Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

The Bell in the Fog and Other Stories online

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RACHAEL. Ah! (She is about to advance quickly, when she notes the
significance of her mother's face and attitude.) Let him in!

MISTRESS FAWCETT. No.

RACHAEL. It is not possible! You? Why, he must be half dead. But, of
course, you are only waiting to extract a promise from me.

MISTRESS FAWCETT. Will you make it?

RACHAEL. No.

MISTRESS FAWCETT. Then he can die out there in the storm. (Rachael
laughs, and approaches her swiftly. Mistress Fawcett raises her hand
warningly.) I shall struggle with you, and you know that will mean _my_
death. You may choose between us. (Rachael utters a cry, and covers her
face with her hands. Hamilton throws himself against the door with
violence, but the iron bar guards it.)

HAMILTON. The hurricane is veering, Mistress Fawcett. Do not you _hear_
the absolute stillness? In a few moments it will burst out of the west
with increased fury. Unless you admit me, I shall stay here and meet it.
I have crawled here, wriggled here, like a snake. It has taken me two
hours to cover half a mile. I shall not crawl back. I came here to
protect Rachael - to die with her, if inevitable -

MISTRESS FAWCETT. Or to ruin her life.

HAMILTON. That is done.

MISTRESS FAWCETT. True; but I can protect her from worse.

RACHAEL. Very well! You can keep him out. You cannot keep me in. I shall
not struggle with you; nor will I admit any one to your house against
your will. But if you do not open that door - at once - I go out by
another.

MISTRESS FAWCETT. Rachael! Do I count for nothing? I have loved you so!
Is this all you have to give me in return?

RACHAEL. I know your motive - your love. I misprize neither. But if women
loved their mothers better than the man of their hearts there would be
the end of the race. And what is the will of either of us against Fate?
Cannot you understand? Why was he permitted to reach me to-night? What
man has ever lived through a hurricane before? Nature has held her
breath to let him pass. Do you suppose your puny strength can hold us
apart? Quick! Answer! (She half turns towards the door leading into the
next room.)

MISTRESS FAWCETT. You have conquered. But wait until I am out of this
room. (She falls heavily on her crutch, and hobbles out. Rachael holds
her breath until the door closes behind her, then runs forward and
lowers the bar. Hamilton enters. He is hatless. His long cape is torn
and covered with leaves and mould. He closes and bars the door behind
him, and Rachael, seeing him safe, and her desire so near to fulfilment,
experiences a revulsion of feeling. She falls back, and hurriedly
fetching a pan of coals from a corner, fires them, and mixes a punch.)

RACHAEL (hurriedly). You are cold. You are exhausted. In a moment I will
give you a hot drink.

[Hamilton, after a long look at her, throws himself into a chair by the
table, and stares at the floor, his hand at his head.]

HAMILTON. Thank you. I need it. I feel as if all the hurricane were in
my head.

RACHAEL (pouring the punch into a silver goblet). Drink.

HAMILTON. Gratefully! (He raises the goblet.) I drink - to the hurricane.

RACHAEL (she moves restlessly about, but remains on the other side of
the table). Tell me of your journey here. I should think you would be
gray and old! Ah, the color comes back to your face! You are young
again, already.

HAMILTON (he has drained the goblet and set it on the table; he rises,
and looks full at her). Did you doubt that I would come?

RACHAEL (speaking lightly, and averting her eyes). I thought you were on
St. Kitts.

HAMILTON (vehemently). Still I would have come. I knew the hurricane
would give you to me. And out there, fighting inch by inch, the breath
beaten out of my body, my arms almost torn from their sockets, maddened
by the terrible confusion, I still knew that Nature was driving me to
you, as she has separated us since the day I came, with her smiling,
intolerable calm -

RACHAEL (still half frivolous under the sudden wrench from
tragic despair). And, after that terrible experience, you still
have love and romance in you! I should want a warm bed, and
then - to-morrow - to-morrow - we will sit on the terrace and watch the
calm old sun go down into the calm old sea, with not a thought for the
torn old earth -

HAMILTON. Rachael! I did not come here to jest.

RACHAEL. I must go to my mother! She is alone! _What_ have I done?

