At last he gained the top of the bank and managed to assume an upright position, clinging to the bole of a palm-tree. One of his arms was useless, he discovered, and he realized with a curious shock that it was broken. He was bleeding, too, from more than one wound, but he could walk, after a fashion.
He was inclined to stay and finish the fight, but he recollected that Rosa would be waiting for him and that he must go to her, and so he set out across the fields, staggering through the charred cane stubble. The night was not so black as it had been, and this puzzled him until he saw that the plantation house was ablaze. Flames were belching from its windows, casting abroad a lurid radiance; and remembering Pancho Cueto, Esteban laughed.
By and by, after he was well away, his numbness passed and he began to suffer excruciating pain. The pain had been there all the time, so it seemed; he was simply gaining the capacity to feel it. He was ready to die now, he was so ill; moreover, his left arm dangled and got in his way. Only that subconscious realization of the necessity to keep going for Rosa’s sake sustained him.
After a while he found himself on a forest trail; then he came to other fields and labored across them. Fortune finally led his feet down into a creek-bed, and he drank greedily, sitting upon a stone and scooping the water up in his one useful hand. He was a long time in quenching his thirst, and a longer time in getting up, but he finally managed this, and he succeeded thereafter in keeping on his feet. Daylight came at last to show him his way. More than once he paused, alarmed, at voices in the woods, only to find that the sounds issued from his own throat.
It had grown very hot now, so hot that heat-waves obscured his vision and caused the most absurd forms to take shape. He began to hunt aimlessly for water, but there was none. Evidently this heat had parched the land, dried up the streams, and set the stones afire. It was incredible, but true.
Esteban reasoned that he must be near home by this time, for he had been traveling for days—for years. The country, indeed, was altogether unfamiliar; he could not recall ever having seen the path he trod, but for that matter everything was strange. In the first place he knew that he was going west, and yet the morning sun persisted in beating hotly into his face! That alone convinced him that things had gone awry with the world. He could remember a great convulsion of some sort, but just what it was he had no clear idea! Evidently, though, it had been sufficient to change the rotation of the earth. Yes, that was it; the earth was running backward upon its axis; he could actually feel it whirling under his feet. No wonder his journey seemed so long. He was laboring over a gigantic treadmill, balancing like an equilibrist upon a revolving sphere. Well, it was a simple matter to stop walking, sit down, and allow himself to be spun backward around to the place where Rosa was waiting. He pondered this idea for some time, until its absurdity became apparent. Undoubtedly he must be going out of his head; he saw that it was necessary to keep walking until the back-spin of that treadmill brought Rosa to him.