The younger girl could not spare breath enough to reply. They struggled on in silence.
Now they were down on their hands and knees. Before half the hundred yards was covered, they were flat on their faces, literally clawing their way upward and onward. Had the wind increased in violence in proportion as the way grew harder, they could never have made it, physical marvels though they were. Only the absolute knowledge that they dared not return drove them on; that, and the possibility of finding the precious stone, and of ultimately saving the two men they had left behind.
The last twenty feet was the most extraordinary effort that any human had ever been subjected to. They had to take turns in negotiating the rock; one would creep a few inches on, get a good hold, and brace herself against the wind, while the other, crawling alongside, used her as a sort of a crutch. Their fingers were bleeding and their finger-nails cracked from the rock and cold; the same is equally true of their toes. Had it been forty feet instead of twenty—
The rocks ended there. Beyond was nothing but sky; even this was not like what they were used to, but was very nearly black. Two more spurts, and Rolla threw one hand ahead and caught the edge of the rock. Cunora dragged herself alongside. The effort brought blood to her nostrils.
They rested a minute or two, then looked at one another in mute inquiry. Cunora nodded; Rolla took great breath; and they drew themselves to the edge and looked over.
The two women gazed in extreme darkness. The other side of the ridge of rock was black as night. From side to side the ridge extended, like a jagged knife edge on a prodigious scale; it seemed infinite in extent. Behind them—that is, at their feet-lay the stone-covered expanse they had just traversed; ahead of them there was—nothingness itself.
Cunora shook with fear and cold. “Let us not go on, Rolla!” she whimpered. “I like not the looks of this void; it may contain all sorts of beasts. I—I am afraid!” She began to sob convulsively. Rolla peered into the darkness. Nothing whatever was to be seen. It was as easy to imagine enemies as friends; easier in fact. What might not the unknown hold for them?
“We cannot stay here,” spoke Rolla, with what energy her condition would permit. “We could not—hold on. Nor can we return now; They would surely find us!”
But Cunora’s courage, which had never faltered in the face of familiar dangers, was not equal to the unknown. She wailed: “Rolla! A little way back—a hollow in the rock! ’Tis big enough to shelter me! I would— rather stay there than—go on!”
“Ye would rather die there, alone!”
Cunora hid her face. “Let me have half the food! I can go back to the pool—for water! And maybe,” hopefully—“maybe They will give up the search in time.”