Every winter he taught the arts of song and penmanship in the four districts from Jericho to Cedar Hill. He sang a roaring bass and beat the time with dignity and precision. For weeks he drilled the class on a bit of lyric melody, of which a passage is here given:—
"One, two, three, ready, sing," he would say, his ruler cutting the air, and all began:—
Listen to the bird, and the maid, and the bumblebee, Tra, la la la la, tra, la la la la, Joyfully we'll sing the gladsome melody, Tra, la, la, la, la.
The singing-school added little to the knowledge or the cheerfulness of that neighbourhood. It came to an end the last day of the winter term. As usual, Trove went home with Polly. It was a cold night, and as the crowd left them at the corners he put his arm around her.
"School is over," said she, with a sigh, "and I'm sorry."
"For me?" he inquired.
"For myself," she answered, looking down at the snowy path.
There came a little silence crowded with happy thoughts.
"At first, I thought you very dreadful," she went on, looking up at him with a smile. He could see her sweet face in the moonlight and was tempted to kiss it.
"You were so terrible," she answered. "Poor Joe Beach! It seemed as if he would go through the wall."
"Well, something had to happen to him," said the teacher.
"He likes, you now, and every one likes you here. I wish we could have you always for a teacher."
"I'd be willing to be your teacher, always, if I could only teach you what you have taught me."
"Oh, dancing," said she, merrily; "that is nothing. I'll give you all the lessons you like."
"No, I shall not let you teach me that again," said he.
"Because your pretty feet trample on me."
Then came another silence.
"Don't you enjoy it?" she asked, looking off at the stars.
"Too much." said he. "First, I must teach you something—if I can."
He was ready for a query, if it came, but she put him off.
"I intend to be a grand lady," said she, "and, if you do not learn, you'll never be able to dance with me."
"There'll be others to dance with you," said he. "I have so much else to do."
"Oh, you're always thinking about algebra and arithmetic and those dreadful things," said she.
"No, I'm thinking now of something very different."
"Grammar, I suppose," said she, looking down.
"Do you remember the conjugations?"
"Try me," said she.
"Give me the first person singular, passive voice, present tense, of the verb to love."
"I am loved," was her answer, as she looked away.
"And don't you know—I love you," said he, quickly.
"That is the active voice," said she, turning with a smile.
"Polly," said he, "I love you as I could love no other in the world."
He drew her close, and she looked up at him very soberly.
"You love me?" she said in a half whisper.
"With all my heart," he answered. "I hope you will love me sometime."
Their lips came together.
"I do not ask you, now, to say that you love me," said the young man. "You are young and do not know your own heart."
She rose on tiptoe and fondly touched his cheek with her fingers.
"But I do love you," she whispered.
"I thank God you have told me, but I shall ask you for no promise. A year from now, then, dear, I shall ask you to promise that you will be my wife sometime."
"Oh, let me promise now," she whispered.
"Promise only that you will love me if you see none you love better."
They were slowly nearing the door. Suddenly she stopped, looking up at him.
"Are you sure you love me?" she asked.
"Yes," he whispered.
"As sure as I am that I live."
"And will love me always?"
"Always," he answered.
She drew his head down a little and put her lips to his ear. "Then I shall love you always," she whispered.
Mrs. Vaughn, was waiting for them at the fireside. They sat talking a while.
"You go off to bed, Polly," said the teacher, presently. "I've something to say, and you're not to hear it."
"I'll listen," said she, laughing.
"Then we'll whisper," Trove answered.
"That isn't fair," said she, with a look of injury, as she held the candle. "Besides, you don't allow it yourself."
"Polly ought to go away to school," said he, after Polly had gone above stairs. "She's a bright girl."
"And I so poor I'm always wondering what'll happen to-morrow," said Mrs. Vaughn. "The farm has a mortgage, and it's more than I can do to pay the interest. Some day I'll have to give it up."
"Perhaps I can help you," said the young man, feeling the fur on his cap.
There was an awkward silence.
"Fact is," said the young man, a bit embarrassed, "fact is, I love Polly."
In the silence that followed Trove could hear the tick of his watch.
"Have ye spoken to her?" said the widow, with a serious look.
"I've told her frankly to-night that I love her," said he. "I couldn't help it, she was so sweet and beautiful."
"If you couldn't help it, I don't see how I could," said she. "But Polly's only a child. She's a big girl, I know, but she's only eighteen."
"I haven't asked her for any promise. It wouldn't be fair. She must have a chance to meet other young men, but, sometime, I hope she will be my wife."
"Poor children!" said Mrs. Vaughn, "you don't either of you know what you're doing."
He rose to go.
"I was a little premature," he added, "but you mustn't blame me. Put yourself in my place. If you were a young man and loved a girl as sweet as Polly and were walking home with her on a moonlit night—"
"I presume there'd be more or less love-making," said the widow. "She is a pretty thing and has the way of a woman. We were speaking of you the other day, and she said to me: 'He is ungrateful. You can teach the primer class for him, and be so good that you feel perfectly miserable, and give him lessons in dancing, and put on your best clothes, and make biscuit for him, and then, perhaps, he'll go out and talk with the hired man.' 'Polly,' said I, 'you're getting to be very foolish.' 'Well, it comes so easy,' said she. 'It's my one talent'"
At the Theatre of the Woods
Next day Trove went home. He took with him many a souvenir of his first term, including a scarf that Polly had knit for him, and the curious things he took from the Frenchman Leblanc, and which he retained partly because they were curious and partly because Mrs. Leblanc had been anxious to get rid of them. He soon rejoined his class at Hillsborough, having kept abreast of it in history and mathematics by work after school and over the week's end. He was content to fall behind in the classics, for they were easy, and in them his arrears gave him no terror. Walking for exercise, he laid the plan of his tale and had written some bits of verse. Of an evening he went often to the Sign of the Dial, and there read his lines and got friendly but severe criticism. He came into the shop one evening, his "Horace" under his arm.
"'Maecenas, atavis, edite regibus'" Trove chanted, pausing to recall the lines.
The tinker turned quickly. "'O et presidium et duice decus meum,'" he quoted, never stopping until he had finished She ode.
"Is there anything you do not know?" Trove inquired.
"Much," said the tinker, "including the depth o' me own folly. A man that displays knowledge hath need o' more."
Indeed, Trove rarely came for a talk with Darrel when he failed to discover something new in him—a further reach of thought and sympathy or some unsuspected treasure of knowledge. The tinker loved a laugh and would often search his memory for some phrase of bard or philosopher apt enough to provoke it. Of his great store of knowledge he made no vainer use.
Trove had been overworking; and about the middle of June they went for a week in the woods together. They walked to Allen's the first day, and, after a brief visit there, went off in the deep woods, camping on a pond in thick-timbered hills. Coming to the lilied shore, they sat down a while to rest. A hawk was sailing high above the still water. Crows began to call in the tree-tops. An eagle sat on a dead pine at the water's edge and seemed to be peering down at his own shadow. Two deer stood in a marsh on the farther shore, looking over at them. Near by were the bones of some animal, and the fresh footprints of a painter. Sounds echoed far in the hush of the unbroken wilderness.
"See, boy," said Darrel, with a little gesture of his right hand, "the theatre o' the woods! See the sloping hills, tree above tree, like winding galleries. Here is a coliseum old, past reckoning. Why, boy, long before men saw the Seven Hills it was old. Yet see how new it is—how fresh its colour, how strong its timbers! See the many seats, each with a good view, an' the multitude o' the people, yet most o' them are hidden. Ten thousand eyes are looking down upon us. Tragedies and comedies o' the forest are enacted here. Many a thrilling scene has held the stage—the spent deer swimming for his life, the painter stalking his prey or leaping on it."
"Tis a cruel part," said Trove. "He is the murderer of the play. I cannot understand why there are so many villains in its cast, Both the cat and the serpent baffle me."
"Marry, boy, the world is a great school—an' this little drama o' the good God is part of it," said Darrel. "An' the play hath a great moral—thou shalt learn to use thy brain or die. Now, there be many perils in this land o' the woods—so many that all its people must learn to think or perish by them. A pretty bit o' wisdom it is, sor. It keeps the great van moving—ever moving, in the long way to perfection. Now, among animals, a growing brain works the legs of its owner, sending them far on diverse errands until they are strong. Mind thee, boy, perfection o' brain and body is the aim o' Nature. The cat's paw an' the serpent's coil are but the penalties o' weakness an' folly. The world is for the strong. Therefore, God keep thee so, or there be serpents will enter thy blood an' devour thee—millions o' them."
"And what is the meaning of this law?"
"That the weak shall not live to perpetuate their kind," said Darrel. "Every year there is a tournament o' the sparrows. Which deserves the fair—that is the question to be settled. Full tilt they come together, striking with lance and wing. Knight strives with knight, lady with lady, and the weak die. Lest thou forget, I'll tell thee a tale, boy, wherein is the great plan. The queen bee—strongest of all her people—is about to marry. A clear morning she comes out o' the palace gate—her attendants following. The multitude of her suitors throng the vestibule; the air, now still an' sweet, rings with the sound o' fairy timbrels. Of a sudden she rises into the blue sky, an' her suitors follow. Her swift wings cleave the air straight as a plummet falls. Only the strong may keep in sight o' her; bear that in mind, boy. Her suitors begin to fall wearied. Higher an' still higher the good queen wings her way. By an' by, of all that began the journey, there is but one left with her, an' he the strongest of her people. An' they are wed, boy, up in the sun-lit deep o' heaven. So the seed o' life is chosen, me fine lad."
[1 In behalf of Darrel, the author makes acknowledgment of his indebtedness to M. Maurice Maeterlinck for an account of the queen's flight in his interesting "Life of the Bee."]
They sat a little time in silence, looking at the shores of the pond.
"Have ye never felt the love passion?" said Darrel.
"Well, there's a girl of the name of Polly," Trove answered.
"Ah, Polly! she o' the red lip an' the dark eye," said Darrel, smiling. "She's one of a thousand." He clapped his hand upon his knee, merrily, and sang a sentimental couplet from an old Irish ballad.
"Have ye won her affection, boy?" he added, his hand on the boy's arm.
"I think I have."
"God love thee! I'm glad to hear it," said the old man. "She is a living wonder, boy, a living wonder, an' had I thy youth I'd give thee worry."
