Part 2 out of 7
recently deceased which had convinced her, if not her less mercurial
husband, that their luck had finally turned, had sent Gora, then a rangy
girl of thirteen, fond of books and study, to a large private school in the
Gora, after all these years, ground her teeth as she had a sudden blighting
vision of the day a week later, when, puzzled and resentful, she had walked
up the steep hill with several of the girls whose homes were on California
and Taylor Streets, and two of whom, like herself, were munching an apple.
They had hardly noticed her sufficiently to ignore her, either then or
during the previous week, so absorbed were they in their own close common
interests. She listened to allusions which she barely could comprehend, but
it was evident that one was to give a party on Friday night and the others
were expected as a matter of course. Gora assumed that Jim and Sam and Rex
and Bob were brothers or beaux. Last names appeared to be no more necessary
than labels to inform the outsider of the social status of these favored
maidens, too happy and contented to be snobs but quite callous to the
feelings of strange little girls.
They drifted one by one into their opulent homes, bidding one another a
careless or a sentimental good-by, and Gora, throwing her head as far back
on her shoulders as it would go without dislocation, stalked down to the
unfashionable end of Taylor Street and up to the solitude of her bedroom
under the eaves of the cottage.
On the following day she had lingered in the school yard until the other
girls were out of sight, then climbing the almost perpendicular hill so
rapidly that she arrived on the crest with little breath and a pain in her
side, she had sauntered deliberately up and down before the imposing homes
of her schoolmates, staring at them with angry and puzzled eyes, her young
soul in tumult. It was the old inarticulate cry of class, of the unchosen
who seeks the reason and can find none.
As she had a tendency not only to brood but to work out her own problems it
was several days before she demanded an explanation of her mother.
Mrs. Dwight, a prematurely gray and wrinkled woman, who had once
been handsome with good features and bright coloring, and who wore a
deliberately cheerful expression that Gora often wanted to wipe off, was
sitting in the dining-room making a skirt for her daughter; which, Gora
reflected bitterly, was sure to be too long on one side if not in front.
Mrs. Dwight's smile faded as she looked at the somber face and huddled
figure in the worn leather arm-chair in which Mr. Dwight spent his silent
"Why, my dear, you surely knew long before this that some people are rich
and others poor--to say nothing of the betwixts and betweens." She was an
exact woman in small matters. "That's all there is to it. I thought it a
good idea to send you to a private school where you might make friends
among girls of your own class."
"Own class? They treat me like dirt. How am I of their class when they live
in palaces and I in a hovel?"
"I have reproved you many times for exaggerated speech. What I meant was
that you are as well-born as any of them (better than many) only we have
been unfortunate. Your father tried hard enough, but he just doesn't seem
to have the money-making faculty like so many men. Now, we've had a little
luck I'm really hopeful. I've just had a nice letter from your Aunt Eliza
Goring--I named you for her, but I couldn't inflict you with Eliza. You
know she is many years older than I am and has no children. She was out
here once just before you were born. We--we were very hard up indeed. It
was she who furnished this cottage for us and paid a year's rent. Soon
after, your father got his present position and we have managed to
get along. She always sends me a little cheque at Christmas and I am
sure--well, there are some things we don't say....But this legacy from your
Aunt Jane is the only real stroke of luck we ever had, and I can't help
feeling hopeful. I do believe better times are coming....It used to seem
terribly hard and unjust that so many people all about us had so much and
we nothing, and that in this comparatively small city we knew practically
no one. But I have got over being bitter and envious. You do when you are
busy every minute. And then we have the blessing of health, and Mortimer is
the best boy in the world, and you are a very good child when you are not
in a bad temper. I think you will be handsome, too, although you are pretty
hopeless at present; but of course you will never have anything like
Mortimer's looks. He is the living image of the painting of your
Great-great-great-grandfather Dwight that used to hang in the dining-room
in Utica, and who was in the first Congress. Now, do try and make friends
with the nicer of the children."
But Gora's was not a conciliating nor a compromising nature. Her idea
of "squaring things" was to become the best scholar in her classes and
humiliate several young ladies of her own age who had held the first
position with an ease that had bred laxity. Greatly to the satisfaction
of the teachers an angry emulation ensued with the gratifying result that
although the girls could not pass Gora, their weekly marks were higher, and
for the rest of the term they did less giggling even after school hours,
and more studying.
But Gora would not return for a second term. She had made no friends among
the girls, although, no doubt, having won their respect, they would, with
the democracy of childhood, have admitted her to intimacy by degrees,
particularly if she had proved to be socially malleable.
But for some obscure reason it made Gora happier to hate them all, and when
she had passed her examinations victoriously, and taken every prize, except
for tidiness and deportment, she said good-by with some regret to the
teachers, who had admired and encouraged her but did not pretend to love
her, and announced as soon as she arrived at home that she should enter the
High School at the beginning of the following term.
Her parents were secretly relieved. Even Mrs. Dwight's vision of future
prosperity had faded. She had been justified in believing that her sister
Eliza would make a will in favor of her family, but unfortunately Mrs.
Goring had amused herself with speculation in her old age, and had left
barely enough to pay her funeral expenses.
Mrs. Dwight broached the subject of their immediate future to her husband
that evening. She had some time since made up her mind, in case the school
experiment was not a success, to furnish a larger house with what remained
of the legacy, and take boarders.
"I wouldn't do it if Gora had made the friends I hoped for her," she said,
turning the heel of the first of her son's winter socks, "and there's no
such thing as a social come-down for us; for that matter, there is more
than one lady, once wealthy, who is keeping a boarding-house in this town.
Gora will have to work anyhow, and as for Mortimer--" she glanced fondly at
her manly young son, who was amiably playing checkers in the parlor with
his sister, "he is sure to make his fortune."
"I don't know," said Mr. Dwight heavily. "I don't know."
"Why, what do you mean?" asked his wife sharply.
Mrs. Dwight belonged to that type of American women whose passions in youth
are weak and anaemic, not to say exceedingly shame-faced, but which in
mature years become strong and selfish and jealous, either for a lover or a
son. Mrs. Dwight, being a perfectly respectable woman, had centered all the
accumulated forces of her being on the son whom she idealized after the
fashion of her type; and as she had corrected his obvious faults when he
was a boy, it was quite true that he was kind, amiable, honest, honorable,
patriotic, industrious, clean, polite, and moral; if hardly as handsome as
Apollo or as brilliant and gifted as she permitted herself to believe.
"What do you mean?" she repeated, although she lowered her voice. It was
rarely that it assumed an edge when addressing her husband. She had never
reproached him for being a failure, for she had recognized his limitations
early and accepted her lot. But something in his tone shook her maternal
complacence and roused her to instant defense.
Mr. Dwight took his pipe from his mouth and also cast a glance toward the
parlor, but the absorbed players were beyond the range of his rather weak
"I mean this," he said with nothing of his usual vague hesitancy of speech.
"I'm not so sure that Morty is beyond clerk size."
"You--you--John Dwight--your son--" The thin layer of pale flesh on
Mrs. Dwight's face seemed to collapse upon its harsh framework with the
terrified wrath that shook her. Her mouth fell apart, and hot smarting
tears welled slowly to her eyes, faded with long years of stitching; not
only for her own family but for many others when money had been more than
commonly scarce. "Mortimer can do anything. Anything."
"Can he?" Why doesn't he show it then? He went to work at sixteen and is
now twenty-two. He is drawing just fifty dollars a month. He's well liked
in the firm, too."
"Why don't they raise his salary?"
"Because that's all he's worth to them. He's a good steady honest clerk,
"He's very young--"
"If a man has initiative, ability, any sort of constructive power in his
brain he shows it by the time he is twenty-two--if he has been in that
forcing house for four or five years. That is the whole history of this
country. And employers are always on the look-out for those qualities
and only too anxious to find them and push a young man on and up. Many
a president of a great business started life as a clerk, or even office
"That is what I have always known would happen to Morty. I am sure, sure,
that you are doing him a cruel injustice."
"I hope I am. But I am a failure myself and I know what a man needs in the
way of natural equipment to make a success of his life."
"But he is so energetic and industrious and honorable and likable and--"
"I was all that."
"Then--" Mrs. Dwight's voice trailed off; it sounded flat and old. "What do
you both lack?"
Mrs. Dwight had repeated this conversation to Gora shortly before her
death, and the girl in her reminiscent mood recalled it as she stared with
somber eyes and ironic lips at the havoc the fire was playing with those
lofty mansions which had stood to her all these intervening years as
symbols of the unpardonable injustice of class.
She recalled another of the few occasions when Mrs. Dwight, who believed
in acceptance and contentment, had been persuaded to discuss the
idiosyncrasies of her adopted city.
"It isn't that money is the standard here as it is in New York. Of course
there is a very wealthy set these late years and they set a pace that makes
it difficult for the older families, like the Groomes for instance--I met
Mrs. Groome once at a summer resort where I was housekeeper that year, and
I thought her very typical and interesting. She was so kind to me without
seeing me at all....But those fine old families, who are all of good old
Eastern or Southern stock--if they manage to keep in society are still the
most influential element in it....Family....Having lived in California long
enough to be one of that old set....To be, without question, one of them.
That is all that matters. I've come in contact with a good many of them
first and last in my poor efforts to help your father, and I believe the
San Franciscans to be the most loyal and disinterested people in the
world-to one another.
"But if you come in from the outside you must bring money, or tremendous
family prestige, or the right kind of social personality with the best
kind of letters. We just crept in and were glad to be permitted to make a
living. Why should they have taken any notice of us? They don't go hunting
about for obscure people of possibly gentle blood. That doesn't happen
anywhere in the world. You must be reasonable, my dear child. That is life,
But Gora was not gifted with that form of reasonableness. She had wished in
her darker moments that she had been born outright in the working-class;
then, no doubt, she would have trudged contentedly every morning (except
when on strike) to the factory or shop, or been some one's cook. She was an
excellent cook. What galled her was the fact of virtually belonging to the
same class as these people who were still unaware of the existence of her
family, although it had lived for over thirty years in a city numbering
to-day only half a million inhabitants.
