BERTHA woke next morning with a sense of weariness and desolation still at her heart, but she dressed and went to breakfast with Haney at an hour so early that the dining-room was nearly empty. Lucius, with quiet insistence upon the importance of his employers, had secured a place at a window overlooking the lake, and was glad to see his mistress brighten as her eyes swept the burnished shoreless expanse.
Haney, still troubled by her languid air and gloomy face, took heart, and talked of what Chicago was in the days when he saw it and what it was now. "People say it don't improve. But listen: when I was here the Palmer House was the newly built wonder of the West, the streets were tinkling with bobtail horse-cars. And now look at it!"
Bertha went back to her room, still in nerveless and despondent mood, not knowing what to do. The Captain proposed the usual round. "We'll take an autocar, and go to the parks, and inspect the Lake Shore Drive and the Potter Palmer castle. Then we'll go down and see where the World's Fair was. Then we'll visit the Wheat Pit. 'Tis all there is, bedad."
Lucius, who had been answering the 'phone in the hall, came in at the moment to say; "A lady wishes to speak with Mrs. Haney."
"A lady! Who?"
"A certain Mrs. Brent—a friend of Miss Franklin's."
Bertha's face darkened. "Oh I'd forgot all about her. Miss Franklin gave me a letter to her," she explained, as she went out.
She had no wish to see Mrs. Brent. On the contrary, she had an aversion to seeing or doing anything. But there was something compelling in the cool, sweet, quiet voice which came over the line, and before realizing it she had promised to meet her at eleven o'clock.
Mrs. Brent then added: "I am consumed with desire to see you, for Dor—I mean Miss Franklin—has been writing to me about you. You're just in time to come to a little dinner of mine—don't make any engagement for to-morrow night. I'm coming down immediately."
Bertha quite gravely answered, "All right, I'll be here," and hung up the receiver, committed to an interview that became formidable, now that the sweetness of the voice had died out of her ears.
"Who was it?" asked the Captain.
"A friend of Miss Franklin's—sounds just like her voice, but I think she's only a cousin. She wants to see me, and I've promised to be here at eleven."
The Captain looked a little disappointed. "Well, we can take a spin up the lake. Lucius, go hire a buckboard and we're off."
"There's an auto-car waiting, sir. I ordered it half an hour ago."
The gambler looked at him humorously. "Ye must be a mind-reader."
A tap on the door called the man out, and when he returned he bore a telegram. "For you, Captain," he said, presenting it on the salver.
The gambler took it with sudden apprehension in his face. "I hope there's no trouble at the mine," he muttered.
Bertha, leaning over his shoulder, read it first. "It's from Ben!" she called, joyously. "Ain't it just like him?"
This message seemed a little bit foolish to Haney.
"Just to say hello! All well here. Have a good time.
To Bertha it made all the difference between sunshine and shadow. She thrilled to it as if it had been a voice. "He knew I'd be homesick, and so he sent this to cheer me up," she said. And in this she was right. Her shoulders lifted and her face cleared. "Come on, Captain, if we're going."
As they came down the elevator, men in buttons met them, and attended them to the door, and turned them over to still other uniformed attendants, who were fain to help them into the auto-car; for Lucius had managed to convey to the hotel a proper sense of his employer's money value. He himself was always close to his master's side, for lately Haney had taken to stumbling at unexpected moments, and his increasing bulk made a fall a real danger.
A thrill of delight, of elation, ran through the young wife as she glanced up and down Chicago's proudest avenue. It conformed to her notion of a city. The level park, flooded with spring sunshine, was walled on the west by massive buildings, while to the east stretched the shining lake. From here the city seemed truly cosmopolitan. It had dignity and wealth of color, and to the girl from Sibley Junction was completely satisfying—almost inspiring.
It was uplifting also to be attended to a splendid auto-car by willing, alert servants, and to feel that the passers-by were all envious of her careless ease. Bertha forgot her homesickness, and took her seat in the spirit of one who is determined to have the worth of her money (for once anyhow), and the pedestrians, if they had any definite notion of her at all, probably said: "There goes a rich old cattle king and his pretty daughter. It's money that makes the 'mobile go."
She held to this pose for half an hour, while they threaded the tumult of Wabash Avenue, and, crossing the river, swept up the Lake Shore Drive. But the lake filled her with other thoughts. "I wish we had this at the Springs," she said. "This is fine!"
"We have our share," answered he. "If we had this at our door, there wouldn't be anything left to go to."
They whizzed through the park, and down another avenue into the thick tangle of traffic, which scared them both, and so back to the hotel, the Captain saying: "My! my! but she has grown. 'Tis twenty years since I took this turn."
In some strange way Bertha had drawn courage, resolution, pride, and ambition from what she saw on this short ride. That she was in a car and mistress of it was in itself a marvellous distinction, and the thought of what she would have been—as a "round-tripper" from Sibley Junction—added to her pleasure and pride. She was always doing sums in her head now. Thus: "Suppose our excursion does cost twenty dollars per day; that's only one hundred and fifty per week, six hundred per month, and our income is ten times that, and more." She had not risen above the habit of calculation, but she was fast rising to higher levels of expenditure.