IT was good to wake in her old room and see the morning light breaking in golden waves against the peaks, to hear her dogs bay and to listen to the murmuring voice of the fountains on the lawn. It was deliciously luxurious to sit at breakfast on the vine-clad porch with the shining new coffee-boiler before her, while Miss Franklin expressed her admiration of the nap-ery and china which the Mosses had helped her to select.
It was glorious to go romping with the dogs about the garden, and most intoxicating to mount her horse and ride away upon the mesa, mad with speed and ecstatic of the wind. No one could have kept pace with her that first day at home. She ran from one thing to the other. She unpacked and spread out all her treasures. She telegraphed her mother and 'phoned her friends. She gave direction to the servants and examined every thing from the horses' hoofs to the sewing-machine. She went over the house from top to bottom to see that it was in order. She was crazy with desire of doing. Her mid-day meal was a mere touch-and-go lunch, but when at last she was seated in her carriage with Haney and Miss Franklin she fell back in her seat, saying, "I feel kind o' sleepy and tired."
"I should think you would!" exclaimed her teacher.
"Of all the galloping creatures you are the most wonderful. I hope you're not to keep this up."
Haney put in a quiet word. "She will not. Sure, she cannot. There'll be nothin' left for to-morrow."
Their ride was in the nature of a triumphal progress. Many people who had hesitated about bowing to them hitherto took this morning to unbend, and Mart observed, with a good deal of satisfaction: "The town seems powerful cordial. I think I'll launch me boom for the Senate."
At the bank-door, where the carriage waited while Bertha transacted some business within, he held a veritable reception, and the swarming tourists, looking upon the sleek and shining team and the gray mus-tached, dignified old man leaning from his seat to shake hands, wondered who the local magnate was, and those who chanced to look in at the window were still more interested in the handsome girl in whose honor the president of the bank left his mahogany den.
In truth, Bertha had won, almost without striving for it, the recognition of the town. Those who had never really established anything against her seized upon this return as the moment of capitulation. There was no mystery about her life. She was known now, and no one really knew anything evil of her—why should she be condemned?
In such wise the current of comment now set, and Mrs. Haney found herself approached by ladies who had hitherto passed her without so much as a nod. She took it all composedly, and in answer to their invitations bluntly answered: "The Captain ain't up to going out much, and I don't like to leave him alone. Come and see us."
She was composed with all save Fordyce, who now produced in her a kind of breathlessness which frightened her. She longed for, yet dreaded, his coming, and for several days avoided direct conversation with him. He respected this reserve in her, but was eager to get her comment on the East.
"How did you like New York," he asked one night as they were all in the garden awaiting dinner.
"It scared me," she answered. "Made me feel like a lady-bug in a clover-huller; but it never phased the Captain," she added, with a smile. "'There's nothin' too good for the Haneys,' says he, and we sure went the pace. We turned Lucius loose. We spent money wicked—enough to buy out a full-sized hotel."
Her quaint, shrewd comment on her extravagances amused Ben exceedingly, and by keeping to a line of questioning he drew from her nearly all her salient experiences—excepting, of course, her grapple with the degenerate artist.
"Lucius turned out the jewel they said he was?"
She responded with enthusiasm. "I should say he did! He knew everything we wanted to know and more too. We'd have wandered around like a couple of Utes if it hadn't been for him. When in doubt ask Lucius, was our motto."
She told stories of the elder Haney and the McArdles, and described the trials of the children in their new home till Ben laughingly said: "It's hard to run somebody else's life—I've found that out."
And Haney admitted with a chuckle that Mac was "a little bewildered, like a hen with a red rag on her tail—divided in his mind like. As for Dad, he still thinks me a burglar on an improved plan."
They also talked of Bertha's studies, for Miss Franklin began at once to give her daily instruction in certain arts which she considered necessary to women of Mrs. Haney's position, and always at the moment of meeting they spoke of Alice—that is to say, Haney with invariable politeness asked after her health, and quite as regularly Ben replied: "Not very well." Once he added: "I can hardly get her out any more. She seems more and more despondent."
This report profoundly troubled Bertha, and the sight of Alice's drawn and tragic face made her miserable. There was something in the sick woman's gaze which awed her, and she was careful not to be left alone with her. The thought of her suffering and its effect on Ben threw a dark shadow over the brightness of her world. She was filled, also, with a growing uneasiness by reason of Mart's change of attitude towards herself. In the excitement of his home-coming he seemed about to regain a large part of his former health and spirits. His eyes brightened, his smile became more frequent, the appealing lines of his brow smoothed out, and save for an occasional shortening of the breath his condition appeared to be improving.
This access of vitality was apparent to Bertha, and should have brought joy to her as to him; but it did not, for with returning vitality his attitude towards her became less of the invalid and more of the lover. He said nothing directly—at first—but she was able to interpret all too well the meaning of his jocular remarks and his wistful glances. Once he called her attention to the returning strength in his arm. "The ould man is not dead yet," he exulted, lifting his disabled arm and clinching his fist. "I feel younger than at any time since me accident," and as he spoke she perceived something of the lion in the light of his eyes.