"Well, Darwin is about the best to begin on, I should say," he replied. "He's easy reading on account of his style. And then I should advise you to read Fiske's 'Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy' before you tackle Herbert Spencer or Huxley or Tyndall."
Magdalena took home Darwin's "Origin of Species" and "Descent of Man." They so fascinated her that not until their contents had become a permanent part of her mental furnishing did she realise their warfare on revealed religion. But by this time science had her in its mighty grip.
She read all that the librarian had recommended, and much more. It was some six months later that she fully realised that her faith was gone. There came a time when her simple appeals to the Virgin stuck in her throat; when she realised that her beloved masters, if they could have seen her telling a rosary at the foot of her altar, would have thought her a fool.
There was no struggle, for the work was done, and finally. But her grief was deep and bitter. Religion had been a strong inherited instinct, and it had been three fourths of her existence for nearly eighteen years. She felt as if the very roots of her spirit had been torn up and lay wilting and shrivelling in the cold light of her reason. She was terrified at her new position. How was she, a mere girl, to think for herself, to make her way through life, which every great writer told her was a complex and crucifying ordeal, with no guide but her own poor reason?
For the first time she felt her isolation. She had no one to go to for sympathy, no one to advise her. Of all she knew, her parents were the last she could have approached on any subject involving the surrender of her reticence.
She lost interest in her books, and brooded, her mind struggling toward will-o'-the-wisps in a fog-bank, until she could endure her solitary position no longer; she felt that she must speak to some one or her brain would fall to ashes. Her aunt was still in Santa Barbara, and showed no disposition to return. A priest was out of the question. There was no one but Colonel Belmont. Magdalena knew nothing of his private life: not a whisper had reached her secluded ears; but she doubted if religion were his strong point. But he had always been kind, and she knew him to be clever. It took her a week to make up her mind to speak to him and to decide what to say; but when her decision was finally reached, she walked through the connecting gardens one evening with firm tread and set lips.
She entered the house by a side door and went to the library, where she knew Colonel Belmont smoked his after-dinner cigar when at home. A cordial voice answered her knock. When she entered he rose and came forward with the graceful hospitality which never failed him in the moments of his liveliest possession, and with the acute interest which anything feminine and young never failed to inspire.
"Well, honey!" he exclaimed, kissing her warmly and handing her to a chair; "you might have done this before. I'm such a lonely childless old widower."
"Oh!" said Magdalena, with contrition; "I never thought you'd care to see me." She could not know that he seldom permitted himself to be alone.
"Well, now you know it, you'll come oftener, won't you? Have you heard from my baby lately? I had a letter a yard long this morning. She can write!"
"I had one too." She hesitated a moment, then determined to speak at once. She could not hold this nor any man's attention in ordinary conversation, and she wanted to finish before she wearied him.
"Uncle Jack," she said, "I've come to see you about something in particular. I know so few people, or I wouldn't bore you—"
"Don't you talk about boring me, honey,—you! Why, your old Uncle Jack would do anything for you."
A light sprang into Magdalena's eyes. Colonel Belmont forgot for the moment that she was not beautiful, and warmed to interest at once. Few people had ever withstood Jack Belmont's magnetism, and Magdalena found it easy to speak.
"It is this," she said. "I have been reading books lately that have taken my religion from me; it has gone utterly. I want to ask you what I shall do,—if there is anything to take its place. I—I—feel as if I could not get along without something."
Colonel Belmont made a faint exclamation and wheeled about, staring at the fire. His first impulse was to laugh, so ludicrous was the idea that anyone should come to him for spiritual advice; his second to get out of the room. He did neither, however, and ordered his intelligence to work.
He did not speak for some time; and Magdalena, for the first moment, watched him intently, scarcely breathing. Then her attention wandered from herself, and she studied his profile. She noted for the first time how worn it was, the bags under the injected eyes, the heavy lines about the mouth. She had no name for what she saw written in that face, but she suddenly felt herself in the presence of one of life's mysteries. Of man's life she knew nothing—nothing. What did this man do when he was not at home? Who were his friends besides her morose father, her cold dry uncle? She felt Belmont's difference from both, and could not know that they had much in common. What circumstances had imprinted that face so differently from the few faces familiar to her? For the first time man in the concrete interested her. She suddenly realised how profound was her ignorance, despite the lore she had gathered from books,—realised dimly but surely that there was a vast region called life for her yet to explore, and that what bloomed for a little on its surface was called human nature. She gave an involuntary shiver and sank back in her chair. At the same moment Colonel Belmont looked round.
"Someone walking over your grave?" he asked, smiling. "What you asked came on me right suddenly, 'Lena. I couldn't answer it all in a minute. You didn't say much—you never do; so I understand how you've been taking this thing to heart. I'm sorry you've lost your religion, for it stands a woman in mighty well. They have the worst of it in this life." Perhaps he was thinking of his wife. His face was very sober. "But if you have lost it, that is the end of the chapter as far as you are concerned. All I can think of is this—" the words nearly choked him, but he went on heroically: "Do what you think is right in little matters as well as in great. You've been properly brought up; you know the difference between right and wrong; and all your instincts are naturally good, if I know anything about women. As you grow older, you will see your way more clearly. You won't have the temptations that many women have, so that it will be easier for you than for some of the poor little devils. And you'll never be poor. You'll find it easier than most—and I'm glad of it!" he added with a burst of warm sympathy. Emotional by nature, the unaccustomed experience had brought him to the verge of tears; and Magdalena, forlorn and lonely, but thanking him mutely with her eloquent eyes, appealed to the great measure of chivalry in him.
"I am glad I spoke to you, Uncle Jack," she said after a moment. "You have given me much to think about, and I am sure I shall get along much better. Thanks, ever so much."
She did not rise to go, but was silent for several moments. Then she asked abruptly,—
"What do you mean by women having temptations? I know by the way you said it that you don't mean just ordinary every-day temptations."
Colonel Belmont glanced about helplessly. His eloquence had carried him away; he had not paused to take feminine curiosity into account. He encountered Magdalena's eyes. They were fixed on him with solemn inquiry, and they were very intelligent eyes. Did he take refuge in verbiage, she would not be deceived. Did he refuse to continue the conversation, she would be hurt. In either case her imagination would have been set at work, and she might go far, and in the wrong direction, to satisfy her curiosity. Once more he stared at the fire.
To his daughter he could have said nothing on such a subject: he was too old-fashioned, too imbued with the chivalrous idea of the South of his generation that women were of two kinds only, and that those who had been segregated for men to love and worship and marry must never brush the skirts of their thought against the sin of the world. They were ideal creatures who would produce others like themselves, and men—like himself.
But as he considered he realised that he had a duty toward Magdalena, which grew as he thought: she needed help and advice and had come to him, having literally no one else to go to. After all, might she not have temptations which would pass his beautiful, quick-witted, triumphant daughter by? Helena, with the world at her feet, would have little time for brooding, little time for anything but the lighter pleasures of life under his watchful eye, until she loved and passed to the keeping of a man who, he hoped, would be far stronger and finer than himself. But Magdalena? Repressed, unloved, intellectual, disappointed at every turn, passionate undoubtedly,—there was no knowing to what sudden extremes desperation might drive her. And the woman, no matter how plain, had yet to be born who could not be utterly bad if she put her mind to it. It was not only his duty to warn Magdalena, but to give her such advice as no mortal had ever heard from his lips before, nor ever would hear again.
He drew a long breath and wheeled about. Magdalena was leaning forward, staring at him intently. There was no self-consciousness in her face, and he realised in a flash that he would merely talk into a brain. Her woman's nature would not be awakened by the homily of an elderly man. The task became suddenly light.
"Well, it's just this: There's no moral law governing the animal kingdom; but men and women were allowed to develop into speaking, reasoning, generally intelligent beings for one purpose only: to make the world better, not worse. Their reasoning faculty may or may not be a spark of the divine force behind the universe; but there's no doubt about the fact, not the least, that every intelligent being knows that he ought to be at least two thirds good, and in his better moments—which come to the worst—he has a desire to be wholly good, or at least better than he has ever been. In other words, the best of men strive more or less constantly toward an ideal (and the second-best strive sometimes) which, if realised, would make this world a very different place. I believe myself that it is this instinct alone which is responsible for religions,—a desire for a concrete form of goodness to which man can cling when his own little atom is overwhelmed by the great measure of weakness in him. Do you follow me?"
Magdalena nodded, but she did not look satisfied.
"Well, this is the point: The world might be prosaic without sin, but it is right positive that women would suffer less. And if it could be pounded into every woman's head that she was a fool to think twice about any man she could not marry, and that she threatened the whole social structure every time she brought a fatherless child into the world; that she made possible such creatures as you saw in Dupont Street, and a long and still more hideous sequelae, every time she deliberately violated her own instinct for good,—we'd all begin to develop into what the Almighty intended us to be when He started us off on our long march. Don't misunderstand me! Even if I were not such a sinner myself, I'd be deuced charitable where love was concerned, marriage or no marriage—O Lord! I didn't mean to say that. Forget it until you're thirty; then remember it if you like, for your brain is a good one. Look, promise me something, 'Lena;" he leaned forward eagerly and took her hand. "Promise me, swear it, that until you are thirty you'll never do anything your instincts and your intelligence don't assure you is right,—really right without any sophistry. Of course I mean in regard to men. I don't want you to make yourself into a prig—but I am sure you understand."
"I think I do," said Magdalena. "I promise."
