"I'll tell you, then," he said reluctantly. "We're going back a little faster than we were, and the flaw seems to be a deeper one than I thought. At the roughest kind of an estimate, we're all of a thousand years before the discovery of America now, and I think nearer three or four. And we're gaining speed all the time. So, though I am as sure as I can be sure of anything that we'll stop this cave-in eventually, I don't know where. It's like a crevasse in the earth opened by an earthquake which may be only a few feet deep, or it may be hundreds of yards, or even a mile or two. We started off smoothly. We're going at a terrific rate. What will happen when we stop?"
Estelle caught her breath.
"What?" she asked quietly.
"I don't know," said Arthur in an irritated tone, to cover his apprehension. "How could I know?"
Estelle turned from him to the window again.
"Look!" she said, pointing.
The flickering had begun again. While they stared, hope springing up once more in their hearts, it became more pronounced. Soon they could distinctly see the difference between day and night.
They were slowing up! The white snow on the ground remained there for an appreciable time, autumn lasted quite a while. They could catch the flashes of the sun as it made its revolutions now, instead of its seeming like a ribbon of fire. At last day lasted all of fifteen or twenty minutes.
It grew longer and longer. Then half an hour, then an hour. The sun wavered in midheaven and was still.
Far below them, the watchers in the tower of the skyscraper saw trees swaying and bending in the wind. Though there was not a house or a habitation to be seen and a dense forest covered all of Manhattan Island, such of the world as they could see looked normal. Wherever or rather in whatever epoch of time they were, they had arrived.
Arthur caught at Estelle's arm and the two made a dash for the elevators. Fortunately one was standing still, the door open, on their floor. The elevator-boy had deserted his post and was looking with all the rest of the occupants of the building at the strange landscape that surrounded them.
No sooner had the pair reached the car, however, than the boy came hurrying along the corridor, three or four other people following him also at a run. Without a word the boy rushed inside, the others crowded after him, and the car shot downward, all of the newcomers panting from their sprint.
Theirs was the first car to reach the bottom. They rushed out and to the western door.
Here, where they had been accustomed to see Madison Square spread out before them, a clearing of perhaps half an acre in extent showed itself. Where their eyes instinctively looked for the dark bronze fountain, near which soap-box orators aforetime held sway, they saw a tent, a wigwam of hides and bark gaily painted. And before the wigwam were two or three brown-skinned Indians, utterly petrified with astonishment.
Behind the first wigwam were others, painted like the first with daubs of brightly colored clay. From them, too, Indians issued, and stared in incredulous amazement, their eyes growing wider and wider. When the group of white people confronted the Indians there was a moment's deathlike silence. Then, with a wild yell, the redskins broke and ran, not stopping to gather together their belongings, nor pausing for even a second glance at the weird strangers who invaded their domain.
Arthur took two or three deep breaths of the fresh air and found himself even then comparing its quality with that of the city. Estelle stared about her with unbelieving eyes. She turned and saw the great bulk of the office building behind her, then faced this small clearing with a virgin forest on its farther side.
She found herself trembling from some undefined cause. Arthur glanced at her. He saw the trembling and knew she would have a fit of nerves in a moment if something did not come up demanding instant attention.
"We'd better take a look at this village," he said in an off-hand voice. "We can probably find out how long ago it is from the weapons and so on."
He grasped her arm firmly and led her in the direction of the tents. The other people, left behind, displayed their emotions in different ways. Two or three of them--women--sat frankly down on the steps and indulged in tears of bewilderment, fright and relief in a peculiar combination defying analysis. Two or three of the men swore, in shaken voices.
Meantime, the elevators inside the building were rushing and clanging, and the hall filled with a white-faced mob, desperately anxious to find out what had happened and why. The people poured out of the door and stared about blankly. There was a peculiar expression of doubt on every one of their faces. Each one was asking himself if he were awake, and having proved that by pinches, openly administered, the next query was whether they had gone mad.
Arthur led Estelle cautiously among the tents.
The village contained about a dozen wigwams. Most of them were made of strips of birch-bark, cleverly overlapping each other, the seams cemented with gum. All had hide flaps for doors, and one or two were built almost entirely of hides, sewed together with strips of sinew.
Arthur made only a cursory examination of the village. His principal motive in taking Estelle there was to give her some mental occupation to ward off the reaction from the excitement of the cataclysm.
He looked into one or two of the tents and found merely couches of hides, with minor domestic utensils scattered about. He brought from one tent a bow and quiver of arrows. The workmanship was good, but very evidently the maker had no knowledge of metal tools.
Arthur's acquaintance with archeological subjects was very slight, but he observed that the arrow-heads were chipped, and not rubbed smooth. They were attached to the shafts with strips of gut or tendon.
