Part 1 out of 5
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The Stillwater Tragedy
By Thomas Bailey Aldrich
It is close upon daybreak. The great wall of pines and hemlocks
that keep off the west wind from Stillwater stretches black and
indeterminate against the sky. At intervals a dull, metallic sound,
like the guttural twang of a violin string, rises form the
frog-invested swamp skirting the highway. Suddenly the birds stir in
their nests over there in the woodland, and break into that wild
jargoning chorus with which they herald the advent of a new day. In
the apple-orchards and among the plum-trees of the few gardens in
Stillwater, the wrens and the robins and the blue-jays catch up the
crystal crescendo, and what a melodious racket they make of it with
their fifes and flutes and flageolets!
The village lies in a trance like death. Possibly not a soul hears
this music, unless it is the watchers at the bedside of Mr. Leonard
Tappleton, the richest man in town, who has lain dying these three
days, and cannot last until sunrise. Or perhaps some mother, drowsily
hushing her wakeful baby, pauses a moment and listens vacantly to the
birds singing. But who else?
The hubbub suddenly ceases,--ceases as suddenly as it began,--and
all is still again in the woodland. But it is not so dark as before.
A faint glow of white light is discernible behind the ragged line of
the tree-tops. The deluge of the darkness is receding from the face
of the earth, as the mighty waters receded of old.
The roofs and tall factory chimneys of Stillwater are slowly
taking shape in the gloom. Is that a cemetery coming into view
yonder, with its ghostly architecture of obelisks and broken columns
and huddled head-stones? No, that is only Slocum's Marble Yard, with
the finished and unfinished work heaped up like snowdrifts,--a
cemetery in embryo. Here and there in an outlying farm a lantern
glimmers in the barn-yard: the cattle are having their fodder
betimes. Scarlet-capped chanticleer gets himself on the nearest
rail-fence and lifts up his rancorous voice like some irate old
cardinal launching the curse of Rome. Something crawls swiftly along
the gray of the serpentine turnpike,--a cart, with the driver lashing
a jaded horse. A quick wind goes shivering by, and is lost in the
Now a narrow strip of two-colored gold stretches along the
Stillwater is gradually coming to its senses. The sun has begun to
twinkle on the gilt cross of the Catholic chapel and make itself
known to the doves in the stone belfry of the South Church. The
patches of cobweb that here and there cling tremulously to the coarse
grass of the inundated meadows have turned into silver nets, and the
mill-pond--it will be steel-blue later--is as smooth and white as if
it had been paved with one vast unbroken slab out of Slocum's Marble
Yard. Through a row of button-woods on the northern skirt of the
village is seen a square, lap-streaked building, painted a
disagreeable brown, and surrounded on three sides by a platform,--one
of seven or eight similar stations strung like Indian heads on a
branch thread of the Great Sagamore Railway.
Listen! That is the jingle of the bells on the baker's cart as it
begins its rounds. From innumerable chimneys the curdled smoke gives
evidence that the thrifty housewife--or, what is rarer in Stillwater,
the hired girl--has lighted the kitchen fire.
The chimney-stack of one house at the end of a small court--the
last house on the easterly edge of the village, and standing quite
alone--sends up no smoke. Yet the carefully trained ivy over the
porch, and the lemon verbena in a tub at the foot of the steps,
intimate that the place is not unoccupied. Moreover, the little
schooner which acts as weather-cock on one of the gables, and is now
heading due west, has a new top-sail. It is a story-and-a-half
cottage, with a large expanse of roof, which, covered with porous,
unpainted shingles, seems to repel the sunshine that now strikes full
upon it. The upper and lower blinds on the main building, as well as
those on the extensions, are tightly closed. The sun appears to beat
in vain at the casement sof this silent house, which has a curiously
sullen and defiant air, as if it had desperately and successfully
barricaded itself against the approach of morning; yet if one were
standing in the room that leads from the bed-chamber on the
ground-floor--the room with the latticed window--one would see a ray
of light thrust through a chink of the shutters, and pointing like a
human finger at an object which lies by the hearth.
This finger, gleaming, motionless, and awful in its precision,
points to the body of old Mr. Lemuel Shackford, who lies there dead
in his night-dress, with a gash across his forehead.
In the darkness of that summer night a deed darker than the night
itself had been done in Stillwater.
That morning, when Michael Hennessey's girl Mary--a girl sixteen
years old--carried the can of milk to the rear door of the silent
house, she was nearly a quarter of hour later than usual, and looked
forward to being soundly rated.
"He's up and been waiting for it," she said to herself, observing
the scullery door ajar. "Won't I ketch it! It's him for growling and
snapping at a body, and it's me for always being before or behind
time, bad luck to me. There's no plazing him."
Mary pushed back the door and passed through the kitchen, serving
herself all the while to meet the objurgations which she supposed
were lying in wait for her. The sunshine was blinding without, but
sifted through the green jalousies, it made a gray, crepuscular light
within. As the girl approached the table, on which a plate with knife
and fork had been laid for breakfast, she noticed, somewhat
indistinctly at first, a thin red line running obliquely across the
floor from the direction of the sitting-room and ending near the
stove, where it had formed a small pool. Mary stopped short, scarcely
conscious why, and peered instinctively into the adjoining apartment.
Then, with a smothered cry, she let fall the milk-can, and a dozen
white rivulets, in strange contrast to that one dark red line which
first startled her, went meandering over the kitchen floor. With her
eyes riveted upon some object in the next room, the girl retreated
backward slowly and heavily dragging one foot after the other, until
she reached the gallery door; then she turned swiftly, and plunged
into the street.
Twenty minutes later, every man, woman, and child in Stillwater
knew that old Mr. Shackford had been murdered.
Mary Hennessey had to tell her story a hundred times during the
morning, for each minute brought to Michael's tenement a fresh
listener hungry for the details at first hand.
"How was it, Molly? Tell a body, dear!"
"Don't be asking me!" cried Molly, pressing her palms to her eyes
as if to shut out the sight, but taking all the while a secret creepy
satisfaction in living the scene over again. "It was kinder dark in
the other room, and there he was, laying in his night-gownd, with his
face turned towards me, so, looking mighty severe-like, jest as if he
was a-going to say, 'It's late with the milk ye are, ye hussy!'--a
way he had of spaking."
"But he didn't spake, Molly darlin'?"
"Niver a word. He was stone dead, don't you see. It was that still
you could hear me heart beat, saving there wasn't a drop of beat in
it. I let go the can, sure, and then I backed out, with me eye on 'im
all the while, afeard to death that he would up and spake them
"The pore child! for the likes of her to be wakin' up a murthered
man in the mornin'!"
There was little or no work done that day in Stillwater outside
the mills, and they were not running full handed. A number of men
from the Miantowona Iron Works and Slocum's Yard--Slocum employed
some seventy or eighty hands--lounged about the streets in their
blouses, or stood in knots in front of the tavern, smoking short clay
pipes. Not an urchin put in an appearance at the small red brick
building on the turnpike. Mr. Pinkham, the school-master, waited an
hour for the recusants, then turned the key in the lock and went
Dragged-looking women, with dishcloth or dustpan in hand, stood in
door-ways or leaned from windows, talking in subdued voices with
neighbors on the curb-stone. In a hundred far-away cities the news of
the suburban tragedy had already been read and forgotten; but here
the horror stayed.
There was a constantly changing crowd gathered in front of the
house in Welch's Court. An inquest was being held in the room
adjoining the kitchen. The court, which ended at the gate of the
cottage, was fringed for several yards on each side by rows of
squalid, wondering children, who understood it that Coroner Whidden
was literally to sit on the dead body,--Mr. Whidden, a limp,
inoffensive little man, who would not have dared to sit down on a
fly. He had passed, pallid and perspiring, to the scene of his
The result of the investigation was awaited with feverish
impatience by the people outside. Mr. Shackford had not been a
popular man; he had been a hard, avaricious, passionate man, holding
his own way remorselessly. He had been the reverse of popular, but he
had long been a prominent character in Stillwater, because of his
wealth, his endless lawsuits, and his eccentricity, an illustration
of which was his persistence in living entirely alone in the isolated
and dreary old house, that was henceforth to be inhabited by his
shadow. Not his shadow alone, however, for it was now remembered that
the premises were already held in fee by another phantasmal tenant.
At a period long anterior to this, one Lydia Sloper, a widow, had
died an unexplained death under that same roof. The coincidence
struck deeply into the imaginative portion of Stillwater. "The Widow
Sloper and old Shackford have made a match of it," remarked a local
humorist, in a grimmer vain than customary. Two ghosts had now set up
housekeeping, as it were, in the stricken mansion, and what might not
be looked for in the way of spectral progeny!
It appeared to the crowd in the lane that the jury were
unconscionably long in arriving at a decision, and when the decision
was at length reached it gave but moderate satisfaction. After a
spendthrift waste of judicial mind the jury had decided that "the
death of Lemuel Shackford was caused by a blow on the left temple,
inflicted with some instrument not discoverable, in the hands of some
person or persons unknown."
"We knew that before," grumbled a voice in the crowd, when, to
relieve public suspense, Lawyer Perkins--a long, lank man, with
stringy black hair--announced the verdict from the doorstep.
The theory of suicide had obtained momentary credence early in the
morning, and one or two still clung to it with the tenacity that
characterizes persons who entertain few ideas. To accept this theory
it was necessary to believe that Mr. Shackford had ingeniously hidden
the weapon after striking himself dead with a single blow. No, it was
not suicide. So far from intending to take his own life, Mr.
Shackford, it appeared, had made rather careful preparations to live
that day. The breakfast-table had been laid over night, the coals
left ready for kindling in the Franklin stove, and a kettle, filled
with water to be heated for his tea or coffee, stood on the hearth.
Two facts had sharply demonstrated themselves: first, that Mr.
