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A few moments later, Houston and his friend had been duly presented by Mrs. Maverick, to Miss Gladden and to “our daughter, Lyle,” the former in a gown of soft, clinging material, of a delicate, golden tint, combined with a reddish brown velvet, which suited her style of beauty to perfection; and Lyle, in dainty white apron, her beautiful hair loosely plaited in an enormous braid, prepared to act in the capacity of waiter.
Never were guests served so deftly, or with such grace and dignity; she seemed absolutely free from all coquettish airs, and although the glances of the two gentlemen were about evenly divided between the beauty at their side and the fair waitress, Lyle carried herself with an equanimity that was remarkable. Not until the arrival, later, of the other boarders, Morgan, the general superintendent, and Haight, the mining expert,––so-called, though his expertness embraced much beside mining,––was there any change in her demeanor; then her eyes flashed, her lips curled, and a look of superb scorn passed over her face, an expression that reminded Rutherford unaccountably of the face he had seen at Valley City.
Old Jim Maverick and his sons were not present, having taken their meal hastily in the kitchen. Beside her husband and sons, poor, old Mrs. Maverick was positively refined. She was a kind-hearted, motherly woman, and looked as though, in her younger days, she might have been very pretty, but poverty, hard work and abuse had very nearly obliterated all traces of youthful bloom, and her face had a hopeless, appealing look which was pathetic.
A little later, Mr. Blaisdell arrived, rubbing his hands and smiling in his usual complacent manner, and he entertained the guests for some time with anecdotes of western life, some of them very well told, but in most of which it was noticeable that he bore a very prominent part.
After dinner, Houston returned to the office in company with Morgan and the expert, two new characters which he was studying attentively. The former was a tall, raw-boned individual, with a genial, good-natured manner, but a weak face; one who would willingly be a tool for any villain, but an unreliable tool. He would betray his best friend, and knowing nothing of honor himself, he did not believe in its existence, among men or women. To him, all men were rogues, all business simply gambling on a large scale, and his only care was to be on the winning side.
Haight was a small, dark man, with soft, insinuating manner, and, in accordance with his pet theory that every person, high or low, rich or poor, might sometime be useful to him in the furtherance of his own objects, he treated every one with punctilious politeness. To some his manner might have been pleasing, but to one with any degree of penetration, the crafty, scheming nature under the thin veneer was very apparent.
Meanwhile, Rutherford had rather reluctantly accepted an invitation from Mr. Blaisdell to go through the mills and visit one or two of the less important mines. The young easterner was soon much interested, as, after having explored one of the smaller mines, the Peep o’Day,––which he thought very appropriately named as he glanced upward from a depth of a few hundred feet,––he was taken to the mills, and there saw the various stages through which the ores pass in the process of reduction. He almost forgot his dislike of Mr. Blaisdell as he listened to his explanation of the different classes of ore, and the various kinds of treatment which they required, and met some of his old college acquaintances,––the sulphates, nitrates, carbonates, and other members of that numerous family,––in new and startling array; for Mr. Blaisdell was thoroughly at home in chemistry and mineralogy, and enjoyed nothing so much as airing the knowledge he possessed in that one direction. Of other branches of science, and even on subjects of general information, he was profoundly ignorant, although blissfully unconscious of the fact.
Rutherford was next shown the method by which the ore ready for shipment was conveyed down the mountain to the cars on the spur tracks, hundreds of feet below, by means of a rail tramway on trestle work, some three thousand feet in length, having a grade of nine feet per each hundred feet, over which cars of ore were passing, operated by gravity, the weight and velocity of the descending, loaded car, carrying the empty car upward. He thoroughly enjoyed these novel scenes, and congratulated himself upon the many picturesque mining views which he would add to his collection.
As they were passing through one of the sorting rooms, they came upon Mr. Haight seated before a large table covered with specimens of ore, which he was examining with a powerful microscope, while beside him were various chemical and mechanical appliances for testing the different ores. Rutherford was enthusiastic in his admiration of the specimens, particularly those from the copper mines, with their beautiful coloring,––the blending tints of green and purple and blue,––and he created considerable amusement by his ecstasies over a large sample of iron pyrites, which he had mistaken for a splendid specimen of gold ore. Altogether it was a novel and pleasant experience for him, and when he joined Houston later, he felt himself considerably wiser in western lore.
After supper, Mr. Blaisdell and Haight returned to the office for a private conference regarding some new ores which the latter had been testing. Morgan strolled down the gulch in the direction of the Y, drawn by the attractions of the gambling house and dance hall, leaving the two strangers to seek their own amusement, or to be entertained by Miss Gladden; they chose the latter, and, since among the mountains as on the ocean, friendships are quickly formed, the three were soon chatting as pleasantly, out in the low, rustic porch, as though their acquaintance dated back a number of days, instead of only a few hours. At the kitchen door, old Jim Maverick and his sons, with a dozen or so miners, lounged about, smoking their pipes, and enlivened by the blushing, giggling Miss Bixby.
