Produced by Al Haines
DARREL OF THE BLESSED ISLES
D’RI AND I
ARTHUR I. KELLER
To the Memory of my Father
The author has tried to give some history of that uphill road, traversing the rough back country, through which men of power came once into the main highways, dusty, timid, foot-sore, and curiously old-fashioned. Now is the up grade eased by scholarships; young men labour with the football instead of the buck-saw, and wear high collars, and travel on a Pullman car, and dally with slang and cigarettes in the smoking-room. Altogether it is a new Republic, and only those unborn shall know if it be greater.
The man of learning and odd character and humble life was quite familiar once, and not only in Hillsborough. Often he was born out of time, loving ideals of history and too severe with realities around him. In Darrel it is sought to portray a force held in fetters and covered with obscurity, yet strong to make its way and widely felt. His troubles granted, one may easily concede his character, and his troubles are, mainly, no fanciful invention. There is good warrant for them in the court record of a certain case, together with the inference of a great lawyer who lived a time in its odd mystery. The author, it should be added, has given success to a life that ended in failure. He cares not if that success be unusual should any one be moved to think it within his reach.
A man of rugged virtues and good fame once said: “The forces that have made me? Well, first my mother, second my poverty, third Felix Holt. That masterful son of George Eliot became an ideal of my youth, and unconsciously I began to live his life.”
It is well that the boy in the book was nobler than any who lived in Treby Magna.
As to “the men of the dark,” they have long afflicted a man living and well known to the author of this tale, who now commits it to the world hoping only that these poor children of his brain may deserve kindness if not approval.
NEW YORK CITY,
I. The Story of the Little Red Sleigh II. The Crystal City and the Traveller III. The Clock Tinker
IV. The Uphill Road
V. At the Sign o’ the Dial
VI. A Certain Rich Man
VII. Darrel of the Blessed Isles
VIII. Dust of Diamonds in the Hour-glass IX. Drove and Drovers
X. An Odd Meeting
XI. The Old Rag Doll
XII. The Santa Claus of Cedar Hill XIII. A Christmas Adventure
XIV. A Day at the Linley Schoolhouse XV. The Tinker at Linley School
XVI. A Rustic Museum
XVII. An Event in the Rustic Museum XVIII. A Day of Difficulties
XIX. Amusement and Learning
XX. At the Theatre of the Woods
XXI. Robin’s Inn
XXII. Comedies of Field and Dooryard XXIII. A New Problem
XXIV. Beginning the Book of Trouble XXV. The Spider Snares
XXVI. The Coming of the Cars
XXVII. The Rare and Costly Cup
XXVIII. Darrel at Robin’s Inn
XXIX. Again the Uphill Road
XXXI. A Man Greater than his Trouble XXXII. The Return of Thurst Tilly
XXXIII. The White Guard
XXXIV. More Evidence
XXXV. At the Sign of the Golden Spool XXXVI. The Law’s Approval
XXXVII. The Return of Santa Claus
DARREL OF THE BLESSED ISLES
Yonder up in the hills are men and women, white-haired, who love to tell of that time when the woods came to the door-step and God’s cattle fed on the growing corn. Where, long ago, they sowed their youth and strength, they see their sons reaping, but now, bent with age, they have ceased to gather save in the far fields of memory. Every day they go down the long, well-trodden path and come back with hearts full. They are as children plucking the meadows of June. Sit with them awhile, and they will gather for you the unfading flowers of joy and love–good sir! the world is full of them. And should they mention Trove or a certain clock tinker that travelled from door to door in the olden time, send your horse to the stable and God-speed them!–it is a long tale, and you may listen far into the night.
“See the big pines there in the dale yonder?” some one will ask. “Well, Theron Allen lived there, an’ across the pond, that’s where the moss trail came out and where you see the cow-path–that’s near the track of the little red sleigh.”
Then–the tale and its odd procession coming out of the far past.
The Story of the Little Red Sleigh
It was in 1835, about mid-winter, when Brier Dale was a narrow clearing, and the horizon well up in the sky and to anywhere a day’s journey.
Down by the shore of the pond, there, Allen built his house. To-day, under thickets of tansy, one may see the rotting logs, and there are hollyhocks and catnip in the old garden. He was from Middlebury, they say, and came west–he and his wife–in ’29. From the top of the hill above Allen’s, of a clear day, one could look far across the tree-tops, over distant settlements that were as blue patches in the green canopy of the forest, over hill and dale to the smoky chasm of the St. Lawrence thirty miles north. The Allens had not a child; they settled with no thought of school or neighbour. They brought a cow with them and a big collie whose back had been scarred by a lynx. He was good company and a brave hunter, this dog; and one day–it was February, four years after their coming, and the snow lay deep–he left the dale and not even a track behind him. Far and wide they went searching, but saw no sign of him. Near a month later, one night, past twelve o’clock, they heard his bark in the distance. Allen rose and lit a candle and opened the door. They could hear him plainer, and now, mingled with his barking, a faint tinkle of bells.
It had begun to thaw, and a cold rain was drumming on roof and window.
“He’s crossing the pond,” said Allen, as he listened. “He’s dragging some heavy thing over the ice.”
Soon he leaped in at the door, the little red sleigh bouncing after him. The dog was in shafts and harness. Over the sleigh was a tiny cover of sail-cloth shaped like that of a prairie schooner. Bouncing over the door-step had waked its traveller, and there was a loud voice of complaint in the little cavern of sail-cloth. Peering in, they saw only the long fur of a gray wolf. Beneath it a very small boy lay struggling with straps that held him down. Allen loosed them and took him out of the sleigh, a ragged but handsome youngster with red cheeks and blue eyes and light, curly hair. He was near four years of age then, but big and strong as any boy of five. He stood rubbing his eyes a minute, and the dog came over and licked his face, showing fondness acquired they knew not where. Mrs. Allen took the boy in her lap and petted him, but he was afraid–like a wild fawn that has just been captured–and broke away and took refuge under the bed. A long time she sat by her bedside with the candle, showing him trinkets and trying to coax him out. He ceased to cry when she held before him a big, shiny locket of silver, and soon his little hand came out to grasp it. Presently she began to reach his confidence with sugar. There was a moment of silence, then strange words came out of his hiding-place. “Anah jouhan” was all they could make of them, and they remembered always that odd combination of sounds. They gave him food, which he ate with eager haste. Then a moment of silence and an imperative call for more in some strange tongue. When at last he came out of his hiding-place, he fled from the woman. This time he sought refuge between the knees of Allen, where soon his fear gave way to curiosity, and he began to feel her face and gown. By and by he fell asleep.
They searched the sleigh and shook out the robe and blanket, finding only a pair of warm bricks.
A Frenchman worked for the Allens that winter, and the name, Trove, was of his invention.
And so came Sidney Trove, his mind in strange fetters, travelling out of the land of mystery, in a winter night, to Brier Dale.
The Crystal City and the Traveller
The wind, veering, came bitter cold; the rain hardened to hail; the clouds, changed to brittle nets of frost, and shaken to shreds by the rough wind, fell hissing in a scatter of snow. Next morning when Allen opened his door the wind was gone, the sky clear. Brier Pond, lately covered with clear ice, lay under a blanket of snow. He hurried across the pond, his dog following. Near the far shore was a bare spot on the ice cut by one of the sleigh-runners. Up in the woods, opposite, was the Moss Trail. Sunlight fell on the hills above him. He halted, looking up at the tree-tops. Twig, branch, and trunk glowed with the fire of diamonds through a lacy necking of hoar frost. Every tree had put on a jacket of ice and become as a fountain of prismatic hues. Here and there a dead pine rose like a spire of crystal; domes of deep-coloured glass and towers of jasper were as the landmarks of a city. Allen climbed the shore, walking slowly. He could see no track of sleigh or dog or any living thing. A frosted, icy tangle of branches arched the trail–a gateway of this great, crystal city of the woods. He entered, listening as he walked. Branches of hazel and dogwood were like jets of water breaking into clear, halted drops and foamy spray above him. He went on, looking up at this long sky-window of the woods. In the deep silence he could hear his heart beating.
“Sport,” .said he to the dog, “show me the way;” but the dog only wagged his tail.
Allen returned to the house.
“Wife,” said he, “look at the woods yonder. They are like the city of holy promise. ‘Behold I will lay thy stones with fair colours and thy foundations with sapphires, and I will make thy windows of agate.'”
“Did you find the track of the little sleigh?” said she.
“No,” he answered, “nor will any man, for all paths are hidden.”
“Theron–may we keep the boy?” she inquired.
“I think it is the will of God,” said Allen.
