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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE FALL OF THE CITY

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As published in
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser,
2 May 1906

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-05-18
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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SEA and sky were at rest. A 40-ton fore-and-aft rigged schooner creaked at her moorings beyond the old Fort stairs. Heveril's wide verandahed cottage snuggled in the shadow of Sutro heights. Adele Heveril sat in a low wicker chair, her brooding eyes turning at intervals to her husband.

"Why do you wish me to return to Sydney alone, Phillip? Surely it would be better for me to wait another three months, and go with you."

There was a certain fear in her voice, that one hears in frightened children. He looked at his watch, half sullenly, and pushed aside the morning paper, as though the scare-headings annoyed him.

"I am sick of the everlasting dollar, Adele, and the senseless hustle that surrounds a modern business man."

"Yesterday you were enthusiastic about your chances here, Phillip. Everything American was good. Why do you want to leave San Francisco?"

"Don't press me too, far, Adele. I'm bothered over one or two matters. Something—and the devil has gone wrong."

"Money matters, Phillip?" She looked into his nerve-racked face, and then gently, very gently caught his arm. "Phillip!"

"Hush, dear."

"But, I can guess, oh I can guess." she flung herself sobbing into a chair. It was the short-voiced pitiful weeping that comes at times from strong, trustful women.

He watched her half amazed, while the blood leaped from his heart, and the man in him cried coward again and again. She knew in a desultory way that he gambled a little on 'change. He had private little speculations in wheat that were unknown to his employers. Other business men in San Francisco were doing the same thing, but it occurred to her at times that his moderate income would never permit of rash ventures.

He was employed as an accountant in the wholesale house of Von Shrader and Keys. It was through her father that he had obtained his position. She was Australian-born, and had been married to the young Californian only a year before in Sydney. He had always felt that California offered more scope for his energies than the more prosaic New South Wales, where he had lived several years. So he returned there.

He sat like an image in the chair; his dry lips making no sound. He seemed to be waiting for a voice to arouse him. It was almost dark; through the slow heat of the surf below she heard the distant clamour of the city. Lights sprang from point to point; lamps and electric globes flashed and winked through the stiff-crested palms.

"Adele, I have been unlucky. Whatever I touch turns to failure and disaster. I have ventured and lost."

"Von Shrader's money, Phillip?"

"Yes, Adele, Von Shrader's money."

A silence followed, sharp and bitter; the silence that comes for a moment between an honest woman and a gambler.

"Can you make it good, Phillip?"

"Yes, if I had time; but—" he stood up half savagely, like a man about to wring his hands.

Again the silence. The woman's head dropped a little, her inert hands rested lifelessly against a bowl of jonquils on the wicker table. Through the dull roar of the distant city she almost heard the sharp-voiced newsboys calling out the particulars of her husband's guilt. "What are you going to do?"

"Fight on. I'm playing with the last 500 dollars this week. I will take no more. If that fails—"

He glanced at her, and his lips , grew white; a look of premature age crept into his eyes.

"How shall we face it, Phillip?"

"Don't press me into the abyss, Adele. The devil only gets young men half way. If the Fates would give me one chance, I'd be honest for aye. Do you believe me, Adele?"

"Yes." She held him tightly for a moment. The despair in her face vanished as she kissed him.

"Other men are playing with money that does not belong to them, and I have been trapped by the success of others," he whispered. "I want to pull out, dear."

Adele Heveril could not sleep that night. She thought of her home in Sydney, and of the bright years when Phillip had loved her in his boyish way, when a drive along the South Head-road with her meant more than wheat combinations and reckless finance.


PHILLIP HEVERIL was like a man sliding on a thin crust; the slightest mistake meant oblivion and grave. The firm of Von Shrader and Keys trusted him implicitly. He had come to them with the highest testimonials. He had also introduced an acquired breezy atmosphere of Australian field and sky. A day or two later, he met Von Shrader, the head of the firm, while passing from an outer room into the elevator.

"Good morning, Heveril!" The old man nodded pleasantly to his young accountant. Then he stared at him keenly through his gold rimmed pince-nez.

"Look a bit pale, young man," he said, kindly. "Don't let things worry too much. Keep your health, and ease down a trifle when the grit begins to cut."

Later in the day, Von Shrader popped into the accountant's room incidentally.

"By the way, Heveril, you are a married man. Better take a month's holiday, I fancy."

The blood leaped to Heveril's face. The ruler in his hand came down almost sharply on the desk.

"Thank you, sir, but I would really prefer to wait another week or so. Even married men are not always prepared for a holiday," he said, with a light laugh.

"Don't let a cheque stand in the way, Heveril." Von Shrader smiled pleasantly, and looked up at the sunlit windows. "Just hand over your books and keys to young Kenneth Martin, and we'll fix you up for a spell. You want it, my boy. I'll lend you that little Panhard car of mine, eh? Take a run round the orchards at San Jose."


HEVERIL returned home that evening with a sick, frosty feeling at his heart. He was practically forced by the kindly Von Shrader to take a holiday. In his absence young Kenneth Martin, a shrewd ambitious Californian, would put his finger on his defalcations in the first few days.

