On the following morning the cabin on the mountain side was closed at an early hour, and its late occupant, accompanied by Peter and the collie, descended the trail to the small station near the base of the mountain, where he took leave of the old hermit. On his arrival at Ophir he ordered a carriage and drove directly to The Pines, for he was impatient to see John Britton at as early a date as possible, and was fearful lest the latter, with his migratory habits, might escape him.
It was near noon when, having dismissed the carriage, he rang for admission. He recalled the house and grounds as they appeared to him on his first arrival, but he found it hard to realize that he was looking upon the scenes among which most of that strange drama of the last two years had been enacted. Mr. Underwood himself came to the door.
"Why, Darrell, my boy, how do you do?" he exclaimed, shaking hands heartily; "thought you'd take us by surprise, eh? Got a little tired of living alone, I guess, and thought you'd come back to your friends. Well, it's mighty good to see you; come in; we'll have lunch in about an hour."
To Mr. Underwood's surprise the young man did not immediately accept the invitation to come in, but seemed to hesitate for a moment.
"I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Underwood," he responded, pleasantly, but with a shade of reserve in his manner; "I remember you very well, indeed, and probably yours is about the only face I will be able to recall."
For a moment Mr. Underwood seemed staggered, unable to comprehend the meaning of the other's words.
The young man continued: "I understand Mr. Britton is stopping with you; is he still here, or has he left?"
"He is here," Mr. Underwood replied; "but, good God! Darrell, what does this mean?"
Before the other could reply Mr. Britton, who was in an adjoining room and had overheard the colloquy, came quickly forward. He gave a swift, penetrating glance into the young man's face, then, turning to Mr. Underwood, said,—
"It means, David, that our young friend has come to his own again. He is no longer of our world or of us."
Then turning to the young man, he said, "I am John Britton; do you wish to see me?"
The other looked earnestly into the face of the speaker, and his own features betrayed emotion as he replied,—
"I do; I must see you on especially important business."
"David, you will let us have the use of your private room for a while?" Mr. Britton inquired.
Mr. Underwood nodded silently, his eyes fixed with a troubled expression upon the young man's face. The latter, observing his distress, said,—
"Don't think, Mr. Underwood, that I am insensible to all your kindness to me since my coming here two years ago. I shall see you later and show you that I am not lacking in appreciation, though I can never express my gratitude to you; but before I can do that—before I can even tell you who I am—it is necessary that I see Mr. Britton."
"Tut! tut!" said Mr. Underwood, gruffly; "don't talk to me of gratitude; I don't want any; but, my God! boy, I had come to look on you almost as my own son!" And, turning abruptly, he left the room before either of the others could speak.
"He is a man of very strong feelings," said Mr. Britton, leading the way to Mr. Underwood's room; "and, to tell the truth, this is a pretty hard blow to each of us, although we should have prepared ourselves for it. Be seated, my son."
Seating himself beside the young man and again looking into his face, he said,—
"I see that the day has dawned; when did the light come, and how?"
Briefly the other related his awakening on the rocks and the events which followed down to his finding and reading the journal which recorded so faithfully the history of the missing years, Mr. Britton listening with intense interest. At last the young man said,—
"Of all the records of that journal, there was nothing that interested me so greatly or moved me so deeply as did the story of your own life. That is what brought me here to-day. I have come to tell you my story,—the story of John Darrell, as you have known him,—and possibly you may find it in some ways a counterpart to your own."
"I was drawn towards you in some inexplicable way from our first meeting," Mr. Britton replied, slowly; "you became as dear to me as a son, so that I gave you in confidence the story that no other human being has ever heard. It is needless to say that I appreciate this mark of your confidence in return, and that you can rest assured of my deepest interest in anything concerning yourself."
