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The Californians
by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
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"Wait till Helena comes," whispered Ila.



XXIV

Don Roberto rose as they approached. He did not take off his skull-cap, but he received them with the courtly grace of the caballero, one of his inheritances which he had not permanently discarded, although he practised what he was pleased to call his American manners in the sanctity of his home.

He bowed low, kissed their finger-tips, and handed them in turn to the chairs which he first arranged in a semi-circle about his own. When he resumed his former half-reclining attitude he had the air of an invalid sultan holding audience.

"We are so sorry that you have such a dreadful cold," said Tiny, with her sweetest smile and emphasis; "and so glad that we happened to drive up. You couldn't come for a drive with us, could you? We should love to have you."

Don Roberto rose to the bait at once. He was as susceptible to the blandishments of pretty women as Jack Belmont, although their influence over his purse was an independent matter.

"Very glad I am that I have the cold," he answered gallantly; "for it give me the company of three so beautiful ladies. I no can go for drive, for it blow, perhaps; but I no care, so long as you here with me sit."

"Well, we are going to stay a long time; and we are so glad we are back in Menlo again,—so many of us together. We used to love so to come here; it seems ages ago. And now that we have got 'Lena again, you must expect us to fairly overrun the house."

"It is yours," said Don Roberto, in the old vernacular. "Burn it if you will."

Tiny, who had never heard even an anecdote of the early Californians, gave a quick glance at the whiskey flask, but replied undauntedly,—

"How gallant you are, Don Roberto! The young men say such stupid things. But you always were so original!"

"Poor old dear, I feel like wiping it off," whispered Rose to Ila.

But it was evident that Don Roberto's vision was powdered with the golden dust of flattery. He smiled approvingly into Tiny's pretty face. "But I say true, and the young mens do not sometimes. It make me young again to see you here."

"One would think you were old," said Tiny. "But do you really like to see us here? Should you mind if we came sometimes in the evening? It would be such fun to meet at each other's houses and talk on the verandahs."

"Come all the evenings," said Don Roberto, promptly, "si you talk to me sometimes."

"I want to do that. Ila plays, and Rose sings beautifully. Some evening we will get up charades—to amuse you."

"On Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights I am here."

"Those will be our evenings to come here." She gave a peremptory glance to Rose, who responded hurriedly, "Are you fond of music, Don Roberto? It will give me great pleasure to sing for you; and Ila has been learning some of my accompaniments."

Don Roberto did not answer for a moment. His memory had played him a trick: it had leaped back to the days of guitars and gratings. He rarely sought the society of gentlewomen, not, at least, of those whose names were on visiting lists. There was something unexpectedly sweet and fragrant in the company of these three beautiful girls. Don Roberto's memories were hanging in a dusty cupboard, and his heart had shrunken like the meat of a nut too long neglected; but there was life at the core, and the memories came forth, wanting only a breath to dust them. Yes, he should like to have these girls about him. And Magdalena had lived the life of a hermit. It was time for her to enjoy her girlhood.

"Yes," he said, "alway I like the music. Si the piano need tune, I send one man down. You can dance, too, si you like it. Always I like see the young peoples dance."

Tiny clapped her hands. Ila leaned forward and patted his hand.

"What an inspiration!" she exclaimed. "This will be a simply gorgeous house to dance in. Don Roberto, you certainly are an angel!"

Don Roberto had never been called an angel before, but he smiled approvingly. "Some night this week we have the dance," he said. "My wife write you to-night."

"I am on the verge of nervous prostration," whispered Rose, as his attention was claimed by Mrs. Cartright. "The effort of keeping my countenance—but the way you handle a trowel, Tiny, is a new chapter in diplomacy. Butter and molasses for fifty and after; a vaporiser and peau d'espagne for the sharp young things. I was just saying," she added hastily, as Don Roberto reclined suddenly and turned to her, "that young men are a nuisance. I am thinking of writing a book of advice—"

"A book!" cried Don Roberto, his brows rushing together. "You no write the books?"

"Of course she would never publish," interposed Tiny. "She would just write it for our amusement. I think it would be so horrid to publish the cleverest book," she said, turning to Magdalena, unmistakable sincerity in her voice. "It has always seemed to me so—so—horrid for women to write things to print—for anybody to read."

Magdalena did not answer her. She was staring at her father, breathless for his next words.

"The ladies never write," announced that grandson of old Spain. "Nor the gentlemens. Always the common peoples write the books."

"Oh, it's better now, really," said Rose. "Some people that write are said to be quite nice. Of course, one doesn't meet them in society,—in San Francisco society, at least,—but that may be the fault of society."

"Of course," said Tiny. "I do not mean that people who write must be horrid. But I think I couldn't know a woman who made her name so public,—I mean if I hadn't been fond of her before; but I should really hate to see a friend's name in print. You are not really thinking of writing a book, are you, Rose, dear?"

"I have not the slightest idea of writing a book—for the very good reason that I haven't brains enough. You needn't worry about any of us adding to the glory of California—unless, to be sure, 'Lena should be clever enough."

She spoke at random, and Magdalena's face did not betray her; but she almost hated the girl who was forcing her to another of her mental crises.

"My daughter write!" shouted Don Roberto. "A Yorba! She make a fool de my name like the play-actor that do the monkey tricks on the stage? Si she do that—"

"Here comes Mr. Trennahan," said Magdalena, standing up. "Mamma is not here. I must go to meet him."

Trennahan threw the reins to his groom and sprang out of the cart. "I could not wait till evening, you see," he said, as he came up the steps. "What is the matter? Something has gone wrong with you."

She shivered. "Yes. Something. I cannot tell you."

"Can we have our ride to-morrow?"

"Yes, I can ride with you. Don't, d-don't—"

"Yes?"

"Don't talk to me when you get round there."

"I won't; and I won't let them talk to you."

Something has gone wrong, he thought. She looks like a condemned criminal.



XXV

The next morning when Trennahan rode up, Magdalena was already on her horse, and they cantered off at once.

"I must teach you to trot," he said. "This is very old-fashioned. You must not be behind your friends, who would scorn to canter."

"Very well. You can teach me."

The next half-hour was given up to the lesson. Magdalena did not like the new method, but persevered heroically. A half-hour was all she could endure, and they cantered across the meadows to the back woods.

Magdalena was as pale as a swarthy person can be. Her eyes were heavy and shadowed.

"You did not sleep last night," said Trennahan, abruptly. "And something had happened yesterday before I came. What was it?"

"I don't think I can tell you. I don't like to talk about things—about myself."

"Then let me tell you that no human being can go through life without help. With all your brain and your natural reticence, you are no exception to the rule. I am much older than you are. I know a great deal of the world. You know nothing of it. I can help you if you will let me."

He was interested, and thought it probable that her trouble came from the depths of her nature. Nevertheless, she was very young, and he prayed that her grief were not the sequence of a rejected manuscript.

Magdalena flushed, then paled again. She remembered that she had wanted to speak out to him; but face to face with the prospect, the levelling of lifelong barriers appalled her. If she could only tell part and conceal the rest! But she was no artist in words. She drew a deep sigh and opened her lips, but closed them again.

"It will be easier here in the woods," he said, as they rode into the deep shade. "The world always seems quite different to me in a wood." It did not in the least, but he knew that it did to her.

"I should have to go back," she said finally. "I cannot begin with yesterday. And I talk so badly."

"The longer the story, the more interested I shall be. And I like your direct simplicity. Let us walk the horses."

"When I was a child I was very religious,—a Catholic. It was a very great deal to me. When I prayed to the Virgin about my wants and troubles, I felt quite happy and hopeful. I lost it a year or two ago. I had read a great many scientific books; and my religion fell to pieces like—like—There was a beautiful old tree on the edge of the woods once. It looked as if it would stand a century longer. One day there was a terrible wind, and it fell down. Its sap and roots were almost gone. I felt dreadfully—about the religion, I mean. I felt, somehow, as if my backbone had been taken out. I knew that one must have some sort of moral ideal. I thought a great deal, and finally I determined to make my conscience my religion. I made a resolution that I would never do, and try not even to think, what I believed to be wrong. When I was little, I followed Helena into a great many of her naughty escapades,—though nothing so bad as the fire,—and I did not tell my parents, as a rule, because I could not see that it did any good. When my New England conscience, as Helena calls it, got the best of me and I confessed about the fire, the consequences were so terrible that I made up my mind that I would do as I chose and say nothing about it. I kept to that until I lost my religion. Then I was careful about every little thing. It was easy enough for a year. Then—I don't think I can go on."

