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Heroine

Chapter 3

Somewhere in a dazed fog, fighting her way back to consciousness, she was overwhelmed by a frightening series of images. Marguerite saw a grave marker. It had all of their names on it, including Veronica’s. But then someone, a man whose face she could not see, wearing in a dirty gray shirt, walked over to the stone and lifted a chisel.

The impression evaporated and the man vanished.

She did not know how long she had been unconscious but the first thing Marguerite became aware of was a weight resting on her chest, heavy at the underside of her chin. Was it a gravestone, perhaps the one from her dream, which was oppressing her and making it so difficult to breath? Slowly blinking her eyes open, Miss Krux remembered what had happened and why she felt as uncomfortable as she did.

“Roxton,” she croaked, grime caking her throat. It was his head which was resting on her breasts. If the circumstance had been different, if the oxygen wasn’t being squeezed from her lungs, Marguerite was sure one or the other of them might have indulged in a bit of good-natured teasing, and possibly even a smattering of pleasure, from the overtly compromising position they found themselves in. However, recalling the earthquake, *now* was clearly not the time for humor. “Get off of me, Roxton.”

He was unconscious and his lax body, pinning Marguerite’s to the ground, was an overwhelming burden.

“Wake up!” She urged then a horrible thought, possibly something from her dream, suddenly made Marguerite grow pale. Roxton had done this to shield and protect her at the risk of his own life. Could he be dead? “John!”

Her words, at first annoyed then panicked, pulled him from the darkness. Roxton slowly rose up, dizzy and slightly nauseous, and looked into her large, frightened eyes as they stared into his. “Are you okay?” he asked, blinking away dust.

She nodded, “You?”

The back of his head hurt and Roxton reached for it as he somewhat reluctantly pulled himself away from her. Blood smeared his fingers, “I guess it could be worse.” he commented.

Marguerite sat up, unaware of Roxton’s injury, and looked about. She could see a wobbly footed Malone already up and walking over to a groggy but conscious Challenger. He was seated on the cave’s floor and shook his head back and forth, having obviously just awakened. He was getting his bearings as he watched the dirt settling around them. “That was close.” She heard him say to the young journalist.

Satisfied, Marguerite then looked over at the two openings, leading out into darkened corridors. She was relieved to see that neither was blocked. Marguerite turned back to Roxton and was about to mention their good fortune when she saw the blood-trail down his neck, staining his filthy collar. “John!” she exclaimed.

He reached another hand to his head and saw that it came away sticky and red. “Really, it looks worse than it is.” He tried to quell her fears.

“It needs bandaged.” Marguerite reached where her backpack should have been. Instead there was a pile of stones and dirt, “Bloody hell.” Marguerite whispered and on her hands and knees began to dig, trying to find where it was located.

“Is everyone all right?” Challenger asked, slowly getting to his feet. “Summerlee?” he called.

“Here.” An older and slightly choked voice replied, “I think we may have a problem here ...”

“Oh no, it can’t be.” Marguerite, still searching for her pack, whispered. Finally, she found a familiar strap and pulled it up from the rubble in one huge heave. The “glorified compass” as Malone had called it was smashed into small pieces. “Damn it.” Marguerite hissed, tossing what was left of the useless instrument aside. She then undid the clasps and pulled out disinfectant and a clean roll of bandages.

On her knees Marguerite moved over to Roxton and studied the deep gash on the back of his scalp. She cleaned it then and wound the bandage around his head. “Looks like a rock the size of Big Ben decided to meet and greet your skull, Lord Roxton. The bump it left behind is just as impressive. I'm calling it Charlie.” she teased.

“I always wanted a twin brother.” He commented, attempting wit.

“Keep your hat on,” She pulled it from the rubble and shoved it into his hands, “and no one will notice.”

Summerlee, who had been closest to the wall when it collapsed during the quake, was sitting up but was obviously in a great deal of pain. Malone and Challenger crouched beside him and, removing a rather large slab of stone from his legs, examined the injured professor. He winced and cried out sharply when Challenger attempted to move his left leg. “No, that’s not good at all.”

“We need to get his boot off.” Malone began, reaching for it.

