She found words difficult at the moment. His face and voice dazzled her like an open door towards sunshine, and after a moment's pause she looked round the room, saying: "It's going to be fine."
"I want it comfy, so that you and the Captain will feel like coming down often. We have a great deal to talk over before I shall really have a full understanding of your affairs. I'm going to bone into my books hard," he added, boyishly. "To tell the truth, I've taken life pretty easy. You see, my father left me a regular income, big enough to support me while I was studying law, but not enough to marry on." She couldn't have told why, but this subject troubled her and confused her. She turned away again as he continued: "Alice has a little, not much, in her own right, and so it is really up to me to settle down and get to work. Please don't think you are taking the time of a rich and busy man like Crego. I am very grateful to you. It will enable us to plan a home here in the West."
Again that keen pang went through her heart, and he, looking towards Alice, so worn and drooping, was touched with dismay, almost fear.
She was talking to the Captain, but was furtively watching Bertie and Ben. "How erect and radiant and happy they are," she thought, and a doubt of the girl came into her mind. "She is so untrained and so young!" And in this mental exclamation she put her first fear that Ben might find his position as legal adviser complicated by the admiration of the Captain's wife.
Something weirdly intuitive had come to Alice Heath in these later years. As her health declined and her flesh^purified, she had come to possess uncanny powers of vision, and at times seemed to read the very innermost thoughts of those about her. The loss of her beauty, which had been exquisite as that of a rose, had made her morbid—which she knew and struggled against. She forecast the future, and this is disquieting to any one. "Here at this moment," she often said to herself, "my world is flooded with sunshine—a static world in appearance. But how will it be ten years from now? The clock ticks, the sun passes, the universal sway of death extends." With the same acuteness with which she read other minds she read her own; but knowing that such imaginings were unnatural and distressing, she fought against them; yet they came in spite of herself. And the picture of Bertha standing there beside Ben filled her with a prophetic vision of what the girl-wife was to become: "She will grow in grace and in dignity, in understanding. She's of good stock. She's like a man in her power to raise herself above lowly conditions. Why are there not female Lincolns? There are, and she is one of them. Nearly all our great men were born and reared under conditions ruder than those which surrounded this girl. Why can't she rise? She will rise —and then—"
She did not pursue the clew further, for the Captain was speaking. "And you, miss, can be of just as great service to me wife. She's alone with me here in this town, and I'm a heavy load for her to carry. I am so. Now that her house is in order the days are long. The people she'd like to know don't drop in, and I suspect it's because she's Mart Haney's wife."
She resumed her sprightly manner. "Oh no; I'm afraid if she were a poor girl she'd find these same people still more indifferent."
"True, miss. But would they act the same if she were Mart Haney's widow?"
She flashed a deep-piercing, wondering glance at him. "Ah, that would be different. And yet," she hastened to say, "that would not make her acceptable to the really best people."
"What would, miss?" he asked, simply. "I'm a rough man, and I've led a rough life. I begin to see things now that I never saw before. What would give Bertha standing among the people you speak of?"
"Education, character. By character I mean she must be a personality."
"That she is!" He was emphatic in this.
"She certainly is a fascinating girl, and she promises to be a still more interesting woman."
"I'm not a wooden-head, miss. As a gambler, it was me business to read men's faces. I see more than my little girl gives me credit for. I think I know why Mrs. Crego can't see us as we pass by, and I was wise to them friends of yours the other day when they curled their tails and showed their teeth at sight of us. It's because Bertie is the wife of a gambler. Isn't that so, now?"
She rose with a start, for Bertha was coming towards them. "Hush! don't talk about it any more — at present." And at this moment there passed before her eyes a vision of this big man, crushed and writhing on a mountain-side, among deep green ferns. It lasted but an instant, like the memory of an event in childhood; a spot transient as a shadow — disconnected, without precursor or sequence; like a cloud over the wheat it gloomed a moment and was gone, and she gave herself up to the influence of the sunny room and Ben's joyous plans.
This vision came back to her when she was alone in her own room an hour later, and stayed with her persistently. What did it mean? Did it presage an accident to him, or had it arisen from a vague knowledge of the cause of his wounding ?
This singular and distressing rule governed her dreams of the future. They were all of sorrow, death, physical calamities; never, or very rarely, of health and happiness; therefore, she seldom spoke of them. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," her father was wont to say, and she had come to the same conclusion. Besides, her faith in her predictive dreams was by no means fixed. She had reached but one comforting conclusion, and that was negative. If no vision came to reveal the future of any friend, she rested secure in the belief that he or she at least was to be free of disaster. It was a sweet and comforting fact to remember that no vision of Ben's future had ever entered her consciousness. She did not even dream of him. And this was still more wonderful, for she had always understood that those we love are ever in our thoughts in slumber.