Darkness and Dawn,
Book II. Beyond
by George Allan England
BOOK II. BEYOND THE GREAT OBLIVION
CHAPTER III. THE
CHAPTER IV. THE
CHAPTER VII. A
NIGHT OF TOIL
THE REBIRTH OF
TOWARD THE GREAT
CHAPTER XI. THE
TRAPPED ON THE
CHAPTER XIII. ON
THE CREST OF THE
CHAPTER XIV. A
ALL ABOARD FOR
CHAPTER XX. ON
THE LIP OF THE
LOST IN THE
THE LAND OF THE
CHAPTER XXV. THE
DUNGEON OF THE
THE BATTLE IN
SHADOWS OF WAR
THE COMING OF
FACE TO FACE
GAGE OF BATTLE
THE SUN OF
BOOK II. BEYOND THE GREAT OBLIVION
CHAPTER I. BEGINNINGS
A thousand years of darkness and decay! A thousand years of blight,
brutality, and atavism; of Nature overwhelming all man's work, of
crumbling cities and of forgotten civilization, of stupefaction, of
death! A thousand years of night!
Two human beings, all alone in that vast wilderness—a woman and a
The past, irrevocable; the present, fraught with problems, perils,
and alarms; the future—what?
A thousand years!
Yet, though this thousand years had seemingly smeared away all
semblance of the world of men from the cosmic canvas, Allan Stern and
Beatrice Kendrick thrilled with as vital a passion as though that vast,
oblivious age lay not between them and the time that was.
And their long kiss, there in sight of their new home-to-be—alone
there in that desolated world—was as natural as the summer breeze, the
liquid melody of the red-breast on the blossomy apple-bough above their
heads, the white and purple spikes of odorous lilacs along the
vine-grown stone wall, the gold and purple dawn now breaking over the
distant reaches of the river.
Thus were these two betrothed, this sole surviving pair of human
Thus, as the new day burned to living flame up the inverted bowl of
sky, this woman and this man pledged each other their love and loyalty
Thus they stood together, his left arm about her warm, lithe body,
clad as she was only in her tiger-skin. Their eyes met and held true,
there in the golden glory of the dawn. Unafraid, she read the message
in the depths of his, the invitation, the command; and they both
foreknew the future.
Beatrice spoke first, flushing a little as she drew toward him.
“Allan,” she said with infinite tenderness, even as a mother might
speak to a well-loved son, “Allan, come now and let me dress your
wound. That's the first thing to do. Come, let me see your arm.”
He smiled a little, and with his broad, brown hand stroked back the
spun silk of her hair, its mass transfixed by the raw gold pins he had
found for her among the ruins of New York.
“No, no!” he objected. “It's nothing—it's not worth bothering
about. I'll be all right in a day or two. My flesh heals almost at
once, without any care. You don't realize how healthy I am.”
“I know, dear, but it must hurt you terribly!”
“Hurt? How could I feel any pain with your kiss on my mouth?”
“Come!” she again repeated with insistence, and pointed toward the
beach where their banca lay on the sand.
“Come, I'll dress your wound first. And after I find out just how
badly you're injured—”
He tried to stop her mouth with kisses, but she evaded him.
“No, no!” she cried. “Not now—not now!”
Allan had to cede. And now presently there he knelt on the fine
white sand, his bearskin robe opened and flung back, his well-knit
shoulder and sinewed arm bare and brown.
“Well, is it fatal?” he jested. “How long do you give me to survive
it?” as with her hand and the cold limpid water of the Hudson she
started to lave the caked blood away from his gashed triceps.
At sight of the wound she looked grave, but made no comment. She had
no bandages; but with the woodland skill she had developed in the past
weeks of life in close touch with nature, she bound the cleansed wound
with cooling leaves and fastened them securely in place with lashings
of leather thongs from the banca.
Presently the task was done. Stern slipped his bearskin back in
place. Beatrice, still solicitous, tried to clasp the silver buckle
that held it; but he, unable to restrain himself, caught her hand in
both of his and crushed it to his lips.
Then he took her perfect face between his palms, and for a long
moment studied it. He looked at her waving hair, luxuriant and glinting
rich brown gleams in the sunlight; her thick, arched brows and hazel
eyes, liquid and full of mystery as woodland pools; her skin,
sun-browned and satiny, with abundant tides of life-blood coursing
vigorously in its warm flush; her ripe lips. He studied her, and loved
and yearned toward her; and in him the passion leaped up like living
His mouth met hers again.
“My beloved!” breathed he.
Her rounded arm, bare to the shoulder, circled his neck; she hid her
face in his breast.
“Not yet—not yet!” she whispered.
On the white and pink flowered bough above, the robin, unafraid,
gushed into a very madness of golden song. And now the sun, higher
risen, had struck the river into a broad sheet of spun metal, over
which the swallows—even as in the olden days—darted and spiraled,
with now and then a flick and dash of spray.
Far off, wool-white winding-sheets of mist were lifting, lagging
along the purple hills, clothed with inviolate forest.
Again the man tried to raise her head, to burn his kisses on her
mouth. But she, instilled with the eternal spirit of woman, denied him.
“No, not now—not yet!” she said; and in her eyes he read her
meaning. “You must let me go now, Allan. There's so much to do; we've
got to be practical, you know.”
“Practical! When I—I love—”
“Yes, I know, dear. But there's so much to be done first.” Her
womanly homemaking instinct would not be gainsaid. “There's so much
work! We've got the place to explore, and the house to put in order,
and—oh, thousands of things! And we must be very sensible and very
wise, you and I, boy. We're not children, you know. Now that we've lost
our home in the Metropolitan Tower, everything's got to be done over
“Except to learn to love you!” answered Stern, letting her go with
She laughed back at him over her fur-clad shoulder as her sandaled
feet followed the dim remnants of what must once have been a broad
driveway from the river road along the beach, leading up to the
Through the encroaching forest and the tangle of the degenerate
apple-trees they could see the concrete walls, with here or there a bit
of white still gleaming through the enlacements of ancient vines that
had enveloped the whole structure—woodbine, ivy, wisterias, and the
maddest jungle of climbing roses, red and yellow, that ever made a nest
“Wait, I'll go first and clear the way for you,” he said cheerily.
His big bulk crashed down the undergrowth. His hands held back the
thorns and briers and the whipping hardbacks. Together they slowly made
way toward the house.
The orchard had lost all semblance of regularity, for in the
thousand years since the hand of man had pruned or cared for it Mother
Nature had planted and replanted it times beyond counting. Small and
gnarled and crooked the trees were, as the spine-tree souls in Dante's
Here or there a pine had rooted and grown tall, killing the lesser
tribe of green things underneath.
Warm lay the sun there. A pleasant carpet of last year's leaves and
pine-spills covered the earth.
“It's all ready and waiting for us, all embowered and carpeted for
love,” said Allan musingly. “I wonder what old Van Amburg would think
of his estate if he could see it now? And what would he say to our
having it? You know, Van was pretty ugly to me at one time about my
political opinion—but that's all past and forgotten now. Only this is
certainly an odd turn of fate.”
He helped the girl over a fallen log, rotted with moss and lichens.
“It's one awful mess, sure as you're born. But as quick as my arm gets
back into shape, we'll have order out of chaos before you know it. Some
fine day you and I will drive our sixty horse-power car up an asphalt
road here, and—”
“A car? Why, what do you mean? There's not such a thing left in the
whole world as a car!”
The engineer tapped his forehead with his finger.
“Oh, yes, there is. I've got several models right here. You just
wait till you see the workshop I'm going to install on the bank of the
river with current-power, and with an electric light plant for the
whole place, and with—”
“You dear, big, dreaming boy!” she interrupted. Then with a kiss she
took his hand.
“Come,” said she. “We're home now. And there's work to do.”
CHAPTER II. SETTLING DOWN
Together, in the comradeship of love and trust and mutual
understanding, they reached the somewhat open space before the
bungalow, where once the road had ended in a stone-paved drive. Allan's
wounded arm, had he but sensed it, was beginning to pain more than a
little. But he was oblivious. His love, the fire of spring that burned
in his blood, the lure of this great adventuring, banished all
consciousness of ill.
Parting a thicket, they reached the steps. And for a while they
stood there, hand in hand, silent and thrilled with vast, strange
thoughts, dreaming of what must be. In their eyes lay mirrored the
future of the human race. The light that glowed in them evoked the
glories of the dawn of life again, after ten centuries of black
“Our home now!” he told her, very gently, and again he kissed her,
but this time on the forehead. “Ours when we shall have reclaimed it
and made it ours. See the yellow roses, dear? They symbolize our golden
future. The red, red roses? Our passion and our pain!”
The girl made no answer, but tears gathered in her eyes—tears from
the deepest wells of the soul. She brought his hand to her lips.
“Ours!” she whispered tremblingly.
They stood there together for a little space, silent and glad. From
an oak that shaded the porch a squirrel chippered at them. A
sparrow—larger now than the sparrows they remembered in the time that
was—peered out at them, wondering but unafraid, from its nest under
the eaves; at them, the first humans it had ever seen.
“We've got a tenant already, haven't we?” smiled Allan. “Well, I
guess we sha'n't have to disturb her, unless perhaps for a while, when
I cut away this poison ivy here.” He pointed at the glossy triple leaf.
“No poisonous thing, whether plant, snake, spider, or insect, is going
to stay in this Eden!” he concluded, with a laugh.
Together, with a strange sense of violating the spirit of the past,
they went up the concrete steps, untrodden now by human feet for ten
The massive blocks were still intact for the most part, for old Van
Amburg had builded with endless care and with no remotest regard for
cost. Here a vine, there a sapling had managed to insinuate a tap-root
in some crack made by the frost, but the damage was trifling. Except
for the falling of a part of a cornice, the building was complete. But
it was hidden in vines and mold. Moss, lichens and weeds grew on the
steps, flourishing in the detritus that had accumulated.
Allan dug the toe of his sandal into the loose drift of dead leaves
and pine-spills that littered the broad piazza.
“It'll need more than a vacuum cleaner to put this in shape!” said
he. “Well, the sooner we get at it, the better. We'd do well to take a
look at the inside.”
The front door, one-time built of oaken planks studded with
hand-worked nails and banded with huge wrought-iron hinges, now hung
there a mere shell of itself, worm-eaten, crumbling, disintegrated.
With no tools but his naked hands Stern tore and battered it away. A
thick, pungent haze of dust arose, yellow in the morning sunlight that
presently, for the first time in a thousand years, fell warm and bright
across the cob-webbed front hallway, through the aperture.
Room by room Allan and Beatrice explored. The bungalow was
practically stripped bare by time.
“Only moth and rust,” sighed the girl. “The same story everywhere we
go. But—well, never mind. We'll soon have it looking homelike. Make me
a broom, dear, and I'll sweep out the worst of it at once.”
Talking now in terms of practical detail, with romance for the hour
displaced by harsh reality, they examined the entire house.
Of the once magnificent furnishings, only dust-piles, splinters and
punky rubbish remained. Through the rotted plank shutters, that hung
drunkenly awry from rust-eaten hinges, long spears of sunlight wanly
illuminated the wreck of all that had once been the lavish home of a
Rugs, paintings, furniture, bibelots, treasures of all kinds
now lay commingled in mournful decay. In what had evidently been the
music room, overlooking the grounds to southward, the grand piano now
was only a mass of rusted frame, twisted and broken fragments of wire
and a considerable heap of wood-detritus, with a couple of corroded
pedals buried in the pile.
“And this was the famous hundred-thousand-dollar harp of
Sara, his daughter, that the papers used to talk so much about, you
remember?” asked the girl, stirring with her foot a few mournful bits
of rubbish that lay near the piano.
“Sic transit gloria mundi!” growled Stern, shaking his head. “You
and she were the same age, almost. And now—”
Silent and full of strange thoughts they went on into what had been
the kitchen. The stove, though heavily bedded in rust, retained its
form, for the solid steel had resisted even the fearful lapse of
“After I scour that with sand and water,” said Stern, “and polish up
these aluminum utensils and reset that broken pane with a piece of
glass from up-stairs where it isn't needed, you won't know this place.
Yes, and I'll have running water in here, too—and electricity from the
“Oh, Allan,” interrupted the girl, delightedly, “this must have been
the dining room.” She beckoned from a doorway. “No end of dishes left
for us! Isn't it jolly? This is luxury compared to the way we had to
start in the tower!”
In the dining-room a good number of the more solid cut-glass and
china pieces had resisted the shock of having fallen, centuries ago, to
the floor, when the shelves and cupboards of teak and mahogany had
rotted and gone to pieces. Corroded silverware lay scattered all about;
and there was gold plate, too, intact save for the patina of extreme
age—platters, dishes, beakers. But of the table and the chairs,
nothing remained save dust.
Like curious children they poked and pried.
“Dishes enough!” exclaimed she. “Gold, till you can't rest. But how
about something to put on the dishes? We haven't had a bite
since yesterday noon, and I'm about starved. Now that the fighting's
all over, I begin to remember my healthy appetite!”
“You'll have some breakfast, girlie,” promised he. “There'll be the
wherewithal to garnish our 18-k, never fear. Just let's have a look
up-stairs, and then I'll go after something for the larder.”
They left the down-stairs rooms, silent save for a fly buzzing in a
spider's web, and together ascended the dusty stairs. The railing was
entirely gone; but the concrete steps remained.
Stern helped the girl, in spite of the twinge of pain it caused his
wounded arm. His heart beat faster—so, too, did hers—as they gained
the upper story. The touch of her was, to him, like a lighted match
flung into a powder magazine; but he bit his lip, and though his face
paled, then flushed, he held his voice steady as he said:
“So then, bats up here? Well, how the deuce do they get in and out?
Ah! That broken window, where the elm-branch has knocked out the
glass—I see! That's got to be fixed at once!”
He brushed webs and dust from the remaining panes, and together they
peered out over the orchard, out across the river, now a broad sheet of
molten gold. His arm went about her; he drew her head against his
heart, fast-beating; and silence fell.
“Come, Allan,” said the girl at length, calmer than he. “Let's see
what we've got here to do with. Oh, I tell you to begin with,” and she
smiled up frankly at him, “I'm a tremendously practical sort of woman.
You may be an engineer, and know how to build wireless telegraphs and
bridges and—and things; but when it comes to home—building—”
“I admit it. Well, lead on,” he answered; and together they explored
the upper rooms. The sense of intimacy now lay strong upon them, of
unity and of indissoluble love and comradeship. This was quite another
venture than the exploration of the tower, for now they were choosing a
home, their home, and in them the mating instinct had begun to
thrill, to burn.
Each room, despite its ruin and decay, took on a special charm, a
dignity, the foreshadowing of what must be. Yet intrinsically the place
was mournful, even after Stern had let the sunshine in.
For all was dark desolation. The rosewood and mahogany furniture,
pictures, rugs, brass beds, all alike lay reduced to dust and ashes. A
gold clock, the porcelain fittings of the bath-room, and some fine clay
and meerschaum pipes in what had evidently been Van Amburg's den—these
constituted all that had escaped the tooth of time.
In a front room that probably had been Sara's, a mud-swallow had
built its nest in the far corner. It flew out, frightened, when Stern
thrust his hand into the aperture to see if the nest were tenanted,
fluttered about with scared cries, then vanished up the broad
“Eggs—warm!” announced Stern. “Well, this room will have to be shut
up and left. We've got more than enough, anyhow. Less work for you,
dear,” he added, with a smile. “We might use only the lower floor, if
you like. I don't want you killing yourself with housework, you
She laughed cheerily.
“You make me a broom and get all the dishes and things together,”
she answered, “and then leave the rest to me. In a week from now you
won't know this place. Once we clear out a little foothold here we can
go back to the tower and fetch up a few loads of tools and supplies—”
“Come on, come on!” he interrupted, taking her by the hand and
leading her away. “All such planning will do after breakfast, but I'm
starving! How about a five-pound bass on the coals, eh? Come on, let's
CHAPTER III. THE MASKALONGE
With characteristic resourcefulness Stein soon manufactured adequate
tackle with a well-trimmed alder pole, a line of leather thongs and a
hook of stout piano wire, properly bent to make a barb and rubbed to a
fine point on a stone. He caught a dozen young frogs among the sedges
in the marshy stretch at the north end of the landing-beach, and
confined them in the only available receptacle, the holster of his
All this hurt his arm severely, but he paid no heed.
“Now,” he announced, “we're quite ready for business. Come along!”
Together they pushed the boat off; it glided smoothly out onto the
breast of the great current.
“I'll paddle,” she volunteered. “You mustn't, with your arm in the
condition it is. Which way?”
“Up—over there into that cove beyond the point,” he answered,
baiting up his hook with a frog that kicked as naturally as though a
full thousand years hadn't passed since any of its progenitors had been
handled thus. “This certainly is far from being the kind of tackle that
Bob Davis or any of that gang used to swear by, but it's the best we
can do for now. When I get to making lines and hooks and things in
earnest, there'll be some sport in this vicinity. Imagine water
untouched by the angler for ten hundred years or more!”
He swung his clumsy line as he spoke, and cast. Far across the
shining water the circles spread, silver in the morning light; then the
trailing line cut a long series of V's as the girl paddled slowly
toward the cove. Behind the banca a rippling wake flashed metallic; the
cold, clear water caressed the primitive hull, murmuring with soft
cadences, in the old, familiar music of the time when there were men on
earth. The witchery of it stirred Beatrice; she smiled, looked up with
joy and wonder at the beauty of that perfect morning, and in her clear
voice began to sing, very low, very softly, to herself, a song
whereof—save in her brain—no memory now remained in the whole world—
“Stark wie der Fels,
Tief wie das Meer,
Muss deine Liebe, muss deine Liebe sein—”
“Ah!” cried the man, interrupting her.
The alder pole was jerking, quivering in his hands; the leather line
“A strike, so help me! A big one!”
He sprang to his feet, and, unmindful of the swaying of the banca,
began to play the fish.
Beatrice, her eyes a-sparkle, turned to watch; the paddle lay
forgotten in her hands.
“Here he comes! Oh, damn!” shouted Stern. “If I only had a
“Pull him right in, can't you?” the girl suggested.
He groaned, between clenched teeth—for the strain on his arm was
“Yes, and have him break the line!” he cried. “There he goes, under
the boat, now! Paddle! Go ahead—paddle!”
She seized the oar, and while Stern fought the monster she set the
banca in motion again. Now the fish was leaping wildly from side to
side, zig-zagging, shaking at the hook as a bull-dog shakes an old
boot. The leather cord hummed through the water, ripping and vibrating,
taut as a fiddle-string. A long, silvery line of bubbles followed the
High in air, lithe and graceful and very swift, a spurt of green and
white—a long, slim curve of glistening power—a splash; and again the
cord drew hard.
“Maskalonge!” Stern cried. “Oh, we've got to land him—got to!
Fifteen pounds if he's an ounce!”
Beatrice, flushed and eager, watched the fight with fascination.
“If I can bring him close, you strike—hit hard!” the man directed.
“Give it to him! He's our breakfast!”
Even in the excitement of the battle Stern realized how very
beautiful this woman was. Her color was adorable—rose-leaves and
cream. Her eyes were shot full of light and life and the joy of living;
her loosened hair, wavy and rich and brown, half hid the graceful curve
of her neck as she leaned to watch, to help him.
And strong determination seized him to master this great fish, to
land it, to fling it at the woman's feet as his tribute and his trophy.
He had, in the days of long ago, fished in the Adirondack
wildernesses. He had fished for tarpon in the Gulf; he had cast the fly
along the brooks of Maine and lured the small-mouthed bass with
floating bait on many a lake and stream. He had even fished in a Rocky
Mountain torrent, and out on the far Columbia, when failure to succeed
But this experience was unique. Never had he fished all alone in the
world with a loved woman who depended on his skill for her food, her
life, her everything.
Forgotten now the wounded arm, the crude and absurd implements;
forgotten everything but just that sole, indomitable thought: “I've got
Came now a lull in the struggles of the monster. Stern hauled in.
Another rush, met by a paying-out, a gradual tautening of the line, a
strong and steady pull.
“He's tiring,” exulted Stern. “Be ready when I bring him close!”
Again the fish broke cover; again it dived; but now its strength was
Allan hauled in.
Now, far down in the clear depths, they could both see the darting,
flickering shaft of white and green.
“Up he comes now! Give it to him, hard!”
As Stern brought him to the surface, Beatrice struck with the
paddle—once, twice, with magnificent strength and judgment.
Over the gunwale of the banca, in a sparkle of flying spray, silvery
in the morning sun, the maskalonge gleamed.
Excited and happy as a child, Beatrice clapped her hands. Stern
seized the paddle as she let it fall. A moment later the huge fish,
stunned and dying, lay in the bottom of the boat, its gills rising,
falling in convulsive gasps, its body quivering, scales shining in the
sunlight—a thing of wondrous beauty, a promise of the feast for two
strong, healthy humans.
Stern dried his brow on the back of his hand and drew a deep breath,
for the morning was already warm and the labor had been hard.
“Now,” said he, and smiled, “now a nice little pile of dead wood on
the beach, a curl of birch-bark and a handful of pine punk and grass—a
touch of the flint and steel! Then this,” and he pointed at the
maskalonge, “broiled on a pointed stick, with a handful of
checkerberries for dessert, and I think you and I will be about ready
to begin work in earnest!”
He knelt and kissed her—a kiss that she returned—and then, slowly,
happily, and filled with the joy of comradeship, they drove their banca
once more to the white and gleaming beach.
CHAPTER IV. THE GOLDEN AGE
Stern's plans of hard work for the immediate present had to be
deferred a little, for in spite of his perfect health, the spear-thrust
in his arm—lacking the proper treatment, and irritated by his labor in
catching the big fish—developed swelling and soreness. A little fever
even set in the second day. And though he was eager to go out fishing
again, Beatrice appointed herself his nurse and guardian, and withheld
They lived for some days on the excellent flesh of the maskalonge,
on clams from the beach—enormous clams of delicious flavor—on a new
fruit with a pinkish meat, which grew abundantly in the thickets and
somewhat resembled breadfruit; on wild asparagus-sprouts, and on the
few squirrels that Stern was able to “pot” with his revolver from the
shelter of the leafy little camping-place they had arranged near the
Though Beatrice worked many hours all alone in the bungalow,
sweeping it with a broom made of twigs lashed to a pole, and trying to
bring the place into order, it was still no fit habitation.
She would not even let the man try to help her, but insisted on his
keeping quiet in their camp. This lay under the shelter of a
thick-foliaged oak at the southern end of the beach. The perfect
weather and the presence of a three-quarters moon at night invited them
to sleep out under the sky.
“There'll be plenty of time for the bungalow,” she said, “when it
rains. As long as we have fair June weather like this no roof shall
Singularly enough, there were no mosquitoes. In the thousand years
that had elapsed, they might either have shifted their habitat from
eastern America, or else some obscure evolutionary process might have
wiped them out entirely. At any rate, none existed, for which the two
adventurers gave thanks.
Wild beasts they feared not. Though now and then they heard the yell
of a wildcat far back in the woods, or the tramping of an occasional
bulk through the forest, and though once a cinnamon bear poked his
muzzle out into the clearing, sniffed and departed with a grunt of
disapproval, they could not bring themselves to any realization of
animals as a real peril. Their camp-fire burned high all night, heaped
with driftwood and windfalls; and beyond this protection, Stern had his
automatic and a belt nearly full of cartridges. They discussed the
question of a possible attack by some remnants of the Horde; but common
sense assured them that these creatures would—such as survived—give
them a wide berth.
“And in any event,” Stern summed it up, “if anything happens, we
have the bungalow to retreat into. Though in its present state, without
any doors or shutters, I think we're safer out among the trees, where,
on a pinch, we could go aloft.”
Thus his convalescence progressed in the open air, under the clouds
and sun and stars and lustrous moon of that deserted world.
Beatrice showed both skill and ingenuity in her treatment. With a
clam-shell she scraped and saved the rich fat from under the skins of
the squirrels, and this she “tried out” in a golden dish, over the
fire. The oil thus got she used to anoint his healing wound. She used a
dressing of clay and leaves; and when the fever flushed him she made
him comfortable on his bed of spruce-tips, bathed his forehead and
cheeks, and gave him cold water from a spring that trickled down over
the moss some fifty feet to westward of the camp.
Many a long talk they had, too—he prone on the spruce, she sitting
beside him, tending the fire, holding his hand or letting his head lie
in her lap, the while she stroked his hair. Ferns, flowers in
profusion—lilacs and clover and climbing roses and some new, strange
scarlet blossoms—bowered their nest. And through the pain and fever,
the delay and disappointment, they both were glad and cheerful. No word
of impatience or haste or repining escaped them. For they had life;
they had each other; they had love. And those days, as later they
looked back upon them, were among the happiest, the most purely
beautiful, the sweetest of their whole wondrous, strange experience.
He and she, perfect friends, comrades and lovers, were inseparable.
Each was always conscious of the other's presence. The continuity of
love, care and sympathy was never broken. Even when, at daybreak, she
went away around the wooded point for her bath in the river, he could
hear her splashing and singing and laughing happily in the cold water.
It was the Golden Age come back to earth again—the age of natural
and pure simplicity, truth, trust, honor, faith and joy, unspoiled by
malice or deceit, by lies, conventions, sordid ambitions, or the lust
of wealth or power. Arcady, at last—in truth!
Their conversation was of many things. They talked of their
awakening in the tower and their adventures there; of the possible
cause of the world-catastrophe that had wiped out the human race, save
for their own survival; the Horde and the great battle; their escape,
their present condition, and their probable future; the possibility of
their ever finding any other isolated human beings, and of
reconstituting the fragments of the world or of renewing the human
And as they spoke of this, sometimes the girl would grow strangely
silent, and a look almost of inspiration—the universal mother—look of
the race—would fill her wondrous eye's. Her hand would tremble in his;
but he would hold it tight, for he, too, understood.
“Afraid, little girl?” he asked her once.
“No, not afraid,” she answered; and their eyes met. “Only—so much
depends on us—on you, on me! What strength we two must have, what
courage, what endurance! The future of the human race lies in our
He made no answer; he, too, grew silent. And for a long while they
sat and watched the embers of the fire; and the day waned. Slowly the
sun set in its glory over the virgin hills; the far eastern spaces of
the sky grew bathed in tender lavenders and purples. Haze drew its
veils across the world, and the air grew brown with evenfall.
Presently the girl arose, to throw more wood on the fire. Clad only
in her loose tiger-skin, clasped with gold, she moved like a primeval
goddess. Stern marked the supple play of her muscles, the unspoiled
grace and strength of that young body, the swelling warmth of her
bosom. And as he looked he loved; he pressed a hand to his eyes; for a
while he thought—it was as though he prayed.
Evening came on—the warm, dark, mysterious night. Off there in the
shallows gradually arose the million-voiced chorus of frogs, shrill and
monotonous, plaintive, appealing—the cry of new life to the
overarching, implacable mystery of the universe. The first faint
silvery powder of the stars came spangling out along the horizon.
Unsteady bats began to reel across the sky. The solemn beauty of the
scene awed the woman and the man to silence. But Stern, leaning his
back against the bole of the great oak, encircled Beatrice with his
Her beautiful dear head rested in the hollow of his throat; her
warm, fragrant hair caressed his cheek; he felt the wholesome strength
and sweetness of this woman whom he loved; and in his eyes—unseen by
her—tears welled and gleamed in the firelight.
Beatrice watched, like a contented child, the dancing showers of
sparks that rose, wavering and whirling in complex sarabands—sparks
red as passion, golden as the unknown future of their dreams. From the
river they heard the gentle lap-lap-lapping of the waves along the
shore. All was rest and peace and beauty; this was Eden once again—and
there was no serpent to enter in.
Presently Stern spoke.
“Dear,” said he, “do you know, I'm a bit puzzled in some ways,
about—well, about night and day, and temperature, and gravitation, and
a number of little things like that. Puzzled. We're facing problems
here that we don't realize fully as yet.”
“Problems? What problems, except to make our home, and—and live?”
“No, there's more to be considered than just that. In the first
place, although I have no timepiece, I'm moderately certain the day and
night are shorter now than they used to be before the smash-up. There
must be a difference of at least half an hour. Just as soon as I can
get around to it, I'll build a clock, and see. Though if the force of
gravity has changed, too, that, of course, will change the time of
vibration of any pendulum, and so of course will invalidate my results.
It's a hard problem, right enough.”
“You think gravitation has changed?”
“Don't you notice, yourself, that things seem a trifle
lighter—things that used to be heavy to lift are now comparatively
“M-m-m-m-m—I don't know. I thought maybe it was because I was
feeling so much stronger, with this new kind of outdoor life.”
“Of course, that's worth considering,” answered Stern, “but there's
more in it than that. The world is certainly smaller than it was,
though how, or why, I can't say. Things are lighter, and the time of
rotation is shorter. Another thing, the pole-star is certainly five
degrees out of place. The axis of the earth has been given an
astonishing twist, some way or other.
“And don't you notice a distinct change in the climate? In the old
days there were none of these huge, palm-like ferns growing in this
part of the world. We had no such gorgeous butterflies. And look at the
new varieties of flowers—and the breadfruit, or whatever it is,
growing on the banks of the Hudson in the early part of June!
“Something, I tell you, has happened to the earth, in all these
centuries; something big! Maybe the cause of it all was the original
catastrophe; who knows? It's up to us to find out. We've got more to do
than make our home, and live, and hunt for other people—if any are
still alive. We've got to solve these world—problems; we've got work
to do, little girl. Work—big work!”
“Well, you've got to rest now, anyhow,” she dictated. “Now,
stop thinking and planning, and just rest! Till your wound is healed,
you're going to keep good and quiet.”
Silence fell again between them. Then, as the east brightened with
the approach of the moon, she sang the song he loved best—“Ave Maria,
Gratia Plena”—in her soft, sweet voice, untrained, unspoiled by false
conventions. And Stern, listening, forgot his problems and his plans;
peace came to his soul, and rest and joy.
The song ended. And now the moon, with a silent majesty that shamed
human speech, slid her bright silver plate up behind the fret of trees
on the far hills. Across the river a shimmering path of light grew,
broadening; and the world beamed in holy beauty, as on the primal
And their souls drank that beauty. They were glad, as never yet. At
last Stern spoke.
“It's more like a dream than a reality, isn't it?” said he. “Too
wonderful to be true. Makes me think of Alfred de Musset's 'Lucie.' You
remember the poem?
“'Un soir, nous etions seuls,
J'etais assis pres d'elle . ..'“
“Yes, I know!” she whispered. “How could I forget it? And to think
that for a thousand years the moon's been shining just the same, and
“Yes, but is it the same?” interrupted Stern suddenly, his
practical turn of mind always reasserting itself. “Don't you see a
difference? You remember the old-time face in the moon, of course.
Where is it now? The moon always presented only one side, the same
side, to us in the old days. How about it now? If I'm not mistaken,
things have shifted up there. We're looking now at some other face of
it. And if that's so it means a far bigger disarrangement of the solar
system and the earth's orbit and lots of things than you or I suspect!
“Wait till we get back to New York for half a day, and visit the
tower and gather up our things. Wait till I get hold of my binoculars
again! Perhaps some of these questions may be resolved. We can't go on
this way, surrounded by perpetual puzzles, problems, mysteries! We
“Do nothing but rest now!” she dictated with mock severity.
“Well, you're the boss,” he answered, and leaned back against the
oak. “Only, may I propound one more question?”
“Well, what is it?”
“Do you see that dark patch in the sky? Sort of a roughly circular
hole in the blue, as it were—right there?” He pointed. “Where there
aren't any stars?”
“Why—yes. What about it?”
“It's moving, that's all. Every night that black patch moves among
the stars, and cuts their light off; and one night it grazed the
moon—passed before the eastern limb of it, you understand. Made a
partial eclipse. You were asleep; I didn't bother you about it. But if
there's a new body in the sky, it's up to us to know why, and what
about it, and all. So the quicker—”
“The quicker you get well, the better all around!”
She drew his head down and kissed him tenderly on the forehead with
that strange, innate maternal instinct which makes women love to
“mother” men even ten years older than themselves.
“Don't you worry your brains about all these problems and vexations
to-night, Allan. Your getting well is the main thing. The whole world's
future hangs on just that! Do you realize what it means? Do you?”
“Yes, as far as the human brain can realize so big a concept.
Languages, arts, science, all must be handed down to the race by us.
The world can't begin again on any higher plane than just the level of
our collective intelligence. All that the world knows to-day is stored
in your brain-cells and mine! And our speech, our methods, our ideals,
will shape the whole destiny of the earth. Our ideals! We must keep
them very pure!”
“Pure and unspotted,” she answered simply. Then with an adorable and
“Dear, does your shoulder pain you now? I'm awfully heavy to be
leaning on you like this!”
“You're not hurting me a bit. On the contrary, your touch, your
presence, are life to me!”
“Quite sure you're comfy, boy?”
“To the limit.”
“I'm so glad. Because I am, too. I'm awfully sleepy, Allan. Do you
mind if I take just a little, tiny nap?”
For all answer he patted her, and smoothed her hair, her cheek, her
full, warm throat.
Presently by her slow, gentle breathing he knew she was asleep.
For a long time he half-lay there against the oak, softly swathed in
his bear-skin, on the odorous bed of fir, holding her in his arms,
looking into the dancing firelight.
And night wore on, calm, perfumed, gentle; and the thoughts of the
man were long, long thoughts—thoughts “that do often lie too deep for
CHAPTER V. DEADLY PERIL
Pages on pages would not tell the full details of the following
week—the talks they had, the snaring and shooting of small game, the
fishing, the cleaning out of the bungalow, and the beginnings of some
order in the estate, the rapid healing of Stern's arm, and all the
multifarious little events of their new beginnings of life there by the
But there are other matters of more import than such homely things;
so now we come to the time when Stern felt the pressing imperative of a
return to the tower. For he lacked tools in every way; he needed them
to build furniture, doors, shutters; to clear away the brush and make
the place orderly, rational and beautiful; to start work on his
projected laboratory and power-plant; for a thousand purposes.
He wanted his binoculars, his shotgun and rifles, and much
ammunition, as well as a boat-load of canned supplies and other goods.
Instruments, above all, he had to have.
So, though Beatrice still, with womanly conservatism, preferred to
let well enough alone for the present, and stay away from the scene of
such ghastly deeds as had taken place on the last day of the invasion
by the Horde, Stern eventually convinced and overargued her; and on
what he calculated to be the 16th day of June, 2912—the tenth day
since the fight—they set sail for Manhattan. A favoring northerly
breeze, joined with a clear sky and sunshine of unusual brilliancy,
made the excursion a gala time for both. As they put their supplies of
fish, squirrel-meat and breadfruit aboard the banca and shoved the rude
craft off the sand, both she and he felt like children on an outing.
Allan's arm was now so well that he permitted himself the luxury of
a morning plunge. The invigoration of this was still upon him as, with
a song, he raised the clumsy skin sail upon the rough-hewn mast.
Beatrice curled down in her tiger-skin at the stern, took one of the
paddles, and made ready to steer. He settled himself beside her, the
thongs of his sail in his hand. Thus happy in comradeship, they sailed
away to southward, down the blue wonder of the river, flanked by
headlands, wooded heights, crags, cliffs and Palisades, now all alike
Noon found them opposite the fluted columns of gray granite that
once had borne aloft the suburbs of Englewood. Stern recognized the
conformation of the place; but though he looked hard, could find no
trace of the Interstate Park road that once had led from top to bottom
of the Palisades, nor any remnant of the millionaires' palaces along
the heights there.
“Stone and brick have long since vanished as structures,” he
commented. “Only steel and concrete have stood the gaff of uncounted
years! Where all that fashion, wealth and beauty once would have
scorned to notice us, girl, now what's left? Hear the cry of that gull?
The barking of that fox? See that green flicker over the pinnacle? Some
new, bright bird, never dreamed of in this country! And even with the
naked eye I can make out the palms and the lianas tangled over the
verge of what must once have been magnificent gardens!”
He pointed at the heights.
“Once,” said he, “I was consulted by a sausage-king named Breitkopf,
who wanted to sink an elevator-shaft from the top to the bottom of this
very cliff, so he could reach his hundred-thousand-dollar launch in
ease. Breitkopf didn't like my price; he insulted me in several rather
unpleasant ways. The cliff is still here, I see. So am I. But Breitkopf
He laughed, and swept the river with a glance.
“Steer over to the eastward, will you?” he asked. “We'll go in
through Spuyten Duyvil and the Harlem. That'll bring us much nearer the
tower than by landing on the west shore of Manhattan.”
Two hours later they had run past the broken arches of Fordham,
Washington, and High Bridges, and following the river—on both banks of
which a few scattered ruins showed through the massed foliage—were
drawing toward Randall's and Ward's islands and Hell Gate.
Wind and tide still favored them. In safety they passed the ugly
shoals and ledges. Here Stern took the paddle, while Beatrice went to
the bow and left all to his directing hand.
By three o'clock in the afternoon they were drawing past Blackwell's
Island. The Queensboro Bridge still stood, as did the railway bridges
behind them; but much wreckage had fallen into the river, and in one
place formed an ugly whirlpool, which Stern had to avoid by some hard
work with the paddle.
The whole structure was sagging badly to southward, as though the
foundations had given way. Long, rusted masses of steel hung from the
spans, which drooped as though to break at any moment. Though all the
flooring had vanished centuries before, Stern judged an active man
could still make his way across the bridge.
“That's their engineering,” gibed he, as the little boat sailed
under and they looked up like dwarfs at the legs of a Colossus. “The
old Roman bridges are good for practically eternity, but these jerry
steel things, run up for profits, go to pieces in a mere thousand
years! Well, the steel magnates are gone now, and their profits with
them. But this junk remains as a lesson and a warning, Beta; the race
to come must build better than this, and sounder, every way!”
On, on they sailed, marveling at the terrific destruction on either
hand—the dense forests now grown over Brooklyn and New York alike.
“We'll be there before long now,” said Allan. “And if we have any
luck at all, and nothing happens, we ought to be started for home by
nightfall. You don't mind a moonlight sail up the Hudson, do you?”
It was past four by the time the banca nosed her way slowly in among
the rotten docks and ruined hulks of steamships, and with a gentle
rustling came to rest among the reeds and rushes now growing rank at
the foot of what had once been Twenty-Third Street.
A huge sea-tortoise, disturbed, slid off the sand-bank where he had
been sunning himself and paddled sulkily away. A blue heron flapped up
from the thicket, and with a frog in its bill awkwardly took flight,
its long neck crooked, legs dangling absurdly.
“Some mighty big changes, all right,” commented Stern. “Yes, there's
got to be a deal of work done here before things are right again. But
there's time enough, time enough—there's all the time we need, we and
the people who shall come after us!”
They made the banca fast, noting that the tide was high and that the
leather cord was securely tied to a gnarled willow that grew at the
water's edge. Half an hour later they had made their way across town to
It was with strange feelings they once more approached the scene of
their battle against such frightful odds with the Horde. Stern was
especially curious to note the effect of his Pulverite, not only on the
building itself but on the square.
This effect exceeded his expectations. Less than two hundred feet of
the tower now stood and the whole western facade was but a mass of
cracked and gaping ruin.
Out on the Square the huge elms and pines had been uprooted and
flung in titanic confusion, like a game of giants' jack-straws. And
vast conical excavations showed, here and there, where vials of the
explosive had struck the earth. Gravel and rocks had even been thrown
over the Metropolitan Building itself into the woodland glades of
Madison Avenue. And, worse, bits of bone—a leg-bone, a shoulder-blade,
a broken skull with flesh still adhering—here or there met the eye.
“Mighty good thing the vultures have been busy here,” commented
Stern. “If they hadn't, the place wouldn't be even approachable. Gad! I
thank my stars what we've got to do won't take more than an hour. If we
had to stay here after dark I'd surely have the creeps, in spite of all
my scientific materialism! Well, no use being retrospective. We're
living in the present and future now; not the past. Got the plaited
cords Beatrice? We'll need them before long to make up our bundle
Thus talking, Stern kept the girl from seeing too much or brooding
over what she saw. He engaged her actively on the work in hand. Until
he had assured himself there was no danger from falling fragments in
the shattered halls and stairways that led up to the gaping ruin at the
truncated top of the tower he would not let her enter the building, but
set her to fashioning a kind of puckered bag with a huge skin taken
from the furrier's shop in the Arcade, while he explored.
He returned after a while, and together they climbed over the debris
and ruins to the upper rooms which had been their home during the first
few days after the awakening.
The silence of death that lay over the place was appalling—that and
the relics of the frightful battle. But they had their work to do; they
had to face the facts.
“We're not children, Beta,” said the man. “Here we are for a
purpose. The quicker we get our work done the better. Come on, let's
Stifling the homesick feeling that tried to win upon them they set
to work. All the valuables they could recover they collected—canned
supplies, tools, instruments, weapons, ammunition and a hundred and one
miscellaneous articles they had formerly used.
This flotsam of a former civilization they carried down and piled in
the skin bag at the broken doorway. And darkness began to fall ere the
task was done.
Still trickled the waters of the fountain in Madison Forest through
the dim evening aisles of the shattered forest. A solemn hush fell over
the dead world; night was at hand.
“Come, let's be going,” spoke the man, his voice lowered in spite of
himself, the awe of the Infinite Unknown upon him. “We can eat in the
banca on the way. With the tide behind us, as it will be, we ought to
get home by morning. And I'll be mighty glad never to see this place
He slung a sack of cartridges over his shoulder and picked up one of
the cord loops of the bag wherein lay their treasure-trove. Beatrice
took the other.
“I'm ready,” said she. Thus they started.
All at once she stopped short.
“Hark! What's that?” she exclaimed under her breath.
Far off to northward, plaintive, long-drawn and inexpressibly
mournful, a wailing cry reechoed in the wilderness—fell, rose, died
away, and left the stillness even more ghastly than before.
Stern stood rooted. In spite of all his aplomb and matter-of-fact
practicality, he felt a strange thrill curdle through his blood, while
on the back of his neck the hair drew taut and stiff.
“What is it?” asked Beatrice again.
“That? Oh, some bird or other, I guess. It's nothing. Come on!”
Again he started forward, trying to make light of the cry; but in
his heart he knew it well.
A thousand years before, far in the wilds near Ungava Bay, in
Labrador, he had heard the same plaintive, starving call—and he
remembered still the deadly peril, the long fight, the horror that had
He knew the cry; and his soul quivered with the fear of it; fear not
for himself, but for the life of this girl whose keeping lay within the
hollow of his hand.
For the long wail that had trembled across the vague spaces of the
forest, affronting the majesty and dignity of night and the coming
stars with its blood-lusting plaint of famine, had been none other than
the summons to the hunt, the news of quarry, the signal of a gathering
wolf-pack on their trail.
CHAPTER VI. TRAPPED!
“That's not the truth you're telling me, Allan,” said Beatrice very
gravely. “And if we don't tell each other the whole truth always, how
can we love each other perfectly and do the work we have to do? I don't
want you to spare me anything, even the most terrible things. That's
not the cry of a bird—it's wolves!”
“Yes, that's what it is,” the man admitted. “I was in the wrong.
But, you see—it startled me at first. Don't be alarmed, little girl!
We're well armed you see, and—”
“Are we going to stay here in the tower if they attack?”
“No. They might hold us prisoners for a week. There's no telling how
many there may be. Hundreds, perhaps thousands. Once they get the scent
of game, they'll gather for miles and miles around; from all over the
island. So you see—”
“Our best plan, then, will be to make for the banca?”
“Assuredly! It's only a matter of comparatively few minutes to reach
it, and once we're aboard, we're safe. We can laugh at them and be on
our homeward way at the same time. The quicker we start the better.
“Come!” she repeated. And they made their second start after Stern
had assured himself his automatic hung easily in reach and that the
guns were loaded.
Together they took their way along the shadowy depths of the forest
where once Twenty-Third Street had lain. Bravely and strongly the girl
bore her half of the load as they broke through the undergrowth,
clambered over fallen and rotten logs, or sank ankle-deep in mossy
Even though they felt the danger, perhaps at that very moment
slinking, sneaking, crawling nearer off there in the vague, darkling
depths of the forest, they still sensed the splendid comradeship of the
adventure. No longer as a toy, a chattel, an instrument of pleasure or
amusement did the idea of woman now exist in the world. It had altered,
grown higher, nobler, purer—it had become that of mate and equal,
comrade, friend, the indissoluble other half of man.
“You mustn't take more of the weight than I do, Allan,” she
insisted, as they struggled onward with their burden. “Your wounded arm
isn't strong enough yet to—”
“S-h-h-h!” he cautioned. “We've got to keep as quiet as possible.
Come on—the quicker we get these things aboard and push off the
better! Everything depends on speed!”
But speed was hard to make. The way seemed terribly long, now that
evening had closed in and they could no longer be exactly sure of their
path. The cumbersome burden impeded them at every step. In the gloom
they stumbled, tripped over vines and creepers, and became involved
among the close-crowding boles.
Suddenly, once again the wolf-cry burst out, this time reechoed from
another and another savage throat, wailing and plaintive and full of
So much nearer now it seemed that Beatrice and Allan both stopped
short. Panting with their labors, they stood still, fear-smitten.
“They can't be much farther off now than Thirty-Fifth Street,” the
man exclaimed under his breath. “And we're hardly past Second Avenue
yet—and look at the infernal thickets and brush we've got to beat
through to reach the river! Here, I'd better get my revolver ready and
hold it in my free hand. Will you change over? I can take the bag in my
left. I've got to have the right to shoot with!”
“Why not drop everything and run for the banca?”
“And desert the job? Leave all we came for? And maybe not be able to
get any of the things for Heaven knows how long? I guess not!”
“No, no! What? Abandon all our plans because of a few wolves? Let
'em come! We'll show 'em a thing or two!”
“Give me the revolver, then—you can have the rifle!”
Each now with a firearm in the free hand, they started forward
again. On and on they lunged, they wallowed through the forest, half
carrying, half dragging the sack which now seemed to have grown ten
times heavier and which at every moment caught on bushes, on limbs and
among the dense undergrowth.
“Oh, look—look there!” cried Beatrice. She stopped short again,
pointing the revolver, her finger on the trigger.
Allan saw a lean, gray form, furtive and sneaking, slide across a
dim open space off toward the left, a space where once First Avenue had
cut through the city from south to north.
“There's another!” he whispered, a strange, choked feeling all
around his heart. “And look—three more! They're working in ahead of
us. Here, I'll have a shot at 'em, for luck!”
A howl followed the second spurt of flame in the dusk. One of the
gray, gaunt portents of death licked, yapping, at his flank.
