XXIII. A New Problem
 

When Trove woke in the morning, a package covered with white paper lay on the blanket near his hand. He rose and picked it up, and saw his own name in a strange handwriting on the wrapper. He turned it, looking curiously at seal and superscription. Tearing it open, he found to his great surprise a brief note and a roll of money. "Herein is a gift for Mr. Sidney Trove," said the note. "The gift is from a friend unknown, who prays God that wisdom may go with it, so it prove a blessing to both."

Trove counted the money carefully. There were $3000 in bank bills. He sat a moment, thinking; then he rose, and began searching for tracks around the shanty. He found none, however, in the dead leaves which he could distinguish from those of Tunk and himself.

"It must be from my father," said he,--a thought that troubled him deeply, for it seemed to bring ill news--that his father would never make himself known.

"He must have seen me last night," Trove went on. "He must even have been near me--so near he could have touched me with his hand. If I had only wakened!"

He put the money in his pocket and made ready to go. He would leave at once in quest of Darrel and take counsel of him. It was early, and he could see the first light of the sun, high in the tall towers of hemlock. The forest rang with bird songs. He went to the brook near by, and drank of its clear, cold water, and bathed in it. Then he walked slowly to Robin's Inn, where Mrs. Vaughn had begun building a fire. She observed the troubled look in his face, but said nothing of it then. Trove greeted her and went to the stable to feed his mare. As he neared the door he heard a loud "Whoa." He entered softly, and the big barn, that joined the stable, began to ring with noise. He heard Tunk shouting "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" at the top of his voice. Peering through, he could see the able horseman leaning back upon a pair of reins tied to a beam in front of him. His cry and attitude were like those of a jockey driving a hard race. He saw Trove, and began to slow up.

"You are a brave man--there's no doubt of it," said the teacher.

"What makes ye think so?" Tunk inquired soberly, but with a glowing eye.

"If you were not brave, you'd scare yourself to death, yelling that way."

"It isn't possible, or Tunk would have perished long ago," said the widow, who had come to feed her chickens.

"It's enough to raise the neighbours," Trove added.

"There ain't any near neighbours but them over 'n the buryin'-ground, and they must be a little uneasy," said the widow.

"Used t' drive so much in races," said Tunk, "got t' be kind of a habit with me--seems so. Ain't eggzac'ly happy less I have holt o' the ribbons every day or two. Ye know I used t' drive ol' crazy Jane. She pulled like Satan. All ye had t' do was t' lean back an' let 'er sail."

"But why do you shout that way?"

"Scares the other hosses," Tunk answered, dropping the reins and tossing his whip aside. "It's a shame I have t' fool my time away up here on a farm."

He went to work at the chores, frowning with discontent. Trove watered and fed his mare and went in to breakfast. An hour later, he bade them all good-by, and set out for Allen's. A new fear began to weigh upon him as he travelled. Was this a part of that evil sum, and had his father begun now to scatter what he had never any right to touch? Whoever brought him that big roll of money had robbed him of his peace. Even his ribs, against which it chafed as he rode along, began to feel sore. Home at last, he put up the mare and went to tell his mother that he must be off for Hillsborough.

"My son," said she, her arms about his neck, "our eyes are growing dim and for a long time have seen little of you."

"And I feel the loss," Trove answered. "I have things to do there, and shall return tonight."

"You look troubled," was her answer. "Poor boy! I pray God to keep you unspotted of the world." She was ever fearing unhappy news of the mystery--that something evil would come out of it.

As Trove rode away he took account of all he owed those good people who had been mother and father to him. What a pleasure it would give him to lay that goodly sum in the lap of his mother and bid her spend it with no thought of economy.

The mare knew him as one may know a brother. There was in her manner some subtle understanding of his mood. Her master saw it in the poise of her head, in the shift of her ears, and in her tender way of feeling for his hand. She, too, was looking right and left in the fields. There were the scenes of a boyhood, newly but forever gone. "That's where you overtook me on the way to school," said he to Phyllis, for so the tinker had named her.

She drew at the rein, starting playfully as she heard his voice, and shaking his hand as if to say, "Oh, master, give me the rein. I will bear you swiftly to happiness."

Trove looked down at her proudly, patting the silken arch of her neck. If, as Darrel had once told him, God took note of the look of one's horses, she was fit for the last journey. Arriving at Hillsborough, he tied her in the sheds and took his way to the Sign of the Dial. Darrel was working at his little bench. He turned wearily, his face paler than Trove had ever seen it, his eyes deeper under their fringe of silvered hair.

"An' God be praised, the boy!" said he, rising quickly. "Canst thou make a jest, boy, a merry jest?"

"Not until you have told me what's the matter."

"Illness an' the food o' bitter fancy," said the tinker, with a sad face.

"Bitter fancy?"

"Yes; an' o' thee, boy. Had I gathered care in the broad fields all me life an' heaped it on thy back, I could not have done worse by thee."

Darrel put his hand upon the boy's shoulder, surveying him from head to foot.

"But, marry," he added, "'tis a mighty thigh an' a broad back."

"Have you seen my father?"

"Yes."

There was a moment of silence, and Trove began to change colour.

"And what did he say?"

"That he will bear his burden alone."

Then, for a moment, silence and the ticking of the clocks.

"And I shall never know my father?" said Trove, presently, his lips trembling. "God, sir! I insist upon it. I have a right to his name and to his shame also." The young man sank upon a chair, covering his face.

"Nay, boy, it is not wise," said Darrel, tenderly. "Take thought of it--thou'rt young. The time is near when thy father can make restitution, ay, an' acknowledge his sin before the world. All very near to him, saving thyself, are dead. Now, whatever comes, it can do thee no harm."

"But I care not for disgrace; and often you have told me that I should live and speak the truth, even though it burn me to the bone."

"So have I, boy, so have I; but suppose it burn others to the bone. It will burn thy wife; an' thy children, an' thy children's children, and them that have reared thee, an' it would burn thy father most of all."

Trove was utterly silenced. His father was bent on keeping his own disgrace.

"Mind thee, boy, the law o' truth is great, but the law o' love is greater. A lie for the sake o' love--think o' that a long time, think until thy heart is worn with all fondness an' thy soul is ready for its God, then judge it."

"But when he makes confession I shall know, and go to him, and stand by has side," the young man remarked.

"Nay, boy, rid thy mind o' that. If ye were to hear of his crime, ye'd never know it was thy father's."

"It is a bitter sorrow, but I shall make the best of it," said Trove.

"Ay, make the best of it. Thou'rt now in the deep sea, an' God guide thee."

"But I ask your help--will you read that?" said Trove, handing him the mysterious note that came with the roll of money.

"An' how much came with it?" said Darrel, as he read the lines.

"Three thousand dollars. Here they are; I do not know what to do with them."

"'Tis a large sum, an' maybe from thy father," said Darrel, looking down at tile money. "Possibly, quite possibly it is from thy father."

"And what shall I do with the money? It is cursed; I can make no use of it."

"Ah, boy, of one thing be sure; it is not the stolen money. For many years thy father hath been a frugal man--saving, ever saving the poor fruit of his toil. Nay, boy, if it come o' thy father, have no fear o' that. For a time put thy money in the bank."

"Then my father lives near me--where I may be meeting him every day of my life?"

"No," said Darrel, shaking his head. Then lifting his finger and looking into the eyes of Trove, he spoke slowly and with deep feeling. "Now that ye know his will I warn ye, boy, seek him no more. Were ye to meet him now an' know him for thy father an' yet refuse to let him pass, I'd think thee a monster o' selfish cruelty."