Part 6 out of 7
have cried to the heavens that to let her know him for what he was, was a
retribution too great for his sins. Death would have been a release but
he could not die. He must live and make one final fight to preserve the
belief that was his life's sole apology.
That determination toughened him, his despair past, and wrestling with
the problem he came upon its solution and with it his punishment.
He would tell the man, give him warning and let him go. There was plenty
of time; the authorities were not yet informed; no one was on the watch.
Mayer could leave the city that morning and make the Mexican border by
night. It was the only way out and it dragged his penance with it--Pancha
unavenged, the enemy rewarded, the prison doors set wide for the flight
of their mutual despoiler.
Three strokes chimed out and he rose, trying to step lightly with feet
that felt heavy as lead. It was very silent, as if the night and the
brooding city were at one in that conspiracy to impress him with a sense
of their hostility. The houses were still malignly watchful, again took
up and tossed about his footsteps, echoed them from wall to wall till he
wondered doors did not open, people did not come. On the main street he
shrank by shop window and closed doorway, gliding blackly across a gush
of light, slipping, a moving darkness, against the deeper darkness of
shuttered lower stories. He had it almost to himself--a policeman
lounging on a corner, a reveler reeling by with indignant mutterings, one
or two night workers footing it homeward to rest and bed.
At the door of a drugstore he stopped and looked in. A frowsy woman was
talking across the counter to a clerk whose bald head shone, glossy as
ivory, above the gray fatigue of his face. In a corner was a telephone
booth. Garland opened the door, then started as a bell jangled stridently
and the bald-headed man craned his neck and the woman whisked round.
"Telephone," he muttered, tentative on the sill.
The clerk, too listless for words, jerked his head toward the booth and
then handed the woman a package. As Garland entered the booth he heard
her dragging step cross the floor and the bell jangle on her exit.
While he waited he struggled for a closer control on the rage that
possessed him. He had decided what he would say and he cleared his throat
for a free passage of the words that were to carry deliverance to one he
longed to kill. He had expected a wait--the man, confidant in his
security, would be sleeping--but almost on top of his request for Mr.
Mayer came a voice, wide-awake and incisive:
"Hello, who is it?"
His answer was very low, the deep tones hoarse despite his effort.
"Is this Mr. Boyé Mayer?"
"Yes. What do you want? Who are you?"
The voice fitted his conception of the man, hard, commanding, with
something sharply imperious in its cultivated accents. He thought he
detected fear in it.
"It don't matter who I am. I got somethin' to say to you that matters.
It's time for you to skip."
There was a momentary pause, then the word was repeated, seemed to be
ejected quickly as if delivered on a rising breath:
"Yes--get out. You've got time--till tomorrow afternoon. They'll be
lookin' for you then."
Again there was that slight pause. When the voice answered, trepidation
was plain in it.
"Who's looking for me? What are you talking about ?"
It was Garland's turn to pause. For a considering moment he sought his
words, then he gave them in short, telegraphic sentences:
"End of August. The tules--opposite the Ariel Club. Twelve thousand.
Whatcheer House, Sacramento. Harry Romaine."
The pause was longer, then the voice came breathless, shaken:
"What in hell do you mean by this gibberish?"
"I guess that's all right. You don't need to play any baby business. You
know now and _I_ know, and by tomorrow evening the Express company and
the police'll know."
A stammering of oaths came along the wire, a burst of maledictions,
interspersed by threats. Garland cut into it with:
"That don't help any. You ain't got time to waste that way. You want
to make the Mexican border by tomorrow night and to do that you got to
The man's anger seemed to rise to a pitch of furious incoherence. His
words, shot out in a storm of passion and fear, were transmitted in a
stuttering jumble of sound, from which phrases broke, here and there
rising into clearness. Garland caught one: "Who's turned you loose on
this? Who's behind it?" and the restraint he had put on himself gave
way. He laid his hand on the shelf before him as something to seize and
wrenched at it.
"If _I_ was there you'd know--I'd make it plain. And maybe you guess. You
thought you'd struck someone who was helpless. But she could pay you back
and she _has_."
He stopped, realizing what he was saying. Through the singing of the
blood in his ears the answering words came as an unintelligible mutter.
With an unsteady hand he hung up the receiver, his breath beating in loud
gasps on the stillness that had so suddenly fallen on the small,
walled-in place. For a space he sat crouched in the chair, trying to
subdue the pounding of his heart, the shaking of his limbs. Then,
stealthily, like a guilty thing, he opened the door and came out. From
above a line of bottles on the prescription desk the clerk's bald head
gleamed, his eyes dodging between them.
"It's all right," Garland muttered; "I'm through," and shambled to the
door with its jangling bell.
In his room at Mrs. Meeker's he threw himself dressed on the bed. The
shade was up and through the window he could see the long flank of
the new building and above it a section of sky. He kept his eyes on
the night-blue strip and as he lay there his spirit, all spring gone,
sank from depths to depths. He saw nothing before him but the life of
the outlaw, and, mind and body taxed beyond their powers, he longed
Presently he slept, sprawled on the wretched bed, the light of the dawn
revealing the tragedy of his ravaged face.
THE MORNING THAT CAME
When the voice had ceased Mayer stood transfixed at the phone, seeing
nothing. He fumbled the receiver back into its hook and, wheeling,
propped himself against the wall, his mouth slack, his eyelids drooped in
sickly feebleness. The final shock, succeeding the long strain, came like
a blow on the head leaving destruction.
He got to a chair and dropped into it, sweat-bathed, feeling as if cold
airs were blowing on his damp skin. Sunk against the back, his legs
stretched before him, his arms hanging over the sides, he lay shattered.
His mind tried to focus on what he had heard and fell back impotent,
eddying downward through darkling depths like a drowning swimmer. A vast
weakness invaded him, turning his joints to water, giving him a sensation
of nausea, draining his strength till he felt incapable of moving his
eyes, which stared glassily at the toes of his shoes.
Presently this passed; he raised his glance and encountered the clock
face on the mantelpiece. He held to it like a hand that was dragging him
out of an abyss; watched it grow from a circular object to a white dial
crossed by black hands and edged by a ring of numerals. The hour marked
slowly penetrated to his consciousness--a quarter to four. He drew
himself up and looked about; saw his notes on the desk, his hat on the
table, the matchsafe with a cigarette stump lying on its saucer. They
were like memorials from another state of existence, things that
connected him with a plane of being that he had left long ago. He had a
vision of himself in that distant past, packing his trunk, making brisk,
satisfactory jottings on a sheet of hotel paper, standing on the hearth
looking into Lorry Alston's angry eyes.
Groaning, he dropped his head into his hands, rocking on the chair, only
half aroused. He was aware of poignant misery without the force to combat
it, and knowing he must act could only remember. Irrelevant pictures,
disconnected, having no point, chased across his brain--the saloon in
Fresno where he had cleaned the brasses, and, jostling it, Chrystie's
face, just before she had wept, puckered like a baby's. He saw the tules
in the low sun, the green ranks, the gold-glazed streams, Mark Burrage
coming down the long drawing-room eyeing him from under thick brows,
Lorry's hand with its sparkle of rings holding out the letter.
That last picture shook him out of his torpor. He lifted his head and
knew his surroundings for what they were--four walls threatening to close
in on him. The necessity to go loomed suddenly insistent, became the
obsessing matter, and he staggered to his feet. Flight suggested disguise
and he went to the bedroom and clawed about in the bottom of the cupboard
for the old suitcase which held the clothes he had worn on his Sacramento
trips. As he pulled it out he remembered the side entrance of the hotel
accessible by a staircase at the end of the hall; he could slip out
unseen. There would be early trains, locals, going south; an express to
be caught somewhere down the line. By the next night he could be across
the Mexican border. It was the logical place, the only place--he knew it
himself and the voice had said so.
The Voice! Obliterated by the mental chaos it had caused, whelmed in the
succeeding rush of fear, it now rose to recognition--a portentous fact.
He stood stunned, the suitcase dangling from his hands, immovable in
aghast wonder as if it had just come to his ears. A voice without a
personality, a voice behind which he could envisage no body, a voice of
warning dropping out of the unknown, dropping doom!
His surface faculties were now obedient to his direction and
automatically responded to the necessity for haste. As he went about
collecting his clothes, tearing up letters, opening drawers, he ransacked
his brain for a clew to the man's identity, tried to rehear the voice and
catch a familiar echo, went back and forth over the words. And in the
fevered restoration of them, the last sentences, "You thought you'd
struck someone who was helpless. But she could pay you back and she has,"
brought light in an illuminating flash. "Pancha," he whispered, "Pancha,"
and stood rooted, recalling, searching the past, linking the known with
The man was the bandit, the old lover, the one he had supplanted, the
one who had written the message on the paper. He had heard she was
sick--come to see her--and she had told him, called upon him to avenge
her as she said she would. And the man--he couldn't--his hands were
tied. If Mayer had the paper--and the cache showed it was gone--Mayer
could direct the pursuit to Pancha and to Pancha's "best beau." So, fact
marshaled behind fact, he drew to the truth, grasped it, knew why he had
been warned and by whom.
Pancha had found out somehow--but he did not linger on that; his mind
wasted no time filling profitless gaps. Fiercely alive now it only saw
what counted. He turned and looked out of the window, a glance in her
direction. She had made good, kept her word, beaten him. The feeble
thing, the scorned thing, that he had kicked out of his path, had
risen and destroyed him. He stood for a still moment looking toward
where she was, triumphant, waiting for his arrest, and he muttered,
his gray face horrible.
Soon afterward he was ready, the old hat and coat on, the suitcase
packed. There was a look about for forgotten details and he attended to
them with swift competence. The papers on the desk--those expense
accounts--were crammed into his pockets, the shades drawn up, the bed
rumpled for the room boy's eye in the morning. Then a last sweeping
survey and he turned out the gas, opened the door and peered into the
hall. It stretched vacant to the window at the far end, a subdued light
showing its carpeted length. His nostrils caught its unaired closeness,
his ears the heavy stillness of a place enshrining sleep.
Night still held the streets, at this hour dim, deserted vistas, looking
larger than they did by day. He stole along them feeling curiously
small, dwarfed by their wide emptiness, wanting to hide from their
observation. It was typical of what the rest of his life would be,
shunning the light, footing it furtively through darkness, forever
apprehensive, forever outcast.
His heart sank into blackness, dense, illimitable. It stretched from him
out to the edges of the world and he saw himself never escaping from it,
groping through it from pursuers, always retreating, always looking back
in fear. Poverty would be his close companion; makeshifts, struggles,
tricks of deceit, the occupation of his days. The effort of new endeavor
rose before him like a mountain to be climbed and for which he had not
the strength; the ease he was reft of, a paradise only valued now it was
lost. Hate of those who had brought him so low surged in him, dominating
even his misery. He set his teeth, looking up at the graying sky, feeling
the poison pressing at his throat, aching in his limbs, burning at the
ends of his fingers.
