The train from 'Frisco was very late. It should have arrived at Hugson'_iding at midnight, but it was already five o'clock and the gray dawn wa_reaking in the east when the little train slowly rumbled up to the open she_hat served for the station-house. As it came to a stop the conductor calle_ut in a loud voice:
At once a little girl rose from her seat and walked to the door of the car, carrying a wicker suit-case in one hand and a round bird-cage covered up wit_ewspapers in the other, while a parasol was tucked under her arm. Th_onductor helped her off the car and then the engineer started his trai_gain, so that it puffed and groaned and moved slowly away up the track. Th_eason he was so late was because all through the night there were times whe_he solid earth shook and trembled under him, and the engineer was afraid tha_t any moment the rails might spread apart and an accident happen to hi_assengers. So he moved the cars slowly and with caution.
The little girl stood still to watch until the train had disappeared around _urve; then she turned to see where she was.
The shed at Hugson's Siding was bare save for an old wooden bench, and did no_ook very inviting. As she peered through the soft gray light not a house o_ny sort was visible near the station, nor was any person in sight; but afte_ while the child discovered a horse and buggy standing near a group of tree_ short distance away. She walked toward it and found the horse tied to a tre_nd standing motionless, with its head hanging down almost to the ground. I_as a big horse, tall and bony, with long legs and large knees and feet. Sh_ould count his ribs easily where they showed through the skin of his body, and his head was long and seemed altogether too big for him, as if it did no_it. His tail was short and scraggly, and his harness had been broken in man_laces and fastened together again with cords and bits of wire. The bugg_eemed almost new, for it had a shiny top and side curtains. Getting around i_ront, so that she could look inside, the girl saw a boy curled up on th_eat, fast asleep.
She set down the bird-cage and poked the boy with her parasol. Presently h_oke up, rose to a sitting position and rubbed his eyes briskly.
"Hello!" he said, seeing her, "are you Dorothy Gale?"
"Yes," she answered, looking gravely at his tousled hair and blinking gra_yes. "Have you come to take me to Hugson's Ranch?"
"Of course," he answered. "Train in?"
"I couldn't be here if it wasn't," she said.
He laughed at that, and his laugh was merry and frank. Jumping out of th_uggy he put Dorothy's suit-case under the seat and her bird-cage on the floo_n front.
"Canary-birds?" he asked.
"Oh no; it's just Eureka, my kitten. I thought that was the best way to carr_er."
The boy nodded.
"Eureka's a funny name for a cat," he remarked.
"I named my kitten that because I found it," she explained. "Uncle Henry says
'Eureka' means 'I have found it.'"
"All right; hop in."
She climbed into the buggy and he followed her. Then the boy picked up th_eins, shook them, and said "Gid-dap!"
The horse did not stir. Dorothy thought he just wiggled one of his droopin_ars, but that was all.
"Gid-dap!" called the boy, again.
The horse stood still.
"Perhaps," said Dorothy, "if you untied him, he would go."
The boy laughed cheerfully and jumped out.
"Guess I'm half asleep yet," he said, untying the horse. "But Jim knows hi_usiness all right—don't you, Jim?" patting the long nose of the animal.
Then he got into the buggy again and took the reins, and the horse at onc_acked away from the tree, turned slowly around, and began to trot down th_andy road which was just visible in the dim light.
"Thought that train would never come," observed the boy. "I've waited at tha_tation for five hours."
"We had a lot of earthquakes," said Dorothy. "Didn't you feel the groun_hake?"
"Yes; but we're used to such things in California," he replied. "They don'_care us much."
"The conductor said it was the worst quake he ever knew."
"Did he? Then it must have happened while I was asleep," he said thoughtfully.
"How is Uncle Henry?" she enquired, after a pause during which the hors_ontinued to trot with long, regular strides.
"He's pretty well. He and Uncle Hugson have been having a fine visit."
"Is Mr. Hugson your uncle?" she asked.
"Yes. Uncle Bill Hugson married your Uncle Henry's wife's sister; so we mus_e second cousins," said the boy, in an amused tone. "I work for Uncle Bill o_is ranch, and he pays me six dollars a month and my board."
"Isn't that a great deal?" she asked, doubtfully.
"Why, it's a great deal for Uncle Hugson, but not for me. I'm a splendi_orker. I work as well as I sleep," he added, with a laugh.
"What is your name?" said Dorothy, thinking she liked the boy's manner and th_heery tone of his voice.
"Not a very pretty one," he answered, as if a little ashamed. "My whole nam_s Zebediah; but folks just call me 'Zeb.' You've been to Australia, haven'_ou?"
"Yes; with Uncle Henry," she answered. "We got to San Francisco a week ago, and Uncle Henry went right on to Hugson's Ranch for a visit while I stayed _ew days in the city with some friends we had met."
"How long will you be with us?" he asked.
"Only a day. Tomorrow Uncle Henry and I must start back for Kansas. We've bee_way for a long time, you know, and so we're anxious to get home again."
The boy flicked the big, boney horse with his whip and looked thoughtful. The_e started to say something to his little companion, but before he could spea_he buggy began to sway dangerously from side to side and the earth seemed t_ise up before them. Next minute there was a roar and a sharp crash, and a_er side Dorothy saw the ground open in a wide crack and then come togethe_gain.
"Goodness!" she cried, grasping the iron rail of the seat. "What was that?"
"That was an awful big quake," replied Zeb, with a white face. "It almost go_s that time, Dorothy."
The horse had stopped short, and stood firm as a rock. Zeb shook the reins an_rged him to go, but Jim was stubborn. Then the boy cracked his whip an_ouched the animal's flanks with it, and after a low moan of protest Ji_tepped slowly along the road.
Neither the boy nor the girl spoke again for some minutes. There was a breat_f danger in the very air, and every few moments the earth would shak_iolently. Jim's ears were standing erect upon his head and every muscle o_is big body was tense as he trotted toward home. He was not going very fast, but on his flanks specks of foam began to appear and at times he would trembl_ike a leaf.
The sky had grown darker again and the wind made queer sobbing sounds as i_wept over the valley.
Suddenly there was a rending, tearing sound, and the earth split into anothe_reat crack just beneath the spot where the horse was standing. With a wil_eigh of terror the animal fell bodily into the pit, drawing the buggy and it_ccupants after him.
Dorothy grabbed fast hold of the buggy top and the boy did the same. Th_udden rush into space confused them so that they could not think.
Blackness engulfed them on every side, and in breathless silence they waite_or the fall to end and crush them against jagged rocks or for the earth t_lose in on them again and bury them forever in its dreadful depths.
The horrible sensation of falling, the darkness and the terrifying noises, proved more than Dorothy could endure and for a few moments the little gir_ost consciousness. Zeb, being a boy, did not faint, but he was badl_rightened, and clung to the buggy seat with a tight grip, expecting ever_oment would be his last.