The night came up clear, with here and there a streamer of cloud to heighten the beauty of the starlit bay.

"Let us dine at Vaurien's, Adele. Put on your cloak," he said abruptly. "One good night before the fall, eh, my girl? A little wine and music. What does it matter?"

"You are flushed and feverish Philip. Have they found?"

"Almost. I'm invited to take a months holiday."

He stood up and stretched himself wearily. "A holiday," he continued, "with a large white gaol at the end."

He caught her as she swooned across the verandah floor.

"Adele, forgive me."

The despair in her almost lifeless face struck him cold and dumb. The night air seemed to pinch his blood. Through the long hours of midnight came the sound of music across the bay, harp and violin, and human voices singing. The city never seemed to sleep or doze. It still throbbed in the still hours before the dawn. A group of Dago fishermen sang lustily as they tramped with their nets across the beach. In the distance many lights still shone. The slow procession of the stars warned him that night had gone and day stood on the threshold of the East. Adele was tossing on the couch. She looked up at his almost livid face.

"Philip, why don't you rest a little?"

"I intend to go for an early swim," he answered hoarsely. "It may brighten me a bit."

She sank back among the pillows; he drew a revolver from a valise, and stole from the room.


A COLD dawn wind came from heights of Sutro. Beyond in the hollow of the bay, the stars were paling before the coming sun. In the East lay the city, not yet awakened. A sudden white mist rolled in from the sea blotting out headland and fort. Here and there in the breaking sky a few crystal streaks heralded the dawn. One lone idea dominated Heveril's mind—self extinction; it stood above cities and the splendour of dawn skies, it pushed aside the love he bore his young wife.

His hand closed over the butt of the revolver in his pocket; a dull sick taste clung to the roof of his mouth. He glanced sharply at the sky; it was past the hour when men and beasts are afraid; and he turned towards the old piazza road that led to the beach.

With the sound of the surf in his ears he swung round suddenly, as though an animal were shaking the earth beneath his feet. A vertigo seized him, as though the earth had taken an upward leap in space. A reeling madness was in the air; shoreline and cliff quivered as if the hands of a Titan were rending them asunder. Philip spun round like a man flung from a great height.

A silence followed, then he heard the thunder of falling masonry, the smashing of roofs and windows in the distance. A parapet rocked and slid with a roar across his path; the dust choked and blinded him. Staggering down the road he beheld an automobile rushing towards him.

"Stop! stop!" A leap took him into the centre of the road; but the chauffeur trumpeted for him to stand aside.

"Halt!" Heveril's revolver jumped wickedly into line with the chauffeur's face. The motor seemed to belch impatiently, then drew up, throbbing like a human thing on the hillside.

"Tell me," cried Heveril, steadily, "what has happened to the world?"

"The city is dead, annihilated." A man with a dust-mask over his face spoke from the car. Signalling the chauffeur to proceed, he snarled a good-bye to his interrogator. Heveril drew aside while the car tore up the hillside towards Sutro heights.

In the heart of the earth-riven city, a wheel of flame seemed to plough from street to street. Black smoke and fire ash blew seaward with the dawn. Deep in the hollow, he heard the cries of men and women, the hurrying of engines, as the firemen fought into the ruins. Above the cannonade of falling roofs was the imbecile clanging of a bell. Dong! dong!


PHILLIP will never know how he reached the city. Armed soldiers rode past furiously; occasionally the flash of a rifle told him that a robber of the dead had been caught red-handed. From Nob Hill came the sound of heavy dynamite blasting. The terror had gone from his face. A man hailed him suddenly at the corner of Market street.

"Hulloa Phil! No work to-day. Von Shrader's wiped clean out. Shucks, what a holy blathering mess!"

Heveril stood in front of his old office site, where the fallen woodwork flamed beneath the stones. A party of firemen raced up, and requested him to withdraw. From a distance he beheld the complete destruction of Von Shrader and Keys, as the brigade dynamited the debris, and swept clear the space to prevent the onrushing flames from enveloping the adjoining blocks.

"Clear the track of combustibles!" shouted the chief.

Heveril staggered home blindly. The ache and turmoil of the city were deadly as a bombardment. For miles the sky was half hidden by a blood-red film of dust. Nearing Sutro he glanced upwards with feverish eyes. The little white verandahed cottage stood intact under the shoulder of the heights. A woman ran down the garden path as he approached. He did not speak, but held her close to his heart.

"The city, the city?" she whispered.

"Wiped out; and the fires are effacing the sins of men. Look!"

A volume of white smoke leaped skyward; a shower of hot ashes fell like shrapnel across the road. From east to west a wall of flame ran like a wind-blown scarf.

"God has covered your sin, Phillip; you will have time to repay the firm—they will know nothing—you are saved!" He closed his eyes as they entered the cottage.

"To-morrow will see a new city," he said slowly.

"And a new man, Phillip?"

"Yes, Adele."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.