There was a faint diffused light when he reached the corner of Pancha's
street, the first gleam of the coming day. Like one who sees temptation
placed before him in living form and hesitates, reluctant yet impelled,
he stood and gazed at the front of the Vallejo Hotel. The lamps showed up
a pinkish orange, two spheres, concrete and solid, in a swimming, silvery
unreality. Beyond the steps a man's figure moved, walking up the street,
his back to Mayer. It was very quiet; the hush before the city, turning
in its sleep, stretched, breathed deeply, and awakened.
Mayer went forward toward the lamps.
He had no definite intention; was actuated by no formed resolution; was,
for the moment, a being filled to the skin by a single passion. He felt
light, as if his body weighed nothing, or as if he might have been
carried by a powerful current buoyant and beyond his control. It took him
up the steps to the door. Through a clear space in the ground glass panel
he looked in and saw that the hall was empty. His heart rose stranglingly
and then contracted; his hand closed on the knob, turned it and the door
opened. That unexpected opening, the vacant hall and stairway stretching
before him like an invitation, ended his lack of purpose. Despair and
hate combined into the will to act, propelled him to a recognized goal.
He entered and mounted the stairs.
Cushing, having found the long vigil at the Vallejo exhausting, had
contracted the habit of slipping out in the first reaches of the dawn to
a saloon down the street. It was a safe habit, for even the few
night-roving tenants the Vallejo had were housed at that hour, and if a
belated reveler should stray in, the door was always left on the latch.
Moreover he only stayed a few minutes; a warming gulp and he was back
again, wide-awake for the call of the day. His was the figure Mayer had
seen walking down the street.
Pancha was asleep and dreaming. It was a childish dream, but it was
impregnated with that imminent, hovering terror that often is associated
with the simple visions of sleep. She was back in the old shack in Inyo
where her mother had died, and it was raining. Juana was sitting on the
side of the bed, her dark hair parted, a shawl over her head framing her
face. From the side of the bed she watched Pancha, who was sweeping,
sweeping with urgent haste, haunted by some obscure necessity to finish
and continually retarded by obstacles. Against the door the rain fell,
loud, and then louder. It grew so loud that it ceased to be like rain,
became a shower of blows, a fearful noise, never before made by water.
Horror fell upon them, a horror of some sinister fate beyond the door.
Juana held out her arms and Pancha, dropping the broom, ran to her, and
clinging close listened to the sound with a freezing heart.
She woke and it was still there, not so loud, very soft, and falling,
between pauses, on her own door. Her fear was still with her and she sat
up, seeing the room faintly charged with light. "Who is it?" she said and
heard her voice a stifled whisper, then, the knocking repeated, she
leaped out of bed and thrust her feet into slippers. She was awake now
and thought of her father, no one else would come at such an hour. As she
ran to the door she called, "What is it--is something the matter?"
Through the crack she heard an answering whisper, "Open--it's all right.
Let me in." It might have been anybody's voice. She opened the door and
Boyé Mayer came in.
They looked at one another without words, and after the look, she began
to retreat, backing across the room, foot behind foot. He locked the
door and then followed her. There were pieces of furniture in the way
that she skirted or pushed aside, keeping her eyes on him, moving
without sound. She knew the door into the sitting room was open and with
one hand she felt behind her for the frame, afraid to turn her back on
him, afraid to move her glance, the withheld shriek ready to burst out
when he spoke or sprang.
She gained the doorway and backed through it and here breathed a hoarse,
"Boyé, what do you want?" He made no answer, stealing on her, and she
slid to the table and then round it, keeping it between them. In the pale
light, eye riveted on eye, they circled it like partners in a fantastic
dance, creeping, one away and one in pursuit, steps noiseless, movements
delicately alert. Her body began to droop and cower, her breath to stifle
her; it was impossible to bear it longer. "Boyé!" she screamed and made a
rush for the door. She had shot the bolt back, her hand was on the knob,
when he caught her. His grip was like iron, hopeless to resist, but she
writhed, tore at him, felt herself pressed back against the wall, his
fingers on her throat.
It was a quarter to five on the morning of April 18, 1906.
The first low rumble, the vibration beneath his feet, did not
penetrate his madness. Then came a road, an enormous agglomeration of
sound and movement, an unloosing of titanic elements--above them,
under them, on them.
They were separated, each stricken aghast, no longer enemies, beings of
a mutual life seized by a mutual terror. The man was paralyzed, not
knowing what it was, but the girl, bred in an earthquake country, clasped
her hands over her skull and bent, crouching low and screaming, "_El
temblor!_" The floor beneath them heaved and dropped and rose, groaning
as the ground throes wrenched it. From walls that strained forward and
sank back, pictures flew, shelves hurled their contents. Breaking free,
upright for a poised second, the long mirror lunged across the room, then
crashed to its fall. On its ruin plaster showered, stretches of ceiling,
the chandelier in a shiver of glass and coiled wires.
Through the dust they saw one another as ghosts, staggering, helpless,
dodging toppling shapes. They shouted across the chaos and only knew the
other had cried by the sight of the opened mouth. All sounds were
drowned in the surrounding tumult, the roar of the shaken city and the
_temblor's_ thunderous mutter. Rafters, crushed together, then strained
apart, creaked and groaned and crunched. Walls receded with a reeling
swing and advanced with a crackling rush. The paper split into shreds;
the plaster skin beneath ripped open; lathes broke in splintered ends;
mortar came thudding from above and swept in a swirling drive about
He shouted to her and made a run for the door. Hanging to the knob he
was thrown from side to side by the paroxysmal leaps of the building.
The door jammed, and, his wrenchings futile, he turned and dashed to the
window. Here again the sash stuck. He kicked it, frantic, caught a
glimpse of the street, people in nightgowns, a chimney swaying and then
falling in a long drooping sweep. Somewhere beyond it a high building
shook off its cornices like a terrier shaking water from its hair.
Grinding his teeth, cursing, he wrenched at the window, tore at the
clasp, then turned in desperation and saw the door, loosed by a sudden
throe, swing open. Through reeling dust clouds Pancha darted for it, her
flight like the swoop of a bird, and he followed, running crazily along
the heaving floor.
The hall was fog-thick with powdered mortar, and careening like a ship in
a gale. He had an impression of walls zigzagged with cracks, of
furniture, upturned, making dives across the passage. White figures were
all about; some ran, some stood in doorways and all were silent. He
thrust a woman out of his way and felt her move, acquiescingly, as if
indifferent. Another, a child in her arms, clawed at his back, forced him
aside, and as she sped by he saw the child's face over her shoulder,
placid and sweet, and caught her voice in a moaning wail, "Oh, my baby!
Oh, my baby!" A man, holding the hand of a girl, was thrown against the
wall and dropped, the girl tugging at him, trying to drag him to his
feet. Something, with blood on its whiteness, lay huddled across the sill
of an open doorway.
Pancha was ahead of him, a long narrow shape that he could just discern.
A length of ceiling fell between them, a sofa, like a thing endowed with
malign life, rushed from the wall and blocked his passage. He scrambled
over it and saw the stair head, and a clearer light. That meant
deliverance--the street one flight below. The floor sagged and cracked,
he could feel it going, and with a screaming leap he threw himself at the
balustrade, caught and clung. From above he heard a cry, "Up, up, not
down!" had a vision of Pancha on the second flight, flying upward, and
himself plunged downward to the street.
The litter of the great mirror lay across the landing, the light from the
hall on its shattered fragments, broken glitterings amid a débris of
gold. The balustrade broke and swung loose, the stairs drooped, humped
again, and gave, sinking amid an onrush of walls, of splintered beams, of
ceilings suddenly gaping and discharging their weight in a shoot of
plaster, snapped boards and furniture. Something struck him and he fell
to his knees, struggled against a smothering mass, then sank, whelmed in
the crumbling collapse.
Pancha at the stair top, lurching from wall to wall, felt a slow
subsidence, a sinking under her feet, and then the frenzied movement
settle into a long, rocking swing. A pallor of light showed through the
dust rack, and making her way to it she found an open doorway giving on a
front room. She passed through; crawled over a heap of entangled
furniture toward a window wide to the rising day. She thought she was on
the third story, then heard voices, looked out and saw faces almost on a
level with her own, the street a few feet below her, a clouded massing of
figures, moving, gesticulating, calling up to the windows. The greater
bewilderment had shut out all lesser ones. She did not understand, did
not ask to, only wanted to get out and be under the safe roof of the sky.
Climbing across the sill, she found her feet on grass, stumbled over a
broken railing, heard someone shout, and was pulled to her feet by two
men. They held her up, looking her over, shaking her a little. Both their
faces were as white as if they had been painted.
"Are you hurt?" one of them cried, giving her arm a more violent shake as
if to jerk the answer out quickly.
"Hurt?" she stammered. "No. I'm all right. But--but how did I get out
this way--onto the street?"
She saw then that his teeth were chattering. Closing his lips tight to
hide it he pointed to where she had come from.
She turned and looked. The Vallejo, slanting in a drunken sprawl, its
roof railing hanging from one corner, its cornices strewn on the
pavement, had sunk to one story. Built on the made ground of an old creek
bed, it had buckled and gone down, the first and second stories crumpling
like a closed accordion, the top floor, disjointed and wrecked, resting
on their ruins.
Aunt Ellen always maintained the first shock threw her out of bed, and
then she would amend the statement with a qualifying, "At any rate I was
on the floor when Lorry came and I never knew how I got there." She also
said that she thought it was the end of the world, and pulled to her feet
by Lorry, announced the fact, and heard Lorry's answer, short and sharp,
"No--it's an earthquake. Don't talk. Come quick--run!"
Lorry threw a wrapper about her and ran with her along the hall, almost
dark and full of rending noises, and down the stairs that Aunt Ellen said
afterward she thought "were going to come loose every minute." A long
clattering crash made her scream, "There--it's the house--we're killed!"
And Lorry, wrestling with the front door, answered in that hard,
breathless tone, "No, we're not--we're all right." The door swung open.
"Mind the glass, don't step in it. Down the steps--on the lawn--_quick_!"
They came to a stand by the front gate, were aware of the frantic leaps
of the earth subsiding into a long, rhythmic roll, and stood dumbly, each
staring at the other's face, unfamiliar in a blanched whiteness.
There were people in the street, scatterings, and huddled clusters and
solitary figures. They were standing motionless in attitudes of poised
tension, as if stricken to stone. Holding snatched up garments over their
night clothes, they waited to see what was coming next, not speaking or
daring to move, their eyes set in terrified expectancy. Lorry saw them
like dream figures--the fantastic exaggerations of nightmare--and looked
from them to the garden, the house--the solid realities. The ruins of the
chimney lay sprawled across the flower beds, the splintered trunk of the
fig tree rising from the debris. Stepping nimbly among the bricks, in his
white coat and trousers as if prepared to wait on table, was Fong.
