Book I
Chapter VIII
 

I

There was a tremendous burst of dynamite that rocked the house. Then she heard her brother's voice:

"Gora! Gora! Where are you?"

She let herself through the trap door and ran down to the first floor.

Her brother was standing in the lower hall surrounded by several of their lodgers, competent-looking women, quite calm and business like, but dressed as for a journey and carrying suitcases and bags.

"You are all ordered out," he was saying. "A change of the wind to the south would sweep the fire right up this hill, and it may cross Van Ness Avenue again at any time. So everybody is ordered out to the western hills, or the Presidio, or across the Bay, if they can make it."

He had no private manners and greeted his sister with the same gallant smile and little air of deference which always carried him a certain distance in public. "You had better take out a mattress and blanket," he said. "I wish I could do it for you--for all of you--but I am under orders and must patrol where I am sent. When I finish giving the orders down here I must go back to the Western Addition."

"Don't worry about us," said Gora drily. "We are all quite as capable as men when it comes to looking out for ourselves in a catastrophe. I hear that several wives led their weeping stricken husbands out of town yesterday morning. Are you sure the fire will cross Van Ness Avenue to-night?"

"It may be held back by the dynamiting, but one can be sure of nothing. Of course the wind may shift to the west any minute. That would save this part of the city."

"Well, don't let us keep you from your civic duties. You look very well in those hunting boots. Lucky you went on that expedition last summer with Mr. Cheever."

Mortimer frowned slightly and turned to the door. The brother and sister rarely talked on any but the most impersonal subjects, but more than once he had had an uneasy sense that she knew him better than he knew himself. His consciousness had never faced anything so absurd, but there were times when he felt an abrupt desire to escape her enigmatic presence and this was one of them.

II

The lodgers were permitted by the patrol to cook their luncheon on the stove that had been set up in the street, the orders being that they should leave within an hour. After their smoky meal they departed, carrying mattresses and blankets.

Gora had no intention of following them unless the flames were actually roaring up the block between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. She felt quite positive that she could outrun any fire.

The last of the lodgers, at her request, shut the front door and made a feint of locking it, an unnecessary precaution in any case as all the windows were open; and as the sentries had been ordered to "shoot to kill," and had obeyed orders, looting had ceased.