“Oh, I know the way now, sir, right enough!” he exclaimed. “There’s Salthouse marsh to cross, though. I don’t know about that.”
“We shall manage that all right,” Gerald declared. “We’ve more light now, too.”
They both looked around. During the last few minutes the late morning seemed to have forced its way through the clouds. They had a dim, phantasmagoric view of the stricken country: a watery plain, with here and there great patches of fields, submerged to the hedges, and houses standing out amidst the waste of waters like toy dwellings. There were whole plantations of uprooted trees. Close to the road, on their left, was a roofless house, and a family of children crying underneath a tarpaulin shelter. As they crept on, the wind came to them with a brackish flavour, salt with the sea. The chauffeur was gazing ahead doubtfully.
“I don’t like the look of the marsh,” he grumbled. “Can’t see the road at all. However, here goes.”
“Another half-hour,” Gerald assured him encouragingly, “and we shall be at St. David’s Hall. You can have as much rest as you like then.”
They were facing the wind now, and conversation became impossible. Twice they had to pull up sharp and make a considerable detour, once on account of a fallen tree which blocked the road, and another time because of the yawning gap where a bridge had fallen away. Gerald, however, knew every inch of the country they were in and was able to give the necessary directions. They began to meet farm wagons now, full of people who had been driven from their homes. Warnings and information as to the state of the roads were shouted to them continually. Presently they came to the last steep descent, and emerged from the devastated fragment of a wood almost on to the sea level. The chauffeur clapped on his brakes and stopped short.
“My God!” he exclaimed. “Here’s more trouble!”
Gerald for a moment was speechless. They seemed to have come suddenly upon a huge plain of waters, an immense lake reaching as far as they could see on either side. The road before them stretched like a ribbon for the next three miles. Here and there it disappeared and reappeared again. In many places it was lapped by little waves. Everywhere the hedges were either altogether or half under water. In the distance was one farmhouse, only the roof of which was visible, and from which the inhabitants were clambering into a boat. And beyond, with scarcely a break save for the rising of one strangely-shaped hill, was the sea. Gerald pointed with his finger.
“There’s St. David’s Hall,” he said, “on the other side of the hill. The road seems all right.”
“Does it!” the chauffeur grunted. “It’s under water more than half the way, and Heaven knows how deep it is at the sides! I’m not going to risk my life along there. I am going to take the car back to Holt.”
His hand was already upon the reverse lever, but Gerald gripped it.