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Chapter 7

At the Mines

Once fairly started on the road to health, Darrell gained marvellously. Each day marked some new acquisition in physical health and muscular vigor, while his systematic reading, the soothing influence of the music to which he devoted a considerable time each day, and, more than all, his growing intimacy with Mr. Britton, were doing much towards restoring a better mental equipoise.

The race to which he had challenged Dr. Bradley took place on a frosty morning early in November, Mr. Underwood himself measuring and marking the course for the runners and Mr. Britton acting as starter. The result was a victory for Darrell, who came out more than a yard ahead of his opponent, somewhat to the chagrin of the latter, who had won quite a local reputation as an athlete.

"You'll do," he said to Darrell, as he took leave a few moments later, "but don't pose here as an invalid any longer, or I'll expose you as a fraud. Understand, I cross your name off my list of patients to-day."

"But not off your list of friends, I hope," Darrell rejoined, as they shook hands.

When Dr. Bradley had gone, Darrell turned to Mr. Britton, who was standing near, saying, as his face grew serious,—

"Dr. Bradley is right; I'm no invalid now, and I must quit this idling. I must find what I can do and go to work."

"All in good time," said Mr. Britton, pleasantly. "We'll find something for you before I go from here. Meanwhile, I want to give you a little pleasure-trip if you are able to take it. How would you like to go out to the mines to-morrow with Mr. Underwood and myself? Do you think you could 'rough it' with us old fellows for a couple of days?"

"You couldn't have suggested anything that would please me better," Darrell answered. "I would like the change, and it's time I was roughing it. Perhaps when I get out there I'll decide to take a pick and shovel and start in at the bottom of the ladder and work my way up."

"Is that necessary?" queried Mr. Britton, regarding the younger man with close but kindly scrutiny. "Mr. Underwood tells me that you brought a considerable amount of money with you when you came here, which he has deposited to your credit."

Darrell met the penetrating gaze unwaveringly, as he replied, with quiet decision, "That money may be mine, or it may not; it may have been given me to hold in trust. In any event, it belongs to the past, and it will remain where it is, intact, until the past is unveiled."

Mr. Britton looked gratified, as he remarked, in a low tone, "I don't think you need any assurance, my boy, that I will back you with all the capital you need, if you would like to start in business."

"No, Mr. Britton," said Darrell, deeply touched by the elder man's kindness; "I know, without words, that I could have from you whatever I needed, but it is useless for me to think of going into business with as little knowledge of myself as I have at present. The best thing for me is to take whatever work offers itself, until I find what I am fitted for or to what I can best adapt myself."

The next morning found Darrell at an early hour on his way to the mining camp with Mr. Underwood and Mr. Britton. The ground was white and glistening with frost, and the sun, not yet far above the horizon, shone with a pale, cold light, but Darrell, wrapped in a fur coat of Mr. Underwood's, felt only the exhilarating effect of the thin, keen air, and as the large, double-seated carriage, drawn by two powerful horses, descended the pine-clad mountain and passed down one of the principal streets of the little city, he looked about him with lively interest.

Leaving the town behind them, they soon began the ascent of a winding canyon. After two or three turns, to Darrell's surprise, every sign of human habitation vanished and only the rocky walls were visible, at first low and receding, but gradually growing higher and steeper. On they went, steadily ascending, till a turn suddenly brought the distant mountains into closer proximity, and Mr. Britton, pointing to a lofty, rugged range on Darrell's right, said,—

"There lies the Great Divide."

For two hours they wound steadily upward, the massive rocks towering on all sides, barren, grotesque in form, but beautiful in coloring,—dull reds, pale greens, and lovely blues and purples staining the sombre grays and browns.

Darrell had grown silent, and his companions, supposing him absorbed in the grandeur and beauty of the scenery, left him to his own reflections while they talked on matters of interest to themselves.

But to Darrell the surrounding rocks were full of a strange, deep significance. The colorings and markings in the gray granite were to him what the insignia of the secret orders are to the initiated, replete with mystical meaning. To him had come the sudden realization that he was in Nature's laboratory, and in the hieroglyphics traced on the granite walls he read the symbols of the mysterious alchemy silently and secretly wrought beneath their surface. The vastness of the scale of Nature's work, the multiplicity of her symbols, bewildered him, but in his own mind he knew that he still held the key to this mysterious code, and the knowledge thrilled him with delight. He gazed about him, fascinated, saying nothing, but trembling with joy and with eagerness to put himself to the test, and it was with difficulty that he controlled his impatience till the long ride should come to an end.