Shackford had been murdered; and, second, that the spur to the crime
had been the possession of a sum of money, which the deceased was
supposed to keep in a strong-box in his bedroom. The padlock had been
wrenched open, and the less valuable contents of the chest, chiefly
papers, scattered over the carpet. A memorandum among the papers
seemed to specify the respective sums in notes and gold that had been
deposited in the box. A document of some kind had been torn into
minute pieces and thrown into the waste-basket. On close scrutiny a
word or two here and there revealed the fact that the document was of
a legal character. The fragments were put into an envelope and given
in charge of Mr. Shackford's lawyer, who placed seals on that and on
the drawers of an escritoire which stood in the corner and contained
The instrument with which the fatal blow had been dealt--for the
autopsy showed that there had been but one blow--was not only not
discoverable, but the fashion of it defied conjecture. The shape of
the wound did not indicate the use of any implement known to the
jurors, several of whom were skilled machinists. The wound was an
inch and three quarters in length and very deep at the extremities;
in the middle in scarcely penetrated to the cranium. So peculiar a
cut could not have been produced with the claw part of a hammer,
because the claw is always curved, and the incision was straight. A
flat claw, such as is used in opening packing-cases, was suggested. A
collection of the several sizes manufactured was procured, but none
corresponded with the wound; they were either too wide or too narrow.
Moreover, the cut was as thin as the blade of a case-knife.
"That was never done by any tool in these parts," declared
Stevens, the foreman of the finishing shop at Slocum's.
The assassin or assassins had entered by the scullery door, the
simple fastening of which, a hook and staple, had been broken. There
were footprints in the soft clay path leading from the side gate to
the stone step; but Mary Hennessey had so confused and obliterated
the outlines that now it was impossible accurately to measure them. A
half-burned match was found under the sink,--evidently thrown there
by the burglars. It was of a kind known as the safety-match, which
can be ignited only by friction on a strip of chemically prepared
paper glued to the box. As no box of this description was discovered,
and as all the other matches in the house were of a different make,
the charred splinter was preserved. The most minute examination
failed to show more than this. The last time Mr. Shackford had been
seen alive was at six o'clock the previous evening.
Who had done the deed?
Tramps! answered Stillwater, with one voice, though Stillwater lay
somewhat out of the natural highway, and the tramp--that bitter
blossom of civilization whose seed was blown to us from over
seas--was not then so common by the New England roadsides as he
became five or six years later. But it was intolerable not to have a
theory; it was that or none, for conjecture turned to no one in the
village. To be sure, Mr. Shackford had been in litigation with
several of the corporations, and had had legal quarrels with more
than one of his neighbors; but Mr. Shackford had never been
victorious in any of these contests, and the incentive of revenge was
wanting to explain the crime. Besides, it was so clearly robbery.
Though the gathering around the Shackford house had reduced itself
to half a dozen idlers, and the less frequented streets had resumed
their normal aspect of dullness, there was a strange, electric
quality in the atmosphere. The community was in that state of
suppressed agitation and suspicion which no word adequately
describes. The slightest circumstance would have swayed it to the
belief in any man's guilt; and, indeed, there were men in Stillwater
quite capable of disposing of a fellow-creature for a much smaller
reward than Mr. Shackford had held out. In spite of the tramp theory,
a harmless tin-peddler, who had not passed through the place for
weeks, was dragged from his glittering cart that afternoon, as he
drove smilingly into town, and would have been roughly handled if Mr.
Richard Shackford, a cousin of the deceased, had not interfered.
As the day wore on, the excitement deepened in intensity, though
the expression of it became nearly reticent. It was noticed that the
lamps throughout the village were lighted an hour earlier than usual.
A sense of insecurity settled upon Stillwater with the falling
twilight,--that nameless apprehension which is possibly more trying
to the nerves than tangible danger. When a man is smitten
inexplicably, as if by a bodiless hand stretched out of a
cloud,--when the red slayer vanishes like a mist and leaves no
faintest trace of his identity,--the mystery shrouding the deed
presently becomes more appalling than the deed itself. There is
something paralyzing in the thought of an invisible hand somewhere
ready to strike at your life, or at some life dearer than your own.
Whose hand, and where is it? Perhaps it passes you your coffee at
breakfast; perhaps you have hired it to shovel the snow off your
sidewalk; perhaps it has brushed against you in the crowd; or may be
you have dropped a coin into the fearful palm at a street corner. Ah,
the terrible unseen hand that stabs your imagination,--this immortal
part of you which is a hundred times more sensitive than your poor
In the midst of situations the most solemn and tragic there often
falls a light purely farcical in its incongruity. Such a gleam was
unconsciously projected upon the present crisis by Mr. Bodge, better
known in the village as Father Bodge. Mr. Bodge was stone deaf,
naturally stupid, and had been nearly moribund for thirty years with
asthma. Just before night-fall he had crawled, in his bewildered,
wheezy fashion, down to the tavern, where he found a somber crowd in
the bar-room. Mr. Bodge ordered his mug of beer, and sat sipping it,
glancing meditatively from time to time over the pewter rim at the
mute assembly. Suddenly he broke out: "S'pose you've heerd that old
Shackford's ben murdered."
So the sun went down on Stillwater. Again the great wall of pines
and hemlocks made a gloom against the sky. The moon rose from behind
the tree-tops, frosting their ragged edges, and then sweeping up to
the zenith hung serenely above the world, as if there were never a
crime, or a tear, or a heart-break in it all.
On the afternoon of the following day Mr. Shackford was duly
buried. The funeral, under the direction of Mr. Richard Shackford,
who acted as chief mourner and was sole mourner by right of kinship,
took place in profound silence. The carpenters, who had lost a day on
Bishop's new stables, intermitted their sawing and hammering while
the services were in progress; the steam was shut off in the
iron-mills, and no clinking of the chisel was heard in the marble
yard for an hour, during which many of the shops had their shutters
up. Then, when all was over, the imprisoned fiend in the boilers gave
a piercing shriek; the leather bands slipped on the revolving drums,
the spindles leaped into life again, and the old order of things was
reinstated,--outwardly, but not in effect.
In general, when the grave closes over a man his career is ended.
But Mr. Shackford was never so much alive as after they had buried
him. Never before had he filled so large a place in the public eye.
Though invisible, he sat at every fireside. Until the manner of his
death had been made clear, his ubiquitous presence was not to be
exorcised. On the morning of the memorable day a reward of one
hundred dollars--afterwards increased to five hundred, at the
insistence of Mr. Shackford's cousin--had been offered by the board
of selectmen for the arrest and conviction of the guilty party.
Beyond this and the unsatisfactory inquest, the authorities had done
nothing, and were plainly not equal to the situation.
When it was stated, the night of the funeral, that a professional
person was coming to Stillwater to look into the case, the
announcement was received with a breath of relief.
The person thus vaguely described appeared on the spot the next
morning. To mention the name of Edward Taggett is to mention a name
well known to the detective force of the great city lying sixty miles
southwest of Stillwater. Mr. Taggett's arrival sent such a thrill of
expectancy through the village that Mr. Leonard Tappleton, whose
obsequies occurred this day, made his exit nearly unobserved. Yet
there was little in Mr. Taggett's physical aspect calculated to stir
either expectation or enthusiasm: a slender man of about twenty-six,
but not looking it, with overhanging brown mustache, sparse
side-whiskers, eyes of no definite color, and faintly accentuated
eyebrows. He spoke precisely, and with a certain unembarrassed
hesitation, as persons do who have two thoughts to one word,--if
there are such persons. You might have taken him for a physician, or
a journalist, or the secretary of an insurance company; but you would
never have supposed him the man who had disentangled the complicated
threads of the great Barnabee Bank defalcation.
Stillwater's confidence, which had risen into the nineties, fell
to zero at sight of him. "Is _that_ Taggett?" they asked. That
was Taggett; and presently his influence began to be felt like a
sea-turn. The three Dogberrys of the watch were dispatched on secret
missions, and within an hour it was ferreted out that a man in a cart
had been seen driving furiously up the turnpike the morning after the
murder. This was an agricultural district, the road led to a market
town, and teams going by in the early dawn were the rule and not the
exception; but on that especial morning a furiously driven cart was
significant. Jonathan Beers, who farmed the Jenks land, had heard the
wheels and caught an indistinct glimpse of the vehicle as he was
feeding the cattle, but with a reticence purely rustic had not been
moved to mention the circumstance before.
"Taggett has got a clew," said Stillwater under its breath.
By noon Taggett had got the man, cart and all. But it was only
Blufton's son Tom, of South Millville, who had started in hot haste
that particular morning to secure medical service for his wife, of
which she had sorely stood in need, as two tiny girls in a willow
cradle in South Millville now bore testimony.
"I haven't been cutting down the population _much,"_ said
Blufton, with his wholesome laugh.
Thomas Blufton was well known and esteemed in Stillwater, but if
the crime had fastened itself upon him it would have given something
like popular satisfaction.
In the course of the ensuing forty-eight hours four or five tramps
were overhauled as having been in the neighborhood at the time of the
tragedy; but they each had a clean story, and were let go. Then one
Durgin, a workman at Slocum's Yard, was called upon to explain some
half-washed-out red stains on his overalls, which he did. He had
tightened the hoops on a salt-pork barrel for Mr. Shackford several
days previous; the red paint on the head of the barrel was fresh, and
had come off on his clothes. Dr. Weld examined the spots under a
microscope, and pronounced them paint. It was manifest that Mr.
Taggett meant to go to the bottom of things.
The bar-room of the Stillwater hotel was a center of interest
these nights; not only the bar-room proper, but the adjoining
apartment, where the more exclusive guests took their seltzer-water
and looked over the metropolitan newspapers. Twice a week a social
club met here, having among its members Mr. Craggie, the postmaster,
who was supposed to have a great political future, Mr. Pinkham,
Lawyer Perkins, Mr. Whidden, and other respectable persons. The room
was at all times in some sense private, with a separate entrance from
the street, though another door, which usually stood open, connected
it with the main salon. In this was a long mahogany counter, one
section of which was covered with a sheet of zinc perforated like a
sieve, and kept constantly bright by restless caravans of lager-beer
glasses. Directly behind that end of the counter stood a Gothic
brass-mounted beer-pump, at whose faucets Mr. Snelling, the landlord,
flooded you five or six mugs in the twinkling of an eye, and raised
the vague expectation that he was about to grind out some popular
operatic air. At the left of the pump stretched a narrow mirror,
reflecting he gaily-colored wine-glasses and decanters which stood on
each other's shoulders, and held up lemons, and performed various
acrobatic feats on a shelf in front of it.
