XXXVI. The Law's Approval
 

Trove had come to Hillsborough that very hour he passed the Golden Spool. In him a touch of dignity had sobered the careless eye of youth. He was, indeed, a comely young man, his attire fashionable, his form erect. Soon he was on the familiar road to Robin's Inn. There was now a sprinkle of yellow in the green valley; wings of azure and of gray in the sunlight; a scatter of song in the silence. High on distant hills, here and there, was a little bank of snow. These few dusty rags were all that remained of the great robe of winter. Men were sowing and planting. In the air was an odour of the harrowed earth, and up in the hills a shout of greeting came out of field or garden as Trove went by.

It was a walk to remember, and when he had come near the far side of Pleasant Valley he could see Polly waving her hand to him at the edge of the maple grove.

"Supper is waiting," said she, merrily, as she came to meet him. "There's blueberries, and biscuit, and lots of nice things."

"I'm hungry," said be; "but first, dear, let us enjoy love and kisses."

Then by the lonely road he held her close to him, and each could feel the heart-beat of the other; and for quite a moment speech would have been most idle and inadequate.

"Now the promise, Polly," said he soon. "I go not another step until I have your promise to be my wife."

"You do not think I'd let one treat me that way unless I expected to marry him, do you ?" said Polly, as she fussed with a ribbon bow, her face red with blushes. "You've mussed me all up."

"I'm to be a teacher in the big school, and if you were willing, we could be married soon."

"Oh, dear!" said she, sighing, and looking up at him with a smile; "I'm too happy to think." Then followed another moment of silence, in which the little god, if he were near them, must have smiled.

"Won't you name the day now?" he insisted.

"Oh, let's keep that for the next chapter!" said she. "Don't you know supper is waiting?"

"It's all like those tales 'to be continued in our next,'" he answered with a laugh.

Then they walked slowly up the long hill, arm in arm.

"How very grand you look!" said she, proudly. "Did you see the Governor?"

"Yes, but he can do nothing now. It's the only cloud in the sky."

"Dear old man!" said Polly. "We'll find a way to help him."

"But he wouldn't thank us for help--there's the truth of it," said Trove, quickly. "He's happy and content. Here is a letter that came to-day. 'Dear Sidney,' he writes. 'Think of all I have said to thee, an', if ye remember well, boy, it will bear thee up. Were I, indeed, as ye believe, drinking the cup o' bitterness for thy sake, know ye not the law will make it sweet for me? After all I have said to thee, are ye not prepared? Is my work wasted; is the seed fallen upon the rocks? And if ye hold to thy view, consider--would ye rob the dark world o' the light o' sacrifice? "Nay," ye will answer. Then I say: "If ye would give me peace, go to thy work, boy, and cease to waste thyself with worry and foolish wandering."'

"Somehow it puts me to shame," said Trove, as he put the letter in his pocket. "I'm so far beneath him. I shall obey and go to work and pray for the speedy coming of God's justice."

"It's the only thing to do," said she. "Sidney, I hope now I have a right to ask if you know who is your father?"

"I believe him to be dead."

"Dead!" there was a note of surprise in the word.

"I know not even his name."

"It is all very strange," said Polly. In a moment she added, "I hope you will forgive my mother if she seemed to doubt you."

"I forgive all," said the young man. "I know it was hard to believe me innocent."

"And impossible to believe you guilty. She was only waiting for more light."

The widow and her two boys came out to meet them.

"Mother, behold this big man! He is to be my husband." The girl looked up at him proudly.

"And my son?" said Mrs. Vaughn, with a smile, as she kissed him. "You've lost no time."

"Oh! I didn't intend to give up so soon," said Polly, "but--but the supper would have been ruined."

"It's now on the table," said Mrs. Vaughn.

"I've news for you," said Polly, as they were sitting down. "Tunk has reformed."

"He must have been busy," said Trove, "and he's ruined his epitaph."

"His epitaph?"

"Yes; that one Darrel wrote for him: 'Here lies Tunk. O Grave! where is thy victory?'"

"Tunk has one merit: he never deceived any one but himself," said the widow.

"Horses have run away with him," Trove continued. "His character is like a broken buggy; and his imagination--that's the unbroken colt. Every day, for a long time, the colt has run away with the wagon, tipping it over and dragging it in the ditch, until every bolt is loose, and every spoke rattling, and every wheel awry. I do hope he's repaired his 'ex.'"

"He walks better and complains less," the widow answered.

"Often he stands very straight and walks like you," said Polly, laughing.

"He thinks you are the only great man," so spoke the widow.

"Gone from one illusion to another," said Trove. "It's a lesson; every one should go softly. Tom, will you now describe the melancholy feat of Theophilus Thistleton?"

The fable was quickly repeated.

"That Mr. Thistleton was a foolish fellow, and there's many like him," said Trove. "He had better have been thrusting blueberries into his mouth. I declare!" he added, sitting back with a look of surprise, "I'm happy again."

"And we are going to keep you so," Polly answered with decision.

"Darrel would tell me that I am at last in harmony with a great law which, until now, I have been defying. It is true; I have thought too much of my own desires."

"I do not understand you," said Polly. "Now, we heard of the shot and iron--how you came by them and how, one night, you threw them into the river at Hillsborough. That led, perhaps, to most of your trouble. I'd like to know what moral law you were breaking when you flung them into the river?"

