Charles Frederick Holder.

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lently left me at the door of my room.
I lingered, my hand on the door,
looking after him as he walked away
down the long dim corridor. He
must have felt my gaze, for he turned
and looked back. There was grief
and deep regret in his face, and in
that instant I awoke to the knowl-
edge that this marriage had involved
for him a sacrifice greater than my
own.

The months that followed were
very peaceful, although they throbbed
with an undercurrent of pain that was
sometimes lulled into a strange peace,
and at times rose to something that
was almost anguish. I rarely saw
my husband except at meal time,
when he handed me to my place with
distant courtesy, and even maintained




USB AX INSPIRATION, ONE DAY THE THOUGHT CAM.. TO MK THAT TOGRTHKE WH
WOULD REMODEL THE OI,D GARDEN.



564



IN SAN SEBASTIAN VALLEY



a semblance of conversation, that the
old servants, watchful and sympa-
thetic, might not guess too much of
the strange relation in which we
stood. But when we rose from the
table, Raoul always hastened to excuse
himself, and betook himself to the
orange grove, where all day long he
spent his time, directing and instruct-
ing the men, who, like the most of
California day-laborers, were neither
intelligent nor industrious if left to
themselves, and needed constant su-
pervision.

The old Senor was my unfailing
companion in these days, and I grow-
to love the gentle, unworldly gentle-
man, as I would never have believed
possible in the days of my early ac-
quaintance with him . His very weak-
nesses had a tender grace that en-
deared him to me. His inertia was
inborn. If he was in a sense selfish
and self-seeking, he was tenderly
sympathetic. His vices were petty,
and his virtues were as large as his
warm old heart. We drove and rode
together through the shaded country
lanes, and he told me the history of
the crumbling ruins that marked the
spots where great haciendas once
stood, with their hospitable doors flung
wide to welcome the strangers who
came but to ruin and destroy them ;
and the sad, romantic history of South-
ern California, with its piteous under-
current of wrong and injustice, became
impressed upon me, until I was stirred
with a fierce indignation towards my
own people, and was almost ready to
proudly claim kinship with the race
that was so fast disappearing before
them.

The long, quiet winter evenings we
spent alone together, the Senor and I,
sometimes reading, sometimes play-
ing a game of piquet, an old-fash-
ioned amusement of which he never
tired. As the days lengthened and
grew warmer, we sat on the veranda,
where the air was laden with sweet
scents from the garden and orchard,
and one night, when all the air was
pulsing with harmony, I lifted my



voice and sang a little snatch from a
German opera, of which my father
had been fond. Before I had finished
the first stanza, a rich mellow voice
joined me, and when I had finished I
turned and saw Raoul standing on the
ground in the shadow of the vines,
his folded arms resting on the railing
of the balcony.

My surprise almost betrayed me
into an untoward speech. How should
he be acquainted with an opera famil-
iar only to students of classical music?
How was it that he, this man whom I
had set down as ignorant aud stupid,
pronounced so easily the harsh syll-
ables of a language so foreign to his
own?

The Senor unconsciously answered
me.

"It is something Raoul picked up
at Munich, when he was studying
painting there, after the school at
Madrid."

"You are an artist?" I said to
Raoul, and some of the astonishment
I felt crept into my voice.

" I once thought of becoming one,"
he corrected me.

" And gave it up? "
1 ' The road to success was too long.
The ranch needed me. It is better to
be a good farmer than a second-rate
painter," he replied.

After that, when we sat on the
balcony, it sometimes happened that
Raoul would stroll around and join
us ; and sometimes we sang together,
and sometimes we talked of late books
and magazines, or he discussed with
his father the operations on the ranch.
The constraint between us was slowly
wearing away, and while there were
times when I still rebelled against the
chance that had deprived me of any
choice in the shaping of my destiny,
I began to feel like a welcome guest
in the quiet household, and to love the
friendly shelter of the walls which
had thrown their protection around
me in my woe and loneliness.

The current of a quiet life flows so
evenly that the time seems endless in
which it approaches a given point,



IN SAN SEBASTIAN VALLEY



565






and it is only when we look backward
that we realize the rapid flight of
time. One morning- I awoke to a
bewildering sight. In place of the
sombre garments that old Mannela
always laid out for me, my room was
littered with rich-lined stuffs, morning
dresses, walking costumes, evening
toilets, wraps and bonnets in pro-
fusion. I sat up in bed and looked
around me, my eyes dazzled by the
unexpected sight, my brain reeling
with vague anticipation. Remember
that I was only eighteen, and sorrow
had come upon me even as I stood
upon the threshold of the enchanted
realm where all who are young have
their little transient kingdom.

