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Nearly twenty-five miles from the nearest town, and not a human being visible from the point of observation occupied by Miss Gladden, as she slowly swung backward and forward in her hammock under the pines, half way up the mountain side; and the only sign of human life was a faint, blue smoke curling upward among the evergreens on one side, at the base of the mountain.
Directly at the foot of the mountain lay a small lake of azure blue, at one end of which was a narrow bridge crossing the stream which formed the outlet to the lake, and from which a footpath wound in the direction of the solitary house from which the smoke ascended. At the other extremity of the lake, where the gulch narrowed into a deep ravine, walled with irregular masses of gray rock, a mountain stream came dashing down over the ledges, forming a series of cascades, and with a final leap plunged into the azure waters. It was a wild, solitary place, and had there been another human being visible, he doubtless would have been much astonished at the sight of a young lady, dressed in the height of fashion, lazily swinging to and fro, half way up the pine covered mountain.
But for Miss Gladden the charm of the situation lay in its solitude; she was tired of society, and, glad to free herself for a while at least from its conventionalities, was congratulating herself upon her good fortune in finding this retreat, all unconscious that others were already entering into her little world, soon to enter into her heart and life.
As she swung dreamily under the pines she was aroused by a clear, musical voice calling her name, and turning, saw the lithe, slender form of Lyle Maverick, the daughter of her host, rapidly approaching. Although Miss Gladden had been but a few days among the mountains, there already existed between her and Lyle Maverick a mutual admiration, though each was, as yet, unconscious of the admiration of the other.
Lyle secretly worshipped Miss Gladden as the most beautiful being she had ever seen, nor was it strange, for Leslie Gladden had all her life received the homage always yielded to beauty, and from hearts far less susceptible than that of this untutored child of the mountains; but Lyle, notwithstanding her surroundings and her disadvantages, was proud spirited, and did not proclaim her admiration for the beautiful stranger. Miss Gladden, on her part, admired the imperious mountain maid, as the loveliest specimen of uncultured, untrained girlhood, just blossoming into womanhood, that she had ever met. She wondered how she came to be so unlike her surroundings, and what would be the result if this wild mountain flower could be transplanted to some more favorable spot, there to receive the care and nurture bestowed on so many far less beautiful. She had within the last few days, led by a desire to know the proud, shy girl, made a companion of her; this was a new experience for Lyle, and was fast deepening her admiration for Miss Gladden into confidence and regard.
Miss Gladden watched Lyle now, as she came up the mountain path, as fleet of foot and graceful in every motion as a deer, her head thrown proudly back, her wavy hair rippling over her shoulders to her waist, and shining in the sunlight like fine spun gold.
“Oh, Miss Gladden,” she exclaimed, as, having reached the group of pines, she threw herself carelessly at the foot of one of them, “the solitude and isolation which you have prized so highly are to be invaded by two new boarders of masculine gender.”
A slight frown gathered on Miss Gladden’s face, at the prospect of intruders thus encroaching upon the mountain retreat which she was beginning to regard as hers exclusively. Lyle, watching her, saw the frown, and continued, her eyes dancing with mischief:
“They are city gentlemen, too, from the east; from Chicago and from Boston, only think of the honor conferred upon us! They have come from the land of civilization and culture to the wild west, to see how we barbarians live; at least that is the object of one of them who is out on a pleasure trip, for that is usually the meaning of western pleasure trips.”
“Lyle, are you not rather severe? They come for the sake of the scenery, or as I have, for rest.”
“A few for rest perhaps, but scenery? nonsense! Look at the majority of your ‘western stories,’ as they are called; how much is there in them of scenery? A few lines here and there, but pages devoted to descriptions of western life with its ignorance and uncouthness.”
“But stories of western life usually contain a great deal of originality and piquancy; that is why they are popular.”
“Possibly,” said Lyle dryly, “but I have seen very little originality in the life I have led here. It may seem original to outsiders; it is monotonous enough to those who live it, year after year. The scenery of the west is grand, I love it, and if I could see it with such eyes as yours, eyes accustomed to beauty in all its infinite kinds and degrees, and with a mind cultivated, fed on the choicest thought than can be culled not only from our own country and in our own tongue, but from other countries and in other tongues as well, I would appreciate the beauty about me more keenly than I can now; but I despise this life in which I have been reared, a life of ignorance, coarseness, brutality and deceit. Here I have lived for the past ten years, here I am likely to live for ten, twenty years to come.”
