“Here, these should fit you.” Emily pulled a cardigan and a coat from a pile of clothes she and San Li had just sorted, and handed them across the makeshift table to a woman who stood dazed and shivering in the morning mist. She wore only a lightweight dress, as she had fled her crumbling home with only a few belongings.
“Thank you,” she said softly.
“Please come back if you need anything,” Emily said, “and may I show you something?” After arriving at the camp she had sketched portraits of the Farringtons and James on scraps of paper she’d found, and in every free moment she’d gone from tent to tent, making enquiries.
“Do these people look familiar to you? This man is a doctor, and ”
“No, sorry.” The woman moved off quickly, and Emily saw tears in her eyes. So many people had been separated from their loved ones.
The mysterious dynamiting, which had been meant to create firebreaks, had only increased the devastation. The fires had raged for three days and three nights, but the relief effort had almost instantly been set into action. The railroads had carried supplies free of charge, and express wagons and automobiles with Red Cross flags flying had been arriving at the park bearing clothing, food and medical supplies. Red Cross workers and the army had set up outdoor kitchens, latrines and improvised hospitals.
The makeshift town and others like it had sprung up miraculously quickly as the army had brought in hundreds of canvas tents to the safe parts of the city, Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. Had it not been the result of such tragedy and catastrophe, the white conical tents set out on the grass might have looked like a storybook picture from a tale of Arabian enchantment . . .
After they’d reached the park Cheng Tao had made sure that Emily and his sister had been settled into a tent. Then he’d slept only a few hours on the grass before making his way back to the burning city.
“Surely you mustn’t go back into the danger, Cheng Tao! Besides, where would you begin to look?”
“I do not know where the Farringtons could be. But Doctor Campbell, I will find him.”
“He has worked with our doctors and does not scoff at the powers of our herbs and remedies. He will not have abandoned us. I will go to the Kwong Chow Temple and consult our god. Our houses and shops may be destroyed, but the temple will still be standing, proud and strong. The great Kwon Kong will protect it and our people, and Doctor Campbell. But San Li must stay with you, Emily. There is disease in the Chinese camp.”
“I won’t let us become separated,” Emily had promised. She’d given Cheng Tao messages to post at Lotta’s Fountain, the large, cast-iron sculpture in the centre of the city which had miraculously survived the quake, and which had been serving as an information centre and meeting point.
By the time the morning shift was over, the sun had broken through the fog. San Li held up a tweed jacket that was in good condition, except for one sleeve, which dangled from the shoulder by a few threads.
“Never mind. I’ll put it with the others and attend to it tonight.” Emily tossed the jacket on to a growing heap. “I’m certainly glad I grabbed my sewing basket.”
“You were up for hours last night with all that mending. Can’t she do some of it?” One of the young women who was helping to sort the clothing threw a sideways glance at San Li. “She shouldn’t even be here.”
“San Li has been working as hard as the rest of us,” Emily said. “And if it weren’t for her and her brother, I might not be alive.”
Emily was still having nightmares of being trapped in her room, her hand stuck in the slit of the drawer as the roof collapsed on to her . . .