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The Californians
by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
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There were times when she was threatened with a consuming hatred of life, and then she fled out into the dust and battled with the storms within and without; for her ideals were all that were left her. She knew the ugly potentialities in the depths of her ill-compounded nature: the day she ceased to be true to herself there would be a tragedy in that dark house on the hill. Sometimes she wondered toward what end she was persevering, striving to perfect the better part of her. A quarter of a century or more of meaningless earthly existence? A controvertible hereafter? But she ceased to analyse, knowing that it could lead nowhere until the human mind ceased to be human.

And one day, in the end of the summer, she lost her grip on herself.

For three days the trade-winds had raged; she had not been able to leave the house. Twice she had set forth, desperate with the nervous monotony of her hours, and been driven back by the blinding dust. It was on the third day that she happened to catch sight of herself in the glass. She saw her face plainer than ever, but her attention passed suddenly to her shoulders and rested there. They were bent. Her carriage was dejected, apathetic. The sluggish tide mounted slowly to her face as she realised that this physical manner must have fallen upon her gradually, and been worn for some time; and its significance. She made an effort to reassume her old erect haughty poise, which had been partly the manifest of inherent pride, partly of half-acknowledged defiance of the beauty-worship of the world. Her shoulders sank before the spine had risen to its perpendicular. What did it matter? Again she experienced that disintegration of will which once had left her at the mercy of that instinct for destruction which is one of the essential particles of the ego.

Her brain was almost torpid. The want of exhilarating exercise, the long dearth of companionship, the terrible monotony of her life, the restless nights, the dank gloomy atmosphere in which she had her perpetual being, were, she told herself dully, doing their work. And she did not care. But if her brain was sodden, her nerves felt as if on the verge of explosion. She noticed that her hands were not steady, and sat for hours, wondering what was coming upon her. She cared less and less.

Ah Kee tapped at her door. She replied that she did not want any dinner, loathing the unvarying bill-of-fare.

The hours dragged on, and darkness came; but she did not light the gas, whose jet was but a feeble point in these times, hardly worth the waste of a match. She strained her ears, fancied she heard whisperings in the hall below. If San Francisco's skeletons really were down there, she wished they would go in and throttle her father. He was the author of all her misery; and was any woman on earth so miserable as she? Why should he live, exist down there like a beast in his cave, when his death would give her liberty?—a poignant happiness in itself. She wondered did she kill him should she be hanged? They rarely hanged anybody in California, never when there was gold to rattle contemptuously in the face of the law; why should she not deliver her mother and herself? They would both be in an asylum for the mad, or dead before their time, unless he went soon; and their lives were of several times more value than his. They, at least, had ruined the lives of no one, and with his hoarded unsavoury millions they would gladly do good to hundreds.

She tiptoed out into the hall, and leaned over the circular railing, and peered down into the space below. Only an old-fashioned waxen taper burned in a cup of oil; it emitted a feeble and ghostly light. The large webs of the spiders quivered in a draught. They assumed strange distorted shapes and seemed to point long fingers at her father's door.

They are the ghosts that once animated the skeletons, she thought; and they think it time he joined them.

She stood there for a long while, her eyes narrowed in a hard searching regard; the trembling gloom with the tiny sallow flame in its middle suggested the purgatory of imaginative artists. Should she go down and thrust the dagger into his neck?

Her thoughts were torn apart by the abrupt loud shouts of the wind. She wondered if there were such winds anywhere else on earth, or if this were the voice of some fiend prisoned in the Pacific,—the spouse whom California had taken to her arms when the fires in her body were hewing and shattering and rehewing her, and divorced in an after-desire for beauty and peace.

Magdalena went back to her room and turned the key in the drawer which contained the dagger.

"I must get out of this house," she said aloud, with the sensation of dragging her will from the depths of her brain and shaking it back to life. "If I don't, I'll be in an asylum to-morrow. Something is certainly wrong in my head."

She put on her jacket and hat with trembling fingers. Her nerves seemed fighting their way through her skin. Her ears were humming. Something had begun to pound in her brain.

She ran downstairs and let herself out, averting her eyes from her father's door. Her fingers were rigid, and curved.

