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- The Earth Trembled - 60/74 -
Not only Ella and her father followed, but also the others, those who were the strongest supporting the feeble and injured.
They had gone but little way before Bodine said, "Ella, I must go and see if Mara has escaped. I cannot seek safety myself unless assured that she is safe."
"Oh, papa, it will be almost suicide for you to go through these streets alone."
"Ella, there are some things so much worse than death. If you and cousin were alone I would not leave you, but with a strong helper and a physician in prospect I must go. How could I look Mara in the face again if I made no effort in her behalf? Explain to Mr. Houghton."
He dropped behind, then turned up a side street and carefully yet quickly halted over and around the impediments strewn in the way.
Aware of the danger of delay, George went forward with a rapid stride. "Can you keep up?" he asked.
"Yes," Ella replied.
"We must get by and beyond these higher buildings. I have the horrible dread that they may fall on you any moment."
"You never seem to think of yourself, Mr. Houghton."
"I must now," he said after a moment or two. "Here is a corner at which we can rest, for there are no high buildings near;" and he sank on the ground with Mrs. Bodine still in his arms.
"Oh, you are killing yourself!" she cried in deep distress.
"Not at all, only resting. Where is your father?"
Ella explained and revealed her fears.
"I will go to his aid and Miss Wallingford's as soon as you and Mrs. Bodine are safe."
"Mr. Houghton, how can I--"
"By giving me the privilege of serving you, and by not making me miserable from seeing you burdened with a sense of obligation," he said quickly. "That is the one thing I have feared--that you would be unhappy because it has been my good-fortune--oh, well, you understand."
She did, better than he, for his swift coming to her aid had banished all doubt of him.
"Please understand, then, that I gratefully and gladly accept your chivalrous help. Have I not seen it given to the old and feeble before? Oh, these heart-rending cries! It seems to me that they will haunt me forever."
"Please support Mrs. Bodine a moment. That is a woman's scream just beyond us. She is evidently injured, and probably held fast in the ruins."
He ran to the spot, and found that a woman had been prostrated and partially buried by the bricks of a falling chimney. She had been unconscious for a time, but now, reviving, her agonized shrieks rose above the other cries. George spoke soothingly to her as he threw the bricks to right and left. She was evidently suffering the extremity of pain, for she again screamed and moaned in the most heart-rending way, although George lifted her as carefully as possible. Laying her down beside Mrs. Bodine he began in distressed perplexity, "What shall we do now? We cannot leave her here."
At this moment a group of negroes approached. One was carrying a little girl whom Ella immediately recognized as Vilet. Then she saw Sissy, the mother, carrying her youngest, and weeping hysterically, while the other children clung to her skirts. Uncle Sheba brought up the rear, fairly howling in his terror. The man carrying the child was Mr. Birdsall, who had called with old Tobe just before the first shock. The gray-woolled negro was walking beside his minister, uttering petitions and self-accusations. Old Tobe was comparatively alone in the world, without kith or kin. Mr. Birdsall, feeling that he owed almost an equal duty to his flock, had only stipulated that he should stop at his home for his wife and children. Happily they were unharmed, and were able to follow unaided; and so, like a good shepherd, he still carried the weakest of his lambs.
Ella called to them, and they paused. George, ever prompt in action, saw that old Tobe and Uncle Sheba were able to do more than use their lungs, and he sprang forward to press them into his service. Tobe readily yielded, but Uncle Sheba would do nothing but howl. In his impatience George struck him a sharp blow across the mouth, exclaiming, "Stop your infernal noise. If you are strong enough to yell that way you can do something better. Stop, I say, or I'll be worse than two earthquakes;" and he shook Uncle Sheba's howl into staccato and tremolo notes.
"Dere am no use foolin' wid dat niggah," said old Tobe.
"Howl, then, if you will, but help you shall;" and taking him by his shoulder, George pushed him beside Tobe, made the two form a chair with their hands, and put the woman into it, with her arms about the neck of each.
Taking up Mrs. Bodine he again went forward. The miserable little procession followed, Uncle Sheba mechanically doing his part, at the same time continuing to make night hideous by the full use of a pair of lungs in which was no rheumatic weakness. Motion caused the wretched woman renewed agony, and her shrieks mingled with his stentorian cries.
