BEN FORDYCE and his affianced bride rode home talking of the Haneys. "Aren't they deliciously Western!" she said.
"Mrs. Haney certainly is a quaint little thing," he replied, quite soberly; "she's like a quail—so bright-eyed, and so still. I think her devotion to her old husband very beautiful. She's more like a daughter than a wife, don't you think so?"
"They're great fun if you don't feel sorry for him as I do," Alice thoughtfully responded. "They say he was magnificent as a gambler. He admitted to me tonight that he longed to go back to the camp, but that he had promised his wife and mother-in-law not to do so. I never ran a gambling-saloon, but I can imagine it would be exciting as a play all the time, can't you? Here, as he said to me, he can only sit in the sun like a lizard on a log. It must seem wonderful to her— having all this money and that big castle of a house. Don't you think so ? Wasn't she reticent! She hardly uttered a word the whole evening. Some way I feel sorry for them both. They can't be happy. Don't you see that? It is plain she doesn't love him as a wife should, while he worships her. When she's away he is helpless. 'I'm no gairdner,' he said,pathetically; 'I was raised on the cobble-stones. I wouldn't know a growin' cabbage from a squash.' So you see he can't pass his time in gardening."
Ben's reply was a question. "I wonder if she would ride with us ?"
"Perhaps we would do better not to follow up the acquaintance, Ben. It's all very interesting to meet them as we did to-night, but they are impossible socially —that you must admit. If there is any possibility of our settling down here I suppose we must be careful to do the right thing from the start."
Ben was a little irritated by this. "If I'm to settle here as a lawyer I can't draw social distinctions of that sort."
"Certainly not—as a lawyer. Of course, you ought to know Haney; but for me to ride or drive with Mrs. Haney is quite a different matter. However, I don't really care. She attracts me, and, so far as I know, is just a nice little uncultivated woman. We might call on her in the morning, and see if she can go with us. It will commit us; but really, Ben, I am not going to drag Eastern conventions into this fresh big country. I'm willing to risk the Haneys."
"I'm glad you take that view of it," said Ben.
Bertha was in the yard when they rode up to the gate next morning. Dressed in a white sweater and a short skirt, and holding biscuits for a handsome collie to snatch from her hand, she made a charming picture of young and vigorous life. Her slim body was as strong and supple as the dog's, and her face glowed like a child's. Haney, sitting on the porch, was watching her with a proud smile.
Alice glanced at her lover with admiration in her eyes. "What a glorious creature she really is!"
Seeing visitors at her gate, Bertha came down without confusion to say good-morning, and to ask them to dismount.
Ben, with doffed cap, replied by saying: "We've come to ask you to ride with us."
Bertha looked up at him composedly. "Haven't a saddle, and I don't know that any of our horses are broken. But come again to-morrow, and I'll have an outfit."
" There's no time like the present. Let me ride down to the barn and bring one up," volunteered Ben.
"Don't need to do that, I'll 'phone. I didn't really expect you," she explained. "Get off and come in a few minutes, and I'll see what I can hustle together for an outfit. I haven't rode a lick since I left Sibley."
Ben helped Alice to dismount, and Bertha led her to the house while he tethered the horses.
"What a superb place you have here!" exclaimed Alice. "It is one of the best in the city."
"We bought it for the porch," calmly replied the girl. "The Captain likes to sit where he can see the mountains. I'm not entirely done with the outfitting yet, but it beats a barn."
Haney rose as they drew near, and smilingly greeted his visitors. "I should be out gatherin' the peanuts and harvestin' the egg-plants, but the dinner last night, not mentionin' Congdon's pink liquor, kept me awake till two."
"Moral: Stick to Irish whiskey—or Scotch," laughed Ben.
"I will. These strange liquors are not for strong men like ourselves."
Ben took a seat at his invitation, while Bertha went in to 'phone for a horse and to "dig up" a riding-skirt, Alice was eager to see the interior of the house, but held her curiosity in check by walking about the beautiful garden, which ran to the very edge of a deep ravine. The trees hid the base of the mountain peaks, whose immitigable crags took on added majesty from the play of the delicate near-by branches against their distant rugged slopes.
"You have a magnificent outlook here, Captain Haney."
" 'Tis so, and I try to be content with it; but it's hard for one who has roamed the air like a hawk all his life to be content with ridin' a wooden horse. I couldn't endure it if it weren't for me wife."
His big form rested in his chair with a ponderous inertness which was a telltale witness to his essential helplessness. His left hand still failed to participate in the movements of his right, and yet, as he showed, he could, by special effort of will, use it. "I'm gaining all the time—but slowly," he went on. "I want to make a trip back up to the mines, and I think I'll be able to do it soon." He put aside his own troubles. "And you, miss, I hope the climate is doing you good?"
"Oh, indeed, yes," she brightly responded. "I feel stronger every day."
Ben at the moment experienced a sharp pang of uneasiness and pain, for Alice was looking particularly worn and thin and yellow; and when Bertha returned, flushed with her haste, the contrast between them was quite as distressing as that between the withered, dying rose and the opening, fragrant bud. The young man's heart rose to his throat. "We have waited too long," he thought, and resolved to again urge upon her a new treatment which they had discussed.