HAMILTON. Stay where you are! Do you mean that you wish you had not
opened the door?

RACHAEL (she hesitates a moment, then raises her eyes to his, and
answers distinctly). No! (She is leaning on the table, which she has
deliberately kept between them. Hamilton throws himself into his chair,
and, leaning forward, clasps her wrists with his hands.)

HAMILTON. This hurricane is the end of all things, or the beginning.

RACHAEL (she throws her head back, with a gesture of triumph). The
beginning!

HAMILTON. Yes, the storm has come as a friend, not as an enemy, no
matter which way - no matter which way. (He speaks hoarsely and slowly.
There is a silence, during which they stare at each other until both are
breathless, and the table, under the pressure of Hamilton's arms, slowly
slips aside.)

RACHAEL. Hark!

HAMILTON. Yes; the storm returns.

[Without further warning, the hurricane bursts out of the west with the
fury of recuperated power. The house trembles. The slaves screech in the
cellar. A deluge of water descends on the roof. The confusion waxes
louder and louder, until it seems as if the noise alone must grind all
things to dust. Hamilton thrusts aside the table, and takes Rachael
violently in his arms. Her laugh of delight and triumph blends curiously
with the furious noise of the hurricane.]




X

Talbot of Ursula

(This story first appeared in the _Anglo-Saxon Review_, and is
republished by kind permission of Mrs. George Cornwallis-West)


I

The Señora as usual had written a formal little note in the morning
asking John Talbot to eat his birthday dinner at the Rancho de los
Olivos. Although he called on the Señora once a week the year round, she
never offered him more than a glass of angelica or a cup of chocolate on
any other occasion; but for his natal day she had a turkey killed, and
her aged cook prepared so many hot dishes and _dulces_ of the old time
that Talbot was a wretched man for three days. But he would have endured
misery for six rather than forego this feast, and the brief embrace of
home life that accompanied it.

The Señora and the padre of the Mission were Talbot's only companions in
Santa Ursula, although for political reasons he often dropped in at the
saloon of the village and discussed with its polyglot customers such
affairs of the day as penetrated this remote corner of California. And
yet for twenty-three years he had lived in Santa Ursula, year in and
year out, save for brief visits to San Francisco, Sacramento, and the
Southern towns.

Why had he stayed on in this God-forsaken hole after he had become a
rich man? He asked himself the question with some humor as he walked up
and down the corridor of the Mission on this his fortieth birthday; and
he had asked it many times.

To some souls the perfect peace, the warm drowsy beauty of the scene
would have been a conclusive answer. Two friars in their brown robes
passed and repassed him, reading their prayers. Beyond the arches of the
corridor, abruptly below the plateau on which stood the long white
Mission, was, so far as the eye was responsible, an illimitable valley,
cutting the horizon on the south and west, cut by the mountains of Santa
Barbara on the east. The sun was brazen in a dark-blue sky, and under
its downpour the vast olive orchard which covered the valley looked like
a silver sea. The glittering ripples met the blue of the horizon
sharply, crinkled against the lower spurs of the mountain. As a bird
that had skimmed its surface, then plunged for a moment, rose again,
Talbot almost expected to see it shake bright drops from its wings. He
sighed involuntarily as he reflected that in the dark caves and arbors
below it was very cool, far cooler than he would be during an eight-mile
ride under the mid-day sun of Southern California. Then he remembered
that the Señora's _sala_ was also dark and cool, and that part of his
way lay through the cotton-woods and willows by the river; and he smiled
whimsically again. He had salted his long sojourn at Santa Ursula with
much philosophy.

One mountain-peak, detached from the range and within a mile of the
Mission, was dense and dark with forest, broken only here and there by
the bowlders the earth had flung on high in her restless youth. There
was but a winding trail to the top, and few had made acquaintance with
it. John Talbot knew it well, and that to which it led - a lake in the
very cup of the peak, so clear and bright that it reflected every needle
of the dark pines embracing it.

And to the west of the Mission - past the river with its fringe of
cotton-woods and willows, beyond a long dusty road which led through
fields and cañon and over more than one hill - was the old adobe house of
the Rancho de los Olivos.