The younger man drew his chair nearer his companion. "As you already know," he said, "I am a mine expert. I came out here on a commission for a large eastern syndicate, and as there was likely to be lively competition and I wished to remain incognito, I took the name of John Darrell, which in reality was a part of my own name. My home is in New York State. I was a country-bred boy, brought up on one of those great farms which abound a little north of the central part of the State; but, though country-bred, I was not a rustic, for my mother, who was my principal instructor until I was about fourteen years of age, was a woman of refinement and culture. My mother and I lived at her father's house—a beautiful country home; but even while a mere child I became aware that there was some kind of an unpleasant secret in our family. My grandfather would never allow my father's name mentioned, and he had little love for me as his child; but my earliest recollections of my mother are of her kneeling with me night after night in prayer, teaching me to love and revere the father I had never known, who, she told me, was 'gone away,' and to pray always for his welfare and for his return. At fourteen I was sent away to a preparatory school, and afterwards to college. Then, as I developed a taste for mineralogy and metallurgy, I took a course in the Columbian School of Mines. By this time I had learned that while it was generally supposed my mother was a widow, there were those, my grandfather among them, who believed that my father had deserted her. My first intimation of this was an insinuation to that effect by my grandfather himself, soon after my graduation. I was an athlete and already had a good position at a fair salary, and so great was my love and reverence for my father's name that I told the old gentleman that nothing but his white hairs saved him from a sound thrashing, and that at the first repetition of any such insinuation I would take my mother from under his roof and provide a home for her myself. That sufficed to silence him effectually, for he idolized her. After this little episode I went to my mother and begged her to tell me the secret regarding my father."
The young man paused for a moment, his dark eyes gazing earnestly into the clear gray eyes watching him intently; then, without shifting his gaze, he continued, in low tones:
"She told me that about a year before my birth she and my father were married against her father's will, his only objection to the marriage being that my father was poor. She told me of their happy married life that followed, but that my father was ambitious, and the consciousness of poverty and the fact that he could not provide for her as he wished galled him. She told me how, when there was revealed to them the promise of a new love and life within their little home, he redoubled his efforts to do for her and hers, and then, dissatisfied with what he could accomplish there, went out into the new West to build a home for his little family. She told of the brave, loving letters that came so faithfully and the generous remittances to provide for every possible need in the coming emergency. Then Fortune beckoned him still farther west, and he obeyed, daring the dangers of that strange, wild country for the love he bore his wife and his unborn child. From that country only one letter ever was received from him. Just at that time I was born, and my life came near costing hers who bore me. For weeks she lay between life and death, so low that the report of her death reached her parents, bringing them broken-hearted and, as they supposed, too late to her humble home. They found her yet living and threw their love and their wealth into the battle against death. In all this time no news came from the great West. As soon as she could be moved my mother and her child were taken to her father's home. Her father forgave her, but he had no forgiveness for her husband and no love for his child. He tried to make my mother believe her husband had deserted her, but she was loyal in her trust in him as in her love for him. She named her child for his father, 'John,' but as her father would not allow the name repeated in his hearing she gave him the additional name of 'Darrell,' by which he was universally known; but in those sacred hours when she told me of my father and taught me to pray for him, she always called me by his name, 'John Britton.'"
As he ceased speaking both men rose simultaneously to their feet. The elder man placed his hands upon the shoulders of the younger, and, standing thus face to face, they looked into each other's eyes as though each were reading the other's inmost soul.
"What was your mother's name?" Mr. Britton asked, in low tones.
"Patience—Patience Jewett," replied the other.
Mr. Britton bowed his head with deep emotion, and father and son were clasped in each other's arms.
When they had grown calm enough for speech Mr. Britton's first words were of his wife.
"What of your mother, my son,—was she living when you came west?"
"Yes, but her health was delicate, and I am fearful of the effects of my long absence; it must have been a terrible strain upon her. As soon as I reached the city this morning I telegraphed an old schoolmate for tidings of her, and I am expecting an answer any moment."
They talked of the strange chain of circumstances which had brought them together and of the mysterious bond by which they had been so closely united while as yet unconscious of their relationship. The summons to lunch recalled them to the present. As they rose to leave the room Mr. Britton threw his arm affectionately about Darrell's shoulders, exclaiming,—
"My son! Mine! and I have loved you as such from the first time I looked into your eyes! If God will now only permit me to see my beloved wife again, I can ask nothing more!"
And as Darrell gazed at the noble form, towering slightly above his own, and looked into the depths of those gray eyes, penetrating, fearless, yet tender as a woman's, he felt that however sweet and sacred had been the friendship between them in the past, it was as naught compared with the infinitely sweeter and holier relationship of father and son.
