“What is one to do with a man like that?” Trove inquired.
“Only this,” said the tinker; “put him in thy book. He’ll make good history. But, sor, for company he’s damnably poor.”
“It’s a new way to use men,” said Trove.
“Nay, an old way—a very old way. Often God makes an example o’ rare malevolence an’ seems to say, ’Look, despise, and be anything but this.’ Like Judas and Herod he is an excellent figure in a book. Put him in thine, boy.”
“And credit him with full payment?” the boy asked.
“Long ago, praise God, there was a great teacher,” said the old man. “It is a day to think of Him. Return good for evil—those were His words. We’ve never tried it, an’ I’d like to see how it may work. The trial would be amusing if it bore no better fruit.”
“What do you propose?”
“Well, say we take him a gift with our best wishes,” said the tinker.
“If I can afford it,” the boy replied.
The tinker answered quickly: “Oh, I’ve always a little for a Christmas, an’ I’ll buy the gifts. Ah, boy, let’s away for the gifts. We’ll—we’ll punish him with kindness.”
They went together and bought a pair of mittens and a warm muffler for Riley Brooke and walked to his door with them and rapped upon it. Brooke came to the door with a candle.
“What d’ye want?” he demanded.
“To wish you Merry Christmas and present you gifts,” said Trove.
The old man raised his candle, surveying them with surprise and curiosity.
“What gifts?” he inquired in a milder tone.
“Well,” said the boy, “we’ve brought you mittens and a muffler.”
“Ha! ha! Yer consciences have smote ye,” said Brooke, “Glory to God who brings the sinner to repentance!”
“And fills the bitter cup o’ the ungrateful,” said the tinker. And they went away.
“I’d like to bring one other gift,” said Darrel.
“God forgive me! A rope to hang him. But mind thee, boy, we are trying the law o’ the great teacher, and let us see if we can learn to love this man.”
“Love Riley Brooke?” said Trove, doubtfully.
“A great achievement, I grant thee,” said the tinker. “For if we can love him, we shall be able to love anybody. Let us try and see what comes of it.”
A man was waiting for Darrel at the foot of the old stairs—a tall man, poorly dressed, whom Trove had not seen before, and whom, now, he was not able to see clearly in the darkness.
“The mare is ready,” said Darrel. “Tis a dark night.”
He to whom the tinker had spoken made no answer.
“Good night,” said the tinker, turning. “A Merry Christmas to thee, boy, an’ peace an’ plenty.”
“I have peace, and you have given me plenty to think about,” said Trove.
On his way home the boy thought of the stranger at the stairs, wondering if he were the other tinker of whom Darrel had told him. At his lodging he found a new pair of boots with only the Christmas greeting on a card.