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Title: Tomorrow
Author: Arthur Leo Zagat
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608431.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: October 2007

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Tomorrow
Arthur Leo Zagat



Chapter I: THE LOST ONES



Dikar was on his knees, his head bowed against the side of his
cot, his hands palm to palm. The fragrance of the dried grass with
which his mattress was stuffed was in his nostrils, the rabbit fur of
his blanket soft and warm against his forehead. Behind him there were
two long rows of cots, eleven in each, separated by a wide space. At
every cot knelt one of the Bunch, but the only sound was a low drone.

Dikar's own murmur was a part of that drone. "Now I lay me down to
sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And should I die before I
wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." Dikar used, as all of them
did, the prayer they had learned before the terror had come. They had
never been taught another.

Dikar stayed on his knees as behind him there was a rustle of
lifting bodies, a chatter of voices. One cried out, loud above the
others, "Hey, fellers!" Jimlane it was. "Who took my bow and arrows
an' didn't bring 'em back?" His changing voice, deep at first, broke
into a high squeal. "If I ketch the guy--"

"They're out by the Fire Stone, foolish." That was Tomball. "I
seen you leave 'em there yourself. You'll be leavin' your head
somewhere one these days, an' forget where. You're sure the prize
dumby of the Bunch."

The other Boys laughed, tauntingly. Dikar heard them, and he
didn't quite hear them.

He was waiting for a soft hand to stroke his hair, for sweet, low
tones to say, "The good Lord bless you, my son, and give you pleasant
dreams." He knew they would not come. Hand and voice were vanished in
the mists of Long-Ago, curtained from Dikar by the dark Time of Fear
before which, as he very dimly recalled, everything had been different
from what it was now. But always, when he had said his "now-I-lay-me,"
he waited for them...

"Quit callin' me a dumby," Jimlane squealed. "You gotta quit it."

"Who's gonna make me, dumby? You?"

Dikar rose to his feet, sighing, the burden of his leadership once
more heavy upon him.

From the blaze on the Fire Stone, a wavering light came in through
the unglazed, oblong openings in the wall of the long narrow Boys'
House. It bathed with red the stalwart, naked bodies; nut-brown skin
under which flat muscles moved smoothly.

Tomball was out in the space between the cots, his bulging arms
hanging loose at his sides, his adolescent, chunky jaw black-stubbled,
his eyes, too closely set, glittering between slitted lids.

Jimlane faced him and was little more than half his size. Puny,
his hairless countenance rashed with small pimples, the kid's upper
lip trembled but he stood his ground in mid-aisle as the other
advanced, slow and threatening.

"Yes, me," Jimlane answered him bravely. "I ain't scared uh you,
you big bully."

"You ain't, huh," Tomball grunted, closing the distance between
them as Dikar got into motion. "Then I'll teach you to be."

Tomball had hold of Jimlane's wrist and was twisting it, his
shadowed lip curling. The smaller lad's face went white with pain. His
free hand twisted, batted at his tormentor's hairy belly. Tomball
grinned and kept on twisting. His victim bent almost double, agonized,
but still there was no whimper from the youngster...

Dikar's fingers closed on Tomball's arm and dug into the hard
muscle. "No fair," Dikar said. "Break!"

Tomball loosed Jimlane, jerked free of Dikar's hold and swung
around. "Says who?" he growled, a redness in his black, small eyes
that was not put there by the light. He was a quarter-head taller than
Dikar and broader across the shaggy chest, and his thighs were twice
the span of Dikar's. "Oh, it's you!"

"It's me," Dikar said quietly. "And I'm orderin' you to quit
pickin' on Jimlane an' on the other little fellows who don't take your
guff." Dikar was lean-flanked and lithe-limbed, his hair and his
silken beard yellow as the other's was black, his eyes a deep, shining
blue.

"There will be no bullyin' here, so long as I'm Boss of the
Bunch."

Their code, like their talk, had been preserved unchanged from
their young childhood, back before the Days of Fear. Isolated, they
had no adult models to copy as they grew to young manhood.

"Yeah?" Tomball said through lips thin and straight beneath their
sparse covering of sprouting hairs, and somehow Dikar knew what he was
going to say next. It had been coming for a long time and now it was
here and Dikar was not altogether sorry.

Tomball said it: "As long as you're Boss." Two gray spots pitted
the skin at the corners of his flat nose. "Maybe. But it's time you
made room for someone else, Dikar. For me."

By Tomball's increasing unwillingness to obey orders, by his
sulking and his endless whisperings with those of the Boys who had to
be watched lest they shirk their share of work, Dikar had known the
challenge was coming.

He had thought out his answer and was ready with it. "All right,"
he said, low voiced and very calm. "I'll call a Full Council tomorrow,
of the Boys an' the Girls. I'll tell 'em why I think I should keep on
being Boss an' you'll tell 'em why you think I should not, an' then
the Bunch will decide."

A murmur ran around the ring of Boys that had close-packed about
Dikar and Tomball.

"No!" Tomball refused. "It wasn't the Bunch decided you should be
Boss in the first place. It was the Old Ones." He paused, and a
meaningful grin widened his mouth. "Or so _you_ say."

"Maybe," Dikar smiled, surprised he could smile. "Maybe, Tomball,
you'd like to ask the Old Ones if they picked me to be Boss when they
brought us here and left us. Maybe you'd like to climb down the Drop
an' ask 'em whether you or I should be Boss from now on."

The Boys gasped in the ring around them, and Dikar's own skin
crawled at the back of his neck.

 * * * *

Down, down as far as the Mountain upon which the Bunch lived was
high, fell the great Drop that fully circled its base. Straight up and
down was the Drop's riven rock, and so barren of foothold that no
living thing could hope to scale it.

Below, for a space twice as wide across as the tallest of the
trees in the forest that robed the Mountain, were tumbled stones as
big as the Boy's House and bigger. White and angry waters fumed
beneath the stones, and beneath stones and waters were the Old Ones.

Dikar himself had seen these things, from the topmost branch of a
certain tree that gave a view of them, but not even Dikar had ever
gone out from the concealing curtain of the forest to the brink of the
Drop, for of all the Must-Nots the Old Ones had left behind, this was
the most fearful; _"You must not go out of the woods. You must not go
near the edge of the Drop."_

Thinking of all this as he stared into the red hate in Tomball's
eyes, Dikar asked, "Do you dare, Tomball, climb down the Drop an' talk
to the Old Ones?"

"Smart," Tomball sneered. "You think you're smart, don't you? You
want me to go down there an' that way be rid of me. Well, it don't
work, see? I'm just as smart as you are."

Dikar spread his hands. "You will not let the Bunch decide between
us, an' you will not ask the Old Ones. How, then, do you want this
thing settled?"

"How? How have you yourself ordered scraps between the Boys
settled? Dikar! I dare you to fight out with me, fists, or sticks or
knives even, who's gonna be Boss of the Bunch--you or me."

"No fair," Jimlane cried out at that. "I say it's no fair.
Tomball's bigger than Dikar an' heavier."

"No fair," Steveland yelped. Billthomas yelled, "We cry the dare
no fair." But others were shouting, "Fight!" Fredalton and Halross and
rabbit-faced Carlberger. "They gotta fight it out. It's Dikar's own
Rule an' he's gotta stick by it."

Most of the Boys shouted, "Fight!"

_"Shut up!"_ Dikar bellowed. "Shut up, all of you," and at once
the yelling stopped. But the ring had shrunk till he could feel their
breaths on his back and heard little whimpers in the Boys' throats and
read their eyes, shining in the changing light of the Fire. "You dare
me fight to decide who'll be Boss," Dikar said to Tomball, taking up
the ritual he himself had set. "Do you cry a fight between us two
fair?"

A cord in Tomball's short neck twitched. "I cry us equal-matched."
(By the Rule, Dikar had a right to appeal to the Bunch from Tomball's
lying response.) "If you refuse my dare, Dikar, I will cry you yellow,
an' claim the right about which we scrap." Reading the eyes in the
ring, Dikar saw that if he appealed and the Bunch said he and Tomball
were not equal matched, he might remain Boss in name, but Boss in
truth he would be no longer. "That is the Rule you yourself have
made." Tomball abandoned the ritual. "And you gotta stick by it."

Dikar's lips still smiled. "That is the Rule I have made, Tomball.
But this over which we scrap is no bird brought down by an unmarked
arrow nor question of whose turn it is to bring water from the spring.
Who shall be Boss affects not only you an' me, but the whole Bunch. Is
it right that it be decided in the way such small scraps are decided?"
Dikar pretended to ask that of Tomball, but his eyes asked the
question of all the eyes in the crowded circle, and the eyes had
already answered him when Tomball spoke again.

"It is right," Tomball voiced the verdict of the eyes. "It is the
only way that is right. You gotta fight me or crawl." There was
triumph in his voice, and triumph in his swagger. Tomball had weight
on his side, and reach and strength, and he knew he was already as
good as Boss.

Dikar knew it too, and his heart was heavy, but he smiled still.
"All right," he said. "We fight, Tomball. With bare fists."

The Boys hurrahed, the sound like the bay of the dogpack when
they've brought down their prey under the trees. Even Steveland and
Billthomas hurrahed, and though Jimlane was silent his pale eyes
danced with the dancing red light of the Fire.

Dikar listened, thinking what Tomball would do as Boss of the
Bunch; whether he would let his pals shirk work, whether he would see
that the corn patches were weeded, and the water tank cleaned, and the
roofs of the Boys' House and the Girls' House kept patched against the
rains and the snows and the cold.

It was worry about these things and others like them that weighted
Dikar's heart. He knew how painfully he had learned, in the long years
since the Bunch had come to the Mountain, all the many little irksome
tasks that must be done for the good of the Bunch; and he remembered
that Tomball had always scoffed at them.

For himself Dikar would be happy to be no longer Boss. It meant
being lonely--for the Boss must have no pal, lest he be accused of
favoring his friend over any other. It meant carrying a heavy freight
of care through the day, and lying sleepless through the night, and
never knowing rest. It meant assigning the hunters to the chase, whose
joys he never knew; to judging the games and never playing them; to
punish when Rules were broken but never breaking Rules just for the
fun of it and finding the punishment worth it.

"What are we waiting for?" Tomball's growl broke into Dikar's
thoughts. "Come on outside an' let's go."

"No," Dikar said. "We fight tomorrow, before the whole Bunch.
Tonight, now, we sleep. Already it is Bed-Time, an' long past."

"I want to fight now," Tomball insisted, standing his ground. "I
don't want to wait till tomorrow."

