"Do you see that scar?" he heard Tilly saying.
"I do, sor."
"Well, a man shot me there."
"An' what for?" the tinker inquired.
"I was telling him a story. It cured me. Do you carry a gun?"
"I do not, sor."
"Wal, then, I'll tell you about the man I work for."
Tunk, who had been outside the door in his best clothes, but who, since he put them on, had looked as if he doubted the integrity of his suspenders and would not come in the house, began to laugh loudly.
"That man Tunk can see the comedy in all but himself," was Trove's thought, as he returned with a smile of amusement.
Soon Trove and Polly came out and stood a while by the lilac bush, at the gate.
"You worry me, Sidney Trove," said she, looking off at the moonlit fields.
Then came a silence full of secret things, like the silences of their first meeting, there by the same gate, long ago. This one, however, had a vibration that seemed to sting them.
"I am sorry," said he, with a sigh.
Another silence in which the heart of the girl was feeling for the secret in his.
"You are so sad, so different," she whispered.
Polly waited full half a minute for his answer. Then she touched her eyes with her handkerchief, turned impatiently, and went halfway to the door. Darrel caught her hand, drawing her near him.
"Give me thy hand, boy," said he to Trove, now on his way to the door.
He stood with his arms around the two.
"Every shadow hath the wings o' light," he whispered. "Listen."
The house rang with laughter and the music of Money Musk.
"'Tis the golden bell of happiness," said he, presently. "Go an' ring it. Nay—first a kiss."
He drew them close together, and they kissed each other's lips, and with smiling faces went in to join the dance.
Again the Uphill Road
Again the middle of September and the beginning of the fall term. Trove had gone to his old lodgings at Hillsborough, and Polly was boarding in the village, for she, too, was now in the uphill road to higher learning. None, save Darrel, knew the secret of the young man,—that he was paying her board and tuition. The thought of it made him most happy; but now, seeing her every day had given him a keener sense of that which had come between them. He sat much in his room and had little heart for study. It was a cosey room now. His landlady had hung rude pictures on the wall and given him a rag carpet. On the table were pieces of clear quartz and tourmaline and, about each window-frame, odd nests of bird or insect—souvenirs of wood-life and his travel with the drove. There, too, on the table were mementos of that first day of his teaching,—the mirror spectacles with which he had seen at once every corner of the schoolroom, the sling-shot and bar of iron he had taken from the woodsman, Leblanc.
One evening of his first week at Hillsborough that term, Darrel came to sit with him a while.
"An' what are these?" said the tinker, at length, his hand upon the shot and iron.
"I do not know."
"Dear boy," said Darrel, "they're from the kit of a burglar, an' how came they here?"
"I took them from Louis Leblanc," said the young man, who then told of his adventure that night.
"Louis Leblanc!" exclaimed Darrel. "The scamp an' his family have cleared out."
The tinker turned quickly, his hand upon the wrist of the young man.
"These things are not for thee to have," he whispered. "Had ye no thought o' the danger?"
Trove began to change colour.
"I can prove how I came by them," he stammered.
"What is thy proof?" Darrel whispered again.
"There are Leblanc's wife and daughter."
"Ah, where are they? There be many would like to know."
The young man thought a moment.
"Well, Tunk Hosely, there at Mrs. Vaughn's."
"Tunk Hosely!" exclaimed the tinker, with a look that seemed to say, "God save the mark! An' would they believe him, think?"
Trove began to look troubled as Darrel left him.
"I'll go and drop them in the river," said Trove to himself.
It was eleven o'clock and the street dark and deserted as he left his room.
"It is a cowardly thing to do," the young man thought as he walked slowly, but he could devise no better way to get rid of them.
In the middle of the big, open bridge, he stopped to listen. Hearing only the sound of the falls below, Trove took the odd tools from under his coat and flung them over the rail.
He turned then, walking slowly off the bridge and up the main street, of Hillsborough. At a corner he stopped to listen. His ear had caught the sound of steps far behind him. He could hear it no longer, and went his way, with a troubled feeling that robbed him of rest that night. In a day or two it wore off, and soon he was hold of the bit, as he was wont to say, and racing for the lead in his work. He often walked to school with Polly and went to church with her every Sunday night. There had been not a word of love between them, however, since they came to the village, until one evening she said:—
"I am very unhappy, and I wish I were home."
She was not able to answer for a moment.
"I know I am unworthy of you," she whispered.
His lungs shook him with a deep and tremulous inspiration. For a little he could not answer.
"That is why you do not love me?" she whispered again.
"I do love you," he said with a strong effort to control himself, "but I am not worthy to touch the hem of your garment."
"Tell me why, Sidney?"
"Some day—I do not know when—I will tell you all. And if you can love me after that, we shall both be happy."
"Tell me now," she urged.
"I cannot," said he, "but if you only trust me, Polly, you shall know. If you will not trust me—"
He paused, looking down at the snow path.
"Good night!" he added presently.
They kissed and parted, each going to the company of bitter tears.
As of old, Trove had many a friend,—school-fellows who came of an evening, now and then, for his help in some knotty problem. All saw a change in him. He had not the enthusiasm and good cheer of former days, and some ceased to visit him. Moreover they were free to say that Trove was getting a big head. For one thing, he had become rather careless about his clothes,—a new trait in him, for he had the gift of pride and the knack of neatness.
A new student sought his acquaintance the very first week of the term,—that rather foppish young man who got off the cars at Hillsborough the day of their first coming. He was from Buffalo, and, although twenty-two years of age, was preparing to enter college. His tales of the big city and his frank good-fellowship made him a welcome guest. Soon he was known to all as "Dick"—his name being Richard Roberts. It was not long before Dick knew everybody and everybody knew Dick, including Polly, and thought him a fine fellow. Soon Trove came to know that when he was detained a little after school Dick went home with Polly. That gave him no concern, however, until Dick ceased to visit him, and he saw a change in the girl.
One day, two letters came for Trove. They were in girlish penmanship and bore no signature, but stung him to the quick.
"For Heaven's sake get a new hat," said one.
"You are too handsome to neglect your clothes," said the other.
As he read them, his cheeks were burning with his shame. He went for his hat and looked it over carefully. It was faded, and there was a little rent in the crown. His boots were tapped and mended, his trousers threadbare at the knee, and there were two patches on his coat.
"I hadn't thought of it," said he, with a sigh. Then he went for a talk with Darrel.
"Did you ever see a more shabby-looking creature?" he inquired, as Darrel came to meet him. "I am so ashamed of myself I'd like to go lie in your wood box while I talk to you."
"'What hempen homespun have we swaggering here?'" Darrel quoted in a rallying voice.
"I'll tell you." Trove began.
"Nay, first a roundel," said the tinker, as he began to shuffle his feet to the measure of an old fairy song.
"If one were on his way to the gallows, you would make him laugh," said Trove, smiling.
"An I could, so would I," said the old man. "A smile, boy, hath in it 'some relish o' salvation.' Now, tell me, what is thy trouble?"
"I'm going to leave school," said Trove.
"I'm sick of this pinching poverty. Look at my clothes; I thought I could make them do, but I can't."
He put the two notes in Darrel's hand. The tinker wiped his spectacles and then read them both.
"Tut, tut, boy!" said he, presently, with a very grave look. "Have ye forgotten the tatters that were as a badge of honour an' success? Weeks ago I planned to find thee better garments, but, on me word, I had no heart for it. Nay, these old ones had become dear to me. I was proud o' them—ay, boy, proud o' them. When I saw the first patch on thy coat, said I, 'It is the little ensign o' generosity.' Then came another, an', said I, 'That is for honour an' true love,' an' these bare threads—there is no loom can weave the like o' them. Nay, boy," Darrel added, lifting an arm of the young man and kissing one of the patches, "be not ashamed o' these—they're beautiful, ay, beautiful. They stand for the dollars ye gave Polly."
Trove turned away, wiping his eyes.
He looked down at his coat and trousers and began to wonder if he were, indeed, worthy to wear them.
"I'm not good enough for them," said he, "but you've put new heart in me, and I shall not give up. I'll wear them as long as I can make them do, and girls can say what they please."
"The magpies!" said Darrel. "When they have a thought for every word they utter, Lord! there'll be then a second Sabbath in the week."
Next evening Trove went to see Polly.
As he was leaving, she held his hand in both of hers and looked down, blushing deeply, as if there were something she would say, had she only the courage.
"What is it, Polly?" said he.
"Will you—will you let me buy you a new hat?" said she, soberly, and hesitating much between words.
He thought a moment, biting his lip.
"I'd rather you wouldn't, Polly," said he, looking down at the faded hat. "I know it's shabby, but, after all, I'm fond o' the old thing. I love good clothes, but I can't afford them now."
Then he bade her good night and came away.
It was court week, and the grand jury was in session. There were many people in the streets of the shire town. They moved with a slow foot, some giving their animation to squints of curiosity and shouts of recognition, some to profanity and plug tobacco. Squire Day and Colonel Judson were to argue the famous maple-sugar case, and many causes of local celebrity were on the calendar.
There were men with the watchful eye of the hunter, ever looking for surprises. They moved with caution, for here, indeed, were sights and perils greater than those of the timber land. Here were houses, merchants, lawyers, horse-jockeys, whiskey, women. They knew the thickets and all the wild creatures that lived in them, but these things of the village were new and strange. They came out of the stores and, after expectorating, stood a moment with their hands in their pockets, took a long look to the right and a long look to the left and threw a glance into the sky, and then examined the immediate foreground. If satisfied, they began to move slowly one way or the other and, meeting hunters presently, would ask:—
"Here fer yer bounties?"
"Here fer my bounties," another would say. Then they both took a long look around them.
"Wish't I was back t' the shanty."
"So do I."
"Too many houses an' too many women folks."
"An' if ye wan' t' git a meal o' vittles, it costs ye three mushrats."
Night and morning the tavern offices were full of smart-looking men,—lawyers from every village in the county, who, having dropped the bitter scorn of the court room, now sat gossiping in a cloud of tobacco smoke, rent with thunder-peals of laughter and lightning flashes of wit. Teams of farmer folk filled the sheds and were tied to hitching-posts, up and down the main thoroughfare of the village. Every day rough-clad, brawny men led their little sons to the courthouse.
"Do ye see that man with the spectacles and the bald head?" they had been wont to whisper, when seated in the court room, "that air man twistin' his hair,—that's Silas Wright; an' that tall man that jes' sot down?—that's John L. Russell. Now I want ye t' listen, careful. Mebbe ye'll be a lawyer, sometime, yerself, as big as any of 'em."
