A humming-bird dipped through the air and lit upon the palm-tree just below the open window; the long drowsy call of a crowing cock came from afar off; the sun spun down in the subdued splendor of a hazy veil. It was a dustless, hence an anomalous, summer's afternoon in San Francisco.
Ruth Levice sat near the window, lazily rocking, her long lithe arms clasped about her knees, her face a dream of the day. The seasons single out their favorite moods: a violet of spring-time woos one, a dusky June rose another; to-day the soft, languorous air had, unconsciously to her, charmed the girl's waking dream.
So removed was she in spirit from her surroundings that she heard with an obvious start a knock at the door. The knock was immediately followed by a smiling, plump young woman, sparkling of eye, rosy of cheek, and glistening with jewels and silk.
"Here you are, Ruth," she exclaimed, kissing her heartily; whereupon she sank into a chair, and threw back her bonnet-strings with an air of relief. "I came up here at once when the maid said your mother was out. Where is she?"
"Out calling. You look heated, Jennie; let me fan you."
"Thanks. How refreshing! Sandal-wood, is it not? Where is your father?"
"He is writing in the library. Do you wish to see him?"
"Oh, no, no! I must see you alone. I am so glad Aunt Esther is out. Why aren't you with her, Ruth? You should not let your mother go off alone."
The young girl laughed in merry surprise.
"Why, Jennie, you forgot that Mamma has been used all her life to going out without me; it is only within the last few months that I have been her companion."
"I know," replied her visitor, leaning back with a grim expression of disapproval, "and I think it the queerest arrangement I ever heard of. The idea of a father having the sole care of a daughter up to her twenty-first birthday, and then delivering her, like a piece of joint property, over to her mother! Oh, I know that according to their lights it did not seem absurd, but the very idea of it is contrary to nature. Of course we all know that your father was peculiarly fitted to undertake your training, and in this way your mother could more easily indulge her love of society; but as it is, no wonder she is as jealous of your success in her realm as your father was in his; no wonder she overdoes things to make up for lost time. How do you like it, Ruth?"
"What?" softly inquired her cousin, slowly waving the dainty fan, while a smile lighted up the gravity of her face at this onslaught.
"Going out continually night after night."
"Mamma likes it."
"Cela va sans dire. But, Ruth,—stop fanning a minute, please,—I want to know, candidly and seriously, would you mind giving it up?"
"Candidly and seriously, I would do so to-day forever."
"Ye-es; your father's daughter," said Mrs. Lewis, speaking more slowly, her bright eyes noting the perfect repose of the young girl's person; "and yet you are having some quiet little conquests,—the golden apples of your mother's Utopia....