Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World
Chapter 27: To Work!
The engineer awoke with a start--awoke to find daylight gone, to find that dusk had settled, had shrouded the whole place in gloom.
Confused, he started up. He was about to call out, when prudence muted his voice. For the moment he could not recollect just what had happened or where he was; but a vast impending consciousness of evil and of danger weighed upon him. It warned him to keep still, to make no outcry. A burning thirst quickened his memory.
Then his comprehension returned. Still weak and shaken, yet greatly benefited by his sleep, he took a few steps toward the door. Where was the girl? Was he alone? What could all this mean?
“Beatrice! Oh, Beatrice!” he called thickly, in guarded tones. “Where are you? Answer me!”
“Here--coming!” he heard her voice. And then he saw her, dimly, in the doorway.
“What is it? Where have you been? How long have I been asleep?”
She did not answer his questions, but came quickly to him, took his hand, and with her own smoothed his brow.
“Better, now?” asked she.
“Lots! I’ll be all right in a little while. It’s nothing. But what have you been doing all this time?”
“Come, and I’ll show you.” She led him toward the other room.
He followed, in growing wonder.
“No attack, yet?”
“None. But the drums have been beating for a long time now. Hear that?“
They listened. To them drifted a dull, monotonous sound, harbinger of war.
Stern laughed bitterly, chokingly, by reason of his thirst.
“Much good their orchestra will do them,” said he, “when it comes to facing soft-nosed .38’s! But tell me, what was it you were going to show me?”
Quickly she went over to their crude table, took up a dish and came back to him.
“Drink this!” bade she.
He took it, wondering.
“What? Coffee? But--”
“Drink! I’ve had mine, already. Drink!”
Half-stupefied, he obeyed. He drained the whole dish at a draft, then caught his breath in a long sigh.
“But this means water!” cried he, with renewed vigor. “And--?”
“Look here,” she directed, pointing. There on the circular hearth stood the copper kettle, three-quarters full.
“Water! You’ve got water?“ He started forward in amazement. “While I’ve been sleeping? Where--?”
She laughed with real enjoyment.
“It’s nothing,” she disclaimed. “After what you’ve done for me, this is the merest trifle, Allan. You know that big cavity made by the boiler-explosion? Yes? Well, when we looked down into it, before we ventured out to the spring, I noticed a good deal of water at the bottom, stagnant water, that had run out of the boiler and settled on the hard clay floor and in among the cracked cement. I just merely brought up some, and strained and boiled it, that’s all. So you see--”
“But, my Lord!” burst out the man, “d’you mean to say you--you went down there--alone?“
Once more the girl laughed.
“Not alone,” she answered. “One of the automatics was kind enough to bear me company. Of course the main stairway was impassable. But I found another way, off through the east end of the building and down some stairs we haven’t used at all, yet. They may be useful, by the way, in case of--well--a retreat. Once I’d reached the arcade, the rest was easy. I had that leather rope tied to the kettle handle, you see. So all I had to do was--”