Chapter XXXIV
 

Colonel Belmont, Alexander Groome, Amos Lawton, Ogden Bascom and several other worthy citizens, were returning from a pleasant supper at Blazes'. They sat for a time in the saloon of the ferry boat El Capitan with the birds of gorgeous plumage they had royally entertained and then went outside to take the air; the ladies preferring to nap.

"Hello! What's that?" exclaimed Groome. "Something's up. Let's investigate."

At the end of the rear deck was a group of men and one or two women. They were crowding one another and those on the edge stood on tiptoe. Belmont was very tall and he could see over their heads without difficulty.

"It's a woman," he announced to his friends. "Drunk--or in a dead faint--"

A man laughed coarsely. "Drunk as they make 'em. No faint about that --Hi!--Quit yer shovin'--"

Belmont scattered the crowd as if they had been children and picked up the woman in his arms.

"My God!" he cried to his staring companions, and as he faced them he looked about to faint himself. "Do you see who it is? Where can we hide her?"

"Whe-e-ew!" whistled Groome, and for the moment was thankful for his Maria. "What the--"

"I've got my hack on the deck below," said one of the gaping crowd. "She came in it. Better take her right down, sir. I never seen her before but I seen she was a lady and tried to prevent her--"

"Lead the way.... I'll take her home," he said to the others. "And let's keep this dark if we can."

When the hack reached the Occidental Hotel he gave the driver a twenty-dollar gold piece and the man readily promised to "keep his mouth shut." He told the night clerk that Mrs. Talbot had sprained her ankle and fainted, and demanded a pass key if the doctor were out. A bell boy opened the parlor door of the Talbot suite and Colonel Belmont took off Madeleine's hat, placed her on the bed, and then went in search of the doctor.

When Madeleine opened her eyes her husband was sitting beside her. He poured some aromatic spirits of ammonia into a glass of water and she drank it indifferently.

"How did I get here?" she asked.

He told her in the bitterest words he had ever used.

"You are utterly disgraced. Some of those men may hold their tongues but others will not. By this time it is probably all over the Union Club. You are an outcast from this time forth."

"That means nothing to me. And I warned you."

"It is nothing to you that you have disgraced me also, I suppose?"

"No. You made an outcast of Langdon Masters. You wrecked his life and will be the cause of his early death. Meanwhile he is in the gutter. I am glad that I am publicly beside him.... Still, I would have spared you if I could. You are a good man according to your lights. If you had heeded my warning and made no foolish attempts to cure me, no one would have been the wiser."

"Several of the women knew it. And if you had taken advantage of the opportunity given you by Sally I think they would have guarded your secret. You have publicly disgraced them as well as yourself and your husband."

"Well, what shall you do? Throw me into the street? I wish that you would."

"No, I shall try to cure you again."

"And have a wife that your friends will cut dead? You'd be far better off if I were dead."

"Perhaps. But I shall do my duty. And if I can cure you I'll sell my practice and go elsewhere. To South America, perhaps."

"Scandal travels. You would never get away from it. Better stay here with your friends, who will not visit my sins on your head. They will never desert you. And you cannot cure me. Did you ever know any one to be cured against his will?"

"I shall lock you in these rooms and you can't drink what you haven't got."

"I've circumvented you before and I shall again."

"Then," he cried violently, "I'll put you in the Home for Inebriates!"

She laughed mockingly. "You'll never do anything of the sort. And I shouldn't care if you did. I should escape."

"Have you no pride left?"

"It is as dead as everything else but this miserable shell. As dead as all that was great in Langdon Masters. Won't you let me die in my own way?"

"I will not."

She sighed and moved her head restlessly on the pillow. "You mean to do what is right, I suppose. But you are cruel, cruel. You condemn me to live in torment."

"I shall give you more for a while than I did before. I was too abrupt. I wouldn't face the whole truth, I suppose."

"I'll kill myself."

"I have no fear of that. You are as superstitious as all religious women--although much good your religion seems to do you. And you have the same twisted logic as all women, clever as you are. You would drink yourself to death if I would let you, but you'd never commit the overt act. If you are relying on your jewels to bribe the servants with, you will not find them. They are in the safe at the Club. And I shall discontinue your allowance."

"Very well. Please go. I should like to take my bath."

He was obliged to attend an important consultation an hour later, but he did not lock the doors as he had threatened. He wanted as little scandal in the hotel as possible, and he believed her to be helpless without money. The barkeeper was an old friend of his, and when he instructed him to honor no orders from his suite he knew, that the man's promise could be relied on. The chambermaid was dismissed.

As soon as she was alone Madeleine wrote to her father and asked him for a thousand dollars. It was the first time she had asked him for money since her marriage; and he sent it to her with a long kindly letter, warning her against extravagance. She had given no reason for her request, but he inferred that she had been running up bills and was afraid to tell her husband. Was she ill, that she wrote so seldom? He understood that she had quite recovered. But she must remember that he and her mother were old people.

Several days after her return she had sold four new gowns, recently arrived from New York and unworn, to Sibyl Forbes.