Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

The Bell in the Fog and Other Stories online

. (page 14 of 14)
Online LibraryGertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThe Bell in the Fog and Other Stories → online text (page 14 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


detached it from the canvas; and the curved red mouth smiled, the eyes
flashed with the triumph of youth and much conquest, the skin was as
white as the moon-flowers in the fields at night.

Talbot recalled the night he had taken this woman in his arms - not the
woman on the veranda - and involuntarily he raised them to the picture.
"And I thought it was over," he muttered, with a terrified gasp. "But I
believe I would give my immortal soul and everything I've accomplished
in life if she would come out of the frame and the past for an hour and
love me."

"Whatte you say?" drawled a gentle voice. "I fall asleep, no? Si you
ring that little bell Marcia bring the chocolate. You find it too hot
out here?"

"Oh, no; I prefer it out-of-doors. It is cooler now, and I like all the
air I can get."

He longed to get away, but he sipped his chocolate and listened to the
domestic details of his four vicarious daughters. The Señora was
immensely proud of her five grandchildren. Their photographs were all
over the house.

At six o'clock he shook hands with her and sprang on his horse. Half-way
down the avenue he turned his head, as usual. She stood on the veranda
still, and smiled pleasantly to him, moving one of her large brown hands
a little. He never saw the Señora again.


II

Talbot was obliged to go to San Francisco a day or two later, and when
he returned the Señora was in bed with a severe cold. He sent her a box
of books and papers, and another of chocolates, and then forgot her in
the excitement of the elections. It was the autumn of the year 1868, and
he was an enthusiastic admirer of Grant. He stumped the State for that
admirable warrior and indifferent statesman, with the result that his
own following increased; and his interest in politics waxed with each of
several notable successes in behalf of the candidate. He finally
announced decisively that he should run for Congress at the next
elections, and a member of the House of Representatives from his
district dying two days later, he was appointed at once to fill the
vacant chair.

The Señora was still in bed with a persistent cold and cough when he
left for Washington late in November, but he rode over to leave a
good-bye with old Marcia, and ordered a bookseller in San Francisco to
send her all the illustrated papers and magazines.

She entered his mind but seldom during those interesting months in
Washington. Talbot became sure of his particular talent at last, and
determined to remain in politics for the rest of his life. Moreover, the
excitement until the 4th of March was intense, for Southern blood was
still hot and bitter, and there were rumors in the air that Grant would
be assassinated on the day of his inauguration. He was not, however,
and Talbot was glad to be in Washington on that memorable day. He wrote
the Señora an account both of the military appearance of the city and of
the brilliant scene in the Senate Chamber, but she had ceased, for the
time, to be a weekly necessity in his life.

And being a bachelor, wealthy, handsome, and properly launched, he was
soon skimming that social sea of many crafts. For the first time since
his abrupt severance from the Los Olivos festivities he enjoyed society.
San Francisco's had seemed a poor imitation of what novels described,
but Washington was full of brilliant interest. And he met more than one
woman who recalled his boyish ideals, women who were far more like the
vision in the English church-yard than Delfina Carillo; who, indeed, had
not resembled the English girl in anything but manifest of race, and had
been an ideal apart, never to be encountered again in this world.

It was a long and exciting session, and he gave all the energies of his
mind to the great question of reconstruction, but more than once he
asked himself if the time had not come to marry, if it were not a duty
to his old self to gratify the ambition to which he owed the foundations
of his success with life. A beautiful and high-bred wife would still
afford him profound satisfaction, no doubt of that. He could in the last
ten or twelve years have married more than one charming San Francisco
girl, but that interval of passionate love between his youthful ambition
and his many opportunities had given him a distaste for a lukewarm
marriage. Here in Washington, however, California seemed a long way off,
and he was only forty, in the very perfection of mental and physical
vigor. Could he not love again? Surely a man in the long allotted span
must begin life more than once. He found himself, after an hour, in some
beautiful woman's boudoir, or with a charming girl in the pale
illumination of a conservatory, longing for the old tremors of hope and
despair, and he determined to let himself go at the first symptom. But
he continued to be merely charmed and interested. If the turbulent
waters were in him still, they had fallen far below their banks and
would not rise at his bidding.

It was not to be expected that the Señora would write; she hated the
sight of a pen, and only wrote once a month - with sighs of protest that
were almost energetic - to her daughters. Padre Ortega was too old for
correspondence; consequently Talbot heard no news of Santa Ursula except
from his major-domo, who wrote a monthly report of the progress of the
olive-trees and the hotel. This person was not given to gossip, and
Talbot was in ignorance of the health of his old friend, in spite of one
or two letters of inquiry, until almost the end of the session. Then the
major-domo was moved to write the following postscript to one of his dry
reports: -

The Señora is dying, I guess - consumption, the galloping kind.
You may see her again, and you main't. We're all sorry here,
for she's always bin square and kind.

There still remained three weeks of the session, but Talbot's committee
had finished its work, and he was practically free. He paired with a
friendly Democrat, and started for California the day he received the
letter. The impulse to go to the bedside of his old friend had been
immediate and peremptory. He forgot the pleasant women in Washington,
his new-formed plans. The train seemed to walk.