“No!” Summerlee grasped the younger man’s shoulder, “You better not.”

“Arthur, what are you talking about?” Challenger looked intently at his colleague, “Let us help you.”

Resigned, Summerlee looked up and watched as Marguerite and Roxton joined them. He took a breath then: “My friends, I cannot continue on. My foot has been crushed.”

There was silence for a count of five.

“Arthur, no.” Challenger licked his lips and his voice grew urgent, “Don’t even think that we would just leave you here.”

“You must. I cannot go on, George.”

“We’ll carry you.” Marguerite desperately suggested. She collapsed on her knees in front of him.

Roxton looked about the cave, “There’s got to be something around here. We’ll make a litter …”

“No.” Summerlee once again interjected, “You are going to be fighting for your lives every step of the way out of here. I *will not* be responsible for anyone’s death but my own.”

Malone shook his head with denial, “Professor …”

Summerlee leaned back so that his head was touching the wall behind him, “I’m begging you to leave me here.” He said, “Don’t make my sacrifice be in vain. Get out of these caves, find the outside and come back one day. If you find my bones …” He focused on Challenger, knowing only *he* would be mad enough to head a second expedition to The Lost World. “You can take me back to England and bury me with whatever honor you think appropriate, George.” he smiled weakly, “Or take me back to the plateau and bury me there, somewhere under the treehouse. I would not mind that at all.”

Marguerite leaned in and took his hand, “Arthur …”

An expression of sorrow was so plain on her soil-streaked face that Summerlee was both honored and amazed. He lifted gentle fingers to brush dirt from her chin, “Remember what I once told you about reinventing yourself?” he asked, gently. “When you get back to England, my dear, promise me you will do everything in your power to be the woman I know you can be ..." then he corrected, "The woman you *are*.”

“I will.” She said softly, "I promise." Allowing a single tear to slip down her cheek, Marguerite leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on Summerlee’s forehead. She then composed herself, pushed back, and spoke to everyone, “He’s right. We’ll all die if we try to make it through these passageways carrying him.”

“Nonsense,” Challenger started.

“For once in your life will you listen to good sense!?” Summerlee barked.

Malone, unbelieving, growled at Marguerite in a low voice, “If that were you sitting there, would you want us to leave you behind?”

She turned to look at Malone and met his eyes, “No.”

He was stunned speechless by her honesty.

“But I *would* understand why it was done.” She stood and looked down at the men, who were all crouching by the good professor. “Arthur is so much wiser than I …”

“I’m older.” He managed a smile and nodded at Marguerite.

Roxton caught the exchange, something personal and significant between Summerlee and Marguerite, and came to a decision. “We will leave you food and water, Arthur.” he said, “Enough to last you a few weeks.”

‘Unless you die in the meantime.’ was the unspoken comment.

“That’s not necessary.”

As hard as it was to do so Challenger gave in to his oldest friend and detractor. “We may not be that far from an escape, Arthur.” Challenger encouraged. “Maybe an outlet is only a couple days away. If we manage to find help while in the Amazon we will come back for you ...”

“All is not lost.” Malone nodded, although he hated himself for going along with the others.

“Of course,” Summerlee nodded as he watched his companions – his family - gather and organize their half-buried supplies. “That would be lovely, wouldn’t it?” he indulged them.

A few minutes later, lighting a torch, Roxton watched as Summerlee called Marguerite over to him once again and, digging into his own backpack he passed something, an envelope, into her hands. He then smiled when she replied to a quiet question he asked her. Roxton watched further as Marguerite slid the envelope into her jacket pocket. He would ask her about it later.

They left Summerlee – their friend, colleague and father figure - two full canteens, enough food to last three weeks if he rationed it carefully, blankets and a small pistol, just incase a “beastie”, Roxton had said, showed up to give him a bad time.

Marguerite met Summerlee’s eyes just before they walked from the cave. He had the small pistol in one hand, staring down at it. Then, looking upward, he shrugged at the young woman watching him. “Farewell, Marguerite.” he said.

Pained, Marguerite followed Malone. It wouldn’t matter if they found their way out of the catacombs tomorrow, the next day or the following week. They would never see Professor Arthur Summerlee alive again.

*~~~*