The fourth night after the funeral of Mr. Shackford, a dismal
southeast storm caused an unusual influx of idlers in both rooms.
With the rain splashing against the casements and the wind slamming
the blinds, the respective groups sat discussing in a desultory way
the only topic which could be discussed at present. There had been a
general strike among the workmen a fortnight before; but even that
had grown cold as a topic.
"That was hard on Tom Blufton," said Stevens, emptying the ashes
out of his long-stemmed clay pipe, and refilling the bowl with cut
cavendish from a jar on a shelf over his head.
Michael Hennessey sat down his beer-mug with an air of
argumentative disgust, and drew one sleeve across his glistening
"Stevens, you've as many minds as a weather-cock, jist! Didn't ye
say yerself it looked mighty black for the lad when he was took?"
"I might have said something of the sort," Stevens admitted
reluctantly, after a pause. "His driving round at daybreak with an
empty cart did have an ugly look at first."
"Not to anybody who knew Tom Blufton," interrupted Samuel Piggott,
Blufton's brother-in-law. "The boy hasn't a bad streak in him. It was
an outrage. Might as well have suspected Parson Langly or Father
"If this kind of thing goes on," remarked a man in the corner with
a patch over one eye, "both of them reverend gents will be hauled up,
I shouldn't wonder."
"That's so, Mr. Peters," responded Durgin. "If my respectability
didn't save me, who's safe?"
"Durgin is talking about his respectability! He's joking."
"Look here, Dexter," said Durgin, turning quickly on the speaker,
"when I want to joke, I talk about your intelligence."
"What kind of man is Taggett, anyhow?" asked Piggott. "You saw
"I believe he was at Justice Beemis's office the day Blufton and I
was there; but I didn't make him out in the crowd. Shouldn't know him
"Stillwater's a healthy place for tramps jest about this time,"
suggested somebody. "Three on 'em snaked in to-day."
"I think, gentlemen, that Mr. Taggett is on the right track
there," observed Mr. Snelling, in the act of mixing another Old
Holland for Mr. Peters. "Not too sweet, you said? I feel it in my
bones that it was a tramp, and that Mr. Taggett will bring him yet."
"He won't find him on the highway yonder," said a tgall, swarthy
man named Torrini, an Italian. Nationalities clash in Stillwater.
"That tramp is a thousand miles from here."
"So he is if he has any brains under his hat," returned Snelling.
"But they're on the lookout for him. The minute he pawns anything,
"Can't put up greenbacks or gold, can he? He didn't take nothing
else," interposed Bishop, the veterinary surgeon.
"Now jewelry nor nothing?"
"There wasn't none, as I understand it," said Bishop, "except a
silver watch. That was all snug under the old man's piller."
"Wanter know!" ejaculated Jonathan Beers.
"I opine, Mr. Craggie," said the school-master, standing in the
inner room with a rolled-up file of the Daily Advertiser in his hand,
"that the person who--who removed our worthy townsman will never be
"I shouldn't like to go quite so far as that, sir," answered Mr.
Craggie, with that diplomatic suavity which leads to postmasterships
and seats in the General Court, and has even been known to oil a dull
fellow's way into Congress. "I cannot take quite so hopeless a view
of it. There are difficulties, but they must be overcome, Mr.
Pinkham, and I think they will be."
"Indeed, I hope so," returned the school-master. "But there are
cases--are there not?--in which the--the problem, if I may so
designate it, has never been elucidated, and the persons who
undertook it have been obliged to go to the foot, so to speak."
"Ah, yes, there are such cases, certainly. There was the Burdell
mystery in New York, and, later, the Nathan affair--By the way, I've
satisfactory theories of my own touching both. The police were
baffled, and remain so. But, my _dear_ sir, observe for a moment
Mr. Pinkham rested one finger on the edge of a little round table,
and leaned forward in a respectful attitude to observe the
"Those crimes were committed in a vast metropolis affording a
thousand chances for escape, as well as offering a thousand
temptations to the lawless. But we are a limited community. We have
no professional murderers among us. The deed which has stirred
society to its utmost depths was plainly done by some wayfaring
amateur. Remorse has already arrived upon him, if the police haven't.
For the time being he escapes; but he is bound to betray himself
sooner or later. If the right steps are taken,--and I have myself the
greatest confidence in Mr. Taggett,--the guilty party can scarcely
fail to be brought to the bar of justice, if he doesn't bring himself
"Indeed, indeed, I hope so," repeated Mr. Pinkham.
"The investigation is being carried on very closely."
"Too closely," suggested the school-master.
"Oh dear, no," murmured Mr. Craggie. "The strictest secrecy is
necessary in affairs of this delicate nature. If Tom, Dick, and Harry
were taken behind the scenes," he added, with the air of one wishing
to say too much, "the bottom would drop out of everything."
Mr. Pinkham shrunk from commenting on a disaster like that, and
relapsed into silence. Mr. Craggie, with his thumbs in the arm-holes
of his waistcoat, and his legs crossed in an easy, senatorial
fashion, leaned back in the chair and smiled blandly.
"I don't suppose there's nothing new, boys!" exclaimed a fat,
florid man, bustling in good-naturedly at the public entrance, and
leaving a straight wet trail on the sanded floor from the threshold
to the polished mahogany counter. Mr. Wilson was a local humorist of
the Falstaffian stripe, though not so much witty in himself as the
cause of wit in others.
"No, Jimmy, there isn't anything new," responded Dexter.
"I suppose you didn't hear that the ole man done somethin'
handsome for me in his last will and testyment."
"No, Jemmy, I don't think he has made any provision whatever for
"Sorry to hear that, Dexter," said Willson, absorbedly chasing a
bit of lemon peel in his glass with the spoon handle, "for there
isn't room for us all up at the town-farm. How's your grandmother?
Finds it tol'rably comfortable?"
They are a primitive, candid people in their hours of unlaced
social intercourse in Stillwater. This delicate _tu quoque_ was
so far from wounding Dexter that he replied carelessly,--
"Well, only so so. The old woman complains of too much
chicken-sallid, and hot-house grapes all the year round."
"Mr. Shackford must have left a large property," observed Mr.
Ward, of the firm of Ward & Lock, glancing up from the columns of the
Stillwater Gazette. The remark was addressed to Lawyer Perkins, who
had just joined the group in the reading-room.
"Fairly large," replied that gentleman crisply.
"Any public bequests?"
"None to speak of."
Mr. Craggie smiled vaguely.
"You see," said Lawyer Perkins, "there's a will and no will,--that
is to say, the fragments of what is supposed to be a will were found,
and we are trying to put the pieces together. It is doubtful if we
can do it; it is doubtful if we can decipher it after we have done
it; and if we decipher it it is a question whether the document is
valid or not."
"That is a masterly exposition of the dilemma, Mr. Perkins," said
the school-master warmly.
Mr. Perkins had spoken in his court-room tone of voice, with one
hand thrust into his frilled shirt-bosom. He removed this hand for a
second, as he gravely bowed to Mr. Pinkham.
"Nothing could be clearer," said Mr. Ward. "In case the paper is
worthless, what then? I am not asking you in your professional
capacity," he added hastily; for Lawyer Perkins had been known to
send in a bill on as slight a provocation as Mr. Ward's.
"That's a point. The next of kin has his claims."
"My friend Shackford, of course," broke in Mr. Craggie. "Admirable
young man!--one of my warmest supporters."
"He is the only heir at law so far as we know," said Mr. Perkins.
"Oh," said Mr. Craggie, reflecting. "The late Mr. Shackford might
have had a family in Timbuctoo or the Sandwich Islands."
"That's another point."
"The fact would be a deuced unpleasant point for young Shackford
to run against," said Mr. Ward.
"If Mr. Lemuel Shackford," remarked Coroner Whidden, softly
joining the conversation to which he had been listening in his
timorous, apologetic manner, "had chanced, in the course of his early
sea-faring days, to form any ties of an unhappy complexion"--
"Complexion is good," murmured Mr. Craggie. "Some Hawaiian lady!"
--"perhaps that would be a branch of the case worth investigating
in connection with the homicide. A discarded wife, or a disowned son,
burning with a sense of wrong"--
"Really, Mr. Whidden!" interrupted Lawyer Perkins witheringly, "it
is bad enough for my client to lose his life, without having his
reputation filched away from him."
"I--I will explain! I was merely supposing"--
"The law never supposes, sir!"
This threw Mr. Whidden into great mental confusion. As coroner was
he not an integral part of the law, and when, in his official
character, he supposed anything was not that a legal supposition? But
was he in his official character now, sitting with a glass of
lemonade at his elbow in the reading-room of the Stillwater hotel?
Was he, or was he not, a coroner all the time? Mr. Whidden stroked an
isolated tuft of hair growing low on the middle of his forehead, and
glared mildly at Mr. Perkins.
"Young Shackford has gone to New York, I understand," said Mr.
Ward, breaking the silence.
Mr. Perkins nodded. "Went this morning to look after the
real-estate interests there. It will probably keep him a couple of
weeks,--the longer the better. He was of no use here. Lemuel's death
was a great shock to him, or rather the manner of it was."
"That shocked every one. They were first cousin's weren't they?"
Mr. Ward was a comparatively new resident in Stillwater.
"First cousins," replied Lawyer Perkins; "but they were never very
intimate, you know."
"I imagine nobody was ever very intimate with Mr. Shackford."
"My client was somewhat peculiar in his friendships."
