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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

All Saints’ Day at Lisbon

By Edwin Lassetter Bynner (1842–1893)

[Born in Brooklyn, N. Y., 1842. Died in Boston, Mass., 1893. Agnes Surriage. 1886.]

THERE was an awful pause of thirty seconds,—to the appalled city it might have been thirty years. Then the solid earth rose beneath their feet,—rose and fell like the waves of the sea. Dizziness seized the brain. The sky whirled about like a teetotum. The universe seemed turned topsy-turvy, and the bonds of universal matter unloosed.

With ashen face and glaring eyes Frankland saw in his delirium the tall spire of the Cathedral rock to its base and fall in a mass of ruins upon the serried thousands within its doors. Everywhere towers, spires, and turrets sank crumbling to the ground, and the air was filled with an infernal roar of falling walls.

A sudden cry of “Kaya! Kaya!” arose in the street. It awoke Frankland to life and energy. Seizing the reins from the paralyzed driver, he turned the horse to the river, where the great quay, clear of surrounding buildings, offered a haven of safety. Hundreds besides themselves had heard the cry and were hurrying thither. It was already crowded when they came in sight. They might yet be in time—there was still space for more—a few yards only intervened—they were rushing on at frantic speed, when—they were stopped by a fearful sight.

Before their eyes the massive pier, loaded with its myriad shrieking, praying victims, turned slowly over and sank to unfathomable depths below the quicksands.

Prone and dumb before the dread cataclysm, the hapless human creatures, like half-drowned flies, crawled in the dust awaiting their fate. Mother Earth had turned to a devouring fiend. There seemed but one refuge left; they turned with faint hope to the sea. Even as they looked, that hope changed to despair within them. The deep current of the Tagus was sucked up in a moment, leaving the broad bed of the river dry. Great ships were swept out to sea; others, whirling round and round like spinning-tops, dived out of sight in the swirl of waters. Another moment, and a despairing cry arose from the crowd:

“The sea! the sea!”

The great Atlantic seemed indeed to have risen. Far off a mighty wall of water was seen moving slowly inland.

The last vestige of hope and courage died in Frankland’s heart. He sat limp and nerveless, watching the oncoming flood quite unconscious, as it seemed, of the wretched creature who still clung to him, the foam of madness upon her painted lip, babbling of God and mercy.

The horse alone, with the instinct of preservation not yet extinct in him, whirled about with a wild snort and dashed back into the thick of the town.

Amid the ruins of fallen buildings, over the dead and dying, through the blinding dust which blotted out the sun and made darkness of noonday, he plunged on, unguided in his frantic course.

Suddenly the earth became still. As if with intelligent and devilish malice she yielded for a moment to the normal sway of gravitation. It was but for the briefest space. Before the poor people could shake off their dizziness, could look around and study chances of escape,—before they could do anything but hug to their heart a false, deluding hope, she broke loose again from the control of law and brought back chaos and anarchy.

The horse stopped. A great heap of ruins barred his way. There was a movement in the air. Frankland looked up. A dark mass tottered above them.

“Almighty God have mercy!”

The cry was wrung from him. He saw that the end had come. Lady Betty, in the last, futile, aimless struggle against her impending doom, caught his arm in her mouth and sank her teeth through into the living flesh. The next moment, with a roar of thunder, the mass descended and overwhelmed them in its ruins.

Startled by the first shock of the earthquake, Agnes rushed forth into the street. The house sank into a shapeless ruin behind her. A creature and an animal, she obeyed an animal instinct and cowered before the awful convulsion. Stock-still she stood, and gazed upon the wide desolation: saw the day change, in a moment, to night; saw death overtake every living thing about her, yet, held fast as in the horrid paralysis of nightmare, dumbly awaited her turn.

Well is it for humanity that such a strain cannot last—that hope will skirmish in the very face of danger, and custom stale even extremest terror. With returning self-possession the first impulse was still animal and purely selfish—the impulse of escape.

This was not for long; directly another impulse came—came as visibly as lightning athwart a thunder-cloud. Straightway she was transfigured. The new thought possessed her wholly, driving out every vestige of fear and any meaner motive.

Everything is equally miraculous to the deep-going student. To the vulgar there are miracles and miracles, with the difference that some do not stir the blood. Here is one that should—this spectacle of a commonplace mortal sweeping in a trice from the lowest note to the highest in the gamut of being. No old-fashioned stock heroine of history ever struck more surely or rang forth more clearly her alt limit of range.

