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Friday morning, word was received from Mr. Blaisdell, over the private wire connecting the office at Silver City with the mines, that he and Mr. Rivers would be up on the first train with a party of four, and to have everything in readiness for them; also to make arrangements for their accommodation at the boarding house. Morgan had already placed a small force of men at work on the mine, and after carrying out Mr. Blaisdell’s instructions, remained himself at the mine, superintending the work.
It was one of those perfect days, so frequent among the mountains; a cloudless sky, and the air so clear that one could see the most distant mountain peaks with wonderful distinctness. The weather was again warm, yet the air was cool and invigorating, and aromatic with the breath of the evergreen forests clothing the sides of the mountains and foot hills, while everywhere, the spring flowers were adding their color and beauty to the scene, their fragrance rising continuously, like an invisible cloud of incense, on every hand.
At about eleven o’clock, Houston heard the noise of the approaching team, and stepping to the window, saw a three-seated, open wagon, drawn by a pair of powerful horses. On the back seat, with Mr. Blaisdell, was an old gentleman, evidently Mr. Winters, and on the second seat, facing them, were two whom Houston judged to be Mr. Rivers and the junior Mr. Winters; but he took little notice of them, for his attention was arrested by one of the two young men sitting on the front seat, with the driver. The figure looked wonderfully familiar, but the face was almost wholly concealed by a broad-brimmed, soft hat. The team stopped, and at once the passengers prepared to alight; the hat was suddenly pushed back, revealing to the astonished Houston, the shining spectacles and laughing face of Arthur Van Dorn, his college class mate and chum.
The men were alighting, and it was evident that Mr. Blaisdell was in a most genial frame of mind, he fairly beamed on every one; but Houston, not waiting to meet him, made a hasty retreat into the back room, to decide quickly upon his course of action. Nearly a thousand plans occurred to him, but none seemed feasible. If Mr. Blaisdell were the only member of the firm present, he felt he would have little difficulty, but the presence of Mr. Rivers made it considerably harder for him.
Meanwhile, in the front room, Mr. Blaisdell was receiving his guests in the most effusive manner, reminding Houston, even in his dilemma, of a gushing school girl.
“Mr. Winters, let me assist you, you must be exceedingly weary; here, take this chair, you will find it a little more comfortable; sorry not to have more luxurious quarters in which to receive you, but this is the wild west, you know. Mr. Rivers, won’t you see that Mr. Winters is comfortable, while I wait on his son. Mr. Lindlay, let me show you these specimens of ore, I think you will appreciate them as few can.”
In the midst of all this effusion, Mr. Rivers suddenly appeared in the back room. He was a small man, quite bald, with small, twinkling, peering eyes, and a quick motion of his head from one side to the other that reminded Houston of a ferret. Seeing Houston, his eyes twinkled until they nearly closed, he smiled, and extending his hand, said:
“Ah, the new clerk, Mr. Houston, I suppose; very glad to meet you.”
At that moment Mr. Blaisdell entered; “Well, Mr. Rivers, you have found Mr. Houston, I see; Mr. Houston, this is Mr. Rivers, the secretary of the company. I was just looking for you, Houston, I want you to come in and meet the people in the other room.”
“In a moment, Mr. Blaisdell,” said Houston, “but first, will you and Mr. Rivers just look over something I have found here. This looks to me as though a serious error had been made in this report regarding the Sunrise mine, and as you will probably need it to-day, had it better not be corrected?”
“Error in the report of the Sunrise!” said Mr. Blaisdell, adjusting his spectacles, “let me see; why yes, that is an error, and a bad one, too, I am glad you called our attention to it; look here, Rivers,” and the two men were deeply engrossed in a study of the papers before them.
Houston improved the opportunity to reconnoiter the situation in the front room. Mr. Winters and his son were in a close consultation. The third man was busily engaged in looking at some ores, his back towards the door, while beside him stood Van Dorn, indifferently watching him. Houston gave a slight cough that attracted Van Dorn’s attention; he turned, and seeing Houston, his face brightened, and he was about to spring forward to greet him, when the latter, with a quick motion of his hand, gave him the signal of their old college days, its equivalent in the western vernacular being, “Don’t give me away,” at the same time putting his finger on his lips. A look of intense surprise flashed across Van Dorn’s face, but he grasped the situation at once, and silently giving the return signal, he turned and walked in the opposite direction with the most nonchalant manner imaginable, and Houston knew that his secret was safe. A few moments afterward, “Mr. Houston, our private secretary,” was introduced to the entire party, and a hearty grip from Van Dorn’s hand, which Houston returned with interest, was the only sign of mutual recognition.
