As we both sat in silence our train passed through a short tunnel, briefly spreading darkness upon us. As we came into light my companion began to speak again:
“Their children matured slowly as befitted the children of immortal parents. With no natural death to control their numbers it was important that they did not overpopulate their valley. To avoid this it was laid down in their laws that as a child reached maturity, at one hundred years, the oldest of that child’s sex within the community must die.
“That was the problem that now confronted the head man. One of the young men had reached his maturity last summer and now wished to take his place in the community. So the oldest man, the head man, must die. Their law said that he could not leave the valley nor, because of his immortality, could he die in any normal sense of the word. The only way they could end their life was to give their immortality to another living being that was not immortal.”
Once more my friend paused. I looked at him but he was looking past me and into those days of the past – his past. With a sigh he began again:-
“This they achieved by telling the secret of immortality to one of the animals that lived in the valley. In the telling of the secret the gift of immortality was passed to the other. Having told their secret the mortal aged and died. Provided they had told an animal that had not reached breeding age, the balance of nature in the valley was never upset.
“The head man, however, had long ago resolved to pass his secret to some other human. During the winter he had decided that their guest, my present companion, should be the receiver of the gift, the first human from outside the valley to become immortal. In the telling of the secret my companion had been given immortality, whether he wanted it or not.
“The head man had then hurried him on his way. The years would now rapidly and irrecoverably catch up with the head man and within hours he would be dead and the young man of the community would take his place.
“My companion had then found himself ushered out of the cell and into the bright spring day. His few belongings had been bundled together and these, together with a quantity of food, awaited him. One of the young men escorted him to the edge of the valley and directed him to a path that eventually led to the desert in which we were travelling.
“When we first met, my companion had been heading back to the valley to return the gift. However, the days we had spent together had changed his mind. His wish now was to pass on the gift to another dweller of the world. In telling me, the secret the gift was given again. Like him before me I had had no choice.”
The man grew silent. In the time it had taken him to tell the story he had aged ten years, or so it seemed. After a while he spoke again. “As I said, at first I was overjoyed. But now I feel old and I am tired and want to rest. I have had enough.”
All went quiet in our carriage.