This was stating it charitably, for Mr. Perkins knew, and every
one present knew, that Lemuel Shackford had not had the shadow of a
friend in Stillwater, unless it was his cousin Richard.
A cloud of mist and rain was blown into the bar-room as the street
door stood open for a second to admit a dripping figure from the
_"What's_ blowed down?" asked Durgin, turning round on his
stool and sending up a ring of smoke which uncurled itself with
difficulty in the dense atmosphere.
"It's only some of Jeff Stavers's nonsense."
"No nonsense at all," said the new-comer, as he shook the heavy
beads of rain from his felt hat. "I was passing by Welch's
Court--it's as black as pitch out, fellows--when slap went something
against my shoulder; something like wet wings. Well, I was scared.
It's a bat, says I. But the thing didn't fly off; it was still
clawing at my shoulder. I put up my hand, and I'll be shot if it
wasn't the foremast, jib-sheet and all, of the old weather-cock on
the north gable of the Shackford house! Here you are!" and the
speaker tossed the broken mast, with the mimic sails dangling from
it, into Durgin's lap.
A dead silence followed, for there wa felt to be something weirdly
significant in the incident.
"That's kinder omernous," said Mr. Peters, interrogatively.
"Ominous of what?" asked Durgin, lifting the wet mass from his
knees and dropping it on the floor.
"Well, sorter queer, then."
"Where does the queer come in?" inquired Stevens, gravelly. "I
don't know; but I'm hit by it."
"Come, boys, don't crowd a feller," said Mr. Peters, getting
restive. "I don't take the contract to explain the thing. But it does
seem some way droll that the old schooner should be wrecked so soon
after what has happened to the old skipper. If you don't see it, or
sense it, I don't insist. What's yours, Denyven?"
The person addressed as Denyven promptly replied, with a fine
sonorous English accent, "a mug of 'alf an' 'alf,--with a head on it,
At the same moment Mr. Craggie, in the inner room was saying to
"I must really take issue with you there, Mr. Pinkham. I admit
there's a good deal in spiritualism which we haven't got at yet; the
science is in its infancy; it is still attached to the bosom of
speculation. It is a beautiful science, that of psychological
phenomena, and the spiritualists will yet become an influential class
of"--Mr. Craggie was going to say voters, but glided over
it--"persons. I believe in clairvoyance myself to a large extent.
Before my appointment to the post-office I had it very strong. I've
no doubt that in the far future this mysterious factor will be made
great use of in criminal cases; but at present I should resort to it
only in the last extremity,--the very last extremity, Mr. Pinkham!"
"Oh, of course," said the school-master deprecatingly. "I threw it
out only as the merest suggestion. I shouldn't think of--of--you
"Is it beyond the dreams of probability," said Mr. Craggie,
appealing to Lawyer Perkins, "that clairvoyants may eventually be
introduced into cases in our courts?"
"They are now," said Mr. Perkins, with a snort,--"the police bring
Mr. Craggie finished the remainder of his glass of sherry in
silence, and presently rose to go. Coroner Whidden and Mr. Ward had
already gone. The guests in the public room were thinning out; a
gloom, indefinable and shapeless like the night, seemed to have
fallen upon the few that lingered. At a somewhat earlier hour tdhan
usual the gas was shut off in the Stillwater hotel.
In the lonely house in Welch's Court a light was still burning.
A sorely perplexed man sat there, bending over his papers by the
lamp-light. Mr. Taggett had established himself at the Shackford
house on his arrival, preferring it to the hotel, where he would have
been subjected to the curiosity of the guests and to endless
annoyances. Up to this moment, perhaps not a dozen persons in the
place had had more than a passing glimpse of him. He was a very busy
man, working at his desk from morning until night, and then taking
only a brief walk, for exercise in some unfrequented street. His
meals were sent in from the hotel to the Shackford house, where the
constables reported to him, and where he held protracted conferences
with Justice Beemis, Coroner Whidden, Lawyer Perkins, and a few
others, and declined to be interviewed by the local editor.
To the outside eye that weather-stained, faded old house appeared
a throbbing seat of esoteric intelligence. It was as if a hundred
invisible magnetic threads converged to a focus under that roof and
incessantly clicked ouit the most startling information,--information
which was never by any chance allowed to pass beyond the charmed
circle. The pile of letters which the mail brought to Mr. Taggett
every morning--chiefly anonymous suggestions, and offers of
assistance from lunatics in remote cities--was enough in itself to
expasperate a community.
Covertly at first, and then openly, Stillwater began seriously to
question Mr. Taggett's method of working up the case. The Gazette, in
a double-leaded leader, went so far as to compare him to a bird with
fine feathers and no song, and to suggest that perhaps the bird might
have sung if the inducement offered had been more substantial. A
singer of Mr. Taggett's plumage was not to be taught by such chaff as
five hundred dollars. Having killed his man, the editor proceeded to
remark that he would suspend judgment until next week.
As if to make perfect the bird comparison, Mr. Taggett, after
keeping the public in suspense for six days and nights, abruptly flew
away, with all the little shreds and straws of evidence he had picked
up, to build his speculative nest elsewhere.
The defection of Mr. Taggett caused a mild panic among a certain
portion of the inhabitants, who were not reassured by the statement
in the Gazette that the case would now be placed in the proper
hands,--the hand so the county constabulary. "Within a few days,"
said the editor in conclusion, "the matter will undoubtedly be
cleared up. At present we cannot say more;" and it would have puzzled
him very much to do so.
A week passed, and no fresh light was thrown upon the catastrophe,
nor did anything occur to rattle the usual surface of life in the
village. A man--it was Torrini, the Italian--got hurt in Dana's iron
foundry; one of Blufton's twin girls died; and Mr. Slocum took on a
new hand from out of town. That was all. Stillwater was the
Stillwater of a year ago, with always the exception of that shadow
lying upon it, and the fact that small boys who had kindling to get
in were careful to get it in before nightfall. It would appear that
the late Mr. Shackford had acquired a habit of lingering around
wood-plies after dark, and also of stealing into bed-chambers, where
little children were obliged to draw the sheets over their heads in
order not to see him.
The action of the county constabulary had proved quite as
mysterious and quite as barren of result as Mr. Taggett's had been.
They had worn his mantle of secrecy, and arrested the tramps over
Another week dragged by, and the editorial prediction seemed as
far as ever from fulfillment. But on the afternoon which closed that
fortnight a very singular thing did happen. Mr. Slocum was sitting
alone in his office, which occupied the whole of a small building at
the right of the main gate to the marble works. When the door behind
him softly opened and a young man, whose dress covered with
stone-dust indicated his vocation, appeared on the threshold. He
hesitated a second, and then stepped into the room. Mr. Slocum turned
round with a swift, apprehensive air.
"You gave me a start! I believe I haven't any nerves left. Well?"
"Mr. Slocum, I have found the man."
The proprietor of the marble yard half rose from the desk in his
"Who is it?" he asked beneath his breath.
The same doubt or irresolution which had checked the workman at
the threshold seemed again to have taken possession of him. It was
fully a moment before he gained the mastery over himself; but the
mastery was complete; for he leaned forward gravely, almost coldly,
and pronounced two words. A quick pallor overspread Mr. Slocum's
"Good God!" he exclaimed, sinking back into the chair. "Are you
The humblest painter of real life, if he could have his desire,
would select a picturesque background for his figures; but events
have an inexorable fashion for choosing their own landscape. In the
present instance it is reluctantly conceded that there are few uglier
or more commonplace towns in New England than Stillwater,--a
straggling, overgrown village, with whose rural aspects are curiously
blended something of the grimness and squalor of certain shabby city
neighborhoods. Being of comparatively recent date, the place has none
of those colonial associations which, like sprigs of lavender in an
old chest of drawers, are a saving grace to other quite as dreary
nooks and corners.
Here and there at what is termed the West End is a neat brick
mansion with garden attached, where nature asserts herself in dahlias
and china-asters; but the houses are mostly frame houses that have
taken a prevailing dingy tint from the breath of the tall chimneys
which dominate the village. The sidewalks in the more aristocratic
quarter are covered with a thin, elastic paste of asphalte, worn down
to the gravel in patches, and emitting in the heat of the day an
astringent, bituminous odor. The population is chiefly of the rougher
sort, such as breeds in the shadow of foundries and factories, and if
the Protestant pastor and the fatherly Catholic priest, whose
respective lots are cast there, have sometimes the sense of being
missionaries dropped in the midst of a purely savage community, the
delusion is not wholly unreasonable.
The irregular heaps of scoria that have accumulated in the
vicinity of the iron works give the place an illusive air of
antiquity; bit it is neither ancient nor picturesque. The oldest and
most pictorial thing in Stillwater is probably the marble yard,
around three sides of which the village may be said to have sprouted
up rankly, bearing here and there an industrial blossom in the shape
of an iron-mill or a cardigan-jacket manufactory. Rowland Slocum, a
man of considerable refinement, great kindness of heart, and no
force, inherited the yard from his father, and a the period this
narrative opens (the summer of 187-) was its sole proprietor and
nominal manager, the actual manager being Richard Shackford, a
prospective partner in the business and the betrothed of Mr. Slocum's
Forty years ago every tenth person in Stillwater was either a
Shackford or a Slocum. Twenty years later both names were nearly
extinct there. That fatality which seems to attend certain New
England families had stripped every leaf but two from the Shackford
branch. These were Lemuel Shackford, then about forty-six, and
Richard Shackford, aged four. Lemuel Shackford had laid up a
competency as ship-master in the New York and Calcutta trade, and in
1852 had returned to his native village, where he found his name and
stock represented only by little Dick, a very cheerful orphan, who
stared complacently with big blue eyes at fate, and made mud-pies in
the lane whenever he could elude the vigilance of the kindly old
woman who had taken him under her roof. This atom of humanity, by
some strange miscalculation of nature, was his cousin.
