ONE day early in the following summer a tall, thin man, with one helpless side, entered the big luminous hall of the Antlers Hotel at the Springs, upheld by a stalwart attendant, and accompanied by a sweet-faced, calm-lipped young woman. This was Marshall Haney and his young wife Bertha, down from the mountain for the first time since his illness, and those who knew their story and recognized them, stood aside with a thrill of pity for the man and a look of admiration for the girl, whose bravery and devotion had done so much to bring her husband back to life and to a growing measure of his former strength.
Marshall Haney was, indeed, but a poor hulk of his stalwart self. One lung had been deeply torn, his left shoulder was almost wholly disabled, and he walked with a stoop and shuffle; but his physical weakening was not more marked than his mental mellowing. He was softened—"gentled," as the horsemen say. His eyes were larger, and his face, once so stern and masterful, gave out an appealing expression by reason of the deep horizontal wrinkles which had developed in his brow. He had grown a mustache, and this being gray gave him an older look—older and more military. It was plain, also, that he leaned upon his keen-eyed, impassive little wife, who never for one moment lost her hold upon herself or her surroundings. Her flashing glances took note of everything about her, and her lips were close-set and firm.
Williams, ugly and wordless as ever, followed them with a proud smile till they entered the handsome suite of rooms which had been reserved for them. "There's nothing too good for Marshall Haney and his side-partner," he exulted to the bell-boy.
Thereupon, Mart, with a look of reverence at his young bride, replied: "She's aimed it—and more!"
A sigh was in his voice and a singular appeal in his big eyes as he sank into an easy-chair. "I believe I do feel better down here; my heart seems to work aisier. I'm going to get well now, darlin'."
"Of course you are," she answered, in the tone of a daughter; then added, with a smile: "I like it here. Why not settle?"
To her Colorado Springs was a dazzling social centre. The beauty of the homes along its wide streets, the splendor of its private carriages, affected her almost as deeply as the magnitude and glory of Denver itself; but she was not of those who display their weaknesses and diffidence. She ate her first dinner in the lofty Antlers dining-hall with quiet dignity, and would not have been particularly noticed but for Haney, who was well-known to the waiters of the hotel. Her association with him had made her a marked figure in their mountain towns, and she was accustomed to comment.
She met the men who addressed her with entire fearlessness and candor (she was afraid only of women in good clothes), speaking with the easy slanginess of a herder, using naturally and unconsciously the most picturesque phrases of the West. Her speech was incisive and unhesitating, yet not swift. She never chattered, but "you bet" and "all right" were authorized English so far as she was concerned. "They say you can't beat this town anywhere for society, and I sure like the looks of what we've seen. Suppose we hang around this hotel for a while—not too long, for it's mighty expensive." Here she smiled—a quick, flashing smile. "You see, I can't get used to spending money—I'm afraid all the time I'll wake up. It's just like a dream I used to have of finding chink—I always came to before I had a chance to handle it and see if it was real."
Haney answered, indulgently: "'Tis all real, Bertie. I'll show you that when I'm meself again."
"Oh, I believe it—at least, part of the time," she retorted. "But I'll have to flash a roll to do it— checks are no good. I could sign a million checks and not have 'em seem like real money. I'm from Missouri when it comes to cash."
Mrs. Gilman, who had always stood in bewilderment and wonder of her daughter, was entirely subject now. She and Williams usually moved in silence, like adoring subjects in the presence of their sovereigns. They had no doubts whatsoever concerning the power and primacy of gold; and as for Haney himself, his unquestioning confidence in his little wife's judgment had come to be like an article of religious faith.
After breakfast on the second day of her stay Bertha ordered a carriage, and they drove about the town in the brilliant morning sunshine, looking for a place to build. She resembled a little home-seeking sparrow. Every cosey cottage was to her an almost irresistible allurement. "There's a dandy place, Captain," she called several times. "Wouldn't you like a house like that?"
He, with larger notions, shook his head each time. "Too small, Bertie. We've the right to a fine big place —like that, now." He nodded towards a stately gray-stone mansion, with the sign "For Sale" planted on its lawn.
She was aghast. "Gee! what would we do with a state-house like that?" "Live in it, sure."
"It would need four chamber-maids and two hired men to take care of a place like that. And think of the money it would spoil to stock it with furniture!" Nevertheless, she gazed at it longingly. "I'd sure like that big garden and that porch. You could sit on that porch and see the mountains, couldn't you? But my ears and whiskers, the expense of keeping it!"
They passed on to other and less palatial possibilities, and returned to the hotel undecided. The two women, bewildered and weary, diverged and discussed the matter of dress till the mid-day meal.
"I like being rich," remarked the young wife, as they took their seats in the lovely dining-room, and looked about at the tables so shining, so dainty. "It would be fun to run a house like this, don't you think?" She addressed her mother.
"Good gracious, no! Think of the bill for help and the worry of looking after all this silver! No, it's too splendid for us."
Haney still retained enough of his ancient humor to smile at them. "I'd rather see you manage that big stone house with the porch which I'm going to buy."