“Well, Jim, are you scared?”
“No,” said the messenger shortly.
“I thought we’d journeyed through the comet’s tail once,” broke in the junior clerk affably.
“Oh, that was Halley’s,” said the president; “this is a new comet, quite a stranger, they say—wonderful, wonderful! I saw it last night. Oh, by the way, Jim,” turning again to the messenger, “I want you to go down into the lower vaults today.”
The messenger followed the president silently. Of course, they wanted him to go down to the lower vaults. It was too dangerous for more valuable men. He smiled grimly and listened.
“Everything of value has been moved out since the water began to seep in,” said the president; “but we miss two volumes of old records. Suppose you nose around down there,—it isn’t very pleasant, I suppose.”
“Not very,” said the messenger, as he walked out.
“Well, Jim, the tail of the new comet hits us at noon this time,” said the vault clerk, as he passed over the keys; but the messenger passed silently down the stairs. Down he went beneath Broadway, where the dim light filtered through the feet of hurrying men; down to the dark basement beneath; down into the blackness and silence beneath that lowest cavern. Here with his dark lantern he groped in the bowels of the earth, under the world.
He drew a long breath as he threw back the last great iron door and stepped into the fetid slime within. Here at last was peace, and he groped moodily forward. A great rat leaped past him and cobwebs crept across his face. He felt carefully around the room, shelf by shelf, on the muddied floor, and in crevice and corner. Nothing. Then he went back to the far end, where somehow the wall felt different. He sounded and pushed and pried. Nothing. He started away. Then something brought him back. He was sounding and working again when suddenly the whole black wall swung as on mighty hinges, and blackness yawned beyond. He peered in; it was evidently a secret vault—some hiding place of the old bank unknown in newer times. He entered hesitatingly. It was a long, narrow room with shelves, and at the far end, an old iron chest. On a high shelf lay the two missing volumes of records, and others. He put them carefully aside and stepped to the chest. It was old, strong, and rusty. He looked at the vast and old-fashioned lock and flashed his light on the hinges. They were deeply incrusted with rust. Looking about, he found a bit of iron and began to pry. The rust had eaten a hundred years, and it had gone deep. Slowly, wearily, the old lid lifted, and with a last, low groan lay bare its treasure—and he saw the dull sheen of gold!