The smile faded from Dikar's lips, and he felt tiny muscles knot
along the ridge of his jaw, beneath his yellow beard. "Bed-Time is not
my Rule, but a Rule of the Old Ones. Perhaps, when you are Boss,
Tomball, you will let the Bunch break it, but I am still Boss, an' I
do not. To bed, Tomball. To bed, all of you. Right away!"

Dikar's eyes locked with Tomball's, and blue eyes and black held
for a long minute and there was no sound in the Boys' House, and no
movement at all. Then the black eyes fell, and Tomball muttered, "It's
the Old Ones I obey, Dikar, not you," and the ring broke up into Boys
hurrying to their cots.

Dikar stood spread-legged, the firelight playing on his tall,
well-knit form, his chest moving quietly with his slow breathing, the
taut hollow of his belly heaving, his eyes somber as he watched the
Boys obey him--perhaps for the last time.

He didn't feel Jimlane's fingers squeeze his. He didn't hear
Jimlane's whisper, "I hope you win tomorrow, Dikar. Gee, how I hope
you win."

Dikar stood there while the curtains woven from slender withes
were dropped over the window-openings, shutting out the red light of
the Fire that the Girls tended tonight.

He stood there, unmoving, till the excited whisperings along the
walls of the Boys' House had faded, and the scrape of the fur blankets
along skin had ended, and there were no more creakings. Then he turned
and padded to his own cot, and knelt beside it.

Dikar's lips moved, but the words came. He was sending them out
through the wall, past the leaping flames on the great, flat Fire
Stone, past the Girls' House into the night-darkened woods.

He was speaking to a Presence there, a Someone he had never seen
and never heard, but had always known to be there, because He showed
His work in the carpet of the leaves underfoot, in the tall and
stately trees, in the wind that rustled through the woods' green roof
and the sunlight that shimmered through it.

"I don't care what happens to me tomorrow, Sir," Dikar told Him.
"I don't care how much Tomball hurts me, or what he does to me if he
wins. It's the Bunch I ask you to take care of. Please, Sir. If
Tomball is too strong for me, tomorrow, an' he licks me, please make
it all right for him to be Boss. Please make him smart enough to be a
good Boss. Please make him be a better Boss for the Bunch than me.
They're good kids, Sir, the Boys an' the Girls, an' mostly they obey
the Rules the Old Ones left, an' You ought to take care of them. You
will take care of them, Sir, won't you?"

Dikar's lips stopped moving, but he stayed on his knees a little
while longer, his head bent as if he were listening.

He heard nothing but the soft breathing sounds, and the wind's
treetop whisper, and the insect chorus of the night.

When at last he stirred and climbed into his cot and drew his fur
blanket up over him, he was comforted.



Chapter II: THE NIGHTMARE THAT WAS TRUE



Sleep's deep emptiness claimed Dikar swiftly and wholly, as always
it claims one whose weariness is clean and physical.

A voice came into the nothingness, the voice for which Dikar
waited each Bed-Time after he'd said his Now-I-lay-me.

...Mom's voice it was that came through the open door of the dark
room where Dick Carr had awakened. Something in Mom's voice made Dick
afraid: tears, and a trying hard to hide the tears, and a smile that
he somehow knew hurt Morn more than the tears.

"Take care of yourself," Mom was saying, "and come back soon."

Who was going away? There was only Mom and Dick in the flat, and
Henry who was twelve, four years older than Dick, and who took up more
than his half of their bed. Dick pushed out to wake Henry, and his
hand found only bunched sheets.

_Henry wasn't there!_

The next minute Dick heard Henry out in the hall. "Sure, I'll come
back soon. Don't you worry. This thing will be over in a jiffy, you'll
see. We're just being called out because--because the last big drive
is on, an' they need us in the rear lines so's all the real soldiers
can be free to do the fightin'. There ain't nothin' to worry about,
Mom. They can't lick us. Maybe they've licked the rest uh the world
but they can't lick the good old U.S.A. We've won every war we were
ever in an' we'll win this one--

"Look Mom, I got to run. The radio said for my unit to be at the
Eighth Street Armory at eleven o'clock, an' it's four of, now.
Goo'bye, Mom."

There was a kiss, and the flat-door slamming shut, and then there
wasn't any sound coming in through the door at all and the flat seemed
awful empty.

In through the window rang the clatter of feet running in the
street. Dick heard it every night, listening to the big boys who
didn't have to go to bed early and could play in the street after
supper. But Dick knew they weren't playing now, because they all ran
the one way and after a little while he didn't hear them any more.

Then Dick lay listening to the thunder that had been in the sky so
long he usually didn't hear it. The thunder seemed a little louder
tonight, and a little nearer, and more scary. The glass in the window
kept rattling and that made Dick look at the window and at the square
gold-starred flag that hung in the window.

The star was for Pop. It was to show everybody how proud we were
that Pop was a hero. Only Dick didn't quite understand why we should
be proud when every window in the block had a flag with a gold star, a
lot of them even with two or three gold stars.

What was there to be proud about in your pop being a hero when all
the other kids' fathers were heroes too, and their big brothers, and a
lot of their sisters too, being Red Cross nurses and working in
ammunishun plants that was blown up and all?

Dick wished Pop would stop being a hero and come home.

Mom and Henry said Pop wasn't ever going to come home, but Dick
didn't believe that. Dick didn't believe Pop would go away from them
forever and ever.

Now Henry was gone away too. But he was coming back soon. He had
told Mom he was, hadn't he? He wouldn't lie to Mom, would he?

Dick heard the sound of feet again, coming down the street. The
feet weren't running now. They were marching. Dick knew what feet
sounded like when they were marching. He'd heard them before Pop went
away, when you could hardly hear them for the crowds shouting and the
bands braying soldier-music.

He'd heard the feet marching when Pop went away; there were no
bands then, and no hurrahs, and there were hardly anybody in the
street, only in the windows a lot of women, waving handkerchiefs, and
then holding them up to their faces.

Yes, Dick had heard a lot of marching feet, but they had never
sounded quite like these. The sound of them feet wasn't nearly as loud
as the others.

Dick pushed back the covers and got to the window. The tops of the
street lights were painted black, and the bottoms were blue; so that
the gutter was like blue water, deep and awful, and across the street
was only a black and dreadful wall.

Down the street came the marchers.

They were boys like Henry, some of them bigger and some smaller,
but none of them very much bigger or very much smaller. Each had a gun
slanted across his shoulder. Not one was in uniform. They were dressed
in their everyday clothes, caps and jackets and pants. Some of the
boys wore longies, most wore knickers or shorts, and a lot were
barelegged down to the socks folded over the tops of their shoes. They
were like a bunch of boys marching out of school on a fire-drill.

They were not playing soldiers. They _were_ soldiers, real
soldiers. The way they marched showed that, straight-backed, not
talking or laughing. Their chins were lifted. Their eyes looked far
ahead, to the end of the street and the end of the city and farther
still, to the dark night out of which came the sound of thunder that
never stopped.

Four abreast they marched, four and four and four, as far as Dick
Carr could see. And alongside each tenth four marched a man in
uniform; a man with one empty sleeve pinned to the breast of his coat:
a man whose leg swung stiff so that Dick knew it was not a leg at all:
a man whose face was broken so it was ugly and terrible as a
Hallowe'en mask.

For a long time the boys and the broken men marched by, to where
the thunder rolled and the black sky flickered with a lightning whose
flashes Dick Carr could not see...

(And Dikar's dream faded into sleep's nothingness.)

...And into sleep's nothingness came a crash of thunder, shaking
the ground. It shook Mom's arms that were tight around Dick Carr, and
her body against which Dick's face was pressed. Out of the corner of
his eye Dick could see the pin on Mom's black breast. The pin was
oblong, and it had a blue border, and on the white inside the border
there were two gold stars. There were two on the flag in the window
now.

Dick was scared, but he wasn't bawling. He hadn't bawled when the
siren waked him up, screaming in through the window, nor when Mom and
he had jumped out of bed, all dressed like the radio said they should
be. He hadn't bawled when, the siren screaming like a great devil in
the black sky, they ran in the dark street, and then stopped running
because all the women and kids were carrying them along in a rush
faster than Dick could run.

No, Dick hadn't bawled even when he and Mom had fallen down the
station steps and the old man had dragged them through the big, stiff
curtains into the station.

The station was crowded with women and kids, and it was like an
ogre's cave. A couple of electric lights made light enough to see them
by, but not enough to keep back the shadows that reached out of the
enormous black holes at each end of the station, like black arms
pawing out to drag the women and the kids into a night that would
never end.

The faces he saw were a queer white, and the eyes were too big;
and they were sort of hunched, as if they were waiting for something
terrible to pounce on them out of the dark.

It came!

Thunder! Thunder louder than before, thunder so loud that when it
stopped Dick couldn't hear himself say, "Don't be scared, Mom. I'll
take care of you." But Mom must have heard him, because she squeezed
him tighter to her and kissed him on top of his head. Then Dick could
hear again. He could hear a woman say, "That must have been one them
half-ton bombs. They tell me they can go right down through a ten-
story building, and they don't blow up till they hit the cellar, and
after they blow up there ain't nothin' left of the building or anyone
was in it. Nothin' at all."

The old man, who stood by the brown curtain that hung over where
the station steps came in, laughed. His laugh was like the cackle of
the hens Dick used to hear when Pop used to drive him and Henry and
Mom out into the country.

"Yeah," the old man cackled, his eyes kind of wild. "That's right.
Ef'n one o' them things hits overhead here they won't even be little
pieces of us left ter pick up."

He had on a uniform, but it wasn't like Pop's uniform. It was very
faded but you could see it had once been blue. It was ragged and much
too big.

There was thunder again, not so loud. "Well," said a woman sitting
with a suckling baby in her heavy arms. "I wish one would hit right
over us. That would be God's mercy."

"There ain't no God," someone said. "God is dead." Then whoever it
was laughed, and Dick's insides cringed from the laughter. It was a
woman in the middle of the platform, and she was standing as still as
a rock--her mouth didn't move, and the eyes behind the hair that was
down all over her face saw nothing at all. "The End of the World is
come and it is too late to repent. We are doomed, doomed--"

Thunder again shattering the laughter, but far away now. The woman
who sat next to Mom, with a little girl on her lap and another, brown-
haired and brown-eyed and pretty, on the floor alongside of her
whispered: "Poor thing, I hear tell she escaped from Philadelphia
after it was surrendered. She got through the lines somehow. Did you
hear how they went through all the houses that was left and dragged
out-?"

