Chapter X

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 at them."

"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, sweetheart."

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.