The third day of that week—it was about the middle of the afternoon—a score of men, gossiping in the lower hall of the court building, were hushed suddenly. A young man came hurrying down the back stairs with a look of excitement.
"What's up?" said one.
"Sidney Trove is indicted," was the answer of the young man.
He ran out of doors and down the street. People began crowding out of the court room. Information, surprise, and conjecture—a kind of flood pouring out of a broken dam—rushed up and down the forty streets of the village. Soon, as of old, many were afloat and some few were drowning in it. For a little, busy hands fell limp and feet grew slow and tongues halted. A group of school-girls on their way home were suddenly overtaken by the onrushing tide. They came close together and whispered. Then a little cry of despair, and one of them fell and was borne into a near house. A young man ran up the stairway at the Sign of the Dial and rapped loudly at Darrel's door, Trove and the tinker were inside.
"Old fellow," said the newcomer, his hand upon Trove's arm, "they've voted to indict you, and I've seen all the witnesses."
Trove had a book in his hand. He rose calmly and flung it on the table.
"It's an outrage," said he, with a sigh.
"Nay, an honour," said Darrel, quickly. "Hold up thy head, boy. The laurel shall take the place o' the frown."
He turned to the bearer of these evil tidings.
"Have ye more knowledge o' the matter?"
"Yes, all day I have been getting hold of their evidence," said the newcomer, a law student, who was now facing his friend Trove. "In the first place, it was a man of blue eyes and about your build who broke into the bank at Milldam. It is the sworn statement of the clerk, who has now recovered. He does not go so far as to say you are the man, but does say it was a man like you that assaulted him. It appears the robber had his face covered with a red bandanna handkerchief in which square holes were cut so he could see through. The clerk remembers it was covered with a little white figure—that of a log cabin. Such a handkerchief was sold years ago in the campaign of Harrison, but has gone out of use. Not a store in the county has had them since '45. The clerk fired upon him with a pistol, and thinks he wounded him in the left forearm. In their fight the robber struck him with a sling-shot, and he fell, and remembers nothing more until he came to in the dark alone. The skin was cut in little squares, where the shot struck him, and that is one of the strong points against you."
"Against me?" said Trove.
"Yes—that and another. It seems the robber left behind him one end of a bar of iron. The other end of the same bar and a sling-shot—the very one that probably felled the clerk—have been found."
The speaker rose and walked half across the room and back, looking down thoughtfully.
"I tell ye what, old fellow," said he, sitting down again, "it is mighty strange. If I didn't know you well, I'd think you guilty. Here comes a detective who says under oath that one night he saw you come out of your lodgings, about eleven o'clock, and walk to the middle of the bridge and throw something into the water. Next morning bar and shot were found. As nearly as he could make out they lay directly under the place where you halted."
Darrel sat looking thoughtfully at the speaker.
"A detective ?" said Trove, rising erect, a stern look upon him.
"Roberts, a detective!" said Trove, in a whisper. Then he turned to Darrel, adding, "I shall have to find the Frenchman."
"Louis Leblanc?" the young man asked.
"Louis Leblanc," Trove answered with surprise.
"He has been found," said the other.
"Then I shall be able to prove my point. He came to his home drunk one night and began to bully his family. I was boarding with the Misses Tower and went over and took the shot and iron from his hands and got him into bed. The woman begged me to bring them away."
"He declares that he never saw the shot or the iron."
Darrel rose and drew his chair a bit nearer.
"Very well, but there's the wife," said he, quickly.
"She will swear, too, that she never saw them."
"And how about the daughter?" Trove inquired.
"Run away and nowhere to be found," was the answer of the other young man. "I've told you bad news enough, but there's more, and you ought to know it all. Louis Leblanc is in Quebec, and he says that a clock tinker lent him money with which to leave the States."
"It was I, an' God bring him to repentance—the poor beggar!" said Darrel. "He agreed to repay me within a fortnight an' was in sore distress, but he ran away, an' I got no word o' him."
"Well, the inference is, that you, being a friend of the accused, were trying to help him."
"I'm caught in a web," said Trove, leaning forward, his head upon his hands, "and Leblanc's wife is the spider. How about the money? Have they been able to identify it?"
"In part, yes; there's one bill that puzzles them. It's that of an old bank in New York City that failed years ago and went out of business."
Then a moment of silence and that sound of the clocks—like footsteps of a passing caravan, some slow and heavy, some quick, as if impatient to be gone.
"Ye speeding seconds!" said Darrel, as he crossed to the bench. "Still thy noisy feet."
Then he walked up and down, thinking.
The friend of Sidney Trove put on his hat and stood by the door.
"Don't forget," said he, "you have many friends, or I should not be able to tell you these things. Keep them to yourself and go to work. Of course you will be able to prove your innocence."
"I thank you with all my heart," said Trove.
"Ay, 'twas friendly," the old man remarked, taking the boy's hand.
"I have to put my trust in Tunk—the poor liar!" said Trove, when they were alone.
"No," Darrel answered quickly. "Were ye drowning, ye might as well lay hold of a straw. Trust in thy honour; it is enough."
"Let's go and see Polly," said the young man.
"Ay, she o' the sweet heart," said the tinker; "we'll go at once."
They left the shop, and on every street they travelled there were groups of men gossiping. Some nodded, others turned away, as the two passed. Dick Roberts met them at the door of the house where Polly boarded.
"I wish to see Miss Vaughn," said Trove, coolly.
"She is ill," said Roberts.
"Could I not see her for a moment?" Trove inquired.
"Is she very sick?"
Darrel came close to Roberts. He looked sternly at the young man.
"Boy," said he, with great dignity, his long forefinger raised, "within a day ye shall be clothed with shame."
"They were strange words," Trove thought, as they walked away in silence; and when they had come to the little shop it was growing dusk.
"What have I done to bring this upon me and my friends?" said Trove, sinking into a chair.
"It is what I have done," said Darrel; "an' now I take the mantle o' thy shame. Rise, boy, an' hold up thy head."
The old man stood erect by the side of the young man.
"See, I am as tall an' broad as thou art."
He went to an old chest and got a cap and drew it down upon his head, pushing his gray hair under it. Then he took from his pocket a red bandanna handkerchief, figured with a cabin, tying it over his face. He turned, looking at Trove through two square holes in the handkerchief.
"Behold the robber!" said he.
"You know who is the robber?" Trove inquired.
Darrel raised the handkerchief and flung it back upon his head.
"'Tis Roderick Darrel," said he, his hand now on the shoulder of the young man.
For a moment both stood looking into each other's eyes.
"What joke is this, my friend?" Trove whispered.
"I speak not lightly, boy. If where ye thought were honour an' good faith, there be only guilt an' shame, can ye believe in goodness?"
For his answer there were silence and the ticking of the clocks.
"Surely ye can an' will," said the old man, "for there is the goodness o' thy own heart. Ah, boy, though I have it not, remember that I loved honour an' have sought to fill thee with it. This night I go where ye cannot follow."
The tinker turned, halting a pendulum.
Trove groaned as he spoke, "O man, tell me, quickly, what do you mean?"
"That God hath laid his hand upon me," said Darrel, sternly. "I cannot see thee suffer, boy, when I am the guilty one. O Redeemer o' the world! haste me, haste me now to punishment."
The young man staggered, like one dazed by the shock of a blow, stepped backward, and partly fell on a lounge against the wall. Darrel came and bent over him. Trove sat leaning, his hand on the lounge, staring up at the tinker, his eyes dreadful and amazed.
"You, you will confess and go to prison!" he whispered.
"Fair soul!" said the old man, stroking the boy's head, "think not o' me. Where I go there be flowers—lovely flowers! an' music, an' the bards an' prophets. Though I go to punishment, still am I in the Blessed Isles."
"You are doing it to save me," Trove whispered, taking the hand of the old man. "I'll not permit it. I'll go to prison first."
"Am I so great a fool, think ye, as to claim an evil that is not mine? An' would ye keep in me the burning o' remorse when I seek to quench it? I warn thee, meddle not with the business o' me soul. That is between the great God an' me."
Darrel stood to his full height, the red handkerchief covering his head and falling on his back. He began with a tone of contempt that changed quickly into one of sharp command. There was a little silence and then a quick rap.
"Come in," Darrel shouted, as he let the handkerchief fall upon his face again.
The district attorney, a constable, and the bank clerk, who had been injured the night of the robbery, came in.
"He is not guilty," said Trove, rising quickly.
"I command ye, boy, be silent," said Darrel, sternly.
"Have ye ever seen that hand," he added, approaching the clerk, and pointing at a red mark as large as a dime on the back of his left hand.
"Yes," the clerk answered with surprise, looking from hand to handkerchief. Then, turning to the lawyer, he added, "This is the man."
"Now," Darrel continued, rolling up his sleeve, "I'll show where thy bullet struck me in the left arm. See, there it seared the flesh!"
They saw a star, quite an inch long, midway from hand to elbow,
"Do you mean to say that you are guilty of this crime?" the attorney asked.
"I am guilty and ready for punishment," Darrel answered. "Now, discharge the boy."
"To-morrow," said the attorney. "That is for the court to do."
Darrel went to Trove, who now sat weeping, his face upon his hands.
"Oh the great river o' tears!" said Darrel, touching the boy's head. "Beyond it are the green shores of happiness, an' I have crossed, an' soon shalt thou. Stop, boy, it ill becomes thee. There is a dear, dear child whose heart is breaking. Go an' comfort her."
Trove sat as if he had not heard. The tinker went to his table and hurriedly wrote a line or two, folding and directing it.
"Go quickly, boy, an' tell her, an' then take this to Riley Brooke for me."
The young man struggled a moment for self-mastery, rose with a sigh and a stern look, and put on his hat.
"It is about bail?" said he, in a whisper.
"Yes," Darrel answered.
Trove hurried away. A woman met him at the door, within which Polly boarded.
"Is she better?" Trove asked.
"Yes; but has asked me to say that she does not wish to see you."
Trove stood a moment, his tongue halting between anger and surprise. He turned without a word, walking away, a bitter feeling in his heart.
Brooke greeted him with unexpected heartiness. He was going to bed when the young man rapped upon his door.
Brooke opened the letter and read the words aloud: "Thanks, I shall not need thy help."
"What!" Trove exclaimed.
"He says he shall not need the help I offered him," Brooke answered.