She was almost fanatically democratic and could see no reason for
differences of degree in the aspiring classes. To her mind the only line of
cleavage between the classes was that which divided people of education,
refinement of mind manners and habits, certain inherited traditions, and
the mental effort no matter how small to win a place in this difficult
world, from commonness, ignorance, indifference to dirt, coarse pleasures.
and habits, and manual labor. She respected Labor as the solid foundation
stones upon which civilization upheld itself, and believed it to have been
biologically chosen; if she had been born in its class she would have had
the ambition to work her way out of it, but without resentment.
There her recognition of class stopped. That wealth or family prominence
even in a great city or an old community should create an exclusive and
favored society seemed to her illogical and outrageous. A woman was a lady
or she wasn't. A man was a gentleman or he wasn't. That should be the
beginning and the end of the social code....When she had been younger
she had lamented her mean position because it excluded her from the
light-hearted and brilliant pleasures of youth; but as she grew older
this natural craving had given place to a far deeper and more corrosive
She had no patience with her brother's ingenuous snobbery. A good-natured
friend had introduced him to one or two houses where there were young
people and much dancing and he had been "taken up." Nothing would have
filled Gora with such murderous rage as to be taken up. She wanted her
position conceded as a natural right.
Had it been in her power she would have forced her conception of democracy
upon the entire United States. But as this was quite impossible she longed
passionately for some power, personal and irresistible, that would compel
the attention of the elect in the city of her birth and ultimately bring
them to her feet. And here she had a ray of hope.
Meanwhile it was some satisfaction to watch them being burned out of house
Then she gave a short impatient sigh that was almost a groan, as she
wondered if her own home would go. The family had moved into it eight years
ago; and after Mr. Dwight's death his widow had barely made a living for
herself and her daughter out of the uncertain boarders. Mortimer had paid
his share, but she had encouraged him to dress well and no one knew the
value of "front" better than he. After her death, three years ago, Gora had
turned out the boarders and the last slatternly wasteful cook and let her
rooms to business women who made their morning coffee over the gas jet.
The new arrangement paid very well and left her time for lectures at the
University of California, and for other studies. A Jap came in daily to put
the rooms in order and she cooked for herself and her brother. So unknown
was she that even Aileen Lawton was unaware that the "boarding-house down
on Geary Street" was a lodging house kept by Mortimer Dwight's sister.
Fortunately Gora was spared one more quivering arrow in her pride.
There was a tremendous burst of dynamite that rocked the house. Then she
heard her brother's voice:
"Gora! Gora! Where are you?"
She let herself through the trap door and ran down to the first floor.
Her brother was standing in the lower hall surrounded by several of their
lodgers, competent-looking women, quite calm and business like, but dressed
as for a journey and carrying suitcases and bags.
"You are all ordered out," he was saying. "A change of the wind to the
south would sweep the fire right up this hill, and it may cross Van Ness
Avenue again at any time. So everybody is ordered out to the western hills,
or the Presidio, or across the Bay, if they can make it."
He had no private manners and greeted his sister with the same gallant
smile and little air of deference which always carried him a certain
distance in public. "You had better take out a mattress and blanket," he
said. "I wish I could do it for you--for all of you--but I am under orders
and must patrol where I am sent. When I finish giving the orders down here
I must go back to the Western Addition."
"Don't worry about us," said Gora drily. "We are all quite as capable as
men when it comes to looking out for ourselves in a catastrophe. I hear
that several wives led their weeping stricken husbands out of town
yesterday morning. Are you sure the fire will cross Van Ness Avenue
"It may be held back by the dynamiting, but one can be sure of nothing. Of
course the wind may shift to the west any minute. That would save this part
of the city."
"Well, don't let us keep you from your civic duties. You look very well in
those hunting boots. Lucky you went on that expedition last summer with Mr.
Mortimer frowned slightly and turned to the door. The brother and sister
rarely talked on any but the most impersonal subjects, but more than once
he had had an uneasy sense that she knew him better than he knew himself.
His consciousness had never faced anything so absurd, but there were times
when he felt an abrupt desire to escape her enigmatic presence and this was
one of them.
The lodgers were permitted by the patrol to cook their luncheon on the
stove that had been set up in the street, the orders being that they should
leave within an hour. After their smoky meal they departed, carrying
mattresses and blankets.
Gora had no intention of following them unless the flames were actually
roaring up the block between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. She felt
quite positive that she could outrun any fire.
The last of the lodgers, at her request, shut the front door and made a
feint of locking it, an unnecessary precaution in any case as all the
windows were open; and as the sentries had been ordered to "shoot to kill,"
and had obeyed orders, looting had ceased.
Gora went up to the large attic which, soon, after her mother's death, she
had furnished for her personal use. The walls were hung with a thin bluish
green material and there were several pieces of good furniture that she had
picked up at auctions. One side of the room was covered with book shelves
which Mortimer had made for her on rainy winter nights and they were filled
with the books she had found in second-hand shops. A number of them bore
the autographs of men once prosilient in the city's history but long since
gone down to disaster. There were a few prints that she had found in the
same way, but no oils or water colors or ornaments. She despised the
second-rate, and the best of these was rarely to be bought for a song even
She sighed as she reflected that if obliged to flee to the hills there was
practically nothing she could save beyond the contents of her bags; but at
least she could remain with her treasures until the last minute, and she
pinned the curtains across the small windows and lit several candles.
Between the blasts of dynamite the street was very quiet. She could hear
the measured tread of the sentry as he passed, a member of the Citizens'
Patrol, like her brother. Suddenly she heard a shot, and extinguishing the
candles hastily she peered out of a window from behind the curtains. The
sentry was pounding on a door opposite with the butt of his rifle. It was
the home of an eccentric old bachelor who possessed a fine collection of
ceramics and a cellar of vintage wine.
The door opened with obvious reluctance and the head of Mr. Andrew Bennett
"What you doin' here?" shouted the sentry. "Haven't all youse been told
three hours ago to light out for the hills? Git out--"
"But the fire hasn't crossed Van Ness Avenue. I prefer--"
"Your opinion ain't asked. Git out."
"I call that abominable tyranny."
"Git out or I'll shoot. We ain't standin' no nonsense."
Gora recognized the voice as that of a young man, clerk in a butcher shop
in Polk Street, and appreciated the intense satisfaction he took in his
brief period of authority.
Mr. Bennett emerged in a moment with two large bags and walked haughtily up
the street at the point of the bayonet. Gora stood expectantly behind her
curtain, and some ten minutes later saw him sneak round the eastern end of
his block, dart back as the sentry turned suddenly, and when the footsteps
once more receded run up the street and into his house. She laughed
sympathetically and hoped he would not be caught a second time.
Suddenly another man, carrying a woman in his arms, turned the same corner.
He was staggering as if he had borne a heavy burden a long distance.
Gora ran down to the first floor and glanced out of the window of the front
room. The sentry had crossed the far end of the street and was holding
converse with another member of the patrol. As the refugee staggered past
the house she opened the front door and called softly.
"Come up quickly. Don't let them see you."
The man stumbled up the steps and into the house.
"You can put her on the sofa in this room." Gora led the way into what had
once been the front parlor and was now the chamber of her star lodger. "Is
The man did not answer. He followed her and laid down his burden. Gora
flashed her electric torch on the face of the girl and drew back in horror.
"Yes, she is dead." The young man, who looked a mere boy in spite of his
unshaven chin and haggard eyes, threw himself into a chair and dropping his
face on his arms burst into heavy sobs.
Gora stared, fascinated, at the sharp white face of the girl, the rope of
fair hair wound round her neck like something malign and muscular that had
strangled her, the half-open eyes, whose white maleficent gleam deprived
the poor corpse of its last right, the aloofness and the majesty of death.
She may have been an innocent and lovely young creature when alive, but
dead, and lacking the usual amiable beneficencies of the undertaker, she
looked like a macabre wax work of corrupt and evil youth.
And she was horribly stiff.
Gora went into the kitchen and made him a cup of coffee over a spirit lamp.
He drank it gratefully, then followed her up to the attic as she feared
their voices might be overheard from the lower room. There he took the easy
chair and the cigarette she offered him and told his story.
The young girl was his sister and they were English. She had been visiting
a relative in Santa Barbara when a sudden illness revealed the fact that
she had a serious heart affection. He had come out to take her home
and they had been staying at the Palace Hotel waiting for suitable
accommodations before crossing the continent.
His sister--Marian--had been terrified into unconsciousness by the
earthquake and he had carried her down the stairs and out into Market
Street, where she had revived. She had even seemed to be better than usual,
for the people in their extraordinary costumes, particularly the opera
singers, had amused her, and she had returned to the court of the hotel
and listened with interest to the various "experiences." Finally they had
climbed the four flights of stairs to their rooms and he had helped her to
dress--her maid had disappeared. They had remained until the afternoon when
the uncontrolled fires in the region behind the hotel alarmed them, and
with what belongings they could carry they had gone up to the St. Francis
Hotel, where they engaged rooms and left their portmanteaux, intending to
climb to the top of the hill, if Marian were able, and watch the fire.
Half way up the hill she had fainted and he had carried her into a house
whose door stood open. There was no one in the house, and after a futile
attempt to revive her, he had run back to the hotel to find a doctor. But
among the few people that had the courage to remain so close to the fire
there was no doctor. The hotel clerk gave him an address but told him
not to be too sure of finding his man at home as all the physicians were
probably attending the injured, helping to clear the threatened hospitals,
or at work among the refugees, any number of women having embraced the
inopportune occasion to become mothers.
The doctor whose address was given him not only was out but his house was
deserted; and, distracted, he returned to his sister.