"Thank goodness, for you'll never break your word. You may be tempted more than once to kick the whole stupid game of life to the deuce and go out on a bat like a man, but console yourself with this: you'd be a long sight worse off when you got through than when you started, and you'd either go to smash altogether or spend the rest of your life trying to get back where you were before; and sackcloth hurts. There isn't one bit of joy to be got out of it. If you can't get the very best in this world, take nothing. That's the only religion for a woman to cling to, and if she does cling to it she can do without any other."
Magdalena rose. "Good-night," she said. "I'll never forget a word of it, and I'm very much obliged."
She kissed him and had half crossed the room before he sprang to his feet and went hastily forward to open the door. He went to her father's house with her, then returned to his library fire. To the surprise of his servants, he spent the evening quietly at home.
A year from the following June, and two days after her arrival in Menlo, Magdalena went into the middle woods. The great oaks were dusty already, their brilliant greens were dimming: but the depths of the woods were full of the warm shimmer of summer, of the mysterious noises produced by creatures never seen, by the very heat itself, perchance by the riotous sap in the young trees which had sprung to life from the roots of their mighty parents.
Magdalena left the driveway and pushed in among the brush. Poison oak did not affect her; and she separated the beautiful creeper fearlessly until she reached a spot where she was as sure of being alone and unseen as if she had entered the bowels of the earth. She sat down on the warm dry ground and looked about her for a moment, glad in the sense of absolute freedom. Above the fragrant brush of many greens rose the old twisted oaks, a light breeze rustling their brittle leaves, their arms lifted eagerly to the warm yellow bath from above. Near her was a high pile of branches and leaves, the home of a wood-rat. No sound came from it, and mortal had nothing to fear from him. A few birds moved among the leaves, but the heat made them lazy, and they did not sing.
After a few moments, Magdalena's glance swept the wall of leaves that surrounded her; then she took a pencil and a roll of foolscap from her pocket. She had made up her mind that the time had come for her first essay in fiction. For two years and a half she had studied and thought to this end; too reverent to criticise, but taking the creators' structures to pieces as best she could and giving all attention to parts and details.
She had had a nebulous idea in her mind for some time. It had troubled her that it did not assume definite form, but she trusted to that inspiration of the pen of which she had read much.
Her hand trembled so that she could not write for a few moments. She put the pencil down, not covering her face with her hands as a more demonstrative girl would have done, but biting her lips. Her heart beat suffocatingly. For the first time she fully realised what the power to write would mean to her. Her religion had gone, that dear companion of many years; she had practised faithfully until six months ago, when she had asked her teacher to tell her father that she could never become even a third-rate musician; and Don Roberto had, after a caustic hour, concluded that he would "throw no more good money after bad;" she had had long and meaning conferences with her mirror, conjuring up phantasms of the beautiful dead women of her race, and decided sadly that the worship of man was not for her. She had never talked for ten consecutive minutes with a young man; but she had a woman's instincts, she had read, she had listened to the tales of her aunt, and she knew that what man most valued in woman she did not possess. Her great position and the graces she hoped to cultivate might gratify her ambitions in a measure, but they would not companion her soul. Books were left; but books are too heterogeneous an interest to furnish a vital one in life, a reason for being alive. She had read of the jealous absorption of art, of the intense exclusive love with which it inspired its votaries. She had read of the joys of creation, and her whole being had responded; she felt that did her brain obey her will and shape itself to achievement, she too would know ecstasy and ask nothing more of life.
Her nerves settled, and she began to write. Her reading had been confined to the classics of the old world: not only had she not read a modern novel, but of the regnant lights of her own country, Mr. Howells and Mr. James, she had never heard. She may have seen their names in the "Literary Bulletin" her bookseller sent her, but had probably gathered that they were biologists. There was no one to tell her that the actors and happenings within her horizon were the proper substance for her creative faculty. California had whispered to her, but she had not understood. Her intention was to write a story of England in the reigns of Oliver Cromwell and Charles the Second. The romance of England appealed to her irresistibly. The mass of virgin ore which lay at her hand did not provoke a flash of magnetism from her brain.
She wrote very slowly. An hour passed, and she had only covered a page. Her head ached a little from the intense concentration of mind. Her fingers were stiff. Finally, she laid her pencil aside and read what she had written. It was a laboured introduction to the story, an attempt to give a picture of the times. She was only nineteen and a novice, but she knew that what she had written was rubbish. It was a trite synopsis of what she had read, of what everybody knew; and the English, although correct, was commonplace, the vocabulary cheap. She set her lips, tore it up, and began again. At the end of another hour she destroyed the second result.
Then she determined to skip the prologue for the present and begin the story. For many long moments she sat staring into the brush, her brain plodding toward an opening scene, an opening sentence. At last she began to write. She described the hero. He was walking down the great staircase of a baronial hall,—in which he had lain concealed,—and the company below were struck dumb with terror and amazement at the apparition. She got him to the middle of the stair; she described his costume with fidelity; she wrote of the temper of the people in the great hall. Then she dropped the pencil. What was to happen thereafter was a blank.
She read what she had written. It was lifeless. It was not fiction. The least of Helena's letters was more virile and objective than this.
Again that mysterious indefinable presentiment assailed her. It was the first time that it had come since that night she had stood on the balcony and opened her brain to literary desire. Had that presentiment meant anything since compassed? Her father's cruel treatment? Her terrible experience in the street of painted women? Her illness? The loss of her religion? It was none of these things. So far, it had not been fulfilled; and it had struck its warning note again. She shivered, then discovered that the yellow light was no longer about her, and that her head ached. She rose stiffly and put the torn scraps of paper in her pocket. As she left, she cast a curious glance about her retreat, not knowing what prompted it. The scent of newly upturned earth came to her nostrils; a bird flew down on the rat's nest, starting along the sides a shower of loose earth; the frogs were chanting hoarsely.
The next morning the natural buoyancy of youth asserted itself; she reasoned that a long hard apprenticeship had been the lot of many authors, and determined that she would write a page a day for years, if need be, until her tardy faculty had been coaxed from its hard soil and trained to use.
She could not go to the woods that day: her mother expected callers.
"Your birthday is a week from Wednesday," Mrs. Yorba said as they sat on the verandah. "Your father and I have decided to give a dinner. You will not come out formally, of course, until winter; but a little society during the summer will take off the stiffness."
Magdalena turned cold. "But, mamma! I cannot talk to young men."
"You expect to begin sometime, do you not? I shall also take you to any little entertainment that is given in Menlo this summer; and as the Brannans and Montgomerys are back from Europe,—they arrived last Thursday,—there may be several. The older girls gave little parties before they married; but there have not been any grown girls in Menlo for some years now. Rose Geary and Caro Folsom, who spent last summer in the East, will spend this in Menlo, so that there will be five of you, besides Nelly Washington."
Magdalena knew that the matter was settled. She had given a good deal of imagination to the time when she should be a young lady, but the immediate prospect filled her with dismay. Then, out of the knowledge that her lines had been chosen for her, she adapted herself, as mortals do, and experienced some of the pleasures of anticipation.
"I believe I did not tell you," her mother resumed, "that I wrote to Helena some time ago asking her to bring back four dresses for you,—a ball dress for your debut, an English walking suit, a calling dress, and a dinner dress."
Magdalena had never given a thought to dress; but this sudden announcement that she was to have four gowns from Paris and London pricked her with an intimation that the interests of life were more varied than she had suspected. She wondered vividly what they would be like, and recalled several of Nelly Washington's notable gowns.
"You are to have forty dollars a month after your birthday, and your father will permit me to get you three dresses a year; everything else must come out of your allowance. You will keep an account-book and show it to your father every month, as I do. Oh—and there is another thing: a Mr. Trennahan of New York has brought letters to your father. He is a man of some importance,—is wealthy and has been Secretary of Legation twice, and comes of a distinguished family; we must do something for him, and have decided to ask him down to your dinner. That will kill two birds with one stone. He can also stay a day or two, and we will show him the different places."
"A strange man in the house for two days," gasped Magdalena, forgetting that she was to have forty dollars a month.
"He can take care of himself most of the time. Here come Nelly."
Mrs. Washington's ponies were rounding the deer park. Magdalena craned her neck.
"She has some one with her," she said. And in another half-moment: "Tiny Montgomery and Ila Brannan."
Magdalena clasped her hands tightly to keep them from trembling. What would they think of her? She saw that they were smartly dressed. Doubtless they were very grand and clever indeed, and would think her more trying than ever. But although all her shyness threatened for a moment, it was summarily routed by her Spanish pride.
She rose as the phaeton drew up, and went to the head of the steps, smiling. They might find her uninteresting, but not gauche.
The girls came gracefully forward and kissed her warmly.
"Dear 'Lena," said Miss Montgomery. "We wouldn't wait: we wanted so much to see you again. And besides, you know," with a mischievous smile, "we owe you a great many luncheon calls."
Miss Brannan exclaimed almost simultaneously, "How you have improved, 'Lena! I should never have known you." And if her tone was conventional, it fell upon ears untuned to conventions.
It was Magdalena's first compliment, and she thrilled with pleasure. "My face looks very much the same in the glass," she said. "But I am glad to see you back. Let us sit on this side."
She led the girls a little distance down the verandah; she was trembling inwardly, but felt that she should get along better if relieved of her mother's ear. Tiny began at once to talk of her delight in being home again, and Magdalena had time to recover herself.
Tiny Montgomery was an exquisitely pretty little creature, very small but admirably proportioned, although thin. Her brown eyes were very sweet under well-pencilled brows, her nose aquiline and fine. The mouth was barely rubbed in, but the teeth were beautiful, the smile as sweet as the eyes. She had the smallest feet and hands in California, and to-day they were clad in white suede with no detriment to their fame. She wore a frock of white embroidered nainsook and a leghorn covered with white feathers. She talked rather slowly, in language carefully chosen, although plentifully laden with superlatives. Her voice was very sweet, and highly cultivated.
