BEFORE she had fairly recovered her poise next day Lucius brought to her a letter from Humiston —a suave, impudent note wherein he expressed the hope that she was well, and went on to plead in veiled phrase: "I'm sorry you did not stay to see the rest of my pictures. I meant it all as a compliment to your innate good taste and purity of thought. I expected you to see them as I painted them—in pure artistic delight. You misunderstood me. I hope you will let me see you again. You must remember you promised to let me make a portrait sketch of you."
Although not skilled in polite duplicity, Bertha was able to read beneath the serene insolence of these lines something so diabolically relentless that she turned cold with fear and repulsion. She had no experience which fitted her to deal with such a pursuer, and she shuddered at the rustling of the paper in her hand as she had once quivered in breathless terror of a rattlesnake stirring in the leaves near the door of her tent. Her first impulse was to lay the whole affair before the Captain, but the knowledge of his deadly temper when roused decided her to slip out at the other side of this fearsome thicket and leave the serpent in possession. She longed to return to the West. The little group of people in the Springs allured her; they were to be trusted. Congdon and Crego and Ben—these men she knew and respected. Her joy of the big outside Eastern world had begun to pass, and she dreaded to encounter again the bold eyes and coarse compliments of the men who loaf about the hotels and clubs.
She turned to Haney as he came into her room, and said: "Mart, I want to go home—to-day."
"All right, Bertie, I'm ready—or will be, as soon as I pick up the old father. But don't you want to see that show we've got tickets for?"
"No, I've had enough of this old town. I'm crazy to go home."
"Home it is, then." He called sharply; "Lucius!" The man appeared, impassive, noiseless, unhurried. The Captain issued his orders: "Thrun me garbage into a thrunk, and call some one to help the missus; we're goin' to hit the sunset trail to-night. 'Phone me old dad besides, and have him come over at wanst. Here we emigrate westward by the next express."
The man quietly took control of the situation, and in a few moments the Captain's commands were being carried out with the precision of a military camp.
Bertha, alarmed by Humiston's letter, refused to go down to the public dining-room. A fear that she might encounter the painter possessed her, and the thought of him was at once a shame and torment; therefore, she had her luncheon sent up, and Lucius himself found time to wait upon them.
As they were in the midst of their meal, Haney remarked rather than asked: "Of course, you're going back with us, Lucius."
"I have thought of it, sir, but it isn't in our contract."
"We can put it in," said Bertha.
"We can't do without you now," added Mart.
Lucius seemed pleased. "Thank you for that, Captain. I don't particularly care for the West, but I find service with you agreeable."
Haney chuckled. "Service, do ye call it? Sure, man, 'tis you are in command. I'm but a high private in the rear rank."
Lucius's yellow face flushed and his eyes wavered. "I hope I haven't assumed—"
"Assumed! No, 'tis we who are obligated. We need you as bad as a plainsman needs a guide in the green timber; and if you don't mind a steady job of looking after us social tenderfeet, I'm willing to make it right with you—and Mrs. Haney feels just the way I do."
"Sure, Mart—only trouble with Lucius is, he leaves so little for me to do. He's too handy—if anything."
"That'll wear off," replied Haney. "Well, then, it's all settled but the price, and I reckon we can fix that. If I can't pay cash, I'll let you in on the mine."
Lucius smiled. "Thank you, Captain; it's not entirely a question of pay with me; my wants are few."
Bertha seized the moment to put a question she had been minded many times to ask. "Lucius, what's your plan ? You can't intend to do this all your life ? Tell us your ambition—maybe we can help you."
He looked away, and a deeper shadow fell over his face. "I had ambitions once, Mrs. Haney, but my color was against me. Yes, I think I'll stay as I am. There is a certain security in being valet. You white people know exactly where to find me, and I know just how to meet you. In my profession it was different—• I was always being cursed for presumption."
"What was your profession?" asked Haney.
"I studied law —and practised for a year or two in Washington; but I didn't like my position; I was neither white nor colored, so when I got a good chance I went out to service with a senator as body-servant." He stopped abruptly as though that were all of his tale.
Haney said: "Well, if you can put up with an ignorant old hill-climber like meself, I'll be grateful, and I'll try not rub your fur the wrong way."
Lucius became very earnest for the first time. " There, sir, is one point upon which I must insist. If I go with you, you are to treat me just as you have been doing— as a trusted servant. I'm sorry I told you anything about myself. My service thus far has been very pleasant, very satisfactory, and unless we can go on in the same way, I must leave."
" Very well,"replied Haney. "It's all settled—you're adjutant-general of the Haneys' forces."
After Lucius went away Bertha said, thoughtfully: "I wish he hadn't told us that; I can't order him around the way I've been doing."
Haney smiled. "Did ye order him around? I niver chanced to hear ye do annything but ask him questions-' Lucius, will ye do this ?' ' Lucius, won't ye do that ?'"
Bertha was troubled, and found herself embarrassed by the mulatto's services. She now perceived sadness beneath the quiet lines of his face and hard-won culture in the tones of his voice. The essential tragedy of his defeat grew more poignant to her as she watched him getting the trunks strapped, surrounded by maids and porters. How could she have misread his manner ? He was performing his duties, not with quiet gusto, but in the spirit of the trained nurse.