III. The Clock Tinker
 

The harvesting was over in Brier Dale. It was near dinner-time, and Allen, Trove, and the two hired men were trying feats in the dooryard. Trove, then a boy of fifteen, had outdone them all at the jumping. A stranger came along, riding a big mare with a young filly at her side. He was a tall, spare man, past middle age, with a red, smooth-shaven face and long, gray hair that fell to his rolling collar. He turned in at the gate. A little beyond it his mare halted for a mouthful of grass. The stranger unslung a strap that held a satchel to his side and hung it on the pommel.

"Go and ask what we can do for him," Allen whispered to the boy.

Trove went down the drive, looking up at him curiously.

"What can I do for you?" he inquired.

"Give me thy youth," said the stranger, quickly, his gray eyes twinkling under silvered brows.

The boy, now smiling, made no answer.

"No?" said the man, as he came on slowly. "Well, then, were thy wit as good as thy legs it would be o' some use to me."

The words were spoken with dignity in a deep, kindly tone. They were also faintly salted with Irish brogue.

He approached the men, all eyes fixed upon him with a look of inquiry.

"Have ye ever seen a drunken sailor on a mast?" he inquired of Allen,

"No."

"Well, sor," said the stranger, dismounting slowly, "I am not that. Let me consider--have ye ever seen a cocoanut on a plum tree?"

"I believe not," said Allen, laughing.

"Well, sor, that is more like me. 'Tis long since I rode a horse, an' am out o' place in the saddle."

He stood erect with dignity, a smile deepening the many lines in his face.

"Can I do anything for you?" Allen asked.

"Ay--cure me o' poverty--have ye any clocks to mend?"

"Clocks! Are you a tinker?" said Allen.

"I am, sor, an' at thy service. Could beauty, me lord, have better commerce than with honesty?"

They all surveyed him with curiosity and amusement as he tied the mare.

All had begun to laugh. His words came rapidly on a quick undercurrent of good nature. A clock sounded the stroke of midday.

"What, ho! The clock," said he, looking at his watch. "Thy time hath a lagging foot, Marry, were I that slow, sor, I'd never get to Heaven."

"Mother," said Allen, going to the doorstep, "here is a tinker, and he says the clock is slow."

"It seems to be out of order." said his wife, coming to the step.

"Seems, madam, nay, it is," said the stranger. "Did ye mind the stroke of it?"

"No," said she.

"Marry, 'twas like the call of a dying man."

Allen thought a moment as he whittled.

"Had I such a stroke on me I'd--I'd think I was parralyzed," the stranger added.

"You'd better fix it then," said Allen.

"Thou art wise, good man," said the stranger. "Mind the two hands on the clock an' keep them to their pace or they'll beckon thee to poverty."

The clock was brought to the door-step and all gathered about him as he went to work.

"Ye know a power o' scripter," said one of the hired men.

"Scripter," said the tinker, laughing. "I do, sor, an' much of it according to the good Saint William. Have ye never read Shakespeare?"

None who sat before him knew anything of the immortal bard.

"He writ a book 'bout Dan'l Boone an' the Injuns," a hired man ventured.

"'Angels an' ministers o' grace defend us!'" the tinker exclaimed,

Trove laughed.

"I'll give ye a riddle," said the tinker, turning to him.

"How is it the clock can keep a sober face?"

"It has no ears," Trove answered.

"Right," said the old tinker, smiling. "Thou art a knowing youth. Read Shakespeare, boy--a little of him three times a day for the mind's sake. I've travelled far in lonely places and needed no other company."

"Ever in India?" Trove inquired. He had been reading of that far land.

"I was, sor," the stranger continued, rubbing a wheel. "I was five years in India, sor, an' part o' the time fighting as hard as ever a man could fight."

"Fighting!" said Trove, much interested.

"I was, sor," he asserted, oiling a pinion of the old clock.

"On which side?"

"Inside an' outside."

"With natives?"

"I did, sor; three kinds o' them,--fever, fleas, an' the divvle."

"Give us some more Shakespeare," said the boy, smiling.

The tinker rubbed his spectacles thoughtfully, and, as he resumed his work, a sounding flood of tragic utterance came out of him--the great soliloquies of Hamlet and Macbeth and Richard III and Lear and Antony, all said with spirit and appreciation. The job finished, they bade him put up for dinner.

"A fine colt!" said Allen, as they were on their way to the stable.

"It is, sor," said the tinker, "a most excellent breed o' horses."

"Where from?"

"The grandsire from the desert of Arabia, where Allah created the horse out o' the south wind. See the slender flanks of the Barbary? See her eye?"

He seemed to talk in that odd strain for the mere joy of it, and there was in his voice the God-given vanity of bird or poet.

He had caught the filly by her little plume and stood patting her forehead.

"A wonderful thing, sor, is the horse's eye," he continued. "A glance! an' they know if ye be kind or cruel. Sweet Phyllis! Her eyelids are as bows; her lashes like the beard o' the corn. Have ye ever heard the three prayers o' the horse?"

"No," said Allen.

"Well, three times a day, sor, he prays, so they say, in the desert. In the morning he thinks a prayer like this, 'O Allah! make me beloved o' me master.' At noon, 'Do well by me master that he may do well by me.' At even, 'O Allah! grant, at last, I may bear me master into Paradise.'

"An' the Arab, sor, he looks for a hard ride an' many jumps in the last journey, an' is kind to him all the days of his life, sor, so he may be able to make it."

For a moment he led her up and down at a quick trot, her dainty feet touching the earth lightly as a fawn's.

"Thou'rt made for the hot leagues o' the great sand sea," said he, patting her head. "Ah! thy neck shall be as the bowsprit; thy dust as the flying spray."

"In one thing you are like Isaiah," said Allen, as he whittled. "The Lord God hath given thee the tongue of the learned."

"An' if he grant me the power to speak a word in season to him that is weary, I shall be content," said the tinker.

Dinner over, they came out of doors. The stranger stood filling his pipe. Something in his talk and manner had gone deep into the soul of the boy, who now whispered a moment with his father.

"Would you sell the filly?" said Allen. "My boy would like to own her."

"What, ho, the boy! the beautiful boy! An' would ye love her, boy?" the tinker asked.

"Yes, sir," the boy answered quickly,

"An' put a ribbon in her forelock, an' a coat o' silk on her back, an', mind ye, a man o' kindness in the saddle?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then take thy horse, an' Allah grant thou be successful on her as many times as there be hairs in her skin."

"And the price?" said Allen.

"Name it, an' I'll call thee just."

The business over, the tinker called to Trove, who had led the filly to her stall,--

"You, there, strike the tents. Bring me the mare. This very day she may bear me to forgiveness."

Trove brought the mare.

"Remember," said the old man, turning as he rode away, "in the day o' the last judgment God 'll mind the look o' thy horse."

He rode on a few steps and halted, turning in the saddle.

"Thou, too, Phyllis," he called. "God 'll mind the look o' thy master; see that ye bring him safe."

The little filly began to rear and call, the mother to answer. For days she called and trembled, with wet eyes, listening for the voice that still answered, though out of hearing, far over the hills. And Trove, too, was lonely, and there was a kind of longing in his heart for the music in that voice of the stranger.