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Chapter 5 John Britton

  • It was on one of those glorious October days, when every breath quickens th_lood and when simply to live is a joy unspeakable, that Darrell first walke_broad into the outdoor world. Several times during his convalescence he ha_unned himself on the balcony opening from his room, or when able to g_ownstairs had paced feebly up and down the verandas, but of late his strengt_ad returned rapidly, so that now, accompanied by his physician, he wa_alking back and forth over the gravelled driveway under the pine-trees, hi_tep gaining firmness with every turn.
  • Seated on the veranda were Mr. Underwood and his sister, the one with his pip_nd newspaper, the other with her knitting; but the newspaper had slippe_nheeded to the floor, and though Mrs. Dean's skilful fingers did not slacke_heir work for an instant, yet her eyes, like her brother's, were fastene_pon Darrell, and a shade of pity might have been detected in the look o_ach, which the occasion at first sight hardly seemed to warrant.
  • "Poor fellow!" said Mr. Underwood, at length; "it's hard for a young man to b_andicapped like that!"
  • "Yes," assented his sister, "and he takes it hard, too, though he doesn't sa_uch. I can't bear to look in his eyes sometimes, they look so sort o_leading and helpless."
  • "Takes it hard!" reiterated Mr. Underwood; "why shouldn't he. I'm satisfie_hat he is a young man of unusual ability, who had a bright future before him, and I tell you, Marcia, it's pretty hard for him to wake up and find it al_ubbed off the slate!"
  • "Well," said Mrs. Dean, with a sigh, "everybody has to carry their ow_urdens, but there's a look on his face when he thinks nobody sees him tha_akes me wish I could help him carry his, though I don't suppose anybody can, for that matter; it isn't anything that anybody feels like saying much about."
  • "I'm glad Jack is coming," said Mr. Underwood, after a pause; "he may do hi_ome good. He has a way of getting at those things that you and I haven't, Marcia."
  • "Yes, he's seen trouble himself, though nobody knows what it was."
  • Notwithstanding the tide of returning vitality was fast restoring tissue an_uscle to Darrell's wasted limbs and firmness and elasticity to his step, i_as yet evident to a close observer that some undercurrent of suffering wa_oing its work day by day; sprinkling the dark hair with gleams of silver, tracing faint lines in the face hitherto untouched by care, working it_ubtle, mysterious changes.
  • When a new lease of life was granted to John Darrell and he awoke t_onsciousness, it was to find that every detail of his past life had bee_lotted out, leaving only a blank. Of his home, his friends, of his own nam_ven, not a vestige of memory was left. It was as though he had entered upon _ew existence.
  • By degrees, as he was able to hear them, he was given the details of hi_rrival at Ophir, of his coming to The Pines, of the tragedy which he ha_itnessed in the sleeping-car, but they awoke no memories in his mind. For hi_here was no past. As a realization of his condition dawned upon him hi_ental distress was pitiable. Despite the efforts of physician and nurse t_ivert his mind, he would lie for hours trying to recall some fragment fro_he veiled and shrouded past, but all in vain. Yet, with returning physica_trength, many of his former attainments seemed to return to him, naturall_nd without effort. Dr. Bradley one day used a Latin phrase in his hearing; h_t once repeated it and, without a moment's hesitation, gave the correc_endering, but was unable to tell how he did it.
  • "It simply came to me," was all the explanation he could give.
  • From this the physician argued that the memory of his past life would soone_r later return, and it was this hope alone which at that time saved Darrel_rom total despair.
  • Aside from his professional interest in so peculiar a case, Dr. Bradley ha_ecome interested in Darrell himself; many of his leisure hours were spent a_he Pines, and quite a friendship existed between the two.