There was a soft rap on the door,
and Manuela entered, bearing the
bucket of warm water that she al-
ways brought for my morning bath.
The smiles that knotted her wrinkled
old face proved her complicity in this
surprise, so adroitly planned and exe-
cuted.

She lifted one of the gowns, a morn-
ing dress of deep maroon, faced with
crimson, fretted with embroidery that
glowed like the colors at sunset.

" The Senora will lay aside her dark
garments and wear this, so in harmony
with her youth and beauty, now that
the year is past," she said humbly.

Her hapless speech engulfed me in
a flood of bitter memories. I pointed
dumbly to the door, and she left the
room. So this was the meaning of
the pretty wardrobe. The past was to
be effaced ; the past that held my
father and his love, the one true,
unselfish affection that I had ever
known ; and I was asked to commit
myself to a future that in my dreams
had been peopled with pleasant pos-
sibilities, but that face to face was a
maze of doubt and uncertainty from
which I shrunk in dread.

When I at length went down to
breakfast, it was in a quiet robe of
Quaker-gray ; but I did not neglect to
say a word of grateful acknowledg-
ment to the Senor, who was always so
observant of woman's dress, and to



whose never-failing forethought I
knew I owed this kindly provision,

Which neither my own inclination noi

interest would have prompted me to
make for myself. The Senor listened
urbanely, and complimented me on my

appearance. Raonl, win. came late
into the breakfast-room, did not app
to notice any change in my apparel,
and hastene I through the meal,
ensing himself before we rose from the
table.

Afterwards I remembered that,
ginning with this morning, we drifted
further and further apart. I did not
observe it at tlie time. The gaj out
side world stepped in between us,
attracting me and repelling him. ( )ni
next neighbors were the Vernona,
people of wealth and standing, \\ I
house was always filled witli gu<
and was the centre of festivities
every sort. Mrs. Vernon had paid me
a formal call soon after my mam
which I had returned, but she had re
spected my mourning and made no
effort to press further attentions upon
me. Now she came often, and with
gay insistance brought others to see
me, and bore me off with her into a
life of luxurious pleasure-making that
was, at first, like a glimpse into an
enchanted world. Our valley was
largely populated by people of wealth,
who had been attracted to it by t In-
salubrity of its climate, the charm of
its scenery and the fertility of its soil,
which enabled them to make their
homes beautiful bv surrounding them
witli tropical growths and orchards
that yielded a bountiful supply of
fruits for the table, while making 1
additions to their incomes. Yet the
valley was so languorous that one
might soon have wearied of it. unl
some strong stimulus to activity were
supplied. The poor, and those DOS
sessed of small means, found this
stimulus in the need of constant in-
dustry to assure the successful growth
of the seasons crop. A few, like
Raonl. appeared to become grossly
absorbed in work for the very love of
it, but with the majority the invention



IN SAN SEBASTIAN VALLEY.



567



of new diversions seemed the main
aim of life. So it came about that one
day there would be a riding part; to
some distant canon, and on another a
reception in honor of some newly-
arrived guest, and on others musicales,
card parties, high teas, while old-
fashioned sports of every kind were
constantly revived, and the feet that
lightly threaded the mazes of the Ger-
man on a waxed floor one night,
tripped the Virginia reel on a barn
floor even more merrily the next, and
corn huskings, candy pullings, spel-
ling bees and quiltings disputed favor
with tennis and Browning clubs.

I am ashamed to say that in this gay
society with which I mingled, there
were young men who paid sentimental
attention to me, a married woman.
Looking back through the perspective
of years, I can see that this was an
inevitable result of circumstances.
When a young and pretty woman- —
for I was pretty after a pleasing girl-
ish style, before the gray came in my
hair and lines began to mark my face
— when such a woman is plainly seen
by a whole countryside to live on dis-
tant terms with her husband, and to
seek her pleasure where he does not
follow, there will always be thought-
less and unprincipled men to pay
homage to her, and to make senti-
mental speeches that no happy wife
ever hears. Sometimes I parried these
gaily, or recklessly burlesqued them ;
sometimes my cheek was scorched with
shame, and I administered gentle re-
bukes, feeling all the while like some
ensnared bird which lies helplessly at
the mercy of its captors. Even kind
old Sefior Garcia's faithful attendance
was insufficient to protect me from
these affronts, for the old gentleman's
hearing was not acute, and his eyes
had lost their keenness.

