By JOHN GALSWORTHY.
[From King Albert’s Book.]
In my dream I saw a fertile plain, rich with the hues of Autumn. Tranquil it was and warm. Men and women, children, and the beasts worked and played and wandered there in peace. Under the blue sky and the white clouds low-hanging, great trees shaded the fields; and from all the land there arose a murmur as from bees clustering on the rose-colored blossoms of tall clover. And, in my dream, I roamed, looking into every face, the faces of prosperity, broad and well favored—of people living in a land of plenty, of people drinking of the joy of life, caring nothing for the morrow. But I could not see their eyes, that seemed ever cast down, gazing at the ground, watching the progress of their feet over the rich grass and the golden leaves already fallen from the trees. The longer I walked among them the more I wondered that never was I suffered to see the eyes of any, not even of the little children, not even of the beasts. It was as if ordinance had gone forth that their eyes should be banded with invisibility.
While I mused on this, the sky began to darken. A muttering of distant winds and waters came traveling. The children stopped their play, the beasts raised their heads; men and women halted and cried to each other: “The River—the River is rising! If it floods, we are lost! Our beasts will drown; we, even we, shall drown! The River!” And women stood like things of stone, listening; and men shook their fists at the black sky and at that traveling mutter of the winds and waters; and the beasts sniffed at the darkening air.
Then, clear, I heard a Voice call: “Brothers! The dike is breaking! The River comes! Link arms, brothers; with the dike of our bodies we will save our home! Sisters, behind us, link arms! Close in the crevices, children! The River!” And all that multitude, whom I had seen treading quietly the grass and fallen leaves with prosperous feet, came hurrying, their eyes no longer fixed on the rich plain, but lifted in trouble and defiance, staring at that rushing blackness. And the Voice called: “Hasten, brothers! The dike is broken. The River floods!”
And they answered: “Brother, we come!”
Thousands and thousands they pressed, shoulder to shoulder—men, women, and children, and the beasts lying down behind, till the living dike was formed. And that blackness came on, nearer, nearer, till, like the whites of glaring eyes, the wave crests glinted in the dark rushing flood. And the sound of the raging waters was as a roar from a million harsh mouths.
But the Voice called: “Hold, brothers! Hold!”
And from the living dike came answer: “Brother! We hold!”
Then the sky blackened to night. And the terrible dark water broke on that dike of life; and from all the thin living wall rose such cry of struggle as never was heard.