  • In Mr. Underwood and his sister Darrell had found two steadfast friends, eac_eeming to vie with the other in thoughtful, unobtrusive kindness. His strang_isfortune had only deepened and intensified the sympathy which had been firs_roused by the peculiar circumstances under which he had come to them. Bu_ow, as then, they said little, and for this Darrell was grateful. Even th_ilent pity which he read in their eyes hurt him,—why, he could scarcel_xplain to himself; expressed in words, it would have been intolerable. Earl_n his convalescence Darrell had expressed an unwillingness to trespass upo_heir kindness by remaining after he could with safety be moved, but the fe_ords they had spoken on that occasion had effectually silenced any furthe_uggestion of the kind on his part. He understood that to leave them would b_o forfeit their friendship, which he well knew was of a sort too rare to b_lighted or thrown aside.
  • Of Kate Underwood Darrell knew nothing, except as her father or aunt spoke o_er, for he had no recollection of her and she had left home early in hi_llness to return to an eastern college, from which she would graduate th_ollowing year.
  • With more animation than he had yet shown since his illness, Darrell returne_o the veranda. He was flushed and trembling slightly from the unusua_xertion, and Dr. Bradley, dropping down beside him, from force of habit lai_is fingers on Darrell's wrist, but the latter shook them off playfully.
  • "No more of that!" he exclaimed, adding, "Doctor, I challenge you for a rac_wo weeks from to-day. What do you say, do you take me up?"
  • "Two weeks from to-day!" repeated the doctor, with an incredulous smile, a_he same time scrutinizing Darrell's form. "Well, yes. When you are i_rdinary health I don't think I would care to do much business with you alon_hat line, but two weeks from to-day is a safe proposition, I guess. What d_ou want to make it, a hundred yards?" he inquired, with a laughing glance a_r. Underwood.
  • "One hundred yards," replied Darrell, following the direction of the doctor'_lance. "Do you want to name the winner, Mr. Underwood?"
  • "I'll back you, my boy," said the elder man, quietly, his shrewd face growin_ trifle shrewder.
  • "What!" exclaimed Dr. Bradley, rising hastily;
  • "I guess it's about time I was going, if that's your estimate of my athleti_rowess," and, shaking hands with Darrell, he started down the driveway.
  • "I'll put you up at about ten to one," Mr. Underwood called after th_etreating figure, but a deprecatory wave of his hand over his shoulder wa_he doctor's only reply.
  • "Oh," exclaimed Darrell, looking about him, "this is glorious! This is one o_he days that make a fellow feel that life is worth living!"
  • Even as he spoke there came to his mind the thought of what life meant to him, and the smile died from his lips and the light from his eyes.
  • For a moment nothing was said, then, with the approaching sound of rhythmi_oof-beats, Mr. Underwood rose, deliberately emptying the ashes from his pip_s a fine pair of black horses attached to a light carriage appeared aroun_he house from the direction of the stables.
  • "You will be back for lunch, David?" Mrs. Dean inquired.
  • "Yes, and I'll bring Jack with me," was his reply, as he seated himself besid_he driver, and the horses started at a brisk trot down the driveway.
  • With a smile Mrs. Dean addressed Darrell, who was watching the horses with _een appreciation of their good points.
  • "This 'Jack' that you've heard my brother speak of is his partner."
  • "Yes?" said Darrell, courteously, feeling slight interest in the expecte_uest, but glad of anything to divert his thoughts.
  • "Yes," Mrs. Dean continued; "they've been partners and friends for more tha_en years. His name is John Britton, but it's never anything but 'Dave' and
  • 'Jack' between the two; they're almost like two boys together."
  • Darrell wondered what manner of man this might be who could transform hi_ilent, stern-faced host into anything boy-like, but he said nothing.
  • "To see them together you'd wonder at their friendship, too," continued Mrs.
  • Dean, "for they're noways alike. My brother is all business, and Mr. Britto_s not what you'd really call a practical business man. He is very rich, fo_e is one of those men that everything they touch seems to turn to gold, bu_e doesn't seem to care much about money. He spends a great deal of his tim_n reading and studying, and though he makes very few friends, he could hav_ny number of them if he wanted, for he's one of those people that you alway_eel drawn to without knowing why."
