Inadvertent Magic (Middle)


By 1912 Sam had established himself as a business magnate and civic leader. He had married a Peralta heiress and bought his creekside mansion near the Kent estate. His sisters lived with him until tension between them and his wife grew uncomfortable. He gave them homes as much for his peace as for their own.

At first he considered a shared house for Alice and Peg. He had a small lodge in Wildcat Canyon and he thought about establishing them there. But he soon figured that wouldn’t work. They’d be too remote. Once alone they’d begin picking at one another. His sisters were particular women, very fussy. And Sam wanted to keep the canyon lodge for himself; it was where he went when he needed a break from the stress of business.

It surprised him that Alice and Peg didn’t marry. He thought Alice was a bit ugly, true, but women were scarce and she had some money; he thought she’d be a wife. And Peg was good-looking. But his sisters were single at twenty-four and twenty-two and they didn’t appear to be looking for husbands. He bought little houses for them.

So the neighborhood formed. Sam and Mary Benedict lived up the gentle slope with a view of the bay and the creek meandering by, in a gorgeous mansion which was in such a constant state of alteration and improvement that it never settled into any style before its demise in the fire of 1923. Downstream from the manor, what would be four and a half city blocks when there was a real city, the little houses of Sam’s sisters framed a big curve of the creek.

Alice’s looked like an English cottage. White stucco with a slate-like roof that curved over the small-paned windows, it stood among its rose bushes as sturdy as a bunker. But it was built of alien materials and, really, it should have faced northwest on the land even though that would have put it at an angle to the street. As it was, the house needed constant and substantial repairs. Maybe the problem was the ventilation; Alice often complained of headaches.

In contrast, Peg’s place was charmed. It was framed and walled with the redwood that had grown on its land, and most of its windows were made of its own melted dirt. It got its roof thatch from the hay field on the other side of Perkins Street. It looked like the witch’s house from Hansel & Gretel. As the years passed and Peg aged from twenty-two to forty she came to be considered a witch herself.

But that took some time. It went in two phases. Of the eighteen years Peg lived in her little house, for the first eleven she appeared quite normal. Except she was rather good-looking and somewhat rich, but she never got married.

It wasn’t that she was a lover of women. In fact, her sister Alice was that type, and Peg helped Alice keep it a secret from Sam. Alice only acted on her inclination once in her life, one summer with a charming woman who visited the area from Brussels, and Peg thought it was Alice’s self-repression, more than bad air in her house, that caused her chronic headaches.

Peg just wasn’t interested in being mated. She was a curious girl and tried sex several times, and she enjoyed it, mostly, but not enough to get married. She had an affair when she was twelve with the son of her brother’s business partner. Jeremy was fifteen at the time and completely inexperienced. In fact she seduced him. The Perkins family socialized often with the Benedicts, and Peg and Jeremy managed a regular and vigorous sex life. She was lucky to avoid pregnancy.

She had a more exciting fling when she was seventeen. The judge’s nephew visited for a month. A college man, from Yale. He was experienced; she was pleasured. But she never loved him enough to go back east with him. Peg preferred her home and her privacy. She opted for poetry and naturalism, and didn’t really have an interest in companionship.

She was quite discreet, and her brother never suspected her activities. Alice knew about some of them but of course she understood the value of a sister’s secrets.

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