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Chapter I
IT had just struck nine from the cuckoo clock that hung over the mantelpiece in the
dining-room, when Victorine brought in the halved watermelon and set it in front of Mr.
Bessemer's plate. Then she went down to the front door for the damp, twisted roll of the
Sunday morning's paper, and came back and rang the breakfast- bell for the second
As the family still hesitated to appear, she went to the bay window at the end of the
room, and stood there for a moment looking out. The view was wonderful. The
Bessemers lived upon the Washington Street hill, almost at its very summit, in a flat in
the third story of the building. The contractor had been clever enough to reverse the
position of kitchen and dining-room, so that the latter room was at the rear of the house.
From its window one could command a sweep of San Francisco Bay and the Contra
Costa shore, from Mount Diablo, along past Oakland, Berkeley, Sausalito, and Mount
Tamalpais, out to the Golden Gate, the Presidio, the ocean, and even--on very clear
days--to the Farrallone islands.
For some time Victorine stood looking down at the great expanse of land and sea, then
faced about with an impatient exclamation.
On Sundays all the week-day regime of the family was deranged, and breakfast was a
movable feast, to be had any time after seven or before half-past nine. As Victorine was
pouring the ice-water, Mr. Bessemer himself came in, and addressed himself at once to
his meal, without so much as a thought of waiting for the others.
He was a little round man. He wore a skull-cap to keep his bald spot warm, and read his
paper through a reading-glass. The expression of his face, wrinkled and bearded, the
eyes shadowed by enormous gray eyebrows, was that of an amiable gorilla.
Bessemer was one of those men who seem entirely disassociated from their families.
Only on rare and intense occasions did his paternal spirit or instincts assert themselves.
At table he talked but little. Though devotedly fond of his eldest daughter, she was a
puzzle and a stranger to him. His interests and hers were absolutely dissimilar. The
children he seldom spoke to but to reprove; while Howard, the son, the ten-year-old and
terrible infant of the household, he always referred to as "that boy."
He was an abstracted, self-centred old man, with but two hobbies-- homoeopathy and
the mechanism of clocks. But he had a strange way of talking to himself in a low voice,
keeping up a running, half- whispered comment upon his own doings and actions; as,
for instance, upon this occasion: "Nine o'clock--the clock's a little fast. I think I'll wind my
watch. No, I've forgotten my watch. Watermelon this morning, eh? Where's a knife? I'll
have a little salt. Victorine's forgot the spoons--ha, here's a spoon! No, it's a knife I