Chapter Thirty

This was near the dawn of the fourth day. Dick remained always in the same attitude, holding the dead girl in his arms. Mack, the hound, lay as always, loyal, patient to the last. After the girl's departure the wind fell and a great stillness seemed to have descended on the world.

The young man had lost the significance of his position, had forgotten the snow and cold and lack of food, had forgotten even the fact of death which he was hugging to his breast. His powers, burning clear in the spirit, were concentrated on the changes taking place within himself. By these things the world of manhood was opened to him; he was no longer a boy. To most it comes as a slow growth. With him it was revelation. The completeness of it shook him to the foundations of life. He took no account of the certainty of his own destruction. It seemed to him, in the thronging of new impressions, that he might sit there forever, a buddha of contemplation, looking on the world as his maturity had readjusted it.

Never now could he travel the Silent Places as he had heretofore, stupidly, blindly, obstinately, unthinkingly, worse than an animal in perception. The wilderness he could front intelligently, for he had seen her face. Never now could he conduct himself so selfishly, so brutally, so without consideration, as though he were the central point of the system, as though there existed no other preferences, convictions, conditions of being that might require the readjustment of his own. He saw these others for the first time. Never now could he live with his fellow beings in such blindness of their motives and the passions of their hearts. His own heart, like a lute, was strung to the pitch of humanity. Never now could he be guilty of such harm as he had unthinkingly accomplished on the girl. His eyes were opened to human suffering. The life of the world beat through his. The compassion of the greater humanity came to him softly, as a gift from the portals of death. The full savour of it he knew at last, knew that finally he had rounded out the circle of his domain.

This was what life required of his last consciousness. Having attained to it, the greater forces had no more concern with him. They left him, a poor, weak, naked human soul exposed to the terrors of the North. For the first time he saw them in all their dreadfulness. They clutched him with the fingers of cruel suffering so that his body was wracked with the tortures of dissolution. They flung before his eyes the obscene, unholy shapes of illusion. They filled his ears with voices. He was afraid. He cowered down, covering his eyes with his forearms, and trembled, and sobbed, and uttered little moans. He was alone in the world, alone with enemies who had him in their power and would destroy him. He feared to look up. The man's spirit was broken. All the accumulated terrors which his resolute spirit had thrust from him in the long months of struggle, rushed in on him now that his guard was down. They rioted in the empty chambers of his soul.

"Is it done?" they shrieked in triumph. "Is it over? Are you beaten? Is your spirit crushed? Is the victory ours? Is it done?"

Dick shivered and shrank as from a blow.

"Is it done?" the voices insisted. "Is it over? Are you beaten? Is it done?"

The man shrieked aloud in agony.

"Oh, my God!" he cried. "Oh, yes, yes, yes! I am beaten. I can do nothing. Kill me. It is done."