"A great law," Trove answered; "but one hard to phrase."

"Suppose you try."

"The innocent shall have no fear," said he. "Until then I had kept the commandment."

There was a little time of silence.

"If you watch a coward, you'll see a most unhappy creature." It was Trove who spoke. "Darrel said once, 'A coward is the prey of all evil and the mark of thunderbolts.'"

"I'll not admit you're a coward," were the words of Polly.

"Well," said he, rising, "I had fear of only one thing,--that I should lose your love."

Reaching home next day, Trove found that Allen had sold Phyllis. The mare had been shipped away.

"She brought a thousand dollars," said his foster father, "and I'll divide the profit with you."

The young man was now able to pay his debt to Polly, but for the first time he had a sense of guilt.

Trove bought another filly--a proud-stepping great-granddaughter of old Justin Morgan.

A rough-furred, awkward creature, of the size of a small dog, fled before him, as he entered the house in Brier Dale, and sought refuge under a table. It was a young painter which Allen had captured back in the deep woods, after killing its dam. Soon it rushed across the floor, chasing a ball of yarn, but quickly got under cover. Before the end of that day Trove and the new pet were done with all distrust of each other. The big cat grew in size and playful confidence. Often it stalked the young man with still foot and lashing tail, leaping stealthily over chairs and, betimes, landing upon Trove's back.

     *     *     *     *     *     *

It was a June day, and Trove was at Robin's Inn. A little before noon Polly and he and the two boys started for Brier Dale. They waded the flowering meadows in Pleasant Valley, crossed a great pasture, and came under the forest roof. Their feet were muffled in new ferns. Their trail wavered up the side of a steep ridge, and slanted off in long loops to the farther valley. There it crossed a brook and, for a mile or more, followed the mossy banks. On a ledge, mottled with rock velvet, by a waterfall, they sat down to rest, and Polly opened the dinner basket. Somehow the music and the minted breath of the water and the scent of the moss and the wild violet seemed to flavour their meal. Tom had brought a small gun with him, and, soon after they resumed their walk, saw some partridges and fired upon them. All the birds flew save a hen that stood clucking with spread wings. Coming close, they could see her eyes blinking in drops of blood. Trove put his hand upon her, but she only bent her head a little and spread her wings the wider.

"Tom," said he, "look at this little preacher of the woods. Do you know what she's saying?"

"No," said the boy, soberly.

"Well, she's saying: 'Look at me and see what you've done. Hereafter, O boy! think before you pull the trigger.' It's a pity, but we must finish the job."

As they came out upon Brier Road the boys found a nest of hornets. It hung on a bough above the roadway. Soon Paul had flung a stone that broke the nest open. Hornets began to buzz around them, and all ran for refuge to a thicket of young firs. In a moment they could hear a horse coming at a slow trot. Trove peered through the bushes. He could see Ezra Tower--that man of scornful piety--on a white horse. Trove shouted a warning, but with no effect. Suddenly Tower broke his long silence, and the horse began to run. The little party made a detour, and came again to the road.

"He did speak to the hornets," said Polly.

"Swore, too," said Paul.

"Nature has her own way with folly; you can't hold your tongue when she speaks to you," Trove answered.

Near sunset, they came into Brier Dale. Tunk was to be there at supper time, and drive home with Polly and her brothers. The widow had told him not to come by the Brier Road; it would take him past Rickard's Inn, where he loved to tarry and display horsemanship.

Mary Allen met them at the door.

"Mother, here is my future wife," said Trove, proudly.

Then ruddy lips of youth touched the faded cheek of the good woman.

"We shall be married in September," said Trove, tossing his hat in the air. "We're going to have a grand time, and mind you, mother, no more hard work for you. Where is Tige?" Tige was the young painter.

"I don't know," said Mary Allen. "He's up in a tree somewhere, maybe. Come in, all of you; supper's ready."

While they were eating. Trove heard a sound of wheels, and went to the door. Tunk had arrived. He had a lump, the size of an apple,-on his forehead; another on his chin. As Trove approached him, he spat over a front wheel, and sat looking down sadly.

"Tunk, what's the matter ?"

"Kicked," said he, with growing sadness.

"A horse?" Trove inquired, with sympathy.

Tunk thought a moment.

"Couldn't say what 'twas," he answered presently.

"I fear," said Trove, smiling, "that you came by the Brier Road."

Suddenly there was a quick stir of boughs and a flash of tawny fur above them. Then the young painter landed full on the back of Tunkhannock Hosely. There was a wild yell; the horse leaped and ran, breaking through a fence and wrecking the wagon; the painter spat, and made for the woods, and was seen no more of men. Tunk had picked up an axe, and climbed a ladder that stood leaning to the roof. Trove and Allen caught the frightened horse.

"Now," said the former, "let's try and capture Tunk."

"He's taken to the roof," said Allen.

"Where's that air painter?" Tunk shouted, as they came near.

"Gone to the woods."

"Heavens!" said Tunk, gloomily. "I'm all tore up; there ain't nothin' left o' me--boots full o' blood. I tell ye this country's a leetle too wild fer me."

He came down the ladder slowly, and sat on the step and drew off his boots. There was no blood in them. Trove helped him remove his coat; all, save his imagination, was unharmed.

"Wal," said he, thoughtfully, "that's what ye git fer doin' suthin' ye hadn't ought to. I ain't goin' t' take no more chances."