Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
It was morning before he could revive her, and two days before she could leave her bed. Then she developed the hacking cough he dreaded. He took her to the Sandwich Islands and kept her there for a month. The even climate and the sea voyage seemed to relieve her, but when they returned to San Francisco she began to cough again.
Do women go into a decline these days from corroding love and hope in ruins? If so, one never hears of it and the disease is unfashionable in modern fiction. But in that era woman was woman and little besides. If a woman of the fashionable world she had Society besides her family and housekeeping. She rarely travelled, certainly not from California, and if one of her band fell upon evil days and was forced to teach school, knit baby sacques, or keep a boarding-house, she was pitied but by no means emulated. Madeleine had neither house nor children, and more money than she could spend. She had nothing to ask of life but happiness and that was for ever denied her. Masters had never been out of her mind for a moment during her waking hours, and she had slept little. She ate still less, and kept herself up in Society with punch in the afternoon and champagne at night. Only in the solitude of her room did she give way briefly to excoriated nerves; but the source of her once ready tears seemed dry. There are more scientific terms for her condition these days, but she was poisoned by love and despair. Her collapse was only a matter of time.
Dr. Talbot knew nothing about psychology but he knew a good deal about consumption. He had also arrested it in its earlier stages more than once. He plied Madeleine with the good old remedies: eggnog, a raw egg in a glass of sherry, port wine, mellow Bourbon whiskey and cream. She had no desire to recover and he stood over her while she drank his potions lest she pour them down the washstand; and some measure of her strength returned. She fainted no more and her cough disappeared. The stimulants gave her color and her figure began to fill out again. But her thoughts, save when muddled by her tonics, never wandered from Masters for a moment.
The longing to hear from him grew uncontrollable with her returning vitality. She had hoped that he would break his promise and write to her once at least. He knew her too well not to measure the extent of her sufferings, and common humanity would have justified him. But his ship might have sunk with all on board for any sign he gave. Others had ceased to grumble at his silence; his name was rarely mentioned.
If she had known his address she would have written to him and demanded one letter. She had given no promise. Her husband had commanded and she had obeyed. She had always obeyed him, as she had vowed at the altar. But she had her share of feminine guile, and if she had known where to address Masters she would have quieted her conscience with the assurance that a letter from him was a necessary part of her cure. She felt that the mere sight of his handwriting on an envelope addressed to herself would transport her back to that hour in Dolores, and if she could correspond with him life would no longer be unendurable. But although he had casually alluded to his club in New York she could not recall the name, if he had mentioned it.
She went to the Mercantile Library one day and looked over files of magazines and reviews. His name appeared in none of them. It was useless to look over newspaper files, as editorials were not signed. But he must be writing for one of them. He had his immediate living to make.
What should she do?
As she groped her way down the dark staircase of the library she remembered the newspaper friend, Ralph Holt, who had packed his books --so the chambermaid had informed her casually--and whom she had met once when walking with Masters. He, if any one, would know Masters' address. But how meet him? He did not go in Society, and she had never seen him since. She could think of no excuse to ask him to call. Nor was it possible--to her, at least--to write a note and ask him for information outright.
But by this time she was desperate. See Holt she would, and after a few moments' hard thinking her feminine ingenuity flashed a beacon. Holt was one of the sub-editors of his newspaper and although he had been about to resign and join Masters, no doubt he was on the staff still. Madeleine remembered that Masters had often spoken of a French restaurant in the neighborhood of the Alta offices, patronized by newspaper men. The cooking was excellent. He often lunched there himself.
She glanced at her watch. It was one o'clock. She walked quickly toward the restaurant.