"Hush," Mom begged. "Hush. The children--"

The little girl's mother laughed quietly. "The children will know
all about it soon. Yours too, girls or boys, it don't make no
difference to those fiends."

"Not mine," Mom said, very low, and she moved a little to show the
other woman what was in her hand. It was a carving knife from their
kitchen--

_"Attention!"_ A loud voice shouted out of the place where you
used to get your change before the subways stopped running.
_"Attention, all shelters!"_ Dick looked and he saw there was a radio
behind the little hole where your money used to be pushed out. _"The
raid is over! The raid is over-"_

"It's over," the old man cackled. "And I'm still alive. Eighty-
three years old and not dead yet. I allus said I was born ter be
hanged."

_"-where you are. Remain where you are. Gas-tests are being made.
Remain where you are until gas-tests determine that it is safe to
leave. Stand by."_

"The Government should of gave us all gas masks," grumbled a fat
lady whom Dick knew. "Like they did in England." She was Tom Ball's
mother and Tom was behind her, hiding his face in her skirts.

"Much good that did England," the woman with the baby said. "Much
good anything did England--"

_"Attention!"_ the radio shouted. _"Attention all shelters.
Important. An important announcement is about to be made. Stand by."_

"Mom," Dick asked. "What is an important annou--what the radio
said?"

"News, son. Big news."

"Good news, Mom?"

"Maybe. Maybe we've won the battle. Maybe we're driving Them--"

_"Attention! Attention, all shelters. The next voice you hear will
be that of General Edward Albright, provost-marshal-general for this
area."_

"That's Ed Albright," the old man cackled. "I remember when he was
a buck private along o' me, the both of us down with dysentery at Key
West. In the Spanish War that was, an--"

"Hush. Hush, you old fool."

The voice Dick heard now, coming into a quiet so deep he could
hear Mom's heart beating in his ear, was thin and tired, awful tired.
_"Our lines are crumbling. Enemy infantry has already penetrated to
the outskirts of the city, south and east. The boys, the young women,
who have fought so heroically, are still fighting, but there is no
longer any hope. Word has come that the columns that were marching to
our aid have been completely wiped out by a phalanx of enemy planes."



Chapter III: AFTER ARMAGEDDON



The voice stopped, and there wasn't any sound at all. "We are
beaten," the voice began again. "But we shall not surrender. We shall
not give over the mothers and the children of this city to the horror
that has overtaken the other municipalities that have surrendered.

"My people, when our lines finally break, when the enemy hordes
swarm in, I shall press a button on the desk before me to set off
mines that have been laid underneath the streets. Every soul in the
city will perish in that cataclysm; I, and you, and with us some
thousands of those who have made this world of ours a hell."

_"Good!"_ yelled the woman with the babe at her breast. "Good!"

Mom's arms were tight around Dick, and she was crying, but her
eyes were shining. "We're going to see Henry soon, son, and your
father," she whispered. "Isn't that wonderful?"

And then everyone was quiet again, and the tired voice was still
talking.

"To die like that will be, I know, no sacrifice to you who have
laid fathers and husbands, sons and daughters, on the altar of your
country. But there is one more sacrifice I must ask of you, for your
country.

"Somehow, in the maneuvering of the past few hours, a gap has
opened in the enemy lines, to the north. It is already being closed,
but the terrain is such that a small and determined force may be able
to keep it open long enough for a few to escape.

"No troops can be moved from their present positions. We have some
arms, some ammunition, available, but no one to use them. No one--
except you women who hear me. You mothers."

"That's funny," Mrs. Ball sniffed. "We can escape through a hole
if we get ourselves killed keepin' the hole open. The man must be
crazy."

"If you mothers can keep that gap open long enough, we may be able
to take your children out through it, the tots who are all you have
left.

"We may--the possibility is infinitesimal--be able to get them
away to the hills north of the city. The chances are that they will
die on the way. Even if they do not, it is possible that they will be
hunted down and exterminated, that Nature, though less cruel than
these hordes that have come out of the East and across the continent
from the West and up from the South, will finish the work of our foes.

"But there is a million-to-one chance that the children will come
through, and it rests with you to choose whether we shall give them
that chance.

"I know that it is a bitter choice to make. I know, mothers, that
you would rather that your little daughter, your little son, when I
press this button on my desk, go with you into the Outer Darkness
where there is peace at last.

"I know how dreadful it would be for you to die not knowing what
fate awaits your children, and I should not ask you to make the choice
save for this one thing.

"This is the dusk of our day, the dusk of democracy, of liberty,
of all that has been the America we lived for, and die for. If there
is to be any hope of a tomorrow, it must rest in them, in your sons
and daughters.

"If they perish, America shall have perished. If through your
sacrifice they survive, then, in some tomorrow we cannot foresee,
America will live again and democracy, liberty, freedom shall
reconquer the green and pleasant fields that tonight lie devastated.

"If you choose to give America this faint hope, if you decide to
make this sacrifice, leave your children in charge of the warden of
the shelter where you are, and come at once to headquarters to receive
your weapons and your orders.

"We have no way of telling what your decision is until and unless
enough of you come here to make the attempt we contemplate feasible.
We wait for you. Will you come? Mothers, the choice is yours."

The voice stopped, and for a long time nobody moved, nobody said a
thing. Then, all of a sudden, all the women were standing up. All the
women were kissing their kids, and then they were going toward the
curtain that hung over the bottom of the steps from the station.

They were pushing aside the brown curtain. They were going up the
steps.

They were going fast, fast, and their faces were shining as Dick
once had seen a bride's face shine as she walked, all in white, up the
aisle.

They were all gone, and in the station there were only the kids,
and the old, old man in the uniform of faded blue that was too big for
him.

It seemed darker here in the ogre's cave. The dark reached out
from the great black holes at the ends of the platform. A small, cold
hand took hold of Dick's hand. "I'm frightened," the little brown-
haired girl whimpered.

"Aw," Dick said, squeezing her hand. "There ain't nothin' to be
frightened about. I'll take care of you."

"Will you," she asked in a very little voice. "Do you promise?"

"Cross my heart," Dick said, "I'll take care of you, always and
always," and somehow he wasn't quite so frightened any more. "What's
your name?"

"Mary Lee. What's yours?"

"Dick Carr."

"Dikar," she murmured, and moved close to Dick, and her head
dropped sleepily on his shoulder.

He liked the way she said it: "Dikar," so he didn't bother to tell
her it was two names. He said "Marilee" in his head, making one name
out of her two, and he liked the sound of that...

And a shadow moved across Dick Carr ... A shadow moved across
Dikar, and he stirred and came fully awake out of his dream, and it
seemed to him that someone had passed him, moving silently in the
night.



Chapter IV: WE MEET IN THE NIGHT



Dikar lay in his cot, alert. The soughing of the wind came to
him, and the shrilling of the insects of the night and the breathing
of the sleeping boys. There was no sound at all out of tune with the
harmony of the dark forest.

Yet Dikar was troubled with an uneasy sense of something wrong.

He tried to quiet himself, tried to find sleep again, sleep and
the dream out of which he had wakened. Dikar was desperate to find his
dream again, for he knew it was one he had dreamed many times. But
always before it had slipped from him in the instant of wakening and
tonight it was still as vivid in his mind as yesterday.

The small boy of the dream, Dick Carr, was himself in the Long-Ago
that had been only a mist of gray half-memories as shapeless as the
dawn-haze that drifts in the waking forest. The dream had told Dikar
something of himself and something of that Long-Ago, and if he could
find it again it would tell him more.

But Dikar could not find sleep again, nor the dream, because his
eagerness barred the way, and his sense of something wrong with the
night. So he sighed and rose from his cot, making no sound.

He groped for his apron of woven leaves and tied it about his
waist, and stole to the curtain of twined withes that closed the door,
moving it a little to peer out.

The leafy boughs of a great oak made a roof that joined the roofs
of the Boys' House and the Girls' House, at the end where they came
nearest the woods. Beneath it the Fire was burning low on its Stone,
and a little distance away from its heat Dikar saw the two Girls whose
task it was tonight to tend the Fire.

The two Girls drowsed, arms about each other's waists. They had
undone their braids, and the hair that cloaked one was black as the
night, and the hair that cloaked the other was brown and shining. The
black hair swallowed the light, but tiny red glints from the Fire
danced merrily on the wavy fall of the brown.

The Girls wore short skirts of plaited grasses, and circlets of
woven leaves covered their deepening breasts; but through their cloaks
of long hair a shoulder peeped shyly, and a rounded knee, and curve of
a thigh.

Now as long as he could recall Dikar had seen the brown bodies of
the Girls as they busied themselves with their tasks or tried to outdo
the Boys in the Games, and so it was strange that tonight these small
glimpses should set a pulse throbbing in his temples, and stir his
breast with a not unpleasant pain.

It was to the Girl whose hair was brown that his eyes clung, to
her knee and the soft swell of her throat, and the pale oval of her
face.

As he looked out at her, he seemed to feel a small hand in his, to
hear a very little voice asking, "Will you take care of me? Promise?"
For this was Marilee, the little Girl of his dream. Dikar had
forgotten his promise, "I'll take care of you always and always," but
now he remembered it.

Remembering, he wanted to hold out his arms to Marilee, wanted to
call her to him. He almost did, and for fear that he might, looking at
her, not longer be able to hold her name in his throat, he tore his
eyes from her and turned them to the Fire. Little flames, blue and
yellow and red, licked along the sides of a single log that lay across
a great heap of orange glowing embers. That log will not last much
longer, Dikar thought. I should wake the Girls and tell them to put
more on.

Then he thought, no. Let them sleep. I'll do it myself, and with
the thought his look went to the pile of logs at the base of the oak.

...To the place where the pile ought to be! There was only one
split log there.

Queer, Dikar thought. I sent up enough for the night from where we
were cutting them in the woods yesterday--A hand slid past the trunk
of the oak, out of the blackness behind! The hand took hold of the one
log that was left of the pile and drew it back into the blackness.

A muscle twitched in Dikar's cheek, under his beard.

"Oh," Bessalton exclaimed, the black-haired Girl. "Marilee! We've
been sleepin' an' the Fire's almost out. Quick."

They were running to the Fire, and past it to the oak, and they
were looking, dismayed at the base of the oak. "There isn't any,"
Marilee said, her small face puckered in puzzlement. "You must have
put on the last."

"I did no such thing," Bessalton denied. "It was you. You were the
last one to put wood on. Remember?"