“Got you, all right!” gibed Stern. “The kind o' game you're after
isn't as easy as you think, you devils!”
But now from the other side, and from behind them, the slinking
creatures gathered. Their eyes glowed, gleamed, burned softly yellow
through the dusk of the great wilderness that once had been the city's
heart. The two last humans in the world could even catch the flick of
ivory fangs, the lolling wet redness of tongues—could hear the
soughing breath through those infernal jaws.
Stern raised the rifle again, then lowered it.
“No use,” said he quite calmly. “God knows how many there are. I
might use up all our ammunition and still leave enough of 'em to pick
our bones. They'll be all around us in a minute; they'll be worrying at
us, dragging us down! Come on—come on, the boat!”
“Light a torch, Allan. They're afraid of fire.”
“Grand idea, little girl!”
Even as he answered he was scrabbling up dry-kye. Came the rasp of
“Give 'em a few with the automatic, while I get this going!” he
The gun spat twice, thrice. Then rose a snapping, snarling wrangle.
Off there in the gloom a hideous turmoil grew.
It ended in screams of pain and rage, suddenly throttled, choked,
and torn to nothing. A worrying, rending, gnashing told the story of
the wounded wolf's last moment.
Stern sprang up, a dry flaming branch of resinous fir in his hand.
The rifle he thrust back into the bag.
“Ate him, still warm, eh?” he cried. “Fine! And five shots left in
the gun. You won't miss, Beta! You can't!”
Forward they struggled once more.
“Gad, we'll hang to this bag now, whatever happens!” panted
Stern, jerking it savagely off a jagged stub. “Five minutes more and
we'll—arrh! would you?”
The flaring torch he dashed full at a grisly muzzle that snapped and
slavered at his legs. To their nostrils the singe of burned hair
wafted. Yelping, the beast swerved back.
But others ran in and in at them; and now the torch was failing.
Both of them shouted and struck; and the revolver stabbed the night
Pandemonium rose in the forest. Cries, howls, long wails and
snuffing barks blent with the clicking of ivories, the pad-pad-pad of
feet, the crackling of the underbrush.
All around, wolves. On either side, behind, in front, the sliding,
bristling, sneaking, suddenly bold horrors of the wild.
And the ring was tightening; the attack was coming, now, more and
more concertedly. The swinging torch could not now drive them back so
fast, so far.
Strange gleams shot against the tree-trunks, wavered through the
dusk, lighted the harsh, rage-contracted face of the man, fell on the
laboring, skin-clad figure of the woman as they still fought on and on
with their precious burden, hoping for a glimpse of water, for the
river, and salvation.
“Take—a tree?” gasped Beatrice.
“And maybe stay there a week? And use up—all our ammunition? Not
yet—no—no! The boat!”
On, ever on, they struggled.
A strange, unnatural exhilaration filled the girl, banishing
thoughts of peril, sending the blood aglow through every vein and fiber
of her wonderful young body.
Stern realized the peril more keenly. At any moment now he
understood that one of the devils in gray might hurl itself at the full
throat of Beatrice or at his own.
And once the taste of blood lay on those crimson tongues—good-by!
“The boat—the boat!” he shouted, striking right and left like mad
with the smoky, half-extinguished flare.
“There—the river!” suddenly cried Beatrice.
Through the columns of the forest she had seen at last the welcome
gleam of water, starlit, beautiful and calm. Stern saw it, too. A demon
now, he charged the snarling ring. Back he drove them; he turned,
seized the bag, and again plunged desperately ahead.
Together he and Beatrice crashed out among the willows and the
alders on the sedgy shore, with the vague, shifting, bristling horror
of the wolf-pack at their heels.
“Here, beat 'em off while I cut the cord—while I get the bag
in—and shove off!” panted Stern.
She seized the torch from his hand. Up he snatched the rifle again,
and with a pointblank volley flung three of the grays writhing and
yelling all in the mud and weeds and trampled cattails on the river
Down he threw the gun. He turned and swept the dark shore, there
between the ruins of the wharves, with a keen reconnoitering glance.
What? What was this?
There stood the aged willow to which the banca had been tied. But
the boat—where was it?
With a cry Stern leaped to the tree. His clutching hands fumbled at
“My God! Here's—here's the cord!” he stammered. “But it's—been
cut! The boat—the boat's gone!“
CHAPTER VII. A NIGHT OF TOIL
An hour later, from the gnarled branches of the willow—up into
which Stern had fairly flung her, and where he had himself clambered
with the beasts ravening at his legs—the two sole survivors of the
human race watched the glowering eyes that dotted the velvet gloom.
“I estimate a couple of hundred, all told,” judged Allan. “Odd we
never ran across any of them before to-night. Must be some kind of a
migration under way—maybe some big shift of game, of deer, or buffalo,
or what-not. But then, in that case, they wouldn't be so starved, so
dead-set on white meat as they seem to be.”
Beta shifted her place on a horizontal limb.
“It's awfully hard for a soft wood,” she remarked. “Do you
think we'll have to stay here long, dear?”
“That depends. I don't see that the fifteen we've killed since
roosting here have served as any terrible examples to the others. And
we're about twenty cartridges to the bad. They're not worth it, these
devils. We've got to save our ammunition for something edible till I
can get my shop to running and begin making my own powder. No; must be
there's some other and better way.”
“But what?” asked the girl. “We're safe enough here, but we're not
getting any nearer home—and I'm so hungry!”
“Same here,” Stern coincided. “And the lunch was all in the boat;
worse luck! Who the deuce could have cut her loose? I thought we'd
pretty effectually cleared out those Hinkmatinks, or whatever the Horde
consisted of. But evidently something, or somebody, is still left alive
with a terrific grudge against us, or an awful longing for navigation.”
“Was the cord broken or cut?”
Stern clambered to a lower branch. With the trigger-guard of his
rifle he was able to catch the cord. All about the trunk, meanwhile,
the wolves leaped snarling. The fetid animal smell of them was strong
upon the air—that, and the scent of blood and raw meat, where they had
feasted on the slain.
With the severed cord, Allan climbed back to where Beatrice sat.
“Hold the rifle, will you?” asked he. A moment, and by the quick
showers of sparks that issued from his flint and steel, he was
examining the leather thong.
“Cut? But then, then—”
“No tide or wind to blame. Some intelligence, even though
rudimentary, has been at work here—is at work—opposed to us.”
“No telling. There may be more things in this world yet than either
of us dream. Perhaps we committed a very grave error to leave the
apparently peaceful little nook we've got, up there on the Hudson, and
tackle this place again. But who could ever have thought of anything
like this after that terrible slaughter?”
They kept silence a few minutes. The wolves now had sunk to a plane
of comparative insignificance. At the very worst Stern could annihilate
them, one by one, with a lavish expenditure of his ammunition.
Unnoticed now, they yelped, and scratched and howled about the tree,
sat on their haunches, waiting in the gloom, or sneaked—vague
shadows—among the deeper dusks of the forest.
And once again the east began to glow, even as when he and she had
watched the moon rise over the hills beyond the Hudson; and their
hearts beat with joy for even that relief from the dark mystery of
solitude and night.
After a while the man spoke.
“It's this way,” said he. “Whoever cut that cord and either let the
banca float away or else stole it, evidently doesn't want to come to
close quarters for the present, so long as these wolves are making
“Perhaps, in a way, the wolves are a factor in our favor; perhaps,
without them, we might have had a poisoned arrow sticking into us, or a
spear or two, before now. My guess is that we'll get a wide berth so
long as the wolves stay in the neighborhood. I think the anthropoids,
or whoever they were, must have been calculating on ambushing us as we
came back, and expected to 'get' us while we were hunting for the boat.
“They didn't reckon on this little diversion. When they heard it
they probably departed for other regions. They won't be coming around
just yet, that's a safe wager. Mighty lucky, eh? Think what Ar targets
we'd make, up here in this willow, by moonlight!”
“You're right, Allan. But when it comes daylight we'll make better
ones. And I don't know that I enjoy sitting up here and starving to
death, with a body-guard of wolves to keep away the Horde, very much
more than I would taking a chance with the arrows. It's two sixes,
either way, and not a bit nice, is it?”
“Hang the whole business! There must be some other way—some way out
of this infernal pickle! Hold on—wait—I—I almost see it now!”
“What's your plan, dear?”
“Wait! Let me think, a minute!”
She kept silence. Together they sat among the spreading branches in
the growing moonlight. A bat reeled overhead, chippering weakly. Far
away a whippoorwill began its fluty, insistent strain. A distant cry of
some hunting beast echoed, unspeakably weird, among the dead, deserted
streets buried in oblivion. The brush crackled and snapped with the
movements of the wolf-pack; the continued snarling, whining, yapping,
stilled the chorus of the frogs along the sedgy banks.
“If I could only snare a good, lively one!” suddenly broke out
“Why, don't you see?” And with sudden inspiration he expounded.
Together, eager as children, they planned. Beatrice clapped her hands
with sheer delight.
“But,” she added pensively, “it'll be a little hard on the wolf,
Stern had to laugh.
“Yes,” he assented; “but think how much he'll learn about the new
kind of game he tried to hunt!”
Half an hour later a grim old warrior of the pack, deftly and
securely caught by one hind leg with the slip-noosed leather cord,
dangled inverted from a limb, high out of reach of the others.
Slowly he swung, jerking, writhing, frothing as he fought in vain to
snap his jaws upon the cord he could not touch. And night grew horrible
with the stridor of his yells.
“Now then,” remarked Stern calmly, “to work. The moonlight's good
enough to shoot by. No reason I should miss a single target.”
Followed a time of frightful tumult as the living ate the dying and
the dead, worrying the flesh from bones that had as yet scarcely ceased
to move. Beatrice, pale and silent, yet very calm, watched the
slaughter. Stern, as quietly methodical as though working out a
reaction, sighted, fired, sighted, fired. And the work went on apace.
The bag of cartridges grew steadily lighter. The work was done long
before all the wolves had died. For the survivors, gorged to repletion,
some wounded, others whole, slunk gradually away and disappeared in the
dim glades, there to sleep off their cannibal debauch.
At last Stern judged the time was come to descend.
“Bark away, old boy!” he exclaimed. “The louder the better. You're
our danger-signal now. As long as those poor, dull anthropoid brains
keep sensing you I guess we're safe!”
To Beatrice he added:
“Come now, dear. I'll help you down. The quicker we tackle that raft
and away, the sooner we'll be home!”
“Home!” she repeated. “Oh, how glad I'll be to see our bungalow
again! How I hate the ruins of the city now! Look out, Allan—you'll
have to let me take a minute or two to straighten out in. You don't
know how awfully cramped I am!”
“Just slide into my arms—there, that's right!” he answered, and
swung her down as easily as though she had been a child. Her arms went
round his neck; their lips met and thrilled in a long kiss.
But not even the night-breeze and the moon could now beguile them to
another. For there was hard, desperate work to do, and time was short.
A moment they stood there together, under the old tree wherein the
wolf was dangling in loud-mouthed rage.
“Well, here's where I go at it!” exclaimed the man.
He opened the big sack. Fumbling among the tools, he quickly found
“You, Beta,” he directed, “get together all the plaited rope you can
take off the bag, and cut me some strips of hide. Cut a lot of them.
I'll need all you can make. We've got to work fast—got to clear out of
here before sunrise or there may be the devil to pay!”
It was a labor of extraordinary difficulty, there in those dense and
dim-lit thickets, felling a tall spruce, limbing it out and cutting it
into three sections. But Stern attacked it like a demon. Now and again
he stopped to listen or to jab tile suspended wolf with the ax-handle.
“Go on there, you alarm-signal!” he commanded. “Let's have plenty of
music, good and loud, too. Maybe if you deliver the goods and hold
out—well, you'll get away with your life. Otherwise, not!”
Robinson Crusoe's raft had been a mere nothing to build compared
with this one that the engineer had to construct there at the water's
edge, among the sedges and the reeds For Crusoe had planks and beams
and nails to help him; while Stern had naught but his ax, the forest,
and some rough cordage.
He had to labor in the gloom, as well, listening betimes for sounds
of peril or stopping to stimulate the wolf. The dull and rusty ax
retarded him; blisters rose upon his palms, and broke, and formed
again. But still he toiled.
The three longitudinal spruce timbers he lashed together with poles
and with the cords that Beatrice prepared for him. On these, again, he
laid and lashed still other poles, rough-hewn.
In half an hour's hard work, while the moon began to sink to the
westward, he had stepped a crude mast and hewed a couple of punt-poles.
“No use our trying to row this monstrosity,” he said to Beatrice,
stopping a moment to dash the sweat off his forehead with a shaking
hand. “We either rig the skin sack in some way as a sail, or we drift
up with the tide, tie at the ebb, and so on—and if we make the
bungalow in three days we're lucky!
“Come on now, Beatrice. Lend a hand here and we'll launch her! Good
thing the tide's coming up—she almost floats already. Now, one, two,
The absurd raft yielded, moved, slid out upon the marshy water and
“Get aboard!” commanded Allan. “Go forward to the salon de luxe. I'll stow the bag aft, so.”
He lifted her in his arms and set her on the raft. The bag he
carefully deposited at what passed for the stern. The raft sank a bit
and wallowed, but bore up.
“Now then, all aboard!” cried Stern.
“The wolf, Allan, the wolf! How about him?“
“That's right, I almost plumb forgot! I guess he's earned his life,
all right enough.”
Quickly he slashed the cord. The wolf dropped limp, tried to crawl,
but could not, and lay panting on its side, tongue lolling, eyes glazed
“He'll be a horrible example all his life of what it means to monkey
with the new kind of meat,” remarked Allan, clambering aboard. “If
wolves or anthropoids can learn, they ought to learn from him!”
Strongly, steadily, they poled the raft out through the marshy slip,
on, on, past the crumbling wreckage of the pier-head.
“Now the tide's got us,” exclaimed Allan with satisfaction, as the
moonlit current, all silver and rippling with calm beauty, swung them
Beatrice, still strong, and full of vigorous, pulsing life, in spite
of the long vigil in the tree and the hard night of work, curled up at
the foot of the rough mast, on the mass of fir-tips Stern had piled
“You steer, boy,” said she, “and I'll go to work on making some kind
of sail out of the big skin. By morning we ought to have our little
craft under full control.”
“It's one beautiful boat, isn't it?” mocked Stern, poling off from a
gaunt hulk that barred the way.
“It mayn't be very beautiful,” she answered softly, “but it carries
the greatest, purest, noblest love that ever was since the world
began—it carries the hope of the whole world, of all the ages—and
it's taking us home!”
CHAPTER VIII. THE REBIRTH OF
A month had hardly gone, before order and peace and the promise of
bountiful harvests dwelt in and all about Hope Lodge, as they had named
From the kitchen, where the stove and the aluminum utensils now
shone bright and free from rust, to the bedrooms where fir-tips and
soft skin rugs made wondrous sleeping places, the house was clean and
sweet and beautiful again. Rough-hewn chairs and tables, strong,
serviceable and eloquent of nature—through which this rebirth of the
race all had to come—adorned the rooms. Fur rugs covered the floors.
In lieu of pictures, masses of flowers and great sprays of foliage
stood in clay pots of Stern's own manufacture and firing. And on a
rustic book-case in their living room, where the big fireplace was, and
where the southern sun beat warmest in, stood their chief treasure—a
set of encyclopedias.
Stern had made leather bindings for these, with the deft help of
Beatrice. The original bindings had vanished before the attacks of time
and insects centuries before. But the leaves were still intact. For
these were thin sheets of nickel, printed by the electrolysis process.
“Just a sheer streak of luck,” Stern remarked, as he stood looking
at this huge piece of fortune with the girl. “Just a kindly freak of
fate, that Van Amburg should have bought one of Edison's first sets of
“Except for the few sets of these in existence, here and there, not
a book remains on the surface of this entire earth. The finest
hand-made linen paper has disintegrated ages ago. And parchment has
probably crinkled and molded past all recognition. Besides, up-to-date
scientific books, such as we need, weren't done on parchment. We're
playing into gorgeous luck with these cyclopedias, for everything I
need and can't remember is in them. But it certainly was one job to
sort those scattered sheets out of the rubbish-pile in the library and
“Yes, that was hard work, but it's done now. Come on out into
the garden, Allan, and see if our crops have grown any during the
The grounds about the bungalow were a delight to them. Like two
children they worked, day by day, to enlarge and beautify their
holdings, their lands won back from nature's greed.
Though wild fruits—some new, others familiar—and fish and the
plentiful game all about them offered abundant food, to be had for the
mere seeking, they both agreed on the necessity of reestablishing
agriculture. For they disliked the thought of being driven southward,
with the return of each successive winter. They wanted, if advisable,
to be able to winter in the bungalow. And this meant some provision for
the unproductive season.
“It won't always be summer here, you know,” Stern told her. “This
Eden will sometime lie wet and dreary under the winter rains that I
expect now take the place of snow. And the eternal curse of
Adam—toil—is not yet lifted even from us two survivors of the fifteen
hundred million that once ruled the earth. We, and those who shall come
after, must have the old-time foods again. And that means work!”
They had cleared a patch of black, virgin soil, in a sunny hollow.
Here Stern had transplanted all the wild descendants of the vegetables
and grains of other time which in his still limited explorations he had
The work of clearing away the thorns and bushes, the tangled lianas
and tall trees, was severe; but it strengthened him and hardened his
whip-cord muscles till they ridged his skin like iron. He burned and
pulled the stumps, spaded and harrowed and hoed all by hand, and made
ready the earth for the reception of its first crop in a thousand
He recalled enough of his anthropology and botany from university
days to recognize the reverted, twisted and stringy little degenerate
wild-potato root which had once served the Aztecs and Pueblo Indians
for food, and could again, with proper cultivation, be brought back to
full perfection. Likewise with the maize, the squash, the wild turnip,
and many other vegetable forms.
“Three years of cultivation,” he declared, “and I can win them back
to edibility. Five, and they'll be almost where they were before the
great catastrophe. As for the fruits, the apple, cherry, and pear, all
they need is care and scientific grafting.
“I predict that ten years from to-day, orchards and cornfields and
gardens shall surround this bungalow, and the heritage of man shall be
brought back to this old world!”
“Always giving due credit to the encyclopedia,” added Beatrice.
“And to you!” he laughed happily. “This is all on your
account, anyhow. If I were alone in the world, you bet there'd be no
“No, I don't believe there would,” she agreed, a serious look on her
face. “But, then,” she concluded, smiling again, “you aren't alone,
Allan. You've got me!“
He tried to catch her in his arms, but she evaded him and ran back
toward the bungalow.
“No, no, you've got to work,” she called to him from the porch. “And
so have I. Good-by!” And with a wave of the hand, a strong, brown hand
now, slim and very beautiful, she vanished.
Stern stood in thought a moment, then shook his head, and, with a
singular expression, picked up his hoe, and once more fell to
cultivating his precious little garden-patch, on which so infinitely
much depended. But something lay upon his mind; he paused, reflecting;
then picked up a stone and weighed it in his hand, tried another, and a
“I'm damned,” he remarked, “if these feel right to met I've been
wondering about it for a week now—there's got to be some answer to it.
A stone of this size in the old days would certainly have weighed more.
And that big boulder I rooted out from the middle of the field—in the
other days I couldn't have more than stirred it.
“Am I so very much stronger? So much as all that? Or have things
grown lighter? Is that why I can leap farther, walk better, run faster?
What's it all about, anyhow?”
He could not work, but sat down on a rock to ponder. Numerous
phenomena occurred to him, as they had while he had lain wounded under
the tree by the river during their first few days at the bungalow.
“My observations certainly show a day only twenty-two hours and
fifty-seven minutes long; that's certain,” he mused. “So the earth is
undoubtedly smaller. But what's that got to do with the mass of the
earth? With weight? Hanged if I can make it out at all!
“Even though the earth has shrunk, it ought to have the same power
of gravitation. If all the molecules and atoms really were pressed
together, with no space between, probably the earth wouldn't be much
bigger than a football, but it would weigh just that much, and a body
would fall toward it from space just as fast as now. Quite a hefty
football, eh? For the life of me I can't see why the earth's having
shrunk has affected the weight of everything!”
Perplexed, he went back to his work again. And though he tried to
banish the puzzle from his mind it still continued to haunt and to
Each day brought new and interesting activities. Now they made an
expedition to gather a certain kind of reeds which Beatrice could plat
into cordage and basketry; now they peeled quantities of birch-bark,
which on rainy days they occupied themselves in splitting into thin
sheets for paper. Stern manufactured a very excellent ink in his
improvised laboratory on the second floor, and the split and pointed
quills of a wild goose served them for pens in taking notes and
recording their experiences.
“Paper will come later, when we've got things a little more
settled,” he told her. “But for now this will have to do.”
“I guess if you can get along with skin clothing for a while, I can
do with birch-bark for my correspondence,” she replied laughing. “Why
not catch some of those wild sheep that seem so plentiful on the hills
to westward? If we could domesticate them, that would mean wool and
yarn and cloth—and milk, too, wouldn't it? And if milk, why not
“Not so fast!” he interposed. “Just wait a while—we'll have cattle,
goats, and sheep, and the whole business in due time; but how much can
one pair of human beings undertake? For the present we'll have to be
content with what mutton-chops and steaks and hams I can get with a
gun—and we're mighty lucky to have those!”
Singularly enough, and contrary to all beliefs, they felt no need of
salt. Evidently the natural salts in their meat and in the fruits they
ate supplied their wants. And this was fortunate, because the quest of
salt might have been difficult; they might even had had to boil
sea-water to obtain it.
They felt no craving for sweets, either; but when one day they came
upon a bee-tree about three-quarters of a mile back in the woods to
westward of the river, and when Stern smoked out the bees and gathered
five pounds of honey in the closely platted rush basket lined with
leaves, which they always carried for miscellaneous treasure-trove,
they found the flavor delicious. They decided to add honey to their
menu, and thereafter always kept it in a big pottery jar in their
Stern's hunting, fishing and gardening did not occupy his whole
time. Every day he made it a rule to work at least an hour, two if
possible, on the thirty-foot yawl that had already begun to take
satisfactory shape on the timber ways which now stood on the river
All through July and part of August he labored on this boat,
building it stanch and true, calking it thoroughly, fitting a cabin,
stepping a fir mast, and making all ready for the great migration which
he felt must inevitably be forced upon them by the arrival of cool
He doubted very much, in view of the semitropic character of some of
the foliage, whether even in January the temperature would now go below
freezing; but in any event he foresaw that there would be no fruits
available, and he objected to a winter on flesh foods. In preparation
for the trip he had built a little “smoke-house” near the beach, and
here he smoked considerable quantities of meat—deer-meat, beef from a
wild steer which he was so fortunate as to shoot during the third week
of their stay at the bungalow, and a good score of hams from the wild
pigs which rooted now and then among the beech growth half a mile
Often the girl and he discussed this coming trip, of an evening,
sitting together by the river to watch the stars and moon and that
strange black wandering blotch that now and then obscured a portion of
the night sky—or perchance leaning back in their huge, rustic easy
chairs lined with furs on the broad piazza; or again, if the night were
cool or rainy, in front of their blazing fire of pine knots and
driftwood, which burned with gorgeous blues and greens and crimsons in
the vast throat of Hope Lodge fireplace.
Other matters, too, they talked of—strange speculations, impossible
to solve, yet filling them with vague uneasiness, with wonder and a
kind of mighty awe in face of the vast, unknowable mysteries
surrounding them; the forces and phenomena which might, though friendly
in their outward aspect, at any time precipitate catastrophe, ruin and
death upon them and extinguish in their persons all hopes of a world
The haunting thought was never very far away: “Should either one of
us be killed—what then?”
One day Stern voiced his fear.
“Beatrice,” he said, “if anything should ever happen to me, and you
be left alone in a world which, without me, would become instantly
hostile and impossible, remember that the most scientific way out is a
bullet. That's my way if anything happens to you!
She nodded, and for a long time that day the silence of a great pact
weighed upon their souls.
CHAPTER IX. PLANNING THE GREAT
Stern rigged a tripod for the powerful field-glasses he had rescued
from the Metropolitan Building, and by an ingenious addition of a
wooden tube and another lens carefully ground out of rock crystal,
succeeded in producing (on the right-hand barrel of the binoculars) a
telescope of reasonably high power. With this, of an evening, he often
made long observations, after which he would spend hours figuring all
over many sheets of the birch bark, which he then carefully saved and
bound up with leather strings for future reference.
In Van's set of encyclopedias he found a fairly large celestial map
and thorough astronomic data. The results of his computations were of
vital interest to him.
He said to Beatrice one evening:
“Do you know, that wandering black patch in the sky moves in a
regular orbit of its own? It's a solid body, dark, irregular in
outline, and certainly not over five hundred miles above the surface of
“What can it be, dear?”
“I don't know yet. It puzzles me tremendously. Now, if it would only
appear in the daytime once in a while, we might be able to get some
information or knowledge about it; but, coming only at night, all it
records itself as is just a black, moving thing. I'm working on the
size of it now, making some careful studies. In a while I shall
probably know its area and mass and density. But what it is I cannot
They both pondered a while, absorbed in wonder. At last the engineer
“Beta,” said he, “there's another curious fact to note. The axis of
the earth itself has shifted more than six degrees, thirty minutes!”
“It has? Well—what about it?” And she went on with her platting of
“You don't seem much concerned about it!”
“I'm not. Not in the least. It can shift all it wants to, for all of
me. What hurt does it do? Doesn't it run just as well that way?”
Stern looked at her a moment, then laughed.
“Oh, yes; it runs all right,” he answered. “Only I thought the
announcement that the pole-star had thrown up its job might startle you
a bit. But I see it doesn't. So far as practical results go, it
accounts for the warmer climate and the decreased inclination to the
plane of the ecliptic; or, rather, the decreased—”
“Please, please, don't!” she begged. “There's nothing really wrong,
“Well, that depends on how you define it. Probably an astronomer
might think there was something very much wrong. I make it that the
orbit of the earth has altered its relative length and width by—”
“No figures, Allan, there's a dear. You know I'm awfully bad at
arithmetic. Tell me what it means, won't you?”
“Well, it means, for one thing, that we've maybe spent a far longer
time on this earth since the cataclysm than we even dare suspect. It
may be that what we've been calculating as about a thousand years, is
twice that, or even five times that—no telling. For another thing, I'm
convinced by all these changes, and by the diminution of gravity and by
the accelerated rate of revolution of the earth—”
“Allan dear, please hand me those scissors, won't you?”
Stern laughed again.
“Here!” said he. “I guess I'm not much good as a lecturer. But I
tell you one thing I'm going to do, and that's a one best bet. I'm
going to have a try at some really big telescope before a year's out,
and know the truth of this thing!”
“A big telescope! Build one, you mean?”
“Not necessarily. All I need is a chance to make some accurate
observations, and I can find out all I need to know. Even though I have
been out of college for—let's see—”
“Fifteen hundred years, at a guess,” she suggested.
“Yes, all of that. Even so, I remember a good bit of astronomy. And
I've got my mind set on peeking through a first-class tube. If the
earth has broken in two, or anything like that, and our part is
skyhooting away toward the unknown regions of outer space beyond the
great ring of the Milky Way and is getting into an unchartered place in
the universe—as it seems to be—why, we ought to have a good look at
things. We ought to know what's what, eh?
“Then there's the moon I want to investigate, too. No living man
except myself has even seen the side that's now turned toward the
earth. No telling what a good glass mightn't show.”
“That's so, dear,” she answered. “But where can you find the sort of
telescope you need?”
“In Boston—in Cambridge, rather. The Harvard observatory has the
biggest one within striking distance. What do you say to our making our
trial trip in the boat, up the Sound and around Cape Cod, to Boston? We
can spend a week there, then slant away for wherever we may decide to
pass the winter. How does that suit you, Beta?”
She put away her work, and for a moment sat looking in at the flames
that went leaping up the huge boulder chimney. The room glowed with
warmth and light that drove away the cheerlessness of a foggy, late
“Do you really think we're wise to—to leave our home, with winter
coming on?” she asked at length, pensively, the firelight casting its
glow across her cheek and glinting in her eyes.
“Wise? Yes. We can't stay here, that's certain. And what is there to
fear out in the world? With our firearms and our knowledge of fire
itself, our science and our human intelligence, we're far more than a
match for all enemies, whether of the beast-world or of that race of
the Horde. I hate, in a way, to revisit the ruins of New York, for more
ammunition and canned stuffs. The place is to o ghastly, too hideous,
now, after the big fight.
“Boston will be a clean ground for us, with infinite resources. And
as I said before, there's the Cambridge observatory. It's only two or
three miles back in the forest, from the coast; maybe not more than
half a mile from some part of the Charles River. We can sail up, camp
on Soldiers' Field, and visit it easily. Why not?”
He sat down on the tiger-rug before the fire, near the girl. She
drew his head down into her lap; then, when he was lying comfortably,
began playing with his thick hair, as he loved so well to have her do.
“If you think it's all right, Allan,” said she, “we'll go. I want
what you want.”
“That's my good girl!” exclaimed the engineer. “We'll be ready to
start in a few days now. The boat's next thing to finished. What with
the breadfruit, smoked steer and buffalo meat, hams and canned goods
now on our shelves, we've certainly got enough supplies to stock her a
two months' trip.
“Even with less, we'd be safe in starting. You see, the world's lain
untouched by mankind for so many centuries that all the blighting
effect of man's folly and greed and general piracy has vanished.
“The soil's got back to its natural state, animal life abounds, and
so long as I still have a good supply of cartridges, we can live almost
anywhere. Anthropoids? I don't think there's much danger. Oh, yes, I
remember the line of blue smoke we saw yesterday over the hills to
westward; but what does that prove? Lightning may have started a
fire—there's no telling. And we can't always stay here, Beta, just
because there may be dangers out yonder!”
He flung one arm toward the vast night, beyond the panes where the
mist and storm were beating cheerlessly.
“No, we can't camp down here indefinitely. Now's the time to start.
As I say, we've got all of sixty days' of downright civilized food on
hand, for a good cruise in the Adventure. The chance of finding other
people somewhere is too precious not to make any risk worth while.”
Silence fell between them for a few minutes. Each saw visions in the
flames. The man's thoughts dwelt, in particular, on this main factor of
a possible rediscovery of other human beings somewhere.
More than the girl, he realized the prime importance of this
possibility. Though he and she loved each other very dearly, though
they were all in all each to the other, yet he comprehended the
loneliness she felt rather than analyzed—the infinite need of man for
man, of woman for woman—the old social, group-instinct of the race
beginning to reassert itself even in their Eden.
Each of them longed, with a longing they hardly realized as yet, to
hear some other human voice, to see another face, clasp another hand
and again feel the comradeship of man.
During the past week or so, Stern had more than once caught himself
listening for some other sound of human life and activity. Once he had
found the girl standing on a wooded point among the pines, shading her
eyes with her hand and watching down-stream with an attitude of hope
which spoke more fluently than words. He had stolen quietly away,
saying nothing, careful not to break her mood. For he had understood
it; it had been his very own.
The mood expressed itself, at times, in long talks together of the
seeming dream-age when there had been so many millions of men and women
in the world. Beatrice and Stern found themselves dwelling with a
peculiar pleasure on memories and descriptions of throngs.
They would read the population statistics in Van's encyclopedia, and
wonder greatly at them, for now these figures seemed the unreal
chimeras of wild imaginings.
They would talk of the crowded streets, the “L” crushes and the jams
at the Bridge entrance; of packed cars and trains and overflowing
theaters; of great concourses they had seen; of every kind and
condition of affairs where thousands of their kind had once rubbed
elbows, all strangers to each other, yet all one vast kin and family
ready in case of need to succor one another, to use the collective
intelligence for the benefit of each.
Sometimes they indulged in fanciful comparisons, trying to make
their present state seem wholly blest.
“This is a pretty fine way to live, after all,” Stern said one day,
“even if it is a bit lonesome at times. There's no getting up in the
morning and rushing to an office. It's a perpetual vacation! There are
no appointments to keeps no angry clients kicking because I can't make
water run up-hill or make cast-iron do the work of tool-steel. No
saloons or free-lunches, no subways to stifle the breath out of us, no
bills to pay and no bill collectors to dodge; no laws except the laws
of nature, and such as we make ourselves; no bores and no bad shows; no
politics, no yellow journals, no styles—”
“Oh, dear, how I'd like to see a milliner's window again!” cried
Beatrice, rudely shattering his thin-spun tissue of optimism. “These
skin-clothes, all the time, and no hats, and no chiffons and no—no
nothing, at all—! Oh, I never half appreciated things till they were
all taken away!”
Stern, feeling that he had tapped the wrong vein, discreetly
withdrew; and the sound of his calking-hammer from the beach, told that
he was expending a certain irritation on the hull of the Adventure.
One day he found a relic that seemed to stab him to the heart with a
sudden realization of the tremendous gap between his own life and that
which he had left.
Hunting in the forest, to westward of the bungalow, he came upon
what at first glance seemed a very long, straight, level Indian mound
or earthwork; but in a moment his trained eye told him it was a railway
With an almost childish eagerness he hunted for some trace of the
track; and when, buried under earth-mold and rubbish, he found some
rotten splinters of metal, they filled him with mingled pleasure and
“My God!” he exclaimed, “is it possible that here, right where I
stand, countless thousands of human beings once passed at tremendous
velocity, bent on business and on pleasure, now ages long vanished and
meaningless and void? That mighty engines whirled along this bank,
where now the forest has been crowding for centuries? That all, all has
“It shall not be!” he cried hotly, and flung his hands out in
passionate denial. “All shall be thus again! All shall return—only far
better! The world's death shall not, cannot be!”
Experiences such as these, leaving both of them increasingly
irritated and depressed as time went on, convinced Stern of the
imperative necessity for exploration. If human beings still existed
anywhere in the world, he and she must find them, even at the risk of
losing life itself. Years of migration, he felt, would not be too high
a price to pay for the reward of coming once again in contact with his
own species. The innate gregariousness of man was torturing them both.
Now that the hour of departure was drawing nigh, a strange
exultation filled them both—the spirit of conquest and of victory.
Together they planned the last details of the trip.
“Is the sail coming along all right, Beta?” asked Stern, the night
when they decided to visit Cambridge. “You expect to have it done in a
day or two?”
“I can finish it to-morrow. It's all woven now. Just as soon as I
finish binding one edge with leather strips, it'll be ready for you.”
“All right; then we can get a good, early start, on Monday morning.
Now for the details of the freight.”
They worked out everything to its last minutiae. Nothing was
forgotten, from ammunition to the soap which Stern had made out of
moose-fat and wood-ashes and had pressed into cakes; from
fishing-tackle and canned goods to toothbrushes made of stiff vegetable
fibers set in bone; from provisions even to a plentiful supply of
birch-bark leaves for taking notes.
“Monday morning we're off,” Stern concluded, “and it will be the
grandest lark two people ever had since time began! Built and stocked
as the Adventure is, she's safe enough for anything from here to
“Name the place you want to see, and it's yours. Florida? Bermuda?
Mediterranean? With the compass I've made and adjusted to the new
magnetic variations, and with the maps out of Van's set of books, I
reckon we're good for anything, including a trip around the world.
“The survivors will be surprised to see a fully stocked yawl putting
in to rescue them from savagery, eh? Imagine doing the Captain Cook
stunt, with white people for subjects!”
“Yes, but I'm not counting on their treating us the way Captain Cook
was; are you? And what if we shouldn't find anybody, dear? What then?”
“How can we help finding people? Could a billion and a half human
beings die, all at once, without leaving a single isolated group
somewhere or other?”
“But you never succeeded in reaching them with the wireless from the
“Never mind—they weren't in a condition to pick up my messages;
that's all. We surely must find somebody in all the big cities we can
reach by water, either along He coast or by running up the Mississippi
or along the St. Lawrence and through the lakes. There's Boston, of
course, and Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, St. Louis,
Chicago—dozens of others—no end of places!”
“Oh, if they're only not all like New York!”
“That remains to be seen. There's all of Europe, too, and Africa and
Asia—why, the whole wide world is ours! We're so rich, girl, that it
staggers the imagination—we're the richest people that have ever
lived, you and I. The 'pluses' in the old days owned their millions;
but we own—we own the whole earth!”
“Not if there's anybody else alive, dear.”
“That's so. Well, I'll be glad to share it with 'em, for the sake of
a handshake and a 'howdy,' and a chance to start things going again. Do
you know, I rather count on finding a few scattered remnants of folk in
London, or Paris, or Berlin?
“Just the same as in our day, a handful of ragged shepherds
descended from the Mesopotamian peoples extinct save for them—were
tending their sheep at Kunyunjik, on those Babylonian ruins where once
a mighty metropolis stood, and where five million people lived and
moved, trafficked, loved, hated, fought, conquered, died—so now
to-day, perhaps, we may run across a handful of white savages crouching
in caves or rude huts among the debris of the Place de l'Opera, or
Unter den Linden, or—”
“And civilize them, Allan? And bring them back and start a colony
and make the world again? Oh, Allan, do you think we could?” she
exclaimed, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
“My plans include nothing less,” he answered. “It's mighty well
worth trying for, at any rate. Monday morning we start, then, little
“Sunday, if you say so.”
“Impatient, now?” he laughed. “No, Monday will be time enough. Lots
of things yet to put in shape before we leave. And we'll have to trust
our precious crops to luck, at that. Here's hoping the winter will
bring nothing worse than rain. There's no help for it, whatever
happens. The larger venture calls us.”
They sat there discussing many many other factors of the case, for a
long time. The fire burned low, fell together and dwindled to glowing
embers on the hearth.
In the red gloom Allan felt her vague, warm, beautiful presence.
Strong was she; vigorous, rosy as an Amazon, with the spirit and the
beauty of the great outdoors; the life lived as a part of nature's own
self. He realized that never had a woman lived like her.
Dimly he saw her face, so sweet, so gentle in its wistful strength,
shadowed with the hope and dreams of a whole race—the type, the
symbol, of the eternal motherhood.
And from his hair he drew her hand down to his mouth and kissed it;
and with a thrill of sudden tenderness blent with passion he knew all
that she meant to him—this perfect woman, his love, who sometime soon
was now to be his bride.
CHAPTER X. TOWARD THE GREAT CATARACT
Pleasant and warm shone the sun that Monday morning, the 2d of
September, warm through the greenery of oak and pine and fern-tree.
Golden it lay upon the brakes and mosses by the river-bank; silver upon
Save for the chippering of the busy squirrels, a hush brooded over
nature. The birds were silent. A far blue haze veiled the distant
reaches of the stream. Over the world a vague, premonitory something
had fallen; it was summer still, but the first touch of dissolution, of
decay, had laid the shadow of a pall upon it.
And the two lovers felt their hearts gladden at thought of the long
migration out into the unknown, the migration that might lead them to
southern shores and to perpetual plenty, perhaps to the great boon of
contact once again with humankind.
From room to room they went, making all tight and fast for the long
absence, taking farewell of all the treasures that during their long
weeks of occupancy had accumulated there about them.
Though Stern was no sentimentalist, yet he, too, felt the tears well
in his eyes, even as Beta did, when they locked the door and slowly
went down the broad steps to the walk he had cleared to the river.
“Good-by,” said the girl simply, and kissed her hand to the
bungalow. Then he drew his arm about her and together they went on down
the path. Very sweet the thickets of bright blossoms were; very warm
and safe the little garden looked, cut out there from the forest that
stood guard about it on all sides.
They lingered one last moment by the sun-dial he had carved on a
flat boulder, set in a little grassy lawn. The shadow of the gnomon
fell athwart the IX and touched the inscription he had graved about the
I MARK NO HOURS BUT BRIGHT ONES.
“We've never had any other kind, together—not one,” said she,
looking up quickly at the man as though with a new sort of
self-realization. “Do you know that, dear? In all this time, never one
hour, never one single moment of unhappiness or disagreement. Never a
harsh word, an unkind look or thought. 'No hours but bright ones!' Why,
Allan, that's the motto of our lives!”
“Yes, of our lives,” he repeated gravely. “Our lives, forever, as
long as we live. But come, come—time's slipping on. See, the shadow's
moving ahead already. Come, say good-by to everything, dear, until next
spring. Now let's be off and away!”
They went aboard the yawl, which, fully laden, now lay at a little
stone wharf by the edge of the sweet wild wood, its mast overhung by
arching branches of a Gothic elm.
Allan cast off the painter of braided leather, and with his
boat-hook pushed away. He poled out into the current, then raised the
sail of woven rushes like that of a Chinese junk.
The brisk north wind caught it, the sail crackled, filled and
bellied hugely. He hauled it tight. A pleasant ripple began to murmur
at the stern as the yawl gathered speed.
“Boston and way-stations!” cried he. But through his jest a certain
sadness seemed to vibrate. As the wooded point swallowed up their
bungalow and blotted out all sight of their garden in the wilderness,
then as the little wharf vanished, and nothing now remained but
memories, he, too, felt the solemnity of a leave-taking which might
well be eternal.
Beatrice pressed a spray of golden-rod to her lips.
“From our garden,” said she. “I'm going to keep it, wherever we go.”
“I understand,” he answered. “But this is no time, now, for
retrospection. Everything's sunshine, life, hope—we've got a world to
Then as the yawl heeled to the breeze and foamed away down stream
with a speed and ease that bore witness to the correctness of her
lines, he struck up a song, and Beatrice joined in, and so their
sadness vanished and a great, strong, confident joy thrilled both of
them at prospect of what was yet to be.
By mid-afternoon they had safely navigated Harlem River and the
upper reaches of East River, and were well up toward Willett's Point,
with Long Island Sound opening out before them broadly.
Of the towns and villages, the estates and magnificent palaces that
once had adorned the shores of the Sound, no trace remained. Nothing
was visible but unbroken lines of tall, blue forest in the distance;
the Sound appeared to have grown far wider, and what seemed like a
strong current set eastward in a manner certainly not produced by the
tide, all of which puzzled Stern as he held the little yawl to her
course, sole alone in that vast blue where once uncounted thousands of
keels had vexed the brine.
Nightfall found them abreast the ruins of Stamford, still holding a
fair course about five or six miles off shore.
Save for the gulls and one or two quick-scurrying flights of Mother
Carey's chickens (now larger and swifter than in the old days), and a
single “V” of noisy geese, no life had appeared all that afternoon.
Stern wondered at this. A kind of desolation seemed to lie over the
“Ten times more living things in our vicinity back home on the
Hudson,” he remarked to Beatrice, who now lay 'midships, under the
shelter of the cabin, warmly wrapped in furs against the keen cutting
of the night wind. “It seems as though something had happened around
here, doesn't it? I should have thought the Sound would be alive with
birds and fish. What can the matter be?”
She had no hypothesis, and though they talked it over, they reached
no conclusion. By eight o'clock she fell asleep in her warm nest, and
Stern steered on alone, by the stars, under promise to put into harbor
where New Haven once had stood, and there himself get some much-needed
Swiftly the yawl split the waters of the Sound, for though her sail
was crude, her body was as fine and speedy as his long experience with
boats could make it. Something of the vast mystery of night and sea
penetrated his soul as he held the boat on her way.
The night was moonless; only the great untroubled stars wondered
down at this daring venture into the unknown.
Stern hummed a tune to keep his spirits up. Running easily over the
monotonous dark swells with a fair following breeze, he passed an hour
or two. He sat down, braced the tiller, and resigned himself to
contemplation of the mysteries that had been and that still must be.
And very sweet to him was the sense of protection, of guardianship,
wherein he held the sleeping girl, in the shelter of the little cabin.
He must have dozed, sitting there inactive and alone. How long? He
could not tell. All that he knew was, suddenly, that he had wakened to
full consciousness, and that a sense of uneasiness, of fear, of peril,
hung about him.
Up he started, with an exclamation which he suppressed just in time
to avoid waking Beatrice. Through all, over all, a vast, dull roar was
making itself heard—a sound as though of mighty waters rushing,
leaping, echoing to the sky that droned the echo back again.
Whence came it? Stern could not tell. From nowhere, from everywhere;
the hum and vibrant blur of that tremendous sound seemed universal.
“My God, what's that?” Allan exclaimed, peering ahead with eyes
widened by a sudden stabbing fear. “I've got Beatrice aboard, here; I
can't let anything happen to her!”
The gibbous moon, red and sullen, was just beginning to thrust its
strangely mottled face above the uneasy moving plain of waters. Far off
to southward a dim headland showed; even as Stern looked it drifted
backward and away.
Suddenly he got a terrifying sense of speed. The headland must have
lain five miles to south of him; yet in a few moments, even as he
watched, it had gone into the vague obliteration of a vastly greater
“What's happening?” thought Stern. The wind had died; it seemed as
though the waters were moving with the wind, as fast as the wind; the
yawl was keeping pace with it, even as a floating balloon drifts in a
storm, unfeeling it.
Deep, dull, booming, ominous, the roar continued. The sail flapped
idle on the mast. Stern could distinguish a long line of foam that slid
away, past the boat, as only foam slides on a swift current.
He peered, in the gloom, to port; and all at once, far on the
horizon, saw a thing that stopped his heart a moment, then thrashed it
into furious activity.
Off there in a direction he judged as almost due northeast, a
tenuous, rising veil of vapor blotted out the lesser stars and dimmed
the brighter ones.
Even in that imperfect light he could see something of the sinuous
drift of that strange cloud.
Quickly he lashed the tiller, crept forward and climbed the mast,
his night-glasses slung over his shoulder.
Holding by one hand, he tried to concentrate his vision through the
glasses, but they failed to show him even as much as the naked eye
The sight was paralyzing in its omen of destruction. Only too well
Stern realized the meaning of the swift, strong current, the roar—now
ever increasing, ever deepening in volume—the high and shifting vapor
veil that climbed toward the dim zenith.
“Merciful Heaven!” gulped he. “There's a cataract over there—a
terrible chasm—a plunge—to what? And we're drifting toward it at
CHAPTER XI. THE PLUNGE!
Dazed though Stern was at his first realization of the impending
horror, yet through his fear for Beatrice, still asleep among her furs,
struggled a vast wonder at the meaning, the possibility of such a
How could a current like that rush up along the Sound? How could
there be a cataract, sucking down the waters of the sea itself—whither
could it fall? Even at that crisis the man's scientific curiosity was
aroused; he felt, subconsciously, the interest of the trained observer
there in the midst of deadly peril.
But the moment demanded action.
Quickly Stern dropped to the deck, and, noiseless as a cat in his
doe-skin sandals, ran aft.
