When The Earth Moved
Since Avery and Polly parted ways things began to pick up for him. He no longer had to support her and he’d gotten rid of the house he was renting. When the space above his grocery store became available he took it. He’d also found a contractor with his own architect to inspect and make some suggestions as to what he could do with the property. The report that came back was rather alarming. The tenements needed attention on the inside. Some structural damage from the hurricane had yet to be seen to.
He made an inspection himself and met his tenants. They were all working people and so he raised the rents to cover the cost of the repairs. He assured them it was only temporary. During the summer the market stalls were plentiful with fresh local grown produce and meats. He sold things not found on the market such as tea and spices and dairy products. He was not above dealing with the men from the wharfs for his goods. He got good product for good money and it did not occur to him that the men were anything but honest businessmen. He was especially proud of the cane syrup he’d just bought. Little did he know it came from Ben Wade’s warehouse.
Polly had found her niche. She had an eye for color and a saleswoman’s tongue. She was making enough money to support herself. During her off hours she was often seen in the company of salesmen or other young men of Charleston. She ate well thanks to her dinner companions.
The break with Avery had been good for both of them but she still missed him. Occasionally she would see him walking down King Street but neither of them had broken the silence that came after the scene at the grocery store when she told him she was quitting.
Alston and Belle along with Ainsley and James Drayton spent the first week of August at Glen Springs. It was a nice little vacation from the heat of Charleston in the month of August. Julie Drayton was in her 7th month of pregnancy and dreaded the return to Charleston’s warmer climate. However, plans were made for them to return at the end of the month. Belle had been encouraged to remain with them but she preferred to return to Charleston with Alston.
John grew up on John’s Island and the heat was just part of it. He was used to it. The summer fevers and malaria had never affected him. He supposed he was immune to it. The first six weeks of his imposed isolation had been pure hell. He’d torn the place apart looking for a bottle but Ainsley’s sweep had cleaned anything alcoholic from the property. He was an emotional wreck over Lu. Hilda had steadfastly spooned out his opiate and eventually he’d come to himself. He had a visit from one of the Drayton’s people.
Daily he rode out to watch the progress of the phosphate mining. It was an ugly process and he was glad it was confined to the marshes and along the river bank. He was paid handsomely for the use of his land. It all went directly into the bank in Charleston for he had no use for cash on John’s Island.
He rode over the property daily and exercised his race horses. He had a jumper that he was training himself. Gradually his health improved and he was able to sit down and eat real food again. He’d lost some weight and the puffiness from his face was gone. He was feeling strong and healthy again. Something he hadn’t felt in many years.
The cotton fields were being harvested on John’s Island and Alston went out to check on the progress. He stopped by to see John.
“Married life seems to suit you, you’re lookin’ good cousin.”
“It does suit me. How are you, John?”
“Good, life is pretty good out here.”
“Are you ready to come back into Charleston?”
“I think about it and I figure I’m as strong as I’m gonna be. I’d like to see everybody. It gets lonely out here.”
“Come back with me, you can stay with us. Last chance for peace and quiet; the girls will be back next week. “
“I might do that. I gotta figure out what to do about the house. I’ve been thinkin’ I might sell it. I do know I don’t want to live there. How’s your daddy?”
“I think this might be his last summer. He’s not walking now.”
“Sorry. Belle doin’ all right?”
“Even better than that. Julie was pretty upset with us for not asking you to the wedding.”
“I wouldn’t have come. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to. I wasn’t in any condition at that time to be out in public. I never want to have to go through that again.”
“What will you do if there’s wine on the table?”
“I’ll probably drink it. The difference is I won’t ask for the whole bottle. I don’t crave it now.”
Alston smiled and hoped that was so.
“I’ve thrown away the crutch and got my feet back under me. Did I tell you they’re mining phosphate out here? Let’s ride out and have a look see.”
Alston spent the night out at Seabrook and the next day John came back into Charleston with him.
On the morning of August 24 between eight and nine o’clock the president of Charleston Gas-Light Company was getting ready to leave his Summerville retreat where he’d brought his family for the summer. They were startled by a loud noise that resembled a boiler explosion or a discharge of large cannon. It shook his house to its foundations dislodging kitchen utensils and other bric- a -brac from shelves. No real damage was done and he caught the commuter train into Charleston to his office on Meeting Street.
On August 27, a Friday at about 1:30am in the morning a Summerville resident reported a jarring shock that seemed to lift his entire house and heavily thump it back into position. The shock went unnoticed due to the late hour when most in Summerville and Charleston were blissfully asleep.
However later that day around 8:30 after the commuter train had left Summerville for Charleston the shock of an earthquake was definitely felt. It lasted for several seconds and people ran from their houses to avoid falling objects and caving roofs. Every house in the village of about 1800 residents was shaken. The shock was especially severe near the railroad station where goods were thrown from their shelves. The sent a telegraph to Charleston reporting the quake but most were of the opinion that, “Probably a boiler explosion from one of the numerous phosphate mines or someone dynamiting trees.” Few if any had felt anything in Charleston.
There was bigger news to report. On August 27, a catastrophic earthquake struck on the far side of the Atlantic. In Greece and Egypt the shocks were of alarming violence. The Constitution newspaper in Atlanta reported , “The remarkable feature of the business is that almost simultaneously with the earthquake in the old world we have had a touch of it here. South Carolina has been shaken up and a slight tremor has been felt in Georgia.”
At 11:10 on the 27th of August a girl got off the train from Columbia and stood in the railway station looking at a scrap of paper. She was dressed in her school uniform and carrying a valise.
“Could I help you, need a ride somewhere?” A hopeful cab driver approached her.
“Can you tell me where I might find the Planters Hotel?”
“Oh, you don’t want to be goin’ there. The St. John’s or the Charleston Hotel be better.”
“It’s the Planters Hotel that I need to find.”
The young man rolled his eyes and touched his cap. He picked up her valise and led her to the horse drawn cab.
“Phosphates…you sure you want to get involved with that? It’s a dirty business, John.”
“Well, I’m already involved in it as far as leasing out my land. There’s money to be made, Ainsley. Alston’s been out and looked at the operation at Seabrook. He’s willing and I’m willing to put some money up.”
“All right…I’m in. Where is Alston?”
“He went to the railway station to pick up Melanie and his girls.”
“Oh, that’s right, I forgot they were comin’ in today. Jane and the children are waiting till the last minute on the last train outta Glen Springs. I’ll be glad when they get home.”
“Don’t like being a bachelor do ya?”
“Not even a little bit. You doin’ all right, John?”
“Yeah, I’m puttin’ the house up for sale. Gotta find somewhere to move my household.”
“I know what we did to you was tough but it seems to have worked.”
“Best thing that could have happened to me. What is it I gotta do here?” John picked up the legal paper he’d come to sign.
“Just initial there and sign it. Her lawyer has been very cooperative through this whole thing.”
John hesitated just a little before signing the document. He looked up and met Ainsley’s eyes for a moment. Ainsley couldn’t read what was behind that look and not sure he wanted to. That chapter of John’s life was over and he was a better man for closing the book.
“Are you about ready to pick up your end of Legrand and Legrand ?”
“I am about as ready as I’m gonna be. I don’t know what to say, Ainsley. You shoulda painted over my name on the door.”
“Nah, I had faith in you, boy. You’re a good man underneath all that horse manure.”
Ben walked into the Planters Hotel and went to the desk for any messages.
“There’s a young lady that’s been waitin’ for a couple a hours for you.”
Ben’s mind went to Polly and he turned around and looked over the lounge. He froze solid when the girl stood up. Moistening his lips he slowly approached her.
“Angelique, what in blazes are you doin’ here? I got the whole state a’Lousianna looking for you.”
“Father, I’ve come to be with you.”
“That…that can’t happen. It can’t…I got no place for you here.”
“I don’t take up much room.”
“I’m livin’ in a hotel. How’d you get up here?”
“I rode the train. Mother left me some money.”
“You got to go back…finish your schoolin’…and…and we’ll figure out somethin’ then.”
“I’m not goin’ back, father.”
“We got to do some talkin’.” He took her upstairs to his rooms. He had a little sitting room and a bedroom.
She stood in the middle of the floor holding her valise. A tall girl for her age with dark twin French braids down her shoulders. She had her mother’s full lips and Ben’s green eyes. A beauty in the making.