“Well friends,” said Mr. Blaisdell, blandly, having looked at his watch, “it is now so near noon, that when we have allowed Mr. Winters ample time for rest, we had better proceed to the house and have our dinner, before going to the mines.”
“If you dine at noon,” replied Mr. Winters, in a very genial, yet dignified manner, “there is scarcely time for a very extended exploration, but don’t discommode yourselves in the least, gentlemen, on account of my age and feebleness. I have always enjoyed perfect health, and notwithstanding my gray hairs, I don’t believe I am much older than my friend, here, Mr. Blaisdell.”
“Not older than I am, sir!” exclaimed Mr. Blaisdell, who prided himself upon his youthful appearance, “why, how old do you take me to be?”
“Much older than you look,” replied Mr. Winters, “I am sixty-five, and you are at least sixty, although you look ten years younger than that.”
“You have certainly proven yourself a Yankee by your guessing,” said Mr. Blaisdell, slightly disconcerted, while the others joined in a general laugh at his expense, “I wouldn’t have thought you would have made so good a guess as that, neither did I think you were so near my own age.”
“You have the advantage of me now,” returned Mr. Winters, pleasantly, “but if we live twenty years, as I expect to, I’ll then look younger than you, for I have the better health of the two.”
“Have you ever visited the west before, Mr. Winters?” inquired Mr. Rivers.
“Yes, a few times,” replied the old gentleman, while the mining expert, an Englishman, with large blue eyes, full face and blond mustache, smiled quietly at Van Dorn and Houston, who were seated near each other; “I’ve been west once or twice a year for the last ten years.”
“Indeed!” said Mr. Rivers, with considerable surprise, while the younger Mr. Winters said with a laugh, “Oh, you couldn’t keep father at home in New York, any more than you could one of these Indians out here; he’s got to be roaming around all over the country continually. If he didn’t drag me about with him everywhere, I wouldn’t object.”
“You have been out in this country often, I suppose,” said Mr. Blaisdell, addressing the expert, who replied coolly, with a very slight accent:
“No, sir; I simply come out ’ere once in a w’ile, you know, just as an accommodation to Mr. Winters.”
“You live in New York, I suppose?”
“No, sir; my ’ome is in London,” he replied, with an air that seemed to indicate he did not care for any further conversation.
“Blaisdell,” said Mr. Rivers, “I thought you said something some time ago, about dinner; if the ride in the mountain air has given the rest of these gentlemen such an appetite as it has me, we would like to see that dinner materialize before very long.”
On the way to the boarding house, Van Dorn managed to walk with Houston, and exclaimed in a low tone:
“Good heavens, Everard, what does this mean? What are you masquerading around in this style for?”
“Don’t ask me to explain now, there are too many around; after dinner we will go down by ourselves, and I’ll tell you the whole story. I may want a little advice from you, as you’re a mining expert yourself.”
“Don’t let any of these people out here know that,” Van Dorn answered quickly; “Mr. Winters has introduced me as an inventor of some mining machinery that they use, just out here looking around for the pleasure of it; you know I did invent an amalgamator that is being used to some extent; but I’m not supposed to know anything about practical mining.”
Houston laughed; “How about the Englishman?” he asked.
“He’s no fool,” said Van Dorn quickly, “though he is playing verdant; only comes out here to accommodate Mr. Winters, and so forth; that’s all right, but he accommodates Mr. Winters pretty often. He’s a fine expert and understands his business thoroughly, only I happen to be a little more familiar with the ores in this locality, as I spent a good many months out here in the mountains two years ago, experting mines; not in this camp of course, but only a few miles from here. Mr. Winters himself is sharp, and with Lindlay and myself out here, he’s not going to be very badly taken in.”
“Good!” said Houston, “and now there is one thing more before we get to the house. You remember Morton Rutherford?”
“Mort Rutherford, of old college days? well, I should say so; what about him?”
