The fingers of Howland’s right hand were sticky when he drew them away from his head, and he shivered. The tongue of flame leaping out of the night, the thunderous report, the deluge of fire that had filled his brain, all bore their meaning for him now. It had been a close call, so close that shivering chills ran up and down his spine as he struggled little by little to lift himself to his knees. His enemy’s shot had grazed his head. A quarter of an inch more, an eighth of an inch even, and there would have been no awakening. He closed his eyes for a few moments, and when he opened them his vision had gained distance. About him he made out indistinctly the black encompassing walls of his prison.
It seemed an interminable time before he could rise and stand on his feet and reach the candle. Slowly he felt his way along the wall until he came to a low, heavy door, barred from the outside, and just beyond this door he found a narrow aperture cut through the decaying logs. It was a yard in length and barely wide enough for him to thrust through an arm. Three more of these narrow slits in his prison walls he found before he came back again to the door. They reminded him of the hole through which he had looked out on the plague-stricken cabin at the Maison de Mort Rouge, and he guessed that through them came what little fresh air found its way into the dungeon.
Near the table on which he replaced the candle was a stool, and he sat down. Carefully he went through his pockets. His belt and revolver were gone. He had been stripped of letters and papers. Not so much as a match had been left him by his captors.
He stopped in his search and listened. Faintly there came to him the ticking of his watch. He felt in his watch pocket. It was empty. Again he listened. This time he was sure that the sound came from his feet and he lowered the candle until the light of it glistened on something yellow an arm’s distance away. It was his watch, and close beside it lay his leather wallet. What money he had carried in the pocketbook was untouched, but his personal cards and half a dozen papers that it had contained were gone.
He looked at the time. The hour hand pointed to four. Was it possible that he had been unconscious for more than six hours? He had left Jean on the mountain top soon after nightfall—it was not later than nine o’clock when he had seen Meleese. Seven hours! Again he lifted his hands to his head. His hair was stiff and matted with blood. It had congealed thickly on his cheek and neck and had soaked the top of his coat. He had bled a great deal, so much that he wondered he was alive, and yet during those hours his captors had given him no assistance, had not even bound a cloth about his head.
Did they believe that the shot had killed him, that he was already dead when they flung him into the dungeon? Or was this only one other instance of the barbaric brutishness of those who so insistently sought his life? The fighting blood rose in him with returning strength. If they had left him a weapon, even the small knife they had taken from his pocket, he would still make an effort to settle a last score or two. But now he was helpless.