“Hello, ladies.” A Red Cross volunteer was approaching them. “Another train’s come in.”
Emily sighed. She was already tired from the morning’s efforts, but the nonstop work had been a godsend as it had distracted her somewhat from agonising worries and fears. Had her family heard about the disaster yet? Surely the news had reached the papers that Mr Runciman delivered each morning to Lord Witney. How terrified they all must be! If only she could let them know she was alive, and was doing everything she could to find the Farringtons.
Behind her, San Li gave a little gasp and Emily whirled round.
“Cheng Tao!” San Li cried, pointing into the distance.
Emily saw him running towards them and her heart leaped. But then she saw his anguish and fear swept through her.
“Miss Emily!” He gasped. “It is Doctor Campbell, he . . .”
Her hand flew to her mouth but Cheng Tao went on quickly.
“He is alive ”
“But he is ill.”
“He told me he never gets ill!” She remembered his face, lit up with a mischievous, smug grin. “I suppose even he can’t be right all the time. I can’t wait to see him!”
Cheng Tao shook his head.
“Miss Emily, you must listen. The night before the earthquake he went into Chinatown very late. Our temple, it is now only ashes. There have been many people sick and it is very bad. Perhaps typhoid, or the plague. It has begun to spread again.”
Emily felt as if her breath had been cut off.
“Where is he, Cheng Tao?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. “Is he in hospital?”
“No, the Chinese camp in the Presidio. He is quarantined.”
“But I must go to him! Is there a doctor there?”
“One of our doctors is giving him herbs.”
Herbs! A dull ache of foreboding began to flood through her, and then, on its heels, she felt something else – anguish.
“Please will you call me James? I may be ten years your senior, but I hate to feel an old man.”
She thought of the twinkle in his warm brown eyes as they’d talked, his kind, caring voice when he’d asked about her family, and the feel of his hand on her waist as he’d whirled her expertly round the ballroom of the Palace Hotel. When they’d said goodbye he’d kissed her hand, his eyes brimming with tenderness as he told her again how much he’d enjoyed her company.
That evening, which now seemed a lifetime ago, he had opened up a world of enchantment to her.
The Red Cross volunteer was walking impatiently in Emily’s direction.
“There’s a lot to unload!”
“Yes, I’m sorry.” Emily felt herself trembling, and she turned to Cheng Tao. “I must go, but please, take me to Doctor Campbell this evening. There has to be a way – I must see him!”
Cheng Tao was silent, his expression fixed as Emily and San Li followed the woman to the edge of the green, where rows of wagons and trucks were lined up.
Several young men had started unloading crates of food and were tossing down bundles of clothes. Her head swimming, Emily looked round for the woman in charge, and then she was suddenly thrown back as a large, soft sack collided with her shoulder.
“Oh!” She stumbled, then righted herself.
“I’m so sorry! Are you all right?”
Emily froze, disorientated by the voice. Rubbing her shoulder, she slowly turned round. And then time seemed to stop as she looked up into Will’s astonished face.