XXXIV. More Evidence
 

Trove went to the inn at Dannemora that evening he left Darrel and there found a letter. It said that Leblanc was living near St. Albans. Posted in Plattsburg and signed "Henry Hope," the letter gave no hint of bad faith, and with all haste he went to the place it named. He was there a fortnight, seeking the Frenchman, but getting no word of him, and then came a new letter from the man Hope. It said now that Leblanc had moved on to Middlebury. Trove went there, spent the last of his money, and sat one day in the tavern office, considering what to do; for now, after weeks of wandering, he was, it seemed, no nearer the man he sought. He had soon reached a thought of some value: this information of the unknown correspondent was, at least, unreliable, and he would give it no further heed. What should he do? On that point he was not long undecided, for while he was thinking of it a boy came and said:

"There's a lady waiting to see you in the parlour, sir."

He went immediately to the parlour above stairs, and there sat Polly in her best gown--"the sweetest-looking creature," he was wont to say, "this side of Paradise." Polly rose, and his amazement checked his feet a moment. Then he advanced quickly and would have kissed her, but she turned her face away and Stood looking down. They were in a silence full of history. Twice she tried to speak, but an odd stillness followed the first word, giving possibly the more adequate expression to her thoughts.

"How came you here?" he whispered presently.

"I--I have been trying to find you." said she, at length.

He turned, looking from end to end of the large room; they were quite alone.

"Polly," he whispered, "I believe you do love me."

For a little time she made no answer.

"No," she whispered, shaking her head; "that is, I--I do not think I love you."

"Then why have you come to find me?"

"Because--because you did not come to find me," she answered, glancing down at the toe of her pretty shoe.

She turned impatiently and stood by an open window. She was looking out upon a white orchard. Odours of spring flower and apple blossom were in the soft wings of the wind. Somehow they mingled with her feeling and were always in her memory of that hour. Her arm moved slowly and a 'kerchief went to her eyes. Then, a little tremor in the plume upon her hat Trove went to her side.

"Dear Polly!" he said, as he took her hand in his. Gently she pulled it away.

"I--I cannot speak to you now," she whispered.

Then a long silence. The low music of a million tiny wings came floating in at the window. It seemed, somehow, like a voice of the past, with minutes, like the bees, hymning indistinguishably. Polly and Trove were thinking of the same things. "I can doubt him no more," she thought, "and I know--I know that he loves me." They could hear the flutter of bird wings beyond the window and in the stillness they got some understanding of each other. She turned suddenly, and went to where he stood.

"Sidney," she said, "I am sorry--I am sorry if I have hurt you."

She lifted one of his hands and pressed her red cheek upon it fondly. In a moment he spoke.

"Long ago I knew that you were doubting me, but I couldn't help it," he said.

"It was that--that horrible secret," she whispered.

"I had no, right to your love," said he, "until--" he hesitated for a little, "until I could tell you the truth."

"You loved somebody else?" she whispered, turning to him. "Didn't you, now? Tell me."

"No," said he, calmly. "The fact is--the fact is I had learned that my father was a thief."

"Your father!" she answered. "Do you think I care what your father did? Your honour and your love were enough for me."

"I did not know," he whispered, "and I should have made my way to you, but--" he paused again.

"But what?" she demanded, impatiently.

"Well, it was only fair you should have a chance to meet others, and I thought you were in love with Roberts."

"Roberts! He would have been glad of my love, I can tell you that." She looked up at him. "I have endured much for you, Sidney Trove, and I cannot keep my secret any longer. He says that Darrel is now in prison for your crime."

"And you believe him?" Trove whispered.

"Not that," she answered quickly, "but you know I loved the dear old man; I cannot think him guilty any more than I could think it of you. But there's a deep mystery in it all. It has made me wretched. Every one thinks you know more than you have told about it."

"A beautiful mystery!" the young man whispered. "He thought I should be convicted--who wouldn't? I think he loved me, so that he took the shame and the suffering and the prison to save me."

"He would have died for you," she answered; "but, Sidney, it was dreadful to let them take him away. Couldn't you have done something?"

