Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/48

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would be as weary of an account of a century and a half of one man's life as I should be in telling it. It is enough to say that in time my stubborn brain did fathom that command, and when I met a scientist of my own land, I asked him to accompany me to my home. It lies on a fiord of the north coast of Norway, a bleak place, cold even in the brief summer, but my valley was like the southland. Orange trees I had planted, scented the sea-wind; flowers grew as they do in Italy. The country people looked on me as a man of evil and the valley as accursed."

As the old man halted and sighed, Bjornsen the scientist cleared his throat and spoke: "I found the valley as Captain Ek has stated, and found the reason. It was underlain with that substance which is described by the word pitchblende, and rich in radium."

Captain Ek nodded.

"Wealth? I had more than a man could need; then the valley yielded its treasure, vaster than South African diamond mines. That fragment of the Bowl of Light had worked ceaselessly. I was richer than Aladdin, and lonelier than hell. No whimpering naked soul yammering at the gates of the damned was so alone. If I made friends, I outlived them, and for me there was no earthly love. Then evil came. I wanted to die, tried to die. Poison affected me not at all, for I tried it. I endured the agony and lived. And in dreams the Shades warned me I must not die a coward. Yet I tried. A train in front of which I threw myself was derailed and passengers injured when they put on brakes. A speeding automobile before which I stepped was smashed, and I was uninjured.

"I had tried to reach the Bowl, not once but many times; but in vain. Then came the chance with Commander Crayne. The rest you know. And now, my friends, the Bowl is near and I have tried to expiate my sin of cowardice. The hour is near when I shall again set feet on the Rainbow Arch and know if I have attained to the merit required of those warrior souls who reach Valhalla."

He ceased to speak and lay back on the couch. There was a long silence in which the deep breathing of the others was the only audible sound. It was broken by Murphy.

"Pitchblende and radium." he looked at Professor Bjornsen. "No foolin'!" he whispered.

"The truth," said the professor, "so far as the valley is concerned."

"And you think he really did find a fountain of Youth?" asked Commander Crayne quietly, his eyes turning to the couch where Captain Ek lay apparently asleep, his bronzed skin fresh and youthful in spite of the deeply chiseled lines of life's nailed scrawl.

"If he's a hundred an' fifty, I ain't born," muttered Murphy. "Bimini, you said was the name of that place this here Ponce de Leon was after. Why didn't he come here instead of the West Indies?"

"You must remember, Murphy, that science has pretty well established the fact that the tropics, at one period of the earth's existence, covered the