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As Miss Gladden slowly followed the winding canyon road on her return from the little cabin, the thoughts flashing through her mind very strongly resembled the lights and shadows which she had watched chasing each other across the mountain side. While she had gained very little direct information, Jack’s theories had strengthened her own convictions, though placing the matter in a slightly different light. She had a very vivid imagination, and looked forward with anticipations of keenest pleasure to the coming of Lyle’s friends,––whoever they might be––and their probable recognition of her; and yet she could not forget Jack’s words regarding the terrible cost which might be involved, resulting in possible tragedy, and an indefinable dread seemed at times to overshadow all other thoughts, and perplex her. Not dreaming, however, that the words could refer to herself, or those in whom she was most deeply interested, she tried to banish this feeling by planning what course would be best to pursue regarding Lyle, and determined to confide the whole matter to Houston, and ask his advice. So absorbed was she in her own thoughts and plans, that not until she had nearly approached the house, did she observe the presence of strangers.
A party of eight or ten ladies and gentlemen, including three or four tourists from the east, had come out from Silver City. They had come with wagons, bringing a large tent which was to be put up for those who could not be accommodated in the house. They proved to be very pleasant people, and during the ensuing ten days of their stay, Miss Gladden and Lyle seldom saw each other apart from their guests. There were numerous excursions to various points of interest, moonlight rides on the lake and impromptu dances.
Houston at this time was more than usually occupied, as the day after the arrival of the camping party, Mr. Blaisdell unexpectedly appeared upon the scene. He arrived quite early in the morning, having been brought by special train from the Y. He found Houston alone in the office, and greeted him with a cordiality quite surprising to the latter, considering his taciturn, dissatisfied manner when at the mines a few days before. He seemed in no hurry to leave the office, but remained talking for some time concerning business affairs at Silver City.
“I may want you to run over there, just for a day, while I’m here,” he said at length, “for I expect to remain out here for about a week. By the way, Houston, I hear you pitched into old Hartwell one night, over there at the hotel, for some remarks he made about the company.”
“Ah,” said Houston, “how did you hear of that?”
“There was a friend of mine there, who overheard Hartwell’s talk, and afterward saw you go up and speak to him. Having seen you in our office, he had a little curiosity as to what was going on. He said Hartwell cursed you up hill and down, but that you were so damned cool the old fellow couldn’t rattle you. Hartwell told him afterward that you threatened to compel him to substantiate all he had said, and he was glad that the old fellow, for once, found somebody that wasn’t afraid of him.”
“Oh, no,” said Houston, quietly, “I didn’t see any reason for being afraid.”
“Well,” said Mr. Blaisdell, “I liked your spirit all right, but then, men like Hartwell are not worth paying any attention to. He is interested in another company, so of course he tries to run down ours, and he has a certain clique that he has persuaded to think just as he does. I never think it best to notice any of his remarks.”
“If he had simply made a few remarks,” said Houston in reply, “I would of course have let them remain unnoticed, but he had continued his harangue for nearly an hour before I spoke to him, so I thought it as well to have a word with him myself.”
“Oh, that was all right, perfectly right on your part, only I have adopted the policy of letting barking dogs alone.”
After a little further conversation, Mr. Blaisdell looked over the books, and finding everything in satisfactory shape, remarked:
“You seem to have familiarized yourself very thoroughly with the work so far as you have gone, and in a very short time. You will doubtless remember, Mr. Houston, that when we engaged you, you were told that we should probably need your services later at the mines, in assisting the general superintendent. Morgan’s work is increasing lately, and I have been thinking that I would much prefer to have a trustworthy person like yourself, assist him, even if we have to employ another bookkeeper, than to put on an entirely new man at the mines. I am going out to the mines this afternoon, to see how Morgan is getting along, and I think that to-morrow we will close the office, and you had better go out with me, and I will show you the work that I wish you to have charge of there. It probably will not take all your time, you will still be in the office more or less, at least enough to superintend the work in case I bring out a new man. He will simply work under your direction and supervision, the responsibility will all devolve upon you.”
