BY GERTRUDE ATHERTON
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 marriage to one Madeleine Chilton of Boston.
Many high hopes had centered in Dr. Talbot. He was only forty,
good-looking, with exuberant spirits, and well on the road to fortune.
He had been surrounded in San Francisco by beautiful and vivacious
girls, but had always proclaimed himself a man's man, avowed he had
seen too much of babies and "blues," and should die an old bachelor.
Besides he loved them all; when he did not damn them roundly, which he
sometimes did to their secret delight.
And now he not only had affronted them by marrying some one he probably
never had seen before, but he had taken a Northern wife; he had not
even had the grace to go to his native South, if he must marry an
outsider; he had gone to Boston—of all places!
San Francisco Society in the Sixties was composed almost entirely of
Southerners. Even before the war it had been difficult for a Northerner
to obtain entrance to that sacrosanct circle; the exceptions were due
to sheer personality. Southerners were aristocrats. The North was
plebeian. That was final. Since the war, Victorious North continued to
admit defeat in California. The South had its last stronghold in San
Francisco, and held it, haughty, unconquered, inflexible.
That Dr. Talbot, who was on a family footing in every home in San
Francisco, should have placed his friends in such a delicate position
(to say nothing of shattered hopes) was voted an outrage, and at Mrs.
McLane's on that former Sunday afternoon, there had been no pretence at
indifference. The subject was thoroughly discussed. It was possible
that the creature might not even be a lady. Had any one ever heard of a
Boston family named Chilton? No one had. They knew nothing of Boston
and cared less. But the best would be bad enough.
It was more likely however that the doctor had married some obscure
person with nothing in her favor but youth, or a widow of practiced
wiles, or—horrid thought—a divorcee.
He had always been absurdly liberal in spite of his blue Southern
blood; and a man's man wandering alone at the age of forty was almost
foredoomed to disaster. No doubt the poor man had been homesick and
Should they receive her or should they not? If not, would they lose
their doctor. He would never speak to one of them again if they
insulted his wife. But a Bostonian, a possible nobody! And homely, of
course. Angular. Who had ever heard of a pretty woman raised on beans,
codfish, and pie for breakfast?
Finally Mrs. McLane had announced that she should not make up her mind
until the couple arrived and she sat in judgment upon the woman
personally. She would call the day after they docked in San Francisco.
If, by any chance, the woman were presentable, dressed herself with
some regard to the fashion (which was more than Mrs. Abbott and
Guadalupe Hathaway did), and had sufficient tact to avoid the subject
of the war, she would stand sponsor and invite her to the first
reception in the house on Rincon Hill.
"But if not," she said grimly—"well, not even for Howard Talbot's sake
will I receive a woman who is not a lady, or who has been divorced. In
this wild city we are a class apart, above. No loose fish enters our
quiet bay. Only by the most rigid code and watchfulness have we formed
and preserved a society similar to that we were accustomed to in the
old South. If we lowered our barriers we should be submerged. If Howard
Talbot has married a woman we do not find ourselves able to associate
with in this intimate little society out here on the edge of the world,
he will have to go."
Mrs. McLane had called on Mrs. Talbot. That was known to all San
Francisco, for her carriage had stood in front of the Occidental Hotel
for an hour. Kind friends had called to offer their services in setting
the new house in order, but were dismissed at the door with the brief
announcement that Mrs. McLane was having the blues. No one wasted time
on a second effort to gossip with their leader; it was known that just
so often Mrs. McLane drew down the blinds, informed her household that
she was not to be disturbed, disposed herself on the sofa with her back
to the room and indulged in the luxury of blues for three days. She
took no nourishment but milk and broth and spoke to no one. Today this
would be a rest cure and was equally beneficial. When the attack was
over Mrs. McLane would arise with a clear complexion, serene nerves,
and renewed strength for social duties. Her friends knew that her
retirement on this occasion was timed to finish on the morning of her
reception and had not the least misgiving that her doors would still be
The great double parlors of her new mansion were thrown into one and
the simple furniture covered with gray rep was pushed against soft gray
walls hung with several old portraits in oil, ferrotypes and
silhouettes. A magnificent crystal chandelier depended from the high
and lightly frescoed ceiling and there were side brackets beside the
doors and the low mantel piece. Mrs. McLane may not have been able to
achieve beauty with the aid of the San Francisco shops, but at least
she had managed to give her rooms a severe and stately simplicity,
vastly different from the helpless surrenders of her friends to
The rooms filled early. Mrs. McLane stood before the north windows
receiving her friends with her usual brilliant smile, her manner of
high dignity and sweet cordiality. She was a majestic figure in spite
of her short stature and increasing curves, for the majesty was within
and her head above a flat back had a lofty poise. She wore her
prematurely white hair in a tall pompadour, and this with the rich
velvets she affected, ample and long, made her look like a French
marquise of the eighteenth century, stepped down from the canvas. The
effect was by no means accidental. Mrs. McLane's grandmother had been
French and she resembled her.
Her hoopskirt was small, but the other women were inclined to the
extreme of the fashion; as they saw it in the Godey's Lady's Book they
or their dressmakers subscribed to. Their handsome gowns spread widely
and the rooms hardly could have seemed to sway and undulate more if an
earthquake had rocked it. The older women wore small bonnets and
cashmere shawls, lace collars and cameos, the younger fichus and small
flat hats above their "waterfalls" or curled chignons. The husbands had
retired with Mr. McLane to the smoking room, but there were many beaux
present, equally expectant when not too absorbed.
Unlike as a reception of that day was in background and costumes from
the refinements of modern art and taste, it possessed one contrast that
was wholly to its advantage. Its men were gentlemen and the sons and
grandsons of gentlemen. To no one city has there ever been such an
emigration of men of good family as to San Francisco in the Fifties and
Sixties. Ambitious to push ahead in politics or the professions and
appreciating the immediate opportunities of the new and famous city, or
left with an insufficient inheritance (particularly after the war) and
ashamed to work in communities where no gentleman had ever worked, they
had set sail with a few hundreds to a land where a man, if he did not
occupy himself lucratively, was unfit for the society of enterprising
Few had come in time for the gold diggings, but all, unless they had
disappeared into the hot insatiable maw of the wicked little city, had
succeeded in one field or another; and these, in their dandified
clothes, made a fine appearance at fashionable gatherings. If they took
up less room than the women they certainly were more decorative.
Dr. Talbot and his wife had not arrived. To all eager questions Mrs.
McLane merely replied that "they" would "be here." She had the dramatic
instinct of the true leader and had commanded the doctor not to bring
his bride before four o'clock. The reception began at three. They
should have an entrance. But Mrs. Abbott, a lady of three chins and an
eagle eye, who had clung for twenty-five years to black satin and
bugles, was too persistent to be denied. She extracted the information
that the Bostonian had sent her own furniture by a previous steamer and
that her drawing room was graceful, French, and exquisite.
At ten minutes after the hour the buzz and chatter stopped abruptly and
every face was turned, every neck craned toward the door. The colored
butler had announced with a grand flourish:
"Dr. and Mrs. Talbot."
The doctor looked as rubicund, as jovial, as cynical as ever. But few
cast him more than a passing glance. Then they gave an audible gasp,
induced by an ingenuous compound of amazement, disappointment, and
admiration. They had been prepared to forgive, to endure, to make every
allowance. The poor thing could no more help being plain and dowdy than
born in Boston, and as their leader had satisfied herself that she
"would do," they would never let her know how deeply they deplored her
But they found nothing to deplore but the agonizing necessity for
immediate readjustment. Mrs. Talbot was unquestionably a product of the
best society. The South could have done no better. She was tall and
supple and self-possessed. She was exquisitely dressed in dark blue
velvet with a high collar of point lace tapering almost to her bust,
and revealing a long white throat clasped at the base by a string of
pearls. On her head, as proudly poised as Mrs. McLane's, was a blue
velvet hat, higher in the crown than the prevailing fashion, rolled up
on one side and trimmed only with a drooping gray feather. And her
figure, her face, her profile! The young men crowded forward more
swiftly than the still almost paralyzed women. She was no more than
twenty. Her skin was as white as the San Francisco fogs, her lips were
scarlet, her cheeks pink, her hair and eyes a bright golden brown. Her
features were delicate and regular, the mouth not too small, curved and
sensitive; her refinement was almost excessive. Oh, she was
"high-toned," no doubt of that! As she moved forward and stood in front
of Mrs. McLane, or acknowledged introductions to those that stood near,
the women gave another gasp, this time of consternation. She wore
neither hoop-skirt nor crinoline. Could it be that the most elegant
fashion ever invented had been discarded by Paris? Or was this lovely
creature of surpassing elegance, a law unto herself?
Her skirt was full but straight and did not disguise the lines of her
graceful figure; above her small waist it fitted as closely as a riding
habit. She was even more becomingly dressed than any woman in the
room. Mrs. Abbott, who was given to primitive sounds, snorted. Maria
Ballinger, whose finely developed figure might as well have been the
trunk of a tree, sniffed. Her sister Sally almost danced with
excitement, and even Miss Hathaway straightened her fichu. Mrs.
Ballinger, who had been the belle of Richmond and was still adjudged
the handsomest woman in San Francisco, lifted the eyebrows to which
sonnets had been written with an air of haughty resignation; but made
up her mind to abate her scorn of the North and order her gowns from
New York hereafter.
But the San Franciscans on the whole were an amiable people and they
were sometimes conscious of their isolation; in a few moments they felt
a pleasant titillation of the nerves, as if the great world they might
never see again had sent them one of her most precious gifts.
