As Trove rode away he took account of all he owed those good people who had been mother and father to him. What a pleasure it would give him to lay that goodly sum in the lap of his mother and bid her spend it with no thought of economy.
The mare knew him as one may know a brother. There was in her manner some subtle understanding of his mood. Her master saw it in the poise of her head, in the shift of her ears, and in her tender way of feeling for his hand. She, too, was looking right and left in the fields. There were the scenes of a boyhood, newly but forever gone. “That’s where you overtook me on the way to school,” said he to Phyllis, for so the tinker had named her.
She drew at the rein, starting playfully as she heard his voice, and shaking his hand as if to say, “Oh, master, give me the rein. I will bear you swiftly to happiness.”
Trove looked down at her proudly, patting the silken arch of her neck. If, as Darrel had once told him, God took note of the look of one’s horses, she was fit for the last journey. Arriving at Hillsborough, he tied her in the sheds and took his way to the Sign of the Dial. Darrel was working at his little bench. He turned wearily, his face paler than Trove had ever seen it, his eyes deeper under their fringe of silvered hair.
“An’ God be praised, the boy!” said he, rising quickly. “Canst thou make a jest, boy, a merry jest?”
“Not until you have told me what’s the matter.”
“Illness an’ the food o’ bitter fancy,” said the tinker, with a sad face.
“Yes; an’ o’ thee, boy. Had I gathered care in the broad fields all me life an’ heaped it on thy back, I could not have done worse by thee.”
Darrel put his hand upon the boy’s shoulder, surveying him from head to foot.
“But, marry,” he added, “‘tis a mighty thigh an’ a broad back.”
“Have you seen my father?”
There was a moment of silence, and Trove began to change colour.
“And what did he say?”
“That he will bear his burden alone.”
Then, for a moment, silence and the ticking of the clocks.
“And I shall never know my father?” said Trove, presently, his lips trembling. “God, sir! I insist upon it. I have a right to his name and to his shame also.” The young man sank upon a chair, covering his face.
“Nay, boy, it is not wise,” said Darrel, tenderly. “Take thought of it—thou’rt young. The time is near when thy father can make restitution, ay, an’ acknowledge his sin before the world. All very near to him, saving thyself, are dead. Now, whatever comes, it can do thee no harm.”
“But I care not for disgrace; and often you have told me that I should live and speak the truth, even though it burn me to the bone.”
“So have I, boy, so have I; but suppose it burn others to the bone. It will burn thy wife; an’ thy children, an’ thy children’s children, and them that have reared thee, an’ it would burn thy father most of all.”