The strict devotion to his personal interests which had enabled
Mr. Shackford to acquire a fortune thus early caused him to look
askance at a penniless young kinsman with stockings down at heel, and
a straw hat three sizes too large for him set on the back of his
head. But Mr. Shackford was ashamed to leave little Dick a burden
upon the hands of a poor woman of no relationship whatever to the
child; so little Dick was transferred to that dejected house which
has already been described, and was then known as the Sloper house.
Here, for three of four years, Dick grew up, as neglected as a
weed, and every inch as happy. It should be mentioned that for the
first year or so a shock-headed Cicely from the town-farm had
apparently been hired not to take care of him. But Dick asked nothing
better than to be left to his own devices, which, moreover, were
innocent enough. He would sit all day in the lane at the front gate
pottering with a bit of twig or a case-knife in the soft clay. From
time to time passers-by observed that the child was not making
mud-pies, but tracing figures, comic or grotesque as might happen,
and always quite wonderful for their lack of resemblance to anything
human. That patch of reddish-brown clay was his sole resource, his
slate, his drawing-book, and woe to anybody who chanced to walk over
little Dick's arabesques. Patient and gentle in his acceptance of the
world's rebuffs, this he would not endure. He was afraid of Mr.
Shackford, yet one day, when the preoccupied man happened to trample
on a newly executed hieroglyphic, the child rose to his feet white
with rage, his fingers clenched, and such a blue fire flashing in the
eyes that Mr. Shackford drew back aghast.
"Why, it's a little devil!"
While Shackford junior was amusing himself with his primitive
bas-reliefs, Shackford senior amused himself with his lawsuits. From
the hour when he returned to the town until the end of his days Mr.
Shackford was up to his neck in legal difficulties. Now he resisted a
betterment assessment, and fought the town; now he secured an
injunction on the Miantowona Iron Works, and fought the corporation.
He was understood to have a perpetual case in equity before the
Marine Court in New York, to which city he made frequent and
unannounced journeys. His immediate neighbors stood in terror of him.
He was like a duelist, on the alert to twist the slightest thing into
a _casus belli_. The law was his rapier, his recreation, and he
was willing to bleed for it.
Meanwhile that fairy world of which every baby becomes a Columbus
so soon as it is able to walk remained an undiscovered continent to
little Dick. Grim life looked in upon him as he lay in the cradle.
The common joys of childhood were a sealed volume to him. A single
incident of those years lights up the whole situation. A vague rumor
had been blown to Dick of a practice of hanging up stockings at
Christmas. It struck his materialistic mind as a rather senseless
thing to do; but nevertheless he resolved to try it one Christmas
Eve. He lay awake a long while in the frosty darkness, skeptically
waiting for something remarkable to happen; once he crawled out of
the cot-bed and groped his way to the chimney place. The next morning
he was scarcely disappointed at finding nothing in the piteous little
stocking, except the original holes.
The years that stole silently over the heads of the old man and
the young child in Welch's Court brought a period of wild prosperity
to Stillwater. The breath of war blew the forges to a white heat, and
the baffling problem of the mediŠval alchemists was solved. The baser
metals were transmuted into gold. A disastrous, prosperous time, with
the air rent periodically by the cries of newsboys as battles were
fought, and by the roll of the drum in the busy streets as fresh
recruits were wanted. Glory and death to the Southward, and at the
North pale women in black.
All which interested Dick mighty little. After he had learned to
read at the district school, he escaped into another world. Two
lights were now generally seen burning of a night in the Shackford
house: one on the ground-floor where Mr. Shackford sat mouthing his
contracts and mortgages, and weaving his webs like a great, lean,
gray spider; and the other in the north gable, where Dick hung over a
tattered copy of Robinson Crusoe by the flicker of the candle-ends
which he had captured during the day.
Little Dick was little Dick no more: a tall, heavily built blond
boy, with a quiet, sweet disposition, that at first offered
temptations to the despots of the playground; but a sudden flaring up
once or twice of that unexpected spirit which had broken out in his
babyhood brought him immunity from serious persecution.
The boy's home life at this time would have seemed pathetic to an
observer,--the more pathetic, perhaps, in that Dick himself was not
aware of its exceptional barrenness. The holidays that bring new
brightness to the eyes of happier children were to him simply days
when he did not go to school, and was expected to provide an extra
quantity of kindling wood. He was housed, and fed, and clothed, after
a fashion, but not loved. Mr. Shackford did not ill-treat the lad, in
the sense of beating him; he merely neglected him. Every year the man
became more absorbed in his law cases and his money, which
accumulated magically. He dwelt in a cloud of calculations. Though
all his interests attached him to the material world, his dry,
attenuated body seemed scarcely a part of it.
"Shackford, what are you going to do with that scapegrace of
It was Mr. Leonard Tappleton who ventured the question. Few
persons dared to interrogate Mr. Shackford on his private affairs.
"I am going to make a lawyer of him," said Mr. Shackford,
crackling his finger-joints like stiff parchment.
"You couldn't do better. You _ought_ to have an attorney in
"Just so," assented Mr. Shackford, dryly. "I could throw a bit of
business in his way now and then,--eh?"
"You could make his fortune, Shackford. I don't see but you might
employ him all the time. When he was not fighting the corporations,
you might keep him at it suing you for his fees."
"Very good, very good indeed," responded Mr. Shackford, with a
smile in which his eyes took no share, it was merely a momentary
curling up of crisp wrinkles. He did not usually smile at other
people's pleasantries; but when a person worth three or four hundred
thousand dollars condescends to indulge a joke, it is not to be
passed over like that of a poor relation. "Yes, yes," muttered the
old man, as he stooped and picked up a pin, adding it to a row of
similarly acquired pins which gave the left lapel of his threadbare
coat the appearance of a miniature harp, "I shall make a lawyer of
It had long been settled in Mr. Shackford's mind that Richard, so
soon as he had finished his studies, should enter the law-office of
Blandmann & Sharpe, a firm of rather sinister reputation in South
At fourteen Richard's eyes had begun to open on the situation; at
fifteen he saw very clearly; and one day, without much preliminary
formulating of his plan, he decided on a step that had been taken by
every male Shackford as far back as tradition preserves the record of
A friendship had sprung up between Richard and one William Durgin,
a school-mate. This Durgin was a sallow, brooding boy, a year older
than himself. The two lads were antipodal in disposition,
intelligence, and social standing; for though Richard went poorly
clad, the reflection of his cousin's wealth gilded him. Durgin was
the son of a washerwoman. An intimacy between the two would perhaps
have been unlikely but for one fact: it was Durgin's mother who had
given little Dick a shelter at the period of his parents' death.
Though the circumstance did not lie within the pale of Richard's
personal memory, he acknowledged the debt by rather insisting on
Durgin's friendship. It was William Durgin, therefore, who was
elected to wait upon Mr. Shackford on a certain morning which found
that gentleman greatly disturbed by an unprecedented
occurrence,--Richard had slept out of the house the previous night.
Durgin was the bearer of a note which Mr. Shackford received in
some astonishment, and read deliberately, blinking with weak eyes
behind the glasses. Having torn off the blank page and laid it aside
for his own more economical correspondence (the rascal had actually
used a whole sheet to write ten words!), Mr. Shackford turned, and
with the absorbed air of a naturalist studying some abnormal bug
gazed over the steel bow of his spectacles at Durgin.
Durgin hastily retreated.
"There's a poor lawyer saved," muttered the old man, taking down
his overcoat from a peg behind the door, and snapping off a shred of
lint on the collar with his lean forefinger. Then his face relaxed,
and an odd grin diffused a kind of wintry glow over it.
Richard had run away to sea.
After a lapse of four years, during which he had as completely
vanished out of the memory of Stillwater as if he had been lying all
the while in the crowded family tomb behind the South Church, Richard
Shackford reappeared one summer morning at the door of his cousin's
house in Welch's Court. Mr. Shackford was absent at the moment, and
Mrs. Morganson, an elderly deaf woman, who came in for a few hours
every day to do the house-work, was busy in the extension. Without
announcing himself, Richard stalked up-stairs to the chamber in the
gable, and went directly to a little shelf in one corner, upon which
lay the dog's-eared copy of Robinson Crusoe just as he had left it,
save the four years' accumulation of dust. Richard took the book
fiercely in both hands, and with a single mighty tug tore it from top
to bottom, and threw the fragments into the fire-place.
A moment later, on the way down-stairs, he encountered his kinsman
"Ah, you have come back!" was Mr. Shackford's grim greeting after
a moment's hesitation.
"Yes," said Richard, with embarrassment, though he had made up his
mind not to be embarrassed by his cousin.
"I can't say I was looking for you. You might have dropped me a
line; you were politer when you left. Why do you come back, and why
did you go away?" demanded the old man, with abrupt fierceness. The
last four years had bleached him and bent him and made him look very
"I didn't like the idea of Blandmann & Sharpe, for one thing,"
said Richard, "and I thought I liked the sea."
"And did you?"
"No, sir! I enjoyed seeing foreign parts, and all that."
"Quite the young gentleman on his travels. But the sea didn't
agree with you, and now you like the idea of Blandmann & Sharpe?"
"Not the least in the world, I assure you!" cried Richard. "I take
to it as little as ever I did."
"Perhaps that is fortunate. But it's going to be rather difficult
to suit your tastes. What _do_ you like?"
"I like you, cousin Lemuel; you have always been kind to me--in
your way," said poor Richard, yearning for a glimmer of human warmth
and sympathy, and forgetting all the dreariness of his uncared-for
childhood. He had been out in the world, and had found it even
harder-hearted than his own home, which now he idealized in the first
flush of returning to it. Again he saw himself, a blond-headed little
fellow with stocking down at heel, climbing the steep staircase, or
digging in the clay at the front gate with the air full of the breath
of lilacs. That same penetrating perfume, blown through the open
hall-door as he spoke, nearly brought the tears to his eyes. He had
looked forward for years to this coming back to Stillwater. Many a
time, as he wandered along the streets of some foreign sea-port, the
rich architecture and the bright costumes had faded out before him,
and given place to the fat gray belfry and slim red chimneys of the
humble New England village where he was born. He had learned to love
it after losing it; and now he had struggled back through countless
trials and disasters to find no welcome.