They all met her in the course of the afternoon. She was sweet and
gracious, but although there was not a hint of embarrassment she made
no attempt to shine, and they liked her the better for that. The young
men soon discovered they could make no impression on this lovely
importation, for her eyes strayed constantly to her husband; until he
disappeared in search of cronies, whiskey, and a cigar: then she looked
depressed for a moment, but gave a still closer attention to the women
In love with her husband but a woman-of-the-world. Manners as fine as
Mrs. McLane's, but too aloof and sensitive to care for leadership. She
had made the grand tour in Europe, they discovered, and enjoyed a
season in Washington. She should continue to live at the Occidental
Hotel as her husband would be out so much at night and she was rather
timid. And she was bright, unaffected, responsive. Could anything be
more reassuring? There was nothing to be apprehended by the socially
ambitious, the proud housewives, or those prudent dames whose amours
were conducted with such secrecy that they might too easily be
supplanted by a predatory coquette. The girls drew little unconscious
sighs of relief. Sally Ballinger vowed she would become her intimate
friend, Sibyl Geary that she would copy her gowns. Mrs. Abbott
succumbed. In short they all took her to their hearts. She was one of
them from that time forth and the reign of crinoline was over.
The Talbots remained to supper and arrived at the Occidental Hotel at
the dissipated hour of half past nine. As they entered their suite the
bride took her sweeping skirts in either hand and executed a pas seul
down the long parlor.
"I was a success!" she cried. "You were proud of me. I could see it.
And even at the table, although I talked nearly all the time to Mr.
McLane, I never mentioned a book."
She danced over and threw her arms about his neck. "Say you were proud
of me. I'd love to hear it."
He gave her a bear-like hug. "Of course. You are the prettiest and the
most animated woman in San Francisco, and that's saying a good deal.
And I've given them all a mighty surprise."
"I believe that is the longest compliment you ever paid me—and because
I made a good impression on some one else. What irony!"
She pouted charmingly, but her eyes were wistful. "Now sit down and
talk to me. I've scarcely seen you since we arrived."
"Oh! Remember you are married to this old ruffian. You'll see enough of
me in the next thirty or forty years. Run to bed and get your beauty
sleep. I promised to go to the Union Club."
"The Club? You went to the Club last night and the night before and the
night before that. Every night since we arrived—"
"I haven't seen half my old cronies yet and they are waiting for a good
old poker game. Sleep is what you want after such an exciting day.
Remember, I doctor the nerves of all the women in San Francisco and
this is a hard climate on nerves. Wonder more women don't go to the
He kissed her again and escaped hurriedly. Those were the days when
women wept facilely, "swooned," inhaled hartshorn, calmed themselves
with sal volatile, and even went into hysterics upon slight
provocation. Madeleine Talbot merely wept. She believed herself to be
profoundly in love with her jovial magnetic if rather rough husband. He
was so different from the correct reserved men she had been associated
with during her anchored life in Boston. In Washington she had met only
the staid old families, and senators of a benignant formality. In
Europe she had run across no one she knew who might have introduced her
to interesting foreigners, and Mrs. Chilton would as willingly have
caressed a tiger as spoken to a stranger no matter how prepossessing.
Howard Talbot, whom she had met at the house of a common friend, had
taken her by storm. Her family had disapproved, not only because he was
by birth a Southerner, but for the same reason that had attracted their
Madeleine. He was entirely too different. Moreover, he would take her
to a barbarous country where there was no Society and people dared not
venture into the streets lest they be shot. But she had overruled them
and been very happy—at times. He was charming and adorable and it was
manifest that for him no other woman existed.
But she could not flatter herself that she was indispensable. He openly
preferred the society of men, and during that interminable sea voyage
she had seen little of him save at the table or when he came to their
stateroom late at night. For her mind he appeared to have a
good-natured masculine contempt. He talked to her as he would to a
fascinating little girl. If he cared for mental recreation he found it
She went into her bedroom and bathed her eyes with eau de cologne. At
least he had given her no cause for jealousy. That was one
compensation. And a wise married friend had told her that the only way
to manage a husband was to give him his head and never to indulge in
the luxury of reproaches. She was sorry she had forgotten herself
Dr. Talbot had confided to Mrs. McLane that his wife was inclined to be
a bas bleu and he wanted her broken of an unfeminine love of books.
Mrs. McLane, who knew that a reputation for bookishness would be fatal
in a community that regarded "Lucile" as a great poem and read little
but the few novels that drifted their way (or the continued stories in
Godey's Lady's Book), promised him that Madeleine's intellectual
aspirations should be submerged in the social gaieties of the season.
She kept her word. Dinners, receptions, luncheons, theatre parties, in
honor of the bride, followed in rapid succession, and when all had
entertained her, the less personal invitations followed as rapidly. Her
popularity was not founded on novelty.
No girl in her first season had ever enjoyed herself more naively and
she brought to every entertainment eager sparkling eyes and dancing
feet that never tired. She became the "reigning toast." At parties she
was surrounded by a bevy of admirers or forced to divide her dances;
for it was soon patent there was no jealousy in Talbot's composition
and that he took an equally naive pride in his wife's success. When
alone with women she was quite as animated and interested, and,
moreover, invited them to copy her gowns. Some had been made in Paris,
others in New York. The local dressmakers felt the stirrings of
ambition, and the shops sent for a more varied assortment of fabrics.
Madeleine Talbot at this time was very happy, or, at least, too busy to
recall her earlier dreams of happiness. The whole-hearted devotion to
gaiety of this stranded little community, its elegance, despite its
limitations, its unbounded hospitality to all within its guarded
portals, its very absence of intellectual criticism, made the formal
life of her brief past appear dull and drab in the retrospect. The
spirit of Puritanism seemed to have lost heart in those trackless
wastes between the Atlantic and the Pacific and turned back. True, the
moral code was rigid (on the surface); but far from too much enjoyment
of life, of quaffing eagerly at the brimming cup, being sinful, they
would have held it to be a far greater sin not to have accepted all
that the genius of San Francisco so lavishly provided.
Wildness and recklessness were in the air, the night life of San
Francisco was probably the maddest in the world; nor did the gambling
houses close their doors by day, nor the women of Dupont Street cease
from leering through their shuttered windows; a city born in delirium
and nourished on crime, whose very atmosphere was electrified and whose
very foundations were restless, would take a quarter of a century at
least to manufacture a decent thick surface of conventionality, and its
self-conscious respectable wing could no more escape its spirit than
its fogs and winds. But evil excitement was tempered to irresponsible
gaiety, a constant whirl of innocent pleasures. When the spirit passed
the portals untempered, and drove women too highly-strung, too unhappy,
or too easily bored, to the divorce courts, to drink, or to reckless
adventure, they were summarily dropped. No woman, however guiltless,
could divorce her husband and remain a member of that vigilant court.
It was all or nothing. If a married woman were clever enough to take a
lover undetected and merely furnish interesting surmise, there was no
attempt to ferret out and punish her; for no society can exist without
But none centered about Madeleine Talbot. Her little coquetries were
impartial and her devotion to her husband was patent to the most
infatuated eye. Life was made very pleasant for her. Howard, during
that first winter, accompanied her to all the dinners and parties, and
she gave several entertainments in her large suite at the Occidental
Hotel. Sally Ballinger was a lively companion for the mornings and was
as devoted a friend as youth could demand. Mrs. Abbott petted her, and
Mrs. Ballinger forgot that she had been born in Boston.
When it was discovered that she had a sweet lyric soprano, charmingly
cultivated, her popularity winged another flight; San Francisco from
its earliest days was musical, and she made a brilliant success as La
Belle Helene in the amateur light opera company organized by Mrs.
McLane. It was rarely that she spent an evening alone, and the cases of
books she had brought from Boston remained in the cellars of the Hotel.
Society went to the country to escape the screaming winds and dust
clouds of summer. A few had built country houses, the rest found
abundant amusement at the hotels of The Geysers, Warm Springs and
Congress Springs, taking the waters dutifully.
As the city was constantly swept by epidemics Dr. Talbot rarely left
his post for even a few days' shooting, and Madeleine remained with him
as a matter of course. Moreover, she hoped for occasional long evenings
with her husband and the opportunity to convince him that her
companionship was more satisfying than that of his friends at the Club.
She had not renounced the design of gradually converting him to her own
love of literature, and pictured delightful hours during which they
would discuss the world's masterpieces together.
But he merely hooted amiably and pinched her cheeks when she approached
the subject tentatively. He was infernally over-worked and unless he
had a few hours' relaxation at the Club he would be unfit for duty on
the morrow. She was his heart's delight, the prettiest wife in San
Francisco; he worked the better because she was always lovely at the
breakfast table and he could look forward to a brief dinner in her
always radiant company. Thank God, she never had the blues nor carried
a bottle of smelling salts about with her. And she hadn't a nerve in
her body! God! How he did hate women's nerves. No, she was a model wife
and he adored her unceasingly. But companionship? When she timidly
uttered the word, he first stared uncomprehendingly, then burst into
"Men don't find companionship in women, my dear. If they pretend to
they're after something else. Take the word of an old stager for that.
Of course there is no such thing as companionship among women as men
understand the term, but you have Society, which is really all you
want. Yearnings are merely a symptom of those accursed nerves. For
God's sake forget them. Flirt all you choose—there are plenty of men
in town; have them in for dinner if you like—but if any of those young
bucks talks companionship to you put up your guard or come and tell me.
I'll settle his hash."
"I don't want the companionship of any other man, but I'd like yours."
"You don't know how lucky you are. You have all of me you could stand.
Three or four long evenings—well, we'd yawn in each other's faces and
go to bed. A bull but true enough."
"Then I think I'll have the books unpacked, not only those I brought,
but the new case papa sent to me. I have lost the resource of Society
for several months, and I do not care to have men here after you have
gone. That would mean gossip."
"You are above gossip and I prefer the men to the books. You'll ruin
your pretty eyes, and you had the makings of a fine bluestocking when I
rescued you. A successful woman—with her husband and with Society—has
only sparkling shallows in her pretty little head. Now, I must run. I
really shouldn't have come all the way up here for lunch."
Madeleine wandered aimlessly to the window and looked down at the
scurrying throngs on Montgomery Street. There were few women. The men
bent against the wind, clutching at their hats, or chasing them along
the uneven wooden sidewalks, tripping perhaps on a loose board. There
were tiny whirlwinds of dust in the unpaved streets. The bustling
little city that Madeleine had thought so picturesque in its novelty
suddenly lost its glamour. It looked as if parts of it had been flung
together in a night between solid blocks imported from the older
communities; so furious was the desire to achieve immediate wealth
there were only three or four buildings of architectural beauty in the
city. The shop windows on Montgomery Street were attractive with the
wares of Paris, but Madeleine coveted nothing in San Francisco.
