The novelist Gale Wilhelm was born in Eugene, Oregon, but lived in Berkeley for most of her adult life. Wilhelm wrote two widely-read and well-regarded novels with lesbian themes: We Too Are Drifting (1935) and Torchlight to Valhalla (1938). The later novel is the story of a young woman named Morgen who lives in the Berkeley hills with her invalid father. One day while hiking in Strawberry Canyon she meets a man named Royal, who quickly falls in love with her. He is handsome, clever, kind and successful, so she cannot explain to herself why she finds it impossible to return his ardor. Only when she meets the teenaged Toni and enters into a sexual relationship with her does Morgen understand why she can never marry any man.
Excerpts from TORCHLIGHT TO VALHALLA (New York : Random House, 1938)
A stillness went around them and Morgen leaned across this stillness to touch the hands and face she loved. That was a moment made wholly of tenderness. She withdrew from it gently, sitting erect again but not alone. You're so known to me, she said slowly. It isn't possible for one person suddenly to be everything like this, but you are. Her voice sank and she smiled and after a moment she said, I was waiting. I didn't know what I was waiting for, I didn't even know I was waiting, but when I saw you I knew....
She knew when Toni left her. She lifted herself a little and thought, In sleep you seem almost not to breathe. Where do you go? and then her thoughts became formless and liquid. She lay separate and awake, looking at the silhouette of Toni's head on the pillow. She heard the campanile chime three o'clock. The sound of the wind and rain had softened into silence but the darkness had a voice and it spoke insistently. Finally she said, Toni?
Toni turned her head. Yes?
I had to say your name.
My heart and I are sleeping, Toni said.
You did sleep a little, Toni. I watched you.
With cat's eyes, Toni said smiling. You say my name as if you'd given it to me.
There's no other way to say it.
Didn't you sleep, Morgen?
No, Morgen said. She felt Toni slipping away from her again into sleep. She lay listening with her fingertips and heard the heart slow and the soft beating go deep and then without warning breath and pulse and nerves caught and turned in her and she turned.
She woke Toni again but so gently waking was like dreaming....
Oh, Toni, Toni look at me. When I think of what I have now and what I didn't have before.
Toni bent suddenly and bit into the bend of Morgen's arm with careful teeth. There, she said, that's for thinking of what you didn't have before. She bent again and kissed the faint teethmarks. I haven't said I love you this morning. Before Morgen could move she slipped out of her arms. I'll go make coffee and then I've got to go up and see how my house is getting along without me.
Not yet, Morgen said. Don't go yet.
I'm gone, Toni said, laughing, going through the door.