"Good night!" said Trove, who, turning, left the house and hurried away. Lights were out everywhere in the village now. The windows were dark at the Sign of the Dial. He hurried up the old stairs and rapped loudly, but none came to admit him. He called and listened; within there were only silence and that old, familiar sound of the seconds trooping by, some with short and some with long steps. He knew that soon they were to grow faint and weary and pass no more that way. He ran to the foot of the stairs and stood a moment hesitating. Then he walked slowly to the county jail and looked up at the dark and silent building. For a little time he leaned upon a fence, there in the still night, shaken with sobs. Then he began walking up and down by the jail yard. He had not slept an hour in weeks and was weary, but he could not bear to come away and walked slower as the night wore on, hearing only the tread of his own feet. He knew not where to go and was drifting up and down, like a derelict in the sea. By and by people began to pass him,—weary crowds,—and they were pointing at the patches on his coat, and beneath them he could feel a kind of burning, but the crowd was dumb. He tried to say, "I am not to blame," but his heart smote him when it was half said. Then, suddenly, many people were beside him, and far ahead on a steep hill, in dim, gray light, he could see Darrel toiling upward. And sometimes the tinker turned, beckoning him to follow. And Trove ran, but the way was long between them. And the tinker called to him; "Who drains the cup of another's bitterness shall find it sweet." Quickly he was alone, groping for his path in black darkness and presently coming down a stairway into the moonlit chamber of his inheritance. Then the men of the dark and a feeling of faintness and great surprise and a broad, blue field all about him and woods in the distance, and above the growing light of dawn. His bones were aching with illness and overwork, his feet sore. "I have been asleep," he said, rubbing his eyes, "and all night I have been walking."
He was in the middle of a broad field. He went on slowly and soon fell of weakness and lay for a time with his eyes closed. He could hear the dull thunder of approaching hoofs; then he felt a silky muzzle touching his cheek and the tickle of a horse's mane. He looked up at the animal, feeling her face and neck. "You feel like Phyllis, but you are not Phyllis—you are all white," said the young man, as he patted her muzzle. He could hear other horses coming, and quickly she, that was bending over him, reared with an open mouth and drove them away. She returned again, her long mane falling on his face. "Don't step on me," he entreated. "'Remember in the day o' judgment God'll mind the look o' yer master.'" He took hold of those long, soft threads, and the horse lifted him gently to his feet, and they walked, his arm about her neck, his face in the ravelled silk of her mane. "I don't know whose horse you are, even, or where you are taking me," he said. They went down a long lane and came at length to a bar-way, and Trove crawled through.
He saw near him a great white house—one he had never seen before—and a beautiful lady in the doorway. He turned toward her, and it seemed a long journey to the door, although he knew it was only a few paces. He fell heavily on the steps, and the woman gave a little cry of alarm. She came quickly and bent over him. His clothes were torn, his face pale and haggard, his eyes closed.
"I am sick," he whispered faintly.
"Theron! Theron! come here! Sidney is sick," he heard her calling.
"Is it you, mother?" the boy whispered, feeling her face. "I thought it was a great, white mansion here, and that you—that you were an angel."
A Man Greater than his Trouble
For a month the young man lay burning with fever, his brain boiled in hot blood until things hideous and terrible were swarming out of it, as if it were being baned of dragons. Two months had passed before he was able to leave his bed. He remembered only the glow of an Indian summer morning on wood and field, but when he rose they were all white with snow. For weeks he had listened to the howl of the fir trees and had seen the frost gathering on his window, but knew not how swiftly the days had gone, so that when he looked out of doors and saw the midwinter he was filled with astonishment.
"I must go," said he.
"Not yet, my boy," said Mary Allen. "You, are not strong enough."
"Darrel has taken my trouble on him, and I must go."
"I have heard you say it often since you fell on the doorstep," said she, stroking his hand. "There is a letter from him;" and she brought the letter and put it in his hands. Trove opened it eagerly and read as follows:—
"DEAR SIDNEY: It is Sunday night and all day I have been walking in the Blessed Isles. And one was the Blessed Isle of remembrance where I met thee and we talked of all good things. If I knew it were well with thee I should be quite happy, boy, quite happy. I was a bit weary of travel and all the roads had grown long. I miss the tick of the clocks, but my work is easy and I have excellent good friends. I send thee my key. Please deliver the red, tall clock to Betsy Hale, who lives on the road to Waterbury Hill, and kindly take that cheerful youngster from Connecticut—the one with the walnut case and a brass pendulum—to Mrs. Henry Watson. You remember that ill-tempered Dutch thing, with a loud gong and a white dial, please take that to Harry Warner, I put some work on them all but there's no charge. The other clocks belong to me. Do with them as thou wilt and with all that is mine. The rent is paid to April. Then kindly surrender the key. Now can ye do all this for a man suffering the just punishment of many sins? I ask it for old friendship and to increase the charity I saw growing in thy heart long ago. At last I have word of thy father. He died a peaceful, happy death, having restored the wealth that cursed him to its owner. For his sake an' thine I am glad to know it. Now between thee and the dear Polly there is no shadow. Tell her everything. May the good God bless and keep thee; but the long road of Happiness, that ye must seek and find.
"Yours truly, "R. DARREL of the Blessed Isles."
Trove read the letter many times, and, as he grew strong, he began to think with clearness and deliberation of his last night in Hillsborough. Darrel was the greatest problem of all. Pondering he saw, or thought he saw, the bottom of it. Events were coming, however, that robbed him utterly of his conceit and all the hope it gave him. The sad lines about his father kept him ever in some doubt. A week more, and he was in the cutter one morning, behind Phyllis, on his way to Robin's Inn. As he drew up at the old, familiar gate the boys ran out to meet him. Somehow they were not the same boys—they were a bit more sober and timid. Tunk came with a "Glad to see ye, mister," and took the mare. The widow stood in the doorway, smiling sadly.
"How is Polly?" said Trove.
For a moment there was no answer. He walked slowly to the steps, knowing well that some new blow was about to fall upon him.
"She is better, but has been very sick," said the widow.
Trove sat down without speaking and threw his coat open.
"You, too, have been very sick," said Mrs. Vaughn.
"Yes, very," said he.
"I heard of it and went to your home one day, but you didn't know me."
"Tell me, where is Polly?"
"In school, and I am much worried."
"Well, she's pretty, and the young men will not let her alone. There's one determined she shall marry him."
"Is she engaged?"'
"No, but—but, sir, I think she is nearly heartbroken."
"I'm sorry," said Trove. "Not that she may choose another, but that she lost faith in me."
"Poor child! Long ago she thought you had ceased to love her," said the widow, her voice trembling,
"I loved her as I can never love again," said he, his elbow resting on a table, his head leaning on his hand. He spoke calmly.
"Don't let it kill you, boy," said she.
"No," he answered. "A man must be greater than his trouble; I have work to do, and I shall not give up. May I go and see Polly?"
"Not now," said the widow, "give her time to find her own way. If you deserve her love it will return to you."
"I fear that you, too, have lost faith in me," said Trove.
"No," she answered, "but surely Darrel is not the guilty one. It's all such a mystery."
"Mrs. Vaughn, do not suffer yourself to think evil of me or of Darrel. If I do lose your daughter, I hope I may not lose your good opinion." The young man spoke earnestly and his eyes were wet.
"I shall not think evil of you," said the woman.
Trove stood a moment, his hand upon the latch.
"If there's anything I can do for you or for Polly," said he, "I should like to know it. Let's hope for the best. Some day you must let me come and—" he hesitated, his voice failing him for a moment, "and play a game of checkers," he added.
Paul stood looking up at him sadly, his face troubled.
"It's an evil day when the heart of a child is heavy," said Trove, bending over the boy. "What is the first law, Paul?"
"Thou shalt learn to obey," said the boy, quickly.
"And who is the great master?"
"Right, boy! Let's command our hearts to be happy."
The great, bare maple was harping dolefully in the wind. Trove went for the mare, and Tunk rode down the hill with him in the cutter.
"Things here ain't what they used t' be," said Tunk.
"Widder, she takes on awful. Great changes!"
There was a moment of silence.
"I ain't the same dum fool I used t' be," Tunk added presently.
"What's happened to you?"
"Well, they tol' me what you said about lyin'. Ye know a man in the hoss business is apt t' git a leetle careless, but I ain't no such dum fool as I used t' be. Have you heard that Teesey Tower was married?"
"The old maid?"
"Yes, sir; the ol' maid, to Deacon Haskins, an' he lives with 'em, an' now they're jes like other folks. Never was so surprised since I was first kicked by a hoss."
Tunk's conscience revived suddenly and seemed to put its hand over his mouth.
"Joe Beach is goin' to be a doctor," Tunk went on presently.
"I advised him to study medicine," Trove answered.
"He's gone off t' school at Milldam an' is workin' like a beaver. He was purty rambunctious 'til you broke him to lead."
They rode then to the foot of the hill in silence.
"Seems so everything was changed," Tunk added as he left the cutter. "Ez Tower has crossed the Fadden bridge. Team run away an' snaked him over. They say he don't speak to his hosses now."
Trove went on thoughtfully. Some of Tunk Hosely's talk had been as bread for his hunger, as a harvest, indeed, giving both seed and sustenance. More clearly than ever he saw before him the great field of life where was work and the joy of doing it. For a time he would be a teacher, but first there were other things to do.
The Return of Thurst Tilly
Trove sat in council with Mary and Theron Allen. He was now in debt to the doctor; he needed money, also, for clothing and boots and an enterprise all had been discussing.
"I'll give you three hundred dollars for the mare," said Allen.
Trove sat in thoughtful silence, and, presently, Allen went out of doors. The woman got her savings and brought them to her son.
"There is twenty-three dollars, an' it may help you," she whispered.
"No, mother; I can't take it," said the young man. "I owe you more now than I can ever pay. I shall have to sell the mare. It's a great trial to me, but—but I suppose honour is better than horses."
"Well, I've a surprise for you," said she, bringing a roll of cloth from the bedroom. "Those two old maids spun the wool, and I wove it, and, see, it's all been fulled."
"You're as good as gold, mother, and so are they. It's grand to wear in the country, but I'm going away and ought to have an extra good suit. I'd like to look as fine as any of the village boys, and they don't wear homespun. But I'll have plenty of use for it."
Next day he walked to Jericho Mills and paid the doctor. He went on to Milldam, buying there a handsome new outfit of clothing. Then he called to see the President of the bank—that one which had set the dogs of the law on him.
"You know I put three thousand dollars in the bank of Hillsborough," said Trove, when he sat facing the official. "I took the money there, believing it to be mine. If, however, it is yours, I wish to turn it over to you."
