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Do coming events cast their shadows before? Did the silently-waving pinions of the angel who “troubled the waters” give any hint of his beneficent approach? However that may be, certain it is that on the morning of the day in which the hitherto untroubled depths of Lyle’s womanly nature were to be stirred by the mightiest of influences, there came to her a prescience, thrilling and vibrating through her whole being, that this day was to be the crisis, the turning point of her life. On that day, she was to meet one whose influence upon her own life she felt would be far greater than that of any human being she could recall.
Lyle was not in love. As yet, she knew nothing of what love might be, but she possessed rare depth of feeling. In her lonely, secluded life, she had known few emotions, but those few were deep and lasting; and when, a few months before, she had incidentally seen the photograph of Morton Rutherford,––only one among many, all unknown to her,––it had left an impression upon her heart and brain, never to be effaced.
His was no ordinary face; it would attract the most casual observer, and to one gifted with Lyle’s wonderful insight and perception, and possessing her fine susceptibilities, there would be revealed such rare strength and beauty of mind and character combined, that, once seen, it might not be easily forgotten.
To Lyle, in her isolation, it seemed a glimpse of a kindred soul, and she had often wondered what the living face itself might be, and what acquaintance and friendship with such a soul might mean. She had looked forward to his coming to the camp with mingled pleasure and dread. She thoroughly understood the position which she held in the estimation of the younger Mr. Rutherford; would his brother regard her with the same half pitying, half patronizing admiration? Would her narrow, restricted life seem so small and poor to him, with his superior attainments, that he would altogether ignore her? Or would he be able, like Mr. Houston and Miss Gladden, to overlook her hateful and hated environment, and help her rise above it?
These were the questions which for the past few weeks had perplexed and troubled her; but the revelation which had come to her on the previous night had changed the whole current of her thought. What matter now, how mean or debasing her surroundings, since no taint from them could attach itself to her? What matter if her life had been cramped and restricted, since she was soon to rise above it into the life for which she had been created? Perhaps her natural sphere was not, after all, so unlike that in which her friends moved, to which even he was accustomed, the stranger, whose coming she now anticipated with a strange, unaccountable thrill of expectation. Would he, with that wonderful power which she felt he possessed, to elevate or to crush the souls with whom he came in contact, would he recognize her true sphere, as her other friends had done, or would he be blinded by her surroundings?
She could not rest; she rose and looked forth upon the glorious dawn of the new day, and was impressed as never before, with the beauty of the vision which met her eyes. To her, it seemed like the dawning of a new epoch in her life; nay, more than that, like the dawning of a new life itself.
Impatient of restraint, she left the house, and went out into the morning fresh from the hand of the Creator, as yet undefiled by contact with human life. Hastily climbing a series of rocky ledges, she reached a broad plateau, and looked about her. The life which she had so hated and despised seemed suddenly to have dropped forever out of sight, and she was conscious only of a new beauty, a new glory surrounding her.
The mountains, blushing in the first rosy light, lifted their gleaming, glory-crowned spires heavenward; the cascades chanted in thunderous, yet rhythmic tones, their unceasing anthem of praise, their snow-white spray ascending skyward, like clouds of incense, while the little flowers, clinging to rock and ledge and mountain-side, turned their sweet faces upward in silent adoration. The place seemed pervaded by a spirit of universal adoration and praise, and instinctively, Lyle bowed her head in silent worship; and as she did so, there came to her, as though revealed by the lightning’s flash, the vision of her mother kneeling beside her, in those dim days so long ago, clasping her tiny hands within her own, and teaching her baby lips to lisp the words of prayer.
For a long time she knelt in that temple made without hands, till mountain and valley were bathed in glorious sunlight; and when at last, she descended the rocky footpath, she felt, as she looked forth upon the new life opening before her, no fear, no shrinking, but strong to go forward and meet her destiny, whatever it might be.
All were impressed that morning by Lyle’s manner, the added dignity of bearing, the new expression that looked forth from her soulful eyes, though none but Miss Gladden understood the cause.
At the breakfast table, the final plans were made for the reception of the guests to arrive that day. Word had been received that they were already in Silver City, and would come out on the noon train. Houston had telegraphed to the Y for the best team there to be in readiness to bring them up to the camp, and an hour or so before noon, he and Van Dorn were to take two horses and ride to the Y to meet them, and accompany them on their ride up the canyon. A late dinner was to be served upon their arrival, when the two ladies would be present, as Lyle no longer acted in the capacity of waiter, Miss Gladden having some time before insisted that she should preside at the table, and the blushing Miss Bixby, after much painstaking effort, having been finally educated up to the point of performing that ceremony very creditably.
“Everard,” said Miss Gladden after breakfast, as Houston stopped for his customary chat with her before starting out on his daily routine, “did you observe Lyle this morning? I never saw her look so lovely;” adding playfully, “I wonder you did not fall in love with her, she is far more beautiful than I.”
“Allow me to be judge,” he replied, “though I will admit that I think she grows more beautiful every day. But as to falling in love with her, I doubt if I would have done that even had I not met you. From the first she has seemed to me unaccountably like a sister; I cannot explain why, unless it was because of that child-like, almost appealing manner she had at that time. She has none of it now, however, she is developing very rapidly into a noble womanhood, and yet I still have the same feeling toward her, and I think she regards me as a brother.”
“That is true,” said Miss Gladden, “she cares for you more than for any of the others, but only, as you say, as a brother. Her heart does not seem to be very susceptible.”
“She may be none the less susceptible,” Houston replied, “but she realizes her position here, and she is far too proud spirited to carry her heart upon her sleeve.”
Miss Gladden then related to Houston the events oi the preceding night, and Lyle’s sudden recollection of her own mother. He was much interested.
