The two men sat in silence. Burke indifferently chewing on his quid. Winston shifted the revolver into his left hand, and began slowly tracing lines, and marking distances, on the back of an old envelope. The motionless foreman steadily watched him through cautiously lowered lashes, holding the lamp in his hat perfectly steady. Slowly, with no other muscle moving, both his hands stole upward along his body; inch by inch attaining to a higher position without awakening suspicion. His half-concealed eyes, as watchful as those of a cat, gleamed feverishly beneath his hat-brim, never deserting Winston’s partially lowered face. Then suddenly his two palms came together, the sputtering flame of the lamp between them.
A RETURN TO THE DAY
Burke knew better than to attempt running; three steps in the midst of such blinding darkness would have dashed him against unyielding rock. Instantly, his teeth gripped like those of a bulldog, he clutched at Winston’s throat, trusting to his great strength for victory. Instinctively, as one without knowing why closes the eyes to avoid injury, the engineer dodged sideways, Burke’s gripping fingers missed their chosen mark, and the two men went crashing down together in desperate struggle.
His revolver knocked from his grasp in the first impetus of assault, his cheek bleeding from forcible contact with a rock edge, Winston fought in silent ferocity, one hand holding back the Irishman’s searching fingers, the other firmly twisting itself into the soft collar of his antagonist’s shirt. Twice Burke struck out heavily, driving his clinched fist into the other’s body, unable to reach the protected face; then Winston succeeded in getting one groping foot braced firmly against a surface of rock, and whirled the surprised miner over upon his back with a degree of violence that caused his breath to burst forth in a great sob. A desperate struggle ensued, mad and merciless—arms gripping, bodies straining, feet rasping along the loose stones, muttered curses, the dull impact of blows. Neither could see the other, neither could feel assured his antagonist possessed no weapon; yet both fought furiously,—Burke enraged and merciless, Winston intoxicated with the lust of fight. Twice they reversed positions, the quickness of the one fairly offsetting the burly strength of the other, their sinews straining, the hot breath hissing between set teeth. Pain was unfelt, mercy unknown.
In the midst of the blind melee, following some savage instinct, Winston clinched his fingers desperately in the Irishman’s hair, and began jamming him back against the irregularities of the rock floor. Suddenly Burke went limp, and the engineer, panting painfully, lay outstretched upon him, his whole body quivering, barely conscious that he had gained the victory. The miner did not move, apparently he had ceased breathing, and Winston, shrinking away from contact with the motionless body, grasped a rock support and hauled himself to his feet.