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A short story by Elizabeth Rundle Charles

The Ark And The Fortress

Title:     The Ark And The Fortress
Author: Elizabeth Rundle Charles [More Titles by Charles]

One day, I had been thinking about the terrors of the Great Flood, when it seemed to me that I saw back through the long ages to that distant day, as you look with a night-glass through the night to an illuminated planet. I saw an old man, venerable with the centuries by which we count the lives of nations, not of men, yet vigorous with the vitality of one who had still centuries to live. He stood on an inland plain, far from any sea; yet above him rose the sides of a large ship. It had been finished that day. Once more the old man warned the laughing crowds around of the waters which would surely come and float the vessel high above the submerged world. He had told them the same truth for a hundred and twenty years. There had been no indefiniteness about his prophecy. As, since then, men have been warned by the uncertainty of a doom which may come at any moment; then, they were warned by the certainty of a period definitely fixed. Every fall of the leaf had brought it precisely a year nearer. And now the last evening of the last year had come, and once more the patient preacher of righteousness stood and warned them to forsake the sin which must bring the doom.

But in vain. There was no persecution; perhaps some mockery, as they pointed to the cloudless sky, and the fields and forests growing daily greener in the spring-tide sunshine; but for the most part simply unbelief and indifference. "They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage." And so the last warning was finished, and the last evening closed.

But one little group seemed to me to detach itself from the rest with a bolder confidence. They pointed to a fortress on the highest summit of the mountain-range above them, and said: "If what you say is true, surely we shall be safer there than in a floating ark like yours. In the rushing of the great water-floods you speak of, and the beating of the storms, our mountain fortress will serve us better, at least, than your wooden walls. We shall look down from our height on your waters, and, perchance, see the wreck of your vessel drifted to our feet!"

The patriarch and his family were shut in the ark. Before the next morning, the day of doom had set in. Not a break in the pitiless roof of clouds. Steadily the torrents poured from the opened flood-gates of heaven, whilst the waters from beneath broke their barriers, and the reservoirs under the hills burst forth in sudden rivers.

The flood had begun. The valleys became lakes, the plains seas; but the builders of the mountain fortress had fled to it, and looked triumphantly down on the waves.

Higher and higher they rose. The lower hills were covered. The mountain range was isolated. But the dwellers in the fortress thought, "We are well provisioned. This cannot last for ever!"

The waters rose. Peak after peak became an island. And at last, the highest peak, on which the fortress stood, looked out alone upon the waste of waters, and the floating ark buoyed up securely on them.

They looked still down on the waters, but with trembling hearts. The wild waves dashed furiously against this one remaining obstacle. The firmest human masonry cannot stand like the everlasting rocks. The strong foundations gave way, and with a crash, and a wail of anguish, the fortress fell, and nothing rose above the waters but the floating ark. For nothing that is founded on earth can escape the doom of earth. But

"Planted Paradise was not so firm
As was, and is, Thy floating ark; whose stay
And anchor Thou art only."

[The end]
Elizabeth Rundle Charles's short story: Ark And The Fortress