"Oh, Fong!" she cried. "Thank heaven, you're all 're all right!"
Fong, picking his way with cat-like neatness, answered cheerfully:
"I velly well. I see chimley fall out and know you and Missy Ellen all
'ighty. If chimley fall in you be dead."
"Oh, Fong!" Aunt Ellen wailed; "it's like the Day of Judgment."
Fong, having no opinions to offer on this view of the matter, eyed her
costume with disapproval.
"I get you cover. Velly bad stand out here that way. You ketch cold," and
turning went toward the house.
"He'll be killed!" Aunt Ellen cried. "He mustn't go!" Then suddenly she
appeared to relinquish all concern in him as if on this day of doom there
was no use troubling about anything. Her eye shifted to Lorry, and
scanning her became infused with a brisk surprise. "Why, Lorry, you're
all dressed. Did you sleep in your clothes? You certainly never had time
to put them on."
Lorry was spared the necessity of answering. A violent quake rocked the
ground and Aunt Ellen, clasping her hands on her breast, closed her eyes.
"It's beginning again--it's coming back. Oh, God, have mercy--God,
The figures in the street, emitting strangled cries, made a rush for the
center of the road. Here they stood closely packed in a long line like a
great serpent, stationary in the middle of the thoroughfare. The low
mutter, the quiver under their feet, died away; Aunt Ellen dropped her
hands and opened her eyes.
"Is this going to go on? Isn't one enough?" she wailed. "I'll never enter
a house again, never in this world."
The appearance of Fong, coming down the steps carrying an armchair,
"He's got out alive. Don't you go back into that house, Fong. It isn't
safe, it'll fall at any moment. There's going to be more of this--it
Fong, without answering, set the chair down beside her, taking from its
seat a cloak and an eiderdown coverlet. He and Lorry wrapped her in the
cloak and disposing her in the chair tucked the coverlet round her knees.
Thus installed, her ancient head decorated with crimping pins, her old
gnarled hands shaking in her lap, she sank against the back murmuring,
"Oh, what a morning, what a morning!"
A lurid light glowed above the trees and sent a coppery luster down the
street. The sun had swum up over the housetops and the people in the
roadway; Lorry, on the lawn, gazed at it aghast, a crowning amazement. It
hung, a scarlet ball, enormously large, like a red seal of vengeance
suspended in the heavens. "Look at the sun, look at the sun!" came in
thin cries from the throng. It shone through a glassy, brownish film in
which its rays were absorbed, leaving it a sharply defined, magnified
sphere. Fong, coming down the steps with another chair, eyed it
"Awful big sun," he commented.
"It's shining through something," said Lorry. "It must be dust."
Fong put the chair beside Aunt Ellen's, pressing it into steadiness on
the lawn's yielding turf.
"Maybe smoke," he answered. "After earthquake always fire."
Aunt Ellen gave forth a despairing groan.
"Don't be afraid," Lorry comforted. "We've the best department in the
country. If there should be any fires they'll be put out."
Aunt Ellen took courage from this confident statement and, life running
stronger in her, sat up and felt at her head.
"Oh, I've got my pins in, but how was I to take them out? Lorry, _do_ sit
down. You're as white as a sheet."
"I'm all right, Aunt Ellen. Don't bother about me. I'm going into
The old lady shrieked and clutched at her skirt.
"No--no, I won't allow it." Then as the girl drew her dress away,
"Lorry Alston, do you want my death on your head as well as your own?
If you want anything let Fong get it. He seems willing and anxious to
risk his life."
"Fong can't do this. I'm going to telephone; I want to find out if
Chrystie's all right. I'm sorry but I must go," and she ran to the house.
From the first clear moment after the shock her thoughts had gone to
Chrystie. As she had tucked Aunt Ellen into the chair, she had been
thinking what she could do and the best her shaken brain had to offer was
a series of telephone messages to those friends where Chrystie might have
gone. The anxiety of last night was as nothing to the anguish of this
That was why her face held its ashen pallor, her eyes their hunted fear.
But there was no relief to be found at the phone--a dead stillness, not
even the whispering hum of the wires met her ear. "It's broken," she said
to herself. "Or the girls have got frightened and gone."
Out on the lawn she paused a moment beside Aunt Ellen.
"Something's the matter with the wires. I'm going to the drugstore on
"But what for--what for?" Aunt Ellen wanted to know. "Telephoning when
the city's been smitten by the hand of God!"
"It's Chrystie," she called over her shoulder as she went out of the
gate. "I want to find out how she is."
"Chrystie's at San Mateo," Aunt Ellen quavered. "She's all right there.
She's with the Barlows."
The man in the doorway of his wrecked drugstore laughed sardonically at
her request to use the phone. All the wires were broken--you couldn't
telephone any more than you could fly. Everything was out of commission.
You couldn't telegraph--you couldn't get a message carried--except by
hand--not if you were the president of the country. Even the car lines
were stopped--not a spark of power. The whole machinery of the city was
at a standstill. "Like the clock there," he said, and pointed to the face
of the timepiece hanging shattered from the wall, its hands marking a
quarter to five.
She went back, jostling through the people. Bold ones were going into the
houses to put on their clothes, timid ones commissioning them to throw
theirs out of the windows. She saw Chinese servants, unshaken from their
routine, methodically clearing fallen bricks and cornices from front
steps to which they purported, giving the matutinal sweeping. She
skirted a fallen stone terrace, its copings strewn afar, the garden above
a landslide across the pavement. People spoke to her, some she knew,
others who were strangers. She hardly answered them, hurrying on. Dazed,
poor girl, they said, and small wonder.
If Chrystie was in the city she would certainly come home. It was the
natural, the only, thing for her to do. But it would be impossible to sit
there waiting for her, doing nothing. The best course for Lorry was to go
out and look for her--go to all those places where she might be. Aunt
Ellen would be at the house, waiting, if she came, to tell her they were
all right. And Lorry would return at intervals to see if she had come. If
by midday she hadn't, then there was Mark Burrage. She would go to him.
But Chrystie would be back before then--she might be there even now.
Her rapid walk broke into a run and presently she was flying past the
garden fence, sending her glance ahead under the trees. No--Aunt Ellen
was alone, looking as if she was participating in a solitary picnic. In
front of her stood a small table covered with a white cloth and set with
glass and silver. She was inspecting it closely as if trying to find
flaws in its arrangement and as Lorry came panting up the steps, said
with a relieved air:
"Oh, there you are! Fong's brought out breakfast. He says the kitchen's a
wreck and he had to make the coffee on an alcohol lamp. The range is all
broken and there's something the matter with the gas in the gas stove.
Did you get the Barlows?"
Lorry sank down on the other chair.
"No. the telephone isn't working. We can't get any word to anyone."
"She'll be all right," said Aunt Ellen, lifting the silver coffee pot.
"San Mateo's a long way off."
It was an unfortunate moment for a heavy shock to send its rocking
vibrations along the ground. Aunt Ellen collapsed against the chair back,
the coffee pot swaying from her limp grasp. Lorry snatched it and Aunt
Ellen's hands, liberated, clutched the corners of the table like talons.
"Oh, God have mercy! God have mercy!" she groaned. "If this doesn't stop
Fong came running round the corner of the house.
"Be care, be care, Missy Ellen," he cried warningly. "You keep hold on
him coffee pot. I not got much alcohol." He saw the treasure in Lorry's
hand and was calmed. "Oh, all 'ight! Miss Lolly got him. You dlink him
up, Miss Lolly. He make you good nerve."
But Lorry could not drink much. It seemed to Aunt Ellen she hardly
touched the cup to her lips when she was up and moving toward the house
again--this time for her hat.
"Hat!" muttered the old lady, picking at a bunch of grapes. "The girl's
gone mad. Wanting a hat in the middle of an earthquake."
Then her attention was attracted by a man stopping at the gate and
bidding her good-morning. He was the fishman from Polk Street, extremely
excited, his greeting followed by a voluble description of how he had
escaped from a collapsing building in his undershirt. Aunt Ellen swapped
experiences with him, and pointed to the chimney, which if it had fallen
inward would have killed her. The fishman was not particularly interested
in that and went on to tell how he had been down to Union Square and seen
thousands of people there--and had she heard that fires had started in
the Mission--a good many fires? Lorry, emerging from the house, drew
near and said, as she had said to Fong:
"But there's no danger of fires getting any headway. You can't beat our
firemen in the country."
The fishman, moving to go, looked dubious.
"Yes, we got a grand department, no one denies that. But the Mission's
mostly wood and there's quite some wind. It looks pretty serious to me."
He passed on and Lorry went to the gate.
"Where are you going _now_?"' Aunt Ellen cried.
"Out," said Lorry, clicking up the hasp. "I want to see what's going on.
I'll be back in an hour or two. If Chrystie comes, stay here with
her-right here on this spot."
Afterward Lorry said she thought she walked twenty miles that day. Her
first point of call was Crowley's livery stable where she asked for a
carriage. There were only two men in the place; one, owl-eyed and
speechless, in what appeared to be a state of drunken stupefaction,
waved her to the other, who, putting a horse into the shafts of a cart,
shook his head. He couldn't give her a carriage for love or money. Every
vehicle in the place was already gone--the rich customers had grabbed
them all, some come right in and taken them, others bought them
outright. He swung his hand to the empty depths of the building; not an
animal left but the one he had and he was taking it to go after his wife
and children; they were down in the Mission and the Mission was on fire.
He had the animal harnessed and was climbing to the seat as Lorry left
After that she gave up all hope of getting a carriage and started to
walk. She went to every house in that part of the city where Chrystie had
friends, and in none of them found trace or word of her sister. She saw
people so stunned that they could hardly remember who Chrystie was,
others who treated the catastrophe lightly--not any worse than the quake
of '68, nothing to make a fuss about--a good shake-up, that was all. She
found families sitting down to cold breakfasts, last night's coffee
heated on the flicker of gas left in the pipes; others gathered in pallid
groups on the doorsteps, afraid to go into the house, undaunted Chinamen
bringing down their clothes.
As she moved her ears were greeted with a growing narrative of disaster.
There had been great loss of life in the poorer sections; the injured
were being taken to the Mechanics' Pavilion; the Mission was on fire and
the wind was with it. In this, the residential part, there was no water.
Thrifty housekeepers were filling their bathtubs with the little dribble
that came from the faucets, and cautioning those who adhered to the
habits of every day to forego the morning wash. It was not till she was
near home again that, meeting a man she knew, she learned the full
measure of ill-tidings. The mains had been torn to pieces, there was no
water in San Francisco, and the fire, with a strong wind behind it, was
eating its way across the Mission, triumphant and unchecked.
