XXIV. Beginning the Book of Trouble
 

The rickety stairway seemed to creak with surprise at the slowness of his feet as Trove descended. It was circus day, and there were few in the street. Neither looking to right nor left he hurried to the bank of Hillsborough and left his money. Then, mounting his mare, he turned to the wooded hills and went away at a swift gallop. When the village lay far behind them and the sun was low, he drew rein to let the mare breathe, and turned, looking down the long stairway of the hills. In the south great green waves of timber land, rose into the sun-glow as they swept over hill and mountain. Presently he could hear a galloping horse and a faint halloo down the valley, out of which he had just come. He stopped, listening, and soon a man and horse, the latter nearly spent with fast travel, came up the pike.

"Well, by Heaven! You gave me a hard chase," said the man.

"Do you wish to see me?" Trove inquired.

"Yes--my name is Spinnel. I am connected with the bank of Hillsborough. Your name is Trove--Sidney Trove?"

"Yes, sir."

"You deposited three thousand dollars today?"

"I did."

"Well, I've come to see you and ask a few questions. I've no authority, and you can do as you like about answering."

The man pulled up near Trove and took a note-book and pencil out of his pocket.

"First, how came you by that money?" said he, with some show of excitement in his manner.

"That is my business," said Trove, coolly.

"There's more or less truth in that," said the other. "But I'll explain. Night before last the bank in Milldam was robbed, and the clerk who slept there badly hurt. Now, I've no doubt you're all right, but here's a curious fact--the sum taken was about three thousand dollars."

Trove began to change colour. He dismounted, looking up at the stranger and holding both horses by the bit.

"And they think me a thief?" he demanded.

"No," was the quick reply. "They've no doubt you can explain everything."

"I'll tell you all I know about the money," said Trove. "But come, let's keep the horses warm."

They led them and, walking slowly, Trove told of his night in the sugar-bush. Something in the manner of Spinnel slowed his feet and words. The story was finished. They stopped, turning face to face.

"It's grossly improbable," Trove suggested thoughtfully.

"Well, it ain't the kind o' thing that happens every day or two," said the other. "If you're innocent, you won't mind my looking you over a little to see if you have wounds or weapons. Understand, I've no authority, but if you wish, I'll do it."

"Glad to have you. Here's a hunting-knife, and a flint, and some bird shot," Trove answered, as he began to empty his pockets.

Spinnel examined the hunting-knife and looked carefully at each pocket.

"Would you mind taking off your coat?" he inquired.

The young man removed his coat, uncovering a small spatter of blood on a shirt-sleeve.

"There's no use going any farther with this," said the young man, impatiently. "Come on home with me, and I'll go back with you in the morning and prove my innocence."

The two mounted their horses and rode a long way in silence.

"It is possible," said Trove, presently, "that the robber was a man that knew me and, being close pressed, planned to divert suspicion."

Save that of the stranger, there was no sleep at the little house in Brier Dale that night. But, oddly, for Mary and Theron Allen it became a night of dear and lasting memories of their son. He sat long with them under the pine trees, and for the first time they saw and felt his strength and were as children before it.

"It's all a school," said he, calmly. "An' I'm just beginning to study the Book of Trouble. It's full of rather tough problems, but I'm not going to flunk or fail in it."