"Yes," Marilee said slowly. "Yes, I was the last. But there was
more here then. I'm sure there was."

"Looks like it," the black-haired Girl came back, "Don't it? If I
did something like that--"

"Oh what's the use of scrapping about it? We've got to get more up
from the place where the Boys were cutting, before the Fire burns
out."

"We?"

"I'll do it, Bessalton. I know where they were," Marilee said, and
before Dikar could move or cry out, she had gone past the oak and the
night had swallowed her. The night out of which a hand had slid to
draw away the logs from the base of the oak!

Dikar sprang to his cot, snatched up his bow and quiver of arrows,
was back to the door and out through it. Bessalton stared at the Fire;
she neither saw nor heard Dikar flitting by. Then the damp, fragrant
dark of the woods was about him, and the cool softness of its carpet
of leaves was under his noiseless feet, and he was a shadow slipping
through the forest.

All the Bunch was taught to move in the woods with the silence of
its creatures, but Dikar's ears, trained to keenness, caught the
barely audible sound of Marilee's progress ahead of him, the flick of
underbrush against her legs.

He did not call to warn her, because he needed to know who had
lured her into the forest, and why. This was a thing that never before
had been done by one of the Bunch and Dikar must find out why it was
being done.

Moonlight filtered through the foliage overhead and flecked the
night with silver. A small beast scuttered away from beneath Dikar's
feet. Marilee was well away from the Houses now. She was almost to the
place where the Boys had been cutting--

"Oh!" he heard her exclaim, and then there was another voice ahead
there. "Hello, Marilee." Tomball's voice. "I've been waitin' for you."

Dikar froze, as motionless as the tree trunks about him.

"You've been waitin'--" Marilee was puzzled. "Why? Why should you
be here, waitin' for me?"

"I wanted to see you alone."

"But--but why do you want to see me alone?"

"Marilee." Tomball's voice was curiously thick. "Do you like me?"

"Of course I like you. I like all the Boys."

"Not that way. Do you like me--like this?" Dikar heard the sound
of flesh, and he sprang into the little clearing ahead, and Tomball's
hands had hold of Marilee's arms, and he was pulling her to him.

"Stop!" Dikar said, low-voiced, and somehow there was an arrow
hooked in the string of his bow, and the string was tight, and the
arrow was pointed at Tomball's back. The bow was long almost as Dikar
was tall, and the arrow sharp-pointed with stone. Loosed, it could go
clear through a deer--or a Boy. "Let go of her."

Tomball turned on Dikar. Crouched knee-deep in fern there was
something about him more animal than Boy. The curling thickness of his
lips; the feral look of his black eyes, and the way his neck was tense
and corded.

"You--" Tomball grunted. "You again!"

"Me," Dikar said, heavy-tongued with anger. "The Boss. Tomball,
you have left your cot before day. You have laid hands on a Girl. For
breakin' these Must-Nots you are subject to seven days in the
punishment cave, with only water an' dried corn to eat. What's your
excuse?"

Tomball licked his lips, and straightened. "Nothin'," he said.
"Because you won't give me the punishment."

"Won't I? An' why not?"

"Because I'm not here, that's why. Because I'm in my cot, asleep.
Halross will say so at the Council, an' Carlberger."

"They will lie?" Dikar's brow wrinkled. He could not understand.
"They will lie, at a Council?"

"Sure, they will. What are you goin to do about it?"

"But Marilee here will say different, an' I."

"Course you will," Tomball grinned. "Why shouldn't you, the Boss
of the Bunch an' the Boss of the Girls? Why shouldn't you say that I
left my cot, an' that I laid hands on her, when seven days in the
punishment cave on water an' dried corn will leave me so weak you'll
be sure to lick me, an' stay Boss? Will the Bunch believe you, Dikar,
when I remind 'em of that, or will they believe me an' Halross an'
Carlberger?"

Dikar felt sick. That any should lie at a Council, that any should
talk as he was hearing Tomball talk, was a new and dreadful thing.
"Tomball," he cried. "You're foolin'. You wouldn't really say those
things."

"Wouldn't I?" Tomball grinned, licking his lips. "Just try me.
You're licked, Dikar, an' you know it."

Dikar knew it, and he knew that a terrible thing had come among
them, and he could not think how to fight it. He was licked--

"Dikar!" Marilee's fingers touched his arm. "Dikar. Hold him here
with your arrow while I run an' call the Bunch. When they see Tomball
here in the woods, he an' his pals cannot say that he is in his cot,
asleep." She started away.

"Wait!" Tomball's command halted Marilee. "You can call the Bunch,
Marilee," he said. "But when they get here I'll tell 'em that Dikar
drew his arrow on me an' forced me to come here. An' Halross will say
that, wakin' from sleep in his cot next mine, he saw this, an' that
Dikar said he would kill him if he did not keep quiet."

Marilee and Dikar stared at Tomball.

"You can't win," Tomball sneered. "I'm too smart for you, see. An'
tomorrow you'll find out I'm too strong for you, Dikar. An' here's
somethin' else for you to remember, Marilee. When I'm Boss, you better
like me the way I want you to like me!"

He laughed, then, and turning his back on Dikar's arrow, and
swaggered away; they heard his laugh coming out of the dark woods.

"What did he mean?" Marilee whispered, coming close to Dikar. "He
said, 'When I'm Boss.' What did he mean, Dikar?"

Dikar wanted to put his arms around her.

"He meant that we're gunna fight who should be Boss, Marilee. In
the mornin, right after Brekfes, you will call a Full Council of the
Bunch, an' Tomball an' I will fight who shall be Boss."

Marilee's eyes were upturned to his eyes, her lips were moist and
red. "You must win, Dikar," she whispered. "You heard what he said.
You _must_ win."

The wanting to take her in his arms, the wanting to hold her close
to him, was a great ache in Dikar's arms and in his breast, and a
weakness in his legs.

"I heard him, Marilee," he said, deep-throated. "I will win."

And then Dikar turned and ran off through the woods, but he looked
back over his shoulder at Marilee once and saw the way she stood
looking after him, mantled in her brown hair, and he saw the look in
her face.



Chapter V: THE OLD ONES



When Dikar got back to the Boys' House and slipped inside, all was
dark there, and quiet, and Tomball was in his cot. Dikar put down his
bow and arrow, and took off his apron. He lay down again, and pulled
up the blanket of rabbit's fur.

He lay staring up at the black roof of the house, trembling a
little. It seemed to him that he saw Tomball's face there, black-
stubbled and small-eyed and sneering. And then it was Marilee's face
he saw, the red lips moist, the brown eyes holding his, telling
something her lips could not. And looking into Marilee's eyes, Dikar's
eyes closed and the nothingness of sleep received him ... And out of
sleep's nothingness formed a sky that flared with blue light, and with
red, and was streaked with bright yellow that shimmered and faded; and
the sky was filled with rolling, endless thunder. Against that
terrible sky loomed monstrous black bulks, huge and ominous, hills
that overhung a road and a big truck in which Dick Carr was riding.

In the truck kids were jammed so tight they could not lie down,
and just could move a very little. Dick was in a corner so that his
back was jammed against the iron sides of the truck, and Marilee was
jammed against his side, and her head was on Dick's shoulder, and she
slept.

Most of the kids were asleep, in spite of the terrible lights in
the sky and the awful thunder. But the old man who was driving the
truck wasn't asleep, nor the old woman who sat next to him. Ahead of
them on the road were a lot of trucks, and behind them were a lot more
trucks, but Dick could tell this only by the noise they made, because
none of the trucks had any lights.

Dick knew some of the trucks were loaded high with boxes and boxes
of things, but most of them were jammed tight with kids like this one.

"Tom," Dick heard the old woman ask. "Do you think we'll get
through?"

"I don't know, Helen," the old man answered. "Only God knows. So
you had better pray to God to take us through."

"I can't, Tom. I can't pray any more. I'm all prayed out. God
cannot hear our prayers. He has forgotten us, Tom. He has turned His
face from us."

"Pray, Helen. Not for you or for me, but for the children in our
charge. Pray to God's Son. It was God's Son who once said, 'Suffer ye
the little children to come unto Me.'"

"All right, Tom. I'll try."

They didn't say anything more. The truck bounced along, and the
red and blue lights flared in the sky, and yellow streaked it, and
thunder rolled.

Once the road got steep, climbing up into the sky to what looked
like the Jumping-Off Place, and up there against the sky Dick saw
things that stuck up out of the top of the black hill. They were just
a Bunch of broken poles, black against the blazing sky, but Dick knew
that once they had been trees. And to one side there was a chimney
sticking up, and Dick knew that was all that was left of a house that
the trees used to shade.

Dick started to get sleepy. His eyes closed. The old woman woke
him up, yelling something.

"Tom!" she yelled. "Tom! Turn into this side road. Quick!"

Dick's head banged against the truck side, and the kids fell
against him, and Marilee woke up, screaming, "Dikar! Dikar!" Dick
grabbed hold of her, telling her it was all right, and then the truck
wasn't going any longer, and Dick could bear the other trucks going
past, somewhere behind.

"You caught me off guard, Helen, and I did it," the old man said.
"But why?"

"I don't know, Tom," she answered, talking slow. "I saw the side
road ahead and something told me we must turn off into it. It was like
a voice in my ear. No. It was more like a voice in my brain."

"You're all worked up, Helen. You're excited." Tom's back moved,
and there was a noise of grinding metal. "Watch out behind. I'm
backing up to the highway. As soon as you see a clear space you tell
me, so that I can back out and get into line again. If we lose the
others we won't know where to--" And then there was a white light in
the sky a light bright as the sun floating down out of the sky.

And there was a new sound in the sky, like a bee, like a giant
bee, and it became a roar. An enormous black shape came down under the
light, and there was a rattling noise, like a lot of Boys were running
sticks along a lot of picket fences, but louder, and there were
screams and crashes and the rattling noise kept on.

The rattling noise cut off, and the roar faded and became a bee-
buzz again and the bee-buzz died away in the sky. There were no more
crashes, and no more screams. There was only the rolling thunder
overhead, that never stopped.

Old Tom got down from his seat, and went away into the dark. The
old woman sat very still, and all the kids sat very still, and nobody
moved. After awhile the old man was back, and he was climbing up again
to the truck driver's seat.

"Well?" Helen asked, so low Dick could hardly hear her.

"None," Tom said. "Not one of them all. We're the only ones left.
If we hadn't turned in here--" He didn't finish.

"I guess," Helen said. "I guess God is still listening, up there
above the sound of the guns." And then she said, "Where do we go from
here?"

