Sleeping Fires: A Novel

Gertrude Atherton
Sleeping Fires, by Gertrude

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Title: Sleeping Fires
Author: Gertrude Atherton
Release Date: November, 2004 [EBook #6884] [This file was first

posted on February 6, 2003]
Edition: 10
Language: English
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There was no Burlingame in the Sixties, the Western Addition was a
desert of sand dunes and the goats gambolled through the rocky
gulches of Nob Hill. But San Francisco had its Rincon Hill and South
Park, Howard and Fulsom and Harrison Streets, coldly aloof from the
tumultuous hot heart of the City north of Market Street.
In this residence section the sidewalks were also wooden and uneven

and the streets muddy in winter and dusty in summer, but the houses,
some of which had "come round the Horn," were large, simple, and
stately. Those on the three long streets had deep gardens before them,
with willow trees and oaks above the flower beds, quaint ugly statues,
and fountains that were sometimes dry. The narrower houses of South
Park crowded one another about the oval enclosure and their common
garden was the smaller oval of green and roses.
On Rincon Hill the architecture was more varied and the houses that
covered all sides of the hill were surrounded by high-walled gardens
whose heavy bushes of Castilian roses were the only reminder in this
already modern San Francisco of the Spain that had made California a
land of romance for nearly a century; the last resting place on this
planet of the Spirit of Arcadia ere she vanished into space before the
On far-flung heights beyond the business section crowded between
Market and Clay Streets were isolated mansions, built by prescient men
whose belief in the rapid growth of the city to the north and west was
justified in due course, but which sheltered at present amiable and
sociable ladies who lamented their separation by vast spaces from that
aristocratic quarter of the south.
But they had their carriages, and on a certain Sunday afternoon several
of these arks drawn by stout horses might have been seen crawling
fearfully down the steep hills or floundering through the sand until they
reached Market Street; when the coachmen cracked their whips, the
horses trotted briskly, and shortly after began to ascend Rincon Hill.
Mrs. Hunt McLane, the social dictator of her little world, had recently
moved from South Park into a large house on Rincon Hill that had been
built by an eminent citizen who had lost his fortune as abruptly as he
had made it; and this was her housewarming. It was safe to say that her
rooms would be crowded, and not merely because her Sunday
receptions were the most important minor functions in San Francisco: it
was possible that Dr. Talbot and his bride would be there. And if he
were not it might be long before curiosity would be gratified by even a
glance at the stranger; the doctor detested the theatre and had engaged a

suite at the Occidental Hotel with a private dining-room.
Several weeks before a solemn conclave had been held at Mrs.
McLane's house in South Park. Mrs. Abbott was there and Mrs.
Ballinger, both second only to Mrs. McLane in social leadership; Mrs.
Montgomery, Mrs. Brannan, and other women whose power was
rooted in the Fifties; Maria and Sally Ballinger, Marguerite McLane,
and Guadalupe Hathaway, whose blue large talking Spanish eyes had
made her the belle of many seasons: all met to discuss the disquieting
news of the marriage in Boston of the most popular and fashionable
doctor in San Francisco, Howard Talbot. He had gone East for a
vacation, and soon after had sent them a bald announcement of his
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