But even before he had executed the instinctive tactic of shifting
the helm, paying off, and trying to beat up into the faint breeze that
now drifted over the swirling current, he realized its futility and
“No use,” thought he. “About as effective as trying to dip up the
ocean with a spoon. Any use to try the sweeps? Maybe she and I together
could swing away out of the current—make the shore—nothing else to
do—I'll try it, anyhow.”
Beside the girl he knelt.
“Beta! Beta!” he whispered in her ear. He shook her gently by the
arm. “Come, wake up, girlie—there's work to do here!”
She, submerged in healthy sleep, sighed deeply and murmured some
unintelligible thing; but Stern persisted. And in a minute or so there
she was, sitting up in the bottom of the yawl among the furs.
In the dim moonlight her face seemed a vague sweet flower shadowed
by the dark, wind-blown masses of her hair. Stern felt the warmth,
scented the perfume of her firm, full-blooded flesh. She put a hand to
her hair; her tiger-skin robe, falling back to the shoulder, revealed
her white and beautiful arm.
All at once she drew that arm about the man and brought him close to
“Oh, Allan!” she breathed. “My boy! Where are we? What is it? Oh, I
was sleeping so soundly! Have we reached harbor yet? What's that
noise—that roaring sound? Surf?”
For a moment he could not answer. She, sensing some trouble, peered
closely at him.
“What is it, Allan?” cried she, her woman's intuition telling her of
trouble. “Tell me—is anything wrong?”
“We're in some kind of—of—”
“Well, it may be. I don't know yet. But there's something wrong. You
“Oh, Allan!” she exclaimed, and started up. “Why didn't you waken me
before? What is it? What can I do to help?”
“I think there's rough water ahead, dear,” the engineer answered,
trying to steady his voice, which shook a trifle in spite of him. “At
any rate, it sounds like a waterfall of some kind or other; and see,
there's a line, a drift of vapor rising over there. We're being carried
toward it on a strong current.”
Anxiously she peered, now full awake. Then she turned to Allan.
“Can't we sail away?”
“Not enough wind. We might possibly row out of the current, and—and
“Give me one of the sweeps quick, quick!”
He put the sweeps out. No sooner had he braced himself against a rib
of the yawl and thrown his muscles against the heavy bar than she, too,
was pulling hard.
“Not too strong at first, dear,” he cautioned. “Don't use up all
your strength in the first few minutes. We may have a long fight for
“I'm in it with you—till the end—whichever way it ends,” she
answered; and in the moonlight he saw the untrammeled swing and play of
her magnificent body.
The yawl came round slowly till it was crosswise to the current,
headed toward the mainland shore. Now it began to make a little
headway. But the breeze slightly impeded it.
Stern whipped out his knife and slashed the sheets of platted rush.
The sail crumpled, crackled and slid down; and now under a bare pole
the boat cradled slowly ahead transversely across the foam-streaked
current that ran swiftly soughing toward the dim vapor-swirls away to
No word was spoken now. Both Beatrice and Stern lay to the sweeps;
both braced themselves and put the full force of back and arms into
each long, powerful stroke. Yet Stern could see that, at the rate of
progress they were making over that black and oily swirl, they could
not gain ten feet while the current was carrying them a thousand.
In his heart he knew the futility of the fight, yet still he fought.
Still Beatrice fought for life, too, there by his side. Human instinct,
the will to live, drove them on, on, where both understood there was no
For now already the current had quickened still more. The breeze had
sprung up from the opposite direction; Stern knew the boiling rush of
waters had already reached a speed greater than that of the wind
itself. No longer the stars trembled, reflected, in the waters. All
ugly, frothing, broken, the swift current foamed and leaped, in long,
horrible gulfs and crests of sickening velocity.
And whirlpools now began to form. The yawl was twisted like a straw,
wrenched, hurled, flung about with sickening violence.
“Row! Row!” Stern cried none the less. And his muscles
bunched and hardened with the labor; his veins stood out, and sweat
dropped from his brow, ran into his eyes, and all but blinded him.
The girl, too, was laboring with all her might. Stern heard her
breath, gasping and quick, above the roar and swash of the mad waters.
And all at once revulsion seized him—rage, and a kind of mad
exultation, a defiance of it all.
He dropped the sweep and sprang to her.
“Beta!” he shouted, louder than the droning tumult. “No use! No use
at all! Here—come to me!”
He drew the sweep inboard and flung it in the bottom of the yawl.
Already the vapors of the cataract ahead were drifting over them and
driving in their faces. A vibrant booming shuddered through the dark
air, where now even the moon's faint light was all extinguished by the
Heaven and sea shook with the terrible concussion of falling waters.
Though Stern had shouted, yet the girl could not have heard him now.
In the gloom he peered at her; he took her in his arms. Her face was
pale, but very calm. She showed no more fear than the man; each seemed
inspired with some strange exultant thought of death, there with the
He drew her to his breast and covered her face; he knelt with her
among the heaped-up furs, and then, as the yawl plunged more violently
still, they sank down in the poor shelter of the cabin and waited.
His arms were about her; her face was buried on his breast. He
smoothed her hair; his lips pressed her forehead.
“Good-by!” he whispered, though she could not hear.
They seemed now to hover on the very brink.
A long, racing sluicelike incline of black waters, streaked with
swirls of white, appeared before them. The boat plunged and whirled,
dipped, righted, and sped on.
Behind, a huge, rushing, wall-like mass of lathering, leaping
surges. In front, a vast nothingness, a black, unfathomable void, up
through which gushed in clouds the mighty jets of vapor.
Came a lurch, a swift plunge.
The boat hung suspended a moment.
Stern saw what seemed a long, clear, greenish slant of water.
Deafened and dazed by the infernal pandemonium of noise, he bowed his
head on hers, and his arms tightened.
Suddenly everything dropped away. The universe crashed and bellowed.
Stern felt a heavy dash of brine—cold, strangling, irresistible.
All grew black.
“Death!” thought he, and knew no more.
CHAPTER XII. TRAPPED ON THE LEDGE
Consciousness won back to Allan Stern—how long afterward he could
not tell—under the guise of a vast roaring tumult, a deafening thunder
that rose, fell, leaped aloft again in huge, titanic cadences of sound.
And coupled with this glimmering sense-impression, he felt the drive
of water over him; he saw, vaguely as in the memory of a dream, a dim
gray light that weakly filtered through the gloom.
Weak, sick, dazed, the man realized that he still lived; and to his
mind the thought “Beatrice!” flashed back again.
With a tremendous effort, gasping and shaken, weak, unnerved and
wounded, he managed to raise himself upon one elbow and to peer about
him with wild eyes.
A strange scene that. Even in the half light, with all his senses
distorted by confusion and by pain, he made shift to comprehend a
little of what he saw.
He understood that, by some fluke of fate, life still remained in
him; that, in some way he never could discover, he had been cast upon a
ledge of rock there in the cataract—a ledge over which spray and foam
hurled, seething, yet a ledge which, parting the gigantic flood,
offered a chance of temporary safety.
Above him, sweeping in a vast smooth torrent of clear green, he saw
the steady downpour of the falls. Out at either side, as he lay there
still unable to rise, he caught glimpses through the spume-drive,
glimpses of swift white water, that broke and creamed as it whirled
past; that jetted high; that, hissing, swept away, away, to unknown
depths below that narrow, slippery ledge.
Realization of all this had hardly forced itself upon his dazed
perceptions when a stronger recrudescence of his thought about the girl
surged back upon him.
“Beatrice! Beatrice!” he gasped, and struggled up.
On hands and knees, groping, half-blinded, deafened, he began to
crawl; and as he crawled, he shouted the girl's name, but the
thundering of the vast tourbillions and eddies that swirled about the
rock, white and ravening, drowned his voice. Vague yet terrible, in the
light of the dim moon that filtered through the mists, the racing flood
howled past. And in Stern's heart, as he now came to more and better
understanding, a vast despair took shape, a sickening fear surged up.
Again he shouted, chokingly, creeping along the slippery ledge.
Through the driving mists he peered with agonized eyes. Where was the
yawl now? Where the girl? Down there in that insane welter of the mad
torrent—swept away long since to annihilation? The thought maddened
Clutching a projection of the rock, he hauled himself up to his
feet, and for a moment stood there, swaying, a strange, tattered,
dripping figure in the dim moonlight, wounded, breathless and
disheveled, with bloodshot eyes that sought to pierce the hissing
All at once he gulped some unintelligible thing and staggered
There, wedged in a crevice, he had caught sight of something—what
it was he could not tell, but toward it now he stumbled.
He reached the thing. Sobbing with realization of his incalculable
loss and of the wreckage of all their hopes and plans and all that life
had meant, he fell upon his knees beside the object.
He groped about it as though blind; he felt that formless mass of
debris, a few shattered planks and part of the woven sail, now jammed
into the fissure in the ledge. And at touch of all that remained to
him, he crouched there, ghastly pale and racked with unspeakable
But hope and the indomitable spirit of the human heart still urged
him on. The further end of the ledge, overdashed with wild jets of
spray and stinging drives of brine, still remained unexplored. And
toward this now he crept, bit by bit, fighting his way along, now
clinging as some more savage surge leaped over, now battling forward on
hands and knees along the perilous strip of stone.
One false move, he knew, one slip and all was over. He, too, like
the yawl itself, and perhaps like Beatrice, would whirl and fling away
down, down, into the nameless nothingness of that abyss.
Better thus, he dimly realized, better, after all, than to cling to
the ledge in case he could not find her. For it must be only a matter
of time, and no very long time at that, when exhaustion and starvation
would weaken him and when he must inevitably be swept away.
And in his mind he knew the future, which voiced itself in a
“If she's not there, or if she's there, but dead—good-by!”
Even as he sensed the truth he found her. Sheltered behind a jutting
spur of granite, Beatrice was lying, where the shock of the impact had
thrown her when the yawl had struck the ledge.
Drenched and draggled in her water-soaked tiger-skin, her long hair
tangled and disheveled over the rock, she lay as though asleep.
“Dead!” gasped Allan, and caught her in his arms, all limp
and cold. Back from her brow he flung the brine-soaked hair; he kissed
her forehead and her lips, and with trembling hands began to chafe her
face, her throat, her arms.
To her breast he laid his ear, listening for some flicker of life,
some promise of vitality again.
And as he sensed a slight yet rhythmic pulsing there—as he detected
a faint breath, so vast a gratitude and love engulfed him that for a
moment all grew dazed and shaken and unreal.
He had to brace himself, to struggle for self-mastery.
“Beta! Beta!” he cried. “Oh, my God! You live—you live!”
Dripping water, unconscious, lithe, she lay within his clasp, now
strong again. Forgotten his weakness and his pain, his bruises, his
wounds, his fears All had vanished from his consciousness with the one
supreme realization—“She lives!“
Back along the ledge he bore her, not slipping now, not crouching,
but erect and bold and powerful, nerved to that effort and that daring
by the urge of the great love that flamed through all his veins.
Back he bore her to the comparative safety of the other end, where
only an occasional breaker creamed across the rock and where, behind a
narrow shelf that projected diagonally upward and outward, he laid his
precious burden down.
And now again he called her name; he rubbed and chafed her.
Only joy filled his soul. Nothing else mattered now. The total loss
of their yawl and all its precious contents, the wreck of their
expedition almost at its very start, the fact that Beatrice and he were
now alone upon a narrow ledge of granite in the midst of a stupendous
cataract that drained the ocean down to unknown, unthinkable depths,
the knowledge that she and he now were without arms, ammunition, food,
shelter, fire, anything at all, defenseless in a wilderness such as no
humans ever yet had faced—all this meant nothing to Allan Stern.
For he had her; and as at last her lids twitched, then
opened, and her dazed eyes looked at him; as she tried to struggle up
while he restrained her; as she chokingly called his name and stretched
a tremulous hand to him, there in the thunderous half light of the
falls, he knew he could not ask for greater joy, though all of
civilization and of power might be his, without her.
In his own soul he knew he would choose this abandonment and all
this desperate peril with Beatrice, rather than safety, comfort,
luxury, and the whole world as it once had been apart from her.
Yet, as sometimes happens in the supreme crises of life, his first
spoken word was commonplace enough.
“There, there, lie still!” he commanded, drawing her close to his
breast. “You're all right, now—just keep quiet, Beatrice!”
“What—what's happened—” she gasped. “Where—”
“Just a little accident, that's all,” he soothed the frightened
girl. Dazed by the roaring cadence of the torrent, she shuddered and
hid her face against him; and his arms protected her as he crouched
there beside her in the scant shelter of the rocky shelf.
“We got carried over a waterfall, or something of that sort,” he
added. “We're on a ledge in the river, or whatever it is, and—”
“You're hurt, Allan?”
“No, no—are you?“
“It's nothing, boy!” She looked up again, and even in the dim light
he saw her try to smile. “Nothing matters so long as we have each
Silence between them for a moment, while he drew her close and
kissed her. He questioned her again, but found that save for bruises
and a cruel blow on the temple, she had taken no hurt in the plunge
that had stunned her. Both, they must have been flung from the yawl
when it had gone to pieces. How long they had lain upon the rock they
knew not. All they could know was that the light woodwork of the boat
had been dashed away with their supplies and that now they again faced
the world empty-handed—provided even that escape were possible from
the midst of that mad torrent.
An hour or so they huddled in the shelter of the rocky shelf till
strength and some degree of calm returned and till the growing light
far off to eastward through the haze and mist told them that day was
Then Allan set to work exploring once more carefully their little
islet in the swirling flood.
“You stay here, Beta,” said he. “So long as you keep back of this
projection you're safe. I'm going to see just what the prospect is.”
“Oh, be careful, Allan!” she entreated. “Be so very, very careful,
He promised and left her. Then, cautiously, step by step, he made
his way along the ledge in the other direction from that where he had
found the senseless girl.
To the very end of the ledge he penetrated, but found no hope.
Nothing was to be seen through the mists save the mad foam-rush of the
waters that leaped and bounded like white-maned horses in a race of
death. Bold as the man was, he dared not look for long. Dizziness
threatened to overwhelm him with sickening lure, its invitation to the
plunge. So, realizing that nothing was to be gained by staying there,
he drew back and once more sought Beatrice.
“Any way out?” she asked him, anxiously, her voice sounding clear
and pure through the tumult of the rushing waters.
He shook his head, despairingly. And silence fell again, and each
sat thinking long, long thoughts, and dawn came creeping grayly through
the spume-drive of the giant falls.
More than an hour must have passed before Stern noted a strange
phenomenon—an hour in which they had said few words—an hour in which
both had abandoned hopes of life—and in which, she in her own way, he
in his, they had reconciled themselves to the inevitable.
But at last, “What's that?” exclaimed the man; for now a different
tone resounded in the cataract, a louder, angrier note, as though the
plunge of waters at the bottom had in some strange, mysterious way
drawn nearer. “What's that?” he asked again.
Below there somewhere by the tenebrous light of morning he could
see—or thought that he could see—a green, dim, vaguely tossing drive
of waters that now vanished in the whirling mists, now showed again and
now again grew hidden.
Out to the edge of the rocky shelf he crept once more. Yes, for a
certainty, now he could make out the seething plunge of the waters as
they roared into the foam-lashed flood below.
But how could this be? Stern's wonder sought to grasp analysis of
the strange phenomenon.
“If it's true that the water at the bottom's rising,” thought he,
“then there must either be some kind of tide in that body of water or
else the cavity itself must be filling up. In either case, what if the
And instantly a new fear smote him—a fear wherein lay buried like a
fly in amber a hope for life, the only hope that had yet come to him
since his awakening there in that trap sealed round by sluicing
He watched a few moments longer, then with a fresh resolve,
desperate yet joyful in its strength, once more sought the girl.
“Beta,” said he, “how brave are you?”
“How brave? Why, dear?”
He paused a moment, then replied: “Because, if what I believe is
true, in a few minutes you and I have got to make a fight for life—a
harder fight than any we've made yet—a fight that may last for hours
and may, after all, end only in death. A battle royal! Are you strong
for it? Are you brave?”
“Try me!” she answered, and their eyes met, and he knew the truth,
that come what might of life or death, of loss or gain, defeat or
victory, this woman was to be his mate and equal to the end.
“Listen, then!” he commanded. “This is our last, our only chance.
And if it fails—”
CHAPTER XIII. ON THE CREST OF THE
Stern's observation of the rising flood proved correct. By whatever
theory it might or might not be explained, the fact was positive that
now the water there below them was rising fast, and that inside of half
an hour at the outside the torrent would engulf their ledge.
It seemed as though there must be some vast, rhythmic ebb and flux
in the unsounded abysses that yawned beneath them, some incalculable
regurgitation of the sea, which periodically spewed forth a part, at
least, of the enormous torrent that for hours poured into that titanic
And it was upon this flux, stormy and wild and full of seething
whirlpools, that Allan Stern and the girl now built their only possible
hope of salvation and of life.
“Come, we must be at work!” he told her, as together they peered
over the edge and now beheld the weltering flood creeping up, up along
the thunderous plunge of the waterfall till it was within no more than
a hundred feet of their shelter.
As the depth of the fall decreased the spray-drive lessened, and
now, with the full coming of day, some reflection of the golden morning
sky crept through the spray. Yet neither to right nor left could they
see shore or anything save that long, swift, sliding wall of brine,
foam-tossed and terrible.
“To work!” said he again. “If we're going to save ourselves out of
this inferno we've got to make some kind of preparation. We can't just
swim and trust to luck. We shall have to malice float of some sort or
other, I think.”
“Yes, but what with?” asked she.
“With what remains of the yawl!”
And even as he spoke he led the way to the crevice where the
splintered boards and the torn sail had been wedged fast.
“A slim hope, I know,” he admitted, “but it's all we've got now.”
Driven home as the wreckage was by the terrific impact of the blow,
Stern had a man's work cut out for him to get it clear; but his was as
the strength of ten, and before half an hour had passed he had, with
the girl's help, freed all the planks and laid them out along the
rock-shelf, the most sheltered spot of the ledge.
Another hour later the planks had been lashed into a rough sort of
float with what cordage remained and with platted strips of the mat
“It's not half big enough to hold us up altogether,” judged the man,
“but if we merely use it to keep our heads out of water it will serve,
and it's got the merit of being unsinkable, anyhow. God knows how long
we may have to be in the water, little girl. But whatever comes we've
got to face it. There's no other chance at all!”
They waited now calmly, with the resignation of those who have no
alternative to hardship. And steadily the flood mounted up, up, toward
the ledge, and now the seethe was very near. Now already the leaping
froth of the plunge was dashing up against their rock. In a few moments
the shelter would be submerged.
He put his lips close to her ear, for now his voice could not carry.
“Let's jump for it!” he cried. “If we wait till the flood reaches us
here we'll be crushed against the rock. Come on, Beatrice, we've got to
She answered with her eyes; he knew the girl was ready. To him he
drew her and their kiss was one that spoke eternal farewell. But of
this thought no word passed their lips.
“Come!” bade the man once more.
How they leaped into that vortex of mad waters, how they vanished in
that thunderous welter, rose, sank, fought, strangled, rose again and
caught the air, and once more were whirled down and buried in that
crushing avalanche; how they clung to the lashed planks and with these
spiraled in mad sarabands among the whirlpools and green eddies; how
they were flung out into smoother water, blinded and deafened, yet with
still the spark of life and consciousness within them, and how they let
the frail raft bear them, fainting and dazed, all their senses
concentrated just on gripping this support—all this they never could
Stern knew at last, with something of clarity, that he was floating
easily along an oily current which ran, undulating, beneath a
slate-gray mist; he realized that with one hand he was grasping the
planks, with the other arm upbearing the girl.
Pale and with closed eyes, she lay there in the hollow of his arm,
her face free from water, her long hair floating out upon the tide.
He saw her lids twitch and knew she lived. Yet even as he thanked
God and took a firmer hold on her, consciousness lapsed again, and with
it all realization of time or of events.
Yet though the moments—or were they hours?—which followed left no
impress on his brain, some intelligence must have directed Stern. For
when once more he knew, he found the mist and fog all gone; he saw a
golden sun that weltered all across the heaving flood in a brave
splendor; and, off to northward, a wooded line of hills, blue in the
distance, yet beautiful with their promise of salvation.
Stern understood, then, what must have happened. He saw that the
upfilling of the abyss, whatever might have caused it, had flung them
forth; he perceived that the temporary flood which had taken place
before once more another terrific down-draft should pour into the
gaping chasm, had cast them out, floated by their raft of planks, even
as match-straws might be flung and floated on the outburst of a geyser.
He understood; he knew that, fortune favoring, life still beckoned
And in his heart resolve leaped up.
“Life! Life!” he cried. “Oh, Beatrice, look! See! There's land
But the girl, still circled by his arm, lay senseless. Allan knew he
could make no progress in that manner. So by dint of great labor, he
managed to draw her somewhat onto the float and there to lash her with
a loose end of cordage in such wise that she could breathe with no
danger of drowning.
Himself he summoned all his forces, and now began to swim through
the smooth tides, which, warm with some grateful heat, vastly unlike
the usual ocean chill, stretched lazily rolling away and away to that
far off shore.
That day was long and bitter, an agony of toil, hope, despair, labor
and struggle, and the girl, reviving, shared it toward the end. Only
their frail raft fenced death away, but so long as the buoyant planks
held together they could not drown.
Thirst and exhaustion tortured them, but there was no hope of appeal
to any help. In this manless world there could be no rescue. Here,
there, a few gulls wheeled and screamed above the flood; and once a
school of porpoises, glistening as they curved their shining backs in
long leaps through the brine, played past. Allan and the girl envied
the creatures, and renewed their fight for life.
The south wind favored, and what seemed a landward current drew them
on. Their own strength, too, in spite of the long fast and the
incredible hardships, held out well. For now that civilization was a
thing of the oblivious past, they shared the vital forces and the very
powers of Mother Nature herself. And, like two favored children of that
all-mother, they slowly made their way to land.
Night found them utterly exhausted and soaked to the marrow, yet
alive, stretched out at full length, inert, upon the warm sands of a
virgin beach. There they lay, supine, above high tide, whither they had
dragged themselves with terrible exertion. And the stars wheeled
overhead; and down upon them the strange-featured moon wondered with
her pallid gleam.
Fireless, foodless and without shelter, unprotected in every way,
possessing nothing now save just their own bodies and the draggled
garments that they wore, they lay and slept. In their supreme
exhaustion they risked attack from wild beasts and from anthropoids.
Sleep to them was now the one vital, inevitable necessity.
Thus the long night hours passed and strength revived in them,
up-welling like fresh tides of life; and once more a new day grayed the
east, then transmuted to bright gold and blazoned its insignia all up
the eastern sky.
Stern woke first, dazed with the long sleep, toward mid-morning. A
little while he lay as though adream, trying to realize what had
happened; but soon remembrance knitted up the fabric of the peril and
the close escape. And, arising stiffly from the sand, he stretched his
splendid muscles, rubbed his eyes, and stared about him.
A burning thirst was tormenting him. His tongue clave to the roof of
his mouth; he found, by trial, that he could scarcely swallow.
“Water!” gasped he, and peered at the deep green woods, which
promised abundant brooks and streams.
But before he started on that quest he looked to see that Beatrice
was safe and sound. The girl still slept. Bending above her he made
sure that she was resting easily and that she had taken no harm. But
the sun, he saw, was shining in her face.
“That won't do at all!” he thought; and now with a double motive he
strode off up the beach, toward the dense forest that grew down to the
line of shifting sands.
Ten minutes and he had discovered a spring that bubbled out beneath
a moss-hung rock, a spring whereof he drank till renewed life ran
through his vigorous body. And after that he sought and found with no
great labor a tree of the same species of breadfruit that grew all
about their bungalow on the Hudson.
Then, bearing branches of fruit, and a huge, fronded tuft of the
giant fern-trees that abounded there, he came back down the beach to
the sleeping girl, who still lay unconscious in her tiger-skin, her
heavy hair spread drying on the sands, her face buried in the warm,
soft hollow of her arm.
He thrust the stalk of the fern-tree branch far down into the sand,
bending it so that the thick leaves shaded her. He ate plentifully of
the fruit and left much for her. Then he knelt and kissed her forehead
lightly, and with a smile upon his lips set off along the beach.
A rocky point that rose boldly against the morning, a quarter-mile
to southward, was his objective.
“Whatever's to be seen round here can be seen from there,” said he.
“I've got my job cut out for me, all right—here we are,
stranded, without a thing to serve us, no tools, weapons or implements
or supplies of any kind—nothing but our bare hands to work with, and
hundreds of miles between us and the place we call home. No boat, no
conveyance at all. Unknown country, full of God knows what perils!”
Thinking, he strode along the fine, smooth, even sands, where never
yet a human foot had trodden. For the first time he seemed to realize
just what this world now meant—a world devoid of others of his kind.
While the girl and he had been among the ruins of Manhattan, or even on
the Hudson, they had felt some contact with the past; but here, Stern's
eye looked out over a world as virgin as on the primal morn. And a vast
loneliness assailed him, a yearning almost insupportable. that made him
clench his fists and raise them to the impassive, empty sky that mocked
him with its deep and azure calm.
But from the rocky point, when he had scaled its height, he saw far
off to westward a rising column of vapor which for a while diverted his
thoughts. He recognized the column, even though he could not hear the
distant roaring of the cataract he knew lay under it. And, standing
erect and tall on the topmost pinnacle, eyes shaded under his level
hand, he studied the strange sight.
“Yes, the flood's rushing in again, down that vast chasm,” he
exclaimed. “The chasm that nearly proved a grave to us! And every day
the same thing happens—but how and why? By Jove, here's a problem
worthy a bigger brain than mine!
“Well, I can't solve it now. And there's enough to do, without
bothering about the maelstrom—except to avoid it!”
He swept the sea with his gaze. Far off to southward lay a dim, dark
line, which at one time must have been Long Island; but it was
irregular now and faint, and showed that the island had been
practically submerged or swept away by the vast geodetic changes of the
age since the catastrophe.
A broken shore-line, heavily wooded, stretched to east and west.
Stern sought in vain for any landmark which might give him position on
a shore once so familiar to him. Whether he now stood near the former
site of New Haven, whether he was in the vicinity of the one-time mouth
of the Connecticut River, or whether the shore where he now stood had
once been Rhode Island, there was no means of telling. Even the far
line of land on the horizon could not guide him.
“If that is some remnant of Long Island,” he mused, “it would
indicate that we're no further east than the Connecticut; but there's
no way to be sure. Other islands may have been heaved up from the ocean
floor. There's nothing definite or certain about anything now, except
that we're both alive, without a thing to help us but our wits and that
I'm starving for something more substantial than that breadfruit!”
Wherewith he went back to Beatrice.
He found her, awake at last, sitting on the beach under the shadow
of the fern-tree branch, shaking out her hair and braiding it in two
thick plaits. He brought her water in a cup deftly fashioned from a
huge leaf; and when she had drunk and eaten some of the fruit they sat
and talked a while in the grateful warmth of the sun.
She seemed depressed and disheartened, at last, as they discussed
what had happened and spoke of the future.
“This last misfortune, Allan,” said she, “is too much. There's
nothing now except life—”
“Which is everything!” he interrupted, laughing. “If we can weather
a time like that, nothing in store for us can have any terrors!” His
own spirits rose fast while he cheered the girl.
He drew his arm about her as they sat together on the beach.
“Just be patient, that's all,” bade he. “Just give me a day or so to
find out our location, and I'll get things going again, never fear. A
week from now we may be sailing into Boston Harbor—who knows?”
And, shipwrecked and destitute though they were, alone in the vast
emptiness of that deserted world, yet with his optimism and his faith
he coaxed her back to cheerfulness and smiles again.
“The whole earth is ours, and the fulness thereof!” he cried, and
flung his arms defiantly outward. “This is no time for hesitance or
fear. Victory lies all before us yet. To work! To work!”
CHAPTER XIV. A FRESH START
Indomitably the human spirit, temporarily beaten down and crushed by
misfortunes beyond all calculation, once more rose in renewed strength
to the tremendous task ahead. And, first of all, Stern and the girl
made a camping place in the edge of the forest, close by the spring
under the big rock.
“We've got to have a base of supplies, or something of that sort,”
the man declared. “We can't start trekking away into the wilderness at
once, without consideration and at least some definite place where we
can store a few necessaries and to which we can retreat, in case of
need. A camp, and—if possible—a fire, these are our first
Their camp they built (regardless of the protests of birds and
squirrels and many little woodland folk) roughly, yet strongly enough
to offer protection from the rain, under a thick-leaved oak, which in
itself gave shelter. This oak, through whose branches darted many a
gay-plumaged bird of species unknown to Stern, grew up along the
overhanging face of Spring Rock, as they christened it.
By filling in the space between the rock and the bole of the oak
with moss and stones, and then by building a heavy lean-to roof of
leafy branches, thatched with lashed bundles of marsh-grass, they
constructed in two days a fairly comfortable shack, hard by an
abundant, never-failing supply of the finest water ever a human set lip
Here Stern piled fragrant grasses in great quantity for the girl's
bed. He himself volunteered to sleep at the doorway, on guard with his
only weapon—a jagged boulder lashed with leather thongs to a four-foot
heft, even in the; very fashion of the neolithic ancestors of man.
Their food supply reverted to such berries and fruits as they could
gather in the fringes of the forest, for as yet they dared not
penetrate far from the shore. To these they added a plentiful supply of
clams, which they dug with sharp sticks, at low tide, far out across
the sand-flats—toiling for all the world like two of the identical
savages who in the long ago, a thousand or five thousand years before
the white man came to America, had left shell-heap middens along the
north Atlantic coast.
This shell-fish gathering brought the action of the tides to their
careful attention. The tide, they found, behaved ire an erratic manner.
Instead of two regular flows a day there was but one. And at the ebb
more than two miles of beach and sea-bottom lay exposed below the spot
where they had landed at the flood. Stern analyzed the probable cause
of this phenomenon.
“There must be two regular tides,” he said, “only they're lost in
the far larger flux and reflux caused by the vortex we escaped from.
Any marine geyser like that, able to, suck down water enough from the
sea to lay bare two miles of beach every day and capable of throwing a
column of mist and spray like that across the sky, is worth investing
gating. Some day you and I are going to know more about it—a lot
And that was truth; but little the engineer suspected how soon, or
under what surpassingly strange circus stances, the girl and he were
destined to behold once more the workings of that terrible and mighty
On the third day Stern set himself to work on the problem of making
fire. He had not even flint-and-steel now; nor any firearm. Had he
possessed a pistol he could have collected a little birch-bark, sought
out a rotten pine-stump, and discharged his weapon into the “punk,”
then blown the glow to a flame, and almost certainly have got a blaze.
But he lacked everything, and so was forced back to primitive man's one
As an assistant instructor in anthropology at Harvard University, he
had now and then produced fire for his class of expectant students by
using the Peruvian fire-drill; but even this simple expedient required
a head-strap and a jade bearing, a well-formed spindle and a bow. Stern
had none of these things, neither could he fashion them without tools.
He had, therefore, to resort to the still more primitive method of
“fire-sawing,” such as long, long ago the Australian bushmen had been
wont to practice.
He was a strong man, determined and persistent; but two days more
had passed, and many blisters covered his palms ere—after innumerable
experiments with different kinds of woods and varying strokes—the
first tiny glow fell into the carefully scraped sawdust. And it was
with a fast-beating heart and tremulous breath that he blew his spark
to a larger one, then laid on his shredded strips of bark and blew
again, and so at last, with a great up-welling triumph in his soul,
beheld the flicker of a flame once more.
Exhausted, he carefully fed that precious fire, while the girl
clapped her hands with joy. In a few moments more the evening air in
the dim forest aisles was gladdened by the ruddy blaze of a camp-fire
at the door of the lean-to, and for the first time smoke went wafting
up among the branches of that primeval wood.
“Now for some real meat!” cried Stern with exultation. “To-morrow I
That evening they sat for hours feeding their fire with deadfalls,
listening to the trickle of the little spring and to the night sounds
of the forest, watching the bats flicker among the dusky spaces, and
gazing at the slow and solemn march of the stars beyond the leafy
fretwork overhead. Stern slept but little that night, in his anxiety to
keep the fire fed; and morning found him eager to be at his work with
throwing-sticks among the vistas of the wilderness.
Together they hunted that day. She carried what his skilful aim
brought down from the tangled greenery above. Birds, squirrels,
chipmunks, all were welcome. Noon found them in possession of more than
thirty pieces of small game, including two hedgehogs. And for the first
time in almost a week they tasted flesh again, roasted on a sharp stick
over the glowing coals.
Stern hunted all that day and the next. He dressed the game with an
extraordinarily large and sharp clamshell, which he whetted from time
to time on a rock beside the spring. And soon the fire was overhung
with much meat, being smoked with a pine-cone smudge in preparation for
the journey into the unknown.
“Inside of a week, at this rate,” he judged, “we'll be able to start
again. You must set to work platting a couple of sacks. The grass along
the brook is tough and long. We can carry fifty or seventy-five pounds
of meat, for emergencies. Fruits we can gather on the way.”
“And fire? Can we carry that?”
“We can take a supply of properly dried-out woods with punk. I've
already had practice enough, so I ought to be able to get fire at any
time inside of half an hour.”
“I'll make you a battle-ax like my own, only lighter. That's the
best we can do for the present, till we strike some ruin or other where
a city used to be.”
“And you're still bent on reaching Boston?”
“Yes. I reckon we're more than half-way there by now. It's the
nearest big ruin, the nearest place where we can refit and recoup the
damage done, get supplies and arms and tools, build another boat, and
in general take a fresh start. If we can make ten miles a day, we can
reach it in; ten days or less. I think, all things considered, the
Boston plan's the wisest possible one.”
She gazed into the fire a moment before replying. Then, stirring the
coals with a stick, said she:
“All right, boy; but I've got a suggestion to make.”
“What is it?”
“We'll do better to follow the shore all the way round.”
“And double the distance?”
“Yes, even so. You know, this shore is—or used to be—flat and
sandy most of the way. We can make better progress along beaches and
levels than we can through the forest. And there's the matter of
shell-fish to consider; and most important of all—”
“The sea will guide us. We can't get lost, you understand. With the
exception of cutting across the shank of Cape Cod, if the cape still
exists, we needn't ever get out of sight of salt water. And it will
bring us surely to the Hub.”
“By Jove, you're right!” he cried enthusiastically. “The shore-line
has it! And to-morrow morning at sunup we begin preparations in
earnest. You'll weave the knapsacks while I go after still more meat.
Gad! Now that everything's decided, the quicker we're on our way the
better. I'm keen to see old Tremont Hill again, and get my hands on a
good stock of arms and ammunition once more!”
That night, long after Beatrice was sleeping soundly on her bed of
odorous grasses, Allan lay musing by the lean-to door, in the red glow
of the fire. He was thinking of the long and painful history of man, of
the great catastrophe and of the terrible responsibility that now lay
on his own shoulders.
As in a panorama, he saw the emergence of humanity from the animal
stage, the primitive savagery of his kind; then the beginnings of the
family, the nomadic epoch, the stone age, and the bronze age, and the
age of iron; the struggle up to agriculturalism, and communism, and the
beginnings of the village groups, with all their petty tribal wars.
He saw the slow formation of small states, the era of slavery, then
feudalism and serfdom, and at last the birth of modern nations, the
development of machinery, and the vast nexus of exploitation known as
capitalism—the stage which at one blow had been utterly destroyed just
as it had been transmuting into collectivism.
And at thought of this Stern felt a pang of infinite regret.
“The whole evolutionary process wiped out,” mused he, “just as it
was about to pass into its perfect form, toward which the history of
all the ages had conspired, for which oceans of blood had been spilled
and millions of men and women—billions!—lived and toiled and died!
“All gone, all vanished—it's all been in vain, the woe and travail
of the world since time began, unless she and I, just we two, preserve
the memory and the knowledge of the world's long, bitter fight, and
hand them down to strong descendants.
“Our problem is to bridge this gap, to keep the fires of science and
of truth alive, and, if that be possible, to start the world again on a
higher plane, where all the harsh and terrible phases will no longer
have to be lived through again. Our problem and our task! Were ever two
beings weighed by such a one?”
And as he pondered, in the firelight, his thoughts and dreams and
hopes all centered in the sleeping girl, there in the lean-to sheltered
by his watchful care. But what those dreams were, what his visions of
the future—who shall set forth or fully understand?
CHAPTER XV. LABOR AND COMRADESHIP
Four days later, having hastened all their preparations and worked
with untiring energy, they broke camp for the long, perilous trek in
quest of the ruins of a dead and buried city.
It was at daylight that they started from the little shack in the
edge of the forest. Both were refreshed by a long sleep and by a plunge
in the curling breakers that now, at high tide, were driven up the
beach by a stiff sea-breeze.
The morning, which must have been toward the end of September—Stern
had lost accurate count but reckoned the day at about the
twenty-fifth—dawned clear and bracing, with just a tang of winelike
exhilaration in the air. Before them the beach spread away and away to
eastward, beyond the line of vision, a broad and yellow road to bid
them travel on.
“Come, girl, en marche!” cried the man cheerily, as he
adjusted Beta's knapsack so that the platted cord should not chafe her
shoulders, then swung his own across his back. And with a buoyant sense
of conquest, yet a regret at leaving the little camp which, though
crude and rough, had yet been a home to them for a week, they turned
their faces to the rising sun and set out on the journey into the
Much altered were they now from those days at Hope Villa, when they
had been able to restore most of the necessities and even some of the
refinements of civilization. Now the girl's hair hung in two thick
braids down over her worn tiger-skin, each braid as big as a strong
man's wrist, for she lacked any means to do it up; she had not so much
as a comb, nor could Stern, without a knife, fashion one for her. Their
sandals hung in tatters. Stern had tried to repair them with strips of
squirrel-skin clumsily hacked out with the sharp clam-shell, but the
result was crude.
Long were his hair and beard, untrimmed now, unkempt and red. Clad
in his ragged fur garment, bare legged and bare armed, with the
grass-cloth sack slung over his sinewy shoulder and the heavy stone-ax
in his hand, he looked the very image of prehistoric man—as she, too,
seemed the woman of that distant age.
But though their outward guise was that of savages far cruder than
the North American Indian was when Columbus first beheld him, yet in
their brains lay all the splendid inheritance of a world-civilization.
And as the fire-materials in Stern's sack contained, in germ, all the
mechanic arts, so their joint intelligence presaged everything that yet
They traveled at an easy pace, like voyagers who foresee many hard
days of journeying and who are cautious not at first to drain their
strength. Five hours they walked, with now and then a pause. Stern
calculated they had made twelve miles or more before they camped beside
a stream that flowing thinly from the wood, sank into the sand and was
lost before it reached the sea.
Here they ate and rested till the sun began to pass its meridian,
when once more they started on their pilgrimage. That night, after a
day wherein they had met no other sign of life than gulls and crows
ravaging the mussel-beds, they slept on piles of sun-dried kelp which
they heaped into some crevices under an overhanging brow of low cliffs
on a rocky point. And dawn found them again, traveling steadily
eastward, battle-axes swinging, hopes high, in perfect comradeship and
Toward what must have been about ten o'clock of that morning they
reached the mouth of a river, something like half a mile wide where it
joined the sea. By following this up a mile or so they reached a narrow
point; but even here, burdened as they were, swimming was out of the
“The only thing to do,” said Stern, “will be to wait till the tide
backs up and gives us quiet water, then make our way across on a log or
two”—a plan they put into effect with good success. Mid-afternoon, and
they were on their way again, east-bound.
“Was that the Connecticut?” asked Beatrice. “Car do you think we've
passed that already?”
“More likely to be the Thames,” he answered. “I figure that what
used be New London is less than five miles from here.”
“Why not visit the ruins? There might be something there.”
“Not enough to bother with. We mustn't be diverted from the main
issue, Boston! Forward, march!”
Next day Stern descried a point jutting far out to sea, which he
declared was none other than Watch Hill Point, on the Rhode Island
boundary. And on the afternoon of the following day they reached what
was indisputably Point Judith and Narragansett Bay.
Here they were forced to turn northward; and when camping time came,
after they had dug their due allowance of clams and gathered their
breadfruit and made their fire in the edge of the woods, they held
conclave about their future course.
The bay was, indeed, a factor neither Stern nor she had reckoned on.
To follow its detours all the way around would add seventy to a hundred
miles to their journey, according as they hugged the shore or made
straight cuts across some of the wooded promontories.
“And from Providence, at the head of the bay, to Boston, is only
forty miles in a direct line northwest-by-north,” said he, poking the
“But if we miss our way?”
“How can we, if we follow the remains of the railroad? The cuts and
embankments will guide us all the way.”
“I know; but the forest is so thick!”
“Not so thick but we can make at least five miles a day. That is,
inside of eight days we can reach the Hub. And we shall have the help
of tools and guns, remember. In a place the size of Providence there
must be a few ruins still containing something of value. Yes, by all
means the overland route is best, from now on. It means forty miles
instead of probably two hundred.”
Thus they agreed upon it; and, having settled matters, gave them no
more thought, but prepared for rest. And sunset came down once more; it
faded, smoldering along the forest-line to westward; it burned to dull
timbers and vague purples, then went out. And “the wind that runs after
the sun awoke and sang softly among the tree-tops, a while, like the
intoning of a choir invisible, and was silent again.”
There by the firelight he half saw, half sensed her presence, vague
and beautiful despite the travel-worn, tattered skin that clothed her.
He felt her warm, vital nearness; his hand sought hers and pressed it,
and the pressure was returned. And with a thrill of overwhelming
tenderness he realized what this girl was to him and what his love
meant and what it all portended.
Until long after dark they sat and talked of the future, and of life
and death, and of the soul and of the great mystery that had swept the
earth clean of all of their kind and had left them, alone, of all those
fifteen hundred million human creatures.
And overhead, blotting out a patch of sky and stars, moved slowly
the dark object which had so puzzled Stern since the first time he had
observed it—the thing he meant to know about and solve, once he could
reach the Cambridge Observatory. And of this, too, they talked; but
neither he nor she could solve the riddle of its nature.
Their talk together, that night, was typical of the relationship
that had grown up between them in the long weeks since their awakening
in the Tower. Almost all, if not quite all, the old-time idea of sex
had faded—the old, false assumption on the part of the man that he was
by his very nature the superior of woman.
Stern and Beatrice now stood on a different footing; their
friendship, comradeship and love were based on the tacit recognition of
absolute equality, save for Stern's accidental physical superiority. It
was as though they had been two men, one a little stronger and larger
than the other, so far as the notion of equality went; though this by
no means destroyed that magnetic sex-emotion which, in other aspects,
thrilled and attracted and infused them both.
Their love never for a moment obscured Stern's recognition of the
girl as primarily a human being, his associate on even terms in this
great game that they were playing together, this tremendous problem
they were laboring to solve—the vastest and most vital problem that
ever yet had confronted the human race, now represented in its totality
by these two living creatures.
And as Beatrice recalled the world of other times, with all its
false conventions, limitations and pettily stupid gallantries, she
shuddered with repulsion. In her heart she knew that, had the choice
been hers, she would not have gone back to that former state of
half-chattel patronage, half-hypocritical homage and total
Contrasting her present state with her past one, and comparing this
man—all ragged, unshaven and long-haired as he was, yet a true man in
every inch of his lithe, virile body—with others she remembered, she
found up-welling in her a love so deep and powerful, grounded on such
broad bases of respect and gratitude, mutual interest and latent
passion, that she herself could not yet understand it in all its phases
and its moods.
The relation which had grown up between them, comrades and partners
in all things, partook of a fine tolerance, an exquisite and
never-failing tenderness, a wealth of all intimate, yet respectful
adoration. It held elements of brotherhood and parenthood; it was the
love of coworkers striving toward a common goal, of companions in life
and in learning, in striving, doing, accomplishing, even failing.
Failure mattered nothing; for still the comradeship was there.
And on this soil was growing daily and hourly a love such as never
since the world began had been equaled in purity and power, faith,
hope, integrity. It purified all things, made easy all things, braved
all things, pardoned all things; it was long-suffering and very kind.
They had no need to speak of it; it showed in every word and look
and act, even in the humblest and most commonplace of services each for
each. Their love was lived, not talked about.
All their trials and tremendous hardships, their narrow passes with
death, and their hard-won escapes, the vicissitudes of a savage life in
the open, with every imaginable difficulty and hard expedient, could
not destroy their illusions or do aught than bind them in closer bonds
And each realized when the time should ripen for another and a more
vital love, that, too, would circle them with deeper tenderness,
binding them in still more intense and poignant bonds of joy.
CHAPTER XVI. FINDING THE BIPLANE
The way up the shores of Narragansett Bay was full of experiences
for them both. Animal life revealed itself far more abundantly here
than along the open sea.
“Some strange blight or other must lie in the proximity of that
terrific maelstrom,” judged Stern, “something that repels all the
larger animals. But skirting this bay, there's life and to spare. How
many deer have we seen to-day? Three? And one bull-buffalo! With any
kind of a gun, or even a revolver, I could have had them all. And that
big-muzzled, shaggy old moose we saw drinking at the pool, back there,
would have been meat for us if we had had a rifle. No danger of
starving here, Beatrice, once we get our hands on something that'll
The night they camped on the way, Stern kept constant guard by the
fire, in case of possible attack by wolves or other beasts. He slept
only an hour, when the girl insisted on taking his place; but when the
sun arose, red and huge through the mists upon the bay, he started out
again on the difficult trail as strong and confident as though he had
not kept nine hours of vigil.
Everywhere was change and desolation. As the travelers came into a
region which had at one time been more densely populated, they began to
find here and there mournful relics of the life that once had
been—traces of man, dim and all but obliterated, but now and then
puissant in their revocation of the distant past.
Twice they found the ruins of villages—a few vague hollows in the
earth, where cellars had been, hollows in which huge trees were rooted,
and where, perhaps, a grass-grown crumble of disintegrated brick
indicated the one-time presence of a chimney. They discovered several
farms, with a few stunted apple-trees, the distant descendants of
orchard growths, struggling against the larger forest strength, and
with perhaps a dismantled well-curb, a moss-covered fireplace or a few
bits of iron that had possibly been a stove, for all relics of the
other age. Mournful were the long stone walls, crumbling down yet still
discernible in places—walls that had cost the labor of generations of
farmers and yet now lay useless and forgotten in the universal ruin of
On the afternoon of the fifth day since having left their lean-to by
the shore of Long Island Sound, they came upon a canyon which split the
hills north of the site of Greenwich, a gigantic “fault” in the rocks,
richly striated and stratified with rose and red and umber, a great
cleft on the other side of which the forest lay somber and repellent in
the slanting rays of the September sun.
