XXV. The Spider Snares
 

Trove and Spinnel were in Hillsborough soon after sunrise the morning of that memorable day. The young man rapped loudly on the broad door at the Sign of the Dial, but within all was silent. The day before Darrel had spoken of going off to the river towns, and must have started. A lonely feeling came into the boy's heart as he turned away. He went promptly to the house of the district attorney and told all he knew of the money that he had put in the bank. He recounted all that took place the afternoon of his stay at Robin's Inn--the battles of the cocks, and the spider, and how the wounded fowl had probably sprinkled his sleeve with blood. In half an hour, news of the young man's trouble had gone to every house in the village. Soon a score of his schoolmates and half the faculty were at his side--there in the room of the justice. Theron Allen arrived at nine o'clock, although at that hour two responsible men had already given a bail-bond. After dinner, Trove, a constable, and the attorney rode to Robin's Inn. The news had arrived before them, but only the two boys and Tunk were at home. The latter stood in front of the stable, looking earnestly up the road.

"Hello," said he, gazing curiously at horse and men as they came up to the door. He seemed to be eyeing the attorney with hopeful anticipation.

"Tunk," said Trove, cheerfully, "you have a mournful eye."

Tunk advanced slowly, still gazing, both hands deep in his trousers pockets.

"Ez Tower just went by," said he, with suppressed feeling. "Said you was arrested fer murder."

"I presume you were surprised."

"Wal," said he, "Ez ain't said a word before in six months."

Tunk opened the horse's mouth and stood a moment, peering thoughtfully at his teeth.

"Kind of unexpected to be spoke to by Ez Tower," he added, turning his eyes upon them with the same curious look.

The interrogation of Tunk and the two boys began immediately. The story of the fowl corroborated, the sugar-bush became an object of investigation. Milldam was ten miles away, and it was quite possible for the young man to have ridden there and back between the hour when Tunk left him and that of sunrise when he met Mrs. Vaughn at her door. Trove and Tunk Hosely went with the officers down a lane to the pasture and thence into the wood by a path they followed that night to and from the shanty. They discovered nothing new, save one remarkable circumstance that baffled Trove and renewed the waning suspicion of the men of the law. On almost a straight line from bush to barn were tracks of a man that showed plainly where they came out of the grass upon the garden soil. Now, the strange part of it lay in this fact: the boots of Sidney Trove exactly fitted the tracks. They followed the footprints carefully into the meadow-grass and up to the stalk of mullen. Near the top of it was the abandoned home of the spider and around it were the four snares Trove had observed, now full of prey.

"Do not disturb the grass here," said Trove, "and I will prove to you that the tracks were made before the night in question. Do you see the four webs?"

"Yes," said the attorney..

"The tracks go under them," said Trove, "and must, therefore, have been made before the webs. I will prove to you that the webs were spun before two o'clock of the day before yesterday. At that hour I saw the spinner die. See, her lair is deserted."

He broke the stalk of mullen and the cables of spider silk that led away from it, and all inspected the empty lair. Then he told of that deadly battle in the grass.

"But these webs might have been the work of another spider," said the attorney.

"It matters not," Trove insisted, "for the webs were spun at least twelve hours before the crime. One of them contains the body of a red butterfly with starred wings. We cut the wings that day, and Miss Vaughn put them in a book she was reading."

Paul brought the wings, which exactly fitted the tiny torso of the butterfly. They could discern the footprints, one of which had broken the ant's road, while another was completely covered by the butterfly snare.

"Those tracks were made before the webs--that is evident," said the attorney. "Do you know who made the tracks?"

"I do not," was the answer of the young man.

Trove remained at Robin's Inn that night, and after the men had gone he recalled a circumstance that was like a flash of lightning in the dark of his great mystery.

Once at the Sign of the Dial his friend, the tinker, had shown him a pair of new boots. He remembered they were of the same size and shape as those he wore.

"We could wear the same boots," he had remarked to Darrel.

"Had I to do such penance I should be damned," the tinker had answered. "Look, boy, mine are the larger by far. There's a man coming to see me at the Christmas time--a man o' busy feet. That pair in your hands I bought for him."

"Day before yesterday," said Tunk, that evening, "I was up in the sugar-bush after a bit o' hickory, an' I see a man there, an' I didn't have no idee who 'twas. He was tall and had white hair an' whiskers an' a short blue coat. When I first see him he was settin' on a log, but 'fore I come nigh he got up an' made off."

Although meagre, the description was sufficient. Trove had no longer any doubt of this--that the stranger he had seen at Darrel's had been hiding in the bush that day whose events were now so important.

Whoever had brought the money, he must have known much of the plans and habits of the young man, and, the night before Trove's arrival at Robin's Inn, he came, probably, to the sugar woods, where he spent the next day in hiding.

The young man was deeply troubled. Polly and her mother sat well into the night with him, hearing the story of his life, which he told in full, saving only the sin of his father. Of that he had neither the right nor the heart to tell.

"God only knows what is the next chapter," said he, at last. "It may rob me of all that I love in this world."

"But not of me," said Polly, whispering in his ear.

"I wish I were sure of that," he answered.