It was at Mrs. Vernon's that I first
met Harry Davenant, a young lawyer,
who had taken up his residence at the
fashionable hotel down the valley.
Even at this day, when the glamour of
youth has long since faded, I cannot
but acknowledge the inexplicable at-

Vol. IV— 37



traction of this man. Though of pol-
ished manners, his natural intelligence
quickened by years of foreign travel, he
still retained a certain youthful ingen-
uousness that endeared him to men and
women alike, and made him most
popular at all social gatherings. It
is small wonder that 1 was innocently
flattered when he singled me <>u:
especial attention, or that my vanity
was touched by his laughing
fidences. Yet all his little court <
were so delicately rendered and with
such strict regard for the propria
that they came as a genuine reli.
the old Sefior, who might well haw
wearied under the weight of social
obligations that fell upon him as my
cavalier iu these gay days, nor did
they seem to reflect upon Kaoul. who
was far from being the only young
ranchman who buried himself in the
management of his land, in th<
of splendid toil, which transfigured
thousands of acres of grazing lands
into rich expanses of orchard and vine-
yard.

Yet it gave me pain to discover, as
time went on, that the pleasant home
life had become a thing of the post.
I would have liked to maintain with
Raoul the pleasant relations that ex-
isted between his father and nie. to
have exchanged gay badinage and
light confidences, but he seemed to
have retreated to an immeasurable
distance.

I was not accustomed to defeat, nor

could I abide half Way measures: If

we did not seal a friendly compact of
some kind there would soon be open
hostility between us. I tried to think
of some plan that would bring him
into friendly relations with me. and
make us in some sense a sharer of 1
other's interests. Like an inspiration
one day the thought came to me that
together we would remodel the old
garden about the house, which grew
rank and neglected. I called him to
me as he was passing down the avenue.
u Raoul, help me to restore the old
garden, and make it pretty and attrac-
tive once more."



5 68



IN SAN SEBASTIAN VALLEY



He smiled at my enthusiasm, but
did not seem loth to follow me as I
led the way through the weedy paths,
pointing out vines that needed prun-
ing and shrubs that should be cut
back, and where new plants might
be effectively placed . He even made
a few suggestions of his own, and
initiated the work by breaking off
dead roses and cutting away strag-
gling branches as we passed. We
strolled on to the banks of a little
pond, fringed with wild dock and
grasses.

"We will plant callas about this
and make it beautiful with the sacred
lotus and white pond lilies," I cried.
"And here on the bank we will have
a rustic summer-house. These un-
sightly stones shall be flung into the
pond."

"This unsightly stone," he said,
laying a reverent hand on the larger
of the two, "was my mother's favorite
seat. A pear tree used to shade it.
It died years ago. And here, on this
small stone, I used to sit at her feet."

It was the first time I had ever
heard him name his mother, but I
knew from his father and old Manuela
how he had idolized her. And once,
in crossing the courtyard, I had had a
glimpse of her room adjoining the one
in which he slept, which was set
sacredly apart by his orders. The
quaint brass bedstead, with its silken
canopy, had been brought from Mexico,
and in a niche at the side of the room,
was a shrine of alabaster. Her work-
basket stood as she had left it, and on
a light stand was a withered bouquet
that she had placed there.

Something swelled in my heart.
Was it indignation at the slighting
esteem in which he held me, or some
other feeling that I could not define ?

"Your mother was everything to
you," I said. " You loved her dearly.
Since you lost her you have not room
in your heart for another human emo-
tion."

"Yes," he said sadly, "there is
room ; plenty of room."
" But no one to fill it?"



I spoke bitterly. He could not have
told me more plainly how little I was
to him. He did not reply, nor look
towards me, and turning sharply
away, I hastened along the tangled
paths, leaving him standing there.

