With this thought, a struggle for life began; and this man who had just now sought death so eagerly—with no feeling of inconsistency, with no physical fear of dissolution, with only a vague, blind, dogged determination to live for some unknown purpose—a determination as vague and dogged as his former ideas of self-destruction—summoned all his energies to reach the shore. He struck out wildly, desperately; once or twice he thought he felt his feet touch the bottom, only to find himself powerlessly dragged back towards the sea. With a final superhuman effort he gained at last a foothold on the muddy strand, and, half scrambling, half crawling, sank exhaustedly beside the fisherman’s net. But the fisherman was gone! He attempted again to rise to his feet, but a strange dizziness attacked him. The darkening landscape, with its contracting wall of fog; the gloomy flat; the still, pale sea, as yet unruffled by the faint land breeze that was slowly wafting the escaping boat into the shadowy offing—all swam round him! Through the roaring in his ears he thought he heard drumbeats, and the fanfare of a trumpet, and voices. The next moment he had lost all consciousness.
When he came to, he was lying in the guard-room of the Presidio. Among the group of people who surrounded him he recognized the gaunt features of the Commander, the sympathetic eyes of Father Esteban, and the fisherman who had disappeared. When he rose on his elbow, and attempted to lift himself feebly, the fisherman, with a cry of gratitude, threw himself on his knees, and kissed his helpless hand.
“He lives, he lives! your Excellencies! Saints be praised, he lives! The hero—the brave Americano—the noble caballero who delivered me from the madman.”
“Who are you? and whence come you?” demanded the Commander of Hurlstone, with grave austerity.
Hurlstone hesitated; the priest leaned forward with a half anxious, half warning gesture. There was a sudden rustle in the passage; the crowd gave way as Miss Keene, followed by Mrs. Markham, entered. The young girl’s eyes caught those of the prostrate man. With an impulsive cry she ran towards him.
“Hurlstone,” echoed the group, pressing nearer the astonished man.
The Comandante lifted his hand gravely with a gesture of silence, and then slowly removed his plumed hat. Every head was instantly uncovered.
“Long live our brave and noble ally, Don Diego! Long live the beautiful Dona Leonor!”
A faint shade of sadness passed over the priest’s face. He glanced from Hurlstone to Miss Keene.
“Then you have consented?” he whispered.
Hurlstone cast a rapid glance at Eleanor Keene.
PART II. FREED.
The mourners at San Francisco.