|Notwithstanding her previous words, Mary-Lou came very close to fainting at that moment. She felt so dizzy that for a moment she could only sit on the ledge, trying not to panic and trembling so violently that she nearly dropped the lighter into the sea below. She pulled herself together, however, and leant over as far as she could, calling Rix’s name.|
Her first call went unanswered, but then she saw he had managed to pull himself out of the sea and continue his climb up to the safety of the ledge.
“Are you all right? You’re not hurt?” she demanded, as soon as he reached her and collapsed next to her. His forehead was bleeding, but she thought the cut looked superficial.
“Cold – bashed my side.” he managed, still panting from his rapid climb. “Is the water rising?” he added, anxiously.
Mary-Lou grabbed her handkerchief and held it against his head, “I don’t think so. I think we’re safe for the moment.”
“We’ll be stuck here for hours. I’m sorry.” he said, taking the handkerchief from her, and wincing as he sat up.
"Don't worry - you should try and keep still. Everything’s fine. Let me see your side?”
He nodded, exhaustedly, and let her help remove his outer clothing. He wouldn’t have admitted it to her for worlds, but he was in a great deal of pain and shock. He was also cursing himself for his own stupidity in allowing this idiotic expedition to take place – what sort of a fool tried to explore a cave with a cigarette lighter when there was a danger from the spring tides?
Mary-Lou unbuttoned his shirt, pulling it open carefully. She gave an exclamation when she saw his side, which was grazed and bleeding.
“You’ve cut yourself – it doesn’t look too deep, but there’s a lot of blood. Give me that handkerchief. Do you think any of your ribs are broken?”
“No – I don’t think so.”
“I’ll just see – tell me if it hurts,” Mary-Lou remembered her Guide first aid training and felt down his body to see if any of his ribs were broken. He was still shivering, so she pulled off her own coat and covered him with it.
“Thanks – I think it’s just bruised. Honestly, I’ll be fine. Are you all right?”
“Absolutely. Look, I’m going to turn this off – we’ll need it later to get out.” Mary-Lou did so, leaving them in darkness. She put it down on the rock, making sure she knew where it was, and reached across and took hold of his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. He felt very cold indeed.
“How long do you think we’ll be stuck here until the tide goes out?” she asked, deliberately keeping her voice cheerful.
“Six hours or so? What time is it?” he replied, rousing slightly.
Mary-Lou used the lighter to look at her watch. “It’s only twenty past ten. Seems later, doesn’t it?”
He didn’t reply, and she flicked the lighter on again, holding it over his face. He was very pale. She moved closer at once, to try and keep him as warm as possible.
“How much fluid is left in that lighter?” he asked, quietly.
“Not much,” she closed it again, “I was just checking you hadn’t lost consciousness.”
“It’s only bruises, and a scratch on my head. I promise you I’m not seriously hurt, ok? I won’t pass out.”
“You should’ve let me help you up, and this wouldn’t have happened.” Mary-Lou said, trying to keep him talking.
“I told you, I’d have only pulled you down as well. Do you think you could wring my shirt out for me, please? I’ll have to wear it to get back to the Quadrant or they’ll panic. I’d do it myself, but it hurts if I move.”
“Of course.” She took it from him at once. “Don’t try to move anyway. I know it’s only bruises, but when I dished my back in that sledding accident I was laid up for months.” She told him the whole story, and followed it with another from her schooldays, about the trip to the Tiernsee during the Coming-of-Age celebrations. He asked her some questions about the Tiernsee, but he was mainly quiet and she started to worry that his injuries were more serious than he was admitting.
Rix felt down his side carefully, trying not to let Mary-Lou realise what he was doing. He hadn’t needed to lie to her; it was only bruises, but incredibly painful now the first shock was wearing off. He was astonished how calm she was being.
He was reminded of how she had been so distraught at the Savoy, after the row with her boyfriend. He thought privately that the chap must be mad to end a relationship with her. Her behaviour then seemed so out of character now that he wondered what had been said the restaurant. Could he ask without seeming too intrusive?
He cleared his throat, but before he could speak, she did, and her voice sounded as if from further away.
“I want to see if the tunnel behind us leads anywhere. It goes uphill, so it’s safe enough. If it leads back to the cliffs, like your brother thinks, then I can go and get help. You can’t lie here for six hours in wet clothes – you’ll be ill! I’ll be back shortly. Try and keep warm.”
“No – you can’t. It’s too dangerous. Don’t you dare go off on your own!” he said, angrily, feeling dizzy with pain as he struggled to stand up.
She was back beside him at once, “Oh, good! I thought that would get you to your feet. You can’t lie there, you know, you might get hypothermia. Now, put your arm around me and we can see if that tunnel leads anywhere. At the very least, you’ll be warmer moving around. Put my coat on, if you can. I’ve got your things here.”
“I’m not moving a step until you give me your word you won’t go off on your own.” he said, still furious.
“I remember Maeve saying how stubborn you could be.” she said, infuriatingly cheerful. “But so am I. Come on, or I’ll be late for the tea-party with your brother-in-law to be and Maeve will be mad.”
“Fine. But if this tunnel doesn’t lead anywhere, what then?”
“We’ll come back. We’ve got six hours before we can go anywhere, haven’t we?”
He sighed, but realised that she was right. The air coming from the tunnel was fresher and he remembered how John had often gone into the cave to reappear a short while later on top of the cliff. But how could they tell this was the right tunnel?
The tunnel did lead uphill and it was steep. It was hard work, and neither of them spoke for a while. Mary-Lou was wondering if she really had made him angry and he was regretting shouting at her.
“Sorry I snapped at you,” he said, finally. “I was worried you’d get lost or hurt.”
“It’s OK.” she replied, tolerantly. “I got us into this, and I’ll get us out of it. Look straight ahead, can you see how light it’s getting?”
She was right, and he felt the relief wash over him.
“Leave me here, and go ahead – see if you can get help.” he suggested.
“Can’t you go a little further? Just another five minutes. How strange!”
“What is it?”
“The tunnel seems to fork here – this way is getting lighter, but that tunnel’s dark. I wonder where it goes? Oh don’t say anything, I won’t explore it now, but I’d like to come back one day and see where it goes – with a proper torch and possibly John. No offence!”
This made him laugh, and he had to stop and hold his side.
“We can rest for a few minutes,” Mary-Lou said at once, “Here, I’ve got some chocolate.”
It was easier for them to see each other now the darkness was lifting. They shared the chocolate and then Mary-Lou left him to go ahead the remaining few dozen yards and investigate the source of the light. She hurried, for she did not like how he looked.
She finally reached the end of the tunnel and came to a dead stop. What on earth was she to do now?