Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World
Chapter 10: Terror

Public Domain

Noon found them far advanced in the preliminaries of their hard adventuring.

Working together in a strong and frank companionship--the past temporarily forgotten and the future still put far away--half a day’s labor advanced them a long distance on the road to safety.

Even these few hours sufficed to prove that, unless some strange, untoward accident befell, they stood a more than equal chance of winning out.

Realizing to begin with, that a home on the forty-eighth story of the tower was entirely impractical, since it would mean that most of their time would have to be used in laborious climbing, they quickly changed their dwelling.

They chose a suite of offices on the fifth floor, looking directly out over and into the cool green beauty of Madison Forest. In an hour or so, they cleared out the bats and spiders, the rubbish and the dust, and made the place very decently presentable.

“Well, that’s a good beginning, anyhow,” remarked the engineer, standing back and looking critically at the finished work.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t make a fairly comfortable home out of this, for a while. It’s not too high for ease, and it’s high enough for safety--to keep prowling bears and wolves and--and other things from exploring us in the night.”

He laughed, but memories of the spear-head tinged his merriment with apprehension. “In a day or two I’ll make some kind of an outer door, or barricade. But first, I need that ax and some other things. Can you spare me for a while, now?”

“I’d rather go along, too,” she answered wistfully, from the window-sill where she sat resting.

“No, not this time, please!” he entreated. “First I’ve got to go ‘way to the top of the tower and bring down my chemicals and all the other things up there.

“Then I’m going out on a hunt for dishes, a lamp, some oil and no end of things. You save your strength for a while; stay here and keep house and be a good girl!”

“All right,” she acceded, smiling a little sadly. “But really, I feel quite able to go.”

“This afternoon, perhaps; not now. Good-by!” And he started for the door. Then a thought struck him. He turned and came back.

“By the way,” said he, “if we can fix up some kind of a holster, I’ll take one of those revolvers. With the best of this leather here,” nodding at the Gladstone bag, “I should imagine we could manufacture something serviceable.”

They planned the holster together, and he cut it out with his knife, while she slit leather thongs to lash it with. Presently it was done, and a strap to tie it round his waist with--a crude, rough thing, but just as useful as though finished with the utmost skill.

“We’ll make another for you when I get home this noon,” he remarked picking up the automatic and a handful of cartridges. Quickly he filled the magazine. The shells were green with verdigris, and many a rust-spot disfigured the one-time brightness of the arm.

As he stepped over to the window, aimed and pulled the trigger, a sharp and welcome report burst from the weapon. And a few leaves, clipped from an oak in the forest, zigzagged down in the bright, warm sunlight.

“I guess she’ll do all right!” he laughed, sliding the ugly weapon into his new holster. “You see, the powder and fulminate, sealed up in the cartridges, are practically imperishable. Here, let me load yours, too.

“If you want something to do, you can practice on that dead limb out there, see? And don’t be afraid of wasting ammunition. There must be millions of cartridges in this old burg--millions--all ours!”

Again he laughed, and handing her the other pistol, now fully loaded, took his leave. Before he had climbed a hundred feet up the tower stair, he heard a slow, uneven pop--pop--popping, and with satisfaction knew that Beatrice was already perfecting herself in the use of the revolver.

“And she may need it, too--we both may, badly--before we know it!” thought he, frowning, as he kept upon his way.

This reflection weighed in so heavily upon him, all due to the flint assegai-point, that he made still another excuse that afternoon and so got out of taking the girl into the forest with him on his exploring trip.

The excuse was all the more plausible inasmuch as he left her enough work at home to do, making some real clothing and some sandals for them both. This task, now that the girl had scissors to use, was not too hard.

Stern brought her great armfuls of the furs from the shop in the arcade, and left her busily and happily employed.

He spent the afternoon in scouting through the entire neighborhood from Sixth Avenue as far east as Third and from Twenty-Seventh Street down through Union Square.

Revolver in his left hand, knife in his right to cut away troublesome bush or brambles, or to slit impeding vine-masses, he progressed slowly and observantly.

He kept his eyes open for big game, but--though he found moose-tracks at the corner of Broadway and Nineteenth--he ran into nothing more formidable than a lynx which snarled at him from a tree overhanging the mournful ruins of the Farragut monument.

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