As she reached the sidewalk, a squall caught and nearly carried her off her feet. It bellied her skirts and loosened her hair. She lost her breath and regained it with difficulty; she could hardly steer herself. But the wind filled her with a sudden wild exaltation, not of the soul, but of the worst of her passions,—those tangled, fighting, sternly governed passions of the cross-breed.

She cursed aloud. She let fly all the maledictions, English and Spanish, of which she had knowledge. The street was deserted. She raised her voice and pierced the gale, the furious energy of her words hissing like escaping steam. She raised her voice still higher and shrieked her profane arraignment of all things mundane in a final ecstasy of nervous abandonment.

When the passion and its voice were exhausted, her obsession had passed. Her head felt lighter, the danger of congestion was over; but her protest was the keener and bitterer. Her father's life was safe in her hands, but she had no desire to return to his house. She determined to walk until morning, and to drift, rudderless, in the great sea of the night.

She caught her skirts close to her body and walked rapidly to the brow of the hill. The twinkling lights were all below. The wrack of cloud torn by the wind into a thousand flapping sails skurried across a sky which the hidden moon patched with a hard angry silver. Far away and high in the storm the great cross on Calvary seemed dancing an inebriated jig above the ghostly tombs of Lone Mountain.

Magdalena walked rapidly down the hill. Once or twice she paused before a house and stared at it. What secrets did it hold? What skeletons? Were any within so desperate as she? Why did they not come out and shriek with the storm? She pictured a sudden obsession of San Francisco: every door simultaneously flung open, every wretched inmate rushing forth to scream his protest against the injustice of life into the ecstatic fury of the elements.

High on a terrace, or rather an unlevelled angle of the hill, and reached by a long rickety flight of steps, was an old ugly wooden house. It was unpainted; the shutters were shaking on their rusty hinges; the chimneys had been blown off long since; but it had cost much gold in its time. It had been the home of a "Forty-niner," and he was dead and forgotten, his dust as easily accounted for as his winged gold. Doubtless every room had its patient skeleton, grinning eternally at the yellow lust of man.

As she passed Dupont Street, she paused again and regarded it steadily. Sheltered in the steep hillside, it took no note of the storm; its sidewalks were not empty, and its windows were broken bars of light. Magdalena wondered if the painted creatures talking volubly behind the shutters were not happier and more normal than she. They were the rejected of their native boulevards, beyond a doubt, but they were free in their way, and they certainly were alive.

I am nothing, she thought; neither to myself, nor to any one else. I wonder will the wind blow me in there some night? What if it does?

But when a man started toward her with manifest intent to speak, she fled down the hill.

When she reached Kearney Street she turned without hesitation to the left, and walked toward those regions which are associated in the minds of every San Franciscan with lawlessness and crime. She had given a swift glance to the right before turning; the region of respectable shops and fashionable promenade was as black as a tunnel; the eccentric economy of the city forbade the light of street lamps when the moon was out, whether clouds accompanied her or not.

Ahead was a line of lights twisting and leaping in the wind,—the vagrant gas-jets before the row of cheap shops on the east side of the Plaza. Magdalena hardly glanced at the medley of curious wares and faces as she hurried past; the wind was roaring about the open square, interfering with sight and hearing and headway. And beyond—her blood leaped to that mysterious disreputable region.

She left the Plaza and passing under the shelter of the heights upon which stood her home slackened her steps. There was a discordant crash of music in the crowded streets. Light was streaming from music-halls, above and below stairs, and from restaurants and saloons. But everybody seemed to be on the sidewalks. It was a strange crowd, and Magdalena forgot herself for the moment: she had entered a new world, and her tortured soul lagged behind.

The riff-raff of the world was moving there, and when not apathetic they took their pleasures with drawn brows and eyes alert for a fight; but the only types Magdalena recognised were the drunken sailors and the occasional blank-faced Chinaman who had strayed down from his quarter on the hill. There were dark-faced men who were doubtless French and Italian; what their calling was, no outsider could guess, but that it was evil no man could doubt; and there were many whose nationality had long since become as inarticulate as such soul they may have been born with. Many looked anaemic and consumptive, but the majority were highly coloured and frankly drunk. And if the men were forbidding, the women were appalling. There was no attempt at smartness in their attire; they were dowdy and frowsy, and even the young faces were old.