"There's a smashed signpost back there, where this road turns off.
One of the boards on it reads, 'To Johnson's Quarry.' Do you remember,
Helen, my heading a committee once that tried to stop the Johnson
Granite Company from cutting down a Mountain? They were defacing the
landscape, you recall, and we wanted to preserve the beauties of
Nature for posterity."

He laughed. It wasn't pretty, that laugh. "We failed. Recently I
heard that they had blasted away almost the entire base of the
Mountain, leaving only a narrow ramp by which their trucks could reach
their camp at the top. There are probably quarters for the laborers up
there, perhaps some supplies. The Mountain, as I remember, is thickly
wooded and there's a possibility we may be safely enough concealed
there, at least for a time."

"If only we can get through to it."

"We can try. This is a State Park we are in. There are woods
almost all the way, and nothing to attract enemy patrols." The truck
started running again.

(Dikar's dream blurred.)

The thunder faded out of it, and the dark, and there was sunlight,
with green trees, and a wide cleared space with two long houses each
side of it, with cots and a warless house at one end in which there
were big stoves, and a lot of tables. There were a Bunch of little
kids and there were the two Old Ones.

The Old Ones made the kids work. Helen made the Girls make beds
and cook and things like that. Tom made the Boys go down the road up
which the truck came that first night and hammer deep holes into the
hill of rock on top of which the road climbed up to where the trees
were. When Tom thought the holes were deep enough he would put fat
white sticks into them that he got out of a big red box they had found
where the road started to climb up, and little, silvery things on top
of the sticks.

When it would begin to get dark, they would all eat, and then the
Old Ones would make the Bunch all sit around and they would tell them
things.

They called this a Council. At the first Council the two Old Ones
told the Bunch a lot of things they should do, and they should not do,
and these were the Rules. The Old Ones said Marilee should be Boss of
the Girls, and they said Dick should be Boss of the Boys, and of the
whole Bunch.

Every morning one of the Boys would climb up high in a tree and
watch all day if anybody would come out of the woods on the other side
of the fields down there, where Tom and the Boys were working.

The Boys took turns doing this. One day (and this is where Dikar's
dream got clear again) Dikar was sitting on top of the tree. The Boys
had got through making the holes yesterday, and they weren't down
there any more. They were in the front of the house where they slept,
and Tom was teaching them how to make bows and arrows. The Girls were
in front of their house and Helen was teaching them how to make
baskets out of twigs from the bushes in the woods.

Dick was looking at the black smoke, way far off in the sky, that
had been there all the time since they came here. He thought about a
new Rule the Old Ones had made at Council last night, a Rule they said
was most important of all. "You must not go out of the woods," the
Rule said. "You must not go near the edge of the Drop."

Wondering why the Old Ones had made that rule, Dick looked down at
the edge of the Drop, and at the place where the road climbed up and
over it. His eyes went along the road, and across the fields, and he
saw someone come out of the woods across there.

The someone looked very little, way down there, but Dick could see
he had a kind of dark-green uniform on, and that his face was yellow.
Then another one and another one came out of the woods. These were in
green too, but their faces were black, and they had guns. All of a
sudden there were a lot of them.

Dick yelled down, "Coo-eee! Coo-eee!" and when Tom looked up at
him Dick pointed down at the men in the green uniforms and held up his
spread fingers and wagged them to show Tom how many there were.

Tom started running into the woods, and then he came out on the
other side of them, where the road came up over the edge of the Drop,
and he was running down the road. And then Helen was running after
him, and Tom saw her. Tom yelled something and she stopped, but she
didn't go back.

Tom had a little hammer in his hand.

Dick heard a crack, like a twig breaking, and he looked down and
down, and across the fields, and he saw that the men in green had
their guns up to their shoulders, and he saw a little white puff of
smoke floating away from one of them. Then he saw white puffs come out
of all the guns.

Dick looked back at Tom, and just then Tom fell down, but he
didn't stop. He was crawling down the road, and Helen was running down
it now, running fast.

A lot of cracks came to Dick's ear, and across the fields the air
was full of the little white puffs. On the road Helen caught up with
Tom and was lifting him up, and then he was leaning on her and the two
of them were running down again.

The men in green started running across the fields, stopping every
couple of steps to shoot at Tom and Helen, but the Old Ones got down
to the bottom of the road, and around inside of where the road started
to climb up out of the fields, and the men in green stopped shooting
because they couldn't see them any more, but they kept on running.

Dick could see the Old Ones. They were standing near the rocky
wall of the hill the road climbed on, Helen's arm around Tom, and the
first of the men in green came around to where he could see them.

Tom lifted his little hammer and hit the rock with it. A cloud of
dust hid the Old Ones, and Dick heard a boom, and then there was
another boom, and another, and one so loud it filled the whole world.
The hill the road climbed on leaned away from the rest of the
Mountain, and it started to fall.

It fell slowly at first, and then faster and faster, down on where
the Old Ones were, and on the men in green, and the noise was so loud
Dick couldn't hear any noise at all, and the air was so full of dust
it was like night.

The whole Mountain shook, and the tree shook so hard Dick had to
grab hold of it to keep from being shaken and his hands started to
slip, and...

(Dikar woke.)



Chapter VI: SHADOWS AT SUNRISE



Dikar lay in his cot, his eyes still closed, remembering his
dream, fitting the things it had shown him into the things he knew,
seeing how it explained a lot that had always puzzled him.

It explained the Rule that no fire must ever be made except with
wood so dry that it would burn without smoke, and the Rule that no
fire must ever burn at night except the big Fire on the Fire Stone,
and why the big Fire was set not in the center of the space between
the Boys' House and the Girls' House but at one end, where it was
hidden from the sky by the spreading leafy top of the giant oak. It
explained the Rule that when there was a noise in the sky like a bee
buzzing, everyone must run into the Houses or into the woods and stay
very still until the sound was gone.

But most of all it explained the Must-Not about going out of the
edge of the woods, about going to the edge of the Drop.

_They_ were down there, in the woods across the space of tumbled
stones at the bottom of the Drop, beneath which the Old Ones lay.
Dressed in green, with black faces and yellow faces. They were in the
woods, and in all the far country Dikar could see when he climbed the
tall tree, if They saw any of the Bunch come to the top of the Drop
and so found out that the Bunch lived on the Mountain, They would come
and do to the Bunch what, in his dream, They did to all the kids on
that terrible night in the Long-Ago.

Dikar knew now how the Bunch had come to the Mountain, and he knew
now that the Bunch could not always stay here on the Mountain. Some
day he must lead the Bunch down the Drop, down into the far, green
country that stretched away, fold on fold, to meet the sky. And now
Dikar was glad that he was Boss of the Bunch, so that he would lead
them--

But after this morning he might be no longer Boss!

Dikar remembered that he must fight Tomball over who should be
Boss, and he remembered what Tomball had done and what Tomball had
said last night, between dream and dream. Dikar threw off his blanket
and leaped from his cot, and all down the length of the Boys' House
bronzed forms leaped from the cots, and curtains were raised, and the
sun streamed in.

But the Boys did not laugh in the sun, and they did not laugh and
play jokes on one another as they ran, behind Dikar, out through the
door in the wall away from the Girls' House, and through the woods to
where a stream leaped from a ledge overhead into a pool below, and ran
brawling out of the pool as if eager to reach the edge of the Drop and
leap again over it, and smash itself on the tumbled rocks below.

The Boys did not shout as they sprang after Dikar into the icy
pool, and none swam near him, and none joined him when he climbed on
the stone where the stream came down, and stood there, letting the
stream batter him.

But when tingling with the cold of the waters, with the lash of
the spray, Dikar ran back through the woods to the Boys' House, little
Jimlane came up to run beside him.

"Dikar," Jimlane panted. "Oh, Dikar. They're sayin Tomball is sure
to beat you. They're sayin he's too strong for you. An' a lot are
sayin it's a good thing, that they're tired of you being Boss, and
that when Tomball is Boss we won't have to work all the time, an'
we'll have more time for Games, an' for--an' for playin' with the
Girls."

Dikar ran along, and from his lithe limbs the drops spattered,
shining in the sun, and under his yellow beard his jaw muscles
hardened, but he did not speak.

"An' Tomball says he's goin' to fix me when he's Boss," Jimlane
whimpered. "An' I'm afraid, Dikar. I'm awful afraid."

Dikar looked down at the little fellow, and he saw the frightened
eyes in the pimply face, and the gray, quivering lips.

"Don't worry, kid," he grunted. "Tomball won't win." But Dikar
wasn't sure.

Somehow Brekfes was over, and the Bunch was gathered in a circle
in the space between the Houses, the Girls on one side and the Boys on
the other, and Marilee sat in the Boss's Seat beneath the giant oak,
her brown hair still unbraided, mantling her, her small face color-
drained. Dikar stood before her, and Tomball stood by his side, and
Marilee was speaking.

"You fight," Marilee's clear, sweet voice said, "over who shall be
Boss of the Bunch, an' the Bunch will obey as Boss the one who wins.
You fight with bare fists, an' you fight fair. You begin when I say
the word, you end when one is beaten." Her brown eyes were on Dikar's,
and her eyes told Dikar that he must not be beaten. "That is all."

Dikar turned away and walked toward one end of the cleared space
about which the Bunch stood murmuring. The grass was cool under his
bare feet, and springy.

Marilee had ordered it carefully raked, so that there would be no
branches to trip the fighters, and no small stones to bruise them if
they fell. Many twigs and leaves and small stones had been raked out
of the grass, and so calm was Dikar that he even noted how the stones
had been put in a great circle to mark the bounds of the space in
which he must fight, and how just beyond the circle the Boys and Girls
stood tight-packed.

Dikar came to the end of the space, and turned, and across the
space he saw Tomball turning. Fredalton was whispering something in
Tomball's ear, and Tomball nodded, grinning with his thick lips.

"Fight!" Marilee cried out.

Dikar started going back toward Tomball, and Tomball came to meet
him, half-crouched, his black-stubbled countenance scowling fiercely,
great pads of muscle across his shaggy chest, his hairy belly indrawn.

Dikar moved lithely across the raked grass, his beard shining
yellow in the sunlight, his limbs dusted with yellow hair.

All at once Tomball was very close, and Tomball's fist struck
Dikar's cheek, and Dikar's cheek knotted with the pain of the blow,
and his head rocked.

But Dikar's arm jarred with the blow he had landed on Tomball's
chest, and then Dikar no longer felt any pain. He stood breast to
breast with his enemy, his fisted arms were clubs that pounded the
dark face and the hairy body he hated. There was a salt taste in his
mouth that was very pleasant, and there was joy in the blows he gave,
and joy even in the blows he received.

