Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
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 pines.
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 the season.
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 enough."
"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."