|Chapter 3: The Rescue|
The girl kept sobbing in pain and relief as the woman held her at arm's length to inspect her. At once, the woman saw the tourniquet and the swelling and the cuts. She gave a low scream, and looked at Covenant for the first time.
"What happened?" she demanded. "What have you done to her?" Suddently, she stopped. A look of horror stretched her face. She backed away toward the man, and screamed at him, "Dave! It's that leper! That Covenant!"
"What?" the man gasped. Righteous indignation rushed up in him. "You bastard!" he spat belligerently, and started toward Covenant.
Covenant thought that the man was going to hit him; he seemed to feel the blow coming at him from a great distance. Watching it, he lost his balance, stumbled backward a step, and sat down heavily. Red pain flooded across his sight. When it cleared, he was vaguely surprised to find that he was not being kicked. But the man had stopped a dozen feet away; he stood with his fists clenched, trying not to show that he was afraid to come closer.
Covenant struggled to speak, explain that the child still needed help. But a long, stunned moment passed before he was able to dredge words past his lips. Then he said in a tone of detachment completely at variance with the way he looked and felt, "Snakebite. Timber rattler. Help her."
The effort exhausted him; he could not go on. He lapsed into silence, and sat still as if he were hopelessly waiting for an avalanche to fall on him. The man and woman began to recede from him, lose solidity, as if they were dissolving in the acid of his prostration. Vaguely, he heard the child moan, "The snake bit me, Mommy. My leg hurts."
He realized that he still had not seen the child's face. But he had lost his chance. He had exercised too strenuously with snake venom in his blood. By degrees, he was slipping into shock.
"All right, Mhoram," he mumbled wanly. "Come and get me. It's over now."