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Mr. Blaisdell having returned to the city that same day, everything went forward in the same regular routine as prior to Houston’s absence, and evening found the four friends seated on the summit of an immense rocky pile, watching the grand and rugged scenery surrounding them illumined by the glowing colors of the sunset sky. They had been talking of Rutherford’s intended trip to the coast, when Miss Gladden said:
“Mr. Houston, how early can you join us to-morrow afternoon? We are going to have a little picnic party of four, in honor of your return, and also to give Mr. Rutherford pleasant memories of his last days among the mountains.”
“Oh,” said Rutherford, “now I understand; I’ve wondered what you ladies were so mysterious about all day; you’ve been holding secret sessions and making cabalistical signs to each other all the afternoon. Well, as this picnic is partly on my account, I’m sure I feel flattered and shall be delighted to attend. Houston, old boy, when can we look for you?”
“I think, considering the importance of the occasion, I can be ready to join you at three o’clock,” replied Houston, while the ladies expressed their approval.
“There seems to have been a great deal of mysterious consultation about this affair,” remarked Rutherford, “what is the program for to-morrow?”
“Well,” said Miss Gladden, “for one thing, we must have plenty of music; have neither of you gentlemen any musical instruments with you?”
“Not I,” replied Houston, while Rutherford answered, laughing, “I have a banjo that I brought along to amuse myself with in case I got lonesome, but I’ve had no use for it so far, I’ve had such good company here.”
“A very graceful compliment, thank you,” said Miss Gladden, smiling, “but bring the banjo by all means, we will have use for it to-morrow, and I have just thought of something else for the occasion,––but I’m not going to divulge all my plans, we must keep something for a surprise, mustn’t we, Lyle?”
Lyle laughed merrily; “I’m not going to tell a single plan of mine; you will all find when we reach the place, what a mountain picnic means.”
“But can we not even know where we are going?” asked Rutherford, with a tragic air.
“You would not know if I should tell you,” responded Lyle, “we are going to Sunset Park.”
“Sunset Park!” they exclaimed, “where is that?”
“Is it in any way connected with the Sunrise mine of recent fame?” inquired Houston.
“No,” replied Lyle, “it is across the lake; you remember the landing I showed you among the rocks? You follow the broad trail leading up the mountains, and you will come to a beautiful plateau on the west side, as level as a floor,––but I’m not going to tell you about it, you must first see it for yourselves.”
The next morning, immediately after breakfast, while Houston still stood talking with Miss Gladden and Rutherford, the graceful form of Lyle suddenly darted past them, her face nearly concealed by an enormous sunbonnet.
“Lyle, you gypsy, where are you going?” called Miss Gladden.
For answer, she turned and waved her hand with a merry laugh, then ran, fleet-footed as a deer, to the edge of the lake, and unfastening one of the little boats, was in it and rowing out upon the lake as dextrously as a professional oarsman, before those watching her could even guess her intentions.
“Great Cæsar! but that girl can row!” exclaimed Rutherford, with all the enthusiastic admiration of a newly graduated collegian.
“Where is the child going?” asked Houston.
“Probably to the picnic ground,” said Miss Gladden, “but what for, I cannot imagine.”
The sunbonnet was waved saucily in the air, and then instead of steering for the landing place as they expected, the boat suddenly disappeared around a corner of the rocks, in the opposite direction, while there came ringing out on the air, in mocking tones, the words of the old song:
“I saw the boat go ’round the bend.”
No one saw Lyle when she returned, a couple of hours later, and not even Miss Gladden knew that she was in the house until she made her appearance at the dinner table, with a very demure face, exceedingly pink fingers, and wearing an air of deep mystery that no amount of joking could diminish.
After dinner, Lyle made two or three trips across the lake, carrying mysterious baskets and dishes. In one of these journeys she was intercepted by Miss Gladden, who was lying in wait for her, and who, tempted by the delightful aroma, lifted the cover of one of her dishes.
“Strawberries!” she exclaimed, “and wild ones! Where did you get them, Lyle? They are the first I have seen out here.”
“They are the first that have ripened,” she replied, “I went over to the gulch for them this morning, but don’t say anything about them,” she added, as she stepped into the boat with her treasures, “I’m going to cache them until they are needed.”
“Going to do what?” said Miss Gladden.
“Going to ‘cache’ them, hide them away among the rocks,” she replied laughing, and, taking the oars, she was soon speeding across the lake.
It was a merry party that started out two or three hours later. Houston carried the banjo, as Rutherford had his precious camera and a lot of plates, having declared his intention of immortalizing the occasion by taking a number of views for the benefit of their posterity. Miss Gladden had her guitar, and to the great astonishment of the gentlemen, Lyle appeared, carrying a fine old violin. It was Mike’s, which she had borrowed for the occasion at the suggestion of Miss Gladden, and in reply to the expressions of wonder from the gentlemen, Miss Gladden said:
“This is the surprise I planned for you, but wait till you have heard her; I never heard her myself until a day or two ago.”
