Chapter XLIV

Masters did not recognize her at once. Her face lay buried deep in his mind, covered with the debris of innumerable carouses, forgotten women, and every defiance he had been able to fling in the face of the civilization he had been made to adorn. As she stood quite still looking at him he had a confused idea that she was a Madonna, and his mind wandered to churches he had attended on another planet, where pretty fashionable women had commanded his escort. Then he began to laugh again. The idea of a Madonna in a groggery of the Five Points was more amusing than the fracas just over.

"Langdon!" she said imperiously. "Don't you know me?"

Then he recognized her, but he believed she was a ghost. He had had delirium tremens twice, and this no doubt was a new form. He gave a shaking cry and shrank back, his hands raised with the palms outward.

"Curse you!" he screamed. "It's not there. I don't see you!"

He extended one of his trembling hands, still with his horrified eyes on the apparition, filled his mug from a bottle and drank the liquor off with a gulp. Then he flung the mug to the floor and staggered to his feet, his eyes roving to the men behind her. "What does this mean?" he stammered. "Are you here or aren't you--dead or alive?"

"We're here all right," said Holt, in his matter-of-fact voice. "And this really is she. She has come for you."

"Come for me--for me!" His roar of laughter was drunken but its note was even more ironic than when his mirth had been excited by the mean drama of the women. He fell back in his chair for he was unable to stand. "Well, go back where you came from. There's nothing here for you. Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse.... Here--what's your name?" he said brutally to his companion. "Go and get me another mug."

But the young woman, who had been gaping at the scene, suddenly recovered herself. She ran round the table and flung her arms about his neck. "He's my man!" she shrieked. "You can't have him." And she sputtered obscenities.

Madeleine reached over, tore her from Masters, dragged her across the table, whirled her about, and flung her to the floor. The neighborhood shrieked its delight. The rest of the room took no notice of them. The drunken sailors were still singing and many took up the refrain.

"No," said Madeleine. "He's mine and I'll have him."

"Now I know you are not Madeleine," cried Masters furiously, and trying to rise again. "She never was your sort, you damned whore, to fight over a man in a groggery. She was a lady--"

"She was also a woman," said Madeleine coolly. "And never more so than now. You are coming with me."

"I'll see you in hell first."

"Well, I'll go there with you if you like. But you'll come home with me first."

"Even if you were she, I've no use for you, I'd forgotten your existence. If I'd remembered you at all it was to curse you. I'll never--never--" His voice trailed off although his eyes still held their look of hard contempt.

His companion had pulled herself to her feet with the aid of an empty chair. She made a sudden dart at Madeleine, her claws extended, recognizing a far more formidable rival than the harlot she had hammered and displaced. But Madeleine had not forgotten to give her the corner of an eye. She caught the threatening arm in her strong hand, twisted it nearly from its socket, and the woman with a wild shriek of pain collapsed once more.

Masters began to laugh again, then broke off abruptly and began to shudder violently. He stared as if the nightmare of his terrible years were racing across his vision.

"Now," said Madeleine. "I've fought for you on your own field and won you. You are mine. Come."

"I'll come," he mumbled. He tried to rise but fell back. "I'm very drunk," he said apologetically. "Sorry."

He made no resistance as Holt and Lacey took him by his arms and supported him out of the groggery and out of the Five Points to a waiting hack; Madeleine and the detectives forming a body-guard in the rear.