Banneker’s last sight of the wreck, as he paused at the curve, was the helpful young man perched on the rear heap of wreckage which had been the observation car, peering anxiously into its depths ("Looking for I. O. W. probably,” surmised the agent), and two commercial gentlemen from the smoker whiling away a commercially unproductive hiatus by playing pinochle on a suitcase held across their knees. Glancing at the vast, swollen, blue-black billows rolling up the sky, Banneker guessed that their game would be shortly interrupted.
He hoped that the dead would not get wet.
Back in his office, Banneker sent out the necessary wires, and learned from westward that it might be twelve hours before the break in the track near Stanwood could be fixed up. Then he settled down to his report.
Like his earlier telegram, the report was a little masterpiece of concise information. Not a word in it that was not dry, exact, meaningful. This was the more to the writer’s credit in that his brain was seething with impressions, luminous with pictures, aflash with odds and ends of minor but significant things heard and seen and felt. It was his first inner view of tragedy and of the reactions of the human creature, brave or stupid or merely absurd, to a crisis. For all of this he had an outlet of expression.
Taking from the wall a file marked “Letters. Private"-it was 5 S 0027, and one of his most used purchases—he extracted some sheets of a special paper and, sitting at his desk, wrote and wrote and wrote, absorbedly, painstakingly, happily. Wind swept the outer world into a vortex of wild rain; the room boomed and trembled with the reverberations of thunder. Twice the telegraph instrument broke in on him; but these matters claimed only the outer shell; the soul of the man was concerned with committing its impressions of other souls to the secrecy of white paper, destined to personal and inviolable archives.
Some one entered the waiting-room. There was a tap on his door. Raising his head impatiently, Banneker saw, through the window already dimming with the gathering dusk, a large roan horse, droopy and disconsolate in the downpour. He jumped up and threw open his retreat. A tall woman, slipping out of a streaming poncho, entered. The simplicity, verging upon coarseness, of her dress detracted nothing from her distinction of bearing.
“Is there trouble on the line?” she asked in a voice of peculiar clarity.
“Bad trouble, Miss Camilla,” answered Banneker. He pushed forward a chair, but she shook her head. “A loosened rock smashed into Number Three in the Cut. Eight dead, and a lot more in bad shape. They’ve got doctors and nurses from Stanwood. But the track’s out below. And from what I get on the wire”—he nodded toward the east—“it’ll be out above before long.”
“I’d better go up there,” said she. Her lips grew bloodless as she spoke and there was a look of effort and pain in her face.