He knew at once that she was dead.
He sat beside her for hours, too stunned to think....It was some time
during the night that the roar of the fire seemed to grow louder, the smoke
in the street denser. Then it occurred to him that the inhabitants of
this house as well as of the doctor's, which was close by, would not have
abandoned their homes if they had not believed that some time during the
night they would be in the path of the flames. And he had heard that the
pipes of the one water system had been broken by the earthquake.
He had caught up the body of his sister and walked westward until, worn
out, he had entered the basement of another empty house, and there he had
fallen asleep. When he awakened he was under the impression for a moment
that he was in the crater of a volcano in eruption. Dynamite was going off
in all directions, he could hear the loud crackling of flames behind his
refuge; and as he took the body in his arms once more and ran out, the fire
was sweeping up the hill not a block below.
In spite of the smoke he inferred that the way was clear to the west, and
he had run on and on, once narrowly escaping a dynamiting area where he
saw men like dark shadows prowling and then rushing off madly in an
automobile...dodging the fire, losing his way, once finding himself
confronting a wall of flames, finally crossing a wide avenue...stumbling
Gora decided that blunt callousness would help him more than sympathy. He
had recovered his self-control, but his eyes were still wide with pain and
"Cremation is a clean honest finish for any one," she remarked, lighting
another cigarette and offering him her match. "I should have left her if
she had been my sister in that first house...."
"I might have done it--in London. But...perhaps I was not quite myself....I
couldn't leave her to be burned alone in a strange country. Besides, the
horror of it would have killed my mother. Marian was the youngest. I felt
bound to do my best....Perhaps I didn't think at all....If this house is
threatened I shall take her out to the Presidio, where I happen to know a
man--Colonel Norris. Thanks to your hospitality I can make it."
"But naturally you cannot go very fast...and these sentries...I am not
sure....I don't see how you escaped others...the smoke and excitement, I
suppose....I think if you are determined to take her it would be better if
I helped you to carry her out to the cemetery. We can put her on a narrow
wire mattress and cover her, so that it will look as if we were rescuing an
invalid. Out there you can put her in one of the stone vaults. Some of the
doors are sure to have been broken by the earthquake."
The young man, who had given his name as Richard Gathbroke, gratefully
rested in her brother's room while she kept watch on the roof. It was night
but the very atmosphere seemed ablaze and the dynamiting as well as the
approaching wall of fire looked very close. Finally when sparks fell on the
roof she descended hastily and awakened her guest, making him welcome to
her brother's linen as well as to a basin of precious water. When he joined
her in the kitchen he had even shaved himself and she saw that he looked
both older and younger than Americans of his age; which, he had told her,
was twenty-three. His fair well-modeled face was now composed and his hazel
eyes were brilliant and steady. He had a tall trim military body, and very
straight bright brown hair; a rather conventional figure of a well-bred
Englishman, Gora assumed; intelligent, and both more naif and more
worldly-wise than young Americans of his class: but whose potentialities
had hardly been apprehended even by himself.
They ate as substantial a breakfast as could be prepared hastily over a
spirit lamp, filled their pockets with stale bread, cake, and small tins
of food, and then carried a narrow wire mattress from one of the smaller
bedrooms to the front room on the first floor.
The patrol had been relieved by another, an older man, and sober. He
merely reproved them for disobeying orders, glanced sympathetically at the
presumed invalid, and directed them to one of the temporary hospitals some
blocks farther west.
Gora, like all imaginative people, had a horror of the corpse, and averted
her eyes from the head of the dead girl outlined under the veil she had
thrown over it, Gathbroke was obliged to walk backward, and as both were
extremely uncomfortable, there was no attempt at conversation until they
reached the gates of the old cemetery the great pioneers had called Lone
Mountain and their more commonplace descendants rechristened Laurel Hill.
The glare of the distant fire illuminated the silent city where a thousand
refugees slept as heavily as the dead, and as they ascended the steep path
they examined anxiously the vaults on either side. Finally Gora exclaimed:
"There! On the right."
The iron doors of a once eminent resident's last dwelling had been half
twisted from their rusty hinges. Gathbroke threw his weight on them and
they fell at his feet. He and Gora carried in the body and lifted it to an
"Good!" Gora gave a long sigh of relief. "Nothing can happen to her now.
Even the entrance faces away from the fire and there is nothing but grass
in the cemetery to burn, anyhow." She held her electric torch to the
inscription above the entrance. "Better write down the name--Randolph.
There's one of the tragedies of the sixties for you! An Englishman the
hero, by the way. Nina Randolph is a handful of dust in there somewhere.
Heigho! What's the difference, anyway? Even if she'd been happy she'd be
dead by this time--or too old to have a past."
Gathbroke replaced the gates, for he feared prowling dogs, and they walked
down to the street and sat on the grass, leaning against the wall of the
cemetery, as dissociated as possible from the rows of uneasy sleepers.
They slept a little between blasts of dynamite, the snoring of men and
women and cries of children; finally at Gora's suggestion climbed to the
steep bare summit of Calvary to observe the progress of the fire.
The unlighted portion of the city beneath them looked like a dead planet.
Beyond was a tossing sea of flame whose far-reaching violent glare seemed
to project it illimitably.
"Nothing can stop it!" gasped Gora; and that terrific red mass of energy
and momentum did look as if its only curb would be the Pacific Ocean.
They talked until morning. He was very frank about himself, finding no
doubt a profound comfort in human companionship after those long hours of
ghastly communion down in that flaming jungle.
He was a younger son and in the army, not badly off, as his mother made him
a goodish allowance. She had come of a large manufacturing family in the
North and had brought a fortune to the empty treasury of the young peer she
had--happily for both--fallen in love with.
He had wanted to go into business--politics later perhaps--after he left
Eton, feeling that he had inherited some of the energy of his maternal
grandfather, but his mother had insisted upon the army and as he really
didn't care so very much, he had succumbed.
"But I'm not sure I shan't regret it. It isn't as if there were any
prospect of a real war. I'd like a fighting career well enough, but not
picayune affairs out in India or Africa. I can't help thinking I have a
talent for business. Sounds beastly conceited," he added hastily. It was
evident that he was a modest youth. "But after all one of us should inherit
something of the sort. Perhaps, later, who knows? At least I can thank
heaven that I wasn't born in my brother's place. He likes politics, and his
fate is the House of Lords. A man might as well go and embalm himself at
once. Do you know Gwynne? Elton Gwynne? John Gwynne he calls himself out
"I've heard of him. He's been written up a good deal. I don't know any one
of that sort."
"Really? Well, don't you see? he inherited a peerage; grandfather died and
his cousin shot himself to cover up a scandal. Gwynne was in the full tide
of his career in the House of Commons and simply couldn't stand for it.
He cut the whole business and came out here where he and his mother had
a large estate--Lady Victoria's mother or grandmother was a
Spanish-Californian. Of course he chucked the title. He's a sort of cousin
of mine and I looked him up, and dined with him the other night. He was
born in the United States, by a fluke as it were, and has made up his mind
to be an American for the rest of his life and carve out a political
career in this country. I'd have done the same thing, by Jove! First-class
solution...although it's a pretty hard wrench to give up your own country.
But when a man is too active to stagnate--there you are....I wish I had
known where to find him to-day, but he lives on his ranch and I've
only seen him once since. Lady Victoria took me to a ball night before
last--Good God! Was it only that?...and we were to have met again for lunch
"It is very easy and picturesque to renounce when you possess just about
everything in life! If I attempted to renounce any of my privileges, for
instance. I should simply move down and out."
He turned his head and regarded her squarely for the first time. Heretofore
she had been simply a friend in need, a jolly good sport, incidentally a
female. If she had been beautiful he should have noted that fact at once,
for he could not imagine the circumstances in which beauty would not exert
an immediate and powerful influence, however transitory.
Miss Dwight was not beautiful, but he concluded during that frank stare
that her face was interesting; disturbingly so, although he was unable at
the moment to find the reason. It was possible that in favorable conditions
she would be handsome.
She had a mass of dark brown hair that seemed to sink heavily over her low
forehead until it almost met the heavy black eyebrows. She had removed her
hat and the thick loose coils made her look topheavy; for the face, if wide
across the high cheek-bones and sharply accentuated with a salient jaw, was
not large. The eyes were a light cold gray, oval and far apart. Her nose
was short and strong and had the same cohibitive expression as the straight
sharply-cut mouth--when not ironic or smiling. Her teeth were beautiful.
She had put on her best tailored suit and he saw that her "figger" was good
although too short and full for his taste. He liked the long and stately
slenderness that his own centuries had bred. But her hands and well-shod
feet were narrow if not small, and he decided that she just escaped
possessing what modern slang so aptly expressed as "class," Possibly it was
the defiance in her square chin, the almost angry poise of her head, that
betrayed her as an unwilling outsider.
"Bad luck!" he asked sympathetically.
She gave him a brief outline of her family history, overemphasizing
as Americans will--those that lay any claim to descent--the previous
importance of the Dwights and the Mortimers in Utica, N.Y. Incidentally,
she gave him a flashlight picture of the social conditions in San
He was intensely interested. "Really! I should have said there would be the
complete democracy in California if anywhere. Of course no Englishman of my
generation expects to find San Franciscans in cowboy costume; but I must
say I was astonished at the luxury and fashion not only at those Southern
California hotels, where, to be sure, most of the guests are from your
older Eastern states, but at that ball Lady Victoria took me to. It was
magnificent in all its details, originality combined with the most perfect
taste. Of course there were not as many jewels as one would see at a great
London function, but the toilettes could not have been surpassed. And as
for the women--stunning! Such beauty and style and breeding. I confess I
didn't expect quite all that. Miss Bascom, Miss Thorndyke, and an exquisite
young thing, Miss Groome--"
"Oh, those are the haute noblesse." Gora's tipper lip curled satirically.
