“Is the passage straight?” I asked, struck with a sudden idea. “Could you see far within?”
“A hundred feet or so,” was the answer. “Why? Shall we follow it? Can you walk?”
“I think so,” I answered. “At any rate, I must find some water soon or quit the game. But that isn’t why I asked. Perhaps it explains the sudden disappearance of the Incas. They knew they couldn’t follow us through that narrow crevice; what if they have made for the passage?”
Harry grumbled that we had enough trouble without trying to borrow more.
We decided to wait a little longer before starting out from the cavern; Harry helped me to my feet to give them a trial, and though I was able to stand it was only by a tremendous effort and exertion of the will.
“Not yet,” I murmured between clenched teeth, and again Desiree sat on the hard rock and supported my head and shoulders in her arms, despite my earnest remonstrances. Harry stood before us, leaning on his spear.
Soon he left us again, departing in the direction of the crevice by which we had entered; I detected his uneasiness in the tone with which he directed us to keep a lookout around in every direction.
“We could move to the wall,” I had suggested; but he shook his head, saying that where we were we at least had room to turn.
When he had gone Desiree and I sat silent for many minutes. Then I tried to rise, insisting that she must be exhausted with the long strain she had undergone, but she denied it vehemently, and refused to allow me to move.
“It is little enough,” she said; and though I but half understood her, I made no answer.
I myself was convinced that we were at last near the end. It was certain that the Incas had merely delayed, not abandoned, the pursuit, and our powers and means of resistance had been worn to nothing.
Our curious apathy and half indifference spoke for itself; it was as though we had at length recognized the hand of fate and seen the futility of further struggle. For, weak and injured as I was, I still had strength in me; it was a listlessness of the brain and hopelessness of the heart that made me content to lie and wait for whatever might come.
The state of my feelings toward Desiree were even then elusive; they are more so now. I had told her I loved her; well, I had told many women that. But Desiree had moved me; with her it was not the same—that I felt. I had never so admired a woman, and the thrill of that kiss is in me yet; I can recall it and tremble under its power by merely closing my eyes.
Her warm hand, pressed tightly in my own, seemed to send an electric communication to every nerve in my body and eased my suffering and stilled my pain. That, I know, is not love; and perhaps I was mistaken when I imagined that it was there.
“Are you asleep?” she asked presently, after I had lain perfectly quiet for many minutes. Her voice was so low that it entered my ear as the faintest breath.