  • Mrs. Dean paused to count the stitches in her work, and Darrell, whos_houghts were of the speaker more than of the subject of conversation, watching her placid face, wondered whether it were possible for any emotio_ver to disturb that calm exterior. Presently she resumed her subject, speaking in low, even tones, which a slight, gentle inflection now and the_ust saved from monotony.
  • "He's always a friend to anybody in distress, and I guess there isn't a poo_erson or a friendless person in Ophir that doesn't know him and love him. H_as had some great trouble; nobody knows what it is, but he told David onc_hat it had changed his whole life."
  • Darrell now became interested, and the dark eyes fixed on Mrs. Dean's fac_rew suddenly luminous with the quick sympathy her words had aroused.
  • "He always seems to be on the lookout for anybody that has trouble, to hel_hem; that's how he got to know my brother."
  • Mrs. Dean hesitated a moment. "I never spoke of this to any one before, but _hought maybe you'd be interested to know about it," she said, looking a_arrell with a slightly apologetic air.
  • "I am, and I think I understand and appreciate your motive," was his quie_eply.
  • She dropped her work, folding her hands above it, and her face wore _eminiscent look as she continued:
  • "When David's wife died, twelve years ago, it was an awful blow to him. H_idn't say much,—that isn't our way,—but we were afraid he would never be th_ame again. His brother was out here at that time, but none of us could d_nything for him. He kept on trying to attend to business just as usual, bu_e seemed, as you might say, to have lost his grip on things. It went on tha_ay for nearly two years; his business got behind and everything seemed to b_lipping through his fingers, when he happened to get acquainted with Mr.
  • Britton, and he seemed to know just what to say and do. He got Davi_nterested in business again. He loaned him money to start with, and they wen_nto business together and have been together ever since. They have both bee_uccessful, but David has worked and planned for what he has, while Mr.
  • Britton's money seems to come to him. He owns property all over the State, an_ll through the West for that matter, and sometimes he's in one place an_ometimes in another, but he never stays very long anywhere. David would lik_o have him make his home with us, but he told him once that he couldn't thin_f it; that he only stayed in a place till the pain got to be more than h_ould bear, and then he went somewhere else."
  • A long silence followed; then, as Mrs. Dean folded her work, she said, softly,—
  • "It's no wonder he knows just how to help folks who are in trouble, for _uess he has suffered himself more than anybody knows."
  • A little later she had gone indoors to superintend the preparations for lunch, but Darrell still sat in the mellow, autumn sunlight, his eyes closed, picturing to himself this stranger silently bearing his hidden burden, changing from place to place, but always keeping the pain.
  • It still lacked two hours of sunset when John Darrell, leaning on the arm o_ohn Britton, walked slowly up the mountain-path to a rustic seat under th_ines. They had met at lunch. Mr. Britton had already heard the strange stor_f Darrell's illness, and, looking into his eyes with their trouble_uestioning, their piteous appeal, knew at once by swift intuition ho_opelessly bewildering and dark life must look to the young man before hi_ust at the age when it usually is brightest and most alluring; and Darrell, meeting the steadfast gaze of the clear, gray eyes, saw there no pity, bu_omething infinitely broader, deeper, and sweeter, and knew intuitively tha_hey were united by the fellowship of suffering, that mysterious tie which ha_ot only bound human hearts together in all ages, but has linked sufferin_umanity with suffering Divinity.
  • For more than two hours Darrell, taking little part himself in the genera_onversation, had watched, as one entranced, the play of the fine features an_istened to the deep, musical voice of this stranger who was a stranger n_onger.
  • He was an excellent conversationalist; humorous without being cynical, scholarly without being pedantic, and showing especial familiarity wit_istory and the natural sciences.
  • At last, while walking up and down the broad veranda, Mr. Britton had pause_eside Darrell, and throwing an arm over his shoulder had said,—
  • "Come, my son, let us have a little stroll."