"No doubt they lay claim that their roots mingle with your own."
"Well, we'd be proud of 'em."
"That was the Hofer ball, wasn't it! Do you mean to say that Alexina Groome
was there? Mrs. Groome, who is the most imposing relic of the immortal
eighties, is supposed to know no one of twentieth-century vintage."
"I am sure of it. I danced with her twice and would have jolly well liked
to monopolize her, but she was too plainly bowled over by a fellow--your
name, by Jove--Dwight. Good-looking chap, clean-cut, fine shoulders, danced
like a god--if gods do dance. I'm an awful duffer at it, by the way."
"Mortimer? Is it possible? And he--was he bowled over?"
"Ra--ther! A case, I should say."
"How unfortunate. Of course he hasn't the ghost of a chance. Mrs. Groome
won't have a young man inside her doors whose family doesn't belong root
and branch to her old set. Fine prospect for a poor clerk!"
"Jove! I've a mind to stay and try my luck. Oh!" He dropped his face in his
hands. "I'm forgetting!"
"Well, forget again." Gora's voice expressed more sympathy than she felt.
She deeply resented his immediate acceptance of her social alienage, even
relegating her personal appearance to another class than that of the
delicate flora he had seen blooming for the night against the most artful
background of the season.
However...he was the first man she had ever met in her limited experience
who seemed to combine the three magnetisms....Who could tell....
"I should be delighted if you would cut my brother out before it goes any
further," she said untruthfully. "It will save him a heartache....Where
could you meet her now? Society is disrupted here. But of course Mr. Gwynne
visits down the peninsula. He could take you to any one of those exclusive
abodes where you would be likely to meet the little Alexina. She is only
eighteen, by the way."
"That is rather young," he said dubiously. "I don't fancy her conversation
would be very interesting, and, after all, that is what it comes down to,
isn't it? I've been disappointed so often." He sighed and looked quite
thirty-five. "Still, she has personality. Five or six years hence she may
be a wonder....I don't think I'd care about educating and developing a
girl--I like a pal right away....What an ass I am, rotting like this. Tour
brother has as much chance as I have. Younger sons with no prospect of
succession are of exactly no account with the American mamma. I've met a
few of them."
"Oh, I fancy birth would be enough for Mrs. Groome. She's quite dotty on
the subject, and the people out here are simpler than Easterners, anyhow.
Simpler and more ingenuous."
"How is it you know so much about it, all, if you are not, as you
say--pardon me--a part of it?"
"I wonder!" She gave a short hard little laugh. "I don't know that I could
explain, except that it all has seemed to me from birth a part of my blood
and bones and gristle. An accident, a lucky strike on my father's part when
he first came out here, and they would know me as well to-day as I know
them. And then...of course...it is a small community. We live on the
doorsteps of the rich and important, as it were. It would be hard for us
not to know. It just comes to us. We are magnets. I suppose all this seems
to you--born on the inside--quite ignominious."
"Well, my mother would have remained on the outside--that is to say a quiet
little provincial--if her father hadn't happened to make a fortune with his
iron works. I can understand well enough, but, if you don't mind my saying
so, I think it rather a pity."
"I mean thinking so much about it, don't you know? I fancy it's the result
of living in a small city where there are only a few hundred people between
you and the top instead of a few hundred thousand. I express, myself so
badly, but what I mean is--as I make it out--it is, with you, a case of
so near and yet so far. In a great city like London now (great in
generations--centuries--as well as in numbers) you'd just accept the bare
fact and go about your business. Not a ghost of a show, don't you see? Here
you've just missed it, and, the middle class always flowing into the upper
class, you feel that you should get your chance any minute. Ought to have
had it long ago....I can't imagine, for instance, that if my mother had
married the son of my grandfather's partner that I should have wasted much
time wondering why I wasn't asked to the Elizabethan Hail on the hill. Of
course I don't mean there isn't envy enough in the old countries, but it's
more passive...without hope...."
He felt awkward and officious but he was sorry for her and would have
liked to discharge his debt by helping her toward a new point of view, if
She replied: "That's easy to say, and besides you are a man. My brother,
who is only a clerk in a wholesale house, has been taken up and goes
everywhere. They don't know that I even exist."
"Well, that's their loss," he said gallantly. "Can't you make 'em sit tip,
some way? Women make fortunes sometimes, these days, And they're in about
everything except the Army and Navy. Business? Or haven't you a talent of
some sort? You have--pardon me again, but we have been uncommonly personal
to-night--a strong and individual face...and personality; no doubt of
Gora would far rather he had told her she was pretty and irresistible, but
she thrilled to his praise, nevertheless. It was the first compliment she
had ever received from any man but the commonplace and unimportant friends
her brother had brought home occasionally before he had been introduced to
society; he took good care to bring home none of his new friends.
Her heart leapt toward this exalted young Englishman, who might have
stepped direct from one of the novels of his land and class...even the
stern and anxious moderns who had made England's middle-class the fashion,
occasionally drew a well-bred and attractive man from life....She turned to
him with a smile that banished the somber ironic expression of her face,
illuminating it as if the drooping spirit within had suddenly lit a torch
and held it behind those strange pale eyes.
"I'll tell you what I've never told any one--but my teacher; I've taken
lessons with him for a year. He is an instructor in the technique of the
short story, and has turned out quite a few successful magazine writers. He
believes that I have talent. I have been studying over at the University to
the same end--English, biology, psychology, sociology. I'm determined not
to start as a raw amateur. Oh! Perhaps I have made a mistake in telling
you. You may be one of those men that are repelled by intellectual women!"
"Not a bit of it. Don't belong to that class of duffers anyway. I don't
like masculine women, or hard women--run from a lot of our girls that are
so hard a diamond wouldn't cut 'em. But I've got an elder sister--she's
thirty now--who's the cleverest woman I ever met, although she doesn't
pretend to do anything. She won't bother with any but clever and
exceptional people--has something of a salon. My parents hate it--she lives
alone in a flat in London--but they can't help it. My grandfather Doubleton
liked her a lot and left her two thousand a year. I wish you knew her. She
is charming and feminine, as much so as any of those I met at the ball; and
so are many of the women that go to her flat--"
"Don't you think I am feminine?" asked Gora irrisistibly. He had a way
of making her feel, quite abruptly, as if she had run a needle under her
Once more he turned to her his detached but keen young eyes.
"Well...not exactly in the sense I mean. You look too much the
fighter...but that may be purely the result of circumstances," he added
hastily: the strange eyes under their heavy down-drawn browns were lowering
at him. "You are not masculine, no, not a bit."
Once more Miss Dwight curled her upper lip. "I wonder if you would have
said the first part of that if you had met me at the Hofer ball and I had
worn a gown of flame-colored chiffon and satin, and my hair marcelled like
every other woman present--except those embalmed relics of the seventies,
who, I have heard, rise from the grave whenever a great ball is given,
and appear in a built-up red-brown wig....And a string of pearls round my
throat? My neck and arms are quite good; although I've never possessed an
evening gown, I know I'd look quite well in one...my best."
He laughed. "It does make a difference. I wish you had been there. I am
sure you are as good a dancer as you are a pal. But still...I think I
should have recognized the fighter, even if you had been born in the
California equivalent for the purple. I fancy you would have found some
cause or other to get your teeth into once in a while. Tell me, don't
you rather like the idea of taking Life by the throat and forcing it to
"I wonder?...perhaps...but that does not mitigate my resentment that I am
on the outside of everything when I belong on the in. I should never have
been forced to strive after what is mine by natural right."
"Well, don't let it make a socialist of you. That is such a cheap revenge
on society....Confession of failure; and nothing in it."
He looked at his watch: "Eight o'clock. I'll be getting on to the Presidio.
Why don't you come with me?"
Gora's feminine instincts arose from a less perverted source than her
social. She shook her head with a smile.
"I don't want to go any farther from my house. I shall slip down my first
chance; and I have plenty to eat. Perhaps you will come to see me before
you go if my house is spared."
"Rather. What is the number? And if the house goes I'll find you somehow."
He took her hand in both his and shook it warmly. "You are the best pal in
"Now don't make me a nice little speech. I'm only too glad. Go out to the
Presidio and get a hot breakfast and attend--to--to your affairs. I am sure
everything will be all right, although you may not be able to get away as
soon as you hope."
"I don't like leaving you alone here--"
"Alone?" She waved her hand at the hundreds of recumbent forms in the
cemeteries and on the lower slopes of Calvary. "I probably shall never be
so well protected again. Please go."
He shook her hand once more, ran down the hill, turned and waved his cap,
and trudged off in the direction of the Presidio.
She slept in her own house that night, for dynamiting by miners summoned
from Grass Valley by General Funston, and a change of wind, had saved
the western portion of the city. For the first time in her life Gora
experienced a sense of profound gratitude, almost of happiness. She felt
that only a little more would make her quite happy. Her lodgers, even her
absorbed brother, noticed that her manner, her expression, had perceptibly
softened. She herself noticed it most of all.
Gathbroke met Alexina Groome again a week later.
On Saturday, when the fire was over, and she could retreat decently and
in good order, Mrs. Groome, to her young daughter's secret anguish, had
consented to rest her nerves for a fortnight at Rincona, Mrs. Abbott's home
As Gora had predicted, Gathbroke found that it would have been hardly more
difficult to move his sister's body, now at an undertaker's in Fillmore
Street, out of the state in war-time than in the wake of a city's disaster,
which was scattering its population to every point of the railroad compass.
He had refused the space in the baggage car offered to him by the company;
it should: be a private car or nothing; and for that, in spite of all the
influence Gwynne and his powerful friends could bring to bear, he must
Meanwhile Gwynne had asked him to stay with himself and his mother, Lady
Victoria Gwynne, at the house of his fiancee, Isabel Otis, on Russian Hill;
a massive cliff rising above one of the highest of the city's northern
hills, whose old houses, clinging to its steep sides had escaped the fire
that roared about its base. To-day it was a green and lofty oasis in the
midst of miles of smoking ruins.
