The Avalanche

The Avalanche

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Project Gutenberg's The Avalanche, by Gertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it,give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online atwww.gutenberg.netTitle: The AvalancheAuthor: Gertrude Franklin Horn AthertonRelease Date: June 30, 2004 [EBook #7863]Language: English*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE AVALANCHE ***Produced by Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.THE AVALANCHEA MYSTERY STORYBY GERTRUDE ATHERTON1919TO CHARLES HANSON TOWNECHAPTER IIPrice Ruyler knew that many secrets had been inhumed by the earthquake and fire of San Francisco and wondered if hiswife's had been one of them. After all, she had been born in this city of odd and whispered pasts, and there weremoments when his silent mother-in-law suggested a past of her own.That there was a secret of some sort he had been progressively convinced for quite six months. Moreover, he felt equallysure that this impalpable gray cloud had not drifted even transiently between himself and his wife during the first year anda half of their marriage. They had been uncommonly happy; they were happy yet … the difference lay not in the quality ofHélène's devotion, enhanced always by an outspoken admiration for himself and his achievements, but in subtle changesof temperament and spirits.She had been a gay ...

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Project Gutenberg's The Avalanche, by GertrudeFranklin Horn AthertonThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere atno cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under theterms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.netTitle: The AvalancheAuthor: Gertrude Franklin Horn AthertonRelease Date: June 30, 2004 [EBook #7863]Language: English*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERGEBOOK THE AVALANCHE ***Produced by Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team.
THE AVALANCHEA MYSTERY STORYBY GERTRUDE ATHERTON1919
TO CHARLES HANSON TOWNE
CHAPTER IIPrice Ruyler knew that many secrets had beeninhumed by the earthquake and fire of SanFrancisco and wondered if his wife's had been oneof them. After all, she had been born in this city ofodd and whispered pasts, and there weremoments when his silent mother-in-law suggesteda past of her own.That there was a secret of some sort he had beenprogressively convinced for quite six months.Moreover, he felt equally sure that this impalpablegray cloud had not drifted even transiently betweenhimself and his wife during the first year and a halfof their marriage. They had been uncommonlyhappy; they were happy yet … the difference laynot in the quality of Hélène's devotion, enhancedalways by an outspoken admiration for himself andhis achievements, but in subtle changes oftemperament and spirits.She had been a gay and irresponsible youngcreature when he married her, so much so that hehad found it expedient to put her on an allowanceand ask her not to ran up staggering bills in thefashionable shops; which she visited daily, as muchfor the pleasure of the informal encounter withother lively and irresponsible young luminaries of
San Francisco society as for the excitement ofbuying what she did not want.He had broached the subject with sometrepidation, for they had never had a quarrel; butshe had shown no resentment whatever, merely aneager desire to please him. She even went directlydown to the Palace Hotel and reproached heraugust parent for failing to warn her that a dollarwas not capable of infinite expansion.But no wonder she had been extravagant, she toldRuyler plaintively. It had been like a fairy tale, thissudden release from the rigid economies of hergirlhood, when she had rarely had a franc in herpocket, and they had lived in a suite of the oldfamily villa on one of the hills of Rouen, MadameDelano paying her brother for their lodging, anddressing herself and Hélène with the aid of a halfparalyzed seamstress with a fiery red nose. Ma foi!It was the nightmare of her youth, that nose andthat croaking voice. But the woman had fingers,and a taste! And her mother could have concocteda smart evening frock out of an old window curtain.But the petted little daughter was never asked togo out and buy a spool of thread, much less wasshe consulted in the household economies. All shenoticed was that her clothes were smarter thanCousin Marthe's, who had a real dressmaker, andwas subject to fits of jealous sulks. No wonder thatwhen money was poured into her lap out in thiswonderful California she had assumed that it wasmade only to spend.
But she would learn! She would learn! She wouldask her mother that very day to initiate her into thefascinating secrets of personal economies, teachher how to portion out her quarterly allowancebetween her wardrobe, club dues, charities, evenher private automobile.This last heroic suggestion was her own, andalthough her husband protested he finally agreed;it was well she should learn just what it cost to be awoman of fashion in San Francisco, and theallowance was very generous. His old steward,Mannings, ran the household, although as he wentthrough the form of laying the bills before his littlemistress on the third of every month, she knewthat the upkeep of the San Francisco house andthe Burlingame villa ran into a small fortune a year."It is not that I am threatened with financialdisaster," Ruyler had said to her. "But SanFrancisco has not recovered yet, and it isimpossible to say just when she will recover. I wantto be absolutely sure of my expenditures."She had promised vehemently, and, as far as heknew, she had kept her promise. He had receivedno more bills, and it was obvious that her haughtychauffeur was paid on schedule time, until, seizedwith another economical spasm, she sold her carand bought a small electric which she could driveherself.Ruyler, little as he liked his mother-in-law, wasintensely grateful to her for the dexterity with which
