Darrel of the Blessed Isles by Irving Bacheller
It was court week, and the grand jury was in session. There were many people in the streets of the shire town. They moved with a slow foot, some giving their animation to squints of curiosity and shouts of recognition, some to profanity and plug tobacco. Squire Day and Colonel Judson were to argue the famous maple-sugar case, and many causes of local celebrity were on the calendar.
There were men with the watchful eye of the hunter, ever looking for surprises. They moved with caution, for here, indeed, were sights and perils greater than those of the timber land. Here were houses, merchants, lawyers, horse-jockeys, whiskey, women. They knew the thickets and all the wild creatures that lived in them, but these things of the village were new and strange. They came out of the stores and, after expectorating, stood a moment with their hands in their pockets, took a long look to the right and a long look to the left and threw a glance into the sky, and then examined the immediate foreground. If satisfied, they began to move slowly one way or the other and, meeting hunters presently, would ask:--
"Here fer yer bounties?"
"Here fer my bounties," another would say. Then they both took a long look around them.
"Wish't I was back t' the shanty."
"So do I."
"Too many houses an' too many women folks."
"An' if ye wan' t' git a meal o' vittles, it costs ye three mushrats."
Night and morning the tavern offices were full of smart-looking men,--lawyers from every village in the county, who, having dropped the bitter scorn of the court room, now sat gossiping in a cloud of tobacco smoke, rent with thunder-peals of laughter and lightning flashes of wit. Teams of farmer folk filled the sheds and were tied to hitching-posts, up and down the main thoroughfare of the village. Every day rough-clad, brawny men led their little sons to the courthouse.
"Do ye see that man with the spectacles and the bald head?" they had been wont to whisper, when seated in the court room, "that air man twistin' his hair,--that's Silas Wright; an' that tall man that jes' sot down?--that's John L. Russell. Now I want ye t' listen, careful. Mebbe ye'll be a lawyer, sometime, yerself, as big as any of 'em."
The third day of that week--it was about the middle of the afternoon--a score of men, gossiping in the lower hall of the court building, were hushed suddenly. A young man came hurrying down the back stairs with a look of excitement.
"What's up?" said one.
"Sidney Trove is indicted," was the answer of the young man.
He ran out of doors and down the street. People began crowding out of the court room. Information, surprise, and conjecture--a kind of flood pouring out of a broken dam--rushed up and down the forty streets of the village. Soon, as of old, many were afloat and some few were drowning in it. For a little, busy hands fell limp and feet grew slow and tongues halted. A group of school-girls on their way home were suddenly overtaken by the onrushing tide. They came close together and whispered. Then a little cry of despair, and one of them fell and was borne into a near house. A young man ran up the stairway at the Sign of the Dial and rapped loudly at Darrel's door, Trove and the tinker were inside.
"Old fellow," said the newcomer, his hand upon Trove's arm, "they've voted to indict you, and I've seen all the witnesses."
Trove had a book in his hand. He rose calmly and flung it on the table.
"It's an outrage," said he, with a sigh.
"Nay, an honour," said Darrel, quickly. "Hold up thy head, boy. The laurel shall take the place o' the frown."
He turned to the bearer of these evil tidings.
"Have ye more knowledge o' the matter?"
"Yes, all day I have been getting hold of their evidence," said the newcomer, a law student, who was now facing his friend Trove. "In the first place, it was a man of blue eyes and about your build who broke into the bank at Milldam. It is the sworn statement of the clerk, who has now recovered. He does not go so far as to say you are the man, but does say it was a man like you that assaulted him. It appears the robber had his face covered with a red bandanna handkerchief in which square holes were cut so he could see through. The clerk remembers it was covered with a little white figure--that of a log cabin. Such a handkerchief was sold years ago in the campaign of Harrison, but has gone out of use. Not a store in the county has had them since '45. The clerk fired upon him with a pistol, and thinks he wounded him in the left forearm. In their fight the robber struck him with a sling-shot, and he fell, and remembers nothing more until he came to in the dark alone. The skin was cut in little squares, where the shot struck him, and that is one of the strong points against you."