The din of voices, the medley of tongues and faces, the crash of music, the poisoned atmosphere, confused Magdalena, and she turned precipitately into a restaurant. It was almost empty; she sat down before a dirty table and ordered a cup of coffee. The only waiter in attendance—the rest were probably in the street—was old and bleared of eye, but he stared hard at the new customer.

"You'd better git out of this," he said, as Magdalena finished her unpleasant draught. "You ain't pretty, but you're a lady, and they don't understand that sort here. Have you got much money with you?"

"About a dollar, and I certainly do not give the impression of wealth. Most nursery maids are better dressed."

"You'd better git out, all the same."

But the strong coffee had gone to Magdalena's head, and she cared little what became of her. Nevertheless, a moment later she was shrieking and struggling in the arms of a big golden-bearded Russian. She barely grasped the sense of what followed. There was a volley of screams and laughter; the man was cursing and gripping her with the arms of a grizzly. Then there was a flash of knives, and she was stumbling headlong through the crowd, hooted at and buffeted. But no one attempted to stop her, for a fight with bowie-knives was more interesting than a sallow-faced girl who had happened upon foreign territory. She ran up a dark side-street, and then, as her breath gave out and forced her to moderate her pace, she glanced repeatedly over her shoulder. No one was in pursuit, but it was some moments before she realised that it was not relief she experienced, but something akin to disappointment. She was in the ugliest mood of which her nature was capable, and that was saying much. With one exception, better forgotten, this blond ruffian who had insulted her was the only man who had ever desired her; doubtless, she reflected bitterly, even Trennahan might be excepted. And when an unprepossessing woman of starved affections and implacably controlled passions sees desire in the eyes of a man for the first time, her vanity of sex responds, if her passions do not.

She half turned back and stood looking down the hill to the brilliant noisy street.

Why should I not go back and live with him, and disappear from a world which takes no interest in me, and in which I am no earthly use? she thought. And no life could be worse than mine, nor more immoral, for that matter. I have never fulfilled a single one of the conditions for which woman was born, and I'd be more normal as that man's mistress, and less unhappy even if he beat me, which he probably would, than living the life of a blind mole underground.

Then she wondered who her deliverer was, and wondered if he too had wanted her. Some portion of the blackness in her soul receded suddenly, and she smiled and trembled slightly. Involuntarily her back straightened, and she lifted her head. But with the sudden rush of sexual pride the magnetism of its creators receded, and she turned her back on the flare below and continued to mount the hill. In a moment she turned into a badly lighted alley thinly peopled. Here there was but a tinkle of music, and it came from the guitar. Fat old women with black shawls pinned about their heads sat on the doorsteps of ramshackle houses talking to men whose flannel shirts revealed hairy chests. The women looked stupid, the men weather-beaten, but the prevailing expression was good-natured. In the middle of the street was a tamale stand surrounded by patrons. The aroma of highly seasoned cooking came from a restaurant at the foot of a rickety flight of steps. Every dilapidated window had its flower-box.

This, then, was Spanish town. Magdalena had dreamed of it often, picturing it a blaze of colour, a moving picture-book, crowded with beautiful girls and handsome gaily attired men. There was not a young person to be seen. Nothing could be less picturesque, more sordid.

An old crone with a face like a withered apple followed her, whining for a nickel. The others stared at her with the stolid dignity of their race. She gave the woman the nickel and interrupted the invocation.

"Are there no girls here?"

"Girl come from other place sometimes, then have the baby and is old queeck. Si the senorita stay here, she have the baby and grow old too."

Magdalena hastened on. She neither knew nor cared where she went, but after a time struck down the slope again, judging that she was beyond the centre of social activity. Once, at the corner of two sharply converging streets, she passed a house whose lighted windows were open, for the wind had gone and the night was hot. But she only stood for a moment. Fat Mexican women half dressed were lolling about, and the front door was open to many men. The women were not as evil appearing as the French dregs of Dupont Street, possibly because they wore flowers in their hair and looked more frankly sensual and less commercial. Again Magdalena felt an almost irresistible attraction, but hastened on. Once, in a dark street, she was flung against a wall and her pockets turned inside out, but she made no protest and was allowed to go without further indignity. It was a woman who had robbed her, and Magdalena, having come off with the mere loss of seventy cents, indulged in a pleasurable thrill of adventure.

