Chapter 24 [Out of the Silence, by Erle Cox]

[Editor: This is a chapter from Out of the Silence (1947 edition) by Erle Cox (1873-1950).]

Chapter XXIV

Alan reached “Cootamundra” somewhat steadied by his drive, and with the determination of letting Glen Cairn think what it pleased until he would be ready to enlighten the disgruntled township. The soft, velvety dusk had set in, and a full moon was beginning to climb into the sky by the time he had finished with Billy and turned to the homestead. He felt perfectly sure that Earani would be back before him, and he intended to go straight to the “temple,” where he expected to find her; but as he approached the verandah he saw her awaiting him beneath its shadow.

He stood bareheaded before her, and for a time neither spoke. It was the woman who broke the silence. “Am I forgiven?” she asked, holding out both hands. There was an adorable penitence in her glorious eyes, and the little upturned palms pleaded more eloquently than the voice. Forgotten; forgotten the humiliation and the anger; forgotten the reproaches; and his mind was swept clear of the jarring trouble of the day. The few softly murmured words healed every wound. “Oh, Earani!” he broke out, “what is there to forgive? The blame was mine alone. I should have warned you. I should have made you understand. Can you forgive me?”

One soft hand fell lightly on his arm. “Let us forget for the time, Alan. Is this a night to let troubles come between us? Look!” The growing moonlight threw its mystery over them. Across the flats from the river line floated streamers of silvery mists, like long battalions of wraiths. The silver light on the dew-drenched grass spread a jewelled carpet before them. The great stretch of naked vines was toned to a grey haze, and every harsh line softened and melted into the dim landscape. But over all was the silence of great spaces — that solemn stillness that only falls where nature is still untroubled by the works of men.

There was a long silence. It seemed to Alan that he was living in a dream. Her hand still rested on his arm, and she stood absolutely motionless, gazing into the night. He turned and looked into her face, and as he did so it seemed that the great wave of love and adoration that rushed into his heart swept away every trace of fear and doubt. Unabashed his eyes drank in her radiant beauty — the beauty that had taken possession of his soul from the first time his eyes had fallen on her seemed to have grown as the days had passed, until now, with the rapt mystery in her eyes, she seemed something unearthly in her loveliness. The light touch of her white hand on his arm burnt like fire, and he felt his body quivering with the wild desire to clasp her to him, and words that could not find utterance storming to his lips. As though drawn by the intensity of his passion, she turned her head slowly until her eyes met his. For a moment the revelation in them held him dumbfounded. Then he whispered her name. “Earani! Oh, Earani, is it ——” He broke off, unable to frame the words that held his fate. Her eyes met his, fearless, but with a new and splendid light in them. “Alan, why do you fear to speak the words that your heart bids you speak? Or do the maidens of your race tell their love to the men?”

He caught the slender white hand in his. “I have been silent, Earani, my loved one, because I dared not hope. Who am I that I should hope? Oh, love, I am not worthy. It was enough to be near you, to hear your voice, to worship from afar. I love you, Earani — love you! Oh, Earani, be pitiful to the heart that worships you!” And as he spoke her free hand stole about his neck, and the great grey eyes, so grave at first, grew softer with a strange shyness. Then the shadow of lashes hid the confession they bore within them. Then he knew; and with a glad cry of rapture his arms swept her to him, and he pressed his face to the bowed head on his shoulder. And for a space the world stood still. Then to his whispered entreaty she raised her face to his, and their lips met.

Later, arm in arm and soul in soul, they wandered away together into the night, through a new world empty of all save themselves; and the round moon looked down on the maid of the long-lost race and the man of the new, telling each other the old, wordless story. So at length they reached the river and came to rest, Earani seated on a fallen log and Alan at her feet.

With a little laugh she encircled his neck with her arms and bent over him, looking into his eyes. “Oh, man of mine, are we wise? I have given my heart and all, and, by my love for you, perhaps it were better had we left the tale untold.”

“There never were two people half so wise, Earani,” he answered, taking the hand that caressed his head and holding it to his lips. “To doubt the right to our happiness would be almost blasphemy.”

“And yet, Alan ——” She paused with a little sigh.

“And yet?” he queried.

“I have the gift that has been developed by generations before me of reading the minds of others, and to-day I read in the mind of a woman who stood near you a love for you that is as strong and as deep as mine. Oh, Alan! my love, perhaps — and I say it because I love you — it had been better had I stood aside. It may be that your greater happiness lay there. Tell me what lies between you?”

Simply, in answer, Dundas told the tale, omitting nothing, sparing himself nothing. “So you see,” he said in the end, “whatever might have been is past. I am sorry — more sorry than I can say, because I know she is good — if I have harmed her; but, beloved, can a man fight against the real love that comes unsought? Would I not wrong her more by going to her when every beat of my heart is for you, and every thought of my mind is of you?”

“Perhaps it is written so, and we must follow the path laid down.” She smiled down at him. “You were right when you said we were only women and can never get away from it; for almost I could have slain her when I felt her love for you, even though I have known from the very first of your love for me.”

