Morning broke to find her completely at sea. Even the boasted weather of the Southwest played false. A drizzle of rain was in the air. Not until late in the afternoon did the sun show at all and by that time the wanderer was so deep in the Mal-Pais that when night closed down again she was still its prisoner.
She was hungry and fagged. The soles of her boots were worn out and her feet were badly blistered. Again she took refuge in a deep crevice for the night.
The loneliness appalled her. No living creature was to be seen. In all this awful desolation she was alone. Her friends at Live-Oaks would think she was at the Ninety-Four Ranch. Even if they searched for her she would never be found. After horrible suffering she would die of hunger and thirst. She broke down at last and wept herself to sleep.
“A Lucky Guy”
Lee had the affrighted look of one roused suddenly from troubled dreams. The whimper that had drawn the attention of Prince must have come from her restless, tortured sleep. Not till his second match flared had she been really awake.
“Thank God!” he cried brokenly, all the pent emotion of the long night vibrant in his tremulous voice.
She began to sob, softly, pitifully.
The match went out, but even in the blackness of the pit he could not escape the look of suffering he had seen on her face. Her habit was to do all things with high spirit. He could guess how much she had endured to bring those hollow shadows under her dusky eyes. The woe of the girl touched his heart sharply, as if with the point of a rapier.
He stooped, lifted her gently, and gathered her like a hurt child into his arms. “You poor lost lamb,” he murmured. And again he cried, “Thank God, I came in time.”
Her arms crept round his neck. She clung to him for safety, fearfully, lest even now he might vanish from her sight. Long, ragged sobs shook the body resting in his arms. He whispered words of comfort, stroked gently the dark head of blue-black hair, held her firmly so that she might know she had found a sure refuge from the fate that had so nearly devoured her.
The spasmodic quivering of the body died away. She dabbed at her eyes with a rag of a handkerchief and withdrew herself from his arms.
“I’m a nice baby,” she explained with a touch of self-contempt. “But it’s been rather awful, Billie. I ... I didn’t know whether ...”
“It’s been the worst night of my life,” he agreed. “I’ve been in hell for hours, dear. If—if anything had happened to you—”
The heart of the girl beat fast. She told herself he did not mean—could not mean what, with a sudden warmth of joy, her soul hunger had read into his words.
Prince uncorked his canteen and she drank. He gave her sandwiches and she devoured them. After he had helped her from the fissure he fired three shots. Faintly from the left came the answering bark of a revolver. What might almost have been an echo of it drifted from the right.