At last they left the canyon and followed a steep road winding up the side of a mountain, which, after an hour's hard climbing, brought them to the mining camp. As the carriage stopped Darrell was the first to alight, springing quickly to the ground and looking eagerly about him.

At a short distance beyond them the road was terminated by the large milling plant, above which the mountain rose abruptly, its sides dotted with shaft-houses and crossed and recrossed with trestle-work almost to the summit. A wooden flume clung like a huge serpent to the steep slopes, and a tramway descended from near the summit to the mill below. At a little distance from the mill were the boarding-house and bunk-houses, while in the foreground, near the road was the office building, to which the party adjourned after exchanging greetings with Mr. Hathaway, the superintendent, who had come out to meet them and to whom Darrell was duly introduced. The room they first entered was the superintendent's office. Beyond that was a pleasant reception-room, while in the rear were the private rooms of the superintendent and the assayer, who were not expected to share the bunk-houses with the miners.

Mr. Underwood and the superintendent at once proceeded to business, but Mr. Britton, mindful of Darrell's comfort, ushered him into the reception-room. A coal-fire was glowing in a small grate; a couch, three or four comfortable chairs, and a few books and magazines contributed to give the room a cosey appearance, but the object which instantly riveted Darrell's attention was a large case, extending nearly across one side of the room, filled with rare mineralogical and geological specimens. There were quartz crystals gleaming with lumps of free-milling gold, curling masses of silver and copper wire direct from the mines, gold nuggets of unusual size and brilliancy, and specimens of ores from the principal mines not only of that vicinity, but of the West.

Observing Darrell's interest in the contents of the case, Mr. Britton threw open the doors for a closer inspection, and began calling his attention to some of the finest specimens, but at Darrell's first remarks he paused, astonished, listened a few moments, then stepping to the next room, called Mr. Underwood. That gentleman looked somewhat perturbed at the interruption, but at a signal from Mr. Britton, followed the latter quietly across the room to where Darrell was standing. Here they stood, silently listening, while Darrell, unconscious of their presence, went rapidly through the specimens, classifying the different ores, stating the conditions which had contributed to their individual characteristics, giving the approximate value of each and the mode of treatment required for its reduction; all after the manner of a student rehearsing to himself a well-conned lesson.

At last, catching sight of the astonished faces of his listeners, his own lighted with pleasure, as he exclaimed, joyously,—

"I wanted to test myself and see if it would come back to me, and it has! I believed it would, and it has!"

"What has come back to you?" queried Mr. Underwood, too bewildered himself to catch the drift of Darrell's meaning.

"The knowledge of all this," Darrell answered, indicating the collection with a swift gesture; "it began to come to me as soon as I saw the rocks on our way up; it confused me at first, but it is all clear now. Take me to your mill, Mr. Underwood; I want to see what I can do with the ores there."

At that moment Mr. Hathaway entered to summon the party to dinner, and seeing Darrell standing by the case, his hands filled with specimens, he said, addressing Mr. Underwood with a pleasant tone of inquiry,—

"Mr. Darrell is a mining man?"

But Mr. Underwood was still too confused to answer intelligibly, and it was Mr. Britton who replied, as he linked his arm within Darrell's on turning to leave the room,—

"Mr. Darrell is a mineralogist."

At dinner Darrell found himself too excited to eat, so overjoyed was he at the discovery of attainments he had not dreamed he possessed, and so eager to put them to every test possible.

It had been Mr. Underwood's intention to visit the mines that afternoon, but at Darrell's urgent request, they went first to the mill. Here he found ample scope for his abilities. He fairly revelled in the various ores, separating, assorting, and classifying them with the rapidity and accuracy of an expert, and at once proceeded to assay some samples taken from a new lead recently struck, the report of which had occasioned this particular trip to the camp. He worked with a dexterity and skill surprising in one of his years, producing the most accurate results, to the astonishment and delight of both Mr. Underwood and Mr. Britton.

After an extended inspection of the different departments of the large milling plant, he was taken into a small laboratory, where the assayer in charge was testing some of the recently discovered ore for the presence of certain metals. After watching for a while in silence Darrell said, turning to Mr. Underwood,—

"I can give you a quicker and a surer test than that!"

