XXVIII. Darrel at Robin's Inn
 

Trove had much to help him,--youth, a cheerful temperament, a counsellor of unfailing wisdom. Long after they were gone he recalled the sadness and worry of those days with satisfaction, for, thereafter, the shock of trouble was never able to surprise and overthrow him.

After due examination he had been kept in bail to wait the action of the grand jury, soon to meet. Now there were none thought him guilty--save one or two afflicted with the evil tongue. It seemed to him a dead issue and gave him no worry. One thing, however, preyed upon his peace,--the knowledge that his father was a thief. A conviction was ever boring in upon him that he had no right to love Polly. A base injustice it would be, he thought, to marry her without telling what he had no right to tell. But he was ever hoping for some word of his father--news that might set him free. He had planned to visit Polly, and on a certain day Darrel was to meet him at Robin's Inn. The young man waited, in some doubt of his duty, and that day came--one of the late summer--when he and Darrel went afoot to the Inn, crossing hill and valley, as the crow flies, stopping here and there at isles of shadow in a hot amber sea of light. They sat long to hear the droning in the stubble and let their thought drift slowly as the ship becalmed.

"Some days," said Darrel, "the soul in me is like a toy skiff, tossing in the ripples of a duck pond an' mayhap stranding on a reed or lily. An' then," he added, with kindling eye and voice, "she is a great ship, her sails league long an' high, her masthead raking the stars, her hull in the infinite sea."

"Well," said Trove, sighing, "I'm still in the ripples of the duck pond."

"An' see they do not swamp thee," said Darrel, with a smile that seemed to say, "Poor weakling, your trouble is only as the ripples of a tiny pool." They went on slowly, over green pastures, halting at a brook in the woods. There, again, they rested in a cool shade of pines, Darrel lighting his pipe.

"I envy thee, boy," said the tinker, "entering on thy life-work in this great land--a country blest o' God. To thee all high things are possible. Where I was born, let a poor lad have great hope in him, an' all--ay, all--even those he loved, rose up to cry him down. Here in this land all cheer an' bid him God-speed. An' here is to be the great theatre o' the world's action. Many of high hope in the broad earth shall come, an' here they shall do their work. An' its spirit shall spread like the rising waters, ay, it shall flood the world, boy, it shall flood the world."

Trove made no reply, but he thought much and deeply of what the tinker said. They lay back a while on the needle carpet, thinking. They could hear the murmur of the brook and a woodpecker drumming on a dead tree.

"Me head is busy as yon woodpecker's," Darrel went on. "It's the soul fire in this great, free garden o' God--it's America. Have ye felt it, boy?"

"Yes; it is in your eyes and on your tongue," said Trove.

"Ah boy! 'tis only God's oxygen. Think o' the poor fools withering on cracker barrels in Hillsborough an' wearing away 'the lag end o' their lewdness.' I have no patience with the like o' them, I'd rather be a butcher's clerk an' carry with me the redolence o' ham."

In Hillsborough, where all spoke of him as an odd man of great learning, there were none, saving Trove and two or three others, that knew the tinker well, for he took no part in the roaring gossip of shop and store.

"Hath it ever occurred to thee," said Darrel, as they walked along, "that a fool is blind to his folly, a wise man to his wisdom?"

When they were through the edge of the wilderness and came out on Cedar Hill, and saw, below them, the great, round shadow of Robin's Inn, they began to hasten their steps. They could see Polly reading a book under the big tree.

"What ho! the little queen," said Darrel, as they came near, "Now, put upon her brow 'an odorous chaplet o' sweet summer buds.'"

She came to meet them in a pretty pink dress and slippers and white stockings.

"Fair lady, I bring thee flowers," said Darrel, handing her a bouquet. "They are from the great garden o' the fields."

"And I bring a crown," said Trove, as he kissed her and put a wreath of clover and wild roses on her brow.

"I thought something dreadful had happened," said Polly, with tears in her eyes. "For three days I've been dressed up waiting."

"An' a grand dress it is," said Barrel, surveying her pretty figure.

"I've nearly worn it out waiting," said she, looking down, her voice trembling.

"Tut, tut, girl--'tis a lovely dress," the tinker insisted.

"It is one my mother wore when she was a girl," said Polly, proudly. "It was made over."

"O--oh! God love thee, child!" said the tinker, in a tone of great admiration. "'Tis beautiful."

"And, you came through the woods?" said Polly.

"Through wood and field," was Trove's answer.

"I wonder you knew the way."

"The little god o' love--he shot his arrows, an' we followed them as the hunter follows the bee," said Darrel.

"It was nice of you to bring the flowers," said Polly. "They are beautiful."

