Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World
Chapter 14: The Moving Lights
Panting with exhaustion and excitement, Stern made his way back to the engine-room. It was a strangely critical moment when he seized the corroded throttle-wheel to start the dynamo. The wheel stuck, and would not budge.
Stern, with a curse of sheer exasperation, snatched up his long spanner, shoved it through the spokes, and wrenched.
Groaning, the wheel gave way. It turned. The engineer hauled again.
“Go on!” shouted the man. “Start! Move!”
With a hissing plaint, as though rebellious against this awakening after its age-long sleep, the engine creaked into motion.
In spite of all Stern’s oiling, every journal and bearing squealed in anguish. A rickety tremble possessed the engine as it gained speed. The dynamo began to hum with wild, strange protests of racked metal. The ancient “drive” of tarred hemp strained and quivered, but held.
And like the one-hoss shay about to collapse, the whole fabric of the resuscitated plant, leaking at a score of joints, creaking, whistling, shaking, voicing a hundred agonized mechanic woes, revived in a grotesque, absurd and shocking imitation of its one-time beauty and power.
At sight of this ghastly resurrection, the engineer (whose whole life had been passed in the love and service of machinery) felt a strange and sad emotion.
He sat down, exhausted, on the floor. In his hand the lamp trembled. Yet, all covered with sweat and dirt and rust as he was, this moment of triumph was one of the sweetest he had ever known.
He realized that this was now no time for inaction. Much yet remained to be done. So up he got again, and set to work.
First he made sure the dynamo was running with no serious defect and that his wiring had been made properly. Then he heaped the furnace full of coal, and closed the door, leaving only enough draft to insure a fairly steady heat for an hour or so.
This done, he toiled back up to where Beatrice was eagerly awaiting him in the little wireless station on the roof.
In he staggered, all but spent. Panting for breath, wild-eyed, his coal-blackened arms stretching out from the whiteness of the bear-skin, he made a singular picture.
“It’s going!” he exclaimed. “I’ve got current--it’s good for a while, anyhow. Now--now for the test!”
For a moment he leaned heavily against the concrete bench to which the apparatus was clamped. Already the day had drawn close to its end. The glow of evening had begun to fade a trifle, along the distant skyline; and beyond the Palisades a dull purple pall was settling down.
By the dim light that filtered through the doorway, Beatrice looked at his deep-lined, bearded face, now reeking with sweat and grimed with dust and coal. An ugly face--but not to her. For through that mask she read the dominance, the driving force, the courage of this versatile, unconquerable man.
“Well,” suddenly laughed Stern, with a strange accent in his voice, “well then, here goes for the operator in the Eiffel Tower, eh?”
Again he glanced keenly, in the failing light, at the apparatus there before him.
“She’ll do, I guess,” judged he, slipping on the rusted head-receiver. He laid his hand upon the key and tried a few tentative dots and dashes.
Breathless, the girl watched, daring no longer to question him. In the dielectric, the green sparks and spurts of living flame began to crackle and to hiss like living spirits of an unknown power.
Stern, feeling again harnessed to his touch the life-force of the world that once had been, exulted with a wild emotion. Yet, science-worshiper that he was, something of reverent awe tinged the keen triumph. A strange gleam dwelt within his eyes; and through his lips the breath came quick as he flung his very being into this supreme experiment.
He reached for the ondometer. Carefully, slowly, he “tuned up” the wave-lengths; up, up to five thousand metres, then back again; he ran the whole gamut of the wireless scale.
Out, ever out into the thickening gloom, across the void and vacancy of the dead world, he flung his lightnings in a wild appeal. His face grew hard and eager.
“Anything? Any answer?” asked Beatrice, laying a hand upon his shoulder--a hand that trembled.