The boy grew and throve in mind and body. For a time he prattled in a language none who saw him were able to comprehend. But he learned English quickly and soon forgot the jargon of his babyhood. The shadows of mystery that fell over his coming lengthened far into his life and were deepened by others that fell across them. Before he could have told the story, all memory of whom he left or whence he came had been swept away. It was a house of riddles where Allen dwelt–a rude thing of logs and ladders and a low roof and two rooms. Yet one ladder led high to glories no pen may describe. The Allens, with this rude shelter, found delight in dreams of an eternal home whose splendour and luxury would have made them miserable here below. What a riddle was this! And then, as to the boy Sid, there was the riddle of his coming, and again that of his character, which latter was, indeed, not easy to solve. There were few books and no learning in that home. For three winters Trove tramped a trail to the schoolhouse two miles away, and had no further schooling until he was a big, blond boy of fifteen, with red cheeks, and eyes large, blue, and discerning, and hands hardened to the axe helve. He had then discovered the beauty of the woods and begun to study the wild folk that live in holes and thickets. He had a fine face. You would have called him handsome, but not they among whom he lived. With them handsome was as handsome did, and the face of a man, if it were cleanly, was never a proper cause of blame or compliment. But there was that in his soul, which even now had waked the mother’s wonder and set forth a riddle none were able to solve.
The Clock Tinker
The harvesting was over in Brier Dale. It was near dinner-time, and Allen, Trove, and the two hired men were trying feats in the dooryard. Trove, then a boy of fifteen, had outdone them all at the jumping. A stranger came along, riding a big mare with a young filly at her side. He was a tall, spare man, past middle age, with a red, smooth-shaven face and long, gray hair that fell to his rolling collar. He turned in at the gate. A little beyond it his mare halted for a mouthful of grass. The stranger unslung a strap that held a satchel to his side and hung it on the pommel.
“Go and ask what we can do for him,” Allen whispered to the boy.
Trove went down the drive, looking up at him curiously.
“What can I do for you?” he inquired.
“Give me thy youth,” said the stranger, quickly, his gray eyes twinkling under silvered brows.
The boy, now smiling, made no answer.
“No?” said the man, as he came on slowly. “Well, then, were thy wit as good as thy legs it would be o’ some use to me.”
The words were spoken with dignity in a deep, kindly tone. They were also faintly salted with Irish brogue.
He approached the men, all eyes fixed upon him with a look of inquiry.
“Have ye ever seen a drunken sailor on a mast?” he inquired of Allen,
“Well, sor,” said the stranger, dismounting slowly, “I am not that. Let me consider–have ye ever seen a cocoanut on a plum tree?”
“I believe not,” said Allen, laughing.
“Well, sor, that is more like me. ‘Tis long since I rode a horse, an’ am out o’ place in the saddle.”
He stood erect with dignity, a smile deepening the many lines in his face.
“Can I do anything for you?” Allen asked.
“Ay–cure me o’ poverty–have ye any clocks to mend?”
“Clocks! Are you a tinker?” said Allen.
“I am, sor, an’ at thy service. Could beauty, me lord, have better commerce than with honesty?”
They all surveyed him with curiosity and amusement as he tied the mare.
All had begun to laugh. His words came rapidly on a quick undercurrent of good nature. A clock sounded the stroke of midday.
“What, ho! The clock,” said he, looking at his watch. “Thy time hath a lagging foot, Marry, were I that slow, sor, I’d never get to Heaven.”
“Mother,” said Allen, going to the doorstep, “here is a tinker, and he says the clock is slow.”
“It seems to be out of order.” said his wife, coming to the step.
“Seems, madam, nay, it is,” said the stranger. “Did ye mind the stroke of it?”
“No,” said she.
“Marry, ’twas like the call of a dying man.”
Allen thought a moment as he whittled.
“Had I such a stroke on me I’d–I’d think I was parralyzed,” the stranger added.
“You’d better fix it then,” said Allen.
“Thou art wise, good man,” said the stranger. “Mind the two hands on the clock an’ keep them to their pace or they’ll beckon thee to poverty.”
The clock was brought to the door-step and all gathered about him as he went to work.
“Ye know a power o’ scripter,” said one of the hired men.
“Scripter,” said the tinker, laughing. “I do, sor, an’ much of it according to the good Saint William. Have ye never read Shakespeare?”
None who sat before him knew anything of the immortal bard.
“He writ a book ’bout Dan’l Boone an’ the Injuns,” a hired man ventured.
“‘Angels an’ ministers o’ grace defend us!'” the tinker exclaimed,
“I’ll give ye a riddle,” said the tinker, turning to him.
“How is it the clock can keep a sober face?”
“It has no ears,” Trove answered.
“Right,” said the old tinker, smiling. “Thou art a knowing youth. Read Shakespeare, boy–a little of him three times a day for the mind’s sake. I’ve travelled far in lonely places and needed no other company.”
“Ever in India?” Trove inquired. He had been reading of that far land.
“I was, sor,” the stranger continued, rubbing a wheel. “I was five years in India, sor, an’ part o’ the time fighting as hard as ever a man could fight.”
“Fighting!” said Trove, much interested.
“I was, sor,” he asserted, oiling a pinion of the old clock.
“On which side?”
“Inside an’ outside.”
“I did, sor; three kinds o’ them,–fever, fleas, an’ the divvle.”
“Give us some more Shakespeare,” said the boy, smiling.
The tinker rubbed his spectacles thoughtfully, and, as he resumed his work, a sounding flood of tragic utterance came out of him–the great soliloquies of Hamlet and Macbeth and Richard III and Lear and Antony, all said with spirit and appreciation. The job finished, they bade him put up for dinner.
“A fine colt!” said Allen, as they were on their way to the stable.
“It is, sor,” said the tinker, “a most excellent breed o’ horses.”
“The grandsire from the desert of Arabia, where Allah created the horse out o’ the south wind. See the slender flanks of the Barbary? See her eye?”
He seemed to talk in that odd strain for the mere joy of it, and there was in his voice the God-given vanity of bird or poet.
He had caught the filly by her little plume and stood patting her forehead.
“A wonderful thing, sor, is the horse’s eye,” he continued. “A glance! an’ they know if ye be kind or cruel. Sweet Phyllis! Her eyelids are as bows; her lashes like the beard o’ the corn. Have ye ever heard the three prayers o’ the horse?”
“No,” said Allen.
“Well, three times a day, sor, he prays, so they say, in the desert. In the morning he thinks a prayer like this, ‘O Allah! make me beloved o’ me master.’ At noon, ‘Do well by me master that he may do well by me.’ At even, ‘O Allah! grant, at last, I may bear me master into Paradise.’
“An’ the Arab, sor, he looks for a hard ride an’ many jumps in the last journey, an’ is kind to him all the days of his life, sor, so he may be able to make it.”
For a moment he led her up and down at a quick trot, her dainty feet touching the earth lightly as a fawn’s.
“Thou’rt made for the hot leagues o’ the great sand sea,” said he, patting her head. “Ah! thy neck shall be as the bowsprit; thy dust as the flying spray.”
“In one thing you are like Isaiah,” said Allen, as he whittled. “The Lord God hath given thee the tongue of the learned.”
“An’ if he grant me the power to speak a word in season to him that is weary, I shall be content,” said the tinker.
Dinner over, they came out of doors. The stranger stood filling his pipe. Something in his talk and manner had gone deep into the soul of the boy, who now whispered a moment with his father.
“Would you sell the filly?” said Allen. “My boy would like to own her.”
“What, ho, the boy! the beautiful boy! An’ would ye love her, boy?” the tinker asked.
“Yes, sir,” the boy answered quickly,
“An’ put a ribbon in her forelock, an’ a coat o’ silk on her back, an’, mind ye, a man o’ kindness in the saddle?”
“Then take thy horse, an’ Allah grant thou be successful on her as many times as there be hairs in her skin.”
“And the price?” said Allen.
“Name it, an’ I’ll call thee just.”
The business over, the tinker called to Trove, who had led the filly to her stall,–
“You, there, strike the tents. Bring me the mare. This very day she may bear me to forgiveness.”
Trove brought the mare.
“Remember,” said the old man, turning as he rode away, “in the day o’ the last judgment God ‘ll mind the look o’ thy horse.”
He rode on a few steps and halted, turning in the saddle.
“Thou, too, Phyllis,” he called. “God ‘ll mind the look o’ thy master; see that ye bring him safe.”
The little filly began to rear and call, the mother to answer. For days she called and trembled, with wet eyes, listening for the voice that still answered, though out of hearing, far over the hills. And Trove, too, was lonely, and there was a kind of longing in his heart for the music in that voice of the stranger.
The Uphill Road
For Trove it was a day of sowing. The strange old tinker had filled his heart with a new joy and a new desire. Next morning he got a ride to Hillsborough–fourteen miles–and came back, reading, as he walked, a small, green book, its thin pages covered thick with execrably fine printing, its title “The Works of Shakespeare.” He read the book industriously and with keen pleasure. Allen complained, shortly, that Shakespeare and the filly had interfered with the potatoes and the corn.