"Cousin Lemuel," said Richard gently, "only just us two are left,
and we ought to be good friends, at least."
"We are good enough friends," mumbled Mr. Shackford, who cold not
evade taking the hand which Richard had forlornly reached out to him,
"but that needn't prevent us understanding each other like rational
creatures. I don't care for a great deal of fine sentiment in people
who run away without so much as thank'e."
"I was all wrong!"
"That's what folks always say, with the delusion that it makes
everything all right."
"Surely it help,--to admit it."
"That depends; it generally doesn't. What do you propose to do?"
"I hardly know at the moment; my plans are quite in the air."
"In the air!" repeated Mr. Shackford. "I fancy that describes
them. Your father's plans were always in the air, too, and he never
got any of them down."
"I intend to get mine down."
"Have you saved by anything?"
"Not a cent."
"I thought as much."
"I had a couple of hundred dollars in my sea-chest; but I was
shipwrecked, and lost it. I barely saved myself. When Robinson
"Damn Robinson Crusoe!" snapped Mr. Shackford.
"That's what I say," returned Richard gravely. "When Robinson
Crusoe was cast on an uninhabited island, shrimps and soft-shell
crabs and all sorts of delicious mollusks--readily boiled, I've no
doubt--crawled up on the beach, and begged him to eat them; but
_I_ nearly starved to death."
"Of course. You will always be shipwrecked, and always be starved
to death; you are one of that kind. I don't believe you are a
Shackford at all. When they were not anything else they were good
sailors. If you only had a drop of _his_ blood in your veins!"
and Mr. Shackford waved his head towards a faded portrait of a
youngish, florid gentleman with banged hair and high coat-collar,
which hung against the wall half-way up the stair-case. This was the
counterfeit presentment of Lemuel Shackford's father seated with his
back at an open window, through which was seen a ship under full
canvas with the union-jack standing out straight in the wrong
direction. "But what are you going to do for yourself? You can't
start a subscription paper, and play with shipwrecked mariner, you
"No, I hardly care to do that," said Richard, with a good-natured
laugh, "though no poor devil ever had a better outfit for the
"What _are_ you calculated for?"
Richard was painfully conscious of his unfitness for many things;
but he felt there was nothing in life to which he was so ill adapted
as his present position. Yet, until he could look about him, he must
needs eat his kinsman's reluctant bread, or starve. The world was
younger and more unsophisticated when manna dropped fro the clouds.
Mr. Shackford stood with his neck craned over the frayed edge of
his satin stock and one hand resting indecisively on the banister,
and Richard on the step above, leaning his back against the blighted
flowers of the wall-paper. From an oval window at the head of the
stairs the summer sunshine streamed upon them, and illuminated the
high-shouldered clock which, ensconced in an alcove, seemed top be
listening to the conversation.
"There's no chance for you in the law," said Mr. Shackford, after
a long pause. "Sharpe's nephew has the berth. A while ago I might
have got you into the Miantowona Iron Works; but the rascally
directors are trying to ruin me now. There's the Union Store, if they
happen to want a clerk. I suppose you would be about as handy behind
a counter as a hippopotamus. I have no business of my own to train
you to. You are not good for the sea, and the sea has probably
spoiled you for anything else. A drop of salt water just poisons a
landsman. I am sure I don't know what to do with you."
"Don't bother yourself about it at all," said Richard, cheerfully.
"You are going back on the whole family, ancestors and posterity, by
suggesting that I can't make my own living. I only want a little time
to take breath, don't you see, and a crust and a bed for a few days,
such as you might give any wayfarer. Meanwhile, I will look after
things around the place. I fancy I was never an idler here since the
day I learnt to split kindling."
"There's your old bed in the north chamber," said Mr. Shackford,
wrinkling his forehead helplessly. "According to my notion, it is not
so good as a bunk, or a hammock slung in a tidy forecastle, but it's
at your service, and Mrs. Morganson, I dare say, can lay an extra
plate at table."
With which gracious acceptance of Richard's proposition, Mr.
Shackford resumed his way upstairs, and the young man thoughtfully
descended to the hall-door and thence into the street, to take a
general survey of the commercial capabilities of Stillwater.
The outlook was not inspiring. A machinist, or a mechanic, or a
day laborer might have found a foot-hold. A man without handicraft
was not in request in Stillwater. "What is your trade?" was the
staggering question that met Richard at the threshold. He went from
workshop to workshop, confidently and cheerfully at first, whistling
softly between whiles; but at every turn the question confronted him.
In some places, where he was recognized with thinly veiled surprise
as that boy of Shackford's, he was kindly put off; in others he
received only a stare or a brutal No.
By noon he had exhausted the leading shops and offices in the
village, and was so disheartened that he began to dread the thought
of returning home to dinner. Clearly, he was a superfluous person in
Stillwater. A mortar-splashed hod-carrier, who had seated himself on
a pile of brick and was eating his noonday rations from a tin can
just brought to him by a slatternly girl, gave Richard a spasm of envy.
Here was a man who had found his place, and was establishing--what
Richard did not seem able to establish in his own case--a right to
At supper Mr. Shackford refrained from examining Richard on his
day's employment, for which reserve, or indifference, the boy was
grateful. When the silent meal was over the old man went to his
papers, and Richard withdrew to his room in the gable. He had
neglected to provide himself with a candle. Howwever, there was
nothing to read, for in destroying Robinson Crusoe he had destroyed
his entire library; so he sat and brooded in the moonlight, casting a
look of disgust now and then at the mutilated volume on the hearth.
That lying romance! It had been, indirectly, the cause of all his
woe, filling his boyish brain with visions of picturesque adventure,
and sending him off to sea, where he had lost four precious years of
"If I had stuck to my studies," reflected Richard while
undressing, "I might have made something of myself. He's a great
friend, Robinson Crusoe."
Richard fell asleep with as much bitterness in his bosom against
DeFoe's ingenious hero as if Robinson had been a living person
instead of a living fiction, and out of this animosity grew a dream
so fantastic and comical that Richard awoke himself with a bewildered
laugh just as the sunrise reddened the panes of the chamber window.
In this dream somebody came to Richard and asked him if he had heard
of that dreadful thing about young Crusoe.
"No, confound him!" said Richard, "what is it?"
"It has been ascertained," said somebody, who seemed to Richard at
once an intimate friend and an utter stranger,--"it has been
ascertained beyond a doubt that the man Friday was not a man Friday
at all, but a light-minded young princess from one of the neighboring
islands who had fallen in love with Robinson. Her real name was
"Why, that's scandalous!" cried Richard with heat. "Think of the
admiration and sympathy the world has been lavishing on this precious
pair; Robinson Crusoe and his girl Saturday! That puts a different
face on it."
"Another great moral character exploded," murmured the shadowy
shape, mixing itself up with the motes of a sunbeam and drifting out
through the window. Then Richard fell to laughing in his sleep, and
so awoke. He was still confused with the dream as he sat on the edge
of his bed, pulling himself together in the broad daylight.
"Well," he muttered at length, "I shouldn't wonder! There's
nothing too bad to be believed of that man."
Richard made an early start that morning in search of employment,
and duplicated the failure of the previous day. Nobody wanted him. If
nobody wanted him in the village where he was born and bred, a
village of counting-rooms and workshops, was any other place likely
to need him? He had only one hope, if it could be called a hope; at
any rate, he had treated it tenderly as such and kept it for the
last. He would apply to Rowland Slocum. Long ago, when Richard was an
urchin making pot-hooks in the lane, the man used occasionally to pat
him on the head and give him pennies. This was not a foundation on
which to rear a very lofty castle; but this was all he had.
It was noon when Richard approached the marble yard, and the men
were pouring out into the street through the wide gate in the rough
deal fence which inclosed the works,--heavy, brawny men, covered with
fine white dust, who shouldered each other like cattle, and took the
sidewalk to themselves. Richard stepped aside to let them pass, eying
them curiously as possible comrades. Suddenly a slim dark fellow, who
had retained his paper cap and leather apron, halted and thrust forth
a horny hand. The others went on.
"Hullo, Dick Shackford!"
"What, is that you, Will? _You_ here?"
"Been here two years now. One of Slocum's apprentices," added
Durgin, with an air of easy grandeur.
"Two years? How time flies--when it doesn't crawl! Do you like
"My time will be out next--Oh, the work? Well, yes; it's not bad,
and there's a jolly set in the yard. But how about you? I heard last
night you'd got home. Been everywhere and come back wealthy? The boys
used to say you was off pirating."
"No such luck," answered Richard, with a smile. "I didn't prey on
the high seas,--quite the contrary. The high sea captured my kit and
four years' savings. I will tell you about it some day. If I have a
limb to my name and a breath left to my body, it is no thanks to the
Indian Ocean. That is all I have got, Will, and I am looking around
for bread and butter,--literally bread and butter."
"No? and the old gentleman so rich!"
Durgin said this with sincere indignation, and was perhaps
unconscious himself of experiencing that nameless, shadowy
satisfaction which Rochefoucauld says we find in the adversity of our
best friends. Certainly Richard looked very seedy in his suit of
"I was on my way to Mr. Slocum's to see if I could do anything
with him," Richard continued.
"To get a job, do you mean?"
"Yes, to get work,--to learn _how_ to work; to master a
trade, in short."
"You can't be an apprentice, you know," said Durgin.
"Slocum has two."
"Suppose he should happen to want another? He might."
"The Association wouldn't allow it."
"The Marble Workers' Association, of course."
_"They_ wouldn't allow it! How is that?"
"This the way of it. Slocum is free to take on two apprentices
every year, but no more. That prevents workmen increasing too fast,
and so keeps up wages. The Marble Workers' Association is a very neat
thing, I can tell you."
"But doesn't Mr. Slocum own the yard? I thought he did."
"Yes, he owns the yard."
"If he wished to extend the business, couldn't he employ more
"As many as he could get,--skilled workmen; but not apprentices."