"Then you wrote a book and your conscience hurts you because you have not told your parents."

Magdalena dropped her reins and stared at him. Had a voice leapt down from heaven, she could not have been more dumfounded.

"I never told you," she said helplessly. "Can all the others know too?"

"I am positive that no one suspects but myself. Do go on."

"You have guessed something, but not all. I have only begun a book; and I am so ignorant, and my mind is so slow, that I know it will be years before I shall be able to write a book that anybody would read. At first this dismayed me. Now I do not care, so long as I succeed in the end; and it will be a pleasure to see myself improve. I have not thought it wrong not to tell my parents, so long as what I did could not affect them in any way. Do you not think I was right in that?"

"Assuredly."

"I believed that when I had done something excellent, if that time ever came, they would be proud of it. My mother was a school-teacher, you know; and I did not see why my father should care. He hates to hear women talk, but writing is different. At least I thought so. Yesterday, just before you came, the subject came up. Rose said she believed I could write a book, and papa was furious at the mere thought. I knew nothing about old-world prejudices, but it seems that a lady would be thought to have disgraced herself in Spain if she wrote a book: and papa is as Spanish as if he had never learned a word of English, although he would be ready to beat anyone that told him so. He did not have a chance to say much yesterday; but I saw what his ideas were and that nothing could change them.

"I did not go to sleep at all last night. I sat up trying to think what I should do. Of course I need not tell him what I had done; but should I give it up? That was the question. If I continued, I must tell him of my intention to be a writer. He would forbid it. If I refused to obey, which I do not think I have any right to do, he is quite capable of locking me up. But I cannot go on writing in secret. That would be a great wrong; it would be living a lie. I could not make myself believe that I only wrote for the pleasure of writing: I should know that I longed for the time when I should see my book on somebody's shelf. It seems to me that I cannot give it up. I have much less in my life than most girls. In spite of the hard work, I have felt almost happy while writing. And I am afraid that I have as much ambition as pride. But he is my father. My first duty is to him—I cannot make up my mind. I suppose there should be no struggle; but there is, and I feel as if it were killing me."

Trennahan had been the confidant of many women, had listened to many tragic confessions, had seen women in agonies of remorse; but nothing had ever touched him as did this bald statement, abrupt with repressed feeling, of a girl's solitary tragedy. Had her hero been a lover instead of an art, he would have met her confidence with platitudes and a suppressed yawn; but her lonely attitude in the midst of millions and friends, her terrible slavery to an ideal, to a scourging conscience which was at war with all the secretiveness, self-indulgence, and haughty intolerance of restraint which she had inherited with her father's blood, interested him even more profoundly than it appealed to his sympathies. He determined not only to help her, but to watch her development.

"You have honoured me with your confidence," he said. "Don't doubt for a moment that I do not appreciate the magnitude of that honour. I know just how proud and reticent you are, how much it cost you to speak. I believe that I have enough wisdom to help you a little. Go on with your work. If you have a talent, you get it, one way or another, from your parents, and it is as much entitled to your consideration as your health or your riches. The birthright of every mortal is happiness. Some philosopher has said that happiness is the free exercise of the higher faculties of a man's nature. If that is your instinct, pursue it. Of course we have no right to claim our happiness at the expense of others. But your father is safe for the present. No matter what your talent, you will not know enough, nor have had sufficient bare practice with your pen, to write even a short story of first-rate merit for ten years to come. You may count it a blessing that various causes are preventing you from rushing into print. At the end of that period your father will be ten years older. He will probably be much softened and will look at things differently; or he may be dead. Or you may be—and most likely will be—married. You need only concern yourself with the present. It is possible that you have discovered your only chance of happiness. Do not commit the incredible folly of strangling that chance before it is born. This is not my day for lecturing, but I am going to take your conscience in hand. It needs training. Before you know it, you will be morbid. That means brain rot, and no chance of the commonest sort of enjoyment."

"You are very good; no one has ever been so good. You ought to know far better than I what is right and what is wrong."

"I am afraid I do. Promise me this: that you will do nothing decisive until the end of the summer. Take that time to think it over. There will be little time to write in any case. I shall monopolise a good deal of your time, and I fancy they intend to be rather gay here. Six months from now we will talk it over again. Will you agree to that?"

"I must think it over. My mind is a slow one. But I think you are right."

And several days later, when he was dining at the house, she told him briefly that she should take his advice and write no more until the summer was over.



XXVI

Mrs. Yorba, who did not like to have her plans made for her, decided to give the party on the evening of Saturday week. The floor was to be canvased, and three musicians were engaged. She promised the girls that after this initial party they should dance informally at Fair Oaks as often as they wished.

It was some time before Magdalena rode alone with Trennahan again. The other girls rode every morning and claimed him. Magdalena joined these parties as soon as her habit was finished, and met him every afternoon at one or other of the new tennis courts, which consisted merely of chalked lines and a net,—Ila had introduced tennis to Menlo,—but either Ila or Caro possessed him with the tentacles of their kind. Mrs. Yorba had made it understood that her party was to be the first of the season, so the evenings alone were unoccupied. Trennahan dined twice at Fair Oaks, but Don Roberto and Mr. Polk claimed him. Magdalena wondered if he had forgotten his original programme. But with four handsome girls demanding his attentions, a literary friendship was doubtless a dream of the future. She felt an unaccountable depression, and wondered if she were going to be ill.

By the time the evening of the party arrived, the nervousness which had assailed her when the subject was broached had been tempered by time and constant association with many who would be present. Tiny and the other girls had promised to make "things go." There were to be no ball gowns, and the whole affair was to be as informal as possible. She even harboured pleasurable anticipation. Parties, she had read and heard, were brilliant exhilarating affairs, and she loved dancing as only a Spanish woman can. In this, at least, she should excel her fellows. She had taken lessons once a week for the last two years from a solemn and automatic person who had rarely opened his lips except to complain of the heavy carpets in the cavernous Yorba parlours.

Magdalena dressed immediately after dinner; the guests were expected by nine. She wore her white organdie, but fastened crimson roses in her hair and belt. She was by no means satisfied with her appearance,—she was too ardent an admirer of beauty for that,—but she knew that she looked far better than she had on the night of her dinner. She shuddered at the memory of that white ribbon about her swarthy throat.

She went downstairs, and thought the big rooms looked very inviting with their white floors; the folding-doors had been rolled back, and the parlour and dining-room made an immense sweep. The vases on the mantels were full of flowers. In the distance she heard the tuning of a fiddle.

The night was hot, and all the windows were open. The dark grounds beyond looked full of mystery, and of infinite depth. She thought at the moment that there was nothing she loved more than the mystery of night in the country. As she stood in the middle of the brilliantly lighted room, the heavy darkness without outlined with trees and great shrubs, the broken spaces above, set with stars, allured her. Almost unconsciously she stepped through one of the windows, crossed the verandah and drive, and entered the long narrow path between the lawns. Here there was more sense of space, for the lawns were very large; but the trees were close along their edge and massed heavily at the end of the perspective. Above was a long banner of night sky. The monotonous chanting of frogs was the only sound.

Certainly, California is a land of beauty and peace, she thought. Mr. Trennahan says he has never known anything like it, and he has been everywhere. Everybody should be happy in it, and I suppose everyone is, mostly. Poets like Tennyson always make weather to suit moods and circumstances. If they are right, one should laugh and be happy for eight months in the year in California, and only sad when it rains. There does not seem much chance for tragedy, although I have heard that there are many murders and suicides; but perhaps that is because the towns are new and excitable. There is nothing in the country itself to make one unhappy, as there must be in other countries where Nature has done so little, and they have so many centuries of tragic past behind them.... Oh, dear, I am struggling toward something, as usual. What is it?

She touched her fingers to her forehead, then drew them lightly back and forth, as if to clear the mist from her brain, the rust from the wheels.... I seem to have seeds in my mind. Why don't they sprout? Why are they for ever knocking at the hard earth over their heads? One would think they were in their graves instead of never having been born.

