Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Almost insensibly and without comment Madeleine fell into the habit of sleeping at night and going abroad with Holt in the daytime. Nor did he take her to any more dives. They went across the Bay, either to Oakland or Sausalito, and took long walks, dining at some inn where they were sure to meet no one they knew. She had asked him to buy her books, as she did not care to venture either into the bookstores or the Mercantile Library. She now had a part of her new income to spend as she chose, and moved into more comfortable rooms, although far from the fashionable quarter. She was restless and often very nervous but Holt knew that she drank no longer. There had been another revolution of the wheel: she would have a large income, freedom impended, the future was hers to dispose of at will. Her health was excellent; she had regained her old proud bearing.
"What are you going to do with it?" he asked her abruptly one evening. They were sitting in the arbor of a restaurant on the water front at Sausalito and had just finished dinner. The steep promontory rose behind them a wild forest of oak and pine, madrona and chaparral. Across the sparkling dark green water San Francisco looked a pale blue in the twilight and there was a banner of soft pink above her. Lights were appearing on the military islands, the ferry boats, and yachts. "You will be free in about a month now. Have you made any plans? You will not stay here, of course."
"Stay here! I shall leave the day the decree is granted, and I'll never see California again as long as I live."
"But where shall you go?"
"Oh--it would be interesting to live in Europe."
"Whether you have admitted it to yourself or not you have not the remotest idea of going to Europe."
"You are going to Langdon Masters. Nothing in the world could keep you away from him--or should."
"I wish women smoked. You look so placid. And I am glad you smoke cigarettes."
"Why not try one?"
"Oh, no!" She looked scandalized. "I never did that--before. The other was for a purpose, not because I liked it."
"I am used to your line of ratiocination. But you haven't answered my question."
"Did you ask one?"
"In the form of an assertion, yes."
"You know--the Church forbids marriage after divorce."
"Look here, Madeleine!" Holt brought his fist down on the table with such violence that she half started to her feet. "Do you mean to tell me you are going to let any more damn foolishness wreck your life a second time?"
"You must not speak of the Church in that way."
"Let that pass. I am not going to argue with you. You've argued it all out with yourself unless I'm much mistaken. Are you going to let Masters kill himself when you can save him? Are you going to condemn yourself to a miserably solitary, wandering, aimless life, in which you are no good to yourself, your Church, or any one on earth--and with a crime on your soul?"
I--I--haven't admitted to myself what I shall do. It has seemed to me that when I am free I shall simply go--"
"And straight to Masters. As well for a needle to try to run away from a magnet."
"Oh, I wonder! I wonder!" But she did not look distressed. Her face was transfigured as if she saw a vision. But it fell in a moment, that inner glowing lamp extinguished.
"He may no longer want me. He may have forgotten me. Or if he remembers it must only be to remind himself that I have ruined his life. He may hate me."
"That is likely! If he hated you he'd have pulled up long ago. He knows he still has it in him to make a name for himself, whether he owns a newspaper or not. If he's gone on making a fool of himself it's because his longing for you is insupportable; he can forget you in no other way."
"Can men really love like that?" The inner lamp glowed again.
"A few. Not many, perhaps. Langdon's one of them. Case of a rare whole being chopped in two by fate and both halves bleeding to death without the other. There are a few immortal love affairs in the world's history, and that's just what makes 'em immortal."
She did not answer, but sat staring at the rosy peaceful light above the fiery city that had burnt out so many lives. Then her face changed suddenly. It was set and determined, almost hard. He thought she looked like a beautiful Medusa.
"Yes," she said. "I am going to him. I suppose I have known it all along. At all events I know it now."
"And what is your plan?"
"I have had no time to make one yet."
"Will you listen to mine?"
"Do not I always listen to you with the greatest respect?" She was the charming woman again. "Mr. McLane told me that I was to follow your advice--I have an idea you have engineered this whole affair!-- But if he hadn't--well, I have every reason to be humbly grateful to you. If this terrible tangle ever unravels I shall owe it to you."