After a time she found herself climbing a steep hill and felt a sudden desire to reach the top, and that the climb should be a long one. Here and there she passed a tumble-down house, but the rest of the hill under the brilliant moon showed bare and brown. From the other side came the sound of lapping waves, and she knew herself to be on Telegraph Hill.

She reached the top and sat down on the ground. The clouds had flown with the wind, and the moon revealed the quiet bay and the black masses of cliff and hill and mountain beyond. An occasional gust made a loud clatter in the rigging of the many crafts below, or an angry shout arose from the water-front; but otherwise the night from the summit of Telegraph Hill was peaceful and most beautiful.

Magdalena, who loved Nature and had yielded to its influence many times in her life, made a deliberate attempt to absorb the peace and beauty of the night into her own scarred and troubled soul. But she gave up the attempt in a few moments. The fierceness of her mood had passed, and some of its blackness, but she was still bitter and hopeless. There was nothing to do but to face the problem of her life, and thinking was easier on these altitudes, where the air was fresh and salt, and the stars seemed close, than in the ill-ventilated prison which she called her home. She determined to remain until morning and to restore her brain to its normal condition, if possible.

She looked back upon the mental and moral inertia into which she had sunken during the past month, and its sequence of morbid and criminal instinct, with terror and horror. Before an hour had passed, she had herself in hand once more, for she had deliberately forced herself to face her own soul, and she believed that she could put her character together again and accept the future without further luxation or debility of will. But she made no attempt to close her eyes to the ugly fact that in that future of interminable years there were only two small stars of hope; and it required an effort of imagination to drag them above the horizon,—her father's death and the return of Trennahan. Her father belonged to a long-lived race, and Trennahan during an absence of three years and some months had given no indication that he remembered her existence; moreover, he had gone into exile for love of another woman. But without the faint white twinkle of those stars the future would be not a blank, but an infernal abyss, which Magdalena, without the society of her kind, without talent, without occupation, without religion, refused to contemplate. And she had all a woman's capacity for fooling herself with the will-o'-the-wisps of the imagination.

Her eyes had been clear and her logic relentless so long as the man had been within sight and touch, but his absence, combined with his abrupt and final eviction from the toils of the other woman, had lifted him from practical life into the realms of the imagination; in other words, he was no longer so much a man as an ideal,—a soul whom her own soul was free to await or pursue in that inner world where realities are bodiless and forgotten.

She longed for the old comfortable irresponsible sensuous embrace of the Church of Rome. Its lightest touch was hypnotic, its very breath a balm. Why, she wondered bitterly, could she not have been given less brains, or more? If her talents had been genuine, she would have had that magnificent independence of religion and worldly conditions which only art—and love—can create in the human mind. And if her logic had been a trifle less relentless, she would have had hours of ecstatic forgetfulness these last long years. Of course there was always the Almighty Power to whom one could pray, and who certainly could grant prayer if He chose. But it seemed to her an impertinence for ordinary insignificant beings to importune this remote and absolute God, so forbidding in His monotonous mystery. She had all the arrogance of intellect despite her remorseless limitations. Had she been granted the gift of creation,—in other words, a spark from the great creative force commanding the Universe,—she felt that she should have no hesitation in begging for further favours; a certain sense of kinship, of being in higher favour than the great congested mass, would have given her assurance and faith. She sighed for a new religion, for that prophet who must one day arise and rid the world of the abomination of dogma and sect, giving to the groping millions a simple belief, in which the fussiness, sentimentality, and cruelty of present religions would have no place.

She sat there until the dawn came, grey and appalling at first, then touching the bay and the dark heights with delicate colour, as the sun struggled out of the embrace of the ocean. She was obliged to walk home, as she had no money, and the long toilsome tramp in the wake of the eventful night gave her appetite and many hours of rest. When she awoke she felt that, whatever came, the most formidable crisis of her life had been safely passed.