She thought of Boston, New York, Washington, Europe, and for a moment
nostalgia overwhelmed her. If Howard would only take her home for a
visit! Alas! he was as little likely to do that as to give her the
companionship she craved.
But she had no intention of taking refuge in tears. Nor would she stay
at home and mope. Her friends were out of town. She made up her mind to
go for a walk, although she hardly knew where to go. Between mud and
dust and hills, walking was not popular in San Francisco. However,
there might be some excitement in exploring.
She looped her brown cloth skirt over her balmoral petticoat, tied a
veil round her small hat and set forth. Although the dust was flying
she dared not lower her veil until she reached the environs, knowing
that if she did she would be followed; or if recognized, accused of the
unpardonable sin. The heavy veil in the San Francisco of that day, save
when driving in aggressively respectable company, was almost an
interchangeable term for assignation. It was as inconvenient for the
virtuous as indiscreet for the carnal.
Madeleine reached the streets of straggling homes and those long
impersonal rows depressing in their middle-class respectability, and
lowered the veil over her smarting eyes. She also squared her shoulders
and strode along with an independent swing that must convince the most
investigating mind she was walking for exercise only.
Almost unconsciously she directed her steps toward the Cliff House Road
where she had driven occasionally behind the doctor's spanking team. It
was four o'clock when she entered it and the wind had fallen. The road
was thronged with buggies, tandems, hacks, phaetons, and four-in-hands.
Society might be out of town but the still gayer world was not.
Madeleine, skirting the edge of the road to avoid disaster stared
eagerly behind her veil. Here were the reckless and brilliant women of
the demi-monde of whom she had heard so much, but to whom she had
barely thrown a glance when driving with her husband. They were painted
and dyed and kohled and their plumage would have excited the envy of
birds in Paradise. San Francisco had lured these ladies "round the
Horn" since the early Fifties: a different breed from the camp
followers of the late Forties. Some had fallen from a high estate,
others had been the mistresses of rich men in the East, or belles in
the half world of New York or Paris. Never had they found life so free
or pickings so easy as in San Francisco.
Madeleine knew that many of the eminent citizens she met in Society
kept their mistresses and flaunted them openly. It was, in fact, almost
a convention. She was not surprised to see several men who had taken
her in to dinner tooling these gorgeous cyprians and looking far
prouder than when they played host in the world of fashion. On one of
the gayest of the coaches she saw four of the young men who were among
the most devoted of her cavaliers at dances: Alexander Groome, Amos
Lawton, Ogden Bascom, and "Tom" Abbott, Jr. Groome was paying his
addresses to Maria Ballinger, "a fine figure of a girl" who had
inherited little of her mother's beauty but all of her virtue, and
Madeleine wondered if he would reform and settle down. Abbott was
engaged to Marguerite McLane and looked as if he were having his last
glad fling. Ogden Bascom had proposed to Guadalupe Hathaway every month
for five years. It was safe to say that he would toe the mark if he won
her. But he did not appear to be nursing a blighted heart at present.
Madeleine's depression left her. That, at least, Howard would never
do. She felt full of hope and buoyancy once more, not realizing that it
is easier to win back a lover than change the nature of man.
When Madeleine reached the Cliff House, that shabby innocent-looking
little building whose evil fame had run round the world, she stared at
it fascinated. Its restaurant overhung the sea. On this side the blinds
were down. It looked as if awaiting the undertaker. She pictured
Howard's horror when she told him of her close contact with vice, and
anticipated with a pleasurable thrill the scolding he would give her.
They had never quarrelled and it would be delightful to make up.
"Not Mrs. Talbot! No! Assuredly not!"
Involuntarily Madeleine raised her veil. She recognized the voice of
"Old" Ben Travers (he was only fifty but bald and yellow), the Union
Club gossip, and the one man in San Francisco she thoroughly disliked.
He stood with his hat in his hand, an expression of ludicrous
astonishment on his face.
"Yes, it is I," said Madeleine coolly. "And I am very much interested."
"Ah? Interested?" He glanced about. If this were an assignation either
the man was late or had lost courage. But he assumed an expression of
deep respect. "That I can well imagine, cloistered as you are. But, if
you will permit me to say so, it is hardly prudent. Surely you know
that this is a place of ill repute and that your motives, however
innocent, might easily be misconstrued."
"I am alone!" said Madeleine gaily, "and my veil is up! Not a man has
glanced at me, I look so tiresomely respectable in these stout walking
clothes. Even you, dear Mr. Travers, whom we accuse of being quite a
gossip, understand perfectly."
"Oh, yes, indeed. I do understand. And Mrs. Talbot is like Caesar's
wife, but nevertheless—there is a hack. It is waiting, but I think I
can bribe him to take us in. You really must not remain here another
moment—and you surely do not intend to walk back—six miles?"
"No, I'll be glad to drive—but if you will engage the hack—I
shouldn't think of bothering you further."
"I shall take you home," said Travers firmly. "Howard never would
forgive me if I did not—that is—that is—"
Madeleine laughed merrily. "If I intend to tell him! But of course I
shall tell him. Why not?"
"Well, yes, it would be best. I'll speak to the man."
The Jehu was reluctant, but a bill passed and he drove up to Madeleine.
"Guess I can do it," he said, "but I'll have to drive pretty fast."
Madeleine smiled at him and he touched his hat. She had employed him
more than once. "The faster the better, Thomas," she said. "I walked
out and am tired."
"I saw you come striding down the road, ma'am," he said deferentially,
"and I knew you got off your own beat by mistake. I think I'd have
screwed up my courage and said something if Mr. Travers hadn't happened
Madeleine nodded carelessly and entered the hack, followed by Travers,
in spite of her protests.
"I too walked out here and intended to ask some one to give me a lift
home. I am the unfortunate possessor of a liver, my dear young lady,
and must walk six miles a day, although I loathe walking as I loathe
drinking weak whiskey and water."
Madeleine shrugged her shoulders and attempted to raise one of the
curtains. The interior was as dark as a cave. But Travers exclaimed in
"No! No! Not until we get out of this. When we have reached the city,
but not here. In a hack on this road—"
"Oh, very well. Then entertain me, please, as I cannot look out. You
always have something interesting to tell."
"I am flattered to think you find me entertaining. I've sometimes
thought you didn't like me."
"Now you know that is nonsense. I always think myself fortunate if I
sit next you at dinner." Madeleine spoke in her gayest tones, but in
truth she dreaded what the man might make of this innocent escapade and
intended to make a friend of him if possible.
She was growing accustomed to the gloom and saw him smile fatuously.
"That sends me to the seventh heaven. How often since you came have I
wished that my dancing days were not over."
"I'd far rather hear you talk. Tell me some news."
"News? News? San Francisco is as flat at present as spilled champagne.
Let me see? Ah! Did you ever hear of Langdon Masters?"
"No. Who is he?"
"He is Virginian like myself—a distant cousin. He fought through the
war, badly wounded twice, came home to find little left of the old
estate—practically nothing for him. He tried to start a newspaper in
Richmond but couldn't raise the capital. He went to New York and wrote
for the newspapers there; also writes a good deal for the more
intellectual magazines. Thought perhaps you had come across something
of his. There is just a whisper, you know, that you were rather a bas
bleu before you came to us."
"Because I was born and educated in Boston? Poor Boston! I do recall
reading something of Mr. Masters' in the Atlantic—I suppose it
was—but I have forgotten what. Here, I have grown too frivolous—and
happy—to care to read at all. But what have you to tell me
particularly about Mr. Masters?"
"I had a letter from him this morning asking me if there was an opening
here. He resents the antagonism in the North that he meets at every
turn, although they are glad enough of his exceptionally brilliant
work. But he knows that San Francisco is the last stronghold of the
South, and also that our people are generous and enterprising. I shall
write him that I can see no opening for another paper at present, but
will let him know if there happens to be one on an editorial staff.
That is a long journey to take on an uncertainty."
"I should think so. Heavens, how this carriage does bounce. The horses
must be galloping."
"Probably." He lifted a corner of the curtain. "We shall reach the city
soon at this rate. Ah!"
Madeleine, in spite of the bouncing vehicle, had managed heretofore to
prop herself firmly in her corner, but a violent lurch suddenly threw
her against Travers. He caught her firmly in one of his lean wiry arms.
At the moment she thought nothing of it, although she disliked the
contact, but when she endeavored to disengage herself, he merely jerked
her more closely to his side and she felt his hot breath upon her
cheek. It was the fevered breath of a man who drinks much and late and
almost nauseated her.
"Come come," whispered Travers. "I know you didn't go out there to meet
any one; it was just a natural impulse for a little adventure, wasn't
it? And I deserve my reward for getting you home safely. Give me a
Madeleine wrenched herself free, but he laughed and caught her again,
this time in both arms. "Oh, you can't get away, and I'm going to have
that kiss. Yes, a dozen, by Jove. You're the prettiest thing in San
Francisco, and I'll get ahead of the other men there."
His yellow distorted face—he looked like a satyr—was almost on hers.
She freed herself once more with a dexterous twisting motion of her
supple body, leaped to the front of the carriage and pounded on the
window behind the driver.
"For God's sake! You fool! What are you doing? Do you want a scandal?"
The carriage stopped its erratic course so abruptly that he was thrown
to the floor. Madeleine already had the door open. She had all the
strength of youth and perfect health, and he was worn out and shaken.
He was scrambling to his feet. She put her arms under his shoulders and
threw him out into the road.
"Go on!" she called to the driver. And as he whipped up the horses
again, his Homeric laughter mingling with the curses of the man in the
ditch, she sank back trembling and gasping. It was her first experience
of the vileness of man, for the men of her day respected the women of
their own class unless met half way, or, violently enamoured, given
full opportunity to express their emotions.
Moreover she had made a venomous enemy.
What would Howard say? What would he do to the wretch? Horsewhip him?
Would he stop to think of scandal? The road had been deserted. She knew
that Travers would keep his humiliation to himself and the incidents
that led up to it; but if she told her husband and he lost his head the
story would come out and soon cease to bear any semblance to the truth.
