Chapter XXXVIII
 

A month later there was a tap on Madeleine's door. She rose earlier these days and opened it at once, assuming that it was a message from Holt. But Mr. McLane stood there.

"How are you, Madeleine? May I come in?" He shook her half-extended hand as if he were paying her an afternoon call at the Occidental Hotel, and sat down on the horsehair sofa with a genial smile; placing his high silk hat and gold-headed cane beside him.

"Glad to see you looking so well. I've wanted to call for a long time, but as you dropped us all like so many hot potatoes, I hesitated, and was delighted today when Howard gave me an excuse."

"Howard?"

"Yes, he wants you to go back to him."

"That I'll never do."

"Don't be hasty. He is willing to forget everything--he asked me to make you understand that he would never mention the subject. He will also put your share of your father's estate unreservedly in your hands as soon as the usual legal delays are over. You knew that your father was dead, did you not? And your mother also?"

"Oh yes, I knew. It didn't seem to make any difference. I knew I never should see them again anyhow."

"Howard was appointed trustee of your inheritance, but as I said, he does not mean to take advantage of the fact. I am informed, by the way, that your brother never told your parents that you had left Howard. He knew nothing beyond the fact, of course."

"Well, I am glad of that."

She had no intention of shedding any tears before Mr. McLane. Let him think her callous if he must.

"About Howard?"

"I'll never go back to him. I never want to see him again."

"Not if he would take you to Europe to live? There is an opening for an American doctor in Paris."

"I never want to see him again. I know he is a good man but I hate him. And if I did go back it would be worse. You may tell him that."

"Is your decision irrevocable?"

"Yes, it is."

"Then I must tell you that if there is no prospect of your return he will divorce you."

"Divorced--I divorced?" Her eyes expanded with horrified astonishment. But only for a moment. She threw back her head and laughed. "That was funny, wasn't it? Well, let him do as he thinks best. And he may be happy once more if I am out of his life altogether. He won't have much trouble getting a divorce!"

"He will obtain it on the ground of desertion."

"Oh! Well, he was always a very good man. Poor Howard! I hope he'll marry again and be happy."

"Better think it over. I--by the way--I'm not sure the women wouldn't come round in time; particularly if you lived abroad for a few years."

She curled her lip. "And I should have my precious position in Society again! How much do you suppose that means to me? Have the fatted calf killed and coals of fire poured on my humbled head! Do you think I have no pride?"

"You appear to have regained it. I wish you could regain the rest and be the radiant creature you were when you came to us. God! What a lovely stunning creature you were! It hurts me like the devil, I can tell you. And it's hurt the women too. They were fond of you. Do you know that Sally is dead?"

"Yes. She had everything to live for and she died. Life seems to amuse herself with us."

"She's a damned old hag." He rose and took up his hat and cane. "Well, I'll wait a week, and then if you don't relent the proceedings will begin. I shan't get the divorce. Not my line. But he asked me to talk to you and I was glad to come. Good-by."

She smiled as she shook hands with him. As he opened the door he turned to her again.

"That young Holt is a good fellow and has a head on his shoulders. Better be guided by him if he offers you any advice."