The filly ceased to take food and sickened for a time after the dam left her. Trove lay in the stall nights and gave her milk sweetened to her liking. She grew strong and playful, and forgot her sorrow, and began to follow him like a dog on his errands up and down the farm. Trove went to school in the autumn–“Select school,” it was called. A two-mile journey it was, by trail, but a full three by the wagon road. He learned only a poor lesson the first day, for, on coming in sight of the schoolhouse, he heard a rush of feet behind him and saw his filly charging down the trail. He had to go back with her and lose the day, a thought dreadful to him, for now hope was high, and school days few and precious. At first he was angry. Then he sat among the ferns, covering his face and sobbing with sore resentment. The little filly stood over him and rubbed her silky muzzle on his neck, and kicked up her heels in play as he pushed her back. Next morning he put her behind a fence, but she went over it with the ease of a wild deer and came bounding after him. When, at last, she was shut in the box-stall he could hear her calling, half a mile away, and it made his heart sore. Soon after, a moose treed him on the trail and held him there for quite half a day. Later he had to help thrash and was laid up with the measles. Then came rain and flooded flats that turned him off the trail. Years after he used to say that work and weather, and sickness and distance, and even the beasts of the field and wood, resisted him in the way of learning.
He went to school at Hillsborough that winter. His time, which Allen gave him in the summer, had yielded some forty-five dollars. He hired a room at thirty-five cents a week. Mary Allen bought him a small stove and sent to him, in the sleigh, dishes, a kettle, chair, bed, pillow, and quilt, and a supply of candles.
She surveyed him proudly, as he was going away that morning in December,
“Folks may call ye han’some,” she said. “They’d like to make fool of ye, but you go on ’bout yer business an’ act as if ye didn’t hear.”
He had a figure awkward, as yet, but fast shaping to comeliness. Long, light hair covered the tops of his ears and fell to his collar. His ruddy cheeks were a bit paler that morning; the curve in his lips a little drawn; his blue eyes had begun to fill and the dimple in his chin to quiver, slightly, as he kissed her who had been as a mother to him. But he went away laughing.
Many have seen the record in his diary of those lank and busy days. The Saturday of his first week at school he wrote as follows:–
“Father brought me a small load of wood and a sack of potatoes yesterday, so, after this, I shall be able to live cheaper. My expenses this week have been as follows:–
Rent 35 cents
Corn meal 14 “
Milk 20 “
Bread 8 “
Beef bone 5 “
Honey 5 “
Four potatoes, about 1 “
“Two boys who have a room on the same floor got through the week for 75 cents apiece, but they are both undersized and don’t eat as hearty. This week I was tempted by the sight of honey and was fool enough to buy a little which I didn’t need. I have some meal left and hope next week to get through for 80 cents. I wish I could have a decent necktie, but conscience doth make cowards of us all. I have committed half the first act of ‘Julius Caesar.'”
And yet, with pudding and milk and beef bone and four potatoes and “Julius Caesar” the boy was cheerful.
“Don’t like meat any more–it’s mostly poor stuff anyway,” he said to his father, who had come to see him.
“Sorry–I brought down a piece o’ venison,” said Allen.
“Well, there’s two kinds o’ meat,” said the boy; “what ye can have, that’s good, an’ what ye can’t have, that ain’t worth havin’.”
He got a job in the mill for every Saturday at 75 cents a day, and soon thereafter was able to have a necktie and a pair of fine boots, and a barber, now and then, to control the length of his hair.
Trove burnt the candles freely and was able but never brilliant in his work that year, owing, as all who knew him agreed, to great modesty and small confidence. He was a kindly, big-hearted fellow, and had wit and a knowledge of animals and of woodcraft that made him excellent company. That schoolboy diary has been of great service to all with a wish to understand him. On a faded leaf in the old book one may read as follows:–
“I have received letters in the handwriting of girls, unsigned. They think they are in love with me and say foolish things. I know what they’re up to. They’re the kind my mother spoke of–the kind that set their traps for a fool, and when he’s caught they use him for a thing to laugh at. They’re not going to catch me.
“Expenses for seven days have been $1.14. Clint McCormick spent 60 cents to take his girl to a show and I had to help him through the week. I told him he ought to love Caesar less and Rome more.”
Then follows the odd entry without which it is doubtful if the history of Sidney Trove could ever have been written. At least only a guess would have been possible, where now is certainty. And here is the entry:–
“Since leaving home the men of the dark have been very troublesome. They wake me about every other night and sometimes I wonder what they mean.”
Now an odd thing had developed in the mystery of the boy. Even before he could distinguish between reality and its shadow that we see in dreams, he used often to start up with a loud cry of fear in the night. When a small boy he used to explain it briefly by saying, “the men in the dark.” Later he used to say, “the men outdoors in the dark.” At ten years of age he went off on a three days’ journey with the Allens. They put up in a tavern that had many rooms and stairways and large windows. It was a while after his return of an evening, before candle-light, when a gray curtain of dusk had dimmed the windows, that he first told the story, soon oft repeated and familiar, of “the men in the dark”–at least he went as far as he knew.
“I dream,” he was wont to say in after life, “that I am listening in the still night alone–I am always alone. I hear a sound in the silence, of what I cannot be sure. I discover then, or seem to, that I stand in a dark room and tremble, with great fear, of what I do not know. I walk along softly in bare feet–I am so fearful of making a noise. I am feeling, feeling, my hands out in the dark. Presently they touch a wall and I follow it and then I discover that I am going downstairs. It is a long journey. At last I am in a room where I can see windows, and, beyond, the dim light of the moon. Now I seem to be wrapped in fearful silence. Stealthily I go near the door. Its upper half is glass, and beyond it I can see the dark forms of men. One is peering through with face upon the pane; I know the other is trying the lock, but I hear no sound. I am in a silence like that of the grave. I try to speak. My lips move, but, try as I may, no sound comes out of them. A sharp terror is pricking into me, and I flinch as if it were a knife-blade. Well, sir, that is a thing I cannot understand. You know me–I am not a coward. If I were really in a like scene fear would be the least of my emotions; but in the dream I tremble and am afraid. Slowly, silently, the door opens, the men of the dark enter, wall and windows begin to reel. I hear a quick, loud cry, rending the silence and falling into a roar like that of flooding waters. Then I wake, and my dream is ended–for that night.”
Now men have had more thrilling and remarkable dreams, but that of the boy Trove was as a link in a chain, lengthening with his life, and ever binding him to some event far beyond the reach of his memory.
At the Sign o’ the Dial
It was Sunday and a clear, frosty morning of midwinter. Trove had risen early and was walking out on a long pike that divided the village of Hillsborough and cut the waste of snow, winding over hills and dipping into valleys, from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario. The air was cold but full of magic sun-fire. All things were aglow–the frosty roadway, the white fields, the hoary forest, and the mind of the beholder. Trove halted, looking off at the far hills. Then he heard a step behind him and, as he turned, saw a tall man approaching at a quick pace. The latter had no overcoat. A knit muffler covered his throat, and a satchel hung from a strap on his shoulder.
“What ho, boy!” said he, shivering. “‘I’ll follow thee a month, devise with thee where thou shalt rest, that thou may’st hear of us, an’ we o’ thee.’ What o’ thy people an’ the filly?”
“All well,” said Trove, who was delighted to see the clock tinker, of whom he had thought often. “And what of you?”
“Like an old clock, sor–a weak spring an’ a bit slow. But, praise God! I’ve yet a merry gong in me. An’ what think you, sor, I’ve travelled sixty miles an’ tinkered forty clocks in the week gone.”
“I think you yourself will need tinkering.”
“Ah, but I thank the good God, here is me home,” the old man remarked wearily.
“I’m going to school here,” said Trove, “and hope I may see you often.”
“Indeed, boy, we’ll have many a blessed hour,” said the tinker. “Come to me shop; we’ll talk, meditate, explore, an’ I’ll see what o’clock it is in thy country.”
They were now in the village, and, halfway down its main thoroughfare, went up a street of gloom and narrowness between dingy workshops. At one of them, shaky, and gray with the stain of years, they halted. The two lower windows in front were dim with dirt and cobwebs. A board above them was the rude sign of Sam Bassett, carpenter. On the side of the old shop was a flight of sagging, rickety stairs. At the height of a man’s head an old brass dial was nailed to the gray boards. Roughly lettered in lampblack beneath it were the words, “Clocks Mended.” They climbed the shaky stairs to a landing, supported by long braces, and whereon was a broad door, with latch and keyhole in its weathered timber.
“All bow at this door,” said the old tinker, as he put his long iron key in the lock. “It’s respect for their own heads, not for mine,” he continued, his hand on the eaves that overhung below the level of the door-top.