  • Darrell's heart had leaped strangely at the words, he knew not why, and in _ilence pregnant with deep emotion on both sides, they had climbed to th_ustic bench. Here they sat down. The ground at their feet was carpeted wit_ine-needles; the air was sweet with the fragrance of the pines and of th_arm earth; no sound reached their ears aside from the chirping of th_rickets, the occasional dropping of a pine-cone, or the gentle sighing of th_ight breeze through the branches above their heads.
  • A glorious scene lay outspread before them; the distant ranges half veiled i_urple haze, the valleys flooded with golden light, brightened by the autumna_ints of the deciduous timber which marked the courses of numerous smal_treams, and over the whole a restful silence, as though, the year's wor_nded, earth was keeping some grand, solemn holiday.
  • Mr. Britton first broke the silence, as in low tones he murmured, reverently,—
  • "'Thou crownest the year with Thy goodness!'"
  • Then turning to Darrell with a smile of peculiar sweetness, he said, "This i_ne of what I call the year's 'coronation days,' when even Nature hersel_ests from her labors and dons her royal robes in honor of the occasion."
  • Then, as an answering light dawned in Darrell's eyes and the tense lines i_is face began to relax, Mr. Britton continued, musingly:
  • "I have often wondered why we do not imitate Nature in her great annua_oliday, and why we, a nation who garners one of the richest harvests of th_orld, do not have a national harvest festival. How effectively and fittingly, for instance, something similar to the old Jewish feast of tabernacles migh_e celebrated in this part of the country! In the earliest days of thei_istory the Jews were commanded, when the year's harvest had been gathered, t_ake the boughs of goodly trees, of palm-trees and willows, and to construc_ooths in which they were to dwell, feasting and rejoicing, for seven days. I_he only account given of one of these feasts, we read that the people brough_live-branches and pine-branches, myrtle-branches and palm-branches, and mad_hemselves booths upon the roofs of their houses, in their courts, and i_heir streets, and dwelt in them, 'and there was very great gladness.' Imagin_uch a scene on these mountain-slopes and foot-hills, under these cloudles_kies; the sombre, evergreen boughs interwoven with the brightly colore_oliage from the lowlands; this mellow, golden sunlight by day alternatin_ith the white, mystical radiance of the harvest moon by night."
  • Mr. Britton's words had, as he intended they should, drawn Darrell's thought_rom himself. Under his graphic description, accompanied by the powerfu_agnetism of his voice and presence, Darrell seemed to see the Orienta_estival which he had depicted and to feel a soothing influence from the ver_implicity and beauty of the imaginary scene.
  • "Think of the rest, the relaxation, in a week of such a life!" continued Mr.
  • Britton. "Re-creation, in the true sense of the word. The simplest joys ar_he sweetest, but our lives have grown too complex for us to appreciate them.
  • Our amusements and recreations, as we call them, are often more wearing an_xhausting than our labors."
  • For nearly an hour Mr. Britton led the conversation on general subjects, carefully avoiding every personal allusion; Darrell following, interested, animated, wondering more and more at the man beside him, until the latte_actfully led him to speak—calmly and dispassionately, as he could not hav_poken an hour before—of himself. Almost before he was aware, Darrell had tol_ll: of his vain gropings in the darkness for some clue to the past; of th_elpless feeling akin to despair which sometimes took possession of him whe_e attempted to face the situation continuously confronting him.
  • During his recital Mr. Britton had thrown his arm about Darrell's shoulder, and when he paused quite a silence followed.
  • "Did it ever occur to you," Mr. Britton said at length, speaking very slowly,
  • "that there are hundreds—yes, thousands—who would be only too glad to exchang_laces with you to-day?"
  • "No," Darrell replied, too greatly astonished to say more.
  • "But there are legions of poor souls, haunted by crime, or crushed beneath th_eight of sorrow, whose one prayer would be, if such a thing were possible, that their past might be blotted out; that they might be free to begin lif_new, with no memories dogging their steps like spectres, threatening at ever_urn to work their undoing."
  • For a moment Darrell regarded his friend with a fixed, inquiring gaze, whic_radually changed to a look of comprehension.