Ila Brannan was taller, with a slender full figure, and very smart. She wore a closely fitting frock of tan-coloured cloth, a small toque, and a veil covered with large velvet dots. She was very olive, and her cheeks were deeply coloured. Her black eyes had a slanting expression. Young as she was, there was a vague suggestion of maturity about her. She smiled pleasantly and echoed Tiny's little enthusiasms, which had an air of elaborate rehearsal, but she seemed to have brought something of Paris with her, and to adapt herself but ill to her old surroundings. Magdalena did not feel at ease with either of them, but concluded that she liked Tiny best.
"Tell me something of Helena," she said finally. "Of course you saw her in Paris."
"Oh, constantly," replied Tiny. "She's perfectly beautiful, 'Lena, perfectly. Mamma took her with us one night to the opera, and so many people asked her who the beautiful American was. She has grown quite tall, and is wonderfully stylish. Colonel Belmont has simply showered money on her since he went over, and she will have beautiful clothes, and cut us all out when she comes back." But Tiny did not look in the least disturbed, and peeped surreptitiously into the polished glass of the window.
"She'll have all the men wild about her," announced Ila; she spoke with a slight French accent, which was not affected, as she had spent the greater part of the last five years in Paris. "And she is going to be a very dashing belle. She informed me that she shall run to fires and do whatever she chooses, and make people like it whether they want to or not. But I doubt if she will ever be fast."
"Fast!" echoed Magdalena, a street of painted women flashing into memory; she knew of no degrees. "Helena! How can you think of such a thing in connection with her!"
Ila laughed softly. "You baby!" she said.
Tiny frowned. "You know, Ila," she said coldly, "that I do not like to talk of such things."
"Well, you need not," said Ila, coolly.
Tiny lifted her brows. "I think you know you cannot talk to me of what I do not wish to hear," she said with great dignity.
Magdalena turned to her, the warm light of approval in her eyes; and Ila, unabashed, rose and said, "I think I'll go over and talk scandal for awhile," and joined the older women, whose numbers had been reinforced.
Magdalena longed to ask Tiny if she really had improved, but was too shy. Tiny said almost directly,—
"You look so intellectual, 'Lena. Are you? I feel quite afraid."
"Oh, no, no!" replied Magdalena, hastily, "I really know very little; I wish I knew more." She hesitated a moment; it was difficult for her to expand even to the playmate of her childhood, but an alluring prospect had suddenly opened. "Of course you will have a great deal of leisure this summer," she added. "Shall we read together?"
Tiny rose with a sweet but rather forced smile. "I am not going to let you see how ignorant I am," she said. "But I feel very rude: I should go over and talk to Mrs. Yorba."
When they had gone, Magdalena sat for a time staring straight before her, unheeding her mother's comments. The snub had been prettily administered, but it had cut deep into her sensitiveness. She realised that she was quite unlike these other girls of her own age, had never been like them; it was not Europe that had made the difference. "I would not care," she thought, "if they would keep away from me altogether. I have what I care much more for. But I must see them nearly every day and try to interest them. And I know they will find me as dull as when I gave those dreadful luncheons."
She was recalled by a direct observation of her mother's.
"Your washed cross-barred muslin looked very plain beside their French things, but I do not think it worth while to get you any new clothes at present. But do not let it worry you. Remember that what we do seems right to every one. We can afford to dress exactly as we choose."
"It does not worry me," replied Magdalena.
Whether or not to tell her parents of her determination to write had been a matter of momentous consideration to Magdalena. After the resignation of her faith and her conversation with Colonel Belmont, she had determined to adhere rigidly to the truth and to the right way of living, to conquer the indolence of her moral nature and jealously train her conscience. The result, she felt, would be a religion of her own, from which she could derive strength as well as consolation for what she had lost. She knew, by reading and instinct, that life was full of pitfalls, but her intelligence would dictate what was right, and to its mandates she would conform, if it cost her her life. And she knew that the religion she had formulated for herself in rough outline was far more exacting than the one she had surrendered.
She had finally decided that it was not her duty to tell her parents that she was trying to write. When she was ready to publish she would ask their consent. That would be their right; but so long as they could in no way be affected, the secret might remain her own. And this secret was her most precious possession; it would have been firing her soul at the stake to reveal it to anyone less sympathetic than Helena; she was not sure that she could even speak of it to her.
Her time was her own in the country. Her father and uncle came down three times a week, but rarely before evening; her mother's mornings were taken up with household matters, her afternoons with siesta, calling, and driving; frequently she lunched informally with her friends. How Magdalena spent her time did not concern her parents, so long as she did not leave the grounds and was within call when visitors came.
Don Roberto would not keep a horse in town for Magdalena, but in the country she rode through the woods unattended every morning. The exhilaration of these early rides filled Magdalena's soul with content. The freshness of the golden morning, the drowsy summer sounds, the deep vistas of the woods,—not an outline changed since unhistoried races had possessed them,—the glimpses of mountain and redwood forests beyond, the embracing solitude, laid somnolent fingers on the scars of her inner life, letting free the sweet troubled thoughts of a girl, carried her back to the days when she had dreamed of caballeros serenading beneath her casement. For two years she had dreamed that dream, and then it had curled up and fallen to dust under Helena's ridicule. Magdalena was fatally clear of vision, and her reason had accepted the facts at once.
Sometimes during those rides she dreamed of a lover in the vague fashion of a girl whose acquaintance of man is confined to a few elderly men and to the creations of masters; but only then. She rarely deluded herself. She was plain; she could not even interest women. She felt that she was wholly without that magnetism which, she had read, made many plain women irresistible to man.
Don Roberto was to bring his guest with him on the train which arrived a few minutes after five. Magdalena was told to dress early and be in the parlour when Mr. Trennahan came downstairs. She was cold at the thought of talking alone with a man and a stranger; but Mrs. Yorba had neuralgia, and announced her intention to lie down until the last minute.
Magdalena had received a number of pretty presents from her aunt and friends, a cablegram from Colonel Belmont and Helena, and from her father a small gold watch and fob. Her father's gift was very magnificent to her, and her pleasure was as great in the thought of his generosity as in the beauty of the gift itself. His usual gift was ten dollars; and as it had been decided that she was not to be a young lady until she was nineteen, her eighteenth birthday had been passed over.
Her mother's present was the dress she was to wear to-night, a white organdie of the pearly tint high in favour with blondes of matchless complexion, a white sash, and a white ribbon to be knotted about the throat. The neck of the gown was cut in a small V.
Magdalena had no natural taste in dress, nor did she know the first principle of the law of colour; but when she had finished her toilette she stood for many moments before the mirror, regarding herself with disapproval. The radiant whiteness of the frock and of the ribbon about her neck made her look as dark as an Indian. She saw no beauty in the noble head with its parted, closely banded hair, in the fine dark eyes. She saw only the wide mouth and indefinite nose, the complexionless skin, the long thin figure and ugly neck. The only thing about her that possessed any claim to beauty, according to her own standards, was her foot. She thrust it out and strove to find encouragement in its pulchritude. It was thin and small and arched, and altogether perfect. She wore her first pair of slippers and silk stockings,—a present from her aunt. Her mother thought silk stockings a sinful waste of money.
Magdalena sighed and turned to the door. "Feet don't talk," she thought. "What am I to say to Mr. Trennahan?"
She walked slowly down the stair. He was before her, standing on the verandah directly in front of the doors. His back was to her. She saw that he was very tall and thin, not unlike her uncle in build, but with a distinction that gentleman did not possess. Her father was strutting up and down the drive, taking his ante-dinner constitutional.
She went along the hall as slowly as she could, her hands clenched, her mind in travail for a few words of appropriate greeting. When she had nearly reached the door, Trennahan turned suddenly and saw her. He came forward at once, his hand extended.
"This is Miss Yorba, of course," he said. "How good of you to come down so soon!"
He had a large warm hand. It closed firmly over Magdalena's, and gave her confidence. She could hardly see his face in the gloom of the hall, but she felt his cordial grace, his magnetism.
"I am glad you have come down to my birthday dinner," she said, thankful to be able to say anything.
"I am highly honoured, I am sure. Shall we go outside? I hope you prefer it out there. I never stay in the house if I can help it."
"Oh, I much prefer to be out."
They sat facing each other in two of the wicker chairs. He was a man skilled in woman, and he divined her shyness and apprehension. He talked lightly for some time, making her feel that politeness compelled her to be silent and listen. She raised her eyes after a time and looked at him. He was, perhaps, thirty-five, possibly more. He looked older and at the same time younger. His shaven chin and lips were sternly cut. His face was thin, his nose arched and fine, his skin and hair neutral in tint. The only colouring about him was in his eyes. They were very blue and deeply set under rather scraggy brows. Magdalena noted that they had a peculiarly penetrating regard, and that they did not smile with the lips. The latter, when not smiling, looked grim and forbidding, and there was a deep line on either side of the mouth. Her memory turned to Colonel Belmont, and the night she had studied his profile. There was an indefinable resemblance between the two men. Then she realised how old-fashioned and worn Belmont was beside this trim elegant man, who, with no exaggeration of manner, treated her with a deference and attention which had no doubt been his habitual manner with the greatest ladies in Europe.
"Shall you be in California long?" she asked suddenly.
"That is what I am trying to decide. I had heard so much of your California that I came out with a half-formed idea of buying a little place and settling down for the rest of my days."
"The Mark Smith place is for sale," she answered quickly. "It has only two acres, but they are cultivated, and the house is very pretty."
