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Rutherford had so diligently improved the opportunities afforded by the stopping of the train, in securing views of some of the finest scenes, that when the divide was reached, he had only two plates left. These he quickly used, and then gave himself up to silent contemplation and enjoyment of the beauty around him. Very slowly and regretfully he and Houston followed the example of the others, and turned toward the waiting train, like them, picking the delicate wild flowers and pressing them in their note books.
It was during the first of these stops, at the entrance to the canyons, that Rutherford, hastily glancing up from his work, saw, standing among the passengers, a little in the background, the man whom he had last seen at the Valley City depot. He was standing in the same alert, watchful attitude, but the soft hat was drawn downward over his face concealing his eyes, and the knife and revolver were hidden by a rough jacket. He was not then looking toward Rutherford, but was facing in another direction, where Houston was strolling among the rocks, and when, a few moments later, Houston sauntered over to observe his work, Rutherford called his attention to the man, but he was nearly hidden behind a group of men, only a little of his figure being visible. Later, when they were again seated in the car, descending the western grade, Rutherford asked his companion whether he had succeeded in getting a glimpse of the man.
“Yes,” said Houston, “a glimpse and no more; once or twice I was near him, but his face was turned the other way. I passed him in taking the train, but I had only a hurried glimpse of his face; it seemed to me that it was a face of unusual intelligence for a man of that class, as I should judge him to be a miner, but I did not think he looked particularly dangerous.”
“Wait till you see his eyes,” said Rutherford, then inquired, “By the way, did you see the old mining chap anywhere?”
“Oh, yes,” said Houston, laughing, “twice; once with a townsite map spread out before him, talking real estate to a couple of men, and again in the smoking car where he was playing poker.”
“I didn’t see him out looking at the mountains.”
“No, probably they have no interest for him, except just so far as they contain gold mines.”
They talked of the mountains, and Rutherford suddenly exclaimed, “I wish I could find some way of getting out and camping right among the mountains themselves. I don’t care to stop in any little half-civilized western town for any length of time, but if I could just go right out into the heart of the mountains somewhere, and stay for a few weeks, that would be an experience worth having.”
Houston smiled; “How would you like a trip out into the part of the country where I am going? As near as I can make out, it is twenty-five miles from the nearest town, just a rough mining camp, with very few people aside from the miners.”
“Why,” replied Rutherford, “I think that would be fine; anyhow, I’ll try it if you have no objections; it will be a change anyway.”
And so it was decided that Rutherford should extend his pleasure trip into the mining camp, and Houston was pleased with the arrangement, for, notwithstanding the work which he had planned, he expected to find many lonely hours and monotonous days, little dreaming of the interests that awaited him, or that he was entering upon the most eventful portion of his life.
At about one o’clock the train arrived at Silver City, a town of about fifteen thousand inhabitants. The young men, as they left the train, caught a glimpse of the indefatigable Mr. Wilson as he was boarding a street car in company with two intended victims which he had already secured. They took a carriage, and as they were whirled rapidly through the steep, narrow streets on their way to the hotel, the little city seemed to them like a thoroughly typical, western, mining town. The town was surrounded by mountains, and prospect holes and abandoned placer diggings could be seen in every direction, while interspersed among the business blocks of brick and stone, were tiny cabins, built of logs,––all relics of the earlier days when Silver City was but a large mining camp.
After lunch, Houston started forth in search of the city office of The Northwestern Mining, Land and Investment Company, which he found without difficulty. He was surprised to discover that business there was conducted on something of a co-operative plan, as the one large room in which he found himself constituted the offices of some half-dozen mining and real estate companies, and was occupied at the time by eight or ten different men, each seated at his own desk, and separated from his neighbors by a little wooden railing. A broad aisle extended through the center of the room, and at the farther end were two or three accountants’ desks, two large safes and two typewriters.
The whole arrangement seemed to Houston extremely crowded and confusing, but he afterward learned that it had its advantages; as certain deeds, contracts and leases could be so easily mislaid and lost; then too, it had an effect upon the minds of some of their patrons that was particularly desirable, as they usually left the office in a state of such bewilderment, that they were unable to tell with any degree of certainty, just which one of the many high-sounding companies it was, with which they had entered into agreement, and as the eight or ten men were each connected in some way with all of the companies, they all came in for a share of the profits, no matter who was the victim.
Houston having inquired of a white-haired, benevolent-looking individual at his right, for Mr. Wilson, was politely directed to the third desk on the left-hand side. Here he found Mr. Wilson, who greeted him effusively, and introduced him to Mr. Blaisdell, the general manager of the company. The secretary of the company was, at that moment, doing duty in another part of the room, as president of The North American Townsite & Irrigation Company, consequently Houston did not meet him until later.