Talbot was a practical man of business to-day. The olive orchard was
his, the toy hotel at the end of the plateau, the land upon which had
grown the rough village, with its one store, its prosperous saloon, its
post-office, and several shanties of citizens not altogether estimable.
He was also a man of affairs, for he had represented the district for
two years at the State Legislature, and was spoken of as a future
Senator. It cannot be said that the people among whom he had spent so
many years of his life loved him, for he was reserved and had never been
known to slap a man on the back. Moreover, it was believed that he
subscribed to a San Francisco daily paper, which he did not place on
file in the saloon, and that he had a large library of books in one of
his rooms at the Mission. As far as the neighbors could see, the priest
was the only man in the district in whom he found companionship.
Nevertheless he was respected and trusted as a man must be who has never
broken his word nor taken advantage of another for twenty-three years;
and even those who resented the manifest antagonism of his back to the
national familiarity felt that the dignity and interest of the State
would be safe in his hands. Even those most in favor of rotation had
concluded that it would not be a bad idea to put him in Congress for
life, after the tacit fashion of the New England States. At all events
they would try him in the House of Representatives for two or three
terms, and then, if he satisfied their expectations and demonstrated his
usefulness, they would "work" the State and send him to the United
States Senate. Santa Ursula had but one street, but its saloon was the
heart of a hundred-mile radius. And it was as proud as an old don. When
its leading citizen became known far and wide as "Talbot of Ursula," a
title conferred by the members of his Legislature to distinguish him
from two colleagues of the same name, its pride in him knew no bounds.
The local papers found it an effective head-line, and the title clung to
him for the rest of his life.

It was only when a newspaper interviewed Talbot after his election to
the State Senate that his district learned that he was by birth an
Englishman. He had emigrated with his parents at the age of fourteen,
however, and as the population of his district included Germans, Irish,
Swedes, Mexicans, and Italians, his nationality mattered little.
Moreover, he had made his own fortune, barring the start his uncle had
given him, and he was an American every inch of him. England was but a
peaceful dream, a vale of the hereafter's rest set at the wrong end of
life. He recalled but one incident of that time, but on that incident
his whole life had hinged.

It was some years now since it had grouped itself, a tableau of gray
ghosts, in his memory, but he invoked it to-day, although it seemed to
have no place in the hot languid morning with that Southern sea hiding
its bitter fruit breaking almost at the feet of this long white
red-tiled Mission whose silver bells had once called hundreds of Indians
to prayer. (They rang with vehemence still, but few responded.)
Nevertheless the memory rose and held him.

His mother, a widow, had kept a little shop in his native village. He
had gone to school since the tender age of five, and had paid more
attention to his books than to the village battle-ground, for he grew
rapidly, and was very delicate until the change to the new world made a
man of him. But he loved his books, the other boys were kind to him, and
altogether he was not ill-pleased with his life when one day his mother
bade him put on his best clothes and come with her to a wedding. He
grumbled disdainfully, for he had an interesting book in his hand; but
he was used to obey his mother; he tumbled into his Sunday clothes and
followed her and other dames to the old stone church at the top of the
village. The daughter of the great family of the neighborhood was to be
married that morning, and all the little girls of John's acquaintance
were dressed in white and had strewn flowers along the main street and
the road beyond as far as the castle gates. He thought it a silly
business and a sinful waste of posies; but in the church-yard he took
his place in the throng with a certain feeling of curiosity.

The bride happened to be one of the beauties of her time; but it was not
so much her beauty that made John stare at her with expanding eyes and
mouth as she drove up in an open carriage, then walked down the long
path from the gate to the church. He had seen beauty before; but never
that look and air of a race far above his own, of light impertinent
pride, never a lissome daintily stepping figure, and a head carried as
if it bore a star rather than a bridal wreath. He had not dreamed of
anything alive resembling this, and he knew she was not an angel. After
she had entered the church he drew a long breath and glanced sharply at
the village beauties. They looked like coarse red apples; and, alas, his
mother was of their world.

When the bride reappeared he stared hard at her again, but this time he
noticed that there were similar delicate beings in her train. She was
not the only one of her kind, then. The discovery filled him with
amazement, which was followed by a curious sensation of hope. He broke
away from his mother and ran after the carriage for nearly a mile,
determined to satisfy his eager eyes as long as might be. The bride
noticed him, and, smiling, tossed him a rose from her bouquet. He had
that flower yet.