It gave her pause for a wide-seeing, aghast moment, then her eye caught
the roof of her home and she forgot--Chrystie might be there, ought to be
there, _must_ be there. She broke into a run, sending that questing
glance ahead to the green sweep of the lawn. It met, as it had done
before, the figure of Aunt Ellen in front of the little table, the empty
chair at her side. Even then she did not give up hope. Chrystie might be
in the house; all Aunt Ellen's pleadings could not restrain her if it
suited her purpose to dare a danger.
Before she reached the gate she called, hoarse and breathless.
"Is Chrystie there?"
Aunt Ellen started and looked at her.
"Oh, dear, here you are at last! I've been in such a state about you. No,
of course Chrystie's not here. I knew she wouldn't be. They say all the
trains are stopped--the rails are twisted. How could she get back?"
Lorry dropped on to the steps. She did not know till then how much she
had hoped. Her head fell forward in the hollow of her chest, her hands
clenched together in her lap. Aunt Ellen addressed the nape of her neck:
"I don't know what's going to happen to us. I've just sat here all
morning and heard one awful thing after another. Do you know that the
whole Mission's burning and there's not a drop of water to put it out
with? And if it crosses Market Street this side of the city'll burn too."
Lorry did not answer and she went on:
"The people are coming out of there by hundreds. A man told me--no, it
was a woman. I didn't know her from Adam, but she hung over the gate like
an old friend and talked and talked. They're coming out like rats;
soldiers are poking them out with bayonets. All the soldiers are down
there from the Presidio and Black Point. And lots of people are
killed--the houses fell on them and caught them. It was a man told me
that. He'd been down there and he was all black with smoke. I thought it
was the end of the world and it might just as well have been. Thank
goodness your father and mother aren't here to see it. And, _thank God_,
Chrystie's safe in San Mateo!"
Lorry raised her head in intolerable pain.
"_Don't_, Aunt Ellen!" she groaned, and got up from the step.
The old lady, seeing her face, cast aside the eiderdown, and rose in
"Oh, Lorry dear, you're faint. It's too much for you. Let's get a
carriage and go--somewhere, anywhere, away from here."
Lorry pushed away her helpless, shaking hands.
"I'm all right, I'm all right," she said. "Sit down, Aunt Ellen. Leave me
alone. I'm tired, I've walked a long way, that's all."
Aunt Ellen could only drop back, feebly protesting, into her chair. If
Lorry wanted to walk herself to death _she_ couldn't stop her--nobody
minded what she said anyway. She sat hunched up in her wraps, murmurously
grumbling, and when Fong brought out lunch on a tray, ordered a glass of
wine for her niece.
"I suppose she won't drink it," she said aggrievedly to Fong; "but
whether she does or not I want the satisfaction of having you bring it."
Lorry did drink it and ate a little of the lunch. When it was over she
rose again and made ready to go. She said she wanted to look at the fire
from some high place, see how near it was to Market Street. If it
continued to make headway they might have to go further up town, and
she'd be back and get them off.
She went straight to Mark Burrage's lodgings. She knew the business
quarter was burning and thought the likeliest place to find him was his
own rooms, where he would probably be getting ready to move out. It was
nearer the center of town than her own home and as she swung down the
hills she felt, for the first time, the dry, hot breath of the fire.
Cinders were falling, bits of blackened paper circling slowly down. Below
her, beyond the packed roofs and chimneys, the smoke rose in a thick,
curling rampart. It loomed in mounded masses, swelled into lowering
spheres, dissolved into long, soaring puffs, looked solid and yet was
perpetually taking new forms. In places it suddenly heaved upward, a
gigantic billow shot with red, at others lay a dense, churning wall, here
and there broken by tongues of flame.
On this side of town the residence section was as yet untouched, but the
business houses were ablaze, and she met the long string of vehicles
loaded deep with furniture, office fixtures, crates, books, ledgers,
safes. Here, also, for the first time, she heard that sound forever to be
associated with the catastrophe--the scraping of trunks dragged along the
pavement. There were hundreds of them, drawn by men, by women, drawn to
safety with, dogged endurance, drawn a few blocks and despairingly
abandoned. She saw the soldiers charging in mounted files to the fire
line, had a vision of them caught in the streets' congestion, plunging
horses and cursing men fighting their way through the tangled traffic.
The door and windows of Mark's dwelling were flung wide and a pile of
household goods lay by the steps. As she opened the gate a boy came from
the house, stooped under the weight of a sofa, a woman behind him carding
a large crayon portrait in a gilt frame. The boy, dropping the sofa to
the ground, righted himself, wiping his dripping face on his sleeve. The
woman, holding the picture across her middle like a shield, saw Lorry and
shouted at her in excited friendliness:
"We're movin' out. Goin' to save our things while we got time."
"Where's Mr. Burrage?" said Lorry.
"Mr. Burrage?" The woman looked at her, surprised. "He ain't here; he's
in the country."
"The country?" Too many faces were smitten by a blank consternation, too
many people already vainly sought, for Lorry's expression to challenge
"Yes, he went--lemme see, I don't seem to remember anything--I guess it
was nearly a week ago. His mother was took sick. He's lucky to be out of
this." Her glance shifted to the boy who was looking ruefully at the pile
of furniture. "That'll do, Jack, we can't handle any more."
As Lorry turned away she heard his desperate rejoinder:
"Yes, we got it out here, but how in hell are we goin' to get it
After that she went to Mrs. Kirkham's. There was no reason to expect
news of Chrystie there, except that the old lady was a friend, had been
a support and help on occasions less tragic than this. Also she knew
many people and might have heard something. Lorry was catching at any
In the midst of her wrecked flat, her servant fled, Mrs. Kirkham was
occupied in sweeping out the mortar and glass and "straightening things
up." She was the first woman Lorry had seen who seemed to realize the
magnitude of the catastrophe and meet it with stoical fortitude. Under
her calm courage the girl's strained reserve broke and she poured out her
story. Mrs. Kirkham, resting on the sofa, broom in hand, was disturbed,
did not attempt to hide it. Chrystie might have gone out of town, was her
suggestion, gone to people in the country. To that Lorry had the answer
that had been haunting her all day:
"But she would have come in. They all--everybody she could have gone
to--have motors or horses. Even if she couldn't come herself she would
have sent someone to tell where she was. She wouldn't have left us this
way, hour after hour, without a word from her."
It was dark when Mrs. Kirkham let her go, claiming a promise to bring
Aunt Ellen back to the flat. They couldn't stay in the Pine Street
house. Only an hour earlier the grandnephew had been up to say that the
fire had crossed Market Street that afternoon. No one knew now where it
With the coming of the dark the size of the conflagration was apparent.
Night withdrew to the eastern edges of the heavens; the sky to the zenith
was a glistening orange, blurred with shadowy up-rollings of smoke, along
the city's crest the torn flame ribbons playing like northern lights.
Figures that faced it were glazed by its glare as if a red-dipped paint
brush had been slapped across them; those seen against it were black
silhouettes moving on fiery distances and gleaming walls. The smell of it
was strong, and the showers of cinders so thick Lorry bent down the brim
of her hat to keep them out of her eyes. As she came toward the house she
felt its heat, dry and baking, on her face.
In front of her, walking in, the same direction, was a man, pacing the
pavement with an even, thudding foot-fall. The gun over his shoulder
proclaimed him a soldier, and having already heard tales of householders
stopped on their own doorsteps and not allowed to enter, she curbed her
eager speed and slunk furtively behind him, skirting the fence. Through
the trees she could see the lawn, lighted up as if by fireworks, and then
the two chairs--empty--the eiderdown lying crumpled on the grass. In the
shade of branches that hung over the sidewalk, she scaled the fence and
flew, her feet noiseless on the turf. She passed the empty chairs, and
sent a searching glance up toward the windows, all unshuttered, the glass
gone from the sashes. Were they in there? Had Aunt Ellen dared to enter?
Had Fong overcome her terrors and forced her to take shelter? If he had
she would be no farther than the hall.
Like a shadow she mounted the steps and stole in, the front door
yawning on darkness. The stillness of complete desolation and
abandonment met her ears.
She stood motionless, looking down the hall's shattered length and up the
stairs. The noises from without, the continuous, dragging shuffle of
passing feet, calls, crying of children, the soldier's directing voice,
came sharply through the larger, encircling sounds of the city fighting
for its life. They flowed round the house like a tide, leaving it
isolated in the silence of a place doomed and deserted. She suddenly felt
herself alone, bereft of human companionship, a lost particle in a world
terribly strange, echoing with an ominous, hollow emptiness. A length of
plaster fell with a dry thud, calling out small whisperings and
cracklings from the hall's darkened depths. It roused her and she turned,
pushed open the door and went into the drawing-room.
The long side windows let in the glare, a fierce illumination showing a
vista of demolishment. Through broken bits of mortar the parquet
reflected it; it struck rich gleams from the fragments of a mirror, ran
up the walls, playing on the gilt of picture frames. She moved forward,
trying to think they might be there, that someone might flit ghost-like
toward her through that eerie barring of shadow and ruddy light. But the
place was a dry, dead shell; no pulse of life seemed ever to have beaten
within those ravaged walls. She summoned her energies to call, send out
her voice in a cry for them, then stood--the quavering sound
unuttered--hearing a step outside.
It was a quick, firm step, heavier than a woman's, and was coming down
the stairs. She stood suddenly stricken to a waiting tension, dark
against a long sweep of curtain, possessed by an immense expectancy, a
gathering and condensing of all feeling into a wild hope. The steps
gained the hall and came toward the doorway. Her hands, clasped, went out
toward them, like hands extended in prayer, her eyes riveted on the
opening. Through it--for a moment pausing on the sill to sweep the room's
length--came Mark Burrage.
He did not see her, made a step forward and then heard her whisper, no
word, only a formless breath, the shadow of a sound.
"Lorry!" he cried as he had cried the night before, and stood staring
this way and that, feeling her presence, knowing her near.
Then he saw her, coming out of the darkness with her outstretched hands,
not clasped now, but extended, the arms spread wide to him as he had
dreamed of some day seeing them.
THE UNKNOWN WOMAN
A few minutes after the Vallejo Hotel had sunk into ruin, a man came
running up the street. Even among those shaken from a normal demeanor by
an abnormal event, he was noticeable; for he was wild, a creature
dominated by a frenzied fear. As he ran he cried out for news of the
hotel, and shouted answers smote against him like blows: "Down--gone
down! Collapsed. Everybody in the lower floors dead!" And he rushed on,
burst his way through groups, shot past others flying to the scene, flung
obstructing figures from his path.