Gathbroke was as nervous as only a young Englishman within his immemorial
armor can be. Gwynne, who had gone through the same nerve-racking crisis,
although from different causes, understood what he suffered and pressed him
into service in the distribution of government rations, and garments to
the different refugee camps. But Gathbroke had the active imagination of
intelligent youth, and he never forgot to blame himself for lingering in
New York with some interesting chaps he had met on the _Majestic_, and
afterward in Southern California, seduced by its soft climate and violent
color. Unquestionably, if he had stayed on his job, as these expressive
Americans put it, his sister would have been in New York, possibly on the
Atlantic Ocean when San Francisco shook herself to ruin.
"But not necessarily alive," said Lady Victoria callously, removing her
cigar, her heavy eyes that looked like empty volcanos, staring down over
the smoldering waste. "People with heart disease don't invariably wait for
an earthquake to jolt them out of life. Assume that her time had come and
think of something else or you'll become a silly ass of a neurotic."
Gwynne, more sympathetic, continued to find him what distraction he could,
and one day drove him down the Peninsula with a message from the Committee
of Fifty to Tom Abbott; who had caught a heavy cold during those three days
when he had driven a car filled with dynamite and had had scarcely an hour
for rest. He was now at home in bed.
The Abbott's place, Rincona, stood on a foothill behind the other estates
of Alta and surrounded by a park of two hundred acres set thick with
magnificent oaks. Gathbroke had never seen finer ones in England or France.
Gwynne before entering the avenue drove to an elevation above the house and
stopped the car for a moment.
The great San Mateo valley looked like a close forest of ancient oaks
broken inartistically by the roofs of houses shorn of their chimneys.
Beyond, on the eastern side of a shallow southern arm of the Bay of San
Francisco, was the long range of the Contra Costa mountains, its waving
indented slopes incredibly graceful in outline and lovely in color. Gwynne
had pointed out their ever changing tints and shades as they drove through
the valley; at the moment they were heliotrope deepening to purple in the
Behind the foothills above Rincona rose the lofty mountains which in
Maria Abbott's youth had seemed to tower above the valley a solid wall of
redwoods; but long since plundered and defaced for the passing needs of
"Great country--what?" said Gwynne, starting the car. "You couldn't pry me
away from it--that is, unless I have the luck to represent it in Washington
half the year. You'll be coming back yourself some day."
"I? Never. I hate the sight of its grinning blue sky after the red horror
of those three days. I haven't seen a cloud as big as my hand, and in
common decency it should howl and stream for months."
"Well, forget it for a day. Perhaps you will be placed next the fair
Alexina at luncheon--"
"Groome. You must have met her at the Hofer ball."
Gwynne looked at his stuttering and flushed young cousin and burst into
"As bad as that, was it? Well, she's not bespoken as far as I know. Wade in
and win. You have my blessing. She is almost as beautiful as Isabel--"
"She's quite as beautiful as Miss Otis."
"Oh, very well. No doubt I'd think so myself if I hadn't happened to meet
Isabel first, and if I were not too old for her anyway."
Gwynne could think of no better remedy for demoralized nerves than a
flirtation with a resourceful California girl, and if Dick annexed a living
companion for his trying journey to England so much the better.
Gathbroke's excitement subsided quickly. He was in no condition for
sustained enthusiasm. He felt as if quite ten years had passed since he
had half fallen in love with Alexina Groome in a ball room that was now
a charred heap in the sodden wreck of a city he barely could conjure in
Besides, he had half fallen in love so often. And she was too young. He had
really been more drawn to that strange Miss Dwight; upon whom, however, he
had not yet called.
He felt thankful that the girl _was_ too young for his critical taste. He
wanted nothing more at present in the way of emotions.
Rincona had been named in honor of Rincon Hill, where Tom Abbott's
grandmother had reigned in the sixties; a day, when in order to call on her
amiable rival, Mrs. Ballinger, her stout carriage horses were obliged to
plow through miles of sand hills, and to make innumerable detours to avoid
the steep masses of rock, over which in her grandson's day cable car and
trolley glided so lightly until that morning of April eighteen, nineteen
hundred and six.
When her husband, in common with other distinguished citizens, bought an
estate in the San Mateo Valley, she named it Rincona, to the secret wrath
of other eminent ladies who had not thought of it in time.
The house had as little pretensions to architectural beauty as others
of its era, but it was a large compact structure of some thirty rooms,
exclusive of the servants' quarters, and with as many outbuildings as a
Danish, farm. Long French windows opened upon a wide piazza, whose pillars
had disappeared long since under a luxuriant growth of rose vines and
wistaria. At its base was a bed of Parma violets, whose fragrance a
westerly breeze wafted to the end of the avenue a quarter of a mile away.
All about the house, breaking the smooth lawns, were beds and trees of
flowers, at this time of the year a glowing exotic mass of color; but in
the park that made up the greater part of the estate exclusive of the
farms, the grass under the superb oaks was merely clipped, the weeds
and undergrowth removed. The oaks had been evenly shorn of their lower
branches, which gave them a formal and somewhat arrogant expression, as of
cardinals and kings lifting their skirts.
Alexina hated the enormous rooms with their high frescoed ceilings and
heavy Victorian furniture; but Maria Abbott loved and revered the old
house, emblem that it was of a secure proud family that had defied that
detestable (and disturbing) old phrase: "Three generations from shirt
sleeves to shirt sleeves." The Abbotts, like the Ballingers and Groomes
and Gearys and many others of that ilk, had not come to California in the
fifties and sixties as adventurers, but with all that was needed to give
them immediate prestige in the new community; and, among those that still
retained their estates in the San Mateo Valley, at least, there was as
little prospect of their reversion to shirt sleeves as of their conversion
to the red shirt of socialism. Their wealth might be moderate but it was
solid and steadfast.
The entertaining of the Abbotts, Yorbas, Hathaways, Montgomerys, Brannans,
Trennahans, and others of what Alexina irreverently called the A.A., had
always been ostentatiously simple, albeit a butler and a staff of maids had
contributed to their excessive comfort. In the eighties, evening toilettes
during the summer were considered immoral; but by degrees, as time tooled
in its irresistible modernities, they gradually fell into the habit of
wearing out their winter party gowns at the evening diversions of the
country season. Burlingame, that borough of concentrated opulence founded
in the early nineties as a fashionable colony, began its career with
a certain amount of simplicity; but its millions increased to tens of
millions; and what in heaven's name, as Mrs. Clement Hunter, a leader and
an individual, once remarked, is the use of having money if you don't dress
and entertain as you would dream of dressing and entertaining if you didn't
have a cent?
Mrs. Hunter, who had formed an incongruous and somewhat hostile alliance
with Mrs. Abbott, knew that her valuable friend, like others of that "small
and early" band, resented the fact that their standards no longer counted
outside of their own set. Mrs. Abbott had turned a haughty shoulder to Mrs.
Hunter for a time, for she remembered her as, in their school days, the
socially obscure Lidie McKann; now, however, her husband turning all he
touched to gold, she had, incredibly, become one of the most important
women in San Francisco and Burlingame.
When Maria Abbott finally succumbed she assured herself that curiosity to
see the more ambushed glitter of that meretricious faubourg had nothing
to do with it; it was easy to persuade herself that she hoped, being an
indisputably smart woman herself, gradually to impose her simpler and more
appropriate standards upon these people who sorely threatened the continued
dominance of the old regime.
Mrs. Hunter soon disabused her of any such notion, and during the early
days of their acquaintance, after Mrs. Abbott came to one of her luncheons
attired in a pique skirt and severe shirtwaist, impeccably cut and worn,
but entirely out of place in an Italian palace, where forty fashionable
women, some of whom had motored sixty miles to attend the function, were
dressed as they would be at a Newport luncheon, Mrs. Hunter attended the
next solemn affair at Rincona so overdressed and made up that the outraged
Altarinos (as Alexina irreverently called them) were reduced to a horrified
silence that was almost hysterical.
But one morning Mrs. Abbott caught Mrs. Hunter digging in her private
vegetable garden behind the palace, and wearing a garment that her second
gardener's wife would have scorned, her unblemished face beaming under a
battered straw hat. Both women had the humor to laugh, and their intimacy
dated from that moment, Mrs. Hunter confessing that stuff on her face made
her sick; but adding that she adored dress and thought that any rich woman
was a fool who didn't.
After that there was a compromise on both sides. Mrs. Hunter lunched or
dined at Rincona in her simplest frocks and Mrs. Abbott wore her best when
honoring Mrs. Hunter and others at Burlingame. She even went so far as to
have some extremely smart silk voiles (the fashionable material of the
moment) and linens made, and when asked to a wedding, a garden party, or
a great function given to some visitor of distinction, complimented the
occasion to the limit of her resources.
Mrs. Hunter, in white duck, a sailor hat perched above her angular somewhat
masculine face, was sitting on the Abbott verandah as the two Englishmen
drove up. She waved her cigarette and cried gayly in her hearty resonant
"Two men! What luck! And in time for lunch. I've hardly seen a man since
the first day of the fire. Leave your car anywhere and come in out of the
sun. I'll call Maria, and, incidentally, mention whiskey and soda."
"The whiskey and soda is all right," said Gwynne mopping his brow; Nature,
having wreaked her worst on California, seemed determined to atone by
unseasonably brilliant weather, and the day under the blazing blue vault
was very hot.
Mrs. Abbott appeared in a few moments, smiling, cool, in immaculate white,
the collar of her shirtwaist high and unwilted. Her weather-beaten face
looked years older than Mrs. Hunter's, who, although plain by comparison
with the once beautiful Maria Groome, had treated her clean healthy skin
with marked respect.