She sighed and shook her head, but her thoughts ran on. Am I happy? I think so. And all the girls seem happy. Mr. Trennahan says he watched the rest of the world rise into an inverted abyss of smoke when the train slid down the Sierras, and that his memory has been asleep ever since. I have been unhappy here! she continued abruptly. And one night I suffered—suffered horribly—and this last week——She stopped short, looking at the beauty and peace about her with a feeling of sharp and swift resentment. She had a sense of being betrayed by the country of which she was, far more than her mates, a part. She was of its first blood, the daughter of its Arcadia, the last living representative of all that it had been in the fulness of its power. And she knew California and felt it as no one else did. That sense of betrayal, of personal treachery, passed as swiftly as it had come, but seemed to murmur back that it would come again, and again; and that with each visit she would understand it better.

I have read somewhere that artists must suffer before they can accomplish anything, she thought. Well, I should not mind, I should not—at least, I think I should not.

Some time since she had come to the end of the path and turned to the right and into a long lane running between fields. She sat down on a stump; she had quite forgotten the party. Her brain was full of struggling ideas. But in a few moments she surrendered herself to the spell of the night. There were no trees quite near her, nothing but level fields thick with grain. Far to the left and curving a mile behind her was the black outline of the woods. Far behind them were the towering mountains with their forests of redwoods; those on the crest sharp against the stars. California was a new country. It might have been newer, so vast was its silence, so primeval its peace.

Oh, I am sure I am happy, thought Magdalena, suddenly. Yes, I am sure. But I wish I might never see anyone again. California is faultless; it is civilisation that has spoilt her.

She was stumbling close upon great truths; but it was part of her inheritance that she had no perception of what she was groping for, and passed almost unheeding the little that came to her.

"Miss Yorba, are you cultivating a reputation for eccentricity?"

She sprang to her feet. Trennahan was approaching her. He was in evening dress, without a hat. His expression was one of extreme amusement, and Magdalena felt the blood in her face.

"Have they come?" she asked in dismay.

"They are dancing, or were about to begin as your mother sent me to look for you."

"I had forgotten—"

"I was sure you had. Miss Brannan insisted that you were hiding, but I had no doubt that you had wandered off in a reverie." He laughed. "Happy you!" he said. "Happy you!"

"You think I am an idiot."

"Indeed I do not. I feel sorry to think that in a year from now such a thing will no longer be possible. But we must go back, or they will be sending someone to look for us."

"Is papa angry?"

"I don't think he noticed. Miss Montgomery and Miss Brannan were using all their blandishments to make him think the party as interesting as themselves; and I am positive they were succeeding."

When they reached the house, the quadrille which had opened the party was finishing. Don Roberto was making a sweeping bow to Tiny, whose face wore an inscrutable expression. Magdalena was about to step through the window, but Trennahan guided her to the door, and they entered the room without attracting attention. There were some forty people present. With the exception of the Yorbas, everybody had house guests. Mrs. Yorba sat in a corner with a small group of elderly ladies. Mr. Polk stood before the fireplace in the parlour, his legs well apart, staring absently at the young people, who looked gay and content.

"What am I to do?" asked Magdalena, helplessly.

"Nothing, just now, as there are no wall-flowers. In a moment one of these youths will ask you to dance, and of course you will consent. It is my misfortune that I no longer dance. I think your fate approaches."

A young man with a rather bright face came toward her. His name was Payne. She had met him at the Montgomerys.

"May I have the pleasure of the first waltz, Miss Yorba?" he asked. "I am told that it will be a unique pleasure,—that you can talk science and waltz in the same breath, as it were."

He did not speak in sarcasm, merely in facetiousness. He was a type of the fresh young San Franciscan whose ways are not as all ways. Magdalena looked at him in sombre anger and made no reply. He saw that he had made a mistake, and reddened, wondering why on earth she were in society at all, if she could not be like other girls. Magdalena did not appreciate his natural indignation; but she saw that he was miserable, and relented.

"I will waltz with you if you wish," she said.

Mr. Payne bowed stiffly and offered his arm. They walked the length of the two rooms in utter silence; then the musicians played the opening bars of a waltz. Magdalena remembered that this would be her first waltz with any man, barring the teacher who had solemnly piloted her up and down the parlours in town. She had hoped much from her first dance; and she was to have it with this silly overgrown boy. It was a minor disappointment, but sharp while it lasted.

"Shall we begin?" he asked formally. He was sulky, and eager to have it over. Two or three of his friends had flashed him glances of ironical sympathy, and he was too young to bear ridicule with fortitude.

Ila was floating down the room with Alan Rush, a young South American, as graceful of foot and bearing as herself. Magdalena forgot her partner and gazed at them with genuine delight. She had read of the poetry of motion, and this illustration appealed to the passion for beauty which was strong in her nature.

She turned to her partner. "Do they not dance beautifully?" she exclaimed. That much-enduring youth replied that they did, and asked her again if she were ready. She laid her hand on his shoulder and they started. Magdalena realised at once that her partner was an excellent dancer, and that she was not. She felt that she was heavy, and marvelled at the lightness of Ila and Rose. They seemed barely to touch the floor, and were laughing and chatting as naturally as if they had no feet to guide.

"Could you take a little longer step?" asked Mr. Payne, politely. "I—I—beg pardon for suggesting it, but it's the fashion just now. That's right—a little longer. Oh, I—I—am afraid that your feet are too small. Shall we sit down a moment?"

They sat down in the recess, and Payne wiped his brow. "It is so warm," he muttered apologetically.

"Mr. Rush does not look warm," she said cruelly.

He repressed the obvious reply, but made no other. In a moment he asked her if she cared to finish the waltz.

"No," she said. "I do not. You may go and finish it with someone else, if you like."

He moved off with alacrity, and Magdalena sat alone for some moments feeling very miserable. What was the matter with her? Could she do nothing well? And she should be a wall-flower for the rest of the evening, of course. That wretched man would tell everybody how badly she danced.

But she had forgotten that she was hostess. A moment after the waltz ended, three young men came over to her and begged for the honour of her hand. They were Rollins, the sharp-faced Fort, and Alan Rush. She gave the dance to follow to Rush, and the others, having inscribed her name on their cuffs, moved off. Rush sat down beside her. He had a frank kind face, and the beauty of his figure and the grace of his carriage had given him a reputation for good looks which had reached even Magdalena's ears. He was at that time the most popular young man in San Francisco society. Magdalena decided that she liked him better than anyone she had met except Trennahan. His voice was rich and Southern, although he had no Spanish blood in him.

"I watched you dance," said Magdalena, abruptly. "I don't dance well enough for you."

"Dancing is all a matter of habit," he said kindly. "This is my third year. You have no idea how awkward I was when I began. I am sure you will be the best dancer in society next winter—with all those Spanish grandmothers."

"Do you think so?" She liked him almost as well as Trennahan for the moment.

He did not, for he had noted that she was lacking in natural grace; but he was chivalrous, and he saw that she was discouraged.

"There's the music," he said. "Suppose we go out in the hall by ourselves, and I will give you a little lesson. No?"

Magdalena was delighted, but she merely stood up in her unbending dignity and said that she was glad to take advantage of his kindness.

He was a man who danced so well that he compelled some measure of facility in his partner. Magdalena felt inspired at once, and carefully obeyed every instruction.

"We will have a great many other lessons, no?" he said as the music finished. "By the time that famous coming-out party of yours comes off, you will be in great form."

"Will you open it with me?"

"I shall be delighted, and to help you all I can." They were walking down the hall, and he was bending over her with an air of devotion which she thought very pleasant. His accomplished eyes appealed to the instinct of coquetry, buried deep in the seriousness of her nature, and she smiled upon him and found herself talking with some ease.

She danced with all the young men, but they bored her as much as she felt that she bored them. All the girls danced with her father, and he seemed amiable and pleased, especially when Tiny was smiling upon him. Ila, despite her elegance and refinement, suggested the ladies of his leisure, Rose had too sharp a tongue, and Caro had an exaggerated innocence of manner and eye which experience had led him to distrust. But Tiny, beautiful, cool, and remote, reminded him of the women of his youth, when he was a man of enthusiasms, ideals, and dreams.

Mr. Polk spent the evening wandering about alone or staring from the hearth-rug. One or two of the girls asked him to dance, but he refused brusquely. It was the first dance he had attended since the one given by Thomas Larkin to celebrate the Occupation of California by the United States.

The party broke up a little after twelve, and all assured Magdalena that the party had been a success with such emphasis that she was convinced that it had been; but when she was in bed and the light out, she cried bitterly.



XXVII

There were no engagements for the following morning, and Magdalena was sitting idly on the verandah when she saw Trennahan sauntering up the drive. The blood flew through her veins, lifting the weight from her brain. But she repressed the quick smile, and sat still and erect until he reached the carriage block, when she went to the head of the steps to meet him.

