Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World
Chapter 30: Consummation
After a while, both calmer grown, they looked again from the high window.
“See!” exclaimed the engineer, and pointed.
There, far away to westward, a few straggling lights--only a very few--slowly and uncertainly were making their way across the broad black breast of the river.
Even as the man and woman watched, one vanished. Then another winked out, and did not reappear. No more than fifteen seemed to reach the Jersey shore, there to creep vaguely, slowly away and vanish in the dense primeval woods.
“Come,” said Stern at last. “We must be going, too. The night’s half spent. By morning we must be very far away.”
“What? We’ve got to leave the city?”
“Yes. There’s no such thing as staying here now. The tower’s quite untenable. Racked and shaken as it is, it’s liable to fall at any time. But, even if it should stand, we can’t live here any more.”
“I don’t just know. Somewhere else, that’s certain. Everything in this whole vicinity is ruined. The spring’s gone. Nothing remains of the forest, nothing but horror and death. Pestilence is bound to sweep this place in the wake of such a--such an affair.
“The sights all about here aren’t such as you should see. Neither should I. We mustn’t even think of them. Some way or other we can find a path down out of here, away--away--”
“But,” she cried anxiously, “but all our treasures? All the tools and dishes, all the food and clothing, and everything? All our precious, hard-won things?”
“Nothing left of them now. Down on the fifth floor, at that end of the building, I’m positive there’s nothing but a vast hole blown out of the side of the tower. So there’s nothing left to salvage. Nothing at all.”
“Can you replace the things?”
“Why not? Wherever we settle down we can get along for a few days on what game I can snare or shoot with the few remaining cartridges. And after that--”
“After that, once we get established a little, I can come into the city and go to raiding again. What we’ve lost is a mere trifle compared to what’s left in New York. Why, the latent resources of this vast ruin haven’t been even touched yet! We’ve got our lives. That’s the only vital factor. With those everything else is possible. It all looks dark and hard to you now, Beatrice. But in a few days--wait and see!”
“I trust you in everything. I’m in your hands. Lead me.”
“Come, then, for the way is long before us. Come!”
Two hours later, undaunted by the far howling of a wolfpack, as the wan crescent of the moon came up the untroubled sky, they reached the brink of the river, almost due west of where the southern end of Central Park hall been.
This course, they felt, would avoid any possible encounter with stragglers of the Horde. Through Madison Forest--or what remained of it--they had not gone; but had struck eastward from the building, then northward, and so in a wide detour had avoided all the horrors that they knew lay near the wreck of the tower.
The river, flowing onward to the sea as calmly as though pain and death and ruin and all the dark tragedy of the past night, the past centuries, had never been, filled their tired souls and bodies with a grateful peace. Slowly, gently it lapped the wooded shore, where docks and slips had all gone back to nature; the moonlit ripples spoke of beauty, life, hope, love.
Though they could not drink the brackish waters, yet they laved their faces, arms and hands, and felt refreshed. Then for some time in silence they skirted the flood, ever northward, away from the dead city’s heart. And the moon rose even higher, higher still, and great thoughts welled within their hearts. The cool night breeze, freshening in from the vast salt wastes of the sea--unsailed forever now--cooled their cheeks and soothed the fever of their thoughts.
Where the grim ruin of Grant’s Tomb looked down upon the river, they came at length upon a strange, rude boat, another, then a third--a whole flotilla, moored with plaited ropes of grass to trees along the shore.
“These must certainly be the canoes of the attacking force from northward, the force that fought the Horde the night before we took a hand in the matter; fought, and were beaten, and--devoured,” said Stern.
And with a practical eye, wise and cool even despite the pain of his wounded arm, he examined three or four of the boats as best he could by moonlight.
The girl and he agreed on one to use.
“Yes, this looks like the most suitable,” judged the engineer, indicating a rough, banca-like craft nearly sixteen feet long, which had been carved and scraped and burned out of a single log.
He helped Beatrice in, then cast off the rope. In the bottom lay six paddles of the most degraded state of workmanship. They showed no trace of decoration whatsoever, and the lowest savages of the pre-cataclysmic era had invariably attempted some crude form of art on nearly every implement.