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


As the morning sun arose over the snowy summits of the Great Divide, the sleeper on the rocks stirred restlessly; then gradually awoke to consciousness a delightful consciousness of renewed life and vigor, a subtle sense of revivification of body and mind. The racking pain, the burning fever, the legions of torturing phantoms, all were gone; his pulse was calm, his blood cool, his brain clear.

With a sigh of deep content he opened his eyes; then suddenly rose to a sitting posture and gazed about him in utter bewilderment; above him only the boundless dome of heaven, around him only endless mountain ranges! Dazed by the strangeness, the isolation of the scene, he began for an instant to doubt his sanity; was this a reality or a chimera of his own imagination? But only for an instant, for with his first movement a large collie had bounded to his side and now began licking his hands and face with the most joyful demonstrations. There was something soothing and reassuring in the companionship even of the dumb brute, and he caressed the noble creature, confident that he would soon find some sign of human life in that strange region; but the dog, reading no look of recognition in the face beside him, drew back and began whining piteously.

Perplexed, but with his faculties thoroughly aroused and active, the young man sprang to his feet, and, looking eagerly about him, discovered at a little distance the cabin against the mountain ledge. Hastening thither he found the door open, and, after vainly waiting for any response to his knocking, entered.

The furnishings were mostly hand-made, but fashioned with considerable artistic skill, and contributed to give the interior a most attractive appearance, while etchings, books and papers, pages of written manuscript, and a violin indicated its occupants to be a man of refined tastes and studious habits. The dog had accompanied him, sometimes following closely, sometimes going on in advance as though to lead the way. Once within the cabin he led him to the store-room in the rock where was an abundance of food, which the latter proceeded to divide between himself and his dumb guide.

Having satisfied his hunger, the young man took a newspaper from the table, and, going outside the cabin, seated himself to await the return of his unknown host. Sitting there, he discovered for the first time the railway winding around the sides of the lofty mountain opposite. The sight filled him with delight, for those slender rails, gleaming in the morning sunlight, seemed to connect him with the world which he remembered, but from which he appeared so strangely isolated.

Unfolding the newspaper his attention was attracted by the date, at which he gazed in consternation, his eyes riveted to the page. For a moment his head swam, he was unable to believe his own senses. Dropping the sheet and bowing his head upon his hands he went carefully over the past as he now remembered it, the business on which he had been commissioned to come west; his journey westward; the tragedy in the sleeping-car he shuddered as the memory of the murderer’s face flashed before him with terrible distinctness; his reception at The Pines, all was as clear as though it had happened but yesterday; it was in August, and this was August, but two years later! Great God! had two years dropped out of his life? Again he recalled his illness, the long agony, the final sinking into oblivion, the strange awakening in perfect health; yes, surely there must be a missing link; but how? where?

He rose to re-enter the cabin, and, passing the window, caught a glimpse of his face reflected there; a face like, and yet unlike, his own, and crowned with snow-white hair! In doubt and bewilderment he paced up and down within the cabin, vainly striving to connect these fragmentary parts, to reconcile the present with the past. As he passed and repassed the table covered with manuscript his attention was attracted by an odd-looking volume bound in flexible morocco and containing several hundred pages of written matter. It lay partly open in a conspicuous place, and upon the fly-leaf was written, in large, bold characters,

“To my Other Self, should he awaken.”

He could not banish the words from his mind; they drew him with irresistible magnetism. Again and again he read them, until, impelled by some power he could not explain, he seized the volume and, seating himself in the doorway of the cabin, proceeded to examine it. Lifting the fly-leaf, he read 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


He smiled as he read the name and recalled the circumstances under which he had taken it, but he no longer felt any hesitation regarding the volume in his hands, and he began to read. It was written as a communication from one stranger to another, from the mountain recluse to one of whose life he had not the slightest knowledge; but he knew without doubt that it was addressed to himself, yet written by himself, that writer and reader were one and the same.

For more than two hours he read on and on, deeply absorbed in the tale of that solitary life, his own heart responding to each note of joy or sorrow, of hope or despair, and vibrating to the undertone of loneliness and longing running through it all.

