A hundred fiery dragons sprang unleashed at him. The heat, the stifling smoke were more than flesh and blood could endure. He stumbled over a fallen chair, got up and plowed forward again, still with that dead weight in his arms; collapsed again, and yet once more pulled himself to his feet by the sheer strength of the dogged will in him.
So, at last, like a drunken man, he reeled into safety, the very hair and clothes of the man on fire from the inferno he had just left.
A score of eager hands were ready to relieve him of his burden, to support his lurching footsteps. Two of them were the strong brown hands of the woman he loved more than any other on earth, the woman who had galloped into sight just in time to see him come staggering from that furnace with the body of the man who was his hated rival. It was her soft hands that smothered the fire in his hair, that dragged the burning coat from his back.
He smiled wanly, murmured “Valencia,” and fainted in her arms.
Gordon clutched in his stiffened fingers a tin box blistered by the heat.
THE TIN BOX
Dick Gordon lay on a bed in a sunny south room at the Corbett place.
He was swathed in bandages, and had something the appearance of a relic of the Fourth of July, as our comic weeklies depict Young America the day after that glorious occasion. But, except for one thing which he had on his mind, the Coloradoan was as imperturbably gay as ever.
He had really been a good deal less injured than his rescuer; for, though a falling rafter had struck him down as he turned to leave the hut, this very accident had given him the benefit of such air as there had been in the cabin. Here and there he had been slightly burned, but he had not been forced to inhale smoke.
Wound in leg and all, the doctor had considered him out of danger long before he felt sure of Don Manuel.
The young Spaniard lay several days with his life despaired of. The most unremitting nursing on the part of his cousin alone pulled him through.
She would not give up; would not let his life slip away. And, in the end, she had won her hard fight. Don Manuel, too, was on the road to recovery.
While her cousin had been at the worst, Valencia Valdes saw the wounded Coloradoan only for a minute of two each day; but, with Pesquiera’s recovery, she began to divide her time more equitably.
“I’ve been wishing I was the bad case,” Dick told her whimsically when she came in to see him. “I’ll bet I have a relapse so the head nurse won’t always be in the other sick room.”
“Manuel is my cousin, and he has been very, very ill,” she answered in her low, sweet voice, the color in her olive cheeks renewed at his words.
The eyes of the Anglo-Saxon grew grave.
“How is Don Manuel to-night?”