The assayer and himself at once exchanged places, and, unheeding the many eyes fixed upon him, Darrell seated himself before the long table and deftly began operations. Not a word broke the silence as by methods wholly new to his spectators he subjected the ore to successive chemical changes, until, within an incredibly short time, the presence of the suspected metals was demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt.

"Mineralogist and metallurgist!" exclaimed Mr. Britton delightedly, as he congratulated Darrell upon his success.

The short November day had now nearly drawn to a close, and after supper the gentlemen adjourned to the office building, where they spent an hour or more around the open fire. Darrell, who was quite wearied with the unusual exertion and excitement of the day, retired early, the superintendent and assayer had gone out on some business at the mill, and Mr. Underwood and Mr. Britton were left together. No sooner were they by themselves than Mr. Britton, who was walking up and down the room, stopped beside his partner as he sat smoking and gazing abstractedly into the fire, and, laying a hand on his shoulder, said,—

"Well, Dave, what do you think? After what we've seen to-day, can't you make a place over there at the mill for the boy?"

"Hang it all!" answered the other, somewhat testily, secretly a little jealous of the growing intimacy between his partner and Darrell; "supposing I can, is there any need of your dipping in your oar about it? Do you think I need any suggestion from you in the way of befriending him or standing by him?"

"No, Dave," said Mr. Britton, pleasantly, dropping into a chair by Mr. Underwood's side, "I did not put my question with a view of making any suggestions. I know, and Darrell knows, that he hasn't a better friend than you, and because I know this, and also because I am a friend to you both, I was interested to ask you what you intended doing for him."

"What I intended doing for him and what I probably will actually do for him are two altogether different propositions—all on account of his own pig-headedness," was the rather surly response.

"How's that?" Mr. Britton inquired.

"Why, confound the fellow! I took a liking to him from the first, coming here the way he did, and after what he did for Harry there was nothing I wouldn't have done for him. Then, after his sickness, when we found his memory had gone back on him and left him helpless as a child in some ways, I knew he'd stand no show among strangers, and my idea was to take him in, in Harry's place, give him a small interest in the business until he got accustomed to it, and then after a while let him in as partner. But when I broached the subject to him, a week ago or so, he wouldn't hear to it; said he'd rather find some work for which he was adapted and stick to that, at a regular salary. I told him he was missing a good thing, but nothing that I could say would make any difference."

"Well," said Mr. Britton, slowly, "I'm not sure but his is the wiser plan. You must remember, Dave, that his stay with us will probably be but temporary. Whenever that portion of his brain which is now dormant does awaken, you can rest assured he will not remain here long. He no doubt realizes this and wishes to be absolutely foot-loose, ready to leave at short notice. And as to the financial side of the question, if you give him the place in your mill for which he is eminently fitted, it will be fully as remunerative in the long run as the interest in the business which you intended giving him."

"What place in the mill do you refer to?" Mr. Underwood asked, quickly.

"Oh, I'm not making any 'suggestions,' Dave; you don't need them." And Mr. Britton smiled quietly into the fire.

"Go ahead and say your say, Jack," said the other, his own face relaxing into a grim smile; "that was only a bit of my crankiness, and you know me well enough to know it."

"Give him the position of assayer in charge."

"Great Scott! and fire Benson, who's been there for five years?"

"It makes no difference how long he's been there. Darrell is a better man every way,—quicker, more accurate, more scientific. You can put Benson to sorting and weighing ores down at the ore-bins."

After a brief silence Mr. Britton continued, "You couldn't find a better man for the place or a better position for the man. The work is evidently right in the line of his profession, and therefore congenial; and even though you should pay him no more salary than Benson, that, with outside work in the way of assays for neighboring camps, will be better than any business interest you would give him short of twelve or eighteen months at least."

"I guess you're right, and I'll give him the place; but hang it all! I did want to put him in Harry's place. You and I are getting along in years, Jack, and it's time we had some young man getting broke to the harness, so that after a while he could take the brunt of things and let us old fellows slack up a bit."

"We could not expect that of Darrell," said Mr. Britton. "He is neither kith nor kin of ours, and when once Nature's ties begin to assert themselves in his mind, we may find our hold upon him very slight."

Both men sighed deeply, as though the thought had in some way touched an unpleasant chord. After a pause, Mr. Britton inquired,—

"You have no clue whatever as to Darrell's identity, have you?"

