DARKNESS AND DAWN
GEORGE ALLAN ENGLAND
To Robert H. Davis Unique inspirer of plots Do I dedicate This my trilogy G.A.E.
BOOK I The Vacant World
I. The Awakening II. Realization III. On the Tower Platform IV. The City of Death V. Exploration VI. Treasure-Trove VII. The Outer World VIII. A Sign of Peril IX. Headway Against Odds X. Terror XI. A Thousand Years! XII. Drawing Together XIII. The Great Experiment XIV. The Moving Lights XV. Portents of War XVI. The Gathering of the Hordes XVII. Stern's Resolve XVIII. The Supreme Question XIX. The Unknown Race XX. The Curiosity of Eve XXI. Eve Becomes an Amazon XXII. Gods! XXIII. The Obeah XXIV. The Fight in the Forest XXV. The Goal, and Through It XXVI. Beatrice Dares XXVII. To Work! XXVIII. The Pulverite XXIX. The Battle on the Stairs XXX. Consummation
BOOK II Beyond The Great Oblivion
I. Beginnings II. Settling Down III. The Maskalonge IV. The Golden Age V. Deadly Peril VI. Trapped! VII. A Night of Toil VIII. The Rebirth of Civilization IX. Planning the Great Migration X. Toward the Great Cataract XI. The Plunge! XII. Trapped on the Ledge XIII. On the Crest of the Maelstrom XIV. A Fresh Start XV. Labor and Comradeship XVI. Finding the Biplane XVII. All Aboard for Boston! XVIII. The Hurricane XIX. Westward Ho! XX. On the Lip of the Chasm XXI. Lost in the Great Abyss XXII. Lights! XXIII. The White Barbarians XXIV. The Land of the Merucaans XXV. The Dungeon of the Skeletons XXVI. "You Speak English!" XXVII. Doomed! XXVIII. The Battle in the Dark XXIX. Shadows of War XXX. Exploration XXXI. Escape? XXXII. Preparations XXXIII. The Patriarch's Tale XXXIV. The Coming of Kamrou XXXV. Face to Face with Death XXXVI. Gage of Battle XXXVII. The Final Struggle XXXVIII. The Sun of Spring
BOOK III The Afterglow
I. Death, Life, and Love II. Eastward Ho! III. Catastrophe! IV. "To-Morrow is Our Wedding-Day" V. The Search for the Records VI. Trapped! VII. The Leaden Chest VIII. "Till Death Us Do Part" IX. At Settlement Cliffs X. Separation XI. "Hail to the Master!" XII. Challenged! XIII. The Ravished Nest XIV. On the Trail of the Monster XV. In the Grip of Terror XVI. A Respite from Toil XVII. The Distant Menace XVIII. The Annunciation XIX. The Master of His Race XX. Disaster! XXI. Allan Returns Not XXII. The Treason of H'yemba XXIII. The Return of the Master XXIV. "The Boy Is Gone!" XXV. The Fall of H'yemba XXVI. The Coming of the Horde XXVII. War! XXVIII. The Besom of Flame XXIX. Allan's Narrative XXX. Into the Fire-Swept Wilderness XXXI. A Strange Apparition XXXII. The Meeting of the Bands XXXIII. Five Years Later XXXIV. History and Roses XXXV. The Afterglow
THE VACANT WORLD
Dimly, like the daybreak glimmer of a sky long wrapped in fogs, a sign of consciousness began to dawn in the face of the tranced girl.
Once more the breath of life began to stir in that full bosom, to which again a vital warmth had on this day of days crept slowly back.
And as she lay there, prone upon the dusty floor, her beautiful face buried and shielded in the hollow of her arm, a sigh welled from her lips.
Life—life was flowing back again! The miracle of miracles was growing to reality.
Faintly now she breathed; vaguely her heart began to throb once more. She stirred. She moaned, still for the moment powerless to cast off wholly the enshrouding incubus of that tremendous, dreamless sleep.
Then her hands closed. The finely tapered fingers tangled themselves in the masses of thick, luxuriant hair which lay outspread all over and about her. The eyelids trembled.
And, a moment later, Beatrice Kendrick was sitting up, dazed and utterly uncomprehending, peering about her at the strangest vision which since the world began had ever been the lot of any human creature to behold—the vision of a place transformed beyond all power of the intellect to understand.
For of the room which she remembered, which had been her last sight when (so long, so very long, ago) her eyes had closed with that sudden and unconquerable drowsiness, of that room, I say, remained only walls, ceiling, floor of rust-red steel and crumbling cement.
Quite gone was all the plaster, as by magic. Here or there a heap of whitish dust betrayed where some of its detritus still lay.
Gone was every picture, chart, and map—which—but an hour since, it seemed to her—had decked this office of Allan Stern, consulting engineer, this aerie up in the forty-eighth story of the Metropolitan Tower.
Furniture, there now was none. Over the still-intact glass of the windows cobwebs were draped so thickly as almost to exclude the light of day—a strange, fly-infested curtain where once neat green shade-rollers had hung.
Even as the bewildered girl sat there, lips parted, eyes wide with amaze, a spider seized his buzzing prey and scampered back into a hole in the wall.
A huge, leathery bat, suspended upside down in the far corner, cheeped with dry, crepitant sounds of irritation.
Beatrice rubbed her eyes.
"What?" she said, quite slowly. "Dreaming? How singular! I only wish I could remember this when I wake up. Of all the dreams I've ever had, this one's certainly the strangest. So real, so vivid! Why, I could swear I was awake—and yet—"
All at once a sudden doubt flashed into her mind. An uneasy expression dawned across her face. Her eyes grew wild with a great fear; the fear of utter and absolute incomprehension.
Something about this room, this weird awakening, bore upon her consciousness the dread tidings this was not a dream.
Something drove home to her the fact that it was real, objective, positive! And with a gasp of fright she struggled up amid the litter and the rubbish of that uncanny room.
"Oh!" she cried in terror, as a huge scorpion, malevolent, and with its tail raised to strike, scuttled away and vanished through a gaping void where once the corridor-door had swung. "Oh, oh! Where am I? What—what has—happened?"
Horrified beyond all words, pale and staring, both hands clutched to her breast, whereon her very clothing now had torn and crumbled, she faced about.
To her it seemed as though some monstrous, evil thing were lurking in the dim corner at her back. She tried to scream, but could utter no sound, save a choked gasp.
Then she started toward the doorway. Even as she took the first few steps her gown—a mere tattered mockery of garment—fell away from her.
And, confronted by a new problem, she stopped short. About her she peered in vain for something to protect her disarray. There was nothing.
"Why—where's—where's my chair? My desk?" she exclaimed thickly, starting toward the place by the window where they should have been, and were not. Her shapely feet fell soundlessly in that strange and impalpable dust which thickly coated everything.
"My typewriter? Is—can that be my typewriter? Great Heavens! What's the matter here, with everything? Am I mad?"
There before her lay a somewhat larger pile of dust mixed with soft and punky splinters of rotten wood. Amid all this decay she saw some bits of rust, a corroded type-bar or two—even a few rubber key-caps, still recognizable, though with the letters quite obliterated.
All about her, veiling her completely in a mantle of wondrous gloss and beauty, her lustrous hair fell, as she stooped to see this strange, incomprehensible phenomenon. She tried to pick up one of the rubber caps. At her merest touch it crumbled to an impalpable white powder.
Back with a shuddering cry the girl sprang, terrified.
"Merciful Heavens!" she supplicated. "What—what does all this mean?"
For a moment she stood there, her every power of thought, of motion, numbed. Breathing not, she only stared in a wild kind of cringing amazement, as perhaps you might do if you should see a dead man move.
Then to the door she ran. Out into the hall she peered, this way and that, down the dismantled corridor, up the wreckage of the stairs all cumbered, like the office itself, with dust and webs and vermin.
Aloud she hailed: "Oh! Help, help, help!" No answer. Even the echoes flung back only dull, vacuous sounds that deepened her sense of awful and incredible isolation.
What? No noise of human life anywhere to be heard? None! No familiar hum of the metropolis now rose from what, when she had fallen asleep, had been swarming streets and miles on miles of habitations.
Instead, a blank, unbroken leaden silence, that seemed part of the musty, choking atmosphere—a silence that weighed down on Beatrice like funeral-palls.
Dumfounded by all this, and by the universal crumbling of every perishable thing, the girl ran, shuddering, back into the office. There in the dust her foot struck something hard.
She stooped; she caught it up and stared at it.
"My glass ink-well! What? Only such things remain?"
No dream, then, but reality! She knew at length that some catastrophe, incredibly vast, some disaster cosmic in the tragedy of its sweep, had desolated the world.
"Oh, my mother!" cried she. "My mother—dead? Dead, now, how long?"
She did not weep, but just stood cowering, a chill of anguished horror racking her. All at once her teeth began to chatter, her body to shake as with an ague.
Thus for a moment dazed and stunned she remained there, knowing not which way to turn nor what to do. Then her terror-stricken gaze fell on the doorway leading from her outer office to the inner one, the one where Stern had had his laboratory and his consultation-room.
This door now hung, a few worm-eaten planks and splintered bits of wood, barely supported by the rusty hinges.
Toward it she staggered. About her she drew the sheltering masses of her hair, like a Godiva of another age; and to her eyes, womanlike, the hot tears mounted. As she went, she cried in a voice of horror.
"Mr. Stern! Oh—Mr. Stern! Are—are you dead, too? You can't be—it's too frightful!"
She reached the door. The mere touch of her outstretched hand disintegrated it. Down in a crumbling mass it fell. Thick dust bellied up in a cloud, through which a single sun-ray that entered the cobwebbed pane shot a radiant arrow.
Peering, hesitant, fearful of even greater terrors in that other room, Beatrice peered through this dust-haze. A sick foreboding of evil possessed her at thought of what she might find there—yet more afraid was she of what she knew lay behind her.
An instant she stood within the ruined doorway, her left hand resting on the moldy jam. Then, with a cry, she started forward—a cry in which terror had given place to joy, despair to hope.
Forgotten now the fact that, save for the shrouding of her messy hair, she stood naked. Forgotten the wreck, the desolation everywhere.
"Oh—thank Heaven!" gasped she.
There, in that inner office, half-rising from the wrack of many things that had been and were now no more, her startled eyes beheld the figure of a man—of Allan Stern!
At her he peered with eyes that saw not, yet; toward her he groped a vague, unsteady hand.