"It is not our money," said the President. "That bundle was sent here, and we investigated every bill—a great task, for there were some three hundred of them. Many are old bills and two the issue of banks gone out of business. It's all a very curious problem. They would not have received this money, but they knew of the robbery and suspected you at once. Now we believe absolutely in your honour."
"I shall put that beyond all question," said Trove, rising.
He took the cars to Hillsborough. There he went to the Sign of the Dial and built a fire in its old stove. The clocks were now hushed. He found those Darrel had written of and delivered them. Returning, he began to wind the cherished clocks of the tinker—old ones he had gathered here and there in his wandering—and to start their pendulums. One of them—a tall clock in the corner with a calendar-dial—had this legend on the inner side of its door:—
"Halted in memory of a good man, Its hands pointing to the moment of his death, Its voice hushed in his honour."
Trove shut the door of the old clock and hurried to the public attorney's office, where he got the address of Leblanc. He met many who shook his hand warmly and gave him a pleasant word. He was in great fear of meeting Polly, and thought of what he should do and say if he came face to face with her. Among others he met the school principal.
"Coming back to work?" the latter inquired.
"No, sir; I've got to earn money."
"We need another teacher, and I'll recommend you."
"I'm much obliged, but I couldn't come before the fall term," said Trove.
"I'll try to keep the place for you," said his friend, as they parted.
Trove came slowly down the street, thinking how happy he could be now, if Darrel were free and Polly had only trusted him. Near the Sign of the Dial he met Thurston Tilly.
"Back again?" Trove inquired.
"Back again. Boss gi'n up farmin'."
"Did he make his fortune?"
"No, he had one give to him."
"Come and tell me about it."
Tilly followed Trove up the old stairway into the little shop.
"Beg yer pardon," said Thurst, turning, as they sat down, "are you armed?"
"No," said Trove, smiling.
"A man shot me once when I wan't doin' nothin' but tryin' t' tell a story, an' I don't take no chances. Do you remember my boss tellin' that night in the woods how he lost his money in the fire o' '35?"
"Wal, I guess it had suthin' t' do with that. One day the boss an' me was out in the door-yard, an' a stranger come along. 'You're John Thompson,' says he to the boss; 'An' you're so an' so,' says the boss. I don't eggzac'ly remember the name he give." Tilly stopped to think.
"Can you describe him?" Trove inquired.
"He was a big man with white whiskers an' hair, an' he wore light breeches an' a short, blue coat."
"Again the friend of Darrel," Trove thought.
"Did you tell the tinker about your boss the night we were all at Robin's Inn last summer?"
"I told him the whole story, an' he pumped me dry. I'd answer him, an' he'd holler 'Very well,' an' shoot another question at me."
"Well, Thurst, go on with your story."
"Couldn't tell ye jest what happened. They went off int' the house. Nex' day the boss tol' me he wa'n't no longer a poor man an' was goin' t' sell his farm an' leave for Californy. In a tavern near where we lived the stranger died sudden that night, an' the funeral was at our house, an' he was buried there in Iowy."
Trove walked to the bench and stood a moment looking out of a window.
"Strange!" said he, returning presently with tearful eyes. "Do you remember the date?"
"'Twas a Friday, 'bout the middle o' September."
Trove turned, looking up at the brazen dial of the tall clock. It indicated four-thirty in the morning of September 19th.
"Were there any with him when he died?"
"Yes, the tavern keeper—it was some kind of a stroke they told me."
"And your boss—did he go to California?" Trove asked.
"He sold the farm an' went to Californy. I worked there a while, but the boss an' me couldn't agree, an' so I pulled up an' trotted fer home."
"To what part of California did Thompson go?"
"Hadn't no idee where he would stick his stakes. He was goin' in t' the gold business."
Trove sat busy with his own thoughts while Thurston Tilly, warming to new confidence, boiled over with enthusiasm for the far west. A school friend of the boy came, by and by, whereupon Tilly whistled on his thumb and hurried away.
"Did you know," said the newcomer, when Trove and he were alone, "that Roberts—the man who tried to send you up—is a young lawyer and is going to settle here? He and Polly are engaged."
"So he gave me to understand."
"Well, if she loves him and he's a good fellow, I 've no right to complain," Trove answered.
"I don't believe that he's a good fellow," said the other.
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, a detective is—is—"
"A necessary evil?" Trove suggested.
"Just that," said the other. "He must pretend to be what he isn't and—well, a gentleman is not apt to sell himself for that purpose, Now he's trying to convince people that you knew as much about the crime as Darrel. In my opinion he isn't honest. Good looks and fine raiment are all there is to that fellow—take my word for it."
"You're inclined to judge him harshly," said Trove. "But I'm worried, for I fear he's unworthy of her and—-and I must leave town to-morrow."
"Shall you go to see her?"
"No; not until I know more about him. I have friends here and they will give her good counsel. Soon they'll know what kind of a man he is, and, if necessary, they'll warn her. I'm beset with trouble, but, thank God, I know which way to turn."
The White Guard
Next morning Trove was on his way to Quebec—a long, hard journey in the wintertime, those days. Leblanc had moved again,—so they told him in Quebec,—this time to Plattsburg of Clinton County, New York. There, however, Trove was unable to find the Frenchman. A week of patient inquiry, then, leaving promises of reward for information, he came away. He had yet another object of his travels—the prison at Dannemora—and came there of a Sunday morning late in February. Its towers were bathed in sunlight; its shadows lay dark and far upon the snow. Peace and light and silence had fallen out of the sky upon that little city of regret, as if to hush and illumine its tumult of dark passions. He shivered in the gloom of its shadow as he went up a driveway and rang a bell. The warden received him kindly.
"I wish to see Roderick Darrel,—-he is my friend,' said Trove, as he gave the warden a letter.
"Come with me," said the official, presently. "He is talking to the men."
They passed through gloomy corridors to the chapel door. Trove halted to compose himself, for now he could hear the voice of Darrel.
"Let me stand here a while—I cannot go in now," he whispered.
The words of the old man were vibrant with colour and dramatic force.
"Night!" he was saying, "the guard passes; the lights are out; ye lie thinking. Hark! a bell! 'Tis in the golden city o' remembrance. Ye hear it calling. Haste away, men, haste away. Ah, look!—flowers by the roadside! an' sunlight, an', just ahead, spires o' the city, an' beneath them—oh! what is there beneath them ye go so many times to see?
"Who is this?
"Here is a man beside ye.
"'Halt!' he says, an cuts ye with a sword.
"Now the bell is tolling—the sky overcast. The spires fall, the flowers wither. Ye turn to look at the man. He is a giant. See the face of him now. It makes ye tremble. He is the White Guard an' he brings ye back. Ah, then, mayhap ye rise in the dark, as I have heard ye, an' shake the iron doors. But ye cannot escape him though ye could fly on the wind. Know ye the White Guard? Dear man! his name is thy name; he is thyself; day an' night he sits in the watch tower o' thy soul; he has all charge o' thee. Make a friend o' him, men, make a friend o' him. Any evening send for me, an' mayhap they'll let me come an' tell thee how."
He paused. Trove could hear the tread of guards in the chapel. They seemed to enter the magnetic field of the speaker and quickly halted.
"Mind the White Guard! Save him ye have none to fear.
"Once, at night, I saw a man smiling in his sleep. 'Twas over there in the hospital. The day long he had been sick with remorse, an' I had given him, betimes, a word o' comfort as well as the medicine. Now when I looked the frown had left his brow. Oh, 'twas a goodly sight to see! He smiled an' murmured o' the days gone. The man o' guilt lay dead—the child of innocence was living. An' he woke, an' again the shadow fell upon him, an' he wept.
"'I have been wandering in the land o' love,' he said.
"'Get thee back, man, get thee back,' said I to him.
"'Alas! how can I?' said he; 'for 'tis only Sleep that opens the door.'
"'Nay, Sleep doth lift the garment o' thy bitterness, but only for an hour,' said I. 'Love, Love shall lift it from thee forever.' An' now, I thank the good God, the smile o' that brief hour is ever on his face. Ye know him well, men. Were I to bid him stand before ye, there's many here would wish to kiss his hand. Even here in the frowning shadow o' these walls he has come into a land o' love, an' when he returns to his people ye shall weep, men, ye shall weep, an' they shall rejoice. O the land o' love! it hath a strong gate. An' the White Guard, he hath the key.
"Remember, men, ye cannot reap unless ye sow. If any would reap the corn, he must plant the corn.
"Have ye stood of a bright summer day to watch the little people o' the field?—those millions that throng the grass an' fly in the sunlight—bird an' bee an' ant an' bug an' butterfly? 'Tis a land flowing with milk an' honey—but hear me, good men, not one o' them may take as much as would fill the mouth of a cricket unless he pays the price.
"One day I saw an ant trying to rob a thistle-blow. Now the law o' the field is that none shall have honey who cannot sow for the flower. While a bee probes he gathers the seed-dust in his hairy jacket, an' away he flies, sowing it far an' wide. Now, an ant is in no-wise able to serve a thistle-blow, but he is ever trying to rob her house. Knowing her danger, she has put around it a wonderful barricade. Down at the root her stem has a thicket o' fuzz an' hair. I watched the little thief, an' he was a long time passing through it. Then he came on a barrier o' horny-edged leaves. Underneath they were covered with thick, webby hairs an' he sank over his head in them an' toiled long; an' lo! when he had passed them there was yet another row o' leaves curving so as to weary an' bewilder him, an' thick set with thorns. Slowly he climbed, coming ever to some dread obstruction. By an' by he stood looking up at the green, round wall o' the palace. Above him were its treasure an' its purple dome. He started upward an' fell suddenly into a moat, full o' sticky gum, an' there perished. Men, 'tis the law o' God: unless ye sow the seed that bears it, ye shall not have the honey o' forgiveness. An' remember the seed o' forgiveness is forgiveness. If any have been hard upon thee, bearing false witness an' robbing thee o' thy freedom an' thy good name, go not hence until ye forgive.
"Ah, then the White Guard shall no longer sit in the tower."
The voice had stopped. There was a moment of deep silence. Some power, greater, far greater, than his words, had gone out of the man. Those many who sat before him and they standing there by the door had felt it and were deeply moved. There was a quick stir in the audience—a stir of hands and handkerchiefs. Trove entered; the chaplain was now reading a hymn. Darrel sat behind him on a raised platform, the silken spray upon his brows, long and white as snow, his face thoughtful and serious. The reading over, he came and sat among the men, singing as they sang. The benediction, a stir of feet, and the prisoners began to press about him, some kissing his hands. He gave each a kindly greeting. It was like the night of the party on Cedar Hill. A moment more, and the crowd was filing away, some looking back curiously at Trove, who stood, his arms about the old man.
