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   Chapter 23 No.23

The Mystery of The Barranca By Herman Whitaker Characters: 6758

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

In the few minutes that passed before she met Sebastien Francesca had regained self control. To his reproof, "This was foolish; why did you linger?" she calmly replied, "I wished to make sure that all the people were out."

He nodded approval. "Then no one is left?"

"No one."

"Bueno! We have no more than time to make the hills. Pancho's beast is stronger than yours. Give him the child." She had begun to hope, but it died within her as he went on: "In my rooms are valuable papers. 'Twill take but a moment to get them. Ride on, you. My horse goes two paces to your one. I can catch you halfway to the hills."

She almost fainted when he rode off, for just as surely as though she had seen him questioning the fugitive women she knew now that he was aware of Seyd's presence. She reined her animal around to follow, then checked it sharply under a sudden inspiration.

"Why do you wait, Pancho?" she asked, sharply. "While you sleep the flood will be on us. Ride! Ride your hardest! I will follow."

The mozo, to tell the truth, was damning with inward tremblings the luck that had placed him in such jeopardy. Only the fear of Sebastien had kept him from bolting, and now, without even a backward glance, he laid on with quirt and spurs and galloped off with Roberta, leaving Francesca free to carry out her plan.

It was quite simple. In this, the rainy season, the shade trees were draped from crown to foot with green lace of morning glories, and on the outer edge of the nearest clump a banyan had been converted into a huge tent which would have stabled a hundred horses. Parting the lacework of leaves with one hand, after she had ridden under it, Francesca obtained, through the gateway, an oblique view of the guardhouse at the moment Sebastien closed the iron doors. The crash of the bars carried to her tree, and had he looked that way he might have seen the curtain of leaves swing under the forward move of her beast. But, controlling the impulse, she reined it back again. When Sebastien raced past a couple of minutes later she dropped her hand and shrank in sudden fear.

It was, however, impossible for him to see her. Moreover, the intervening clumps prevented him from discovering that she was not with Pancho until he came bursting out on his heels in open pasture half a mile ahead.

"Tonto! where is thy mistress?"

The mozo's look of frightened surprise proclaimed at once his ignorance and fear. Both had reined in, and under the other's deadly look Pancho cowered behind his bent arm. Sickly green patches stained his dull chocolate. When Sebastien pulled a pistol from his holster he bowed down to the saddle horn, his face in his hands. Leaning over, Sebastien placed the muzzle against the fellow's head. His finger even had tightened. Then, checking the impulse, came Roberta's whimper, "Se?or! oh, se?or!" Above it rose a distant thunderous roar, and, glancing northward, he saw in the far distance a writhing movement in the jungle beyond the pastures.

"Off, fool! Save the child!"

Striking the man's shoulders with the pistol, he wheeled his horse and shot away, heading back to the hacienda. Riding, he kept one eye on the green wave that was moving with the speed of the wind over the jungle. As he passed in among the shade trees it boiled over the far edge of the pastures, and from beneath the swaying trees eme

rged a muddy wall crowned with bristling black. Traveling more swiftly in the open, it came on at an acute angle which had its point in the flooded lands along the river, its base in the jungle close to the hills, and when Sebastien dashed out of the timber the point had passed the hacienda.

Even then he must have known it for hopeless. The thunderous diapason had risen into a furious crescendo which was spaced by the tear and crash of uprooted trees, and, higher than his head, the liquid wall was coming on under the pressure of the yellow frothing sea that stretched behind to the limit of sight. Yet, laying on quirt and spurs, he raced down its front in a desperate spurt for the gates.

While he was still a hundred yards away the wave struck the northern wall of the compound that fenced the buildings. Built solidly of stone, it melted, vanished without a premonitory shiver, and in its overthrow accomplished good. Catching root and branch in the debris, the grinding welter of fallen trees hesitated, then piled in a huge tangled bar upon the line of cottages and stables which intervened between the wall and house.

To Sebastien, however, this brought no respite. Shooting along the eastern wall, the wave outraced him and beat him to the gate by a long fifty yards.

* * *

While Francesca was still under the banyan she had heard the roaring diapason of the flood. Clothed in dripping lacery of leaves and flowers torn away by the beast's leap from the spur, she galloped into the patio, and when she dismounted the vines still twined around her limbs. Without waiting to tear them off she threw all of her strength into a vain effort to swing the bars of the guardhouse doors, but, swollen by the rain, they were fast in the staples.

"Oh, what shall I do?"

Her cry carried through to Seyd. After a fruitless attempt on the door he was just about to attack the window bars with an oaken club he had found in one corner. Now, tearing away the sacks of maize that blocked the one small square window on her side, he thrust it between the bars.

"Knock them up with this!"

But after the bars yielded the rusty doors defied her strength. "They will not budge! Oh, I cannot move them!"

Again his practical sense served. "Slip a stirrup over the staple, then start your horse gently. Fine!" He heard the groan of the moving door. "Key gone! Never mind, I can shoot out the lock. Stand away-off to one side."

Above the roar of the flood Sebastien heard the shots. A few seconds later he saw Seyd look out of the gateway, then rush back in. Behind the gates an iron ladder led up to a lookout post on top of the guardhouse, and, racing down the front of the wave, Sebastien saw Seyd rise above the low parapet and lift Francesca to his side.

At the same moment they saw him. In Francesca's outstretched hands Sebastien saw her impulse to save. In the sudden covering of her eyes he read his fate. The fifty yards that lay between him and the gates might just as well have been a thousand, for, less than half the distance away, the great yellow comber rose high over his head.

Before it broke, however, he did two things-reined his horse to face it, then, just before he went under the grinding welter, with the same easy courtesy which he would have shown to a kinsman or a friend, he turned in the saddle and waved his hand.

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