"And Mr. Slocum agrees to that?" inquired Richard.
"And likes it?"
"Not he,--he hates it; but he can't help himself."
"Upon my soul, I don't see what prevents him taking on as many
apprentices as he wants to."
"Why, the Association, to be sure," returned Durgin, glancing at
the town clock, which marked seven minutes past the hour.
"But how could they stop him?"
"In plenty of ways. Suppose Slocum has a lot of unfinished
contracts on hand,--he always has fat contracts,--and the men was to
knock off work. That would be kind of awkward, wouldn't it?"
"For a day or two, yes. He could send out of town for hands,"
"And they wouldn't come, if the Association said 'Stay where you
are.' They are mostly in the ring. Some outsiders might come,
"Why, then the boys would make it pretty hot for them in
Stillwater. Don't you notice?"
"I notice there is not much chance for me," said Richard,
despondingly. "Isn't that so?"
"Can't say. Better talk with Slocum. But I must get along; I have
to be back sharp at one. I want to hear about your knocking around
the worst kind. Can't we meet somewhere tonight,--at the tavern?"
"The tavern? That didn't used to be a quiet place."
"It isn't quiet now, but there's nowhere else to go of a night.
It's a comfortable den, and there's always some capital fellows
dropping in. A glass of lager with a mate is not a bad thing after a
hard day's work."
"Both are good things when they are of the right sort."
"That's like saying I'm not the right sort, isn't it?"
"I meant nothing of the kind. But I don't take to the tavern. Not
that I'm squeamish; I have lived four years among sailors, and have
been in rougher places than you ever dreamed of; but all the same I
am afraid of the tavern. I've seen many a brave fellow wrecked on
"You always was a bit stuck up," said Durgin candidly.
"Not an inch. I never had much reason to be; and less now than
ever, when I can scarcely afford to drink water, let alone beer. I
will drop round to your mother's some evening--I hope she's
well,--and tell you of my ups and downs. That will be pleasanter for
"Oh, as you like."
"Now for Mr. Slocum, though you have taken the wind out of me."
The two separated, Durgin with a half smile on his lip, and
Richard in a melancholy frame of mind. He passed from the
grass-fringed street into the deserted marble yard, where it seemed
as if the green summer had suddenly turned into white winter, and
threading his way between the huge drifts of snowy stone, knocked at
the door of Mr. Slocum's private office.
William Durgin had summed up the case fairly enough as it stood
between the Marble Workers' Association and Rowland Slocum. The
system of this branch of the trades-union kept trained workmen
comparatively scarce, and enabled them to command regular and even
advanced prices at periods when other trades were depressed. The
older hands looked upon a fresh apprentice in the yard with much the
same favor as workingmen of the era of Jacquard looked upon the
introduction of a new piece of machinery. Unless the apprentice had
exceptional tact, he underwent a rough novitiate. In any case he
served a term of social ostracism before he was admitted to full
comradeship. Mr. Slocum could easily have found openings each year
for a dozen learners, had the matter been under his control; but it
was not. "I am the master of each man individually," he declared,
"but collectively they are my master." So his business, instead of
naturally spreading and becoming a benefit to the many, was kept
carefully pruned down to the benefit of the few. He was often forced
to decline important contracts, the filling of which would have
resulted to the advantage of every person in the village.
Mr. Slocum recognized Richard at once, and listened kindly to his
story. It was Mr. Slocum's way to listen kindly to every one; but he
was impressed with Richard's intelligence and manner, and became
desirous, for several reasons, to assist him. In the first place,
there was room in the shops for another apprentice; experienced hands
were on jobs that could have been as well done by beginners; and, in
the second place, Mr. Slocum had an intuition that Lemuel Shackford
was not treating the lad fairly, though Richard had said nothing to
this effect. Now, Mr. Slocum and Mr. Shackford were just then at
"I don't suppose I could annoy Shackford more," was Mr. Slocum's
reflection, "than by doing something for this boy, whom he has always
The motive was not a high one; but Richard would have been well
satisfied with it, if he could have divined it. He did divine that
Mr. Slocum was favorably inclined towards him, and stood watching
that gentleman's face with hopeful anxiety.
"I have my regulation number of young men, Richard," said Mr.
Slocum, "and there will be no vacancy until autumn. If you could wait
a few months."
Richard's head drooped.
"Can't do that? You write a good hand, you say. Perhaps you could
assist the book-keeper until there's a chance for you in the yard."
"I think I could, sir," said Richard eagerly.
"If you were only a draughtsman, now, I could do something much
better for you. I intend to set up a shop for ornamental carving, and
I want some one to draw patterns. If you had a knack at designing, if
you could draw at all"--
Richard's face lighted up.
"Perhaps you _have_ a turn that way. I remember the queer
things you used to scratch in the mud in the court, when you were a
little shaver. Can you draw?"
"Why, that is the one thing I can do!" cried Richard,--"in a rough
fashion, of course," he added, fearing he had overstated it.
"It is a rough fashion that will serve. You must let me see some
of your sketches."
"I haven't any, sir. I had a hundred in my sea-chest, but that was
lost,--pencillings of old archways, cathedral spires, bits of frieze,
and such odds and ends as took my fancy in the ports we touched at. I
recollect one bit. I think I could do it for you now. Shall I?"
Mr. Slocum nodded assent, smiling at the young fellow's
enthusiasm, and only partially suspecting his necessity. Richard
picked up a pen and began scratching on a letter sheet which lay on
the desk. He was five or six minutes at the work, during which the
elder man watched him with an amused expression.
"It's a section of cornice on the fašade of the Hindoo College at
Calcutta," said Richard, handing him the paper,--"no, it's the
custom-house. I forget which; but it doesn't matter."
The amused look gradually passed out of Mr. Slocum's countenance
as he examined the sketch. It was roughly but clearly drawn, and full
of facility. "Why, that's very clever!" he said, holding it at
arms'-length; and then, with great gravity, "I hope you are not a
genius, Richard; that would be too much of a fine thing. If you are
not, you can be of service to me in my plans."
Richard laughingly made haste to declare that to the best of his
knowledge and belief he was not a genius, and it was decided on the
spot that Richard should assist Mr. Simms, the bookkeeper, and
presently try his hand at designing ornamental patterns for the
carvers, Mr. Slocum allowing him apprentice wages until the quality
of his work should be ascertained.
"It is very little," said Mr. Slocum, "but it will pay your board,
if you do not live at home."
"I shall not remain at my cousin's," Richard replied, "if you call
"I can imagine it is not much of a home. Your cousin, not to put
too fine a point on it, is a wretch."
"I am sorry to hear you say that, sir; he's my only living
"You are fortunate in having but one, then. However, I am wrong to
abuse him to you; but I cannot speak of him with moderation, he has
just played me such a despicable trick. Look here."
Mr. Slocum led Richard to the door, and pointing to a row of new
workshops which extended the entire length of one side of the marble
"I built these last spring. After the shingles were on we
discovered that the rear partition, for a distance of seventy-five
feet, overlapped two inches on Shackford's meadow. I was ready to
drop when I saw it, your cousin is such an unmanageable old fiend. Of
course I went to him immediately, and what do you think? He demanded
five hundred dollars for that strip of land! Five hundred dollars for
a few inches of swamp meadow not worth ten dollars the acre! 'Then
take your disreputable old mill off my property!' says Shackford,--he
called it a disreputable old mill! I was hasty, perhaps, and I told
him to go to the devil. He said he would, and he did; for he went to
Blandmann. When the lawyers got hold of it, they bothered the life
out of me; so I just moved the building forward two inches, at an
expense of seven hundred dollars. Then what does the demon do but
board up all my windows opening on the meadow! Richard, I make it a
condition that you shall not lodge at Shackford's."
"Nothing could induce me to live another day in the same house
with him, sir," answered Richard, suppressing an inclination to
smile; and then seriously, "His bread is bitter."
Richard went back with a light heart to Welch's Court. At the gate
of the marble yard he met William Durgin returning to work. The
steam-whistle had sounded the call, and there was no time for
exchange of words; so Richard gave his comrade a bright nod and
passed by. Durgin turned and stared after him.
"Looks as if Slocum had taken him on; but it never can be as
apprentice; he wouldn't dare do it."
Mr. Shackford had nearly finished his frugal dinner when Richard
entered. "If you can't hit it to be in at your meals," said Mr.
Shackford, helping himself absently to the remaining chop, "perhaps
you had better stop away altogether."
"I can do that now, cousin," replied Richard sunnily. "I have
engaged with Slocum."
The old man laid down his knife and fork.
"With Slocum! A Shackford a miserable marble-chipper!"
There was so little hint of the aristocrat in Lemuel Shackford's
sordid life and person that no one suspected him of even self-esteem.
He went as meanly dressed as a tramp, and as careless of contemporary
criticism; yet clear down in his liver, or somewhere in his anatomy,
he nourished an odd abstract pride in the family Shackford. Heaven
knows why! To be sure, it dated far back; its women had always been
virtuous, and its men, if not always virtuous, had always been
ship-captains. But beyond this the family had never amounted to
anything, and now there was so very little left of it. For Richard as
Richard Lemuel cared nothing; for Richard as a Shackford he had a
chaotic feeling that defied analysis and had never before risen to
the surface. It was therefore with a disgust entirely apart from the
hatred of Slocum or regard for Richard that the old man exclaimed, "A
Shackford a miserable marble-chipper!"
"That is better than hanging around the village with my hands in
my pockets. Isn't it?"
"I don't know that anybody has demanded that you should hang
around the village."
"I ought to go away, you mean? But I have found work here, and I
might not find it elsewhere."
"Stillwater is not the place to begin life in. It's the place to
go away from, and come back to."
"Well, I have come back."
"And how? With one shirt and a lot of bad sailor habits."
"My one shirt is my only very bad habit," said Richard, with a
laugh,--he could laugh now,--"and I mean to get rid of that."
Mr. Shackford snapped his fingers disdainfully.