Now, for all their influence upon her, the accumulated horrors were as so many stage effects in the cosmic melodrama. They were as they were not. She was beyond their reach—unconscious. To whomsoever can realize it, such sublimity in an earthworm may well confirm a wavering faith in immortality.

Insensible henceforth to every danger—the falling walls, the rush of the frantic crowd, the wild tramp of runaway horses—she made her slow way to the Cathedral. The once stately pile lay before her a monstrous and unsightly heap of rubbish. She stood staring in bewilderment, doubting the evidence of her own senses, when a sudden cry arose from the crowd:

“Fogo! Fogo!”

Too true it proved. The last fell element had been let loose upon the doomed city. For once the fires, kindled upon the altars, were glutted with sacrifice, as with hungry flaming tongues they revelled amid the ruins, and drank the blood of the shrieking victims beneath. Agnes turned shuddering from the sickening holocaust, and, clinging to a forlorn hope, set out to find Lady Betty’s lodgings.

The darkness, the destruction of all landmarks, the wild confusion of the streets, brought her to a standstill. Realizing presently the impossibility of making her way through streets where at best she was but little acquainted, she stopped and looked helplessly about. At this moment there was a movement in the crowd. As by a common impulse, they all began rushing in one direction. The whispered word “Kaya”—whispered with a selfish but futile attempt at concealment—came to her ears. She tried to escape, but was borne along in the press.

Directly came the second shock of earthquake,—came, not in short, quick tremblings, as before, but with a long sideway roll, like a ground-swell at sea. With one accord the crowd flung themselves upon the ground and poured forth frenzied prayers to the Virgin.

“Misericordia! Misericordia!” The air resounded with the hoarse and impotent cry.

Reeling with vertigo, Agnes saw somewhere before her dizzied senses the vision of a flying chaise, a falling building. She stretched out her hands and made a drunken movement to go toward it, but was pulled down by the maddened crowd.

“See the heretic! she will not pray!”

“’Tis the heretics are the cause of it.”

“The city is overrun with them, and God is cursing us!”

“Misericordia! Misericordia!”

“Down with her!”

“To your knees, she-devil!”

“Let her not escape!”

“Misericordia! Misericordia!”

“She shall pray!”

“Make her kiss the cross!”

“Misericordia! Misericordia!”

Foreseeing a movement of violence, Agnes made a vain effort to escape. She was caught and dragged back.

“Kneel! kneel, foul witch!”

“Thrust her down!”

“Kneel, unbelieving devil!”

“’Tis you are the cause of it!”

“Toss her in the fire!”

“Nay; give her the cross to kiss!—if she refuse, then the flames!”

Frantic with eagerness to pursue her search, and thinking only of escape, Agnes fervently kissed the cross, muttered an incoherent prayer, and was at length suffered to go.

Again the earth became still. With recovered equilibrium she started forth. That buried chaise! where had she seen it,—to the north, south, east, or west? Under which of all these heaps of ruins did it lie? But why search? Among the hundreds of buried vehicles, why waste time—precious time, whose loss might be fatal—upon that special chaise?

In this doubt and anxiety she groped her way distractedly amid the darkness and choking dust from ruin to ruin. In vain; in the universal waste there was no guide, no trace. Despairing, she called aloud the name of Frankland. Up and down among the masses of rubbish she went, repeating the cry, her clear strong voice resounding above the nearer tumult.

Stopping, with strained ears, to listen, she heard a feeble moaning near at hand. What then! There was moaning and groaning on every side. She bent over the nearest pile of rubbish, and waited with bated heart and breath. Again it came, plainly from beneath. To this side and that with frantic haste she flung the heavy bricks and stones. The perspiration fell from her face like rain; the dust blinded and choked her; the nails and splinters tore her arms till they streamed with blood. Unheeding all she plied her task. She dug as a hunted animal digs for life. The moans became more distinct. Presently she made an opening.

“Frankland! Frankland!”


“’Tis you—God be praised! Courage! courage! Keep up your heart; I will save you!”

“Air! air!”

“Yes—yes—one minute! You shall have it!”

Again she flew upon the rubbish as upon a mortal enemy, flinging out mortar, splinters, nails, and broken glass with infuriated zeal.

“Now—there! Can you breathe? Harry! darling! do you hear me?”


“Courage—wait then!—a few minutes—I will save you!”

Working at her task with might and main, pausing now and then to speak a comforting word to the prisoner, she came at length upon the heavy timbers of the roof interlaced and wedged together in such a ponderous mass above him that all her efforts to move them were in vain.

