“Cattrina has fled!” he shouted. “Or Satan himself has carried him away! At the least let his name be erased from the Golden Book of Venice, and until he prove himself innocent, let no noble of Venice stretch out to him the hand of fellowship. Men of Venice, for you Cattrina and his House are dead.”
“Will none take up his cause and fight for him?” asked Hugh through Sir Geoffrey, and presently, at the Doge’s command, the challenge was repeated thrice by the herald. But to it no answer came. Of this afterward Hugh was glad, since it was Cattrina’s life he sought, not that of any other man. Then Hugh spoke again, saying:
“I claim, O Illustrious, that I be written down as victor in this combat to the death, bloodless through no fault of mine.”
“It shall be so written, noble Hugh de Cressi,” said the Doge. “Let all Venice take notice thereof.”
As the words left his lips the solid earth began to heave and rock.
At the first heave Hugh leaped from his horse, which screamed aloud and fled away, and gripped hold of Grey Dick. At the second, the multitude broke out into wild cries, prayers and blasphemies, and rushed this way and that. At the third, which came quite slowly and was the greatest of them all, the long stand of timber bent its flags toward him as though in salute, then, with a slow, grinding crash, fell over, entangling all within it beneath its ruin. Also in the city beyond, houses, whole streets of them, gabled churches and tall towers, sank to the earth, while where they had been rose up wreathed columns of dust. To the south the sea became agitated. Spouts of foam appeared upon its smooth face; it drew back from the land, revealing the slime of ages and embedded therein long-forgotten wrecks. It heaped itself up like a mountain, then, with a swift and dreadful motion, advanced again in one vast wave.
In an instant all that multitude were in full flight.
Hugh and Dick fled like the rest, and with them David, though whither they went they knew not.
All they knew was that the ground leapt and quivered beneath their feet, while behind them came the horrible, seething hiss of water on the crest of which men were tossed up and down like bits of floating wood.
THE DEATH AT WORK
Presently Hugh halted, taking shelter with his two companions behind the stone wall of a shed that the earthquake had shattered, for here they could not be trodden down by the mob of fugitives.
“The wave has spent itself,” he said, pointing to the line of foam that now retreated toward the ocean, taking with it many drowned or drowning men. “Let us return and seek for Sir Geoffrey. It will be shameful if we leave him trapped yonder like a rat.”
Dick nodded, and making a wide circuit to avoid the maddened crowd, they came safely to the wrecked stand where they had last seen Sir Geoffrey talking with the Doge. Every minute indeed the mob grew thinner, since the most of them had already passed, treading the life out of those who fell as they went.