"But not like those in thy cheeks, dear child. Where is the good mother?" said Darrel.

"She and the boys are gone a-berrying, and I have been making jelly. We're going to have a party to-night for your birthday."

"'An' rise up before the hoary head an' honour the face o' the old man,'" said Darrel, thoughtfully. "But, child, honour is not for them that tinker clocks."

"'Honour and fame from no condition rise,'" said Polly, who sat in a chair, knitting.

"True, dear girl! Thy lips are sweeter than the poet's thought."

"You'll turn my head;" the girl was laughing as she spoke.

"An it turn to me, I shall be happy," said the tinker, smiling, and then he began to feel the buttons on his waistcoat. "Loves me, loves me not, loves me, loves me not--"

"She loves you," said Polly, with a smile.

"She loves me, hear that, boy," said the tinker. "Ah, were she not bespoke! Well, God be praised, I'm happy," he added, filling his pipe.

"And seventy," said Polly.

"Ay, three score an' ten--small an' close together, now, as I look off at them, like a flock o' pigeons in the sky."

"What do you think?" said Polly, as she dropped her knitting. "The two old maids are coming to-night."

"The two old maids!" said Darrel; "'tis a sign an' a wonder."

"Oh, a great change has come over them," Polly went on. "It's all the work o' the teacher. You know he really coaxed them into sliding with him last winter."

"I heard of it--the gay Philander!" said Darrel, laughing merrily. "Ah! he's a wonder with the maidens!"

"I know it," said Polly, with a sigh.

Trove was idly brushing the mat of grass with a walking-stick. He loved fun, but he had no conceit for this kind of banter.

"It was one of my best accomplishments," said he, blushing. "I taught them that there was really a world outside their house and that men were not all as lions, seeking whom they might devour."

Soon the widow and her boys came, their pails full of berries.

"We cannot shake hands with you," said Mrs. Vaughn, her fingers red with the berry stain.

"Blood o' the old earth!" said Darrel. "How fares the clock?"

"It's too slow, Polly says."

"Ah, time lags when love is on the way," Darrel answered.

"Foolish child! A little while ago she was a baby, an' now she is in love."

"Ah, let the girl love," said Darrel, patting the red cheek of Polly, "an' bless God she loves a worthy lad,"

"You'd better fix the clock." said Polly, smiling. "It is too fast, now."

"So is the beat o' thy heart," Darrel answered, a merry look in his eyes, "an' the clock is keeping pace."

Trove got up, with a laugh, and went away, the boys following.

"I'm worried about him," the widow whispered. "For a long time he hasn't been himself."

"It's the trouble--poor lad! 'Twill soon be over," said Darrel, hopefully.

There were now tears in the eyes of Polly.

"I do not think he loves me any more," said she, her lips trembling.

"Speak not so, dear child; indeed he loves thee."

"I have done everything to please him," said Polly, in broken words, her face covered with her handkerchief.

"I wondered what was the matter with you, Polly," said her mother, tenderly.

"Dear, dear child!" said the tinker, rising and patting her head. "The chaplet on thy brow an' thee weeping!--fairest flower of all!"

"I have wished that I was dead;" the words came in a little moan between sobs.

"Because: Love hath led thee to the great river o' tears? Nay, child, 'tis a winding river an' crosses all the roads."

He had taken her handkerchief, and with a tender touch was drying her eyes.

"Now I can see thee smiling, an' thy lashes, child--they are like the spray o' the fern tip when the dew is on it."

Polly rose and went away into the house. Darrel wiped his eyes, and the widow sat, her chin upon her hand, looking down sadly and thoughtfully. Darrel was first to speak.

"Did it ever occur to ye, Martha Vaughn, this child o' thine is near a woman but has seen nothing o' the world ?"

"I think of that often," said she, the mother's feeling in her voice.

"Well, if I understand him, it's a point of honour with the boy not to pledge her to marriage until she has seen more o' life an' made sure of her own heart. Now, consider this: let her go to the school at Hillsborough, an' I'll pay the cost."

The widow looked up at him without speaking.

"I'm an old man near the end o' this journey, an' ye've known me many years," Darrel went on. "There's nothing can be said against it. Nay; I'll have no thanks. Would ye thank the money itself, the bits o' paper? No; nor Roderick Darrel, who, in this business, is no more worthy o' gratitude. Hush! who comes?"

It was Polly herself in a short, red skirt, her arms bare to the elbows. She began to busy herself about the house.

"Too bad you took off that pretty dress, Polly," said Trove, when he returned.

She came near and whispered to him.

"This," said she, looking down sadly, "is like the one I wore when you first came."