"Put on your hat," he said, "and let us hide in the woods before somebody comes to take us for a drive or to invite us to luncheon. I haven't forgotten our private plans, if you have."

"I had not forgotten, but Tiny and Ila manage everything. I don't like to refuse when they are so kind."

"You must develop a faculty—or no, leave it to me. I shall gradually but firmly insist upon having a day or two a week to myself; and Miss Geary informs me that such unprecedented energy can never last in this Vale of Sleep; that before a month is over we shall all have settled down to a chronic state of somnolence from which we shall awaken from Saturday till Monday only. Then, indeed, will Menlo be the ideal spot of which I dreamed while you left me to myself on that long day of my visit."

Her hat was in the hall. She put it on hastily back foremost, and they walked toward the woods. Suddenly she turned into a side path.

"Let us walk through the orchard," she said. "Then we shall not meet anyone."

The cherries were gone; but the yellow apricots, the golden pears, the red peaches and nectarines, the purple plums, hung heavy among the abundant green, or rotted on the ground. Several poor children were stealing frankly, filling sacks almost as large as themselves. Don Roberto had never so far unbent as to give the village people permission to remove the superfluity of his orchard, but he winked at their depredations, as they saved him the expense of having it carted away; his economical graft had never been able to overcome his haughty aversion to selling the produce of his private estate. Magdalena often came to the orchard to talk to these children: the poor fascinated her, and she liked to feel that she was helping them with words and dimes; but they were not as the poor of whom she had read, nor yet of the fire. They were tow-headed and soiled of face, but they wore stout boots and well-made calico frocks, and they were not without dimes of their own.

"Does California seem a little unreal to you?" she asked. "I mean, there are no great contrasts. The poverty of London must be frightful."

"You ungrateful person, for Heaven's sake reap the advantage of your birthright and forget the countries that are not California."

They passed out of the back gate and entered the middle woods. Magdalena without hesitation led the way to the retreat hitherto sacred to Art. Trennahan need not have apprehended that she would inflict him with her manuscript, nor with hopes and fears: she was much too shy to mention the subject unless he drew her deliberately; but she liked the idea of associating him with this leafy and sacred temple.

He threw himself on his back at once, clasping his hands under his head and gazing up into the rustling storeys above. About his head was a low persistent hum, a vibration of a sound of many parts. Above were only the intense silences of a hot California morning.

Trennahan forgot Magdalena for the moment. He felt young again and very content. His restless temperament, fed with the infinite varieties of Europe, had seldom given way to the pleasures of indolence. Even satiety had not meant rest. But California—as distinct from San Francisco—with her traditions of luxurious idleness, the low languid murmur of her woods, her soft voluptuous air, her remoteness from the shrieking nerve centres of the United States, the sublime indifference of her people to the racing hours, drew so many quiet fingers across his tired brain, half obliterating deep and ugly impressions, giving him back something of the sense of youth and future. Perhaps he dimly appreciated that California is a hell for the ambitious; he knew that it was the antechamber of a possible heaven to the man who had lived his life.

He turned suddenly and regarded Magdalena, wondering how much she had to do with his regeneration, if regeneration it were, and concluded that she was merely a part of California the whole. But she was a part as was no other woman he had met.

She had clasped her hands about her knees and was staring straight before her. Trennahan, in a rare flash of insight, saw the soul of the girl, its potentialities, its beauty, struggling through the deep mists of reserve.

"I could love her," he thought; "and more, and differently, than I have loved any other woman."

He determined in that moment to marry her. As soon as he had made his decision, he had a sense of buoyancy, almost of happiness, but no rejuvenation could destroy his epicureanism; he determined that the slow awakening of her nature, of revealing her to herself, should be a part of the happiness he promised himself. He was proud that he could love the soul of a woman, that he had found his way to that soul through an unbeautiful envelope, that so far there was not a flutter of sense. He was to love in a new way, which should, by exquisite stages, blend with the old. There could be no surprises, no enigmatic delights, but vicariously he could be young again. Then he wondered if he were a vampire feeding on the youth of another. For a moment he faced his soul in horrified wonder, then reasoned that he was little past his meridian in years; that a man's will, if favoured by Circumstance, can do much of razing and rebuilding with the inner life. No, he concluded with healthy disgust, he was not that most sickening tribute to lechery, an old vein yawning for transfusion. He was merely a man ready to begin life again before it was too late. This girl had not the beauty he had demanded as his prerogative in woman, but she had individuality, brains, and all womanliness. Her shyness and pride were her greatest charms to him: he would be the first and the last to get behind the barriers. Such women loved only once.

She turned her head suddenly and met his eyes.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

"I have been wondering what that huge pile is behind you."

"That is a wood-rat's nest."

"And you are not afraid of him? Extraordinary woman!"

"He is much more afraid of me. I am very afraid of house-rats."

"And you sit here often? You are not afraid of snakes?"

"There are none in these woods. They always retreat before people—civilisation. Everyone drives through here, but scarcely anyone goes through the back woods; the roads are so bad—"

"Hush!"

The sound of wheels, faint for a moment, grew more distinct; with it mingled the sound of voices. A heavy char-a-banc rolled by, and the words of Tiny and Ila came distinctly to the two in hiding.

"They will have a long and fruitless search," said Trennahan, contentedly. "We are going to stay here and become acquainted."

And they did not move for two hours. For a time Trennahan made her talk, learning almost all there was to know. He even drew forth the tattered shreds of the caballero, who had been little more than a matter of garments, and a confession of her long and passionate desire to be beautiful. The story ended with the lonely and terrible surrender of her religion. He was profoundly interested. Once or twice he was appalled. Did he take this woman, he must assume responsibility for every part of her. She was so wholly without egoism that she would give herself up without reservation and expect him to guide her. That would be all very well with the ordinary woman; but with a nature of high ideals, and possibly of transcendent passions,—was he equal to the task? But in his present mood the prospect fascinated him. One of her slim hands, dark but pretty, lay near his own. He wanted to take it in his, but did not: he wished to keep her unself-conscious as long as possible.

He tried to talk to her about himself, but found it hard to avoid the claptrap with which a man of the world attempts to awaken interest in woman. He had always done it artistically: the weariness, the satiety, the mental grasp of nothingness,—these had been ever revealed in flashing glimpses, in unwilling allusiveness; the hope that he had finally stumbled upon the one woman sketched with a brush dipped in mist. But feeling himself sincere for the first time in incalculable years, he dismissed the tempered weapons of his victories with contempt, and, not knowing what others to substitute, talked of his boyhood and college days. As a result, he felt younger than ever, and closer to the girl who was part of the mystery that had taken him to her heart.



XXVIII

A woman's heart may be said to resemble a subterranean cavern to which communication is had by means of a trap-door. How the lover enters this guarded precinct depends upon the lover and the woman. Sometimes the trap-door is jerked open, and he is hurled down with no by your leave, gobbled up, willing or unwilling. Sometimes there is a desperate fight just over the trap-door, in which he does sometimes, but not always, come off victor. At other times he suddenly finds himself rambling through those labyrinthine passages, to his surprise and that of the woman, who, however, perceives him instantly. There is no such fallacy as that a girl turns in terror or in any other sentiment from the knowledge of this dweller below the trap-door. A woman of experience may, after that first glimpse: she may, in fact, bolt the trap-door yet more tightly and sit herself upon it. But a girl uses it as a frame for her face and watches every movement of the occupant with neither fear nor foreboding until occasion comes,—hanging the halls with the tapestry of dreams, fitting the end of each rose-hued scented gallery with the magic mirror of the future.

Magdalena, at the end of that morning in the woods, was quite aware that she was in love. She wondered why she had not thought of it before, and concluded that in the prelude she had been merely fascinated by the first enthralling man she had known. The trap-door of her heart was not jealously guarded; nevertheless, it was not yawning for an occupant. Just how and when Trennahan slipped in, she could not have told, but there he certainly was, and there he would stay so long as life was in her.

He went home with her to luncheon, and she longed to have him go, that she might be alone with the thought of him. He left early in the afternoon, and she locked herself in her room and sat for hours staring into the tree-tops swimming in their blue haze. She was not in the least terrified at the beginnings of tumult within her; she rather welcomed them as the birthright of her sex. In this first stage, she hardly cared whether Trennahan were in love with her or not, having none of the instinct of the huntress and her imagination being a slow one. It was enough that she should see him for many hours alone during this dreamy exquisite summer, that she should look constantly into the cold eyes that had their own power to thrill. That he was not the orthodox lover in appearance, manner, nor age pleased her the better. She was not like other girls, therefore it was fitting that she should find her mate among the odd ones of earth. That there might be others like him in the great world whence he came, that he might have loved and been loved by women of the world, never occurred to her. She was content, having found her other part, and wove no histories of the past nor future.

