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As Houston was hurrying up from the mines at about eleven o’clock, on his way to the office, he met Morgan, just started on his rounds, and was shocked at the change which a few hours had made in his appearance. His heavy gait, his pale, haggard face and bloodshot eyes, told, not only of late hours and terrible dissipation, but of some severe mental strain, also. Morgan half smiled, as he saw Houston’s look of pained surprise.
“Yes,” he said, “I know I look pretty hard this morning, but I was up late; I guess I’ll be all right in a day or two. What’s this Haight’s been telling me about one of those fellows coming out here with some mining machinery? Which one is it, that English dude?”
“No,” answered Houston, “Van Dorn, the one with glasses, he was the inventor, you remember.”
“Well, if he’s invented anything that will make old Rivers hand out any cash, he’d better get a patent on it, that’s all I’ve got to say. How in thunder the old man ever gave his consent to his coming out here, monkey-fooling around with his machines, is more’n I can make out; but if the company want him up here, I’m sure I don’t care a damn. The boss himself isn’t coming up, is he?”
“Not for a day or two,” replied Houston.
“Well,” said Morgan, with one of his characteristic shrugs, “I guess I’ll have to spruce up a bit, before he comes.”
“That is so, Morgan,” said Houston, kindly, “I wouldn’t want Mr. Blaisdell to see you as you look this morning; I’m too much a friend of yours myself for that.”
“Oh well, I’ll be all right before he gets here. Who’s going down to meet that fellow and his contraptions?”
“I sent Hayes down with two or three men, and a six-horse team, early this morning.”
“Good for you!” laughed Morgan, starting on his way, “You’d make a first-rate boss ’round here; guess I’ll have to give you a raise.”
Houston walked slowly down the road after Morgan left him, having apparently forgotten his haste. The story which Morgan had told him a few nights before, of his own life, had awakened his pity for the man as nothing else could have done. He felt that Morgan was in serious trouble, and in danger of losing his position, and that he was already where it would take very little to drive him to complete ruin. He resolved to seize the first opportunity that presented itself, to try to ascertain the cause of his trouble, and to assist him in any way that he possibly could.
On reaching the office, he found considerable work awaiting him, and for a while, all other thoughts were banished from his mind. About noon, a heavy rumbling and rattling attracted his attention, and, going to the door, he saw the slowly approaching team, winding from side to side of the steep, canyon road, the powerful horses straining and panting under the heavy load. Perched on the top of the load, under a wide-spread umbrella, and fanning himself with his straw hat, was Van Dorn, his face irradiated by a broad smile as he caught sight of Houston. Two of the men walked beside the team, blocking the wheels with rocks, as the horses were occasionally stopped to rest. As they came within speaking distance, Van Dorn sang out merrily:
“I say, Houston, this is what I call up-hill work; it has been a pretty hard pull all the way.”
“Yes,” said Houston, “particularly hard on you, judging by appearances.”
Van Dorn laughed, and proceeded to close his umbrella, while an expansive grin broke over the face of one of the workmen, trudging along the hot, dusty road. At the brow of the hill, the team again stopped to rest, and Van Dorn descended from his lofty position, Houston meanwhile giving instructions to the driver:
“Drive over to the stables, Hayes, and take the horses off and let them rest; after dinner, put on another set of horses, and drive to the mills; we will be there to see to the unloading.”
“Well, Everard, old boy, how are you?” exclaimed Van Dorn, as they started for the office; “I started within five hours after I received your telegram, and here I am, at your service.”
“When did you reach Silver City? yesterday?” inquired Houston.
“Yesterday!” exclaimed Van Dorn, “my dear boy, do you think the world was made in one day? No, sir; I got in the day before, and spent the remainder of that day, and all of yesterday in cultivating the good graces of your company. I went straight for their offices, and it took all the arguments and persuasion I could muster, with some treating, and a good deal of judicious flattery thrown in, before I could get the old fellows to consent to my giving the machine a trial. I got around Blaisdell pretty easy after I had flattered him a little, but that Rivers is a beast! Said he didn’t see why I was so anxious to have them test the machine, and all that! I explained, of course, that this was the first I had ever brought it out into the west, and they were so well known that if I could only get their endorsement, and so on and so forth. Oh, I want to tell you all about it later, and if you don’t acknowledge that I’m a born diplomat, I’ll give up; but at present, my first business must be to allay these pangs of hunger, they are becoming unendurable.”
