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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBarbarians - Chapter 11. The Seed Of Death
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Barbarians - Chapter 11. The Seed Of Death Post by :rezell Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :2543

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Barbarians - Chapter 11. The Seed Of Death

CHAPTER XI. THE SEED OF DEATH

It was Dr. Vail whose identification secured burial for Neeland, not in the American cemetery, but in Aulnes Wood.

When the raid into Finistere ended, and the unclean birds took flight, Vail, at Quimper, ordered north with his unit, heard of the tragedy, and went to Aulnes. And so Neeland was properly buried beside the youthful chatelaine. Which was, no doubt, what his severed soul desired. And perhaps hers desired it, too.

Vail continued on to Paris, to Flanders, got gassed, and came back to New York.

He had aged ten years in as many months.

Gray, the younger surgeon, kept glancing from time to time at Vail's pallid face, and the latter understood the professional interest of the younger man.

"You think I look ill?" he asked, finally.

"You don't look very fit, Doctor."

"No.... I'm _going West_."

"You mean it?"

"Yes."

"Why do you think that you are--_going West_?"

"There's a thing over there, born of gas. It's a living thing, animal or vegetable. I don't know which. It's only recently been recognized. We call it the 'Seed of Death.'"

Gray gazed at the haggard face of the older man in silence.

Vail went on, slowly: "It's properly named. It is always fatal. A man may live for a few months. But, once gassed, even in the slightest degree, if that germ is inhaled, death is certain."

After a silence Gray began: "Do you have any apprehension--" And did not finish the sentence.

Vail shrugged. "It's interesting, isn't it?" he said with pleasant impersonality.

After a silence Gray said: "Are you doing anything about it?"

"Oh, yes. It's working in the dark, of course. I'm feeling rottener every day."

He rested his handsome head on one thin hand:

"I don't want to die, Gray, but I don't know how to keep alive. It's odd, isn't it? I don't wish to die. It's an interesting world. I want to see how the local elections turn out in New York."

"What!"

"Certainly. That is what worries me more than anything. We Allies are sure to win. I'm not worrying about that. But I'd like to live to see Tammany a dead cock in the pit!"

Gray forced a laugh; Vail laughed unfeignedly, and then, solemn again, said:

"I'd like to live to see this country aspire to something really noble."

"After all," said Gray, "there is really nothing to stifle aspiration."

It was not only because Vail had been gazing upon death in every phase, every degree--on brutal destruction wholesale and in detail; but also he had been standing on the outer escarpment of Civilization and had watched the mounting sea of barbarism battering, thundering, undermining, gradually engulfing the world itself and all its ancient liberties.

He and the young surgeon, Gray, who was to sail to France next day were alone together on the loggia of the club; dusk mitigated the infernal heat of a summer day in town.

On the avenue below motor cars moved north and south, hansoms crept slowly along the curb, and on the hot sidewalks people passed listlessly under the electric lights--the nine--and--seventy sweating tribes.

For, on such summer nights, under the red moon, an exodus from the East Side peoples the noble avenue with dingy spectres who shuffle along the gilded grilles and still facades of stone, up and down, to and fro, in quest of God knows what--of air perhaps, perhaps of happiness, or of something even vaguer. But whatever it may be that starts them into painful motion, one thing seems certain: aspiration is a part of their unrest.

"There is liberty here," replied Dr. Vail--"also her inevitable shadow, tyranny."

"We need more light; that's all," said Gray.

"When light streams in from every angle no shadow is possible."

"The millennium? I get you.... In this country the main thing is that there is _some light. A single ray, however feeble, and even coming from one fixed angle only, means aspiration, life...."

He lighted a cigar.

"As you know," he remarked, "there is a flower called _Aconitum_. It is also known by the ominous names of Monks-Hood and Helmet-Flower. Direct sunlight kills it. It flourishes only in shadow. Like the Kaiser-Flower it also is blue; and," he added, "it is deadly poison.... As you say, the necessary thing in this world is light from every angle."

His cigar glimmered dully through the silence. Presently he went on; "Speaking of tyranny, I think it may be classed as a recognized and tolerated business carried on successfully by those born with a genius for it. It flourishes in the shade--like the Helmet-Flower.... But the sun in this Western Hemisphere of ours is devilish hot. It's gradually killing off our local tyrants--slowly, almost imperceptibly but inexorably, killing 'em off.... Of course, there are plenty still alive--tyrants of every degree born to the business of tyranny and making a success at it."

He smoked tranquilly for a while, then:

"There are our tyrants of industry," he said; "tyrants of politics, tyrants of religion--great and small we still harbor plenty of tyrants, all scheming to keep their roots from shriveling under this fierce western sun of ours----"

He laughed without mirth, turning his worn and saddened eyes on Gray:

"Tyranny is a business," he repeated; "also it is a state of mind--a delusion, a ruling passion--strong even in death.... The odd part of it is that a tyrant never knows he's one.... He invariably mistakes himself for a local Moses. I can tell you a sort of story if you care to listen.... Or, we can go to some cheerful show or roof-garden----"

"Go on with your story," said Gray.

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