But as the weeks went on and their intimacy grew, she accepted the fact that he loved her before the disposition to speculate had arrived in the wake of love. During the hours that they spent rambling through the woods, or in whatever fashion pleased their mood, although he did not startle her by definite word or act, he managed to convey that their future was assured, that she was his, and that in his own time he should claim her. By the time this dawn broke, her imagination was beating at its flood-gates, and shortly broke loose. Thereafter when she was not with Trennahan in the present, she was his in a future built on the foundations of all she had read and all that instinct taught her. She had no wish that the present should change; it was enough that it suggested the inevitable future. She was happy, and she knew that Trennahan was happy.

Meanwhile they escaped the others and rode together before breakfast, read together after, explored every corner of the woods, and talked of many of the things under heaven. Magdalena, except for an occasional flutter of eyelid or leap of colour, confessed nothing: her pride was a supple armour that she laced tightly above her heart; but Trennahan's very self lifted the trap-door and looked to him through her eyes, and he had no misgivings. Sometimes he awakened suddenly in the night and gave a quick, short laugh: he was so new to himself. But he knew that he had found something very like true happiness, and he was loving her very deeply. At first he had been pricked by the apprehension that it could not last; that nature had constructed him to move upon the lower planes; that a prolonged tour on the heights would result in disastrous and possibly hideous reaction: his time-worn habits of loving had been of woof and make so different. But as time passed and the light in his spirit spread until it dazzled his eyes and consumed his memories, as the sense of regeneration grew stronger, as the future beckoned alluringly, as he forgot to remember whether Magdalena were plain or beautiful, as peace and content and happiness possessed him,—he ceased to question his immutability. He had lived in the world for forty years, and it was like an old bottle of scent long uncorked. The ideals of his youth had not changed; they had gone. Beautiful women had turned to gall on his tongue, shrunken to their skeletons in his weary eyes. Fate had steered his bark in the open sea of bachelorhood until he was old enough and wise enough to choose his mate with his soul and his brain, and Fate had steered him to Magdalena. He was profoundly thankful.

Their intimacy attracted little attention in Menlo Park, for the reason that it was confined within the wooded limits of Fair Oaks. When they rode and drove with the others and attended dinners and dances, they kept apart. As Rose had predicted, gaieties were sporadic, although the young people met somewhere, usually at the Yorbas', every Saturday evening; what others did during the long hot days when there was no company to entertain, concerned no one. Occasionally one of Don Roberto's huge farm waggons, as deep as a tall man's height, was filled with hay, and young Menlo Park jolted slowly to the hills. They ate their luncheon by cool streams dark with meeting willows, and poked at the tadpoles, gathered wild roses, killed, perhaps, a snake or two. Then, toward evening, they jolted home again, hot, dusty, and weary, but supremely content in having lived up to the traditions of Menlo Park. Tiny alone came out triumphant on these trying occasions. Dressed in cool white, she seated her diminutive self in the very middle of the haystack and talked little. The others, undaunted by the sun, started in high spirits, flirted with energy, and changed their positions many times. Upon the return journey, Tiny, again, sat serene and white; the rest dangled over the sides as a last relief for aching limbs and backs, and forgot the very alphabet of flirtation. It is true that Magdalena did not flirt; but she worked hard to keep her guests pleased and comfortable, and usually went to bed with a headache.



XXIX

It was Tiny who discovered that it was leap year, and invited Menlo to dance at her house one Saturday night and take all advantage of its privileges. Mrs. Yorba consented that Magdalena should have a new frock, the organdie being in a condition for a maid to sniff at. Magdalena asserted herself, and ordered a scarlet tarlatan. The frock was smartly made at a good house, and Magdalena, on the night of the party, was almost pleased with herself. The vivid colour slanted under her swarthy skin. She wore red slippers and red roses in her hair. By this time she knew something of dress,—it was October,—and she had also discovered that red was Trennahan's favourite colour.

She was happy, but a little nervous. There had been more than one sign of late that the pretty comedy of friendship had run its course. The very words they uttered had lost their clear-cut black and white, seemed to grow more full-blooded. His eyes had made her lose her breath more than once, had even sharpened her wits to hasty subterfuge.

The Montgomery parlour was a narrow room at right angles with the dining-room. The two rooms had been thrown into one and canvased.

Tiny invited Don Roberto to open the dance with her, and that platonically enamoured gentleman consented with a grand flourish. Ila exercised her blandishments upon Mr. Polk, but to no purpose. No one could understand his constant attendance at these dances, for he merely stood about with unrelaxing visage, scarcely exchanging a word with even the older men. He wore the suit of evening clothes which had done duty at men's dinners these fifteen years, and had bought a pair of evening shoes and a white necktie. Eugene Fort remarked that he looked like a man whose vital organs had turned to gold and were giving him trouble. Mr. Washington replied that the tight skin which had done such good service was certainly beginning to bag, and that if he didn't knock off and take a vacation in Europe he'd find himself breaking.

"To my knowledge," he added, "he hasn't taken a vacation in thirty years; hasn't even been to Yosemite or the Big Trees. He has always said that work was his tonic; but the truth was that he feared to come home and find a dollar unaccounted for,—neither more nor less. And there comes a time, my dear young man, there comes a time—"

"It comes early in this State."

"It does," Mr. Washington replied, with a sigh and a glance at his young wife. "But the fevers have raged themselves out here, or I am much mistaken. We're in for quiet times. The next generation will live longer, perhaps."

"How old is Polk?"

"Nearly sixty. He's worn better than many, because he's let whiskey alone; never took a drop more than was good for him when Con. Virginia was tumbling from seven hundred to nothing. Neither did Yorba, who is several years older; but he's got the longevity of his race. Jack Belmont is under fifty, and looks older than either,—when you get him in a good light. California is all right, and whiskey is all right, but the two together play the devil and no mistake."

"It is the last place where I should want whiskey," said Trennahan, who had joined them.

"You weren't here half a dozen years ago. While the Virginia City mines were booming, your backbone felt like a streak of lightning; you hadn't a comma in your very thoughts; you woke up every morning in a cold sweat, and your teeth chattered as you opened your newspaper. You believed every man a liar and dreamt that your veins ran liquid gold. The Stock Exchange was Hell let loose. Men went insane. Men committed suicide. No one stopped to remark. Do you wonder that men watered the roots of their nerves with alcohol? I did not, but the fever of that time burnt me out, all the same. I've never been the same man since. Nor has any other San Franciscan. Even Polk and Yorba, although they sold out at the right moment in nine cases out of ten, felt the strain. As for Jack Belmont, he was on one glorious drunk all the time,—and never more of a gentleman. How he pulled through and doubled his pile to boot, the Lord only knows; but he did."

"Miss Belmont will be a great prize," observed Fort, thoughtfully. "The greatest beauty in the State, if she has fulfilled her promise; any amount of go, and one or two cold millions,—the Californian heiress sublimated."

"And mistress of herself and her millions in a few years. I hear that Belmont has not drunk a drop since he has been in Europe with her; he's been gone a year now. That is fatal at his age,—after having been in pickle some thirty years. Poor Jack,—the best fellow that ever lived! I suppose his love for the girl brought him up with a round turn. Doubtless he suddenly realised that she was old enough to understand, and that he must pull himself up if he would keep her respect. There's a good deal of tragedy in California, Mr. Trennahan, and it's not of the sentimental young folks' sort, neither."

"I won't admit it," said Trennahan, who was looking at Magdalena. "Its very air breathes content—now, at any rate. I am glad I did not come earlier."

"California is the Princess Royal of her country," said Fort; "and at her birth all the good fairies came and gave her of every gift in the stores of the immortals. Then a wicked fairy came and turned the skeleton in her beautiful body to gold; and, lo! the princess who had been fashioned to bless mankind carried, hidden from sight by her innocent and beneficent charms, a terrible curse. Men came to kiss, and stayed to tear away her flesh with their teeth. When her skeleton has been torn forth, even to the uttermost rib, then the spell of the wicked fairy will be broken, and California be the most gracious mother mankind has ever known."