"Mad," someone cried, thrown to the wall by a sweep of his arm, "mad and
They would have held him, a desperate thing, clawing and tearing his way
through the crowd, but that suddenly, with a strangled cry, he came to a
stop. Over the shoulders of a group of men he saw a girl's head, and his
shout of "Pancha!" made them fall back. He gathered her in his arms,
strained her against him, in the emotion of that supreme moment lifting
his face to the sky. It was a face that those who saw it never forgot.
The men dispersed, were absorbed into the heaving tumult, running,
squeezing, jamming here, thinning there, falling back before desperate
searchers calling out names that would never be answered, thronging in
the wake of women shrieking for their children. Police came battling
their way through, forcing the people back. Swept against a fence Garland
could at first only hold her, mutter over her, want to know that she was
unhurt. She gave him broken answers; she had run up instead of down--that
was how she was there. The horror of it came back in a sickening
realization, and she shook, clinging to him, only his arm keeping her
from falling. A man had thrown his coat about her, and Garland pulled it
over her, then, looking down, saw her feet, bare and scratched in
pointed, high-heeled slippers. The sight of them, incongruous reminders
of the intimate aspects of life, brought him down to the moment and her
place in it.
"Come on," he said. "Let's get out of this. You want to get something on.
Can you walk? Not far, only a few blocks."
She could do anything, she said, now that she knew he was safe, and, her
fingers in the bend of his arm, he pulled her after him through the
press. Gaining clearer spaces, they ran, side by side, their faces
curiously alike, stamped by the same exalted expression as they fronted
the rising sun.
She heard him say something about taking her away, having a horse and
cart. She made no answer; with his presence all sensations but
thankfulness seemed to have died in her. And then, upon her temporary
peace, came thronging strange and dreadful impressions, waking her up,
telling her the world had claims beyond the circle of her own
consciousness. She caught them as she ran--a shifting series of sinister
pictures: a house down in a tumbled heap of brick and stone, a sick woman
on a couch on the sidewalk, a family dragging furniture through a blocked
doorway, pillars, window ledges, cornices scattered along the road. Over
all, delicately pervasive, adding a last ominous suggestion, was a
faint, acrid odor of burning wood.
"Fire!" she said. "I can smell it."
"Oh, there'll be fires. That's bound to come."
"Where are we going?" she panted.
"Right round here--the place where I was stayin'. There's a widder woman
keeps it, Mrs. Meeker. She's got a horse and cart that'll get you out of
this. I guess all the car lines is bust, and I guess we'll have to move
out quick. Look!"
He pointed over the roofs to where glassy films of smoke rose against the
"Everyone of 'em's a fire and the wind's fresh. I hope to God this shake
up ain't done any harm to the mains."
They had reached Mrs. Meeker's gate. He swung it open and she followed
him across the garden to where a worn, grassy path, once a carriage
drive, led past the house to the back yard. Here stood Mrs. Meeker, a
hatchet in her hand, trying to pry open the stable door.
"Oh, Lord!" she cried, turning at his step, "I'm glad you've come back.
Every other soul in the place has run off, and I can't get the stable
Her glance here caught Pancha, her nightgown showing below the
"Who's she?" she asked, a gleam of curiosity breaking through the larger
"My daughter. She lives right round here. I run for her as soon as I felt
the first quake. You got to take her along in the cart, and will you give
her some clothes?"
"Sure," said Mrs. Meeker, and the flicker of curiosity extinguished, she
returned to the jammed door that shut her out from the means of flight.
"Upstairs in my room. Anything you want." Then to Garland, who had moved
to her assistance, "I'm goin' to get out of here--go uptown to my
cousin's. But I wouldn't leave Prince, not if the whole city was down in
Prince was Mrs. Meeker's horse, which, hearing its name, whinnied
plaintively from the stable. Pancha disappeared into the house, and the
man and woman attacked the door with the hatchet and a poker. As they
worked she panted out disjointed bits of information:
"There's a man just come in here tellin' me there's fires, a lot of 'em,
all started together. And he says there's houses down over on Minna and
Tehama streets and people under them. Did you know the back wall's out of
that new hotel? Fell clear across the court. I saw it go from my
room--just a smash and a cloud of dust."
"Umph," grunted the man. "Anybody hurt?"
"I don't think so, but I don't know. I went out in front first off and
saw the people pourin' out of it into the street--a whole gang in their
A soldier appeared walking smartly up the carriage drive, sweeping the
yard with a glance of sharp command.
"Say. What are you fooling round that stable for?"
Mrs. Meeker, poker in hand, was on the defensive.
"I'm gettin' a horse out--my horse."
"Well, you want to be quick about it. You got to clear out of here.
Anybody in the house?"
"No. What are you puttin' us out for?"
"Fire. You don't want to lose any time. We've orders to get the people on
the move. I just been in that hotel next door and rooted out the last of
'em--running round packing their duds as if they'd hours to waste. Had
to threaten some of 'em with the bayonet. Get busy now and get out."
He turned and walked off, meeting Pancha as she came from the house. A
skirt and blouse of Mrs. Meeker's hung loose on her lithe thinness, their
amplitude confined about her middle by a black crochet shawl which she
had crossed over her chest and tied in the back.
"A lot of that big building's down," she cried, as she ran up. "I could
see it from the window, all scattered across the open space behind it."
Engrossed in their task neither answered her, and she moved round the
corner of the stable to better see the debris of the fallen wall.
Standing thus, a voice dropped on her from a window in the house that
rose beyond Mrs. Meeker's back fence.
"Do you know if all the people are out of that hotel?"
She looked up; standing in a third story window was a young man in his
shirt sleeves. He appeared to have been occupied in tying his cravat, his
hands still holding the ends of it. His face was keen and fresh, and was
one of the first faces she had seen that morning that had retained its
color and a look of lively intelligence.
"I don't know," she answered. "I've only just got here. Why?"
"Because it looks to me as if there was someone in one of the
rooms--someone on the floor."
The stable door gave with a wrench and swung open. Garland jerked it wide
and stepped back to where he could command the man in the window.
"What's that about someone in the hotel?" he said.
The young man leaned over the sill and completed the tying of his cravat.
"I can see from here right into one of those rooms, and I'm pretty sure
there's a person lying on the floor--dead maybe. The electric light
fixture's down and may have got them."
Garland turned to Mrs. Meeker:
"You get out Prince and put him in the cart." Then to the man in the
window: "I'll go in and see. A soldier's just been here who says they've
cleaned the place out. There's maybe somebody hurt that they ain't seen."
"Hold on a minute and I'll go with you," called the other. "I'm a doctor
and I might come in handy. I'll be there in a jiff."
He vanished from the window, and before Prince was backed into the
shafts, walked up the carriage drive, neatly clad, cool and alert, his
doctor's bag in his hand.
"I was just looking at the place as I dressed. Queer sight--looks like a
doll's house. Bedding flung back over the footboards, the way they'd
thrown it when they jumped. Clothes neatly folded over the chairs. And
then in that third-story room I saw something long and solid-looking on
the floor. Seems to be tangled up in the coverlets. The electric light
thing's sprinkled all over it. That's what makes me pretty sure--hit 'em
as they made a break. Come on."
He and Garland made off as Pancha and Mrs. Meeker set to work on the
harnessing of Prince.
The soldiers had done their work. The hotel was empty--a congeries of
rooms left in wild disorder, opened trunks in the passages, clothes
tossed and trampled on the floors. As the men ran up the stairs, its
walls gave back the sound of their feet like a place long deserted and
abandoned to decay. The recurring shocks that shook its dislocated frame
sent plaster down, and called forth creaking protests from the wrenched
girders. The rear was flooded with light, streaming in where the wall
had been, and through open doors they saw the houses opposite filling in
the background like the drop scene at a theater.
The third floor had suffered more than those below, and they made their
way down a hall where mortar lay heaped over the wreckage of glass,
pictures and chairs. The bedroom that was their goal was tragic in its
signs of intimate habitation strewn and dust-covered, as if years had
passed since they had been set forth by an arranging feminine hand. The
place looked as untenanted as a tomb. Anyone glancing over its blurred
ruin, no voice responding to a summons, might have missed the figure that
lay concealed by the bed and partly enwrapped in its coverings.
The doctor, kneeling beside it, pushed them off and swept away the litter
of glass and metal that had evidently fallen from the ceiling and struck
the woman down. She was lying on her face, one hand still gripping the
clothes, a pink wrapper twisted about her, her blonde hair stained with
the ooze of blood from a wound in her head. He felt of her pulse and
heart and twitching up her eyelids looked into her set and lifeless eyes.
"Is she dead?" Garland asked.
"No," He snapped his bag open with businesslike briskness. "Concussion.
Got a glancing blow from the light fixture. Seems as if she'd been trying
to wrap herself up in the bedclothes and got in the worst place she
could--just under it."
"Can you do anything for her?"
"Not much. Rest and quiet is what she ought to have, and I don't see how
she's going to get it the way things are now."
"We got a cart. We can take her along with us."
"Good work. I'll fix her up as well as I can and turn her over to you."
He had taken scissors from his bag and with deft speed began to cut away
the tangled hair from the torn flesh. "I'll put in a stitch or two and
bind her up. Looks like a person of means." He gave a side glance at her
hand, white and beringed. "You might get off the mattress while I'm doing
this. We can put her on it and carry her down. She's a big woman; must be
five feet nine or ten."
Garland dragged the mattress to the floor, while the doctor rose and made
a dive for the bathroom. He emerged from it a moment later, his brow
"No water!" he said, as he stepped over the strewn floor to his patient.
"That's a cheerful complication."
He bent over her, engrossed in his task, every now and then, as the
building quivered to the earth throes, stopping to mutter in irritated
impatience. Garland went to the window and called down to Pancha and Mrs.
Meeker that they'd found a woman, alive but unconscious, and space must
be left for her in the cart. He stood for a moment watching them as they
pulled out the up-piled household goods with which Mrs. Meeker had been
filling it. Then the doctor, snapping his bag shut and jumping to his
feet, called him back:
"That's done. It's all I can do for her now. Come on--lend a hand. Take
her shoulders; she's a good solid weight."
Her head was covered with bandages close and tight as a nun's coif. They
framed a face hardly less white and set in a stony insensibility.
"Lord, she looks like a dead one," Garland said, as he lowered the
wounded head on the mattress.
"She's not that, but she may be unless she gets somewhere out of this.
Easy now; these quakes keep getting in the way."
They carried her down the stairs and out into the street. Here the
crowd, already moving before the fire, was thick, a dense mass, plowing
forward through an atmosphere heat-dried and cinder-choked. The voices of
police and soldiers rose above the multiple sounds of that tide of egress
urging it on. A way was made for the men with their grim load, eyes
touching it sympathetically, now and then a comment: "Dead is she, poor
thing?" But mostly they were too bewildered or too swamped in their own
tragedy to notice any other.