"Your father told me about it; but although Menlo is very beautiful, it seems to have one drawback. I am very fond of rowing, sailing, and fishing, and there is no water."
"There is if you go far enough. The bay is not so very far away, and I have heard that there is salmon-fishing back in the mountains. And Mr. Washington and Uncle Jack Belmont often go duck and snipe shooting down on the marsh." She stopped with a shortening of the breath. She had not made such a long speech since Helena left.
He sat forward eagerly. "You interest me deeply," he said. "I am very much inclined to buy the place. I shall certainly think of it."
"But you—surely—you would rather be—live—in Europe. We are very old-fashioned out here."
The expression about his mouth deepened. "I should like to think that I might spend the rest of my days with a fishing-rod or a gun."
"But you have been at courts!"
He laughed. "I have, and I hope I may never see another."
"And—and you are young."
Her interest and curiosity overcame her reserve. She wanted to know all of this man that he would tell her. She had once seen a picture of a death-mask. His face reminded her of it. What lay behind?
"I am forty and some months."
She rose suddenly, her hand seeking her heart. "They are coming," she faltered. "I hear wheels. And mamma is not here to introduce you."
"Well," he said, smiling down on her. "Cannot you introduce me?"
"I—I cannot. I have never introduced anyone. I must seem very ignorant and gauche to you."
"You are delightful. And I am sure you are quite equal to anything. Am I to be introduced out here, or in the drawing-room after they have come downstairs?"
"Oh, I am not sure."
"Then perhaps you will let me advise you. When they are all here, I will appear in the drawing-room; and if your mother is not down by that time, we will help each other out. They will all be talking and will hardly notice me. But I must run."
The Geary phaeton drove up. It held Rose and her brother. After they had gone upstairs Magdalena went into the parlour to wait for them. The large room was very dim—the gasoline was misbehaving—and silent; she shivered with apprehension. There was no sign of her mother. But Trennahan's words and sympathy had given her courage, and she burned with ambition to acquit herself creditably in his eyes.
The guests arrived rapidly. In ten minutes they were all in the parlour, sixteen in number, the men in full dress, the women in organdies or foulards showing little of arm and neck. Mrs. Washington was in pink; Tiny in white and a seraphic expression; Rose wore black net and red slippers, a bunch of red geraniums at her belt, her eyes slanting at the men about her. With the exception of Ned Geary and Charley Rollins, a friend of Helena's, with both of whom she had perhaps exchanged three sentences in the course of her life, Magdalena knew none of the young men: they had been brought, at Mrs. Yorba's suggestion, by the other guests.
She could find nothing to say to them; she was watching the door. Would her mother never come? Her father was on the front verandah talking to Mr. Washington and her uncle.
Trennahan entered the room.
Magdalena drew herself up and went forward. She looked very dignified and very Spanish. No one guessed, with the exception of Trennahan, that it was the ordeal of her life.
"Mr. Trennahan," she said in a harsh even voice: "Mrs. Washington, Miss Brannan, Miss Montgomery."
He flashed her a glance of admiration which sent the chill from her veins, and began talking at once to the three women that she might feel excused from further duty. A few moments later Mrs. Yorba entered. She received Trennahan without a smile or a superfluous word. Mrs. Yorba was never deliberately rude; but were she the wife of an ambassador for forty years, her chill nipped New England nature would never even artificially expand; the cast-iron traditions of her youth, when neither she nor any of her acquaintance knew aught of socialities beyond church festivals, could never be torn from the sterile but tenacious soil which had received them.
Dinner was announced almost immediately. Mrs. Yorba signified to Trennahan that he was to have the honour of taking her in; and as she had not intimated how the rest were to be coupled, the women arranged the matter to suit themselves. Mrs. Cartright went in with Don Roberto, Mrs. Washington with Polk; there were no other married women present. As Charley Rollins was standing by Magdalena, she took the arm he offered her.
The function was not as melancholy as the Yorba dinners were wont to be. Young people in or approaching their first season are not easily affected by atmosphere; and those present to-night, with the exception of Magdalena and Tiny Montgomery, chattered incessantly. Tiny had a faculty for making her temporary partner do the talking while she enjoyed her dinner; but she listened sweetly and her superlatives were happily chosen.
Mrs. Cartright always talked incessantly whether anyone listened or not. Mrs. Washington, who sat on Don Roberto's left, amused him with the audacity of her slang. Where she learned the greater number of her discords was an abiding mystery; the rest of Menlo Park relegated slang to the unknown millions who said "mommer" and "popper," got divorces, and used cosmetics. When remonstrated with, she airily responded that her tongue was "made that way," and rattled off her latest acquisition. As she was an especial pet of Mrs. Yorba's—if that august dame could be said to pet anyone—and of distinguished Southern connections, the remonstrances were not serious.
Magdalena, although she ordered her brain to action, could think of nothing to say to Rollins; but he was a budding lawyer and asked no more of providence than a listener. He talked volubly about Helena's childish pranks, the last Bohemian Club Midsummer Jinks, the epigrams of his rivals at the bar. He appeared very raw and uninteresting to Magdalena, and she found herself trying to overhear the remarks of Trennahan, who was doing his laborious duty by his hostess. After a time Trennahan allowed his attention to be diverted by Ila, who sat on his right. That he was grateful for the change there could be no doubt. His expression up to this point had been one of grim amusement, which at any moment might become careworn. The lines of his face relaxed under Ila's curved smiles and slanting glances. They laughed gaily, but pitched their voices very low.
Magdalena wondered if all dinners were as wearisome as this. Rollins finally followed Trennahan's example and devoted himself to Caro Folsom, a yellow-haired girl with babyish green eyes, a lisp, and an astute brain. On Magdalena's left was a blond and babbling youth named Ellis, who made no secret of the fact that he was afraid of his intellectual neighbour; he stammered and blushed every time she spoke to him. He had gone in with Rose Geary, a blonde fairy-like little creature, as light of foot as of wit, and an accomplished flirt; who regarded men with the eye of the philosopher. They occupied each other admirably.
Opposite, another young lawyer, Eugene Fort, was saying preternaturally bright things to Tiny, who lifted her sweet orbs at intervals and remarked: "How dreadfully clever you are, Mr. Fort; I am so afraid of you!" or "How sweet of you to think I am worth all those real epigrams! You ought to keep them for a great law-book." Once she stifled a yawn, but Mr. Fort did not see it.
Little notice was taken of Magdalena, and she felt superfluous and miserable. Even Trennahan, who had seemed so sympathetic, had barely glanced at her. She wondered, with a little inner laugh, if she were growing conceited. Why should he, with one of the prettiest girls in California beside him? Ila was very young, but she belonged by instinct to his own world.
The dinner came to an end. The older men went to the billiard-room, the younger men followed the girls to the parlour. Trennahan talked to Tiny for a time, then again to Ila, who lay back in a chair with her little red slippers on a footstool. She had carefully disposed herself in an alcove beyond the range of Mrs. Yorba's vision.
Tiny, whose train added to the remarkable dignity of her diminutive person, crossed the room to Magdalena, who was sitting alone on the window-seat.
"You have done so well, 'Lena dear," she said, as she sat down beside her discouraged hostess. "I feel I must tell you that immediately. You are not a bit shy and nervous, as I should be if I were giving my first dinner."
Magdalena smiled gratefully. Tiny had always been the kindest of the girls. "I am glad you think I am not so bad," she said. "But I fear that I have bored everybody."
"Indeed, you have not. You are so calm and full of natural repose. The rest of us seem dreadfully American by contrast."
"You are never fussy."
"I know, but it is quite different. I've been very carefully brought up. You would be exactly as you are if you had brought yourself up. The Spanish are the most dignified—What are they going to do, I wonder?"
Mr. Fort approached. "We are going to walk about the grounds and step on the frogs," he said. "I don't know a line of poetry, but I can count stars, and I'll tell you of my aspirations in life. Will you come?"
"I so want to hear your aspirations, Mr. Fort," said Tiny. "I did not know that California men had aspirations."
The girls went with him to the verandah, and all started down the driveway together, then paired. To her surprise, Magdalena found Trennahan beside her.
"I am so glad to be with you again," he said petulantly. "I am tired of types."
"Yes; women that a man has been used to for many long weary years,—to put it in another way."
"But surely you find Ila very fascinating?"
"Oh, yes; but one understands the fascination so well; and it gives so much pleasure to—twenty-two, that it is almost immoral for an old fogy like myself to monopolise it. I don't understand you in the least, so I am here."
Magdalena trembled a little. The nineteen years of her life suddenly assumed a glad complexion, lifting her spirit to the level of her mates. She tried to recall the sad and bitter experiences of her brief past, but they scampered down into the roots of memory.
He did not speak again for a time, beyond asking if he might smoke. He was quite sincere for the moment; but he understood the much of her that was salient to his trained eye. Her parents, her timid reserve, so unlike that of other American girls favoured by fortune, her ignorance of certain conventionalities, the very fashion of her hair, the very incompatibility of her costume and colouring, told him two thirds of her short history. Of the history of her inner life he guessed little, but believed that she had both depth of mind and intensity of feeling. To get her confidence would be next to impossible; it was therefore well worth the effort. If she proved as interesting as he suspected, he believed that he should feel disposed to marry her did she only have a complexion. He was weary straight down into the depths of his weary soul of the women and the girls of the world; but he also abhorred a sallow skin. He had worshipped beauty in his day, and was by no means impervious to it yet; but he felt that he could overlook Magdalena's nose and mouth and elementary figure for the sake of her eyes and originality, did she only possess the primary essential of beauty. A man regards a woman's lack of complexion as a personal grievance.
