Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World
Chapter 15: Portents of War
Stern and Beatrice stood there a few seconds at the foot of the ladder, speechless, utterly at a loss for any words to voice the turmoil of confused thoughts awakened by this inexplicable apparition.
But all at once the girl, with a wordless cry, sank on her knees beside the vast looming bulk of the tower. She covered her face with both hands, and through her fingers the tears of joy began to flow.
“Saved--oh, we’re saved!” cried she. “There are people--and they’re coming for us!”
Stern glanced down at her, an inscrutable expression on his face, which had grown hard and set and ugly. His lips moved, as though he were saying something to himself; but no sound escaped them.
Then, quite suddenly, he laughed a mirthless laugh. To him vividly flashed back the memory of the flint spear-head and the gnawed leg-bone, cracked open so the marrow could be sucked out, all gashed with savage tooth-marks.
A certain creepy sensation began to develop along his spine. He felt a prickling on the nape of his neck, as the hair stirred there. Instinctively he reached for his revolver.
“So, then,” he sneered at himself, “we’re up against it, after all? And all my calculations about the world being swept clear, were so much punk? Well, well, this is interesting! Oh, I see it coming, all right--good and plenty--and soon!”
But the girl interrupted his ugly thoughts as he stood there straining his eyes out into the dark.
“How splendid! How glorious!” cried she. “Only to think that we’re going to see people again! Can you imagine it?”
“Why, what’s the matter? You--speak as though you weren’t--saved!“
“I didn’t mean to. It’s--just surprise, I guess.”
“Come! Let’s signal them with a fire from the tower top. I’ll help carry wood. Let’s hurry down and run and meet them!”
Highly excited, the girl had got to her feet again, and now, clutched the engineer’s arm in burning eagerness.
“Let’s go! Go--at once! This minute!”
But he restrained her.
“You don’t really think that would be quite prudent, do you?” asked he. “Not just yet?”
“Why, can’t you see? We--that is, there is no way to tell--”
“But they’re coming to save us, can’t you see? Somehow, somewhere, they must have caught that signal! And shall we wait, and perhaps let them lose us, after all?”
“Certainly not. But first we--why, we ought to make quite sure, you understand. Sure that they--they’re really civilized, you know.”
“But they must be, to have read the wireless!”
“Oh, you’re counting on that, are you? Well, that’s a big assumption. It won’t do. No, we’ve got to go slow in this game. Got to wait. Wait, and see. Easy does it!”
He tried to speak boldly and with nonchalance, but the girl’s keen ear detected at least a little of the emotion that was troubling him. She kept a moment’s silence, while the quivering lights drew on and on, steadily, slowly, like a host of fireflies on the bosom of the night.
“Why don’t you get the telescope, and see?” she asked, at length.
“No use. It isn’t a night-glass. Couldn’t see a thing.”
“But anyhow, those lights mean men, don’t they?”
“Naturally. But until we know what kind, we’re better off right where we are. I’m willing to welcome the coming guest, all right, if he’s peaceful. Otherwise, it’s powder and ball, hot water, stones and things for him!”