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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Iron Trail - Chapter 16. The Fruit Of The Tempest
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The Iron Trail - Chapter 16. The Fruit Of The Tempest Post by :Jim_Hutton Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :554

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The Iron Trail - Chapter 16. The Fruit Of The Tempest

CHAPTER XVI. THE FRUIT OF THE TEMPEST

Neither O'Neil nor his host was in sight when the girls came to breakfast. The men had risen early, it seemed, and were somewhere out in the storm. A wilder day would be hard to imagine; a hurricane was raging, the rain was whirled ahead of it like charges of shot. The mountains behind Kyak were invisible, and to seaward was nothing but a dimly discernible smother of foam and spray, for the crests of the breakers were snatched up and carried by the wind. The town was sodden; the streets were running mud. Stove-pipes were down, tents lay flattened in the mire, and the board houses were shaking as if they might fly to pieces at any moment. The darkness was uncanny, and the tempest seemed to be steadily growing in violence.

When an hour or two had passed with no word from the men Eliza announced her intention of looking them up. She had spent the time at a window, straining her eyes through the welter, while Natalie had curled up cozily with a book in one of Trevor's arm- chairs.

"But, dearie, you'll be drenched." Natalie looked up in surprise. "Mr. O'Neil is all right."

"Of course he is. I'm not going out to spank him and bring him in. I want to look at the storm."

"So do I, but it won't do any good. I can't make it blow any harder by getting my feet wet."

"You read your novel and talk to Mr. Trevor when he comes back. He knows we're to blame for this storm, so you must be nice to him. I can't." She clad herself in rain-coat, sou'wester, and boots, and hurried out. Walking was difficult enough, even in the shelter of the village, but not until she had emerged upon the beach did she meet the full strength of the gale. Here it wrapped her garments about her limbs until she could scarcely move. The rain came horizontally and blinded her; the wind fairly snatched her breath away and oppressed her lungs like a heavy weight. She shielded herself as best she could, and by clinging to stationary objects and watching her chance she managed to work her way onward. At last she caught sight of O'Neil, standing high above the surf, facing the wind defiantly, as if daring it to unfoot him. He saw her and came in answer to her signal; but to breast that wind was like stemming a rushing torrent, and when he reached her side he was panting.

"Child! What are you doing here?" he demanded.

"I couldn't wait any longer," she shouted back. "You've been out since daylight. You must be wet through."

He nodded. "I lay awake all night listening. So did Trevor. He's beginning to worry already."

"Already? If the breakwater stands this--"

"The storm hasn't half started! Come! We'll watch it together." He took her hand, and they lunged into the gale, battling their way back to his point of vantage. He paused at length, and with his arm about her pointed to the milk-white chaos which marked Trevor's handiwork. The rain pelted against their faces and streamed from their slickers.

The breakwater lay like a reef, and over it the sea was pounding in mighty wrath. High into the air the waters rose, only to disappear upon the bosom of the gale. They engulfed the structure bodily, they raced along it with thunderous detonations, bursting in a lather of rage. Out beyond, the billows appeared to be sheared flat by the force of the wind, yet that ceaseless upheaval of spume showed that the ocean was in furious tumult. For moments at a time the whole scene was blotted out by the scud, then the curtain would tear asunder and the wild scene would leap up again before their eyes.

Eliza screamed a question at her companion, but he did not seem to hear; his eyes roved back and forth along that lace-white ridge of rock on the weakness of which depended his salvation. She had never seen him so fierce, so hawklike, so impassive. The gusts shook him, his garments slatted viciously, every rag beneath his outer covering was sodden, yet he continued to face the tempest as indifferently as he had faced it since the dawn. The girl thrilled at thought of the issue these mighty forces were fighting out before her eyes, and of what it meant to the man beside her. His interests became hers; she shared his painful excitement. Her warm flesh chilled as the moisture embraced her limbs; but her heart was light, for O'Neil's strong arm encircled her, and her body lay against his.

After a long time he spoke. "See! It's coming up!" he said.

She felt no increase in the wind, but she noted that particles of sand and tiny pebbles from the beach were flying with the salt raindrops. Her muscles began to tremble from the constant effort at resistance, and she was relieved when Murray looked about for a place of refuge. She pointed to a pile of bridge timbers, but he shook his head.

"They'll go flying if this keeps up." He dragged her into the shelter of a little knoll. Here the blasts struck them with diminished force, the roaring in their ears grew less, and the labor of breathing was easier.

Rousing himself from his thoughts, the man said, gently:

"Poor kid! You must be cold."

"I'm freezing. But--please don't send me back." The face that met his was supplicating; the eyes were bluer than a spring day. He patted her dripping shoulder.

"Not until you're ready."

"This is grander than our trip past the glacier. That was merely dangerous, but this--means something."

"There may be danger here if we expose ourselves. Look at that!"

High up beyond reach of the surf a dory had been dragged and left bottom up. Under this the wind found a fingerhold and sent it flying. Over and over it rolled, until a stronger gust caught it and sent it in huge leaps, end over end. It brought up against the timber pile with a crash, and was held there as if by a mighty suction. Then the beams began to tremble and lift. The pile was disintegrated bit by bit, although it would have required many hands to move any one of its parts.

Even where the man and the woman crouched the wind harried them like a hound pack, but by clinging to the branches of a gnarled juniper bush they held their position and let the spray whine over their heads.

"Farther west I've seen houses chained to the earth with ships' cables," he shouted in her ear. "To think of building a harbor in a place like this!"

"I prayed for you last night. I prayed for the wind to come," said the girl, after a time.