“By Jove, whatever it was that struck the earth,” said Stern, “must
have been good and plenty. The whole planet seems to be ripped up and
broken and shattered. No wonder it knocked down New York and killed
everybody and put an end to civilization. Why, there's ten cubic miles
of material gouged out right here in sight; here's a regular Panama
Canal, or bigger, all scooped out in one piece! What the devil could
There was no answer to the question. After an hour spent in studying
the formations along the lip of the cleft they made a detour eastward
to the shore, crossed the fjord that ran into the canyon, and again
kept to the north. Soon after this they struck a railroad embankment,
and this they followed now, both because it afforded easier travel than
the shore, which now had grown rocky and broken, and also because it
promised to guide them surely to the place they sought.
It was on the sixth day of their exploration that they at last
penetrated the ruins of Providence. Here, as in New York, pavements and
streets and squares were all grassed over and covered with pines and
elms and oaks, rooting among the stones and shattered brickwork that
lay prone upon the earth. Only here or there a steel or concrete
building still defied the ravages of time.
“The wreckage is even more complete here than on Manhattan Island,”
Stern judged as he and the girl stood in front of the ruins of the
post-office surveying the debris. “The smaller area, of course, would
naturally be covered sooner with the inroads of the forest. I doubt
whether there's enough left in the whole place to be of any real
service to us.”
“To-morrow will be time enough to see,” answered the girl. “It's too
late now for any more work to-day.”
They camped that night in an upper story of the Pequot National Bank
Building on Hampstead Street. Here, having cleared out the bats and
spiders, they made themselves an eerie secure from attack, and slept
long and soundly. Dawn found them at work among the overgrown ruins,
much as—three months before—they had labored in the Metropolitan
Tower and about it. Less, however, remained to salvage here. For the
smaller and lighter types of buildings had preserved far less of the
relics of civilization than had been left in the vast and solid
structures of New York.
In a few places, none the less, they still came upon the little
piles of the gray ash that marked where men and women had fallen and
died; but these occurred only in the most sheltered spots. Stern paid
no attention to them. His energies and his attention were now fixed on
the one task of getting skins, arms, ammunition and supplies. And
before nightfall, by a systematic looting of such shops as
remained—perhaps not above a score in all could even be entered—the
girl and he had gathered more than enough to last them on their way to
Boston. One find which pleased him immensely was a dozen sealed glass
jars of tobacco.
“As for a pipe,” said he, “I can make that easily enough. What's
more I will!” More still, he did, that very evening, and the gloom was
redolent again of good smoke. Thereafter he slept as not for a long,
They spent the next day in fashioning new garments and sandals; in
putting to rights the two rifles Stern had chosen from the basement of
the State armory, and in making bandoliers to carry their supply of
cartridges. The possession of a knife once more, and of steel wherewith
readily to strike fire, delighted the man enormously. The scissors they
found in a hardware-shop, though rusty, enabled him to trim his beard
and hair. Beatrice hailed a warped hard-rubber comb with joy.
But the great discovery still awaited them, the one supreme find
which in a moment changed every plan of travel, opened the world to
them, and at a single stroke increased their hopes ten
thousandfold—the discovery of the old Pauillac monoplane!
They came upon this machine, pregnant with such vast possibilities,
in a concrete hangar back of the Federal courthouse on Anderson Street.
The building attracted Stern's attention by its unusual state of
preservation. He burst in one of the rusted iron shutters and climbed
through the window to see what might be inside.
A moment later Beatrice heard a cry of astonishment and joy.
“Great Heavens!” the man exclaimed, appearing at the window. “Come
in! Come in—see what I've found!”
And he stretched out his hands to help her up and through the
“What is it, boy? More arms? More—”
“An aeroplane! Good God, think o' that, will you?”
“An aeroplane? But it's all to pieces, of course, and—”
“Come on in and look at it, I say!” Excitedly he lifted her through
the window. “See there, will you? Isn't that the eternal limit? And to
think I never even thought of trying to find one in New York!”
He gestured at the dust-laden old machine that, forlorn and in
sovereign disrepair, stood at the other end of the hangar. Together
they approached it.
“If it will work,” the man exclaimed thickly; “if it will only
“But will it?” the girl exclaimed, her eyes lighting with the
excitement of the find, heart beating fast at thought of what it might
portend. “Can you put it in shape, boy? Or—”
“I don't know. Let me look! Who knows? Maybe—”
And already he was kneeling, peering at the mechanism, feeling the
frame, the gear, the stays, with hands that trembled more than ever
they had trembled since their great adventure had begun.
As he examined the machine, while Beatrice stood by, he talked to
“Good thing the framework is aluminum,” said he, “or it wouldn't be
worth a tinker's dam after all this time. But as it is, it's taken no
harm that I can see. Wire braces all gone, rusted out and disappeared.
Have to be rewired throughout, if I can find steel wire; if not, I'll
use braided leather thongs. Petrol tank and feed pipe O. K. Girder boom
needs a little attention. Steering and control column intact—they'll
Part by part he handled the machine, his skilled eye leaping from
detail to detail.
“Canvas planes all gone, of course. Not a rag left; only the frame.
But, no matter, we can remedy that. Wooden levers, skids, and so on,
gone. Easily replaced. Main thing is the engine. Looks as though it had
been carefully covered, but, of course, the covering has rotted away.
No matter, we'll soon see. Now, this carbureter—”
His inspection lasted half an hour, while the girl, lost among so
many technicalities, sat down on the dusty concrete floor beside the
machine and listened in a kind of dazed admiration.
He gave her, finally, his opinion.
“This machine will go if properly handled,” said he, rising
triumphantly and slapping the dust off his palms. “The chassis needs
truing up, the equilibrator has sagged out of plumb, and the ailerons
have got to be readjusted, but it's only a matter of a few days at the
outside before she'll be in shape.
“The main thing is the engine, and so far as I can judge, that's
pretty nearly O. K. The magneto may have to be gone over, but that's a
mere trifle. Odd, I never thought of either finding one of these
machines in New York, or building one! When I think of all the weary
miles we've tramped it makes me sick!”
“I know,” she answered; “but how about fuel? And another thing—have
you ever operated one? Could you—”
“Run one?” He laughed aloud. “I'm the man who first taught Carlton
Holmes to fly—you know Holmes, who won the Gordon-Craig cup for
altitude record in 1916. I built the first—”
“I know, dear; but Holmes was killed at Schenectady, you remember,
and this machine is different from anything you're used to, isn't it?”
“It won't be when I'm through with it! I tell you, Beatrice, we're
going to fly. No more hiking through the woods or along beaches for us.
From now on we travel in the air—and the world opens out to us as
though by magic.
“Distance ceases to mean anything. The whole continent is ours. If
there's another human creature on it we find him! And if there isn't
then, perhaps we may find some in Asia or in Europe, who knows?”
“You mean you'd dare to attack the Atlantic with a patched-up
machine more than a thousand years old?”
“I mean that eventually I can and will build one that'll take us to
Alaska, and so across the fifty-mile gap from Cape Prince of Wales to
East Cape. The whole world lies at our feet, girl, with this new idea,
this new possibility in mind!”
She smiled at his enthusiasm.
“But fuel?” asked she, practical even in her joy. “I don't imagine
there's any gasoline left now, do you? A stuff as volatile as that,
after all these centuries? What metal could contain it for a thousand
“There's alcohol,” he answered. “A raid on the ruins of a few
saloons and drug-stores will give me all I need to carry me to Boston,
where there's plenty, never fear. A few slight adjustments of the
engine will fit it for burning alcohol. And as for the planes, good
stout buckskin, well sewn together and stretched on the frames, will do
the trick as well as canvas—better, maybe.”
“Oh, what a little pessimist it is to-day!” he interrupted. “Always
coming at me with objections, eh?” He took her in his arms and kissed
her. “I tell you Beta, this is no pipe-dream at all, or anything like
it; the thing's reality—we're going to fly! But it'll mean the most
tremendous lot of sewing and stitching for you!”
“You're a dear!” she answered inconsequentially. “I do believe if
the whole world fell apart you could put it together again.”
“With your help, yes,” said he. “What's more, I'm going to—and a
better world at that than ever yet was dreamed of. Wait and see!”
Laughing, he released her.
“Well, now, we'll go to work,” he concluded. “Nothing's accomplished
by mere words. Just lay hold of that lateral there, will you? And we'll
haul this old machine out where we can have a real good look at her,
what do yore say? Now, then, one, two, three—”
CHAPTER XVII. ALL ABOARD FOR BOSTON!
Nineteen days from the discovery of the biplane, a singular
happening for a desolate world took place on the broad beach that now
edged the city where once the sluggish Providence River had flowed
For here, clad in a double suit of leather that Beatrice had made
for him, Allan Stern was preparing to give the rehabilitated Pauillac a
Day by day, working incessantly when not occupied in hunting or
fishing, the man had rebuilt and overhauled the entire mechanism. Tools
he had found a-plenty in the ruins, tools which he had ground and
readjusted with consummate care and skill. Alcohol he had gathered
together from a score of sources. All the wooden parts, such as skids
and levers and propellers, long since vanished and gone, he had
And now the machine, its planes and rudders covered with strongly
sewn buckskin, stretched as tight as drum heads, its polished screw of
the Chauviere type gleaming in the morning sun, stood waiting on the
sands, while Stern gave it a painstaking inspection.
“I think,” he judged, as he tested the last stay and gave the engine
its final adjustment. “I think, upon my word, this machine's better
to-day than when she was first built. If I'm not mistaken, buckskin's a
better material for planes than ever canvas was—it's far stronger and
less porous, for one thing—and as for the stays, I prefer the braided
hide. Wire's so liable to snap.
“This compass I've rigged on gimbals here, beats anything Pauillac
himself ever had. What's the matter with my home-made gyrostat and
anemometer? And hasn't this aneroid barometer got cards and spades over
the old-style models?”
Enthusiastic as a boy, Stern shook his head and smiled delightedly
at Beatrice as he expounded the merits of the biplane and its fittings.
She, half glad, half anxious at the possible outcome of the venture,
stood by and listened and nodded as though she understood all the
minutiae he explained.
“So then, you're ready to go up this morning?” she asked, with just
a quiver of nervousness in her voice. “You're quite certain
everything's all right—no chance of accident? For if anything
“There, there, nothing can happen, nothing will!” he reassured her.
“This motor's been run three hours in succession already without
skipping an explosion. Everything's in absolute order, I tell you. And
as for the human, personal equation, I can vouch for that myself!”
Stern walked around to the back of the machine, picked up a long,
stout stake he had prepared, took his ax, and at a distance of about
twelve feet behind the biplane drove the stake very deep into the hard
He knotted a strong leather cord to the stake, brought it forward
and secured it to the frame of the machine.
“Now, Beatrice,” he directed, “when I'm ready you cut the cord. I
haven't any corps of assistants to hold me back till the right moment
and then give me a shove, so the best I can do is this. Give a quick
slash right here when I shout. And whatever happens don't be alarmed.
I'll come back to you safe and sound, never fear. And this afternoon
it's 'All Aboard for Boston!'“
Smiling and confident, he cranked the motor. It caught, and now a
chattering tumult filled the air, rising, falling, as Stern manipulated
throttle and spark to test them once again.
Into the driver's seat he climbed, strapped himself in and turned to
smile at Beatrice.
Then with a practiced hand he threw the lever operating the
friction-clutch on the propeller-shaft. And now the great blades began
to twirl, faster, faster, till they twinkled and buzzed in the sunlight
with a hum like that of a gigantic electric fan.
The machine, yielding to the urge, tugged forward, straining at its
bonds like a whippet eager for a race. Beatrice, her face flushed with
excitement, stood ready with the knife.
Louder, faster whirled the blades, making a shiny blur; a breeze
sprang out behind them; it became a wind, blowing the girl's hair back
from her beautiful face.
Stern settled himself more firmly into the seat and gripped the
The engine was roaring like a battery of Northrup looms. Stern felt
the pull, the power, the life of the machine. And his heart leaped
within him at his victory over the dead past, his triumph still to be!
“All right!” he cried. “Let go—let go!“
The knife fell. The parted rope jerked back, writhing, like a
Gently at first, then with greater and greater speed, shaking and
bouncing a little on the broad, flat wheels that Stern had fitted to
the alighting gear, the plane rolled off along the firm-beaten sands.
Stern advanced the spark and now the screw sang a louder, higher
threnody. With ever-accelerating velocity the machine tooled forward
down the long stretch, while Beatrice stood gazing after it in rapt
Then all at once, when it had sped some three hundred feet, Stern
rotated the rising plane; and suddenly the machine lifted. In a long
smooth curve, she slid away up the air as though it had been a solid
hill—up, up, up—swifter and swifter now, till a suddenly accelerated
rush cleared the altitude of the tallest pines in the forest edging the
beach, and Stern knew his dream was true!
With a great shout of joy, he leaped the plane aloft! Its rise had
all the exhilarating suddenness of a seagull flinging up from the
foam-streaked surface of the breakers. And in that moment Stern felt
the bliss of conquest.
Behind him, the spruce propellers were making a misty haze of
humming energy. In front, the engine spat and clattered. The vast
spread of the leather wings, sewn, stretched and tested, crackled and
boomed as the wind got under them and heaved them skyward.
Stern shouted again. The machine, he felt, was a thing of life,
friendly and true. Not since that time in the tower, months ago, when
he had repaired the big steamengine and actually made it run, had he
enjoyed so real a sense of mastery over the world as now; had he sensed
so definite a connection with the mechanical powers of the world that
was, the world that still should be.
No longer now was he fighting the forces of nature, all barehanded
and alone. Now back of him lay the energy of a machine, a metal heart,
throbbing and inexhaustible and full of life! Now he had tapped the
vein of Power! And in his ears the ripping volley of the exhaust
sounded as sweetly as might the voice of a long-absent and beloved girl
returning to her sweetheart.
For a moment he felt a choking in his throat, a mist before his
eyes. This triumph stirred him emotionally, practical and cool and keen
though he was. His hand trembled a second; his heart leaped, throbbing
like the motor itself.
But almost immediately he was himself once more. The weakness
passed. And with a sweep of his clear eyes, he saw the speeding
landscape, woods, hills, streams, that now were running there beneath
him like a fluid map.
“My God, it's grand, though!” he exclaimed, swerving the plane in a
long, ascending spiral. All the art, the knack of flight came back to
him, at the touch of the wheel, as readily as swimming to an expert in
the water. Fear? The thought no more occurred to him than to you,
reading these words.
Higher he mounted, higher still, his hair whipping out behind in the
wild wind, till he could see the sparkle of Narragansett Bay, there in
the distance where the river broadened into it. At him the wind tore,
louder even than the spitting crackle of the motor. He only laughed,
and soared again.
But now he thought of Beatrice; and, as he banked and came about, he
peered far down for sight of her.
Yes, there she stood, a tiny dot upon the distant sand. And though
he knew she could not hear, in sheer animal spirits and overwhelming
joy he shouted once again, a wild, mad triumphant hurrah that lost
itself in empty space.
The test he gave the Pauillac convinced him she would carry all the
load they would need put upon her, and more. He climbed, swooped,
spiraled, volplaned, and rose again, executing a series of evolutions
that would have won him fame at any aero meet. And when, after half an
hour's exhaustive trial, he swooped down toward the beach again, he
found the plane alighted as easily as she had risen.
Like a sea-bird sinking with flat, outstretched wings, coming to
rest with perfect ease and beauty on the surface of the deep, the
Pauillac slid down the long hill of air. Stern cut off power. The
machine took the sand with no more than vigorous bound, and, running
forward perhaps fifty yards, came to a stand.
Stern had no sooner leaped from the seat than Beatrice was with him.
“Oh, glorious!” she cried, her face alight with joy and fine
enthusiasm. All her spontaneity, her love and admiration were aroused.
And she kissed him with so frank and glad a love that Stern felt his
heart jump wildly. He thought she never yet had been so beautiful.
But all he said was:
“Couldn't run finer, little girl! Barring a little stiffness here
and there, she's perfect. So, then, when do we start, eh? To-morrow
“Why not this afternoon? I'm sure we can get ready by then.”
“Afternoon it is, if you say so! But we've got to work, to do it!”
By noon they had gathered together all the freight they meant to
carry, and—though the sun had dimmed behind dull clouds of a peculiar
slaty gray, that drifted in from eastward—had prepared for the flight
to Boston. After a plentiful dinner of venison, berries and breadfruit,
they loaded the machine.
Stern calculated that, with Beatrice as a passenger, he could carry
seventy-five or eighty pounds of freight. The two rifles, ammunition,
knives, ax, tools and provisions they packed into the skin sack
Beatrice had prepared, weighed no more than sixty. Thus Stern reckoned
there would be a fair “coefficient of safety” and more than enough
power to carry them with safety and speed.
It was at 1:15 that the girl took her place in the passenger's seat
and let Stern strap her in.
“Your first flight, little girl?” he asked smiling, yet a trifle
grave. The barking motor almost drowned his voice.
She nodded but did not speak. He noted the pulse in her throat, a
little quick, yet firm.
“You're positive you're not going to be afraid?”
“How could I, with you?”
He made all secure, climbed up beside her, and strapped himself in
Then he threw in the clutch and released the brake.
“Hold fast!” cried he. “All aboard for Boston! Hold fast!”
CHAPTER XVIII. THE HURRICANE
Soaring strongly even under the additional weight, humming with the
rush of air, the plane made the last turn of her spiral and
straightened out at the height of twelve hundred feet for her long
northward run across the unbroken wilderness.
Stern preferred to fly a bit high, believing the air-currents more
dependable there. Even as he rose above the forest-level, his
experienced eye saw possible trouble in the wind-clouds banked to
eastward and in the fall of the barometer. But with the thought, “At
this rate we'll make Boston in three-quarters of an hour at the
outside, and the storm can't strike so soon,” he pushed the motor to
still greater speed and settled to the urgent business of steering a
straight course for Massachusetts Bay.
Only once did he dare turn aside his eyes even so much as to glance
at Beatrice. She, magnificently unafraid on the quivering back of this
huge airdragon, showed the splendid excitement of the moment by the
sparkle of her glance, the rush of eloquent blood to her cheeks.
Stern's achievement, typical of the invincible conquest of the human
soul over matter, time and space, thrilled her with unspeakable pride.
And as she breathed for the first time the pure, thin air of those
upper regions, her strong heart leaped within her breast, and she knew
that this man was worthy of her most profound, indissoluble love.
Far down beneath them now the forest sped away to southward. The
gleam of the river, dulled by the sunless sky, showed here and there
through the woods, which spread their unbroken carpet to the horizon,
impenetrable and filled with nameless perils. At thought of how he was
cheating them all, Stern smiled to himself with grim satisfaction.
“Good old engine!” he was thinking, as he let her out another notch.
“Some day I'll put you in a boat, and we'll go cruising. With you,
there's no limit to the possibilities. The world is really ours now,
with your help!”
Behind them now lay the debris of Pawtucket. Stern caught a glimpse
of a ruined building, a crumpled-in gas-tank with an elm growing up
through the stark ribs of it, a jumble of wreckage, all small and
toylike, there below; then the plane swooped onward, and all lay deep
buried in the wilderness again.
“A few minutes now,” he said to himself, “and we'll be across what
used to be the line, and be spinning over Massachusetts. This certainly
beats walking all hollow! Whew!” as the machine lurched forward and
took an ugly drop. He jerked the rising-plane lever savagely. “Still
the same kind of unreliable air, I see, that we used to have a thousand
For a few minutes the biplane hummed on and on in long rising and
falling slants, like a swallow skimming the surface of a lake. The even
staccato of the exhaust, echoless in that height and vacancy, rippled
with cadences like a monster mowing-machine. And Stern was beginning to
consider himself as good as in Boston already—was beginning to wonder
where the best place might be to land, whether along the shore or on
the Common, where, perhaps, some open space still remained—when
another formidable air-pocket dropped him with sickening speed.
He righted the plane with a wrench that made her creak and tremble.
“I've got to take a higher level, or a lower,” he thought.
“Something's wrong here, that's certain!”
But as he shot the biplane sharply upward, hoping to find a calmer
lane, a glance at the sky showed trouble impending.
Over the gray background of wind-clouds, a fine-shredded drive was
beginning to scud. The whole east had grown black. Only far off to
westward did a little patch of dull blue show; and even this was
closing up with singular rapidity. And, though the motion of the
machine made this hard to estimate, Stern thought to see by the lateral
drift of the country below, that they were being carried westward by
what—to judge from the agitation of the tree-tops far below—must
already be a considerable gale.
For a moment the engineer cursed his foolhardiness in having started
in face of such a storm as now every moment threatened to break upon
“I should have known,” he told himself, “that it was suicidal to
attempt a flight when every indication showed a high wind coming. My
infernal impatience, as usual! We should have stayed safe in Providence
and let this blow itself out, before starting. But now—well, it's too
But was it? Had he not time enough left to make a wide sweep and
circle back whence he had come? He glanced at the girl. If she showed
fear he would return. But on her face he saw no signs of aught but
confidence and joy and courage. And at sight of her, his own resolution
strengthened once again.
“Why retreat?” he pondered, holding the machine to her long soaring
rise. “We must have made a good third of the distance already—perhaps
a half. In ten or fifteen minutes more we ought to sight the blue of
the big bay. No use in turning back now. And as for alighting and
letting the storm blow over, that's impossible. Among these forests it
would mean only total wreckage. Even if we could land, we never could
start again. No; the only thing to do is to hold her to it and plow
through, storm or no storm. I guess the good old Pauillac can stand the
racket, right enough!”
Thus for a few moments longer he held the plane with her nose to the
northeast-by-north, his compass giving him direction, while far, far
below, the world slid back and away in a vast green carpet of swaying
trees that stretched to the dim, dun horizon.
Stern could never afterward recall exactly how or when the hurricane
struck them. So stunning was the blow that hurled itself, shrieking, in
a tumult of mad cross-currents, air maelstroms and frenzied whirls, all
across the sky; so overpowering the chill tempest that burst from those
inky clouds; so sudden the darkness that fell, the slinging hail
volleys that lashed and pelted them, that any clear perception of their
plight became impossible.
All the man knew was that direction and control had been knocked
clean from his hands; that the world had suddenly vanished in a black
drive of cloud and hail and wild-whipping vapor; that he no longer knew
north from south, or east from west; but that—struggling now even to
breathe, filled with sick fears for the safety of the girl beside
him—he was fighting, wrenching, wrestling with the motor and the
planes and rudders, to keep the machine from up-ending, from turning
turtle in mid-air, from sticking her nose under an air-layer and
swooping, hurtling over and over, down, down, like a shattered rocket,
to dash herself to pieces on the waiting earth below.
The first furious onset showed the engineer he could not hope to
head up into that cyclone and live. He swung with it, therefore; and
now, driving across the sky like a filament of cloud-wrack, rode on the
crest of the great storm, his motor screaming its defiance at the
Did Beatrice shout out to him? Did she try to make him hear? He
could not tell. No human voice could have been audible in such a
turmoil. Stern had no time to think even of her at such a moment of
As a driver with a runaway stallion jerks and saws and strains upon
the leather to regain control, so now the man wrestled with his
storm-buffeted machine. A less expert aeronaut must have gone down to
death in that mad nexus of conflicting currents; but Stern was cool and
full of craft and science. Against the blows of the huge tempest he
pitted his own skill, the strength of the stout mechanism, the trained
instincts of the born mechanician.
And, storm-driven, the biplane hurtled westward, ever westward,
through the gloom. Nor could its two passengers by any sight or sound
determine what speed they traveled at, whither they went, what lay
behind, or what ahead.
Concepts of time, too, vanished. Did it last one hour or three? Five
hours, or even more? Who could tell? Lacking any point of contact with
reality, merged and whelmed in that stupendous chill nightmare, all
wrought of savage gale, rain, hail-blasts, cloud and scudding vapor,
they sensed nothing but the fight for life itself, the struggle to keep
aloft till the cyclone should have blown itself out, and they could
seek the shelter of the earth once more.
Reality came back with a reft in the jetty sky, the faint shine of a
little pale blue there, and—a while later—a glimpse of water, or what
seemed to be such, very far below.
More steady now the currents grew. Stern volplaned again; and as the
machine slid down toward earth, came into a calmer and more peaceful
Down, down through clouds that shifted, shredded and reassembled, he
let the plane coast, now under control once more; and all at once there
below him, less than three thousand feet beneath, he saw, dim and vague
as though in the light of evening, a vast sheet of water that stretched
away, away, till the sight lost it in a bank of low-hung vapors on the
“The sea?” thought Stern, with sudden terror. Who could tell?
Perhaps the storm, westbound, had veered; perhaps it might have carried
them off the Atlantic coast! This might be the ocean, a hundred or two
hundred miles from land. And if so, then good-by!
Checking the descent, he drove forward on level wings, peering below
with wide eyes, while far above him the remnants of the storm fled,
routed, and let a shaft of pallid sunlight through.
Stern's eye caught the light of that setting beam, which still
reached that height, though all below, on earth, was dusk; and now he
knew the west again and found his sense of direction.
The wind, he perceived, still blew to westward; and with a thrill of
relief he felt, as though by intuition, that its course had not varied
enough to drive him out to sea.
Though he knew the ripping clatter of the engine drowned his voice,
he shouted to the girl:
“Don't be alarmed! Only a lake down there!” and with fresh courage
gave the motor all that she would stand.
A lake! But what lake? What sheet of water, of this size, lay in New
England? And if not in New England, then where were they?
A lake? One of the Great Lakes? Could that be? Could they have been
driven clear across Massachusetts, its whole length, and over New York
State, four hundred miles or more from the sea, and now be speeding
over Erie or Ontario?
Stern shuddered at the thought. Almost as well be lost over the sea
as over any one of these tremendous bodies! Were not the land near,
nothing but death now faced them; for already the fuel-gage showed but
a scant two gallons, and who could say how long the way might be to
For a moment the engineer lost heart, but only for a moment.
His eye, sweeping the distance, caught sight of a long, dull, dark
line on the horizon.
A cloud-bank, was it? Land, was it? He could not tell.
“I'll chance it, anyhow,” thought he, “for it's our only hope now.
When I don't know where I am, one direction's as good as any other.
We've got no other chance but that! Here goes!”
Skilfully banking, he hauled the plane about, and settled on a long,
swift slant toward the dark line.
“If only the alcohol holds out, and nothing breaks!” his thought
was. “If only that's the shore, and we can reach it in time!”
CHAPTER XIX. WESTWARD HO!
Fate meant that they should live, those two lone wanderers on the
face of the great desolation; and, though night had gathered now and
all was cloaked in gloom, they landed with no worse than a hard
shake-up on a level strip of beach that edged the confines of the
Exhausted by the strain and the long fight with death, chilled by
that sojourn in the upper air, drenched and stiffened and half dead,
they had no strength to make a camp.
The most that they could do was drag themselves down to the water's
edge and—finding the water fresh, not salt—drink deeply from hollowed
palms. Then, too worn-out even to eat, they crawled under the shelter
of the biplane's ample wings, and dropped instantly into the long and
dreamless sleep of utter weariness.
Mid-morning found them, still lame and stiff but rested, cooking
breakfast over a cheery fire on the beach near the machine. Save for
here and there a tree that had blown down in the forest, some dead
branches scattered on the sands, and a few washed-out places where the
torrent of yesterday's rain had gullied the earth, nature once more
seemed fair and calm.
The full force of the terrific wind-storm had probably passed to
northward; this land where they now found themselves—whatever it might
be—had doubtless borne only a small part of the attack. But even so,
and even through the sky gleamed clear and blue and sunlit once again,
Stern and the girl knew the hurricane had been no ordinary tempest.
“It must have been a cyclone, nothing less,” judged the engineer, as
he finished his meal and reached for his comforting pipe. “And God
knows where it's driven us to! So far as judging distances goes, in a
hurricane like that it's impossible. This may be any one of the Great
Lakes; and, again, it may not. For all we know, we may be up in the
Hudson Bay region somewhere. This may be Winnipeg, Athabasca, or Great
Slave. With the kind of storms that happen nowadays, anything's
“Nothing matters, after all,” the girl assured him, “except that
we're alive and unhurt; and the machine can still travel, for—”
“Travel!” cried Stern. “With about a quart of fuel or less! How far,
I'd like to know?”
“That's so; I never thought of that!” the girl replied, dismayed.
“Oh, dear, what shall we do now?”
“Hunt for a town, of course,” he reassured her. “There, there, don't
worry! If we find alcohol, we're all right, anyhow. If not, we're
better off than we were after the maelstrom almost got us, at any rate.
Then we had no arms, ammunition, tools, or means to make fire, while
now we've got them all. Forgive my speaking as I did, little girl.
Don't worry—everything will come right in the end.”
Reassured, she sat before the fire, and for an hour or more they
drew maps and diagrams in the sand, made plans, and laid out their next
step in this long campaign against the savage power of a deserted
At last, their minds made up, they wheeled the plane back to the
forest, where Stern cut out among the trees a space for its protection.
And, leaving it here, covered with branches of the thick-topped
fern-tree, they took provisions and once more set out on their
But this time they had an ax and their two rifles, and as they
strode northward along the shore they felt a match for any peril.
An hour's walk brought them to the ruins of a steel recreation-pier,
with numerous traces of a town along the lake behind it.
“That settles the Hudson Bay theory,” Stern rejoiced, as they
wandered among the debris. “This is certainly one of the Great Lakes,
though which one, of course, we can't tell as yet. And now if we can
round up some alcohol we'll be on our way before very long.”
They found no alcohol, for the only ruin where drugs or liquors had
evidently been sold had caved in, a mass of shattered brickwork,
smashing every bottle in the place. Stern found many splintered shards
of glass; but that was all, so far as fuel was concerned. He discovered
something else, however, that proved of tremendous value—the wreck of
Presses and iron of all kind had gone to pieces, but some of the
larger lead types and quads still were recognizable. And, the crucial
thing, he turned up a jagged bit of stereotype-sheet from under the
protection of a concrete plinth that had fallen into the cellar.
All corroded and discolored though it was, he still could make out a
“A newspaper head, so help me!” he exclaimed, as with a trembling
finger he pointed the letters out to Beatrice: “Here's an 'H'—here's
'mbur'—here's 'aily,' and 'ronicl'! Eh, what? 'Chronicle,' it must
have been! By Jove, you're right! And the whole thing used to spell
'Hamburg Daily Chronicle,' or I'm a liar!”
He thought a moment—thought hard—then burst out:
“Hamburg, eh? Hamburg, by a big lake? Well, the only Hamburg by a
lake that I know of used to be Hamburg, New York. I ought to remember.
I drew the plans for the New York Central bridge, just north of here,
over the Spring Creek ravine.
“Yes, sir, this certainly is Hamburg, New York. And this lake must
be Erie. Now, if I'm correct, just back up there on that hill we'll
find the remains of the railway cut, and less than ten miles north of
here lies all that's left of Buffalo. Some luck, eh? Cast away, only
fifteen miles or so from a place like that. And we might have gone to
Great Bear Lake, or to—h-m!—to any other place, for all the cyclone
“Well, come on now, let's see if the railway cut is still there, and
my old bridge; and if so, it's Buffalo for ours!”
It was all as he had said. The right-of-way of the railroad still
showed distinctly, in spite of the fact that ties and rails had long
since vanished. Of the bridge nothing was left but some rusted steel
stringers lying entangled about the disintegrated concrete piers. But
Stern viewed them with a melancholy pride and interest—his own
handiwork in the very long ago.
They had no time, however, for retrospection; but, once more taking
the shore, kept steadily northward. And before noon they reached the
debris of Buffalo, stark and deserted by the lake where once its busy
commerce and its noisy life had thronged. By four o'clock that
afternoon they had collected fuel enough for the plane to do that
distance on, and more. Late that night they were again back at the spot
where they had landed the night before.
And here, in high spirits and with every hope of better fortune now
to follow evil, they cooked their meal and spent an hour in planning
their next move, then slept the sleep of well-earned rest.
They had now decided to abandon the idea of visiting Boston. This
seeming change of front was not without its good reasons.
“We're half-way to Chicago as it is,” Stern summed up next morning.
“Conditions are probably similar all along the Atlantic coast; there's
no life to be found there: On the other hand, if we strike for the West
there's at least a chance of running across survivors. If we don't find
them there, then we probably sha'n't find them anywhere. In Chicago we
can live and restock for further explorations, and as for locating a
telescope, the University of Chicago ruins are as promising as those of
Harvard. Chicago, by all means!”
They set out at nine o'clock, and, having made a good start, reached
Buffalo by twenty minutes past, flying easily along the shore at not
more than five hundred feet elevation.
Gaily the lake sparkled and wimpled in the morning sun, unvexed now
by any steamer's prow, unshaded by any smoke from cities or roaring
mills along its banks.
Despite the lateness of the season, the morning was warm; a mild
breeze swayed the treetops and set the little whitecaps foaming here
and there over the broad expanse of blue. Beatrice and Stern felt the
joy of life reborn in them at that sight.
“Magnificent!” cried the engineer. “Now for a swing up past Niagara,
and we're off!”
The river, they found as the plane swept onward, had dwindled to a
brook that they could almost leap across. The rapids now were but a
dreary waste of blackened rocks, and the Falls themselves, dry save for
a desolate trickle down past Goat Island, presented a spectacle of
death—the death of the world as Beatrice and Stern had known it, which
depressed them both.
That this tremendous cataract could vanish thus; that the gorge and
the great Falls which for uncounted centuries had thundered to the rush
and tumult of the mighty waters could now lie mute and dry and
lifeless, saddened them both beyond measure.
And they were glad when, with a wide sweep of her wings, the
Pauillac veered to westward again along the north shore of Lake Erie
and settled into the long run of close on two hundred and fifty miles
to Detroit, where Stern counted on making his first stop.
Without mishap, yet without sighting a single indication of the
presence of man, they coasted down the shore and ate their dinner on
the banks of Lake Saint Clair, near the ruins of Windsor, with those of
Detroit on the opposite side. For some reason or other, impossible to
solve, the current now ran northward toward Huron, instead of south to
Erie. But this phenomenon they could do little more than merely note,
for time lacked to give it any serious study.
Mid-afternoon found them getting under way again westbound.
“Chicago next,” said Stern, making some slight but necessary
adjustment of the air-feed in the carburetor. “And here's hoping
there'll be some natives to greet us!”
“Amen to that!” answered the girl. “If any life has survived at all,
it ought to be on the great central plain of the country, say from
Indiana out through Nebraska. But do you know, Allan, if it should come
right down to meeting any of our own kind of people—savages, of
course, I mean, but white—I really believe I'd be awfully afraid of
them. Imagine white savages dressed in skins—”
“Like us!” interrupted Stern, laughing.
“And painted with woad, whatever woad is; I remember reading about
it in the histories of England; all the early Britons used it. And
carrying nice, knobby stone creeks to stave in our heads! It would
be nice to meet a hundred or a thousand of them, eh? Rather a different
matter from dealing with a horde of those anthropoid creatures, I
Stern only smiled, then answered:
“Well, I'll take my chances with 'em. Better a fight, say I,
with my own kind, than solitude like this—you and I all alone, girl,
getting old some time and dying with never a hand-clasp save perhaps
such as it may please fate to give us from whatever children are to be.
But come, come, girl. No time for gloomy speculations of trouble. In
you get now, and off we go—westward bound again.”
Only half an hour out of Detroit it was that they first became aware
of some strange disturbance of the horizon, some inexplicable
appearance such as neither of them had ever seen, a phenomenon so
peculiar that, though both observed it at about the same time, neither
Stern could believe his own senses nor Beatrice hers.
For all at once it seemed to them the sky-line was drawing suddenly
nearer; it seemed that the horizon was approaching at high speed.
The dark, untrodden forest mass still stretched away, away, until it
vanished against the dim blue of the sky; but now, instead of that
meeting-line being forty miles off, it seemed no farther than twenty,
and minute by minute it indubitably was rushing toward them with a
speed equal to their own.
Stern, puzzled and alarmed at this unusual sight, felt an impulse to
slow, to swerve, to test the apparition in some way; but second thought
convinced him it must be deception of some sort.
“Some peculiar state of the atmosphere,” thought he, “or perhaps
we're approaching a high ridge, on the other side of which lie clouds
that cut away the farther view. Or else—no, hang it! the world seems
to end right there, with no clouds to veil it—nothing, only—what?”
He saw the girl pointing in alarm. She, too, was clearly stirred by
What to do? Stern felt indecision for the first time since he had
started on this long, adventurous journey. Shut off and descend?
Impossible among those forests. Swing about and return? Not to be
thought of. Keep on and meet perils perhaps undreamed of? Yes—at all
hazards he would keep on.
And with a tightening of the jaw he drove the Pauillac onward, ever
onward—toward the empty space that yawned ahead.
“End o' the world?” thought he. “All right, the old machine is good
for it, and so are we. Here goes!”
CHAPTER XX. ON THE LIP OF THE CHASM
Very near, now, was the strange apparition. On, on, swift as a
falcon, the plane hurtled. Stern glanced at Beatrice. Never had he seen
her more beautiful. About her face, rosy and full of life, the
luxuriant loose hair was whipping. Her eyes sparkled with this new
excitement, and on her full red lips a smile betrayed her keen
enjoyment. No trace of fear was there—nothing but confidence and
strength and joy in the adventure.
The phenomenon of the world's end—for nothing else describes it
adequately—now appeared distinctly as a jagged line, beyond which
nothing showed. It differed from the horizon line, inasmuch as it was
close at hand. Already the adventurers could peer down upon it at an
Plainly could they see the outlines of trees growing along the
verge. But beyond them, nothing.
It differed essentially from a canyon, because there was no other
side at all. Strain his eye as he might, Stern could detect no opposite
wall. And now, realizing something of the possibilities of such a
chasm, he swung the Pauillac southward. Flying parallel to the edge of
this tremendous barrier, he sought to solve the mystery of its true
“If I go higher, perhaps I may be able to get some notion of it,”
thought he, and swinging up-wind, he spiraled till the barometer showed
he had gained another thousand feet.
But even this additional view profited him nothing. Half a mile to
westward the ragged tree-line still showed as before, with vacancy
behind it, and as far as Stern could see to north, to south, it
stretched away till the dim blue of distance swallowed it. Yet,
straight across the gulf, no land appeared. Only the sky itself was
visible there, as calm and as unbroken as in the zenith, yet extending
far below where the horizon-line should have been—down, in fact, to
where the tree-line cut it off from Stern's vision.
The effect was precisely that of coming to the edge of a vast plain,
beyond which nothing lay, save space, and peering over.
“The end of the world, indeed!” thought the engineer, despite
himself. “But what can it mean? What can have happened to the sphere to
have changed it like this? Good Heavens, what a marvel—what a
Determined at all hazards to know more of this titanic break or
“fault,” or whatsoever it might be, he banked again, and now, on a
descending slant, veered down toward the lip of the chasm.
“Going out over it?” cried Beatrice.
“It may be miles deep!”
“You can't get killed any deader falling a hundred miles than you
can a hundred feet!” he shouted back, above the droning racket of the
And with a fresh grip on the wheel, head well forward, every sense
alert and keen to meet whatever conditions might arise, to battle with
cross-currents, “air-holes,” or any other vortices swirling up out of
those unknown depths, he skimmed the Pauillac fair toward the lip of
the monstrous vacancy.
Now as they rushed almost above the verge he could see conclusively
they were not dealing here with a canyon like the Yosemite or like any
other he had ever seen or heard of in the old days.
There was positively no bottom to the terrific thing!
Just a sheer edge and beyond that—nothing.
Nowhere any sign of an opposite bank; nowhere the faintest trace of
land. Far, far below, even a few faint clouds showed floating there as
if in mid-heaven.
The effect was ghastly, unnerving and altogether terrible. Not that
Stern feared height. No, it was the unreality of the experience, the
inexplicable character of this yawning edge of the world that almost
Only by a strong exercise of will-power could he hold the biplane to
her course. His every instinct was to veer, to retreat back to solid
earth, and land somewhere, and once more, at all hazards, get the
contact of reality.
But Stern resisted all these impulses, and now already had driven
the Pauillac right to the lip of the vast nothingness.
Now they were over!
“My God!” he cried, stunned by the realization of this thing. “Sheer
space! No bottom anywhere!”
For all at once they had shot, as it were, out into a void which
seemed to hold no connection at all with the earth they now were
Stern caught a glimpse of the tall forest growing up to within a
hundred yards of the edge, then of smaller trees, dwindling to bushes
and grasses, and strange red sand that bordered the gap—sand and
rocks, barren as though some up-draft from the void had killed off
vegetable growth along the very brink.
Then all slid back and away. The red-ribbed wall of the great chasm,
shattered and broken as by some inconceivable disaster, some cosmic
cataclysm, fell away and away, downward, dimmer and more dim, until it
faded gradually into a blue haze, then vanished utterly.
And there below lay nothingness—and nothingness stretched out in
front to where the sight lost itself in pearly vapors that overdimmed
Beatrice glanced at Stern as the Pauillac sped true as an arrow in
its flight, out into this strange and incomprehensible vacuity.
Just a shade paler now he seemed. Despite the keen wind, a glister
of sweat-drops studded his forehead. His jaw was set, set hard; she
could see the powerful maxillary muscles knotted there where the
throat-cords met the angle of the bone. And she understood that, for
the first time since their tremendous adventure had begun, the man felt
shaken by this latest and greatest of all the mysteries they had been
called upon to face.
Already the verge lay far behind; and now the sense of empty space
above and on all sides and there below was overpowering.
Stern gasped with a peculiar choking sound. Then all at once,
throwing the front steering plane at an angle, he brought the machine
about and headed for the distant land.
He spoke no word, nor did she; but they both swept the edge of the
chasm with anxious eyes, seeking a place to light.
It was with tremendous relief that they both saw the solid earth
once more below them. And when, five minutes later, having chosen a
clear and sand-barren on the verge, some two miles southward along the
abyss, Stern brought the machine to earth, they felt a gratitude and a
relief not to be voiced in words.
“By Jove!” exclaimed the man, lifting Beatrice from the seat, “if
that isn't enough to shake a man's nerve and upset all his ideas,
geological or otherwise, I'd like to know what is!”
“Going to try to cross it?” she asked anxiously; “that is, if there
is any other side? I know, of course, that if there is you'll find out,
some way or other!”
“You overestimate me,” he replied. “All I can do, for now, is to
camp down here and try to figure the problem out—with your help.
Whatever this thing is, it's evident it stands between us and our plan.
Either Chicago lies on the other side—(provided, of course, as you
say, that there is one)—or else it's been swallowed up, ages ago, by
whatever catastrophe produced this yawning gulf.
“In either event we've got to try to discover the truth, and act
accordingly. But for now, there's nothing we can do. It's getting late
already. We've had enough for one day, little girl. Come on, let's make
the machine ready for the night, and camp down here and have a bite to
eat. Perhaps by to-morrow we may know just what we're up against!”
The moon had risen, flooding the world with spectral light, before
the two adventurers had finished their meal. All during it they had
kept an unusual silence. The presence of that terrible gulf, there not
two hundred feet away to westward of them, imposed its awe upon their
And after the meal was done, by tacit understanding they refrained
from trying to approach it or to peer over. Too great the risks by
night. They spoke but little, and presently exhausted by the trying
events of the day—sought sleep under the vanes of the Pauillac.
But for an hour, tired as he was, the engineer lay thinking of the
chasm, trying in vain to solve its problem or to understand how they
were to follow any further the search for the ruins of Chicago, where
fuel was to be had, or carry on the work of trying to find some living
members of the human race.
Morning found them revived and strengthened. Even before they made
their fire or prepared their breakfast they were exploring along the
edge of the gigantic cleft.
Going first to make sure no rock should crumble under the girl's
tread, no danger threaten, Stern tested every foot of the way to the
very edge of the sheer chasm.
“Slowly, now!” he cautioned, taking her hand. “We've got to be
careful here. My God, what a drop!”
Awed, despite themselves, they stood there on a flat slab of schist
that projected boldly over the void. Seen from this point, the immense
nothingness opened out below them even more terrible than it had seemed
from the biplane.
The fact is common knowledge that a height, viewed from a balloon or
aeroplane, is always far less dizzying than from a lofty building or a
monument. Giddiness vanishes when no solid support lies under the feet.
This fact Stern and the girl appreciated to the full as they peered
over the edge. Ten times more ominous and frightful the vast blue
mystery beneath them now appeared than it had seemed before.
“Let's look sheer down,” said the girl. “By lying flat and peering
over, there can't be any danger.”
“All right, but only on condition that I keep tight hold of you!”
Cautiously they lay down and worked their way to the edge. The
engineer circled Beta's supple waist with his arm.
“Steady, now!” he warned. “When you feel giddy, let me know, and
we'll go back.”
The effect of the chasm, from the very edge of the rock, was
terrifying. It was like nothing ever seen by human eyes. Peering down
into the Grand Canyon of the Colorado would have been child's play
beside it. For this was no question of looking down a half-mile, a
mile, or even five, to some solid bottom.
Bottom there was none—nothing save dull purple haze, shifting
vapors, and an unearthly dim light which seemed to radiate upward as
though the sun's rays, reflected, were striving to beat up again.
“There must be miles and miles of air below us,” said Stern, “to
account for this curious light-effect. Air, of course, will eventually
cut off the vision. Given a sufficiently thick layer, say a few hundred
miles, it couldn't be seen through. So if there is a bottom to
this place, be it one hundred or even five hundred miles down, of
course we couldn't see it. All we could see would be the air, which
would give this sort of blue effect.”
“Yes; but in that case how can we see the sun, or the moon, or
“Light from above only has to pierce forty or fifty miles of really
dense air. Above that height it's excessively rarified. While down
below earth-level, of course, it would get more and more dense all the
time, till at the bottom of a five-hundred-mile drop the density and
pressure would be tremendous.”
Beatrice made no answer. The spectacle she was gazing at filled her
with solemn thoughts. Jagged, rent and riven, the rock extended
downward. Here vast and broken ledges ran along its flanks—red,
yellow, black, all seared and burned and vitrified as by the fire of
Hell; there huge masses, up-piled, seemed about to fall into the abyss.
A quarter-mile to southward, a rivulet had found its way over a
projecting ledge. Spraying and silvery it fell, till, dissipated by the
up-draft from the abyss, it dissolved in mist.
The ledge on which they were lying extended downward perhaps three
hundred yards, then sloped backward, leaving sheer empty space beneath
them. They seemed to be poised in mid-heaven. It was totally unlike the
sensation on a mountain-top, or even floating among the clouds; for a
moment it seemed to Stern that he was looking up toward an
unfathomable, infinite dome above him.