He made no effort to guard himself from Tomball's blows, nor did
Tomball try to guard himself from Dikar's. They fought like the beasts
fight, eager only to hurt, eager only to pound the other to
submission.

And over them washed the shouts and the screams of the Bunch.

Into a red haze that was all that was left of his vision, Dikar
flung arms so heavy he barely could lift them. Somewhere in the haze
was a darker bulk that moved about, and it was at this Dikar flung his
arms. Sometimes Dikar found it, more often not, and when he missed the
weight of his arms pulled him off balance, and he would start to fall,
and somehow not fall.

Sometimes Dikar would be struck, out of the haze, and he would
sway on his legs that had no strength in them, and almost go down; but
he did not let himself because he must not, though he no longer knew
why.

And out of the haze came an endless thunder of shouting.

Dikar pawed once again at the vague bulk that was his enemy, and
missed, and swayed, and in that instant the bulk struck him, and
Dikar's legs folded, and he sank. His sight cleared, and lurching at
him came Tomball's red-bathed body, Tomball's distorted face. Somehow
Dikar threw a heavy arm at Tomball and struck him, so that as Dikar
settled to the ground Tomball staggered back.

Tomball did not fall, but was steadying. Dikar, sprawled on the
grass, knew that when Tomball had steadied he would come in again to
finish Dikar, and Dikar did not care--

"Dikar!" he heard a high, clear voice above the endless roar.
"No!" _Marilee!_ "No, Dikar. No!" And suddenly Dikar cared desperately
that Tomball was beating him, and his fallen body trembled as he tried
to get up, but he had no strength--

"Oh up, Dikar," a voice squeaked, and Jimlane's pimpled face swam
over Dikar, close to Dikar's face, and Jimlane's hand was tugging at
Dikar's hand to pull him up. "You can lick him now, Dikar." Dikar came
up with the pull of Jimlane's hand, Jimlane's fingers closing Dikar's
hand into a fist. And Tomball, grinning through the red that masked
him, lurched in to beat Dikar down again.

Dikar lifted a heavy arm and flung it at Tomball, and Dikar's fist
fell on Tomball's brow. Tomball crumpled and lay, a still heap on the
grass, with Dikar swaying above him, arms hanging by his sides, in his
ears a deafening roar.

And out of the roar came Marilee, her cheeks rosy, her eyes
alight. "Oh, Dikar."

That was all she said, but Dikar straightened, feeling the
strength flow back into him, hearing the hurrays of the Bunch clear in
his ears, knowing the hurrays were for him.

Marilee took hold of Dikar's wrist to lift his arm and cry him the
winner.

The color fled from her cheeks and from her lips, and the light
went from her eyes as they fell to Dikar's still-fisted hand.

Dikar's eyes went down to where Marilee's eyes looked, and they
saw what Marilee's eyes saw. In his fist that had pounded Tomball down
was clenched a stone, and there was blood on the stone, Tomball's
blood.

Dikar knew now why Jimlane had closed that hand into a fist, why
Jimlane, tugging him up, had said, "You can lick him now." Jimlane
had--

"Dikar," Marilee sobbed. "Oh, Dikar," and then Marilee was lifting
Dikar's arm so that all might see what was in Dikar's fist, and the
hurrays stopped, and there was a throbbing hush.

Marilee's voice was loud and clear in that terrible hush. "I cry
Dikar no fair. I cry Tomball the winner of the fight. I cry Tomball
Boss of the Bunch."

Marilee threw Dikar's arm from her, and it was as if she threw
Dikar from her, and she turned away. Dikar thought he heard Marilee
sob, but she walked away from him head high, back proud. Dikar's mouth
moved but no words came out of it, and he knew there was no use of his
saying that he had not known the stone was in his fist.

A strange, low sound came from the throats of the Bunch, and it
grew louder. A stone struck Dikar on the shoulder, and another, and
Dikar saw that all the Bunch was bending to pick up stones, lifting
them to throw them at him.

"Run!" Jimlane screamed. "Run, Dikar," and Dikar turned and ran,
the stones falling about him; ran, staggering, straight at the hating
faces of the Bunch, and the Bunch opened a path for him, and Dikar ran
into the woods, the stones spattering about him.

Dikar ran in the dim woods till he fell, and he crawled till he
could crawl no longer, and he lay still in the woods, and a sick
nothingness took him.



Chapter VII: THE FAR GREEN LAND



Dikar lived in the woods as the beasts live, and as the beasts'
hurts heal so did his. He set snares for the rabbits and the birds
that were so plentiful in the woods, and cooked them over his little
fires. He found sharp-edged stones, and used them as knives to make a
bow for himself, twisting and drying the gut of the rabbit for string,
and he made arrows, feathering them, and a quiver out of the bark of a
birch.

He hunted with his bow and arrows, and he lay long hours on the
mossy floor of a clearing near the top of the Mountain, waiting the
little creatures of the forest play, looking sometimes into the great,
beautiful eyes of the deer peering out at him from the brush, watching
the birds chirp on the tree boughs above him.

It was spring and always the small woods creatures played two by
two, and the deer went two by two, and the birds; and seeing this,
Dikar would think of Marilee.

Yes, Dikar's hurts healed but the ache within him did not heal.

Sometimes Dikar would climb to the topmost branch of a tall tree
that stood on the very top of the Mountain. He would stay there till
dark, gazing at the far green land that stretched, fold on fold, away
to where the sky came down to meet it. He would think of what he had
dreamed the last night he was Boss, and of his thought that some day
he would lead the Bunch down into that pleasant land, and his heart
would be heavy within him.

Spring warmed into summer, and summer deepened.

Every night Dikar would slip through the woods till he came to
where the trees were black against the red glow of the Fire, and he
could crouch behind the trunk of some tree and look out into the space
between the Houses. He dared not do this till just before Bed-Time,
when he knew most of the Bunch were in the Houses and there was little
danger of one coming upon him.

Dikar would hear the drone of their Now-I-lay-mes, and he would
kneel and say his own with them. With his palms together and his eyes
closed, it was almost as if he knelt by his own cot in the Boys'
House, almost as if he were still one of the Bunch.

After his Now-I-lay-me was said, Dikar would stay there, listening
to the talk of the Boys or the Girls whose turn it was to tend the
Fire.

What Dikar heard made his heart heavy. As he had feared, Tomball
was letting the Bunch break Rule after Rule, was favoring his pals and
laying double work on those he did not like, was shirking many of the
little things that Dikar knew were needed if the Bunch was to be warm
and comfortable and safe when the cold came, and the snow.

One of the Rules Tomball allowed to be broken was the Rule that
none must leave his cot after Bed-Time. Dikar would see Girls come out
of the Girls' House and slip off into the woods, and he would see Boys
do the same. Often they had not yet come back when Dikar tired of
watching had gone back to the shelter he had woven for himself out of
twigs. One thing troubled Dikar above all others. He never saw Marilee
tending the Fire. That she was never one of those who went into the
woods after Bed-Time pleased him, but it was strange that her turn
never came to tend the Fire.

 * * * *

One night Dikar heard the reason. He'd heard that, the day he was
stoned, Marilee had said that she no longer would be Boss of the
Girls, that she had made Bessalton Boss in her place on the promise
that she would free Marilee of the duty of tending to the Fire, or of
any other duty that would take her away from the other Girls. And that
this was because Tomball wanted Marilee to go into the woods with him,
and Marilee feared him.

Dikar's throat grew thick when he heard this. Growling, he rose
from his haunches to stride out into the light of the Fire and call
out Tomball to fight him, not with fists, but with bows and arrows,
and knives, in a fight to the death. His rage blinding him, Dikar was
caught in a bush he did not see, and before he could get free he heard
something else from the tongue of Jimlane, who was tending the Fire
with Billthomas and had spoken of Marilee and Tomball.

"If Dikar was Boss again, things would be different, but there's
no chance of that, because the minute he shows up the Bunch will stone
him again, the way Tomball was ordered, and he would not get away
again."

Dikar went cold, remembering the way the stones had spattered
about him, and was very still in the bush.

"The Bunch wouldn't stone Dikar," Billthomas said, very low and
looking about with frightened eyes, "if you spoke out. Tomball's
orders or no, they would not stone Dikar if they knew that it wasn't
Dikar's fault he fought no fair."

"I dare not tell them." Jimlane's eyes went big in his white face.
"You remember how I told you, an' how you said yourself the Bunch
would stone me if I told."

"Yes, I remember."

"Well, I couldn't rest, an' I went to Tomball an' told him, an'
Tomball beat me till I could hardly walk. That was the time I said I
fell into a hole in the woods, you remember. An' after Tomball beat
me, he told me that if I said a word to anyone else he would kill me,
an' he would kill anyone I told."

"He did!" Now there was fear in Billthomas's eyes, too, and in his
face. "You should not have told me, Jimlane--If Tomball finds out I
know--" His voice was still low, but there was a scream in it.

"If only," Jimlane sobbed, "Dikar could some way come back and
protect me while I told the Bunch--"

"What's the use of all the ifs?" Billthomas broke in. "Tomball's
made sure Dikar would be killed before you had a chance to say
anythin'. The best thing we can do is forget about Dikar, like
everyone else has."

"Yes," Jimlane whispered. "I guess so. Dikar isn't one of the
Bunch any more an' he will never be again."

"Never again," Billthomas agreed.

Now indeed Dikar, rigid in the dark, knew that he was disowned by
his kind. He must live out his life alone, a wild beast in the woods--

And then, perhaps from Some unseen Presence in the close-crowding
dark, perhaps from within Dikar, a thought came to him. He was no
longer one of the Bunch, and so he was not bound by the Rules of the
Bunch. He was not bound by the Must-Nots that the Bunch must obey.
There was something for him to do, and no Rule to say that he must
not.

He drifted off into the darkness, silent as a shadow. But there
was no sleep for Dikar that night.

 * * * *

All that night, and all the next day, Dikar was busy, cutting down
long vines from the trees, testing each one for strength. He plaited
the vines, never stopping, never resting, till by nightfall he had
made a rope long enough for his need.

When dark came Dikar hung his quiver of arrows over one shoulder,
and he hung the great coil of green rope over the other shoulder, and
he followed the sound of a stream through the black forest till he
came to where the woods ended and there was a little space between the
edge of the woods and the edge of the Drop, where the stream leaped
out into the night.

