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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 80

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I began to totter and Hugh led me back to bed. Now we began to assess out own immediate surroundings. The air was filled with soot and plaster, and the floor was inches deep with black and white debris, together with the glass from the big mirror above the mantel, every few minutes another brick came hurtling down the chimney, sending clouds of soot into the room, covering everything, including my lovely blue dress. Hugh took the counterpane off the bed and draped it over the fireplace to keep the soot from pouring in; then, with the top of the box in which my wrap had been delivered, he swept glass and plaster into a corner so he could move about the room with some degree of safety. With returning awareness, my first thought was for my mother and father in the family home, an old frame house on Taylor Street near Washington. Had I known it, they could not have been in a safer situation, as the old wooden houses stood the shake with elastic fortitude; but now in my imagination, my parents lay pinned in their beds under the wreckage of the old structure. Hugh tried to comfort me, but for an hour I wept with anxiety. Then I thought I heard a voice calling as if out of a dream, “ I’m looking for Mrs. Hugh Brown! I’m looking for Mrs. Hugh Brown!” My sister! Never have I heard anything so exquisite as her high, sweet voice calling my name above the din of shouts and scuffling feet. Hugh opened the door to Mary Belle and her little four- year- old daughter. We fell into each other’s arms. My parents were safe, as was every member of the family. As quickly as my sister could get herself together after the shock, she took her little girl and ran most of the mile from her own home to my parents! Finding them unharmed, she continued down the hill to the Palace Hotel to find me. The anxiety of the whole family was centered on me, with the birth of our child so near. Mary Belle told us of the chaos downstairs in the lobby. Even in these trying circumstances, she had to take time out to laugh over the ludicrous sights she had seen: the man in dress coat and vest and no trousers, only long underwear; the woman in curl papers and flowing negligee, hugging a dog to her bosom as she clattered around in mules seeking coffee. Then Mary Belle went to the hotel roof for a better view of the disaster. Rushing back with eyes full of terror, she reported that already three big fires were well underway, one of them at the Grand Opera House, very close to the Palace Hotel. We must leave at once. It wasn’t easy to get into my clothes, but I did manage a maternity dress of black silk. Then I looked over my hats. I chose the black lace with feathers,



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