Not quite alone in this world-ruin, not all alone was she!
The joy in Beatrice's eyes gave way to poignant wonder as she gazed on him. Could this be he?
Yes, well she knew it was. She recognized him even through the grotesquery of his clinging rags, even behind the mask of a long, red, dusty beard and formidable mustache, even despite the wild and staring incoherence of his whole expression.
Yet how incredible the metamorphosis! To her flashed a memory of this man, her other-time employer—keen and smooth-shaven, alert, well-dressed, self-centered, dominant, the master of a hundred complex problems, the directing mind of engineering works innumerable.
Faltering and uncertain now he stood there. Then, at the sound of the girl's voice, he staggered toward her with outflung hands. He stopped, and for a moment stared at her.
For he had had no time as yet to correlate his thoughts, to pull himself together.
And while one's heart might throb ten times, Beatrice saw terror in his blinking, bloodshot eyes.
But almost at once the engineer mastered himself. Even as Beatrice watched him, breathlessly, from the door, she saw his fear die out, she saw his courage well up fresh and strong.
It was almost as though something tangible were limning the man's soul upon his face. She thrilled at sight of him.
And though for a long moment no word was spoken, while the man and woman stood looking at each other like two children in some dread and unfamiliar attic, an understanding leaped between them.
Then, womanlike, instinctively as she breathed, the girl ran to him. Forgetful of every convention and of her disarray, she seized his hand. And in a voice that trembled till it broke she cried:
"What is it? What does all this mean? Tell me!"
To him she clung.
"Tell me the truth—and save me! Is it real?"
Stern looked at her wonderingly. He smiled a strange, wan, mirthless smile.
All about him he looked. Then his lips moved, but for the moment no sound came.
He made another effort, this time successful.
"There, there," said he huskily, as though the dust and dryness of the innumerable years had got into his very voice. "There, now, don't be afraid!
"Something seems to have taken place here while—we've been asleep. What? What is it? I don't know yet. I'll find out. There's nothing to be alarmed about, at any rate."
"But—look!" She pointed at the hideous desolation.
"Yes, I see. But no matter. You're alive. I'm alive. That's two of us, anyhow. Maybe there are a lot more. We'll soon see. Whatever it may be, we'll win."
He turned and, trailing rags and streamers of rotten cloth that once had been a business suit, he waded through the confusion of wreckage on the floor to the window.
If you have seen a weather-beaten scarecrow flapping in the wind, you have some notion of his outward guise. No tramp you ever laid eyes on could have offered so preposterous an appearance.
Down over his shoulders fell the matted, dusty hair. His tangled beard reached far below his waist. Even his eyebrows, naturally rather light, had grown to a heavy thatch above his eyes.
Save that he was not gray or bent, and that he still seemed to have kept the resilient force of vigorous manhood, you might have thought him some incredibly ancient Rip Van Winkle come to life upon that singular stage, there in the tower.
But little time gave he to introspection or the matter of his own appearance. With one quick gesture he swept away the shrouding tangle of webs, spiders, and dead flies that obscured the window. Out he peered.
"Good Heavens!" cried he, and started back a pace.
She ran to him.
"What is it?" she breathlessly exclaimed.
"Why, I don't know—yet. But this is something big! Something universal! It's—it's—no, no, you'd better not look out—not just yet."
"I must know everything. Let me see!"
Now she was at his side, and, like him, staring out into the clear sunshine, out over the vast expanses of the city.
A moment's utter silence fell. Quite clearly hummed the protest of an imprisoned fly in a web at the top of the window. The breathing of the man and woman sounded quick and loud.
"All wrecked!" cried Beatrice. "But—then—"
"Wrecked? It looks that way," the engineer made answer, with a strong effort holding his emotions in control. "Why not be frank about this? You'd better make up your mind at once to accept the very worst. I see no signs of anything else."
"The worst? You mean—"
"I mean just what we see out there. You can interpret it as well as I."
Again the silence while they looked, with emotions that could find no voicing in words. Instinctively the engineer passed an arm about the frightened girl and drew her close to him.
"And the last thing I remember," whispered she, "was just—just after you'd finished dictating those Taunton Bridge specifications. I suddenly felt—oh, so sleepy! Only for a minute I thought I'd close my eyes and rest, and then—then—"
"Same here," said he. "What the deuce can have struck us? Us and everybody—and everything? Talk about your problems! Lucky I'm sane and sound, and—and—"
He did not finish, but fell once more to studying the incomprehensible prospect.
Their view was towards the east, but over the river and the reaches of what had once upon a time been Long Island City and Brooklyn, as familiar a scene in the other days as could be possibly imagined. But now how altered an aspect greeted them!
"It's surely all wiped out, all gone, gone into ruins," said Stern slowly and carefully, weighing each word. "No hallucination about that." He swept the sky-line with his eyes, that now peered keenly out from beneath those bushy brows. Instinctively he brought his hand up to his breast. He started with surprise.
"What's this?" he cried. "Why, I—I've got a full yard of whiskers. My good Lord! Whiskers on me? And I used to say—"
He burst out laughing. At his beard he plucked with merriment that jangled horribly on the girl's tense nerves. Suddenly he grew serious. For the first time he seemed to take clear notice of his companion's plight.
"Why, what a time it must have been!" cried he. "Here's some calculation all cut out for me, all right. But—you can't go that way, Miss Kendrick. It—it won't do, you know. Got to have something to put on. Great Heavens what a situation!"
He tried to peel off his remnant of a coat, but at the merest touch it tore to shreds and fell away. The girl restrained him.
"Never mind," said she, with quiet, modest dignity. "My hair protects me very well for the present. If you and I are all that's left of the people in the world, this is no time for trifles."
A moment he studied her. Then he nodded, and grew very grave.
"Forgive me," he whispered, laying a hand on her shoulder. Once more he turned to the window and looked out.
"So then, it's all gone?" he queried, speaking as to himself. "Only a skyscraper standing here or there? And the bridges and the islands—all changed.
"Not a sign of life anywhere; not a sound; the forests growing thick among the ruins? A dead world if—if all the world is like this part of it! All dead, save you and me!"
In silence they stood there, striving to realize the full import of the catastrophe. And Stern, deep down in his heart, caught some glimmering insight of the future and was glad.
ON THE TOWER PLATFORM
Suddenly the girl started, rebelling against the evidence of her own senses, striving again to force upon herself the belief that, after all, it could not be so.
"No, no, no!" she cried. "This can't be true. It mustn't be. There's a mistake somewhere. This simply must be all an illusion, a dream!
"If the whole world's dead, how does it happen we're alive? How do we know it's dead? Can we see it all from here? Why, all we see is just a little segment of things. Perhaps if we could know the truth, look farther, and know—"
He shook his head.
"I guess you'll find it's real enough," he answered, "no matter how far you look. But, just the same, it won't do any harm to extend our radius of observation.
"Come, let's go on up to the top of the tower, up to the observation-platform. The quicker we know all the available facts the better. Now, if I only had a telescope—!"
He thought hard a moment, then turned and strode over to a heap of friable disintegration that lay where once his instrument case had stood, containing his surveying tools.
Down on his ragged knees he fell; his rotten shreds of clothing tore and ripped at every movement, like so much water-soaked paper.
A strange, hairy, dust-covered figure, he knelt there. Quickly he plunged his hands into the rubbish and began pawing it over and over with eager haste.
"Ah!" he cried with triumph. "Thank Heaven, brass and lenses haven't crumbled yet!"
Up he stood again. In his hand the girl saw a peculiar telescope.
"My 'level,' see?" he exclaimed, holding it up to view. "The wooden tripod's long since gone. The fixtures that held it on won't bother me much.
"Neither will the spirit-glass on top. The main thing is that the telescope itself seems to be still intact. Now we'll see."
Speaking, he dusted off the eye-piece and the objective with a bit of rag from his coat-sleeve.
Beatrice noted that the brass tubes were all eaten and pitted with verdigris, but they still held firmly. And the lenses, when Stern had finished cleaning them, showed as bright and clear as ever.
"Come, now; come with me," he bade.
Out through the doorway into the hall he made his way while the girl followed. As she went she gathered her wondrous veil of hair more closely about her.
In this universal disorganization, this wreck of all the world, how little the conventions counted!
Together, picking their way up the broken stairs, where now the rust-bitten steel showed through the corroded stone and cement in a thousand places, they cautiously climbed.
Here, spider-webs thickly shrouded the way, and had to be brushed down. There, still more bats bung and chippered in protest as the intruders passed.
A fluffy little white owl blinked at them from a dark niche; and, well toward the top of the climb, they flushed up a score of mud-swallows which had ensconced themselves comfortably along a broken balustrade.
At last, however, despite all unforeseen incidents of this sort, they reached the upper platform, nearly a thousand feet above the earth.
Out through the relics of the revolving door they crept, he leading, testing each foot of the way before the girl. They reached the narrow platform of red tiling that surrounded the tower.
Even here they saw with growing amazement that the hand of time and of this maddening mystery had laid its heavy imprint.
"Look!" he exclaimed, pointing. "What this all means we don't know yet. How long it's been we can't tell. But to judge by the appearance up here, it's even longer than I thought. See, the very tiles are cracked and crumbling.
"Tilework is usually considered highly recalcitrant—but this is gone. There's grass growing in the dust that's settled between the tiles. And—why, here's a young oak that's taken root and forced a dozen slabs out of place."
"The winds and birds have carried seeds up here, and acorns," she answered in an awed voice. "Think of the time that must have passed. Years and years.
"But tell me," and her brow wrinkled with a sudden wonder, "tell me how we've ever lived so long? I can't understand it.
"Not only have we escaped starvation, but we haven't frozen to death in all these bitter winters. How can that have happened?"
"Let it all go as suspended animation till we learn the facts, if we ever do," he replied, glancing about with wonder.
"You know, of course, how toads have been known to live embedded in rock for centuries? How fish, hard-frozen, have been brought to life again? Well—"
"But we are human beings."
"I know. Certain unknown natural forces, however, might have made no more of us than of non-mammalian and less highly organized creatures.
"Don't bother your head about these problems yet a while. On my word, we've got enough to do for the present without much caring about how or why.
"All we definitely know is that some very long, undetermined period of time has passed, leaving us still alive. The rest can wait."
"How long a time do you judge it?" she anxiously inquired.
"Impossible to say at once. But it must have been something extraordinary—probably far longer than either of us suspect.