If the American habit of monologue had been a part of Trennahan's inheritance, his foreign training had long since lifted it up by the roots; but he saw that if he was to make progress with this silent girl, he must do the talking. He could be both brilliant and amusing when he chose, and he exerted himself as he had not done for some time. He was rewarded by a rapt attention, a humble and profound admiration that would have flattered a demi-god. And in truth he was a demi-god to this girl, with her experience of elderly old-fashioned men and an occasional callow youth encountered on a verandah in summer.
They followed the driveway that curved between one of the two larger lawns and the deer park. The lawn was set thickly along its edge and sparsely on its sweep with fragrant trees and shrubs. Beyond the deer park was the black mass of the woods. The air was sweet with the mingled breath of June roses, orange blossoms, and the pepper-tree. After a time their way lay through a dark avenue of immense oaks, and the perfumes came from the Mariposa lilies in the fields beyond.
If Trennahan had been with Ila, he would have conducted himself as his surroundings and his companion demanded: he would have made love. But he was a man who rarely made a mistake; he talked to Magdalena of the difference between California and the many other countries he had visited, and answered her eager questions about life in the great capitals. As they were returning, he said to her,—
"You say you ride before breakfast. Do you think I might join you to-morrow? Your father has been kind enough to place his stable at my disposal."
"Oh—I—I don't know. My father is very—Spanish, although he doesn't like you to call it that."
"May I ask him?"
"Oh, yes, you could ask him."
When they reached the house he sought his host in the billiard-room. The game was over, and Don Roberto, Mr. Polk, and Mr. Washington were seated in front of the mantel-piece with their feet on the shelf. It was Don Roberto's favourite attitude; he felt that it completed the structure of his Americanism. He could only reach the tip of the shelf with the points of his little elegant feet, but he was just as comfortable as Mr. Polk, whose feet, large and booted, were planted against the wall. Mr. Washington, who was a most correct gentleman, with the illustrious forbears his name suggested, had never lifted his feet to one of his own mantels in his life; but Don Roberto's guests always humoured this little hobby, among many others.
"Ay, the Mr. Trennahan," said Don Roberto, graciously. "We make room for you."
The others moved along, and Trennahan, seeing what was expected of him, brought a chair and elevated his feet among the Chinese bric-a-brac. He accepted a choice cigar—there were certain luxuries in which Don Roberto never economised—and added his quota to the anecdotes of the hearthstone. As his were fresh and the others as worn as an old wedding-ring, it was not long before he had an audience which would brook no interruption but applause.
A Chinaman brought a peremptory message from Mrs. Washington, and the feet on the mantel were reduced to six. When these came down, two hours later, Trennahan said to Don Roberto,—
"May I ride with Miss Yorba to-morrow before breakfast?"
"Yes; I no mind," said the don, beaming with approval of his new friend. "But the boy, he go too. My daughter, no must ride alone with the gentleman. And you no leave the grounds, remember."
When Magdalena went up to her room, she spread all her pretty gifts on the table and asked herself if they were the secret of this novel feeling of content with herself and her world. She studied the mirror and fancied that she was not so plain as usual. Her eyes returned to her presents, and she shook her head. Her mind worked slowly, but it worked logically; nor was that imagination hers which keeps woman in a fool's paradise long after all but the husk of her Adam has gone.
"It is Mr. Trennahan," she admitted reluctantly but ruthlessly. "He is so clever and so agreeable—no, fascinating—that for the first time I forgot myself, and when I remembered was not unhappy because I am not beautiful nor clever. The world must be much nicer than I thought if there are many people like that in it."
To love she did not give a thought, but she smiled to herself after the light was out, and, still smiling, fell asleep.
The next morning she was downstairs by six o'clock, but found Trennahan before her. As he approached her,—he had been sauntering up and down the drive,—she wondered what he thought of her costume. As she was not allowed to leave the grounds, a habit had never been thought necessary for the heiress of the house of Yorba. She had worn for the past two years one of her mother's discarded black skirts and a cotton blouse. But it is doubtful if an inspired mind-reader could have made anything of such thoughts as Trennahan wished to conceal.
"You look as fresh as the morning," he said, with a gallantry which was mechanical, but true and delightful to a girl in her first experience of compliments.
"Did you sleep well?" she asked. "I hope the mosquitoes did not keep you awake. They are very bad."
"I believe they are, but I received a friendly warning from Mr. Polk and rubbed the leather which protects my skull with vinegar. I think it was superfluous, but at all events I slept undisturbed."
Magdalena regarded his skin attentively, much to his amusement. "It is thick," she said, feeling that she could not honestly reassure him, but quite positive that he expected her to answer.
He laughed heartily. "Oh!" he said. "What a pity you must 'come out'! I am a convert to the Old-Californian system. But here are the horses."
The improvised groom, a sulky and intensely self-conscious stable-boy, led up the horses, and Magdalena put her foot in Trennahan's hand.
"Oh!" he exclaimed, with a note of real admiration in his voice; and Magdalena nearly fell over the other side of her horse.
They cantered off sharply, the boy following a good thirty yards behind, feeling uncommonly sheepish when he was not thinking angrily of his neglected chores. It was not thought good form in Menlo Park to put on the trappings of Circumstance. Mrs. Washington drove a phaeton and took a boy in the rumble to open the gates; but the coachmen when driving the usual char-a-banc or wagonette performed this office while their mistresses steered the horses through the gates. No one ever thought of wearing a jewel or a decollete gown to a dinner or a dance. Mrs. Dillon, the Bonanza queen, having heard much of the simplicity of the worshipful Menlo Park folk, had paid her first calls in a blue silk wrapper, but, conceiving that she had done the wrong thing, sheltered her perplexities in black silk thereafter. Her daughter upon the same occasion had worn a voluminous frock of pale blue camel's hair trimmed with flounces of Valenciennes lace, that being the simplest frock in her wardrobe; but she privately thought even Mrs. Washington's apotheosised lawns and organdies very "scrubby," and could never bring herself to anything less expensive than summer silks, made at the greatest house in Paris.
"I am going to see the Mark Smith place this afternoon," said Trennahan. "Your mother has very kindly offered to drive me over. I suppose it has no woods on it. These are beautiful."
"They are the only ones in the San Mateo Valley," replied Magdalena, experiencing the full pride of possession. "Are there such beautiful ones in Europe?"
"Those at Fontainbleau are not unlike. But in England you stand in the middle of a wood and admire the landscape on either side."
"Helena wrote me something like that. She said that she always put on a veil when she went into an English wood for fear she would get freckled."
"Who is Helena?"
"She is my great friend. She is Colonel Jack Belmont's daughter, and the most beautiful girl in California. At least I think she is, for of course I have not seen them all."
"Are you always as conscientious as that? Why have I not seen this peerless creature?"
"She is in Europe. You will see her in December. Of course I do not know if she is a 'type,' but I don't see how anybody else could be like Helena. Mr. Rollins said last night that she was the concentrated essence of California."
"Describe her to me." He was delighted at the prospect of drawing her out on any subject.
Magdalena hesitated, wondering if she should have the courage to continue, did she begin a monologue. She recalled the sustained animation of the girls at her dinner, and moved as if to shake her head, then recollected her ambition to shine in conversation. To no one had she ever found it so easy to express herself as to this man. Why not take advantage of that fact? And that represented but the half of her present ambition. If she could only interest him!
He watched her closely, divining some cause of her hesitation, but not all. Her complexion was even less desirable by day than by gas, but her hair was tumbled, her eyes were sparkling softly; and the deep green arbours of the wood were an enchanting aid to youth.
"She has curly shining hair about the colour of mahogany, and big—long—dark blue eyes that look as if they were not afraid of anything, and make you afraid sometimes, and regular features, and a whiter skin than Tiny's, with a beautiful pink colour—" She stopped short, feeling that her attempt at description was as ineffective as the hours wasted upon her much modelled hero.
"That sounds very charming, but still—never mind her appearance. Tell me what you so much admire in her."
"She talks so much, and she isn't afraid of anybody. She says she wouldn't lie because she wouldn't pay anyone that compliment. She loves to 'cheek' and shock people. She walks all round the outside of the house—upstairs—on a narrow ledge, and she runs to fires—at least she ran to one—and she won't study when she doesn't feel like it. And—and—she even snatched off papa's skull-cap once."
Trennahan threw back his head and laughed loud and long. "And you would have me believe that all that is what moves you to admiration. Don't you know, my dear child, that you love your friend in spite of her tomboy eccentricities, not because of them? You wouldn't be or do one of those things if you could."
Again Magdalena hesitated. The implied approval was delightful; but she would not hold it on false pretences. She answered firmly,—
"I went to the fire with her."
"You? Delightful! Tell me about it. Every detail."
She told him everything except the terrible sequel. It was lamely presented, but he cared nothing for the episode. His sympathies were immediate if temporary, and experience had eaten off the very cover of the book of seals. He followed her through every mental phase she unconsciously rehearsed; and when she brought the story to an abrupt close, lacking the art to run it off into generalities, he inferred something of the last development and did not press her to continue. He pitied her grimly. But he was an intensely practical man.
"You must never think of doing that sort of thing again," he said. "Unless a person is naturally eccentric, the attempt to be so demoralises him, because there is nothing so demoralising as failure—except on one's own particular lines. Did you, for instance, jump on a horse and career barebacked through Menlo Park like a wild Indian,—a performance which your friend would probably carry off with any amount of dash and chic—you would feel a hopeless fool; whereas," he gave her a keen side glance, "if you felt that you possessed a talent—for music, say—and failed forty times before achieving success, you would feel that your failures partook of the dignity of their cause, and of your own character."
