Slike strani




MAGINE MY distress when I realized that the drug had fastened its irresistible coils about me. As yet, I had taken it only in the noxious fumes of the pipe; but as time went on, I began to recognize the approach of a period when the quantity I could inhale by means of the Chinese stick-which I preferred to the more refined Turkish hookah, as more active in its effect could not and would not satisfy me. My saturated brain seemed no longer actively sensitive to the vapors from the stick; and I experienced at times a torture of unsatiated craving such as only the rectified extract in its darkish liquid form would satisfy. I felt the most horrifying impulse to drink deep of this blackish poison-to steep my very soul in its sensate deliriums.

It was about this time that I realized a change of scene was absolutely necessary if I resumed the fight which for three years I had kept up with deadly fear at my heart against the inroads of the drug. My digestion was impaired, my nervous system racked and trembling on the verge of total collapse, my fortune squandered in idleness and luxuries, a taste for which the use of the drug had emphasized beyond the endurance of my estate. No longer did I take delight in the researches of my profession, which was that of a physician. I neglected my practice, deserted my study, and being a bachelor, thank God! I found the most exquisite pleasure, when under the effects of the opium, in wandering about through the slums and the haunts of misery and vice, viewing with an eye of optimistic, critical interest the wretchedness of the poor. I appeared to study them intelligently, to think clearly and with scientific acumen upon the cause and effect of their condition; to meditate calmly upon the nest of sullen anarchic dreams such dreadful

privation engenders. Yet I was wholly devoid of any impulse of generosity-the idea of exerting myself to become an instrument of magnanimous reform never once occurred to me. I viewed these mis

erable beings as some eager naturalist might study a nest of ants. I had become instead of my former-I have been toldopen-hearted self, a creature absolutely selfish, utterly lacking in any feeling for the sickness and moral disease I saw about me, except the singular and exquisitely selfish sense of curiosity such morbid sights produced. Then when the effect of the poison wore away, I became a brooding recluse; poring over and over within my dulled brain the haunting tortures of fear, the madness of regrets; gritting my teeth, clenching my hands at my haggard reflection in the mirror, biting my nails until they were raw in the flesh-all with the agony of realization. This condition, after about forty-eight hours, would be followed by a sudden relief, a refreshened awakening, wherein all my former faculties re-asserted themselves with unwonted vigor. They appeared to rise up and shout a victory over the demon which gripped me. I went at my work with the most extravagant notions imaginable. I whistled-I sang-I felt the strong mas tery of my intellect; I fatigued and exhausted myself. I inhaled the fresh air as of old with the keenest joy of youth. Alas! the insidious viper stood in the shadow of my study, grinning at me, dogging my steps as I strolled under the melancholy shadows along the river. The greenish lights upon its copperish bosom seemed redolent of the serpent dreams of opium. Seized by a mighty terror, I would rush back to my study. There in the darkness and the gloom, alone with the devil and my God, the battle was fought and lost. There can be but one result when a man has once knelt at the

subtle hem of Satan's garment. The writhing struggles only tighten the horrid tentacles about one's throat. All that night I roamed, a figure of Mephisto-like insatiable gloom, amid the scenes of wretchedness and vice along the Bowery and under the feeble glamour of Mulberry Bend Park. The next day, after a few hours of tossed and troubled sleep, I was again thrust into that hell of despond, which, as I have said, resulted in the ruin of my naturally vigorous health. A change of habits became indispensable to any further resistance of the poison.

My choice would have been a cottage in Italy, where I hoped the delights of the scenery along the Mediterranean and the balmy Italian climate, might win me from the influence of the drug. A hasty inventory, of my exhausted real and personal property, however, proved to me only too plainly that such a project was out of the question. I then looked about me, to the best of my drug-soaked brain, for a substitute as nearly like that I had at first fixed upon as could be found within the limits of our own country. Thus I deThus I decided upon California, which I had been told was a very bracing and beautiful country; and immediately selling out all I possessed, I started one dreary day in early spring for that land of eternal flowers and dreams.

I shall never forget my sensations on that March day at daybreak when I opened my eyes for the first time within the confines of California. We were just dropping out of the Sierras into the Sacramento Valley. On the desert and in the mountains it had been winter, with barren reaches of snow and frozen lakes of ice. Now it was all changed. It seemed as if I must have died in my sleep and now was descending from purple shelving heights into Paradise. Behind and above me were the towering blue-mist peaks. In the distance to right and left we descended through smoking hillsides covered with pale pink olive bloom. Nearer, along the right of way, we fled by enchanting villages, the cottages and the one church spire of which was buried in roses and geraniums. Ripening golden oranges hung almost within reach of the hand. A few more nestling villages snug against the mountain's gray-blue base,

then we settled down into the valley, luxuriously carpeted with waving meadows and lakes of golden California poppies floating in their center. Surely I had reached a haven of security. I put my head out of the coach window and breathed the pure fresh air with the pulsing heart-throbs of childhood.

