"Why, foolish one! What could hinder them?"
"Wild beasts," said Dan. "Poisonous insects, disease, flood, storm, lawless people, death!"
"I never heard those words," said Galatea. "There are no such things here." She sniffed contemptuously. "Lawless people!"
"What is death?"
"It's--" Dan paused helplessly. "It's like falling asleep and never waking. It's what happens to everyone at the end of life."
"I never heard of such a thing as the end of life!" said the girl decidedly. "There isn't such a thing."
"What happens, then," queried Dan desperately, "when one grows old?"
"Nothing, silly! No one grows old unless he wants to, like Leucon. A person grows to the age he likes best and then stops. It's a law!"
Dan gathered his chaotic thoughts. He stared into Galatea's dark, lovely eyes. "Have you stopped yet?"
The dark eyes dropped; he was amazed to see a deep, embarrassed flush spread over her cheeks. She looked at Leucon nodding reflectively on his bench, then back to Dan, meeting his gaze.
"Not yet," he said.
"And when will you, Galatea?"
"When I have had the one child permitted me. You see"--she stared down at her dainty toes--"one cannot--bear children--afterwards."
"Permitted? Permitted by whom?"
"By a law."
"Laws! Is everything here governed by laws? What of chance and accidents?"
"What are those--chance and accidents?"
"Things unexpected--things unforeseen."
"Nothing is unforeseen," said Galatea, still soberly. She repeated slowly, "Nothing is unforeseen." He fancied her voice was wistful.
Leucon looked up. "Enough of this," he said abruptly. He turned to Dan, "I know these words of yours--chance, disease, death. They are not for Paracosma. Keep them in your unreal country."
"Where did you hear them, then?"
"From Galatea's mother," said the Grey Weaver, "who had them from your predecessor--a phantom who visited here before Galatea was born."
Dan had a vision of Ludwig's face. "What was he like?"
"Much like you."
"But his name?"
The old man's mouth was suddenly grim. "We do not speak of him," he said and rose, entering the dwelling in cold silence.
"He goes to weave," said Galatea after a moment. Her lovely, piquant face was still troubled.
"What does he weave?"
"This," She fingered the silver cloth of her gown. "He weaves it out of metal bars on a very clever machine. I do not know the method."
"Who made the machine?"
"It was here."
"But--Galatea! Who built the house? Who planted these fruit trees?"
"They were here. The house and trees were always here." She lifted her eyes. "I told you everything had been foreseen, from the beginning until eternity--everything. The house and trees and machine were ready for Leucon and my parents and me. There is a place for my child, who will be a girl, and a place for her child--and so on forever."
Dan thought a moment. "Were you born here?"
"I don't know." He noted in sudden concern that her eyes were glistening with tears.
"Galatea, dear! Why are you unhappy? What's wrong?"
"Why, nothing!" She shook her black curls, smiled suddenly at him. "What could be wrong? How can one be unhappy in Paracosma?" She sprang erect and seized his hand. "Come! Let's gather fruit for tomorrow."
She darted off in a whirl of flashing silver, and Dan followed her around the wing of the edifice. Graceful as a dancer she leaped for a branch above her head, caught it laughingly, and tossed a great golden globe to him. She loaded his arms with the bright prizes and sent him back to the bench, and when he returned, she piled it so full of fruit that a deluge of colorful spheres dropped around him. She laughed again, and sent them spinning into the brook with thrusts of her rosy toes, while Dan watched her with an aching wistfulness. Then suddenly she was facing him; for a long, tense instant they stood motionless, eyes upon eyes, and then she turned away and walked slowly around to the arched portal. He followed her with his burden of fruit; his mind was once more in a turmoil of doubt and perplexity.
The little sun was losing itself behind the trees of that colossal forest to the west, and a coolness stirred among long shadows. The brook was purple-hued in the dusk, but its cheery notes mingled still with the flower music. Then the sun was hidden; the shadow fingers darkened the meadow; of a sudden the flowers were still, and the brook gurgled alone in a world of silence. In silence too, Dan entered the doorway.
The chamber within was a spacious one, floored with large black and white squares; exquisite benches of carved marble were here and there. Old Leucon, in a far corner, bent over an intricate, glistening mechanism, and as Dan entered he drew a shining length of silver cloth from it, folded it, and placed it carefully aside. There was a curious, unearthly fact that Dan noted; despite windows open to the evening, no night insects circled the globes that glowed at intervals from niches in the walls.
Galatea stood in a doorway to his left, leaning half-wearily against the frame; he placed the bowl of fruit on a bench at the entrance and moved to her side.
