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After the events leading up to the examination of the Lucky Chance mine, it was considered best for a while to pursue very nearly the same line of conduct that had been followed for the last ten days, carefully avoiding any abrupt change which might attract attention. All necessary data had now been secured, and Houston felt that he could better afford to remain quiet for a brief time and reconnoiter the situation, than by any hasty move to excite further suspicion at the present time.
At the breakfast table the next morning, however, the thoughts of all present were partially diverted into different channels, by the arrival of a telegram for Houston which proved to be a message from Ned Rutherford, to the effect that he and his brother were on their way to Silver City, and would be at the mining camp within the next twenty-four or thirty-six hours.
Haight had been exceedingly angry on learning from Maverick, early in the morning, of the failure of the men to report anything definite concerning the movements of those whom they had been sent out to watch. He had accomplished nothing, and was uncertain what course next to pursue, and he too, decided to remain quiet for the present. He continued to watch Houston and Van Dorn, his ugly suspicions only half concealed by the smiling exterior which he tried to assume. He had hastened to make peace with Minty, as he feared the results which might follow should his plottings become known to Houston, not dreaming that the latter had woven such a web around, not the mining company alone, but including also its principal employes, that in remaining where he was, a fate far worse than his fears awaited him.
During the day, Miss Gladden and Lyle busied themselves with preparations for the expected guests. A room on the ground floor, adjoining and connecting with the one occupied by Houston and Van Dorn, and with a view of the lake and cascades, was put in readiness; and books, sketches and bric-a-brac contributed by Houston and Miss Gladden, and tastefully arranged by Lyle, relieved the blank walls and plain furniture, and made the place look quite attractive.
Houston was jubilant over the information acquired by their expedition of the previous night; nothing out of the usual course occurred that day, and returning earlier from his customary visit to the mines than he had done of late, the remainder of the evening was devoted to music and song.
After Miss Gladden and Lyle had gone up-stairs, they sat for some time talking over the events of the last few days, and anticipating the coming of Rutherford and his brother on the morrow. Many were Miss Gladden’s surmises regarding the stranger, and Lyle then learned for the first time that he was an intimate friend of Houston’s.
“Everard tells me that though Ned is a pleasant fellow and good hearted, yet he is not in the least like his brother. He says Morton, as he always calls him, is a most perfect gentleman in every sense of the word, and a scholar of rare intellectual attainments, fond of scientific research, and a brilliant writer.”
“I judged from his picture that the two brothers were very unlike,” said Lyle, “and from your description he will be in many respects a new specimen to come under my limited observation; I will have to make a study of him, and see if he is at all like my idea of a literary person. I would not suppose, though, there would be much to interest him here; the only rarities he will find are possibly new phases of ignorance and coarseness and crime.”
Miss Gladden thought, as she looked at Lyle, that if the new-comer did not find rare beauty of mind and soul, as well as of form and face, in that secluded region, he certainly must be very unappreciative; but she only said:
“You seem to have forgotten what Ned said of his brother, that his love of the beautiful was so intense, he doubted whether he would ever want to leave the scenery and surroundings here.”
“That was simply one of Mr. Rutherford’s extravagant expressions,” Lyle replied, “the natural surroundings here are certainly beautiful, but their beauty only makes the conditions mentally and morally the more painfully conspicuous, and if I can see the contrast so plainly, who have always lived here and known no other life, how must it look to one such as he!”
“Why do you always insist upon it so strongly that you have never known any other life than this?” inquired Miss Gladden.
“Why?” asked Lyle, in surprise, “I suppose simply because it is a fact, the one hateful truth that I despise, and so I say it over and over to myself, to check these foolish dream-fancies of mine, that seem as if I had known something better sometime.”
Lyle spoke with more bitterness than Miss Gladden had ever heard before, and the latter answered gently:
“If I were in your place, Lyle dear, I would not try to check these fancies; I would encourage them.”
Lyle gazed at her friend in astonishment. “Encourage them!” she repeated, “I don’t understand your meaning, why would you advise that?”
“To see to what they would lead, my dear.” Then, as Lyle looked bewildered, she continued:
“Did it never occur to you, Lyle, that these fancies, as you call them, might possibly be an effort on the part of memory to recall something, long ago forgotten?”
“I never thought of such a possibility,” she replied, slowly.
Miss Gladden threw one arm about her caressingly.
“If these were mere fancies why should they occur so persistently, and why should there be this sense of familiarity, of which you have spoken, with other and far different associations than these, unless there is some distinct image hidden away in the recesses of your brain, which your mind is trying to recall?”
Lyle had grown very pale; she had caught the idea which Miss Gladden was trying to convey, and her form trembled, while her lips and delicate nostrils quivered with suppressed agitation.
“Leslie,” she cried, “do you mean that you think it possible there is any reality in it,––that I have ever known a different life from this,––a life anything like that which seems to come back to me?”
“I think it not only possible, but probable,” said her friend, drawing the trembling girl closer to herself, “and that is why I want you to encourage these impressions, and see if you will not, after a time, be able to recall the past more definitely.”
“But why do you believe this?” questioned Lyle, “How did you ever think of it?”