Prince and the cart were ready. From her discarded belongings Mrs. Meeker
had salvaged three treasures, which she had stowed against the dashboard,
a solio portrait of her late husband, a canary in a gilt cage, and a
plated silver teapot. The body of the cart was clear, and the men placed
the mattress there. The spread that covered the woman becoming
disarranged, Pancha smoothed it into neatness, pausing to look with
closer scrutiny into the marble face. It was so unlike the face she had
seen before, rosy and smiling beneath the shade of modish hats, that no
glimmer of recognition came to her. Chrystie was to her, as she was to
the others, an unknown woman.
Mrs. Meeker, even in this vital moment, knew again a stir of curiosity.
"Who is she?" she said to the men. "Ain't you found anything up there to
tell us where she belongs?"
The doctor's voice crackled like pistol shots:
"Good God, woman, we've not got time to find out who people _are_. Take
her along--get a move on. It's getting d----d hot here."
It was; the heat of the growing conflagration was scorching on their
faces, the cinders falling like rain.
"Get up there, Mrs. Meeker," Garland commanded; "on the front seat. You
drive and Pancha and I'll walk alongside."
The woman climbed up. The doctor, turning to go, gave his last orders:
"Try and get her out of this--uptown--where there's air and room. Keep
her as quiet as you can. You'll run up against doctors who'll help.
Sorry I can't go along with you, but there'll be work for my kind all
over the city today, and I got a girl across toward North Beach that I
want to see after."
He was off down the carriage drive almost colliding with a soldier, who
came up on the run, a bayoneted musket in his hand, his face a blackened
mask, streaming with sweat. At the sight of the cart he broke into an
"What are you standing round for? Do you want to be burnt? Get out. Don't
you know the fire's coming? _Get out."_
They moved out and joined the vast procession of a city in exodus.
For months afterward Pancha dreamed of that day--woke at night to a sense
of toiling, onward effort, a struggling slow progress, accomplished amid
a sea of faces all turned one way. The dream vision was not more
prodigiously improbable than the waking fact--life, comfortable and
secure, suddenly stripped of its garnishings, cut down to a single
obsessing issue, narrowed to the point where the mind held but one
desire--to be safe.
Before the advancing wall of flame the Mission was pouring out,
retreating like an army in defeat. Every avenue was congested with the
moving multitude, small streets emptying into larger ones, houses
ejecting their inmates. At each corner the tide was swollen by new
streams, rolling into the wider current, swaying to adjustment, then
pressing on. Looking forward Pancha could see the ranks dark to the limit
of her vision; looking back, the faces, smoke-blackened, sweat-streaked,
marked with fierce tension, with fear, with dogged endurance, with cool
courage, with blank incomprehension. The hot breath of the fire swept
about them, the sound of its triumphant march was in their ears, a
backward glance showed its first high flame crests. Soldiers drove them
on, shouted at them, thrust stupefied figures in amongst them, pushed
others, dazedly cowering in their homes, out through doors and
ground-floor windows. At intervals the earth stirred and heaved, and then
with a simultaneous cry, rising in one long wail of terror, they jammed
together in the middle of the street, so close-packed a man could have
walked on their heads.
To make way through them Garland was forced to lead the horse. Women
clung to the shafts and trailed at the tailboard; the cart stopped by an
influx of traffic, men stood on the hubs of the wheels staring back at
the swelling smoke clouds. Mutual experiences flashed back and forth,
someone's death dully recounted, a miraculous escape, tales of falling
chimneys and desperate chances boldly taken. Some were bent under heavy
loads, which they cast down despairingly by the way; some carried
nothing. Those who had had time and clearness of head had packed baby
carriages edge full of their dearest treasures; others pulled clothes
baskets after them into which anything their hand had lighted on had been
hurled pell-mell. There were sick dragged on sofas, wounded upheld by
the arms of good Samaritans, old people in barrows, in children's carts,
sometimes carried in a "chair" made by the linked hands of two men.
And everywhere trunks, their monotonous scraping rising above the shuffle
of the myriad feet. Men pulled them by ropes taut about their chests, by
the handles, pushed them from behind. Then as the day progressed and the
smoke wall threw out long wings to the right and left, they began to
leave them. The sidewalk was littered with them, they stood square in the
path, tilted over into the gutter, end up against the fence. Other
possessions were dropped beside them, pictures, sewing machines, furs,
china ornaments, pieces of furniture, clocks, even the packed baby
carriages and the clothes baskets. Only two things the houseless
thousands refused to leave--their children and their pets. It seemed to
Pancha there was not a family that did not lead a dog, or carry a cat, or
a bird in a cage.
By midday the cart had made an uptown plaza, and there come to a halt for
rest. The grass was covered thick with people, stretched beside their
shorn belongings, many asleep as they had dropped. A few of them had
brought food; others, with money, went out to buy what they could at the
nearby shops, already depleted of their stores. All but the children were
very still, looking at the flames that licked along the sky line. They
had heard now the story of the broken mains, and somberly, without lament
or rebellion, recognized the full extent of the calamity.
A young girl, standing on a wall, a line of pails beside her, offered
cupfuls of water to those who drooped or fainted. Thirsty hoards besieged
her, and Pancha, edging in among them, made her demand, not for herself,
but for a sick woman. The girl dipped a small cut-glass pitcher in one of
the pails and handed it to her.
"That's a double supply," she said. "But you look as if you needed some
for yourself. We've a little water running in our house, and I'm going to
stand here and dole it out till the fire comes. They say that'll be in a
few hours, so don't bring back the pitcher. There's only my mother and
myself, and we can't carry anything away."
Pancha squeezed out with her treasure, and going to the cart climbed into
the front, sliding over the seat to a space at the head of the mattress.
She bent over the still figure, looking into the face. Its youth and
comeliness smote her, seemed to knock at her heart and soften something
there that had been hard. An uprush of intense feeling, pity for this
blighted creature, this maimed and helpless thing, rescued by chance from
a horrible death, rose and flooded her. She moistened the temples and dry
lips, lifted the bound head to her lap, striving for some expression of
her desire to heal, to care for, to restore to life the broken sister
that fate had cast into her hands. Mrs. Meeker came and peered over the
side of the cart, shaking her head dubiously.
"Looks like to me she'd never open her eyes again."
Pancha was pierced with an angry resentment.
"Don't say that. She's going to get well. I'm going to make her."
"I hope you can," said the elder woman. "Poor thing, what a time she must
have had! Your pa says it seemed as if there was no one there with her.
I'd like to know who she is."
"She's somebody rich. Look at her hands."
She touched, with a caressing lightness, Chrystie's hand, milk-white,
satin-fine, a diamond and sapphire ring on one finger.
Mrs. Meeker nodded.
"Oh, yes, she's no poor girl. Anyone can see that. You'd get it from the
wrapper, let alone the rings. I've been wondering if maybe she wasn't
"She is. I know it."
"How could you know that?"
"By her face."
Mrs. Meeker considered it, and murmured:
"I guess you're right. It has got an innocent look. It'll be up to you,
whether she lives or dies, to find out who she is and if she's got any
"Oh, that'll be all right," said Pancha confidently, "I'm going to take
care of her and cure her, and when she's good and ready she'll tell me."
They moved on for quieter surroundings and to find a doctor. This was a
hopeless quest. Every house that bore a sign was tried, and at each one
the answer was the same: the doctor was out; went right after the quake
to be back no one knew when. Some were at the Mechanics' Pavilion,
where the injured had been gathered, and which had to be vacated later
in the day; others at work in the hospitals being cleared before the
Late in the afternoon Mrs. Meeker left them to go to her cousin's, who
had a cottage up beyond Van Ness Avenue. Prince and the cart she gave
over to them; they'd need it to get the woman away out of all this noise
and excitement. Tears were in her eyes as she bade farewell to the old
horse, giving Garland an address that would find her later--"unless it
goes with the rest of the town"--she added resignedly. In the first
shadowing of twilight, illumined with the fire's high glow, they watched
her trudge off, the bird cage in one hand, the portrait in the other, the
teapot tucked under her arm.
It was night when they came to a final halt--a night horribly bright, the
sky a blazing splendor defying the darkness. The place was an open space
on the first rise of the Mission Hills. There were houses about, here
and there ascending the slope in an abortive attempt at a street which,
halfway up, abandoned the effort and lapsed into a sprinkling of
one-story cottages. Above them, on the naked hillside, the first wave of
refugees had broken and scattered. Under the fiery radiance they sat,
dumb with fatigue, some sleeping curled up among their bundles, some
clustered about little cores of fire over which they cooked food brought
out to them from the houses. A large tree stretched its limbs over a
plateau in the hill's flank and here the cart was brought to a stop.
Prince, loosed from the shafts, cropped a supper from the grass, and the
unknown woman lay on her mattress under the red-laced shade.
A girl from a cottage down the slope brought them coffee, bread and
fruit, and sitting side by side they ate, looking out over the sea of
roofs to where the ragged flame tongues leaped and dropped, and the
smoke mountains rolled sullenly over the faint, obscured stars. They
spoke little, aware for the first time of a great exhaustion, hearing
strangely the sounds of a life that went on as if unchanged and
uninterrupted--the clinking of china, the fitful cries of children
sinking to sleep, the barking of dogs, a voice crooning a song, and
laughter, low-voiced and sweet.
Presently they drew closer together and began to talk; at first of
immediate interests--food to be procured, the injured woman, how to care
for her, find her shelter, discover who she was. Then of themselves--how
the quake had come to each, that mad, upward rush of Pancha's, Garland's
race along the street. That done, she suddenly dropped down and lying
with her head against his knee, her face turned from the firelight, she
told him how Boyé Mayer had come to her in the dawn, and how he lay
buried in the ruins of the Vallejo Hotel.
There was no interchange of vows, no whispered assurances and shy
confessions, between Lorry and Mark. After that sheltering enfoldment in
his arms, she drew back, her hands on his shoulders, looking into his
face with eyes that showed no consciousness of a lover's first kiss. For
a space their glances held, deep-buried each in each, saying what their
lips had no words for, pledging them one to the other, making the pact
that only death should break. Then her hands slid down and, one caught in
his, they moved across the room.
During the first moments exaltation lifted her above her troubles. His
longed-for presence, the feel of his hand round hers, made her forget the
rest, gave her a temporary respite. Only half heeding, she heard him tell
how her summons had come, how, with two other men who had families in the
city, he had chartered an engine, made part of the journey in that, then
in a motor, given them by a farmer, reached Oakland, and there hired a
tug which had landed him an hour before at the Italian's wharf.
For himself he had found her, after a day of agonized apprehension, at a
time when his hopes were dwindling. To know her safe, to feel her hand
inside his own, was enough. All she told him then was that she had come
back to the house for Aunt Ellen and Chrystie, and found they were gone.
But they might have left a letter, some written message to tell her where
they were. With those words her anxieties came to life again, her step
lost its lingering slowness, her face its rapt tranquillity.