XXXI

In the autumn she found an occupation which gave her a temporary place in the scheme of things. Mrs. Yorba fell ill. The sudden and complete change from a personage to a nobody, the long confinement,—she rarely put her foot outside the house lest her shabby clothes be remarked upon,—and a four years' course of sensational novels induced a nervous distemper. Magdalena, hearing the sound of pacing footsteps in the hall one night, arose and opened her door. Mrs. Yorba, arrayed in a red flannel nightgown and a frilled nightcap, was walking rapidly up and down, talking to herself. Magdalena persuaded her to go to bed, and the next morning sent for the doctor. He prescribed an immediate change of scene,—travel, if possible; if not, the country. Magdalena undertook to carry the message to her father.

Knowing that a knock would evoke no response, she opened the door of the study and went in. Don Roberto, dirty, unshaven, looked like a wild man in a mountain cave; but his eyes were steady enough. His table and the floor about his chair were piled high with ledgers. On everything else the dust was inches thick, and the spiders had spun a shimmering web across one side of the room. It hung from the gas-rod like a piece of fairy tapestry, woven with red and gold here and there, where the sun's rays, scattering through the slats of the inside blinds, caressed it. On the mantel-piece, supported on its broken staff, was the big American flag which had floated above the house of Don Roberto Yorba for thirty years. It had been carefully washed, and although broken bits of spiders' weavings hung to its edges, there were none on its surface.

Magdalena felt no desire to kiss her parent, although it was the first time for several years that she had stood in his presence. She disliked and despised him, and thought no less of herself for her repudiation. If she, a young, inexperienced, and lonely woman, could fight and conquer morbid fancies, why not he, who had been counted one of the keenest financial brains of the country? She felt thoroughly ashamed of her progenitor as she stood looking down upon the little dirty shrunken shambling figure.

"Well?" growled Don Roberto, "what you want?"

"My mother is very ill. This life is killing her. The doctor says she must have a change."

"All go to die sometime. What difference now or bimeby?"

"Will you let us go to Santa Barbara to visit aunt?"

"Si she send you the moneys, I no care what you do with it. I no give you one cents."

"Very well; I shall ask my aunt."

But Mrs. Yorba declared that she would not go to Santa Barbara: she detested her sister-in-law, and would accept no favours from her, nor be forced into her society. There was nothing for Magdalena to do but to nurse her, and a most exasperating invalid she proved. Nevertheless, Magdalena, although a part of her duties was to read her mother's favourite literature aloud by the hour, was almost grateful for the change. She seldom found time for her daily walk, but at least she had little time to think.

When Mrs. Montgomery, Mrs. Geary, and Mrs. Brannan returned to town, they came frequently to sit with the invalid, and cheered her somewhat with talk of the coming summer, when they should take her down to their own houses in Menlo.

"And I shall go," said Mrs. Yorba to her daughter, "if I haven't a decent rag to my back. They think nothing of that; I was a fool not to go before. And I'm going to get well—against the time when that old fiend dies. There! I never thought I'd say that, for I was brought up in the fear of the Lord, but saying it is little different from thinking it, after all. I've been thinking it for two solid years. California's not New England, anyhow. When I do get the money, won't I scatter it! I've been economical all my life, for I had it in my blood, and it was my duty, as your father wished it; as long as he did his duty by me, I was more than willing to do mine by him: he can't deny it. But we all know what reaction means, and it has set in in me. When I am my own mistress, I'll give three balls and two dinners a week. I'll have the finest carriages and horses ever seen in California. I'll have four trousseaux a year from Paris, and I'll go to New York myself and buy the most magnificent diamonds Tiffany's got. I'll refurnish this house and Fair Oaks. The walls shall be frescoed, and every stick in them will come from New York—"

She paused abruptly, springing to her elbow. The door was ajar. Through the aperture came a long low chuckle. Magdalena jumped to her feet, flung the door to, and locked it.

"Do you think he's gone mad at last?" gasped Mrs. Yorba.

"It sounded like it."

