THE forces that really move most men are the small, concrete, individual experiences of life. The death of a child is of more account to its parents than the fall of a republic. Napoleon did not forget Josephine in his Italian campaigns, and Grant, inflexible commander of a half-million men, never failed, even in the Wilderness, to remember the plain little woman whose fireside fortunes were so closely interwoven with his epoch-making wars.
As Ben Fordyce lost interest in the question of labor and capital and the political struggles of the state (because they were of less account than his own combat with the powers of darkness), so Bertha had little thought of the abstract, the sociologic, in her uneasiness —the strife was individual, the problems personal—and at last, weary of question, of doubt, she yielded once more to the protecting power which lay in Haney's gold and permitted herself to enjoy its use, its command of men. There was something like intoxication in this sense of supremacy, this freedom from ceaseless calculation, and to rise above the doubt in which she had been plunged was like suddenly acquiring wings.
She accepted any chance to penetrate the city's life, determined to secure all that she could of its light and luxury, and in return intrusted Lucius with plans for luncheons and dinners, which he carried out with lavish hand.
Mart seconded all her resolutions with hearty voice. "There's nothing too good for the Haneys!" he repeatedly chuckled.
In the midst of other gayeties she had the McArdles over to mid-day dinner one Saturday, and afterwards took them all, a noisy gang, to the theatre—Patrick Haney as much of a boy as his grandsons, McArdle alone being unhappy as well as uneasy.
She went about the shops, buying with reckless hand treasures for the house in the Springs, and this gave her husband more satisfaction than any other extravagance, for each article seemed a gage of the permanency of his home. In support of her mood he urged her to even larger expenditures. "Buy, buy like a queen," he often commanded, as she mused upon some choice. "Take the best!"
There was instruction as well as a guilty delight in all this conjuring with a magic check-book, and Bertha grew in grace and dignity in her role as hostess. Her circle of acquaintances widened, but the Mosses, her first friends in the city, were not displaced in her affections. To them she continued to play the generous fairy in as many pleasant ways as they would permit. The theatre continued to be her delight, as well as her school of life, and a box-party followed nearly every dinner. She was like a child in the catholicity of her appetite, for she devoured Shakespearian bread, Ibsen roasts, and comic opera cream-puffs with almost equal gusto—and mentally thrived upon the mixture. To the outsider she seemed one of the most fortunate women in the world.
And yet every day made her less tolerant of the crippled old man at her side. She did not pout or sulk or answer him shortly, but she often forgot him-failed to answer him—not out of petulance or disgust, but because her mind was busy with other people. Gradually, without realizing it, she got into the habit of leaving him to amuse himself, as he best could, for she knew he did not specially care for the pursuits which gave her the keenest joy. In consequence of this unintentional neglect he very naturally fell more and more into the hands of the bar-room spongers who loitered about the hotel corridors. He dreaded loneliness, and it was to keep his companions about him that he became a spendthrift in liquors. Sternly and deliberately temperate during his long career as a gambler, he fell at last into drinking to excess, and on one unhappy afternoon returned to Bertha quite plainly drunk.
She was both startled and disgusted by this sign of weakness, and he was not so blinded by the mist of his potations but that he perceived the shrinking reluctance of her touch as she aided Lucius in lifting him into the bed. His inert, lumpish form was at the moment hideously repulsive to her, and physical contact with him a dreaded thing. What was left if he lost that self-control which had made him admirable ? She had always been able to qualify his other shortcomings by saying, "Well, anyhow, he don't drink." She could boast of this no longer.
It was a most miserable night for her. At dinner she was forced to lie about him (for the first time), and she did it so badly that Joe Moss divined her trouble and came generously to her aid with a long and amusing story about Whistler.
The play to which she took her guests did not help her to laughter, for it set forth with diabolic skill the life of a woman who loathed her husband, dreaded maternity, and hated herself—a baffling, marvellously intricate and searching play—meat for well people, not for those mentally ill at ease or morally unstable. Of a truth, Bertha saw but half of it and comprehended less, for she could not forget the leaden hands and flushed face of the man she called husband—and whom she had left in his bed to sleep away his hours of intoxication. She pitied him now—but in a new fashion. Her compassion was mixed with contempt, and that showed more clearly than any other feeling could the depth to which Marshall Haney had sunk.
When she came home at midnight she listened at his door, but did not enter, for Lucius—skilled in all such matters—reported the Captain to be "all right."
She went to her own room in a more darkly tragic mood than she had ever known before. Her punishment, her time for trouble, had begun. "I reckon I'm due to pay for my fun," she said to herself, "but not in the way I've been figuring on." Haney seemed at the moment a complete physical ruin, and the change which his helplessness wrought in her was most radical.
His deeply penitent mood next morning hurt and repelled her almost as much as his maudlin jocularity of the night before. She would have preferred a brazen levity to this humble confession. "'Twas me boast," he sadly asserted, "that no man ever caught me with me eyes full of sand and me tongue twisted—and now look at me! 'Tis what comes of having nothing to do but trade lies with a lot of flat-bottomed loafers in a gaudy bar-room. But don't worry, darlin', right here old Mart pulls up. You'll not see anny more of this. Forget it, dear-heart—won't you now ?"