Arrived in San Francisco about noon, after twenty minutes of crushing through the crystal waters of San Francisco bay on a gigantic ferry, I went at once to the old Palace Hotel. Here, for the first time in months, I ate a hearty meal, and as I ate, I let my eyes roam with delightful indolence amid the entrancing inner luxury and beauty of this world-famous hostelry. The orchestra, concealed somewhere among the palms which filled the great inner court, dispensed in Bohemian softness, as I sipped my wine, that most soul-bewitching of all melodies, the Spanish Dance that divine pulsing click of castanets accompanied by the beating thrum of guitars, which sobs its way to the heart, and throbs through the veins in every land where the dark, rich Castilian stream flows.

I shall never forget it. To this day it melts into my heart like the wail of a passion-wrung soul, with the sobbing melody of a lover's tenderest dream. And just as I half-closed my eyes to enjoy it the more, I saw from my balcony the most beautiful woman my eyes have ever looked upon.

She sat at a small table almost obscured by palms. She was drinking some kind of blood-red wine, and she lifted it to her lips, which were as ruby rich as the wine, with a hand that sparkled with a greenishblue fire of emeralds and diamonds. She sipped it regally as would a queen. She was tall, and she held her head very high. Her complexion was pale, slightly olivetinted, and contrasted against masses of dull gold hair. In the shadow of her great, drooping hat, gracefully sweeping back with huge purple ostrich plumes, the hair took on a deeper shade, almost like the bronze of a turkey's wing. Her dress was of pale purple to match the feathers in her hat. About her neck, slightly decollete, was suspended a curiously wrought lorgnette of heavy gold, attached to a jeweled chain, and resting in her lap. Her beautiful hands were sparkling with large

stones, as is the fashion among California women; and a slender ruby and emerald bracelet flashed from her delicately modeled left wrist. She gazed with languid, coldly proud indifference at those who came and went, or kept her eyes upon the lorgnette in her lap, with which she idly played as she finished her wine and cake. Her profile was turned to me, and in the velvet underflush of her cheek I could distinguish a slight copperish hue, as if the same liquid gold which was in her hair flowed beneath the skin in the blood of her veins. She was evidently of ancient Spanish origin, with the blood of the California pioneer pulsing its its current amid the warmer stream. Her lips were Her lips were slightly full, as seen in some Oriental types, suggesting hidden depths of sleeping passion. I sat as one in a dream. She seemed so much a part of the music, the sobbing Spanish dance, this regal setting of roses and palms, and my own almost dazed imagination, that I could scarce believe her a creature of life-she was more like some royal princess, seen in an Arabian Night's dream. Then she finished her meal, paid, and with a graceful sweep of her almost sensually slender body, she left the dining room.

I sat for a moment perfectly still. Then, as a waiter approached to hand me a light for my cigar, I came to my senses.

"Who is the beautiful lady who has just withdrawn?" I asked, rewarding him generously for his services.

"She is the Countess of Gilan, sir; the wife of a foreign nobleman. She 'as come to California to secure a divorce, sir. 'Er case is still in the courts. 'E is a wealthy mining man who came 'ere a refugee from Austria in the fifties. They say 'e is the wealthiest and the wildest man in California, sir-will you 'ave your coat on, sir ?"

"No, thank you; I'll carry it," I said, still almost as a man in a dream. Then I, too, arose and went out on the street. The lady, as I had expected, had vanished in the stream of pedestrians which thronged both sides of Market street; so now I began to bethink myself of a less expensive place to live. I had at first intended going farther south, after a day or two spent in San Francisco. But when I had walked up Market street, then re

turned and had threaded Chinatown, reeking with its Oriental sights and smells, and had climbed with difficulty to the summit of Nob Hill, from whence I could look down upon the bay, delightful as a dream of silken blue, dotted with tiny islands and touched with snow-white sails which skimmed across its soft blue surface like white-winged butterflies, I was so pleased with its romantic situation, its warm colors, and its clear, wind-swept cleanliness, that I decided to secure some quiet cottage near the shore and remain here for the present at least.