Angelique was interested to see where her father lived. Her elusive father that she saw maybe once a year for a brief visit at her school. “Why don’t you have a house of your own?”
“I’m workin’ on that. Whatever give you the fool idea to come lookin’ for me?”
“I went through mother’s things after the funeral and found your address. I never even knew where you were until then. You’re the only family I have in the world. I guess…I just wanted to know who you were.”
“I ain’t nobody you want to know. How did your mama die?”
“Somebody stuck a knife in her.” She looked up at him with the same eyes.
He blinked and walked over to the window and looked out onto Church street beyond at the people going about their business. Her mother’s death meant little to him. Old buried memories threatened to surface. Memories of a motherless child…abandoned.
“In three years I’ll be through with school. I’ve thought about it and I don’t have any desire to be a nun.”
“I wouldn’t ask that of you but I would ask that you go back down there to New Orleans to school.”
“Why so far away? Do they not have schools here in Charleston?”
“Well, of course they do. I don’t know anythin’ about ‘em.”
“I know my mother was a whore. I don’t know what you are. I thought you were a gambler. I wanted to know who you are.”
“Whatever I am and your mother was has nothing to do with who you are or what you can be. I done a lot of things in my younger days. Things I ain’t proud of now. You don’t need to know about ‘em. I’m a business man. When did you last eat?”
“I had breakfast in Columbia.”
“I’ll take you to dinner. Put that bag down we’ll see to that later.”
Ainsley and John left their office and walked to two blocks to a restaurant for dinner. As they were about to enter the building a tremor hit knocking them both against the door frame. The whole building shuddered.
“What the hell was that?” John asked
“A little shakin’ We been getting some rumblin’s lately, specially up around Summerville…or so they say.”
At 1:45 PM on the 27th of August, a strong shock was felt in Summerville. Strong enough to fling a bed to the wall, windows were broken and a baby was reported tossed from a couch to the floor. The tremors continued throughout the day and were felt as far away as Augusta and Columbia. Buildings shook and bells rang in the church towers. An Italian workman in Summerville was reported to have said, “Two little shakes, a big one come soon.” The residents of Summerville were convinced. However, Charleston’s Post and Courier still did not take the quakes seriously. They were little more than a temporary curiosity.
Ben and Angelique felt the tremor as they walked down the sidewalk. They both stood a little off balance. The church bells rang a time or two and Ben looked at his pocket watch.
Avery’s grocery had goods fall from the shelves. He felt the building shudder and settle and he looked up at the ceiling noticing a fine dust falling. He grabbed the feather duster and began dusting and rearranging his shelves.
Polly fell off a ladder. She was arranging hats on wall pegs. Other than a bruised elbow she was fine.
Over at Alston’s Cilla lost her balance on the stairs and fell. Alston noticed the chandelier swinging slowly back and forth. Belle steadied some ornaments on the mantle after having a porcelain fall to the hearth. Melanie and Lizzie were outside in the garden and the pool sloshed water onto the path. They heard a sound like distant thunder.
The tremors continued on Sunday. Around 4:00pm a Summerville resident was sitting on his porch when he felt vibrations in his chair. He looked up and saw the pillars on his piazza move from their vertical position, as if the foundation of his house had been pushed upward with considerable force. It was felt in Camden, a small town about 115 miles northwest of Charleston. Windows rattled.
Alston had Ainsley and James Drayton over for dinner on Sunday. It made him feel good to see a full table in the dining room. It had been a while since the three Legrands had sat down at a table together. James was their adopted brother since he married their sister. James was going up to Glen Springs to accompany Julie and the children home.
“I wouldn’t, except she’s pretty far along to be running after the boys.”
“Bout time you had a little girl, James,” Ainsley grinned.
“We’re hoping, course I can always borrow one of yours or Alston’s.”
John looked at his wine glass and picked up the water instead. He wondered if it would ever leave him…the loss of his son.
Melanie noticed him and looked down at her plate. He was staying there at Alston’s and she found him too contained, like there was a dam about to overflow all the time. So many times she’d wanted to reach out to him but something held her back. He’d never given her the slightest indication that he would appreciate her compassion for that’s what it was. Nothing else…nothing else at all.
They’d been discussing a partnership in phosphate mining and Alston proposed a toast to a profitable future for all of them. They touched their glasses and sipped the good wine from Alston’s stock.
Polly agreed to have Sunday dinner with Avery at a little eatery on King Street. It bothered Avery that they were on bad terms. She’d been his responsibility since she was ten years old. He found it hard to let go although he could see the advantage of being on his own. It just hadn’t happened the way he’d pictured it. He thought she would make a good marriage and leave him to live his own life.
“That’s a new dress, it looks very nice, Polly.”
“Thank you, I got it at a good price since the lady changed her mind after it’d been altered to fit. How’s the grocery business?”
“Doing quite well. Good profit to be made if you know how.” He smiled slightly.
“I don’t miss it, you know. I’d rather sell pretty things.”
“Pretty things suit you better than a tin of tea.”
“Did you feel the earthquake?”
“Is that what all this is? I have felt a few movements. I lost a shelf of honey.”
Ben found a room at the Planters Hotel for Angelique until Monday when he could either convince her to return to New Orleans or find a boarding school nearby. He thought she was a strange child. Her questions were direct and her answers too painfully honest. He’d tried charming her into returning to her school and she ignored him; finding something interesting to look at across a restaurant.
“New Orleans is your home you ought to go back there where things are familiar.”
“The only thing familiar is St. Catherine’s. I don’t remember anything before that. I’d hardly call the convent home. It works for you but not for me. Not any longer.”
“What changed your mind? Was it to do with your mama’s death?”
“I hardly knew her. Just like you; I hardly know you.”
August 30, John stopped by the Post and Courier and placed an ad for the sale of his house. He then went to the house with May and Mr. Cobb and packed up his belongings. He took what personal effects he had there. Most of his things were out at Seabrook. He’d bought the house for Lu and let her bring in the ornaments. May tossed out the dead flowers and cleared out the kitchen building out back. He stopped before a portrait he’d had done of Lu and looked at it for a long time. When he left the house he left it behind.
Alston said he could store whatever he wanted at his place. John thanked him but said there was very little he wanted.
“You’ve got to have furnishings for the new place.”
“If it sells and the new owners don’t want the chairs and tables I’ll move them then. I don’t think I’ll need all that anyway. I want to find something smaller. Something a single man can live in.”
“It bothers you doesn’t it…the divorce.”
“Of course it does. Six years of my life…gone. It feels very strange.”
“Belle told me she felt like an odd shoe.”
“Yeah,” he bit his lip, “it’s mate is missing. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“We’ll talk about something else then. Have you noticed there haven’t been any earth shaking moments today?”
“You’re in a mood today. John, you’re not…drinking are you?”
“No…no, Alston, but I’m about this far away from it.”
Alston sighed. “Melanie was looking for someone to go for a walk with awhile ago, why don’t you be that someone.”
“I know I’m a depressing son of a bitch.” He rose from the chair in Alston’s office and walked to the French doors and looked out into the garden. Melanie was out there doing something . He stepped out into the garden. “I hear you’d like to go for a walk, I think I would too. Will you join me?”
Melanie dropped the garden shears and looked up. “I would like that very much. Thank you.”
John waited while she put on a hat. He was leaning on the curving staircase when she came floating down. They walked along the battery and through a narrow alley. He told her he’d put his house up for sale.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. Is it far?”
“No, not at all, why would you want to see it?”
“I’d like to know where you lived.”
He smiled a little and shook his head. “All right, it’s just though here.”
He took her inside and stood in the hall while she walked around the first floor rooms. She stopped by the portrait of Lu. “I wonder why she didn’t take this?”
“I know why. This was the Lu I married. She’s not that person anymore.”
“You didn’t take it either. Do you not want it?”
“Let’s burn it.”
“Let’s take it out into the garden and burn it. Put her to rest.”
He laughed slightly. “You’re kidding me.”
“Why do you want to hang onto the illusion?”
“I don’t. You’re right, Melanie. Move that vase for me if you would.” He took the portrait down and carried it through the hall to the back door and past the porch into the garden. He broke the frame into pieces while Melanie stood on the porch. It went up in flames.
He backed away from it to the bottom of the stairs.