"See, for example, the attrition of everything up here exposed to the weather." He pointed at the heavy stone railing. "See how that is wrecked, for instance."
A whole segment, indeed, had fallen inward. Its debris lay in confusion, blocking all the southern side of the platform.
The bronze bars, which Stern well remembered—two at each corner, slanting downward and bracing a rail—had now wasted to mere pockmarked shells of metal.
Three had broken entirely and sagged wantonly awry with the displacement of the stone blocks, between which the vines and grasses had long been carrying on their destructive work.
"Look out!" Stern cautioned. "Don't lean against any of those stones." Firmly he held her back as she, eagerly inquisitive, started to advance toward the railing.
"Don't go anywhere near the edge. It may all be rotten and undermined, for anything we know. Keep back here, close to the wall."
Sharply he inspected it a moment.
"Facing stones are pretty well gone," said he, "but, so far as I can see, the steel frame isn't too bad. Putting everything together, I'll probably be able before long to make some sort of calculation of the date. But for now we'll have to call it 'X,' and let it go at that."
"The year X!" she whispered under her breath. "Good Heavens, am I as old as that?"
He made no answer, but only drew her to him protectingly, while all about them the warm summer wind swept onward to the sea, out over the sparkling expanses of the bay—alone unchanged in all that universal wreckage.
In the breeze her heavy masses of hair stirred luringly. He felt its silken caress on his half-naked shoulder, and in his ears the blood began to pound with strange insistence.
Quite gone now the daze and drowsiness of the first wakening. Stern did not even feel weak or shaken. On the contrary, never had life bounded more warmly, more fully, in his veins.
The presence of the girl set his heart throbbing heavily, but he bit his lip and restrained every untoward thought.
Only his arm tightened a little about that warmly clinging body. Beatrice did not shrink from him. She needed his protection as never since the world began had woman needed man.
To her it seemed that come what might, his strength and comfort could not fail. And, despite everything, she could not—for the moment—find unhappiness within her heart.
Quite vanished now, even in those brief minutes since their awakening, was all consciousness of their former relationship—employer and employed.
The self-contained, courteous, yet unapproachable engineer had disappeared.
Now, through all the extraneous disguise of his outer self, there lived and breathed just a man, a young man, thewed with the vigor of his plentitude. All else had been swept clean away by this great change.
The girl was different, too. Was this strong woman, eager-eyed and brave, the quiet, low-voiced stenographer he remembered, busy only with her machine, her file-boxes, and her carbon-copies? Stern dared not realize the transmutation. He ventured hardly fringe it in his thoughts.
To divert his wonderings and to ease a situation which oppressed him, he began adjusting the "level" telescope to his eye.
With his back planted firmly against the tower, he studied a wide section of the dead and buried world so very far below them. With astonishment he cried:
"It is true, Beatrice! Everything's swept clean away. Nothing left, nothing at all—no signs of life!
"As far as I can reach with these lenses, universal ruin. We're all alone in this whole world, just you and I—and everything belongs to us!"
"Everything! Even the future—the future of the human race!"
Suddenly he felt her tremble at his side. Down at her he looked, a great new tenderness possessing him. He saw that tears were forming in her eyes.
Beatrice pressed both hands to her face and bowed her head. Filled with strange emotions, the man watched her for a moment.
Then in silence, realizing the uselessness of any words, knowing that in this monstrous Ragnarok of all humanity no ordinary relations of life could bear either cogency or meaning, he took her in his arms.
And there alone with her, far above the ruined world, high in the pure air of mid-heaven, he comforted the girl with words till then unthought-of and unknown to him.
THE CITY OF DEATH
Presently Beatrice grew calmer. For though grief and terror still weighed upon her soul, she realized that this was no fit time to yield to any weakness—now when a thousand things were pressing for accomplishment, if their own lives, too, were not presently to be snuffed out in all this universal death.
"Come, come," said Stern reassuringly. "I want you, too, to get a complete idea of what has happened. From now on you must know all, share all, with me." And, taking her by the hand he led her along the crumbling and uncertain platform.
Together, very cautiously, they explored the three sides of the platform still unchoked by ruins.
Out over the incredible mausoleum of civilization they peered. Now and again they fortified their vision by recourse to the telescope.
Nowhere, as he had said, was any slightest sign of life to be discerned. Nowhere a thread of smoke arose; nowhere a sound echoed upward.
Dead lay the city, between its rivers, whereon now no sail glinted in the sunlight, no tug puffed vehemently with plumy jets of steam, no liner idled at anchor or nosed its slow course out to sea.
The Jersey shore, the Palisades, the Bronx and Long Island all lay buried in dense forests of conifers and oak, with only here and there some skeleton mockery of a steel structure jutting through.
The islands in the harbor, too, were thickly overgrown. On Ellis, no sign of the immigrant station remained. Castle William was quite gone. And with a gasp of dismay and pain, Beatrice pointed out the fact that no longer Liberty held her bronze torch aloft.
Save for a black, misshapen mass protruding through the tree-tops, the huge gift of France was no more.
Fringing the water-front, all the way round, the mournful remains of the docks and piers lay in a mere sodden jumble of decay, with an occasional hulk sunk alongside.
Even over these wrecks of liners, vegetation was growing rank and green. All the wooden ships, barges and schooners had utterly vanished.
The telescope showed only a stray, lolling mast of steel, here or yonder, thrusting up from the desolation, like a mute appealing hand raised to a Heaven that responded not.
"See," remarked Stern, "up-town almost all the buildings seem to have crumbled in upon themselves, or to have fallen outward into the streets. What an inconceivable tangle of detritus those streets must be!
"And, do you notice the park hardly shows at all? Everything's so overgrown with trees you can't tell where it begins or ends. Nature has her revenge at last, on man!"
"The universal claim, made real," said Beatrice. "Those rather clearer lines of green, I suppose, must be the larger streets. See how the avenues stretch away and away, like ribbons of green velvet?"
"Everywhere that roots can hold at all, Mother Nature has set up her flags again. Hark! What's that?"
A moment they listened intently. Up to them, from very far, rose a wailing cry, tremulous, long-drawn, formidable.
"Oh! Then there are people, after all?" faltered the girl, grasping Stern's arm.
"No, hardly!" answered he. "I see you don't know the wolf-cry. I didn't till I heard it in the Hudson Bay country, last winter—that is, last winter, plus X. Not very pleasant, is it?"
"Wolves! Then—there are—"
"Why not? Probably all sorts of game on the island now. Why shouldn't there be? All in Mother Nature's stock-in-trade, you know.
"But come, come, don't let that worry you. We're safe, for the present. Time enough to consider hunting later. Let's creep around here to the other side of the tower, and see what we can see."
Silently she acquiesced. Together they reached the southern part of the platform, making their way as far as the jumbled rocks of the fallen railing would permit.
Very carefully they progressed, fearful every moment lest the support break beneath them and hurl them down along the sloping side of the pinnacle to death.
"Look!" bade Stern, pointing. "That very long green line there used to be Broadway. Quite a respectable Forest of Arden now, isn't it?" He swept his hand far outward.
"See those steel cages, those tiny, far-off ones with daylight shining through? You know them—the Park Row, the Singer, the Woolworth and all the rest. And the bridges, look at those!"
She shivered at the desolate sight. Of the Brooklyn Bridge only the towers were visible.
The watchers, two isolated castaways on their island in the sea of uttermost desolation, beheld a dragging mass of wreckage that drooped from these towers on either shore, down to the sparkling flood.
The other bridges, newer and stronger far, still remained standing. But even from that distance Stern could quite plainly see, without the telescope, that the Williamsburg Bridge had "buckled" downward and that the farther span of the Blackwell's Island Bridge was in ruinous disrepair.
"How horrible, how ghastly is all this waste and ruin!" thought the engineer. "Yet, even in their overthrow, how wonderful are the works of man!"
A vast wonder seized him as he stood there gazing; a fierce desire to rehabilitate all this wreckage, to set it right, to start the wheels of the world-machinery running once more.
At the thought of his own powerlessness a bitter smile curled his lips.
Beatrice seemed to share something of his wonder.
"Can it be possible," whispered she, "that you and—and I—are really like Macaulay's lone watcher of the world-wreck on London Bridge?"
"That we are actually seeing the thing so often dreamed of by prophets and poets? That 'All this mighty heart is lying still,' at last—forever? The heart of the world, never to beat again?"
He made no answer, save to shake his head; but fast his thoughts were running.
So then, could he and Beatrice, just they two, be in stern reality the sole survivors of the entire human race? That race for whose material welfare he had, once on a time, done such tremendous work?
Could they be destined, he and she, to witness the closing chapter in the long, painful, glorious Book of Evolution? Slightly he shivered and glanced round.
Till he could adjust his reason to the facts, could learn the truth and weigh it, he knew he must not analyze too closely; he felt he must try not to think. For that way lay madness!
Far out she gazed.
The sun, declining, shot a broad glory all across the sky. Purple and gold and crimson lay the light-bands over the breast of the Hudson.
Dark blue the shadows streamed across the ruined city with its crowding forests, its blank-staring windows and sagging walls, its thousands of gaping vacancies, where wood and stone and brick had crumbled down—the city where once the tides of human life had ebbed and flowed, roaring resistlessly.
High overhead drifted a few rosy clouds, part of that changeless nature which alone did not repel or mystify these two beleaguered waifs, these chance survivors, this man, this woman, left alone together by the hand of fate.
They were dazed, fascinated by the splendor of that sunset over a world devoid of human life, for the moment giving up all efforts to judge or understand.
Stern and his mate peered closer, down at the interwoven jungles of Union Square, the leafy frond-masses that marked the one-time course of Twenty-Third Street, the forest in Madison Square, and the truncated column of the tower where no longer Diana turned her huntress bow to every varying breeze.
They heard their own hearts beat. The intake of their breath sounded strangely loud. Above them, on a broken cornice, some resting swallows twittered.
All at once the girl spoke.
"See the Flatiron Building over there!" said she. "What a hideous wreck!"
From Stern she took the telescope, adjusted it, and gazed minutely at the shattered pile of stone and metal.
Blotched as with leprosy stood the walls, whence many hundreds of blocks had fallen into Broadway forming a vast moraine that for some distance choked that thoroughfare.
In numberless places the steel frame peered through. The whole roof had caved in, crushing down the upper stories, of which only a few sparse upstanding metal beams remained.
