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The camping party had returned to Silver City, and the old house among the mountains slowly subsided into its former quiet. Lyle’s time had been so occupied by the numerous demands made upon her by the departing guests, that Houston had found no opportunity for speaking with her, as he had planned the previous evening.
When the day’s work was completed, he, with Miss Gladden and Lyle, sat in the little porch, watching a brief but furious mountain storm, which had suddenly sprung up, preventing them from taking their customary evening stroll.
To the ordinary beauty of the scene around them was added the grandeur of the tempest, forming a spectacle not easily forgotten. Around the summits of the lofty peaks the fierce lightnings were playing, sometimes darting back and forth like the swords of mighty giants, flashing in mortal combat; sometimes descending swiftly in fiery chains, then seeming to wrap the whole universe in sheets of flame; while the crash and roll of the thunder echoed and re-echoed from peak to peak, the lingering reverberations still muttering and rumbling in the distance, as the fierce cannonading was again renewed. The wind rushed, roaring and shrieking, down the canyon, while the rain fell in gusty, fitful torrents.
At the end of half an hour, only a few stray drops were falling, the sun suddenly burst forth in a flood of golden light, and against the dark background of the storm-cloud, a rainbow spanned the eastern horizon, its glorious tints seeming almost to rival the gorgeous colors of the western sky.
Soon after the storm had passed, Haight was seen approaching the house. As he came up, he handed a telegraphic dispatch to Houston, saying:
“Just got a wire from the boss for you and Morgan; did you know anything about this kind of an arrangement?”
Houston opened the telegram, and read:
“Van Dorn up to-morrow to set up machinery on trial; may not be able to come myself for a day or two. Have Morgan and Houston give him all help they can spare, but not to interfere with work.
Houston read the message carefully, then said to Haight, who stood awaiting his reply:
“I knew nothing of their having made any definite arrangement. I remember hearing Van Dorn say something to Mr. Blaisdell, just before they all went away, about bringing one of his machines out here, but Blaisdell didn’t seem to give him any encouragement at that time.”
“He evidently has roped the old man in on it, at last,” said Haight, seating himself.
“It looks like it,” Houston answered indifferently.
“What is the machine anyway?” Haight inquired. “Is it any good?”
“I cannot tell you,” replied Houston, “because I know absolutely nothing about it, except that it is for the reduction of ores. I heard Van Dorn allude to it two or three times while he was here, and he seemed quite enthusiastic about it, which I thought was, of course, perfectly natural. Where is Morgan?” Houston continued, “have you told him?”
Haight shook his head; “Morgan is at the Y, I suppose, as usual, and nobody will see him before sometime to-morrow. Have you noticed that fellow lately, Mr. Houston? Half the time he don’t seem to know what he’s about.”
“I have noticed that he scarcely appears like himself, of late,” Houston replied; “he seems to have some serious trouble.”
“He’s been losing pretty heavy lately, I guess, that’s what’s the matter; he’s awful reckless in his gambling, it’s neck or nothing, with him. I tell you,” Haight continued, watching Houston sharply, “Morgan would get the G.B. pretty sudden if the boss got onto the way he’s carrying sail.”
“Possibly,” said Houston, quietly, “but he will not know of it from me.”
“No?” said Haight, with a curious, rising reflection.
“No, indeed,” responded Houston, with some warmth, “when a man is in trouble, it is no time to give him a push downward; besides, I would not do or say anything to injure Morgan, anyway.”
Haight looked up curiously, and even the faces of the ladies expressed a slight surprise.
“I didn’t know you and Morgan were such good friends,” Haight remarked wonderingly.
“I do not know,” said Houston, “that either he or I consider that we are particular friends, though we are friendly enough, but I have learned this about Morgan; that whatever his principles, or his manner of life may be, he is far less to be blamed than people would ordinarily suppose.”
“Well,” said Haight, rising, “Morgan and I have been together, off and on, for the last three years, but I don’t know anything about him except just what I have seen for myself, what anybody can see; of course his way isn’t my way, but then, we don’t any of us think alike, and I’ve never had any fault to find with him, and we’ve got along together first rate. I suppose,” he continued, “you will give directions in the morning for that fellow and his machines, for it isn’t likely that Morgan will be around much before ten o’clock.”
“Very well,” said Houston, “I will be up early and will see that one of the six-horse teams is at the Y to meet him, and I can get through at the mines in season to be at the office by the time he will reach there; he probably will not get up before noon, with all that load.”
Happening to glance toward Lyle, as Haight withdrew, Houston read in her eyes, in their look of eager expectancy, and the firm determination expressed in her face, that she fully understood the meaning of what had passed.
It was equally evident that Miss Gladden had received no hint of the situation, for at almost the same instant she inquired:
“Is Mr. Van Dorn going to erect one of his reducing machines here?”
Houston answered in the affirmative.
“He will be likely to remain here some time, then, will he not?”
“In all probability,” Houston replied, “it must take considerable time to get one of those machines in perfect running order.”
“Then of course he will be here when Mr. Rutherford returns, with his brother; they were all such intimate friends, it will be pleasant for them to meet here. But I am surprised,” she added, “that he is bringing one of his machines such a distance as this.”
“Why so?” inquired Houston.
“Because, Mr. Winters told me that although the amalgamator was undoubtedly a valuable invention, and would prove a great success in a mining country, Van Dorn was too indolent to even try to introduce it among mining men, as it would require too much exertion on his part.”
