"Probably an eclipse," replied Arthur. "Only it's odd we didn't read about it in the papers."
He glanced along the corridor. No one else seemed better informed than he, and he went back into his office.
Estelle turned from the window as he appeared.
"The streets are deserted," she said in a puzzled tone. "What's the matter? Did you hear?"
Arthur shook his head and reached for the telephone.
"I'll call up and find out," he said confidently. He held the receiver to his ear. "What the--" he exclaimed. "Listen to this!"
A small-sized roar was coming from the receiver. Arthur hung up and turned a blank face upon Estelle.
"Look!" she said suddenly, and pointed out of the window.
All the city was now lighted up, and such of the signs as they could see were brilliantly illumined. They watched in silence. The streets once more seemed filled with vehicles. They darted along, their headlamps lighting up the roadway brilliantly. There was, however, something strange even about their motion. Arthur and Estelle watched in growing amazement and perplexity.
"Are--are you seeing what I am seeing?" asked Estelle breathlessly. "I see them going backward!"
Arthur watched, and collapsed into a chair.
"For the love of Mike!" he exclaimed softly.
He was roused by another exclamation from Estelle.
"It's getting light again," she said.
Arthur rose and went eagerly to the window. The darkness was becoming less intense, but in a way Arthur could hardly credit.
Far to the west, over beyond the Jersey hills--easily visible from the height at which Arthur's office was located--a faint light appeared in the sky, grew stronger and then took on a reddish tint. That, in turn, grew deeper, and at last the sun appeared, rising unconcernedly in the west.
Arthur gasped. The streets below continued to be thronged with people and motor-cars. The sun was traveling with extraordinary rapidity. It rose overhead, and as if by magic the streets were thronged with people. Every one seemed to be running at top-speed. The few teams they saw moved at a breakneck pace--backward! In spite of the suddenly topsyturvy state of affairs there seemed to be no accidents.
Arthur put his hands to his head.
"Miss Woodward," he said pathetically, "I'm afraid I've gone crazy. Do you see the same things I do?"
Estelle nodded. Her eyes wide open.
"What is the matter?" she asked helplessly.
She turned again to the window. The square was almost empty once more. The motor-cars still traveling about the streets were going so swiftly they were hardly visible. Their speed seemed to increase steadily. Soon it was almost impossible to distinguish them, and only a grayish blur marked their paths along Fifth Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.
It grew dusk, and then rapidly dark. As their office was on the western side of the building they could not see that the sun had sunk in the east, but subconsciously they realized that this must be the case.
In silence they watched the panorama grow black except for the street-lamps, remain thus for a time, and then suddenly spring into brilliantly illuminated activity.
Again this lasted for a little while, and the west once more began to glow. The sun rose somewhat more hastily from the Jersey hills and began to soar overhead, but very soon darkness fell again. With hardly an interval the city became illuminated, and then the west grew red once more.
"Apparently," said Arthur, steadying his voice with a conscious effort, "there's been a cataclysm somewhere, the direction of the earth's rotation has been reversed, and its speed immensely increased. It seems to take only about five minutes for a rotation now."
As he spoke darkness fell for the third time. Estelle turned from the window with a white face.
"What's going to happen?" she cried.
"I don't know," answered Arthur. "The scientist fellows tell us if the earth were to spin fast enough the centrifugal force would throw us all off into space. Perhaps that's what's going to happen."
Estelle sank into a chair and stared at him, appalled. There was a sudden explosion behind them. With a start, Estelle jumped to her feet and turned. A little gilt clock over her typewriter-desk lay in fragments. Arthur hastily glanced at his own watch.
"Great bombs and little cannon-balls!" he shouted. "Look at this!"
His watch trembled and quivered in his hand. The hands were going around so swiftly it was impossible to watch the minute-hand, and the hour-hand traveled like the wind.
While they looked, it made two complete revolutions. In one of them the glory of daylight had waxed, waned, and vanished. In the other, darkness reigned except for the glow from the electric light overhead.
There was a sudden tension and catch in the watch. Arthur dropped it instantly. It flew to pieces before it reached the floor.
"If you've got a watch," Arthur ordered swiftly, "stop it this instant!"
Estelle fumbled at her wrist. Arthur tore the watch from her hand and threw open the case. The machinery inside was going so swiftly it was hardly visible; Relentlessly, Arthur jabbed a penholder in the works. There was a sharp click, and the watch was still.
Arthur ran to the window. As he reached it the sun rushed up, day lasted a moment, there was darkness, and then the sun appeared again.
"Miss Woodward!" Arthur ordered suddenly, "look at the ground!"
Estelle glanced down. The next time the sun flashed into view she gasped.
The ground was white with snow!
"What has happened?" she demanded, terrified. "Oh, what has happened?"
Arthur fumbled at his chin awkwardly, watching the astonishing panorama outside. There was hardly any distinguishing between the times the sun was up and the times it was below now, as the darkness and light followed each other so swiftly the effect was the same as one of the old flickering motion-pictures.
As Arthur watched, this effect became more pronounced. The tall Fifth Avenue Building across the way began to disintegrate. In a moment, it seemed, there was only a skeleton there. Then that vanished, story by story. A great cavity in the earth appeared, and then another building became visible, a smaller, brown-stone, unimpressive structure.
With bulging eyes Arthur stared across the city. Except for the flickering, he could see almost clearly now.
He no longer saw the sun rise and set. There was merely a streak of unpleasantly brilliant light across the sky. Bit by bit, building by building, the city began to disintegrate and become replaced by smaller, dingier buildings. In a little while those began to disappear and leave gaps where they vanished.
