Beyond The Great Oblivion - George Allan England - ebook
Kategoria: Fantastyka i sci-fi Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1913

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George Allan England

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About
Chapter 1 - Beginnings
Chapter 2 - Settling Down
Chapter 3 - The Maskalonge
Chapter 4 - The Golden Age

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Chapter 1 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 man.

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 beings.

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 and trust.

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 flames.

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 again."

"Except to learn to love you!" answered Stern, letting her go with reluctance.

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 bungalow.

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 for love.

"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 dolorosa selva.

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—"

Beatrice laughed.

"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 2 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 oblivion.

"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 centuries.

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 billionaire.

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 vanished time.

"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 power-plant, and—"

"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!"

Stern smiled.

"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 fireplace.

"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 understand."

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 go fishing."


Chapter 3 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 automatic.

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 was taut.

"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 reel now—"

"Pull him right in, can't you?" the girl suggested.

He groaned, between clenched teeth—for the strain on his arm was torture.

"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 vibrant cord.

Flash!

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 meant hunger.

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 to win!"

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 lessening fast.

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 4 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 permission.

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 river.

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 cover me!"

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 race.

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 hands!"

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 arm.

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 easy?"

"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 night.

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 … '"

Beatrice nodded.

"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 nobody—"

"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 must—"

"Do nothing but rest now!" she dictated with mock severity.

Stern laughed.

"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 feminine anticlimax:

"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?"

"Positive."

"And happy?"

"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 tears."