"Since her mother cannot afford to do it, I wish to send her away to school," said Trove.
"Tut, tut, boy; thou hast barely enough for thy own schooling."
"I've eighty-two dollars in my pocket," said Trove, proudly. "I do not need it. The job in the mill—that will feed me and pay my room rent, and my clothes will do me for another year."
"On me word, boy; I like it in thee," said Darrel; "but surely she would not take thy money."
"I could not offer it to her, but you might go there, and perhaps she would take it from you."
"Capital!" the tinker exclaimed. "I'll see if I can serve thee. Marry, good youth, I'll even give away thy money an' take credit for thy benevolence. Teacher, philanthropist, lover—I believe thou'rt ready to write."
"The plan of my first novel is complete," said Trove. "That poor thief,—he shall be my chief character,—the man of whom you told me."
"Poor man! God make thee kind to him," said the tinker. "An' thou'rt willing, I'll hear o' him to-night. When the firelight flickers,—that is the time, boy, for tales."
They built a rude lean-to, covered with bark, and bedded with fragrant boughs. Both lay in the firelight, Darrel smoking his pipe, as the night fell.
"Now for thy tale," said the tinker.
The tale was Trove's own solution of his life mystery, shrewdly come to, after a long and careful survey of the known facts. And now, shortly, time was to put the seal of truth upon it, and daze him with astonishment, and fill him with regret of his cunning. It should be known that he had never told Darrel or any one of his coming in the little red sleigh.
He lay thinking for a time after the tinker spoke. Then he began:—
"Well, the time is 1833, the place a New England city on the sea. Chapter I: A young woman is walking along a street, with a child sleeping in her arms. She is dark-skinned,—a Syrian. It is growing dusk; the street is deserted, save by her and two sailors, who are approaching her. They, too, are Syrians. One seems to strike her,—it is mere pretence, however,—and she falls. The other seizes the child, who, having been drugged, is still asleep. A wagon is waiting near. They drive away hurriedly, their captive under a blanket. The kidnappers make for the woods in New Hampshire. Officers of the law drive them far. They abandon their horse, tramping westward over trails in the wilderness, bearing the boy in a sack of sail-cloth, open at the top. They had guns and killed their food as they travelled. Snow came deep; by and by game was scarce and they had grown weary of bearing the boy on their backs. One waited in the woods with the little lad while the other went away to some town or city for provisions. He came back, hauling them in a little sleigh. It was much like those made for the delight of the small boy in every land of snow. It had a box painted red and two bobs and a little dashboard. They used it for the transportation of boy and impedimenta. In the deep wilderness beyond the Adirondacks they found a cave in one of the rock ledges. They were twenty miles from any post-office but shortly discovered one. Letters in cipher were soon passing between them and their confederates. They learned there was no prospect of getting the ransom. He they had thought rich was not able to raise the money they required or any large sum. Two years went by, and they abandoned hope. What should they do with the boy? One advised murder, but the other defended him. It was unnecessary, he maintained, to kill a mere baby, who knew not a word of English, and would forget all in a month. And murder would only increase their peril. Now eight miles from their cave was the cabin of a settler. They passed within a mile of it on their way out and in. They had often met the dog of the settler roving after small game—a shepherd, trustful, affectionate, and ever ready to make friends. One day they captured the dog and took him to their cave. They could not safely be seen with the boy, so they planned to let the dog go home with him in the little red sleigh. Now the settler's cabin was like that of my father, on the shore of a pond. It was round, as a cup's rim, and a mile or so in diameter. Opposite the cabin a trail came to the water's edge, skirting the pond, save in cold weather, when it crossed the ice. They waited for a night when their tracks would soon disappear. Then, having made a cover of the sail-cloth sack in which they had brought the boy, and stretched it on withes, and made it fast to the sleigh box, they put the sleeping boy in the sleigh, with hot stones wrapped in paper, and a robe of fur, to keep him warm, hitched the dog to it, and came over hill and trail, to the little pond, a while after midnight. Here they buckled a ring of bells on the dog's neck and released him. He made for his home on the clear ice; the bells and his bark sounding as he ran. They at the cabin heard him coming and opened their door to dog and traveller. So came my hero in a little red sleigh, and was adopted by the settler and his wife, and reared by them with generous affection. Well, he goes to school and learns rapidly, and comes to manhood. It's a pretty story—that of his life in the big woods. But now for the love tale. He meets a young lady—sweet, tender, graceful, charming."
"A moment," said Darrel, raising his hand. "Prithee, boy, ring down the curtain for a brief parley. Thou say'st they were Syrians—they that stole the lad. Now, tell me, hast thou reason for that?"
"Ample," said Trove. "When they took him out of the sleigh the first words he spoke were "Anah jouhan." He used them many times, and while he forgot they remembered them. Now "Anah jouhan" is a phrase of the Syrian tongue, meaning 'I am hungry.'"
"Very well!" said the old man, with emphasis, "and sailors—that is a just inference. It was a big port, and far people came on the four winds. Very well! Now, for the young lady. An' away with thy book unless I love her."
"She is from life—a simple-hearted girl, frank and beautiful and—" Trove hesitated, looking into the dying fire.
"Noble, boy, make sure o' that, an' nobler, too, than girls are apt to be. If Emulation would measure height with her, see that it stand upon tiptoes."
"So I have planned. The young man loves her. She is in every thought and purpose. She has become as the rock on which his hope is founded. Now he loves honour, too, and all things of good report. He has been reared a Puritan. By chance, one day, it comes to him that his father was a thief."
The boy paused. For a moment they heard only the voices of the night.
"He dreaded to tell her," Trove continued; "yet he could not ask her to be his wife without telling. Then the question, Had he a right to tell?—for his father had not suffered the penalty of the law and, mind you, men thought him honest."
"'Tis just," said Darrel; "but tell me, how came he to know his father was a thief?"
"That I am thinking of, and before I answer, is there more you can tell me of him or his people?"
Darrel rose; and lighting a torch of pine, stuck it in the ground. Then he opened his leathern pocket-book and took out a number of cuttings, much worn, and apparently from old newspapers. He put on his glasses and began to examine the cuttings.
"The other day," said he, "I found an account of his mother's death. I had forgotten, but her death was an odd tragedy."
And the tinker began reading, slowly, as follows:—
"'She an' her mother—a lady deaf an' feeble—were alone, saving the servants in a remote corner o' the house. A sound woke her in the still night. She lay a while listening. Was it her husband returning without his key? She rose, feeling her way in the dark and trembling with the fear of a nervous woman. Descending stairs, she came into a room o' many windows. The shades were up, an' there was dim moon-light in the room. A door, with panels o' thick glass, led to the garden walk. Beyond it were the dark forms of men. One was peering in, his face at a panel, another kneeling at the lock. Suddenly the door opened; the lady fell fainting with a loud cry. Next day the kidnapped boy was born.'"
Darrel stopped reading, put the clipping into his pocket-book, and smothered the torch.
"It seems the woman died the same day," said he.
"And was my mother," the words came in a broken voice.
Half a moment of silence followed them. Then Darrel rose slowly, and a tremulous, deep sigh came from the lips of Trove.
"Thy mother, boy!" Darrel whispered.
The fire had burnt low, and the great shadow of the night lay dark upon them. Trove got to his feet and came to the side of Darrel.
"Tell me, for God's sake, man, tell me where is my father," said he.
"Hush, boy! Listen. Hear the wind in the trees?" said Darrel.
There was a breath of silence broken by the hoot of an owl and the stir of high branches. "Ye might as well ask o' the wind or the wild owl," Darrel said. "I cannot tell thee. Be calm, boy, and say how thou hast come to know."
Again they sat down together, and presently Trove told him of those silent men who had ever haunted the dark and ghostly house of his inheritance.
"'Tis thy mother's terror,—an' thy father's house,—I make no doubt," said Darrel, presently, in a deep voice. "But, boy, I cannot tell any man where is thy father; not even thee, nor his name, nor the least thing, tending to point him out, until—until I am released o' me vow. Be content; if I can find the man, ere long, thou shalt have word o' him."
Trove leaned against the breast of Darrel, shaking with emotion. His tale had come to an odd and fateful climax.
The old man stroked his head tenderly.
"Ah, boy," said he, "I know thy heart. I shall make haste—I promise thee, I shall make haste. But, if the good God should bring thy father to thee, an' thy head to shame an' sorrow for his sin, forgive him, in the name o' Christ, forgive him. Ay, boy, thou must forgive all that trespass against thee."
"If I ever see him, he shall know I am not ungrateful," said the young man.
A while past twelve o'clock, those two, lying there in the firelight, thinking, rose like those startled in sleep. A mighty voice came booming over the still water and echoed far and wide. Slowly its words fell and rang in the great, silent temple of the woods:—
"'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
"'And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
"'And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
"'Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up,
"'Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
"'Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
"'Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.'"
As the last words died away in the far woodland, Trove and Darrel turned, wiping their eyes in silence. That flood of inspiration had filled them. Big thoughts had come drifting down with its current. They listened a while, but heard only the faint crackle of the fire.
"Strange!" said Trove, presently.
"Passing strange, and like a beautiful song," said Darrel.
"It may be some insane fanatic."
"Maybe, but he hath the voice of an angel," said the old man.
They passed a sleepless night and were up early, packing to leave the woods. Darrel was to go in quest of the boy's father. Within a week he felt sure he should be able to find him.
They skirted the pond, crossing a long ridge on its farther shore. At a spring of cool water in a deep ravine they halted to drink and rest. Suddenly they heard a sound of men approaching; and when the latter had come near, a voice, deep, vibrant, and musical as a harp-string, in these lines of Hamlet:—
"'Why right; you are i' the right; And so without more circumstance at all, I hold it fit that we shake hands and part; You as your business and desire shall point you; For every man has business and desire Such as it is; and for mine own part Look you, I'll go pray.'"
Then said Darrel, loudly:—
"'These are but wild and whirling words, my lord.'"
Two men, a guide in advance, came along the trail—one, a most impressive figure, tall, erect, and strong; its every move expressing grace and power.
Again the deep music of his voice, saying:—
"'I'm sorry they offend you heartily; yes, faith, heartily.'"