But as the butler had preceded her with whiskey and soda and ice, Mrs.
Abbott might already have achieved the mahogany tints of her mother and she
would have been regarded as enthusiastically by two hot and dusty men.
"Of course you will stay to luncheon," she said as naturally as she had
said it these many years, and as two hospitable generations had said it on
that verandah before her. She turned to young Gathbroke with a smile, for
Mrs. Hunter, who was in her confidence, had detained her for a moment with
a few sharp incisive words. "I have a very bored little sister, who will be
glad to sit next to a young man once more."
And although Gathbroke almost frowned at this fresh reminder of the callow
years of the girl whose sheer loveliness had haunted his imagination,
he went off with a not disagreeable titillation of the nerves, at Mrs.
Abbott's suggestion, to find her in the park and bring her back to luncheon
in half an hour.
He was light of step and made no sound on the heavy turf; he saw her
several minutes before she was aware of his presence and stood staring at
her, feeling much as he had done during the progress of the earthquake.
She was standing under one of the great oaks whose lower limbs had been
trimmed so evenly some seven feet above the ground that they made a compact
symmetrical roof above the dark head of the girl, who, being alone, had
abandoned the limp curve of fashion and was standing very erect, drawn up
to her full five feet seven. Alexina had no intention of being afflicted
with rounded shoulders when the present mode had passed.
But her face expressed no guile as she stood there in her simple white
frock with a bunch of periwinkles in her belt, her delicate profile turned
to Gathbroke as she gazed at the irregular majesty of the Coast Range, dark
blue under a pale blue haze. He had retained the impression of starry eyes
and vivid coloring and eager happy youth, a body of perfect slenderness
and grace, whose magnetism was not that of youth alone but personal and
Now he saw that although her fine little profile was not too regular, and
as individual as her magnetism, the shape of her head was classic. It was
probable that she was not unaware of the fact, for its perfect lines and
curves were fully revealed by the severe flatness of the dusky thickly
planted hair, which was brushed back to the nape of her neck and then drawn
up a few inches and flared outward. The little head was held high on the
long white stem of the throat; and the pose, with the dropping eyelids,
gave her, in that deep shade, the illusion of maturity. Gathbroke realized
that he saw her for the moment as she would look ten years hence. Even the
full curved red lips were closed firmly and once the nostrils quivered
The narrow black eyebrows following the subtle curve of her eyelids, the
low full brow with its waving line of soft black hair, seemed to brood over
the lower part of the face with its still indeterminate curves, over the
wholly immature figure of a very young girl.
Gathbroke surrendered then and there. This radiation of mystery, of
complexity, this secret subtle visit of maturity to youth, the hovering
spirit of the future woman, was unique in his experience and went straight
to his head. He forgot his sister, dismissed the thought of Dwight with a
gesture of contempt. He might be modest and rather diffident in manner,
owing to racial shyness, but he had a fine sustaining substructure of sheer
As he walked forward swiftly Alexina turned; and immediately was the young
thing of eighteen and of the early twentieth century. Her spine drooped
into an indolent curve, her soft red lips fell apart, her black-gray eyes
opened wide as she held out her hand to the young Englishman.
"How nice! I never really expected to see you again. I understood Lady
Victoria to say you were merely passing through."
Alexina had not cast him a thought since the night of the ball but she was
hospitable and feminine.
"I was detained."
She noted with intense curiosity that his bright color paled and his
sparkling hazel eyes darkened with a sudden look of horror; but the spasm
of memory passed quickly, and once more he was staring at her with frank
Alexina's head went up a trifle. She was still new to conquest, and
although she had met more than one pair of admiring eyes in the course of
the past season, and received as many compliments as the vainest girl could
wish, few men had had the courage to storm the stern fortress on Ballinger
Hill, or to sit more than once in a drawing-room so darkly reminiscent of
funeral ceremonies that a fellow's nerves began to jump all over him.
Nor had her fancy been even lightly captured until Mortimer Dwight, that
perfect hero of maiden dreams, had swept her off her dancing feet on the
most memorable night of her life.
She had quite made up her mind to marry him. The indignant silent hostility
of the family (even Mrs. Ballinger, her moment of weakness passed, having
been swung to the horrified Maria's point of view) had been all that was
necessary to convince the young Alexina that fate had sent her the complete
romance. She hoped the opposition would drive her to an elopement; little
dreaming of the horror with which Mr. Dwight would greet the heterodox
Mrs. Abbott had had a valid excuse for not asking him down: provisions
were scarce, and, so Tom said, he was doing useful work in town. But Olive
Bascom, whose country home was in San Mateo, had invited him for the next
week end, and he had accepted. Alexina was to be one of the small house
party, and there were many romantic walks behind San Mateo. A moon was also
Still Gathbroke might have entered the race with an even chance, for
maidens of eighteen are merely the blind tools of Nature, had not the
family made the mistake of displaying too warm an approval of the eligible
young Englishman. Mrs. Groome, Mrs. Abbott, Aunt Clara, reenforced even by
the more worldly Mrs. Hunter, who, however, had no children of her own,
treated him throughout the luncheon with an almost intimate cordiality and
a lively personal interest; whereas, if Mrs. Abbott had been driven to keep
her word and invite Mortimer Dwight to her historic board she would have
depressed him with the cool pleasant detachment she reserved for those whom
she knew slightly and cared for not at all; Mrs. Groome, automatically
gracious, would have retired within the formidable fortress of an exterior
built in the still more exclusive eighties; Aunt Clara would have sat
petrified with horror at the desecration; and Mrs. Hunter, free from the
obligations of hospitality, would have been brusque, frankly supercilious,
made him as uncomfortable as possible.
All this Alexina angrily resented, not knowing that their amiability was
in part inspired by sympathy, Gwynne having told them the story of his
cousin's tragic experience; although they did in truth regard him as a
possibly heaven-sent solution of a problem that was causing them all, even
Mrs. Hunter, acute anxiety.
Young Gathbroke was handsomer than Dwight. He was younger, and his
circumstances were far more romantic, if romance Alexina must have. It was
plain that he was fascinated by the dear silly child, who, in her turn,
would no doubt promptly forget the ineligible Dwight if the Englishman
proved to be serious and paid her persistent court.
Nevertheless Gathbroke, before the luncheon was half over, felt that he was
making no progress with Alexina. Subtly it was conveyed to him on one of
those unseen currents that travel directly to the sensitive mind, that
these amiable people knew his story; and, no doubt, in all its harrowing
details. Simultaneously those details flashed into his own consciousness
with a horrible distinctness, depressing his spirits and extinguishing a
natural gayety and light chaff that had come back for a moment.
Moreover, to use his own expression, he was besottedly in love, and knew
that he betrayed himself every time his eyes met those of the girl, who,
he felt with bitterness and alarm, long before the salad, was making a
desperate attempt to entertain a very dull young man.
Once or twice a mocking glance flashed through those starry ingenuous
orbs, but was banished by the simple art of elevating the wicked iris and
revealing a line of saintly white. Alexina was quite determined to add a
British scalp to her small collection, and for the young man's possible
torment she cared not at all. With young arrogance she rather despised him
for his surrender before battle, or at all events for hauling down his flag
publicly; and her mind traveled with feminine satisfaction to the calm
smiling dominance, combined with utter devotion, of the man who had won
her as easily as she had conquered Richard Gathbroke. That the young
Englishman's nature was hot and tempestuous, with depths that even he had
not sounded, and her ideal knight's more effective mien but the expression
of a possibly meager and somewhat puritanical nature; that Dwight's heart
was a well-trained organ which would never commit an indiscretion, and that
young Gathbroke would have sold the world for her if she had been a flower
girl, or the downfall of her fortunes had sent her clerking, she was far
too inexperienced to guess; and it is doubtful if the knowledge would have
affected her had she possessed it. She was in the obstinate phase of
first youth, common enough in girls of her sheltered class, where the
opportunities to study men and their behavior are few. Having persuaded
herself that she was far more romantic than she really was, and that there
would be no possible happiness or indeed interest in life after youth, she
had conceived as her ideal mate the dominant male, the complete master, and
easily persuaded herself that she had found him in Mortimer Dwight....If
she married Gathbroke he would be her slave (so little did she know him.).
Dwight would be her master. (So little did she know him, or herself.)
After luncheon, grinning amiably when Mrs. Abbott hinted that Englishmen
liked to be out of doors, she led Gathbroke to the confines of the park,
where they sat down under one of the oaks that reminded him of England; for
which he was in truth desperately homesick, and never more so than at this
Everything combined to make him realize uneasily his youth. In England
a man of twenty-three was a man-of-the-world if he had had the proper
opportunities; but this girl who had infatuated him, and even the far more
sympathetic Miss Dwight, made him feel that he was a mere boy; and so had
this entire family, however unwittingly.
He spoke of Miss Dwight suddenly, for Alexina, who had been duly
enlightened while the men were smoking with Tom, had tactfully conveyed her
sympathy, her eyes almost round with fascinated horror and curiosity.
He set his teeth and gave a rapid but graphic account of the whole dreadful
episode, willing to interest her at any price; and Alexina, sitting
opposite on the ground, her long spine curved, her long arms embracing her
knees, listened with a breathless interest, spurring him to potent words,
even to stressing of detail.
"My goodness gracious me!" she ejaculated when he paused. "I should have
gone raving mad. You are a perfect wonder. I never heard of anything so
gor--perfectly thrilling. And that girl, what did you say her name was?"
Gathbroke, who had purposely withheld it, said explosively:
"I think she is a sister of a friend of yours." And he was made as
miserable as he could wish by a crimson tide that swept straight from her
heart pump up to her widow's peak.
"Dwight? Sister? I didn't know he had one. I saw him several times during
the fire and he didn't mention her."
"I suspect he was too absorbed." Gathbroke muttered the words, but man's
instinct of loyalty to his own sex is strong. "A city doesn't burn every
day, you know."