The girl's gaze was directed at a certain spot which she knew well.
"Oh, I can even see—into some of the offices on the eighteenth floor!" cried she. "There, look?" And she pointed. "That one near the front! I—I used to know—"
She broke short off. In her trembling hands the telescope sank. Stern saw that she was very pale.
"Take me down!" she whispered. "I can't stand it any longer—I can't, possibly! The sight of that wrecked office! Let's go down where I can't see that!"
Gently, as though she had been a frightened child, Stern led her round the platform to the doorway, then down the crumbling stairs and so to the wreckage and dust-strewn confusion of what had been his office.
And there, his hand upon her shoulder, he bade her still be of good courage.
"Listen now, Beatrice," said he. "Let's try to reason this thing out together, let's try to solve this problem like two intelligent human beings.
"Just what's happened, we don't know; we can't know yet a while, till I investigate. We don't even know what year this is.
"Don't know whether anybody else is still alive, anywhere in the world. But we can find out—after we've made provision for the immediate present and formed some rational plan of life.
"If all the rest are gone, swept away, wiped out clean like figures on a slate, then why we should have happened to survive whatever it was that struck the earth, is still a riddle far beyond our comprehension."
He raised her face to his, noble despite all its grotesque disfigurements; he looked into her eyes as though to read the very soul of her, to judge whether she could share this fight, could brave this coming struggle.
"All these things may yet be answered. Once I get the proper data for this series of phenomena, I can find the solution, never fear!
"Some vast world-duty may be ours, far greater, infinitely more vital than anything that either of us has ever dreamed. It's not our place, now, to mourn or fear! Rather it is to read this mystery, to meet it and to conquer!"
Through her tears the girl smiled up at him, trustingly, confidingly. And in the last declining rays of the sun that glinted through the window-pane, her eyes were very beautiful.
Came now the evening, as they sat and talked together, talked long and earnestly, there within that ruined place. Too eager for some knowledge of the truth, they, to feel hunger or to think of their lack of clothing.
Chairs they had none, nor even so much as a broom to clean the floor with. But Stern, first-off, had wrenched a marble slab from the stairway.
And with this plank of stone still strong enough to serve, he had scraped all one corner of the office floor free of rubbish. This gave them a preliminary camping-place wherein to take their bearings and discuss what must be done.
"So then," the engineer was saying as the dusk grew deeper, "so then, we'll apparently have to make this building our headquarters for a while.
"As nearly as I can figure, this is about what must have happened. Some sudden, deadly, numbing plague or cataclysm must have struck the earth, long, long ago.
"It may have been an almost instantaneous onset of some new and highly fatal micro-organism, propagating with such marvelous rapidity that it swept the world clean in a day—doing its work before any resistance could be organized or thought of.
"Again, some poisonous gas may have developed, either from a fissure in the earth's crust, or otherwise. Other hypotheses are possible, but of what practical value are they now?
"We only know that here, in this uppermost office of the Tower, you and I have somehow escaped with only a long period of completely suspended animation. How long? God alone knows! That's a query I can't even guess the answer to as yet."
"Well, to judge by all the changes," Beatrice suggested thoughtfully, "it can't have been less than a hundred years. Great Heavens!" and she burst into a little satiric laugh. "Am I a hundred and twenty-four years old? Think of that!"
"You underestimate," Stern answered. "But no matter about the time question for the present; we can't solve it now.
"Neither can we solve the other problem about Europe and Asia and all the rest of the world. Whether London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, and every other city, every other land, all have shared this fate, we simply don't know.
"All we can have is a feeling of strong probability that life, human life I mean, is everywhere extinct—save right here in this room!
"Otherwise, don't you see, men would have made their way back here again, back to New York, where all these incalculable treasures seem to have perished, and—"
He broke short off. Again, far off, they heard a faint re-echoing roar. For a moment they both sat speechless. What could it be? Some distant wall toppling down? A hungry beast scenting its prey? They could not tell. But Stern smiled.
"I guess," said he, "guns will be about the first thing I'll look for, after food. There ought to be good hunting down in the jungles of Fifth Avenue and Broadway!
"You shoot, of course? No? Well, I'll soon teach you. Lots of things both of us have got to learn now. No end of them!"
He rose from his place on the floor, went over to the window and stood for a minute peering out into the gloom. Then suddenly he turned.
"What's the matter with me, anyhow?" he exclaimed with irritation. "What right have I to be staying here, theorizing, when there's work to do? I ought to be busy this very minute!
"In some way or other I've got to find food, clothing, tools, arms—a thousand things. And above all, water! And here I've been speculating about the past, fool that I am!"
"You—you aren't going to leave me—not to-night?" faltered the girl.
Stern seemed not to have heard her, so strong the imperative of action lay upon him now. He began to pace the floor, sliding and stumbling through the rubbish, a singular figure in his tatters and with his patriarchal hair and beard, a figure dimly seen by the faint light that still gloomed through the window:
"In all that wreckage down below," said he, as though half to himself, "in all that vast congeries of ruin which once was called New York, surely enough must still remain intact for our small needs. Enough till we can reach the land, the country, and raise food of our own!"
"Don't go now!" pleaded Beatrice. She, too, stood up, and out she stretched her hands to him. "Don't, please! We can get along some way or other till morning. At least, I can!"
"No, no, it isn't right! Down in the shops and stores, who knows but we might find—"
"But you're unarmed! And in the streets—in the forest, rather—"
"Listen!" he commanded rather abruptly. "This is no time for hesitating or for weakness. I know you'll stand your share of all that we must suffer, dare and do together.
"Some way or other I've got to make you comfortable. I've got to locate food and drink immediately. Got to get my bearings. Why, do you think I'm going to let you, even for one night, go fasting and thirsty, sleep on bare cement, and all that sort of thing?
"If so, you're mistaken! No, you must spare me for an hour or two. Inside of that time I ought to make a beginning!"
"A whole hour?"
"Two would probably be nearer it. I promise to be back inside of that time."
"But," and her voice quivered just a trifle, "but suppose some wolf or bear—"
"Oh, I'm not quite so foolhardy as all that!" he retorted. "I'm not going to venture outside till to-morrow. My idea is that I can find at least a few essentials right here in this building.
"It's a city in itself—or was. Offices, stores, shops, everything right here together in a lump. It can't possibly take me very long to go down and rummage out something for your comfort.
"Now that the first shock and surprise of our awakening are over, we can't go on in this way, you know—h'm!—dressed in—well, such exceedingly primitive garb!"
Silently she looked at his dim figure in the dusk. Then she stretched out her hand.
"I'll go too," said she quite simply.
"You'd better stay. It's safer here."
"No, I'm going."
"But if we run into dangers?"
"Never mind. Take me with you."
Over to her he came. He took her hand. In silence he pressed it. Thus for a moment they stood. Then, arousing himself to action, he said: "First of all, a light."
"A light? How can you make a light? Why, there isn't a match left anywhere in this whole world."
"I know, but there are other things. Probably my chemical flasks and vials aren't injured. Glass is practically imperishable. And if I'm not mistaken, the bottles must be lying somewhere in that rubbish heap over by the window."
He left her wondering, and knelt among the litter. For a while he silently delved through the triturated bits of punky wood and rust-red metal that now represented the remains of his chemical cabinet.
All at once he exclaimed: "Here's one! And here's another! This certainly is luck! H-m! I shouldn't wonder if I got almost all of them back."
One by one he found a score of thick, ground-glass vials. Some were broken, probably by the shock when they and the cabinet had fallen, but a good many still remained intact.
Among these were the two essential ones. By the last dim ghost of light through the window, and by the sense of touch, Stern was able to make out the engraved symbols "P" and "S" on these bottles.
"Phosphorus and sulphur," he commented. "Well, what more could I reasonably ask? Here's alcohol, too, hermetically sealed. Not too bad, eh?"
While the girl watched, with wondering admiration, Stern thought hard a moment. Then he set to work.
First he took a piece of the corroded metal framework of the cabinet, a steel strip about eighteen inches long, frail in places, but still sufficiently strong to serve his purpose.
Tearing off some rags from his coat-sleeve, he wadded them together into a ball as big as his fist. Around this ball he twisted the metal strip, so that it formed at once a holder and a handle for the rag-mass.
With considerable difficulty he worked the glass stopper out of the alcohol bottle, and with the fluid saturated the rags. Then, on a clear bit of the floor, he spilled out a small quantity of the phosphorus and sulphur.
"This beats getting fire by friction all hollow," he cheerfully remarked. "I've tried that, too, and I guess it's only in books a white man ever succeeds at it. But this way you see, it's simplicity itself."
Very moderate friction, with a bit of wood from the wreckage of the door, sufficed to set the phosphorus ablaze. Stern heaped on a few tiny lumps of sulphur. Then, coughing as the acrid fumes arose from the sputter of blue flame, he applied the alcohol-soaked torch.
Instantly a puff of fire shot up, colorless and clear, throwing no very satisfactory light, yet capable of dispelling the thickest of the gloom.
The blaze showed Stern's eager face, long-bearded and dusty, as he bent over this crucial experiment.
The girl, watching closely, felt a strange new thrill of confidence and solace. Some realization of the engineer's resourcefulness came to her, and in her heart she had confidence that, though the whole wide world had crumbled into ruin, yet he would find a way to smooth her path, to be a strength and refuge for her.
But Stern had no time for any but matters of intensest practicality. From the floor he arose, holding the flambeau in one hand, the bottle of alcohol in the other.
"Come now," bade he, and raised the torch on high to light her way, "You're still determined to go?"
For an answer she nodded. Her eyes gleamed by the uncanny light.
And so, together, he leading out of the room and along the wrecked hall, they started on their trip of exploration out into the unknown.
Never before had either of them realized just what the meaning of forty-eight stories might be. For all their memories of this height were associated with smooth-sliding elevators that had whisked them up as though the tremendous height had been the merest trifle.
This night, however, what with the broken stairs, the debris-cumbered hallways, the lurking darkness which the torch could hardly hold back from swallowing them, they came to a clear understanding of the problem.
Every few minutes the flame burned low and Stern had to drop on more alcohol, holding the bottle high above the flame to avoid explosion.
Long before they had compassed the distance to the ground floor the girl lagged with weariness and shrank with nameless fears.
Each black doorway that yawned along their path seemed ominous with memories of life that had perished there, of death that now reigned all-supreme.