He turned and his face was wet with tears. She stepped down a step and put her arms around his neck and he lay his head on her breast. Slowly his arms came around her waist and they stood there for awhile neither of them saying anything. Finally he looked up somewhere around her nose.
“All right now?”
“Yes.” He was embarrassed for having lost his composure in her presence, for having cried on her breast like a child.
She spoke in almost a whisper. “This is just between you and I. It took a lot of inner strength to do what you just did. Let the healing begin now this very moment.”
He looked up into her eyes and she did something very un-Melanie-like; she softly kissed him. It stunned him. Recovering he moved up onto the step beside of her. He moved slowly taking her in his arms and kissed her like she’d never been kissed before.
It was she who broke the kiss and put some space between them. She had no illusions about John. She’d heard too many stories about him, stories not meant for her ears. She felt all over hot. A few more moments in his arms and it would have been hard for her to pull away from him. But did she want to? Part of her mind was outraged at what she was doing. The other part wanted to give him what he needed and thus satisfy the need within herself. She’d lost her maidenhood at the age of sixteen. No one ever knew except Bethany. It was for that reason that she destined herself for spinsterhood. No decent man would want damaged goods.
“Melanie…Melanie,” her name felt good in his mouth. He kissed her again holding her tightly against him and moving his hand on the small of her back. She yielded to him. He spoke her words back to her.
“This is just between you and I.”
She could not think for the jumble in her mind as he led her back into the house and up the stairs. She could not think…only feel and it felt right.
Ben went down into the tavern to buy a bottle. While he was waiting for it to be brought to him he spied one of the women who frequented the place. He’d never sunk so low that he visited the brothels further down off of Church Street but he had a need. He locked eyes with the woman and she sauntered over to him. All this business with Angelique had upset him and his feathers needed smoothing.
The bartender set the bottle up with a couple of glasses and Ben paid him for it.
“You’re not going to drink that all by yourself are you cowboy?”
He still wore his black western boots. He let a smile play around his lips. “I need some help with it. Reckon you can accommodate me?”
She was still with him when he woke the next morning so he made use of her again. When she left his bedroom and him tangled in the sheets she made a strange sound in the sitting room. He started to call her and remembered he didn’t even know her name. He pulled himself up and felt around the floor for his underwear. Passing by the door he saw her.
“How did you get in here?”
“Through the door.”
“Get…get out of here.” Today…today he was definitely going to do something about Angelique.
Impassively she sat and watched while he fumbled about dressing. “How long have you been out here?” he asked buttoning his vest.
“About twenty minutes.”
Long enough. “That door was locked. If I’d wanted you in here I would have left it wide open. A man is entitled to some privacy in his own bedroom.”
“Don’t call me that.” He snapped.
“Father, I have inquired about suitable schools in Charleston.”
“You won’t be needin’ a suitable school in Charleston, you’re going back to New Orleans.”
“I have determined that Miss Maupin’s School for Young Ladies might be the best of the lot.”
“I’m not sure you’d qualify. Let’s go.”
He took her to the train station and bought her a ticket through to New Orleans. “Don’ t lose it,” he said handing it to her. “What?”
“I have to go to the pot.”
He ran a hand over his face and stepped outside the train station while she went back inside. Angelique walked to the ticket booth. “We’ve changed our mind. I’d like a refund, please.” Folding the money she stuck it in the pocket of her dress and rejoined Ben outside the door.
Thinking he had his problem solved he was inclined to be a little more friendly to her. He took her to breakfast and asked if there was anything in the shops she might want.
“A fan,” she said. The weather was hot, sultry and still. Hardly a leaf moved on the trees.
The heat was oppressive and the women who worked in Ainsley’s house complained to each other about the heat “gonna cook us alive.” They scrubbed and polished and dusted the house getting ready for Miz Jane and the children to come home that night. The kitchen out back was like an oven by eleven o’clock. The cook stood in the doorway fanning herself with her apron.
Ainsley struggled with the window in his office on Meeting Street. The tremors they’d been experiencing caused his windows to stick. John went over to help and between the two of them they got the windows open but for little relief from the heat. John was functioning more as an assistant than the lawyer he was. He hadn’t practiced law in three years. Ainsley would bring him along until he had his confidence back.
On East Bay Street, Lizzie Legrand was not feeling well. Belle confirmed she had a little fever and she was tucked in bed for the day with her favorite toys. Cilla was not allowed in the bedroom and she attached herself to Melanie. Melanie was supposed to go home on Friday but had begun to think about that. Her relationship with John was private and neither of them had spoken of it to the others.
Alston left early for a meeting at the town hall. The Mayor was due home after a cruise across the Atlantic. Later he would meet with representatives from a mining contractor about the phosphate mines on James Island and parts of John’s Island. He and Ainsley decided to contract the work instead of buying the equipment themselves.
By three o’clock in the afternoon Belle had summoned the doctor for Lizzie.
Polly Pendleton was in the window of the shop arranging a display. She looked out at Kings Street’s busy population hoping to catch the eye of someone who might take her to dinner. She never turned down an invitation but that’s all she was interested in. The young man of her dreams had not materialized yet. She was optimistic.
Avery Pendleton found it necessary to hire some help in his grocery. He had other business to attend to and could not constantly be behind the counter. He found a young woman outside his shop one day peering in the window. She was half starved and he put her to work. Her smock covered her less than desirable clothes. He only required that she be clean. Today he was off to the tenement building. It was rent day and he hoped to collect enough to pay his contractor.
The day passed normally without anything of note. Along about 6:00 there was a brief rain shower but it did little to relieve the heat that had captured the city that day.
John and Melanie walked out to the battery away from Alston’s house. They kissed and cuddled and remarked about the moon. It appeared to be surrounded by mist and cast a strange light over the water which looked like glass. Aside from the strangeness of the moon the sky was clear and the stars looked down brightly on the two lovers.
Alston walked out onto the upstairs piazza and also noted the moon. He’d been in to see his daughter, Lizzie and stood by while Belle administered her medicine. He looked down the street and caught a glimpse of John and Melanie. At first it shocked him and he began to wonder how long that had been going on under his roof. Then he thought well…what of it. He would not mention it to Belle.
Belle joined him and slipped an arm around his waist. “Oh, look at the moon…it’s a lovers moon.”
He looked down at her and kissed her. “So it is.” A sulfurous smell tainted the air and Alston said it came from the marshes. He explained the city’s plan to dump garbage, save any animals or offal, into the swamp and cover each layer with soil to make new land and eliminate the problems with the marshes near the city.
When the bells of St. Michaels rang the three quarter hour John and Melanie left his house by the back door and slipped through the alleys to the Battery. They were laughing like children.
Ainsley was at the train station waiting on the train to come in from Columbia.
Alston and Belle adjusted the mosquito netting around their bed and lay down together.
The streets were quiet as most Charlestonians retired early and rose early.
At 9:51 PM John and Melanie stopped at the garden gate into Alston’s back garden and a roaring sound like a heavily laden wagon rolling over cobblestones broke the silence. “Earthquake,” he said under his breath and grabbed her hand pulling her along he ran toward the street feeling the earth heaving beneath him.
“No, John, no, Belle and the children, Alston-“ It subsided for a moment.
Alston ‘s bed slid across the floor just as the tall wardrobe smashed forward where the bed had been. He jumped up , Belle screamed and he scrambled across the bed pulling her away from the wall. Cilla’s nurse grabbed her from her cot dragging the entangled netting behind her she ran down the swaying staircase to the front door. Lizzie’s nurse was knocked to the floor and as she got to her knees she let out a scream. The children’s wardrobe had fallen across the bed trapping the little girl beneath it. Not a sound came from the child.
“Oh mah Gawd an mah Father.
Ain yuh feel how dis earth do tremble like
Come down heayh , Lawd
An help yo poor people in dere trial and trib’lation.
But oh do, Massa God, be sho and come Yoself.
And Doan sent yo Son,
Caus dis ain’ no time fuh Chillun.”
(Prayer of a woman on the Santee River, South Carolina written in the dialect it was recorded in)
Avery’s eyes widened and he let out a little scream as the whole front side of his building heaved in and out and crumbled to the ground below. The floor rocked beneath him and he crawled toward the exposed wall. Falling bricks from a collapsing chimney hit him and sent him to the rubble below in the street.
