Read Chapter VIII of At the Time Appointed , free online book, by A. Maynard Barbour, on ReadCentral.com.

“UNTIL THE DAY BREAK”

A week later Darrell was duly installed at the mining camp. Mr. Britton had already left, called on private business to another part of the State. After his departure, life at The Pines did not seem the same to Darrell. He sorely missed the companionship amounting almost to comradeship, notwithstanding the disparity of their years which had existed between them from their first meeting, and he was not sorry when the day came for him to exchange the comfort and luxury with which the kindness of Mr. Underwood and his sister had surrounded him for the rough fare and plain quarters of the mining camp.

Mrs. Dean, when informed of Darrell’s position at the camp, had most strenuously objected to his going, and had immediately stipulated that he was to return to The Pines every Saturday and remain until Monday.

“Of course he’s coming home every Saturday, and as much oftener as he likes,” her brother had interposed. “This is his home, and he understands it without any words from us.”

On the morning of his departure he realized as never before the depth of the affection of his host and hostess for himself, manifesting itself as it did in silent, unobtrusive acts of homely but heartfelt kindness. As the storing of Darrell’s belongings in the wagon which was to convey him to the camp was about completed, Mrs. Dean appeared, carrying a large, covered basket, with snow-white linen visible between the gaping edges of the lids. This she deposited within the wagon, saying, as she turned to Darrell,

“There’s a few things to last you through the week, just so you don’t forget how home cooking tastes.”

And at the last moment there was brought from the stables at Mr. Underwood’s orders, for Darrell’s use in going back and forth between The Pines and the camp, a beautiful bay mare which had belonged to Harry Whitcomb, and which, having sadly missed her young master, greeted Darrell with a low whinny, muzzling his cheek and nosing his pockets for sugar with the most affectionate familiarity.

It was a cold, bleak morning. The ground had frozen after a heavy rain, and the wagon jolted roughly over the ruts in the canyon road, making slow progress. The sky was overcast and straggling snowflakes wandered aimlessly up and down in the still air.

Darrell, from his seat beside the driver, turned occasionally to speak to Trix, the mare, fastened to the rear end of the wagon and daintily picking her way along the rough road. Sometimes he hummed a bit of half-remembered song, but for the most part he was silent. While not attempting any definite analysis of his feelings, he was distinctly conscious of conflicting emotions. He was deeply touched by the kindness of Mr. Underwood and Mrs. Dean, and felt a sort of self-condemnation that he was not more responsive to their affection. He knew that their home and hearts were alike open to him; that he was as welcome as one of their own flesh and blood; yet he experienced a sense of relief at having escaped from the unvarying kindliness for which, at heart, he was profoundly grateful. Even late that night, in the solitude of his plainly furnished room, with the wind moaning outside and the snow tapping with muffled fingers against the window pane, he yet exulted in a sense of freedom and happiness hitherto unknown in the brief period which held all he recalled of life.

The ensuing days and weeks passed pleasantly and swiftly for Darrell. He quickly familiarized himself with the work which he had in charge, and frequently found leisure, when his routine work was done, for experiments and tests of his own, as well as for outside work which came to him as his skill became known in neighboring camps. His evenings were well filled, as he had taken up his old studies along the lines of mineralogy and metallurgy, pushing ahead into new fields of research and discovery, studying by night and experimenting by day. Meanwhile, the rocky peaks around him seemed beckoning him with their talismanic signs, as though silently challenging him to learn the mighty secrets for ages hidden within their breasts, and he promised himself that with the return of lengthening days, he would start forth, a humble learner, to sit at the feet of those great teachers of the centuries. He had occasional letters from Mr. Britton, cheering, inspiring, helpful, much as his presence had been, and in return he wrote freely of his present work and his plans for future work.

Sometimes, when books were closed or the plaintive tones of the violin had died away in silence, he would sit for hours pondering the strange problem of his own life; watching, listening for some sign from out the past; but neither ray of light nor wave of sound came to him. His physician had told him that some day the past would return, and that the intervening months or years as the case might be, would then doubtless be in turn forgotten, and as he revolved this in his mind he formed a plan which he at once proceeded to put into execution.

On his return one night from a special trip to Ophir he went to his room with more than usual haste, and opening a package in which he seemed greatly interested, drew forth what appeared to be a book, about eleven by fifteen inches in size, bound in flexible morocco and containing some five or six hundred pages. The pages were blank, however, and bound according to an ingenious device which he had planned and given the binder, by which they could be removed and replaced at will, and, if necessary, extra pages could be added.

For some time he stood by the light, turning the volume over and over with an expression of mingled pleasure and sadness; then removing some of the pages, he sat down and prepared to write. The new task to which he had set himself was the writing of a complete record, day by day, of this present life of his, beginning with the first glimmerings of memory, faint and confused, in the earliest days of his convalescence at The Pines. He dipped his pen, then hesitated; how should this strange volume be inscribed?

Only for a moment; then his pen was gliding rapidly over the spotless surface, and the first page, when laid aside, bore the following inscription:

“To one from the outer world, whose identity is hidden among the
secrets of the past:

“With the hope that when the veil is lifted these pages may assist
him in uniting into one perfect whole the strangely disjointed
portions of his life, they are inscribed by

“JOHN DARRELL.”

Below was the date, and then followed the words,

“Until the day break, and the shadows flee away.”

After penning the last words he paused, repeating them, vainly trying to recall when or where he had heard them. They seemed to ring in his ears like a strain of melody wafted from some invisible shore, and blending with the minor undertone he caught a note of triumph. They had come to him like a voice from out the past, but ringing with joyful assurance for the future; the assurance that the night, however dark, must end in a glorious dawning, in which no haunting shadow would have an abiding-place.