I stopped behind the barricade.
Even so I was fortunate, for had they gained the cave before I did they would have had me at their mercy like a rat trapped in a hole.
They saw me and drew back hastily within the tunnel’s mouth. I was panting with the weight of my unconscious burden, and I did not know what to do. My mind was filled with rage against my fate, and I shouted curses at them and strode up and down, behind the bags.
Presently I saw something white fluttering from the tunnel. It was a white handkerchief upon a stick of wood, and slowly and gingerly Raoul emerged into the open.
At that instant I fired. The bullet whipped past his face, and with an oath he dropped the stick and handkerchief too, and scuttled back to shelter.
Then Leroux’s voice hailed me from the tunnel.
“Hewlett!” he called, and there was no trace of mockery in his tones now, “will you come out and talk with me? Will you meet me in the open, if you prefer?”
I fired another shot in futile rage. It struck the cliff and sent a stone flying into the stream.
Then silence followed. And I took Jacqueline and carried her back into the little hollow place. I put my hand upon her breast.
It stirred. She breathed faintly, though she showed no sign of consciousness.
And then I acted as a trapped animal would act. I raged up and down the tunnel from cataract to cave, and at each end I fired wildly, though there was no sign of any guard. Why should their guards expose themselves to fire at me when they had me at their mercy?
They could surprize me from either end, and I suppose I thought by this trick to maintain the illusion of having some companion. Heaven knows what was in my mind. But now I stood beneath that awful cataract firing at the blind rock, and now I was back behind the earth-bags shooting into the tunnel.
And again I was at Jacqueline’s side, crouching over her, holding her hand in mine, pressing my lips to hers, imploring her to live for my sake, or, if she could not live, to open her eyes once more and speak to me.
So the afternoon wore away. The sun had sunk behind the cliffs. I had fired away all but six of my cartridges. Then the memory of my similar act of folly before came home to me. I grew more calm.
I understood Leroux’s intentions—he meant to surprize me in the night when I was worn out, or when I made a blind dash in the dark for the tunnel.
I felt my way around the cave with the faint hope that there might be some other egress there.
There was none, but I made out a recess which I had not perceived, about one-half as large as the cave itself, and opening into it by a small passage just large enough to give admittance to a single person. Here I should have only one front to defend.
So I carried Jacqueline inside and began laboriously to drag the bags of earth into this last refuge. Before it had grown quite dark I had barricaded Jacqueline and myself within a place the size of a hall bedroom enclosed upon three sides with rock.