He sang other songs—tunes not worthy of him— but ended with a ballad called "Fair Springtide," by MacDowell—a song so stern, so strange, so inexorably sad that the singer himself grew grave at last and rose to his best. Bertha was thrilled to the heart, saddened yet exalted by his voice. Her horizon—her emotional horizon—was of a sudden extended, and she caught glimpses of strange lands and dim peaks of fabled mountains; and when the singer declared himself at an end she sat benumbed while the others cheered—her hands folded on her lap. It seemed a profanation to applaud.
Haney gloomed in silence also, but not for the same reason. " I might have sung like that once," he thought, for he had been choir-boy in his ragamuffin youth, and had regained a fine tenor voice at eighteen. Age and neglect had ruined it, however. For ten years he had not attempted to sing a note. This youth made him dream of the past—as it caused Bertha to forecast the future.
While young Fordyce was putting away his music the Captain struggled to his feet, and Bertha, seeing a sudden paleness overspread his face, hastened to him.
"I reckon we'd better be going," she said to Mrs. Congdon, with blunt directness.
"It's early yet," replied her hostess.
Haney replied: "Not for cripples. Time was when I could sit all night in the 'lookout's chair,' but not now. Ten o'clock finds me wishful towards the bed." He said this with a faint smile. But the pathos of it, the truth of it, went to Bertha's heart, as it did to Mrs. Congdon's. Not merely was his body maimed, but his mind had correspondingly been weakened by that tearing charge of shot.
Something of his native Celtic gallantry came back to him as he said: "Sure, Mrs. Congdon, we've had a fine evening. You must come to see us soon."
Ben was addressing himself to Bertha. "Do you ever ride?"
"I used to—I don't now. You see, the Captain can't stand the jolt of a horse, so we mostly drive."
"I was about to say that Alice and I would be glad to have you join us. We ride every morning—a very gentle pace, I assure you, for I'm no rough-rider, and, besides, she sets the pace."
Bertha's face was pale and her eyes darkly luminous as she falteringly answered. "I'd like to—but— Perhaps I can some time. I'm much obliged," and then she gave him her hand in parting.
Mrs. Congdon was subtly moved by something in the girl's face as she said good-night, and to her invitation to come and see her cordially responded: "I certainly shall do so."
Little Mrs. Haney rode away from her first dinner party in the silence of one whose thoughts are too swift and too new to find speech. Her brain, sensitive as that of a babe, had caught and ineffaceably retained a million impressions which were to influence all her after life. The most vivid and most powerful of these impressions rose from the glowing beauty of young Fordyce, whose like she had never seen; but as background to him was the lovely room, the shining table, the grace and charm of the conversation, and, dominating all, the music—quite the best she had ever heard. The evening—so simple, almost commonplace, to her hostess —was of unspeakable significance to the uncultured girl.
She did not wish to talk, and when Haney spoke she made no reply to his comment. "A fine bunch of people," he repeated. "They sure treated us right. Crego's the fine man—we do well to make him our lawyer." As Bertha again failed to respond he resumed, with a little chuckle: "But Mrs. Crego is saying, 'I dunno—them Haneys is queer cattle.' And the little sick lady, sure she was as interested in me talk as Patsy McGonnigle. She drug out o' me some of me wildest scrapes. Poor little girl, 'twill soon be all up with her. . . . It's a fine young fellow she has. A Quaker by training, she says. My! my! What a prizefighter he'd make if his mind ran that way! Think of a Quaker with a chest like that—'tis something ferocious! He can sing, too, can't he? A fine lad— as fine as iver I see. Think of shoulders like his all wasted on a man of peace. I'm afraid the little lady will never put on the ring if she waits till she gets well."
To this Bertha listened intently, but gave out no sign of interest. She was eager to be alone, eager to review all that had happened—all that had been said.
For the first time since her marriage she felt Haney's presence to be just the least bit of a burden; and when they entered the house she urged his immediate retirement, though he was disposed to sit in the library and talk. "They were high-class," he said, again. "I never supposed I could make easy camp with such people. They sure treated us noble. They made us feel at home. . . . We must have some liquor like that. I've always despised wine and those that took it; but, bedad! I see there are two sides to that question. 'Tis not so thin as I thought it."
Bertha at last got him safely bestowed, and was free to seek her own apartment, which she did at once. Her chamber, which adjoined her husband's to the west (he liked the morning sun), was a big room, and the young wife looked like a doll as she dropped into a broad tufted chair which stood in a square bay-window, and with folded hands looked out upon the ghostly shapes of the great peaks, snow-covered and moonlit.
A thousand revelations of character as well as of manners lay in that short evening's contact with cultivated and thoughtful people. It argued much for her ancestry, for her own latent powers, that she responded with such bewildering readiness to the suggestions which rose like sparks of fire from that radiant hour.
She had been made to feel dimly, vaguely, but multitudinously, the fibres and reaches of another world—the world of art, and that indefinable thing which the books call culture; and finally, in that splendid young Quaker, she was brought to know a man who could be jocular without being coarse, and whose glance was as sincere as it was flattering and alluring.
She did not think of him as husband to Alice Heath, who seemed so much older in spirit as in body (more like an elder sister than a bride elect), and his consideration of her was that of brother rather than the devotion of a lover. How far he stood removed from Ed Winchell and the young fellows of Sibley! "And yet I can understand him," she thought. "He ain't funny, like Mr. Congdon. He don't say queer things, and he don't make game of people. And he don't orate like Judge Crego. He isn't laughing at us now, the way the others are. I bet they're havin' a good time over our blunders."
She saw Marshall Haney in a new light also. For the first time he seemed like an old man, sitting there, supine, garrulous, in the midst of those self-contained people. "Gosh! how he did talk! He took too much wine, I reckon, but that didn't make all the difference." In truth, his imperiousness, his contempt, had been melted and charmed away by the genial smiles of his auditors. Even Mrs. Crego had listened with a show of interest. It was as if a lonely old man had at last found companionship.
What did all this mean? "Are they interested in him only because he's what they call a desperado? Did they ask us there to hear him tell stories of his wild life?" Questions of this kind also troubled her.
The moon slid behind the mountain range while still the girl sat with pale face and wide dark eyes thinking, thinking, the wings of her expanding soul fluttering with vague unrest. Only once in a lifetime can such an experience come to a human being. Her swift ride to Marshall Haney's side that summer night—now so far away—was momentous, but its import was simple compared with the experiences through which she had just passed.
She rose at last, chilled and stiffened, and went to her bed with a sense of foreboding rather than of new-found happiness.
Mart rose late next morning. "I had a bad night," he explained. "The mixed liquors I tuck got into me wound, I guess. It woke me twice, achin' and burnin'. You're lookin' tired yersilf, little girl. This high life seems to be wearin' on the both of us."