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Houston and Rutherford, on retiring to their room, after the breaking up of the picnic party, donned their slippers and smoking jackets, and having lighted their cigars, and slipped into the easiest possible attitudes, prepared to devote the next few hours to a confidential tete-a-tete. The next day Rutherford would start on his journey to the coast, and naturally there were many topics of mutual interest to be discussed on this, their last night together for a number of weeks.
Houston felt that the time had come for taking Rutherford into his confidence regarding his own work and plans, for it was evident that Van Dorn had posted his brother, and Rutherford would soon learn the truth from him, if in no other way. For a while Rutherford talked of his brother.
“I knew he was intending to come west this summer, and I expected to meet him in some of the cities along the coast, but I supposed he would return by one of the southern routes. I’m awfully glad he has decided to come back this way,” he added, “for I would enjoy it of course, to come around and see you again, and then, I’d like to have you meet Mort. He and I are not a bit alike, but I think he’s a splendid fellow, and I think you and he will like each other.”
“I haven’t a doubt of it, Ned,” Houston replied, with an air of confidence rather surprising to his friend; “in fact, I think I will be as glad to meet him as you yourself;” then, as Rutherford’s eyes expressed considerable wonder at such unexpected cordiality, he continued:
“I’ve been thinking, for some time, Ned, that the friendship you have shown for the low-salaried clerk and bookkeeper whom you met on your way out here, deserves some degree of confidence in return, and this evening seems to be the best time for giving you a little explanation regarding the man whom you have called your friend for the last few weeks.”
“Why, certainly, if you wish,” Rutherford replied, with slight embarrassment, “but then, it isn’t at all necessary, you know; that is, unless it is your choice, for your salary or your position doesn’t cut any figure with me. Whatever your circumstances may be, I know as well as I need to know that you are a gentleman; anybody can see that, and I have told my brother so.”
“I am much obliged to you, Ned,” Houston answered, with difficulty restraining a smile, “but I am going to begin by saying that your brother knows me a great deal better than you do.”
Rutherford’s face expressed so much astonishment, that it resembled nothing so much as an exaggerated exclamation point. Houston continued:
“I have never in my life known what it was to have an own brother, but the one who for many years has held that place in my heart is Morton Rutherford, and I think he will tell you that of all his class mates, there was not one with whom he was upon more intimate, confidential terms, than Everard Houston, of New York.”
“Everard Houston! Great Scott!” exclaimed Rutherford, springing to his feet, “why I remember that name well; he was Mort’s best friend. You don’t mean to say you are the same? Why, I thought you said you were from Chicago!”
“I was from Chicago, when you met me,” answered Houston, smiling, “but I had come from New York less than ten days before.”
“Well, by Jove!” said Rutherford, walking up and down the room, “I am floored completely! If you had once said you were from New York, I might have suspected who you were, but Chicago! and then,” here he stopped and gazed at his friend with a comical look of perplexity, “why, Everard Houston was the nephew and adopted son of W. E. Cameron.”
“Certainly,” assented Houston.
“Well then, what in thunder,––if I may ask the question,––are you doing out here with this confounded Buncombe-Boomerang mining company?”
“That is just what I wished to tell you to-night,” Houston replied, “but we must talk low, for walls sometimes have ears,” and placing a chair for his friend near his own, he proceeded to tell him of his object in coming out to the mining camp, of the work which he had accomplished, and of his plans for what yet remained to be done. Rutherford listened with much interest, deepening into admiration for his friend.
“And now,” said Houston, in conclusion, “you will see why I could not very well reveal my identity to you when we first met. I knew you as soon as I saw your card, but I was a stranger in this part of the country, with a certain role to play, uncertain of success, and, not knowing what difficulties or obstacles I might meet, thought there would be less danger of unexpected complications, if you thought me just what I appeared to be.”