Arthur was still pursuing his investigation when a sob from Estelle made him stop and look at her.
"Oh, what are we going to do?" she asked tearfully. "What are we going to do? Where are we?"
"You mean, when are we," Arthur corrected with a grim smile. "I don't know. Way back before the discovery of America, though. You can see in everything in the village that there isn't a trace of European civilization. I suspect that we are several thousand years back. I can't tell, of course, but this pottery makes me think so. See this bowl?"
He pointed to a bowl of red clay lying on the ground before one of the wigwams.
"If you'll look, you'll see that it isn't really pottery at all. It's a basket that was woven of reeds and then smeared with clay to make it fire-resisting. The people who made that didn't know about baking clay to make it stay put. When America was discovered nearly all the tribes knew something about pottery."
"But what are we going to do?" Estelle tearfully insisted.
"We're going to muddle along as well as we can," answered Arthur cheerfully, "until we can get back to where we started from. Maybe the people back in the twentieth century can send a relief party after us. When the skyscraper vanished it must have left a hole of some sort, and it may be possible for them to follow us down."
"If that's so," said Estelle quickly, "why can't we climb up it without waiting for them to come after us?"
Arthur scratched his head. He looked across the clearing at the skyscraper. It seemed to rest very solidly on the ground. He looked up. The sky seemed normal.
"To tell the truth," he admitted, "there doesn't seem to be any hole. I said that more to cheer you up than anything else."
Estelle clenched her hands tightly and took a grip on herself.
"Just tell me the truth," she said quietly. "I was rather foolish, but tell me what you honestly think."
Arthur eyed her keenly.
"In that case," he said reluctantly, "I'll admit we're in a pretty bad fix. I don't know what has happened, how it happened, or anything about it. I'm just going to keep on going until I see a way clear to get out of this mess. There are two thousand of us people, more or less, and among all of us we must be able to find a way out."
Estelle had turned very pale.
"We're in no great danger from Indians," went on Arthur thoughtfully, "or from anything else that I know of--except one thing."
"What is that?" asked Estelle quickly.
Arthur shook his head and led her back toward the skyscraper, which was now thronged with the people from all the floors who had come down to the ground and were standing excitedly about the concourse asking each other what had happened.
Arthur led Estelle to one of the corners.
"Wait for me here," he ordered. "I'm going to talk to this crowd."
He pushed his way through until he could reach the confectionery and news-stand in the main hallway. Here he climbed up on the counter and shouted: "People, listen to me! I'm going to tell you what's happened!"
In an instant there was dead silence. He found himself the center of a sea of white faces, every one contorted with fear and anxiety.
"To begin with," he said confidently, "there's nothing to be afraid of. We're going to get back to where we started from! I don't know how, yet, but we'll do it. Don't get frightened. Now I'll tell you what's happened."
He rapidly sketched out for them, in words as simple as he could make them, his theory that a flaw in the rock on which the foundations rested had developed and let the skyscraper sink, not downward, but into the Fourth Dimension.
"I'm an engineer," he finished. "What nature can do, we can imitate. Nature let us into this hole. We'll climb out. In the mean time, matters are serious. We needn't be afraid of not getting back. We'll do that. What we've got to fight is--starvation!"
"We've got to fight starvation, and we've got to beat it," Arthur continued doggedly. "I'm telling you this right at the outset, because I want you to begin right at the beginning and pitch in to help. We have very little food and a lot of us to eat it. First, I want some volunteers to help with rationing. Next, I want every ounce of food, in this place put under guard where it can be served to those who need it most. Who will help out with this?"
The swift succession of shocks had paralyzed the faculties of most of the people there, but half a dozen moved forward. Among them was a single gray-haired man with an air of accustomed authority. Arthur recognized him as the president of the bank on the ground floor.
"I don't know who you are or if you're right in saying what has happened," said the gray-haired man. "But I see something's got to be done, and--well, for the time being I'll take your word for what that is. Later on we'll thrash this matter out."
Arthur nodded. He bent over and spoke in a low voice to the gray-haired man, who moved away.
"Grayson, Walters, Terhune, Simpson, and Forsythe come here," the gray-haired man called at a doorway.
A number of men began to press dazedly toward him. Arthur resumed his harangue.
"You people--those of you who aren't too dazed to think--are remembering there's a restaurant in the building and no need to starve. You're wrong. There are nearly two thousand of us here. That means six thousand meals a day. We've got to have nearly ten tons of food a day, and we've got to have it at once."
"Hunt?" some one suggested.
"I saw Indians," some one else shouted. "Can we trade with them?"