“Certainly, we will go to the house at once,” said Houston, preparing to close the office.
“Wait a minute!” said Van Dorn, diving furiously into his pockets; “I attended to that little business that you wrote me about, just according to directions, and I want you to see if it is perfectly satisfactory before we go any further, and then I’ll have it off my mind; why, confound it! where is that thing anyway?” he exclaimed, turning a half dozen pockets inside out, and emptying a heterogeneous collection upon the desk before him. “Oh, here it is! I knew I had it safe somewhere; there now, Everard, I took as much pains as if it had been for myself, it was one of the finest stones I could find; I think it is a beauty, and I hope you will like it.”
He handed a small case to Houston, partially open, from whose depths of white velvet a superb diamond ring flashed forth its wondrous rays, seeming almost to brighten the dingy little room in which they were standing.
“It is indeed a beauty,” said Houston, “perfect! I could not have made a better selection myself. I knew I could trust to your good judgment, Arthur, and I am exceedingly obliged; I’ll do as much for you when you are ready for a ring of this kind.”
“All right, I’m glad if you like it. I believe I sent my congratulations by letter, but I’ll renew them now. I only hope the lady herself will be pleased with the selection.”
On their way to the house, Van Dorn said: “Ned Rutherford has gone to the coast to meet his brother, I suppose.”
“Yes; you probably know he and Morton are intending to stop here on their return?”
“Yes; Mort, as soon as he found you were here, and especially after I gave him an inkling of what was going on, said he should certainly stop as he came back. You ought to have seen him though, when I told him you were out here! Good gracious! he was simply thunderstruck! He said Ned had been writing all along about a Houston, from Chicago, that he had met on the train, and that he was a fine fellow, and all that; but of course he never dreamed it was you.”
The remainder of the day passed very swiftly, for there was much to be done. After dinner, Houston and Van Dorn went down to the mills and superintended the unloading and unpacking of the machinery; then, as it was too late in the day to begin preparations for its erection, Houston visited the mines, Van Dorn accompanying him only a little way into the main shaft. As they came out together, half an hour later, and started for the office, Van Dorn drew a small piece of ore from his pocket, saying:
“I’ve discovered now where that fine ore on the dump of the famous Sunrise lode came from.”
“Yes,” said Houston, “and you will make other discoveries, shortly.”
At the office there was much to be said on both sides; Van Dorn giving his friend messages and directions from Mr. Cameron, and giving also the particulars of his interview with the company, and how he had finally obtained their consent for the erection of the machinery at their mills.
Houston, on his part, related what he had been doing in the few weeks intervening since Van Dorn’s former visit, and explained his new position as assistant superintendent of the group of mines in which they were most interested.
Van Dorn whistled; “That’s good!” he exclaimed, “I wondered how it was that you were going in and out among the mines in that way, I thought that was something new. Have you found any one whom we can trust to help us?”
In reply, Houston told his friend of Jack, of his experience and skill as a miner, and of his offer to help them.
Van Dorn was greatly interested, and before they were aware, the afternoon had passed, and it was time to close the office and return to the house.
At the supper table that evening, the diamond ring appeared, flashing on the white, shapely hand of Leslie Gladden, and she herself looked radiantly beautiful.
After the meal was over, Morgan, who was still pale and haggard, and had been very silent at the table, pulled his hat down over his eyes, and started down the road.
“Morgan,” called Houston, “where are you going?”
“I dun’no,” he answered moodily, “down to the Y, I guess, by and by.”
“Well, hold on a minute, I will walk down with you a ways; I want to see you.”
“All right,” responded Morgan, walking on very slowly.
