“Oh, don’t be gruesome!” Olga besought him. “Let’s go in, as we are here.”
They crossed the stone-strewn space through the shadowy cypresses, and entered under the dome. The place was dark and very eerie. Their footsteps echoed weirdly, and instantly there ensued a wild commotion overhead of owls and flying-foxes.
Olga started violently, and Noel looked upwards with a laugh that echoed and echoed in sinister repetition.
“What a ghastly place!” whispered Olga, as it died away at last.
The whisper was taken up and repeated from wall to wall till the further darkness swallowed it. Olga’s hand went out instinctively and closed upon Noel’s arm. Her nerves were not strung to this.
Almost before she knew it, he had drawn her to him, and slipped the arm about her. She looked up swiftly to protest, but the words were never spoken. They died upon her lips. For even as she opened them to speak there came an awful sound from the darkness.
It began deep and low, swelling in volume till it filled the building, reverberating from stone to stone, vibrating along the broken floor—a growl rising to a furious snarl—the unmistakable voice of an angry beast.
Olga stood as one petrified, feeling the arm around her tighten to a grip, but too lost in horror to take any note thereof. Staring widely into the darkness before them, she saw two points of light, red, ominous, advancing as it were by swift stealth out of the deep shadow.
At the same moment, Noel by a sudden, wholly unexpected movement thrust her behind him.
“Go!” he said. “Go for your life! Get back to Tinker and warn the rest! I’ll keep the brute from following you.”
His voice was short and authoritative; it held compulsion. In that moment of emergency he was a boy no longer, but a man, cool and strong and undismayed—a man to command obedience.
“Go quickly!” he said. “Remember it’s up to you to warn them. This other is my job. Good-bye!”
He spoke without turning his head; yet the very brevity of his speech seemed to give her strength. Mechanically, she moved to obey.
Later she never remembered passing out of that place of horror. She went, hardly knowing what she did. The sudden smiting of the sunshine between the cypress boughs was the first she knew of having left the temple behind her. As one stricken blind, she moved, too stunned for panic.
And then—how it happened she was utterly unable to realize—as if he had dropped from the sky a man stood suddenly in her path.
He wore a pith helmet dragged forward over his eyes, and she was too dazzled by the sun to see his face. But there was something—something in his gait, his figure, his attitude—that sent a wild thrill through her, waking her to vivid, pulsing life. With an incoherent cry she clutched him by the arm.
“The tiger!” she gasped. “The tiger!”