Chapter XXXIII

Lake Merritt, a small sheet of water near the little town of Oakland, was surrounded by handsome houses whose lawns sloped down to its rim. Most them were closed in summer, but a few of the owners, like the Harold Abbotts, lived there the year round. At all times, however, the lawns and gardens were carefully tended, for this was one of Fashion's chosen spots, and there must be no criticism from outsiders in Oakland. The statues on the lawns were rubbed down after the heavy rains and dusted as carefully in summer. There were grape-vine arbors and wild rose hedges, and the wide verandas were embowered. In summer there were many rowboats on the lake, and they lingered more often in the deep shade of the weeping willows fringing the banks. The only blot on the aristocratic landscape was a low brown restaurant kept by a Frenchman, known as "Old Blazes." It was a resort for gay parties that were quite respectable and for others that were not. Behind the public rooms was a row of cubicles patronized by men when on a quiet spree (women, too, it was whispered). There were no cabinet particuliers. Old Blazes had his own ideas of propriety; and no mind to be ousted from Lake Merritt.

Madeleine had found Sally Abbott's society far more endurable, when she paid her round of visits after Masters' departure, than that of the older women with their watchful or anxious eyes, and she had no suspicion that Sally had guessed her secret long since. If love had been her only affliction she would have been grateful for her society and amusing chatter, for they had much in common. But in the circumstances it was unthinkable. Not only was she terrified once more by the prospect of being "cured," but her shattered nerves demanded far more stimulation and tranquilizing than these small daily doses of brandy afforded.

Her will was in no way affected. She controlled even her nerves in Sally's presence, escaped from it twice a day under pretext of taking a nap, and went upstairs immediately after dinner. She had a large room at the back of the house where she could pace up and down unheard.

She pretended to be amiable and resigned, played battledoor and shuttlecock in the hall, or on the lawn when the weather permitted, sang in the evenings with Sally and Harold, and affected not to notice that she was locked in at night. She refused to drive, as she would have found sitting for any length of time unendurable, but she was glad to take long walks even in the rain--and was piloted away from the town and the railroad.

Sally wrote jubilant letters to Dr. Talbot, who thought it best to stay away. The servants were told that Mrs. Talbot was recovering from an illness and suspected nothing.

It lasted two weeks. Sally had inexorably diminished the doses after the seventh day. Madeleine's mind, tormented by her nerves, never ceased for a moment revolving plans for escape.

As they returned from a walk one afternoon they met callers at the door and it was impossible to deny them admittance. Madeleine excused herself and went up to her room wearing her coat and hat instead of handing them to Sally as usual. She put them in her wardrobe and locked the door and hid the key. At dinner it was apparent, however, that Sally had not noticed the omission of this detail in her daily espionage, for the visitors had told her much interesting gossip and she was interested in imparting it. Moreover, her mind was almost at rest regarding her captive.

Madeleine, some time since, had found that the key of another door unlocked her own, and secreted it. She had no money, but she had worn a heavy gold bracelet when her husband and Sally dressed her and they had pinned her collar with a pearl brooch. Sally followed her to her room after she had had time to undress and gave her the nightly draught, but did not linger; she had no mind that her husband should feel neglected and resent this interruption of an extended honeymoon.

Madeleine waited until the house was quiet. Then she went down the heavily carpeted stairs and let herself out by one of the long French windows. She had made her plans and walked swiftly to the restaurant. She knew "Old Blazes," for she had dined at his famous hostelry more than once with her husband or friends.

There was a party in the private restaurant. She walked directly to one of the cubicles and rang for a waiter and told him to send M'sieu to her at once.

"Old Blazes" came immediately, and if she expected him to look astonished she was agreeably disappointed. Nothing astonished him.

She held out her bracelet and brooch. "I want you to lend me some money on these," she said. "My husband will redeem them."

"Very well, madame." (He was far too discreet to recognize her.) "I will bring you the money at once."

"And I wish to buy a quart of Bourbon, which I shall take with me. You may also bring me a glass."

"Very well, madame."

He left the room and returned in a moment with a bottle of Bourbon, from which he had drawn the cork, a glass, and a bottle of Napa Soda. He also handed her two gold pieces. He had been a generous friend to many patrons and had reaped his reward.

"I should advise you to leave by the back entrance," he said. "Shall I have a hack there--in--"

"Send for it at once and I will take it when I am ready. Tell the man to drive on to the boat and to the Occidental Hotel."

"Yes, Madame. Good-night, Madame."

He closed the door. Madeleine left the restaurant three quarters of an hour later.