"Eugene, you like to hear yourself talk, but it must be admitted that you talk well. Will you come out and have a cigar? and you, Mr. Trennahan?"

There was no doubt that the party was a success. Between dances the girls stood together in groups and superciliously regarded the ranks of humble wall-flowers. Suddenly a half-dozen would dash down upon a young man, beg him simultaneously for an eighth of a waltz, and scribble hieroglyphics on their fans. Alan Rush was the belle, and no girl was allowed to have more than a fourth of him at a time. Once the girls left the room in a body, returning, with mumbled excuses, after the music for the next dance had been playing some three minutes. Sometimes a girl would approach a segregated youth, ask him patronisingly if he was enjoying himself, talk to him until the music began, then sidle off with an inaudible remark. Altogether if the young men had sinned during the summer,—and they searched their consciences in vain,—they were punished. The New Woman had not arrived in the Eighties, but the instinct was there, inherited from remotest mother.

The party was a third over when Trennahan approached Magdalena for the first time. She had taken her partner to his chaperon, Mrs. Geary, and was regarding a group of expectant youths. The spirit of the thing had possessed her and she was enjoying herself. Her shyness had worn off to some extent; she danced rather well, and had learned to make small talk. Being happy, all things seemed easy of accomplishment. She became aware that Trennahan was standing beside her, but did not turn her eyes.

"Will you sit out a dance with me—or rather walk it out in the garden? You must be a little tired, and it is delightful out there."

"I'd rather—I think papa would not like it."

"I am positive that he would not mind."

"I am engaged."

"Let me see your fan."

She delivered it reluctantly.

"You have no one down for the next—nor the next."

"I—I—think I'd rather not go."

"Do you mean that? For if you do, I shall go home. I came for nothing else. I have not seen you alone for three days."

"I am sorry."

"Come."

Her jumping fingers closed about her fan, and the sticks creaked; but she followed him.

As they descended the steps he drew her hand through his arm. The garden looked very wild and dark. The stars were burning overhead. Slanting into the heavy perfume of flowers were the pungent odours of a forest fire.

"You look like a pomegranate flower."

"Do you like my frock?"

"You know that I do."

"Should you like to smoke?"

"I should not."

"It is a beautiful night."

"Very."

"I had a letter from Helena to-day."

"Did you?"

"She described a wonderful experience she had climbing the Alps. Shall I tell you about it?"

"Good God, no! I beg pardon, but the American girl in Europe is interesting to no one but herself."

"She is interesting to me."

"Because you love her. Her letters really bore you, only you won't admit it even to yourself."

"But Helena is really more brilliant than most people."

"Possibly; but I did not come out here to talk about Helena."

Magdalena's fan was hanging at the end of a chain. She clutched at it, missed it, and pressed her hand against her heart, which was hammering.

He saw the motion, and took her hand in his. She glanced about wildly. She was in a whirl of terror of everything under heaven. Too dignified to wrest herself away and run, she gave him a swift glance of appeal, then bent her head. He dropped her hand.

"I would not frighten nor bother you for the world, but you know what I have wanted to say for days past. That, at least, can be no shock: you have known for a long while."

"I'd rather you didn't say it," she gasped.

"I intend to say it, nevertheless, and you will soon get used to it. Will you marry me?"

"Oh—I—suppose so—that is, if you want me to. Let us go back to the house."

"I have no intention of going back to the house for fully half an hour. Do you love me?"

She hated him at the moment.

"Answer me."

"I—I—thought I did—I don't know."

"Well, we will drop the subject for a moment. There are some other things I want to talk to you about. Shall we walk on?"

She drew a long breath at the respite. He resumed in a moment.

"Of course I am double your age, but I do not think we shall be any less happy on that account. My life, I am going to tell you, has not been an ideal one. After the wildness of youth came the deliberate transgressions of maturity, then the more flagrant, because purposeless sins which followed satiety. I know nothing of the middle classes of the United States,—I have lived little in this country,—but the young men of the upper class are not educated to add to the glory of the American race: they are educated to spend their fathers' millions. It is true that in spite of a rather wild career at college I left it with a half-defined idea of being a scientific explorer, and had taken a special course to that end. But my ambitions crumbled somewhere between the campus and New York. I am not seeking to exculpate myself, to throw the responsibility on my adolescent country: I had something more than the average intelligence, and I pursued my subsequent life deliberately. Not pursuing an ideal, I had no care to reserve the best that was in me for the woman who should one day be my wife. I entered diplomacy because I liked the life, and because I believed that the day would come when women would mean little more than paper dolls to me, and power would mean everything. I did not reckon on wearying to desperation of the world in general. That time came; with it a desire to live an outdoor existence for the rest of my life. That at least never palled. I determined to come to California. It was an impulse; I hardly speculated upon whether I should remain or not. As the train slid down the Sierras, I knew that I should. Memories jumbled, and I made no effort to pull them apart. For the first time in my life I wanted a home and a wife. The night we met I felt more attracted to you than to the other charming Californians I had met because you seemed more a part of the country. It is singular that a man should love the country first, and the woman as a logical result, but I did. I think that you know I love you; but not how much, nor what it means to me. I am not good enough for you. My soul is old. I see life exactly as it is. I have not an illusion. I am as prosaic as are all men who have made a business of the pleasures of life. I could not make you a perfervid or romantic speech to save my life, and as the selfishness of a lifetime has made me moody and fitful, there will be intervals when I shall be the reverse of lover-like; but on the whole I think you will find me a rather ardent lover. It seems very little to offer a girl who has everything to give. But I love you; never doubt that. What little good was left in me you have coaxed up and trained to something like its original proportions. I want you to understand what my past has been; but I also want you to understand that I am not the same man I was six months ago, and that you have worked the change. When I crossed the continent, it is no exaggeration to say that I had Hell in me,—that ferment of spirit which means mental nausea and the desperate dodging of one's accusing soul. I suppose such a time comes to most men who have persistently violated the original instinct for good. With the lower orders it means crime; with the higher civilisation a legion of imps shrieking in a man's soul. I will not say that my particular band have been silent since I came here, for that would mean moral obtuseness; but they are placated, and have consented to fix a generous eye on the future. I believe, firmly believe, that my future will atone for my past,—morally, I mean; I want you to understand that I have wronged no man but myself, that I have been guilty of no act unbecoming a gentleman. Now look at me and tell me that you do not hate me."

Magdalena lifted her face. Her lips were dry and parted, her eyes expanded, but not with horror.

"I love you," she said; "I am glad that I can help you."

They were near a huge oak whose limbs shut out the stars. Trennahan drew her into its shadows and took her in his arms and kissed her many times. He lifted her arms about him, and she clasped her hands tightly. He might be business-like, without illusions, but he knew how to make love with energy and grace. Magdalena from brain to sole was on fire with adoration of him. The words of it surged toward speech, but reserve held her even then. She only clung to him and breathed the passion which his touch had startled. His own pulses were full, and he held her close, glad that the spiritual desires had caught and embraced the human, and that their chances for happiness were all that he could wish and a good deal more than he deserved.



XXX

"Look!" whispered Magdalena.

They had reached the steps of the verandah, and were about to mount when she laid her hand on his arm. Mr. Polk stood by one of the windows. His head was thrust forward. He was staring into the room with hungry eyes and twitching jaw. The light was full on his white face. In the room Tiny was standing on a chair fanning Alan Rush. Fort was commanding Ila to pick up his handkerchief. The others were laughing and applauding. Lee and Coralie in their obscure corner were wide-eyed with excitement, and happy. Mr. Polk's chest heaved spasmodically. He screwed up his eyes. His face grinned. He looked like a man on the rack. He opened his eyes and glared about; but he saw nothing, for they were blind with tears. He turned and fled.

Magdalena clung to Trennahan, shaking. "Take me home," she said. "I cannot stand any more to-night."



BOOK II



I

Helena was back.

Magdalena sat amidst iridescent billows of ballgowns, dinner-gowns, tea-gowns, negliges, demi-toilettes, calling-frocks, street-frocks, yachting-frocks, summer-frocks. She had never seen so many clothes outside of a dry-goods shop, and marvelled that any one woman should want so many. They were on the bed, the chairs, the tables, the divan. Two mammoth trunks were but half unpacked. Others, empty, made the hall impassable.

"I love dress," said Helena, superfluously. "And women forgive your beauty and brains so much more willingly if you divert their attention by the one thing their soul can admire without bitterness."