They entered a loft, open to the peak and shingles, with a window in each end. Clocks, dials, pendulums, and tiny cog-wheels of wood and brass were on a long bench by the street window. Thereon, also, were a vice and tools. The room was cleanly, with a crude homelikeness about it. Chromos and illustrated papers had been pasted on the rough, board walls.
“On me life, it is cold,” said the tinker, opening a small stove and beginning to whittle shavings, “‘Cold as a dead man’s nose.’ Be seated, an’ try–try to be happy.”
There was an old rocker and two small chairs in the room.
“I do not feel the cold,” said Trove, taking one of them.
“Belike, good youth, thou hast the rose of summer in thy cheeks,” said the old man.
“And no need of an overcoat,” the boy answered, removing the one he wore and passing it to the tinker. “I wish you to keep it, sir.”
“Wherefore, boy? ‘Twould best serve me on thy back.”
“Please take it,” said Trove. “I cannot bear to think of you shivering in the cold. Take it, and make me happy.”
“Well, if it keep me warm, an’ thee happy, it will be a wonderful coat,” said the old man, wiping his gray eyes.
Then he rose and filled the stove with wood and sat down, peering at Trove between the upper rim of his spectacles and the feathery arches of silvered hair upon his brows.
“Thy coat hath warmed me heart already–thanks to the good God!” said he, fervently. “Why so kind?”
“If I am kind, it is because I must be,” said the boy. “Who were my father and mother, I never knew. If I meet a man who is in need, I say to myself, ‘He may be my father or my brother, I must be good to him;’ and if it is a woman, I cannot help thinking that, maybe, she is my mother or my sister. So I should have to be kind to all the people in the world if I were to meet them.”
“Noble suspicion! by the faith o’ me fathers!” said the old man, thoughtfully, rubbing his long nose. “An’ have ye thought further in the matter? Have ye seen whither it goes?”
“I fear not.”
“Well, sor, under the ancient law, ye reap as ye have sown, but more abundantly. I gave me coat to one that needed it more, an’ by the goodness o’ God I have reaped another an’ two friends. Hold to thy course, boy, thou shalt have friends an’ know their value. An’ then thou shalt say, ‘I’ll be kind to this man because he may be a friend;’ an’ love shall increase in thee, an’ around thee, an’ bring happiness. Ah, boy! in the business o’ the soul, men pay thee better than they owe. Kindness shall bring friendship, an’ friendship shall bring love, an’ love shall bring happiness, an’ that, sor, that is the approval o’ God. What speculation hath such profit? Hast thou learned to think?”
“I hope I have,” said the boy.
“Prithee–think a thought for me. What is the first law o’ life?”
There was a moment of silence.
“Thy pardon, boy,” said the venerable tinker, filling a clay pipe and stretching himself on a lounge. “Thou art not long out o’ thy clouts. It is, ‘Thou shalt learn to think an’ obey.’ Consider how man and beast are bound by it. Very well–think thy way up. Hast thou any fear?”
The old man was feeling his gray hair, thoughtfully.
“Only the fear o’ God,” said the boy, after a moment of hesitation.
“Well, on me word, I am full sorry,” said the tinker. “Though mind ye, boy, fear is an excellent good thing, an’ has done a work in the world. But, hear me, a man had two horses the same age, size, shape, an’ colour, an’ one went for fear o’ the whip, an’ the other went as well without a whip in the wagon. Now, tell me, which was the better horse?”
“The one that needed no whip.”
“Very well!” said the old man, with emphasis. “A man had two sons, an’ one obeyed him for fear o’ the whip, an’ the other, because he loved his father, an’ could not bear to grieve him. Tell me again, boy, which was the better son?”
“The one that loved him,” said the boy.
“Very well! very well!” said the old man, loudly. “A man had two neighbours, an’ one stole not his sheep for fear o’ the law, an’ the other, sor, he stole them not, because he loved his neighbour. Now which was the better man?”
“The man that loved him.”
“Very well! very well! and again very well!” said the tinker, louder than before. “There were two kings, an’ one was feared, an’ the other, he was beloved; which was the better king?”
“The one that was beloved.”
“Very well! and three times again very well!” said the old man, warmly. “An’ the good God is he not greater an’ more to be loved than all kings? Fear, boy, that is the whip o’ destiny driving the dumb herd. To all that fear I say ’tis well, have fear, but pray that love may conquer it. To all that love I say, fear only lest ye lose the great treasure. Love is the best thing, an’ with too much fear it sickens. Always keep it with thee–a little is a goodly property an’ its revenoo is happiness. Therefore, be happy, boy–try ever to be happy.”
There was a moment of silence broken by the sound of a church bell.
“To thy prayers,” said the clock tinker, rising, “an’ I’ll to mine. Dine with me at five, good youth, an’ all me retinoo–maids, warders, grooms, attendants–shall be at thy service.”
“I’ll be glad to come,” said the boy, smiling at his odd host.
“An’ see thou hast hunger.”
“Good morning, Mr. —- ?” the boy hesitated.
“Darrel–Roderick Darrel–” said the old man, “that’s me name, sor, an’ ye’ll find me here at the Sign o’ the Dial.”
A wind came shrieking over the hills, and long before evening the little town lay dusky in a scud of snow mist. The old stairs were quivering in the storm as Trove climbed them.
“Welcome, good youth,” said the clock tinker, shaking the boy’s hand as he came in. “Ho there! me servitors. Let the feast be spread,” he called in a loud voice, stepping quickly to the stove that held an upper deck of wood, whereon were dishes. “Right Hand bring the meat an’ Left Hand the potatoes an’ Quick Foot give us thy help here.”
He suited his action to the words, placing a platter of ham and eggs in the centre of a small table and surrounding it with hot roast potatoes, a pot of tea, new biscuit, and a plate of honey.
“Ho! Wit an’ Happiness, attend upon us here,” said he, making ready to sit down.
Then, as if he had forgotten something, he hurried to the door and opened it.
“Care, thou skeleton, go hence, and thou, Poverty, go also, and see thou return not before cock-crow,” said he, imperatively.
“You have many servants,” said Trove.
“An’ how may one have a castle without servants? Forsooth, boy, horses an’ hounds, an’ lords an’ ladies have to be attended to. But the retinoo is that run down ye’d think me home a hospital. Wit is a creeping dotard, and Happiness he is in poor health an’ can barely drag himself to me table, an’ Hope is a tippler, an’ Right Hand is getting the palsy. Alack! me best servant left me a long time ago.”
“And who was he?”
“Youth! lovely, beautiful Youth! but let us be happy. I would not have him back–foolish, inconstant Youth! dreaming dreams an’ seeing visions. God love ye, boy! what is thy dream?”
This rallying style of talk, in which the clock tinker indulged so freely, afforded his young friend no little amusement. His tongue had long obeyed the lilt of classic diction; his thought came easy in Elizabethan phrase. The slight Celtic brogue served to enhance the piquancy of his talk. Moreover he was really a man of wit and imagination.
“Once,” said the boy, after a little hesitation, “I thought I should try to be a statesman, but now I am sure I would rather write books.”
“An’ what kind o’ books, pray?”
“An’ thy merchandise be truth, capital!” exclaimed the tinker. “Hast thou an ear for tales?”
“I’m very fond of them.”
“Marry, I’ll tell thee a true tale, not for thy ear only but for thy soul, an’ some day, boy, ’twill give thee occupation for thy wits.”
“I’d love to hear it,” said the boy.
The pendulums were ever swinging like the legs of a procession trooping through the loft, some with quick steps, some with slow. Now came a sound as of drums beating. It was for the hour of eight, and when it stopped the tinker began.
“Once upon a time,” said he, as they rose from the table and the old man went for his pipe, “’twas long ago, an’ I had then the rose o’ youth upon me, a man was tempted o’ the devil an’ stole money–a large sum–an’ made off with it. These hands o’ mine used to serve him those days, an’ I remember he was a man comely an’ well set up, an’, I think, he had honour an’ a good heart in him.”
The old man paused.
“I should not think it possible,” said Trove, who was at the age of certainty in his opinions and had long been trained to the uncompromising thought of the Puritan. “A man who steals can have no honour in him.”
“Ho! Charity,” said the clock tinker, turning as if to address one behind him. “Sweet Charity! attend upon this boy. Mayhap, sor,” he continued meekly. “God hath blessed me with little knowledge o’ what is possible. But I speak of a time before guilt had sored him. He was officer of a great bank–let us say–in Boston. Some thought him rich, but he lived high an’ princely, an’ I take it, sor, his income was no greater than his needs. It was a proud race he belonged to–grand people they were, all o’ them–with houses an’ lands an’ many servants. His wife was dead, sor, an’ he’d one child–a little lad o’ two years, an’ beautiful. One day the boy went out with his nurse, an’ where further nobody knew. He never came back. Up an’ down, over an’ across they looked for him, night an’ day, but were no wiser, A month went by an’ not a sight or sign o’ him, an’ their hope failed. One day the father he got a note,–I remember reading it in the papers, sor,–an’ it was a call for ransom money–one hundred thousand dollars.”