She turned to him with quickening pulse. "Do you think," she faltered, hunting for phrases that would not commit her, "that if a person loved an art very much, even if he could not be sure that he had genius, that he would be right to go on and on, no matter how often he became discouraged?"
Her eyes were staring at her horse's neck; she did not see him smile. He had felt quite sure that she sought relief for the silences of her life in literary composition. When an unattractive woman has not talent she finds a double revenge in the torture of words, he thought. What shall I say to her? That she is whittling thorns for her own soul? Bah! Did I not find enjoyment once in the very imaginings of all that has scourged me since? Would I have thanked anyone for opening my eyes? And the positive is the one thing that grips the memory. It is as well to have what high lights one can.
She had raised her head and was looking at him expectantly.
"Certainly," he said. "He should go on, by all means. Love of an art presupposes a certain degree of talent."—May Heaven forgive me for that lie, he thought.
She detected his lack of spontaneity, but attributed it to the fact that he had not guessed her personal interest in the question. "Have you met many literary people?" she asked. "But of course you must. Did you like them very much?"
"I have inquired carefully, and ascertained that there are none in Menlo. If there were, I should not think twice about the Mark Smith place."
Magdalena felt herself burning to her hair. She glanced at him quickly, but he averted his eyes and called her attention to a magnificent oak whose limbs trailed on the ground. Should I tell him? she thought, every nerve quaking. Should I? Then she set her lips in scorn. He spoke of "literary" people, she continued. It will be many a day before I am that. Meanwhile, as Helena would say, what he doesn't know won't hurt him.
He had no intention of letting her make any such confidences. "Tell me," he said. "I have heard something of the old Spanish families of California. You, of course, belong to them. That is what gives you your delightful individuality. I should like to hear something of that old life. Of course it interests you?"
"Oh, I love it,—at least, I loved it once. My aunt, my father's sister, used to talk constantly of that time, but I have no one to talk to of it now; she has lived in Santa Barbara for the last three years. She told me many stories of that time. It must have been wonderful."
He drew one leg across the horse's neck and brought him to a stand. They had entered the backwoods and were walking their horses. The groom was nowhere to be seen. He was, in fact, awaiting them at the edge of the woods, his beast tethered, himself prone, the ring-master of a tarantula fight.
"Tell me those stories," commanded Trennahan. He knew they would bore him, but the girl was very interesting.
Magdalena began the story of Ysabel Herrara. At first she stumbled, and was obliged to begin no less than three times, but when fairly started she told it very well. Many of her aunt's vivid picturesque phrases sprang from their dusty shelves; her own early enthusiasm revived. When she had finished she passed on to the pathetic little histories of Elena Duncan and Benicia Ortega. She had told over those stories many times to herself; to-day they were little more than the recital of a well-studied lesson. The intense earnestness of Trennahan's gaze magnetised her out of self-consciousness. When she was concluding the third, his horse shied suddenly at a snake, and while he quieted it she tumbled back to the present. She sat with parted lips and thumping heart. Had she talked as well as that? She, Magdalena Yorba, the dull, the silent, the terrified? She felt a glad pride in herself, and a profound gratitude to the wizard who had worked the spell.
"I have never been more interested," he said in a moment. "How delightfully you talk! What a pity you don't write!"
Magdalena's heart shook her very throat, but she managed to answer, "And then you wouldn't buy the Mark Smith place?"
"Well, no, perhaps I wouldn't," he answered hurriedly, lest she might be moved to confidence. He had a lively vision of Magdalena reading her manuscripts to him, or sending them to him for criticism. "But you must tell me a story every time we—I am so fortunate as to have you all to myself like this. I suppose we should be going back now."
Magdalena took out her watch. The little air of pride in her new possession amused Trennahan, although he saw the pathos of it.
"Yes," she said; "it is nearly eight. We must go. Papa does not like us to be late for breakfast."
As they reached the edge of the woods, Magdalena gave an exclamation of disgust; but Trennahan leaned forward with much interest. The two tarantulas, after tearing each other's fur and legs off, were locked in the death embrace, leaping and rolling.
"Get on your horse at once," said Magdalena, sternly. "You are a cruel boy."
"But that is very interesting," said Trennahan; "I never saw it before."
"They are always doing it here. They pour water—" She turned to the boy, who was mounted, and close behind them, now that they were likely to come within the range of the old don's vision at any moment. "Dick," she said sternly, "how did you get those tarantulas up? Have you a whiskey flask about you?"
She spoke with all her father's harsh pride when addressing an inferior: Don Roberto regarded servants, in spite of the heavy wage they commanded, as he had the Indians of his early manhood. Trennahan watched her closely, remarking upon the variety a man might find in a woman if he chose to look for it.
The boy assured Magdalena that the tarantulas had been above ground. She shrugged her shoulders and turned her back expressively upon him.
"You see those little round holes covered with white film?" she said to Trennahan. "They lead down to the tarantulas' houses,—real little houses, with doors on hinges. People pour water down, and the old tarantula comes up—back first, dragging his legs after him—to see what is the matter. Then they set two of them at each other with sticks, and they—the tarantulas—never stop fighting until they have torn each other to death: they have two curved sharp teeth."
Good sport for variety's sake, thought Trennahan. I see myself engaged on warm afternoons.
After breakfast Trennahan lay in a long chair on the verandah and smoked undisturbed. Mrs. Yorba was busy, and Magdalena sat up in her room, longing to go down, but fearing to weary him. She recalled the early hours with vivid pleasure. For the first time in her life she was almost pleased with herself. She took out her writing materials; but her beloved art would not hold her. She went to the window and unfastened the shutter softly. Trennahan was not talking to himself nor even walking up and down the hard boards below, but the aroma of his cigar gave evidence that he was there. It mingled with the perfume of the pink and white roses swarming over the roof of the verandah almost to her window.
She experienced her first impulse to decorate herself, to gather a handful of those roses and place them in her hair. Her aunt had never been without that national adornment, worn with the grace of her slender girlhood.
She stepped over the sill, catching her breath as the tin roof cracked beneath her feet, but gathered the roses and returned to her mirror. With the nimble fingers of her race she arranged the roses at one side of her head, above and behind the ear. Certainly they were becoming. She also discovered that she had her aunt's turn of the head, her graceful way of raising her hand to her ear.
But it is so little, she thought with a sigh; if I could only have the rest!
Her mind wandered back to the heroines of her aunt's tales. If she but had the beauty of those wondrous girls, Trennahan would have taken fire in the hour that he met her, as their caballeros had done. The thought made her sigh again, not with a woman's bitterness,—she had lived too little for that,—but with a girl's romantic sadness. Why had she been defrauded of her birthright? She recalled something Colonel Belmont had once said about "cross-breeding being death on beauty in nine cases out of ten." Why could not her father have married another woman of his race? She dismissed these reflections as unfilial and wicked, and returned to her work; but it was only to bite the end of her pen-holder and dream.
Meanwhile Trennahan fell asleep and dreamed that his Menlo house caught fire one night and that all the maidens of his new acquaintance came in a body to extinguish the flames. Miss Montgomery played a hose considerably larger round than her neck, with indomitable energy and persistence. Miss Brannan, in a dashing red cap and jacket, danced like a bacchante on the roof, albeit manipulating large buckets of water. Mrs. Washington was also there, and, swinging in a hammock, encouraged the workers with her characteristic optimism expressed in picturesque American. Magdalena, in a suit of her father's old clothes, was handing his books through the library window to Miss Folsom. Miss Geary was scrambling up the ladder, a hose coiled about her like a python. The leader of the company stood on the roof directly above the front door, giving orders with imperious voice and gesture. But although the flames leaped high about her, starting the leaves of a neighbouring tree into sharp relief, he could not see her face.
Trennahan did not see Magdalena until luncheon. She came in late, and her manner was a shade colder and more reserved than usual. After much excogitation, she had decided to leave the roses in her hair, but it had taken her ten minutes to summon up courage to go downstairs.
He understood perfectly, and his soul grinned. Then he sighed. Youth had been very sweet to him, all manifestations of femininity in a woman very dear. There were four long windows in the dining-room, but the roof of the verandah, the thick vines springing from pillar to pillar, the lilac-trees and willows just beyond, chastened the light in the room. Magdalena looked almost pretty, with her air of proud reserve, the roses nestling in her dark hair. Ten years ago he might have loved her, perhaps, in spite of her complexion.
Mrs. Yorba did not notice the roses. Her mind was blind with wrath: the cream sauce of the chicken was curdled. During at least half the meal she did not utter a word; and Trennahan, wondering if fate were forcing him into the permanent role of the garrulous American, a breed for which he had all the finely bred American's contempt, talked of the weather, the woods, the climate, the beauty of the Californian women, with little or no assistance from Magdalena. The moment he paused, and he was hungry, the catlike tread of the Chinese butlers was the only sound in the large house; the silence was so oppressive that he reflected with gratitude that his visit would be done with the morrow's morn.
Finally, Mrs. Yorba left the table and stepping through one of the open casements walked up and down the verandah. She was very fond of this little promenade between the last solid course of luncheon and the griddle-cakes and fruit.
"I am glad you wear flowers in your hair," said Trennahan. "Your head was made for them. I am certain your Ysabel What's-her-name must have worn them just so the night her ardent lover conceived the idea of robbing the Mission of its pearls for her fair sake."
Magdalena's face glowed with its rare smile. "But Ysabel was so beautiful," she said wistfully,—"the most beautiful woman in California."
"All women are beautiful, my dear Miss Yorba—when they are young. If girls could only be made to understand that youth is always beautiful, they would be even prettier than they are."