For the next day or two, Houston’s time was spent at the mines, familiarizing himself with the underground workings, and becoming acquainted with the different classes and grades of ore, and the various methods of mining and reducing the same.
This was just the opportunity for which Houston had been waiting, and he entered upon his new work with a zest and enthusiasm that delighted Mr. Blaisdell, and even won the esteem of Morgan. On the second day, to Houston’s great joy, he was given charge, under Morgan, of what was known as the “Yankee” group of mines, containing the Yankee Boy, the Yankee Girl and the Puritan, the three most valuable mines in which the New York company was interested.
In passing through one of these mines, Houston noticed two miners working together with wonderful precision and accuracy, and on looking at them closely, recognized in one of them, the man whom Rutherford had pointed out to him on the train from Valley City, and of whom he had heard Miss Gladden speak as Lyle’s friend. The man seemed to pay little attention to his being there, and on coming out, Houston inquired of Mr. Blaisdell concerning him.
“I can tell you nothing about him,” replied Mr. Blaisdell, “except that he and his partner, the Irishman, are the two most expert miners we have. They live by themselves, and refuse to mingle with the other men, consequently they are not very popular among the miners, but of course that cuts no figure with us, so long as they are skilled workmen.”
The next day, Houston went to Silver City, on business for Mr. Blaisdell, and while there, sent the following message over the wires, to Van Dorn:
“Everything in readiness; bring machinery at once.”
Upon his return to the mining camp to enter upon his new duties, Houston resolved to make a careful study of the men working under him, both foremen and miners, for the purpose of determining whether there were among them any whom he could trust sufficiently to seek from them whatever assistance might be necessary for himself and Van Dorn in their future work.
Accordingly, for the first few days, he spent considerable time in the mines, apparently examining the workings, but in reality watching the men themselves. Among some of them he saw black looks and scowls, and heard muttered comments regarding himself: “Git onto the dude!” “D’ye see the tenderfoot?” “Thinks he’s goin’ to boss us, does he? we’ll show him a trick or two.” These were mainly from Maverick’s consorts, and men of their ilk, ignorant and brutal. Houston paid no attention to their remarks or frowns, but continued his rounds among them, conscious that he was master of the situation, meanwhile giving instructions to the foreman who accompanied him. As he passed and repassed Jack and Mike, working together with almost the automatic precision of machinery, he stopped to watch them, attracted partly by admiration for their work, and partly by a slight interest in the man who had been his fellow passenger, and concerning whom he had heard such various reports.
During the slight pause in their work, the Irishman eyed him curiously, with indications of his native drollery and humor betraying themselves in his mirthful face; he seemed about to speak, but Jack, with set, stern features, was ready, and the work continued without a word. In that brief interim, however, Jack had fixed one of his keen, piercing glances upon Houston, which the latter returned with one equally searching, and though not a muscle relaxed in that immobile face, covered with dust and grime, yet a strange thrill of mutual sympathy quivered and vibrated through the soul of each man, and Houston knew that he had found a friend.
“There is a man among a thousand,” he thought as he walked away, “a man of honor, in whom one could place unbounded confidence; no wonder Lyle has found him such a friend!”
At the next pause in their work, Mike’s feelings found expression:
“Begorra! but the young mon is progressin’ foinely, to be put over the loikes of us, and bein’ as how most loikely he niver sit foot in a moine, till comin’ out into this counthry!”
Jack’s face had grown strangely set and white: “We are to be his friends, remember that, Mike,” he said, in a voice unnaturally stern.
“Frinds!” exclaimed the astonished Mike, “Be-dad! and whin did I iver know ye to make frinds with ony of owld Blaisdell’s men befoor?”
“Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, Mike,” was Jack’s only reply as he again began work, and Mike had nothing to do but to follow his example.
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