Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World
Chapter 11: A Thousand Years!
Sickened with a numbing anguish of fear such as in all his life he had never known, Stern stood there a moment, motionless and lost.
Then he turned. Out into the hall he ran, and his voice, re-echoing wildly, rang through those long-deserted aisles.
All at once he heard a laugh behind him--a hail.
He wheeled about, trembling and spent. Out his arms went, in eager greeting. For the girl, laughing and flushed, and very beautiful, was coming down the stair at the end of the hall.
Never had the engineer beheld a sight so wonderful to him as this woman, clad in the Bengal robe; this girl who smiled and ran to meet him.
“What? Were you frightened?” she asked, growing suddenly serious, as he stood there speechless and pale. “Why--what could happen to me here?”
His only answer was to take her in his arms and whisper her name. But she struggled to be free.
“Don’t! you mustn’t!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t mean to alarm you. Didn’t even know you were here!”
“I heard the shots--I called--you didn’t answer. Then--”
“You found me gone? I didn’t hear you. It was nothing, after all. Nothing--much!”
He led her back into the room.
“What happened? Tell me!”
“It was really too absurd!”
“What was it?”
“Only this,” and she laughed again. “I was getting supper ready, as you see,” with a nod at their provision laid out upon the clean-brushed floor. “When--”
“Why, a blundering great hawk swooped in through the window there, circled around, pounced on the last of our beef and tried to fly away with it.”
Stern heaved a sigh of relief. “So that was all?” asked he. “But the shots? And your absence?”
“I struck at him. He showed fight. I blocked the window. He was determined to get away with the food. I was determined he shouldn’t. So I snatched the revolver and opened fire.”
“That confused him. He flapped out into the hall. I chased him. Away up the stairs he circled. I shot again. Then I pursued. Went up two stories. But he must have got away through some opening or other. Our beef’s all gone!” And Beatrice looked very sober.
“Never mind, I’ve got a lot more stuff down-stairs. But tell me, did you wing him?”
“I’m afraid not,” she admitted. “There’s a feather or two on the stairs, though.”
“Good work!” cried he laughing, his fear all swallowed in the joy of having found her again, safe and unhurt. “But please don’t give me another such panic, will you? It’s all right this time, however.
“And now if you’ll just wait here and not get fighting with any more wild creatures, I’ll go down and bring my latest finds. I like your pluck,” he added slowly, gazing earnestly at her.
“But I don’t want you chasing things in this old shell of a building. No telling what crevice you might fall into or what accident might happen. Au revoir!”
Her smile as he left her was inscrutable, but her eyes, strangely bright, followed him till he had vanished once more down the stairs.
Broad strokes, a line here, one there, with much left to the imagining--such will serve best for the painting of a picture like this--a picture wherein every ordinary bond of human life, the nexus of man’s society, is shattered. Where everything must strive to reconstruct itself from the dust. Where the future, if any such there may be, must rise from the ashes of a crumbling past.
Broad strokes, for detailed ones would fill too vast a canvas. Impossible to describe a tenth of the activities of Beatrice and Stern the next four days. Even to make a list of their hard-won possessions would turn this chapter into a mere catalogue.
So let these pass for the most part. Day by day the man, issuing forth sometimes alone, sometimes with Beatrice, labored like a Titan among the ruins of New York.
Though more than ninety per cent. of the city’s one-time wealth had long since vanished, and though all standards of worth had wholly changed, yet much remained to harvest.
Infinitudes of things, more or less damaged, they bore up to their shelter, up the stairs which here and there Stern had repaired with rough-hewn logs.
For now he had an ax, found in that treasure-house of Currier & Brown’s, brought to a sharp edge on a wet, flat stone by the spring, and hefted with a sapling.
This implement was of incredible use, and greatly enheartened the engineer. More valuable it was than a thousand tons of solid gold.
The same store yielded also a well-preserved enameled water-pail and some smaller dishes of like ware, three more knives, quantities of nails, and some small tools; also the tremendous bonanza of a magazine rifle and a shotgun, both of which Stern judged would come into shape by the application of oil and by careful tinkering. Of ammunition, here and elsewhere, the engineer had no doubt he could unearth unlimited quantities.
“With steel,” he reflected, “and with my flint spearhead, I can make fire at any time. Wood is plenty, and there’s lots of ‘punk.’ So the first step in reestablishing civilization is secure. With fire, everything else becomes possible.
“After a while, perhaps, I can get around to manufacturing matches again. But for the present my few ounces of phosphorus and the flint and steel will answer very well.”
Beatrice, like the true woman she was, addressed herself eagerly to the fascinating task of making a real home out of the barren desolation of the fifth floor offices. Her splendid energy was no less than the engineer’s. And very soon a comfortable air pervaded the place.
Stern manufactured a broom for her by cutting willow withes and lashing them with hide strips onto a trimmed branch. Spiders and dust all vanished. A true housekeeping appearance set in.
To supplement the supply of canned food that accumulated along one of the walls, Stern shot what game he could--squirrels, partridges and rabbits.
Metal dishes, especially of solid gold, ravished from Fifth Avenue shops, took their place on the crude table he had fashioned with his ax. Not for esthetic effect did they now value gold, but merely because that metal had perfectly withstood the ravages of time.