She promised, of course, but the chasm between them was widened, and a fear of his again yielding to temptation cut short her stay in the city, for Lucius warningly explained: "The Captain is settling into a corner of the bar-room with a gang of sponging blackguards around him, and every day makes it less easy for him to break away. I'd advise going home," he ended, quietly. "The Springs is a safer place for him now."
The hyenas were beginning to prowl around the disabled lion, and this the faithful servant knew even better than the wife.
"All right, home we go," she replied, and the thought of "home" was both sweet and perilous.
Haney met her decision with pathetic, instant joy. "I'm ready, I was only waitin'," he said. "After all, your own shack is better than a pearl palace in anny town, and it's getting hot besides."
Bertha parted from the Mosses with keen sorrow. Joe had come to be like an elder brother to her—a brother and a teacher, and, next to Ben Fordyce, was more often in her thought than any other human being. She had lost part of her awe of him, but her affection had deepened as she came to understand the essential manliness and simplicity of his character. He redeemed the artist-world from the shame men like Humiston had put upon it.
As she entered for the last time the studio in which she had spent so many happy hours and from whose atmosphere of work and high endeavor she had derived so much mental and moral development she was sad, and this sadness lent a beauty to her face that it had never before attained. She looked older, too; and contrasting her with the girl who had first looked in at his door, Moss could scarcely believe that less than half a year had affected this change in her. He was too keen an observer not to know that part of this was due to a refining taste in hats and gowns, but beneath all these superficial traits she had grown swiftly in the expression of security and power.
He greeted her as usual with a frank nod and (his hands being free from clay) advanced to shake hands. "Don't tell me you've come to say good-bye."
"That's what," she curtly said. "It's up to me to take the Captain home. He's getting into bad habits lying around this hotel."
His face clouded. "I've been afraid of that," he answered, gently. "Yes, you'd better go home. It's harder for a man to have a good, easy time than it is for a woman. But sit down, Julia will be in soon; you mustn't go without seeing her."
After some further talk on trains and other commonplaces she became abruptly personal. "I've been having a whole lot of fun buying things and planting dollars, but I'm beginning to see an end to that kind of business. After you've got your house filled up with furniture and jimcracks, what you going to do then?"
"And begin all over again? You can't buy out the town. It's a real circus for a while, but I can see there's a limit to it. Once you find out you can just go down here to one of these jewelry-stores and order anything you want—you don't want anything. Here I am with a lot of money that ain't mine, having a gay whirl spending it, but I can see my finish right now. To go on in this line would take all the fun out of life. What am I to do?"
Moss took a seat and looked at her thoughtfully. "I don't know. I used to think if I had money I'd start out and 'do good to people,' but I'm not at all sure that charity isn't all a damned impertinence. A couple of years ago I would have said go in for 'Neighborhood Settlements,' free libraries, 'Noonday Rests,' 'Open-air Funds,' and all the rest of it, but now I ask, 'Why?' We've had our wave of altruism, and I'm inclined to think a wave of selfishness would do us all good—but you're too young to be bothered with these problems. Go home and be happy while you can. Enjoy your gold while it glitters. Work is my only fun—real, enduring fun—and I'm not a bit sure that will last. Whatever you do, be yourself. Don't try to be what you think I or some one else would like to have you. I like you because you are so straightforwardly yourself; I shall be heart-broken if you take on the disease of the age and begin to prate of your duty."
She listened to him with only partial comprehension of his meaning, but she answered: "I was brought up to think duty was the whole works."
"Yes, and your teacher meant duty to God, duty to others. Well, there's duty to one's self. The war of money and duty is the biggest mix of our day. It's simpler to be poor; then all you've got to worry about is bread and shoes and shingles."
"That's just it. Sometimes I wish I was back in the Golden Eagle, where I—" she ended in mid-sentence.
He laughed. "You sound like a middle-aged financier who mourns (tattooed with dollar-marks) for the days when he used to husk corn at seventy cents a day." She saw the humor of this, but was aware that without a knowledge of Ben Fordyce Joe could not understand her problem, therefore she abandoned her search for light and leading. "Well, anyhow, right here I quit what you fellows call civilization. I hate to lose you and Julia and the rest of the folks, but it's me to the high hills. You'll never know how much you've helped me."
"I hope you'll never know how thoroughly we've done you. An evil-minded person would say we'd worked you for dinners and drives most shameful. However, if you have enjoyed our company as thoroughly as we've delighted in your champagne and birds, we'll cry quits. All my theories of art and life I advance gratis. I ought to do something handsome for you—you've listened so divinely."
Underneath his banter Moss was sincerely moved. It was hard to say good-bye to this curious, earnest, seeking mind, this unspoiled child in whose face the world was being, reflected as in a magical mirror. He loved her with frank affection—a pure passion that was more intimate than fraternal love and more exalted, in a sense, than the selfish, devouring passion of the suitor. It would have been difficult for him to say what his relationship to her at the moment was. It was more than friendship, more than brotherly care, and yet it was definably less than that of the lover.