“You thought about right, too,” said Rutherford, “for I’m awfully careless about anything of that kind, always putting my foot in it, you know; and I don’t see how you ever could come out here, a perfect stranger, and carry everything along as smoothly as you have. Well, I remember I was awfully mixed there on the train, when you told me you had come out here to work for that company, for I thought all the time that if you were not a gentleman, then I never saw one; and it’s lucky I did have sense enough to think of that, or I might have made a confounded chump of myself.”
“You would have cut me, would you?” asked Houston, laughing, “I was looking out for that, and would have considered it a rich joke if you had.”
“Rather too rich, I should say,” said Rutherford, coloring. “Mort has always ridiculed me for that sort of thing, and told me I’d make a precious fool of myself some day; I don’t intend to be snobbish, though he says I am, but that’s just my way somehow, unless I happen to like a person. Mort is different from me; he will get along with all sorts of people, you know, but I never could.”
“You are all right,” answered Houston, “you are a little conscious of your blue blood now and then, but as you grow older you will think less about that, and you have as good a heart as Morton, when a person is fortunate enough to find it.”
“Say,” said Rutherford, suddenly, “if you and Mort were class mates, you must have known Van Dorn.”
“Certainly,” said Houston, smilingly watching the blue coils of smoke from his cigar, “and when I first saw him with the Winters party, I knew my little game was up, unless I got my work in very expeditiously,” and he described the little pantomime which took place in the office shortly after Van Dorn’s arrival, much to the amusement of Rutherford, who exclaimed:
“Great Scott! but you fellows played that game well, no one ever would have dreamed that you had known each other.”
Houston then told of the plan for Van Dorn’s coming in a few weeks, and later, for the arrival of Mr. Cameron with Lindlay.
“Oh,” Rutherford exclaimed, “now I see why Mort is so anxious to get here at just about a certain time; he knows all about this, and wants to be in at the death himself; well, that suits me exactly. But say, old fellow, isn’t this going to be a pretty nasty piece of business for you about that time?”
“It would be if any one should get hold of this before the right time comes, but I do not anticipate any trouble, because I intend to be so guarded that nothing regarding my work will be known or suspected until my uncle is here, and we have them securely trapped.
“It will require a cool head and a level one to carry this thing through, and accomplish what you have undertaken,” said Rutherford thoughtfully, as he took one or two turns up and down the room, “and I guess you are the right one for the work. Van Dorn will be just the one to help you, too, he’s pretty cool and quick-witted himself, but I should think you would both need a third party, somebody who has been on the ground for a long time and who understands all about the working of these things.”
“It would be of great assistance to us, and I intend to keep a look-out, and if it is possible to find such a person, and one whom we can trust at the same time, I shall secure him.”
“Well, I’m sure I wish you success, and I shall be anxious to hear from you while I’m gone, and know how you are coming on.”
They smoked silently for a few moments, then Rutherford said:
“By the way, Houston, how about the congratulations I told you some time ago I was ready to offer whenever the occasion required; are they in order now? or shall I reserve them until my return?”
“They are in order whenever you choose to offer them,” Houston replied quietly.
“Indeed! well, I’m glad to hear it, I thought it about time. I congratulate you most heartily, and tender you both my sincerest wishes for your happiness. I tell you what, old fellow, I think you’ve found a splendid woman, and I think, too, that you are wonderfully suited to each other. Seems strange, doesn’t it? to think of a pair like you two, finding each other in a place like this!”
“It is rather unusual, I admit,” said Houston.
“Yes,” added Rutherford, “taking into consideration all the surroundings, and the why and wherefore of your coming here, I think it borders on the romantic.”
A moment later he asked, “Does Miss Gladden know what you are doing out here?” Houston shook his head, in reply.
“Doesn’t she know who you really are?”
“Not yet,” Houston answered, “no one out here knows any more about that than you did two hours ago.”
“Whew!” said Rutherford, “she will be slightly surprised when she finds that old Blaisdell’s clerk and bookkeeper has a few cool millions of his own, won’t she?”