"For Heaven's sake, don't leave me for a minute. You must sleep here at night. There's a cot somewhere,—in the attic, I think, if the rats haven't eaten it. What a life to live!" She fell to weeping, as she frequently did in these days. Suddenly her face brightened. "If he should make a will disinheriting us, we could easily enough prove him insane after the way he's been acting these four years. Thank Heaven, this is California! General William could break any will that ever was made."

Mrs. Yorba took an opiate and fell asleep. Magdalena went out, locking the door behind her. She determined to ascertain at once if her father was insane. If he was, he should be confined in two of the upper rooms with a keeper. The world should know nothing of his misfortune; but it would be absurd for herself and her mother to live in a constant state of physical terror.

As she descended the stair, the door of her father's study opened abruptly and a man shot out as if violently propelled from behind. The door was slammed to immediately.

Magdalena ran downstairs and toward the stranger. He was a tall man greatly bowed, and as she approached him she saw that he was old and wore a long white beard. His head was large and suggested nobility and intellect; but the eyes were bleared, the flesh of the face loose and discoloured, and he was shabby and dirty. He looked like a fallen king.

"Was—was—my father rude?" asked Magdalena. "He is not very well. Perhaps I can do something." The man appealed to her strangely, and she had a dollar in her purse.

"We were great friends in our boyhood and youth," replied the stranger. He spoke with an accent, but his English was unbroken. "And he has been my guest many times. There was a time when he thought it an honour to know me. When the Americans came, everything changed. My career closed, for I would have nothing to do with them. I had held the highest offices under the Mexican government. I could not stoop to hold office under the usurpers—many of whom I would not have employed as servants. Then they took my lands,—everything. But I am detaining you, senorita."

"Oh, no, no, indeed! How could they take your lands? Who are you? Tell me everything."

"They 'squatted,' many of them, almost up to my door. The only law we could appeal to was American law, and California was a hell of sharpers at that time. It is bad enough now, but it was worse then. And then came the great drought of '64, in which we lost all our cattle. We never recovered from that, for we mortgaged our lands to the Americans to get money to live on with,—everything was three prices then; and when the time came they foreclosed, for we never had the money to pay. And we were great gamblers, senorita, and so were the Americans—and far better ones than we were. We were only made for pleasure and plenty, to live the life of grandees who had little use for money, and scorned it. When the time came for us to pit ourselves against sordid people, we crumbled like old bones. Your father has been very fortunate: he had a clever man to teach him to circumvent other clever men. Years ago, when I was prouder than I am now, I put my pride in my pocket and wrote, asking him for help. I wanted a small sum to pay off the mortgage on a ranchita, upon which I might have ended my days in peace, for it was very productive. He never answered. To-day I came to ask him for money to buy bread. He roared at me like a bull, and vowed he'd blow my brains out if I ever entered his house again. He looks like—" He paused abruptly. There was much of the old-time courtliness in his manner.

"I—I—am so sorry. And I have little money to spend. If you will leave me your name and address, I will send you something on the first of each month; and if—if ever I have more I will take care of you—of all of you. I suppose there are many others."

"There are indeed, senorita."

"Some day I will ask you for all of their names. And yours?"

He gave it. It was a name famous in the brief history of old California,—a name which had stood for splendid hospitality, for state and magnificence, for power and glory. It was the name of one of her beloved heroes. She had written his youthful romance; she had described the picturesque fervour of his wooing, the pomp of his wedding; of all those heroes he had been the best beloved, the most splendid. And she met him,—a broken-down old drunkard, in the dusty gloom of an old maniac's wooden "palace," in the fashionable quarter of a city which had never heard his name.

"O God!" she said. "O God!" and she was glad that she had burned her manuscripts. She took the dollar from her pocket and gave it to him.

He accepted it eagerly. "God bless you, senorita!" he said. "And you can always hear of me at the Yosemite Saloon, Castroville."

He passed out, neglecting to shut the door behind him, but Magdalena did not notice the unaccustomed rift of light. She sank into a chair against the wall and wept heavily. They were the last tears she shed over her fallen idols. When the wave had broken, she reflected that she was glad to know of the distress of her people; it should be her lifework to help them. When she came to her own she would buy them each a little ranch and see that they passed the rest of their lives in comfort.

