XXXII. The Return of Thurst Tilly
 

Trove sat in council with Mary and Theron Allen. He was now in debt to the doctor; he needed money, also, for clothing and boots and an enterprise all had been discussing.

"I'll give you three hundred dollars for the mare," said Allen.

Trove sat in thoughtful silence, and, presently, Allen went out of doors. The woman got her savings and brought them to her son.

"There is twenty-three dollars, an' it may help you," she whispered.

"No, mother; I can't take it," said the young man. "I owe you more now than I can ever pay. I shall have to sell the mare. It's a great trial to me, but--but I suppose honour is better than horses."

"Well, I've a surprise for you," said she, bringing a roll of cloth from the bedroom. "Those two old maids spun the wool, and I wove it, and, see, it's all been fulled."

"You're as good as gold, mother, and so are they. It's grand to wear in the country, but I'm going away and ought to have an extra good suit. I'd like to look as fine as any of the village boys, and they don't wear homespun. But I'll have plenty of use for it."

Next day he walked to Jericho Mills and paid the doctor. He went on to Milldam, buying there a handsome new outfit of clothing. Then he called to see the President of the bank--that one which had set the dogs of the law on him.

"You know I put three thousand dollars in the bank of Hillsborough," said Trove, when he sat facing the official. "I took the money there, believing it to be mine. If, however, it is yours, I wish to turn it over to you."

"It is not our money," said the President. "That bundle was sent here, and we investigated every bill--a great task, for there were some three hundred of them. Many are old bills and two the issue of banks gone out of business. It's all a very curious problem. They would not have received this money, but they knew of the robbery and suspected you at once. Now we believe absolutely in your honour."

"I shall put that beyond all question," said Trove, rising.

He took the cars to Hillsborough. There he went to the Sign of the Dial and built a fire in its old stove. The clocks were now hushed. He found those Darrel had written of and delivered them. Returning, he began to wind the cherished clocks of the tinker--old ones he had gathered here and there in his wandering--and to start their pendulums. One of them--a tall clock in the corner with a calendar-dial--had this legend on the inner side of its door:--

  "Halted in memory of a good man,
  Its hands pointing to the moment of his death,
  Its voice hushed in his honour."

Trove shut the door of the old clock and hurried to the public attorney's office, where he got the address of Leblanc. He met many who shook his hand warmly and gave him a pleasant word. He was in great fear of meeting Polly, and thought of what he should do and say if he came face to face with her. Among others he met the school principal.

"Coming back to work?" the latter inquired.

"No, sir; I've got to earn money."

"We need another teacher, and I'll recommend you."

"I'm much obliged, but I couldn't come before the fall term," said Trove.

"I'll try to keep the place for you," said his friend, as they parted.

Trove came slowly down the street, thinking how happy he could be now, if Darrel were free and Polly had only trusted him. Near the Sign of the Dial he met Thurston Tilly.

"Back again?" Trove inquired.

"Back again. Boss gi'n up farmin'."

"Did he make his fortune?"

"No, he had one give to him."

"Come and tell me about it."

Tilly followed Trove up the old stairway into the little shop.

"Beg yer pardon," said Thurst, turning, as they sat down, "are you armed?"

"No," said Trove, smiling.

"A man shot me once when I wan't doin' nothin' but tryin' t' tell a story, an' I don't take no chances. Do you remember my boss tellin' that night in the woods how he lost his money in the fire o' '35?"

"Yes."

"Wal, I guess it had suthin' t' do with that. One day the boss an' me was out in the door-yard, an' a stranger come along. 'You're John Thompson,' says he to the boss; 'An' you're so an' so,' says the boss. I don't eggzac'ly remember the name he give." Tilly stopped to think.

"Can you describe him?" Trove inquired.

"He was a big man with white whiskers an' hair, an' he wore light breeches an' a short, blue coat."

"Again the friend of Darrel," Trove thought.

"Did you tell the tinker about your boss the night we were all at Robin's Inn last summer?"

"I told him the whole story, an' he pumped me dry. I'd answer him, an' he'd holler 'Very well,' an' shoot another question at me."

"Well, Thurst, go on with your story."

"Couldn't tell ye jest what happened. They went off int' the house. Nex' day the boss tol' me he wa'n't no longer a poor man an' was goin' t' sell his farm an' leave for Californy. In a tavern near where we lived the stranger died sudden that night, an' the funeral was at our house, an' he was buried there in Iowy."

Trove walked to the bench and stood a moment looking out of a window.

"Strange!" said he, returning presently with tearful eyes. "Do you remember the date?"

"'Twas a Friday, 'bout the middle o' September."

Trove turned, looking up at the brazen dial of the tall clock. It indicated four-thirty in the morning of September 19th.

"Were there any with him when he died?"

"Yes, the tavern keeper--it was some kind of a stroke they told me."

"And your boss--did he go to California?" Trove asked.

"He sold the farm an' went to Californy. I worked there a while, but the boss an' me couldn't agree, an' so I pulled up an' trotted fer home."

"To what part of California did Thompson go?"

"Hadn't no idee where he would stick his stakes. He was goin' in t' the gold business."

Trove sat busy with his own thoughts while Thurston Tilly, warming to new confidence, boiled over with enthusiasm for the far west. A school friend of the boy came, by and by, whereupon Tilly whistled on his thumb and hurried away.

"Did you know," said the newcomer, when Trove and he were alone, "that Roberts--the man who tried to send you up--is a young lawyer and is going to settle here? He and Polly are engaged."

"Engaged!"

"So he gave me to understand."

"Well, if she loves him and he's a good fellow, I 've no right to complain," Trove answered.

"I don't believe that he's a good fellow," said the other.

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, a detective is--is--"

"A necessary evil?" Trove suggested.

"Just that," said the other. "He must pretend to be what he isn't and--well, a gentleman is not apt to sell himself for that purpose, Now he's trying to convince people that you knew as much about the crime as Darrel. In my opinion he isn't honest. Good looks and fine raiment are all there is to that fellow--take my word for it."

"You're inclined to judge him harshly," said Trove. "But I'm worried, for I fear he's unworthy of her and---and I must leave town to-morrow."

"Shall you go to see her?"

"No; not until I know more about him. I have friends here and they will give her good counsel. Soon they'll know what kind of a man he is, and, if necessary, they'll warn her. I'm beset with trouble, but, thank God, I know which way to turn."