“Do not disturb the grass here,” said Trove, “and I will prove to you that the tracks were made before the night in question. Do you see the four webs?”
“Yes,” said the attorney..
“The tracks go under them,” said Trove, “and must, therefore, have been made before the webs. I will prove to you that the webs were spun before two o’clock of the day before yesterday. At that hour I saw the spinner die. See, her lair is deserted.”
He broke the stalk of mullen and the cables of spider silk that led away from it, and all inspected the empty lair. Then he told of that deadly battle in the grass.
“But these webs might have been the work of another spider,” said the attorney.
“It matters not,” Trove insisted, “for the webs were spun at least twelve hours before the crime. One of them contains the body of a red butterfly with starred wings. We cut the wings that day, and Miss Vaughn put them in a book she was reading.”
Paul brought the wings, which exactly fitted the tiny torso of the butterfly. They could discern the footprints, one of which had broken the ant’s road, while another was completely covered by the butterfly snare.
“Those tracks were made before the webs—that is evident,” said the attorney. “Do you know who made the tracks?”
“I do not,” was the answer of the young man.
Trove remained at Robin’s Inn that night, and after the men had gone he recalled a circumstance that was like a flash of lightning in the dark of his great mystery.
Once at the Sign of the Dial his friend, the tinker, had shown him a pair of new boots. He remembered they were of the same size and shape as those he wore.
“We could wear the same boots,” he had remarked to Darrel.
“Had I to do such penance I should be damned,” the tinker had answered. “Look, boy, mine are the larger by far. There’s a man coming to see me at the Christmas time—a man o’ busy feet. That pair in your hands I bought for him.”
“Day before yesterday,” said Tunk, that evening, “I was up in the sugar-bush after a bit o’ hickory, an’ I see a man there, an’ I didn’t have no idee who ‘twas. He was tall and had white hair an’ whiskers an’ a short blue coat. When I first see him he was settin’ on a log, but ‘fore I come nigh he got up an’ made off.”
Although meagre, the description was sufficient. Trove had no longer any doubt of this—that the stranger he had seen at Darrel’s had been hiding in the bush that day whose events were now so important.
Whoever had brought the money, he must have known much of the plans and habits of the young man, and, the night before Trove’s arrival at Robin’s Inn, he came, probably, to the sugar woods, where he spent the next day in hiding.
The young man was deeply troubled. Polly and her mother sat well into the night with him, hearing the story of his life, which he told in full, saving only the sin of his father. Of that he had neither the right nor the heart to tell.