Magdalena's eyes were large and radiant for a moment. She was disposed to believe in him implicitly. She determined that she would think no more on the beautiful women of her race, but learn to make herself attractive in other ways. Helena would return soon and would teach her.
"I have read in books that plain women are sometimes more fascinating than beautiful ones," she said. "How can that be? Of course you must know."
"A fascinating ugly woman is one who in the same moment sets the teeth on edge and makes a beauty look like a daub or a statue. Her pitfall is that she is apt to be lacking in pride: she makes too great an effort to please. Your pride is magnificent. I say that in strict truth and without any desire to pay you a compliment. Had fate been so unkind as to make you an ugly woman, you would not have had a jot less; it is the finest part of you, to my way of thinking. You are worrying now because you have less to say than these girls who have travelled and been educated abroad, and who, moreover, are of lighter make. Don't try to imitate them. The knack of making conversation will come with time; and you will always be appreciated by the men who are weary past your power to understand of the women that chatter. If I buy this place, I shall read over some of my favourite old books with you,—that is, if you will let me; and I believe that you will."
Magdalena's hands were clasped on the edge of the table; she was leaning forward, her soul in her eyes. For the moment she was beautiful, and Trennahan looked his admiration and forgot her lack of complexion. To Magdalena there had been a sudden blaze of golden light, then a rift, through which she caught a brief flash of heaven. Her vague longings suddenly cohered. She was to be solitary no longer. She was to have a companion, a friend,—perhaps a confidante, a person to whom she might speak out her inmost soul. She had never thought that she should wish to open her reserve to anyone, but in this prospect there was enchantment.
Mrs. Yorba returned to her seat and helped herself to hot cakes.
"When Miss Montgomery and Miss Brannan were leaving last night," she said, "they asked me to stop for them this afternoon, as they wished to persuade you that the Mark Smith place was exactly what you wanted, or something to that effect. So we shall stop for them. The char-a-banc will be at the door at a quarter to four."
That was her last remark, as it had been her first, and some twenty minutes later the repast came to an end.
Trennahan was again left to his own devices. He amused himself inspecting the stable, a most unpretentious structure, containing all that was absolutely indispensable and no more. Attached to the farmhouse in an adjoining field was a barn for the work-horses. The stable-boy did duty as guide, and conducted Trennahan through the dairy, granary, carpenter shop, and various other outbuildings. It was all very plain, but very substantial, the symbol of a fortune that would last; altogether unlike the accepted idea of California, that State of rockets and sticks.
But, for the matter of that, thought Trennahan, all things should be stable in this land of dreaming nature. He had been told since his arrival that everything had been in a rut since the great Bonanza plague; but assuredly this archaic repose must be its natural atmosphere; its fevers must always be sporadic and artificial.
Yes, he thought, it is a good place to die in. It would have been intolerable ten years ago, but it seems little short of paradise when a man has dry rot in him. And that girl looked remarkably well with those roses in her hair. Poor thing!
Magdalena came down to the verandah a few moments before the char-a-banc drove up. She wore a buff lawn, simply made by the family seamstress, and a large straw hat trimmed with daisies. She had taken the flowers out of her hair, but had pinned a large cluster of red roses at her waist. Altogether she looked her best, and felt that she might be able to hold her own against the other girls.
One secret of Trennahan's charm for women was that he never overlooked their little efforts to please him. He said immediately,—
"Yellow and red were made for you. You should leave white for those who cannot stand the fury of colour."
She was keenly alive to the pleasures of appreciation, but merely asked if he had managed to amuse himself.
"Fairly well, considering that you deserted me."
"But they almost always leave the men alone down here in the daytime, Tiny says. She says that all they come for is to get away from San Francisco, and that they prefer to go to sleep on the verandah or the lawns."
"I should not have guessed that Miss Montgomery was cynical. I fancy she finds entertaining in the open air rather sleepy work herself. Or perhaps she thinks they are sufficiently honoured in being asked within the sacred precincts of Menlo Park," he added mischievously. "I have been given to understand that it is an honour."
"We keep very much to ourselves," said Magdalena, gravely. "We never care to know new people unless we are sure that we shall like them."
To flirt with her a little, or rather to flirt at her, was irresistible. He bent over her, smiling and compelling her gaze. "And how can I be sure that you will not find me wanting?" he asked; "not like me at all a month hence? I think I should wait at least that time before buying this place."
She shook her head seriously. "I am sure we are all going to like you. While you were with papa last night, Tiny and Ila and Mrs. Washington and Rose and Caro all said they hoped you would buy the Mark Smith place. Ila said she had not come back to California to talk to children; and Tiny—who is not really enthusiastic—said you were one of the few men she ever wanted to see a second time. Mrs. Washington said, 'A man-of-the-world at this last end of creation, stepping off landing—'"
"I am more flattered than I can possibly express, but I want to know what you think about it. Shall you tire of me?"
"Oh, I think not. I am sure I shall not."
"Do you want me to buy this place?"
She looked at him helplessly. Instinct whispered that he was unfair, but she had no anger for him. "I—I—think I do," she said. "I—I think you know I do." And then she did feel a little angry with him.
He drew back at once. "You are my first friend, you know," he said in his ordinary manner. "I should not think of settling near you unless I were sure of not boring you. But I believe we have tastes in common, and I hope you will let me come over often."
"You will be always welcome," she said formally. Her anger had gone, leaving a chill in its wake.
The char-a-banc drove up. Mrs. Yorba descended simultaneously. Her virtues were many, and one of them was punctuality.
The Montgomerys' house was next in age to the Yorbas', but neither so large nor so solid. Even its verandah, however, had a more homelike air; its carpets and rugs were old but handsome; and it was full of pretty trifles, and much carved furniture, gathered in Europe. The lawns were small, the grounds carelessly kept, but there were many fine old trees and a wilderness of flowers.
Coralie Brannan and Lee Tarlton, Mrs. Montgomery's little ward, were romping on the lawn as the Yorbas drove up. Tiny and Ila were sitting on the verandah. The former was in her favourite white, and a hat and sash of azure. Ila wore a superlatively smart frock of yellow silk muslin, and a yellow sun-hat covered with red poppies.
Trennahan saw the flash of dismay from Magdalena's eyes before her face settled into its most stolid expression. He felt genuinely sorry for her, but his only part was to get out and hand these radiant visions into the char-a-banc.
"It is so nice to think that you may be a neighbour of ours," said Tiny, sweetly, as Ila was kissing Mrs. Yorba, and asking if she were not a good girl to meet her halfway. "We shall really be glad to have you."
"We shall make him forget that he has not lived here always," said Ila, with her most brilliant smile. She was much elated at the unexpected foil. "He will become quite one of us."
"I am sure he would not think of settling elsewhere in California," said Mrs. Yorba. And then she added with what for her was extreme graciousness, "My husband and I shall be very glad to have him for neighbour."
Trennahan murmured his thanks. He was deeply amused. That he was the representative of one of the proudest families in a State some three hundred years old mattered nothing to these Californians of Menlo Park. Is it catching, I wonder? he thought. If some of my English friends should come out here five years hence, should I patronise them? Doubtless, for it is like living on another planet. Exclusiveness is the very scheme of its nature. It is encouraging to think that I have yet another phase to live through.
Ila claimed his attention and kept it as they rolled down the dusty road toward the Mark Smith place. Tiny, after a futile attempt to engage Magdalena in conversation, devoted herself prettily to Mrs. Yorba and talked of the plans for the summer.
Magdalena was acutely miserable. Her exaltation of spirits was a bare memory. She hated her dowdy frock, her glaring contrast to the vivid Ila, accentuated by that grotesque similarity of attire. She listened to Ila's brilliant chatter and recalled her own halting phrases, her narrow vocabulary, and wondered angrily at the conceit which had prompted her to hope that she was overcoming her natural deficiencies.
Then she remembered that she was a Yorba, and drew herself up in lonely pride. It was a privilege for these girls to be intimate with her, to call her 'Lena, great as might be their social superiority over the many in San Francisco whose names she had never heard. In her inordinate pride of birth, in her intimate knowledge of the fact that she was the daughter of a Californian grandee who still possessed the three hundred thousand acres granted his fathers by the Spanish crown, she in all honesty believed no one of these friends of her youth to be her equal, although she never betrayed herself by so much as a lifting of the eyebrow. She had questioned, after her loss of religion, if it were not her duty to train down her pride, but had concluded that it was not; it injured no one, and it was a tribute she owed her race. She liked Trennahan the better that he had discovered and approved this pride.
Magdalena did not see Trennahan alone again; he did not ask her to ride with him on the following morning, and left for town immediately after breakfast. But before taking his seat in the char-a-banc he held her hand a moment and assured her with such emphasis that he owed the great pleasure of his visit entirely to her, that her spirits, which had been in weeds, flaunted into colour and song; and she went at once to her nook in the woods, feeling that the fire in her mind was nothing less than creative.
But she did not write for some time. The sun was already intensely hot; even in those depths the air was heavy, the heat waves shimmered among the young green of the undergrowth.
Magdalena stretched herself out lazily and looked up into the green recesses of the trees. The leaves were rustling in a light hot wind. She fancied that they sang, and strained her ears to catch the tune. It looked so cool and green and dark up there; surely the birds, the squirrels, the very tree-toads,—those polished bits of malachite,—must be happy and fond in their storeyed palace. What a poem might be written about them! but they would not raise their voices above that indefinite murmur, and the straining ears of her soul heard not either.
She sat up and began to write, endeavouring to shake some life into her heroine, but only succeeding in making her express herself in very affected old English, with the air of a marionette.
