"What's it all about? How did it happen?"
"I'll clear that up as we go," he replied, and led the way to a carriage.
Once inside, she turned her keen gaze upon him. "Now go ahead—straight."
He did so in the blunt terms of a man whose life had been always on the border, and who has no nice shading in act or word.
"Is he dying?" she asked at the first pause.
"I'm afraid he is, sister," he replied, gently. "That's what's made the night seem long to us; but you're here, and it's all right now."
That she was to look on him dying had been persistently in her mind, but that she was to see him mangled by an assassin added horror to her dread. In spite of her intrepid manner, she was still girl enough to shudder at the sight of blood.
Williams went on. "He's weak, too weak to talk much, and so I'm going to tell you what he wants. He wants you to marry him before he dies."
The girl drew away. "Not this minute—to-night ?"
"Yes; he wants to give you legal rights to all he has, and you've got to do it quick. No tellin' what may happen." His voice choked as he said this.
Bertha's blood chilled with dismay. Her throat filled and her bosom swelled with the effort she made at self-control, and Williams, watching her with bright eyes of admiration, hurried on to the end. "Everything is ready. There is a priest, if you want him, and Judge Brady with a civil ceremony, if that will please you better, or we'll get a Protestant minister; it's for you to say. Only the knot must be tied good and tight. I told the boys you'd take a priest for Mart's sake. He says: 'Make it water-proof.' He means so that no will-breaking brothers or cousins can stack the cards agin you. And now it's up to you, little sister. He has only a few hours anyway, and I don't see that you can refuse, specially as it makes his dying—" He stopped there.
The street was silent as they drew up to the saloon door, and only Slater and one or two of his friends were present when Bertha walked into the bar-room, erect as a boy, her calm, sweet face ashen white in the electric light. For an instant she stood there in the middle of the floor alone, her big dark eyes searching every face. Then Judge Brady, a kindly, gray-haired man, advanced, and took her hand. "We're very glad to see you," he gravely said, introducing himself. Williams, who had entered the inner room, returned instantly to say: "Come, he's waiting."
Without a word the bride entered the presence of her groom, and the doctor, bending low to the gambler, said: "Be careful now, Mart. Don't try to rise. Be perfectly still. Bertie has come."
Haney turned with a smile—a tender, humorous smile—and whispered: "Bertie, acushla mavourneen, come to me!"
Then the watchers withdrew, leaving them alone, and the girl, bending above him, kissed him. "Oh, Captain, can't I do something? I must do something."
"Yes, darlin', ye can. You can marry me this minute, and ye shall. I'm dyin\ girl—so the doctor says. I don't feel it that way; but, annyhow, we take no chances. All I have is for you, and so—"
She put her hand over his lips. "You must be quiet. I understand, and I will do it—but only to make you well." She turned to the door, and her voice was clear as she said to those who waited: "I am ready."
"Will you have Father Kearney?" asked Williams.
She turned towards Haney. "Just as he says."
The stricken miner, ghastly with the pain brought on by movement, responded to the doctor's question, only by a whisper: "The priest—first."
The girl heard, and her fine, clear glance rested upon the face of the priest. Tears were on her cheeks, but a kind of exultation was in her tone as she said: "I am willing, father."
With a look which denoted his appreciation of the girl's courage, the priest stepped forward and led her to her place beside her bridegroom. She took Haney's big nerveless hand in her firm grasp, and together they listened to the solemn words which made them husband and wife. It seemed that the gambler was passing into the shadow during the opening prayer, but his whispered responses came at the proper pauses, and only when the final benediction was given, and the priest and the judge fell back before the rush of the young doctor, did the wounded man's eyes close in final collapse. He had indeed reached the end of his endurance.
The young wife spoke then, imperiously, almost fiercely, asking: "Why is he lying here? This is no place for him."
The doctor explained. "We were afraid to move him —till you came. In fact, he wouldn't let me move him. If you say so now, we will take him up." With these words the watchers shifted their responsibility to her shoulders, uttering sighs of deep relief. Whatever happened now, Mart's will had been secured. At her command they lifted the table on which her husband lay, and the wife walked beside it, unheeding the throngs of silent men walling her path. Every one made way for her, waited upon her, eager to serve her, partly because she was Marshall Haney's wife, but more because of her youth and the brave heart which looked from her clear and candid eyes.
She showed no hesitation now, gave out no word of weakness; on the contrary, she commanded with certainty and precision, calling to her aid all that the city afforded. Not till she had summoned the best surgeons and was sure that everything had been done that could be done did she permit herself to relax—or to think of rest or her mother.
When she had sunk to sleep upon a couch beside her husband's bed, Williams, with a note of deep admiration, demanded of the surgeon: "Ain't she a little Captain? Mart can't die now, can he? He's got too much to live for."