Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World
Chapter 3: 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.