She wished she had some one to advise her. What did insulted women do?
But she could not think in this horrible carriage. It would be at least
an hour before she saw Howard. She would bathe her face in cold water
and try to think.
The hack stopped again and the coachman left the box.
"It's only a few blocks now, ma'am," he said, as he opened the door. "I
haven't much time—"
Madeleine almost sprang out. She opened her purse. He accepted the
large bill with a grin on his good-natured face.
"That's all right, Mrs. Talbot. I wouldn't have spoke of it nohow. The
Doctor and me's old friends. But I'm just glad old Ben got what he
deserved. The impudence of him! You—well!—Good day, ma'am."
He paused as he was climbing back to the box.
"If you don't mind my giving ye a bit of advice, Mrs. Talbot—I've seen
a good bit of the world, I have—this is a hot city, all right—I just
wouldn't say anything to the doctor. Trouble makes trouble. Better let
it stop right here."
"Thanks, Thomas. Good-by."
And Madeleine strode down the street as if the furies pursued her.
Madeleine was spared the ordeal of confession; it was six weeks before
she saw her husband again. He telegraphed at six o'clock that he had a
small-pox patient and could not subject her to the risk of contagion.
The disease most dreaded in San Francisco had arrived some time before
and the pest house outside the city limits was already crowded. The
next day yellow flags appeared before several houses. Before a week
passed they had multiplied all over the city. People went about with
visible camphor bags suspended from their necks, and Madeleine heard
the galloping death wagon at all hours of the night. Howard telegraphed
frequently and sent a doctor to revaccinate her, as the virus he had
administered himself had not taken. She was not to worry about him as
he vaccinated himself every day. Finally he commanded her to leave
town, and she made a round of visits.
She spent a fortnight at Rincona, Mrs. Abbott's place at Alta, in the
San Mateo valley, and another with the Hathaways near by. Then, after a
fortnight at the different "Springs" she settled down for the rest of
the summer on the Ballinger ranch in the Santa Clara valley. All her
hostesses had house parties, there were picnics by day and dancing or
hay-rides at night. For the first time she saw the beautiful California
country; the redwood forests on the mountains, the bare brown and
golden hills, the great valleys with their forests of oaks and madronas
cleared here and there for orchard and vineyard; knowing that Howard
was safe she gave herself to pleasure once more. After all there was a
certain satisfaction in the assurance that her husband could not be
with her if he would. She was not deliberately neglected and it was
positive that he never entered the Club. She told no one but Sally
Ballinger of her adventure, and although Travers was a favorite of her
mother, this devoted friend adroitly managed that the gentleman to whom
she applied many excoriating adjectives should not be invited that
summer to "the ranch."
Langdon Masters arrived in San Francisco during Madeleine's third
winter. He did not come unheralded, for Travers bragged about him
constantly and asserted that San Francisco could thank him for an
editorial writer second to none in the United States of America. As a
matter of fact it was on Masters' achievement alone that the editor of
the Alta California had invited him to become a member of his staff.
Masters was also a cousin of Alexander Groome, and arrived in San
Francisco as a guest at the house on Ballinger Hill, a lonely outpost
in the wastes of rock and sand in the west.
There was no excitement in the female breast over his arrival for young
men were abundant; but Society was prepared to welcome him not only on
account of his distinguished connections but because his deliberate
choice of San Francisco for his future career was a compliment they
were quick to appreciate.
He came gaily to his fate filled with high hopes of owning his own
newspaper before long and ranking as the leading journalist in the
great little city made famous by gold and Bret Harte. He was one of
many in New York; he knew that with his brilliant gifts and the
immediate prominence his new position would give him the future was his
to mould. No man, then or since, has brought so rare an assortment of
talents to the erratic journalism of San Francisco; not even James King
of William, the murdered editor of the Evening Bulletin. Perhaps he
too would have been murdered had he remained long enough to own and
edit the newspaper of his dreams, for he had a merciless irony, a
fearless spirit, and an utter contempt for the prejudices of small men.
But for a time at least it looked as if the history of journalism in
San Francisco was to be one of California's proudest boasts.
Masters was a practical visionary, a dreamer whose dreams never
confused his metallic intellect, a stylist who fascinated even the poor
mind forced to express itself in colloquialisms, a man of immense
erudition for his years (he was only thirty); and he was insatiably
interested in the affairs of the world and in every phase of life. He
was a poet by nature, and a journalist by profession because he
believed the press was destined to become the greatest power in the
country, and he craved not only power but the utmost opportunity for
His character possessed as many antitheses. He was a natural lover of
women and avoided them not only because he feared entanglements and
enervations but because he had little respect for their brains. He was,
by his Virginian inheritance, if for no simpler reason, a bon vivant,
but the preoccupations and ordinary conversational subjects of men
irritated him, and he cultivated their society and that of women only
in so far as they were essential to his deeper understanding of life.
His code was noblesse oblige and he privately damned it as a
superstition foisted upon him by his ancestors. He was sentimental and
ironic, passionate and indifferent, frank and subtle, proud and
democratic, with a warm capacity for friendship and none whatever for
intimacy, a hard worker with a strong taste for loafing—in the open
country, book in hand. He prided himself upon his iron will and turned
uneasily from the weeds growing among the fine flowers of his nature.
Such was Langdon Masters when he came to San Francisco and Madeleine
He soon tired of plunging through the sand hills between the city and
Ballinger Hill either on horseback or in a hack whose driver, if the
hour were late, was commonly drunk; and took a suite of rooms in the
Occidental Hotel. He had brought his library with him and one side of
his parlor was immediately furnished with books to the ceiling. It was
some time before Society saw anything of him. He had a quick reputation
to make, many articles promised to Eastern periodicals and newspapers,
no mind for distractions.
But his brilliant and daring editorials, not only on the pestiferous
politics of San Francisco, but upon national topics, soon attracted the
attention of the men; who, moreover, were fascinated by his
conversation during his occasional visits to the Union Club. Several
times he was cornered, royally treated to the best the cellar afforded,
and upon one occasion talked for two hours, prodded merely with a
question when he showed a tendency to drop into revery. But as a matter
of fact he liked to talk, knowing that he could outshine other
intelligent men, and a responsive palate put him in good humor with all
men and inspired him with unwonted desire to please.
Husbands spoke of him enthusiastically at home and wives determined to
know him. They besieged Alexina Ballinger. Why had she not done her
duty? Langdon Masters had lived in her house for weeks. Mrs. Ballinger
replied that she had barely seen the man. He rarely honored them at
dinner, sat up until four in the morning with her son-in-law (if she
were not mistaken he and Alexander Groome were two of a feather),
breakfasted at all hours, and then went directly to the city. What
possible use could such a man be to Society? He had barely looked at
Sally, much less the uxoriously married Maria, and might have been
merely an inconsiderate boarder who had given nothing but unimpaired
Virginian manners in return for so much upsetting of a household. No
doubt the servants would have rebelled had he not tipped them
immoderately. "Moreover," she concluded, "he is quite unlike our men,
if he is a Southerner. And not handsome at all. His hair is black but
he wears it too short, and he had no mustache, nor even sideboards. His
face has deep lines and his eyes are like steel. He rarely smiles and I
don't believe he ever laughed in his life."
Society, however, had made up its mind, and as the women had no
particular desire to make that terrible journey to Alexina Ballinger's
any oftener than was necessary, it was determined (in conclave) that
Mrs. Hunt McLane should have the honor of capturing and introducing
this difficult and desirable person.
Mr. McLane, who had met him at the Club, called on him formally and
invited him to dinner. Hunt McLane was the greatest lawyer and one of
the greatest gentlemen in San Francisco. Masters was too much a man of
the world not to appreciate the compliment; moreover, he had now been
in San Francisco for two months and his social instincts were stirring.
He accepted the invitation and many others.
People dined early in those simple days and the hours he spent in the
most natural and agreeable society he had ever entered did not
interfere with his work. Sometimes he talked, at others merely listened
with a pleasant sense of relaxation to the chatter of pretty women;
with whom he was quite willing to flirt as long as there was no hint of
the heavy vail. He thought it quite possible he should fall in love
with and marry one of these vivacious pretty girls; when his future was
assured in the city of his enthusiastic adoption.
He met Madeleine at all these gatherings, but it so happened that he
never sat beside her and he had no taste for kettledrums or balls. He
thought her very lovely to look at and wondered why so young and
handsome a woman with a notoriously faithful husband should have so sad
an expression. Possibly because it rather became her style of beauty.
He saw a good deal of Dr. Talbot at the Club however and asked them
both to one of the little dinners in his rooms with which he paid his
social debts. These dinners were very popular, for he was a connoisseur
in wines, the dinner was sent from a French restaurant, and he was
never more entertaining than at his own table. His guests were as
carefully assorted as his wines, and if he did not know intuitively
whose minds and tastes were most in harmony, or what lady did not
happen to be speaking to another at the moment, he had always the
delicate hints of Mrs. McLane to guide him. She was his social sponsor
and vastly proud of him.
Madeline went impassively to the dinner. His brilliancy had impressed
her but she was indifferent to everything these days and her intellect
was torpid; although when in society and under the influence of the
lights and wine she could be almost as animated as ever. But the
novelty of that society had worn thin long since; she continued to go
out partly as a matter of routine, more perhaps because she had no
other resource. She saw less of her husband than ever, for his practice
as well as his masculine acquaintance grew with the city—and that was
swarming over the hills of the north and out toward the sand dunes of
the west. But she was resigned, and inappetent. She had even ceased to
wish for children. The future stretched before her interminable and
dull. A railroad had been built across the continent and she had asked
permission recently of her husband to visit her parents: her mother was
now an invalid and Mr. Chilton would not leave her.
But the doctor was more nearly angry than she had ever seen him. He
couldn't live without her. He must always know she was "there."