He shuddered, despite his cool and scientific spirit of observation.
“Some chemical action going on somewhere down there,” said he, half
to divert his own attention from his thoughts. “Smell that sulphur? If
this place wasn't once the scene of volcanic activities, I'm no judge!”
A moderate yet very steady wind blew upward from the chasm,
freighted with a scent of sulphur and some other substance new to
Beatrice, all at once overcome by sudden giddiness, drew back and
hid her face in both hands.
“No bottom to it—no end!” she said in a scared tone. “Here's the
end of the world, right here, and beyond this very rock—nothing!”
Stern, puzzled, shook his head.
“That's really impossible, absurd and ridiculous, of course,” he
answered. “There must be something beyond. The way this stone
falls proves that.”
He pitched a two-pound lump of granite far out into the air. It fell
vertically, whirling, and vanished with the speed of a meteor.
“If a whole side of the earth had split off, and what we see down
below there were really sky, of course the earth's center of gravity
would have shifted,” he explained, “and that rock would have fallen in
toward the cliff below us, not straight down.”
“How can you be sure it doesn't fall that way after the impulse you
gave it has been lost?”
“I shall have to make some close scientific tests here, lasting a
day or two, before I'm positive; but my impression is that this, after
all, is only a canyon—a split in the surface—rather than an actual
end of the crust.”
“But if it were a canyon, why should blue sky show down there at an
angle of forty-five degrees?”
“I'll have to think that out, later,” he replied. “Directly under
us, you see all seems deep purple. That's another fact to consider. I
tell you, Beatrice, there's more to be figured out here than can be
done in half an hour.
“As I see it, some vast catastrophe must have rent the earth, a
thousand or fifteen hundred years ago, as a result of which everybody
was killed except you and me. We're standing now on the edge of the
scar left by that explosion, or whatever it was. How deep or how wide
that scar is, I don't know. Everything depends on our finding out, or
at least on our guessing it with some degree of accuracy.”
“Because, don't you see, this chasm stands between us and Chicago
and the West, and all our hopes of finding human life there. And—”
“Why not coast south along the edge here, and see if we can't run
across some ruined city or other where we can refill the tanks?”
“I'll think it over,” the engineer answered. “In the meantime we can
camp down here a couple of days or so, and rest; and I can make some
calculations with a pendulum and so on.”
“And if you decide there's probably another side to this gulf, what
“We cross,” he said; then for a while stood silent, musing as he
peered down into the bottomless abyss that stretched there hungrily
beneath their narrow observation-rock.
“We cross, that's all!”
CHAPTER XXI. LOST IN THE GREAT ABYSS
For two days they camped beside the chasm, resting, planning,
discussing, while Stern, with improvised transits, pendulums and other
apparatus, made tests and observations to determine, if possible, the
properties of the great gap.
During this time they developed some theories regarding the
catastrophe which had swept the world a thousand years ago.
“It seems highly and increasingly probable to me,” the engineer
said, after long thought, “that we have here the actual cause of the
vast blight of death that left us two alone in the world. I rather
think that at the time of the great explosion which produced this rent,
certain highly poisonous gases were thrown off, to impregnate the
entire atmosphere of the world. Everybody must have been killed at
once. The poison must have swept the earth clean of human life.”
“But how did we escape?” asked the girl.
“That's hard telling. I figure it this way: The mephitic gas
probably was heavy and dense, thus keeping to the lower air-strata,
following them, over plain and hill and mountain, like a blanket of
“Just what happened to us, who can tell? Probably, tightly housed up
there in the tower, the very highest inhabited spot in the world, only
a very slight infiltration of the gas reached us. If my theory won't
work, can you suggest a better one? Frankly, I can't; and until we have
more facts, we've got to take what we have. No matter, the condition
remains—we're alive and all the rest are dead; and I'm positive this
cleft here is the cause of it.”
“But if everybody's dead, as you say, why hunt for men?”
“Perhaps a handful may have survived among the highlands of the
Rockies. I imagine that after the first great explosion there followed
a series of terrible storms, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves
and so on. You remember how I found the bones of a whale in lower
Broadway; and many of the ruins in New York show the action of the
sea—they're laid flat in such a manner as to indicate that the island
was washed on one or two occasions by monster waves.
“Well, all these disturbances probably finished up what few
survivors escaped, except possibly among the mountains of the West. A
few scattered colonies may have survived a while—mining camps, for
instance, or isolated prospectors, or what-not. They may all have died
out, or again, they may have come together and reestablished some
primitive form of barbarous or even savage life by this time. There's
no telling. Our imperative problem is to reach that section and explore
it thoroughly. For there, if anywhere, we'll find survivors of our
“How about that great maelstrom that nearly got us?” asked the
girl.” Can you connect that with the catastrophe?”
“I think so. My idea is that, in some way or other, the sea is being
sucked down into the interior of the earth and then hurled out again;
maybe there's a gradual residue being left; maybe a great central lake
or sea has formed. Who knows? At any rate all the drainage system of
the country seems to have been changed and reversed in the most curious
and unaccountable manner. I think we should find, if we could
investigate everything thoroughly, that this vast chasm here is
intimately connected with the whole thing.”
These and many other questions perplexed the travelers, but most of
all they sought to know the breadth of the vast gap and to determine if
it had, as they hoped, another side, or if it were indeed the edge of
an enormous mass split bodily off the earth.
Stern believed he had an answer to this problem on the afternoon of
the second day. For many hours he had hung his pendulums over the
cliff, noted deflections, taken triangulations, and covered the surface
of the smooth stone with X's, Y's, Z's, sines and cosines and abstruse
formulae—all scrawled with charcoal, his only means of writing.
At last he finished the final equation, and, with a smile of triumph
and relief, got to his feet again.
Back to the girl, who was cooking over an odorous fire of cedar, he
made his way, rejoicing.
“I've got it!” he shouted gladly. “Making reasonable allowances for
depth, I've got it!”
“The probable width!”
“Oh!” And she stood gazing at him in admiration, beautiful and
strong and graceful. “You mean to say—”
“I'm giving the chasm a hundred miles' depth. That's more than
anybody could believe possible—twice as much. On that assumption, my
tests show the distance to the other side—and there is another side,
by the way!—can't be over—”
“Five hundred miles?”
“Nonsense! Not over one hundred to one-fifty. I'm going on a liberal
allowance for error, too. It may not be over seventy-five. The—”
“But if that's as far as it is, why can't we see the other side?”
“With all that chemicalized vapor rising constantly? Who knows what
elements may be in it? Or what polarization may be taking place?”
“I mean, what deflection and alteration of light? No wonder we can't
see! But we can fly! And we're going to, what's more!”
“Going to make a try for Chicago, then?” she asked, her eyes
lighting up joyfully at thought of the adventure.
“To-morrow morning, sure!”
“But the alcohol?”
“We've still got what we started with from Detroit, minus only what
we've burned reaching this place. And we reckoned when we set out that
it would far more than be enough. Oh, that part of it's all right!”
“Well, you know best,” she answered. “I trust you in all things,
Allan. But now just look at this roast partridge; come, dear, let
to-morrow take care of itself. It's supper-time now!”
After the meal they went to the flat rock and sat for an hour while
the sun went down beyond the void. Its disappearance seemed to
substantiate the polarization theory. There was no sudden obliteration
of the disk by a horizon. Rather the sun faded away, redder and duller;
then slowly losing form and so becoming a mere blur of crimson, which
in turn grew purple and so gradually died away to nothing.
For a long time they sat in the deepening gloom, their rifles close
at hand, saying little, but thinking much. The coming of night had
sobered them to a sense of what now inevitably lay ahead. The solemn
purple pall that adumbrated the world and the huge nothingness before
them, so silent, so immutable and pregnant with terrible mysteries,
brought them close together.
The vague, untrodden forest behind them, where the night-sounds of
the wild dimly reechoed now and then, filled them with indefinable
emotions. And that night sleep was slow in coming.
Each realized that, despite all calculations and all skill, the
morrow might be their last day of life. But the morning light, golden
and clear above the eastern sky-line of tall conifers, dispelled all
brooding fears. They were both up early and astir, in preparation for
the crucial flight. Stern went over the edge of the chasm, while
Beatrice prepared breakfast, and made some final observations of wind,
air currents and atmosphere density.
An eagle which he saw soaring over the abyss, more than half a mile
from its edge, convinced him a strong upward current existed to-day, as
on the day when they had made their short flight over the void. The
bird soared and circled and finally shot away to northward, without a
wing-flap, almost in the manner of a vulture. Stern knew an eagle could
not imitate the feat without some aid in the way of an up-draft.
“And if that draft is steady and constant all the way across,”
thought he, “it will result in a big saving of fuel. Given a sufficient
rising current, we could volplane all the way across with a very slight
expenditure of alcohol. It looks now as though everything were coming
on first-rate. Couldn't be better. And what a day for an excursion!”
By nine o'clock all was ready. Along the land a mild south wind was
blowing. Though the day was probably the 5th of October or thereabout,
no signs of autumn yet were blazoned in the forest. The morning was
perfect, and the travelers' spirits rose in unison with the abounding
beauty of the day.
Stern had given the Pauillac another final going over, tightening
the stays and laterals, screwing up here a loosened nut, there a bolt,
making certain all was in perfect order.
At nine-fifteen, after he had had a comforting pipe, they made a
clean getaway, rising along the edge of the chasm, then soaring in huge
“I want all the altitude I can get,” Stern shouted at the girl as
they climbed steadily higher. “We may need it to coast on. And from a
mile or two up maybe we can get a glimpse of the other side.”
But though they ascended till the aneroid showed eight thousand five
hundred feet, nothing met their gaze but the same pearly blue vapor
which veiled the mystery before them. And Stern, satisfied now that
nothing could be gained by any further ascent, turned the machine due
west, and sent her skimming like a swallow out over the tremendous
As the earth faded behind them they began to feel distinctly a warm
and pungent wind that rose beneath—a steady current, as from some huge
chimney that lazily was pouring out its monstrous volume of hot vapors.
Away and away behind them slid the lip of this gigantic gash across
the world; and now already with the swift rush of the plane the solid
earth had begun to fade and to grow dim.
Stern only cast a glance at the sun and at his compass, hung there
in gimbals before him, and with firm hand steadied the machine for the
long problematical flight to westward. Behind them the sun kept even
with their swift pace; and very far below and ahead, at times they
thought to see the fleeing shadow of the biplane cast now and then on
masses of formless vapor that rose from the unsounded deeps.
Definitely committed now to this tremendous venture, both Stern and
the girl settled themselves more firmly in their seats. No time to feel
alarm, no time for introspection, or for thoughts of what might lie
below, what fate theirs must be if the old Pauillac failed them now!
No time save for confidence in the stout mechanism and in the skill
of hand and brain that was driving the great planes, with a roaring
rush like a gigantic gull, a swooping rise and fall in long arcs over
the hills of air, across the vast enigma of that space!
Stern's whole attention was fixed on driving, just on the
manipulation of the swift machine. Exhaust and interplay, the rhythm of
each whirling cam and shaft, the chatter of the cylinders, the droning
diapason of the blades, all blent into one intricate yet perfect
harmony of mechanism; and as a leader knows each instrument in the
great orchestra and follows each, even as his eye reads the score, so
Stern's keen ear analyzed each sound and action and reaction and knew
all were in perfect tune and resonance.
The machine—no early and experimental model, such as were used in
the first days of flying, from 1900 to 1915, but one of the perfected
and self-balancing types developed about 1920, the year when the Great
Death had struck the world—responded nobly to his skill and care. From
her landing-skids to the farthest tip of her ailerons she seemed alive,
instinct with conscious and eager intelligence.
Stern blessed her mentally with special pride and confidence in her
mercury equalizing balances. Proud of his machine and of his skill,
superb like Phaeton whirling the sun-chariot across the heavens, he
gave her more and still more speed.
Below nothing, nothing save vapors, with here and there an open
space where showed the strange dull purple of the abyss. Above, to
right, to left, nothing—absolute vacant space.
Gone now was all sight of the land that they had left. Unlike
balloonists who always see dense clouds or else the earth, they now saw
nothing. All alone with the sun that rushed behind them in their
skimming flight, they fled like wraiths across the emptiness of the
Stern glanced at the barometer, and grunted with surprise.
“H'm! Twelve thousand four hundred and fifty feet—and I've been
jockeying to come down at least five hundred feet already!” thought he.
“How the devil can that be?”
The explanation came to him. But it surprised him almost as much as
the noted fact.
“Must be one devil of a wind blowing up out of that place,” he
pondered, “to carry us up nearly four thousand feet, when I've been
trying to descend. Well, it's all right, anyhow—it all helps.”
He looked at the spinning anemometer. It registered a speed of
ninety-seven miles an hour. Yet now that they were out of sight of any
land, only the rush of the wind and the enormous vibration of the plane
conveyed an idea of motion. They might as well have been hung in
mid-space, like Mohammed's tomb, as have been rushing forward; there
was no visible means of judging what their motion really might be.
“Unique experience in the history of mankind!” shouted Stern to the
girl. “The world's invisible to us.”
She nodded and smiled back at him, her white teeth gleaming in the
strange, bluish light that now enveloped them.
Stern, keenly attentive to the engine, advanced the spark another
notch, and now the needle crept to 102 1/2.
“We'll be across before we know it,” thought he. “At this rate, I
shouldn't be surprised to sight land any minute now.”
A quarter-hour more the Pauillac swooped along, cradling in her
swift flight to westward.
But all at once the man started violently. Forward he bent, staring
with widened eyes at the tube of the fuel-gage.
He blinked, as though to convince himself he had not seen aright,
then stared again; and as he looked a sudden grayness overspread his
“What?” he exclaimed, then raised his head and for a moment
sniffed, as though to catch some odor, elusive yet ominous, which he
had for some time half sensed yet paid no heed to.
Then suddenly he knew the truth; and with a cry of fear bent,
peering at the fuel-tank.
There, quivering suspended from the metal edge of the aluminum tank,
hung a single clear white drop—alcohol!
Even as Stern looked it fell, and at once another took its place,
and was shaken off only to be succeeded by a third, a fourth, a fifth!
The man understood. The ancient metal, corroded almost through from
the inside, had been eaten away. That very morning a hole had formed in
the tank. And now a leak—existing since what moment he could not
tell—was draining the very life-blood of the machine.
“The alcohol!” cried Stern in a hoarse, terrible voice, his wide
eyes denoting his agitation. With a quivering hand he pointed.
“My God! It's all leaked out—there's not a quart left in the tank!
We're lost—lost in the bottomless abyss!”
CHAPTER XXII. LIGHTS!
At realization of the ghastly situation that confronted them,
Stern's heart stopped beating for a moment. Despite his courage, a sick
terror gripped his soul; he felt a sudden weakness, and in his ears the
rushing wind seemed shouting mockeries of death.
As in a dream he felt the girl's hand close in fear upon his arm, he
heard her crying something—but what, he knew not.
Then all at once he fought off the deadly horror. He realized that
now, if ever, he needed all his strength, resource, intelligence. And,
with a violent effort, he flung off his weakness. Again he gripped the
wheel. Thought returned. Though the end might be at hand, thank God for
even a minute's respite!
Again he looked at the indicator.
Yes, only too truly it showed the terrible fact! No hallucination,
this. Not much more than a pint of the precious fluid now lay in the
fuel tank. And though the engine still roared, he knew that in a minute
or two it must slacken, stop and die.
Even as the question flashed to him, the engine barked its protest.
It skipped, coughed, stuttered. Too well he knew the symptoms, the
imperative cry: “More fuel!”
But he had none to give. In vain for him to open wide the supply
valve. Vain to adjust the carburetor. Even as he made a despairing,
instinctive motion to perform these useless acts—while Beatrice,
deathly pale and shaking with terror, clutched at him—the engine spat
forth a last, convulsive bark, and grew silent.
The whirling screws hummed a lower note, then ceased their song and
came to rest.
The machine lurched forward, swooped, spiraled, and with a sickening
rush, a flailing tumult of the stays and planes, plunged into
Had Stern and the girl not been securely strapped to their seats,
they must have been precipitated into space by the violent, erratic
dashes, drops, swerves and rushes of the uncontrolled Pauillac.
For a moment or two, instinctively despite the knowledge that it
could do no good, Stern wrenched at the levers. A thousand confused,
wild, terrible impressions surged upon his consciousness.
Swifter, swifter dropped the plane; and now the wind that seemed to
rise had grown to be a hurricane! Its roaring in their ears was
deafening. They had to fight even for breath itself.
Beatrice was leaning forward now, sheltering her face in the hollow
of her arm. Had she fainted? Stern could not tell. He still was
fighting with the mechanism, striving to bring it into some control.
But, without headway, it defied him. And like a wounded hawk, dying
even as it struggled, the Pauillac staggered wildly down the unplumbed
How long did the first wild drop last? Stern knew not. He realized
only that, after a certain time, he felt a warm sensation; and,
looking, perceived that they were now plunging through vapors that sped
upward—so it seemed—with vertiginous rapidity.
No sensation now was there of falling. All motion seemed to lie in
the uprushing vapors, dense and warm and pale violet in hue. A vast and
rhythmic spiraling had possessed the Pauillac. As you have seen a
falling leaf turn in air, so the plane circled, boring with terrific
speed down, down, down through the mists, down into the unknown!
Nothing to be seen but vapors. No solid body, no land, no earth to
mark their fall and gauge it. Yet slowly, steadily, darkness was
shrouding them. And Stern, breathing with great difficulty even in the
shelter of his arms, could now hardly more than see as a pale blur the
white face of the girl beside him.
The vast wings of the machine, swirling, swooping, plunging down,
loomed hugely vague in the deepening shadows. Dizzy, sick with the
monstrous caroming through space, deafened by the thunderous roaring of
the up-draft, Stern was still able to retain enough of his scientific
curiosity to peer upward. The sun! Could he still see it?
Vanished utterly was now the glorious orb! There, seeming to circle
round and round in drunken spirals, he beheld a weird, diffused,
angry-looking blotch of light, tinted a hue different from any ever
seen on earth by men. And involuntarily, at sight of this, he
Already with the prescience of death full upon him, with a numb
despair clutching his soul, he shrank from that ghastly, hideous aspect
of what he knew must be his last sight of the sun.
Around the girl he drew his right arm; she felt his muscles tauten
as he clasped her to him. Useless now, he knew, any further struggles
with the aeroplane. Its speed, its plummetlike drop checked only by the
huge sweep of its parachute wings, Stern knew now it must fall clear to
the bottom of the abyss—if bottom there were. And if not—what then?
Stern dared not think. All human concepts had been shattered by this
stupendous catastrophe. The sickly and unnatural hue of the rushing
vapors that tore and slatted the planes, confused his senses; and,
added to this, a stifling, numbing gas seemed diffused through the
inchoate void. He tried to speak, but could not. Against the girl's
cheek he pressed his own. Hers was cold!
In vain he struggled to cry out. Even had his parched tongue been
able to voice a sound, the howling tempest they themselves were
creating as they fell, would have whipped the shout away and drowned it
in the gloom.
In Stern's ears roared a droning as of a billion hornets. He felt a
vast, tremendous lassitude. Inside his head it seemed as though a huge,
merciless pressure were grinding at his very brain. His breath came
only slowly and with great difficulty.
“My God!” he panted. “Oh, for a little fuel! Oh, for a chance—a
chance to fight—for life!”
But chance there was none, now. Before his eyes there seemed to
darken, to dazzle, a strange and moving curtain. Through it, piercing
it with a supreme effort of the will, he caught dim sight of the dial
of the chronometer. Subconsciously he noted that it marked 11.25.
How long had they been falling? In vain his wavering intelligence
battered at the problem. Now, as in a delirium, he fancied it had been
only minutes; then it seemed hours. Like an insane man he laughed—he
tried to scream—he raved. And only the stout straps that had held them
both prevented him from leaping free of the hurtling machine.
A lashing had given way! Part of the left hand plane had broken
loose. Drunkenly, whirling head over like an albatross shot in mid-air,
the Pauillac plunged.
It righted, swerved, shot far ahead, then once again somersaulted.
Stern had disjointed, crazy thoughts of air-pressure, condensation
and compression, resistance, abstruse formulae. To him it seemed that
some gigantic problem in stress-calculation were being hurled at him,
to solve—it seemed that, blind, deaf, dumb, some sinister and
ghoul-like demon were flailing him until he answered—and that he could
He had a dim realization of straining madly at his straps till the
veins started big and swollen in his hammering brows. Then
Lapsed, yet came again—and with it pain. An awful pain in the
ear-drums, that roared and crackled without cease.
Breath! He was fighting for breath!
It was a nightmare—a horrible dream of darkness and a mighty
booming wind—a dream of stifling vapors and an endless void that
sucked them down, down, down, eternally!
Delusions came, and mocking visions of safety. Both hands flung out
as though to clutch the roaring gale, he fought the intangible.
Again he lost all knowledge.
And once again—how long after, how could he know?—he came to some
partial realization of tortured existence.
In one of the mad downward rushes—rushes which ended in a long
spiral slant—his staring, bloodshot eyes that sought to pierce the
murk, seemed to behold a glimmer, a dull gleam of light.
The engineer screamed imprecations, mingled with wild, demoniac
“Another hallucination!” was his thought. “But if it's not—if it's
Hell—then welcome, Hell! Welcome even that, for a chance to stop!”
A sweep of the Pauillac hid the light from view. Even that faintest
ray vanished. But—what? It came again! Much nearer now, and brighter!
And—another gleam! Another still! Three of them—and they were real!
With a tremendous effort, Stern fixed his fevered eyes upon the
Up, up at a tremendous rate they seemed speeding. Blue and ghastly
through the dense vapors, spinning in giddy gyrations, as the machine
wheeled, catapulted and slid from one long slant to another, their
relative positions still remained fixed.
And, with a final flicker of intelligence, Stern knew they were no
figment of his brain.
“Lights, Beatrice! Lights, lights, real lights!” he sought to
But even as he fought to shake her from the swoon that wrapped her
senses, his own last fragment of strength deserted him.
He had one final sense impression of a swift upshooting of the
lights, a sudden brightening of those three radiant points.
Then came a sudden gleam as though of waters, black and still.
A gleam, blue and uncanny, across the inky surface of some vast,
mysterious, hidden sea.
Up rushed the lights at him; up rushed the sea of jetty black!
Stern shouted some wild, incoherent thing.
A shock! A frightful impact, swift, sudden, annihilating!
Then in a mad and lashing struggle, all knowledge and all feeling
vanished utterly. And the blackness of oblivion received him into its
CHAPTER XXIII. THE WHITE BARBARIANS
Warmth, wetness, and a knowledge of great weakness—these, joined
with a singular lassitude, oppression of the lungs and stifling of the
breath, were Allan Stern's sensations when conscious life returned.
Pain there was as well. His body felt sorely bruised and shaken. His
first thought, his intense yearning wonder for the girl's welfare and
his sickening fear lest she be dead, mingled with some attempt to
analyze his own suffering; to learn, if possible, what damage he had
taken in flesh and bone.
He tried to move, but found he could not. Even lying inert, as he
now found himself, so great was the exertion to breathe that only by a
fight could he keep the breath of life in his shaken frame.
He opened his eyes.
Light! Could it be? Light in that place?
Yes, the light was real, and it was shining directly in his face.
At first all that his disturbed, half-delirious vision could make
out was a confused bluish glare. But in a moment this resolved itself
into a smoking, blazing cresset. Stern could now distinctly see the
metal bands of the fire-basket in which it lay, as well as a supporting
staff, about five feet long, that seemed to vanish downward in the
And, understanding nothing, filled with vague, half-insane
hallucinations and wild wonders, he tried to struggle upward with a
“Beatrice! Oh, Beatrice—where are you?“
To his intense astonishment, a human hand, bluish in the strange
glare, laid itself upon his breast and pushed him down again.
Above him he saw a face, wrinkled, bearded and ghastly blue. And as
he struggled still he perceived by the unearthly light that a figure
was bending over him.
“A man!” he gulped. “Man! Man! Oh, my God! At last—a man!”
He tried to raise himself upon his elbow, for his whole soul was
flooded with a sudden gratitude and love and joy in presence of that
long-sought goal. But instantly, as soon as his dazed senses could
convey the terrible impression to his brain, his joy was curdled into
blank astonishment and fear and grief.
For to his intense chagrin, strive as he might, he could move
neither hand nor foot!
During his unconsciousness, which had lasted he could not tell how
long, he had been securely bound. And now, awakening slowly, once more,
fighting his way up into consciousness, he found himself a prisoner!
A prisoner! With whom? Among what people—with what purpose?
After the long quest, the frightful hardships and the tremendous fall
into the abyss, a prisoner!
“Merciful God!” groaned Stern, and in his sudden anguish, strained
against the bonds, that drawn tight and fast, were already cutting
painfully into his swollen, water sodden flesh.
In vain did he struggle. Terrible thoughts that Beatrice, too, might
be subjected to this peril and humiliation branded themselves upon his
brain. He shouted wildly, calling her name, with all the force of his
spent lungs; but naught availed. There came no answer but the shrouding
The strange man bent above him, peering from beneath wrinkled brows.
Stern heard a few words in a singular, guttural tone—words rendered
dull by the high compression of the air. What the words might be he
could not tell, yet their general sound seemed strangely familiar and
their command was indubitable.
But, still half-delirious, Stern tried again to stretch up his arms,
to greet this singular being, even as a sick man recovering from
etherization raves and half sees the nurses and doctors, yet dreams
wild visions in the midst of pain.
The man, however, only shook his head, and with a broad, firm hand,
again held the engineer from trying to sit up. Stern, understanding
nothing clearly, relapsed to quietude. To him the thought came: “This
is only another delusion after all!” And then a vast and poignant woe
possessed him—a wonder where the girl might be. But under the
compulsion of that powerful hand, he lay quite still.
Half consciously he seemed to realize that he was lying prone in the
bottom of some strange kind of boat, rude and clumsy, strangely formed
of singular materials, yet safe and dry and ample.
To his laboring nostrils penetrated a rank and pungent odor of fish,
with another the like of which he never had known—an odor not
unpleasant, yet keenly penetrant and all-pervading. Wet through, the
engineer lay reeking in heat and steam, wrapped in his suit of heavy
furs. Then he heard a ripple of water and felt the motion of the craft
as it was driven forward.
Another voice spoke now and the strange man answered briefly. Again
the engineer half seemed to comprehend the meaning, though no word was
“Where's the girl, you?” he shouted with all his might. “What have
you done with her? If you hurt her, damn you, you'll be sorry!
Where—where is she?“
No answer. It was evident that English speech conveyed no meaning to
his captors. Stern relapsed with a groan of anguish and sheer pain.
The boat rocked. Another man came creeping forward, holding to the
gunwale to steady himself. Stern saw him vaguely through the drifting
vapor by the blue-green light of the cresset at the bow.
He was clad in a coarse kind of brownish stuff, like the first,
roughly and loosely woven. His long hair, pure white, was twisted up in
a kind of topknot and fastened there by pins of dull gold. Bearded he
was, but not one hair upon his head or chin was other than silvery
white—a color common to all these folk, as Stern was soon to know.
This man, evidently seeing with perfect clarity by a light which
permitted the engineer only partial vision, also examined Stern and
made speech thereto and nodded with satisfaction.
Then he put half a dozen questions to the prisoner with evident
slowness and an attempt to speak each word distinctly, but nothing came
of this. And with a contemptuous grunt he went back to his paddle.
“Hold on, there!” cried Stern. “Can't you understand? There were two
of us, in a—machine, you know! We fell. Fell from the surface of the
earth—fell all the way down into this pit of hell, whatever it is.
Where's the girl? For God's sake, tell me!“
Neither man paid any heed, but the elder suddenly set hollowed palms
to his lips and hailed; and from across the waters dully drifted
another answering cry.
He shouted a sentence or two with a volume of noise at which the
engineer marveled, for so compressed was the air that Stern's best
effort could hardly throw a sound fifty feet. This characteristic of
the atmosphere he well recognized from work he had often done in bridge
and tunnel caissons. And a wonder possessed him, despite his keen
anxiety, how any race of men could live and grow and develop the
evident physical force of these people under conditions so unnatural.
Turning his head and wrenching his neck sidewise, he was able to
catch a glimpse of the water, over the low gunwale—a gunwale made,
like the framework of the boat itself, of thin metallic strips cleverly
There, approaching through the mists, he got sight of another boat,
also provided with its cresset that flung an uncanny shaft of blue
across the jetty expanse—a boat now drawing near uncles the urge of
half-seen oarsmen. And farther still another torch was visible; and
beyond that a dozen, a score or more, all moving with dim and ghostly
slowness, through the blind abyss of fog and heat and drifting vapors.
Stern gathered strength for another appeal.
“Who are you people?” cried he passionately. “What are you
going to do with us? Where are we—and what kind of a place are we in?
Any way to get out, out to the world again? And the girl—that girl!
Oh, great God! Can't you answer something?”
No reply. Only that same slow, strong paddling, awful in its
purposeful deliberation. Stern questioned in French, Spanish and
German, but got not even the satisfaction of attracting their
attention. He flung what few phrases of Latin and Esperanto he had at
them. No result. And a huge despair filled his soul, a feeling of utter
and absolute helplessness.
For the first time in his life—that life which had covered a
thousand years or more—he found himself unable to make himself
intelligible. He had not now even recourse to gestures, to sign
language. Bound hand and foot, trussed like a fowl, ignored by his
captors (who, by all rules, should have been his hosts and shown him
every courtesy), he felt a profound and terrible anger growing in his
A sudden rage, unreasoning and insensate, blazed within him. His
fists clenched; once more he tugged, straining at his stout bonds. He
called down maledictions on those two strange, impassive, wraithlike
forms hardly more than half seen in the darkness and fog.
Then, as delirium won again over his tortured senses and disjointed
thoughts, he shouted the name of Beatrice time after time out into the
echoing dark that brooded over the great waters. All at once he heard
her voice, trembling and faint and weak, but still hers!
From the other boat it came, the boat now drawing very near. And as
the craft loomed up through the vapors that rose incessantly from that
Stygian sea, he made a mighty effort, raised himself a little and
suddenly beheld her—dim, vague, uncertain in the shuddering bluish
glare, yet still alive!
She was crouching midships of the canoe and, seemingly, was not
bound. At his hail she stretched forth a hand and answered with his
“Oh, Allan! Allan!” Her voice was tremulous and very weak.
“Beatrice! You're safe? Thank God!”
“Hurt? Are you hurt?”
“No—nothing to speak of. These demons haven't done you any damage,
have they? If so—”
“Demons? Why, Allan! They've rescued us, haven't they?”
“Yes—and now they've got me tied here, hand and foot! I can't more
than just move about two or three inches, blast them! They haven't tied
you, have they?”
“No,” she answered. “Not yet! But—what an outrage! I'll free you,
never fear. You and I together—”
“Can't do anything, now, girl. There may be hundreds of these
people. Thousands, perhaps. And we're only two—two captives,
and—well—hang it, Beatrice! I don't mean to be pessimistic or
anything like that, but it certainly looks bad!”
“But who are they, boy? Who can they be? And where are we?”
“Hanged if I know! This certainly beats any dream I ever had. For
sheer outrageous improbability—”
He broke off short. Beatrice had leaned her head upon her arms,
along the gunwale of the other canoe which now was running parallel to
Stern's, and he knew the girl was weeping.
“There, there!” he cried to her. “Don't you be afraid, little girl!
I've got my automatic yet; I can feel it under me, as I lie here in
this infernal boat. They haven't taken yours away?”
“No!” she answered, raising her head again. “And before they ever
do, I'll use it, that's all!”
“Good girl!” he cheered her, across the space of water. “That's the
way to talk! Whatever happens, shoot straight if you have to shoot at
all—and remember, at worst, the last cartridge is for yourself!”
CHAPTER XXIV. THE LAND OF THE
“I'll remember,” she answered simply, and for a little space there
came silence between them.
A vast longing possessed the man to take her in his arms and hold
her tight, tight to his fast-throbbing heart. But he lay bound and
helpless. All he could do was call to her again, as the two canoes now
drew on, side by side and as still others, joining them, made a little
fleet of strange, flare-lighted craft.
“Yes—what is it?”
“Don't worry, whatever happens. Maybe there's no great harm done,
after all. We're still alive and sound—that's ninety-nine per cent of
“How could we have fallen like that and not been killed? A
“The machine must have struck the surface on one of its long slants.
If it had plunged straight down—well, we shouldn't be here, that's
all. These infernal pirates, whoever they are, must have been close by,
in their boats, and cut us loose from our straps before the machine
sank, and got us into their canoes. But—”
“Without the machine, how are we ever going to get out of here
“Don't bother about that now! We've got other more important things
to think of. It's all a vast and complex problem, but we'll meet it,
never fear. You and I, together, are going to win! We've got to—for
the sake of the world!”
“Oh, if they'd only take us for gods, as the Horde did!”
“Gods nothing! They're as white as we are—whiter, even. People that
can make boats like these, out of iron bars covered with pitched
fabric, and weave cloth like this they're wearing, and use oil-flares
in metal baskets, aren't mistaking us for gods. The way they've handled
me proves it. Might be a good thing if they weren't so devilish
He relapsed into silence, and for a while there came no sound but
the cadenced dipping of many paddles as the boats, now perhaps a score
in number, all slowly moved across the unfathomed black as though
toward some objective common point. Each craft bore at its bow a
fire-basket filled with some spongy substance, which, oil-soaked,
blazed smokily with that peculiar blue-green light so ghostly in its
Many of the folk sat in these boats, among their brown fiber nets
and long, iron-tipped lances. All alike were pale and anemic-looking,
though well-muscled and of vigorous build. Even the youngest were
white-haired. All wore their hair twisted in a knot upon the crown of
the head; none boasted anything even suggesting a hat or cap.
By contrast with their chalky skins, white eyebrows and lashes,
their pinkish eyes—for all the world like those of an albino—blinked
oddly as they squinted ahead, as though to catch some sign of land.
Every one wore a kind of cassock of the brown coarse material; a few
were girdled with belts of skin, having well-wrought metal buckles.
Their paddles were not of wood. Not one trace of wood, in fact, was
anywhere to be seen. Light metal blades, well-shaped and riveted to
iron handles, served for propulsion.
Stern lay back, still faint and sick with the shock of the fall and
with the pain, humiliation and excitement of the capture. Yet through
it all he rejoiced that the girl and he had escaped with life and were
both still sound of limb and faculty.
Even the loss of the machine could not destroy all his natural
enthusiasm, or kill his satisfaction in this great adventuring, his joy
at having found after all, a remnant of the human race once more.
“Men, by the Almighty!” thought he, peering keenly at such as he
could see through the coiling, spiraling wreaths of mist that arose
from the black water into the dun air. “Men! White men, too!
Given such stock to work with—provided I get the chance—who shall say
anything's impossible? If only there's some way out of this infernal
hole, what may not happen?”
And, as he watched, he thrilled with nascent pride, with
consciousness of a tremendous mission to perform; a sense that
here—here in the actual living flesh—dwelt the potentialities of all
his dreams, of all the many deep and noble plans which he and Beatrice
had laid for a regenerated world!
Men they certainly were, white men, Caucasians, even like himself.
Despite all changes of superficial character, their build and cast of
features bore witness that these incredible folk, dwellers upon that
nameless and buried sea, were the long-distant descendants of
“Americans, so help me!” he pondered as the boats drew onward toward
what goal he knew not. “Barbarians, yet Americans, still. And with half
a chance at them, God! we'll work miracles yet, she and I!”
Again he raised his voice, calling to Beatrice:
“Don't be afraid, little girl! They're our own people, after
At sound of that word a startled cry broke from the lips of Stern's
elder boatman, a cry which, taken up from boat to boat, drifted dully
through the fog, traversed the whole fleet of strange, slow-moving
craft, and lost itself in the vague gloom.
“Merucaans! Merucaans!” the shout arose, with other words whereof
Stern knew not the meaning; and closer pressed the outlying boats. The
engineer felt a thrill run through the strange, mysterious folk.
“They knew their name, anyhow! Hurrah!” he exulted. “God! If we had
the Stars and Stripes here, I wager a million they'd go mad about it!
Remember? You bet they'll remember, when I learn their lingo and tell
them a few things! Just wait till I get a chance at 'em, that's all!”
Forgotten now his bonds and all his pain. Forgotten even the
perilous situation. Stern's great vision of a reborn race had swallowed
minor evils. And with a sudden glow of pride that some of his own race
had still survived the vast world catastrophe, he cheered again, eager
as any schoolboy.
Suddenly he heard the girl's voice calling to him:
“Something ahead, Allan—land, maybe. A big light through the mist!”
He wrenched his head a trifle up and now perceived that through the
vapors a dim yet steady glow was beginning to shine, and on each side
of it there stretched a line of other, smaller, blue-green lights.
These, haloed by the vapor with the most beautiful prismatic rings,
extended in an irregular row high above water level.
Lower down other lights were moving slowly to and fro, gathering for
the most part at a point toward which the boats were headed.
“A settlement, Beatrice! A town, maybe! At last—men, men!“
Forward the boats moved, faster now, as the rowers bent to their
tasks; and all at once, spontaneously, a song rose up. First from one
boat, then another, that weird, strange melody drifted through the dark
air. It blended into a spectral chorus, a vague, tremulous, eerie
chant, ghostlike and awful, as though on the black stream of Acheron
the lost souls of a better world had joined in song.
Nothing could Stern catch of the words; but like some faint and far
re-echoing of a half-heard melody, dream-music perhaps, a vaguely
reminiscent undertone struck to his heart with an irresistible,
melancholy, penetrant appeal.
“That tune! I know it—if I could only think!” the engineer
exclaimed. “Those words! I almost seem to know them!”
Then, with the suddenness characteristic of all that drew near in
the fog, the shore-lights grew rapidly bigger and more bright.
The rowers lay back on their paddles at a sharp word of command from
one of the oarsmen in Stern's boat.
Came a grating, a sliding of keels on pebbles. The boat stopped.
Others came up to land. From them men began clambering.
The song died. A sound of many voices rose, as the boatmen mingled
with those who, bearing torches, now began gathering about the two
canoes where Stern and Beatrice still were.
“Well, we're here, anyhow, wherever here is!” exclaimed the
engineer. “Hey, you fellows, let me loose, will you? What kind of a way
is this to treat a stranger, I'd like to know?”
Two of the men waded through the water, tepid as new milk, to where
Stern lay fast-bound, lifted him easily and carried him ashore. Black
though the water was, Stern saw that it was clear. As the torch-light
struck down through it, he could distinguish the clean and sandy bottom
shining with metallic luster.
A strange hissing sound pervaded all the air, now sinking to a dull
roar, now rising shrill as a vast jet of escaping steam.
As the tone lowered, darkness seemed to gain, through the mists; its
rising brought a clearer light. But what the phenomenon was, Stern
could not tell. For the source of the faint, diffused illumination that
verberated through the vapor was hidden; it seemed to be a huge and
fluctuating glow, off there somewhere beyond the fog-curtain that
veiled whatever land this strange weird place might be.
Vague, silent, dim, the wraithlike men stood by, peering with bent
brows, just as Dante described the lost souls in Hell peering at Virgil
in the eternal night. A dream-crew they seemed. Even though Stern felt
the vigorous muscles of the pair who now had borne him up to land, he
could scarce realize their living entity.
“Beatrice! Beatrice!” he called. “Are you all right? Don't mind
about me—just look out for yourself! If they hurt you in any way,
“I'm all right, I'm coming!” He heard her voice, and then he saw the
girl herself. Unaided she had clambered from her boat; and now,
breaking through the throng, she sought to reach him. But hands held
her back, and words of hard command rose from a score of lips.
Stern had only time to see that she was as yet unharmed when with a
quick slash of a blade somebody cut the thongs that bound his feet.
Then he was pushed forward, away from the dim and ghostly sea up an
acclivity of smooth black pebbles all wet with mist.
Limping stiffly, by reason of his cramped muscles, he stumbled
onward, while all about him and behind him—as about the girl, who
followed—came the throng of these strange people.
Their squinting, pinkish eyes and pallid faces showed ghastly by the
torch-glare, as, murmuring among themselves in their incomprehensible
yet strangely familiar tongue, they climbed the slope.
Even then, even there on that unknown beach beside an uncharted sea
at the bottom of the fathomless abyss, Stern thought with joy of his
revolver which still swung on his hip.
“God knows how we're going to talk to these people,” reflected he,
“or what sort of trouble they've got ready to hand out to us. But, once
I get my right hand free—I'm ready for whatever comes!”
CHAPTER XXV. THE DUNGEON OF THE
As the two interlopers from the outer world moved up the slippery
beach toward the great, mist-dimmed flare, escorted by the strange and
spectral throng, Stern had time to analyze some factors of the
It was evident that diplomacy was now—unless in a sharp crisis—the
only role to play. How many of these people there might be he could not
tell. The present gathering he estimated at about a hundred and fifty
or a hundred and seventy-five; and moment by moment more were coming
down the slope, looming through the vapor, each carrying a cresset on a
staff or a swinging light attached to a chain.
“The village or settlement, or whatever it is,” thought he, “may
contain hundreds of them, thousands perhaps. And we are only
two! The last thing in the world we want is a fight. But if it comes to
fighting, Beatrice and I with our backs to the wall could certainly
make a mighty good showing against barbarians such as these.
“It's evident from the fact that they haven't taken our revolvers
away they don't know the use of firearms. Ages ago they must have
forgotten even the tradition of such weapons. Their culture status
seems to be a kind of advanced barbarism. Some job, here, to bring them
up to civilization again.”
Slow-moving, unemotional, peering dimly through the hot fog, their
wraithlike appearance (as more and more came crowding) depressed and
saddened Stern beyond all telling.
And at thought that these were the remnants of the race which once
had conquered a vast continent, built tall cities and spanned abysses
with steel—the remnants of so many million keen, energetic, scientific
people—he groaned despairingly.
“What does all this mean?” he exclaimed in a kind of passionate
outburst. “Where are we? How did you get here? Can't you understand me?
We're Americans, I tell you—Americans! For God's sake, can't you
Once more the word “Merucaans” passed round from mouth to mouth; but
beyond this Stern got no sign of comprehension.
“Village! Houses!” shouted he. “Shelter! Rest, eat, sleep!”
They merely shoved him forward up the slope, together with the girl;
and now Stern saw a curious kind of causeway, paved with slippery, wet,
black stones that gleamed in the torchlight, a causeway slanting
sharply upward, its further end hidden in the dense vapor behind which
the great and unknown light shone with ever-clearer glowing.
This road wash bordered on either hand by a wall of carefully cut
stone about three and a half feet high; and into the wall, at equal
distances of twenty feet or so, iron rods had been let. Each rod bore a
fire-basket, some only dully flickering, some burning bright and blue.
Numbers of the strange folk were loitering on the causeway or coming
down to join the throng which now ascended; many clambered lithely up
onto the wall, and, holding to the rods or to each other—for the
stones, like everything here, were wet and glairy—watched with those
singular-hued and squinting eyes of theirs the passage of the
Stern and Beatrice, their breathing now oppressed by the thickening
smoke which everywhere hung heavy, as well as by this fresh exertion in
the densely compressed air, toiled, panting, up the steep incline.
The engineer was already bathed in a heavy sweat. The intense heat,
well above a hundred degrees, added to the humidity, almost stifled
him. His bound arms pained almost beyond endurance. Unable to balance
himself, he slipped and staggered.
“Beatrice!” he called chokingly. “Try to make them understand I want
my hands freed. It's bad enough trying to clamber up this infernal
road, anyhow, without having to go at it all trussed up this way.”
She, needing no second appeal, raised her free arms, pointed to her
wrists and then at his, and made a gesture as of cutting. But the elder
boatman of Stern's canoe—seemingly a person of some authority—only
shook his head and urged the prisoners upward, ever upward toward the
great and growing light.
Now they had reached the top of the ascent.
On either hand, vanishing in shadows and mist, heavy and high walls
extended, all built of black, cut stone surmounted by cressets.
Through a gateway the throng passed, and the prisoners with them—a
gateway built of two massive monoliths of dressed stone, octagonal and
highly polished, with a huge, straight plinth that Stern estimated at a
glance never could have weighed less than ten tons.
“Ironwork, heavy stonework, weaving, fisheries—a good beginning
here to work on,” thought the engineer. But there was little time for
analysis. For now already they were passing through a complex series of
inner gateways, passages, detours and labyrinthic defenses which—all
well lighted from above by fire-baskets—spoke only too plainly the
character of the enclosure within.
“A walled town, heavily fortified,” Stern realized as he and
Beatrice were thrust forward through the last gate. “Evidently these
people are living here in constant fear of attack by formidable foes.
I'll wager there's been some terrible fighting in these narrow
ways—and there may be some more, too, before we're through with it.
God, what a place! Makes me think of the machicoulis and
pasterns at old Carcassonne. So far as this is concerned, we're back
again in the Dark Ages—dark, dark as Erebus!”
Then, all at once, out they issued into so strange a scene that,
involuntarily, the two captives stopped short, staring about them with
Stretching away before them till the fog swallowed it—a fog now
glowing with light from some source still mist-hidden—an open plaza
stretched. This plaza was all surrounded, so far as they could see,
with singular huts, built of dressed stone, circular for the most part,
and with conical roofs like monster beehives. Windows there were none,
but each hut had an open door facing the source of the strange,
Stern could now see the inside of the wall, topped with torches; its
crest rose some five feet above the level of the plaza; and, where he
could catch a glimpse of its base between the huts and through the
crowding folk, he noticed that huge quantities of boulders were piled
as though for instant use in case of attack.
A singular dripping of warmish water, here a huge drop, there
another, attracted his attention; but though he looked up to determine
its source, if possible, he could see nothing except the glowing mist.
The whole floor of the enclosure seemed to be wet and shining with this
water; and all the roughly clad folk, now coming from the huts and
concentrating toward the captives, from every direction, were wet as
well, as though with this curious, constant, sparsely scattered rain.
Not a quadruped of any kind was to be seen. Neither cat nor dog was
there, neither goat nor pig nor any other creature such as in the
meanest savage villages of other times might have been found upon the
surface of the earth. But, undisturbed and bold, numbers of a most
extraordinary fowl—a long-legged, red-necked fowl, wattled and huge of
beak—gravely waddled here and there or perched singly and in solemn
rows upon the huts.
“Great Heavens, Beatrice,” exclaimed the engineer, “what are we up
against? Of all the incredible places! That light! That roaring!”