With that thought in view, I took an Ocean Beach car on Ellis street, and speeding round the Pan-Handle of the glorious Golden Gate Park, skirted its long miles of dense green foliage to the sand-bordered Pacific. As I sped along, I carried the picture of that perfectly beautiful woman in my mind. Perhaps, vaguely present, the haunting vision of her, influenced my resolution to remain. Yet, at the thought, I almost laughed at myself. Once, I am sure, my rather tall, dark stature could not have been unpleasant to look upon. But now, with the black fear in my eyes, the haggard despondency in my mouth, the sluggish, bluish tinge of my lips, partly concealed by my heavy black mustache, and the receding sallow bronze of my cheeks, I had little left of personal charm for a woman. Yet I was conscious of a rather poetic melancholy in my wretched face which gave my features the appearance of one whose physical self is becoming exhausted by flights of severe mental tension. Thus my friends had attributed my condition to breakdown from overwork; and I noticed that people stared at me pityingly, men with expressions of semi-sympathetic contempt, women with that dream-like, lingering pity which makes these sweet creatures love him who needs it most, not him who deserves it best. I was aroused with a gasp of delight from my brooding melancholy by the sudden diving of the car through a cut between two immense sand-dunes, and the revealing beyond of the blue Pacific, enclosed in the jasper arms of the Golden Gate.

To the left was a miniature city called Carville, made up of tiny streets and the cottages entirely of antiquated horse cars

reconstructed into pretty bungalows with tiny steps and terraces. I was entranced at the unique charm of this small seablown city, nestling at the foot of sloping wastes of sand, which, in undulating ascent, rose to the cypress-clad summits of the Twin Peaks, back of which lay San Francisco. Each small nest of a cottage was perched on stilts above a salt marsh; or was quite hidden in the wiry sandgrass.

I traversed the Ocean Boulevard almost a mile, at the end of which, alone at the foot of a great mountain sweep of sand, I espied a lovely little cottage, similar, yet more secludedly set and better constructed than the rest. It was some distance from the sea and overlooked a wide stretch of shifting sands. In the wastes before it, here and there, a yellow poppy nodded its head at the surf, which swathed up to the sucked out caves of sand. To my joy I saw a sign stuck up in the sand before the cottage, "For Sale." The owner was evidently at home, so I went in to purchase, if possible.

Suffice it to say that I was soon the possessor of this cottage with a tiny piece of sand around it, which, I found later, some mornings was there, and the next was blown away or cut into deep gullies and high drifts. There was a well and a small out-shed for tools. There was a tiny addition attached to one side, and a miniature porch with steps at the front and rear ran about it. There was a red rose, its roots boxed to prevent exposure by the sifting sand, the petals cut and riddled by the breeze-swept sand, yet blooming and trailing up the sill of my window.

The dwelling was divided into four tiny rooms, one of which, in the addition, my servant, a young Jap, occupied, with an adjoining small box of a kitchen. The room in the end of the car, facing the sea, was my parlor and improvised sleeping room. The other was for study and dining room. There I had my books and my instruments. In the front I had luxurious Oriental rugs and lounges, one of which, covered with costly skins, I could occupy for my bed at night. I was cozy as a king; and I think the next twelve months were the happiest in all my life. My health improved rapidly. thing about the lazy balminess

Some of the

clime, there in the shelter of this eternally sun-warmed mountain of sand, so rested my nerves, so made life seem a period of pleasant dreams, a time in which to forget care ever existed, so associated its own opiate splendors of sea and sky with my drowsy fancies, that I no longer thought of opium as a thing of terror. I took it in my pipe in very small quantities each evening-now in the more refined Turkish hookah-and it made itself a part of my life, a thing to look forward to with exquisite sense of anticipated pleasure such as vaguely thrills a youth who scarce waits the night to bring him the encircling arms of his mistress. And strange to say, although she was never out of my thoughts by day or of my dreams at night, at these times that regal beauty whom I had seen but once stole into the white vapors from my bowl, and all through the night she hovered about me with lingering touch and smile, too delicate, too fragile to be sensual-just the most exquisitely sublime fragrance of her presence, coming to me like the soft, quick kiss of one dearly beloved. Never once in all this while did I catch a glimpse of the divine reality of my nightly dreams; and yet I seemed to be perfectly happy with her vapor-like, visitant presence.

I think, however, that during the morning hours of this delicious period my enjoyment was keenest. Then my appreciation of the realities about me was most perfectly attuned. Then I would wander out along the sand, pass up the rocky incline where perched the Cliff House, like some great white-winged sea bird, to Sutro Heights. Along this height, with its pleasant parks, laid out in graveled, palmsentineled drives and shady, labyrinthian walks, bordered by beds of flowers and studded with milk-white statues-seeming to be white bodies of nymphs half hidden in the foliage of green-I wandered about. Here on the wooded placade, which, like a slender hanging basket, clings to the side of the cliff, overawed by the frowning muzzles of black-nosed cannon, I loved to seek out a sheltered seat and sit and smoke and muse upon the tumbling, seething mountains of foam, far, far beneath me breaking in roaring tongues of white upon the ragged needles of the Seal Rocks. Mingled with it, rising high, then sink

« PrejšnjaNaprej »