With song and laughter they crossed the lake, and having reached the landing place among the rocks and fastened their boats, proceeded up the mountain. Here they found a flight of natural stone steps, at the head of which a broad trail wound around the mountain, until, having passed a huge, shelving rock, they suddenly found themselves on a plateau, broad, grassy, and, as Lyle had said, “as level as a floor.”
Groups of large evergreens afforded a refreshing shade. Underneath the trees an immense, flat rock, covered with a snowy table-cloth and trimmed with vines and flowers, gave hint of some of the more substantial pleasures to be looked for later. At a distance gleamed the silvery cascades, their rainbow-tinted spray rising in a perpetual cloud of beauty. Far below could be seen the winding, canyon road, while above and beyond, on all sides, the mountains reared their glistening crests against the sky.
For a time they gave themselves up to the enjoyment of the scene, till, at Miss Gladden’s suggestion, the tuning of the various instruments began, interspersed with jokes and merry, rippling laughter. Amidst the general merriment, Houston, with an air of great gravity, produced from his pocket the different parts of a flute, which he proceeded to fit together, saying:
“When you were speaking last evening about the music for to-day I had entirely forgotten the existence of this flute, but after we went to our room, Ned persisted in practicing on that unmusical instrument of his, and in searching in my trunk for a weapon of self defense, I found this, and it answered my purpose so well then, I brought it with me to-day.”
The music was a success, and it seemed as though the musicians would never grow weary, but when, at Miss Gladden’s request, Lyle sang “Kathleen Mavourneen,” her sweet, rich tones blending with the wild, plaintive notes of the violin, her listeners again seemed entranced by the witchery of the music, as on the night when first they heard her sing, and were only aroused by the sound of hearty, prolonged cheering from the canyon below.
Looking over the edge of the plateau, they discovered a party of about a dozen people, in a wagon drawn by six horses, who had stopped to listen to the music, and give their panting animals a chance to rest. Behind them was a line of three or four pack mules, laden with tents, cooking utensils and bedding.
“A camping party!” exclaimed Lyle, “the first of the season; they are on their way to Strawberry gulch.”
On catching sight of the group above on the plateau, the ladies below began waving their handkerchiefs, and the gentlemen were loud in their cheers and calls for more music.
“Give them another song, Miss Maverick,” said Rutherford, “that is a decided encore.”
Once more raising her violin, Lyle sang “The Maid of Dundee,” and never did song or singer meet with nobler applause, for the cheers from below in the canyon were joined with those from above on the plateau, and were echoed and re-echoed among the rocks, the last reverberations dying away and mingling with the roar of the distant cascades.
As the camping party seemed in no haste to continue their journey, Miss Gladden with the gentlemen then came forward to the edge of the plateau, and all joined in singing a few familiar songs, some of them accompanied by the guitar and the violin, after which, the party in the canyon, with much waving of hats and handkerchiefs, and many cheers in token of their appreciation, passed on their way.
After this little episode, a gypsy fire was kindled, and in a short time the rock table was spread with a dainty feast; chicken sandwiches, mountain trout, which Lyle had caught in the morning, delicately broiled, and the sweet, wild strawberries served in various ways, all equally tempting and delicious. After the feast, Houston proved himself an adept upon the violin, and he and Rutherford gave a number of college songs, and old plantation songs and dances, accompanied by the violin and banjo.
At last, as the long, gray twilight was slowly deepening, and the stars silently marshaling their forces in the evening sky, the two boats drifted across the lake, only guided, not propelled, by the oars, and the air, for a while, was filled with song. As they slowly approached the shore, however, the singing gradually ceased. For a while Rutherford talked of the coming of his brother; then he and Lyle were silent, but from the other boat, at a little distance, came low, murmuring tones. They had just entered upon the first pages of that beautiful story, old as eternity itself, and as enduring; the only one of earth’s stories upon whose closing page, as we gaze with eyes dim with the approaching shadows of death, we find no “finis” written, for it is to be continued in the shadowless life beyond.
Rutherford was thinking of some one far away, under European skies, and wishing that she were present with him there, to make his happiness complete.
And Lyle, with that face of wondrous beauty, yet calm and inscrutable as that of the sphinx, had any power as yet passed over the hidden depths of her woman’s nature, and troubled the waters? Were those eyes, with their far-away look, gazing into the past with its strange darkness and mystery, or striving to pierce the dim, impenetrable veil of the future? No one could say; perhaps she herself was scarcely conscious, but as they landed, Miss Gladden noted the new expression dawning in her eyes, and as the friends and lovers separated for the night, each one avowing that day to have been one of the most delightful of their whole lives, she wound her arm about Lyle in sisterly fashion, and drew her into her own room. Lyle, as was her custom, dropped upon a low seat beside her friend, but was silent.