Ben was not inexperienced with earthquakes. He’d weathered plenty out in California. However this one sent the whole hotel up about a foot and slammed it back down. The chimney in his sitting room sank taking the mantle nearly to the floor and the floor was buckling under his feet. He ran out into the hallway where panicked people were crowding the stairway.
“Door’s jammed!” Came a panic ridden cry from the stairwell. The gas lights went out in the hallway and the building swayed back and forth . Next door the tenement walls moved but did not fall.
Ben scrambled over tumbled bodies on the floor toward a window at the end of the hall. The narrow alley was full of broken masonry. He took his chances and jumped falling on his left side pain shot through his shoulder.
On King Street people ran for the middle of the street away from the buildings whose porticos were falling into the street. No one even noticed the young woman who lay on her back with her copper hair fanned out beneath her staring up with blank deadened eyes.
The train from Columbia was late coming in. The stationmaster said it should be there by 10:00PM
Without warning the quake came with the sound of an approaching engine. Some people thought the train was arriving. Soon the realization of the quake hit with force. The walls caved in and out and people ran screaming out of the station. Ainsley had been sitting in the waiting area reading a brief he’d brought along. He was thrown from the bench striking his head on the one in front of him. He crawled to his knees and was knocked down again by fleeing people. He stayed down and rolled to the center of the room. Looking up he saw the roof undulating above him. He managed to get himself under one of the heavy wooden benches.
When Ben took Angelique to the station and put her on the train she stayed on it long enough for his back to disappear and she climbed back down. She’d spent the evening walking along the streets and had made her way to the park on the Battery when the quake began. She lay down on the ground beneath the bench she’d been sitting on. When she determined it was over she climbed from beneath the bench and over a downed tree and began making her way toward the Planters Hotel.
John grabbed Cilla from the nurse and ran back to where he’d left Melanie out in the open and thrust the child into her arms. He ran back toward the house as the front piazzas came away and crashed downward pulling the front wall. The roof fell in and John fell to the ground oblivious to the debris falling around him he screamed for Alston.
Alston had made it to his daughter’s room and tried to pull away the heavy wardrobe while the house was falling around him. The roof came down and covered him, his daughter and his wife, Belle.
Angelique moved as quickly as she could over debris strewn streets. All around her the moans and the sounds of the injured and dying rent the air. The sound of animals, horses, wild with fright ran through the streets some with careening carriages behind them empty of occupants. It all added to the tangle of phone lines in the middle of the streets. Over all a white limestone dust hung in the air like a fog from hell. Fires broke out from overturned oil lamps.
Covered in limestone dust and her face streaked with tears of fright Angelique came to Church Street. She climbed over stones calling for Ben. In the narrow alley way he came to himself and began struggling underneath the stones and splintered wood.
“Ben, Ben, Father, are you alive, are you here?” She walked around the building to the back courtyard.
His left shoulder hurt like the devil but he managed to untangle himself and roll down the little mountain of debris. He thought he heard his name being called.
“Ben, Father….are you here?”
“Angel-“ he coughed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He saw her outline.
“Father.” she ran to him and helped him up.
At that moment he was too dazed and thankful to be alive to wonder why she was there.
When Avery realized he was not dead after all he moved from his pile of debris and began helping another man dig through the splintered boards for his wife. He would continue this way through the night until exhaustion caught up with him on King Street. He had yet to find his sister.
Cilla’s nurse was praying and singing and Melanie shook her and handed Cilla off to her and made her way to John who had fallen on the ground. She touched him and he rolled over and grabbed her. “Alston.”
“I saw it go down, John. I saw the house go…down” they clung to each other crying.
From somewhere in the debris of the house John heard moans and rose to find the source. He found Lizzie’s nurse who’d been pulled out with the front wall and had gone down with the piazza. He asked her about Alston and she shook her head unable to speak . He pulled her free an carried her away from the house. She’d suffered a head injury and a broken arm. With renewed hope he began to dig through the rubble.
Policemen made their way to Bay street carrying lanterns. They along with some of the residents were positioning people away from their houses. They came upon Melanie with Cilla and the children’s nurses. She pleaded for them to help John find Alston.
After the second severe shock the dust began to settle and they could see more clearly the destruction around them. Broken water mains sent geysers spewing water onto the streets. Wells were filled with sand and mud. The city was without drinkable water. They began trying to clear the streets so vehicles on loan to the hospitals could get through and carry the dead and wounded from the streets.
There were three hospitals operating in Charleston; Roper, City of Charleston, Medical College of Charleston. The latter did not have patient rooms and all were damaged in the quake. They took over other buildings still standing and all medical students and doctors were working on the wounded. Most were head wounds from falling bricks.
A house on Tradd Street
(Dock Street Theater on the left with the tenement to the right of it and the hotel to the left. What is now the Dock Street Theater was the Planters Hotel. This photo’s caption said the church in the middle was St. Phillips. Note the hole in the bell tower)
This looks like Tradd St.
Ben and Angelique made it to the park. By now he’d determined his arm was not broken but he would have a deeply bruised shoulder. He could see the frantic efforts by the constables digging through the rubble of a house.
“I’m gonna see what I can do. You stay here.” Ben looked at his daughter and she sat down on the ground. He still hadn’t figured out why she was still there but his mind was so full of the horror around him that he didn’t take time to think about it.
“Who are we lookin’ for?” he asked a constable.
“A man, Alston Legrand.”
Ben grabbed a beam on one end and looked toward the other…it was John Legrand. He hadn’t seen John since the spring. “John, you all right?”
John nodded and tossed his end of the beam clear.
One of the men found a woman’s body near the front door. It was Belle. They carried her away from the house and lay her down. The second quake shifted things and before long they came upon Alston and his daughter. The little girl was dead and Alston was unconscious. There was some discussion about how to move him for he was badly injured. When the ambulance arrived he was put on a stretcher and loaded onto the wagon. John kissed him goodbye. He would not live.
“We can’t stay here.” John said holding onto Melanie and Cilla. The park was filling up with people with nowhere else to go. “I want to find Ainsley.” He wanted them all together…what was left.
The tall girl rose and went to Ben who hung back a little from John Legrand. He looked around at the folks huddled together in groups out in the open. He tapped John on the shoulder. “I got about 300 tents in my warehouse. They’re…uh…army surplus tents. I reckon these folks could use ‘em.”
“That’s good, Ben. See if you can get some of the fellers to go with you. Might find a wagon.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinkin’. Look, um, I got this girl here…her name’s Angelique…she’s my daughter. All right if she stays with you?”
“That would be fine, Ben. We’re going to try and make it to Ainsley’s. If we’re not there we’ll be at Drayton’s or at my house.”
“Thankee, John.” He looked at Angelique. “You stay with these folks, I’ll be around later.”
John took Cilla from Melanie. The child had cried herself to sleep and had no understanding of what had happened. Cilla’s nurse followed them for she had nowhere else to go. Lizzie’s had gone on the ambulance wagon.
They walked past the deserted house belonging to Julie and James. It was a large Victorian. Some of the trim was missing and it sat at an angle on its foundation. John’s house was still upright but missing trim. Melanie put her arm around his waist. It had not been an hour since they lay upstairs in his bed. How quickly that world vanished.
“Wait here,” he said and moved toward the back of the house. It was a frame house set on deep pilings and the damage appeared light but he didn’t trust it. Windows were broken out and the back porch sagged to the ground.
The train from Columbia was only three miles from Summerville when the quake hit the city. They did not know of the earthquake’s damage Only seven miles behind them the tracks were twisted and torn apart. The passengers were in pretty good shape considering they’d had a roller coaster ride along the way. It was a miracle the train stayed on the tracks. It spent the night in Summerville while the tracks were being repaired, and did not arrive in Charleston until 9:30 the next night. During this time Julie Drayton went into labor.
Ainsley spent the night at the station trying to get information about the passengers on the train that had not arrived. A messenger rode to Summerville on horseback to deliver the news about the condition of the tracks and to find about the train. Ainsley was afraid to leave the station and afraid of what he was going to hear.
The eerie light from the city center lit up the sky. Fires were burning unattended for the firefighting equipment could not reach the source of the fires. The streets were filled with rubble and people. Horses had bolted from the fire trucks and the water lines were so damaged they couldn’t pump water. Smoke hung in the dead air like a thick blanket adding to the misery of the residents who were mostly experiencing nausea from the heaving earth.