"Something, dear Polly! and I with a foot in the grave?"

"Where did you go that night?"

"I do not know; but in the morning I found myself in our great pasture and was ill. Some instinct led me home, and, as usual, I had gone across lots." Then he told the story of that day and night and the illness that followed.

"I, too, was ill," said Polly, "and I thought you were cruel not to come to me. When I began to go out of doors they told me you were low with fever. Then I got ready to go to you, and that very day I saw you pass the door. I thought surely you would come to see me, but--but you went away."

Polly's lips were trembling, and she covered her eyes a moment with her handkerchief.

"I feared to be unwelcome," said he.

"You and every one, except my mother, was determined that I should marry Roberts," Polly went on. "He has been urgent, but you, Sidney, you wouldn't have me. You have done everything you could to help him. Now I've found you, and I'm going to tell you all, and you've got to listen to me. He has proof, he says, that you are guilty of another crime, and--and he says you are now a fugitive trying to escape arrest."

A little silence followed, in which Trove was thinking of the Hope letters and of Roberts' claim that he was engaged to Polly.

"You have been wrapped in mysteries long enough. I shall not let you go until you explain," she continued.

"There's no mystery about this," said Trove, calmly. "Roberts is a rascal, and that's the reason I'm here."

She turned quickly with a look of surprise.

"I mean it. He knows I am guilty of no crime, but he does know that I am looking for Louis Leblanc, and he has fooled me with lying letters to keep me out of the way and win you with his guile."

A serious look came into the eyes of Polly.

"You are looking for Louis Leblanc," she whispered.

"Yes; it is the first move in a plan to free Darrel, for I am sure that Leblanc committed the crime. I shall know soon after I meet him."

"How?"

"If he should have a certain mark on the back of his left hand and were to satisfy me in two other details, I'd give my life to one purpose,--that of making him confess. God help me! I cannot find the man. But I shall not give up; I shall go and see the Governor."

Turning her face away and looking out of the window, she felt for his hand. Then she pressed it fondly. That was the giving of all sacred things forever, and he knew it. He was the same Sidney Trove, but never until that day had she seen the full height of his noble manhood, ever holding above its own the happiness of them it loved. Suddenly her heart was full with thinking of the power and beauty of it.

"I do love you, Polly," said Trove, at length. "I've answered your queries,--all of them,--and now it's my turn. If we were at Robin's Inn, I should put my arms about you, and I should not let you go until--until you had promised to be my wife."

"And I should not promise for at least an hour," said she, smiling, as she turned, her dark eyes full of their new discovery. "Let us go home."

"I'm going to be imperative," said he, "and you must answer before I will let you go--"

"Dear Sidney," said she, "let's wait until we reach home. It's too bad to spoil it here. But--" she whispered, looking about the room, "you may kiss me once now."

"It's like a tale in Harper's," said he, presently. "It's 'to be continued,' always, at the most exciting passage."

"I shall take the cars at one o'clock," said she, smiling. "But I shall not allow you to go with me. You know the weird sisters."

"It would be impossible," said Trove. "I must get work somewhere; my money is gone."

"Money!" said she, opening her purse. "I'm a Lady Bountiful. Think of it--I've two hundred dollars here. Didn't you know Riley Brooke cancelled the mortgage? Mother had saved this money for a payment."

"Cancelled the mortgage!" said Trove.

"Yes, the dear old tinker repaired him, and now he's a new man. I'll give you a job, Sidney."

"What to do?"

"Go and see the Governor, and then--and then you are to report to me at Robin's Inn. Mind you, there's to be no delay, and I'll pay you--let's see, I'll pay you a hundred dollars."

Trove began to laugh, and thought of this odd fulfilling of the ancient promises.

"I shall stay to-night with a cousin at Burlington. Oh, there's one more thing--you're to get a new suit of clothes at Albany, and, remember, it must be very grand."

It was near train time, and they left the inn.

"I'm going to tell you everything," said she, as they were on their way to the depot. "The day after to-morrow I am to see that dreadful Roberts. I'm longing to give him his answer."

Not an hour before then Roberts had passed them on his way to Boston.