“Then you think it is just—just an animal?” put in Desiree.
“What did you think it was?” I nearly smiled. “An infernal machine?”
“I don’t know. Only I have never before known what it was to fear.”
A discussion which led us nowhere, but at least gave us the sound of one another’s voices.
We passed many hours in that manner. Utterly blank and wearisome, and all but hopeless. I have often wondered at the strange tenacity with which we clung to life in conditions that made of it a burden almost insupportable; and with what chance of relief?
The instinct of self-preservation, it is called by the learned, but it needs a stronger name. It is more than an instinct. It is the very essence of life itself.
But soon we were impelled to action by something besides the desire to escape from the cavern: the pangs of hunger. It had been many hours since we had eaten; I think we had fasted not less than three or four days.
Desiree began to complain of a dizziness in her temples, and to weaken with every hour that passed. My own strength did not increase, and I saw that it would not unless I could obtain nourishment. Harry did not complain, but only because he would not.
“It is useless to wait longer,” I declared finally. “I grow weaker instead of stronger.”
We had little enough with which to burden ourselves. There were three spears, two of which Harry had brought, and myself the other. Harry and I wore only our woolen undergarments, so ragged and torn that they were but sorry covering.
Desiree’s single garment, made from some soft hide, was held about her waist by a girdle of the same material. The upper half of her body was bare. Her hair hung in a tangled mass over her shoulders and down her back. None of us had any covering for our feet.
We crossed the stream, using the spears as staffs; but instead of advancing across the middle of the cavern we turned to the left, hugging the wall. Harry urged us on, saying that he had already searched carefully for an exit on that side, but we went slowly, feeling for a break in the wall. It was absolutely smooth, which led me to believe that the cavern had at one time been filled with water.
We reached the farther wall and, turning to the right, were about to follow it.
“This is senseless,” said Harry impatiently. “I tell you I have examined this side, too; every inch of it.”
“And the one ahead of us, at right angles to this?” I asked.
“That too,” he answered.
“And the other—the one to the right of the stream?”
“No. I—I didn’t go there.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” I demanded.
“Because I didn’t want to,” he returned sullenly. “You can go there if you care to; I don’t. It was from there that—it came.”
I did not answer, but pushed forward, not, however, leaving the wall. Perhaps it was cowardly; you are welcome to the word if you care to use it. Myself, I know.