And Darrel rejoined, his own rich tone touching the note of melancholy in the other:—
"'There's no offence, my lord.'"
"'What Horatio is this?" the stranger inquired, offering his hand. "A player?"
"Ay, as are all men an' women," said Darrel, quickly. "But I, sor, have only a poor part. Had I thy lines an' makeup, I'd win applause."
The newcomers sat down, the man who had spoken removing his hat. Curly locks of dark hair, with now a sprinkle of silver in them, fell upon his brows. He had large brown eyes, a mouth firm and well modelled, a nose slightly aquiline, and wore a small, dark imperial—a mere tuft under his lip.
"Well, Colonel, you have paid me a graceful compliment," said he.
"Nay, man, do not mistake me rank," said Darrel.
"Indeed—what is it?"
"Friend," he answered, quickly. "In good company there's no higher rank. But if ye think me unworthy, I'll be content with 'Mister.'"
"My friend, forgive me," said the stranger, approaching Darrel. "Murder and envy and revenge and all evil are in my part, but no impertinence."
"I know thy rank, sor. Thou art a gentleman," said Darrel. "I've seen thee 'every inch a king.'"
Darrel spoke to the second period in that passage of Lear, the majesty and despair of the old king in voice and gesture. The words were afire with feeling as they came off his tongue, and all looked at him with surprise.
"Ah, you have seen me play it," said the stranger. "There's no other Lear that declares himself with that gesture."
"It is Edwin Forrest," said Darrel, as the stranger offered his hand.
"The same, and at your service," the great actor replied. "And may I ask who are you?"
"Roderick Darrel, son of a wheelwright on the river Bann, once a fellow of infinite jest, believe me, but now, alas! like the skull o' Yorick in the churchyard."
"The churchyard'" said Forrest, thoughtfully. "That to me is the saddest of all scenes. When it's over and I leave the stage, it is to carry with me an awe-inspiring thought of the end which is coming to all."
He crumbled a lump of clay in his palm.
"Dust!" he whispered, scattering it in the air.
"Think ye the dust is dead? Nay, man; a mighty power is in it," said Darrel. "Let us imagine thee dead an' turned to clay. Leave the clay to its own law, sor, an' it begins to cleanse an' purge itself. Its aim is purity, an' it never wearies. Could I live long enough, an' it were under me eye, I'd see the clay bleaching white with a wonderful purity. Then, slowly, it would begin to come clear, an' by an' by it would be clearer an' lovelier than a drop o' dew at sunrise. Lo and behold! the clay has become a sapphire. So, sor, in the waters o' time God washes the great world. In every grain o' dust the law is written, an' I may read the destiny o' the nobler part in the fate o' the meaner.
"'Imperious Forrest, dead an' turned to clay, Might stop a hole to keep despair away.'"
"Delightful and happy man! I must know you better," said the great tragedian. "May I ask, sir, what is your calling?"
"I, sor, am a tinker o' clocks."
"A tinker of clocks!" said the other, looking at him thoughtfully. "I should think it poorly suited to your talents."
"Not so. I've only a talent for happiness an' good company."
"And you find good company here?"
"Yes; bards, prophets, an' honest men. They're everywhere."
"Tell me," said Forrest, "were you not some time a player?"
"Player of many parts, but all in God's drama—fool, servant of a rich man, cobbler, clock tinker, all in the coat of a poor man. Me health failed me, sor, an' I took to wandering in the open air. Ten years ago in the city of New York me wife died, since when I have been tinkering here in the edges o' the woodland, where I have found health an' friendship an' good cheer. Faith, sor, that is all one needs, save the company o' the poets.
"'I pray an' sing an' tell old tales an' laugh At gilded butterflies, an' hear poor rogues Talk o' court news.'"
Trove had missed not a word nor even a turn of the eye in all that scene. After years of acquaintance with the tinker he had not yet ventured a question as to his life history. The difference of age and a certain masterly reserve in the old gentleman had seemed to discourage it. A prying tongue in a mere youth would have met unpleasant obstacles with Darrel. Never until that day had he spoken freely of his past in the presence of the young man.
"I must see you again," said the tragedian, rising. "Of those parts I try to play, which do you most like?"
"St. Paul," said Darrel, quickly. "Last night, sor, in this great theatre, we heard the voice o' the prophet. Ah, sor, it was like a trumpet on the walls of eternity. I commend to thee the part o' St. Paul. Next to that—of all thy parts, Lear."
"Lear?" said Forrest, rising. "I am to play it this autumn. Come, then, to New York. Give me your address, and I'll send for you."
"Sor," said Darrel, thoughtfully, "I can give thee much o' me love but little o' me time. Nay, there'd be trouble among the clocks. I'd be ashamed to look them in the face. Nay,—I thank thee,—but I must mind the clocks."
The great player smiled with amusement.
"Then," said he, "I shall have to come and see you play your part. Till then, sir, God give you happiness."
"Once upon a time," said Darrel, as he held the hand of the player, "a weary traveller came to the gate o' Heaven, seeking entrance.
"'What hast thou in thy heart?' said the good St. Peter.
"'The record o' great suffering an' many prayers,' said the poor man. 'I pray thee now, give me the happiness o' Heaven.'
"'Good man, we have none to spare,' said the keeper. 'Heaven hath no happiness but that men bring. It is a gift to God and comes not from Him. Would ye take o' that we have an' bring nothing? Nay, go back to thy toil an' fill thy heart with happiness, an' bring it to me overflowing. Then shalt thou know the joy o' paradise. Remember, God giveth counsel, but not happiness.'"
"If I only had your wisdom," said Forrest, as they parted.
"Ye'd have need o' more," the tinker answered.
Trove and Darrel walked to the clearing above Faraway. At a corner on the high hills, where northward they could see smoke and spire of distant villages, each took his way,—one leading to Hillsborough, the other to Allen's.
"Good-by; an' when I return I hope to bear the rest o' thy tale," said Darrel, as they parted.
"Only God is wise enough to finish it," said the young man.
"'Well, God help us; 'tis a world to see,'" Darrel quoted, waving his hand. "If thy heart oppress thee, steer for the Blessed Isles."
A big maple sheltered the house of the widow Vaughn. After the noon hour of a summer day its tide of shadow began flowing fathoms deep over house and garden to the near field, where finally it joined the great flood of night. The maple was indeed a robin's inn at some crossing of the invisible roads of the air. Its green dome towered high above and fell to the gable end of the little house. Its deep and leafy thatch hid every timber of its frame save the rough column. Its trunk was the main beam, each limb a corridor, each tier of limbs a floor, and branch rose above branch like steps in a stairway. Up and down the high dome of the maple were a thousand balconies overlooking the meadow.
From its highest tier of a summer morning the notes of the bobolink came rushing off his lyre, and farther down the golden robin sounded his piccolo. But, chiefly, it was the home and refuge of the familiar red-breasted robin. The inn had its ancient customs. Each young bird, leaving his cradle, climbed his own stairway till he came out upon a balcony and got a first timid look at field and sky. There he might try his wings and keep in the world he knew by using bill and claw on the lower tiers.
At dawn the great hall of the maple rang with music, for every lodger paid his score with song. Therein it was ever cool, and clean, and shady, though the sun were hot. Its every nook and cranny was often swept and dusted by the wind. Its branches leading up and outward to the green wall were as innumerable stairways. Each separate home was out on rocking beams, with its own flicker of sky light overhead. For a time at dusk there was a continual flutter of weary wings at the lower entrance, a good night twitter, and a sound of tiny feet climbing the stairways in that gloomy hall. At last, there was a moment of gossip and then silence on every floor. There seemed to be a night-watch in the lower hall, and if any green young bird were late and noisy going up to his home, he got a shaking and probably lost a few feathers from the nape of his neck. Long before daybreak those hungry, half-clad little people of the nests began to worry and crowd their mothers. At first, the old birds tried to quiet them with caressing movements, and had, at last, to hold their places with bill and claw. As light came an old cock peered about him, stretched his wings, climbed a stairway, and blew his trumpet on the outer wall. The robin's day had begun.
Mid-autumn, when its people shivered and found fault and talked of moving, the maple tried to please them with new and brighter colours—gold, with the warmth of summer in its look; scarlet, suggesting love and the June roses. Soon it stood bare and deserted. Then what was there in the creak-and-whisper chorus of the old tree for one listening in the night? Belike it might be many things, according to the ear, but was it not often something to make one think of that solemn message: "Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble"? They who lived in that small house under the tree knew little of all that passed in the big world. Trumpet blasts of fame, thunder of rise and downfall, came faintly to them. There the delights of art and luxury were unknown. Yet those simple folk were acquainted with pleasure and even with thrilling and impressive incidents. Field and garden teemed with eventful life and hard by was the great city of the woods.
Comedies of Field and Dooryard
Trove was three days in Brier Dale after he came out of the woods. The filly was now a sleek and shapely animal, past three years of age. He began at once breaking her to the saddle, and, that done, mounting, he started for Robin's Inn. He carried a game rooster in a sack for the boy Tom. All came out with a word of welcome; even the small dog grew noisy with delight Tunk Hosely, who had come to work for Mrs. Vaughn, took the mare and led her away, his shoulder leaning with an added sense of horsemanship. Polly began to hurry dinner, fussing with the table, and changing the position of every dish, until it seemed as if she would never be quite satisfied. Covered with the sacred old china and table-linen of her grandmother, it had, when Polly was done with it, a very smart appearance indeed. Then she called the boys and bade them wash their hands and faces and whispered a warning to each, while her mother announced that dinner was ready.
"Paul, what's an adjective?" said the teacher, as they sat down.
"A word applied to a noun to qualify or limit its meaning," the boy answered glibly.
"Right! And what adjective would you apply to this table?"
The boy thought a moment.
"Grand!" said he, tentatively.
"Correct! I'm going to have just such a dinner every day on my farm."
"Then you'll have to have Polly too," said Tom, innocently.
"Well, you can spare her."
"No, sir," the boy answered. "You ain't good to her; she cries every time you go away."
There was an awkward silence and the widow began to laugh and Polly and Trove to blush deeply.
"Maybe she whispered, an' he give her a talkin' to," said Paul.
"Have you heard about Ezra Tower?" said Mrs. Vaughn, shaking her head at the boys and changing the topic with shrewd diplomacy.