"We can hunt and we can trade with the Indians," Arthur admitted, "but we need food by the ton--by the ton, people! The Indians don't store up supplies, and, besides, they're much too scattered to have a surplus for us. But we've got to have food. Now, how many of you know anything about hunting, fishing, trapping, or any possible way of getting food?"
There were a few hands raised--pitifully few. Arthur saw Estelle's hand up.
"Very well," he said. "Those of you who raised your hands then come with me up on the second floor and we'll talk it over. The rest of you try to conquer your fright, and don't go outside for a while. We've got some things to attend to before it will be quite safe for you to venture out. And keep away from the restaurant. There are armed guards over that food. Before we pass it out indiscriminately, we'll see to it there's more for to-morrow and the next day."
He stepped down from the counter and moved toward the stairway. It was not worth while to use the elevator for the ride of only one floor. Estelle managed to join him, and they mounted the steps together.
"Do you think we'll pull through all right?" she asked quietly.
"We've got to!" Arthur told her, setting his chin firmly. "We've simply got to."
The gray-haired president of the bank was waiting for them at the top of the stairs.
"My name is Van Deventer," he said, shaking hands with Arthur, who gave his own name.
"Where shall our emergency council sit?" he asked.
"The bank has a board room right over the safety vault. I dare say we can accommodate everybody there--everybody in the council, anyway."
Arthur followed into the board-room, and the others trooped in after him.
"I'm just assuming temporary leadership," Arthur explained, "because it's imperative some things be done at once. Later on we can talk about electing officials to direct our activities. Right now we need food. How many of you can shoot?"
About a quarter of the hands were raised. Estelle's was among the number.
"And how many are fishermen?"
A few more went up.
"What do the rest of you do?"
There was a chorus of "gardener," "I have a garden in my yard," "I grow peaches in New Jersey," and three men confessed that they raised chickens as a hobby.
"We'll want you gardeners in a little while. Don't go yet. But the most important are huntsmen and fishermen. Have any of you weapons in your offices?"
A number had revolvers, but only one man had a shotgun and shells.
"I was going on my vacation this afternoon straight from the office," he explained, "and have all my vacation tackle."
"Good man!" Arthur exclaimed. "You'll go after the heavy game."
"With a shotgun?" the sportsman asked, aghast.
"If you get close to them a shotgun will do as well as anything, and we can't waste a shell on every bird or rabbit. Those shells of yours are precious. You other fellows will have to turn fishermen for a while. Your pistols are no good for hunting."
"The watchmen at the bank have riot guns," said Van Deventer, "and there are one or two repeating-rifles there. I don't know about ammunition."
"Good! I don't mean about the ammunition, but about the guns. We'll hope for the ammunition. You fishermen get to work to improvise tackle out of anything you can get hold of. Will you do that?"
A series of nods answered his question.
"Now for the gardeners. You people will have to roam through the woods in company with the hunters and locate anything in the way of edibles that grows. Do all of you know what wild plants look like? I mean wild fruits and vegetables that are good to eat."
A few of them nodded, but the majority looked dubious. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that they would try. Arthur seemed a little discouraged.
"I guess you're the man to tell about the restaurant," Van Deventer said quietly. "And as this is the food commission, or something of that sort, everybody here will be better for hearing it. Anyway, everybody will have to know it before night. I took over the restaurant as you suggested, and posted some of the men from the bank that I knew I could trust about the doors. But there was hardly any use in doing it."
"The restaurant stocks up in the afternoon, as most of its business is in the morning and at noon. It only carries a day's stock of foodstuffs, and the--the cataclysm, or whatever it was, came at three o'clock. There is practically nothing in the place. We couldn't make sandwiches for half the women that are caught with us, let alone the men. Everybody will go hungry to-night. There will be no breakfast to-morrow, nor anything to eat until we either make arrangements with the Indians for some supplies or else get food for ourselves."
Arthur leaned his jaw on his hand and considered. A slow flush crept over his cheek. He was getting his fighting blood up.
At school, when he began to flush slowly his schoolmates had known the symptom and avoided his wrath. Now he was growing angry with mere circumstances, but it would be none the less unfortunate for those circumstances.
"Well," he said at last deliberately, "we've got to-- What's that?"
There was a great creaking and groaning. Suddenly a sort of vibration was felt under foot. The floor began to take on a slight slant.
"Great Heaven!" some one cried. "The building's turning over and we'll be buried in the ruins!"
The tilt of the floor became more pronounced. An empty chair slid to one end of the room. There was a crash.
Arthur woke to find some one tugging at his shoulders, trying to drag him from beneath the heavy table, which had wedged itself across his feet and pinned him fast, while a flying chair had struck him on the head and knocked him unconscious.
"Oh, come and help," Estelle's voice was calling deliberately. "Somebody come and help! He's caught in here!"