Alice said good-bye at the carriage door, but Ben went with them into the coach. And in the excitement of getting to the train and into the car Bertha had been able to forget the sick feeling about her heart. But now,as he turned and said, "It's nearly time to start," and held out his hand in parting, a desolation, a loneliness, a helpless hunger swept over her, the like of which had never anguished her before.
"I wish you were going too!" she faltered, her speech broken and full of sad cadences.
He, too, was tense with emotion as he answered: "I wish I were, but I can't—I must not!" Then, with the gesture of a brother, he bent and kissed her and turned away, blind to everything else but his pain, and, so stumbling and shaken, vanished from her sight.
For a moment she remained standing in the aisle, the touch of his lips still clinging to her cheek, surprised, full of bewildered defence; then, as reckless of on-lookers as he had been, she rushed to the window in swift attempt to catch a final glimpse of him. But in vain; he had hurried away without looking back, her look of wonder and surprise still dazzling him with its significance. A kiss with him, as with her, had never been a thing lightly given or received, and this caress, so simple to others, sprang from an impulse that was elemental. That he had both shocked and angered her he fully believed; but the arch of her brows, the wistful curve of her lips, and the pretty, almost childish, push of her hands against his breast were still so appealingly vivid that he entered the carriage and took his seat beside Alice with a kind of rebellious joy hot in his blood.
However, as his passion ebbed his uneasiness deepened, and he went to his room that night with a feeling that his connection with the Haneys, so profitable and so pleasant, was in danger of being irremediably broken off. "She will be justified in refusing ever to see me again,".he groaned. And in this spirit of self-condemnation and loneliness he took up his work next day.
Bertha's self-revelation was slower. She was so young and so innately honest and good that no sense of guilt attached to the pleasure she felt in the sudden revelation that this splendid young man loved her—a pleasure which grew as the first shock of the parting, the pain, and the surprise wore away. "He likes me! He said I was beautiful! He kissed me!" These were the rounds in the ladder of her ascent, and she was carried high, only to fall into despair. For was she not leaving him and all the pleasant people she had come so recently to know—hurrying away into darkness with a crippled man, old before his time, out into a world of which she knew little—for which, at this moment, she cared nothing?
She went back, a few moments later, with this sorrow written on her face, to find Lucius, the colored man, deftly preparing the Captain for bed. The old borderer looked up with a smile, in which shame and sadness mingled. "Well, Bertie, I didn't think I'd come to this—me, that could once sit in me saddle and pick a dollar out o' the dust. But so it is."
"I'll take care of you!" she cried, in swift contrition. Turning almost fiercely to the valet, she said: "You can go, I'll 'tend to him!"
The Captain stopped her gently. "No, darlin', Ben's right; I'm too clumsy and heavy for you. I need just such a handy man. Now, now! Let be! ... Go ahead, Lucius, strip off these monkey-fixens, and dom the man that gets me into them again."
Efficient as she was, the girl could not but admit that Lucius was better able to serve her husband than herself. He was both deft and strong; and though the swaying of the car troubled his master, he steadied him and guided him and stowed him away as featly as if it were the fiftieth instead of the first time; then, with a few words of explanation to the wife, he quietly withdrew, and shut the door with a final touch of considerate care which was new to her.
She would have been less troubled by him had he been a black man, but he was not. He seemed more like a Spaniard, and his grizzled mustache, yellowish skin, and big dreamy black eyes lent him a curious distinction, and the thought that he was to take her place as crutch and cane to the Captain gave her a sense of uselessness which she had not, up to this moment, confessed.
His suggestions, combined to the minute instructions of Miss Franklin, enabled her to get to her bunk in fair order, but no sleep came to her for hours. She longed for her mother more childishly than at any time since her marriage. She reproached herself for not bringing Miss Franklin. "Why did I come at all?" she wailed, in final accusation.
There had been a time when the thought of this trip— of Chicago, New York, and Washington—was big in her mind, but it was so no longer. These great cities were but names—empty sounds compared to the realities she was leaving: her splendid house, her horses and dogs—and her daily joy in Ben Fordyce. She did not put these visits in their highest place, not even when remembering his parting kiss, but she dwelt upon the inspiriting morning drives, the talks in the mellow-tinted, sunshine-lighted office. She recalled the lunches they took together and the occasional wild gallops up the canon—these she treasured as the golden realities, for the loss of which she was even now heart-sick.
One thought alone steadied her—gave her a kind of resignation: the Captain wanted to find his sisters, to revisit the scenes of his youth, and it was her duty to go with him. And in this somewhat dreary comfort she fell asleep at last.
She was awakened next morning by a pleasant voice saying: "The first call for breakfast has been made, Mrs. Haney." And she looked up to find Lucius peering in at the door with serious, kindly eyes. He added, formally: "If I can assist you in any way call me, and please let me know when you are ready to have me come in."
His speech was so precise and his manner so perfect that Bertha was puzzled and a little embarrassed by them. It seemed abnormal to have a hired servant so polished, so thoughtful. She dressed hurriedly, while the Captain yawned and talked between his yawning. "That yellow chap is sure handy. I wish I'd had him before; 'twould have saved you a power o' work and worry. Did ye sleep last night ?"
"Not very well. I hope you did. You can't complain of the bunk."
" 'Tis luxurious—'tis so! But there's nothing like the west side of Colorado Avenue, after all, or a bed of pine boughs beside a roaring mountain stream. 'Twas a fine little supper Ben gave us last night."
The level lands awed and depressed the mountain girl. They seemed to type the flat and desolate spiritual world into which she was entering, and the ride seemed interminable, carrying her every hour farther from the scenes and sounds to which her love clung. She was bitterly homesick, and nothing seemed to promise comfort. She gazed with lack-lustre eyes on the towns and rivers along the way, and she entered the great inland metropolis by the lake with dread and a deepening sense of her inexperience and youth.
On the neighboring track stood the return sleepers headed for the hills;and she acknowledged a wild desire to take her place among the jocund folk who stood on the observation - platform exchanging good-byes with friends. Thunderous, smothering, and vast the city seemed as they drove through it on their way to the hotel, and upon reaching her room she flung herself down on her bed and sobbed in a frenzy of homesickness.
Haney, who had never before perceived a tear on her face, was startled, and stood in puzzled pain looking down at her, while the tactful Lucius went about the unpacking of the trunks, confident that the shower would soon be over.
"What's the ail of it?" asked the Captain. "Tell me, darling. Are ye sick?"
She shook her head from side to side, like a suffering and weary child, and made no further answer.