XXIX. Again the Uphill Road
 

Again the middle of September and the beginning of the fall term. Trove had gone to his old lodgings at Hillsborough, and Polly was boarding in the village, for she, too, was now in the uphill road to higher learning. None, save Darrel, knew the secret of the young man,--that he was paying her board and tuition. The thought of it made him most happy; but now, seeing her every day had given him a keener sense of that which had come between them. He sat much in his room and had little heart for study. It was a cosey room now. His landlady had hung rude pictures on the wall and given him a rag carpet. On the table were pieces of clear quartz and tourmaline and, about each window-frame, odd nests of bird or insect--souvenirs of wood-life and his travel with the drove. There, too, on the table were mementos of that first day of his teaching,--the mirror spectacles with which he had seen at once every corner of the schoolroom, the sling-shot and bar of iron he had taken from the woodsman, Leblanc.

One evening of his first week at Hillsborough that term, Darrel came to sit with him a while.

"An' what are these?" said the tinker, at length, his hand upon the shot and iron.

"I do not know."

"Dear boy," said Darrel, "they're from the kit of a burglar, an' how came they here?"

"I took them from Louis Leblanc," said the young man, who then told of his adventure that night.

"Louis Leblanc!" exclaimed Darrel. "The scamp an' his family have cleared out."

The tinker turned quickly, his hand upon the wrist of the young man.

"These things are not for thee to have," he whispered. "Had ye no thought o' the danger?"

Trove began to change colour.

"I can prove how I came by them," he stammered.

"What is thy proof?" Darrel whispered again.

"There are Leblanc's wife and daughter."

"Ah, where are they? There be many would like to know."

The young man thought a moment.

"Well, Tunk Hosely, there at Mrs. Vaughn's."

"Tunk Hosely!" exclaimed the tinker, with a look that seemed to say, "God save the mark! An' would they believe him, think?"

Trove began to look troubled as Darrel left him.

"I'll go and drop them in the river," said Trove to himself.

It was eleven o'clock and the street dark and deserted as he left his room.

"It is a cowardly thing to do," the young man thought as he walked slowly, but he could devise no better way to get rid of them.

In the middle of the big, open bridge, he stopped to listen. Hearing only the sound of the falls below, Trove took the odd tools from under his coat and flung them over the rail.

He turned then, walking slowly off the bridge and up the main street, of Hillsborough. At a corner he stopped to listen. His ear had caught the sound of steps far behind him. He could hear it no longer, and went his way, with a troubled feeling that robbed him of rest that night. In a day or two it wore off, and soon he was hold of the bit, as he was wont to say, and racing for the lead in his work. He often walked to school with Polly and went to church with her every Sunday night. There had been not a word of love between them, however, since they came to the village, until one evening she said:--

"I am very unhappy, and I wish I were home."

"Why?"

She was not able to answer for a moment.

"I know I am unworthy of you," she whispered.

His lungs shook him with a deep and tremulous inspiration. For a little he could not answer.

"That is why you do not love me?" she whispered again.

"I do love you," he said with a strong effort to control himself, "but I am not worthy to touch the hem of your garment."

"Tell me why, Sidney?"

"Some day--I do not know when--I will tell you all. And if you can love me after that, we shall both be happy."

"Tell me now," she urged.

"I cannot," said he, "but if you only trust me, Polly, you shall know. If you will not trust me--"

He paused, looking down at the snow path.

"Good night!" he added presently.

They kissed and parted, each going to the company of bitter tears.

As of old, Trove had many a friend,--school-fellows who came of an evening, now and then, for his help in some knotty problem. All saw a change in him. He had not the enthusiasm and good cheer of former days, and some ceased to visit him. Moreover they were free to say that Trove was getting a big head. For one thing, he had become rather careless about his clothes,--a new trait in him, for he had the gift of pride and the knack of neatness.

A new student sought his acquaintance the very first week of the term,--that rather foppish young man who got off the cars at Hillsborough the day of their first coming. He was from Buffalo, and, although twenty-two years of age, was preparing to enter college. His tales of the big city and his frank good-fellowship made him a welcome guest. Soon he was known to all as "Dick"--his name being Richard Roberts. It was not long before Dick knew everybody and everybody knew Dick, including Polly, and thought him a fine fellow. Soon Trove came to know that when he was detained a little after school Dick went home with Polly. That gave him no concern, however, until Dick ceased to visit him, and he saw a change in the girl.

One day, two letters came for Trove. They were in girlish penmanship and bore no signature, but stung him to the quick.

"For Heaven's sake get a new hat," said one.

"You are too handsome to neglect your clothes," said the other.

As he read them, his cheeks were burning with his shame. He went for his hat and looked it over carefully. It was faded, and there was a little rent in the crown. His boots were tapped and mended, his trousers threadbare at the knee, and there were two patches on his coat.

"I hadn't thought of it," said he, with a sigh. Then he went for a talk with Darrel.

"Did you ever see a more shabby-looking creature?" he inquired, as Darrel came to meet him. "I am so ashamed of myself I'd like to go lie in your wood box while I talk to you."

"'What hempen homespun have we swaggering here?'" Darrel quoted in a rallying voice.

"I'll tell you." Trove began.

"Nay, first a roundel," said the tinker, as he began to shuffle his feet to the measure of an old fairy song.

"If one were on his way to the gallows, you would make him laugh," said Trove, smiling.

"An I could, so would I," said the old man. "A smile, boy, hath in it 'some relish o' salvation.' Now, tell me, what is thy trouble?"

"I'm going to leave school," said Trove.

"An' wherefore?"

"I'm sick of this pinching poverty. Look at my clothes; I thought I could make them do, but I can't."

He put the two notes in Darrel's hand. The tinker wiped his spectacles and then read them both.

"Tut, tut, boy!" said he, presently, with a very grave look. "Have ye forgotten the tatters that were as a badge of honour an' success? Weeks ago I planned to find thee better garments, but, on me word, I had no heart for it. Nay, these old ones had become dear to me. I was proud o' them--ay, boy, proud o' them. When I saw the first patch on thy coat, said I, 'It is the little ensign o' generosity.' Then came another, an', said I, 'That is for honour an' true love,' an' these bare threads--there is no loom can weave the like o' them. Nay, boy," Darrel added, lifting an arm of the young man and kissing one of the patches, "be not ashamed o' these--they're beautiful, ay, beautiful. They stand for the dollars ye gave Polly."

Trove turned away, wiping his eyes.

He looked down at his coat and trousers and began to wonder if he were, indeed, worthy to wear them.

"I'm not good enough for them," said he, "but you've put new heart in me, and I shall not give up. I'll wear them as long as I can make them do, and girls can say what they please."

"The magpies!" said Darrel. "When they have a thought for every word they utter, Lord! there'll be then a second Sabbath in the week."

Next evening Trove went to see Polly.

As he was leaving, she held his hand in both of hers and looked down, blushing deeply, as if there were something she would say, had she only the courage.

"What is it, Polly?" said he.

"Will you--will you let me buy you a new hat?" said she, soberly, and hesitating much between words.

He thought a moment, biting his lip.

"I'd rather you wouldn't, Polly," said he, looking down at the faded hat. "I know it's shabby, but, after all, I'm fond o' the old thing. I love good clothes, but I can't afford them now."

Then he bade her good night and came away.