XXVII. The Rare and Costly Cup
 

Trove had been reciting the history of his trouble and had finished with bitter words.

"Shame on thee, boy," said the tinker, as Trove sat before him with tears of anger in his eyes. "Watch yonder pendulum and say not a word until it has ticked forty times. For what are thy learning an' thy mighty thews if they do not bear thee up in time o' trouble? Now is thy trial come before the Judge of all. Up with thy head, boy, an' be acquitted o' weakness an' fear an' evil passion."

"We deserve better of him," said Trove, speaking of Riley Brooke. "When all others hated him, we were kind to the old sinner, and it has done him no good."

"Ah, but has it done thee good? There's the question," said Darrel, his hand upon the boy's arm.

"I believe it has," said Trove, with a look of surprise.

"It was thee I thought of, boy; I had never much thought o' him."

That moment Trove saw farther into the depth of Darrel's heart than ever before. It startled him. Surely, here was a man that passed all understanding.

Darrel crossed to his bench and began to wind the clocks.

"Ho, Clocks!" said he, thoughtfully. "Know ye the cars have come? Now must we look well to the long hand o' the clock. The old, slow-footed hour is dead, an' now, boy, the minute is our king."

He came shortly and sat beside the young man.

"Put away thy unhappiness," said he, gently, patting the boy's hand. "No harm shall come to thee--'tis only a passing cloud."

"You're right, and I'm not going to be a fool," said Trove. "It has all brought me one item of good fortune."

"An' that is?"

"I have discovered who is my father."

"An' know ye where he is now?" the tinker inquired.

"No; but I know it is he to whom you gave the boots at Christmas time."

"Hush, boy," said Darrel, in a whisper, his hand raised.

He crossed to the bench, returning quickly and drawing his chair in front of the young man.

"Once upon a time," he whispered, sitting down and touching the palm of his open hand with the index finger of the other, "a youth held in his hand a cup, rare an' costly, an' it was full o' happiness, an' he was tempted to drink. 'Ho, there, me youth,' said one who saw him, 'that is the happiness of another.' But he tasted the cup, an' it was bitter, an' he let it fall, an' the other lost his great possession. Now that bitter taste was ever on the tongue o' the youth, so that his own cup had always the flavour o' woe."

The tinker paused a moment, looking sternly into the face of the young man.

"I adjure thee, boy, touch not the cup of another's happiness, or it may imbitter thy tongue. But if thou be foolish an' take it up, mind ye do not drop it."

"I shall be careful--I shall neither taste nor drop it," said Trove.

"God bless thee, boy! thou'rt come to a great law--who drains the cup of another's happiness shall find it bitter, but who drains the cup of another's bitterness shall find it sweet."

A silence followed, in which Trove sat looking at the old man whose words were like those of a prophet. "I have no longer any right to seek my father," he thought. "And, though I meet him face to face, I must let him go his way."

Suddenly there came a rap at the door, and when Darrel opened it, they saw only a letter hanging to the latch. It contained these words, but no signature:--

"There'll be a bonfire and some fun to-night at twelve, in the middle of Cook's field. Messrs. Trove and Darrel are invited."

"Curious," said Darrel. "It has the look o' mischief."

"Oh, it's only the boys and a bit of skylarking," said Trove. "Let's go and see what's up--it's near the time."

The streets were dark and silent as they left the shop. They went up a street beyond the village limits and looked off in Cook's field but saw no light there. While they stood looking a flame rose and spread. Soon they could see figures in the light, and, climbing the fence, they hastened across an open pasture. Coming near they saw a score of men with masks upon their faces.

"Give him the tar and feathers," said a strange voice.

"Not if he will confess an' seek forgiveness," another answered.

"Down to your knees, man, an' make no outcry, an' see you repeat the words carefully, as I speak them, or you go home in tar and feathers."

They could hear the sound of a scuffle, and, shortly, the phrases of a prayer spoken by one voice and repeated by another.

They were far back in the gloom, but could hear each word of that which follows: "O God, forgive me--I am a liar and a hypocrite--I have the tongue of scandal and deceit--I have robbed the poor--I have defamed the good--and, Lord, I am sick--with the rottenness of my own heart. And hereafter--I will cheat no more--and speak no evil of any one--Amen."

"Now, go to your home, Riley Brooke," said the voice, "an' hereafter mind your tongue, or you shall ride a rail in tar and feathers."

They could see the crowd scatter, and some passed near them, running away in the darkness.

"Stoop there an' say not a word," the tinker whispered, crouching in the grass.

When all were out of hearing, they started for the little shop.

"Hereafter," said Darrel, as they walked along, "God send he be more careful with the happiness of other men. I do assure thee, boy, it is bitter, bitter, bitter."