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Ancestors Part II

Ancestors Part II

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For Isabel Otis the genius loci had a more powerful and enduring magnetism than any man or woman she had ever known. She had felt the consolation of it, although without analysis, in her lonely girlhood by the great Rosewater Marsh; definitely in Tyrol, Perugia, Toledo, in Munich where she had lingered too long, in a hundred tiny high-perched and low-set villages of Austria and Italy of which the tourist had never heard, at Konigsee and Pragserwildsee; and deeply in England. But no place had ever called her, disturbed her, excited her into furious criticism, mockingly maintained its hold upon the very roots of her being, like the city of her birth. Her childhood’s memories of it clustered about the old house on Russian Hill where the most cordial neighbors were goats; the beach by the Cliff House on a stormy day; long rides up and down the almost perpendicular hills of the city in the swift cable cars; and certain candy stores on Polk and Kearney streets. At long intervals there was a children’s party at one of the fine houses on the ledge below her home; or out in the Western Addition, where an always migratory people were rivalling the splendors of Nob Hill–as that craggy height had long since humbled South Park and Rincon Hill into their abundant dust. She also cherished many charming memories of her mother, with dinner or ball-gown so prudently looped under her rain-coat that it gave her slender figure the proportions of the old-fashioned hoop-skirt; always laughing as she kissed the little girls good-night before braving the two flights of steps to the carriage at the foot of the cliff. Two years before her death Mrs. Otis was glad to bury her mortification and misery in Rosewater. After that Isabel had never so much as a glimpse of San Francisco until she was sixteen, when her father was induced to visit his adopted daughter and take his youngest martyr with him. Isabel had planned for this visit throughout six long months, and arrived in the city of her heart radiant in a frock every breadth of which was new–heretofore her wardrobe had risen like an apologetic ph[oe]nix from the moth-eaten remnants of her mother’s old finery–and such uncompromising trust in the benevolence of fate as a girl rarely knows twice in a lifetime. There were three days of enchanted prowling about the old house on Russian Hill, where, as the tenant, in the rocking-chair by the bedroom window, did not invite her to enter, she consoled herself with the views and the memories; and of an even more normal delight in the shopping streets and gay restaurants of a real city. After that the visit existed in her mind with the confused outlines of a nightmare.

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