Each corner, every niche and crevice, breathed out the spirit of the past and of the mystic tragedy which in so brief a time had wiped the human race from earth, "as a mother wipes the milky lips of her child."
And Stern, though he said little save to guide Beatrice and warn her of unusual difficulties, felt the somber magic of the place. No poet, he; only a man of hard and practical details. Yet he realized that, were he dowered with the faculty, here lay matter for an Epic of Death such as no Homer ever dreamed, no Virgil ever could have penned.
Now and then, along the corridors and down the stairways, they chanced on curious little piles of dust, scattered at random in fantastic shapes.
These for a few minutes puzzled Stern, till stooping, he stirred one with his hand. Something he saw there made him start back with a stifled exclamation.
"What is it?" cried the girl, startled. "Tell me!"
But he, realizing the nature of his discovery—for he had seen a human incisor tooth, gold-filled, there in the odd little heap—straightened up quickly and assumed to smile.
"It's nothing, nothing at all!" he answered. "Come, we haven't got any time to waste. If we're going to provide ourselves with even a few necessaries before the alcohol's all gone, we've got to be at work!"
And onward, downward, ever farther and farther, he led her through the dark maze of ruin, which did not even echo to their barefoot tread.
Like disheveled wraiths they passed, soundlessly, through eerie labyrinths and ways which might have served as types of Coleridge's "caverns measureless to man," so utterly drear they stretched out in their ghostly desolation.
At length, after an eternal time of weariness and labor, they managed to make their way down into the ruins of the once famous and beautiful arcade which had formerly run from Madison Avenue to the square.
"Oh, how horrible!" gasped Beatrice, shrinking, as they clambered down the stairs and emerged into this scene of chaos, darkness, death.
Where long ago the arcade had stretched its path of light and life and beauty, of wealth and splendor, like an epitome of civilization all gathered in that constricted space, the little light disclosed stark horror.
Feeble as a will-o'-the-wisp in that enshrouding dark, the torch showed only hints of things—here a fallen pillar, there a shattered mass of wreckage where a huge section of the ceiling had fallen, yonder a gaping aperture left by the disintegration of a wall.
Through all this rubbish and confusion, over and through a score of the little dust-piles which Stern had so carefully avoided explaining to Beatrice, they climbed and waded, and with infinite pains slowly advanced.
"What we need is more light!" exclaimed the engineer presently. "We've got to have a bonfire here!"
And before long he had collected a considerable pile of wood, ripped from the door-ways and window-casings of the arcade. This he set fire to, in the middle of the floor.
Soon a dull, wavering glow began to paint itself upon the walls, and to fling the comrades' shadows, huge and weird, in dancing mockery across the desolation.
Strangely enough, many of the large plate-glass windows lining the arcade still stood intact. They glittered with the uncanny reflections of the fire as the man and woman slowly made way down the passage.
"See," exclaimed Stern, pointing. "See all these ruined shops? Probably almost everything is worthless. But there must be some things left that we can use.
"See the post-office, down there on the left? Think of the millions in real money, gold and silver, in all these safes here and all over the city—in the banks and vaults! Millions! Billions!
"Jewels, diamonds, wealth simply inconceivable! Yet now a good water supply, some bread, meat, coffee, salt, and so on, a couple of beds, a gun or two and some ordinary tools would outweigh them all!"
"Clothes, too," the girl suggested. "Plain cotton cloth is worth ten million dollars an inch now."
"Right," answered Stern, gazing about him with wonder.
"And I offer a bushel of diamonds for a razor and a pair of scissors." Grimly he smiled as he stroked his enormous beard.
"But come, this won't do. There'll be plenty of time to look around and discuss things in the morning. Just now we've got a definite errand. Let's get busy!"
Thus began their search for a few prime necessities of life, there in that charnel-house of civilization, by the dull reflections of the firelight and the pallid torch glow.
Though they forced their way into ten or twelve of the arcade shops, they found no clothing, no blankets or fabric of any kind that would serve for coverings or to sleep upon. Everything at all in the nature of cloth had either sunk back into moldering annihilation or had at best grown far too fragile to be of the slightest service.
They found, however, a furrier's shop, and this they entered eagerly.
From rusted metal hooks a few warped fragments of skins still hung, moth-eaten, riddled with holes, ready to crumble at the merest touch.
"There's nothing in any of these to help us," judged Stern. "But maybe we might find something else in here."
Carefully they searched the littered place, all dust and horrible disarray, which made sad mockery of the gold-leaf sign still visible on the window: "Lange, Importer. All the Latest Novelties."
On the floor Stern discovered three more of those little dust-middens which meant human bodies, pitiful remnants of an extinct race, of unknown people in the long ago. What had he now in common with them? The remains did not even inspire repugnance in him. All at once Beatrice uttered a cry of startled gladness. "Look here! A storage chest!"
True enough, there stood a cedar box, all seamed and cracked and bulging, yet still retaining a semblance of its original shape.
The copper bindings and the lock were still quite plainly to be seen, as the engineer held the torch close, though green and corroded with incredible age.
One effort of Stern's powerful arms sufficed to tip the chest quite over. As it fell it burst. Down in a mass of pulverized, worm-eaten splinters it disintegrated.
Out rolled furs, many and many of them, black, and yellow, and striped—the pelts of the grizzly, of the leopard, the chetah, the royal Bengal himself.
"Hurray!" shouted the man, catching up first one, then another, and still a third. "Almost intact. A little imperfection here and there doesn't matter. Now we've got clothes and beds.
"What's that? Yes, maybe they are a trifle warm for this season of the year, but this is no time to be particular. See, now, how do you like that?"
Over the girl's shoulders, as he spoke, he flung the tiger-skin.
"Magnificent!" he judged, standing back a pace or two and holding up the torch to see her better. "When I find you a big gold pin or clasp to fasten that with at the throat you'll make a picture of another and more splendid Boadicea!"
He tried to laugh at his own words, but merriment sat ill there in that place, and with such a subject. For the woman, thus clad, had suddenly assumed a wild, barbaric beauty.
Bright gleamed her gray eyes by the light of the flambeau; limpid, and deep, and earnest, they looked at Stern. Her wonderful hair, shaken out in bewildering masses over the striped, tawny savagery of the robe, made colorful contrasts, barbarous, seductive.
Half hidden, the woman's perfect body, beautiful as that of a wood-nymph or a pagan dryad, roused atavistic passions in the engineer.
He dared speak no other word for the moment, but bent beside the shattered chest again and fell to looking over the furs.
A polar-bear skin attracted his attention, and this he chose. Then, with it slung across his shoulder, he stood up.
"Come," said he, steadying his voice with an effort; "come, we must be going now. Our light won't hold out very much longer. We've got to find food and drink before the alcohol's all gone; got to look out for practical affairs, whatever happens. Let's be going."
Fortune favored them.
In the wreck of a small fancy grocer's booth down toward the end of the arcade, where the post-office had been, they came upon a stock of goods in glass jars.
All the tinned foods had long since perished, but the impermeable glass seemed to have preserved fruits and vegetables of the finer sort, and chipped beef and the like, in a state of perfect soundness.
Best of all, they discovered the remains of a case of mineral water. The case had crumbled to dust, but fourteen bottles of water were still intact.
"Pile three or four of these into my fur robe here," directed Stern. "Now, a few of the other jars—that's right. To-morrow we'll come down and clean up the whole stock. But we've got enough for now."
"We'd best be getting back up the stairs again," said he. And so they started.
"Are you going to leave that fire burning?" asked the girl, as they passed the middle of the arcade.
"Yes. It can't do any harm. Nothing to catch here; only old metal and cement. Besides, it would take too much time and labor to put it out."
Thus they abandoned the gruesome place and began the long, exhausting climb.
It must have taken them an hour and a half at least to reach their eerie. Both found their strength taxed to the utmost.
Before they were much more than halfway up, the ultimate drop of alcohol had been burned.
The last few hundred feet had to be made by slow, laborious feeling, aided only by such dim reflections of the gibbous moon as glimmered through a window, cobweb-hung, or through some break in the walls.
At length, however—for all things have an end—breathless and spent, they found their refuge. And soon after that, clad in their savage robes, they supped.
Allan Stern, consulting engineer, and Beatrice Kendrick, stenographer, now king and queen of the whole wide world domain (as they feared), sat together by a little blaze of punky wood fragments that flickered on the eroded floor.
They ate with their fingers and drank out of the bottles, sans apology. Strange were their speculations, their wonderings, their plans—now discussed specifically, now half-voiced by a mere word that thrilled them both with sudden, poignant emotion.
An so an hour passed, and the night deepened toward the birth of another day. The fire burned low and died, for they had little to replenish it with.
Down sank the moon, her pale light dimming as she went, her faint illumination wanly creeping across the disordered, wrack-strewn floor.
And at length Stern, in the outer office, Beatrice in the other, they wrapped themselves within their furs and laid them down to sleep.
Despite the age-long trance from which they both had but so recently emerged, a strange lassitude weighed on them.
Yet long after Beatrice had lost herself in dreams, Stern lay and thought strange thoughts, yearning and eager thoughts, there in the impenetrable gloom.
THE OUTER WORLD
Before daybreak the engineer was up again, and active. Now that he faced the light of morning, with a thousand difficult problems closing in on every hand, he put aside his softer moods, his visions and desires, and—like the scientific man he was—addressed himself to the urgent matters in hand.
"The girl's safe enough alone, here, for a while," thought he, looking in upon her where she lay, calm as a child, folded within the clinging masses of the tiger-skin.
"I must be out and away for two or three hours, at the very least. I hope she'll sleep till I get back. If not—what then?"
He thought a moment; then, coming over to the charred remnants of last night's fire, chose a bit of burnt wood. With this he scrawled in large, rough letters on a fairly smooth stretch of the wall:
"Back soon. All O. K. Don't worry."
Then, turning, he set out on the long, painful descent again to the earth-level.
Garish now, and doubly terrible, since seen with more than double clearness by the graying dawn, the world-ruin seemed to him.
Strong of body and of nerve as he was, he could not help but shudder at the numberless traces of sudden and pitiless death which met his gaze.
Everywhere lay those dust-heaps, with here or there a tooth, a ring, a bit of jewelry showing—everywhere he saw them, all the way down the stairs, in every room and office he peered into, and in the time-ravished confusion of the arcade.