“His brother is stopping here, you will see him at dinner.”
“What!” interrupted Van Dorn, “little Ned? What under heaven is he doing out here? Are you two fellows out here incognito making love to rustic maidens? or what are you doing?”
“No, Ned is out here in his own name, you won’t need be under any restrictions with him, but what I want to say is this: Don’t let him know who I am, or that you used to know me, or that I know his brother.”
“Anything else I’m not to let him know?” queried Van Dorn, taking out a small note book.
“No, put up your book, or Mr. Blaisdell will think I am giving you pointers on the mine. But this is how it is; Rutherford met me on the train coming out here, introduced himself to me, took a fancy to the mountains, and decided to stay a few weeks. He thinks I am––what you found me––the clerk for this company, and my home in Chicago. I am not ready to explain matters to him yet, so just simply appear as if you had never met me or heard of me till to-day.”
“But how is it Ned didn’t know you? Didn’t you ever see him when you visited Mort?”
“No, I was there only once, and he was away at school at the time, and then he never went to Yale, you know, he is a Harvard graduate.”
“Oh, I see; all right, I’ll be mum.”
A sharp turn in the road brought the house into view, with Rutherford seated on the porch, reading a magazine.
He glanced up with his usual assumption of dignity, as the party approached, but catching sight of Van Dorn, at the rear of the little procession, his magazine and his dignity were suddenly flung to the winds, and he bounded down from the porch like a school-boy.
“By Jove! Hello there, Van Dorn, how do you do? Great Scott! how did you ever come out here? I’m awfully glad to see you.”
“Very glad to see you, my dear boy,” said Van Dorn, heartily, “but the mystery to me is, how do you happen to be here?”
Mr. Blaisdell looked on greatly astonished and amused by Rutherford’s impetuous greeting.
“Well, Mr. Rutherford,” he remarked, “you seem to have met an old friend; ah, yes, I see, you are from Boston, and so is Mr. Van Dorn.”
Introductions followed, and the party sat down to dinner. Houston, seated between Van Dorn and Rutherford, did not lack for entertainment, but he had been at the table but a few seconds when he became aware that Miss Gladden was not there. He waited till the meal was nearly over, and then quietly inquired of Lyle whether Miss Gladden were ill.
“Oh no,” Lyle answered, in a low tone, “Miss Gladden thought best, as so many gentlemen were to be here, and on business, to let them have the table to themselves.”
After dinner, Houston started a little early for the office, and Van Dorn took his hat, saying:
“If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I’ll walk down with Mr. Houston. You know I’m not so crazy on mining as you are, and I’d like to see somebody for a change, that can talk on some other subject.”
“Go ahead,” said Mr. Winters, “I suppose you’ll want to go through the mines in our company, though, by and by.”
“I probably will have to go in your company, if I go at all,” Van Dorn replied carelessly, “my choice is rather limited.”
“You’ll be here this evening, won’t you Van?” said Rutherford, who was then engaged in a sort of one-sided conversation with the Englishman.
“I suppose so,” Van Dorn answered.
“All right, I’ll see you later,” Rutherford responded.
The confidential clerk and the young inventor strolled down the road together, and the officers of the mining company never dreamed of the results.
Half an hour later, Mr. Blaisdell and Mr. Rivers rose to return to the office, and the others followed their example, with the exception of Mr. Winters, who said:
“If you boys are in a hurry to start, all right, go ahead; I’m going to take my after-dinner smoke out here on the porch,” at the same time producing a fine meerschaum.
“Now, father, don’t you get left behind,” said his son jokingly.
“Get left, you young rattle-brains! I’ll have my smoke out and be down there at the office, before you are ready to start; your old father generally ‘gets there’ in as good time as you can make.”
“I’ll tell you what we will do, Mr. Winters,” said Mr. Blaisdell, “the road to the mine branches off just below here, and we can just as well drive around here and call for you.”
“All right, Mr. Blaisdell, that will be perfectly satisfactory, whatever suits you young fellows, suits me.”
“Very well, then, Mr. Winters,” said Mr. Blaisdell, “we ‘young fellows’ will be along in the course of half an hour,” and they went down the canyon, leaving the old gentleman in the low porch, deep in the enjoyment of his pipe.
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