The CaliforniansGertrude Franklin Horn Atherton / Western
John Lane: The Bodley HeadLondon and New York1898
Third EditionUniversity Press, Cambridge, U. S. A.
TO N. L.
I won't study another word to-day! Helena tipped the table, spillingthe books to the floor. I want to go out in the sun. Go home, MissPhelps, that's a dear. Anyhow, it won't do you a bit of good to stay.
Miss Phelps, young herself, glanced angrily at her briery charge,longingly at the brilliant blue of sky and bay beyond the long window.
I leave it to Miss Yorba. Her voice, fashioned to cut, vibrated alittle with the vigour of its roots. You seem to forget, Miss Belmont,that this is not your house.
But you are just as much my teacher as hers. Besides, I always knowwhat Magdalena wants, and I know that she has had enough United Stateshistory for one afternoon. When I go to England I'll get their versionof it. We're brought up to love their literature and hate them! Suchnonsense--
My dear Miss Belmont, I beg you to remember that you have but recentlypassed your sixteenth birthday--
Oh, of course! If I'd been brought up in Boston, I'd be giving pointsto Socrates and wondering why there were so many old maids in the world.However, that's not the question at present. 'Lena, do tell _dear_ MissPhelps that she needs an afternoon off, and that if she doesn't takeit--I'll walk downstairs on my head.
Helena, even at indeterminate sixteen, showed promise of great beauty,and her eyes sparkled with the insolence of the spoiled child whoalready knew the power of wealth. The girl she addressed had only a pairof dark intelligent eyes to reclaim an uncomely face. Her skin wasswarthy, her nose crude, her mouth wide. The outline of her head wasfine, and she wore her black hair parted and banded closely below herears. Her forehead was large, her expression sad and thoughtful. DonRoberto Yorba was many times more a millionaire than Jack Belmont, butMagdalena was not a spoiled child.
I don't know, she said, with a marked hesitation of speech; I'd liketo go out, but it doesn't seem right to take advantage of the fact thatpapa and mamma are away--
What they don't know won't hurt them. I'd like to have Don Robertounder my thumb for just one week. He'd get some of the tyranny knockedout of him. Jack is a model parent--
Magdalena flushed a dark ugly red. I wish you would not speak in thatway of papa, she said. I--I--well--I'm afraid he wouldn't let you comehere to study with me if he knew it.
Well, I won't. Helena flung her arms round her friend and kissed herwarmly. I wouldn't hurt his Spanish dignity for the world; only I dowish you happened to be my real own cousin, or--that would be muchnicer--my sister.
Magdalena's troubled inner self echoed the wish; but few wishes, fewwords, indeed, passed her lips.
Well? demanded Miss Phelps, coldly. What is it to be? Do you girlsintend to study any more to-day, or not? Because--
We don't, said Helena, emphatically. And Magdalena, who invariablygave way to her friend's imperious will, nodded deprecatingly. MissPhelps immediately left the room.
She's glad to get out, said Helena, wisely. She hates me, and I knowshe's got a beau. Come! Come! She pulled Magdalena from her chair, andthe two girls ran to the balcony beyond the windows and leaned over therailing.
There's nothing in all the world, announced Helena, so beautiful asCalifornia--San Francisco included--in spite of whirlwinds of dust, andwooden houses, and cobblestone streets, and wooden sidewalks. One canalways live on a hill, and then you don't see the ugly things below. Forinstance, from here you see nothing but that dark blue bay with the darkblue sky above it, and opposite the pink mountains with the patches oflight blue, and on that side the hills of Sausalito covered withwillows, and the breakers down below. And the ferry-boats are like greatwhite swans, with long soft throats bending backwards. I don't expressmyself very well; but I shall some day. Just you wait; I'm going to be ascholar and a lot of other things too.
What, Helena? Magdalena drew closer. She thought Helena already themost eloquent person alive, and she envied her deeply, although withoutbitterness, loving her devotedly. The great gifts of expression and ofpersonal magnetism had been denied her. She had no hope, and at thattime little wish, that the last paucity could ever be made good by thepower of will; but that articulate inner self had registered a vow thathard study and close attention to the methods of Helena and othersas--or nearly as--brilliant should one day invest her brain and tonguewith suppleness.