Avery found his second wind and was once again providing what aid he could to the people in the middle of the street. He brought chairs from open fronted buildings for the ladies. Soon he found himself working with another man whom he discovered was an alderman for the City of Charleston. They worked gathering people together out of harm’s way and providing them with what comforts they could.
“I have a sister somewhere out here. I’ve looked but cannot find her. Her name is Polly Pendleton and she lived above a dress shop on Kings Street.”
“Did she have red hair?”
“Yes.” Avery stopped and looked at the man.
“I don’t know for sure that it was your sister but a young woman with red hair was found on the street.”
“Found…what do you mean found?”
“She was found dead.”
“No…no…it couldn’t have been Polly.”
“I said I didn’t know for sure…just that she had red hair. I saw them take her away. It was before the fires started.”
“Wh…where did they take her?”
“Over by the hospital they’ve opened a dead house and another on Marion Square.”
Avery stumbled backward and sat down hard on a brick. The pain shot through his bottom…it kept the one forming in his head from taking shape.
They climbed over the debris and Ben tore open the flats of tents and they began tossing them out of the open wall. Below a policeman asked them what they were about and Ben came out and talked to him. He caught the tents as they came out of the wall and stacked them on the ground. A few more men were found in the alleyway and with the promise of shelter they helped get the tents to the park. Half of them went to the park at White Point and the rest he sent under police guard to Washington Park where the policeman said many families had fled to.
He kept one rolled under his arm and started walking toward Ainsley’s. The fires on King Street lit up the sky and provided a murky light to traverse the debris laden streets. He caught a whiff of the sulfur smell from the swamps at the edge of the city and wondered if indeed this was hell on earth. It certainly looked like it and sounded like it with the poor souls screaming and moaning and now and then the sounds of black folks singing hymns and praying. Dogs were barking. He passed a group of folks still in their nightclothes wandering aimlessly down Church Street. He gave them his tent and told them there was space down at White Point. They thanked him and seemed so grateful for a little guidance. That’s what folks needed …someone to take charge.
He was headed toward Ainsley Legrand’s house. Where was Ainsley tonight? Politician and spokesman for the people of Charleston should be out there tellin’ them where to go and how to keep themselves together. He rubbed his shoulder and flexed his left arm as he turned up Legare Street. He stopped in front of the half burned out house that he’d been promised. What the hell was he doing here? Why didn’t he grab one of them horses running all over the place and just put this place behind him? There was nothing to hold him here…nothing at all. Nothing but destruction and misery everywhere you looked.
Out on the street in front of Ainsley’s house stood the girl tall and straight waiting for him. Her school uniform was torn and dusty. Her face was dirty but her eyes were calm when she saw him.
He stopped a few feet from her. “Why did you come back?”
“I never left.”
“Don’t answer the question, does it? “
“You’re all I got.”
He looked away down the street. “I been thinkin’…thinkin’ about getting’ out of here. Ain’t nothin’ for me here now. Lost it all…nothin’ but busted up bricks. Horses runnin’ loose in the streets.”
“Where are we goin’?”
“I didn’t say nothin’ about WE. You stay with the Legrands. They’re good people.”
“They’re not my people. Like I said, you’re all I got. If you ride off and leave me here…I’ll just find you.”
“You need to go back to school…and finish.”
“There’s nothing else they can teach me. I spent most of my time looking after the younger ones.”
“Well, there’s different kinds o’schools. Might find one to make a lady outta you.”
“Why? Why would you want to waste your money doing that? I’m good with figures. I play piano, I’ve read everything. I write a good hand and I can shoot a bow and arrow. You can teach me to shoot a gun. I saw guns in your room. It’s against the law to carry a weapon.”
“I see…so if I add all your attributes up what does it come to, Angelique?”
“Ben Wade’s daughter.”
“Can you ride?” Ben sighed.
“I can ride.”
He found two horses and stole two saddles out of a stable on Meeting Street. He came back for her and after a stop by the Planters Hotel to get his weapons and his money, they began their trek out of Charleston.
The first light of dawn broke over the city. Few had slept during the night. The hospitals were full and doctors and medical students were treating patients on the ground wherever they found them.
The carriage house predated the house Ainsley lived in. It had weathered the cyclone of ’85 and the War Between the States with only the roof needing replacing from time to time. There was a sitting room and the one bedroom. Downstairs on the ground level there was plenty of room since the carriage was not occupying the space.
Camp city at White Point Gardens
Crack in the wall of the old jail
The Charlestonians were already beginning the business of clearing the streets . They were not unused to disasters. The city had been laid low almost a year to the day by the great cyclone that hit in 1885. Past experiences taught them how to deal with mother nature’s wrath. A disaster relief team was already at work.
97% of the buildings in Charleston were damaged. Residents camped in their yards or in parks or in streets lined with wagons and carriages away from buildings and houses that might still collapse. The telegraph lines that went down in the quake were being repaired. Charleston had been cut off from the world during her ordeal and now the world was learning that it had been destroyed.
The quake that centered in Charleston was felt over a distance of 22 million miles. Today it would have been considered a 7.3 scale interplate quake. Phone lines were down and the water wells in the city were fouled. And the water mains broken beneath the streets. Water pressure dropped to a trickle and not enough for the firefighters to tap onto the fire hydrants. Gas was cut off due to the many breaks in the lines. Miraculously the huge gas tank on Charlotte Street had not exploded during the earthquake.
There would be no convoys of government relief headed their way. In fact when the cyclone hit the year before the Governor of South Carolina declined aid from Washington DC. South Carolina took care of its own. He did accept aid from other states and would do so again to help Charleston recover. In turn South Carolina and especially Charleston were the first to send aid to other disaster areas like Ohio a month later after a tornado struck.
The Post and Courier, Charleston’s newspaper sent out an 8 page edition on September 1. During the night of quakes the employees emptied out of their building and then returned to get the paper out. It was the only means that the people of Charleston knew the full extent of what had happened. They quickly sold out of papers. On Thursday, September 2, the paper did not go out. The aftershocks had left the building too fragile and the employees had deserted to be with their families. They would return and the printing of the city’s paper would resume.
Tremors were felt throughout the day and sent people screaming and fleeing to the streets again. It was simply not safe to stay in their homes. Many made elaborate camps out in their yards bringing what comforts they could from their houses.
Such was the state of Ainsley’s back garden. John had been bringing out chairs and tossing mattresses out of the windows. Melanie helped create a little home in the carriage house. There was plenty of food to be had in the kitchen and he crawled on his hands and knees inside bringing out the stores Ainsley’s people stockpiled for the family’s return.
During the day the train tracks were repaired between Charleston and Summerville. The train did not arrive until 9:30 that night. By then word of the terrible disaster had reached the train and none knew what they would find ahead.
Ainsley was one of the first on the train searching for his family. He grabbed Jane and held her so tightly she complained.
“Ainlsey, you’re hurt.”
“It’s nothing just a bump on the head. Everybody all right?” He began gathering his children around him.
“Julie, Julie went into labor when the train began bucking on the track. James stayed with her in Summerville. We don’t think the baby is going to make it, hon. It was too soon.” She began crying.
“I am so sorry to hear it, what was it?”
He sighed, “Let’s get off this train and see if we have a house left. I’ve been afraid to leave the station and what I’m hearing is…bad, Jane. Charleston is no more.”
Ainsley’s driver and carriage were back at the station. He’d noticed them earlier in the evening and told the man to hold tight. The train was on its way. Now he led his family out and into the carriage. The destruction they passed was mind boggling. He began to think about his brother and John…had they made it? Was anything he knew and loved still standing in Charleston?
Jane was horrified and unprepared for what she was witnessing. There was still the pall of smoke laying over the ruined and darkened city. Here and there campfires burned with people crowded around trying to make do with what they had left. She clung to Ainsley’s arm.
“It’s a nightmare,” she said.
The nightmare was to be made worse. When they finally reached their street they got out of the carriage and walked the rest of the way noting the damage to the houses they passed. His own was listing and the piazza’s were down making it almost unrecognizable. Jane cried out loud and Ainsley’s eyes filled. From around the side of the house John ran to greet them. He and Ainsley embraced.
