Chapter VIII
 

He soon tired of plunging through the sand hills between the city and Ballinger Hill either on horseback or in a hack whose driver, if the hour were late, was commonly drunk; and took a suite of rooms in the Occidental Hotel. He had brought his library with him and one side of his parlor was immediately furnished with books to the ceiling. It was some time before Society saw anything of him. He had a quick reputation to make, many articles promised to Eastern periodicals and newspapers, no mind for distractions.

But his brilliant and daring editorials, not only on the pestiferous politics of San Francisco, but upon national topics, soon attracted the attention of the men; who, moreover, were fascinated by his conversation during his occasional visits to the Union Club. Several times he was cornered, royally treated to the best the cellar afforded, and upon one occasion talked for two hours, prodded merely with a question when he showed a tendency to drop into revery. But as a matter of fact he liked to talk, knowing that he could outshine other intelligent men, and a responsive palate put him in good humor with all men and inspired him with unwonted desire to please.

Husbands spoke of him enthusiastically at home and wives determined to know him. They besieged Alexina Ballinger. Why had she not done her duty? Langdon Masters had lived in her house for weeks. Mrs. Ballinger replied that she had barely seen the man. He rarely honored them at dinner, sat up until four in the morning with her son-in-law (if she were not mistaken he and Alexander Groome were two of a feather), breakfasted at all hours, and then went directly to the city. What possible use could such a man be to Society? He had barely looked at Sally, much less the uxoriously married Maria, and might have been merely an inconsiderate boarder who had given nothing but unimpaired Virginian manners in return for so much upsetting of a household. No doubt the servants would have rebelled had he not tipped them immoderately. "Moreover," she concluded, "he is quite unlike our men, if he is a Southerner. And not handsome at all. His hair is black but he wears it too short, and he had no mustache, nor even sideboards. His face has deep lines and his eyes are like steel. He rarely smiles and I don't believe he ever laughed in his life."

Society, however, had made up its mind, and as the women had no particular desire to make that terrible journey to Alexina Ballinger's any oftener than was necessary, it was determined (in conclave) that Mrs. Hunt McLane should have the honor of capturing and introducing this difficult and desirable person.

Mr. McLane, who had met him at the Club, called on him formally and invited him to dinner. Hunt McLane was the greatest lawyer and one of the greatest gentlemen in San Francisco. Masters was too much a man of the world not to appreciate the compliment; moreover, he had now been in San Francisco for two months and his social instincts were stirring. He accepted the invitation and many others.

People dined early in those simple days and the hours he spent in the most natural and agreeable society he had ever entered did not interfere with his work. Sometimes he talked, at others merely listened with a pleasant sense of relaxation to the chatter of pretty women; with whom he was quite willing to flirt as long as there was no hint of the heavy vail. He thought it quite possible he should fall in love with and marry one of these vivacious pretty girls; when his future was assured in the city of his enthusiastic adoption.

He met Madeleine at all these gatherings, but it so happened that he never sat beside her and he had no taste for kettledrums or balls. He thought her very lovely to look at and wondered why so young and handsome a woman with a notoriously faithful husband should have so sad an expression. Possibly because it rather became her style of beauty.

He saw a good deal of Dr. Talbot at the Club however and asked them both to one of the little dinners in his rooms with which he paid his social debts. These dinners were very popular, for he was a connoisseur in wines, the dinner was sent from a French restaurant, and he was never more entertaining than at his own table. His guests were as carefully assorted as his wines, and if he did not know intuitively whose minds and tastes were most in harmony, or what lady did not happen to be speaking to another at the moment, he had always the delicate hints of Mrs. McLane to guide him. She was his social sponsor and vastly proud of him.