Death and Life of a Soldier: 9
CHAPTER TWO THE FEAST
Silently, we three walked across the green, and there, where the waves left a gleaming line on the golden sand, we turned toward our house. All was peace. The mellow green light filled the little sanctuary. The pink chestnut, perpetually in bloom, brooded over the roof and graced the verandah where we settled for our talk.
Reg, sighing with content, flung himself down on the yielding softness of the floor, turning his head so that he could look far out to sea. “How lovely this is! Almost, I could believe I had earned it, and could stay here. I wish” He broke off, musing.
“What do you wish, Reg?” Janet asked softly. She had not joined us yet, but was moving about inside. I heard the chink of the fruit bowls, and knew that she was preparing food for our guest.
“I wish it could be hurried,” he confessed at last. ” Seeing everyone so happy even those who still have no degree, who apparently are not fully appointed yet makes me realise that there is nothing to fear.”
“Love reigns,” I explained.
“Yes! That makes everything so different. Sort of changes all one had ever thought about sins and the reckoning. Then, my mates.” He flushed. They could not even understand why I wanted to see them first !” I saw the poor fellow was hurt and said hastily:
“That is natural, Reg, if you come to think of it. To them, you are in a privileged position. You have passed through death’s door, not merely looked through it. You are like an explorer who returns from a foreign country and says he saw nothing of the beauties and wonders because he spent the time sleeping !” Reg laughed and I watched his hurt melt away with thankfulness.
“Oh, I see what you mean! Yes, I suppose they would find it hard to understand.” After a moment he added, “What a fool I have been.”
“It is so hard, sometimes, to let go of earth when first coming here,” Janet observed placidly, adding in a matteroffact tone, “Now we will eat and forget all problems for a while.”
Reg looked astounded, springing up to help her bring in the bowls of fruit.
“Why, do you know, I haven’t eaten anything since I came and I haven’t noticed it! I ought to have been famished. Why was that?”
“Food is not an essential in order to sustain life here,” I explained. “It is just a refreshment.” Janet handed me a pile of breadstems and I put them down beside the fruit. “What about something to drink?”
“I have it here.” She brought out a great jug of crushed fruit juice and three sparkling glasses. Reg surveyed the feast with delight. If it is as good as it looks”
“It is better,” I smiled. We all three settled down companionably.
“Help yourself!” Janet poured some of the fruit juice into the glasses and we each took one. I held mine up to the light.
“You never seem to tire of doing that! “Janet teased. She and Reg were already sipping theirs.
“No.” I turned the glass slowly round and watched the colours separate and merge again. “It always fascinates me! How can the different juices separate like that and yet be one liquid? But perhaps they do not really separate, perhaps it is merely the colours.”
“Merely the colours!” Reg laughed. He was holding up his half-emptied glass. ” I have never seen anything like it!”
“What colours can you see?” asked Janet with interest.
“Well, I think I can see the deep purple of the grape”
“A kind of ivory tint, that might bea nectarine?”
“Yes. Go on. You are doing splendidly.”
“Then I can see a thick, creamy colour … Now what could that be? ” We waited a while, and then I said:
“Oh yes. Yet surely the juices of fruits do not keep their characteristic colour so clearly?
“That is why I said the colours separate and merge againnot the juices. I think, perhaps, the colours of Heaven are more livingevery tint being visible to the eye. Oh, what a place for artists Heaven is.”
“You are right.” Reg still held his glass before his eyes.
“Go on,” Janet urged.
“Slave driver!” I was delighted to see Reg so much at his ease.
“Well, there is a deep ruby here. I should say raspberry or one of the rich plums.”
“Both are there, though only a little plumjuice in comparison with the raspberry.”
“Any red currants?”
“Yes, that is the light, almost scarlet tint, and the pinkish tone.”
“Strawberry!” Reg cried in triumph.
“Yes, but what of the golden shade? “Janet asked, “They are much more difficult to recognise.” Reg puckered his brow.
” I can see one almost the colour of your sash. Might be melon or pineapple”
“I say, you are good at colours. That is pineapple one of those very ripe ones, almost dripping with juice. Any more?”
“Wait a minute.” Reg began to examine his glass again, but Janet said laughingly:
“What a shame to tease you! That is the end of the recipe.”
“So you have recipes here?”
“They perfect them in the Hall of Food. There, all those who have the creative instinct and the desire to prepare, arrange and perfect food, work there as long as they like.”
This apparently reminded Janet of the fruit, for she offered the bowls to Reg, saying gaily: “Make your choice!”
Reg gazed at the fruit in wonder.
“It’s perfect.” He touched the bloom on a great purple grape, rubbed his fingertip against the glossy skin of a red and gold apple, gently pressed a huge peach, and finally picked up a melon. “It looks like the sun on a winter’s morning!”
“So it does.” Janet chose a brilliant red apple with fine ivory streaks running downward. I started on the raspberries. For a while we ate in silence, watching the soothing ebb and flow of the waves. A tree, leaning from the cliffs, swayed gently, and the golden sand took on a deeper hue where the tide receded. The sky was the deepest blue I had ever seen it here; the sea even deeper, but near the shore it faded into that peculiarly pale tint of green, like spring leaves only halfunfurled. What a riot of colour it was! Earth seemed a drab, cold placewhen one could bring one’s mind to think of it at all.
Presently we offered Reg some of the breadstems. He declared that they were just like the crisp, brown rolls that his favourite cafe had made “at home “. When we explained that they grew everywhere and only needed to be snapped off, he was astonished.
“It hardly seems necessary to cook anything here !”
“It is not necessary at all,” I explained.
“Do you mean that nothing is ever cooked?”
“You sound regretful,” I smiled.
“Well,” he confessed, “I’ve always loved cookingsmells ! That is, coming in hungry from a long tramp and opening the kitchen door you know.”
Janet gave a little smile. “Well Reg, you can have your cooking if that is all you want! In the Hall of Food it is quite easy to raise the temperature at certain spots. Here, many savoury dishes are prepared. These are for the childrenin the Hall of Children, you knowin certain parts of the Hall of Friends, and, of course, for anyone who wants them! After a while, of course, when we have climbed towards the Heights and have degrees, we lose our interest in food, except for very rare occasions. I suppose we become too busy and happy to remember!”
“Oh, I can quite understand that,” Reg agreed. “But just at firstmakes one feel at home, you know . . . However, this feast would take a lot of beating!”