VII. Darrel of the Blessed Isles
 

The clock tinker was off in the snow paths every other week. In more than a hundred homes, scattered far along road lines of the great valley, he set the pace of the pendulums. Every winter the mare was rented for easy driving and Darrel made his journeys afoot. Twice a day Trove passed the little shop, and if there were a chalk mark on the dial, he bounded upstairs to greet his friend. Sometimes he brought another boy into the rare atmosphere of the clock shop--one, mayhap, who needed some counsel of the wise old man.

Spring had come again. Every day sowers walked the hills and valleys around Hillsborough, their hands swinging with a godlike gesture that summoned the dead to rise; everywhere was the odour of broken field or garden. Night had come again, after a day of magic sunlight, and soon after eight o'clock Trove was at the door of the tinker with a schoolmate.

"How are you?" said Trove, as Darrel opened the door.

"Better for the sight o' you," said the old man, promptly. "Enter Sidney Trove and another young gentleman."

The boys took the two chairs offered them in silence.

"Kind sor," the tinker added, turning to Trove, "thou hast thy cue; give us the lines."

"Pardon me," said the boy. "Mr. Darrel, my friend Richard Kent."

"Of the Academy?" said Darrel, as he held to the hand of Kent.

"Of the Academy," said Trove.

"An', I make no doubt, o' good hope," the tinker added. "Let me stop one o' the clocks--so I may not forget the hour o' meeting a new friend."

Darrel crossed the room and stopped a pendulum.

"He would like to join this night-school of ours," Trove answered.

"Would he?" said the tinker. "Well, it is one o' hard lessons. When ye come t' multiply love by experience, an' subtract vanity an' add peace, an' square the remainder, an' then divide by the number o' days in thy life--it is a pretty problem, an' the result may be much or little, an' ye reach it--"

He paused a moment, thoughtfully puffing the smoke.

"Not in this term o' school," he added impressively.

All were silent a little time.

"Where have you been?" Trove inquired presently.

"Home," said the old man.

There was a puzzled look on Trove's face.

"Home?" he repeated with a voice of inquiry.

"I have, sor," the clock tinker went on. "This poor shelter is not me home--it's only for a night now an' then. I've a grand house an' many servants an' a garden, sor, where there be flowers--lovely flowers--an' sunlight an' noble music. Believe me, boy, 'tis enough to make one think o' heaven."

"I did not know of it," said Trove.

"Know ye not there is a country in easy reach of us, with fair fields an' proud cities an' many people an' all delights, boy, all delights? There I hope thou shalt found a city thyself an' build it well so nothing shall overthrow it--fire, nor flood, nor the slow siege o' years."

"Where?" Trove inquired eagerly.

"In the Blessed Isles, boy, in the Blessed Isles. Imagine the infinite sea o' time that is behind us. Stand high an' look back over its dead level. King an' empire an' all their striving multitudes are sunk in the mighty deep. But thou shalt see rising out of it the Blessed Isles of imagination. Green--forever green are they--and scattered far into the dim distance. Look! there is the city o' Shakespeare--Norman towers and battlements and Gothic arches looming above the sea. Go there an' look at the people as they come an' go. Mingle with them an' find good company--merry-hearted folk a-plenty, an' God knows I love the merry-hearted! Talk with them, an' they will teach thee wisdom. Hard by is the Isle o' Milton, an' beyond are many--it would take thee years to visit them. Ah, sor, half me time I live in the Blessed Isles. What is thy affliction, boy?"

He turned to Kent--a boy whose hard luck was proverbial, and whose left arm was in a sling.

"Broke it wrestling," said the boy.

"Kent has bad luck," said Trove. "Last year he broke his leg."

"Obey the law, or thou shalt break the bone o' thy neck," said Darrel, quickly.

"I do obey the law," said Trent.

"Ay--the written law," said the clock tinker, "an' small credit to thee. But the law o' thine own discovery,--the law that is for thyself an' no other,--hast thou ne'er thought of it? Ill luck is the penalty o' law-breaking. Therefore study the law that is for thyself. Already I have discovered one for thee, an' it is, 'I have not limberness enough in me bones, so I must put them in no unnecessary peril.' Listen, I'll read thee me own code."

The clock tinker rose and got his Shakespeare, ragged from long use, and read from a fly-leaf, his code of private law, to wit:--

"Walk at least four miles a day.

"Eat no pork and be at peace with thy liver.

"Measure thy words and cure a habit of exaggeration.

"Thine eyes are faulty--therefore, going up or down, look well to thy steps.

"Beware of ardent spirits, for the curse that is in thy blood. It will turn thy heart to stone.

"In giving, remember Darrel.

"Bandy no words with any man.

"Play at no game of chance.

"Think o' these things an' forget thyself."

"Now there is the law that is for me alone," Darrel continued, looking up at the boys. "Others may eat pork or taste the red cup, or dally with hazards an' suffer no great harm--not I. Good youths, remember, ill luck is for him only that is ignorant, neglectful, or defiant o' private law."

"But suppose your house fall upon you," Trove suggested.

"I speak not o' common perils," said the tinker. "But enough--let's up with the sail. Heave ho! an' away for the Blessed Isles. Which shall it be?"

He turned to a rude shelf, whereon were books,--near a score,--some worn to rags.

"What if it be yon fair Isle o' Milton?" he inquired, lifting an old volume.

"Let's to the Isle o' Milton," Trove answered.

"Well, go to one o' the clocks there, an' set it back," said the tinker.

"How much?" Trove inquired with a puzzled look.

"Well, a matter o' two hundred years," said Darrel, who was now turning the leaves. "List ye, boy, we're up to the shore an' hard by the city gates. How sweet the air o' this enchanted isle!

  "'And west winds with musky wing
  Down the cedarn alleys fling
  Nard and cassia's balmy smells.'"

He quoted thoughtfully, turning the leaves. Then he read the shorter poems,--a score of them,--his voice sounding the noble music of the lines. It was revelation for those raw youths and led them high. They forgot the passing of the hours and till near midnight were as those gone to a strange country. And they long remembered that night with Darrel of the Blessed Isles.