Chapter XX
 

The rest of the season, however, passed without notable incident. But it was known that Madeleine saw Masters constantly, and she was so narrowly observed during his second absence that the nervousness it induced made her forced gaiety almost hysterical. During the late spring her spirits grew more even and her migraines less frequent; sustained as she was by the prospect of her old uninterrupted relations with Masters.

But more than Mrs. Abbott divined the cause of her ill-suppressed expectancy and never had she received so many invitations to the country. Mrs. McLane spent her summers at Congress Springs, but even she pressed Madeleine to visit her. Sally Abbott lived across the Bay on Lake Merritt and begged for three days a week at least; while as for Mrs. Abbott and Mr. and Mrs. Tom, who lived with her, they would harken to no excuses.

Madeleine was almost nonplussed, but if her firm and graceful refusals to leave the doctor had led to open war she would have accepted the consequences. She was determined that this summer she had lived for throughout seven long tormented months should be as unbroken and happy as the other fates would permit. She had a full presentiment that it would be the last.

Masters glided immediately into the old habit and saw her oftener when he could. Of course no phase ever quite repeats itself. The blithe unconsciousness of that first immortal summer was gone for ever; each was playing a part and dreading lest the other suspect it. Moreover, Masters was irritated almost beyond endurance at the constant postponement of the financial equipment for his newspaper. The man who had promised the largest contribution had died suddenly, and although his heir was more than eager to be associated with so illustrious an enterprise he must await the settlement of the estate.

"I am beginning to believe I never shall have that newspaper," Masters said gloomily to Madeleine. "It looks like Fate. When the subject was first broached there was every prospect that I should get the money at once. It has an ugly look. Any man who has been through a war is something of a fatalist."

They were less circumspect than of old and were walking out the old Mission Road. In such moods it was impossible for him to idle before a fire and read aloud. Madeleine had told her husband she would like to join Masters in his walks occasionally, and he had replied heartily: "Do you good. He'll lead you some pretty tramps! I can't keep up with him. You don't walk half enough. Neither do these other women, although my income would be cut in half if they did."

It was a cool bracing day without dust or wind and Madeleine had started out in high spirits, induced in part by a new and vastly becoming walking suit of forest green poplin and a hat of the same shade rolled up on one side and trimmed with a drooping grey feather. Her gloves and shoes were of grey suede, there was soft lace about her white throat and a coquettish little veil that covered only her eyes.

She always knew what to say when Masters was in one of his black moods, and today she reminded him of the various biographies of great men they had read together. Had not all of them suffered every disappointment and discouragement in the beginning of their careers? Overcome innumerable obstacles? Many had been called upon to endure grinding poverty as well until they forced recognition from the world, and he at least was spared that. If Life took with one hand while she gave with the other, the reverse was equally true; and also no doubt it was a part of her beneficence that she not only strengthened the character by preliminary hardships, but amiably planned them that success might be all the sweeter when it came.

Masters laughed. "Incontrovertible. Mind you practice your own philosophy when you need it. All reverses should be temporary if people are strong enough."

She lost her color for a moment, but answered lightly: "That is an easy philosophy for you. If one thing failed you would simply move on to another. Men like you never really fail, for your rare abilities give you the strength and resource of ten men."

"I wonder! The roots of strength sometimes lie in slimy and corrupting waters that spread their miasma upward when Life frowns too long and too darkly. Sometimes misfortunes pile up so remorselessly, this miasma whispers that a man's chief strength consists in going straight to the devil and be done with it all. A resounding slap on Life's face. An insolent assertion of the individual will against Society. Or perhaps it is merely a disposition to run full tilt, hoping for the coup de grace--much as I felt when I lay neglected on the battlefield for twenty-four hours and longed for some Yank to come along and blow out my brains."

"That is no comparison," she said scornfully. "When the body is whole nothing is impossible. I should feel that the Universe was reeling if I saw you go down before adversity. I could as readily imagine myself letting go, and I am only a woman."

"Oh, I should never fear for you," he said bitterly. "What with your immutable principles, your religion, and your proud position in the Society of San Francisco to sustain you, you would come through the fiery furnace unscathed."

"Yes, but the furnace! The furnace!"

She threw out her hands with a gesture of despair, her high spirits routed before a sudden blinding vision of the future. "Does any woman ever escape that?"

One of her hands brushed his and he caught it irresistibly. But he dropped it at once. There was a sound of horses' hoofs behind them. He had been vaguely aware of cantering hoof-beats in the distance for several minutes.

Two men passed, and one of them took off his hat with a low mocking sweep and bowed almost to the saddle. It was old Ben Travers.

"What on earth is he doing in town?" muttered Masters in exasperation. No one had told him of the New Year's Day episode, but he knew him for what he was.

Madeleine was fallowing the small trim figure on the large chestnut with expanded eyes, but she answered evenly enough: "He has some ailment and is remaining in town under Howard's care."

"Liver, no doubt," said Masters viciously. "Too bad his spleen doesn't burst once for all."

He continued unguardedly, "Well, if he tries to make mischief, Howard will tell him bluntly that we walk together with his permission and invite him to go to the devil."

Her own guard was up at once, although it was not any gossip carried to Howard she feared. "He has probably already forgotten us," she said coldly. "Have you finished that paper for Putnam's?"

"Three days ago, and begun another for the Edinburgh Review. That is the first time I have been invited to write for an English review."

"You see!" she cried gaily. "You are famous already. And ambitious! You were once thinking of writing for our Overland Monthly only. Bret Harte told me you had promised him three papers this year."

"I shall write them."

"Perfunctory patriotism. You'd have to write the entire magazine and bring it out weekly to get rid of all your ideas and superfluous energy."

"Well, and wouldn't the good Californians rather read any magazine but their own? Even Harte is far better known in the East than here. I doubt if I've heard one of his things mentioned but 'The Heathen Chinee.' He has been here so long they regard him as a mere native. If I am advancing my reputation in the East I am making it much faster than if I depended upon the local reputation alone. San Francisco is remarkably human."

"When I first came here--it seems a lifetime ago!--I never saw an Eastern magazine of the higher class and rarely a book. I believe you have done as much to wake them up as even the march of time. They read newspapers if they won't read their own poor little Overland. And you are popular personally and inspire a sort of uneasy emulation. You are a sort of illuminated bridge. Now tell me what your new paper is about."