  • "I see," he said at length, "I have got to begin life anew; but you conside_hat there are others who have to make the start under conditions worse tha_ine."
  • "Far worse," said Mr. Britton. "Don't think for a moment that I fail t_ealize in how many ways you are handicapped or to appreciate the obstacle_gainst which you will have to contend, but this I do say: the future is i_our own hands—as much as it is in the hands of any mortal—to make the most o_nd the best of that you can, and with the negative advantage, at least, tha_ou are untrammelled by a past that can hold you back or drag you down."
  • The younger man laid his hand on the knee of the elder with a gesture almos_ppealing. "The future, until now, has looked very dark to me; it begins t_ook brighter. Advise me; tell me how best to begin!"
  • "In one word," said Mr. Britton, with a smile. "Work! Just as soon as you ar_ble, find some work to do. Did we but know it, work is the surest antidot_or the poisonous discontent and ennui of this world, the swiftest panacea fo_ts pains and miseries; different forms to suit different cases, but ever_orm brings healing and blessing, even down to the humblest manual labor."
  • "That is just what I have wanted," said Darrell, eagerly; "to go to work a_oon as possible; but what can I do? What am I fitted for? I have not th_lightest idea. I don't care to work at breaking stone, though I suppose tha_ould be better than nothing."
  • "That would be better than nothing," said Mr. Britton, smiling again, "bu_hat would not be suited to your case. What you need is mental work, somethin_o keep your mind constantly occupied, and rest assured you will find it whe_ou are ready for it. Our Father provides what we need just when we need it.
  • 'Day by day' we have the 'daily bread' for mental and spiritual life, as fo_emporal. But what you most want to do is to keep your mind pleasantl_ccupied, and above all things don't try to recall the past. In God's own goo_ime it will return of itself."
  • "And when it does, what revelations will it bring?" Darrell queried musingly.
  • "Nothing that you will be afraid or ashamed to meet; of that I am sure," sai_r. Britton, confidently, adding a moment later, in a lighter tone, "It i_earing sunset, my boy, and time that I was taking you back to the house."
  • "You have given me new courage, new hope," said Darrell, rising. "I feel no_s though there were something to live for—as though I might make somethin_ut of life, after all."
  • "I realize," said Mr. Britton, tenderly, as together they began the descent o_he mountain path, "as deeply as you do that your life is sadly disjointed; but strive so to live that when the broken fragments are at last united the_ill form one harmonious and symmetrical whole. It is a difficult task, _now, but the result will be well worth the effort. In your case, my son, eve_ore than in ordinary lives, the words of the poet are peculiarly applicable:
  • "'A sacred burden is this life ye bear: Look on it, lift it, bear it solemnly; Stand up and walk beneath it steadfastly; Fail not for sorrow, falter not for sin, But onward, upward, till the goal ye win.'"
  • An hour later John Britton stood alone on one of the mountain terraces, hi_all, lithe form silhouetted against the evening sky, his arms folded, hi_ace lifted upward. It was a face of marvellous strength and sweetnes_ombined. Sorrow had set its unmistakable seal upon his features; here an_here pain had traced its ineffaceable lines; but the firmly set mouth was ye_nexpressibly tender, the calm brow was unfurrowed, and the clear eyes had th_ar-seeing look of one who, like the Alpine traveller, had reached the height_bove the clouds, to whose vision were revealed glories undreamed of by th_wellers in the vales below.
  • And to Darrell, watching from his room the distant figure outlined against th_ky, the simple grandeur, the calm triumph of its pose must have brought som_evelation concerning this man of whom he knew so little, yet whos_ersonality even more than his words had taken so firm a hold upon himself, for, as the light faded and deepening twilight hid the solitary figure fro_iew, he turned from the window, and, pacing slowly up and down the room, soliloquized:
  • "With him for a friend, I can meet the future with courage and await wit_atience the resurrection of the buried past. As he has conquered, so will _onquer; I will scale the heights after him, until I stand where he stands to- night!"