"Oh, this is horrible!" Ella said at George's side.
"It is indeed, Miss Bodine; yet how glad I am that you Have not been injured!"
"Oh, oh, I fear so greatly that my cousin will not live through this dreadful night; and my father, too, is facing unknown dangers!"
"This is an awful ill wind, Miss Bodine, but the fact that I can help you and yours gives me a deeper satisfaction than you can imagine."
She could not trust herself to answer, therefore was silent, and his thought was, "I must go slower on that tack, and not so close to the wind." The forlorn company eventually reached the square, and made their way to the place where George had left his father. As the old man saw his son, and comprehended his mission of mercy as well as love, he murmured, "God forgive me that it should require an earthquake to teach how much better is his spirit than mine," and his heart grew as tender as a mother's toward his boy.
Dr. Devoe, who was attending another patient not far away, came up hastily and eased the poor creature out of the negroes' hands to the ground.
He gave her some of the wine George had brought for his father, saying as he did so, "Try to be calm, now, madam. I am a physician, and will do all I can for you."
Mr. Houghton promptly sent Jube to the doctor with one of his pillows and part of his bedding, so the woman was made as comfortable as her condition permitted.
George laid Mrs. Bodine on the grass, and then with the scanty bedding Ella had carried, aided in making a resting-place not far from his father. He next lifted Mrs. Bodine's head into the girl's lap, and was about to turn his attention to Uncle Sheba, but was anticipated. Two men had taken him by the shoulders, one of them saying, "If you don't keep still we'll tie you under the nearest building and leave you there," and they began to march him off. At this dire threat Uncle Sheba collapsed and fell to the ground, where he was left.
Dr. Devoe divided his attention between the fatally injured woman and Mrs. Bodine, who under his remedies and the efforts of George and Ella soon revived. Mr. Houghton looked with wonder, pity, and some embarrassment at the small, frail form, and the white, thin face of one whom had characterized as "that terrible old woman." She seemed scarcely a shadow of what she had been on that former night, more terrible even that this one to the then stricken father. Now the son whom he had thought dead had carried her to his side, and was bending over her.
"Well, well," he muttered, "the ways of God are above and beyond me. I give up, I give up."
Then his eyes rested on Ella. He saw a face which even the dust of the streets could not so begrime as to hide its sweetness or its tenderness, as, with deep solicitude, she bent over her cousin. A conflagration raging near now began to flame so high that its lights flickered on the girl's face, etherealizing its beauty, and turning her fluffy hair to gold. She became like a vision to the old man, angelic, yet human in her natural sympathy. The thought would come, "I have fought like a demon to keep that face from bending over me in my feebleness and age. Truly God's ways are best."
Ella had only glanced at his pale, rugged face with awe and dread, and then had given all her thoughts to her cousin.
As the latter began to regain consciousness, she motioned George away, and with Dr. Devoe, sought to complete the work of restoration. To dazed looks and confused questions she replied merely with soothing words until the doctor said kindly, but firmly, "Mrs. Bodine, you are now safe, and as comfortable as we can make you. Do not try to comprehend what has happened. There are so many worse off who need attention--"
"There, there, doctor," Mrs. Bodine interrupted, with a flash of her old spirit, "no matter what's happened, I thank you for your attention. Please give it now to others."
"Doctor," said George, "I fear the little colored girl who came in with us is dying." They went to the spot where Sissy was pillowing Vilet's head against her breast. The physician made a brief examination, and heard how a brick had fallen on the child as they were getting her out, then said, "I'm sorry I can do nothing but alleviate her pain a little."
Turning away promptly he began, "See here, Houghton, I must go to the nearest drug-store and help myself if no one's there. Will you come with me? I shall need a lot of things, more than I can carry."
"I can't," George replied, "but here is the man that will, I think;" and he roused old Tobe who sat quietly near with his head buried in his hands.
"Sartin. I do wot I kin while de can'el hole out to burn," Tobe assented rising.
"That's right, my man, and you'll help other candles to hold out."
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