Chapter IV

Dr. Talbot had confided to Mrs. McLane that his wife was inclined to be a bas bleu and he wanted her broken of an unfeminine love of books. Mrs. McLane, who knew that a reputation for bookishness would be fatal in a community that regarded "Lucile" as a great poem and read little but the few novels that drifted their way (or the continued stories in Godey's Lady's Book), promised him that Madeleine's intellectual aspirations should be submerged in the social gaieties of the season.

She kept her word. Dinners, receptions, luncheons, theatre parties, in honor of the bride, followed in rapid succession, and when all had entertained her, the less personal invitations followed as rapidly. Her popularity was not founded on novelty.

No girl in her first season had ever enjoyed herself more naively and she brought to every entertainment eager sparkling eyes and dancing feet that never tired. She became the "reigning toast." At parties she was surrounded by a bevy of admirers or forced to divide her dances; for it was soon patent there was no jealousy in Talbot's composition and that he took an equally naive pride in his wife's success. When alone with women she was quite as animated and interested, and, moreover, invited them to copy her gowns. Some had been made in Paris, others in New York. The local dressmakers felt the stirrings of ambition, and the shops sent for a more varied assortment of fabrics.

Madeleine Talbot at this time was very happy, or, at least, too busy to recall her earlier dreams of happiness. The whole-hearted devotion to gaiety of this stranded little community, its elegance, despite its limitations, its unbounded hospitality to all within its guarded portals, its very absence of intellectual criticism, made the formal life of her brief past appear dull and drab in the retrospect. The spirit of Puritanism seemed to have lost heart in those trackless wastes between the Atlantic and the Pacific and turned back. True, the moral code was rigid (on the surface); but far from too much enjoyment of life, of quaffing eagerly at the brimming cup, being sinful, they would have held it to be a far greater sin not to have accepted all that the genius of San Francisco so lavishly provided.

Wildness and recklessness were in the air, the night life of San Francisco was probably the maddest in the world; nor did the gambling houses close their doors by day, nor the women of Dupont Street cease from leering through their shuttered windows; a city born in delirium and nourished on crime, whose very atmosphere was electrified and whose very foundations were restless, would take a quarter of a century at least to manufacture a decent thick surface of conventionality, and its self-conscious respectable wing could no more escape its spirit than its fogs and winds. But evil excitement was tempered to irresponsible gaiety, a constant whirl of innocent pleasures. When the spirit passed the portals untempered, and drove women too highly-strung, too unhappy, or too easily bored, to the divorce courts, to drink, or to reckless adventure, they were summarily dropped. No woman, however guiltless, could divorce her husband and remain a member of that vigilant court. It was all or nothing. If a married woman were clever enough to take a lover undetected and merely furnish interesting surmise, there was no attempt to ferret out and punish her; for no society can exist without gossip.

But none centered about Madeleine Talbot. Her little coquetries were impartial and her devotion to her husband was patent to the most infatuated eye. Life was made very pleasant for her. Howard, during that first winter, accompanied her to all the dinners and parties, and she gave several entertainments in her large suite at the Occidental Hotel. Sally Ballinger was a lively companion for the mornings and was as devoted a friend as youth could demand. Mrs. Abbott petted her, and Mrs. Ballinger forgot that she had been born in Boston.

When it was discovered that she had a sweet lyric soprano, charmingly cultivated, her popularity winged another flight; San Francisco from its earliest days was musical, and she made a brilliant success as La Belle Helene in the amateur light opera company organized by Mrs. McLane. It was rarely that she spent an evening alone, and the cases of books she had brought from Boston remained in the cellars of the Hotel.