O'Neil looked at her, curiously startled, then he looked out at the sea once more. All in a moment he realized that Eliza was beautiful and that she had a heart. It seemed wonderful that she should be interested in his fortunes. He was a lonely man; beneath his open friendliness lay a deep reserve. A curiously warm feeling of gratitude flamed through him now, and he silently blessed her for bearing him company in the deciding hour of his life.

Noon came, and still the two crouched in their half-shelter, drenched, chilled, stiff with exposure, watching Kyak Bay lash itself into a boiling smother. The light grew dim, night was settling; the air seemed full of screaming furies. Then O'Neil noticed bits of driftwood racing in upon the billows, and he rose with a loud cry.

"It's breaking up!" he shouted. "It's breaking up!"

Eliza lifted herself and clung to him, but she could see nothing except a misty confusion. In a few moments the flotsam came thicker. Splintered piling, huge square-hewn timbers with fragments of twisted iron or broken bolts came floating into sight. A confusion of wreckage began to clutter the shore, and into it the sea churned.

The spindrift tore asunder at length, and the watchers caught a brief glimpse of the tumbling ocean. The breakwater was gone. Over the place where it had stood the billows raced unhindered.

"Poor Trevor!" said O'Neil. "Poor Trevor! He did his best, but he didn't know." He looked down to find Eliza crying. "What's this? I've kept you here too long!"

"No, no! I'm just glad--so glad. Don't you understand?"

"I'll take you back. I must get ready to leave."

"Leave? Where--"

"For New York! I've made my fight, and I've won." His eyes kindled feverishly. "I've won in spite of them all. I hold the key to a kingdom. It's mine--mine! I hold the gateway to an empire, and those who pass through must pay." The girl had never seen such fierce triumph in a face. "I saw it in a dream, only it was more than a dream." The wind snatched O'Neil's words from his lips, but he ran on: "I saw a deserted fishing-village become a thriving city. I saw the glaciers part to let pass a great traffic in men and merchandise. I saw the unpeopled north grow into a land of homes, of farms, of mining-camps, where people lived and bred children. I heard the mountain passes echo to steam whistles and the whir of flying wheels. It was a wonderful vision that I saw, but my eyes were true. They called me a fool, and it took the sea and the hurricane to show them I was right." He paused, ashamed of his outburst, and, taking the girl's hand in his, went stumbling ahead of the storm.

Their limbs were cramped, their teeth chattered, they wallowed through mire, and more than once they fell. Nearing Trevor's house, they saw what the storm had done. Kyak was nearly razed. Roofs had been ripped off, chimneys were down, glass was out. None but the most substantial log cabins had withstood the assault, and men were busied in various quarters trying to repair the damage.

They found Natalie beside herself with anxiety for their safety, and an hour later Trevor came in, soaked to the skin. He was very tired, and his face was haggard.

"Well! She went out!" he said. "I saw a million dollars swallowed up in that sea."

They tried to comfort him, but the collapse of his work had left him dazed.

"God! I didn't think it could blow like this--and it isn't over yet. The town is flat."

"I'm sorry. You understand I sympathize?" said Murray; and the engineer nodded.

"You told me it blew here, and I thought I knew what you meant, but nothing could withstand those rollers."

"Nothing."

"You'll go East and see our people, I suppose?"

"At once."

"Tell them what you saw. They'll never understand from my reports. They're good people. If there's anything I can do--"

O'Neil took his hand warmly.

Two days later Murray bade the girls good-by, and left, traveling light. They remained in Kyak so that Eliza might complete her investigations.

Of all those who suffered by the storm Curtis Gordon took his misfortune hardest. This had been a black season for him, indeed. Beginning with O'Neil's rivalry, everything had gone against him. He had dropped his coal interests at Kyak in favor of the copper- mine, because they failed to yield quick profits. Then he had learned that the mine was valueless, and realized that it could not serve him much longer as a means of raising funds. Still, he had trusted that by taking a vigorous part in the railroad struggle he would be able either to recoup his fortunes or at least to effect a compromise in the shadow of which his fiasco at Hope would be forgotten. As yet the truth about Hope Consolidated was not generally known to his stock-holders, but a certain restlessness among them had become troublesome. The stream of money had diminished alarmingly, and it was largely because of this that he had bought the McDermott right-of-way and moved to Kyak. And now, just as he had his affairs in shape for another and a greater campaign of stock-flotation, the storm had come to ruin him.

The bitterest element in his defeat was the realization that O'Neil, who had bested him at every turn, was destined to profit by the very blow which crushed him. Defeat at the hands of the Copper Trust he would have accepted with a fairly good grace; but the mere thought that Murray O'Neil, whom he considered in every way his inferior, had gained the upper hand was intolerable. It was in keeping with Gordon's character that instead of blaming his own judgment he became furiously angry at the Trust for the mistake of its engineers, and held them responsible for his desperate situation. That it was truly desperate he very soon realized, since disaster to his railroad project meant that his stock-holders would be around his ears like a swarm of hornets, and once they understood the true state of affairs at Hope the complete collapse of his fortunes would surely follow.

During the days succeeding the storm he scarcely knew where to turn, so harassed was he; yet he never for a moment wavered in his resolve to make O'Neil pay for his interference and to exact a reckoning from Gloria Gerard.

Natalie's presence in Kyak confirmed his belief that O'Neil was interested in her, and he began to plan a stroke by which he could take revenge upon all three. It did not promise in any way to help him out of his financial straits, but at least it would give him a certain satisfaction.

He sent word to the girl that he would like to see her.

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