They passed into the dining-room where Mr. Underwood and Mrs. Dean awaited them, a look of eager expectancy on both faces, the wistful expression of Mrs. Dean as she watched for the first token of recognition on Darrell's part being almost pathetic.
Mr. Britton, who had entered slightly in advance, paused half-way across the room, and, placing his hand on Darrell's shoulder, said, in a voice which vibrated with emotion,—
"My dear friends, Mrs. Dean and Mr. Underwood, allow me to introduce my son, John Darrell Britton!"
There, was a moment of strained silence in which only the labored breathing of Mr. Underwood could be heard.
"Do you mean that you have adopted him?" Mr. Underwood asked, slowly, seeming to speak with difficulty.
"No, David; he is my own flesh and blood—my legitimate son; I will explain later."
Mrs. Dean and Darrell had clasped hands and were scanning each other's faces.
"John, do you remember me?" she asked, with trembling lips.
Darrell bent his head and kissed her. "I do, Mrs. Dean," he replied.
She smiled, at the same time wiping away a tear with the corner of her white apron.
"I don't think I could have borne it if you hadn't," she remarked, simply; then, shaking hands with Mr. Britton, she added:
"I congratulate you, Mr. Britton; I congratulate you both. If ever there were two who ought to be father and son, you are the two."
Mr. Underwood wrung Darrell's hand. "I congratulate you, boy, and I'm mighty glad to find you're not a stranger to us, after all."
Then, grasping his old-time partner's hand, he added: "Jack, you old fraud! You've always got the best of me on every bargain, but I forgive you this time. I wanted the boy myself, but you seem to have the best title, so there's no use to try to jump your claim."
Lunch was just over as a messenger was announced, and a moment later a telegram was handed to Darrell. As he opened the missive his fingers trembled and Mr. Britton's face grew pale. Darrell hastily read the contents, then met his father's anxious glance with a reassuring smile.
"She is living and in usual health, though my friend says she is much more delicate than when I left."
"We must go to her at once, my boy," said Mr. Britton; "how soon can you leave?"
"In a very few hours, father; when do you wish to start?"
Mr. Britton consulted a time-table. "The east-bound express leaves at ten-thirty to-night; can we make that?"
"Sure!" Darrell responded, with an enthusiasm new to his western friends; "you can't start too soon for me, and there isn't a train that travels fast enough to take me to that little mother of mine, especially with the good news I have for her."
Half an hour later, as he was hastily gathering together his possessions, he came suddenly upon a picture, at sight of which he paused, then stood spellbound, all else for the time forgotten. It was a portrait of Kate Underwood, taken in the gown she had worn on that night of her first reception. It served as a connecting link between the past and present. Gazing at it he was able to understand how the young girl whom he faintly remembered had grown into the strong, sweet character delineated in the recorded story of his love. He was able to recall some of the scenes portrayed there; he recalled her as she stood that day on the "Divide," her head uncovered, her gleaming hair like a halo about her face, her eyes shining with a light that was not of earth.
He kissed the picture reverently. "Sweet angel of my dream!" he murmured; "come what may, you hold, and always will, a place in my heart which no other can ever take from you. I will lay your sweet face away, never again to be lifted from its hiding-place until I can look upon it as the face of my betrothed."
His trunk was packed, his preparations for departure nearly complete, when there came a gentle tap at his door, and Mrs. Dean entered.
"I was afraid," she said, speaking with some hesitation, "that you might think it strange if you did not see Katherine, and I wanted to explain that she is away. She went out of town, to be gone for a few days. She will be very sorry when she returns to find that she has missed seeing you."
"Thank you, Mrs. Dean," said Darrell, slowly; "on some accounts I would have been very glad to meet Kate; but on the whole I think perhaps it is better as it is."
"I don't suppose you remember her except as you saw her when you first came," Mrs. Dean added, wistfully; "I should like to have you see her as she is now. I think she has matured into a beautiful young woman."
"Yes, I remember her, Mrs. Dean; she is beautiful."
"Oh, do you? She will be glad to hear that!" Mrs. Dean exclaimed, with a happy smile.
Darrell came nearer and took her hands within his own. "Will you give her a message from me, just as I give it to you? She will understand."
"Oh, yes; gladly."
"Tell her," said Darrell, and his voice trembled slightly, "I remember her. Tell her I will see her 'at the time appointed;' and that I never forget!"
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