Chapter XXXVI
 

There were doctors' offices on the first floor and Madeleine climbed wearily the two flights to her room. Her muscles felt as tired as her spirit, but she had an odd fancy that her skeleton was of fine flexible steel and not only indestructible but tenacious and dominant. It defied the worst she could do to organs and soul.

She unlocked her door and lit the gas jet. It was a decent room, large, with the bed in an alcove, and little uglier than those grim double parlors of her past that she had graced so often. But her own rooms at the hotel had been beautiful and luxurious. They had sheltered and pampered her body for five years, and her father's house was a stately mansion, refurnished, with the exception of old colonial pieces, after the grand tour in Europe. This room, although clean and sufficiently equipped, was sordid and commonplace, and the bed was as hard as the horsehair furniture. Her body as well as her aesthetic sense had rebelled more than once.

But she would never return; although she guessed that the complete dissociation from her old life and its tragic reminders had more than a little to do with the loathing for drink that had gradually possessed her. She had not admitted it to Holt, but it required a supreme effort of will to take a glass of hot whiskey and water at night, the taste disguised as much as possible by lime juice, and another in the daytime. She had no desire to reform! And she longed passionately to drown not only her heart but her pride. Now that her system was refusing its demoralizing drug she felt that horror of her descent only possible to a woman who has inherited and practised all the refinements of civilization. She longed to return to those first months of degraded oblivion, and could not!

The champagne or brandy she was forced to order in the dives she haunted, in order to secure a table, merely gave her tone for the moment.

Her nerves were less affected than her spirits. She had hours of such black depression that only the faint glimmering star of religion kept her from suicide. She had longer seasons for thought on Masters and his ruin--and of the hours they had spent together. One night she went out to Dolores and sat in the dark little church until dawn. She had nothing of the saint in her and felt no impulse to emulate Concha Arguello, who had become the first nun in California; moreover, Razanov had died an honorable death through no fault of his or his Concha's. She and Langdon Masters were lost souls and must expiate their sins in the eyes of the world that heaped on their heads its pitiless scorn.

Madeleine threw off her hat and dropped into the armchair, oblivious of its bumps. She began to cry quietly with none of her former hysteria. Holt was nearer to Masters than any one she knew, and she was grateful that he had not seen her in her hours of supreme degradation. If he ever saw Masters again he would tell him of her downfall, of course--and the reason for it; but at least he could paint no horrible concrete picture. For the first time she felt thankful that she had not sunk lower; been compelled, indeed, against her will, to retrace her steps. She even regretted the hideous episode of the ferry boat, although she had welcomed the exposure at the time. Her pride was lifting its battered head, and although she felt no remorse, and was without hope, and her unclouded consciousness foreshadowed long years of spiritual torment and longing with not a diversion to lighten the gloom, she possessed herself more nearly that night than since Holt had given her what she had believed to be her death blow.

If she could only die. But death was no friend of hers.