“Kidnapped!” Trove exclaimed with much interest.
“He was, sor,” the clock tinker resumed. “The father he was up to his neck in trouble, then, for he was unable to raise the money. He had quarrelled with an older brother whose help would have been sufficient. Well, God save us all! ’twas the old story o’ pride an’ bitterness. He sought no help o’ him. A year an’ a half passes an’ a gusty night o’ midwinter the bank burns. Books, papers, everything is destroyed. Now the poor man has lost his occupation. A week more an’ his good name is gone; a month an’ he’s homeless. A whisper goes down the long path o’ gossip. Was he a thief an’ had he burned the record of his crime? The scene changes, an’ let me count the swift, relentless years.”
The old man paused a moment, looking up thoughtfully.
“Well, say ten or mayhap a dozen passed–or more or less it matters little. Boy an’ man, where were they? O the sad world, sor! To all that knew them they were as people buried in their graves. Think o’ this drowning in the flood o’ years–the stately ships sunk an’ rotting in oblivion; some word of it, sor, may well go into thy book.”
The tinker paused a moment, lighting his pipe, and after a puff or two went on with the tale.
“It is a winter day in a great city–there are buildings an’ crowds an’ busy streets an’ sleet’in the bitter wind. I am there,–an’ me path is one o’ many crossing each other like–well, sor, like lines on a slate, if thou were to make ten thousand o’ them an’ both eyes shut. I am walking slowly, an’ lo! there is the banker. I meet him face to face–an ill-clad, haggard, cold, forgotten creature. I speak to him.
“‘The blessed Lord have mercy on thee,’ I said.
“‘For meeting thee?’ said the poor man. ‘What is thy name?’
“‘An’ I,’ said he, sadly, ‘am one o’ the lost in hell. Art thou the devil?’
“‘Nay, this hand o’ mine hath opened thy door an’ blacked thy boots for thee often,’ said I. ‘Dost thou not remember?’
“‘Dimly–it was a long time ago,’ he answered.
“We said more, sor, but that is no part o’ the story. Very well! I went with him to his lodgings,–a little cold room in a garret,–an’ there alone with me he gave account of himself. He had shovelled, an’ dug, an’ lifted, an’ run errands until his strength was low an’ the weight of his hand a burden. What hope for him–what way to earn a living!
“‘Have courage, man,’ I said to him. ‘Thou shalt learn to mend clocks. It’s light an’ decent work, an’ one may live by it an’ see much o’ the world.’
“There was an old clock, sor, in a heap o’ rubbish that lay in a corner. I took it apart, and soon he saw the office of each wheel an’ pinion an’ the infirmity that stopped them an’ the surgery to make them sound. I tarried long in the great city, an’ every evening we were together in the little room. I bought him a kit o’ tools an’ some brass, an’ we would shatter the clockworks an’ build them up again until he had skill, sor, to make or mend.
“‘Me good friend,’ said he, one evening after we had been a long time at work, ‘I wish thou could’st teach me how to mend a broken life. For God’s sake, help me! I am fainting under a great burden.’
“‘What can I do?’ said I to him.
“Then, sor, he went over his story with me from beginning to end. It was an impressive, a sacred confidence. Ah, boy, it would be dishonour to tell thee his name, but his story, that I may tell thee, changing the detail, so it may never add a straw to his burden. I shall quote him in substance only, an’ follow the long habit o’ me own tongue.
“‘Well, ye remember how me son was taken,’ said he. ‘I could not raise the ransom, try as I would. Now, large sums were in me keeping an’ I fell. I remember that day. Ah! man, the devil seemed to whisper to me. But, God forgive! it was for love that I fell. Little by little I began to take the money I must have an’ cover its absence. I said to meself, some time I’ll pay it back–that ancient sophistry o’ the devil. When me thieving had gone far, an’ near its goal, the bank burned. As God’s me witness I’d no hand in that. I weighed the chances an’ expected to go to prison–well, say for ten years, at least. I must suffer in order to save the boy, an’ was ready for the sacrifice. Free again, I would help him to return the money. That burning o’ the records shut off the prison, but opened the fire o’ hell upon me. Half a year had gone by, an’ not a word from the kidnappers. I took a note to the place appointed,–a hollow log in the woods, a bit east of a certain bridge on the public highway twenty miles out o’ the city,–but no answer,–not a word,–not a line up to this moment. They must have relinquished hope an’ put the boy to death.
“‘In that old trunk there under the bed is a dusty, moulding, cursed heap o’ money done up in brown paper an’ tied with a string. It is a hundred thousand dollars, an’ the price o’ me soul.’
“‘An’ thou in rags an’ a garret,’ said I.
“‘An’ I in rags an’ hell,’ said he, sor, looking down at himself.
“He drew out the trunk an’ showed me the money, stacks of it, dirty, an’ stinking o’ damp mould.
“‘There it is,’ said he, ‘every dollar I stole is there. I brought it with me an’ over these hundreds o’ miles I could hear the tongue o’ gossip. Every night as I lay down I could hear the whispering of all the people I ever knew. I could see them shake their heads. Then came this locket o’ gold.’
“A beautiful, shiny thing it was, an’ he took out of it a little strand o’ white hair an’ read these words cut in the gleaming case:–
“‘Here are silver an’ gold,
The one for a day o’ remembrance between thee an’ dishonour, The other for a day o’ plenty between thee an’ want.’
“It was an odd thought an’ worth keeping, an’ often I have repeated the words. The silvered hair, that was for remembrance; an’ the gold he might sell and turn it into a day o’ plenty.
“‘In the locket was a letter,’ said the poor man. ‘Here it is,’ an’ he held it in the light o’ the candle. ‘See, it is signed “mother.”‘
“An’ he read from the letter words o’ sorrow an’ bitter shame, an’ firm confidence in his honour,
“‘It ground me to the very dust,’ he went on. ‘I put the money in that bundle, every dollar. I could not return it, an’ so confirm the disgrace o’ her an’ all the rest. I could not use it, for if I lived in comfort they would ask–all o’ them–whence came his money? For their sake I must walk in poverty all me days. An’ I went to work at heavy toil, sor, as became a poor man. As God’s me judge I felt a pride in rags an’ the horny hand.'”
The tinker paused a moment in which all the pendulums seemed to quicken pace, tick lapping upon tick, as if trying to get ahead of each other.
“Think of it, boy,” Darrel continued. “A pride in rags an’ poverty. Bring that into thy book an’ let thy best thinking bear upon it. Show us how patch an’ tatter were for the poor man as badges of honour an’ success.
“‘I thought to burn the money,’ me host went on. ‘But no, that would have robbed me o’ one great possibility–that o’ restoring it. Some time, when they were dead, maybe, an’ I could suffer alone, I would restore it, or, at least, I might see a way to turn it into good works. So I could not be quit o’ the money. Day an’ night these slow an’ heavy years it has been me companion, cursing an’ accusing me.
“‘I lie here o’ nights thinking. In that heap o’ money I seem to hear the sighs an’ sobs o’ the poor people that toiled to earn it. I feel their sweat upon me, an’ God! this heart o’ mine is crowded to bursting with the despair o’ hundreds. An’, betimes, I hear the cry o’ murder in the cursed heap as if there were some had blood upon it. An’ then I dream it has caught fire beneath me an’ I am burning raw in the flame.'”
The tinker paused again, crossing the room and watching the swing of a pendulum.
“Boy, boy,” said he, returning to his chair, “think’ o’ that complaining, immovable heap lying there like the blood of a murder. An’ thy reader must feel the toil an’ sweat an’ misery an’ despair that is in a great sum, an’ how it all presses on the heart o’ him that gets it wrongfully.
“‘Well, sor,’ the poor fellow continued, ‘now an’ then I met those had known me, an’ reports o’ me poverty went home. An’ those dear to me sent money, the sight o’ which filled me with a mighty sickness, an’ I sent it back to them. Long ago, thank God! they ceased to think me a thief, but only crazy. Tell me, man, what shall I do with the money? There be those living I have to consider, an’ those dead, an’ those unborn.’
“‘Hide it,’ said I, ‘an’ go to thy work an’ God give thee counsel.'”
Man and boy rose from the table and drew up to the little stove.
“Now, boy,” said the clock tinker, leaning toward him with knitted brows, “consider this poor thief who suffered so for his friends. Think o’ these good words, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ If thou should’st ever write of it, thy problem will be to reckon the good an’ evil, an’ give each a careful estimate an’ him his proper rank!”
“What a sad tale!” said the boy, thoughtfully. “It’s terrible to think he may be my father.”
