Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World - Cover

Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World

Public Domain

Chapter 7: 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.

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