BEN found his office a most cheerful and pleasant resort—just what he needed. And each morning as soon as his breakfast was eaten, he went to his desk to write, to read his morning paper, and to glance at the law journals. He called this "studying." About eleven o'clock the Haneys regularly drove down, and they went over some paper, or some proposal for investment, or Williams came in with a report of the mines. This filled in the time till lunch. Not infrequently he got into the carriage, and they rode up to get Alice to fill out the table. In the afternoon they sometimes went out to the mesas, and it was this almost daily habit of driving and lunching with the Haneys which infuriated Mrs. Crego (who really loved Alice) and troubled Lee Congdon (who was, as she said, frankly in love with Ben). Gossips were already discussing the outcome of it all.
"Just such a situation as that has produced a murderess," said Mrs. Crego to the judge one night. But he only shook his paper and scowled under its cover, refusing to say one word further concerning the Haneys.
Alice, studying Ben with those uncanny eyes of hers, saw him slowly yielding to the charm of Bertha's personality, which was maturing rapidly under the influence of her love. She was as silent as ever, but her manner was less boyish. The swell of her bosom, the glow that came into her face, had their counterparts in the unconsciously acquired feminine grace of her bearing. She was giving up many of the phrases which jarred on polite ears, and she did this, naturally, by reason of her association with Alice. She saw and took on many of the little niceties of the older woman's way of eating and drinking.
At Lee Congdon's suggestion, she abandoned the cross-saddle. It required a great deal of character to give up the free and natural way of riding (the way in which all women rode until these latter days), and to assume the helpless, cramped, and twisted position the side-saddle demands; but she did it in the feeling that Ben liked her better for the change. And he did. She could see approval in his eyes when she rode out for the first time in conventional riding - skirt, looking very slim and strong and graceful. "I can't stand for the 'hard hat,'" she confessed. "I'll wear a cap or a sombrero, but no skillet for me."
These were perfect days for the girl-wife. Under these genial suns, with such companionship, such daily food, she rushed towards maturity like some half-wild colt brought suddenly from the sere range into abundant and peaceful pasture, the physical side of her being rounded out, glowing with the fires of youth, at the same time that the poor old Captain sank slowly but surely into inactivity and feebleness. She did not perceive his decline, for he talked bravely of his future, and called her attention to his increasing weight, which was indeed a sign of his growing inertness.
And so the months passed with no one of the little group but Alice suffering, for Mart had attained a kind of resignation to his condition. He still talked of going i up to the camp, but the doctor and Bertha persuaded him to wait, and so he endured as patiently as he could, and if he suffered, gave little direct sign of it.
Alice, fully alive now to the gossip of the town (thanks to Mrs. Crego), found herself helpless in the matter. She believed the young people to be—as they were — innocent of all disloyalty, and she could not assume the role of the jealous woman. She was frightened at thought of the suffering before them all, and it was in this fear that she said to Ben one day: "Boy, you're giving up a deal of time to the Haneys."
He answered, promptly. "They pay me for it."
"I know they do. But, dearest, you ought to take more time to study—to prepare yourself for other clients—when they come."
He laughed. "They're not likely to come right away, and, besides, I do get in an hour or two every day."
"But you ought to study six hours every day. Aren't the traditions of Lincoln and Daniel Webster all to that effect: work all day with the ax, and study in the light of pine knots all night?"
He took her words as lightly as they were spoken. "Something like that. But I'm no Daniel Webster; I'm not sure I want to go in for criminal law at all."
She spoke, sharply. "You mustn't think of getting your fees too easy, Ben. I don't think any good lawyer wins without work. Do you?"
"I didn't mean that," he hastened to say. "You do me an injustice. I really read more than you think, and my memory is tenacious, you know. Besides, I can't refuse to give the Haneys the most of my time; for they are my only clients, and the Captain is most generous."
"The mornings ought to be enough," she hazarded.
"I know what you mean. I do go out with them afternoons a good deal, but I consider that a part of my duty. They are so helpless socially. You've always felt that yourself."
"I feel it now, Bennie boy, but we mustn't neglect all friends for them. Other people don't know that you do this as a matter of business, and of course you can't tell any one; for if the Haneys heard of it they would be cut to the heart. Do they put it on a business basis ?"
"They never mention it. Bertha isn't given to talking subtleties, as you know, and the Captain takes it all as it comes these days."
It hurt her to hear him speak of Mrs. Haney in that off-hand, habitual way, and she foretold further misconception on the part of Mrs. Crego in case he should forget—as he was likely to do—and allude to "Bertha" in her presence. But how could she tell him not to do that? She merely said: "I like Mrs. Haney, and I feel sorry for her—I mean I'm sorry she can't have a place in the town to which she is really entitled. She is improving very rapidly."
"Isn't she!" he cried out. "That little thing is reading right through the town library—a book every other day, she tells me."
"Novels, I fear."