Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 2

  • THERE was a sudden splitting crack as if a thousand rifles had been discharge_n the ballroom. The floor rose on one side to a perilous angle, considerin_he slippery nature of its surface. Such a shower of white flakes fell fro_he ceiling that dark dresses and naval uniforms looked as if their wearer_ad been out in a snowstorm.
  • Cracks and fissures started in the walls with pantomimic effect, on all side_ould be heard the rattle and splinter of falling glass. A voice suddenl_prose in a piercing scream, a yell proclaimed that one of the great crysta_handeliers was falling. There was a rush and a rustle of skirts, and a quic_ision of white, beautiful faces, and with a crash the great pendant came t_he floor.
  • The whole world seemed to be oscillating under frightened feet, the palace wa_umming and thrumming like a harpstring. The panic was so great, the whol_ysterious tragedy so sudden, that the bravest there had to battle for thei_its. Save for a few solitary branches of candles, the big room was i_arkness.
  • There were fifteen hundred of England's bravest, and fairest, and best,
  • huddled together in what might be a hideous deathchamber for all they knew t_he contrary. Women were clinging in terror to the men, the fine lines o_lass distinction were broken down. All were poor humanity now in the presenc_f a common danger.
  • In a little time the earth ceased to sway and rock, the danger was passing. _ittle colour was creeping back to the white faces again. Men and women wer_onscious that they could hear the beating of their own hearts. Nobody brok_he silence yet, for speech seemed to be out of place.
  • "An earthquake," somebody said at length. "An earthquake, beyond doubt, and _retty bad one at that. That accounts for the failure of the electric light.
  • There will be some bad accidents if the gas mains are disturbed."
  • The earth grew steady underfoot again, the white flakes ceased to fall.
  • Amongst the men the spirit of adventure was rising; the idea of standin_uietly there and doing nothing was out of the question.
  • Anyway, there could be no further thought of pleasure that night. There wer_any mothers there, and their uppermost thought was for home. Never, perhaps,
  • in the history of royalty had there been so informal a breaking up of a grea_unction. The King and Queen had retired some little time before—a kindly an_houghtful act under the circumstances. The women were cloaking and shawlin_urriedly; they crowded out in search of their carriages with no more orde_han would have been obtained outside a theatre.
  • But there were remarkably few carriages in waiting. An idiotic footman who ha_ost his head in the sudden calamity sobbed out the information that Oxfor_treet and Bond Street were impassable, and that houses were down in al_irections. No vehicles could come that way; the road was destroyed. As to th_est, the man knew nothing; he was frightened out of his life.
  • There was nothing for it but to walk. It wanted two good hours yet befor_awn, but thousands of people seemed to be abroad. For a space of a mile o_ore there was not a light to be seen. Round Buckingham Palace the atmospher_eeked with a fine irritating dust, and was rendered foul and poisonous by th_umes of coal gas. There must have been a fearful leakage somewhere.
  • Nobody seemed to know what was the matter, and everybody was asking everybod_lse. And in the darkness it was very hard to locate the disaster. Generally,
  • it was admitted, that London had been visited by a dreadful earthquake. Neve_ere the daylight hours awaited more eagerly.
  • "The crack of doom," Sir George Egerton remarked to his companion, Lor_arcombe.
  • They were feeling their way across the park in the direction of the Mall.
  • "It's like a shuddering romance that I read a little time since. But I mus_now something about it before I go to bed. Let's try St. James's Street—i_here's any St. James Street left."
  • "All right," Lord Barcombe agreed, "I hope the clubs are safe. Is it wise t_trike a match with all this gas reeking in the air?"
  • "Anything's better than the gas," Sir George said tersely.
  • The vesta flared out in a narrow, purple circle. Beyond it was a glimpse of _eat with two or three people huddled on it. They were outcasts and companion_n the grip of misfortune, but they were all awake now.
  • "Can any of you say what's happened?" Lord Barcombe asked.
  • "The world's come to an end, sir, I believe," was the broken reply. "You ma_ay what you like, but it was a tremendous explosion. I saw a light like al_he world ablaze over to the north, and then all the lights went out, and I'v_een waiting for the last trump to sound ever since."
  • "Then you didn't investigate?" Lord Barcombe asked.
  • "Not me, sir. I seem to have struck a bit of solid earth where I am. And the_t rained stones and pieces of brick and vestiges of creation. There's th_alf of a boiler close to you that dropped out of the sky. You stay where yo_re, sir."
  • But the two young men pushed on. They reached what appeared to be St. James'_treet at length, but only by stumbling and climbing over heaps of debris.
  • The roadway was one mass of broken masonry. The fronts of some of the club_ad been stripped off as if a titanic knife had sliced them. It was lik_ooking into one of the upholsterers' smart shops, where they display room_ompletely furnished. There were gaps here and there where houses ha_ollapsed altogether. Seeing that the road had ceased to exist, it seeme_mpossible that an earthquake could have done this thing. A great ligh_lickered and roared a little way down the road. At an angle a gas main wa_ilted up like the spout of a teapot, upheaved and snapped from its twi_ipes. This had caught fire in some way, so that for a hundred yards or s_ach way the thoroughfare was illuminated by a huge flare lamp.
  • It was a thrilling sight focused in that blue glare. It looked as if Londo_ad been utterly destroyed by a siege—as if thousands of well- aimed shell_ad exploded. Houses looked like tattered banners of brick and mortar. Heav_rticles of furniture had been hurled into the street; on the other hand,
  • little gimcrack ornaments still stood on tiny brackets.
  • A scared-looking policeman came staggering along.
  • "My man," Lord Barcombe cried, "what has happened?"
  • The officer pulled himself together and touched his helmet.
  • "It's dreadful, sir," he sobbed. "There has been an accident in the tubes; an_hey have been blown all to pieces."