"Much; but nothing new," said Trove.
"Well, he swears he'll never cross the Fadden bridge or speak to anybody in Pleasant Valley."
"The taxes. He don't believe in improvements, and when he tried to make a speech in town-meeting they all jeered him. There ain't any one good enough for him to speak to now but himself an'—an' his Creator."
In the midst of dinner, they heard an outcry in the yard. Tom's game-cock had challenged the old rooster, and the two were leaping and striking with foot and wing. Before help came the old rooster was badly cut in the neck and breast. Tunk rescued him, and brought him to the woodshed, where Trove sewed up his wounds. He had scarcely finished when there came a louder outcry among the fowls. Looking out they saw a gobbler striding slowly up the path and leading the game-cock with a firm hold on the back of his neck. The whole flock of fowls were following. The rooster held back and came on with long but unequal strides, Never halting, the turkey led him into the full publicity of the open yard. Now the cock was lifted so his feet came only to the top of the grass; now his head was bent low, and his feet fell heavily. Through it all the gobbler bore himself with dignity and firmness. There was no show of wrath or unnecessary violence. He swung the cock around near the foot of the maple tree and walked him back and then returned with him. Half his journey the poor cock was reaching for the grass and was then lowered quickly, so he had to walk with bent knees. Again and again the gobbler walked up and down with him before the assembled flock. Hens and geese cackled loudly and clapped their wings. Applause and derision rose high each time the poor cock swung around, reaching for the grass. But the gobbler continued his even stride, deliberately, and as it seemed, thoughtfully, applying correction to the quarrelsome bird. Walking the grass tips had begun to tire those reaching legs. The cock soon straddled along with a serious eye and an open mouth. But the gobbler gave him no rest. When, at length, he released his hold, the game-cock lay weary and wild-eyed, with no more fight in him than a bunch of rags. Soon he rose and ran away and hid himself in the stable. The culprit fowl was then tried, convicted, and sentenced to the block.
"It's the fate of all fighters that have only a selfish cause," said the teacher. He was sitting on the grass, Polly, and Tom, and Paul, beside him.
"Look here," said he, suddenly. "I'll show you another fight."
All gathered about him. Down among the grass roots an ant stood facing a big, hairy spider. The ant backed away, presently, and made a little detour, the spider turning quickly and edging toward him. The ant stood motionless, the spider on tiptoe, with daggers drawn. The big, hairy spider leaped like a lion to its prey. They could see her striking with the fatal knives, her great body quivering with fierce energy. The little ant was hidden beneath it. Some uttered a cry of pity, and Paul was for taking sides.
"Wait a moment," said the teacher, restraining his hand. The spider had begun to tremble in a curious manner.
"Look now," said Trove, with some excitement.
Her legs had begun to let go and were straightening stiff on both sides of her. In a moment she tilted sideways and lay still. They saw a twinkle of black, legs and the ant making off in the stubble. They picked up the spider's body; it was now only an empty shell. Her big stomach had been torn away and lay in little strips and chunks, down at the roots of the stubble.
"It's the end of a bit of history," said the teacher, as he tore away the curved blades of the spider and put them in Polly's palm.
"Let's see where the ant goes."
He got down upon his hands and knees and watched the little black tiger, now hurrying for his lair. In a moment he was joined by others, and presently they came into a smooth little avenue under the grass. It took them into the edge of the meadow, around a stalk of mullen, where there were a number of webs.
"There's where she lived—this hairy old woman," said the teacher,—"up there in that tower. See her snares in the grass—four of them?"
He rapped on the stalk of mullen with a stick, peering into the dusty little cavern of silk near the top of it.
"Sure enough! Here is where she lived; for the house is empty, and there's living prey in the snares."
"What a weird old thing!" said Polly. "Can you tell us more about her?"
"Well, every summer," said Trove, "a great city grows up in the field. There are shady streets in it, no wider than a cricket's back, and millions living in nest and tower and cave and cavern. Among its people are toilers and idlers, laws and lawbreakers, thieves and highwaymen, grand folk and plain folk. Here is the home of the greatest criminal in the city of the field. See! it is between two leaves,—one serving as roof, the other as floor and portico. Here is a long cable that comes out of her sitting room and slopes away to the big snare below. Look at her sheets of silk in the grass. It's like a washing that's been hung out to dry. From each a slender cord of silk runs to the main cable. Even a fly's kick or a stroke of his tiny wing must have gone up the tower and shaken the floor of the old lady, maybe, with a sort of thunder. Then she ran out and down the cable to rush upon her helpless prey. She was an arrant highwayman,—this old lady,—a creature of craft and violence. She was no sooner married than she slew her husband—a timid thing smaller than she—and ate him at one meal. You know the ants are a busy people. This road was probably a thoroughfare for their freight,—eggs and cattle and wild rice. I'll warrant she used to lie and wait for them; and woe to the little traveller if she caught him unawares, for she could nip him in two with a single thrust of her knives. Then she, would seize the egg he bore and make off with it. Now the ants are cunning. They found her downstairs and cut her off from her home and drove her away into the grass jungle. I've no doubt she faced a score of them, but, being a swift climber, with lots of rope in her pocket, was able to get away. The soldier ants began to beat the jangle. They separated, content to meet her singly, knowing she would refuse to fight if confronted by more than one. And you know what happened to her."
All that afternoon they spent in the city of the field. The life of the birds in the great maple interested them most of all. In the evening he played checkers with Polly and told her of school life in the village of Hillsborough—the work and play of the students.
"Oh! I do wish I could go," said she, presently, with a deep sigh.
He thought of the eighty-two dollars in his pocket and longed to tell her all that he was planning for her sake.
Mrs. Vaughn went above stairs with the children.
Then Trove took Polly's hand. They looked deeply into each other's eyes a moment, both smiling.
"It's your move," said she, smiling as her glance fell.
He moved all the checkers.
There came a breath of silence, and a great surge of happiness that washed every checker off the board, and left the two with flushed faces. Then, as Mrs. Vaughn was coming downstairs, the checkers began to rattle into position.
"I won," said he, as the door opened.
"But he didn't play fair," said Folly.
"Children, I'm afraid you're playing more love than checkers," said the widow. "You're both too young to think of marriage."
Those two looked thoughtfully at the checkerboard, Polly's chin resting on her hand. She had begun to smile.
"I'm sure Mr. Trove has no such thought in his head," said she, still looking at the board.
"You're mother is right; we're both very young," said Trove.
"I believe you're afraid of her," said Polly, looking up at him with a smile.
"I'm only thinking of your welfare," said Mrs. Vaughn, gently. "Young love should be stored away, and if it keeps, why, then it's all right."
"Like preserves!" said Polly, soberly, as if she were not able to see the point.
Against the protest of Polly and her mother, Trove went to sleep in the sugar shanty, a quarter of a mile or so back in the woods. On his first trip with the drove he had developed fondness for sleeping out of doors. The shanty was a rude structure of logs, with an open front. Tunk went ahead, bearing a pine torch, while Trove followed, the blanket over his shoulder. They built a roaring fire in front of the shanty and sat down to talk.
"How have you been?" Trove inquired.
"Like t' killed me there at the ol' maids'."
"Were they rough with you?"
"No," said Tunk, gloomily.
"Kicked?" was Trove's query.
"Lord! I should think so. Feel there."
Trove felt the same old protuberance on Tunk's leg.
"Swatted me right in the knee-pan. Put both feet on my chest, too. Lord! I'd be coughin' up blood all the while if I wa'n't careful."
"And why did you leave?"
"Served me a mean trick," said Tunk, frowning. "Letishey went away t' the village t' have a tooth drawed, an' t'other one locked me up all day in the garret chamber. Toward night I crawled out o' the window an' clim' down the lightnin' rod. An' she screamed for help an' run t' the neighbours. Scairt me half t' death. Heavens! I didn't know what I'd done!"
"Did you come down fast?" Trove inquired.
"Purty middlin' fast."
"Well, a man never ought to travel on a lightning rod."
Tunk sat in sober silence a moment, as if he thought it no proper time for levity.
"I made up my mind," said he, with an injured look, "it wa'n't goin' t' do my character no good t' live there with them ol' maids."
There was a bitter contempt in his voice when he said "ol' maids."
"I'd kind o' like t' draw the ribbons over that mare o' yourn, mister," said Tunk, presently.
"Do you think you could manage her?"
"What!" said Tunk, in a voice of both query and exclamation. "Huh! Don't I look as if I'd been used t' hosses. There ain't a bone in my body that ain't been kicked—some on 'em two or three times. Don't ye notice how I walk? Heavens, man! I hed my ex sprung 'fore I was fifteen!"
Tunk referred often and proudly to this early springing of his "ex," by which he meant probably that horse violence had bent him askew.
"Well, you shall have a chance to drive her," said Trove, spreading his blanket. "But if I'd gone through what you have, I'd keep out of danger."
"I like it," said Tunk, with emphasis. "I couldn't live without it. Danger is a good deal like chawin' terbaccer—dum nasty 'til ye git used to it. Fer me it's suthin' like strawberry short-cake and allwus was. An' nerve, man, why jes' look a' there."
He held out a hand to show its steadiness.
"Very good," Trove remarked.
"Good? Why, it's jest as stiddy as a hitchin' post, an' purty nigh as stout. Feel there," said Tunk, swelling his biceps.
"You must be very strong," said Trove, as he felt the rigid arm.
"A man has t' be in the boss business, er he ain't nowheres. If they get wicked, ye've got t' put the power to 'em."
Tunk had only one horse to care for at the widow's, but he was always in "the hoss business."
Then Tunk lit his torch and went away. Trove lay down, pulled his blanket about him, and went to sleep.
A New Problem
When Trove woke in the morning, a package covered with white paper lay on the blanket near his hand. He rose and picked it up, and saw his own name in a strange handwriting on the wrapper. He turned it, looking curiously at seal and superscription. Tearing it open, he found to his great surprise a brief note and a roll of money. "Herein is a gift for Mr. Sidney Trove," said the note. "The gift is from a friend unknown, who prays God that wisdom may go with it, so it prove a blessing to both."