Houston hastily excused himself to Miss Gladden and Van Dorn, and hurrying after Morgan, soon overtook him. For some time, Houston talked with him regarding the work for the next day, and the men who could best be detailed to help Van Dorn. They had reached the same spot where they had stopped to talk a few nights before, and, as then, were seated on the rocks. At last, the business arrangements were all completed, and Morgan made a move as if to start, and then Houston’s real errand in overtaking him became apparent.
“Morgan, you are not fit to be out to-night, you must have rest, you will break down living this way.”
“Yes,” said Morgan, raising his hollow, heavy eyes to Houston’s face, “I’m about done up, that’s a fact.”
“I wouldn’t go to the Y to-night, if I were you; come back to the house and get a good night’s rest, it will make a different man of you.”
Morgan looked undecided for a moment; “’Twouldn’t be no use going up there now,” he answered gloomily, “I couldn’t rest if I tried. I haven’t slept scarcely any for three nights; but I ain’t going to stay out late to-night as I’ve been doing; I shan’t play after midnight. I’m going to have two or three games just to see what luck I’ll have, and if I don’t have luck, why, that ends it, I ain’t going to play all night.”
“Morgan,” said Houston earnestly, “you spoke the other night about money; now, as I told you then, if you need any money, I’m your friend, and I’ll gladly accommodate you with whatever you need.”
For the first time in all their acquaintance, Morgan’s careless, indifferent manner changed, and for a few moments he seemed touched.
“Yes, I believe you,” he said, after a pause, “I believe you’re more of a friend to me than anybody else. Blaisdell would kick me out quicker’n it takes to say so, if he knew just how I stand to-night. Even Haight’s got the big-head and puts on his airs since he’s seen I’m down; you’re the only one that’s showed me any kindness.”
“Now, Morgan, just say what money you need, and you shall have it; I want to help you out of this,” said Houston.
“No,” said Morgan, decidedly, “if I am a gambler, and all that, I ain’t going to take the wages from a fellow that works for less than I do, to help me out of trouble. The Lord knows you’ve earnt your money, for you’ve worked faithful.”
“Never mind about that, Morgan,” said Houston, hastily, “I’m not wholly dependent on my salary; I had a good little sum of money laid by before I came out here; there is plenty, I will not miss it, and you are welcome to it.”
“Much obliged to you, Houston, but I can’t take it,––not now, at any rate,––maybe I’ll call on you for it to-morrow, if I don’t have luck to-night.”
“You are welcome to it whenever you want it,” said Houston cordially, his hand on Morgan’s shoulder; “I only wish you were not going to the Y to-night.”
“Well,” said Morgan, as he rose slowly, “don’t think I don’t appreciate your kindness, for I do. You’ve heard me say that I didn’t believe in honor in anybody; I guess I’ll have to take that back, for if there is such a thing as honor, you’ve got it. I don’t know how it is,” he said, with a heavy sigh, then added slowly, “I guess you’ve been raised different somehow, from most of us out here. The Lord knows how I was raised.”
He started a few steps down the road, hesitated, and came back.
“Houston, there’s one thing I want to say to you, for you’ve been good to me, that’s this; look out for Haight; he’s no friend of yours, and I guess you’re sharp enough to know it, but maybe you don’t know what a sneaking, cowardly cur he is; look out for him!”
“Thank you, Morgan, I will.”
“He ain’t like me,” he continued, “if I don’t like anybody I let ’em know it, and fight ’em fair and square; you can tell that by the way I bucked up against you, when you first came here,” and he smiled at the recollection, the first time he had smiled in the whole conversation.
“Morgan,” said Houston, “I’ve been sorry for that a good many times since; if I had known about you then what you have since told me, I never would have been so severe in my judgment of you.”
“Oh, that was all right,” he answered, “it did me good; I didn’t like you very well at first, but I’ve always had a liking for you ever since. Well, so long!” and with a faint smile, Morgan went on his way.
Houston stood watching him for a few moments, then turned back in the direction of the house, little thinking how, or where, they would meet again.
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