Here Dikar paused, and laid the rope down, and passed its end
around the great trunk of a tree that grew beside the stream, and
fastened the rope with many knots, and pulled on it with all his
strength to make certain that the knots would hold.

Dikar bent, then, and lifted the coil of rope that he had made
from the vines, and carried it to the edge of the Drop, and let it
fall into the dark.

At his feet the rope tautened, and quivered, and below him there
was the sound of its unwinding coil thumping against the high, sheer
rock of the Drop, and the sound of the stream's waters, falling down
and down into sightless blackness. And then the rope at Dikar's feet
was no longer quivering, so that he knew the coil was all unwound.

Dikar bent again, and lifted the rope, and moved it over so that
it lay in the water where the stream leaped out over the Drop, so that
when the sun rose again, all the length of the rope that hung down the
Drop would be hidden behind the falling waters.

Then, without pause, Dikar had hold of the rope with his hands,
and he was over the edge of the Drop, and the icy waters were rushing
about him, were battering him, were fighting to break loose his hold
and send him hurtling down into the dizzy dark to smash on the rocks
below.

Dikar could not see and he could not breathe, and his hands were
slipping on the wet rope. He caught a leg around the rope, and slid.
He could breathe again because he hung between the rushing waters and
the rocky face of the Drop.

Dikar went down and down, endlessly, down into the black and dizzy
darkness, down to where the great stones lay tumbled, and the waters
raged between them, and the Old Ones slept.

 * * * *

The sun was high in the sky, but Dikar was concealed in the leafy
shadow of a treetop where he lay outstretched along a thick bough. He
was peering at a sight that made of his skin an icy, prickling sheath
for his body.

The tree was at the other end of the woods through which Dikar had
loped after finally crossing the belt of immense stones that lay about
the Mountain where the Bunch lived. Some time in the night, sounds
ahead, and moving lights, had alarmed him, and he had climbed the tree
to wait for what the day would show him.

Dikar, as comfortable there as on his mossy bed in the Mountain
forest, had slept longer than he intended. Into his ears had come the
sound of marching feet, and he had thought himself back in his dream
of the night before his fight with Tomball. But his eyes had opened
and the marching feet had still sounded in his ears, and then Dikar
had seen those whose feet made the sound.

The tree in which Dikar wakened was at the edge of the woods and
the edge of a great, flat field. Not far from the tree wires
stretched, one above the other, twice Dikar's height. Fastened to thin
poles, the wires ran away on either hand as far as Dikar could see,
and the wires were thick with long, sharp thorns that would tear a
Boy's flesh to bits.

Beyond this set of wires was another set just like them, as high
and as wickedly barbed, and between the two sets of wires stood, far
apart, figures out of Dikar's dream.

They were dressed in green like the men in the dream who had run
across the fields that now were covered with great stones, shooting at
the Old Ones. Like those, their faces and their hands were black, and
like those they carried the shiny sticks that Dikar now remembered
were called "guns."

But the sound of marching feet came from inside the second fence.
A great crowd of people were marching out of some long, low houses
that were very much like the Bunch's Houses. Just as Dikar spied them,
they stopped marching and stood in a long, straight line in front of
the houses.

They were pretty far away, but Dikar could see them, and he could
see that they were very thin, and they were dressed in ragged clothes
that hung loose on them. He could see that their faces were white, and
that their eyes were sunk deep in their heads, and that they were all
stooped over as if they were very tired, although it was only early
morning.

A voice yelled something, and the white people turned, so that the
lines faced Dikar. Dikar saw that the one who had yelled was
different. His face was yellow, and he was dressed in green, but there
was something different about his green clothes, and he had no gun.

There were other men in green standing around in there. Some of
them were black-faced, and some yellow-faced, some had guns and others
didn't. One very big one only had green on below his waist, above that
he had nothing on. His body was as yellow as his face, and his muscles
were bigger than Dikar's muscles, or even Tomball's. He was holding
something in one hand. It was long and thin and black. His other hand
was against a thick post beside which he stood.

The man in the different green clothes yelled something again, and
then Dikar saw two black-faced ones come out of a smaller house to one
side, and between them was a white one who was so weak they had to
almost carry him. They came to the thick post, and they shoved the
white man up against the post with his face to it, and they tied his
arms and his legs around it, and then they tore off his clothes above
the waist, and stepped away.

The yellow-faced man yelled a lot to the white people. Dikar could
hear him, but he couldn't make out what he was saying. When he
finished he made a sign with his hand to the big yellow man.

That one lifted the long, thin thing he held, and it looked like a
snake. And he lifted it above his head and it straightened out, and
then it came down across the back of the white man who was tied to the
post. Dikar heard the crack it made, and he saw the red mark across
the white man's back.

And the yellow man lifted the thin, snakelike thing again, and
brought it down again, and there was another crack, and another red
mark across the white man's back.

Dikar was sick, seeing that. And then he wasn't sick. He was mad.
He wanted to yell out, "Stop!" but he remembered his dream now,
remembered what the guns could do, and he knew that if he yelled the
men between the wires would see him and shoot him down.

_Crack,_ Dikar heard, and _crack_ again, and now the back of the
man tied to the post was all red, all shining red. But Dikar was on
his feet, on the tree branch. He was pulling taut the string of his
bow, and an arrow was laid across it.

The big yellow lifted his arm again, but when it fell there was no
crack. The big yellow was falling, and the feathers of an arrow were
sticking out of his back. Just the feathers.

Dikar didn't see any more, because he was swinging through the
treetops, a brown and naked Boy flashing through the tops of the
trees, fleeing the death from the guns that he recalled were swifter
and farther reaching than any arrow.

Whether the men in green ever thought to look for him in the
treetops Dikar never knew.

 * * * *

Far away from the place of the thorny wires, Dikar lay on his
belly in the tall grass that covered a hill, and he looked down
through the grass at a place where two roads crossed.

There stood a pole, high as a tall tree, but there was no bark on
it, no branches nor leaves, and because at its top five or six cross-
sticks were fastened, and a lot of wires ran from these cross-pieces
to other cross-sticks at the top of another pole far away down one of
the roads.

Dikar was looking at a rope that hung taut from one of the cross-
sticks at the top of the pole. Dikar was looking at that which weighed
down the rope and kept it taut.

The thing swung back and forth, back and forth, very slowly in the
wind, and rags fluttered about it in the wind, and the rags were no
grayer nor dirtier than the thing was. And Dikar saw that the thing
once had been a man.

...Dikar came to a place where there was a House all of rock, and
it was three or four times as high as the Boys' House, and ten times
as long. The window openings in the wall of this House were very high
and very wide.

Dikar saw a lot of people in there, and there were white men and
women. These were thin and gray and sunken-eyed as those in the place
with the wires, and they were pushing around things piled high with
heavy loads, and they were so weak they could push the things only
slowly. And there were men in green standing around, and these had
little guns hanging at their waists, and they held black, snakelike
things like the big yellow one held.

And Dikar saw a white woman stumble and fall, and he saw one of
the men in green raise the thing he held and bring it down on her,
again and again till, all bloody, she pulled herself up on the thing
she had been pushing and started pushing it again.

And the other men in green laughed, but the white people just kept
on pushing, all stooped over and weak, their eyes like the eyes of the
woman in Dikar's dream who stood in the subway station and said that
God was dead.

Dikar went far and wide that day, a brown shadow flitting through
the fields and the woods, a silent shadow none saw. Dikar saw many
things that day, and the more he saw the heavier his heart grew within
him. For Dikar knew that the white-faced men and women were his people
and that this green land belonged to them and to him, and that the
black men and yellow men were They whom the voice in his dream had
said, "have come out of the East to make this world a Hell."

Yes, Dikar saw the Hell they had made ... The sky darkened and the
night crept out of the woods, and Dikar lay belly down in tall grass
of a field near the woods, head buried in his curled arm, thinking.
Last night he had known that he would never return to the Mountain
where the Bunch lived, and now he knew that he could not stay in this
land that had seemed so pleasant when he had gazed at it from his tall
tree in the forest.

Neither there nor here was there place for Dikar. Nowhere was
there place for him--

Fingers clutched Dikar's arm, bruising fingers. Dikar rolled over
but the fingers held, and there was a growl of words Dikar could not
understand, and in the sunless dusk Dikar saw green-clothed legs, and
a green-clothed breast, and a black, fierce face goggling at him.



Chapter VIII: IN THE TOMORROW



Dikar kicked at the black man's legs, and he saw the black man's
hand dart to the little gun at his waist. Dikar kicked again, wrenched
loose, exploded from the ground.

Dikar's one hand caught the little gun, his other smashed into the
black, goggling face. Somehow the black man was on the ground and
Dikar was atop him, and Dikar was clutching the black throat with one
hand while the other was smashing the little gun down on the black
man's head, smashing and smashing and smashing.

When Dikar fled into the night-shrouded woods he left behind him
something that had legs and a body and arms, but nothing that was
anything like a head.

Deep in the woods, Dikar found a little cave. He crawled into this
and lay there a long time, shuddering. But after awhile he stirred,
and he became aware that he still held in his hands the little gun,
and he sat up, his eyes widening with a sudden thought.

Dikar hid the little gun under a pile of rotting leaves, and he
went out of the cave and prowled about till he was certain that no one
was anywhere within sound of hearing. Then he went back into the cave
with certain things he had picked up and he made a fire, and by the
light of the fire Dikar studied the little gun until he had made out
how it worked.

Satisfied at last, Dikar put out his fire and buried it with wet
earth, and left the cave. That night Dikar traveled far and fast, but
careful to leave no tracks by which he might be traced.

Dikar was going back to the Mountain, and he must not leave any
trail the men in green might follow.

 * * * *

One more night Dikar stole down through the dark forest to the
Houses of the Bunch, but this night it was long after Bed-Time that he
did so. This night Dikar did not crouch behind a tree, looking out at
the Fire, but crept, noiselessly, along the wall of the Boys' House
that was away from the Fire till, under a certain window opening, he
came to a stop.

Dikar listened, trembling a bit, and all he could hear was the
whisper of wind in the trees, and the shrill of insects in the night,
and the soft breathing of the sleeping Boys. Dikar lifted, slowly,
slowly, till he stood upright. The ground here was banked against the
wall so that, standing, Dikar's belly was level with the bottom of the
window.

Slowly, he ran his hand over the sill, and touched the curtain of
woven withes; and moved it aside. And then he was peering through, and
a fleck of red light was dancing on a sleeping face, and the face was
rashed with pimples.

Dikar breathed again. He had remembered right. This was Jimlane.

