The waitresses stared, and young Mrs. Gilman came hurrying. "What's the matter, Bertie; are you sick?"
"Oh no—but I'm worried—about mother."
"You haven't heard anything—?"
"No, but she looked so old and so worn when she went away. She ought to have quit here a month ago."
"Well, I wouldn't worry. It's cooler out to the ranch, and the air is so pure she'll pick up right away —you'll see."
"I hope so, but she ought to take it easy the rest of her days. She's done work enough—and I'm kind of discouraged myself."
Slowly she recovered her self-possession. She drank her tea in abstracted silence, and at last she said: "I'm going out there, Cassie; you'll have to look after things. I'll get some of the boys to 'tend the office."
"You're not going alone?"
"No, Mart Haney is going to drive me."
"Oh!" There was a look of surprise and consternation in the face of the young wife, but she only asked, "You'll be back to-night?"
"Yes, if mother is no worse."
Haney had the smartest "rig" in town waiting for her as she came out, but as he looked at her white dress and pretty hat of flowers and tulle he apologized for its shortcomings—" 'Tis lined with cream-colored satin it should be."
She colored a little at this, but quickly replied: "Blarney. Anybody'd know you were an Irishman."
"I am, and proud of it."
"I want to take the doctor out to see mother."
"Not in this rig," he protested.
She smiled. "Why not? No, but I want to go round to his office and leave a call."
"I'll go round the world fer you," he replied.
The air was deliciously cool and fragrant now that the sun was sinking, and the town was astir with people. It was the social hour when the heat and toil of the day were over, and all had leisure to turn wondering eyes upon Haney and his companion. The girl felt her position keenly. She was aware that a single appearance of this kind was equivalent to an engagement in the minds of her acquaintances, but as she shyly glanced at her lover's handsome face, and watched his powerful and skilled hands upon the reins, her pride in him grew. She acknowledged his kindness, and was tired and ready to lean upon his strength.
"When did your mother quit?" he asked, after they had left the town behind.
"Sunday night. You see, we had a big rush all day, and on top of that, about twelve o'clock, an alarm of fire next door. So she got no sleep. Monday morning she didn't get up, Tuesday she dressed but was too miserable to work, so finally I just packed her off to the ranch."
"That was right—only you should have sent for me."
She was silent, and her heart began to beat with a knowledge of the demand he was about to make. She felt weak and unprotected here—in the office they were on more equal terms—but she enjoyed in a subconscious way the swift rush of the horses, the splendor of the sunset, and the quiet authority in his voice—even as she lifted eyes to the mesa towards which they were driving he began to speak.
"You know my mind, little girl. I don't mean to ask you till to-morrow—that's the day set—but I want to say that I've been cleaning house all the week, thinkin' of you. I'm to be a leading citizen from this day on. You won't need to apologize for me. I've never been a drinking man, but I have been a reckless devil. I don't deny that I've planted a wide field of wild oats. However, all that I put away from this hour. Tis true I'm forty, but that's not old—I'm no older than I was at twenty-one, sure—and, besides, you're young enough to make up." He smiled, and again she acknowledged the charm of his face when he smiled. "You'll see me grow younger whilst you grow older, and so wan day we'll be of an age."
Her customary readiness of reply had left her, and she still sat in silence, a sob in her throat, a curious numbness in her limbs.
He seemed to feel that she did not wish to talk. "If you come into partnership with me you need never worry about the question of bread or rent or clothes, and that's worth considerin'— Which road now?"
She silently pointed to the left, and they drew near the foot of the great mesa whose level top was cutting the sun in half.
The miner was filled with grateful homage. "'Tis a great world!" he exclaimed, softly. "Sure, 'tis only yesterday that I found it out, and lifting me head took a look at the hills and the stars for the first time in twenty years. 'Tis a new road I'm enterin'—whether you come to me or not."
All this was wonderful to the girl. Could it be that she was capable of changing the life of a powerful man like this ? It filled her with a sense of duty as well as exaltation, an emotion that made a woman of her. She seemed suddenly to have put the hotel and all its worriments far, far behind her.
Seized by an impulse to acquaint her with his family, Haney began to tell about his father and his attempts to govern his five sons. "We were devils," he admitted—"broncos, if ever such walked on two legs. We wouldn't go to school—not wan of us except Charley; he did pretty well—and we fished and played ball and went to the circus—" He chuckled. "I left home the first time with a circus. I wanted to be a lion-tamer, but had to content meself with driving the cook wagon. Then I struck West, and I've never been back and I've never seen the old man since, but now I've made me pile, I think I'll go home and hunt him up and buy him new spectacles; it's ace to the three-spot he's using the same horn-rimmed ones he wore when I left."
Bertha was interested. "How long did you stay with the circus?"
"Not very long. I got homesick and went back, but the next time I left, I left for fair. I've been everywhere but East since. I've been in Colorado mostly. 'Tis a good State."
"I like it—but I'd like to see the rest of the country."
"You can. If you join hands with me we'll go round the ball together."