Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World - Cover

Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World

Public Domain

Chapter 20: The Curiosity Of Eve

At him the girl peered eagerly, a second, as though to make quite sure he was not hurt in any way, to satisfy herself that he was safe and sound.

Then with a little gasp of relief, she ran to him. Her sandaled feet lightly disturbed the rubbish on the floor; dust rose. Stern checked her with an upraised hand.

“Back! Back! Go back, quick!” he formed the words of command on his trembling lips. The idea of this girl’s close proximity to the beast-horde terrified him, for the moment. “Back! What on earth are you here for?”

“I--I woke up. I found you gone!” she whispered.

“Yes, but didn’t you read my letter? This is no place for you!”

“I had to come! How could I stay up there, alone, when you--were--oh! maybe in danger--maybe in need of me?”

“Come!” he commanded, in his perturbation heedless of the look she gave him. He took her hand. “Come, we must get out of this! It’s too--too near the--”

“The what? What is it, Allan? Tell me, have you seen them? Do you know?”

Even excited as the engineer was, he realized that for the first time the girl had called him by his Christian name. Not even the perilous situation could stifle the thrill that ran through him at the sound of it. But all he answered was:

“No, I don’t know what to call them. Have no idea, as yet. I’ve seen them, yes; but what they are, Heaven knows--maybe!”

“Let me see, too!” she pleaded eagerly. “Is it through that crack in the wall? Is that the place to look?”

She moved toward it, her face blanched with excitement, eyes shining, lips parted. But Stern held her back. By the shoulder he took her.

“No, no, little girl!” he whispered. “You--you mustn’t! Really must not, you know. It’s too awful!”

Up at him she looked, knowing not what to think or say for a moment. Their eyes met, there in that wrecked and riven place, lighted by the dull, misty, morning gray. Then Stern spoke, for in her gaze abode questions unnumbered.

“I’d much rather you wouldn’t look out at them, not just yet,” said he, speaking very low, fearful lest the murmur of his voice might penetrate the wall. “Just what they are, frankly, there’s no telling.”

“You mean--?”

“Come back into the arcade, where we’ll be safer from discovery, and we can talk. Not here. Come!”

She obeyed. Together they retreated to the inner court.

“You see,” he commented, nodding at the empty water-pail, “I haven’t been to the spring yet. Not very likely to get there for a while, either, unless--well, unless something pretty radical happens. I think these chaps have settled down for a good long stay in their happy hunting-ground, after the fight and the big feast. It’s sort of a notion I’ve got, that this place, here, is some ancient, ceremonial ground of theirs.”

“You mean, on account of the tower?”

He nodded.

“Yes, if they’ve got any religious ideas at all, or rather superstitions, such would very likely center round the most conspicuous object in their world. Probably the spring is a regular voodoo hangout. The row, last night, must have been a sort of periodic argument to see who was going to run the show.”

“But,” exclaimed the girl, in alarm--”but if they do stay a while, what about us? We simply must have water!”

“True enough. And, inasmuch as we can’t drink brine and don’t know where there’s any other spring, it looks as though we’d either have to make up to these fellows or wade into them, doesn’t it? But we’ll get water safe enough, never fear. Just now, for the immediate present, I want to get my bearings a little, before going to work. They seem to be resting up, a bit, after their pleasant little soiree. Now, if they’d only all go to sleep, it’d be a walk-over!”

The girl looked at him, very seriously.

“You mustn’t go out there alone, whatever happens!” she exclaimed. “I just won’t let you! But tell me,” she questioned again, “how much have you really found out about them--whatever they are.”

“Not much. They seem to be part of a nomadic race of half-human things, that’s about all I can tell as yet. Perhaps all the white and yellow peoples perished utterly in the cataclysm, leaving only a few scattered blacks. You know blacks are immune to several germ-infections that destroy other races.”

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