Moreover, she was run down, she was thin and pale, he must keep her
under his eye. But if he was worried about her health he was still more
worried at her apparent desire to leave him for months. Did she no
longer love him? Her response was not emphatic and he went out and
bought her a diamond bracelet. At least she was thankful that it had
been bought for her and not sent to his wife by mistake, an experience
that had happened the other day to Maria Groome. The town had rocked
with laughter and Groome had made a hurried trip East on business. But
Madeleine no longer found consolation in the reflection that things
might be worse. The sensation of jealousy would have been a welcome
relief from this spiritual and mental inertia.
She wore a dress of bright golden-green grosgrain silk trimmed with
crepe leaves a shade deeper. The pointed bodice displayed her shoulders
in a fashion still beloved of royal ladies, and her soft golden-brown
hair was dressed in a high chignon with a long curl descending over the
left side of her bust. A few still clung to the low chignon, others had
adopted a fashion set by the Empress Eugenie and wore their hair in a
mass of curls on the nape of the neck; but Madeleine received the
latest advices from a sister-in-law who lived in New York; and as
femininity dies hard she still felt a mild pleasure in introducing the
latest cry in fashion. As she was the last to arrive she would have
been less than woman if she had not felt a glow at the sensation she
made. The color came back to her cheeks as the women surrounded her
with ecstatic compliments and peered at the coiffure from all sides.
The diamond bracelet was barely noticed.
"I adopt it tomorrow," said Mrs. McLane emphatically. "With my white
hair I shall look more like an old marquise than ever."
One of the other women ran into Masters' bedroom where they had left
their wraps and emerged in a few moments with a lifted chignon and a
straggling curl. Amid exclamations and laughter two more followed suit,
while the host and the other men waited patiently for their dinner. It
was a lively party that finally sat down, and it was the gayest if the
most momentous of Masters' little functions.
His eyes strayed toward Madeleine more than once, for her success had
excited her and she had never looked lovelier. She was at the other end
of the table and Mrs. McLane and Mrs. Ballinger sat beside him. She
interested him for the first time and he adroitly drew her history from
his mentor (not that he deluded that astute lady for an instant, but
she dearly loved to gossip).
"She is going through one of those crises that all young wives must
expect," she concluded. "If it isn't one thing it's another. She is
still very young, and inclined to be romantic. She expected too
much—of a husband, mon dieu! Of course she is lonely or thinks she is.
Too bad youth never can realize that it is enough to be young. And with
beauty, and means, and position, and charming frocks! She will grow
philosophical—when it is too late. Meanwhile a little flirtation would
not hurt her and Howard Talbot does not know the meaning of the word
jealousy. Why don't you take her in hand?"
"Not my line. But it seems odd that Talbot should neglect her. She
looks intelligent and she is certainly beautiful."
"Oh, Howard! He is the best of men but the worst of husbands."
Her attention was claimed by the man on her right and at the same
moment Madeleine's had evidently been drawn to the wall of books behind
her. She turned, craned her neck, forgetting her partner.
Then, Masters saw a strange thing. Her eyes filled with tears and she
continued to stare at the books in complete absorption until her
attention was laughingly recalled.
"Now, that is odd," thought Masters. "Very odd."
She felt his keen gaze and laughed with a curious eagerness as she met
his eyes. He guessed that for the first time he had interested her.
After dinner the men went into his den to smoke, but before his cigar
was half finished he muttered something about his duty to the ladies
and returned to the parlor. As he had half expected, Madeleine was
standing before the books scanning their titles, and as he approached
she drew her hand caressingly across a shelf devoted to the poets. The
other women were gossiping at the end of the long room.
"You are fond of books!" he said abruptly.
She had not noticed his reappearance. She was startled and exclaimed
passionately, "I loved them—once! But it is a long time since I have
read anything but an occasional novel."
"But why? Why?"
He had powerful gray eyes and they magnetized the truth out of her.
"My husband thinks it is a woman's sole duty to look charming. He was
afraid I would become a bluestocking and lose my charm and spoil my
looks. I brought many books with me, but I never opened the cases and
finally gave them to the Mercantile Library. I have never gone to look
"Good heaven!" He had never felt sorrier for a woman who had asked alms
of him in the street.
She was looking at him eagerly. "Perhaps—you won't mind—you will lend
me—I don't think my husband would notice now—he is never at home
except for breakfast and dinner—"
"Will I? For heaven's sake look upon them as your own. What will you
take with you to-night?"
"Oh! Nothing! Perhaps you will send me one tomorrow?"
"One? I'll send a dozen. Let us select them now."
But at this moment the other men entered and she whispered hurriedly,
"Will you select and send them? Any—any—I don't care what."
The doctor came toward them full of good wine and laughter. The books
meant nothing to him. He had forgotten his wife's inexplicable taste
for serious literature. He now found her quite perfect but was worried
about her health. The tonics and horseback riding he had prescribed
seemed to have little effect.
"I am going to take you away and send you to bed," he said jovially.
"No sitting up after nine o'clock until you are yourself again, and not
another ball this winter. A wife is a great responsibility, Masters.
Any other woman is easier to prescribe for, but the wife of your bosom
knows you so well she can fool you, as no woman who expects a bill
twice a year would dare to do. Still, she's pretty good, pretty good.
She's never had an attack of nerves, nor fainted yet. And as for
'blues' she doesn't know the meaning of the word. Come along,
Madeleine smiled half cynically, half wistfully, shook hands with her
host and made him a pretty little speech, nodded to the others and went
obediently to bed. The doctor, whose manners were courtly, escorted her
to the door of their parlor and returned to Masters' rooms. The other
women left immediately afterward, and as it was Saturday night, he and
his host and Mr. McLane talked until nearly morning.
By the first of June Fashion had deserted the city with its winds and
fogs and dust, and Madeleine was one of the few that remained. Her
husband had intended to send her to Congress Springs in the mountains
of the Santa Clara Valley, but she seemed to be so much better that he
willingly let her stay on, congratulating himself on the results of his
treatment. She was no longer listless and was always singing at the
piano when he rushed in for his dinner.
If he had been told that the cure was effected by books he would have
been profoundly skeptical, and perhaps wisely so. But although
Madeleine felt an almost passionate gratitude for Masters, she gave him
little thought except when a new package of books arrived, or when she
discussed them briefly with him in Society. He had never called.
But her mind flowered like a bit of tropical country long neglected by
rain. She had thought that the very seeds of her mental desires were
dead, but they sprouted during a long uninterrupted afternoon and grew
so rapidly they intoxicated her. Masters had sent her in that first
offering poets who had not become fashionable in Boston when she left
it: Browning, Matthew Arnold and Swinburne; besides the Byron and
Shelley and Keats of her girlhood. He sent her Letters and Essays and
Memoirs and Biographies that she had never read and those that she had
and was glad to read again. He sent her books on art and she re-lived
her days in the galleries of Europe, understanding for the first time
what she had instinctively admired.
It was not only the sense of mental growth and expansion that
exhilarated her, after her long drought, but the translation to a new
world. She lived in the past in these lives of dead men; and as she
read the biographies of great painters and musicians she shared their
disappointments and forgot her own. Her emotional nature was in
constant vibration, and this phenomenon was the more dangerous, as she
would have argued—had she thought about it at all—that having been
diverted to the intellect it must necessarily remain there.
If she had belonged to a later generation no doubt she would have taken
to the pen herself, and artistic expression would—possibly—have
absorbed and safe-guarded her during the remainder of her genetic
years; but such a thing never occurred to her. She was too modest in
the face of master work, and only queer freakish women wrote, anyhow,
not ladies of her social status.
Although her thoughts rarely strayed to Masters, he hovered a sort of
beneficent god in the background of her consciousness, the author of
her new freedom and content; but it was only after an unusually long
talk with him at a large dinner given to a party of distinguished
visitors from Europe, shortly before Society left town, that she found
herself longing to discuss with him books that a week before would have
been sufficient in themselves.
The opportunity did not arise however until she had been for more than
a fortnight "alone" in San Francisco. She was returning from her daily
brisk walk when she met him at the door of the hotel. They naturally
entered and walked up the stairs together. She had immediately begun to
ply him with questions, and as she unlocked the door of her parlor she
invited him to enter.
He hesitated a moment. Nothing was farther from his intention than to
permit his interest in this charming lonely woman to deepen;
entanglements had proved fatal before to ambitious men; moreover he was
almost an intimate friend of her husband. But he had no reasonable
excuse, he had manifestly been sauntering when they met, and he had all
the fine courtesy of the South. He followed her into the hotel parlor
she had made unlike any other room in San Francisco, with the delicate
French furniture and hangings her mother had bought in Paris and given
her as a wedding present. A log fire was blazing. She waved her hand
toward an easy chair beside the hearth, threw aside her hat and lifted
her shining crushed hair with both hands, then ran over to a panelled
chest which the doctor had conceded to be handsome, but quite useless
as it was not even lined with cedar.
"I keep them in here," she exclaimed as gleefully as a naughty child;
and he had the uneasy sense of sharing a secret with her that isolated
them on a little oasis of their own in this lawless waste of San
She had opened the chest and was rummaging.
"What shall it be first? How I have longed to talk with you about a
dozen. On the whole I think I'd rather you'd read a poem to me. Do you
mind? I know you are not lazy—oh, no!—and I am sure you read
"I don't mind in the least," he said gallantly. (At all events he was
in for it.) "And I rather like the sound of my own voice. What shall it
And, alas, she chose "The Statue and the Bust."
He was disconcerted, but his sense of humor come to his rescue, and
although he read that passionate poem with its ominous warning to
hesitant lovers, with the proper emphasis and as much feeling as he
dared, he managed to make it a wholly impersonal performance. When he
finished he dropped the book and glanced over at his companion. She was
sitting forward with a rapt expression, her cheeks flushed, her breath
coming unevenly. But there was neither challenge nor self-consciousness
in her eyes. The sparkle had left them, but it was their innocence, not
their melting, that stirred him profoundly. With her palimpsest mind
she was a poet for the moment, not a woman.
Her manners never left her and she paid him a conventional little
compliment on his reading, then asked him if he believed that people
who could love like that had ever lived, or if such dramas were the
peculiar prerogative of the divinely gifted imagination.
He replied drily that a good many people in their own time loved
recklessly and even more disastrously, and then asked her irresistibly
(for he was a man if a wary one) if she had never loved herself.