"Still...what is she like? Like him?"
"I do not remember him at all...She? Oh, she has a tremendous amount of
dark hair that looks as if falling off the top of her head and down her
face. Uncommonly heavy eyebrows, and very light gray--Ah, I have it! I have
been groping for the word ever since--sinister eyes....That is the effect
in that dark face. She has a curious character, I should think. Not very
frank. She--well, she rather struck me as having been born for drama;
tragic drama, I am afraid."
"Not a bit like her brother. How old is she?"
"Twenty-two, she told me."
"What--what does she do? They are not a bit well off."
He hesitated a moment. "Well--as I recall it, she is studying something or
other at the University of California."
"And of course she boards down there with her brother, who takes care of
her while she is studying to be a teacher or something." Alexina having
arranged it to her satisfaction dismissed the subject. She had no mind to
betray herself to this good-looking young Englishman who had been sent
to her providentially on a very dull day. He would, no doubt, have been
frantically interesting if he had not been so idiotic as to fall head over
ears the first shot.
Still...Alexina examined him covertly as he transferred his gaze for a
moment to the mountains across the distant bay, swimming now in a pale
blue mist with a wide banner of pale pink above them....If she had met him
first, or had never met the other at all...who knew?
Alexina, for all her passion for romance, had a remarkably level head. She
was quite aware that there had been a certain amount of deliberation in her
own headlong plunge, convinced as she was that high romance belonged to
youth alone, and fearful lest it pass her by; aware also that a part of
Dwight's halo, aside from his looks and manners and chivalrous charm,
consisted in his being a martyr to an unjust fate, and, as such, under the
ban of her august family. It was all quite too perfect....But if Gathbroke
had come first his qualifications might have proved quite as puissant, and
no doubt Tom Abbott, who retained his school-history hatred of the entire
English race, would have provided the opposition and perhaps influenced the
She swept her intoxicating lashes along the faint bloom high on her olive
cheeks and then raised her eyes suddenly to the tormented ones opposite.
She also smiled softly, alluringly, as little fascinating wretches will who
know nothing of the passions of men.
"I think you should follow Mr. Gwynne's example and stay here with us." He
thought of silver chimes and contrasted her voice with Gora Dwight's angry
contralto: he always thought of Gora in phrases. "So many Englishmen live
out here and adore it."
"I'm perfectly satisfied with my own country, thank you."
Alexina, who was feeling intensely American at the moment, curled her lip.
"Oh, of course. We have had plenty of those, too. Scarcely any of them
becomes naturalized. Just use and enjoy the country and give as little in
return as possible."
"Really? I fancy they must give rather a lot in return or they would hardly
be tolerated. No native has worked harder than Elton these last days.
I understand most of them are in business or ranching and have married
"Oh, they have redeeming points." And then having satisfied her curiosity
as to how hazel eyes looked when angry she gave him a dazzling smile. "We
love them like brothers, and that is a proof that we are not snobbish,
for most of them are not of your or Mr. Gwynne's class--just middle-class
business people at home."
"Well, you are a business nation, so why not? I have met hardly any but
business men out here and I feel quite at home with them. My mother's
family are in trade and I enjoy myself immensely when I visit them."
"Oh!" His halo slipped....Still, what did it matter? "I suppose you told
me that to let me know you didn't need to come out here in search of an
heiress. But many of our most charming girls are not. Just now it seems to
me that more young men in California have money than girls...but they are
She looked pathetic, her mouth drooped; then she smiled at him confidingly.
He knew quite as well as if he had not been hard hit that she was flirting
with him, but as long as she gave him his chance to win her she might do
her transparent little best to make a fool of him.
"Have you ever been in love?" asked Alexina softly.
"Oh, about half-way several times, but always drew back in time...knew it
wasn't the real thing...Youth fools itself, you know, for the sake of the
sensation--or the race. Have you?"
"Oh--" Alexina lifted her thin flexible shoulders airily and this time her
color did not flow. "How is one to tell...a girl in her first season...when
all men look so much alike? It is fun to flirt with them, when you have
been shut up in boarding-school and hardly had a glimpse of life even in
vacation. My New York relatives are terribly old-fashioned. It's great
fun to give one man all the dances and watch the dado of dowagers look
disapproving." And once more she gave him the quick smile of understanding
that springs so spontaneously between youth and youth.
"Well...you might have given all those dances to me the other night,
instead of to that fellow Dwight."
"Oh, but you see, I had already promised them to him. Lady Victoria always
comes so late."
"That's true enough." His spirits rose a trifle.
"When do you go--back to England, I mean? Not for a good long time, I hope.
We have awfully good times down here. Janet Maynard and Olive Bascom live
at San Mateo in the summer, and Aileen Lawton at Burlingame. They are my
chums and we'd give you a ripping time. We'd like to have you take away the
pleasantest possible memory of California instead of such a terrible one. I
don't mean anything very gay of course. You mustn't think I'm heartless."
And she showed the lower pearl of her eyes and looked like a madonna.
"I'm afraid I must go soon. I've had an extension of leave already, and
Hofer told me just before we left to-day that he thought he could let me
have his private car inside of a week. They've been using it."
There was not a dwelling in sight. The quiet of that old park with its
brooding oaks was primeval. Behind her was the pink and blue glory of sky
and mountain. Her eyes were like stars.
He burst out boyishly: "If I only had more time! If only I could have met
you even when I first came to San Francisco...before...before...I'd--I'd
like to marry you. It's fearfully soon to say such a thing. I feel like a
fool. But I'm not the first man to fall madly in love at first sight...and
you...you...If I tell you now instead of waiting it's because there's so
little time. Would you...do you think you could marry me?"
"Oh! Ah!" (She almost said Ow.) After all it was her first proposal. She
was thrilled in spite of the fact that she was in love with another man,
for she felt close to something elemental, hazily understood...something
in her own unsounded depths rushed to meet it.
But he was too young, and too "easy," and she didn't like his gray flannel
shirt; which, laundry being out of the question, he had bought in Fillmore
Street almost opposite the undertaker's.
"Suppose we correspond for a year? That is, if you must really go so soon."
"I must. I want you to go with me."
His eyes had turned almost black and he had set his jaw in a way she didn't
like at all. In nerving himself to go through the ordeal he had worked up
his fermenting mind into a positively brutal mood.
"Oh--mercy! I couldn't do that. My people are the most conventional in the
The situation was getting beyond her. She had not intended to make him
propose for at least a week and then he would have been abject and she
majestic. She sprang to her feet with a swift sidewise movement that made
her limp young body melt into a series of curves; and, standing at bay as
it were, looked at him with a little frown.
He rose as quickly and she liked the set of his jaw bones less and less.
"Are you refusing me outright?" he demanded. "That would be only fair, you
know, if I have no chance."
"Well....I think so. That is--"
"Do you love another man?"
Coquetry flashed back. Nevertheless, she told the exact truth little as she
"I love myself, and youth, and life, and liberty. What is a man in
comparison with all that?"
"This." And before she could make another leap he had her in his arms; and
under the fire of his lips and eyes she lay inert, intoxicated, her first
flash of young passion completely responsive to his.
But only for a moment.
She wrenched herself away, her face livid, her eyes black with fury. She
beat his chest with her fists.
"You! You! How I hate you! To think I should have given that to you...to
think that another man should have been the first to kiss me...I'm in love
with another man, I tell you. Why don't you go? I hate myself and I never
want to lay eyes on you again. Go! Go! Go!"
During the retreat from Mons and again in those black days of March,
nineteen-eighteen, Gathbroke's tormented mind snapped from the present and
flashed on its screen so startling a resurrection of himself during those
last dreadful days in San Francisco that for the moment he was unconscious
of the world crashing about him.
He saw himself in long days and nights of anguish and despair, of
embittered love and baffled passion: youth enjoying one of its divine
prerogatives and the fullness thereof!
Pacing the floor of his room on Russian Hill, tramping over the mountains
across the Bay, doggedly awaiting that sole alleviation of mental suffering
in its early stages, a change of scene.
Finally the Hofer car was placed at his disposal and he started on his four
days' journey to New York; and this brief chapter, that his friends
thought so gruesome, was the least of his afflictions. The memory of his
twenty-four hours or more of close physical association with his sister's
corpse made any subsequent adventure with the dead seem tame. And at least
he was leaving behind him a State which seemed to have magnetized him
across six thousand miles to experience the horror and misery she had
in pickle for him. He reveled in the audible rush of the train that was
carrying him farther every moment from the girl who had cut down into the
core of his heart and left her indelible image on a remarkably good memory.
He had asked himself one day--it was his last in California and he had
taken his courage in his teeth and was on his way to call on Gora Dwight at
last, picking his steps through, the still smoking ruins down to Van Ness
Avenue--whether it would be possible for any man to suffer twice in a
lifetime as he had suffered since that hideous moment at Rincona, coming as
it did on top of an uncommon and terrible experience that had racked his
nerves and soul as it might not have done had he been seasoned by war or
even a few years older. At all events it had left him with no reserves even
in his pride to fight his failure and his loss.
In that shrieking hell of August twenty-sixth, or again when lying
abandoned and gassed in a way-side hut during that ominous retreat of the
Fifth Army, when he had a sudden close vision of himself, trousers tucked
into a pair of Gwynne's hunting boots, swearing now and again as he stepped
on a hot brick; and heard his groping ego whisper the question through his
prostrate mind, he was tempted to answer aloud, to shout "No" above the
shrieking of shells and the groans of men fallen about him.
He might no longer love Alexina Groome after twelve or even eight years of
complete severance; and, indeed, save in flashing moments like these he had
seldom thought of her after the first two or three years; but at least she
had taken the edge from his power to suffer.
