There was something in his eloquence that went to the heart of the dreaming girl. If any one in her world was to be trusted it was this ugly little man, who never presumed to ask even a smile for himself, and whose unswerving loyalty to Mart made her own flight a base and cruel act; and yet even as he pleaded his face faded and she fancied herself stepping from the train in Sibley, unnoticed by even the hackmen, who used to bring the humbler passengers of each train to the door of the Golden Eagle Hotel.
She walked up the sidewalk, surprised to find it changed to brick. The hotel was gone, and in its place stood a saloon marked, "Haney's Place." This hardened her heart again. "That settles it!" she said, bitterly. "He's gone back to his old business."
The road out to the ranch seemed very long and hot, but she had no money, not a cent left with which to hire a carriage, and she kept saying to herself: "If Mart knew this, he'd send Lucius and the machine. I reckon he'd be sorry to see me walking in this dust. It's a good thing I have my old brown dress on." She passed lovingly, regretfully over the splendid gowns which hung in her wardrobe. "What will become of them?" she asked. "Fan can't wear them." This called up a vision of Fan and her eldest daughter, sweeping about in her splendor, her opera-cloak only half encompassing the mother, while the girl swished over the floor in the gown she had worn at her last dinner in the East. She laughed and cried at the same time—it was painful to see them thus abused.
Then she seemed suddenly to enter the grove of twisted, hag-like cedars which stood upon the mesa back of the ranch-house. "By-and-by I will look like this," she dreamed, and laid her hand on one that was ragged and gnarled and gray with a thousand years of sun and wind, and even as she stood there, with the old crones moaning round her, Ben suddenly confronted her.
Her first impulse was for flight, so sad and bitter was his face. She began to pity him. His boyhood seemed to have slipped from him like a gay cloak, revealing the stern man beneath.
He met her gravely, self-containedly, yet with restrained passion, and his voice was sternly calm as he began: "I have come to ask you what you wish to do with Marshall Haney's inheritance? I will not be a party to your action. I helped him plan out his will, and he said he could trust you to do the right thing, and I have come to tell you that his will must be yours."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"He is dead!" he replied.
Her heart turned to ice at the sound of his words, so clear, succinct, and piercing; then the cedars began to wail and wail, and sway in eldrich grief, but she who felt most remorse could not utter a sound to prove her own despair; and in the tumult her dream ended abruptly, and she woke to hear the night wind whistling weirdly through the screen of her open window.
She lay in silence, shuddering with the subsiding terror of her vision, till she came to a full realization of the fact that it was all but a night terror and that Mart was still alive and her decision not yet irrevocably made.
She shuddered again—not in grief, but in terror—as she relived the vivid hour of self-chosen poverty which her dream had brought her. Yes, the magic of wealth had spoiled her for Sibley and the ranch. To go back there was impossible. "I will try the East," she said. "The Mosses will help me." And yet to return to Chicago—after having played the grand lady—would be bitterly hard. Suppose her friends should meet her with cold eyes and hesitating words? Suppose they, too, had loved her money and not herself? Suppose even Joe, who seemed as true as Williams, should prove to be a selfish sycophant. Ah yes, it would be a different city with the magic of Haney's money no longer hers to command.
In this hour of deepest misery and despair the sheen of his gold returned like sunlight after a storm; and yet, even as she permitted herself to imagine how sweetly the new day would dawn with her determination to remain the mistress of this great house, the old fear, the new disgust, returned to plague her. Her love for Ben Fordyce came also—and the knowledge that Alice was dying of a broken heart because of Ben's growing indifference—all these perplexities made the coming of sunlight a mockery.
She rose to the new day quite as undecided as before and more deeply saddened. One thing was plain— Ben should come no more to visit her—for Alice's sake he must keep the impersonal attitude of the legal adviser. In that way alone could even the semblance of peace be won.