She leaned forward and listened intently. Loud mutterings proceeded from her father's room. She wondered if there was a policeman in the street. She and her mother were very unprotected. The only man in the house besides her father was the Chinaman, and Chinamen are as indifferent to the lives of others as to their own. Don Roberto had ordered the telephone and messenger call removed years ago. The sounds rose to a higher register. Magdalena, straining her ears, heard, delivered in rapid defiant tones, the familiar national cry, "Hip-hip-hooray!"

She went over softly, and put her ear to the thick door. The tones of the old man's voice were broken, as if by muscular exertion, and accompanied by a curious bumping. Magdalena understood in a moment. He was striding up and down the room, waving the American flag, and shouting, "Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray! hooray! hooray! hooray!"

She ran down the hall to summon Ah Kee and send him for a doctor, but before she reached the bell she heard the front door close, and turned swiftly. A man had entered.

She went forward in some indignation. So deep was the gloom of the hall that she could distinguish nothing beyond the facts that the intruder was tall and slight, and that he wore a light suit of clothes. When she had approached within a few feet of him, she saw that he was Trennahan.

For the moment she thought it was the soul of the man, so ghostly he looked in that dim light, in that large silence.

His first remark was reassuring: "I rang twice; but as no one came, and the door was open, I walked in,—as you see."

"We have so few servants now. Won't you come and sit down?"

He followed her down to the reception-room. She jerked aside the curtains, careless of the bad house-keeping the light would reveal. It streamed in upon him. He was deeply tanned and indescribably improved.

They sat down opposite each other. Magdalena, recalling her tears, placed her chair against the light. "When did you get back?" she asked.

"The ship docked an hour ago."

"You look very well. Have you been enjoying yourself?"

"I have been occupied, and useful—I hope. At least, I have collected some data and made some observations which may be new to the world of Science. I found the old love very absorbing. And, you will hardly credit it, I have lived quite an impersonal life."

"Have you come back to California again because you think it a good place to die in?"

"I came back to California, because it is a good place to write my book in, and because you are here."

"Ah!"

"Don't misunderstand me. I am not so conceited as to imagine that I can have you for the asking. But—listen to me: I had a brief but very genuine madness. When I recovered I knew what I had th—lost. I argued—even during my convalescence—that I had been wholly right in believing that you were the one woman for me to marry, and, that fact established, you must believe it no less than I. But for a long time I was ashamed to come back, or to write. Later, I went where it was impossible. Moreover, in solitude a man comes into very close knowledge of himself. After a few months of it I knew that I should never be contented with mere existence again. I determined to take advantage of what might be the last chance granted me to make anything of my life; I had thrown away a good many chances. I also argued that if you loved me, you would wait for me; that you were not the sort to marry for any reason but one. At least, perhaps you will give me another trial."

"I shall marry you, I suppose; I have wanted to so long, and I never had any pride where you were concerned. A few months ago I should have flown into your arms; and I had felt sure that you would return. But lately I have not been able to care about anything. I am not the least bit excited that you are here. It merely seems quite natural and rather pleasant."

"Is anything the matter?" he asked anxiously. "You look very thin and worn, and the house—it was like entering the receiving vault on Lone Mountain. I thought when I came in that you were having a funeral, at least."

"It has been like that for four years. Uncle died, and papa was afraid to trust himself in the world for fear he would relapse into his natural instincts. So he shut himself up, makes us live on next to nothing, and of course we go nowhere, for we have no clothes. Mamma has been ill with nervous prostration for months, and now I feel sure that papa has gone insane. I have only spoken to him once in four years; but I have been certain that he would lose his mind finally, and I have just discovered that he is quite mad."

"Good God! We'll be married to-morrow. I never imagined your father would hit upon any new eccentricities. You poor little hermit! I fancied you going to parties and plodding at your stories. I never dreamed that you were shut up in a dungeon. I shall see that you are happy hereafter."

"I feel sad and worn out. I don't think I can ever feel much of anything again."

"Oh, you'll get over that," he replied cheerfully; he was as practical as ever. "What you want is plenty of sun and fresh air and a rest from your family. If your father is insane, he'll go into an asylum; and a rest cure is the place for your mother. That will dispose of her while we are taking our honeymoon in the redwoods. Do you think you could stand camping out?"