He strove vainly to recall the characters in the strange drama in which he had played his part but of which he had now no distinct recollection; dimly they passed before his vision like the shadowy phantoms of a dream from which one has just awakened. He started at the first mention of John Britton’s name, eagerly following each outline of that noble character, his heart kindling with affection as he read his words of loving, helpful counsel. His face grew tender and his eyes filled at the love-story, so pathetically brief, faithfully transcribed on those pages, but of Kate Underwood he could only recall a slender girl with golden-brown hair and wistful, appealing brown eyes; he wondered at the strength of character shown by her speech and conduct, and his heart went out to this unknown love, notwithstanding that memory now showed him the picture of another and earlier love in the far East.

But it was the story of John Britton’s life which moved him most. With strained, eager eyes and bated breath he read that sad recital, and at its termination, buried his face in his hands and sobbed like a child.

When he had grown calm he sat for some time reviewing the past and forming plans for future action. While thus absorbed in thought he heard a step, and, looking up, saw standing before him a man of apparently sixty years, with bronzed face and grizzled hair, whose small, piercing eyes regarded himself with keen scrutiny. In response to the younger man’s greeting he only bowed silently.

“You must be Peter, the hermit,” the young man exclaimed; “but whoever you are, you are welcome; I am glad to see a human face.”

“And you,” replied the other, slowly, “you are not the same man that you were yesterday; you have awakened, as he said you would some day.”

“As who said?” the young man questioned.

“John Britton,” the other replied.

“Yes, I have awakened, and my life here is like a dream. Sit down, Peter; I want to ask you some questions.”

For half an hour they sat together, the younger man asking questions, the other answering in as few words as possible, his keen eyes never leaving the face of his interlocutor.

“Where is this John Britton?” the young man finally inquired.

“In Ophir at a place called The Pines.”

“I know the place; I remember it. How far is it from here?”

“Fifteen miles by rail from the station at the foot of the mountain.”

“I must go to him at once; you will show me the way. How soon can we get away from here?”

Peter glanced at the sun. “We cannot get down the trail in season for to-day’s train. We will start to-morrow morning.”

Without further speech he then went into the cabin and busied himself with his accustomed duties. When he reappeared he again stood silently regarding the younger man with his fixed, penetrating gaze.

“What awakened you?” he asked, at length.

The abruptness of the question, as well as its tenor, startled the other; that was a phase of the mystery surrounding himself of which he had not even thought.

“I do not know,” he replied, slowly; “that question had not occurred to me before. What do you think? Might it not have come about in the ordinary sequence of events?”

Peter shook his head. “Not likely,” he muttered; “there must have been a shock of some kind.”

The young man smiled brightly. “Well, I cannot answer for yesterday’s events,” he said, “having neither record nor recollection of the day; but I certainly sustained a shock this morning on awaking on the bare rocks at such an altitude as this and with no trace of a human being visible!”

“On the rocks!” Peter repeated; “where?”

“Yonder,” said the young man, indicating the direction; “come, I will show you the exact spot.”

He led the way to his rocky bed, near one end of the plateau, then watched his companion’s movements as he knelt down and carefully inspected the rock, then, rising to his feet, looked searchingly in every direction with his ferret-like glance.

“Ah!” the latter suddenly exclaimed, with emphasis, at the same time pointing to a rock almost overhanging their heads.

Following the direction indicated, the young man saw a pine-tree on the edge of the overhanging rock, the entire length of its trunk split open, its branches shrivelled and blackened as though by fire.

Peter, notwithstanding his age, sprang up the rocks with the agility of a panther, the younger man following more slowly. As he came up Peter turned from an examination of the dead tree and looked at him significantly.

“An electric shock!” he said; “that was a living tree yesterday. There was an electric storm last night, the worst in years; it brought death to the tree, but life to you.”

To the younger man the words of the old hermit seemed incredible, but that night brought him a strange confirmation of their truth. Upon disrobing for the night, what was his astonishment to discover upon his right shoulder and extending downward diagonally across the right breast a long, blue mark of irregular, zigzag form, while running parallel with it its entire length, perfect as though done in India ink with an artist’s pen, was the outline of the very scene surrounding him where he lay that morning cliff and crag and mountain peak traced indelibly upon the living flesh, an indubitable evidence of the power which had finally aroused his dormant faculties and a souvenir of the lost years which he would carry with him to his dying day.