Surely life was growing complex. With bewildering swiftness the experiences of a woman of the world were advancing upon her, and she, with no brother or father to be her guard, or friend to give her character, with a husband whose very name and face were injuries, was finding men in the centres of culture quite as predatory as among the hills, where Mart Haney's fame still made his glance a warning. These few weeks in Chicago had added a year to her development, but she dared not face Ben Fordyce alone—not just yet—not till her mind had cleared.
In the midst of her doubt of herself and of him a message came which made all other news of no account. He was on his way to Chicago to consult Mart (so the words ran), but in her soul she knew he was coming to see her. Was it to test her ? Had he taken silence for consent ? Was he about to try her faith in him and her loyalty to her husband ?
His telegram read: "Coming on important business." That might mean concerning the mine—on the surface; but beneath ran something more vital to them both than any mine or labor war, something which developed in the girl both fear and wonder—fear of the power that came from his eyes, wonder of the world his love had already opened to her. What was the meaning of this mad, sweet riot of the blood—this forgetfulness of all the rest of the world—this longing which was both pleasure and pain, doubt and delight, which turned her face to the West as though through a long, shining vista she saw love's messenger speeding towards her?
Sleep kept afar, and she lay restlessly turning till long after midnight, and when she slept she dreamed, not of him, but of Sibley and her mother and the toil-filled, untroubled days of her girlhood. She rose early next morning and awaited his coming with more of physical weakness as well as of uncertainty of mind than she had ever known before.
Haney was also up and about, an hour ahead of his schedule, sure that Ben's business concerned the mine. "It's the labor war breaking out again," he repeated. "I feel it in my bones. If it is,back I go, for the boys will be nading me."
They went to the station in their auto-car, but, at Bertha's suggestion, Mart sent Lucius in to meet their attorney and to direct him where to find them. The young wife had a feeling that to await him at the gate might give him a false notion of her purpose. She grew faint and her throat contracted as if a strong hand clutched it as she saw his tall form advancing, but almost instantly his frank and eager face, his clear glance, his simple and cordial greeting disarmed her, transmuted her half-shaped doubts into golden faith. He was true and good—of that she was completely reassured. Her spirits soared, and the glow came back to her cheek.
Fordyce, looking up at her, was filled with astonishment at the picture of grace and ease which she presented, as she leaned to take his hand. She shone, unmistakable mistress of the car, while Haney filled the role of trusted Irish coachman.
As he climbed in, the young lawyer remarked merrily, "I don't know whether I approve of this extravagance or not." He tapped the car door.
"It's mighty handy for the Captain," she replied. "You see he can't get round in the street-cars very well, and he says this is cheaper than cabs in the long run."
"It has never proved economical to me; but it is handy," he answered, with admiration of her growing mastery of wealth.
And so with something fiercely beating in their hearts these youthful warriors struggled to be true to others— fighting against themselves as against domestic traitors, while they talked of the mine, the state judiciary, the operators, and the unions. Their words were impersonal, prosaic of association, but their eyes spoke of love as the diamond speaks of light. Ben's voice, carefully controlled, was vibrant with the poetry that comes but once in the life of a man, and she listened in that perfect content which makes gold and glory but the decorations of the palace where adoration dwells.
The great, smoky, thunderous city somehow added to the sweetness of the meeting—made it the more precious, like a song in a tempest. It seemed to Ben Fordyce as if he had never really lived before. The very need of concealment gave his unspoken passion a singular quality—a tang of the wilding, the danger-some, which his intimacy with Alice had never possessed.
The Haneys' suite of rooms at the hotel called for comment. "Surely Haney is feeling the power of money—but why not; who has a better right to lovely things than Bertha?" Then aloud he repeated: "How well you're looking—both of you! City life agrees with you. I never saw you look so well."
This remark, innocent on its surface, brought self-consciousness to Bertha, for the light of his glance expressed more than admiration; and even as they stood facing each other, alive to the same disturbing flush, Lucius called Haney from the room, leaving them alone together. The moment of Ben's trial had come.
For a few seconds the young wife waited in breathless silence for him to speak, a sense of her own wordlessness lying like a weight upon her. Into the cloud of her confusion his voice came bringing confidence and calm. "I feel that you have forgiven me—your eyes seem to say so. I couldn't blame you if you despised me. I won't say my feeling has changed, for it hasn't. It may be wrong to say so—it is wrong, but I can't help it. Please tell me that you forgive me. I will be happier if you do, and I will never offend again." His accent was at once softly pleading and manly, and, as she raised her eyes to his in restored self-confidence, she murmured a quaint, short, reassuring phrase: "Oh, that's all right!" Her glance, so shy, so appealing, united to the half-humorous words of her reply, were so surely of the Mountain-West that Ben was quite swept from the high ground of his resolution, and his hands leaped towards her with an almost irresistible embracing impulse. "You sweet girl!" he exclaimed.