“Come around to the carriage house, we’ve made it habitable.”
“Who’s with you, John?”
John stopped and looked at his cousin. “Melanie and Cilla. Ainsley, Alston…didn’t make it out.”
“Belle and Lizzie…the roof collapsed on them. Alston was unconscious when we found him but…he didn’t make it. I went up to Roper and found him. It’s…just awful. Your daddy…he’s gone too. The house caught fire…he was dead before then. His man got him out. So, so sorry.”
“Oh, lordy, lordy.” Ainsley cried.
Robert, Hally and Susan went around the house to Melanie and Cilla. Becca stood back behind her mother and wiped tears.
Later the children were bedded down. Melanie carefully laid Cilla down on the mattress and covered her up. She’d rocked her to sleep in her lap. She looked at Jane and smiled.
Jane noticed Melanie’s motherly attention toward her niece, Cilla and also her attentions toward John. Her woman’s intuition was sharp. She smiled back at Melanie and wondered about her and John.
“You must be tired, Jane.”
“I am, Melanie, but I’m so wrought up I don’t think I can sleep.”
“We sat up all night last night through the quakes that kept coming. This morning we fell asleep for a little while until Cilla woke up. I don’t know where her nurse has gone. She disappeared sometime today. Poor little thing. It breaks my heart.”
“It is a tragedy…it truly is. How did you and John get out of the house?”
Melanie looked down at her hands. “We weren’t in the house. We were actually at the back gate when the earthquake began. John got me to safety out in the street and went back to the house but the house was coming down.”
Jane had their youngest son Hally in her lap rocking him. “John’s a good man.”
Jane met her eyes and nodded. Melanie would be good for John if she was anything like her sister, Bethany.
The next morning John and Ainsley rode out to the telegraph office and finding the crowds so deep around both of the services they decided to wait until later to notify Melanie’s mother. Instead they found the dead houses and the bodies of their family members.
A young man had already fashioned a lean-to building where he was hastily putting together coffins. They asked for four coffins. One for Mr. Legrand, one for Belle and one for Alston and Lizzie. They would be buried together at Magnolia Cemetery.
“I can’t believe Alston’s gone,” Ainsley said standing by the dead house. “I expect him to come walking up any moment. Daddy…well, he was well on his way anyhow.”
John lay a hand on his shoulder, “Ainsley, it’s just me and you now. I’m lookin’ to you to tell me how we’re gonna live here. I’m not the only one that would appreciate a word from you.”
“Word…John, I’m clean out of words right now. This has…it’s too much to take in.”
“But we’ll take it and whatever God throws at us. We’ll stand up like men…and take it on the chin. We’ll get knocked down but we’ll stand up again.”
“Whoever said you didn’t have the eloquence to speak? You’re right…we’ll stand together and pull this city out of the darkness.”
Once back at the house, Ainsley found pen and paper in his ravaged house and wrote a letter to the people of Charleston. He took it to the Post and courier and they printed it as he’d written it. It was inspiring and reminded the people of Charleston who they were and all the disasters they’d weathered. He spoke of his own loss as Alston and his father were well known. He called on the city in the spirit of his brother and father who’d helped to rebuild the city after the War and following the cyclone of the year before, to roll up their sleeves, and reach out to their neighbor and those less fortunate who had lost everything. The letter was picked up in Columbia and Augusta and as far away as Ohio and Atlanta and reprinted.
On the third of September Alston, Belle, Lizzie and William Legrand were buried in Magnolia Cemetery. It was a day of funerals for the City’s dead. Afterward Ainsley and John went to Alston’s house. John wanted to get Cilla’s clothes. They walked around in the few rooms on the back side of the house that had walls. One was Alston’s library. The floor was strewn with books and everything was covered in dust and plaster.
“I’ll feel this loss forever. It’s just not right, John. Not right that Alston-“ he took a breath.
“Too many losses.”
“What about Melanie? I don’t know her that well but I knew her sister, Bethany, was a fine lady.”
“So is Melanie.”
“You…you want to keep up that appearance.”
“As soon as we can find somebody to say the words and make it legal.”
“Any idea what you’re gonna do…bout your house…bout Seabrook?”
“I’m wanting to go out to Seabrook and see if it’s still there…I have this awful fear that it’s gone. I can imagine that my horses went wild.”
“You got people out there to look after things.”
“Have you been in your house yet?”
“No, I walked past it. Looks like the piazzas are about to fall off. Might be off by now.”
“I know the cotton crop wasn’t all in. I don’t know how much was still in the field but I imagine whatever was in the warehouse is damaged. We ain’t gonna be able to sell it. Like you, I’d like to go out to James Island and see what’s left.”
“Alston have a will?”
“He did, yes. He never got around to changing it after he married Belle. He left everything to his girls…so, Cilla will inherit his plantation and his money. He had some money, you know.”
“So have I, Ainsley. If you’re needin’…we’re all in this together.”
“I appreciate that, John. I think I’m all right. Got to put the house back together. I think we’ll raze this one…sell the plot and put the money in the bank for Cilla.”
“Yep…this is a…it’s a dead house and not one I’d ever want to enter again. I’d better go up and see what I can find of Cilla’s and mine and Melanie’s.”
“I’m glad…glad for you and Melanie, John. Just…go ahead and marry her.”
“I’m going to.”
“You be careful up there diggin’ around.”
John filled two valises with clothes. He couldn’t get to all of Cilla’s things but he found her doll.
When he came down he saw Ainsley talking to someone.
“I…I was at the funeral. I met with him here once…he gave me some good advice and…I just walked here from the churchyard.”
“How was it you came to meet with Alston here?” Ainsley asked.
“I’d bought a tenement by The Planters Hotel. I wanted to make some improvements and I knew Mr. Legrand was in charge of approving the…improvements.”
John walked over and set his bags down.
“John, this is Avery Pendleton. It seems he once met Alston and came by to pay his respects.”
“Pendleton,” John nodded in his direction. The name rang a bell…Pendleton. “I’m John Legrand.”
Avery’s eyes widened for a moment. Polly had met him. “I believe you met my sister, Polly.”
“She said she met you outside the Planters.”
“I may have done, the name sounds familiar.”
“Well…she’s…dead. She was found on King Street.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” John said honestly.
“Bad time for all of us. Don’t you have a grocery store or something?” Ainsley asked.
“I did have, may have again. I just don’t know right now. It’s destroyed. I read your letter in the paper, Mr. Legrand. It was very inspiring and it makes me want to put my boots on and go to work but when I look at what’s left of the store and the damage to the tenement…It’s a bit overwhelming.”
“One brick at a time, Pendleton. That’s what we’re gonna have to do. Neither one of us has a house we can live in. Sleepin’ in the carriage house.”
“At least you have cover. I…I sat in the park last night.”
“Ainsley, we got the stables.”
Ainsley hesitated because his daughter had a thing for Mr. Pendleton. “Well, we do…that’s right. If you don’t mind sleepin’ in a stable…we got room.”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly…really.”
“Why not? You like the park better?”
“No, no, not at all, it’s just…I’m…well…”
“A Charlestonian…like the rest of us,” John said. He ignored the look Ainsley was giving him.
A slight smile escaped Avery’s lips. He couldn’t believe his good fortune.
“You got everything, John?”
“I believe so. Let’s get out of this place.”
“This is your house?” Avery asked John when they stopped on the street.
“Doesn’t look like much now.”
“You should find some timbers and prop up those piazzas. All that strain on the front wall…perhaps iron posts would do.”
“Are you a contractor, Mr. Pendleton?” John looked at him.
“No but I’ve been working with one and an architect. I’m thinking I might try and go back to college. I had to drop out when our grandparents died and take care of my little sister…to keep her out of the orphanage. I had to go to work stocking shelves in a grocery. That’s how I ended up with the store. Well…it’s a complicated story-“
“I’m sure it is,” Ainsley commented wearily.
“You’re young enough to start over. You think you’d like to go into the building field or design?” John asked.
“I think I really would…especially now when there is such a need.”
“There will always be a need for builders here in Charleston. Every damn disaster you can think of has visited or is waiting in line for the nest opportunity to strike. I imagine you could easily get on with a builder. Good for you to learn it from the bottom up…learn what it takes.”
John glanced at Ainsley, “Do you think we might assist this young man with his education?”