"Against me?" said Trove.
"Yes--that and another. It seems the robber left behind him one end of a bar of iron. The other end of the same bar and a sling-shot--the very one that probably felled the clerk--have been found."
The speaker rose and walked half across the room and back, looking down thoughtfully.
"I tell ye what, old fellow," said he, sitting down again, "it is mighty strange. If I didn't know you well, I'd think you guilty. Here comes a detective who says under oath that one night he saw you come out of your lodgings, about eleven o'clock, and walk to the middle of the bridge and throw something into the water. Next morning bar and shot were found. As nearly as he could make out they lay directly under the place where you halted."
Darrel sat looking thoughtfully at the speaker.
"A detective ?" said Trove, rising erect, a stern look upon him.
"Roberts, a detective!" said Trove, in a whisper. Then he turned to Darrel, adding, "I shall have to find the Frenchman."
"Louis Leblanc?" the young man asked.
"Louis Leblanc," Trove answered with surprise.
"He has been found," said the other.
"Then I shall be able to prove my point. He came to his home drunk one night and began to bully his family. I was boarding with the Misses Tower and went over and took the shot and iron from his hands and got him into bed. The woman begged me to bring them away."
"He declares that he never saw the shot or the iron."
Darrel rose and drew his chair a bit nearer.
"Very well, but there's the wife," said he, quickly.
"She will swear, too, that she never saw them."
"And how about the daughter?" Trove inquired.
"Run away and nowhere to be found," was the answer of the other young man. "I've told you bad news enough, but there's more, and you ought to know it all. Louis Leblanc is in Quebec, and he says that a clock tinker lent him money with which to leave the States."
"It was I, an' God bring him to repentance--the poor beggar!" said Darrel. "He agreed to repay me within a fortnight an' was in sore distress, but he ran away, an' I got no word o' him."
"Well, the inference is, that you, being a friend of the accused, were trying to help him."
"I'm caught in a web," said Trove, leaning forward, his head upon his hands, "and Leblanc's wife is the spider. How about the money? Have they been able to identify it?"
"In part, yes; there's one bill that puzzles them. It's that of an old bank in New York City that failed years ago and went out of business."
Then a moment of silence and that sound of the clocks--like footsteps of a passing caravan, some slow and heavy, some quick, as if impatient to be gone.
"Ye speeding seconds!" said Darrel, as he crossed to the bench. "Still thy noisy feet."
Then he walked up and down, thinking.
The friend of Sidney Trove put on his hat and stood by the door.
"Don't forget," said he, "you have many friends, or I should not be able to tell you these things. Keep them to yourself and go to work. Of course you will be able to prove your innocence."
"I thank you with all my heart," said Trove.
"Ay, 'twas friendly," the old man remarked, taking the boy's hand.
"I have to put my trust in Tunk--the poor liar!" said Trove, when they were alone.
"No," Darrel answered quickly. "Were ye drowning, ye might as well lay hold of a straw. Trust in thy honour; it is enough."
"Let's go and see Polly," said the young man.
"Ay, she o' the sweet heart," said the tinker; "we'll go at once."
They left the shop, and on every street they travelled there were groups of men gossiping. Some nodded, others turned away, as the two passed. Dick Roberts met them at the door of the house where Polly boarded.
"I wish to see Miss Vaughn," said Trove, coolly.
"She is ill," said Roberts.
"Could I not see her for a moment?" Trove inquired.
"Is she very sick?"
Darrel came close to Roberts. He looked sternly at the young man.
"Boy," said he, with great dignity, his long forefinger raised, "within a day ye shall be clothed with shame."
"They were strange words," Trove thought, as they walked away in silence; and when they had come to the little shop it was growing dusk.