It was a week before he confided to his mother that when he grew up he
intended to marry a lady. Mrs. Talbot stared, then laughed. But when he
repeated the statement a few evenings later during their familiar hour,
she told him peremptorily to put such ideas out of his head, that the
likes of him didn't marry ladies. And when she explained why, with the
brutal directness she thought necessary, John was as depressed as a boy
of fourteen can be. It was but a week later, however, that his mother,
upon announcing her determination to emigrate to America, said to him:
"And perhaps you'll get that grand wish of yours. Out there I've heard
say as how one body's as good as another, so if you're a good boy and
make plenty of brass, you can marry a lady as well as not." She forgot
the words immediately, but John never forgot them.

Mrs. Talbot died soon after their arrival in New York, and the brother
who had sent for her put John to school for two years. One day he told
him to pack his trunk and accompany him to California in search of gold.
They bought a comfortable emigrant wagon and joined a large party about
to cross the plains in quest of El Dorado. During that long momentous
journey John felt like a character in a book of adventures, for they had
no less than three encounters with red Indians, and two of his party
were scalped. He always felt young again when he recalled that time. It
was one of those episodes in life when everything was exactly as it
should be.

He and his uncle remained in the San Joaquin valley for a year, and
although they were not so fortunate as many others, they finally moved
to San Francisco the richer by a few thousands. Here Mr. Quick opened a
gambling-house and saloon, and made money far more rapidly than he had
done in the northern valley - where, in truth, he had lost much by night
that he had panned out by day. But being a virtuous uncle, if an
imperfect member of society, he soon sent John to the country to look
after a ranch near the Mission of Santa Ursula. The young man never knew
that this fine piece of property had been won over the gambling table
from Don Roberto Ortega, one of the maddest grandees of the Californias.
His grant embraced some fifty thousand acres and was bright in patches
with little olive orchards. John planted with olive-trees, at his own
expense, the twelve thousand acres which had fallen to his uncle's
share; the two men were to be partners, and the younger was to inherit
the elder's share. He inherited nothing else, for his uncle married a
Mexican woman who knifed him and made off with what little money had
been put aside from current extravagances. But John worked hard, bought
_varas_ in San Francisco whenever he had any spare cash, supplied almost
the entire State with olives and olive-oil, and in time became a rich
man.

And his ideal? Only the Indians had driven it temporarily into the
unused chambers of his memory. Not gold-mines, nor his brief taste of
the wild hot life of San Francisco, nor hard work among his olive-trees,
nor increasing wealth and importance, had driven from his mind that
desire born among the tombstones of his native village. It was the woman
herself with a voice as silver as his own olive leaves, who laughed his
dream to death, and left him, still handsome, strong, and lightly
touched by time, a bachelor at forty.

He saw nothing of women for several years after he came to the Mission,
for the one ranch house in the neighborhood was closed, and there was no
village then. He worked among his olive-trees contentedly enough,
spending long profitable evenings with the intellectual priests, who
made him one of their family, and studying law and his favorite science,
political economy. Although the boy was very handsome, with his
sun-burned, well-cut face and fine figure, it never occurred to the
priests that the most romantic of hearts beat beneath that shrewd,
accumulative brain. Of women he had never spoken, except when he had
confided to his friends that he was glad to get away from the very sight
of the terrible creatures of San Francisco; and that he dreamed for
hours among his olive-trees of the thoroughbred creature who was one day
to reward his labors and make him the happiest of mortals never entered
the imagination of the good padres.