Ainsley shot him a look. “I think we might discuss this in private.”
John got the message.
The telegraph lines were back up and the destruction of Charleston was widely known. Charleston was also finding out it wasn’t alone. The earthquake damaged buildings and homes all over South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.
Ben Wade and Angelique were having a hard time finding a place to sleep and the rail transportation he’d counted on was dodgy. It was frustrating for him. Not knowing the full extent of the earthquake damage he thought once he was out of Charleston and inland they’d be able to catch a train. Only short distances were available where tracks were undamaged or had been repaired. It took him four days to make it to Augusta, Georgia.
During their travels Angelique quietly followed him. At the train station in Augusta she asked where they were going next.
Ben hadn’t made up his mind until that moment. “We’re goin’ to New Orleans.”
She drew herself up. “I’m not going to be put back in St. Catherine’s”
He looked at her a moment. “I didn’t say I was goin’ to St. Catherine’s. There’s more to New Orleans than a convent. I gotta house there…your mama lived in it.”
“That was your house?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Did you live there with her?”
“No, I never did. I bought it for her when I found out you were in the world. I had hopes she’d…I hoped she’d change her ways and make a home for you. Didn’t happen. That’s why I put you in the convent.”
“I’m not going back there.”
“So you’ve said a dozen or more times. I’m getting’ that tired of hearin’ it. Let’s just get to New Orleans and we’ll figure out what comes next. And don’t be thinkin’ o’settin’ up housekeepin’ with me. I don’t settle.”
She looked at him a moment. “I can bake bread.”
“Then you won’t starve.” He picked up their valises and stepped up on the train. “You comin’?”
Ben sat down beside her on the train. He thought he’d find some woman to come and live there at his house and take care of Angelique and he’d be off. Maybe go out to San Francisco. While he sat there thinking of such things he thought about the hardships she’d endured trying to get to Augusta. Sleeping on the ground, eating what they could beg off of people along the way. She was convent raised and not used to such. She’d never complained about anything. She was useful for they never left a campsite without more than they’d come with. Blankets and food…even clothes. Folks felt sorry for her cause she’d lost her mother. The little minx never said when or where she’d lost her. Folks just assumed it was in the earthquake as so many had died. He glanced around at her and her nose was in a book she’d got off somebody.
She didn’t talk much but when she did it was sensible, unafraid, determined and stubborn. It’d be like her to take off after him if he went to San Francisco. He sighed and leaned his head back settling his hat over his eyes. He couldn’t deny her. She was his daughter alright.
Three days after the earthquake the Charlestonians were already getting back on their feet. Families were still camped outside until their houses could be repaired or torn down and rebuilt. The alms house reported that about 50 or more non residents who regularly came for meals and comforts no longer appeared. It was thought they’d found work in the city. You couldn’t walk down a street without seeing dozens of men and children sorting bricks to be reused.
The Mayor of Charleston was now docked in New York but the disaster plans he’d put in place after the devastating cyclone in 1885 now came into play without the benefit of bureaucrats to bog down the process. Teams of men trained in repair and recovery of the city’s infrastructure were at work clearing the trolley lines of debris, repairing the water lines and important telephone lines which also carried the fire alarms around the city. Gas lines were repaired. It would be the 10th of September before the phone lines were fully operable again. Some delays were caused by workmen tearing down crumbled chimneys and debris falling on the newly erected phone lines. A policeman observed an occurrence and a new regulation was required of builders before knocking down walls or chimneys in the way of telephone lines.
Charleston was the recipient of tents from all over the country. Even circus tents made an appearance and people were grateful to have them. Most of the tents went to the white citizens of Charleston while the black population were living in wooden lean-to structures put up by the ERC committee. The open spaces where the tents and lean-tos were set up were becoming deplorable. Sanitation was non-existent in the beginning and the fear of disease prompted the committee’s to erect toilets and fire hydrants. Heavy dews and rains contributed to the misery.
The Legrands were fortunate that they had dry shelter and food was plentiful. In September the markets were full of produce and within a few days after the quake the market booths were again in business.
John and Ainsley cleared the kitchen and with Avery’s help built a roof over it. Ainsley’s cook returned with a bandage around her head and she was happy to see she had a place to live. She’d been in the hospital and had walked from Marion Square and observed the tent cities and shanty towns popping up on any bare ground to be had.
James Drayton returned to Charleston with Julie and their three little boys. The boys were subdued and hung with Ainsley’s two sons. Julie appeared still in shock and Jane put her to bed upstairs in the carriage house.
Julie burst into tears and Jane cried with her over the loss of her baby.
“I’ve got to pull myself out of this. The boys need me and James needs me. We passed by our house and…it wasn’t our house anymore. James is hoping its better on the plantation. We’ll go there if…if it’s there. Oh, Jane, never in my wildest imaginings could I have foreseen something like this.”
“I know, Julie. We just take each day as it comes and do the best we can. Ainsley’s going to pull the house down and rebuild. We’ve been carrying everything we could that wasn’t damaged out here. They’re going to tear down Alston’s too…sell the property.”
“I can’t get over Alston. He’d just started to live again. It’s so unfair. What about John?”
“John’s house is salvageable. He’ll have to replaster and shore up the porches. He’s decided to keep it and not sell.”
“I’m glad. He needs a place here with the rest of us.”
“It’s not just him anymore. It’s John and Melanie and they want to keep Cilla. Ainsley wouldn’t give him the go on that until you got here.”
“Poor little Cilla. I’d take her in a minute you know that. It looks like I’m not destined to have a little girl.”
“She’s become attached to Melanie. She’s her aunt too.”
“I don’t really know Melanie. I loved Bethany to death.”
“Melanie will be good for John and you know he needs a woman to look after him. She’ll calm him down. She loves him and…well…sleeping conditions here are crowded as you can see.”
“She’s sleeping with him.” Julie’s eyes got big. “Oh, lordy, Jane.”
“They’re going to marry and John and Ainsley went to the court house to get a license. There wasn’t anybody there. As soon as things settle down a little…it will be all right.”
John and Melanie were down at his house looking over the inside and assessing the damage.
“Are you sure you won’t mind living here?”
“I’m sure. It holds no memories for me and I never knew her. It’s you that has to be comfortable.”
“It’s just a house.” He flaked some plaster off the wall with his fingers. “I think you’ll make it a home for me. I want to rebuild it now…today and marry you.”
“Patience, my darlin’. We’ve already made a spectacle of ourselves and we can’t blame it on the earthquake.”
“I’ve made a worse spectacle of myself here in Charleston.” He turned around and faced her. “I don’t care what anybody thinks. This is between us…you and me. I love you, Melanie.”
“And I love you, John.”
They kissed and moved out of the house feeling the earth shaking again.
“They’re getting smaller…every time the strength is leaving the quake. I think if I can get somebody here to shore up my porches we could move in.”
“Not until we’re married. What’s between you and I doesn’t need to be spread all over Charleston and it would be. Your divorce is known.”
“You’re right, of course. I tend to be impulsive sometimes. I’m not like Ainsley, you know. He’s as solid as a rock. I’m more like these quicksand craters that have appeared. I’ll pull you in and you can’t get out.”
“I don’t want out. I just want to be with you.”
John and James rode up the Ashley and noted a landslide had destroyed much of the phosphate mining. James was prepared for the worst. Much of his land on the Ashley was devoted to phosphate mining. Luck was with him for his house still stood. There had been some plaster damage inside and things knocked about but the old structure was sound. It had withstood the cyclone with only roof damage.
“When was this house built, James?”
“Ah, it’s old, John. Probably around 1742 or so. Some old granddaddy built it to last and I’m damned glad he did. At least we got a place to live…just needs a little clean-up.”
“You know there’s a pack of scientist from Washington down here and I read in the paper that most of the damage was done to the reclaimed property. What used to be swamp land and filled in over the years. I guess I was lucky my house is not a pile of rubble. It was built on solid ground.”
“Not so, Ainsley. He’s got a mess.”
“He says he’s not going to build it out of brick and stucco again. Gonna build a frame house and sink his pilings down deep like mine.”
“Course the danger of that comes with the big storms. We get another cyclone in here and all that gets blown away. Yours was damaged last year.”
“Build and rebuild. I should have been a builder.”
