Gertrude Atherton. The Foghorn: Stories (1934) 198 pp.
A collection of two novellas and two short stories, two of which are set in San Francisco. The title story, while not technically a mystery, concerns the tragic and mysterious results of an illicit love affair. “The Sacrificial Altar” (pp. [123]-181), a novella written in 1916, tells the tale of Louis Bac, a French expatriate living in San Francisco attempting to make his living as an author of crime novels. So devoted to his craft is he, that Louis rejects all of his friends’ attempts to set him up with eligible young ladies (“the young artist ... would have been a monk in the Middle Ages and left to his monastery a precious heritage of illuminated manuscripts”). Finally, his mentor and confidant, M. César Dupont, makes one last attempt to get him to fall in love. He introduces Louis to his niece, Berthe, a beautiful, 20-year old girl just arrived from France. Although he tries, Louis finds himself incapable of feeling passion for Berthe. In a final attempt to make himself fall in love with her, Louis decides to steal into her room at night and observe her sleeping. When this still does not work, he decides to “give her a fright” and “make her believe she was being murdered, then get out while she was still too terrified and breathless to cry for help.” But, he gets a little carried away. Three months later, after completing his final, most triumphant, novel, Louis emerges from seclusion to learn that Berthe’s “killer” had been apprehended and executed for the crime. Overcome with remorse, mostly for the death of the innocent tramp, Louis visits his parents’ tombs on Lone Mountain and commits suicide.
Setting: San Francisco (Nob Hill; Lone Mountain)
Baird & Greenwood 106