But this was scarcely the time for reflections of any sort. Life called, and labor, and duty; not mourning for the dead world, nor even wonder or pity at the tragedy which had so mysteriously—befallen.
And as the man made his way over and through the universal wreckage, he took counsel with himself.
"First of all, water!" thought he. "We can't depend on the bottled supply. Of course, there's the Hudson; but it's brackish, if not downright salt. I've got to find some fresh and pure supply, close at hand. That's the prime necessity of life.
"What with the canned stuff, and such game as I can kill, there's bound to be food enough for a while. But a good water-supply we must have, and at once!"
Yet, prudent rather for the sake of Beatrice than for his own, he decided that he ought not to issue out, unarmed, into this new and savage world, of which he had as yet no very definite knowledge. And for a while he searched hoping to find some weapon or other.
"I've got to have an ax, first of all," said he. "That's mans first need, in any wilderness. Where shall I find one?"
He thought a moment.
"Ah! In the basements!" exclaimed he. "Maybe I can locate an engine-room, a store-room, or something of that sort. There's sure to be tools in a place like that." And, laying off the bear-skin, he prepared to explore the regions under the ground-level.
He used more than half an hour, through devious ways and hard labor, to make his way to the desired spot. The ancient stair-way, leading down, he could not find.
But by clambering down one of the elevator-shafts, digging toes and fingers into the crevices in the metal framework and the cracks in the concrete, he managed at last to reach a vaulted sub-cellar, festooned with webs, damp, noisome and obscure.
Considerable light glimmered in from a broken sidewalk-grating above, and through a gaping, jagged hole near one end of the cellar, beneath which lay a badly-broken stone.
The engineer figured that this block had fallen from the tower and come to rest only here; and this awoke him to a new sense of ever-present peril. At any moment of the night or day, he realized, some such mishap was imminent.
"Eternal vigilance!" he whispered to himself. Then, dismissing useless fears, he set about the task in hand.
By the dim illumination from above, he was able to take cognizance of the musty-smelling place, which, on the whole, was in a better state of repair than the arcade. The first cellar yielded nothing of value to him, but, making his way through a low vaulted door, he chanced into what must have been one of the smaller, auxiliary engine-rooms.
This, he found, contained a battery of four dynamos, a small seepage-pump, and a crumbling marble switch-board with part of the wiring still comparatively intact.
At sight of all this valuable machinery scaled and pitted with rust, Stern's brows contracted with a feeling akin to pain. The engineer loved mechanism of all sorts; its care and use had been his life.
And now these mournful relics, strange as that may seem, affected him more strongly than the little heaps of dust which marked the spots where human beings had fallen in sudden, inescapable death.
Yet even so, he had no time for musing.
"Tools!" cried he, peering about the dimwit vault. "Tools—I must have some. Till I find tools, I'm helpless!"
Search as he might, he discovered no ax in the place, but in place of it he unearthed a sledge-hammer. Though corroded, it was still quite serviceable. Oddly enough, the oak handle was almost intact.
"Kyanized wood, probably," reflected he, as he laid the sledge to one side and began delving into a bed of dust that had evidently been a work-bench. "Ah! And here's a chisel! A spanner, too! A heap of rusty old wire nails!"
Delightedly he examined these treasures.
"They're worth more to me," he exulted; "than all the gold between here and what's left of San Francisco!"
He found nothing more of value in the litter. Everything else was rusted beyond use. So, having convinced himself that nothing more remained, he gathered up his finds and started back whence he had come.
After some quarter-hour of hard labor, he managed to transport everything up into the arcade.
"Now for a glimpse of the outer world!" quoth he.
Gripping the sledge well in hand, he made his way through the confused nexus of ruin. Disguised as everything now was, fallen and disjointed, murdering, blighted by age incalculable, still the man recognized many familiar features.
Here, he recalled, the telephone-booths had been; there the information desk. Yonder, again, he remembered the little curved counter where once upon a time a man in uniform had sold tickets to such as had wanted to visit the tower.
Counter now was dust; ticket-man only a crumble of fine, grayish powder. Stern shivered slightly, and pressed on.
As he approached the outer air, he noticed that many a grassy tuft and creeping vine had rooted in the pavement of the arcade, up-prying the marble slabs and cracking the once magnificent floor.
The doorway itself was almost choked by a tremendous Norway pine which had struck root close to the building, and now insolently blocked that way where, other-time many thousand men and women every day had come and gone.
But Stern clambered out past this obstacle, testing the floor with his sledge, as he went, lest he fall through an unseen weak spots into the depths of coal-cellars below. And presently he reached the outer air, unharmed.
"But—but, the sidewalk?" cried he, amazed. "The street—the Square? Where are they?" And in astonishment he stopped, staring.
The view from the tower, though it had told him something of the changes wrought, had given him no adequate conception of their magnitude.
He had expected some remains of human life to show upon the earth, some semblance of the metropolis to remain in the street. But no, nothing was there; nothing at all on the ground to show that he was in the heart of a city.
He could, indeed, catch glimpses of a building here or there. Through the tangled thickets that grew close up to the age-worn walls of the Metropolitan, he could make out a few bits of tottering construction on the south side of what had been Twenty-Third Street.
But of the street itself, no trace remained—no pavement, no sidewalk, no curb. And even so near and so conspicuous an object as the wreck of the Flatiron was now entirely concealed by the dense forest.
Soil had formed thickly over all the surface. Huge oaks and pines flourished there as confidently as though in the heart of the Maine forest, crowding ash and beech for room.
Under the man's feet, even as he stood close by the building—which was thickly overgrown with ivy and with ferns and bushes rooted in the crannies—the pine-needles bent in deep, pungent beds.
Birch, maple, poplar and all the natives of the American woods shouldered each other lustily. By the state of the fresh young leaves, just bursting their sheaths, Stern knew the season was mid-May.
Through the wind-swayed branches, little flickering patches of morning sunlight met his gaze, as they played and quivered on the forest moss or over the sere pine-spills.
Even upon the huge, squared stones which here and there lay in disorder, and which Stern knew must have fallen from the tower, the moss grew very thick; and more than one such block had been rent by frost and growing things.
"How long has it been, great Heavens! How long?" cried the engineer, a sudden fear creeping into his heart. For this, the reasserted dominance of nature, bore in on him with more appalling force than anything he had yet seen.
About him he looked, trying to get his bearings in that strange milieu.
"Why," said he, quite slowly, "it's—it's just as though some cosmic jester, all-powerful, had scooped up the fragments of a ruined city and tossed them pell-mell into the core of the Adirondacks! It's horrible—ghastly—incredible!"
Dazed and awed, he stood as in a dream, a strange figure with his mane of hair, his flaming, trailing beard, his rags (for he had left the bear-skin in the arcade), his muscular arm, knotted as he held the sledge over his shoulder.
Well might he have been a savage of old times; one of the early barbarians of Britain, perhaps, peering in wonder at the ruins of some deserted Roman camp.
The chatter of a squirrel high up somewhere in the branches of an oak, recalled him to his wits. Down came spiralling a few bits of bark and acorn-shell, quite in the old familiar way.
Farther off among the woods, a robin's throaty morning notes drifted to him on the odorous breeze. A wren, surprisingly tame, chippered busily. It hopped about, not ten feet from him, entirely fearless.
Stern realized that it was now seeing a man for the first time in its life, and that it had no fear. His bushy brows contracted as he watched the little brown body jumping from twig to twig in the pine above him.
A deep, full breath he drew. Higher, still higher he raised his head. Far through the leafy screen he saw the overbending arch of sky in tiny patches of turquoise.
"The same old world, after all—the same, in spite of everything—thank God!" he whispered, his very tone a prayer of thanks.
And suddenly, though why he could not have told, the grim engineer's eyes grew wet with tears that ran, unheeded, down his heavy-bearded cheeks.
A SIGN OF PERIL
Stern's weakness—as he judged it—lasted but a minute. Then, realizing even more fully than ever the necessity for immediate labor and exploration, he tightened his grip upon the sledge and set forth into the forest of Madison Square.
Away from him scurried a cotton-tail. A snake slid, hissing, out of sight under a jungle of fern. A butterfly, dull brown and ocher, settled upon a branch in the sunlight, where it began slowly opening and shutting its wings.
"Hem! That's a Danaus plexippus, right enough," commented the man. "But there are some odd changes in it. Yes, indeed, certainly some evolutionary variants. Must be a tremendous time since we went to sleep, for sure; probably very much longer than I dare guess. That's a problem I've got to go to work on, before many days!"
But now for the present he dismissed it again; he pushed it aside in the press of urgent matters. And, parting the undergrowth, he broke his crackling way through the deep wood.
He had gone but a few hundred yards when an exclamation of surprised delight burst from his lips.
"Water! Water!" he cried. "What? A spring, so close? A pool, right here at hand? Good luck, by Jove, the very first thing!"
And, stopping where he stood, he gazed at it with keen, unalloyed pleasure.
There, so near to the massive bulk of the tower that the vast shadow lay broadly across it, Stern had suddenly come upon as beautiful a little watercourse as ever bubbled forth under the yews of Arden or lapped the willows of Hesperides.
He beheld a roughly circular depression in the woods, fern-banked and fringed with purple blooms; at the bottom sparkled a spring, leaf-bowered, cool, Elysian.
From this, down through a channel which the water must have worn for itself by slow erosion, a small brook trickled, widening out into a pool some fifteen feet across; whence, brimming over, it purled away through the young sweet-flags and rushes with tempting little woodland notes.
"What a find!" cried the engineer. Forward he strode. "So, then? Deer-tracks?" he exclaimed, noting a few dainty hoof-prints in the sandy margin. "Great!" And, filled with exultation, he dropped beside the spring.
Over it he bent. Setting his bearded lips to the sweet water, he drank enormous, satisfying drafts.
Sated at last, he stood up again and peered about him. All at once he burst out into joyous laughter.
"Why, this is certainly an old friend of mine, or I'm a liar!" he cried out. "This spring is nothing more or less than the lineal descendant of Madison Square fountain, what? But good Lord, what a change!
"It would make a splendid subject for an article in the 'Annals of Applied Geology.' Only—well, there aren't any annals, now, and what's more, no readers!"
Down to the wider pool he walked.
"Stern, my boy," said he, "here's where you get an A-1, first-class dip!"
A minute later, stripped to the buff, the man lay splashing vigorously in the water. From top to toe he scrubbed himself vigorously with the fine, white sand. And when, some minutes later, he rose up again, the tingle and joy of life filled him in every nerve.