“I’d have no worry o’ that, sor,” said the clock tinker. “There be ten thousand–ay, more–who know not their fathers. An’, moreover, ’twas long, long ago.”
“Please tell me when was the boy taken,” said Trove.
“Time, or name, or place, I cannot tell thee, lest I betray him,” said the old man, “Neither is necessary to thy tale. Keep it with thee a while; thou art young yet an’ close inshore. Wait until ye sound the further deep. Then, sor, write, if God give thee power, and think chiefly o’ them in peril an’ about to dash their feet upon the stones.”
For a moment the clocks’ ticking was like the voice of many ripples washing the shore of the Infinite. A new life had begun for Trove, and they were cutting it into seconds. He looked up at them and rose quickly and stood a moment, his thumb on the door-latch. Outside they could hear the rush and scatter of the snow.
“Poor youth!” said the old man. “Thou hast no coat–take mine. Take it, I say. It will give thee comfort an’ me happiness.”
He would hear no refusal, and again the coat changed owners, giving happiness to the old and comfort to the new.
Then Trove went down the rickety stairs and away in the darkness.
A Certain Rick Man
Riley Brooke had a tongue for gossip, an ear for evil report, an eye for rascals. Every day new suspicions took root in him, while others grew and came to great size and were as hard to conceal as pumpkins. He had meanness enough to equip all he knew, and gave it with a lavish tongue. In his opinion Hillsborough came within one of having as many rascals in it as there were people. He had tried to bring them severally to justice by vain appeals to the law, having sued for every cause in the books, but chiefly for trespass and damages, real and exemplary. He was a money-lender, shaving notes or taking them for larger sums than he lent, with chattel mortgages for security. Foreclosure and sale were a perennial source of profit to him. He was tall and well past middle age, with a short, gray beard, a look of severity, a stoop in his shoulders, and a third wife whom nobody, within the knowledge of the townfolk, had ever seen. If he had no other to gossip with, he provided imaginary company and talked to his own ears. He thought himself a most powerful and agile man, boasting often that he still kept the vigour of his youth. On his errands in the village he often broke into an awkward gallop, like a child at play. When he slackened pace it was to shake his head solemnly, as if something had reminded him of the wickedness of the world.
“If I dared tell all I knew,” he would whisper suggestively, and then proceed to tell much more than he could possibly have known. Any one of many may have started his tongue, but the shortcomings of one Ezekiel Swackhammer were for him an ever present help and provocation. If there were nothing new to talk about, there was always Swackhammer. Poor Swackhammer had done everything he ought not to have done. The good God himself was the only being that had the approval of old Riley Brooke. It was curious–that turning of his tongue from the slander of men to the praise of God. And of the goodness of the Almighty he was quite as sure as of the badness of men. Assurance of his own salvation had come to him one day when he was shearing sheep, and when, as he related often, finding himself on his knees to shear, he remained to pray. Sundays and every Wednesday evening he wore a stove-pipe hat and a long frock coat of antique and rusty aspect. On his way to church–with hospitality even for the like of him, thank God!–he walked slowly with head bent until, remembering his great agility and strength, he began to run, giving a varied exhibition of skips and jumps terminating in a sort of gallop. Once in the sacred house he looked to right and left accusingly, and aloft with encouraging applause. His God was one of wrath, vengeance, and destruction; his hell the destination of his enemies. They who resented the screw of his avarice, and pulled their thumbs away; they who treated him with contempt, and whose faults, compared to his own, were as a mound to a mountain–they were all to burn with everlasting fire, while he, on account of that happy thought the day of the sheep-shearing, was to sit forever with the angels in heaven.
“Ye’re going t’ heaven, I hear,” said Darrel, who had repaired a clock for him, and heard complaint of his small fee.
“I am,” was the spirited reply.
“God speed ye!” said the tinker, as he went away.
In such disfavour was the poor man, that all would have been glad to have him go anywhere, so he left Hillsborough.
One day in the Christmas holidays, a boy came to the door of Riley Brooke, with a buck-saw on his arm.
“I’m looking for work,” said the boy, “and I’d be glad of the chance to saw your wood.”
“How much a cord?” was the loud inquiry.
“Too much,” said Brooke. “How much a day?”
“Too much,” said the old man, snappishly. “I used to git six dollars a month, when I was your age, an’ rise at four o’clock in the mornin’ an’ work till bedtime. You boys now-days are a lazy good-fer-nothin’ lot. What’s yer name?”
“Don’t want ye.”
“Well, mister,” said the boy, who was much in need of money, “I’ll saw your wood for anything you’ve a mind to give me.”
“I’ll give ye fifty cents a day,” said the old man.
Trove hesitated. The sum was barely half what he could earn, but he had given his promise, and fell to. Riley Brooke spent half the day watching and urging him to faster work. More than once the boy was near quitting, but kept his good nature and a strong pace. When, at last, Brooke went away, Trove heard a sly movement of the blinds, and knew that other eyes were on the watch. He spent three days at the job–laming, wearisome days, after so long an absence from heavy toil.
“Wal, I suppose y& want money,” Brooke snapped, as the boy came to the door. “How much?”
“One dollar and a half.”
“Too much, too much; I won’t pay it.”
“That was the sum agreed upon.”
“Don’t care, ye hain’t earned no dollar ‘n a half. Here, take that an’ clear out;” having said which, Brooke tossed some money at the boy and slammed the door in his face. Trove counted the money–it was a dollar and a quarter. He was sorely tempted to open the door and fling it back at him, but wisely kept his patience and walked away. It was the day before Christmas. Trove had planned to walk home that evening, but a storm had come, drifting the snow deep, and he had to forego the visit. After supper he went to the Sign of the Dial. The tinker was at home in his odd little shop and gave him a hearty welcome. Trove sat by the fire, and told of the sawing for Riley Brooke.
“God rest him!” said the tinker, thoughtfully puffing his pipe. “What would happen, think ye, if a man like him were let into heaven?”
“I cannot imagine,” said the boy.
“Well, for one thing,” said the tinker, “he’d begin to look for chattels, an’ I do fear me there’d soon be many without harps.”
“What is one to do with a man like that?” Trove inquired.
“Only this,” said the tinker; “put him in thy book. He’ll make good history. But, sor, for company he’s damnably poor.”
“It’s a new way to use men,” said Trove.
“Nay, an old way–a very old way. Often God makes an example o’ rare malevolence an’ seems to say, ‘Look, despise, and be anything but this.’ Like Judas and Herod he is an excellent figure in a book. Put him in thine, boy.”
“And credit him with full payment?” the boy asked.
“Long ago, praise God, there was a great teacher,” said the old man. “It is a day to think of Him. Return good for evil–those were His words. We’ve never tried it, an’ I’d like to see how it may work. The trial would be amusing if it bore no better fruit.”
“What do you propose?”
“Well, say we take him a gift with our best wishes,” said the tinker.
“If I can afford it,” the boy replied.
The tinker answered quickly: “Oh, I’ve always a little for a Christmas, an’ I’ll buy the gifts. Ah, boy, let’s away for the gifts. We’ll–we’ll punish him with kindness.”
They went together and bought a pair of mittens and a warm muffler for Riley Brooke and walked to his door with them and rapped upon it. Brooke came to the door with a candle.
“What d’ye want?” he demanded.
“To wish you Merry Christmas and present you gifts,” said Trove.
The old man raised his candle, surveying them with surprise and curiosity.
“What gifts?” he inquired in a milder tone.
“Well,” said the boy, “we’ve brought you mittens and a muffler.”
“Ha! ha! Yer consciences have smote ye,” said Brooke, “Glory to God who brings the sinner to repentance!”
“And fills the bitter cup o’ the ungrateful,” said the tinker. And they went away.
“I’d like to bring one other gift,” said Darrel.
“God forgive me! A rope to hang him. But mind thee, boy, we are trying the law o’ the great teacher, and let us see if we can learn to love this man.”
“Love Riley Brooke?” said Trove, doubtfully.
“A great achievement, I grant thee,” said the tinker. “For if we can love him, we shall be able to love anybody. Let us try and see what comes of it.”
A man was waiting for Darrel at the foot of the old stairs–a tall man, poorly dressed, whom Trove had not seen before, and whom, now, he was not able to see clearly in the darkness.
“The mare is ready,” said Darrel. “Tis a dark night.”
He to whom the tinker had spoken made no answer.
“Good night,” said the tinker, turning. “A Merry Christmas to thee, boy, an’ peace an’ plenty.”
“I have peace, and you have given me plenty to think about,” said Trove.
On his way home the boy thought of the stranger at the stairs, wondering if he were the other tinker of whom Darrel had told him. At his lodging he found a new pair of boots with only the Christmas greeting on a card.