Then mechanically, almost unconsciously, she began the story again. At the end of an hour she discovered that she had dressed up Trennahan in velvet and gold, doublet and hose. She laughed with grim merriment. Ignorant as she was, she was quick to see the incongruity between modern man in his quintessence and the romantic garments of a buried century. Also, her hero had addressed his startled friends in this wise:
"I can't stand that rat-hole any longer. I'm going to stay down here with the rest of you, whether I'm hanged for it or not."
This was undoubtedly what Trennahan would have said; but not the Cavalier, Lord Hastings of Fairfax. She had a vague prompting that on the whole it was preferable to,—
"Gadsooks, my bold knights, and prithee should a man rot in a rat-ridden cupboard while his friends make merry? Rather let him be drawn and quartered, then fed to ravens, but live while he may."
But she dismissed the thought as treason to letters, and proceeded on her mistaken way with the Lady Eleanora Templemere. Shakspere and Scott were her favourite writers; she felt that she must fumble into the sacred lines of literature by such feeble rays as they cast her. She liked and admired the great realists whose bones were hardly dust; but they did not inspire her, taught her nothing.
The next morning, as she was starting for the woods, rather later than usual, Dick, the stable-boy, who had just returned from the post-office, detached a letter from a packet he was handing the butler and ran after her. As Helena was her only correspondent, she marvelled at the strange handwriting, but opened the letter more promptly than most women do in the circumstances. It was from Trennahan and read:
DEAR MISS YORBA,—I have virtually bought the place. That is to say, I shall buy it as soon as the deeds are made out. Meanwhile, I am looking for servants and hope to move down on Monday next at latest. Mr. Smith has also consented to sell me his stud, which, your father tells me, is exceptionally fine. So, you see, I am really to be your neighbour, and am hoping you are friendly enough not to be displeased. At all events, I shall give myself the pleasure of riding over on Monday evening, and hope that you will join me in another ride on the following morning. Meanwhile, can I do anything for you in town? Is there anything that you would care to read? Pray command me.
J. S. TRENNAHAN.
Never was there a more commonplace or business-like note, but it seemed a miracle of easy grace to Magdalena: it was the first note of any sort that she had received from a man not old enough to be her father. She invested it with all the man's magnetism, and heard it enunciated in his cultivated voice. She imagined it delivered in the nasal tones of her uncle, or in the thick voice of the youth that had sat on her left at the birthday dinner,—she had forgotten his name,—and shuddered.
She recalled that her mother had received an envelope directed by the same hand the night before; but that, doubtless, had been a mere note of politeness. He had written this because he wished to do so!
She spent the entire morning answering the note, and discovered that it was as easy to write a book. After tearing up some twenty epistles, she concluded that the following, when copied on her best note-paper, and compared with the dictionary, would do,—
DEAR MR. TRENNAHAN,—I am glad that you have bought the Mark Smith place. There is nothing that I want. Many thanks.
On the following Monday Don Roberto had a cold and did not go to town, but sunned himself on the verandah, alternately sipping whiskey and eating quinine pills. Magdalena dutifully kept him company, and the whiskey having made him unusually amiable, he talked more than was his wont with the women of his family. In his way he was fond of his daughter, deeply as she had disappointed him; and, had she known how to manage him, doubtless her girlish wants would have met with few rebuffs. But that would have meant another Magdalena.
"I like this Trennahan," he announced. "He prefer talk with me than with the young mens, and he know plenty good stories, by Jimminy! He have call on me at the bank three times, and I have lunch with him one day. Damn good lunch. He is what Jack call thoroughbred, and have the manners very fine. I like have him much for the neighbour. He ask myself and Eeram and Washeengton to have the dinner with him on Thursday and warm the house. He understand the good wine and the tabac, by Scott! I feel please si he ask me plenty time, and I have him here often."
Magdalena was delighted with these unexpected sentiments. She pressed her lips together twice, then said,—
"He asked me if I could ride again with him to-morrow morning."
"I have not the objection to you ride all you want it with Mr. Trennahan, si you not go outside the place. Need not take that boy, for he have the work; and I have trust in Mr. Trennahan."
He would, indeed, have welcomed Trennahan as a son-in-law. Magdalena must inherit his wealth as well as the immense fortune of her uncle; neither of these worthy gentlemen had the least ambition to be caricatured in bronze and accumulate green mould as public benefactors. Nor did Don Roberto regret that he had no son, having the most profound contempt for the sons of rich men, as they circled within his horizon. It would be one of the terms of his will that Magdalena's first son should be named Yorba, and that the name should be perpetuated in this manner until California should shake herself into the sea.
He had long since determined that Magdalena should marry no one of the sons of his moneyed friends, nor yet any of the sprouting lawyers or unfledged business youths who made up the masculine half of the younger fashionable set. Nor would he leave his money in trust for trustees to fatten on. Ever since Magdalena's sixteenth birthday he had been on the look-out for a son-in-law to his pattern. The New Yorker suited him. A wealthy man himself, Trennahan's motives could not be misconstrued. His birth and breeding were all that could be desired, even of a Yorba. He understood the value of money and its management. And he was well past the spendthrift age.
Don Roberto and Mr. Polk had discussed the matter between them; and these two wily old judges of human nature had agreed that Trennahan must become the guardian of their joint millions. Magdalena was her father's only misgiving. Would a man with an exhaustive experience of beautiful women be attracted into marriage by this ugly duckling? But Trennahan had passed his youth. Perhaps, like himself, he would have come to the conclusion that it was better to have a plain wife and leave beauty to one's mistresses. He had not the slightest objection to Trennahan having a separate establishment; in fact, he thought a man a fool who had not.
Little escaped his sharp eyes. He had noted Trennahan's interest in Magdalena, the length of the morning ride, his daughter's sparkling eyes at breakfast. Propinquity would do much; and the bait was dazzling, even to a man of fortune.
He became aware that Magdalena was speaking.
"I have no habit; and Ila says that they intend to have riding parties."
"You can get one habit. Go up to-morrow and order one."
Magdalena felt a little dazed, and wondered if everything in her life were changing.
"I hear wheels," she said after a moment. They were on the verandah on the right of the house. She stood up and watched the bend of the drive. "It is the Montgomery char-a-banc," she said, "and there are Mrs. Cartright and Tiny and Ila and Rose. Shall you stay?"
"I stay. Bring them here to me. Tiny and Ila beautiful girls. Great Scott! they know what they are about. Rose very pretty, too."
The char-a-banc drew up; and as its occupants did not alight, Magdalena went down and stood beside it, shading her eyes with her hand.
"We have come to take you for a drive to the hills, 'Lena dear," said Tiny. "Do come."
"Papa has a bad cold. I cannot leave—"
"Poor dear Don Roberto!" exclaimed Mrs. Cartright. "I will get out this minute and speak to him. I know so many remedies for a cold,—blackberry brandy, or currant wine, or inhaling burnt linen and drinking hot water—" But she was halfway down the verandah by this time.
"Do you remember the last time we went to the hills?" asked Ila. "Helena and Rose shrieked with such hilarity that the horses bolted."
"I can answer for myself," said Rose. "I may say that the memory was burnt in with a slipper."
"I never was spanked," murmured Tiny. "That is one of the many things I am grateful for. It must be so humiliating to have been spanked."
"Who can tell what futures may lie in a slipper?" replied Rose, who had a reputation for being clever. "I am sure that my slipperings, for instance, generated a tendency for epigram; something swift and sharp. It destroyed the tendency to bawl continuously,—the equivalent of the great national habit of monologue."
"Rose, you are quite too frightfully clever," said Tiny, with an assumption of languor. "You will be writing a book next."
"I will make 'Lena the heroine," retorted Rose, with a keen glance, "and call it 'The Sphinx of Menlo Park.'"
"Fancy 'Lena being called a sphinx," said Ila, who was looking very bored. "Are you coming, 'Lena, or not? I suppose you don't want to be kept standing in the sun."
"Oh, we're all used to that," said Rose. "I have three new freckles that I owe to Mrs. Washington and Caro Folsom. They called yesterday and kept me standing in the sun exactly three quarters of an hour before they made up their minds to come in and stay ten minutes."
"I'd like to go—"
Mrs. Cartright returned, shaking her head.
"Don Roberto does not want to be left alone," she said. "I fortunately thought of a most wonderful remedy for colds, and I have also been telling him about a terrible cold General Lee had once when he was staying with us. He did look so funny, dear great man, with his head tied up in one of old Aunt Sally's bandannas—"
"Please excuse me for interrupting you, dear Mrs. Cartright," said Tiny, firmly; "but I think we had better get out and talk to Don Roberto, and go to the hills another day when 'Lena can go with us. Don't you think that would be best?" she murmured to the other girls. "We might help to amuse him a little."
"It will be vastly to our credit," said Rose, "for he certainly won't amuse us."
"Has anyone ever been amused here?" asked Ila, looking at Magdalena, who was politely listening to Mrs. Cartright's anecdote. "Fancy having the biggest house in the smartest county in California and making no more of it than if it were a cottage. The rest of the houses are so cut up; but fancy what dances we could have here."
"I have been thinking over a plan," said Tiny, "and that is to try to manage Don Roberto. 'Lena can't, but I think the rest of us could, and Mrs. Yorba likes to give parties."
"I am told that in early days there was an extra burst of lawlessness after each of her balls,—reaction," said Rose.
"I don't think that it is nice for us to be discussing people at their very doorstep," said Tiny. "I just thought I'd mention my plan. And if it succeeded, and all took charge, as it were, there need be no stiffness in an informal party in the country. Shall we get out?"
"By all means, General Tom Thumb," said Rose, with some ire; "it is very plain who is to be boss in this community, as Mrs. Washington would say."