She faced him squarely. "No, he has been the real thing. He kept a saloon—when I first knew him, but he gave it all up for me. I wouldn't promise to marry him till he did. Everybody out there knows his career, and most people think he got his money underhand, but he tells me he didn't, and I take his word. Every dollar he spends on me or on our home comes out of some mines he owns. I told him I wouldn't touch a dollar of the saloon money—and I won't. Some folks think I don't care, but I do. I don't like the saloon business, and he got out and he's livin' straight now, as straight as any man. It's pretty hard on him, too, though he won't admit it. He must get awful sick of sittin' round the way he does. I tell him he needn't cut out all his old cronies on my account. He says he ain't sufferin', but it's like shuttin' a bronco up in the corral and lettin' the herd go back into the hills."
"Perhaps he thinks you're better fun than any of his cronies."
She ignored the implied compliment and went on: "All the same, it's drawin' mighty close lines on him. You can't take a man living a free-and-easy life the way he was and wing him all at once and tie him down to a chair without seein' some suffering. Don't you know it?"
"Does he complain?"
" Not a whimper. Sometimes I wish he would. No, he just waits—but I'm afraid he'll get lonesome some day and break loose and go back to the game."
In this way the sculptor had come very close to her secret, and she was trembling to deeper confidence, when he said, very gently: "Of course, it does seem a little strange to me that one so young and charming as you are should be married to a man of his type, but I suppose he was a handsome figure before his—accident."
Her eyes glowed. "He was one of the grandestlooking men! I never liked his trade—and I mistrusted him, at first; but when he cut himself out of the whole business—for me—I couldn't help likin' him; he was so big-hearted and free-handed. We needed his help, all right. Mother was sick, and my brother's ranch was playing to hard luck. But don't think I married him for his money—I liked him then, and, besides—well, I thought I was doing the right thing—but now—well, I'm guessing." She ended abruptly, and in the tremor of that final word Moss read her secret. She had never loved her husband. Pity and a kind of loyalty to her word had carried her to his side, and now a sense of duty bound her there.
With sincere sympathy, he said: "We all do wrong at times that good may come out of it. You could not foresee the future—the best of us can only guess at the effect of any action. You did the best you knew at the moment. The question you have to face now has only slight relation to the past. No one can enter wholly into another's perplexity—I'm not even sure of a single one of my inferences—but if you are thinking of—separation, I would say, meet this crisis as bravely as you met the other. But I don't believe we should decide any such question selfishly. I am not of those who always seek the side on which lies personal happiness, because a happiness that is essentially selfish won't last. The Captain fives only for you—any one can see that. What he does for you springs from deep affection. What would happen to him—if you left him?"
He paused a moment and watched her subduing her tears; then added: "I won't say I was unprepared for what you've said, for the entire relationship, from our first meeting, seemed too abnormal to be altogether happy. Money will buy a great many desirable things, but it has its limits. At the same time, it is too much to expect of you—If your feeling for him has changed—" His delicacy, his sympathy for her, was made apparent by the unusual hesitation of his speech, and she would have broken down completely had not Julia Moss called out: "Joe, turn on the lights—it's getting dark."
Conscious of Bertha's emotion, he did not immediately do as he was bidden. "I wish you'd talk this over with Julia," he ended gently; "she's a very wise little woman."
Bertha shook her head. "I didn't intend to talk it over with you. I don't know what possessed me. I had no business to say what I did."
He reassured her. "All you've told me and the part I've guessed is quite safe. I will not even permit Julia to share your confidence till you are willing to speak to her yourself."
As he slowly lighted the studio Bertha was surprised and a little troubled to find that two or three other visitors had slipped in through the dusk, and were grouped about the tea-table, and that the Captain was again the centre of an eager-eyed group. "They treat him as if he were an Eskimo," she thought bitterly, and rose to join the circle and protect him from their inquisition.
Haney was feeling extremely well, and talked with so much of his old time vigor and slash of epithet that his little audience was quite entranced. He enlarged upon the experiences of a year he had spent in Alaska. "Mining up there in them days made gambling slow business," he said. (He had told Bertha that he had made an attempt to get out of "the trade," but she was content to have him put it on less self-righteous grounds.) He contrived to make his hearers feel very keenly the pitiless, long-drawn ferocity of that sunless winter. He made it plain why men in that far land came together in vile dens to drink and gamble, and Moss glowed with the wonder and delight of those great boys who could rush away to the arctic edge of the world and die with laughing curses on their lips.
"What did you all do it for?" he asked, bluntly. "For money?"
"Partly—but more for the love of doing something hard. No man but a miser punishes himself for love of gold—it's for love of what the stuff will buy, that men fight the snows."
While Haney talked of these things Bertha's eyes were musingly turned on the face of the sculptor, and her mind was far from the scenes which Mart so vividly described. This side of his life no longer amused her— on the contrary she shrank from any disclosure of his savage career. She was now as unjust in her criticism as she had been fond in her admiration, and when with darkening brow she cut short his garrulous flow of narrative Julia perceived her displeasure.
Haney apologized, handsomely. "It's natural for the ould bedraggled eagle in the cage with a club on his wrist to dream of the circles he used to cut and the fish he set claw to. In them days I feared no man's weight, and no night or stream. 'Twas all joyous battle to me, and now, as I sit here on velvet with only to snap me fingers for annything I want, I look back at thim fierce old times with a sneaking kind o' wish to live 'em all over again. Bertie knows me weakness. I would talk forever did she lave me go on; but 'tis no blame to her—it was a cruel, bad, careless life."
"When I come West," said Moss, sincerely, "we'll go camping together, and every night by the fire we'll smoke and you can tell me all about your journeys. I assure you they are epic to me."
Dr. Brent, a little later, put in a private word to Bertie. "Now you're going back into the high country and you'll find it necessary to watch the Captain pretty closely. I suspect he'll find his heart thumping briskly when he reaches the Springs. He may stand that altitude all right, but don't let him go higher. He will be taking chances if he goes above six thousand feet. You'd better have Steel of Denver come down and examine him to see how he stands the first few days. I mention Steel because I know him—I've no doubt there are plenty of good men in the Springs."
"What'll I do if he's worse?"
"Bring him back here or go to sea level—only beware of high passes."