"What have I done to bring this upon me and my friends?" said Trove, sinking into a chair.
"It is what I have done," said Darrel; "an' now I take the mantle o' thy shame. Rise, boy, an' hold up thy head."
The old man stood erect by the side of the young man.
"See, I am as tall an' broad as thou art."
He went to an old chest and got a cap and drew it down upon his head, pushing his gray hair under it. Then he took from his pocket a red bandanna handkerchief, figured with a cabin, tying it over his face. He turned, looking at Trove through two square holes in the handkerchief.
"Behold the robber!" said he.
"You know who is the robber?" Trove inquired.
Darrel raised the handkerchief and flung it back upon his head.
"'Tis Roderick Darrel," said he, his hand now on the shoulder of the young man.
For a moment both stood looking into each other's eyes.
"What joke is this, my friend?" Trove whispered.
"I speak not lightly, boy. If where ye thought were honour an' good faith, there be only guilt an' shame, can ye believe in goodness?"
For his answer there were silence and the ticking of the clocks.
"Surely ye can an' will," said the old man, "for there is the goodness o' thy own heart. Ah, boy, though I have it not, remember that I loved honour an' have sought to fill thee with it. This night I go where ye cannot follow."
The tinker turned, halting a pendulum.
Trove groaned as he spoke, "O man, tell me, quickly, what do you mean?"
"That God hath laid his hand upon me," said Darrel, sternly. "I cannot see thee suffer, boy, when I am the guilty one. O Redeemer o' the world! haste me, haste me now to punishment."
The young man staggered, like one dazed by the shock of a blow, stepped backward, and partly fell on a lounge against the wall. Darrel came and bent over him. Trove sat leaning, his hand on the lounge, staring up at the tinker, his eyes dreadful and amazed.
"You, you will confess and go to prison!" he whispered.
"Fair soul!" said the old man, stroking the boy's head, "think not o' me. Where I go there be flowers--lovely flowers! an' music, an' the bards an' prophets. Though I go to punishment, still am I in the Blessed Isles."
"You are doing it to save me," Trove whispered, taking the hand of the old man. "I'll not permit it. I'll go to prison first."
"Am I so great a fool, think ye, as to claim an evil that is not mine? An' would ye keep in me the burning o' remorse when I seek to quench it? I warn thee, meddle not with the business o' me soul. That is between the great God an' me."
Darrel stood to his full height, the red handkerchief covering his head and falling on his back. He began with a tone of contempt that changed quickly into one of sharp command. There was a little silence and then a quick rap.
"Come in," Darrel shouted, as he let the handkerchief fall upon his face again.
The district attorney, a constable, and the bank clerk, who had been injured the night of the robbery, came in.
"He is not guilty," said Trove, rising quickly.
"I command ye, boy, be silent," said Darrel, sternly.
"Have ye ever seen that hand," he added, approaching the clerk, and pointing at a red mark as large as a dime on the back of his left hand.
"Yes," the clerk answered with surprise, looking from hand to handkerchief. Then, turning to the lawyer, he added, "This is the man."
"Now," Darrel continued, rolling up his sleeve, "I'll show where thy bullet struck me in the left arm. See, there it seared the flesh!"
They saw a star, quite an inch long, midway from hand to elbow,
"Do you mean to say that you are guilty of this crime?" the attorney asked.
"I am guilty and ready for punishment," Darrel answered. "Now, discharge the boy."
"To-morrow," said the attorney. "That is for the court to do."
Darrel went to Trove, who now sat weeping, his face upon his hands.
"Oh the great river o' tears!" said Darrel, touching the boy's head. "Beyond it are the green shores of happiness, an' I have crossed, an' soon shalt thou. Stop, boy, it ill becomes thee. There is a dear, dear child whose heart is breaking. Go an' comfort her."
Trove sat as if he had not heard. The tinker went to his table and hurriedly wrote a line or two, folding and directing it.
