Miss Franklin was certain that this circle would enjoy the Captain once he became at ease, and she really hoped Mrs. Brent would "advise the girl," and, as she put it, "Help her to get at the pleasant side of Chicago. She's very rich and she's intelligent, but she is very raw! She's very like a boy, but she's worth while. She wanted me to come with her, but I could have done so only by giving up here and going as her companion, and that I'm not ready to do—at present."
After carefully considering all these points, Mrs. Brent 'phoned her friends, being careful to explain that Dorothy Franklin had sent her "some fleecy specimens of Colorado society," and that she was asking a few of "the bold and fearless" among her set to meet them.
"Who are the guests of honor?" she was asked by each favored one.
Each received the same reply: "Marshall Haney, the gambler prince of Cripple Creek, and his bride, Dead-shot Nell, biscuit-shooter, from Honey Gulch."
"Hope to die!"
"It's too good to be true! Of course I'll come. Do we have a quiet game after dinner?"
"Ah, no, that would be too cruel—to Captain Haney. No; we go to the theatre. So be on hand at 7 p.m., sharp."
In this way she had prepared her friends to be surprised by Bertha's good looks and the Captain's tame and courteous manner, but was herself soundly jarred when her "wild-West people" came up to the door in an auto-car that must have cost five or six thousand dollars, and when a colored footman, in bottle-green uniform, leaped out to open the door for them (it was Lucius in his new suit—he was playing all the parts). Brent, with a comical look at his wife, remarked: "I suppose this is in lieu of broncos?"
"They are branching out!" she gasped. "And see her clothes!"
She might well exclaim, for Bertha, in her long cloak, her head bare, and her pretty dress showing, did not in the least resemble the picture Miss Franklin had drawn; neither did she resemble the demure, almost sullen girl Mrs. Brent had met in the hotel. The Captain, too, for the second time in his life, wore evening dress, but clung to his sombrero; so that he resembled a Tennessee congressman at the Inaugural Ball as he came slowly up the short walk, and Mrs. Brent deeply regretted that no one was present to take the shock with herself and the doctor.
The maid at the door, who knew nothing of the wild reputation of the Haneys, guided them up-stairs to their respective dressing-rooms, and helped to remove their wraps so expeditiously that they were on their way back to the first floor before any other guests arrived. Bertha was delighted but not awed by the fine room into which they were ushered, for was not her own house larger and more splendid? She had grown accustomed to big things—it was the tasteful beauty of the room that moved her.
In the side of the room a big plain brick fireplace was filled with a crackling fire, and in the light of it stood her host and hostess. Bertha was glad to find them alone—she had expected to face a room full of people. She was not specially attracted to Dr. Brent, and remained so coldly restrained that he was quite baffled and turned away to the Captain, who sought the fire, saying: "This looks good. I feel the cold now— I don't know why I should."
This opened the way to a very confidential talk on wounds and diet.
Bertha's new gown of pale blue made her look very young and very sweet, and the eager guests were sadly disappointed in her — that is to say, the ladies were; the men seemed quite content with her as she was. They took the " biscuit-shooter" description to be a piece of fooling on Mrs. Brent's part, and as they had no time after dinner to get the Captain started they remained quite convinced that he, too, had been maligned in their hostess's description.
As a result, Mrs. Brent and her other guests were forced to do the talking, for Bertha had not only warned Mart against reminiscence, but had determined to keep a tight hold on her own tongue; and though she listened with the alertness of a bird, she answered only in curt phrase, making "yes" and "no" do their full duty. She perceived that the people round her were of intellectual companionship to the Crego and Congdon circles, and these young men, so easy and graceful of manner, reminded her of Ben. None of them were entirely strange to her now, and yet she dimly apprehended something uncomplimentary veiled beneath their polite regard. She did not entirely trust any of them —not even her host. Indeed, she liked Mrs. Brent less than at their first meeting in the hotel.
The dinner was rather hurried, and they would have been late had it not been for Haney's new auto-car, which carried six, and made two trips to the station unnecessary. It was fine to see the Captain put his machine at the disposal of his hostess. "I told Lucius to wait," he boasted, "I thought we might need him."
Dr. Brent succeeded at last in drawing his pretty guest into conversation by remarking on the Captain's color. "He's feeding improperly, if you don't mind my saying so. He's putting on weight, he tells me, but feels cold and nerveless. Cut him down on starchy foods. How long is it since he was hurt?" "About eight months."
"Must have been a tearing beast of an accident to wing a man of his frame."
"It was. Tore his whole side to pieces." "Who put him together—Steele, of Denver?" "No, a man in Cripple." "Sure he was the right man?" "He was the best I could get."
"You arouse my professional egotism. I'd like to examine the Captain if you don't object—not for any fee, you understand. But a fellow of his build and years—he tells me he's only forty-five—"
"Only forty-five," thought the girl. " What strange ideas these older people have! And Ben was twenty-six." Just what the doctor said afterwards she didn't hear, for she was thinking of the swift, wide arc of change through which her mind had swung from the time when Marshall Haney first came to Sibley — so grand of stride, so erect, so powerful. He, too, seemed young then; now he was old—old and feeble—a man to be advised, protected, humored. She dimly understood, too, that corresponding change had come to her; that she was far away from the girl who had stood behind the counter defending herself against the love-making of the bummers and drummers among her patrons—and yet she was the same, after all. "I've not changed as much as he has," was her conclusion. And she enjoyed the gayety and beauty of her companions, but she said little to express it.