Drayton Hall Post Civil War
You remember what this place looked like after the War. It was full of squatters and bout near a disaster. Took a lot of work to get it back. Daddy was determined Drayton’s would live here again and by golly we are. Course it won’t ever be what it was.”
“No but you got that phosphate money now. It don’t need to be what it was.”
“You got some too.”
“I know and I need to get out to Johns Island to see if I’m ever gonna have anymore.”
“Let me know when you wanna go and I’ll go with you.”
“Hi, Avery.” Becca sat down on the fallen columns of their front porches beside of him.
“Hello, Miss Becca. Are you keeping all right?”
“As well as I can. What were you thinking about just then? You looked so deep in thought.”
“I was thinking about my future. Sure, I could go back to the grocery business but you know what? I’m going back to school. Your recently deceased Uncle Alston Legrand has inspired me. I liked the way he could look at a set of drawings and see what would work and what wouldn’t. He was a great man.”
“Yes, he was. We all miss him terribly and little Lizzie. It’s too sad to think about.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I believe I stay in a constant state of being upset. I’m not sure how long I can remain in the carriage house and servant quarters. There are too many people now that Aunt Julie is here.”
Avery looked over at her. “Perhaps I should leave. I’m sure I can find somewhere to stay.”
“No, no, don’t you even think about leaving. You’ve been a big help to all of us.”
“If you’re sure. I know your father didn’t really want me here.”
“He’s just being father.”
“He knows I’m not a real Charlestonian. I was born upstate…my sister and I. Our parents died when we were small and our grandparents raised us. They brought us to Charleston. I’m not anybody really.”
“Of course you’re somebody and you’ve got plans, Avery. You’ll be famous someday.”
“I don’t know about famous but I’d like to make a contribution to Charleston. I’ll never…I’ll never be in your class, Becca. Even if I became the most famous architect in the world. I think perhaps you and I can be friends but…well.”
“Did Daddy say something to you?”
Avery tugged at his collar. Ainsley had laid the law down to him about Becca when he agreed he could stay. “Your father is a fine man and a very wise one.”
In the aftermath of the earthquake, hundreds of people left Charleston for the safer inner country. The aftershocks were unsettling and fear of further damage sent 600 to Columbia alone. The railroads offered free passage to those wanting to leave. For those that stayed and ones without means soup kitchens were opened and food ration tickets were given out by clergy in their districts. However, no able bodied man was given anything. The recipients were mainly the old and infirm and women and children. There was enough work to do for those able to work.
As the bricks were being sorted, wagon loads of debris were hauled out to the swamps and dumped. The streets were being cleared and the business of assessing the still standing buildings had begun. There was not a chimney in Charleston that had not suffered damage. The air was often filled with the dust of demolition as structure after structure fell.
The Drayton’s rounded up enough people as servants and moved up the Ashley to Drayton Hall. Julie was back on her feet and ready to get out of the city. John was hard at work getting his house in livable condition. He’d hired Avery along with enough workmen to shore it up. Avery was glad to have something to do. He’d been down to the market and cleared his store of anything salvageable bringing it to the Legrands. The building was to be torn down and his days of being a grocer were behind him.
He enrolled in college but as classes had been suspended until the buildings were made safe he was free to work on John’s house. John liked Avery and admired his spirit. Avery was twenty-five to his twenty-eight but they’d grown up in different circumstances. John had enjoyed a life of privilege but he’d also known times when money was scarce and he’d done what he could to keep afloat.
Ainsley was working with the acting Mayor Huger overseeing the different committees that were in charge of aid distribution and reconstruction. Alston had been an alderman and he was mourned by his peers. The aldermen were made of up civil war veterans of whom Alston and Ainsley were included. Alston was a teenager and like his older brother Ainsley, a Citadel graduate when the bombardment of Charleston had commenced. They’d been some of the last to leave the city before the Union troops moved in. They’d seen their city brought to its knees and destroyed by war, fire, cyclone and now earthquake. It would rise again as it had in the past.
When the quake hit Charleston there were 42 prisoners in the jail. They all escaped but after things settled down some returned to finish serving out their sentence. The jail yard wall was cracked and a new stockade had been erected in Marion Square near the Citadel. Looting did not happen and only a few cases of theft were reported. The police chief declared any man caught thieving would be put in irons in the stockade. Most cases involved drunkenness and assault. Tensions flared in the tent cities where races were mixed. The black population’s answer to the disaster was hymn singing and fire and brimstone preaching. They saw the earthquake as God’s vengeance on the sinners of Charleston and were determined to pray themselves from hell. Their often loud and emotional lamentations upset the white folks who viewed their religion quietly from a distance. However, come Sunday after the quake the congregations in Charleston were filled wherever they had to meet.
Natural disasters were viewed as acts of God by both races at the time. The influence of scientists and their findings printed in the Post and Courier caused quite a conflict between the religious and scientific communities…something that still remains today.
John Legrand took their findings seriously. He’d never been an overly religious man although he paid his respects to God every Sunday in the Legrand pew. His first wife’s piety had driven him farther from where he needed to be. It was with some nervousness that he approached the minister of his church with Melanie asking to be married. He had the license, thanks to Ainsley who wanted it done as soon as possible.
They were married ten days after the quake in a simple ceremony at the minister’s residence since the church was being overhauled. Ainsley and Jane were there with the children and Avery Pendleton. On September 14, John and Melanie moved into his house. They had a night alone and then Ainsley’s family moved in with them while his house was being demolished. Avery remained in the carriage house courtyard but moved his lodging from a stable to one of the servant’s quarters above.
Avery’s premonition that the Pendleton’s and Legrands lives would somehow be entwined came about, but not as he’d once thought. It was not his poor sister who would gain footing there it was himself. Becca in her youthful passion had declared that someday he would be her husband. He tried to discourage her and had never consciously given her any reason to think he felt anything but friendship for her. She was only sixteen and while he thought her attractive and liked her enormously he did not return her passion.
Ainsley saw it differently and forbid Becca to have any contact with him. She pouted and cried and flounced around until he wrote a letter to his cousin in Maryland requesting that Becca be allowed to attend college there and reside with them until she was finished with school. Jane objected, not wanting her daughter so far away, but Ainsley was determined. She’d make a good match someday with a respected gentleman of her own class; not the grandson of grocers.
John felt sorry for Avery who he’d come to like and know as an honest hard working young man on his way up. He went out of his way to give him every opportunity he could and funded his first semester at college.
As part of his studies, Avery observed the still standing buildings in Charleston and had made himself a bit of a nuisance to the aldermen as he followed them around while they discussed the fate of residence and public buildings. One of the things he noticed was that many of the buildings were just a little out of kilter as though if one straightened the walls a little there would be no need for total demolition. He pondered this for awhile. He made several sketches and talked with blacksmith about the feasibility of his idea. Finally he got up the courage to approach Ainsley with it.
He lay out his drawings. “This is what I’m talking about, Sir. An iron rod slipped through the walls between the outer and inner and attached with a plate and nut. The rod can be tightened enough to right the building and hold it in place. It would square the walls and prevent any further damage from these little quakes we keep having.”
Ainsley was prepared to dismiss Avery but he looked at his drawings and saw that they might have some merit. While he was thinking about it Avery went on…
“We’d need someone who could verify the strength of the rods needed, of course. I don’t propose to know exactly…anything at all really…about the different properties of iron and how it can be made stronger than say…a horseshoe.”
“What is it you call these things?” Ainsley looked over his spectacles at Avery.
“For want of a better name…earthquake bolts. I thought a good place to experiment might be with Mr. Alston’s house. The back walls are still upright and some of the lower floor’s rooms are still standing. It might be worth a try before it’s completely demolished…just to…test out the theory.”
Ainsley shifted in his chair. Avery Pendleton went against everything he knew and loved. He saw him as a social climbing interloper who’d somehow integrated himself into his family. However, the boy was smart and as much as he hated to admit it…he was onto something.
“All right, we’ll try it out at Alston’s. You get your ironwork sorted out and let me know when you’re ready. If it works and we can square up what’s left of the house then we’ll present it to the planning committee.”
“Thank you, Mr. Legrand…I so appreciate this opportunity to serve-“
“You’d better get on with it.”
“Yes, Sir.” Avery gathered up his drawings and almost bowed before flying out of John’s house on fleet feet.