He turned then, walking slowly off the bridge and up the main street, of Hillsborough. At a corner he stopped to listen. His ear had caught the sound of steps far behind him. He could hear it no longer, and went his way, with a troubled feeling that robbed him of rest that night. In a day or two it wore off, and soon he was hold of the bit, as he was wont to say, and racing for the lead in his work. He often walked to school with Polly and went to church with her every Sunday night. There had been not a word of love between them, however, since they came to the village, until one evening she said:—
“I am very unhappy, and I wish I were home.”
She was not able to answer for a moment.
“I know I am unworthy of you,” she whispered.
His lungs shook him with a deep and tremulous inspiration. For a little he could not answer.
“That is why you do not love me?” she whispered again.
“I do love you,” he said with a strong effort to control himself, “but I am not worthy to touch the hem of your garment.”
“Tell me why, Sidney?”
“Some day—I do not know when—I will tell you all. And if you can love me after that, we shall both be happy.”
“Tell me now,” she urged.
“I cannot,” said he, “but if you only trust me, Polly, you shall know. If you will not trust me—”
He paused, looking down at the snow path.
“Good night!” he added presently.
They kissed and parted, each going to the company of bitter tears.
As of old, Trove had many a friend,—school-fellows who came of an evening, now and then, for his help in some knotty problem. All saw a change in him. He had not the enthusiasm and good cheer of former days, and some ceased to visit him. Moreover they were free to say that Trove was getting a big head. For one thing, he had become rather careless about his clothes,—a new trait in him, for he had the gift of pride and the knack of neatness.
A new student sought his acquaintance the very first week of the term,—that rather foppish young man who got off the cars at Hillsborough the day of their first coming. He was from Buffalo, and, although twenty-two years of age, was preparing to enter college. His tales of the big city and his frank good-fellowship made him a welcome guest. Soon he was known to all as “Dick”—his name being Richard Roberts. It was not long before Dick knew everybody and everybody knew Dick, including Polly, and thought him a fine fellow. Soon Trove came to know that when he was detained a little after school Dick went home with Polly. That gave him no concern, however, until Dick ceased to visit him, and he saw a change in the girl.
One day, two letters came for Trove. They were in girlish penmanship and bore no signature, but stung him to the quick.
“For Heaven’s sake get a new hat,” said one.