Chapter XXVI
 

One evening at the end of two long hours, when he had heroically suppressed his longing for a game of poker, he said hesitatingly, "I thought you were so fond of reading. I don't see any books about. All the women are reading a novel called 'Quits.' I'll send it up to you in the morning if you haven't read it."

For the first time since Masters' departure the blood rose in Madeleine's face, but she answered calmly:

"Thanks. I have little time for reading, as I have developed quite a passion for embroidery and I practice a good deal. This is a handkerchief-case for Mrs. McLane. Of course I must read 'Quits,' however, and also 'The Initials.' One mustn't be behind the times. If you'll step into Beach's tomorrow and order them I'll be grateful."

"Of course I will. Should--should--you like me to read to you? I'm a pretty bad reader, I guess, but I'll do my best."

"Oh--is there an earthquake?"

"No! But your nerves are in a bad state. I'll get you a glass of port wine."

He went heavily over to the cupboard, but his hand was shaking as he poured out the wine. He drank a glass himself before returning to her.

"Thanks. You take very good care of me." And she gave him the gracious smile of a grateful patient.

"I don't think you'd better go out any more at night for a while. You are far from well, you know, and you're not picking up."

"A call for you, I suppose. Too bad."

There had been a peremptory knock on the door. A coachman stood without. Would Dr. Talbot come at once? A new San Franciscan was imminent via Mrs. Alexander Groome on Ballinger Hill.

The doctor grumbled.

"And raining cats and dogs. Why couldn't she wait until tomorrow? We'll probably get stuck in the mud. Damn women and their everlasting babies."

She helped him into his overcoat and wished him a pleasant good-night. It was long since she had lifted her cheek for his old hasty kiss, and he made no protest. He had time on his side.

She did not return to her embroidery frame but stood for several moments looking at the chest near the fireplace. She had not opened it since Masters left. His library had been packed and sent after him by one of his friends, but no one had known of the books in her possession. Masters certainly had not thought of them and she was in no condition to remember them herself at the time.

She had not dared to look at them! Tonight, however, she moved slowly toward the chest. She looked like a sleep-walker. When she reached it she knelt down and opened it and gathered the books in her arms. When her husband returned two hours later she lay on the floor in a dead faint, the books scattered about her.