“Aye,” from Rolla, bitterly. “And in time Dulnop will die, if we do nothing for him—and for Corrus!”
Cunora fell to sobbing again. “I cannot help it! I am—afraid!”
Rolla scarcely heard. An enormous idea had just occurred to her. She had told the girl to think of Dulnop and Corrus; but was it not equally true that they should think of all the other humans, their fellow slaves, each of whom had suffered nearly as much? Was not the fire equally precious to them all?
She started to explain this to the girl, then abruptly gave it up. It was no use; Cunora’s mind was not strong enough to take the step. Rolla fairly gasped as she realized, as no Sanusian had realized before, that she had been given the responsibility of rescuing A whole race.
Fire she must have! And since she could not, dared not, seek it here, she must try the other side of the world. And she would have to do it— alone!
“So be it!” she said loudly in a strange voice. “Ye stay here and wait, Cunora! I go on!”
And for fear her resolution would break down, she immediately crept over the edge. She clung to the rock as though expecting to be dragged from it. Instead, as she let her feet down into the blackness, she could feel solid rock beneath her body, quite the same as she had lain upon a moment before. It was like descending the opposite side of an incredibly steep mountain, a mountain made of blackness itself.
The women gave one another a last look. For all they knew, neither would gaze upon the other again. Next moment, with Cunora’s despairing cry ringing in her ears, Rolla began to crawl backward and downward.
She could plainly see the sun’s level rays above her head, irregular beams of yellowish light; it served slightly to illuminate her surroundings. Shortly, however, her eyes became accustomed to the darkness; the stars helped just as they had always helped; and soon she was moving almost as freely as on the other side.
Once she slipped, and slid down and to one side, for perhaps ten feet. When she finally grabbed a sharp projecting ledge and stopped, her vision almost failed from the terrible effort she had put forth. She could scarcely feel the deep gash that the ledge had made in her finger-tips.
After perhaps half an hour of hard work among bare rocks exactly like those she had quit, she stopped for a prolonged rest. As a matter of course, she stared at the sky; and then came her first discovery.
Once more let it be understood that her view was totally different from anything that has ever been seen on the earth. To be sure, “up” was over her head, and “down” was under her feet; nevertheless, she was stretched full length, face down, on the rock. In other words, it was precisely as though she were clinging to a cliff. Sky above, sky behind and all sides; there were stars even under her feet!
But all her life she had been accustomed, at night, to see that broad band of silver light across the heavens. She had taken it for granted that, except at two seasons of the year, for short periods, she would always see “the Silvery Way.” But to-night—there was no band! The whole sky was full of—stars, nothing else!