Chapter IX
 

Madeline went impassively to the dinner. His brilliancy had impressed her but she was indifferent to everything these days and her intellect was torpid; although when in society and under the influence of the lights and wine she could be almost as animated as ever. But the novelty of that society had worn thin long since; she continued to go out partly as a matter of routine, more perhaps because she had no other resource. She saw less of her husband than ever, for his practice as well as his masculine acquaintance grew with the city--and that was swarming over the hills of the north and out toward the sand dunes of the west. But she was resigned, and inappetent. She had even ceased to wish for children. The future stretched before her interminable and dull. A railroad had been built across the continent and she had asked permission recently of her husband to visit her parents: her mother was now an invalid and Mr. Chilton would not leave her.

But the doctor was more nearly angry than she had ever seen him. He couldn't live without her. He must always know she was "there." Moreover, she was run down, she was thin and pale, he must keep her under his eye. But if he was worried about her health he was still more worried at her apparent desire to leave him for months. Did she no longer love him? Her response was not emphatic and he went out and bought her a diamond bracelet. At least she was thankful that it had been bought for her and not sent to his wife by mistake, an experience that had happened the other day to Maria Groome. The town had rocked with laughter and Groome had made a hurried trip East on business. But Madeleine no longer found consolation in the reflection that things might be worse. The sensation of jealousy would have been a welcome relief from this spiritual and mental inertia.

She wore a dress of bright golden-green grosgrain silk trimmed with crepe leaves a shade deeper. The pointed bodice displayed her shoulders in a fashion still beloved of royal ladies, and her soft golden-brown hair was dressed in a high chignon with a long curl descending over the left side of her bust. A few still clung to the low chignon, others had adopted a fashion set by the Empress Eugenie and wore their hair in a mass of curls on the nape of the neck; but Madeleine received the latest advices from a sister-in-law who lived in New York; and as femininity dies hard she still felt a mild pleasure in introducing the latest cry in fashion. As she was the last to arrive she would have been less than woman if she had not felt a glow at the sensation she made. The color came back to her cheeks as the women surrounded her with ecstatic compliments and peered at the coiffure from all sides. The diamond bracelet was barely noticed.

"I adopt it tomorrow," said Mrs. McLane emphatically. "With my white hair I shall look more like an old marquise than ever."

One of the other women ran into Masters' bedroom where they had left their wraps and emerged in a few moments with a lifted chignon and a straggling curl. Amid exclamations and laughter two more followed suit, while the host and the other men waited patiently for their dinner. It was a lively party that finally sat down, and it was the gayest if the most momentous of Masters' little functions.

His eyes strayed toward Madeleine more than once, for her success had excited her and she had never looked lovelier. She was at the other end of the table and Mrs. McLane and Mrs. Ballinger sat beside him. She interested him for the first time and he adroitly drew her history from his mentor (not that he deluded that astute lady for an instant, but she dearly loved to gossip).

"She is going through one of those crises that all young wives must expect," she concluded. "If it isn't one thing it's another. She is still very young, and inclined to be romantic. She expected too much-- of a husband, mon dieu! Of course she is lonely or thinks she is. Too bad youth never can realize that it is enough to be young. And with beauty, and means, and position, and charming frocks! She will grow philosophical--when it is too late. Meanwhile a little flirtation would not hurt her and Howard Talbot does not know the meaning of the word jealousy. Why don't you take her in hand?"

"Not my line. But it seems odd that Talbot should neglect her. She looks intelligent and she is certainly beautiful."

"Oh, Howard! He is the best of men but the worst of husbands."

Her attention was claimed by the man on her right and at the same moment Madeleine's had evidently been drawn to the wall of books behind her. She turned, craned her neck, forgetting her partner.

Then, Masters saw a strange thing. Her eyes filled with tears and she continued to stare at the books in complete absorption until her attention was laughingly recalled.

"Now, that is odd," thought Masters. "Very odd."

She felt his keen gaze and laughed with a curious eagerness as she met his eyes. He guessed that for the first time he had interested her.