"Well, first I thought of your arms," said he, "they were so lovely! Then of your eyes and face and gown, but now I think only of the one thing,--Polly."

The girl was happy, now, and went on with the work, singing, while Trove lent a hand.

A score of people came up the hill from Pleasant Valley that night. Tunk went after the old maids and came with them in the chaise at supper time. There were two wagon-loads of young people, and, before dusk, men and their wives came sauntering up the roadway and in at the little gate.

Two or three of the older men wore suits of black broadcloth, the stock and rolling collar--relics of "old decency" back in Vermont or Massachusetts or Connecticut. Most were in rough homespun over white shirts with no cuffs or collar. All gathered about Darrel, who sat smoking outside the door. He rose and greeted each one of the women with a bow and a compliment. The tinker was a man of unfailing courtesy, and one thing in him was extremely odd,--even there in that land of pure democracy,--he treated a scrub-woman with the same politeness he would have accorded the finest lady. But he was in no sense a flatterer; none that saw him often were long in ignorance of that. His rebuke was even quicker than his compliment, as many had reason to know. And there was another curious thing about Darrel,--these people and many more loved him, gathering about his chair as he tinkered, hearing with delight the lore and wisdom of his tongue, but, after all, there were none that knew him now any better than the first day he came. A certain wall of dignity was ever between him and them.

Half an hour before dark, the yard was thronged with people. They listened with smiles or a faint ripple of merry feeling as he greeted each.

"Good evening, Mrs. Beach," he would say. "Ah! the snow is falling on thy head. An' the sunlight upon thine, dear girl," he added, taking the hand of the woman's daughter.

"An' here's Mr. Tilly back from the far west," he continued. "How fare ye, sor?"

"I'm well, but a little too fat," said Thurston Tilly.

"Well, sor, unless it make thy heart heavy, be content.

"Good evening, Mrs. Hooper,--that is a cunning hand with the pies.

"Ah, Mrs. Rood, may the mouse never leave thy meal bag with a tear in his eye.

"Not a gray hair in thy head, Miss Tower, nor even a gray thought.

"An' here's Mrs. Barbour--'twill make me sweat to carry me pride now. How goes the battle?"

"The Lord has given me sore affliction," said she.

"Nay, dear woman," said the tinker in that tone so kindly and resistless, "do not think the Lord is hitting thee over the ears. It is the law o' life.

"Good evening, Elder, what is the difference between thy work an' mine?"

"I hadn't thought of that."

"Ah, thine is the dial of eternity--mine that o' time." And so he greeted all and sat down, filling his pipe.

"Now, Weston, out with the merry fiddle," said he, "an' see it give us happy thoughts."

A few small boys were gathered about him, and the tinker began to hum an Irish reel, fingers and forearm flying as he played an imaginary fiddle. But, even now, his dignity had not left him. The dance began. All were in the little house or at the two doors, peering in, save Darrel, who sat with his pipe, and Thurston Tilly, who was telling him tales of the far west. In the lull of sound that followed the first figure, Trove came to look out upon them. A big, golden moon had risen above the woods, and the light and music and merry voices had started a sleepy twitter up in the dome of Robin's Inn.

"Do you see that scar?" he heard Tilly saying.

"I do, sor."

"Well, a man shot me there."

"An' what for?" the tinker inquired.

"I was telling him a story. It cured me. Do you carry a gun?"

"I do not, sor."

"Wal, then, I'll tell you about the man I work for."

Tunk, who had been outside the door in his best clothes, but who, since he put them on, had looked as if he doubted the integrity of his suspenders and would not come in the house, began to laugh loudly.

"That man Tunk can see the comedy in all but himself," was Trove's thought, as he returned with a smile of amusement.

Soon Trove and Polly came out and stood a while by the lilac bush, at the gate.

"You worry me, Sidney Trove," said she, looking off at the moonlit fields.

Then came a silence full of secret things, like the silences of their first meeting, there by the same gate, long ago. This one, however, had a vibration that seemed to sting them.

"I am sorry," said he, with a sigh.

Another silence in which the heart of the girl was feeling for the secret in his.

"You are so sad, so different," she whispered.

Polly waited full half a minute for his answer. Then she touched her eyes with her handkerchief, turned impatiently, and went halfway to the door. Darrel caught her hand, drawing her near him.

"Give me thy hand, boy," said he to Trove, now on his way to the door.

He stood with his arms around the two.

"Every shadow hath the wings o' light," he whispered. "Listen."

The house rang with laughter and the music of Money Musk.

"'Tis the golden bell of happiness," said he, presently. "Go an' ring it. Nay--first a kiss."

He drew them close together, and they kissed each other's lips, and with smiling faces went in to join the dance.