"I could stand anything so long as it was the country once more," she said, with her first flash of enthusiasm. "But there is something I should tell you. Perhaps after you hear it you won't want to marry me. I tried to kill Helena once."

"You did what?" he said, staring at her.

"She came to me just after leaving you, on the night of your last interview. I was very much worked up before she came, had been for a long while; and when she told me that she had treated you badly and had thrown you over, after taking you away from me, I suddenly wanted to kill her, and I took my dagger out of the drawer beside me. It was very dark, but she had an instinct, and she jumped up and ran away. I never knew I could feel so; but every bit of blood in my body seemed shrieking in my head, and if she had not gone I should have jumped on her and hacked her to bits. I must go up to my mother now. You can think it over and come back again."

"I don't need to think it over," he said, smiling. "That was all you needed to make you quite perfect. You are a wonderful example of misdirected energies. Where is your father? I will go and look after him at once."

He took her suddenly in his arms and compelled her to kiss him; and then Magdalena knew how glad she was that he had come.

She went with him to the door of the study.

"He is quiet," she whispered. "Perhaps he is asleep."

She left him and went down the hall, turning to wave her hand to him. Trennahan knocked. There was no answer. He opened the door softly, then gave a swift glance over his shoulder, entered hurriedly, and closed the door behind him.

Suspended from the gas pipe, which was bent and leaking, was Don Roberto. The light was dim. The purple face on the languidly revolving body was barely visible; but as it turned slowly to the door, it occupied a definite place among the shadows. Trennahan flung back the curtains and opened the window, closing the lower inside blinds. A cloud hurried across the face of the sun, as if light had no place in that ghastly room. About the limp body and sprawling hands clung the delicate prismatic tapestry of the spiders. It was rent in twain, and it quivered, and threatened to drop and trail upon the floor. The little weavers were racing about, full of anger and consternation, bent on repair. A number had already gathered up the broken strands and were fastening them across the body. Had Don Roberto remained undiscovered for twenty-four hours, he might have been wrought into the tissue of that beautiful delicate web, a grotesque intruder over whom the spiders would doubtless have held long and puzzled counsel.

The cloud passed. The sun caught a brilliant line of colour. Trennahan went forward hastily, and examined the long knotted strip between the body and the ceiling.

Don Roberto had hanged himself with the American flag.

THE END



* * * * *



By the Same Author.

Patience Sparhawk and Her Times.

His Fortunate Grace.

The Doomswoman. (Companion volumes to "The Californians.")

A Whirl Asunder.

American Wives and English Husbands.

A Daughter of the Vine (ready shortly).

Some Novels Published by John Lane

An African Millionaire By Grant Allen

Patience Sparhawk and Her Times By Gertrude Atherton

The Californians By Gertrude Atherton

A Man from the North By E. A. Bennett

Ordeal by Compassion By Vincent Brown

Grey Weather By John Buchan

Carpet Courtship By Thomas Cobb

A King with Two Faces By M. E. Coleridge

A Bishop's Dilemma By Ella D'Arcy

Middle Greyness By A. J. Dawson

Mere Sentiment By A. J. Dawson

Symphonies By George Egerton

Fantasias By George Egerton

The Martyr's Bible By George Fifth

A Celibate's Wife By Herbert Flowerdew

When All Men Starve By Charles Gleig

The Edge of Honesty By Charles Gleig

Comedies and Errors By Henry Harland

The Child Who Will Never Grow Old By K. Douglas King

Weighed in the Balance By Harry Lander

The Quest of the Golden Girl By Richard Le Gallienne

The Romance of Zion Chapel By Richard Le Gallienne

Derelicts By W. J. Locke

Idols By W. J. Locke

Mutineers By A. E. J. Legge

The Spanish Wine By Frank Mathew

A Child in the Temple By Frank Mathew

Regina By Herman Sudermann

The Tree of Life By Netta Syrett

Galloping Dick By H. B. Marriott Watson

The Heart of Miranda By H. B. Marriott Watson

THE END

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