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Chapter 24

  • 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.”
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