The weird old person opened his broad blue eyes and fixed Turnbull with a stare extraordinarily severe. “You are quite sure,” he said, “I cannot help you?”
“Quite sure, thank you,” said Turnbull with broken brevity. “Good day.”
Then he turned to MacIan who was standing close behind him, and whose face, now familiar in all its moods, told him easily that Evan had heard the whole of the strange dialogue.
“Curse those cruel beasts!” cried Turnbull. “They’ve turned him to an imbecile just by burying him alive. His brain’s like a pin-point now.”
“You are sure he is a lunatic?” said Evan, slowly.
“Not a lunatic,” said Turnbull, “an idiot. He just points to things and says that they stick out.”
“He had a notion that he could help us,” said MacIan moodily, and began to pace towards the other end of his cell.
“Yes, it was a bit pathetic,” assented Turnbull; “such a Thing offering help, and besides—— Hallo! Hallo! What’s the matter?”
“God Almighty guide us all!” said MacIan.
He was standing heavy and still at the other end of the room and staring quietly at the door which for thirty days had sealed them up from the sun. Turnbull, following the other’s eye, stared at the door likewise, and then he also uttered an exclamation. The iron door was standing about an inch and a half open.
“He said——” began Evan, in a trembling voice—“he offered——”
“Come along, you fool!” shouted Turnbull with a sudden and furious energy. “I see it all now, and it’s the best stroke of luck in the world. You pulled out that iron handle that had screwed up his cell, and it somehow altered the machinery and opened all the doors.”
Seizing MacIan by the elbow he bundled him bodily out into the open corridor and ran him on till they saw daylight through a half-darkened window.
“All the same,” said Evan, like one answering in an ordinary conversation, “he did ask you whether he could help you.”
All this wilderness of windowless passages was so built into the heart of that fortress of fear that it seemed more than an hour before the fugitives had any good glimpse of the outer world. They did not even know what hour of the day it was; and when, turning a corner, they saw the bare tunnel of the corridor end abruptly in a shining square of garden, the grass burning in that strong evening sunshine which makes it burnished gold rather than green, the abrupt opening on to the earth seemed like a hole knocked in the wall of heaven. Only once or twice in life is it permitted to a man thus to see the very universe from outside, and feel existence itself as an adorable adventure not yet begun. As they found this shining escape out of that hellish labyrinth they both had simultaneously the sensation of being babes unborn, of being asked by God if they would like to live upon the earth. They were looking in at one of the seven gates of Eden.