“Are you looking backward or forward, to-night, Lyle?” asked Miss Gladden, taking the lovely face in both her hands, and gazing into the beautiful eyes.
Lyle’s color deepened slightly, as she replied:
“I hardly know; it seems sometimes as if I were looking into an altogether different life from this, a different world from that in which I have lived.”
“How so, my dear?” inquired her friend.
“I scarcely know how to describe it myself,” she replied; then asked abruptly, “Miss Gladden, do you believe we have ever had an existence prior to this? that we have lived on earth before, only amid different surroundings?”
“No,” answered Miss Gladden, “I can see no reason for such a belief as that; but why do you ask?”
“Only because it seems sometimes as if that were the only way in which I could account for some of my strange impressions and feelings.”
“Tell me about them,” said Miss Gladden, interested.
“They are so vague,” Lyle replied, “I hardly know how to describe them, but I have always felt them, more or less. When I read of life amid scenes of refinement and beauty, there is always an indefinable sense of familiarity about it all; and since you and Mr. Houston have been here, and I have lived such a different life,––especially since we have sung together so much,––the impression is much more vivid than before; even the music seems familiar, as if I had heard it all, or something like it, long ago, and yet it is utterly impossible, living the life I have. It must have been only in my dreams, those strange dreams I used to have so often, and which come to me even now.”
“And what are these dreams, dear? You have never before spoken to me of them.”
“No,” Lyle answered, “I have never spoken of them to any one; they have always been rather vague and indefinite, like the rest of my strange impressions and fancies; only they are all alike, it is almost precisely the same dream, no matter when it comes to me. There is only one feature that is very clear or distinct, and that is a beautiful face that is always bending over me, and always seems full of love and tenderness. Sometimes there are other faces in the background, but they are confused and indistinct,––I can only recall this one that is so beautiful. Then there is always a general sense of light and beauty, and sometimes I seem to hear music; and then it is all suddenly succeeded by an indescribable terror, in which the face vanishes, and from which I awake trembling with fright.”
“And you say you have had this dream always?” queried Miss Gladden.
“Yes, ever since I could remember. I don’t seem to be able to recall much about my early childhood, before I was five or six years old, but these dreams are among my earliest recollections, and I would sometimes awake crying with fright. After I met Jack, and he began teaching me, my mind was so taken up with study, that the dreams became less frequent, and for the last two or three years, I had almost forgotten them, till something seemed to recall them, and now it occurs often, especially after we have had an evening of song. I know I shall see that beautiful face to-night.”
“But whose face is it, Lyle?” questioned Miss Gladden; “surely, it must resemble some one you have seen.”
Lyle shook her head; “I have never seen any living person whom it resembled. That, together with all these strange impressions of which I have told you, is what seems so mysterious, and leads me to half believe I have lived another life, sometime, somewhere.”
Miss Gladden sat silently caressing the golden head. Her suspicions that Lyle had had other parents than those whom she knew as such, were almost confirmed, but would it be best, with no tangible proof, to hint such a thought to Lyle herself? While she was thus musing, Lyle continued:
“What seemed to me strangest of all, is, that though I cannot remember ever seeing a living face like the one in my dream, I have seen what I believe is a photograph of it.”
“When? and where?” asked Miss Gladden quickly, hoping to find some key to the problem she was trying to solve.
“A few weeks after your coming, and at Jack’s cabin,” Lyle replied.
“Did Jack show you the picture?”
“No, I do not know that he intended me to see it, but it was lying on the table that evening; I took it up and looked at it, but he did not seem to want to talk about it. I have never seen it since, and he told me that until that evening, he had not seen it for a long time.”
“And did you recognize it as the face of your dreams?”
“Not then; it seemed familiar, but it was not until after I reached home that I remembered my dream, and from that time, the dream returned. I see the face often now, and it is just like the picture, only possibly a little older and sweeter.”
“And you have never spoken to Jack about the picture since?”
“No, for I have not seen it, and he has never alluded to it. He admitted that evening it was the picture of some one he had loved dearly, and I have since thought perhaps he would rather I had not seen it.”
Miss Gladden was silent; her old theory regarding Jack’s being the father of Lyle, seemed to her now more probable than ever. She believed the picture to be that of Lyle’s own mother, who, it seemed evident, had lived long enough that her child remembered her in her dreams, though unable to recall her face at other times.
Very tenderly she bade Lyle good-night, determined that her next call at the little cabin should be made as early as possible.
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