"Courage, boy!" the latter was saying; "I know it cuts thee like a sword, an' would to God I could have spared thee even this. Look! in yon high window I can see the sunlight, an', believe me, there is not a creature it shines upon so happy as I. God love thee, boy, God love thee!"
He put his cheek upon that of the boy and stroked his hair gently. Then a little time of silence, and the storm had passed.
"A fine, fine lad ye are," said Darrel, looking proudly at the young man, who stood now quite composed. "Let me take thy hand. Ay, 'tis a mighty arm ye have, an' some day, some day it will shake the towers."
"You will both dine with me in my quarters at one," said the warden, presently.
Trove turned with a look of surprise.
"Thank ye, sor; an' mind ye make room for Wit an' Happiness," said the tinker.
"Bring them along—they're always welcome at my table," the warden answered with a laugh.
"Know ye not they're in prison, now, for keeping bad company?" said Darrel, as he turned. "At one, boy," he, added, shaking the boy's hand. "Ah, then, good cheer an' many a merry jest."
Darrel left the room, waving his hand. Trove and the warden made their way to the prison office.
"A wonderful man!" said the latter, as they went. "We love and respect him and give him all the liberty we can. For a long time he has been nursing in the hospital, and when I see that he is overworking I bring him to my office and set him at easy jobs."
Darrel came presently, and they went to dinner. The tinker bowed politely to the warden's wife and led her to the table.
"Good friends," said he, as they were sitting down, "there is an hour that is short o' minutes an' yet holds a week o' pleasure—who pan tell me which hour it is?"
"I never guessed a riddle," said the woman.
"Marry, dear madam, 'tis the hour o' thy hospitality," said the old man.
"When you are in it," she answered with good humour.
"Fellow-travellers on the road to heaven," said Darrel, raising his glass, "St. Peter is fond of a smiling face."
"And when you see him you'll make a jest," were the words of the warden.
"For I believe he is a lover o' good company," said Darrel.
The warden's wife remarked, then, that she had enjoyed his talk in the chapel.
"I'm a new form o' punishment," said Darrel, soberly.
"But they all enjoy it," she answered.
"I'm not so rough as the ministers. They use fire an' the fume o' sulphur."
"And the men go to sleep."
"Ay, the cruel master makes a thick hide," said Darrel, quickly. "So Nature puts her hand between the whip an' the horse, an' sleep between cruelty an' the congregation."
"Nature is kind," was the remark of the warden.
"An' shows the intent o' the Almighty," said Darrel. "There are two words. In them are all the sermons."
"And what are they?" the woman asked.
"Fear," Darrel answered thoughtfully; "that is one o' them." He paused to sip his tea.
"And the other is?"
There was half a moment of silence.
"Here's Life to Love an' Death to Fear," the tinker added, draining his cup. "Ay, madam, fill again—'tis memorable tea."
The woman refilled his cup.
"Many a time I've sat at meat an' thought, O that mine enemy could taste thy tea! But this, dear lady, this beverage is for a friend."
So the dinner went on, others talking only to encourage the tongue of Darrel. Trove, well as he knew the old man, had been surprised by his fortitude. Far from being broken, the spirit in him was happy, masterful, triumphant. He had work to do and was earning that high reward of happiness—to him the best thing under heaven. The dinner over, all rose, and Darrel bowed politely to the warden's wife. Then he quoted:—
"'Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end.'
"Dear madam, they do hasten but to come as well as to go. Thanks an' au revoir."
Darrel and Trove went away with the warden, who bade them sit a while in his office. Tinker and young man were there talking until the day was gone. The warden sat apart, reading. Now and again they whispered earnestly, as if they were not agreed, Darrel shaking his forefinger and his head, Trove came away as the dark fell, a sad and thoughtful look upon him.
Trove went to the inn at Dannemora that evening he left Darrel and there found a letter. It said that Leblanc was living near St. Albans. Posted in Plattsburg and signed "Henry Hope," the letter gave no hint of bad faith, and with all haste he went to the place it named. He was there a fortnight, seeking the Frenchman, but getting no word of him, and then came a new letter from the man Hope. It said now that Leblanc had moved on to Middlebury. Trove went there, spent the last of his money, and sat one day in the tavern office, considering what to do; for now, after weeks of wandering, he was, it seemed, no nearer the man he sought. He had soon reached a thought of some value: this information of the unknown correspondent was, at least, unreliable, and he would give it no further heed. What should he do? On that point he was not long undecided, for while he was thinking of it a boy came and said:
"There's a lady waiting to see you in the parlour, sir."
He went immediately to the parlour above stairs, and there sat Polly in her best gown—"the sweetest-looking creature," he was wont to say, "this side of Paradise." Polly rose, and his amazement checked his feet a moment. Then he advanced quickly and would have kissed her, but she turned her face away and Stood looking down. They were in a silence full of history. Twice she tried to speak, but an odd stillness followed the first word, giving possibly the more adequate expression to her thoughts.
"How came you here?" he whispered presently.
"I—I have been trying to find you." said she, at length.
He turned, looking from end to end of the large room; they were quite alone.
"Polly," he whispered, "I believe you do love me."
For a little time she made no answer.
"No," she whispered, shaking her head; "that is, I—I do not think I love you."
"Then why have you come to find me?"
"Because—because you did not come to find me," she answered, glancing down at the toe of her pretty shoe.
She turned impatiently and stood by an open window. She was looking out upon a white orchard. Odours of spring flower and apple blossom were in the soft wings of the wind. Somehow they mingled with her feeling and were always in her memory of that hour. Her arm moved slowly and a 'kerchief went to her eyes. Then, a little tremor in the plume upon her hat Trove went to her side.
"Dear Polly!" he said, as he took her hand in his. Gently she pulled it away.
"I—I cannot speak to you now," she whispered.
Then a long silence. The low music of a million tiny wings came floating in at the window. It seemed, somehow, like a voice of the past, with minutes, like the bees, hymning indistinguishably. Polly and Trove were thinking of the same things. "I can doubt him no more," she thought, "and I know—I know that he loves me." They could hear the flutter of bird wings beyond the window and in the stillness they got some understanding of each other. She turned suddenly, and went to where he stood.
"Sidney," she said, "I am sorry—I am sorry if I have hurt you."
She lifted one of his hands and pressed her red cheek upon it fondly. In a moment he spoke.
"Long ago I knew that you were doubting me, but I couldn't help it," he said.
"It was that—that horrible secret," she whispered.
"I had no, right to your love," said he, "until—" he hesitated for a little, "until I could tell you the truth."
"You loved somebody else?" she whispered, turning to him. "Didn't you, now? Tell me."
"No," said he, calmly. "The fact is—the fact is I had learned that my father was a thief."
"Your father!" she answered. "Do you think I care what your father did? Your honour and your love were enough for me."
"I did not know," he whispered, "and I should have made my way to you, but—" he paused again.
"But what?" she demanded, impatiently.
"Well, it was only fair you should have a chance to meet others, and I thought you were in love with Roberts."
"Roberts! He would have been glad of my love, I can tell you that." She looked up at him. "I have endured much for you, Sidney Trove, and I cannot keep my secret any longer. He says that Darrel is now in prison for your crime."
"And you believe him?" Trove whispered.
"Not that," she answered quickly, "but you know I loved the dear old man; I cannot think him guilty any more than I could think it of you. But there's a deep mystery in it all. It has made me wretched. Every one thinks you know more than you have told about it."
"A beautiful mystery!" the young man whispered. "He thought I should be convicted—who wouldn't? I think he loved me, so that he took the shame and the suffering and the prison to save me."
"He would have died for you," she answered; "but, Sidney, it was dreadful to let them take him away. Couldn't you have done something?"
"Something, dear Polly! and I with a foot in the grave?"
"Where did you go that night?"
"I do not know; but in the morning I found myself in our great pasture and was ill. Some instinct led me home, and, as usual, I had gone across lots." Then he told the story of that day and night and the illness that followed.
"I, too, was ill," said Polly, "and I thought you were cruel not to come to me. When I began to go out of doors they told me you were low with fever. Then I got ready to go to you, and that very day I saw you pass the door. I thought surely you would come to see me, but—but you went away."
Polly's lips were trembling, and she covered her eyes a moment with her handkerchief.
"I feared to be unwelcome," said he.
"You and every one, except my mother, was determined that I should marry Roberts," Polly went on. "He has been urgent, but you, Sidney, you wouldn't have me. You have done everything you could to help him. Now I've found you, and I'm going to tell you all, and you've got to listen to me. He has proof, he says, that you are guilty of another crime, and—and he says you are now a fugitive trying to escape arrest."
A little silence followed, in which Trove was thinking of the Hope letters and of Roberts' claim that he was engaged to Polly.
"You have been wrapped in mysteries long enough. I shall not let you go until you explain," she continued.
"There's no mystery about this," said Trove, calmly. "Roberts is a rascal, and that's the reason I'm here."
She turned quickly with a look of surprise.
"I mean it. He knows I am guilty of no crime, but he does know that I am looking for Louis Leblanc, and he has fooled me with lying letters to keep me out of the way and win you with his guile."
A serious look came into the eyes of Polly.
"You are looking for Louis Leblanc," she whispered.
"Yes; it is the first move in a plan to free Darrel, for I am sure that Leblanc committed the crime. I shall know soon after I meet him."
"If he should have a certain mark on the back of his left hand and were to satisfy me in two other details, I'd give my life to one purpose,—that of making him confess. God help me! I cannot find the man. But I shall not give up; I shall go and see the Governor."
Turning her face away and looking out of the window, she felt for his hand. Then she pressed it fondly. That was the giving of all sacred things forever, and he knew it. He was the same Sidney Trove, but never until that day had she seen the full height of his noble manhood, ever holding above its own the happiness of them it loved. Suddenly her heart was full with thinking of the power and beauty of it.
"I do love you, Polly," said Trove, at length. "I've answered your queries,—all of them,—and now it's my turn. If we were at Robin's Inn, I should put my arms about you, and I should not let you go until—until you had promised to be my wife."
"And I should not promise for at least an hour," said she, smiling, as she turned, her dark eyes full of their new discovery. "Let us go home."
"I'm going to be imperative," said he, "and you must answer before I will let you go—"
"Dear Sidney," said she, "let's wait until we reach home. It's too bad to spoil it here. But—" she whispered, looking about the room, "you may kiss me once now."
"It's like a tale in Harper's," said he, presently. "It's 'to be continued,' always, at the most exciting passage."
