The Earthquake

by Cynthia Costain

Carol stood on the verandah looking down the narrow dusty road which led to the town, hoping for the sight of the maid coming back from market. If she didn’t come soon dinner would be late and her husband would be cross. He’d had a long ride this morning to the Leper Asylum and he would be hot and tired when he arrived home, not inclined to be tolerant of her poor housekeeping.

Being married to the “young Doctor” with a house of her own in town and a new baby was really quite fun but it was difficult to remember all the things that had to be done. The servants were new and had to be told everything; what to cook for dinner, how much to buy, how long it would take to cook, and how did she know? Thank goodness that Mary Sam was a good nurse and when the baby cried took care to carry her out of earshot when the master was at home. Perhaps if Cook got ready a cold rum punch to serve before dinner it would help.

Her neighbour came out into her garden and Carol waved.

“Isn’t it hot?” she called. “There isn’t a breath of air.”

“Yes, and so still,” said her friend. “I don’t know what has got into this dog today. He keeps following me around and whining- go on Robbie – lie down and behave yourself.”

They strolled to meet each other at the low fence to continue their conversation and at that moment there was a terrible loud thunderous noise like a hundred great trucks roaring down the hillside, rushing past them and down to the sea. The earth heaved and Carol staggered and would have fallen if she hadn’t clung to the fence. Mabel Sprott stood trembling on the other side, her eyes wide with horror. Suddenly she turned and ran back to the house shouting “Wake up, Carol! Get the baby and servants out!”

Cynthia Ewing

Carol turned and ran across the garden calling to the maids while she stumbled up the steps and into the baby’s room. Cynthia was awake in her crib and began to cry as soon as she saw her mother, while Carol picked her up and dashed outside. The servants came crying and panic-stricken as another shudder shook the house and one of the tall palm trees by the gate wavered and fell. Cries and shouts came from all around as people scrambled to safety. A man called out, “Don’t stand under the trees!” As they huddled in the garden another voice screamed, “Fire!” and towards the town they saw flame and smoke coming from behind one house.

“Cook, did you light the coal pot?” asked Carol. “Yes’m, I had it all ready for master’s dinner.”

“Then run and see if it’s fallen over. Call the gardener to bring water from the cistern and make sure that every cinder is put out.”

Confused cries and shouts continued, but from the road Carol heard the sound of sobbing and through the gate came running the maid Francey. They called to her and Carol said, “Come on Francey, we’re all here and you are safely back.”

But her market basket still clutched in one hand she broke into more sobs and panted out, “Missus, Missus, I hurried – I really hurried – never stopped to talk to nobody – but there was a great noise and the houses were falling down and the mountain was falling down and I fell down and cried! But I got up and ran down the road and then in front of me the road cracked right across! I like to die! But I just give one big jump over in case the devil come out and ran all the way back!”

The cook patted her and consoled her until she calmed down and Carol said “You were a brave girl, Francey.”

Nothing more seemed to be happening so gradually they ventured back to the house. It seemed that no great harm had been done as far as Carol could see: pictures fallen and broken; vases of flowers spilt and one cupboard overturned; and cooking bowls broken. As they found later many houses had much more damage with walls cracked, or ceilings and roofs fallen. Stores in town had their big windows shattered, and many people had been cut with broken glass and hurt with falling debris and trees. In this catastrophe the natives’ little palm-roofed houses survived better than some of the bigger stone buildings and there were not many serious casualties or fires.

The Doctor was very late for dinner that day. He had been riding along the road to town and his horse had become very restive and unmanageable, so he had dismounted and was trying to calm the nervous animal when the earthquake occurred. His impression as he looked along the road in front of him was that it was undulating and rippling like water. As he led the horse back home he found rocks and earth still tumbling down the mountainside, trees across the road in places, and water pipes fractured, with water was gushing into pools everywhere. As he came in sight of the harbour he was just in time to see a towering tidal wave sweep across the bay and into the town carrying boats, cargoes and bodies up onto the land.

The aftershocks were not severe but St. Vincent had suffered another natural disaster.