He had difficulty in making himself even heard. For now the hissing
roar which they had perceived from afar off seemed to fill the place
with a tremendous vibrant blur, rising, falling, as the light waxed and
Terribly confusing all these new sense-impressions were to Stern and
Beatrice in their unnerved and weakened state. And, staring about them
as they went, they slowly moved along with the motion of their captors
toward the great light.
All at once Stern stopped, with a startled cry.
“The infernal devils!” he exclaimed, and recoiled with an
involuntary shudder from the sight that met his eyes.
The girl, too, cried out in fear.
Some air-current, some heated blast of vapor from the vast flame
they now saw shooting upward from the stone flooring of the plaza,
momently dispelled the thick, white vapors.
Stern got a glimpse of a circular row of stone posts, each about
nine feet high—he saw not the complete circle, but enough of it to
judge its diameter as some fifty feet. In the center stood a round and
massive building, and from each post to that building stretched a metal
rod perhaps twenty feet in length.
“Look! Look!” gasped Beatrice, and pointed.
Then, deadly pale, she hid her face in both her hands and crouched
away, as though to blot the sight from her perception.
Each metal bar was sagging with a hideous load—a row of human
skeletons, stark, fleshless, frightful in their ghastliness. All were
headless. All, suspended by the cervical vertebrae, swayed lightly as
the blue-green light glared on them with its weird, unearthly radiance.
Before either Stern or the girl had time even to struggle or so much
as recover from the shock of this fell sight, they were both pushed
roughly between two of the posts into the frightful circle.
Stern saw a door yawn black before them in the massive hut of stone.
Toward this the Folk of the Abyss were thrusting them.
“No, you don't, damn you!” he howled with sudden passion. “None o'
that for us! Shoot, Beta! Shoot!“
But even as her hand jerked at the butt of the automatic, in its
rawhide holster on her hip, an overmastering force flung them both
forward into the foul dark of the round dungeon. A metal door clanged
shut. Absolute darkness fell.
“My God!” cried Stern. “Beta! Where are you? Beta! Beta!“
But answer there was none. The girl had fainted.
CHAPTER XXVI. “YOU SPEAK ENGLISH!”
Even in his pain and rage and fear, Stern did not lose his wits. Too
great the peril, he subconsciously realized, for any false step now.
Despite the fact that the stone prison could measure no more than some
ten feet in diameter, he knew that in its floors some pit or fissure
might exist, frightfully deep, for their destruction.
And other dangers, too, might lie hidden in this fearful place. So,
restraining himself with a strong effort, he stood there motionless a
few seconds, listening, trying to think. Severe now the pain from his
lashed wrists had grown, but he no longer felt it. Strange visions
seemed to dance before his eyes, for weakness and fever were at work
upon him. In his ears still sounded, though muffled now, the constant
hissing roar of the great flame, the mysterious and monstrous jet of
fire which seemed to form the center of this unknown, incomprehensible
life in the abyss.
“Merciful Heavens!” gasped he. “That fire—those skeletons—this
black cell—what can they mean?” He found no answer in his bewildered
brain. Once more he called, “Beatrice! Beatrice!” but only the
close echo of the prison replied.
He listened, holding his breath in sickening fear. Was there, in
truth, some waiting, yawning chasm in the cell, and had she, thrust
rudely forward, been hurled down it? At the thought he set his jaws
with terrible menace and swore, to the last drop of his blood,
vengeance on these inhuman captors.
But as he listened, standing there with bound hands in the thick
gloom, he seemed to catch a slow and sighing sound, as of troubled
breathing. Again he called. No answer. Then he understood the truth.
And, unable to grope with his hands, he swung one foot slowly, gently,
in the partial circumference of a circle.
At first he found nothing save the smooth and slippery stone of the
floor, but, having shifted his position very cautiously and tried
again, he experienced the great joy of feeling his sandaled foot come
in contact with the girl's prostrate body.
Beside her on the floor he knelt. He could not free his hands, but
he could call to her and kiss her face. And presently, even while the
joy of this discovery was keen upon him, obscuring the hot rage he
felt, she moved, she spoke a few vague words, and reached her hands up
to him; she clasped him in her arms.
And there in the close, fetid dark, imprisoned, helpless, doomed,
they kissed again, and once more—though no word was spoken—plighted
their love and deep fidelity until the end.
“Hurt? Are you hurt?” he panted eagerly, as she sat up on the hard
floor and with her hands smoothed back the hair from his hot, aching
“I feel so weak and dizzy,” she answered. “And I'm afraid—oh,
Allan, I'm afraid! But, no, I'm not hurt.”
“Thank God for that!” he breathed fervently. “Can you untie these
infernal knots? They're almost cutting my hands off!”
“Here, let me try!”
And presently the girl set to work; but even though she labored till
her fingers ached, she could not start the tight and water-soaked
“Hold on, wait a minute,” directed he. “Feel in my right-hand
pocket. Maybe they forgot to take my knife.”
“They've got it,” she announced. “Even if they don't know the
meaning of revolvers, they understand knives all right. It's gone.”
“Pest!” he ejaculated hotly. Then for a moment he sat thinking,
while the girl again tried vainly to loosen the hard-drawn knots.
“Can you find the iron door they shoved us through?” asked he at
He heard her creeping cautiously along the walls of stone, feeling
as she went.
“Look out!” he warned. “Keep testing the floor as you go. There may
be a crevice or pit or something of that kind.”
All at once she cried: “Here it is! I've found it!”
“Good! Now, then, feel it all over and see if there's any rough
place on it. Any sharp edge of a plate, or anything of that kind, that
I could rub the cords on.”
Another silence. Then the girl spoke.
“Nothing of that kind here,” she answered depairingly. “The door's
as smooth as if it had been filed and polished. There's not even a lock
of any kind. It must be fastened from the outside in some way.”
“By Heaven, this is certainly a hard proposition!” exclaimed the
engineer, groaning despite himself. “What the deuce are we going to do
For a moment he remained sunk in a kind of dull and apathetic
But suddenly he gave a cry of joy.
“I've got it!” he exclaimed. “Your revolver, quick! Aim at the
opposite wall, there, and fire!”
“Shoot, in here?” she queried, astonished. “Why—what for?”
“Never mind! Shoot!”
Amazed, she did his bidding. The crash of the report almost deafened
them in that narrow room. By the stabbing flare of the discharge they
glimpsed the black and shining walls, a deadly circle all about them.
“Again?” asked she.
“No. That's enough. Now, find the bullet. It's somewhere on the
floor. There's no pit; it's all solid. The bullet—find the bullet!”
Questioning no more, yet still not understanding, she groped on
hands and knees in the impenetrable blackness. The search lasted more
than five minutes before her hand fell on the jagged bit of metal.
“Ah!” cried she. “Here it is!”
“Good! Tell me, is the steel jacket burst in any such way as to make
a jagged edge?”
A moment's silence, while her deft fingers examined the metal. Then
“I think so. It's a terribly small bit to saw with, but—”
“To work, then! I can't stand this much longer.”
With splendid energy the girl attacked the tough and water-soaked
bonds. She worked half an hour before the first one, thread by thread
yielding, gave way. The second followed soon after; and now, with torn
and bleeding fingers, she released the final bond.
“Thank Heaven!” he breathed as she began chafing his numb wrists and
arms to bring the circulation back again; and presently, when he had
regained some use of his own hands, he also rubbed his arms.
“No great damage done, after all,” he judged, “so far as this is
concerned. But, by the Almighty, we're in one frightful fix every other
way! Hark! Hear those demons outside there? God knows what they're up
Both prisoners listened.
Even through the massive walls of the circular dungeon they could
hear a dull and gruesome chant that rose, fell, died, and then resumed,
seemingly in unison with the variant roaring of the flame.
Thereto, also, an irregular metallic sound, as of blows struck on
iron, and now and then a shrill, high-pitched cry. The effect of these
strange sounds, rendered vague and unreal by the density of the walls,
and faintly penetrating the dreadful darkness, surpassed all efforts of
Beatrice and Stern, bold as they were, hardened to rough
adventurings, felt their hearts sink with bodings, and for a while they
spoke no word. They sat there together on the floor of polished
stone—perceptibly warm to the touch and greasy with a peculiarly
repellent substance—and thought long thoughts which neither one dared
But at length the engineer, now much recovered from his pain and
from the oppression of the lungs caused by the compressed air, reached
for the girl's hand in the dark.
“Without you where should I be?” he exclaimed. “My good angel now,
She made no answer, but returned the pressure of his hand. And for a
while silence fell between them there—silence broken only by their
troubled breathing and the cadenced roaring of the huge gas-well flame
outside the prison wall.
At last Stern spoke.
“Let's get some better idea of this place,” said he. “Maybe if we
know just what we're up against we'll understand better what to do.”
And slowly, cautiously, with every sense alert, he began exploring
the dungeon. Floor and walls he felt of, with minute care, reaching as
high as he could and eagerly seeking some possible crevice, some
promise—no matter how remote—of ultimate escape.
But the examination ended only in discouragement. Smooth almost as
glass the walls were, and the floor as well, perhaps worn down by
The iron door, cleverly let into the wall, lay flush with it, and
offered not the slightest irregularity to the touch. So nicely was it
fitted that not even Stern's finger-nail could penetrate the joint.
“Nothing doing in the escape line,” he passed judgment unwillingly.
“Barbarians these people certainly are, in some ways, but they've got
the arts of stone and iron working down fine. I, as an engineer, have
to appreciate that, and give the remote descendants of our race credit
for it, even if it works our ruin. Gad, but they're clever, though!”
Discouraged, in spite of all his attempted optimism, he sought the
girl again, there in the deep and velvet dark. To himself he drew her;
and, his arm about her sinuous, supple body, tried to comfort her with
“Well, Beatrice, they haven't got us yet! We're better off,
on the whole, than we had any right to hope for, after having fallen
one or two hundred miles—maybe five hundred, who knows? If I can
manage to get a word or two with these confounded barbarians, I'll
maybe save our bacon yet! And, at worst—well, we're in a mighty good
little fort here. I pity anybody that tries to come in that door and
“Oh, Allan—those skeletons, those headless skeletons!” she
whispered; and in his arms he felt her shudder with unconquerable fear.
“I know; but they aren't going to add us to their little
collection, you mark my words! These men are white; they're our own
kind, even though they have slid back into barbarism. They'll listen to
reason, once I get a chance at them.”
Thus, talking of the abyss and of their fall—now of one phase, now
another, of their frightful position—they passed an hour in the
And, joining their observations and ideas, they were able to get
some general idea of the conditions under which these incredible folk
From the warmth of the sea and the immense quantities of vapor that
filled the abyss, they concluded that it must be at a tremendous depth
in the earth—perhaps as far down as Stern's extreme guess of five
hundred miles—and also that it must be of very large extent.
Beatrice had noted also that the water was salt. This led them to
the conclusion that in some way or other, perhaps intermittently, the
oceans on the surface were supplying the subterranean sea.
“If I'm not much mistaken,” judged the engineer, “that tremendous
maelstrom near the site of New Haven—the cataract that almost got us,
just after we started out—has something very vital to do with this
“In that case, and if there's a way for water to come down, why
mayn't there be a way for us to climb up? Who knows?”
“But if there were,” she answered, “wouldn't these people have found
it, in all these hundreds and hundreds of years?”
They discussed the question, pro and con, with many another that
bore on the folk—this strange and inexplicable imprisonment, the huge
flame at the center of the community's life, the probable intentions of
their captors, and the terrifying rows of headless skeletons.
“What those mean I don't know,” said Stern. “There may be human
sacrifice here, and offerings of blood to some outlandish god they've
invented. Or these relics may be trophies of battle with other peoples
of the abyss.
“To judge from the way this place is fortified, I rather think there
must be other tribes, with more or less constant warfare. The infernal
fools! When the human race is all destroyed, as it is, except a few
handfuls of albino survivors, to make war and kill each other! It's on
a par with the old Maoris of New Zealand, who practically exterminated
each other—fought till most of the tribes were wiped clean out and
only a remnant was left for the British to subdue!”
“I'm more interested in what they're going to do with us now,” she
answered, shuddering, “than in how many or how few survive! What are we
going to do, Allan? What on earth can we do now?”
He thought a moment, while the strange chant, dimly heard, rose and
fell outside, always in unison with the gigantic flame. Then said he:
“Do? Nothing, for the immediate present. Nothing, except wait, and
keep all the nerve and strength we can. No use in our shouting and
making a row. They'd only take that as an admission of fear and
weakness, just as any barbarians would. No use hammering on the iron
door with our revolver-butts, and annoying our white brothers by
interrupting their song services.
“Positively the only thing I can see to do is just to make sure both
automatics are crammed full of cartridges, keep our wits about us, and
plug the first man that comes in through that door with the notion of
making sacrifices of us. I certainly don't hanker after martyrdom of
that sort, and, by God! the savage that lays hands on you, dies inside
of one second by the stop-watch!”
“I know, boy; but against so many, what are two revolvers?”
“They're everything! My guess is that a little target practice would
put the fear of God into their hearts in a most extraordinary manner!”
He tried to speak lightly and to cheer the girl, but in his breast
his heart lay heavy as a lump of lead.
“Suppose they don't come in, what then?” suddenly resumed
Beatrice. “What if they leave us here till—”
“There, there, little girl! Don't you go borrowing any trouble!
We've got enough of the real article, without manufacturing any!”
Silence again, and a long, dark, interminable waiting. In the black
cell the air grew close and frightfully oppressive. Clad as they both
were in fur garments suitable to outdoor life and to aeroplaning at
great altitudes, they were suffering intensely from the heat.
Stern's wrists and arms, moreover, still pained considerably, for
they had been very cruelly bruised with the ropes, which the barbarians
had drawn tight with a force that bespoke both skill and deftness. His
need of some occupation forced him to assure himself, a dozen times
over, that both revolvers were completely filled. Fortunately, the
captors had not known enough to rob either Beatrice or him of the
cartridge-belts they wore.
How long a time passed? One hour, two, three?
They could not tell.
But, overcome by the vitiated air and the great heat, Beatrice slept
at last, her head in the man's lap. He, utterly spent, leaned his back
against the wall of black and polished stone, nodding with weariness
and great exhaustion.
He, too, must have dropped off into a troubled sleep, for he did not
hear the unbolting of the massive iron cell-door.
But all at once, with a quick start, he recovered consciousness. He
found himself broad awake, with the girl clutching at his arm and
With dazzled eyes he stared—stared at a strange figure standing
framed in a rectangle of blue and foggy light.
Even as he shouted: “Hold on, there! Get back out o' that, you!” and
jerked his ugly pistol at the old man's breast—for very aged this man
seemed, bent and feeble and trembling as he leaned upon an iron
staff—a voice spoke dully through the half-gloom, saying:
“Peace, friends! Peace be unto you!”
Stern started up in wild amaze.
From his nerveless fingers the pistol dropped. And, as it clattered
on the floor, he cried:
“English? You speak English? Who are you? English!
English! Oh, my God!”
CHAPTER XXVII. DOOMED!
The aged man stood for a moment as though tranced at sound of the
engineer's voice. Then, tapping feebly with his staff, he advanced a
pace or two into the dungeon. And Stern and Beatrice—who now had
sprung up, too, and was likewise staring at this singular
apparition—heard once again the words:
“Peace, friends! Peace!”
Stern snatched up the revolver and leveled it.
“Stop there!” he shouted. “Another step and I—I—”
The old man hesitated, one hand holding the staff, the other groping
out vacantly in front of him, as though to touch the prisoners. Behind
him, the dull blue light cast its vague glow. Stern, seeing his bald
and shaking head, lean, corded hand, and trembling body wrapped in its
mantle of coarse brown stuff, could not finish the threat.
Instead, his pistol-hand dropped. He stood there for a moment as
though paralyzed with utter astonishment. Outside, the chant had
ceased. Through the doorway no living beings were visible—nothing but
a thin and tenuous vapor, radiant in the gas-flare which droned its
“In the name of Heaven, who—what—are you?” cried the
engineer, at length. “A man who speaks English, here? Here?“
The aged one nodded slowly, and once again groped out toward Stern.
Then, in his strangely hollow voice, unreal and ghostly, and with
uncertain hesitation, an accent that rendered the words all but
unintelligible, he made answer:
“A man—yea, a living man. Not a ghost. A man! and I speak the
English. Verily, I am ancient. Blind, I go unto my fathers soon. But
not until I have had speech with you. Oh, this miracle—English speech
with those to whom it still be a living tongue!”
He choked, and for a space could say no more. He trembled violently.
Stern saw his frail body shake, heard sobs, and knew the ancient one
“Well, great Scott! What d'you think of that?” exclaimed the
engineer. “Say, Beatrice—am I dreaming? Do you see it, too?”
“Of course! He's a survivor, don't you understand?” she answered,
with quicker intuition than his. “He's one of an elder generation—he
remembers more! Perhaps he can help us!” she added eagerly. And without
more ado, running to the old man, she seized his hand and pressed it to
“Oh, father!” cried she. “We are Americans in terrible distress! You
understand us—you, alone, of all these people here. Save us, if you
The patriarch shook his head, where still some sparse and feeble
hairs clung, snowy-white.
“Alas!” he answered, intelligibly, yet still with that strange,
hesitant accent of his—“alas, what can I do? I am sent to you, verily,
on a different mission. They do not understand, my people. They have
forgotten all. They have fallen back into the night of ignorance. I
alone remember; I only know. They mock me. But they fear me, also.
“Oh, woman!”—and, dropping his staff a-clatter to the floor, he
stretched out a quivering hand—“oh, woman! and oh, man from
above—speak! Speak, that I may hear the English from living lips!”
Stern, blinking with astonishment there in the half-gloom, drew
“English?” he queried. “Haven't you ever heard it spoken?”
“Never! Yet, all my life, here in this lost place, have I studied
and dreamed of that ancient tongue. Our race once spoke it. Now it is
lost. That magnificent language, so rich and pure, all lost, forever
lost! And we—”
“But what do you speak down here?” exclaimed the engineer,
with eager interest. “It seemed to me I could almost catch something of
it; but when it came down to the real meaning, I couldn't. If we could
only talk with these people here, your people, they might give us some
kind of a show! Tell me!”
“A—a show?” queried the blind man, shaking his head and laying his
other hand on Stern's shoulder. “Verily, I cannot comprehend. An
entertainment, you mean? Alas, no, friends; they are not hospitable, my
people. I fear me; I fear me greatly that—that—”
He did not finish, but stood there blinking his sightless eyes, as
though with some vast effort of the will he might gain knowledge of
their features. Then, very deftly, he ran his fingers over Stern's
bearded face. Upon the engineer's lips his digits paused a second.
“Living English!” he breathed in an awed voice. “These lips speak it
as a living language! Oh, tell me, friends, are there now men of
your race—once our race—still living, up yonder? Is there such
a place—is there a sky, a sun, moon, stars—verily such things now? Or
is this all, as my people say, deriding me, only the babbling of old
A thousand swift, conflicting thoughts seemed struggling in Stern's
mind. Here, there, he seemed to catch a lucid bit; but for the moment
he could analyze nothing of these swarming impressions.
He seemed to see in this strange ancient-of-days some last and
lingering relic of a former generation of the Folk of the Abyss, a
relic to whom perhaps had been handed down, through countless
generations, some vague and wildly distorted traditions of the days
before the cataclysm. A relic who still remembered a little English,
archaic, formal, mispronounced, but who, with the tenacious memory of
the very aged, still treasured a few hundred words of what to him was
but a dead and forgotten tongue. A relic, still longing for knowledge
of the outer world—still striving to keep alive in the degenerated
people some spark of memory of all that once had been!
And as this realization, not yet very clear, but seemingly certain
in its general form, dawned on the engineer, a sudden interest in the
problem and the tragedy of it all sprang up in him, so keen, so
poignant in its appeal to his scientific sense, that for a moment it
quite banished his distress and his desire for escape with Beatrice.
“Why, girl,” he cried, “here's a case parallel, in real life, to the
wildest imaginings of fiction! It's as though a couple of ancient
Romans had walked in upon some old archeologist who'd given his life to
studying primitive Latin! Only you'd have to imagine he was the only
man in the world who remembered a word of Latin at all! Can you grasp
it? No wonder he's overcome!
“Gad! If we work this right,” he added in a swift aside, “this will
be good for a return ticket, all right!”
The old man withdrew his hand from the grasp of Beatrice and folded
both arms across his breast with simple dignity.
“I rejoice that I have lived to this time,” he stammered slowly,
gropingly, as though each word, each distorted and mispronounced
syllable had to be sought with difficulty. “I am glad that I have lived
to touch you and to hear your voices. To know it is no mere tradition,
but that, verily, there was such a race and such a language! The
rest also, must be true—the earth, and the sun, and everything! Oh,
this is a wonder and a miracle! Now I can die in a great peace, and
they will know I have spoken truth to their mocking!”
He kept silence a space, and the two captives looked fixedly at him,
strangely moved. On his withered cheeks they could see, by the dull
bluish glow through the doorway, tears still wet. The long and
venerable beard of spotless white trembled as it fell freely over the
“What a subject for a painter—if there were any painters left!”
The old man's lips moved again.
“Now I can go in peace to my appointed place in the Great Vortex,”
said he, and bowed his head, and whispered something in that other
speech they had already heard but could not understand.
Stern spoke first.
“What shall we call your name, father?” asked he.
“Call me J'hungaav,” he answered, pronouncing a name which neither
of them could correctly imitate. When they had tried he asked:
Stern gave both the girl's and his own. The old man caught them both
readily enough, though with a very different accent.
“Now, see here, father,” the engineer resumed, “you'll pardon us, I
know. There's a million things to talk about. A million we want to ask,
and that we can tell you! But we're very tired. We're hungry. Thirsty.
Understand? We've just been through a terrible experience. You can't
grasp it yet; but I'll tell you we've fallen, God knows how far, in an
“Fallen? In an—an—”
“No matter. We've fallen from the surface. From the world where
there's a sky, and sun, and stars, and all the rest of it. So far as we
know, this woman and I are the only two people—the original kind of
people, I mean; the people of the time before—er—hang it!—it's
mighty hard to explain!”
“I understand. You are the only two now living of our former race?
And you have come from above? Verily, this is strange!”
“You bet it is! I mean, verily. And now we re here, your people have
thrown us into this prison, or whatever it is. And we don't like the
look of those skeletons on the iron rods outside a little bit! We—”
“Oh, I pray! I pray!” exclaimed the patriarch, thrusting out both
hands. “Speak not of those! Not yet!”
“All right, father. What we want to ask is for something to eat and
drink, some other kind of clothes than the furs we're wearing, and a
place to sleep—a house, you know—we've got to rest! We mean no harm
to your people. Wouldn't hurt a hair of their heads! Overjoyed to find
'em! Now, I ask you, as man to man, can't you get us out of this, and
manage things so that we shall have a chance to explain?
“I'll give you the whole story, once we've recuperated. You can
translate it to your people. I ask some consideration for myself, and I
demand it for this woman! Well?”
The old man stood in silent thought a moment. Plain to see, his
distress was very keen. His face wrinkled still more, and on his breast
he bowed his majestic head, so eloquent of pain and sorrow and long
Stern, watching him narrowly, played his trump-card.
“Father,” said he, “I don't know why you were sent here to talk with
us, or how they knew you could talk with us even. I don't know
what any of this treatment means. But I do know that this girl
and I are from the world of a thousand years ago—the world in which
your ancient forefathers used to dwell!
“She and I know all about that world. We know the language which to
you is only a precious memory, to us a living fact. We can tell you
hundreds, thousands of things! We can teach you everything you want to
know! For a year—if you people have years down here—we can sit
and talk to you, and instruct you, and make you far, far wiser than any
of your Folk!
“More, we can teach your Folk the arts of peace and war—a multitude
of wonderful and useful things. We can raise them from barbarism to
civilization again! We can save them—save the world! And I appeal to
you, in the name of all the great and mighty past which to you is still
a memory, if not to them—save us now!“
He ceased. The old man sighed deeply, and for a while kept silence.
His face might have served as the living personification of intense and
Stern had an idea.
“Father,” he added—“here, take this weapon in your hand!” He thrust
the automatic into the patriarch's fingers. “This is a revolver. Have
you ever heard that word? With this, and other weapons even stronger,
our race, your race, used to fight. It can kill men at a distance in a
twinkling of an eye. It is swift and very powerful! Let this be the
proof that we are what we say, survivors from the time that was! And in
the name of that great day, and in the name of what we still can bring
to pass for you and yours, save us from whatever evil threatens!”
A moment the old man held the revolver. Then, shuddering as with a
sudden chill, he thrust it back at Stern.
“Alas!” cried he. “What am I against a thousand? A thousand, sunk in
ignorance and fear and hate? A thousand who mock at me? Who believe
you, verily, to be only some new and stronger kind of Lanskaarn, as we
call our ancient enemies on the great islands in the sea.
“What can I do? They have let me have speech with you merely because
they think me so old and so childish! Because they say my brain is
soft! Whatever I may tell them, they will only mock. Woe upon me that I
have known this hour! That I have heard this ancient tongue, only now
forever to lose it! That I know the truth! That I know the world of old
tradition was true and is true, only now to have no more,
after this moment, any hope ever to learn about it!”
“The devil you say!” cried Stern, with sudden anger. “You mean they
won't listen to reason? You mean they're planning to butcher us, and
hang us up there along with the rest of the captured Lanskaarns, or
whatever you call them? You mean they're going to take us—us,
the only chance they've got ever to get out of this, and stick us like
a couple of pigs, eh? Well, by God! You tell them—you tell—”
In the doorway appeared another form, armed with an iron spear. Came
a quick word of command.
With a cry of utter hopelessness and heartbreak, a wail that seemed
to pierce the very soul, the patriarch turned and stumbled to the door.
He paused. He turned, and, stretching out both feeble arms to
them—to them, who meant so infinitely much to him, so absolutely
nothing to his barbarous race—cried:
“Fare you well, O godlike people of that better time! Fare you well!
Before another tide has risen on our accursed black beach, verily both
of you, the last survivors—”
With a harsh word of anger, the spearsman thrust him back and away.
Stern leaped forward, revolver leveled.
But before he could pull trigger the iron door had clanged shut.
Once more darkness swallowed them.
Black though it was, it equaled not the blackness of their absolute
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE BATTLE IN THE
For a time no word passed between them. Stern took the girl in his
arms and comforted her as best he might; but his heart told him there
was now no hope.
The old man had spoken only too truly. There existed no way of
convincing these barbarians that their prisoners were not of some
hated, hostile tribe. Evidently the tradition of the outer world had
long since perished as a belief among them. The patriarch's faith in it
had come to be considered a mere doting second childhood vagary, just
as the tradition of the Golden Age was held to be by the later Greeks.
That Stern and Beatrice could in any way convince their captors of
the truth of this outer world and establish their identity as real
survivors of the other time, lay wholly outside the bounds of the
And as the old man's prophecy of evil—interrupted, yet frightfully
ominous—recurred to Stern's mind, he knew the end of everything was
very close at hand.
“They won't get us, though, without a stiff fight, damn them!”
thought he. “That's one satisfaction. If they insist on
extermination—if they want war—they'll get it, all right enough! And
it'll be what Sherman said war always was, too—Hell!“
Came now a long, a seemingly interminable wait. The door remained
fast-barred. Oppression, heat, thirst, hunger tortured them, but relief
there was none.
And at length the merciful sleep of stupefaction overcame them; and
all their pain, their anguish and forebodings were numbed into a
They were awakened by a confused noise—the sound of cries and
shouts, dulled by the thick walls, yet evidently many-voiced—harsh
commands, yells, and even some few sharp blows upon the prison stones.
The engineer started up, wide-eyed and all alert now in the gloom.
Gone were his lassitude, his weakness and his sense of pain. Every
sense acute, he waited, hand clutching the pistol-butt, finger on
“Ready there, Beatrice!” cried he. “Something's started at last!
Maybe it's our turn now. Here, get behind me—but be ready to shoot
when I tell you! Steady now, steady for the attack!”
Tense as coiled springs they waited. And all at once a bar slid,
creaking. Around the edge of the metal door a thin blue line of light
“Stand back, you!” yelled Stern. “The first man through that
door's a dead one!”
The line of light remained a moment narrow, then suddenly it
broadened. From without a pandemonium of sound burst in—howls,
shrieks, imprecations, cries of pain.
Even in that perilous moment a quick wonder darted through Stern's
brain, what the meaning of this infernal tumult might be, and just what
ghastly fate was to be theirs—what torments and indignities they might
still have to face before the end.
“Remember, Beatrice,” he commanded, “if I'm killed, use the revolver
on yourself before you let them take you!”
“I know!” she cried. And, crouching beside him in the half light,
she, too, awaited what seemed the inevitable.
The door swung open.
There stood the patriarch again, arms extended, face eager with a
passionate hope and longing, a great pride even at that strange and
“Peace, friends!” he cried. “I give you peace! Strike me not down
with those terrible weapons of yours! For verily I bring you hope
“Hope? What d'you mean?” shouted Stern.
Through the opened door he caught vague glimpses in the luminous fog
of many spearmen gathered near—of excited gestures and the wild waving
of arms—of other figures that, half seen, ran swiftly here and there.
“Speak up, you! What's the matter? What's wanted?” demanded the
engineer, keeping his automatic sighted at the doorway. “What's all
this infernal row? If your people there think they're going to play
horse with us, they're mightily mistaken! You tell them the first man
that steps through that door to get us never'll take another step!
Quick! What's up?“
“Come!” answered the aged man, his voice high and tremulous above
the howling tumult and the roar of the great gas-well. “Come, now! The
Lanskaarn—they attack! Come! I have spoken of your weapons
to my people. Come, fight for us! And verily, if we win—”
“What kind of a trick are you putting up on us, anyhow?” roared
Stern with thrice-heated rage. “None o' that now! If your people want
us, let 'em come in here and get us! But as for being fooled that way
and tricked into coming out—”
“I swear the truth!” supplicated the patriarch, raising his withered
hand on high. “If you come not, you must verily die, oh, friends! But
if you come—”
“Your own life's the first to pay for any falsehood now.”
“I give it gladly! The truth, I swear it! Oh, listen, while
there is still time, and come! Come!“
“What about it, girl?” cried Stern. “Are you with me? Will you take
a chance on it?”
“There's nothing else to do, Allan. They've got us, anyway. And—and
I think the old man's telling the truth. Hear that, now—”
Off somewhere toward the fortification wall that edged the beach,
sounds of indisputable conflict were arising. The howls, cries,
shrieks, blows were not to be mistaken.
Stern's resolution was instant.
“I'm with you, old man!” he shouted. “But remember your promise. And
if you fail me—it's your finish!
“Come, Beta! Stick close to me! If we fall, we'll go down together.
It's both or neither. Come on—come on!“
Out into the glare of the great flame they issued warily, out into
the strangely glowing mist that covered the incredible village as with
a virescent pall.
Blinking, they stared about them, not knowing for a moment whither
to run or where to shoot.
But the patriarch had Stern by the arm now; and in the midst of a
confused and shouting mass of the Folk—all armed with spears and
slings, knobbed clubs and battle-maces—was pushing him out through the
circle of those ghastly posts whence dangled the headless skeletons.
“Where? Which way?” cried Stern. “Show me—I'll do the rest!”
“Thither!” the old man directed, pointing with one hand, while with
the other he shoved the engineer forward. Blind though he was, he knew
the right direction. “Thither—to the wall!“
For a second Stern had the thought of leaving Beatrice in the cell,
where she might at least be safe from the keen peril of battle; but
greater dangers threatened her, he knew, in his absence.
At all hazards they must keep together. And with a cry: “Come!
Come—stick close to me!” once more he broke into a run toward the sea.
Through the mists, which grew darker as he neared the wall with
Beatrice close beside him and the troop that followed them, he could
catch glimpses of the battle.
Every hut seemed to have poured forth its inhabitants for now the
plaza swarmed with life—men, women, event children, running this way
and that, some with weapons rushing towards the wall, others running
wildly hither and yon with unintelligible cries.
A spear pierced the vapors; it fell clashing at Stern's feet and
slid rattling away over the black stones, worn smooth and greasy by
Past him as he ran a man staggered; the whole side of his head was
bashed in, as though by a frightful blow from a mace. Up the wounded
man flung both arms, and fell twitching.
The fog covered him with its drifting folds. Stern shuddered that
Beatrice should see such hideous sights; but even now he almost fell
over another prostrate body, hideously wounded in the back, and still
“Ready, now!” panted Stern. “Ready with the pistols!”
Where was the patriarch?
He no longer knew. About him the Folk pressed, but none molested
either him or Beatrice.
In the confusion, the rush of the outskirts of battle, he could have
shot down a score of them, but he was reserving his fire. It might,
perhaps, be true, who could tell—that safety lay in battling now
against the Lanskaarn!
All at once the captives saw vague fire-lights in the
gloom—seemingly blazing comets of blue, that tossed and hurled and
Then came the nearer sound of shouting and the clash of arms.
Stern, with the atavistic instincts of even the most civilized man,
scented the kill. And with a roar he whirled into the confused and
sweltering mass of men which now, emerging from the darkening mists,
had suddenly become visible by the uncanny light of the cressets on the
Beside him the girl, her face aglow, nostrils dilated, breath quick,
held her revolver ready.
And then, quite suddenly, they found themselves at the wall.
“Shoot! Shoot!” bellowed Stern, and let drive, pointblank, at an
ugly, grinning face that like a nightmare-vision all at once projected
over the crest. His own revolver-fire was echoed by hers. The face
All down there, below him on the beach, he caught a dim, confused
impression of the attacking swarm.
Subconsciously he realized that he—he a man of the twentieth
century—was witnessing again a scene such as made the whole history of
the Middle Ages sanguinary—a siege, by force of human strength and
Even as he vaguely saw the swift and supple men, white-skinned yet
larger than the Folk, which crowded the whole beach as far as he could
pierce the mists with his straining sight, he knew that here was a
battle of huge scope and terrible danger.
Up from the sea the attackers, the Lanskaarn, were swarming, from
their dimly seen canoes. The place was alive with them.
At the base of the wall they were clotted in dense hordes; and
siege-ladders were being raised; and now up the ladders the lithe men
of darkness were running like so many ants.
Automatically as the mechanism of his own gun which he pumped into
that dense mass as fast as he could pull trigger—while beside him the
girl was shooting hard and straight, as well—he seemed to be recording
these wonderful impressions.
Here he caught a glimpse of a siege-ladder hurled backward by the
Folk, backward and down to the beach. Amid frightful yells and screams
it fell; and a score of crushed and mangled men lay writhing there
under the uncanny glare of the cressets.
There he saw fire-bales being hurled down from the walls—these, the
comet-like apparitions he had seen from a distance—hurled, blazing,
right into the brown of the mob.
Beyond, a party had scaled the wall, and there the fight was hand to
hand—with gruntings, thrustings of spears, slashings of long knives
that dripped red and cut again and rose and fell with hideous
He jacked his pistol full of shells once more and thrust it into the
girl's hand—for she, excited beyond all control, was snapping the
hammer of her weapon on empty steel.
“Give it to 'em! Shoot! Kill!” he yelled. “Our only chance now! If
they—get in—we're dead!”
He snatched her weapon, reloaded, and again rained the
steel-jacketed bolts of death against the attackers.
In the tumult and wild maelstrom of the fight the revolvers'
crackling seemed to produce little effect. If Stern expected that this
unknown weapon would at once bring panic and quick victory he reckoned
without the berserker madness and the stern mettle of this horde of
White men, like himself, they yielded not; but with strange cries
and frightful yells, pressed on and on, up to the walls, and up the
ladders ever; and now came flights of spears, hissing through the dark
air—and now smooth black rocks from the beach, flung with terrible
strength and skill by the slingers below, mowed down the defenders.
Here, there, men of the Folk were falling, pierced by the iron
spears, shattered by the swift and heavy rocks.
The place was becoming a shambles where the blood of attackers and
attacked mingled horribly in the gloom.
One ladder, pushed outward, dragged half a dozen of the Merucaans
with it; and at the bottom of the wall a circling eddy of the Lanskaarn
despatched the fighting Folkmen who had been hauled to their
destruction by the grappling besiegers.
Blows, howls and screams, hurtling fire-bales and great rocks flung
from above—the rocks he had already noted laid along the inside of the
wall—these, and the smell of blood and fire, the horrid, sweaty
contact of struggling bodies, the press and jam of the battle that
surged round them, all gave Stern a kaleidoscopic picture of war—war
as it once was, in the long ago—war, naked and terrible, such as he
had never even dreamed!
But, mad with the lust of the kill, he heeded nothing now.
“Shoot! Shoot!” he kept howling, beside himself; and, tearing open
the bandoliers where lay his cartridges, he crammed them with feverish
fingers into the girl's weapon and his own—weapons now burning hot
with the quick, long-continued firing.
The battle seemed to dance, to waver there before his eyes, in the
haze of mist and smoke and stifling air. The dark scene, blue-lit by
the guttering torches, grew ever more sanguinary, more incredibly
hideous. And still the attackers swarmed along the walls and up them,
in front and on both sides, till the swirling mists hid them and the
defenders from view.
He heard Beatrice cry out with pain. He saw her stagger and fall
To her he leaped.
“Wounded?” he gasped.
She answered nothing, but fell limp.
“God of Battles!” he howled. “Revenge!”
He snatched her automatic from beneath the trampling, crowding feet;
he bore her back, away from the thick press. And in the shelter of a
massive hut he laid her down.
Then, stark-mad, he turned and leaped into the battle-line that
swayed and screamed along the wall.
Critical now the moment. In half a dozen places the besiegers had
got their ladders planted. And, while dense masses of the
Lanskaarn—unminding fire-balls and boulders rained down upon
them—held these ladders firm, up the attackers came with a rush.
Stern saw the swing and crushing impact of the maces and iron clubs;
he saw the stabbing of the spears on both sides.
Slippery and red the parapet became.
Men, killed there, crawled and struggled and fell both outward and
inside, and were trampled in indiscriminate heaps, besieged and
besiegers alike, still clawing, tearing, howling even in their death
Now one of the ladders was down—another fell, with horrid tumult—a
An automatic in each hand, Stern scrambled to the glairy summit of
A mace swung at him. He leaped sidewise, firing as he sprang. With a
scream the ax-man doubled up and fell, and vanished in the gloom below
Raking the parapet with a hail of lead, he mowed down the attackers
on top of the fourth ladder. With a mighty shout, those inside staved
it away with iron grapples. It, too, swayed drunkenly, held below,
pushed madly above. It reeled—then fell with a horrible, grinding
“Hurray, boys! One more down! Give 'em Hell!” he screamed. “One
He turned. Subconsciously he felt that his right hand was wet, and
hot, and dripping, but he felt no pain.
“One more! Now for another!”
And in the opposite direction along the wall he emptied his other
Before the stinging swarm of the steel-jacketed wasps of death the
Lanskaarn writhed and melted down with screams such as Dante in his
wildest vision never even dreamed.
Stern heard a great howl of triumph break from the mass of defenders
fighting to overthrow the fifth ladder.
“Hold 'em! Hold 'em!” he bellowed. “Wait till I load up
A swift and crashing impact dashed sheaves of radiant fire through
Everything leaped and whirled.
He flung up both hands.
Clutching at empty air, then suddenly at the slippery parapet which
seemed to have leaped up and struck him in the face, he fell.
Came a strange numbness, then a stabbing pain.
And darkness quenched all knowledge and all consciousness.
CHAPTER XXIX. SHADOWS OF WAR
A blue and flickering gleam of light, dim, yet persistent, seemed to
enhalo a woman's face; and as Stern's weary eyes opened under languid
lids, closed, then opened again, the wounded engineer smiled in his
“Beatrice!” he whispered, and tried to stretch a hand to her, as she
sat beside his bed of seaweed covered with the coarse brown fabric.
“Oh, Beatrice! Is this—is this another—hallucination?”
She took the hand and kissed it, then bent above him and kissed him
again, this time fair upon the lips.
“No, boy,” she answered. “No hallucination, but reality! You're all
right now—and I'm all right! You've had a little fever
and—and—well, don't ask any questions, that's all. Here, drink this
now and go to sleep!”
She set a massive golden bowl to his mouth, and very gently raised
Unquestioningly he drank, as though he had been a child and she his
mother. The liquid, warm and somewhat sweet, had just a tang of some
new taste that he had never known. Singularly vitalizing it seemed,
soothing yet full of life. With a sigh of contentment, despite the numb
ache in his right temple, he lay back and once more closed his eyes.
Never had he felt such utter weakness. All his forces seemed drained
and spent; even to breathe was very difficult.
Feebly he raised his hand to his head.
“Bandaged?” he whispered. “What does that mean?”
“It means you're to go to sleep now!” she commanded. “That's
all—just go to sleep!”
He lay quiet a moment, but sleep would not come. A score, a hundred
thoughts confusedly crowded his brain.
And once more looking up at her in the dim blue gloom of the hut
where they were, he breathed a question:
“Were you badly hurt, dear, in—in the battle?”
“No, Allan. Just stunned, that's all. Not even wounded. Be quiet now
or I'll scold!”
He raised his arms to her and, weak though he was, took her to his
breast and held her tight, tight.
“Thank God!” he whispered. “Oh, I love you! I love you so! If you'd
She felt his tears hot upon his wasted cheeks, and unloosened his
“There, there!” she soothed him. “You'll get into a fever again if
you don't lie still and try not to think! You—”
“When was it? Yesterday?” he interrupted.
“Sh-h-h-h! No more questions now.”
“But I want to know! And what happened to me? And the—the
Lanskaarn? What about them? And—”
“Heavens, but you're inquisitive for a man that's just missed—I
mean, that's been as sick as you have!” she exclaimed, taking his head
in both hands and gazing down at him with eyes more deeply tender than
he had ever seen them. “Now do be good, boy, and don't worry about all
these things, but go to sleep—there's a dear. And when you wake up
“No, no!” he insisted with passionate eagerness. “I'm not that kind!
I'm not a child, Beta! I've got to know—I can't go to sleep without
knowing. Tell me a little about it, about what happened, and then—then
I'll sleep as long as you say!”
She pondered a moment, weighing matters, then made answer:
“All right, boy, only remember your promise!”
“Good! Now listen. I'll tell you what the old man told me, for
naturally I don't remember the last part of the fight any better than
“I was struck by a flying stone, and—well, it wasn't anything
serious. It just stunned me for a while. I came to in a hut.”
“Where I carried you, dearest, just before I—”
“Yes, I know, just before the battle-ax—”
“Was it an ax that hit me?”
“Yes. But it was only a glancing blow. Your long hair helped save
you, too. But even so—”
“No, I guess concussion of the brain would be the right term for
it.” She took his groping hand in both her own warm, strong ones and
kissed it tenderly. “But before you fell, your raking fire along the
wall there—you understand—”
“Cleaned 'em out, eh?” he queried eagerly.
“That's about it. It turned the tide against the Lanskaarn. And
after that—I guess it was just butchery. I don't know, of course, and
the old man hasn't wanted to tell me much; but anyway, the ladders all
went down, and the Folk here made a sortie from the gate, down the
“And they've got a lot more of those infernal skeletons hanging on
the poles by the fire?” he concluded in a rasping whisper.
She nodded, then kept a minute's silence.
“Did any of 'em get away in their canoes?”
“A few. But in all their history the Folk never won such a victory.
Oh, it was glorious, glorious! And all because of you!”
“And you, dear!”
“And now—now,” she went on, “we're not prisoners any more, but—”
“Everything coming our way? Is that it?”
“That's it. They dragged you out, after the battle, from under a big
heap of bodies under the wall.”
“Outside or inside?”
“Outside, on the beach. They brought you in, for dead, boy. And I
guess they had an awful time about you, from what I've found out—”
“Big powwow, and all that?”
“Yes. If you'd died, they'd have gone on a huge war expedition out
to the islands, wherever those are, and simply wiped out the rest of
the Lanskaarn. But—”
“I'm glad I didn't,” he interrupted. “No more killing from now on!
We want all the living humans we can get; we need 'em in our business!”
Stern was growing excited; the girl had to calm him once more.
“Be quiet, Allan, or I'll leave you this minute and you shan't know
another thing!” she threatened.
“All right, I'll be good,” he promised. “What next? I'm the Big
Chief now, of course? What I say now goes?“
She answered nothing, but a troubled wrinkle drew between her
perfect brows. For a moment there was silence, save for the dull and
distant roaring of the flame.
By the glow of the bluish light in the hut, Stern looked up at her.
Never had she seemed so beautiful. The heavy masses of her hair, parted
in the middle and fastened with gold pins such as the Folk wore, framed
her wonderful face with twilight shadows. He saw she was no longer clad
in fur, but in a loose and flowing mantle of the brown fabric, caught
up below the breast with a gold-clasped girdle.
“Oh, Beatrice,” he breathed, “kiss me again!”
She kissed him; but even in the caress he sensed an unvoiced
anxiety, a hidden fear.
“What's wrong?” asked he anxiously.
“Nothing, dear. Now you must be quiet! You're in the
patriarch's house here. You're safe—for the present, and—”
“For the present? What do you mean?”
“See here.” the girl threatened, “if you don't stop asking
questions, and go to sleep again, I'll leave you alone!”
“In that case I promise!”
And now obedient, he closed his eyes, relaxed, and let her
soothingly caress him. But still another thought obtruded on his mind.
“How long ago was that fight?”
“Oh, a little while. Never mind now!”
“Yes, but how long? Two days? Four? Five?”
“They don't have days down here,” she evaded.
“I know. But reckoning our way—five days?”
“Nearer ten, Allan.”
“What? But then—”
The girl withdrew her hand from him and arose.
“I see it's no use, Allan,” she said decisively. “So long as I stay
with you you'll ask questions and excite yourself. I'm going! Then
you'll have to keep still!”
“Beta! Beta!” he implored. “I'll be good! Don't leave me—you
“All right; but if you ask me another question, a single one, mind,
I'll truly go!”
“Just give me your hand, girlie, that's all! Come here—sit down
beside me again—so!”
He turned on his side, on the rude couch of coarse brown fabric
stuffed with dried seaweed, laid his hollow cheek upon her hand, and
gave a deep sigh.
“Now, I'm off,” he murmured. “Only, don't leave me, Beta!”
For half an hour after his deep, slow breathing told that the
wounded man was sleeping soundly—half an hour as time was measured
where the sun shone, for down in the black depths of the abyss all such
divisions were as naught, Beatrice sat lovingly and tenderly beside the
primitive bed. Her right palm beneath his face, she stroked his long
hair and his wan cheek with her other hand; and now she smiled with
pride and reminiscence, now a grave, troubled look crossed her
The light, a fiber wick burning in a stone cup of oil upon a
stone-slab table in the center of the hut, “uttered unsteadily, casting
huge and dancing shadows up the black walls.