"I shall take the cars at one o'clock," said she, smiling. "But I shall not allow you to go with me. You know the weird sisters."
"It would be impossible," said Trove. "I must get work somewhere; my money is gone."
"Money!" said she, opening her purse. "I'm a Lady Bountiful. Think of it—I've two hundred dollars here. Didn't you know Riley Brooke cancelled the mortgage? Mother had saved this money for a payment."
"Cancelled the mortgage!" said Trove.
"Yes, the dear old tinker repaired him, and now he's a new man. I'll give you a job, Sidney."
"What to do?"
"Go and see the Governor, and then—and then you are to report to me at Robin's Inn. Mind you, there's to be no delay, and I'll pay you—let's see, I'll pay you a hundred dollars."
Trove began to laugh, and thought of this odd fulfilling of the ancient promises.
"I shall stay to-night with a cousin at Burlington. Oh, there's one more thing—you're to get a new suit of clothes at Albany, and, remember, it must be very grand."
It was near train time, and they left the inn.
"I'm going to tell you everything," said she, as they were on their way to the depot. "The day after to-morrow I am to see that dreadful Roberts. I'm longing to give him his answer."
Not an hour before then Roberts had passed them on his way to Boston.
At the Sign of the Golden Spool
[1 The author desires to say that this chapter relates to no shop now in existence.]
It was early May and a bright morning in Hillsborough. There were lines of stores and houses on either side of the main thoroughfare from the river to Moosehead Inn, a long, low, white building that faced the public square. Hunters coming off its veranda and gazing down the street, as if sighting over gun-barrels at the bridge, were wont to reckon the distance "nigh on to forty rod." There were "Boston Stores" and "Great Emporiums" and shops, modest as they were small, in that forty rods of Hillsborough. Midway was a little white building, its eaves within reach of one's hand, its gable on the line of the sidewalk overhanging which, from a crane above the door, was a big, golden spool. In its two windows were lace and ribbons and ladies' hats and spools of thread, and blue shades drawn high from seven o'clock in the morning until dark. It was the little shop of Ruth Tole—a house of Fate on the way from happening to history. There secrets, travel-worn, were nourished a while and sent on their way; reputations were made over and often trimmed with excellent taste and discrimination. The wicked might prosper for a time, but by and by the fates were at work on them, there in the little shop, and then every one smiled as the sinner passed, with the decoration of his rank upon him. And the sinner smiled also, seeing not the badge on his own back but only that on the back of his brother, and was highly pleased, for, if he had sin deeper than his brother's he had some discretion. Relentless and not over-just were they of this weird sisterhood. Since the time of the gods they have been without honour but never without work, and often they have had a better purpose than they knew. Those of Hillsborough did their work as if with a sense of its great solemnity. There was a flavour of awe in their nods and whispers, and they seemed to know they were touching immortal souls. But now and then they put on the masque of comedy.
Ruth Tole was behind the counter, sorting threads. She was a maiden of middle life and severe countenance, of few and decisive words. The door of the little shop was ajar, and near it a woman sat knitting. She had a position favourable for eye and ear. She could see all who passed, on either side of the way, and not a word or move in the shop escaped her. In the sisterhood she bore the familiar name of Lize. She had been talking about that old case of Riley Brooke and the Widow Glover.
"Looks to me," said she, thoughtfully, as she tickled her scalp with a knitting-needle, "that she took the kinks out o' him. He's a good deal more respectable."
"Like a panther with his teeth pulled," said a woman who stood by the counter, buying a spool of thread. "Ain't you heard how they made up?"
"Land sakes, no!" said the sister Lize, hurriedly finishing a stitch and then halting her fingers to pull the yarn.
The shopkeeper began rolling ribbons with a look of indifference. She never took part in the gossip and, although she loved to hear it, had, mostly, the air of one without ears.
"Well, that old tinker gave 'em both a good talking to," said the customer. "He brings 'em face to face, and he says to him, says he, 'In the day o' the Judgment God'll mind the look o' your wife,' and then he says the same to her."
"Singular man!" said the comely sister Lize, who now resumed her knitting.
"He never robbed that bank, either, any more 'n I did."
"Men ain't apt to claim a sin that don't belong to 'em—that's my opinion."
"He did it to shield another."
"Sidney Trove?" was the half-whispered query of the sister Lize.
"Trove, no!" said the other, quickly. "It was that old man with a gray beard who never spoke to anybody an' used to visit the tinker."
She was interrupted by a newcomer—a stout woman of middle age who fluttered in, breathing heavily, under a look of pallor and agitation.
"Sh-h-h!" said she, lifting a large hand. She sank upon a chair, fanning herself. She said nothing for a little, as if to give the Recording Angel a chance to dip her pen. The customer, who was now counting a box of beads, turned quickly, and she that was called Lize dropped her knitting.
"What is it, Bet, for mercy's sake?" said the latter.
"Have you heard the news?" said she that was called Bet.
"Land sakes, no!" said both the others.
Then followed a moment of suspense, during which the newcomer sat biting her under lip, a merry smile in her face. She was like a child dallying with a red plum.
"You're too provoking!" said the sister Lize, impatiently. "Why do you keep us hanging by the eyebrows?" She pulled her yarn with some violence, and the ball dropped to the floor, rolling half across it.
"Sh-h-h!" said the dear sister Bet again. Another woman had stopped by the door. Then a scornful whisper from the sister Lize.
"It's that horrible Kate Tredder. Mercy! is she coming in?"
She came in. Long since she had ceased to enjoy credit or confidence at the little shop.
"Nice day," said she.
The sister Lize moved impatiently and picked up her work. This untimely entrance had left her "hanging by the eyebrows" and red with anxiety. She gave the newcomer a sweeping glance, sighed and said, "Yes." The sister Bet grew serious and began tapping the floor with her toe.
"I've been clear 'round the square," said Mrs. Tredder, "an' I guess I'll sit a while. I ain't done a thing to-day, an' I don't b'lieve I'll try 'til after dinner. Miss Tole, you may give me another yard o' that red silk ribbon."
She sat by the counter, and Miss Tole sniffed a little and began to measure the ribbon. She was deeply if secretly offended by this intrusion.
"What's the news?" said the newcomer, turning to the sister Bet.
"Oh, nothing!" said the other, wearily.
"Ain't you heard about that woman up at the Moosehead?"
"Heard all I care to," said the sister Bet, with jealous feeling. Here was another red plum off the same tree.
"What about her?" said the sister Lize, now reaching on tiptoe, as it were. The sister Bet rose impatiently and made for the door.
"Going?" said she that was called Lize, a note of alarm in her voice.
"Yes; do you think I've nothing else to do but sit here and gossip," said sister Bet, disappearing suddenly, her face red.
The newcomer sat in a thoughtful attitude, her elbow on the counter.
"Well?" said the sister Lize.
"You all treat me so funny here I guess I'll go," said Mrs. Tredder, who now got up, her face darkening, and hurried away. They of the plums had both vanished.
"Wretch!" said the sister Lize, hotly; "I could have choked her." She squirmed a little, moving her chair roughly.
"She's forever sticking her nose into other people's business," were the words of the customer who was counting beads. She seemed to be near the point of tears.
"Maybe that's why it's so red," the other answered with unspeakable contempt. "I'm so mad I can hardly sit still."
She wound her yarn close and stuck her needle into the ball.
"Thank goodness!" said she, suddenly; "here comes Serene."
The sister Serene Davis, a frail, fair lady, entered.
"Well," said the latter, "I suppose you've heard—" she paused to get her breath.
"What?" said the sister Lize, in a whisper, approaching the new arrival.
"My heart is all in a flutter—don't hurry me."
The sister Lize went to the door and closed it. Then she turned quickly, facing the other woman.
"Serene Davis," she began solemnly, "you'll never leave this room alive until you tell us."
"Can't you let a body enjoy herself a minute?"
"Tell me," she insisted, threatening with a needle.
Ruth Tole regarded them with a look of firmness which seemed to say, "Stab her if she doesn't tell."
"Well," said the sister Serene, "you know that stylish young widow that came a while ago to the Moosehead—the one that wore the splendid black silk the night o' the ball?"
"She was a detective,"—this in a whisper.
"What!" said the other two, awesomely.
Then a quick movement of chairs and a pulling of yarn. Ruth dropped a spool of thread which rattled, as it fell, and rolled a space and lay neglected.
The sister Serene was now laughing.
"It's ridiculous!" she remarked.
"Go on," said the others, and one of them added, "Land sakes! don't stop now."
"Well, she got sick the other day and sent for a lawyer, an' who do you suppose it was?"
"I dunno," said Ruth Tole. The words had broken away from her, and she covered her mouth, quickly, and began to look out of the window. The speaker had begun to laugh again.
"'Twas Dick Roberts," she went on. "He went over to the tavern; she lay there in bed and had a nurse in the room with her—a woman she got in Ogdensburg. She tells the young lawyer she wants him to make her will. Then she describes her property and he puts it down. There was a palace in Wales and a castle on the Rhine and pearls and diamonds and fifty thousand pounds in a foreign bank, and I don't know what all. Well, ye know, she was pert and handsome, and he began to take notice."
The sisters looked from one to another and gave up to gleeful smiles, but Ruth was, if anything, a bit firmer than before.
"Next day he brought her some flowers, and she began to get better. Then he took her out to ride. One night about ten o'clock the nurse comes into the room sudden like, and finds him on his knees before the widow, kissing her dress an' talking all kinds o' nonsense."
"Here! stop a minute," said the sister Lize, who had now dropped her knitting and begun to fan herself. "You take my breath away." The details were too important for hasty consideration.
"Makin' love?" said she with the beads, thoughtfully.
"I should think likely," said the other, whereupon the three began to laugh again. Their merriment over, through smiles they gave each other looks of dreamy reflection.
"Now go on," said the sister Lize, leaning forward, her chin upon her hands.
"There he knelt, kissing her dress," the narrator continued.
"Why didn't he kiss her face?"
"Because she wouldn't let him, I suppose."
"Oh!" said the others, nodding their heads, thoughtfully.
"When the nurse came," the sister Serene continued, "the widow went to a desk and wrote a letter and brought it to Dick. Then says the widow, says she: 'You take this to my uncle in Boston. If you can make him give his consent, I'd be glad to see you again.'
"Dick, he rushed off that very evening an' took the cars at Madrid. What do you suppose the letter said?"
The sister Serene began to shake with laughter.
"What?" was the eager demand of the two sisters.