“I hope she will not object to the millions,” said Houston with a smile, “but I have the satisfaction of knowing that they were not the chief attraction; she cares for me myself, and for my own sake, not for the sake of my wealth, and I am just old fashioned enough to consider that of first importance.”
“And when will she learn your secret? not until the closing scene of the last act?”
“I cannot tell just when,” Houston answered, “that will of course depend a great deal upon circumstances.”
Rutherford then became confidential regarding his own hopes for the future, and gave Houston a description of his fiancee, and a brief history of their acquaintance and engagement.
“Grace is all right,” he said in conclusion, “but her father is inclined to be a little old-fogyish, thinks we are too young for any definite engagement, and wants me to be permanently established in some business before we are married, and all that; when I can’t see what in the deuce is the difference so long as I have plenty of stuff. So the upshot of it all was that he and his wife took Grace to Europe, and they’re not coming back until the holidays, and if, by that time, we have neither of us changed our minds, and I am settled in business and all that sort of thing, we can be married. There’s no danger of our changing our minds, so that’s all right, but I declare I don’t see the use of a fellow’s tying himself down to some hum-drum business, when there’s no need of it.”
“It isn’t a bad idea though to find some business for which you are adapted, and stick to it,” was Houston’s reply; “that was the advice my uncle gave me when I returned from college, and he offered me the choice of going into business with himself, or selecting something else that I liked better.”
“Grace’s father wants me to go in with him, but excuse me; if I went into business with any one, it would be somebody nearer my own age, where I’d have about as much to say as the other fellow, not an old man, and my father-in-law, in the bargain.”
“You may find something you will like, within the next few months,” said Houston, with a peculiar smile; “By the way, Morton used to say he was going to stick to journalistic work; how is he succeeding?”
“Splendidly; you know he is one of the associate editors of the Dispatch, then he contributes regularly to several of the leading magazines, and lately he has some work of his own on hand besides, a work on some sort of scientific research: yes, he has succeeded well.”
So long did their conversation continue, that when they at last went to rest, it was nearly time for the surrounding peaks, standing like huge sentinels against the dark, eastern sky, to catch the first faint flush of the approaching day.
They were a little late in making their appearance in the breakfast room. Miss Gladden and Lyle were awaiting them, but the others had gone. There was time for only a hasty breakfast before the team, going to the Y for supplies, which had been engaged to take Rutherford to the morning train, was at the door.
“Well,” said the latter, having seen his baggage safely aboard, including the familiar square case containing his precious cameras, “I’ve had a delightful time here, and I’m awfully glad I’m coming back again.”
“So are we, Mr. Rutherford,” said Miss Gladden, “and we will be very glad to welcome your brother also, and do all in our power to make his visit a pleasant one.”
“It is doubtful whether he will ever want to leave here,” Rutherford responded, “for he appreciates anything of this kind even more than I do. He’ll grow wild over these mountains. Well, Miss Maverick,” he continued, shaking hands with Lyle, “I thank you for all you’ve done to make my visit so pleasant, and I’m glad that we will only say good-bye for a little while.”
“I am also,” she replied, “and I wish you a pleasant journey and a speedy return.”
“This is not ‘good-bye,’ Mr. Rutherford,” said Miss Gladden, extending her hand, “it is only ‘au revoir.’”
“That is right,” he answered, then added in low tones, “Miss Gladden, I have already congratulated Mr. Houston, and I hope you will accept my congratulations and best wishes also. I think almost as much of him as of my own brother, and I could not wish either of you any happier fortune than I believe you will find in each other.”
In a few moments Houston and Rutherford were riding rapidly down the canyon. At the office, where Houston had to prepare some orders for the driver, he and Rutherford took leave of each other.
“Be good to yourself, old fellow,” said Rutherford, “and keep us posted just how you are coming on; and say,” he added, lowering his voice, “I’ll keep you posted of our whereabouts, and if anything should happen, and you need help, wire us and we’ll be here by the next train; you can count on two brothers now, instead of one, you know.”
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