Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World
Chapter 4: 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.