In the months that followed I
seemed to be leading a dual life. On
the one hand I was swept onward by
the ever swelling tide of the social gaye-
ties that encompassed me, and in this
region of enchantment, where women
were ever gracious and men were
always courtly, I often thought dis-
paragingly of Raoul and his dull,
plodding life. There were times when
my wedding ring was an intolerable
weight, and I looked down with
loathing upon the great white pearl
deep bedded in the heavy gold band.
Why had he married me ? I asked
myself the question many times. My
fierce outburst on the threshold of the
church freed him from every obliga-
tion to my father. Our acquaintance
had been too slight to have made it
possible for him to fall in love witli
me, if indeed his self-restrained nature
did not make it impossible that he
should ever have conceived a romantic
passion. Could my father's money
have attracted him? These Spanish
Americans had lands, but they were
often poor in ready wealth. I put
away the suspicion as unworthy, but it
returned again and again.

When I went out in the early morn-
ing and worked among my flowers, I
was a wholly different person. No
one who has not tried it can know
the glorious recompense of toil in a
California garden, where soil and cli-
mate are the gardener's friends, and
the most delicate plants take hold of
life lustily, and thrive with a vigor
that repays one a hundredfold for the
care expended on them. By mid-
winter the paths were clean and trim,
and the garden bright with bloom.
Early in the season I persuaded
Miguel, the old major domo, who
combined the offices of butler, coach-
man and head gardener, to take up a
great pear tree that stood near the



IN SAN SEBASTIAN VALLEY.



569



stables, and to transplant it, with a
great ball of earth around the roots,
beside the stones on the margin of the
pond. The tree seemed never to dis-
cover that it had been moved, and
when spring came it burst into bud
and leaf, and soon flung grateful
shadows over the low seats. Raoul
never spoke of this to me, and I did
not know whether he was aware that
it had been planted there by my
suggestion, but I found, and it was a
peculiar comfort to me in those days,
that he soon fell into the habit of
going there to sit w r hen the sun was
hot. I used to slip down in the morn-
ing with a book or magazine that I
thought he would like to see, and
leave it lying there ; and sometimes I
myself sat down and looked out over
the peaceful scene that had contented
the eyes of the fair young mother and
her child in years gone by ; but when
I saw Raoul riding up the avenue, or
heard his voice in the orchard ; I stole
silently away.

A strange serenity, that was like the
peace of age, came to me in these
quiet morning hours, and it was good
to feel that my sharp words on my
marriage day had been forgiven and
forgotten. The Seilor was kindness
and goodness itself to me, and with
Raoul I seemed to be on as friendly
and courteous relations as it was pos-
sible to be with a nature seemingly
narrow and reticent.

A time came when I was suddenly
and cruelly undeceived. A baby girl,
child of one of the field hands, was
playing in the avenue one day as
Raoul rode down, silent and abstracted,
his spirited gray horse prancing and
chafing against the curb of the strong
Mexican bit, impatient for the free-
dom of the open road, a few rods fur-
ther on. The child saw him coming,
and paused irresolute, directly in the
path of the fretting horse. I cried
out in warning, but before I could es-
cape from the sheltered path where I
was standing, the horse had swerved
and the child had gone down. For-
tunately it was a spent blow r from the



steel-clad hoofs, and in an instant the
little one was up again, sobbing:

" Senor Garcia ! Oh, Sefior ! M

He, who held himself in strict re-
serve with all his relatives and friends,
who had never addressed to me, his
wife, one word that was more than
kind, or that courtesy did not claim
from him, was smitten with the tender
reproach in the child's plaintive
He sprang from his horse, caught the
little one in his arms, covering her
face with kisses, stroking her hair
with a loving touch, murmuring his
contrition in tones so sweet and ten-
der that they might have been those
of a mother giving loving consolation
to a dear child in trouble. Then
smiles came back to the little ci
ure's face, he mounted his horse and
rode away, grim and impassive,

And I ? I crouched behind a dump
of cannas, burying my face in my
hands. At last I saw and compre-
hended the full measure of the crime
to which I had so unwittingly con-
tributed. I had been given a glimpse
of the unfulfilled longing of that
empty heart. He, who had such a
wealth of affection to lavish upon a
woman who could have been his fit-
ting mate, who might have been the 7
royal master of a happy home, had
foregone all this to give his name and
protection to a shallow, selfish girl.
Oh, if my father had never urged this
cruel marriage, but had only been
content to send me back to the
shelter of the convent where my youth
had been spent.

Yet the child in me still awoke to
happy expectation of each day's vary-
ing pleasures ; and it was a girl" s in-
nocence that encouraged Harry Dave-
nant's apparently harmless attentions,
until he himself taught me the deeper
meaning that lay behind them.