“Well,” said Trove, already merrier than most of far better fortune, “he must have been somebody that knew my needs.”
Darrel of the Blessed Isles
The clock tinker was off in the snow paths every other week. In more than a hundred homes, scattered far along road lines of the great valley, he set the pace of the pendulums. Every winter the mare was rented for easy driving and Darrel made his journeys afoot. Twice a day Trove passed the little shop, and if there were a chalk mark on the dial, he bounded upstairs to greet his friend. Sometimes he brought another boy into the rare atmosphere of the clock shop–one, mayhap, who needed some counsel of the wise old man.
Spring had come again. Every day sowers walked the hills and valleys around Hillsborough, their hands swinging with a godlike gesture that summoned the dead to rise; everywhere was the odour of broken field or garden. Night had come again, after a day of magic sunlight, and soon after eight o’clock Trove was at the door of the tinker with a schoolmate.
“How are you?” said Trove, as Darrel opened the door.
“Better for the sight o’ you,” said the old man, promptly. “Enter Sidney Trove and another young gentleman.”
The boys took the two chairs offered them in silence.
“Kind sor,” the tinker added, turning to Trove, “thou hast thy cue; give us the lines.”
“Pardon me,” said the boy. “Mr. Darrel, my friend Richard Kent.”
“Of the Academy?” said Darrel, as he held to the hand of Kent.
“Of the Academy,” said Trove.
“An’, I make no doubt, o’ good hope,” the tinker added. “Let me stop one o’ the clocks–so I may not forget the hour o’ meeting a new friend.”
Darrel crossed the room and stopped a pendulum.
“He would like to join this night-school of ours,” Trove answered.
“Would he?” said the tinker. “Well, it is one o’ hard lessons. When ye come t’ multiply love by experience, an’ subtract vanity an’ add peace, an’ square the remainder, an’ then divide by the number o’ days in thy life–it is a pretty problem, an’ the result may be much or little, an’ ye reach it–“
He paused a moment, thoughtfully puffing the smoke.
“Not in this term o’ school,” he added impressively.
All were silent a little time.
“Where have you been?” Trove inquired presently.
“Home,” said the old man.
There was a puzzled look on Trove’s face.
“Home?” he repeated with a voice of inquiry.
“I have, sor,” the clock tinker went on. “This poor shelter is not me home–it’s only for a night now an’ then. I’ve a grand house an’ many servants an’ a garden, sor, where there be flowers–lovely flowers–an’ sunlight an’ noble music. Believe me, boy, ’tis enough to make one think o’ heaven.”
“I did not know of it,” said Trove.
“Know ye not there is a country in easy reach of us, with fair fields an’ proud cities an’ many people an’ all delights, boy, all delights? There I hope thou shalt found a city thyself an’ build it well so nothing shall overthrow it–fire, nor flood, nor the slow siege o’ years.”
“Where?” Trove inquired eagerly.
“In the Blessed Isles, boy, in the Blessed Isles. Imagine the infinite sea o’ time that is behind us. Stand high an’ look back over its dead level. King an’ empire an’ all their striving multitudes are sunk in the mighty deep. But thou shalt see rising out of it the Blessed Isles of imagination. Green–forever green are they–and scattered far into the dim distance. Look! there is the city o’ Shakespeare–Norman towers and battlements and Gothic arches looming above the sea. Go there an’ look at the people as they come an’ go. Mingle with them an’ find good company–merry-hearted folk a-plenty, an’ God knows I love the merry-hearted! Talk with them, an’ they will teach thee wisdom. Hard by is the Isle o’ Milton, an’ beyond are many–it would take thee years to visit them. Ah, sor, half me time I live in the Blessed Isles. What is thy affliction, boy?”
He turned to Kent–a boy whose hard luck was proverbial, and whose left arm was in a sling.
“Broke it wrestling,” said the boy.
“Kent has bad luck,” said Trove. “Last year he broke his leg.”
“Obey the law, or thou shalt break the bone o’ thy neck,” said Darrel, quickly.
“I do obey the law,” said Trent.
“Ay–the written law,” said the clock tinker, “an’ small credit to thee. But the law o’ thine own discovery,–the law that is for thyself an’ no other,–hast thou ne’er thought of it? Ill luck is the penalty o’ law-breaking. Therefore study the law that is for thyself. Already I have discovered one for thee, an’ it is, ‘I have not limberness enough in me bones, so I must put them in no unnecessary peril.’ Listen, I’ll read thee me own code.”
The clock tinker rose and got his Shakespeare, ragged from long use, and read from a fly-leaf, his code of private law, to wit:–
“Walk at least four miles a day.
“Eat no pork and be at peace with thy liver.
“Measure thy words and cure a habit of exaggeration.
“Thine eyes are faulty–therefore, going up or down, look well to thy steps.
“Beware of ardent spirits, for the curse that is in thy blood. It will turn thy heart to stone.
“In giving, remember Darrel.
“Bandy no words with any man.
“Play at no game of chance.
“Think o’ these things an’ forget thyself.”
“Now there is the law that is for me alone,” Darrel continued, looking up at the boys. “Others may eat pork or taste the red cup, or dally with hazards an’ suffer no great harm–not I. Good youths, remember, ill luck is for him only that is ignorant, neglectful, or defiant o’ private law.”
“But suppose your house fall upon you,” Trove suggested.
“I speak not o’ common perils,” said the tinker. “But enough–let’s up with the sail. Heave ho! an’ away for the Blessed Isles. Which shall it be?”
He turned to a rude shelf, whereon were books,–near a score,–some worn to rags.
“What if it be yon fair Isle o’ Milton?” he inquired, lifting an old volume.
“Let’s to the Isle o’ Milton,” Trove answered.
“Well, go to one o’ the clocks there, an’ set it back,” said the tinker.
“How much?” Trove inquired with a puzzled look.
“Well, a matter o’ two hundred years,” said Darrel, who was now turning the leaves. “List ye, boy, we’re up to the shore an’ hard by the city gates. How sweet the air o’ this enchanted isle!
“‘And west winds with musky wing
Down the cedarn alleys fling
Nard and cassia’s balmy smells.'”
He quoted thoughtfully, turning the leaves. Then he read the shorter poems,–a score of them,–his voice sounding the noble music of the lines. It was revelation for those raw youths and led them high. They forgot the passing of the hours and till near midnight were as those gone to a strange country. And they long remembered that night with Darrel of the Blessed Isles.
Dust of Diamonds in the Hour-glass
The axe of Theron Allen had opened the doors of the wilderness. One by one the great trees fell thundering and were devoured by fire. Now sheep and cattle were grazing on the bare hills. Around the house he left a thicket of fir trees that howled ever as the wind blew, as if “because the mighty were spoiled.” Neighbours had come near; every summer great rugs of grain, vari-hued, lay over hill and dale.
Allen bad prospered, and begun to speculate in cattle. Every year late in April he went to Canada for a drove and sent them south–a great caravan that filled the road for half a mile or more, tramping wearily under a cloud of dust. He sold a few here and there, as the drove went on–a far journey, often, to the sale of the last lot.
The drove came along one morning about the middle of May, 1847. Trove met them at the four corners on Caraway Pike. Then about sixteen years of age, he made his first long journey into the world with Allen’s drove. He had his time that summer and fifty cents for driving. It was an odd business, and for the boy full of new things.
A man went ahead in a buckboard wagon that bore provisions. One worked in the middle and two behind. Trove was at the heels of the first section. It was easy work after the cattle got used to the road and a bit leg weary. They stopped them for water at the creeks and rivers; slowed them down to browse or graze awhile at noontime; and when the sun was low, if they were yet in a land of fences, he of the horse and wagon hurried on to get pasturage for the night.
That first day some of the leaders had begun to wander and make trouble. For that reason Trove was walking beside the buckboard in front of the drove.
“We’ll stop to-night on Cedar Hill,” said the boss, about mid-afternoon. “Martha Vaughn has got the best pasture and the prettiest girl in this part o’ the country. If you don’t fall in love with that girl, you ought t’ be licked.”
Now Trove had no very high opinion of girls. Up there in Brier Dale he had seen little of them. At the red schoolhouse, even, they were few and far from his ideal. And they were a foolish lot there in Hillsborough, it seemed to him–all save two or three who were, he owned, very sweet and beautiful; but he had seen how they tempted other boys to extravagance, and was content with a sly glance at them now and then.
“I don’t ever expect to fall in love,” said Trove, confidently.
“Wal, love is a thing that always takes ye by surprise,” the other answered. “Mrs. Vaughn is a widow, an’ we generally stop there the first day out. She’s a poor woman, an’ it gives her a lift.”
They came shortly to the little weather-stained house of the widow. As they approached, a girl, with arms bare to the elbow, stood looking at them, her hand shading her eyes.
“Co’ boss! Co’ boss! Co’ boss!” she was calling, in a sweet, girlish treble.