"You have not grown cynical, Helena?" asked Magdalena, anxiously.

"A little. It's a phase of extreme youth which must run its course with the down on the peach. I fought against it because I want to be original, but you might as well fight against a desire to sing at the top of your voice when you are happy. But, you darling! I'm so glad to see you again."

She flung herself on her knees beside Magdalena and demanded to be kissed. Magdalena, who could hardly realise that she was back, and whose loves were as fixed as the roots of the redwoods, gave her a great hug.

"Tell me, 'Lena, am I improved? Am I beautiful? Am I a great beauty?"

"You are the most beautiful person I have ever seen. Of course I have not seen the great beauties of Europe—"

"They are not a patch to ours. When I was presented, there were eight professionals standing round, and I walked away from the lot of them. Am I more beautiful than Tiny, or Ila, or Caro, or Mrs. Washington?"

"Oh, yes! yes!"

"How? They are really very beautiful."

"I know; but you are—you know I never could express myself."

"I am Helena Belmont," replied that young woman, serenely. "Besides, I've got the will to be beautiful as well as the outside. Tiny hasn't. I have real audacity, and Ila only a make-believe. Caro shows her cards every time she rolls her eyes, and Mrs. Washington never had a particle of dash. I'm going to be the belle. I'm going to turn the head of every man in San Francisco."

"I'm afraid you will, Helena."

"Afraid? You know you want me to. It wouldn't be half such fun if you weren't approving and applauding."

"I don't want you to hurt anybody."

"Hurt?" Helena opened her dark-blue pellucid eyes. "The idea of bothering about a trifle like that. Men expect to get a scratch or two for the privilege of knowing us. It will be something for a man to remember for the rest of his life that I've 'hurt' him."

"I am afraid you're a spoilt beauty already, Helena."

"I've got the world at my feet. That's a lovely sensation. You can't think—it's a wonderful sensation."

"I can imagine it." Magdalena spoke without bitterness. Helena realised all her old ambitions but one, but she was too happy for envy.

"Describe Mr. Trennahan all over again."

"I am such a bad hand at describing."

"Well, never mind. Fancy your being engaged! Tell me everything. How did you feel the first moment you met him? When did you find yourself going? It must be such a jolly sensation to be in love—for a week or so. Now! Tell me all."

"I'd rather not, Helena. I love you better than anyone besides, but I am not the kind that can talk—"

"Well, perhaps I couldn't talk about it, myself, but I think I could. I can't imagine not talking about anything. But of course you are the same old 'Lena. Will you let me read his letters?"

"Oh, no! no!"

"I'll show you every letter I get. I never could be so stingy."

"I could not do that. I should feel as if I had lost something."

"You were always so romantic. There never was any romance about me. Poor Mr. Trennahan will have something to do to live up to you. An altitude of eleven thousand feet is trying to most masculine constitutions. But I suppose he likes the variety of it, after twenty years of society girls. Well, let him rest."

A door shut heavily in the hall below. Helena sprang to her feet.

"There's papa. I must go down. I never leave him a minute alone if I can help it. That's my only crumpled rose-leaf,—he is so pale and seems so depressed at times. You know how jolly and dashing he used to be. He hasn't a thing to worry him, and I can't think what is the matter. I beg him to tell me, but he says a man at his age can't expect to be well all the time. I can always amuse him, and I like to be with him all I can. He's such a darling! He'd build me a house of gold if I asked for it."



II

When Magdalena returned home she spread her new garments on the bed and regarded them with much satisfaction. Helena had expended no less thought on these than on her own, and none whatever on the meagreness of Don Roberto's check. There was a brown tweed with a dash of scarlet, a calling-frock of fawn-coloured camel's hair and silk, a dinner-gown of pale blue with bunches of scarlet poppies, and a miraculous coming-out gown of ivory gauze, the deepest shade that could be called white. And besides two charming hats there was a large box of presents: fans, silk stockings, gloves, handkerchiefs, and soft indescribable things for the house toilette. And her trousseau was also to come from Paris! Don Roberto, in his delight at having secured Trennahan, had informed his daughter that she should have a trousseau fit for a princess; or, on second thoughts, for a Yorba.

Magdalena opened a drawer and took out another of Helena's presents,—a jewelled dagger. While Colonel Belmont and his daughter were in Madrid there was a sale of a spendthrift noble's treasures. They had gone to see the famous collection, and among other things the dagger was shown them.

"It belonged to a lady of the great house of Yorba," they were told. "She always wore it in her hair, and all men worshipped her. The old women said it was the dagger that made men love her, that it was bewitched; there were other women as beautiful. But men died for this one and no other. One day she lost the dagger, and after that men loved her no longer. They ran and threw themselves at the feet of the women that had hated her. She laughed in scorn and said that she wanted no such love, and that when one returned—he had gone as Ambassador to the Court of France—he would show the world that his love did not skulk in the hilt of a dagger. People marvelled at this because she had flouted her very skirts in his face, had not thrown him so much as the humblest flower of hope. When they heard he was coming, they held their breath to see if the magnet had been in the dagger for him too. He arrived in the night, and in the morning she was found in her bed with the dagger to the hilt in her heart. They accused him, and he would not say yes or no, but they could prove nothing and let him go. And when he died the dagger was found among his possessions. No one could ever say how he got it. But it has remained in his family until to-day—and now it goes where?"

"To a Yorba!" announced Helena to Magdalena, as she repeated this yarn. "I made up my mind to that, double quick! It may or may not be true, and she may or may not have been your ancestress; but it would make a jolly present all the same, so I ordered papa to buy it if all Madrid bid against him. Of course he did what I told him, and I want you to wear it the night of the party."

Magdalena regarded it with great awe. She was by no means without superstition. Would it bring men to her feet? Not that she wanted them now, but she would like one evening of intoxicating success, just for the sake of her old ambitions: they had been little less than entities at one time; for old friendship's sake she would like to give them their due. She did wish that she felt a thrill as she touched it,—a vibration of the attenuated thread which connected one of her soul's particles with that other soul which, perhaps, had contributed its quota to her making. But she felt nothing, and replaced the dagger with some chagrin.

She put away the clothes and sat down before the fire to think of Trennahan. He had gone East at the summons of his mother, who had invested a large sum of money unwisely,—a habit she had. He might be detained some weeks. Magdalena, on the whole, was glad to have him gone for a while. She wanted to think about him undisturbed, and she wanted to get used to Helena and her exactions while his demands were abstract: she loved so hard that she must rub the edge off her delight in having Helena again, or the two would tear her in twain.

She found the sadness of missing him very pleasurable,—feeling sure of his return; also the painful thrill every morning when the postman knocked. And to sit in retrospect of the summer was delicious. There may have been flaws in its present; there were none in its past. Her ambition to write was dormant. A woman's brain in love is like a garden planted with one flower. There may be room for a weed or two, but for none other of the floral kingdom.

Trennahan had given her more than one glimpse of his past, and it had appalled without horrifying or repulsing her. Her sympathy had been swift and unerring. She realised that Trennahan had come to California at a critical point in his moral life, and that his complete regeneration depended on his future happiness. He had pointed this out as a weakness, but the fact was all that concerned her. Whatever mists there might be between her perceptions and the great abstractions of life, love had sharpened all that love demanded and pointed them straight at all in Trennahan that he wished her to know. She was awed by the tremendous responsibility, but confident that she was equal to it; for did she not love him wholly, and had he not chosen her, by the light of his great experience, out of all women? She would walk barefooted on Arctic snows or accept any other ordeal that came her way, but she would make him happy.

Suddenly she remembered that she had received a brief dictated note from her aunt that morning, asking her to pack and send to Santa Barbara a painting of the Virgin which hung in her old apartments: she wished to present it to the Mission. Mr. Polk had closed his house a year before and taken up his permanent abode with the Yorbas, but his Chinese major-domo was in charge. Magdalena reflected that it was not necessary to bother her uncle, who had seemed ill and restless of late; the Chinaman could attend to the matter.

She went downstairs and through the gardens to the adjoining house. The weeds grew high behind it; the windows were dusty; the side door at which she rang needed painting. The Chinaman answered in his own good time. He looked a little sodden; doubtless he employed much of his large leisure with the opium pipe. Magdalena bade him follow her to her aunt's apartments. As she ascended the imposing staircase she withdrew her hand hastily from the banister.

"Why do you not keep things clean?" she asked disgustedly.

"Whattee difflence? Nobody come," he replied with the philosophy of his kind.