“Harry—these timbers—I cannot move them. I must go for help!”

“No, no; do not leave me!”

“Only for a minute!”

“Do not—do not go! I cannot live; it is of no use. My time is come!”

“You shall—you must live! I will save you!—Wait! wait! and be patient!”

“Stay! stay, Agnes! Agnes, darling, do not go—you’ll never come back. The earth will swallow you—will swallow us both. The sea is rolling in! The Judgment-Day has come—speak, darling!”

“I am here!”

“Say—say while I can hear you—say before it is too late”—

“What shall I say?”

“That you forgive me”—

“Yes, yes!”

“All my wrong,—my cruel wrong against you!”

“I do; I do—all, everything—But oh—oh, darling!—’tis not for a sinful creature like me to forgive. Pray to God! pray to Him while I am gone!”


The piteous cry rang in her ears as she darted away.

Flinging herself in the thick of the throng, she cried aloud for help. She might as well have called upon the winds. Men and women,—they were a herd of animals under the sway of one craven instinct. By such as were calm enough to listen, her absurd request was laughed to scorn.

“For pity—for mercy’s sake, if ye be men! See! ’tis here; ’tis but a moment, to lift a beam—he will die! Help! help!”

A foreign woman, babbling idiocy, she was thrust aside and trampled upon by the fighting, struggling crowd.

“Gold! gold! I have money; I will make you rich! A thousand moidores—ten thousand—ten thousand gold moidores to him will aid me!”

Throwing herself again into the press, she darted from man to man as their faces held out promise of success. But greed, for the moment, was stifled. A fiercer and overmastering passion held sway. Her magnificent offers were spurned by the beggars of the streets.

Finding her efforts vain, back she rushed for one more trial of her unaided strength. Useless, as before; she could not budge the heavy beams an inch. Again she flew away for help.

Some sailors were passing in a crowd; she plucked one of them by the sleeve:

“Help! help! Ten thousand moidores—broad gold moidores—for a moment’s help!”

The man flung her off with a brutal oath; she staggered, and fell against his companion. The latter put out his arm to catch her.



“God ha’ sent ye. Quick, quick, mon! Lend a hond!”


“Her-r’s one buried. An he be not dead, oi ha’ hopes to save him!”

He turned and followed her several paces, then stopped; a dark look of suspicion and hatred settled down upon his face. She saw his thought in a flash. It was no time for equivocation. She told the truth at a fatal risk.

“Ay, ay,—’tis he; oi’ll not deceive ye. He ha’ wr-ronged ye, ’n’ oi ha’ wr-ronged ye, ’n’ ha’ paid a heavy pr-rice for ’t, too. Oh, Job, Job! ’Tis no toime to harbor-r gr-rudges i’ this awfu’ moment!”

She held him clutched by the arm and gazed breathlessly into his face.

“Job! Job, mon! we stond wher’ th’ earth may open ’n’ swallow us the next minute. Job, oi say, speak! Say ye forgi’ me! say ye forgi’ him!”

“’Tis God’s business!” he muttered, with an awed and humbled look.

“Haste, haste, then! This way, mon! Ye wor a giant i’ th’ old days; an yer strength ha’ not failed, we’ll save him yet!”

Powerful as Job was, the task before him strained every nerve in his stalwart frame. The heavy timbers were still half mortised together. He worked with a fierce will and determination, aided and urged on by the impatient woman at his side. Lifting a massive beam, he at length made an opening through which Agnes reached down and clutched the suffering man.

About to drag him forth, she was stayed by a ghastly sight. Lady Betty’s lifeless figure, crushed almost beyond recognition, lay in the way. Nerving herself to the task, Agnes gently moved aside the body of the hapless woman, and at last, with the strength of hope and love, dragged forth the bruised and wounded man to the outer air. His wig gone, his face bruised, his rich dress covered with lime and dust, there was nothing but his voice to identify him. Half leading, half carrying him between them, Agnes and Job followed in the wake of the crowd, intent like them upon quitting the ruined city by the nearest way.

An hour’s hard tramp brought them to the open country. They were amazed to find it still day. The sun was blazing in mid-heaven. Ages seemed to have passed since that sun had risen. The pure air, the green trees and herbage, the singing birds, made their recent experience seem like an escape from Pandemonium. Placing Frankland upon the soft grass, Agnes tenderly brushed the dust from his face, and gazing a moment to assure herself that he was indeed living, burst into a hysterical fit of weeping.