she had adjusted Hélène's mind to the newcondition. She even taught her how to keep booksin an elemental way and balanced them herself onthe first of every month. As Hélène Ruyler had amind as quick and supple as it was cultivated in lesgraces, she soon ceased to feel the chafing of hernew harness, although she did squander the sumshe had reserved for three months mere pocketmoney upon a hat; which was sent to the house byher wily milliner on the first day of the secondquarter. She confessed this with tears, and herhusband, who thought her feminine passion forhats adorable, dried her tears and took her to theopening night of a new play. But he did not furnishthe pathetic little gold mesh bag, and as he madeher promise not to borrow, she did not treat herfriends to tea or ices at any of the fashionablerendezvous for a month. Then her native Frenchthrift came to her aid and she sold a superfluousgold purse, a wedding present, to an envious friendat a handsome bargain.That was ancient history now. It was twentymonths since Price had received a bill, and secretinquiries during the past two had satisfied him thathis wife's name was written in the books of no shopin San Francisco that she would condescend tovisit. Therefore, this maddening but intangiblebarrier had nothing to do with a change of habitthat had not caused an hour of tears and sulks.Hélène had a quick temper but a gay and sweetdisposition, normally high spirits, little apparentselfishness, and a naïve adoration of masculinesuperiority and strength; altogether, with her high
bred beauty and her dignity in public, anenchanting creature and an ideal wife for a busyman of inherited social position and no smalldegree of pride.But all this lovely equipment was blurred, almostobscured at times, by the shadow that he wasbeginning to liken to the San Francisco fogs thatdrifted through the Golden Gate and settled downinto the deep hollows of the Marin hills; movinggently but restlessly even there, like ghostlyfloating tides. He could see them from his librarywindow, where he often finished his afternoon'swork with his secretaries.But the fog drifted back to the Pacific, and theshadow that encompassed his wife did not, orrarely. It chilled their ardors, even their serenedomesticity. She was often as gay and impulsiveas ever, but with abrupt reserves, an implicationnot only of a new maturity of spirit, but ofwatchfulness, even fear. She had once gone so faras to give voice passionately to the dogma that notwo mortals had the right to be as happy as theywere; then laughed apologetically and "guessed"that the old Puritan spirit of her father's people wascoming to life in her Gallic little soul; then, withanother change of mood, added defiantly that itwas time America were rid of its banefulinheritance, and that she would be happy to-day ifthe skies fell to-morrow. She had flung herself intoher husband's arms, and even while he embracedher the eyes of his spirit searched for the girl wifewho had fled and left this more subtly fascinating
but incomprehensible creature in her place.IIThe morning was Sunday and he sat in the largewindow of his library that overlooked the Bay ofSan Francisco. The house, which stood on one ofthe highest hills, he had bought and remodeled forhis bride. The books that lined these walls hadbelonged to his Ruyler grandfather, bought in a daywhen business men had time to read and it wasthe fashion for a gentleman to cultivate theintellectual tracts of his brain. The portraits thathung above, against the dark paneling, were thework of his mother's father, one of the celebratedportrait painters of his time, and were replicas ofthe eminent and mighty he had painted.Maharajas, kings, emperors, famous diplomats,men of letters, artists of his own small class,statesmen and several of the famous beauties oftheir brief day; these had been the favoritegrandson's inheritance from Masewell Price, andthey made an impressive frieze, unique in thesplendid homes of the city of Ruyler's adoption.He had brought them from New York when he haddecided to live in California, and hung them in hisbachelor quarters. He had soon made up his mindthat he must remain in San Francisco for at leastten years if he would maintain the business he hadrescued from the disaster of 1906 at the levelwhere he had, by the severest application of hislife, placed it by the end of 1908. Meanwhile he
had grown to like San Francisco better than hewould have believed possible when he arrived inthe wrecked city, still smoking, and haunted withthe subtle odors of fires that had consumed morethan products of the vegetable kingdom.The vast ruin with its tottering arches and brokencolumns, its lonely walls looking as if bitten byprehistoric monsters that must haunt this ancientcoast, the soft pastel colors the great fire hadgiven as sole compensation for all it had taken, thegrotesque twisted masses of steel and the agedgray hills that had looked down on so many fires,had appealed powerfully to his imagination, andmade him feel, when wandering alone at night, asif his brain cells were haunted by old memories ofAntioch when Nature had annihilated in an instantwhat man had lavished upon her for centuries.Nowhere, not even in what was left of ancientRome, had he ever received such an impression ofthe age of the world and of the nothingness of manas among the ruins of this ridiculously modern cityof San Francisco. It fascinated him, but he toldhimself then that he should leave it without a pang.He was a New Yorker of the seventh generation ofhis house, and the rest of the United States ofAmerica was merely incidental.The business, a branch of the great New York firmfounded in 1840 by an ancestor grown weary ofwatching the broad acres of Ruyler Manorautomatically transmute themselves into the yearlyrent-roll, and reverting to the energy and merchantinstincts of his Dutch ancestors, had been