XXXI. A Man Greater than his Trouble
 

For a month the young man lay burning with fever, his brain boiled in hot blood until things hideous and terrible were swarming out of it, as if it were being baned of dragons. Two months had passed before he was able to leave his bed. He remembered only the glow of an Indian summer morning on wood and field, but when he rose they were all white with snow. For weeks he had listened to the howl of the fir trees and had seen the frost gathering on his window, but knew not how swiftly the days had gone, so that when he looked out of doors and saw the midwinter he was filled with astonishment.

"I must go," said he.

"Not yet, my boy," said Mary Allen. "You, are not strong enough."

"Darrel has taken my trouble on him, and I must go."

"I have heard you say it often since you fell on the doorstep," said she, stroking his hand. "There is a letter from him;" and she brought the letter and put it in his hands. Trove opened it eagerly and read as follows:--

"DEAR SIDNEY: It is Sunday night and all day I have been walking in the Blessed Isles. And one was the Blessed Isle of remembrance where I met thee and we talked of all good things. If I knew it were well with thee I should be quite happy, boy, quite happy. I was a bit weary of travel and all the roads had grown long. I miss the tick of the clocks, but my work is easy and I have excellent good friends. I send thee my key. Please deliver the red, tall clock to Betsy Hale, who lives on the road to Waterbury Hill, and kindly take that cheerful youngster from Connecticut--the one with the walnut case and a brass pendulum--to Mrs. Henry Watson. You remember that ill-tempered Dutch thing, with a loud gong and a white dial, please take that to Harry Warner, I put some work on them all but there's no charge. The other clocks belong to me. Do with them as thou wilt and with all that is mine. The rent is paid to April. Then kindly surrender the key. Now can ye do all this for a man suffering the just punishment of many sins? I ask it for old friendship and to increase the charity I saw growing in thy heart long ago. At last I have word of thy father. He died a peaceful, happy death, having restored the wealth that cursed him to its owner. For his sake an' thine I am glad to know it. Now between thee and the dear Polly there is no shadow. Tell her everything. May the good God bless and keep thee; but the long road of Happiness, that ye must seek and find.

"Yours truly,
"R. DARREL of the Blessed Isles."

Trove read the letter many times, and, as he grew strong, he began to think with clearness and deliberation of his last night in Hillsborough. Darrel was the greatest problem of all. Pondering he saw, or thought he saw, the bottom of it. Events were coming, however, that robbed him utterly of his conceit and all the hope it gave him. The sad lines about his father kept him ever in some doubt. A week more, and he was in the cutter one morning, behind Phyllis, on his way to Robin's Inn. As he drew up at the old, familiar gate the boys ran out to meet him. Somehow they were not the same boys--they were a bit more sober and timid. Tunk came with a "Glad to see ye, mister," and took the mare. The widow stood in the doorway, smiling sadly.

"How is Polly?" said Trove.

For a moment there was no answer. He walked slowly to the steps, knowing well that some new blow was about to fall upon him.

"She is better, but has been very sick," said the widow.

Trove sat down without speaking and threw his coat open.

"You, too, have been very sick," said Mrs. Vaughn.

"Yes, very," said he.

"I heard of it and went to your home one day, but you didn't know me."

"Tell me, where is Polly?"

"In school, and I am much worried."

"Why?"

"Well, she's pretty, and the young men will not let her alone. There's one determined she shall marry him."

"Is she engaged?"'

"No, but--but, sir, I think she is nearly heartbroken."

"I'm sorry," said Trove. "Not that she may choose another, but that she lost faith in me."

"Poor child! Long ago she thought you had ceased to love her," said the widow, her voice trembling,

"I loved her as I can never love again," said he, his elbow resting on a table, his head leaning on his hand. He spoke calmly.

"Don't let it kill you, boy," said she.

"No," he answered. "A man must be greater than his trouble; I have work to do, and I shall not give up. May I go and see Polly?"

"Not now," said the widow, "give her time to find her own way. If you deserve her love it will return to you."

"I fear that you, too, have lost faith in me," said Trove.

"No," she answered, "but surely Darrel is not the guilty one. It's all such a mystery."

"Mrs. Vaughn, do not suffer yourself to think evil of me or of Darrel. If I do lose your daughter, I hope I may not lose your good opinion." The young man spoke earnestly and his eyes were wet.

"I shall not think evil of you," said the woman.

Trove stood a moment, his hand upon the latch.

"If there's anything I can do for you or for Polly," said he, "I should like to know it. Let's hope for the best. Some day you must let me come and--" he hesitated, his voice failing him for a moment, "and play a game of checkers," he added.

Paul stood looking up at him sadly, his face troubled.

"It's an evil day when the heart of a child is heavy," said Trove, bending over the boy. "What is the first law, Paul?"

"Thou shalt learn to obey," said the boy, quickly.

"And who is the great master?"

"Yourself."

"Right, boy! Let's command our hearts to be happy."

The great, bare maple was harping dolefully in the wind. Trove went for the mare, and Tunk rode down the hill with him in the cutter.

"Things here ain't what they used t' be," said Tunk.

"No?"

"Widder, she takes on awful. Great changes!"

There was a moment of silence.

"I ain't the same dum fool I used t' be," Tunk added presently.

"What's happened to you?"

"Well, they tol' me what you said about lyin'. Ye know a man in the hoss business is apt t' git a leetle careless, but I ain't no such dum fool as I used t' be. Have you heard that Teesey Tower was married?"

"The old maid?"

"Yes, sir; the ol' maid, to Deacon Haskins, an' he lives with 'em, an' now they're jes like other folks. Never was so surprised since I was first kicked by a hoss."

Tunk's conscience revived suddenly and seemed to put its hand over his mouth.

"Joe Beach is goin' to be a doctor," Tunk went on presently.

"I advised him to study medicine," Trove answered.

"He's gone off t' school at Milldam an' is workin' like a beaver. He was purty rambunctious 'til you broke him to lead."

They rode then to the foot of the hill in silence.

"Seems so everything was changed," Tunk added as he left the cutter. "Ez Tower has crossed the Fadden bridge. Team run away an' snaked him over. They say he don't speak to his hosses now."

Trove went on thoughtfully. Some of Tunk Hosely's talk had been as bread for his hunger, as a harvest, indeed, giving both seed and sustenance. More clearly than ever he saw before him the great field of life where was work and the joy of doing it. For a time he would be a teacher, but first there were other things to do.