With the latter crowd Lyle would never mingle, much to the indignation of Maverick himself, and the chagrin of two or three would-be admirers, and not feeling at liberty to join, unasked, the group in the porch, she withdrew to her little room up-stairs, and taking from its hiding place one of the new books her friend had brought her, she was for a while unconscious of everything else. Then, as the twilight deepened, she closed the book, and having again concealed it, sat watching the stars just beginning to appear, one by one, and musing, as she often did, on her own life. Why had she not, with her passionate love of the beautiful and her thirst for knowledge, been given the birth and training, the social advantages of any one of that little group below? Or, if the fates had decreed that she must be born in such ignorance and degradation, and spend her life in such surroundings, why had they not given her a nature corresponding to her environment, as indifferent and unaspiring as that of the phlegmatic Miss Bixby? Why must she always feel as if she had been born to a better life than this, when in all probability, it must always go on in the same old routine which she hated and despised? She wondered what Jack meant by the questions he had asked her so often lately, as to where they had lived before coming to the mountains, and regarding her earliest recollections. Well, what were her earliest recollections? Something so shadowy she could not determine whether it were remembrance or imagination; but it was a vague idea of light and music and beauty; and why was it that when she heard or read of that bright life, so foreign to her, of which she had never had one glimpse, that it all seemed somehow half familiar? She did not believe she would be very awkward or out of place, if she could step for the first time into some of those bright scenes as she imagined them; why did it all seem so home-like to her?
Meanwhile, the little group below were discussing the same problem that Lyle herself was trying to solve.
“I cannot understand,” Rutherford was saying, “how such a style of beauty, so delicate and refined you know, could ever exist in such surroundings.”
“She is a mystery,” added Houston, “and unless I am greatly mistaken, she has a nature as sensitive and refined as her face.”
“You are right, Mr. Houston,” replied Miss Gladden, “she possesses a refinement of nature that is wonderful; and not only that, she has a brilliant intellect if she could only have advantages, and notwithstanding all the difficulties and obstacles with which she has had to contend, she has already acquired a fair education, is remarkably well informed and a good conversationalist.”
A few moments later, Lyle was aroused from her revery by a familiar voice calling her, and coming down stairs, found Miss Gladden awaiting her.
“You runaway!” she exclaimed, “why have you been hiding when you should have been helping me entertain the new guests?”
“I didn’t think you needed any help,” replied Lyle, brightly.
“You never made a worse mistake in your life,” said Miss Gladden, leading the way out on the porch. “I have been trying to tell these gentlemen something about this country around here, and I have only succeeded in betraying my own ignorance.”
Both gentlemen greeted Lyle pleasantly, and Houston rose and gave her his chair with a grave, gentle courtesy which was new to her, and which she was quick to observe and appreciate. For some time they chatted of the surrounding country, Lyle telling them where the finest scenery, the best hunting and fishing and the pleasantest picnic grounds were to be found.
“About a quarter of a mile from here,” she said, “in Strawberry gulch is a small canyon that has been fitted up for tourists and excursionists, and every summer numerous camping parties come out from Silver City for a few days or weeks. There is a fine lake at the head of the canyon, a boat house, and a good supply of boats, tents, and almost everything needed for camp life.”
“Have there been any camping parties yet?” asked Houston.
“Not yet,” replied Lyle. “It is too early; they usually begin coming in July; we are likely to have snow-storms out here in the mountains yet.”
“Snow-storms!” they all exclaimed; “What!” said Miss Gladden, “after such warm weather as this?”
“Oh, yes,” said Lyle, “this is only the early warm weather we always have in May, but it will be much colder again before summer really begins in earnest; though the weather is never so severe here as in the gulches farther up the mountains.”
“It seems to me,” said Rutherford, “I’ve heard of the greatest number of ‘gulches’ out here, and some of them have the most remarkable names; very original, certainly.”
“Their names are mostly indicative of their early history,” Lyle answered; “there are a number of them in this vicinity,––Last Chance gulch, Poor Man’s gulch, Lucky gulch, Bloody gulch, and so on.”
“Has this gulch where we are, any such euphonious title?” inquired Miss Gladden.
“This one has two names, equally euphonious and equally historical; it is now called Spotted Horse gulch, but years since it was known as Dead Man’s gulch.”
“That sounds cheerful!” commented Miss Gladden.
“Is there a ghost story connected with the gulch, Miss Maverick?” inquired Houston.
“Yes,” said Lyle, “several of them, for the miners are mostly very superstitious. Years ago, when there were no well developed mines here, only a few prospects, a man who had just sold one of the properties, was murdered for his money, about half way between here and the mines, where the road is so narrow and passes under the overhanging rocks. He rode a spotted horse, and from the indications when he was found a few days after, he must have made a desperate fight, for both he and the horse were shot several times. Ever since, it has been said that the spotted horse goes up and down the gulch at night, sometimes alone, and sometimes with his rider, and so the gulch received its name.”
“Is that story still believed here?” asked Houston.
“More or less,” replied Lyle. “There is just enough faith in it, that, excepting Jack,” and she nodded slightly to Miss Gladden, “there is not a miner in camp who could be hired to pass through that part of the gulch at midnight, for fear of seeing the phantom horse and his rider.”
“Possibly,” said Miss Gladden, “it would be well for us to adjourn for the night, or we may have a glimpse of the phantoms; it must be after ten o’clock.”
“After ten, impossible!” exclaimed Rutherford, springing to his feet; “I beg your pardon, ladies, for having detained you so long; I never dreamed it was so late.”
“The long twilight here deceives one, I have hardly become accustomed to it myself,” said Miss Gladden.
“The ladies will surely pardon us,” said Houston, “since it is through their making the time pass so pleasantly that we have trespassed.”
They separated for the night, and a little later, Mr. Blaisdell and Haight came up from the office, but Morgan did not return until daylight was beginning to tinge the eastern sky.
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