They were not sentimental memories that moved so persistently in his
mind during that long hot journey overland. Had they risen they would
have been rebuked, as having no place in the sad reality of to-day. An
old friend was dying, the most necessary and sympathetic he had known.
He realized that she had become a habit, and that when she left the
world he would be very much alone. His mind dwelt constantly on that
large brown kindly presence, and he winked away more than one tear as he
reflected that he should go to her no more for sympathy, do nothing
further to alleviate the loneliness of her life. In consequence he was
in no way prepared for what awaited him at Los Olivos.

He arrived at night. Padre Ortega was away, so he could get no news of
the Señora except that she was still alive. He sent her a note at once,
telling her to expect him at eleven the next morning.

Again he took a long hot ride over sun-burned hills and fields, for it
wanted but a few weeks of his birthday. As he cantered through the oaks
near the house he saw that a hammock was swung across the veranda, and
that some one lay in it - a woman, for a heavy braid of black hair hung
over the side and trailed on the floor.

"Surely," he thought, "surely - it cannot be the Señora - in a hammock!"
And then he suddenly realized that the disease must have taken her
flesh.

His hands trembled as he dismounted and tied his horse to a tree, and he
lingered as long as he could, for he felt that his face was white. But
he was a man long used to self-control, and in a moment he walked
steadily forward and ascended the steps to the veranda. And then as he
stood looking down upon the hammock he needed all the control he
possessed.

For the Señora had gone and Delfina Carillo lay there. Not the
magnificent pulsing creature of old, for her face was pinched and little
blue veins showed everywhere; but the ugly browns had gone with her
flesh, her skin was white, and her cheeks flamed with color. Her eyes
looked enormous, and her mouth had regained its curves and mobility,
although it drooped. She wore a soft white wrapper with much lace about
the throat; and she looked twenty-six, and beautiful, wreck as she was.

"Delfina!" he articulated. "Delfina!" And then he sat down, for his
knees were shaking. The blood seemed rushing through his brain, and
after that first terrible but ecstatic moment of recognition, he was
conscious of a poignant regret for the loss of his brown old friend. He
glanced about, involuntarily. Where had she gone - that other
personality? For even the first soul of the woman looked from the great
eyes in the hammock.

Delfina stared at him for some moments, without speaking. Then she said,
with a sigh, "Ay - it is Juan."

She sat up abruptly. "Listen," she said, speaking rapidly. "At first I
no know you, for the mind wander much; and then Marcia tell me I think
always I am the girl again. Sometimes, even when I have the sense, I
theenk so too, for am alone, have nothing to remind, and I like theenk
that way. When I am seeck first Herminia coming to see me, but I write
her, after, am well again, for I know she and the husband want to go to
Mexico. Then, after I get worse, I am very glad she going, that all my
girls are away; for the dreams I have when the mind is no right give me
pleasure and bring back the days when am young and so happy. I feel glad
I go to die that way and not like the old peoples. So happy I am
sometimes, Juan, you cannot theenk! Was here, you remember, for two
months before I marry, and often I see you and Enrique and all my
friends, and myself so gay and beautiful, and all the caballeros so
crazy for me, and all the splendid costumes and horses. Ay California!
Her youth, too, is gone, Juan! Never she is Arcadia again." She paused,
but did not lie down, and in a few moments went on: "And often I theenk
of you - often. So strange, for love Enrique then; but - I no
know - missing you terreeblay when you go to Washington, and read all
they say about you in the papers. So long now since Enrique going, and
the love go long before - the love that make me marry him, I mean, for
always love the husband; that was my duty. So, when my youth come back,
though I think some by Enrique, suppose you are more in the mind, which,
after all, is old, though much fall away. And I want, want to see you,
but no like to ask you to come, for you are so busy and so ambeetious,
and I know I live till you come again si is a year, and that make me
feel happy. No cry, my friend. I no cry, for is sweet to be young again.
Often I no can understand why not loving you then; you are so fine man
now - but was boy then, and I admeer so much the caballeros, so splendid,
and talk so graceful; no was use then to the other kind. But, although I
no theenk much before - have so many babies and so much trouble, and,
after, nothing no matter - always I feel deep down I have miss something
in life; often I sigh, but no know why. But theenk much when go to die,
and now I know that si I am really young again, and well, I marry you
and am happy in so many ways with you, and have the intelligence. Never
I really have been alive. I know that now."

She fell back, panting a little, and her voice, always very low, had
become almost inaudible. She motioned to a bottle of angelica on the
table beside her, and John took her in his arms and put the glass to
her lips. It brought the color back to her face, and she lifted her arms
and crossed them behind his neck.

"Juan," she whispered coaxingly, "you have love me once - I know, and
sometimes have cried, because theenk how I have made you suffer. Make
the believe I am really the young girl again, and love me like then.
Going very soon now - and will make me very happy."

"It is easy enough to imagine," he said; "easy enough! It will be a
ghastly travesty, God knows, but could I have foreseen to-day during
that terrible time, I would have welcomed it as better than nothing."


THE END







1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14

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