“She had planned to leave the evening of the earthquake. If the quake had been a day later, she would have been on that train.” Paul sat in Samuel’s office and wiped his eyes with the heels of his hands.
Samuel sat in the massive straight-backed wooden chair behind his large oak desk, and Paul sat opposite in a smaller chair. The office always felt solemn and imposing to Paul, with an Oriental rug on the floor and busts of great men glaring down from the bookshelf. A triptych of fat candles, arranged to suggest the crosses on Calvary, stood on the sill, dark against the bright window. Their floral scent didn’t calm him this time.
“You don’t know what happened to her,” Samuel said. “No need to assume the worst.” He looked dignified as usual this morning, his vest and tie looking as precise as that on a catalog model. Paul sat, elbows on knees, with his jacket discarded and sleeves rolled up.
“I went to the station yesterday afternoon to meet her train. It was jammed with people—I guess everyone who could get out did. But she wasn’t on it. I walked up and down the platform for an hour, just in case. If she missed the train, she would have sent a telegram. I talked to her parents and they’ve heard nothing.”
“Maybe the wires are down. Maybe the telegraph office is jammed with messages.”
Paul sighed. “Maybe. But what if something’s happened to her? I’ve heard stories that thousands have died. And the fires from the broken gas lines—”
Samuel raised a hand. “Paul, we just don’t know. We must be patient and all will be revealed. And besides, there’s a reason for this. For all of this. You don’t understand and neither do I, but God has a plan. You know that, don’t you? Our ability to understand is slight compared to God’s. But faith gets us through hard times like these—faith that God knows what He’s doing. That’s an easy assumption to make, isn’t it, that God knows what He’s doing?”
“Yes.” Paul looked down at his strong hands, empty and idle.
“We’ve got to get out of God’s way and let Him do His work on our lives.”
Paul opened his mouth to speak. He closed it and sighed, then shut his eyes. “But it’s more than that.”
“You gave the prophecy. I heard it. We all heard it.” Paul stared at Samuel, his mouth gaping. “And I did nothing! I knew of the upcoming disaster, but I did nothing. I should have warned her.”
“The Holy Spirit gave us a clue; He didn’t give the headline. You couldn’t know the details of the disaster. I certainly didn’t.”
“But what else could it have meant? Earthquake, fire and brimstone, whatever—the details don’t matter. Clearly we would have a disaster of some sort. I was worried about her going off to that sinful city from the start. But when I heard the prophecy, I was excited, like everyone else. I saw only how it affected us here at the church. What I should have done was consider how it would affect others.” Paul paused. “I feel so guilty. I couldn’t sleep last night. Maybe this is what I deserve. Things have been going so well for me here, that … maybe I just needed a correction.” Paul stood suddenly. I can’t wait here—I’ve got to do something, he thought as he excused himself from Samuel’s office.
Back in his rooming house, Paul held a delicate gold necklace and admired the cross dangling from it. He replaced it in its box and put that in his kit bag, now full of clothes and with his Bible on top. He had bought the necklace to give to Thena on the one-month anniversary of their engagement, which was in less than a week.
Paul was determined to go to San Francisco to look for her, to convert anxiety into action. He was ready to dig through the rubble himself if need be. Bag in hand, he walked in to Samuel’s office to make his case. He began to speak, but Samuel’s solemn stare stopped him. Samuel slowly handed him an envelope. “This just arrived. It’s from Western Union.”
Paul hesitated, then snatched it from Samuel’s hand. It was a telegram from Thena’s aunt in San Francisco, addressed to him. He opened it and read, “THENA LOST IN EARTHQUAKE STOP DEEPEST REGRETS.”