Dropping his hand, she started on a search, through slanting doorways, by
choked passages, across the illumined spaciousness of the wide, still
rooms. Nothing was there, and she turned to the stairs, running up, he at
her heels, two shadows flitting through the red-shot gloom. The upper
floor, more damaged than the lower, was swept with the sinister luster,
shooting in above the trees, revealing perspectives of ruin. Every window
was broken, and the heat and the smell of burning poured in, the drift of
cinders black along the floors.
She darted ahead into her own room, going to the bureau, sending a
lightning look over it. Standing in the doorway he saw her start, wheel
about to glance at the bed, the chair. A pile of dresses lay in a corner,
the closet door was open.
"Someone's been here," she said. "The diamond aigrette, the jewel
box--all my things are gone. Even the dress I wore last night--it was on
the bed. They've all been taken."
He came in and took her arm, drawing her away.
"Everything of value's gone," he said quietly. "I went all through the
house before you came and saw it: the silver downstairs; even a lot of
the pictures are cut out of their frames. Looters have been here, and
they've made a clean sweep. I hoped you wouldn't see it. Come, let's go."
She lingered, moving the ornaments about on the bureau, still hunting for
the letter, and muttering low to herself,
"It doesn't matter. Those things don't matter"--then in a voice suddenly
tremulous--"they've left no letter. They've left nothing to tell me if
Chrystie's back and where they've gone to."
His hand on her arm drew her toward the door.
"Lorry, dear, there's no good doing this. They were probably put out, had
to go in a hurry, hadn't time to do any thinking. When I came in here
there was a soldier patrolling along the street. He may have been there
when they left; and if he was he may know something about them."
She caught at the hope, was all tingling life again, making for
"Of course. I saw him, too, and I dodged behind him. If he was here
then he'd know. They might even have left a message with him. Oh,
there he is!"
The arch of the hall door framed the soldier's figure, standing on the
top of the street steps, a gold-touched statue lifted above the surging
procession of heads. With a swooping rush she was at his side.
"Where are the people who were in this house?" she gasped.
The man started and wheeled on her, saw Burrage behind her, and looked
from one to the other, surprised.
"How'd you get in there?" he demanded. "That house was cleared out this
"Never mind that," said Mark. "We're leaving it now. This lady's looking
for her family that she left here earlier in the day."
"Well, I got 'em off--at least I got the only one here, an old lady. She
was sittin' there on the grass where you see the chairs. We had orders to
put out everyone along this block, and seem' she was old and upset I
commandeered an express wagon that was passin' and made the driver take
"Only _one_ lady?" Lorry's voice was husky.
"Yes, miss, only one. I asked her if there was anybody in the house, and
she said no, she was alone. There was a Chinaman with her that helped me
pack her in comfortable--a smart, handy old chap. I don't know where he
went; I didn't see him again."
A heart-piercing sound of suffering burst from the girl, and her face
sank into her hands. The soldier eyed her sympathetically.
"I'm sorry, lady, I can't tell you where she's gone. But, believe me, it
was no picnic gettin' the people started--some of 'em wantin' to stay,
and others of 'em wantin' to take all the furniture along. We didn't have
time to ask questions. But you'll happen on her all right. She's safe
uptown with friends."
Lorry made no answer, and Mark led her down the steps. He thought her
emotion the expression of overwrought nerves, and consoled her with
assurances of a speedy finding of Aunt Ellen. She dropped her hands,
lifted to his a face that startled him, and cried from the depths of a
despair he had yet to understand.
"It's Chrystie, it's Chrystie! She's gone, she's lost!"
Then, pressed close to him, two units absorbed into the moving mass, she
told him the story of Chrystie's disappearance.
His heart sank as he listened. Disagreeing in words, he saw the truth of
her contention that if Chrystie had been out of town she would have been
able to get word to them and would have done it. It looked as if the girl
was in the city, hidden somewhere by Mayer. Listening to Lorry's account
of the interview in the Argonaut Hotel, he disbelieved what the man had
said, rejected her theory of his innocence. Chrystie nerved to a bold
deception, the charges in the anonymous letter, all stood to him for
signs of Mayer's guilt. He told her none of this, tried to cheer and
reassure her, but he saw with a dark dread what might have happened. An
hour before he had skirted the edges of the fire, seen the hotel district
burning, heard of fallen buildings. Chrystie could have been there
keeping a tryst with Mayer. He let his thoughts go no further, stopped
them in their race toward a tragedy that would shatter the girl beside
him as the city had been shattered.
As they walked her eye ranged over the throng, shot its strained inquiry
along the swaying sea of bodies. Chrystie might be among them, might even
now be somewhere in this endless army. A woman's figure, caught through a
break in the ranks, called her to a running chase; a girl's face,
glimpsed over her shoulder, brought her to a standstill, pitifully
expectant. He tried to get her to Mrs. Kirkham's, but was met with a
refusal he saw there was no use combating. Early night found them in a
plaza on a hilltop, moving from group to group.
He had a memory of her never to be forgotten, walking ahead of him,
copper-bright, as she fronted the blazing light, black against it,
bending to look at a half-hidden face, kneeling beside a covered shape,
outstretched in a stupor of sleep. The night had reached its middle
hours, the dense stillness of universal repose held the crowded spot,
when she finally sank in a helpless exhaustion and slept at his feet. He
could do nothing but cover her with his coat, hold vigil over her, move
so that his body was a shield to keep the glare from her face. He watched
her till the day came, and the noises of the waking life around them
called her back to the consciousness of her anxiety.
The loss of relatives and friends was one of the following features of
the great disaster. With every means of communication cut off, with a
great area flaming, impossible to cross, enormous to circle, with the
exodus in some places so hurried no time was left for plans or the
sending of messages, with the spread of the fire so rapid no one knew
where the houseless thousands would end their march, families were
scattered, individuals lost track of. Groups that at dawn had been a
compact whole, an hour later had broken, been dispersed, members
vanished, disappeared in the inconceivable chaos. To those who suffered
this added horror the earthquake remains less a national calamity than
the memory of a time when they knew an anguish beyond their dreams of
what pain could be.
So it was with Lorry. The wide, encompassing distress touched her no more
than the storm does one sick unto death. The growing demolition, spread
out under her eyes roused no responsive interest. It was like a story
someone was trying to tell her when she was writhing in torment, a
nightmare coming in flashes of recollection through a day full of real,
For two days she and Mark searched. There were periods when she sought
the shelter of Mrs. Kirkham's flat, dropped on a bed and slept till the
drained reservoir of her strength was refilled, then was up and out
again. Mark and the old lady had no power to stay her. He went with her,
and Mrs. Kirkham kept a fire in the little oven of bricks in the gutter
so that food might be ready when they came back. Returning from their
fruitless wanderings, they found the old lady seated in a rocking-chair
on the sidewalk, a parasol over her head to keep the cinders off, the
coffeepot on the curb and the brick oven hot and ready.
It was Mrs. Kirkham who found Aunt Ellen--safe with friends near the
Presidio. Lorry would not go to her, unable to bear her questions. So,
Mrs. Kirkham, who had not walked more than three blocks for years,
toiled up there, sinking on doorsteps to get back her wind, helping where
she could--a baby carried, a woman told to come round to the flat and get
"a bite of dinner." She quieted Aunt Ellen, explained that Lorry was with
her, said nothing of Chrystie, and toiled home, dropping with groans into
her chair by the gutter. When she had got her breath she built up the
fire and brewed a fragrant potful of coffee, which she offered to the
worn and weary outcasts as they plodded past.
There was not a plaza or square in that part of the city to which Lorry
and Mark did not go. They hunted among the countless hoards that spread
over the lawns in Golden Gate Park, and covered the hillsides of the
Presidio. They went through the temporary hospitals--wards given to the
sick and injured in the military barracks, tent villages on the parade
ground. They saw strange sights, terrible sights; birth and death under
the trees in the open; saw a heroism, undaunted and undismayed; saw men
and women, ruined and homeless, offering aid, succoring distress,
gallant, selfless, forever memorable.
Night came upon them in these teeming camping grounds. Along the road's
edges the lights of tiny fires--allowed for cooking--broke out in a line
of jeweled sparks. Women bent over them; men lighted their pipes and lay
or squatted round these rude hearths, all that they had of home. The
smell of supper rose appetizingly, coffee simmering, bacon frying. Calls
went back and forth for that most valued of possessions, a can opener.
There was laughter, jokes passed over exchanges of food, an excess of tea
here swapped for a loaf of bread there, a bottle of Zinfandel for a box
of sardines. It was like a great, democratic picnic to which everybody
had been invited--the rich, the poor, the foreign elements, white, black
and yellow, the old and the young, the good and bad, virtue from Pacific
Avenue, vice from Dupont Street, the prominent citizen and the derelict
from the Barbary Coast.
The fire flung its banners across the sky, a vast lighting up for them,
under which they went about the business of living. At intervals, booming
through the sounds of their habitation, came the dynamite explosions
blowing up the city in blocks. When the muffled roar was over, the
gathering quiet was pierced by the thin, high notes of gramophones. From
the shadow of trees Caruso's voice rose in the swaggering lilt of "_La
Donna e Mobile_," to be answered by Melba's, crystal-sweet, from a
machine stored in a crowded cart. There were ragtime melodies, and
someone had a record of "Marching Through Georgia" that always drew forth
applause. Then, as the night advanced, a gradual hush fell, a slow
sinking down into silence, broken by a child's querulous cry, a groan of
pain, the smothered mutterings of a dreamer. Like the slain on a
battlefield, they lay on the roadside, dotted over the slopes, thick as
fallen leaves under the trees, their faces buried in arms or wrappings
against the fall of cinders and the hot glare.
In all these places Lorry and Mark sent out that call for the lost which
park and reservation soon grew to know and echo. Standing on a rise of
ground Mark would cry with the full force of his lungs, "Is Chrystie
Alston there?" The shout spread like a ring on water, and at the limits
of its carrying power, was taken up and repeated. They could hear it
fainter in a strange voice--"Is Chrystie Alston there?"--then fainter
still as voice after voice took it up, sent it on, threw it like a ball
from hand to hand, till, a winged question, it had traversed the place.
But there was no answer, no jubilant response to be relayed back, no
Chrystie running toward them with welcoming face.
Late on the second night he induced her to go back to Mrs. Kirkham's. She
was heavy on his arm, stumbling as she walked, not answering his attempts
at cheer. He delivered her over to the old lady, who had to help her to
bed, then sat and waited in the dining room. No lights were allowed in
any house, and this room was chosen as the place of their night counsels
because of the illumination that came in through the open hole of the
fireplace, wrenched out when the chimney fell. When Mrs. Kirkham came
back he and she exchanged a somber look, and the old lady voiced both
"She can't stand this. She can't go on. She's hardly able to move now.
What shall we do?"