Dikar got his other hand through the window, and then it was tight
over Jimlane's mouth, and Jimlane's scared eyes were staring up at
Dikar.

"Listen," Dikar breathed. "Listen to me, Jimlane." Dikar spoke so
low that barely he could hear himself, but by the look in Jimlane's
eyes he knew that Jimlane heard him and understood.

After awhile Dikar stole away, and for the first time since
Tomball had challenged him, Dikar was smiling.

There was green all about Dikar, the dancing, leafy green of the
top of the giant oak in which he had spent the rest of that night. He
was still smiling when he awoke, but peering through the leaves at the
Bunch where they chattered, cleaning up after Brekfes, there was a
flutter of some small muscle in the tautness of his belly.

Across the space between the House Dikar spied Marilee talking
with Bessalton. Dikar saw how thin Marilee had grown, and how wan her
little face, and how her fingers plucked endlessly at her short skirt
of plaited grasses, and Dikar's smile faded.

Tomball strode up to the two Girls, black-stubbled as ever. His
belly was overlaid with fat, but it was still shaggy with hair, and
Tomball's grin was still leering.

Tomball put a hand on Marilee's arm, and Marilee shrank away from
him. Under Dikar's yellow beard little muscles knotted to ridge his
jaw, and there was a growl in his throat.

Tomball laughed, and then from behind the Boys' House came the
loud words of a scrap. "He's mine!" Jimlane's voice piped, and "I say
he's mine," squealed the thin voice of Billthomas, and around the
corner of the Boys' House the two came, and between them was a half-
grown fawn, with a vine wound around its brown neck and trailing,
broken, from it.

Jimlane had hold of the fawn's head and Billthomas of its hind
legs, and each tugged as if to take it from the other.

"It was caught in my snare," Billthomas piped.

"You lie," Jimlane squealed.

And then Billthomas straightened and cried out. "It's you who lie,
Jimlane. I dare you to fight out with me, bare fists, whose snare he
was caught in, and whose he shall be."

Tomball's deep-chested laugh came to Dikar's ears, but Jimlane's
voice, breaking from squeal to bass and back again to squeal, was
answering Billthomas. "You dare me fight whose the fawn shall be?" it
said. "Do you cry a fight between us fair?"

And Billthomas: "I cry us equal-matched," and all about were cries
of, "Fair. Fair. They're equal-matched!" and the Boys and Girls of the
Bunch were running from all over, and crying, "Fight! Let them fight!"

And then the Bunch was crowded in a great circle, and the fawn was
tied by the vine about its neck to the Boss's Seat, and Tomball,
grinning, was seated in the Boss's Seat, just beneath the oak, and
Bessalton was seated beside him, mantled in her black hair, and
Jimlane and Billthomas stood before them while Tomball spoke to them.

But Dikar's look was on Marilee where she stood in the crowd, her
two long brown braids coming down over her shoulders, her deepening
breasts beneath leafy circlets.

Dikar's eyes drank thirstily of Marilee till Tomball was finished
speaking and Jimlane and Billthomas were walking slowly, each to their
end of the cleared space where they were to fight. Jimlane reached the
end of the circle, turned--

The little gun jumped in Dikar's hand, and the fawn, just beneath
him dropped, wet-redness streaking the brown neck.

A Girl screamed, high and shrill, and then Dikar was shouting:
"Stay where you are or I'll kill each of you as I've killed the fawn.
I'll kill the first one that moves."

"Dikar!" Marilee cried, and then she was silent, and all were
silent and unmoving, the Boys and the Girls in their jammed circle,
Tomball in the Boss's Seat.

"Jimlane," Dikar shouted down into that hush, "tell the Bunch how
the stone came into my hand with which I struck Tomball when we fought
who should be Boss."

Jimlane, white of face and big of eye, but standing straight,
cried out. "I put the stone in Dikar's hand, when he fell at my feet."

"Did I know you put the stone in my hand?" Dikar shouted from the
tree.

"You did not know, Dikar. You were blinded with your own blood,
an' numbed with Tomball's blows, an' you did not know there was a
stone in your hand."

A murmuring ran around the circle, and a growl, and Dikar saw that
the Bunch did not quite believe that he had not known he was striking
Tomball with a stone though they had agreed to fight bare fist.

"Jimlane," Dikar shouted. "Have you ever told this thing to
anyone?"

"I told it to Tomball," Jimlane cried, "and Tomball beat me for
saying that you did not know you fought no fair, an' Tomball said that
if I spoke to anyone else he would kill me, an' kill the one to whom I
spoke of it."

"You lie!" Tomball shouted, starting from seat. "You lie, dumby!"
Jimlane screamed with terror of Tomball, but Dikar's shout beat down
Jimlane's scream.

"Back!" Dikar shouted. "Back to your seat, Tomball, or you die."
And Tomball went pasty white under his black stubble, and he slumped
down in his seat.

And Dikar leaped out from the oak bough on which he stood, and
came down, spring-legged, in the clear space around which the Bunch
was jammed, and held aloft the little gun.

"This is the thing that kills," he shouted. "Without it I cannot
kill," and then he flung the little gun from him, flung it hard so
that it went up on the roof of the Boys' House and stayed there.

"Now I cannot kill," Dikar shouted. "No more than any of you."

"Stone him," Tomball yelled. "Stone him, Bunch. He is none of us
and we will have none of him." And Dikar saw the Bunch stoop to pluck
up stones. Spraddle-legged, bronze-skinned in the sun, he saw this,
and his heart within him died, but he would not move.

"No!" It was a high, wild cry in his ear, and it came from
Marilee, and Marilee's was beside Dikar. "I cry no fair. I cry the
Bunch no fair, all of you against this one."

"He fought no fair," Tomball shouted, "and so has no right to call
for fairness. Stand aside, Marilee, and let the Bunch stone him."

"I will not stand aside," Marilee answered. "Be you Boss or not,
till you tell the Bunch why you said you would kill Jimlane if he told
his tale to anyone, an' would kill anyone he told the tale to. If you
still thought Dikar had fought no fair, why were you afraid to let the
Bunch hear Jimlane's tale and judge for themselves?"

Now Tomball's little eyes seemed to have grown even smaller, and
his mouth was drawn very tight.

"She's right," someone yelled. "Why, Tomball, did you not let us
judge for ourselves?"

"Jimlane lies," Tomball answered. "He never told me this tale, and
I never--"

"It is you who lie," Dikar cut in. "I say you lie, Tomball. I cry
you a liar, Tomball, an' I dare you to fight me whether you lie or
not. I cry that I fought fair, an' I dare you to fight me whether I
fought fair or not. I dare you to fight me who shall be Boss of the
Bunch. I cry us equal-matched, an' if you refuse to fight me I will
cry you a liar and yellow an' not fit to be Boss of the Bunch an' not
fit to be one of the Bunch. Will you fight, Tomball, bare fists?"

There was only one answer Tomball could make. "I fight you bare
fists, Dikar. I fight you here an' now."

And then they were fighting, were clubbing at each other with
fisted arms, lips drawn back from white teeth, eyes hating. But Dikar
was gaunt and hard-bitten, and toughened by the life he had led since
he'd been stoned from the Bunch, and Tomball was fat and slow, and
short-winded, and so the fight did not last long. Dikar beat Tomball
down, laid him rolling at his feet, and there was scarcely a mark on
Dikar when he stood above his beaten enemy and heard the shouts of the
Bunch.

"Hurray for Dikar. Hurray for the Boss. Hurray and hurray and
hurray."

Dikar scarcely heard the hurrays. He was peering about for Marilee
and he saw her, and he motioned commandingly for her to come to him.
She came to him, her white and slender body shining in the sun, her
eyes shining more brightly than the sun, and then she was beside
Dikar, and Dikar's arm was around her, and he was holding her close to
his side.

Under the thunder of the hurrays, Dikar spoke to Marilee.
"Marilee," he said. "In the time I have been alone in the woods I have
learned many things--an' one of the things I have learned is that each
creature has his mate, the birds an' the small beasts of the woods,
an' the deer. I learned that He who made all things meant this to be
so, an' meant that we too, each of us, shall have his mate. Marilee, I
want you for my mate." He was looking down into her face, and now he
waited, with a tightness growing in him that was both keen happiness
and fear.

Marilee's red lips spoke. "Oh, Dikar. This that you have learned
only now, I have known always. Dikar, always I have wanted you for my
mate."

A great joy leaped within Dikar, and he raised his hand and
roared, "Shut up! Shut up, all of you." And the hurrays died away, and
the Bunch was hushed, and Dikar was talking into that smiling hush.

"There are many things I have to say to you, an' many Rules I
shall have to change. All this will come later. Just now I have
something to say, but not to you, though I wish all the Bunch to hear
it, all the Bunch, an' Another."

Then, in that hush, Dikar turned to the giant oak, and to the
forest beyond the oak, and his voice was low, and slow, and awed.

"You Whose voice is the whisper of the wind in the trees, an' the
ripple of the water in the streams an' the song of the insects in the
night! You, Who watch over us by day, an' by night! You to Whom we say
our Now-I-lay-mes at Bed-Time! Sir! Look upon me and upon this Girl,
an' hear me. In Your sight an' Your hearin' I take this Girl to be my
mate, an' none other than this Girl, an' to You an' to her I promise
that all my life I will take care of her an' let no harm come near
her. I promise that all my life she shall be bone of my bone an' flesh
of my flesh, all my life an' all her life, an' always an' always."

"Hear me, Sir!" Marilee's clear, young voice rang out. "I shall be
this Boy's mate, an' none other's, an' he shall be bone of my bone,
an' flesh of my flesh, always an' always."

And it seemed to Dikar that a soft hand stroked his hair, though
it might have been the wind. How could it be the wind, though, that
said in his ear, in sweet, low tones, "The Lord bless you, my son, an'
the Lord bless my daughter."

Dikar had climbed to the topmost branch of the tallest tree in the
forest, and Marilee had climbed there with him. For a long time,
clasped in each other's arms, they had gazed out on the green land
that stretched, fold on fold, to the sky, while Dikar told Marilee of
his dream that was not a dream, and of the terrible things he had seen
down there.

"Some day, Marilee," Dikar ended. "I shall lead the Bunch down
there. I have to, because down there is the America of which the man
spoke, an' this is the Tomorrow he talked about, an' we are the
children of yesterday who will reconquer those green and pleasant
fields for democracy, and liberty, and freedom."

And all at once there was a light shining on the land down there,
a great and golden light that cast no shadows.



THE END




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