From the time Seyd rode into the hacienda up to that moment less than twent_inutes had passed, but events had leaped to a conclusion.
The barrier of debris across the outer buildings had diminished the force o_he blow upon the house, and had the water gained instant access to th_nterior and equalized the pressure it might have stood. As the wave race_ast, level with the high wall, the patio presented for an instant a curiou_esemblance to a square vessel pressed down till its edges just rose above th_ater. The next, its stout walls fell inward, and over them a yellow wav_eaped at the house. Reinforced by its partition walls, it withstood for a fe_econds the enormous pressure. Then above the cracking and grinding of debri_nd the mingled roar of the flood rose the boom of doors and windows blown ou_f their frames.
Because of its length the guardhouse went first. Feeling it tremble under hi_eet, Seyd lifted Francesca and held her face in against his breast. Not tha_e was in the least resigned. Never in all his life had he felt a keene_esire to live. His glance darted hither and thither, and when, freed by th_all of the stone lintels, a patio gate sprang out of the yellow cauldro_lmost at his feet he snatched up Francesca, leaped, and landed in its ver_enter. Falling under her, he was, for an instant, breathless. But in the fe_econds that he lay there gasping circumstances worked in their favor. Thrus_y the impact into the recoil of the wave from the house wall, the gate wa_eaved out of the patio, and passed the guardhouse just before the heavy tile_oof collapsed with the walls.
Almost in an instant the house crumbled and melted with scarcely a splash.
Sitting up a few seconds later, Seyd looked back on all that was left of E_uiss, the barrier of debris rising, a black reef, out of a yellow sea. A mil_head the wave roared on, its furious crescendo again reduced to a boomin_iapason. While the gate was being carried with incredible swiftness acros_he El Quiss pastures the roar sank to a distant hum, and presently die_ltogether, leaving only the quiet lapping of the waters in the falling dusk.
So quickly had it all passed that Seyd found it hard to believe they wer_loating in comparative safety. The gate, which was ten feet by twelve in siz_nd four inches thick, floated evenly, and if an occasional wave ran across i_he tepid rain water of the tropics caused no discomfort. Neither were they i_anger from the debris, logs, and uprooted trees which floated at equal spee_n currents that were setting back to the river. With a pole that he picked u_eyd was able to keep out of the way of the few that rolled and tumbled whe_heir branches caught on the bottom, and when at last they drifted on th_eeper, slower currents of the river he turned to Francesca, who had remaine_ huddled, sobbing heap just where she fell.
She looked up when he touched her shoulder. “Oh, I feel wicked!” she cried,
remorsefully. “If I had only waited for a few more days, given you time t_xplain, he would still be alive.”
“It was perfectly natural,” Seyd comforted her. “He would absolve you from al_lame were he here, for with all his faults he was big and brave.”
“You really think that he would?” She looked up with tearful anxiety.
“I’m sure of it. How could he do otherwise?”
“But he was—my husband. And I left him—for you.”
“Yet I do not think that he held you in blame.”
Kneeling beside her, with one arm around her shoulders, he gave hi_eason—Sebastien’s last salute. Even if this started her tears anew she,
nevertheless, felt comforted. When a black shape forged out of the dus_longside, and he had to return to his pole, her natural spirit reasserte_tself.
“Here am I, crying like a child instead of helping. What can I do?”
There was really nothing. But to keep her from brooding he placed her o_atch. “If you’ll keep a lookout I’ll take a shove at everything that float_n reach. The current is setting across the river, and we have nearly twent_iles to work in. With any old luck we ought to be able to land at Sant_ertrudis.”
Thick dusk presently merged into night, but they were helped by a full moo_hich shed a dew of light through the falling rain. Not that they voyage_ithout hazard. Twice they were almost swamped by trees which rolled ove_nder the thrust of Seyd’s pole. Farther down they narrowly escaped shipwrec_n wooded islands. Yet, thrusting and hauling, he worked steadily with th_avoring current, and they had gained almost across when, rounding a bend,
they sighted a distant light.
“Caliban’s, for sure! Only another hour to food and fire!” Seyd cheered her.
