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A few hours later Lyle stood in the gloaming, taking leave of Jack, in the quaint, cozy room in the cabin, little dreaming that they stood there together for the last time.
They had talked long and earnestly of the new life opening up before her, and her tears flowed fast as she recalled the happy hours they had spent together, or as she anticipated the days to come. Her tears were not the only ones, but the friendly twilight, rapidly deepening, concealed the others.
“And to think that you have known so much of this all the time, and did not tell me!” she exclaimed.
“It was best, my little one, best for each of us. I was constantly planning how I might bring this about when the right time came. That time has come, and as my little girl, whom I have loved as deeply as any one in the future can ever love her, and whom I have cherished and helped to the extent of my limited power, goes forth into this new life, I can and will rejoice in the joy, the love and the happiness that will be hers. And I know that amid new scenes, new friends and new loves, she will never quite forget the old friend and the old love.”
“Never, Jack; I could never forget you, and Everard and Morton will never forget you. They are coming to see you to-night. Dear Jack, why could you not give up this lonely life, and go with us to the east? We would all love you and make you one of us, and our home would be yours.”
“My dear child,” he replied with a slight shudder, “you know not what you ask. I know the love that prompted it, but never ask it again.”
“Very well,” said Lyle, with a sorrowful submission, “but I know what I can do.” And she put her arms about his neck. “I will come out to the mountains and visit you here.”
Then, as he remained silent, she queried:
“You would be here, wouldn’t you, Jack, where I could find you?”
Oh, the agony which his strong, loving heart endured! How could he tell her that even then he never expected to look upon her face again! He could not. He only said:
“I cannot tell, dear, my life is an erratic and wandering one. No one, not even I, can say where I may be.”
“But you have not lived a wandering life lately; you have lived here for many years.”
“Because the lodestone, the magnet of my heart was here,” he answered half-playfully, half-tenderly. “When that is gone, I shall be likely to fly off in a tangent again.”
“Oh, Jack, you must not talk so. I want to see you in the years to come. I must and I will. I feel it,” she added brightly.
For answer, Jack, for the first time, placed his arms about her, and for a moment folded her closely to his breast. Then, bending his head, he kissed her reverently, first on the forehead, then on the lips, saying, “God bless you always, my dear child!”
She returned the kiss, and as he released her, she whispered:
“Good-night, dear Jack!”
“Good-night, my dear,” he answered, adding under his breath, “and good-bye!”
After she had gone, he sat in the gathering darkness alone, lost in thought. The collie, returning from attending Lyle on her homeward walk, divined, with keen, unerring instinct, the sorrow in his master’s heart, and coming close, laid his head upon his knee, in mute sympathy and affection. His master stroked the noble head, but his thoughts were far away, and he was only aroused at length by the sound of voices, as Everard Houston and Morton Rutherford entered the cabin. The moon had now risen, and the little room in which he sat was filled with a soft, silver radiance.
Jack rose to meet his guests, and his quick ear detected the vibration of a new emotion in Houston’s voice, and as they exchanged greetings, there was something in the clasp of their hands that night that thrilled the heart of each one as never before.
At heart, Jack was glad of the presence of Morton Rutherford. He feared that alone with Houston, after the events of that day, and in the light of the anticipated events of the morrow, his own emotions might prove too strong, weakening the perfect self-control which he felt he must now exercise. The presence of Rutherford acted as a tonic, and restored the desired equilibrium.
“Mr. Houston already knows my aversion to a lamp, and if you do not object, Mr. Rutherford, we will sit for a while in the moonlight.”
“By all means,” said Rutherford. “I myself dislike the glare of a bright light for genuine, friendly intercourse. A soft, subdued light is much more conducive to mutual confidence and interchange of thought and feeling.”
“Jack, my dear friend,” said Houston, after a few moments of general conversation upon indifferent subjects, an effort on Jack’s part to ward off the inevitable which he felt was surely coming, “You have added very materially to our happiness to-day, in that you have helped us to a happy solution of some of the mysteries that have perplexed us, and in doing this, have brought us all into much closer relations with one another.”
“You refer, of course, to Lyle,” Jack replied, “but while I am very glad to have contributed to your happiness, I really deserve no credit therefor. I have suspected the relationship for some time, and was only waiting for the necessary proofs, which I felt would be found in good time.”
“But that is not the only mystery you have solved for us, or for me,” said Houston. “I think we now have a reason for the interest you have manifested in Lyle, and the kindness you have shown her; and, speaking for myself, I believe I have found a clue to the strange bond of mutual sympathy which has united us almost from our first meeting, even before we had exchanged one word; notwithstanding the coldness and reserve of your manner, I felt that back of it all you were my friend, and so it has proved. There has sprung up between us an affection which I believe to be mutual, and of a depth and power remarkable for such a brief acquaintance. But to-night there seems, to my mind, to be a reason for this, which I have been so blind as never to suspect.”
“And what may that reason be?” inquired Jack, calmly.
“You will understand of course, my dear friend, as I have often said to you, I have no wish to question you regarding your life in the past, or to lead you to make any statements regarding yourself which you would not make freely and voluntarily; but to me it is evident that, although we met as strangers, you must sometime have been at least a trusted friend of the members of my uncle’s family, if not more intimately connected with them.”