We were returning from an after
dinner ride, and as I separated from
the rest of the party, Davenant left
the others and rode up the long ave-
nue with me.

"You shall have the reward pre-
scribed for all the knights of chivalry , ' '



5/0



IN SAN SEBASTIAN VALLEY.



I said thoughtlessly, snatching a red
rose from a vine that overhung the
road, and extending it to him with
mock ceremony.

He caught my bare hand with the
rose, and held it so tightly that the
thorns forced their way into my flesh.
Then he loosed his hold upon it, rais-
ing a haggard face to me.

" There is a ring on it, but the ring
is heavy, too heavy for your little
hand," he said, and he rode away.

Raoul was coming to meet me, but a
few paces away. I shrank from his
touch and look. How much had he
heard or seen ? Indignation at him,
at myself, and above all at Harry
Davenant, possessed me as I walked
stiffly toward the house.

A few days later Miguel took me
over to the neighboring city, that I
might match some crewels for a sofa
cushion I was embroidering. Raoul
had gone to a neighboring ranch that
day, to make selections from some
lately imported nursery stock, and the
old Seilor, complaining of a headache,
had lain down for an after dinner nap.
so I slipped away without telling any
one of my purpose. I soon com-
pleted my purchases and was waiting
for my change, when my attention was
attracted by a tableau and a dialogue
on the other side of the store, at the
dress counter. The customer was in-
visible, being hidden from view by a
stack of odds and ends, lingerie and
baby garments, such as are often dis-
played down the center of a village
store, and was evidently hard to
please. The counter was littered with
rich stuffs, and as often as a new
piece was unfolded it was waved im-
patiently aside. Finally the merchant
opened a box and shook out some
bright stuff with a golden shimmer.

"Ah, that will do," said a man's
deep voice.

"I thought it would please you.
Seilor," returned the merchant com-
placently.

"It is one pattern only? That is
good. You may send it to the usual
address. ' '



Some coins jingled on the counter.
I caught up my own little parcel and
hurried out upon the street to where
I had left Miguel, bidding him drive
fast — fast for home. For the voice of
the unseen purchaser was Raoul Gar-
cia; Raoul, my husband, who took
no interest whatever in the clothes I
wore, who had never so much as
looked at one of the pretty gowns
with which his father's taste pro-
vided me; Raoul, buying rich clothes
for some unknown woman, some
woman he was accustomed to supply,
for had not he directed the man to
send the goods to the "usual address?"

Once speeding along the smooth
country roads, I shrank back in the
corner of the carriage, shamed and
frightened. It was the first time in
my life that I had ever come near to
the reality of evil. Raoul had no
near relative, sister or cousin, to whom
such gifts might properly be made.
And was this the secret of his cold
withdrawal from society, his avoid-
ance of all familiar intercourse?

In this hour I passed from girlhood
to womanhood. A hatred of all things
evil seemed awakened in me. And I,
who had hitherto lived only in the
shallows of life, found strength and
holy puqx se as 1 battled in the depths.
I turned my wedding-ring upon my
finger, and looked long and steadily
upon the pure luster of the gem bound
there.

No matter how empty my wifehood,
I would wear it unsullied. The sin
and sorrow of the world should not be
increased by the weight of my error.
What I had witnessed only strength-
ened my resolve to check the further
advances of Harry Davenant.

A w r eek later, as we sat at luncheon,
the Sehor complained of a slight in-
disposition. There was to be a dinner-
party that night, in the lower end of
the valley, and we were among the in-
vited guests. The day was warm, and
the drive would be long and weari-
some. I hastened to arrange to make
our excuses to our hostess.

"Miguel can ride over and carry



IN SAN SEBASTIAN VALLEY.



571



our apologies," I said. " It will make
no difference to Mrs. Maynard. A feu-
covers more or less do not matter in
our informal gatherings."

"I will go with' you," said Raoul
quietly.

1 ' Do not trouble yourself for the
world," I said quickly, and the re-
membrance of his baseness lent cold-
ness to my voice.

" I have promised Mr. Maynard,"
explained Raoul simply, and I knew
by the firm way in which he spoke



childish pleasure on her withered face.

I crossed the room, absently pulling
out the pins that bound my hair, and



Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderThe Californian (Volume 4) → online text (page 75 of 120)