For a minute he looked contemptuously at his rags, lying there on the edge of the pool. Then with a grunt he kicked them aside.
"I guess we'll dispense with those," judged he. "The bear-skin, back in the building, there, will be enough." He picked up his sledge, and, heaving a mighty breath of comfort, set out for the tower again.
"Ah, but that was certainly fine!" he exclaimed. "I feel ten years younger, already. Ten, from what? X minus ten, equals—?"
Thoughtfully, as he walked across the elastic moss and over the pine-needles, he stroked his beard.
"Now, if I could only get a hair-cut and shave!" said he. "Well, why not? Wouldn't that surprise her, though?"
The idea strong upon him, he hastened his steps, and soon was back at the door close to the huge Norway pine. But here he did not enter. Instead, he turned to the right.
Plowing through the woods, climbing over fallen columns and shattered building-stones, flushing a covey of loud-winged partridges, parting the bushes that grew thickly along the base of the wall, he now found himself in what had long ago been Twenty-Third Street.
No sign, now of paving or car-tracks—nothing save, on the other side of the way, crumbling lines of ruin. As he worked his way among the detritus of the Metropolitan, he kept sharp watch for the wreckage of a hardware store.
Not until he had crossed the ancient line of Madison Avenue and penetrated some hundred yards still further along Twenty-Third Street, did he find what he sought. "Ah!" he suddenly cried. "Here's something now!"
And, scrambling over a pile of grass-grown rubbish with a couple of time-bitten iron wheels peering out—evidently the wreckage of an electric car—he made his way around a gaping hole where a side-walk had caved in and so reached the interior of a shop.
"Yes, prospects here, certainly prospects!" he decided carefully inspecting the place. "If this didn't use to be Currier & Brown's place, I'm away off my bearings. There ought to be something left."
"Ah! Would you?" and he flung a hastily-snatched rock at a rattlesnake that had begun its dry, chirring defiance on top of what once had been a counter.
The snake vanished, while the rock rebounding, crashed through glass.
Stern wheeled about with a cry of joy. For there, he saw, still stood near the back of the shop a showcase from within which he caught a sheen of tarnished metal.
Quickly he ran toward this, stumbling over the loose dooring, mossy and grass-grown. There in the case, preserved as you have seen Egyptian relics two or three thousand years old, in museums, the engineer beheld incalculable treasures. He thrilled with a savage, strange delight.
Another blow, with the sledge, demolished the remaining glass.
He trembled with excitement as he chose what he most needed.
"I certainly do understand now," said he, "why the New Zealanders took Captain Cook's old barrel-hoops and refused his cash. Same here! All the money in this town couldn't buy this rusty knife—" as he seized a corroded blade set in a horn handle, yellowed with age. And eagerly he continued the hunt.
Fifteen minutes later he had accumulated a pair of scissors, two rubber combs, another knife, a revolver, an automatic, several handfuls of cartridges and a Cosmos bottle.
All these he stowed in a warped, mildewed remnant of a Gladstone bag, taken from a corner where a broken glass sign, "Leather Goods," lay among the rank confusion.
"I guess I've got enough, now, for the first load," he judged, more excited than if he had chanced upon a blue-clay bed crammed with Cullinan diamonds. "It's a beginning, anyhow. Now for Beatrice!"
Joyously as a schoolboy with a pocketful of new-won marbles, he made his exit from the ruins of the hardware store, and started back toward the tower.
But hardly had he gone a hundred feet when all at once he drew back with a sharp cry of wonder and alarm.
There at his feet, in plain view under a little maple sapling, lay something that held him frozen with astonishment.
He snatched it up, dropping the sledge to do so.
"What? What?" he stammered; and at the thing he stared with widened, uncomprehending eyes.
"Merciful God! How—what—?" cried he.
The thing he held in his hand was a broad, fat, flint assegai-point!
HEADWAY AGAINST ODDS
Stern gazed at this alarming object with far more trepidation than he would have eyed a token authentically labeled: "Direct from Mars."
For the space of a full half-minute he found no word, grasped no coherent thought, came to no action save to stand there, thunder-struck, holding the rotten leather bag in one hand, the spear-head in the other.
Then, suddenly, he shouted a curse and made as though to fling it clean away. But ere it had left his grasp, he checked himself.
"No, there's no use in that," said he, quite slowly. "If this thing is what it appears to be, if it isn't merely some freakish bit of stone weathered off somewhere, why, it means—my God, what doesn't it mean?"
He shuddered, and glanced fearfully about him; all his calculations already seemed crashing down about him; all his plans, half-formulated, appeared in ruin.
New, vast and unknown factors of the struggle broadened rapidly before his mental vision, if this thing were really what it looked to be.
Keenly he peered at the bit of flint in his palm. There it lay, real enough, an almost perfect specimen of the flaker's art, showing distinctly where the wood had been applied to the core to peel off the many successive layers.
It could not have been above three and a half inches long, by one and a quarter wide, at its broadest part. The heft, where it had been hollowed to hold the lashings, was well marked.
A diminutive object and a skilfully-formed one. At any other time or place, the engineer would have considered the finding a good fortune; but now—!
"Yet after all," he said aloud, as if to convince himself, "it's only a bit of stone! What can it prove?"
His subconsciousness seemed to make answer: "So, too, the sign that Robinson Crusoe found on the beach was only a human foot-mark. Do not deceive yourself!"
In deep thought the engineer stood there a moment or two. Then, "Bah!" cried he. "What does it matter, anyhow? Let it come—whatever it is! If I hadn't just happened to find this, I'd have been none the wiser." And he dropped the bit of flint into the bag along with the other things.
Again he picked up his sledge, and, now more cautiously, once more started forward.
"All I can do," he thought, "is just to go right ahead as though this hadn't happened at all. If trouble comes, it comes, that's all. I guess I can meet it. Always have got away with it, so far. We'll see. What's on the cards has got to be played to a finish, and the best hand wins!"
He retraced his way to the spring, where he carefully rinsed and filled the Cosmos bottle for Beatrice. Then back to the Metropolitan he came, donned his bear—skin, which he fastened with a wire nail, and started the long climb. His sledge he carefully hid on the second floor, in an office at the left of the stairway.
"Don't think much of this hammer, after all," said he. "What I need is an ax. Perhaps this afternoon I can have another go at that hardware place and find one.
"If the handle's gone, I can heft it with green wood. With a good ax and these two revolvers—till I find some rifles—I guess we're safe enough, spearheads or not!"
About him he glanced at the ever-present molder and decay. This office, he could easily see, had been both spacious and luxurious, but now it offered a sorry spectacle. In the dust over by a window something glittered dully.
Stern found it was a fragment of a beveled mirror, which had probably hung there and, when the frame rotted, had dropped. He brushed it off and looked eagerly into it.
A cry of amazement burst from him.
"Do I look like that?" he shouted. "Well, I won't, for long!"
He propped the glass up on the steel beam of the window-opening, and got the scissors out of the bag. Ten minutes later, the face of Allan Stern bore some resemblance to its original self. True enough, his hair remained a bit jagged, especially in the back, his brows were somewhat uneven, and the point to which his beard was trimmed was far from perfect.
But none the less his wild savagery had given place to a certain aspect of civilization that made the white bearskin over his shoulders look doubly strange.
Stern, however, was well pleased. He smiled in satisfaction.
"What will she think, and say?" he wondered, as he once more took up the bag and started on the long, exhausting climb.
Sweating profusely, badly "blown,"—for he had not taken much time to rest on the way—the engineer at last reached his offices in the tower.
Before entering, he called the girl's name.
"Beatrice! Oh, Beatrice! Are you awake, and visible?"
"All right, come in!" she answered cheerfully, and came to meet him in the doorway. Out to him she stretched her hand, in welcome; and the smile she gave him set his heart pounding.
He had to laugh at her astonishment and naive delight over his changed appearance; but all the time his eyes were eagerly devouring her beauty.
For now, freshly-awakened, full of new life and vigor after a sound night's sleep, the girl was magnificent.
The morning light disclosed new glints of color in her wondrous hair, as it lay broad and silken on the tiger-skin.
This she had secured at the throat and waist with bits of metal taken from the wreckage of the filing-cabinet.
Stern promised himself that ere long he would find her a profusion of gold pins and chains, in some of the Fifth Avenue shops, to serve her purposes till she could fashion real clothing.
As she gave him her hand, the Bengal skin fell back from her round, warm, cream-white arm.
At sight of it, at vision of that messy crown of hair and of those gray, penetrant, questioning eyes, the man's spent breath quickened.
He turned his own eyes quickly away, lest she should read his thought, and began speaking—of what? He hardly knew. Anything, till he could master himself.
But through it all he knew that in his whole life, till now self-centered, analytical, cold, he never had felt such real, spontaneous happiness.
The touch of her fingers, soft and warm, dispelled his every anxiety. The thought that he was working, now, for her; serving her; striving to preserve and keep her, thrilled him with joy.
And as some foregleam of the future came to him, his fears dropped from him like those outworn rags he had discarded in the forest.
"Well, so we're both up and at it, again," he exclaimed, common-placely enough, his voice a bit uncertain. Stern had walked narrow girders six hundred feet sheer up; he had worked in caissons under tide-water, with the air-pumps driving full tilt to keep death out.
He had swung in a bosun's-chair down the face of the Yosemite Canyon at Cathedral Spires. But never had he felt emotions such as now. And greatly he marveled.
"I've had luck," he continued. "See here, and here?"
He showed her his treasures, all the contents of the bag, except the spear-point. Then, giving her the Cosmos bottle, he bade her drink. Gratefully she did so, while he explained to her the finding of the spring.
Her face aglow with eagerness and brave enthusiasts, she listened. But when he told her about the bathing-pool, an envious expression came to her.
"It's not fair," she protested, "for you to monopolize that. If you'll show me the place—and just stay around in the woods, to see that nothing hurts me—"
"You'll take a dip, too?"
Eagerly she nodded, her eyes beaming.
"I'm just dying for one!" she exclaimed. "Think! I haven't had a bath, now, for x years!"
"I'm at your service," declared the engineer. And for a moment a little silence came between them, a silence so profound that they could even hear the faint, far cheepings of the mud-swallows in the tower stair, above.
At the back of Stern's brain still lurked a haunting fear of the wood, of what the assegai-point might portend, but he dispelled it.