He had lost his mother soon after his return with the body of her youngest
child, his father had died three years later, and he had accepted these
griefs with the composure of maturity. Although he had had some agreeable
adventures (not that he had had much time for either women or society)
he had taken devilish good care not to get in too deep--even if he still
possessed the power to love at all, which he doubted.
He remembered also, what he had almost forgotten, that during that walk it
had come to him with the sharpness of surprise that the image of the girl
who clung to his mind with the tentacles of a devil-fish, was as he had
seen her standing under the oak tree while unaware of his presence: older,
a more dignified and thoughtful figure, a woman old enough to be his mate
in something more than youthful passion, the ideal woman of vague sweet
dreams; not as the thoughtless little coquette who had tempted him to ruin
his chances by acting like a cave brute.
Given a fortnight longer, during which he remained master of himself
instead of a young fool with a smashed temperament, and the unfledged woman
in her, whose subtle projection he had witnessed during that moment of his
capitulation, would have recognized him as her mate; as for the moment she
had in his arms.
Not the least of his ordeals during those last days was the inevitable call
on Gora Dwight. He felt like a cad, after what she had been to him at the
end of an appalling experience, to have let, nearly three weeks go by with
no apparent recognition of her existence. But he had been unable to find
a messenger, there was no post; and then, after his ill-starred visit to
Rincona, he had forgotten her until his final visit to the undertaker; when
she had seemed to stand, an indignant and reproachful figure, at the head
of the casket.
He had a note in his pocket and hoped she would be out. But she opened the
door herself, and her dark face, thinner than he recalled it, flushed and
then turned pale. But she said calmly as she extended her hand: "Come in.
I wondered what had become of you." "I'm sorry. But--perhaps--you can
understand--it was not easy for me to come here!"
"Of course. Come up to my diggings."
He followed her up to the attic studio, where as before he took the easy
chair and accepted one of her cigarettes; which he professed to be grateful
for as his were exhausted and every decent brand in town had gone up in
Gora was deeply disappointed that she had received no warning of his call,
for she possessed an extremely becoming and richly embroidered silk Chinese
costume, as red as the flames that had devoured Chinatown a few days after
she had bought it at a bankrupt sale. She had put it on every afternoon for
a week, hoping and expecting that he would call; and now that she had on
her second-best tailored suit, and a darned if immaculate shirtwaist,
he had chosen to turn, up!...But at least the lapels of the jacket had
recently been faced with red, and it curved closely over her beautiful
bust. Moreover, she had just finished rearranging the masses of her rich
brown hair when the bell rang.
And she had him for a time, perhaps for an hour! She set out the tea things
as an intimation of the refreshment he would get at the proper time....
She too had suffered during this past interminable fortnight, but Gora was
far more mature than the young Englishman, upon whom life until the last
few weeks had smiled so persistently. She was too complex, she had suffered
in too many ways, from too many causes, not all of them elevating, to be
capable upon so short a notice, even after a night of unique companionship,
of such whole-souled agony and despair. In her imagination, her sense of
drama, her vanity, in the fading of vague dazzling hopes of a future to
which he held the key, and perhaps a little in her stormy heart, she had
felt a degree of harsh disappointment, but she had already half-recovered;
and as she sat looking at his ravaged face she wondered that the death of a
sister, no matter how harrowing the conditions, could make such a wreck of
He told her of his difficulties in finding some one to remove the body from
the vault to the undertaker's, of the delay in obtaining a private car,
gave her some idea of his disorganized life since they had parted, but made
no mention of Alexina Groome or Rincona. Then he politely asked her if she
had any new plans for the future. Nobody seemed to look forward to the same
Gora shrugged her shoulders with a movement expressive of irritation. "My
brother, who is engaged to Alexina Groome, insists that I give up this
"Oh, so they are engaged?" Gathbroke lit another cigarette, and his hand
did not tremble; he felt as if his nerves had been immersed in ice water
"Yes--marvelously. The family, as might be expected, is furious. But the
girl is mad about him and of age. She is just a foolish child and should be
locked up. My brother is not in the least what she imagines him. She wrote
me a letter. Good heaven! One would think she had captured the prince of
a fairy tale, or the hero of an old romantic novel. There should be a
law prohibiting girls from marrying before they are twenty-two at
least....However, the thing is done. And my brother is terribly afraid
they'll find out that I keep a lodging house. He's given them to understand
we both board here. They are prime snobs and so is he. I never dreamed it
was in him until he began to go about in society, but then you never
know what is in anybody. Otherwise, he is harmless enough, and a good
industrious boy, but he'll never make the money to keep up with that set,
and she won't have much. It's a stupid affair all round...."
"I've refused to budge until he finds me a job. He certainly cannot support
me, even if I were willing to be supported by any one. As far as I am
concerned they could know I kept a lodging house and welcome. It is honest
and it gives me a good living; and, what I value more, many hours of
freedom. But Mortimer is not only positively terrified they'll find it out,
but he is as obstinate over it as--well, as that kind of man always is.
He's looking about, and I fancy my fate is stenography or bookkeeping: I
took a course at a business college shortly before my mother died. I don't
know that he'd like that much better; he hinted that I might be a librarian
in a small town. But I'll be hanged if I fall for that."
Gathbroke smiled. "Not that. You don't belong to the country town. But I
fancy you'll have to give up the lodging house. Elton Gwynne took me down
the Peninsula one day, and--well--I don't fancy they would stand for it.
Aristocracies are aristocracies the world over. They may talk democracy,
and really modify themselves a bit, but there are certain things they'd
choke on if they tried to swallow them, and they won't even try. Better
give it up before they find it out and tackle you. I don't fancy you'd
stand for that. It would be devilish disagreeable. You've got to know and
be more or less intimate with them all--"
"I'll not be patronized by them. I don't know that I'll go near them. For
years I've resented that I was not one of them, but I don't fancy tagging
in after my brother, treated with pleasant courteous resignation, invited
once a year to a family dinner, and quite forgotten on smart occasions."
"Quite so. I like your spunk. Have you thought of being a nurse? All work
is hard and I should think that would be interesting. Must meet a jolly lot
of people. You should see the becoming uniforms the London nurses wear.
Prettiest women on the street, by Jove."
Her heart sank but she replied evenly: "Not a bad idea. I've quite enough
saved to take the course comfortably--"
He had a flash of memory. "And that would give you time to win your
reputation as a writer. Then the nursing would be merely one more
"It was nice of you to remember that. I'll consider the nursing
proposition, and when you have your next war I'll go over and nurse you.
That part of it--a war nurse--would be mighty interesting."
The words were spoken idly, merely to avert a pause, and forgotten as soon
as uttered. But as a matter of fact the next time they met was when he
looked up from his cot in the hospital after he had been retrieved from the
hut by two of his devoted Tommies, and saw the odd pale eyes of Gora Dwight
close above his own.
Gora closed the door of Mrs. Groome's room as the clock struck two, the old
Ballinger clock that had seemed to toll the hours on a deep note of solemn
acquiescence for the past six weeks.
She crossed the hall and entered Alexina's room without knocking. Mortimer,
during the past fortnight, had moved from the room adjoining his wife's to
one at the back of the house, lest it should be necessary to call Alexina
in the night. He worked very hard.
Alexina still occupied her old room in the front of the house where the
creaking eucalyptus trees sometimes brushed the window pane. It had been
refurnished and fitted in various elusive shades of pink by Mrs. Abbott as
her wedding present. There was a dim point of light above a gas jet and
Gora saw that Alexina was asleep. The pillows were on the floor. She was
lying flat, her arms thrown out, the dusky fine mass of her hair spread
over the low head board. Her clear olive cheeks were pale with sleep and
her eyelashes looked like two little black clouds.
Gora watched her for a moment. Why awaken the poor child? She was sleeping
as peacefully as if that tall old clock of her forefathers had not tolled
out the last of another generation of Ballingers. Her soft red lips were
It was now three years since her marriage but she still looked like a very
young girl. Gora always felt vaguely sorry for her although she seemed
happy enough. At all events it was quite obvious that she did little
thinking except when she remembered to wish for a baby.
Gora wore the white uniform of a nurse, and a little cap with wings on the
coronet of her heavy hair. It was a becoming costume and made her eyes in
their dark setting look less pale and cold.
She had a secret contempt for most of the old conventions but she had
given her word to awaken Alexina the moment any change occurred, and she
reluctantly shook her sister-in-law's shoulder.
Alexina sprang out of bed on the instant.
"Mother?" she cried. "Is she worse?"
Alexina made a dart for the door, but Gora threw a strong arm about her.
Those arms had held more than one violent man in his bed. "Better wait,"
she said softly.
Alexina's body grew rigid as she slowly drew back on Gora's arm and stared
up at her. In a moment she asked in a hard steady voice: "Is my mother
"Yes. It was very sudden. I had no time to telephone for the doctor; to
call you. She was sleeping. I was sitting beside her. Suddenly I knew that
she had stopped breathing--"
"Would you mind telephoning to Maria and Sally? Maria will never forgive
herself--but mother seemed so much better--"
"I will telephone at once. Shall I call Mortimer?"
"No. Why disturb him?"
Gora, watching Alexina, saw a curious remoteness enter the depths of her
eyes, and her own narrowed with something of her old angry resentment.
In this hour of profound sorrow, when the human heart is quite honest,
Alexina, however her conscious mind might be averted from the fact,
regarded Mortimer Dwight as an outsider, an agreeable alien who had no
permanent place in the immense permanency of the Ballinger-Groomes. She
wanted only her own family, her own inherent sort. Sally had hastened to
California as soon as her mother's illness had been pronounced dangerous,
and had stayed in the house until a week ago when she had been ordered by
the doctor to Santa Barbara to get rid of a heavy cold on her chest. She
had telegraphed the day before that she was threatened with pneumonia, and
Maria, assured that her mother was in no immediate danger, had gone down to
spend two days with her.
Possibly Alexina caught a flash from the mind of this strange and
interesting sister-in-law, for she added hastily:
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