He went to the Sign of the Dial as soon as he got to Hillsborough that day. Darrel was at home, and a happy time it was, wherein each gave account of the summer. A stranger sat working at the small bench. Darrel gave him no heed, chatting as if they were quite alone.
“And what is the news in Hillsborough?” said Trove, his part of the story finished.
“Have ye not heard?” said Darrel, in a whisper. “Parson Hammond hath swapped horses.”
Trove began to laugh.
“Nay, that is not all,” said the tinker, his pipe in hand. “Deacon Swackhammer hath smitten the head o’ Brooke. Oh, sor, ’twas a comedy. Brooke gave him an ill-sounding word. Swackhammer removed his coat an’ flung it down. ‘Deacon, lie there,’ said he. Then each began, as it were, to bruise the head o’ the serpent. Brooke—poor man!—he got the worst of it. An’ sad to tell! his wife died the very next day.”
“Of what?” Trove inquired,
“Marry, I do not know; it may have been joy,” said the tinker, lighting his pipe. “Ah, sor, Brooke is tough. He smites the helping hand an’ sickens the heart o’ kindness. I offered him help an’ sympathy, an’ he made it all bitter with suspicion o’ me. I turned away, an’ said I to meself, ’Darrel, thy head is soft—a babe could brain thee with a lady’s fan.’”
Darrel puffed his pipe in silence a little time.
“Every one hates Brooke,” said Trove.
“Once,” said Darrel, presently, “a young painter met a small animal with a striped back, in the woods. They exchanged compliments an’ suddenly the painter ran, shaking his head. As he came near his own people, they all began to flee before him. He followed them for days, an’ every animal in the woods ran as he came near. By an’ by he stopped to rest. Then he looked down at himself an’ spat, sneeringly. When, after weeks o’ travel, he was at length admitted to the company of his kind, they sat in judgment on him.
“‘Tell us,’ said one, ‘what evil hath befallen thee?’
“‘Alas!’ said the poor cat, ’I met a little creature with a striped back.’
“‘A little creature! an’ thee so put about?’ said another, with great contempt.
“‘Ay; but he hath a mighty talent,’ said the sad painter. ’Let him but stand before thee, an’ he hath spoiled the earth, an’ its people, an’ thou would’st even flee from thyself. But in fleeing thou shalt think thyself on the way to hell.’”
For a moment Darrel shook with silent laughter. Then he rose and put his pipe on the shelf.
“Well, I’d another chance to try the good law on him,” said Darrel, presently. “In July he fell sick o’ fever, an’ I delayed me trip to nurse him. At length, when he was nearly well, an’ I had come to his home one evening, the widow Glover met me at his door.
“‘If ye expect money fer comin’ here, ye better go on ’bout yer business,’ Brooke shouted from the bedroom. ’I don’t need ye any more, an’ I’ll send ye a bushel o’ potatoes by ‘n by. Good day.’