THIS change of legal adviser, while very important to Ben Fordyce and the Haneys, did not seem to trouble Allen Crego very much. As a matter of fact, he was about to run for Congress, and had all the business he could attend to anyway. He liked the young Quaker, and responded "All right" in the frank Western fashion, sending the Haneys away quite as solidly friendly as before. To Ben he was most cordial. "I'm glad you're going to settle here, and I'm specially glad you've got a retainer; for the field is overcrowded, and it may take a long time for you to get a place. We old fellows who came down along with the pioneers have an immense advantage. I wish you every success." And he meant it.
Only when he got home to Mrs. Crego did he come to realize what a horrible injury he had permitted "a young and inexperienced Eastern boy" to do himself. "This connection will ostracize them both," his wife said.
He answered a little wearily. "Oh, now, my dear, I think you take your social Medes and Persians too seriously. We lawyers can't afford to inquire into the private affairs of our clients too closely—especially if they are derived from the pioneer West. Ben Fordyce doesn't become responsible for Haney's past; it is a business and not a social arrangement."
"That's like a man," she responded; "they never see anything till it bumps their noses. They've both called on the Haneys and gone riding with them—or with the girL They've even eaten luncheon there!"
"How dreadful! Mrs. Crego, you shock me!"
"If any evil comes of this—and there will be sorrow in it—you'll be morally responsible. In the old days it didn't matter, but now nobody who is anybody in this town can associate with people like the Haneys and not be hurt by it."
The judge ceased to smile. "Now, let this end the discussion. Fordyce has sense enough to take care of himself. He's just the man for Haney—he has time, good nature, and splendid connections. I am glad to be rid of the business, and I am delighted to think this young fellow has pleased Haney—"
"It isn't Haney. Don't you see? It's that girl. She has urged it—I'm perfectly sure."
"Stop right therel" he commanded, sharply. "I don't want to hear a word of your insinuations. I'm tired of them. I'm ashamed of you." And he took up his paper and walked away from her.
She was defeated at the moment, but hurried to the Congdons with her news. Lee looked quite serious enough. "I don't believe I like that either. What do you think, Frank?"
"All depends on Ben. If he makes it a business deal and keeps it so all right; if he don't, it may go against him in the town, as Helen says."
"Don't you think you'd better go see him and have a talk?"
"Nixie!" he answered, in swift negation. "Little Willie don't want to tackle that delicate job. I'm subtle, but not so subtle as that. Alice Heath knows all we know and more, and you can bet they've talked the whole thing over."
"But they may not realize the position of the Haneys."
"They may not; but I suspect they think they can carry any connection they choose to make, and I mostly think they can—ten generations of Quaker ancestry—"
"But the people there don't know their ancestry."
"Well, go talk to them. I abdicate. Besides, I like the Haneys."
Mrs. Crego now laid her joker on the table. "Here's the point. That girl is taken with Ben—it's all her plan."
Congdon started. "Sh! Don't say that out loud, Nell. That little wife is true as steel."
"I don't care. My prophetic soul—"
Lee put in. "Prophetic pollywogs! Why, Helen, the girl is as simple and straightforward as a boy of twelve."
"She seems that way, but I could see she was wonderfully attracted by Ben and his singing that night here."
"That may be; so was I. Anyhow, I agree with Frank: it would be cruel to say such a thing—even if it were so, which I don't for an instant believe. At the same time, I admit the connection will make talk and may create a prejudice. Maybe we'd better see Ben." She looked at her husband.
He waved a protesting finger before his face. "Not on your life! Ben and I are friends. I like him immensely—too much to think of running such a frightful risk of offending him. If you interfere you do so at your own peril."
Lee finally acquiesced in his judgment, and Mrs. Crego went home more deeply troubled than her acquaintance with Alice Heath would seem to warrant. "Helen's an estimable person," said Frank Congdon, "and on the whole I like her; but I wish she didn't take quite so much evil for granted."
So as no one warned Ben Fordyce, he went gayly forward and hired a couple of nice rooms in a sightly block, and hung out a gilded sign. "I am a citizen of Colorado now," he said to the Captain and Bertha the first time they called at his office.
Alice was there, and they were deep in discussion of the merits of a pile of new rugs which were to match the wall-paper. Ben stoutly stood for the "ox-blood" and she for the "old gold." Ben explained. " The entire extravagance of this office is due to her." He pointed an accusing finger at Alice, who nodded shamelessly. "I was all for second-hand stuff, both for economy's sake and to show I'd been in practice a long time."
"You'd need a battered second-hand set of whiskers to match," she replied, and they all laughed at the notion. "No, Captain, being sure Ben couldn't deceive anybody as to his age and experience, I argued for signs of prosperity. New-born success has its weight, you know."
"Sure it has."
"People like silken rugs and mahogany furniture, even in the West."
"They do," Haney agreed.
Bertha, standing silently by, was vaguely resenting Alice's presence. This feeling was not defined, but it was strong enough to darken her face and take the sparkle out of her eyes. She would have liked to do this work of fitting up his rooms; and he, on his part, saw that she was in sombre mood, and sought opportunity to come to where she stood. "I'm being congratulated on all sides for becoming a citizen of Colorado. It's quite like being initiated into some new club. In an Eastern town they'd let me jolly well alone. I'm going to like it immensely, I know, and it's really due to you."