Chapter XXII

The end came swiftly. The next day Ben Travers drove down to Rincona. Mrs. Abbott listened to his garnished tale with bulging eyes and her three chins quivering with excitement. She had heard no gossip worth mentioning since she left town, and privately she hated the summer and Alta.

"You should have seen her face when she came out of that church," cried Travers for the third time; he was falling into the senile habit of repeating himself. "It was fairly distorted and she looked as if she had been crying for a week. Mark my words, Masters had been making the hottest kind of love to her--he was little more composed than she. Bet you an eagle to a dime they elope within a week."

"Serve Howard Talbot right for marrying a woman twenty years younger than himself and a Northerner to boot. Do you think he suspects?"

"Not he. Now, I must be off. If I didn't call on the Hathaways and Montgomerys while I'm down here they'd never forgive me."

"Both have house parties," said Mrs. Abbott enviously. "Just like you to get it first! I'd go with you but I must write to Antoinette McLane. She'll have to believe that her paragon is headed for the rocks this time."

Mrs. McLane was having an attack of the blues when the letter arrived and did not open her mail until two days later. Then she drove at once to San Francisco. She was too wise in women to remonstrate with Madeleine, but she went directly to Dr. Talbot's office. It was the most unpleasant duty she had ever undertaken, but she knew that Talbot would not doubt his wife's fidelity, and she was determined to save Madeleine. She had considered the alternative of going to Masters, but even her strong spirit quailed before the prospect of that interview. Besides, if he were as deeply in love with Madeleine as she believed him to be, it would do no good. She had little faith in the self-abnegation of men where their passions were concerned.

Dr. Talbot was in his office and saw her at once, and they talked for an hour. His face was purple and she feared a stroke. But he heard her quietly, and told her she had proved her friendship by coming to him before it was too late. When she left him he sat for another hour, alone.