After a pause Jack replied, slowly:
“As you are aware, I once knew Lyle’s mother, and her memory is still unspeakably dear to me. I also knew the other members of Mr. Cameron’s family, but that was all long ago in that past which is gone beyond recall, and to which any reference only brings the most bitter pain. When I learned your name and your true business here, I knew, of course, to what family you belonged, and I may have felt some degree of interest in you on that account, but the deep affection between us, which is, as you say, mutual, is, on my part, wholly for your own sake, because I knew you worthy of it. Regarding Lyle, I observed the wonderful resemblance between her and her mother, and it has been to me a source both of joy and of pain, especially of late, since it has grown so marked, and I have sometimes wondered that you did not observe it for yourself.”
“Now that I can see the resemblance so plainly, it seems strange that I did not think of it before,” Houston replied. “She has always reminded me vaguely of some one, I could not recall whom. I can only account for it from the fact that I really saw my cousin Edna but seldom after I went to my uncle’s home, as she was married very soon, and then we saw her only occasionally until her death, which occurred when I was only about twelve years of age. Consequently, my recollection of her was not particularly distinct. I am anticipating the meeting between her and my uncle and aunt,––they will recognize her immediately, and I am confident they will adopt her as their own daughter, in her mother’s place.”
Jack started almost imperceptibly. “You do not expect Mrs. Cameron here with her husband?”
“She will not come out with him, but she insisted on coming as far as Chicago, so that she would be able to reach us more readily in case of trouble, and I have thought to-day, since this recent discovery, that if the case against the company seems likely to take some time, I might go on to Chicago and bring her out to meet Lyle, and I would, of course, like her to meet Leslie, also.”
Jack remained silent, and withdrew a little farther into the shadow. It was Morton Rutherford who spoke now.
“Did you not once tell me, Everard, in the old college days, that Mr. Cameron had lost a son also?”
“Yes,” said Houston, with a sigh. “That was a far heavier blow for them than the death of their daughter. He was their joy and pride, their hearts were bound up in him.”
“Ah,” said Jack, in a voice almost cold in its even calmness. “I remember that Miss Cameron,––as I knew her,––had a brother. Is he also dead?”
“We are compelled to believe that he must be dead,” Houston answered, after a pause, in a tone of deep sadness. “He left home soon after his sister’s death, and we have never heard from him since, though his parents searched for him, not in this country alone, but in others as well.”
“I beg your pardon for having alluded to it, Everard,” said Rutherford, “you never told me the particulars, and I did not realize they were so painful.”
“No apologies are necessary among us three friends,” Houston replied. “Guy’s parents and I are the only living human beings who know, or ever will know, the reason for his leaving as he did. My uncle spent vast sums of money and employed detectives all over the world in his efforts to find him, and to let him know that the old home was open to him, and would always be just what it had been in the past. But it was of no avail, we could not even get any tidings of him, and uncle, long ago, gave him up for dead, though Aunt Marjorie believes that he is still living, and that he will yet return.”
“The faith of a good woman is sometimes simply sublime,” replied Rutherford, “and a mother’s love is something wonderful. To me it seems the nearest divine of anything we meet on earth.”
There was no response from the figure sitting motionless in the shadow. At that moment it required all the force of his tremendous will power to stem the current of almost uncontrollable emotion, surging across his soul.
But the moments passed, other topics were introduced and discussed, and Jack joined in the conversation as calmly as the others.
“I suppose,” he remarked, as, a little later, he accompanied his guests to the door, “I suppose that before this time to-morrow, Mr. Cameron will have already arrived at the camp?”
“Yes,” Houston replied, “we expect him over on the evening train, with Van Dorn.”
As Houston and Rutherford took leave of Jack, there was something in his manner, something in the long, lingering hand-clasp which seemed more like a farewell than like a simple good-night, at which they silently wondered.
Could they have looked in upon him an hour later, they would have understood the cause. Silently he moved about the room, gathering together the few little keepsakes among his possessions which he most prized. These he placed in a small gripsack which he carefully locked, saying to himself, as he looked around the room with a sigh, “Mike can have the rest.”
Then going to the window, he stood looking out upon the calm, moonlit scene, which for many years had been the only home he had known.
“This is my last night here,” he soliloquized, “my work here is done. After to-morrow, Everard Houston will need me no longer, everything in which I can render him assistance is now done, and his friends will afford him all needed protection. Lyle has found her own, her future is provided for. The wrongs which I have witnessed for years in silence, will be righted without any assistance of mine. There is nothing more for me to do, and to-morrow I will start forth on the old, wandering life again.”
His head dropped lower; he was thinking deeply.
“He said the old home was open, and would always be what it had been in the past. Home! What would that not mean now, after all these years! But that was long ago. I am dead to them now,––dead and forgotten. They will be happy with their new-found daughter, and Everard will be to them as a son, their happiness will be complete, and I will not mar it by any reminders of the wretched past.”
He glanced upward at the surrounding peaks.
“To-morrow I go forth again into the mountains,––those towers of refuge and strength,––and in their soothing solitudes I shall once more find peace!”
Then he retired. But to Jack, resting for the last time in his cabin home, to those then peacefully sleeping in the little mining camp, or to the others speeding westward through the night, on the wings of steam, there came no vision, no thought of what the morrow was, in reality, to bring.
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