Houston smiled at this accurate description of his class mate.
Miss Gladden continued: “Mr. Winters said that Van Dorn was a fine fellow, but that he was never so happy as when engaged in some little scheme, apparently doing one thing, and in reality, doing something else, as when he was acting as mining expert for Mr. Winters.”
“Well,” said Houston, laughing, “if that is the characteristic of Mr. Van Dorn, it will not be best to mention it here, as the officers of the company are very suspicious anyway, and very guarded as to who is permitted to have access to the mines and mills, and we might unconsciously make it rather unpleasant for him.”
The next morning, Houston went very early to the stables to order a team and three or four men to the Y to meet Van Dorn. Having given all necessary instructions, he returned to the house, but it was still early, and there was no one but Lyle in the breakfast room.
At a signal from Houston, she approached the door-way, where he remained standing, as from that position he could easily watch both the porch and the interior of the room, to assure himself that they were safe from listeners.
“I have just discovered recently,” he began in a low tone, “that I am indebted to you for securing valuable assistance for me in my work here.”
“Why?” she asked quickly, in surprise, “did Jack tell you that it was I who asked him to help you?”
“Certainly,” replied Houston, “I naturally wished to know where he obtained his information, and he told me of your interview with him, and your persistent efforts in my behalf. I want to thank you, for I appreciate your conduct under such circumstances; you acted wisely and nobly, and did the very best thing that could have been done.”
“I am glad that I have your approval,” she replied, “my overhearing what I did was unintentional and unavoidable, but having learned your plans, and that you needed help, I sought it from the only one competent to give it, and at the same time perfectly true and worthy of your confidence.”
“You certainly made a noble use of the knowledge you had obtained; there are very few, Lyle, who could have been trusted with such a secret, and who would have proven so trustworthy.”
“If you will pardon me for saying it, Mr. Houston, there is one other, whom you could, and, in my opinion, should trust with this.”
Houston looked at her inquiringly.
“I mean Miss Gladden,” was her response.
“I see you have given her no hint,” he said, smiling.
“Not a word,” Lyle answered, “it was not my place to do so; you know best what you wish her to know, and when, but I think you ought to confide in her fully, for she is a noble woman; you could trust her, and she would help you.”
“I realize that,” Houston replied, “but I did not wish her to be worried by this; there will probably be more or less danger before it is all over, and I thought she would be happier not to know.”
Lyle lifted her beautiful head proudly, with a gesture so full of grace, Houston could not but observe it.
“If I were in her place,” she said, slowly and firmly, and with peculiar emphasis, “and my lover were in any danger, I would far rather know it, and give him my help, if possible, my prayers and sympathy at any rate, than to remain in ignorance, and perhaps unconsciously hinder him.”
Houston looked at Lyle in astonishment; was this clear-headed woman the untutored, untrained child of the mountains whom he had always regarded with a tender, chivalric regard, almost akin to pity?
Lyle continued; “Do not think that even if you refrain from telling her this secret, she will not know that it exists; she will be quick to see indications of a secret understanding between yourself and others,––between yourself and myself, even,––in which she has no share. Will that seem to her like confidence, or even justice, on your part. It will be better for her, for you and for me that you tell her your plans fully, for you will find her strong and true and brave, whatever the end shall prove.”
“My dear Lyle,” said Houston, slowly, “I believe you are right, and I will never consider you a child again; but I cannot understand how you, with your youth and inexperience, can think and act so wisely and well.”
“We none of us know what we can do or be,” she answered gravely, “till an emergency arises, and we are suddenly shown what is required of us.”
“I will follow your suggestion at the first opportunity,” Houston said, after a pause, “I shall tell Miss Gladden all that you know regarding my plans and my work, with but one reservation; for the present, I do not wish her to know that Mr. Cameron is related to me.”
Lyle looked slightly surprised, “Very well,” she answered, in a tone of assent, adding, “You are his nephew, are you not?”
“His nephew and his adopted son,” Houston replied, with a peculiar smile.
“Ah!” she replied quietly, “I understand; Miss Gladden is to know nothing at present of your wealth.”
“I have won her love with love, not with gold,” he said proudly, “but she will find, by and by, that the latter is not lacking.”
A remark of Miss Gladden’s, which she had made in confidence, soon after her engagement to Houston, was suddenly recalled to Lyle’s mind; “Whether he has money or not, I do not know or care, for I have enough for both of us.”
A curious smile flitted over her face for a moment, but she only said, “You must be very wealthy!”
“I have enough,” Houston responded, “to give to Miss Gladden the home of which she is worthy, but which she has never known; and,” he added, “there is one thing, my dear Lyle, upon which we are both agreed; that our home, wherever it shall be, shall be your home also, as our sister.”
For a moment, Lyle’s lips quivered, and she was unable to speak. At that instant, Haight entered the breakfast room, darting at them a look of curiosity and suspicion, as they stood together in the door-way. Houston was pleased to see Lyle’s perfect self-control. Without stirring in the least from her place by his side, she asked, in the most matter-of-fact tone, whether Mr. Van Dorn would be likely to arrive from the Y in season for dinner, and what room it would be best to prepare for him.
“You had better let him share my room, in case he has no objections,” Houston answered indifferently, “for you like to keep your rooms in readiness for guests as much as possible, and Rutherford, when he returns, will probably room with his brother.”
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