Arthur strained his eyes and looked far down-town. He saw a forest of masts and spars along the waterfront for a moment and when he turned his eyes again to the scenery near him it was almost barren of houses, and what few showed were mean, small residences, apparently set in the midst of farms and plantations.
Estelle was sobbing.
"Oh, Mr. Chamberlain," she cried. "What is the matter? What has happened?"
Arthur had lost his fear of what their fate would be in his absorbing interest in what he saw. He was staring out of the window, wide-eyed, lost in the sight before him. At Estelle's cry, however, he reluctantly left the window and patted her shoulder awkwardly.
"I don't know how to explain it," he said uncomfortably, "but it's obvious that my first surmise was all wrong. The speed of the earth's rotation can't have been increased, because if it had to the extent we see, we'd have been thrown off into space long ago. But--have you read anything about the Fourth Dimension?"
Estelle shook her head hopelessly.
"Well, then, have you ever read anything by Wells? The 'Time Machine,' for instance?"
Again she shook her head.
"I don't know how I'm going to say it so you'll understand, but time is just as much a dimension as length and breadth. From what I can judge, I'd say there has been an earthquake, and the ground has settled a little with our building on it, only instead of settling down toward the center of the earth, or side-wise, it's settled in this fourth dimension."
"But what does that mean?" asked Estelle uncomprehendingly.
"If the earth had settled down, we'd have been lower. If it had settled to one side, we'd have been moved one way or another, but as it's settled back in the Fourth Dimension, we're going back in time."
"We're in a runaway skyscraper, bound for some time back before the discovery of America!"
It was very still in the office. Except for the flickering outside everything seemed very much as usual. The electric light burned steadily, but Estelle was sobbing with fright and Arthur was trying vainly to console her.
"Have I gone crazy?" she demanded between her sobs.
"Not unless I've gone mad, too," said Arthur soothingly. The excitement had quite a soothing effect upon him. He had ceased to feel afraid, but was simply waiting to see what had happened. "We're way back before the founding of New York now, and still going strong."
"Are you sure that's what has happened?"
"If you'll look outside," he suggested, "you'll see the seasons following each other in reverse order. One moment the snow covers all the ground, then you catch a glimpse of autumn foliage, then summer follows, and next spring."
Estelle glanced out of the window and covered her eyes.
"Not a house," she said despairingly. "Not a building. Nothing, nothing, nothing!"
Arthur slipped, his arm about her and patted hers comfortingly.
"It's all right," he reassured her. "We'll bring up presently, and there we'll be. There's nothing to be afraid of."
She rested her head on his shoulder and sobbed hopelessly for a little while longer, but presently quieted. Then, suddenly, realizing that Arthur's arm was about her and that she was crying on his shoulder, she sprang away, blushing crimson.
Arthur walked to the window.
"Look there!" he exclaimed, but it was too late. "I'll swear to it I saw the Half Moon, Hudson's ship," he declared excitedly. "We're way back now, and don't seem to be slacking up, either."
Estelle came to the window by his side. The rapidly changing scene before her made her gasp. It was no longer possible to distinguish night from day.
A wavering streak, moving first to the right and then to the left, showed where the sun flashed across the sky.
"What makes the sun wabble so?" she asked.
"Moving north and south of the equator," Arthur explained casually. "When it's farthest south--to the left--there's always snow on the ground. When it's farthest right it's summer. See how green it is?"
A few moments' observation corroborated his statement.
"I'd say," Arthur remarked reflectively, "that it takes about fifteen seconds for the sun to make the round trip from farthest north to farthest south." He felt his pulse. "Do you know the normal rate of the heart-beat? We can judge time that way. A clock will go all to pieces, of course."
"Why did your watch explode--and the clock?"
"Running forward in time unwinds a clock, doesn't it?" asked Arthur. "It follows, of course, that when you move it backward in time it winds up. When you move it too far back, you wind it so tightly that the spring just breaks to pieces."
He paused a moment, his fingers on his pulse.
"Yes, it takes about fifteen seconds for all the four seasons to pass. That means we're going backward in time about four years a minute. If we go on at this rate another hour we'll be back in the time of the Northmen, and will be able to tell if they did discover America, after all."
"Funny we don't hear any noises," Estelle observed. She had caught some of Arthur's calmness.
"It passes so quickly that though our ears hear it, we don't separate the sounds. If you'll notice, you do hear a sort of humming. It's very high-pitched, though."
Estelle listened, but could hear nothing.
"No matter," said Arthur. "It's probably a little higher than your ears will catch. Lots of people can't hear a bat squeak."
"I never could," said Estelle. "Out in the country, where I come from, other people could hear them, but I couldn't."
They stood a while in silence, watching.
"When are we going to stop?" asked Estelle uneasily. "It seems as if we're going to keep on indefinitely."
"I guess we'll stop all right," Arthur reassured her. "It's obvious that whatever it was, only affected our own building, or we'd see some other one with us. It looks like a fault or a flaw in the rock the building rests on. And that can only give so far."
Estelle was silent for a moment.
"Oh, I can't be sane!" she burst out semihysterically. "This can't be happening!"
"You aren't crazy," said Arthur sharply. "You're sane as I am. Just something queer is happening. Buck up. Say your multiplication tables. Say anything you know. Say something sensible and you'll know you're all right. But don't get frightened now. There'll be plenty to get frightened about later."
The grimness in his tone alarmed Estelle.
"What are you afraid of?" she asked quickly.
"Time enough to worry when it happens," Arthur retorted briefly.
"You--you aren't afraid we'll go back before the beginning of the world, are you?" asked Estelle in sudden access of fright.
Arthur shook his head.
"Tell me," said Estelle more quietly, getting a grip on herself. "I won't mind. But please tell me."
Arthur glanced at her. Her face was pale, but there was more resolution in it than he had expected to find.