Chapter XXV

Madeleine came of a brave race and she was a woman of intense pride. She spent a week at Congress Springs and she took her courage in her teeth and spent another at Rincona. There was a house party and they amused themselves in the somnolent way peculiar to Alta. Bret Harte was there, a dapper little man, whose shoes were always a size too small, but popular with women as he played an excellent game of croquet and talked as delightfully as he wrote. His good humor could be counted on if no one mentioned "The Heathen Chinee." He had always admired Madeleine and did his best to divert her.

Both Mrs. McLane and Mrs. Abbott were disappointed that they were given no opportunity to condole with her; but although she gave a fair imitation of the old Madeleine Talbot, and even mentioned Masters' name with a casual indifference, no one was deceived for a moment. That her nerves were on the rack was as evident as that her watchful pride was in arms, and although it was obvious that she had foresworn the luxury of tears, her eyes had a curious habit of looking through and beyond these good ladies until they had the uncomfortable sensation that they were not there and some one else was. They wondered if Langdon Masters were dead and she saw his ghost.

The summer was almost over. After a visit to Sally Abbott on Lake Merritt, she returned to town with the rest of the fashionable world. People had never been kinder to her; and if their persistent attentions were strongly diluted with curiosity, who shall blame them? It was not every day they had a blighted heroine of romance, who, moreover, looked as if she were going into a decline. She grew thinner every day. Her white skin was colorless and transparent. They might not have her for long, poor darling! How they pitied her! But they never wished they had let her alone. It was all for the best. And what woman ever had so devoted a husband? He went with her everywhere. He, too, looked as if he had been through the mill, poor dear, but at least he had won a close race, and he deserved and received the sympathy of his faithful friends. As for that ungrateful brute, Langdon Masters, he had not written a line to any one in San Francisco since he left. Not one had an idea what had become of him. Did he secretly correspond with Madeleine? (They would have permitted her that much.) Would he blow out his brains if she died of consumption? He was no philanderer. If he hadn't really loved her nothing would have torn him from San Francisco and his brilliant career; of course. Duelling days were over, and the doctor was not the man to shoot another down in cold blood, with no better excuse than the poor things had given him. It was all very thrilling and romantic. Even the girls talked of little else, and regarded their complacent prosperous swains with disfavor. "The Long Long Weary Day" was their favorite song. They wished that Madeleine lived in a moated grange instead of the Occidental Hotel.

Madeleine had had her own room from the beginning of her married life in San Francisco, as the doctor was frequently called out at night. When Howard had returned and told her that Masters would leave on the morrow and that she was not to see him again, she had walked quietly into her bedroom and locked the door that led to his; and she had never turned the key since.

Talbot made no protest. He had no spirit left where Madeleine was concerned, but it was his humble hope to win her back by unceasing devotion and consideration, aided by time. He not only never mentioned Masters' name, but he wooed her in blundering male fashion. Not a day passed that he did not send her flowers. He bought her trinkets and several valuable jewels, and he presented her with a victoria, drawn by a fine sorrel mare, and a coachman in livery on the box.

Madeleine treated him exactly as she treated her host at a dinner. She was as amiable as ever at the breakfast table, and when he deserted his club of an evening, she sat at her embroidery frame and told him the gossip of the day.