“Well, he sure missed the boat this time. Look at it come down,” Mr. Sterner finished washing his hands for supper. “What a shame! And Monday is such a good night for the Pathfinders to collect cans. Last year we collected 1,400 cans of food for the Baltimore First church welfare work, and I had my heart set on beating our record.” He stared blankly out the window. “Do you think we could go anyway?”
“In all that rain?” Mrs. Sterner laughed. “Are you kidding? You’d all catch a death of cold.”
“I guess you’re right,” Mr. Sterner dried his hands and hung up the towel. “I’d better call around and cancel it. Go ahead and set the table. I’ll be right there.”
“I’ll have it ready in ten minutes.”
Mrs. Sterner could hear her husband dialing in the other room and repeating over and over, “No meeting tonight.”
You’d think the weather report would have mentioned a storm like this, she thought as she placed the silver on the table. Oh, well, it’ll give Al a chance to catch up on his school work. Being a Pathfinder director has really taken a lot of his study time. It’ll be good for him to take a night off.
Supper over, the Sterners settled down to an evening at home. By seven the rain had stopped, but it was too late to go out. They had already called off the meeting.
Mr. Sterner was deep in his studies when the doorbell rang. “It’s ten o’clock,” he said to his wife. “I wonder who’d come by at this hour.” He walked over to the door. “Brother Giles! Come right in. It’s good to see you!”
Mr. Giles was out of breath. “Listen Al, did you hear what happened to the church?”
“No. What happened, Ed?”
“Exploded! What do you mean, it exploded?” His face turned pale and his voice trembled.
“Just exactly that,” said Mr. Giles. “Come on down and have a look. There are lots of people down there right now. You might as well come too.”
“I sure will.” Mr. Sterner couldn’t believe his ears. “Could this be some joke?” he asked himself as he put on his coat.
It was no joke. The inside of the church looked as though a bomb had exploded in it. When the blast went off, doors flew open, windows burst, and the cement block wall of the boiler room disintegrated, the church lay in ruins—$60,000 worth of damage.
“What a mess!” Mr. Sterner exclaimed as he looked into the church annex. Half the floor was missing, chairs and tables lay helter-skelter. The glass of the bookcase was shattered, light fixtures dangled, and the doors were off their hinges.
Down in the lower hall, the damage was unbelievable. Huge cement blocks littered the floor, along with plaster, pipes, and pieces of the boiler. From the ceiling, where the boiler room had been, hung rows of electrical conduit attached to breaker boxes—all suspended in midair.
The Dorcas room, where the Pathfinders stored their cans of food, was strewn with the remains of previous collections. Wooden chairs were in splinters, the piamo was clear across the room, the outside door was missing—blown 75 years across the street. A large floor polisher, which had been in the furnace room, now lay just inside the doorway of the Dorcas room, 25 feet from its usual place.
“But look at the crack along the walls, just under the ceiling,” Mr. Giles pointed out. “This building must have been lifted completely off its foundations.”
Back upstairs, the two men stopped by a group who were discussing the blast.
“I was driving down Frederick Avenue,” said an off-duty fireman, “when a door sailed right over my car, and I heard a loud thunderclap. As I slammed on the brakes I saw the church enveloped in a cloud of dust, with glass and debris flying in all directions. And then everything was quiet. I never saw anything like it in all my life. I can’t understand why there wasn’t any fire.”
“And it’s a mighty good thing no one was in the building,” put in Dr. Daughtery. ”It would have been impossible to live through an explosion like that.”
‘That’s right,” agreed a city inspector. ”Even if somebody had been in a part of the church that wasn’t damaged, the concussion would have killed him. It would have taken a 120 mile-an-hour wind to do all this damage.”
Mr. Sterner watched the flashlight beams play on the wall clock. He noticed it was stopped at 8:25, and a cold chill gripped him as he realized that the explosion had happened at the very time he and his group would have been counting the cans from the night’s collecting. He was stunned as he gazed at the gaping hole in the annex floor. He could have been standing right there when the blast occurred! And the Pathfinders and counselors would have been all around him.
‘We would be dead!” he cried to Mr. Giles. ”If it hadn’t rained, every Pathfinder would have been killed when the church exploded!”
There were tears in his eyes as he turned from the scene of chaos. His
whispered prayer was barely audible. ”Thank God for the rain.”