Trove counted the money carefully. There were $3000 in bank bills. He sat a moment, thinking; then he rose, and began searching for tracks around the shanty. He found none, however, in the dead leaves which he could distinguish from those of Tunk and himself.
"It must be from my father," said he,—a thought that troubled him deeply, for it seemed to bring ill news—that his father would never make himself known.
"He must have seen me last night," Trove went on. "He must even have been near me—so near he could have touched me with his hand. If I had only wakened!"
He put the money in his pocket and made ready to go. He would leave at once in quest of Darrel and take counsel of him. It was early, and he could see the first light of the sun, high in the tall towers of hemlock. The forest rang with bird songs. He went to the brook near by, and drank of its clear, cold water, and bathed in it. Then he walked slowly to Robin's Inn, where Mrs. Vaughn had begun building a fire. She observed the troubled look in his face, but said nothing of it then. Trove greeted her and went to the stable to feed his mare. As he neared the door he heard a loud "Whoa." He entered softly, and the big barn, that joined the stable, began to ring with noise. He heard Tunk shouting "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" at the top of his voice. Peering through, he could see the able horseman leaning back upon a pair of reins tied to a beam in front of him. His cry and attitude were like those of a jockey driving a hard race. He saw Trove, and began to slow up.
"You are a brave man—there's no doubt of it," said the teacher.
"What makes ye think so?" Tunk inquired soberly, but with a glowing eye.
"If you were not brave, you'd scare yourself to death, yelling that way."
"It isn't possible, or Tunk would have perished long ago," said the widow, who had come to feed her chickens.
"It's enough to raise the neighbours," Trove added.
"There ain't any near neighbours but them over 'n the buryin'-ground, and they must be a little uneasy," said the widow.
"Used t' drive so much in races," said Tunk, "got t' be kind of a habit with me—seems so. Ain't eggzac'ly happy less I have holt o' the ribbons every day or two. Ye know I used t' drive ol' crazy Jane. She pulled like Satan. All ye had t' do was t' lean back an' let 'er sail."
"But why do you shout that way?"
"Scares the other hosses," Tunk answered, dropping the reins and tossing his whip aside. "It's a shame I have t' fool my time away up here on a farm."
He went to work at the chores, frowning with discontent. Trove watered and fed his mare and went in to breakfast. An hour later, he bade them all good-by, and set out for Allen's. A new fear began to weigh upon him as he travelled. Was this a part of that evil sum, and had his father begun now to scatter what he had never any right to touch? Whoever brought him that big roll of money had robbed him of his peace. Even his ribs, against which it chafed as he rode along, began to feel sore. Home at last, he put up the mare and went to tell his mother that he must be off for Hillsborough.
"My son," said she, her arms about his neck, "our eyes are growing dim and for a long time have seen little of you."
"And I feel the loss," Trove answered. "I have things to do there, and shall return tonight."
"You look troubled," was her answer. "Poor boy! I pray God to keep you unspotted of the world." She was ever fearing unhappy news of the mystery—that something evil would come out of it.
As Trove rode away he took account of all he owed those good people who had been mother and father to him. What a pleasure it would give him to lay that goodly sum in the lap of his mother and bid her spend it with no thought of economy.
The mare knew him as one may know a brother. There was in her manner some subtle understanding of his mood. Her master saw it in the poise of her head, in the shift of her ears, and in her tender way of feeling for his hand. She, too, was looking right and left in the fields. There were the scenes of a boyhood, newly but forever gone. "That's where you overtook me on the way to school," said he to Phyllis, for so the tinker had named her.
She drew at the rein, starting playfully as she heard his voice, and shaking his hand as if to say, "Oh, master, give me the rein. I will bear you swiftly to happiness."
Trove looked down at her proudly, patting the silken arch of her neck. If, as Darrel had once told him, God took note of the look of one's horses, she was fit for the last journey. Arriving at Hillsborough, he tied her in the sheds and took his way to the Sign of the Dial. Darrel was working at his little bench. He turned wearily, his face paler than Trove had ever seen it, his eyes deeper under their fringe of silvered hair.
"An' God be praised, the boy!" said he, rising quickly. "Canst thou make a jest, boy, a merry jest?"
"Not until you have told me what's the matter."
"Illness an' the food o' bitter fancy," said the tinker, with a sad face.
"Yes; an' o' thee, boy. Had I gathered care in the broad fields all me life an' heaped it on thy back, I could not have done worse by thee."
Darrel put his hand upon the boy's shoulder, surveying him from head to foot.
"But, marry," he added, "'tis a mighty thigh an' a broad back."
"Have you seen my father?"
There was a moment of silence, and Trove began to change colour.
"And what did he say?"
"That he will bear his burden alone."
Then, for a moment, silence and the ticking of the clocks.
"And I shall never know my father?" said Trove, presently, his lips trembling. "God, sir! I insist upon it. I have a right to his name and to his shame also." The young man sank upon a chair, covering his face.
"Nay, boy, it is not wise," said Darrel, tenderly. "Take thought of it—thou'rt young. The time is near when thy father can make restitution, ay, an' acknowledge his sin before the world. All very near to him, saving thyself, are dead. Now, whatever comes, it can do thee no harm."
"But I care not for disgrace; and often you have told me that I should live and speak the truth, even though it burn me to the bone."
"So have I, boy, so have I; but suppose it burn others to the bone. It will burn thy wife; an' thy children, an' thy children's children, and them that have reared thee, an' it would burn thy father most of all."
Trove was utterly silenced. His father was bent on keeping his own disgrace.
"Mind thee, boy, the law o' truth is great, but the law o' love is greater. A lie for the sake o' love—think o' that a long time, think until thy heart is worn with all fondness an' thy soul is ready for its God, then judge it."
"But when he makes confession I shall know, and go to him, and stand by has side," the young man remarked.
"Nay, boy, rid thy mind o' that. If ye were to hear of his crime, ye'd never know it was thy father's."
"It is a bitter sorrow, but I shall make the best of it," said Trove.
"Ay, make the best of it. Thou'rt now in the deep sea, an' God guide thee."
"But I ask your help—will you read that?" said Trove, handing him the mysterious note that came with the roll of money.
"An' how much came with it?" said Darrel, as he read the lines.
"Three thousand dollars. Here they are; I do not know what to do with them."
"'Tis a large sum, an' maybe from thy father," said Darrel, looking down at tile money. "Possibly, quite possibly it is from thy father."
"And what shall I do with the money? It is cursed; I can make no use of it."
"Ah, boy, of one thing be sure; it is not the stolen money. For many years thy father hath been a frugal man—saving, ever saving the poor fruit of his toil. Nay, boy, if it come o' thy father, have no fear o' that. For a time put thy money in the bank."
"Then my father lives near me—where I may be meeting him every day of my life?"
"No," said Darrel, shaking his head. Then lifting his finger and looking into the eyes of Trove, he spoke slowly and with deep feeling. "Now that ye know his will I warn ye, boy, seek him no more. Were ye to meet him now an' know him for thy father an' yet refuse to let him pass, I'd think thee a monster o' selfish cruelty."
Beginning the Book of Trouble
The rickety stairway seemed to creak with surprise at the slowness of his feet as Trove descended. It was circus day, and there were few in the street. Neither looking to right nor left he hurried to the bank of Hillsborough and left his money. Then, mounting his mare, he turned to the wooded hills and went away at a swift gallop. When the village lay far behind them and the sun was low, he drew rein to let the mare breathe, and turned, looking down the long stairway of the hills. In the south great green waves of timber land, rose into the sun-glow as they swept over hill and mountain. Presently he could hear a galloping horse and a faint halloo down the valley, out of which he had just come. He stopped, listening, and soon a man and horse, the latter nearly spent with fast travel, came up the pike.
"Well, by Heaven! You gave me a hard chase," said the man.
"Do you wish to see me?" Trove inquired.
"Yes—my name is Spinnel. I am connected with the bank of Hillsborough. Your name is Trove—Sidney Trove?"
"You deposited three thousand dollars today?"
"Well, I've come to see you and ask a few questions. I've no authority, and you can do as you like about answering."
The man pulled up near Trove and took a note-book and pencil out of his pocket.
"First, how came you by that money?" said he, with some show of excitement in his manner.
"That is my business," said Trove, coolly.
"There's more or less truth in that," said the other. "But I'll explain. Night before last the bank in Milldam was robbed, and the clerk who slept there badly hurt. Now, I've no doubt you're all right, but here's a curious fact—the sum taken was about three thousand dollars."
Trove began to change colour. He dismounted, looking up at the stranger and holding both horses by the bit.
"And they think me a thief?" he demanded.
"No," was the quick reply. "They've no doubt you can explain everything."
"I'll tell you all I know about the money," said Trove. "But come, let's keep the horses warm."
They led them and, walking slowly, Trove told of his night in the sugar-bush. Something in the manner of Spinnel slowed his feet and words. The story was finished. They stopped, turning face to face.
"It's grossly improbable," Trove suggested thoughtfully.
"Well, it ain't the kind o' thing that happens every day or two," said the other. "If you're innocent, you won't mind my looking you over a little to see if you have wounds or weapons. Understand, I've no authority, but if you wish, I'll do it."
"Glad to have you. Here's a hunting-knife, and a flint, and some bird shot," Trove answered, as he began to empty his pockets.
Spinnel examined the hunting-knife and looked carefully at each pocket.
"Would you mind taking off your coat?" he inquired.
The young man removed his coat, uncovering a small spatter of blood on a shirt-sleeve.
"There's no use going any farther with this," said the young man, impatiently. "Come on home with me, and I'll go back with you in the morning and prove my innocence."
The two mounted their horses and rode a long way in silence.
"It is possible," said Trove, presently, "that the robber was a man that knew me and, being close pressed, planned to divert suspicion."
Save that of the stranger, there was no sleep at the little house in Brier Dale that night. But, oddly, for Mary and Theron Allen it became a night of dear and lasting memories of their son. He sat long with them under the pine trees, and for the first time they saw and felt his strength and were as children before it.
"It's all a school," said he, calmly. "An' I'm just beginning to study the Book of Trouble. It's full of rather tough problems, but I'm not going to flunk or fail in it."