"Oh, of course," she replied simply. "I love my husband. But domestic
"But have you never—domestic love does not always—well—"
She shrugged her shoulders and replied with the same disconcerting
simplicity, "Oh, when you are married you are married. And now that
your books have made me so happy I never find fault with Howard any
more. I know that he cannot be changed and he loves me devotedly in his
fashion. Mrs. McLane is always preaching philosophy and your books have
shown me the way."
"And do you imagine that books will always fill your life? After the
novelty has worn off?"
"Oh, that could never be! Even if you went away and took your books
with you I should get others. I am quite emancipated now."
"This is the first time I ever heard a young and beautiful woman
declare that books were an adequate substitute for life. And one sort
of emancipation is very likely to lead to another."
She drew herself up and all her Puritan forefathers looked from her
candid eyes. "If you mean that I would do the things that a few of our
women do—not many (she was one of the loyal guardians of her anxious
little circle)—if you think—but of course you do not. That is so
completely out of the question that I have never given it
consideration. If my husband should die—and I should feel terribly if
he did—but if he should, while I was still young, I might, of course,
love another man whose tastes were exactly like my own. But I'd never
betray Howard—nor myself—even in thought."
The words and all they implied might have been an irresistible
challenge to another man. But to Masters, whose career was inexorably
mapped out,—he was determined that his own fame and that of California
should be synchronous—and who fled at the first hint of seduction in a
woman's eyes, they came as a pleasurable reassurance. After all, mental
companionship with a woman was unique, and it was quite in keeping that
he should find it in this unique city of his adoption. Moreover, it
would be a very welcome recreation in his energetic life. If
propinquity began to sprout its deadly fruit he fancied that she would
close the episode abruptly. He was positive that he should, if for no
other reason than because her husband was his friend. He might elope
with the wife of a friend if he lost his head, but he would never
dishonor himself in the secret intrigue. And he had not the least
intention of leaving San Francisco. For the time being they were safe.
It was like picking wild flowers in the field after a day's hot work.
"Now," she said serenely, "read me 'Pippa Passes.'"
Nevertheless, he stayed away from her for a week. At the end of that
time he received a peremptory little note bidding him call and expound
Newman's "Apologia" to her. She could not understand it and she must.
He smiled at the pretty imperiousness of the note so like herself; for
her circle had spoiled her, and whatever her husband's idiosyncrasies
she was certainly his petted darling.
He went, of course. And before long he was spending every afternoon in
the charming room so like a French salon of the Eighteenth Century that
the raucous sounds of San Francisco beyond the closed and curtained
windows beat upon it faintly like the distant traffic of a great city.
Masters had asked himself humorously, Why not? and succumbed. There was
no other place to go except the Club, and Mrs. Talbot was an infinitely
more interesting companion than men who discussed little besides their
business, professional, or demi-monde engrossments. It was a complete
relaxation from his own driving work. He was writing the entire
editorial page of his newspaper, the demand for his articles from
Eastern magazines and weekly journals was incessant; which not only
contributed to his pride and income, but to the glory of California. He
was making her known for something besides gold, gamblers, and Sierra
But above all he was instructing and expanding a feminine but really
fine mind. She sat at his feet and there was no doubt in that mind,
both naive and gifted, that his was the most remarkable intellect in
the world and that from no book ever written could she learn as much.
He would have been more than mortal had he renounced his pedestal and
he was far too humane for the cruelty of depriving her of the
stimulating happiness he had brought into her lonely life. There was no
one, man or woman, to take his place.
Nor was there any one to criticize. The world was out of town. They
lived in the same hotel, and he rarely met any one in their common
corridor. At first she mentioned his visits casually to her husband,
and Howard grunted approvingly. Several times he took Masters snipe
shooting in the marshes near Ravenswood, but he accepted his friend's
attitude to his wife too much as a matter of course even to mention it.
To him, a far better judge of men than of women, Langdon Masters was
ambition epitomized, and if he wondered why such a man wasted time in
any woman's salon, he concluded it was because, like men of any calling
but his own (who saw far too much of women and their infernal ailments)
he enjoyed a chat now and then with as charming a woman of the world as
Madeleine. If anyone had suggested that Langdon Masters enjoyed
Madeleine's intellect he would have told it about town as the joke of
Madeleine indulged in no introspection. She had suffered too much in
the past not to quaff eagerly of the goblet when it was full and ask
for nothing more. If she paused to realize how dependent she had become
on the constant society of Langdon Masters and that literature was now
no more than the background of life, she would have shrugged her
shoulders gaily and admitted that she was having a mental flirtation,
and that, at least, was as original as became them both. They were
safe. The code protected them. He was her husband's friend and they
were married. What was, was.
But in truth she never went so far as to admit that Masters and the
books she loved were not one and inseparable. She could not imagine
herself talking with him for long on any other subject, save, perhaps,
the politics of the nation—which, in truth, rather bored her. As for
small talk she would as readily have thought of inflicting the Almighty
in her prayers.
Nor was it often they drifted into personalities or the human problems.
One day, however, he did ask her tentatively if she did not think that
divorce was justifiable in certain circumstances.
She merely stared at him in horror.
"Well, there is your erstwhile friend, Sibyl Geary. She fell in love
with another man, her husband was a sot, she got her divorce without
legal opposition, and married Forbes—finest kind of fellow."
"Divorce is against the canons of Church and Society. No woman should
break her solemn vows, no matter what her provocation. Look at Maria
Groome. Do you think she would divorce Alexander? She has provocation
"You are both High Church, but all women are not. Mrs. Geary is a mere
Presbyterian. And at least she is as happy as she was wretched before."
"No woman can be happy who has lost the respect of Society."
"I thought you were bored with Society."
"Yes, but it is mine to have. Being bored is quite different from being
cast out like a pariah."
"Oh! And you think love a poor substitute?"
"Love, of course, is the most wonderful thing in the world. (She might
be talking of maternal or filial love, thought Masters.) But it must
have the sanction of one's principles, one's creed and one's
traditions. Otherwise, it weighs nothing in the balance."
"You are a delectable little Puritan," said Masters with a laugh that
was not wholly mirthful. "I shall now read you Tennyson's 'Maud,' as
you approve of sentiment, at least. Tennyson will never cause the
downfall of any woman, but if you ever see lightning on the horizon
don't read 'The Statue and the Bust' with the battery therof."
When people returned to town they were astonished at the change in
Madeleine Talbot, especially after a summer in the city that would have
"torn their own nerves out by the roots." More than one had wondered
anxiously if she were going into the decline so common in those days.
They had known the cause of the broken spring, but none save the
incurably sanguine opined that Howard Talbot had mended it. But mended
it was and her eyes had never sparkled so gaily, nor her laugh rung so
lightly since her first winter among them. Mrs. McLane suggested
charitably that her tedium vitae had run its course and she was become
But Madeleine reviva did not suggest the philosopher to the most
charitable eye (not even to Mrs. McLane's), particularly as there was a
"something" about her—was it repressed excitement?—which had been
quite absent from her old self, however vivacious.
It was Mrs. Abbott, a lady of unquenchable virtue, whose tongue was
more feared than that of any woman in San Francisco, who first
verbalized what every friend of Madeleine's secretly wondered: Was
there a man in the case? Many loyally cried, Impossible. Madeleine was
above suspicion. Above suspicion, yes. No one would accuse her of a
liaison. But who was she or any other neglected young wife to be above
falling in love if some fascinating creature laid siege? Love dammed up
was apt to spring a leak in time, even if it did not overflow,
and—well, it was known that water sought its level, even if it could
not run uphill. Mrs. Abbott had lived for twenty years in San
Francisco, and in New Orleans for thirty years before that, and she had
seen a good many women in love in her time. This climate made a
plaything of virtue. "Virtue—you said?—Precisely. She's not there
or we'd see the signs of moral struggle, horror, in fact; for she's not
one to succumb easily. But mark my words, she's on the way."
That point settled, and it was vastly interesting to believe it
(Madeleine Talbot, of all people!), who was the man? Duty to mundane
affairs had kept many of the liveliest blades and prowling husbands in
town all summer; but Madeleine had known them all for three years or
more. Besides, So and So was engaged to So and So, and So and So quite
reprehensibly interested in Mrs. So and So.
The young gentlemen were discreetly sounded, but their lack of anything
deeper than friendly interest in the "loveliest of her sex" was
manifest. Husbands were ordered to retail the gossip of the Club, but
exploded with fury when tactful pumping forced up the name of Madeleine
Talbot. They were harridans, harpies, old-wives, infernal
scandalmongers. If there was one completely blameless woman in San
Francisco it was Howard Talbot's wife.
No one thought of Langdon Masters.
He appeared more rarely at dinners, and had never ventured in public
with Madeleine even during the summer. When his acute news sense
divined they were gossiping and speculating about her he took alarm and
considered the wisdom of discontinuing his afternoon visits. But they
had become as much a part of his life as his daily bread. Moreover, he
could not withdraw without giving the reason, and it was a more
intimate subject than he cared to discuss with her. Whether he was in
love with her or not was a question he deliberately refused to face. If
the present were destroyed there was no future to take its place, and
he purposed to live in his Fool's Paradise as long as he could. It was
an excellent substitute for tragedy.
But Society soon began to notice that she no longer honored kettledrums
or the more formal afternoon receptions with her presence, and her
calls were few and late. When attentive friends called on her she was
"out." The clerk at the desk had been asked to protect her, as she
"must rest in the afternoon." He suspected nothing and her word was his
When quizzed, Madeleine replied laughingly that she could keep her
restored health only by curtailing her social activities; but she
blushed, for lying came hardly. As calling was a serious business in
San Francisco, she compromised by the ancient clearing-house device of
an occasional large "At Home," besides her usual dinners and luncheons.
When Masters was a dinner guest he paid her only the polite attentions
due a hostess and flirted elaborately with the prettiest of the women.
Madeleine, who was unconscious of the gossip, was sometimes a little
hurt, and when he avoided her at other functions and was far too
attentive to Sally Ballinger, or Annette McLane, a beautiful girl just
out, she had an odd palpitation and wondered what ailed her. Jealous?
