Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
The doctor was still very busy but he returned to the hotel four times a day and gave her small doses of whatever liquor she demanded. In a short time he diluted them with Napa Soda water. She was always pacing the room when he entered and looked at him like a wild animal at bay. But she never mentioned Masters' name, even when her nerves whipped her suddenly to hysterics; and although he sometimes thought he should go mad with the horror of it all, he had faith in his method, and in her own pride, as soon as the first torments wore down. She refused to walk out of doors or to wear anything but a dressing gown; she took her slender meals in her room.
But Madeleine's sufferings were more mental than physical, although she was willing the doctor should form the natural conclusion. She was possessed by the fear that a cure would be forced upon her; she was indifferent even to the taste of liquor, and had merely preferred it formerly to bitter or nauseous tonics; in Society it had been a necessary stimulant, when her strength began to fail, nothing more. After her grim decision she had forced large quantities down her throat by sheer strength of will. But she had found the result all that she had expected, she had alternated between exhilaration and oblivion, and was sure that it was killing her by inches. Now, she could indulge in neither wild imaginings nor forget. And if he cured her!--but her will when she chose to exert it was as strong as his, and her resource seldom failed her.
One day in her eternal pacing she paused and stared at the keyhole of the cupboard, then took a hairpin from her head and tried to pick the lock. It was large and complicated and she could do nothing with it. She glanced at the clock. The doctor would not return for an hour. She dressed hastily and went out and bought a lump of soft wax. She took an impress of the keyhole and waited with what patience she could summon until her husband had come and gone. Then she went out again. The next day she had the key and that night she needed no valerian.
Doctor Talbot paced the parlor himself until morning. But he did not despair. He had had not dissimilar experiences before. He removed his supplies to the cellar of the hotel and carried a flask in his pocket from which he measured her daily drams.
The same chambermaid had been on her floor for years, and was devoted to her. She sent her out for gin on one pretext or another, although the woman was not deceived for a moment; she had "seen how it was" long since. But she was middle-aged, Irish, and sympathetic. If the poor lady had sorrows let her drown them.
Madeleine was more wary this time. She told her husband she was determined to take her potions only at noon and at night; in the daytime she restrained herself after four o'clock, although she took enough to keep up her spirits at the dinner-table to which she had thought it best to return.
The doctor, thankful, no longer neglected his practice, and left immediately after dinner for the Club as she went to her room at once and locked the door. There was no doubt of her hostility, but that, too, was not unnatural, and he was content to wait.
Society returned to town, but she flatly refused to enter it. Nor would she receive any one who called. The doctor remonstrated in vain. He trusted her perfectly and a glass of champagne at dinner would not hurt her. If she expected to become quite herself again she must have diversions. She was leading an unnatural life.
She deigned no answer.
He warned her that tongues would wag. He had met several of the women during the summer and told them her lungs were healed.... No doubt he had been over-anxious, mistaken--in the beginning. He wished he had given her a tonic of iron arsenic and strychnine, alternated with cod-liver oil. But it was too late for regrets, and at least she was well on the road to recovery; if she snubbed people now they would take their revenge when she would be eager for the pleasures of Society again.
Madeleine laughed aloud.
"But, my dear, this is only a passing phase. Of course your system is depressed but that will wear off, and what you need now, even more than brandy twice a day, is a mental tonic. By the way, don't you think you might leave it off now?"
"No, I do not. If my system is depressed I'd go to pieces altogether without it."
"I'll give you a regular tonic--"
"I'll not take it. You are not disposed to use force, I imagine."
"No, I cannot do that. But you'll accept these invitations--some of them?" He indicated a pile of square envelopes on the table. He had opened them but she had not given them a passing glance.
"Society would have the effect of arresting my 'cure.' I hate it. If you force me to go out I'll drink too much and disgrace you."
"But what shall I tell them?" he asked in despair. "I see some of them every day and they'll quiz my head off. They can't suspect the truth, of course, but--but--" he paused and his ruddy face turned a deep brick red. He had never mentioned Masters' name to her since he announced his impending departure, but he was desperate. "They'll think you're pining, that's what! That you won't go out because you take no interest in any one but Langdon Masters."
She was standing by the window with her back to him, looking down into the street. She turned and met his eyes squarely.
"That would be quite true," she said.
"You do not mean that!"
"I have never forgotten him for a moment and I never shall as long as I live." She averted her eyes from his pallid face but went on remorselessly. "If you had been merciful you would have let me die when I was so ill. But you showed me another way, and now you would take even that from me."
"Do--do you mean to say that you tried to drink yourself to death?"
"Yes, I mean that. And if you really cared for me you would let me do it now."
"That I'll never do," he cried violently. "I'll cure you and you'll get over this damned nonsense in time."
"I never shall get over it. Don't delude yourself for an instant."
He stared at her with a sickening sense of impotence--and despair. He thought she had never looked more beautiful. She wore a graceful wrapper of pale blue camel's hair and her long hair in two pendent braids. She was very white and she looked as cold and remote as the moon.
"Madeleine! Madeleine! You have changed so completely! I cannot believe that you'll never be the same Madeleine again. Why--you--you look as if you were not there at all!"
"Only my shell is here. The real me is with him."
"Curse the man! Curse him! Curse him! I wish I'd blown out his brains!" He threw his arms about wildly and she wondered if he would strike her. But he threw himself into a chair and burst into heavy sobbing. Madeleine ran out of the room.