"Well, the widow told the nurse and she told Mary Jones and Mary told me. The letter was kind o' short and about like this:—
"'Pardon me for introducing a scamp by the name of Roberts. He's engaged to a very sweet young lady and has the impudence to make love to me. I wish to get him out of this town for a while, and can't think of any better way. Don't use him too roughly. He was a detective once himself.'
"Well, in a couple of days the widow got a telegraph message from her uncle, an' what do you suppose it said?"
The sister Serene covered her face and began to quiver. The other two were leaning toward her, smiling, their mouths open.
"What was it?" said the sister Lize.
"'Kicked him downstairs,'" the narrator quoted.
"Y!" the two whispered.
"Good enough for him." It was the verdict of the little shopkeeper, sharply spoken, as she went on with her work.
"So I say,"—this from the other three, who were now quite serious.
"He'd better not come back here," said the sister Lize.
"He never will, probably."
"Who employed the widow?"
"Nobody knows," said the sister Serene. "Before she left town she had a check cashed, an' it come from Riley Brooke. Some think Martha Vaughn herself knows all about it. Sh-h-h! there goes Sidney Trove."
"Ain't he splendid looking?" said she with the beads.
Ruth Tole had opened the door, and they were now observing the street and those who were passing in it.
"One of these days there'll be some tall love-making up there at the Widow Vaughn's," said she that was called Lize.
"Like to be behind the door"—this from her with the beads.
"I wouldn't," said the sister Serene.
"No, you wouldn't!"
"I'd rather be up next to the young man." A merry laugh, and then a sigh from the sister Lize, who looked a bit dreamy and began to tickle her head with a knitting-needle.
"What are you sighing for?" said she with the beads,
"Oh, well," said the other, yawning, "it makes me think o' the time when I was a girl."
"Look! there's Jeanne Brulet,"—it was a quick whisper.
They gathered close and began to shake their heads and frown. Now, indeed, they were as the Fates of old.
"Look at her clothes," another whispered.
"They're better than I can wear. I'd like to know where she gets the money."
Then a look from one to the other—a look of fateful import, soon to travel far, and loose a hundred tongues. That moment the bowl was broken, but the weird sisters knew not the truth.
She that was called Lize, put up her knitting and rose from her chair.
"There's work waiting for me at home," said she.
"No; I'm working on a shroud."
The Law's Approval
Trove had come to Hillsborough that very hour he passed the Golden Spool. In him a touch of dignity had sobered the careless eye of youth. He was, indeed, a comely young man, his attire fashionable, his form erect. Soon he was on the familiar road to Robin's Inn. There was now a sprinkle of yellow in the green valley; wings of azure and of gray in the sunlight; a scatter of song in the silence. High on distant hills, here and there, was a little bank of snow. These few dusty rags were all that remained of the great robe of winter. Men were sowing and planting. In the air was an odour of the harrowed earth, and up in the hills a shout of greeting came out of field or garden as Trove went by.
It was a walk to remember, and when he had come near the far side of Pleasant Valley he could see Polly waving her hand to him at the edge of the maple grove.
"Supper is waiting," said she, merrily, as she came to meet him. "There's blueberries, and biscuit, and lots of nice things."
"I'm hungry," said be; "but first, dear, let us enjoy love and kisses."
Then by the lonely road he held her close to him, and each could feel the heart-beat of the other; and for quite a moment speech would have been most idle and inadequate.
"Now the promise, Polly," said he soon. "I go not another step until I have your promise to be my wife."
"You do not think I'd let one treat me that way unless I expected to marry him, do you ?" said Polly, as she fussed with a ribbon bow, her face red with blushes. "You've mussed me all up."
"I'm to be a teacher in the big school, and if you were willing, we could be married soon."
"Oh, dear!" said she, sighing, and looking up at him with a smile; "I'm too happy to think." Then followed another moment of silence, in which the little god, if he were near them, must have smiled.
"Won't you name the day now?" he insisted.
"Oh, let's keep that for the next chapter!" said she. "Don't you know supper is waiting?"
"It's all like those tales 'to be continued in our next,'" he answered with a laugh.
Then they walked slowly up the long hill, arm in arm.
"How very grand you look!" said she, proudly. "Did you see the Governor?"
"Yes, but he can do nothing now. It's the only cloud in the sky."
"Dear old man!" said Polly. "We'll find a way to help him."
"But he wouldn't thank us for help—there's the truth of it," said Trove, quickly. "He's happy and content. Here is a letter that came to-day. 'Dear Sidney,' he writes. 'Think of all I have said to thee, an', if ye remember well, boy, it will bear thee up. Were I, indeed, as ye believe, drinking the cup o' bitterness for thy sake, know ye not the law will make it sweet for me? After all I have said to thee, are ye not prepared? Is my work wasted; is the seed fallen upon the rocks? And if ye hold to thy view, consider—would ye rob the dark world o' the light o' sacrifice? "Nay," ye will answer. Then I say: "If ye would give me peace, go to thy work, boy, and cease to waste thyself with worry and foolish wandering."'
"Somehow it puts me to shame," said Trove, as he put the letter in his pocket. "I'm so far beneath him. I shall obey and go to work and pray for the speedy coming of God's justice."
"It's the only thing to do," said she. "Sidney, I hope now I have a right to ask if you know who is your father?"
"I believe him to be dead."
"Dead!" there was a note of surprise in the word.
"I know not even his name."
"It is all very strange," said Polly. In a moment she added, "I hope you will forgive my mother if she seemed to doubt you."
"I forgive all," said the young man. "I know it was hard to believe me innocent."
"And impossible to believe you guilty. She was only waiting for more light."
The widow and her two boys came out to meet them.
"Mother, behold this big man! He is to be my husband." The girl looked up at him proudly.
"And my son?" said Mrs. Vaughn, with a smile, as she kissed him. "You've lost no time."
"Oh! I didn't intend to give up so soon," said Polly, "but—but the supper would have been ruined."
"It's now on the table," said Mrs. Vaughn.
"I've news for you," said Polly, as they were sitting down. "Tunk has reformed."
"He must have been busy," said Trove, "and he's ruined his epitaph."
"Yes; that one Darrel wrote for him: 'Here lies Tunk. O Grave! where is thy victory?'"
"Tunk has one merit: he never deceived any one but himself," said the widow.
"Horses have run away with him," Trove continued. "His character is like a broken buggy; and his imagination—that's the unbroken colt. Every day, for a long time, the colt has run away with the wagon, tipping it over and dragging it in the ditch, until every bolt is loose, and every spoke rattling, and every wheel awry. I do hope he's repaired his 'ex.'"
"He walks better and complains less," the widow answered.
"Often he stands very straight and walks like you," said Polly, laughing.
"He thinks you are the only great man," so spoke the widow.
"Gone from one illusion to another," said Trove. "It's a lesson; every one should go softly. Tom, will you now describe the melancholy feat of Theophilus Thistleton?"
The fable was quickly repeated.
"That Mr. Thistleton was a foolish fellow, and there's many like him," said Trove. "He had better have been thrusting blueberries into his mouth. I declare!" he added, sitting back with a look of surprise, "I'm happy again."
"And we are going to keep you so," Polly answered with decision.
"Darrel would tell me that I am at last in harmony with a great law which, until now, I have been defying. It is true; I have thought too much of my own desires."
"I do not understand you," said Polly. "Now, we heard of the shot and iron—how you came by them and how, one night, you threw them into the river at Hillsborough. That led, perhaps, to most of your trouble. I'd like to know what moral law you were breaking when you flung them into the river?"
"A great law," Trove answered; "but one hard to phrase."
"Suppose you try."
"The innocent shall have no fear," said he. "Until then I had kept the commandment."
There was a little time of silence.
"If you watch a coward, you'll see a most unhappy creature." It was Trove who spoke. "Darrel said once, 'A coward is the prey of all evil and the mark of thunderbolts.'"
"I'll not admit you're a coward," were the words of Polly.
"Well," said he, rising, "I had fear of only one thing,—that I should lose your love."
Reaching home next day, Trove found that Allen had sold Phyllis. The mare had been shipped away.
"She brought a thousand dollars," said his foster father, "and I'll divide the profit with you."
The young man was now able to pay his debt to Polly, but for the first time he had a sense of guilt.
Trove bought another filly—a proud-stepping great-granddaughter of old Justin Morgan.
A rough-furred, awkward creature, of the size of a small dog, fled before him, as he entered the house in Brier Dale, and sought refuge under a table. It was a young painter which Allen had captured back in the deep woods, after killing its dam. Soon it rushed across the floor, chasing a ball of yarn, but quickly got under cover. Before the end of that day Trove and the new pet were done with all distrust of each other. The big cat grew in size and playful confidence. Often it stalked the young man with still foot and lashing tail, leaping stealthily over chairs and, betimes, landing upon Trove's back.
* * * * * *
It was a June day, and Trove was at Robin's Inn. A little before noon Polly and he and the two boys started for Brier Dale. They waded the flowering meadows in Pleasant Valley, crossed a great pasture, and came under the forest roof. Their feet were muffled in new ferns. Their trail wavered up the side of a steep ridge, and slanted off in long loops to the farther valley. There it crossed a brook and, for a mile or more, followed the mossy banks. On a ledge, mottled with rock velvet, by a waterfall, they sat down to rest, and Polly opened the dinner basket. Somehow the music and the minted breath of the water and the scent of the moss and the wild violet seemed to flavour their meal. Tom had brought a small gun with him, and, soon after they resumed their walk, saw some partridges and fired upon them. All the birds flew save a hen that stood clucking with spread wings. Coming close, they could see her eyes blinking in drops of blood. Trove put his hand upon her, but she only bent her head a little and spread her wings the wider.
"Tom," said he, "look at this little preacher of the woods. Do you know what she's saying?"
"No," said the boy, soberly.
"Well, she's saying: 'Look at me and see what you've done. Hereafter, O boy! think before you pull the trigger.' It's a pity, but we must finish the job."
As they came out upon Brier Road the boys found a nest of hornets. It hung on a bough above the roadway. Soon Paul had flung a stone that broke the nest open. Hornets began to buzz around them, and all ran for refuge to a thicket of young firs. In a moment they could hear a horse coming at a slow trot. Trove peered through the bushes. He could see Ezra Tower—that man of scornful piety—on a white horse. Trove shouted a warning, but with no effect. Suddenly Tower broke his long silence, and the horse began to run. The little party made a detour, and came again to the road.
"He did speak to the hornets," said Polly.
"Swore, too," said Paul.
"Nature has her own way with folly; you can't hold your tongue when she speaks to you," Trove answered.