Well, perhaps. Friends of the same sex were often jealous. Had not
Sally been jealous at one time of poor Sibyl Geary? And Masters was the
most complete friend a woman ever had. She thought sadly that perhaps
he had enough of her in the afternoon and welcomed a change. Well, that
was natural enough. She found herself enjoying the society of other
bright men at dinners, now that life was fair again.
Nevertheless, she experienced a sensation of fright now and again, and
not because she feared to lose him.
There is nothing so carking as the pangs of unsatisfied curiosity. They
may not cause the acute distress of love and hate, but no tooth ever
ached more incessantly nor more insistently demanded relief. That
doughty warrior, Mrs. Abbott, in her own homely language determined to
take the bull by the horns. She sailed into the Occidental Hotel one
afternoon and up the stairs without pausing at the desk. The clerk gave
her a cursory glance. Mrs. Abbott went where she listed, and, moreover,
was obviously expected.
When she reached the Talbot parlor she halted a moment, and then
knocked loudly. Madeleine, who often received parcels, innocently
invited entrance. Mrs. Abbott promptly accepted the invitation and
walked in upon Masters and his hostess seated before the fire. The
former had a book in his hand, and, judging from the murmur that had
penetrated her applied ear before announcing herself, had been reading
aloud. ("As cozy as two bugs in a rug," she told her friends afterward.)
"Oh, Mrs. Abbott! How kind of you!" Madeleine was annoyed to find
herself blushing, but she kept her head and entered into no
explanation. Masters, with his most politely aloof air, handed the
smiling guest to the sofa, and as she immediately announced that the
room was too warm for her, Madeleine removed her dolman. Mrs. Abbott as
ever was clad in righteous black satin trimmed with bugles and fringe,
and a small flat bonnet whose strings indifferently supported her
chins. She fixed her sharp small eyes immediately on Madeleine's
beautiful house gown of nile green camel's hair, made with her usual
sweeping lines and without trimming of any sort.
"Charming—charming—and so becoming with that lovely color you have.
New York, I suppose—"
"Oh, no, a seamstress made it. You must let me get you cake and a glass
of wine." The unwilling hostess crossed over to the hospitable cupboard
and Mrs. Abbott amiably accepted a glass of port, the while her eyes
could hardly tear themselves from the books on the table by the fire.
There were at least a dozen of them and her astute old mind leapt
straight at the truth.
"I thought you had given all your books to the Mercantile Library," she
remarked wonderingly. "We all thought it so hard on you, but Howard is
set in his ways, poor old thing. He was much too old for you anyhow. I
always said so. But I see he has relented. Have you been patronizing C.
Beach? Nice little book store. I go there myself at Christmas time—get
a set in nice bindings for one of the children every year."
"Oh, these are borrowed," said Madeleine lightly. "Mr. Masters has been
kind enough to lend them to me."
"Oh—h—h, naughty puss! What would Howard say if he found you out?"
Masters, who stood on the hearth rug, looked down at her with an
expression, which, she afterward confessed, sent shivers up her spine.
"Talbot is a great friend of mine," he said with deliberate emphasis,
"and not likely to object to his wife's sharing my library."
"Don't be too sure. The whole town knows that Howard detests
bluestockings and would rather his wife had a good honest flirtation
than stuffed her brains…. Pretty little head." She tweaked
Madeleine's scarlet ear. "Mustn't put too much in it."
"I'm afraid it doesn't hold much," said Madeleine smiling; and fancied
she heard a bell in her depths toll: "It's going to end! It's going to
end!" And for the first time in her life she felt like fainting.
She went hurriedly over to the cupboard and poured herself out a glass
of port wine. "I had almost forgotten my tonic," she said. "It has made
me quite well again."
"Your improvement is nothing short of miraculous," said the old lady
drily. "It is the talk of the town. But you are ungrateful if you don't
give all those interesting books some of the credit. I hope Howard is
properly grateful to Mr. Masters…. By the way, my young friend, the
men complain that you are never seen at the Club during the afternoon
any more. That is ungrateful, if you like!—for they all think you are
the brightest man out here, and would rather hear you talk than eat—or
drink, which is more to the point. Now, I must go, dear. I won't
intrude any longer. It has been delightful, meeting two such clever
people at once. You are coming to my 'At Home' tomorrow. I won't take
no for an answer."
There was a warning note in her voice. Her pointed remarks had not been
inspired by sheer felinity. It was her purpose to let Madeleine know
that she was in danger of scandal or worse, and that the sooner she
scrambled back to terra firma the better. Of course she could not
refrain from an immediate round of calls upon impatient friends, but
she salved her conscience by asserting roundly (and with entire
honesty) that there was nothing in it as yet. She had seen too much of
the world to be deceived on that point.
After Masters had assisted Mrs. Abbott's large bulk into her barouche,
resisting the impulse to pitch it in headfirst, he walked slowly up the
stairs. He was seething with fury, and he was also aghast. The woman
had unquestionably precipitated the crisis he had hoped to avoid. To
use her favorite expression, the fat was in the fire; and she would see
to it that it was maintained at sizzling point. He ground his teeth as
he thought of the inferences, the innuendos, the expectations, the
constant linking of his name with Madeleine's. Madeleine!
It was true, of course, that the gossip might stop short of scandal if
she entered the afternoon treadmill once more and showed herself so
constantly that the most malignant must admit that she had no time for
dalliance; it was well known that he spent the morning and late
afternoon hours at the office.
But that would mean that he must give her up. She was the last woman to
consent to stolen meetings, even were he to suggest them, for the
raison d'etre of their companionship would be gone. And that phase
could end in but one way.
What a dreamer he had been, he, a man of the world, to imagine that
such an idyll could last. Perhaps four perfect months were as much as a
man had any right to ask of life. Nevertheless, he experienced not the
slightest symptom of resignation. He felt reckless enough to throw his
future to the winds, kidnap Madeleine, and take the next boat to South
America. But his unclouded mind drove inexorably to the end: her
conscience and unremitting sense of disgrace would work the complete
unhappiness of both. Divorce was equally out of the question.
As he approached her door he felt a strong inclination to pass it and
defer the inevitable interview until the morrow. He must step warily
with her as with the world, and he needed all his self-control. If he
lost his head and told her that he loved her he would not save a crumb
from his feast. Moreover, there was the possibility of revealing her to
herself if she loved him, and that would mean utter misery for her.
Did she? He walked hastily past her door. His coolly reasoning brain
felt suddenly full of hot vapors.
Then he cursed himself for a coward and turned back. She would feel
herself deserted in her most trying hour, for she needed a reassuring
friend at this moment if never before. He had rarely failed to keep his
head when he chose and he would keep it now.
But when he entered the room his self-command was put to a severe test.
She was huddled in a chair crying, and although he scoffed at woman's
tears as roundly as Dr. Talbot, they never failed to rain on the
softest spot in his nature. But he walked directly to the hearth rug
and lit a cigarette.
"I hope you are not letting that old cat worry you." He managed to
infuse his tones with an amiable contempt.
But Madeleine only cried the harder.
"Come, come. Of course you are bruised, you are such a sensitive little
plant, but you know what women are, and more especially that old woman.
But even she cannot find much to gossip about in the fact that you were
receiving an afternoon caller."
"I—I'll be back in a moment."
She ran into her bedroom, and Masters took a batch of proofs from his
pocket and deliberately read them during the ten minutes of her
absence. When she returned she had bathed her eyes, and looked quite
composed. In truth she had taken sal volatile, and if despair was still
in her soul her nerves no longer jangled.
He rose to hand her a chair, but she shook her head and walked over to
the window, then returned and stood by the table, leaning on it as if
to steady herself.
"Shall I get you a glass of port wine?"
"No; more than one goes to my head."
He threw the proofs on the table and retreated to the hearth-rug.
"I suppose this means that you must not come here any more?"
"Does it? Are you going to turn me adrift to bore myself at the Club?"
"Oh, men have so many resources! And it is you who have given all. I
had nothing to give you."
"You forget, my dear Mrs. Talbot, that man is never so flattered as
when some woman thinks him an oracle. Besides, although yours is the
best mind in any pretty woman's head I know of—in any woman's head for
that matter—you still have much to learn, and I should feel very
jealous if you learned it elsewhere."
"Oh, I could learn from books, I suppose. There are many more in the
world than I shall ever be able to read. But—well, I had a friend for
the first time—the kind of friend I wanted."
"You are in no danger of losing him. I haven't the least intention of
giving you up. Real friendships are too rare, especially those founded
on mental sympathy, and a man's life is barren indeed when his friends
are only men."
"Have you had any woman friends before?" Her eyelids were lowered but
she shot him a swift glance.
"Well—no—to be honest, I cannot say I have. Flirtations and all that,
yes. During the last eight years, between the war and earning my bread,
I've had little time. Everything went, of course. I wrote for a while
for a Richmond paper and then went to New York. That was hard sledding
for a time and Southerners are not welcome in New York Society. If I
bore you with my personal affairs it is merely to give you a glimpse of
a rather arid life, and, perhaps, some idea of how pleasant and
profitable I have found our friendship."
She drooped her head. He ground his teeth and lit another cigarette.
His hand trembled but his tones were even and formal.
"I shall go to Mrs. Abbott's tomorrow."
"Quite right. And if a man strays in flirt with him—if you know how."
"There are four other At Homes and kettledrums this week and I shall go
to those also. I don't know that I mind silly gossip, but it would not
be fair to Howard. I shouldn't like to put him in the position of some
men in this town; although they seem to console themselves! But Howard
is not like that."
"Not he. The best fellow in the world. I think your program admirable."
He saw that he was trying her too far and added hastily: "It would be
rather amusing to circumvent them, and it certainly would not amuse me
to lose your charming companionship. I have fallen into the habit of
imposing myself upon you from three until five or half-past. Perhaps
you will admit me shortly after lunch and let me hang round until you
are ready to go out?"
She looked up with faintly sparkling eyes; then her face fell.
"There are so many luncheons."