“Oh, my beloved!” whispered the girl, and bent above him till the
loosened sheaves of her hair swept his face. “My love! Only for you,
where should I be now? With you, how could I be afraid? And yet—”
She turned at a sound from a narrow door opposite the larger one
that gave upon the plaza, a door, like the other, closed by a heavy
curtain platted of seaweed.
There, holding the curtain back, stood the blind patriarch. His hut,
larger than most in the strange village, boasted two rooms. Now from
the inner one, where he had been resting, he came to speak with
“Peace, daughter!” said the old man. “Peace be unto you. He sleeps?”
“Yes, father. He's much better now, I think. His constitution is
“Verily, he is strong. But far stronger are those terrible and
wonderful weapons of yours! If our Folk only had such!”
“You're better off without them. But of course, if you want to
understand them, he can explain them in due time. Those, and endless
“I believe that is truth.” The patriarch advanced into the room, and
for a minute stood by the bedside with venerable dignity. “The
traditions, I remember, tell of so many strange matters. I shall know
them, every one. All in time, all in time!”
“Your simple medicines, down here, are wonderful,” said the girl
admiringly. “What did you put into that draught I gave him to make him
sleep this way?”
“Only the steeped root of our n'gahar plant, my daughter—a
simple weed brought up from the bottom of this sea by our strong
divers. It is nothing, nothing.”
Came silence again. The aged man sat down upon a curved stone bench
that followed the contour of the farther wall. Presently he spoke once
“Daughter,” said he, “it is now ten sleeping—times—nights, the
English speech calls them, if I remember what my grandfather taught
me—since the battle. And my son, here, still lies weak and sick. I go
soon to get still other plants for him. Stronger plants, to make him
well and powerful again. For there is haste now—haste!”
“Yea, Kamrou! I know the temper of that evil man better than any
other. He and his boats may return from the great fisheries in the
White Gulf beyond the vortex at any time, and—”
“But, father, after all we've done for the village here, and
especially after what Allan's done? After this wonderful victory, I
“You do not know that man!” exclaimed the patriarch. “I know
him! Rather would he and his slay every living thing in this community
than yield one smallest atom of power to any other.”
He arose wearily and gathered his mantle all about him, then reached
for his staff that leaned beside the outer door.
“Peace!” he exclaimed. “Ah, when shall we have peace and learning
and a better life again? The teaching and the learning of the English
speech and all the arts you know, now lost to us—to us, the abandoned
Folk in the abyss? When? When?”
He raised the curtain to depart; but even then he paused once more,
and turned to her.
“Verily, you have spoken truth,” said he, “when you have said that
all, all here are with us, with you and this wondrous man now
lying weak and wounded in my house. But Kamrou—is different. Alas, you
know him not—you know him not!
“Watch well over my son, here! Soon must he grow strong again. Soon,
soon! Soon, against the coming of Kamrou. For if the chief returns and
my son be weak still, then woe to him, to you, to me! Woe to us all!
The curtain fell. The patriarch was gone. Outside, Beatrice heard
the click-click-click of his iron staff upon the smooth and flinty rock
And to her ears, mingled with the far roaring of the flame, drifted
“Woe, woe to him! Woe to us all—woe—woe!”
CHAPTER XXX. EXPLORATION
Under the ministering care of Beatrice and the patriarch, Stern's
convalescence was rapid. The old man, consumed with terror lest the
dreaded chief, Kamrou, return ere the stranger should have wholly
recovered, spent himself in efforts to hasten the cure. And with deft
skill he brewed his potions, made his salves, and concocted revivifying
medicines from minerals which only he—despite his blindness—knew how
The blow that had so shrewdly clipped Stern's skull must have
inevitably killed, as an ox is dropped in the slaughter-house, a man
less powerfully endowed with splendid energies and full vitality.
Even Stern's wonderful physique had a hard fight to regain its
finely ripened forces. But day by day he gained—we must speak of days,
though there were only sleeping-times and waking-times—until at
length, upon the fifth, he was able for the first time to leave his
seaweed bed and sit a while weakly on the patriarch's bench, with
Beatrice beside him.
Hand in hand they sat, while Stern asked many questions, and the old
man, smiling, answered such as he saw fit. But of Kamrou neither he nor
the girl yet breathed one syllable.
Next day and the next, and so on every day, Stern was able to creep
out of the hut, then walk a little, and finally—sometimes alone,
sometimes with one or both his nurses—go all among the wondering and
admiring Folk, eagerly watch their labors of all kinds, try to talk
with them in the few halting words he was able to pick up, and learn
many things of use and deepest interest. A grave and serious Folk they
were, almost without games or sports, seemingly without religious rites
of any kind, and lacking festivals such as on the surface every
barbarous people had always had.
Their fisheries, netmaking, weaving, ironwork, sewing with long iron
needles and coarse fiber-thread keenly interested him. Accustomed now
to the roaring of the flame, he seemed no longer to hear this sound
which had at first so sorely disconcerted him.
He found out nothing concerning their gold and copper supply; but
their oil, he discovered, they collected in pits below the southern
wall of the village, where it accumulated from deep fissures in the
rock. With joy he noted the large number of children, for this bespoke
a race still vigorous and with all sorts of possibilities when trained.
Odd little, silent creatures the children were, white-faced and
white-haired, playless and grave, laboring like their elders even from
the age of five or six. They followed him about in little troops,
watching him soberly; but when he turned and tried to talk with them
they scurried off like frightened rabbits and vanished in the
always-open huts of stone.
Thoroughly he explored every nook and corner of the village. As soon
as his strength permitted, he even penetrated parts of the surrounding
region. He thought at times to detect among the Folk who followed and
surrounded him, unless he expressly waved them away, some hard looks
here or there. Instinctively he felt that a few of the people, here
one, there one, still held hate and bitterness against him as an alien
and an interloper.
But the mass of them now outwardly seemed so eager to serve
and care for him, so quick to obey, so grateful almost to adoration,
that Stern felt ashamed of his own suspicions and of the revolver that
he still always carried whenever outside the patriarch's hut.
And in his heart he buried his fears as unworthy delusions, as the
imaginings of a brain still hurt. The occasional black looks of one or
another of the people, or perchance some sullen, muttered word, he set
down as the crude manners of a primitive and barbarous race.
How little, despite all his skill and wit, he could foresee the
To Beatrice he spoke no word of his occasional uneasiness, nor yet
to the old man. Yet one of the very first matters he attended to was
the overhauling of the revolvers, which had been rescued out of the
melee of the battle and been given to the patriarch, who had kept them
with a kind of religious devotion.
Stern put in half a day cleaning and oiling the weapons. He found
there still remained a hundred and six cartridges in his bandolier and
the girl's. These he now looked upon as his most precious treasure. He
divided them equally with Beatrice, and bade her never go out unless
she had her weapon securely belted on.
Their life at home was simple in the extreme. Beatrice had the inner
room of the hut for her own. Stern and the patriarch occupied the outer
one. And there, often far into the hours of the sleeping-time, when
Beatrice was resting within, he and the old man talked of the wonders
of the past, of the outer world, of old traditions, of the abyss, and a
thousand fascinating speculations.
Particularly did the old man seek to understand some notions of the
lost machine on which the strangers had come from the outer world; but,
though Stern tried most patiently to make him grasp the principle of
the mechanism, he failed. This talk, however, set Stern thinking very
seriously about the biplane; and he asked a score of questions relative
to the qualities of the native oil, to currents in the sea, locations,
depths, and so on.
All that he could learn he noted mentally with the precision of the
With accurate scientific observation he at once began to pile up
information about the people and the village, the sea, the
abyss—everything, in fact, that he could possibly learn. He felt that
everything depended on a sound understanding of the topography and
nature of the incredible community where he and the girl now found
themselves—perhaps for a life stay.
Beatrice and he were clad now like the Folk; wore their hair twisted
in similar fashion and fastened with heavy pins or spikes of gold,
cleverly graven; were shod with sandals like theirs, made of the skin
of a shark-like fish; and carried torches everywhere they went—torches
of dried weed, close-packed in a metal basket and impregnated with oil.
This oil particularly interested Stern. Its peculiar blue flame
struck him as singular in the extreme. It had, moreover, the property
of burning a very long time without being replenished. A wick immersed
in it was never consumed or even charred, though the heat produced was
“If I can't set up some kind of apparatus to distil that into
gas-engine fuel, I'm no engineer, that's all,” said Stern to himself.
“All in time, all in time—but first I must take thought how to raise
the old Pauillac from the sea.”
Already the newcomers' lungs had become absolutely accustomed to the
condensed air, so that they breathed with entire ease and comfort. They
even found this air unusually stimulating and revivifying, because of
its greater amount of oxygen to the cubic unit; and thus they were able
to endure greater exertions than formerly on the surface of the earth.
The air never grew foul. A steady current set in the direction that
Stern's pocket-compass indicated as north. The heat no longer oppressed
them; they were even getting used to the constant fog and to the
darkness; and already could see far better than a fortnight previously,
when they had arrived.
Stern never could have believed he could learn to do without
sunlight and starlight and the free winds of heaven; but now he found
that even these were not essential to human life.
Certain phenomena excited his scientific interest very keenly—such
as the source of the great gas-flare in the village, the rhythmic
variations in the air-current, the small but well-marked tides on the
sea, the diminished force of gravitation—indicating a very great
depth, indeed, toward the center of the earth—the greater density of
the seawater, the heavy vaporization, certain singular rock-strata of
the cliffs near the village, and many other matters.
All these Stern promised himself he would investigate as soon as
time and strength allowed.
The village itself, he soon determined, was about half a mile long
and perhaps a quarter-mile across, measuring from the fortified gate
directly back to the huge flame near the dungeon and the place of
He found, incidentally, that more than one hundred and sixty freshly
boiled and headless skeletons were now dangling from the iron rods, but
wisely held his peace concerning them. Nor did the patriarch volunteer
any information about the loss of life of the Folk in the battle. Stern
estimated there were now some fifteen hundred people, men, women and
children, still remaining in the community; but since he knew nothing
of their number when he had arrived, he could not form more than a
rough idea of the total slaughter.
He found, however, on one of his excursions outside the walls—which
at a distance of two hundred and fifty yards from the sea stretched in
a vast irregular arc abutting at each end against the cliff—the
graveyard of the Folk.
This awesome and peculiar place consisted of heaps of smooth black
boulders piled upon the dead, each heap surmounted by a stone with some
crude emblem cut upon it, such as a circle, a square, a cluster of
dots, even the rude figure of a bird, a fish, a tortoise, and so on.
Certain of the figures he could make nothing of; but he concluded
rightly they were totem-signs, and that they represented all which
still remained of the art of writing among those barbarous remnants of
the once dominant, powerful and highly cultured race of Americans.
He counted more than two hundred freshly built piles of stone, but
whether any of these contained more than one body of the Folk he could,
of course, not tell. Allowing, however, that only two hundred of the
Folk and one hundred and sixty of the Lanskaarn had fallen, he readily
perceived that the battle had been, for intensity and high percentage
of killing, sanguinary beyond all battles of his own time.
Under the walls, too, the vast numbers of boulders which had been
thrown down, the debris of broken weapons, long and jaggedly barbed
iron spear-points and so on, indicated the military ardor and the
boldness of the fighting men he now had to dominate and master.
And in his soul he knew the problem of taming, civilizing, saving
this rude and terrible people, was certainly the very greatest ever
given into the hands of one man and one woman, since time began!
Along the beach he found a goodly number of empty revolver-shells.
These he picked up, for possible reloading, in case he should be able
at some later time to manufacture powder and some fulminating mixture.
He asked the patriarch to have search made for all such empty
shells. The Folk eagerly and intelligently cooperated.
With interest he watched the weird sight of scores of men with
torches rolling the great stones about, seeking for the precious
cartridges. From the beach they tossed the shells up to him as he
walked along the top of the fortifications so lately the scene of
horrible combat; and despite him his heart swelled with pride in his
breast, to be already directing them in some concerted labor, even so
slight as this.
Save for some such interruption, the life of the community had now
settled back into its accustomed routine.
With diminished numbers, but indomitable energy, the Folk went on
with their daily tasks. Stern concluded the great funeral ceremony,
which must have taken place over the fallen defenders, and the horrible
rites attending the decapitation, boiling, and hanging up of the
trophies of war, the Lanskaarn skeletons, certainly must have formed a
series of barbaric pictures more ghastly than any drug-fiend's most
diabolical nightmare. He thanked God that the girl had been spared
these frightful scenes.
He could get the old man to tell him nothing concerning these
terrific ceremonies. But he discovered, some thirty yards to southward
of the circle of stone posts, a boiling geyserlike pool in the rock
floor, whence the thick steam continually arose, and which at times
burst up in terrific seething.
Here his keen eye detected traces of the recent rites. Here, he
knew, the enemies' corpses—and perhaps even some living captives—had
And as he stood on the sloping, slippery edge of the great natural
caldron, a pit perhaps forty feet in diameter—its margins all worn
smooth and greasy by innumerable feet—he shuddered in his soul.
“Good God!” thought he. “Imagine being flung in there!”
What was it, premonition or sheer repulsion, that caused him, brave
as he was, to turn away with a peculiar and intense horror?
Try as he might, he could not banish from his mind the horrible
picture of that boiling vat as it must have looked, crammed to the lip
with the tumbling, crowding bodies of the dead.
He seemed still to hear the groans of the wounded, the shrieks of
the prisoners being dragged thither, being hurled into the spumy,
And in his heart he half despaired of ever bringing back to
civilization a people so wild and warlike, so cruel, so barbarous as
these abandoned People of the Abyss.
Could he have guessed what lay in store for Beatrice and himself
should Kamrou, returning, find them still there, a keener and deadlier
fear would have possessed his soul.
But of Kamrou he knew nothing yet. Even the chief's name he had not
heard. And the patriarch, for reasons of his own, had not yet told the
girl a tenth part of the threatening danger.
Even what he had told, he had forbidden her—for Allan's own
sake—to let him know.
Thus in a false and fancied sense of peace and calm security, Stern
made his observations, laid his plans, and day by day once more came
back toward health and strength again.
And day by day the unknown peril drew upon them both.
CHAPTER XXXI. ESCAPE?
Who could, indeed, suspect aught of this threatening danger?
Outwardly all now was peaceful. Each waking-time the fishers put forth
in their long boats of metal strips covered with fish-skins. Every
sleeping-time they returned laden with the fish that formed the
principal staple of the community.
The weaving of seaweed fiber, the making of mats, blankets, nets and
slings went on as probably for many centuries before.
At forges here and there, where gas-wells blazed, the smiths of the
Folk shaped their iron implements or worked most skillfully in gold and
copper; and the ringing of the hammers, through the dim-lit gloom
around the strange blue fires, formed a chorus fit for Vulcan or the
tempering of Siegfried's master-sword.
Stern took occasion to visit many of the huts. They were all
similar. As yet he could not talk freely with the Folk but he took keen
interest in examining their household arrangements, which were of the
simplest. Stone benches and tables, beds of weed, and coarse blankets,
utensils of metal or bone—these completed the total.
Stern groaned inwardly at thought of all the arts he still must
teach them before they should once more even approximate the
civilization whence they had fallen since the great catastrophe.
Behind the village rose a gigantic black cliff, always dripping and
running with water from the condensation of the fogs. This water the
Folk very sensibly and cleverly drained down into large tanks cut in
the rock floor. The tanks, always full, furnished their entire supply
for drinking and cooking. Flat, warm and tasteless though it was, it
seemed reasonably pure. None of this water was ever used for bathing.
What little bathing the Folk ever indulged in took place at certain
points along the shore, where the fine and jet-black sand made a good
Along the base of the vast cliff, which, broken and jagged, rose
gleaming in the light of the great flame till it gradually faded in the
luminous mist, they carried on their primitive cooking.
Over cracks in the stone, whence gas escaped steadily and burned
with a blue flicker, hung copper pots fairly well fashioned, though of
bizarre shapes. Here the communal cuisine went steadily forward, tended
by the strange, white-haired, long-cloaked women; and odors of boiling
and of frying, over hot iron plates, rose and mingled with the
shifting, swirling vapors from the sea.
Beatrice tried, a few times, to take some part in this work. She was
eager to teach the women better methods, but at last the patriarch told
her to let them alone, as she was only irritating them. Unlike the men,
who almost worshipped the revolvers, and would have handled them, and
even quickly learned to shoot, if Stern had allowed, the women clung
sternly to their old ways.
The patriarch had a special cooking place made for Beatrice, and got
her a lot of the clumsy utensils. Here she busied herself preparing
food for Allan and herself—and a strange sight that was, the American
girl, dressed in her long, brown robe, her thick hair full of gold
pins, cooking over natural gas in the Abyss, with heavy copper pans and
kettles of incredible forms!
Almost at once, the old man abandoned the native cookery and grew
devoted to hers. Anything that told him of the other and better times,
the days about which he dreamed continually in his blindness, was very
dear to him.
The Merucaans were, truly, barbarously dull about their ways of
preparing food. Day after day they never varied. The menu was limited
in the extreme. Stern felt astonished that a race could maintain itself
in such fine condition and keep so splendidly energetic, so keen and
warlike, on such a miserable diet. The food must, he thought, possess
nutritive qualities far beyond any expectation.
Fish was the basis of all—a score of strange and unnatural-looking
varieties, not one of which he had ever seen in surface waters. For the
most part, they were gray or white; two or three species showed some
rudiments of coloring. All were blind, with at most some faint vestigia
of eye-structure, wholly degenerated and useless.
“Speaking of evolution,” said the engineer, one day, to Beatrice, as
they stood on the black boulder-beach and watched the fishermen toss
their weird freight out upon the slippery stones—“these fish here give
a magnificent example of it. You see, where the use for an organ
ceases, the organ itself eventually perishes. But take these creatures
and put them back into the surface-ocean—”
“The eyes would develop again?” she queried.
“Precisely! And so with everything! Take the Folk themselves, for
instance. Now that they've been living here a thousand or fifteen
hundred years, away from the sunlight, all the protecting pigmentation
that used to shield the human race from the actinic sun rays has
gradually faded out. So they've got white hair, colorless skins, and
pinkish eyes. Out in the world again, they'd gradually grow normal
again. How I wish some of my old-time opponents to the evolutionary
theory could stand here with me to-day in the Abyss! I bet a million I
could mighty soon upset their nonsense!”
Such of the fish as were not eaten in their natural state were
salted down in vats hollowed in the rock, at the far end of the
village. Still others were dried, strung by the gills on long cords of
seaweed fiber, and hung in rows near the great flame. There were
certain days for this process.
At other times no fish were allowed anywhere near the fire. Why this
was, Stern could not discover. Even the patriarch would not tell him.
Beside the fish, several seaweeds were cooked and eaten in the form
of leaves, bulbs, and roots, which some of the Folk dived for or
dragged from the bottom with iron grapples. All the weeds tasted alike
to Stern and Beatrice; but the old man assured them there were really
great differences, and that certain of them were rare delicacies.
A kind of huge, misshapen sea-turtle was the chief prize of all.
Three were taken during the strangers' first fortnight in the Abyss;
but the fortunate boat-crews that brought them in devoured them,
refusing to share even a morsel with any other of the people.
Stern and the girl were warned against tasting any weed, fish, or
mussel on their own initiative. The patriarch told them certain deadly
species existed—species used only in preparing venoms in which to dip
the spear and lance-points of the fighting men.
Beyond these foods the only others were the flesh and eggs of the
highly singular birds the strangers had seen on their first entry into
the village. These tasted rankly of fish, and were at first very
disagreeable. But gradually the newcomers were able to tolerate them
when cooked by Beatrice in as near an approximation to modern methods
as she could manage.
The birds made a peculiar feature of this weird, uncanny life. Long
of leg, wattled and web-footed, with ungainly bodies, sparsely
feathered, and bare necks, they were, Stern thought, absolutely the
most hideous and unreal-appearing creatures he had ever seen. In size
they somewhat resembled an albatross. The folk called them kalamakee. They were so fully domesticated as to make free with all the refuse of
the village and even to waddle into the huts in croaking search of
plunder; yet they nested among the broken rocks along the cliff to
northward of the place.
There they built clumsy structures of weed for their eggs and their
incredibly ugly young. Every day at a certain time they took their
flight out into the fog, with hoarse and mournful cries, and stayed the
equivalent of some three hours.
Their number Stern could only estimate, but it must have mounted
well toward five or six thousand. One of the most singular sights the
newcomers had in the Abyss was the homecoming of the flight, the
feeding of the young—by discharging half-digested fish—and the
subsequent noisy powwow of the waddling multitude. All this, heard and
seen by torch-light, produced a picture weirdly fascinating.
Fish, weeds, sea-fowl—these constituted the sum tote of food
sources for the Folk. There existed neither bread, flesh—meat, milk,
fruit, sweets, or any of the abundant vegetables of the surface. Nor
yet was there any plant which might be dried and smoked, like tobacco,
nor any whence alcohol might be distilled. The folk had neither
stimulants nor narcotics.
Stern blessed fate for this. If any such had existed, he knew human
nature well enough to feel certain that, there in the eternal gloom and
fog, the race would soon have given itself over to excesses and have
“To my mind,” he said to Beatrice, one time, “the survival of our
race under such conditions is one of the most marvelous things possibly
to be conceived.” Out toward the black and mist-hidden sea that rolled
forever in the gloom he gestured from the wall where they were
“Imagine!” he continued. “No sunlight—for centuries! Without that,
nothing containing chlorophyl can grow; and science has always
maintained that human life must depend, at last analysis, on
chlorophyl, on the green plants containing it. No grains, no soil, or
agriculture, no mammals even! Why, the very Eskimo have to depend on
mammals for their life!
“But these people here, and the Lanskaarn, and whatever other
unknown tribes live in this vast Abyss, have to get their entire living
from this tepid sea. They don't even possess wood to work with! If this
doesn't prove the human race all but godlike in its skill and courage
and adaptability, what does?”
She stood a while in thought, plainly much troubled. It was evident
her mind was far from following his analysis. At last she spoke.
“Allan!” she suddenly exclaimed.
“It's still out there somewhere, isn't it? Out there, in those
black, unsounded depths—the biplane?”
“Why couldn't we raise it again, and—”
“Of course! You know I mean to try as soon as I have these people
under some control so I can get them to cooperate with me—get them to
“Not till then? No escape till then? But, Allan, it may be too
late!” she burst out with passionate eagerness.
Puzzled, he turned and peered at her in the bluish gloom.
“Escape?” he queried. “Too late? Why, what do you mean? Escape from
what? You mean that we should leave these people, here, before we've
even begun to teach them? Before we've discovered some way out of the
Abyss for them? Leave everything that means the regeneration of the
human race, the world? Why—”
A touch upon his arm interrupted him.
He turned quickly to find the patriarch standing at his side. Silent
and dim through the fog, he had come thither with sandaled feet, and
now stood with a strange, inscrutable smile on his long-bearded lips.
“What keeps my children here,” asked he, “when already it is long
past the sleeping-hour? Verily, this should not be! Come,” he
commanded. “Come away! To-morrow will be time for speech.”
And, giving them no further opportunity to talk of this new problem,
he spoke of other matters, and so led them back to his hospitable hut
But for a long time Allan could not sleep. Weird thoughts and new
suspicions now aroused, he lay and pondered many things.
What if, after all, this seeming friendliness and homage of the
savage Folk were but a mask?
A vision of the boiling geyser-pit rose to his memory. And the
dreams he dreamed that night were filled with strange, confused,
CHAPTER XXXII. PREPARATIONS
He woke to hear a drumming roar that seemed to fill the spaces of
the Abyss with a wild tumult such as he had never known—a steady
thunder, wonderful and wild.
Starting up, he saw by the dim light that the patriarch was sitting
there upon the stone, thoughtful and calm, apparently giving no heed to
this singular tumult. But Stern, not understanding, put a hasty
“What's all this uproar, father? I never heard anything like that up
in the surface-world!”
“That? Only the rain, my son,” the old man answered. “Had you no
rain there? Verily, traditions tell of rain among the people of that
“Rain? Merciful Heavens!” exclaimed the engineer. Two minutes later
he was at the fortifications, gazing out across the beach at the sea.
It would be hard to describe accurately the picture that met his
eyes. The heaviest cloudburst that ever devastated a countryside was
but a trickle compared with this monstrous, terrifying deluge.
Some five hundred miles of dense and saturated vapors, suddenly
condensing, were precipitating the water, not in drops but in great
solid masses, thundering, bellowing, crashing as they struck the sea,
which, churned to a deep and raging froth, flung mighty waves even
against the massive walls of the village itself.
The fog was gone now; but in its place the rushing walls of water
blotted out the scene. Yet not a drop was falling in the village
itself. Stern wondered for a moment. But, looking up, he understood.
The vast cliff was now dimly visible in the glare of the great
flame, the steady roar of which was drowned by the tumult of the rain.
Stern saw that the village was sheltered under a tremendous overhang
of the black rock; he understood why the ancestors of the Folk, coming
to these depths after incredible adventurings and long-forgotten
struggles, had settled here. Any exposed location would have been
fatal; no hut could have withstood the torrent, nor could any man,
caught in it, have escaped drowning outright.
Amazed and full of wonder at this terrific storm, so different from
those on the surface—for there was neither wind nor lightning, but
just that steady, frightful sluicing down of solid tons of rain—Stern
made his way back to the patriarch's house.
There he met Beatrice, just awakened.
“No chance to raise the machine to-day!” she called to him as he
entered. “He says this is apt to last for hours and hours!” She nodded
toward the old man, much distressed.
“Patience!” he murmured. “Patience, friends—and peace!”
Stern thought a moment.
“Well,” said he, at last, making himself heard only with difficulty,
“even so, we can spend the day in making ready.”
And, after the simple meal that served for breakfast, he sat down to
think out definitely some plan of campaign for the recovery of the lost
Though Stern by no means understood the girl's anxiety to leave the
Abyss, nor yet had any intention of trying to do so until he had begun
the education of the Folk and had perfected some means of trying to
transplant this group—and whatever other tribes he could find—to the
surface again, he realized the all-importance of getting the machine
into his possession once more.
For more than an hour he pondered the question, now asking a
question of the patriarch—who seemed torn between desire to have the
wonder-thing brought up, and fear lest he should lose the
strangers—now designing grapples, now formulating a definite line of
At last, all things settled in his mind, he bade the old man get for
him ten strong ropes, such as the largest nets were made of. These
ropes which he had already seen coiled in huge masses along the wall at
the northern end of the village, where they were twisted of the tough
weed-fiber, averaged all of two hundred feet in length. When the
patriarch had gone to see about having them brought to the hut, he
himself went across the plaza, with Beatrice, to the communal smithy.
There he appropriated a forge, hammers, and a quantity of iron bars,
and energetically set to work fashioning a huge three-pronged hook.
A couple of hours' hard labor at the anvil—labor which proved that
he was getting back his normal strength once more—completed the task.
Deftly he heated, shaped and reshaped the iron, while vast
Brocken-shadows danced and played along the titanic cliff behind him,
cast by the wavering blue gas-flames of the forge. At length he found
himself in possession of a drag weighing about forty pounds and
provided with a stout ring at the top of the shank six inches in
“Now,” said he to Beatrice, as he surveyed the finished product,
while all about them the inquisitive yet silent Folk watched them by
the unsteady light, “now I guess we're ready to get down to something
practical. Just as soon as this infernal rain lets up a bit, we'll go
angling for the biggest fish that ever came out of this sea!”
But the storm was very far from being at an end. The patriarch told
Stern, when he brought the grapple to the hut—followed by a silent,
all-observant crowd—that sometimes these torrential downpours lasted
from three to ten sleep-times, with lulls between.
“And nobody can venture on the sea,” he added, “till we know—by
certain signs we have—that the great rain is verily at an end. To do
that would mean to court death; and we are wise, from very long
experience. So, my son, you must have patience in this as in all
things, and wait!”
Part of that afternoon of forced inactivity Stern spent in his
favorite habit of going about among the Folk, closely mingling with
them and watching all their industrial processes and social life, and
trying, as usual, to pick tip words and phrases of the very
far-degenerated speech that once had been English but was now a
grammarless and formless jumble of strange words.
Only a few of the most common words he found retained anything like
their original forms—such as w'hata, water; fohdu, food;
yernuh, iron; vlaak, black; gomu, come; ghaa,
go; fysha, fish; and so on for about forty others.
Thousands upon thousands of terms, for which no longer any objects
now existed among the Folk, had been of course utterly forgotten; and
some hundreds of new words, relative to new conditions, had been
The entire construction was altered; the language now bore no more
resemblance to English than English had borne to the primitive
Indo-Germanic of the Aryan forefathers. Now that writing had been lost,
nothing retarded changes; and Stern realized that here—were he a
trained philologist—lay a task incomparably interesting and difficult,
to learn this Merucaan speech and trace its development from his own
But Stern's skill was all in other lines. The most that he could do
was to make some rough vocabularies, learn a few common phrases, and
here or there try to teach a little English. A deeper study and
teaching, he knew, would come later, when more important matters had
been attended to.
His attempts to learn and to talk with these people—by pointing at
objects and listening to their names—were comparable to those,
perhaps, of a prehistoric Goth turned loose in an American village of
the twentieth century. Only the patriarch had retained the
mother-tongue, and that in an archaic, imperfect manner, so that even
his explanations often failed. Stern felt the baffling difficulties in
his way; but his determination only grew.
The rain steadily continued to drum down, now lessened, now again in
terrific deluges of solid black water churned to white as they struck
the sea and flung the froth on high. The two Americans passed an hour
that afternoon in the old man's hut, drawing up a calendar on which to
check as accurately as possible, the passage of time as reckoned in the
terms of life upon the surface.
They scratched this on a slab of slatelike rock, with a sharp iron
awl; and, reckoning the present day as about October first, agreed that
every waking-time they would cross off one square.
“For,” said the engineer, “it's most important that we should keep
track of the seasons up above. That may have much to do with our
attempts to transplant this colony. It would never do to take a people
like this, accustomed to heat and vapor, and carry them out into even
the mild winter that now prevails in a present-day December. If we
don't get them to the surface before the last of this month, at
“We'll have to wait until another spring?” asked she.
“Looks that way,” he assented, putting a few final touches to the
calendar. “So you see it's up to us to hurry—and certainly nothing
more inopportune than this devilish rain could possibly have happened!
Haste, haste! We must make haste!”
“That's so!” exclaimed Beatrice. “Every day's precious, now. We—”
“My children,” hurriedly interrupted the patriarch, “I never yet
have shown you my book—my one and greatest treasure. The book!
“You have told me many things, of sun and moon and stars, which are
mocked at as idle tales by my unbelieving people; of continents and
seas, mountains, vast cities, great ships, strange engines moved by
vapor and by lightning, tall houses; of words thrown along metal
threads or even through the air itself; of great nations and wars, of a
hundred wondrous matters that verily have passed away even from the
remotest memories of us in the Abyss!
“But of our history I have told you little; nor have you seen the
book! Yet you must see it, for it alone remains to us of that other,
better time. And though my folk mock at it as imposture and myth and
fraud, you shall judge if it be true; you shall see what has kept the
English speech alive in me, kept memories of the upper world alive.
Only the book, the book!”
His voice seemed strangely agitated. As he spoke he raised his hands
toward them, sitting on the stone bench in the hut, while outside the
rain still thundered louder than the droning roar of the great flame.
Stern, his curiosity suddenly aroused, looked at the old man with keen
“The book?” he queried. “What book? What's the name of it? What
date? What—who wrote it, and—”
“You mean you've really got an English book here in this village?
“A book, verily, from the other days! But first, before I show you,
let me tell you the old tradition that was handed down to me by my
father and my father's fathers, down through centuries—I know not how
“You mean the story of this Lost Folk in the Abyss?”
“Verily! You have told me yours, of your awakening, of the ruined
world and all your struggles and your fall down into this cursed pit.
Listen now to mine!”
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE PATRIARCH'S TALE
“In the beginning,” he commanded, slowly and thoughtfully, “our
people were as yours; they were the same. Our tradition tells that a
great breaking of the world took place very many centuries ago. Out of
the earth a huge portion was split, and it became as the moon you tell
of, only dark. It circled about the earth—”
“By Jove!” cried Stern, and started to his feet. “That dark patch in
the sky! That moving mystery we saw nights at the bungalow on the
“You mean—” the girl exclaimed.
“It's a new planetoid! Another satellite of the earth! It's the
split-off part of the world!”
“Of course! Hang it, yes! See now? The great explosion that
liberated the poisonous gases and killed practically everybody in the
world must have gouged this new planet out of the flank of Mother Earth
in the latter part of 1920. The ejected portions, millions of millions
of tons, hundreds of thousands of cubic miles of solid rock—and with
them the ruins of Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Omaha, and hundreds of
smaller cities—are now all revolving in a fixed, regular orbit, some
few thousand miles or so from the surface!
“Think! Ours are the only living human eyes that have seen this new
world blotting out the stars! This explains everything—the singular
changes in the tides and in the direction of the magnetic pole,
decreased gravitation and all the other strange things we noticed, but
couldn't understand. By Gad! What a discovery!”
The patriarch listened eagerly while Stern and the girl discussed
the strange phenomenon; but when their excitement had subsided and they
were ready again to hear him, he began anew:
“Verily, such was the first result of the great catastrophe. And, as
you know, millions died. But among the canyons of the Rocky
Mountains—so says the tradition; is it right? Were there such
“Yes, yes! Go on!”
“In those canyons a few handfuls of hardy people still survived.
Some perished of famine and exposure; some ventured out into the
lowlands and died of the gas that still hung heavy there. Some were
destroyed in a great fire that the tradition says swept the earth after
the explosion. But a few still lived. At one time the number was only
eighteen men, twelve women and a few children, so the story goes.”
“Then,” continued the patriarch, his brow wrinkled in deep thought,
“then came the terrible, swift cold. The people, still keeping their
English tongue, now dead save for you two, and still with some tools
and even a few books, retreated into caves and fissures in the canyons.
And so they came to the great descent.”
“The huge cleft which the story says once connected the upper world
with this Abyss. And—”
“Is it open now,” cried Stern, leaning sharply forward.
“Alas, no; but you hurry me too much, good friend. You understand,
for a long time they lived the cave-life partly, and partly the upper
life. And they increased a great deal in the hundred years that
followed the explosion. But they never could go into the plains, for
still the gas hung there, rising from a thousand wells—ten thousand,
mayhap, all very deadly. And so they knew not if the rest of the world
lived or died.”
“And then?” queried the engineer. “Let's have it all in outline.
“This, my son: that a still greater cold came upon the world, and
the life of the open became impossible. There were now ten or twelve
thousand alive; but they were losing their skill, their knowledge,
everything. Only a few men still kept the wisdom of reading or writing,
even. For life was a terrible fight. And they had to seek food now in
the cave-lakes; that was all remaining.
“After that, another fifty or a hundred years, came the second great
explosion. The ways were closed to the outer world. Nearly all died.
What happened even the tradition does not tell. How many years the
handful of people wandered I do not know. Neither do I know how they
“The story says only eight or ten altogether reached this sea. It
was much smaller then. The islands of the Lanskaarn, as we call them
now, were then joined to the land here. Great changes have taken place.
Verily, all is different! Everything was lost—language and arts, and
even the look of the Folk.
“We became as you see us. The tradition itself was forgotten save by
a few. Sometimes we increased, then came pestilences and famines,
outbreaks of lava and hot mud and gases, and nearly all died. At one
time only seven remained—”
“For all the world like the story of Pitcairn Island and the
mutineers of the 'Bounty'!” interrupted the engineer. “Yes, yes—go
“There is little more to tell. The tradition says there was once a
place of records, where certain of the wisest men of our Folk placed
all their lore to keep it; but even this place is lost. Only one family
kept any knowledge of the English as a kind of inheritance and the
single book went with that family—”
“But the Lanskaarn and the other peoples of the Abyss, where did
they come from?” asked Stern eagerly.
The patriarch shook his head.
“How can I tell?” he answered. “The tradition says nothing of them.”
“Some other groups, probably,” suggested Beatrice, “that came in at
different times and through other ways.”
“Possibly,” Stern assented. “Anything more to tell?”
“Nothing more. We became as savages; we lost all thought of history
or learning. We only fought to live! All was forgotten.
“My grandfather taught the English to my father and he to me, and I
had no son. Nobody here would learn from me. Nobody cared for the book.
Even the tradition they laughed at, and they called my brain softened
when I spoke of a place where in the air a light shone half the time
brighter even than the great flame! And in every way they mocked me!
“So I—I”—the old man faltered, his voice tremulous, while tears
glittered in his dim and sightless eyes—“I ceased to speak of these
things. Then I grew blind and could not read the book. No longer could
I refresh my mind with the English. So I said in my heart: 'It is
finished and will soon be wholly forgotten forever. This is the end.'
“Verily, I laid the book to rest as I soon must be laid to rest! Had
you not come from that better place, my thought would have been true—”
“But it isn't, not by a jugful!” exclaimed the engineer joyously,
and stood up in the dim-lit little room. “No, sir! She and I,
we're going to change the face of things considerably! How? Never mind
just yet. But let's have a look at the old volume, father. Gad! That
must be some relic, eh? Imagine a book carried about for a thousand
years and read by at least thirty generations of men! The book, father!
Already the patriarch had arisen and now he gestured at the heavy
bench of stone.
“Can you move this, my son?” asked he. “The place of the book lies
“Under there, eh? All right!” And, needing no other invitation, he
set his strength against the massive block of gneiss.
It yielded at the second effort and, sliding ponderously to one
side, revealed a cavity in the stone floor some two feet long by about
eighteen inches in breadth.
Over this the old man stooped.
“Help me, son,” bade he. “Once I could lift it with ease, but now
the weight passes my strength.”
“What? The weight of a book? But—where is it? In this packet,
He touched a large and close-wrapped bundle lying in the little
crypt, dimly seen by the flicker of the oily wick.
“Yea. Raise it out that I may show you!” answered the patriarch. His
hands trembled with eagerness; in his blind eyes a sudden fever seemed
to burn. For here was his dearest, his most sacred treasure, all that
remained to him of the long-worshipped outer world—the world of the
vague past and of his distant ancestors—the world that Stern and
Beatrice had really known and seen, yet which to him was only “all a
wonder and a wild desire.”
“Lay the book upon the bench,” he ordered. “I will unwrap it!”
Complex the knots were, but his warped and palsied fingers deftly
undid them as though long familiar with each turn and twist. Then off
came many a layer of the rough brown seaweed fabric and afterward
certain coverings of tough shark-skin neatly sewn.
“The book!” cried the patriarch. “Now behold it!”
“That?” exclaimed Beatrice. “I never saw a book of that
“Each page is separately preserved, wherefore it is so very thick,”
explained the old man. “See here?”
He turned the leaves reverently. Stern, peering closely by the dim
light, saw that they were loosely hung together by loops of heavy gold
wire. Each page was held between two large plates of mica, and these
plates were securely sealed around the edges by some black substance
like varnish or bitumen.
“Only thus,” explained the patriarch, “could we hope to save this
precious thing. It was done many hundreds of years ago, and even then
the book was almost lost by age and use.”
“I should say so!” ejaculated Stern. Even sealed in its air-tight
covering, he saw that every leaf was yellow, broken, rotten, till the
merest breath would have disintegrated it to powder. A sense of the
infinitudes of time bridged by this volume overwhelmed him; he drew a
deep breath, reached out his hand and touched the wondrous relic of the
world that was.
“Long ago,” continued the old man, “when the book began to crumble,
one of my ancestors copied it on gold plates, word by word, letter by
letter, every point and line. And our family used only that book of
gold and put away the other. But in my grandfather's time the Lanskaarn
raided our village and the gold plates went for loot to make them
trinkets, so they were lost.
“My father meant to begin the task again, but was killed in a raid.
I, too, in my fighting youth, had plans for the work; but blindness
struck me before I could find peace to labor in. So now all that
remains of the mother tongue here is my own knowledge and these
tattered scraps. And, if you save us not, soon all, all will be lost
Much moved, the engineer made no reply, yet thoughts came crowding
to his brain. Here visibly before him he beheld the final link that
tied these lost Folk to the other time, the last and breaking thread.
What history could this book have told? What vast catastrophes,
famines, pestilences, wars, horrors had it passed through? In what
unwritten cataclysms, in what anguish and despair and long degeneration
had the human mind still clung to it and cherished it?
No one could tell; yet Stern felt the essence of its unknown story.
An infinite pathos haloed the ancient volume. And reverently he touched
its pages once again; he bent and by the guttering light tried to make
out a few words here or there upon the crackled, all but perished
He came upon a crude old woodcut, vague and dim; then a line of text
caught his eye.
“By Gad! 'Pilgrim's Progress'!” he exclaimed. “Look,
Beatrice—'Pilgrim's Progress,' of all books! No wonder he says
'Verily' and talks archaic stuff and doesn't catch more than half we
say. Well, I'll be—”
“Is this then not the English of your time?” asked the patriarch.
“Hardly! It was centuries old at the epoch of the catastrophe. Say,
father, the quicker you forget this and take a few lessons in the
up-to-date language of the real world that perished, the better! I see
now why you don't get on to the idea of steamships and railroads,
telephones and wireless and all the rest of it. God! but you've got a
lot to learn!”
The old man closed up the precious volume and once more began
wrapping it in its many coverings.
“Not for me, all this, I fear,” he answered with deep melancholy.
“It is too late, too late—I cannot understand.”
“Oh, yes, you can, and will!” the engineer assured him. “Buck up,
father! Once I get my biplane to humming again you'll learn a few
things, never fear!”
He stepped to the door of the hut and peered out.
“Rain's letting up a bit,” he announced. “How about it? Do the signs
say it's ready to quit for keeps? If so—all aboard for the dredging
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE COMING OF KAMROU
The storm, in fact, was now almost at an end, and when the engineer
awoke next morning he found the rain had wholly ceased. Though the sea
was still giving forth white vapors, yet these had not yet reached
their usual density. From the fortifications he could see, by the
reflected lights of the village and of the great flame, a considerable
distance out across the dim, mysterious sea. He knew the time was come
to try for the recovery of the machine, if ever.
“If I don't make a go of it to-day,” said he, “I might as well quit
for good. There'll never be a better opportunity. And if it's left down
there very much longer, Heaven only knows what kind of shape it'll be
in. I make good to-day or it's all off.”
Beatrice eagerly seconded his plans. The old man, too, was impatient
as a child to learn more of this wonder of the upper world. And,
translating to the Folk the directions that Stern gave him, he soon had
a great throng on the beach, where lay not only the Folk's canoes, but
also many left by the slaughtered and dispersed Lanskaarn.
Two hours after the crude meal that must be called breakfast for
want of a better name, the expedition was ready to start.
Twenty-five of the largest boats, some holding twelve men, set out,
to the accompaniment of shouting and singing much like that when the
captives had been brought in. Stern, Beatrice and the patriarch all sat
in one canoe with eight paddlers. In the bottom lay Stern's heavy
grapple with the ten long ropes, now twisted into a single cable,
securely knotted to its ring.
To Stern it seemed impossible that any means existed for locating,
even approximately, the spot where the machine had fallen. As the shore
faded away and the village lights disappeared in the gloom and mist,
all landmarks vanished. Everywhere about them the dim, oily sea
stretched black and gloomy, with here and there the torches of the
little fleet casting strange blue-green lights that wavered like
ghostly will-o'-the-wisps over the water.
The boatman's song wailed high, sank low, trembled and ceased; and
for a while came silence, save for the dipping of the paddles, the
purling of the waters at the bow of the canoe. The engineer, despite
his hard-headed practicality, shuddered a little and drew his mantle
closer round him.
Beatrice, too, felt the eerie mystery of the scene. Stern put an arm
about her; she slid her hand into his, and thus in silence they sat
thinking while the boats drew on and on.
“They really know where they're going, father?” the engineer asked
at length. “It all looks alike to me. How can they tell?”
“Verily, I cannot explain that to you,” the old man made answer. “We
know, that is all.”
“Had I been always blind you could not expound sight to me. A deaf
man cannot understand sound.”
“You mean you've developed some new sense, some knowledge of
direction and location that we haven't got?”
“Yea, it must be so. In all these many centuries among the dark
mists we have to know. And this gloom, this night, are the same to us
as you have told me a lake on the surface would be to you in the
brightness of that sun which none of use have ever yet beheld.”
“Is that so? Well, hanged if I get it! However, no matter about that
just so they locate the place. Can they find the exact spot, father?”
“Perhaps not so. But they will come near to it, my son. Only have
patience; you shall see!”
Stern and the girl relapsed into silence again, and for perhaps a
quarter-hour the boats moved steadily forward through the vapors in a
kind of crescent, the tips of which were hidden by the mist.
Then all at once a sharp cry rang from a boat off to the right, a
cry taken up and echoed all along the line. The paddles ceased to ply;
the canoes now drifted idly forward, their wakes trailing out behind in
long “slicks” of greasy blackness flecked with sparkles from the
reflected light of all those many torches.
Another word of command; the boatmen slowed their craft.
“Drop the iron here, son, and drag the bottom,” said the patriarch.
“Good!” answered Stern, thrilled with excitement and wonder.
He pitched the dredge into the jetty sea. It sank silently as he
payed out the cable. At a depth he estimated—from the amount of cable
still left in the boat—as about thirty fathoms, it struck bottom.
He let out another five fathoms.
“All right, father!” he exclaimed sharply. “Tell our boatmen to give
The old man translated the order: “Ghaa vrouaad, m'yaun!” (Go
forward, men.) The paddles dipped again and Stern's canoe moved
silently over the inky surface.
Every sense alert, the engineer at the gunwale held the cable. For a
few seconds he felt nothing as the slack was taken up; then he
perceived a tug and knew the grapple was dragging.
Now intense silence reigned, broken only by the sputter of the
smoking torches. The canoes, spaced over the foggy sea, seemed floating
in a void of nothingness; each reflected light quivered and danced with
weird and tremulous patterns.
Stern played the cable as though it were a fish-line. All his senses
centered on interpreting the message it conveyed. Now he felt that it
was dragging over sand; now came rocks—and once it caught, held, then
jerked free. His heart leaped wildly. Oh, had it only been the
The tension grew. Out, far out from the drifting line of boats the
canoe went forward; it turned at a word from the patriarch and dragged
along the front of the line. It criss-crossed on its path; Stern had to
admire the skill and thoroughness with which the boatmen covered the
area where their mysterious sixth sense of location told them the
machine must lie.
