She took up his phrase. "In spite of his business. I know, that was mother's main objection to him. But, you see, he cleaned all out of that before I married him. He hasn't touched a card since."
He was almost apologetic. "I've been brought up to despise gamblers—I'm a Quaker, you know, by family. But I like Captain Haney, and I can see that from his point of view a 'straight game,' as he calls it, is not a crime."
"Yes, that's one good thing in his favor—he never let a crooked deal pass in his place. But, after all, I can't forget that he was a gambler, and other people can't, and his record is dead against us here." Her face was dark as she resumed. "I'm a gambler's wife. Ain't that so ? Didn't you hear of me in that way ? Weren't you warned against us?"
His honest eyes quailed a little. "It is true your husband is called a gambler rather than a miner."
"Well, he was. That's right, but he isn't now. I'm not complaining about the part that can't be helped, but I want to do something to show we are in line to-day, and so does the Captain. We want to make our money count, and if you can tell us what to do we'll be mightily obliged."
The young Quaker was more profoundly enthralled by this unexpected confession of the girl than by any-other word she could have uttered. His own knowledge of life was neither wide nor deep, and his sense of responsibility not especially keen; and yet he experienced a thrill of pleasure and ascertain lift of spirit as he stood looking down at her—the attitude of confidential spiritual adviser began at the moment to yield a sweet satisfaction as well as an agreeable realization of power. How much Haney's mines were pouring forth he did not know, but their wealth was said to be enormous. Every day added to the potentiality of this gray-eyed girl who stood so trustfully, so like a pupil, before him.
He spoke with emotion. "I'll do what I can to advise you and help you, and so will Alice. Allen Crego is a good man—he has your legal business, I believe?"
"Yes, I think he's square, and I like him. But I can't go Mrs. Crego; she despises us—that's one good reason." She smiled faintly. "But it ain't legal advice I want—it's something else. I don't know what it is. Our minister isn't the man, either. I guess I want somebody that knows life, and that ain't either a lawyer or a minister. I want some one to take our affairs in hand. I need all kinds of advice. Won't you give it to me?"
He smiled. " I'd like to help, but I am only a lawyer —and a very young one at that."
"I don't think of you as a lawyer; you're more than that to us."
"What am I, then?"
The color danced along her cheek as she uttered a phrase so current in the West that it has a certain humorous sound: "You're a gentleman and a scholar."
"Thank you. But I fear you mean by that that I take life very easily."
She grew serious again. "No, I don't. Anybody can see you're honest. I trust you more than I do Judge Crego, and so does the Captain. You can tell us things we want to know. We both know a little about business, but we don't know much about other things. That's where we both fall down."
This frank expression of regard brought about a moment of emotional tension, and Ben hesitated before replying. At last he said: "I hope I shall always deserve your confidence. I wish I had the wisdom you credit me with. I wonder what I can tell you?"
"Tell me what you would do if you were in my place."
Quick as a sunbeam his smile flashed out. "Be your own good, joyous self. Whatever you do, don't lose what you are now—the quality which attracted Alice and me to you. Don't try to be like other rich people."
The sight of the Captain and Alice walking slowly towards them cut short the further admission of his own careless inexperience, and they all took seats be-neath a big pear-tree which shaded a semicircular wire settee.
Haney had been confessing a little of his loneliness. "I will not believe that me work in the world is done. 'Tis true, I took very little care of me good days; but I was happy in me business, such as it was. Me little wife there saves me from the blue divils when she's about, but when I'm alone, sure it's deep in the dumps I go. Sometimes me mind misgives me, to think of her tied to an old stump of a tree like me! But maybe she's right—maybe I'm to recover me powers and be of use."
To this Alice could only reply, as comfortingly as she could: "You've given her a good deal, Captain."
"So I have, but I mean to give more. As soon as I'm able to travel we're going down the hill to see the world. Sometimes when we sit on our porch and talk of it, it seems as if I could see the whole of the States spread out before us—Chicago, Washington, New York, and all to choose from. I can't get over the surprise of having the stream of money keep comin'. I used to work hard—you may not believe that, but 'twas so. I used to have long days and nights of watching. 'Twas work of a kind, though you may not admire the kind. And now I have nothing to do but sit and twist me two thumbs—and one of them bog-spavined, at that."
To this Alice had made no reply, for they were within earshot of Ben and Bertha. Haney called out: "Sure, it must be near dinner-time, Bertie!—I mean luncheon, ma'am—I'm lately instructed."
They all laughed in tune to his humor, and Bertha replied: "No more twelve-o'clock dinners for us, Captain."
Haney groaned. "This fashionable life will be the death of me. Sure, I eat and talk by rule a'ready.
Where it will end I dunno."
Happily the bell soon relieved the strain, but the talk at the table continued to be very personal—it could not be prevented, for each of these four people was at a turning-point in his or her life. Haney, feeling the slow tide of returning vigor in his limbs, was in trouble thinking of what he was to do. Bertha, just beginning to tremble beneath the mysterious stir of an all-demanding love, was uneasy, feverish, and self-conscious. Alice, sensing the approach of weakness and decay, yet struggling against it, was inwardly in despair. While Ben, hitherto careless, facing life with unwrinkled brow, was appreciating, for the first time, the positive responsibilities of manhood. Bertha's expressed wish to employ his best judgment exalted him while it troubled him.