Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World - Cover

Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World

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Chapter 16: The Gathering Of The Hordes

“Tom-toms? So they are savages?” exclaimed the girl, taking a quick breath. “But--what then?

“Don’t just know, yet. It’s a fact, though; they’re certainly savages. Two tribes, one with torches, one with drums. Two different kinds, I guess. And they’re coming in here to parley or fight or something. Regular powwow on hand. Trouble ahead, whichever side wins!”

“For us?”

“That depends. Maybe we’ll be able to lie hidden, here, till this thing blows over, whatever it may be. If not, and if they cut off our water-supply, well--”

He ended with a kind of growl. The sound gave Beatrice a strange sensation. She kept a moment’s silence, then remarked:

“They’re up around Central Park now, the drums are, don’t you think so? How far do you make that?”

“Close on to two miles. Come, let’s be moving.”

In silence they climbed the shaky ladder, reached the tower stairs and descended the many stories to their dwelling.

Here, the first thing Stern did was to strike a light, which he masked in a corner, behind a skin stretched like a screen from one wall to the other. By this illumination, very dim yet adequate, he minutely examined all their firearms.

He loaded every one to capacity and made sure all were in working order. Then he satisfied himself that the supply of cartridges was ample. These he laid carefully along by the windows overlooking Madison Forest, by the door leading into the suite of offices, and by the stair-head that gave access to the fifth floor.

Then he blew out the light again.

“Two revolvers, one shotgun, and one rifle, all told,” said he. “All magazine arms. I guess that’ll hold them for a while, if it comes down to brass tacks! How’s your nerve, Beatrice?”

“Never better!” she whispered, from the dark. He saw the dim white blur that indicated her face, and it was very dear to him, all of a sudden--dearer, far, than he had ever realized.

“Good little girl!” he exclaimed, giving her the rifle. A moment his hand pressed hers. Then with a quick intake of the breath, he strode over to the window and once more listened. She followed.

“Much nearer, now!” judged he. “Hear that, will you?”

Again they listened.

Louder now the drums sounded, dull, ominous, pulsating like the hammering of a fever-pulse inside a sick man’s skull. A dull, confused hum, a noise as of a swarming mass of bees, drifted down-wind.

“Maybe they’ll pass by?” whispered Beatrice.

“It’s Madison Forest they’re aiming at!” returned the engineer. “See there!”

He pointed to westward.

There, far off along the forest-lane of Fourteenth Street, a sudden gleam of light flashed out among the trees, vanished, reappeared, was joined by two, ten, a hundred others. And now the whole approach to Madison Forest, by several streets, began to sparkle with these feux-follets, weaving and flickering unsteadily toward the square.

Here, there, everywhere through the dense masses of foliage, the watchers could already see a dim and moving mass, fitfully illuminated by torches that now burned steady, now flared into red and smoky tourbillons of flame in the night-wind.

“Like monster glow-worms, crawling among the trees!” the girl exclaimed. “We could mow them down, from here, already! God grant we sha’n’t have to fight!”

“S-h-h-h! Wait and see what’s up!”

Now, from the other horde, coming from the north, sounds of warlike preparation were growing ever louder.

With quicker beats the insistent tom-toms throbbed their rhythmic melancholy rune, hollow and dissonant. Then all at once the drums ceased; and through the night air drifted a minor chant; a wail, that rose, fell, died, and came again, lagging as many strange voices joined it.

And from the square, below, a shrill, high-pitched, half-animal cry responded. Creeping shudders chilled the flesh along the engineer’s backbone.

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