Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
A while later they came to the old Mission Dolores, long ago the center of a flourishing colony of native Indians, who, under the driving energy of the padres, manufactured practically every simple necessity known to Spain. There was nothing left but the crumbling church and its neglected graveyard, alone in a waste of sand. The graves of the priests and grandees were overrun with periwinkle, and the only other flower was the indestructible Castilian rose. The heavy dull green bushes with their fluted dull pink blooms surrounded by tight little buds, were as dusty as the memory of the Spaniard in California.
They went into the church to rest. Madeleine had never taken any interest in the history of her adopted state, and as they sat in a pew at the back, surrounded by silence and a deep twilight gloom, Masters told her the tragic story of Rezanov and Concha Arguello, who would have married before that humble altar and the history of California changed if the ironic fates had permitted. The story had been told him by Mrs. Hathaway, who was the daughter of one of the last of the grandees, and whose mother had lived in the Presidio when Rezanov sailed in through the Golden Gate and Concha Arguello had been La Favorita of Alta California.
The little church was very quiet. The rest of the world seemed far away. Madeleine's fervid yielding imagination swept her back to that long-forgotten past when a woman to whom the earlier fates had been as kind as to herself had scaled all but the highest peaks of happiness and descended into the profoundest depths of despair. Her sympathies, enhanced by her own haunting premonition of disaster, shattered her guard. She dropped her head into her hands and wept hopelessly. Masters felt his own moorings shake. He half rose to flee. But he too had been living in the romantic and passionate past and he too had been visited by moments of black forebodings. Love had tormented him to the breaking point before this and his ambition had often been submerged in his impatience for the excess of work which his newspaper would demand, exhausting to body and imagination alike. He had long ceased to doubt that she loved him, but her self-command had protected them both. He had believed it would never desert her and when it did his pulses had their way. He took her in his arms and strained her to him as if with the strength of his muscles and his will he would defy the blundering fates.
Madeleine made no resistance. She was oblivious of everything but the ecstasy of the moment. When he kissed her she clung to him as ardently, and felt as mortals may, when, in dissolution, they have the vision of unmortal bliss. She had the genius for completion and neither the past nor the future intruded upon the perfect moment when love was all.
But the moment was brief. A priest entered and knelt before the altar. She disengaged herself and adjusted her hat with hands that trembled violently, then almost ran out of the church. Masters followed her. As they descended the steps Travers and his companion passed again, after their short canter down the peninsula. He stared so hard at Madeleine's revealing face that he almost forgot to take off his hat, and half reined in as if he would pause and gratify his curiosity; but thought better of it and rode on.
Masters and Madeleine did not exchange a word until they had walked nearly a mile. But his brain was working as clearly as if passion had never clouded it, and although he could see no hope for the future he was determined to gain time and sacrifice anything rather than lose what little he might still have of her. He said finally, in a matter- of-fact voice:
"I want you to use your will and imagination and forget that we ever entered that church."
"Forget! The memory of it will scourge me as long as I live. I have been unfaithful to my husband!"
"Oh, not quite as bad as that!"
"What difference? I had surrendered completely and forgotten my vows, my religion, every principle that has guided my life. If--if-- circumstances had been different that would not have been the end. I am a bad wicked woman."
"Oh, no, you are not. You are a terribly good one. If you were not you would take your life in your hands and make it over."
He did not dare mention the word divorce, and lest it travel from his mind to hers and cause his immediate repudiation, he added hastily:
"You were immortal for a moment and it should be your glory, not a whip to scourge you. The time will come when you will remember it with gratitude and without a blush. You know now what you could be and feel. If we part at least you will have been saved from the complete aridity--"
"Part?" She looked at him for the first time, and although she had believed she never could look at him again without turning scarlet, there was only terror in her eyes.
"I have been afraid of banishment."
"It was my fault as much as yours."
"I am not so sure. We won't argue that point. Is anything perfect arguable? But if I am to stay in San Francisco I must see you."
"I'll never see you alone again."
"I have no intention of pressing that point! But the open is safe and you must walk with me every day."
"I don't know! Oh--I don't know! And I think that I should tell Howard."
"You will not tell Howard because you are neither cowardly nor cruel. Nor will you ruin a perfect memory that belongs to us alone. You do love me and that is the end of it--or the beginning of God knows what!"
"Love!" She shivered. "Yes, I love you. Why do poets waste so many beautiful words over love? It is the most terrible thing in the world."
"Let us try to forget it for the present," he said harshly. "Forget everything we cannot have--"
"You have your work. You have only to work harder than ever. What have I?"
"We will walk together every day. We can take a book out on the beach and sit on the rocks. Read more fiction. That is its mission-- to translate one for a time from the terrible realities of life. Your religion should be of some use to you. It is almost a pity there is no poverty out here. Sink your prejudices and seek out poor Sibyl Forbes. Every woman in town has cut her. In healing her wounds you could forget your own. Above all, use your will. We are neither of us weaklings, and it could be a thousand times worse. Nothing shall take from us what we have, and there may be a way out."
"There is none," she said sadly. "But I will do as you tell me. And I'll forget--not remember--if I can."