One night as she was passing his chair he reached for her and caught her and drew her down upon his knee. "Sit ye down a wink. Ye're always on the move like a flibberty-bidget."
She struggled free of his embrace, her face clouded with alarm and anger. "Don't be a fool," she said, harshly.
He released her, saying, humbly: "Don't be angry, darlin', 'tis foolish of me, an ould crippled wolf, to be thinking of matin' with a fawn like y'rself. I don't blame ye. Go your ways."
She went to her room, with his voice—so humbly penitent and resigned—lingering in her ears, trembling with the weight of the burden which his amorous mood had laid upon her.
She resented his action the more because life at the moment was so full of joy. Each morning was filled with pleasant duties, and each afternoon they drove to the office to discuss the mines with Ben, and in the evening he called to sit for an hour or two on the porch, smoking, talking, till Mart grew sleepy and yawned. These meetings were deliciously, calmly delightful, for Mrs. Gilman or Miss Franklin was always present, and, though the talk was general, Ben talked for her ears at times, but always impersonally, and she honored him for his delicacy, his reserve, his respect for her position as a married woman, recognizing the care with which he avoided everything which might embarrass her.
And now, by force of Mart's humble suing, her half-forgotten scruples were revived. Her uneasiness began again. A decision was finally and definitely thrust upon her. Instantly she was beset by all her doubts and desires, and the sky darkened with clouds of trouble.
To make Mart happy was still her wish, but the way was not so easy of choice, nor so simple to follow as it had once seemed. The briers were thick before hei feet. There was so much of personal gratification, so much of selfish pleasure, in remaining his companion, warmed and defended by all the comfort and dignity which his wealth had brought to her, that it seemed a kind of treachery to halt with her duty half done. To be his spouse, to become the mother of his children, this alone would entitle her to his bounty. "I can't do it!" she cried out—"I can't, I can't!" And yet not to do his will was to remain a pensioner and to be under indictment as an adventuress.
She had read somewhere these words from a great philosopher: "The woman who bears a child to any man should instantly be lawfully seized of one-half his goods, for by that sublime act she takes her life in her hand as truly as the soldier who charges upon an invading host. The anguish of maternity should sanctify every woman."
On the other side of her hedge lay enticing freedom. It seemed at times as though to be again in the little office of the Golden Eagle Hotel would be a more perfect happiness than this she now enjoyed—but that, too, was illusory. How could she repay the money she had used? The moment she left Marshall Haney she would not only be poor, she would be profoundly in his debt. Where could she find the money to repay him and to make her schooling possible ?
Perplexity was in her darkened eyes. Happiness and sorrow, doubt and delight grew along each path—thickly interwoven—and decision became each day more difficult. It was hateful to lie under the charge of having married merely for a gambler's money, and yet to plunge her mother and herself back into poverty would seem to others the act of one insane. As she pondered the problem of her life she lost all of her girlish lightness of heart and lay in her luxurious bed a brooding, troubled woman.
She could have gone on indefinitely with the half-filial, half - fraternal relationship into which she and Mart had fallen, but the thought of that other most intimate, most elemental union which his touch had made more definite than ever before produced in her a shudder of repulsion, of positive loathing. She could no longer endure the clasp of his hand, and in spite of herself she was forced, by contrasting experience, to acknowledge the allurement which lay in Ben Fordyce's handsome face and strong and graceful body.
"I must go away—for a while at least. I'll go back to the ranch and think it over."
And yet even the ranch was partly Haney's! How could she escape from her indebtedness to him? To what could she turn to make a living? To leave this big house and her horses, her garden, her dresses and jewels, required heroic resolution, but what of the long days of toil and dulness to which she must return ?
Worn with the ceaseless alternations of these thoughts, she fell into a dream that was half a waking vision. She thought she had just packed a bag with the gown she wore the night she came to Haney's rescue, when he came shuffling into her room and said: "Where are you goin', darlin'?"
She replied: "To the ranch—to think things over."
The tears came to his eyes, and he said: "'Tis the sun out of me sky when ye go, Bertie. Do not stay long."
She promised to be back soon, but rode away with settled intent never to return.
No one knew her on the train, for she had drawn her veil close and sat very still. It seemed that she went near the mine in some strange way, and at the switch Williams got on the train to stop her and persuade her to return. He was terribly agitated. "Didn't you know Mart is sick?" he said, in a tone of reproach. It seemed as if a broad river of years flowed between herself and the girl who used to see this queer little man enter her hotel door—but he was unchanged. "You can't do this thing!" he went on, his lips trembling with emotion.
"What thing?" she asked.
"Fordyce tells me you're going to throw poor old Mart overboard."
"That's my notion—I can't be his wife, and so I'm getting out," she answered.
"But, girl, you can't do that!" and he swore in his excitement. "Mart needs you—we all need you. It 'll kill him."
"I can't help it!" she answered, with infinite weariness in throat and brain. "I pass it up, and go back to my brother."
"I don't see why."
"Because I've no right to Mart's money."
"You're crazy to think of such a thing. You a queen! Who's goin' to catch the money when you drop it?" he asked, and helplessly added: "I don't believe you. You're kiddin', you're tryin' us out."
"I'm doing nothing to earn this luxury."
" Doing nothing! My God, you've made Mart Haney over new. You've converted him—as they say, you've redeemed him. Let me tell you something, little sister, Mart worships you. It does him good just to see you. You don't expect the moon to fry bacon, do you? Stars don't run pumps! Mart is satisfied. Every time you speak to him or pass by him he gets happy all the way through—I know, for I feel just the same."