Alan laughed in turn. “This love seems to bring us back to the beginning of things, for I, too, think that way of Andax, who waits his freedom. What will he say when he knows you are promised to me?”

Earani drew his head closer, and bent over him smiling. “So, big man of mine, you think Andax might want me for himself. You need have no fear of that. Andax — well, neither he nor any of his blood ever gave a thought to women. From his point of view we have a low economic value, and our sole purpose in his mind is that we continue the race. He knows, too, the law that was laid on us that if we survived the wrecked world we might not inter-marry. When the time comes he will ask me to find him a wife, and, provided she comes up to certain physical and mental standards which he will expect me to inquire into, he will not care what she looks like, and probably won’t notice.” She shrugged her shoulders with a laugh. “Ah, Alan! he will not be an exacting husband; but I won’t envy the woman who is chosen.”

“I shouldn’t think he would be very attractive,” replied Alan, with a weight off his mind.

“And yet,” answered Earani, “women have thrown themselves at the feet of men of the same blood; have died for them; have sinned for them; knowing them all to be as callous as stones. It is too true, Alan; no amount of development would make us anything but women.”

“Thank God for that,” said Dundas. “Had it been otherwise you would have stayed at home to-day instead of exercising your perversity in stirring up my friends at Glen Cairn.”

Earani laughed quietly. “Tell me, Alan. Why did they fly like birds before a hawk? What code of yours have I outraged? I could feel the hatred of those women beat against me like stones.”

Dundas looked away, frowning. “Why worry about what they think? They are what they are. Dear heart, is their littleness worth a second thought of yours?”

She put her hand beneath his chin and raised his face to hers. “Tell me, Alan.”

His eyes fell before a sudden enlightenment in hers. “Earani, they hated you for your beauty, that made them look so small.”

But she judged more truly. “No, Alan; I see it now. They condemned me as unchaste.” She spoke without a tremor in her voice.

He caught the white hands in his. “Dear love, I would have spared you that thought ——” He broke off miserably, and bowed his head upon her knees, but she raised him again.

“I see it now, Alan. You must not blame yourself. But are the women of this world such that their good name could not stand were they to live alone with a man unguarded? Is their purity so weak a thing? With us a thought so vile would have brought shame only to the one that uttered it. Ah, Alan, this world of yours has further to go even than I thought.”

“That is why I tried to prevent you going, heart of my heart,” he said bitterly. “Truly they judged you as they would judge themselves. ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’” he quoted.

She smiled down at him, stroking his hair tenderly. “I pity them, Alan; perhaps we two together may teach them a greater faith, but ——” she paused for a moment, and an expression came into her eyes that startled him.

“What is it, Earani?” he asked.

She laughed again. “I was thinking that it is well at the time I did not read their thought, or perhaps the lesson may have been learned so swiftly that a score of lives would be too short a time to forget it.”

“A lesson would have done them good, I think,” replied Dundas; “but, you worker of wonders, you have not told me how you came to be there or how you left so suddenly. Teach me the answer to that riddle, most wonderful.”

“You did not guess?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Except I felt that you moved by paths unknown to me.”

Earani stood up and stepped back from him. “Watch and you will understand.” Then as she stood she disappeared. He gave a gasp; although a suspicion of the kind had crossed his mind, the actual happening was staggering in effect. One moment she was before him smiling and radiant, and the next she had vanished completely. Then as he stood staring he heard a low, soft laugh beside him, and two arms stole tenderly and swiftly about his neck. For a second he felt her warm breath and her lips lightly touch his cheek, but ere he could clasp his arms about her she had gone, and the mocking, merry laughter rang out behind him. Had there been a witness to what followed who did not hold the key to the mystery that witness would have gone away with the firm conviction that Dundas had entirely lost his reason. For in the moonlight on the river bank, with a zeal and persistence that seemed entirely unwarranted, he hunted a voice that mocked and a laugh that rang like silver, now here, now there. One moment she was beside him, and the next far beyond the reach of his outstretched arms. It was a new game, fascinating beyond words. Sometimes his hand brushed her flowing robe, and once a perfumed strand of her hair fluttered for a moment across his face, but ever she eluded his eager hands. Until, almost breathless, he was giving up the chase as hopeless, his arms closed about her, and as they did he found himself looking into her laughing eyes, and her sweet red lips were there to ask his pardon and to receive their just punishment.

“Still,” said Earani, as they wandered back to the homestead, “that is only part of the mystery. I had to disappear before I could carry out the other.” She turned and motioned him to stand still.

“Don’t hide again, dear heart,” he begged.

She shook her head, but mischief brimmed in her eyes. “No, I will not hide, but ——” She raised both hands to her breast, then lightly, and without effort, she floated off the ground. With a movement full of perfect grace, she bent forward as though swimming through the air, and circled slowly around him, and as gently as she had risen she came to rest beside him. “Well,” she asked laughing, “have you nothing to say?”

