I followed him, firing as fast as I could reload. But there was a slight bend in the passage here, and my bullets only struck the walls. So fortune helped the ruffian, for when I reached the light he was scrambling across the ledge, and before I could cover him he had succeeded in disappearing behind the projecting rock on the other side.
So Leroux had already sealed one exit—that by the Old Angel, where the road led into the main passage. God grant that he had not time to reach the exit by the mine!
If I made haste! If I made haste! But I would not argue the matter any further. I ran back at full speed. I reached the cave.
“Jacqueline! Come, come!” I called.
She did not answer.
I ran forward, peering round me in the obscurity. I saw her near the earth-sacks, lying upon her side. Her eyes were closed, her face as white as a dead woman’s.
White—but her dress was blood-soaked, and there was blood on the sacks and on the stony floor. It oozed from her side, and her hand was cold as the rocks, and there was no flutter at her wrist.
The bullet from Jean Petitjean’s revolver that missed me must have penetrated her body.
She lived, for her breast stirred, though so faintly that it seemed as though all that remained of life were concentrated in the faint-throbbing heart-beats.
I raised her in my arms and placed a sack beneath her head, making a resting-place for her with my fur coat. Then with my knife I cut away her dress over the wound.
There was a bullet-hole beneath her breast, stained with dark blood. I ran down to the rivulet, risking an ambuscade, brought back cold water, and washed it, and stanched the flow as best I could, making a bandage and placing it above the wound.
It was a poor effort at first aid, by one who had never seen a bullet-wound before, and I was distracted with misery and grief, and yet I remember how steady my hands were and with what precision and care I performed my task.
I have a dim remembrance of losing my self-control when this was done, and clasping her in my arms and pressing my lips to her cold cheek and begging her to live and praying wildly that she should not die. Then I raised her in my arms and was staggering across the cave toward the tunnel which led to the rocking stone.
I saw the light, the sun’s rays bright on the cliff tops. Once in the tunnel beyond that I could keep my pursuers at bay with my revolver, even if I had to fight every inch of my way to freedom.
And then, just as I approached the barricade of earth-filled bags, Leroux and the man Raoul emerged from the tunnel’s mouth and ran toward me.
If I had been alone and unencumbered, I believe I could have spurted across the open and won free. But with Jacqueline in my arms it was impossible.