"Well, come along down," bade he. "It's getting late, already. But first, we must take just one more look, by this fresh morning light, from the platform up above, there?"
She assented readily. Together, talking of their first urgent needs, of their plans for this new day and for this wonderful, strange life that now confronted them, they climbed the stairs again. Once more they issued out on to the weed-grown platform of red tiles.
There they stood a moment, looking out with wonder over that vast, still, marvelous prospect of life-in-death. Suddenly the engineer spoke.
"Tell me," said he, "where did you get that line of verse you quoted last night? The one about this vast city—heart all lying still, you know?"
"That? Why, that was from Wordsworth's Sonnet on London Bridge, of course," she smiled up at him. "You remember it now, don't you?"
"No-o," he disclaimed a trifle dubiously. "I—that is, I never was much on poetry, you understand. It wasn't exactly in my line. But never mind. How did it go? I'd like to hear it, tremendously."
"I don't just recall the whole poem," she answered thoughtfully. "But I know part of it ran:
'......This city now doth like a garment wear The beauty of the morning. Silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theaters, and temples lie Open unto the fields and to the sky All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.'"
A moment she paused to think. The sun, lancing its long and level rays across the water and the vast dead city, irradiated her face.
Instinctively, as she looked abroad over that wondrous panorama, she raised both bare arms; and, clad in the tiger-skin alone, stood for a little space like some Parsee priestess, sun-worshiping, on her tower of silence.
Stern looked at her, amazed.
Was this, could this indeed be the girl he had employed, in the old days—the other days of routine and of tedium, of orders and specifications and dry-as-dust dictation? As though from a strange spell he aroused himself.
"The poem?" exclaimed he. "What next?"
"Oh, that? I'd almost forgotten about that; I was dreaming. It goes this way, I think:
'Never did the sun more beautifully steep In his first splendor valley, rock, or hill, Ne'er saw I, never felt a calm so deep; The river glideth at his own sweet will. Dear God! the very houses seem asleep, And all this mighty heart is standing still!......'"
She finished the tremendous classic almost in a whisper.
They both stood silent a moment, gazing out together on that strange, inexplicable fulfilment of the poet's vision.
Up to them, through the crystal morning air, rose a faint, small sound of waters, from the brooklet in the forest. The nesting birds, below, were busy "in song and solace"; and through the golden sky above, a swallow slanted on sharp wing toward some unseen, leafy goal.
Far out upon the river, faint specks of white wheeled and hovered—a flock of swooping gulls, snowy and beautiful and free. Their pinions flashed, spiralled and sank to rest on the wide waters.
Stern breathed a sigh. His right arm slipped about the sinuous, fur-robed body of the girl.
"Come, now!" said he, with returning practicality. "Bath for you, breakfast for both of us—then we must buckle down to work. Come!"
Noon found them far advanced in the preliminaries of their hard adventuring.
Working together in a strong and frank companionship—the past temporarily forgotten and the future still put far away—half a day's labor advanced them a long distance on the road to safety.
Even these few hours sufficed to prove that, unless some strange, untoward accident befell, they stood a more than equal chance of winning out.
Realizing to begin with, that a home on the forty-eighth story of the tower was entirely impractical, since it would mean that most of their time would have to be used in laborious climbing, they quickly changed their dwelling.
They chose a suite of offices on the fifth floor, looking directly out over and into the cool green beauty of Madison Forest. In an hour or so, they cleared out the bats and spiders, the rubbish and the dust, and made the place very decently presentable.
"Well, that's a good beginning, anyhow," remarked the engineer, standing back and looking critically at the finished work.
"I don't see why we shouldn't make a fairly comfortable home out of this, for a while. It's not too high for ease, and it's high enough for safety—to keep prowling bears and wolves and—and other things from exploring us in the night."
He laughed, but memories of the spear-head tinged his merriment with apprehension. "In a day or two I'll make some kind of an outer door, or barricade. But first, I need that ax and some other things. Can you spare me for a while, now?"
"I'd rather go along, too," she answered wistfully, from the window-sill where she sat resting.
"No, not this time, please!" he entreated. "First I've got to go 'way to the top of the tower and bring down my chemicals and all the other things up there.
"Then I'm going out on a hunt for dishes, a lamp, some oil and no end of things. You save your strength for a while; stay here and keep house and be a good girl!"
"All right," she acceded, smiling a little sadly. "But really, I feel quite able to go."
"This afternoon, perhaps; not now. Good-by!" And he started for the door. Then a thought struck him. He turned and came back.
"By the way," said he, "if we can fix up some kind of a holster, I'll take one of those revolvers. With the best of this leather here," nodding at the Gladstone bag, "I should imagine we could manufacture something serviceable."
They planned the holster together, and he cut it out with his knife, while she slit leather thongs to lash it with. Presently it was done, and a strap to tie it round his waist with—a crude, rough thing, but just as useful as though finished with the utmost skill.
"We'll make another for you when I get home this noon," he remarked picking up the automatic and a handful of cartridges. Quickly he filled the magazine. The shells were green with verdigris, and many a rust-spot disfigured the one-time brightness of the arm.
As he stepped over to the window, aimed and pulled the trigger, a sharp and welcome report burst from the weapon. And a few leaves, clipped from an oak in the forest, zigzagged down in the bright, warm sunlight.
"I guess she'll do all right!" he laughed, sliding the ugly weapon into his new holster. "You see, the powder and fulminate, sealed up in the cartridges, are practically imperishable. Here, let me load yours, too.
"If you want something to do, you can practice on that dead limb out there, see? And don't be afraid of wasting ammunition. There must be millions of cartridges in this old burg—millions—all ours!"
Again he laughed, and handing her the other pistol, now fully loaded, took his leave. Before he had climbed a hundred feet up the tower stair, he heard a slow, uneven pop—pop—popping, and with satisfaction knew that Beatrice was already perfecting herself in the use of the revolver.
"And she may need it, too—we both may, badly—before we know it!" thought he, frowning, as he kept upon his way.
This reflection weighed in so heavily upon him, all due to the flint assegai-point, that he made still another excuse that afternoon and so got out of taking the girl into the forest with him on his exploring trip.
The excuse was all the more plausible inasmuch as he left her enough work at home to do, making some real clothing and some sandals for them both. This task, now that the girl had scissors to use, was not too hard.
Stern brought her great armfuls of the furs from the shop in the arcade, and left her busily and happily employed.
He spent the afternoon in scouting through the entire neighborhood from Sixth Avenue as far east as Third and from Twenty-Seventh Street down through Union Square.
Revolver in his left hand, knife in his right to cut away troublesome bush or brambles, or to slit impeding vine-masses, he progressed slowly and observantly.
He kept his eyes open for big game, but—though he found moose-tracks at the corner of Broadway and Nineteenth—he ran into nothing more formidable than a lynx which snarled at him from a tree overhanging the mournful ruins of the Farragut monument.
One shot sent it bounding and screaming with pain, out of view. Stern noted with satisfaction that blood followed its trail.
"Guess I haven't forgotten how to shoot in all these x years!" he commented, stooping to examine the spoor. "That may come in handy later!"
Then, still wary and watchful, he continued his exploration.
He found that the city, as such, had entirely ceased to be.
"Nothing but lines and monstrous rubbish-heaps of ruins," he sized up the situation, "traversed by lanes of forest and overgrown with every sort of vegetation.
"Every wooden building completely wiped out. Brick and stone ones practically gone. Steel alone standing, and that in rotten shape. Nothing at all intact but the few concrete structures.
"Ha! ha!" And he laughed satirically. "If the builders of the twentieth century could have foreseen this they wouldn't have thrown quite such a chest, eh? And they talked of engineering!"
Useless though it was, he felt a certain pride in noting that the Osterhaut Building, on Seventeenth Street, had lasted rather better than the average.
"My work!" said he, nodding with grim satisfaction, then passed on.
Into the Subway he penetrated at Eighteenth Street, climbing with difficulty down the choked stairway, through bushes and over masses of ruin that had fallen from the roof. The great tube, he saw, was choked with litter.
Slimy and damp it was, with a mephitic smell and ugly pools of water settled in the ancient road-bed. The rails were wholly gone in places. In others only rotten fragments of steel remained.
A goggle-eyed toad stared impudently at him from a long tangle of rubbish that had been a train—stalled there forever by the final block-signal of death.
Through the broken arches overhead the rain and storms of ages had beaten down, and lush grasses flourished here and there, where sunlight could penetrate.
No human dust-heaps here, as in the shelter of the arcade. Long since every vestige of man had been swept away. Stern shuddered, more depressed by the sight here than at any other place so far visited.
"And they boasted of a work for all time!" whispered he, awed by the horror of it. "They boasted—like the financiers, the churchmen, the merchants, everybody! Boasted of their institutions, their city, their country. And now—"
Out he clambered presently, terribly depressed by what he had witnessed, and set to work laying in still more supplies from the wrecked shops. Now for the first time, his wonder and astonishment having largely abated, he began to feel the horror of this loneliness.
"No life here! Nobody to speak to—except the girl..." he exclaimed aloud, the sound of his own voice uncanny in that woodland street of death. "All gone, everything! My Heavens, suppose I didn't have her? How long could I go on alone, and keep my mind?"
The thought terrified him. He put it resolutely away and went to work. Wherever he stumbled upon anything of value he eagerly seized it.
The labor, he found, kept him from the subconscious dread of what might happen to Beatrice or to himself if either should meet with any mishap. The consequences of either one dying, he knew, must be horrible beyond all thinking for the survivor.
Up Broadway he found much to keep—things which he garnered in the up-caught hem of his bearskin, things of all kinds and uses. He found a clay pipe—all the wooden ones had vanished from the shop—and a glass jar of tobacco.
These he took as priceless treasures. More jars of edibles he discovered, also a stock of rare wines. Coffee and salt he came upon. In the ruins of the little French brass-ware shop, opposite the Flatiron, he made a rich haul of cups and plates and a still serviceable lamp.
Strangely enough, it still had oil in it. The fluid hermetically sealed in, had not been able to evaporate.
At last, when the lengthening shadows in Madison Forest warned him that day was ending, he betook himself, heavy laden, once more back past the spring, and so through the path which already was beginning to be visible back to the shelter of the Metropolitan.
"Now for a great surprise for the girl!" thought he, laboriously toiling up the stair with his burden: "What will she say, I wonder, when she sees all these housekeeping treasures?" Eagerly he hastened.