Near sunset, they came into Brier Dale. Tunk was to be there at supper time, and drive home with Polly and her brothers. The widow had told him not to come by the Brier Road; it would take him past Rickard's Inn, where he loved to tarry and display horsemanship.
Mary Allen met them at the door.
"Mother, here is my future wife," said Trove, proudly.
Then ruddy lips of youth touched the faded cheek of the good woman.
"We shall be married in September," said Trove, tossing his hat in the air. "We're going to have a grand time, and mind you, mother, no more hard work for you. Where is Tige?" Tige was the young painter.
"I don't know," said Mary Allen. "He's up in a tree somewhere, maybe. Come in, all of you; supper's ready."
While they were eating. Trove heard a sound of wheels, and went to the door. Tunk had arrived. He had a lump, the size of an apple,-on his forehead; another on his chin. As Trove approached him, he spat over a front wheel, and sat looking down sadly.
"Tunk, what's the matter ?"
"Kicked," said he, with growing sadness.
"A horse?" Trove inquired, with sympathy.
Tunk thought a moment.
"Couldn't say what 'twas," he answered presently.
"I fear," said Trove, smiling, "that you came by the Brier Road."
Suddenly there was a quick stir of boughs and a flash of tawny fur above them. Then the young painter landed full on the back of Tunkhannock Hosely. There was a wild yell; the horse leaped and ran, breaking through a fence and wrecking the wagon; the painter spat, and made for the woods, and was seen no more of men. Tunk had picked up an axe, and climbed a ladder that stood leaning to the roof. Trove and Allen caught the frightened horse.
"Now," said the former, "let's try and capture Tunk."
"He's taken to the roof," said Allen.
"Where's that air painter?" Tunk shouted, as they came near.
"Gone to the woods."
"Heavens!" said Tunk, gloomily. "I'm all tore up; there ain't nothin' left o' me—boots full o' blood. I tell ye this country's a leetle too wild fer me."
He came down the ladder slowly, and sat on the step and drew off his boots. There was no blood in them. Trove helped him remove his coat; all, save his imagination, was unharmed.
"Wal," said he, thoughtfully, "that's what ye git fer doin' suthin' ye hadn't ought to. I ain't goin' t' take no more chances."
The Return of Santa Claus
Did ye hear the cock crow? By the beard of my father, I'd forgotten you and myself and everything but the story. It's near morning, and I've a weary tongue. Another log and one more pipe. Then, sir, then I'll let you go. I'm near the end.
"Let me see—it's a winter day in New York City, after four years. The streets are crowded. Here are men and women, but I see only the horses,—you know, sir, how I love them. They go by with heavy truck and cab, steaming, straining', slipping in the deep snow. You hear the song of lashes, the whack of whips, and, now and then, the shout of some bedevilled voice. Horses fall, and struggle, and lie helpless, and their drivers—well, if I were to watch them long, I should be in danger of madness and hell-fire. Well, here is a big stable. A tall man has halted by its open door, and addresses the manager.
"'I learn that you have a bay mare with starred face and a white stocking.' It is Trove who speaks.
"'Yes; there she is, coming yonder.'
"The mare is a rack of bones, limping, weary, sore. But see her foot lift! You can't kill the pride of the Barbary. She falters; her driver lashes her over the head. Trove is running toward her. He climbs a front wheel, and down comes the driver. In a minute Trove has her by the bit. He calls her by name—Phyllis! The slim ears begin to move. She nickers. God, sir! she is trying to see him. One eye is bleeding, the other blind. His arms go round her neck, sir, and he hides his face in her mane. That mare you ride—she is the granddaughter of Phyllis. I'd as soon think of selling my wife. Really, sir, Darrel was right. God'll mind the look of your horses."
So spake an old man sitting in the firelight. Since they sat down the short hand of the clock had nearly circled the dial. There was a little pause. He did love a horse—that old man of the hills.
"Trove went home with the mare," he continued. "She recovered the sight of one eye, and had a box-stall and the brook pasture—you know, that one by the beech grove. He got home the day before Christmas. Polly met him at the depot—a charming lady, sir, and a child of three was with her,—a little girl, dark eyes and flaxen, curly hair. You remember Beryl?—eyes like her mother's.
"I was there at the depot that day. Well, it looked as if they were still in their honeymoon.
"'Dear little wife!' said Trove, as he kissed Polly. Then he took the child in his arms, and I went to dinner with them. They lived half a mile or so out of Hillsborough.
"'Hello!' said Trove, as we entered. 'Here's a merry Christmas!'
"Polly had trimmed the house. There against the wall was a tapering fir-tree, hung with tinsel and popcorn. All around the room were green branches of holly and hemlock.
"'I'm glad you found Phyllis,' said she.
"'Poor Phyllis!' he answered. 'They broke her down with hard work, and then sold her. She'll be here to-morrow.'
"'You saw Darrel on the way?'
"'Yes, and he is the same miracle of happiness. I think he will soon be free. Leblanc is there in prison—convicted of a crime in Whitehall. As I expected, there is a red mark on the back of his left hand. Day after to-morrow we go again to Dannemora. Sweetheart! I hurried home to see you.' And then—well, I do like to see it—the fondness of young people.
"Night came, dark and stormy, with snow in the west wind. They were sitting there by the Christmas tree, all bright with candles—Polly, Trove, and the little child. They were talking of old times. They heard a rap at the door. Trove flung it open. He spoke a word of surprise. There was the old Santa Claus of Cedar Hill—upon my word, sir—the very one. He entered, shaking his great coat, his beard full of snow. He let down his sack there by the lighted tree. He beckoned to the little one.
"'Go and see him—it is old Santa Claus,' said Polly, her voice trembling as she led the child.
"Then, quickly, she took the hand of her husband.
"'He is your father,' she whispered.
"A moment they stood with hearts full, looking at Santa Claus and the child. That little one had her arms about a knee, and, dumb with great wonder, gazed up at him. There was a timid appeal in her sweet face.
"The man did not move; he was looking down at the child. In a moment she began to prattle and tug at him. They saw his knees bend a bit. Ah, sir, it seemed as if the baby were pulling him down. He gently pushed the child away. They heard a little cry—a kind of a wailing 'Oh-o-o,'—like that you hear in the chimney. Then, sir, down he went in his tracks—a quivering little heap,—and lay there at the foot of the tree. Polly and Trove were bending over him. Cap and wig had fallen from his head. He was an old man.
"'Father!' Trove whispered, touching the long white hair. 'O my father! speak to me. Let me—let me see your face.'
"Slowly—slowly, the old man rose, Trove helping him, and put on his cap. Then, sir, he took a step back and stood straight as a king. He waved them away with his hand.
"'Nay, boy, remember,' he whispered. 'Ye were to let him pass.' And then he started for the door.
"Trove went before him and stood against it.
"'Hear me, boy, 'tis better that ye let him sleep until the trumpet calls an' ye both stand with all the quick an' the dead.'
"'No, I have waited long, and I love—I love him,' Trove answered.
"Those fair young people knelt beside the old man, clinging to his hands.
"The good saint was crying.
"'I came not here to bring shame,' said he presently.
"'We honour and with all our souls we love you,' Trove answered.
"'Who shall stand before it?' said the old man. 'Behold—behold how Love hath raised the dead!' He flung off his cap and beard.
"'If ye will have it so, know ye that I—Roderick Darrel—am thy father.'"
"Now, sir, you may go. I wish ye merry Christmas!" said that old man of the hills.
But the other tarried, thoughtfully puffing his pipe.
"And the father was not dead?"
"'Twas only the living death," said the old man, now lighting a lantern. "You know that grave in a poem of Sidney Trove:
'It has neither sod nor stone; It has neither dust nor bone.'
He planned to be as one dead to the world."
"And the other man of mystery—who was he?"
"Some child of misfortune. He was befriended by the tinker and did errands for him."
"He took the money to Trove that night the latter slept in the woods?"
"And, for Darrel, returned to Thompson his own with usury. Thompson was the chief creditor."
"Yes; for years it lay under the bed of Darrel. By and by he put the money in a savings bank—all but a few dollars."
"And why did he wait so long, before returning it?"
"He tried to be rid of the money, but was unable to find Thompson. And Trove, he lived to repay every creditor. Ah, sir, he was a man of a thousand."
"That story of Darrel's in the little shop—I see—it was fact in a setting of fiction."
"That's all it pretended to be," said the old man of the hills.
"One more query," said the other. He was now mounted. "I know Darrel went to prison for the sake of the boy, but did some one set him free?"
"His own character. Leblanc came to love him—like the other prisoners—and, sir, he confessed. I declare!—it's daylight now and here I am with the lantern. Good-by, and Merry Christmas!"
The other rode away, slowly, looking back at the dim glow of the lantern, which now, indeed, was like a symbol of the past.
* * * * * *
A Tale of the North Country
By IRVING BACHELLER. Bound in red silk cloth, decorative cover, gilt top, rough edges. Size, 5 x 7 3/4 Price, $1.50
The most popular book in America.
Within eight months after publication it had reached its two hundred and fiftieth thousand. The most American of recent novels, it has indeed been hailed as the long looked for "American novel."
William Dean Howells says of it: "I have read 'Eben Holden' with a great joy in its truth and freshness. You have got into your book a kind of life not in literature before, and you have got it there simply and frankly. It is 'as pure as water and as good as bread.'"
Edmund Clarence Stedman says of it: "It is a forest-scented, fresh-aired, bracing, and wholly American story of country and town life."
D'RI AND I
By IRVING BACHELLER, author of "Eben Holden." Seven drawings by F. C. Yohn. Red silk cloth, illustrated cover, gilt top, rough edges. Size, 5 1/4 x 7 3/4 Price, $1.50. 160th Thousand.
THE LONDON TIMES says; "Mr. Bacheller is admirable alike in his scenes of peace and war. He paints the silent woods in the fall of the year with the rich golden glow of the Indian summer. He is eloquently poetical in the lonely watcher's contemplation of thousands of twinkling stars reflected from the broad bosom of the St. Lawrence, and he is grimly humorous in some of his dramatic episodes. Nor does anything in Crane's 'Red Badge of Courage' bring home to us more forcibly the horrors of war than the between-decks and the cockpit of a crippled ship swept from stem to stern by the British broadsides in an action brought a entrance on Lake Erie."
Being sundry tales and thoughts in verse. By IRVING BACHELLER, author of "Eben Holden" and "D'ri and I." Six illustrations by prominent illustrators. Decorative cover, gilt top, rough edges. Price, $1.25, net.