Trove came up to the gate, and presently her big, dark eyes were looking into his own. That very moment he trembled before them as a reed shaken by the wind. Long after then, he said that something in her voice had first appealed to him. Her soft eyes were, indeed, of those that quicken the hearts of men. It is doubtful if there were, in all the world, a lovelier thing than that wild flower of girlhood up there in the hills. She was no dream of romance, dear reader. In one of the public buildings of a certain capital her portrait has been hanging these forty years, and wins, from all who pass it, the homage of a long look. But Trove said, often, that she was never quite so lovely as that day she stood calling the cows–her shapely, brown face aglow with the light of youth, her dark hair curling on either side as it fell to her shoulders.
“Good day,” said he, a little embarrassed.
“Good day,” said she, coolly, turning toward the house.
Trove was now in the midst of the cattle. Suddenly a dog rushed upon them, and they took fright. For a moment the boy was in danger of being trampled, but leaped quickly to the backs of the cows and rode to safety. After supper the men sat talking in the stable door, beyond which, on the hay, they were to sleep that night. But Trove stood a long time with the girl, whose name was Polly, at the little gate of the widow.
They seemed to meet there by accident. For a moment they were afraid of each other. After a little hesitation Polly picked a sprig of lilac. He could see a tremble in her hand as she gave it to him, and he felt his own blushes.
“Couldn’t you say something?” she whispered with a smile.
“I–I’ve been trying to think of something,” he stammered.
“Anything would do,” said the girl, laughing, as she retreated a step or two and stood with an elbow leaning on the board fence. She had on her best gown.
It was a curious interview, the words of small account, the silences full of that power which has been the very light of the world. If there were only some way of reporting what followed the petty words,–swift arrows of the eye, lips trembling with the peril of unuttered thought, faces lighting with sweet discovery or darkening with doubt,–well, the author would have better confidence.
Their glances met–the boy hesitated.
“I–don’t think you look quite as lovely in that dress,” he ventured.
A shadow of disappointment came into her face, and she turned away. The boy was embarrassed. He had taken a misstep. She turned impatiently and gave him a glance from head to foot.
“But you’re lovely enough now,” he ventured again.
There was a quick movement of her lips, a flicker of contempt in her eyes. It seemed an age before she answered him.
“Flatterer!” said she, presently, looking down and jabbing the fence top with a pin. “I suppose you think I’m very homely.”
“I always mean what I say.”
“Then you’d better be careful–you might spoil me.” She smiled faintly, turning her face away.
“Don’t you know,” said she, seriously, “that when a girl thinks she’s beautiful she’s spoiled?”
Their blushes had begun to fade; their words to come easier.
“Guess I’m spoilt, too,” said the boy, looking away thoughtfully. “I don’t know what to say–but sometime, maybe, you will know me better and believe me.” He spoke with some dignity.
“I know who you are,” the girl answered, coming nearer and looking into his eyes. “You’re the boy that came out of the woods in a little red sleigh.”
“How did you know?” Trove inquired; for he was not aware that any outside his own home knew it.
“A man told us that came with the cattle last year. And he said you must belong to very grand folks.”
“And how did he know that?”
“By your looks.”
“By my looks?”
“Yes, I–I suppose he thought you didn’t look like other boys around here.” She was now plying the pin very attentively.
“I must be a very curious-looking boy.”
“Oh, not very,” said she, looking at him thoughtfully. “I–I–well I shall not tell you what I think,” She spoke decisively.
She had begun to blush again.
Their eyes met, and they both looked away, smiling. Then a moment of silence.
“Don’t you like brown?” She was now looking down at her dress, with a little show of trouble in her eyes.
“I liked the brown of your arms,” he answered.
The pin stopped; there was a puzzled look in her face.
“I’m afraid it’s a very homely dress, anyway,” said she, looking down upon it, as she moved her foot impatiently.
Her mother came out of doors. “Polly,” said she, “you’d better go over to the post-office.”
“May I go with her?” Trove inquired.
“Ask Polly,” said the widow Vaughn, laughing.
“May I?” he asked.
Polly turned away smiling. “If you care to,” said she, in a low voice.
“You must hurry and not be after dark,” said the widow.
They went away, but only the moments hurried. They that read here, though their heads be gray and their hearts heavy, will understand; for they will remember some little space of time, with seconds flashing as they went, like dust of diamonds in the hour-glass.
“Don’t you remember how you came in the little red sleigh?” she asked presently.
“I think it’s very grand,” said she. “It’s so much like a story.”
“Do you read stories?”
“All I can get. I’ve been reading ‘Greytower.'”
“I read it last winter,” said the boy. “What did you like best in it?”
“I’m ashamed to tell you,” said she, with a quick glance at him.
“Please tell me.”
“Oh, the love scenes, of course,” said she, looking down with a sigh, and a little hesitation.
“He was a fine lover.”
“I’ve something in my eye,” said she, stopping.
“Perhaps I can get it,” said he; “let me try.”
“I’m afraid you’ll hurt me,” said she, looking up with a smile.
“I’ll be careful.”
He lifted her face a little, his fingers beneath her pretty chin. Then, taking her long, dark lashes between thumb and finger, he opened the lids.
“You are hurting,” said she, soberly; and now the lashes were trying to pull free.
“I can see it,” said he.
“It must be a bear–you look so frightened.”
“It’s nothing to be afraid of,” said the boy.
“Well, your hands tremble,” said she, laughing.
“There,” he answered, removing a speck of dust with his handkerchief.
“It is gone now, thank you,” said Polly, winking.
She stood close to him, and as she spoke her lips trembled. He could delay no longer with a subject knocking at the gate of speech.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?” he asked.
She turned, looking up at him seriously. Her lips parted in a smile that showed her white teeth. Then her glance fell. “I shall not tell you that,” said she, in a half whisper.
“I hope we shall meet again,” he said,
“Do you?” said she, glancing up at him shyly.
“Well, if I were you and wanted to see a girl,–I’d–I’d come and see her.”
“What if you didn’t know whether she was willing or not?” he asked.
“I’d take my chances,” said she, soberly.
There were pauses in which their souls went far beyond their words and seemed to embrace each other fondly with arms of the spirit invisible and resistless. And whatever was to come, in that hour the great priest of Love in the white robe of innocence had made them one. The air about them was full of strange delight, They were in deep dusk as they neared the house. For one moment of long-remembered joy she let him put his arm about her waist, but when he kissed her cheek she drew herself away.
They walked a little time in silence.
“I am no flirt,” she whispered presently. Neither spoke for a moment.
Then she seemed to feel and pity his emotion. Something slowed the feet of both.
“There,” she whispered; “you may kiss my hand if you care to.”
He kissed the pretty hand that was offered to him, and her whisper seemed to ring in the dusky silence like the dying rhythm of a bell.
Drove and Drovers
A little after daybreak they went on with the cows. For half a mile or more until the little house had sunk below the hill crest Trove was looking backward. Now and ever after he was to think and tarry also in the road of life and look behind him for the golden towers of memory. The drovers saw a change in Trove and flung at him with their stock of rusty, ancestral witticisms. But Thurst Tilly had a way of saying and doing quite his own,
“Never see any one knocked so flat as you was,” said he. “Ye didn’t know enough t’ keep ahead o’ the cattle. I declare I thought they’d trample ye ‘fore ye could git yer eye unsot.”
Trove made no answer.
“That air gal had a mighty power in her eye,” Thurst went on. “When I see her totin’ you off las’ night I says t’ the boys, says I, ‘Sid is goin’ t’ git stepped on. He ain’t never goin’ t’ be the same boy ag’in.'”
The boy held his peace, and for days neither ridicule nor excitement–save only for the time they lasted–were able to bring him out of his dream.
That night they came to wild country, where men and cattle lay down to rest by the roadway–a thing Trove enjoyed. In the wagon were bread and butter and boiled eggs and tea and doughnuts and cake and dried herring. The men built fires and made tea and ate their suppers, and sang, as the night fell, those olden ballads of the frontier–“Barbara Allen,” “Bonaparte’s Dream,” or the “Drover’s Daughter.”
For days they were driving in the wild country. At bedtime each wound himself in a blanket and lay down to rest, beneath a rude lean-to if it were raining, but mostly under the stars. On this journey Trove got his habit of sleeping, out-of-doors in fair weather. After it, save in midwinter, walls seemed to weary and roofs to smother him. The drove began to low at daybreak, and soon they were all cropping the grass or browsing in the briers. Then the milking, and breakfast over a camp fire, and soon after sunrise they were all tramping in the road again.
It was a pleasant journey–the waysides glowing with the blue of violets, the green of tender grass, the thick-sown, starry gold of dandelions. Wild fowl crossed the sky in wedge and battalion, their videttes out, their lines now firm, now wheeling in a long