Mr. Underwood shook his head. "Queerest case I ever saw! There wasn't a scrap of paper nor a pen-mark to show who he was. Parkinson, the mine expert who was on the same train, said he didn't remember seeing him until Harry introduced him; he said he supposed he was some friend of Harry's. Since his sickness I've looked up the conductor on that train and questioned him, but all he could remember was that he boarded the train a little this side of Galena and that he had a ticket through from St. Paul."

"You say this Parkinson was a mine expert; what was he doing out here?"

"He was one of three or four that were here at that time, looking up the Ajax for eastern parties."

"In all probability," said Mr. Britton, musingly, "Darrell was here on the same business."

"If that was his business, he said nothing about it to me, and I would have thought he would, under the circumstances."

"I wonder whether we could ascertain from the owners of the Ajax what experts were out here or expected out here at that time?"

Mr. Underwood smiled grimly. "Not from the former owners, for nobody knows where they are, though there are some people quite anxious to know; and not from the present owners, for they are too busy looking for their predecessors in interest to think of anything else."

"Why, has the Ajax really changed owners? Did they find any one to buy it?"

"Yes, a Scotch syndicate bought it. They sent over a man—one of their own number, I believe, and authorized to act for them—that I guess knew more about sampling liquors than ores. The Ajax people worked him accordingly, with the result that the mine was sold at the figure named,—one million, half down, you know. The man rushed back to New York, to meet a partner whom he had cabled to come over. About ten days later they arrived on the ground and began operations at the Ajax. The mill ran for just ten days when they discovered the condition of affairs and shut down, and they have been looking for the former owners ever since."

Both men laughed, then relapsed into silence. A little later, as Mr. Britton stirred the fire to a brighter glow, he said, while the tender curves about his mouth deepened,—

"I cannot help feeling that the coming to us of this young man, whose identity is wrapped in so much mystery, has some peculiar significance to each of us. I believe that in some way, whether for good or ill I cannot tell, his life is to be henceforth inseparably linked with our own lives. He already holds, as you know, a place in each of our hearts which no stranger has held before, and I have only this to say, David, old friend, that our mutual regard for him, our mutual efforts for his well-being, must never lead to any estrangement between ourselves. We have been stanch friends for too many years for any one at this late date to come between us; and you must never envy me my little share in the boy's friendship."

The two men had risen and now stood before the fire with clasped hands.

"I was an old fool to-night, Jack; that was all," said Mr. Underwood, rather gruffly. "I haven't the knack of saying things that you have,—never had,—but I'm with you all the time."

On the forenoon of the following day Darrell was shown the underground workings of the various mines, not excepting the Bird Mine, located almost at the summit of the mountain. This was the newest mine in camp, but, in proportion to its development, the best producer of all.

After an early dinner there was a private meeting in the reception-room beyond the office, at which were present only Mr. Underwood, Mr. Britton, and Darrell, and at which Mr. Underwood duly tendered to Darrell the position of assayer in charge at the Camp Bird mill, which the latter accepted with a frank and manly gratitude which more than ever endeared him to the hearts of his two friends. In this little proceeding Mr. Britton purposely took no part, standing before the grate, his back towards the others, gazing into the fire as though absorbed in his own thoughts. When all was over, however, he congratulated Darrell with a warmth and tenderness which filled both the heart and the eyes of the latter to overflowing. That night, after their arrival at The Pines, as Mr. Britton and Darrell took their accustomed stroll, the latter said,—

"Mr. Britton, I feel that I have you to thank for my good fortune of to-day. You had nothing to say when Mr. Underwood offered me that position, but, nevertheless, I believe the offer was made at your suggestion. It was, in reality, your kindness, not his."

"You are partly right and partly wrong," replied Mr. Britton, smiling. "Never doubt Mr. Underwood's kindness of heart towards yourself. If I had any part in that affair, it was only to indicate the channel in which that kindness should flow."

Together they talked of the strange course of events which had finally brought him and the work for which he was especially adapted together.

"Do you know," said Mr. Britton, as they paused on the veranda before entering the house, "I am no believer in accident. I believe that of the so-called 'happenings' in our lives, each has its appointed time and mission; and it is not for us to say which is trivial or which is important, until, knowing as we are known, we look back upon life as God sees it."