The Spider Snares
Trove and Spinnel were in Hillsborough soon after sunrise the morning of that memorable day. The young man rapped loudly on the broad door at the Sign of the Dial, but within all was silent. The day before Darrel had spoken of going off to the river towns, and must have started. A lonely feeling came into the boy's heart as he turned away. He went promptly to the house of the district attorney and told all he knew of the money that he had put in the bank. He recounted all that took place the afternoon of his stay at Robin's Inn—the battles of the cocks, and the spider, and how the wounded fowl had probably sprinkled his sleeve with blood. In half an hour, news of the young man's trouble had gone to every house in the village. Soon a score of his schoolmates and half the faculty were at his side—there in the room of the justice. Theron Allen arrived at nine o'clock, although at that hour two responsible men had already given a bail-bond. After dinner, Trove, a constable, and the attorney rode to Robin's Inn. The news had arrived before them, but only the two boys and Tunk were at home. The latter stood in front of the stable, looking earnestly up the road.
"Hello," said he, gazing curiously at horse and men as they came up to the door. He seemed to be eyeing the attorney with hopeful anticipation.
"Tunk," said Trove, cheerfully, "you have a mournful eye."
Tunk advanced slowly, still gazing, both hands deep in his trousers pockets.
"Ez Tower just went by," said he, with suppressed feeling. "Said you was arrested fer murder."
"I presume you were surprised."
"Wal," said he, "Ez ain't said a word before in six months."
Tunk opened the horse's mouth and stood a moment, peering thoughtfully at his teeth.
"Kind of unexpected to be spoke to by Ez Tower," he added, turning his eyes upon them with the same curious look.
The interrogation of Tunk and the two boys began immediately. The story of the fowl corroborated, the sugar-bush became an object of investigation. Milldam was ten miles away, and it was quite possible for the young man to have ridden there and back between the hour when Tunk left him and that of sunrise when he met Mrs. Vaughn at her door. Trove and Tunk Hosely went with the officers down a lane to the pasture and thence into the wood by a path they followed that night to and from the shanty. They discovered nothing new, save one remarkable circumstance that baffled Trove and renewed the waning suspicion of the men of the law. On almost a straight line from bush to barn were tracks of a man that showed plainly where they came out of the grass upon the garden soil. Now, the strange part of it lay in this fact: the boots of Sidney Trove exactly fitted the tracks. They followed the footprints carefully into the meadow-grass and up to the stalk of mullen. Near the top of it was the abandoned home of the spider and around it were the four snares Trove had observed, now full of prey.
"Do not disturb the grass here," said Trove, "and I will prove to you that the tracks were made before the night in question. Do you see the four webs?"
"Yes," said the attorney..
"The tracks go under them," said Trove, "and must, therefore, have been made before the webs. I will prove to you that the webs were spun before two o'clock of the day before yesterday. At that hour I saw the spinner die. See, her lair is deserted."
He broke the stalk of mullen and the cables of spider silk that led away from it, and all inspected the empty lair. Then he told of that deadly battle in the grass.
"But these webs might have been the work of another spider," said the attorney.
"It matters not," Trove insisted, "for the webs were spun at least twelve hours before the crime. One of them contains the body of a red butterfly with starred wings. We cut the wings that day, and Miss Vaughn put them in a book she was reading."
Paul brought the wings, which exactly fitted the tiny torso of the butterfly. They could discern the footprints, one of which had broken the ant's road, while another was completely covered by the butterfly snare.
"Those tracks were made before the webs—that is evident," said the attorney. "Do you know who made the tracks?"
"I do not," was the answer of the young man.
Trove remained at Robin's Inn that night, and after the men had gone he recalled a circumstance that was like a flash of lightning in the dark of his great mystery.
Once at the Sign of the Dial his friend, the tinker, had shown him a pair of new boots. He remembered they were of the same size and shape as those he wore.
"We could wear the same boots," he had remarked to Darrel.
"Had I to do such penance I should be damned," the tinker had answered. "Look, boy, mine are the larger by far. There's a man coming to see me at the Christmas time—a man o' busy feet. That pair in your hands I bought for him."
"Day before yesterday," said Tunk, that evening, "I was up in the sugar-bush after a bit o' hickory, an' I see a man there, an' I didn't have no idee who 'twas. He was tall and had white hair an' whiskers an' a short blue coat. When I first see him he was settin' on a log, but 'fore I come nigh he got up an' made off."
Although meagre, the description was sufficient. Trove had no longer any doubt of this—that the stranger he had seen at Darrel's had been hiding in the bush that day whose events were now so important.
Whoever had brought the money, he must have known much of the plans and habits of the young man, and, the night before Trove's arrival at Robin's Inn, he came, probably, to the sugar woods, where he spent the next day in hiding.
The young man was deeply troubled. Polly and her mother sat well into the night with him, hearing the story of his life, which he told in full, saving only the sin of his father. Of that he had neither the right nor the heart to tell.
"God only knows what is the next chapter," said he, at last. "It may rob me of all that I love in this world."
"But not of me," said Polly, whispering in his ear.
"I wish I were sure of that," he answered.
The Coming of the Cars
That year was one of much reckoning there in the land of the hills. A year it was of historic change and popular excitement. To begin with, a certain rich man bought a heavy cannon, which had roared at the British on the frontier in 1812, and gave it to the town of Hillsborough. It was no sooner dumped on the edge of the little park than it became a target of criticism. The people were to be taxed for the expense of mounting it—"Taxed fer a thing we ain't no more need of than a bear has need of a hair-brush," said one citizen. Those Yankees came of men who helped to fling the tea into Boston harbour, and had some hereditary fear of taxes.
Hunters and trappers were much impressed by it. They felt it over, peering curiously into the muzzle, with one eye closed.
"Ye couldn't kill nuthin' with it," said one of them.
"If I was to pick it up an' hit ye over the head with it, I guess ye wouldn't think so," said another.
Familiarity bred contempt, and by and by they began to shoot at it from the tavern steps.
The gun lay rejected and much in the way until its buyer came to his own rescue and agreed to pay for the mounting. Then came another and more famous controversy as to which way they should "p'int" the gun. Some favoured one direction, some another, and at last, by way of compliment, they "p'inted" it squarely at the house of the giver on the farther side of the park. And it was loaded to the muzzle with envy and ingratitude.
The arrest of Sidney Trove, also, had filled the town with exciting rumours, and gossip of him seemed to travel on the four winds—much of it as unkind as it was unfounded.
Then came surveyors, and promoters of the railroad, and a plan of aiding it by bonding the towns it traversed. In the beginning horror and distrust were in many bosoms. If the devil and some of his angels had come, he might, indeed, for a time, have made more converts and less excitement.
"It's a delusion an' a snare," said old Colonel Barclay in a speech. "Who wants t' whiz through the air like a bullet? God never intended men to go slidin' over the earth that way. It ain't nat'ral ner it ain't common sense. Some say it would bring more folks into this country. I say we can supply all the folks that's nec'sary. I've got fourteen in my own family. S'pose ye lived on a tremendous sidehill that reached clear to New York City, so ye could git on a sled an' scoot off like a streak o' lightnin'. Do ye think ye'd be any happier? Do ye think ye'd chop any more wood er raise a bigger crop o' potatoes? S'pose ye could scoot yer crops right down t' Albany in a day. That would be all right if 'ye was the only man that was scootin', but if there was anything t' be made by it, there'd be more than a million sleds on the way, an' ye couldn't sell yer stuff for so much as ye git here. Some day ye'd come home and ask where's Ma an' Mary, and then Sam would say, 'Why, Mary's slid down t' New York, and the last I see o' Ma she was scootin' for Rochester.'"
Here, the record says, Colonel Barclay was interrupted by laughter and a voice.
"Wal, if there was a railroad, they could scoot back ag'in," said the voice.
"Yes," the Colonel rejoined, "but mebbe after they'd been there a while ye'd wish they couldn't. Wal, you git your own supper, an' then Sam says, says he, 'I guess I'll scoot over t' Watertown and see my gal fer a few minutes.' An' ye sit by the fire a while, rockin' the twins, an' by and by yer wife comes back. An' ye say, 'Ma, why don't ye stay t' home?' 'Wal,' says she, 'it is so splendid, and there's so much goin' on.' An' Mary, she begins t' talk as if she'd bit her tongue, an' step stylish, an' hold up her dress like that, jest as though she was steppin' over a hot griddle. Purty soon it's dizzle-dazzle an' flippity-floppity an' splendiferous and sewperb, an' the first thing ye know ye ain't knee-high to a grasshopper. Sam he comes back an' tells Ed all about the latest devilment. You hear of it; then, mebbe, ye begin to limber up an' think ye'll try it yerself. An' some morning ye'll wake up an' find yer moral character has scooted. You fellers that go t' meetin' here an' talk about resistin' temptation—if you ever git t' goin' it down there in New York City, temptation 'll have to resist you. My friends, ye don't want to make it too easy fer everybody to go somewhere else. If ye do, by an' by there won't be nobody left here but them that's too old t' scoot er a few sickly young folks who don't care fer the sinful attractions o' this world."
Who shall say that old Colonel Barclay had not the tongue of a prophet?
"An' how about the cost?" he added in conclusion, "Fellow-citizens, ye'll have to pay five cents a mile fer yer scootin', an' a tax,—a tax, fellow-citizens, to help pay the cost o' the railroad. If there's anybody here that don't feel as if he'd been taxed enough, he ought t' be taxed fer his folly."
The dread of "scooting" grew for a time, but wise men were able to overcome it.
In 1850, the iron way had come through the wilderness and begun to rend the northern hills. Some were filled with awe, learning for the first time that in the moving of mountains giant-powder was more efficient than faith. Soon it had passed Hillsborough and was finished. Everybody came to see the cars that day of the first train. The track was lined with people at every village; many with children upon arms and shoulders. They waited long, and when the iron horse came roaring out of the distance, women fell back and men rolled their quids and looked eagerly up the track. It came on with screaming whistle and noisy brakes and roaring wheels. Children began to cry with fear and men to yell with excitement. Dogs were barking wildly, and two horses ran away, dragging with them part of a picket-fence. A brown shoat came bounding over the ties and broke through the wall of people, carrying many off their feet and creating panic and profanity. The train stopped, its engine hissing. A brakeman of flashy attire, with fine leather showing to the knees, strolled off and up the platform on high heels, haughty as a prince. Confusion began to abate.