He was twenty and the ranch was his when he met Delfina Carillo. Don
Roberto Ortega had opportunely died before gambling away more than half
of his estate, and his widow, who was delicate, left the ranch near
Monterey, where they had lived for many years, and came to bake brown in
the hot suns of the South. Her son, Don Enrique, came with her, and John
saw him night and morning riding about the country at top speed, and
sometimes clattering up to the corridor of the Mission and calling for a
glass of wine. He was a magnificent caballero, slim and dark, with
large melting eyes and long hair on a little head. He wore small-clothes
of gayly colored silk, with much lace on his shirt and silver on his
sombrero. His long yellow botas were laced with silver, and his saddle
was so loaded with the same metal that only a Californian horse could
have carried it. John turned up his nose at this gorgeous apparition,
and likened him to a "play actor" and a circus rider; nevertheless, he
was very curious to see something of the life of the Californian
grandee, of which he had heard much and seen nothing, and when Padre
Ortega, who was a cousin of the widow, told him that a large company was
expected within a fortnight, and that he had asked permission to take
his young friend to the ball with which the festivities would open, John
began to indulge in the pleasurable anticipations of youth.

But he did not occupy the interval with dreams alone. He went to San
Francisco and bought himself a wardrobe suitable for polite society. It
was an American outfit, not Californian, but had John possessed the
wealth of the northern valleys he could not have been induced to put
himself into silk and lace.

The stage did not go to Santa Ursula, but a servant met him at a station
twenty miles from home with a horse, and a cart for his trunk. He
washed off the dust of three days' travel in a neighboring creek, then
jumped on his big gray mare, and started at a mild gallop for his ranch.
He felt like singing his contentment with the world, for the morning was
radiant, he was on one of the finest horses of the country, and he was
as light of heart as a boy should be who has received a hint from
fortune that he is one of the favorites. He looked forward to the social
ordeal without apprehension, for by this time he had all the native
American's sense of independence, he had barely heard the word
"gentleman" since his arrival in the new country, his education was all
that could be desired, he was a landed proprietor, and intended to be a
rich and successful man. No wonder he wanted to sing.

He had ridden some eight or ten miles, meeting no one in that great
wilderness of early California, when he suddenly drew rein and listened.
He was descending into a narrow cañon on whose opposite slope the road
continued to the interior; his way lay sharply to the south when he
reached the narrow stream between the walls of the cañon. The sound of
many voices came over the hills opposite, and the voices were light, and
young, and gay. John remembered that it was time for Doña Martina's
visitors to arrive, and guessed at once that he was about to fall in
with one of the parties. The young Californians travelled on horseback
in those days, thinking nothing of forty miles under a midsummer sun.
John, who was the least self-conscious of mortals, was moved to
gratitude that he wore a new suit of gray serge and had left the dust of
stage travel in the creek.

The party appeared on the crest of the hill, and began the descent into
the cañon. John raised his cap, and the caballeros responded with a
flourish of sombreros. It would be some moments before they could meet,
and John was glad to stare at the brilliant picture they made. Life
suddenly seemed unreal, unmodern to him. He forgot his olive-trees, and
recalled the tales the priests had told him of the pleasures and
magnificence of the Californian dons before the American occupation.

The caballeros were in silk, every one of them, and for variety of hue
they would have put a June garden to the blush. Their linen and silver
were dazzling, and the gold-colored coats of their horses seemed a
reflection of the sun. These horses had silver tails and manes, and
seemed invented for the brilliant creatures who rode them. The girls
were less gorgeous than the caballeros, for they wore delicate flowered
gowns, and a strip of silk about their heads instead of sombreros
trimmed with silver eagles. But they filled John's eye, and he forgot
the caballeros. They had long black braids of hair and large dark eyes
and white skins, and at that distance they all looked beautiful; but
although John worshipped beauty, even in the form of olive-trees and
purple mists, it was not the loveliness of these Spanish girls that set
his pulses beating and sent the blood to his head. This was almost his
first sight of gentlewomen since the memorable day in his native
village, and the certainty that his opportunity had come at last filled
him with both triumph and terror as he spurred down the slope, then
paused and watched the cavalcade pick their way down through the golden
grass and the thick green bush of the cañon. In a moment he recognized
Don Enrique Ortega, who spoke to him pleasantly enough as he rode into
the creek and dropped his bridle that his horse might drink. The two
young men had met at the Mission, and although Enrique regarded the
conquerors of his country as an inferior race, John was as good as any
of them, and doubtless it was best to make no enemies. Moreover, his
manners were very good.

"Ah, Don Juan," he exclaimed, "you have make the visit to Yerba


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Online LibraryGertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThe Bell in the Fog and Other Stories → online text (page 12 of 14)