As Messrs. Wilson and Blaisdell were just then engaged with a customer, they begged Mr. Houston to excuse them for a few moments, which he did very willingly, and thus was afforded an opportunity to observe the two men closely. Mr. Blaisdell had rather a long and narrow face, and what is called a “sandy” complexion; his hair, face and small goatee (he wore no mustache) were all of the same, light, indefinite color; his eyes were small and pale blue, while his lips were thin and tightly compressed. His face, when at rest, had a sanctimonious expression which was sadly at variance with the avaricious, grasping look which it instantly assumed when animated. He said little, but Houston soon discovered that he was in reality the head man of the company, while Mr. Wilson was but the mouthpiece.
In the twenty or thirty minutes which elapsed before these gentlemen could give Mr. Houston their undivided attention, he obtained sufficient insight into their characters, and enough of an inkling of their business methods, to make him more determined than ever to unearth their schemes, and doubly anxious to succeed in the role which he had assumed.
As soon as they were at liberty, Mr. Wilson and the general manager turned very smilingly toward their new clerk, and after some questions regarding his business qualifications and experience, all of which he answered in a manner very satisfactory, they proceeded to give him detailed instructions relating to his future duties in the branch office, at the mining camp.
“Of course,” remarked Mr. Wilson, “you understand that as you become accustomed to the business, greater responsibility will devolve upon you; for the present, you are to have charge of the books and our correspondence from that point; and when you have sufficiently familiarized yourself with the details of the business, we shall expect you, in Mr. Blaisdell’s absence, to take charge of the office, to receive the reports of the different superintendents and foremen of the mines, and if necessary, to inspect the work at the mines yourself, occasionally, in order to see that our instructions are being carried out.”
Houston thought that this included quite a range of work for an accountant, but as he was only too glad of the opportunities which would thus be afforded him for his own investigations, he raised no objections.
“I suppose, Mr. Houston,” added Mr. Blaisdell, very deliberately, “it is unnecessary to say that in a position of this kind, we require the utmost secrecy on your part regarding the affairs of the company. In giving you this very responsible position, we repose great confidence in you, and we expect you to prove yourself worthy of it.”
“Oh well,” chuckled Mr. Wilson, “I should say, judging by Mr. Houston’s appearance on the train this morning, he understands the art of preserving a golden silence as well as any one I ever saw. It was all I could do to get a dozen words out of him.”
Mr. Blaisdell smiled in a way that Houston understood he had received a full account of the meeting on the train. There being little more to be said, Houston inquired regarding accommodations at the camp, stating that a young acquaintance of his wished to remain in the mountains for a week or two.
“Is he interested in mines?” inquired Mr. Blaisdell.
“Oh, no,” replied Houston, “he is the young man who informed Mr. Wilson he was out on an extended pleasure trip, and he imagines it would be great sport to be out in a genuine mining camp for a while, as far from civilization as possible.”
“That’s all right,” responded Mr. Blaisdell, “I was only going to state that we allow no visitors through the mines except those who are personally interested, or who have intentions of becoming purchasers, but if your friend merely wants to stop among the mountains for the fun of the thing, why, he’s welcome to stay all summer for aught I care. As to accommodations, I think we can fix you both very comfortably. There are two boarding houses near the mines, for the miners, of course you would not go there; but old Jim Maverick and his wife run a boarding house about a quarter of a mile from there that is very good, and is a sort of stopping place for any tourists that find their way out there. I stop there myself, and I know Maverick and his wife are glad of all the boarders they can get. I believe they already had a lady when I was there last week, a school teacher or something of that sort, who had just come, and I think you will find it very comfortable there.”
Having learned that they would have to start for the camp at eight o’clock the next morning, Houston took his leave, promising to be in readiness at that time. He next visited a number of assay offices, where he learned a good many valuable points regarding the different classes of ore in that vicinity; then having purchased two or three works on practical mining and mineralogy, which he thought might be of assistance to him, he returned to the hotel, where he entertained Rutherford until dinner with an account of their trip to be taken on the morrow and the accommodations that awaited them, with the added attraction of the society of a solitary school teacher, whom their imaginations already depicted as of uncertain age, with short hair and spectacles. Many were Rutherford’s speculations concerning this individual.
“I’ve had the pleasure of the acquaintance of two specimens of that class,” said he, “one was in the Catskill Mountains; she had a geological fad, and went out every morning with a little hammer, to hammer among the rocks all day; the other was a botanist, and returned every evening about covered with plants which she had pulled up, root and branch; I wonder which of them this one will resemble.”
“We shall soon see,” said Houston.
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