"Hear it pant," said one, looking at the engine.
"Seems so it had the heaves," another remarked thoughtfully.
"Goes like the wind," said a passenger, who had just alighted. "Jerked us ten mile in less 'n twenty minutes."
"Folks 'll have to be made o' cast iron to ride on them air cars," said another. "I'd ruther set on the tail of a threshin'-machine. It gave a slew on the turn up yender, an' I thought 'twas goin' right over Bowman's barn. It flung me up ag'in the side o' the car, an' I see stars fer a minute. 'What's happened,' says I to another chap. 'Oh, we're all right,' says he. 'Be we?' says I, an' then I see I'd lost a tooth an' broke my glasses. 'That ain't nuthin',' says he, 'I had my foot braced over ag'in that other seat, an' somebody fell back on my leg, an' I guess the knee is out o' j'int. But I'm alive, an' I ain't got no fault to find. If I ever git off this shebang, I'm goin' out in the woods somewhere an' set down an' see what kind o' shape I'm in. I guess I'm purty nigh sp'ilt, an' it cost me fifty cents t' do it.'
"'An' all yer common sense, tew,' says I."
A number got aboard, and the train started. Rip Enslow was on the rear platform, his faithful hound galloping gayly behind the train. Some one had tied him to the brake rod. Nearly a score of dogs followed, barking merrily. Rip's hound came back soon, his tongue low, his tail between his legs. A number called to him, but he seemed to know his own mind perfectly, and made for the stream and lay down in the middle of it, lapping the shallow water, and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.
A crowd of hunters watched him.
"Looks so he'd been ketched by a bear," said one.
In half an hour Rip returned also, a shoulder out of joint, a lump on his forehead, a big rent in his trousers. He was one, of those men of whom others gather wisdom, for, after that, everybody in the land of the hills knew better than to jump off the cars or tie his hound to the rear platform.
And dogs came to know, after a little while, that the roaring dragon was really afraid of them and would run like a very coward if it saw a dog coming across the fields. Every small cur that lived in sight of it lay in the tall grass, and when he saw the dragon coming, chased him off the farm of his master.
Among those who got off the train at Hillsborough that day was a big, handsome youth of some twenty years. In all the crowd there were none had ever seen him before. Dressed in the height of fashion, he was a figure so extraordinary that all eyes observed him as he made his way to the tavern. Trove and Polly and Mrs. Vaughn were in that curious throng on the platform, where a depot was being built.
"My! What a splendid-looking fellow," said Polly, as the stranger passed,
Trove had a swift pang of jealousy that moment. Turning, he saw Riley Brooke—now known as the "Old Rag Doll"—standing near them in a group of villagers.
"I tell you, he's a thief," the boy heard him saying, and the words seemed to blister as they fell; and ever after, when he thought of them, a great sternness lay like a shadow on his brow.
"I must go," said he, calmly turning to Polly. "Let me help you into the wagon."
When they were gone, he stood a moment thinking. He felt as if he were friendless and alone.
"You're a giant to day," said a friend, passing him; but Trove made no answer. Roused incomprehensibly, his heavy muscles had become tense, and he had an odd consciousness of their power. The people were scattering, and he walked slowly down the street. The sun was low, but he thought not of home or where he should spend the night. It was now the third day after his arrest. Since noon he had been looking for Darrel, but the tinker's door had been locked for days, according to the carpenter who was at work below. For an hour Trove walked, passing up and down before that familiar stairway, in the hope of seeing his friend. Daylight was dim when the tinker stopped by the stairs and began to feel for his key. The young man was quickly at the side of Darrel.
"God be praised!" said the latter; "here is the old Dial an' the strong an' noble Trove. I heard o' thy trouble, boy, far off on the postroad, an' I have made haste to come to thee."
The Rare and Costly Cup
Trove had been reciting the history of his trouble and had finished with bitter words.
"Shame on thee, boy," said the tinker, as Trove sat before him with tears of anger in his eyes. "Watch yonder pendulum and say not a word until it has ticked forty times. For what are thy learning an' thy mighty thews if they do not bear thee up in time o' trouble? Now is thy trial come before the Judge of all. Up with thy head, boy, an' be acquitted o' weakness an' fear an' evil passion."
"We deserve better of him," said Trove, speaking of Riley Brooke. "When all others hated him, we were kind to the old sinner, and it has done him no good."
"Ah, but has it done thee good? There's the question," said Darrel, his hand upon the boy's arm.
"I believe it has," said Trove, with a look of surprise.
"It was thee I thought of, boy; I had never much thought o' him."
That moment Trove saw farther into the depth of Darrel's heart than ever before. It startled him. Surely, here was a man that passed all understanding.
Darrel crossed to his bench and began to wind the clocks.
"Ho, Clocks!" said he, thoughtfully. "Know ye the cars have come? Now must we look well to the long hand o' the clock. The old, slow-footed hour is dead, an' now, boy, the minute is our king."
He came shortly and sat beside the young man.
"Put away thy unhappiness," said he, gently, patting the boy's hand. "No harm shall come to thee—'tis only a passing cloud."
"You're right, and I'm not going to be a fool," said Trove. "It has all brought me one item of good fortune."
"An' that is?"
"I have discovered who is my father."
"An' know ye where he is now?" the tinker inquired.
"No; but I know it is he to whom you gave the boots at Christmas time."
"Hush, boy," said Darrel, in a whisper, his hand raised.
He crossed to the bench, returning quickly and drawing his chair in front of the young man.
"Once upon a time," he whispered, sitting down and touching the palm of his open hand with the index finger of the other, "a youth held in his hand a cup, rare an' costly, an' it was full o' happiness, an' he was tempted to drink. 'Ho, there, me youth,' said one who saw him, 'that is the happiness of another.' But he tasted the cup, an' it was bitter, an' he let it fall, an' the other lost his great possession. Now that bitter taste was ever on the tongue o' the youth, so that his own cup had always the flavour o' woe."
The tinker paused a moment, looking sternly into the face of the young man.
"I adjure thee, boy, touch not the cup of another's happiness, or it may imbitter thy tongue. But if thou be foolish an' take it up, mind ye do not drop it."
"I shall be careful—I shall neither taste nor drop it," said Trove.
"God bless thee, boy! thou'rt come to a great law—who drains the cup of another's happiness shall find it bitter, but who drains the cup of another's bitterness shall find it sweet."
A silence followed, in which Trove sat looking at the old man whose words were like those of a prophet. "I have no longer any right to seek my father," he thought. "And, though I meet him face to face, I must let him go his way."
Suddenly there came a rap at the door, and when Darrel opened it, they saw only a letter hanging to the latch. It contained these words, but no signature:—
"There'll be a bonfire and some fun to-night at twelve, in the middle of Cook's field. Messrs. Trove and Darrel are invited."
"Curious," said Darrel. "It has the look o' mischief."
"Oh, it's only the boys and a bit of skylarking," said Trove. "Let's go and see what's up—it's near the time."
The streets were dark and silent as they left the shop. They went up a street beyond the village limits and looked off in Cook's field but saw no light there. While they stood looking a flame rose and spread. Soon they could see figures in the light, and, climbing the fence, they hastened across an open pasture. Coming near they saw a score of men with masks upon their faces.
"Give him the tar and feathers," said a strange voice.
"Not if he will confess an' seek forgiveness," another answered.
"Down to your knees, man, an' make no outcry, an' see you repeat the words carefully, as I speak them, or you go home in tar and feathers."
They could hear the sound of a scuffle, and, shortly, the phrases of a prayer spoken by one voice and repeated by another.
They were far back in the gloom, but could hear each word of that which follows: "O God, forgive me—I am a liar and a hypocrite—I have the tongue of scandal and deceit—I have robbed the poor—I have defamed the good—and, Lord, I am sick—with the rottenness of my own heart. And hereafter—I will cheat no more—and speak no evil of any one—Amen."
"Now, go to your home, Riley Brooke," said the voice, "an' hereafter mind your tongue, or you shall ride a rail in tar and feathers."
They could see the crowd scatter, and some passed near them, running away in the darkness.
"Stoop there an' say not a word," the tinker whispered, crouching in the grass.
When all were out of hearing, they started for the little shop.
"Hereafter," said Darrel, as they walked along, "God send he be more careful with the happiness of other men. I do assure thee, boy, it is bitter, bitter, bitter."
Darrel at Robin's Inn
Trove had much to help him,—youth, a cheerful temperament, a counsellor of unfailing wisdom. Long after they were gone he recalled the sadness and worry of those days with satisfaction, for, thereafter, the shock of trouble was never able to surprise and overthrow him.
After due examination he had been kept in bail to wait the action of the grand jury, soon to meet. Now there were none thought him guilty—save one or two afflicted with the evil tongue. It seemed to him a dead issue and gave him no worry. One thing, however, preyed upon his peace,—the knowledge that his father was a thief. A conviction was ever boring in upon him that he had no right to love Polly. A base injustice it would be, he thought, to marry her without telling what he had no right to tell. But he was ever hoping for some word of his father—news that might set him free. He had planned to visit Polly, and on a certain day Darrel was to meet him at Robin's Inn. The young man waited, in some doubt of his duty, and that day came—one of the late summer—when he and Darrel went afoot to the Inn, crossing hill and valley, as the crow flies, stopping here and there at isles of shadow in a hot amber sea of light. They sat long to hear the droning in the stubble and let their thought drift slowly as the ship becalmed.
"Some days," said Darrel, "the soul in me is like a toy skiff, tossing in the ripples of a duck pond an' mayhap stranding on a reed or lily. An' then," he added, with kindling eye and voice, "she is a great ship, her sails league long an' high, her masthead raking the stars, her hull in the infinite sea."
"Well," said Trove, sighing, "I'm still in the ripples of the duck pond."
"An' see they do not swamp thee," said Darrel, with a smile that seemed to say, "Poor weakling, your trouble is only as the ripples of a tiny pool." They went on slowly, over green pastures, halting at a brook in the woods. There, again, they rested in a cool shade of pines, Darrel lighting his pipe.