"But surely not every day. You could refuse the informal affairs on the
plea of a previous engagement, and give me the list of the inevitable
ones the first of the week. And at least you are free from impertinent
intrusion before three o'clock."
"Yes, I'll do that! I will! It will be better than nothing."
"Oh, a long sight better. And nothing can alter the procession of the
seasons. Summer will arrive again in due course, and if your friends
are not far more interested in something else by that time it is hardly
likely that even Mrs. Abbott will sacrifice the comforts of Alta to spy
on any one."
"Not she! She has asthma in San Francisco in summer." Madeleine spoke
gaily, but she avoided his eyes. Whether he was maintaining a pose or
not she could only guess, but she had one of her own to keep up.
"You must have thought me very silly to cry—but—these people have all
been quite angelic to me before, and Mrs. Abbott descended upon me like
the Day of Judgment."
"I should think she did, the old she-devil, and if you hadn't cried you
wouldn't have been a true woman! But we have a good half hour left. I'd
like to read you—"
At this moment Dr. Talbot's loud voice was heard in the hall.
"All right. See you later. Sorry—"
Madeline caught at the edge of the table. Had he met Mrs. Abbott? But
even in this moment of consternation she avoided a glance of too
intimate understanding with Masters. She was reassured immediately,
however. The Doctor burst into the room and exclaimed jovially:
"You here? What luck. Thought you would be at some infernal At Home or
other. Just got a call to San Jose—consultation—must take the next
train. Come, help me pack. Hello, Masters. If I'd had time I'd have
looked you up. Got some news for you. Wait a moment."
He disappeared into his bedroom and Madeleine followed. He had not
noticed the books and Masters' first impulse was to gather them up and
replace them in the chest. But he sat down to his proofs instead. The
Doctor returned in a few moments.
"Madeleine will finish. She's a wonder at packing. Hello! What's this?"
He had caught sight of the books.
"Some of mine. Mrs. Talbot expressed a wish—"
"Why in thunder don't you call her Madeleine? You're as much her friend
as mine…. Well, I don't mind as much as I did, for I find women are
all reading more than they used to, and I'm bound to say they don't
have the blues while a good novel lasts. Ouida's a pretty good dose and
lasts about a week. But don't give her too much serious stuff. It will
only addle her brains."
"Oh, she has very good brains. Mrs. Abbott was here just now, and
although she is not what I should call literary—or too literate—she
seemed to think your wife was just the sort of woman who should read."
"Mrs. Abbott's a damned old nuisance. You must have been overjoyed at
the interruption. But if Madeleine has to put on pincenez—"
"Oh, never fear!" Madeleine was smiling radiantly as she entered. Her
volatile spirits were soaring. "My eyes are the strongest part of me.
What did you have to tell Mr. Masters?" "Jove! I'd almost forgotten,
and it's great news, too. What would you say, Masters, to editing a
paper of your own?"
"There's a conspiracy abroad—I won't deny I had a hand in it—no light
under the bushel for me—to raise the necessary capital and have a
really first-class newspaper in this town. San Francisco deserves the
best, and if we've had nothing but rags, so far—barring poor James
King of William's Bulletin—it's because we've never had a man before
big enough to edit a great one."
"I have no words! It is almost too good to be true!"
Madeleine watched him curiously. His voice was trembling and his eyes
were flashing. He was tall but had drawn himself up in his excitement
and seemed quite an inch taller. He looked about to wave a sword and
lead a charge. Establishing a newspaper meant a hard fight and he was
eager for the fray.
She had had but few opportunities to study him in detail unobserved.
She had never thought him handsome, for he was clean shaven, with deep
vertical lines, and he wore his black hair very short. Her preference
was for fair men with drooping moustaches and locks sweeping the
collar; although her admiration for this somewhat standardized type had
so far been wholly impersonal. Even the doctor clipped his moustache as
it interfered with his soup, and his rusty brown hair was straight,
although of the orthodox length. But she had not married Howard for his
She noted the hard line of jaw and sharp incisive profile. His face had
power as well as intellect, yet there was a hint of weakness somewhere.
Possibly the lips of his well-cut mouth were a trifle too firmly set to
be unselfconscious. And his broad forehead lacked serenity. There was a
furrow between the eyes.
It was with the eyes she was most familiar. They were gray, brilliant,
piercing, wide apart and deeply set. She had noted more than once
something alert, watchful, in their expression, as if they were the
guardians of the intellect above and defied the weakness the lower part
of his face barely hinted to clash for a moment with his ambitions.
She heard little of his rapid fire of questions and Howard's answers;
but when the doctor had pulled out his watch, kissed her hurriedly,
snatched his bag and dashed from the room, Masters took her hands in
his, his eyes glowing.
"Did you hear?" he cried. "Did you hear? I am to have my own newspaper.
My dream has come true! A hundred thousand dollars are promised. I
shall have as good a news service as any in New York."
Madeleine withdrew her hands but smiled brightly and made him a pretty
speech of congratulation. She knew little of newspapers and cared less,
but there must be something extraordinary about owning one to excite a
man like Langdon Masters. She had never seen him excited before.
"Won't it mean a great deal harder work?"
"Oh, work! I thrive on work. I've never had enough. Come and sit down.
Let me talk to you. Let me be egotistical and talk about myself. Let me
tell you all my pent-up ambitions and hopes and desires—you wonderful
And he poured himself out to her as he had never unbosomed himself
before. He stayed on to dinner—she had no engagement—and left her
only for the office. He had evidently forgotten the earlier episode,
and he swept it from her own mind. That mind, subtle, feminine,
yielding, melted into his. She shared those ambitions and hopes and
desires. His brilliant and useful future was as real and imperative to
her as to himself. It was a new, a wonderful, a thrilling experience.
When she went to bed, smiling and happy, she slammed a little door in
her mind and shot the bolt. A terrible fear had shaken her three hours
before, but she refused to recall it. Once more the present sufficed.
Madeleine went to Mrs. Abbott's reception, but there was nothing
conciliatory nor apologetic in her mien. She had intended to be merely
natural, but when she met that battery of eyes, amused, mocking,
sympathetic, encouraging, and realized that Mrs. Abbott's tongue had
been wagging, she was filled with an anger and resentment that
expressed itself in a cold pride of bearing and a militant sparkle of
the eye. She was gracious and aloof and Mrs. McLane approved her
"Exactly as I should feel and look myself," she said to Mrs. Ballinger
and Guadalupe Hathaway. "She's a royal creature and she has moved in
the great world. No wonder she resents the petty gossip of this
"Well, I'll acquit her," said Mrs. Ballinger tartly. "A more
cold-blooded and unattractive man I've never met."
"Langdon Masters is by no means unattractive," announced Miss Hathaway
out of her ten years' experience as a belle and an unconscionable
flirt. "I have sat in the conservatory with him several times. It may
be that Mrs. Abbott stepped in before it was too late. And it may be
that she did not."
"Oh, call no woman virtuous until she is dead," said Mrs. McLane
lightly. "But I won't hear another insinuation against Madeleine
Mrs. Abbott kissed the singed brand it had been her mission to snatch
in the nick of time and detained her in conversation with unusual
empressement. Madeleine responded with an excessive politeness, and
Mrs. Abbott learned for the first time that sweet brown eyes could
glitter as coldly as her own protuberant orbs when pronouncing judgment.
Madeleine remained for two hours, bored and disgusted, the more as
Masters' name was ostentatiously avoided. Even Sally Ballinger, who
kissed her warmly, told her that she looked as if she hadn't a care in
the world and that it was because she had too much sense to bother
She had never been treated with more friendly intimacy, and if she went
home with a headache it was at least a satisfaction to know that her
proud position was still scandal-proof.
She wisely modified her first program and drifted back into afternoon
society by degrees; a plan of defensive campaign highly approved by
Mrs. McLane, who detested lack of finesse. The winter was an
unsatisfactory one for Madeleine altogether. Society would not have
bored her so much perhaps if that secret enchanting background had
remained intact. But her intercourse with Masters was necessarily
sporadic. Her conscience had never troubled her for receiving his
visits, for her husband not only had expressed his approval, but had
always urged her to amuse herself with men. But she felt like an
intriguante when she discussed her engagement lists with Masters, and
she knew that he liked it as little. His visits were now a matter for
"sandwiching," to be schemed and planned for, and she dared not ask
herself whether the persistent sense of fear that haunted her was that
they both must betray self-consciousness in time, or that the more
difficult order would bore him: their earlier intimacy had coincided
with his hours of leisure. After all, he was not her lover, to delight
in intrigue; and in time, it might be, he would not think the game
worth the candle. She dreaded that revived gossip might drive him from
the hotel, and that would be the miserable beginning of an unthinkable
There were other interruptions. He paid a flying visit to Richmond to
visit the death-bed of his mother, and he took a trip to the Sandwich
Islands to recover from a severe cold on the chest. Moreover, his
former placidity had left him, for one thing and another delayed the
financing of his newspaper. One of its founders was temporarily
embarrassed for ready money, another awaited an opportune moment to
realize on some valuable stock. There was no doubt that the entire
amount would be forthcoming in time, but meanwhile he fumed, and
expressed himself freely to Madeleine. That he might have a more
poisonous source of irritation did not occur to her.
Fortunately she did not suspect that gossip was still rife. Madeleine
might have a subtle mind but she had a candid personality. It was quite
patent to sharp eyes that she was unhappy once more, although this time
her health was unaffected. And Society was quite aware that she still
saw Langdon Masters, in spite of her perfunctory appearances; for
suspicion once roused develops antennae that traverse space without
effort and return with accumulated minute stores of evidence. Masters
had been seen entering or leaving the Talbot parlor by luncheon guests
in the hotel. Old Ben Travers, who had chosen to ignore his astonishing
and humiliating experience and always treated Madeleine with
exaggerated deference, called one afternoon on her (in company with
Mrs. Ballinger) and observed cigarette ends in the ash tray. Talbot
smoked only cigars. Masters was one of the few men in San Francisco who
smoked cigarettes and there was no mistaking his imported brand. Mr.
Travers paid an immediate round of visits, and called again a fortnight
later, this time protected by Mrs. Abbott. There were several books on
the table which he happene