He had, however, his own misgivings. As they drew into the shadow of th_arranca wall the moonlight grew fainter, and, drifting later over th_ubmerged jungle, they were hard put to avoid the treetops which upreared lik_uge mushrooms above the flood. More than once they were almost swept off th_aft by bejucos, vegetable cables, which stretched from top to top, and a_hese grew thicker Seyd saw that disaster was merely a question of time. H_as hoping desperately that their capsizing would not entail too long a swim,
when out of the obscurity rose a huge black shape.
With a shock that threw them both down, the raft grounded in shallow water.
It was the plateau on which the new smelter stood. But, changed as it was i_he new geography of the flood, Seyd did not recognize it until, scramblin_shore with Francesca, he saw above the dark mass of the buildings the cabl_nd iron ore buckets in dim outline against the sky.
“Why, it’s the smelter!” he shouted, in glad surprise. “Ever since th_xplosion we have kept a man here on guard. _Ola!_ Calixto! _Ola! Ola!_ ”
While he was calling a yellow oblong broke out of the building’s mass, framin_he black silhouette of a man. “It is the _jefe_!” They heard his comment t_is woman inside, then, uttering a volley of surprised “ _Caramba’s!_ ” h_ame rushing down the bank with his lantern.
When Francesca’s pale wet face shone under its sudden glow he dropped th_antern, which, fortunately, did not go out. Picking it up again, he lighte_heir way to the adobe that had served Billy for house and office while th_melter was building.
For use during the rains, a chimney and wide hearth had been installed in th_dobe, and while Calixto was building a roaring fire Seyd directed a piratica_aid on Billy’s trunks. At first his search returned only muddy overalls an_oiled clothing of various sorts, but at the very bottom—just as they had bee_laced by the hands of a careful mother—a new suit of flannel pajamas and _oluminous woolen bathrobe appeared. When, with some misgivings, and confused,
he suggested a change, a touch of the girl’s old archness flashed out. He_mile was almost mischievous as she returned thanks.
“I’m sorry there’s nothing better to offer.” The smile emboldened him to add:
“But they will serve till we have something to eat. Then you may have the fir_ll to yourself to dry your own things.”
She smiled again when, returning with food and coffee prepared by Calixto’_oman, he exclaimed, “You look like the Queen of Sheba!”
With the brown-black hair swinging almost to her knees and the bathrobe—_orgeous affair in pink chosen with an eye to Billy’s vivid taste—belted in t_er waist and pajamas ballooning beneath over small bare feet, she did loo_riental. When the coffee and food had relit her eyes and restored her usua_aint color he was sure that she had never looked so distractingly pretty. Th_ffect was not diminished either by her small vexed frowns at the revelation_f smooth whiteness caused by the persistent slipping of the wide sleeves.
When, as they sat by the fire after the meal, warmth and fatigue moved her t_ yawn and he caught the full redness of her mouth before she could cover i_he intimacy of it all sent the blood drumming through his pulses. If he_erious eyes restrained him, they did not repress his thought.
“I have you—now! I have you at last, and I’ll never let you go again!”
Undoubtedly she furnished the inspiration which kindled a sudden light in hi_yes. “Why not?” he urged against the one objection that occurred in hi_hought. “It’s an awful smash at the conventions, but—it’s the only way. H_ocked me in to drown—and do you suppose that he’d hesitate if he were her_ow in my shoes? I guess not. And if he would, I won’t. By the Lord, I’ll d_t!”
He rose soon after reaching his conclusion. “You must be very tired, so I’l_o now and leave you to dry your things. You know, we start early in th_orning.”
“Start early?” She opened her sleepy eyes.
“Listen!” He took her gently by both shoulders. “We have been held apart s_ar by all sorts of accidents and misunderstandings. You know how closely w_ame to utter shipwreck?” Her shiver answering, he went on, “Now, will yo_rust—leave all to me?”
She had been no woman if she had not divined the restraint behind his quie_uring the last warm hour, and, rising suddenly upon small bare toes, she pai_im for his consideration. “I will do anything you say.”