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Chapter 6

Echoes from the Past


During his stay at The Pines Mr. Britton spent the greater portion of his time with Mr. Underwood, either at their offices or at the mines. Darrell, therefore, saw little of his new-found friend except as they all gathered in the evening around the glowing fire in the large family sitting-room, for, notwithstanding the lingering warmth and sunshine of the days, the nights were becoming sharp and frosty, so that an open fire added much to the evening's enjoyment. Each morning, however, before his departure, Mr. Britton stopped for a few words with Darrell; some quaint, kindly bit of humor, the pleasant flavor of which would enliven the entire day; some unhackneyed expression of sympathy whose very genuineness and sincerity made Darrell's position seem to him less isolated and solitary than before; or some suggestion which, acted upon, relieved the monotony of the tedious hours of convalescence.

At his suggestion Darrell took vigorous exercise each day in the morning air and sunshine, devoting his afternoons to a course of light, pleasant reading.

"If you are going to work," said Mr. Britton, "the first requisite is to have your body and mind in just as healthful and normal a condition as possible, in order that you may be able to give an equivalent for what you receive. In these days of trouble between employer and employed, we hear a great deal about the laborer demanding an honest equivalent for his toil, but it does not occur to him to inquire whether he is giving his employer an honest equivalent for his money. The fact is, a large percentage of working-men and working-women, in all departments of labor, are squandering their energies night after night in various forms and degrees of dissipation until they are utterly incapacitated for one honest day's work; yet they do not hesitate to take a full day's wages, and would consider themselves wronged were the smallest fraction withheld."

Darrell found himself rather restricted in his reading for the first few days, as he found but a limited number of books at The Pines, until Mrs. Dean, who had received a hint from Mr. Britton, meeting him one day in the upper hall, led him into two darkened rooms, saying, as she hastened to open the blinds,—

"These are what the children always called their 'dens.' All their books are here, and I thought maybe you'd like to look them over. If you see anything you like, just help yourself, and use the rooms for reading or writing whenever you want to."

Darrell, left to himself, looked about him with much interest. The two rooms were similar in style and design, but otherwise were as diverse as possible. The room in which he was standing was furnished in embossed leather. A leather couch stood near one of the windows, and a large reclining-chair of the same material was drawn up before the fireplace. Near the mantel was a pipe-rack filled with fine specimens of briar-wood and meerschaum pipes. Signs of tennis, golf, and various athletic sports were visible on all sides; in the centre of the room stood a large roll-top desk, open, and on it lay a briar pipe, filled with ashes, just where the owner's hand had laid it. But what most interested Darrell was a large portrait over the fireplace, which he knew must be that of Harry Whitcomb. The face was neither especially fine nor strong, but the winsome smile lurking about the curves of the sensitive mouth and in the depths of the frank blue eyes rendered it attractive, and it was with a sigh for the young life so suddenly blotted out that Darrell turned to enter the second room.

He paused at the doorway, feeling decidedly out of place, and glanced about him with a serio-comic smile. The furnishings were as unique as possible, no one piece in the room bearing any relation or similarity to any other piece. There were chairs and tables of wicker-work, twisted into the most ornate designs, interspersed among heavy, antique pieces of carving and slender specimens of colonial simplicity; divans covered with pillows of every delicate shade imaginable; exquisite etchings and dainty bric-à-brac. In an alcove formed by a large bay-window stood a writing-desk of ebony inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and on an easel in a secluded corner, partially concealed by silken draperies, was the portrait of Kate Underwood,—a childish, rather immature face, but with a mouth indicating both sweetness and strength of character, and with dark, strangely appealing eyes.

The walls of both rooms were lined with bookcases, but their contents were widely diverse, and, to Darrell's surprise, he found the young girl's library contained far the better class of books. But even in their selection he observed the same peculiarity that he had noted in the furnishing of the room; there were few complete sets of books; instead, there were one, two, or three volumes of each author, as the case might be, evidently her especial favorites.

But Darrell returned to the other room, which interested him far more, each article in it bearing eloquent testimony to the happy young life of whose tragic end he had now often heard, but of which he was unable to recall the faintest memory. Passing slowly through the room, his attention was caught by a violin case standing in an out-of-the-way corner. With a cry of joy he drew it forth, his fingers trembling with eagerness as he opened it and took therefrom a genuine Stradivarius. At that moment his happiness knew no bounds. Seating himself and bending his head over the instrument after the manner of a true violin lover, he drew the bow gently across the strings, producing a chord of such triumphant sweetness that the air seemed vibrating with the joy which at that instant thrilled his own soul.

Immediately all thought of himself or of his surroundings was lost. With eyes half closed and dreamy he began to play, without effort, almost mechanically, but with the deft touch of a master hand, while liquid harmonies filled the room, quivering, rising, falling; at times low, plaintive, despairing; then swelling exultantly, only to die away in tremulous, minor undertones. The man's pent-up feelings had at last found expression,—his alternate hope and despair, his unutterable loneliness and longing,—all voiced by the violin.

Of the lapse of time Darrell had neither thought nor consciousness until the door opened and Mrs. Dean's calm smile and matter-of-fact voice recalled him to a material world.

"I see that you have found Harry's violin," she said.

"I beg your pardon," Darrell stammered, somewhat dazed by his sudden descent to the commonplace, "I ought not to have taken it; I never thought,—I was so delighted to find the instrument and so carried away with its tones,—it never occurred to me how it might seem to you!"

"Oh, that is all right," she interposed, quietly; "use it whenever you like. Harry bought it two years ago, but he never had the patience to learn it, so it has been used very little. I never heard such playing as yours, and I stepped in to ask you to bring it downstairs and play for us to-night. Mr. Britton will be delighted; he enjoys everything of that sort."

Around the fireside that evening Darrell had an attentive audience, though the appreciation of his auditors was manifested in a manner characteristic of each. Mr. Underwood, after two or three futile attempts to talk business with his partner, finding him very uncommunicative, gave himself up to the enjoyment of his pipe and the music in about equal proportions, indulging surreptitiously in occasional brief naps, though always wide awake at the end of each number and joining heartily in the applause.

Mrs. Dean sat gazing into the glowing embers, her face lighted with quiet pleasure, but her knitting-needles twinkled and flashed in the firelight with the same unceasing regularity, and she doubled and seamed and "slipped and bound" her stitches with the same monotonous precision as on other evenings.

Mr. Britton, in a comfortable reclining-chair, sat silent, motionless, his head thrown back, his eyes nearly closed, but in the varying expression of his mobile face Darrell found both inspiration and compensation.

For more than three hours Darrell entertained his friends; quaint medleys, dreamy waltzes, and bits of classical music following one after another, with no effort, no hesitancy, on the part of the player. To their eager inquiries, he could only answer,—

"I don't know how I do it. They seem to come to me with the sweep of the bow across the strings. I have no recollection of anything that I am playing; it seems as though the instrument and I were simply drifting."

Late in the evening, when they were nearly ready to separate for the night, Darrell sat idly strumming the violin, when an old familiar strain floated sweetly forth, and his astonished listeners suddenly heard him singing in a rich baritone an old love-song, forgotten until then by every one present.

Mrs. Dean had already laid aside her work and sat with hands folded, a smile of unusual tenderness hovering about her lips, while Mr. Britton's face was quivering with emotion. At its conclusion he grasped Darrell's hand silently.

"That is a very old song," said Mrs. Dean. "It seems queer to hear you sing it. I used to hear it sung when I was a young girl, and that," she added smiling, "was a great many years ago."

"And I have sung it many a time a great many years ago," said Mr. Britton. And he hastily left the room.