“I am more than glad,” he replied, “doubtless the memory of her early childhood will gradually come back to her, and we may be able to ascertain her true parentage. I hope so, at least, for I believe Maverick to be an out and out scoundrel, capable of any villainy, and I would like to see him brought to justice.”
The room set apart for the expected guests, as well as the dining-room, was decorated with wild flowers and trailing vines, and in this pleasant employment, and the preparation of a few dainty dishes for the table, the forenoon passed swiftly.
The noon train had scarcely come to a stop at the little station at the Y, when Ned Rutherford was seen rushing impetuously from the car, his camera case as usual in one hand, at sight of which the two young men waiting on the platform burst into a hearty laugh.
“There he is,” said Houston, “the same old Ned!”
“The very same old boy!” added Van Dorn, as they hastened to meet him.
“Hullo, Everard!” cried Ned, jumping upon the platform, “I say, but it seems mighty good to see you again! How are you, Van Dorn?”
“How are you, Ned?” said Van Dorn, extending his hand, “we wouldn’t have known you if it hadn’t been for that camera box of yours!”
“That so?” answered Ned, good-naturedly, “well, I always considered it indispensable, but I didn’t suppose my identity would be lost without it.”
Meanwhile, Houston had hastened to meet the elder brother, and it could readily be seen that they were more than ordinary friends.
“Everard, old fellow!” he exclaimed, in response to Houston’s greeting, “this is the greatest pleasure I’ve had in many a day. I never dreamed that the Houston of whom Ned wrote such glowing accounts was my old friend.”
“I used to think sometimes,” said Houston, “when Ned was writing you, that I would like to send you some reminder of old times, a college password or signal that you would understand; but at that time, I didn’t know Ned very well, and of course I was anxious to conceal my identity here.”
“That was right,” said the elder Rutherford, with a comical glance at his brother, “Ned is rather injudicious, he belongs to that unfortunate class of people, with the best of intentions, who usually succeed in doing as much mischief as others with the worst.”
“Right you are there,” said Ned, “I’m always putting my foot in it one way or another; I wouldn’t advise anybody to make a confidant of me, I’d give them away sure. I say, Everard,” he continued, while his brother and Van Dorn exchanged cordial greetings, “how are you getting on, and how is the Buncombe-Boomerang combination?”
“We have been very successful so far, everything is nearly in readiness, and the combination as you call it, cannot exist much longer; we will give you full particulars later.”
“And how are the ladies?” Ned inquired further.
“They are well, and waiting to give you and your brother a royal welcome.”
“Thank you,” Morton Rutherford replied, “I am quite anxious to meet them, Ned, of course, can speak for himself.”
“That he can, and generally does when the right time comes,” responded that individual, “you will find I am a universal favorite here, in the camp of the Philistines.”
In a little while they were on their way to camp, Houston and Morton Rutherford occupying the back seat of the light, canopy-top wagon, while Van Dorn and Ned took the forward seat with the driver, the horses and baggage following with one of the mining teams.
Morton Rutherford gave his friend a glowing account of his journey through the west, dwelling at considerable length on his enjoyment of the scenic routes. As they wound upward through the canyon, he grew ecstatic over the wild beauty and rugged grandeur extending in every direction, and when they finally drew rein before the long, low boarding house, nestling at the foot of the mountain, with its rustic, vine-covered porch, and surrounded on all sides by the wild scenery of that region, his admiration knew no bounds.
“What a delightful retreat!” he exclaimed, “what a study for an artist!”
Within the porch, among the vines, the ladies awaited their coming, and Lyle, looking forth from her shady retreat, saw the face whose image had been imprinted on heart and brain, and at a glance she read all she had expected to find, and more. There were the fine features, expressing such depth and power, and yet such delicacy of thought and feeling, the intellectual brow, the dark, expressive eyes, all as she had seen them in the picture; but what picture could convey the living beauty of the whole? It was the face of one whom women would worship, and men would follow even to death.
The gentlemen approached the house, Houston and his friend leading the way. Miss Gladden advanced to meet them, and as Houston introduced Mr. Rutherford, she extended to him a most gracious and graceful welcome, and also to Ned. Her gown was white, of soft, clinging material, trimmed with quantities of rich, rare lace, and brightened here and there with touches of crimson and gold. She wore a few costly jewels, and the diamond hilt of a tiny dagger glistened and scintillated in her auburn-tinted hair. She looked very beautiful, and as Mr. Rutherford paused to respond to her welcome with a few courteous words, he thought his friend was surely to be congratulated on the prize he had won.
Meanwhile, Ned had discovered Lyle, as she stood partially hidden among the vines, awaiting her turn, and hastened to greet her in his impetuous fashion.
“How do you do, Miss Maverick? I’m awfully glad to see you. I want you to know my brother,” and his cheerful voice sounded on his brother’s ear, as he replied to some remark of Miss Gladden’s.
“Morton, I want to introduce you to our nightingale; Miss Maverick, allow me to make you acquainted with my brother.”
With a rare smile lighting up his face, Morton Rutherford turned toward the speaker, and as he did so, saw a vision of the most royal young womanhood his eyes had ever beheld. She, too, was dressed in white, but it was a filmy, cloud-like mass, with trimmings of ethereal blue. She wore no jewels, but a crown of golden hair gleamed like a coronet above her head, and her delicately molded face had a spirituelle beauty and radiance unlike any living face he had ever seen, and which he could only compare to the exquisite Madonna faces, painted by artists of the old world, and of the olden time.
And Lyle, coming forward with unconscious, queenly grace, looked for an instant into that face whose subtle power she already felt, her wondrous, starry eyes, luminous with a new, strange light, meeting his with their depth of meaning, their powerful magnetism, and from that brief instant, life for each was changed, wholly and completely; whether for good or ill, for weal or woe, neither as yet could say.
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