"Go quickly, boy, an' tell her, an' then take this to Riley Brooke for me."
The young man struggled a moment for self-mastery, rose with a sigh and a stern look, and put on his hat.
"It is about bail?" said he, in a whisper.
"Yes," Darrel answered.
Trove hurried away. A woman met him at the door, within which Polly boarded.
"Is she better?" Trove asked.
"Yes; but has asked me to say that she does not wish to see you."
Trove stood a moment, his tongue halting between anger and surprise. He turned without a word, walking away, a bitter feeling in his heart.
Brooke greeted him with unexpected heartiness. He was going to bed when the young man rapped upon his door.
Brooke opened the letter and read the words aloud: "Thanks, I shall not need thy help."
"What!" Trove exclaimed.
"He says he shall not need the help I offered him," Brooke answered.
"Good night!" said Trove, who, turning, left the house and hurried away. Lights were out everywhere in the village now. The windows were dark at the Sign of the Dial. He hurried up the old stairs and rapped loudly, but none came to admit him. He called and listened; within there were only silence and that old, familiar sound of the seconds trooping by, some with short and some with long steps. He knew that soon they were to grow faint and weary and pass no more that way. He ran to the foot of the stairs and stood a moment hesitating. Then he walked slowly to the county jail and looked up at the dark and silent building. For a little time he leaned upon a fence, there in the still night, shaken with sobs. Then he began walking up and down by the jail yard. He had not slept an hour in weeks and was weary, but he could not bear to come away and walked slower as the night wore on, hearing only the tread of his own feet. He knew not where to go and was drifting up and down, like a derelict in the sea. By and by people began to pass him,--weary crowds,--and they were pointing at the patches on his coat, and beneath them he could feel a kind of burning, but the crowd was dumb. He tried to say, "I am not to blame," but his heart smote him when it was half said. Then, suddenly, many people were beside him, and far ahead on a steep hill, in dim, gray light, he could see Darrel toiling upward. And sometimes the tinker turned, beckoning him to follow. And Trove ran, but the way was long between them. And the tinker called to him; "Who drains the cup of another's bitterness shall find it sweet." Quickly he was alone, groping for his path in black darkness and presently coming down a stairway into the moonlit chamber of his inheritance. Then the men of the dark and a feeling of faintness and great surprise and a broad, blue field all about him and woods in the distance, and above the growing light of dawn. His bones were aching with illness and overwork, his feet sore. "I have been asleep," he said, rubbing his eyes, "and all night I have been walking."
He was in the middle of a broad field. He went on slowly and soon fell of weakness and lay for a time with his eyes closed. He could hear the dull thunder of approaching hoofs; then he felt a silky muzzle touching his cheek and the tickle of a horse's mane. He looked up at the animal, feeling her face and neck. "You feel like Phyllis, but you are not Phyllis--you are all white," said the young man, as he patted her muzzle. He could hear other horses coming, and quickly she, that was bending over him, reared with an open mouth and drove them away. She returned again, her long mane falling on his face. "Don't step on me," he entreated. "'Remember in the day o' judgment God'll mind the look o' yer master.'" He took hold of those long, soft threads, and the horse lifted him gently to his feet, and they walked, his arm about her neck, his face in the ravelled silk of her mane. "I don't know whose horse you are, even, or where you are taking me," he said. They went down a long lane and came at length to a bar-way, and Trove crawled through.
He saw near him a great white house--one he had never seen before--and a beautiful lady in the doorway. He turned toward her, and it seemed a long journey to the door, although he knew it was only a few paces. He fell heavily on the steps, and the woman gave a little cry of alarm. She came quickly and bent over him. His clothes were torn, his face pale and haggard, his eyes closed.
"I am sick," he whispered faintly.
"Theron! Theron! come here! Sidney is sick," he heard her calling.
"Is it you, mother?" the boy whispered, feeling her face. "I thought it was a great, white mansion here, and that you--that you were an angel."