What other things are you going to be, Helena? she asked. I know thatyou can be anything you like.
Well, in the first place, I am going to New York to school,--now, don'tlook so sad: I've told you twenty times that _I know_ Don Roberto willlet you go. Then I'm going to Europe. I'm going to study hard--but nothard enough to spoil my eyes. I'm going to finish off in Paris, and thenI'm going to travel. Incidentally, I'm going to learn how to dress, sothat when I come back here I'll astonish the natives and be thebest-dressed woman in San Francisco; which won't be saying much, to besure. Then, when I do come back, I'm going to just rule things, and,what is more, make all the old fogies let me. And--_and_--I am going tobe the greatest belle this State has ever seen; and that _is_ sayingsomething.
Of course you will do all that, Helena. It will be so interesting towatch you. Ila and Tiny will never compare with you. Some people aremade like that,--some one way and some another, I mean.Shall--shall--you ever marry, Helena?
Yes. After I have been engaged a dozen times or so I shall marry agreat man.
A great man?
Yes; I don't know any, but they are charming in history and memoirs.I'd have a simply gorgeous time in Washington, and ever after I'd havemy picture in 'Famous Women' books.
Shall you marry a president? asked Magdalena, deferentially. She wasconvinced that Helena could marry a reigning sovereign if she wished.
I haven't made up my mind about that yet. Presidents' wives are usuallysuch dreary-looking frumps I'd hate to be in the same book with them.Besides, most of the presidents don't amount to much. Truthful Georgemust have been a deadly bore. I prefer Benjamin Franklin--although Inever could stand that nose--or Clay or Calhoun or Patrick Henry orWebster. They're dead, but there must be lots more. I'll find one foryou, too.
Again the dark flush mounted to Magdalena's hair, as with an alertnessof motion unusual to her, she shook her head.
Aha! cried the astute Helena, you've been thinking the matter over,too, have you? Who is he? Tell me.
Magdalena shook her head again, but slowly this time. Helena embracedand coaxed, but to no effect. Even with her chosen friend, Magdalena wasreticent, not from choice, but necessity. But Helena, whose love wasgreat and whose intuitions were diabolical, leaped to the secret. Iknow! she exclaimed triumphantly. It's a caballero!
This time Magdalena's face turned almost purple; but she had neither hersex's quick instinct of self-protection nor its proneness to dissemble,secretive as she was. She lifted her head haughtily and turned away. Fora moment she looked very Spanish, not the unfortunate result of coupledraces that she was. Helena, who was in her naughtiest humour, threw backher head and laughed scornfully. A caballero! she cried: who willserenade you at two o'clock in the morning when you are dying withsleep, and lie in a hammock smoking cigaritos all day; who will roll outrhetoric by the yard, and look like an idiot when you talk common-senseto him; who is too lazy to walk across the plaza, and too proud to work,and too silly to keep the Americans from grabbing all he's got. I met afew dilapidated specimens when I was in Los Angeles last year. Onebeauty with long hair, a sombrero, and a head about as big as my fist,used to serenade me in intervals of gambling until I appealed to Jack,and he threatened to have him put in the calaboose if he didn't let mealone--
Magdalena turned upon her. Her face was livid. Her eyes stared as if shehad seen the dead walking. Hush! she said. You--you cruel--you haveeverything--
Helena, whose intuitions never failed her, when she chose to exercisethem, knew what she had done, caught a flashing glimpse of the shattereddreams of the girl who said so little, whose only happiness was in theideal world she had built in the jealously guarded depths of her soul.Oh, Magdalena, I'm so sorry, she stammered. I was only joking. And mystatesmen will probably be horrid old boors. I _know_ I'll never findone that comes up to my ideal. She burst into tears and flung her armsabout Magdalena's neck: she was always miserable when those she lovedwere angry with her, much as she delighted to shock the misprized. Sayyou forgive me, she sobbed, or I sha'n't eat or sleep for a week. AndMagdalena, who always took her mercurial friend literally, forgave herimmediately and dried her tears.