The time is March 1906 and Molly thinks Daniel is in Washington DC. At a soiree she meets a woman whose husband travels a lot on busines to Havana and Boston. They are the most casual of acquaintences until the woman shows up on her doorstep one day:
The next day Bridie had just come home from school and was telling me about her English teacher as I poured a cup of tea when there came a thunderous knocking at my front door. Alarmed I rushed to open it and found Mrs. Endicott standing there. My first thought was that the house was not in suitable state for a visitor of her stature and we had not even agreed on a date for her visit, but then I saw she was holding a hand to her bosom as if she had run a race.
"Mrs. Endicott!" I stared at her agitated face. "I had not expected to see you so soon. Whatever is the matter? You look quite upset."
“I saw him,” she gasped. It did cross my mind to wonder whether she might be a little touched and I had somehow got myself mixed up with an unstable woman. “It was he, I swear it.”
I put a hand on her arm as she was gasping for breath. “Calm yourself do,” I said, “and please come inside. I’ve just made tea.”
She came in and took the cup that I offered her.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what you must think of me,” she said. “I ran all the way from Broadway.”
“You saw a man who frightened you?” I asked.
She shook her head violently. “No, I saw Wilbur. I saw my husband.”
“Here in the city?”
Again the shake of the head. “No. In California.”
I really did then think that she was deranged until she added, “I went to the movie theater, as I told you, and they were showing a piece on San Francisco and there he was. My Wilbur. In San Francisco. Large as life.”
“But that must have been a pleasant surprise for you, wasn’t it? To see your husband.”
“Mrs. Sullivan,” she said firmly, “As far as I know my husband’s business has never taken him to the West Coast. I expected him to be in London or Charleston, South Carolina, or maybe even Havana. But never San Francisco.”
“Maybe you were mistaken,” I said. “The quality of the images is not that good and you saw someone who resembled your husband.”
She reached out and took my arm. “Come with me,” she said. “There will be another showing at four thirty. Come with me then and let me prove to you that I’m not going mad.”
I glanced across the table at Bridie and Liam. “I have to prepare supper for the children…” I began.
“We don’t have to stay for the whole show,” she said. “It is but a brief segment.”
“Can I come?” Bridie asked suddenly. “I’ve never seen a moving picture.”
“I suppose I could leave Liam with Miss Walcott for a little while,” I said.
Mrs. Endicott gripped my hand. “Oh thank you. I have to make sure I was not wrong.”
I took Liam across the street to his adoring aunts, and off we went. Bridie was excited and almost dragged me forward.
‘So many of the girls at school have seen moving pictures,” she said. “One of them even went over to New Jersey to Mr. Edison’s studio and saw him making a moving picture. It was so exciting, she said with people chasing each other and cops blowing whistles.”
I smiled at her animated little face. Now for the first time she was able to live as a normal girl with school and friends.
We reached the theater where the movies were playing.
The latest innovations in moving picture technology said the poster. Prepared to be astounded, touched, amused, News. Comedy. Drama. Mrs. Endicott brought out her purse and paid for us, leading us into a half-dark theater in which an organ was playing. Even though the program had already been shown several times that day the house was quite full and we had to take seats near the screen, now covered in red velvet curtains. After a few minutes the lights dimmed. There came an expectant murmur from the audience. The organ music became louder and grander and those velvet curtains were pulled back to reveal the screen on which flickered the word WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF WONDER.
The first feature was a comedy in which some clumsy and hapless policemen chased a clever thief. The audience laughed and clapped. Then came a scene shot at Niagara Falls. The cameraman must have been very daring because sometimes it looked as if we were about to fall over the edge and the audience gave a collective gasp.
Then the screen announced News from around our great country. Caruso comes to California. San Francisco awaits the arrival of the world’s greatest singer. Then we were looking down from a hill at a city perched beside a great bay. We saw funny little trolley cars going up impossibly steep hills. Then we were passing mansions.
The most prosperous city in the west waits with anticipation for the arrival of Enrico Caruso, the famous Italian tenor said the words on the screen. He will perform at the grand opera house on April 17th. The image changed to show an impressive building. And he will be staying at the world renouned Palace Hotel. Now we entered a magnificent hotel with a glass dome. We moved to a dining room where elegantly dressed people were dining.
Mrs. Endicott grabbed my arm. “There,’ she hissed in a whisper. “See that table in the corner. That man with the long side-whiskers lifting a glass to his lips. That is Mr. Endicott.”
The picture was quite clear.
“It is definitely my husband,” she said. “No doubt about it.”
“Shhh!” someone behind us warned, tapping Mrs. Endicott on the shoulder.
I took in the big powerful man, well dressed and looking rather pleased with himself as he said something to his table companions.
“That’s all I wanted to show you,” Mrs. Endicott said. She started to stand up. “We can go now. The scene will change in a moment.”
I was about to follow her and slip out of my seat without too much disruption when Bridie tugged my sleeve. “Look,” she exclaimed. “There’s Captain Sullivan.”
The camera had now moved from the dining room to the foyer of the hotel. Through glass doors we could see carriages and automobiles pulling up in a forecourt, disgorging smartly dressed people in evening attire.
Will Mr. Caruso be surprised to see the sophistication and elegance that is now San Francsico? Said the words across the bottom of the screen. “Here money is no object and champagne flows like water.” The foyer was already crowded and many people were holding up champagne glasses in a toast. Then through a gap in the crowd I caught a glimpse of him. He was standing at the bar, seemingly enjoying himself, but his eyes scanned the new arrivals. A second later the crowd closed in again and he was gone. Then the organist switched to music for the Can Can dance and we were now not in California but in Paris and looking at scenes from the Moulin Rouge cabaret. As the rest of the audience leaned forward in their seats to better see the scantily clad girls kicking up their legs we made our way out of the theater.
My heart was still thumping in my chest. I had only been given the briefest of glimpses of my husband, but like Mrs. Endicott had been, I was absolutely sure it was he.