And then suddenly, with a jerk that seemed almost to crack his spine, he sensed that the blackness wasn’t a pansy at all, but just a round, earthy sort of blackness in which he himself lay mysteriously prone. And he heard the wind still roaring furiously away off somewhere. And he heard the rain still drenching and sousing away off somewhere. But no wind seemed to be tugging directly at him, and no rain seemed to be splashing directly on him. And instead of the cavernous golden crater of a supernatural pansy there was just a perfectly tame yellow farm-lantern balanced adroitly on a low stone in the middle of the mysterious round blackness.
And in the sallow glow of that pleasant lantern-light little Eve Edgarton sat cross-legged on the ground with a great pulpy clutter of rain-soaked magazines spread out all around her like a giant’s pack of cards. And diagonally across her breast from shoulder to waistline her little gray flannel shirt hung gashed into innumerable ribbons.
To Barton’s blinking eyes she looked exceedingly strange and untidy. But nothing seemed to concern little Eve Edgarton except that spreading circle of half-drowned papers.
“For Heaven’s sake—wha—ght are you—do’?” mumbled Barton.
Out from her flickering aura of yellow lantern-light little Eve Edgarton peered forth quizzically into Barton’s darkness. “Why—I’m trying to save—my poor dear—books,” she drawled.
“Wha—ght?” struggled Barton. The word dragged on his tongue like a weight of lead. “Wha—ght?” he persisted desperately. “Wh—ere?—For—Heaven’s sake—wha—ght’s the matter—with us?”
Solicitously little Eve Edgarton lifted a soggy magazine-page to the lantern’s warm, curving cheek.
“Why—we’re in my cave,” she confided. “In my very own—cave—you know—that I was headed for—all the time. We got—sort of—struck by lightning,” she started to explain. “We—”
“Struck by—lightning?” gasped Barton. Mentally he started to jump up. But physically nothing moved. “My God! I’m paralyzed!” he screamed.
“Oh, no—really—I don’t think so,” crooned little Eve Edgarton.
With the faintest possible tinge of reluctance she put down her papers, picked up the lantern, and, crawling over to where Barton lay, sat down cross-legged again on the ground beside him, and began with mechanically alternate fist and palm to rubadubdub and thump-thump-thump and stroke-stroke-stroke his utterly helpless body.
“Oh—of—course—you’ve had—an awfully close call!” she drummed resonantly upon his apathetic chest. “But I’ve seen—three lightning people—a lot worse off than you!” she kneaded reassuringly into his insensate neck-muscles. “And—they—came out of it—all right—after a few days!” she slapped mercilessly into his faintly conscious sides.
Very slowly, very sluggishly, as his circulation quickened again, a horrid suspicion began to stir in Barton’s mind; but it took him a long time to voice the suspicion in anything as loud and public as words.