"This is yours," she said, indicating the room beyond. He looked in upon a pleasant, smaller chamber; a window framed a starry square, and a thin, swift, nearly silent stream of water gushed from the mouth of a carved human head on the left wall, curving into a six-foot basin sunk in the floor. Another of the graceful benches covered with the silver cloth completed the furnishings; a single glowing sphere, pendant by a chain from the ceiling, illuminated the room. Dan turned to the girl, whose eyes were still unwontedly serious.
"This is ideal," he said, "but, Galatea, how am I to turn out the light?"
"Turn it out?" she said. "You must cap it--so!" A faint smile showed again on her lips as she dropped a metal covering over the shining sphere. They stood tense in the darkness; Dan sensed her nearness achingly, and then the light was on once more. She moved toward the door, and there paused, taking his hand.
"Dear shadow," she said softly, "I hope your dreams are music." She was gone.
Dan stood irresolute in his chamber; he glanced into the large room where Leucon still bent over his work, and the Grey Weaver raised a hand in a solemn salutation, but said nothing. He felt no urge for the old man's silent company and turned back into his room to prepare for slumber.
Almost instantly, it seemed, the dawn was upon him and bright elfin pipings were all about him, while the odd ruddy sun sent a broad slanting plane of light across the room. He rose as fully aware of his surroundings as if he had not slept at all; the pool tempted him and he bathed in stinging water. Thereafter he emerged into the central chamber, noting curiously that the globes still glowed in dim rivalry to the daylight. He touched one casually; it was cool as metal to his fingers, and lifted freely from its standard. For a moment he held the cold flaming thing in his hands, then replaced it and wandered into the dawn.
Galatea was dancing up the path, eating a strange fruit as rosy as her lips. She was merry again, once more the happy nymph who had greeted him, and she gave him a bright smile as he chose a sweet green ovoid for his breakfast.
"Come on!" she called. "To the river!"
She skipped away toward the unbelievable forest; Dan followed, marveling that her lithe speed was so easy a match for his stronger muscles. Then they were laughing in the pool, splashing about until Galatea drew herself to the bank, glowing and panting. He followed her as she lay relaxed; strangely, he was neither tired nor breathless, with no sense of exertion. A question recurred to him, as yet unasked.
"Galatea," said his voice, "Whom will you take as mate?"
Her eyes went serious. "I don't know," she said. "At the proper time he will come. That is a law."
"And will you be happy?"
"Of course." She seemed troubled. "Isn't everyone happy?"
"Not where I live, Galatea."
"Then that must be a strange place--that ghostly world of yours. A rather terrible place."
"It is, often enough," Dan agreed. "I wish--" He paused. What did he wish? Was he not talking to an illusion, a dream, an apparition? He looked at the girl, at her glistening black hair, her eyes, her soft white skin, and then, for a tragic moment, he tried to feel the arms of that drab hotel chair beneath his hands--and failed. He smiled; he reached out his fingers to touch her bare arm, and for an instant she looked back at him with startled, sober eyes, and sprang to her feet.
"Come on! I want to show you my country." She set off down the stream, and Dan rose reluctantly to follow.
What a day that was! They traced the little river from still pool to singing rapids, and ever about them were the strange twitterings and pipings that were the voices of the flowers. Every turn brought a new vista of beauty; every moment brought a new sense of delight. They talked or were silent; when they were thirsty, the cool river was at hand; when they were hungry, fruit offered itself. When they were tired, there was always a deep pool and a mossy bank; and when they were rested, a new beauty beckoned. The incredible trees towered in numberless forms of fantasy, but on their own side of the river was still the flower-starred meadow. Galatea twisted him a bright-blossomed garland for his head, and thereafter he moved always with a sweet singing about him. But little by little the red sun slanted toward the forest, and the hours dripped away. It was Dan who pointed it out, and reluctantly they turned homeward.
As they returned, Galatea sang a strange song, plaintive and sweet as the medley of river and flower music. And again her eyes were sad.
"What song is that?" he asked.
"It is a song sung by another Galatea," she answered, "who is my mother." She laid her hand on his arm. "I will make it into English for you." She sang: "The River lies in flower and fern, In flower and fern it breathes a song. It breathes a song of your return, Of your return in years too long. In years too long its murmurs bring Its murmurs bring their vain replies, Their vain replies the flowers sing, The flowers sing, 'The River lies!'"
Her voice quavered on the final notes; there was silence save for the tinkle of water and the flower bugles. Dan said, "Galatea--" and paused. The girl was again somber-eyed, tearful. He said huskily, "That's a sad song, Galatea. Why was your mother sad? You said everyone was happy in Paracosma."