“When you first told me of your fancies, as you called them, and of your dreams, constantly recurring since your earliest childhood, I felt that they must be produced by something that had really occurred, some time in the past, but perhaps so long ago that only the faintest impression was left upon your mind; but however faint, to me it seemed proof that the reality had existed. The more I have questioned you, the more I have become convinced of this, and I find I am not alone in my opinion.”
“Have you talked with Jack, and does he think as you do?” Lyle questioned. Miss Gladden answered in the affirmative.
“Is that the reason he has asked me so often regarding my early life?”
“Yes, he has questioned you, hoping you might be able to recall something of those years which you say seem to you only a blank. We can only surmise regarding your early life, but if you could recall some slight incident, or some individual, it might prove whether our surmises were correct.” Then, as Lyle remained silent, Miss Gladden continued:
“That face which you always see in your dreams, must be the face of some one you have really seen and known.”
“Yes,” Lyle answered dreamily, “I have often thought of that, and have tried to remember when, or where, it could have been.”
For a few moments, both were silent; Lyle, in her abstraction, loosened her hair, and it fell around her like a veil of fine-spun gold. An idea suddenly occurred to Miss Gladden, and rising from her chair, she gathered up the golden mass, and began to rearrange and fasten it, Lyle scarcely heeding her action, so absorbed was she in thought.
When she had completed her work, she looked critically at Lyle for a moment, and seeming satisfied with the result, asked her to look in the glass. Half mechanically, Lyle did as requested, but at the first glance at the face reflected there, she uttered a low cry, and stood as if transfixed. Miss Gladden had arranged her hair in a style worn nearly twenty years before, and in imitation of the photograph which Jack had shown her. The effect was magical, as it showed Lyle’s face to be an exact counterpart of the beautiful pictured face.
To Lyle it revealed much more, for to her astonished gaze there was brought back, with life-like distinctness and realism, the face of her dreams; the one which she had seen bending tenderly over her since her earliest recollection, and which had seemed so often to comfort her in the days of her childish griefs when she had sobbed herself to sleep.
Suddenly, Miss Gladden saw the face in the glass grow deathly white, and Lyle, quickly turning toward her friend, exclaimed:
“I see it now! That is my mother’s face that I have seen in my dreams! And I have seen it living some time, somewhere, but not here. These people are not my parents; I am no child of theirs. Oh, Leslie, tell me, is this true?”
Very gently Miss Gladden soothed the excited girl, telling her that while her friends knew nothing as yet, for a certainty, regarding her parentage, they felt that she, in her early life, had had a home and surroundings far different from those she knew here, and that they hoped ere long, with her help, to arrive at the whole truth.
“But how did I ever come to live here with these people?” inquired Lyle, a new fear dawning in her eyes, “do you suppose they were hired to take me?”
“No, never,” said Miss Gladden, “as nearly as we can judge, you must have been stolen.”
“And do you think my own parents are now living?” she asked.
So far as she was able to do so, Miss Gladden explained the situation, as Jack had told it to her, making no reference, however, to what he had said regarding the possibility of Lyle’s friends coming to the mountains, where they would be likely to recognize her. Of this, Miss Gladden herself understood so little, she thought best not to allude to it now.
“But why has Jack never told me of this, and of my mother? He must have known her,” said Lyle.
“You must remember, dear, that he had no proof that any such relation really existed; as I understood him, he with others, supposed that this child was not living, but he was struck with the resemblance between you and the mother of this child, and the relationship occurred to him at first as the merest possibility, but grew almost to a certainty, as the resemblance between you increased; and yet, you can see that under the circumstances, while you were under the control and in the power of these people, it would not be best to say anything until he had some proof as to your identity.”
“I see,” Lyle answered, thoughtfully, “but now that I remember her as my mother, do you suppose that he would talk with me about her, or help me to find my true relatives?”
“I hardly know how to answer you,” said Miss Gladden slowly, “there is some mystery about it all, dear, that I do not understand; he might perhaps talk more freely with you, but with me he appeared willing to say very little regarding your mother, or your friends. Still, he gave me a hint, so vague and shadowy I scarcely understood it, but to the effect that he thought there might, before long, be an opportunity for a meeting between you and those whom he believed to be your friends.”
“Well,” said Lyle, after a pause, “Jack is a true friend to me, he knows what is best, and I can afford to wait with even such a possibility to look forward to. I will not wait in idleness either, I shall try to find some clue, some evidence as to who I really am, and something tells me I will succeed.” Then she added tenderly, “Do you know, I believe, whoever my mother may have been, Jack must have loved her.”
“She certainly was very dear to him,” replied Miss Gladden.
They talked till far into the morning hours, and as they finally separated for the night, Lyle approached her friend, and throwing her arms about her neck, she exclaimed, almost in tears:
“Oh, Leslie, you can never know how glad I am that you have shown me this, and shown it to me to-night! I have felt so disgraced, so degraded by the life here, it seemed as if I were a part of it all, a part of my own hateful surroundings but now, I know I am not; now,” she continued, lifting her head proudly and raising her arms slowly with a beautiful gesture, “they can fetter me no longer! The chains that have held me so long and so cruelly are already bursting; even now, I can rise above them; soon, I shall be free!”
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