"I envy thee, boy," said the tinker, "entering on thy life-work in this great land—a country blest o' God. To thee all high things are possible. Where I was born, let a poor lad have great hope in him, an' all—ay, all—even those he loved, rose up to cry him down. Here in this land all cheer an' bid him God-speed. An' here is to be the great theatre o' the world's action. Many of high hope in the broad earth shall come, an' here they shall do their work. An' its spirit shall spread like the rising waters, ay, it shall flood the world, boy, it shall flood the world."
Trove made no reply, but he thought much and deeply of what the tinker said. They lay back a while on the needle carpet, thinking. They could hear the murmur of the brook and a woodpecker drumming on a dead tree.
"Me head is busy as yon woodpecker's," Darrel went on. "It's the soul fire in this great, free garden o' God—it's America. Have ye felt it, boy?"
"Yes; it is in your eyes and on your tongue," said Trove.
"Ah boy! 'tis only God's oxygen. Think o' the poor fools withering on cracker barrels in Hillsborough an' wearing away 'the lag end o' their lewdness.' I have no patience with the like o' them, I'd rather be a butcher's clerk an' carry with me the redolence o' ham."
In Hillsborough, where all spoke of him as an odd man of great learning, there were none, saving Trove and two or three others, that knew the tinker well, for he took no part in the roaring gossip of shop and store.
"Hath it ever occurred to thee," said Darrel, as they walked along, "that a fool is blind to his folly, a wise man to his wisdom?"
When they were through the edge of the wilderness and came out on Cedar Hill, and saw, below them, the great, round shadow of Robin's Inn, they began to hasten their steps. They could see Polly reading a book under the big tree.
"What ho! the little queen," said Darrel, as they came near, "Now, put upon her brow 'an odorous chaplet o' sweet summer buds.'"
She came to meet them in a pretty pink dress and slippers and white stockings.
"Fair lady, I bring thee flowers," said Darrel, handing her a bouquet. "They are from the great garden o' the fields."
"And I bring a crown," said Trove, as he kissed her and put a wreath of clover and wild roses on her brow.
"I thought something dreadful had happened," said Polly, with tears in her eyes. "For three days I've been dressed up waiting."
"An' a grand dress it is," said Barrel, surveying her pretty figure.
"I've nearly worn it out waiting," said she, looking down, her voice trembling.
"Tut, tut, girl—'tis a lovely dress," the tinker insisted.
"It is one my mother wore when she was a girl," said Polly, proudly. "It was made over."
"O—oh! God love thee, child!" said the tinker, in a tone of great admiration. "'Tis beautiful."
"And, you came through the woods?" said Polly.
"Through wood and field," was Trove's answer.
"I wonder you knew the way."
"The little god o' love—he shot his arrows, an' we followed them as the hunter follows the bee," said Darrel.
"It was nice of you to bring the flowers," said Polly. "They are beautiful."
"But not like those in thy cheeks, dear child. Where is the good mother?" said Darrel.
"She and the boys are gone a-berrying, and I have been making jelly. We're going to have a party to-night for your birthday."
"'An' rise up before the hoary head an' honour the face o' the old man,'" said Darrel, thoughtfully. "But, child, honour is not for them that tinker clocks."
"'Honour and fame from no condition rise,'" said Polly, who sat in a chair, knitting.
"True, dear girl! Thy lips are sweeter than the poet's thought."
"You'll turn my head;" the girl was laughing as she spoke.
"An it turn to me, I shall be happy," said the tinker, smiling, and then he began to feel the buttons on his waistcoat. "Loves me, loves me not, loves me, loves me not—"
"She loves you," said Polly, with a smile.
"She loves me, hear that, boy," said the tinker. "Ah, were she not bespoke! Well, God be praised, I'm happy," he added, filling his pipe.
"And seventy," said Polly.
"Ay, three score an' ten—small an' close together, now, as I look off at them, like a flock o' pigeons in the sky."
"What do you think?" said Polly, as she dropped her knitting. "The two old maids are coming to-night."
"The two old maids!" said Darrel; "'tis a sign an' a wonder."
"Oh, a great change has come over them," Polly went on. "It's all the work o' the teacher. You know he really coaxed them into sliding with him last winter."
"I heard of it—the gay Philander!" said Darrel, laughing merrily. "Ah! he's a wonder with the maidens!"
"I know it," said Polly, with a sigh.
Trove was idly brushing the mat of grass with a walking-stick. He loved fun, but he had no conceit for this kind of banter.
"It was one of my best accomplishments," said he, blushing. "I taught them that there was really a world outside their house and that men were not all as lions, seeking whom they might devour."
Soon the widow and her boys came, their pails full of berries.
"We cannot shake hands with you," said Mrs. Vaughn, her fingers red with the berry stain.
"Blood o' the old earth!" said Darrel. "How fares the clock?"
"It's too slow, Polly says."
"Ah, time lags when love is on the way," Darrel answered.
"Foolish child! A little while ago she was a baby, an' now she is in love."
"Ah, let the girl love," said Darrel, patting the red cheek of Polly, "an' bless God she loves a worthy lad,"
"You'd better fix the clock." said Polly, smiling. "It is too fast, now."
"So is the beat o' thy heart," Darrel answered, a merry look in his eyes, "an' the clock is keeping pace."
Trove got up, with a laugh, and went away, the boys following.
"I'm worried about him," the widow whispered. "For a long time he hasn't been himself."
"It's the trouble—poor lad! 'Twill soon be over," said Darrel, hopefully.
There were now tears in the eyes of Polly.
"I do not think he loves me any more," said she, her lips trembling.
"Speak not so, dear child; indeed he loves thee."
"I have done everything to please him," said Polly, in broken words, her face covered with her handkerchief.
"I wondered what was the matter with you, Polly," said her mother, tenderly.
"Dear, dear child!" said the tinker, rising and patting her head. "The chaplet on thy brow an' thee weeping!—fairest flower of all!"
"I have wished that I was dead;" the words came in a little moan between sobs.
"Because: Love hath led thee to the great river o' tears? Nay, child, 'tis a winding river an' crosses all the roads."
He had taken her handkerchief, and with a tender touch was drying her eyes.
"Now I can see thee smiling, an' thy lashes, child—they are like the spray o' the fern tip when the dew is on it."
Polly rose and went away into the house. Darrel wiped his eyes, and the widow sat, her chin upon her hand, looking down sadly and thoughtfully. Darrel was first to speak.
"Did it ever occur to ye, Martha Vaughn, this child o' thine is near a woman but has seen nothing o' the world ?"
"I think of that often," said she, the mother's feeling in her voice.
"Well, if I understand him, it's a point of honour with the boy not to pledge her to marriage until she has seen more o' life an' made sure of her own heart. Now, consider this: let her go to the school at Hillsborough, an' I'll pay the cost."
The widow looked up at him without speaking.
"I'm an old man near the end o' this journey, an' ye've known me many years," Darrel went on. "There's nothing can be said against it. Nay; I'll have no thanks. Would ye thank the money itself, the bits o' paper? No; nor Roderick Darrel, who, in this business, is no more worthy o' gratitude. Hush! who comes?"
It was Polly herself in a short, red skirt, her arms bare to the elbows. She began to busy herself about the house.
"Too bad you took off that pretty dress, Polly," said Trove, when he returned.
She came near and whispered to him.
"This," said she, looking down sadly, "is like the one I wore when you first came."
"Well, first I thought of your arms," said he, "they were so lovely! Then of your eyes and face and gown, but now I think only of the one thing,—Polly."
The girl was happy, now, and went on with the work, singing, while Trove lent a hand.
A score of people came up the hill from Pleasant Valley that night. Tunk went after the old maids and came with them in the chaise at supper time. There were two wagon-loads of young people, and, before dusk, men and their wives came sauntering up the roadway and in at the little gate.
Two or three of the older men wore suits of black broadcloth, the stock and rolling collar—relics of "old decency" back in Vermont or Massachusetts or Connecticut. Most were in rough homespun over white shirts with no cuffs or collar. All gathered about Darrel, who sat smoking outside the door. He rose and greeted each one of the women with a bow and a compliment. The tinker was a man of unfailing courtesy, and one thing in him was extremely odd,—even there in that land of pure democracy,—he treated a scrub-woman with the same politeness he would have accorded the finest lady. But he was in no sense a flatterer; none that saw him often were long in ignorance of that. His rebuke was even quicker than his compliment, as many had reason to know. And there was another curious thing about Darrel,—these people and many more loved him, gathering about his chair as he tinkered, hearing with delight the lore and wisdom of his tongue, but, after all, there were none that knew him now any better than the first day he came. A certain wall of dignity was ever between him and them.
Half an hour before dark, the yard was thronged with people. They listened with smiles or a faint ripple of merry feeling as he greeted each.
"Good evening, Mrs. Beach," he would say. "Ah! the snow is falling on thy head. An' the sunlight upon thine, dear girl," he added, taking the hand of the woman's daughter.
"An' here's Mr. Tilly back from the far west," he continued. "How fare ye, sor?"
"I'm well, but a little too fat," said Thurston Tilly.
"Well, sor, unless it make thy heart heavy, be content.
"Good evening, Mrs. Hooper,—that is a cunning hand with the pies.
"Ah, Mrs. Rood, may the mouse never leave thy meal bag with a tear in his eye.
"Not a gray hair in thy head, Miss Tower, nor even a gray thought.
"An' here's Mrs. Barbour—'twill make me sweat to carry me pride now. How goes the battle?"
"The Lord has given me sore affliction," said she.
"Nay, dear woman," said the tinker in that tone so kindly and resistless, "do not think the Lord is hitting thee over the ears. It is the law o' life.
"Good evening, Elder, what is the difference between thy work an' mine?"
"I hadn't thought of that."
"Ah, thine is the dial of eternity—mine that o' time." And so he greeted all and sat down, filling his pipe.
"Now, Weston, out with the merry fiddle," said he, "an' see it give us happy thoughts."
A few small boys were gathered about him, and the tinker began to hum an Irish reel, fingers and forearm flying as he played an imaginary fiddle. But, even now, his dignity had not left him. The dance began. All were in the little house or at the two doors, peering in, save Darrel, who sat with his pipe, and Thurston Tilly, who was telling him tales of the far west. In the lull of sound that followed the first figure, Trove came to look out upon them. A big, golden moon had risen above the woods, and the light and music and merry voices had started a sleepy twitter up in the dome of Robin's Inn.