"You ought to have stuck to the sea; that's respectable. In ten
years you might have risen to be master of a bark; that would have
been honorable. You might have gone down in a gale,--you probably
would,--and that would have been fortunate. But a stone-cutter! You
can understand," growled Mr. Shackford, reaching out for his straw
hat, which he put on and crushed over his brows, "I don't keep a
boarding-house for Slocum's hands."
"Oh, I'm far from asking it!" cried Richard. "I am thankful for
the two nights' shelter I have had."
"That's some of your sarcasm, I suppose," said Mr. Shackford, half
turning, with his hands on the door-knob.
"No, it is some of my sincerity. I am really obliged to you. You
weren't very cordial, to be sure, but I did not deserve cordiality."
"You have figured that out correctly."
"I want to begin over again, you see, and start fair."
"Then begin by dropping Slocum."
"You have not given me a chance to tell you what the arrangement
is. However, it's irrevocable."
"I don't want to hear. I don't care a curse, so long as it is an
arrangement," and Mr. Shackford hurried out of the room, slamming the
door behind him.
Then Richard, quite undisturbed by his cousin's unreasonableness,
sat himself down to eat the last meal he was ever to eat under that
roof,--a feat which his cousin's appetite had rendered comparatively
While engaged in this, Richard resolved in his mind several
questions as to his future abode. He could not reconcile his thought
to any of the workingmen's boarding-houses, of which there were five
or six in the slums of the village, where the doorways were greasy,
and women flitted about in the hottest weather with thick woolen
shawls over their heads. Yet his finances did not permit him to
aspire to lodgings much more decent. If he could only secure a small
room somewhere in a quiet neighborhood. Possibly Mrs. Durgin would
let him have a chamber in her cottage. He was beginning life over
again, and it struck him as nearly an ideal plan to begin it on the
identical spot where he had, in a manner, made his first start.
Besides, there was William Durgin for company, when the long nights
of the New England winter set in. The idea smiled so pleasantly in
Richard's fancy that he pushed the plate away from him impatiently,
and picked up his hat which lay on the floor beside the chair.
That evening he moved from the Shackford house to Mrs. Durgin's
cottage in Cross Street. It was not an imposing ceremony. With a
small brown-paper parcel under his arm, he walked from one threshold
to the other, and the thing was done.
The six months which followed Richard's installment in the office
at Slocum's Yard were so crowded with novel experience that he
scarcely noted their flight. The room at the Durgins, as will
presently appear, turned out an unfortunate arrangement; but
everything else had prospered. Richard proved an efficient aid to Mr.
Simms, who quietly shifted the pay-roll to the younger man's
shoulders. This was a very complicated account to keep, involving as
it did a separate record of each employee's time and special work. An
ancient bookkeeper parts lightly with such trifles when he has a
capable assistant. It also fell to Richard's lot to pay the hands on
Saturdays. William Durgin blinked his surprise on the first occasion,
as he filed in with the others and saw Richard posted at the desk,
with the pay-roll in his hand and the pile of greenbacks lying in
front of him.
"I suppose you'll be proprietor next," remarked Durgin, that
evening, at the supper table.
"When I am, Will," answered Richard cheerily, "you will be on the
road to foreman of the finishing shop."
"Thank you," said Durgin, not too graciously. It grated on him to
play the part of foreman, even in imagination, with Dick Shackford as
proprietor. Durgin could not disconnect his friend from that seedy,
half-crestfallen figure to whom, a few months earlier, he had given
elementary instruction on the Marble Workers' Association.
Richard did not find his old schoolmate so companionable as memory
and anticipation had painted him. The two young men moved on
different levels. Richard's sea life, now that he had got at a
sufficient distance from it, was a perspective full of pleasant
color; he had a taste for reading, a thirst to know things, and his
world was not wholly shut in by the Stillwater horizon. It was still
a pitifully narrow world, but wide compared with Durgin's, which
extended no appreciable distance in any direction from the Stillwater
hotel. He spent his evenings chiefly there, returning home late at
night, and often in so noisy a mood as to disturb Richard, who slept
in an adjoining apartment. This was an annoyance; and it was an
annoyance to have Mrs. Durgin coming to him with complaints of
William. Other matters irritated Richard. He had contrived to
replenish his wardrobe, and the sunburn was disappearing from his
hands, which the nature of his occupation left soft and unscarred.
Durgin was disposed at times to be sarcastic on these changes, but
always stopped short of actual offense; for he remembered that
Shackford when a boy, amiable and patient as he was, had had a
tiger's temper at bottom. Durgin had seen it roused once or twice,
and even received a chance sweep of the paw. Richard liked Durgin's
rough wit as little as Durgin relished Richard's good-natured
bluntness. It was a mistake, that trying to pick up the dropped
thread of old acquaintance.
As soon as the permanency of his position was assured, and his
means warranted the step, Richard transported himself and his effects
to a comfortable chamber in the same house with Mr. Pinkham, the
school-master, the perpetual falsetto of whose flute was positively
soothing after four months of William Durgin's bass. Mr. Pinkham
having but one lung, and that defective, played on the flute.
"You see what you've gone and done, William," remarked Mrs. Durgin
plaintively, "with your ways. There goes the quietest young man in
Stillwater, and four dollars a week!"
"There goes a swell, you'd better say. He was always a proud
beggar; nobody was ever good enough for him."
"You shouldn't say that, William. I could cry, to lose him and his
cheerfulness out of the house," and Mrs. Durgin began to whimper.
"Wait till he's out of luck again, and he'll come back to us fast
enough. That's when his kind remembers their friends. Blast him! he
can't even take a drop of beer with a chum at the tavern."
"And right, too. There's beer enough taken at the tavern without
"If you mean me, mother, I'll get drunk tonight."
"No, no!" cried Mrs. Durgin, pleadingly, "I didn't mean you,
William, but Peters and that set."
"I thought you couldn't mean me," said William, thrusting his
hands into the pockets of his monkey-jacket, and sauntering off in
the direction of the Stillwater hotel, where there was a choice
company gathered, it being Saturday night, and the monthly meeting of
Mr. Slocum had wasted no time in organizing a shop for his
experiment in ornamental carving. Five or six men, who had worked
elsewhere at this branch, were turned over to the new department,
with Stevens as foreman and Richard as designer. Very shortly Richard
had as much as he could do to furnish the patterns required. These
consisted mostly of scrolls, wreaths, and mortuary dove-wings for
head-stones. Fortunately for Richard he had no genius, but plenty of
a kind of talent just abreast with Mr. Slocum's purpose. As the
carvers became interested in their work, they began to show Richard
the respect and good-will which at first had been withheld, for they
had not quite liked being under the supervision of one who had not
served at the trade. His youth had also told against him; but
Richard's pleasant, off-hand manner quickly won them. He had come in
contact with rough men on shipboard; he had studied their ways, and
he knew that with all their roughness there is no class so sensitive.
This insight was of great service to him. Stevens, who had perhaps
been the least disposed to accept Richard, was soon his warm ally.
"See what a smooth fist the lad has!" he said one day holding up a
new drawing to the shop. "A man with a wreath of them acorns on his
head-stone oughter be perfectly happy, damn him!"
It was, however, an anchor with a broken chain pendent--a design
for a monument to the late Captain Septimius Salter, who had parted
his cable at sea--which settled Richard's status with Stevens.
"Boys, that Shackford is what I call a born genei."
After all, is not the one-eyed man who is king among the blind the
most fortunate of monarchs? Your little talent in a provincial
village looms a great deal taller than your mighty genius in a city.
Richard Whackford working for Rowland Slocum at Stillwater was
happier than Michaelangelo in Rome with Pope Julius II. at his back.
And Richard was the better paid, too!
One day he picked up a useful hint from a celebrated sculptor, who
had come to the village in search of marble for the base of a
soldiers' monument. Richard was laboriously copying a spray of fern,
the delicacy of which eluded his pencil. The sculptor stood a moment
silently observing him.
"Why do you spend an hour doing only passably well what you could
do perfectly in ten minutes?"
"I suppose it is because I am stupid, sir," said Richard.
"No stupid man ever suspected himself of being anything but
clever. You can draw capitally; but nature beats you out and out at
designing ferns. Just ask her to make you a fac-simile in plaster,
and see how handily she will lend herself to the job. Of course you
must help her a little."
"Oh, I am not above giving nature a lift," said Richard modestly.
"Lay a cloth on your table, place the fern on the cloth, and pour
a thin paste of plaster of Paris over the leaf,--do that gently, so
as not to disarrange the spray. When the plaster is set, there's your
mold; remove the leave, oil the matrix, and pour in fresh plaster.
When that is set, cut away tdhe mold carefully, and there's your
spray of fern, as graceful and perfect as if nature had done it all
by herself. You get the very texture of the leaf by this process."
After that, Richard made casts instead of drawings for the
carvers, and fancied he was doing a new thing, until he visited some
marble-works in the great city.
At this period, whatever change subsequently took place in his
feeling, Richard was desirous of establishing friendly relations with
his cousin. The young fellow's sense of kinship was singularly
strong, and it was only after several repulses at the door of the
Shackford house and on the street that he relinquished the hope of
placating the sour old man. At times Richard was moved almost to pity
him. Every day Mr. Shackford seemed to grow shabbier and more
spectral. He was a grotesque figure now, in his napless hat and
broken-down stock. The metal button-holes on his ancient waistcoat
had worn their way through the satin coverings, leaving here and
there a sparse fringe around the edges, and somehow suggesting little
bald heads. Looking at him, you felt that the inner man was as
threadbare and dilapidated as his outside; but in his lonely old age
he asked for no human sympathy or companionship, and, in fact, stood
in no need of either. With one devouring passion he set the world at
defiance. He loved his gold,--the metal itself, the weight an color
and touch of it. In his bedroom on the ground-floor Mr. Shackford
kept a small iron-clamped box filled to the lid with bright yellow
coins. Often, at the dead of night, with door bolted and curtain