The very air was musty and dusty. The black walnut doors, closed and locked, looked like the sealed entrances to so many vaults. The sound of a rat gnawing echoed through the hollow house. It seemed what it was, this house,—the sarcophagus of a beautiful woman's youth and hopes.

For a year or two after the house was built Mrs. Polk had given magnificent entertainments, scattering her husband's dollars in a manner that made his thin nostrils twitch, and without the formality of his consent. Magdalena paused at a bend of the stair and tried to conjure up a brilliant throng in the dark hall below, the great doors of the parlours rolled back, the rooms flooded with the soft light of many candles; her aunt, long, willowy, of matchless grace, her marvellous eyes shooting scorn at the Americans crowding about her, standing against the gold-coloured walls in the blood-red satin she had shown once to her small admirers. But the vision would not rise. There was only a black well below, a rat crunching above.

She reached the door of her aunt's private apartments on the second floor and entered. She stepped back amazed. There was no dust here, no musty air, no dimness of window. A fire burned on the hearth. The gas was lit and softly shaded. The vases on the mantel were full of flowers. On one table was a basket of fruit; on another were the illustrated periodicals.

"Mrs. Polk is here?" she said to Ah Sin.

"No, missee."

"She is expected, then? How odd—"

"Donno, missee. Evey day, plenty days, one, two, thlee weeks, me fixee rooms all same this."

"But why?"

"Kin sabbee, missee. Mr. Polk tellee me, and me do allee same whattee he say."

Magdalena's lips parted, and her breath came short.

She gave the necessary instructions about the picture. The Chinaman followed her down the stairs and opened the door. As she was passing out, she turned suddenly and said to him,—

"It is not necessary to tell Mr. Polk about this, nor that I have been here. He does not like to be bothered about little things."

"Allight, missee."



III

The night of Mrs. Yorba's long-heralded ball had arrived at last. For weeks Society had been keenly expectant, for its greatest heiress and its three most beautiful girls were to come forth from the seclusion in which they were supposed to have been cultivating their minds, into the great world of balls, musicales, and teas, where their success would be in inverse ratio to their erudition.

Rose and Caro had arrived the winter before, and were no longer "buds;" but Magdalena, Helena, Tiny, and Ila were hardly known by sight outside the Menlo Park set. Magdalena had never hung over the banisters at her mother's parties. The others had been abroad so long that the most exaggerated stories of their charms prevailed.

The old beaux knotted their white ties with trembling fingers and thought of the city's wild young days when Nina Randolph, Guadalupe Hathaway, Mrs. Hunt Maclean, two of the "Three Macs," and the sinuous wife of Don Pedro Earle had set their pulses humming. They were lonely old bachelors, many of them, living at the Union or the Pacific Club, and they sighed as the memories rose. That was a day when every other woman in society was a great beauty, and as full of fascination as a fig of seeds. To-day beautiful women in San Francisco's aristocracy were rare. In Kearney Street, on a Saturday afternoon, one could hardly walk for the pretty painted shop-girls; and in that second stratum which was led by the wife of a Bonanza king who had been pronounced quite impossible by Mrs. Yorba and other dames of the ancient aristocracy, there were many stunningly handsome girls. They could be met at the fashionable summer resorts; they were effulgent on first nights; they were familiar in Kearney Street on other afternoons than Saturday, and their little world was gay in its way; but Society, that exclusive body which owned its inchoation and later its vitality and coherence to that brilliant and elegant little band of women who came, capable and experienced, to the fevered ragged city of the early Fifties, still struggled in the Eighties to preserve its traditions, and did not admit the existence of these people; feminine curiosity was not even roused to the point of discussion. One day Mrs. Washington met one of the old beaux, Ben Sansome by name, on the summit of California Street hill, which commands one of the finest views of a city swarming over an hundred hills.

Mrs. Washington waved her hand at the large region known as South San Francisco.

"I suppose," she said thoughtfully, "that there are a lot of people in San Francisco whose names we have never heard."

"I suppose so!" he exclaimed.

"I wonder what they are like? How many people are there in San Francisco, anyhow?"

"About three hundred thousand."

"Really? really?" and Mrs. Washington shrugged her pretty shoulders and dismissed the subject from her mind.

Would these new beauties compare with that galaxy of long ago? was the thought that danced between Ben Sansome's faded eyes and his mirror. Three to burst forth in a night! That was unwonted measure. Of late years one in three seasons had inspired fervent gratitude. Nelly Washington had been unchallenged for ten years; Caro Folsom was second-rate beside her; and Rose Geary, the favourite of last winter, although piquant and pretty, had not a pretension to beauty. Like the other old beaux, he went only to the balls and dinners of the old-timers, never to the dances and musicales of the youngsters, but he kept a sharp look-out, nevertheless. To-night assumed the proportions of an event in his life.

Several of the young men had met two of these beauties during the summer, but Helena was still to be experienced. The young hands did not tremble, but their eyes were very bright as they wondered if they were "in for it," if they would "get it in the neck," if she were really "a little tin goddess on wheels." Even Rollins, who was madly enamoured of Tiny, and Fort, who had carefully calculated his chances with Rose, were big with curiosity. The former, who had known Helena from childhood, had been refused admittance to the Belmont mansion: Helena had a very distinct intention of making a sensation upon her first appearance in San Francisco; and as all were fish that came to her net, even Rollins must be dazzled with the rest.

Magdalena's engagement was a closely guarded secret, and more than one hardy youth had made up his mind to storm straight through her intellect to her millions; but even these thought only of Helena as they dressed for the ball.

Meanwhile the girls were thinking more of their toilettes than of the men who would admire them. All were to wear white, but each gown had been made at a different Paris house, that there should be no monotony of touch and cut, and each was of different shade and material: Magdalena's of ivory gauze, Tiny's of pearl-white silk, Ila's of cream-white embroidered mousseline de soie, Helena's of pure white tulle.

What little of Magdalena's neck the gown exposed, she concealed with a broad band of cherry-coloured velvet, and a deep necklace of Turkish coins, a gift from Ila. She revolved before the mirror several times in succession after the maid had left the room. She was laced so tightly that she could scarcely breathe, but she rejoiced in her likeness to a French fashion-plate, and vowed never to wear a home-made gown again. In her hair was a string of pearls that Trennahan had given her; and the dagger. Would it work the spell?

She gave a final shake to her skirts and went downstairs.

There was no lack of gas to-night; the lower part of the house was one merciless glare. No flowers graced the square ugly rooms, no decorations of any sort; but the parlours were canvased, the best band in town was tuning up, and the supper would be irreproachable. The dark-brown paper of the hall looked very old and dingy, the carpet was threadbare in places, the big teak-wood tables were in everybody's way and looked as if they were meant for the dead to rest on; but when gay gowns were billowing one would not notice these things.

Mrs. Yorba was in the green reception-room at the end of the hall. She wore black velvet and a few diamonds, and looked impressively null. Tiny and Ila arrived almost immediately. They looked, the one an angel with a sense of humour, the other Circean with an eye to the conventions, both as smart as Paris could make them. It was nearly ten o'clock, and there was a rush just after.

Magdalena waited a half-hour for Helena, then opened the ball in a brief waltz with Alan Rush instead of the quadrille in which the four debutantes were to dance. She sent a message to Helena, and Mrs. Cartright scribbled back that the poor dear child had altered the trimming on her bodice at the last moment, and would not be ready for an hour yet. Caro took her place in the quadrille, as she also wore white.

The ball promised to be a success. There were more young people than was usual at Mrs. Yorba's parties, and more men than girls. They danced and chatted with untiring energy, and between the dances they flirted on the stairs and in every possible nook and corner. Magdalena frolicked little, having her guests to look after; but whenever she rested for a moment there was an obsequious backbone before her. Tiny and Ila were besieged for dances, and divided each.

The older women sat against the wall, a dado of fat and diamonds, and indulged in much caustic criticism.

The old beaux stood in a group and exchanged opinions on the relative pretensions of the old and the new.

"Take it all in all, not to compare," said Ben Sansome. "Miss Montgomery is excessively pretty, but no figure and no style. Miss Brannan looks like a Parisian cocotte. Miss Folsom has eyes, but nothing else—and when you think of 'Lupie Hathaway's eyes! And not one has the beginnings of the polished charm of manner, the fire of glance, the je ne sais quoi of Mrs. Hunt Maclean. Just look at her in her silver brocade, her white hair a la marquise. She's handsomer than the whole lot of them—"

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