"She broke a law," replied the girl tonelessly. "It is the inevitable way to sorrow." She faced him. "She fell in love with a phantom!" Galatea said. "One of your shadowy race, who came and stayed and then had to go back. So when her appointed lover came, it was too late; do you understand? But she yielded finally to the law, and is forever unhappy, and goes wandering from place to place about the world." She paused. "I shall never break a law," she said defiantly.
Dan took her hand. "I would not have you unhappy, Galatea. I want you always happy."
She shook her head. "I am happy," she said, and smiled a tender, wistful smile.
They were silent a long time as they trudged the way homeward. The shadows of the forest giants reached out across the river as the sun slipped behind them. For a distance they walked hand in hand, but as they reached the path of pebbly brightness near the house, Galatea drew away and sped swiftly before him. Dan followed as quickly as he might; when he arrived, Leucon sat on his bench by the portal, and Galatea had paused on the threshold. She watched his approach with eyes in which he again fancied the glint of tears.
"I am very tired," she said, and slipped within.
Dan moved to follow, but the old man raised a staying hand.
"Friend from the shadows," he said, "will you hear me a moment?"
Dan paused, acquiesced, and dropped to the opposite bench. He felt a sense of foreboding; nothing pleasant awaited him.
"There is something to be said," Leucon continued, "and I say it without desire to pain you, if phantoms feel pain. It is this: Galatea loves you, though I think she has not yet realized it."
"I love her too," said Dan.
The Grey Weaver stared at him. "I do not understand. Substance, indeed, may love shadow, but how can shadow love substance?"
"I love her," insisted Dan.
"Then woe to both of you! For this is impossible in Paracosma; it is a confliction with the laws. Galatea's mate is appointed, perhaps even now approaching."
"Laws! Laws!" muttered Dan. "Whose laws are they? Not Galatea's nor mine!"
"But they are," said the Grey Weaver. "It is not for you nor for me to criticize them--though I yet wonder what power could annul them to permit your presence here!"
"I had no voice in your laws."
The old man peered at him in the dusk. "Has anyone, anywhere, a voice in the laws?" he queried.
"In my country we have," retorted Dan.
"Madness!" growled Leucon. "Man-made laws! Of what use are man-made laws with only man-made penalties, or none at all? If you shadows make a law that the wind shall blow only from the east, does the west wind obey it?"
"We do pass such laws," acknowledged Dan bitterly. "They may be stupid, but they're no more unjust than yours."
"Ours," said the Grey Weaver, "are the unalterable laws of the world, the laws of Nature. Violation is always unhappiness. I have seen it; I have known it in another, in Galatea's mother, though Galatea is stronger than she." He paused. "Now," he continued, "I ask only for mercy; your stay is short, and I ask that you do no more harm than is already done. Be merciful; give her no more to regret."
He rose and moved through the archway; when Dan followed a moment later, he was already removing a square of silver from his device in the corner. Dan turned silent and unhappy to his own chamber, where the jet of water tinkled faintly as a distant bell.
Again he rose at the glow of dawn, and again Galatea was before him, meeting him at the door with her bowl of fruit. She deposited her burden, giving him a wan little smile of greeting, and stood facing him as if waiting.
"Come with me, Galatea," he said.
"To the river bank. To talk."
They trudged in silence to the brink of Galatea's pool. Dan noted a subtle difference in the world about him; outlines were vague, the thin flower pipings less audible, and the very landscape was queerly unstable, shifting like smoke when he wasn't looking at it directly. And strangely, though he had brought the girl here to talk to her, he had now nothing to say, but sat in aching silence with his eyes on the loveliness of her face.
Galatea pointed at the red ascending sun. "So short a time," she said, "before you go back to your phantom world. I shall be sorry, very sorry." She touched his cheek with her fingers. "Dear shadow!"
"Suppose," said Dan huskily, "that I won't go. What if I won't leave here?" His voice grew fiercer. "I'll not go! I'm going to stay!"
The calm mournfulness of the girl's face checked him; he felt the irony of struggling against the inevitable progress of a dream. She spoke. "Had I the making of the laws, you should stay. But you can't, dear one. You can't!"
Forgotten now were the words of the Grey Weaver. "I love you, Galatea," he said.
"And I you," she whispered. "See, dearest shadow, how I break the same law my mother broke, and am glad to face the sorrow it will bring." She placed her hand tenderly over his. "Leucon is very wise and I am bound to obey him, but this is beyond his wisdom because he let himself grow old." She paused. "He let himself grow old," she repeated slowly. A strange light gleamed in her dark eyes as she turned suddenly to Dan.
"Dear one!" she said tensely. "That thing that happens to the old--that death of yours! What follows it?"
"What follows death?" he echoed. "Who knows?"
"But--" Her voice was quivering. "But one can't simply--vanish! There must be an awakening."