Both were silent for a few moments, while Miss Gladden watched the beautiful face, in this instance an index of an equally beautiful soul, and she marveled more than ever. At last she said gently:
“Lyle, dear, pardon me for asking such a question, but you are an anomaly; how is it, living all these years as you have, in these surroundings, that you have so good an education? You have evidently read considerable, and you converse well; you cannot be called ignorant.”
“No,” the girl replied sadly, “I am not quite so ignorant as a stranger would think to see me, but I have learned just enough to make me realize how little I do know, and that little I have acquired by stealth. I could read a very little when we came here from some small town, somewhere in the east, I have forgotten where, and I wanted to learn, but father forbade it; he said he wouldn’t have any of his children putting on airs, that what was good enough for him would have to do for them. He has always been severe with me, I suppose he didn’t want any girls, that’s what mother says. Mother was always as kind to me as she dared to be, but she was afraid to help me to learn anything, and she couldn’t have taught me much anyway. I studied every little bit of print I could come across, if it were nothing more than a scrap of newspaper, I was so anxious to be able to read. Then, when I was about twelve years old, a little girl who stayed here one summer with her governess, left some of her old, worn-out school books and writing books. I hid them in my room as carefully as if they had been diamonds, and pored over them every chance I could get for the next year. About that time, I got acquainted with one of the miners who had been here a long time, a strange, silent man, who was very different from the others, and who kept by himself. He seemed to take a great liking to me, and I consider him to-day the best friend that I have in the world. He found out how I was studying and trying to learn, and he helped me, for he had had a fine education. He bought books for me, not only school books, but choice books to read, stories, poems and plays, and he has talked with me a great deal, and told me about places and people and authors, and so has saved me from being a total ignoramus.”
“How kind!” exclaimed Miss Gladden, “I don’t wonder that you consider him your friend. Is he here now?”
“Yes,” replied Lyle, “he has been away for a few days, but he came back last night, and I went down to his cabin to see him. He brought me some beautiful books, but I keep them at his cabin most of the time, so no one at the house will get hold of them.”
“Does he live alone?” asked Miss Gladden.
“No, an Irishman, who has a pretty good education, lives with him most of the time; he is quite a musician and is teaching me to play the violin. ‘Mike’ they call the Irishman, and my friend is ‘Jack’; the other miners nicknamed him ‘Lone Jack,’ but nobody, I suppose, knows what their real names are.”
“Why, how interesting!” exclaimed Miss Gladden. “Why haven’t you ever told me before? It sounds like a story with a deep-laid plot, and a typical villain lurking somewhere.”
“There are plots enough, and villains enough, but Jack is not one of them,” quietly replied the girl, with a curious expression.
“Would he let me come and see him?” inquired Miss Gladden.
“He might, if I asked him, but you would find him very uncommunicative. He does not care for strangers. He was telling me last night about a comical, dudish looking fellow whom he saw on the train, and who got off at Silver City, and he said he was coming up here into the mountains in company with another young gentleman; he thought I would be likely to see them, and I think they are the new boarders.”
“Why, have you seen them?” asked Miss Gladden, in surprise.
“Yes,” laughed Lyle, “one of them, from my post of observation behind the kitchen door, and he did appear so ridiculous with his gold eye-glasses, looking as solemn as an owl, and glancing around with that expression of supercilious curiosity, as though he expected to find us all wild Indians, or something of the sort.”
“Ah, that accounts for the little tirade against western pleasure tourists I heard when you first came up. Evidently the eye-glasses did not produce a very favorable impression on you.”
“Well,” retorted Lyle, “see him yourself, and see what impressions you will receive.”
“Well, my dear,” said Miss Gladden, “as it is nearly dinner time, I would suggest that we adjourn to the house, alleviate these pangs of hunger, take an observation of the gold eye-glasses and report our impressions later.”
“Agreed,” said Lyle merrily, and the two began to descend the mountain.
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