"Then listen to me now. What I said--that his actions prove that he cares for you as much as ever--is true. But--you might come upon him in a condition where he would not recognize you, or was morose from too much drink or too little; and for the moment he would hate you, either because you reminded him too forcibly of what he had been and was, or because it degraded him further to be seen by you in such a state. He could make himself excessively disagreeable sober. Drunk, panic stricken, reckless, I should think he might achieve a masterpiece in that line that would make you feel like ten cents.... This is my plan. I'll go on at once and prepare him. Get him down to his home in Virginia on one pretence or another, sober him up by degrees, and then tell him all you have been through for his sake, and that as soon as you are free you will come to him. He'll be a little more like himself by that time and can stand having you look at him.... It'll be no easy task at first; and I'll have to taper him off to prevent any blow to his heart. There may be relapses, and the whole thing to do over; but I shall use the talisman of your name as soon as he is in a condition to understand, and shall succeed in the end. Once let the idea take hold of him that he can have you at last and it is only a question of time."
She made no reply for a moment. She sat with her eyes on his as he spoke. At first they had opened widely, melted and flashed. But they narrowed slowly. As he finished she turned her profile toward him and he had never seen a cameo look harder.
"That would be an easy way out," she said. "But it does not appeal to me. Nothing easy appeals to me these days. I'll fight my own battles and overcome my own obstacles. Besides, he's mine. He shall owe nothing to any one but to me. I'll find him and cure him myself."
"But you'll have a hard time finding him. He disappears for weeks at a time. Even Tom Lacey might not be able to help you."
"I'll find him."
"You may have to haunt the most abominable places."
"You seem to forget that I have haunted a good many abominable places. And if they are good enough for him they are good enough for me."
"New York has the worst set of roughs in the world. Our hoodlums are lambs beside them."
"I have no fear of anything but not finding him in time."
"But that is not the worst. You should not see him in that state. You might find him literally in the gutter. He might be a sight you never could forget. No matter what you made of him you never could obliterate such a hideous memory. And he might say things to you that your outraged pride would never forgive."
"I can forget anything I choose. Nor could anything he said, nor anything he may have become, horrify me. Don't you think I have pictured all that? I think of him every moment and I am not a coward. I have imagined things that may be worse than the reality."
"Hardly. But there is another danger. You might kidnap him and get him sobered up, only to lose him again. He might be so overcome with shame that he would cut loose and hide where you would never find him. Remember, his pride was as great as yours."
"I'd track him to the ends of the earth. He's mine and I'll have him."
Holt stared at her for a moment in perplexity, then laughed. "You are a liberal education, Madeleine. Just as I think I really know you at last you break out in a new place. Masters will have an interesting life. You must be a sort of continued-in-our-next story for any one who has the right to love and live with you. But for any one else who has loved you it must be death and damnation."
She stole a glance at him, wondering if he loved her. If he did he had never made a sign, and at the moment he seemed to be appraising her with his sharp cool blue eyes.
"I was thinking of the doctor," he said calmly. "Although, of course, there must have been a good many in a more or less idiotic state over the reigning toast."
"The reigning toast!... Well, I'll never be that again. But it won't matter if--when--You are to promise me you will not write to him!"
"Oh, yes, I promise." Holt had been rapidly formulating his own plans. "But you'll let me give you a letter to Lacey? It's a wild goose chase but a little advice might help."
"I should have asked you for a line to Mr. Lacey. I don't wish to waste time if I can help it."
He rose. "Well, there's a pile of blank paper and a soft pencil waiting for me. I've an editorial to write on the low-lived politics of San Francisco, and another on the increasing number of murders in our fair city. Look at the fog sailing in through the Golden Gate, pushing itself along like the prow of a ship. You'll never see anything as beautiful as California again. But I suppose that worries you a lot."
She smiled, a little mysterious smile, but she did not reply, and they walked down to the ferry slip in silence.