HANEY visibly brightened as the days went by, and took long rides in his auto, sometimes with Bertha, sometimes alone with Lucius, and now and then with some old acquaintance, who, having seen his name in the paper, ventured to call. They were not very savory characters, to tell the truth, and he did not always introduce them to Bertha, but as his health improved he called upon a few of the more reputable of them, billiard-table agents, and the like of that, and to these proudly exhibited his wife.
Bertha had hitherto accepted this with boyish tolerance, but now it irritated her. Some of these visitors presumed on her husband's past and treated her with a certain freedom of tone and looseness of tongue which made plain even to her unsuspecting nature that they put no high value on her virtue—in fact, one fellow went so far as to facetiously ask, "Where did Mart find you? Are there any more out there?" And she felt the insult, though she did not know how to resent it.
Haney, so astute in many things, saw nothing out of the way in this off-hand treatment of his wife. He would have killed the man who dared to touch her, and yet he stood smilingly by while some chance acquaintance treated her as if she had been picked out of a Denver gutter. This threw Bertha upon her own defence, and at last she made even impudence humble itself. She carried herself like a young warrior, sure of her power and quick of defence.
She refused to invite her husband's friends to lunch, and the first real argument she had thus far held with him came about in this way. She said, "Yes, you can ask Mr. Black or Mr. Brown to dinner, but I won't set at the same table with them."
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because they're not the kind of men I want to eat with," she bluntly replied. "They're just a little too coarse for me."
"They're good business men and have fine homes—"
"Do they invite you to their homes?"
"They do not," he admitted, "but they may—after our dinner."
"Lucius says it's their business to lead out—and he knows. I don't mind your lunching these dubs every day if you want to, but I keep clear of 'em. I tell you those!"
And so it fell out that while she was going about with the Mosses and their kind, Mart was explaining to Black and Brown that his wife "was a little shy." "You see she grew up in the hills like a doe antelope, and it's hard for her to get wonted to the noise of a great city," he laboriously set forth, but at heart he did not blame her. He was coming to find them a little "coarse" himself.
Humiston was deeply enthralled by Bertha's odd speech, her beauty, her calm use of money, and lingered on day by day, spending nearly all his time at Moss's studio or at the hotel, seeking Mrs. Haney's company. He had never met her like, and confessed as much to Moss, who jocularly retorted: "That's saying a good deal—for you've seen quite a few."
Humiston ignored this thrust. "She has beauty, imagination, and immense possibilities. She don't know herself. When she wakes up to her power, then look out! She can't go on long with this old, worn-out gambler."
" Oh, Haney isn't such a beast as you make him out. Bertha told me he had never crossed her will. He's really very kind and generous."
"That may be true, and yet he's a mill-stone about her neck. It's a shame—a waste of beauty—for the girl is a beauty."
It was with a sense of relief that Moss heard Bertha say to his wife: "I guess I've had enough of this. It's me to the high ground to-morrow."
"Aren't you going on to the metropolis?"
"I don't think it. I'm hungry for the peaks—and, besides, our horses need exercise. I think I'll pull out for the West to-morrow and leave the Captain and Lucius to go East together. I don't believe I need New York."
To this arrangement Haney reluctantly consented. "You're missin' a whole lot, Bertie. I don't feel right in goin' on to Babylon without ye. I reckon you'd better reconsider the motion. However, I'll not be gone long, and if I find the old Dad hearty I may bring him home with me. He's liable to be livin' with John Donahue. Charles said he was a shifHess whelp, and there's no telling how he's treating the old man. Annyhow, I'll let you know."
She relented a little. " Ma 'be I ought to go. I hate to see you starting off alone."
"Sure now! don't ye worry, darling. Lucius is handy as a bootjack, and we'll get along fine. Besides, I may come back immegitly, for them mine-owners are cooking a hell-broth for us all. Havin' a governor on their side now, they must set out to show their power."
Ben kept them supplied with home papers, and as Bertha took up one of these journals she found herself played upon by familiar forms and faces. The very names of the streets were an appeal. She saw herself sporting with her hounds, riding with Fordyce over the flowery Mesa, or facing him in his sun-bright office discussing the world's events and deciding upon their own policies and expenditures. She grew very homesick as these pleasant, familiar pictures freshened in her vision, and her faith in Ben's honesty and essential goodness came back to her. Moreover her mind was not at rest regarding Haney; much as she longed to go home, she felt it her duty to remain with him, and as she lay in her bed she thought of him with much the same pity a daughter feels for a disabled father. "He's given me a whole lot—I ought to stay by him."
She admitted also a flutter of fear at thought of meeting Ben Fordyce alone, and this unformulated distrust of herself decided her at last to go on with Mart and to have him for shield and armor when she returned to the Springs.
There are certain ways in which books instruct women—and men, too, for that matter—but there are other and more vital processes in which only experience (individual or inherited) teaches. In her desultory reading, little Mrs. Haney, like every other citizen, had taken imaginative part in many murders, seductions, and marital infidelities; and yet the motives for such deeds had never before seemed human. Now the dark places in the divorce trials, the obscure charges in the testimony of deserted wives, were suddenly illumined. She realized how easy it would be to make trouble between Mart and herself. She understood the stain those strangers in the car could put upon her, and she trembled at the mere thought of Mart's inquiring eyes when he should know of it. Why should he know of it ? It was all over and done with. There was only one thing to do—forget it.