new route to Crayne, and he had only the stars, the compass, and the captain's sketchy drawings to guide him. Yet, equipped with the last and best aids of science for protection and physical necessity, Crayne had no misgivings about the journey when they hopped off an ice-field with a comparatively smooth sweep and left the little Aurora and her crew, and the natives like motes on the vast frozen wilderness.

The Birmingham had a speed of four hundred miles an hour, with a hundred and ninety to make before she reached the magnetic pole. Head winds cut her speed amazingly, yet in the gray twilight that breathes between