All at once a tug, different from all others, yielding, yet firm,
set his pulses hammering again.
“Got it!” he shouted, for he knew the truth. “Hold fast, there—
“You've got it, Allan? Really got it?” cried the girl, starting up.
“Feel this!” he answered. “Grab hold and pull!”
She obeyed, trembling with eagerness.
“It's caught through one of the ailerons, or some yielding part, I
think,” he said. “Here, help me hold it tight, now; we mustn't let the
hook slip out again!” To the patriarch he added: “Tell 'em to back up,
The canoe backed, while Stern took up the slack again. When the pull
from below was vertical he ordered the boat stopped.
“Now get nine other boats close in here,” commanded he.
The old man gave the order. And presently nine canoes stood in near
at hand, while all the rest lay irregularly grouped about them.
Now Stern's plan of the tenfold cable developed itself. Already he
was untwisting the thick rope. One by one he passed the separate cords
to men in the other boats. And in a few minutes he and nine other men
held the ropes, which, all attached to the big iron ring below, spread
upward like the ribs of an inverted umbrella.
The engineer's scheme was working to perfection. Well he had
realized that no one boat could have sufficed to lift the great weight
of the machine. Even the largest canoe would have been capsized and
sunk long before a single portion of the Pauillac and its engine had
been so much as stirred from the sandy bottom.
But with the buoyant power of ten canoes and twenty or thirty men
all applied simultaneously, Stern figured he had a reasonable chance of
raising the sunken aeroplane. The fact that it was submerged, together
with the diminished gravitation of the Abyss, also worked in his favor.
And as he saw the Folk-men grip the cords with muscular hands, awaiting
his command, he thrilled with pride and with the sense of real
“Come, now, boys!” he cried. “Pull! Heave-ho, there! Altogether,
lift her! Pull!“
He strained at the rope which he and two others held; the rest—each
rope now held by three or four men—bent their back to the labor. As
the ropes drew tense, the canoes crowded and jostled together. Those
men who were not at the ropes, worked with the paddles to keep the
boats apart, so that the ropes should not foul or bind. And in an
irregular ring, all round the active canoes, the others drew. Lighted
by so many torches, the misty waters glittered as broken waves, thrown
out by the agitation of the canoes, radiated in all directions.
“Pull, boys, pull!” shouted the engineer again. “Up she comes! Now,
Came a jerk, a long and dragging resistance, then a terrific
straining on the many cords. The score and a half of men breathed hard;
on their naked arms the veins and muscles swelled; the torchlight
gleamed blue on their sweating faces and bodies.
And spontaneously, as at all times of great endeavor among the Folk,
a wailing song arose; it echoed through the gloom; it grew, taken up by
the outlying boats; and in the eternal dark of the Abyss it rose,
uncanny, soul-shaking, weird beyond all telling.
Stern felt the shuddering chills chase each other up and down his
spine, playing a nervous accompaniment to their chant.
“Gad!” he muttered, shivering, “what a situation for a hard-headed,
practical man like me! It's more like a scene from some weird
pipe-dream magazine story of the remote past than solid reality!”
Again the Folk strained at the ropes, Stern with them; and now the
great weight below was surely rising, inch by inch, up, up, toward the
black and gleaming surface of the abysmal sea.
Stern's heart was pounding wildly. If only—incredible as it
seemed—the Pauillac really were there at the end of the converging
ropes; and if it were still in condition to be repaired again! If only
the hook and the hard-taxed ropes held!
“Up, boys! Heave 'er!” he shouted, pulling till his muscles hardened
like steel, and the canoe—balanced, though it was by five oarsmen and
the patriarch all at the other gunwale—tipped crazily. “Pull! Pull!
Beatrice sprang to the rope. Unable to restrain herself, she, too,
laid hold on the taut, dripping cord; and her white hands, firm,
muscular, shapely, gripped with a strength one could never have guessed
lay in them.
And now the ropes were sliding up out of the water, faster, ever
faster; and higher rose the song of all those laboring Folk and all who
watched from the outlying ring of boats.
“Up with it, men! Up!” panted the engineer.
Even as he spoke the waters beneath them began to boil and bubble
strangely, as though with the rising of a monstrous fish; and all at
once, with a heave, a sloshing splatter, a huge, weed-covered, winglike
object, sluicing brine, wallowed sharply out into the torchlight.
A great triumphal howl rose from the waiting Folk—a howl that
drowned Stern's cheer and that of Beatrice, and for a moment all was
confusion. The wing rose, fell, slid back; into the water and again
dipped upward. The canoes canted; some took water; all were thrown
against each other in the central group; and cries, shouts, orders and
a wild fencing off with paddles followed.
Stern yelled in vain orders that the old man could not even hear to
translate; orders which would not, even though heard, have been obeyed.
But after a moment or two comparative order was restored, and the
engineer, veins standing out on his temples, eyes ablaze, bellowed:
“Hold fast, you! No more, nor more—don't pull up any more, damn
you! Hey, stop that—you'll rip the hook clean out and lose it again!
“You, father—here—tell 'em to let it down a little, now—about six
feet, so. Easy—does it—easy!“
Now the Pauillac, sodden with water, hanging thickly with the
luxuriant weed clusters which even in a fortnight had grown in that
warm sea, was suspended at the end of the ten cords about six or eight
feet below the keels of the canoes.
“Tell 'em to let it stay that way now,” continued the engineer.
“Tell 'em all to hold fast, those that have the ropes. The others
paddle for the shore as fast as they can—and damn the man that loafs
The patriarch conveyed the essence of these instructions to the
oarsmen, and now, convoyed by the outlying boats, the ten canoes moved
very slowly toward the village.
Retarded by the vast, birdlike bulk that trailed below, they seemed
hardly to make any progress at all. Stern ordered the free boats to
hitch on and help by towing. Lines were passed, and after a while all
twenty-five canoes, driven by the power of two hundred and fifty pairs
of sinewy arms, were dragging the Pauillac shoreward.
Stern's excitement—now that the machine was really almost in his
grasp again—far from diminishing, was every minute growing keener.
The delay until he could examine it and see its condition and its
chances of repair, seemed interminable. Continually he urged the
patriarch—himself profoundly moved—to force the rowers to still
greater exertion. At a paddle he labored, throwing every ounce of
strength into the toil. Each moment seemed an hour.
“Gad! If it's only possible to make it fly again!” thought he.
Half an hour passed, and now at length the dim and clustered lights
of the village began to show vaguely through the mist.
“Come on, boys; now for it!” shouted Stern. “Land her for me and
I'll show you wonders you never even dreamed of!”
They drew near the shore. Already Stern was formulating his plans
for landing the machine without injuring it, when out from the beach a
long and swift canoe put rapidly, driven by twenty men.
At sight of it the rowing in Stern's boats weakened, then stopped.
Confused cries arose, altercations and strange shouts; then a hush of
expectancy, of fear, seemed to possess the boat crews.
And ever nearer, larger, drew the long canoe, a two-pronged, blazing
cresset at its bows.
Across the waters drifted a word.
“Go on, you! Row!” cried Stern. “Land the machine, I tell you! Say,
father, what's the matter now? What are my men on strike for all
of a sudden? Why don't they finish the job?”
The old man, perplexed, listened intently.
Between the group of canoes and the shore the single boat had
stopped. A man was standing upright in it. Now came a clear hail, and
now two or three sentences, peremptory, angry, harsh.
At sound of them consternation seized certain of the men. A number
dropped the ropes, while others reached for the slings and spears that
always lay in the bottoms of the canoes.
“What the devil now?” shouted Stern. “You all gone crazy, or
He turned appealingly to the old man.
“For Heaven's sake, what's up?” he cried. “Tell me, can't you,
before the idiots drop my machine and ruin the whole thing? What—”
“Misfortune, O my son!” cried the patriarch in a strange, trembling
voice. “The worst that could befall! In our absence he has come
back—he, Kamrou! And under pain of death he bids all men
abandon every task and haste to homage. Kamrou the Terrible is here!
CHAPTER XXXV. FACE TO FACE WITH
For a moment Stern stared, speechless with amazement, at the old
man, as though to determine whether or not he had gone mad. But the
commotion, the mingled fear and anger of the boat crews convinced him
the danger, though unknown, was very real.
And, flaring into sudden rage at this untimely interruption just in
the very moment of success, he jerked his pistol from its holster, and
stood up in the boat.
“I'll have no butting in here!” he cried in a loud, harsh voice.
“Who the devil is Kamrou, I'd like to know? Go on, on, to shore!
“You order these men to grab those ropes again and go ashore or I
warn you there's going to be a whole big heap of trouble!”
Over the waters drifted another hail, and the strange long boat,
under the urge of vigorous arms, now began to move toward Stern's
fleet. At the same time, mingled cries arose on shore. Stern could see
lights moving back and forth; some confusion was under way there,
though what, he could not imagine.
“Well,” he cried, “are you going to order these men to go forward?
Or shall I—with this?“
And menacingly he raised the grim and ugly gun.
“Oh my son!” exclaimed the patriarch, his lips twitching, his hands
outstretched—while in the boats a babel of conflicting voices rose—“O
my son, if I have sinned in keeping this from you, now let me die! I
hid it from your knowledge, verily, to save my people—to keep you with
us till this thing should be accomplished! My reckoning was that Kamrou
and his men would stay beyond the Great Vortex, at their labor, until
“Kamrou?” shouted Stern again. “What the deuce do I care
about him? Who is he, anyhow? A Lanskaarn, or—”
The girl seized Allan's hand.
“Oh, listen, listen!” she implored. “I—”
“Did you know about this? And never told me?”
“Allan, he said our work could all be done before they—”
“So you did know, eh?”
“He said I must not tell you. Otherwise—”
“Oh, hang that! See here, Beatrice, what's the matter, anyhow? These
people have all gone crazy, just in a second, the old man and all! If
you know anything about it, for God's sake tell me! I can't stand much
“I've got to get this machine to land before they go entirely nutty
and drop it, and we lose all our work for nothing. What's up? Who's
this Kamrou they're talking about? For Heaven's sake, tell me!”
“He's their chief. Allan—their chief! He's been gone a long time,
he and his men. And—”
“Well, what do we care for him? We're running this village
now, aren't we?”
“Listen. The old man says—”
“He's a hard nut, eh? And won't stand for us—is that it?” He turned
to the patriarch. “This Kamrou you're talking about doesn't want us, or
our new ideas, or anything? Well, see here. There's no use beating
around the bush, now. This thing's going through, this plan of ours!
And if Kamrou or anybody else gets in the way of it—good-by for
“You mean war?”
“War! And I know who'll win, at that! And now, father, you
get these men here to work again, or there'll be some sudden deaths
“Hearken, O my son! Already the feast of welcome to Kamrou is
beginning, around the flame. See now, the boat of his messenger is
close at hand, bidding all those in this party to hasten in, for
homage. Kamrou will not endure divided power. Trust me now and I can
save you yet. For the present, yield to him, or seem to, and—”
“Yield nothing!” fairly roared the engineer, angrier than he
had ever been in his whole life. “This is my affair now! Nobody else
butts in on it at all! To shore with these boats, you hear? or I begin
shooting again! And if I do—”
“Allan!” cried the girl.
“Not a word! Only get your gun ready, that's all. We've got to
handle this situation sharp, or it's all off! Come, father,” he
delivered his ultimatum to the patriarch; “come, order them ashore!”
The old man, anguished and tremulous, spoke a few words. Answers
arose, here, there. He called something to the standing figure in the
despatch-boat, which slackened stopped, turned and headed for the
With some confusion the oarsmen of the fleet took up their task
again. And now, in a grim silence, more disconcerting even than the
previous uproar, the boats made way toward land.
Ten minutes later—minutes during which the two Americans kept their
revolvers ready for instant action—the aeroplane began to drag on the
bottom. Despite the crowd now gathered on the beach, very near at hand
and ominously silent, Stern would not let the machine lie even here, in
shallow water, where it could easily have been recovered at any time.
Like a bulldog with its jaws set on an object, he clung to his original
plan of landing the Pauillac at once.
And, standing up in the boat with his pistol leveled, he commanded
them, through the mediumship of the patriarch, to shorten the ropes and
paddle in still closer. When the beach was only a few rods distant he
gave orders that all should land, carrying the ropes with them. He
himself was one of the first to wade ashore, with Beatrice.
Ignoring the silent, expectant crowd and the tall figure of Kamrou's
messenger—who now stood, arms crossed, amazed, indignant, almost at
the water's edge—he gave quick commands:
“Now, clear these boats away on both sides! Make a free space,
here—wider—so, that's right. Now, all you men get hold of the
ropes—all of you, here, take hold, you! Ready, now? Give way, then!
Out she comes! Out with her!”
The patriarch, standing in fear and keen anxiety beside him,
transmitted the orders. Truly the old man's plight was hard, torn as he
was between loyalty to the newcomers and terror of the implacable
Kamrou. But Stern had no time to think of aught but the machine and his
For now already the great ungainly wings of the machine were
wallowing up, up, out of the jetty waters; and now the body, now the
engine showed, weed-festooned, smeared with mud and slime, a strange
and awesome apparition in that blue and ghastly torch-flare, as the
toiling men hauled it slowly, foot by foot, up the long slope of the
Dense silence held the waiting throng; silence and awe, in face of
this incomprehensible, tremendous thing.
Even the messenger spoke not a word. He had lost somewhat of his
assurance, his pride and overbearing haughtiness. Perhaps he had
already heard some tales of these interlopers' terrible weapons.
Stern saw the man's eyes follow the revolver, as he gestured with
it; the high-lights gleaming along the barrel seemed to fascinate the
tall barbarian. But still he drew no step backward. Still in silence,
with crossed arms, he waited, watched and took counsel only with
“Thank God, it's out at last!” exclaimed the engineer, and heaved a
sigh of genuine, heartfelt relief. “See, Beatrice, there s our old
machine again—and except for that broken rudder, this wing, here,
bent, and the rent where the grapple tore the leather covering of the
starboard plane I can't see that it's taken any damage. Provided the
engine's intact, the rest will be easy. Plenty of chance for metalwork,
“Going to take it right up to the village, now?” queried she,
anxiously glancing at the crowd of white and silent faces, all eagerly
staring—staring like so many wraiths in a strange dream.
He shrugged his shoulders.
“That depends,” he answered. He seemed already to have forgotten
Kamrou and the threatening peril in the village, near the great flame.
Even the sound of distant chanting and the thudding of dull drums
stirred him not. Fascinated, he was walking all round the great
mechanical bird, which now lay wounded, weed-covered, sodden and
dripping, yet eloquent of infinite possibilities, there on that black,
All at once he spoke.
“Up to the village with it!” he commanded, waving his pistol-hand
toward the causeway and the fortified gates. “I can't risk leaving it
here. Come, father, speak to them! It's got to go into the village
Then Kamrou's messenger, grasping the sense if not the words of the
command, strode forward—a tall, lithe figure of a man, well-knit and
hard of face. Under the torchlight the dilated pupils of his pinkish
eyes seemed to shine as phosphorescent as a cat's.
Crying out something unintelligible to Stern, he blocked the way.
Stern heard the name “Kamrou! Kamrou!”
“Well, what do you want now?” shouted the engineer, a huge and
sudden anger seizing him. Already super-excited by the labors of the
day and by the nervous strain of having recovered the sunken biplane,
all this talk of Kamrou, all this persistent opposition just at the
most inauspicious moment worked powerfully upon his irritated nerves.
Cool reason would have dictated diplomacy, parley, and, if possible,
truce. But Stern could not believe the Folk, for so long apparently
loyal to him and dominated by his influence, could work against their
vital interest and his own by deserting him now.
And, all his saner judgment failing him, heeding nothing of the
patriarch's entreaties or of the girl's remonstrance as she caught his
arm and tried to hold him back, he faced this cooly insolent barbarian.
“You, damn you, what d'you want?” he cried again, his finger
itching on the trigger of the automatic. “Think I'm going to quit for
you, or Kamrou, or anybody? Quit, now?“
“Think a civilized white man, sweating his heart out to save your
people here, is going to knuckle under to any savage that happens to
blow in and try to boss this job? If so, you've got another guess
coming! Stand back, you, or you'll get cold lead in just one minute!”
Quick words passed from the old man to the messenger and back again.
The patriarch cried again to him, and for a moment Stern saw the
barbarian's eyes flicker uneasily toward the revolver. But the calm and
cruel face never changed, nor did the savage take one step backward.
“All right, then!” shouted Stern, “seeing red” in his overpowering
rage. “You want it—you'll get it—take it, so!”
Up he jerked the automatic, fair at the big barbarian's heart—a
splendid target by the torch-light, not ten feet distant; a sure shot.
But before he could pull trigger the strange two-pronged torch was
tossed on high by somebody behind the messenger, and through the dull
and foggy gloom a wild, fierce, penetrant cry wailed piercingly.
Came a shooting, numbing pain in Stern's right elbow. The arm
dropped, helpless. The boulder which, flung with accurate aim, had
destroyed his aim, rolled at his feet. The pistol clattered over the
wet, shining stones.
Stern, cursing madly, leaped and snatched for it with the other
Before he could even reach it a swift foot tripped him powerfully.
Headlong he fell. And in a second one of the very ropes that had been
used to drag the Pauillac from the depths was lashed about his wrists,
his ankles, his struggling, fighting body.
“Beatrice! Shoot! Kill!” he shouted. “Help here! Help! The
machine—they'll wreck it! Everything—lost! Help!“
His speech died in a choking mumble, stifled by the wet and sodden
gag they forced into his mouth.
About him the mob seethed. Through his brain a quick anguish
thrilled, the thought of Beatrice unaided and alone. Then came a wonder
when the death-stroke would fall—a frightful, sick despair that on the
very eve of triumph, of salvation for this Folk and for the world as
well as for Beatrice and himself, this unforeseen catastrophe should
He struggled still to catch some glimpse of Beatrice, to cry aloud
to her, to shield her; but, alone against five hundred, he was
Nowhere could he catch even a glimpse of the girl. In that shoving,
pushing, shouting horde, nothing could be made out. He knew not even
whether civil war had blazed or whether all alike had owned the rule of
Kamrou the Terrible.
Like buoys tossing upon the surface of a raging sea, the flaring
torches pitched and danced, rose, fell. And from a multitude of
throats, from beach and causeway, walls and town, strange shouts rang
up into the all-embracing, vague, enshrouding vapor.
Still striving to fight, bound as he was, he felt a great force
driving him along, on, on, up the beach and toward the village.
Mute, desperate, stark mad, he knew the Folk were half carrying,
half dragging him up the causeway.
As in a dark dream, he vaguely saw the great fortified gate with its
huge, torch-lighted monolithic lintel. Even upon this some of the Folk
were crowded now to watch the strange, incredible spectacle of the man
who had once turned the tide of battle against the Lanskaarn and had
saved all their lives, now haled like a criminal back into the
community he had rescued in its hour of sorest need.
His mind leaped to their first entry into the village—it seemed
months ago—also as prisoners. In a flash he recalled all that had
happened since and bitterly he mocked himself for having dared to dream
that their influence had really altered these strange, barbarous souls,
or uplifted them, or taught them anything at all.
“Now, now just as the rescue of these people was at hand, just as
the machine might have carried us and them back into the world, slowly,
one by one—now comes defeat and death!“
An exceeding great bitterness filled his soul once more at this
harsh, cynic turn of fate. But most of all he yearned toward Beatrice.
That he should die mattered nothing; but the thought of this girl
perishing at their hands there in the lost Abyss was dreadful as the
pangs of all the fabled hells.
Again he fought to hold back, to try for some sight, even a fleeting
glimpse of Beatrice; but the Folk with harsh cries drove him roughly
He could not even see the patriarch. All was confusion, glare,
smoke, noise, as he was thrust through the fortified gate, out into the
Everywhere rose cries, shouts, vociferations, among which he could
distinguish only one a thousand times repeated: “Kamrou! Kamrou!
And through all his rage and bitter bafflement and pain, a sudden
great desire welled up in him to see this chief of the Folk, at
last—to lay eyes on this formidable, this terrible one—to stand face
to face with him in whose hand now lay everything, Kamrou!
Across the dim, fog-covered expanse of the plaza he saw the
blue-green shimmer of the great flame.
Thither, toward that strange, eternal fire and the ghastly circle of
the headless skeletons the Folk were drifting now. Thither his captors
were dragging him.
And there, he knew, Kamrou awaited Beatrice and him. There doom was
to be dealt out to them. There, and at once!
Thicker the press became. The flame was very near now, its droning
roar almost drowning the great and growing babel of cries.
On, on the Folk bore him. All at once he saw again that two-pronged
torch raised before him, going ahead; and a way cleared through the
Along this way he was carried, no longer struggling, but eager now
to know the end, to meet it bravely and with calm philosophy, “as fits
And quite at once he found himself in sight of the many dangling
skeletons. Now the quivering jet of the flame grew visible. Now,
suddenly, he was thrust forward into a smooth and open space. Silence
Before him he saw Kamrou, Kamrou the Terrible, at last.
CHAPTER XXXVI. GAGE OF BATTLE
The chief of the People of the Abyss was seated at his ease in a
large stone chair, over which heavy layers of weed-fabric had been
thrown. He was flanked on either side by spearsmen and by drummers, who
still held their iron sticks poised above their copper drums with
Stern saw at a glance that he was a man well over six feet tall,
with whipcord muscles and a keen, eager, domineering air. Unlike any of
the other Folk, his hair (snow-white) was not twisted into a fantastic
knot and fastened with gold pins, but hung loose and was cut square off
at about the level of his shoulders, forming a tremendous, bristly mass
that reminded one of a lion's mane.
Across his left temple, and involving his left eye with a ghastly
mutilation, ran a long, jagged, bright red scar, that stood out vividly
against the milk-white skin. In his hands he held no mace, no symbol of
power; they rested loosely on his powerful knees; and in their
half-crooked fingers, large and long, Stern knew there lay a
formidable, an all but irresistible strength.
At sight of the captives—for Beatrice, too, now suddenly appeared,
thrust forward through another lane among the Folk—Kamrou's keenly
cruel face grew hard. His lips curled with a sneer of scorn and hate.
His pinkish eyes glittered with anticipation. Full on his face the
flare of the great flame fell; Stern could see every line and wrinkle,
and he knew that to beg mercy from this huge barbarian (even though he
would have begged), were a task wholly vain and futile.
He glanced along the circle of expectant faces that ringed the chief
at a distance of some fifteen feet. Surely, thought he, some of the
many Folk that he and the girl had saved from butchery, some to whom
they had taught the rudiments of the world's lost arts, would now show
pity on them—would stand by them now!
But no; not one face of all that multitude—now that Kamrou had
returned—evinced other than eager interest to see the end of
everything. To Stern flashed the thought that here, despite their
seeming half-civilization in the use of metals, fire, dwellings,
fabrics and all the rest, dwelt within them a savagery even below that
of the ancient, long-extinct American Indians.
And well he knew that if both he and Beatrice were not to die the
death this day, only upon themselves they must depend!
Yes, one face showed pity. But only one—the patriarch's.
Stern suddenly caught sight of him, standing in the front rank of
the circled crowd, about twenty feet away to the left, just beyond the
girl. Tears gleamed in the old man's sightless eyes; his lips quivered;
the engineer saw his hands tremble as he twisted the feeble, impotent
fingers together in anguish.
And though he could catch no sound in that rising, falling,
ever-roaring tumult of the flame, he knew the patriarch, with some
vague and distant remnant of the old-time and vanished religion of the
world, was striving to pray.
Stern's eyes met the girl's. Neither could speak, for she, too, was
gagged with a rough band of fabric which cruelly cut her beautiful, her
tender mouth. At sight of her humiliation and her pain, the man's heart
leaped hotly; he strained against his bonds till the veins swelled, and
with eyes of terrible rage and hate stared at Kamrou.
But the chief's gaze was now fixed insolently upon Beatrice. She, as
she stood there, stripped even of her revolver and cartridge-belt,
hands bound behind her, hair disheveled, had caught his barbarous
fancy. And now in his look Stern saw the kindling of a savage passion
so ardent, so consuming, that the man's heart turned sick within him.
“Ten thousand times better she should die!” thought he, racked at
the thought of what might be. “Oh, God! If I only had my revolver for a
single minute now! One shot for Kamrou—one for Beatrice—and after
that, nothing would matter; nothing!”
Came a disturbance in the Folk. Heads craned; a murmur of voices
The patriarch, no longer trembling, but with his head held proudly
up, both hands outstretched, had stepped into the circle. And now,
advancing toward Kamrou, he spoke in quick and eager sentences—he
gestured at the engineer, raised his hand on high, bowed and stepped
And all at once a wild, harsh, swelling chorus of cries arose; every
face turned toward Stern; the engineer, amazed, knew not what all this
meant, but to the ultimate drop in the arteries he pledged his
fighting-blood to one last, bitter struggle.
Kamrou had not stirred. Still his great hands rested on his knees;
but a thin, venomous smile lengthened his lips. He, too, looked at the
engineer, who gave the stare back with redoubled hate. Tense grew the
expectation of the Folk.
“What the devil now?” thought Stern, tautening event muscle for the
But attack there came none. Instead the patriarch asked a question
of those who stood near him; and hands now guided the old man toward
the place where Stern was standing, bound.
“O friend; O son!” exclaimed the old man when he had come close.
“Now hearken! For, verily, this is the only way!
“It is an ancient custom of the Merucaans that any man captive or
free, can ever challenge our chief, whosoever he be, to the
death-combat. If the chief wins, he remains chief. If he loses, the
victor takes his place. Many hundreds of years, I know not how long,
this has been our way. And many terrible combats have been seen here
among our people.
“Kamrou has said that you must die, the girl must be his prize. Only
one way remains to save her and yourself—you must struggle with
Kamrou. I have delivered to him your challenge already. Let fate decide
Everything seemed to whirl before Stern's eyes, and for a moment all
grew black. In his ears sounded a great roaring, louder than the roar
of the huge flame. Quick questions flashed through his mind. Fight
Kamrou? But how? A duel with revolvers? Spears? Maces?
He knew not. Only he knew that in whatever way the ancient combats
must be held he was ready!
“You affirm the challenge I have given in your behalf?” demanded the
patriarch. “If you accept it, nod.”
Stern nodded with all the vigor of his terrible rage. Kamrou's eyes
narrowed; his smile grew fixed and hard, but in it Stern perceived the
easy contempt of a bully toward any chance weakling. And through him
thrilled a passion of hate such as he had never dreamed in all his
Came a quick word from the patriarch. Somebody was slashing the
engineer's bonds. All at once the ropes gave way. Free and unfettered,
he stepped forward, stretching his arms, opening and closing his
cramped, numbed hands, out into the ring toward Kamrou, the chief.
Off came the gag. Stern could speak at last.
His first word was to the girl.
“Beatrice!” he called to her, “there's one chance left! I'm to fight
this ruffian here. If I beat him we're free—we own this tribe, body
and soul! If not—”
He broke off short. Even the possibility was not to be considered.
She looked at him and understood his secret thought. Well the man
knew that Beatrice would die by her own hand before Kamrou should have
his way with her.
The patriarch spoke again.
“My son,” said he, “there is but one way for all these combats. It
has been so these many centuries. By the smooth edge of the great
boiling pit the fights are held. Man against man it is. Verily, you two
with only your hands must fight! He who loses—”
“Goes into the pit?”
The old man nodded.
“There is no other way,” he answered. “The new, terrible weapons you
cannot use. The arrows, slings and spears are all forbidden by ancient
custom. It is the naked grasp of the hands, the strong muscles of two
men against each other! So we decide our chief!
“I, alas, can help you in nothing. I am powerless, weak, old. Were I
to interfere now and try to change this way, my own body would only go
to the pit, and my old bones hang, headless, in the place of captives
and criminals. All lies in your hands, my son!
“All; everything! Our whole future, and the future of the world! If
you lose, the wonderful machine will be destroyed and all its metal
forged into spears and battle axes. Barbarism will conquer; darkness
will continue, and war, and death. All will be forever lost!
“The last ray of hope, of light, from the great past of the upper
world, will vanish forever! Your own death, my son, and the fate of the
girl, will be as nothing beside the terrible catastrophe, if you are
“For, verily, it will be the death of the world!
“And now, my son, now go to battle—to battle for this woman, for
yourself, for us, for the future of our race, for everything!
“Kamrou is ready. The pit is boiling.
“Go now! Fight—and—and—”
His voice was lost in a great tumult of cries, yells, shouts. Spears
brandished. Came a sound of shields struck with clubs and axes. The
copper drums again began to throb and clang.
Kamrou had risen from his seat.
Stern knew the supreme moment of his life was at hand.
CHAPTER XXXVII. THE FINAL STRUGGLE
Kamrou flung off his long and heavy cloak. He stood there in the
flamelight, broad-chested, beautifully muscled, lean of hip, the
perfect picture of a fighting man. Naked he was, save for his
loin-cloth. And still he smiled.
Stern likewise stripped away his own cloak. Clad only like the
chief, he faced him.
“Well, now,” said he, “here goes! And may the best man win!”
Kamrou waved the circle back at one side. It opened, revealing the
great pit to southward of the flame. Stern saw the vapors rising,
bluish in that strange light, from the perpetual boiling of the black
waters in its depths. Oddly enough, even at that moment a stray bit of
scientific thought nicked into his consciousness—the memory that under
compressed air water boils only at very high temperatures. Down here,
in this great pressure, the water must easily be over three hundred
degrees to seethe like that.
He, too, smiled.
“So much the better,” thought he. “The hotter, the sooner it's all
over for the man who goes!”
Up rose numbers of the two-pronged torches. Stern got confused
glimpses of the Folk—he saw the terrible, barbaric eagerness with
which they now anticipated this inevitable tragedy of at least one
human death in its most awful form.
Beatrice he no longer saw. Where was she? He knew not. But in a
long, last cry of farewell he raised his voice. Then, with Kamrou, he
strode toward the steaming, boiling pit in the smooth rock floor.
Two tall men broke through the tensely eager throng. In their hands
they bore each a golden jar, curiously shaped and chiseled, and bearing
a whimsical resemblance to a coffee-urn.
“What the devil now?” wondered Stern, eager to be at work. He saw at
once the meaning of the jars. One of the bearers approached Kamrou. The
other came to him. They raised the vessels, and over the antagonists'
bare bodies poured a thin, warm stream of some rank-smelling oil. All
over the skin they rubbed it, till the bodies glistened strangely in
the flamelight. Then, with muttered words he could not catch, they
All seemed confused and vague to Stern as in a painful dream. Images
and pictures seemed to present themselves to his brain. The light, the
fog and heat, the rising stream, the roaring of the flame, and over all
the throb-throb-throb of those infernal copper drums worked powerfully
on his senses.
Already he seemed to feel the grip of Kamrou, the pangs of the hard
struggle, the sudden plunge into the vat of scalding death.
With a strong effort he flung off these fancies and faced his
sneering foe, who now—his red-wealed face puckered into a malicious
Stern all at once saw the patriarch once more.
“Go, son!” cried the old man. “Now is the moment! When the drums
cease, lay hold of him!”
Even as he spoke, the great drums slowed their beat, then stopped.
Stern, with a final thought of Beatrice, advanced.
All the advantage lay with Kamrou. Familiar with the place was he,
and with the rules of this incredible contest. Everywhere about him
stood crowding hundreds of his Foll; owing him their allegiance,
hostile to the newcomer, the man from another world. Out of all that
multitude only two hearts' beat in sympathy and hope for him; only two
human beings gave him their thoughts and their support—a helpless
girl; a feeble, blind old man.
Kamrou stood taller, too, than Stern, and certainly bulked heavier.
He was in perfect condition, while Stern had not yet fully recovered
from the fight in the Abyss, from the great change in living conditions
there in the depths, and—more important still—from the harsh blow of
the rock that had numbed his elbow on the beach.
His arms and hands, too, still felt the cramping of the cords that
had bound him. He needed a few hours yet to work them into suppleness
and perfect strength. But respite there was none.
He must fight now at once under all handicaps, or die—and in his
death yield Beatrice to the barbaric passions of the chief.
Oddly enough there recurred to his mind, as he drew near the
waiting, sneering Kamrou, that brave old war-cry of the Greeks of
Xenophon as they hurled themselves against the vastly greater army of
the Persians—“Zeus Sotor kai Nike!—Zeus Savior and victory!”
The shout burst from his lips. Forward he ran, on to the battle
where either he or the barbarian must perish in the boiling
pit—forward, to what? To victory—to death?
Kamrou stood fast till Stern's right hand had almost gripped his
throat—for Stern, the challenger, had to deliver the first attack.
But suddenly he slipped aside; and as Stern swerved for him, made a
With an agility, a strength and skill tiger-like and marvelous, he
caught Stern round the waist, whirled him and would have dashed him
toward the pit. But already the engineer's right arm was under Kamrou's
left; the right hand had him by the throat, and Kamrou's head went
sharply back till the vertebrae strained hard.
Eel-like, elusive, oiled, the chief broke the hold, even as he flung
a leg about one of Stern's.
A moment they swayed, tugging, straining, panting. In the old days
Stern would not for one moment have been a match for this barbaric
athlete, but the long months of life close to nature had hardened him
and toughened every fiber. And now a stab of joy thrilled through him
as he realized that in his muscles lay at least a force to balk the
savage for a little while.
To Stern came back his wrestling lore of the very long ago, the days
of Harvard, in the dim, vanished past. He freed his left arm from the
gorilla-like grip of Kamrou, and, quick as lightning, got a jiu-jitsu
The savage choked, gurgled, writhed; his face grew purple with
stagnant blood. Then he leaped, dragging the engineer with him; they
fell, rolled, twisted—and Stern's hold was broken.
A great shout rose as Kamrou struggled up and once more seized the
American. He raised him like a child, and took a step, two, three,
toward the infernal caldron in the rock floor.
Stern, desperate, wrenched his oiled arms clear. A second later they
had closed again about the chief's throat—the one point of attack that
Stern had chosen for his best.
The barbarian faltered. Grunting, panting, he shook the engineer as
a dog shakes a rat, but the hold was secure. Kamrou's great arms
wrapped themselves in a formidable “body-scissors” grip; Stern felt the
breath squeezed from his body.
Then suddenly the chief's oily heel slipped on the smooth-worn rock,
not ten feet from the lip of the bubbling vat—and for the second time
This time Stern was atop. Over they rolled, once, twice, straining
with madness. Stern's thumbs were sunk deep in the throat of the
barbarian at either side. As he gouged harder, deeper, he felt the
terrific pounding of the chief's jugular. Hot on his own neck panted
the choking breath of Kamrou. Oh, could he only hold that grip a minute
longer—even a half-minute!
But already his own breath was gone. A buzzing filled his ears;
sparkling lights danced, quivering before his eyes. The blood seemed
bursting his brain; far off and vague he heard the droning of the
flame, the shouts and cries of the great horde of watchers.
A whiff of steam—hot, damp, terrifying—passed across his face, in
which the veins were starting from the oily skin. His eyes, half
closed, bulged from the sockets. He knew the pit was very close now;
dully he heard its steady bubbling.
“If I go—he goes, too!” the engineer swore to himself. “He'll never
Over and over they rolled, their grips tight-locked as steel. Now
Kamrou was on top, now Stern. But the chief's muscles were still strong
as ever; Stern's already had begun to weaken.
Strive as he might, he could not get another hold, nor could he
throw another ounce of power into that he already had. Up, up, slowly
up slipped the chief's arms; Stern knew the savage meant to throttle
him; and once those long, prehensile fingers reached his throat,
Then it seemed to him a voice, very far and small, was speaking to
him, coolly, impersonally, in a matter-of-fact way as though suggesting
Dazed as he was, he recognized that voice—it was the voice of Dr.
Harbutt, who once had taught him many a wily trick upon the mat;
Harbutt, dead and gone these thousand years or more.
“Why not try the satsu-da, Stern?” the voice was saying. “Excellent,
Though Stern's face was black and swollen, eyes shut and mouth all
twisted awry in this titanic struggle with the ape-hold of the huge
chief, yet the soul within him calmly smiled.
The satsu-da—yes, he remembered it now, strongest and best of all
the jiu-jitsu feats.
And, suddenly loosening his hands from the chief's throat, he
clenched his right fist, hard as steel.
A second later the “killing-blow” had fallen on the barbarian's
neck, just where the swelling protuberance behind the ear marked the
Terrible was the force of that blow, struck for his own life, for
the honor of Beatrice, the salvation of the world.
Kamrou gave a strange grunt. His head fell backward. Both eyes
closed; the mouth lolled open and a glairy froth began to trickle down.
The frightful grip of the long, hairy arms relaxed. Exhausted, Stern
fell prone right on the slippery edge of the boiling pit.
He felt a sudden scalding dash of water, steam and boiling spray; he
heard a sudden splash, then a wild, barbarous, long-drawn howling of
the massed Folk.
Lying there, spent, gasping, all but dead in the thick steam-drift
of the vat, he opened his eyes.
Kamrou was nowhere to be seen.
Seemingly very distant, he heard the copper drums begin to beat once
more with feverish haste.
A great, compelling lassitude enveloped him. He knew no more.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE SUN OF SPRING
“What altitude now? Can you make-out, Allan?”
“No. The aneroid's only good up to five miles. We must have made two
hundred, vertically, since this morning. The way the propeller takes
hold and the planes climb in this condensed air is just a miracle!”
“Two passengers at that!” Beatrice answered, leaning back in her
seat again. She turned to the patriarch, who, sitting in an extra place
in the thoroughly overhauled and newly equipped Pauillac, was holding
with nervous hands to the wire stays in front of him.
“Patience, father,” she cheered him. “Two hours more—not over
three, at the outside—and you shall breathe the upper air again! For
the first time the sunlight shall fall upon your face!”
“The sun! The sun! Oh, is it possible?” murmured the aged man.
“Verily, I had never thought to live until this day! The sun!“
Came silence between these three for a time, while the strong heart
of the machine beat steadily; and the engineer, with deft and skilful
hand, guided it in wide-swept spirals upward, ever up, up, up, back
toward the realms of day, of life, once more; up through the fogs and
clouds, away from heat and dark and mystery, toward the clear, pure,
refreshing air of heaven again.
At last Stern spoke.
“Well, father,” said he, “I never would have thought it; but you
were right, after all! They're like so much clay in the potter's hand
now, for me. I see I can do with them whatever I will.
“I was afraid some of them might object, after all, to any such
proposition. It's one thing for them to accept me as boss down there,
and quite another for them to consent to wholesale transplanting, such
as we've got under way. But I can't see any possible reason why—with
plenty of time and patience—the thing can't be accomplished all right.
The main difficulty was their consent; and now we've got that, the rest
is mere detail and routine work.”
“Time and patience,” repeated the girl. “Those are our watchwords
now, boy. And we've got lots of both, haven't we?”
“Two passengers each trip,” the engineer continued, more practical
than she, “and three trips a week, at the most, makes six of the Folk
landed on the surface weekly. In other words, it'll take—”
“No matter about that now!” interrupted Beatrice. “We've got all the
time there is! Even if it takes five years, what of that? What are
months or even years in the life-history of the world?”
Stern kept silence again. In his mind he was revolving a hundred
vital questions of shelter, feeding, acclimatization for these men, now
to be transported from a place of dark and damp and heat to the strange
outer regions of the surface-world.
Plainly he saw it would be a task of unparalleled skill, delicacy,
and difficult accomplishment; but his spirits rose only the higher as
he faced its actual details. After all that he and Beatrice had been
through since their wakening in the tower, he feared no failure to
solve any questions that now might rise. By care, by keeping the Folk
at first in caves, then gradually accustoming them to stronger and
brighter light, more air, more cold, he knew he could bridge the gap of
centuries in a few years.
Ever adaptable, the human body would respond to changed
environments. Patience and time—these would solve all!
And as for this Folk's barbarism, it mattered not. Much better such
stock to rebuild from than some mild, supine race of far higher
culture. To fight the rough battles of life and re-establishment still
ahead, the bold and warlike Merucaans were all that he could wish.
“Imagine me as a school-teacher,” suddenly exclaimed the
girl, laughing: “giving the children A B C and making them read: 'I see
the cat'—when there aren't any cats nowadays—no tame ones,
“Sh-h-h!” cautioned Stern. “Don't waste your energies imagining
things just yet. There's more than enough real work, food-getting,
house-building in caves, and all that, before we ever get to schools.
That's years ahead yet, education is!”
Silence again, save for the strong and ceaseless chatter of the
engine, that, noisy as a score of mowing machines, flung its
indomitable challenge to gravitation out into the fathomless void on
“Allan! Allan! Oh, a star! Look, look! A star!“
The girl was first to see that blest and wondrous thing. Hours had
passed, long, weary hours; steadily the air-pressure had sunk, the
vapors thinned; but light had not yet filtered through the mists. And
Allan's mind had been sore troubled thereat. He had not thought of the
simple reason that they were reaching the surface at night.
But now he knew, and as she cried to him “A star!” he, too, looked
and saw it, and as though he had been a little child he felt the sudden
tears start to his weary eyes.
“A star!” he answered. “Oh, thank God—a star!”
It faded almost at once, as vapors shrouded it; but soon it came
again, and others, many more; and now the first breath of the cool and
blessed outer air was wafted to them.
Used as they had been, all these long months—for now the year had
turned again and early spring was coming up the world—used to the
closed and stifling atmosphere of the Abyss, its chemicalized fogs and
mists, the first effect of the pure surface-air was almost intoxicating
as they mounted higher, higher, toward the lip of the titanic gulf.
The patriarch, trembling with eagerness and with exhaustion—for he
was very old and now his vital forces were all but spent—breathed it
only with difficulty. Rapid was his respiration; on either pallid cheek
a strange and vivid patch of color showed.
Suddenly he spoke.
“Stars? You see them—really see them?” faltered he. “Oh, for my
sight again! Oh, that I might see them once, only once, those wonderful
things of ancient story! Then, verily, I should be glad to die!”
Hard-driven now for many hours, heated, yet still running true, the
Pauillac had at length made a safe landing on the western verge of the
Abyss. Again the voyagers felt solid earth beneath their feet. By the
clear starlight Stern had brought the machine to earth on a little
plateau, wooded in part, partly bare sand. Numb and stiff, he had
alighted from the driver's seat, and had helped both passengers alight,
The girl, radiant with joy, had kissed him full upon the lips; the
patriarch had fallen on his knees, and, gathering a handful of the
sand—the precious surface of the earth, long fabled among his Folk,
long worshipped in his deepest reveries—had clasped it to his thin and
If he had known how to pray he would have worshipped there. But even
though his lips were silent, his attitude, his soul were all one vast
and heartfelt prayer—prayer to the mother-earth, the unseen stars, the
night, the wind upon his brow, the sweet and subtle airs of heaven that
enfolded him like a caress.
Stern wrapped the old man in a spare mantle, for the night was
chill, then made a crackling fire on the sands. Worn out, they rested,
all. Little they said. The beauty and majesty of night now—seen again
after long absence—a hundred times more solemn than they had ever
known it, kept the two Americans from speech. And the old man, buried
in his own thoughts, sat by the fire, burning with a fever of impatient
longings for the dawn.
Now all across the eastern sky, shrouded as it was with the slow,
silent mist-wreaths rising ghostly from the Abyss, delicate pink and
pearl-gray tints were spreading, shading above to light blues and to
purples of exquisite depth and clarity.
No cloud flecked the sky, the wondrous sky of early spring. Dawn,
pure as on the primal day, was climbing from the eastern depths. And,
thrilled by that eternal miracle, the man and woman, hand in hand,
awaited the full coming of the light.
The patriarch spoke.
“Is the sun nigh arisen now?” he queried in a strange, awed voice,
trembling with eagerness and deep emotion. “Is it coming, at last—the
“It'll be here now before long, father,” answered Stern.
“From which direction does it come? Am I facing it?” he asked, with
“You're facing it. The first rays will fall on you. Only be patient.
I promise you it shall not fail!”
A pause. Then the aged man spoke again.
“Remember, oh, my children,” said he, with terrible earnestness,
“all that I have told you, all that you must know. Remember how to deal
with my people. They are as children in your hands. Be very patient,
very firm and wise; all will be well.
“Remember my warnings of the Great Vortex, so very far below our
sea, the Lanskaarn, and all those other perils of the Abyss whereof I
have spoken. Remember, too, all the traditions of the Cave of Records.
Some day, when all else is accomplished, you may find that cave. I have
told you everything I know of its location. Seek it some day, and find
the history of the dead, buried past, from the time of the great
catastrophe to the final migration when my ancestors sought the lower
Another silence. All three were too deeply moved for any speech. And
ever mounting higher, brighter and more clear, dawn flung its glories
wide across the sky.
“Help me that I may stand, to greet the day!” at last the patriarch
said. “I cannot rise, alone.”
Stern and the girl, each taking an arm, got him to his feet. He
stood there facing the east, priestlike in venerable and solemn worship
of the coming sun.
“Give me each a hand, my children,” he commanded. In Stern's hand,
strong, corded, toil-worn, he laid the girl's.
“Thus do I give you each to each,” said he. “Thus do I make you
Stern drew Beatrice into his arms. Blind though the old man was, he
sensed the act, and smiled. A great and holy peace had shrouded him.
“Only that I may feel the sun upon my face!” breathed he.
All at once a thinning cloud-haze let the light glow through.
Beatrice looked at Stern. He shook his head.
“Not yet,” he answered.
Swiftly uprose the sun. The morning wind dispelled the shrouding
“Oh, what is this warmth?” exclaimed the patriarch, trembling
violently. “What is this warmth, this glow upon my face? This life,
Out toward the east he stretched both hands. Instinctively the
priestlike worship of the sun, old when the world was still in infancy,
surged back to him again after the long, lost centuries of darkness and
“The sun! The sun!” he cried, his voice triumphant as a
trumpet-call. Tears coursed from his blind eyes; but on his lips a
smile of joy unutterable was set.
“The sun! At last! The—”
Stern caught his feeble body as he fell.
Down on the sands they laid him. To the stilled heart Stern laid his
Tears were in his eyes, too, and in the girl's, as Stern shook his
Up over the time-worn, the venerable, the kindly face they drew the
mantle, but not before each had reverently kissed the wrinkled
“Better thus,” whispered the engineer. “Far better, every way. He
had his wish; he felt the sunshine on his face; his outgoing spirit
must be mingled with that worshipped light and air and sky—with
“With life itself!” said Beatrice.
And through her tears she smiled, while higher rose the warm,
life-giving sun of spring.