Their consultation brought them nowhere. As things stood there was no
way of instituting a more extended search. The police could be of no
assistance, overwhelmed with their labors; individuals who might have
helped were lost in the mêlée; money was as useless as strings of
At dawn Mrs. Kirkham stole away to come back presently saying the girl
"She looks like the dead," she whispered. "She hasn't strength enough to
go out again. I can keep her here now."
Mark got up.
"Then I'll go; it's what I've been waiting for. Without her I can cover a
big area; move quick. I want to try the other side of town. In my opinion
Mayer had Chrystie somewhere. She was prepared for a journey--the trunk
and the money show that--and the journey was to be with him. If he got
her off we'll hear from her in a day or two. If he didn't she's in the
city, and it's just possible she drifted or was caught in the Mission
crowd. Anyway, I'm going to try that section. Tell Lorry I've gone there.
Keep up her hope, and for heaven's sake try to keep her quiet. I'll be
back by evening."
So he went forth. It seemed a blind errand--to find a woman gone without
leaving a trace, in a city where two hundred thousand people were
homeless and wandering. But it was a time when the common sense of every
day was overleaped, when men attempted and achieved beyond the limits of
reason and probability.
Half an hour after he had left the flat he met with a piece of luck that
gave his spirit a brace. On the steps of a large house, deserted for two
days, he came upon one of his companion clerks. This youth, son of the
rich, had procured a horse and delivery wagon and had come back to carry
away silver and valuables left piled in the front hall. Also he had a
bicycle, an article just then of inestimable value, and hearing Mark's
intention of crossing the city, loaned it to him.
People who live in the Mission are still wont, when the great quake is
spoken of, to remember the man on the bicycle. So many of them saw him,
so many of them were stopped and questioned by him. Looking for a lady,
he told them, and that he looked far and wide they could testify. He was
seen close to the fire line, up along the streets that stretched back
from it, in among the crowds camped on the vacant lots, through the
plazas and the tents that were starting up like mushrooms in every clear
space. In the little shack where the _Despatch_ was getting out its
first paper, full of advertisements for the lost and offers of shelter
to the outcast, he turned up at midday. He saw Crowder there, told him
the situation, and left with him an advertisement "for any news of
Late afternoon saw him back on the edges of the Mission Hills. The great
human wave here had reached the limit of its wash. The throng was
thinner, dwindling to isolated groups. Wheeling his bicycle he threaded a
way among them, looking, scrutinizing, asking his questions. But no one
had any comfort for him, heads were shaken, hands uplifted and dropped in
silent sign of ignorance.
He followed a road that ascended by houses, steps and porches crowded
with refugees, to the higher slopes where the buildings were small and
far apart. The road shriveled to a dusty track, and leaning his bicycle
against the fence he sat down. He felt an exhaustion, bodily and
spiritual, and propping his elbows on his knees, let his forehead sink on
his hands. For a space he thought of nothing but Lorry waiting for news
and his return to her that night.
A woman's voice, coming from the hill above roused him,
"Say, mister, have you got a bicycle?"
He started and turning saw a girl running down the slope toward him. She
came with a breathless speed--a grotesque figure, thin and dark, loose
cotton garments eddying back from her body, her feet in beaded,
high-heeled slippers sure and light among the rolling stones.
"Yes," he said, rising, "I've got a bicycle."
She came on, panting, her hair in the swiftness of her progress blown out
in a black mist from her brow. Her face, dirty and smoke-smeared, struck
him as vaguely familiar.
"I saw you from the barn up there," she jerked her hand backward to a
barn on the summit, "and I just made a dash down to catch you." She
landed against the fence with a violent jolt. "This morning a man who'd
come up from below told me the _Despatch_ was going to be published with
advertisements in it."
"It is," he said. "By tomorrow probably."
"Are you going down there again?" She swept the city with a grimed,
"I'm going down sometime, not right now."
"Any time'll do--only the sooner the better. I've got an advertisement to
put in. Will you take it?"
He nodded. He would be able to do it tomorrow.
She smiled, and with the flash of her teeth and something of gamin
roguishness in her expression, the feeling that he had seen her
before--knew her--grew stronger. He eyed her, puzzled, and seeing the
look, she grinned in gay amusement.
"I guess you know _me_, a good many people do. But my make-up's
new--dirt. Water's too valuable to use for washing."
He was not quite sure yet, and his expression showed it. That made her
laugh, a mischievous note.
"Ain't you ever been to the Albion, young man?"
"Oh!" he breathed. "Why, of course--Pancha Lopez!"
"Come on then," she cried; "now we're introduced. Come up while I
write the ad."
She drew away from the fence while he wheeled his bicycle in through a
break in the pickets. As she moved along the path in front of him, she
"We're up here in the barn, our castle on the hill. It mayn't look much
from the outside, but it's roomy and the view's fine. Better than being
crowded into the houses with the people sleeping on the floors. They'd
have taken us in, any of 'em, but we chose the barn--quieter and more
air. My pa's with me." She turned and threw a challenging glance at him.
"You didn't know I had a pa? Well, I have and a good one." Then she
raised her voice and called: "Pa, hello! I've corralled a man who'll
take that ad."
From the open door of the barn a man of burly figure appeared. He nodded
to Mark, bluffly friendly.
"That's good. We didn't know how we was to get in from this far, and we
bin lookin' out for someone." Then turning to the girl, "You get busy?
honey, and write it. We don't want to waste this young feller's time."
They entered the barn, a wide, shadowy place, cool and quiet, with hay
piled in the back. Depressions in it showed where they had been sleeping,
a horse blanket folded neatly beside each nest. To the left an open door
led into what seemed a room for tools and farm supplies. Mark could see
one corner where below a line of pegs gunny sacks, stacked and bulging,
leaned against the wall.
"Now if you'll further oblige me with a pencil and paper," said the girl,
"I'll tackle it, though writing's not my strong suit."
He pulled out a letter--offering a clean back--and a fountain pen. The
girl took them, then stood in dubious irresolution, looking at them with
"I don't know as I can," she said. "I don't know how to put it. I guess
you'd do it better. I'll tell you and you write."
"Very well." She handed the things back, and going to the wall he
placed the letter against it and, the pen lifted, turned to her. "Go
ahead, I'm ready."
The girl, baffled and uncertain, looked for help to her father.
"How'll I begin?"
"Tell him what it's about," he suggested. "You give him the facts, and
he'll put 'em into shape."
"Well, we've got a sick woman here, and we don't know who she is. We
found her in a hotel, hit on the head, and she's not spoken much yet--not
anything that'll give any clew to where she comes from or who she belongs
to. That's what the ad's for. She's a lady, young, and she's tall--nearly
as tall as you. Blonde, blue eyes and golden hair, and she's got three
rings--" She stopped, the words dying before the expression of the young
"Where is she?" he said.
Pancha pointed to the room on the left, saw the letter drop to the floor
as he turned and ran for the doorway, saw him enter and heard his loud
For a moment she and her father stared, open-mouthed, at one another,
then she went to the door. In the room, swept with pure airs from the
open window, the light subdued by a curtain of gunny sacks, the young man
was kneeling by the side of the mattress, his hand on the sick woman's.
She was looking at him intently, a slow intelligence gathering in her
eyes. The ghost of a smile touched her lips, and they parted to emit in
the small voice of a child,
"Marquis de Lafayette."
HAIL AND FAREWELL
The Alstons had taken a house in San Rafael. It was a big comfortable
place with engirdling balconies whence one looked upon the blossoming
beauties of a May-time garden. Aunt Ellen thought it much too large, but
when the settling down was accomplished, saw why Lorry had wanted so much
room. Mrs. Kirkham was invited over from town "to stay as long as she
liked," and now for a week there had been visitors from up country--Mrs.
Burrage and Sadie.
It made quite a houseful and Fong, with a new second boy to break in, was
exceedingly busy. He had brushed aside Lorry's suggestion that with half
the city in ruins and nobody caring what they ate, simple meals would
suffice. That was all very well for other people--let them live frugally
if they liked; Fong saw the situation from another angle. Back in his old
place, his young ladies blooming under his eye, he gave forth his
contentment in the exercise of his talents. Gastronomic masterpieces came
daily from his hands, each one a note in his hymn of thanksgiving.
When the fire was under control he had turned up at Mrs. Kirkham's,
saying he had thought "Miss Lolly" would be there. Then he had taken
Lorry's jewel box from under his coat and held it out to her, answering
her surprise with a series of smiling nods. He had everything safe, down
on the water front--the silver, the best glass, all the good clothes and
most of the pictures which he cut from their frames. Yes, he had moved
them after Aunt Ellen left, having packed them earlier in the day and got
a friend from Chinatown who had a butcher's wagon. They had worked
together, taken the things out through the back alley, very quiet, very
quick; the soldiers never saw them. He had driven across town to a North
Beach wharf, hired a fishing smack, and with two Italians for crew, cast
off and sailed about the bay for three days.
"I stay on boat all time," he said. "My business mind your stuff. I watch
out, no leave dagoes, no go sleep. All locked up now. Chinamen hide him,
keep him safe. I bring back when you get good house."
When they moved to San Rafael he brought them back, a load that must have
filled the butcher's wagon to its hood. His young ladies' gratitude
pleased him, but to their offers of a reward he would not listen.
"Old Chinaman take care of my boss's house like my boss want me. Bad
time, good time, ally samey. You no make earthquake--he come--my job
help like evly day. I no good Chinaman if I don't. I no get paid extla
for do my job."
The girls, after fruitless efforts, had to give in. Afterward, in their
rooms when they sorted the clothes--the two beds were covered with
them--they cried and laughed over the useless finery. Fong had carried
away only the richest and costliest--evening dresses, lace petticoats,
opera wraps, furs, high-heeled slippers, nothing that could be worn as
life was now.
"We'll have to go about in ball dresses for the rest of the summer," said
Chrystie, giggling hysterically. "How nice you'll look weeding the garden
in an ermine stole and white satin slippers."
"We've got to wear them somewhere," Lorry decided.
"For one reason we've almost nothing else, and for another--and the real
one--Fong mustn't know he's rescued the wrong things. I _will_ weed the
garden in white satin slippers, and I'll put on a ball dress for dinner
Chrystie was well again now. Drowsing on the balcony in the steamer chair
and taking sun baths in the garden had restored her, if not quite to her
old rosy robustness, to a pale imitation of her once glowing self. The
rest of her hair had been cut off, and her shaven poll was hidden by a
lace cap with a fringe of false curls sewed to its edge. This was very
becoming and in sweeping draperies--some of the evening dresses made over
into tea gowns--she was an attractive figure, her charms enhanced by a
The dark episode of her disappearance was allowed to rest in silence. She
and Lorry had threshed it out as far as Lorry thought fit. That Boyé
Mayer had dropped out of sight was all Chrystie knew. Some day later she