Dundas shook his head. “I won’t try and say anything — though, Earani, I half-suspected something of the kind,” he answered. “But tell me how it is done, and may I, too, learn the art?”

“The art is easily learned,” she answered. “One of our scientists stumbled, by accident, on the real cause of the force of gravity, and after that the means of controlling it were discovered almost immediately, and from that time the problems of travel and transport were solved for all time. Like everything else, it was very simple.”

“MacArthur said you were a wandering angel when he saw you to-day,” replied Dundas, “but he would have been absolutely convinced had your arrival at Glen Cairn not been invisible. I am glad, dear heart, that the secret is mine yet, for I am jealous of every eye that sees you. Still, most wonderful, we must soon let the world know all about you. I hate to think of the thoughts that are in the minds of those women, and I long to claim you as my own before them all.”

They had reached the homestead again, and he held her tenderly to him, and her soft white arms were about his neck. “Soon now, Alan; but first we must release Andax.”

“Must we wait until then?” he pleaded.

One gentle hand caressed his cheek. “Oh, man of mine, I am bound. You would not have me break a great trust, a charge that was laid on me by the millions who have gone?”

He sighed. “You are right, and I must be patient. But it will not be long?” he asked.

“No, I think, not long now,” she answered softly. “Not one moment longer than I can help. My heart is with yours in that.”

“But we will need help, Earani. Even before we release him we must tell our world about you. To reach Andax where he lies will need the fitting out of a great expedition, with perhaps thousands of helpers, if his great sphere is buried. The spot itself is almost inaccessible.”

She smiled quietly, and said: “The great expedition to release Andax will consist of two people, Alan and Earani, perhaps three, if you would like Dick to join us.”

“Do you mean we could do it alone?” he asked puzzled.

“I could do it alone,” she answered, “if there were no one to help me. Think, Alan; from what you have seen do you suppose anything has been left to chance? Beneath our feet lies, all ready to put together, a ship that will carry us surely and swiftly to any spot on earth. And with that ship will go the means by which we may tear mountains asunder if necessary, and merely by pulling a lever.”

“And you have no fear that you may not be able to find the spot?” he questioned.

“Before we start even,” she answered, “I will be able to mark the spot so surely that when the time comes we will be able to alight exactly upon it.”

“And then, when he has been brought back to life?”

“Then for a while I must be at his side.” She saw the look of disappointment in his eyes. “No, Alan, remember, it will not be for long. What has taken me months to learn will mean with him weeks. We will have our whole life before us. Not a few years, but many happy ones, for I can and will give them to you.”

“Forgive me, dearest. I know I must be patient, but every day that stands between us is a year.”

“Ah, Alan! and to me, too, but you will help me. The trust that is mine I hold as sacred as my love for you. I would not be worthy of your love if I failed there. Before my eyes were closed in the long sleep, I bound myself by every tie of honour to place my mission first, and I must do it.”

“Then all I ask is that you will take my help, and I will follow wherever you may lead.”

“That is what I want, Alan,” she answered. “When the times comes we will be guided by Andax. I do not know what plans he will make, but I know that it is not likely that he will move until he has mastered every factor in the problem he will have to face.”

“You are sure he will not come between us?” he asked, still doubtful.

“That I can promise. Even an Andax would not dare. It is likely he will give us ten years to ourselves while he plans.”

“And then?”

“And then,” she smiled, “there will be work to do. Most likely, when he has decided on his course, he will stand in the background and leave the work to me. Alan, would you care to rule the world?”

He laughed ruefully. “I only want one kingdom, beloved, and that is in your heart.”

“Your throne is there already, man of mine, but you may have both thrones. Think, heart of my heart, we two together, and powers behind us such as are beyond your dreams, and behind the power again a brain to guide us with all the wisdom and knowledge of the lost world. We two together, and a world to mould and shape, not for a few brief years, but perhaps a century of untrammelled power.”

His face flushed, and his heart beat faster. “Oh, temptress! Could any man resist?”

“So now what is left is to prepare. For a little while, perhaps another month, you will be my teacher, then we will find the other sphere.”

“And then?”

She raised her stately head. “Then we two may face our future side by side, until the end which will come here, and then beyond, for ever.” Her voice thrilled him with its intensity: “A forever not of years, but of eternity. Ah, love of mine! The greatest gift of all is the thought of that eternity of happiness. It is written.”

He raised her hands reverently to his lips, and so they parted, and long after her figure had vanished into the soft night, the memory of her words held him wondering at the glory of their promise.

Erle Cox, Out of the Silence, Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1947 (first published 1925), pages 302-313

[Editor: Changed “The he whispered” to “Then he whispered”; “the great grey eyes, so brave at first” to “the great grey eyes, so grave at first” (changed in line with the descriptions, used in several places in the book, of her eyes as “grave”; on balance, it appears that “brave” was a typographical error). After “Must we wait until then”, changed the comma to a question mark.]

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